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The Cardinal vs Golden Bears and More

November 21st, 2009 at 08:12 pm

Yesterday I met with my student teachers for the last seminar of the semester and led a discussion on interviewing strategies. Over the years as an administrator, I hired about 90-100 teachers, served on countless interview panels for other positions, and recruited for the district teaching pool. It was good to share information from my experience that will hopefully help them land jobs.

In CA, this is possibly one of the worst times to secure a teaching job. Due to state budget woes, school districts are laying off or cutting back their teaching staff. Getting a job in education is extremely competitive and thus it's necessary for candidates to stand out in a sea of applicants. During the last week of November, I will meet with each student to debrief and verify that all program requirements have been satisfied, then they will be ready to apply for jobs.

Work is really winding down for us. After December 4, we are completely and utterly free... me from my part-time job and dh from his full-time position. Then we will begin some serious adventures. I will be posting about our travels on my new blog. I welcome any guest posts if you are inclined to share your travel stories or photos.

As far as the weekend, things look good. Last night was a dismal and drizzly and I was concerned it would continue into the weekend. Today the sun is out and the weather is beautiful. Later today, we are heading to the Stanford stadium (with DS and BIL) for the big game... The Cardinal vs. Golden Bears. Stanford does not have an official mascot which I find odd. They are known as "The Cardinal" as in the color, not the cleric. They used to be the Indians but that is no longer PC and then there's a tree but it's not really a mascot. Strange. Hope it's an exciting game.

"I'm the only one who knows how to do it!"

September 21st, 2009 at 10:18 pm

These were the teasing words of my friend, LM, as a group of us rode to the Capitola Wine and Art Festival a few weekends ago. We were discussing retirement, a popular topic with my friends. Of the five of us on this excursion, four of us are retired. Three of the four, myself included, have continued to work part-time in our retirement. My friend, LM, is the exception and he likes to remind us he "knows how to do retirement." LM loves his leisurely lifestyle that includes playing golf three times a week, and he is fortunate to live in a 55+ community that has an 18-hole golf course among its many amenities.

On the other hand, I do not play golf nor does my dh, and although we have hobbies and interests, we also have ample time on our hands. So we chose to take part-time work, not just to keep busy but also to help the university fill a need. We will continue our jobs until mid-December of this year. Then we will begin some serious traveling that will take us far and away for months at a time. This is something we have planned and are looking forward to... new adventures exploring the big wide world.

The reality is that we Boomers are redefining what it means to be retired, and there is no set way to do it. I recently read an article, "The End of Retirement?" in the AARP newsletter that discusses the increasing number of seniors who continue to work in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. Many of the folks in this article are working because they must "make ends meet." But for some, working after retirement is a choice. One woman was 101 (not a typo!) and still worked part-time.

For me, a "successful" retirement means having choices and more control over my life. One of the best payoffs of 30+ years of saving and planning for retirement is that I can live comfortably without HAVING to work. But I know I can choose to work if it is a mutually beneficial situation for me and for my employer. In fact, many of the adjunct faculty at my university are retired from administration or teaching and like me, are enjoying the opportunity to keep mentally active.

So, even though dh and I will not be working (for pay) after December, I have a feeling we will be working at something once we get the travel bug out of our system. And when we feel the need to get involved in something again, we know we can find a volunteer job that is a good fit for us. And who knows, maybe we will even find jobs that pay.

This brings me back to the importance of planning and saving for retirement. According to the AARP article mentioned above, more than half of the baby boomers are in peril of not being able to maintain their standard of living in retirement. Rising health costs and dwindling Social Security benefits will have a negative impact. We are living longer, so retiring later will become the new reality for many. So, if like me, your goal is to retire early (or even at age 66 or 67) and be able to sustain a comfortable lifestyle, then planning, saving, and becoming debt-free will be key to attaining that goal.

We're Back

June 17th, 2009 at 04:34 pm

The trip to Guatemala was very productive and culminated in success for our 18 students. Everyone completed the course requirements and we made it back safely to the USA. Our journey was not without some "problems," though.

While we were there, we experienced:
~ 3 earthquakes (1 strong, 2 mild)
~ two torrential downpours
~ the closing of one of our schools due to H1N1 flu outbreak
~ my dh sick enough to warrant going to the hospital (he recovered)

The day after we arrived back in the USA, all schools in Guatemala were closed until July 1 due to H1N1 flu. Unlike the USA, the Guatemalan school year is from January to October. Our timing was perfect because we finished the program the Friday before all the schools were closed by the government.

But, we're back, and eager to go again next year. Dh and I will rent an apartment and live there a few months, doing pro bono teacher training and just enjoying the beautiful city of Antigua. The schools want us to return and even went as far as helping us find an apartment we will be able to rent.

It was truly an amazing experience to wake up each day in this beautiful part of the world. The Guatemalan people are welcoming, and the city is a mecca for learning. Language schools abound and people from around the globe come here to learn Spanish or Kakchiquel (the Mayan language).

Apart from the cultural dynamic, the geography is breathtaking. I took the photos of these two volcanoes from the roof of our posada. This one is called "Agua," taken the day after a heavy rain when there was no cloud cover.


On the same day, I took this photo of "Fuego" which actively sputters all day long, sending sheets of lava down the mountain. You can see the lava if you look closely.

At the Marketplace

June 6th, 2009 at 05:19 pm

We arrived at Chichicastenango after breakfast Sunday morning, en route from a night at Lake Atitlan. The volcanoes that surround Lake Atitlan look like a watercolor backdrop at sunset.


We will be here just a couple of hours and there is much to see. The sights, smells, sounds, and colors of the marketplace at Chichicastenango fill the senses. Here in this bustling marketplace, I catch a glimpse of the lives of the locals, so different from my own. This is the area in the market where the locals come to buy and sell their produce.


Artisans proudly display their wares and eagerly tell you about the artist or the weaver and the region where an item was produced. Each village has its own unique weaving style, so it is easy to identify where people are from by the patterns on their huipiles (traditional woven top worn by the women). I wish I could buy a trunk full of items to bring back home, but alas, space is limited. But this visual treat, now digitally preserved, will be enjoyed again and again.


These are Nativity scenes (creches) made of clay and hand painted. Guatemala is predominantly Roman Catholic.


Although a stranger looking in, I am touched by the universal bond of motherhood. Guatemalan mothers, babies snugly strapped in their rebozo slings, are no different than mothers around the globe. They love and protect their children and it is joyful to see. But I cannot be obvious in taking photos... Americans have been warned... NO PHOTOS... because some Guatemalans believe babies might be kidnapped for adoption by foreigners. It is now very difficult to adopt Guatemalan babies, unlike a few years back when adoption was a booming, unregulated business.


"He's not heavy; he's my brother..." for 5 Quetzales (63 cents), though, I am allowed to take this picture.


Dare I try the freshly made blue corn tortillas or the luscious fresh fruit ready to be eaten? In my younger days, I would not hesitate to eat food sold on the street. But now I am more careful, knowing I cannot do my job if I were to get sick... I simply don't bounce back the way I used to. But I can still take in the wonderful aromas of the typical fare while I snack on my Trio bar and banana.



Hiking to Volcan Pacaya

May 29th, 2009 at 09:13 pm

There was no school on Wednesday, so at dawn, the air clean and fresh from the evening rain, our group took the shuttle to the starting point of our climb up the slopes of Pacaya. After more than 100 years of being dormant, Pacaya had a violent eruption in 1965 and has been erupting continuously since then. In fact, Pacaya is one of the most active volcanoes in Central America. In 2000, the activity was such that flights to Guatemala City were suspended for two days.

This is a photo I took of Volcan Pacaya on the way up the trail.


I have to admit being a little apprehensive about the climb... but dh assured me even "old" people make it up the mountain. He does have a way with words! My right ankle has been troubling me after pulling a tendon a few months back, and despite therapy, it still gets sore easily. The perfect solution for me involved spending $25 for a guided horseback ride up and down the slope (more than 7 kilometers), led by Miguel, a young man of about 16. Even some of the more fit and younger members of the group opted for the horseback ride. Dh, an avid hiker, led the others up the steep slope.

I rode Canario up the steep 7 kilometer slope.


What can I say... by hook or by crook, I was going to see the red-hot lava flow close up. On my horse, Canario, the ascent was fast-paced but I was able to chat with my guide... my fluent Spanish coming in very handy. Miguel said he no longer attends school because he has to help support his widowed mother and 3 younger siblings. Despite the obvious challenges in his life, this young man demonstrated a strong work ethic, a positive attitude, and great interpersonal skills. Imagine what he could do with his life if he had access to a good education!

Miguel knew a great deal about the local flora because he told me all about the numerous plants we passed on the way to the volcano. For example, one plant, called "Hoja de Queso" is used to press cheese between two large leaves. It has antibacterial properties and can also be used as emergency TP or to wipe a sweaty brow. Miguel earned a nice big tip for his extra-special guided tour.

"Hoja de Queso" is a versatile plant.


At the summit, from my vantage point I could see the roiling red-hot lava spilling from the caldera... a wizards brew, complete with an occasional pungent whiff of sulfur. A tremendous heat radiated from the flow, and I was happy to observe from a distance. Thankfully, the thick soles of my hiking boots protected me from the sharp lava we stood on. To my surprise, I learned the lava we are standing on is only 5 months old. I am grateful I decided to pack my hiking boots and gloves to protect my hands as I negotiated through the craggy lava flow. As I steadied myself on the sharp, black lava, my walking pole was looking pretty beat up. I took photos with my Flip video and later will convert some footage to still shots. It was fascinating!

One of our students can be seen crossing to the lava flow on horseback.


I took this photo of the lava flow with a 3X zoom.


The ride down was harder than the ride up. Because of the steep grade I had to lean back very far and press tightly into the stirrups. Canario, only seven years old, was a veteran of the trails... not even phased by the poisonous snake he stopped for on the trail.

The poisonous snake on the trail down was more startled by the horse than vice versa.


I had a view of another volcano called Agua on the way down the trail.


By 1:30 we were back at the posada, in time to make lunch and then get to work planning the seminars for the coming week. Later, I paid $12 for a soothing 45-minute reflexology massage... what a treat for my tired feet!

Casa Santo Domingo

May 26th, 2009 at 03:44 pm

One of the "must see" places in the beautiful Antigua, Guatemala is the five-star hotel, Casa Santo Domingo. It is actually one of the grandest monasteries from the 16th century colonial period of the Americas and it has been converted to a luxury hotel, complete with all the amenities and conveniences of the 21st century. The gardens are exquisite with a vast array of tropical foliage and perched macaws, and the artwork on display in the lobby and the many passageways makes for a museum-like experience. In addition, there is an actual museum beyond the ruins of the original structure and also a unique open-air church.

The lobby of Casa Santo Domingo.


The church is beyond the ruins seen in this picture.


The macaws are colorful and charming. It's almost as if they know you are watching because they perform silly "tricks" like hanging upside down.


You can see the macaws in the gardens.


Our group enjoyed the "all you can eat" Sunday brunch, reasonable at ~$20 per person, considering the vast array of food and drink available. The food truly defies description... one can choose from typical "American-style" breakfast fare such as waffles, pancakes, sausage and eggs to personally prepared omelets and crepes. Then there is the typical Guatemalan food such as tamales, beans, cheeses, enchiladas, exquisite tropical fruit and much more. The students were in heaven, sampling the many dishes. I chose the typical food, including some Salvadoran pupusas (stuffed tortillas) that are my favorite.


The experience was all the more special because my cousin, ML and her husband, were here from El Salvador for the weekend. And, no, they did not stay at Casa Santo Domingo. They stayed at the posada with us, where a small but clean and comfortable room is ~$40 a night compared to ~$250 or more at Casa Santo Domingo. In our travels, we rarely, if ever, stay at such expensive digs, but we know can still get the flavor of a place by dining, having a drink, or just visiting the public areas and gardens of interesting and unique places like Casa Santo Domingo.

Where did the year go?

May 17th, 2009 at 01:50 am

I really enjoy my part-time job and just completed one year of teaching in a .20 position (the equivalent of one day a week). I evaluated all assignments, had conferences with all my students, and was able to post my grades yesterday. It feels great to have completed all the requirements and to see the success of my students.

My PT job pays a modest sum, but nonetheless the money is greatly appreciated and it's been going into my travel fund. Most importantly, for me the work has been a good transition from full-time work. So now I'm off until the fall semester begins in August, except for the volunteer work I will be doing in Guatemala, and this is coming up very soon.

I've been told I'll be rehired for the 2009-10 academic year, but I will only be able to work until December 2009, when the fall semester ends. Dh is retiring in July and he'll work the fall semester, too (as a retired annuitant). Then in early 2010, we are off to have some adventures. This includes spending about a month in Peru to study the ancient cultures of the various regions, something we've been planning for a while.

My Hypothetical Life vs. My Real Life

February 19th, 2009 at 06:54 pm

Well, today is the 6-month anniversary of my retirement and I've been reflecting on whether it's been all that I expected it to be, all that I planned and dreamed for it to be. And the answer is not a simple "yes" or "no."

While I have yet to regret retiring, I have to admit there have been a few times I've wondered if I should have worked another year or two. These are the days when the economic news is so ugly (read: downright scary) that I wonder if I should have padded the retirement accounts a little more.

Then I begin to think about where I'd be if I were still working, and I remember why I retired: endless meetings, daily problems, too much stress, and long, long hours. I also remind myself that my pension income and retirement savings should be adequate if I manage my finances carefully and continue to live as frugally as I have done most of my adult life. Yep, I did the right thing.

But is it all I thought it would be? Actually, retirement has exceeded my expectations in many ways... having choice about how and where to focus my time and energy is great. Yet, the life I hypothetically imagined didn't just instantly materialize. I'm still learning how to better manage my time. There is such a thing as having too much choice and I now realize that some structure, such as that which defined my life when I worked, is necessary for me. But it is sometimes easier said than done.

So, retirement is a work in progress, and I am constantly tweaking the rhythm of my daily life, trying to find the balance that eluded me when I worked. Sometimes being able to simply relax and have fun has been a bit of a challenge because I can't shake the feeling that I should be doing "real" work. I am getting better at being OK with days that haven't resulted in the completion of an "important" task. Some days reading a good book, going for a bike ride or a long walk - activities that are self-focused - have been the accomplishment of my day.

What would I do differently? In retrospect, I'd probably pass on taking on as much part-time work as I did back in September, at least for the first few months. I was so used to being super-busy that I accepted consulting and part-time work at the university even before my retirement was official.

Don't get me wrong, the work is interesting and I'm grateful for the extra money, but I think I could have used a few months to just decompress. Then later, I could have taken on extra work if I felt the need to do so. I guess I was afraid to turn it down for fear it wouldn't be offered again and more so, I feared having nothing "important" to do. Ultimately, the part-time work has been rewarding even though it's kept me busier at times than I really want to be.

Despite the state of the economy, I am VERY happy I retired. Through the years, I've learned there is never a perfect time for anything, whether it's retiring, having children, or some other adventure. There will always be issues and challenges to face, but careful planning and a positive attitude go a long way to ensuring success.

How Can You Be Retired if You Have a Job?

September 11th, 2008 at 08:14 pm

This was a question from someone I've known for years. He tends to be very negative and is not someone I'd frequently associate with if it were not for a circumstance of fate: he is the significant other of a good friend but I don't hold that against her. (Have you ever noticed how negative people suck the life out of you?) Well, I explained, yes, I do have a job but it is because I choose to do it. I do not HAVE TO work. So I leave it at that since I know it is useless to try to explain myself to someone who just doesn't "get it."

I choose to work because I've found job that feeds a passion, not my pocketbook. That, to me, is the big difference. In my previous job, if I did not feel like going to work, I could not easily call in sick. There is not such thing as a substitute principal, although we have individuals assigned to carry on while we are off campus. It's just not the same. Our presence is required 99% of the time.

Now, I get to choose the days and times I work. I have tremendous flexibility, with the exception of having to meet seven times between September and December 1st for a two-hour seminar. But then, I was the one who decided on the dates/times, so it's not that bad. On some weeks, I have no scheduled workdays'these are my "free" days. On other weeks, I may work a day or two.

And a bonus: I get paid! I plan to use this extra money to expand our travel plans and increase my contributions to Heiffer International and Second Harvest Food Bank, two organizations I regularly support. Here's what my job commitment looks like for September:

~ 21 possible workdays (not counting Labor Day)
~ Of these, 11 days are completely free
~ My longest work day: 1 day @ 6 hours
~ On 7 work days, I have scheduled ~3 hours
~ 2 days will require working ~ 2 hours
~ My net pay estimate: ~ $34 an hour (after 33% withheld)

While the money is nice to have, it is not my reason working. My part-time work is a self-imposed experiment because, to confess, I was afraid of having way too much time in retirement. Back in May, when I decided to take the final step into retirement, I had some doubts... about having too much time on my hands, not enough to do, and well...I guess I just needed to be needed somewhere for something. And so, I applied for my PT job at a local university and also accepted a consulting contract with my former employer. When the academic year is over, I may choose to continue working... but then, maybe I won't. Gotta love having choices!