Back in the Classroom

“Why are you tired?” he asked.

My new 6 year old friend was curious. We met 20 minutes earlier when my former colleague introduced me as the substitute teacher who used to work at this school.

He tapped my arm again as I attempted to engage the 3 children on the remote computer screen with the yellow worksheet I had passed out to the kids in the classroom.

Being back in the classroom was fun and even a bit challenging with all the masks. The kids fidgeted as they wrote their names on the paper behind plexiglass desk shields and students at home looked eager to learn in the zoom-like frames on the laptop in front of the class.

“I’m not tired,” I absently smiled at his sweet face. I didn’t think I looked tired.

Then it occurred to me. His teacher had introduced me and he wanted to know why I RE-tired! At that moment I couldn’t think of an answer.

What do you do in the First Year of Retirement?

Retirement Year One – 5 Takeaways

5 Takeaways from year one of retirement like you are not your job. Life after work does exist.

You are not your job

One of the hardest things to decide was when to leave my job as a kindergarten teacher. Most of the time I loved my job. Once I was in the classroom, it was a wonderful little universe that I had created just the way I wanted. The children were happy and learning. I was having fun and being creative. I had an important purpose teaching young people to love reading and school.

What would I be if not a teacher? Isn’t that my identity and fulfillment in life? Due to COVID and changes in my life, I made the decision to exit the work force earlier than originally planned. Once vaccinated, I came back to my school as a substitute and kindergarten screener which gave me some closure from my 21 years in that school district, but I still wondered, what do I do next.

After hours and hours of scanning want ads for teachers, both in New York and Florida, I discovered, I don’t need to be a school teacher right now. I was curious as to what was out there, but it didn’t take too long for me to engage in new activities and pastimes which are rewarding and have nothing to do with my former job! It takes a bit of adjustment for some of us, but I’m happy to declare, I am not my job. When to Retire?

It’s OK to rest

We have pride in this society in being busy. As a working mom, I spent the past 25 years very busy. My job could be demanding at times and there was no “down time” in the kindergarten classroom. Home life was busy with after school sports, lessons and scouts to attend, not to mention cooking, cleaning, shopping, laundry, shoveling snow etc. I wouldn’t trade those years for anything.

Suddenly with retirement comes some space in your daily schedule. What to do? Maybe nothing. Discovering that just being is enough. This can be a huge adjustment. What a luxury to have time to rest. You will eventually fill that time and find balance, but it is certainly OK to take some time to take a break.

Relocation is an adventure

This is a scary thought for people who do not like change. We have comfort in the known even if it is not perfect, we at least know what it is. Originally I thought I would hold onto my home in New York and do the snowbird thing where we live in Florida for 6 months, and then NY for the other six. But one day it occurred to me, I was ready for a change. I was starting a new chapter and it was OK to close the page on the last chapter. It sure was a good one in many ways, but there is more to this story.

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Settling into the Florida house at Christmas

Settling into a new home in Florida has challenges and can be a lot of fun, once the furniture arrives. Christmas in Florida is different too!

It’s been a bit of a challenge to decorate my new Florida house for Christmas when it reaches 85 degrees outside some days. So, I turned down the air-conditioner, put the fireplace channel on the TV and told Alexa to play holiday music and opened the green Rubbermaid bins.

Well, the poor 17-year-old tree we dragged from New York to our new home, I’m sorry to say, didn’t quite make it. The tree trunk wasn’t fitting into the base and Pete’s sledgehammer work caused its demise. Pete was pleased as punch and hoped that was the end of the Christmas tree decorating as we know it, but conveniently Costco still had a few trees for sale! This new tree is super easy to assemble and has multiple options for the pre-attached lights: colored, white, blinking, slow going on and off. Whatever brings you joy this season right?

Speaking of joy, I went back to my first couple of years after Mike died and read the Christmas blog posts. As a new widow, I was overwhelmed by the idea of Christmas and seeing all the wonderful memories represented by the assorted ornaments we had gathered over the years. By the third year, I was ready to decorate again but only used white ornaments and lights. It looked pretty but I still kept all the sad feelings at bay. In contrast this year, all the ornaments came out. I played “Let it Go” and bagged up a bunch of decorations that I was ready to part with. A few trips to Goodwill pared down some of the excess. This year our tree is colorful and full of joy and happy memories. Some days I even use the colored lights instead of the classic white lights, because it just feels good.

I won’t see my kids for the actual holiday days this year. They live far away and I will miss them, but I was lucky to be able to fly to New York City last weekend and spend two fabulous days with both boys. I took them to the Central Park Zoo and we walked around the tree at Rockefeller Center and ate all the best New York foods. It was just the three of us and I’m still smiling over the precious time we shared.

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Procrastinating during the holidays is Sometimes a Good Idea

Procrastinating during the holidays can help the widow deal with grief and loss on her own time.

After Thanksgiving it’s easy to get caught up in the rush and frenzy of Christmas. Keeping busy may be helpful, or maybe you just don’t feel the holiday spirit after the loss of a loved one.  It’s Ok to not do anything somedays.  Other times, you may find yourself lost in a copy of the book that resembles, “If you give a mouse a cookie” by Laura Numeroff and spend the day chasing squirrels.  That is OK too.  Widows get a pass on living up to the expectations we women have burdened ourselves with.  It’s been six years for me now, but I enjoyed reading my post about the second year when I wanted to get back into the swing of the holiday season, but needed a little help.

Decorating for Christmas was definitely on my to do list, I just kept putting it on the bottom.  The idea of digging out all my favorite memories that I had collected over the years for the Christmas tree, kept me frozen with apprehension.

My first year as a widow I avoided the Holidays and traveled. I ran away and didn’t participate in many of my favorite traditions. The cruise during Christmas week to the Caribbean with my 2 sons was perfect for the first year. I never put out any decorations and I was fine with that. A Different Christmas is OK, especially after the loss of a loved one.

The decision was made to decorate on this year 2 and I was planning to do it.  I was going to do it… after I made myself some breakfast.

While I was making home fries, an omelet and coffee, I searched for a piece of paper so I could make a to do list.  After brunch, my puppy started barking.  I was sure he needed a walk so off we went.

When I got back from the walk I noticed that my yard needed a good clean up.

I took out the power tools – a noisy leaf blower.  I started blowing leaves all over the back yard. Once the deck was cleared and the rest pushed to the sides of the yard I thought I would start decorating inside.

But then I noticed the bird feeder was empty.  I have a thing about blue jays and cardinals.  I feel like  my husband and my dad send them to me to comfort me.  It was time to get some bird food.  That was really important.  So I found the car keys and put on a hat.  Off to  do some shopping.

At the garden store, I picked up 20 pounds of bird seed, 75 feet of white pine roping and a 15 inch fake Christmas tree.  I wasn’t ready to pull out all the boxes of ornaments but felt that the small tree with some pretty new decorations would spruce up the house.

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Working with the Florida beach horses

I roll over and see the light starting to sneak through the blinds. I’m about to turn over when I remember: I have work today.

Whoopee!

I smile as I get up and grab my phone and glasses. The coffee pot is ready, so I push the button and check the weather for today. Sunny and hot in Florida. No thunderstorms until late in the afternoon. Great. The coffee pot dings and I can sip hot, caffeine into my veins.

I gather some lunch snacks and refill two water bottles. I dress in my black tank swimsuit, black biking shorts and a pink tank top. I’ll ask them for a company tank top today.

I pack a change of clothes and two towels. One for ‘work’ and one for after if I decide to swim at the beach, 5 miles further down the causeway.

Pete makes me a delicious protein-rich breakfast and I take Harry out for his morning walk. I kiss all goodbye and put on my pink baseball cap. I’m heading out to work.

Florida Beach Horses was looking for guides after many of their workers went back to college after the summer. They invited me in to train. I did two rides with the supervision of an experienced guide and was asked to come back. I guess I passed the interview process!

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Must widows change their name?

Must a widow change her name back to her maiden name? Or do we keep the married name?

Growing up in the 1960s, I hated my name. I was the only girl in my school, at that time, named Kristin. My teachers were confused. They insisted on calling me Christine. Some people called me Christian. They spelled it wrong either starting with a C or ending with “en”. Even my last place of employment, where I worked for 21 years, made the consistent error of spelling my name with an “en” despite my many efforts of correction.

I really wanted to fit in and have a name like the other girls ending in the “eee” sound. Why couldn’t my mom have called me Julie, or Debbie, or Heidi? Years later when I asked her about this, she told me she thought people would call me Kristi. Really? No one ever did. I think you have to initiate that nickname if you are the mother, I told her.

To top it off, my mom decided to use her name as my middle name. Another name I was sure no one except for Austrailians have heard of. Adelaide. Kristin Adelaide was the most obscure name and I was embarrassed to share that top secret information with others.

Of course, my mom never went by Adelaide with her peers. Only her sister called her Adelaide, and it always sounded like she was saying it in a most mocking manner. My mom went by Addie, so even she preferred that “eee” sound at the end of her name. She was popular, and never had an issue fitting in!

Then I grew up with a famously infamous last name. Once people heard the name Sanders, they immediately asked if I was related to the KFC colonel and had a good chuckle over their cleverness. It was easy enough to spell and pronounce, but I did not like that I was always near last when things were done in alphabetical order in school. Being a first born and natural high achiever, being last was not my favorite thing to be.

When I was married at 25 years of age, the idea of women hyphenating their name with their husband’s was all the rage. I considered this fad, but having a background as a teacher, I decided it would be easier for our children if we all just had the same name. Coming from a family of traditionalists, it seemed like the appropriate thing to do. I changed my middle name from Adelaide to Sanders, and my new last name became Divers. It was easy to spell. Surprisingly, people often had trouble pronouncing it – like they expected it to be some strange sounding word like Dee-vers. No, I would explain. Like a scuba diver. Best of all, I was thrilled to be listed near the front of the alphabet, whenever that was relevant.

For 30 years I taught in elementary school and I was known as Mrs. Divers. I taught kindergarten for 21 of those years in the same neighborhood where I lived. Lots of families remember their child’s kindergarten teacher. I would often walk through the supermarket and be stopped by 3 or 4 families with a look of excited surprise as they would see me and exclaim, “Mrs. Divers” across the store. I didn’t always remember the child’s name until I was driving home. It was a bit like how movie stars must feel, and I soon started to do my grocery shopping in the next town after 9pm.

Over the years, generous parents created signs and bags with the name Mrs. Divers on them. I had name stickers made to insert into my collection of children’s books that I would let colleagues borrow as needed. On occasion, the secretary would announce over the PA system, “Mrs. Divers please call the main office”. I was Mrs. Divers, and Mrs. Divers was me.

After Mike died, I didn’t really think about my name much. I had lots of paperwork to deal with and everything was in both of our names. Taking him off the bank accounts, credit cards, car loans, and mortgage took time and effort. Changing my name back to my maiden name was never considered.

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What do you do in the First Year of Retirement?

“Anything I want”

Haha. That’s the smartass answer, but what do you really do in retirement?

For someone like me who worked steadily out of the home 40 hours per week, all this time at home is a significant change. Back when I had a busy family and house to run, I felt like I was never home. In retirement, you spend more time around the house. This is only my first year, so I am not an expert on anything. This is just what I’ve done so far.

It has been a peculiar time for everyone. We had the pandemic that never left. That caused many activities to cut back, especially international travel, which I have enjoyed over the past few years, and I hope to continue soon. I managed a few getaways this past year, but like most people, I haven’t left the country.

I moved. That was a full-time job. Going through all that stuff. Selling big items. Giving things away. I thought I really purged until I moved to Florida. Now, unpacking and settling into a new home is a full-time job. We both brought too much stuff, and we need to set up our home with new furniture. It takes a little while, and it is coming together nicely. Not sure when the dining table will arrive, but we saved a folding table and chairs for now.

With time on my hands in a new town, I have been actively seeking ways to keep busy.

I must admit, I enjoy sleeping in these days. Pete and I got up early for work for years, so the luxury of getting up when you feel like it has been nice. After my second cup of coffee and breakfast, I take Harry for his morning walk around the pond behind our house. We pass a dog park, so we will stop for a quick visit if someone is there. Harry smells his new friend, then basically ignores the other dog. I am starting to see repeat dog owners and I try to remember the names.

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9 Happy Surprises in Moving to Florida!

9 Happy Surprises in Moving to Florida

One month, and it’s beginning to feel like home. We definitely kept too much stuff from both our homes in New York and still need to purge, but I have faith it will happen. We unpacked most of the 106 cardboard boxes, and found interested parties on the internet to take the empty boxes, thus keeping them from landfills. Signing up for the Next Door app has been helpful. People recommend nail salons, pet sitters, appliance repair services and post photos of random creatures like bugs and bobcats.

We knew it would be hot in Florida in August, but I have some positive revelations from our first month here as well:

1. It’s hot everywhere in August

I had braced myself for the heat. Flip flops, scrunchies for the hair, shorts and a bikini for the pool on my Lanai. Then I heard from folks back home in New York and in Minnesota and in Arizona. The USA seems to be overheating this summer and it’s not only in Florida. The humidity is high, but people here are prepared for it. The stores are all airconditioned. The homes have A/C and private pools. People use the pools more than the beach in the summer, and stay indoors during the hottest time of the day.

2. People wear masks in Florida

Even though the governor has argued that schools can’t mandate students wear masks, people are wearing them in lots of places, more so than they were in New York last month. I was surprised to see more than half the people in Walmart and Publix wearing masks. The COVID positive rates are high in Florida and hospitals are filled with unvaccinated people on ventilators and dying. Many of the schools have defied the governor and are enforcing mask rules to protect the kids and teachers anyway. It is good to see people using caution and common sense in public, even if they don’t have to.

3. Costco sells wine

I am a big fan of Costco. The warehouse store makes me happy and I have bought everything from tires and bunk beds, to steak and pistachios. In the middle of the store, a short drive from my house, is a sommelier and a humungous selection of wines of all types and prices. They even have a Kirkland brand which tastes pretty good. I’m hopeful they will start giving out free samples; maybe a wine pairing next to the morsels of Pierogis and Brie cheese.

4. People are helpful at DMV

Picture on my license plate

Seriously, this was definitely a pleasant surprise. They don’t call it DMV, you go to the “Tax Collector” here. Due to COVID, you make reservations online. I was able to reserve a time for the next day. You fill out some paperwork, and if you don’t, they give you some to fill in when you check in. I replaced my driver’s license in about 30 minutes and had a brand new colorful one with a much better picture; they let you smile here. Then, I registered my car. Behind the agent, is a shelf of beautiful plates you can choose from if you don’t want the one with a plain orange. Mine supports the coral reef and is oh so pretty.

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The New Home

Moving from New York to Florida in the middle of summer. Widowed, retired and now a newly wed life starts fresh in a new state in a new home. Life after loss.

We moved in a week ago, but the truck is still in transit. One hundred six (I numbered them) cardboard packed boxes, 17 Rubbermaid bins, 12 milk crates with random tools, 6 bicycle boxes filled with TVs and large items, suitcases, 2 couches, 2 rugs,2 bikes and who knows what else is expected to arrive tomorrow.

It’s amazing how easy it is to live simply. The past week we’ve done just fine with our limited belongings that we packed in the SUV for the 23 hour drive to Florida from New York. Why do we have so much stuff?

For months I have been purging. Donations to Goodwill stores and boxes in the church parking lot. Garage sales and listings on Facebook Marketplace provided us with some cash to spend on future new furnishings. The last week we gave away the entire den set for free to some young guys setting up their first apartment. We ended up throwing in pots, pans and Kraft macaroni and cheese as well.

Then there were the piles of garbage the last few weeks at the end of the driveway. With all that purging, I’m surprised anything is making it down here tomorrow!

Over the past few months I checked off boxes on my bucket list. Trips into New York City included walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and visiting MoMa and Central Park. Pete and I visited some Long Island Gold Coast estates to enjoy the gardens and celebrate our 2nd anniversary at the Oheka Castle.

I enjoyed kayaking and some days at the beach, lunch out with friends, and even a couple of girl’s weekends.

I even had fun going back to school to substitute teach and screen the incoming 4 year olds with a pre- kindergarten assessment. They all passed and will be adorable excited learners in September.

It took a few months (I’m exhausted just writing about all this) but it was what I needed and wanted to do before moving 1000 miles away from the place I’ve called home for most of my life.

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Remembering loved ones on their birthday

It has been six years since Mike has been here to celebrate his birthday but I always think of him on his birthday, the fourth of July. He loved having his birthday on the fourth as people always celebrated and had a party on that day, even fireworks! This year he would have been 58 and for 30 plus years we shared those holidays together.

Mike always remembered to hang up the American flag on his birthday. He grew up in a family where his dad made everyone stand and salute when the national anthem was played at the beginning of a sports game. His respect for our country was admirable and Mike loved to read about the history of our country. Celebrating our democratic process and understanding the importance of our laws led him to pursue his undergraduate degree at UCSD in political science and then his law degree from Hofstra University.

After living in San Diego for 8 years in our 20s, we moved back to New York so Mike could attend law school and we lived at home with my parents. Those days were wonderful and filled with the laughter from our two young boys. In 2002 we moved into our first home as a family in the same school district where I worked as a kindergarten teacher. It was a 1960s high ranch with a big yard on a quiet street, everything we could want.

While the house was great, it was a bit outdated. The countertops in the kitchen were a pale pink formica. I covered the vinyl floors in the kitchen with checkered black and white, peel and stick tiles. We ripped out the old carpets to discover wood floors which we could not afford to sand and stain yet and the white shingles on the house were turning a deeper shade of gray.

That didn’t matter to us. The best part about this house was that the yard had a pool! It was a large above ground 30 foot in diameter round structure. Most people could stand in it since the depth was about 4 feet. I had never had my own pool before and to me this was the status symbol that we had made it. We had a swimming pool.

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