I’m back and ready to write some more stories about amazing people.
One thing I have learned since starting my blog, Growing Up Not Old, is that life over 50 looks very different to different people.
When I decided to retire from my job of 15 years, I told people that I was calling this phase of my life, my “re-imagination” not my retirement. So I have spent the past six months figuring out what to do next. Reimagining my life.
Since I left my full-time job, I have woken up every morning euphoric. I have never looked back or second guessed my decision. But after six months of writing, creating videos and doing a podcast, I wanted a little more structure in my life.
An opportunity presented itself at the local Chamber of Commerce. I had already being doing some work for them as a contractor so, I took on the position of part-time Community Events Coordinator. So far its been great.
I started working there after a two-week stay with my daughter and her husband in their home in Auckland, New Zealand. It was awesome! And for a long time fan of the Lord of the Rings franchise, it was really a dream come true visiting Hobbiton, the set of the Hobbit movies.
So now that I have recovered from my trip and have settled into my new job, it’s time to get back to my passion — writing.
As many of you know, I spent last year preparing for my own re-imagination by interviewing people who had made big changes to their life after 50. I have told stories of people selling everything and moving to the Caribbean and other stories of people falling in love later in life. Each story is unique and inspiring.
Now, I am writing my own story in real time, so please forgive my lapses between blogs as I figure out what life looks like for me personally.
Still, I have received so many comments about my blog and so many people have told me how much they like reading my stories, that I’m not about to give up now.
So, now that I am in motion, I am ready to get back to writing. I have already contacted a few people about interviews and I am always looking for someone else with an interesting story.
I know my part-time job with the Chamber is not my-end-all-be-all. It’s one more step on my journey. I hope I never stop taking those steps because I believe one should never stop learning.
So, follow me this year as we meet more interesting people with their own unique stories and help me as I navigate my own path.
My next blog will be March 14th. I am going to catch up with some of the people I profiled last year to see how they are doing and then March 28th, I will have a brand new blog.
If you haven’t been following my blog, now is a great time to start. Go back and read some of my early stories. The writing may not have been as on point, but the stories are just as fascinating.
Here’s to another trip around the Sun and more interesting people to meet.
If you know someone who would make a great interview, let me know. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Jenn turned 50, she knew she was ready for a change. After some self-reflection, she found her next career helping others like her going through transition.
January is often a time when people reflect and think about what they want to do over the next year. Some people over 50 may start to think about retiring, while others start to think about what their next chapter might be.
Five years ago, when Jenn Gruber was turning 50, she began to think about what she might do next. Her husband was getting ready to retire and her daughter was graduating from high school and going off to college.
“I’d spent 22 years putting my family first,” Jenn said. “I wanted to do what I wanted to do, but I had no idea what that was.”
She knew she wanted to do something that would incorporate all the skills she had learned over a lifetime of volunteer and paid work experience with non-profits. Over the years, she discovered that not only did she love leading groups, public speaking and writing, she was good at it.
So, Jenn began a journey of self-discovery including meditation, yoga, journaling, and listening to podcasts, watching TED talks, and reading self-help books and articles.
“All of that led me to coaching,” Jenn said. “Helping people find more joy and more fulfillment in their lives felt very appealing to me and brought me back to what I wanted to do in my 20s.”
Although she was passionate about coaching, Jenn was still hesitant to take the first steps.
“I thought, ‘what if I’m not good at it?” Jenn said. However, once she started the certification process, she knew that coaching was the modality that she had been looking for. “I realized that through every job and position I’d held, I did a lot of coaching,” Jenn said. “I was always the person that the company leadership would ask, ‘What’s the mood of the organization? What do people need?’” Her training provided a framework for using the skills that had always felt intuitive to her.
Once she had decided move forward, Jenn had another decision to make, who would she coach? “I thought it made sense to work with women like me,” Jenn said. She wanted to help women who were ready to start a new chapter but had lost touch with who they were, but that felt too broad.
“I’ve always loved helping people to feel more connected to one another, so I realized that I wanted relationships to be a part of my work. What I landed on was family transitions.” Jenn said.
Now, she helps people who are approaching retirement to not only explore their own goals, but also to think about how their relationships are going to be impacted by those changes. Her clients also include individuals whose partners are retiring, those whose kids are becoming young adults, and those whose parents are aging and declining.
Her own personal experience with her father, who was afflicted with Alzheimer’s, has helped give her insight into this area.
Training and Certification
Jenn went through extensive training to become a life coach. She first attended a 9-month program through the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC) and earned her Certified Professional Coach (CPC) designation. Then, after completing 100 hours of coaching and additional testing, she was awarded the title of Associate Certified Coach (ACC) through the International Coaching Federation.
Going into Business
In February 2020, Jenn launched her business. Although at first, this seemed an inopportune time to begin a business, Jenn found new opportunities.
“My entire marketing plan for the year went out the window.” Jenn said with a laugh. Instead, she pivoted and began facilitating virtual support groups and coaching clients struggling with COVID-related issues.
Jenn worked with SHIFT Yoga in Fulton, MD facilitating online “Support for the Soul” groups. In addition, Jenn led discussions for book clubs and groups of friends who pulled together, helping them deal with COVID-related issues.
Clients would say, “I’m not used to being with my spouse 24-7 and it’s driving me crazy.” But it wasn’t just about managing family relationships, people had many fears about COVID, and it caused them to re-think their lives moving forward, according to Jenn.
“It was a great way for me to get a lot of exposure,” Jenn said. During this time, she was able to make contacts and get her name out in the community, while also gaining more experience.
Building Her Business
Jenn also made a point to network. She joined the Business Women’s Network of Howard County. “Even though it was all virtual for quite a while, I made a lot of contacts,” Jenn said.
“I’ve also gotten a lot of referrals through other coaches,” she said. Because each coach has their own specialty, Jenn has had other coaches reach out to her. Sometimes the referrals come through the Facebook groups she belongs to and other times through iPEC alumni. “There aren’t a lot of coaches who do what I do,” Jenn said, referring in particular to the fact that she works with peoplewho are overwhelmed by their parents’ increasing needs.
Jenn has also built up a network of professionals who refer clients to her. “After the pandemic I put a lot of energy into referral partnerships,” Jenn said. These professionals include social workers, senior real estate specialists, estate attorneys and generic care managers.
Advice for People in Transition
Through her experience working with people transitioning into retirement, as well as her own personal experience, Jenn has found one thing that’s really important. She recommends you ask yourself, “What do I want my life to look like once I retire?”
Jenn said this is not about just planning out the big goals. She recommends you think about what day-to-day life will be. What time will you get up or go to bed? Do you want to set an alarm? Will you go to gym? Do you want to volunteer?
“Think about how you’re going to fill your days,” Jenn said. She also recommended asking yourself why you’re choosing to do those things, whether it be activities or down time. “What is going to bring you joy and fulfillment?”
Discover What’s Missing
Jenn said that when people first make the decision to retire, they often think about what they won’t miss after leaving their job. For example, “I won’t have to deal with difficult people anymore. “
However, she said it’s important to take that next step and think about what their former career provided them. According to Jenn, failure to look at the loss you may be experiencing as a result of retiring may leave a person floundering and feeling like “this is what I wanted, why am I not enjoying it more?”
For example, an individual may miss something like the social interactions at work. They need to think, “‘I do miss the social interactions so, I need to find new social interactions.’ It’s not that leaving was the wrong decision,” she said.
“People often don’t realize or anticipate how much the loss of their previous life will impact them,” Jenn said. “Then they start judging themselves for not handling things well.”
According to Jenn it’s important acknowledge what you are missing and where else can you find that feeling. “It’s not working every day that you miss, it’s the feelings that come from working every day that you miss,” Jenn said. Perhaps it’s the sense of accomplishment, or feeling appreciated, or being a part of a team.
She recommends that individuals remember why they made the decision to retire and think about what they are gaining in retirement.
“What is it that made you feel relevant before? What does relevance mean to you?” are questions that Jenn says can be great starting points.
Her Personal Transition
Jenn doesn’t just focus on an individual, but also on how the relationships in her clients’ lives will change as a result of major life changes. She knows first-hand. Her husband, Jim, retired December 30th, 2021. “It wasn’t a seamless transition for the two of us, even though he had been working from home for over a year.” Jenn said.
It’s was a transition for Jim going from being on a schedule to having no schedule, especially since she was still on a schedule. They made changes to the way they communicated in order to navigate this transition better.
Now, they talk in the morning over coffee. They both share what they are going to do that day. Jenn goes over her schedule so her husband knows when she is working and when she has time off. That way he knows when she’s available.
Jenn said this not only helps him, but it helps her as well. “I’ve worked from home in the past, and I’ve had trouble maintaining boundaries between work life and home life. By telling him my schedule, it helps me stick to those hours,” Jenn said.
In addition, they set up weekly conversations, where they discuss plans for the weekend and logistical details of their lives. It’s also an opportunity to talk about things that are bothering them. “It’s a safe time to have honest conversations. We started it during COVID,” Jenn said.
At first, Jim was reluctant. “So, you want me to set an hour aside each week so you can tell be everything I’m doing wrong.” Jim said.
“I explained, ‘No. We deserve to have the best in each other, and we’re not getting that.’ Now he admits that he sees the benefit. It’s a time to share whatever is on our minds,” Jenn said.
It is a time to discuss issues without the emotions that are present in the heat of the moment. They are able to me more receptive and less reactive and defensive. These meetings seem to work, according to Jenn.
The Second Spouse Retiring
Retirement is one change people make; however, when the second spouse retires, it is an entirely new transition.
Jenn said it’s important to keep in mind that each spouse may have their own perception of what retirement should look like. “There is no one perfect way to do retirement. Couple’s retirement goals can be very different from one another,” Jenn said. One person may be a homebody who thrives on down time versus another person who wants a full schedule and a lot of activity.
“No answer is the right one for everyone,” Each person needs to determine what does their ideal retirement looks like and where the crossover with their partner is, according to Jenn.
“Often one person wants to spend more time together than the other one does. There needs to be compromise and it takes time,” Jenn said.
“Start with what sounds fun and appealing to both individuals. Start there,” Jenn said.
Life as a Coach
Jenn works about 20 hours a week and feels she has found the right path. “I love helping people see things in a different way — helping them to see things they didn’t see before,” Jenn said. “With coaching there are no right or wrong answers. It’s all about helping people find the solution that is best for them.”
Jenn believes that people have the answer, and her job is to help them get to it. “They do know what they want, they just don’t know how to access it. Helping them figure it out is really fun for me and very rewarding.”
She believes her work has a ripple effect. “If a client feels happier as a result of our work together, that ripples out to everyone they touch. I like knowing I’ve impacted the world in a positive way.”
“So much time is wasted when people don’t understand each other,” Jenn said. “And a lot of that comes from them not knowing themselves, and what they want and need. When you look inward and figure that out, it’s going to improve all your other relationships as well,” Jenn said.
Jenn said the biggest hurdle in retiring is indecision. People often are unsure of when they want to retire and end up second guessing themselves.
“What’s really difficult is when somebody makes a decision and then they don’t feel good about it or question whether they’ve made the right choice,” Jenn said.
“You have to be really clear on why you’re making the decision to retire, then, regardless of what happens in the future, you can still feel good about basing the decision on very valid reasons,” she said.
When Randy May turned 50, he took a job in South Africa that has lead to a life of fulfillment, change, adventure and love.
Randy May never took the typical path. Early on in his social work career he realized that he enjoyed working closely with a team of people in mission-driven community organizations. In 2008, that desire took him to accepting a job as Deputy Country Director in Ethiopia working with an international HIV organization. He did well, and was later promoted and moved to South Africa. In 2012, he celebrated his 50th birthday by driving up to Kruger National Park with a colleague to enjoy the vast natural beauty of game park and the wildlife. “It was a lovely day.”
In 2014, Randy met his now husband, Walter. “It was such a surprise. I was 52 and wasn’t looking for love or a partner,” Randy said. “I was just living my life the way I wanted to. I was privileged to run into a really sweet guy.” They were married in May 2018.
Everything seemed to be going well, but in March of that year, Randy was called into a global meeting of the organization and informed that the organization had lost much of its funding due to a change in administration and was cutting the US-base funded positions. “It made perfect sense,” Randy said. The organization wanted to prioritize keeping the field offices open so many of the management and administrative positions were eliminated, Randy explained.
Although Randy had a spousal Visa, he did not have a work permit. “Like many places, you need a work permit to get a job, but you need a job to get a work permit.”
Randy tried for a year to get a job there. “I tried, but being 56, I needed a salary in US Dollars so I could contribute to my Social Security and 401K after a career as a social worker.”
He and Walter had the difficult conversation and concluded that Randy needed to go back to the United States at get a job. “I think that if we were much younger, it would have been really hard. But being at the finish line of work, it is time limited. I mean it’s still hard, but if it was open-ended, it would be even harder.” He returned to the U.S. in October 2019.
Walter needed to stay in South Africa to finish out his career. He had 26 years working for a bank and only a short time until he could retire. “Everyone retires at 60 there,” Randy said. Walter would work until 60 and then have a pension for the rest of his life.
So, in October 2018, Randy moved back to the U.S. He had been in Africa for over 11 years. “Everything I had here was in storage,” Randy said.
He moved back to Maine where he had friends and lived for 23 years before moving to Africa. “I applied for a job to work at the LL Bean call center during the Christmas season like every good Mainers does and I had done for two seasons in the past.” When not working, he volunteered at a local soup kitchen.
Luckily, by the end of December 2018, Randy was hired as the interim deputy director of a small, non-profit, supporting health systems in Haiti. “It was doing work that I love,” said Randy.
With his new job in place, Randy scheduled a quick trip to see Walter in South Africa. Then in February, he visited Cap-Haitien, Haiti for three-weeks to see first-hand how his work was affecting the residents of Haiti and to learn more about the organization.
“The organization I was working for was supporting local clinics and hospitals,” Randy said. His job was to help them get training and equipment so the residents could get quality health care. “It was lovely. The people were very friendly,” Randy said.
Then COVID hit and Randy wasn’t able to go back to South Africa to see Walter. “It was hell. Thank goodness for Facetime and WhatsApp, but it wasn’t what we had bargained for,” Randy said.
“It was pretty intense, but we were confident in us,” Randy said. He said he is grateful that he didn’t lose any family members to COVID. “In perspective, we were inconvenienced,” Randy said.
Randy enjoyed his job in Maine, but knew it was an interim job. He also felt he needed to move closer to his mother in Indiana.
“I knew my mother was failing and wouldn’t be able to live independently,” Randy said. He began looking for jobs in Indianapolis so he could support his mother and his sister, who had to bear most of the responsibility of taking care of his mother.
He got a job with the Marion County health department doing HIV work. “I’d run away from Indiana in 1984 and never looked back,” Randy said. However, moving back proved to be a good experience.
He enjoyed his time in Indiana and enjoyed reconnecting with friends. “I enjoyed the work and planned to stay there working the five-year plan until our retirement,” Randy said. “I met a lot of great people there.”
Then, one day, somebody “pinged” him and said he should look at a job in Washington D.C. The job was as the Director for HIV and Harm Reduction working with NACCHO, National Association of County and City Health Officials supporting over 3,000 health departments around the country. His job would be focused on making sure people living with HIV and those at risk received the health care they needed. The job also included securing health care for those with viral hepatitis.
“It’s clearly focused on health equity. It’s a little farther removed from what I was doing in Indiana,” Randy said. However, Randy knew that he wanted to apply and he got the job.
“It’s humbling to be this farm kid from Indiana sitting in meeting in Washington D.C. where major decisions are being made,” Randy said.
“I am able to speak to the needs of local health departments,” Randy said. “It’s good work.”
Securing Employment After 50
Although, Randy admits that there is age discrimination, he credits the ability to get jobs after 50 is how he presents himself.
“I talk about what I do know, but I am open to new leadership and new ideas,” Randy said. “I think that openness helps.”
Randy also said he likes to do informational interviews. “I have to pay my bills, so I address that whether it’s working at LL Bean or whatever, but I also talk to people and say, ‘This is the type of work I want to do. Who in your community is doing this type of work?”
Randy said he does information interviews even before he is looking for a job. “It’s just old social networking,” Randy said. He said he uses LinkedIn and his contacts to find out who he should be talking to. “I really appreciate LinkedIn. I’ve remained connected to a lot of the professionals I’ve worked with in Maine, Indiana, Haiti, South Africa and Botswana,” Randy said.
“It’s not passive. It’s about asking people to talk about their work,” Randy said. “Asking people for a half hour of their time.”
Using this technique, Randy got his job in Ethiopia. “In 2003, I liked my work, but I wanted to do something more. I knew I wanted to do international work,” he said.
“I was taking people to dinner and just doing informational interviewing,” Randy said. “I was saying, ‘This is the kind of work I want to do. What do you think?’”
“Lo and behold someone said, ‘I know someone doing that type of work.’” They connected Randy with someone and he did an informational interview. Even though there was nothing available at that time, the person said they would reach out to him when it was available. “They did and that’s how I ended up in Ethiopia.”
“I believe in that personal connection of meeting people,” Randy said.
Randy has even cold emailed people. He asked the person to talk to him about his organization. Randy said, “I know you don’t have any open positions, but that’s not what I am asking. I am asking for information about the organization. The person was so gracious and was happy to talk to me.” That email led to three other referrals and one eventually led to a job.
Early on in his career, Randy decided rather than look at the job title, he would look at the type of work the position was doing. “That has led me to lots of meaningful work experiences working with lots of wonderful people,” Randy said.
“I’m really grateful at 50 that I did something radically different and new. Living in Ethiopia in 2008 and learning Amharic and learning a different culture rejuvenated me,” Randy said.
“It opened up my world.”
Advice to Others
“People have to make choices and be pragmatic,” Randy said.
He said that many people are trapped because of health insurance. He said it would be great if Medicare age was lowered to 60 so people could explore other options including part-time work or volunteering.
“I really think it’s a shame we don’t institute a GAP year in our 40s,” Randy said. “You get into a track and it’s easy to keep doing the same thing. “It would be nice if people had a year to figure out what they want the rest of their work path to look like.”
He does encourage others to look for other jobs after 50 by finding out about companies they may want to work with and figuring out what makes them happy.
What the Future Holds
Randy is currently working on a five-year plan. In five years, Walter will be able to retire. “We agreed to look where I am financially and health-wise and where he is health-wise and we’ll make a decision,” Randy said.
He said he doesn’t really know what things will look like in five years. “We’ll decide where we are and discern our best decision then,” Randy said. He said he may decide to work another couple of years beyond that depending where he is with his career.
“Eventually, I will be moving home to South Africa,” Randy said.
If you know anyone with who would make a good subject for my blog, please email me at email@example.com.
Beth Harbinson set out to help people with addiction issues and ended up starting a new business and a new life.
In 2017, Beth Sandbower Harbinson, now 63, was backstage at Merriweather Post Pavilion with friends. It was a big night out and she was ready to party. Her friends, who drank alcohol, “got these really cool drinks,” Beth said. However, she stopped drinking alcohol in 2005. So, when she got to the bar, wallet in hand, and asked for something non-alcoholic, she was offered water, soda or Red Bull. None of those choices sounded very festive. “It’s not an equitable choice,” Beth said. “Back then, there were not many non-alcoholic (NA) adult beverages available.”
That’s when Beth got an idea. She created Sobar, a non-profit specializing in providing non-alcoholic cocktail service. “I pitched this idea at a Shark-Tank like event called the Changemaker Challenge sponsored by United Way and The Horizon Foundation and thought why not?”
At the time, Beth was working full-time as the Executive Director of Children’s Scholarship Fund Baltimore. “I don’t know how I did it,” Beth said. “Because we did a lot (at Sobar). It was like having a second job.”
She ran Sobar “part-time” while working at the scholarship fund until this year when she decided to retire August 1. She helped transition a new executive director into the position and then moved onto retirement. “I had come to the conclusion of the substantive work that I had started,” Beth said. She saw that to continue and build Sobar, she would need to work on the project full time for a year and then assess her time commitment.
But the transition to retirement has not been without bumps. “I’m trying to figure out what I want to focus on. I’m wired to work,” Beth said.
“I am liking it (retirement), but I have to teach myself,” Beth said. She is still setting her alarm for 7:30 a.m., whether or not she has a meeting. She said she’s beginning to realize she doesn’t need to wake up at that time anymore except to take care of her four-legged alarm clocks — her 3 dogs.
For Beth, the best part of retirement has been more control over her time. “I’ve been able to prioritize what’s matters to me. I love my morning routine of mediation,” Beth said. “And I love to exercise.”
In addition to Sobar, she sits on the Opioid Community Crisis Council and Local Behavioral Health Authority Board. “We look at behavioral and mental health issues in Howard County and work with agencies to improve services and identify needs. I’m really passionate about dealing with these issues,” Beth said.
However, a majority of time is dedicated to her passion project Sobar. Sobar is a non-profit organization with a very specific mission – to provide and promote innovative beverage options to those who cannot or choose not to drink alcohol. Their current focus includes:
Creating awareness about the need to have non-alcoholic offerings at events.
Providing the non-alcoholic bar at large public events, and
Offering Sobar Certification to businesses and organizations.
Sobar Certification is a partnership Sobar offers to corporations, organizations and event venues that pledge to include equitable, non-alcoholic options at any event they are hosting. “In exchange the organization makes a meaningful contribution to Sobar annually that allows them to use our branding and gives them a direct line to our wholesalers. Nine times out of ten when we approach an organization, they say this makes so much sense, but we never thought about it,” Beth said.
“It’s a market that is rapidly going to expand in this country,” Beth said. “The market has exploded.” There are over 500 non-alcoholic options available according to Beth.
“It certainly helps people in recovery from alcoholism, but think about the other people who don’t drink. You’re pregnant. You’re on a drug for mental health or any medication where the label says ‘do not drink alcohol while on this drug.’ The designated driver. The person who doesn’t drink for religious reasons. Or the growing number of Gen Zer’s who are saying they want to moderate or reduce their alcohol intake – about 65 percent,” Beth said.
In addition to serving non-alcohol options and providing the certification, Sobar has NA options available on its website. They are working in partnership with wholesaler Better Rhodes and because they are a non-profit, a percentage of the sales help support Sobar’s mission.
Beth and her volunteers are unpaid. She does pay a few paid staff members, but the majority of the money goes to pay the “sobaristas.”
Soberistas are the bartenders for Sobar. The majority are in recovery and many of them live in halfway houses or sober living facilities. “Many of those people have a record because they have done things to support their disease, so it’s hard for them to get employment,” Beth said. “We love hiring these folks. I’ve met so many fascinating people.”
The sobaristas make $20 an hour and a minimum of $120 a shift. Beth said, “I think it’s important to pay a living wage to people.”
In addition, she knows many of her employees have lost their license and need to Uber to work. “That’s not inexpensive.”
“At the end of the day, if I help to keep one of my bartenders sober, that’s amazing, “Beth said.
Addiction in America
Beth stopped drinking in 2005. She knew that she had a problem with alcohol, but had been reluctant to face it. “It was a crazy, scary time,” Beth said. With encouragement from her family, she went to see a counselor and he suggested a 12-step program. “There are many roads to recovery,” Beth said, but this one has worked for her.
“I call mental health and substance abuse second class diseases,” Beth said.
“You can’t go to a hospital emergency room and get treatment.” When someone does seek help, oftentimes there is a long-wait to be admitted to a program.
“It’s crazy to me that something that is happening at epidemic levels is not more streamlined and mainstreamed in the continuum of care,” Beth said.
“We’re such an alcohol centric society,” Beth said. Sobar seeks to make not drinking mainstream.
When NA options are available “it’s just there. No one has to make a special request.” Beth said. “There is still so much stigma and shame associated with the disease of alcoholism and addiction. By having equitable NA options, hosts can help reduce those feelings.”
Beth works with organizations to promote NA options at events. She consults with organizations on the wording of their invitations to ensure they include information about having alcohol-free options. One example is a recent Bourbon & BBQ event that featured Zero proof counterparts.
“We do about 50 galas a year,” Beth said. Sobar can either set up a non-alcoholic bar or help curate non-alcoholic options for an organization.
“We can set up a bar that looks exactly like a regular bar with zero alcohol and with options that taste great.” Beth said.
Her work setting up these NA bars at events has been rewarding. “Occasionally someone will come up to us during an event and say ‘you helped keep me sober today.’ That makes it all worth it,” Beth said.
Although Sobar does not manufacture NA products, it does work very closely with NA producers and wholesalers. Better Rhodes is their wholesaler. “I like these guys. I like their corporate values and I want to be associated with them,” Beth said.
The public can buy NA products through the Sobar website and Better Rhodes makes a donation to Sobar to support its mission. In addition, first time buyers going through the Sobar website receive a 10 percent discount.
Sobar’s number one drink is their Butterfly Pea Tree Lemonade. “We will probably never do a bar in the spring or summer without including it,” Beth said. “It’s a beautiful drink.” The ingredients combine to make a magenta-colored drink.
“My favorite pre-mixed drinks are Lyres pre-canned drinks from Australia,” Beth said. “One mimics a gin and tonic and it’s 45 calories.”
As further evidence of NA popularity, Beth said, “These products sell out.” She suggests people stock up for the holidays early. In addition to selling products through the website, Sobar will have local events leading up to the holiday season.
“What we’ve decided to focus on this holiday season is selling kits for home parties,” Beth said.
The weekend of November 25 through the 27, Beth and Sobar will be selling cocktail kits at the Kennedy Krieger Institutes’ Festival of Trees. In addition, there will be a Zero-Hour Happy Hour at Georgia Grace in Ellicott City December 8th from 6-8 p.m. There will be samples of the Sobar offerings, drinks and kits for sales as well as live music and Georgia Grace’s great menu.
It may seem as though Beth spends all of her time helping others, but she has made carving out time for herself and her husband Scott a priority as well.
“I’m having conversations with my spouse, whom I love, about what we are going to do together,” Beth said. Her spouse retired a couple of years ago.
Before retirement they led fairly autonomous lives as they both had very busy careers. “We are working with a consultant who works with people through life transitions,” Beth said. Jenn Gruber, a relationship consultant, helps them ask the questions they need to ask during this life transition.
Beth has agreed to do a four-day work week so one day a week they make spending time together a priority. They have bought electric bikes and riding bikes is often a part of their weekday off plan.
The Future Looks Bright
Beth said she knows how lucky she is to have retired early and be able to run Sobar unpaid. She credits her husband Scott with creating a sound financial plan for them. “Thank God I married an MBA,” Beth said.
In addition to promoting the Sobar Certification with organizations, Beth said she would like to have a retail store with a tasting room in the back. She’s not really interested in running a NA bar or restaurant, but is glad that there are more and more of these places opening up. There is an app called “Better Without” that helps people find NA establishments.
“We’re building a culture of celebration that is not so alcoholic centric,” Beth said. “I hope in some way we can shift the conversation.”
Sonja Schmitz’s life changed in a moment, but she didn’t let hold her back from a new career.
For Sonja Schmitz, having her annual mammogram was like going to the dentist every year or having an annual physical. She entered the office with no real concerns. But when they did the sonogram and she saw the results, she started to cry. “It was a horrible day. I just knew.” Even though she had been a biology professor for many years, that’s not why she knew there was a problem. “It wasn’t a brain thing. It was a visceral thing,” Sonja said.
Although the radiologist saw a tumor, he could not confirm that she had breast cancer. However, he performed a needle biopsy right then and there and called her on the weekend with the results. The tumor was malignant and she most likely had breast cancer.
Sonja and her husband Gary went through the Thanksgiving holidays not knowing the specifics of the diagnosis. “I started doing my literature searches and reading everything on the subject, ” Sonja said.
In mid-December, after more testing, her doctor confirmed the diagnosis. Sonja had stage two, triple negative breast cancer. “It was a very aggressive form of cancer,” Sonja said.
“By Christmas, we knew we were going to be in for a hell of a treatment,” Sonja said. She was facing eight months of chemo therapy and radiation. The chemo started a week after her January 9th surgery when they removed the tumor and the sentinel lymph nodes. The chemo lasted until July, then she began radiation every day for 35 days.
The chemo was once a week on Thursdays for four hours. “I never had to go alone,” Sonja said. She would invite a different friend to come each week and they would spend the treatment time catching up. “Some friends even came twice,” Sonja said. “That’s how I got through chemo.”
“I had a lot of” good friends. People came out the woodwork to help, in a good way,” Sonja said.
The treatment made Sonja gain over 30 pounds and made her hair fall out. The worst part was that water tasted metallic and food had to be heavily salted or very sweet for her to taste anything. However, she was grateful that she had no nausea or vomiting.
“I only have good things to say about St. Agnes Cancer Center,” Sonja said However, she and her oncologist did not agree on evaluating her prognosis. Her oncologist did not like to give a prognosis. Sonja said her research revealed that “stage 2 triple negative breast cancer with this treatment had a 93 percent chance that I won’t get cancer again.” Her doctor said, “What if you’re that 7 percent?”
“Can you say that to someone who’s sitting there?” Sonja said. “I hated her from that day on.” She stayed with her until she was done treatment and was in remission, but then switched oncologists.
Sonja was fortunate to have medical coverage through the College where her husband continues to work. “I didn’t have to pay a dime towards cancer treatment,” Sonja said.
By October 2019, she was declared cancer-free.
Making a Career Change
Previous to her diagnosis, Sonja was already struggling with her career. In 2016, she had been teaching for 15 years and was an associate professor of biology at the Community College of Baltimore County. She was feeling burnt out and unsure she wanted to continue.
Sonja let her Department Chair know how she was feeling. “The Chair said she was alarmed by what I said. I didn’t want to try anything new,” Sonja said.
Her Department Chair recommended that Sonja go on sabbatical in 2017. During that time, Sonja retrained herself and earned a certificate in Educational Research Methodology which would allow her to evaluate grant-funded projects.
She spoke with an evaluator who was already in the field. Sonja had worked with her on a previous project and that woman became her mentor. In addition to earning the certificate, Sonja was also able to spend time working in various departments at CCBC focusing on grants and research.
“I loved it!” Sonja said.
After the sabbatical, in the fall of 2018, Sonja returned to her work in the biology department, but was now the coordinator of department.
“When I accepted the position the Dean said I could not retire for at least three years. I agreed. Retirement was not on my horizon,” Sonja said.
“I came back that fall and everything was hunky dory until November when I went in for my mammogram,” Sonja said.
She tried to work from January to June. “It didn’t work. The energy wasn’t there. I had brain fog. At the time, you don’t realize fully how it’s affecting you,” Sonja said. By March, she stopped going to work.
“The College was wonderful. My colleagues were so supportive, “Sonja said. But she knew she needed to leave. The heavy fatigue accompanying the cancer made it impossible to continue and she officially retired in June 2019 at the age of 61.
With her new credentials, she knew there was something else in her future. “I knew I wanted to do evaluation work in my retirement,” Sonja said. She had already been approached by someone to work with her organization. She had a plan.
By the fall Sonja the American Association of University Women (AAUW), a non-profit in D.C. was one of her clients. “I felt good about doing the work for someone like AAUW,” Sonja said.
Her evaluation work is secured by grant-funded projects to help them determine the effectiveness of their work. They require an outside evaluator to work with the team and to document their process. “You’re not there to tell them, you need to this, this and this. Your’re not there to monitor them” Sonja said. “You solicit feedback about the project in the form of surveys and interviews and write a report once a year.”
Sonja not only loves the work, but it has helped she and Gary meet their financial needs.
Between Social Security, her evaluation work and the money her husband was still making teaching at CCBC, they enjoy a comfortable lifestyle in retirement.
Unlike many people, Sonja’s work was not affected by COVID because it is mostly online. “It did affect the colleges and the grants and that piece needed to be documented in my reports,” Sonja said.
Although COVID did not affect her work, it did affect her socially, but in a positive way. “I got to know my neighbors really well. We’ve become very close friends as well as neighbors,” Sonja said.
Her Garden, Her Passion
Sonja’s pride and joy is her garden, which she began in 2004. She hired someone to remove the lawn and put down mulch and put down some perennial plants. Later, she hired a landscape architect to come in and design a garden with native plants. “That’s what I needed. Ever since then, it’s been fun,” Sonja said. As a biologist, she knew it was important to have native plants that the wildlife were already used to. Gary buys the yard art and bird feeders for her garden to help reflect the light and provide focal points.
Gary bought her a little gardening stool when she was in treatment so she could continue to work in the garden and do a little bit of weeding. “I was pleasantly surprised that my garden had matured to the point that taking that spring and summer off didn’t affect it that much.”
“I knew I was the type of person who couldn’t just let go,” Sonja said. “I do enjoy working and having that little bit of structure.”
“I’m going to keep working as long as it’s enjoyable,” Sonja said. She loves the flexibility of the evaluation work. “I can take a break and fold laundry or just hang out with the cats,” Sonja said. She loves being in charge of her own schedule.
One of the other benefits of retirement has been that Sonja has time to cook more and make healthier dinners. “That’s fun.”
However, they also love going out to eat and going away for long weekends.
The highlight of her retirement so far was a trip on a Viking River cruise to celebrate the end of her cancer treatment. She booked it in the fall of 2019 but because of the pandemic they weren’t able to go until 2022. “It did finally happen this past summer!” Sonja said.
“We had the full treatment during the cruise. It was the trip of a lifetime,” Sonja said. They went from Switzerland to Amsterdam after which they flew to Dublin to spend time with their son and his family.
Although Sonja did not enter retirement in the way she wanted, she had an idea of what she wanted it to look like. “Have a plan. Have a financial plan,” Sonja said.
Even if she hadn’t had cancer, Sonja knew that she was not going to continue working at the College much longer.
Please make sure to get your yearly mammogram. It makes a difference. Don’t put it off until it’s convenient. It will never be convenient.
If you have a suggestion for someone I should interview, please email me firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I had the career my fourteen-year-old self always wanted,” said Pete Kerzel, 62. Pete had a long career as a journalist and spent the last 12 years as the managing editor for MASNsports.com, covering the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals.
He was paid to watch baseball games and go down to spring training. He was there the night Cal Ripken Jr. beat the streak and met many of his childhood heroes, including Brooks Robinson. “How many people get to live their dream?“ Pete said.
When Pete began to think of retirement, he still loved his job, but he began to notice a change. “The written word is being minimized,” he said. “And I’m a written word guy.”
He added, “I could see what was coming down the pike. They didn’t want to hire more writers.” He saw a shift away from writing and more toward videos, social media and TikTok.
In addition, the demands of the job began to wear on him. Pete was always on call in case someone signed a contract or a team made a trade or some other story. “I would have to bring my computer with me when I went out to dinner with friends,” Pete said. “It just wasn’t as much fun anymore.”
The real turning point came when Pete met with Chip Herring, his Ameriprise financial advisor, in the Spring of 2020, almost a year after the death of his mother. His advisor said, “Just so you know, you can retire now.” Pete said he remembers thinking “What?!” He was surprised that at the age of 60, spending a lifetime in a profession known for lower salaries, that he was able to retire.
Where to retire was easy. Ocean City, Md., had always held a special place in Pete’s heart. Being in OC evokes memories of spending time “down the ocean” with his parents and friends. “I’ve been coming to Ocean City since I’ve been six years old,” Pete said
He started looking for property in August 2020. At that point, he saw it as a place he would be able to use when he wasn’t working and eventually retire to. By the time he bought in December 2020, he knew that he would be moving there sooner than he thought.
Pete knew exactly what he was looking for and how much he wanted to spend. He said he and his real estate agent, Terry Miler, looked at 40 or 50 condos. He bought right as the market was beginning to tick up with people relocating due to COVID.
He began living down there part-time while he working remotely due to COVID. As he began living in Ocean City for weeks at a time, it became increasingly difficult for him to drive back home over the Bay Bridge to the Western Shore. “Then, when I would reverse that and come to the beach, I would think everything felt right again.”
In October 2021, Pete spoke to his supervisor to let him know he would be leaving the following April. When he told his boss he was ready to retire, his boss said. “I’m so happy for you.” He knew the toll the 80-hour weeks were taking on Pete.
“The timing was right. I got out on my terms when I wanted to,” Pete said.
On April 20,, 2022 Pete moved to Ocean City, got himself settled, and was able to finish out the month virtually before retiring on April 30, 2022.
Upon retiring, Pete received some advice from a friend. “Don’t do anything for six months.” Pete took that advice to heart. His six months was up the Thursday after we spoke.
Life Down the Ocean
But Pete didn’t exactly spend all his time sitting in his condo reading, although he did that, too. He began writing for the Delmarva Shorebirds game program. “I put the ‘free’ in freelance, “ Pete said – and he couldn’t be happier. He’s already looking forward to next season.
He also did two important things that any senior who retires to OC should do: get a pass to Assateague Island National Seashore and get a OC bus pass.
The lifetime senior pass to Assateague Island costs $85. With that pass, Pete can go to the Island to watch the ponies or just enjoy the beach whenever he wants. He can also take a friend for free.
The senior bus pass gives free bus rides to people over 60 and free tram rides before 4 p.m. After 4 p.m., Pete gets a dollar off tram rides “They aren’t making any money on me,” he said.
Pete loves to ride the tram. ”The smell of the caramel popcorn or the sound of a kid squealing in the arcade because he won a prize can take me back 50 years.”
Pete also thinks of his friend, Barry Diffendal, when he rides the tram. Barry passed away suddenly in 2012 after only one year in retirement. Barry and Pete often joked about retiring to OC and Barry would say, “You drive the tram and I’ll be the conductor in the back.”
Transitioning into Retirement
Pete said it took a good 6 to 8 weeks for him to get used to being retired. “It was a huge thing to get used to. I can go shopping when I want to go shopping. I don’t have to wedge it in,” he said.
“I hadn’t had a normal day in years,” Pete said. In his previous life, he had an erratic sleep schedule as he was required to work whenever the teams were playing. If there was a West Coast game, Pete would often have to stay up until 2 or 3 a.m. after the game finished so he could edit online stories.
Now, his time is his own and he is enjoying shopping when he wants, reading by the pool (during the summer time) and walking along the beach and boardwalk. He is also able to watch baseball for the sheer enjoyment of it and can turn off a game if it gets boring or goes into a rain delay.
Socializing with Friends
The other thing that Pete is enjoying is being able to spend time with his friends, “I got a two-bedroom condo so friends could come for a visit,” he said.
Some of his friends even live in OC either full-time or part-time.
Two his friends moved down there a year before he did. “They were a great resource,” he said. Not only does he spend time with them, but they have also introduced him to their friends.
One thing Pete enjoys is going with his friends, Greg and Cindy Cannizaro, to the Elks Club on Thursday nights for the fried chicken finner. Pete said it’s a great deal at just $12.
“Also, I can buy a round drinks for the table for just $6,” he added.
For Pete, retirement has been about seizing opportunities.
He said he loves being available for last minute events. Whether it’s seeing John Fogarty in Selbyville or watching the air show practice from a pontoon boat, Pete is ready for fun.
He is one of the few year-rounders in his community. This winter will be his full winter in OC. “I predict at some time this winter I’m going to bored out of my gourd,” he said. However, there are many things to do even off season and Pete knows many people there.
“I forgot that it was possible to be spontaneous,” Pete said. “It’s been a very long time since I’ve been in an position where I can choose when to do things and it’s been fun.”
For some people the tourist season from May to September/October could be a deterrent from moving down to OC, but Pete takes it all in stride.
“I love the water. I love the salt air,” Pete said. “So, you have to punt June, July and August for April, May, September and October. Sure, the summer months can be crazy, but it’s really fun to see the town so energized.”
There about 7,500 to 8,000 year-round residents in Ocean City. In the summer time, the population swells.
He said, “I enjoyed this spring watching the town gear up and get ready for the invasion of the summer people. It was a kick.”
Of course, he has had to make some concessions during tourist season, like doing his grocery shopping during the week. “You don’t want to go to the grocery store Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday.”
Also, there are also some restaurants that he doesn’t go to during season because there just too many people in town and the prices are higher.
But he said OC has changed a lot over the years. “’It’s more of a year-round thing now,” Of course, some places do close, but others offer dinner specials and happy hours to get customers in the door. His favorite pizza place, Pino’s, is closed for the season, but he waits in patient anticipation for it to reopen in May.
Luckily, Happy Jack Pancake House, which Pete calls his second home, is year-round, though only on the weekends in the offseason.
Making Finances Work
Pete was able to retire early because he made savings a priority. He’ll have a small pension from MedStar Health, where he worked in public/media relations for almost a decade, but he’s contributed to 401k plans through other employers and socked away money in his Ameriprise accounts.
When his mother passed away in 2019, he took the proceeds from the sale of his mother’s house plus some other inheritance, and put it into an annuity. He will tap that when he turns 65. For now, he is paying himself a salary out of his savings and will be collecting social security and his pension. This allows him to live the way he wants to live.
He gets his medical insurance through the Affordable Care Act. He said that the insurance is good, but the bureaucracy has been frustrating at times.
Final Words of Advice
“I don’t miss 80-hour weeks. I don’t miss waiting for my expense check,” Pete said. “That stuff, let somebody else do it. I’m so happy to not be dealing with it now.”
For Pete, retirement is a new beginning. “I look at this chapter as a blank slate,” he said.
He remembers a few days after he moved down and settled in thinking, “What do I do now?”
Then he said, a little apparition appeared over his head and said, “You can do whatever you want.”
What Pete wants to do is carve out time for himself and just appreciate his time in Ocean City. His condo backs up to a bayfront marsh and one of his favorite things to do is sit on his screened deck and watch the wildlife including herons, otters and foxes.
“I get these incredible sunsets and it’s as though someone painted the sky,” Pete said.
He is not sure what he is going to do now that his six months are up. He might volunteer or get a part-time job. He is leaving the door open to new opportunities.
Before he moved to he said, “I thought: What’s the worst thing that could happen? If I don’t like it here, I can move back to Baltimore, But I don’t think that’s going to happen. This is home now.”
Ed Johnson is making the most of his retirement by opening up to many opportunities.
For Ed Johnson, 79 and a half, retirement has never been about relaxing and taking it easy. It’s been all about helping others. In fact, his wife of 56 years, Pat, even calls him “Saint Edward.”
But Ed was helping people long before he retired. He spent his career in education as a teacher and principal. Then in 1995, at the age of 52, Ed decided to retire after 30 years of service.
His father had died at the age of 52 of heart disease and Ed wasn’t quite sure how much time he had. “I didn’t have any plans after 52 and I thought I might not be around to make any plans,” Ed said.
But that quickly changed.
He took a part-time job at the University of Maryland College Park working with student teachers as a field-based instructor. Working 2 to 3 days a week gave him more time to pursue his many interests and spend more time with his family.
“It was like opening a door to many possibilities,” Ed said.
He stayed there for another 20 years and was proud to have the opportunity to mentor so many teachers. The last 10 years he worked with masters-level students. “Working with them was a breeze,” said Ed.
Then, at the age of 72, he retired, retired. “My supervisor asked me, “why are you retiring, don’t you like teachers or the principals or something?'” Ed said. “I said, no they’re great. I just need a change.”
That change was to do more of what he was already doing.
His Passion for Patapsco Park
Ed has always had an interest in nature and the environment. Twenty-five years ago, after his initial retirement, he began working as a volunteer at Patapsco Valley State Park. He would help clear trails and do general work in the park. “I wanted to follow up with my interest in environmental education,” Ed said.
He then became a volunteer ranger for 16 years “As a volunteer ranger, you wear a uniform and are the eyes and ears of the park rangers,” he said. His work included monitoring various areas of the park, staffing the entrance areas and conducting history walks.
He recently went back to being a volunteer. “I still do a lot of what I was doing as a volunteer ranger — monitoring area of the park, doing history walks, art programs. whatever needs to be done,” Ed said.
COVID created even more of a need for Ed’s time. “The park used to average a million visitors a year, ” Ed said, “but during COVID they averaged 2.6 million visitors a year. It was crowded in there.”
On Saturdays, Ed sets up a table in the Orange Grove section of the park near the Swinging Bridge. He brings a large binder with pictures and fun facts to teach kids and adults about the history of the park. “I like to show the kids, particularly the girls, how they would have had to dress if they were here in 1911,” Ed said.
In fact, Ed had become such as expert on the history of the park that he was asked to collaborate with Betsy McMillion to write a book about the park’s history.
After 3 and a half years of research, the book was published by Arcadia Publishing in the Spring of 2019. “Images of America: Patapsco Valley State Park” recounts the history of Patapsco from the 1600s to present day. All of the money from the sale of the book goes to support the Friends of Patapsco Valley State Park who support the maintenance of the park. He and Betsy don’t make any money from the sale of the book.
Ed recounts a story about when the book was first released. He and his co-author had a book signing at Barnes & Noble in Ellicott City. He said, “They called to say that they had 60 copies and asked if that would be enough,” Ed said. “There had been a great deal of publicity and I thought they should order more.” That day Barnes & Noble had 105 copies on hand and sold 104. The book is still on sale at Barnes & Noble as well as through other vendors.
“People are fascinated with many aspects of the park including the Swinging Bridge and floods. They know a little bit about (Tropical Storm) Agnes in 1972,” Ed said. He also talks about the firsts of the park including the B&O railroad, the Thomas Viaduct and the first female ranger in Maryland who worked at Patapsco.
For those interested he is also doing a history powerpoint with the Arbutus library on October 8th at 2 p.m. He has done similar talks at libraries and senior centers throughout the area.
Exploring His Creativity Through Painting
But working at the park is not the only activity that keeps Ed busy. He is also an accomplished artist who has won numerous awards. However, Ed got into painting accidentally in 1976.
“The elementary school where I was principal had a large Hispanic population. I decided to brush up on his Spanish,” Ed said. He went to sign up for a night course, but found that it had been cancelled. He needed to do something besides work so he started taking a night school art class taught by a local high school teacher, Keith Lauer. “That’s when I got started with painting,” Ed said.
Ed found he had a real talent for painting and continued taking courses through other local studios.
Once he was retired, he was able to spend more time painting and even began teaching. “I replicated his (Keith Lauer’s) style when I started with a class at our senior center,” Ed said. Each class started with a 15 minute lecture on composition or color. “Each week you would get a little bit more information and after a while you would learn a lot,” Ed said.
He began teaching a class at his local senior center which then morphed into an art group that still meets every Friday. He has also taught classes at the local men’s shelter to give the men an outlet for their feelings. “Some of them aren’t that interested, but others are,” Ed said.
Ed also combines his volunteer activities at the park with his love of art. He sets up painting sessions at the park where he provides all the supplies. The sessions are for people 8-years-old and older.
As part of this activity, Ed provides a folder with 200 nature-related pictures that people can choose from to paint. All the pictures are for 16×20 canvasses. There is a grid on the picture and the canvas so students can replicate the shape of the animal and be pretty accurate. Because of COVID, Ed was not able to have sessions with the public this year, but he was able to have a class with a group of seniors who do a lot with the park.
Personally, Ed has painted numerous painting through the years. Many of his paintings are of nature, birds, flowers and people. These painting have been displayed in art exhibits and have won many awards throughout the state of Maryland.
Serving Through Mission Trips
Ed has another passion project besides painting and working in the park. Since 2004, he has gone to the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota for 15 times (except when the trip was cancelled due to COVID). He was able to go back again this year in June.
Ed and a small group of volunteers from Catonsville United Methodist Church began going to the reservation to make repairs on homes and help in any way they could. Before COVID, they also had a food program preparing over 250 hot breakfasts and hot lunches for those in need. Now, most of the work centers around making repairs around the reservation. This year they spent their time at the reservation building a handicap ramp.
Ed has many stories about the amazing people he met on the reservation including Lakota chef Seth Larvie who created tasty meals for the residents. Ed also developed a long-term friendship with Roy Spotted War Bonnet. Ed was looking forward to seeing his friend on this trip, but found out that he had passed away during the pandemic.
Ed has been struck by the difficult lives of the people on the reservation and feels it’s important to spend both his time and money making their lives better. He recently recorded his stories about his experiences and the people he met during his trips in a personal memoir.
The Best Part of Retirement
For Ed, one of the greatest pleasures retirement brought him has been time with his family. His granddaughter was born the year he retired and he was able to take care of her one day a week. As she grew, he took her to her riding lessons and she became an accomplished equestrian.
He was also able to spend more time with his two sons. He and his son Adam took a canoe trip on the Potomac from Point of Rocks, MD. His other son enjoyed playing baseball and Ed was able to attend the games.
And he and Pat made a point to travel. They traveled quite a bit including throughout the United States, Europe and Canada. He also went with a group to the Galapagos Islands.
His Advice to Others
What Ed likes most about retirement is the flexibility. “I was working in a job where I was in the school at 7 a.m. and didn’t leave until 5:30 or so,” Ed said. “I couldn’t take off to run errands. I had no flexibility.” When he retired all that changed. “So when I retired I had flexibility to pursue hobbies like painting and the outdoor stuff and I had time to do things with my family.”
But Ed knows everyone is not ready to retire at 52. “Retire when you’re ready. You know better than anyone else when the time is right,” Ed said. However, he warns, “Don’t retire to nothing. Retire to something you are really interested in.”
He recommends working as a volunteer. “You can help somebody and you can make a difference.” He also says it’s a great way to try things and see what you enjoy.
“Certain things will work out. Certain things won’t So then, you move on and try something different. Look for new opportunities and try them out,” Ed said.
However, he warns that it’s important to not be too structured. He was able to take care of unexpected opportunities such as writing the book and going to the reservation because he kept his schedule flexible.
This summer Ed has had to spend time doing something he is not used to doing — sitting down. He came home from the reservation with a bad cough and then had a leg injury and shoulder surgery. Now, he is happy to be getting back to his regular busy schedule.
He and Pat are going to the gym together five mornings a week at 6 a.m. and they also volunteer to serve lunch to the community on Wednesdays at Catonsville United Methodist Church.
For Ed, retirement has opened up a world of opportunities that he never would have time for if he was still working full-time. He said he never regrets making the decision to retire.
Kelly and Mike Strzelecki think that retirement is for the birds. Find out how they are enjoying their passion for nature after retirement.
Mike (59) and Kelly (58) Strzelecki retired from the federal government on March 31, 2021. It was the culmination of a plan that began more than 30 years ago when they met on the MARC train commuting to Washington D.C.
Mike worked for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Kelly worked for the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service. By working for the federal government, they knew could retire with a pension and health insurance when they turned 56 years old and had 30 years of service. So, they decided to leave when they were both eligible.
Mike and Kelly had long been outside enthusiasts, but the long commute between Baltimore and Washington made it challenging to find time to pursue all their varied interests. “In D.C., I think retirement is more dictated by the commute than the job. People get tired of the commute,” Mike said.
In addition to the commute, Mike had personal experience about missed opportunities in retirement. His father passed away when he was 56. “My dad had big plans in retirement and then he passed away and he couldn’t do them,” Mike said. “We thought, we can’t do that.”
With their plan in place, Mike and Kelly knew they could retire early and spend even more time doing what they love—being out in nature.
“Every morning I get up a pack a backpack,” Mike said. What’s in the backpack depends on the plans for the day. Plans might include a simple walk, a hike, kayaking or fly-fishing. They have also recently taken up disc golf, which they play at McKeldin Park as well as other local areas.
However, their favorite outside activity is birding.
Birding is different from birdwatching in the “birders” actually go out looking for specific birds. They do their research and observe the bird’s behaviors and migratory patterns. “It’s about immersing yourself in the lifestyle of the bird,” Mike said.
“There’s more intention to it than birdwatching,” Kelly said.
Extensive travelers, many of their trips revolve around birding. Their next trip is to Bombay Hook in Delaware. “It’s a good birding spot,” Mike said. There are all different types of raptors, hawks and eagles, avocets and shorebirds.
Closer to home, Patapsco State Park, Mike and Kelly found a nest with two baby owls. They were able to find the nest because of their familiarity with bird calls. “We could hear the babies crying for their mom,” Kelly said.
Being retired, Mike and Kelly were able to visit the site and record the owls’ progression every day over the course of 10 days. “Part of the beauty of retirement is the owl thing. It gives us time during the week when no one is around to actually observed them,” Mike said. “We can take our time to focus on things,” Mike said. “If we were still working, we never would have been able to do that,” Mike said.
As part of their passion for birding, Mike has started taking pictures. He purchased a new camera, NIKON Cool Pic, as part of his retirement gift. He takes close up, detailed shots of the birds they see. He captured pictures of the baby owls as well as pictures of puffins they saw during their recent trip to Iceland.
Enjoying Everyday Life
Mike and Kelly are enjoying their new lifestyle. “Every day I got up at 4:40. Not getting up at 4:40 is heavenly,” Mike said. Although for Mike, sleeping in is 6:30 or 7:00 a.m.
Kelly also loves sleeping in, but wakes up about 9:00 a.m. now that she’s retired. They enjoy leisurely time in the morning and have even trained their dog Trek to go get the newspaper so they can relax.
“You have time to enjoy things rather than just trying to fit them in,” Mike said. “I’m getting back to doing things I had a passion for, but I haven’t had the time for.” For Mike that includes fly-fishing and writing.
For Kelly, formerly an agricultural economist, she has picked up an additional hobby of raising monarch butterflies.
Kelly has been raising butterflies with mixed success. “You raise them by finding them as caterpillars and putting them in box with fresh milkweed,” Kelly said. It can be particularly challenging because you have to keep changing the milkweed in the box. She said that although she has had some success, she is afraid some of the milkweed had become contaminated with pesticides causing some of her monarchs to die. Still, she is enjoying the process and has even convinced some of her friends to raise their own monarchs.
“In October, 10s of thousands of monarch butterflies congregate in Cape May, New Jersey and then they migrate en mass,” Mike said. Mike and Kelly have a trip planned to watch the migration.
Kelly has also been busy in moving her mother from New Mexico to a local Senior Living Community. She said she isn’t sure how she would have handled the move if she had been working full-time.
Kelly is also involved with volunteer work through the Catonsville Women’s Giving Circle and says she plans to get involved with other groups and pursue additional volunteer opportunities.
Putting Their Financial House in Order
Before retiring, Mike and Kelly made sure they had finances in place. In addition to ensuring that they were both eligible to receive a pension, they paid off their mortgage and put their two children through college. “We’d done the major financial things, so we thought we should be ok,” Kelly said.
They had also spent their married life putting money away in investments and watching their spending. “We’ve lived a very modest lifestyle,” Mike said.
He told a story about an experiment people do with children, where they tell children they can have one marshmallow now, but if they wait, they can have two marshmallows. “We are two marshmallow people, “Mike said.
He added they have deferred some of their enjoyment so they can have more fun now. “It’s the life decisions you make along the way,” Mike said.
Advice to Others
“The transition to retirement is going to be harder for someone who is defined by their job,” Mike said. He was not defined by his job, but he knows others who are. His advice is that if you’re thinking about retiring, start getting involved with activities and other social groups before you retire.
Kelly’s advice, “Start young and make a plan. That makes it possible. Otherwise, you’re just playing catch up the whole time.” They have already given their children this same advice.
For now, Mike and Kelly are looking forward to enjoying the Fall and Winter months.
“It’s so nice that the kids have gone back to school so we don’t have to share the park with them,” Kelly says with a laugh. “Now it’s ours again.”
January through March is a great time to go birding and they spend more time doing that as other options such as kayaking are less available.
They also have so trips planned. They are headed to the Outer Banks, the Finger Lakes and even New York. Plus, they have birding trips planned as well.
“We call our house base camp. Living here is so convenient. We’re 3-hours from cities, beaches mountains that we can do as a day trip,” Mike said.
Kelly and Mike love having time to slow down and spend time doing things together even if it’s as simple as having a cup of tea or reading a book.
”I love getting back to things I have a passion for, but didn’t have time for. A lot of people have a lot of things they could enjoy in retirement, if they could just relax and slow down,” Mike said.
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Starting the big clean up has been a challenge. Who knew getting rid of 25 years of stuff wouldn’t be easy?
One of my goals in retirement has been to start the big clean out. That’s what everyone says you need to do when you retire.
Of course, I could have started during all those months in isolation during the pandemic, but instead my husband and I built shelves during that time so although there was not less stuff, at least it looked as though there was less stuff.
But as the philosopher says, “The longest journey begins with a single step.” Or something along those lines. So, I started the big clean out with a few little clean outs. At this point, the basement is still a little too much for me to tackle.
I decided to start with a few junk drawers. It was interesting to see how many drawers had been designated as junk drawers. And what had been designated as junk.
The greatest revelation has been how many pairs of scissors we own – 10. What is most surprising is that when we need them, we can never find them. Maybe that’s how we ended up with so many. I don’t know what the perfect number of scissors is, but I’m going to going to say that it is less than 10.
We also seem to have a need to measure things. (Keep it clean people.) We have multiple rulers, tape measures and large tape measurers for measuring rooms. I don’t have the final count, but it’s definitely in the double digits.
But we have no yard sticks. Do people even use yardsticks anymore? Since I think most people only used them to spank their children, they probably don’t sell them anymore. Let me know if you own one.
The tool boxes (yes plural) have been a revelation as well! Four hammers, screwdrivers and wrenches that I’m afraid to count and two levels. And of course, we saved every allen wrench from every piece of IKEA furniture that we have purchased during our 36 years of marriage. I may have to take up welding and create some sort of allen wrench monument to use them all.
I am very confused by finding so much stuff in my house. I have always considered myself organized and when my staff took me out to celebrate my retirement, they commented, multiple times, on my propensity to clean and organize. So, what happened? How did all these things get into my house and what do I do with them now that they are here?
If I were able to throw them out, I would have, but it seems so wasteful. Is there a place to donate these things?
I feel as though I am failing retirement 101 and I haven’t even gotten to the hard part. Calgon take me away!
Starting the Next Phase
I am currently working on my closet and have to restrain myself from throwing away all my work clothes. I really think I should keep a few just in case.
Another problem with my closet is finding things that are no longer “useful” but hold such great memories. For example, I heard bell bottom jeans are making a comeback and I’m sure after a few weeks on Weight Watchers I will fit into them again. Right?
I’m not making head away.
I think cleaning out my husband’s closet would help me clean out my closet. He doesn’t agree.
So far, I have emptied one tub. I guess I shouldn’t mention I emptied it by taking books out of it and putting them back on the bookshelf. Still, it felt good to see an empty tub.
Maybe an electronic cleanup of our computers would be easier.
I hope to have an update in October that I have successfully completed Stage 1 of the big clean out. At this point, I am gathering these items in my daughter’s old room until I figure out what to do next. Pretty soon, I’m going to need another room since my husband has prohibited anything else going in the basement.
Carol used her project management skills to plan the perfect retirement for herself and her husband Mike.
“Retirement is the best decision I ever made!” said Carol Opalski Hewitt.
In April of this year, Carol retired from her job as a Project Manager at T. Rowe Price and she and her husband Mike Hewitt moved down to the Del Webb community in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Carol was only 59 and four months when she retired from T. Rowe Price but she knew it was the perfect time to leave. In March, she finished up 2 ½ year project. “I knew it was my swan song. I just couldn’t continue work 60 hours a week anymore,” Carol said.
But Carol and Mike had been thinking about retirement for a while. Seven years ago, while vacationing in Myrtle Beach, they decided that it was the perfect place for their forever home. It had everything they wanted. Sun. Beaches. The ocean. Warm weather. Low taxes. Close proximity to an airport.
Since Carol’s children and mother still live in Baltimore, it was important that there was a quick and convenient way for them to get back home. Super convenient, economical flights from Myrtle Beach to Baltimore made it the perfect location.
About three years ago, it was time to figure out how to make early retirement possible. Mike had left the workforce in 2001 to take care of their children, so many of the decisions were based on Carol’s income.
They met with a financial adviser at T. Rowe Price who helped guide them through the planning process. “The homework came back to me. How much do we need to retire?” Carol said. Carol emphasizes need rather than want. They needed to consider insurance, health insurance, long-term care insurance and other necessities. But they also considered their wants such as travel, new furniture, a golf cart and other entertainment. The fun stuff. Luckily, Carol and Mike were on the same page when it came to retirement goals.
“You work all your life. You want to enjoy your quality of life while you can,” Carol said.
Finding the Right Community
Then they had to decide where in Myrtle Beach they wanted to live. They looked at three different communities long before they were going to retire. In addition to Del Webb, they considered Waterford Plantation and Berkshire Forest. But ultimately, they decided on Del Webb because it was an active over 55 adult community. “You can be as busy as you want to,” Carol said.
At Del Webb, there are two different builders you can chose from to construct your home. Carol and Mike were able to choose from five different models. “From down payment to settlement was six months,” Carol said. The community has an active calendar of events, pool, concerts and many different groups and activities.
Since moving there, Carol, always an avid tennis player, has taken up pickle ball and plays 5 mornings a week. Her days are now busier than they when she was working.
They have developed a group of about 12 couples who they spend time with going to concerts, hanging out at the pool and going to dinner together.
In addition, Carol does volunteer work like helping out at community concerts.
When her sister said she was worried about Carol staying busy, her response was, “Don’t worry, I am.”
Getting Ready for the Move
After deciding where they were going to move, it was time to make a plan. “Plan the work and work the plan,” Carol said.
As a project manager, Carol backed into her dates. She knew when they were moving and then decided when each step needed to happen.
The first step was to start to cleaning out. It took about eight months. “We were fairly aggressive,” Carol said.
“You need to decide what do you will need in your new life.” Things like her china and vintage martini glasses were some of the things that weren’t going to make the move.
Instead, they sold or donated many of the items. “Catonsville Marketplace and Catonsville Yard Sale are great,” Carol said.
Her advice. “Down size. Down size. Down size.”
In addition, Carol and Mike have two children and their stuff was in their house. Their daughter had already moved out and bought a house, but didn’t take everything with her. Carol and Mike drove her things over to her house and left them there!
Their son was still unsure as to whether or not to make the move with them, but after deciding to stay in Baltimore, he moved out in about three days and took all of his stuff with him. Phase one completed.
Selling Their Home
Next, they needed to sell their home. Because of the hot real estate market earlier this year, Carol and Mike decided put their house on the market on December 26th and sell it themselves. It sold within 4 days. Then they negotiated with the buyers so that they could stay in the house until they were ready to move to South Carolina. “I put the plan in motion and everything fell in line,” Carol said.
Before listing the house, Carol researched other listings and picked and chose key words to get their listing noticed.
They made the decision to not make a lot of upgrades or repaint their home because the next buyer would probably want to make their own design decision. It worked out for them.
Selling their house quickly and for a good profit was key to their retirement plan. “It helped that our house had appreciated so much,” Carol said.
Deciding What to Move
Next, they decided on what they wanted to move. Even though Carol was committed to getting rid of the clutter, there were some things that she decided were worth moving. “It’s important to look at things with a different eye,” Carol said. For example, they decided to move their brown bedroom furniture.
However, once they moved down south, Carol used her newly acquired chalk painting skills to paint it grey and white so it looks beachier. In fact, she has become so good at chalk painting that she has been helping some her friends with their projects as well.
Life In South Carolina
“The best part about being retired is doing what I want to do, when I want to do it,” Carol said.
She doesn’t miss routine of work because she has a new routine. She is on the pickle ball court bright and early at 8 a.m. 5 days a week.
In addition, each week, they review the calendar of events and decide what they are going to do. Of course, errands still need to be done. Wednesday is food shopping day because seniors get 5 percent off. “I take Mike with me because I’m not a senior yet,” Carol said.
They’ve had no problem adjusting to spending more time together. “I think COVID helped with the transition,” Carol said. But they are not spending that much additional time together. Mike doesn’t play pickle ball, instead he walks the dog. At the pool, she hangs out with the girls and he hangs out with the guys.
Carol said she likes having friends around who are of similar age and similar interests. The only bad part about their new friends is that many of them are Steelers fans. Go Ravens!
Finances and Paperwork
Even now that they are retired, Carol and Mike still consider expenses and do paperwork.
“Your expenses will be higher your first few months after retirement,” Carol said. For them, they wanted to buy new things for the house and try new restaurants. However, after a few months of being retired, she sees those expenses are starting to normalize.
Except health insurance. Health insurance is their biggest expense.
At this point Carol is on COBRA and will stay on that for the next 18 months. “It’s very expensive because our son is still on our plan,” Carol said. After the 18 months, she will have to go on the open market or pick up the insurance through T. Rowe. Still, they knew health insurance would continue to be a big expense and they planned for it.
The one down side to retirement so far has been paperwork. Carol has been inundated with paperwork. The biggest challenge was working with the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration to get their car registrations changed.
But there is also quite a bit of insurance paperwork. It’s not only the paperwork that is a challenge, it’s also finding new doctors. “It’s difficult to find doctors down here that are accepting new patients,” Carol said. Right now, she and Mike are flying back to Baltimore for their doctor’s appointments while they wait to get doctor’s appointments booked out in the future in South Carolina.
But with round trip ticket to Baltimore under a $100, it’s working for now. However, Carol doesn’t want to go back to Baltimore too often. “There’s so much going on here, I don’t want to miss anything,” she said.
Carol and Mike are loving their new life in South Carolina. They are meeting new people, starting new hobbies and keeping busy. Still, sometimes Carol likes some down time.
“This morning I was getting ready to head out to pickle ball at 8 when it starts raining and the texts start flying. ‘Are we going? Are we not going?’” The decision was no pickle ball that day. “So, it was nice to have a second cup of coffee and get some things done around the house,” Carol said. Retirement is everything they thought it would be…and more.
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