Living out loud…

This month’s topic for LOL is retirement. Specifically, what, if any, plans we have for our retirement. It’s a good topic. Retirement seems like a far-off dream, but it’s starting to frighten me. I’m now in the “summer years” of my life, and as the days blur into weeks, then months, the pace of the blur is increasing.  I am becoming more cognizant that time is short and limited, and that I will not be young forever.  It is time to start making plans–and more, to start EXECUTING them.  Thus sayeth the master procrastinator.

Once upon a time, you could work for a company for 20 years and earn a pension. With a few rare exceptions, those days are gone. I have only just completed my education, and so I feel like I am really just starting my adult life. Worse, I don’t feel I’m in a position to do anything proactive about retirement. I amassed a staggering amount of student loan debt in getting my Ph.D., and retirement concerns are taking a backseat to my primary concerns about needing to deal with that. I should inform you that a Ph.D. does not in any way disqualify you from asking if your customer wants fries with that. Jobs are few and far between, and for a science-academic, you have three basic options after finishing that degree.

One, go work for industry (if there are any or if you are able/willing to relocate). This option is massively discouraged in academia today, as though there is something inherently wrong, evil, and mercenary about working for a company where your data is not your own. Many also feel that it is scientifically unsound, given that you as a researcher may be more likely to experience “enforced bias” in your results. Although I realise that this may not be accurate, it is a huge part of the perception. There is no guarantee of job stability, and retirement options are IRA/401K type investments. Most industry positions are looking for Ph.D. candidates with a few years of postdoctoral experience (read as more “education” without another degree, and squalid pay).

The next option is to attempt to achieve the “holy grail” of academia: a tenure-track position with a college or university. Research-oriented (larger) schools basically require that you have a grant, and assume that you will run a successful, bountiful (income-producing) research program in addition to some sparse teaching duties. To get a grant, you typically need, you guessed it, postdoctoral research time. In fairness, postdoc salary levels are improving, but still not competitive with industry, nor will they ameliorate pain from student loans. This is additional training so that you can become a productive, grant-garnering researcher capable of running a good, solid scientific research program. This training is NECESSARY if that is what you want to do. My perspective changed markedly in the last few months of my Ph.D. I found myself wishing I had more time to pursue my research; there were more questions I wanted to address, more experiments I wanted to do, to fill in the holes in my knowledge. While I was far more comfortable planning and executing individual experiments, I do not think that I could design and run a full-fledged research program. So, if I wanted to research, that would be my best option. Postdocs do not come with retirement (they often do not come with benefits, either).
The third option is to find a position at a community college or a liberal arts college that is teaching-oriented. Research is not required, but if you land a grant, it’s fantastic. Your time is spent in the classroom. The pay varies; as adjunct (part-time) it is slim. As a full-time faculty member, it is better, and job security is reasonable, but these jobs are not widely available either, especially at state institutions in the current economic situation. Ahh, for the comfort and security of tenure-track. Of course, these salaries still do not compete well against full-time salaried employees of industry or research faculty.
So what’s a poor little doc to do? The general consensus seems to be… “do you want fries with that?”
No. It’s not quite that grim. But I do want people to understand that a Ph.D. by itself doesn’t magically open doors to high-paying, high-powered jobs. Especially if you find yourself feeling selective about the type of research you might be willing to do.
So, in a nutshell, my retirement is in my own, rather incompetent hands. I certainly do not trust the government to provide me with social security in 35 years when I reach retirement age. I don’t think it will exist in our current form. I laugh when I get my statements from the Social Security Administration. Besides which, it is NOT enough to live on. I am afraid of being one of those old women who have to eat cat food because spam is too expensive.
The other side of the equation is the loneliness factor. You see, I’m unmarried; I don’t have a spouse that I can “plan retirement” with, or that I think I will see 70 with. I don’t have kids. I have to plan on being alone. It is scary, perhaps even terrifying. How will I know if I need to move to an assisted living facility? Will I still have the judgment (or resources) to make that call? Will I be the insane old cat lady?

All that said, I do have WANTS for my retirement.  I think I honestly started dreaming of retirement when I was about 10.  I hadn’t even started working yet.  My dream is oddly simple: I want a good comfy chair (preferably leather recliner), a good book (I’m a one-at-a-time reader), a glass of wine, and a cat in my lap.  As I got older, I added a fireplace to my fantasy.  I don’t want to travel when I’m too old to enjoy it, I want to experience that while I’m still (relatively) young, and have those memories with me as I age.  Simply put, I want to feel… peaceful.

Lessons from good cookware

A while back my parents got me a set of GREAT cookware for my Ph.D. graduation. These were my ultimate, dream-kitchen pots and pans. ScanPans and I am completely, totally in awe. Nothing sticks. Given that I wanted them to last the rest of my life, I read the instructions for care. Much to my surprise, they said NOT to use non-stick cooking spray, as it would damage the finish. Huh? It’s not the oil that is damaging, but the propellants! At this point, I made a side-trip to Williams-Sonoma to pick up two oil misters and threw out all my nonstick cooking spray. For my birthday, my parents got me a new indoor grill. Although it says to use nonstick spray, logic dictates that it would damage less-expensive nonstick coatings (read as teflon or whatever) as well. No wonder none of my inexpensive cookware lasted! So I’m trying an experiment. I’m not buying nonstick cooking spray; I don’t want to have it around as a temptation. Therefore I won’t be using it anymore. I suspect my new grill will last a very long time like that.

I also tossed any metallic spatulas or cooking instruments and went with bamboo-it’s renewable and dishwasher-safe! YES!

Tonight we used the new grill for the first time. It’s quite non-stick on its own, as it was difficult to turn the hamburgers (they kept sliding away), but oh, darn, what a horrible fate. Cleanup was pretty straightforward. Sponges and soapy water. Now, if only they had coated the UNDERSIDE of the grill with the nonstick coating… it still wasn’t difficult to clean.

Last day of vacation

I suppose the big question is, am I ready to go back? I partially think so. Don’t get me wrong, a few more days of lazing about sound utterly fantastic, but I’m more than ready for a paycheck. I have recovered from the stress at the end of last term, and I think I’m ready to get back to work… which is good, because tomorrow’s the day! I just always have that feeling of something undone, something I’m overlooking or missing.

Feeling low

Ever have one of those days where you just feel like a failure? Like nothing you do will ever make a difference? Like you’re doomed to a life of poverty and mediocrity and nonacceptance?
Yeah. I’m having pity-party, guest list 3 (me, myself, & woe-is-me). Now, where’s the little fiddle emoticon?

I don’t know quite why I feel so low today. I was glancing through a Pottery Barn catalog, and realizing that I rather seriously doubt I will ever be able to afford to have such things of my own. I feel like I’ve backed myself into a life corner and the roads out are blocked. It was a corner I ran to pretty willingly, but I’m starting to perceive the mildew and cobwebs…

I think I”m glad my resolution this year wasn’t gratitude. Life isn’t easy. I know this; I’ve learned it the hard way. In all honesty, the hard way is the only way my hard-headed self will ever really learn anything, and there are apparently some lessons that need reinforcement.  It will be a difficult year, I hope a good one, and I hope to learn new things about myself, life, and managing my life.  I would like to end 2010 in better shape than I’m starting it.

Smiling sleepily

I spent a blissful couple of days curled up in bed, moving very little, and reading books. I love reading books. Today, though, it was time to return to the “real world,” so I’ve showered and shaved, done laundry and cleaned. I still have some things that I need to address, but my energy level is flagging. I’m wrapped up in a Snuggie (you may NOT make fun of me) and catching up on other things that are important: blogs of friends and family. And reading about a friend’s blogging project: living out loud (LOL, non-funny). If it continues into this year, I think I will participate.  Right now, what I really want to do is curl up in warm and fuzzy bliss and sleep; it was 5am last night when I finally managed to doze off.  I’d been not-moving for so long, my back was painful enough to keep me awake. So, obviously, I kept reading.  I also grabbed my massaging mat (HoMedics) and stretched some; it helped, and finally the locked-up muscles relaxed enough to allow me to snore peacefully.

I got a good reinforcement lesson about the kind of person I want to try NOT to grow into.  I am going to consciously make an effort to complain MUCH less.   Nobody wants to hear about my piddly aches and pains, and, unless they’re threatening to life or limb, I rather seriously doubt anyone wants to hear about any of them (including migraines, upset stomachs, etc).  I think I need to focus on it less anyway; it leads to feeling sorry for oneself and intensifies any tendency I may have for hypochondria.  So this year I’m going to be healthy.  I’m sure I won’t be perfect: I’m human.  So I have a few personal things to work on for 2010.  I think, for once, I’m ready!

Yaris Owners

2007 YarisYaris owners are strange people. Yesterday, around Appomatox, VA, I was driving home from visiting my parents and this little Bayou blue (and yeah, that’s what’s in the picture).  Toyota Yaris liftback honks lightly and pulls up next to me. I beamed and waved excitedly. It wasn’t someone hitting on me, it was a greeting between two awesome identical cars! 😀 Many of us little Yaris owners are rabidly loyal. Hey, the car is FUN, and FUEL-EFFICIENT. Um, 51 mpg highway efficient. Non hybrid.

In other news,
HAPPY 2010! May it be a fiscally stable year for you and yours. I heard that some were saying “Good riddance” to 2009; I can’t quite go that far, since that year brought me a job I really enjoy, but I’m ready for a new start. yes, I have resolutions. I will share one: to better manage my time, so that I have more energy to manage my mental and physical health. Anyone else?

Insomnia and thanks

I don’t exactly have insomnia.  What I do currently have is an annoying inability to fall asleep before 3am.  I’ve tried OTC sleeping pills, melatonin, alcohol, and cocktails of the three, unsuccessfully.  Last night I found myself cleaning my mom’s kitchen until 3:30 am.  It’s like a weird switch in my brain that simply refuses to turn off.  I don’t know what else to do, but I’m starting to be afraid of going back to work. The night before had been up-til-3:30, sleep until 8:30, up again.  If I have to get up, I can, but if there’s no impetus I will sleep a full 9 hours.  It’s really bothering me.  Too bad, huh?

Other than that, the first half of Christmas was a lot of fun.  The second half of the day was not, and by the end of it I was seriously thinking about packing and leaving.   Both my parents were very irritable afterward.  Maybe things will be a little nicer today.  Maybe I’ll go for a walk this afternoon and take some pictures while there are still traces of snow (by trace I mean an inch or two).

I did learn something.  I am going to try to put this into practice in my everyday life.  It started with a misinterpreted comment between two very irritable people about checking mail (snail variety) but it snowballed and turned into a mountain-molehill scenario rather quickly.  I realized that if you ask someone to do something, however minor, it is important to remember to thank that person.  And mean it.  Make eye contact, say “thank you for doing X, I really appreciate it.”  It takes less than 5 seconds out of your life, and improves communication.  These days we take too many things for granted, including other people.  So I’m going to work on that one. 🙂

Okay, I’m off for a while to do other things!


Things turned out differently than I would have predicted. This year, I went up to visit my parents for Christmas, despite having a big Nor’easter blizzard. The roads were mostly passable with the exception of their driveway, which is typical. I surprised my mother by bringing a little (18″) tabletop Christmas tree with me and I set it up overnight, as well as a few gifts.  The little strands of plastic fiber optic stuff don’t really show in the picture, but eh, good enough.

I’ve rather enjoyed being an elf this year.  I snuck into my friend’s house (I have a key) and left her gift under her tree… and didn’t tell her.  I’m so evil >:)  And then last night, I played Santa… it’s been amusing.  Maybe my holiday spirit isn’t totally dead, after all!

There’s probably still a good 2″ of snow on the ground.  This is probably my 5th white Christmas in my whole life… and I’m loving it!

A surfeit of lassitude

Meaning I’m feeling really motivated to do absolutely nothing. It’s been a couch potato kind of day. And I’m loving it.

Rainy days and holidays, work and avoidance

DSCN0747The end of the term has arrived, and with it, some self-made promises to do better next year.  The emotional hell of these last couple of weeks isn’t worth going through again.  I’m a master procrastinator; I think I should have a degree in that.  Discussion with some coworkers implies that procrastination may be a requirement for an advanced degree anyway.

So what did I do this weekend?  I slept.  Blissful sleep.  Simple, and very, very needed.  I avoided doing actual work most of the weekend.  I got last week’s laundry ironed and hung up (since it spent the week rumpled up in the hamper), so now I have presentable clothing to wear for the week.

What I’m worried about is when our Christmas party is (at work).  I need to cook and take a gift, and though neither should take too long, I really don’t feel like doing anything else tonight.  It’s a rainy, dreary evening out.  Dinner was bright and cheery burritos (well, ok, oversized tacos in flour tortillas? whatever) and sangria blanca, which turned out quite yummable thanks to a Williams-Sonoma mix and some added fruit (lime, pineapple, nectarine,  and orange).  I had found the mix on sale near its’ expiration date.  🙂

Mood-wise, I’m still not stable, or good, or Christmassy, but I should be in a few more days.  I just need a couple of days with NO demands on my time from friends, family, coworkers, or students.  Yeah, like that’s going to happen!  HAH.  Suuure.  Which brings me to my other recent thoughts.  Friday, when I was driving into work, I was thinking about how much I hate Christmas.  I don’t think anyone really understands just how much I dislike this particular holiday or why.  And I realized that a lot of my negative associations were really mostly very old associations; ones from over 12 years ago.  Maybe it’s time to let those go.  Ya think?  Maybe it’s time to make my own memories and traditions.   I don’t guarantee I’ll ever love the season.  There’s too much hustle and bustle and crowds, and people seem to lose any sense of sanity at this time of year.  Traffic is horrendous, and God forbid you should try to go to the grocery store, or the pharmacy, and Wal-Mart?  Not a chance.  If you don’t have hours to spare, don’t go in.  Really quite simple.  Having to park at a mall daily for work is not improving my perception of the holiday insanity either.  Nor does the decorating for Christmas before Halloween.  Okay, okay.  Enough gritching.  Maybe I’ll learn to cope with it and like it.  Maybe I won’t.  But I will try to quit hating it for old reasons.