One of the things people seem determined to do when newly retired is to purge. Not oneself, necessarily, but certainly one’s home. For me, the urge to simplify, tidy and sort is almost as strong as when I was pregnant and went through the nesting stage.

I try to pace myself. I pick a closet, a shelf, a desk – one cluttered place – and I tackle that one. (My husband and I are “savers” so there are lots of places where things get tucked away.)

It feels good to reduce the clutter. Not having boxes falling out of closets or piles of papers oozing out of drawers lifts the spirit.

There is a down-side though. As I sort through the detritus, I come to letters from people I loved who have passed on. I pour over old photos and birthday greetings. It is bitter-sweet to be reminded in such a tangible way of people and pets who are dear and departed.

Those mementos find a nook. Yes, it is sentimental. However, they are a big part of who I am, and for now, I still need them.

 

 

 

Travel in September had not been a possibility for me since I was five years old. I have been in school as a student or a teacher for 50 years. (In the justice system, that would make me a lifer, wouldn’t it?)

So on this very first September of my retirement, I decided to celebrate by going on a trip. My husband and I found pet sitters for our various animals and ventured off to Scotland.

It was an amazing vacation! We spent time on the isle of Arran, the isle of Skye and in the highlands.

The weather tended to be changeable. One B&B hostess told us, “You get all four seasons in Scotland – sometimes in the same day.” We certainly found this to be true. On a couple of days, we had rain, cloudy periods, sunshine and hail.

The weather didn’t stop us from doing the things we wanted to do though, and for the most part, the rain co-operated and we stayed dry.

We found the folks to be very friendly and accommodating and I loved listening to the Scottish burr.

We visited stone circles and hiked to great waterfalls. We explored castles and viaducts. We visited a reindeer herd and hand-fed them. We sat by Loch Ness, and I did see something rise to the surface and dive again! We saw jaw-dropping scenery – mountains and coastal cliffs. They were rugged and magnificent.

Mackrie Moor stone circles, Arran

Urquart Castle, Loch Ness

Duncansby Head, Highlands

Kilt Rock Falls, Skye

Glenfinnan Viaduct, Highlands (Harry Potter fans might recognize this!)

Feeding reindeer, Cairngorm Mountains

I went pony trekking. I galloped on a Firth of Moray beach and rode by a fairytale castle.

On the way home, we had a 24 hour stopover in Iceland. It is a wild and beautiful country. I went pony trekking again and enjoyed tolting on the marshes, surrounded by craggy mountains and hot water spring fed rivers.

We took a drive around the southwest coast. Waves crashed against craigy shorelines. We drove through huge lava fields that resembled moonscapes. Steam rose out of the ground in places. We saw herds of Icelandic horses and flocks of Icelandic sheep.

Icelandic sheep

meeting Fleygur – “Flying Horse”

Tolting

Bridge between the Continents

We walked across the Bridge between the Continents. The fault line between the North American tectonic plate and the European plate crosses Iceland, and in one place along the rift, they built a bridge. The rift is separating at the rate of about 2 cm a year.

This was definitely an unforgetable celebration!

Photos

I have just returned from an amazing trip to Scotland and Iceland. I little gift to myself for 33 years of hard work in the classroom. I thought I would share a few of the photos we took of these amazing places.

Icelandic horses grazing near the coast, east of Keflavik.

 

September 24. Can you make out the snow-topped mountain in the background?

Icelandic sheep are hardy, wooly creatures.

Mountains, lava fields and steam vents in Iceland.

waterfall on Isle of Arran, Scotland

northern shore of Isle of Skye

Plockton, Highlands of Scotland

 

Carrbridge, near Inverness

Rainbow, the Black Isle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Labour Day

Labour Day – traditionally the last day of summer. Kids go back to school this week.

It is a strange feeling to be doing summertime things this weekend. For the first time in my adult life, I am not making school plans. I have to say, I don’t miss the feeling that my life won’t be my own for the next ten months. The easing of that pressure is a huge load off my shoulders.

I am thinking that, now that I have more time to call my own, I want to get involved in something – something meaningful and important. Something that will make the world a better place. I have interests in animal welfare, child poverty, ecology and global warming.

I realize that I can’t take on all of these causes – not and do a good job. Not even if I gave up teaching just to become a slave to volunteering. And that I do not wish to do.

I have decided to give myself a little time to sort myself out before I plunge into anything. (This is a real step toward wisdom for me!) I feel I need to settle into retirement first. Then once I have found my space, I will search my heart and develop a plan of action. I want to do this smart, not as a knee-jerk reaction to the bewilderment of having that precious commodity – time.

So I’ll give myself a few months. I’ll allow myself some “me” time. And then I’ll see what I can do to make this a better world.

 

Having of one of the children I instructed and cared about meet an untimely death is always unnerving. I guess because I nurtured them for the months they sat in my classroom, and I worked hard to help them carve a future for themselves, to find that future has been swept away is deeply troubling.

I live in a small town and so it is a common experience to see my former students as they grow up and move ahead with their lives. I can hardly go grocery shopping without hearing someone call to me, “Hi Mrs. Grant-Smith!” It is a nice feeling to be remembered fondly be so many young people.

It is therefore more painful when news reaches me that one of those young people is no longer with us.

This past weekend, a car accident claimed one such young man. I grieve for his passing.

Downside

Being retired, I have joined the ranks of other former teachers. I look at my contemporaries and I realize that I’m no spring chicken any more.

I have noted for the past ten years that I have been one of the senior members on the school staff. Fresh young teachers came to me for advice. I was older than the last four principals with whom I taught.

I also noted that many of my students were the children of people I had taught. I particularly remember a discussion with my grade two class a couple of years ago. One child piped, “You taught my daddy!”

“Yes, yes I did,” I said.

Another child said, “You taught my mommy.”

“That’s true,” I admitted.

A third child said, “You taught my auntie.”

I ended the topic as quickly as I could. I was afraid that one of the children was going to tell me that I’d taught his grandmother. (I did have one little fellow point out that I was older than his grampie!)

So I guess the aging thing should have come as no surprise. But still, it hit me a bit hard when I realized that I am into the final third of my life. My husband and I are only 14 years away from our fiftieth anniversary. When my parents celebrated their 50th I thought they were..well…old.

I have to confess that death scares me. And infirmity scares me even more.

I am blessed with good genes for longevity. Both of my grandmothers lived actively into their nineties. My parents, aged 90 and 82, are still going strong. So with good luck and conscientious care for my health, I may live another 30-35 years. Somehow, though, three decades doesn’t seem like such a long time.

I am determined to savour every moment. I have the freedom now to do what I want, and to not do things that make me tired, anxious and unhappy – for the most part. I will strive to suck every tasty, juicy, wonderful experience out of my days, and let go of the things that rob me of pleasure. What time I have left I want to use to the fullest.

 

 

New Life

 

I am beginning to realize just how significantly my life has been altered.

For 33 years, mid-August was panic time. All those projects around the house had to be finished right now. Lesson plans and term units needed to be completed. If I wanted to visit my friend on PEI, I needed to make plans to drive over Confederation Bridge immediately. I had one week left before I had to get back into my classroom and organize it for another year. Vacation was over.

What, you may wonder, did I do with the rest of my summer? After all, teachers get eight weeks off, right? I must just be very poor at time management.

Not so. You see, the first two weeks of vacation was taken up with spring cleaning. I was so busy with assessment and report cards and class tripsĀ  through April, May and June that housework is spotty at best. So early July was full of scrubbing, tidying, dusting, weeding and the like.

Then the really big jobs needed to be tackled.Chores like painting the exterior of the house, refinishing floors and other renovations, haying and gardening took up much of the rest of July, and often into August.

Once August arrived, there were always family reunions, visitors, garden harvesting and preserving. And then, by the middle of August, lesson plans need to be worked on and teaching resources tracked down.

From about the 25th till early September, it was back into the classroom. The summer went by all too quickly.

This year, I met a teacher friend at the health center the first week of August. She was already in panic mode. She had family obligations, a couple of day-long courses to attend, and then school time would be upon her.

I left our chat feeling a residual panic. My teacher-self responded to her feeling that there was too much to do and time was slipping away. And then, I realized at a very deep and personal level that things had changed. There is no deadline for me at the end of August. Early September can peek over the horizon and I don’t have to regard it with trepidation. I have time!

What a feeling! Like an old fire horse that has been put out to pasture, and even though the siren is screaming, he knows he can stand in his field and continue to munch grass.

Oh, yes, a part of me is feeling a bit lost. A bit sad that I am not preparing to see those eager little faces as they pour into the school. A bit disoriented because I am not doing that very important pre-September planning.

But mostly, I think I’ll revel in my new reality and welcome my change of pace.

 

Last Day of School

I began teaching in 1979. I’ll do the math for you – I have been a teacher for 33 years. I went from high school to university, and then into the classroom as a fresh-faced teacher, one following the other with no hiatus, no bumming around Europe, no years of searching for myself. I have effectively been in school pretty much non-stop for 50 years.

On June 29, when I hugged my students good-bye and put them on their buses, passed in my school key and walked out the door, it was a very strange feeling. Sadness and elation warred in my psyche. I felt kind of disoriented. I was no longer Joyce Grant-Smith – teacher.

I looked forward to retiring. I loved working with kids. I loved those moments of clarity, when students would look at me with the light bulb flashing over their heads. I loved their honesty, their humour, their energy. But the demands of the job had become increasingly debilitating. I was working 60-70 hours a week, just to keep up with the planning, assessing, and paperwork. I had little time or energy to do anything but teach. I was feeling exhausted and discouraged. I wanted to have the freedom to enjoy more in life than the classroom. I wanted to visit family and friends, sleep in, sit and watch the river flow by.

I had dipped my toes into the writing pool. I have several magazine articles, short stories, a YA novel and a non-fiction book published. I wanted to make writing more than a hobby. I wanted to start a new career.

I wanted to travel. The notion of visiting places any time other than March break and summer vacation was a real novelty. Wouldn’t it be great to travel in September? That had never been an option for me.

So, here I am. Retired.

I first thing I did was throw myself into projects at home. It’s hard to turn off that “I have to get this done” switch. I cleaned the house, top to bottom. I organized, sorted and purged, scrubbed and dusted.

Every other summer, I would assign myself a big job, one that I didn’t have time to do during the school year. For example, last summer I painted all the trim on the house. This year, I set myself the job of staining the siding of the house.

Around the second week of July, I had a revelation. An epiphany. I didn’t have to work on the house all summer, in the heat and the insects. I could wait till the fall. This was a huge mental shift for me. I had time. There was life after the third week of August!

Since that grand revelation, I have gradually started to slow down, like a top that has been spinning wildly and then begins to slacken in its gyrations. I take time to read – something I love to do but had trouble making time for. I write. I have taken up water colour painting. I ride my horses, nearly every day. I putter in my gardens.

Granted, I still have moments of panic. That feeling of “I should be busy – things are going to get ahead of me” has not yet disappeared entirely. It is coming less often, though. The mind set “I have time” is becoming the new norm.

Oh, my land, it is sweet!

 

 

 

Retirement

After enjoying a teaching career that spanned three decades, I am now retired. Although I am ready for this change in my life, and look forward to having the freedom to do other things, it is a huge adjuustment. I still catch myself thinking things like, “I could use that idea in a lesson” and “How many days before I have to go back to work?”

As I embark on my new life, filled with family, farm, travel,and writing I want to chronicle the phases and stages I go through. I’ll be recording my feelings, both high and low, my “Ah, ha moments”, and moments of inspiration. I will also post some thoughts and pet-peeves about education. (Just because I have left the teaching profession doesn’t mean that I have stopped caring.)

I’d love to hear from anyone who is going through a similiar life change. So happy reading and I hope to see your comments!