We’ve been getting some recurring questions since our retirement and relocation to Spain (besides the oft-repeated “What are you trying to say?” from some Spanish store clerks).
The most common one has been from people contemplating retirement but are afraid of the great unknown, asking “What is your typical day like?” What they are really asking is, How do you keep the openness of the day from compelling you to lie on the couch until you are a pile of melted goo, or the madness of purposelessness creeps in till you are found with five hundred pages of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” on your computer?
We are currently in Thailand visiting relatives, but, ironically, that gives a chance to share una día típico and address that (and those) questions. Per Jiab’s suggestion, I’ll put this in terms of riding out the day from sea to sea, or Si! to Si!, or just C to C.
#1 Cat commitments. The first thing we are still reminded of every morning is that, no matter where you live, no matter whether you work or are retired, your day starts when the cats feel it is “food o’clock.”
So, duty (and meowing) compel us to put cat before country as we refill food bowls and manage waste disposal, all while the coffee heats up.
#2 Coffee calm. We gave up an American-type yard for two terraces, so coffee is often enjoyed (with the cats) watching Spain wake up from our perch. We watch the early joggers, bikers, and hikers along the Genil river, waiting for the business rush that really won’t begin until almost 9:00.
#3 Connections Cognizance. The first few hours of the morning are also a good chance to sniff out the weather for the day. We have never lived so close to a mountain, let alone Mt. Mulhacen, the tallest non-Alp in continental Europe, so the capricious weather needs careful measure. A sunny day might also bear an icy wind fresh off the snow, or a few wispy clouds may portend an afternoon storm seemingly out of nowhere.
Mornings are my personal time. I always enjoyed getting up early as a teacher, as I got to peruse the news with minimal interruption. I love it now more so, being seven hours ahead of still-sleeping America. I read in confidence of solitude knowing I will not get an intruding email. Even more, I am insulated from the “breaking news,” pre-factual hyperbole that often gets corrected and toned down later after the initial apocalyptic reporting. My news, at least from America, is often related after more media reflection so as to filter out the hysteria of the moment. I also peruse the news of the world, unfiltered by American “but how does that relate to us?” perspectives.
#4 Chores & commitments Morning is also time for the household chores, including laundry. Given the small washer, we do laundry every other day, and it has to be done early so as to hang up the washing to dry in the afternoon sun. Now that winter is upon us, handling wet clothes in a biting morning coldness is also a backup to make sure I am fully awake and aware of sensory input.
Jiab is the chief administrator of our blog so she normally works on posts, updates, and responses to comments a few times a week. She’s also our CFO, so she reviews our bills, bank statements, and investments accounts regularly. I add color commentary..
#5 Composition & ….more composition. Then there’s the writing…always the writing. Writing is a jealous mistress who will not be ignored. Some days, I research ideas and take notes (or get distracted by looking up the history of a cool place we saw the day before, or a cat video, or…).
Back in my working life, I was always most prolific around 10:00 am, so I try to keep at least that hour of 10:00 till 11:00, or even longer, for dedicated keyboard tapping. Even if I have no specific ideas, I map out general concepts or plan a submission assault of a previously written article.
Two of the books are done and with the publisher, so I am enjoying a bit of an ease-up before number three begins, but more than my enjoying the release from the pressure to get it done, I think Jiab enjoys the release from not HEARING about my pressure to get it done.
#6 Conjoining with the country. Depending on the day, usually between 11:00 and 12:00, Jiab and I leave the virtual world behind for the more lively real one. We’ll run errands; two days a week, we have Spanish classes at the university from 11:30 until 2:30.
In the States, I would use Google maps to lay out a course for our planned safari so as to maximize efficiency, with nothing less than five stores visited or things accomplished being acceptable. If it took hours, I would muscle through it like a marathon, knowing I would eventually come home with my kill slung over my shoulder (or at least a restrung tennis racket and a bag of groceries) and a sense of uber-accomplishment.
That was then; this is now. Spanish errand running means one to two things accomplished is a good day. I often take a book, as I know the larger stores don’t mean more prompt service, but taking a number and waiting one’s turn. The Spanish system is not made for speed, especially if one is dealing with the government (that errand is always set apart as the one thing to do that day).
We walk everywhere, and each familiar, local store owner must be greeted. In a smaller town, it’s not uncommon to run into people one knows, which then requires the double-kiss greeting and pleasantry exchange, done in reverse order when one departs.
We take in more scenery, more people, even more life even as we get a couple of things done, like the improved view at ten miles an hour rather than the blur at one hundred.
My favorite time of day begins around 14:30 (2:30 pm, Americans). In Spain, it’s when the world begins to shut down. Rush hour begins (such as it is in Granada), as schools let out and many workers go home for lunch. Jiab and I will return from class or errands and have a leisurely lunch, talking about the morning or planning for something down the road.
Outside of Spain, people have the idea that everyone takes a siesta, and while many days that is true, I think of it more as a personal recharge time. I am just as likely to read a book or play a computer game. Perhaps I’ll finish up some writing, read some entertaining history (which for me is all of it), or casually practice my Spanish with an App.
If the weather is nice, we can play tennis at the sports complex across the street, or take stroll in the city or a hike in the country. In many ways, it reminds me of Sundays as a kid, when stores were closed, and one was compelled to take a breath and enjoy just being, not doing. Except this is EVERY day (and still all day Sunday).
#8 Connecting with community. Around 17:00ish, the non-tourist parts of the city start to revive. We make plans to meet friends for drinks and tapas later on, or double-check if there is a social event. Dinner is not until 21:00, so there is time to proofread previous writing, run to the market for fresh bread or other stores that have reopened, answer emails, or anything else that needs follow up.
The nights are full, yet fully free-forming. As I said, we might meet friends or go to an event. Whatever it is, it won’t begin before 20:30, and there will be food, drinks, lots of greeting-kissing, and everyone in a jovial mood.
We’ve had people over for game nights, or gone to watch old silent movies. Some nights, such as after a full day of hiking, a day trip, or on a particularly cold and chilly night, we’ll stay in and watch movies on the laptop together.
#9 Crashing and conking Back in the old country. we were pretty regular in our working days of going to bed between 10:00 and 11:00 pm, but I think we average getting in bed around midnight here, if not a bit later, as is the custom (for we older folks).
Survival guide (for the C-changes of life)
So, to return to the original questions (and subtext), How do you keep it fresh?
For me, there are five keys to making this routine of non-work, work:
1. Have purpose.
You are no longer working for someone else, but you still need to work for yourself. What is that thing you always wanted to do? Write? Learn to play an instrument or dance? Become a collector of miniature ceramic chickens?
I retired with a book deal, so in a sense I was less retired and more just changing careers.
Jiab, on the other hand, struggled how to define herself post-career, but she has discovered her incredible voice as a writer, both jointly as we write the blog and on her own as she shares her wisdom on personal finance. It was hard for her to learn (she’s a numbers person), but that struggle and mastery has given her purpose (and me a run for my writing).
Jiab and I now have a long list of what we want to do in retirement. About six months in, we have barely scratched the surface! There are many more worlds to conquer, including flamenco lessons just around the corner!
2. Have a daily plan.
Just because the world no longer tells you what to do every day doesn’t mean you wake up every morning thinking, “Then what shall I do?” There is nothing more daunting than an open schedule, like being handed a white canvas and told “Paint!”
We always have a general idea of what we are doing that day, usually made the night before. It might be a plan to write for the day (until the sun says “Tennis, anyone?”) or a day hiking or meeting friends (till the icy wind suggests Netflix indoors), or to grab a bus over to explore a new mountain village, but we always start with a general idea.
3. Stay Human
Laundry, showering, shaving, getting dressed – they’re not done just so people don’t move away from you on the bus. You need to do it for yourself.
True, I’ve rolled back daily shaving to once every two or three days, and I have moved my daily shower from morning prep to afternoon, but I still do them, because it makes me feel renewed, not just a sloppy carryover from yesterday.
4. Stay connected
You have friends and family back home, so take the time to see how they are doing and let them know how you are. Life may go on separately, but social media is a gift that allows long distance hugs and messaging.
We use WhatsApp and Line to videochat with our sons and friends, and keeping up with correspondence is a nice part of my afternoons. Even a simple “Hey! Life here is good. How are you?” can keep up a connection so that distance doesn’t cut it.
5. Be a part of the community
We were definitely strangers in a strange land, with new customs to learn, not to mention a new language. As daunting as it is, and no matter how many social and linguistic goofs we make, we still get out there.
People at the store (shopping) know us, and we regularly meet with other expats to support each other over common struggles and interpretations (such as overcoming the infamous stone-faced demeanors (dime) of resident Granadinos). We met a friend who volunteers at the Red Cross, and another who works with stray animals, and we plan to likewise join in community service.
The bottom line
People thinking of retiring are afraid of all the things they will leave behind, which they think might also include a purpose. I suggest you focus not on what you might leave behind, but what are you bringing WITH you: your skills, your interests, and most of all, your dreams of the future.
This is what has worked for us. Change is scary because it is unknown, but slowly, like us learning our Spanish poco a poco (little by little), we’ve built a daily life that doesn’t just help us anymore, it IS us, and all together is la vida buena.