A more civilized life

December 16, 2010

Retirement has brought with it both blessings and challenges. The best part about it, though, is the ability to live a more civilized life.

As it turns out, the economic crunch has forced many of us to live more simply.

Simple might be asking too much, in this big-city / suburban environment. This center of crazy work hours, material consumption, high prices, big cars. But civilized is absolutely do-able.

Here’s what we’ve discovered. And you, too, can get some of this civilized life for yourself, even if you aren’t yet retired. Oh–you already know these things. But the new year is a good time to for a reminder.

Stay away from rush hour traffic . . . unless you qualify for the carpool lane. In my working days here, a five-mile commute would take 45 minutes. Now, I don’t have to go out much during the commute, and when I do, I’m usually with someone else and can zip along relatively comfortably in the car pool lane. Carpools are a good idea anyway–who wants to waste fuel? Oh–and so is telecommuting. If your job allows you to work from home one or more days a week, do it. For all the same reasons. Civilized.

Cook at home. I love to cook, but even if you don’t, preparing a simple meal doesn’t have to be a burden. Even if you work. The other morning I marinated chicken breasts in a tasty mixture and left for the day. When, I returned, I roasted brussels sprouts, then drizzled balsamic and a little honey over them. A salad and…yum.

Yesterday I made a simple pasta with Romano cheese, garlic, sauteed yellow peppers & onions and a little olive oil. Fast. Simple. Delicious. Civilized.

Double your recipe and heat leftovers another day. Cook up a batch of soup on the weekend to serve during the week with a hunk of warmed, crusty bread. The payoff is coming home at the end of the day to an easy-to-put-together, stress-feel meal.

Another alternative, especially if you have long work hours: prepared meals a couple times a week. We’ve found a Trader Joe’s pulled pork that M. loves, their canned lentil soup and a few other prepared foods we keep on hand for days I’m too busy or don’t want to cook. Two prepared meals a week won’t kill us.

Stay out of the malls during the holiday. Buy on sale all year. Any fool can spend money, is my husband’s mantra and I agree. The reason I finish holiday shopping early is that I shop sales all year round and get wonderful presents at great prices. I never enter a mall during the holidays. Ever. {Yes, San Joseans, I never have to look for parking at Valley Fair or Santana Row} I have several “gift boxes” with presents labeled for use during the year. It takes the stress out of holidays and ensures that I always have a hostess or birthday gift at the ready.

Use public transportation. Europeans understand civilized transportation. Like the train.

We take the train to San Francisco every time we go. Every time. Yes, it takes longer. Maybe twice as long, if you include the time getting from the train station to our destination. But it eliminates the stress of driving and the impossible dream of finding cheap parking in San Francisco. {Or any parking at all.} Just bring a book. Or nap.

Take the bus. Ok, I have to admit. My husband would not willingly take the bus. But I would. Having a driver means more time to read, think, people-watch and plan and less time on meaningless but crucial activities, such as not rear-ending the car in front. Being retired means there’s hardly every a reason to rush. So why not?

Netflix, Hulu and yes, even HBO. Or off-time matinees. Maybe it’s because I’ve gone out a lot for so many years. But I get no great pleasure in going out, fighting traffic, trying to find a parking space, standing in long lines and paying $12 to see a movie. Why?

I became an avid Netflix and Hulu fan years ago and love the convenience (and cost-savings) of watching movies in my own home. We’ve recently added premium television on a special free promotion. But we have used it so much that we may sign on after the promotion ends.

Yes, there are some movies that are simply best seen on the big screen. Or maybe you want to make an event of it with a friend. Try matinees, now defined as movies shown before 4pm. {It used to be 6pm, then 5pm…the inevitable ripoff.} Even better: do you qualify for the senior discount? Less money, fewer crowds, a great seat….what’s not to like? I do this regularly with girlfriends.

Which brings me to movie snacks. Their over-pricing is one of my pet peeves. High movie prices and then, even higher snack prices. How do families do it?

I know it’s frowned on, but I bring my own. A bottle of water. Cheese, almonds and apples. Sometimes, a package of Red Vines. When I ate popcorn, I’d pop it at home, put it in a brown bag and bring it with me. You can buy candy for far less at a store in advance. I know I sound like Fanny Farm Wife, but I resent the excessive markup. As M. says, any fool can spend money. And apples /cheese/nuts are healthier.

So my movie scenario is: Carpool to the theatre, buy a ticket (no line), get my seat (plenty to choose from), open my big purse and take out my snacks. No stress at all.

They say life comes full circle, and I can see why. When we’re young and have no money, we do all these things without thinking. Everyone does them. But as we start making real money, we begin to pay for conveniences that aren’t really necessary.

It’s good to remind ourselves that simple is good. At any age.

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