Saturday, December 31, 2011

A New Year's Goal

It’s December 31, which means five months to go!  Paul and I reviewed our 2011 income and expenses this morning over coffee, and everything still looks good.  Santa Claus must have heard we’d be spending next summer as camp hosts, because he brought us a round outdoor table, an iPod, and a rechargeable iPod speaker system.  I find it interesting that as family and friends have heard or read our news, they are far more interested in how we will spend our first summer in retirement than in the fact that we are really and truly retiring.

It’s also New Year’s Eve.  As I put the finishing touches on the table for tonight’s annual New Year’s Eve dinner, I thought about New Year’s resolutions.  I usually don’t make resolutions.  I think they’re like Mary Poppins’ pie crust promises – easily made, easily broken.  So this year I am setting a goal.  In 2012 I will write my first novel.
I should have plenty of time to work on it this summer in the quiet of the mountains.  I have an idea that is rehearsing in the back of my mind, waiting for its chance for center stage.  I’ve even named my main character.  Next steps including outlining the story, researching times and places, and of course, researching publication options.  Lots to do!

Here’s wishing you a happy and prosperous New Year!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Reflecting on Christmas

This morning Paul made aebleskiver for breakfast.  Aebleskiver is a Danish round ball “pancake” that is made in a pan explicitly created for this – and in my understanding serves no other purpose.  It was our traditional Christmas morning breakfast when I was growing up.

I love Christmas.  I’ve always loved Christmas.  I love to decorate for Christmas, to shop for Christmas, to write my annual Christmas letter and to send cards.  I love Christmas music. I love Christmas parties.        I love Christmas lights.  I love baking Christmas goodies and giving them away.  I get teary-eyed at the season’s Hallmark card commercials, and still cry over that old Folgers coffee commercial they bring back every year.

And I truly love Christmas traditions - those I’ve grown up with and continue to keep, and those my own family has created through the years.  The traditions I grew up with came from the Danish – my maternal grandfather’s tradition.  We celebrate on Christmas Eve.  I have the Nissa Men – mischievous Danish elves who are Santa’s eyes and ears – scattered throughout the house.  We make kliner – a Danish Christmas cookie that is rolled, twisted and deep fried to make beautiful and delicious little knots.

On Christmas morning we make and serve Eggs Benedict to family and friends.  Our tradition for over 20 years now, this started when two of our neighbors had just gone through divorce and were alone on Christmas morning.  Since then both have remarried, but they keep coming to our home on Christmas morning.

Here’s the good news – the way that we have traditionally spent Christmas will likely not change as we retire.  We’ve never been extravagant spenders, so we won’t need to transition to a more frugal Christmas.  And the traditions of my childhood – and that of my children – will live on.  Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Cash Balance Plan

I don’t have a traditional pension.  No surprise there.  According to a July, 2011 article in US News (, only 22% of firms provide access to a retirement plan that guarantees payments for life.

I do have a cash balance Plan.  According to the Department of Labor, a cash balance plan is defined as “a type of defined benefit [pension] plan that defines the benefit in terms that are more characteristic of a defined contribution plan. In other words, a cash balance plan defines the promised benefit in terms of a stated account balance.” ( )
So basically, when I retire, what I have in the cash balance plan is what I get.  My cash balance continues to earn interest; however, three years ago my company made the decision to discontinue making contributions to employee accounts.  No surprise there, either.  Many companies now offer only the 401K plan for employee retirement savings. 

Thankfully, my company still offers a generous match to my 401K contributions.  I don’t expect to need to draw on my 401K for many years – and of course, I can’t until I’m 59 ½ anyway.  But I’ll need to make a decision on what to do with the cash balance plan funds.
The Department of Labor site indicates that my options are to take the entire amount in a lump sum, or to annuitize the amount over my lifetime.  My company’s retirement planning guide goes into greater detail, and also indicates that leaving my benefit in the Cash Balance Plan is an option.  It would continue to earn interest until I made the decision to start distribution – until I turn 70 ½ at which time I would be required to begin distribution.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Christmas Letter

Ah, yes, the annual Christmas letter – the one where I capture the highlights of this year and condense them to a one page “newsletter” with a current photo and send it to family and friends.  I love to receive these, and like many things in life, you have to give if you want to get.

Our retirement plans are definitely on the “highlight” list for this year, so this will be our opportunity to make our announcement to a larger audience.  Here’s what I wrote:

Wow – I just realized that I’ve been writing this Christmas letter for twenty years.  Of course you all know I started this when I was 12.   Seriously – although I don’t feel like a senior citizen, I’m now eligible for senior discounts.  And I’m now eligible to retire.

We’ve been planning early retirement since our twenties, and although there have been a few glitches in the plan, we are ready now. 

I will be interested to see how our friends and extended family respond to our pending retirement.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Telling the Family

My immediate family – my parents, three brothers and their families, and an aunt and uncle – got together a couple of weeks ago.  We had already bought the fifth wheel and had been hired for the camp host job, so we told them about it.  The response was mostly positive, with tones of “why haven’t you told us this before?”  They seemed to understand when I told them that I hadn’t announced this at work yet and was keeping it kind of quiet.

My father, who has been retired for a number of years, seemed to be happy for us.  My mother, who will never retire, is still skeptical.  I don’t blame her – she watched her own father’s health fail shortly after he retired and is convinced that he should have kept working.  In my mind, the difference is that we are not retiring to stop working, but to change when, where and how we work.

My brothers all committed to coming up to the Hoop Lake next summer while we are there.  We all have fond memories of family camping at Hoop Lake, and my niece can’t wait to walk around the lake again.