I was making dinner — shoving a lid on a pot, muttering under my breath as a frozen pea skittered across the floor and landed under a stool, suddenly remembering that I hadn’t preheated the oven. Typical mealtime rush hour.

Except, I didn’t have to be frantically running around. I wasn’t tired from working all day and eager to chow down and hopefully regain some energy. I didn’t have to prepare for the next day, after the meal was done. There wasn’t a big pile of laundry to fold before I could put my feet up. I’ve retired from my day job. What was my hurry?

I’ve been asking a lot of questions like that in the six months since my last day as a school librarian. I’ve discovered that I need to readjust my relationship to time, tweak my inner clock, so to speak.

Time is the great luxury of retirement, and I am grateful for it. Time is all I’ve really wanted — far more than any material items — for most of my adult life. I am a writer, reader, gardener and lifelong learner. I do not fear empty hours. I always have something to do.

As an educator, I experienced long stretches of available time during summer vacations, for which I was always grateful. I learned, while on break, that my days easily filled up without any effort on my part. I would joke, “When do I have time to work?”

With time available while on vacation, I might head over to Target to buy new pens, rather than order them online. If I needed something at the grocery store, why not head over and get it, rather than wait for the weekend? In the summer, I had time for the farmers’ market every week. Once I was back in school, my visits were sporadic, even though it was harvest season.


This “filling up” was fine during my six weeks of vacation, but I’ve become wary of it in retirement. While bringing recyclables to Augusta Public Works headquarters is a worthy activity, I don’t want it to take over my life. Trust me, it could.

Setting priorities is my antidote to “fill up” syndrome. These daily goals are not remarkable in any way. They usually involve writing or decluttering projects, which are not as unrelated as they seem. I have a lot of notebooks to organize, for example.

When I have a couple of bigger-picture to-dos on my list, I feel more productive. Then, I can go blithely through my day, taking a leisurely walk, and spending an inordinate amount of time filling the bird feeders and setting out peanuts for squirrels. When a text tells me an interlibrary loan book has arrived for me at Lithgow, I head right over.

My need to feel I’m doing something useful every day also affects my schedule. There is no reason I can’t sit down and read when I’m having my second cup of tea, except my conscience insists that I don’t. It doesn’t seem right. Mornings should be reserved for tidying the bathroom or sweeping the kitchen floor.

I may get over this attitude over time. But for now, I feel better keeping my reading for late in the afternoon, when I officially allow myself to goof off.

Yes, this is the hardest part of retirement time for me. I have a hard time time turning off my internal time clock. I spent 32 years in education and, before that, six years in journalism. But as my sister reminded me recently, “We’ve worked for a long time.” I agreed, thinking of myself at 16, with my job packing boxes at KFC. We had started even earlier, though, as kids helping my father on his Arnold Bread route, and later stocking shelves and running the cash register at the day-old bread store my parents ran.


Working outside the home takes up a lot of time. Yet all those things that “fill up” the retirement day still needed to be done while employed, but a lot more quickly. That is a hard lesson to unlearn in retirement.

First, I had to recognize, as a retiree, that I was rushing unnecessarily. Sometimes, I would even be holding my breath as I finished a task. Once, I realized what I was doing, I switched myself into mindful mode. Perhaps “pushed” is a more accurate description, even though such willfulness is the antithesis of the ideal of mindfulness.

OK, I had to force myself to be mindful and remember I did not need to hurry.

Needless to say, this caused me quite a bit of tension at first. Slowly, though, I learned to relax. I could look at the clock and think “I have plenty of time,” and believe it.

Which is amusing, because once I reached retirement age, I became keenly aware that my time on earth was limited.

With that in mind, it’s even more important that I slow down and smell the tomato sauce, or whatever is bubbling away on the burner. I need to sit down at the kitchen island with my book and wait for the timer to go off.

Some aspects of time are immutable, especially when it comes to cooking. But others may change as we do, with the seasons of our lives.

Liz Soares welcomes email at lizzie621@icloud.com.

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