My Big Happy Jewish Retirement

Cindy Margolin

My goal in retirement was to be involved in and give back to my community.  I also knew that I wanted to be involved with kids, my original professional goal.  Main hobbies were photography and world travel, both of which I planned to expand.

I had moved to Santa Cruz in 1987.  I bought my house as an investment for future retirement, wanting to be close to the beach.  My kids were both away at college, so I left my empty nest in San Jose near the university and moved to the beach.  I built a darkroom and travelled the world.  But because I was still commuting over the hill to SJSU, I really didn’t get to know my community, except for the SJSU Vanpool colleagues and folks who walked their dogs on West Cliff Drive on the weekends.

Thanks to Mara Southern, the Testing Office person, I embarked on a 10-year plan around age 50.  With the help of a financial advisor, who was also a good friend, I got my kids through college and paid off my house by the time I was 60.

I was strongly influenced by a very good friend, a colleague from Fresno State whom I had met during the 1981-82 academic year as a CSU Administrative Fellow.  She is 12 years older than I, a fellow psychologist who was very involved in Women’s Studies.  She retired first, talking about all the grand plans for her new life.   She moved from Fresno to the East Bay to be close to her daughter and grandchildren.  She planned volunteer in her grandchildren’s classrooms, organize a youth group at her new church, be a super in the opera, finish her novels.  She is enormously talented in all these areas.  I watched her talk about all these plans, make brief stabs at everything, and not accomplish anything.  This brilliant, highly organized woman, became disorganized.  She had been a big fish in a little pond (Fresno) and now she was in a whole new scene.  She bit off too much in a new place. She had too many grandiose dreams.

As I turned 60, thinking about the future, I was alone, with no partner, in a community I barely knew.  My kids had graduated from college and no family lived nearby.  My folks were still in reasonably good health in Southern California.   I could focus on what I wanted to do with no distractions.

I cut back to working half- time for three years at age 60, relinquishing major responsibilities to new people, under PRTRB (pre-retirement time reduction base).  At work, I concentrated on one project (the degree audit system). Took undergraduate General Education classes I had reviewed, all the courses I was afraid to take as an undergrad or had no time because I was so goal-driven.  It was fun to read and study without pressure of tests, papers, etc.  In fact, I was frequently the only student in the class that actually did all of the reading!  I got a lot of potential distractions out of my system by taking a wide variety of courses that had always intrigued me:  Art History, Oceanography, Geology, Biodiversity, Jazz in America, World Hunger, Storytelling.

So, now to start on the dreams.  I decided to focus on one project at a time.  Around 2001, I trained to be a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) in Santa Cruz County, serving children in my community.  It was a structured commitment, but I could still work part-time, travel and take lots of pictures of kids.  I loved it.

And then came Mike in 2002.  Totally unplanned.  A dear old friend who just happened to be in the right place at the right time.  We were already entrenched in each other’s families and friends.  Messed with all my previous plans. He didn’t like to travel and not that crazy about kids.  Only child, never married, no kids.  But we clicked.  Total emotional commitment for the first time in my life (except for my parents and kids).

After a couple years of driving back and forth between our two houses (West Side and Seacliff), we bought a huge house together in the Aptos hills that could accommodate our independent space needs and have room for our aging parents when the time came.  Two people who had been in charge of their own houses living alone needed enough space to get away from each other.

Three months after we moved in, my granddaughter was born in Boston.  Four months after we moved in,  three months before my planned retirement on my sixty-third birthday (the peak of the benefits curve), CSU offered a Golden Handshake (2 + 2), so that was it!

New relationships take a lot of energy, and that was my main focus in my newly retired state.   I loved living in the house of my dreams with a partner.   I rekindled my lifelong love of cooking and became a successful gardener.  My granddaughter in Boston was the away-from-home magnet.

The year after we moved into our house, Mike and I got married just because we felt like it.  (If we’d been smart, we’d have gotten married a year before I retired so he could have shared health benefits.)

I spent a number of years in my early retirement taking care of parents.  My mother died shortly after I got married and my dad lived with us for a year before moving to an assisted-living facility.   I was very close to my parents and I still miss them terribly.  Now my mother-in-law is fading and takes lots of energy, even though she is in assisted-living.  I love her and want to be more supportive in her declining state, but she deserves more attention than Mike and I give her.  I feel lucky that I was retired and had time to give before our parents really needed us.

Where am I now?

I never thought I’d be a “country girl,” but here I am.   I love staying at home, working in my garden, cooking in my dream kitchen, playing with my dog, knitting creative projects, and just hanging out with my husband, watching lots of TV and movies.

Both Mike and I love to entertain.  Whenever friends want to get together, we want it to be at our house.  Two major events:  Fourth of July party (started by Mike’s family in Malibu around 50 years ago) and a family Passover seder (started when my kids were small – around 36 people from my maternal family).

But home activities aren’t enough for me, nor is unstructured time.  Mike is a homebody who doesn’t really like to go out, so most of my outside activities are on my own.

CASA is still my main community commitment, but it is a heavy load emotionally.  After each case (I’ve had four), I take about a year break.

Three years ago, on a CASA break, I was looking for a different project and signed up at the Seymour Center at Long’s Marine Lab.  I was inspired by friends who worked at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  The Seymour Center offered me an opportunity to work with school children on field trips, teaching marine science.  It is so uplifting, no heavy burdens.  The kids come, they have fun and learn, and they leave.  They love me and think I’m very smart.  It’s also nice to work with a diverse group of people – students, retired folks, scientists.

Thanks to the enthusiasm of friends, I finally joined LifeLong Learners at UCSC.  The monthly lectures are educational and fascinating.  Participating in field trips with the Art & Architecture group, going to new places with the Adventurers, and sharing photos with the Digital Photo group … all with like-minded, very bright, retired adults.

I now facilitate the Digital Photo group because I have the biggest TV screen.  I do some photo work, but not as much as I had anticipated or liked.

Mike and I participate in the Over-the-Hill-Bookclub that was started on the vanpool, but has expanded to include a few non-SJSU folks who live in Santa Cruz.

I serve on the Executive Board of the SJSU Emeritus and Retired Faculty Association.  It’s my only formal contact with the university and I see some former colleagues about once a month.  I enjoy special events, but I’m not heavily invested.

A lovely group of artsy local friends, called Bagel Church, like to get together for brunch on Sundays and talk about the state of the world.  We used to meet weekly, but it is now about every 6 weeks.

I visit Yosemite annually with women friends, hiking and hanging out for a week in the Spring.

I enjoy going to the opera, musical performances, and theatre, some with friends, some with Mike, some alone.

I see my daughter and granddaughter 6 times a year (three times there and three times here).  I’m initiating a new program to take my granddaughter, who is now 8, to go someplace warm in February, instead of my going East in dreadful weather.  I see my son who lives in Austin several times a year for special occasions.

After numerous big-time international trips, I was feeling a bit trapped in Santa Cruz.  So, with Mike’s encouragement, I’m starting to venture out again with women friends.  Southeast Asia a couple years ago, Silk Road this year.

My parents were committed to daily exercise.  They were semi-professional folk dancers. attended regular exercise classes, and did individual workouts.  While my own discipline doesn’t sustain individual routines, I participate in gym workouts and daily walks.  I also love hiking and biking, but do less than I used to.  When I don’t exercise, I feel sluggish.  I am uplifted by physical exertion and try to do something physically challenging at least 3 times a week, if not daily.

Self Reflection

I juggled lots of balls in the air when I worked full time and managed very well.  Now I seem to “waste” a lot of time, and it bothers me.  If I don’t feel like doing something at the moment, I don’t do it.  I work at a much slower pace than I used to.

I’m kind of a sprinter; I like to work fast and intensely on one thing at a time.  I have to be actively doing things or I feel bad.  When I watch TV, I have to knit or do a puzzle at the same time.

I realize that I need structure to achieve goals and feel good about myself.  So, I take on projects:  life history photo albums for my children on their 40th birthdays; knitting projects for others; photo histories of my parents for each of their grandchildren; trying new recipes; growing new plants.

The Future?

Mike and I love our retreat in the redwoods with our “child” (our dog).  As long as we can drive and climb the stairs and the dog is alive, we will stay here.  Our role models who live walking distance from our house are reaching 90 this year and will probably have to move.  So, we think we have about 20 years left here, if we want.  Neither of us wants to be here alone.

If we move, we want to be at the beach with a white water view.  That’s what Mike had growing up in Malibu and what my parents had in Pacific Palisades after I left home.

If I outlive Mike, I’m not sure what I will do.  I originally thought that I’d move to Boston to be close to my daughter and granddaughter, especially if I need living assistance.  But it depends on what kind of community I have here at the time.

Pearls of Wisdom

Plan ahead, don’t wait until it’s time to retire.

Be modest in setting goals.  Don’t set grandiose goals that are way out of reach, even for someone 50 years younger.

Take on one project at a time and feel good about your achievement.  Add as necessary.

Ease into it, if you can.  Cold turkey is hard.

Maintain social bonds, or set up new ones.

2 thoughts on “My Big Happy Jewish Retirement

  1. Cindy,
    What an interesting, informative article, sounds like you are having a ball.
    After retiring,I moved happily into volunteering with children and youth locally, then visited Mombasa in 2000 and fell in love with the children there. From that time on, I have continued to focus on them. Am leaving in May for my 12th visit and 10th mission.
    One more year of active volunteering, then I want to “behave more like a retired person”, play more,organize and publish my writings, travel, take dance lessons,go on retreat regularly, etc.

    Your mention of Mara Southern brought memories. She was supportive of my work with students who were experiencing learning challenges and often shared articles with me on the subject. I appreciated her very much.

    Thanks for the article.


  2. Hello Cindy,

    My mother, Melba Lyons, and I took a New College course from you in your home in 1977 or 1978. You came to my mind a couple of weeks ago so I decided to see if I could find you. (I just love the internet and isn’t it refreshing hearing something positive about it!) Anyway I just thought I would reach out to say hello. I live in Roseville, CA and maybe attending 1440 Multiversity this spring. I remember that you had such a fun, creative, and easy going way about you as well has your amazing intellect and ability to teach in a way that fostered embracing new ideas. I found your retirement interview interesting and endearing to me; I said to myself “yep that’s Cindy alright”. I will probably be retiring in the a few years myself. I would love to meet with you when I am in the area if you are available.

    Best Regards,

    Lorna Lyons

    P.S. I remember my Mom mentioning someone named Marjorie Craig.

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