A Perfect House

Thank you to everyone for the heartfelt messages.  Having an international community of support is priceless.  My heart goes out to those of you who have experienced or are experiencing similar situations.  I learned a lot from this move, not the least of which is to follow my own advice to live in the moment.

When our South Carolina house went under contract, we left for Michigan on a sweltering July day with the objective of buying another house.  Since Martin doesn’t drive anymore, the nearly 800 miles behind the wheel was left to me.  Many asked why we didn’t fly.  Martin doesn’t fly anymore either.  Airports are noisy.  Jets are cramped.  Even with the no check-in line, getting through security is a challenge for me alone.  For someone who must be spoken to slowly, succinctly without a surrounding cacophony just getting to the plane is a major stress.  I split the drive into two days with a stopover in Lexington, Kentucky at our favorite Man O’War Boulevard hotel.  Still, it was exhausting, for both of us.  It is what it is.

The closing on our SC house was scheduled for August 28 so time was of the essence.  On the advice of Martin’s neurologist I was working to take Martin from one house to the other with scarcely any stops in between.  Getting him settled into a new environment with as few adjustments as possible was imperative for his well-being and mine.

With the idea of downsizing both in house and land, we arrived with a handful of properties to view.  Houses in Michigan are most often built on basements, many with finished walk-out basements.  I knew there would be stairs.  With that in mind, I pursued only ranch styles to keep it to one set.  After all, I wanted a house where we could age in place.  We had a lot of advantages in our quest, from human help to technological help — the internet, smart phones and GPS; our Realtor, Faith, appropriately named for this adventure, is my daughter, Rachel’s, niece by marriage.  I felt confident there was a house for us among the ones identified.

However, none of the houses “spoke” to us.  Martin was especially discouraged.  After two days of intent looking, I found myself sitting on the sofa in Rachel’s sunroom at 4 a.m.  Our search was taking us further and further from her address.  There wasn’t a point of moving to Michigan if we were an hour away from help.  

During this introspection, an epiphany – instead of buying for the present, I was buying for a future I didn’t even know if we would have.  I had an idea where Martin’s disease would take us, but how many years away was that?  In 2018 his neurologist told us it was moving at a glacial pace.  It could be ten or even twenty years.  We are still in good physical health.  Martin bicycles 80 to a 100 miles a week at 21 miles per hour!  He can certainly climb stairs.  I needed to consider two story houses, two sets of stairs for the moment we were in, not the future yet to come. 

Later that morning as Faith drove us to look at more properties, I mentioned my thoughts to her.  We were minutes from Rachel’s house when she pointed to the right and said, “If you’re considering two stories, there’s a beautiful house behind all those trees.”   After pulling up the listing on my phone, scrolling through photos and showing Martin, I told Faith we wanted to see the house.

It isn’t a style I would have thought about purchasing.  This wasn’t downsizing; it’s nearly 3,700 square feet.  Definitely not the smaller piece of land I searched for, it sits on fifteen acres with a small pond and a slice of frontage along a small lake.  

As I stood in the huge kitchen that day, I caught a glimpse of Martin disappearing down one of the many paths through the woods.  I quickly asked Faith to go after him so I could look around some more.  I watched as her 6’2” frame vanished down the path after Martin.  With her spring green dress and long flowing blond curls, I felt like I was watching Alice chasing the White Rabbit.  I hoped we weren’t about to go down the rabbit hole.  Upon their return I put my doubts aside.  Martin was all smiles.  “Better, better, better” his way of saying this is the one.

There were other two stories, but this is the one.  This is the house for this moment in our lives.  We will grow old.  We will have health issues.  We will die.  All the advice, including mine, about having a house for aging in place deprives us of living in the present, the here and now, the joy of the moment.

This is the house with the family sized kitchen for cooking and gathering, dedicated spaces for the art studio, indoors bicycling when the snow flies, a writing room for me, the house in a private setting with deer, turkey, squirrels and chipmunks, the house with room for bird feeding stations, the house about a mile from a good riding route for Martin, the house with beautiful gardens to tend in good weather and add winter interest, the house with the dining room big enough for our family to enjoy Sunday dinners and the house close enough for help to arrive in minutes.  This is the perfect house for this moment.

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A Moving Experience

Apologies to everyone for my long hiatus.  Thank you to those who messaged asking if I’m OK.  The answer is I’m OK now and getting better every day.  It was a tough past year for both Martin and me, which turned grueling in April as Martin’s dementia continues to swallow his core of self.  My caregiving duties increased tremendously.  This disease is oppressive for both victim and caregiver.  

As bloggers most of us write about the positives of retirement.  We don’t write about the negatives unless they turn out to be positives.  Yet there is a sad side to aging.  One day you wake up to the unexpected.  At the risk of depressing you, truthfully, retirement is not all cookies and ice cream.  

I’m writing this from my new-to-me home in Michigan by way of a calamitous year.  I won’t bore you with a blow by blow of all that happened; just a glimpse.  Retirement is like the other parts of our lives.  Things go wrong.  People can be mean.  The best laid plans can be ripped to shreds by a disease you never heard of.  Unfulfilled expectations lead to depression, anger, a feeling of helplessness.

We built our South Carolina house for our retirement.  Open floor plan, wide doorways, solid surface floors, one story, waist high counters and more.  It was the perfect house for aging in place in a warm, sunny climate until the universe spewed a meteor in our direction.  It hit us head-on.

I tried hiring help through two different companies I vetted.  Both came highly recommended by other caregivers.  The first person hired just to clean my home took the nozzles off the bathroom faucets telling me she always cleaned those.  Next came her claim that I needed a whole house water filtration system.  No, I didn’t need to call my plumber; she just happened to have a friend who did nothing but install filtration systems.  (It’s not the filtration system, which is the scam.  It’s the exorbitant price charged.)  After removing her from my house, yes, I did need to call my plumber.  She broke the seal on all four nozzles along with the tiny little baskets designed to direct the water flow.  Nearly $500 later, new nozzles sent free of charge from Delta Faucets and reimbursement from her company, I tried a second company with similar results.  Not as costly, but, still, someone trying to take advantage of me.  

In the meantime, one morning Martin had a dangerous drop in blood pressure, passed out in the kitchen while making his latte.  Reacting to the thud I heard, I arrived to a sea of blood and milk on the kitchen floor.  He was already standing at the sink with blood drizzling down his chin.  Warning to the squeamish:  this part is graphic.  The metal latte pitcher went into his chin.  As he yelled, “No, no it’s only an itty-bitty” I dialed 911, tried to get a towel pressed to his chin to stem the bleeding and said, “It’s a BIG bitty”. Fortunately, a 6’4” fire fighter arrived within minutes and Martin followed his instructions.  After an ambulance ride to the ER, where his blood pressure dropped to 70/40, and several stitches inside and out, I thought this was the worst we would endure for the moment.

Mean people are not just strangers.  Sometimes they live on the same street.  A neighbor spread the rumor Martin didn’t have Primary Progressive Aphasia – I was making it up just to get sympathy.  (I wish it were so.) After all, who ever heard of such a disease? And he was still bicycling.  The neighbor’s rumor caused other neighbors and one contractor to treat me badly.  Of all the situations, this middle school bullying behavior by adults, most of whom are my age or close to it, was the most difficult for me.  I understand fear of dementia.  I don’t understand cruelty born of ignorance.

There’s more, lots more, but I said I wouldn’t bore you with a blow by blow account.  The wakeup call came from my doctor in May.  If it wasn’t for the stress I was under, I would be in good health.   As we all know, good health is aging’s holy grail.  I needed to find a balance for both Martin and me.  I couldn’t do anything about his disease, but I could do something about where we lived.  

 After nearly a year of listening to my oldest daughter asking us to move to Michigan to live near her, I faced facts.  Although we had loving helpful friends, we needed more.  Living in the tundra was not our idea of a great environment in which to age.  But, we spent 46 years living in the North.  We could do it again.  Reluctantly, sadly we prepared our house for sale.

Fueled by a hot sellers’ market and right pricing, mercifully, within a week our house was under contract.  Those few showings alone agitated Martin, which stressed me.  The universe was finally spreading sunshine in our direction.  Finding a house just five minutes from our daughter convinced me God’s hand was surely in this.  I won’t say hiccups didn’t occur along the way, but most situations were resolved with minimal fuss.

Then, on a late August day, with Martin, a car load of cats in carriers and a large plastic bin marked “Survival Kit” I headed north to our new home.  

Mad Money

Tomorrow being the first day of March let’s engage in some March Madness. I belong to a social media group with the mission of organizing our lives.  Organizing also means decluttering.  Simplifying.  Divesting oneself of unnecessary baggage in oh so many ways.  After all this work, we don’t want to purge and then replenish our stash of stuff with new stuff.  That thought brings to mind the need for a budget.  

My challenge to my online group is to create a budget during the month of March.  I decided to offer up the same challenge to my readers.  However, I’m challenging everyone to include a line item named Mad Money and personalize what that means to you. 

You have a budget, you say?  Well, I have a few things I want to say about budgeting and Mad Money, but you already knew that.

About 30 years ago when I devised the first real family budget, I made it so restrictive, there was no room for fun, frivolity, serendipity.  The budget came out of arguments over, yes, you guessed it, money.  Like most couples Martin and I had our money vices.  I was perplexed when he opened his palm one day to proudly display a pair of red anodized nuts or bolts or some hardware to shave a gram off the weight of his bicycle.  They cost $6 each!  Remember, we’re talking circa 1990 here.  As I expressed my ire, he served me a comeuppance reminding me about my exploits at the garden center.

After setting the budget, it didn’t take long to figure out it needed to be a tad bit fluid so a Miscellaneous line item was added.  And, the line item that probably saved our marriage and continued our hobbies among other things — Blow Money.  Blow Money was simply my term for my and Martin’s personal allowances.  It could just as easily be called allowance money, enjoyment money, don’t want to be on my deathbed with regrets money, hobby money, impulse money or anything else I decided to call it.  Today I call it Mad Money removing any connotation that it has anything to do with cocaine!

Aside from the fact that our personal allowances meant we could go mad, as in crazy mad, buying anything within its limits, having a set amount to spend on plants or whatever each month taught me something.  This was money with no holds barred.  No questions from the other.  No judgment.  However, having it somehow changed the dynamic.  

For example, I’ve been invited to my share of kitchen parties, home decor parties, candle parties and whatever else parties someone could come up with to sell products.  The guys reading this were most likely spared from this part of the capitalist agenda.  Having Mad Money didn’t make me go crazy about what I bought.  It did exactly the opposite.  It made me more thoughtful, more mindful, more judicious about the choices I made.  Having a finite amount of money to spend made me think twice about that kitchen gadget, vase or scented candle.  It even made me think about that pretty plant I saw at the garden center.  Impulse purchases all but disappeared.  If an item didn’t shout out to me in a great big bellowing voice, I walked away from it.  

As a result, I have my share of stuff, but you’ll find I still have plenty of empty space on my walls, tables, desks, floors and the garden, as well.  It’s what I call negative space, which calls attention to the things I love, much of which has been a part of my home landscape for decades.  It also makes my yearly declutter, organizing venture very manageable.  And, the more things you have, the more complicated your life.  All that extraneous stuff needs cleaning or repair or servicing as well as space.  It takes your time, your energy, your spirit. 

Going a little mad this March as in Mad Money may help you organize, declutter, simplify, pare down, with spirit lifted and energy to spare.  Let me know if you take up the challenge or already have a budget including Mad Money in your life and what you do with it.

Are We The Captains Of Our Happiness?

My Journal Cover

 

In a word YES, we are the captains of our happiness.  I’m not going to offer up platitudes here about life handing you lemons and you mix up some lemonade.  There is value in sucking on the lemon for a while.  Identifying, then unloading negative emotions clears our mental outlook.  That said, what I am going to offer up are a few actions which help me get back to happiness after swallowing the lemon whole. 

As we travel through life, our time on Earth is fraught with lots of gloomy events — a serious illness, a job layoff, an economic downturn.  The list of negative life events and negative people can go on and on.  Even something as simple as the weather — rain, a snow storm, a sunny day are occurrences we can’t control, yet may effect our outlook. What we can control is our mindset. 

I will quote this truism, known as the Serenity Prayer.  For me, it proves a potent reminder of the power of acceptance.  

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  

Engaging in what I call mind-spinning, worrying about what may come, drains us of energy and leads to nothing.  Whatever is going to happen will happen whether we worry about it or not.  Better to not worry about it at all.

This morning I re-visited my gratitude journal from seven years ago.  Looking back at my life including my strengths, skills and accomplishments put me in a state of confidence, which led to a blissful feeling.  Over the years I learned a gratitude journal can do wonders for shifting my mindset to one of positivity, abundance and happiness.

For anyone seeking happiness, start journaling daily, listing what is good about your life.  Whether it’s a beautiful sunrise or sunset, the sighting of a blue bird in your yard, a child’s laugh at the grocery store, even a rain shower or a postcard view of a winter storm.  Anything from what appears to be a minor, trivial thing to an awesome event, write it down.

Take inventory of your personal assets.  I’m not talking about your material assets.  As mentioned above look at your abilities, skills, strengths, those assets.  That’s the stuff that got you this far and will take you through the remainder of your journey.  Hopefully, you are still growing, expanding those assets.  If not, cultivate curiosity about the world around you.

For many of us, we often associate happiness with occasions like buying a new car, shopping for a new outfit, taking a dream vacation, getting a promotion.  That brand of happiness is momentary.  The new car smell wears off, the outfit becomes last year’s style, the dream vacation but a memory.  And promotions?  Well, it’s lonely at the top. 

It’s recognition of the everyday simple things, which provide a feeling of well-being.  We can view our lives as one of scarcity or one of abundance.  What we need to survive is basic food, clean air and water, shelter, clothing and a good night’s sleep.  Everything else is an abundant life. 

While I don’t want to hang my happiness on someone else’s happiness, it makes me feel light-hearted to do a good deed for someone.  Volunteering for a favorite cause or just helping someone out through a chance meeting provides a shot of happiness.  Recently, at the entrance to a building, I encountered a frail woman using a walker as she approached a car at the curb.  Thinking she may need a hand getting into the car, I stopped and asked if I could help.  Just then two young men stepped out from behind a thick column.  I hadn’t seen her entourage. Their wide smiles and thank you’s for stopping lifted my spirits.  And, all I did was offer assistance.

Along with not depending on someone else’s happiness to define your own, refrain from comparing yourself to others.  In our social media world that is sometimes difficult to achieve.  A number of people have mentioned how they only put positive aspects of their lives on Facebook as they want FB to be a fun place to visit.  The downside to that view is other people begin thinking you have a lemonade life.  No one is without a few lemons.  It is a wonderful life, but no person has only good times.  Keep that in mind when you feel the urge to compare.

If there is one truly important lesson I learned as a caregiver, it’s take care of yourself.  In order for the good times to out weigh the negative, put some self-inflicted joy in your life.  Do what makes you feel happy.  Get out for a walk, join a gym, take a class, lose yourself in art, create a network of friends, meet someone for coffee or lunch, tour a museum or arboretum, get a massage, a manicure.  I recently learned my supplemental health insurance policy covers gym memberships 100%!  Now that’s a benefit to be happy about.  A local college offers a 60 minute massage by an advanced student for only $20.  Look for the happiness perks in your world.

No one is going to create happiness for you.  As the Dalai Lama says, “Happiness is not ready-made.  It comes from your own actions.”  We are the captains of our happiness.

Reflections

 

I’m not making New Year’s resolutions again – reflections only.  I’d like to say 2018 was challenging, pushing me to become my best ever.  The truth is 2018 was a roller coaster ride with some Ferris wheel spins.  Most of the time I felt like throwing up.  

As Martin’s rare form of dementia has progressed, so has my grief.  So have the number of household jobs I’ve taken on.  If anyone wants to know how to fix a dishwasher, shimmy into a crawl space while on the lookout for spiders and snakes, get the broken front door handle replaced as the air conditioner is also being replaced or negotiate with the insurance company after your husband’s been hit by an errant driver while bicycling (Martin escaped with ‘just’ cuts and bruises), let me know.  I can do all of that and much, much more.

I am and always have been a planner, keeping calendars with events months in advance, carving out time for my pursuits.  Now, nothing can be planned even when I plan it.  Calendared events are never a sure thing.  There are certain situations which cannot be handed off to a helper, like the huge thud in the attic as the air conditioner blows up or the overflowing dishwasher or the leak under the sink.  You don’t say, “Well, I’m off to the gym.”  

As time for myself continues to shrink and well-meaning people ply me with advice (I’d rather they just listen), my retirement life is not what I envisioned.  But, it is what it is.  I have no choice other than making the best of it.  

Despite all that, I’m looking forward to 2019.  A clean slate.  A fresh start.  2018 is almost over.  Out with the old; in with the new.  Time to let go, forgive, move on.  

Everything that could possibly be replaced or repaired in the house is done.  When Martin had to stop driving last summer, I traded both vehicles for one new car.  I’ve said goodbye to fake friends, grudges, bad habits, doubts and anything toxic.

Speaking of toxic, toward the end of 2018 I further adopted additional natural remedies for managing stress.  Supplementing meditation and mindfulness is Solfeggio music.  What is Solfeggio music?  It’s music based on ancient chants using the frequencies of the universe and your brain to achieve harmony and balance in your body.  I listen to it daily for hours and hours.  It not only relaxes me, it also relaxes Martin and our cats.  It is now the background music of our life story.

Slipped inside my pillow case, a muslin bag filled with dried lavender buds and hops makes for a restful night.  Diffusers filled with lavender and patchouli water scent the air.  I’m back to my daily walk, rain or shine.  When I worked, I treated myself to a monthly massage.  Why I discontinued that ritual just because I left the daily grind is a mystery to me.  It’s been resurrected as good for the body and spirit.  

Rituals and routine are good for us.  They provide a sense of stability in an unstable world.  Routines reduce stress and anxiety.  They minimize the need to plan, especially when life seems out of our control. Through routine we maintain good habits.  Rituals, like having a bowl of good luck lentil soup on New Year’s Day, not only mark the passage of time, but also honor our cultural heritage linking us spiritually to our ancestral past.  Rituals connect us as family and community.  They can turn an ordinary day into an event.

Lastly, I go into 2019 with my sense of humor mostly intact.  Life demands a sense of humor, especially when faced with a heavy burden.  Humor not only eases your mental stress, it can have profound effects on your physical health, reducing inflammation in your body.  Surround yourself with happy people who support your happiness as well as your struggles.  I have a friend with a quirky sense of humor, where he and I will be laughing at something when no one else sees the humor.  One needs friends like that.

Goodbye 2018…Welcome 2019!

  

HAPPY HOLIDAYS

I originally posted this in November 2015.  I find it still relevant today and hope it serves as a reminder in this season of love, hope, joy and peace that as human beings we are all connected.

Globally, we are facing humanitarian crisis after crisis of gargantuan proportions. Yet, once again, it has started – the continued arguments over the term ‘Happy Holidays’. The articles, news comments, Facebook posts and even political candidates weighing in on what, for some, is apparently a controversy. Last year I had someone say to me, “I hate Happy Holidays!” I asked myself, “How is it that someone is using the word ‘hate’ in this season of peace, love and joy? And, is so indignant over something so small?”

Consequently, I decided this year to weigh in myself in an attempt to give a different perspective. Considering how the world is currently ripping apart at the seams, filled with war, terrorism, hunger, homelessness, natural disasters and on and on and on, in this season of giving thanks, this season of peace, this season of love, this season of eternal hope, I offer these thoughts.

The use of the term Happy Holidays is not a recent occurrence. As a child in the 1950s and 60s, I remember my mother often used the greeting Happy Holidays. She sometimes worked at one of the local stores during the Holiday Season, which in the United States, started around Thanksgiving. If, like my mother, you worked at a store starting around Thanksgiving, can you imagine the clerks saying, “Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Hanukah, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,” before handing you your package and receipt. Instead, they said, “Happy Holidays.”

It appears to me Happy Holidays was a wish of inclusion. Heck, when I was a kid, Andy Williams sang a popular song, ‘Happy Holiday’, which was originally sung by Bing Crosby in 1942 and written by Irving Berlin in 1941. To me, it is still a Christmas song I listen to at Christmas. But, it could be a song for any of the other celebrations during the Holiday Season, as well. So, Happy Holidays was used way before I was born! Yet, some people take offense at its use as if it’s a recent occurrence designed to be a war on Christmas.

I don’t remember any controversy over the use of Happy Holidays when I was a child. So, why in recent years has it become such an issue for some people? Perhaps it is because in the 1950s and 1960s, Christians were pretty much in the majority, at least in the United States. I can’t speak for the rest of the world. But in our modern times, we live in a much more pluralistic nation and for that matter, many other countries are also more diverse.

Today, a store clerk would have to add Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Winter Solstice and, a new one I recently heard, Happy HumanLight. If we are a diverse people, a welcoming people, a people wanting to include rather than exclude, than Happy Holidays recognizes our diversity.  This saying welcomes someone regardless of their faith or even if they don’t have one. It includes everyone. If I know someone is a Christian, I say, “Merry Christmas.” If I know someone is Jewish, I say, “Happy Hanukkah.” And, so on. To me, that is just common courtesy.

As a Christian, I am not offended if someone says, “Happy Holidays” to me. It is all inclusive, welcoming and courteous. I recognize the person most likely has no idea what my affiliation is, but are still showing me common courtesy and good cheer with a wish for a Happy Holiday. I don’t expect everyone on the planet to be like me and I wouldn’t want that. I celebrate our diversity as human beings. It’s about acceptance of differences and not making this season of many celebrations all about a single faith.

This season is not about us individually. It is not about self-righteous indignation. It is not about what we like or dislike. It is not about what we believe in or don’t believe in. It is not about creating still more us vs. them situations. It is not about red cups or whether a retailer or someone on the streets says Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. We certainly have larger worries as a world. We are all connected as a world. When one suffers, we all suffer. And there is already way too much suffering.

In this season of love, peace and joy, let us put aside the minutiae and accept each other regardless of how we celebrate the season. Let us give thanks for our diversity and that we have the ability to make the world a better place. Let us truly make this a season of love, peace, joy and eternal hope.

I leave you with the Buddhist prayer of loving kindness:

May you be well;
May you be happy;
May you be peaceful;
May you be loved.

To all my readers, whatever your faith, wherever you live – Happy Holidays

 

Wisdom

 

Six years ago today I woke up officially retired from the workplace, a new identity waiting to be formed.  Yes, six years!!!  And what a six years it has been.  

Prior to retiring I received lots of advice, most of it very useful wisdom, from people already enjoying a life filled with options of personal choice.  Whether you are now retired or looking forward to it in the future, these nuggets of insight are worth repeating.

The first piece of wisdom came from a couple I volunteered alongside at a local farmers market.  I still remember his face when he told me, “Guard your time jealously.”  In the moment I didn’t realize how many people would be looking at me as a person who needed for them to fill my time.  I found myself thinking of him and his advice again and again as well-meaning acquaintances, friends, even strangers, tugged at me to volunteer or join their organization of choice.  This is your time to use as you choose – guard it jealously!

That said, another piece of advice was to give some of your time to a cause you care about deeply.  I was already giving my time to volunteering at the agricultural extension’s information booth at the farmers market.  So, that one was easy for me.  That was my organization of choice.  I educated.  I taught people how to grow food, to create spaces for butterflies, bees and birds.  I helped people make their gardens and the Earth a better place.  It was fun.  Find a cause where you willingly, happily and whole-heartedly give your time and your being.

That brings me to doing something you love.  Whatever your lifelong hobby, now’s your time to enjoy it even more than ever.  I know people who golf or play tennis several times a week, spend more hours acting at the community theater, make their garden into a show place around their home or turned their art into a source of income.  Whatever it is up the ante.  Keep doing it at a quantum leap.

Then, try something you always wanted to do, but didn’t have the time.  Retirement affords the opportunity to start something new, fresh, fulfilling a dream.  For me, that was taking up watercolor painting.  I wasn’t good at it and didn’t enjoy it, but it led to other art mediums I do enjoy.  With retirement you can start anew as many times as you wish.  This is your moment for adventure!  Failure is o.k.  As a bonus of my adventures, I’ve met many other retirees in daytime art classes.  Some became new friends.

Speaking of friends, realize that many of your friendships will be altered.  The people who are still employed may drift away as your identity evolves.  Or you may drift away from them as you find new acquaintances with a shared interest and time frame.  Your social life will revolve around a daytime persona that is different from the work you.  Be open to meeting new people.

Along with the advice of guarding your time jealously, the second piece of wisdom the couple mentioned above dispensed, “Give yourself two years to adjust.”  It took all of two years and then some for me to settle in.  Others may take no time at all.  It depends on a lot of variables, such as your personality, your attachment to the type of work you did, how you left work – forced out, disability or planned exit, your retirement activities, your mental view and emotional feelings about retiring.  Two years.

Lastly, retirement is an opportunity.  It is not the dictionary definition of ceasing to work; it’s serendipity – the chance to do the kind of work you want to do.  It’s the possibility of tapping into your reserved longings, the savoring of freedom to use your time as you choose.  It’s the prospect of a fresh start in life.  And, I hope this shared wisdom helps you to do just that.

Exactly What Is Retired?

I’m long overdue for a post.  I have lots of things to write about, just short on time to write them.  My retirement life has changed – again.  That brings me to my current subject, exactly what is retired?

A few weeks ago we held a dinner party at our house to thank the people who helped us erect a gazebo behind the art studio we built last year.  One of the guests listened as another guest talked about his career, ending his work life story with, “Now I’m retired.”  The listener retorted, “You’re not retired!”

One of the men, an engineer during his formal career, is now engaged in producing stained glass art; the other, an international consultant, returned to his childhood roots of farming.  One considered himself retired; the other did not, nor did he see his new friend as retired.  They are both engaged in pursuits of their choice.

I’ve previously written about starting over when we retire and recently received a comment from thirty-something Amber (https://thefablifeproject.wordpress.com) about starting over.  As Amber said, “…I see now, that starting over is just adding another brick to create a more fascinating foundation.”  I would add that reinventing ourselves creates a rich, interesting life filled with adventure and challenges.

Art Studio II

Art Studio – The Center For Creativity

We start over many times during our lifetime.  Post-career life is no different.  I’ve started over during my post-career life, taking on, by necessity, the role of caregiver.  Even after leaving the career that enables us to enter a time commonly known as retirement, we will create a new identity many times over.  Sometimes by choice; other times by what life sends our way.

In fact, our world in general is changing so rapidly, reinvention, starting over in the future will most likely become a necessity for survival.  We are already seeing it.  Technology kicked open a door that cannot possibly be closed.  There is no going back.  Technology fueled changes that for me, as a child, I never could have imagined.  Some of these changes I could not have conjured just ten or twenty years ago.

An internet, the information highway, the upheaval in the way manufacturing occurs with robotics, artificial intelligence, hundreds of channels, streaming movies and tv shows, downloading books, cars with GPS coming from a satellite, backup cameras and push button ignition, ordering groceries online for them to be delivered or picked up at the store, smart homes.  The list goes on and on and on.

What will jobs be in the future?  We live in a global economy.  Right here in Upstate South Carolina, where I live, BMW has its largest manufacturing plant in the entire world.  A tour of the plant reveals robotics, computers and a facility so clean, you could eat off the floor.  A skilled, educated, adaptable workforce is a basic requirement.  Those requirements may change, who knows, in the coming decades.

What will retirement be like in the future, if there is retirement?  Or is retirement already an idea of the past, supplanted by a reinvention of self and activities?  To my one dinner guest retirement is when you pack it in, going to live in a 55 and over community or assisted living, where someone else prepares your meals, does your laundry, cleans your living quarters and your activities are directed, planned and provided by a community staff. 

Hummingbird Painting

The Art – Hummingbird in Flight by Martin

Adaptability to change is a key component at anytime of our life’s journey.  In the last year, Martin and I have made some dramatic changes.  Gone is the motorcycle Martin loved riding so much, we are down to one car, I do the driving.  Since he can no longer read or write, I handle everything paper or online.  I’ve become an expert again at organizing our lives.  The decluttering seems to never-end.  I am amazed at what we accumulated, yet no longer need.  I took a carload to a hospice house thrift store on Thursday.

Our house is now filled with the art mainly produced by Martin.  We built the art studio last year.  It has provided so much joy as well as clearing our house of art supplies, I wish we had built it sooner.  Then the community raising of the gazebo and fire pit behind it this spring while I created a new garden around them.  

Am I retired?  No.  I’m too busy living life, doing, being, feeling, seeing, adapting, changing, adding another brick to the foundation of my life’s journey.  Retirement will have to wait.

 

Should You Downsize?

 

Fifteen years ago my husband and I looked for land to build a second home with the idea it would become our retirement home in the future.  Instead, we found the perfect piece of land not far from our work and activities.  We decided to build our retirement home right away and sell our then-current home.  We downsized.  With aging in mind we chose an open floor plan with wide doorways.  Hard surface flooring, energy efficiency and quality materials also topped the list.

Whether you are thinking of retiring or already retired, the question of downsizing may have crossed your mind.  There are many reasons to downsize in retirement.  Living in a home that fits your new or envisioned lifestyle is not the least among them.  

A smaller home may not feed your ego the way a large home signals success to friends and family.  You’re retired, right?  You’re forging a new identity where you can leave all the outward signs of a large, expensive lifestyle behind along with your work self.  That doesn’t mean you don’t live well.  You live life on your terms however you want.  Think about who you are underneath all the material objects including the big house.  Think about who you want to be and what you want to do in retirement.  Maintaining a large house usually doesn’t top anyone’s list.

A smaller home comes with lower utility bills and a smaller property tax bite allowing more money for travel or hobbies.  Speaking of travel and hobbies, fewer rooms to clean with less stuff to maintain, a smaller home affords time for doing the activities you want to do in retirement.  If you opt for a condominium home, you will pay a regime fee, but enjoy someone else performing the maintenance for the common areas and outer part of the structure.  When you jet off to an exotic destination on your bucket list, no worries about the lawn getting overgrown in your absence.

You may be thinking you need to keep your large home because you anticipate children and grandchildren visiting often.  Be realistic about how frequently they might visit.  How far away from you do they live?  What are their commitments to a spouse’s parents?  What are their work schedules?  Their school schedules?  When our oldest daughter’s large family visits, it is bedlam.  Air mattresses arrive with them, bodies and clothes are strewn everywhere.  That’s now reduced to once yearly as the ability for visits is dictated by school, college and work schedules along with various athletic endeavors like volleyball, baseball and football.  My son-in-law is self-employed and can’t take time off during the height of business.  Do you really need to maintain a three, four, five or six thousand square foot house for a once or twice yearly visit?  You’re retired, right?  Why don’t you go visit them?

I never was one for lots of knick-knacks.  My thinking always was, “Someone has to dust that.”  As a working mother I found ways to limit the amount of time spent cleaning.  I carry that philosophy with me today.  Even with that view, over the last few years I’ve handed plenty of items to my daughters and charities.  By choice my retirement life is more casual.  Gone are the entertainment-type parties and dinners, designer clothes and formal furniture.  Downsizing means decluttering.  In a smaller home there is no room for useless stuff.  In retirement, why would you want it?

Should you downsize?  I don’t know.  As always, that’s a question only you can answer.  I know it works for me.  Consequently, I do think you should consider it.

The Graduate

 

The Graduate of 2018

Born at the turn of the century (does that sound strange?  It does to me.), they don’t have a moniker yet like Baby Boomers or Generation X or Millennials.  Names like Generation Z have been offered up, but nothing definitive sticks.  I have one, a grandson, born in January of 2000.  Last week he graduated from high school as his mother, my oldest daughter, posted on Facebook his time as a caterpillar is over —  time to fly little butterfly.  All the excitement, pomp and circumstance, family celebration party, teary-eyed reminiscences of his mother and promises of a solid future.

 

What advice would I give him?  The same advice I would give someone getting ready to retire.  I believe it’s good advice for any new start in life.

  1. Believe in yourself.  You have innate gifts.  Be confident in your abilities.  Do in life what you want to do, not what others want for you.  There are lots of people out there with lots of advice (including me) on how things “should” be.  Realize that when the “should” word comes out, you are listening to their ego.  Take it for what it is and make your decision for what you want.  Be a little selfish.  Pander to your ego.
  2. Follow your passion.  That old saying  “Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life” is true no matter what your age.  I garden on a large-scale.  People often comment to me, “That’s a lot of work” to which I reply, “It’s not work to me.  I love doing it.”  Yes, do what you love!
  3. Never stop learning.  Going off to college or trade school or taking a job, graduation isn’t the end of your education.  People who are life-long learners continue to grow and thrive.  It doesn’t mean you have to take formal classes.  Stay open to opportunities.  Be curious about life in general.  Ask questions!  Investigate what makes something tick. Then, you’ll always have excitement in your life and something to talk about when you meet new people.
  4. Speaking of other people, keep your old friends and cultivate new friendships, too.  Growing up I was a Girl Scout.  We had a little song that went like this, “Make new friends and keep the old; one is silver and the other gold.”  People with strong support systems have an easier time adapting to life’s ups and downs than those without.  Change is inevitable.  Form your posse to help you through the changes.
  5. Exploring the world goes hand in hand with never stop learning.  Even if it’s just the world in close proximity, be curious about what’s around you.  A Realtor friend recently sent me a list of all the summer happenings in the Upstate.  With enough activities to fill a page there’s plenty to do and see in my backyard.  Get off the couch and out the door.  Or explore the globe.  
  6. Enjoy each and every day.  Tomorrow is promised to no one.  Live in the moment being mindful of the sights, sounds and smells.  Touch the world you have in front of you.  Mind-spinning about the future or reliving the past is time lost forever.  Enjoy today.  And enjoy it with gratitude.  Revel in what you have, especially the things that can’t bought.  Materialism is over-rated.  Stuff won’t make you happy. 
  7. Lastly, life is what you make of it.  There will be good times and not-so-good times.  You will meet good people and not-so-good people.  Choose how you will respond or not respond to what or whom you encounter.  Live your life on your terms.  No one knows what’s best for you like you do.  

Fly, little butterfly, fly!

Dedicated to Jake and all the graduates of 2018, no matter where you are in the world.  You are our future.  Get out there and put your dent in the universe!