What Will You Do In Retirement?

Last week Mike wrote to ask me for a quick answer to the question, “What are you going to do when you retire?” Mike plans to retire in three months. I often receive the related question, “What do you do all day?”. Jan of retirementallychallenged.com (thanks Jan) gave Mike a succinct answer, “Whatever I want.” While it’s true we can do whatever we want in retirement, I think there is more behind the question than mere curiosity.

I know that not everyone reading this blog is a baby boomer, but most asking the questions are baby boomers. We’re a generation that hasn’t thought much about stopping what we’re doing. Many of us are still workaholics. We invented the youth culture — remember ‘don’t trust anyone over 30’? Now 10,000 of us are turning 65 every day of the week.

Boomers have always been the huge train coming down the track. Our numbers caused a boom in the building of hospitals, schools, housing, cars and other stuff. We still want everything on our terms, including retirement. Therein lies the rub. We don’t know what our terms look like. We ask the soon-to-be-retired in the hope of finding answers for ourselves.

Unfortunately, many haven’t saved enough to retire outright and will have to continue working at least part-time. Others have the money, but never developed any hobbies or passions. Their lives revolved around work and family. The go to activities in retirement are travel the world, golf, travel the country in an RV. Those activities do not appeal to everyone. The questioners are wondering what the Mikes of the world are going to do hoping to get some insight into what they will do. There is gobs and gobs of information on financial planning for retirement, but very little on living a retirement life.

The truth is we don’t ever really retire. It is my experience that we save enough money not to have to go to a job to earn a living. However, we still need meaning and purpose in our lives. Our jobs provided much of that along with our social identities and structure. Retirement means we have lots of unstructured time with which to create a new role designed by us for us.

A couple of nights ago Martin and I talked about the question. We are engaged in activities we did not have on our bucket list or story board. Some of the activities we did envision never came to fruition. We don’t care that they didn’t. We wear jeans and t-shirts most days. I kept one dress, one skirt, a couple nice slacks, blouses and jackets. Oh, and two pair of heels. The rest went to charity shops. No more concerns about dry cleaning, polished shoes, polished nails, calendars, to do lists for work and home, juggling appointments, clients, office politics, satisfying the boss and spending weekends running errands. And no rush hour traffic! I let my hair go grey and get it cut every ten weeks instead of cut and color once a month.

To me this is the answer to “What are you going to do when you retire?” :

“I’m going to leave my work role and identity behind. I’m going to explore who I am at my core. I’m on a mission of discovery. I’m going to fail at times, but that’s o.k. I’m also going to succeed. It is both frightening and exhilarating. The possibilities are endless. I’m never going to stop learning. I’m stepping outside my comfort zone. I’m reinventing who I am and may do that every few years.”

And, as Jan says, “Whatever I want.”

It’s Not All Doom and Gloom

Nearly a year ago I wrote this piece. I think it bears repeating as there is much to be grateful for as we age.

There are benefits to aging. It’s not all doom and gloom. Currently, I’m dealing with a situation again that eight years ago made for a lot of angst in my life. Today, the second time around, it’s not exactly ho-hum, but I have the attitude of ‘it is what it is’. I slept through the night, no tossing and turning over possible outcomes. Sitting here this morning, relaxing with my mug of coffee and surrounded by three of my zen masters (read cats), the benefits of aging is what is on my mind. Here are a few of my thoughts:

1. The words “life’s too short” take on real meaning. While I used to mouth those words, my type A personality couldn’t stop thinking about how to mitigate a given situation. With age I’ve come to understand what I can control and what I can’t. I control what I can. The rest I leave fluttering in the wind without worry.

2. I’m grateful for the ability to experience aging. We all had people in our lives who didn’t make it this far. Disease or accident claimed their lives early. My oldest brother was killed in a car accident. He will be forever twenty. Old age is a gift.

3. I care a lot less about what I wear and how I look. Oh, I still take care of myself. But, my wardrobe consists mainly of t-shirts, jeans and comfy shoes or sandals. When I worked, along with business attire, I put on full makeup every day, styled my hair. Now, I throw on some mascara and blush if I’m going out, pull my hair back into a ponytail and off I go. And, I let my hair go grey. Twenty years ago grey hair and wrinkles bothered me — no more. I’m free!

4. Along with the confidence to sport grey hair and wrinkles, aging has brought more confidence in general. I was always a decision maker. No sitting on the fence for me. But, with age I am more confident in my decisions as being the right ones for me. I’m concerned with what my husband thinks and how my decisions affect him. Otherwise, I don’t think about it much. No one knows what’s best for me like me.

5. Speaking of decisions, there are fewer to make. Life is less complicated. I have fewer roles. Other roles have changed. My working self is gone along with concerns about the company, my clients, my employees, my manager, my time, my commitment, my dress and my decisions. While I’m still a mother, my children are adults, on their own. I’m a grandmother who can enjoy my role without most of the demands of parenting.

6. I no longer live for the weekend. Every day is Saturday. My favorite days are Monday through Friday. Those are the days of the week when I like to go places. I don’t have to deal with crowds or rush hour traffic. Rarely do I have to stand in a long line to check out at a store, get a good table at a nice restaurant or see a show. I can sleep late if I feel like it or get up early if I feel like it. I make my schedule based upon my preferences, not someone else’s.

7. I want less stuff. I’ve figured out what’s important in life and it isn’t the accumulation of things. Relationships with my spouse, family and friends are important. Even my pets are more important than any material thing I could acquire. Doing the activities I enjoy is important. Giving of my time and myself to someone else is important.

These are a few of the benefits to aging I thought of. What are the benefits you see in your life?

Spring Has Sprung!

Deciduous magnolia heralds spring

I live in the South. Spring arrived early this year with promises of sunny warm days and blooms galore. Spring is my favorite season as, to me, it heralds new beginnings. Traditionally viewed as a time of rebirth, spring lifts my spirits as trees bud, perennials poke out of the ground and hummingbirds arrive to take up their summer residence and raise another brood.

If you are retired, or not, this is the perfect time to start something new. If a New Year’s resolution didn’t stick, give it a second go round.  Or, choose an adventure, visiting a place you always wanted to see, but never took the time to go there. This may be the season to explore your creative side — yes, you are creative! Take up a new hobby or go to a class such as plein air (French for open air) painting. You’ll get to enjoy learning something new outside in the fresh air and make some new friends.

Speaking of outside, visit your backyard to plant a new tree or bush or flowers or prepare your summer garden. Feed the birds. Winter is not the season when birds are in desperate need of food; it’s spring when all the seed heads have been gobbled up by our winged friends and there’s little natural food available. I delight in watching the cardinals, Carolina wrens and black-capped chickadees flitting around the feed spread on a stone wall behind my house. If you live in an apartment or condo, hike a local trail or visit a neighborhood park or arboretum. Even if your spring is not as warm as mine, after a cold, snowy winter, a fifty degree day can be, well, a breath of fresh air.

Spring is also a time for clearing out the inside of the house, simplifying our surroundings to make room for lazy summer days. This is when I declutter to the nth degree. I don’t have a lot of knick-knacks to begin with but what I do have is further reduced — who wants to spend the summer dusting — not me. This is when heavy blankets and quilts are exchanged for summer weight duvets. Time for a deep cleaning of everything. Last week I went through my closet and clothing I hadn’t worn in the last year was delivered to Goodwill. Ditto for the garage storage closet. Clear the dust and clutter and open the windows on a warm sunny day. You’ll feel better.

Taking this time of rebirth to renew your spirit, your creativity and assess your surroundings will hopefully set the tone for the remainder of your year. Happy spring!

A Stress-Free Retirement

Ahhhhh…retirement. Free at last from the stress of the workplace. No more stressing over meeting deadlines, competing for promotions or absorbing yet another policy change. No more training sessions for a new job and you better get it right or the boss won’t be happy with you. No more demanding co-workers, supervisors or customers to face every work day. Life will, instead, be a perpetual weekend or better yet, a vacation.

During the last two years I’ve met several people who retired earlier than planned due to the stress of being in the workplace. Stress happens when people can’t take one more thing. As the pressures pile up, they feel a lack of control. Overwhelmed.

Many, many years ago I read how the administrative assistant of the company CEO is under more stress than the CEO because the assistant has less control over their day. The CEO is the person at the helm, calling all the shots, and, therefore, feeling more in control. After all, the CEO gets to tell their assistant and everyone else in the company what to do, when to do it, how to do it. And, the employees aren’t necessarily told why they are doing it…just get the job done! Their perception is a lack of control while the CEO enjoys the perception of control. The idea of leaving all of that pressure behind as you enter retirement is, indeed, enticing. It’s also just another perception as the pressures of work are replaced by new pressures in retirement.

What would we have to stress over in retirement? Well, to the surprise of even those of us who believe we have enough money, the number one stressor is money. That constant feeling of insecurity lurking just below the surface of everything we do, as we check our portfolio, watch the ups and downs of the stock market and ponder our choice of financial advisor, is stress.

A close second to money is our health. Some of us retired due to health issues, which may be the result of stress in the workplace. My doctor told me most illnesses are the result of inflammation in the body brought on by stress. Or you may have retired in excellent health only to be diagnosed with an unexpected condition such as diabetes, heart disease or even cancer.

Then, there are other people. Other people, it seems, is the number one stressor for the population overall and yes, other people are still a stressor in retirement. Heck, you may even find yourself stressed out by your spouse. After spending a lifetime apart during most days, to suddenly be together 24/7 may be overwhelming at first. But, remember, you are ‘other people’ to someone, which means you are someone else’s stressor. And, then, there’s the big question of, “What am I going to do that has meaning and purpose for the rest of my life?”

There is no such thing as a stress-free retirement just the same as there is no such thing as a stress-free workplace or a stress-free life. Toward the end of one Dynamic Aging class, our instructor brought in a stress coach, Donna Donnelly, to talk to us about stress as we aged. An enthusiastic and fun presenter, Donna not only provided lots of insight into the stress conundrum but infused the class with laughter. Laughter, it turns out, along with sex, is a major de-stressor as the extra oxygen produced goes to the brain. Extra oxygen is part of the relaxation response of deep breath from the abdomen, smile, relax.
With the invention of the MRI, we now know these activities light up both sides of the brain. They increase T-cells, which boost our immune system, helping us to fight off disease as we age. Smiling cuts down on stress. The brain knows when you smile because the corners of your mouth turn up and your lips part a bit. Your brain likes that warm fuzzy feeling smiling evokes and releases neuropeptides, which fight stress. If you’re not used to smiling, guess what? According to Donna, if you aren’t a smiler by nature, stick a pencil in your mouth and your brain will register that as a smile! Sound silly? If you imagine seeing people walking around with pencils in their mouths as they go about their day, it probably is, but, then again, just the thought of that image can put a smile on your face…sans pencil.

Besides smiling, here are a few other things you can do to reduce stress, many of which you probably know but now is the time to practice them, if you’re not already:

1. Adopt an attitude of gratitude. Keep a gratitude journal, taking time at the end of each day to name the things you are grateful for in that day. It could be as simple as seeing a rose bloom in your garden or taking a walk around the block with a friend.

2. Accept change. If you are someone like myself, who needs the perception of control, use the Serenity Prayer to let go of the things in life you can’t control, which, by the way includes most things.

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

3. Practice mindfulness. Staying in the moment, actively engaging with your environment of the moment and letting your thoughts and emotions arise and dissolve away, will help you let go of the past and keep you from worrying about the future.

4. Put together your support system. We all need other people, especially as we age. Family, very close friends and community groups all provide support. And, don’t forget pets. They also form part of our support system. My cats always know when something is off. They gather around and hang out to cheer me up.

5. Find stress relieving activities. Yoga, meditation, journaling, gardening, a walk around the block or a hike through a nearby park can all relieve stress. Find your stress reliever and use it as your go to when you feel stressed out by life.

6. Get plenty of sleep. As we age, that seems to be a tough one for some of us. However, it is even more important than ever as it keeps our brains functioning at top capacity. So, aim for at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.

Even though retirement will never be stress-free, it can be a less stress time of life if we focus on the positive and adopt the above practices. Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives. Nor the most intelligent that survives. It’s the one most adaptable to change.” Be a person who adapts. And, don’t forget to smile!

BFF

Sixty years ago next week my mother pulled me up on her lap and told me it was my fifth birthday. I don’t remember much else about the conversation, excepting she also told me I was going to school the next fall. It was in Miss Nash’s kindergarten class where I met the girl who became my best friend throughout our school years.

Denise was petite with very, very long blonde hair and blue eyes. To me, with my tall, gangly frame and short blonde hair she looked like a beautiful doll. She took dance lessons like ballet and Hawaiian while I loathed any kind of formal physical activity including sports. But, we had a lot in common. In second grade our mothers became the Girl Scout leaders for our troop, Denise’s mother as leader and mine as her assistant. We both attended Wall Methodist Church where we went to Sunday School and later the Methodist Youth Foundation. And, of course, we were in the same schools and often the same classes.

Like many best friends forever during their school years, we lost track of each other after high school. It was mainly my doing. I moved away to a different state. I attended one high school reunion when I was twenty-three. Then, I fell off the radar as marriage, children and career took precedence along with moves to still more states. As I later learned, at subsequent reunions I was listed as ‘missing’. Denise thought I had died!

A couple of years ago, as I began taking writing courses, specifically memoir writing, I began thinking of my school years and my best friend forever along with other classmates. Where were they? What were their lives like? Who did they become?

The internet is a great invention. What was, in the past, near impossible to put together without a lot of phone calls and letter writing, takes only a few clicks on Facebook in the twenty-first century.  I found quite a few people, but not Denise. One of the difficult parts about finding women friends is they get married, change their last name and some, like me, do not hyphenate or use their maiden name. Even after another former classmate gave me Denise’s married name, I still couldn’t locate her.

But, Facebook did not let me down. One evening as I read a post by a former classmate, I scrolled through the comments. There at the end was a familiar last name attached to a remark. It wasn’t Denise, but her brother Mike. I messaged him immediately. And that is how I recently received a message from Denise saying, “It’s denise ur bff someone’s birthday is coming up”.

Sixty years ago sitting on my mother’s lap I hadn’t met Denise yet, the internet was not even anyone’s dream, computers were gargantuan machines taking up large amounts of building space. Yet, despite all the miles and life events in-between, Denise and I still have warm feelings for each other fueled by our memories of common childhood experiences. There are some things that never change, especially best friends forever.

Peer Pressure

When I think of peer pressure, I usually think of my teenage grandchildren. Yet, strangely enough, I’ve encountered more peer pressure in retirement than I thought possible. Oh, it’s not the type of pressure kids face like being hassled to smoke a cigarette or drink alcohol or experience an illegal drug. Rather it’s the push by peers to join the activities they enjoy assuming you will enjoy them, too. Or it’s the pressure to take part as a volunteer because volunteers are needed by their chosen organization. Or, it could be the person likes your company and may want to further the friendship by doing more together.

In just the last few weeks I’ve been asked to join book clubs, a monthly mahjong game, a gym, another writing group, a gardening club and a political action group. While I may certainly enjoy all of those activities, if I said, ‘yes’ to any or all of them, what is important to me would be swallowed up. In the past, saying, ‘no’ was not one of my strong points and sometimes it still isn’t. Why we agree to do something we really don’t want to do is usually based in our wish to keep the relationship.  Thus we try not to offend the other person by saying, ‘no’ to their request.

Twenty-five years ago, when I was busy nearly going down in flames because I didn’t say, ‘no’ often enough, I learned a valuable lesson. I learned to say, ‘yes’ to me. This twist in my thinking made it easier to turn down the requests to join in too many activities. Not to sound mean, but I also figured out sometimes I was agreeing to partake with someone I didn’t really enjoy being around. My wish not to hurt another person’s feelings was taking a toll on me.

How did I arrive at this change in thinking, making self-love (not selfishness) a priority? I remember a spring day where I sat on the couch recovering from pleurisy. The night before Martin drove me the six blocks from our house to the local hospital. I didn’t think I was having a heart attack, but the hospital staff did. Describing chest pain and difficulty breathing got me an immediate wheelchair ride to the inner rooms of the ER where two nurses shoved oxygen tubes up my nose and took my pulse and then blood gases. Finally, a chest X-ray revealed inflammation of my lungs. Whew! In comparison to a heart attack, pleurisy sounded good. The ER doctor told me rest, rest, rest.

The thought of a heart attack scared me. Between naps, I spent the next day in deep retrospection of what my life was at the time. I likened myself to a small plane in a fiery nose-dive about to hit the ground, exploding into flames upon impact. This was not the first time I was in a nose-dive going down in flames. But, I knew it had to be the last.

As I sat in my internal revery that afternoon, a friend, who knew I was home from work sick, called to ask me to watch her eight-year-old daughter as “something” had come up that she just had to take care of. To my surprise I heard myself telling her I couldn’t possibly watch an eight-year-old in my condition. When she coaxed me with how quiet her daughter would be (I knew this kid was not quiet), I said, “Look I know you’re in a bind, but I’m also in a bind. I need rest. I have to take care of myself first.”

Even as I said it, I felt guilty, selfish. Yet, after we ended the conversation, I felt empowered. I felt good. I had said, ‘yes’ to me. That’s when I realized the operative word in these situations isn’t ‘no’; it’s ‘yes’… ‘yes’ to me. I needed to say, ‘yes’ to me and clear my life of activities and relationships that were not passionately important to me.

Although that may sound selfish, participating in activities because we feel we ‘should’ can take a toll on our psychological well-being. I call participating in activities we ‘want’ to partake in self-love as these are the activities that feed our spirit. Conversely, if an activity drains your spirit, it needs to go.

With the possibility of so much unstructured time in retirement, it’s more important then ever to know what you want, what is best for you and how to say, ‘yes’ to your priorities. In order to stay focused, write it down. The bucket list is a good place to start creating your agenda. If you are unsure about an activity, ask yourself if you are truly passionate about participating in that activity. With an unambiguous agenda it’s easier to set clear-cut boundaries with our peers. And, that helps us limit peer pressure at any age.

Medicare & Me

If there’s anyone out there still thinking your information is private, I’m here to tell you it’s not. The health insurance companies started filling my mailbox with information on Medicare at least six months before my 65th birthday. They have apparently been watching and anticipating my big 6-5 along with the United States government. Despite the overload of information everything was as clear as the road before you on a foggy night.

Even the federally provided booklet Medicare & You didn’t clarify the subject. I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person. However much I thought I understood the government’s booklet, there was still a doubt, a HUGE doubt, that I had indeed grasped all the nuances. Convoluted doesn’t begin to describe it — Parts A, B, C, D, F, G and more.

Fortunately, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute I attend at Furman University offered a course last fall in Understanding Medicare. I signed up. With each class dedicated to a lettered Part, the fog began to lift. The idea that it takes an hour and a half to explain Part A and so on is ludicrous. I wondered what people who don’t have access to a course do to understand and make an informed decision.

As my mailbox continued to hold offers from all kinds of insurance companies and agents, some of which I had never heard of, I piled their correspondence and applications on my desk. My strategy was to sift through them after finishing the class. However, our instructor recommended going with one of the five large, well-known carriers in the state. Since that made perfect sense to me, I eliminated all the rest. My pile shrunk by two-thirds, making the task less daunting.

If you are already receiving Social Security, you don’t need to apply for Medicare. You are automatically enrolled. Keep your eyes open for the government envelope carrying your Medicare card for Parts A and B. It does not look official! I almost threw mine out thinking it was from yet another unheard of insurance company. If you are not receiving social security, you have to apply for Medicare; you have 3 months before your 65th birthday and 3 months after to do so.

Since Part A is provided by the government, courtesy of your Medicare taxes while working, and Part B is provided by the government and paid for by a monthly premium from you, what you are really looking for from insurance companies is prescription drug coverage and supplemental insurance. Part A provides hospital coverage and Part B provides coverage for items such as doctor visits, flu shots and walkers. There are deductibles and co-pays, which is why you are getting supplemental insurance coverage also known as Medigap. You are not required to get supplemental insurance, but if you don’t, understand you will have to pay deductibles and co-pays from your pocket.

Some people opt for Part C known as the Advantage Plan, which means you have private insurance and do not use the federal government’s Parts A and B. The insurance company receives what the government pays for Part A as well as your Part B premium. Not all insurance companies have Part C plans. Most Part C plans have a co-pay for doctor’s visits. The real caveat is you have to use in-network providers including your primary physician. So Part C can be a problem if you travel, have a medical issue and your primary physician is not there and there is no in-network hospital. You will end up paying out-of-network rates and most likely have to pay the difference from your pocket. This is why I didn’t go with an Advantage Plan.

Note: If you travel to foreign countries be aware that Medicare does not cover you outside the United States. If you go with the Advantage Plan Part C ask for a copy of the policy before you apply and read it. In fact, read whatever policy you decide to buy. Knowledge is power!

Part D is prescription drug coverage. What company you choose for Part D will depend upon your prescriptions. Different companies have different tiers for drugs. Deductibles and co-pays vary from company to company along with which tier they put a drug into. Make sure you review what tier your drugs are in with each provider and what your out-of-pocket cost will be in addition to the cost of the coverage.

I went with Part F as my supplemental insurance. Part F covers deductibles and co-pays for both doctors and hospital stays. I can go to any doctor or hospital I want and don’t have to be concerned about “What if something happens while I’m traveling?” I do not have to be in-network. I also have 80% hospital coverage if I’m in a foreign country and have a medical issue.

The other letters such as G, L and N are simply other versions of supplemental insurance. You have to read about them in order to make the best choice for your individual situation. If you don’t have access to a course, I recommend calling AARP (800-272-2146) to speak to a United Healthcare agent as I found their agent to be the most knowledgeable, articulate and willing to spend the time reviewing the intricacies of Medicare. I receive nothing for making this recommendation to call AARP.  I did not go with United Healthcare as I chose to stay with the carrier I’ve had for the last 25 years even though they cost $3 a month more for my premium. This was one time I wasn’t leaving my comfort zone.

All of us in the United States will have to go through this process as we approach 65. I doubt it will become any less convoluted in the future. I hope this small explanation helps. For more information go to SSA.gov or medicare.gov. And good luck!

The Sleep Challenge

Hoping to find some answers to my on again, off again challenge of a good night’s sleep, my busy February included a two hour presentation by Clemson University Professor June Pilcher on catching some zzz’s. When I worked, getting a good night’s sleep was rarely a problem. Most nights regardless of a bad day or what I may face the next morning, I was able to sleep through the night awakening refreshed. According to Professor Pilcher’s insights, when I left the traditional working world behind, I unwittingly set myself up for sleepless nights.

I’m retired, right? My decades old regimen of going to bed at 10 p.m. and waking at 5:30 a.m. is no longer necessary. I can sleep in if I want. I can stay up late or go to bed early. Everyday is Saturday. Wrong! By giving up my routine, I confused my brain.

When it comes to sleep our brains apparently like a set pattern right down to the very minute. They like us to have a going to bed ritual signaling them to get ready to sleep.  When it comes to sleep, our brains are creatures of habit.  For me, then, the most important advice from Professor Pilcher was going to bed at the same time every night and rising at the same time every morning, just like I did when I worked. Train the brain and you should have a better night’s sleep.

In fact, I learned my 7-1/2 hour sleep from my working years was perfect as it’s divisible by 90 minutes. We go through the five stages of sleep every 90 minutes cycling into REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, the last and most important stage, throughout the night. Getting REM sleep is imperative for waking feeling rested. Curiously, REM sleep is also of short duration the first 90 minutes of the night — as little as 5 minutes. It becomes progressively longer and longer with each 90 minute cycle up to 45 minutes by the last cycle.

Should you wake during REM sleep as with an alarm clock or a pet needing attention, it’s known as ‘waking up on the wrong side of the bed’. You will be off to a grumpy start to the day. It seems our bodies and brains know we need REM. Disrupting it irritates us on some primal level.

During REM sleep our body becomes limp like a rag doll. However, our brain remains active. We dream. Our brain races through some pretty weird stuff at times, little of which we remember upon awakening. Apparently, there are hundreds of books written on the hidden meaning of dreams. However, sleep researchers doubt there is any meaning to our dreams. They believe it is simply a matter of the brain remaining awake and uncontrolled while our bodies descend into our deepest sleep.

There is also a ‘switch’, as Dr. Pilcher referred to it, in our brains, which turns the body into the limp rag doll at the beginning of REM sleep and turns the body back on at the end. Then, we cycle once more through the first four stages of sleep before entering REM sleep again. When people die in their sleep, they were most likely in REM sleep and the ‘switch’ malfunctioned.

Dr. Pilcher also advised against using sleep aids as they disrupt the body’s natural rhythm, but (disclaimer) mentioned seeing your physician about that. We had a couple of people in the room who are addicted to sleep aids. Another good reason to stick with a natural approach.

In order to train your brain, you may need to go a few days with a sleep deficit. For example, if you go to bed at 11 but wake up during the night, instead of sleeping in the next morning, force yourself to get up at your appointed time for rising. And no afternoon naps! The next night you will, of course, be more tired. Naturally, you should be more apt to sleep better.

If sleep is interrupted and you can’t go back to sleep within 30 minutes, get up. However, no ‘blue’ lights. No TV, computer, cell phone or anything else well lit. Dr. Pilcher advises read a book — the more boring, the better. When you feel sleepy again, go back to bed.

I’ve been working on training my brain by going to bed at the same time and waking at the same time. It seems to be garnering positive results. We’ll see if it continues to give me a good night’s sleep or it’s another case of on again, off again.

More Living On The Edge

jcc-signFebruary has been a month of new experiences. Martin and I spent last week at John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC where we took an art class in enameling. As artists this was a departure from our usual drawing, painting, carving — more living on the edge.

Taking Highway 11, also known as Cherokee Scenic Highway, across Upstate South Carolina, we meandered into the twisty back roads of North Carolina sometimes wondering if our GPS was really working. Highway 11 dumped us onto Whitewater Falls Road and so on and so on until signs of civilization markedly diminished.

I carried with me a copy of Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance. As we snaked through the winding turns past dilapidated homes littered with rusted skeletal remains of cars and whatnot, I felt like I had entered the Appalachia described in Vance’s book. Martin and I wondered out loud how the inhabitants made a living. We encountered little traffic, and that which we did seemed to not care about speed limits or centerlines. Finally, after almost 3 hours on the road, out of seemingly nowhere, the school rose before us on a sparsely wooded hilltop. This was our home for the next several days.

Welcome to our room

Welcome to our room

 

JCC Folk School is an experience in itself. The accommodations consist of several homes spread across the rolling terrain within the Nantahala National Forest below the Smoky Mountains. Most likely describing the burning off of morning fog, Nantahala is Cherokee for “land of the noonday sun”.

The guest quarters along with assorted art studios, a dining hall, gift shop (of course), JCC history building and rustic offices for staff make up the campus. The main building also includes several rooms for evening events such as trivia games, square dancing and fiddle playing as well as the daily “morning song” of story telling and singing. Everything is very regimented with defined mealtimes announced by the ringing of a bell at the dining hall. There is not only six hours of studio time with instruction during the day, but many instructors also open their studio for evening work as well.

Dinner bell

Dinner bell

 

The houses are retrofitted into hotel type sleeping quarters. However, as we were told at Sunday afternoon orientation, this is not the Holiday Inn. There is no room service, in-room coffee pot or housekeeping to tidy up your room and make your bed every day. There are no phones, TVs or blow dryers and ironing boards. Wi-fi is weak and cell phone service is spotty. We were advised to drive a little further up the hill to a local church graveyard if we absolutely needed to make a call. There is a bin in every room with ‘towel exchange’ written on it. Towel exchange occurs on Wednesday. Oh, and there are no keys to the rooms. That’s right…no keys! You can lock your door with a dead bolt once inside. Valuables can be placed in a safe at the office. Talk about living on the edge, stepping outside your comfort zone; I found unlocked doors a little creepy.

 

 
Sunday night we were introduced to our instructor, Charity Hall (CharityHall.com), a guest teacher of enormous talent. Her equally talented assistant, Paul Roche is an artist-in-residence. We also received an overview of the studio along with a sampling of Charity’s work — beautiful pieces of art. Ovens that would be heated in the morning to 1500 degrees lined one wall. Jars of powdered colored glass filled plastic tubs. Each student had a kit we inventoried. A couple of the seven students had previous experience, but most were novices like Martin and me.

Martin paints a switch plate after enameling

Martin paints a switch plate after enameling

An exercise in frustration for me, our first full day I sought only to keep up with understanding the process for enameling a piece of copper. Forget the artistry! I was overwhelmed. There were so many steps and they varied depending on the piece you chose to create — hammering, burnishing, wet stoning, filing, using saws and a drill. My more scientific husband was able to take the annealing, melting, pickling and various substances all in stride. The safety precautions alone set me back as I cautiously used the ever-clicking ovens and set timers for only two minutes to melt the glass into enamel. Fifteen hundred degrees is glowing hot!

Following dinner at 6 many students returned to the studio. A mentally exhausted me went back to our room to enjoy a glass of wine (no alcohol is allowed anywhere on campus but the rooms), take a shower, read a few pages of Hillbilly Elegy before tucking myself into bed at 8 p.m.

Next morning Martin walked to the main building to fetch coffee in our brought-from-home mugs. We sat with the blinds open enjoying the scenery of the notoriously foggy mountains and sipping hot coffee before heading to the dining hall for breakfast. As a gardener I much appreciated the five minute walk through the daffodil speckled woods each morning. Emerging at the main campus we were greeted with dusky purple, pink and green hellebores and tiny crocus among the periwinkle.

Kathy's enameled fall leaves

Kathy’s enameled fall leaves

After a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, fresh fruit and biscuits, we wandered down another path to the studio, me feeling more like I could grasp the intricacies of enameling, Martin ready for a larger project. By the end of this day, I was still living on my personal edge but approaching a certain comfort with the process as I produced some amazing pieces of art. Along with my comfort came confidence. Exhilarating!

While we, as human beings often shy away from any experience making us feel uneasy, with practice and patience (not one of my strong points) comes comfort. Stretching our abilities is the only way to continue stretching our minds and emotions at any age. Good stress creates a great life. Yes, February was a month of new experiences, of feeling overwhelmed at times and definitely uncomfortable. But, it was also a month for adventure and growth. As I look at what I accomplished this month, I don’t feel retired; I feel reawakened. And I look forward to more living on the edge.

Living On The Edge

At the podium (all photos courtesy of WAHHI)

At the podium (all photos courtesy of WAHHI)

I am sometimes asked by readers what they should do to have a fulfilling retirement. That is a very personal question, which only they can answer. What I do know is they have to live on the edge — their personal edge. Living on your personal edge means leaving your comfort zone. Last week I did exactly that.

Back in November a question came to me through the blog from Lilabeth Parrish, Program Chair for the Women’s Association of Hilton Head Island (WAHHI) asking if I ever did speaking engagements. Before emailing an answer I thought about the question. Prior to retiring, speaking before audiences was a regular part of my routine, especially as a real estate instructor. After I retired, I gave several presentations on gardening as part of the Master Gardener Program. Did I speak publicly about retirement? No, never, because, until now, no one ever asked me to.  However, I was open to the idea.

After a phone conversation with Lilabeth and WAHHI President Kathy Reynolds, I agreed to give the presentation at their February 8 luncheon. To my surprise and delight I learned this is an organization of several hundred. Giving a speech before even a fraction of that number was enough to make my knees quake.

I was definitely about to live on my personal edge. From the get go I would be leaving my comfort zone. I would need to write the speech. I would have to practice the speech. I would have to deliver the speech. I would have to be confident and assured. I would have to motivate, inspire and entertain all at once.

Kathy Reynolds, Me and Lilabeth Parrish

Kathy Reynolds, Me and Lilabeth Parrish

The entire process reminded me of work, but in a good way. I felt challenged, excited and even a little afraid. My mind conjured the usual self-imposed limitations. All the what-ifs crowded in trying to supplant my confidence in my ability to deliver. I pushed them aside, enlisted the help of some friends to read the speech, listen to the speech and give me honest feedback. Thank you Claudia and Paulette! The speech was written, re-written and re-written and re-written so many times I lost count. It was recorded and played back, and recorded and played back, and recorded yet again and played back yet again.

On February 8 I was uncertain no more. Quite comfortable with what I was about to do, I mingled with this wonderful group of women. Their February mission was collecting cookies for first responders in the community and jewelry for a Valentine’s surprise for nursing home residents. Valentine themed centerpieces adorned the tables and many of the women wore red or pink. The organization’s energy filled me to the brim.

A meaningful retirement belongs to those of us who take a leap into uncharted territory. If someone told me five years ago I would be standing on a stage in Hilton Head giving a speech on The Changing Landscape of Retirement, I would have thought them crazy. At that time, this blog was not anywhere on my horizon. Stepping outside my comfort zone created a new work life for me in retirement. And, I love what I’m doing.

Living on your personal edge at any time of life provides a feeling of empowerment. You did it, whatever ‘it’ is. In retirement it’s easy to sit back in the comfort of what you know. Taking some risk, trying something new, discarding self-imposed limitations is the only way to find what fills you up in your retirement. By doing exactly that, I found my personal edge — what’s yours?