Back To School

OLLI Fall Term

OLLI Fall Term

This is the time of year when kids start back to school. Parents are shopping for supplies, new clothes and looking at schedules as they prepare their children for another school term. The scent of fall coupled with the excitement of a new beginning is in the air. When I honed my wish list for retirement activities, this yearly ritual of returning to academia never crossed my mind. Oh, I engaged in the idea of taking a painting class or two. However, the thought of preparing for an entire academic year on a college campus was not even on my radar.

Yet, here I am feeling the kind of excitement I felt as a kid as I prepare for my third year at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) (http://www.osherfoundation.org/index.php?olli_list) at Furman University. Registration began last week. Catalogs appeared online and in mailboxes in the weeks before that, making me ditzy with anticipation. As I leafed through the catalog, marking off what interested me, I wondered all over again at the breadth and depth of the offerings — about one hundred courses for fall term alone. During the past two years I’ve enjoyed classes in various arts, writing, religion, aging well, gardening, history and there is more, so much more.

Every state in the US has at least one OLLI. In other countries, look for University of the Third Age (U3A) (http://www.u3a.org.uk). In the event you don’t find one near you, check out your local colleges for adult learning opportunities and/or talk to the leaders about starting a program geared toward retired and semi-retired people. There is much to be gained by participating in college life.

For example, a group of students from my last writing course are continuing to meet informally in a conference room on campus. We write, meet, read our stories out loud to each other and offer gentle critiques. Much of what is written is memoir requiring a certain amount of trust among the group. As a result we have connected on a level beyond the casual acquaintances of a classroom environment. Our camaraderie is solidified in the care of each others memories.

Other friends in my circle outside of OLLI have joined me (and Martin) on campus. We’ve taken classes together or gone our separate ways coming together after class at the campus cafeteria. Often we’re joined by other OLLI students, widening our circle, engagement with others and topics of conversation. And, the cafeteria food is as diverse as the topics. From huge steel cooking drums serving up Indian, Mexican or Chinese dishes to salad and soup bar to pizza, salmon or baked chicken, the fare is everything and anything you could want. Freshly flavored waters like pineapple-sage are there for the water-holics like myself and the array of desserts are tempting. For $5 we can enjoy an amazing meal, sitting there for as long as we want, among the buzzing hive of late-teens and twenty somethings. It’s energizing.

Access to the university library opens up another vista with books, magazines, newspapers and dvd’s for borrowing or sitting in a comfortable chair and enjoying on campus. Don’t have a computer? Need wi-fi for your laptop or smartphone? You can get it here. Do you have an interest in history? The archives are substantial. Art? The art library is stunning. Want the latest fiction or non-fiction book? It just came in and is waiting for you on shelves displaying the latest additions to the library. Additionally, tickets to cultural events on campus are discounted and sometime even free to OLLI members — lectures, plays and concerts for your enjoyment.

Every college or university has its own price list for all of this. At Furman my cost for this year’s membership is $50. Friday Bonus Events offered by OLLI are free, although art classes or tours requiring transportation will have an added fee. There are also free Tuesday Lunch and Learns where you bring your lunch to eat while listening to a lecture on various issues. Then, there are Special Interest Groups (SIG) — knitting, book clubs, photography, travel, wood carving, bridge, chess, man jongg and even an Out and About Singles SIG and more. Courses paid for individually are $55, but the cost can be reduced by purchasing a package of courses at the beginning of the year. The cost of a six course package to be used over three terms is $240; nine course package $315; and a fifteen course package $375. One final note — although there are four employees, most of this is run by OLLI member volunteers and with 2,000 members last year, there is plenty of opportunity to volunteer.

As mentioned, courses are varied and fun. There are no grades! In order to get the most out of a course, it’s a good idea to do the reading and assignments, if there are any. However, it is not required. Classes at Furman OLLI start on September 12. A back to campus reception and new member orientation is September 8. And, like a kid again, I’m filled with anticipation.

If you are running out of steam after retiring, feeling at loose ends, want to feel energized, want to try something new, want to keep learning or want to make more friends, find a college campus!

I Don’t Know What I Don’t Know

Last week’s post “You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know” received a lot of comments. One of the comments came from Nancy, who cited a book another reader mentioned in an earlier comment. Nancy is reading the book and highly recommends it.

After reading some reviews of the book, I decided to pass the information on to everyone as it looks like it can help you find your path in retirement. Deanna originally mentioned the book back on June 11 in a comment and I thank her for that. Although Nancy picked up on Deanna’s comment, I obviously missed the import of the book. Ain’t that a kick in the pants! This scenario reminded me I don’t know what I don’t know and need to keep my eyes, ears and mind open.

The book, “It’s Never Too Late To Begin Again — Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond” is written by Julia Cameron. It should show up in my mailbox today, so I have not read it — just reviews and parts of it online.  I did read her book “The Right To Write”.  Cameron, 68, is an artist. Stop right there. The book is not about becoming an artist although there are many, many forms of art and you may end up finding one you like. Cameron is also a creativity teacher and her books include exercises and prompts for helping you figure things out.

In the introduction to this book, Cameron tells us why she wrote it. I think this will resonate with some of you as it did with me.

“Twenty-five years ago I wrote a book on creativity called The Artists Way. It spelled out, in a step-by-step fashion, just what a person could do to recover — and exercise —their creativity. I often called that book “The Bridge” because it allowed people to move from the shore of their constrictions and fears [self-imposed limitations] to the promised land of deeply fulfilling creativity. The Artists Way was used by people of all ages, but I found my just-retired students the most poignant. I sensed in them a particular problem set that came with maturity. Over the years, many of them asked me for help dealing with issues specific to transitioning out of the work force.”

Cameron goes on to describe the book as her attempt to answer the question we all have about this stage of our lives, “What next?” Along with the many forms of art, there are also many forms of creativity. No matter what your career consisted of doing, from engineer to fashion designer, you engaged in creativity in some way. I was a banker and real estate executive yet business required a certain amount of creativity to get the job done. Inventing your retirement life will also take a certain amount of creativity on your part. Cameron’s step-by-step approach may well help you figure it out.

One of the steps involves memoir writing. This exercise is not to make you into a writer. It is there to put you in touch with your life experience. It’s in keeping with my advice to re-visit your childhood self. About 18 months ago I took a memoir writing class. Since than I’ve taken several other writing classes and continued with memoir writing. Why? Because it caused me to drill down into my past and excavate so much of myself buried under a lifetime of working. It helped me remember me. It helped me to fully transition from work to retirement. I regret not passing this piece of wisdom on to my readers earlier. It took reading the reviews about Cameron’s book for me to realize what a gem this exercise is for finding out who you are and who you want to be in your third stage of life.

That said, if you do read the book, I would love to hear what you think and if it did indeed help. As always, I love to hear from my readers. You often pass on wisdom or information such as this and that helps all of us. A great big thank you and hugs to Deanna and Nancy!

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Occasionally I receive questions or comments from readers describing their unhappiness in retirement. Some ask how to get to their happy place. My belief, and this is just that, my belief, is we create our own happiness. Our perceptions of self and how the world looks to us is created by our beliefs, like the belief I just attributed to my thinking. I also ascribe to the notion of I don’t know what I don’t know. If there is something about my life I don’t like, I go in search of answers and change my outlook in order to change the outcome.

When I was searching for satisfaction and happiness in my own situation after retiring, I came across the concept of self-imposed limitations. I realized I was the creator of my unhappiness because I was engaging in self-talk that limited my view of retirement, which in turn limited my options. That, folks, kept me in the same holding pattern, circling the same airport with the same destination — unhappy retirement. In order to fly to a new destination, I had to break the pattern.

While you are writing to me about your unhappiness, describing what you don’t like and don’t want to do, on my end I am reading ‘self-imposed limitations’. You write, “I don’t like crafts”; “I’m not a hobby person”; “I’m not a joiner”; “I don’t like doing volunteer work”; “I’m not artistic”; “my husband, wife, friends don’t want to do this or that”; and I read ‘self-imposed limitations’. These are all statements describing your personal belief about your reality. They are beliefs that limit what you are doing or will do in your life. YOU are the person standing in the way of YOUR happy retirement.

Retirement is a time to reach your personal potential as a human being. Self-imposed limitations are negative self-talk preventing you from putting your dent in the universe. The first step to ridding yourself of this mindset is to recognize it. What are you telling yourself that is limiting, negative and without a proven basis?

For example, I waffled back and forth about taking drawing classes after my perceived failure at watercolor. I told myself things like, “I’m really not artistic. Who am I kidding? I can’t even draw a straight line.” I was talking myself out of taking the class using self-imposed limitations. Fortunately, I have a husband who encouraged me to try it. As you know if you’ve been reading this blog, I made the discovery of a lifetime. I still can’t draw a straight line, but I can draw people, animals, flowers and a lot of other things. And, now, I’m trying watercolor again, with some success.  Think about what you may be missing in life because you are filling your mind with self-imposed limitations. Recognize them and replace them with positive self-talk.

There was a TV show about getting people to face and overcome their biggest fears. Though I never watched it, I remember seeing a clip of someone facing their fear of snakes. What are you afraid of that keeps you from trying something new in retirement? What is your snake? Dig deep. Be honest. Sometimes we don’t try, failing before we even start, because we are afraid of exactly that — failing. “What if I have to drop out because I really am not good at __________(you fill in the blank)?” “What will my friends say?” “How embarrassing to fail.” “People will think I’m a loser if I don’t finish.”

So what if it doesn’t work out? This is not like it was in your work world where if you couldn’t rise to the task or the promotion, you might face all kinds of humiliation from co-workers, family and friends. You are retired. Expect to try new activities and expect to have some stick and some not. That’s part of the retirement adventure! Face your fears. Challenge yourself.

Choose to do something you told yourself you don’t like or won’t be good at doing or you are not the type of person who does that. Then, do it. And, do it with an open mind and heart. Determine up front to give it your best.

I told myself for years I was not athletic. I never did well in gym or sports as a kid and carried that picture of myself into my adult years. That was a self-imposed limitation. After having my second child, I took up running just to lose the extra pounds I couldn’t seem to shake. That’s when I discovered what I didn’t enjoy was team sports. I preferred to rely on my own steam, my performance and mine alone. I ran three miles a day every other day for several years until an overworked knee put a stop to it.

Until we try something, we don’t know what we don’t know. We must continually challenge ourselves to try new activities or new twists on old activities in order to discover our true potential and talents. Enlist a spouse or friend to advocate for you when you start talking yourself out of doing what you signed up to do. My husband played that part in the scenario with the drawing class. Now he and I remind each other when we are applying self-imposed limitations. It helps to have a buddy to keep your mind both aware and open.

This is our last third of life. We can create the life we envisioned with an attitude of exploration, discovery and adventure or we can choose to languish with self-imposed limitations until the day we die. I hope this post will encourage at least some of you who seem to be stuck to dump the self-imposed limitations and choose adventure.

The Ups And Downs Of Retirement

Here comes the sun!

Here comes the sun!

A few weeks ago I posted “The Joys Of Not Working”. I wrote about both the joy and the responsibility that comes with being retired. Having to fill your time with activities of your own making is the responsibility part. Creating an invigorating, satisfying retirement is up to you. It is like the Declaration of Independence guaranteeing the pursuit of happiness. It does not guarantee happiness; only its pursuit. In a similar respect, a financially secure retirement doesn’t guarantee happiness; only the freedom to pursue it.

To be sure, there are many people who are not financially secure in retirement, yet they enjoy much more happiness than many a well-heeled retiree or working person, for that matter. They take advantage of free or inexpensive activities and joys at their disposal. They get out and DO things. They pursue retirement happiness.

It costs little or nothing at all to:

Watch a beautiful sunrise or sunset
Take a walk in a local park or garden
Borrow books and movies from your local library
Join a book club
Attend free events like music evenings at your local library
Write your memoir or family history
Invite a friend over for coffee and a chat
Volunteer to help out with the maintenance of the local garden
Become an usher at a theater and watch plays and shows for free
Go for a wine tasting
Look for an Osher Lifelong Learning Center (OLLI) or University of the Third Age and join
Browse a flea market
Volunteer at the farmer’s market, a hospital or any other organization
Keep a gratitude journal and write in it every day
List the fifty things in your life that are positives for you – yes, you do have fifty (at least)
Look for a Senior Center in your area and go have lunch, meet other retirees, be active there
Look for other free and low cost activities in your area and do them!
Google “Activities for seniors in ________________” (fill in your city and see what you get)
While the financial part of a happy retirement is important, the emotional aspect is even more important. I listed the activities above mainly to point out the fact that there is plenty to get you started on enjoying your retirement with or without money.

One of the downs of retirement is feeling down! Especially if you are newly retired, as in the last couple of years. In this case, inertia is not your friend. Get moving by looking at the list above or better yet, making your own list.

There is not a list of the ‘five most important things to do in order to have a happy retirement’. Believe me, if there was, I would write a book about it. Each and every one of us has a unique path. Different strokes for different folks. One of the other downs of retirement is people who sit around waiting for someone else to figure it out for them. No one is handing you a happy retirement. Get up off the couch. Turn off the TV. Go. Do.

Another down is retiring before your friends do. Martin and I retired young. Most of our social group was still working. Since then some have also retired. In the meantime, we had to make other friends. We sought out venues such as OLLI where we knew we would meet other retirees. We made new friends. Start saying, “Hello” to people and SMILE!

For some, it may be a down if your spouse continues to work. That can keep you tethered to the work clock, work world, wishing you hadn’t retired and living in the past. Make a day schedule that gets you out of the house. Have somewhere to go. Do not sit around waiting for your spouse’s return. Look at the list above and start with some of those activities. On the up side you will have something to tell your working spouse about your day. You may discover a new passion and make new friends.

Retirement started out as an up for me and quickly became a down. It took time, effort and perseverance to finally hit my stride. The biggest up is the adventure of not working if you choose to make it an adventure. I am happier than I ever imagined being. As in my youth every day is filled with possibilities. There is now an excitement to my days. I cannot wait to get up in the morning and get going. There are an unlimited number of new things to try. Work rarely felt like that. I feel like I am re-defining retirement. Now, that is definitely an up!

Finding The Present

Three days after returning home my brain is still fuzzy. Jet lagged. My circadian rhythm not quite normal following my trip to Seattle. Even in my youth I did not travel well. At this age it is even worse. With all that, if I could afford to buy a place on Vashon Island for the summer and live in my South Carolina home in the winter, I would do it. Oh, I wouldn’t want to live in Seattle, but the island where my host lives is a different story.

My view from Vashon Island

My view from Vashon Island

Vashon hasn’t changed much from when I lived in Seattle thirty years ago. Still a tiny farm community sitting in Puget Sound, the only way to get there is by sea. The ferry takes a scant twenty minutes, transporting me from the busy, noisy area of West Seattle to the quiet hills and beaches of Vashon where eagles soar, osprey hunt, otters and seal frolic in the cold water and with luck, a few Dungeness crabs can be caught for dinner.

As I wrote in an earlier post I returned to Seattle to reconnect with my past self. Searching for my authentic self under the layers of identities assumed during a lifetime, I sought the emotional remembrance of who I was then. That person is gone, however, never to be retrieved, only remembered and celebrated with longtime friends. While our lives intertwined for a moment, and in many ways we remain the same, all of us have grown and changed. We enjoy a camaraderie built on shared memories.

I flew into SeaTac with the idea of visiting my former home, old workplace and other familiar haunts. My friend’s spouse picked me up at the frenetic airport. Driving through the streets of West Seattle to the ferry, we chatted about my flight and visit. Then, we slipped onto the ferry. By the time we disembarked onto Vashon Island, I knew I didn’t want to see any of the past places, only the people.

The entrance to Pike Place Market

The entrance to Pike Place Market

Idyllic Vashon reminds me of where I live now, a country life by choice. It also speaks to me of who I am now, my authentic self, with longtime friends enriching my life. And, hopefully, I enrich theirs. Our youthful shared experiences brought us together. It is the glue that holds us in sync, in time.

My host and I drove into Seattle just once. After all, I did have to see the teeming Pike Place Market. There at Cutters restaurant we met with other friends.  We talked about the past and the present and the future.  We caught up on our lives — work, spouses, children, dreams.  We clinked glasses in a ‘Salute’.  And I know now, it is they, not the place, holding the emotional sway.

In the end, the person I found on this excursion is my present self, the only self that matters now.

THE LUCK OF THE DRAW

Native American in pencil

Native American in pencil

Since I was traveling this week, I’m reposting a previous post from July 2014.  I hope you enjoy it a second time around.  I’ll be back next week with a fresh post.  Until then…

We need purpose in life. That is a given. And, that is one of the challenges we face throughout our lives. Retirement is no different. While you lived your work life, you probably reinvented yourself many times, developing new skills, taking on a new position or switching careers altogether. If you looked for a new job at a new company, you probably threw yourself into job hunting, updating your resume, looking at different companies and opportunities. This may have been a very exciting endeavor giving you a renewed sense of purpose. During this time, you may have also taken on the role of spouse and, then, parent. More transitions, adjustments and challenges as you wended your way through these new roles. Though stressful at times all of these provided purpose in your life.

Now, you have waved goodbye to the regular work life and the kids have flown the nest (hopefully). And, as some of you have written, retirement is not all you dreamed it would be. Setting aside the normal transitioning, disillusionment, grieving the good parts of your old work life, in order to reach a state of renewed purpose, put yourself in the same mode you did when you went after a new position, a promotion, a job with another company. Become open and exploratory. Prepare to reinvent yourself in order to re-purpose your life. The sooner you do this, the sooner you will find satisfaction with your retired life.

A reader recently mentioned how they would love to hear more stories about people successfully transitioning into retirement. So, would I. If you have a story to tell, please pass it on.  To get us started, here’s how I found retirement bliss or Atchley’s Stage 5 of a Retirement Routine. It took me about two years. For some it will be shorter; for others, it may be longer.

If you don’t have a bucket list, make one. Though it’s become something of a cliché these days, the bucket list is a very useful tool for getting your dreams down on paper. I have my bucket list and, for those of you who have been with me for a while, you know one of my dreams was to take classes in watercolor painting. I didn’t expect to become world famous or even be all that good as I never thought I had any artistic talent. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised or felt the disappointment I did when the class turned out to be a disaster. But, being the trooper I am, I decided the real problem was not knowing how to draw.

On a whim, I signed up for a drawing class. Then, the little voice in my head started saying things like, “Who are you kidding? You can’t even draw a smiley face so what makes you think you can draw anything at all?” Doubt, that destroyer of dreams, would not get out of my head. I decided to cancel. But, my dear husband, talked me into sticking with it and giving me an out. If, after a couple of classes, I felt the same as I did with watercolor, I would just drop the course.

'Bella' in pencil

‘Bella’ in pencil

Well, I never dropped it. Instead, by the fourth class, it was exhilaratingly apparent that not only can I draw, but I am talented. Since then, I have taken two more classes, moving on to pen and ink and colored pencils. I spend hours upon hours drawing. I’ve made new friends. In addition to the art, I enjoy the camaraderie with the other students.

I’m looking forward to more courses this fall with a new instructor and other perspectives. I have not felt this much excitement about a discovery of my personal abilities since I was 16 and took my first journalism course. Learning to draw has changed my life. And, think about it, I almost didn’t even give it a shot. What seems like a masterstroke from the outside, I know was nothing more than the luck of the draw. I tried something that stuck.

‘Autumn Joy’ pen & ink pointillism

If you are carrying around old notions about your likes and dislikes or what you can or can’t do, discard them now. If doubt clouds your thinking, kick doubt to the curb. Henry Ford once said, “Think you can, think you can’t; either way you’ll be right.”

Reinventing yourself, repurposing your life requires an openness to new possibilities. It requires a willingness to try new activities. It requires taking some risk. In order to be a success at anything, you have to be willing to fail. After my perceived failure with watercolor, I didn’t want to fail again with drawing. It was easier to cancel then to face the possibility of another mistake. But, in retirement, all bets are off. Put yourself out there today and find your purpose. And, send me your story.

Reconnecting With My Past

Pike Place Market in Seattle circa 1988

Pike Place Market in Seattle circa 1988

Next week I fly to Seattle to visit a longtime friend. I’m looking forward to seeing both her and the Emerald City. Surrounded by two mountain ranges and boasting thousands of acres of parks within the city, it is truly the gem of the West. This is also a chance for me to reconnect with my past. I’m not talking about glory days or living in the past. I’m talking about a short visit to a place where I have emotional attachment.

I lived in Seattle for six years in the late eighties, leaving the city, my job and dragging my family back to our previous home because living in the West never felt right to me or to Martin. At the time, several people told me, “You can’t go back. It won’t be the way you remembered it.”

But, something was missing. Seattle never felt like “home”. Part of it was geographical. Having grown up on the New Jersey Shore, watching the sun rise over the Atlantic, my inner compass felt out of sync watching the sun set beyond Puget Sound to the west. And, nine months of cloud cover with the Emerald City shrouded in a wet mist, the only glimpse of the sun as it set over the Olympic Mountains, was beyond my mental fortitude. While on one hand, I loved the rhythm of the city, I also eschewed the long commute, heavy traffic and constant noise. Moving closer to my roots would also put extended family into closer proximity.

My daughters on the Olympic Peninsula

My daughters on the Olympic Peninsula

So, we pulled up our stakes and left. No, as people told us, it wasn’t the way we remembered it. It was different. We grew and prospered and grew some more. We also moved again to South Carolina. We created the life we craved. No place I have ever lived, including my New Jersey cradle, has felt more like home than the South. When we left Seattle, we weren’t going back to reclaim the past; we were going back to claim a different future.

My trip to Seattle is purposed with a visit to reconnect with my friend and hopefully some others as well as to remember and honor my life there. Not only is my past in Seattle part of my personal identity, it was central to my learning what was important to me in life.

In retirement, after years of following the corporate money trail, people sometimes return to the place where they grew up. I know several who returned to South Carolina after years of living someplace else and many who left this locale to return to their roots. The emotional pull of a childhood home is powerful. The smells, the sights, the sounds, old friends and family are not just remnants of the past. They are the very fabric from which we are made. I feel the same way about my life in Seattle. It was an important part of my life’s journey thus far.

When we return to a past home, we don’t just revisit the past. We reconnect emotionally with a part of our identity, which lies at the core of our authenticity. Based upon what I know about my own struggles with creating a retirement identity, reviving your youthful selfhood with all its trappings may help with the transition. I’m not recommending that everyone move back to their childhood home or any home they loved in the past. For some, like myself, it’s not a practical or desired option. But, a visit, whether real or imagined, may prove helpful.

I visited my childhood home in 2008 when my mother passed away. Her memorial service was held in New Jersey providing the perfect time to reflect on both her life and mine. My childhood home was much the same as I remembered. There was yet another addition. The hedge my father faithfully clipped was gone. Yet, it looked much the same. My hometown was burgeoning, empty fields now held other homes, the highway filled with businesses. It was the type of busy, bustling place I steered clear of as a choice for my home.

While I wouldn’t go back, the visit reminded me of who I am at my core. The schools I attended, the beaches and boardwalk where I whiled away summer hours, worked my first job and dreamed of who I would become. The places I played with friends, the streets I walked selling Girl Scout cookies. Wreck Pond where I learned to ice skate. The smell of salt air and sea gulls gliding above the washed sand looking for a tasty snack. And, of course, the sun rising over the Atlantic.

Me in my Seattle office circa 1989

Me in my Seattle office circa 1989

My visit to Seattle may well accomplish the same thing. While I loved the city and look forward to my visit, I am also reminded of why I left. I am reminded of my present identity, created by me for me, fashioned to replace my work identity left behind when I retired. Yet, this identity is more authentic than any I have ever claimed. It is not only a reflection of my past, but my hope for the future as I live in the present. I am going back to Seattle, not to reconnect with the past, but to reconnect with myself. And I will.

The Joys Of Not Working

A 'work' day of hiking

A ‘work’ day of hiking

Last weekend was a long weekend for workers in the United States as our country celebrated its birth on the 4th of July, Independence Day. Sacrosanct among holidays, it is one of those dates modern day Congress has not fooled with to deliberately make it into a three-day weekend. It happens only by the rotation of the calendar as was the case this year. Before I retired I looked forward to such a weekend. Oh goody, the 4th is on a Monday this year! No longer do I think that way.

After all the fireworks, parades and barbecues were over, Tuesday morning America’s workers returned to the grind, while I slept in, lazed around the garden after breakfast with my cup of coffee, picked blueberries and finally headed into the woods to do some real work. Ahhhh, the joys of not working, the pleasures of real freedom.

As a child older members of my family often told me the story of The Ant and the Grasshopper. The Ant and the Grasshopper is one of Aesop’s fables, which trumpets the strong work ethic of the ant while denigrating the grasshopper’s laziness as he fritters away summer only to starve during the winter months. Raised on a strong work ethic highlighted with stories such as this, I always found it difficult to be anything but productive.

Wasting away my hours at any time of the year in the manner of the grasshopper is never happening for me. It is not in my make up. Neither, however, am I the previous corporate ant, who dutifully put in a long productive work day week after week, month after month, year after year. It took a couple of years to re-program myself to enjoy days of simply browsing, from reading a good book to strolling through my garden to leisurely watching the sun go down. I also enjoy my more ant-like productive days of writing, working in the garden or hiking one of the trails in the local state parks. Eventually, I developed a new mindset mid-way between the ant and the grasshopper.

Among the joys of not working is not having to ask a superior’s permission to take time off to partake in the activities you love doing. You can do them every day. Even if they are work, they don’t seem like work because you are doing what is pleasurable to you. Another of the joys of not working — work is not work. And, another joy — you have no superiors.

With freedom also comes responsibility. That, too, can be a joy. Though it may seem daunting at first to fill your previous work hours with activities of your own making, savor the luxury. Few people on Earth get to experience the joys of not working. Revel in your accomplishment. Luxuriate in the ability to choose or not choose, to do or not do, to bore yourself silly today or find something to do heretofore unknown to your senses. You are no longer a worker looking forward to a three-day weekend and perhaps loathing the return on Tuesday. You are free! Enjoy the joys of not working.

Everything Is Fine Until —

 

Everything in the universe has a beginning and an end, a birth and a death. Logically, we all know that. Logically, we all know someday we will die. Logically, we know it could be any day. Referring to my first experience with arthritis my doctor quipped, “Arthritis is just a fancy word for the parts are wearing out.” Our demise is a given — one fine day a very necessary part will wear out. Until then, everything is fine. Oh, the arthritic fingers are a bother. But really everything is fine — until it’s not.

As someone who retired in good health, I expected the good health to continue for a very long time. Then, this spring I began having unusual difficulty getting a full breath. My dad was a smoker at the time when the vagaries of second-hand smoke were unknown. I often sarcastically refer to my allergies and chronic bronchitis as his legacy. On more than one occasion spring in the garden has sent me to the emergency room with what turned out to be pleurisy instead of a heart attack. This shortness of breath didn’t feel like that.

I have lived through my share of crises, health or otherwise. I rarely take flight but instead go into fight mode. On the Myer-Briggs scale my personality is that of a supportive controller. Martin tells me that means I’ll support you as long as I’m in control. I know there is much in life we can’t control, but I at least want to know what’s happening and ultimately make an informed decision. First stop toward that end was my doctor’s office.

When a lung X-ray and EKG showed all was normal, the doc decided to send me to a cardiologist. I also have a heart valve defect. Was my inability to get a full breath just a really bad allergy season or was the valve failing? Now, I was trying not to panic. Easier said than done as my mind swirled with images of a laparoscopy to replace my ailing valve, not to mention the drain on my bank account despite an excellent insurance policy. As negative emotions ran away with my brain my breathing became more shallow. I even felt a twinge or two of chest discomfort along with some palpitations. Stress was creeping in. Or was this the pre-cursor to a heart attack?

A super thin very calm man, the cardiologist was encouraging while at the same time ordering a stress test and echocardiogram. It had been some twenty years since my last ultrasound to look at my heart valve. He assured me with, “We know a lot more about this condition now. It was often misdiagnosed in the 1990’s.” Incredulous! You mean I might not even have the condition I’ve been worrying about?

Well, that was great news, but I still stressed, my mindfulness and meditation not doing nearly what I hoped it would in this situation. In addition, I was foregoing my daily walk, my labored breathing putting a damper on remaining active. Worry kept me up at night. I wasn’t sleeping well. The pounds I lost last year began to silently slip back around my waistline. Martin kept telling me it was all in my head. Thank you, honey. Yes, mindset I told myself. Mindset.

On tests day I got up at 4:45 so I could eat breakfast. My instructions were nothing to eat two hours before the test scheduled for 7 a.m. All stress tests were performed at this now-insane-to-my-retired-self hour. Having pre-checked in over the phone a few days prior, I dutifully showed up before 7 only to be told the technician assigned to perform my tests would be late because she was moving!!! And, the woman delivering this news didn’t know when she was going to show up for work. Whaaaaaaaat? I was already stressed over the stress test. This rude news sent me spiraling. After much ado, 40 minutes later, the department supervisor set up the testing.

My cardiologist appeared for the stress test, which revealed a heart functioning as it should under stress. Whew! One down. The supervisor did the echocardiogram, delivering the results to my cardiologist that afternoon. My heart valve defect turned out to be so minor, my heart is considered to be no different, than the heart of someone without the defect. Double whew!! The shortness of breath is attributed to a really bad allergy season AND stress. Stress further aggravated by the challenge of understanding hospital and doctor bills, an overcharge to me for my portion of the bill and the pulling teeth (only 3 phone calls with a lot of wrangling necessary) to get my money refunded.

Worst pine pollen season in years

Worst pine pollen season in years

Shortly after the tests, my breathing returned to normal.  The Asthma Center reported record pine pollen levels this spring.  But, by June, the thick pine pollen covering every square inch of my property, house and car subsided and washed away in a spring rain.  I could get a full breath, returned to taking my daily walk and slept through the night again.  My doctor prescribed a different medication regimen.  I hope next spring is not a repeat.

Everything is fine now — until the next time it is not. This experience highlighted my mortal condition. We all depend on our physical and mental well-being to provide a happy productive retirement. Toward that end my goal is to stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible. The optimal way to live and leave this world is to be healthy and then, one day, you suddenly just die.  Few of us will go out in such a way. Until then, everything is fine.

Joined At The Hip

When Martin and I are asked what we do in retirement, I sometimes see surprised looks and hear surprised comments as the listeners come to understand we are not doing everything together. Never a couple to be joined at the hip, we always had separate careers, hobbies and interests. We even had, and still have, a few individual friends as well as couples we engaged with as a couple. After decades of leading a combination of diverse yet integrated lives, it is anyone’s guess why we would suddenly fuse ourselves together in such a way in retirement as to sacrifice our separate interests and hobbies. In fact, I believe couples who maintain their individuality have a stronger, more giving relationship.

When I was young, I dated a guy for about five minutes who, if I disagreed with him, would say, “Don’t hassle me.” It was the sixties way of saying, “Just be quiet and do what I want.” I can’t imagine what my life would have been like for the last several decades, subverting my wants and needs to someone who didn’t care enough about me to listen to my opinion. I dumped that guy then because I wanted an authentic relationship. And, that’s what I want now.

Together not joined at the hip

Together not joined at the hip

While Martin and I have plenty we do together, like cooking, hiking and working on our property, we have many individual interests neither of us intend to abandon in retirement. For example, Martin loves bicycling. It is a central activity for him. As for me, I would be miserable riding a bicycle out on the road for 20, 28 or 35 miles at a clip. Looking over my shoulder at every car sharing my lane is not my idea of a good time. Even though I worry about him being on the open road, I would never ask him to give up something he loves doing so much just to make me happy, anymore than he would insist I join him.

The vegetable garden

The vegetable garden

Conversely, he helps me with the heavy lifting in the garden, but the majority of the work is done by me. While we both work on the care and maintenance of our six acres, I’m the one elbow deep in garden design, planting, deadheading and pruning. Gardening is my passion, not his.

We also go to OLLI at Furman University together but after two years there, we have yet to take a class together. We have totally different interests. Although we are both artists, he does acrylics while I do pen and ink or pencil or watercolor. I also take writing classes while he takes wood carving. As we prepare dinner together each evening we have plenty to share and discuss about our day. Our differences keep our relationship interesting, exciting and growing.

Martin staining a gourd he carved

Martin staining a gourd he carved

Over the years I’ve heard many people lament, sometimes resentfully, how they don’t engage in an activity or watch certain movies or eat this or that because a spouse or significant other doesn’t like it. In retirement I’ve heard the complaints more often. When one person subjugates a natural part of themselves for the other, resentment builds. The person feels deprived. Observing and listening, I have found that in retirement some couples think they will return to the bliss of the dating days when they couldn’t get enough of each other and did everything together. After years and years of going your separate way every day or at least every week day, it is unrealistic to think you will return to an earlier time and feeling. For starters, thanks to time and experience, you are entirely different people today.

We live in a society, which promotes coupledom to the extreme. Many will remember the Jerry Maguire scene where Tom Cruise tells Renee Zellweger, “You…you complete me.” We receive messages from all points that we are only half a person. It is common to hear people refer to their spouse or life partner as “my better half”. We romanticize togetherness and the idea of finding our other half to the detriment of our very identity as human beings. We are whole to begin with. Having someone who understands us, supports us and enjoys being with us does not make them our other half. It makes them someone who understands us, supports us and enjoys being with us.

Why should any of us, male or female, relinquish a part of our core being for the sake of togetherness? Though the idea of bicycling doesn’t appeal to me, I like the idea that Martin has a hobby he enjoys so thoroughly he’s been doing it for decades. I love that part of him and am there to cheer him on during time trials as well as go pick him up when his bike breaks down twenty miles from home. To me, that is a real show of love. And that is what creates a strong relationship. We are joined, not joined at the hip.