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?

If Your Resolutions Don’t Stick, Try This

 

Mark Twain said, “Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving Hell with them as usual.” Twain was, of course, referring to another well-known saying, ‘The road to Hell is paved with good intentions’.

I always had good intentions when it came to making New Year’s resolutions, but as Twain indicates, it took no time at all for me to abandon them. With that thought in mind, a few years ago, I stopped making the annual list of good intentions. If I couldn’t do it at any other time of the year, putting a fresh calendar on my wall wasn’t going to give enough incentive to do it now.

A couple of years ago I noticed a new trend toward resolutions when a fellow blogger wrote a post about his word for the year. Then, last year another blogger wrote about her word for the year. Consequently, I began noticing more buzz about choosing a word to give the new year a personal theme. Perhaps it works. Maybe because a word/theme is more general than specific resolutions. I don’t know because I haven’t seen any follow-up articles extolling the virtues of choosing a theme.

That said, I’m adopting this recent trend for 2017 just for fun. Who knows? Maybe it will become my yearly custom. I’ll let you know how it went for me when 2018 appears on the horizon. Now, for the word I am choosing…ta da — Creativity.

Reading these pages you already know I am a proponent of creativity as a means to maintain brain health as we age. And, this is not just my theory. It is backed up by scads of research dating back decades. A creative mind is an open, flexible mind. Remember my mantra, ‘change is the only thing you can count on in life’. If, instead of dwelling on the past, including your glory days, you are open to change and new experiences, you stack the odds in your favor for aging well.

Creativity comes in all shapes and forms. It is not just arts and crafts, although that is certainly a great way to engage your mind in new activities. When I’m planning my garden for the spring crops or deciding what to do with extra plants, I’m being creative. If you belong to a chess or mahjong club, you are engaging in analysis, options, making decisions. You are being creative. When you review your budget, analyze your portfolio, figure out your next financial move, you are being creative. When you volunteer for an organization and are faced with dilemmas, your solutions are a form of creativity.

We are all creative. How we express our creativity is up to us. The key is attitude. One of an open, flexible mind. Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t — you’re right.” If you think you are not creative, you won’t be creative. If you think retirement has nothing to offer, you will come up empty. On the other hand, if you think of yourself as creative, innovation, opportunities and new experiences will abound.

My big, fat word is CREATIVITY in all aspects. During 2017 I intend to continue cultivating an openness to new experiences. And, perhaps that is, after all, a New Year’s resolution.

Wishing all my readers a happy, healthy, creative New Year!

Love,

Kathy

How To Make 2017 Your Best Year Ever

dream-pic

Standing in line at the grocery store, I read the magazine covers as I waited my turn. There it was as it always is — ‘How To Make 2017 Your Best Year Ever’. Every December with the current year not quite over, the editors trot out their list for creating a spectacular next year. The Christmas tree is just up and we are in the holiday rush, but don’t forget to forge your campaign for taking on the following twelve months.

Admittedly, when I worked for a living in the corporate denizens, I paid attention to such things. I read the articles on self-improvement and marketing my skills to the boss. I listed goals to be achieved in order to gain a promotion or larger paycheck. And, yes I did this in the throes of the holiday rush of decorating, gift buying, cookie baking and parties. Working in real estate, especially commercial real estate, this was also the busiest time of year. Rush, rush, rush.

Now I’m the boss. I do what I want when I want. Oh, to be sure, I have looked ahead to 2017. I have reflected on 2016, a rough year for most of the world. These days my contemplation is done at a slower pace, no need to squeeze it in along with the galloping pace of the holidays. But, if I were to make a personal list now for creating the best year ever, this is where I would start.

1. Slow down. There is no need to rush into the new year or anything else for that matter. Enjoy the present moment.

2. However, continue to make goals for yourself. Without a compass, you could lose your way. Goals provide direction, clarity of purpose. We still need purpose in our lives.

3. Try something you always wanted to do. Discover your passion. Ask yourself what you always wanted to try, but were too busy, too timid, too concerned about what others might think about you, to try it.

4. Meet new people. Staying engaged with other people is known to keep your mind and body from declining. Join a club. Volunteer for a non-profit, hospital, school or religious organization. Go to your local senior center.

5. Learn something new. Learn to play guitar, speak a new language, play chess, knit a scarf, paint a picture.

6. Travel in your own backyard. What is your area known for? Are there parks, museums, historic sites you never visited even though you toured someplace thousands of miles away? Take a local tour in 2017.

That’s where I would start to make 2017 the best year ever. I may even wait until January 1 to create my specific list. After all, it’s only December. No rush.

Second Fastest Old Man In The State

This post first appeared on June 18, 2013.

At the finish line

At the finish line

After nine months of training including over 3,000 miles of bicycling, we headed to the coast for Martin to compete in the South Carolina State Time Trial Championships. When he was working, he didn’t have the time to dedicate to rigorous training and a chance to place in the top three. So, the time trial made it onto his retirement bucket list.

The championship breaks the riders up into age categories. Even though Martin is only 59, on his next birthday, he’ll be 60 so he is in the 60 – 65 year olds. Weird, but that’s how they do it. Being one of the youngest riders in his age category also presents the opportunity to check a gold, silver or bronze medal off his bucket list.

Packed and ready, Friday morning we drove the three and a half hours through the Land of Charles to Charles Town for the race. For you history buffs, Carolina is latin for Charles. The “Merry King” Charles granted the land of the Carolinas to his buddies, but named it for himself. Then, his grateful friends, named the sea port Charles Town, which eventually became Charleston. A liberal bastion in a conservative state, Charleston is known world wide for its gracious southern hospitality, beautiful historic district, jazz clubs and inspired regional cuisine. However, the area is chosen for the time trial, not for any of the above, but because it is flat, flat, flat.

Following a yummy lunch of chicken and pasta in fresh tomato sauce at the Kings Street Grill, Martin and I head north on Highway 17 to find the time trial course. The 25 mile course starts at Seewee Outpost north of Charleston.

Driving the highway, the first thing I notice is the lack of buildings and parking lots up against the street. Looking down the road, it appears we are in the middle of no where. All I see are towering pines and oaks with an occasional sign announcing a shopping center or business hidden behind the green space. These folks do not want an ugly view of brick, steel and asphalt.

Whoever’s in charge of city planning is really in charge. The green space isn’t the usual landscaped facade put up after all the natural vegetation is bull dozed to oblivion, then burned or hauled away. It is the natural vegetation. It’s the green stuff Mother Nature put there. Under mature pines and oaks is what most folks call scrub brush. Saplings, native grasses, Spanish bayonet, Dogwoods, vines, whatever Mother Nature dictates. Peeking through the deep expanse of green, I spy the most beautiful Walmart I’ve ever seen. Yes, really — a Walmart in full brick, huge curved front wall and columned portico on its face.

Looking at all this, we somehow can’t find the Seewee Outpost. Well, maybe it’s because the navigator (me) is too busy looking at the great big nursery we pass. But, with all the green space, we zip right by the Outpost. Looking at our map on the iPad (no, we don’t have a GPS…we’re old fashioned that way), I know it should be on the edge of Francis Marion National Park. So, I tell Martin to pull into the Education Center and I hop out to just, quick like a bunny, run in to ask where the Outpost is.

Inside, the ranger tells me the Seewee Outpost is about a mile back on the right. As I listen to her I see a table filled with info on native plants, habitat building and attracting butterflies. When she finishes giving directions, I tell her how I’m a Master Gardener with an interest in native plants and ask if I can take some of the flyers. “Oh, I have something for you! Just come with me,” she says.

wildflower-poster

Wildflower poster

I follow her into a back room.  We keep chatting as she pulls open long, narrow drawers and starts handing me beautiful posters on slick paper. Posters of South Carolina wild flowers, edible plants, mushrooms and trees. By the time Martin starts worrying about me and comes inside to hunt me down, I have four posters, which the ranger and I are rolling up to secure with a rubber band.

Saying goodbye to my new friend and wishing I had more time to spend at the Education Center, Martin and I drive back to the Seewee Outpost, buy some bottled water and then drive the time trial course.  This is so he knows what to expect with the terrain. It is flat, Baby, flat. Before heading back to our hotel, we stop at the big nursery and, of course, I buy a plant.

Next morning race registration starts at 7 a.m. so we arrive at, you guessed it, 7 a.m. Martin registers. Then, we forage for breakfast. He’s #67. Time trial starts at 9 a.m. with a rider pushing off every minute. That translates into a start time of 10:06 for Martin. The wait begins.

Returning from breakfast, he wanders around talking to other riders and watching the first ones out of the gate, while I start taking photos and log in to Facebook to post the event for our family and friends. The well wishes come rolling in.

Another rider assists

Another rider assists

Shortly after 9 Martin starts getting ready, squeezing into his, well, skin tight skin suit. A 76 year old rider, the oldest person in the time trial, holds the bike for Martin as he gets into his shoes, shoe covers and tear drop helmet. Then, off he goes to warm up. I keep shooting photos and posting, family and friends engaged in our event as the “likes” and comments keep coming.

10:06 a.m. and he’s off! I won’t see Martin again for another hour plus a few minutes. So, I stand near the finish line, talking to other waiters as we listen to the officials shouting “rider coming in” and watch each competitor pedaling furiously toward the end.

As the riders stop and talk to each other, I overhear comments about a 10-12 mile an hour wind — headwind in both directions. How is that possible? One after the other, they report not their best times.

As 11:10 turns into 11:15 and still no sign of Martin, my heart sags. His time is not what he expected. He probably won’t place. Yet, a part of me holds hope the riders talking about the wind interfering with their times represent all the riders. If everyone’s having slower times, Martin could still place. I remind myself he’s a winner no matter what, just for all the effort he put into training and then, showing up. But, I want him to place. I want him to proudly check this off his bucket list.

Finally, I see him. Even under the helmet and sunglasses, I can tell by the way he’s pedaling, he’s out of energy. Tired. Like every other rider, Martin summons a last ounce of will power and pedals wildly to the end as I snap a photo.

Whizzing by me he pedals down the road, slows, turns around and comes back. He can hardly talk. Sweat pours down his red face. Is he shaking? Yes, he’s shaking. I ask if I can get him a water. He mumbles, “Later,” then, s-l-o-w-l-y rides back to the car. I stop at the water tent anyway where one of the officials gives me some type of energy drink. “He’ll like that,” the official tells me.

As I hand Martin the drink, I see disappointment on his face. We talk about how his time wasn’t good and I tell him about the other riders’ comments about the wind. “Yes,” he says, “the wind was awful both ways.” I see a glimmer of hope in his eyes.

As Martin sips the energy drink, he recovers from the stress of the ride and walks down to the officials’ tent. They are close to posting everyone’s time. He walks back to the car to tell me. Well, at least the wait will be over.

Back at the tent, crowding around a board with all the other riders, Martin looks on the sheets of paper for his age category and name. Reading across, he sees it. And, next to his name under state ranking is the number 2! Wahoooooo! A silver medal!!!

All smiles now, he finds me. “It’s official,” he beams. “I’m the second fastest old man in the state.”

Check.

Lust For Life

This wasn’t the article I intended to post today, but lunch with a friend yesterday was quite interesting. She brought up the concept of lust. We discussed it. I also thought about it a lot after our meeting. It reverberated with me so much I got up early this morning to put my other article aside (next week) and hastily write this perspective on lust.

This isn’t a perspective on the sexual type of lust.  However, that’s where I’m starting.  Lust is, after all, most often thought of as purely sexual desire and often a sexual desire that is out of control, making it a titillating subject indeed. I, myself, have referred to people who abandon a spouse for a new lover as being in lust not in love. Lust is one of the seven sins. The Bible says lust is bad or bad for us if it replaces love. It also says we shouldn’t covet material objects belonging to another.

Looking for a definition outside my Biblical teachings, I found all reflect this one from Merriam-Webster.com: ‘a strong feeling of sexual desire; a strong desire for something.’ That last part is what my friend and I talked about mostly — other forms of lust. In between sips of chardonnay (it was a late lunch), we agreed, although we are aging, we still have a strong desire, a lust for something.

I call it a lust for life. A strong desire to continue living with zeal and fervor and excitement for what may materialize on our still glorious horizons.

If lust is a strong desire like a craving, we all crave things at one time or another. We may crave something as simple as ice cream or a long, hot bath.  We may crave a new car or trip to some far off place. Didn’t many of us have a strong desire to leave the work place and be free in retirement to do what we want with our time? We may crave hitting the road in our RV and kicking around the country for months on end. We may have a strong desire to help others. We may have a strong desire to volunteer, leave money to a charity or create a scholarship to help someone go to college. We may have a craving to reinvent ourselves in retirement and do something we always dreamed of doing. Our cravings, our desires, our lusting after something is not necessarily bad or bad for us.

We have been lusting all our lives. Remember that cute boy or girl sitting across from you in junior year English, the one who invaded your dreams at night? That was probably about the same time you were lusting after a drivers license and your first set of wheels. After that you went on to lust after a great many things. Perhaps the taste of your first adult beverage, a real job, promotions, your first house, a bigger house, a masters degree, a trip to Europe or India or the Fiji Islands. Lusting fired our engines, not just our loins.

When we are young, we lust after life with an eagerness to experience all that we can. We dream. We scheme. We plan. We have a boundless energy focused on the future we strongly desire, we crave, we lust after. We want to gorge ourselves on all that life has to offer — the physical, emotional, mental, spiritual — the entire smorgasbord.

I still feel this way to a certain extent. Oh, I’m a little jaded at times. I have my been there, done that moods. Yet, there are many, many things I want to do in life. I still crave some adventure, trying a new activity, meeting new people, seeing new vistas, straining my brain, pushing my physical boundaries, entering a spiritual dimension I’ve never explored.

Lust gets a bad rap. A little lust for life can be good for us, especially as we age.  In a cliche we are older and wiser.  We aren’t going totally off the deep end, over the cliff. We are a little jaded.  Grabbing the world by the shirttail and twirling it around to see what shakes out is good for us.

Even now, for me at 64, it’s a big wide world out there and it’s easier to access than ever before. There are opportunities waiting to be taken advantage of. There are surprises to be found. There are secrets to be unlocked. There are discoveries to be made. And, I intend to continue lusting after them with a lust for life.

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!

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.

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.

Where The Wild Things Grow

Lady Slipper

Lady Slipper Orchid

When Martin and I bought our property thirteen years ago, it was so thick with wild blackberry brambles, honeysuckle, poison ivy and Muscatine grape vines, we were unable to step more than a few feet into it from the road. The aerial photo on the county records site wasn’t much help either. Beyond the clogged meadow at the road frontage thousands of pine trees hid any view of the rest of the property. We bought it anyway. At the time I was working as a real estate broker. I knew wooded properties were few and far between.

From the road we could also see mature oaks, hickory, maples, poplar and beech. We sited the house right smack in the middle of the six acres for privacy. When our builder cleared a path for the drive and started building, we started spending weekends clearing the brush and pines. I wasn’t much of a conservationist then. Still, it was low tech clearing with loppers, pruners and hand saws. Our builder didn’t burn debris; he had it hauled away. Using hand tools as our ancestors would have, Martin and I cleared enough to fill two dump trucks!

Ghost Pipe

Ghost Pipe

During the nine months of building and clearing, we made many discoveries. I remember the late March day I walked up the drive to see the white flowers of dozens of dogwoods welcoming spring. As spring advanced we found wildflowers popping up everywhere _ pink lady slipper orchids, crested iris, yellow loosestrife, Solomon’s seal and many more I didn’t recognize. I bought a book on wildflowers of the Southeastern United States. There were ground covers like wild ginger, partridge-berry and coral berry. Summer brought milkweed and butterfly weed.  The strange looking ghost pipes made an appearance.  Fall brought the orange berries of hearts a burstin’.

Hearts a Burstin'

Hearts a Burstin’

With these discoveries the property took on new meaning. I felt like we needed to conserve the wild things. Thus came the decision not to allow any further heavy equipment on the property. No bulldozers or backhoes to remove the onerous pines.

By now we also realized something was wrong with the pines. Clemson University Extension agents helped us identify two types of pines beetles gnawing their way through the woods. They are also Virginia pines, which do not fare so well this far south. Planted decades ago as a relatively quick money crop, now too dense, many are diseased. Our woods were declared as unhealthy. Chainsaws were purchased to make the job of removing them easier, but we still have thousands of them. Because of the pests and disease, they have to be burned. It is an arduous task. It is also a labor of love.

We made paths over the years, clearing out the old logging trails, and can now walk through most of the six acres. There are two fields of rocks across the upper ridge, rocks large enough to sit upon and contemplate the emerging beauty of the woods. Mountain laurel will bloom in May along the back path. June will bring a show of creamy panicles on the sourwood trees as bees work them to produce what some claim is the best honey in the world.

The more we clear the pines, the more the sun finds the earthen floor of the woods, the more the wild things spread to feed some animal. In recent years, we’ve had a bear appear, probably in search of the huckleberries growing wild beneath the trees. The raccoons, opossums, skunks and fox have been here all along. There are plenty of squirrels and chipmunks. An owl hoots all night long in the woods behind the house.

Native ferns fill in my hillside garden

Native ferns fill in my hillside garden

In the landscaped gardens surrounding the house, much to my delight, many of the wild plants have invaded. Wild ferns fill the sunny hillside off the screen porch. Solomon’s seal dots the shaded hillside to the front of the house. Red flowered trillium showed up in the side garden a couple of years ago and continues to spread.

I try to be a good steward of what has been given to me. It is not always easy. But, as I watched the first hummingbird of the season flit through the garden and woods last week, I remind myself this is why the wild things must continue to grow.

Let’s make every day Earth Day!

MINDFULNESS

Today, there is a growing movement centered on being aware of, and staying with, the present moment. It is called mindfulness. Each time I hear the term, it reminds me that as a child, whenever I was going to a party or a friend’s house, my mother said, “Be sure to mind your manners.” She was telling me to pay attention to my behavior. Remember to be polite. Be aware of how you act. Mindfulness is simply an extension of what my mother was expecting from me. It’s paying attention to what is happening in your surroundings and within you at the present moment. It is staying with your current experience including all your sensory perceptions and emotions. It is remembering to stay present instead of letting your mind wander off into the past or future. It is being aware. I call it living consciously. While this concept has been around for centuries and is steeped in the Buddhist practice of meditation, it serves a real purpose in our stress filled, frenetic modern world. If we stay present, instead of mind-spinning about the past, which is non-changeable or the future, which has yet to unfold itself, we can eliminate much of the stress we, ourselves, create in our lives.

I first heard of mindfulness a year ago when I was taking the Dynamic Aging Program at Furman University. We touched on the subject as it relates to aging. While most people start out believing retirement will be stress free as they leave the workplace behind, they soon find there is stress in retirement. We just encounter different stressors from what stressed us while working. Instead of deadlines, office politics and not enough time for family or ourselves retirement stressors may include health concerns, finances, 24/7 with our spouse or significant other or too many requests to volunteer for organizations. Once I understood the concept and practice of mindfulness, I also realized I had flirted with the idea for years. During my most hectic years of working, being a wife and mother, volunteering in the community, I knew I either had to stop dancing as fast as I could or go down in flames. I chose to slow dance, become more focused on what was important to me and stop trying to be super woman. In a nutshell, I chose to become more choosy. As a result I stopped being a leaf in the wind, buffeted by other people and self-imposed commitments. I stopped living unconsciously. I started living fully awake and aware of what I was doing and why. I became more mindful.

Last Friday I took a mindfulness seminar at Furman. Our coach, Brenda Verdone (www.ANewGreenville.com), is an energetic and engaging woman who takes mindfulness beyond meditation and into our everyday lives. The two-hour session was interactive as we explored how to use mindfulness in our daily activities to ward off stress, restore health and well-being, and create a balanced life style. While I am already practicing much of what Brenda taught us, I also learned a few things. We started out learning how to breath. That’s right – breath. How to inhale a breathe so the air reached all the way down to our diaphragm. With hands on our bellies, we then exhaled fully and slowly, counting the seconds, and paused, which is natural, before taking the next breathe. We do this involuntarily right? Perhaps when we are calm but what about when we are stressed? The old flight or fright goblin causes quick, shallow breaths taken in and let out of the lungs in such a hurry we don’t get enough oxygen to our other organs. Sometimes we may be so stressed we do this unconsciously, unaware that we are robbing our bodies of much needed oxygen. Quite some time ago my doctor told me that most of the people in hospitals are there because of stress, which causes inflammation to the body and leads to various diseases. We are so stressed out in our fast-paced world that we are killing ourselves!

Besides how to breath with awareness of our bodies, Brenda went on to talk about relationships, recreation, communication and even mindful eating, drinking water and posture. You may remember I took up mindful eating with the assistance of the My Fitness Pal APP in order to lose 18 pounds. It took me about 30 days to form my new eating habit, which made a huge change in my health, most notably avoiding diabetes. The APP helped me to eat mindfully, to be aware of what I put in my mouth as well as when, where and why I was eating. Being mindful in all aspects of your life can provide immeasurable benefits as we age. Brenda laid out six areas of life along with some questions to ask yourself about each area. I’m sharing this with you here. Exploring each area and answering the questions will help create a balanced, harmonious lifestyle. Honesty with yourself, of course, is necessary. Ditto for taking action.

AREAS OF LIFE

Spiritual – Peace of Mind
Physical Health
Relationships with Family and Friends
Life Purpose
Financial Stability
Recreation

CRITICAL QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF

Do I feel satisfied in this area of my life?
Is this area in balance with all others, or is it too much or not enough?
Is this an area I’m equipped to handle myself or do I need someone to guide me? (i.e. clergy, teacher, holistic wellness consultant, interpersonal relations counselor, financial advisor, trainer/instructor)
Where would I like to be in this area one year from now?
What do I need to get or do in order to move forward in this area?
When am I going to do it?

While this may strike some of you as more New Age nonsense, which has come and gone over the last several decades, it is one tool for getting your retirement life on track. Mindfulness is by no means a cure-all for everything which may ail you. But, it is my personal experience that balancing out all aspects of your life can create a feeling of harmony thus removing a good deal of stress. Being mindful of what you are doing, why you are doing it and where the benefit is to you, will help you crystallize your retirement purpose. This can lead you to a happier, more fulfilling retirement lifestyle. If you have not given mindfulness a try, now is the time. Let me know if it helps! Or, even if it doesn’t.