Coping With Bad News

 

A couple of weeks ago a reader wrote me about receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer. This reader and I have corresponded for the last three years. Although I’ve never met her, I feel like she is a friend. She asked if I had ever written about coping with an illness. I had not. She wrote, “This is not part of our plans!”

When we retire, and especially if we retire early, the last thing we expect is news of a serious illness. In 2014 I met a man who told me when he received his cancer diagnosis, everything important in life came sharply into focus. Much of what he worried about was suddenly trivial. After beating cancer, he continued to center his attention on his newfound vision.

While we may not have received a cancer diagnosis, we all encountered blows of some kind in our life experience. Life has a way of throwing us curve balls. It’s almost never expected, whether we just retired or were at some other juncture in life.

As I researched for this post, as usual, much of what popped up was how to handle a financial set back. With retirement, whether it is preparation or crisis, money takes center stage. It took quite a bit of digging to find information on coping with an illness. In the process, I asked myself what I would do if I received a diagnosis of breast cancer.

If I received bad news, I would re-visit previous life skirmishes asking myself how I coped.  What did I do that worked for me?  What would I do differently now? What lessons did I learn, which could be applied to the present situation?

For the last two years I’ve practiced mindfulness, mastering the skill of staying present. The past is behind us; the future has yet to unfold itself to us. What we have is the present, the here and now. Focusing on the present has reduced the number of times my mind runs headlong into the future on mind spinning mode, creating worst scenario outcomes. Mind spinning often results in our conjuring a bad situation into an even worse situation. In the case of devastating news, staying present can provide calm in the face of the hurricane. Add a few deep breaths.

Fight or flight. I tend to go into fight mode when receiving bad news. Rather than run from it emotionally and mentally, I start gathering as much information as I can. I like to make informed decisions. Knowing what I’m facing also provides a sense of some control in what is potentially an uncontrollable situation. Never one to throw my hands up and say, “there’s nothing I can do about it” instead I dig deep for information. Knowledge is power.

Like the man I mentioned above, there may actually be some good news embedded in the bad news. He had an epiphany about what was really important to him in life. Everything small by comparison just fell away, leaving him with a sense of really living.

Another woman I know forced a rosy outlook during her battle with cancer. She said she didn’t have time to be negative.  The fact is we have emotional ups and downs during any crisis. I meditate.  One of the objectives I appreciate about meditation is letting the negatives into your thoughts, dealing with them, then letting them go. It’s ok to feel down at a time like this. We can’t be up all the time. To me, constantly projecting Little Mary Sunshine in the face of bad news is a stress in itself.

Bottling up emotions may also block others from helping you. If you have a spouse or life partner, it is probably as important for their welfare as it is for yours, to open up and let them in. They are also in pain. Most probably they are worried about you. Shutting them out by pretending everything is still normal may do more harm than good. The situation is not normal. They may need to cry along with you — let them.

Take your partner or a close friend with you on medical appointments. I know many, many people who did not include their spouse thinking they were shielding them from more bad news. If you are really partners, now is not a time to dial back the relationship. They can be an advocate for you, perhaps hearing something from a medical professional you missed. Emotionally, they can hold your hand during any delivery of news, either good or bad. And you can hold theirs.

You both need all the support you can get. Include family and friends with information. Back to the woman who put on the rose colored glasses, she never shared any news of her condition. I always wanted to hug her. She was even resistant to that. I know people who didn’t want their children informed of a diagnosis, robbing them of the ability to support and, in worse case situations, say a meaningful goodbye.

I’m not a psychologist or therapist, but I am an advocate of going to a counselor when needed. Receiving any devastating news may be a time when counseling is in order. Talking to a professional can help clarify positions, direction, actions to be taken, not to mention dealing with the emotional toll. Seek professional help for your mind and emotions just as you are seeking professional help for your body. Attending to your spiritual self by talking with a minister or priest may also help.

This is just my personal take on what I would do if faced with devastating news such as a cancer diagnosis. As always, we have to do what works best for us, as individuals, and our family in any particular situation. It is not easy to retire and receive bad news. However, as in any other moment in life, there are actions we can take to move us in the direction of a more positive outcome.

For the reader who inspired this post and all of my readers dealing with bad news of any kind, you are in my thoughts and prayers.

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Glory Days

This post first appeared on April 8, 2014.  When I recently saw a comment on social media asking if we didn’t wish we could go back to the way things were in our youth, I decided to repost “Glory Days”.   

 

What is it about the past that it takes on a rosy glow for many people as they age? Was our past really so much better than our present? In my sixth decade I notice more and more people of my generation and older looking back longingly at the good old days. As I listen to those wistfully reliving their youth, it was a simpler time where everyone respected everyone else, crime was nearly non-existent, jobs plentiful in a soaring economy, children respected adults and the good times just went on and on. Their remembrance of their past is often contrasted to a perceived gloomy future riding on the heels of a problem ridden today.

Decades ago when my mother was close to my age, she remarked about an old friend wanting to get together to reminisce about the good old days. At the time I thought my mother was being a bit of a cynic as she went on to say she had no desire to relive the past. She didn’t believe it was all that wonderful.

Today, I tend to agree with her.  In many ways life is better today than it was in my youth. If people from my mother’s generation glorified the past as much as people from my generation do, is this a phenomenon, which occurs with each generation as we age? Or is each decade really worse than the previous or each 100 years really worse than the previous 100? I doubt 1916 was better than 2016. I doubt 1940 when my mother was a young woman was really better than 1980 when her friend wanted to revisit the good old days. Each moment in time is fraught with its problems and imbued with its excellence.

As a baby boomer, when I look back to my youth, I remember social turmoil as minorities and women fought for their civil rights. I remember limited opportunities for women. When I entered the management training program at a local bank, I was told to my face both at work and by men and women in the community how I was taking a job away from a man with a family. Gee, I guess my husband and two kids weren’t a family. See, I can be cynical, too.

I remember horrible diseases where there was no vaccine to spare child and parent from the specter of death or disability, including the dreaded polio, which I had at age 3. I managed to escape the disease relatively unscathed.

I remember a communist under every bed as we kids lined the school hallways scrunched down on the floor as air raid sirens blared a practice run in the shadow of the atom bomb threat. By the time I was 10 we didn’t line the hallways, but got under our desks as if that would save us. I remember seeing violence on the news every night as leaders were assassinated, Soviet tanks crossed borders, the civil rights movement erupted with bombs, tear gas and murders and the Vietnam War grew into a colossal loss of life.

I remember an economy, which unraveled as gas prices soared sending us into a long recession coupled with runaway inflation. Were there good times? Yes! There were great times. But, the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s were also not as rosy as some portray those decades.

I think Bruce Springsteen hit it out of the park with his song, “Glory Days”. All of the people he sang about longed for the days of their youth when they were riding high or life lay before them fresh, new and awaiting. Late teens and twenties seem to be the age most people gravitate toward with their stories of good old days. For some, it may be early thirties.

I’m one of those early thirty types. When I think about the past, there’s a time in my life starting at exactly age thirty where the entire world seemed to open up for me. It actually evokes a very pleasant feeling all warm and fuzzy, eternally rosy. When I think of this time, I get that warm feeling as my mind fills with wonderful memories. It was an exhilarating time of high success as my career took off. I jetted all over the country for my job. We made money, money and more money. Our kids took piano and ballet and played softball and basketball. They went to the best schools in the area. We went out to dinner at tony restaurants, were invited to parties where celebrities were also on the guest list, took vacations and belonged to local museums and art centers. We bought beautiful homes, cars and furniture and were what was known at the time as yuppies. The dreams and possibilities for our future seemed endless as we road this huge wave of personal and material success. The pictures in my mind and the warm feeling filter out how stressed I was as I scrambled to meet the obligations of career, spouse, family and community with little or no time for me. My filtered view of that time in my life doesn’t appear to be all that unusual. In the end, it was a time when I went from soaring heights to nearly going down in flames.

As we age, it seems to me we have experienced plenty, enough to make us feel as if our moment in the sun is over. It’s akin to that mid-life moment when we say to ourselves, “Is this all there is?” But, as it is in that moment, so it is in this moment. The biggest challenge in retirement is finding activities, which challenge us mentally, emotionally and physically. We can choose to be jaded and cynical about today and the future and seek comfort in our glory days. Or we can choose to seek out fresh, new horizons.

It is up to us to fire up the engines one more time and search for a reason to get out of bed every day, greeting the sun with excitement for the possibilities of today and all the tomorrows we have left. While it is fun to reminisce and essential for passing on family history to the next generation or getting to know a new acquaintance, recognize the past for what it is — the past, with all the good memories, flaws and imperfections. Instead of reimagining the past, use your imagination and energy to create a glory day today.

What To Wear Over 50

A little eyeshadow gives a pink wink

A little eyeshadow

If you Google ‘what to wear over 50 years old’, there are an even 12,000,000 results. That’s 12 MILLLLLL-YUN! I’m sure you see the articles, mostly written for women, as you stand in the check out line at the grocery stores reading magazine covers, or looking through your online news articles. Yes, it’s news that women shouldn’t wear this or that as they age or shouldn’t sport eye shadow or certain lipstick colors. Guys you are not supposed to show off your sagging boney knees, any more than the women, by wearing shorts during those 100 degree August days while playing through eighteen holes. And, forget the swim suit!

I started reading these articles when I stopped coloring my hair way back in 2011. Looking for a makeup palette to complement my grey hair, I noticed articles on what to wear for women over 50 were in long supply. All were geared toward looking more youthful. Although I was in the process of eschewing our societal youth culture by uncovering my grey locks, I eagerly hopped on this train chugging down the track of anti-aging. I saw them as helpful, how-to articles.

It took me a while to catch on — 2011 was five years ago. I’m sometimes a slow learner. Then it clicked this summer when a well-meaning friend cautioned me about staying out in the heat too long. Working on my property expanding my gardens is a passion for me. Not to be deterred by ninety degree days with ninety something humidity, I don my sweatbands, mosquito spray and sunscreen, showing my sagging boney knees in a pair of shorts and my flabby upper arms in a sleeveless tee, while arming myself with Gatorade and water. I take to the land. When my same-age-as-me friend suggested I was getting old and couldn’t stand up to the heat and exercise, I was more than a little annoyed. Yes, I thought, I am aging. What’s the big deal? I’ve been aging from the day I was born.

It was here I realized ageism lies subtly at the underbelly of these articles. We tend to swallow whole this myth of things we should and shouldn’t do as we age — me included — which is exactly what leads to ageism in our society. We fall into the trap of doing everything we can to look youthful while at the same time accepting physical limitations due to age. For starters, we don’t all age on the same timetable. We don’t turn 60 with a birthday present of more wrinkles or less stamina.

Chutzpah aside, I know I don’t have the stamina I once did. Despite the Gatorade and gallon of water, I cannot keep going without feeling washed out later in the day. However, I can do what I used to do, just not as long as I used to do it. Still physically fit, aging is not a reason to stop an activity altogether. That said, I began to question the wisdom of not wearing eyeshadow, sleeveless tops or shorts.

The articles themselves are sometimes silly. One says don’t wear short skirts (those knees again) while another says long skirts are aging, making me look like granny (I am granny!). Cover your wrinkled neck with scarves or turtle necks but don’t button your blouse up to the last button —show some cleavage. That’s apparently peeks of bosom in-between the scarf hanging around your neck. Long sleeves are also preferred. After all they cover those wrinkly elbows and flabby upper arms. The bottom line of these articles is not so much how to look good as you age; it’s more like how to hide the fact that you are aging. They imply aging is ugly — better cover it up. If we don’t want to be marginalized as we age, we must cease buying into the idea of cutting back, taking it easy, stopping loved activities altogether and accepting society’s image of what is age appropriate and what is not.

 
I was further reminded of this when Martin brought home Motorcyclist magazine touting a story of ninety-year-old Erv Daley still riding his motorcycle up to 5,000 miles per year in-between RV stops. For anyone who rides a motorcycle they know 5,000 miles is a lot of miles no matter what your age. Erv has logged 145,000 miles since buying this bike new!  After reading Erv’s story, one cannot help but notice his attitude. It’s not about slowing down as we age. It’s about continuing to do what we love as we age, despite the age.  And how we look be damned!

What not to wear over 50 or 60 or 70 or 80 has less to do with eyeshadow emphasizing the creases of aging eyes or shorts showing off boney sagging knees and more to do with society’s view of aging as a time to slow down, cover up and perhaps even disappear from the rest of the world’s view altogether. What I’ve decided I’m not wearing over 50 is acceptance of a dubious deprecation, subtle or not, about my age and aging. Who decides what is appropriate for me anyway? Me! I made it this far; I think I have a pretty good idea of what I should or shouldn’t wear and what I am capable of doing physically and mentally.

As my husband often quips, “My body will tell me when I can’t do it anymore.” I think he’s right. Besides, I like my pink eyeshadow.

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.

Prevent Slip And Falls With Rhea

Rhea Footwear is stylish and practical

Rhea Footwear is stylish and practical

As a blogger I get a few requests a year to try a product and write a review of the product. Usually, I respectfully decline the requests for a number of reasons, not least of which is the integrity of my blog. However, when Natalie Rodriguez of Rhea Footwear contacted me, I felt that taking a look at her product would be a service to many of my readers as well as myself. You see, I experienced a slip and fall on September 29, 2015 — an experience I never want to repeat and I would not wish on anyone.

As we age, we are more prone to falling due to loss of muscle strength, balance and a host of other causes, including diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, Parkinson, even hearing or vision problems. Many accidents happen due to hazards in or around the home, which is exactly what happened to me.

It was a rainy night on my wet back porch.  I didn’t turn on the lights. I was only going to be a minute as I fetched the cats’ dish to take it in for the night. When I reached down to pick it up, I slipped, fell forward first to the right, then twisted to the left where my face hit the wet cement floor as my glasses pushed upward cutting my brow open. The thud from my fall was so loud, Martin came out to see what happened. Stunned, with blood pouring down my face, I couldn’t get up at first. Martin pulled me to my feet, helped me into the kitchen where I grabbed a wad of paper towels, scrunched them into a ball and pressed them to my bleeding head.

“I think I need to go to the emergency room,” I said.

Martin pulled the paper towel back for a look and said, “I think you do, too.”

We finally made it back home around 5 a.m. on September 30 after six and a half hours in the ER, five stitches, one CT scan, one tetanus shot and one black eye later. And, boy, did I hurt — all over. What a night! According to the CDC, one out of three people 65 or older falls each year. Falling once doubles your chances of falling again. As mentioned above, I don’t want to repeat this experience. I feel lucky nothing was broken, my brain was o.k. and all I have to show for it now is a scar just off my left eyebrow, along with a new pair of glasses.

Non-slip technology

NeverSlip™ outsole

When Natalie contacted me touting Rhea’s patented non-slip outsole technology, I couldn’t resist taking a look. Yes, they sent me a pair — a really snazzy looking pair of red flats. Very stylish as well as practical. Rhea Footwear has a micro-tread pattern that pushes water in all four directions with a sole that grips.

I’ve been testing these velvety red flats the last couple of days and feel like I could have avoided six and a half hours in the emergency room if I had been wearing my Rhea’s. Instead, I’m a statistic — one of 2.5 million older adults who, according to the CDC, are treated in the emergency room each year due to a slip and fall accident. Rhea Footwear is engineered to minimize slip and fall accidents. Their NeverSlip™ outsole is made from an exclusive rubber compound that grips on most slippery surface conditions and has more traction than other soles even on ice and snow.

 
Since I don’t want my readers to ever experience the trauma of a slip and fall accident, I recommend Rhea Footwear AND Rhea has graciously offered a 20% discount for any reader ordering from Rhea using the promo code, KATHYSRETIREMENT! Click here
https://www.rheafootwear.com, use the code and tell them I sent you!

Your Brain On Eggs

Your brain on eggs

Your brain on eggs

Eating a balanced diet is important at any age. My mother used to hand me words of wisdom like, “you are what you eat” and “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” I guess that’s why I was never one to skip breakfast. One of the worst habits at any age, but even worse as we get older, is skipping breakfast. A cup of coffee won’t give you what you need. After all, breakfast is short for breaking the overnight fast.

For years and years I started my day eating eggs. However, after learning about my skyrocketing cholesterol numbers, I changed my eating habits to limit my egg consumption. Because they are believed to raise cholesterol in the body, eggs got a bad rap for many years. At one time, I totally eliminated eggs at breakfast for an entire six months. Instead I ate oat based cereals. Anticipating a lower cholesterol number, I was shocked when my doctor told me my number dropped only one teeny-tiny point over my previous six month blood test. I’m no scientist or nutritionist, but that piece of information made me wonder if all the hoopla over eggs was — well, just hoopla.

Despite my questioning, I continued to avoid eggs at breakfast. Instead, I ate cereal or an energy bar. I didn’t feel more energetic. In fact, by 11 a.m. my stomach started sending signals of hunger. I felt depleted, even tired.

Now, along comes a book I read, Rewire Your Brain by John B. Arden, Ph.D. It’s not a new book. The copyright is 2010. It was sitting in my to-be-read stack since 2014. While the book has a lot of technical information on how our brains work, Arden also offers up a chapter on “Fueling Your Brain”. Guess who is the breakfast heroine in this chapter — yup, you got it — the egg. There are lots of other foods we need and should eat to fuel our brains, but the morning egg, breaking the fast, carries a lot of weight.

Speaking of weight I, like many people, think about what I eat in terms of feeding my entire body and keeping my weight in check. Until reading Arden’s book I never really gave the specifics for fueling my brain a lot of thought (no pun intended). According to Arden, “A bad diet can have a major impact on the brain’s ability to function properly, making you less apt to think clearly, pay attention, and cultivate neuroplasticity.” As we know, these abilities are really, really important for aging well.

Memory is also important. Arden goes on to say, “One of the neurotransmitters you need for processing memory is called acetylcholine. Your body needs an amino acid called choline to manufacture acetylcholine. One source of choline is eggs.” While there are other sources of choline, the egg is the one for getting your brain off to a good start for the day. Remember, it’s been fasting all night long with the rest of your body.

As we age we also lose muscle. Protein builds muscle. Eggs are a good source of protein. Eggs are also a rich source of vitamins, including B vitamins like B12, essential for energy. Other vitamins are A, E and K plus riboflavin and folic acid. Exercise and a balanced diet can help keep our muscles in good working order.

 
After reading all this, I decided to try Arden’s suggestion of eating an egg (using a no-stick spray), a piece of whole wheat toast (sans butter), and a glass of orange juice for breakfast. It took about a week for me to start feeling more energy. I noticed I can go until noon or later without feeling hungry. Since mornings are when I write, I realized I was mentally sharper. And, I sleep more soundly. This is my brain on eggs.

What about the cholesterol?  At last count a couple of weeks ago, despite my breakfast egg, my cholesterol is down 44 points!!!  Obviously, I’ve made a lot of other changes to my diet in the last year.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Most healthy people can eat up to seven eggs a week with no increase in their risk of heart disease. Some studies have shown that this level of egg consumption may actually prevent some types of strokes.” They go on to say, the risk of heart disease is more closely tied to the saturated and trans fats used to cook the eggs than the eggs themselves.  As always, you should check with your doctor about your egg consumption as, according to the Mayo Clinic, it is not recommended if you have certain diseases, such as diabetes.

Whether or not an egg a day is good for you is up to you and your doctor to decide. For me, I’m continuing my breakfast egg routine.   Regardless of what you eat in the morning, make sure you do eat to break the fast and fuel your brain and body. That’s essential for living well and aging dynamically.

Money Blown

While I received a lot of positive comments on last week’s post, “What’s Your Relationship With Money?”, I also received more negative comments than in the last 3 years combined, including some very personal dings at me. Why? It seems some people see ‘blow money’ as money blown.  I stand by my belief that blow money is important and here’s why.

Blow money is simply my term for my and Martin’s personal allowances. It could just as easily be called allowance money, retirement enjoyment money, don’t want to be on my deathbed with regrets money, bucket list money, hobby money, exercise money, good health money, leisure money, entertainment money or anything else I decide to call it.

In life, I’m a planner. We also planned money for an occasional new car. We planned money for vacations. Some people may see those items as wasted money. When Martin and I reviewed our retirement resources and budget with the financial planners, it included a line item for personal allowances. If calculating our numbers showed us having enough money to take us into our nineties, blow money, inflation and all, there is no reason to forego a personal allowance.

Money blown

Money blown?

Martin spends most of his blow money on bicycle and motorcycle gear. As someone bicycling 80 to a 100 miles per week, he’s put nearly 8,786 miles on his current bicycle. Yes, he loves bicycling so much he keeps a log of the miles he does each week, weather and any other conditions, which affect his time.

Money blown or money well spent

Money well spent

He is in such great physical shape, with a resting heart rate of 52 beats per minute, that a medical doctor friend once joked, “With a heart like that, you’ll live forever!” We all know that’s not true, but it points out just one of the benefits of bicycling. Money blown on bicycle gear? It’s cheaper than a heart attack, which can easily run into the six figures and kill you! I love my husband and want him to stick around as long as possible. Money well spent.

Much of my blow money is spent on my gardens. I never met a plant I didn’t like _ well, maybe poison ivy. Not only does gardening keep me in good physical condition, the garden is my goto place for stress relief. After a tough day at work, there was nothing like coming home to a beautiful garden to relax or dig in the dirt. When I’m tending my gardens, I feel like I’m doing God’s work, taking care of nature and providing a place for birds, bees and butterflies to flourish. I also spent $300 on the Clemson University Master Gardener Program, so I could learn more about gardening and pass that information on to others in my community as a Program volunteer. Money blown on gardening and volunteering? Money well spent.

Money well spent

Money well spent

I also spend my blow money on an occasional lunch out with friends. While some may see this as a waste of money to eat out, I see it as nurturing my relationships with my support group. As we age social interaction becomes increasingly important at a time when we may have fewer opportunities to socialize.

According to the Rochester University Medical Center, the benefits of strong social ties include:

1. Potentially reduced risk for Alzheimer’s, some cancers, cardiovascular problems and osteoporosis;

2. Lower blood pressure; and

3. Reduced risk of mental health issues such as depression.

Many of the people I socialize with are long time friends, but some are also more recent friends encountered in art and writing classes _ more blow money expenditures. Money blown breaking bread with friends? Money blown taking classes to open new neural pathways and meet new people? Money well spent.

Money well spent

Money well spent

As we age, keeping our bodies strong, our minds sharp and our social network alive are important not only to our longevity but also our quality of life. Martin and I live an amazing retirement life filled with activities we enjoy, good friends, old and new, and a healthy, happy marriage. While we enjoy a lot of activities together such as hiking, cooking and art, we are not joined at the hip. We go our separate ways for many other activities and blow money helps us do that without infringing on joint items in our budget. We have no disagreements over money!  Money blown on a harmonious relationship?  Money well spent.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a budget line item that includes a personal allowance, even if you are single. As one of my wise readers pointed out, a budget gives us the permission to spend without the fear of spending too much. After all, what’s the point of saving all this money if you don’t get to enjoy your retirement? I personally don’t want to be at death’s door and say, “Gee, I wish I’d taken that art class or gone out to lunch with my friends more often.”

Money blown? Money well spent!

Sleep

Zen Masters

Zen Masters

My cats sleep about twenty hours a day _ no kidding. I call them the Zen Masters because even when they are not sleeping, they’re often curled up or stretched out in total relaxation.  I used to sleep solidly even with a high stress job and kids to raise. As I aged, however, a good night’s sleep often eluded me. In a quest for sleep, I read many, many articles about the subject and even talked to my doctor about it. Finally arriving at a good night’s sleep again took a lot of effort on my part.

I found there are no magic answers to getting to sleep at night and staying asleep all night long. It’s personal.  What works for me may not work for you.  According to several articles I read, as we age changes in our sleep patterns are normal. Before you can take action, it’s important to understand why you’re not sleeping well.

Here’s the starter.  As we age, we produce less growth hormone, which is one of the body’s chemicals used to create deep sleep. We may become more sedentary. Less daily activity and exercise impact our ability to sleep. We may also be taking medications that interfere with our sleep patterns. Depression, loneliness, mental stress and physical pain can lead to sleeplessness. Ahhhh _ the vagaries of aging.

For me, despite sleeping through life’s normal stress in my younger years, stress played a large role in my inability to stay asleep all night. As you know from reading these pages, the transition from forty years of full-time work to retirement was a tough change for me. That stress kept me awake wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my life. By the time I figured out the answer to that question, my brain was in the habit of staying awake in bed. Now that became the source of my stress _ how to sleep at night.

My doctor didn’t offer up drugs to help me sleep, but did suggest maybe I woke up because I had to use the bathroom. No, that wasn’t it.  However, if that’s a problem for you, limiting fluids about two hours before bedtime may help. From what I’ve read, the medical community often prescribes sleep aids short term to kickstart the habit of sleeping through the night. Apparently, whether it’s a prescription or over-the-counter, sleeping pills are not a good idea as they have side effects and don’t address the root of the problem. For example, some can be habit forming. Others may leave you groggy the next day.  According to my doctor, better to get to sleep naturally.

In order to sleep, you must be relaxed. Think of the Zen Masters. In my younger days, after a stressful day, I’d sip a cup of warm milk with a sprinkle of cinnamon before going to bed. I also rubbed almond oil laced with lavender oil on the soles of my feet.  So, I resurrected those forgotten rituals.

Never one to have a TV in the bedroom, at least I didn’t have to contend with that issue. However, I did sit in bed and read. Sometimes I even read on my tablet. Apparently, the backlit screen is not a good thing to look at just before bedtime because it is similar to morning light, fooling the brain into thinking it’s time to wake up. So, I broke that habit. I also moved the brightly lit clock on the night stand and bought drapes with a black out lining, putting them over the window shades. I live in the country but landscape lights and even a full moon cast light into the room. A dark room is necessary for sleep.

To get my brain back into the habit of bedroom as sleep room, if I couldn’t sleep, I got up and went to another room until I felt sleepy again. I’d hang out with the cats, who left their various sleeping places to join me.

When I started paying attention to what woke me at night, I realized I was too warm. I was roasting while Martin needed an extra blanket in winter. In order to make the bedding comfortable for both of us, we put a small throw on top of his side of the bed. That made all the difference for me. Cooler is apparently better when it comes to sleeping well.

I eliminated high action TV shows along with horror stories, murder mysteries and the like, whether on the tube or in a book. Nothing disturbing or adrenaline pumping before bedtime, just light subjects, easily tossed aside in favor of sleep.

As you’ll recall, I took up walking, walking, walking about a year ago. Even though I’ve always been active, the increased daily activity added to my ability to de-stress, relax and feel truly tired at bedtime. I also believe my change in diet, cutting back on heavy dinners, also helped me sleep better.

While a good night’s sleep rarely eludes me these days, I’m continuing the good habits I developed so it will hopefully stay this way. Identifying sleep problems takes time and effort. But, it’s worth it. As we age a good night’s sleep may be even more important to our long term health than it was when we were younger.

With a good night’s sleep, I’m feeling more like a Zen Master every day.

Beating The Winter Blues

Felted Hearts

Felted Hearts

Yesterday, as I sat with a knitting group watching snow flurries drift past the window, some of us mentioned how we were ready for spring. I live in South Carolina so whether the groundhog sees his shadow or not, come February, spring is just around the corner. By the time we get to Valentine’s Day daffodils and other early spring bulbs are beginning to break bud, flocks of robins land in the fields looking for nibbles and the trees give off a red glow as leaf buds swell. But, everything is relative. At the risk of sounding whiney, I still have a bit of the winter blues.

When I lived north of the Mason Dixon Line where winters are truly harsh with piles of snow and winter temps sometimes dipping into negative numbers, February 14th marked my personal turning point toward spring. I looked forward to it every year. My mood lightened as the sun sat higher in the sometimes clear sky, the days grew longer, snow easily melted off the roof and a crocus or two began to poke up through the snow. Many, many years ago a doctor suggested I have a mild Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). If that’s the case, I would venture I’m far from alone.

While winter is often seen as a time of death, it is, in fact, a time for regeneration. As Jean of JeansGarden.Wordpress.com (https://jeansgarden.wordpress.com) recently observed in her post The Beauty of Winter Trees “dormancy should not be confused with death.” As Jean points out, the trees are shutting down to survive the harsh winter environment but it is more of a restorative sleep.  Like the trees, I found that approaching winter as a time to re-energize helped me survive the winter blues with a happier disposition. These are the things I do to stave off the doldrums.

1. As I shoveled snow off the driveway and sidewalks of our Michigan home, I discovered the outside activity actually put me in a happier mood. So, even if you don’t feel like getting outside in the cold, refrain from becoming a winter couch potato. I bundle up and go out for a walk, clean up garden debris and work on clearing underbrush from our overgrown woods.

2. Look at winter as a time to work on inside projects. I spend more time reading, writing, painting and knitting. I declutter and reorganize. I get the taxes done early! I listen to music, watch movies I’ve been wanting to see and play with the cats. I start seeds for the spring garden. This has changed my view of winter. It’s a time to catch up on delayed projects and put your house in order. Then, when spring arrives, you can get outside and play.

3. Cheer up your space. I fill clear vases with things like origami hearts I make or found feathers or sea shells or dried botanicals from my garden. I force bulbs or branches of flowering bushes like forsythia or bring in a bunch of hellebores blooming in the garden.  I make felted hearts of various cheery colors.

4. Stay socially active. I look forward to winter classes at OLLI, meeting friends for lunch or dinner or inviting them to my house and going to group activities like Sit n’ Knit, where we socialize more than anything else. Volunteer or help out a friend in need. Last week I helped a friend with their blog _ it made me feel good to lend a hand.

5. I stopped saying, “I hate winter!” Instead, I look at winter as an opportunity to do all of the above. I also look at it as time to peer inside me and contemplate, meditate and just be.

 
You may have some ways you beat the winter blues. Let me know if you have other suggestions. In the meantime, the sun sits higher in the sky, the days are lengthening, the buds are swelling and tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. No matter where you are, no matter what your winter, no matter if you have the blues, the blahs or not, Happy Valentine’s!

Taming The Wolves

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Earlier in the week I attended an event where the guest speaker was a financial markets analyst. His presentation was on, what else, but the economy. While he didn’t tell us anything we couldn’t already read in the news, putting it all together in one place did result in an anxious vibe in the room. The stock and bond markets were flat in 2015. Now the stock market was taking a downward turn. Oil is less than $30 a barrel resulting in gas prices last seen in January 2009. And the oil price decline appears to be influencing global market declines. China has devalued its currency, which affects the global economy. And, we are waiting for the Federal Reserve’s next announcement on monetary policy after raising rates slightly last fall, which may not have been a good move. After delivering all of this unsettling news, he cautioned against allowing anxiety to get the best of us with an emotional sell off of assets in a bid to curtail losses.

Never one to worry too much about falling markets, always one to believe in a buy and hold strategy, I can still sleep at night despite the gloomy market news. My dates with anxiety always hit closer to home. Things like a leaking dishwasher or a mistake on a medical bill are more likely to drive me nuts. While worrying about these things spurs me into action, it has also been known to raise my blood pressure and cause sleepless nights, neither of which is good for my health.

Whether it’s an economic decline or a leaky dishwasher, we all have situations that trigger anxiety. Worry is a survival response. Thousands of years ago, when faced by hungry wolves, anxiety triggered our flight or fight response. If we weren’t worried about the wolves, we were really, really unlikely to survive. Life still isn’t a walk in the park, but we often over think and then over react emotionally to life events.

After dealing with a high stress level at watching buckling hardwood in my water drenched kitchen, I decided to do something about my anxiety. Although I probably always knew this, it took a month of mind spinning over the outcome for me to realize my worst fears almost never come true. Thirty days of worrying as the new dishwasher was installed, the hardwood turned up at the edges and my ever handy husband put weight on the floor to straighten the boards, was enough to give me the screaming me-me’s. I was so sure the hardwood in that section was ruined, we’d have to replace the entire floor and it was going to cost a fortune, not to mention the mess to the house. Instead, the floor dried out nicely. The boards miraculously went back to their original shape, to the point where you can’t even tell we endured this minor disaster.

Fear of the unknown and our mind’s creation of the worst possible outcome all conspire to take us to that anxious dark place called worry. The first thing to do is acknowledge our worry as in, “Yes, I’m worried about this, but I’m going to stay present and not let my imagination take control.”

There are a number of things you can do to stay in the present moment. Mindfulness does work. Making a mental effort to stay aware of your current moment in time, your surroundings, the sights, smells, sounds and even tastes takes your focus off the future, the unknown. Use your senses to remain conscious of the now.

Another strategy I use is to focus on something which requires concentration. This is simply an extension of the idea of mindfulness. I find that writing or drawing does the trick. It’s really hard for me to keep spinning worst case scenarios in my mind if I have to concentrate on shapes and lines in a drawing. You might try reading a book or listening to music or working on one of your hobbies. You might also immerse yourself in your volunteer work. Helping someone in need is a sure way to take your mind off your own worries.

Another step to eliminating worry is finding something physical to engage in like taking a walk or riding a bike. I go outside to my garden where there’s always work to be done. There, I deadhead flowers, pull weeds or clip bushes. It’s hard to worry when you are breathing in fresh air, enjoying the sun shine and keeping your hands and mind busy. Physical labor also helps me sleep better regardless of what’s happening in my life. And, we all need a good night’s rest.

I also try a little meditation. Admittedly, I’m only good for 5 or so minutes, but that’s enough to let the stress into your mind and then release it to clear your mind. Accepting your feelings and thoughts of worry sometimes is all it takes to free yourself of the anxiety. If not, don’t be too hard on yourself. Chastising yourself for worrying is just adding more negativity. Instead of saying, “You shouldn’t worry about this. You’re being silly” say something like, “It’s O.K. to worry now and then.” Let the feelings come in, accept them.
Whether you’re worried about the wolves of the financial markets or the one in your kitchen, taking constructive, specific steps may not completely tame the beast, but will help you survive with a better quality of life. Using my goto phrase of, “It is what it is” often allows me to move on. That phrase is one of acceptance of the situation, which puts me in a frame of mind to just be. I can let it be, let it go, take a breath and move on. With time, the future will take care of itself. And, my worst fears will likely not come to fruition. Whatever happens, it is what it is.