My Father’s Gift

It is Father’s Day this weekend and I have been thinking of my dad a lot lately. Not because of the day, but because of an impending family event and a very old gift from my father. My dad died in 1989. Yet, I still feel his presence and it is more so recently.

A few weeks ago my oldest daughter took the cradle out of her storage closet and readied it for yet another baby. Not her baby but her baby’s baby. It’s hard to believe my oldest grandchild is going to be a dad, my daughter and son-in-law grandparents, and Martin and me great grandparents. The cradle has held five of our six grandchildren. Made by my father in 1975, it was a gift to Martin and me for the birth of our youngest daughter.

A cradle for the generations

A cradle for the generations

My dad’s hobby was woodworking. It sustained him in his retirement years. Oh, he also loved to fish and garden. But I believe he loved working with wood the best. He enjoyed taking a plain board and finding a rocking horse or cradle or cabinet or a cutting board in it. Woodworking fed his creative side.

He built doll cradles and cribs and high chairs for his granddaughters. There was the rocking elephant for my oldest daughter. He created small colonial looking hutches and pig shaped cutting boards for our homes. He also loved to whistle a tune, so we often heard him happily whistling in his workshop as he lovingly cut and sawed, sanded and smoothed the wood into his latest work of art. Then, my mother would stain or paint whatever he fashioned from the wood, adding her talents to the final product.

Because of the work, my dad’s hands were often rough with a broken nail or two. Sometimes, sawdust stuck to his clothing or shoes. If we ventured into his sanctum, we were admonished not to get in the way, but to “stand back and watch the mule drink.” After all, there were electric saws and sharp blades to be found. Then, he’d chuckle, the dimples of his cheeks taking form on either side of his crooked smile, his blue eyes sparkling as he bent over his machines and tables.

Dad's name etched in the cradle bottom by my mother

Dad’s name and the year etched in the cradle bottom by my mother

I don’t have any idea if my dad imagined his cradle being so well-used by future generations or if he even imagined future generations. I do know he would smile at the thought. I think he would also be pleased that his great-great grandson, not yet born, is already named Calvin. Calvin’s parents chose the name not knowing it was also the name of my father’s brother.

To be called Cal, this baby is much anticipated and already much loved. It pleases me no end that he will be rocked to sleep in this gift my father made so many, many years ago. Cal will be generation three to be rocked by my father’s hand.

Now, I imagine Cal’s children and perhaps even grandchildren being rocked in it also at some future time as the cradle continues to connect past and future generations. It is but a thing, getting old and worn, one rocker chewed by one of the family dogs, long gone with a lot of other lives. Yet, the cradle carries with it the love of a past generation to a future generation — just as the dimples in my cheeks and my children’s cheeks and my grandchildren’s cheeks. It took a lot of people over a lot of generations to make Cal. And all of those generations will be with him each day in some small, perhaps imperceptible, way.

We have yet to meet Cal, but I already know my father’s journey continues with him and in him. In honor of my father and fathers everywhere, Happy Father’s Day.

The Pettie Pets

Portia finds a comfy spot

Portia finds a comfy spot courtesy of a visitor’s suitcase

May is National Pet Month. As the owners of six (yes six!) cats we’re pet lovers at our house. We also like dogs, but I’m highly allergic, so we stick with cats, to which I’m just a little allergic. I love cats that much. We call them the pettie pets.

While it’s not always easy to have a pet in retirement, especially if you are a frequent traveler, it is well worth the effort to add one of these companions to your life. Like humans, what they really want is love and care. In return they give us love and care.

I wake every morning to a dark gray tabby named Portia greeting me with a soft “mrump mrump” as she butts my head and paws at my covers. She loves to have her hunches scratched. Then she snuggles in the crook of my arm as she purrs contentedly listening with perked ears for a certain sound from the kitchen. While this is going on Martin is letting the outdoor cats in from their night in the garage and preparing to feed everyone. The second he pops open a can of cat food, Portia leaps off the bed running to the kitchen. That’s the sound she waits for every morning.

According to Dr. Marty Becker of the American Humane Society, “Dogs and cats have broken down the walls of our hearts. There haven’t been comparable domesticated species in 5,000 years. When you’re petting them, you both get this massive release of oxytocin, prolactin, dopamine, and a decrease in cortisol. It’s a reciprocal biochemical spa treatment.” (quoted from the article on 11 Ways To Be The Best Pet Owner).

This is just one of the benefits of having a pet. I’ve known for a long time that petting a cat or dog can lower your blood pressure. Having a companion at any age that is a de-stressor is beneficial. Anyone who has been reading this blog knows I also call our cats the Zen Masters for their calm attitude and calming influence.

Trio likes the tubes

Trio likes the tubes

Since loneliness is one of the potential scourges of aging, it may be a plus to add a furry companion as we age. When I come home, the three indoor cats come out of their hiding places to welcome me. Out in the garden, the outside cats show up to laze around under a bush or soak up the sun on a path as they watch me work. In return for belly rubs and scratching under the chin (known at our house as chiny-chin) , I enjoy more head butts, kneading and purring from my loving companions.

Oftentimes, retirees miss the daily structure work provided. Owning a pet can replace some of structure you lost when you gave up your job. We’ve found it takes no time at all for our cats to adapt to a routine. And they have an internal clock that is spot on. Every morning at precisely 6:30 a.m. our diluted orange named Carmen is at the door with our wake up meow. Occasionally, she tests the waters with an earlier weak little mew. Otherwise, she knows what time to get us out of bed. They also know when it’s snack time, dinner time, time for an outside walk. Pets have our number. And our hearts.

Carmen sporting pink nail covers so she won't scratch the furniture

Carmen sporting pink nail covers so she won’t scratch the furniture

While cats aren’t usually pets to put on a leash and take for a walk, owning a dog can help keep you in shape. If you tend to be sedentary, your dog won’t let you make excuses for staying on the couch. I’ve known dogs who got their leash between their teeth and brought it to their owner with a ‘it’s time to get up and out and walk me’ look in their eyes. Fido can be a very good exercise coach. He or she may even help you meet some people.

There are many reasons to own a pet. We never expected to have six cats _ sounds a little like having kids, but two were planned, the other four just showed up at our house. Our cats are a lot of work and an extra expense, but they are also a source of great joy. They put smiles on our faces. And that alone is a great reason to have pets.

If You Want To Live Long, Have Friends

The winding river of friendship

The winding river of friendship

On Thursday this week I met my friend, Paulette at her house. We were going to Asheville for the day. While we made a tour of her gardens so her papillon, Puck, could take a bathroom break before our departure, we chatted about the plants. Garden lovers both, we easily slip into harmony over the subject no matter where we are.

After settling Puck for the day, Paulette winded us through the twisting curves of the Blue Ridge foothills up Route 9 past Lake Lure, through Chimney Rock and Black Mountain to Asheville. We talked about the scenery, the towns, the unusual story of Lake Lure, family, our writing and art, classes we’re taking and anything else that came to mind. It was a beautiful day in one of the most beautiful areas of the country and we enjoyed the lazy drive, seeing few other cars, as well as each other’s company.

Last week I wrote a paragraph or two about the Rochester University Medical Center findings on the health benefits of friendship. Intrigued by the idea that friends can add not only enjoyment to your life but also longevity, I decided to write this week’s post on friendship. While the importance of having friends and strong social ties is recognized as a health benefit, it is the why and how of the causation which apparently needs more research. But, we do know that having friends leads to a longer life.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve met with several friends, some only my friends, some other couples Martin and I both enjoy spending time with. Some are long time friends I’ve known for years. Others are recently or still developing friendships. Unlike family, which comes as part of the package of birth or marriage, friends are chosen by you and by them. But, friendships don’t just happen. They take time and effort. Yes, effort.

Recently, a longtime friend of Martin’s, moved to South Carolina. Still a few hours away, he flew his small plane into a local airfield where we picked him up for a visit at our house. Although we hadn’t seen him in nearly thirty-four years, we talked easily, the years melting away. We lived our lives hundreds of miles and many states apart. But, we’d kept in touch over the years, continuing to nurture the original friendship, making the effort. Happenstance has brought us together again with the effort paying dividends.

As I’ve aged, I’ve found I have fewer friends. It’s less about quantity and more about quality. When I was younger and in school, there were school friends. Then, when I was working, there were work friendships. When my daughters were in school, there were friendships with parents of my kids’ friends. I had a lot of friends. And, I still have friends from those days, the quality friendships that lasted. These friendships were built on other commonalities as well _ a shared sense of humor, similar political, moral, ethical and spiritual views, hobbies or activities and lifestyles.

Aside from someone to spend time with, friends validate us, our lifestyle, beliefs, activities. Most of my friends also write or garden or do some type of art, drawing or painting. Some do all three, which makes for a deeper friendship _ all the more to talk about. And, talking is important. It’s how we get to know each other on a deeper level. It’s how we form an intense connection resulting in friendship.

Friends are not just acquaintances. I know a woman who uses the term loosely, referring to everyone she meets as a friend. Chatting at the grocery store with the clerk checking you out does not a friendship make. I was once in a situation where someone with whom I was doing business over the phone called me her friend during many discussions. I had never met this woman. Even when we finally did meet, we finished our business arrangement, and I never saw her again. I was her client, not her friend.

Friends are people you spend time with, a lot of time. Friends are people with whom you have much in common. Friends are people who validate you, support you and make your life enjoyable. Friends are your confidante as well as giving you a feeling of confidence. Friends are not ships passing in the night. They are the ones who pull into the harbor with you and moor there for a long while. There is a bond, perhaps for life, a longer life.

What’s Your Relationship With Money?


Last year at a home and garden show, as I walked through an RV on display, a sales rep started his pitch to get me to buy one.

I laughed, saying, “Only if I want to be a bag lady when I’m ninety and I don’t.”

He said, “Well, that’s a pretty funny answer. Don’t think I’ve heard that one before.”

Though I’m the one who made the joke, in truth, I didn’t see anything funny about it. While I have enough money to be comfortable in retirement, doing some fun things on this part of my journey, I don’t have enough for frivolity on a big-ticket item, especially one which will depreciate with time.

We all know money does not buy retirement happiness anymore than it buys happiness at any other time in our lives. But, it sure does help. When I talk to most retirees about money, their largest concern is outliving their money. I certainly get that.

All of us have emotional buttons when it comes to money _ negative ones like jealousy, fear, depression, anxiety, even anger or positive ones like stability, empowerment, enjoyment. Whether or not we have money in retirement or the money to retire in the first place probably depends upon our relationship with money over our lifetime thus far. Yes, we all have a relationship with money.

My relationship with money has a checkered past. I grew up in a household without a lot of money, one of the reasons I like a fully stocked pantry. It’s a security blanket for me. So is having money in reserve. But, I didn’t learn that until after a lot of years in banking watching and listening to a lot of people about their relationships with money.

Referring to that relationship, Will Smith once said, “Too many people spend money they have not earned to buy things they do not want to impress people they do not like.”

Ain’t that the truth! Impressing the neighbors, friends and family, complete strangers, keeping up with the Joneses? Retirement or nearing retirement is not a time to continue any unhealthy relationships with money. If you haven’t figured it out already, now is the time to zero in on your emotional relationship with money, so it doesn’t derail your retirement or plans to retire.

Fortunately, along with my banking lessons, I had mentors, who had money, who talked to their employees about money.  I came to understand that money is nothing more than a tool in life. It costs money to live and it makes life easier, but it is not the money which brings happiness. That comes from having a good family, good friends, good health, a spiritual connection and, of course, meaning and purpose for your life. Money is simply the tool, which can keep that good life humming along.

The flip side of spending, spending, spending is hoarding money. If you are not spending on something you truly, truly would enjoy, not because you don’t have the money, but because you are afraid to spend the money, that can also show a problematic relationship. Striking a balance between the two extremes yields a healthier relationship with money as well as life itself. We also want to have some retirement fun!

Martin and I still have a budget AND we still give ourselves an allowance. We still call it our “blow money” meaning we can blow it on whatever we want, no holds barred, no negative comments from the other about what it was spent on. The feelings of empowerment and enjoyment derived from this freedom while maintaining our financial stability should not be underrated.

I worked hard to reach my retirement goal. The reason I strived to save enough to retire is so I wouldn’t have to work to pay for a roof over my head or food on the table. Money is the tool that gave me the freedom to do what I want with my days. Finding meaning and purpose in my life has had more impact on my happiness in retirement than any amount of money.

My feeling of security derived from having money in reserve is a positive emotion about money. Had I purchased the RV, jeopardizing my future security, I undoubtedly would have felt negative emotions _ angry with myself, depressed, fearful. Understanding why we are spending money or not spending it, what emotions the spending triggers in us, goes a long way in helping us make informed and, hopefully, wise choices in retirement.

Mandelbrot And Me


Fractals in nature

Fractals in nature

When I returned to college in my mid-forties to finish earning my bachelor’s degree, I knew my biggest challenge wasn’t going to be my age. It was math. Never good at math, I dreaded the one additional class standing between me and that degree. So, I decided to take math the first semester. Get it out of the way.

However, on the first exam, everything seemed, as always, to just fly out of my head. When my professor handed me the graded exam, alongside the F at the top was a note to come to her office.

“What happened?” She asked. “You did well on the homework.”

“I clinched. That was my first exam in twenty-five years.”

During our discussion, where she learned my forte is English and writing, she told me I’d have a chance to make up for the failed grade later in the semester with a paper on a mathematician.

When the time came, the professor arbitrarily assigned each student a different mathematician. No two of us had the same person. Our mission was to explore the mathematician’s life and how their math contribution applied to our everyday life. My guy was one Benoit Mandelbrot.

Armed with enthusiasm and curiosity, I sifted through the offerings at Michigan State’s huge main library. About all I could find on Mandelbrot was a reference to fractals, a type of art based upon his formulas. Frustrated, I turned to the still-in-its infancy internet. A search gleaned a mere page about fractals.

On a sunny February Saturday, Martin accompanied me to the Math Library at MSU to continue my search. There, I found a few worn, tattered books written by Mandelbrot. Leafing through his math theories I managed to figure out he was all about chaos geometry. But, aside from the mathematical formulas, I found nothing else. I also couldn’t imagine what this contributed to my everyday life.

As we walked down the steps of the Math Library into the cold sunlight, I asked myself how someone who is supposedly such a great mathematician has nothing written about them. Suddenly, I stopped, did an about face, heading back up the steps.

“Where are you going?” Martin asked as I raced up to the door.

“He’s alive!” I cried over my shoulder.

Inside, I pulled one of his math books from the stacks, opening it to the copyright page. There it was _ B. 1924 followed by a dash, then nothing. No date of death.  An oh-so-brief notation said he worked for IBM. I knew there was an IBM facility at Johnson City, NY.

When I told my professor I’m going to call Mandelbrot, she said, “Don’t expect much. I hear he’s a snob. He probably won’t even take your call.”

Ignoring her discouraging remark, Monday afternoon I called information. But, dialing the number for IBM, I wondered if he was even still there. Maybe my teacher’s right and he won’t take my call. Maybe I won’t be able to get past an assistant or secretary or whoever is the gatekeeper. Maybe this is just lofty thinking. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

Now a receptionist greeted me. “IBM, how may I direct your call?” I gave her his name. She says he’s at the Ossining facility and tells me to hold while she connects me.

I can hear my heart beating in my ears. My mouth is suddenly dry. Then I hear the Polish accent.

“Dr. Mandelbrot here.”

I am now on the phone with one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century.

We’ve all been in situations during our lifetime where we think we can do something, but someone else is standing in the wings to discourage us. Whenever that happens in my life, I think of Mandelbrot and me.

Though there are many other instances in my life when I went my own way despite the naysayers, this is one which always stands out for me. Perhaps it’s because I was in a learning environment and teachers are supposed to encourage, not discourage. So, this is also always the very instance I remember when I need to catch myself from discouraging another. Especially someone very young who has yet to experience a Mandelbrot and me moment to add to their arsenal of self-confidence.

As aged adults we have many experiences, and hopefully wisdom, to pass on to younger generations. Having an older, wiser adult encouraging them to follow their dreams, to believe in their instincts is a key component to building self-confidence. A good dose of self-confidence leads to success. Does everything always work out the way we want or expect? No, sometimes, it’s even better.

After I got over my surprise at Mandelbrot answering his phone that day, I learned his secretary had a doctor’s appointment. What luck! He not only talked openly with me, but gave me his email address, asked for mine as well as my home address, where he sent me copies of numerous articles about his life and contributions to the world. Over the next couple of weeks I interviewed him for additional information and exchanged many emails. This man was no snob.

One of the other reasons I always think of Mandelbrot when someone discourages me or I’m tempted to discourage, is because he was an outlier. Shunned for decades by the mathematical establishment as wasting his time on chaos geometry, he went on with his work, believing in his theories. IBM obviously believed in them, too. As computers became faster and faster with calculating the data, the relevancy of his work became apparent. He eventually walked into a mathematical conference to a standing ovation.

So, what did he contribute to our everyday lives? Mandelbrot’s formulas are used in medicine, financial markets, geology, astronomy, engineering, graphics and, oh yes, art. It’s used in the maps you look at, in the prescription you took this morning, in the forecasts of the stock market, in the movie you watched last night. There is hardly a person on the planet who has not been touched by this man’s work, work he refused to be discouraged from doing.

As for me? After asking my permission, my professor read my A paper out loud to the class, citing it as the best paper she ever received from a student. She apologized for discouraging me from calling Mandelbrot. I finished the class with a respectable B average. More importantly, I learned not to discourage others from following their heart and I learned to dance more often to the beat of my own drum.

In Order To Keep Them…

As the eighty year old woman standing in front of me related the problems she had with her fifty-six year old daughter, I bet myself this woman didn’t think of herself as an interfering parent. The woman lamented her daughter’s two marriages and subsequent divorces, her dead-end (in her eyes) job and the daughter’s lack of regular communication with her.

“If she would just do what I tell her,” the woman complained, “I know she’d be a lot better off than she is. But she doesn’t even answer my calls.”

I looked at the woman and said, “In order to keep them, you have to let them go.”

“What? I don’t know what you mean.”

I repeated. “In order to keep them, you have to let them go.”

Even after delivering a lengthy explanation of what I meant, the woman refused to believe she was _ you guessed it _ an interfering parent. At eighty, still trying to tell a fifty-six year old how to live her life, one might think she is an aberration. But, frankly, she reminded me of my mother, who was still trying to parent me at eighty and thought I should still be parenting my then twenty-seven year old daughter.

As the mother of two adult daughters I came up with my saying of “in order to keep them, you have to let them go” in answer to my mother’s over reach as a parent. While I love my daughters, sometimes worry about my daughters and give advice if asked, I decided that once they were adults, I was letting them go. And, while I loved my mother, our relationship was strained and that was on the good days. When she died at ninety, she was still criticizing my adult decisions. I did not want that kind of relationship with my daughters.

It was, and still is, my experience that parents who insist on continuing to tell their offspring how to live their lives often ended up with a strained relationship. And, sometimes the well-meaning parent helped create the very mess of a life their offspring lives.

I remember one mother bragging warmly about how she spoiled her seventeen year old son, making him a sandwich while he continued to lay on the sofa watching sports. She did his laundry and picked up his room. She and her husband provided him with a nice allowance and a car even though he did no chores around the house or held a job. “We want him to enjoy being young,” she said. Six years later she couldn’t understand why he dropped out of college, made no effort to find a job and laid around on the sofa watching TV all day while bumming money off his parents to go out with his buddies at night. Protecting your child from life’s responsibilities and hard knocks does not prepare them for a life of independence.

Perhaps worse yet is the parent who continues treating their child like a child long after the child has successfully flown the nest. I’ve known many parents who decide their adult children are all going to be best friends throughout life, even expecting daughter or son-in-laws to all be on best friend terms. While I’ve heard of this happening, most families may continue to get along but the idea that your sons or daughters spouses are all going to mesh to the point of best friends forever, is a pressure few relationships can withstand. After all, we come from different family cultures with different life views. Your children’s spouses came with their own set of friends and family. Respecting that boundary will go a long way in nourishing a healthy relationship with your children, not to mention your in-laws.

I’ve watched as these same parents expect every holiday to be held at their house, totally dismissing the fact that their children’s spouses also have families. When I questioned one mother about the wisdom of this need on her part, she said, “I want all my children with me just like it was when they were kids.”

Well, they are no longer kids. Adults work out their own holiday schedule. This is about recognizing that your children now have boundaries like any other adult in your life. This is about respecting their boundaries. This is about treating them like adults instead of like children. This is about transitioning to an adult relationship.

My dear mother’s over reach with parenting left her bemoaning the fact that Martin and I were moving to South Carolina and not taking our twenty-seven year old with us. “How can you go and leave her behind?” She asked in an incredulous tone.

Your children do not belong to you like a piece of property. They’re not furniture or accessories. The idea of uprooting a mature woman with an independent life was absurd. But, my ever protective, ever shouldering any burden you may have mother always saw her over reach as just part of being a caring mother. She thought I was a derelict in that role. One of the reasons for our strained relationship, which brings me to another point. Foisting your beliefs about anything, parenting included, onto your adult children is nothing short of trying to continue to control their lives, albeit, perhaps, with good intentions.

I’m not a sociologist or psychologist so all the above is just my view from my experience over a lifetime _ way too many stories of mothers and fathers continuing to parent adult children. That said, I believe the best way to parent adult children is to let them fly the nest, set up their own shop and leave them to their own devices unless, of course, your opinion on their life decisions is asked. In order to keep them, you have to let them go.

Who Am I Now?

On January 3, 2013 I posted a blog entitled “Who Am I”. The post reflected my struggle to figure out who I was without my work identity.

At a recent social event Martin and I were asked the new acquaintance question of “What do you do?”

Martin looked at the questioner and said, “We’re retired.”

In 2013 I realized that what I did to make money wasn’t who I am. And, three years into it, I know retired isn’t who I am either. Retired is nothing more than a description of my social status.

According to the Huffington Post, Laura Carstensen of the Stanford Center on Longevity said, “Older people today are like pioneers of a new life stage, trying to find their way.” I believe the answer to who I am lies in Carstensen’s statement. As you can tell in the pages of this blog, finding my way has taken up a lot of thought space. I not only think about it and write about it, I read a lot about it.

Filling out forms during the last three years, mainly in doctors’ offices and colleges offering continuing education courses, I’ve filled in the occupation slot with the word retired. After the evening when our new acquaintance asked the usual question, I hesitated over such a form. If retired is my social status, who am I? Staring at it, I realized I carry business cards with me saying I’m a writer/blogger. Should I put that in the slot for occupation?

Yes. As a description for how I occupy my time, the answer is I’m a writer/blogger. However, from a philosophical view, I’m not a writer/blogger either. That’s just another label to describe what I do with my time. The reality is I am who I have always been _ an experiencer of life.

While life experiencer may not be an answer I’d give to someone at the next party I attend _ although it may liven the conversation _ it sums up who we all are at the end of day. We are all going through life at every stage, whether it’s paid work or not, just trying to find our way. We are experiencing life. We may all be pioneers at some stage, in any given circumstance.

Retirement is no different. Whether we write, garden, paint, cook, golf, travel, bicycle, take classes or we were an engineer, lawyer, banker, teacher, medical, office or manufacturing worker or whatever, we are all travelers through time separately and together.

Who I am is changed from who I was three years ago when I wrote the first post, the same as who I was then had changed from my previous working self. Identities, labels, names, titles will continue to change as I experience life at this stage of my journey through time. This, of course, is why I believe retirement is a journey, not a destination. Life is a journey. Retirement is simply a continuation of your life’s journey. How you live it and who you are at any given time is up to you.

Stop Caring About What Others Think

A few months ago I saw a bright pink plastic rabbit head ring on the finger of a woman I recently met. Obviously, full of life and living her life her way, she also sported the dark red hair of the unorthodox among our younger generations. The ring looked like something my five year old granddaughter, Sophie, would be wearing _ not someone in my age group. “I love your ring.” I said. “Thanks. I’m not dead.” She replied. I laughed and told her, “That’s what I tell people who think I’m a little out there these days. I’m old; I’m not dead!” In return, she said, “I’ll believe it when you dye your hair purple.” While I haven’t taken up her challenge and most probably won’t, I instantly admired this woman for her courage to be herself.

All of us are concerned with what other people think of us, even if we don’t consciously acknowledge that concern. How we act, what we say, how we dress are all tied up in the human desire to belong. Most of us want to be accepted and liked by others. Part of that want is our survival instinct. Long, long ago when our ancestors depended upon the tribe for safety and food, humans conformed to ensure the tribe continued to accept them.

Fast forward to our modern times and our modern retirement. After leaving our work tribe behind, comes an opportunity to be less concerned about what other people think of us. An article in Huff Post/50 about Dick Van Dyke turning 90, quoted the actor as saying, “As you get older you care less and less about what people think.”

When I was younger, I was concerned about how I dressed and what came out of my mouth, especially at work. I wore lots of grey, beige, black and navy suits _ conservative for the conservative industry in which I worked. I called myself a little brown bird trying to blend into the forest. I was concerned with conforming and fitting in. Van Dyke’s statement hit home with me as I realized how much I’ve changed since retiring. This bird is free and flying!

Retirement can be a time of self-actualization, of freedom to say and do what we want, a time of creativity. While we still need to act with a certain amount of decorum in order to glue our society together, the way we dress, the people with whom we socialize and what we do with our time is entirely up to us. We choose how we engage.

Someone once told me, “What other people think of me is none of my business.” This interesting little twist on perspective is freeing, no matter what your stage of life. Even though I often told people trying to force feed me their advice, “No one knows what’s best for Kathy like Kathy,” I also often worried about coming off as rude or arrogant. After all, and this holds especially true for women, we were taught as children to play nice and get along.  Being a ‘nice girl’, or boy, all the time can rob you of being yourself. Experience taught me to follow my personal drum beat to a certain extent, but survival in the corporate jungle was still my priority. Age and retirement has given me the gift of not caring who thinks what about my life.

It takes courage at any age to follow your heart and mind but the reward is living a fuller life, living your life, not someone else’s life. Life is entirely too short not to be true to yourself. Once I left the world of work, a shift in my outlook began. I didn’t stop caring about my appearance but I did stop caring about what someone else thought of it. I also speak my mind more freely and just shrug off any raised eyebrows.

In retirement I am more my authentic self than at any other time except, perhaps, childhood. Maybe that’s what retirement is _ a second childhood. I freed myself from the constraints of what others think of me. Instead of looking at what the outside world thinks of what I do and say, I’m looking inside myself. The only person you can ever please fully and unconditionally is yourself. You will never please all of the people all of the time. So, don’t even bother trying. If, like me, you spent time thinking about what others think of you, stop. This is your time. Take it without guilt. Fly, little bird, fly!

Just for fun!

Just for fun!

On second thought, maybe I will add just a little streak of purple to my hair.

How To Stay Positive With Negative People

Aging, it seems, brings out the negativity in certain people. We all deal with negative people from time to time during our lives. When we leave the workplace, we at least leave any of the negative types from our work life behind. I’ve recommended putting any other negative types out of your retirement life, but that’s easier said than done.

It’s difficult to expel a parent, long time friend, sibling or the person you’re sleeping with. Depending on how someone views the aging experience, negativity can surface even in those who once lived life with a positive attitude. For example, their world view may become one of calamity today as they long for the good old days. Their perception of the past is one seen through the proverbial rose-colored glasses _ time has muted their memory leaving only the good times. Or, and this is the one, which grates on my nerves, they start mouthing statements such as, “You can’t do that anymore. You’re getting old you know. You have to slow down. You’re not as young as you used to be.” I recently had a young sixty-four year old tell me they couldn’t get out and walk every day because they were old! Arrrrrgh!!!

So, what do you do about the nerve grating negativity? Well, first, take responsibility for your positivity. While the negative person may grate on your nerves, the extent to which you allow that to happen is up to you. Counteract their negative effect by taking steps to increase your positivity. Cultivate your optimism.

Years ago I started keeping a gratitude journal after watching an Oprah show. I first listed all the things _ activities, people, places, ideas _ in my life for which I was thankful. They were as simple as a beautiful sunrise or my garden receiving enough rain. I wrote in the journal each night before going to bed. Not only did it help me sleep better as it gave me a feeling of peace, this ritual added to my optimism each day as I made mental notes of items to write in my journal.

As a former news junkie, I can tell you we are bombarded by the media with negative news. Negative sells! So, another step I took was eliminating the newspaper delivery, thus limiting my exposure to the local murder and mayhem. Then, I limited myself to thirty minutes of TV news, if that, a day. Many days I don’t watch it at all. Very rarely do I miss anything that makes a difference in my life. Getting caught up in the world trauma can create fear-based anxiety. While we want to be informed, we don’t want to be inundated. Fill your brain with positive thoughts, readings and encounters with other optimistic people. Try it. You’ll sleep better for it.

Fear is often the basis for the negative person’s pessimism. Fear about world events, fear about aging and declining abilities, fear surrounding financial independence and on and on. Our very impermanence is unsettling to most. However, a Yale University study found that people with a positive view of aging live an average of 7.5 years longer than people with negative views. Don’t get sucked in by fear. It’s important to hold on to your optimism!

We all have negative events in our lives _ all of us. This last year was a tough one for my family. I experienced more than a few moments of negativity. I’m grateful for the friends and family who listened to my ramblings with patience. Here’s where a little compassion on your part comes in, both for the negative people you encounter as well as yourself.

This past autumn I took a class at the Osher Lifelong Learning Center at Furman University on living compassionately. Our instructor, Sandy Brown, taught us the tenets of loving kindness based on Buddhist philosophy. The thought of showing loving kindness toward someone engaging in negativity appealed to me. The appeal is actually seated in my own selfishness. It helped me let go of my negativity toward negative situations and people. I use the following prayer often, saying it mentally, but sending the thought toward the person who would otherwise be driving me nuts! It prevents me from expressing out loud how their negativity is, yes, grating on my nerves, which would only make the situation with them all the more difficult. And, drag me down into their negative spiral. Saying this simple prayer triggers acceptance of ‘it is what it is’. I’m becoming more patient, an attribute which often eludes me. With patience comes serenity. Try sending this thought yourself:

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

Think of actions you can take in your life to increase your positive attitude in the face of negative people. By cultivating your optimism and practicing positivity, you may very well change the negative person’s outlook on life. If you stay mentally up, refusing to be dragged down into the depths of their despair, they will have their moment to vent, get it off their chest and then, maybe, join you in your positive views. If they don’t, well, at least your efforts will ensure you still have your sanity. You can walk away from the engagement with a smile on your face. No, you can’t put all the negative people out of your life, even in retirement. But, you can preserve your aging experience with optimism.


This is not the type of article I usually write. For some, it may be a little controversial. That’s O.K. – this is just my thought and perspective – comments from my readers are always welcome. I find as I age, I am less interested in ideology and more interested in spirituality. I feel a shift in my world view. Globally, we are facing humanitarian crisis after crisis of gargantuan proportions. Yet, once again, it has started – the continued arguments over the term ‘Happy Holidays’. The articles, news comments, Facebook posts and even political candidates weighing in on what, for some, is apparently a controversy. Last year I had someone say to me, “I hate Happy Holidays!” I asked myself, “How is it that someone is using the word hate in this season of peace, love and joy? And, is so indignant over something so small?” Consequently, I decided this year to weigh in myself in an attempt to give a different perspective. Considering how the world is currently ripping apart at the seams, filled with war, terrorism, hunger, homelessness and on and on and on, in this season of giving thanks, this season of peace, this season of love, I offer these thoughts.

The use of the term Happy Holidays is not a recent occurrence. As a child in the 1950s and 60s, I remember my Mother often used the greeting Happy Holidays. My Mother sometimes worked at one of the local stores during the Holiday Season, which in the United States, started around Thanksgiving. In those days, we were a country primarily of Christians. If, like my Mother, you worked at a store starting around Thanksgiving, can you imagine the clerks saying, “Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Hanukah, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,” before handing you your package and receipt. Instead, they said, “Happy Holidays.” From my point of view, and I was a child at the time so I could be totally off kilter on this one, but it seems to me Happy Holidays was a wish of inclusion. Heck, when I was a kid, Andy Williams sang a popular song, ‘Happy Holiday’, which was originally sung by Bing Crosby in 1942 and written by Irving Berlin in 1941. To me, it is still a Christmas song I listen to at Christmas. But, it could be a song for any of the other celebrations during the Holiday Season, as well. So, Happy Holidays was used way before I was born! Yet, some people take offense at its use like it’s a recent occurrence designed to be a war on Christmas.

I don’t remember any controversy over the use of the term Happy Holidays when I was a child. So, why in recent years has it become such an issue for some people? Perhaps it is because in the 1950s and 1960s, Christians were pretty much in the majority, at least in the United States. I can’t speak for the rest of the world. But in our modern times, we live in a much more pluralistic nation and for that matter, many other countries are also more diverse. Today, a store clerk would have to add Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Winter Solstice and, a new one I recently heard, Happy HumanLight. If we are a diverse people, a welcoming people, a people wanting to include rather than exclude, than Happy Holidays recognizes our diversity, it welcomes someone regardless of their faith or even if they don’t have one. It includes everyone. If I know someone is a Christian, I say, “Merry Christmas.” If I know someone is Jewish, I say, “Happy Hanukkah.” And, so on. To me, that is just common courtesy. As a Christian, I am not offended if someone says, “Happy Holidays” to me. It is all inclusive, welcoming and courteous. I recognize the person most likely has no idea what my affiliation is but is still showing me common courtesy with a wish for a Happy Holiday. I don’t expect everyone on the planet to be like me and I wouldn’t want that. I celebrate our diversity as human beings. It’s about acceptance of differences and not making this all about me or my faith.

This season is not about us individually. It is not about self-righteous indignation. It is not about what we like or dislike. It is not about what we believe in or don’t believe in. It is not about creating still more us vs. them situations. It is not about red cups or whether a retailer or someone on the streets says Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. We certainly have larger worries as a world. We are all connected as a world. When one suffers, we all suffer. And there is already way too much suffering. In this season of love, peace and joy, let us put aside the minutiae and accept each other regardless of how we celebrate the season. Let us give thanks for our diversity and that we have the ability to make the world a better place. Let us truly make this a season of love, peace and joy.

I leave you with the Buddhist prayer of loving kindness:

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

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