As a young woman I worked for a bank in a branch office. Prior to opening each morning, the teller assigned to the task, went through the newspaper obituaries. If any of our customers was reported deceased, the teller placed a hold on their accounts, including joint accounts, and sealed their safe deposit box. Sometimes, even people with a Last Will and Testament, left their relatives in a bind when the only place that held a copy of the will was the sealed safe deposit box. Waiting for a probate judge’s order to open the box takes time and costs money. Anytime you have to go to court for anything, you should see dollar signs. However, many people did no planning at all, dying intestate, meaning without a will. We had a saying at the bank, “If you don’t have a will, the state has one for you.” You may intend for all your worldly possessions to go to your spouse but, depending on the state where you live, without a will, state law may dictate your estate is split evenly among your spouse and children, no matter what the age of the children. Don’t assume your children will do the right thing by mom or dad and give the money back to the surviving spouse. And with probate courts inundated with cases, an attorney recently told me it can take up to a year for an estate with a will to get through probate. This is reality, folks.

We all know someone who died suddenly, perhaps from a heart attack or car accident. Yet, most of us put off estate planning thinking, “We’ll get to it later.” Yes, we all do it. Even me. Despite all the life lessons from my banking days, until recently, I had not updated my will for years. No one wants to think about dying. We are a frail type, we humans, who don’t want to face our mortality. We like to think we always have more time. We fool ourselves into thinking, ‘later’ will always be there for us. The heart attack or car accident isn’t the way we will go. Oh no, not us. The truth is we have no idea the day, the hour, the minute or the how. My dad used to joke about it saying, “Something’s gonna get ya. Nobody gets out alive.” Then, he’d laugh at his own joke. Fortunately, both he and my mother left a plan, allowing we children to grieve instead of wending our way through the overwhelming task of trying to figure out what they wanted in the way of funeral arrangements or how to pay for them. There’s enough to decide even with a will. Without a road map, it’s really stressful. That’s how family squabbles happen. And, who wants that to be their legacy?

Give the gift of a will

Give the gift of a will

End of life planning is complicated these days. In South Carolina, where I live, probate court can be avoided by having a trust agreement, rather than just a will. Then, there are revocable trusts and irrevocable trusts. And, just in case you forgot some old account someplace or another, a will can be embedded into the trust. This isn’t an ad for attorneys, but, the truth of the matter is, you probably need one to advise you on what is best for your circumstance in the state in which you live. Just in case that isn’t enough to think about, matters are further complicated by the need for Powers of Attorney for both health care and financial management. These documents cover any eventuality where you become unable to make your own decisions regarding your health and money management. Since each document is separate from the other, the health care attorney-in-fact doesn’t necessarily have to be the same person as the financial attorney-in-fact. Before naming someone to either of these positions, be sure to discuss your decision with that person asking them for their agreement to accept the task. Nobody likes surprises. This is serious business, so cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s. You may also be asked to name alternates because, as we know, stuff happens, and your primary may become deceased or incapacitated themselves, rendering them incapable of carrying out the task. Your attorney will most likely ask you to name a runner up, or two. Whew!

Although this is a serious subject requiring serious consideration, action and, let’s not forget, money, it is the best gift you can give to your survivors. Despite my feet dragging on the matter of updating my planning, the big lesson – well one of them – I learned in life is this. If you don’t make a decision and take action, time and circumstance will make the decision for you and you may not like the outcome. To that, someone said to me about making a will, “What do I care? I’ll be gone!” If you care about your survivors, whether spouse, children, siblings, significant others or grandchildren, give them the gift of not having to squabble over your health care, funeral arrangements and money. Give them the gift of being able to just grieve without worry about the details because you left a detailed plan. And, one last thing – no excuses – dreary as it is, there’s no time like the present to create your plan.


A couple of weeks ago, Martin and I celebrated our fortieth anniversary. What does one say about such a milestone? I thought hard about this one. All the things we did. All the things we learned. Forty years of better and some worse. Not much sickness yet; mainly good health. As for richer or poorer, we scraped the bottom of the barrel some years and rode the wave of plenty in others. We certainly experienced the ups and downs of life and a committed relationship. Having read lots of ‘what I learned in forty years of marriage’ type posts, I decided against listing all the lessons. Mainly because I didn’t want to bore my readers but, also, because, to me, there is one big lesson. And, the big lesson covers a lot of territory.

We are nowhere near the same people we were in 1975, young, idealistic, starry-eyed about our future and each other. 1975 was, by all accounts, a year when our societal norms were different from even ten years before. Wannabe hippies, we married in a meadow, mowed, of course, on my parents 125 acres in a tiny hamlet in upstate New York. Cow country, I call it. Escaping the normal retirement trends of the day, my parents sold their suburban New Jersey home, bought the acreage with a barn and built a log cabin on a hillside overlooking Columbus, NY. For Martin and me, this setting appealed to our hippie tendencies of matching beads, long hair and a tad bit new age. This is where we chose to be married. Our nuptials were performed by an Episcopalian priest, H. Alan Smith, who, much to our liking, walked around town in a white t-shirt and blue jean overalls, sporting a beard and mustache. John Ludington, who worked with me and moonlighted weekends as a singer, songwriter, guitarist, performed songs like ‘Time In A Bottle’, ‘Annie’s Song’ and ‘The Wedding Song’. Our oldest daughter, three at the time, filled the role of flower girl. What I envisioned as a warm, sunny June day, was, instead, cold, with light rain misting on the meadow. Stuck in traffic getting out of Syracuse, H. Alan was twenty minutes late in arriving. Thinking my minister stood me up at the altar, my tear stained face stayed that way as I cried throughout my own wedding. After a reception of family and close friends, Martin and I went to our apartment. We took the week off from work, bought bicycles with the cash wedding gifts and that was our honeymoon.

Our Wedding Invitation

Our Wedding Invitation

From this rather unconventional start to our marriage, we developed a rather unconventional relationship. No, no, no. Get your mind out of the gutter. We didn’t become swingers or open marriage or anything really out there. It goes something like this. The only one in the family with a stable job on that cold, rainy day was me. Martin worked a temporary full-time job with the county. Did I mention I worked in banking, as a teller? Yes, I worked in a conservative industry. It was not long before I ditched my short skirts, beads and crazy shoes for a more conservative look as I applied for the bank’s management training program. I was the last person without a four year degree to land a slot in the program. Martin eventually shaved off his mustache, got a proper haircut and a permanent job before going on to earn a four year degree. We built our first house, acting as the general contractor, as well as putting up drywall after stuffing in insulation, laying the hardwood floors after putting in the subfloor and doing whatever else we could do with our four hands. Eventually, I got a bachelors myself. I was the main breadwinner for half our marriage and Martin took over for the second half. As a result of all our maneuvering in life, the relationship we developed is more of a mutual support system with both of us pitching in with the kids, cooking, cleaning, laundry, yard work and repairs. As the years went on and on and on, we figured out who carried which strength and let that person run with that particular ball.

Matching Beads

Matching Beads

Recently, in a class at Furman University OLLI, the instructor mentioned how women are more attached to the house and home, while men are drawn to the yard and spaces outside the home. Of course, me, with my chainsaw and all, begged to differ. This idea was further discussed when one of my classmates came for dinner at our house. As Martin cooked a scrumptious shrimp scampi, she and I sat in the kitchen sipping wine after a tour of my garden. We talked about how Martin and I both have specialties around the house, including meals we make. While Martin’s Mr. Fix-It, changing out the kitchen faucet or working on our tractor, he is also likely to paint a pair of side tables for the great room or want to change out drapes in the dining room. As the one who plans, plants and maintains the gardens, I care less about interior decor. Knick knacks bring on hyperventilation as I think about all the dusting. I do most of the clearing of the underbrush on our property, Martin following with the bush hog to grind it down. Like I said, we each have our strengths. Since most people seem curious about how we came to this arrangement, I guess we operate differently from most couples.

After forty years, we just do what we do, naturally, without question, as a team. That didn’t come easy. We grew at different rates, at different paces, at different times. We experienced our share of wrangling. It was years into our marriage before I realized I married a renaissance man and just how fortunate that made me. Forty years of pinnacles and peaks, along with long days and nights in the valleys. Somehow we made it. And, that’s where the real lesson lies. Only one in my book. Not forty. Not a string of I learned this and that. As with everything else in our lives, we learned to accept change. We learned to accept change and growth in each other. We learned we are not the same people we were in 1975 but a matured, developed, personally stretched version of those people. We learned to roll with the punches, taking flexibility and sometimes patience to a new level, at least for us. Difficult at times, we each learned to adapt to the person, our partner, friend, lover, who came out on the other side of individual growth spurts. And, through it all, we stuck by each other with love and commitment and faith that we, us, our union would prevail. And, it did.

In true Merlino tradition, we celebrated our forty years, not with a trip to Italy or any other far off destination. Not with a big party with all the hoopla and family and friends. Not with any of that. Instead, we went an hour up the road to Asheville, NC, wandered through the River Arts District looking at good, great and bad art (my opinion), ate really cheap but really good fish tacos at The White Duck Taco Shop and spent the night in a cushy boutique hotel, where we ate a really expensive but really amazing dinner at The Red Stag Restaurant. There we lifted our glasses and toasted, just the two of us, as we wanted it, to another forty years.


After writing the last blog on technology, which garnered lots of comments (thank you!), a life is strange experience occurred a couple of days ago prompting more thoughts on technology. But, the real story is the part about humans, not machines. Working in the garden, cell phone clipped to my jeans, I receive a text from a friend on the other side of the country. “Kathy, are you free right now? I need a favor.” Since I’m rarely free from activity these days but always willing to drop whatever to help out a friend in need, I text back, “What do you need?” The story is a friend of my friend has passed away. The woman was estranged from her family and children. My friend is trying to locate the children to inform them of their mother’s passing. And, she needs a favor from me? How can I possibly help? My friend thinks she found her friend’s daughter on Facebook. Since my friend does not have a FB account (yes, I have friends who are not totally tied into the world of technology), can I send a message to her friend’s daughter asking the daughter to call my friend so my friend can impart the news of the mother’s passing (whew…are you still with me?…hope I’m writing this well enough to understand). Of course, I say, “Yes.”

Still standing in a sea of coreopsis and sunlight, I use my smart phone to pull up my Facebook account and plug in the daughter’s name. Glancing at her photo, she looks happy, not someone who is estranged from her mother, years and years of estrangement to the point of no one knowing where she is in the world. I try not to dwell too much on the photo. After all, I’m on a mission. But, my imagination and the tragedy of this situation tug at the edges of my mind. I imagine what may have broken their relationship to such extremes. Imagine a daughter, who is coming of age but still immature. Imagine she wants to be free of her mother’s supervision. Imagine a mother, worried her daughter might make mistakes, so she holds tighter and tighter while the daughter struggles harder and harder to be free. Imagine the mother, in desperation, becomes more controlling. Imagine the daughter does make mistakes and the mother can’t resist an “I told you so.” Imagine the daughter runs away, severs the relationship forever. There are probably a hundred more scenarios I can imagine. But, back to my mission. Right now I have to write a simple message. Not much information, one line should do it. I imagine how strange it will be for this daughter to receive my message, a message from a complete stranger in another state, asking her to call another complete stranger in yet another state who is a friend of her mother. I look at the picture again. She looks intelligent. She’ll read between the lines. But, will she care? Will she call? As I stand in my sea of flowers poking one letter at a time on the small screen of my phone, it occurs to me how strange and even wonderful it is that within minutes this daughter is found (hopefully it’s the daughter), my friend and I have communicated across thousands of miles and I am now sending a message to this woman. Life is strangely wonderful and at the same time, often cruel and unjust. There is a certain poignancy to this unfolding story.

Coreopsis At My Feet

Coreopsis At My Feet

After texting “Done” to my friend, I continue working and wondering if the daughter will call. How hard it must be for my friend to deliver such sad news, not knowing how it will be received. Or, if it will be received, waiting to see if the daughter ever calls at all. And, how tragic for this family torn apart for whatever reason to hear the news of a mother’s death, having no way now of making amends, if there is any regret. Within minutes, my friend sends another text announcing the daughter’s call to her. The daughter jumped right on it. She cared. Although I never met my friend’s friend or her daughter, I say a little prayer for these two women. They have unexpectedly touched my life, reminding me of what is important in my little world. I pray for inner peace and self-forgiveness for the daughter. I hope the mother’s spirit is at rest. Surely, there were times when each wanted to reach out to the other, to close the gap of silence, to speak and forgive. And, I say a prayer for my friend, for taking on the role of family and caring. As for me, my heart is heavy yet at the same time, very light. I smile at the sunny day and the sea of coreopsis at my feet. Somehow, I feel like I played a larger role in the universe today. Life is, indeed, strange.



A year ago this week I decided to start blogging about my retirement experience. With the help of a Royal Elf, I chose WordPress for my hosting site and within a couple of hours I was ready to launch. The biggest obstacle I encountered was what to name the blog. After searching domain names and finding every one of my choices already taken, I named it the obvious…kathysretirementblog. My first post was made on November 29, 2012. Just a photo of myself on the suspended bridge across Grandfather Mountain near Blowing Rock, North Carolina. It was titled “Swinging in the Wind”, a reference to how I felt about the transition into retired life. During this last year as I chronicled my transition in 61 additional posts, you, my readers, have given me nearly 10,000 views and, best of all, numerous comments and personal emails about how my posts inspired, provoked thought or just plain entertained.

As the site and my following has continued to grow, I have been asked to guest post on a couple of other sites. Last night I received an email from Simone at retirementandgoodliving.com saying, “I just wanted to let you know that your guest post (http://retirementandgoodliving.com/retirement-stages/) on our site has been one of the most read posts on the site since it was published.” I cannot express how gratifying it is to be writing stories that are being read and effect others lives in a positive way. You are from all walks of life, young and old, retired and not retired. Reaching such a diverse group has been another pleasant surprise.

It is with heart-felt gratitude that I thank each and every one of you from my loyal followers to those of you who check in on occasion to catch up to those of you who have only recently discovered kathysretirementblog. I hope I can continue to earn your support and inspire you to seek your own retirement dream.

With gratitude – Kathy Merlino


We call them “The Grands” and we have six of them! Three girls, three boys. A nice even split ages three to twenty. Yes, I’m talking about our grandchildren. I always felt a special tug of love for each of The Grands but didn’t realize how enormously fortunate we were until the birth of our sixth grandchild and third granddaughter. We had driven to Michigan for the high school graduation of our oldest grandson. His mother, my oldest daughter, was nine months pregnant and the newcomer dutifully held off a day before sending her mother into labor the day after graduation.

That day also happened to be my and Martin’s wedding anniversary. The graduate had already disappeared on a one day mystery class trip some very smart parents arrange each year to keep their grads from going out and doing something stupid post-graduation. So, as our daughter went into labor early morning and she and our son-in-law went to the hospital, we gathered up the remaining three, fed them breakfast and headed for the local zoo. The SUV carried a full load as Martin’s parents were also with us. We had fun keeping everyone occupied but as the day wore on, I checked in with our daughter on her progress. Short, easy labors run in my family and she always followed the familial pattern. And, sure enough, late afternoon, I answered my cell to, “Well, bring my kids to meet their new sister!”

We all reached the hospital and swarmed into the room just in time to see the new arrival getting cleaned up as she exercised her lungs. As I thought my heart would burst with joy one of the attending nurses asked me how many grandchildren we had. I proudly announced this was our sixth born on our wedding anniversary. A look I can only describe as envy, sadness and wistfulness passed over her face as she related how she only had one child and he and his wife had decided not to have children. Knowing what a special bond we have with The Grands, I felt a pang of sadness for this woman. Looking around the room, she told me what a beautiful family I had. In that moment, I realized how blessed I was to receive the gift of not just one, but six grandchildren.

Despite the 748 mile distance between us and five of The Grands, we have a close bond with all the kids. Our youngest daughter lives nearby so we see her little boy quite often. He spends time with me in the garden and time with Papa in the garage working on bicycle, motorcycle, tractor and car. Every year around July 4th our oldest daughter visits bringing the entire family together for some summer fun like fireworks and a visit to the beach. For the third year in a row, the two middle children will stay for Grandma and Papa’s Summer Camp where we’ll visit Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, Chimney Rock and DuPont State Parks (Hunger Games was filmed there), go to the local science center, spend a day at the water park tubing down the giant water way, doing crafts like tie dying t-shirts and cooking up some great dinners. We hope this is creating memories of a lifetime and we know it creates the special bond between us and The Grands.

While I don’t think anyone should have children just for the sake of having them or giving Mom and Dad grandkids, I still can’t help but think of the nurse sometimes and hope her son and daughter-in-law change their mind. Because, there’s nothing more special than The Grands.


As the light we’d been sitting at turned green, the train of cars before us moved forward in the usual slinky-like fashion, gaining momentum, when, without warning, the car in front of us suddenly stopped. With Martin breaking hard to avoid ending up in her trunk, I lurched forward, seat belt locking up and me quickly checking the passenger side mirror to ensure we weren’t going to be rear-ended ourselves. Heart pounding, I turned my eyes forward in time to see the driver ushering an SUV out of a retail center driveway. After the SUV lumbered out of the driveway and sat across our lane for a moment waiting for traffic to clear in the direction that driver was headed, we finally crossed the intersection in time to miss another red light, leaving other drivers behind. I envisioned the driver in front of us thinking what a good samaritan she was, totally oblivious she had broken the rules of the road, nearly caused an accident and left drivers who otherwise would have made that green light sitting through another cycle. The upshot is that intersection is seldom so backed up the SUV would have been able to leave the driveway in short order without the good samaritan’s help.

I read recently how, thanks to my generation, civility in the US is at an all time low. Yes, we’re the boomers. The ones whose parents taught us to say please and thank you and mind our manners and be just plain nice. We were taught to be concerned with what others thought about us. The neighbors, friends, family, even complete strangers. But, somehow, we supposedly got really spoiled taking on yet another description as the me generation. Now, we’re just plain rude. And, we apparently raised our kids to have no social restraint so they are even worse than we are. Generally speaking, of course. Admittedly, I’ve had my share of me-me’s over the years. This blog is a sort of me-me as it’s written by me, about me and from my view point. Me-me. But, I also recognize a nation without civility is almost as bad as a nation without laws. Respect for others is the glue that binds us together. Caring and kindness make us stronger as it lifts us up. Goodwill toward others strengthens our community.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I get more out of giving than I think the recipient of my volunteer time or donation gets. For example, last Saturday morning, I volunteered at the Master Gardener Booth at our local farmers market. Despite the early hour, the thirty mile commute, I can’t wait to get there and get started. Answering questions from complete strangers about plants, garden pests and weeds provides a feel good moment I can’t explain. Sometimes, I believe, we are good samaritans because of the me feeling. We get something out of it just like the woman mentioned above probably felt good letting the SUV cut in front of everyone else.

With age comes wisdom or at least that’s what I’ve heard. So, in recent years, when someone does or says something I find rude I’m more inclined to give them a free pass, that is, as long as it’s not done continuously. While restraint is a good thing, being a pushover is a bad thing. Oh, yeah, I grouch about it for a moment or two or three, but I realize most of the time, a tactless remark is just that…a tactless remark. Or, a thoughtless action is just a thoughtless action. Admittedly, I’ve made thoughtless, tactless, inconsiderate remarks, not meaning any harm, not meaning to be rude. At one time or another, we all find our foot in our mouth. Sometimes, what I consider an O.K. remark, someone else may find rude or vice versa. What we find offensive is often a product of the context of our lives. So, with age, I try not to take it personally.

However, maybe as a result of a heightened awareness of our supposed national malaise of incivility, it seems every time I turn around, I’m reading or hearing about someone being just plain rude. While there are times when I believe we need to ante up and return to a more polite society, there are also times I believe we are witnessing the ridiculous. The ridiculous was brought front and center for me several years ago when I actually had someone at work tell me my language was rude. As my mind raced wildly about sorting out my occasional use of damn or hell, the complainer explained how they thought my use of “big words” was rude when other people didn’t understand their meaning. They were affronted by my expanded vocabulary!?! Really? You don’t like me using words you don’t understand? Instead of picking up a dictionary (this was pre-web Googling), looking up the definition and incorporating a new word into your vocabulary, you want me to dumb it down for you? And how am I supposed to know which ones you understand and which ones you don’t? See, ridiculous. Ahhh…No, I won’t be simplifying my vocabulary just because you’re too lazy to look up a new word. Oh, sorry, that statement was probably offensive. On the contrary, you probably didn’t consider your telling me to use “smaller words” is rude, tactless, thoughtless, inconsiderate of my feelings. Fortunately, I exercised restraint, not saying any of the aforementioned but thinking it as I smiled and suggested she take this as an opportunity to expand her vocabulary. To that, she said, I was just plain rude. Yeah, O.K., there’s no help for me. I’m a boomer.

But, back to our driver. Was she a good samaritan? Or, someone who was really being just plain rude to the drivers behind her? Or, someone who was thoughtlessly endangering other drivers and herself by not obeying traffic laws? Or, was she someone doing a good deed just to get her own endorphins going for the day? Or, all of the above? After all, as the road opened up to a four lane highway and we passed her, I looked over to see a boomer aged driver behind the wheel.


Letters To My Mother was originally posted in February. In honor of my mother and mothers everywhere, I’m re-posting it for Mothers’ Day.

A year ago my older brother and his wife visited. They brought with them a shoe box full of memories. Our mother passed away in 2008 shortly after her 90th birthday celebration. There were, of course, a lifetime of photos and memorabilia left behind. My brother and sister-in-law sorted through it all making a shoe box for each of us siblings. While I dutifully looked through my assortment of photos upon their arrival last year, I didn’t really look at the contents carefully until just now.

Finding the emotional will to take a close look at what was inside the box, I lifted the lid. There is an ornament, which my mother intended to give me at Christmas the year she died. I love Christmas time and beautiful ornaments as did she. Part of her legacy to me. Then, there are all the photos, many of which I had given to my parents over the years. Photos of my daughters as babies, as girls, as young women. Photos of my parents on their trip to visit us in Seattle. My Dad died two years after that visit, in 1989. Photos of our family as we lived in different parts of the country, in different houses with different pets, clothing and hair styles. Beneath all of the photos were letters.

I pulled out the letters, opening them one by one, reading them through and reliving that moment in my personal history. Most were chatty letters, detailing the normalcy of our lives to my parents and then, just my mother. They were letters about my daughters’ schools and activities, basketball, softball, ballet and piano. They were letters about our jobs and travel. My weekly trips to cities throughout the country closing multi-million dollar real estate deals. Trips which frequently enabled me to visit my younger brother and his family in Dallas. They were letters about our vacations to the desert of Washington state, the San Juan Islands and Canada, when you could easily cross into that country without a passport. They were just letters about an every day life.

Then there is the letter I wrote in the spring of 2007, one year before my mother died. The letter is one I had totally forgotten until now. I unfolded the letter, remembering the special paper I’d chosen with the pink flowered border. Teal, yellow and pink colored butterflies hover around the flowers as if sipping nectar. Instead of hand writing the letter I had typed it. Looking back and considering the content of the letter, a hand-written letter would have been more personal. But, we had entered the computer age so even letters to my mother had become typed and printed in recent years. This letter was not so chatty, not so everyday but, rather, a diary of what I had accomplished so far in my life. This letter was a thank you letter to my mother for my life. With tears streaming down my cheeks and a pile of used tissues in my lap, I read the final line. “So, on my 55th birthday, Thank You Mom for my wonderful life. I love you.” I signed my name after that last line, the only handwritten addition from me. Although I had typed the date on this particular letter, my mother’s handwritten date of receipt appears in the upper corner of the first page, her writing shaky and uneven.

As I fold the letter and place it back in the shoe box, I have a lot of thoughts. We don’t send letters anymore handwritten or otherwise. We email. We Facebook. We text message. Like the news everything is said in blips. We don’t often say the things to people we should say when they are alive. For all the times I told my mother I loved her, I’m glad I took the time to actually articulate my gratitude for all the things she did for me. My only regret is I didn’t do the same for my Dad. So, today, wherever you are, tell the people who mean the most to you exactly that. Even better, put it in writing so they can touch it and feel it and read it again and again. Tell them how much you appreciate having them in your life, your wonderful life.


When I was working and had a particularly stressful day, I used to joke about running away in my retirement to Tibet or Nepal or someplace very exotic and becoming a Zen Master. There, I would scrub floors and meditate all day as I attained a relaxed state of calm and enlightenment, peace and tranquility. For starters, this idea was far-fetched because the monks are all men. Women need not apply. Although they might let me scrub the floors. And, though the scenery may be spectacular, living in the Himalayas or under China’s rule isn’t my idea of a fun retirement. Lastly, being a child of the ’60s, my exposure to Zen was the U.S. version, which first appeared on my radar, well, in the ’60’s. So, I wasn’t even sure if Tibet and Nepal is where Zen Masters really resided. But, when stress came knocking, it was fun to think of living in a meditative state of mind in some far off land.

Then, one day, as I watched one of my cats stretch into a yoga-like pose with paws way out front and her back elongated in a sort of exaggerated arch, I realized I live with Zen Masters. Seven of them to be exact. They spend their days either sleeping or meditating, especially if the warmth of the sun is involved. They wake slowly from their long naps, pulling themselves upright to a sitting position as they look about blink-eyed before they start their meditation. Sometimes, a little cleaning of the face is in order post meditation and before they slowly stroll toward their food dishes, tails held high in a slow dance. Yes, cats are masters at the art of Zen.

To find out how we acquired seven, you’ll have to read “The Story of Cats”, which I have yet to write. But, the very short version is this. Four of them actually acquired us. Ferals who arrived as kittens, they took us in with their tiny furry faces filled up by big, curious eyes. Three of them are part of the original Snacky Rudy Baker Project started seven years ago. Trapped one by one in January 2007, they were “fixed” and received first vaccinations at a low cost spay/neuter clinic, which willingly took feral cats. Now, once a year, we upset their Zen days of sunning themselves on the banks behind our house to take them one by one to our vet for a yearly check-up and booster shots.

This morning it’s the turn of Zen Master Grady, aka Mr. Gray, affectionately called Grady Bear by me. A beautiful soft gray with tabby stripes, white feet and big green eyes, he weighs in at about 18 pounds. So, although the Masters now trust us to a point, it’s no easy feat to get Grady into a carrier. Martin and I are both tense as he goes out onto the veranda to set out their breakfast while I hide at the kitchen door holding an open carrier. As Grady and the others gather around Martin in anticipation of their morning meal, purring and rubbing against his legs in their Zen-like morning prayer, Martin reaches down and picks Grady up, petting as he walks hurriedly toward the door. As I come through the door frame, suddenly Grady realizes what’s happening, stiffens his body, but to no avail, as Martin drops him through the top of the carrier and closes the door. This part of the trauma is over. Zen no more, Master Grady puts out tiny, frightened mews for the next hour and a half before his appointment.

Our vet is our vet because she welcomes all the Zen Masters. We fired the last guy as feral cats need not show up at his office. Too snooty for the downtrodden, we looked for a more Zen-like vet. So, today, Dr. Silver sits cross-legged on the floor, gently coaxing Grady from his hiding place between Martin, also sitting on the floor, and the bright orange wall splashed with cat paw prints. As Grady slowly emerges from his hiding place, Martin slides off to the side so Dr. Silver can exam Grady. She coos softly to him as she checks his vital signs, talks to us about his condition and expertly delivers his shots. Whew! All done for another year.

Back home after a short ten minute ride, Martin releases Grady from the carrier. He quickly meets up with one of the other Masters, happily butts heads in a “Hey, I’m back!” motion and runs off into the woods. A few minutes later, as we look through the trees to a sunlit spot, we see three of the cats walking slowly, one behind the other. As they look for meditation nooks among the rocks, Grady is in the lead. Finding just the right place to soak up some rays, Grady settles down into the leaves and blinks his green eyes at the sunlight sifting through the trees. Ahhh…calm and enlightenment. The relaxed state of peace and tranquility has returned to the great Zen Master Grady Bear.



When I started this blog, the post I am about to write was not the kind of post I had in mind. This is not meant to start any kind of political debate. Nor is it meant to place blame. It is simply something which has been on my mind due to what I’m seeing in the news. Just like every post I write, these are simply my thoughts put in writing. That said, if you have constructive thoughts you’d like to share, I would love to hear them.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve seen a few stories in the news and read some posts on other blogs and list serves about sexism and ageism in America. The views range from Sheryl Sandberg’s view that women must rid themselves of the internal barriers to gaining power in the workplace to male nurses are paid more than female nurses because, well, because they are male. Reading through the conversations on a senior forum, the answers behind the question of ageism from this group of mainly professionals, seems to be the mindset of both the general public as well as workers in the senior care professions. As someone who is categorized as one of the point women fueling the feminist movement of the 1970’s, I say we’ve come along way, baby, but the consciousness raising ain’t done. Mindset on both counts.

So, how is mindset changed? And why is it important to change it? Well, the first answer is the old-fashioned (yes, the tools of the 1970’s are now old-fashioned) consciousness raising is what changes mindset. I’m not talking about what is politically correct here. I’m talking about our internal beliefs brought to life each and every day through our words and action. I’m also talking about changing those internal beliefs because it’s practical to change. That brings me to my answer on the second question. I see sexism and ageism as being linked. And, it’s important to change the attitudes because our society has evolved but our mindset hasn’t kept pace with the evolution.

It’s no secret. In general, women still outlive men. Yet, women, and their partners, don’t take their working and saving and, yes, contributing to Social Security, as seriously as they should. The majority of women work today. We are also still the parent who puts aside career in favor of raising our children to a certain age before we head back to work. As a working mother, I know first hand how hard that is and how important that is. From a practical standpoint, I also know, currently, the Social Security Administration will take your 35 highest income years to compute your Social Security benefit. I have also met many women who forego maxing out their retirement contribution in favor of their spouse’s plan. Why? Mindset. The reason many women live their old age in poverty is because they tend to take care of others before taking care of themselves.

So, in many ways, I have to agree with Sheryl Sandberg. The change in mindset starts with women just as it did in the 1960’s and ’70’s. It’s up to women to demand equal pay for equal work. The fact that John Doe has been on the job longer is a red herring if Mary Doe is up to the same speed. You might even say, if Mary can rev her engine at the same rpm’s as John, without the years, then Mary may be the better qualified employee. It’s also up to Mary to start taking care of Mary by saying to her partner, “I’m putting as much in my retirement fund as you are, Honey”. And, by the way, I need 35 years in the workforce making as much as I can so if you die first and leave me alone, or, if we’re among the 60% who divorce, I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from in my old age.

Reading the comments on ageism, I found it interesting how several people thought our society needed a Gloria Steinem or a Rosa Parks to make a stand and raise our consciousness about ageism. As someone who watched Gloria Steinem on the evening news way back in the late 1960’s, I must say she was an influence on the direction my mindset took. However, the real work was done by everyday people with the courage to stand up in the face of societal norms and say, “That’s not acceptable anymore.” Well, people don’t age the way they used to. The reason Social Security and Medicare are in trouble isn’t because of any federal deficit or economic downturn. While the reason is a lot more complicated than this, the short and the long of it is we are living longer. We have better medical care. We have more options available to us. Seniors are more active, more involved than ever. When seniors leave the workforce, if they do at all, they aren’t going home to die. They are going on to a new, exciting leg of their life journey. Our society has changed. Retirement has evolved. Yet, we hang onto the old stereotypes of aging and the aged. Ageism. Changing the general mindset about aging starts with every day people having the courage to stand up and say, “That’s not acceptable anymore.”

Mahatma Gandhi is credited with the quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” So, if we want to get rid of sexism and ageism, it’s up to each of us to first get rid of the internal barriers preventing each of us from changing our mindset. We don’t need a Rosa Parks or a Gloria Steinem or a Mahatma Gandhi. After all, at one moment, each of them were just ordinary people willing to take action, to speak up. So, all we really need is the courage of our convictions. Catching up with our societal evolution depends on it.


For we baby boomers, you may remember the TV show “Father Knows Best”. Every episode served up a new dilemma for one of the members of a household with dad displaying incredible patience and wisdom as he helped them reach a decision, which was ultimately the right thing to do. Week after week dad led his family members, and their friends, to make the best decision for them. But, most of us don’t live in such a sugar coated world with an all knowing, all seeing dad or advisor. So, oftentimes, we turn to friends or relatives for advice. And, sometimes, we may even want someone else to tell us what to do. Making the hard choices in life is…well…hard.

Recently, I had just such an encounter as someone I’ve known a long time asked me to tell them what to do about a life-changing matter. As I read their email, it reminded me of an epiphany I had as a thirty-something who often turned to spouse, friends or co-workers for answers. At the time, I was working for a company in Seattle, which bought real estate nationally. I was the company’s contracts administrator, drafting contracts, participating in the negotiations and overseeing the due diligence of multi-million dollar deals. My days were filled with excitement as well as high anxiety as one incorrect decision could cost the company a lot of money. So, on a day when a particular deal slowly went sideways, as the saying goes, I anxiously awaited the moment when I could speak with the partners, who were thousands of miles away on business in Hong Kong. When the moment finally came, I laid out the dilemma in detail and asked what I should do. The answer one of the partners gave shocked me. But, ultimately his answer empowered me. Very calmly, he said, “That’s your decision. I’m not there. I can’t read the situation. I can’t see what you see. I can’t feel what you feel. You’re the only one who can make that judgement call.” What? Me? Yikes!!! Eventually, I summoned the courage to make a decision and, as it turned out, a good decision.

Over the next few days, as I pondered the event, I felt empowered professionally. Eventually, I transferred the idea of presence in decision making to my personal life. No one knows what’s best for you like you. Wow! What an epiphany! I’d like to say I held this thought with every personal decision. But, the truth is, we don’t live in a vacuum. Personal decisions affect other people…family, friends, co-workers, even strangers. And, often, we use that fact as a rationale to take their advice. Sometimes, they even give us that reason for foisting their advice upon us. I’ve learned, in an excruciatingly long and painful set of missteps, to listen to advice, but, more importantly in the end analysis, to listen to my gut, my inner voice, my instincts. By reaching into the depths of my own center, I’ve been able to do what’s right for me. Selfish, you say? Hmmm…maybe. But, here’s the catch. Decision making is really problem solving. By reaching into my own center, I’ve taken responsibility for solving the problem and accountability for the outcome. Do I consider how my decision will effect others? Of course, I do. But, as I’ve discovered, taking accountability for my actions is what’s best for my relationships. It puts the responsibility squarely on my shoulders. I’ve also learned through countless mistakes it’s OK to make a mistake. I’ve learned how making no decision, taking no action is really abdicating to time and circumstance, which will eventually make the decision for me. Shudder the thought! I’ve learned to move ahead of any mistakes, ignore the “I told you so’s”, make a correction of direction, chart a new course. But, whatever the outcome, the decision belongs to me.

So, my advice, (and, yes, I do give this particular piece of advice on occasion) to you, my friend, wanting to know what to do…no one knows what’s best for you like you. While I’ll lend a sympathetic ear, point out options you may not have thought about and support your decision, I’m not there. I can’t read the situation. I can’t see what you see. I can’t feel what you feel. So, reach down into the core of your being, feel around your insides and ask yourself what it is which you want. You’re the only one who can make this judgement call.