Retirement Lessons

 

Last Thursday marked the fifth anniversary of our retirement. Martin and I celebrated at a favorite lunch spot, The Blue Porch, with friends. Five years ago I had no idea how emotionally under-prepared I was to retire. Our mantra back then was, “We’re going to have fun!” It took about six weeks for me to realize we weren’t having fun. I started this blog on a whim. Putting my feelings in writing had always helped. Writing not only helped me, but I hope it helped some other people along the way. It also opened up an unexpected world for me. These are the lessons I learned giving way to a more fulfilled life and understanding of what it means to retire.

Ask yourself if retirement is what you really want and need. If you’re running from a job you hate, are just worn out from working or stressed by your work environment, maybe what you really need is a sabbatical. A month away from work may provide an attitude adjustment. Another option may be to work part-time, easing into retirement. Not all companies hire part-time employees, but if it is an option at your workplace, consider it.

If retirement is indeed what you want and need, then have a plan. I’m not talking about a financial plan, although that’s vitally important, but a how will you fill your time plan. If you don’t have a plan of what you will do to fill the time you spent working, commuting to work and preparing for work, you will end up bored, a leaf in the wind with lots of other people ready to take up your time with their agenda. Will your current hobbies and interests fill the gap or will you need more?

Speaking of planning, also give some forethought to your transitionary period. You may hate your job or feel bone tired with working, but post-retirement you may find yourself missing the daily routine, the camaraderie of co-workers and the identity that work provides. It will take time to create a new identity, find a new social network and settle in. Retirement is a major life change. This is a new phase offering plenty of opportunity to do what you want to do with your time. However, after 40 or more years in the workplace, there is also a period of grieving. Yes, grieving for your lost identity and the social aspects of work. If your company offers an Employee Assistance Program including counseling, take advantage pre-retirement to discuss your feelings and expectations with a counselor. Having meaning and purpose in life doesn’t end when you leave the workplace. Purpose is an essential to being happy and healthy. It will take time and effort to find your renewed purpose.

Think about where you will retire. Having downsized and built “the retirement home” in 2004, I stayed exactly where I was already. I got that part of it right. Close proximity to a nationally recognized teaching hospital system and colleges offering daytime adult education courses geared toward retirees were essentials on my list. The icing on the cake was discovering an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at a nearby university. The Blue Ridge Mountains where bicycling, motorcycling and hiking are prominent activities that Martin and I enjoy are in our backyard. It may seem like a great idea to live in the middle of nowhere with lots of peace and quiet, but if it takes an hour to get to a doctor or hospital, it may not be a sound idea. I had a fall in 2015 requiring stitches. Martin had me at the ER in 15 minutes. It wasn’t life threatening. However, it made me think about heart attack, stroke or surgery. I was glad the hospital was near.

Choose your timing carefully.  I retired in the fall.  As a gardener and hiker and Martin as a bicyclist and motorcyclist, our timing undoubtedly should have been in the spring.  We may have had fun for more than 6 weeks! I’ve read many, many times that retirement should begin January 1st.  If you are living in the frozen tundra of the north, unless you are a winter sports advocate or plan to escape to a warmer climate for a few months, emotionally, January may be the worst time to retire.  No matter where you live, make your emotional outlook and core retirement activities a priority.  It’s your calendar; do what’s best for you.

Recognize that retirement is not the end, but the beginning. It is a journey, not a destination. Retirement offers the opportunity of a lifetime to try new and different activities. You may not enjoy all the things you try. If an activity doesn’t pan out, give something else a try. This is a time to be adventurous. Renew your childhood curiosity. You get to start all over again without the pressure inherent for success in the workplace. Because people are living longer, years in retirement are also increasing. You have the opportunity to reinvent yourself many times over. I am not the person I was 5 years ago. I look forward to what surprises may unfold for me in the future.

Views on retirement and getting older are changing. Retirement is whatever we choose to make it. There is no one size fits all. There are as many options as there are one-of-a-kind snowflakes blowing on a winter’s day. I hope my lessons help you avoid some of the pitfalls and reap the rewards of a retired life. As always — put your dent in the universe!

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Spanning The Brain

When we retire, our overall health is a huge consideration. Every financial planner I talked to pre-retirement, asked the question, “Are you in good health?” On the other side of that question, you may have to retire due to poor health. Even with Medicare and insurance policies, poor health can become expensive. It can also cost you in incalculable ways such as stress and reduced quality of life. Staying healthy is important no matter what your age.  Toward that end, I recently took the BrainSpan testing.

The test consists of a blood sample measuring:

Omega-3 Index
Cell Inflammation Balance
Carbohydrate Index

The second part of the test is a cognitive function assessment gauging:

Memory Capacity
Sustained & Flexible Attention
Processing Speed

The blood test looks at the chemical makeup of your cells, which reflect your dietary intake for the previous three months. What the test is telling us is whether or not we have any imbalances in essential fatty acids. In many countries, including the United States, we have altered our diet to the point where we are eating more Omega-6 than we are Omega-3 fatty acids. According to BrainSpan, there is mounting evidence from research by the American Medical Association, Harvard and the University of Maryland Medical Center that Omega-3 is essential to the overall functioning of our brain and body.

Many of us have been told by our doctors, including me, to take an Omega-3 supplement. But, what we are really looking for is the level of a couple of fatty acids produced primarily by oily fish such as salmon and mackerel — EPA and DHA. EPA repairs tissue, reduces inflammation in the body and supports a good mood as well as our ability to focus. DHA is the most abundant fatty acid in the brain supporting development, cell structure and function.

According to the USDA Nutrient Data Lab 3 ounces of cooked wild Salmon provides 1564 milligrams of EPA/DHA combined. We need that at least 5 times a week — at the least. When recommending an Omega-3 supplement, my eye doctor told me farmed raised salmon is fed corn, making it high in Omega-6. Wild caught salmon is high in Omega-3. Reading labels both on the fish you buy and any supplements is important! In a study done by Tufts University researchers found that people with higher levels of DHA may lower their risk of dementia by as much as 47%. Be sure you are buying what you think you’re buying. Your longevity and quality of life may depend on it.

The cognitive function portion of the testing is done online with a series of challenging exercises. For example, I was shown 3 numbers, which quickly disappeared from the screen, and asked to repeat them in the exact order on a keyboard as fast as I could. Easy right? Not when it gradually increases to 9 numbers to remember in exact order. I actually did well on this portion of the test. On a scale of 1 to 7, 7 being optimal, I scored an average 6.5 on all three sections. On the other hand, I didn’t fair so well on the blood test. It revealed I was eating way too many carbohydrates (Omega-6) and not enough Omega-3 to be at optimal health. Consequently, I increased my Omega-3 supplement as well as Omega-3 foods and, while we need carbs, too, I am watching the intake of my old boogeymen of potatoes, rice, pasta and bread.

As an incentive to stay on track, I’ll be retested in January. Basically, I feel pretty good about my results, especially my cognitive functioning. As always, it’s a struggle to keep my body in the same shape as my brain. But, my brain depends upon me to take care of my body. I remember seeing a quip someplace in my travels to the effect, “If you don’t take care of your body, where will you live?” I think that pretty much sums it up.

What’s Your Definition of Intelligence?

 

 

This is the second time I’ve participated as a volunteer subject for the Furman University Adulthood and Aging course, which is part of the Psychology Program. We volunteers are age 60 and over, are interviewed individually by a student assigned to us and answer questions about age related topics such as our perceptions about cognitive and physical changes, our beliefs toward aging and social relationships. The student then writes a paper about their interpretation of our views.

I find the entire process interesting as it makes me think about what I truly believe about (for want of a better word) aging. I also have the opportunity to influence a younger generation’s mind-set about growing old.

One of the recent questions asked of me was, “What is your definition of intelligence?” Hmmmm…mine is not a dictionary answer.

There are many forms of intelligence. There’s book knowledge that we acquire in school and beyond. In school I took all kinds of intelligence tests. I’m not sure they measured intelligence as much as memory and recall ability. There’s intelligence drawn from life experience. There’s a type of intelligence embedded in our decision making capacity, adaptability to change and willingness to take risk. I would say that’s wisdom gleaned from experience.

Part of our decision making abilities is problem-solving. We think we have the solution to a problem, make a decision to act upon it in a certain way and take action. But, what happens if our problem-solving doesn’t work? Do we try another possible solution? Do we retreat, afraid to make another bid? I’d say there’s an innate intelligence in the person willing to change direction, attempting to solve the problem another way.

Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Throughout my life, this has been one of my favorite quotes. It’s a reminder to adapt to life’s curve balls. In life, change is the only aspect we can depend upon. Growing old is just further change.

We all know the parts will eventually wear out — another change. We all know we will decline in some ways — more change. It is those of us who possess a willingness to adapt who have the greatest chance of surviving the longest with a quality life. That is the kind of intelligence to cultivate.

 

 

Grady

 

This is not the usual type of post for me.  It is more of a short story written in memory of our cat, Grady (7/1/2006 – 9/29/2017).  

 

Grady

The first time I saw him he was one of four little tails standing straight up around the old Cool Whip container I used to feed his mother. Huge green eyes set in a gray and white striped face looked up periodically just to be sure his mother was still there. I named them all — Mars, Odie, Blue for his blue eyes and Grady. Martin, my husband, called him ‘Mr. Gray’.

My Snacky Cat, as I called his mother had given birth the beginning of July. I had no idea where. I just knew she was no longer pregnant. As July gave way to August and now September, Snacky spent summer days lolling on our back veranda. I wondered if her litter was still alive. My annoyance at her apparent lack of mothering skills earned her my sarcastically applied description of ‘The Mother of the Year’. I would later find out how smart and loving she really was as she stayed away from her brood in our stifling South Carolina heat, nursing them in the cooler evening hours.

I told Martin, “Stop at Lowes and pick up a trap.”

“Why?”

“Because. I don’t want fifty of ‘em running around here.”

The double open-ended trap proved to be useless as we watched kitten after kitten run in one access then out the other. They played with it as if it were a toy. Grady, the largest of the four, was also the fastest and still too light to spring the openings shut. Frustrated, I asked Martin to stop at Lowes to pick up a one opening trap.

He sighed. “OK.”

The second trap proved to be effective as I spent a week hearing it snap shut every morning around 6 a.m. Grady was the first to take the bait of tuna on a paper lunch plate.

Mewing on the entire ride to Animal Allies in Spartanburg, he seemed to be begging me to let him go. By the time we reached the parking lot off Asheville Highway, the towel draped over the trap, in hopes of calming him down, was tattered where Grady clawed at it.

Late that afternoon I picked him up. A sedated and dazed Grady swayed back and forth in the carrier as we made our way home in silence.

When Martin came home, he peeked into the carrier. “How long do we keep him like this?”

“Overnight.”

“I still don’t know why you’re going to all this trouble. They’re wild. It’s not like they’re going to be lap cats.”

***

Eleven years later tears were already floating down my cheeks as I listened to the vet’s diagnosis. Cancer. A tumor in his stomach. He was in rapid decline. As Martin watched me, he teared up. He knew it wasn’t good. I ended the call and said, “He’s dying.”

Martin let out a howl. “No! Not Grady.” I stood up, hugging him. Sobbing we clung to each other. Grady was Martin’s favorite. I knew this was going to happen someday, just not this day. Sweet and loving he came in every night to lay on Martin’s lap as they watched TV together. He wouldn’t come in for me, only Martin.

The next day we brought Grady home to say goodbye then back to the vet. Martin held him. Dr. Carol gave Grady anesthesia. She left us alone as he drifted off into a deep sleep. Then she came back with her assistant Cheryl to finish her task. As she fed the needle into Grady’s hind leg, Dr. Carol let tears waft softly around her eyes.

“Are you ok?” Cheryl asked.

“No, I’m not.”

I wondered what it felt like to be the Angel of Death. Martin and I cried. I petted Grady’s head telling him how he was going to see Blue and Odie and his mom. Dr. Carol took out her stethoscope and listened. She looked at Martin and me.
“He’s gone.”

We rode home in near silence, the contents of the large box in the back seat the focus of our thoughts. In my mind I resurrected the day Martin came home with a company van filled with synthetic decking. “What’s that for?” I queried. “I’m building them a house.” It was winter. The boys were growing. The cardboard boxes on the veranda no longer adequate for holding them or keeping them warm. Martin also insulated the Kitty Kondo, as we named it, with SolarGuard, putting carpet remnants on the bottom to make a cozy nest. On nights when the temps dropped below freezing heated pads were inserted.

We fired our vet their first year. He was happy to see our two indoor cats; he wanted nothing to do with any feral. A few phone calls later I located a vet willing to give them booster vaccines. Getting still wild cats into a carrier proved a challenge. Martin and I both wear scars. Once at the vet, all but Blue were subdued. While his brothers hid in a corner, Blue bounced around the four walls like a cartoon cat knocking over displays and anything else in the way of his mania to escape, but as the years passed even Blue settled down.

Late weekday afternoons they all stretched out on the front porch in anticipation. As I came up the driveway, their eyes followed me as I pulled my Mazda into the garage. But,when Martin turned his car into the driveway, the cats bolted to the back veranda. Treats, pets and love had arrived. I loved them, too. But Martin was the giver of treats, that elixir for taming the wild beast.

Some say pets pull at our heart strings. This colony of lost boys tore our hearts wide open with their vulnerability, need and love. Like humans all they really wanted was to be loved and give love in return.

As I turned my RAV-4 into the driveway, I saw Mars on the front porch under the bench – the last man standing. We buried Grady on the back slope among the wildflowers. A hundred pound stone pulled from our woods marks his grave. We’ll miss you Grady.

Firsts

When was the last time you did something for the first time? For me, this was a week of a lot of firsts giving me plenty to write about in future blogs.

Workshop site

This was the first time I took a class on self-publishing, hoping to figure out the daunting task of getting my book out there. It was the first time I met Alex, the psychology student assigned to interview me for her Adulthood and Aging course at Furman University. It was the first time I ever went to a talk on Dementia Conversations about how to broach difficult subjects with someone experiencing dementia. It was the first time I started building a small workshop on my property so Martin and I have a dedicated space for creating art. It was the first time Martin and I took the BrainSpan testing that I’ll write more about after we receive our results. It was the first time I built a fobot (fake robot) with one of my grandchildren. Wow! What a week of firsts!

Working with my eight-year-old grandson reminded me how we did firsts all the time as kids. He’s curious and willing to try whatever. He uses his imagination without hesitation. If something didn’t work well building his fobot, he immediately moved on to another idea. He didn’t give up or lament the failure of the first idea. And, he had fun.  We had fun.

Take me to your leader!

As we move through life, we often get comfortable, sometimes too comfortable, with our routine, eschewing any firsts. That’s when we plateau. Avoiding meeting new people, taking on a new project or learning a new subject or skill seems easier than breaking away from our comfort zone. We like our routine. It feels, well, comfortable like a favorite old shirt or chair.

A couple of weeks ago Martin and I took a drawing workshop. All we did for three hours was learn how to draw our hands. We used our observation abilities to the nth degree studying both the palm and the back of our hands. One exercise was to then draw our hand without looking at it too much. I mentioned how I didn’t like doing the exercise. Our teacher quipped, “That’s because it makes you feel uncomfortable. You’re not used to doing it.” Ah-ha!

We adults don’t like doing things that make us feel like a fish out of water. On the other hand, kids expect to learn new things, every day, every week. That’s their routine, isn’t it? To do different tasks, learn different skills, gather up new experiences to add to their preparation for living a successful life.

As we continue to age, many of us go on to ask the question, “Is this all there is?” or worse yet, “What happened to me?” When we start asking questions like that, it’s probably time to take the plunge off the plateau or start climbing the mountain. It’s time to do something for the first time. Your routine isn’t all there is. What’s happened to you is you avoid firsts because they make you uncomfortable.

This week a friend mentioned she had applied for ten days at a silent retreat. While the attendees do chores like housekeeping, they also have six hours a day to meditate. This is not my idea of a good time, but my friend is excited about it. Being open to new experiences doesn’t mean we have to try everything we come across. Personally, this would be more of a challenge than observing and remembering the details of my hand — I don’t think I could keep my mouth closed for ten days let alone meditate for more than five minutes. If it doesn’t appeal to you on some level, a new experience just may not be for you. That said, keeping an open mind can lead you to a first that becomes part of your routine because you love doing it so much.

Think about it. When was the last time you did something for the first time?

Your Brain On Eggs

This post first appeared on May 21, 2016.  With more research coming out about the benefits of Omega-3, which the egg provides as one of the best sources, I thought it was worth re-posting.  There are other sources of Omega-3, of course, and I will write more on current research on those sources in the future.

 

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 gave up eggs for 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 eschew 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’m reading, Rewire Your Brain by John B. Arden, Ph.D. It’s not a new book. The copyright is 2010. It’s been sitting in my to-be-read stack since 2015. 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, all of these abilities are really, really important for aging well.

Memory is also important for aging well. 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 in order 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. Eggs also contain Omega-3 that good for your brain and heart component. Exercise and a balanced diet can help keep our muscles, including our heart muscle, in good working order.

 

After reading all of this, I decided to try Arden’s suggestion of eating an egg (sans saturated or trans fats), 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? 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 to determine. 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.

‘Tis The Season

 

With Hurricane Irma threatening, as most South Carolinians converged on grocery stores last week to buy bottled water, batteries, non-perishable food and the like, I followed the herd. While there, I used the restroom. To my surprise, a woman in the last stall was having a conversation on her cell phone! This is not the first time I’ve shared the restroom with someone using their phone, nor was it the first time I watched them leave without flushing or washing their hands. Ugh! I then observed her cruising the grocery aisles, still talking on the cell phone squeezed between her tilted head and hunched shoulder, as she sorted through apples and canned goods, a vivid reminder that germs lurk everywhere.

What also surprised me was an article in the AARP Bulletin, “Boomers Are Skipping Needed Vaccinations”. I am not one of those boomers.  After two months of bronchitis last winter, I’m super aware of germs and getting vaccinations. My odyssey of antibiotics and inhalers started as a head cold after a shopping trip to, yes, a grocery store just before Christmas. While I always get a flu shot, last year’s ordeal is also a reminder that as we get older, we are prone to complications. A chest x-ray did not indicate pneumonia (whew!), but it was an obvious possibility.

Flu season is now closing in upon us again. According to my doctor, flu season in the United States is October through May. Vaccinations are widely available. If you are working in retirement, your employer may offer vaccinations for free.

In my area a doctor’s appointment is not necessary to obtain a flu shot. My local pharmacist can administer the vaccine. In fact, that’s also how I got my shingles vaccine after seeing a friend with the blistering, painful rash on her forehead. Anyone who has had chicken pox is at risk for shingles.  Even if you have already had shingles, you are at risk for shingles.  That’s right.  Just seeing what my friend was going through, not to mention the ugly sight, was enough to send me running to the pharmacy. Since then, I have known many, many people who have gone through the ordeal of shingles. There is much where I will take my chances, this is not one of them.

Other vaccines to put in your arsenal of staying healthy are the pneumococcal pneumonia and tetanus shots. Until I fell in October 2015 and cut my head open, a tetanus booster was no where on my mind. When the ER doctor asked me when I had had one last, I couldn’t remember. Did I ever have one in South Carolina or was the last one nearly two decades ago in Michigan? If you can’t remember when, that’s a clear indication to get one.

My experience with bronchitis last year is a strong reminder of our general growing resistance to antibiotics, which are used to treat other conditions such as pneumonia. Therefore, according to the AARP article, it is becoming increasingly important to prevent the spread of diseases through vaccinations.

As we age, our bodies do not recover as easily as they once did. Our immune systems may not fight off disease as well as they once did. It is up to us to be proactive about our health. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about vaccinations. Keep track of your vaccinations and get the next shot when it’s due.

At the peril of sounding downright germ-a-phobic I carry sanitizer in my bag and car. I use it when I pump gas, use a cart at the store, a menu at a restaurant or anything that has been touched by the general public. I wash all fresh fruits and vegetables. After all, we have no idea who sorted through the apples before us. I keep my vaccinations up-to-date.  And, of course I use one of the best ways known to prevent the spread of germs — I wash my hands!

 

Ahhh – Autumn

Sun rises over the mist

Though autumn won’t officially start for another couple of weeks, Labor Day often marks the end of summer. If the kids aren’t already back in school, they will start this coming week after a final summer hoorah of barbecues, clam bakes or camping trips. While the smells of freshly polished linoleum and cleaning fluids will greet them next week, those of us on the other end of the age scale can plan our fall travel. The younger set, with or without children, have most likely already taken vacation and are back at school or work.

Even if it’s in our own backyard, we are most likely to find parks, beaches, museums and shops less crowded. For the adventurers among us, roads and airports will be less traveled and hotels and airlines offer up lower rates. Those of us not tethered to school calendars can take advantage of this season before the holidays set in.

Hearts-A-Burstin’ autumn berries

Last week Martin and I made a trip to Michigan to see our daughter’s family before the grandkids return to school next Tuesday. To our pleasant surprise, both the drive to and from was light traffic, as many other states including South Carolina have started the school year already. Interstate highways were free-flowing with no backups or slow downs, even around major cities. The hotel in Lexington, Kentucky, where we overnight half-way, was filled with business travel types. Not one family with children crossed our path. I had the pool entirely to myself.

In Michigan the nights were cooling, prompting me to need a flannel shirt. The blue water lakes chilled along with the fading summer. Yet the days were still mildly warm — a welcome respite for a heat-ravaged southerner.

For retirees unencumbered by work schedules fall can be a great time to travel. The weather is beginning to cool, even here in the South, bringing with it seasonal color changes in the mountains and foothills. We enjoy getting to the Blue Ridge Parkway during the week before the lines of weekend leaf peepers clog the roadway. Fall wildflowers of aster, joe pye weed and wild sunflowers still flourish. This weekend the Apple Festival in Hendersonville, NC ushers fall with a new crop of crisp apples, so recently picked a bushel can last weeks.

Spiderweb showcases the last flowers of summer

While in Michigan, we saw an ad on TV for Myrtle Beach, SC. While we have fall color and cooler nights in our upstate mountains, the beach beckons with still warm ocean water, no crowds and lower hotel rates. The first time Martin and I visited South Carolina was at Hilton Head Island in September. With a beachfront hotel, few other sunbathers around the pool, I relaxed on a chaise lounge, putting up my little red flag to attract an attendant for a drink or a snack after strolling the near empty beach. It was paradise all to ourselves.

There are also seasonal perks to enjoy with fall travel. Fall art festivals abound along with farm stand produce, apple cider, local honey, hay rides and bonfires. Besides fall color, botanical gardens and arboretums offer serenity as you enjoy nature in solitude or close to it. The sounds of geese flying south can be heard. As Martin and I drove out of Michigan early Tuesday morning we noticed the morning mist as the cooler nights and warm days produce the fog heralding autumn.

Fall is a favorite season for travel. Fewer crowds, lower prices, cooler weather and still plenty to do from bicycling to hiking to lolling on the beaches or climbing a mountain trail, natural beauty abounds before the winds of winter blow. Museums, trendy or untrendy shops, restaurants, antique malls and galleries await. Autumn wonders beckon. Where will you go this season?

 

All photography credit of Martin Merlino.

Time And Tales

 

 

The rewards of work are not the money and promotions. It is the friendships we make and hold for decades and perhaps a lifetime. Last night a longtime friend from my much younger working days came to dinner with his wife. We had not seen each other for more years than I care to think about.  Keeping in touch over the years is now made easier by social media.

I met Dan in 1983 when we worked for a national storage company. When I left the mid-west to join the acquisitions department in Seattle, Dan took my position as regional manager.

One had to be partially insane, at least, to work with him, or me for that matter. He is still one of the few people who gets my humor. I get his. We usually laughed through most of the more serious company meetings, seeing comical aspects where others dared not tread. I remember one meeting where we attracted the ire of the company president. Later, we laughed about that, too.

And there were days when I wanted to slap Dan myself because he tended to push the limits, like the day we were in Houston on business and he dropped me off at the airport with nine minutes to make my flight to Denver. Those were, of course, before the days of September 11. As we rushed toward the airport, I threatened to shoot him if I missed my flight. After a hurried goodbye, I pushed my way to the front of check-in, then sprinted down the hall and through the door with an electronic sign flashing “Now Boarding”. Mentally, I swore I was going to shoot him anyway. It all happened so fast.  Remembering a trip with a passenger on the incorrect flight, as the plane took off, I turned to the guy sitting next to me and queried, “We are going to Denver, aren’t we?”

We worked hard, but friends like Dan made it palatable. We had a lot of fun, crazy times. We talked about those times last night. We remembered other co-workers, some retired, some still working, some already gone from these earthly bonds.

Our kids are now grown, both of us grandparents. We were dining at my oldest daughter’s home, telling tales of our adventures as five of my grandchildren milled around the table waiting for dessert to be served. My daughter reminisced with us about babysitting Dan’s two children, taking them to all sorts of places in her turquoise colored Dodge.

It is said, “time waits for no one”. And, that is certainly true. The passage of time is inevitable. We often think of time from the perspective of world events, yet for all of us, time is personal. Our time is made up of how we spend it and who we spend it with, fragments woven into tales to be told.

In The Path Of History

Sky will be darkened by the moon eclipsing the sun

 

Tomorrow there will be a total eclipse of the sun in my backyard. Well, not really total, but 99.97%. That’s about as total as one can get. It’s also not in my backyard backyard, but scuttling across the horizon of my home town.

 

I’ve heard that Greenville, SC will be clogged with tourists. Every hotel room is sold out. Scalpers are selling the special glasses for exorbitant amounts of money. Roads are expected to be jammed. Some of those paying attention to the calendar took the day off to avoid the traffic and have an eclipse party instead of going to work. Also paying attention to the calendar, school officials postponed starting classes until the day after the eclipse.

One of the perks of retirement is I can be home, regardless, to watch the event. I already bought my glasses at a reasonable price. The fridge is stocked with what I think will be the makings of an eclipse drink — lemonade and pomegranate juice. A menu of cold salads for that hot day ends with moon pies for dessert. One of my grandchildren is already safely ensconced at my house and other relatives arrived late yesterday.

Though this is a rare event, NASA predicts another total eclipse crossing the US in 2024. So, if you are not in the path of this total eclipse of the sun, you may have a chance at it in the future. You can start planning your party now for 2024. After looking at past eclipse dates on the NASA site, it appears there is one every few years somewhere in the world.

I remember watching an eclipse with my mother as a child in New Jersey. There was no big hubbub that I can remember. I don’t even recall other people around us although there could have been other family and neighbors. At the time, I didn’t understand what a big event it was, so my memory of the eclipse is not very vivid. I do remember my mother being excited in the same way she was when she hauled me out of bed on a cold winter night to see the Aurora Borealis or northern lights.

Natural phenomena is always a draw for us humans. Party or no party, if you are in the path of the solar eclipse tomorrow, take a moment to watch it. Be sure you have glasses or use the pin hole method — guard your eyes. The 99.97% is expected to be a mere 2 minutes plus in my backyard. I wouldn’t miss it. Seeing it once is a once in a lifetime. Seeing it twice is a real bit of luck. Moon pies anyone?