Crabs In A Pot

 

 

Crabs in a Pot

Crabs in a Pot

Growing up on the shore, we sometimes went to an inlet from the sea with an old bulkhead. As the tide went out, we searched for crabs clinging to the decaying wood. Back home in my parents’ kitchen, my younger brother and I played with the crabs on the floor as my mother boiled a large pot of water on the stove. Once the water came to a full rolling boil, my Dad put the crabs in the pot. It seems cruel to me now, but as children my brother and I liked to watch the drama of the crabs in the pot. You see, one of the crabs always tried to climb out of the pot while the other crabs pulled it back in until they all boiled together providing quite a show.

It wasn’t until I took the Dynamic Aging Program at Furman University that I heard crabs in a pot used as an analogy to describe people who are aging in the way our society expects us to age. According to the program creator, Dudley Tower, Ph.D, most people today just follow the expected norm, retiring to a life of leisure where they play golf or cards, travel, do a little volunteer work or whatever activity they choose to occupy their time, until they slowly decline mentally and physically, sliding little by little, day by day, inch by inch, toward death.

We expect to take care of ourselves by following a healthy diet, doing some type of exercise but, believing, inevitably, we’ll need assisted living and eventually, maybe, probably nursing home care. Prior to my mother’s death several years ago, she spent the last three months of her life in a nursing home. After visiting her with my husband and youngest daughter, as we rode the elevator down to the ground floor, I said to my daughter, “If I ever have to be in a facility like this, it is my express wish that you just shoot me.”

As dreary and desperate as that sounds, my view has not changed. So, the story of the crabs in a pot resonated with me. But what is the alternative? Is there an alternative? We all know we are all going to die. As my father used to say, “Nobody gets out alive.” Then, of course, he’d chuckle at his little joke. In fact, most of us have probably lived our lives based on societal norms and expectations of how we should behave. We went to school, grew up with little push back, got a job, got married, had kids, bought a house with a mortgage, raised the kids, advanced in the job and finally, here we are, retired. And, now, we are following the normal model of aging, retiring to a life of leisure and slow physical and cognitive decline until we have to go to a nursing home. In other words, we are waiting to slowly boil to death like crabs in a pot. Ugh!

Now, for the alternative to what was the normal aging experience for our parents and grandparents. People are living longer with more and more people in developed countries living to be 100. Retiring at 60 to 70 years of age could leave you with 30 to 40 years until you die. Think about it! If the idea of spending 20 to 30 years playing golf or mahjong or traveling or gardening or whatever and then going to assisted living followed by nursing care, is your idea of a great life, that’s entirely up to you. But, wouldn’t you rather do something more exciting?

I asked myself the question, “What would you do with the last third of your life if you were not afraid?” It is self-imposed limitations that hold us back. Self-imposed limitations are something we attribute to ourselves out of fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of ridicule, fear of whatever we are afraid of. What would you do if society, your friends, your family, your neighbors didn’t expect you to live a life of leisure until your world becomes smaller and smaller and you decline further and further? Would you go back to college, start a new career, open a business, learn a new skill, follow your heart, resurrect a childhood dream?

The last third of life offers a freedom like none we have ever experienced. What others think about what we do with our lives really doesn’t matter. We can let our imaginations soar. We can take some behavioral risk. Our society, however, does not readily support personal development as we age. Someone who is 20 or 30 or 40 or even 50 is expected to continue developing on a personal level. It’s a given, the same as society’s expectation of decline for our aging population.

By the time we hit the big 60, we are expected to slow down. We start hearing the ‘at your age’ mantras. Oh, yes, we hear on occasion about the 79 year old weight lifter with a great set of abs or the 89 year old gymnast still vaulting off equipment like a teenager or the 98 year old publishing a first book. Why aren’t we all striving to do something we always longed to do but never had the time to pursue?

Because we believe the aging euphemisms about slowing down, about being too old to do this or that. As children, we all had dreams. We all learned new things every day, day in and day out. Aging dynamically requires more than taking care of our health. It requires that we look inside ourselves and resurrect our thirst for learning, our thirst for living on our personal edge and maybe a dream or two. We really won’t know what we are capable of as we age until we throw out society’s expectation of aging.

Shortly after retiring, it occurred to me that retirement was not all it was cracked up to be. Sure, I enjoyed the honeymoon after leaving work, when everyday seemed like an extended vacation. It didn’t take long, however, for disillusionment to set in. I missed the challenge and excitement and camaraderie that work provided. Yet, I didn’t want to go back to work, at least not the traditional work place.

Instead, I resurrected a dream and have been pursuing it ever since. My dream was to be a writer. Long, long ago life got in the way. Having to support a family and taking a different career path, I gave up my dream. Shortly, after retiring, with the power of the internet, I started my own blog. I became a writer. Recently, I started taking courses in writing to sharpen my skills. I decided to seriously pursue writing as a craft. And, now I’m writing my memoirs along with some short stories. I may or may not find a publisher. I may have to self-publish. It doesn’t matter. What matters are the possibilities I am creating for myself.

 
I am feeling more alive and excited about the future than I have in years. I’m more mindful of what I am doing with my life. I have goals. I have a vision of how I want the rest of my life to play out. I am aging dynamically. And, that is the alternative. We can meet society’s expectation of how we will age or we can chart a new course, throwing away previous models and maps. How about it? Are you going to be a crab in a pot? Or, will you be the one who scrambles over the side to freedom? Come on…dream a little dream or two.

Fences

Setting boundaries

Setting boundaries

In the past few weeks I’ve had more than one friend tell me how, now that they are over 60, they’re having an easier time telling people what they actually think. They are having an easier time saying, “No” and putting their needs first.

One said, “Do you think that’s selfish?” My resounding answer was and is, “Absolutely not! In fact, it’s healthy.”

On the other hand I encountered someone trying to please everyone. As she found out, not for the first time, pleasing everyone is an impossible task. I’ve learned the act of trying to please one person often means being unfair to another person. Then, when that person squawks and you try to alter the situation to please them, the first person is affronted. What a mess! It’s a no-win situation for the people-pleaser.

Being a people-pleaser takes its toll on our stress level. While the people-pleaser is trying to please others, they are usually putting their feelings and needs aside. We already have our own problems. Increasing that burden by accepting ownership of someone else’s feelings or problems also increases our stress level. The current mantra of “Not my circus; not my monkey” is a healthy thought. Leaving someone else’s monkey on their back means you are setting boundaries.

All too often we look at setting personal boundaries as building fences that keep others out. In reality we are making others responsible and accountable for their situation. Remember the old saying, “Good fences make good neighbors?” Just like a physical fence along a lot line, setting personal boundaries tells others which space is yours and which space belongs to them. It sets the tone of respect for your emotions, your time and your well-being.

One of the situations I’ve come across in retirement is people who think I am sitting around with lots and lots of time on my hands just waiting for them to give me something to do. Before I retired I was warned by an already-retired acquaintance how I would need to guard my time jealously. He was correct. This is where I found it necessary to set boundaries time and again as people thought I would make a great volunteer for their organization or I had time for one more class or an afternoon of playing cards or joining one more club or group. I struggle at times, but for my personal sanity I learned to say, “No.”

Most of the time I’m in a give and take relationship where my decision is accepted graciously. There is mutual respect. However, if my decision is not respected and pushback ensues, I have no qualms about pushing back myself. And, yes, I find it easier to tell people what I want, need and think now that I’m in my sixties. After decades of caring for others, sometimes to my detriment, this time is for me. Oh, I still have people I care for and want to take care of, but I put my needs at the top of the pecking order.

Working on self-awareness is wholly necessary to reach self-confidence in setting boundaries. Being mindful of who you are in retirement, what you want from these years and what you need emotionally to achieve a fulfilling lifestyle will help you stay on your chosen path. Fences do not keep people out; fences allow you to thrive on your terms.

From There To Here

This post first appeared on May 6, 2013.  It actually took another 18 months to find real satisfaction in retirement.  But, this was a turning point. 

One of the Rolling Stones most popular hits was a song titled “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”. That seemed to be my theme song for the first 6 months after we officially retired. But, finally after 6 months plus, we have adjusted to our new life. So, today I’m posting what I believe are the steps for getting here from there.

Like most people preparing for retirement, we focused on the financial aspect. And, I don’t want to make light of how important that factor is. It’s, in fact, the single most important factor. No matter where you are in life, if you don’t have enough money to at least meet your basic needs, you aren’t likely to be happy. But, as we approached retirement, the big surprise for us was how our enthusiasm gave way to stress and emotion at saying goodbye to a forty year way of life.

Planning your financial security is a piece of cake compared to addressing the emotional components in your retirement planning. Early on I posted The Transition about being broad-sided by the emotional aspect of retiring. We planned, planned, planned for the money but didn’t put a lot of thought into the psychology. I guess that’s because most books, articles and web sites focus on the finances. We had lots of activities, family and friends and a wish list of travel and learning. But, we were very unprepared for the emotion and stress. After 6 months of ups and downs, corrections in mindset and adjustments, I am able to identify what we should have done to make the transition more painless.

What is the saying about hindsight? It’s 20/20. I hope my 20/20 hindsight vision will help anyone contemplating retirement. Here we go…

  • When we decided to retire, we looked at retirement as a destination. What I realized about two months into it is retirement is a journey. Hence, the tagline for my blog. There is no one place you are going to. It’s, instead, a never ending adventure. Wrap your head around that because your mindset is very important to entering your journey. You need a forward looking attitude. If your employer has an Employee Assistance Program offering a few weeks of free counseling as one of the benefits, take advantage of it. Even if you think you don’t need it, see a counselor and take your spouse or partner with you. You don’t know what you don’t know. Does that make sense? I hope so. A counselor can help you focus on this next part of your life and how to make the transition less bumpy.

 

  • With that in mind, sever the emotional ties to your old work place as soon as possible. Sounds harsh. But once you really say goodbye, you are free to focus on your new life. So, move on as quickly as possible. Martin was really good at saying goodbye. I had a more difficult time. Staying in the loop on your old employer’s activities, politics and (brrr..shudder) the gossip is counterproductive to what you really want to accomplish by retiring. I’m not saying discard true friendships developed through work. I have real friends I met at work, but we have lots of other things in common, which is why we’re friends. Ditch the relationships based on nothing but the work. You left work because you are looking for a new community and activities. Don’t cling to the past.

 

  • Like many people we chose our date based on birthdays. Sounds logical because, again, it’s all about the finances. Right? Wrong! You can start collecting from your 401K or IRA at 59-1/2. You can start collecting social security at 62. Base your date on these events and you may be making a big mistake. In choosing your date forget the finances and look at your activities. What are you planning to do with your days? Plan for this just like you plan for your finances and be specific. That was our mistake. When people said, “What are you going to do in retirement?”, we gushed about motorcycling, bicycling, gardening, hiking and some travel. Most of our activities are fair weather types. In South Carolina, the weather is such, you can normally do some outside activities even in the winter. However, we had an unusually rainy, cold, long winter. In fact, as I write this, it’s 52 degrees and 3-5 inches of rain pouring down in May! Even our travel destinations were not conducive to a lot of sightseeing during this winter. We went some places anyway but it was not as enjoyable as anticipated. Fortunately, we had plenty of indoor activities and we stayed open to trying new ones. Choose your date carefully.

 

  • Speaking of timing, if you have a spouse or partner, who is also retiring, choose the same retirement date. One of the most difficult transitions was my adjustment to Martin being at home. You see, I left work two years earlier. My routine was mostly just up to me. Once he left the house every day, I did things on my schedule. I’m also less structured than Martin so part of my routine was no routine. Suddenly, I had someone else in the house all day wanting to know what I was going to do with my time or wanting me to tag along with them when I had other ideas. It took the first three months for us to mesh our wants, needs and routines. I’d like to say that occurred without a lot of stress, disagreements and negotiation, but I’d be lying. This is an area where an EAP counselor could have made a difference for us.

 

  • Next up, be sure you have enough activities to occupy your time. If you work an eight hour day with an hour for lunch and a 30 minute commute one way, that’s ten hours of activity per day or 50 hours a week you have to replace. The first couple of weeks you feel like you’re on vacation. Enjoy that feeling of just kicking back and doing nothing. But, after that, you need a boat load of activities to take up 50 or 60 hours each week. Make a list of your hobbies, crafts, volunteer activities and how much time will be dedicated to each one on a weekly basis. Martin and I have also been watching one of our grandkids two days a week. He’s also continued to visit his parents for lunch weekly. We had a few maintenance items, which needed performing on our house and property. Include anything like that as well. If you can’t come up with at least 40 hours of activity to replace your work time, start looking around for clubs to join, new volunteer adventures or classes to take. And, once you retire, keep your mind open to learning new things and taking on new adventures. I’ve read retirees watch way too much TV. Don’t become one of them! This is an opportunity to grow and re-energize your life. Don’t squander it on the boob-tube. We’ve quickly figured out how taking up a new project or learning a new skill adds excitement and purpose to our lives. I want those feelings to continue, don’t you?

 

  • We also found the word ‘retirement’ in and of itself was a negative. The definition and societal view of retirement is such a has-been, life is over connotation. I kept reading every article I could find on the terms used to describe someone who is growing older and retired. All of them so dreary. I also read several articles about others trying to find a better definition for the words ‘retiree’ and ‘senior’. So, I’m not alone. I guess my subconscious was just working away to find another term because a couple of months ago, it just popped into my head. I’m a PIM…Person of Independent Means. The definition is since I no longer need to work for money I can do whatever the Hell I want with my time, including working for money, if I want to. Even retirees who have to work part-time can be PIM’s as they also have some independent means. Being a PIM instead of a retiree is liberating. It gives you a whole different mindset about this segment of the journey of your life. We have choices. We are healthy. We are active. We get to write a whole new chapter on our terms. And, the term is PIM!

So, how do we feel about being retired…errr…PIMs? We could not even begin to think about returning to the work force. That’s how we feel. We’re having too much fun.

We’re enjoying the freedom of so much choice. We’re enjoying the challenge of finding new and interesting things to do. We’re enjoying the exploration and the thrill of discovery. We’re enjoying meeting other PIMs and developing a new community of friends and acquaintances. We’re enjoying not having to make a 30 minute commute to work in the pouring rain and instead, making spaghetti sauce, chocolate chip cookies, snuggling in to read, write, knit, spin on the stationary bike and talk. Then, later, opening a bottle of red and enjoying a delicious dinner.

 

I guess the final step is just relax, give yourself time to adjust and keep an open mind. The journey to here from there is just beginning.

Are You A Positive Person?

 

 

We’ve all heard the sayings designed to promote a positive outlook in the face of life’s bumps in the road. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” “If life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” “You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control your response.” I once believed I should put my negative feelings aside, smiling through any negative situation.

In the 1980’s, while working for a company that espoused a lot of new age thought, I was spoon fed those sayings with the caveat that any negative feelings would not be tolerated.  Every single employee was sent to a weekend of training to help rid us of the negatives preventing true success. If we quashed all the negativity in our lives, thinking nothing but positive thoughts, good karma would surely come our way. The company would benefit.

The problem occurred when we ignored negativity including gut feelings about certain projects. Then when the project didn’t turn out as expected, we continued to smile through the ruins, sometimes throwing good money after bad.

Aging and life experience brought on a new perspective — I believe it’s a lot healthier to acknowledge your negative feelings. (I also believe the definition of success is personal and not necessarily tied to money.)  While we can gain a lot by being optimistic about life, the truth is bad things happen to every one of us. No one is immune regardless of how positive they may be. Bad karma has a way of showing up.

Negative feelings serve a purpose from warning us that a situation is possibly detrimental for us to grieving over a bad situation in order to move on from it. It is not only o.k. to grieve, to rant, to feel down, it is part of the healing process. It’s also o.k. to question why you feel negative about a situation and listen to your gut instead of just your head.

People often call me positive or optimistic. Believe me I have my share of negative moments.  The idea of going around acting like ‘Little Mary Sunshine’ when you are dying inside is putting on an act to the world. It’s like fake news.

What I learned about myself is that pushing the negative feelings down caused them to eventually erupt in a ball of fire. Better to extinguish them when they are just a tiny flicker. Better for me and better for everyone around me.  Meditation or the ear of a good friend help me deal with the negatives and dispel them.

The only thing we can count on in life is change. Sometimes it’s good change; sometimes it’s neutral; sometimes it’s negative. Being open to change and acknowledging our negative feelings helps us come to grips with whatever the situation. Listening to our negative voice may also save us from a bad situation altogether.

While I still try to make lemonade when life hands me lemons, I also take a big sour bite of whatever is gnawing at me. Then I add the sugar and move on.

Let It Snow!

Snow among the pines

Snow among the pines

I woke Saturday morning to six inches of snow on the ground, a rare occurrence in South Carolina. Everything comes to a screeching halt when the crystalline white fluff covers the roadways. Malls and banks close. Grocery stores sell out of bread and milk, those southern essentials for a winter storm. Everyone who can hunkers down.

It is days like this when I appreciate retirement more than usual. While others may be wondering, especially with a week day storm, whether they have to go to work or not, I get to sit around all day in my pajamas or go out for a winter wonderland walk.

Camellias survive the storm

Camellias survive the storm

Taking a cue from Jean of JeansGarden.wordpress.com I make an effort to enjoy the shorter days as the sun sits lower in the sky. As a transplanted northerner I can appreciate this brief reminder of Michigan and New York winters knowing that by Monday the southern sun will have melted all but the last remnants of our storm.

In the meantime, there is beef bourguignon bubbling on the stove, fortified by an entire bottle of hearty red wine. What will be baked later into a crusty boule is rising in a glass bowl under a wet towel. Martin is painting. I’m writing. Cats laze around on my lap and the hearth in front of the fire. Birds peck through the snow on the backyard wall in search of sunflower seeds, now buried treasure.

A quiet moment on a quiet day, I’m content to just let it snow.

A bench in the woods awaits my contemplation

A bench in the woods awaits my contemplation

 

 

If Your Resolutions Don’t Stick, Try This

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Kathy

Gratitude Revisted

This was one of my earliest posts first appearing on February 18, 2013.  By this date, I had an epiphany about retirement as in need of life purpose over many, many years.  In this season of hope, joy and peace I thought this post may inspire some resolutions for 2017.

 

A few years ago I made a gratitude journal listing all the things in life for which I was grateful — my husband, my daughters, grandchildren, extended family, love, friends, our cats, good health, good jobs, financial stability, a comfortable home, food in my garden and on the table.

As I counted my blessings, the list grew and grew. For a while, I continued to write down, with each new day, the gratitude I felt for  even the simplest occurrences. A beautiful sunrise. Flowers in my garden. A kind smile from a stranger.

Then, for whatever reason, life got in the way or I just plain got lazy, I stopped writing about my gratitude for the everyday gifts. This weekend, I pulled open a drawer and there was my journal. On it’s cover are the words, Inspire, Dream, Hope, Believe, Imagine, Create. Suddenly, I realized, these words describe what I want my retirement journey to be.

It’s been four months since we retired. And, after four months, we’re finally getting the hang of it. We’re finally starting to get into a rhythm of life without the structure of a career, which isn’t a rhythm at all. It’s more of an improvisation.

We’re relaxing more. We’re enjoying more. Each day is a fresh chance for a new adventure. We can do nothing at all or we can start a new hobby or work on an old one or read a new book or get in the car or on the motorcycle and drive to wherever we want. It’s been a while in coming, but as I looked at the cover of my gratitude journal, I realized retirement is not a destination; it’s a journey.

Now, as I think about my journey, I open the cover and revisit my gratitude lists. And, I add another item. I am grateful I have the opportunity to make this journey. Many others have died before they had the chance to enjoy this season of life. So, I thank God for giving me each new day at this age, in this way. And, I thank Him for giving me the wisdom to recognize the opportunity. As I continue reading, I feel a certain excitement thinking about the possibilities for my journey.

I know it’s February 18 but resolutions aren’t reserved solely for New Year’s Day.  I also make a resolution this day to stop complaining about aging. In the last couple of weeks I’ve seen a few news stories about how the baby boom generation is in worse health than their parents’ generation at this age. Our poorer health is due to the way we eat and don’t exercise. So, there are more of us already in wheel chairs or using canes. More of us are diabetics and have heart disease — really depressing situations.

However, that’s not me. Even with all my health issues, which are truly normal aging issues, my health age is 53 not my biological age of 60. Martin, who bicycles about 100 miles a week, is in better shape than I am. With my garden, we eat well, watch our diet and we exercise. So, today I stop whining about getting old!

I’m in great shape! Oh, yes, I’m adding this to my gratitude journal along with note to self, “Do not whine about aging!”

Over the past few months, through a combination of writing this blog, research and actually living the transition into retirement, I’ve concluded life in retirement is no different than career life in that we need purpose. Retirees who continue to live their lives with purpose are happier.

I’m not sure what my purpose is. Perhaps, it’s simply to carry on with my loving family, my passion for gardening and mentoring other gardeners through the Master Gardener Program, painting and making art out of gourds and supporting SAFE Homes/Rape Crisis Coalition.

Whatever my purpose, I know my retirement is a journey, not a destination. This is a season of my life for which I am grateful.

Happy Holidays

This post originally appeared on November 22, 2015.

 
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 invoking the idea of a ‘war on Christmas’. Last year I had someone say to me, “I hate Happy Holidays!” As a Christian, I asked myself, “How is it someone is using the word hate in this season of peace, love and joy?”

So, I decided this year to weigh in myself in an attempt to give a different perspective in order to quell what seems to me a silly thing for concern, 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 this.

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, most notably of Protestant faiths. I remember my parents talking about how it was a big step for many when Kennedy, a Catholic, was elected President of the United States.

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 decades 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. Well, folks, a 2016 poll by ABC news found that 83% of Americans still identify themselves as Christians.

I can’t speak for the rest of the world. But, these days, we live in a much more pluralistic nation and for that matter, the entire world is 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. It’s about acceptance of differences and not making this all about me and my faith.

This season is not about us individually. It is not about self-righteous indignation. It is not about hate. 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 our small differences aside and accept each other regardless of faith or any other differences for that matter. 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, wherever you are in the world, whatever your circumstance, whatever your faith – Happy Holidays

Kathy

How To Make 2017 Your Best Year Ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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