Freedom

A flag watches over the grape vines

 

This week the United States celebrates another birthday. Since the 4th falls on a Tuesday, it is a long weekend for those workers lucky enough to also take Monday off. Last Thursday as I did my usual grocery shopping for the next month, I passed displays of beach towels and flipflops, towers of soda and beer, end caps filled with backpacks, American flags and fireworks. People frantically rushing to gather goodies for the holiday clogged the aisles. I was reminded of the days when I, in my suit and heels, also rushed through a store at lunch hour or after work to grab last minute Independence Day necessities.

After viewing this scene from my retired perch, I decided I’m also celebrating the personal freedom retirement brought me. For the first time in my life I am not bound to do what society expects of us. Even as a child I did not enjoy the freedom retirement affords me.

Today, there are no parents, managers or other authority figures dictating how I spend my time. The suits and heels are long gone. OK I have one suit and two pair of heels left in my closet for special occasions. But, my wardrobe of choice these days is jeans and t-shirts with loafers, sandals or sneakers. The suit hangs in a breathable bag; the heels are boxed high on a shelf.

Oh, I still have responsibilities. I have to pay the utilities on time, keep a watchful eye on my investments and adhere to a self-imposed budget lest I become a bag lady at ninety. I have to be a good citizen and mind the laws of my state and country, get my drivers license renewed and pay my taxes. But, how I spend my days is up to me. That is a huge responsibility in and of itself. Ingrained in the workaholic boomer generation is the idea that leisure time is wasted time. Freedom just may come with an emotional price.

However, that’s not for me either. I learned a long, long time ago when my workaholic ways caved in upon me, that every life needs balance. I accomplish a lot in my freedom filled life. I also give myself permission to just sit and be for a time each day. Piddling, as my dad called it, is good for the mind and the soul. Taking time to watch birds flutter around the feeders in the back yard while I enjoy my morning coffee is not wasted time.

Accomplishments in retirement are not the same as accomplishments in my past work life. In June I spent a morning trimming grape vines within an inch of their lives. This task is necessary so the vines put their energy into the clusters of grapes. I consider that an accomplishment. Not one that will get me a promotion or a raise, but one that gives me pleasure knowing I will pick clusters of deep purple grapes come fall.

After a day working in my gardens, I always, ALWAYS take a garden tour, strolling leisurely while I admire the beauty. I also consider that an accomplishment. We all need a moment to stop and smell the roses. Otherwise, what’s the point of having them?

This week while workers take a long weekend crowding beaches and camp grounds, turning out for spectacular fireworks displays and enjoying a cold beer around the barbecue, I’m celebrating my successful transition to retirement freedom. Now that is an accomplishment!

 

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It’s Not All Doom and Gloom

Nearly a year ago I wrote this piece. I think it bears repeating as there is much to be grateful for as we age.

There are benefits to aging. It’s not all doom and gloom. Currently, I’m dealing with a situation again that eight years ago made for a lot of angst in my life. Today, the second time around, it’s not exactly ho-hum, but I have the attitude of ‘it is what it is’. I slept through the night, no tossing and turning over possible outcomes. Sitting here this morning, relaxing with my mug of coffee and surrounded by three of my zen masters (read cats), the benefits of aging is what is on my mind. Here are a few of my thoughts:

1. The words “life’s too short” take on real meaning. While I used to mouth those words, my type A personality couldn’t stop thinking about how to mitigate a given situation. With age I’ve come to understand what I can control and what I can’t. I control what I can. The rest I leave fluttering in the wind without worry.

2. I’m grateful for the ability to experience aging. We all had people in our lives who didn’t make it this far. Disease or accident claimed their lives early. My oldest brother was killed in a car accident. He will be forever twenty. Old age is a gift.

3. I care a lot less about what I wear and how I look. Oh, I still take care of myself. But, my wardrobe consists mainly of t-shirts, jeans and comfy shoes or sandals. When I worked, along with business attire, I put on full makeup every day, styled my hair. Now, I throw on some mascara and blush if I’m going out, pull my hair back into a ponytail and off I go. And, I let my hair go grey. Twenty years ago grey hair and wrinkles bothered me — no more. I’m free!

4. Along with the confidence to sport grey hair and wrinkles, aging has brought more confidence in general. I was always a decision maker. No sitting on the fence for me. But, with age I am more confident in my decisions as being the right ones for me. I’m concerned with what my husband thinks and how my decisions affect him. Otherwise, I don’t think about it much. No one knows what’s best for me like me.

5. Speaking of decisions, there are fewer to make. Life is less complicated. I have fewer roles. Other roles have changed. My working self is gone along with concerns about the company, my clients, my employees, my manager, my time, my commitment, my dress and my decisions. While I’m still a mother, my children are adults, on their own. I’m a grandmother who can enjoy my role without most of the demands of parenting.

6. I no longer live for the weekend. Every day is Saturday. My favorite days are Monday through Friday. Those are the days of the week when I like to go places. I don’t have to deal with crowds or rush hour traffic. Rarely do I have to stand in a long line to check out at a store, get a good table at a nice restaurant or see a show. I can sleep late if I feel like it or get up early if I feel like it. I make my schedule based upon my preferences, not someone else’s.

7. I want less stuff. I’ve figured out what’s important in life and it isn’t the accumulation of things. Relationships with my spouse, family and friends are important. Even my pets are more important than any material thing I could acquire. Doing the activities I enjoy is important. Giving of my time and myself to someone else is important.

These are a few of the benefits to aging I thought of. What are the benefits you see in your life?

HAPPY HOLIDAYS

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

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

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

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

I leave you with the Buddhist prayer of loving kindness:

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

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

Kathy

LETTERS TO MY MOTHER

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.

GRATITUDE REVISITED

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 things for which I was grateful. 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 the journal. On its 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. A new exploration. 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. So, 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 stuff. But, 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 even better off 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 from working 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 love of gardening and mentoring other gardeners through the Master Gardener Program, painting and making art out of gourds and supporting SAFE Homes/Rape Crisis Coalition. But, 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.