Second Fastest Old Man In The State

This post first appeared on June 18, 2013.

At the finish line

At the finish line

After nine months of training including over 3,000 miles of bicycling, we headed to the coast for Martin to compete in the South Carolina State Time Trial Championships. When he was working, he didn’t have the time to dedicate to rigorous training and a chance to place in the top three. So, the time trial made it onto his retirement bucket list.

The championship breaks the riders up into age categories. Even though Martin is only 59, on his next birthday, he’ll be 60 so he is in the 60 – 65 year olds. Weird, but that’s how they do it. Being one of the youngest riders in his age category also presents the opportunity to check a gold, silver or bronze medal off his bucket list.

Packed and ready, Friday morning we drove the three and a half hours through the Land of Charles to Charles Town for the race. For you history buffs, Carolina is latin for Charles. The “Merry King” Charles granted the land of the Carolinas to his buddies, but named it for himself. Then, his grateful friends, named the sea port Charles Town, which eventually became Charleston. A liberal bastion in a conservative state, Charleston is known world wide for its gracious southern hospitality, beautiful historic district, jazz clubs and inspired regional cuisine. However, the area is chosen for the time trial, not for any of the above, but because it is flat, flat, flat.

Following a yummy lunch of chicken and pasta in fresh tomato sauce at the Kings Street Grill, Martin and I head north on Highway 17 to find the time trial course. The 25 mile course starts at Seewee Outpost north of Charleston.

Driving the highway, the first thing I notice is the lack of buildings and parking lots up against the street. Looking down the road, it appears we are in the middle of no where. All I see are towering pines and oaks with an occasional sign announcing a shopping center or business hidden behind the green space. These folks do not want an ugly view of brick, steel and asphalt.

Whoever’s in charge of city planning is really in charge. The green space isn’t the usual landscaped facade put up after all the natural vegetation is bull dozed to oblivion, then burned or hauled away. It is the natural vegetation. It’s the green stuff Mother Nature put there. Under mature pines and oaks is what most folks call scrub brush. Saplings, native grasses, Spanish bayonet, Dogwoods, vines, whatever Mother Nature dictates. Peeking through the deep expanse of green, I spy the most beautiful Walmart I’ve ever seen. Yes, really — a Walmart in full brick, huge curved front wall and columned portico on its face.

Looking at all this, we somehow can’t find the Seewee Outpost. Well, maybe it’s because the navigator (me) is too busy looking at the great big nursery we pass. But, with all the green space, we zip right by the Outpost. Looking at our map on the iPad (no, we don’t have a GPS…we’re old fashioned that way), I know it should be on the edge of Francis Marion National Park. So, I tell Martin to pull into the Education Center and I hop out to just, quick like a bunny, run in to ask where the Outpost is.

Inside, the ranger tells me the Seewee Outpost is about a mile back on the right. As I listen to her I see a table filled with info on native plants, habitat building and attracting butterflies. When she finishes giving directions, I tell her how I’m a Master Gardener with an interest in native plants and ask if I can take some of the flyers. “Oh, I have something for you! Just come with me,” she says.

wildflower-poster

Wildflower poster

I follow her into a back room.  We keep chatting as she pulls open long, narrow drawers and starts handing me beautiful posters on slick paper. Posters of South Carolina wild flowers, edible plants, mushrooms and trees. By the time Martin starts worrying about me and comes inside to hunt me down, I have four posters, which the ranger and I are rolling up to secure with a rubber band.

Saying goodbye to my new friend and wishing I had more time to spend at the Education Center, Martin and I drive back to the Seewee Outpost, buy some bottled water and then drive the time trial course.  This is so he knows what to expect with the terrain. It is flat, Baby, flat. Before heading back to our hotel, we stop at the big nursery and, of course, I buy a plant.

Next morning race registration starts at 7 a.m. so we arrive at, you guessed it, 7 a.m. Martin registers. Then, we forage for breakfast. He’s #67. Time trial starts at 9 a.m. with a rider pushing off every minute. That translates into a start time of 10:06 for Martin. The wait begins.

Returning from breakfast, he wanders around talking to other riders and watching the first ones out of the gate, while I start taking photos and log in to Facebook to post the event for our family and friends. The well wishes come rolling in.

Another rider assists

Another rider assists

Shortly after 9 Martin starts getting ready, squeezing into his, well, skin tight skin suit. A 76 year old rider, the oldest person in the time trial, holds the bike for Martin as he gets into his shoes, shoe covers and tear drop helmet. Then, off he goes to warm up. I keep shooting photos and posting, family and friends engaged in our event as the “likes” and comments keep coming.

10:06 a.m. and he’s off! I won’t see Martin again for another hour plus a few minutes. So, I stand near the finish line, talking to other waiters as we listen to the officials shouting “rider coming in” and watch each competitor pedaling furiously toward the end.

As the riders stop and talk to each other, I overhear comments about a 10-12 mile an hour wind — headwind in both directions. How is that possible? One after the other, they report not their best times.

As 11:10 turns into 11:15 and still no sign of Martin, my heart sags. His time is not what he expected. He probably won’t place. Yet, a part of me holds hope the riders talking about the wind interfering with their times represent all the riders. If everyone’s having slower times, Martin could still place. I remind myself he’s a winner no matter what, just for all the effort he put into training and then, showing up. But, I want him to place. I want him to proudly check this off his bucket list.

Finally, I see him. Even under the helmet and sunglasses, I can tell by the way he’s pedaling, he’s out of energy. Tired. Like every other rider, Martin summons a last ounce of will power and pedals wildly to the end as I snap a photo.

Whizzing by me he pedals down the road, slows, turns around and comes back. He can hardly talk. Sweat pours down his red face. Is he shaking? Yes, he’s shaking. I ask if I can get him a water. He mumbles, “Later,” then, s-l-o-w-l-y rides back to the car. I stop at the water tent anyway where one of the officials gives me some type of energy drink. “He’ll like that,” the official tells me.

As I hand Martin the drink, I see disappointment on his face. We talk about how his time wasn’t good and I tell him about the other riders’ comments about the wind. “Yes,” he says, “the wind was awful both ways.” I see a glimmer of hope in his eyes.

As Martin sips the energy drink, he recovers from the stress of the ride and walks down to the officials’ tent. They are close to posting everyone’s time. He walks back to the car to tell me. Well, at least the wait will be over.

Back at the tent, crowding around a board with all the other riders, Martin looks on the sheets of paper for his age category and name. Reading across, he sees it. And, next to his name under state ranking is the number 2! Wahoooooo! A silver medal!!!

All smiles now, he finds me. “It’s official,” he beams. “I’m the second fastest old man in the state.”

Check.

Glory Days

This post first appeared on April 8, 2014.  When I recently saw a comment on social media asking if we didn’t wish we could go back to the way things were in our youth, I decided to repost “Glory Days”.   

 

What is it about the past that it takes on a rosy glow for many people as they age? Was our past really so much better than our present? In my sixth decade I notice more and more people of my generation and older looking back longingly at the good old days. As I listen to those wistfully reliving their youth, it was a simpler time where everyone respected everyone else, crime was nearly non-existent, jobs plentiful in a soaring economy, children respected adults and the good times just went on and on. Their remembrance of their past is often contrasted to a perceived gloomy future riding on the heels of a problem ridden today.

Decades ago when my mother was close to my age, she remarked about an old friend wanting to get together to reminisce about the good old days. At the time I thought my mother was being a bit of a cynic as she went on to say she had no desire to relive the past. She didn’t believe it was all that wonderful.

Today, I tend to agree with her.  In many ways life is better today than it was in my youth. If people from my mother’s generation glorified the past as much as people from my generation do, is this a phenomenon, which occurs with each generation as we age? Or is each decade really worse than the previous or each 100 years really worse than the previous 100? I doubt 1916 was better than 2016. I doubt 1940 when my mother was a young woman was really better than 1980 when her friend wanted to revisit the good old days. Each moment in time is fraught with its problems and imbued with its excellence.

As a baby boomer, when I look back to my youth, I remember social turmoil as minorities and women fought for their civil rights. I remember limited opportunities for women. When I entered the management training program at a local bank, I was told to my face both at work and by men and women in the community how I was taking a job away from a man with a family. Gee, I guess my husband and two kids weren’t a family. See, I can be cynical, too.

I remember horrible diseases where there was no vaccine to spare child and parent from the specter of death or disability, including the dreaded polio, which I had at age 3. I managed to escape the disease relatively unscathed.

I remember a communist under every bed as we kids lined the school hallways scrunched down on the floor as air raid sirens blared a practice run in the shadow of the atom bomb threat. By the time I was 10 we didn’t line the hallways, but got under our desks as if that would save us. I remember seeing violence on the news every night as leaders were assassinated, Soviet tanks crossed borders, the civil rights movement erupted with bombs, tear gas and murders and the Vietnam War grew into a colossal loss of life.

I remember an economy, which unraveled as gas prices soared sending us into a long recession coupled with runaway inflation. Were there good times? Yes! There were great times. But, the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s were also not as rosy as some portray those decades.

I think Bruce Springsteen hit it out of the park with his song, “Glory Days”. All of the people he sang about longed for the days of their youth when they were riding high or life lay before them fresh, new and awaiting. Late teens and twenties seem to be the age most people gravitate toward with their stories of good old days. For some, it may be early thirties.

I’m one of those early thirty types. When I think about the past, there’s a time in my life starting at exactly age thirty where the entire world seemed to open up for me. It actually evokes a very pleasant feeling all warm and fuzzy, eternally rosy. When I think of this time, I get that warm feeling as my mind fills with wonderful memories. It was an exhilarating time of high success as my career took off. I jetted all over the country for my job. We made money, money and more money. Our kids took piano and ballet and played softball and basketball. They went to the best schools in the area. We went out to dinner at tony restaurants, were invited to parties where celebrities were also on the guest list, took vacations and belonged to local museums and art centers. We bought beautiful homes, cars and furniture and were what was known at the time as yuppies. The dreams and possibilities for our future seemed endless as we road this huge wave of personal and material success. The pictures in my mind and the warm feeling filter out how stressed I was as I scrambled to meet the obligations of career, spouse, family and community with little or no time for me. My filtered view of that time in my life doesn’t appear to be all that unusual. In the end, it was a time when I went from soaring heights to nearly going down in flames.

As we age, it seems to me we have experienced plenty, enough to make us feel as if our moment in the sun is over. It’s akin to that mid-life moment when we say to ourselves, “Is this all there is?” But, as it is in that moment, so it is in this moment. The biggest challenge in retirement is finding activities, which challenge us mentally, emotionally and physically. We can choose to be jaded and cynical about today and the future and seek comfort in our glory days. Or we can choose to seek out fresh, new horizons.

It is up to us to fire up the engines one more time and search for a reason to get out of bed every day, greeting the sun with excitement for the possibilities of today and all the tomorrows we have left. While it is fun to reminisce and essential for passing on family history to the next generation or getting to know a new acquaintance, recognize the past for what it is — the past, with all the good memories, flaws and imperfections. Instead of reimagining the past, use your imagination and energy to create a glory day today.

Caregiving Revisited

Thank you to everyone who wrote comments about last week’s post ‘Are You A Caregiver?’ The people who commented provide insight for the rest of us. This is so important because many of us will become caregivers at one time or another. All of the comments came from women, not unusual since the majority of caregivers are women, a wife, daughter, daughter-in-law or friend.

It appears the caregivers are taking on this task out of love and friendship, whether you are tending to a spouse, parent, grandchildren or a friend. Our human connection is the impetus for our caring for others. For those of us who are married, we apparently take the vow of “in sickness and in health” seriously. We love our spouses, our children and grandchildren and even our friends. We honor the relationships by continuing to care for them in a time of need.

Most caregivers are engaging in some type of self-care to give themselves a break. Reading for relaxation, tai chi, yoga, painting, a long lunch with a spouse and writing all made the list. According to my research on several sites, breaks are very important for fending off stress. Other recommendations for breaks are taking a twenty minute walk, meditation or talking to a friend.

I personally find art to be very calming. Drawing in particular puts me in what I call ‘the zone’ where I am so focused on what I’m doing, all other thoughts are zoned out. It is meditative.

Carole, who commented about caring for her spouse with cognitive decline, also writes a blog. Carole and I have something in common — we both find writing about our experiences to be therapeutic. You don’t have to start a blog and put it out there for the world, but writing about your thoughts, feelings and daily life as a caregiver may ease your situation. A simple journal will do. I invite you to visit Carole’s site at: http://oneoflifeslittlesurprises.blogspot.com

While you are supporting someone else, it’s important for caregivers to develop their support system. Friends and other family members can become your first line of defense against stress. It’s important to ask for and accept help if you need it. Many of us don’t feel like we should ask for help.  We tell ourselves we can do it all. We can’t.

Donna’s comment reminded me of an article I read many years ago about baby boomers being the sandwich generation. The writer was using the analogy of a sandwich because many of my generation were still caring for children at home as well as aging parents. Donna pointed out the situation today where we may be caring for both grandchildren and aging parents. Now that our kids are adults, many of us are pitching in to care for their kids.

Like caregiving itself, comments ran the gamut of some assistance, such as going along on doctor’s appointments to occasional babysitting to full-time assistance handling every household chore as well as caring for loved ones. According to the Mayo Clinic it is the people committed to high hours of care who are in most danger of feeling stress and strain with this role. Mayo Clinic recommends the following:

1. Accept help and focus on what you are able to provide.

2. Set realistic goals and learn to say no to things which add strain, such as hosting holiday meals.

3. Get connected with community organizations supporting caregivers and stay connected with family and friends.

4. Take care of your own health including regular checkups and discuss your situation with your doctor.

I thank everyone who contributed to this post with their comments and insights. Please take a minute to read their comments and look at Carole’s blog.  Not everyone retired expecting to be in the role of caregiver.  Life sometimes spins us a curve ball.  We are all on a different journey but their journey may become our journey one day.

Lust For Life

This wasn’t the article I intended to post today, but lunch with a friend yesterday was quite interesting. She brought up the concept of lust. We discussed it. I also thought about it a lot after our meeting. It reverberated with me so much I got up early this morning to put my other article aside (next week) and hastily write this perspective on lust.

This isn’t a perspective on the sexual type of lust.  However, that’s where I’m starting.  Lust is, after all, most often thought of as purely sexual desire and often a sexual desire that is out of control, making it a titillating subject indeed. I, myself, have referred to people who abandon a spouse for a new lover as being in lust not in love. Lust is one of the seven sins. The Bible says lust is bad or bad for us if it replaces love. It also says we shouldn’t covet material objects belonging to another.

Looking for a definition outside my Biblical teachings, I found all reflect this one from Merriam-Webster.com: ‘a strong feeling of sexual desire; a strong desire for something.’ That last part is what my friend and I talked about mostly — other forms of lust. In between sips of chardonnay (it was a late lunch), we agreed, although we are aging, we still have a strong desire, a lust for something.

I call it a lust for life. A strong desire to continue living with zeal and fervor and excitement for what may materialize on our still glorious horizons.

If lust is a strong desire like a craving, we all crave things at one time or another. We may crave something as simple as ice cream or a long, hot bath.  We may crave a new car or trip to some far off place. Didn’t many of us have a strong desire to leave the work place and be free in retirement to do what we want with our time? We may crave hitting the road in our RV and kicking around the country for months on end. We may have a strong desire to help others. We may have a strong desire to volunteer, leave money to a charity or create a scholarship to help someone go to college. We may have a craving to reinvent ourselves in retirement and do something we always dreamed of doing. Our cravings, our desires, our lusting after something is not necessarily bad or bad for us.

We have been lusting all our lives. Remember that cute boy or girl sitting across from you in junior year English, the one who invaded your dreams at night? That was probably about the same time you were lusting after a drivers license and your first set of wheels. After that you went on to lust after a great many things. Perhaps the taste of your first adult beverage, a real job, promotions, your first house, a bigger house, a masters degree, a trip to Europe or India or the Fiji Islands. Lusting fired our engines, not just our loins.

When we are young, we lust after life with an eagerness to experience all that we can. We dream. We scheme. We plan. We have a boundless energy focused on the future we strongly desire, we crave, we lust after. We want to gorge ourselves on all that life has to offer — the physical, emotional, mental, spiritual — the entire smorgasbord.

I still feel this way to a certain extent. Oh, I’m a little jaded at times. I have my been there, done that moods. Yet, there are many, many things I want to do in life. I still crave some adventure, trying a new activity, meeting new people, seeing new vistas, straining my brain, pushing my physical boundaries, entering a spiritual dimension I’ve never explored.

Lust gets a bad rap. A little lust for life can be good for us, especially as we age.  In a cliche we are older and wiser.  We aren’t going totally off the deep end, over the cliff. We are a little jaded.  Grabbing the world by the shirttail and twirling it around to see what shakes out is good for us.

Even now, for me at 64, it’s a big wide world out there and it’s easier to access than ever before. There are opportunities waiting to be taken advantage of. There are surprises to be found. There are secrets to be unlocked. There are discoveries to be made. And, I intend to continue lusting after them with a lust for life.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Occasionally I receive questions or comments from readers describing their unhappiness in retirement. Some ask how to get to their happy place. My belief, and this is just that, my belief, is we create our own happiness. Our perceptions of self and how the world looks to us is created by our beliefs, like the belief I just attributed to my thinking. I also ascribe to the notion of I don’t know what I don’t know. If there is something about my life I don’t like, I go in search of answers and change my outlook in order to change the outcome.

When I was searching for satisfaction and happiness in my own situation after retiring, I came across the concept of self-imposed limitations. I realized I was the creator of my unhappiness because I was engaging in self-talk that limited my view of retirement, which in turn limited my options. That, folks, kept me in the same holding pattern, circling the same airport with the same destination — unhappy retirement. In order to fly to a new destination, I had to break the pattern.

While you are writing to me about your unhappiness, describing what you don’t like and don’t want to do, on my end I am reading ‘self-imposed limitations’. You write, “I don’t like crafts”; “I’m not a hobby person”; “I’m not a joiner”; “I don’t like doing volunteer work”; “I’m not artistic”; “my husband, wife, friends don’t want to do this or that”; and I read ‘self-imposed limitations’. These are all statements describing your personal belief about your reality. They are beliefs that limit what you are doing or will do in your life. YOU are the person standing in the way of YOUR happy retirement.

Retirement is a time to reach your personal potential as a human being. Self-imposed limitations are negative self-talk preventing you from putting your dent in the universe. The first step to ridding yourself of this mindset is to recognize it. What are you telling yourself that is limiting, negative and without a proven basis?

For example, I waffled back and forth about taking drawing classes after my perceived failure at watercolor. I told myself things like, “I’m really not artistic. Who am I kidding? I can’t even draw a straight line.” I was talking myself out of taking the class using self-imposed limitations. Fortunately, I have a husband who encouraged me to try it. As you know if you’ve been reading this blog, I made the discovery of a lifetime. I still can’t draw a straight line, but I can draw people, animals, flowers and a lot of other things. And, now, I’m trying watercolor again, with some success.  Think about what you may be missing in life because you are filling your mind with self-imposed limitations. Recognize them and replace them with positive self-talk.

There was a TV show about getting people to face and overcome their biggest fears. Though I never watched it, I remember seeing a clip of someone facing their fear of snakes. What are you afraid of that keeps you from trying something new in retirement? What is your snake? Dig deep. Be honest. Sometimes we don’t try, failing before we even start, because we are afraid of exactly that — failing. “What if I have to drop out because I really am not good at __________(you fill in the blank)?” “What will my friends say?” “How embarrassing to fail.” “People will think I’m a loser if I don’t finish.”

So what if it doesn’t work out? This is not like it was in your work world where if you couldn’t rise to the task or the promotion, you might face all kinds of humiliation from co-workers, family and friends. You are retired. Expect to try new activities and expect to have some stick and some not. That’s part of the retirement adventure! Face your fears. Challenge yourself.

Choose to do something you told yourself you don’t like or won’t be good at doing or you are not the type of person who does that. Then, do it. And, do it with an open mind and heart. Determine up front to give it your best.

I told myself for years I was not athletic. I never did well in gym or sports as a kid and carried that picture of myself into my adult years. That was a self-imposed limitation. After having my second child, I took up running just to lose the extra pounds I couldn’t seem to shake. That’s when I discovered what I didn’t enjoy was team sports. I preferred to rely on my own steam, my performance and mine alone. I ran three miles a day every other day for several years until an overworked knee put a stop to it.

Until we try something, we don’t know what we don’t know. We must continually challenge ourselves to try new activities or new twists on old activities in order to discover our true potential and talents. Enlist a spouse or friend to advocate for you when you start talking yourself out of doing what you signed up to do. My husband played that part in the scenario with the drawing class. Now he and I remind each other when we are applying self-imposed limitations. It helps to have a buddy to keep your mind both aware and open.

This is our last third of life. We can create the life we envisioned with an attitude of exploration, discovery and adventure or we can choose to languish with self-imposed limitations until the day we die. I hope this post will encourage at least some of you who seem to be stuck to dump the self-imposed limitations and choose adventure.

The Joys Of Not Working

A 'work' day of hiking

A ‘work’ day of hiking

Last weekend was a long weekend for workers in the United States as our country celebrated its birth on the 4th of July, Independence Day. Sacrosanct among holidays, it is one of those dates modern day Congress has not fooled with to deliberately make it into a three-day weekend. It happens only by the rotation of the calendar as was the case this year. Before I retired I looked forward to such a weekend. Oh goody, the 4th is on a Monday this year! No longer do I think that way.

After all the fireworks, parades and barbecues were over, Tuesday morning America’s workers returned to the grind, while I slept in, lazed around the garden after breakfast with my cup of coffee, picked blueberries and finally headed into the woods to do some real work. Ahhhh, the joys of not working, the pleasures of real freedom.

As a child older members of my family often told me the story of The Ant and the Grasshopper. The Ant and the Grasshopper is one of Aesop’s fables, which trumpets the strong work ethic of the ant while denigrating the grasshopper’s laziness as he fritters away summer only to starve during the winter months. Raised on a strong work ethic highlighted with stories such as this, I always found it difficult to be anything but productive.

Wasting away my hours at any time of the year in the manner of the grasshopper is never happening for me. It is not in my make up. Neither, however, am I the previous corporate ant, who dutifully put in a long productive work day week after week, month after month, year after year. It took a couple of years to re-program myself to enjoy days of simply browsing, from reading a good book to strolling through my garden to leisurely watching the sun go down. I also enjoy my more ant-like productive days of writing, working in the garden or hiking one of the trails in the local state parks. Eventually, I developed a new mindset mid-way between the ant and the grasshopper.

Among the joys of not working is not having to ask a superior’s permission to take time off to partake in the activities you love doing. You can do them every day. Even if they are work, they don’t seem like work because you are doing what is pleasurable to you. Another of the joys of not working — work is not work. And, another joy — you have no superiors.

With freedom also comes responsibility. That, too, can be a joy. Though it may seem daunting at first to fill your previous work hours with activities of your own making, savor the luxury. Few people on Earth get to experience the joys of not working. Revel in your accomplishment. Luxuriate in the ability to choose or not choose, to do or not do, to bore yourself silly today or find something to do heretofore unknown to your senses. You are no longer a worker looking forward to a three-day weekend and perhaps loathing the return on Tuesday. You are free! Enjoy the joys of not working.

Joined At The Hip

When Martin and I are asked what we do in retirement, I sometimes see surprised looks and hear surprised comments as the listeners come to understand we are not doing everything together. Never a couple to be joined at the hip, we always had separate careers, hobbies and interests. We even had, and still have, a few individual friends as well as couples we engaged with as a couple. After decades of leading a combination of diverse yet integrated lives, it is anyone’s guess why we would suddenly fuse ourselves together in such a way in retirement as to sacrifice our separate interests and hobbies. In fact, I believe couples who maintain their individuality have a stronger, more giving relationship.

When I was young, I dated a guy for about five minutes who, if I disagreed with him, would say, “Don’t hassle me.” It was the sixties way of saying, “Just be quiet and do what I want.” I can’t imagine what my life would have been like for the last several decades, subverting my wants and needs to someone who didn’t care enough about me to listen to my opinion. I dumped that guy then because I wanted an authentic relationship. And, that’s what I want now.

Together not joined at the hip

Together not joined at the hip

While Martin and I have plenty we do together, like cooking, hiking and working on our property, we have many individual interests neither of us intend to abandon in retirement. For example, Martin loves bicycling. It is a central activity for him. As for me, I would be miserable riding a bicycle out on the road for 20, 28 or 35 miles at a clip. Looking over my shoulder at every car sharing my lane is not my idea of a good time. Even though I worry about him being on the open road, I would never ask him to give up something he loves doing so much just to make me happy, anymore than he would insist I join him.

The vegetable garden

The vegetable garden

Conversely, he helps me with the heavy lifting in the garden, but the majority of the work is done by me. While we both work on the care and maintenance of our six acres, I’m the one elbow deep in garden design, planting, deadheading and pruning. Gardening is my passion, not his.

We also go to OLLI at Furman University together but after two years there, we have yet to take a class together. We have totally different interests. Although we are both artists, he does acrylics while I do pen and ink or pencil or watercolor. I also take writing classes while he takes wood carving. As we prepare dinner together each evening we have plenty to share and discuss about our day. Our differences keep our relationship interesting, exciting and growing.

Martin staining a gourd he carved

Martin staining a gourd he carved

Over the years I’ve heard many people lament, sometimes resentfully, how they don’t engage in an activity or watch certain movies or eat this or that because a spouse or significant other doesn’t like it. In retirement I’ve heard the complaints more often. When one person subjugates a natural part of themselves for the other, resentment builds. The person feels deprived. Observing and listening, I have found that in retirement some couples think they will return to the bliss of the dating days when they couldn’t get enough of each other and did everything together. After years and years of going your separate way every day or at least every week day, it is unrealistic to think you will return to an earlier time and feeling. For starters, thanks to time and experience, you are entirely different people today.

We live in a society, which promotes coupledom to the extreme. Many will remember the Jerry Maguire scene where Tom Cruise tells Renee Zellweger, “You…you complete me.” We receive messages from all points that we are only half a person. It is common to hear people refer to their spouse or life partner as “my better half”. We romanticize togetherness and the idea of finding our other half to the detriment of our very identity as human beings. We are whole to begin with. Having someone who understands us, supports us and enjoys being with us does not make them our other half. It makes them someone who understands us, supports us and enjoys being with us.

Why should any of us, male or female, relinquish a part of our core being for the sake of togetherness? Though the idea of bicycling doesn’t appeal to me, I like the idea that Martin has a hobby he enjoys so thoroughly he’s been doing it for decades. I love that part of him and am there to cheer him on during time trials as well as go pick him up when his bike breaks down twenty miles from home. To me, that is a real show of love. And that is what creates a strong relationship. We are joined, not joined at the hip.

Sleep

Zen Masters

Zen Masters

My cats sleep about twenty hours a day _ no kidding. I call them the Zen Masters because even when they are not sleeping, they’re often curled up or stretched out in total relaxation.  I used to sleep solidly even with a high stress job and kids to raise. As I aged, however, a good night’s sleep often eluded me. In a quest for sleep, I read many, many articles about the subject and even talked to my doctor about it. Finally arriving at a good night’s sleep again took a lot of effort on my part.

I found there are no magic answers to getting to sleep at night and staying asleep all night long. It’s personal.  What works for me may not work for you.  According to several articles I read, as we age changes in our sleep patterns are normal. Before you can take action, it’s important to understand why you’re not sleeping well.

Here’s the starter.  As we age, we produce less growth hormone, which is one of the body’s chemicals used to create deep sleep. We may become more sedentary. Less daily activity and exercise impact our ability to sleep. We may also be taking medications that interfere with our sleep patterns. Depression, loneliness, mental stress and physical pain can lead to sleeplessness. Ahhhh _ the vagaries of aging.

For me, despite sleeping through life’s normal stress in my younger years, stress played a large role in my inability to stay asleep all night. As you know from reading these pages, the transition from forty years of full-time work to retirement was a tough change for me. That stress kept me awake wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my life. By the time I figured out the answer to that question, my brain was in the habit of staying awake in bed. Now that became the source of my stress _ how to sleep at night.

My doctor didn’t offer up drugs to help me sleep, but did suggest maybe I woke up because I had to use the bathroom. No, that wasn’t it.  However, if that’s a problem for you, limiting fluids about two hours before bedtime may help. From what I’ve read, the medical community often prescribes sleep aids short term to kickstart the habit of sleeping through the night. Apparently, whether it’s a prescription or over-the-counter, sleeping pills are not a good idea as they have side effects and don’t address the root of the problem. For example, some can be habit forming. Others may leave you groggy the next day.  According to my doctor, better to get to sleep naturally.

In order to sleep, you must be relaxed. Think of the Zen Masters. In my younger days, after a stressful day, I’d sip a cup of warm milk with a sprinkle of cinnamon before going to bed. I also rubbed almond oil laced with lavender oil on the soles of my feet.  So, I resurrected those forgotten rituals.

Never one to have a TV in the bedroom, at least I didn’t have to contend with that issue. However, I did sit in bed and read. Sometimes I even read on my tablet. Apparently, the backlit screen is not a good thing to look at just before bedtime because it is similar to morning light, fooling the brain into thinking it’s time to wake up. So, I broke that habit. I also moved the brightly lit clock on the night stand and bought drapes with a black out lining, putting them over the window shades. I live in the country but landscape lights and even a full moon cast light into the room. A dark room is necessary for sleep.

To get my brain back into the habit of bedroom as sleep room, if I couldn’t sleep, I got up and went to another room until I felt sleepy again. I’d hang out with the cats, who left their various sleeping places to join me.

When I started paying attention to what woke me at night, I realized I was too warm. I was roasting while Martin needed an extra blanket in winter. In order to make the bedding comfortable for both of us, we put a small throw on top of his side of the bed. That made all the difference for me. Cooler is apparently better when it comes to sleeping well.

I eliminated high action TV shows along with horror stories, murder mysteries and the like, whether on the tube or in a book. Nothing disturbing or adrenaline pumping before bedtime, just light subjects, easily tossed aside in favor of sleep.

As you’ll recall, I took up walking, walking, walking about a year ago. Even though I’ve always been active, the increased daily activity added to my ability to de-stress, relax and feel truly tired at bedtime. I also believe my change in diet, cutting back on heavy dinners, also helped me sleep better.

While a good night’s sleep rarely eludes me these days, I’m continuing the good habits I developed so it will hopefully stay this way. Identifying sleep problems takes time and effort. But, it’s worth it. As we age a good night’s sleep may be even more important to our long term health than it was when we were younger.

With a good night’s sleep, I’m feeling more like a Zen Master every day.

Beating The Winter Blues

Felted Hearts

Felted Hearts

Yesterday, as I sat with a knitting group watching snow flurries drift past the window, some of us mentioned how we were ready for spring. I live in South Carolina so whether the groundhog sees his shadow or not, come February, spring is just around the corner. By the time we get to Valentine’s Day daffodils and other early spring bulbs are beginning to break bud, flocks of robins land in the fields looking for nibbles and the trees give off a red glow as leaf buds swell. But, everything is relative. At the risk of sounding whiney, I still have a bit of the winter blues.

When I lived north of the Mason Dixon Line where winters are truly harsh with piles of snow and winter temps sometimes dipping into negative numbers, February 14th marked my personal turning point toward spring. I looked forward to it every year. My mood lightened as the sun sat higher in the sometimes clear sky, the days grew longer, snow easily melted off the roof and a crocus or two began to poke up through the snow. Many, many years ago a doctor suggested I have a mild Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). If that’s the case, I would venture I’m far from alone.

While winter is often seen as a time of death, it is, in fact, a time for regeneration. As Jean of JeansGarden.Wordpress.com (https://jeansgarden.wordpress.com) recently observed in her post The Beauty of Winter Trees “dormancy should not be confused with death.” As Jean points out, the trees are shutting down to survive the harsh winter environment but it is more of a restorative sleep.  Like the trees, I found that approaching winter as a time to re-energize helped me survive the winter blues with a happier disposition. These are the things I do to stave off the doldrums.

1. As I shoveled snow off the driveway and sidewalks of our Michigan home, I discovered the outside activity actually put me in a happier mood. So, even if you don’t feel like getting outside in the cold, refrain from becoming a winter couch potato. I bundle up and go out for a walk, clean up garden debris and work on clearing underbrush from our overgrown woods.

2. Look at winter as a time to work on inside projects. I spend more time reading, writing, painting and knitting. I declutter and reorganize. I get the taxes done early! I listen to music, watch movies I’ve been wanting to see and play with the cats. I start seeds for the spring garden. This has changed my view of winter. It’s a time to catch up on delayed projects and put your house in order. Then, when spring arrives, you can get outside and play.

3. Cheer up your space. I fill clear vases with things like origami hearts I make or found feathers or sea shells or dried botanicals from my garden. I force bulbs or branches of flowering bushes like forsythia or bring in a bunch of hellebores blooming in the garden.  I make felted hearts of various cheery colors.

4. Stay socially active. I look forward to winter classes at OLLI, meeting friends for lunch or dinner or inviting them to my house and going to group activities like Sit n’ Knit, where we socialize more than anything else. Volunteer or help out a friend in need. Last week I helped a friend with their blog _ it made me feel good to lend a hand.

5. I stopped saying, “I hate winter!” Instead, I look at winter as an opportunity to do all of the above. I also look at it as time to peer inside me and contemplate, meditate and just be.

 
You may have some ways you beat the winter blues. Let me know if you have other suggestions. In the meantime, the sun sits higher in the sky, the days are lengthening, the buds are swelling and tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. No matter where you are, no matter what your winter, no matter if you have the blues, the blahs or not, Happy Valentine’s!

Will Decluttering Make You Happier?

 

Clutter

Last week a friend sent me an email with a message about days gone by when, instead of throwing something away when it broke down, our parents generation fixed the item. That’s how I grew up. We repaired shoes, lawn mowers, televisions and washers. My friend’s email also reminded me how every spring we took part in the ritual of spring cleaning, opening windows after a long winter and clearing away the season’s accumulation of dust and grime. Today, in our material driven economies, we tend to hang onto all kinds of things, broken or not, which may not add anything purposeful to our lives, but take up plenty of space in both our homes and our minds.

It must be all the years I spent as a real estate broker, looking at garages crammed so full the family cars wouldn’t begin to fit in them. While I no longer take part in a spring cleaning ritual, each January I have my own ritual of decluttering. Since retirement, that is one habit I have not changed. Why? There are lots of reasons to declutter.

1. Decluttering helps me start the year off fresh, clear and focused. Without excess stuff in my desk, closets, art work space and garage, I can focus on what matters most to me. Activities like writing, drawing and gardening can take precedence without having to sort through clutter to find what I need. Everything has a place and is in the place it should be. Whew! I can relax and not only enjoy these activities but have time for my spouse, family and friends.

2. Since I donate what I no longer need or want, it also helps those less fortunate in my community. Clothing, sports equipment, home furnishings, eyeglasses, cell phones and other electronics can be put to good use. Some people hold a garage or yard sale and make a few extra bucks. I’d rather give it away and use my time for activities that hold more meaning to me.

3. Clearing unnecessary items also clears out places for the dust and dust mites to accumulate. That’s right. Dust mites _ ick. As someone suffering from allergies, including an allergy to dust mites, I’m all for reducing places for the little darlings to accumulate. So, allergic or not, decluttering may also help you breathe easier.

4. While you’re decluttering, take a clue from our parents’ generation.  Take the time to fix the fixable. I learned years ago how decluttering removed a lot of life’s little annoyances. Fixing things has the same effect. Even a broken shoe lace can nip at the edges of your subconscious mind clouding your thoughts. Replacing burnt out light bulbs, smoke alarm batteries, weed whacker string, filters or anything else you have waiting for attention clears your mind for more important thoughts, like what are you going to do today to change the world?

5. Once you declutter and make a habit of decluttering yearly, you’ll find that you actually accumulate less clutter during the year. Why? Because you start looking at the accumulation of stuff differently. You start asking yourself, “Is this an item I really need or will I end up donating it next year?” I find myself living a more minimalist lifestyle. I am decidedly knick-knack adverse. Every time I look at something pretty or cute in a store, I think to myself, “Who’s going to dust that?” My answer is always, “Not me.” Then, I put it back down and walk away. Decluttering changes your mindset.

While I can honestly say decluttering probably hasn’t made me happier, it has made me saner. Every time you buy more stuff, you bring home a thing, which needs cleaning, maintenance, storage and, potentially, fixing. The more things you have, the more things you have to suck up your time with busy work. Is that what you want in retirement? Busy work? Or do you want your remaining years filled with work that really matters to you?

A decluttered life is a less harried life. Instead of feeling like Alice chasing the White Rabbit down one hole after another, I feel relaxed when I know exactly where to go to lay my hands on the scissors or the battery charger or my drawing pencils or whatever. I feel good knowing my time is spent on more productive activities that enrich my life. And, I love it, absolutely LOVE it, when the smoke alarm batteries are changed before the darn things start beeping at me, always, ALWAYS some time around midnight. Now that I think of it, avoiding that annoyance is cause for happiness!