Looking For A Resolution? Here’s One…

Cheers!

It’s New Year’s. Revelry, champagne toasts, traditions like eating lentils or black-eyed peas at midnight, looking past at 2017 and forward to 2018 and, of course, resolutions. If you don’t have a resolution, I have a suggestion, albeit one that is somewhat sobering (pun intended). Make 2018 your year to write a last will and testament or update the one you already have.

A cousin of Martin’s recently put a query on Facebook asking if friends had a will. I was surprised, though I shouldn’t have been, when most answered they did not, or had not updated their will in years. One stated she only had one heir, assuming everything would go to that person. We had a saying when I was in banking, “If you don’t have a will, the state has one for you.” If you die intestate (without a will), state law determines who your heirs are.

Case in point, a 72 year-old man lost his wife to cancer. She died intestate. State law where he lives dictated that their two children each inherit a third of her assets including the house, which was not titled to protect her husband. Her husband, their father, had to sell his home in order to pay the adult kids their portion of the inheritance. All the proceedings were determined by a probate judge, requiring court costs and attorneys.

More money was spent on the costs of going to probate court to settle her estate than would have been spent on writing a will. In the state where I live, probate court can be avoided altogether by putting assets into a trust, saving as much as 10 – 20% of the value of your assets. And, no, the kids didn’t blink an eye at dear old dad having to sell his home to pay them their share. He and his wife just assumed everything would go to him — a costly mistake both emotionally and monetarily.

Why don’t people write a will or update the one they have? As someone who didn’t update for years, my personal experience tells me it is a reluctance to face our mortality. It wasn’t until Martin’s condition jolted me into reality that I looked death in the eye and got serious about the consequences for either of us when the other dies.

In addition to a will, other considerations are powers-of-attorney for health and financial oversight in the event you can’t make your own decisions. Do you want to be kept on life support or would you want a do-not-resuscitate order? These are also decisions to ease the burden on loved ones so they can carry out your wishes instead of guessing about what you may want, arguing among themselves or having to go to court. Whew!

Wait there’s still more! To reduce the burden even further, you can leave detailed instructions for your funeral. Or maybe you don’t want a funeral. My mother didn’t want everyone standing around looking at her body and crying over her in a coffin. She chose to be cremated immediately upon her death. Our family respected her instructions. You may even pre-pay your funeral expenses or designate an amount in your will to be used for that purpose.

See? There are lots of decisions to be made. Someone once told me they didn’t care because they would be gone. In other words, they were leaving it for the relatives to sort out while also grieving. To me, that’s just plain cruel, especially if you love those you leave behind.

Mark Twain, the American author and humorist, had this to say about New Year’s resolutions, “Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving Hell with them as usual.” That pretty much sums up the way I was when it came to resolutions. Consequently, I stopped making them. If that’s you or even if it’s not, commit to 2018 as the year you make just this one resolution — and keep it – write a will and other documents for the sake of those you love. It is the best gift you can ever give them.

Happy New Year!

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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

REFLECTIONS

This time of year offers a moment to reflect on the year almost past. It’s a time to honor the memory of those who passed from our lives, whether a family member, a friend or anyone else who affected our lives, even a beloved pet. We may review world events, ever-changing and more often seeming to be filled with loss and strife than hope and healing. The impermanence of the universe is a constant reminder of our own impermanence. A sobering thought indeed. Of course, many of us also make New Year’s resolutions.

Most years I also review what I accomplished, or didn’t. During this same time of contemplation in 2014, I decided not to make specific resolutions. Each year I try to take up something different in terms of learning. It could be a new hobby or intellectual pursuit or growing a new plant in one of my gardens. But, a year ago I decided 2015 was to be the year of no goals, no self-imposed pressure to succeed, no new activities unless it struck me in the moment during the year. Lazily, I set all specifics aside. Instead, my New Year’s resolutions were open-ended generalizations:

1. Remain open to change;
2. Accept what is without fighting it; and
3. Practice mindfulness.

Three simple yet potentially life changing practices _ more of an attitude adjustment than anything else. This week, taking stock of these three ideas, I asked myself:

1. Did they improve my life?
2. Did they make me happier?
3. Did they work well for me?

The answer is yes, yes, yes.

For starters I didn’t sweat the small stuff so much. A hundred years from now, no one will even care what I did today or the past year or at any time in my life. In 1915 World War I raged. In 2015 are you thinking about what the average person was doing to survive World War I? Highly unlikely, just as it’s unlikely anyone in 2115 will be thinking of me or you and what we were doing on the eve of 2016. Oh, the historians will document wars in the middle east, terrorism, refugee crises, political upheavals and the like. But, it will be documented as a block of time in history not each individual story.

An epiphany during the latter part of 2015 led me to feel more tolerant and accepting of what is without having to think about it consciously. Railing against a perceived injustice or having a ‘why me’ pity party doesn’t change the past. While it is still cathartic to get something off your chest, it is what it is. Don’t let it define you. Accept it and move on. Sometimes I even laugh at my misfortune or foibles.

I also gloried in my success _ finally success _ at losing weight. For all the years losing weight made my list of New Year’s resolutions, I never lost much, nor did I keep off what I did manage to lose. Without pressuring myself to lose, without the lofty goal of twenty pounds hanging over my head, I actually lost the elusive twenty pounds. I didn’t really take up the cause until March and I made my goal a realistic one of eating healthier, instead of losing pounds. By practicing mindfulness with my eating and exercise habits, I changed my approach. That small shift in thinking made all the difference.

And, I started writing more. Joining a close-knit group of writers with a leader who inspires and encourages, I formed the habit of writing often, initially just so I had something to read to the group each week. As the end of 2015 nears, I find myself writing almost every day with focus and purpose. While I may never be a Eudora Welty, my first short, very short, story was published this month in an anthology of poems and flash stories. It’s a start.

Although the pundits recommend specific goals to start the New Year, I’m repeating the same resolutions for 2016. They worked for me in an odd way. As someone who lived my work life ultra-organized with lists, goals and structure, being able to relax that standard in retirement is a gift. While I want a life with continued meaning and purpose, part of what gives life meaning is the ability to enjoy life’s gifts. If this is the time of year to honor the past, it is also a time to appreciate the present. That, too, is a gift.

As I reflect on the past, I look to the future mindful of the present with an openness to change and a willingness to accept what is.

Happy New Year!

I HEREBY RESOLVE TO…

Today is the last day of 2014. Tomorrow we begin anew with a fresh slate. Tradition in many cultures is to start the new year by resolving to be better in some way. The most popular resolutions are typically (1) lose weight, (2) exercise more and (3) quit smoking. Despite their initial determination, most people don’t reach their goals. I know I’ve been one of those people. Though I never smoked, the first two options have been on my list for years with little headway made after the first couple of weeks into the new year. So, this year I’m just going to cut to the chase and not make those resolutions. I’ve recently lost 7 pounds and kept it off over the holidays so I feel like I’m already a winner in regard to that situation. I thought about making no resolutions. However, after reading some of my posts of 2014, I decided to make more long-term commitments. I invite you to join me.

Following are my resolutions for 2015:

1. Remain open to change. I’ve written that change is the one thing in life we can count on. The future is unknown and often delivers surprises. Instead of grumbling about those surprises, look for opportunities, even in adversity. I once worked with a man, who, in the face of business upsets, would always, ALWAYS, sit calmly and ask, “How can we turn this into an opportunity?” His success in life was not an accident; it was his acceptance of and adapting to a changing world, which made him a success.

2. Accept what is without fighting it. My friend in Number 1 accepted downturns as a fact of life. Instead of fighting what is, he decided if there was a way to turn the outcome to his advantage, making lemonade of his business lemon, he would gladly accept that glass. Philosopher Lao Tzu advised, “Practice not doing.” Not doing means not complaining about the circumstance we can’t control, not expending energy fighting the obvious, thus creating stress in our lives, but instead, embracing it.

3. Practice mindfulness. My mantra the last couple of months, which goes hand in hand with Numbers 1 and 2, is, “Let my emotions arise and dissolve.” If life throws me a curveball, I work to stay in the moment, acutely aware of everything in that moment, as I respond from my left brain. I pretend I’m a little duck letting the water (emotions) roll off my back before I swim into the deep end creating unnecessary stress. This has lightened my self-created burdens already so I plan on continuing to travel light in 2015.

These are my resolutions for 2015 and beyond. Simple yet life changing ideas, which have altered my attitude toward aging. If these don’t work for you, think of attitude changing ideas, which may work. Or, you could decide to lose weight, exercise more, eat healthier or something else. Or, you could do nothing at all. Whatever you resolve to do, from me to you, my readers, I wish you much joy and positive living in 2015.

With love,

Kathy

PRACTICE NOT DOING

Another New Year and I deliberately chose not to make any resolutions. In past years I almost always had a resolution or two. Or three. Or four. Like most people, 80% by the latest figure I read somewhere in my reading travels last week, I didn’t keep my resolutions. Well, maybe once in a great while. So, this year is the year of no resolutions. Instead, I’m choosing a different path.

The thing I wanted most in 2013 was for the transition into my retirement journey to be made. Understanding there is a period of adjustment to a new life style didn’t make the journey any easier. There seemed to be constant stress over money and health issues and Martin and I being together 24/7. The budget I so trustingly established in December 2012 went to Hell in a hand basket somewhere around mid-year. I was in a constant health watch mode as everything from multiple yellow-jacket stings to a mystery allergic reaction (stress?) sent me to the doctor’s office again and again. Happily, somewhere around the one year mark of our retirement anniversary I reached the moment in time where I stopped stressing and started enjoying. Miraculously, retirement was suddenly fulfilling, stress free. This transition didn’t happen by accident. It took a certain mindfulness to achieve.

Traditionally, October is the month when I do a quick and dirty assessment of our income taxes. If there are any surprises, knowing about it gives me a couple of months to make adjustments before the wolf…er…IRS is at the door. It also affords the opportunity to sort through files and be sure I have receipts to date. Yes, I’m organized and its effortless really because I’ve been doing it for decades. One shortfall in my organizational plan is a college type notebook of blank paper I keep on my desk. This is where I write lists, reminder notes and squirrel away slips of paper with more notations, pictures and whatever else I don’t have a file for. This year as I sorted through the minutia I pulled out a paper with a saying I’d come across much earlier in the year. Apparently, it didn’t resonate enough at the time for me to try to internalize its meaning. But, that sunny day in October it hit me with a punch and I mean a whopper of a punch.

I read a lot. Somewhere, I read this quote by Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu and jotted it down. “Practice not doing and everything will fall into place.” What does that mean? Am I supposed to turn lazy and do nothing? And, take my taxes for instance, nothing will fall into place if I’m not organized and on it. Not only did I read the quote again and again, turning it over in my mind for meaning, I did what any internet surfer would do, I Googled it. After reading about the life of Lao Tzu, who lived about 600 years before Christ, I came across an analysis of some of his quotes. This one means life has a natural flow to it, including the ever constant and dependable change. In fact, change is inevitable. Yet, as human beings we like our comfort zone so another constant is our inevitable resistance to change. How many of us have worked someplace where a change occurs and, without fail, someone will say, “But we’ve always done it that way.” Wailing, complaining and resisting all the way, they make life miserable for themselves and everyone around them perhaps even to the point where they are fired. Tzu’s philosophy says resistance to life’s changes and the natural ebb and flow only creates strife, pain and sorrow. Instead, accept what is. Let reality be reality. Allow the natural order of things to move forward without resistance. Acceptance creates a less stressful life. Hmmm…Was finding a fulfilling retirement simply a matter of acceptance of what is?

I began asking myself, on a scale of one to ten, how bad is this issue or that issue? Is there anything you don’t have right now this minute such as housing, food, clothing, even good health? Is there anything in your life right now this minute which is truly a crisis, a problem? Mentally, I assigned a number to each issue that arose. If the issue was put in perspective, well, then, it didn’t seem so bad. Yes, being stung by 8 yellow jackets and having your hand swell to the size of a small cantaloupe while a red streak courses its way up your arm is scary but it isn’t cancer. With my changed view, stress just seemed to evaporate as I put the stuff life dishes out in perspective, accepting it. What is, is.

Resolutions? No. I decided to just keep following Tzu’s philosophy. Resolutions are unnecessary. No sweat here. Instead of being a week into the New Year and already casting my resolutions aside, feeling guilty at letting myself down, in 2014 I’m just continuing to practice not doing. Heck, I might not even look at the tax file next October.

HERE’S TO YOUR HEALTH

Being a gardener, in past years, most of my New Year’s resolutions revolved around that passion. I usually also threw in something about eating better and exercising more. Like many people, the latter were the resolutions which didn’t always come to fruition. But, my garden flourished. Since I spent most of December 2011 seeing a physical therapist twice weekly for a bum knee, last year neither gardening nor physical betterment made the cut as I entered 2012 sans resolutions. In an off handed way, my desire to strengthen my right leg so the knee would function as normal was a type of resolution and I spent January working on my exercises at home.

But, by February’s end I was down with a cold, which turned into six weeks of bronchitis followed by several more weeks of regaining my stamina. (Bronchitis is tough. It’s even tougher if you’re 60!) By July, however, I was finally feeling better. So, I decided to make a half yearly resolution to walk one mile six times a week. I’ve been pretty successful in meeting that goal, only faltering during an eight day stretch in Michigan at Christmas when frigid temps gave new meaning to the words “brisk walk”. Rewind to August when the specter of skin cancer popped up during a long deferred visit to my dermatologist. Since an old friend passed away last December of metastatic melanoma, I sweated profusely waiting for the biopsy result. The biopsy came back as pre-cancerous…whew!

So, now, as I look back at 2012, I realize how important my health is as I age. I once saw a plaque in an office, which read, “If you don’t take care of your body, where will you live?” To be sure, eventually, our bodies will give out. As my MD pointed out to me, “Arthritis is just a fancy word for the parts are wearing out.” At some point, all the parts will wear out or, at the very least, one very important part will wear out and we will leave our mortal home behind. So, if we want to spend as much time as we can in this earthly state, then we need, no, we must take care of our physical health. Not only does care of one’s physical health allow you to maintain your independence longer and keep you mentally fit, it’s also less costly. Getting sick or having even some of the lesser conditions, such as pre-diabetes or high cholesterol, which creep up with age, can set you back financially. The healthier you are physically, the healthier you will be financially.

As I enter 2013, I have plenty of garden related resolutions. But, this year they’re secondary to the resolutions to keep my health. My goal is to use sunscreen on my face every day. Not the drug store variety but the really good stuff with the zinc oxide sold by my dermatologist. Since it’s moisturizing, I’m replacing my moisturizer with it, which should offset the extra cost. I’m going to keep walking and add another mile, one quarter mile each calendar quarter so by the end of 2012 I should be walking two miles. Not a big lofty goal but certainly doable, which is what counts. Walking requires nothing more than a good pair of shoes and enough love for yourself to set aside the time for your walk every day. And, if I reach my goal of two miles six days a week earlier in the year, I can always tack on a half yearly resolution and start on a third mile for 2012. I’ve also armed myself with hand sanitizer, which I will use religiously, (I promise). No colds this year.

So, whatever your resolutions this year, make them realistic, make them reachable and make them for your health. After all, if you don’t take care of your body, where will you live?