Lighten Up

I received a lot of insightful comments to my query on retirement challenges.  It sounds like we all realize retirement is no different from the other times of our lives.  There are ups and downs we weathered and will continue to weather as we age.  For some of you the challenges provided inspiration to find new meaning and purpose enriching your retirement.  For others, you faced unexpected loss as I did early in my retirement.  For others still, it was a matter of accepting the situation, what I call lightening up. 

For me, while recently working on creating a greater idea about my life, I’ve encountered some setbacks beyond my control.  As someone who’s always tried to control events learning to let go and allow this evolution to flow wherever it takes me is a challenge in itself.  My personality was never one to lighten up.

Now, I find myself with no other choice.  The new house is on indefinite hold.  I haven’t sold my current house.  In order to build the new one I must first sell this one.  Our inflationary period played a role, but the big deterrent came out of the blue.  Following the height of the pandemic, people are still working from home and many will continue to do so.  I lost two serious working-from-home buyers wanting to live the rural life, but needing the ability to video conference.  I now know more about the internet than I ever wanted to know.  

My Modern Farmhouse Now On Hold

I have high speed internet.  However, the download is fast enough for video conferencing; the upload is not.  The upload pushes information out into the world wide web.  The only way to increase the speed at my house is access to fiber optics, which my carrier predicts is at least a year away.  As I write this fiber is being laid a mere eleven miles from my house.  According to a recent article in The Washington Post only 43% of the population in the United States has fiber optics.  The Biden Administration passed a bill to extend fiber into rural America and Michigan received its share of the funding.  As we all know, everything takes time as a project of this magnitude requires lots of labor and materials to execute the plan. 

Since I need to rent while my new house is built, I was also in a quandary about where I would live.  Not only are rents exceedingly high, every single place I contacted had long waiting lists.  Very few offered short-term leases of six to eight months.  In the college town of Kalamazoo with thousands of rental units I was shocked to find nothing readily available.  With my three cats and Rachel’s three dogs, moving in with her family is out of the question, unless we want the fur to fly.  Consequently, I decided to take the house off the market and wait out inflation, market fluctuations and laying fiber optics.

Though disappointed I’m also grateful I don’t have to move.  I have the luxury of staying put a while longer.  And, with all the work preparing the house for sale, I can sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labor.  We all face challenges.  The ups and downs are normal.  We work through our current sticky wicket, reach a plateau and then the next glitch appears in our lives.  Working through each one is called growth.  We learn, compromise, rise to the occasion, adapt, acquiesce or whatever else it takes.  It’s all part of our evolution.  I decided to surrender to this moment.  I know what I’m seeking and eventually it will happen.  For now, I’ll continue doing nothing and just lighten up.

Doing Nothing

Over the last several weeks I discovered a luxury I’d been missing.  I didn’t know it was a luxury.  I didn’t know I was missing it.  I never thought of it as a luxury.  But, it is.  For the moment I’m indulging in doing nothing.  Yes, nothing.  Oh, I know we can’t ever be doing nothing.  Even when we’re asleep, we’re doing something.  One of the greatest challenges I’ve faced during the last year is overcoming the habit of being in constant motion both physically and mentally.  

After two months of decluttering, donating, selling, cleaning, paint touch ups, spring garden tidying, mulching, cleaning some more, making everything sparkle, the damaged deck replaced, it was show time. The house went on the market.  The new deck, which is the result of two cherry trees falling on the old one, the downsized amount of furniture and the fresh feeling of the house and yard almost make me want to stay here.  Almost, but not really.

Following the major clean-up I spent a week or two fidgeting as I looked for activities to fill my time.  Like a leaf in the wind I blew here and there doing whatever I convinced myself needed doing.

Then, I went to Detroit for a few days with a friend.  With tickets to experience Immersive Van Gogh, which was mesmerizing, but way too short, we decided to spend a couple nights so we could shop (I bought one tiny little thing) and visit The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.  Three days of wandering through museums and shops and art space.  Leisurely breakfasts and lunches and dinners.  Talking and sharing.  Sleeping later than usual.  I felt like I hadn’t felt in years.  

Immersed in Van Gogh

Returning refreshed I decided to just be for a while.  To do nothing.  Easier said than done.  Years of caregiving had my monkey brain still engaged full tilt.  Over my caregiving years I learned to anticipate the next need, upset, crisis putting myself into forever proactive mode.  If my predictive efforts didn’t anticipate the next caregiving event, there was, of course, flight, fight or freeze.  Rarely did I freeze because I never stopped thinking or doing.  And, there was never a time including respites where I focused on just being.  Now, I realize what a luxury it is to do nothing.  

Remember mindfulness? I wrote about it, practiced it and left it behind probably at the time I needed it most.  Mindfulness is achieved by being mentally present.  I’d been thinking for so long about the future and replaying the past in my head that I lost the habit of being conscious of my surroundings, my body, my emotions and not even paying slight attention to my current thoughts as they were swallowed up by stressing over what was to come.  Somehow, I had to unearth the ability to live in full awareness of the present moment.  It was there once; I could relearn it. 

Enter neuroplasticity.  Remember that?  I also wrote about neuroplasticity, took classes on the brain and brain research at Furman University OLLI.  Since then, the research on mindfulness and neuroplasticity continues to support the fact that we can create new neural pathways, even in cases where the brain is injured.  When we learn something new, we rewire our brains. I’m on a track to rewire my brain with new neural pathways to respond to situations sans flight, fight or freeze.  I’m reorganizing the connections in my brain.  Doing nothing is helping me.  By deliberately slowing my days I’m choosing what to do with intention each day, to be mindful and conscious.  

Intention is not the same as having a to do list where you tick off each accomplishment.  It’s not setting goals.  My goal is to rewire my brain, but it is the daily practice guided by my intentions, which enables me to reach that goal.  To me an intention sets the tempo for my day.  It guides me.  Working in my garden carries an intention such as, “I intend to be aware of the beauty and life in my garden.”  Other intentions could be “I intend to eat a healthy diet today” or “I intend to practice mindfulness today” or “I intend to forgive others and myself”.  

We often tend to believe if we put ourselves on idle, we’re being unproductive, lazy, wasting time.  For me, doing nothing is not actually doing nothing, but, instead, being present, mindful of the moment with intention.  Remember meditation?  I was always good for about 5 minutes and that’s where I’ve started over with my meditation practice.  Years ago I took a course in Buddhism, which is where I was introduced to meditation.  The one important part of the practice, at least for me, was learning thoughts enter our minds even as we want to empty the mind.  My instructor taught me to identify each thought as positive, negative or neutral, then let it go.  It works leaving me with a clear mind, which affords room to consciously rewire of my brain.

During my years of working I prided myself on what I could get done in a day. In the early years of retirement I felt the same way. Following Martin’s diagnosis and years of caregiving, however, I’ve changed my mind.  It’s taken the last year, and at times, I still find myself feeling as if I accomplished nothing in a day.  And that’s ok.  Letting go of old habits takes practice and time.  For the most part, I now cherish the ability to slow down, reflect, feel joy, be grateful, create and live in the moment.  It’s the luxury of doing nothing.

Decluttering – Or The Big Purge

My Mother’s good luck charm

In order to reinvent my life I must divest myself of fragments from my past.  Like my best memories of Martin, I’m keeping the possessions, which are dear to me.  I’m not seeking a minimalist lifestyle, but one honoring our past while giving breath to what lies ahead of me.  Unlike past decluttering this one requires a wisdom imbued with greater purpose.

I had a longtime habit of cleaning out closets and drawers each January as my version of out with the old, in with the new.  Somewhere along the path I’m on that annual ritual went by the wayside.  When we sold our South Carolina house, I did a major declutter.  Or, so I thought.  

In preparation for the sale of my Michigan house, I began going through drawers and closets with the purpose of decluttering.  As I cleared drawers of stuff, I also considered furniture, which won’t fit in my new smaller home.  Lists of things to donate and items to sell forced me to realize I wasn’t decluttering; this was the big purge.

There were obvious items that must go, like Martin’s bicycle, gear and outfits along with sport coats, dress shirts, slacks, leather belts and shoes. No reason for any of it to languish in closets and cubbies when someone else could make good use of it.  It took two weeks for me to act on selling Martin’s bike.  I cleaned it, polished it and looked at it day in and day out.  I felt frozen in time, slogging through quick sand.  After mustering the courage to drop his clothing at Good Will, I felt relief.  Then, a few hours later, came a serious meltdown as grief washed over me in a torrent of tears.  Divesting myself of his belongings was accepting he would never walk through the door again.  Once I was all cried out, I let go of the bicycle as well.  It was a kind of release.

Martin’s racing bicycle

As I sort through our lifetime with a mostly clear head I didn’t have in 2019, I often ask myself why I paid to have this or that hauled from South Carolina.  Taking a page from organizational expert Marie Kondo, so much of what I had didn’t spark joy.  “Did it spark joy for me?”, became my precept, albeit one which is resulting in keeping a few things that may not evoke a modern farmhouse style.  Looking at my Great-Great Aunt Josephine’s crystal jewelry box, I opened it.  I lifted out a chestnut.  Hard and brown my Mother carried it in her purse as a talisman.  As I ran my fingers over its smooth rich decades old surface this memento from my Mother was now my symbol of juju, mojo, good luck.  A practical woman, a strong woman, her spirit would help me push through this arduous task.

As with the chestnut, possessions carry energy in the memories they summon in our spirits.  I looked at the five sets of dishes from the dinner group we belonged to in the 1990’s.  I hadn’t needed nor used all this entertainment paraphernalia in decades.  The dishes, napkins and rings, table clothes and serving dishes.  In an epiphany I realized it was the memories I was holding onto, memories of those evenings when we gathered monthly to break bread.  Fun nights like the mystery dinners where we dressed up as various characters in a whodunit.  And then, there was the toga party where neighbors must have thought we were crazy traipsing through our garden, glasses of red wine in hand, with our guests,  all of us dressed in bed sheets!  I would keep the memories and some of the accoutrements, but it was time for most of the physical trappings to go.

Following my second car load of memories taken to Good Will the picture was becoming clear.  There were certain objects, furniture, glass ware, keepsakes I would never part with.  Antique pieces from both our families needed to stay with me a while longer.  A few pieces of the furniture we bought during our marriage were now vintage, slightly marred with scratches or glass rings where a coaster went unused.  There is no place for a couple of items in my to-be-built new home, but I’m making a place.  

The large marble coffee table in the great room was originally on the chopping block.  Then came the evening I sat in front of the fire place mindfully looking at its smooth surface and rough edges, the tiny scratches from grandchildren running toy cars across it along with a few water marks from spilled drinks. Martin and I had gone to The Street of Dreams charity event while living in Seattle.  In an 11,000 square foot show house sat a marble coffee table dazzling us both.  A couple weeks later Martin went on a motorcycle ride returning to announce he’d found such a table at Frederick and Nelson Department Store.  He wanted to buy it.  And so did I.  I knew now I couldn’t part with it. It represented a joint purchase, a joint love of beautiful things.  Though now imperfect with blemishes from nearly 40 years of use, this table also represents the joyous imperfection of our lives.  As with ourselves, we looked upon the blemishes as character.  There are possessions, which are just baggage.  And, then, there are things, which warm my heart each day, that spark joy and must continue to color my life.  Despite its ultra modern look the marble table stays.

As I empty the house of remnants of my past life I feel less overwhelmed, lighter, more forward looking.  I’m honoring my past.  And, making room for my future.

On Being Single

While this post seems strange to me on Valentine’s Day eve, it is the approach of February 14 which fostered my curiosity about my current sense of singlehood.  I began looking closely at what it means to be on my own after half a century.  While searching within, I also, of course, searched the web.  There are lots and lots of articles and blogs on being single.  I had to diligently drill down in order to find articles, which weren’t how to’s on dating again or finding a new partner.  Searching my heart and soul, I already knew I want neither.  According to the Pew Research Center living without a spouse or partner under the same roof means I’m single.  

Yes, yes I know.  I can already hear someone saying, “But…but it’s almost Valentine’s Day”.  For those of you with another partner after the death of a spouse or a divorce, I wish you a happy life together.  You are all very fortunate people.  You are also people who most likely made the choice to seek another partner.  Or, perhaps, there was a bit of serendipity at play.  Although I’m now single by chance and location, I’m choosing to remain single for several reasons.

One of many books of love Martin gave me over the decades. This one from the 1970’s is my favorite.

I had the good fortunate of a long, long marriage to a man who enjoyed cooking together, shopping together, working with me in the garden, while I went on motorcycle rides and hikes with him and cheered him on at bicycle time trials.  If something needed repair whether bicycle or house, I was the extra pair of hands. We supported each others careers, with Martin even becoming the trailing spouse for my job move.  Fun for us was creating great meals at home, stopping at our favorite pub for lunch or supper, going to art galleries, museums and historical sites, an occasional play or concert and later creating our art.  We raised two kids and were rewarded with wonderful grandkids.  We had good times and some bad times.  It was all a lot of work, compromise, give and take.  It took years and a mutual commitment to create what we had.

Then, this unthinkably horrible disease took away our beautiful life together, making me Martin’s caregiver and slowly stealing his mind and spirit.  And, now, leaving me to carve out a future of my own, on my own.  I still have our loving family as does he.  They give me support and advice, but the reality is I’m single, alone, but not alone.  As I do today, I will always have a hole in my heart for this profound loss.  

However, at this juncture in my journey I’m also savoring buying my land, planning my new house and making the inherent dozens of decisions with no other consideration than what I want and can afford.  While it’s sometimes scary because all errors in judgment fall squarely on my sagging shoulders, it’s also exhilarating to be forging a new identity.  I feel like a kid again, only with lots of experience.  

As is my habit I didn’t make New Year’s resolutions.  But, I did write goals for 2022.  Perhaps, they are one and the same.  Topping my list is self-care.  Self-care is not being selfish.  It’s putting your own oxygen mask on first so you can help your fellow passengers.  More than one well-meaning person recommended I volunteer as a way to handle my grief.  When I’m fully breathing again, I’ll go back to volunteering.  Following years of caregiving and putting Martin’s needs first, self-care is putting my needs, health and well-being first.  It doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten Martin.  It doesn’t mean I don’t still love him.  It doesn’t translate into I’m no longer grieving.  In fact, part of my grief is finding myself without my lifelong partner.  It’s possible to grieve and, at the same time, feel joy again.

Accepting my single status allows me to envision my future.  I was one-half of a pair in an egalitarian marriage.  The chances of finding another partner wanting or even willing to cook, shop, clean, do laundry and be supportive of my activities outside the home is pretty much nil, especially since at my age, there are far fewer single men.  The reality is women still live longer than men.  Consequently, we outnumber them in the millions.  

I’m also set in my ways.  After five decades with one man, adjusting to a new partner is not anything I want to tackle.  While there is a void with Martin’s decline and subsequent absence, it’s not one I feel a need to fill.  I handled all the finances, paperwork and our social calendar.  As he declined I even learned to make repairs around the house by watching YouTube how-to’s.  I’m most proud of unclogging the dishwasher drain after a glass broke filling the drain with shards. With family and friends, as already mentioned, I’m not alone or lonely.  I’m finding new meaning and purpose in my life, including my return to blogging.  I’m quite capable of caring for myself and have every desire to continue doing so.

All of the above adds up to my choosing to continue living my life in singlehood.  One of my other goals for 2022 is finding me, the real me, the self-directed me, the me without a partner.  I have a house to build, classes to attend, books to read, people to meet, places to go, music to listen to, art galleries, museums and historical sites to visit, trendy and not so trendy small towns to explore, along with locally owned restaurants where I’ll savor good food and wines, cooking great meals at home and creating a new landscape to go with my new house.  Whoopee, more plants, more gardens!  And, of course, not doing anything at all…just being…just me…and my cats.

Beating Back The Winter Blues

Enjoying winter beauty on my walk to retrieve the mail.

Another snowy day.  Watching a Blue Jay on an oak branch outside my window, I feel a sense of peace. That feeling is not the norm for me this time of year.  Following the holidays I’m usually overcome by the winter blues.  It doesn’t matter where I lived, north, south, east or west, a certain melancholy always set in.  But, not this year.  This year I decided to embrace the season.  

Instead of pining for spring I would make a conscious effort to enjoy the snow, the cloud cover and even the cold.  I would be mindful of winter’s beauty.  Instead of seeing a stark landscape I would pay close attention to the birds flitting from tree to bare tree.  I would eye the snow covered branches and listen for the sound of the wind.  I would smell the clean cold air on my walk to the mailbox and filling the bird feeders and shoveling the walkways.  I would arise every morning with gratitude for waking up in a warm bed, having a roof over my head, food to eat, cats greeting me at the door and all of us herding to the kitchen for breakfast.  I would drink coffee and write about the smallest of things in my gratitude journal.  

It is working.  By starting each day with an attitude of gratitude, I find my spirit lifted.  In the past I wrote in my journal in the late evening.  The small change of writing in the morning or sometimes the afternoon turned my mind in an unexpected way.  I also occasionally write in real time right after something as simple as watching a Blue Jay on an oak branch occurs.  By doing so it keeps the feeling of gratitude alive throughout the day.  In addition to a reflection upon the immediate past, my journaling becomes part of the present, creating a more mindful approach to life.

Embracing the season seems easier with retirement.  I never thought I would enjoy living in the north again.  Yet, here I am.  Since I don’t have to go out on the roads during stormy weather, the luxury of settling in for the day with a fire going, instrumental jazz playing, a pot on the stove filled with water and scented oils like orange or cinnamon and later a hot cocoa or tea conspires to fend off the blues.

After shoveling snow I’m ready for a hot cocoa! (note:faux fur)

Self-care is my main agenda this year.  This past month of indulging myself in simple pleasures not only brought that goal into focus, it renewed my sense of purpose.  I started by preparing my house for sale in the spring and I started that by decluttering.  I thought I’d done a bang up job of decluttering when I left South Carolina.  Now, I look at what I dragged to Michigan and wonder why I brought so much stuff.  And the old paperwork!  I went paperless years ago.  Yet, I still found a couple of boxes of old records.  I proceeded with a shred-a-thon.  Having a clear space allows for clear headedness, at least I think so.  

Living in a basically neutral space also brings a certain serenity.  I like using furniture and art to bring in color.  Being homebound with the pandemic raging while also caregiving, I spent many days stripping wallpaper covered with oversized roses, plaids and wild game and painting over walls of bright pinks, greens and browns to create a more relaxing space.  For someone looking for a calming peaceful space neutrals did the trick. Add that to how buyers prefer a clean palette that’s move-in ready and it’s a win-win.

My mornings after coffee, breakfast, cats on my lap, writing in my journal and catching up with friends, I head for the shower.  There I sprinkle an essential oil before starting the water flow.  Lavender or camomile if I want calm, peppermint if I want invigoration.  My favorite is grapefruit, the light citrus smell creating a spirit lifting mood.  I also treat myself to hand milled soaps with similar scents of lavender, peppermint or lemon honey.  Finally, I make my own sugar scrub with a half cup of sugar, enough almond oil to moisten and a dash of essential oil.  That’s my spa-like routine adding to my self-care.

As I finish this it’s the day after the snowfall.  The sun is shining from a blue sky dotted with ghosted clouds.  The glistening snow reflecting warmth into my writing space.  I shoveled sidewalks yesterday and recovered my garbage curb cart from under a drift left by the snow plows.  I’m off now to feed the birds and enjoy the beauty of the season.  

I’d like to hear what you do to beat back the winter blues or perhaps you aren’t effected by them.  Let me know.  Enjoy you day!

Renewed Retirement Dreams

First I want to say, “THANK YOU” to all my loyal readers for staying with me.  I humbly appreciate all of you as well as the kind comments and encouragement.  For those of you on a similar journey as mine I wish you a clear path to ease your way forward.  It will take some time for me to figure out WordPress all over again as they made many changes in my absence.  Time, however, is what I have.  My return to blogging is part of my self-care as I share my retirement story once again.

Most of us retire with deliberateness.  We plan and dream.  As I sit here writing with the serenity of lightly falling snow in my view, I think of all the plans Martin and I made.  None of them included a life shattering illness.  Yet, here I sit mapping a new retirement path.  And dreaming.

As spring 2021 arrived with arrangements to place Martin in memory care, my doctor counseled me.  Don’t make any major changes for at least a year.  Do engage in a period of extended rest and self-care.  After all, I was grieving and dealing with the attendant guilt, which comes with such a decision.   

Seven months later I went straight into the deep end feet first with a major change. It felt right and still feels right.  On the surface my actions appear to be on a whim, but I assure you much thought went into it.

I knew from the moment we bought this huge house I’m living in it was never going to be permanent.  It was too big for the two of us, let alone just me.  But, only five minutes from our daughter, it served its purpose.  I had the nearby help and support I needed as a caregiver.  

After placing Martin, as the months wore on, my mind turned to moving back to South Carolina with its mild winters.  Then, there were the blazing summers.  So, I thought about two homes, summers in Michigan and winters in South Carolina.  Guilt over not visiting Martin for the months in South Carolina chewed at the edges of my heart.  Even with Hospice attending now, his disease is so unpredictable.  The end will come when it comes.  

Yet, while recognizing the fluidity of our situation, I couldn’t help ruminating about my future.  With winter approaching, I also realized I still loved living in a true four season climate.  Wandering online through homes for sale in both markets, hot markets where nothing remained for sale for very long, I found my future.  

Following a visit to Martin one sunny day this past fall, I drove down a pothole riddled road in dire need of replacing.  Forget repairing it.  The asphalt was beyond mending.  But, I noticed the nice homes, the small farms and the seemingly never-ending acreage of a very large farm.  Surprisingly, I was only five minutes from a desirable village where I had established relationships with doctors, dentist, a bank and a few businesses.

A large wooden For Sale sign heralded the two acres I came to see.  Flanked on one side by freshly painted red barns and the original white farm house, my neighbor’s property looked like a beautiful greeting card.  Idyllic.  My acreage – I was already calling it mine – was a long and narrow meadow with oaks lining the frontage.  I could picture the meadow dotted with wildflowers and paths for walking.  And gardens around the house.  Gardens with lavender and thyme and rosemary and vegetables in summer.

Wanting to stick with my doctor’s advice, however, I hesitated even after my daughter affirmed, “Mom you should buy this.”   Even after my builder son-in-law seconded her motion.  Instead I looked at other properties and communities.  Self-doubts about what to do floated in and out of my mind.

Eventually, I realized artificial deadlines were exactly that.  Yes, I bought it!  I determined to forego the one year moratorium on major decisions.  This property, this place called to me as no other in my life.  It had been on the market for two years just waiting for me.  There had been other offers, but mine was the one the sellers accepted.  I was giddy with a renewed sense of excitement for my retirement.

Though bittersweet, I dream of the small house my son-in-law will build for me and the wildflowers in the meadow.  I’m working on a plan with an architect.  A modern farmhouse look, it will be just the right size for my needs.  I plan to sit on my back porch with good friends and family and my cats and good wine and great music.  And writing and drawing and, of course, gardening.

Oh, the road?  Well, I tried to drive down it one day to find heavy equipment being used to tear up the old road before building a new one.  Potholes no more.  Instead, my new road for my new beginning.

Revelations

 

It’s that time of year again where we made our New Year’s resolutions, face a clean slate, decide what we want to write on our slate.  I feel like I started with a clean slate in September.  I’m still working on it.  If someone told me a year ago, at the beginning of 2020, I’d be living in a new house, different climate and culture, changing my reality, I’d most likely have thought them daffy.  Yet, here I am.  I didn’t make resolutions again this year.  However, I am pondering some revelations.

Rhetorically, does a move to another state change our reality?  Decidedly so.  

Despite my trepidation about living in the snow belt, our Christmas was not white with snow, but sunny with temperatures in the high 50’s.  By Thursday it was 61.  I washed, waxed and detailed my car while Martin bicycled 18 miles.  Major storms, which made national news, went either north or south of us revealing a short winter season.  I’m ready if we get hammered as today it appears ‘The Iceman Cometh’.  My new reality includes a snow plowing service for the driveway as well as generator for power outages.  

But, compared to my altered emotional, spiritual and mental reality, the change in my physical reality is a minor aspect.   

Christmas night, as we prepared to leave our daughter’s house after a day of family, our grandchildren offered up hugs, our son-in-law backed my car out of the driveway and our daughter said, “Watch out for deer.  They’re scampering all over the place.”  

“I know.  We see them scampering.  I’m tired.  Glad it’s only 5 minutes to the house.”

She smiled.  “A lot better than 12 hours.”

Yes.

Having family, assistance and love just 5 minutes away has granted the measure of peace I hoped for.  I’m happier than I’ve been in years.  My only regret is not making the move sooner.  While being a caregiver is still strenuous, it is now a shared responsibility.  The kindness, acceptance, attention, effort, compassion, empathy, time together – I could go on and on.  

This hasn’t been easy.  After 21 years in South Carolina, even with the help of family, adapting to a new culture is a challenge.  Fortunately, we’ve lived here before.  Some things never change.  At the same time, growth renders cities and streets unrecognizable.  Family ties, of course, make it easier to find doctors, hair stylists, the best places to shop and other services.  When we moved to South Carolina, we had to rely on maps to get around.  GPS makes a new locale a lot simpler, especially wending our way through those now unfamiliar high growth, high traffic areas. 

While not making resolutions, I did reflect on what I wanted 2020 to look like.  Nearly two weeks into the new year and new decade, I decided to take a page from fellow blogger Pat Doyle’s post (https://retirementtransition.blog/2020/01/06/woty-2020-release/) and choose a Word Of The Year (WOTY) as a guide.   I wanted a word to lead the way to the emotional, spiritual and mental growth I sought in this new reality.  I wanted a word to aide my focus.  I wanted a word to define 2020 for me.  My WOTY is ‘Engage’.  While I’ve been busy settling in, locating services, changing licenses, address, painting walls and whatever else was needed to make this home our own, other than family, I haven’t engaged in the community in a meaningful social way.  

We live in the country.  However, looking around at what’s close to home revealed a wealth of interests hinging upon our natural world.  Small town activities abound.  Then there’s always the big cities, a bit longer to get to, but filled with many pursuits to choose from.  

Martin’s Painting of Canadian Geese

Keeping it local, as a first step to engaging Martin and I joined the Michigan State University Bird Sanctuary and Manor House only a few minutes from our home.  Similarly, we joined the Kalamazoo Nature Center – yes, there really is a Kalamazoo, Michigan – a bit further down the road.  

As a caregiver one of the challenges of engaging is finding activities, which will engage and satisfy both of us as well as finding community involvement for me alone.  The Bird Sanctuary is home to Trumpet swans, Canadian geese, ducks and rescued birds such as a Bald Eagle.  With nature trails surrounding a large pond and a monthly Birds and Coffee Walk, as longtime hikers, it’s the perfect place for both of us to get some exercise, engage with other people and nature.  On our last visit we met a photographer who drives over an hour just to take pictures of the once endangered Trumpet swans.  Martin took his own photos of geese, translating them to his artist canvas.  For me, there’s also the Richland Area Community Center with yoga and art classes.  It’s a beginning.

With an open mind and an open heart and ‘Engage’ as my WOTY, we’ll see what I can draw upon my slate by the end of 2020.  Engaging is under way!  More revelations to come.

A Perfect House

Thank you to everyone for the heartfelt messages.  Having an international community of support is priceless.  My heart goes out to those of you who have experienced or are experiencing similar situations.  I learned a lot from this move, not the least of which is to follow my own advice to live in the moment.

When our South Carolina house went under contract, we left for Michigan on a sweltering July day with the objective of buying another house.  Since Martin doesn’t drive anymore, the nearly 800 miles behind the wheel was left to me.  Many asked why we didn’t fly.  Martin doesn’t fly anymore either.  Airports are noisy.  Jets are cramped.  Even with the no check-in line, getting through security is a challenge for me alone.  For someone who must be spoken to slowly, succinctly without a surrounding cacophony just getting to the plane is a major stress.  I split the drive into two days with a stopover in Lexington, Kentucky at our favorite Man O’War Boulevard hotel.  Still, it was exhausting, for both of us.  It is what it is.

The closing on our SC house was scheduled for August 28 so time was of the essence.  On the advice of Martin’s neurologist I was working to take Martin from one house to the other with scarcely any stops in between.  Getting him settled into a new environment with as few adjustments as possible was imperative for his well-being and mine.

With the idea of downsizing both in house and land, we arrived with a handful of properties to view.  Houses in Michigan are most often built on basements, many with finished walk-out basements.  I knew there would be stairs.  With that in mind, I pursued only ranch styles to keep it to one set.  After all, I wanted a house where we could age in place.  We had a lot of advantages in our quest, from human help to technological help — the internet, smart phones and GPS; our Realtor, Faith, appropriately named for this adventure, is my daughter, Rachel’s, niece by marriage.  I felt confident there was a house for us among the ones identified.

However, none of the houses “spoke” to us.  Martin was especially discouraged.  After two days of intent looking, I found myself sitting on the sofa in Rachel’s sunroom at 4 a.m.  Our search was taking us further and further from her address.  There wasn’t a point of moving to Michigan if we were an hour away from help.  

During this introspection, an epiphany – instead of buying for the present, I was buying for a future I didn’t even know if we would have.  I had an idea where Martin’s disease would take us, but how many years away was that?  In 2018 his neurologist told us it was moving at a glacial pace.  It could be ten or even twenty years.  We are still in good physical health.  Martin bicycles 80 to a 100 miles a week at 21 miles per hour!  He can certainly climb stairs.  I needed to consider two story houses, two sets of stairs for the moment we were in, not the future yet to come. 

Later that morning as Faith drove us to look at more properties, I mentioned my thoughts to her.  We were minutes from Rachel’s house when she pointed to the right and said, “If you’re considering two stories, there’s a beautiful house behind all those trees.”   After pulling up the listing on my phone, scrolling through photos and showing Martin, I told Faith we wanted to see the house.

It isn’t a style I would have thought about purchasing.  This wasn’t downsizing; it’s nearly 3,700 square feet.  Definitely not the smaller piece of land I searched for, it sits on fifteen acres with a small pond and a slice of frontage along a small lake.  

As I stood in the huge kitchen that day, I caught a glimpse of Martin disappearing down one of the many paths through the woods.  I quickly asked Faith to go after him so I could look around some more.  I watched as her 6’2” frame vanished down the path after Martin.  With her spring green dress and long flowing blond curls, I felt like I was watching Alice chasing the White Rabbit.  I hoped we weren’t about to go down the rabbit hole.  Upon their return I put my doubts aside.  Martin was all smiles.  “Better, better, better” his way of saying this is the one.

There were other two stories, but this is the one.  This is the house for this moment in our lives.  We will grow old.  We will have health issues.  We will die.  All the advice, including mine, about having a house for aging in place deprives us of living in the present, the here and now, the joy of the moment.

This is the house with the family sized kitchen for cooking and gathering, dedicated spaces for the art studio, indoors bicycling when the snow flies, a writing room for me, the house in a private setting with deer, turkey, squirrels and chipmunks, the house with room for bird feeding stations, the house about a mile from a good riding route for Martin, the house with beautiful gardens to tend in good weather and add winter interest, the house with the dining room big enough for our family to enjoy Sunday dinners and the house close enough for help to arrive in minutes.  This is the perfect house for this moment.

The Graduate

 

The Graduate of 2018

Born at the turn of the century (does that sound strange?  It does to me.), they don’t have a moniker yet like Baby Boomers or Generation X or Millennials.  Names like Generation Z have been offered up, but nothing definitive sticks.  I have one, a grandson, born in January of 2000.  Last week he graduated from high school as his mother, my oldest daughter, posted on Facebook his time as a caterpillar is over —  time to fly little butterfly.  All the excitement, pomp and circumstance, family celebration party, teary-eyed reminiscences of his mother and promises of a solid future.

 

What advice would I give him?  The same advice I would give someone getting ready to retire.  I believe it’s good advice for any new start in life.

  1. Believe in yourself.  You have innate gifts.  Be confident in your abilities.  Do in life what you want to do, not what others want for you.  There are lots of people out there with lots of advice (including me) on how things “should” be.  Realize that when the “should” word comes out, you are listening to their ego.  Take it for what it is and make your decision for what you want.  Be a little selfish.  Pander to your ego.
  2. Follow your passion.  That old saying  “Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life” is true no matter what your age.  I garden on a large-scale.  People often comment to me, “That’s a lot of work” to which I reply, “It’s not work to me.  I love doing it.”  Yes, do what you love!
  3. Never stop learning.  Going off to college or trade school or taking a job, graduation isn’t the end of your education.  People who are life-long learners continue to grow and thrive.  It doesn’t mean you have to take formal classes.  Stay open to opportunities.  Be curious about life in general.  Ask questions!  Investigate what makes something tick. Then, you’ll always have excitement in your life and something to talk about when you meet new people.
  4. Speaking of other people, keep your old friends and cultivate new friendships, too.  Growing up I was a Girl Scout.  We had a little song that went like this, “Make new friends and keep the old; one is silver and the other gold.”  People with strong support systems have an easier time adapting to life’s ups and downs than those without.  Change is inevitable.  Form your posse to help you through the changes.
  5. Exploring the world goes hand in hand with never stop learning.  Even if it’s just the world in close proximity, be curious about what’s around you.  A Realtor friend recently sent me a list of all the summer happenings in the Upstate.  With enough activities to fill a page there’s plenty to do and see in my backyard.  Get off the couch and out the door.  Or explore the globe.  
  6. Enjoy each and every day.  Tomorrow is promised to no one.  Live in the moment being mindful of the sights, sounds and smells.  Touch the world you have in front of you.  Mind-spinning about the future or reliving the past is time lost forever.  Enjoy today.  And enjoy it with gratitude.  Revel in what you have, especially the things that can’t bought.  Materialism is over-rated.  Stuff won’t make you happy. 
  7. Lastly, life is what you make of it.  There will be good times and not-so-good times.  You will meet good people and not-so-good people.  Choose how you will respond or not respond to what or whom you encounter.  Live your life on your terms.  No one knows what’s best for you like you do.  

Fly, little butterfly, fly!

Dedicated to Jake and all the graduates of 2018, no matter where you are in the world.  You are our future.  Get out there and put your dent in the universe!

 

 

Silence Your Inner Critic

The woman sitting across the table from me said, “I know I’m ugly.”  Instantly, I thought, she just told me what her inner critic was telling her.  I looked her.  She wasn’t going to be the next cover girl; nor was she ugly.  She had beautiful green eyes with lashes not needing mascara, blemish-free, teeny-tiny pore skin I would give my eye teeth for, and perfectly aligned pearlies surrounded by full lips.  There was a lot to like.  And I gave her my opinion (of course).

We all have one, an inner critic, that is.  According to my therapist (yes, I have one of those too), the inner critic shows up during childhood as others criticize or correct to the nth degree.  As children we internalize the negativism as a voice, often a destructive voice, inside our heads.  We tell ourselves we’re ugly or fat or can’t accomplish our goals or aren’t smart enough to understand this or nobody cares about us.  Whatever the dialogue, it is often not the reality.

Thirty-five years ago I read book after self-help book, took an employer-sponsored course called “Context Training” and learned to ditch much of my inner critic by separating fact from the fiction in my head, just as I hope I did for the woman mentioned above.  Books like “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale changed my life as I became more self-confident, enjoyed more success and became still more confident in my abilities.  I embraced failure as opportunity instead of failure.  My inner critic became a squeaky little buzz of white noise that was quickly silenced when doubt knocked on my door.

As a caregiver the voice recently tried to resurrect itself as I struggled with new challenges.  Faced with mounting stress, my caregiver coach (yes, I have one of those, too) told me, “The stress will never go away.”  My inner critic started saying things like, “You’ll never have a day of peace, so why plan for one?” or “You’ll never get to relax, so why try?”  It took me awhile to realize my inner critic was getting louder.  I needed to duct tape its mouth before a tough situation became tougher.

Self-acceptance, self-compassion, self-love is the first step to silencing your inner critic.  Today I did the best I could do with what I have to do it.  Even in retirement, if life presents you with a crappy hand, as with any other time in life,  tell yourself how much you did right today and how much went right today.  Remind yourself that most people do most things right most of the time.  Give yourself a break.

Oh, I’m no Little Mary Sunshine.  I still need to unload on someone.  My therapist gets paid to listen; my family and friends are there for me.  However, I remembered how our thoughts influence our view of life, our way of handling life and our confidence…the power of positive thinking.  That’s the next step.  Be mindful of your thoughts.  What you put in your mind is like what you put in your body.  You want a healthy diet of positive thoughts.

I started keeping a gratitude journal again.  I might write something like,  “I got up this morning to the sun shining, birds chirping, a garden full of flowers with more to come, a yummy breakfast, worked in the art studio with alcohol inks, talked to a friend.”  Separate the fiction in your head from the facts of your life.  Instead of thinking you are ugly, think about your beautiful green eyes. 

Or, remember making a list of pros and cons when trying to reach a decision?  It works for silencing your inner critic, too.  Make the two columns and write down all the good things about your life and then all the negative things about your life.  Chances are you can find more good than bad.  And recognize the negatives, not as failures, but as opportunities for improvement. 

My stress may never go away, but it can be reduced with positive thinking.  I just had a chance to relax by writing this post.  It gave me a slice of peace.  You see?  I just gagged my inner critic!  And you can, too.