For we baby boomers, you may remember the TV show “Father Knows Best”. Every episode served up a new dilemma for one of the members of a household with dad displaying incredible patience and wisdom as he helped them reach a decision, which was ultimately the right thing to do. Week after week dad led his family members, and their friends, to make the best decision for them. But, most of us don’t live in such a sugar coated world with an all knowing, all seeing dad or advisor. So, oftentimes, we turn to friends or relatives for advice. And, sometimes, we may even want someone else to tell us what to do. Making the hard choices in life is…well…hard.

Recently, I had just such an encounter as someone I’ve known a long time asked me to tell them what to do about a life-changing matter. As I read their email, it reminded me of an epiphany I had as a thirty-something who often turned to spouse, friends or co-workers for answers. At the time, I was working for a company in Seattle, which bought real estate nationally. I was the company’s contracts administrator, drafting contracts, participating in the negotiations and overseeing the due diligence of multi-million dollar deals. My days were filled with excitement as well as high anxiety as one incorrect decision could cost the company a lot of money. So, on a day when a particular deal slowly went sideways, as the saying goes, I anxiously awaited the moment when I could speak with the partners, who were thousands of miles away on business in Hong Kong. When the moment finally came, I laid out the dilemma in detail and asked what I should do. The answer one of the partners gave shocked me. But, ultimately his answer empowered me. Very calmly, he said, “That’s your decision. I’m not there. I can’t read the situation. I can’t see what you see. I can’t feel what you feel. You’re the only one who can make that judgement call.” What? Me? Yikes!!! Eventually, I summoned the courage to make a decision and, as it turned out, a good decision.

Over the next few days, as I pondered the event, I felt empowered professionally. Eventually, I transferred the idea of presence in decision making to my personal life. No one knows what’s best for you like you. Wow! What an epiphany! I’d like to say I held this thought with every personal decision. But, the truth is, we don’t live in a vacuum. Personal decisions affect other people…family, friends, co-workers, even strangers. And, often, we use that fact as a rationale to take their advice. Sometimes, they even give us that reason for foisting their advice upon us. I’ve learned, in an excruciatingly long and painful set of missteps, to listen to advice, but, more importantly in the end analysis, to listen to my gut, my inner voice, my instincts. By reaching into the depths of my own center, I’ve been able to do what’s right for me. Selfish, you say? Hmmm…maybe. But, here’s the catch. Decision making is really problem solving. By reaching into my own center, I’ve taken responsibility for solving the problem and accountability for the outcome. Do I consider how my decision will effect others? Of course, I do. But, as I’ve discovered, taking accountability for my actions is what’s best for my relationships. It puts the responsibility squarely on my shoulders. I’ve also learned through countless mistakes it’s OK to make a mistake. I’ve learned how making no decision, taking no action is really abdicating to time and circumstance, which will eventually make the decision for me. Shudder the thought! I’ve learned to move ahead of any mistakes, ignore the “I told you so’s”, make a correction of direction, chart a new course. But, whatever the outcome, the decision belongs to me.

So, my advice, (and, yes, I do give this particular piece of advice on occasion) to you, my friend, wanting to know what to do…no one knows what’s best for you like you. While I’ll lend a sympathetic ear, point out options you may not have thought about and support your decision, I’m not there. I can’t read the situation. I can’t see what you see. I can’t feel what you feel. So, reach down into the core of your being, feel around your insides and ask yourself what it is which you want. You’re the only one who can make this judgement call.


Growing up on the New Jersey shore, I learned to swim early on. Since the ocean is often too rough for a little kid, as a pre-schooler my mom took me to calmer inlets and, on occasion, to one of the community pools housed along the board walk. I loved the community pool. Other little kids would be there splashing around, doing the doggie paddle, laughing and just having fun. Going to the community pool expanded my little world, which was limited at the time to my family and neighborhood friends. As I grew and entered school and then work, my community grew along with me. As a teen I even worked one summer at O’Brien’s ice cream parlor at the north end community pool, making friends with some of my co-workers. Being retired is a bit like going back to that time as a little kid before my world expanded to include the community pool.

One of the dilemmas for many retirees is how to replace the community of work. After all, for decades work has provided a sense of identification. One of the first questions asked by any new acquaintance is, “What do you do?” I did my share of asking the same question. Work provides a sense of place and belonging as in the often asked next question, “Where do you work?” Work provides a place to come together with other people where we share connections wrought from common purpose, beliefs and values. Work also provides a place for us to be appreciated and recognized for our contributions to the group effort. Work may even provide us with friends. Some of my most enduring friendships are from earlier work relationships. So, while we work to earn an income, work provides us with much more than a paycheck. Replacing the work community and redefining your sense of self in retirement is actually a quest for connection.

In retirement we can seek community out of a sense of commitment as we are now able to exercise greater choice over what we commit to. Without a paycheck coming into play, our commitment is based on our interests, talents, beliefs and social connections. Volunteer work, civic involvement, part-time or full-time work in a new field, membership in clubs, living in over age 55 communities, being an activist for one cause or another. The choices seem endless and probably are. If you were active in your community before retirement, you may want to increase your commitment to those activities. Or, perhaps, you’ll want to try something new as you discover latent talents or interests. This is the opportunity to jump in feet first to try that something you always wanted to try but never had the time. No excuses now! I know retirees who teach computer classes, belong to knitting, quilting and garden clubs, do woodworking, volunteer for charitable organizations such as hospice, a domestic abuse shelter or, yes, the senior center, are artists or work part-time. The list goes on and on. The common theme with these people is they have remained engaged in life. They have a sense of community, a purpose, which has them looking forward to each day.

If you have identified a purpose for your life, which will give connection and community, embrace it full-throttle ahead. If not, find one. The choices are indeed endless. And finding THE ONE can be half the fun. Think of all the new people you’ll meet and all the new things you’ll learn. But, whatever you do, take a deep breath, hold your nose, jump in feet first and find your community pool!


A year ago my older brother and his wife visited. They brought with them a shoe box full of memories. Our mother passed away in 2008 shortly after her 90th birthday celebration. There were, of course, a lifetime of photos and memorabilia left behind. My brother and sister-in-law sorted through it all making a shoe box for each of us siblings. While I dutifully looked through my assortment of photos upon their arrival last year, I didn’t really look at the contents carefully until just now.

Finding the emotional will to take a close look at what was inside the box, I lifted the lid. There is an ornament, which my mother intended to give me at Christmas the year she died. I love Christmas time and beautiful ornaments as did she. Part of her legacy to me. Then, there are all the photos, many of which I had given to my parents over the years. Photos of my daughters as babies, as girls, as young women. Photos of my parents on their trip to visit us in Seattle. My Dad died two years after that visit, in 1989. Photos of our family as we lived in different parts of the country, in different houses with different pets, clothing and hair styles. Beneath all the photos were letters.

I pulled out the letters, opening them one by one, reading them through and reliving that moment in my personal history. Most were chatty letters, detailing the normalcy of our lives to my parents and then, just my mother. They were letters about my daughters’ schools and activities, basketball, softball, ballet and piano. They were letters about our jobs and travel. My weekly trips to cities throughout the country closing multi-million dollar real estate deals. Trips which often enabled me to visit my younger brother and his family in Dallas. They were letters about our vacations to the desert of Washington state, the San Juan Islands and Canada, when you could easily cross into that country without a passport. They were just letters about an everyday life.

Then there is the letter I wrote in the spring of 2007, one year before my mother died. The letter is one I had totally forgotten until now. I unfolded the letter, remembering the special paper I’d chosen with the pink flowered border. Teal, yellow and pink colored butterflies hover around the flowers as if sipping nectar. Instead of hand writing the letter I had typed it. Looking back and considering the content of the letter, a hand-written letter would have been more personal. But, we had entered the computer age so even letters to my mother had become typed and printed in recent years. This letter was not so chatty, not so everyday but, rather, a diary of what I had accomplished so far in my life. This letter was a thank you letter to my mother for my life. With tears streaming down my cheeks and a pile of used tissues in my lap, I read the last line. “So, on my 55th birthday, Thank You Mom for my wonderful life. I love you.” I signed my name after that last line, the only handwritten addition from me. Although I had typed the date on this particular letter, my mother’s handwritten date of receipt appears in the upper corner of the first page, her writing shaky and uneven.

As I fold the letter and place it back in the shoe box, I have a lot of thoughts. We don’t send letters anymore handwritten or otherwise. We email. We Facebook. We text message. Like the news everything is said in blips. We don’t often say the things to people we should say when they are alive. For all the times I told my mother I loved her, I’m glad I took the time to actually articulate my gratitude for all the things she did for me. My only regret is I didn’t do the same for my Dad. So, today, wherever you are, tell the people who mean the most to you exactly that. Even better, put it in writing so they can touch it and feel it and read it again and again. Tell them how much you appreciate having them in your life, your wonderful life.


“I think careful cooking is love, don’t you? The loveliest thing you can cook for someone who’s close to you is about as nice a valentine as you can give.”

– Julia Child

As an ice storm bore down on the south recently, Martin and I hunkered down at home. Grateful to no longer be working, we settled into the luxury of being able to stay put while we waited out the storm. On a cold winter’s day there’s nothing better than a pot of something aromatic and tasty simmering on the stove. Equally appealing is something warm and crusty baking in the oven. So, as the wet, cold stuff began to fly through the air, I dashed out to the garden to pluck some rosemary, parsley and thyme from my garden. Back in the warmth of our kitchen, Martin sat by the fire snuggling a purring cat. I diced onions, celery and green pepper. I chopped rosemary and parsley and blended my version of creole seasoning, filling a hot pot for jambalaya as I worked. The aromas wafted through the air, even as the hood vent sucked the fumes outside perchance for a lucky neighbor to enjoy. At first, we talk mostly about the storm, marveling at how great it feels to be home instead of having to drive on ice today. As I mix flour, yeast, water and rosemary for bread, our attention turns to how many meals we’ve cooked together and for each other.

Long, long before retirement, way back when we were first married and our kids were young, Martin and I started cooking together. As young marrieds we explored all types of cuisine finding excitement in seemingly exotic ingredients as we tried ethnic and regional dishes. We subscribed to early cook’s magazines and put cook books on gift wish lists. Once, years before almost anything could instantly be found online, Martin even chased down the author of a Chinese cookbook after we failed to find it at any of the area bookstores. Responding to his request, the author sent us an autographed copy of her book, which today is well-worn and splattered with the makings of many a great meal. Since there was also a time when it was impossible to find fresh herbs in the grocery store, I ordered seeds from a catalog and started a herb garden. That first year, thinking they looked like weeds, I yanked out all the basil seedlings. But, no matter what, after a long day of work, we enjoyed coming home to make a great meal together, sharing our day’s adventures while we enjoyed a glass of wine in the heart of our home.

As we became more accomplished cooks, it became apparent we each had our specialties. Despite our large library of cook books and recipes, we were also adept at improvising, making meals while we loosely followed a recipe or, perhaps, using only our experience. As I perfected my herb gardening skills and expanded to vegetable gardening, our choice of fresh ingredients outside our back door offered up new opportunities to improvise. As our individual repertoires grew, it was only natural the one with whichever specialty would take the lead while the other assisted. We worked in tandem even as we allowed for one or the other of us to take the lead on any given night. And so it was, as we shared our day thousands of times over and over and over again. In retirement, this ritual has not changed. No matter how we’ve spent our day, together or apart, at the end of the day we come together to cook a great meal with each other, for each other, and just talk, for the love of cooking and for the love of each other.