Freedom

A flag watches over the grape vines

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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It’s Not All Doom And Gloom

 

There are benefits to aging. It’s not all doom and gloom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As I sit here finishing my coffee, these are a few of the benefits to aging I thought of. What are the benefits you see in your life?

LIKE A MOTHERLESS CHILD

In 1969 Richie Havens sang the song ‘Freedom’ at Woodstock. The lyrics, which as of late will not stop playing in my head, “Freedom, freedom, freedom, sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from my home” have a different meaning for me than they did when I was 17. Back then, in fact, I don’t think I really thought much about the lyrics. It was the blues feeling of the tune more than the lyrics, which attracted me to Havens’ song. And, after all, it was sung at the crazy, crazy song fest, love-in of Woodstock. Today, however, it’s how I feel about the lyrics, which has them spinning over and over again around my brain. With my mother’s passing in 2008, I truly am a motherless child. And, the years, the travels, the distances, the sheer experience of life itself, have taken me a long way from my home. Shoot! I’m not even remotely like my 17-year-old self. That person is gone. But, with the luxury of retirement, I am free after all those years.

Between the time when we reach adulthood to the time when we reach retirement, we spend our lives dancing as fast as we can to keep up with career plans and demands, family responsibilities, community involvement and a host of other concerns like how to afford retirement. Before reaching adulthood, we spent our youth with everything we learned, did or perhaps, even thought, being orchestrated by parents, teachers, church leaders, scout leaders, coaches, maybe even older siblings or other relatives and, of course, there were our friends. Retirement is a sort of crossing the finish line where we have gobs and gobs of time to ourselves, free time to do whatever we want, whenever we want. There are no bosses breathing down our necks all day making sure we are not wasting company time and producing results with our efforts. The kids are grown and, hopefully, out of house. Our spouse or significant other may also be retired and have their agenda of activities or they may still be running on the treadmill of work. At last, we are free.

But, therein lies the catch. At first, in retirement, we may feel like a motherless child who can run wild in the streets. We can sleep late, play golf or bridge or whatever, party with our friends late into the night. Hop into our RV or travel the globe. In our society we have been conditioned to think of retirement as a perpetual vacation where we’re going to enjoy endless relaxation and fun. I remember my mother’s trepidation about my father’s impending retirement. Her fears began when they received one call too many relaying the news of yet another retired male friend dying of a heart attack on the golf course. Those were the days when retirement was a time to party hardy because our life spans were much shorter. It made sense to act like every day was Saturday. However, with present day longevity, the idea of spending 20 or 30 years playing every day is no longer desirable. As human beings we have an innate need to strive onward and upward toward something meaningful. The retirement dream of our parents is not a valid dream for us. In fact, 20 or 30 years of doing the same ol’, same ol’ can become a downright nightmare.

Retirement is the one time in life when we have real control over our time and what we do with it. Yet, many of us squander that freedom by clinging to the retirement model of our grandparents’ and parents’ generations. Freedom, in and of itself, is a responsibility. One way to take responsibility for your freedom is to go home again. Even though you are probably, as I am, a different person than you were as a young adult, revisiting that person may hold the keys to what you really, really want to do with your retirement freedom. Even though, in the words of Richie Havens, I was a long way from my home, I went back to my high school years, mentally that is, and thought about what I had wanted to do with my life then. I was the copy editor on my high school newspaper and received an award from Temple University for outstanding high school journalism. Hard to believe now, considering how I don’t always know where to place a comma or start a new paragraph. But, my point is, I always wanted to be a writer but I let life and paying the bills get in the way. Being a writer still resonated with my current self so even though I was a long way from home, I retrieved that dream and made it happen on these pages. By going home again, you may find the answer to what you want to do to jazz up your retirement freedom. But, however you approach it, whatever you decide to do, don’t squander it like a motherless child just whiling away the days, all the days, each and every one of your days, with mundane busyness.

PLAIN VANILLA

Maybe it was our inability to find deli grade authentic Italian hot sausage in Upstate South Carolina. Maybe it was my constant whining about most chardonnay no longer being aged in oak barrels. Whatever the cause, lately everything seemed to be plain vanilla.

Instead of Italian sausage having real herbs and spices like fennel seed and hot pepper flakes, some ground up hot chili mixture was thrown in for color and heat by the butcher. “People don’t like all that fennel seed in their sausage”, he told me. A local vintner chimed in, telling me chardonnay was no longer aged in oak barrels because “the public” didn’t like the “oaky taste” of tannins. So stainless steel vats were now used to age the wine, not only leaving it devoid of the rich taste I enjoyed on a hot summer day but also the deep butterscotch yellow color, a tell tale sign of an oak barrel aging. And to be sure, as a real estate broker I used to tell people, plain vanilla sells. Most buyers wanted a shade of beige on the cabinets, walls, tiles and carpet. I even worked for one company where the president insisted his employees wear navy, gray, black and white. And vehicles? White seems to be the most popular color for SUVs, trucks and vans these days. We live, for the most part, in a plain vanilla world.

Retirement, though, offers up yet another opportunity. An opportunity to break from the collective thinking I, too, have engaged in. After decades of living in a plain vanilla world, I’ve been slowly rebelling. And, my life’s partner has joined me on this quest to bring back not only color but spirit to our lives. After all, we were married in a hay field. So, our renegade spirit has been there all along, just buried beneath the trappings of corporate America. With that cloak lifted, retirement affords a new freedom.

So, recently, when the mail box needed painting, Martin asked if I’d be O.K. with his painting it something different. Go for it, said I. Letting his spirit run wild, he proceeded to produce a sparkly silver and blue concoction with little copper faces and shimmering car striping for accent. Even the birds are wowed by this new look, no longer perching atop to desecrate our box with their poop. Now, sitting at the end of our driveway is a message to birds and the world at large…Plain vanilla doesn’t live here anymore.

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