Alive and Well in Retirement!

I was recently reminded of a blog post I wrote back in January of 2014, entitled Existentialism, Disenchantment and the Six Phases of Retirement. It was written about five months after I retired. A fellow blogger who explores retirement issues found my post and used me, in a YouTube presentation, as his comic example of someone bumbling through the early adjustment phases of retirement. As I watched the YouTube presentation (slightly discomfited, listening to a complete stranger talk about the antics of “Betsy and her husband” like we were Lucy and Ricky), I was stuck by how much we’ve evolved since then.

I am quite content with my life now. Looking back, I see it really took me about two years to fully adjust to retirement. Five months after my retirement date, when I wrote that post, I was clearly in the Disenchantment Phase (Stage 4). The Honeymoon Phase (Stage 3) had worn off and I was starting to feel some loneliness, boredom, uselessness and disillusionment.

Stage 5, following Disenchantment, is described as the “Reorientation Stage,” where the retiree moves on to build a new identity in retirement. It is described as the “most difficult stage in the emotional retirement process and will take both time and conscious effort to accomplish. Perhaps the most difficult aspects of this stage to manage are the inevitable self-examination questions that must be answered once again, such as ‘Who am I, now?’ ‘What is my purpose at this point?’ and ‘Am I still useful in some capacity?’ New – and satisfying – answers to these questions must be found if the retiree is to feel a sense of closure from his or her working days. But many retires cannot achieve this and never truly escape this stage – make sure you do!” (Mark P. Cussen, “Journey Through the 6 Stages of Retirement”)

I wasn’t always mindful at the time, but in hindsight it’s clear I did go through this reorientation process, often in fits and starts. It forced me to take a hard look at myself and make some deliberate decisions about how I was going to spend the rest of my life. After all, the rest of my life could be another 30+ years! If I were to summarize my acquired bits of wisdom (and I emphasize that these are MY conclusions) they would be:

Throw out the expectations (especially of your partner) – Retirement is a wonderful and terrifying marriage laboratory, where you get one last chance to finally work out those thorny relationship issues so often ignored during the busy dual-career and childrearing years. Especially for my husband and I, polar opposites in many ways. Plus, I realized that I went into retirement with some unrealistic expectations. In my imaginary retirement la-la world, my husband (already retired) and I would be happily spending 24/7 together, having lunch dates and play dates and going to art museums. We would have an abundance of extra time, and we’d joyfully split the housework and tackle all those long-delayed projects around the house, like cleaning out the garage. We’d do all this together, with any relationship issues magically solved by the absence of work pressures.

That rose-colored bubble pretty much burst the first few weeks of retirement. We never spent that much time together, even when we were dating, so it was bone-headed to think we would start now. And my husband doesn’t even like art museums. After about a week of being together in the house, we had nothing interesting to report to each other. Plus, my homebody husband has vastly different ideas on how to spend his time, and was unwilling to give up his established and cherished routines and household chores. As I noticed my frustration and resentment start to build, I had a choice to make. I could either try to change my husband to fit my expectations, or I could respect his differences, let him be him, and focus on what I could do to structure my own life. I ultimately chose the latter, and also found it works far better to ask clearly for what I need than to expect it.

There are of course some things I still wish were different. For example, I really wish my husband would clean out the garage. I wish we entertained more, and we watched less TV (especially sports). But I finally realized there is an excellent chance our garage will never be tidy, that entertaining can be pretty stressful for us, and that watching a good football game together is a great shared activity. I had to look clear-eyed at those areas where reality and expectations collide and make some choices. If there were deal-breakers for me, I had to address them. If they were not, I had to come to peace with them. Just because Mr. and Mrs. McGillicudy down the street, also retired, work puzzles and drink Moscow Mules together every afternoon doesn’t mean we should. This process of letting go of unhelpful expectations and accepting, even embracing, the goodness in my own reality, with a spirit of gratitude, has been very liberating and my path to contentment.

Look no farther than thyself – I don’t mean this in a self-centered or narcissistic way, but I am learning that I am the one responsible for my own happiness.   It is too easy, but not helpful, to look to others or go into blame mode when I am unhappy. As it is difficult, if not possible to do on my own, there is a spiritual component integral to remaining centered and open, in removing blame and extending grace.

Eliminating unhealthy expectations freed me to look pragmatically, even creatively, at myself, my husband (and our life together), and to craft a fulfilling life. If I need more social interaction, I have a wonderful network of friends to call on. When I need more physical exercise, I hang out at the YMCA right down the street. I have a women’s study group and a book club that provide plenty of regular female companionship.

I also gradually came to the conclusion that contributing to my disenchantment was a growing and nagging feeling of uselessness. Although I initially thought I would enjoy doing more around the house, I found I was honestly just as happy letting my husband keep his chores! (And I am, BTW, the envy of my girlfriends.) I found I need more time out of the house. I was someone who worked my entire life and was used to being the breadwinner in our family and a leader in the workplace. I missed the energy and camaraderie of the office, the business travel, and being a part of teams where we solved problems for our clients. I enjoyed all the fun I was having in retirement, but I began to feel that something was missing.

For me, a providential solution was my involvement with a charitable organization. A few months after I retired, I re-connected with a friend who was long interested in starting a non-profit. She enlisted my help and together we launched Alive and Well Women. Today I am the Chair of the Board and last year volunteered to take the lead on grant writing (something I’ve never done before).

My work with Alive and Well Women has proven to be a godsend. It gives me an outlet for using my professional talents, a sense of value and accomplishment, while allowing me to give back to the community. I love the women I work with and I’m learning new skills. We are in the midst of our first capital campaign and I’m finding it a joy to raise funds for a cause I feel passionate about. And since I am a volunteer, I work when I am home but still have the flexibility to travel with my husband.

Find some things to enjoy with your partner – when we are home, my husband and I find the ideal mix of together/independent time typically skews more toward separate schedules. We have breakfast and dinner together, and go for a daily walk around the neighborhood, but the rest of the day is typically individual time (often we are both home, but separately engaged.)

The danger with our natural parallel play tendency is that we can easily become disengaged. So, we deliberately look for activities that we can enjoy together. For us, our favorite joint activity is travel. Something special happens when we are on the road. We find we love being together 24/7, we work as a team, and we create amazing shared memories. These are the moments when I am overcome with gratitude. And as soon as we’re back from one trip, we start thinking about our next, which gives us something to dream about together.

We also try to do a few things each week while we are home. We rarely miss church and brunch on Sunday. We have at least one lunch or dinner out during the week, and we recently started ballroom dancing classes. We’re still more Lucy and Ricky than Fred and Ginger, but we’re having fun with our salsa!

"Eventually the new landscape becomes familiar, and retirees can enjoy the last phase of their lives with a new sense of purpose"

“Eventually the new landscape becomes familiar, and retirees can enjoy the last phase of their lives with a new sense of purpose”

The Routine Stage (Phase 6) of retirement is when “finally, a new daily schedule is created, new marital ground rules for time together versus time alone are established, and a new identity has been at least partially created. Eventually, the new landscape becomes familiar territory, and retirees can enjoy the last phase of their lives with a new sense of purpose.” (Mark P. Cussen)

You know, I think we might be there!

Christmas Peace

The older I get, the more melancholy I feel around Christmas. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE the holiday season. I love the traditions and Christmas trees and cookie baking and lights and carols. But the innocent, pure joy and excitement I felt as a child have given way to a more nuanced experience of the holidays.

This year, as I decorated our Christmas tree, I was reminded of my blog post from two years ago entitled Christmas Memories. Just as I related in that post, the powerful remembrances elicited by unpacking our boxes of family Christmas decorations are enough to plunge me into sudden gloom.   Even though I am generally excited about the upcoming holidays (especially for our son’s homecoming tomorrow), I found myself taking frequent breaks (cookies, coffee and chocolate seemed to help) as memories of people and places and times past came flooding back. I grieved over the loss of my beloved parents and stepson, and a broken relationship with another family member. I missed the days when our son was a young boy and I was a young mom. The mere recognition of the passage of so much time causes its own despair.

I find myself grieving over our broken world. The seemingly everyday news of bombings and shootings and ISIS and terror feels overwhelming to me.   I’m often disappointed by a lack of clear moral leadership coming from political (highlighted in this current presidential election circus) and religious leaders.

While preparing for our family Christmas, I heard from two friends experiencing tragic circumstances amidst this holiday season. One friend’s son was seriously injured in a sports-related accident, her father died, and she broke her hip – all within a couple weeks. Another friend, as a result of a series of setbacks, was on the brink of losing her home. I felt heavy and helpless. What am I to do with all this suffering? And how can I feel the joy of the season with so much brokenness around me? I did what little I could for my friends – I visited the first friend, brought her lunch, Christmas cookies and a wreath (since she couldn’t drive to get one). I sent the other friend some money and prayed for her. But I struggle with a sometimes overpowering sense of futility and pain when people around me are hurting.

How can I feel the joy of the season with so much brokenness around me?

How can I feel the joy of the season with so much brokenness around me?

And then last Sunday, as if on cue, God met me and blessed me.   The church sermon that morning was entitled “Waiting for God to Send Peace.” Our Pastor Megan spoke to our challenge as Christians in finding the peace of Christ in a broken world. It was the sermon for which I had been longing and I needed to hear. It reminded me that, although I can’t turn a blind eye to violence around me, my peace comes through my relationship with God. My worldly responsibility is to show compassion in the midst of pain and strife. Pastor Megan reminded us of Jesus’ parting words to his disciples:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

That same afternoon, our church sponsored a concert entitled “What Shall We Give Him?” highlighting Courtney B. Vance reading the Christmas Scripture from Luke 2. I found myself weeping while listening to the music and the words of the sacred Christmas music. When the Christmas Scripture from Luke was read, what initially caught my attention were these words:

In those days a decree went out from emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Ouirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered.

Holy cow! Was the family of Jesus Christ an early example of Syrian refugees? As I sat contemplating current events in light of this text, I abruptly felt the convergence of the past, presence and future. I was unexpectedly comforted by the words of carols, many I’ve heard since I was a child, but which in that moment took on new and powerful meaning.

Hark! the herald angels sing,

“Glory to the new born King,

Peace on earth, and mercy mild,

God and sinners reconciled!”

God blessed me with the reassurance that my care of my friends and family, that my voice for good in the world, will make a difference, and that He will give me peace. As I left the church, like Mary, “pondering all these things in my heart,” the words of Scottish poet Alexander Smith finally made perfect sense: “Christmas is the day that holds all time together.”

The Kid is Alright (And So Am I)

We spent this Thanksgiving with our son (my only child) in Florida. He graduated from the Naval Academy in May and is now waiting to start flight training. I am therefore passing into yet another new stage of parenting, having an adult college-educated son who is completely independent. He has an apartment, a car and a job. He really doesn’t need us for anything.

Looking back, the two hardest transitions for me were his first day of kindergarten and the first month after he left home for college. My husband had to peel me away from the front door of the elementary school when we dropped him off at kindergarten. I blubbered all the way home about this being “the beginning of the end.” The first month of his “Plebe Summer” at the Academy, I missed him terribly. Our house and lives suddenly became strangely quiet, and I found myself pacing anxiously around the house and staring at his empty room. I physically ached from the loss of his everyday company.

Somewhere around the beginning of his senior year at the Academy, long after finally and happily settling into my role as USNA Mom, I began to feel a pit in my stomach, knowing that my son would soon be leaving the relatively safe Academy environment (that I had grown to love) and that his chosen career would become increasingly dangerous as he pursues his future training and then faces prospective deployments. After we said good-bye this past May, following his graduation, we knew we might not see him again until Christmas. I anticipated another tough adjustment, but I have to say, so far this stage has been much easier than I thought.   I feel surprisingly at peace being less actively involved in his life.

I believe there gradually comes a point in the parenting relationship, where both our kids and we realize that it is us (the parents) that yearn for more time with them (the kids) than they yearn for with us.  The early to mid twenties is also an important time for our kids to independently build their own identities.   When I reflect on my own past with my own parents, I am reminded of the importance of “releasing” my son for his vital personal development.   Besides, quite frankly, I find much in the life of a 22-year-old male somewhat unappealing, and often the “son” I miss hanging out with is the 8-year-old version (the one for whom I was the center of his universe). Added to that, my husband and I have built an active and enjoyable life together.

As for the future dangers in my son’s military career, I try not to think about it too much.  I put his safety into God’s hands and remind myself that he is doing exactly what he’s always wanted to do and he will be well trained.  (Of course, it is still relatively easy to ignore my fears while he is waiting around for training to begin, so check back in another year or two on that one!)

What is important to me personally, though, as I adjust to this stage of parenting, is to (1) maintain a connection with my son, and (2) know that he is okay. In my quest to sustain a connection, we frequently text each other, and routinely talk every Sunday by phone. Our Sunday calls, however, are often more interrogation than chat. Our son is not naturally talkative – he doesn’t hide information, but he doesn’t freely volunteer it either. Therefore, expertly framing and posing the right questions is a key skill when talking to him. When physically with him, however, we have long conversations (usually over meals) and I feel connected and caught up with his life. Since he had plenty of time on his hands (waiting for flight training to start) our Florida visit was pure gold. He was relaxed; we talked, laughed, and enjoyed several activities (and daytrips) together. He and I have always shared a sense of humor (that sometimes stumps even my husband) and he can make me laugh like few others. We are fortunate that our son still enjoys spending time with us (or at least cheerfully tolerates it). And though I admit I occasionally still long for my little boy, there are many parts of this stage of life that I enjoy even more. What a godsend to realize I’ve raised someone that I truly like!

A visit to my son's workplace

A visit to my son’s workplace

Most importantly, I was able to do my “Mom’s Due Diligence” and feel content that my son is okay. I saw his apartment. It is attractive and in a great location. I met his two roommates. They are polite and respectful. I visited his workplace. I inspected his car. No scrapes or dings, and it has been conscientiously well maintained. I met some of his friends. They are solid buddies. I went to his volleyball and basketball games and chatted with his teammates. They are affable and supportive. He introduced us to his new girlfriend. She is adorable, funny and smart, and she clearly appreciates my son and treats him with respect.

I know I will have fewer such opportunities to pop into his life as his career progresses. The future may be uncertain, and although it may not always be so, for now, we are connected and the kid is alright. And so am I. And that is my Thanksgiving blessing.

Psalm 46:1

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

A Veterans Day Remembrance

Today is Veterans Day.  Ten years ago today, my father, a USNA graduate and U.S. Navy veteran, passed away.  I’m again sharing this post I wrote two years ago after we visited Normandy, as I remember my Dad and “The Greatest Generation.”

Normandy: Paying Our Respects

I wish every American could visit the D-Day Beaches in Normandy and pay tribute to the servicemen who risked or sacrificed their lives there.  We were privileged to do so on our recent trip to France and it was one of the most unforgettable parts of our journey.

Prior to leaving Paris for Normandy, my husband and I watched “Saving Private Ryan” on DVD.  I previously eschewed this movie; afraid I would be unable to stomach the gristly D-Day battle scenes.  However, in preparation for our D-Day tour, I felt it important to watch to gain a small measure of appreciation for what the troops braved.

We took a 2-hour train from Paris on Friday evening and spent the weekend at the Hotel Churchill (reputed to have been Eisenhower’s favorite hotel during the war) in Bayeux, which was the closest village to the D-Day beaches that was left untouched during the conflict.  On Saturday, we toured the American D-Day beaches.

Our guide was Dominique, a French woman whose family resided in the area for generations.  She was extremely knowledgeable, spoke excellent English due to a stint in Santa Barbara, CA, and gave us a local perspective on historical events.  She peppered her commentary with personal stories of relatives who participated in the French Resistance and their involvement with the occupation and liberation, which was fascinating.

What I learned, from a historical perspective, was that the D-Day beaches were code-named Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha, and Utah, for purposes of the Allied invasion on June 6, 1944. The Americans were responsible for Omaha and Utah and these were the beaches we visited.   Young soldiers (many of them 18 – 20 years old with no previous combat experience) carrying 70 libs of battle gear apiece were transported in flat bottom boats in rough waters to the shore (many becoming seasick) and dropped into the cold water, several drowning under the weight of their gear even before reaching shore.

The first units, taking advantage of surprise, made their way quickly to farmland at Gold, Juno and Sword Beaches.  Americans at Omaha were not that lucky.  There, in the center of the battlefront, soldiers walked into a wall of German gunfire.  Earlier bombing raids had been largely ineffective in taking out the heavy German armaments.  Attempting to scale a bluff well covered by German defenders, more than 2,000 GIs were killed or wounded.   After penetrating corpse-laden beaches, the soldiers ran into a maze of hedgerows in which the Germans had stationed machine gunners, invisible to the Allies until they were virtually on top of them. But by nightfall, they had secured the bluff and later proceeded to join troops enroute to liberating France.

No one is certain of the exact numbers, but there were probably around 4,500 American and Allied casualties the first day, horrific yet considerably less than the 75,000 some planners had feared. That more troops were not killed is testimony to the planning, training and weaponry of the Allies.

My husband wading into the waters at Omaha Beach

My husband wading into the waters at Omaha Beach

Watching “Saving Private Ryan” beforehand helped to personalized the story of Omaha Beach.  The movie conveys the terror, anxiety, sadness and horror felt by the young men who participated in D-Day.  During our tour, even though the weather was blustery and cold (but warmer than the actual D-Day), my husband (himself a military veteran) wore shorts and sandals, and he walked down the beach and into the water so he could feel what the troops felt and, looking back at the shore, see what they saw.  We observed the immense width of the beaches (which were not as low tide as on the actual D-Day) GIs were required to traverse in the face of withering enemy fire, remnants of the heavily fortified German bunkers and weaponry, the craters still visible from Allied bombing, the lethal hedgerows; all combined to leave us overcome with a profound sense of sadness for the loss of so many and a deep gratitude for their courage. We were heartened to witness the gratitude still felt and exhibited by the French in Normandy toward Americans.

The American Cemetery in Normandy

The American Cemetery in Normandy

The next stop after Omaha Beach was the American Cemetery, overlooking Omaha, where 9,300 U.S. service men and women are buried, representing only a third of the total U.S. casualties in Normandy (the remaining two-thirds were returned home at their families’ request).   Half of those killed in Normandy had no previous combat experience.  This I found the most emotional part of the visit.   Rows and rows of marble crosses and Stars of David stretched as far as the eye could see.  As I walked through these sacred grounds, with tears streaming down my face, I read the names and ages and hometowns of those resting there.  Age 19, age 20, age 18—– it was heartbreaking and I considered my anguish if one of these were my own 20-year-old son.   I said quiet prayers of gratitude for them and prayers of comfort for their families.

The British Cemetery in Bayeux

The British Cemetery in Bayeux

The next day, after we returned to Bayeux, we visited the British Cemetery, where 4,650 are buried (including some Germans).  It was a lovely cemetery with rows of stone markers decorated with colorful flowers.   I again felt overcome with emotion, particularly as I read the personal messages on the gravestones.  One in particular caught my eye and tugged at my heartstrings:

TREASURED MEMORIES OF A DEAR SON

HE WAS SO YOUNG TO GIVE SO MUCH

"He was so young to give so much"

“He was so young to give so much”

We should always remember the sacrifices made by these young men and remember that they were just that – young men.  Each had a story and a future and a family and hopes and dreams.  No matter how terrified, they said “yes” to the call, and the result was the preservation of life and freedom for others.  I am grateful that I was able to travel to this awful, beautiful, and blessed place to personally say thank you to these valiant heroes of the “Greatest Generation”.

In Defence of Halloween

I have a confession to make. Actually two. At 57 years old, I still love Halloween. Boom. Second, I had every intention of writing a more serious topic post this week, but I really just wanted to write about Halloween. Boom. As a compromise, and to add gravitas to my topic, I used the English spelling title.

One of my friends half-jokingly said, this Halloween, that she and her husband were the “Scrooges of all saints eve” and were planning to turn off the lights and block their porch with their SUV, partly to protect trick-or-treaters and other vulnerable human beings from eating all that “sugar crap”.  Other friends vehemently object to celebrating a holiday of dark pagan origins.

To the naysayers, I reply, “Fine! I don’t care!” I love Halloween. I’ve always loved Halloween. And for me, it has nothing to do with candy or reverence for otherworldly spirits. For goodness sake, I grew up in a sensible Presbyterian family with a Navy dentist father who inspected our Halloween candy and tossed the items most likely to cause dental problems.

No, for me, Halloween is magical, and communal. I have nothing but wonderful Halloween memories. As a little girl, dressed in my favorite little fairy princess costume, waiting eagerly for darkness to fall, grabbing my father’s hand as I skipped through our neighborhood, transformed (in my eyes) to an enchanted pixie world. As a teenager in San Diego, braving the annual Young Life haunted house in Mission Valley with my friends (and getting the holy $#%&$ scared out of me) while knowing nothing truly horrible would happen.   The Halloween party my first year of law school, when I somewhat nervously wore my hand-made costume (I went as a bag of groceries) and where my classmates and I first really relaxed with each other, the beginning point of great lifelong friendships.

Although I have a Halloween-neutral spouse, I was blessed with a son who loves Halloween just as much, if not more, than I do. He could barely contain himself each year as the season approached. I was a total enabler, putting on elaborate Halloween kids’ parties each year for him and his little friends, usually planning it months in advance and taking an entire day off work to decorate. One year, I assembled a complicated string maze game in which every kid would have his or her own string to unravel to a prize waiting at the end. It took hours to set up, and about 10 minutes to finish, resulting in a room full of kids wound up like cocoons. The parents would also come to these parties, and we would all play games, eat pizza and then go trick-or-treating together. And for my son, like me, it was not about the candy, but the pursuit. Every year, his pillowcase full of candy would be largely untouched, and finally disposed of before Christmas. We just didn’t eat many sweets in our house and he never acquired the taste.

As my son got older, we collaborated on his costumes. My all-time favorite was the Baked Potato. He wore black sweats, I swaddled him in Reynolds Wrap, and he sported a yellow beanie (butter, get it?) on his head. By the time he flew around the first corner that Halloween night, the foil was already unwrapping and soaring behind him like a gleaming jet airplane. Another year, we shopped the crazy vintage shops on Sunset Blvd. and assembled a killer Jimi Hendrix costume and wig.

After my son left for college, the first couple Halloweens weren’t nearly as much fun. I enjoyed greeting the trick-or-treaters, but it just wasn’t the same. The past two years, we visited our son in Annapolis and attended the phenomenal and magical annual Halloween Concert in the USNA Chapel.

But now our son has graduated and he’s truly on his own. (BTW, he texted me a photo of him and his girlfriend at a Halloween Party in spot-on costumes as Forrest Gump and Jenny. Bravo!!). My Halloween-disinterested hubby’s big plans this year were to watch the World Series on TV and let me answer the door.

So, I decided to take matters into my own hands and reclaim the former Halloween magic! I pulled all the old Halloween decorations out of the garage and created a haunted mansion theme on our house front. I carved our pumpkin. I placed my new Bose wireless speaker in the open front window and set up my iPhone to play the Halloween stations on Pandora. I pulled an old witches outfit and wig out of the closet (always good to have a spare costume on hand for these emergency situations) and prepared for the arrival of children.

Jack-o-Lantern and hay bales on our front porch

Jack-o-Lantern and hay bales on our front porch

We had a rather large volume of trick-or-treaters. Over the course of the evening, I worked on enhancing their experience at our house. I experimented with the volume and type of music (family friendly Halloween classics, spooky sound effects, sweeping but slightly creepy movie scores), adjusted the lighting, and played around with how I presented myself. When they rang the doorbell, I would creep to the door, quietly listen to their conversation (“Oh, look at the great pumpkin!” “I love the music!”) And then when the timing was right, I would jerk the door open and, in my best Morticia Addams voice, exclaim “Hello, children!” I adjusted the fright level to make it age-appropriate, but I loved watching the kids’ eyes open wide and detecting a slight flinch when they saw me. I particularly enjoyed yanking the door open and startling the teenage boys.

I had a ball and I think the kids who came to our house did, too. A few of the parents even thanked me for my efforts. Dressing up allowed me to join in the magic with the kids. But more than that, I enjoyed sharing the evening with my neighborhood. Our next-door-neighbor came by with her two young kids (the most adorable Minnie Mouse and Captain America), Our former neighbors (who moved to a different street) brought their daughter and we briefly caught up. Our friend came by with her two grandkids. Plenty of kids I didn’t know came by, and some stopped to chat.

As a Christian woman, I certainly understand some of the criticisms with Halloween – the sugar, the commercialism, the dark Druid origins. But, to me, Halloween will always evoke the feelings and memories of magic, creativity, family and community.

Breaking Up….Is Great to Do!

Last week my husband bought me a new Dell printer, making me ridiculously happy. I had no idea an inanimate object could bring me such joy. I find myself smiling at it, even singing to it, “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”, “So Happy Together”, “You Light up My Life.” The Era of Good Feelings has once again come to my home-den-office.

My devotion to my new Dell is best understood by my dysfunctional, at times abusive, relationship with my ex, an HP. For over two years, since I retired and became wholly dependent on our home office equipment, I was victim to the dark moods and spiteful whims of this evil HP. It wasn’t that it didn’t print – it just didn’t print consistently.   It was always slow as molasses. But at times, it would grow inexplicably temperamental and stop functioning, usually when I was rushed or needed to print something important. Other times, it would print, but the colors would be whacky. Or, it would suddenly stop printing PDFs, or pages from the Web, or any number of other programs it would single out for punishment. Then the next day, all would be operational. It felt like it was playing me for laughs.

My husband has a higher threshold for this type of inconvenience than I do, mainly because he is responsible for fixing things and he didn’t know how to fix this thing. Since the HP did work sometimes, it never qualified as “broken” so he was not in favor of buying a new printer. And, most maddeningly, that little stinker would print just fine for his computer (which sat next to and connected to the HP). So, we resorted to increasingly irritating work-arounds, like me emailing documents to my husband to print from my his computer, turning the printer off and counting for 60 seconds and turning it back on, and (my favorite), smacking it on the side. After days of stomping back and forth between the den and the printer, turning it on and off, on and off, on and off, cussing and yelling at the HP, my husband would calmly say things like, “Hmmm, maybe I need to take it apart and fix it.” And I ‘d say, “Or maybe I need to take it apart and kill it.”.

One day I came home and my husband was doing printer brain surgery. He had hundreds of little parts spread all over the kitchen island. He had my late father’s loops (the magnifying lenses my dad used in his dentistry practice) on his head and an extra bright office light trained on the patient.   The surgery was temporarily successful, and the printer worked like a champ for a few months.

UNTIL, last spring, as I was preparing for my son’s USNA graduation week and planned to produce packets (including schedules, maps, and nametags) for all our guests. After spending countless hours designing, drafting and collecting materials on my computer, I began printing. The HP-from-Hell would print five of something, and then stop. Or one of something else, then stop. Then no more that day. It just refused, flagrant acts of insubordination. The next day, it would print three more of something and nothing of the other. There was one PDF that it never printed correctly. And all this after trying all the work-arounds – the turning on and off and emailing and smacking. I was mostly alone in the house those days and the swear words were gushing from my lips like a Roman fountain. I finally downloaded everything I couldn’t get that damn printer to print on a flash drive, drove down to Kinko’s, and had everything printed in less than 30 minutes.

In the months following the graduation, I felt myself pulling away from the HP. I was no longer willing to work on our relationship. If I encountered any resistance at all from that little nutcase, I took my flash drive and turned to Kinko’s. By the end of summer, HP and I were at an impasse. It basically wasn’t printing anything for me; meanwhile, my relationship with Kinko’s blossomed (and feeling the expense was worth every cent to my sanity).

And then a wondrous thing happened. Not having me to kick around anymore, HP started messing with my husband.   I began hearing a few swear words coming out of his mouth, and noticed that he was increasingly having problems printing. Now things were getting interesting!

In September, we decided to get a new laptop for me, so we’d each have a laptop when we’re traveling, and my husband said something incredible. At least, I thought he said, “Maybe we’ll get you a small printer to go in your office.” I tried not to get too excited, as these initiatives take time to come to fruition in our house.

Then that HP stupidly kept messing with my husband, and he began researching in earnest what might be wrong. What he discovered online was that an “update” pushed out by HP in the last few years basically destroyed some key part of the printer. That did it! Now he was angry! HP had just messed with the wrong guy. (A little slow, but glad he was now feeling my outrage.) He found a part on eBay that some claimed could be a DIY fix to the problem, which he ordered and it came last week, and then my heart sank. Now we might be in for another protracted period of “fixes” to that blasted HP.

The Good (Dell), The Bad (HP) and the Ugly (also HP)

The Good (Dell), The Bad (HP) and the Ugly (also HP)

But, last Friday I came home to a huge empty cardboard shipping box sitting on our living room floor. I went into my den/office and there it was…my new Dell. It was love at first sight.  The reign of HP oppression has ended.

Since then, I’ve been printing to my heart’s content. Color! Two-sided! PDFs! Webpages! That document from graduation that HP never printed! Everything is done quickly, cheerfully and perfectly, with no attitude. I may even be able to print my Christmas letter myself this year. It all just makes me want to sing. I love my new printer.

Move over, Venus and Serena! (Two older ladies are passing on the right)

There’s a new tennis doubles team in town. We’re either the new (or old) Venus and Serena, or a state-of-the-art Lucy and Ethel. Too soon to tell. Last week I started tennis lessons with my friend Patti. But after a 10+ year layoff, it’s clear tennis at age 57 is a whole ‘nother game. And it sure ain’t yoga. One session in, I already have tennis elbow. And until yesterday, every muscle in my body hurt. I even discovered one on the bottom of my foot (I’ve never noticed before) that aches.

It all started a few weeks ago, when Patti called to ask if I would take tennis lessons with her. She was looking for an activity to add to her fitness regimen and decided tennis would be a good choice. She and I were both decent players (and good athletes) when we were younger, so we assumed it would be a fun and (relatively) easy sport to pick up again. We brashly began calling ourselves Serena and Venus, and discussed our future doubles championship career.

To start, we settled on a weekly drop-in hour-long group tennis clinic at the local tennis club with Martin, the dashing Argentine instructor my son had when he was younger. We were told that a maximum of eight people were allowed each session, with usually four or five “chill” women about our age showing up. (As I recalled, Martin attracted mostly women to his classes, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic.)

Our first day was exhausting. And that was just finding shoes. Patti and I set off around ten last Tuesday morning for DSW and almost immediately found the perfect shoes.   They were cute, super comfy and matching (hers in blue and mine in black). We giddily took photos together and were all set for our purchases when one of us thought to ask whether the shoes, besides looking good, were actually made for tennis. No, our perfect shoes were “cross-trainers” which (1) did not provide the right ankle support (important at our age), and (2) would make marks on the tennis court (possibly getting us thrown out at the club). OK, fine.

Our perfect tennis shoes that unfortunately weren't made for tennis

Our perfect tennis shoes that unfortunately weren’t made for tennis

Thus began our grand search for the perfect tennis (as in actually playing tennis) shoe. After multiple phone calls, Google searches, two trips to the tennis club and one to Sports Chalet, we each found a comfortable pair of tennis (as in actually playing tennis) shoes that were not nearly as adorbs as our DSW shoes.

Our two trips to the club also reminded us of the need for chic tennis clothes (especially knowing the population likely to show up at Martin’s classes). Wanting to look good while not wanting to spend a fortune, we headed to Marshall’s and found some cute, low-cost, little tennis skirts and tops.   We finally stopped for lunch at two.

The day of our first lesson, Thursday at 10 AM, fourteen people showed up. Martin apologized, explaining that it was a freak occurrence and the eight-person maximum would henceforth be strictly enforced. Thank God, I thought, I don’t want to share court time with all these people.

Martin opened with drills. We lined up and returned balls (forehand and backhand) to Martin, who was furiously hitting them at us. We then ran through obstacles on the sidelines and back and forth between opposite sides of the court. I was irrationally ecstatic to be back on the court and I threw myself into the drills with reckless abandon. I hit! I ran! I dove! When I found myself noticeably pooped, I looked at my watch. It was 10:10. Dear Lord, I still had 50 minutes to go. I then said a silent prayer of gratitude for the twelve other people who showed up, giving me longer to rest between shots.

Our first group competition was “Around the World” which involved hitting the ball inbounds and then running as fast as possible to the other side of the court. I actually won that competition, beating an 8-year-old kid in the finals. But that only fueled my delusional self-perception of youthfulness and invincibility.

We ended with some doubles drills, where Patti and I were partners. There was a competitive element (which always spurs me to stupidity) whereby victorious teams were dubbed “queens” or “kings” until knocked off their throne by another team. Fresh off my earlier “Around the World” victory, I took it upon myself to return a shot extremely well hit down the line on my side of the court. My immediate mental calculation had me easily reaching and returning the ball, thereby keeping our royal hopes alive. I lunged for the ball, suddenly realizing my body was not moving in sync with my brain or my calculations, and next thing I knew, my legs buckled and I went down in a heap, the most spectacular wipe-out of the class.   Fortunately, my only injury was to my ego (although I suspect Martin was secretly impressed with my hustle).

The next morning, Patti (who is older than I am, I should add) called to chat about our tennis lesson and what a blast it was. She said she was tired after class, but was not particularly sore. We talked about our lesson next week, and potentially adding some additional practice sessions.

What I didn’t tell Patti was that I was still in bed when she called, and that I could barely move. My right elbow was throbbing, and the thought of playing tennis again made my brain hurt.

Luckily, a few days later, my body has recovered. I returned to Sports Chalet and bought an elbow brace for my arm. And I think I learned a few lessons (other than tennis) last week:

I’m not twenty anymore (or thirty or forty, for that matter). I need to take things a little slower. I don’t need to win all the competitions. Diving for balls and running all out, all the time, is no longer in my best interests. In fact, it’s pretty senseless.

Warm up first. We sat there on the bench waiting for the class before us and then dove right in before warming up. I have thirty sore muscles to prove it.

Watch my form. My dad was my first tennis instructor, and he was a stickler for good form. I’m sure he was turning over in his grave last Thursday watching me make weird awkward shots with no attention to proper form and motion. I’m sure that’s one reason my elbow is already hurting, as sound practice and motion not only enhances my game but puts less stress on my body.

Have fun. In spite of all the follow-up pain, it was a joy getting back on the court. I’m hoping that, with some age-related adjustments to my game (cough, cough), I can continue to play for years to come, (my dad played into his eighties) and that Patti and I will be more Venus and Serena than Lucy and Ethel.

So Why Do I Blog?

In the peculiar, lonely world of blogging, there is nothing like writing a good post that hits the mark in some way for someone else and then to hear about it. An incident that absolutely made my week was in connection with a recent post I wrote in tribute to my yoga teacher, Diane.   After reading it, Diane wrote me a sweet note, delighted that I captured the essence of her teaching and expressing how much the post meant to her. Which utterly warmed my heart. Then, last week she sent me an email saying she loved the post so much she forwarded it to her husband to print on special paper, and HE was so impressed that he had it enlarged, printed and framed for her, and it is now hanging on the wall in their house. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

The framed copy of my blog post in Diane's house.

The framed copy of my blog post in Diane’s house.

Those glorious and infrequent moments aside, blogging is a rather odd experience. I easily think of countless potential topics each week (in fact, I often find myself viewing life events with an eye towards how they would play as blog posts) and just as easily discard most of them. I spend hours writing and re-writing my posts, sometimes composing in my sleep (I never write and post the same day as some of my best work happens in my subconscious).

Then when I’m at least 95% satisfied with a post, after pouring my heart and soul into it, I press the Publish button, sending my latest fragile masterpiece, my recently birthed baby, careening into a cyber-universe of mostly complete strangers, asking them to read and judge my work. It is an odd, one-way, vulnerable, terrifying, intimidating, and exhilarating moment. I worry about over-sharing personal information and experiences. I worry about violating the privacy of my friends and family. I worry that an axe murderer will figure out where I live.

After publishing, my posts are answered, for the most part, with a deafening quiet.   I receive a few likes and comments, typically from a small, loyal, vocal and much appreciated core group of followers, but mostly radio silence (which I suppose is good when I think about that axe murderer).  Or, another creepy aspect of blogging is that, more than a few times, I have been with friends or acquaintances who reference things about me that I am pretty sure they shouldn’t know. Then it suddenly hits me (it happens every time) that they’ve been secretly reading my blog (should I be flattered or not since they’ve never said anything?), and that my life is a potentially unhealthy, semi-open book. So why DO I blog?

One of my favorite websites, Brainpickings, recently discussed Elizabeth Gilbert”s new book (now on my reading list) Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, which seeks to empower creative endeavors. A quote from Gilbert that particularly resonates with me:

“This, I believe, is the central question upon which all creative living hinges: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?

[…]

Surely something wonderful is sheltered inside you. I say this with all confidence, because I happen to believe we are all walking repositories of buried treasure. I believe this is one of the oldest and most generous tricks the universe plays on us human beings, both for its own amusement and for ours: The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.

The hunt to uncover those jewels — that’s creative living.

The courage to go on that hunt in the first place — that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one.

The often surprising results of that hunt — that’s what I call Big Magic.”

I love the notion of “Big Magic” and it helps me understand the artistic drive. For me, writing is my Big Magic. I find that during the creative process, I grapple with experiences, discover things about myself and often come to surprising conclusions. Frequently, I will start writing a post, only to find it going in an entirely different direction than I anticipated. There is a deep satisfaction in finding the right combination of words that most fully captures my thoughts and emotions. It is the joy of finding my “buried treasure.”  When Gilbert challenges us to have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within us, I think of the trepidation I feel each time I push the Publish button. Blogging makes the creative process frightening, invigorating and more rewarding by openly sharing my “strange jewels” and my personal journey of finding them.

Another quote from the same Brainpickings article:

“When you’re an artist, nobody ever tells you or hits you with the magic wand of legitimacy. You have to hit your own head with your own handmade wand.”           – Amanda Palmer

It took me awhile to understand that, notwithstanding the occasional Diane mutual admiration moments, my blogging is ultimately for myself. I quite simply love to write. I love to write about the random things that peak my interest. I enjoy the creative process and I push myself to produce the best writing I can. I take pride in the end product. I hope that others enjoy reading and experiencing my journey, but at the end of the day, I would be horribly disappointed if my ultimate goal was affirmation and recognition. I have to hit my own head with my own handmade wand and consider myself a legitimate writer. Blogging is largely a one-sided, lonely form of communication, but one that also carries an unexpectedly deep internal richness and connection with self.  However, if there’s one thing I learned this week, as a writer (and I will strive to remember as a reader), it is that the occasional (and heartfelt) affirmation is treasured indeed!

The Best Trip Ever

Whenever someone asks me which was my favorite retirement trip so far, my answer is usually “The last one!” But, I have to say, with all due sincerity, this last trip may have really really truly been the Best. Trip. Ever.

Looking back, one of my stated goals, in my quest to be ‘Alive and Well’ in retirement, was to “discover rewarding activities that feed me physically, spiritually and emotionally.” In part, to pursue joy and beauty in my world.

In thinking about our last adventure, a road trip from the Pacific Northwest (Washington state) down the Pacific coast to California, there were so many elements that I’m recognizing are the building blocks (for me) of pure happiness:

Travel Bliss. Many urged me to find something my husband and I would enjoy doing together in retirement. We don’t have many common hobbies (other than our son, who technically shouldn’t be labeled a hobby) so we’ve experimented with a few of the obvious things, like hiking, biking, golf and tennis, with some success, but none of them a home run. Our “thing” seems to be travel, especially driving trips.  Some have marveled that we can be cooped up together in a car for weeks at a time, not only without killing each other, but actually enjoying ourselves. A very odd and magical thing happens on the road, and we actually seem more compatible. We have a sense of freedom when away from the responsibilities (and the unfinished projects) of home, we enjoy similar sights and activities, and we work well together as a team. With each trip, we fine-tune our processes (preparation, packing, etc.) so our travel has progressively become more fun and less stressful. On our last trip, I was particularly struck by a profound sense of joy and gratitude to have a partner, in my husband, with whom I can experience these great adventures.

Girl Time. An added bonus was that this trip started with girlfriends. I initially left home with two female friends on a two-day road trip (see my previous blog The Girls Road Trip), then spent the weekend in Sunriver, Oregon with four girlfriends. After the weekend, my husband drove up to join me. First of all, this set-up was brilliant in that I avoided the whole joint packing and departure step – by far The Most Stressful part of any trip with my husband. But more importantly, our girls weekend was pure joy and beauty in itself. Beyond the beautiful location, shopping, cupcakes, giggling, and super fun activities (like canoeing down a river á la Lewis and Clark), there was something restorative, which blessed me deeply, in being with close female friends for an extended time.

Connection with Friends. After the girls weekend, most left, one stayed, and my husband and her husband joined us for a few days. We had not previously spent extended time together as couples, but we had a delightful time getting acquainted and playing together as twosomes. We rode tandem bikes, frolicked in the pool and water slides, went for ice cream, and generally enjoyed an extended, enchanted old-fashioned double date. On our next stop, we had lunch in Portland with a college sorority sister I hadn’t seen in thirty-five years. In Seattle, we were treated to a lovely dinner with three of my favorite former work colleagues and spouses (at the charming Bainbridge Island home of one of them). The next day, we traveled via car and two ferries to a fairly remote location in Washington to visit a good friend who previously lived around the corner but moved a few years ago. We spent the afternoon touring her new town and savored a fresh salmon dinner together. Rekindling long-lost or neglected friendships or spending time and deepening bonds with current friends, has proven to be one of the best parts of retirement. I’ve met a few new friends, but I have mostly cherished the opportunity to spend more time with the people I already know and love. I generally only spend time now with the people that I want to. What a marvelously liberating realization that was!

Family Time. Our first stop after Sunriver was a 3-night visit with our niece and her family in southern Washington at their new house. Our two adorable little grandnephews had grown leaps and bounds since we last saw them in May. I played as much as I could with the boys (until they wore me out), and we had great unhurried conversations with our niece and her husband. Finally, our last stop before heading home was a night with my sister-in-law in the Bay Area. She and her husband are preparing to sell their house, which was the site of many family gatherings and weddings, and we enjoyed reminiscing. Time to visit with family across the country has been another unexpected blessing of retirement. Since we are essentially on our own (as far as family is concerned) where we live, the more frequent contact with family has been precious.

This was the view from our breakfast table at the Lake Crescent Lodge in Washington

This was the view from our breakfast table at the Lake Crescent Lodge in Washington

Breathtaking Scenery. On top of everything else, the landscape of the Pacific Northwest was arguably the most beautiful of any of our trips. At times I was stunned by God’s creation so spectacularly laid before me. We took scenic ferry rides; saw rain forests, waterfalls and redwood forests. We stayed in historic national park service lodges. We saw a long list of wildlife – gray whales, seals, seal lions, sea otters, sea elephants, elk, deer, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, fox, bobcat, bear. We went for long hikes through forests and walks through picturesque small towns. A refinement that worked well was to plan shorter daily drives with plenty of time for active stops (walking, hiking and physical activity). On previous trips, we’ve found that long unbroken stretches in the car not only wreak havoc on us physically, but also inhibit us from truly experiencing the land we are touring.

To summarize:

Travel Bliss + Girl Time + Connection with Friends + Family Time + Breathtaking Scenery = Best.Trip.Ever.

WHAT COULD BE BETTER THAN THAT?   Just ask me after our next trip.

The Girls Road Trip

I love road trips. I’ve been on many with my husband and have become quite accustomed to the drill. I recently completed a two-day 800-mile road trip with a couple of female friends.  I knew almost immediately it was going to be a horse of a different color. We barely made it 80 miles when someone needed a bathroom break, we stopped at an outlet mall, and, three hours and untold dollars later, we were finally back on the road.

The start of our Girls Road Trip. All smiles following on boarding and loading.

The start of our Girls Road Trip. All smiles following expedited  loading/onboarding process.

The dissimilarities between husband road trips and girls road trips were striking and amusing. If I were a sociologist, I might explain the cultural, biological and psychological reasons. But I’m not, so instead, I’ll present my, cheeky, light-hearted, and completely non-scientific compare-and-contrast observations.

 

Husband Road Trip Girls Road Trip
Preparation Required Extensive. I prepare detailed itinerary, with destinations, stops and activities; then submit to husband for navigational planning.  I must be ever ready to respond to random “where, when and how” questions (which means committing said itinerary to memory). Minimal. As long as we know where we are headed and what day we get there, we’re good.
Ease of Departure Low. Actual departure typically 2+ hours after estimated time; follows a stressful and complex on-boarding and loading process. Mood out of gate typically tense. High. Actual departure time same as estimate, onboarding process a snap, all in good spirits on embarkment.
Driver open to passenger instructions Minimal. Unless collision with incoming vehicle is imminent, better to keep suggestions to myself Maximum. Driving considered group activity with suggestions (“look a gas station!” “hey, there’s where we turn”) appreciated
Permissible stops Minimal. Mainly to eat or pee (but only if medically necessary) or other planned stops. Maximum. Mainly to eat, pee, Starbucks or shop, but really anything goes.
Sight-seeing stops Usually outdoor or museums (preferably military, not art); NO shopping Usually indoor, maybe museums (preferably art); shopping always
Likelihood of making planned stops Very high. If stops are programmed into itinerary, we will stop at each one, according to schedule.   Even if it kills us. One of the benefits of doing the planning is that we go where I want to go. Mixed. Depends on what “group” wants to do. High likelihood planned stops ditched in favor of shopping. Even if it kills us.
Activities enroute Listening (and singing to) loud music or “can’t miss” sporting events, talking when necessary Talking constantly, with occasional breaks for audiobooks or podcasts
Potential Conflicts A big game (e.g., Navy, 49ers, or Giants) may take precedent over planned activity. (Or I tour while husband listens to game.) Frequent calls from husbands, kids (usually daughters) given high priority and may cause stops or detours.
Syncing with time estimates Usually make up for late start with aggressive driving and total ban on stops. Somehow complete trip within 30 minutes of time estimate What time estimate?
Number of GPS devices used on board At least four – car GPS, Garmin and two iPhones. Oh, and a radar detector. Just one iPhone.   (We don’t know how the car GPS works and no one brought their Garmin)
Overall trip satisfaction High. I get to see lots of things and spend time with my husband. High. I may or may not see much, but I get to shop, talk, and spend time with my girlfriends.