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Archive for the ‘retirement’ Category


housebegoniasI sit here on my deck amidst dense trees and window boxes lush with flowering red begonias. The wind is blowing gently and there’s a faint rustle in the air. Life is good here in the woods. I’ve missed you.

Gone is the endless hustle bustle of the city. The traffic racing past, cyclers, skate boarders, runners, horns blowing, sirens shrieking – whew! The sounds of nature once again fill my psche and renew my soul. I’ve become a country girl. 20 years of living like this has changed my constitution, literally. Everything inside me has slowed down. I can once again hear myself think, sense my intuition and feel joy. I’m not racing anymore.housewoods

Some people thrive on the hectic and energetic lifestyle of a city. I used to. Back in the day when I lived in Pittsburgh I longed for a more active environment. When asked if I liked living there I’d say I don’t intend to die there. I was after more action. And later in Chicago I got it. Though we didn’t live in the city I was there every day and many evenings after work. I loved Chicago. It was rich in all categories: sports, theater, food, shopping and entertainment.

woodsneighborhood1Moving to Knoxville, TN was a culture shock – for years. But we bought the right house in a perfect neighborhood and it’s been home for 20 years now. And I’ve come to realize that it’s the woods that my body craves. It’s very much alive in different ways than the city. There are birds that sing and insects that talk and squirrels that bark if you get too close. woodsneighborhood3And the rain sounds delicious, rather than bothersome. I’m home here, and though I truly love Boston, I’m not home there anymore. I used to be. I used to get off a plane, smell the salty air and smile from ear to ear. I still love that city and the whole of New England.woodsneighborhood2

But one thing I now know for sure. Though I don’t have to always live in Knoxville, I do need to live within nature. It’s become who I am. Ahhhh…. I’m home.

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The condo is in disarray, the van is partially packed and in a couple days we’ll be waving goodbye to our favorite city on the east coast. Summer in Boston has been both energizing and over-stimulating, an odd combination of paradoxical states to exist in one body. But for me, both are very real.

harvard-square-coverWalking around MIT and visiting their museums, hibernating in the Harvard Coop and shopping the Square, walking on the Esplanade while Bella swims in the river and chases squirrels, attending concerts and shows by world class performers – and being able to go everywhere on public transportation – all very energizing experiences. MITThere’s an intellectual aliveness in this city, the home of a couple hundred colleges and universities – including ivy leaguers. And athleticism is everywhere and represented by all age groups. It’s flat out invigorating to be in a city where intellect and fitness interact so organically.

New England is a diverse vacation spot too. 90 minutes from Boston you can be on Cape Cod and an hour’s ferry takes you to Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket. Then, of course, rural Maine is right up the road and pastoral Vermont is just a couple hour’s drive. GingerbreadHousesNew Hampshire, close by too. I had the opportunity to spend a week on the Cape and take a short trip to a friend’s sheep farm in Vermont that offered million dollar views of rolling hills for miles in all directions. VermontI love this part of the country for all those reasons.

I’m also exhausted from the experience. City life is loud, busy, fast and relentless. We were staying at the intersection of two very busy throughways in town, and in front of a bustling expressway. Those are also reasons why it’s so easy to get around town. But the non-stop cacophony of traffic, horns, sirens is trying on the nerves and my patience level was tested to the max each day by cyclists who think they’re above traffic laws and buses speeding past cars and just assuming the lanes belong to them. BostonTrafficStraying from a walking path by a foot or so might cause a rear end collision from a roller skater, runner and cyclist in a real hurry to go somewhere but who doesn’t think it’s necessary to alert anyone he’s about to whiz past. And this was during the “off” summer season. Imagine the craziness when kids come back to school, soon.

Once upon a time, this lifestyle was my lifestyle and Boston was home for a few years. It felt perfectly normal then to be part of the hustle bustle of this busy town. But somehow, as my system has adapted to warmer seasons, so too has my need for peace and quietude. Since living in a heavily wooded community in a much smaller southern city – or as I call it, a town – I seem to thrive on living life more slowly. I’m happier, more content and, frankly, feel more at home. So while Boston offered a really fun summer, it’s time now to come home and resume a life that’s a bit more ratcheted down.

HouseSpring

Maybe age has something to do with it, though many active folks my age in Boston thrive on the go, go, go. I think my go, go, go years are behind me. After a very fortunate, fulfilling and successful career, I’ve retired. And now it feels time to live life a little smaller. A bit more pensively, experiencing adventure in a slower, richer way.

So – bye bye Boston, for now, anyway. My husband keeps devising ways to spend more summers here – maybe we will, maybe we won’t. But I do know that living here for good is likely not in my cards. And I love this city. That would be my paradox

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Every Wednesday I head to my patient’s house for a few hours, though I spend very little time with her.  She’s bedridden and has been uncommunicative for many years, living our her last days with Alzheimer’s Disease.  Her husband sees to her every need while she receives hospice care.  He’s home day in and day out, leaving only when someone sits vigil in his stead.  That’s where I enter, to give him necessary time away.  There’s a lot to learn about living when spending time with the dying and with those who are charged with their assistance. What I’ve learned has certainly enhanced my appreciation for life and good health.

Frankly I’ve always marveled at how my life has unfolded over the years, starting with a rocky childhood and evolving into a stimulating career for 30 years, which allowed me to travel, meet intriguing people and do impactful work.  Three years ago I left my job and decided to stop working for a while, which might last for the rest of my life.  Who knows?  I do know that I’ve been using this newly created time for personal growth – spiritually, experientially and creatively.

The key is to pay attention along the way: notice the serendipity and how one experience, book or person begets another.   Dr. Lee Lipsenthal says to “enjoy every sandwich” in his book with the same title.  Make everything in life meaningful as though it was your last experience alive.  It’s an intriguing concept, one that dying people take to heart with each final day that ticks away.

I recently adapted a challenge posed in my discussion group.   The charge is to calculate the number of years I have left to live – using family history and lifestyle as consideration points.  Multiply that by months and gather that many stones in a bowl.  At the end of each month, remove a stone for the month that no longer remains and evaluate how I’ve spent that month.  Powerful stuff.  While I’m not prepared to commit to that exercise for the rest of my life, I am intrigued to try it for a year.

My bowl will be filled with 12 shells I’ve collected from my travels.  Each month I’ll pull one out and glue it to a frame that will surround a collage of photos, each one representing something important from that month.  In essence, it will be a scrapbook from a year of my life.

These pages will be filled with musings from those experiences.  My areas of concentration will include the very things that fill my life …

Healthy eating – I spent 16 months losing the 45 extra pounds on my small frame.  It’s a challenge to keep them off.

Exercise – usually in the form of walking, biking and hiking – where I’ve been, with whom and the adventures along the way.

Hospice work – experiences with my current patient and spouse or the next one – and the accompanying, inevitable deaths.

Animals – my five cats and dog as well as the rescue horses that I help to rehabilitate from abuse and neglect.  There’s always much to learn from animals when you listen and pay attention.

Relationships – with my husband, family and others with whom I’m involved, or met.

Adventures – however that’s defined.  It could be trips in our RV or by car.  Maybe it’s something else; time will tell.

The point is to live each month consciously while my life ticks away.  I’m curious to see how it unfolds and whether I can actually stay tuned in.

Ready, set … go.  September lived, coming up.  You’re welcomed to play along!

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English: Scanned image of author's US Social S...

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Next month my husband turns 65, an age that used to feel ancient to me.  That’s when people officially retire because they’ve reached old age, get their Medicare card to help with health care costs  and join the senior citizens’ club.  In fact, he became one of the 10,000 people each day who sign up to receive Social Security and Medicare.   Wow – think we’re experiencing a national entitlement crisis?

Meanwhile, where did all the years go?  He was 38 when we got married and somehow he’s still 38 to me.  He pretty much does everything now that he did then.  Come to think of it, I still feel 33, maybe 36, but certainly in my mid 30s even though the calendar year insists I’m 57.  57!

My mother always told me this would happen, that I’d feel like the same person inside regardless of the calendar year. Not everything’s the same though.  Back during my original 30s I worked constantly, spent a lot of down time shopping and enjoyed participating in the night scene.  These days I have very little interest in shopping and my drive to succeed has waned, making space for new interests to develop.

Sometimes I think I enjoy my life more now than back then, I feel more peaceful and comfortable with myself.  The thrilling highs come from different things now.  And I’m not talking drugs – then or now.  I’m talking about events that inspire euphoria.

Today’s baby boomers are yesterday’s hippy generation.  We’re still rebellious, forging new paths.  We don’t feel old at age 50.  We feel adventurous and highly conscious of good health.

Television shows don’t target the over 55 age group, but they’re behind the times.  We’re the demographic with the most expendable dollars and the adventurous spirit to try new things and go new places.  Travel companies are now recognizing that, so are magazines and beauty products.  Pay attention to greenways and notice the 50+ crowd on bicycles, roller blades, running and walking.  Advertisers are picking up on the trend and it’s high time.  Research finds that we’re exercising twice as much as earlier generations.

I’ve accepted that I’m getting older and the reality doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the anticipation did.  It’s still a little freaky that my husband will soon be 65, just like every one of his other age milestones stabbed me…. 50, 60, because he always hits the big number before I do, his age becomes my crisis.  So when it’s my turn, it’s no big deal.  Sort of like a dry run.

Here’s what we know… somebody turns 50 every 8 seconds.  People age 65 and older now exceed 35 million and growing.  Last January introduced the first of some 77 million baby boomers surging toward retirement.

America is growing older.

How do you feel about aging?

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It’s autumn here in East Tennessee and it’s shouted its arrival in a big way.  I’m talking colors here.  Big, bold, vibrant, HELLO LOOK AT ME!  colors that stop you dead in your tracks to gawk at the amazement of Mother Nature.  And today was the perfect day to enjoy the full show in the Smoky Mountains.

Fall seems like such an oxymoron.  Trees pop with color in such a vivacious tribute to life and yet the glorious show is a prelude to death.  After a couple of weeks the leaves shrivel and drop to the ground into brittle debris, ultimately becoming fertilizer to new life.

This bold season feels like a metaphor for mid-life.  These are the years when many of us leave our professions behind to re-invent new lives.  To discover new passions, friends, experiences.  And in many ways I feel more alive now than the days I was engrossed in my paid working hours.

Work life was thrilling for me yet was surprisingly predictable in its unpredictability.  Make sense?  Every day we had a new show to produce or stories to write or projects to continue with the same constraints to face and paradigm to follow.  Every morning I knew what my office hours were likely to be.

Now each day offers a blank canvas to paint whatever picture comes to mind (metaphorically speaking since I don’t paint).  And I can invent what my next years may look like.  I’ve grown my hair longer, dropped a few pounds and have become quite active through bicycling, horseback riding, hiking and attending more yoga classes.  I feel like I’m on the cusp of something new.

Is autumn to winter as mid-life is to old age?  Could this time period be our final hurrah?

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Last week’s exercises in my non-fiction creative writing class were interesting ones.  We were asked to list obsessions and strong memories, then expound on them.  A collective sigh came from the four of us until the juices started flowing inspiring each of us to become absorbed in our unique internal lives.

Early on it became clear that this assignment would offer each other glimpses into who we are.  We met as strangers from different parts of the area and today we’d share intimacies – because of a writing exercise.

A single woman in her early 30s struggles with a driving desire to find herself, to one-day have the courage to leave her job of 12 years and follow her dream.  Trouble is, she can’t identify that dream.  Maybe this writing class will coax that passion to the surface.  Or maybe writing will help her understand why each new relationship ends up falling apart as she wonders on paper whether this current beau will stand the test of time.  She’s plagued by the need to compare herself to peers with husbands and children which feeds a certain panic in her soul.  Now we understand her a bit better.

The woman to my right obsesses about her weight and writing and, hopefully, earning money from her prose.  She used to be a teacher and grew very frustrated with the politics of education and students’ lack of interest.  She yearns for the day when the solitary hours spent putting thoughts on paper will be validated with a check in the mail.  She and her husband are retired and she struggles with the balance of taking care of him and the urge to spill herself into her fingers on a keyboard.

Then there’s the woman whose childhood trauma sparked a love for poetry.  Pouring her tortured heart onto paper somehow eased the pain of losing her mother when she was nine years old.  A drunk driver slammed head on into the family car while her mother was at the wheel.  While this girl waited outside the car for an ambulance to arrive she remembers hearing her mother gurgling, still trapped behind the steering wheel.  Those injuries proved fatal.  The father spent days in the ICU recovering from his physical injuries, though his heart never healed.  So that nine-year old girl and her siblings were shipped out to be cared for by others. Today this now grown woman has a deep story to tell and skimmed the shallow surface with us.

As for me, I wouldn’t say I have obsessions, per se, what I have are driving passions, one of them is horses.  Though I’ve never owned a horse, I usually find a way to be around them; lately it’s volunteering at a horse rescue where we rehabilitate neglected and abused horses.  This past week I also attended horse camp where we brushed up on our riding skills mounted on Paso Finos and Tennessee Walking Horses.  Their strides are smooth as velvet and much easier on the legs and back.

Eye of a Horse (Andalusian)

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They say that horses are windows into your soul and maybe that’s why I’m filled with emotion when grooming them.  Watching their powerful, graceful bodies prance around a pasture fills me with awe.

There are a lot more stories inside us waiting to be coaxed to the surface.  We humans are fascinating creatures – each with a unique story to tell to the right listener who extends a sincere invitation.

What are some of your stories?

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Sheet music to "Give My Regards"

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Lately I’ve started writing much more than years past (have you noticed this blog?) It feels like the right creative outlet especially as I explore this new period in my life, Act Three.

Creative expression has always been a driving force for me. When I was a kid I dreamed of singing and dancing on Broadway – heck, I’ll say it, I wanted to be a star.  My mother schlepped me to auditions all the time, each with the same heartbreaking result – CHORUS! Evidently my voice sounded great to me and had I been the casting director I’d have won the lead hands down.  But – c’est la vie.  As each heartbreak gave way to the next bout of courage and the next resounding NO THANKS I finally figured it out.  My future wasn’t going to be on stage.  Time to move on … and then I discovered… back stage!

Voila!  Back stage became the perfect fit — stage manager, show producer – change to radio producer, on to TV producer, then into management, and on to departmental leadership.  Once I set my new sights I started hearing yes yes yes yes, which is a lot more fun than a childhood filled with no’s.

A passion was ignited and my drive was born.  I couldn’t get enough of work – it’s all I wanted and the only thing I did.  Weekdays consisted of a minimum of 12 hour days and weekends were spent perusing magazines, newspapers, books or watching TV – all in search of the next great idea for a show or a promotion or a special or a series.  And I never got tired of it until … I did.   More than 30 years later.

Shockingly my drive has let me go.  It no longer consumes my waking hours, nor does it deprive me of sleep.  I’m blissfully free of its grasp.  And I don’t miss nor mourn it.  I’m enjoying the sense of freedom from the need to keep pushing.

Equally surprising is that my interest in making a creative contribution hasn’t waned.  In fact it’s starting to blossom again.  But it’s not associated with need to do.  It’s more like inspired to do.

Is it possible that I’ve actually kissed my drive goodbye?  I guess time will tell.

How about you?  What drives you?

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