Summer reruns

summer break

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer officially begins this coming Monday and our daily life is starting to get increasingly active and full. House guests, festivals, and get togethers with friends and family are all beginning to converge at once. I love summer, but it can get hectic (what did I do before I retired?).

In order to have more time to devote to not making myself too crazy, I will be taking a few weeks off from blogging. I might be able to get one or two simple GratiTuesday posts up, but probably not much more than that.

I have been blogging since 2013 and, like most bloggers, I had just a few followers for longer than I’d like to admit. All those early pearls of wisdom and only my husband and a few loyal friends were lucky enough to read them… so sad.

Anyway, for those who missed my early posts (and that would probably be you), I will rerun some of my moldy oldies favorites over the new few weeks. If you are reading them for the first time, I hope you enjoy them. If you’ve read them before, thanks so much for sticking around for so long.

See you in a few weeks!

GratiTuesday: Moving beyond retirement into jubilación

Yesterday, as we were out running errands, I mentioned to my husband that it was the 2-year anniversary of my retirement. His response was, “Wow, really? Time has gone so fast, hasn’t it?”

Yes and no.

Although he was right that the two years went by rather swiftly, I also feel as if I’ve been living my retired life for a long time… and I’m getting pretty good at it. In fact, I don’t really feel “retired,” as if that word defines a specific post-work chapter of my life. I’m not just moving through a phase; I am fully engaged in my life. The Spanish word for retirement is jubilación, which I think is much more fitting.

Jubilacion, La Paz style
Jubilacion, La Paz style

A few days ago, I was at an event where I didn’t know many people. I thought it would be interesting to do a little experiment if when anyone asked employment-related questions. I wanted to avoid describing myself as “retired” because I’ve found that often that word can be a dead-end to a conversation. I was interested to see if a different response could generate more engaging dialog.

It didn’t take too long to find myself in the familiar, polite back-and-forth that often occurs with a stranger in a social situation.

Polite Stranger (PS): What do you do?

Me: I dabble in photography, write a bit, read, and travel whenever possible.

PS: I mean, what work do you do?

Me: Some housework, although not as much as I should, perhaps. Also, yard work.

PS: No, full-time. I mean, what do you do full-time?

Me: Oh. I guess I don’t do anything full-time. There is so many great options that it would be impossible to pick something to do full-time.

PS: Really? Tell me about some of the things you are doing.

And, then the conversation really got interesting. I don’t think it came up that I was retired until quite a bit into the discussion. I also don’t remember if PS told me what kind of work she did… it wasn’t important. I learned some interesting things about her that had nothing to do with how she spent 8-9 hours of her day. Who we are is so much more than our chosen career. And, when we are no longer wrapped up in that career, being retired is just a single data point, not a description of who we are.

I am so grateful that two years ago I had the good fortune to be able to leave the work-world behind and embrace jubilación. The word may mean the same thing, but it sure sounds more like how I feel.

GratiTuesday: The ripple effect of simple acts of kindness

In my last GratiTuesday post, I wrote about my first grade teacher and how a group of her former students had honored her at a luncheon. We all had fond memories of having her as our teacher and were grateful to have the opportunity to thank her in person so many years later.

There’s actually a little more to the story that I’d like to share. It is a detail that taught me – in two very important ways – how simple actions can still have a profound effect many years later.

Soon after my mother passed away in 2000—when I was still rocking from my grief and loss—I came home to find the message light blinking on my answering machine. The call had been from my first grade teacher, Miss Miller, who I hadn’t seen since elementary school. She said that she had read my mother’s obituary and wanted to let me know how sorry she was… then she shared a story.

Letters1

Miss Miller told me about a letter my mother had written to her almost 40 years prior, just after I had completed the school year in her class. In the letter, my mother said what an inspiring teacher Miss Miller was and that the positive experience I had taught me that learning could be both fun and gratifying.

In Miss Miller’s message to me, she shared how much the letter meant to her. When she received it, she was new to teaching and my mother’s kind words gave her much-needed acknowledgement and encouragement.  She said the she had kept the letter and re-read it many times over the years. After saying good-bye, she hung up without leaving her contact information or any hint of how I could return her call.

If you’ve ever lost someone you’ve loved, you may know how much it can mean to hear stories about how they made a difference in someone’s life. More than all the well-meaning “I’m sorry for your loss” and “Please let me know if I can help in any way,” these personal stories help to ease the sorrow and keep the memory of your loved-one alive.

Since it was pre-Google when Miss Miller left her phone message, I was unable to locate her. The phone book didn’t have a listing for her and my former elementary school wasn’t any help. I wanted so badly to let her know how much her message meant to me but I was at an impasse in my search.

So, that is a big reason why—over 50 years after being her student and 15 years after her phone message—when I found out that not only was Miss Miller alive and well, but that a classmate was still in contact with her, I jumped at the chance to re-connect. I finally had the opportunity to tell her how much I appreciated her phone message and how grateful I was that she took the time to make the call. It was a thank you I thought I would never be able to deliver, and I admit there were a few tears when I did.

My gratitude to Miss Miller goes beyond her being a great first grade teacher, it extends to two important lessons she taught me years later by making one simple phone call:

  • Never miss an opportunity to write a letter of appreciation or encouragement. Your kind words will mean so much to the receiver and can lift them up well beyond the first reading. An email will do in a pinch, but nothing has the impact of a hand-written note.
  • When someone passes away, if you have a positive story or remembrance about them, share it with their loved-ones. Tell them how the person made a difference; share a funny story; express your admiration. Sharing how that person impacted your life—and the positive outcome it had—will help to buoy them in their grief.

Thank you Miss Miller. Lessons learned.

Shared memories… or not

memories

Yesterday marked the 26th anniversary of my husband’s and my first date. I probably wouldn’t remember that specific day if it hadn’t occurred on Cinco de Mayo. My husband? He wouldn’t remember it at all if I didn’t remind him.

After 26 years together, we have mountains of shared experiences. We’ve been on numerous trips, attended countless events, and celebrated many, many milestones. We’ve also remodeled two houses together, dealt with several family tragedies, and supported and cheered each other through life’s ups and downs.

We’ve been through a lot together over the years; what I find fascinating is what each of us remembers… or not.

I guess there is only so much we can cram into our cranial cavities before some of it leaks out. What sticks tends to be what, for whatever reason, resonates with us; what doesn’t stick becomes jetsam that our brains jettison to lighten the load.

In addition to the date of the first time we went out, I remember other bits and pieces of relatively useless information that has long-abandoned my husband’s brain. I have a fairly vivid memory of the layout of most of the houses we looked at before we decided to purchase our home. I remember restaurants where we ate years ago, and often what each of us ordered. More useful, I have a much better memory of all of our vacations, where and when we went, what we did, and who we met.

My husband has almost no retention for the dates of past events and his memory of the homes we visited is almost nonexistent. If we are sitting in a restaurant we’ve dined at before, he will often have no recollection of having been there. When I tell him what he ordered, his usual response is, “did I like it?” Often, when I mention a shared experience from many years ago, he will look at me blankly.

My husband, on the other hand, has a much better memory for specifics of presentations we’ve attended, conversation we’ve had or been party to, and movies we’ve seen. When he recites snippets of a presentation or a conversation, I desperately try – often unsuccessfully – to rummage around in my temporal lobes for the same memory. He’ll harken back to a movie we saw months ago, recalling the plot and, often, reciting the dialog. I’m lucky if I can remember the name of the movie we saw the prior evening.

As far as we know, neither of us is experiencing age-related memory loss… it’s always been this way. Each of us is just better with different types of memories. I find that my memories tend to be more emotional and visual, his are more verbal. One’s not better than the other—both tend to be filled equally with useful and useless tidbits of information—they are just different.

After 26 years together, I think that it is safe to say that we’ve forgotten more bits and pieces than we can remember. Fortunately, it really doesn’t matter if he forgets the details of our first date or I can’t remember a movie we saw two months ago. What is really important is that we continue to make memories together. That and maybe we both should take notes.

What happens in Las Vegas…

My husband and I recently spent six days in Las Vegas. Neither of us are gamblers or heavy drinkers so the ubiquitous slot machines, card tables, and bars weren’t the beneficiaries of any poor choices on our part. We were there to attend an event, but added a few extra days to look around since neither of us had been to Sin City for many years.

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We spent one day walking up and down the Strip, enjoying the kitschy fantasy hotels created to emulate great cities of the world, such as Paris, New York, and Venice. I have to admit the designers did a pretty good job capturing their essence… if Paris, New York, and Venice were filled with bright and noisy slot machines and cigarette smoke (OK, maybe they nailed that part).

Viva4

Viva6

The next day we took a tour of the Neon Museum and Boneyard, which features discarded signs from old hotels and casinos. This two-acre outdoor museum is crammed full of vintage neon; some of signs still light up (they offer an after dark tour but it usually fills up quickly), but most are in various stages of decay and show the lovely patina of age. The hour-long walking tour was full of history and the photo ops were glorious.

Viva7

After our tour, we drove a few short blocks to the Mob Museum where we learned about the history of the Mafia, both in general and, more specifically, in Las Vegas. Although there are guided tours and audio tours available, we opted to take ourselves through the fascinating and well-organized museum. (Tours of both museums can be booked online, and there is a special price when you purchase the two together.)

As interesting as these museums were—and I do recommend them if you ever find yourself in Las Vegas—the main reason we were there was to attend Viva Las Vegas: a four-day extravaganza of music, cars, dancing, and a people-watcher’s paradise.

Viva Las Vegas is the largest Rockabilly festival in the world and attracts about 20,000 attendees from around the globe. The event features over 75 bands, North America’s biggest pre-1960s era car show, and hundreds of vendors selling vintage clothing and accessories. There are also fashion shows, tiki pool parties, and dancing, including demonstrations and contests.

Did I mention the people watching?

Viva2

Although my husband and I love to swing dance, I didn’t know very much about Rockabilly or the Rockabilly culture. Viva Las Vegas provided an extreme immersion course. Apparently, there is a whole subculture that embraces a style that combines 1940s/1950s dress with tattoos and hair colors not found in nature. I was fascinated by these Rockabilly aficionados and we’d often find a comfortable seat just to watch them stroll by. As members of the selfie and social media generation, most seemed completely comfortable in their (heavily tattooed) skin and were happy to pose for pictures.

Viva1

I couldn’t help but contrast myself at that age… trying so hard to fit in, but not stand out. If this was a “thing” when I was young, would I have gotten tattoos or dyed my hair a cartoon color? Probably not. I both admired them for their confidence, and worried for their future marketability in the job world. Hair color can be easily changed, tattoos… not so much.

We had such a great time that we already have our hotel reservations and tickets for next year. Although we won’t be getting tattooed in the interim, we do plan on picking up a few new dance steps and some vintage clothing before we return. It’s all part of the fun.

GratiTuesday: My book club

Apparently, I’m not very good at pre-scheduling posts… so this GratiTuesday is being posted on a Wednesday. I’ll be grateful if you can overlook my ineptness.

Finding a good book club was on my list of things to do once I retired. I had sampled various clubs over the years but none of them really resonated with me. Some had core groups that were so thick I didn’t think I could ever penetrate them and feel at ease. Some were much more about the social aspect than the literature so few members actually read the books, much less wanted to discuss them. One was so strict that missing even two meetings was grounds for being expelled.

IMG_4330I was looking for a club that had just the right mix of social interaction and intellectual stimulation. I wanted to feel like a welcomed member of the group and to be comfortable that most of the club’s reading selections would be books that I would enjoy. Being retired, I also needed it to be OK if I missed more than a meeting or two because of travel.

Then, out of the blue, a new friend mentioned that her book club wanted to expand its membership and asked if I’d be interested. She assured me that the club meetings were lively and fun but also the members were serious about the books. Since I knew her to be friendly, smart, funny, and interesting, I figured that her friends would the same.

Now, after six months, I am grateful to be able to say that I’ve found my book club. I have met a group of terrific women who made me feel welcome from the start. I have enjoyed books that I may have otherwise missed and discovered a couple of authors I liked so much that I have read more novels by them. Not all of the selected books have been great—we all have different tastes and interests—but the discussions have been lively and insightful. Each month, a different member chooses a book and hosts the meeting at her home. The atmosphere is always cozy and comfortable, and, because we enjoy breaking bread together, there is always good food and wine.

Just the right amount of serious and social.

Searching for balance in retirement

Sometimes it seems like it’s been much less than two years since I was wrapping up my final weeks of employment and looking forward to the day I retire. At other times, it’s as if I’ve been living this leisurely lifestyle for many years and I can hardly remember having full-time work obligations.

I had a lot of plans for my retirement: I wanted to take classes, travel, socialize with friends, complete household projects, and explore my creative side. I also wanted to allow enough leisure time in my non-existent schedule to relax, read books, and daydream.

Mission accomplished… sort of.

Is it possible to have too much leisure? Maybe so.
Is it possible to have too much leisure? Maybe so.

Since retiring, my husband and I have gone on some amazing trips (and more are planned), I’ve taken advantage of free—and nearly free—educational opportunities, I’ve joined a wonderful book club, we’ve completed multiple house projects (and have more in the works), and I’ve spent time writing and improving my photography skills. Life is good.

But, just recently, I’ve started to struggle with the feeling that I would like to do more, that I want to have more to show for my time. This doesn’t mean that I desire to go back to full-time work, or even that I want to find part-time employment. What I want is more balance in my life.

Besides receiving a regular paycheck and subsidized healthcare insurance, going to work every day provided a lot of intangible benefits. Daily interactions with colleagues wove a social network that helped to make work a pleasurable experience. Because I worked for a large company, my network web included people from a variety of backgrounds and with diverse interests and skills.

I miss that.

I also miss the feeling of working together towards a common goal. We took on projects and supported each other as we met our objectives. In addition, work gave me opportunities to challenge myself and to enjoy the feeling of satisfaction when I successfully expanded my comfort zone.

I’m not sure where this sense that something is missing will lead me. Exploring volunteer opportunities might be a good start. Perhaps I need to get involved with a cause that I believe in. Maybe some type of part-time employment will supply the diverse community I miss. Perhaps it’s a combination of all three possibilities, or maybe something else.

I fully realize how lucky I am that I actually have a choice about how I spend my time. If I make no changes at all, I have a pretty good life. But if I can find something that allows me to make a positive contribution, I think my retirement could be more purposeful and satisfying. It also might help me re-discover some or all of those missing elements: enjoying an expanded and more diverse social network, being inspired by a vision shared with others, and embracing the opportunity to help others and to challenge myself.

The key will be to find something that also allows me to travel when I want and to enjoy the retirement I envisioned when I said good-bye to full-time employment.

GratiTuesday: Choosing kindness

phonto

A few days ago, I was driving my car to a familiar destination. Because I had driven the route many, many times, my mind was on autopilot. My husband and I were chatting about this and that and I was thinking about that and this. In other words, I wasn’t paying attention.

All of a sudden, I realized that I had taken the wrong route. I was generally headed the right direction, but the street I was on wouldn’t get me to where I wanted to go. I needed to make a right turn, then a left to get back on track. No problem, except there was a line of cars in the right-hand turn lane and, in order to move into it, I needed someone to let me in.

Now, I have to admit that I usually get irritated with people in that situation: those jerks who don’t think they should have to wait their turn like the rest of us so they drive alongside the line of cars, then try to sneak in towards the front. When I see this happening, I’ll be damned if I will let them into the line and I get perturbed when someone rewards their jerky behavior by allowing them to merge.

Except, that wasn’t what had happened. I was just trying to recover from a momentary brain lapse and get back on the correct route. The road I was on wasn’t very busy (which, had I been paying adequate attention, should have been a clue that I was on the wrong street) and there wasn’t anyone in my rearview mirror so I slowed down and switched my signal on so I could move over into the turn lane.

Then, two things happened: a driver come up quickly behind me, honked his horn in irritation, and swerved around me so he could continue going straight, and another driver in the right turn line made room for me so I could merge in ahead of her. One chose to vent his frustrations at me by honking, whereas the other chose to be sympathetic and let me in ahead of her. One probably felt a moment of anger towards me for being in his way and causing him a two second delay. The other reacted with compassion and a smile.

I was a bonehead and the first driver was completely justified for honking at me. The second driver was by no means obligated to let me in. But, she chose to help me out; she chose kindness.

That little bitty, almost inconsequential interaction got me to thinking about the choices I make every day. Do I act with irritation, or do I act with understanding? Do I notice and respond when someone could use a hand, or do I remain unaware and go about my business? Do I attempt to ease someone’s path, or do I put up barriers? Do I choose indifference or do I choose caring?

I hope I make the right choice more often than not.

I am grateful for acts of kindness – both big and small, and whether it is directed at me or not. Kindness makes me hopeful and optimistic. It’s so easy to focus on the negative and painful but it’s important to remember that if I want more kindness in the world, I need to put it there.

May I have this dance?

I remember the moment that I decided that I must learn how to dance. I was out to dinner with my boyfriend and, while waiting for a table, we were seated next to a large, nearly empty dance floor. I don’t remember the type of music being played, but my attention was grabbed by a lone couple gliding across the floor in seemingly perfect harmony with each other. After watching the dancers for a while, I turned to my boyfriend and said, “I need to be able to do that.”

The next day I researched local dance class options, and signed the two of us up for jitterbug and swing lessons. As I remember, my boyfriend was less than thrilled but he was nice enough to humor me.

From the beginning, I was hooked. I loved the music, the moves, the exercise, and the community. Even though it was a challenge to learn the steps, I had a clear vision of where I wanted to end up: I longed to be able to dance like that couple.

The boyfriend didn’t last, but my love of dancing did and, to this day, it is one of my favorite things to do.

I was reminded of my first dance epiphany when I read a recent post by Donna on her blog Retirement Reflections, in which she wrote about a retired friend who was learning how to dance. Because this friend enjoyed dancing at her high school reunion so much, she decided to sign up for lessons. Much like me, she discovered – then embraced – a hidden passion.

I was in my late twenties when I took my first dance lessons. At first it was just jitterbug and swing, but soon I was also learning to waltz, foxtrot, cha-cha, tango, and even to do the hustle (remember that??). I was never what anyone would call a gifted student, but I enjoyed the challenge and loved learning different dance styles.

Jitterbugging at a 50s party 26 years ago
Jitterbugging at a 50s party 26 years ago

 

Learning to dance has introduced a lot of positive aspects to my life and I often encourage others to give it a try. Many classes don’t require having a partner – in fact you will become a better dancer when you dance with a variety of partners. You can pick just one type of dance, or branch out as your skills and interest develop.

Here are some other reasons to consider learning to dance:

  • It’s a great way to get exercise while having fun
  • You’ll enjoy a sense of accomplishment as you master a new skill
  • It’s social – you can meet people you may not otherwise encounter and it is a great excuse to get out of the house and go
  • It’s challenging – crowded dance floors require timing, balance, and mental focus
  • Music is a language used all over the world; learn it and you have learned an almost universal language
  • You can take your dance skills with you on all your trips and it takes up zero space in your luggage
  • If you are looking, taking dance lessons can be a great way to meet someone special. I met my husband 26 years ago in a jitterbug class and dancing became our early connection.

Although my husband and I haven’t taken lessons for years and the opportunities to go dancing don’t present themselves as often as they used to, we still enjoy getting out on the dance floor when we can. Our moves are a little rusty and we sometimes struggle to get in rhythm with each other again, but soon, the muscle memory returns and we start to glide across the floor just like that couple did so many years ago.

GratiTuesday: Great neighbors, great friends

I had a different GratiTuesday written and ready to go this week, but then I read the posts of several bloggers I follow and decided to change it. These posts explored different types of friendships, and, more specifically, the varying strengths of friendships, how they change over the years, and how it can be difficult to meet new friends as we get older.

Reading those posts reminded me of how grateful I am that I have dear friends who are also neighbors.

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When my husband and I moved into our neighborhood over 20 years ago, we already had good friends who lived just a few doors away. In fact, they were the ones who alerted us to the possible availability of our house before it went on the market.

Then, these original friends introduced us to several neighbors who also became our friends and, over the years, we’ve been lucky to acquire even more friends as they have moved into our hood. Although we have a core group of four couples who socialize regularly, we often get together for celebrations, barbeques, and holiday parties with many of our other neighbors too. Several of us are retired couples, but there are also a few singles, retired and not, and younger couples, with and without children.

Over the years, we’ve watched neighborhood children grow up and get successfully launched, helped each other with household projects, celebrated milestones, mourned losses, watched each other’s houses when traveling, and always knew we could rely on each other when any help was needed.

Our neighborhood feels very much like the one I grew up in during the 60s. It’s the type of neighborhood I hoped for when my husband and I were looking for a home to purchase, and I feel so fortunate to be a part of it. Unfortunately, neighborhoods like ours have become increasingly rare in our modern world, especially in larger cities. I’m sure there are many reasons why things have changed, but I believe, whatever the explanations, the loss to our sense of community is profound.

I am so grateful for all most (our neighborhood is great, but not perfect) of my neighbors, but primarily for our core group of eight. I am confident that any of them would jump to lend a hand if we needed it, and I hope they know the same about us. I’m also grateful that, after all these years, we still have fun together and have never gotten tired of celebrating our friendship.