GratiTuesday: Couple Friends

Enjoying the friendship of other couples is a delightful part of our marriage. I have female friends that I do gal things with and my husband has male friends he does guy things with. Although we like each other’s friends, sometimes when we’ve introduced a friend’s spouse to the mix, things haven’t clicked as well as we’d like. The spouse may be a delightful person on his or her own, but, for whatever reason, the group dynamic just doesn’t work.

When my husband and I discover a couple whose company we enjoy equally, we feel as if we’ve won the lottery. We know that when we get together as a foursome, the conversation will flow, and the time we spend together will be fun and engaging.

This past weekend, two blogging friends and I met up to discuss – what else? – blogging. This was not the first time I have gotten together with Donna from Retirement Reflections and Kathy from Smart Living 365, and I consider them good friends as well as fellow bloggers. I knew that the three of us would have plenty to talk about and I had been looking forward to our gathering for quite a while.

Kathy and her husband live in the community where we met, and Donna and her husband were staying close by in a home exchange. My husband and I drove a few hours from our home to join them for the weekend.

Knowing what wonderful husbands my friends have and knowing that my husband is pretty terrific too, I had no doubt that we’d enjoy each other’s company. What I didn’t anticipate – and was thrilled to discover – is how well all six of us meshed together. Even though blogging brought the three of us women together, I was delighted that our husbands enjoyed commonalities and mutual interests too.

Kathy and Thom, Donna and Richard, me and Paul enjoying a warm desert evening… oh, and wine.

I came away from our weekend together with much to be grateful for. I am grateful that Donna, Kathy and I were able to meet and talk about a subject that means a lot to us (more about that later). I am grateful for the generous hospitality that my husband and I were shown. Most of all, I am grateful that the six of us – husbands and wives – were able to break bread together, share our stories, and enjoy the bond of friendship.

GratiTuesday: A Gathering of Friends

Last Saturday, I attended a mini-reunion for my high school class. Since it wasn’t one of the big ones (those that end with a “0”), the event was low-key and casual. I almost didn’t go because the high school friends I maintain regular contact with (real contact, not occasional Facebook posts) were either out of town or had other plans for the evening. Since I’m not one of those who can walk into a crowd and instantly feel at ease, I questioned whether I’d enjoy myself. Our graduating class was large – around 600 – so (I told myself) the chances were pretty good that I wouldn’t remember many of the people.

After spending some time trying to talk myself out of going, I decided – with my husband’s encouragement – that I’d at least make an appearance. If after a short amount of time I wasn’t enjoying myself, I could leave. That’s one of the nice things about being an adult that I sometimes forget… I’m the boss of me.

When I entered the venue, my first reaction was that there were a bunch of old people there. Lots of grey hair and a few extra pounds padding quite a few mid-sections. Yikes! where were my classmates? Had I walked into the wrong event? After a moment’s hesitation, I convinced myself to take one lap around the room. If I didn’t see anyone I knew, I would keep on walking out the door and back to my car.

Fortunately, before I made a complete loop, I saw a familiar face… then another … then another. Those old people I saw at first? The years started to melt away and I began to see my high school friends. Sometimes I needed to glance several times at their name tags to be sure, but they were there.

Unlike past reunions, where there were a lot of “what do you do?” questions, followed by “how many kids do you have?” most of the conversations the other night centered around hobbies, travel, and day-to-day interests. Many of us had retired or were close and, for the most part, kids had grown and flown. The people I talked to were in relatively good health, they were active and engaged, and they were focused on enjoying life.

Not a great picture but the only one I have of the evening.

I heard the word grateful spoken many times that evening. Grateful for friendships that have lasted over many years, grateful for our families, grateful for our health, grateful for the experiences we’ve enjoyed since high school, and grateful that we decided to attend this gathering of our friends.

As is often done at reunions, a list of names of classmates no longer with us was read. Each time, the list grows longer, and, in this case, two names had been added very recently. It was a sobering reminder of how precious life is and how important it is to hold our friends and our loved ones close. After the names were read, the mood shifted just a bit. I think many of us found ourselves listening a little closer to our friends’ stories, hugging them a little harder, and, most of all, hoping that we will see everyone again at our next reunion.

GratiTuesday: Post Labor Days

My husband and I went to a neighbor’s Labor Day party yesterday. There were about 25 people in attendance and, by my count, over half of us were no longer working at a regular, full-time job. Some of us are officially retired (as in no longer receiving a regular paycheck) and some are involved in a few part-time, money-making ventures out of want, not need (which still qualifies as “retired” in my book).

I remember when Labor Day felt like a final hurrah before summer bid adieu. Even though the weather might still say “summer,” school and work told us different. The Labor Day parties were always fun but bitter sweet. We enjoyed the company of our friends, but we also knew that it was probably the end of outdoor gatherings for a while.

Now that we are retired, Labor Day feels more like a beginning than an end. From now on, the roads will be a little less crowded, the beaches more accessible, and businesses less busy. Just like before, the weather will still say “summer” but there will be fewer people competing for space to enjoy it.

In addition to the joy of dwindling crowds where we live, we can also take advantage of fewer crowds when we travel. What are called “shoulder seasons” – typically spring and fall – are prime travel times for those of us who no longer live by someone else’s schedule. The weather is often still nice, but the crowds are lighter and the prices cheaper.

We still have a lot of summer left and the time to enjoy every moment.

Last night at the party, the conversations we had with our neighbors and fellow retirees were full of stories of how we spent our summer and how we were planning to embrace the months ahead. We talked excitedly about travel plans we’ve made and interests we wanted to pursue, about projects we planned to work on and events we hoped to attend. What there wasn’t was any talk about school schedules, work piling up, or the end of another summer… and I think we were all grateful for that.

GratiTuesday: A Glorious Day

A beautiful spring day, temperatures in the low 70s, a cloudless blue sky, four friends who have known each other since elementary school, and a -0.81 low tide making the beach wide and the tide pools inviting.

Dear friends and walking buddies.
Clown fish
Scripps Pier
Scripps Pier
Scripps Pier
Rocks exposed during low tide.
Looking south towards La Jolla Cove.

I am grateful for the beauty of this day and the company of dear friends.

GratiTuesday: My Friends and Family

On each of the four Tuesdays in December, I am highlighting what I am most grateful for in 2017.

Maintaining meaningful connections with others can be a challenge once we retire. Missing are the easy social networks that work provides. Gone are the spontaneous lunches and happy hours with co-workers, and the smiles and quick conversations in the hallways. Suddenly, it is up to us to proactively manage our social lives.

Those of us who are more introverted may not be as comfortable taking the lead arranging get-togethers so it can be tempting to just stay home and read or work alone on our creative pursuits. But study after study indicates how important it is to have strong social connections as we age. Humans are not naturally solitary creatures and becoming socially isolated can be detrimental to our overall health.

I am grateful to still have a lot of childhood friends in my life. Since I live near to the community where I grew up, getting together with friends that I’ve known since grade school is not uncommon. I also have dear friends I’ve met over-the-years while working at various jobs. I am grateful that the bonds that formed while we worked together still are strong.

I am grateful for my two brothers, who I also consider my friends. I am lucky that they also gifted me two fantastic sisters-in-law, the sisters I didn’t have while growing up. I am also grateful for my extended family, including the family I gained when I married my husband. Although everyone is spread out far and wide, just knowing that we are family makes me happy.

I am also grateful for my new friends. Like many bloggers, I have discovered the unexpected bonus of acquiring blogging buddies all over the world. Although I have been lucky to meet a few face-to-face, most I have not. Regardless, I still consider many of these amazing women and men my friends, and I hope they consider me theirs.

Time spent with friends and family over this past year has enriched my life immeasurably. I am grateful to have people in my life – whether I see them often or not – who make my life richer by being my friends. I look forward to a new year with new opportunities to enjoy my friends, including those I have yet to meet.

Neighborhood Watch

I started to notice the changes about a year ago when I talked to her at neighborhood get-togethers or chatted with her when she was out walking her dog. Because I have a partial hearing loss, I first thought it was me. I must have misunderstood her words, or maybe they were muffled so I lost the context of what she was saying.

After a while, though, I started to realize that it wasn’t me. I may not have heard every word she said, but I knew that her sentences often didn’t make sense. She’d start talking about one subject and end up on another one altogether. She would forget a word and substitute another with a similar – but not equal – meaning (“big” for expensive, “little” for cheap). Every now and then she forgot the names of neighbors she had known for a long time.

Lately, other neighbors have started to talk about the changes they’ve observed. At first, we approached each other carefully because we didn’t want to set off any false alarms: “Have you noticed…?” “I’m not sure it means anything, but….” She is a well-loved neighbor; smart, funny, generous in spirit, and it breaks our hearts to see her struggling. Although an official diagnosis has yet to be made, we are pretty sure she isn’t going to get better.

Before Nancy retired, she had a high-powered job running the Special Ed program for a local school district. Although she loved her job, it was stressful, so she retired as soon as she was eligible for a pension. Not one to sit around, she filled her days with family, friends, and volunteer work. When her son and his wife had their daughter, Nancy embraced her new role as a grandmother. She happily looks after the baby several days each week and tells anyone within earshot how much she loves her granddaughter and relishes being her part-time caregiver.

Her son and daughter-in-law live fairly close and have witnessed the changes too. Although she doesn’t want to discuss it when her son tries to broach the subject, she apparently has willingly given up control of paying her bills. Her good friend and across-the-street-neighbor looks in on her regularly and helps her with once simple tasks that confuse her, like sending emails with attachments.

Her son wants her to be able to stay in her home for as long as she can. She is happy and, so far, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for a change. Fortunately, she lives in a neighborhood where everyone knows – and looks out for – each other.

So, we, the neighbors, worry and we watch. Worry for her and for her family; watch as someone we care for goes through a decline… one we are terrified to see in ourselves.

GratiTuesday: Flexgiving

I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that I miss my family’s traditional Thanksgiving celebrations. Unlike Hollywood’s version of dysfunctional families gathering for the annual angst-fest, our small family didn’t do drama or have arguments about grievances from long-ago. We all got along and enjoyed each other’s company.

My grandfather carving the turkey in 1964.

My mother and father hosted our family’s Thanksgiving dinners until it became too much of a burden for age-related reasons. At that point, my brother and his wife, who live locally, took over the duties and then raised the meal up a notch by introducing smoked turkey and prime rib to the menu. They also introduced a few of their friends to the mix and Thanksgiving became a bit livelier but still enjoyable and drama-free. My other brother and his family usually were able to make it down from northern California to join in the festivities.

Things started to change after my parents passed away. Like many families, they were the glue that held everything together and, once they were gone, my brothers and I slowly started to develop separate holiday traditions of our own. There were no discussions or explanations, we just began to move in different directions. I think we all understood that, even though we loved each other, our lives had diverged, and we had different paths we wanted to take around the holidays. The local brother and his wife have gotten very involved with their church and spend Thanksgiving with friends they have met there. My other brother and his wife usually spend the long weekend at a seaside hotel not too far from where they live.

Over the past several years, my husband and I have explored different ways to celebrate Thanksgiving. We’ve been invited to the homes of friends and we’ve invited friends to ours. We’ve traveled to be with relatives and we’ve stayed home and dined quietly on our own. Each version of a Thanksgiving celebration – big, small, home, away – has pluses and minuses but we’ve enjoyed them all.

This year, we have invited a couple of friends to join us for Thanksgiving dinner at our home. We’ll have the traditional offerings and are looking forward to a pleasant evening of good food and great conversation. Maybe next year we will find ourselves out of town – or even out of the country. But, no matter how we decide to spend the holiday each year, I am grateful for my warm memories of past celebrations, and for the flexibility to build new ones in a variety of shapes and sizes.