Life’s a Beech

This post, with a few tweaks and updates, first appeared on my blog in 2014.

Like many people our age have done, my husband and I drafted our living trust, wills, durable powers of attorney, and advance health care directives. Over the last few years, we have witnessed the rapid deterioration in the health of some family members and friends, so we wanted to get this done while we are both in good physical and mental health. We do what we can to stay healthy but we don’t fool ourselves into thinking it can’t happen to us. Even if we live to 90 or beyond, these documents will be necessary to assure that our wishes are carried out.

Creating these documents was serious and time-consuming. There were a lot of details to think about and financial decisions to be made. I found the most enjoyable part of the process was determining where our assets will go once we were both gone. Since we have no children, we happily specified a few charities that are near and dear to our hearts. One decision that I had difficulty with was deciding what I want done with my remains. Although cremation is a given, where do I want my ashes to go?

When my mother passed away in 2000, I was relieved to discover that she and my father had made funeral arrangements many years previously. Because of this, my brothers and I weren’t faced with the burden of trying to guess what she would have wanted. It was a generous and loving act that we appreciated again when my father died several years later. Their ashes now lay side-by-side in a columbarium overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

After doing some research, I found the answer to my dilemma: tree urns. Planting commemorative trees is a practice that has been around for a while, but I discovered that there is a way I can actually become part of a tree once I am gone.

There are several companies that sell these urns, which contain all the items necessary for the process (“just add ashes!”): Bios Urns, EterniTrees, Spirit Trees, Peotrees, are a few that I found. The prices vary, but the concept is pretty much the same: one’s ashes are mixed with planting soil, nutrients, and a tree seed. Since ashes contain phosphorous, they contribute to the healthy growth of the tree. How great is that?! I have always considered myself a tree-hugger, but now I can actually nourish the tree. Rather than becoming post-consumer (as in me, the consumer) waste, I can contribute healthy Co2 to the atmosphere for many years to come.

Most of the companies that sell tree urns offer a choice of seeds. Beech, maple, and oak are a few of the options listed on one website. Living – and most likely dying – in Southern California, I’d probably choose a tree that’s drought resistant. Or, maybe a citrus. A lime tree, perhaps, so my tree’s fruit could be blended into pitchers of margaritas or muddled to make a mojito.

Since we are pretty sure we can’t take it with us, my husband and I intend to spend most of our assets having fun in our retirement (sorry, designated charities), leaving just enough for a heck of a Celebration of Life party for our friends. Although I’d like to think we will leave the world a better place, most likely our names won’t be remembered by generations far into the future, nor will they be engraved on a plaque or noted in a text.

Maybe my ashes could be used to propagate a tree planted in our back yard. Becoming a tree – a symbol of eternal life in many cultures – will allow me to live on, providing some beauty, a little shade, and perhaps adding a refreshing zest to the drinks of future homeowners. I hope they will raise a toast to my memory.

GratiTuesday: A Blank Slate for a New Year

After my husband and I retired several years ago, we looked around a bit to find a good system for keeping track of our day-to-day lives. When we worked, we took advantage of our Outlook calendars on our office computers. Along with scheduling our business-related meetings, travel, and deadlines, we also noted doctor appointments, get-togethers with friends, and other non-work life events. Since we were on our work computers all day and they were linked up with our cellphone calendars, it was easy to keep everything straight.

Once we both were retired, we found ourselves missing a few important dates, including a quarterly tax payment due date (oops). That expensive mistake made us realize that we needed a system to help us manage our schedules. After several unsuccessful attempts at using fancy apps and digital assistants that others had recommended, we found that nothing had the same ease and appeal for us than just a simple desk calendar.

calendars

Now, after three years, we still swear by our yearly date books. We have found that not only do they help us manage our schedules in the current year, but the calendars from prior years can be a valuable tool to help us remember past events that our grey matter has lost. When did we take that trip? How long has it been since I’ve seen the dentist, where were we last February? – it’s all there for us in writing.

Now, it’s time to file away our 2016 calendar and start a new one for 2017. I’ve already jotted down a few appointments, important due dates (including quarterly taxes), and upcoming trips, but most of the 365 squares are blank and waiting to be filled.

I am so grateful to have this blank slate in front of me: empty of words but full of possibilities. Although it looks pretty bare now, I’m looking forward to all the special occasions, interesting classes, and exciting adventures that will soon start appear on its pages.

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.

Words Escape Me

Literarily.

I can be having a perfectly normal conversation with a friend when suddenly the next word I want to say will just vanish. Gone. When this happens, I flail around for a moment (hoping my friend won’t see the look of panic on my face) and then usually come up with another word or two that will more or less substitute for the one I’ve lost.

Or, I might be writing a letter, email, text, or blog post (or a report, back when I was working). Things are going great. I know what I want to say and I’m putting together a string of words that convey my intent and that are clear and coherent. Everything is flowing along. Until it stops.

Damn, what is that word I’m looking for?

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Often what I have lost isn’t an especially completed word. It could be something like “inclusive,” or “detail,” or “standards.” It’s often a word that I’ve used hundreds or even thousands of times with no problem. A word I’ve been familiar with since grade school. A word that just seconds earlier I could have effortlessly found floating among my brain cells. But, now, at the moment I need the word, it’s not coming to me.

If this happens when I’m writing, I’ll just type a big red X in its spot so I can come back to it. Usually, a few minutes later when I revisit what I’ve written, I can easily retrieve (OK, I momentarily lost that one) the elusive word, replace the X, and move on. No one is the wiser. Unfortunately, when I’m speaking, my transitory vocabulary lapses aren’t as easy to cover up.

I’m not too concerned that this affliction indicates an early-onset of dementia or other age-related brain deterioration. Although it has gotten a bit worse over the years, I’ve had this problem for as long as I can remember. I’m sure it’s one reason I’ve always preferred writing to speaking. It’s much more comfortable to deal with a big red X than it is to experience the embarrassment of becoming suddenly mute as my brain goes searching for the word I’ve lost, or, failing that, to find a reasonable substitute.

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Possibly related, but not quite the same, is my tendency to get “right” and “left” mixed up (best not to ask me for directions) or, sometimes, “yellow” and “pink.” I am fully aware of what each word means, I just say one when I mean the other. Or, I routinely forget the name for something. When I was working I had a brain stall every time I tried to find the words “case study.”  It’s a term used often in my profession but one that, for some reason, I had trouble with.

Now that I have retired and no longer need to make public presentations or utter the words “case study,” I have found that this personal peccadillo has become less of an issue for me. Fortunately, many of my friends are retired too and are less of a hurry to get anywhere. They are perfectly content to pause the conversation while I go rummaging around my cranial attic for a word that has escaped my grasp.

I, in turn, smile and nod when they go on to tell me the same story they told me last week.

Daze of Our Lives

Last night, my husband and I had an “ah-ha” moment that helped to bring into focus some of the challenges we will face when we are both retired. Fortunately it wasn’t too serious, but it made us realize that we had better start putting a few tools in place that will help us keep our lives organized.

memory

I’ve always been the main “keeper of the calendar” in our relationship. I know when we have social events planned, vacations scheduled, and (usually) due dates we must meet. I am the one who is expected to remember birthdays and anniversaries (both for his family and mine), and remember them enough in advance so cards can be purchased and mailed in time. For the most part, I’m able to keep most things straight by utilizing my Outlook calendar at work. Along with work-related meetings, events, and appointments, I add reminders of personal dates that I need to keep track of. Since I regularly access my calendar while I’m at work, and my cell phone is set up to alert me with reminder notices, this system has worked pretty well for us.

After finishing dinner and settling down to watch a little TV last night, I fired up my iPad to check my email and read a few blogs I follow. Good thing I did, because right there, on one of my favorite financial/political blogs (andrewtobias.com) was a reminder to “rush to the mail box with your fourth quarterly estimated 2013 tax payment, if you owe one.” Oh, crap.

Normally, this is something my husband might be expected to remember. He’s always been more focused on our financial lives and it’s mostly because he’s retired that we have to pay quarterly taxes in the first place. But, he’s currently taking a pretty intense culinary arts class which includes a fair amount of homework, so lately, he’s more about sheet pans than spreadsheets. In addition, over the past year-and-a-half of his retirement, I can tell that his attention is slowly shifting (as it should) from number-crunching and calculations, to exploring his creative side and spending time doing the things he’s always wanted to do.

Later this year, when I join my husband in retirement, it will be imperative that we have established a reliable and user-friendly way to organize our lives. The tool (or tools) will have to have a paper component because I like to have something physical in front of me as a reminder, and I don’t expect to be on my computer, tablet, or cell phone as often as I am currently. The tool will have to have an alerting function to ping us when pre-established dates and times arrive, and, it will have to be flexible enough to be able to send the alerts to just me, just him, or to both, depending on how each reminder is set up.

With all of the available computer tools, software, and billions of downloadable apps, I’m pretty sure we will have many serviceable options to choose from. I hope it will be just a matter of picking the one that best fits our needs and then setting it up so that it helps keep track of the day-to-day so we can get on with enjoying our journey.

After realizing our mistake last night, we quickly found the required paperwork, made the needed money transfers, and wrote our checks to the state and federal tax agencies. The postmark will be one day late, and we may get dinged, but it was a relatively cheap wake-up call that won’t go un-answered.