Retirement…Resmirement…

Have my friends always talked about retirement and I didn’t notice or is it that we are all old enough now that it comes up as often as our hot flashes, knee replacements and acid reflux?

Either way, I have noticed it is a common topic, especially at dinner parties. I listen, as only a therapist does, with interest and curiosity.

Where seems to be the first topic of retiremental discernment* discussed. Ideas of places to retire fill the room. Somewhere sunny. Somewhere inexpensive. Portugal. Mexico with other x-pats. Near their children. Or grandchildren.

What is the next topic. Usually because I can’t stand it anymore and I have to know. “What will you do?” I ask a little too intensely. I can tell because the speaker startles, like when you start to nod off and wake yourself up as your chin heads for your chest.

I ask because am hoping someone will have a great idea. One that I can consider if I stop doing what I am doing.

“Not Work,” they say with a lilt that sounds more like a question than a statement.

“But WHAT will you do?” I press on. Another trait of a therapist. We want to understand.

“Oh, I don’t know. Read more. Travel,” their voice trailing off. I am not sure if they are enraptured by a vision of themselves relaxing on a white sand beach, margarita in hand,   the book Retirement for Dummies, dogeared and highlighted, sitting beside them or they are noticing their plan seems a bit dull.

As I listen intently to my dinner-party-friends musings, trying to find the place in me that wants to read and travel more, I come up empty. I just can’t seem to find my desire to stop doing what I am doing.

Maybe, I wonder, I am not old enough to be thinking about retirement. But my friend, sitting across the table who is younger than me, is actively looking on-line for retirement friendly places. Or, perhaps I am not confident I can afford to retire, so I unconsciously protect myself from disappointment by not entertaining the possibility. “Expect nothing and you shall not be disappointed,” echoes in my head. Or could my high tolerance to discomfort be masking my secret wish to throw in the towel?

Yesterday I was talking with my dear friend Kathleen. We raised our kids together. Not to mention each other. She is thinking about her retirement. I listened. Interested. Brainstorming possibilities. Places? What she would do? When?

In a quiet moment she asked, “What about you? Do you think about retirement?”

Without thinking, I heard myself say, “I feel like I am just hitting my stride. I’m creating the career and life I’ve always wanted and I want to do more…so leaving it for another kind of life doesn’t fit for me right now.”

Wow! I didn’t know that!

I love when I happen upon my clarity. When I listen to myself and find my answers. I didn’t know how satisfied I was with myself and my life.

When I was in my 40’s, an astrologer told me I was a late bloomer. That it wouldn’t be until my 50’s that I would move into my life’s purpose in a full and felt way.

I think she was right. I am so glad to be here.

XO

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Be careful what you meditate for…

Sunday morning I listened to Christine Page’s Island Of Memories meditation. She guided me to an island to meet wise elders that had been waiting for me. There was a gift from them on a table. She said it was an object that belonged to me but that I had not seen in this lifetime. I was guided to connect with this item and to learn from it.

The message from my object was to find my determination, clarity, voice and certainty. I liked this message. I liked the way it made me feel. I felt determined, clear, vocal and certain.

At the end of the meditation Christine suggested I journal my findings. I knew if I took the time to journal I would further delay my much coveted first-cup-of-Sunday-morning-coffee. But I have trusted Christine for many years and I knew myself. As clear as the details were in that moment, this afternoon I would be asking myself, “What were those four words?” (In fact, as I write this 1 hour later I can only remember determined and clear, I had to look in my journal to find the other two.)

So I pulled out my journal and wrote.

Those of you that journal know the phenomenon of when your hand writes something before your brain registers it as a thought. That is what happened. I wrote the details of the attributes. Then wrote, “Find determination, clarity, voice and certainty in everything that I do.”

Initially I missed the nuanced difference in this statement. I was in my familiar, exhaustive search of finding the activities I am determined, clear, vocal, and certain about. “Is IT my writing that I haven’t done in over 6 months. Is IT furniture painting that I just don’t seem to make time for? Is IT my relationships which usually win my time without a thought? Is IT my work? Or…is IT all the things I tell myself I should be doing. A Tai Chi Class? Yoga? Qigong? Cleaning out the garage?”.

After racking myself silly with, “What is IT?” my self preservation lovingly stepped in, as she always does, and conveniently helped me forget what I was looking for…or was that my age? Either way I was relieved, happily distracted, and off to make my coffee.

My morning routine didn’t seem to change much. I did move a bit more slowly, taking time to notice my grandmothers plates as I emptied the dishwasher, looking deliberately at the different patterns, saying out loud to am empty kitchen, “Each one is prettier than the next.” I felt my love for these plates. I did light some candles, turn on Sunday morning Baroque, and spent a deliberate moment admiring the Stargazer Lilies on my dining room table.

As I sat down coffee in hand, certain I was sitting to write because yesterday I promised myself I would, I felt my determination. As I wondered what the hell I would write, I felt my clarity and voice and began this story.

Half way through, while searching for the spelling of a word, I accidentally deleted the post. I searched and searched for a way to bring it back. I was determined! My Help bar told me coldly told me,You can’t undo this action.

Really? My Self passed before my eyes. All the ways I move on from this kind frustration. I can start the laundry. It’s Heidi’s birthday I can call her and catch up. I can take the Christmas decorations down…yes they are still up. I could go for a walk.

Or…I could bring my determination, clarity, voice and certainty to this project, as I had been guided to do, and begin again. I sat for a LONG moment, fingers on the keyboard, trying to recapture my pithy, funny, thoughtful first draft.

I grudgingly started over. With each sentence my reluctance finding her voice, her certainty, her determination, and her clarity.

Distraction is easier. Sometimes.

Listening to and following guidance is not easier, but, it is satisfying. Every single time.

 

With love,
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I could, but I don’t want to…

When I was younger I did things because I could. Or should. Or perhaps I didn’t know any better. I could talk on the phone, make dinner, oversee the kids homework. I carried a washer and dryer into the basement in my first married apartment. I helped build an addition, doubling the size of our home, with a 2 year old underfoot and another one on the way. For several years I sustained a 2 hour commute, couch surfed or stayed in the cheapest room.

I am not complaining. In fact I am bragging. These were badges of honor to me. The more I could do, the more valuable I felt. Self sacrifice, manual labor, inconvenience were all indications of my fortitude. I was an Amazon woman. I didn’t need any help. Thank you very much.

But today I feel differently. I hear myself saying, “I could do that…but I don’t want to.” I don’t want to drive there. I could but I don’t want to clean out the garage. I don’t want to hang sheet rock, drive a nail, or go to Lumber Liquidators, EVER. If I am on the phone and Tom asks me where the refrigerator is, I don’t show him.

Part of me is afraid I have gone soft. That I’m being a baby. A wimp. I am also concerned this is my creative way of pretending it has nothing to do with my age. It’s not that I can’t lift that bundle of roof shingles, I just don’t want to…images

I think what I am getting at is choice. And wisdom.

A very wise woman once told me, “If it is not my passion it is not my job.” So today I check with myself before I throw myself into a habituated pattern of Amazonian pursuits. Do I want to do this? Is this my job? And yes, I admit, I must ask, “Will I throw my back out?”

XO

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It feels like Sunday morning…

Some times it is so simple. The special things.

It’s Sunday morning. I am unloading the dishwasher. Tom is cooking breakfast. Eggs. Bacon. Grits. Yo-Yo Ma on the stereo.

I feel at home. I feel grateful. It is these simple things that occur, at a time when I am available to appreciate them, that move me to gratitude and to tears. In these moments I know I am the luckiest woman alive.

The smells of breakfast evoke a memory of a Sunday morning spent with a long-ago friend. We didn’t know each other when we were co-eds at the University of Delaware, but we met through a mutual U of D friend when we both moved to Richmond Va after graduation. We immediately liked each other and decided to get an apartment togther. We found a third floor apartment on Grace Street, in the Fan district of the city. At that time the Fan was considered an unsafe area by those living in the suburbs. To us it was artsy, diverse and the kind of dangerous we loved as 21 years olds. The complex was three, old, southern, brick buildings with a tree filled courtyard in front. Our apartment had French doors opening to a roof terrace with lovely hard wood floors. And it was affordable on our inks-not-dry-on-the-diplomas incomes. Perhaps because we needed to share the space with very large cockroaches. Something neither of us knew about since we were Yankees.

Diane and I sometimes made Sunday morning breakfast together. Music in the background. Good smells filling our look-mom-no-hands sanctuary. I felt like a grown up. I felt like how I imagined it would be when I was on my own. In my own life. In these moments I forgot I was lonely and very broke. I got a job as a bank teller, which was not my strong suit as my drawer never settled. My manager liked my people-skills and knew I wasn’t enough of a math-master-mind to steal from them, so he kept me. I was also homesick for my college roommates who were living together in Philadelphia. When they threw a party they would call me. They passed the phone and I talked to everyone just like I was back at school. When I hung up I would feel a pit in my stomach and question my decision to strike out on my own. (Why I randomly picked Richmond to move to, without a job or knowing anyone is another story. One that has unfolded many times throughout my life uncovering well held family secrets.)

It was the smells and simplicity of this morning that caused me to time traveled 34 years. I tried to describe to Tom what I was feeling; my amazement at my young self, my friendship with Diane, my love for my college roommates, my appreciation of a slow Sunday morning. After several attempts landed on, “It feels like Sunday morning.”

Gratitude born of simplicity gives me hope. I am relieved that I don’t have to do, or have, or be the grand gestures. I also know I have to be moving at a slow enough rate of speed to notice.

XO

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Let me call me sweetheart…

The other day I was on the floor stretching. I had a pain in my ass. Technically my hip, that tiny bugger of a muscle that is dead center on the hip bone. It can cause a boat load of trouble for being such a small thing.

Anyway, I was being very deliberate and patient with my stretch. The relief I felt was directly related to the angle at which I pulled my bent left leg my over my right hip. Straight to the right was not effective. Over and up toward my chest was the ticket.

Ahhhhhh. I held there for a moment. Breathing. In this pause I heard myself say, “That a girl. That’s it sweetheart. You’re doing great.”

I was speaking sweet nothings to myself. Wow, I was touched by me. How lovely and considerate. Friendly. Someone I would want to go get a cup of coffee with…

This self kindness has not always been my M.O.. There was a time, not so long ago, that I was rather hard on myself. I yanked myself around telling myself to keep-up; get-a-grip; that it’s (whatever “it” happened to be) my fault because I didn’t do it right, say it right, or plan well enough. I could be down right mean. Sometimes I even called myself names. (Sticks a stones can break your bones, but names can break your heart.)

I knew when I had been talking smack on myself because after a day or so I would feel like shit. My breathing was shallow, my shoulders were tense and I didn’t like anybody, especially myself. Hanging out with me was not fun.

But on this particular day I caught myself unawares; being kind, gentle, and encouraging. I was moonstruck.

Now I call me sweetheart. I ask myself if I want to keep up. I remind myself instead of getting-a-grip, I need to let-go. And, if it is my fault I apologize, then move on.

Perhaps I was my pain in my ass.

Go figure.
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A day in the mountains…

I spent yesterday in a time warp. Jena was a bridesmaid in a best-childhood-girlfriends’ wedding, along with several other lifelong friends, and Tom and I were invited to join the celebration.

Going back to the mountains is a mixed bag for me. I feel totally at home and out of place at the same time. This is how I spent the 24 years I lived there. A neighbor and a stranger.

The small church was packed. I recognized one pew full of people on the other side of the church from where Tom and I sat in folding chairs. It was filled with the neighbors and friends I had raised my kids with, and my X husband and his new wife Patty, from Boswell, PA. Really!

The ceremony these two young kids created was touching. It brought me to tears. Their words, humor and poignancy made me realize how grown up our daughters had become. (Jena if you are reading this don’t get any ideas.)The bride (and groom) had clearly designed a wedding that was uniquely their own. Everyone recognized their personalities and quirks. The groom deliberately ended his wedding vows with a preposition (they are both English buffs), to alleviate his brides insecurity that her vows wouldn’t be as good as his. “Where are your vows at?”

Instead of communion, or lighting a common candle, or pouring colored sand into a bottle, the groom poured milk into a goblet, the bride chocolate. Together they stirred it into chocolate milk. The best man provided two straws and together they drank from the same cup. There was not a dry eye, or a face without a smile, in the church.

The bride and her dad danced to a song they sang together on road trips. Not just any song, but the operatic Sarah Brightman & Andrea Bocelli – Time to Say Goodbye. As they spun around the dance floor they sang it to one another, hitting high notes with dramatic flourish.

In his toast, her dad told funny stories. One in particular was about a phone call he got while working the late shift. She told him she had hit a bird with her car. She had killed it. But, it was still stuck in her grill. Could he please get it out when he got home? “Of course,” he said. Turned out the bird was a goose. Stuck in the grill, and the hood, in such a way that as she drove the 4 foot wing span opened and closed.

Again, not a dry eye or an unsmiling face in the room. Conjoined polarities.

At the end of the evening Tom asked me to drive home. I took the wheel without hesitation. I knew these roads. I had driven them most of my adult life. I recently told someone that I am still learning to be a city driver because I am really a country driver. City driving, with all the cars on the road, the on/off ramps that send me careening into 70 mph traffic, the street lingo rolling off natives tongues — the parkway, the crosstown blvd, the boulevard — the surprise road closures that knock me off my course, keeps my breathing shallow and my wits on end. Being in the mountains, driving in the dark was a piece of wedding cake.

Except it wasn’t. And when had it gotten THIS DARK? I couldn’t see anything outside of my headlights. At some point I noticed the road we were on was getting terribly narrow and winding. I didn’t remember this stretch of road from Ohiopyle to Chalk Hill. Where were we and how had I gotten off course?

I could hear Twilight Zone music playing, Rod Sterlings voice saying, “You have just entered another dimension.”

Tom pretended to calmly suggest I wait to find a driveway to turn around in. He was concerned that the sides of the road would be swampy. In a very small voice I told him I didn’t suspect there was going to be any driveways along this road.

And there wasn’t.

I eventually found a wider part of the road and did a K-K-K turn, knowing that to go further could lead us into the part of the mountains where no man has gone before and returned to tell the story. Dunbar.

I wound my way back up the road, totally disoriented in a completely familiar place. And let me say again, it was so damn DARK. We came to an intersection that I sat at for more than a minute, getting my bearings. (You can do that on country roads at 8:30 at night cuz you are the only one on the road.)

My wits returned, I turned right and successfully drove us home. To Pittsburgh. That is my home now. But driving past the entrance to Deer Lake, my home of 24 years, I could have just as easily turned left to go home.

Returning to a past life. That is what I did yesterday. I fell back into conversations as though I hadn’t been gone for 5 years. As though I had seen neighbors just the other day. But when they asked me, “What’s new?” how do I begin to tell them: my whole life.

Perhaps you can never go home again. Or at least not without some disorientation.

 

I DO. I HAVE. I BE.

At our July women’s group Jude summed up life with these three choices. They made sense to me. I knew these in myself. I wrote them down and have been noticing them ever since.

I DO.

And boy, do I. I think this way. All. Of. The. Time.

“What do I need to do?” I feel tired.

“What should I do?” I feel exhausted.

“I finally I got that done, but look at all I didn’t get done.” I feel beaten.

It’s hard to get out of bed some mornings.

I believed that when the kids were launched I would have all kinds of time on my hands. That I would get it all done, whatever it was that needed doing. Maybe I would even be bored. That I would entertain myself by organizing my junk drawer.

I am not keeping up with my list of to do’s. I cannot even close my junk drawer.

 

I HAVE. 

I have down sized twice in the last 5 years so I have much less than I ever did. I kinda like this. I live in a small home that will not tolerate a lot of stuff. This reality supports minimal accumulation. It makes window shopping bittersweet…I see something I love and want, knowing it will truly make my life complete, but, remind myself there is no place to put it, hang it, or prop it. I walk away…sad for not having, relieved that that purchase will not be on my next months Visa bill.

However, I have cleverly rectified this dilemma by disguising my consumerism as necessary home improvement projects. Depending on the day and my mood this list can be quite long. My have and my do are a formidable couple.

I was visiting with a friend yesterday and while we talked I was gathering home improvement ideas from her place. I mused that maybe I would rip out our wrought iron banister, explaining I never was a fan of wrought iron and by replacing it with wood, like her’s, it would warm up our place. Laura said she kind of liked wrought iron, she said she thought it looked clean. I remembered she has an iron coffee table and end table. Then she said, “I don’t know, you could do that, maybe you are made of money and that is not a consideration.”

Thank you Jesus. Or Laura. Those words cut right through my need to have. My budget  and my sensibility rose to the surface. I felt relieved. Less to pay for and less to do.

I went home and appreciated my wrought iron bannister in a whole new way.

 

To BE. 

There is sooo much written on this state of mind. It is unarguably the way to be (no pun intended). But, man, is it hard to do (hah, another pun).

I have been mulling around the idea of how to turn my to do list into a want list so I can be more in the moment while doing it. Still with me?

If I do what I do, fully doing it, then I will be. Got that?

So when I am finished writing this post I plan to weed my garden. Weeding is not one of my favorite activities. I wish I were one of those people that feel contentment yanking and sweating and clipping, but I am not. However, I do walk through my garden every time I leave the house, often stopping to admire it, amazed with myself for creating such a spot of beauty, so I want it to look good.

I found my want. I want to pull weeds, tend to my garden, restore it to beauty. It is no longer a to do, but a want.

I consider calling my friend Heidi while I garden since we have been playing phone tag…you know, kill two birds with one stone (bad garden metaphor). I quickly remind myself that multitasking is not conducive to being.

I decide to just garden, to be fully in the moment, pulling weeds, clipping plants, sweating like a women in menopause; not thinking about the next chore to be done.

Wish me luck…
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Post Script

My garden looks beautiful. I still didn’t love the job, but I love the result both in the garden and in myself.

I was fully in my moment, BEING while I was DOING.

 

 

 

Home Improvement Therapy

Lately I have been wanting all the home improvements projects done…yesterday. My mind wanders to my to-do list when I should be listening to how Tom’s day was or paying attention in traffic. I have become obsessed, or organized, I am not sure which. I  document my list in my phone’s reminder app. That way I have it handy at all times.

I have been taking pictures of outdoor lighting at Lowe’s, ceiling fans at Home Depot, ordering new exterior shutters — did you know that the size stated on the shutter is not the actual size of the shutter? The Lowe’s man calmly explained it is similar to a 2×4…they are not really 2″ by 4″ either. Who knew? And how is one to get the right size?

I have also been picking paint colors for different projects. I have even purchased my all-time favorite, a can of black spray paint. It is amazing what a little black spray paint can to to refresh worn stuff. I was tempted to give Tom a little squirt today, but thought better of it.

I am familiar with this pattern in myself. I become a DIY maniac when I don’t want to feel something going on in my life.

Landon’s wedding is 2 weeks away and instead of slowing down to feel the full impact of what that means to me, I am spray painting anything that is spray paintable.

The good news is stuff is getting done. The bad news is my back hurts and I don’t have shoes I can wear for longer than 10 minutes for the wedding. I need to be shoe shopping,  instead I am home improving.

I am fully aware I am sublimating, but I don’t really care. As the serenity prayer says, God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

I can’t change that I am old enough to have a son marrying. I also can not change that my son is old enough to be marrying. And I certainly can’t change that my mommying days are done. But I can sure as hell can change the color of the fireplace and update our mailbox!!

Here are my before and after pictures. If you like them I do work for hire…

the fireplace before

the fireplace before

 

and after I got through with it...

and after I got through with it…

 

Before a little black spray paint.

Before a little black spray paint.

and after!!

and after!!

I nested before Landon was born. Everything had to be in order and perfect for his arrival. Perhaps this is similar, but this time I am preparing my new nest for me.

Happy home improving to you,

 

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Celebrating my 100th post!!!! Life is a buffet…

I am remembering a phone call with my dear friend Kathleen. Instead of asking what was my New Year’s resolution she asked what do I want in the new year? Hmmm.

This simple word substitution opened a totally different door in my psyche.

What do I want?

Honestly? After thinking about it, I want it all.

Life is a veritable, all-you-can-eat, smorgasbord. It all looks so appetizing my mouth imageswaters. I want to taste most everything. I want to read the Better After 50 booklist. I want to learn how to knit a hat–I can knit a scarf. I want to join a cooking club where we take turns trying new recipes on each other. I want to take a writing class, a meditation class, a succulent wreath making class, a Spanish class, a typing class. I want to learn to use Facebook and Twitter like a 20-something-year-old.

I confessed my desire to my monthly women’s group telling them I want it all. I heard myself repeating it several times because it felt soooo good to admit. I want it all. I want it all. I want it all. Iwantitall. Jude suggested this was greed. Everyone in the circle gasped. Did Jude just call me greedy?

I didn’t feel offended, I felt interested. Am I greedy? Is this greed? Gimme-gimme-have-you-got, my mom’s voice chided.

I looked up the definition of greed; an intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power or food. Hmmm. I thought about this. Lord knows I don’t want to be selfish…I have heard of what happens to selfish women…

I realized I felt more hungry than greedy, more interested and excited than insatiable. I just don’t want to miss anything.

I wonder if this is what happens after 50, after the kids are grown, the nest is empty, and the diaper money that morphed into soccer camps, that morphed into prom gowns, that morphed into gas money, has finally found it’s way back into my wallet? Do I want it all because I have more time and resources? Because it’s my turn again?

Sorting through my many wants, in any given moment, takes discernment. It also requires the ability to tolerate disappointment. I don’t always get what I want. Sometimes because it is too much money. Or too much time. Or my work schedule gets in the way. Or I have conflicting wants–I want to go to that event but I also want to spend time by myself.

Letting myself want is a tricky business. Not so easy after-all.

Yet, I am enjoying going after what I want. I am even having fun telling you what I want…I want to sit home all day watching movie marathons in my p.j.’s, eating popcorn and homemade soup. I want to clean and organize the garage, paint the spare room, have lunch with my son, volunteer, go shopping with my daughter, write more, nap often…

Hmmm…Maybe the myth of selfish women is untrue. Maybe when we look out for our selves, trust what we want, we are happier. More fulfilled. Content.

What do you want?
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