Category Archives: Midlife

The Liberation from Non-Perfection: A Passover Tale

 

 

When you are running late to leave the house for a special lunch downtown with old friends visiting DC from California, but you realize your dog needs to go outside first, so you let him into the backyard while you go upstairs to take a shower…

…then you come downstairs, dressed and ready to go, to let the dog in, but when he trots in the door, he deposits paw-size drips of bright red in his path from the kitchen to his place on the pale gray rug in the dining room, the same room where you will be hosting your Passover Seder two nights from now…

So do you ignore the injured dog ( you are really running late) and sweep out of the house in order to arrive on time to the very nice restaurant downtown where your husband booked a table for you and your old friends…

OR

Do you stop to see the cause of the bright red drips?

No contest.

I made the latter choice. Discovered our sweet old dog (breed: rescue jack terrier/poodle combo) had cut his paws on some brambles in the bushes at the rear corner of our yard where he has lately been spending time entertaining the workers building a deck on the house behind us with his chorus of barks.

AND

did you know that little plops of blood on a pale gray rug are very hard to get out?

So you make the obvious decision and gently clean the dog’s paws, but choose to leave the blood stains intact, because they will make a perfect backdrop to that portion of the Haggadah we read at Passover where re-tell the story of the Ten Plagues.

(SEE: the ten plagues inflicted upon ancient Egypt when the Pharoah refused to let the enslaved Israelites go free. The first plague had Aaron, the brother of Moses, touch the river Nile with his staff, turning the waters to blood.)

Back to my story…

The dog’s tail now wagging, I leave the house to head downtown, thinking how lucky I am that he only brought in blood stain. How much more unsightly it would have been if he had come in from the back yard followed by a trail of frogs -> frogs are plague #2 according to the Passover story

Perhaps 10 years ago I would have never made it to the lunch downtown.

I would have been on my knees for hours scrubbing away at those pesky blood spots, worrying that I would hate to have my guests at the Passover Seder think me a poor housekeeper to have such an unclean rug.

But now I’ve learned to take a more creative approach to life.

Can’t get rid of blood stains? Make them a feature in your Passover story.

I’ve already purchased 10 finger puppets for our oldest grandson – each puppet resembling a plague (use your imagination here) – the tradition is that when it comes to the part in the Haggadah to speak of the 10 plagues, each is announced and everyone around the table dips his or her finger into their glass of red wine or grape juice (age depending) and puts the splotch of red wine or juice onto the edge of their plate to signify a plague, 10 in all.

We will expand upon that tradition this year. When we get to the first plague – blood – I plan to raise my right hand  (like Aaron did with his staff) and point to the rug on the floor to show that if you get plagues in your house, you can learn to live with them.

Here my story and the ancient one part ways.

Unlike the ancient Israelites, we are now live in freedom. Though many people around the world are indeed enslaved or live in fear of persecution and we will talk of them during our Seder service and express our hope that someday they too will be free.

We are lucky to be sharing our Passover holiday this year with our son, daughter, son-in-law, two grandsons, a niece and her fiancée and two close friends.

Like our rug, the Passover meal will not be perfect. Already I know that the peeling method I employ for the hard-boiled eggs will not meet my chef son’s exacting standards, that our wrinkled cloth napkins do not match and our old silver is tarnished.

The red stains on the rug will be a reminder that perfection is highly over-rated. It is liberating (no pun intended, truly) to seek contentment instead.

 

 

 

**Wishing you a happy and healthy Passover or Easter or whatever you celebrate this spring.

 

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Filed under Family, grandchildren, Holidays, Women

WIP or WIP? – A Silver-Haired Female Lawyer Remembers

 

Time flies when you are having fun.

Or when you are trying to write a novel. That may or may not include sex scenes.

The reason I have not posted in this Blog since November, 2017? Blame it on my novel. A/K/A my work-in-progress. Which writers often abbreviate as their “WIP.”

My WIP – unsurprisingly – is about conflicts that arise for female, law firm lawyers who encounter moral dilemmas involving their colleagues and clients.

QUERY  –>Is it always the best course of action to disclose the truth? or sometimes is it wiser, if not somewhat unethical, to omit to state a “material fact”?

The abbreviation “WIP” also has another meaning for me.

Some years ago, in my days as a lawyer representing a group of sometimes-too-creative-for-their-own-good radio stations, one of those stations came up with the brilliant idea of hosting a regular week day event to be called “WIP” – the initials standing for “Whip it Out Wednesdays.”

The plan was to encourage their station listeners in a certain large, tri-state metropolitan area on the east coast to create large signs lettered WIP and to place the signs in the windows of their cars to encourage female motorists in passing vehicles to “whip them out” on Wednesdays for passing drivers to see and admire.

For this I went to law school?

I think we put the kibosh on that idea. The station may or may not have listened to our advice. Back then legal advice was frequently sought, but not always obeyed. Some of my clients rightfully called me the lawyer who always said “no.” I wanted to say “yes” to their creative programming and promotional ideas, I really did, but some of them were just – well – beyond acceptable.

Back then, anyway. What we thought of as beyond acceptable is now hilariously tame.

Which I was thinking about – what is tame? and what isn’t?  – while writing last week.

I brought an excerpt of my WIP to a small writing workshop I regularly attend to share with other writers. The excerpt I chose included a scene describing a sexual incident.

I was worried about sharing the excerpt with others. Me, a silver-haired grandmother of two, writing a sex scene? What business did I have writing about sex? Would it be deemed steamy? Or maybe not steamy enough?

One of the other writers – a woman, who happens to be 20 years younger than I am – thought I was being a bit too prudish in my description. Maybe so. If I was 45, I’d have approached the subject from the experience I’d had by that age. But I am no longer 45.

I have to admit that writing a sex scene – while daunting – was also rather fun.

(FYI: Lawyers do have sex. And sometimes with each other.)

My WIP is fiction – of course – but fiction laced with threads of reality. What ifs? Inspired by the life I’ve led. Or the life I wished I had led.  Aaaah, Memories…

Silver-haired women do not always have good memories.

The highlight of this past Wednesday was a visit to my downtown dentist. After a lengthy appointment, I dug in the bottom of my purse to find the ticket so I could retrieve my car from a nearby parking garage. I searched and searched, but could not find the ticket. I thought I had put in the pocket of my purse where I always keep such tickets. But it wasn’t there. The kind garage attendant (perhaps seeing my silver-hair?) asked me for my car’s license plate number.

Who can remember that?

I told him I did not know, but that I was pretty sure my license plate had a “C'” and an “X” in it. He laughed, and walked down the ramp to retrieve my car.

You can imagine my pleasure when he drove up the ramp in my car (which is silver, to match my hair.) (really) (no, it is silver, but it wasn’t selected to match my hair) and saw that my car’s license plate does indeed have a “C” and an “X” in it.

Sadly, I never found my parking garage ticket.

On future Wednesdays I do not plan on “whipping” them out, whether that is now acceptable, or not.

Instead, when not going to the dentist, you can find me working on my WIP. And maybe writing my novel-to-be on other weekdays, too.

I may even write another sex scene.  Or two? It could be prudish, but I hope not. Think about it. If I can remember two of the seven letters/numbers on my license plate, who knows what other memories I can dredge up?

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Filed under Blogging, Books, Communications, Law firm life, Lawyers, Second Careers, Women in the Workplace, Working Moms, Working Moms, Working Women, writers, Writing

“Do What Makes You Happy” – Semi-Retirement Wisdom

 

 

 

The advice I was given a few months ago was not particularly ground-breaking.

“Do what makes you happy.”

N., a most insightful friend from my writing group met me for coffee in early September when I was still struggling through an episode of depression and anxiety. I had started back on a medication and met with my therapist, but I was not yet myself.

How could I tell?

My sense of humor had gone on vacation without me. And had taken my appetite with it.

Those who know me well know I do not miss a meal – or a snack. And on that sunny day in September when we sat outside at the busy cafe, the one with great food and coffee, I could barely bring myself to nibble on the edge of a biscotti. People complimented me on my appearance. If they only knew that I’d lost 20 lbs only because I had lost my interest in food. Not a diet plan I’d recommend to anyone.

Back to my friend. She asked me my plans for the fall.

“Why are you taking that course if you don’t really want to?”

“Why stick with that volunteer program if you are not enjoying it?”

And other similar questions that I’d asked myself – and hadn’t given myself any good answers.

She chided me again.

“Do what makes you happy.”

At age 65, five years past my last day at the law firm,  nearly five years out of the hospital after my last cardiac surgery, wasn’t I now entitled to do what makes me happy?

Yes.

I thought I was already doing that. But maybe I was stuck with other people’s expectations and needed to focus more on my own?

So I dropped the writing course for which I had already registered (I was lukewarm on the subject).

I signed up for a different course (Novel plotting and structure) in which I was much more interested.

I made changes in my volunteer activities. I signed up to become an ESL co-teacher at a DC school for adult immigrants. I offered to read aloud (in Spanish!) to 3rd graders at a DC elementary school.

And the greatest change – I was asked to become a writer tutor for international graduate students at the university where I take my writing classes. I get paid for doing what I like to do – – can you believe it? My first job (albeit extremely part-time) in five years.

What’s the common denominator here? It took me a while (five years?) to figure it out, too.

I’m in multiple academic settings – to learn and to teach.

There’s an exercise I should have done years ago. You can try it. Close your eyes and picture where you were the happiest in your student and work years. For me it always was school. Reading, writing (but definitely not arithmetic) gave me pleasure. Particularly when I was in graduate school in international relations, two years in my twenties, living within a community of students from all over the world.

Could I recreate that again in this second (third?) stage of life?

Why I didn’t see this pattern years ago when I first semi-retired, I am not sure.

It turns out that I love teaching. And I am good at it. Who knew? Part of it is having a wonderful co-teacher (hello, H.) Part is having the freedom to expand creatively upon the ESL curriculum. I get to stand in front of a class of engaged and engaging adult immigrant students and use my imagination to make grammar, reading, speaking and writing fun.

I’m back in an international settings. Our ESL students are from Cambodia, El Salvador, France, Gabon, Germany, Italy, S. Korea, Russia. And I’m helping international students from China and other countries with their graduate school writing assignments.

And I’m writing. Which I had not done all summer or most of the fall. My writing gears were stuck. It wasn’t so much writer’s block as a complete absence of creative flow. An empty space where my writing brain had been. Now I’m back to my novel-in-progress. Only 64,000 more words to go!

And perhaps more often to writing this blog? (my last post was September 5. Now it is almost Thanksgiving.)

If you haven’t taken N.’s advice – “Do what makes you happy.” yet, I urge you to do so.

One more thing to be grateful for next week when we celebrate Thanksgiving at my house with my family. My international students are mystified at the appeal of corn pudding and cranberry sauce. But my appetite has returned. On multiple levels.

For that – and for not having to drive on the New Jersey turnpike this holiday, I am very grateful.

 

 

 

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Filed under ESL, friendship, Holidays, Retirement, Semi-Retirement, Semi-Retirement, Teaching, Women, Writing

Major Engine Malfunctions – Personal and Vehicular

 

 

The irony of the flashing message on the dashboard of the car did not escape me.

We were about to leave the parking lot of the Massachusetts motel where we had spent the night to drive to Connecticut to see family on the way home from our Vermont vacation. My husband turned the car on and there it was in bold flashing blue letters –

Major Engine Malfunction. Reduced Power. Get Service Now.”

I would have laughed, but couldn’t summon up even a slight smile. For the first time ever, my sense of humor had left me. Perhaps it went on a vacation of its own? Somewhere restful like the beautiful deep lake in Vermont where we spent a few days in mid-August. The peace of which I could not fully appreciate because I was also experiencing a ““Major Engine Malfunction” of my own. My aunt and uncle and cousins in Vermont were kind to me. They sensed I was operating with “Reduced Power.”

My long-time therapist labeled it Depression – which I have never before experienced.

Anxiety, yes, that is a familiar condition for me. Years of it. (SEE the title of this blog.) But Depression? That’s been something new this summer. Feeling flat. Low energy. Sad on the sunniest of days. Not enjoying spending time with my grandsons at the beach (my usual happy place.) Dull, no interest and little appetite.

And I couldn’t write. Not a word. For weeks. The space formerly occupied by my creative self was blank. Not so much a writer’s block, but a nothingness.

The Depression kind of crept up on me in June, then steamed full ahead in July and by early August my therapist decided I should try a new medication. Which I did. And experienced a full set of horrible side-effects (which luckily for you I will not enumerate.) Poor timing as they put me in distress during my longed-for few days in Vermont. The lovely lake, the green mountains, the quiet of the woods, the water rippling at the dock; none worked their usual magic on me.

My therapist agreed I could taper off the new medication but wow, its side effects were persistent. I was still feeling awful on that bright morning in my old college-town in mid-Massachusetts when the car’s error message of “Major Engine Malfunction. Reduced Power. Get Service Now” eerily matched my own condition.

In the good news department: the car’s engine did not erupt as we slowly drove to Connecticut where the car got the service it needed.

My 94-year-old Dad always says that a problem is not a problem if it can be fixed by money. Lucky for us the engine was still under warranty and we spent little to have it repaired.

If only our personal engine malfunctions could be so readily resolved.

I am working on mine with the help of a new med, my therapist, my patient husband, and understanding friends and family.

And as soon as the space formerly occupied by my creative self resumes functioning, I will get back to writing – and taking classes and volunteering and enjoying the sunshine.

Waiting also for my sense of humor to return from wherever it went on its own apparently needed vacation. I will keep you posted.

 

 

 

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Filed under grandchildren, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Travel, Women, Women's Health, Writing

Can Wendy Whiner Change Her Ways?

 

I take great pride in my ability to worry. To dread events that have or have not (yet) happened. But unnamed others in my personal sphere have a different view:

As in their comments that I may occasionally resemble one of the following:

  • “Wendy Whiner” (SEE: the sketch character by that name on “Saturday Night Live” in the early 1980’s.)
  • “Debbie Downer” (SEE: due to my hyper-knowledge of every local, regional and world crisis or catastrophe, personal or public.)

At this particular moment in time – I have few active complaints. Everyone in my life is relatively o.k.

Which is in and of itself problematic.

Because of my profound skill in Anticipatory Worrying, I recognize the temporary nature of this present lull.  Soon enough the phone will ring or a text will ping and unpleasant, painful, and/or possibly horrific news will arrive.

Change is inevitable as we get older – a subject near and dear to my now-Medicare-aged heart.

But my position on how to handle sad news may be more malleable than I thought.

The Carolyn Hax advice column in today’s Washington Post contained a reader entry that made me reflect on the Wendy Whiner label.

(Pause here to note the path not taken. I should have become an advice columnist instead of a lawyer. I LOVE giving advice. Solicited or not.)

A reader of the Hax column, known as C., wrote in to give advice on “Losses and Dread” (two of my favorite subjects!) C. explained that she has had a wonderful, devoted friend for over 35 years who “truly understands how to sustain and nurture friendships.”  Because C.’s friend has many other close friends and family, C. felt that she couldn’t be as much of a source of comfort to her friend as her friend has always been to her.

This hit home to me. I, too, have a wonderful, devoted friend who also has a million (slight exaggeration only) other wonderful, devoted friends, all of whom jump up to help her whenever she is in need. I am part of the larger circle, always wishing I could be of more support.

It occurred to me that this kind of imbalance is probably quite common. Some of us are the center of the wheel of friendship and others are pinned to the outer spokes – and always will be.

C. goes on to suggest that one way to be a true friend is NOT to share your problems.

Imagine that.

C.’s tells us that her mother and her wonderful, devoted friend’s mother were the same age. Then C.’s mother died. But C. decided not to burden her friend with her sadness at the death of her mother. C. explains it better than I can.

So what I can do is NOT call her when I am sad – though I know she’d be there for me – and  I cannot dwell too heavily on the loss when we do talk. Instead I can ask her about her grandchildren and let her tell me about their antics, though I’m not a kid person. Time and circumstances will bring us to a common reference point on the loss of a beloved mother…The chance to spare my friend from going to this sad place any earlier and more frequently than absolutely necessary is a blessing.”

Kind of a friendship gift, don’t you think? To NOT bring all our woes to our close friends even when we really, really, really want to.

And the part that got me the most? From C. again:

“Sometimes our losses – or health or parents or jobs – scare our friends, and they just want to live their regular lives and not think about it – or catch it.”

O.K., so C. and I differ in several important aspects. I’m a grandmother and very much a kid person. Not all my friends have achieved this most wonderful phase of life so I try (honest I do) not to overshare adorable photos and tales of their toddler brilliance.

I am also not as selfless as C. I haven’t (yet?) reached the point where I can regularly keep my mouth closed and not burden my friends with my woes. I am too dependent on having friends to listen and offer support.

Perhaps the next stage of getting older is to recognize, as C. does, that grief shared may multiply it unnecessarily.

I always want to be there for my friends when they reach out  – and I think I am. But maybe I don’t need to add my sorrows to ones they have not (yet?) experienced. Losses are inevitable. Keeping afloat above them is not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aging Parents, Communications, Female Friends, friendship, Relationships, Women, Women's Health

Bad Timing Birthday Brings Bonus

 Having a birthday in early June is a matter of bad timing.

I don’t blame my parents (it’s a tad late for that), but for those of you who may now be considering an attempt to conceive a child this coming September for a planned early June arrival, I have these words of advice: “Don’t do it.”

June 2 is the date of my birth. It has not been an optimal one, unfortunately coinciding over the years with many seemingly more important life cycle events belonging to other people.

I have attended many special events on June 2. Instead of having the sole focus on that auspicious date be on ME and MY birthday (“ME” and “MY” are two current favorite words, in high rotation in the vocabulary of my three-year-old grandson),  I have frequently pretended to be happy at someone else’s celebration.

High School graduations, College graduations, anniversary parties, weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, end-of-school-year dinners,  baby showers, engagement events.  All held on the popular early summer date of June 2.

And fyi, if you are a guest at a friend’s big event, it is not considered polite to remark in the middle of their festivities  – “Oh, by the way, it’s my birthday today.” 

No one will care. Instead you have to suck it up and act as if it is their special day alone.

Besides having had to share my birthday more times than I would like, I also have not had good luck with the date itself.

Early June is a busy time. The school year is ending. The summer is starting. Everyone is preoccupied with their own concerns. One year when I was in high school, the only birthday card I received in the mail was from my grandmother. And she spelled my name incorrectly.

(This is true, not because she had dementia at that point in her life, but because I am one of seven grand-daughters all closely clustered in age. So if I received a small, but welcome, birthday check in the mail from my mother’s mother, I was told to endorse it, even it was made out to another of my first cousins.)

At least my grandmother remembered. Unlike some of my other here-unnamed friends and family members who are pretty sure that my birthday falls in early June, even if they cannot quite remember the exact date.

Here it is for you:  June 2. And it is going to be a BIG one this year  —> 65.

A/K/A:

  • The Medicare Year.
  • The Year Your Mail is Flooded With Annuity Retirement Fund Brochures.
  • The Year You Can No Longer Pretend You are Still Middle-Aged.
  • The Year You Have to Stop Saying – “Oh, I’m  in my early sixties.” Because You Are Not. You are now half-way to 70.

Which is fine with me. Because as my Dad likes to say (especially now in his still-early-90’s), better to have a birthday than not.

Earlier this week my Dad’s best friend died. His friend was a brilliant, caring man, a highly respected doctor in my hometown.  He was 91 and sure you can say that he lived to a “ripe old age”, but for him and likely for my Dad, his death came too soon. My Dad, who is far better with words of legal origin than of emotional weight,  cannot bring himself to express his sadness. But he did tell me that with this recent death all of his male pals are now gone. He is the only one left.

All the more reason to celebrate birthdays while you still have them to celebrate. Not to let people forget how important it is to remember that you are still alive, that you still appreciate a carefully-selected card, perhaps a slice of cheese cake with a single candle and a clever email greeting or two.

(Let me state here for the record my firmly held belief that posting a breezy “Happy Birthday” on Facebook after you have been reminded it is a friend’s birthday does not count.  Full credit is awarded ONLY if you remember the person’s birthday of your own accord without a social media prompt.)

And if you are close enough to me that you are considering the purchase of a gift this year, please know that I  already have a drawer full of highly-effective, collagen-building, “youth-preserving” skin moisturizers. Do try to be a bit more imaginative in the present department. Not every 65-year-old woman will gracefully accept the subtle reminder of yet another new anti-aging cream.

But we will gracefully accept being remembered on our birthdays.

On the exact date, if possible. Thank you in advance.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aging, Aging Parents, Family, Female Friends, friendship, Holidays, Women

Over-Planning, Under-Enjoying Travel: A Boomer Without a Bucket List

It may be heresy to express this thought, but I did NOT enjoy our recent vacation.

When friends ask, upon our return – “Didn’t you just love ***? It’s my favorite place. We loved our trip there.”  I can respond in one of three ways:

 

  1. Lie – “Oh yes, *** is a terrific place to visit. We had a great time.”
  2.  Semi-lie – “*** is fascinating. I can see why you liked it. ” – OR
  3. Truth – “Actually, I thought *** was a bit boring. Our vacation wasn’t as enjoyable/fun/interesting as I expected.”

Trust me, no one wants to hear the truth.  I tried it out last week on a good friend and her eyebrows raised in horror, “How could you not have loved it out there?

 

 

Yes, *** is a beautiful area. Yes, the red-cliffed scenery as you drive north is stunning. Yes, you see tall snow- topped mountains in the distance. Yes, there are fascinating remnants of ancient civilizations to visit.

But to my eyes, it was if I’d seen them all before. And in part, I had.

What happened, I think, was that I did so much Pre-Reading before we went on our vacation, that by the time we actually got to ***, the newness factor had disappeared.

I offer this to you as a polite warning;  it IS possible to over-prep for a vacation.

I over-studied every ***-related website, I read all the reviews, I perused all of the museum exhibits, I knew all of the restaurant menus. I knew what to expect. I knew too well what to expect. All of the places we went to in and around *** were familiar by the time I got there. They looked exactly like the internet said they would!

You might be saying at this point – “wow, is she ever a whiner!” There’s an obvious remedy here. I tell myself the same thing: stop planning so much. Allow in more serendipity. Lose your itinerary and to-do list.

And that is a valid point. On our next trip I will (me, the ultimate planner, list maker) TRY not to prepare quite so much. I will allow in more opportunities for adventuring down the side-road that wasn’t on the itinerary.  The freshness of the unexpected is what delights us.

It was more than that, though. It is that trick that our mind plays on us when our imagination jumps ahead to what an anticipated experience will be like and when it happens, and doesn’t pan out as we thought, we are disappointed. At least I was.

It is not as if we take frequent trips. We do not. We do not have a travel slush fund.  Each holiday must be planned for and anticipated.

My husband still works full-time.  But if when/if he retires, he wants to stay in a ryokan in Japan, see the sights in Istanbul and visit his cousins in Melbourne. (Bet you didn’t know that many Macedonians left Greece to emigrate to Australia?)

Pick up any advice column for people in their 60’s and beyond – we are encouraged to take trips, to broaden our horizons, to see all of the places we never had a chance to see when we were chained to our desks in our working years or taking care of our children. We are empty-nesters, free to see the world if our finances can take us there in that slim window of time before we become too infirm to stand in long security lines at airports.

The passion to travel has not (yet?) seized me.  I may be the only “baby boomer” (hate the phrase but you take my meaning) you know who does not have a bucket list of sights I long to see before I can no longer see.

Remember the lesson that Dorothy discovered at the end of the Wizard of Oz? 

“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there….then I never really lost it to begin with.”

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It is not as if I ventured to *** to seek out my heart’s desire. The analogy does not translate that closely.

But I do enjoy my own backyard. Sitting on my deck, laptop on the table, my dog (a/k/a my writing muse) at my feet. I can hear bird song, smell the flowers and tell time by the sound of when the school bus stops on my street.

For now, familiar scenery beckons me more than exotic vistas.  Call me “Dorothy” if you like. I’m happy to see your travel photos. Just don’t ask to see mine.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Baby Boomers, Empty Nest, Holidays, Husbands, Semi-Retired, Travel