Category Archives: friendship

“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

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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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

2016: Your Year in Review

 

 

2016 review banner - text in vintage letterpress wood type block with a cup of coffee

If you are on Facebook, you recently received your unrequested, but they sent it anyway, FB-produced personalized “Year in Review. I watched my short video. Cute enough.

But, even though FB earnestly prompted me to do so, I resisted the urge to share my “Year in Review” for friends and family to watch on my FB page.

(And if you are not on FB, you are not alone. My husband, JP, has a FB page, but rarely checks it.  A very smart and technically-able man, as I’ve said in this blog before, he finds FB incomprehensible. “I just don’t get it.” he will say. What’s a page? What’s a news feed?  And most important – What if I don’t want to “friend” someone in return? Sadly, JP is far too kind not to “friend” someone back, even if that person is someone who he never talked to, but who may have had a locker near his in high school. That’s what happens when you are my husband, the still-popular-to-this-day president of his senior class. So not my problem.)

Which is one of the reasons why I did not share my “Year in Review” on my FB page.

One thing I’ve learned this year – in my own self-produced, virtual “Year in Review”  – is that no one is as interested in you as you are.

(grammatical correctness? Unsure. But feel free not to scold me. My 93-year-old Dad has that role covered.)

But you take my point. You care more about your quotidian details than your friends or family do.

For example: One day you leave the house thinking your hair looks hideous. No one cares. Next day you leave the house wearing extremely old yoga pants. And you’ve never taken a yoga class. No one notices. Once this fall I dressed very quickly and wore a casual shirt inside-out. (it happens.) Then someone did notice. A very nice younger woman sweetly and non-judgmentally pointed it out to me in a supermarket aisle as I was selecting among the apples. I slinked back to my car, slid down in the seat, reversed my shirt and went back inside to finish my food shop. Life went on.

So on the point of your own “Year in Review”, the only person who really cares how your year went is you. Your husband/spouse/partner/child/best friend – trust me – they really don’t want the details.

And you may not remember the details.

More and more as I get older, I find the details, not only mine, but those of others slipping away. Like when a good friend who lives on another coast calls to update you on a significant event in her life and you listen to her very closely, but you cannot for the life of you remember anything about her significant event.  Was it her brother-in-law who suddenly got very ill a few weeks ago  – or her sister-in-law? Once the conversation has begun, it’s too embarrassing to ask your friend for a refresher. So you listen harder and hope that you will pick up the thread as she continues to talk. Thankfully, she seems not to notice. She probably experiences the same problem.

My self-produced “Year in Review?” I was hoping you would ask. One way to measure it is by the number of times I had to visit a hospital in 2016. Three times total. 2x for sad reasons. 1x for a very happy reason (our second grandchild is now nearly ten months old.)

I think the ratio of 2 sad-purpose visits to 1 happy-purpose hospital visit reasons per year is probably about right for someone who is nearly – not quite but counting the months – inching up to Medicare.

More of my 2016 numbers:

  • One brave new venture (applied to, accepted by a grad school M.A. in Writing program. love going to class, doing the homework and learning to write fiction.)
  • Two grandchildren thriving.
  • Three vacations taken.
  • Four times we thought about selling our old house – and didn’t.
  • Five weddings of the adult children of friends.

You, too, can personalize and self-produce your own ” Year in Review.” But my advice is not to dwell too much on 2016.  Look ahead to 2017 – because 2017 promises to be a rather eventful year for everyone. Politically, if not personally.

What was that famous quote from the wonderful old movie “All About Eve” – ironically starring the aging Bette Davis as an aging actress dealing with the take-over efforts of her younger, competitive actress rival?

Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Bumpy 2017, here we come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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December 12, 2016 · 8:59 pm

New Beginnings and Better Endings

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You don’t have to be Jewish to love the tradition of dipping apple slices into honey.  This Sunday night we celebrated the start of the Jewish New Year – a/k/a Rosh Hashanah (rosh = head; ha = the, shanah = year. thus endeth my Hebrew lesson.)

The custom of dipping apples into honey is to express our hopes for a healthy, sweet and fruitful new year. Since I’m way too old to be the fruitful in the biblical sense, I will settle for a sweet and healthy new year instead.

Unfortunately, the new year in my family has gotten off to a rocky start. My friend Liz reassures me that if your year starts off poorly, it can only get better. I am relying on her prognostication abilities.

Let me also take retract what I just said about not expecting this to be a fruitful year. Not in the sense of producing human offspring (now that would be a miracle) – but in the sense of producing another kind of product. You see, this fall I returned to school. Not just “taking a class” but I made the leap to  formally enroll – with the photo student I.D. to prove it – in a university graduate school program to “pursue” (such a lofty word) a M.A. in Writing.

I am thrilled to be back in school.

If only there had been a high-paying career called “student” where I could have earned a salary to go to class, do homework diligently and study hard for exams, I would have done that instead of becoming a lawyer. Studying is something I find fun. Learning is even better. And wow, am I learning.

The class I am taking is called “Techniques of Fiction”. What, I can hear you say, there are techniques involved in the writing of fiction? Yes there are. Moving right along in the syllabus from character, setting/place, plot and structure to scene v.s summary, point of view, voice, dialogue and description – and I am loving every classroom minute of it.

The great irony is that while I am taking a course in the writing of fiction, my real life seems to be blurring a bit into the territory of fiction. Or what I wish was fiction (e.g. events that really did not happen to me.)

My fabulous (she really is) professor told us that it is acceptable to steal from your real life to write fiction.

That seems like cheating to me. Although right now it seems appealing to base a short story or novel on deeply upsetting real life events where you get to change the way the characters behave, modify the plot and write a totally different ending. That would be a form of therapy, I guess.

But I don’t view writing fiction as therapy. I am taking this Fiction course in order to learn a craft, to become very good at it and to produce work that other people will want to read because it is well-written, not because it is an endless, Nancy-filled, woe-is-me-story.

We all have our problems, don’t we?

If you had looked at me last Saturday night when my husband and I attended the wedding of the daughter of a close friend, when we were dancing to every song the d.j. played, raising our hands in the air to the music and pretending we knew the words, you would likely have never guessed we were going through such rocky stuff in our non-dancing lives. The photos taken will no doubt prove I had a big smile on my face.

And I bet others on the wedding dance floor who were also smiling were doing so despite whatever personal difficulties they are enduring.

So here’s to a sweet, fruitful and healthy new year for all – whatever you celebrate – and also to the reading and writing of fiction.

Now back to my homework.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Family, Female Friends, friendship, Holidays, Jewish, Mental Health, Midlife, Second Careers, Semi-Retired, Women, Writing

Put 16 Women in One Room for Four Days…

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When was the last time you got to do something you LOVE for an extended period of time?  Just for you. Totally indulgent. No outside responsibilities. No interference.  Single focus.

Luckily, I had that chance last week. I participated (with a great deal of advance trepidation) in my first-ever Writers Retreat. Held at a woodsy conference center next to a summer camp about two hours from DC, it featured:

  • 16 Women
  • 11 Hours of Writing Per Day
  • Four Days
  • Three Teachers
  • One Conference Room

Sound like fun yet?

Factor in:

  • No TV (missed my favorite detective shows)
  • No Laptops (required to write by hand in old-fashioned black and white composition notebooks)
  • No Good Food (with apologies to the conference center, but the fare was, trying to be polite here, mediocre at best.)
  • No Husband or Dog to sleep with at night (how would I manage without them?)

Not only did I survive, but I thrived. I filled an entire notebook with pages of hand-written memoir, fiction and poems.

O.K., no agents have popped up sending me urgent “must publish you now; please contact us immediately” text messages. But for the first time – ever, I think – I was in a situation where all I had to do was write –  and the hours sped by.

Totally a new thing for me to be doing what I love in a concentrated fashion minus the daily pull of Twitter (my admitted addiction), Breaking News (addiction #2) or the six-days-a-week excitement of waiting for the mail to arrive.

I returned from the retreat on Wednesday evening, aglow with my creative efforts, wanting to immediately share what I had written with my husband. He listened to one short poem, patted me on the shoulder and asked “What should we have for dinner?” Back to reality.

Part of that reality will be trying to replicate the setting of the retreat to motivate me to write more often and in a more disciplined fashion. Interruptions tend to find me. Why not empty the dishwasher, I might tell myself, instead of starting on a new writing project?

Another thing I will miss from the retreat is having collegial listeners. Listeners who actually hear what you are reading aloud (unlike my husband who – love him dearly – is a semi-attentive listener, at best.)

The collegiality of a writing group is something I did not expect when I signed up for my first, post-law-firm-life writing class in 2014.

Unlike college or grad school, where you write an essay or term paper and submit it to the teacher for review and grading, in a writing workshop you have to (well, I suppose you don’t “have to”) share what you’ve written with all of your classmates too. Prepare to be asked to read your work aloud to a roomful of listeners. Speak up, bare your soul, take the comments bravely. Everyone is supportive of you and you of them. There is zero competition. ( Wholly unlike law school, I have to say.)

A retreat amps up the writing class setting to a new level. An intimacy evolves when you sit around the same table for four days.  There you are pouring out your guts on paper and then you have to share your writing with people you have just met. You have no idea how they will receive your words. Or what they will think of you for having written them.

It isn’t a process for those prone to jealousy. Maybe the other women at the retreat didn’t feel the latter sentiment, but I did. Some of the women in that conference room are actual PUBLISHED writers. They write beautifully. They can create fully developed fictional characters out of thin air. How did they come up with that imagery in response to a prompt where we were given 20 minutes to write?

I nodded my head in admiration. I was not shy about giving praise to my “fellow” writers. They said some nice things about what I wrote and also offered constructive (thankfully) criticism.

I did not walk away (nor did I expect to) with 15 new best friends. Some of these women I will never see again. Some I may see (If I am invited; fingers crossed) to participate in next summer’s retreat. Perhaps a few of them I will see before then.

Going to this kind of retreat may not be your idea of a good time. I wasn’t sure it was mine before I went. I was describing it last night to my book club friends gathered in my living room and several of them stared at me as if I had taken a swift leap from reality.

Which I had. Which is the whole point of a retreat. Which is why you can’t replicate the setting at home. Won’t stop me from writing, though. Won’t keep me from having to empty the dishwasher either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comparatively Speaking: Making Jam or Climbing Mt. Everest?

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Last week I learned how to can.

Laugh, if you must, but my husband, JP, believes I am deficient in the skills of happy homemakers. If you were to go downstairs into the knotty-pine basement of his childhood home, you too would have marveled at the closet shelves where his mother stored her many jars of home-grown pickled peppers, vegetables and lots and lots of tomatoes.

JP’s mother not only worked full-time at a factory but she also did all of the cleaning, cooking and canning. And still does.

(You can read about my wonderful mother-in-law’s feats in the kitchen including making phyllo dough from scratch – yes, you read that right – here: )https://wittyworriedandwolf.wordpress.com/2014/10/02/the-nice-jewish-girl-and-the-macedonian-mother-in-law/

I have neither a knotty-pine basement nor did I, until recently, know how to preserve anything in cans or jars.

That is not to say I am not a good cook. I am, as was my mother, a good cook. I love reading about food, getting new cookbooks as a gifts and trying out new recipes.

But I am not a baker because that requires the careful following of directions which I do not do.

On a whim (and with JP’s strong encouragement), I signed up to take a morning class in canning taught by a lovely young woman in her home kitchen where I learned how to make up a batch of peach/rhubarb/ginger jam to put in clear glass jars.

I was one of four students chopping, peeling and stirring. Perhaps I was the youngest, me not quite Medicare-aged; the other women likely slightly beyond but hard to tell. And since it was a weekday morning and we all live in/near Washington DC, the inevitable question came up as we chatted around the center island of the sunny kitchen:

What do you do now that you are no longer employed?”

(when you are not learning to can, that is.)

Answers:

  • volunteer as a medical doctor in a clinic for indigent patients
  • write about foreign monetary policies
  • play tennis 3x a week
  • go birdwatching
  • hike Mt. Everest

Hike Mt. Everest?

That last one stopped me in my tracks

My own activities have significantly lower (no pun intended) expectations. Just before the morning canning class I was rather thrilled with myself that I managed to remember to:

(a) set my alarm the night before,

(b) take a shower and get dressed on time,

(c) arrive at the canning class only a little bit late.

My efforts to stay on daily task did not compare with a recent hike on Mt. Everest.

My classmate, the ardent hiker, told us about the many countries in which she regularly hikes. She was as warm and friendly as she could be. Yet obviously  far more active, energetic and outdoorsy than I have been or ever will be.

Our lack of knowledge about making jam was perhaps, the only thing we had in common.

Is it ridiculous to still find yourself in comparative mode? To wonder that you are not filling your days with enough productive activities? Not measuring up to the expectations of what post-career/second-stage/semi-retirement life has to offer?

I thought about this a bit after the class ended. It wasn’t jealousy I felt at her list of adventurous activities; it was awe.

My list of excuses for physical slothfulness is a long one. Look, I point, to the left-over from 2x open heart surgeries within 3 months. The weariness and some mild depression are the consequences I live with. And while there are many things I do – and some I even do well – I will not be climbing Mt. Everest soon. Or any other mountain. Ever.

And to those (few) who suggest I should set bigger goals for myself, create a ginormous “bucket” list of ambitious activities, I say “who are you to judge” or something more unprintable than that. To each her own.

But I can take great pleasure in meeting women who do accomplish amazing things in their semi-retirement. Like climbing Mt. Everest.

And also take great pleasure in making jam with them on a sunny weekday morning.

 

 

 

 

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