Category Archives: Holidays

“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

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

Valentine’s Day – not only for the L-O-N-G Married

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On this Valentine’s Day my husband wants me to share with you the fact that he is disappointed.

By certain long-standing habits of mine that I refuse to modify.

  • One recent morning he came downstairs for breakfast and reached into the refrigerator for blueberries to eat atop his cereal. (as do I.)  What he found were two plastic containers of blueberries, side-by-side. One contained six or seven forlorn, slightly shriveled old blueberries. The other box was brand new – full of fresh, plump berries.

It was also clear, so he told me that evening  (he has an amateur sleuth badge from our mutual habit of watching far too many BBC detective shows) that a person he knows all too well had obviously opened up the new box of berries without taking the time to finish what was left of the old berries. Which is – according to him – a sad commentary on the differences that remain  between us even after almost 39 years of marriage.

That I would brashly dig into the sweetest of berries, because I knew I could leave it to him to polish off the older sad-looking berries.

And wouldn’t you do the same?

Given all of life’s difficulties (have you been watching the national news lately?), isn’t it reasonable, when presented with the choice, to go with the most tempting option?

I mean, I’m thrifty when I have to be – but when I don’t have to be, I do like to eat the freshest food first.

  • On a related note, he also likes to point out to anyone who will listen that I possess all of the necessary qualifications for immediate hire by whatever  division it is of the U.S.Department of Agriculture in charge of putting sell-by dates on food. Because he believes (wrongly) that a person can    confidently and safely consume food that is well past said sell-by date.

He quibbles with my predilection to toss out food that shows even the most recent of expired dates. We have – and I’m not proud of this – argued at length about what “sell by” means versus “use by.”

But don’t you also want to stay healthy?

I try to reason with him by explaining that if I were to eat very old food I could end up in the hospital – again.  (a place I do not want to re-visit having spent far too long there in 2012). If I were to become ill because of eating spoiled food, my husband would have to visit me in the hospital and that would cost him both time ( I can’t miss that much work!) and money (do you believe how expensive this hospital parking garage is?)

So I am only trying to be helpful by eating the freshest of food.

Unlike my husband who truly does love old food. And I don’t say this snidely. In all seriousness, he prefers to eat leftovers. Previously cooked food that resides inside little plastic containers inside our refrigerator for days, even for weeks, tastes good to him.

And if the most ancient of leftovers have a slightly blue tinge, all the better. (“it’s fine, it’s just like blue cheese. you like Roquefort cheese, don’t you?” he will say in his defense as he chomps down.)

Am I spoiled because I like to eat fresh food, prefer not to eat leftovers – and have a somewhat tightly wound approach to tossing out foods immediately after their use-by date? Perhaps so.

If he were a writer – he would want to edit this post – to tell you that his preference for older (a polite way of putting it) food comes to him by how he was raised. He is the child of immigrants who came to this country in the early 1950’s and worked extraordinarily hard in their factory jobs to raise a family who knew how important it was not to let any food go to waste.

I am a few generations removed from the immigrant experience and maybe that is why I am less thrifty about food than I should be. While my stay-at-home mom was hardly extravagant with her supermarket food purchases,  leftovers do not feature as large a role in my childhood memories as they do in my husband’s.

On this Valentine’s Day we consider ourselves lucky that we can share a laugh about a few old berries. Because last year was a very rocky one for us as parents. Life events tested our differing perspectives on far more serious concerns than the shelf stability of food.

It’s very important to laugh about left-overs. I highly recommend it to everyone, parents or not, l-o-n-g marrieds or not. Finding the funny in blue-tinged food can get you through the toughest of times.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Adult Kids, Aging, Family, Holidays, Husbands, Marriage, Men vs Women, Parenting, Relationships, Women

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

On Being a Mom Without a Mom on Mother’s Day

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“Yes, Mom, what do you want?” I said quietly into the phone. “My boss is sitting right here, I can’t talk now.”

My Mom had been calling me every day at the office for six months. She had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the spring of my 3rd year of law school.

As a newly-minted lawyer at a government agency in downtown DC, my first job, with a boss and my own office (albeit very small and without a window), I was learning to deal with her daily calls.

No, I can’t tell you that,” I told her.

She persisted.

Please, just tell me what your bra size is,” she asked again.

Mom, c’mon, I’m at work, I’m in my office,” I pleaded. “My boss, he’s a man, he is in my office, too.”

She pleaded right back.

I’m at the yarn store in Westport. I’m knitting you a sweater. Just give me the number.”

I gave up.

36B,” I whispered into the phone, as my boss rolled his eyes upward, squelching a laugh.

Exactly one year later my Mom died of cancer. (well, actually she died because of malpractice related to her cancer but that is a tale for another time.) She was 54 years old, I was 28.

I still have the beautiful red, V-neck cotton sweater with the just-below-the-elbow length sleeves she made me, although it no longer fits. It was as stylish then as it is now. She was a woman of both good taste and great kindness.

Some women complain that their elderly moms call them too often.

Every night, can you believe it, she calls me every single night, and then she worries if I am not home by 9 p.m. She tells me to eat my vegetables, have I gotten an eye check up lately, she bugs me about the kids or my job or my husband. When are we going to visit her? Who’s going to drive her to her doctor appointments? Or run to the store to get her a new light bulb or better reading glasses. I’m tired of hearing her complaints about who did or who didn’t sit with her at dinner. Honestly, my mom is driving me crazy. Doesn’t she know what a busy life I have?

I bet she does know you have a life. Hers is shrinking in scope, yours isn’t and she wants to be a part of it.

My Mom called me at the office for over a year when she was ill. Then one day she stopped calling. Three weeks later, on a sunny spring afternoon in May as my Dad and I sat by her bed, holding her hand, in the ICU of a cancer hospital in New York City, hearing the beeps from the machines that had kept her alive ebb away, she died. It was mid-afternoon, on the Tuesday after Mother’s Day. Thoughtful as ever, she chose, I felt, to wait and not ruin the holiday for us.

I would give anything for one more phone call, nagging, annoying, insistent, critical, I’d take it.

And you know what, Mom, I’d say? You have two wonderful granddaughters and two terrific grandsons that you never got to meet. And in 2013 you became a great-grandparent, too.

What else would I tell her? Oh yes, my bra size has changed in the past 34 years. I don’t like the color red as much as I once did. But the sweater remains in my closet and it always will.

Miss you forever, Mom! Happy Mother’s Day.

 

 

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Filed under 1st Grandchild, 1st Job, Adult Kids, Aging, Aging Parents, Baby Boomers, daughters, Family, Female Friends, Holidays, Lawyers, Moms, Women, Working Women

“No Woman Is An Island” (Even When She Wants To Be)

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Twice last week I was reminded of the famous John Donne poem.

First, when I listened to President Obama use the phrase “No man is an island” while speaking before a U.K. audience alongside Prime Minister Cameron –  (and no matter what you or I may think about the foreign policy implications of “Brexit,” that word itself is fun to say.)

But I digress.

Second, when we read a stanza of the Donne poem in the Haggadah during our Passover Seder on Friday night. Friends put together a contemporary “Haggadah”  (the name for the Seder service telling the story of the liberation of the ancient Israelites from slavery in Egypt.)  Modern versions of a Haggadah, like the one we read from last Friday, often include non-religious readings on the subjects of freedom and humanity.

Thus, we come to the British poet John Donne who in 1624 wrote, in part:

“No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent” – an ode to the connectedness of mankind (and womankind too.)

Yet sometimes connectedness can be over-rated  – as proved by my recent dreams about fleeing to a remote island where WiFi is unavailable .

Which is an odd thing, perhaps, to say for someone who is likely perceived by friends and family to be an “extrovert”, but lately I’ve had severe pangs of over-connection leading to fervent wishes to relocate to an island where no one can reach me.

(with the possible exceptions of weekly visits by my toddler and baby grandsons and the occasional conjugal visit from my husband.)

Or as Greta Garbo was to have said, “I want to be left alone.”

I think we all sometimes get to this stage – when we have given SO MUCH of ourselves to SO MANY PEOPLE that there is very little left and we just want to retreat and not hear, talk or write to anyone for a few days. Or maybe longer.

In my case it has been a confluence of the extraordinary neediness of a certain family member which has overwhelmed me, combined with having to deal with the many trivial “issues” that come up when trying to get a house ready to be sold. Too many demands, too long of a “to do” list and I long to cover my ears, hide my iPhone and escape.

Hence, the “island” metaphor. How good that looks to me at this moment.  Solo and selfish seems like a wonderful place to be.

And though we may want to run off with a small suitcase (for me, it would be very large, because I never have packed light and don’t intend to start soon) to a tropical island (or by a lake or near a mountain, you pick the scenery ) retreat where no one can:

  • irritate us with their ceaseless questions,
  • checks to be written,
  • deadlines to meet
  • calls to make
  • and responses to our emails that show us that they never bothered to read our initial email – for if they had read our first email with more care, they would not have responded with yet another dumb question…

(plea here: we have become a nation of skimmers. a bad thing! I urge you to read emails all the way through. with care. that will enhance our inter-personal communications. trust me on this.)

…we cannot really flee, because, yes, as Donne said, we are all inter-connected, on the same continent of life, and our personal relationships – even when they are mighty demanding – are what – in the end – hold us together and make us human.

So much for the island idea. I must comfort myself with the knowledge that we all go through these episodes of being overwhelmed by life’s demands.

Retreat isn’t the answer even if those tropical drinks with the little perky parasols (but who would be on the island to prepare and serve them to me?) do seem awfully appealing just about now.

 

 

 

 

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