Aging Gracefully

A few years ago, when I turned fifty-nine, I created a vision board for myself. I had a passport (check), new SUV (check), pictures of a happy and growing hoard of grandchildren (check), an exercise routine (semi check) and a picture of a svelte woman – stylish white hair, perfect nails, perfect petite eyebrows, perfect tailored outfit and an overall look of confident and mature elegance. My husband asked who the woman was and I declared, “that is the future me”. He seemed skeptical but I had a plan to pull it all together.

My first step was to get my eyebrows under control. I went to a spa, explained to the cosmetologist that I wanted my eyebrows waxed and most importantly, that I am seriously allergic to tea tree oil. Four hours later, I came out of the emergency room with a bottle of antihistamines, a bottle of steroids, steroid cream and a couple of extra asthma inhalers for good measure. When the swelling went down and my eyebrows grew back, my daughter-in-law suggested I get my eyebrows threaded. That went well until my ‘threader’ finished my eyebrows and wiped my entire face with tea tree oil. Needless to say, the eyebrows are staying.

Next, I decided to focus on the svelte body. I exercised faithfully, invested in gym equipment and followed a great diet plan. I had two results. I lost ten of the forty pounds I needed to lose and I shrank down an inch and a half. I did, and still do, have the overall classic body structure of a Cabbage Patch kid.

With little graceful aging happening on the body end of things, I decided to work on my hair. It should be white, it would be white, had I not gotten into a serious relationship with Miss Clairol long ago. I warned my husband, who once again seemed skeptical, but said it was my hair. I warned my boss, who looked at me and asked what I planned to do with my eyebrows. Seriously? Anyway, I went home to Google ‘how to wash decades of dye out of ones hair’, as I was reluctant to go to a salon to be exposed to strong chemicals or, heaven forbid, tea tree oil. The short answer is, you do not wash decades of dye out of your hair. I tried a number of methods that weekend. I am pretty sure, my hair got darker. I finally broke down and went for a simple haircut, which somehow made me look less mature than when I started this make-over.

I still have the nails and wardrobe to work on. I am waiting for winter for the nails. Currently, I spend too much time digging in dirt with my bare hands to maintain a manicure. I could check out a new wardrobe anytime, but every time I go near a shopping centre I end up spending my money on the cutest clothes and footwear for my grandchildren. To be honest, at my age, do I really need to be trussed up in tailored, dry clean only, outfits? I rather enjoy my long sweatshirts, leggings and sneakers.

At the end of the day, I am not the woman in the picture on my vision board and I doubt if I ever will be. I am not svelte or elegant or perfectly coiffed. That has never been me, so why now? Retirement should be a time to be active and happy and comfortable with who one is. This is me and I am comfortable, so that is what I am going with.

Autumn in Saskatchewan

Autumn is bearing down on us in Saskatchewan. The days are shorter, the air is cooler and damper, the leaves are falling, and the trees and grass are fading to greige. For those not from the construction industry, ‘GREIGE’ is a color created by some sick bastard who thought grey and beige were not dull and depressing enough on their own. He, or she as the case may be, combined the two and greige became the official color of autumn in Saskatchewan.

Anyone not from Saskatchewan, could easily believe winter would be our toughest season of the year, That is not the case, at least not for me, and I have lived here for 64 years. Winter can be harsh, with our minus fifty days, but the majority of winter is spent indoors or in vehicles and we do have coats, hats, gloves and boots to protect us from the elements when we must venture out. Icy roads may be difficult to navigate, but to be honest, the ice pretty much brings traffic to a crawl, so driving is not as treacherous as one would expect. As for the mountains of snow, yes it is more than an inconvenience, as it tends to fall or drift where it is least welcome, but at least it is not greige. So, there is that. For those who are inclined to participate in winter sports, such as hockey, curling, tobogganing or cross country skiing , winter in Saskatchewan is probably a joy. I am not one who is so inclined, but I can deal with winter.

Winter has one absolute advantage over autumn. As we struggle to keep warm and mobile throughout a Saskatchewan winter, we know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We know spring is coming, with blue skies, green grass, and warm sunny days. In autumn, we know that the only thing at the end of the tunnel is a Saskatchewan winter.

This autumn holds a special place in my heart. This will be my last autumn before I retire. This is the last season, where it will truly matter to me if the days get shorter and the nights get longer, if the air gets cooler or if the province is covered in a shroud of greige as I travel back and forth to work with the masses. Next year, when autumn arrives, I will have the option of curling up with my dog and a hot cup of tea in my cozy little home, ready to ignore it to my heart’s content.

Home Renovations

Early retirement is a time to rework our priorities. For most people, managing with less money and more time becomes a preoccupation of sorts. There is time to do many things we enjoy, but we have less money to indulge in them. On the other hand, while we have less money, we have more time to invest in cost saving ventures.

There are many ways to save money, if you are so inclined: home cooking, gardening, vehicle maintenance, and the ever popular home renovations. Most people have at one time or another been swept away by the call of paint or wallpaper, possibly new flooring or even a major landscaping project. A stroll through Home Depot or an hour watching the Home and Garden channel makes it appear easy and satisfying. Who couldn’t create a new set of cabinets with the help of a table saw and a good router? My guess would be about ninety percent of the living population, including myself.

There are some truly questionable home renovation projects out there. Wallpapering without removing electrical plates? Painting without taping around windows, doors, ceiling fixtures, and the like? Replacing eavestrough, without adding a drain pipe? They are out there and exemplify the difference between a successfully completed project and a renovation fail.

Tools are a crucial part of any project, and there is always a right and several wrong ways to use them. Ladders are a basic for most projects, yet people tumble off of them on a regular basis. There is a three point contact rule for ladders, use it. Be sure the ladder is anchored correctly and move it as often as required. Likewise, do not grab a running drill by the bit, operate an electric saw without a safety guard or use a grinder without proper eye protection. The proper tools can help bring a successful and professional completion to any project but they must be used correctly and safely. Read the instructions and follow them – especially when using a tool that you are not familiar with.

I do not anticipate investing a lot of time, or saving a lot of money doing home renovations when I am retired. Over the years, I have learned that paint, wallpaper and caulking are not my friend. Tape is definitely not my friend. To be honest, I am not on particularly good terms with tools, either. However, for anyone so inclined, retirement can be a great to tackle those home improvement projects, to save you money and to give you that sense of accomplishment you may be missing since retiring.

Pets and Purpose

Developing a routine, in a totally unstructured situation, like retirement, can be difficult as well as necessary. If you are like me, you require a routine to keep your priorities in order. My annual holiday typically begins with a plan for completing at least one relatively major project around the house. Since I have two weeks off, this would seem doable. Except, since I have an entire two weeks to do as I please, I am more than willing to procrastinate on my project while I enjoy the freedom of following any and all distractions that come up. By the end of my holiday, I have been on a couple of short trips, enjoyed taco and pool parties with the grandchildren, read at least a couple of books, and spent hours wandering around Home Depot for no particular reason. Meanwhile, our cupboards are still disorganized or our guestroom still needs a fresh coat of paint. Which bring me to the importance of having pets.

My husband and I have always had pets in our home. I came with a dog named Scraps and Dan came with a cat named Hank. Shortly thereafter, Scraps had to be put down and we both agreed we did not really need or want another dog. We lived in a small house, wanted the freedom to travel and we both worked fulltime so getting another dog just wasn’t practical. Until, my husband worked a few of his regular night shifts. Older homes make disturbing sounds and cats really could care less. The Hell’s Angels could be coming in the back door and Hank would be curled up sleeping or silently prowling around, up to his own devices. So, we got Casey. For unknown reasons, Hank had a stroke the next day and had to be put down. We definitely did not need another cat! Until, my daughter brought over a tiny blind kitten desperately needing a home. So, we got Suzie. Suzie was a sweetheart but when she was about twelve years old, her health deteriorated and we had to put her down. Casey seemed rather lonely, but she was ok and I had just suffered a major health issue which was in part due to my allergy to cats. We decided we definitely were not getting another cat. Until my boss had to put down his Golden Retriever, Jody. There are not enough words to describe how thoroughly heartbroken he was. At this point, Dan and Casey were inseparable. Casey was an amazing dog – smart, empathetic and loyal. She was aging and seeing how my boss was hit by the loss of his Jody, I decided to get pro-active and convinced my husband we should get a back-up dog. So we got Kat. (Who is a dog – a Cavelier King Charles, to be precise). She did not lessen the pain of losing our beautiful Casey a couple of years ago, but she has definitely made a place for herself in our hearts and in our home.

With retirement approaching, we have discussed getting another dog. Our pets have been invaluable over the years – for love, companionship and security – and for holding us to somewhat of a routine, even during holidays. Pets do not care if you are willing to sleep late, they eat at six a.m. and will harass you until that happens for them. Supper is the same. You may be willing to wait – your dog is not – or at least, our dog is not. Dogs do not care if you want to curl up in front of a television after supper, they want to go for a walk. Pets have a routine and they will hold you to it, which is a good thing when you are in an unstructured situation.

Chances are we will be bringing another dog (or dogs) into our home. We may adopt an older dog, missing the adorable puppy stage and the extra responsibility that involves. We may even choose to foster, instead of committing to a long-term relationship with one dog, depending on how we are holding up. But, I definitely believe we will have a dog in our life for years to come – filling our home with love and helping to keep us on a schedule which includes a healthy dose of exercise and fresh air and enough responsibility to help us feel needed.

Elmo

I have been reading various books, searching for advice on how to make the most of my upcoming retirement. One gets into a routine, working five days a week – forty nine weeks of the year – for decades . Building a new routine that will keep my mind sharp, my body healthy and my emotions upbeat, in an unstructured environment, is going to take some effort.

A few days ago I started reading “The Alter Ego” by Todd Herman. The first few chapters were a bit difficult to get into. This book seemed a little clinical and academic to me and probably not what I was looking for, as motivation goes. I was also fairly dubious that Mr. Herman was going to get me to a place where I could believe I had this alter ego, super hero, in me. To be honest, I am not there yet – or to the point in the book where Mr. Herman explains how to find or create one’s own super hero.

I have however gotten to the chapter where Mr. Herman explains how to deal with negative inner dialogue. That is an issue I have struggled with for years. “I am not smart enough – strong enough – graceful enough” “what if I fail – what if, what if, what if “. I have read enough self help books to know this type of inner dialogue is not helpful. Knowing that and ridding myself of it, has been another story. But Mr. Herman offered a unique approach.

Mr. Herman identifies this negative inner dialogue as coming from ‘the enemy within’. He explains how giving this enemy a name, a personality and a physical appearance, gives you the power to vanquish it. This was an ‘aha’ moment for me. Out of the blue, I thought “Elmo, F…. off”. I’m not the type to be crude, so that was rather shocking and I have no idea why Elmo, but it worked. All of the ‘not enough’s and ‘what if’s’ vanished and I am hopeful that if, or when, they return I will have the power to silence them.

Obviously, I am going to finish this book and maybe I will even find my alter ego. Honestly I am happy just enjoying my newfound confidence and peace of mind with Elmo and his chatter gone.

If you are trying to get a handle on a situation in your life, I would recommend this book – “The Alter Ego” by Todd Herman. Actually, I would recommend Elmo, too. He’s always been a favourite with my children (when they were children) and their children.

In My Own Mind

As with anything else in life, retirement is pretty much what you make of it. Regardless of actual circumstances, there are people who enjoy it and make the most of it and those who are miserable.

People who have typically been happy and content throughout life, have little trouble adjusting to retirement. They take it upon themselves to find ways to keep active, which will in turn help to keep them healthy. They use their time on worthwhile and satisfying endeavors, they keep engaged and in touch with their family, friends and community. And finally, they take a sensible approach to their finances, ensuring that they live within their means.

On the other hand, if someone has been relatively miserable throughout their life, clinging to a victim or poverty mentality, blaming others for challenges in their life and making others responsible for their happiness and well-being, then retirement is not going to go well for them . They are on a collision course with declining health, a deteriorating mind, loneliness, boredom, depression and financial issues

If you have gotten into the habit of being pessimistic and miserable. it is never too late to change. These days, it seems that many seniors take pride in being miserable, like it is a badge of honor. It is not. It does nothing for you and nothing for those around you. It is not anyone’s responsibility but your own to make your life, at any stage, meaningful and pleasant. If you do not know how, start reading. There are numerous self-help books available. They may not be geared towards retirement and not every one may be as meaningful or as helpful as others, but if you keep reading and searching, you will find helpful advice. If you are not inclined to read, take a walk or do anything positive and pro-active. Start taking responsibility for your attitude and you will find that you ultimately have the power to improve your life.

If you are the partner of someone who tends to be miserable, you need to know that you cannot make someone else be happy if they choose not to be. You can destroy your own happiness and contentment trying and they will be no less miserable. You may believe you are making them happier by sacrificing your needs for their wants, because they are momentarily happy to have what they want, but that does not make them happy. That just encourages them to keep being miserable to get more of what they want. Couples spend a lot of time together in retirement. If your partner is the type to be miserable, you need to make it very clear that you are not responsible for their happiness so they can address their issues.

If you or your partner are typically happy and well adjusted, a sudden change in attitude could be brought on by medical issues and should be checked out by a professional, sooner than later. Even if a serious medical issue is found to be the problem, it is ultimately easier and less stressful to actually know what is causing the problem and deal with it, than to deal with the unknown. Once you regain control of your mindset, you will be back on track for the retirement you deserve.

Habits

We all have habits that we have developed over the years. Much of what we do is so routine that we do it with little thought or even much effort. This can work for us, or against us.

For those of us embarking on our retirement, it would be reasonable to take a look at our everyday habits and decide which ones to keep, which ones to lose and which ones to create.

We have developed some good habits over the years, many of which would still serve us. Most of us have a morning routine that we follow – get up, make our bed, freshen up – just the basics that help us to prepare for the day ahead and to motivate us to feel ‘ready’. It worked in our working life, it will work in our retirement. There are other habits, that were good, but were tied to our work routine. These we will no doubt have to change to fit our new lifestyle. If we have a physically demanding occupation, that may have covered much of our exercise requirements. Now we will have to create a new workout routine to ensure our health and fitness. If we have a more mentally challenging career, we may have to add more mental stimulation to our daily routine, to keep our minds sharp as our home life rituals may have been more focused on the physical.

We all have habits that have never, and will never, serve us. This is an excellent time to make note of these and rid ourselves of them. These could include indulging in take-out or processed food on a regular basis, watching too much television, smoking – anything that is likewise just unhealthy and a waste of time and/or money.

Finally, this is a great time to focus on building new habits that will serve us during this phase of our lives. These might include starting a new exercise program, reading, cooking, socializing – just creating routines that are mentally. physically and emotionally stimulating and satisfying. Retirement can be some of the best years of our lives, but as always, it is up to us to make that happen.

It can be difficult making or breaking habits. I recently read “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. This book was a complete game changer for me. It is an easy read full of helpful tips and advice that make sense. Personally, I believe anyone preparing to retire should read it. It was certainly worth my time and money.

All About Me

Before I decide how best I can live my retirement, I think it is a good time to review who I am and what I really want to do with my life going forward.

It would be easy enough to review my history, list my relationships and explain what I have done career wise but that doesn’t really speak to who I am or where I go from here. I feel I need to dig deeper than that.

So who am I? I am someone who is STRONG – not physically or mentally or even emotionally. I am strong on a deeper level. I have been through hell, have found the strength to do what I had to do, and I have started over stronger, wiser and better for the experience. I am someone who is INTELLIGENT -in a common sense kind of way. I have always been able to contribute by seeing what needs to be done, by finding a way to do it and by acting accordingly. I am definitely intelligent enough to learn from others and to learn from my own mistakes. I am KIND, not in a patronizing or enabling way but kind enough to offer a hand up, or compassion or support as the case may be. For the most part, I have been the caregiver as opposed to the one in need of care and I am definitely more comfortable being in the role of caregiver.

So generally speaking, I believe I am strong enough and have enough interests to anticipate an enjoyable retirement, however I will need to find ways to keep giving. That is the way I was raised – to believe that we were here to contribute more than we took away from any situation. That will, no doubt, always be a part of me.

Getting Started

With retirement mere months away, it is time to start preparing for this new phase in my life. My original plan was to start by reading a few books by the experts . It turns out that most of the experts writing books on this subject are focused on the financial aspect of retirement. No doubt this is important, but it is not my biggest priority. If I start stressing and obsessing over finances, we will never have the means to feel secure. We are not wealthy but we will keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. We are in a position to manage financially .

What I want to focus on right now is building a new lifestyle, finding who I am at this point in my life, who I want to be and how I want to live this new chapter of my life. I cringe at the thought of spending the next thirty years or so in front of a television set, watching pretend people living pretend lives while my own slips away. Life is precious, life is priceless and I want to live every day of mine to the fullest – especially now that the time is mine to live as I choose.

I want to focus on how to make the most of my life. I want to work on getting into the best shape I can physically and find ways of maintaining my physical wellbeing. I want to focus on keeping my mind strong and stimulated. I want to focus on ways to keep emotionally healthy. I want to focus on finding ways to serve others, to give as long as I am able.

I am anxious to begin this new phase of my life. I know I have much to learn and much to do in order to be as ready as I hope to be. I guess that is how I start.

My Very First Blog

Here I am, starting my journey to retirement.

Over the years I have thought of retirement as that final chapter in life – the end of responsibility, the end of driving to work on icy streets in the pitch dark in the midst of a Saskatchewan winter, the end of the day to day stress of answering to employers, customers and suppliers and the end of deadlines. Retirement also brought promises of beginnings – the beginning of endless cups of tea, reading, needlework, home cooking, deep corner cleaning and of course spending more time with my husband.

As I get closer to retirement, eleven months away now, I am seeing retirement in a different light. I am noticing the things at work that I will miss, but more than that, I am looking forward with anticipation to this next chapter of my life – the opportunities it will present, the challenges that will arise and hopefully the personal growth that will occur.

I have always believed that our lives here are an opportunity to evolve, personally and as humanity in general. The most exciting aspect of preparing for retirement is focusing on all the ways that I can make the most of my retirement to facilitate my mission to evolve, to grow, and to hopefully, in some small way, leave this world a little better than I found it.

Thank you for reading – I hope you will follow my journey to and through retirement and offer feedback of your own journey.