Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Day without an Agenda

Yesterday I had nothing at all scheduled.  An appointment was deemed unnecessary and cancelled.  I wondered how the day would go when I really had no reason to go anywhere and nothing planned.  There have been a few other days like this since I retired but most of them were necessitated by the extreme weather we have had.

I almost feel guilty writing this because my sister spent her day taking care of grandchildren, my friend spent hours waiting to hear from a doctor and then going to the ER, my husband listened to two job talks, and I had an open day.

Joan Chittister in The Gift of Years speaks to this in the chapter I happened to read last night called "Mystery."  

So much in life is aimed at either youth or middle age.  Almost nothing points us to the days when time alone will be our guide, our companion, our goal.  We have few or no promises about the glories of being less busy, less harried, less consumed by everything....We have learned so well to live the rules of life.  We are not so sure how to live its freedoms...Routine can finally give way to mystery, to possibility, to the grazing time of life...Mystery is what happens when we allow life to evolve rather than having to make it happen all the time...There is something holy-making about simply presuming that what happens to us in any given day is sent to us to awaken our souls to something new...a whole new awareness of the immanence of God in time. Something will surely happen.  What will it be?

When I was a young mother, I was desperate for solitude--some time alone to read or write in a journal or play the piano.  I used to think that the curse of my old age would be solitude as a result!  That may still be true but at this point I have good health, many options and companionship.

But yesterday was a blessing.  What did I do?  I read a chapter of Jim's commentary in progress.  I played and sang several psalms--my goal for Lent.  I purged a basement closet of old paint cans.  I picked up fallen branches in the yard.  I walked outside and used the exercise bike in the basement.   I read half of a murder mystery. I planned our itinerary for a trip in April--and caught a crucial error in the travel agent's bookings.  I emailed an old friend and commented on my daughter's blog.  I cooked a good supper and did a crossword puzzle.

  Our former pastor used to talk about the idolotry of "busyness."  People would respond to a "How are you?" with a "So busy."   I'm not busy any more and I am very happy and contented to slow down.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Taking Risks

We met with a financial advisor last week who told us to keep doing what we are doing--which means taking no risks at this point in our lives.  As we really have taken few risks anyway with our retirement funds, that seemed just fine to us.  Our finances have not been a priority  but we have done well anyway thanks to years of contributions automatically withdrawn out of paychecks--Jim's mostly, but some for me as well.  Words like annuities, IRAs, life insurance, bonds, stocks, etc. make me want to shut down.  We're trying to do better.  It's not too late to learn!

However, this conversation brought back memories of earlier times in our lives when we were definitely risk takers as far as our finances went--and maybe just in life in general.

In 1970 we spent a summer travelling in Europe with friends, sharing gas expenses and living in pup tents.   We had money for seven weeks which somehow had to last for 13 weeks due to our inability to enter Jordan for an organized dig.  We came home with $17 in our pockets.  We couldn't seem to wire our families for more money--we tried.  In fact, most of the time they didn't know where we were.  I can't believe our doing this to them, particularly because my mother had passed away in 1969 so we were aware that there could be crises in which we would need to be found.  I can't imagine our own children doing this to us What a difference cell phones, social media, and ATMs make.

Then, in 1971 Jim won a Fulbright scholarship to study in St. Andrews, Scotland for one year.   We thought that as long as I couldn't work abroad anyway, we would love to have a child.  We didn't think past that year and all the years that Jim would have of further graduate work when I would need to work.   Jeff was born in February of 1972 and how glad we have always been that we took that risk!  As it turned out, I did work in Scotland as an "assistant music mistress" teaching piano at a boarding school for young ladies and we saved some money for the next year.

The following year I worked part-time as a secretary at Harvard while Jim began his studies there.  I made $45 a week and our rent was $210 a month.  Our landlords liked us and they loved Jeff, so they lowered the rent and fed us at least once a week.  We used a street clinic for health needs and applied for USDA surplus foods and WIC coupons.   My dad sent along an occasional check.  Jim did some pulpit supply work, preaching in the New England area.

I really hated being a secretary and when there was little work to do in June, I took a leave of absence.  In the fall, I began training for a teaching position and quit the secretarial position without a definite commitment of being hired as a teacher.  I was sure they would want me and they did!   How could we have taken that risk?  However, that position as a tutor of the "perceptually handicapped"  was life-changing, as I learned a method for teaching dyslexic children and adults that is validated today by many and that I used to teach reading and writing for years.  

Somehow we survived those risks.  If our own children lived on the edge like that, I would be really concerned.  I am thankful they don't and that we can have such a comfortable life now in spite of our risky behaviors and our lack of financial planning.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Favorite Prayer

  I  pray often (not unceasingly!) but my prayers tend to be very simple.  I think of Anne Lamott's two prayers:  "Help me" and "Thank you."  I think she added "Wow" later.

 I admire those who are willing to do the congregational prayer at our church and do it so well like my husband and my friend Maggie.  That is not my "spiritual gift."

Prayers that others have composed are meaningful to me.  I have several prayer books from places as far away as used bookstores in Hay-on-Wye in England or as close by as South Haven, Michigan.

 I don't know where I got Prayers New and Old (published by Forward Movement Press) but I have read and reread the following prayer from that little book:

Our High Calling

Our Father,
who hast set a restlessness in our hearts,
and made us all seekers after that which we can never fully find;
forbid us to be satisfied with what we make of life.
Draw us from base content, 
and set our eyes on far-off goals.
Keep us at tasks too hard for us,
that we may be driven to thee for strength.
Deliver us from fretfulness and self pity;
make us sure of the goals we cannot see,
and of the hidden good in the world.
Open our eyes to simple beauty all around us,
and our hearts to the loveliness others hide from us because we do not try  enough to understand them.
Save us from ourselves,
and show us a vision of a world made new.
May thy Spirit of peace and illumination so enlighten our minds
 that all life shall glow with new meaning and new purpose;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

There were times when I was working that I clung to the words "Keep us at tasks too hard for us."  There have been other times that I prayed "Save us from ourselves" when I was tired of my fretting, worrying, obsessing self.  And last night I thought how much the last lines related to this new chapter of my life--"that all life shall glow with new meaning and new purpose."

I don't know who wrote "Our High Calling" but I have been grateful for the words that have become my words in prayer over the years.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Retirement is making me lazy.  I told my husband yesterday that I didn't like making commitments.   I like  to get up in the morning and then see what evolves for the day.

I remember years ago our older son interviewed an assistant pastor at our 4000 member Presbyterian Church in North Carolina.  He asked him what was the most difficult part of his job.  His answer?  Counting on volunteers who don't always make a commitment and show up.

When I was working, I didn't have much choice as to whether I went to work or not--whether I slept the night before or didn't, whether the roads were icy or not, whether I had a good attitude or not.   Commitment was not a choice.

This morning I had a commitment to be a reader at Tarkington School.  This was my fifth Tuesday of reading with M, a first grader.  Last week she expressed concern about getting to Level I before the end of the year or else she'd have to be in first grade again.  I had some concern also because she seemed to be stuck at Level D or E with books that were far too easy for her.    Apparently M lives with her mother five days a week and her dad two days and somehow the signing off of homework gets forgotten.  I was ready to be her advocate and ask for harder books if needed.  But her teacher gave us a more difficult reader this morning and it was challenge enough.

As we were reading, I mentioned that I had read one of the stories with A the previous week.  A was an extra assignment because my other student, a third grader,  was taking I Step tests.  M was quite put out.  "You're not A's reader, " she said. "You're MY reader."    Later she said, "I love to read" and then added, "with you."

Commitment?  I think I better keep that commitment.  It means a lot to a little girl and this morning it meant a lot to me as well.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Reactions to Retirement

I have had two rather different reactions to my blogging about retirement--or maybe just the idea of retirement in general.

Several younger readers have said that they envy me and can't wait to retire.  I wonder if that means they would like to skip the next ten years of their lives.  I doubt it!  I guess I could have retired ten years ago, but at that point the thought didn't even occur to me.

Other readers who are about my age have said they are not ready to retire.  At least two of them are single women living by themselves.  They have said that they still need the structure in their lives of getting to work and having colleagues.  I can understand that sentiment entirely.

A few others have told me that they are in similar circumstances and can relate to my musings.

Writing this blog has been a good activity for me.  I like to process my thoughts and I like having readers.  Yes, I do check the stats!

  Now if I could just figure out why some who try to comment see their comments disappear.  I posted on a Google Forum today and was given some suggestions.  Disabling the Captcha requirement did not help those who try to comment as Anonymous.  (My cooperative and patient husband tried!)  I am reluctant to disable cookies--even if I understood how to do so!  At this point, only those who have a Google account or possibly a URL can post comments.  Any suggestions on how we can enable comments?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Mortality and Ash Wednesday

From the liturgy for Ash Wednesday at the South Bend Christian Reformed Church, March 5, 2014:

Mark: We begin our journey to Easter with the sign of ashes. 
This ancient sign speaks of the frailty and uncertainty of human life, 
calls us to heartfelt repentance, 
and urges us to place our hope in God alone. 

Paula: Almighty God, 
you have created us out of the dust of the earth. 
May these ashes remind us of our mortality and penitence 
and teach us again that only by your gracious gift 
are we given everlasting life 
through Jesus Christ, our Savior. 

I'm not comfortable with Ash Wednesday.  I don't like having that black smudge on my forehead.  I don't like looking at others with that smudge on their foreheads.  I go forward anyway--maybe as an act of humility and unity with others or maybe just peer pressure. 

I don't need many reminders of mortality.  At this point, I look at the ages in the obituaries and think--good, today most of them are in their 90s.  That gives me many more years of life.  Or I see that there are many in their 70s and think about having only a few years left.  

My mother-in-law is 94 and my step-mother is 98.  Both have dementia.  Dealing with my mother-in-law is a very strange experience. The snow banks are high around us on a Monday evening and she thinks it is a summer weekend.   My step-mother sends us a daily email that is mostly unreadable and refers to her daughter needing to get to the post office to mail it.  I don't want to live like that.

But I have no choice in the matter except to try to exercise and eat healthy and hope for the best.  I will meditate on the words Mark said last night "this ancient sign....urges us to place our trust in God alone."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Forever Learning: Ballet? Zumba?

I went to my first Zumba class this morning at Forever Learning, an organization for us older folks in Michiana where one can learn anything from Beginning German to Chinese cooking to The Papacy in the 14th Century.  Last fall I tried Ballet.  I've never had a dance class and thought it was time to give it a try.

Ballet was a challenge--a mental challenge more than a physical challenge really.   The instructor was wonderful--patient and encouraging--a model teacher with a diverse group of students.  I was still teaching then and the class reminded me of my own adult education students--all at different levels and with different abilities.

I decided that this semester I wanted to try something more upbeat that would give me a good workout.  Zumba!  I thought that at a place like Forever Learning it couldn't be too challenging physically.

How do I feel now?  Stiff.  Tired.  And challenged again.  At one point, the instructor said that we had time for one or two more songs.  Someone in the front row shouted out "Two more."  I quietly said  "One?"

I will discipline myself to go back next week.  I probably won't want to, but I know it is good for my body and my psyche as well.

No, this is not a photo of our class.  Try to imagine 30 women of a certain age dancing to Latin music.  It's another picture entirely!

My daughter often ends her blog with a question thus encouraging comments.  What do you do for exercise?  Any other suggestions for my aging body?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Retirement in Florida?

February 27, 2014

I am sitting by the pool at the lovely home of Jim's brother Dave and his wife Gwen in a gated community in Bonita Springs, Florida.  I can see a lemon tree, palm trees, orchids, Spanish moss, and much other vegetation that I cannot name.  It is 7:30 am and I am comfortable in my pjs outside!  Is this heavenly?

   It is a temporary glimpse of a very pleasant way of life, a very luxurious way of life.  Jim and Dave golfed nine holes yesterday and we ate at the country club's sports bar which was packed with people.  I looked around and asked Gwen if all these rather young-looking folks were retired.   She said they were older than they might look.  I did think later that I may have been the only white-haired woman I saw.  Gwen said that plenty of money and time is spent on "maintenance."

Life centers around the club with many opportunities there for exercise, bridge, choir, Bible study, and golf, of course.  Gwen and Dave knew so many people and greeted them warmly.  The whole area is absolutely beautiful with paths for walking and biking, and waterways for kayaking.  I marveled at the variety of palm trees and brightly colored flowers.

I shall enjoy the day.  After a good night of sleep, it is a gift to me.  And then I shall happily go home tomorrow, scrape off the snow on the car in the airport parking lot, turn up the heat in the house and go back to our comfortable routine with much gratitude for a break in it.  It is a good thing I feel this way because our retirement funds would disappear quickly if we lived in the Bonita Bay Community.