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Archive for July, 2012

Surviving a Grumpiness Epidemic

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

How do you stay happy when things are going wrong for everyone else?

I am facing the grumpies on several fronts right now. I’d love to be the vaccine for helping these loved ones get past the bad things that have happened, but instead, I seem to be getting sucked deeper and deeper into Grumpyville.

Unless you’re Oscar the Grouch, grumpy is not a preferred state. Most of the time, you don’t even realize how negative you’ve become. Right now,my sweetie, who has been pretty upbeat about dealing with all the ups and downs of cancer treatment has bronchitis. He’s over the chemotherapy drill and on the mend in terms of “The Big Thing.” So it surprises me that he is being this impatient with a cough and some chest congestion. He does not sound good, I assure you. But it’s a temporary dilemma.

But he’s angry because he was finally starting to feel better after a long, long time of butt dragging. He’s impatient that what was starting to happen has yet again been delayed. It’s understandable, but that doesn’t mean the moans and the sighs and the complaints don’t affect me.

I forget that sometimes. That I’m not invinceable to other people’s woes. I feel bad for him, sure. But it’s getting to me. I’m starting with the sighing, too. What’s with that?

On top of that, my three-year-old granddaughter is in a grumpy phase. She is not a happy girl right now. Lots of things have changed for her recently. She has a little sister when before she was a one-girl show. Her mommy just went back to work after maternity leave. And Daddy, who used to be there whenever she needed him, is now already at work when she wakes up in the morning.

Her solution to all these changes? Scowl, fiercely and often. I never thought I would be afraid of a three-year-old but she has a formidable countenance when she’s not happy.

And then there are “the usual” frustrations.   Some local ne’er do wells rammed into the gate to the subdivision again over the weekend.  (I know, if there weren’t a gate it would not be a problem but….)  People are upset over what Mitt Romney said in Europe and what Barack Obama said at home.  Lots and lots of people are either angry or sullen.

How do I not end up being the same just by association?

I guess the first step is to realize that’s what I’m being exposed to.  But there’s more that I can do for myself, isn’t there?

Hmmm.  I guess the big thing is to tell myself often and firmly, “That’s not where I want to go.”  But what else?

  • Stay away from the grumpy people on the periphery. You don’t need a ten minute conversation with someone in line at the grocery store who’s not happy about life.
  • Don’t bother with the news until the grumpy time is past with those closer to you.
  • Laugh at it when you can.  I need to do this with the three-year old particularly.  She’ll get past it and it will be easier on both of us if I don’t buy in at all.
  • Remember “This to shall pass.”  Because it will.

We all hit a rough patch now and then.  But it is important not to let “grumpy” become your M.O.


Revising Your Rhythm

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

Rhythms come and go. This is a surprise to me. I thought once your had yours figured out, you were good for life.  During my career years I knew exactly when I did my best work–7 AM to about noon and 4 PM to 7 or so in the evening. If I needed to really hit it hard, those were the times of the day I could count on.

Now? Not so much. One more thing has become unpredictable as part of retirement.

Okay, so what do I do with this revelation? (Or more to the point, what can you do with it?)

Well, it’s kind of like knowing where the speed bumps are. It helps to be aware that what you thought would be smooth sailing is going to take a bit more effort to navigate.

This is not the end of the world. I can get work done without being “at my peak.” But it means I need to be more disciplined than I used to. Then, when those times of day rolled around, I was like a trained gerbil, running on the wheel without any kind of prodding. Now? Well, it might be more fun to read the paper. Or go for a walk. Or have a glass of wine on the patio.

Ah…so is it that” leisure thing” that’s making this more of a process for me? Nah. It’s true that we have more time to “relax” when we’ve retired. But the “peak times” are still there.  I think mine may have migrated to around 8:00 in the evening.  I’ll bet there’s one sometime earlier in the day, too, but I just haven’t nailed it down yet.

Robert Fulgum, the guy who wrote All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, noted in one of his subsequent books that he gets up later in the winter than the summer. For him, the advice about going to bed and getting up at the same time every day doesn’t seem to apply.  His approach makes sense.

Where I live, summer mornings are cool and full of promise. Being up then is energizing. You just feel good starting the day when it’s at that point.  Winter mornings are a different story.  Around here, it’s hard to tell that it’s really morning because it stays dark for so long. (I live in the Pacific Northwest so this is more pronounced than if you are in…say…Pascagoula, Mississippi. The plus to this winter dark is that it’s light around here in late June until well after 10 PM.)  When we were working, the job decided when we got up.  Once you don’t have that limitation, what’s going to work best for you?

Regardless of whether you’ve sworn off paid work for good or still dabble in it occasionally, there are times when you need to get something that takes careful thought and focused effort done.  (Income taxes for example.  Or planning your kid’s surprise 50th birthday party.)  I’ts good to know when you are going to be at your best.

Even better, figuring out your new rhythms is one more reason to pay attention to what’s going on within yourself.  Knowing how you work best now or when you prefer to start your day is just as important as knowing your granddaughter’s favorite flavor of ice cream or your spouse’s preference in socks.

Having a handle on your current rhythms makes your life flow more easily.  A friend routinely tells me  that her laundry “just happens.”  That never made sense to me when we were both working, but now I get it.   She’s in a rhythm about getting it done and it really does “just happen”.  So does mine. (But it’s also true that neither of us has to worry about anyone else’s laundry in terms of when it gets done.)

When you retire, you lose track of things like rhythm if you don’t make a conscious effort to hold on to them.  It’s easy to drift hour to hour and day to day.  Knowing that you have peak time is a bit like knowing that you can still draft a contract or design a bridge.  It keeps you on top of your game.

Are your peak times still the same?  Have you even tried to use them lately?  They’re valuable tools.  Don’t let them get lost…stolen…or fall into disrepair.


I Miss My Stairs

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

You can become a blimp by accident. A recent move of mine confirms this.  The house I owned for the last eight years was two-stories and on a quarter acre.  Where I live now is single-story with very little yard. And lawn service for that!  If I don’t turn this around soon, I will be shopping for clothes at the tent store.

It was the right decision, and it’s a nice place.  But I miss my stairs.  My workroom was up, my kitchen down.  Bedroom up, TV and entertaining spaces down.  All day every day for 16 hours or more, those stairs were part of my life.  Between that and yard work (or on rare occasion shoveling the driveway), I got a good workout without ever needing to call it “exercise.” Now?  The most exercise I get without naming it as such is watering the potted plants on the front porch every other day.

Usually, I’m pretty good at anticipating things that are going to be difficult when I make a change.  I totally missed this one.  I’m accustomed to having my exercise hidden in my lifestyle.  Sure I can go to the gym and get on a stair-stepper, but that’s not who I am.  I’d much rather run up to check my calendar or down to take meat out of the freezer for dinner.  I’d rather lift bags of steer manure in the garden than free weights at some workout place.

Much as the move is right as part of a long term strategy, I’m not relishing the need to consciously create “exercise” for myself every day.  Now that I’m really looking at the situation though, I can see there’s more to this than “oh poor me.”

We’ve seen stories about older people who died after they were placed in senior housing after living in more physically demanding homes their whole lives.  Most of the stories I’ve heard assumed they died of homesickness.  Perhaps there’s more to it than that.

My new place was built as part of a 55+ community.  (Go ahead.  Point your fingers and laugh.  I said I would never do this.)  Everything is on one floor and “easily accessible.”  Outside of some extra shelving we added that I need to use a step ladder to access, I don’t even have to bend or reach very much.  That’s all by design—the perfect home for an “aging boomer.”

Are we right in assuming that as we age we should plan to do less physically?  Are we really doing ourselves the favor that builders and real estate agents claim we are with the “all on one floor” concept?  Is lawn service really a plus when we have the time and could still be doing that physical activity ourselves? Does it make any sense at all to give up stuff we could still do ourselves just because we are “getting older?”

My mom resisted getting a clothes dryer for decades. She didn’t want to lose the exercise and fresh air she got hanging clothes outside.  (In case you are envisioning this buxom farm wife, please note my mom was a willowy city girl with a degree in intellectual history.)  She was right on with this one, and I should have been paying better attention. Now I understand. I want my multi-purpose movement (exercise I don’t consciously have to plan) back.

I can still fix this.  Luckily, the move I just made is a temporary one.  I don’t own this house.  When we buy together a year or two down the road, I’ll be aware of this need.  For now, I can make an effort to get “exercise” into my daily routine and accept being a gym rat for the short term.

But far more often, this “less demanding” new environment is permanent.  How many of us are losing our vitality way before we need to by downsizing to places that are designed to take physical activity (aka “work”) out of our lives?

The challenge of doing those daily tasks may be part of what keeps us going.  My dad was diagnosed with heart disease in his 40’s.  Later in life, that included congestive heart failure. For virtually his entire adult life, he went up a full flight of stairs each night to take his shower.  When he died at age 85, he was still taking a daily walk, working on his writing every day, and fully engaged in his community.   Doesn’t that seem like a better way to do this?

We need to rethink this notion that less physical work is good for us as we get older.  Sure, we probably won’t be pitching hay or digging trenches.  But there’s middle ground between the two extremes where we would be much better off.  For me, that includes a flight of stairs.


New Magic Word…Flexible

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

When you get past 50, you need to pay more attention to what’s flexible. It can make your life a whole lot more pleasant in a surprisingly wide array of ways.

First, of course, is the need to keep your body flexible.  For me that means finding some new ways to challenge my muscles since I recently left behind the “automatic” exercise of navigating the stairs to a second floor and caring for a large, weed-magnetic garden.  I can do that with a yoga class–or maybe pilates or zumba.  And I’ve told my family I’ve available for free as a “garden wench.”

But there’s more to keep flexible than your back. Beware of calcification of your mindset. This became distressingly clear to me when I started assessing how well my transition to the “new place” was going. Without any real need to complain, I launched into an alarming mental litany of bitches. “This isn’t like it used to be.” “That isn’t like I had it at my old place.” Uh-oh.

My life works best when I keep it changing. New challenges, even if they are just how to fit the dresser in the bedroom and where to hang my favorite mirror, keep me from getting in too much of a rut. Time to do a better job of embracing them.

There’s flexibility I have just plain ignored claiming, too.  Music and movies have turned to stone in my world because technology has taken both in directions I have not yet gone. CD’s are still available, but the real action in the music world has moved beyond them.  If I learn to access my music online, I will have more selections and more ways to play it.  Viva flexibility!

Same deal with movies.  A few years back, if I missed something while it was in theaters, I could catch it by renting it at someplace like Blockbuster. Those “someplaces” are gone–replaced by Netflix and assorted streaming options. I’ve been standing at the side of the road as they all marched away without even waving at me.

Okay…find a yoga class, buy some music “the new way,” and sign up for Netflix. Is there more?

Well, yes. I also need more flexibility with my “stuff.”  We have one room that needs to function as an office for two of us and as a guest room.  We solved the “guest room” function with a Murphy bed. We now have a queen-sized bed  hidden upright on the wall behind some nice cabinetry when not in use, thanks to a kit from an outfit in Idaho.

The desk situation is trickier. We need two since I am at mine every day for hours. At the moment, mine is a 2 foot by 4 foot folding table from Costco mismatched with a small hutch from a former office setup. Three file boxes are stacked next to that, the top one open.  It works but it looks like I’m a penniless grad student.  There’s method to this madness though.  Really.

My last office furniture was lovely, large and lavish–and a nightmare to move. This temp setup has been to see what I really need.  And what I need is components, each piece small enough that I can move it, assembled, in my Subaru.  There’s some of that at Ikea–sort of.  But we also want good quality in the drawer rails, easy access to all the files in the drawer, etc.  So this flexibility will take some work–and probably come from both that European big box and an office furniture store.

I want a similar flexibility in what we buy for a “couch.” (Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to move your couch in your car?)  I want to buy it in three or four pieces instead of one big long upholstered train. If each seat is a separate piece, we can put two on one wall and two around the corner. Or three and one…or.. You get the drift.  Not sure I can find that, but I’m going to try.

It goes even farther. I want my clothes to be flexible.  (Convertible hiking pants are sooooo ingenious.) I love being able to use a shirt as a jacket or a scarf as a belt.  Reading material should be flexible.   (One reason “e-books” are gaining steam.)  Food should be flexible.  (That way I will be able to use all of it before it goes bad without eating the same thing for an entire week.)

Flexibility makes things easier.  Life has more room for fun, adventure, and new ways to grow if I’m not focused on dusting a house full of knicknacks or making sure all three vehicles have had the oil changed. Why own a vacation home, SkiDoo, or garden tiller if I use them once a year and can rent them?

Flexibility is magic.