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Archive for August, 2013

Leave Enough Room for the Kid

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

You think I’m going to talk about your offspring, right? Nope. The kid I want you to make room for is your own kid–the one you used to be before responsibility and adulthood and career and parenting and … made you lose track of him or her.

Once we are well enough off to give up work, we need to find that kid again. To start having regular play dates. To relearn how to have fun without worrying about all the adult things for a few hours.  Being a kid again isn’t just about not being responsible. Being a kid involves creativity, spontaneity, friendship, and yes a bit of mischief.

Go back to having uninhibited fun at least occasionally. Fun that you forgot you knew how to have. Sometimes that involves silliness. Sometimes it involves reconnecting with the people you used to do those kinds of things with. Sometimes it’s just a matter of remembering that you loved doing it as you do it with your grandkids.  Swinging on the swings at the playpark, dancing to music on the radio, stomping in puddles.

To have it happen, you need to leave room for it. Room in your schedule. Room in your physical dwelling. Room in your heart. Please leave room for your kid.

At the moment, I am shopping for my next house. Yes, it does need to be a house. I am a dirt person. My little kid needs a patch of ground where she can plant flowers and vegetables and see what grows this year and try all over again next year.

And it will be a little bit bigger than some might think I need at this stage of the game. Why? Because I also need a messy room. I need a  place where I can start a creative project and leave the mess out so that I can work on it whenever I want without all the rigmarole of getting it all back out from where I stored it.

Many of us do not revel in messes as adults but kids have to have them. (We really need them, too, but we’ve been brainwashed.) This new house is going to be different. In the past, the important thing was to get wherever I lived to look like a home decorating magazine article. That’s nice. When you use the things that mean something to you (and that have “stories”), that effort really is an essential part of feathering a nest.  But it’s not the whole story.

We also need blank spaces–fresh canvas for the things we have yet to create in our lives. The kid in us does not relax with a finely finished room. She needs a place to express herself.  That requires empty spaces and blank pages in the calendar.

If you’ve been living in your space for a long time, this is still true. To make the needed space, do occasional purges (or “sort and pitches” as I call them). Is what’s taking up your space useful? Is it beautiful? Joyful? If it’s none of these things, maybe you need to let it go so you have room for the kid. So much of what we end up displaying is obsolete but still in place. Get rid of everything you don’t really love, so there’s room to grow.

Same deal with your calendar. Are you doing things that are fun? That you feel good about contributing your time to? If you stop doing things that no longer satisfy you, there’s a lot more room to find new things to do. Things your kid will enjoy.

It’s easy to get into serious volunteering when you retire. Watch out for that. The kid is a good giver and an enthusiastic helper, provided you are doing something that’s really you. Adults can fake enthusiasm. Kids cannot.

Retirement is the chance to hit the reset button–to come up with a calendar and a home that match the real you. When you start working on that, be sure you remember the kid. You will enjoy the rest of your life a lot more if you leave that child plenty of room to play.

Obesity + Retirement: Yikes!

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

If you want a recipe for disaster, mix those obesity and retirement and add a lot of time.  Talk about awful!  But we aren’t talking about it at all.  Instead we just keep supersizing that soda and looking for a place with now stairs in a nice retirement community.

Today, researchers released a study that found about 18% of us–that’s one in five or so–are going to die from obesity related causes.  That is an absolutely stunning number for any age group.  I suspect it’s even higher for those of us over 60 for a variety or reasons, but even that one-in-five thought is mind-numbing.  A fifth of our nation will die because we got too fat.

We can point to a bunch of reasons for that.  And there are probably a whole lot more that we don’t even realize are part of the picture at this point.  I’m not going to run down the list.  I am going to look at one thing, and that only in the context of being retired.  The issue is how much you are active.

Yes….YOU.  Please do no try to excuse yourself because you have…diabetes…heart disease…cataracts…bad knees…..irritable bowel syndrome….grass allergies…fallen arches….gout…arthritis…or whatever.  No matter what you have going wrong with your body, you can still move something.  So figure out how to move that often and vigorously.

At the moment I am house hunting.  My sweetheart, who will be living with me, has made the following requirements:  single story, no stairs, small yard.  Nothing like buying into your own casket twenty years before you need it.

This is the same guy who can’t understand why he doesn’t do better when we go out to hike, and we’re dealing with 1000 feet of elevation. Kudos to him for wanting to hike–and actually going out to do it.  But how about setting yourself up a little better in terms of how you “train” every day by including some stairs in your daily routine?

My dad died a few days short of his 85th birthday.  He’d had problems with his heart from age 40 on.  He didn’t die of heart disease.  And he went upstairs to take his shower every night until his death even though we could have put a shower in on the first floor.  The trip to the second floor was fine with him.  He was a smart guy.

My mom died way too young.  She was 64 when cancer claimed her.  But she still had the slim figure of a teenager when she passed.  Why?  She refused to give up the exercise of hanging clothes on the line to dry.  And no, she was not a farm wife.  Mom worked her way through college to earn a degree in Intellectual History.

Last Sunday, I took myself on a morning walk in the neighborhood and stopped to talk with a guy creating a border garden in his front yard.  He was not hiring it done.  He was taking pick in hand and tearing out the turf a little at a time.  Let me assure you this is brute work.  But he was happy with the task and excited about what they were creating.  We talked about how neither of us were very good at sitting still.  Then he said he thought staying active made you look younger.  That was certainly true for him–I guessed his age as about 15 years younger than he was.  When you are active, your skin looks healthier.  Your muscles are more toned.  You look better regardless of your age.

Think about it.  When someone gets sick and has to lay around for an extended period just to get better, they look disproportionately older when you see them again after the ordeal.  When you are stuck in a sedentary role (caregiving comes to mind) you start to age before your very eyes.  Sitting around is not good for your looks or your energy level.

We need to get rid of this stupid idea that the ideal retirement is the one where you do all kinds sedentary stuff–fun vacations involving copious amounts of sitting and eating, watching TV at home, playing bingo at the casino….

We are not getting fat because we are getting older.  We are getting fat because we are not using up the calories we consume.  It’s the same equation it’s always been.  But even worse, we’re missing the fun and satisfaction of the active realm to watch garbage on television.  We can do better for ourselves.

Buy a house with some stairs.  Try gardening.  Become a volunteer coach for your local kids soccer program.  Get out and dance.  Go to an exercise class for the wheelchair bound.  Join a ski club–or a bird-watching group.  Go DO something.  Something that makes you move as much as you can.

You will be amazed at what it does for your attitude along with your girth.





How Much News is Enough?

Sunday, August 11th, 2013

Remember the adage “No news is good news?” What happened to that?  Now, no news means you’re either dead or lost in a South American jungle where even satellite reception falters.

“News,” at least in the dictionary, is “information about recent events or developments.”  Sometimes it’s in print.  Sometimes it’s on television and radio.  Sometimes it’s through the computer.  News is information about what’s going on where we aren’t.

If we care about that place or have loved ones there, of course we want to know what’s happening.  But what’s the point of being thoroughly informed about all the bad things that have occurred all over the world in the last 24 hours?

In this morning’s newspaper, I read about a train wreck in Spain that killed 79 people, a bus crash in Italy that killed 38, and an accident in Switzerland where two trains collided, seriously injuring five.  I live on the West Coast of the United States.  The only reason I can think of for needing to know of those three disasters is to pray for those involved.  But does such specificity improve Divine access?  Would I do any less good if I skipped the news and prayed “God, bless everyone who needs it right now”?

In my own life, there’s local news, sports news, national news, weather news, business news, and financial news.  Our local TV news starts at 4 AM.  The 24-hour news channels give me a dose whenever I choose to look for it.  The internet can even custom tailor alerts about whatever I’m interested in.  Around here, “the news” is often on midday, for as much as two hours at dinner time, and another hour or two before we go to bed.  Is that a good thing?

It’s nice to be able to find out what’s happening regardless of when I decide I need to know.  But being connected to everything that’s going on in the world all the time carries a lot of stress.  There’s nothing I can do about most of it.  Why is “the news” such a big presence in my life?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now and there’s only one thing I’m 100% sure of.  I need to go on an information diet.  A lot of what I take in isn’t even good as “news.” Journalistic junk food.  A while back, I used a stopwatch and learned that over 50% of what I was getting from the local 10:00 news was ads.  Just how much of my time do I want to dedicate to car commercials and lovey-dovey couples touting erectile dysfunction drugs?

“News” can also be defined as “somebody or something interesting or something previously unknown.”   If I think about it that way, I can chart a wiser path to the information I really want to ingest.  If I want news about someone I love or want to get to know, a phone call or e-mail beats Inside Edition.  If I want to learn about something new, surfing the Net or going to the library will get me a whole lot farther than waiting through five minutes of ads so I can hear the 30-word follow-up to the 20-word trailer the evening news teased me with before going to commercial.

We hear way too much about stuff we don’t need to know–politicians who should have kept their pants on; paramours who should have kept their mouths shut; financial difficulties and deceits; personal tragedies and traumas.  We hear about crime and mayhem all over the globe. We hear the same awful stuff multiple times a day.  It’s not just me.  This is not good for any of us.

A steady stream of bad news is hard on you, even if you have no emotional connection to the people facing the problem.  The very best we can hope to get from witnessing the current horrible thing is a fleeting moment of “feel good” when we write a check or text a donation in response.  The rest is a combination of unrequited compassion and insensitive gawking.

I do want to be informed about what’s going on in the world.  And I do care about people.  But you can get too much of a good thing.  Am I an informed citizen of the world or a news addict?

I’ve decided I need to learn to imbibe more responsibly.  From now on, I’m going to make myself answer three questions:  Do I really need/want to be fully informed about this?  Is this the best source for the information I need?  And, much as it makes me uncomfortable:  Am I just watching/hearing/reading this news as a bogus way to feel connected?  If the answers aren’t yes, yes, and no, I need to pass.


It Isn’t Always Either/Or

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

We have a bad habit going as a culture. We tend to see most of our decisions as either/or. Either I go to college or get a job. Either I have a career or have fun. Either I keep working or I retire.

The assumption is that if you do one of the things, you aren’t going to be able to do the other.  Looking at it that way makes for rather stark choices.  Most of the time, it really isn’t “either/or.”  It’s a matter of figuring out how much of both you want and then shaping your solution to get that.

Many have gone to college and worked simultaneously–some holding more than one job.  As a society we tend to feel sorry for these people.  They have a lot in a day, yes.  But if it’s what they need and feel works best, why are we pitying them?

Most of the time, doing the if-this-then-not-that kind of choice is more impoverishing.  If you only take classes (i.e. “go to college”), you have no clue what a day at work is all about until you start on that first rung of your big-time career ladder.  College graduates without work experience are not the first to be hired.  They are untested in terms of knowing how to show up on time, understanding what is part of “working” and what is not (texting and talking to friends and family on the phone).  If you just take college courses for those years, you will be a bigger risk for an employer and require a longer learning curve than the guy (or gal) who worked either between semesters or while enrolled.

In addition, there are points in most college careers where what you are doing starts to get boring.  It is very tempting to quit.  Maybe you haven’t gotten to what you’re really interested in yet in terms of the coursework.  Maybe you have a new love that’s not at the campus where you’re studying.  At various times while getting my undergraduate degree, I worked as a grocery checker, a deli clerk, and in the finishing room at one of the local paper mills.  Numerous times, my commitment to stick with getting that degree came from what I knew about what else was out there as a job if I didn’t finish college.

So why I am talking about this in a blog that’s focused on retirement issues?  The dumbest “either/or” thinking we do is about retirement.  Either you keep working or you stop totally.  Why?  Who decided those were the only options?  If you want to get retirement right, this is the very first decision you need to put some sophistication into.

The question is not “do I keep working or do I stop working?”  The question is “How do I want work to fit into the retirement stage of my life?”  Work will be there in some form once you retire unless you have severe health issues.  Perhaps you’ll prefer to volunteer rather than earn a paycheck.  Maybe you will get into creative endeavors instead of helping customers.  But do find a way to continue putting regular effort into something as an ongoing part of your life.  If it is work, it needs to be work that works for you–work you love. How much of it you want to be doing is a decision that’s uniquely yours as well.

Sometimes, it’s wise to totally give up the work you have been doing during your primary career years.  A few days ago, I met a woman hiker who’s within 14 months of being able to retire from UPS.  She needs to step away from that job because it’s physically demanding and her body is starting to object to lifting 70 pounds and driving a route for 12 hours a day during the holiday peak.  But she sees that it’s not “either/or.”  When she reaches that magic milestone, her goal is to move into a kind of work that gives her more flexibility.  That way she can hike on Wednesdays without having to be on vacation.  That way she can be part of the family things that she didn’t get to participate in during her career as a UPS driver.

Either/or decisions are fine when you’re deciding where to go for dinner–or even on vacation.  But limiting yourself to either/or on the life decisions will leave you sadly shortchanged.

The real question is not “this?…or that?”  (Well…maybe if you doing an eye exam….) It’s “What do I want out of this situation and how can I get that to happen?”