Aging, Reflections, Retirement, Self Care, travel

The Year of Me

Today is my 55th birthday and I have been spending it doing some of my favorite things – shopping at the Farmers’ Market, a beautiful ocean swim with new friends, stocking the freezer with homemade pesto to enjoy when basil season is long gone, a chat with my sister, a short nap, and tonight a dinner by the water with Don.

As is my tradition, I’ve also been reflecting on the year past and what a wild ride of a year it was!  On the high side it included a  lot of fun and exciting travel (Greece, Puerto Vallarta, Hawaii, the East Coast, Alaska), many visits from far-flung family and friends, completion of several long-awaited home improvements, my foray into open water swimming, and of course my retirement.  But it also included the challenges of Don’s cognitive impairment (and likely Alzheimer’s diagnosis) and the stress, anxiety, fear, and grief that has wracked both of us and really affected our relationship.  And while I am loving being retired, my schedule still seems way too full, I have commitments that I wish I had not made, and I feel the weight of being a care partner for Don and the burden of responsibility that has brought.

So this year my promise to myself is that as much as I can given Don’s health, I will make this year the year of me, and of us.  That means making sure I do the things that bring me joy, making sure Don and I do fun things together, getting enough rest, eating less junk, and letting go of commitments and obligations that get in the way of the above.  So –

  • No more volunteering unless I can do it without making a commitment that will feel burdensome.
  • Just because something (an exercise class, or writing a blog post for example) is on my calendar or to do list it doesn’t mean I have to do it.
  • If I want to sleep in and defer the dog’s “long” walk to later in the day, I will.
  • When I need time and space to myself I will tell Don, and trust that his feelings will not be hurt.
  • I will treat myself  – to massages, naps, dark chocolate, beach days, and the occasional doughnut – and not feel guilty about it.
  • I will make time to meditate, but not make it just another thing on my to do list.
  • I will not be afraid to dip into savings in order to take trips that I have long dreamed about.
  • I will invest in counselling to help both Don and me navigate the shoals we find ourselves in.
  • I will spend time with people who lift me up, and walk away from those whose negative energy drags me down.

In short, I will give myself the gift of a year, knowing that whatever challenges come up the next twelve months will likely be as good as it gets in terms of Don’s health and abilities and I will do my best not to fritter them away.

L’chaim!

 

Acceptance, Change, Mild Cognitive Impairment, Reflections, Retirement, Uncategorized

Finding Our Rhythm

After a little more than 3 weeks of retirement I can feel myself starting to relax a bit.  I think about work a lot less than I thought I would, although I’m still waking up too early most mornings.  I still have lots of things on my “to do” list, but most are not time-critical and it is a good feeling to know that if I don’t get something done today there is always tomorrow.

It’s also been nice to do more things with Don – going out to breakfast or lunch, going to the gym or the beach, or just running errands – but at the same time we are still struggling to adjust to our new life and to find a schedule and a rhythm for our days and weeks.

When I was working Don managed to fill his days on his own initiative, or at least if he was just sitting around I didn’t know about it. I used to leave him with a to do list each day, and I still create a daily “honey do” list, but it is skimpier now that I am home and able to help with some of the chores so he is even more at loose ends.

I have exercise classes, dates to meet friends for coffee or lunch, and some volunteer activities that take me out of the house and plenty of projects I want to work on when I am at home, but he is struggling to figure out things to do while I am busy with “my stuff.”  He has a couple of weekly exercise classes and a couple of monthly activities of his own, and we do some exercise classes and meetings together, but he still has much more unstructured time than I do and looks to me to help him fill his days.  This translates to a lot more togetherness than I am used to!

My retired friends tell me that it took them up to a year to settle into a routine and schedule that worked for them, and may of them do not have partners, or their partners they don’t have the complication of Don’s short term memory and cognitive issues, which have made it harder for him to find activities that he enjoys.  One friend who retired a couple of years ago but whose husband retired just a few weeks before I did tells me that they too are finding it a bit challenging to deal with all of the togetherness and to settle into a new routine, and her husband has a much more robust circle of guy-friends and activities/hobbies than Don does.

I guess I should not be surprised that we are struggling with these issues after only a few weeks, but for my own sanity I need to find a schedule that gives us a better balance of structured activity and down time, of time together and time apart. We need a rhythm to guide our days and weeks, and I need the grace to accept that this season of our lives will be one of more togetherness than I am used to and the awareness to treasure the time together knowing that it will someday end.

.

 

 

 

Mild Cognitive Impairment, Reflections, Retirement

Retired…and ready to blog again?

When I started this blog I was full of good intentions about writing once or twice a week, but I quickly discovered that absent a strong theme for the blog it was really challenging to find topics to write about…at least ones that didn’t sound too much like my personal diary.

A few weeks ago I decided to take a break from blogging, with the idea that I would re-start once I retired in late June and my life settled down.

The past few weeks have been really intense. There were three weeks of extended visits from family, some of whom are pretty high maintenance, and a whole series of retirement parties and events.  It was gratifying to have my contributions to the library and community celebrated, but also stressful as I really don’t like being the center of attention, and just the social aspect is hard for an introvert like me.

I was also busy wrapping things up at work, and making sure everything was in place for my successor.

Leaving work also turned out to be more stressful and emotionally draining than I had anticipated.  I was ready on so many levels, but actually saying farewell to so many people that I care about was hard.

The stress of those last work weeks carried over to home, and in a familiar pattern the more stressed I was the less patient I was with Don, and the less patient I was with him the more anxious he got and the worse his cognitive issues, requiring more patience from me just when my well was depleted.

And then I went from a tearful last day at work to a party that Don and I threw for 50 of our friends the next day…fun, but it required a lot of planning and work.

Then we went on a trip to the East Coast just three days later, and while we were looking forward to it the run up to a trip has never been a good time in our marriage.  I get obsessive and stressed about getting everything ready, which makes me short-tempered and impatient, and poor Don just tries to stay out of the way, which makes me resentful that I am the once doing all of the work…and then the familiar vicious cycle described above kicks in.  It is not pretty.

The trip was worth it though, as we spent a fun couple of days sightseeing in Philadelphia, then a few days with family in New Jersey.  It was good to spend time with people we love but only get to see once a year or so, but also not easy as several are facing significant health, mental health, or other personal challenges.

We just got home last night, and between the trip and today’s 4th of July holiday it really hasn’t sunk in that I am actually retired.

It is already clear that my days and weeks will not be empty.  There are exercise classes that I want to attend several days each week, a 2x/month care partner support group that I think will be really helpful for me as we continue to face Don’s cognitive issues, our monthly “Memory Club” meeting, my women’s discussion group, social activities with friends – both solo and as a couple, my volunteer work with the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, and medical appointments.  Plus we have trips scheduled every few weeks for the rest of the year, and a full month of family visitors in September/October.  I’m beginning to see why my retired friends wonder how they ever had time to work!

That said, I do want to resume blogging and I think there are a couple of topics that will give me plenty of material and while they are intensely personal, I think they might also be of interest to others.

The first topic is the realities of retirement.  I have spent decades planning for this time of my life, but now that it is here I am realizing the truth of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s statement  “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”   Even less than two weeks into this new phase of my life I am learning that the reality is different than what I had planned and envisioned, and that one of my personal challenges will be to let go of control and just ride the waves as they come.  I am sure I will have more to write about this as the days and weeks unfold.

The second topic is the cognitive issues that Don is experiencing, and how they affect both of us, our relationship, and our retirement plans.  We still don’t have a diagnosis, but the issues are real.  Some days they seem to be worse, some days better and riding that roller coaster is challenging in and of itself.  I have been reading a lot about cognitive impairment and brain health, about caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or other brain diseases, and books by other women whose partner’s have experienced these issues.  I plan to share what I am learning, how we are trying to manage Don’s symptoms with diet, exercise, supplements, and other strategies, and (something that has been particularly helpful and meaningful to me), our personal story of living with these issues while trying to maintain our relationship as a couple.

One of the lessons I am learning now that I am retired is to let go of expectations of what I “should” be doing and let myself do what my body, soul, or relationship tell me I need to do in any moment.  When it comes to blogging that means that I am not going to set myself an expectation of how often I will write.  My guess is that some weeks I will post several times, and sometimes weeks will go by without a post.  Some posts will be short and sweet – a photo, or a quote that I come across and find meaningful – and some will be longer and more reflective.

And I am not going to worry about whether anyone else reads what I write.  This is my journey, and this blog is my way of processing what I experience along the road.  If you find me and want to come along, welcome…but if no one but me ever reads it that is fine too!

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections, Retirement

Ready for retirement

The past couple of weeks it has felt like the universe is conspiring to reinforce that I have made the right decision to retire.

While there have been the usual ups and downs, dramas, and irritants over the years, and there are some specific parts of my job I have disliked (union negotiations, for example) overall the past 14 years have been enjoyable and rewarding.  Maybe it’s my mindset as a “short timer” or maybe it is that lately there actually have been more instances of the things that have irritated me…but whatever the reason I am definitely less tolerant of the irritants and minutiae and definitely feeling ready to move on.

At the same time, I’ve been obsessively checking my financial planning spreadsheets and running scenarios for scenarios and I am comfortable (I should probably touch wood here!) that we have the resources to weather a stock market crash, a medical crisis, or whatever the future might bring.

And, in response to the myriad questions about “what you going to do when you retire?” I’ve been running through my long and growing list of projects I want to get done, classes I want to take, and places I want to visit, and organizations I want to support with my time…not to mention the prospect of waking up without an alarm; and having unscheduled time to garden, cook healthy meals, bake, walk or bike to do my errands, and to read….Let’s just say I’m not worried about filling my time!

In other words, I am ready!  Now I just need to make it through the next 9 weeks….

Change, Reflections, Retirement, Uncategorized

Rooted

As my retirement date nears one of the most common questions I get is “Are you moving?”  The answer is absolutely not!

It is true that we live in one of the highest cost areas of the country, and our retirement income and savings would stretch a lot further elsewhere, but there are many reasons we are staying put –

  • We love living three blocks from the beach, seeing whales spouting and dolphins frolicking on our morning walks, and our gorgeous ocean sunsets.
  • We love our home, yard, and neighbors.
  • Our family and friends are scattered around North America and the world, and we love that they want to come visit us and that our proximity to LAX makes it convenient for them to do so.
  •  We love our Mediterranean climate and have no desire to move anywhere hotter, or colder.
  • We love that pretty much everything we really need (restaurants, grocery stores, bank, shops) is in walking distance, or at most a very short drive away.

All of these things are nice, but the most important thing is that after moving 7 times over the course of our marriage, this is where we have put down roots.

We live in a home that my grandparents bought over 80 years ago.  It’s not where I grew up, but I spent many happy vacations and holidays here, and it is a place of good memories for several generations of may family.  For me, it represents home.

We’ve also established routines, found service providers that we like (doctors, dentist, tradespeople, garage…), learned which grocery stores have the best deals on which items, gotten to know the vendors at the Farmers’ Market and the morning walkers on the Esplanade, watched the trees we’ve planted grow, and most importantly, we’ve made friends.  In short, this has become our community.

Simone Weil once wrote “To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.”

We are rooted here.

 

 

Letting Go, Reflections, Retirement, Work

Bittersweet

Today was our annual Staff Day at work – my last.  All of the libraries were closed so that we could bring the entire staff together for training and fellowship.  The staff team that volunteered to plan the day outdid themselves with a great mix of team-building and learning opportunities, not to mention excellent food and our first staff Bake Off featuring an amazing array of gourmet treats.

They had me in tears after lunch when they showed a photo montage from my 14 years at the library district, including photos of too many people who are now deceased, then presented me with an album of photos of almost every employee, Board members, and volunteers with a hand written note from each.

The day ended with the obligatory team photo –

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, tree, crowd, shoes, outdoor and nature

We have certainly had our challenges over the years, but it has been a huge privilege to work with this creative, talented, and hardworking group of people.  As much as I am looking forward to retirement I know that I will miss them very much.

Truly a bittersweet day….

Reflections, swimming

One of those days

Today was one of those days where one issue or challenge seemed to follow another and even “good” news had a dark twist.

These included –

  • A summons for jury duty…in downtown LA instead of any of the courthouses within a reasonable drive from here.
  • Being notified that I am being awarded a locally prestigious business leadership award from the Chamber of Commerce only to learn that the awards luncheon will take place at the local Trump National Golf Course, which creates both a personal issue for me and a potential political issue for my Board, some members of which had already proposed a boycott of sorts of events at the Trump golf course .  It is hard to “support” a business whose profits go to a President who has cut all federal funding for libraries from his budget proposal.
  • A voicemail from a crank who has for years called my work number monthly to demand that I resign and/or called my Board President to demand that I be fired.
  • Carving out time for a soul-restoring swim only to find the pool jammed and with a long wait time so that by the time I got in the water I had to cut my swim short.
  • Discovering that our dishwasher, which was full of dirty dishes, had detached from its mounting bracket such that the door would not close.

In other words, not much fun.

At the same time, I’ve managed to stay pretty positive and to salvage what I can from the days dramas and disasters.  I’ve postponed my jury service until December, and hopefully timed it for the week when the pool at our gym is usually closed for maintenance, and adjusted my schedule so that I can fit in a longer swim tomorrow.

I’ve reminded myself that the crank caller is really more of a nuisance than anything else, and that I am in good company since he makes similar calls to pretty much every Library Director in the greater LA area.

I’ve decided that accepting the Chamber of Commerce award even if it means attending an event that provides some small profit to Trump is better than rebuffing the many people in the Chamber of Commerce that I respect and have enjoyed working with over the years…but that I will use the opportunity as a platform to inform and educate people about Trump’s attack on libraries.

Tomorrow I will call the excellent appliance repair man that we discovered a few weeks ago when our refrigerator was leaking water, and hope that he can reinstall our dishwasher with new brackets.

And I will remember this morning’s beautiful walk along the ocean with Don, the great conversation a friend and I had when we met for coffee (tea for me!) this morning, my house that is clean and shiny after our cleaning lady came today, and the fact that I actually had a productive day at work and at home despite the challenges.

Even “one of those days” has its bright spots!