Kind Words

良言一句三冬暖
“One kind word can warm three winter months.” Chinese Proverb

I’ve been feeling yucky. Nothing specific. As colds, flu and many other ailments have been going around this time of year, my mind became overactive with possible causes for my affliction. I woke up this morning completely sapped of energy, despite a full night’s sleep. “Perhaps I should skip yoga and simply stay in bed,” I moaned aloud.

! quickly checked my iPhone. (Heaven forbid I miss any late breaking news, despite my misery). What I read changed the course of my day completely.

I received a message from a colleague whom I had worked with before I retired. She was a teacher when I worked with her, and she was now a school administrator. In her letter, she clearly articulated the type of leader that she had worked so hard to become. She remorsed about words and actions that she wished she would have done differently along the way. She spoke about the difficulty of staying positive in climates of toxicity. For her, the first school that she worked at as an administrator, bore such a climate. There she met a young teacher who struggled personally and professionally. She worked hard to build trust with him, inspire him and help him to feel safe.

To make a long story short, that struggling teacher got it together and had just been offered his dream job at his top choice school. The first thing he did (after accepting the position…and perhaps phoning his Mom), was to write to my former colleague to thank her for all that she had done for him. She then immediately wrote to me and passed on her own appreciation for me inspiring her, especially in terms of investing in relationships. Her kind words touched my soul and instantly soothed and invigorated every fiber of my being.

It is a commonly known psychological principle that kind words have the power to heal, while a single derogatory statement can remain negatively trapped in our brains forever. It is no surprise that research has continued to produce increasing evidence regarding the incredible power that our words have on each other. In Words Can Change Your Brain, the authors argue that positive words strengthen areas in our frontal lobes and promote healthy cognitive functioning. Such words propel the motivational centers of our brains into action and build resiliency. (Newberg, Waldman, 1994). Taking this concept even further, Massaru Emoto’s The Hidden Messages in Water discusses research that gives strong implications on how our words, and even our thoughts, can profoundly impact the earth and our personal health. (Emoto, 2004).

After reading (and I confess, rereading) my colleagues’ letter, I quickly got up and got dressed for yoga. I was invigorated and was now ready to take on the day.

Words. They have the power to hurt or to heal. How will you use them?

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Full Proverb: 良言一句三冬暖,恶语伤人六月寒
“One kind word can warm three winter months, while vile talk wounds like bitter cold in June.” ABC Dictionary of Chinese Proverbs (Yanyu)
Editor: Rohsenow, John S.

“Hi, Honey, I’m Home…Forever!”

There are endless quips regarding marriage and retirement.

“When you retire you switch bosses – from the one who hired you, to the one that married you.” (Gene Perret)

“When a man retires, his wife gets twice the husband and half the salary.” (William Mitchell)

“A married husband is often a wife’s full-time job.” (Ella Harris)

“Warning: Retired person on premises. Knows everything and has plenty of time to tell it.” (Annonymous)

And the title quote (also from Gene Perret).

I’m sure that you can add others….

A year before I retired, I diligently began to read all that I could on the emotional side of retiring. The work that I read on marriage and retirement stopped me in my tracks. Much of this research hammered out the frequently mismatched perceptions of couples once retiring (ranging from different opinions on money, time together/apart, chores, daily activities, travel, family commitments, etc., etc.). According to this research, this misalignment can lead to marital breakdown where, as several studies found, a quarter of American divorces take place with couples who are fifty-years or older. (Yogev, 2012) It can also apparently lead to such strange phenomena as
“Shujin Zaitaku Sutoresu Shoukougun,” literally “One’s Husband Being at Home Stress Syndrome.” (BBC News, 2006-11-29) The more I read, the bleaker the news. I quickly quit reading.

After nineteen months of being officially retired, what is my personal experience with marriage and retirement? Without being too much of a schmoopie, I couldn’t be happier. So much so that I went back to the research with fresh (but slightly more experienced) eyes. What did I find?

• Sixty percent of couples report that there is (ultimately) an improvement in their marriage after retirement. (Forbes, 2007)
• Compared with a matched sample of working men, male retirees
reported higher levels of marital satisfaction. (Kulik, 1999)
•Both wives and husbands tend to indicate greater marital satisfaction if they retired at the same time. (Forbes, 2007) Although, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, fewer than twenty percent of American couples retire in the same year.
• Married couples are twice as likely to save for retirement, often giving them more financial security in their retirement years. (Social Security Administration)
•Retirement reinforces the pre-existing quality of individual marriages, e.g. retirement tends to have a positive effect on marriages that were previously strong and happy, and a negative effect on marriages that were previously shaky. (Missouri Families)

I also went back to Yogev’s research. If I hadn’t quit reading her work so early, I would have realized that it was filled with practical tips and just plain good advice for starting retirement as a couple on a positive note. e.g. :

•Take time and think about what each of you would like to do during retirement
•Communicate openly
•Be specific by what you mean
•Be willing to compromise
•Set boundaries
•Find shared interests
•Ensure individual personal space
•Designate household tasks
•Allow yourself to take baby steps on new endeavors – you seldom need to rush
(Yogev, 2012).

As I perused these strategies, I shuddered with gratitude. I am realistic about my shortcomings and am thankful to have someone who balances out areas where I am not naturally inclined. As in dancing, the moves are more effortless, and enjoyable, with a strong, steady partner. Someone who can both seamlessly lead, and follow, allowing you to find your own unique steps as an individual while maintaining harmony as a team. For this, I am eternally grateful.

Happy 17th Anniversary, Richard. There are no words to express my deepest love and appreciation.

January 21, 2000
Back to the scene of the crime!

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Yogev, Sara. A Couple’s Guide to Happy Retirement: For Better or Worse …But Not for Lunch, Familius, Second Edition, 2012.

For those who have not seen Seinfeld’s take on schmoopies recently, you really should watch it now!
And if you missed my (slightly ‘schmoopied’) anniversary post last year, you can catch it here.

Reflections on Christmas 2016

I was hesitant to fully engage in this holiday season. There were noticeable absences in our recent family photos. I forced myself to decorate. I forgot to download my Christmas music. I let Costco do my baking. The festivities that I had always embraced so naturally didn’t feel the same as they had before.

I continued putting one foot in front of the other. Faking it until I could make it. I knew that Richard noticed. Of course he did. He was doing the same.

And then it snuck up on us. In small increments at first. It began with friends and neighbours. Some came to call. Others invited us out. Understanding, empathy, and connection are deeply seeded needs of the human experience.

It then continued with our children. Spending time with our sons and their wives/partners brings pure contentment to my soul. Adding in grandchildren is a joy that I can never adequately describe. Reunited, we told familiar stories. We laughed at tales that had been retold a hundred times. We slipped into the comfort of not having to pretend. We luxuriated in the warmth of family. Our shared experiences continued to bind us more tightly than ever.

We hung our stockings near the fire. This year we hung not only our current ones…but also the stockings of loved ones who are no longer here.

During one family gathering, Richard and I looked at each other, simultaneously overcome by emotion. We both deeply felt the presence of those who could not be seen. The feeling was unmistakable. We now recognize that day as a turning point toward healing the pieces that have been taken from our hearts.

It is said that at the end of our lives it is not our careers, our money, or our possessions that we reach for. Instead, it is the gift of family that we yearn for and hold most dear. That gift, Richard and I have received in abundance. For this, we are most deeply grateful.


This post has been written in memory of our loved ones who have so immeasurably enhanced our lives. It is especially dedicated to our first granddaughter, Baylee Jade Kailuweit-Wageman who was born October 28, 2016, and sorrowfully passed away two days later. Rest in peace beautiful Baylee. You have enriched our hearts profoundly, as only an angel could.

A Christmas Card For You

I’ve been rethinking my Christmas traditions this year. A bit like closet cleaning, I want to ensure that I thoughtfully keep what is meaningful, retire what no longer fits, and make room for new traditions that will add value and substance.

When thinking about Christmas cards, I researched the history of Christmas card sending. (Why? Because I’m me!) The first printed Christmas card, 1843 (shown above) depicted the importance of generations of family celebrating together, service to others, as well as symbols of eternity (sprigs of holly ) and of faithfulness/God’s path (ivy). Source I love the timelessness of this message. After all, isn’t this what the core of this holiday season is all about? Okay, okay…you looked closely! So, the card also depicts a child being served wine (while the other children dig into their plum pudding). Maybe this just means that we should never take ourselves too seriously. Or maybe the controversy caused helped to sell more cards! Either way, the timelessness of the message remains.

For many, many years I sent out handwritten cards with personalized greetings. Despite my best efforts, there were always people that I missed…and despite me sending early, there were often mail delays. For a few years, I tried e-cards. They did allow me to reach more people (and on-time), but every year several cards were left unopened. (With all of the confidence that I can muster, I am hoping that this is a statement of e-cards themselves and not of my friendship with those individuals!) Short of smoke signals, carrier pigeons or an insanely large banner in the sky, I tried to find a creative and heartfelt way to get my message out to you. You, who are so generously keeping in touch.

I wanted the perfect message. A message that would fully express how much I appreciate you. A heartfelt thank you for your extra efforts to keep in touch (and for following this blog!). And finally, a message that sends positive thoughts across the miles. I also wanted to send along some goofy Christmas photos…Yup, I dragged Richard out for another Christmas photo shoot….this time with a twist!

It was a tall order. My search through the internet at first trapped me in the ‘terrible toos’. The sample verses that I found were too general, too corny, too mushy or too artificial. Unlike many Christmas messages or letters, I don’t need to fill you in on key events in my life for this past year. By virtue of scrolling down, you have this information at your fingertips!

I then came across the following writing by Oren Arnold, novelist and journalist (b. 1900 – d.1980).

Christmas gift ideas / suggestions:
To your enemy, forgiveness.
To an opponent, tolerance.
To a friend, your heart.
To a customer, service.
To all, charity.
To every child, a good example.
To yourself, respect.

Arnold’s words completely resonated with me. They so eloquently stated the core of what I wish to express in this post.

And so, I have wrapped up Oren Arnold’s powerful message in my own heartfelt words. I send them with sincere wishes of peace, love, and gratitude across the miles. May we all be more like the Whos down in Whoville — loving life, rejoicing in what we have, overlooking insult and joyfully celebrating community. Our vision becomes filled with what we put in our focus. If we all keep our visions fixed on these values, we CAN tilt our world towards peace. Undeniably.

Thank you for following along with me during 2016. I greatly look forward to remaining in touch in 2017! And now for those photos…

Sources:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1336459/Worlds-Christmas-cards-London-1843-arrive-auction-NY.html
https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/tag/first-christmas-card
http://mentalfloss.com/article/26650/first-christmas-card-was-sent-1843
http://www.signology.org/religious-symbols/xmas-symbols.htm
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/history-christmas-card-180957487
http://www.thefactsite.com/2009/12/why-do-we-send-christmas-card.html
http://www.victoriana.com/christmas/card1st-99.htm
http://www.whychristmas.com/customs/cards.shtml

Featured Photo – Image of the Firstchristmascard. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Remaining photos are from Donna & Richard’s 2016 Christmas Card Photo Shoot!

The Power of Comments

I initially began this post not to write a full entry, but simply to thank readers for so generously commenting on my last write-up. The personal stories and advice that you shared got right to the heart of the matter. Your words were deeply motivating. So much so, Richard and I went straight out to our local tree farm, selected our treasure, and our holiday spirit began to pick up from there. Some of you suggested Christmas music/wine/appetizers by the fire. I must admit, that did work wonders! Many of you wisely advised not to get caught up in the stress of the season but to remain focused on what matters most and to let go of the rest. These words helped me to refocus. They also significantly brightened my perspective.

As I began to write this thank you, I realized something about blogging that I hadn’t really understood before. The main point isn’t actually the writing, or the posts, or the photos or the research. It’s the exchange–the dynamic interaction. It’s the debate and new ideas. Most significantly, it’s the connection and the deepening of relationships–both old and new.

It’s a bit of a conundrum to be a relatively private person with a public blog. (Duh to me, I know…but I believe that there are many others like this). Writing is cathartic for me. Pressing ‘publish’ is a leap of faith. As I sit and review the comments received in this past year, I am humbled. For each risk that I have taken in sending out my words, I have gained a hundredfold. Each post has been written for a different reason. On the lighthearted ones, we’ve shared a laugh. On the new discovery ones, you’ve shared your own adventures. On the difficult, most heartfelt ones, your outpouring of support not only comforted me but equally provided strength to Richard and my family.

I know that it is a leap of faith also to write comments. When I first began to read blogs, I never commented. EVER. I was new to the blogosphere, and I wanted to read anonymously. I preferred just to lurk. And lurking is okay. But as I ventured into both commenting, and receiving comments, a whole new world opened up to me. There is definite contentment in being a ‘regular,’ whether it be at your local coffee shop (where the barista begins to prepare your drink the moment that you walk in) or be it at a blog. As Julie Neidlinger of CoSchedule Blog so astutely wrote, “regulars can turn a blog from being a sequential posting of articles into something organic that references itself.” Regulars, and all commenters, help to create an extra layer that make a blog what it is. I am aware that there are numerous blogs that do not allow comments. There has been a heap of controversy regarding whether bloggers should disable their comment sections or not. For me, to remove comments from my blog would be like removing N-O-R-M from Cheers, or at least Uncle Leo from Seinfeld (not that any of you are Norm or Uncle Leo…but you get the idea)!

Energized by my new realizations on blogging and commenting, I tried to jazz up my comment section a bit by installing WPdiscuz. This plug-in allows commenters to edit what they have written, even after they have pressed ‘publish.’ It also offers an option for readers to give a ‘thumbs up’ to comments that they particularly like–sending the love to where it truly belongs! That and the promise of reduced spam sounded like a great step forward. Right? Wrong! I did have reduced spam. I actually had no spam…and no comments at all. According to people who have contacted me by alternative means, the ‘captcha’ feature completely blocked their comments out. If you use WPdiscuz (or are simply a whiz at this kind of stuff) and have a solution for my over-active captcha, please let me know. In the meantime, I have gone back to my regular comment layout (boring, I know)!

Thank you for reading, connecting, commenting and staying in touch. Your words and warm vibes have been greatly appreciated. And for readers who have never commented before, go ahead and give it a try. I would love to hear from you!

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With Heartfelt Gratitude

“Grief is love with no place to go.” Helen Macdonald

Less than one month ago, my husband and I sat atop a cliff in Mt. San Jacinto, just outside of Palm Springs. Surrounded by friends, health, adventure and each other, we were acutely aware, and immensely grateful, that our lives were deeply blessed.

Days later, we sat amidst a devastating family tragedy. We watched helplessly as the hearts of our children, as well as our own, shattered irreversibly. Mere days after that, our beloved husky, Cody, sorrowfully passed away. The final images were so painful that I have done everything in my power to block them.

Our souls went dark. My husband and I sat alone in our island home, sapped of all energy.

On the evening of Cody’s death, I picked up a pen. Unconsciously, my raw emotion began to drain. I did not self-edit. I did not polish.

I showed that post to my husband. I watched him nod. I hesitantly pressed ‘publish.’ I put my computer away and tried to distract myself through restless sleep, and robotic activity.

Instantly the outpouring began. We simply hadn’t expected the enormity of this. Kind words, heartfelt empathy and an infinitude of signs of love and support began to bathe us. Phone calls, emails, messages, comments, notes and gifts at our doorstep swiftly appeared. Across miles and time, family and friends gathered around us, both face-to-face and virtually. The strength that we received from this incredible generosity was truly incomprehensible.

We know that our healing will take its time. We are deeply grateful to each and every one of you for reaching out to us with your words, thoughts and virtual hugs across the world. My husband and I can never adequately express just how much your compassion and thoughtfulness means to us. We bear witness that kindness truly does prevail.

What Has Your Dog or Cat Done for You Lately?

When I was cleaning up some of my digital photos this past week, I ran across the above baby picture of our dog, Cody. He is such a handsome dog (truly, see below) that I had forgotten what an incredibly adorable pup he was as well.  I stared fondly at the photo, lost in nostalgia.  Afterwards, my mood was noticeably uplifted for quite some time. Coincidence? Probably not.

Kate, at Views and Mews, often refers to herself as “waitstaff” for her four cats. I can totally relate. In fact, I often banter with my husband that in Cody’s eyes, my husband’s primary purpose in life is to provide exercise, entertainment and transportation, and mine is to provide food and drink. “What have you done for me lately?” I will often tease Cody, as he hangs out, rather impatiently, near his supper dish.

According to Time Magazine’s Special Edition “Animals and Your Health” (July 2016), Cody definitely pulls his weight. Research has repeatedly concluded that owning a pet reduces blood pressure in stressful situations and pet owners tend to have lower heart rates than their non-pet-owning counterparts. In one of a myriad of examples, heart patients who left the hospital after treatment were much more likely to survive if they owned a pet.  (Animals & Your Health, p 20)

More and more, pets have been used to help comfort survivors of terrible tragedies, revive long-forgotten memories for Alzheimer’s patients, sniff out cancer and detect harmful bacteria in water. They have also been found to lower the incidence of cardiovascular disease, help combat post-traumatic stress disorder, reduce loneliness, provide overall emotional support and ease the aging process…to list only some proven benefits of human interaction with their pets. (Animals & Your Health, p. 6)

In fact, “simply petting a dog generally decreases both blood pressure and heart rate and appears to raise levels of serotonin, the neurotransmitter associated with feelings of happiness and well-being.” (Animals & Your Health, p. 10) In addition to this, ‘Emotional Support Animals’ are now common alternatives to traditional medicines. (Animals & Your Health, p. 8)

In the US and Canada, more households have pets than have children. (Animals & Your Health, p. 6) In fact, 57 percent of Canadian households have pets which equates to 7.5 million homes. (Source) While the figures of what many people spend on their pets can be staggering (in 2015, it was estimated that pet owners in the US spent over 60 billion dollars caring for their animals), the benefits of pet ownership may be incalculable. (Source)

As for Cody…he doesn’t chase balls, doesn’t fetch sticks, does not reliably sit on command (see last post) and is an absolutely lousy watchdog. Regardless, throughout the last eleven years, he has been intricately woven into the fabric of our family’s pack. He has provided countless adventures, endless stories, and unparalleled laughter. Daily, he has ensured that we have gotten off of the couch, out of the house and into the fresh air. When we moved back to Canada and into our new home, he quickly introduced us to more neighbors than we would have met on our own.  Yes, Cody has definitely found his way into our hearts. Our lives have been forever enriched because of it.

What about you? If you have a four-legged critter in your life (or own a bird, or fish or reptile….) what has your pet done for you lately?

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Print Source:

Bjerklie, David (Ed.). (July, 2016). Animals & Your Health: The Power of Pets to Heal Our Pain, Help Us Cope, and Improve our Well-Being. Time Magazine Special Edition.

 

BLOGFEST: MY MOST CHERISHED POSSESSION

I LOVE the idea of taking part in a blogfest (even if I only found out about it twenty-four hours in advance). I also LOVE writing about a wide range of topics. But writing about an object–and a most cherished one at that–well at first, that just seemed wrong.

I have previously written about some of the people in my life whom I deeply cherish (A Love Letter, Dear Son and Thanks, Mom). I have even written about our adored dog, Cody. How could any material object that I own inspire such passion?

To help with this endeavour, I imagined our house burning. What would I run to save? Most items that we own are replaceable. What wasn’t?

By engaging in this basic exercise, the task was now so simple. I instantly knew what I would rush to save: the guardians of my memories.

Memories become our life stories and our legacy. They define us and give our lives meaning and purpose (source). My memories remind me of my roots, ground me and inspire hope. They are not simply nostalgia or longing for the past – they are, as scientists have now discovered, a bridge to the future. The same brain processes that we use to remember the past are also the same processes that we use to imagine the future. When our ability to remember the past is compromised, so is our ability to envision different outcomes (source).

Through my material object (in this case, a collection of objects), I am quickly transported back to beloved people and places.  Sadly, many of these people and places I can no longer access in any other way.

This most treasured possession, that is so priceless to me, is of little value to others outside of my immediate family. It will not be recognized as having artistic merit. What is this magic portal that is both old and new, faded and glossy?

My collection of personal photographs.

Thank you to the initiators of Cherished Blogfest for providing the platform, and the inspiration, for this post. Thank you also to my family for taking an abundance of photographs, and for passing on this trait (as well as family photo albums) to me!

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Why I’m Proud to be a (Retired) Canadian

A few weeks ago, I read a post criticizing Canada for not adequately providing for its retirees, and depicting Canadians as not willing to speak out for themselves. As these comments were not made by a Canadian, and only referenced a single news report, I could intellectually dismiss them as not being the whole story. Still, it surprised me just how much this judgment bothered me.

Was it national pride? Perhaps. I am very proud to be Canadian and am immensely grateful for all that we have in our country. Was there more to it? Absolutely.

As a country widely recognized for respecting diversity, we have met with the following criticism, “Accommodating a new culture is the national pastime, while intolerance is the national sin.” (Botha, 2016).

Okay, so the terminology is a little extreme, but the premise does hit home. The assumptive judgment regarding Canadian retirees, by a non-Canadian (without showing evidence of exploring all sides of the argument) is what really got to me.

Setting the record straight, what is it like to be a retired Canadian?  The retirement experience is as diverse as our country itself.

The average age that Canadians retire is currently 63 (Statistics Canada, 2015). And although figures vary depending on the source, Statistics Canada reports that in 2014/15 just under 13% of Canadians who were 65 years and older remained in the workforce (Government of Canada) (CBC, 2016). All Canadians in this age group are qualified to receive Old Age Security Pension (the starting age will be raised to 67 in 2029). In addition,  Canadians who have worked as an employee in Canada receive Canada Pension, which they and their employer contributed to during their work life (it’s the law) (CBC, 2013). On top of this, our health care system ensures coverage for ALL Canadian citizens (UBC, 2013).

The good news behind these statistics is that improvements in life expectancy (currently 81.5 years), health status and education for older citizens are factors that are cited as heavily contributing to our steadily rising age for retirement.  Does this mean that everything is rosy for all Canadian retirees? Absolutely not. Retirement is a definite struggle for many (Canadians and otherwise) (Geoba.se, 2016) (Statistics Canada, 2013).

According to the Financial Post article “Whose Retirement Grass is Greener” (February 2015), “While the U.S. is a better place to become truly wealthy, Canada is superior for those who will have limited financial prospects or encounter costly health issues.”. This is encouraging news for many Canadian retirees.

In addition, Canada repeatedly receives high ranking on studies evaluating ‘best countries’ and ‘overall quality of life’. For example, in January 2016, the US News Best Countries Ranking (which evaluated 16000 global citizens) placed Canada second overall and first for ‘Quality of Life’. Contributing to Canada’s top score on Quality of Life were the following factors:

•    Strong job market
•    Well-developed public education system
•    Safety
•    Political stability
•    Economic stability
•    Well-developed public health system

Our strengths in stability and safety lead to a form of predictability which is an important factor for retirees. Before yawning here, this stability is sharply contrasted with Canada’s multifarious and vibrant culture. Throughout Canada, ethnic diversity, arts, culture, sports and humour abound. Throw in plentiful natural resources (including  60% of the world’s lakes) and you have an incredible place to call home, especially in retirement.

Ironically, when reviewing statistics on Canadian retirement, and Canadian pride, “freedom of expression” was one of the attributes of which Canadians are most proud (Globe and Mail, 2014). This was underscored by a comment in the Huffington Post stating, “Known globally as a polite, apologetic people, Canadians shouldn’t be perceived as meek — in fact, quite the opposite. Their strong values and wide borders encompass a population that is willing to stand up for what it believes in.”

Does the above give Canadians a sense of superiority? Shudder here. As a ‘country of immigrants’ with over 200 countries represented (and celebrated) within Canada, we recognize ourselves in others and others in ourselves.

There is indeed much to be proud of for all Canadians, including our retirees.  Being able to retire in a country recognized as having genuine respect for all human dignity, and that considers diversity an asset (Huffington Post, 2015)–well, nothing could make me more proud!

Thank you, Canada and Happy Birthday!

Feature Photo: Victoria, BC

 

Reflections on Retirement – One Year In

This past week, I hit the one-year mark both of being officially retired and of living back in Canada. With a full year behind me, has it been all that I anticipated? Yes and no–in equal measures.

I remember a conversation that I had with one of my daughter-in-laws the day that we arrived back home. It went something like this:

DIL: So…what are you going to do now that you are retired?
Me: Nothing.
DIL: You will probably want to do some consulting.
Me: No.
DIL: Or some other kind of work, or volunteer work.
Me: Nope.
DIL: Take a class, join a ladies’ golf team, learn a craft.
Me: Not really.

I recognize that this was probably a very frustrating conversation for my daughter in law–who is truly one of the nicest young women you will ever meet.

Having retired 24-hours earlier from a rewarding, full-on and intense career, I wanted to relish in the thought that I could now do nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

I wanted to unplug, unwind, and begin to calm my driven personality. I also wanted to go as “blank slate” as possible so that I could be genuinely open to accept or decline new paths as they appeared. Most of all, I wanted to be present for my family and make up for lost time.

When I first announced my retirement, a long-time friend gave me this advice:

“Many opportunities (especially for volunteer/part-time work) will come your way. Don’t jump into any one of them too quickly. Be selective and make sure that it is something that you feel passionate about before you take on a big commitment. Give yourself time.”

I have taken this advice literally.

I did have a half-formed thought to start a blog—which I did six months into my retirement. Fifteen years earlier, when I first moved to Beijing, I started a personal log that I emailed to friends and family. I never maintained that log for long but wished that I had. I now had the opportunity to record my thoughts, as I (once again) transitioned into a new world. I didn’t want to miss this second chance.

I also had a vague, but persistent notion, that whatever passions I did commit to, I wanted to contribute to world peace.

I know, I know!

It sounds so very ‘beauty-pageant-contestant-ish’. It also sounds bigger than Ben Hur. But what I had in mind was more of a series of small, intentional actions that, when done repeatedly, became habit over time. Okay, so I may not have had this piece all worked out. I did know that I wanted to nurture peace within myself, practice understanding and non-judgment, focus on the positive, commit to acts of kindness and be confident that even the simplest steps can tilt our world towards peace. I also knew that I wanted to read more on this topic, and surround myself with people for whom genuine compassion is an instinct.

Before leaving work, we didn’t have many set notions about how our retirement would look, nor what we would spend our time doing. We did believe that we had found our retirement house and that we would now spend time on its renovation. Ironically, that is the one significant piece that did change, as the renovations were a larger commitment, both of time and of cash, than we had originally understood. Also, despite our advance research, we didn’t adequately factor in the full extent of “winter rain” in Oceanside. We’ve been told that it was an unusually wet winter…fingers crossed that this past year was a one-off!

On the flip side, some things that I believed I would never be interested in (like curling, or daily yoga, for example) turned out to be extremely enjoyable, and I will definitely continue with further.

So, in a nutshell, what have I learned about my own retirement so far, and what have been my biggest takeaways?

I believe that the key to retirement is being prepared (obviously financially) but also mentally, emotionally and socially (at least in terms of your support group). The other key is being flexible, and being willing to accept that something you thought was a given for your retirement may not turn out as planned. Allow yourself time to chill and do nothing and also to deepen/renew/discover your passion(s). Also, allow yourself to walk away from something that is going to drain your energy…. or your cash.

As for passions, this blog has helped me to reflect more deeply on my experiences, structure my thoughts, maintain my writing and technological skills, keep in touch with friends/family around the globe and meet new people. It has also sharpened my eye to the beauty around me and has given me cause to stop and enjoy the splendor of the moment, no matter how mundane that moment may have originally appeared.

As for my world peace ambition—how’s that going? I believe that world peace is a lifelong quest, with individual steps and collaborative teamwork being equally important. The essential thing is the commitment, the intentionally of the goal and the gratitude for all that we have. For me, the intentionally and gratitude are definitely present…. I now seek meaningful endeavors to which I can commit.

So, that’s my reflection on my first year of retirement. I am both excited and hopeful as I begin my second year. Once again, time with family is at the top of my agenda.

 

*The feature image was taken on June 15, 2015, at Horseshoe Bay Ferry in Vancouver, as we waited to board…and begin our new life. Hope and optimism abound!