Rocket Girl…and Equality Among the Sexes in 2017

When my youngest son was in kindergarten, I was a middle school principal. My son’s school principal was female. Many of my closest friends were also…you guessed it…female principals. This caused my five-year-old to innocently ask, “Can men also be principals?” “Only when they are very, very good,” I said with a wink.

One of my book clubs is currently reading Rocket Girl. This ‘creative non-fiction biography’ pieces together the life of Mary Sherman Morgan, America’s first female rocket scientist, and ‘unsung heroine of the space age.’ Source.

When introducing this novel at our book club, we also touched on the similarly-themed movie, Hidden Figures. In both works, obstacles to women (often combined with other barriers of racial prejudice, poverty, etc.), in male-dominated fields, sat continually at the surface. This evoked a spirited book club discussion as to how far we truly have come in regards to ‘equality among the sexes’ in 2017. Our group remained divided in their responses to this question.

Stimulated by this discussion, I did some checking.

The Global Gender Gap Report 2016, produced by The World Economic Forum, examines ‘equality’ between men and women in four different areas (education, health, finances, politics) in 144 countries. This document also highlights countries, that within their region and economic group, provide opportunities and distribute resources more equitably among the sexes.

What were the findings?

For the 144 countries studied, in 2016, the gender gap between education and health outcomes had closed 95% and 96% respectively. However, gaps between political attainment and economic participation had only closed 23% and 59%. In summary, this report stated than an average gender gap of 31% remains. Source 1. Source 2.

It is frustrating that the road to gender equity often contains steps forward mixed with several steps back. (68 countries increased their gender equity in 2016, while 74 countries saw decreases. Overall, the economic gender gap reverted to where it was in 2008!). Adding to this discouragement, geographic areas that I consider to be the most liberal (like my own), often ranked far behind other areas regarding this attainment. Iceland, Finland, and Norway took the top three spots of the World Economic Forum’s Gender Equity ranking. Canada placed 35th overall, while the US placed 45th (down from 28th in 2015). Source. Report findings reveal that if the rates of change seen in the past ten years continue as is, South Asia could see a closing of their overall gender gap in the next 46 years. Whereas, due to its slow progress over the past decade, the North American gender gap is currently predicted to take 158 more years to close. Source.

Of course, these projections are just that and cannot be interpreted as conclusive facts. However, by documenting, graphing and highlighting present trends, these stats are an eye-opener and urge a strong call for action.

Do any of the above figures from the World Economic Forum surprise you? What are your thoughts?

Also, if you are interested in finding out more about Mary Sherman Morgan, I found Rocket Girl to be an absorbing, fascinating read…and a great springboard for provocative, engaging discussions!

Cover image created by Canva.com

For Whom the SEO Bells Toll

What is ‘SEO’ and what is it doing to our writing?

If you share your written work on-line (and care about anyone else ever reading it) you are probably quite familiar with the term SEO or ‘Search Engine Optimization.’ SEO ranks your posts based on what search engines consider most relevant to internet users.

More and more, as on-line writers, we are encouraged to improve our SEO scores. Cyberspace is now teaming with advice, apps and plugins to do just that. But what are the consequences to the the uniqueness of our voices, and the depth and purity of our words? Is all of this ‘search engine hype’ helping or hurting our writing?

Going hand in hand with checking the SEO friendliness of your post, such plugins as ‘Yoast SEO’ analyze the ‘readability’ of what you have to say. This is done by checking the length of your sentences and paragraphs. It is noted whether you’ve used transition words or subheadings and how often you’ve used a passive voice. On top of all this, Yoast calculates a ‘Flesch Reading Ease’ score. To obtain the highest possible Flesch score, you must limit yourself to short sentences and use only one or two syllable words. Also, your writing must be easily understood by the average 11-year old. (Yoast)

And Yoast is not the only plugin or app out to change our writing. The Hemmingway App claims to keep your writing ‘bold and clear’ (and thus SEO friendly). And Grammarly, although not specifically SEO-centered, sets out to “improve” your spelling, grammar, sentence structure and word choice…all of which the creators claim will also optimize search engine results for your post. (Source)

Overwhelmed but curious, I decided to try out all three apps/plugins. As they each have ‘free versions,’ what did I have to lose? Oh, and I need to mention, I tried them out not only on my writing but also on the Big Pappa’s. I was most interested in reading Hemmingway’s (the app’s) critique of Hemmingway (the writer). As many of us studied For Whom the Bells Toll in high school English class, I used the first page (346 words) of that novel. You remember:

“He lay flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees. The mountainside sloped gently where he lay….”(you can read more here).

So how did Hemmingway, the author, do? That was interesting!

On Grammarly, he scored 79/100. Come on, Ernest, in most University grading systems, that’s only a C+! Points were deducted for:

“• Squinting modifier in second sentence, “The mountainside sloped gently.”
• Repetitive word ‘road” in opening paragraph.
• Overused word ‘solid.’
• Missing commas (on two separate occasions) before the coordinating conjunction and in a compound sentence.
• Unusual word pairs.
• Suggested to replace the word ‘pass.’
• Repetitive word ‘post.’
• Wordiness in one sentence.”
• (Also, Grammarly didn’t recognize the word ‘photostated.’)

On Yoast, Ernest received three ‘bad SEO’ ratings, one ‘okay’ and two ‘goods.’ Below are Yoast’s exact comments:

“• Bad SEO score: The text does not contain any subheadings. Add at least one subheading.
• Bad SEO score: 1 of the paragraphs contains more than the recommended maximum of 150 words. Are you sure all information is about the same topic and therefore belongs in one single paragraph?
• Bad SEO score: 11.5% of the sentences contain a transition word or phrase, which is less than the recommended minimum of 30%.
• OK SEO score: 11.5% of the sentences contain passive voice, which is more than the recommended maximum of 10%. Try to use their active counterparts.
• Good SEO score: The copy scores 87.4 in the Flesch Reading Ease test, which is considered easy to read.
• Good SEO score: 24% of the sentences contain more than 20 words, which is less than or equal to the recommended maximum of 25%.”

And finally, how did Hemmingway, the app, score Hemmingway the writer?

Concern was noted for:
“• 7 adverbs used. Aim for 4 or fewer.
• 4 out of 23 sentences were hard to read.
• 1 sentence was very hard to read.”

Strengths included:
“•Grade 6 Reading Level (good).
• Met the goal of 5 or fewer uses of the passive voice.
• 0 suggestions to use simpler sentences.”

My takeaway was that each of these plugins/apps do have their place. They can offer useful insights and provide much convenience. The caution is that they MUST be used as ‘suggested guidelines’ and not completely replace human proofreading. Surpassing all search engine mathematics, writers need to remain true to their own voices. I would hate to see appropriate 3+-syllable words, intricate paragraphs, and complex/compound sentences stripped from the internet. I would also hate to see emerging Hemmingways restrained by fear of the SEO police!

Oh, and what were my SEO scores for this post?

Grammarly assigned me a score of 93% (woo hoo… A- !)

The Hemmingway app rated my writing at a “Grade 7 Readability Level” (‘good’). This app liked my conservative use of both adverbs and a passive voice. It did, however, suggest that I use “simpler phrases” (e.g. recommended I use the word “greatest” instead of “maximum” (….which, as you can read above, would not make sense). This app also suggested that I make some of my sentences easier to read.

The Yoast plugin is never going to like me because I don’t tend to use subheadings in my blog posts. It gave me one big, negative, red circle for that! It also wanted me to use more transition words and gave me a cautionary orange circle for that. (Hey, what if I randomly inserted meaningless transition words into this post? Moreover. Likewise. Additionally. Similarly. Amazing, that worked! Goodbye orange circle!) The good news is that I did receive four positive green circles (for my short sentences, short paragraphs, restrained use of the passive voice and good Flesch reading score). I also snagged an additional green circle for cheating on my trasition words. And wait for it….

‘Subheading’

Ta Da!! Due to that stray, frivolous subtitle, Yoast just gave me my sixth green circle…and a ‘perfect’ readability score!

How does your writing rate? You can check it out here, here and here! What are your thoughts on all of this? All comments are appreciated.


Title photo made at Canva.com

Alone in the Classroom…and the Love of Words

The above quote is spoken by the narrator of Alone in the Classroom as she pieces together fragments of her ancestry in search of self-acceptance. Although this novel has arguable flaws in plot and structure, this quote gives us a taste of Hay’s distinctive style, evocative descriptions and provocative messaging. From the woody smells of childhood to the villainous school principal who “moved through the school like mustard gas,” Hay’s artful prose invigorated every fiber of my being. I was reminded once again about my on-going love affair with words, and their intoxicating magic.

According to researchers at Washington State University, a single word has the power to “inform, persuade, hurt, ease pain…get your point across, or destroy any hope of your ideas ever being understood.” In the fatal example of the Japanese use of the word “mokusatsu” at the end of WWll, one word can trigger unspeakable horrors. (Read more.)

Multiple researchers have supported the claim that reading great literature improves us as human beings. Studies, both with adults and with children, have indicated that “individuals who frequently read fiction are better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective.” As an interesting aside, no similar effect was noted when participants watched television. (You can read more here.)

As Hay continued to lure me with her skillful prose, BAM! I was transported back to the long, hot, restless summers of my own childhood.

“Newspapers of old smelled damp, inky, pungent. We would lie on the floor when we were kids, our noses inches above the paper, and devour the comic strips that were so glamorous in those days, the women and the men bewitching, all chiselled cheekbones and thick hair, full lips and swelling breasts. The damp wonder of romance, and the excitement of the world out there awaiting us – it was all transmitted directly into our noses through newsprint and ink.”

and

“Roads were narrower…more shaded. Cars less common and slower. Summer feet were bare and tough, or shod in old leather. Faces were careless of the sun. Noses burned, and children aided the peeling by picking the skin loose and giving it a fascinated tug. As many peelings per summer as there were pips in a winter grapefruit.”

What about you? What is your relationship with words? Is there a recent, or favorite passage, that has transported you in time? Please share!

And while we’re sharing a love of words, a new children’s book in the Piper Morgan series is being released on April 4. This series is written by Tennessee author and blogger, Stephanie Faris. You can check out more details here. This is a non-sponsored recommendation.

Featured image created by Canva.
Feature quote from Alone in the Classroom, Copyright © 2011 by Elizabeth Hay. Publisher: Emblem Editions.

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?

__________________________

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!

__________
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.

Enter If You Dare!!







When hiking the trails at Cameron Lake, on Vancouver Island, I came across several old cabins which made me pose the questions:

Would you enter?
Or dare peek inside?
Uninvited?
Today?
Even if you knew that hauntings, the ghost of Grandpa Bonney, the Cameron Lake Monster and Sasquatch sightings have all been reported in this area?
Even if you suffered from Friggatriskaidekaphobia?

Cameron Lake is surrounded by McMillian Park, lush with towering ancient Douglas Firs and Western Red Cedars. Overlooking the lake you will find train trestles with wooden platforms. The trestles, now inactive, boast an incredible history and stand as an iconic landmark. Sitting on the lake, below the trestles, are several cottages originally used by the workers who maintained the railway and safeguarded it from fire. The cottages since have been passed down to the families of these workers.

Cameron Lake has repeatedly been at the center of much intrigue and fascination. In addition to what has been mentioned above, there have been several mysterious events, often retold by locals. These occurrences include the crash of a small plane (1968) where the wreckage (still containing the remains of the four passengers) was not discovered in the lake’s waters until fifteen years later. (Additional Sources: 1, 2). There have also been unsolved reports of a three-foot monkey appearing in people’s driveways just a few kilometers away (despite no one in the area known, or licensed, to own such an animal). And then there are the stories for which I could find no shred of substantiation (other than to confirm that these stories do in fact exist). These include tales of a train wreck that supposedly lies at the bottom of the lake and has never been recovered.

Earlier this week, my husband and I donned our hiking boots and rain gear (it is Vancouver Island after all) and set out to capture a few extra photos for this post. The dark skies and drizzle were perfect for the photos that I had in mind.

When we first arrived along the shore, lined with small cabins, our eyes were immediately drawn to a string-bikini-clad bather. She seemed to be having her own photo shoot on the floating dock of one of the cabins. Before you begin imaging a warm climate, it was four degrees Celsius with a stinging rain. To my husband’s chagrin, I resisted the temptation to sneak in a shot of the event.

As we continued along, Cameron Lake did not disappoint and held fast to its reputation for giving cause to wonder. Does that not oddly look like some kind of monkey king deep in that tree? (Ninth photo, no special effects.) And look! There’s a strangely elongated face high on the other trunk! (Tenth photo, again no special effects.) Well, I might as well roll with the fun and get a shot of Grandpa Bonney himself…or the closest stand-in that I could find. (Eleventh photo…special effects may have been used!)

Happy Friday the 13th everyone!!

________
This post has been written for #ThursdayDoors, a weekly blog link-up hosted by Montreal blogger/photographer Norm Frampton at Norm 2.0. Why not check out the other ‘door’ postings…safe from the inside of your home?!

Retirement: Am I Still Transitioning?

A year and a half ago, my husband and I took the ‘leap of faith’ into retirement without a clear map of what we wanted our post-career life to look like. We did follow our plan to relocate to Vancouver Island. We have also been spending much time with family/friends, enjoying our grandchildren, meeting new people and traveling…all of which we had hoped to do.

In fact, our retirement so far has been a whirlwind of family time, social time and travel. It has been the gaps in-between those fast-paced times which gives me pause to wonder, “Am I still transitioning?” “Should I have a more established routine?” “Am I achieving what I wanted from this amazing gift of freedom?”

We had decided to give ourselves ample time to transition. But how long does transitioning take and should I be doing something more with my retirement? Volunteering? A deeper commitment to my community? Contributing to world peace? Or even just achieving a more established routine or engaging in some form of ‘employment’ (shriek here)!

Originally led by the work of Professor Robert Atchley, (The Sociology of Retirement, R. C. Atchley – 1976), researchers suggest that the psychological process of retirement follows a similar pattern to other major areas of transition, and can be divided into distinct stages. Researchers also suggest that it is not always necessary to complete each of these stages sequentially before moving onto the next. Also, like many other transition models, there are several variations on the labeling and description of the phases. The sources are endless. I have listed just a few of them here. (Source 1, Source 2, Source 3, Source 4).

The core phases are often described as follows:
1. Pre-retirement – Planning Phase
2. The Final Days of Work – Farewell Phase
3. The Initial Days of Retirement – Honeymoon Phase
4. So this is it? – Disenchantment Phase
5. Building a New Identity – Reorientation Phase
6. Moving On – Establishing Routine and Stability Phase

And there it was, staring me in the face–the disenchantment phase. It hits us all, even if just fleetingly — especially after travel or holidays. As Abba so appropriately asked in their song, ‘Happy New Year’*, What do we do at the end of the champagne and fireworks? How do we know if we are going astray, or do we keep on going (astray) anyway? (Source 5).

And that really is the question that I have been asking myself this post-holiday season, after my eighteen months of retirement. Luckily, again, according to researchers, it is these exact questions (Who am I now? What is my purpose?) that we need to ask ourselves in order to achieve closure from our working days and fully embrace our retirement years.

Currently, I would say that I am juggling between Phases 3 and 5, with a healthy dose of Phase 4 mixed into the intervals. I’m definitely not at Phase 6 quite yet. Since that stage is about ‘finding stability and routine,’ I think I’ll keep experimenting with what’s out there for a little while longer!

If you are retired, do these phases seem familiar to you? Are there any additional phases that you would add?

___________________________________

*When I was part way through writing this post, I came across Abba’s song ‘Happy New Year’ featured on Hugh’s Views and News blog. It fit in perfectly with my theme. It is truly amazing how often this ‘synchronized blogging’ happens. You can check out Hugh’s post here.

Ties that Bind

There are things that I am afraid to put into writing for fear of making them too real.

For this week’s post, I had planned to write a lighthearted self-reflection on something or other. Then the past few days happened. Without going into specifics, these days have been tough beyond measure. All lightheartedness instantly evaporated. The importance of strong family relationships took over my field of vision and was reinforced more than ever.

I am part of a large extended family. The dynamics are sometimes messy, sometimes complicated and seldom quiet. Despite occasional squabbles, our family pack is a good place to be. Our bonds are strong.

In the past few days, these ties have been tested. Despite the size of our brood, every single individual has risen above their own pain to help one another. The cohesiveness of our fold has been commented upon by many.

In a previous post, I highlighted current research that has shown that nurturing and supportive family relationships can decrease stress levels. I looked specifically at expanding research that argues that family relationships can provide stimulation, purpose, a sense of connection and validation, especially when we are no longer in the workplace.

This past week, I was repeatedly struck by family members, at all stages of life, supporting each other. They each demonstrated incredible acts of selflessness, at the most difficult of times. I looked again at studies on families with this lens. The research was abundant.

Below is a small highlight of a smattering of takeaways that I discovered when barely scratching the surface of available sources.

Your Mom CAN Make It Better – In a 2010 study, conducted at The University of Wisconsin-Madison, researchers found that children who spoke with their mothers following a stressful situation, showed increased levels of oxytocin (believed to decrease our stress response). Source. This phenomenon has caused some researchers to comment that “Mothers know without being instructed how to soothe a child.” Source I was fortunate to be with my own mother at the start of this terrible week. In my case, I totally agree with this research.

Being a Parent May Increase Your Life Expectancy –

A study of 21,276 couples from Denmark, revealed that parents (both mothers and fathers) were four times less likely to die early from accidents, cancer, or other specific diseases. Although these results contradict the findings of many earlier studies, this does seem like a nice reward for all of those sleepless nights! Source

Caring for Others Helps Us Take Better Care of Ourselves-
Various bodies of research now suggest that taking care of people that we love may help us to take better care of ourselves. Included in this research is evidence that our immune function and stress regulation is improved when we are around our family and close friends. Source As you may have already suspected, according to researchers, family and friends are very influential in terms of our lifestyle.Source In one study, “36 percent of people say their nutrition is affected by influence from their friends and family. And 46 percent of people in the survey said that their loved ones make a difference in their overall healthy lifestyles.” Source

Siblings Decrease Loneliness and Increase Happiness –
Although much of this research was conducted on sisters, studies have shown that having a sibling is good for your mental health, and can help people (especially preteens) feel less lonely/less self-conscious and happier. Having a sibling was also linked with greater family communication as well as more inclination to do good deeds. Source

Blood Just May Be Thicker Than Water –
New studies from the University of Toronto reveal that, for seniors, having close relationships with family members is more important than friendships, especially in terms of life expectancy. According to this study, retirees who were very close with family members had lower mortality rates than those who relied solely on close friendships. (11th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association). Source

The pain of this past week will remain in the hearts of my family forever. But the selfless acts of family members that we witnessed again and again will equally never fade. I am immensely proud and grateful to be part of such an incredible family pack.

Retirement Responsibilities

So far, I’ve written a fair amount about the perks and freedoms of retirement. Without a doubt, the list of retirement pros is long. However, I would be neglectful not to portray the flip side. As the famous saying goes: “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With (great) freedom comes (great) responsibility.”(Source)  I initially began the following as a simple list of bullet points that could be included in a retiree’s ‘job description.’  Once I started writing, I began to realize the vastness of this topic. My sincere apologies to anyone reading in a hurry!

Do Your Homework – After my husband and I made the financial decision to leave our jobs, I began to research the emotional side of retirement. I found the quickest and most interesting way to do this was to follow retirement bloggers. Instantly, I could read personal accounts of the daily highs and lows of retirement, and learn from others who had pioneered ahead of me. I believe that this single decision helped best prepare me mentally for my life after leaving the workforce…often in 800 words or less! Some great blogs to check out are listed on the sidebar of this post. In addition, I have quoted from a few of these retirement blogs in this article.

Find/Maintain Purpose – When high expectations are not met, boredom and frustration can set in. As author/blogger, Tom Sightings has recently posted, ““We need activities that stimulate our imagination, connect us to other people, and help us develop a commitment to something more than our own self-interest.” Not finding purpose is frequently cited as a chief concern among those struggling with retirement.

Expect the Unexpected – According to the Ontario Securities Commission Report (2014), more than 50% of Canadians, aged 50 or older, said something outside their control negatively affected their retirements. The unexpected can come in the form of health issues for yourself or a family member. It can also come from the sudden decline/loss of an investment or property. Backup plans and safety nets are essential, especially when you do not have a steady employment income.

Watch Expenses – Following the above, balancing and prioritizing finances are critical skills, especially in retirement. Budgeting for your expenses and cutting back on extravagant or unnecessary expenditures (i.e. living below your means) helps provide extra security in retirement and a less stressful post-career life. A Dave Ramsey quote (recently cited on Mr. Fire Station’s early retirement blog) is very appropriate here: “A budget is telling your money where to go, instead of wondering where it went.”

Become a Jack (or Jill) of All Trades –  In the workplace, it is often easy to access the skills of other people, leaving you to focus on what you do best. Prior to retiring, my husband and I seldom worried about computer troubles, or editing, or…well, many things! Complicating this matter further,  living overseas gave us quite affordable access to housekeeping, maintenance workers, spa services, movers, etc., etc. The day that we retired, these all became ‘luxuries of the past.’ We have each become much more versatile in our skill sets.  We now know more about our computers than we ever thought possible. We confidently tend to household chores and maintenance tasks, We eat out less often. Even home manicures/pedicures/hair coloring are now part of my regular routine (shriek here)! Going along with the above bullet-point, the more that you can do for yourself in retirement, the broader your financial safety net will be.

Use it or Lose it – It is common understanding that a decline in cognitive and physical performance takes place in our senior years. Although many factors can contribute to this, the ‘use it or lose it’ theory is frequently cited.   Thus, daily activity, self-care and not letting ourselves fall into sedimentary routines is essential as we age. The great news from researchers is that although it may take more effort to learn new information during our retirement, our foundation of knowledge and experience can far outweigh that of youth. (Source) This same body of research indicates that those who keep themselves informed and up-to-date in their post-work life tend to have a much higher retirement contentment rate.

Enter with your own self-esteem and self-worth fully intact –It is said that in a wolf pack, wolves instinctively admire the role/position that other wolves have in the pack at that moment. (Source) During our career lives, it is often easy for people to connect with us, or instantly feel respect for us, simply based on our job titles. Replacing that career title with the word “retiree” usually does not pull the same punch. (Janis at RetirementallyChallenged covers this topic nicely!) It is essential to come into retirement with a healthy self-concept and our own intrinsic motivation. I can’t help but link a BlitzZoom video here—It’s appropriate…and makes me laugh every single time that I watch it!

Have a Caregiving Plan (both for giving and receiving care) –Last year, the cost impact of caregiving on American female caregivers, in terms of lost wages and Social Security benefits, was $324,044.  [Source) Caring for an ailing parent, spouse or simply for grandchildren is a reality for many, especially retirees. Due to the demands of this multi-faceted role, it is important that caregivers also take care of themselves and get the support that they need. Essential resources for caregivers include: respite, up-to-date information, training, home modifications and support groups/family counseling. Blogger Kathy Merlo has recently posted on this topic, offering practical self-maintenance strategies for caregivers.

Nurture Relationships – I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. Having strong, positive relationships has been solidly linked with longer life.(Source) Having friends to turn to decreases social isolation, provides emotional and physical support, helps us to manage stress and, according to some research, improves our immune systems. (Source) For married retirees, the importance of healthy communication, flexibility and give-and-take cannot be understated.

 Give back – Retirement is a great time to reflect on the joys and opportunities that we have had in our lives. It is also a great time to give back to others. There are endless ways in which to do this. Local volunteer organizations, like Volunteer Canada,  connect volunteers with others who need their skills/support. Still hesitant? Helping others increases self-esteem and offers multiple health benefits. Volunteering also provides personal empowerment and stimulates the release of endorphins, which can improve nervous and immune system functioning. (Source)  Linda, at Thoughts From a Bag Lady In Waiting, wrote a very eloquent reflection on her experiences volunteering at the Oinofyta Refugee Camp in Greece. Your giving back contribution does not have to involve a major commitment…every little bit counts!

The above only begins to scratch the surface of the ‘Retirees’ Job Description’. What responsibilities would you like to add? I would love to hear from you!

 

 

 

 

 

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.