Sisterhood

I once had a friend who told me she felt sorry for me because I did not have a sister.  She was very close to her own sister and could not imagine how I got through life being my parents’ only daughter. 

It is true that there is something very special about a sister relationship.  Knowing each other and loving each other and growing through life together is a source of great strength and joy.  God gave women sisters to be companions on the journey.  When one sister falls, another is there to laugh… and then help her up.  When one sister goes through an experience, good or bad, other sisters rejoice with her and mourn with her.  When a sister is going down a dark path, it is a great blessing to have another sister shining a light and suggesting a different direction.

Yes, sisterhood is a wonderful thing.  My friend had it wrong though. I do have sisters.

I have a sister who saw me through a painful divorce.  She stayed on the phone with me for hours at a time, listening to me cry and despair of ever being happy. As the years progressed, she supported me in everything I’ve ever done. She helped me build confidence and joy in myself. Without her, I don’t know that I would have lived beyond age 30.

I have a sister who listened and observed and figured out the best things to do for me while I struggled through my mother’s decline and eventual death.  She just knew what I needed and provided it.  She is also absolutely the best person I have ever met at knowing the exact right thing to say all the time. 

I have a sister who came to me for career advice, blossomed because of the conversations we shared, and included me in her joy when her efforts bore fruit.

I have a sister who walked with me on my road to reception into the Episcopal Church and continues to support me in my faith.  She respects me.  She understands me.  She loves me. 

I have a sister who let me help her when things were difficult for her.  Instead of pushing me aside when she was mourning, she allowed me the honor of doing something for her.  In letting me take something off her plate, she gave me the satisfaction of helping and also showed me that she loved me enough to let me close.

I have a sister who went with me when the Disney Fairy Godmother reimagined me into an aging, chubby Tinker Bell.  Not only did she go, but she enjoyed it and could not imagine why anyone would think it weird. 

I have a sister who is willing to gently tell me when she thinks I am doing something wrong… and also convinces me that I am lovable in spite of the unlovable action. 

I have a sister to whom I can say anything without fearing that I will be judged, misunderstood, or hurt because of it. 

I have a sister who, while my ego and sense of sanity crumbled during a few particularly painful interludes during my work life, could always convince me that “it’s not you; it’s them.” Without her, I think I might have experienced a psychotic break with reality. 

I have sisters who make me feel like the joyful child I used to be.  I have sisters who make me feel like the carefree teenager I never was.  I have sisters who admire the adult I am today.  Often, all these sisters are the same people. 

These are just a few of my sisters of the soul. It is true that I have no sisters by birth, but I am abundantly blessed with my sisters by selection.

Who are your “sisters?” Are they by birth or selection?  What makes the relationship so special?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Hug a sister today!

Terri/Dorry 😊

The Greying Of America… Or At Least Of One Particular Head In America

Some time back, I proudly declared, “as long as I had a checkbook, my hair would not be grey.“ (http://www.terrilabonte.com/2016/11/the-anti-frump/) I have been coloring my hair since I was sixteen and I could not imagine a time when I would be abandoning that practice.

Recently, something happened that made me question my stance on applying toxic chemicals to my head.  My scalp started to itch. 

If I am absolutely honest and face the facts, it was happening for several months.  I go to the hair salon every four weeks or so.  I’d come out of the salon, feeling sassy and stylish, but also scratchy.  At first, it only lasted a day or so after my salon visit and I didn’t notice it much.  I thought it was a fluke.  As the months progressed, the itchiness seemed to last longer and longer.  It also seemed to get more intense, urgent, and severe.  I scratched my scalp like a dog with fleas bites her coat.  The discomfort was getting harder to ignore.  I thought about what could be causing the issue, but didn’t think about the hair coloring.  I’d been coloring my hair so long, I almost forgot that it was an unnatural process.  I was also doing a keratin treatment to make my unruly hair more sleek, straight, and manageable.  While that wasn’t anything new, it was certainly newer than the hair color. I decided to try discontinuing the keratin treatment to see if that solved the itchies.  It did help a little, but I was still scratching more than socially acceptable when it was time to go back to the hairdresser. 

I realized, with growing horror, that I might be having a reaction to hair dye.  As I said, I have been dying my hair for years with no apparent ill effects.  Still, I know people can develop allergies over time.  I scoured the internet looking for a solution.  I talked to my hairdresser.  There did not appear to be any remedy except to swear off coloring my hair.  I found that idea so distasteful, I could barely talk about the possibility.  My hairdresser sketched out an exit plan for me to stop the coloring with the least amount of angst, but it boiled down to her proclaiming, “no matter what, it is a process.”  You see, if I stop dying my hair, not only do I have to deal with my real color (which is presumably two shades greyer than “old”), but I will have to endure many, many months of the oh-so-attractive “skunk look” that happens when my roots become visible. 

I told my hairdresser that I wasn’t ready to stop coloring my hair just yet.  For one thing, I was getting ready to leave on vacation and I figured I could put my head through the chemical wash again in order to ensure one more batch of vacation pictures in which I did not look like something the cat dragged home.  It was in the back of my mind, though, that I would probably have to start that “process” my hairdresser so appealingly described at some point in the near future.

As it turned out, my itchies disappeared.  I am not sure why it got better.  I changed conditioners at home and went back to using the heat protection cream I discontinued using some months ago.  I’m not sure if that was the solution. I typically was most itchy right after the salon, where they presumably coated my hair with every luxurious potion known to woman given the price I was paying. Whatever the reason, I am pleased to report that my scalp is no longer itchy. 

The whole episode did start me thinking, though.  What was it about the notion of going grey that was so repellent?  Why was I willing to suffer constant, desperate itching… to say nothing of whatever other health risks I undertake when I let toxic chemicals seep into my skull… simply to avoid it? 

It isn’t that I think gray hair is intrinsically unattractive.  I see woman all the time who have gorgeous silver and gray locks.  They still look polished and youthful by taking good care of their hair. It isn’t the fact that my hair has always been the only aspect of my looks to which anyone could remotely apply the term “pretty.”  I never felt that some reasonably attractive hair could overcome the general unattractiveness of my appearance.  Being vain about my hair would come under the heading of “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”  I can certainly leave the deck chairs be.  It isn’t even the months or years of “skunk look” during the growing out phase that terrifies me.  That is a self-limiting condition and will eventually pass.

I think what really bothers me is that, if I stop coloring my hair, I won’t look like “me” anymore.  It is not that I am afraid that the person in the mirror will look old.  I am afraid the person in the mirror will look unfamiliar.  Will I think about myself differently when I see the grey hair?  Will I behave differently?  Will other people see me anymore or will they just see grey hair? 

I know that the answer to all these questions is probably “it depends.”  I think the answers are probably at least partially within my control.  Maybe I should not be spending so much time wondering about whether these things will happen and spend more time on figuring out how to prevent them from happening.  The truth is, I am the same person whether I have brown hair or grey.  If I want the world to believe that, it is up to me to do some marketing of myself.  More importantly, if I want to believe it, it is up to me to develop a sufficiently strong sense of self to withstand the greying of my hair. 

When we discussed this subject before, many of you mentioned that you were fine with your grey hair.  Did any of you “go grey” after years of coloring your hair?  What obstacles or difficulties did you face?  How did you overcome then?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com

Have a silver day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

A Poem

I’m off the grid; I’m off the trail.

I’m not in the hospital or sitting in jail.

I’m out and about, thinking of you.

I’m on an adventure and enjoying the view.

I’ll return to the blog, please don’t you fear,

So come back next Wednesday to read what is here.

If me disappearing has got you all shook,

Just go to Amazon and buy my book!

Yes, please!  You can order a paperback or electronic version of Changing My Mind: Reinventing Myself In Retirement by Dorry Curran at Amazon.com and other online booksellers. 

Regrets

My mother’s birthday is tomorrow.  She died about two years ago.  I thought I had been mourning her death in a pretty healthy way, moving through stages of grief appropriately.  I felt that I was moving forward towards wholeness.  I thought the worst was pretty much behind me. 

I think I was wrong. 

Those of you who have been traveling with me know that, when my mother died, I experienced a wide variety of emotions.  I tried to feel each one instead of pushing it aside so I would not create a dark prison of grief within myself.  It has been a difficult, painful process, but also satisfying in that I feel like I’ve mourned with a certain amount of courage and integrity.

The one thing I thought I was spared during my mourning was the problem of regret.  When my mother died, I felt fairly satisfied with my role in her last years.  I believed I had done my best. I thought I was able to let go of any self-loathing about what I “coulda shoulda” done. 

Once again, I think I was wrong. 

It seems I do have regrets. Big ones.  But I think I have just been too afraid to face them. They are menacing.  They are terrifying.  They are threatening to start building that prison of grief. It might be time to show them the light of day. 

I first became aware of the regrets around Mother’s Day this year.  Some of you may remember my story about the day I stopped holding my mom’s hand and vacated the room when family came to visit her roommate (http://www.terrilabonte.com/2019/05/hug-a-mom-today). I think that memory opened the door to my regrets.   I have been regretting that day ever since.  I’ve been regretting it so much, it hurts. I regret that I didn’t just stay in the room and hold her hand when the other people came.  I regret that I didn’t hold her hand more often.

There are other regrets, as well.  Sometimes, I even regret things that I was absolutely convinced were the right thing to do when I did them.  For instance, I regret not being with my mom when she passed.  I was always sure my mom did not want me there when she died.  Now, I wonder.  It would have been difficult to tell when the time was coming, admittedly.  She had been slowly leaving me for so long, it was hard to know when the door was finally going to close.  I had been through the “it may be just a few days” phase several times.  Apart from staying at the nursing facility full time for several weeks or months, there would have been no way to know the critical moment.  During those last few days, which I didn’t know were going to be the last few days, the hospice nurses thought she might be getting close.  She died in the very early hours on a Saturday morning.  When I saw her on Friday, she drank a whole can of Ensure… after not eating anything for days.  My hospice angel said that it seemed that maybe she wasn’t ready to go yet.  Less than twelve hours later, she was gone. 

In some ways, that chain of events should reassure me that my mother’s intent was to die without me there.  On some level, she may have been trying to fool me into believing I could go home because it wasn’t time, even though she knew it was.  It doesn’t really matter whether I am right or wrong about the way I interpret her actions.  I still regret not being there.

I regret that I was not able to figure out what my mother was trying to say a lot of the time.  I tried so hard, but I failed much of the time.  I resorted to trying to interpret her nonverbal cues and I will never know how good a job I did of that.  I am sad because I don’t know if I advocated for her properly because I wasn’t sure what she wanted or needed. 

Then there is the biggest, most shameful regret.  I regret that I did not have her at home with me.  I regret that she lived in a nursing home.  I know there are a lot of good reasons she was there.  She was bedridden.  She needed extensive wound treatment and medical comfort care.  She was incontinent.  Her cognitive and communicative abilities were impaired. She needed twenty-four hour a day assistance with activities of daily living. It was good that she had a network of loving people who genuinely cared for her and attended to her needs.  I was with her just about every day, but, if she had been at home, it would have been only me with her.  She always responded well to the caregivers who visited her room and made her laugh.  I’m not sure I was up to making her laugh, much less taking care of all her needs.  I don’t think I honestly could have taken care of her at home.  Let’s be truthful. It was all I could do to make it through that time when there was a whole team of people caring for her.  Still, I regret it bitterly.  I feel like I should have been able to care for her at home.

Truth be told, I have hit a rough patch.  I am in a bit of a dark place.  I have woken up crying several times over the last few nights.  In the shower this morning, I couldn’t draw a deep breath.  My heart felt ready to explode.  There was a dead heaviness in the center of my abdomen.  All I wanted to do was scream, as if by pushing sound violently out of myself, I could also dispatch the pain.  It is even hard to write this because it hurts so much to realize how much more I wish I was. 

As I said, I have been struggling with these feelings of regret for several months now.  I work hard to manage them.  I’ve found a few strategies that seem to help make things easier to endure.

First, there is prayer.  I have found that laying my grief and my regrets at God’s feet is the best way to unburden myself from it.  Not only that, but prayer has helped me find other ways of dealing with the regret.  For one thing, I know that my mother is in Heaven.  Her heart holds no regrets.  She experiences only joy and love.  She has long since forgiven me for every weakness, failing, and misstep.  Secondly, instead of wallowing in my regrets, I try to invest that energy in doing ordinary things with extraordinary love for the people I still encounter in this world.  It is sweetly satisfying to use a little of the love I have for my mother to brighten someone else’s life.  It is part of her legacy to me. 

Still, all my strategies don’t always work. Some days, I run smack into one of those grief prison walls and I just give up.  It hurts. Today is one of those days. 

Have you experienced feelings of regret after the death of a loved one?  How do you manage those feelings?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com

Have a regret-free day!

Terri/Dorry ☹

These are flowers I had sent to my church this week in memory of and thanksgiving for my beautiful mother.
The memory flowers at the feet of the Madonna and Child

Limited Resources

Most people realize that they will have more limited financial resources when they retire.  They plan for years to make sure those resources will be sufficient to meet their needs after they stop working. 

There are other limited resources in retirement.  It is a good idea to think about how we will manage them, as well. 

Lots of people say that, after retirement, they are busier than they were during their working lives.  They remark that they really don’t know how they ever found the time to work.  I am certainly not busier than I was when I was working for a living, but it does seem like I am busier than I ever thought I would be in retirement.  I absolutely understand the feeling that I don’t know how I ever found the time to work.  If I had to fit a regular job into my current life, I’m not sure how I would be able to do it.  My dance card is full.

When I felt the first pangs of overscheduling during retirement, I put it down to the fact that I was taking care of my mother.  While I did not spend 40 plus hours a week with her or doing things for her, I did invest a considerable amount of time.  I had, in effect, traded in my full-time career for a part time caregiver job.  It made sense that I didn’t have as much free time as I would have thought.  It didn’t bother me.  In fact, I blessed my lucky stars and thanked my good God every day that I was able to retire from my full-time job so I could devote my energy to my mom.  A lot of people are not so fortunate.  They do the best they can trying to combine caregiving with their full-time job responsibilities. 

After my mother passed away, I think I desperately tried to figure out what I should be doing with myself.  I jumped into a lot of new activities.  Some of that mania was about filling time to avoid melancholia, but most of it was truly about trying things I wanted to do but had postponed while my mom needed me.  I’m very happy with my experimenting. I have settled quite nicely into a routine of satisfying activities.  I’m living my life… and maybe overliving it sometimes, based on the overcrowding of my calendar. 

I think we forget a little bit about how to schedule when we retire.  I remember when I was working that I used to yearn for retirement as a time when I did not have to do everything in the most efficient way humanly possible.  That time has come and I don’t do everything in the most efficient way humanly possible.  I sometimes forget that time is a finite commodity and I can’t continuously fit in “one more thing.”  When I do try to fit in one too many “one more things,” I feel the tension in my gut and remember why I wanted to retire.  Even when you aren’t working for a living, time is a limited resource.  It takes some practice to find the pleasant sweet spot between unpleasant idleness and unpleasant overextension. 

Health can also be a limited resource as we age.  We all hope to live a long, healthy, happy life and enjoy our retirement. It is likely that we will enjoy reasonably good health for at least part of our post-employment lives.  Realistically, though, it is probable we will experience some period of declining health.  In order to fully live our retirement years and to avoid becoming a burden on others to the extent we can, it makes sense to try to take care of our health.  Eating properly, avoiding unhealthy habits like smoking, getting regular exercise, seeing medical professionals for early detection screenings, cultivating fulfilling relationships, and laughing a lot can all help us live more of our lives in a satisfying way.  It can also be a good idea to buy long term care insurance.  Nobody wants to be in a situation where they can’t take care of themselves, but it happens.  Sometimes, even loving and willing family members can’t perform the care that people end up needing.  By providing for a financial plan to pay for professional care, you can increase your peace of mind about the future, which may also help improve your health in the present. 

It also makes sense not to postpone things we want to do for too long.  If you want to fulfill your bucket list, it makes sense to start before the bucket starts leaking.  If you really want to take a trip to Alaska, do it.  By all means, plan for it and do whatever preparations you need to do to maximize your enjoyment of it.  Do not put it on the back burner, however.   Chances are, you are healthier and more physically able today than you will be next year or the year after. 

There is another limited resource that I never considered when crafting my retirement life.  I spent most of my adult life living in less than 700 square feet.  I’ve stayed in hotel rooms bigger than my condo in Southern California.  When I retired, I more than doubled my living space.  I never thought I’d have to manage space again.  I obviously deluded myself.  Many of the activities in which I’ve become involved have encroached beyond the garage into the trunk of my car and into the vast expanses of square footage that used to be my bedroom floor.  For many people who downsize in retirement, limited space can be more of a problem.  I guess the key to avoiding this problem is to be realistic about the fact that you can’t fit a ten-pound bag of sugar into a five-pound canister.  You either need to get another canister or get rid of half the sugar.

Currently, I have three different volunteer efforts competing for room in my car. My back seat is filled with bags of books to take to a local elementary school, courtesy of a literacy support organization to which I belong.  Before the appointed time to drop off the books at school, I am also scheduled to deliver meals for Operation Homebound, an organization that provides nutritious meals for people who are unable to shop or cook for themselves.  My plan is to put the ice chests that contain the meals in the trunk of my car, since the back seat is filled with the books.  Unfortunately, my trunk is currently housing food for a funeral reception at my church that one of my church ladies’ groups is hosting.  If everything goes perfectly, I’ll be able to juggle my deliveries so that I won’t double encumber my vehicular real estate. 

Pray for me.

What limitations on resources have you experienced in retirement?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a limitless day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Adaptable

I’ve never been a very adaptable person.  I don’t handle change well. I am hard-wired to avoid it.  When I was working, people often called me “stubborn” because I was usually the last to let go of an old philosophy or procedure. I clung to the last scrap of past practices like a drowning woman clings to a life preserver.  It wasn’t stubbornness.  It was sheer terror.

In the years since my retirement, I’ve thrown caution, if not to the wind, at least to the strong breeze.  I plowed my way through the numerous changes involved in retiring, moving to Florida, caring for my mother, and other such challenges of life.  Most of the time, I survived by closing my eyes and pretending it wasn’t happening.  Kind of like a root canal.  At least with the root canal, they gave me laughing gas. 

Despite my best efforts, I have learned a few things about responding to change in my post retirement life.  The other day, I experienced living proof of my increased ability to adapt.  Actually, it was a bit too living, if you ask me.

I was outside spraying the weeds around my house with Round-up.  This is a routine summer activity.  In fact, during the summer months, spraying weeds is something like painting the Golden Gate Bridge.  By the time I circle the house once, more weeds have sprouted and I could just go around again.  If I didn’t call a halt to the madness, I’d be spraying perpetually.  I limit myself to one circumnavigation of the house per spraying episode.

What I would not call exactly routine is that I saw a snake outside our lanai. That never happened in California.  In Florida, it isn’t exactly abnormal, but it is not an everyday occurrence.  It happens a couple of times each year.  This guy was a big fellow, though.  He was about six feet long and about as big around as a garden hose.  I don’t think he was a poisonous variety, but seeing any variety of snake around the house always creeped me out in the past (please see  http://www.terrilabonte.com/2016/07/the-great-snake-chase/ and http://www.terrilabonte.com/2019/01/snakes-why-did-it-have-to-be-snakes/).

The evidence of my new adaptability is that the noise I emitted when I saw the enormous black snake was more like a startled “eek” and less like the screeching gurgle of someone whose throat has just been slit.  I was immensely proud of myself when I realized the progress I’ve made on the adaptability front. 

Really, though, does a more measured reaction to a snake sighting mean that I’ve learned to adapt to change?  Or is it just that seeing the occasional reptile no longer constitutes “change” for me?  That is a frightening thought. 

I’ve always thought that “adaptability” meant “flexibility.”  That may be going too far.  I don’t think my “startled eek” demonstrated any Gumbyesque ability to morph effortlessly into whatever shape is necessary for survival and thrive-al.  Truth be told, I’m still not very good at adjusting to new situations.  Gumby and I have little in common.  My approach to adaptability is more like the little boy who sculpted animals from rocks and sold them on the side of the road.  A lady once marveled at one of his cute little renditions of a donkey.  She asked him, “How do you make these beautiful carvings?”  He replied, “I pick up a rock and chip away anything that doesn’t look like a donkey.”

That’s me.  My ability to adapt is not immediate and beautiful.  I don’t transform myself gracefully and fluidly and effortlessly.  I just doggedly chip away the parts of me that don’t serve my new reality.  The new version of me I create is fairly rough and primitive.  So far, though, I seem to be able to churn out the donkeys when I need them. 

What pieces of your life have you chipped away because they “don’t look like a donkey” in retirement?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com

Have a flexible day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Is Reinvention Really A Thing?

This may not be the right time to ask this question.  After all, I’ve been writing a blog called Terri LaBonte: Reinventing Myself In Retirement for almost four years.  I published a book called Changing My Mind: Reinventing Myself In Retirement.  Perhaps the cows have already escaped the “reinvention” barn.  Still, this inquiring mind wants to know:  is reinvention really a thing?

When I first published my book, most of my friends demonstrated amazing support.  I’m not sure I could have gone through with the whole project if not for the encouragement I received from both online friends from the blog and my IRL friends who cheered me on in my creative endeavors. Being the kind of person that I am, it was more important than it should have been for me to have other people’s approval before my book hit the public eye.  My friends, in their unconditional love, provided that approval in spades. 

One friend, though, did challenge me when he heard the title of the book.  He questioned whether anyone could really reinvent oneself.  His point was that people don’t fundamentally change, especially in their fifties, sixties, seventies, and beyond.  He asked me if I thought I really had changed since my retirement.  His question baffled me.  In my mind, there is no doubt that I have changed significantly since leaving my career.  I am happier. I am quirkier.  I am more confident.  I am more appreciative of other people.  I am calmer.  I take more risks.  I am more patient. I seem to have acquired skills in any number of areas that I never thought to have (writing a blog, cooking a palatable dinner, cleaning wood floors, lizard whispering, and naming random wild animals just to mention a few). I am less desperate and less despairing. I think I even look and sound different.

I’m not the only one who thinks I have changed.  People who have known me for years have frequently commented on the transformation.  Even the daughter of a friend, who has known me most of her life but has not interacted with me regularly in many years, mentioned her astonishment at the “new me” when the family visited central Florida last year.  A friend from my youth saw me on Facebook and was clearly amazed that I was living a happy, full, vibrant life, comfortable in my own skin and embracing the journey.  She was my very best friend in my college years and I know she loved me dearly, but I also think she would not have been surprised to see me living alone behind tightly locked doors with an overabundance of cats.  If we had reconnected ten years ago, she probably would have had no reason to change her perception.  Now, she is exclaiming at how happy, fun, and pretty I am.  I love it when people have such low expectations of me that I can exceed the bar simply by getting through a day without dissolving into a pile of goo. 

Yes, I certainly seem different than I was during most of my working life.  I understand my friend’s point that people are pretty much who they are by the time they retire.  Change of any kind can be challenging.  It seems unlikely that a person such as myself could change my whole life and the very fundamentals of my personality.  So, how do I reconcile this improbability with the reality of my development over the past five years?

I think it boils down to being who I was always meant to be.  I’m not sure the fundamentals of who I am have changed.  I think my desires, morals, and values are the same as they have always been.  I think I have retained many of the tendencies that I have always had.  I think my world view is pretty much the same.  The difference is that I spent many years, as most people have, building bridges and scaffolding to allow the person I was inside to function in the world in which I lived.  I built guardrails and stunted my growth where I needed to in order to concentrate on surviving and succeeding in the world in which I put myself at a young age.  There is nothing wrong with that.  I was usually reasonably happy in my job.  The work I did stimulated my brain, made me feel valuable, and challenged my intellect. I think I helped people. The success I had in my career nurtured my confidence.  The people I met during my working life honed my judgment and insight about human nature… and often provided me with love.  My career was a wonderful part of my life and who I am.  I would not change it, even if I could.

Now, though, it is time to shelve that part of my life.  I take with me the lessons I learned and the positive traits my job helped me develop.  In retirement, however, I think I’ve started tearing down some of those bridges and scaffolds that were restricting other parts of me from growing.  Those parts of me were probably always there, but were covered by more urgent and visible impulses.  Hopefully, by the time I leave this Earth, I’ll be able to cherish the best of both the “career me” and the “retirement me.”

Reinvention isn’t so much about new construction.  It is more about demolition of the internal structures that no longer serve.   

What do you think?  Is reinvention really possible?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Invent a wonderful day for yourself!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Here The Wild Things Are

Max and I went to a really cool place last week where I brushed shoulders with a bison, cuddled with a lion, and hung with a sloth.  It was so fun and such a “me” kind of day.  Animal encounters always make me giddy.  Watching me on animal encounters always makes Max giddy.  This time, though, he engaged in some encountering himself. He experienced a certain measure of first hand giddiness.

The backstory on this excursion revolves around our love of bears.  Max, in particular, is fanatical about bears.  He especially loves grizzly bears, but any animal with the word “bear” in its name floats his boat.  We’ve done encounters with different types of animals, but have never been up close and personal with a bear.  I’ve always been on a quest to find a place where Max could interact with a bear.

In fluttering around the internet one day, I located a place that allows guests to do exactly that.  The have a zoo/reserve area about an hour from where we live.  They offer tours of the premises, the ability to feed large cats, the opportunity to feed and hold about 20 different animals, and even a chance to swim with some of their animal residents.  The specific activities available on any given day depend on what critters are of an appropriate age for handling at the time of the visit and the mood of the animal. When I saw that guests could feed and hold a black bear cub, I jumped on the opportunity.  I signed us both up for the bear encounter.  I added a sloth snuggling for me. 

Things didn’t start out so great.  As we approached the facility, we noticed a certain seediness in the surrounding area.  We arrived early because we get everywhere early. The gates to the park don’t open until half an hour before the tour time.  We drove about two miles away to find a place to park where we felt it was reasonably safe.  When we entered the park, we got a little more excited.  It seemed perfectly nice.  It felt wild and natural and primitive in a nonlethal way.  There was a pet safety gate blocking the opening to the office. Beyond that gate was our official greeter, a one-eyed, three-legged, delightfully friendly housecat.  I loved her and she loved me. My innards starting warming up to the experience again.  More disappointment was in store, however.  When I checked in with the owner of the facility, she sadly told us that she couldn’t offer us the bear encounter that day, after all, because the bear was “being ornery.”

I couldn’t believe it.  My face must have sagged and my lip must have jutted into a pout position because the lady quickly started to explain why she couldn’t take the risk with the bear. 

I told her I understood and that there wasn’t anything to be done, but I was just sooo disappointed I wasn’t sure what to do with myself.  She quickly offered to substitute an encounter with a lion cub and to give us a free photo package.  I agreed and we tried to put the whole bearless incident behind us. 

It was a great day.  A guide took us on a tram ride around the property, introducing us to their large collection of animals.  We stopped to feed the bison.  After the tour, the individual animal interactions started.  Another zoo employee, who I call the Sloth Wrangler, managed the process. One at a time, he brought out an otter, a fox, a monkey, a skunk, a lion cub, an anteater, and a sloth. Guests who had paid for the specific encounters stepped up to the cuteness plate and enjoyed their talk with the animals.  It was nice because, even if an individual guest had not paid for a specific animal, we could all watch what was going on during all the different animal encounters.  Also, if one person in the party paid for a date with a specific animal, the Sloth Wrangler allowed the rest of the party to come up for a group picture with the animal.  After these encounters, some folks went to the large cat enclosures to feed the tigers.  Other folks headed to the pool to swim with an animal. 

Having amped you all up about this experience, you’d think I’d mention the name of the place, wouldn’t you?  I hesitate because, as much as I enjoyed my time in the Wild, I am of two minds about it.  I am conflicted about the morals of the whole thing.

Now, I am not a person who objects to zoos or most legitimate wildlife parks.  I believe most are responsible custodians of animals.  They preserve species that might disappear if not for breeding and veterinary programs. They take care of injured or orphaned animals that wouldn’t survive in the wild. They give people a chance to see and understand what we might be losing to extinction without conservation.  As long as the zoos are run by people who know what they are doing and the animals thrive, I’m a big fan. 

I absolutely don’t want to assert that this place was not well-run or that the owners did not know what they were doing.  The animals did seem to be thriving.  They seemed healthy and happy. The animals they have were either born at the property or were rescued from bad situations, so it isn’t like these particular animals were taken out of their natural habitat. I do have to admit to having a few niggling doubts, however.

For one thing, the animals seemed almost too bonded to their human caretakers.  They came running to the front of their enclosures when the tour guide called them by name.  The bison actually smiled on command when the tour guide was taking pictures of each person feeding her.  He explained that he had taught her to do that.  The vibe was a little weird.  It almost felt like the zoo collection was made up of household pets rather than wild animals.

Then, there were the cages.  Notice, I have been carefully using the term “enclosure” to describe the animals’ houses.  That is a nice way to say “cages.”  They weren’t bad as cages go.  The animals seemed to have room to exercise and they did not seem nervous or anxious.  However, I am a child of the newer generation of zoos, which are increasingly cageless.  I am spoiled by my experiences of state-of-the-art-zoos that have large, open areas for the animals. 

Lastly, it did not escape me that the majority of the park’s income is based on the availability of baby animals.  Many of the encounters require cooperative cubs.  There is no way that I am going to object too strenuously to the idea of adorable baby animals.  On the other hand, I do wonder about the breeding program.  I asked some questions about their breeding practices and I was satisfied with the answers, but I am aware that I don’t know what I don’t know.  It may be that there are inherent risks to the animals in the breeding protocol that I was too naive to question.

I realize that an organization like this helps animals by caring for ones that are not able to live in the wild.  I also realize that it is expensive to run an organization like this. The money to support the animals and the people taking care of them has to come from somewhere.  Part of me believes that allowing the animals to produce cubs that will cuddle with the paying customers may be an acceptable price for the benefits this organization provides.

This is why I am conflicted about the ethics of this place.  I am torn. I don’t see anything wrong with the animals “paying for themselves,” as it were, as long as their human caretakers are kind, responsible, and well-versed in husbandry.  On the other hand, I can see the opportunity for abuses.  I hope there are no abuses. There very well may not be, but the potential exists.

I am no closer to sorting out my dilemma after all my cogitating.  The real problem is that, in some ways, I am afraid that I will just believe what I want to believe.  I may have ethical concerns, but, given how enchanting the experience was, I don’t think I have the will power to act on those concerns by withholding my patronage. I may be more morally repugnant than I ever knew I was.

What do you think?  Do you draw any lines when it comes to wild animals in captivity?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a wild day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Dancing with the sloth… I dipped Lucky!

My new friend Arsalan

Nice Matters

When I moved to Florida, it struck me that people seemed to be nicer here than in other places I lived. I thought maybe it was a Southern thing. People were more polite, friendlier, and pleasant.  The general attitude just seemed to be warmer than in California.  I have friends in California that are very, very close to my heart.  These people have shown me critical kindness, sincere love, and absolute warmth.  This is my experience of individuals and I would never say that specific individuals on one coast or another are nicer.  The acceptable standard operating procedure for relating to others in Florida, though, seems to be a smidge higher on the niceness scale. 

When I’ve stated this theory to friends, they tend to disagree.  They tell me that they think what I’ve observed about the niceness of people in Florida just has to do with living in a small town.  My town in Florida has a population of about 23,000 people.  While that is much smaller than the population of the sprawling metropolis in which I resided in the Golden State, it hardly strikes me as a tiny town.  Besides, I’ve visited small towns before.  I do think the people tend to be friendlier and more connected to each other, but I don’t know that I’ve ever felt that they were particularly kind to your average, garden variety interloper. 

I think I’ve figured out what it is.  I think it is community.

I’m not sure I’ve actually lived in community as an adult before moving to Florida.  I always lived in apartment or condo complexes when I lived in California.  Neighbors typically didn’t even know each other’s names.  Amazingly, you could live adjacent to someone, separated only be a wall, and never even speak to that person.  I didn’t have children, so I never developed a network of neighbors, school volunteers, or other parent-related groups.  I worshiped as a Roman Catholic, in huge congregations.  These congregations seemed to connect on Sunday mornings and then disengage back into the mainstream with no residual tie to each other.  The sign of peace usually meant nodding to your immediate pew neighbor and avoiding touch. The isolated structure of my environment did nothing to overcome my basic shyness.  It is a bit tortuous for me to interact with people I don’t know when they make the first move.  There is no way on God’s green earth that I would be the one breaking down the social barriers to create community.

If I did have a community, it was my workplace.  I made most of my friends at work and they were very important to me.  I have been retired almost five years and I am still close to many of these community members.  In some ways, my workplace did seem like community.  The people with whom I inhabited my career are like family.  I knew their struggles and their triumphs.  I knew who was good at what and what challenges I could expect when interacting with each person.  There was a sort of forgiveness of foibles that happens with people you know and love.

On the other hand, considering your workplace to be your community might not be the healthiest perspective.  I was lucky in my colleagues, but it would be naïve to think that everyone in the workplace community is free of personal agendas and defenses.  After all, there is much more at stake in the workplace community than in a neighborhood.  Getting along may not always serve a colleague’s purposes.  As I said, I was blessed with absolutely wonderful, supportive colleagues and superiors, but it can be dicey to perceive a coworker through the same lens as a neighbor.  Also, if one looks at the workplace as the community, it is sometimes harder to disengage from the work situation.  Burnout can be more of a factor.  If workplace is “community,” is it also “home?” If so, how do you “go home and leave the troubles of the day behind you?”

In Florida, I live in a subdivision, a distinct neighborhood.  I do know my close neighbors and I also know a fairly large circle of other folks who live in the community.  The subdivision has activities and I participate in some of them some of the time.  People seem to enjoy crocheting a cozy afghan of connections with those who share their neighborhood.  The afghan consists of different kinds of stitches, some looser than others, and some just barely hanging by a shredded piece of yarn, but those connections are there.  It doesn’t feel like too much, even to someone like me who is perhaps too easily spooked by too much interaction with too many people.  In addition to the warmth, there is respect so the afghan stitches don’t tend to knot and constrain.  The pattern is really rather beautiful.

My church in Florida is similar.  People talk about “church homes” and “church families,” but I don’t think I ever really understood.  Now I get it.  My church isn’t tiny, but it certainly seems small and manageable after a lifetime of going to services with 800 other people who changed week to week.  The other day, I was thanking a church friend for helping me with something.  I gave him a small gift and he seemed truly astonished that I would think his help was any big deal.  He said, “It was nothing.  You are my sister and I will always help you in any way I can.”  That moment was truly one of the most significant experiences of my spiritual life.  The passing of the peace in my current church is a “get out of your pew and greet everyone you come across” kind of affair.  After a couple of years of attending the Episcopal church, I know many of the other parishioners.  I can identify unfamiliar faces and “peace” the people who may be new to the congregation. I see the facets of community I saw in the workplace- everyone has different blessings and everyone has different broken, rough places in their personalities and competencies.  I love all of them with the gratitude, forgiveness and tolerance that comes from being family. 

This journey has taught me something about retirement.  If you, like me, had a workplace that was your community- maybe your only community- you may find it helpful to actively search for a way of connecting in a communal kind of way in your post-career life.  It is great to feel connected with the cozy “niceness” that is community. It is pretty freeing to feel that connection in a way that is not conditional upon the vagaries of the workplace.  I think finding that community may have been the best part of moving to Florida for me.  For me, nice matters.  It matters a lot.

Have you experienced “community” differently since you retired?  In what way?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com 

Have a NICE day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Civic Duty

Recently, I was called for jury duty.  When I received the summons, I groaned. I am no stranger to jury duty.   I survived many years of adulthood without being called.  Once I received my first “invitation” in California, however, I became a jury duty magnet.  For about six years, I routinely found summonses in my mailbox the very instant I was eligible to be called after a prior service. 

When I went to jury duty in California, I found the entire process to be as irritating as cheap shoes.  At first, I found it interesting.  The experience lost its luster as I watched the legal system work. Maybe “dabble” would be a better word because nothing ever seemed to actually work.  There were hordes of potential jurors crumpled into a giant jury assembly room. The crowd was typically SRO by the time a clerk officially opened the proceedings by introducing a video explaining the nobility of jury service. The video starred Fess Parker.  I’m not sure I was alive when that video was made.

Trials in California were often protracted, complicated affairs.  Jury selection alone often took an entire week.  Thousands of potential jurors hung out in hallways while mysterious goings-on inside the courtrooms sucked time out of the day, moment by agonizing moment.  I’ve heard the saying that “they also serve who stand and wait.” That saying must have been about jury duty.  Fess Parker would be proud of me, given the amount of time I have spent waiting in jury duty.

You may think I exaggerate when I say “thousands of potential jurors” and maybe I do.  However, it was not at all unusual for a judge to call over 100 potential jurors for a single trial.  The process of whittling down this cast of hundreds to twelve jurors and two alternates was painstaking…. and painsgiving. Judges would usually start the jury selection process by hearing the requests of anyone asking to be excused.  People tried everything they could think of to get excused.  They’d unearth long forgotten relatives with some tenuous connection to law enforcement.  Maybe they didn’t actually have a family member who was a convicted felon, but they had one who played one on tv.  Prospective jurors prepared lists of exotic ailments that rendered them incapable of service.  Everyone had philosophical, moral, emotional, or religious issues that prevented them from being a fair and impartial jury member. 

After years of hearing every possible reason a potential juror could give for asking to be excused, the judges were kind of jaded.  There were times when this hard-heartedness about jury excuses bordered on the ridiculous.  There was one poor woman who explained that she was scheduled to fly to another state to be a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding.  The judge denied her request because there were other bridesmaids.  Audible gasps echoed throughout the courtroom. The other hopefuls waiting in the long line to request an excuse realized they didn’t have a prayer, unless they developed a sudden need for a kidney transplant.  The attorneys on both sides of the aisle quickly submitted a joint motion to the court that the juror be excused.  They based this motion on their very justifiable belief that there was no way this lady would be thinking about anything during the entire trial except how pissed off she was at the judge.  I think we were all relieved when the judge finally agreed. 

While that story had a happy ended, the point is that the level of interest in serving jury duty is so subterranean that the judges can’t even allow themselves to be reasonable in considering requests for excuse. 

All of this debating and juror-whittling takes quite some time.  It gave me a good opportunity to observe my fellow captives…. uh, I mean “potential jurors.”  To be honest, a lot of these folks seemed kind of sketchy.  Listening to the responses during voir dire did nothing to increase my confidence in them.  I was more freaked out by many of the potential jurors than I was by the defendants- the actual alleged bad guys.  I often marveled at the thought that, if I should ever be on trial, this pool of folks would be considered a “jury of my peers.”  The idea was pretty humbling…. and disturbing.  Clearly, jury duty is a deterrent to crime. 

Even though my new colleagues often seemed dodgier than the defendants, the defendants were pretty scary, too.  In all my experiences with California jury duty, I never saw an arm or a neck on a defendant.  Every one of them wore a long-sleeved, high-collared shirt. Apparently, the most common legal advice given by public defenders in Southern California is that the defendant should attempt to cover his or her gang tattoos.  This proves difficult when a defendant has them on his or her face, but those long-sleeved, high-collared shirts do cover a multitude of sins. 

Every trial I ever encountered was messy.  They all involved violent crime.  They often involved crimes against both persons and property.  There was often conflicting and self-serving testimony. Typically, there were multiple charges that would each need individual verdicts.  As jurors, we were given numbers and always referred to by those numbers in the courthouse to protect our privacy and, potentially, our personal safety.  

Given what I’ve just told you, you probably understand why I groaned upon receiving the jury summons here in Florida. 

When I arrived at the courthouse for my Florida jury duty, I was pleasantly surprised.  The jury assembly room was comfortable and spacious. There was ample room for the 75 or so people who showed up to serve.  No hordes of any kind.  The people all seemed pretty normal and law-abiding.  There was no Fess Parker video. When a batch of us were called (by our actual names!) to go to the courtroom, about 50 of us filed into place. 

As it turned out, those of us who marched into the courtroom were a pool for three different unrelated trials!  In California, the voir dire process for even a single trial would have made mincemeat out of such a puny number of jurors.  In the Florida court process, the idea was to actually select three juries with a reasonable amount of efficiency.  Getting everyone together at one time- judge, all of the defendants, all of the attorneys, and the potential jurors- avoided a lot of duplication of effort. 

Another interesting aspect of the jury duty experience is that none of the three trials involved violence.  Two involved driving under the influence, with no alleged harm to person or property.  The defendant in the final trial was accused of contracting without a license.  I was kind of stupefied.  I’d bet money that none of these cases would ever see the inside of a Southern California courtroom.  If anyone cared enough to prosecute them, they would certainly be settled long before there was any need to select a jury. 

Another interesting phenomenon was that the attorneys asked everyone what his or her reaction was to being called for jury duty.  Over half my colleagues were not only okay with it, but were excited about serving.  I thought I had fallen down a rabbit loophole in the legal system.  Once the court had taken our jury duty emotional temperature, the attorneys moved on to more formal and individualized questioning.   Ultimately, no one who expressed any reservations or disappointment about jury duty ended up on a trial. 

During the discussion for both the DUI cases, people seemed fairly low key.  One gentleman, sadly, had lost his wife to a drunk driving accident.  While he was not selected for either DUI trial, there was no drama or emotion around the discussion.  He answered the questions about his experience, but felt he could be impartial.  In California, I doubt he would have had a chance to even warm his seat before being sent packing.  Here, they kept him in the pool for questioning for the entire day.

When we started the process for the contracting without a license case, all hell broke loose.  All the people who sat, reasonable and rational and unemotional, through the entire discussion of the DUI trials suddenly became impassioned and eloquent.  I had a hard time understanding why no one seemed particularly emotional or stirred up by driving under the influence of alcohol, but almost everyone seemed to explode over the idea that anyone could be evil enough to install windows without governmental approval.  People were actually excused because they felt they could not be impartial about the issue. 

Ultimately, I did not get selected for any of the three juries. I wasn’t exactly brokenhearted.  Still, I have to say that my tolerance for jury duty increased during my day of service.  I’m never going to be one of the people who raise their hands to say “pick me, pick me!” when the attorneys question them about their level of enthusiasm over receiving a jury summons.  On the other hand, I am no longer tempted to schedule unnecessary surgery simply to get excused.

I’m such a good citizen. 

Anybody else have a jury duty story you care to share?  Or what about just a story about some relatively minor thing that seemed very different after you made a huge change in your life like moving or retiring?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a judicious day!

Terri/Dorry 😊