Hopping the Holly Jolly Express

As we pulled into the parking lot for our tour to Gaylord Palms and Celebration, it looked like we stumbled into an Ugly Christmas Sweater convention. There was an army of seniors dressed in all manner of holiday attire. There were festive t-shirts, sweatshirts, and sweaters galore. Some even jingled and lit up. I was not immune, although I like to think my white and gray sweater with the penguin on it and gray jeans were a tad more sophisticated. I’d like to think that, but I’d probably be wrong.

Even the bus was tricked out in Christmas regalia. There was a small, fully decorated Christmas tree seat belted into the first passenger seat on the driver’s side. A stuffed Santa Claus the size of a very hefty toddler sat beside the tree, also belted in. Safety first. Multi-colored twinkle lights graced the overhead storage compartments all the way down both aisles of the bus. The sound system blared “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.”

Yes, I was sitting in a 40 foot, 55 seat pimpmobile on my way to see ice sculptures and children playing in the snow. In Florida. Who’d of thunk it?  Can anyone tell me exactly when I turned 80 years old?  Last thing I remembered, I was a perfectly middle-aged woman of 57 who was tastefully decorating a gold, silver, and white Christmas tree.  Now, I have turned overnight into a woman way beyond a certain age, trapped in a bus that looks like the North Pole threw up in it.

Years ago, I saw a tv show that visited the most “Christmassy” places in the country.  Strangely, this bus did not make the list.  Gaylord Palms in Tennessee, however, did.  I was fascinated to see the elaborate Christmas decorations in the lobby and the amazing rooms full of Christmas-themed ice sculptures.  The resort boasted ice slides, a bar completely furnished with ice furniture, and a crèche room with a larger-than-life rendition of the Nativity story carved out of crystal clear ice.  When I heard that there was a Gaylord Palms in central Florida with the same Noel-y type notions, I knew I had to visit.

When I saw that there was a bus tour that supplemented a trip to Gaylord Palms with a stop at Celebration afterwards, I took the bait.  Celebration is “the town that Disney built.”  The Disney Corporation, flushed with the success of the Disney theme parks and hotels, decided to create a whole themed town as an experiment in urban planning.   The concept was that Celebration would be a modern version of Marceline, Mo, the town Walt used as a model for the theme park Main Street, USA.   They built a variety of housing options, all quaint and cute.  They established a town center with adorable little boutiques and restaurants.  They even make autumn leaves fall in October and November and deliver snow at the Christmas season.  At some point, Disney decided it was much harder to manage a real community than a fake one and sold the project.

At any rate, an evening of snow and beautiful decorations and cute, Christmassy shops after our Gaylord Palms experience sounded good to me, especially since it would relieve me of the need to find parking at Celebration.  Thus, we booked our seats on the Holly Jolly Express in early December.

The trip to Gaylord Palms was uneventful.  I began to wonder if I really needed the Christmas pimpmobile for this trip.  Especially when the tour guide, with no apparent embarrassment, confided that she HAD NEVER BEEN THERE BEFORE!

Still, now that I was committed to being one of the merry band of Christmasphiles, I was bound and determined to put my heart into it.  I allowed myself to be herded, along with 3 or 4 thousand other elderly elves (well maybe not quite that many, but A LOT!) into the foyer of ICE! – the great Christmas ice sculpture extravaganza.  As we entered into the exhibit area, friendly smurfs greeted us.  Actually, they may have been plain old garden variety Gaylord Palms employees who had just turned blue due to the sub-zero temperatures required to keep ICE!, well, ice. Or maybe they were just wearing huge blue parkas.

The smurfs explained that the temperature in the ice rooms was 5 degrees below zero and offered us parkas.  I thought they were concerned that our ancient blood might freeze over or that our already compromised circulation might collapse in the cold, but it seems they bundle all the guests into parkas.

As we turned the corner to enter the exhibit, I noticed that there was a mountain of ice off to one side.  Individual lanes descended down the mountain, allowing for several thrill-seeking riders as a time to whoosh down the ice to their probable death, for a separate admission.  No takers.  If you ask me, this mountain was proof that hell had, indeed, frozen over.

The ICE! exhibit was pretty amazing.  We walked through room after room of towering colorful ice sculptures, each meant to portray a section of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.   In one room, the scene shows a “little” (by giant standards, I guess) boy and girl, each poised at the top of their own bannister as they prepare to make a break for it.  Speaking of breaks, the bannisters contained 20-foot ice slides instead of stairs.  These slides were the milder version of the extremely high, extremely slick, and extremely steep slides in the other room. Two of our party decided to try them out. Luckily, no lives were lost, but there was still no way I was going to scoot my ample rear end down a sheet of ice.

There was a pop-up gift store at the exit of ICE!  It sold ICE!-related items, but also featured about 5000 square feet of Christmas decorations available for purchase.  So I did.  Purchase, I mean.

Then, outside the pop-up store, we spotted a small kiosk selling GINGERBREAD!  I gave up any wild thoughts I might have had of eating lunch and bought that spicy, delectable, melt-in-the-mouth Christmas treat that I crave all through the year but can only get at the holidays.  Max and I tucked into those cookies like ravenous, sugar-deprived wolves.

Then, the first of the downsides of a bus tour kicked in.  We were really pretty much finished doing everything we really cared about doing at Gaylord Palms, but the bus wasn’t going to be moving on to Celebration for another couple of hours.  Some people were having lunch at one of the regular sit-down restaurants, but Max and I had already decided we would eat a big meal in Celebration. The infusion of gingerbread made it pretty impossible to change our plan and eat a large lunch at Gaylord Palms.  Since our tour guide HAD NEVER BEEN THERE BEFORE, she had not provided any helpful hints on what to see or how to fill the time.  Max and I went rogue and explored the hotel on our own.  We actually saw a few interesting things, like a pen of baby alligators.

Finally, we were back on the bus and on our way to Celebration.  We reached Celebration just as it was getting dark and the Christmas lights were beginning to illuminate.  The little shop windows sparkled with holiday decorations.  There was a man-made ice rink set up for skating.  Workers were blowing snow onto a section of the street, designated for kids to play in a winter wonderland.  It was pretty charming, I have to say.  The whole thing reminded me at bit of Bedford Falls in It’s a Wonderful Life.

I wasn’t sure what we were going to do there for over two hours.  Our tour guide informed us, ONCE AGAIN, that she had never been to Celebration.  I am really not sure what value this lady added to the trip.  She was nice and everything, but isn’t a tour guide supposed to guide?

By this time, the gingerbread had worn off. Max and I went to a diner and had a yummy dinner.  As we were waiting for our meals to arrive, we saw horses and carriages pull up across the street.  We noticed children riding in a little train.  This gave us some ideas on how to fill our remaining time in The Town That Disney Built.

After dinner, we chatted with the fellows who were creating the “snowfield.”  It turns out that the “snow” is a laundry soap based concoction that is the consistency of gritty shaving cream.  They had a sort of reverse vacuum device that filled the area with about a six-inch layer of the stuff, which resulted in a wide expanse of area for kids to make snow angels, have snowball fights, and, in general, get the experience of snow without the cold and the wet.  How sensible!

Next, we went to inspect the horse and carriage brigade.  There was a horse and wagon, horse and Victorian-type carriage, and a horse and Cinderella coach.  We talked with the vendors and learned that we could take a 15-minute ride around Celebration in any of these conveyances, for a variety of prices, depending on which vehicle we took. We climbed onto the wagon, going with the cheapest option.  It was delightful.

After bidding adieu to our horse, we strolled around the little boutiques and purchased yet more Christmas paraphernalia.  A little before 7:00pm, a disembodied voice announced that the snowfall would commence in a few minutes.  We stood next to the skating rink to wait for the planned and scheduled weather.  Children with helmets and knee pads slithered around the ice.  Some even used a walker-like device to keep them upright while approximating skating.  I really thought the children playing in the snowfield were way more likely to incur injury.  Judging by the force and intensity with which they were throwing their small bodies on asphalt covered in a few inches of soapsuds to make snow angels, I am amazed no skulls were cracked.  I think they should have a concussion protocol for this snow angel sport.

The snow fell tidily, keeping to its assigned area, for about five minutes and then stopped until the next hourly demonstration of fake nature.  We got back on the Holly Jolly Express, expecting a quiet trip back to our car.

It was not to be.

We discovered the tour guide’s only added value was to encourage forced gaiety.  No sooner were we on our way when she insisted upon playing the Christmas movie, Deck the Halls, on the bus’s DVD monitor.  Deck the Halls may be the worst Christmas movie of all time.  This is not just my opinion.  Rotten Tomatoes gives it a rating of 6%.  Any self-respecting Christmas movie should at least get into the double digits, if only for the schmaltz factor.

After the movie, our tour guide passed out the lyrics for the Twelve Days of Christmas, assigning us each specific parts.  Max pretended to be asleep.  I checked to make sure he was still breathing because Deck the Halls might have been just enough for him to end it all.  His chest was moving up and down, so I concentrated on mumbling my assigned lyrics each time “six geese a-laying” came around.  I hated those geese.  A few people had obviously done more than a little liquid celebrating in Celebration and they were having a boisterously awesome time.

When the twelve drummers finished drumming, I thought we were finished.  No such luck.  The next DVD was a Honeymooners’ Christmas Special.  I ask you, in what decade was gambling away you and your best friend’s life savings and threatening violence against your wife and mother-in-law considered uproariously funny?  I think that must have been before my time.  You see, I really am not 80.

We finally, blessedly, returned to where we left our car. We were happy to leave the Holly Jolly Express that had been so cruelly hijacked by the demented Christmas purveyor of hilarity.

Would we do it again?  Probably.

It’s your turn.  Do you engage in any wacky, over-the-top Christmas activities?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. Have a ho-ho-ho holiday season!

Terri 🙂

Programming note:  I’ll  be back to posting on Wednesday next week.  Since this post is a bit super-sized, you’ll have an extra day to read it before the next new post. :-0.

Momentum: The Superpower of Success

Alert the media! Stop the presses!  Something went right today.

After multiple home improvement debacles, my gut is firmly trained to seize up and revolt at any mention of the word “handyman.”  I actually expend quite a bit of energy trying to ignore situations that might require the services of a home repair professional.

Today, however, we actually accomplished something with minimal time, hassle, and expense.

Some time ago, the fluorescent light tubes over Max’s bathroom sink burned out.  We replaced them.  This involved climbing on stepladders, kneeling on the counter, and holding things above my head.  There is no question that Max is the one who did the bulk of the heavy lifting.  Even in my very limited capacity, I was graceless and ineffectual.  However, we did finally get both the light tubes replaced. 

A few weeks ago, Max again complained that the lights were flickering on and off.  When he flipped the switch to illuminate the bathroom, the lights took his request under advisement.  However, they were as likely to stay stubbornly unlit or to tease him with a hopeful flicker as they were to emit actual sustained light.  When they did cooperate, Max would leave them on for hours just to avoid another confrontation later.  While this strategy had marginal success for a little while, the lights eventually breathed their last.

Max mentioned the situation to me.  He diagnosed the problem as a need to replace the ballast.  He suggested that we call the electrician company we used a few other times.  I agreed, in an absent-minded kind of way.  I put it on my mental “to-do” list, but didn’t “do.”

For a couple of weeks, Max employed various workarounds for light in the bathroom.  Like the trooper he is, he found ways to take care of his daily ablutions without benefit of overhead lighting while he patiently waited for the “call electrician” item to work its way up on the “to-do” list.

I finally decided to do something before Max became the victim of a self-inflicted shaving fatality.  On Saturday, I called the electrical company we’ve used in the past.  The dispatcher told me that he wasn’t sure the company still covered our area.  He told me he’d check and call back.  Amazingly, he did.  But only to tell me that he was still checking and would call back in a little while.  Come Monday, we still had not heard back.  “Here we go again,” I thought. 

I went trawling the internet for another highly-rated electrician.  I thought I found one and called, only to have the dispatcher tell me their company didn’t handle our area for small jobs.  Fortunately, she did give me a referral to another vendor, though.

I called electrician #3.  Jackpot!  He answered the phone immediately.  He quoted an acceptable price.  He stopped at the supply warehouse and appeared on our doorstep inside half an hour.  Twenty minutes later, he was gone and we had light.

It is amazing how this event changed my metabolism.  For weeks now, I’ve been dragging around barely getting through each day doing what I absolutely had to do.  Today, after the light came on in Max’s bathroom, I was a whirlwind.  I finally drove a couple of nails in the Florida room wall to hang a wreath that had repeatedly fallen to the floor after its suction cup hook stopped adhering to either the wall or window.  I swept the Florida room.  I stopped to get my mother a milkshake on my way to the rehab facility.  I had an emotionally-charged conversation with a doctor at the rehab and then visited with my mother for a couple of hours.  Then, I went to her mobile home and packed up stuff for an hour.  On my way back home, I stopped at UPS to send back her satellite TV box.

It’s crazy that we tend to focus on what goes wrong when concentrating on what goes right generates such a power surge. It seems there is no more effective fuel for activity than success.

At any rate, I am all a-flush with victory.  I am ridiculously happy about the completion of a simple household repair.  But I’ll take it!

How about you?  Do you find that even small successes can motivate you to keep trying?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can send me an email at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

I hope many things go right for you today!

Terri 🙂

Special programming note:  Next week, I may be posting on Tuesday instead of Wednesday morning.  I’m sorry I can’t be more definitive, but such is life.  Thanks for your understanding!

An Attitude of Gratitude

As Thanksgiving approaches, it seemed a good day to revisit my “Thankful Thursday” theme and share a few things for which I am especially thankful.

For the record, I’m still thankful for the color pink!  

I am thankful that the election is over and, with it, the barrage of political commercials and robocalls.  I am thankful I live in a country that depends on independence and free elections to shape our future.  I am thankful we have free elections, even if I don’t always agree with the results.  I know that many people are protesting because they do not like the outcome of the election.  I am thankful we live in a country where people are allowed to make their voices heard.  I pray that the protests continue to be about raising voices and not raising fists.  Rioting against the result of a free election seems scary similar to violence against democracy.

I am thankful for the beauty in the world.  I am thankful for the Sandhill cranes and for the gorgeous greenness that blesses central Florida.  I am thankful for flowers and oceans and lakes and clear skies.  I am thankful for puppies and kittens and giraffes.  I am thankful for laughter.  I am thankful for the beautiful moments that are born of fun…. Like at Disney World. 

I am always thankful for the love of my family and friends.  I am even more thankful for their caring and support during the past few months as I’ve tried to cope with my mother’s illness.  I know that it can be hard to know what to say or what to do to help someone in a difficult situation.  We hate to think that we might make things worse by saying or doing the wrong thing.  I’ve learned that there is no “wrong thing” when whatever is said or done is offered in love.  Also, I’ve often found that a friend has said or done something that turns out to be EXACTLY the right thing, once my poor wee little brain has completely processed it. 

I am thankful for the people who care for my mother… the doctors, nurses, aides, therapists, cooks, housekeepers…. Just everyone.  They are really doing an awesome job with my mother.  As they have gotten to know my mom and me, they have also shown incredible compassion and empathy for me, as well.  My heart is so full of gratitude for them all, it spills over on a regular basis.  I wish there was a way for them to mind meld with me for just an instant to really know how much I appreciate them.  I try to tell them and thank them, but I can’t really communicate the abundance of my gratitude with words. 

And, as difficult as these past few months have been, I am thankful that my mother is still with me.  People say that every day is a gift.  To be completely honest, I’m not sure I can go quite that far.  Some days are not so good.  On the balance, though, most days with her still do feel like gifts when we can still love each other and laugh with each other.  I am thankful enough to take the bad with the good. 

I am thankful that I have a good God who is in control of the world instead of me.  I sometimes fool myself into believing I have some control and behave as if I do. I know, deep down, that I really do not.  I think we can all be thankful for that.  Let’s see… hmmm… God in control or Terri in control?  Uh… no contest.

I am also joyously thankful for all my readers.  All my life, I wanted to be a writer.  For a very long time, life got in the way.  Now, the people who read my posts validate that I am a writer at long last.  It excites and humbles me to think that I am writing anything that anyone, including people who don’t even know me, actually want to read.  One kind soul actually suggested that I don’t realize how effectively I inspire and entertain people.  While I think that may be a stretch, it is very gratifying to see that real people visit my website and read what I’ve written.  This whole experience shows me that dreams do come true.  They don’t necessarily come true like when you blow out the candles on a birthday cake.  Dreams are like blueprints.  You have to use them to build what you have envisioned.  Here’s what I’ve learned- building is better than blowing. I absolutely love writing the blog posts, thinking about how they might impact on others, watching the statistics to see readership increase, and reading the interesting perspective the readers provide.  I think, for me, the creation is part of the dream.

So, as you sit down to your Thanksgiving dinner and count our blessings, know that I am counting you amongst mine.  Thank you from the top of my head to the tip of my toes!

For what are you giving thanks this year?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Have a blessed day!  Again, thank you, thank you, and thank you!

Terri 🙂

The Anti-Frump

When my hairdresser found out I was retiring and moving to Florida at the ripe old age of 55, she tried to convince me that I was way too young.  She is about five years older than I am and had been resisting her husband’s thinly-veiled hints about retiring.  She saw herself as too young to stop working at the job she loved.  She didn’t have any vision of what her life would be like post-retirement.  There wasn’t anything that she felt that she was missing because she was working and wasn’t sure how she would fill her days if she didn’t have her job.  Somehow, my impending retirement challenged her certainty that working well into her sixties or even seventies was the best way to go.

When she realized I had no doubts at all about my ability to fill my days and lead a satisfying life in retirement, she sighed and said, “well just promise me one thing… you won’t let your hair go grey.”

An odd remark to make to a woman who had been coloring her hair since she was in her mid-twenties, I thought.  I inherited my father’s hair.  My hair subtlely started turning grey when I was sixteen. I decided that salt-and-pepper, while perfectly fine for my father, was not a look I was going for on my own head.   For the first ten or fifteen years, I would occasionally remember that “subtle” grey and think about letting my hair go natural.  It didn’t take me long to realize that, under all that hair color, that subtle grey was no longer so subtle. I have long maintained that, as long as I had a checkbook, my hair would not be grey.  Nothing about retirement was going to change this philosophy.  Being relaxed and comfortable in your own skin when you retire is one thing.  Giving up completely is something else.

So why did my hairdresser think continuing to color my hair was so important?  And why do I agree that the whole hair color issue is vital to my well-being?

Because, for me, coloring my hair is a symbol of a much bigger issue.  The battle to avoid the dark descent into frumpiness.

For me, it has been important to my general well-being and feeling of vibrancy to do my hair and make-up and to wear clothes that make me feel happy in my own skin.  Sure, there are days when I am working around the house or just lazing around when I look like I’m staggering away from a losing battle with the nearest time warp.  Bedraggled hair, no make-up, old sweatshirt and threadbare leggings.  Still, most days, even if I am not going out of the house, I just feel better if I put a little effort into my appearance.

Frumpiness can effect men, as well as women.  For men, it just manifests itself in different ways.  Many men seem to grow facial hair once they have retired.  That’s fine, if a beard is the intentional goal, not simply an unfortunate byproduct of giving up shaving.  Male frumpiness could also manifest itself in the ubiquitous wearing of the lucky t-shirt.  Just a word to the wise…. Its luck has run out.  In 1987.

I don’t mean to imply that what you look like is the most important part of who you are.  Anyone who actually knows me can tell you that, if looks are the defining factor, I am in serious trouble… trouble that started long before I retired.  I’ve never been pretty.  I wouldn’t even consider myself reasonably attractive, except for the attractiveness that comes from being happy, interested in the world, and comfortable in my own skin.  The anti-frump is not about what you look like.  It is certainly not about what some random person who writes a blog thinks about your fashion choices.  It is about how you feel and whether your clothes and grooming impact your level of energy and vibrancy.

There are lots of very secure people who can joyously dance through their retirement sporting gray roots, no make-up, grubby shorts, and an oversize t-shirt.  I am not one of those people.   I quickly found that I felt a bit old and tired and worn out of life once I wasn’t getting up and dressing to face the world as I did when I was working.  If you, like me, find you feel a tad under the weather because you suffer from a little schlump and dump (or, say, face a major life event like your mom’s stroke and can feel your serotonin plummeting), maybe you would like to try my anti-frump.  Here are some rules I’ve developed for myself.

Wear clothes that fit.  All the time.   A couple of months after I retired, I felt like I was losing a little weight.  I put it down to wishful thinking and forgot about it.  Until I realized I was living my life continuously holding a fistful of fabric at my waist to avoid having my pants fall down.  I can’t tell you how much better I felt when I bought pants that fit!  If you find your clothes getting a little too tight, it is also important to buy a few garments in a larger size.

Consider what your twenty-something daughter would wear.  And don’t wear that.  After all, they don’t serve micro brewed beer in the same glasses as vintage champagne.  The goal is to look and feel like you are fun and flirty, not desperate and trying too hard.

Be comfortable.  You don’t have to wear what you did in your corporate life in order to feel like the best version of yourself.  I always envied people who had jobs, like my hairdresser, that allowed them to wear cute play clothes to work.  For a long time in my adult life, I didn’t even own play clothes.  I had my corporate office type garb for going to work and grubby clothes for housework.  It is now a joy to wear sundresses and cute sandals, even if I’m just going to the grocery store.  Someone once said that the only purpose jeans have in life is to make your butt look cute. Now is the time to see if this is true.  Knee length shorts and a flirty blouse with flat shoes can be a super comfortable and put-together outfit.  If you need some ideas on how to be comfortable, age appropriate, and still feel cute, you might want to visit fiftynotfrumpy.blogspot.com. 

Remember the side dishes.  Simplify your hair and make-up routine if you wish, but don’t abandon it.  If you have been coloring your hair, continue to do so.  If you really do want to give it up, talk to your hairdresser about how to do it gracefully.  There is truly nothing wrong with gray or silver hair if you are happy with it.  It can actually be very pretty.  However, growing out the color can be brutal.  The skunk look is not good for anybody. I color my hair, but the style is very simple and low maintenance so I can feel polished without spending a lot of time on it each day.  I wear make-up most days, but not as much as I used to and the color palette is a bit gentler. Make-up should make you feel pretty, not like you are trying to cover up your age.

Bring on the old razzle dazzle.  If you are a person who likes jewelry, go ahead and wear it.  It may feel like you have nowhere and nothing for which to wear your baubles.  Of course you don’t want to wear them when you are doing things that might damage your trinkets.  On the other hand, it makes me happy to look down at my wrist and remember the Hawaiian trip when Max bought me the beautiful gold bangle.  It makes me smile to pass a mirror and notice the “friends forever” pendant my dear friend bought me before I moved.  I like to admire the three-stone diamond ring I bought myself on my 50th birthday to remind me how blessed I have been yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  Even if I’m not leaving the house, I often sport some bling.

These are my rules.  How much you want to adhere to them is up to you.  If you could not wait to retire to liberate yourself from the world of fashion, hair, and make-up, then you should absolutely continue on your merry way.  If you have a faint suspicion that the  general malaise you have been putting down to iron-poor blood is actually a touch of frumpiness, you might want to try some of the rules that returned the spring to my step and the prance to my dance.  Keep administering the anti-frump until the effort becomes greater than the benefit you receive.  It is all up to you.

So what do you think?  Have you changed your grooming routine since retirement?  Do you find it relaxing to not bother about things like clothes and accessories?  Or do you, like me, find yourself feeling a bit lethargic and tired if you don’t “put yourself together” a bit?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a pretty day!

Terri 🙂

The Sweetest Days

Max retired almost three years before I did.  I have to admit to a smidgeon of resentment when he retired and I could not.  It made no sense, as he is older than I am, was older when he retired than I would be on my planned retirement date, and he basically took over all the work of running the household after he retired.  It was pretty irrational.  I had no reason in the world to feel annoyed about it.  I was 52 years old, bringing in a tidy paycheck, and coming home to a clean, maintained house, freshly laundered clothes, and a fully stocked refrigerator.  Still, a part of me was really ticked off when I awoke violently in the middle of yesterday when the alarm clock went off and I knew he was still in bed.  Sometimes I’m not a very nice person.

Within two months of my retiring, we moved 3000 miles across the country.  We had not even really settled into a new retirement routine.  I was still toodling around town, celebrating with one batch of friends or another.  There was Thanksgiving and some early, pre-move Christmas preparations.  I didn’t have time to figure out what our life was going to be once we were both retired, much less what the impact would be on our relationship.  During the time I was still working after Max retired, it felt like “retirement life” was a reality, but “on hold” while we waited for me to reach the magic age of 55.  I wasn’t sure the routines and activities Max had in his retirement would continue after I would be around all day.  I wasn’t sure what sort of routines and activities I would do.  And I really didn’t know how his life and mine would intersect.  We were always very good about sharing time and fun while we were forced into a structure by our work lives.  How would we accomplish that sharing once the artificial timeframes of our work lives were gone?

Once we moved, it became pretty clear that both of us were experiencing a certain amount of stress related to this major upheaval in our lives.  At least, in retrospect, it is clear that we were both experiencing a certain amount of stress related to this major upheaval in our lives.  I have to confess that, at the time, I just thought Max was being compulsive and annoying and I am sure that Max thought I had turned into a lazy, irresponsible grasshopper version of the industrious little ant he had known for almost twenty years. 

The problem, I think, was that we learned that we both deal with stress in very different ways.  I was wrong to think that Max believed that the move and all the changes were no big deal.  He most definitely did find all the transition to be a big deal.  It is just that Max deals with stress by trying to control the heck out of it.  He tries to think of every possible problem, action, or task that could conceivably be an issue in any universe and believes in attacking each one immediately and simultaneously.  If you think of everything and do everything to solve/prevent problems as soon as they enter your head, you are unlikely to be unpleasantly surprised by disaster.  On the other hand, you might be exhausted, which, to me, was a disaster in itself after 33 years of working for a living and being chronically exhausted.  My way of dealing with problems is to let them sit for a little bit, brainstorm some possible options to deal with them, research those options, and then decide on a plan of action.  That plan of action will involve dealing with one problem at a time, celebrating the resolution of that problem, and then resting between rounds, as it were.  My way means some things may never get done.  Max’s way means we are constantly on hyper-alert and busy doing stuff that may never need to get done. 

The other issue involved the way we make decisions.  Both of us obsess in the decision-making process.  We research, weigh every possible factor, and simmer in our own juices for way too long before actually settling on a decision.  Often, we settle into paralysis by analysis.  However, for me, the obsession does not stop when the decision is finally made.  I second guess myself and mourn the road not taken with almost as much intensity as I mustered to make the decision in the first place.  On the other hand, Max never looks back.  Once he has made and implemented a decision, he tells himself and anyone who will listen that it the unquestionably correct one.  This became a problem whenever I voiced any possible downsides of our decision or mentioned that I missed something about our old home.  Max would immediately start reciting the litany of all the reasons our decision to move was the only one a rational person could possibly make.  To him, I think entertaining any possible regrets felt as if the whole thing was a catastrophe.  To me, not acknowledging the difficulties and the disappointments felt dismissive. 

For the first six months or so after the move, the difference in our two styles was an irritant to both of us.  It was uncomfortable to be at odds with one another, as we have so little practice at it.  We had seldom disagreed in our twenty year relationship before this move across country.  It made me kind of depressed to know that there were times when Max was not pleased with my approach or decision.  I’m sure it also frustrated Max no end when what he perceived as his “rational convincing” to do something (and I perceived as “nagging”) did not move me to his way of thinking and I really could not explain why.  I started snapping at him fairly regularly and he started just assuming I agreed with him about things.  I guess that is a chicken and egg conundrum.  I don’t really know which came first.

Then something happened.    I’m not sure when or why.  I think Max probably started it.  We became gentler and more tender with each other.  Instead of being frightened or irritated by the disconnects, we started to be more accepting of each other.  We started being more visibly appreciative of what each of us brings to the relationship and what we do for each other.  We started reminding each other of how much we loved each other.  Our lives became more about each other again and less about the complications around us- the house, the lawn, my mother, finances, etc.  There is a new easiness to the relationship- something like the joy we had when we were new to each other, but deeper and warmer and softer. 

In a few weeks, Max and I will celebrate twenty years together.  During that time, we have shared the death of three of our four parents, the growing up and growing old of our little mutant Welsh corgi dog, many vacations, many wonderful entertainments, health problems, career challenges, home renovation, caregiving of my mother, two retirements, and many, many other experiences I can’t even begin to name. With all that, the relationship has truly grown richer. It is sort of like warming up spaghetti sauce.  It is good the first day, but it gets better as it simmers when you warm and rewarm it.  There may have been times when each of us privately wondered if our “we” was going to withstand whatever was going on at the time.  I think maybe our new chapter is about being more secure that, whatever ingredients the future adds to our mix, our relationship will be okay because the base of the recipe is love and respect and admiration.  For me, the best place in the world to be is snuggled in his arms.  He makes me feel the warmth and wholeness that comes from being truly cherished.  For Max, I think being with me makes his spirit a little lighter and more joyful. 

So, my darling Max, Happy Anniversary.  There is no question that the sweetest days I’ve found I’ve found with you.

How did your relationship change when you retired?  Were there challenges you had to overcome? How have you navigated choppy waters?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a sweet day!

Terri 🙂

The New Normal

When I was working, I participated in a training program designed to develop my potential for a middle-management position.  The course consisted of three sessions of one week each.  In between the sessions, we had homework to complete in the time until we reconvened.  At the end of the second session, the instructors explained that our third session would include a long (a whopping understatement- as it turned out, the word “interminable” was more accurate) simulation of a real business problem. The exercise would require us to prioritize needs and create a budget to run the entire agency in an environment of limited resources and continuing budget cuts. The instructors told us that, as part of the simulation, we would have to deal with constantly changing conditions and would have to present our decisions to a team of executives.  The executives’ role would be to pick apart our budgets and make us defend them.

To make the challenge more difficult, the instructors assigned each student a role to play in the exercise.  We would each have to play the part of an executive from an agency department with which we had no experience.  In the time before we came back to class, we were supposed to research our roles, figure out the interests and priorities of the person who actually held the position we were assigned, and be prepared to explain the inner workings of the department of which we had just become the executive.

During the months between the second and third session, I became a manic fact-gatherer.  I knew virtually nothing about my assigned department.  I scoured the internet for information about my role.  I tried to talk to people who actually worked in the department that I was going to “fake lead.” To be honest, I actually understood only about every third word that I read about the new department.  To say the least, my comprehension was a bit compromised.  Still, I kept printing things out and trying to organize the information in a way that made sense.  I built large three-ring binders of printed information.  I hoped that I was combining the bits and pieces of data that I did understand into a coherent overall general understanding of the department’s priorities and mission.

I arrived at class pulling a rolling suitcase behind me.  The suitcase contained the binders of pages printed off the internet, email traffic between me and employees of the actual department in question, and my own notes and analysis. I was a sitting duck.  As soon as I walked through the door armed with my suitcase, the instructors immediately re-assigned me to another position in a completely different department.  Other than killing a lot of trees and building my muscles lifting all that paper, my research was pretty useless.

The instructors were trying to teach me that I tend to rely too much on planning and preparation.  They wanted me to learn to develop my quick-thinking and adaptability skills.  I completely agree with their assessment of my obsessive-compulsive planning tendencies.  I also agree that the lesson they wanted to teach me is a valid life lesson.

However, I don’t learn that easily.  In the weeks since my mother’s stroke, the memory of this episode has come careening back to the front of my mind.  It almost seems like I am living through the whole thing again.

All day and most of the night, I strategize about how to help my mother, how to advocate for her, and how to provide a comfortable future for her.  I run errands.  I talk to experts.  I google so much my brain hurts.  Just when I think I’ve got a good enough plan to tame the tigers of uncertainty in my gut, I start the day and something happens that makes all that planning pretty much moot.  It is as if God sees me hauling my rolling suitcase of information and plans, gently unclasps my hand from the handle, and puts me in a different situation where all that wonderful research I’ve accumulated is completely useless. Instead of shrugging and just dealing with whatever the new situation is, I find myself heading headlong into another flurry of research and preparation.  I think I must have the hardest head ever.

I am still not real good at living in the moment and I’m really bad at living in the particular moments I’m experiencing right now.  I think I’ve been kind of waiting for the “new normal” to begin.  I know that I have to find some way to live some semblance of my own life in order to stay sane for myself and stay strong for my mother. However, I keep thinking that I will be able to gradually disengage somewhat from the “stroke world” where I visit my mother every day and work with her on therapy and do the administrative work necessary to provide for her life.

The thing is- I keep waiting for some milestone of recovery to jump start that gradual disengagement process.  I’m not sure exactly what I expect that moment to look like. I am thinking of milestones such as regaining enough speech to truly be able to express her opinion of activities concerning her, moving into her eventual home in assisted living, or having no reason to expect that she will go back to the hospital in the forseeable future.  Maybe that milestone is even just having several days of progress in a row. Maybe one of the reasons that I am so tired (aside from the manic midnight internet research, I mean) is that I’ve been holding my breath waiting for that magical “new normal.”

It strikes me now that maybe this is the “new normal.”  Maybe the “new normal” is not stability.  Maybe the “new normal” is a series of amorphous, disorderly days from which I cannot expect anything specific.

Despite the vagaries of this version of “new normal,” I do try to schedule time for myself.  I’m just not very good at it.  Something always seems to get in the way. I feel like a dog wearing one of those electronic fence collars.  As soon as I start nosing around the perimeter of “stroke world,” I get a shock that sends me scurrying back well within the boundaries.  I had to cancel a trip to California because the stroke was so fresh and rehab so new.  We had an overnight trip to Disney scheduled and I was going to avoid the hospital for the entire day we left.  I ended up having to go to the hospital because it was the only day the paralegal could come to get the Power of Attorneys signed…. And then she didn’t show up.  I had a reservation, made months and months ago, to spend a day at a local day resort to swim with the dolphins.  I cancelled it because the hospital suddenly scheduled surgery on my mother’s leg for the day of my reservation.

For the first two months after my mother’s episode, I went to the hospital or rehab facility every single day while also trying to handle the administrative stuff of her life and keep my own household running, too.  I kept thinking that I must find ways of doing things for myself, but rarely put those thoughts into action beyond meeting my most basic needs.  I needed a day off from “stroke world”-  a day when I didn’t have to watch my mom struggle in the hospital or rehab facility, when I didn’t have to chase down medical professionals to share information, when I didn’t have to consider different strategies for paying for care, when I didn’t have to enact administrative procedures to manage my mom’s life.  After two months of going to the hospital or rehab facility every day, I craved a “day off” from “stroke world.”

When Hurricane Matthew threatened to stuff Central Florida into a blender and hit the “liquefy” button, I finally spent a whole day without visiting my mother at the rehab facility.  As it turned out, Matthew’s impact was pretty minor in our neck of the woods. There probably was no reason for me to not go to the rehab facility.  Still, even a girl raised in Southern California knows enough to question the wisdom of going out in the rain… especially when the rain has an actual name.  I was glad I did stay home, if only to show myself that I carry no magic talisman with me when I visit my mother that will ensure her health and safety.  She was just fine without me for a day.

Since then, I have taken one day each week to not go to the rehab facility.  Max and I went to Disney Springs one day, Epcot one day, and to the Lowry Park Zoo one day.  I think it has helped, although I am still learning to manage the discomfort I feel about leaving and the dread of what I will find when I go back.  Overall, these excursions do help me wring out my stress-addled brain so I can start fresh.  Still, it is a bit of a conundrum.  While I want these “days off” so badly I can taste it, it feels disloyal.  After all, my mom doesn’t get to take a day off from “stroke world.”

I know that it is irrational.  I know that I can’t decrease my mother’s anxiety and misery by feeling anxious and miserable myself.  I know that there isn’t much I can do to decrease her discomfort and frustration in seven days that I can’t do in five or six.  I know that my mother would want me to have a separate life.

I know all these things in my head.  But not so much in my heart.

So how do you deal with a “normal” that isn’t?  What pointers can you give me?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Have a “nicer than normal” day!

Terri

Growing Towards the Joy

Strokes suck.  There are just no two ways about it.  They just suck. However, in the time since my mother’s stroke, we have been trying very hard to stay positive and grow towards the joy.  There are many days when I feel like the sun has moved beneath a permanent cloud. It feels like I am struggling futilely through a nightmare. I feel resentful that I can’t just wake up and be done with it all.  On those days, I try to focus on our small victories. 

There was the day I walked in when she was having occupational therapy and she read the message on my t-shirt out loud- “I’m not saying I’m Tinkerbell.  I’m just saying that no one has ever seen Tinkerbell and me in the same room together.”  Until that happened, I didn’t think she was able to read any more.  That was a great day.

There was the day I was doing physical therapy with her and the therapist was trying to get her to take plastic cones from the therapist with her stroke-weakened right hand.  She made several attempts with her right hand, then smiled devilishly, quickly grabbed the cones with her left hand, and began to laugh.  Until that happened, I wasn’t sure she was able to find something to joke and laugh about any more.  That was a great day.

There was the day I came in while she was in the dining room not eating lunch and she started pushing her wheelchair along with her feet. The look on her face told me that she had been waiting for me to show off her new skill. Until that happened, I didn’t know if she would ever have anything about which to feel proud any more.  That was a great day.

There was the day I brought her a card that came in her mail at home. She opened it by herself and immediately knew that it was from an artistic friend of hers because the card was obviously lovingly hand-crafted.  Until that happened, I wasn’t sure she truly knew who I was, much less remembered old friends.  That was a great day.  

I try hard to remember these triumphs when she has a bad day and seems to forget how to do the very thing I was so excited she was doing the day before.  I try hard to remember these triumphs when I invest about six hours of my life on a ten-minute visit with a neurologist.  I try hard to remember these triumphs when I am trying to figure out what I am going to do when the rehab facility releases her.  I try hard to remember these triumphs when she goes back into the hospital because of some secondary issue that the rehab center believes needs to be evaluated.  I try hard to remember these triumphs when I am dealing with the administrivia required to run her life and care. 

I try hard to remember these triumphs when I am sad and scared of the future.  I also try hard to push away the next thought that comes to my brain, unbidden, when I remember these triumphs… that they are slim pickings to be considered joyful moments.  As meager as these joyful moments are, I have to hang on to the certainty that they are indeed joyful moments.  It doesn’t do much good to try to grow towards the sun when your brain is only too quick to bring on the rain.

What joyful moments have you found in difficult situations?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  Thank you all for reading and for your support.  I hope you don’t have to look too hard for your joy today!

Terri

Change Squared

A little over two months ago, my mother had a stroke.  I have been posting blog articles that I wrote in advance during the time since she was taken ill.  I thought it was time now to share some observations about the situation with you.

In a wicked irony, the stroke occurred on the very day I posted my article, Growing Up, about the changes in the relationship between my mother and me.

I have been examining the transitions in my life since retirement in excruciating detail in this blog over the past ten months or so.  Despite this little exercise in egomania, the day my mother had her stroke I learned that I know exactly nothing about adapting to change.  Whining about my sod drama pretty much loses its “oomph” when compared to this.

When I went over to my mom’s mobile home (where, yes, she was living alone… as I have had to shamefully admit to one medical professional after another over the past several weeks), she seemed, at first glance, to be asleep.  That wasn’t too unusual, especially since she had been staying up to all hours to watch the Olympics on TV.  However, I quickly noticed that something was very wrong.  Her “magic button,” that is supposed to be her lifeline for help in case of emergency, was on the charger rather than around her neck. I pushed the button and got emergency services, but it is likely that she suffered the stroke several hours earlier.

My initial reaction was pure guilt.  How could I have let her live alone? How could I not have been there when she needed me? How could I have moved her from the world she knew across the country to a very different life?  Have the adventures, fun, and care I hope I’ve provided for her in her new home been enough to compensate for what she gave up? Has she been happy?  Does she regret moving from her old life? Have I done right be her?

These questions quickly morphed into a solid concrete boulder of shame lodged somewhere between my lungs.  That boulder remains to this day, impeding my ability to breath, sleep, and eat.

Even as I struggled with this tsunami of self-loathing, I knew this event was not about me.  I had to put my feelings aside to focus on what my mother needed me to do… whatever that might be.  Once more, I found myself in the situation of having to deal with problems and accomplish tasks I had no idea how to do.  Trying to achieve what she needed or would want was made even more difficult by the fact that my mother’s cognitive and communicative skills at that point were just barely above non-existent.

Trying my best and expecting an incredibly unrealistic standard of adequacy from myself, I plowed my way through fogginess and failure and frenzy to work with the doctors, nurses, therapists, and case managers at the hospital.  I researched and toured rehab facilities so that, when the hospital suddenly announced on Sunday morning that they were going to release her, I was not completely unprepared.  Still, this announcement prompted me to scamper around to ensure I decided on the best facility I could for her.  I hope I did, but there is really no way to know.

While I was pushing my way through the tasks and decisions necessary and keeping other family members informed, I realized I was also pushing through something else.  There was a sadness so deep and dense and profound, it felt like everything I did, I did while swimming through a turbulent ocean of jello.

My mother was living her worst nightmare.  As her body has aged and worn out, she has always said she could live with whatever physical impairments she had to face, as long as her mind still worked.  Now exactly what she has dreaded for years has happened.  Her brain in broken. In the early days after the stroke, it certainly looked like there wasn’t much hope of fixing it.  I couldn’t make it go away.  It felt like there had to be something I could do to fix it, if I could only figure out what.

Maybe for the first time ever, I truly, truly understood what people mean when they say “my parent wouldn’t want to live like this.”  While I’ve always understood the general concept, I couldn’t help feeling that there was at least some measure of self-interest behind the statement.  Maybe the person is actually despairing over how she will take care of the parent without losing her own physical, mental, emotional, and social health.  Maybe she is despondent over finances.  Maybe she is hurting unbearably watching the parent suffer.  However, after seeing my mother for the first few days after the stroke, I could understand the belief that a person would not want to continue to live in that state, self-interest completely aside.

I don’t say that self-interest is part and parcel of the “may parent wouldn’t want to live like this” reaction to imply criticism.  It is absolutely fair, right, and necessary to consider self-interest in making decisions that will impact your life.  Good people consider all interests, including their own, trying to figure out the right thing to do when faced with a bunch of really bad options.  Balancing those interests to pick the course of action that best meets the most needs can be unbearably hard and scary, especially when one of the interested parties has severely impaired cognitive and communicative ability.  I find myself trying to think what my mother would have wanted, based on her general philosophies, before the stroke.  That at least gave me a starting place.  That methodology does have one major flaw, however.  Before the stroke, she had only a theoretical idea of what she would feel like if she was ever in the situation she is in now.

I usually do not sleep at night.  I spend the nights on the internet, futilely looking for any information to make me feel better.  I make endless lists of tasks I have to complete.  Each morning, I face the day with dread.  I dread watching my mother struggle and hurt from the therapies and transfers.  I dread tracking down one or another care professional to get the status of her condition.  I dread the administrivia that I had to try to conquer without a legal power-of-attorney. I dread the decisions that were going to have to be made about her future at some point. I dread trying to find the right words to update friends and family about my mother’s progress and prognosis.   I dread facing the financial cataclysm this situation will cause.  I dread the mourning for the loss of my mother as I knew her.  And at the same time, I am ashamed of myself for being mired in dread.  This isn’t about me; it is about my mother.   Truth be told, the thing I dread the most is facing another day of not being able to illuminate the dark place that my mother’s brain is struggling so hard to escape.

As the days progressed and my mother got therapy at the rehab facility, her situation starts to improve.  Her physicality is improving, as well as her cognition and communication.   The advances are tiny and we are both impatient, but those advances are steady.  I acknowledge and celebrate those small victories daily.  At the same time, each day exhausts, overwhelms, and guts me.  It is hard work to encourage her to do physical activities to maximize her therapy and to come up with exercises we can do together to strengthen her.  It takes incredible concentration to patiently listen and follow what she is saying.  It takes patience and respect to try to converse with her in a way she will understand.  It takes so much resilience to face her slips into a different time or situation on those occasions when her increasing cognition takes a detour.  It takes so much faith to keep going when she bounces back and forth between the hospital and rehab facility, as the medical providers come up with additional concerns to be evaluated.   I’m doing the best I can.  I am sure I am not doing it right.  I’m just doing the best I can.

While my mother battles with her physical recovery and I deal with the pragmatics of her care, we have sad, sparse conversations about independence, finances, and dignity.  I tell her I don’t want her to worry, but I don’t want to lie to her, either.  Some of these conversations are challenging, but, so far, they have also been productive and satisfying.  We try to be hopeful.  We try to maintain some happiness in what we share and what we still have.  In all honesty, though, joy is in short supply.  It is important to keep looking for it, though.  Maybe, just as a flower grows towards the sun, my mother and I can learn to grow towards joy.

As we make some progress, I start looking towards the future and what the “new normal” will look like for both me and her.  I am beginning to learn that there is really no way to know.  Maybe learning to adapt to change means you just have to be able to stand at the edge of the great blackness of the unknown and take a step into whatever is.  I just don’t know if I am brave enough to do that.  I also don’t know that I have a choice.

So what are your thoughts?  Do any of you have any suggestions about how to surf these challenging new waters without getting pulled under the waves by the undertow?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative,  you can send me an email at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading.

Terri

Can You Still Call It A Vacation After You’re Retired?

A few months after I retired and we moved across the country, Max and I took a trip to Colonial Williamsburg. We were looking forward to exploring the Historic Triangle of Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown. We would see the remains of the first English settlement in what became the United States of America.  We would watch artisans make glass, silver products, and clothing as it was made in the 1600s.  We would take a carriage ride around the perimeter of the first capital of the Virginian colony and attend a re-enactment of a colonial officer’s treason trial.  We would eat gingerbread made as it was in the early 1700s.  We would stand at the site of the decisive battle of the American Revolution.  Our plans were packed with educational and culturally enriching opportunities.  And shopping.  Besides the numerous gift shops adjacent to the aforementioned educational and culturally enriching opportunities, there was a large outlet mall, a huge Yankee candle megastore, and at least four multi-level shops devoted to selling Christmas decorations.   Scenery, history, and shopping… what more could a girl ask for from a vacation?  Maybe an amusement park?  Oh, there’s a Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, too. 

As we awaited the day of our departure, something was still bothering me, however.  Before we left, Max kept a countdown on the number of days until our “vacation.”  Every time he used the term “vacation,” something just didn’t sit right with me.  I asked him if it was still called a “vacation” since we no longer had jobs and, thus, really, had nothing from which to vacate. 

We tried to think of something else to call this event, but were not successful.  We tried “pleasure trip,” but that seemed too cumbersome.  We tried “getaway,” but thought that didn’t seem completely accurate, as there was no one chasing us.  Besides, there were no criminal activities, machine guns, or speeding cars involved.  Finally, we gave up and stopped calling our impending trip anything at all.

This issue of what to call this trip begged a bigger question.  When we were working, this sort of trip was incredibly fun, partly because all the time spent in this riot of entertainment was time not spent working.  I was worried that the trip would not hold the same appeal and enjoyment as past “vacations” now that the guilty pleasure of playing hooky from our jobs was no longer a component.

On the Sunday we arrived in Virginia, it was drizzling.  We had planned to go to Busch Gardens for part of the day, since I had not realized until a few days before we left (and AFTER I had already purchased online admission tickets) that the amusement park was only open on Saturdays and Sundays at the time of the year we were going.   Something weird happened, though, and I made an uncharacteristically spontaneous decision.  I decided that, instead of braving the rain and racing around trying to get to Busch Gardens to use those prepaid admission tickets, we should just let it go.   Max and I have a tendency to overplan things.  I still refer to our first visit to Disney World as the “forced march across central Florida” because of my obsession with planning the heck out of stuff to avoid missing anything good.  This fateful decision to throw Busch Gardens to the winds ended up setting the tone for the whole trip.  Our pacing turned out to be just perfect.  As we pursued our fun, we did not run; we meandered.  Over the next five days, we saw all the sights we intended to see and more.  We walked aimlessly and endlessly through beautiful, tree-lined paths and reconstructed colonial towns. We absorbed the wonderful atmosphere with the very oxygen that we breathed.  We stopped at the College of William and Mary bookstore several times to browse, bask in the energy, and linger over a beverage.  I spent some time each day in the hotel’s indoor pool.  We ate well.  I managed to purchase goods from all four of the Christmas stores.  We both slept soundly and peacefully every night.   Although I was not aware I was feeling any stress before we left for Virginia, I became acutely aware of the complete absence of tension during this trip.  I was completely in the moment and enjoying everything as it happened. 

Maybe it was a vacation after all.

A few months later, we decided to take a trip to Las Vegas, which rekindled the whole debate.  This trip would not be the lazy, spontaneous type of trip Williamsburg had been.  We had tickets and dinner reservations and had a pretty strict schedule of touring.  As we bounded through the four days in Las Vegas, our steps were springy and our eyes were wide.  Everywhere we looked, there was something different to see and everywhere we went, there was something different to do.  It was like an unending buffet of activity- even when we started to get full; we gulped and savored one more bite.  Still, I found myself still wrestling with the question of whether or not it is still a vacation when you no longer work for a living.  I was able to resolve the dilemma by asking myself a few simple questions:

  •   Was I cooking, cleaning, or doing laundry?  No.
  •  Was I suffering through some new house-related disaster?  No.
  •  Was I hauling my mother to medical appointments or evaluating health insurance plans for her?  No.
  • Was I evicting less-than-cuddly wild animals from my garage?  No.
  • Was I on vacation?    YES!

So what are your thoughts?  What makes a “trip” a “vacation” for you?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can send me an email at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a great day!

Terri 🙂

My Place in the World

Hello.  My name is Terri and I am a Disney addict.

I never stood a chance.   From the time I was born, my parents called me Tinker Bell.  When I was five, we moved from New York to Anaheim.  Our house was literally in the shadow of Disneyland.  We could see the fireworks from our backyard.   I grew up thinking that Disneyland was the most marvelous “someplace special” that we could go on a family outing.  One year, my parents gave my brother and I the choice of going to San Francisco for my mother’s birthday or taking our usual annual trip to Disneyland.  I could tell that the “right” answer was to choose San Francisco, so I agreed.  I cried myself to sleep for a week.  The last present my father ever bought me was a personal license plate that read “TINKRBL.”  I kept that license plate for three cars.

I made six trips to Disney World in Florida while I was still living in California.  I never had any children and, as would follow, I have no grandchildren.  I enjoy watching kids experience the World, but I have never brought any there on purpose.  I am still Disney-crazed.    I have a wardrobe of Tinker Bell shirts, hats, shoes, and handbags that is the envy of four-year-old girls everywhere.  I even have a custom-made sweatshirt with Tink and her sister Periwinkle on it, proclaiming that “I am the Third Sister.”  For those of you not up on your Tinker Bell lore, google “Tinker Bell and the Secret of the Wings” to get a crash course on the sister reference.  It is all Tink all the time in my world.

When I retired and decided to move out of California to a more cost-friendly area, I feared my very DNA might just unravel if I ventured too far from the Happiest Place on Earth.  I ended up settling in central Florida, where I can get my Disney fix on a regular basis. Max and I put small children to shame in our passion for exploring all Walt Disney World has to offer.  I think I can see skid marks on our annual passes, if I look hard enough.

Disney knows how to entertain children of all ages, even those who are… let’s say… children emeritus.  Judging by the folks I see gracing the walkways of the Disney properties, I have to say that I am not the only one who revels in the Disney experience, despite being well past the age of reason.  After all, who needs reason when you have fantasy?

I have learned some valuable lessons in my adventures with Disney.  There are some things to keep in mind if you, too, are a bit more experienced than your average child and would like to wander the World without benefit of youngsters.  The most important thing is to have your own brand of fun.  If you are thinking of taking your inner child to the most magical place on earth, you might consider the following observations.

It’s all about you!

Stop worrying that you are a grown adult who is at Disney World without children.  If you want to do something, forget whether or not it is appropriate for an adult or if it is intended just for children.  If for some reason there is an age, height, or weight limit on something, some Disney cast member will tell you.  Just about anything on the property, even if intended for children, is available to you if you want.

Embrace the silly.  I always reserve my Fast Pass to visit Tinker Bell when we go to the Magic Kingdom.  The first time we went to Disney World, I really wanted to go to a character breakfast.  I thought that the characters visiting the breakfast might concentrate on families and children.  I thought, as a couple of oldsters unaccompanied by children, Max and I might be a bit on the fringes of things.  I still wanted to go.  I made advance seating reservations for the Cape May Café buffet. I was amazed at how well Disney manages these experiences.  The characters visit EVERYONE.  They float from table to table, regardless of the age of the occupants, spending a good deal of time with every party. Pretty sweet interpersonal skills for animals that can’t talk!

A Little Advance Planning Never Hurts

There are those who insist that a trip to Disney must be approached like a major military tactical battle.   They believe you must get to parks early, experience attractions in a particular order, and avoid liquids so as to minimize bathroom breaks.  I agree that, if you are bound and determined to see the most you can, it is important to be ruled by a grand plan.  On my first trip to Disney, there were many lists and spreadsheets involved.  It is possible, though, to enjoy your adventure without quite so much strategy, if you find the idea of a more leisurely, serendipitous pace more appealing.  With just a little bit of forethought, you can reach a balance between experiencing a great deal of what you wish to see at Disney World and taking things as they come.

The website www.touringplans.com is invaluable for deciding when to visit to avoid the most crowds.  For a small annual fee, you get access to a number of tools for deciding when to visit, include a crowd calculator which predicts a crowd level for each park, each day.  They have some special magical formula, which is pretty accurate.  Once in a while, they miss a cue, but their ratings are fairly reliable.  Try to plan your visit for days that are rated 6 or below.  Having said that, just know that, no matter what the rating, there will likely be more people there than you expect.  It’s Disney.  You aren’t the only one who wants to be there.

Take advantage of the Fast Pass system to select the attractions you most want to see BEFORE you visit.  Fast Passes will give you guaranteed access to a few of your “must-do” attractions at a specific, pre-arranged time without standing in the regular line. If you want to experience some of the more popular attractions, the Fast Passes can save you lots of time and aggravation.  The Disney website will allow you to select your Fast Passes 30 days ahead of time if you are not staying on property or 60 days from the first day of your reservation if you are staying on property.  Because so many people do reserve their Fast Passes ahead of time, it may be pretty much useless to try to get a Fast Pass once you get there.  If you didn’t get a Fast Pass and want to do something, don’t despair.  You may still be able to get on the ride with a minimal wait, depending on the attraction and the timing of your visit.

Know Thyself

If you are not as spry as you once were (or if, like me, you were never that spry to begin with), understand that there is a lot of walking around the World.  Max still refers to our first trip to Disney World as the “forced march across central Florida.” You might want to go into training before your trip by walking a little more each day for about a month, just to give your body a jumpstart for the increased demands you will make on it.  Also, manage your own expectations.  Instead of thinking you are going to go gallivanting from one end of a park to the other and back again and zig zag all over it several times in order to experience everything, figure out ahead of time which three or four attractions are your absolute “must-dos.”   Set your mind to be happy if you get to at least enjoy those attractions.  Then, have a list of other attractions that interest you and experience those as you run across them.  It is likely that if you think to yourself, “I’ll come back to this after I do so and so (at the other end of the park),” you will wilt before “after” comes and won’t make it back.  Keep hydrated, even if that means you have to take more frequent restroom breaks.  When you feel like a rest, go ahead and sit down and enjoy the scenery.

If you have mobility challenges, think about renting a wheelchair or scooter.  You can rent them at the parks and at Disney Springs.  Often, you can get a wheelchair in the parking lot to use to get up to the gate where you can rent a scooter.  You can also check out medical supply rental companies in the Orlando area.  They may be less expensive than Disney and may be willing to bring the wheelchair or scooter to your hotel.  Even if you do not normally need a wheelchair or scooter, you might want to get one for the visit since you will likely be covering way more real estate than you normally do.  You are paying a lot of money to visit Disney and you want to enjoy it.  If a scooter or wheelchair will enhance that enjoyment and give you the freedom to experience things you might not otherwise be able to do, it may be a great investment.

Don’t “Should” All Over Yourself

Remember to enjoy the moment.  This is good advice, no matter what you are doing.  At Disney, though, it can be really easy to get caught up in concentrating on all the big events that you “should” be doing.  Yes, you are paying a ton of money to go.  Yes, you want to get maximum enjoyment out of the trip.  But how do you define “maximum enjoyment?”  Is it seeing every parade and fireworks show?  Is it going on all the newest roller coasters?  Or is it slowing down enough to see the less-popular treasures and experience the serendipity?  Some of my favorite moments in the World involve times when I just happened to catch an experience that I didn’t know about or plan- awakening Tinker Bell in a shop in the Magic Kingdom, seeing the Mickey’s Philharmagic 4-D show in its soft opening, hearing a cast member call me princess, watching small children (who weren’t my responsibility) dance to pre-show music at the Epcot pavilions, sitting on the beach near the hotel at night watching the lights of the Boardwalk across the lake. Maybe “maximum enjoyment” is going back to the resort and taking a nap in the middle of the day or walking around the hotel’s beautiful gardens.   Sure, have a plan and make sure you experience the attractions that are important to you.  But stop and smell the churros, too!

Enjoy your own brand of fun at Walt Disney World.  You earned it and you deserve it.  Remember, you don’t have to be a rugrat to love the Mouse!

So what are your thoughts?  Are you a Disney fan, too?  What tips do you have for enjoying Disney as an “experienced” child?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a magical day, as they say in the House of Mouse!

Terri 🙂