A Thousand Points of Light

Many people look forward to volunteering in a rather vague, non-committal way when they retire from employment.  When you ask people what they are going to do when they retire, you pretty much expect to hear them say “travel” and/or “volunteer.”  If you push the matter a little further and ask specifically what they plan to volunteer to do, you might be met with blank stares.  The truth is that it is much easier to talk about volunteering than to do it.

Volunteerism is a wonderful thing.  Volunteers provide priceless service to the community.  A lot of the good that happens in our world would not get done without volunteers.  In addition, doing volunteer work can help a bored retiree by providing interesting, purposeful activity.  Volunteering can also provide the volunteer with a community of like-minded friends.

Some people are passionate about particular organizations or needs or have specific skills that translate well into the volunteer world.  Typically, these wonderful people already have a robust volunteering life, even while working. When they retire, they simply expand their involvement to fill some of the hours they used to spend on the job.  If you are starting from scratch, though, it can be hard to find volunteer work that is a good fit for your skills, interests, lifestyle, and number of hours you want to devote.  It is also important to be a good steward of your resources and it can be surprisingly hard to find sturdy organizations that are operating in an ethical, upright way.

One of the best ways to embark or continue on a volunteering career is to look to organizations you already support financially or know about through friends, family, and community contacts.  If you attend a specific church, is there some outreach program that calls to you?  Have you been impressed with some organization that provided help in an awesome way to someone you know?  When you were working for a living, did you interact with any charitable organization that did great work?  Have you seen an organization on the news or other local source that sponsored some event or project that speaks to you?  These are all great places to start in your search for volunteer involvement.  Usually, a charitable organization will have a place on its website to explain how to volunteer.

You can also try websites that match potential volunteers with opportunities based on areas of interest and location.  Two websites to check are www.volunteermatch.org and www.createthegood.org.  Both sites let you specify what kind of organization speaks to your passion.  They also both give you a way of filtering by how far away from your location you are willing to travel.

Before committing to volunteer at a specific organization, you might want to do some research.  Google the name of the organization.  Read their website to see if their mission and general vibe seems compatible with your own thoughts and feelings.  Also look for other chatter about the organization on your internet search.  Are there any reviews anywhere?  Is there a hit showing someone mentioning them on a blog or comment?  Are there any news stories about events concerning the organization?  Of course, as with any other internet research, it is important to be discerning.  Whether the hits you find cast the organization in a positive or negative light, you will ultimately have to be the one to decide how much weight to put on the perspective you get from your internet search.

You can also check out the organization’s tax exempt status with the IRS.  This may give you a general idea that it did meet some standard of charitable intent and financial accountability.  You can check the status of most organizations by going to www.irs.gov and typing EO Select Check into the search bar.  You will land on a page with a button that will take you to a form where you can request information on an organization based on name or Employer Identification Number (EIN.)  Some organizations, such as churches, do not need to have a specific exempt organization determination from the IRS.  These organizations may not be listed on this database, but are still considered bona fide charities.  If you have doubts, you can ask the organization to show you a copy of their tax exempt determination letter.

You may also want to visit the organization’s offices and/or the location where you would be working.  Is it a reasonable drive?  Is it an area where you feel comfortable?  Is there parking?  If you have special needs, are you going to be able to manage the parking lot and office?  Most places are handicapped accessible in this day and age, but it pays to check.  For instance, maybe you need a handicapped accessible parking place and the organization has one or two spots, but they are nearly always filled.  You might want to either see if the organization can make arrangements for you or you might want to consider another charity.

I think it is important to cut yourself some slack, too.  I know I used to say I would probably volunteer when I retired.  After I retired, however, my enthusiasm sort of paled.  I just felt like I wanted to rest and decompress.  For quite some time, the only thing I volunteered to do was write a check.  Contributing money to worthy causes is fantastic.  On the other hand, it is kind of like asking someone who says they like to cook what they like to make and have them respond, “reservations.”

My community is largely resident-operated.  We have a small paid staff of employees to take care of administration, but much of the amenities and services are provided by residents who volunteer their time and talent.  We have many residents who bring with them experiences and expertise from their working lives that they generously share to help the rest of us.  Max and I have taken advantage of the benefits provided by these volunteers.  The couple who coordinates the volunteers who staff our community’s gate guardhouse used to work in law enforcement.  We attended a hurricane preparedness seminar led by a gentleman whose employment career had been with the Red Cross.  A gentleman who used to work for some city agency performed our mandatory annual irrigation system backflow testing (don’t even ask me what that is because I haven’t a clue but that guy basically used to do it for a living!).   I go to water aerobics classes taught by a lady who has been a certified instructor for over 30 years.

After about six months of living in the community, I was feeling pretty guilty that I availed myself of these benefits but didn’t do anything.  It was eating away at me, but my natural shyness, the amount of time I was spending with my mom, and my reluctance to jump too quickly into committing to something I might regret was leaving me stuck in a no man’s land.  I was wallowing in guilt, but not really motivated to do anything to propel me out of the mire.

Finally, an opportunity presented itself.  The community contracted a photography company to produce a pictorial directory for the residents. This is a pretty common practice for communities, churches, schools, large clubs, etc.   The photographer does photo sessions with all residents who agree to be photographed and produces the directory for the community.  The photographer pays a fee to the community for each person who participates. Each resident who agrees to participate gets a free 8X10 photo and a free copy of the directory.  The photographer makes money by selling prints and other products to the participants in a discussion after each photo session.  It is a reasonable partnership between the photographer and community.  The community also contributes volunteer labor to set appointments and check people in for their sessions.

I figured I could safely volunteer to help with this project.  It didn’t sound like it would be too taxing or require any particular skill.  The main selling point to me was that it seemed like a self-limiting condition.  In volunteering for a self-contained project like this, I could offer some service, but would not be committing myself for an undefined amount of time over some indefinite period. It also might be a good way to meet people and maybe make some friends.   I signed up to greet people when they came for their photos and complete the forms that the photographer needed.  I even used my real name and phone number when I signed up!

The coordinator called a few days later to invite me to attend the orientation meeting.  When I got to the house, I was surprised to find a living room and kitchen crammed full of people…. And food.  Apparently, one of the fringe benefits of volunteering in the community is free snacks.  I found the number of new people a bit overwhelming.  I could feel myself start to retreat into my shell.  Then I remembered one of my goals in volunteering was to meet people so I pulled out some of my “forced extroversion” skills from my working life.  I listened carefully to conversations around me and was even able to manage some small talk, thus integrating into one of the little group chats that was buzzing around before the meeting.

 

One of my new-found acquaintances introduced me to the coordinator.  My new-found acquaintance began to list all the activities and events included in the coordinator’s volunteering portfolio.  I don’t think I could have listed them all without index cards.

“Wow,” I said to the coordinator when my new-found acquaintance came up for air, “You are a busy lady.”

“Yes,” replied the coordinator.  “It started really small.  I volunteered to do one thing and it kind of just grew.  They really keep you hopping here.”

“I don’t know if I really want to hop,” I said doubtfully, beginning to wonder if I had made a dreadful error in judgment. “I think I’d prefer to amble.”

The coordinator gave me an odd look and wandered off.

I staffed several shifts of greeting people on picture days.  It was definitely not a difficult job.  Let’s face it- it also wasn’t a huge, noble sacrifice to improve the state of the universe.  Still, I know that the money that the photography company paid to the community will benefit others and I felt good about contributing. Maybe it will motivate me to amble into something a little more substantial sometime soon.

Have any of you volunteered in retirement?  What was your experience like?  Any suggestions for folks just starting out on a volunteering career?  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 🙂

Happy Birthday, USA!

A lot of people start to scorn birthdays as they get older.  Not me.  I love my birthday.  I don’t see a birthday as an acknowledgement that I’m another year older (although, of course, I am).  Instead, I see my birthday as a momentary pause in the regular programming of life- a sort of public service announcement about the wonder that is me.  It is the one day of the year when I can feel justified making it all about me.  It is the one day a year when it feels right to sit back and reflect on who I am and what I have built and what I would like to accomplish in whatever time I have left in the world.   My birthday is an opportunity to celebrate me.

I bring the same notion to Independence Day.  The Fourth of July is a time to cherish our nation.  It is a time to think about how the country got where we are today.  It is time to allow our hearts to dream big for the future.

We live in a huge, beautiful, awe-inspiring country.  We ourselves elect the leaders who govern us.  We enjoy freedoms that much of the world would find almost anarchistic.  Despite the messiness that often ensues, our nation continues to work and to impress 240 years after its inception.  I am humbled when I think about the people in the past who helped frame what we now enjoy.  I wish I could say I have even a fraction of the vision, wisdom, and courage of the great leaders and beacons that came before us.

I celebrate George Washington leading a battle to liberty when the only evidence he had to suggest he would succeed was what his own heart told him. I am ashamed that I have dismissed beautiful ideas because they seem impractical.

I celebrate Abraham Lincoln demolishing obstacles to garner enough support to pass the 13th amendment.   He constitutionally abolished slavery while also maintaining a fragile balance in Congress to keep the nation from fracturing still further.  I realize that persistence and process do work if I just invest a little patience.

I celebrate Dorothea Dix standing up to a masculine monolith that insisted decent women had no place in medicine.  She created a professional nursing corps during the Civil War.  These nurses faced hardship and derision, but still provided invaluable service to their patients. I know I must be brave enough to offer my passion and talents to help others.

I celebrate Henry Ford creating an assembly line that ultimately made it possible for all classes of people to have tools and goods that otherwise would have been available only to the rich.  By questioning the way things had always been done and looking for just one way to improve his operation, he introduced a concept that would ultimately make it possible for millions to achieve their way out of poverty.  I realize that contributing just one idea to change one seemingly self-contained aspect of life sometimes results in changing the world.

I celebrate Teddy Roosevelt championing the creation of national parks. Even in a time when most Americans never saw the country outside their hometowns, he knew that the day would come when we would need to protect our geographic wonders.  From his example, I understand that we must conserve and preserve the natural and historic beauty of the United States.

I celebrate that later Roosevelt- Franklin- who navigated the nation through the dangerous waters of the Great Depression and World War II.  He helped create programs that would give many worthwhile Americans a hand up when they thought their lives were worthless.  He provided practical assistance and hope for the heart of the nation.  He did all this from a wheelchair. He proved that the power of patriotism and personal will can overcome the frailties of the physical.

I celebrate Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus after a hard day’s work.  She taught the whole world a lesson about value and equality in one simple, routine moment.   She reminds me of the power of dignity and integrity.

I celebrate Jaime Escalante coming to the United States as an immigrant and overcoming obstacles.  He taught a generation of young adults that learning is the most effective tool we have to improve ourselves and the world in which we live.  He taught students from low income, disenfranchised families.  They came to him believing that they could not achieve.  He proved to them that they were better than they thought they were.  His message was so powerful, it burst out beyond his immediate sphere of influence.  Because of his success, popular media shared his story.  His vision spoke to many people, who also learned that, through education, they could create something wonderful of their lives. I pray that all young people have someone in their lives to convince them of their possibilities.

As a child and as a young adult, I think I kind of thought everyone was sort of like me.  I knew that people were different on the outside because I could see that. However, I thought that everyone pretty much thought and believed and felt as I did once you got beneath the skin.  I left some room for some standard deviation level differences, but I thought most people would react to life in pretty much the same way I did.  As I matured, I realized this was not the case.  Everyone’s backgrounds and unique sets of circumstances will color how they see the world and what they can contribute to the common good.

I grew up in a time when society at large was just beginning to realize that patriotism didn’t necessarily mean supporting the status quo.  For a long time, a lot of people thought that loving the country meant not only appreciating what it was but guarding it against change. We feared that change would destroy.  In my childhood, innovative thinkers were beginning to remind us that the nation’s motto is not “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

In each generation, there have been challenges and experimentation and triumphs.  Changes have sometimes been difficult to manage and may have brought some negative aftermath. However, our country is not so fragile that change can destroy it.  Going forward, some proposed changes will bring about wonderful results.  Other ideas might address some needs, but bring about another set of unintended negative consequences. It is important to listen to all voices respectfully and curiously.  This is how we discern whether or not a new approach is going to help our nation thrive or not.  We will not all agree on whether some aspect of our national consciousness should change or how it should change.  Wisdom has many voices.  The chorus and harmony of those voices will eventually decide what our national song will sound like in every generation.

When I was a child, my parents taught me tolerance.  I learned that I should judge people, as Dr. Martin Luther King said, “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  One of the positives of my generation was that we did begin with “tolerance”- but we opened the door for more.  As I experienced more of life, and reflected on what I experienced, I realized that the differences that we prided ourselves on “tolerating” are actually cause for celebration.  We can all bring the different talents and perspectives we possess to the common table of America.  We can use them to enhance our American experience and continuously use them to build an even better United States.

I think great Americans are sort of like saints.  Some of them are well-known and celebrated, their names printed in boldface type in the canon of history.  Others are anonymous, known only to those who love them.  We can and should count anyone who has shaped our country in a positive, evolutionary way on our list of great Americans.  I hope that list includes all of us.

So who do you think of as American “saints?”  There are so many.  Who are your favorites and why?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  Celebrate today!

Terri 🙂

The Late Hatcher

There was big news at the pool today.  We have a brand new baby Sandhill Crane. 

The first litters of baby Sandhill Cranes, born in March, are growing fast.  People say you can almost see them grow in front of you if you watch them for any length of time.  After only about eight weeks, the little hatchlings are now almost indistinguishable from their mommies and daddies.  Sandhill Cranes apparently stay with their parents for about ten months after birth, but they cease to look like babies very quickly.  All of us human types have been watching this year’s crop of babies with keen interest.  Last year, we had three chicks. Sadly, only one made it to launch time ten months after birth. 

So it was a very big deal when Mommy and Daddy Crane strutted by the clubhouse this morning, proudly showing off their little late spring miracle.  As they paraded by, we all made cooing noises, expressing our delight in their achievement.  We have high hopes for our new little late hatcher. 

I think I am a bit of a late hatcher myself. I was a prissy, nerdy, know-it-all little kid.  I was an abysmal failure at being a teenager.  I married the first man who asked me, certain it would be my only chance.  I spent that marriage isolated and ashamed of whoever it was that I was.  I took a multi-part exam for a civil service position.  Although I scored extraordinarily well on almost every part test, I focused on the fact that I scored only one point above the minimum passing score on one part of the exam. I considered myself lucky to be offered any job at all.  I didn’t really consider whether the job I was offered was something that I would find interesting or satisfying.  I just took it and breathed a sigh of relief that the selecting officials had not noticed my ineptitude at that pesky Visual Reasoning portion of the exam. 

It wasn’t until several years into my career that I realized I actually had a number of attributes that were a perfect fit for success at the job.  I was an intelligent, quick learner.  I was kind and compassionate towards people.  I was an exceptionally hard worker.  In the absence of any real talent, I used these attributes to craft a successful career. 

As I became more competent, I felt like I had value and I gained confidence to try new things.  I became a collaborator and a teacher and a mentor to others.  I began to see some uniqueness in my contribution.  People began to respect me and, then, as they grew to know me, to like me.  I used to say people liked me because I was completely inoffensive.  It wasn’t that people gravitated naturally to me or that I had some special charisma or that I could offer others any particular benefit.  It was simply that there wasn’t anything to really not like about me- I was easy-going and would tend to go along with what others wanted to do.  I hated conflict and avoided disagreeing with anyone.  While people did often express appreciation to me for help I provided over the years and tried to reassure me of my unique value, I think I believed they were mostly just being kind.

I was quite shocked by the outpouring of genuine affection and appreciation when I retired.  It was a revelation I wish I had realized much earlier in life.   Somewhere along the way, I stopped being just someone who didn’t piss people off and became someone with actual talent and positive influence.  I’m not sure when it happened, but I am so glad it did.

Now that I’ve stopped working and have taken some time to reflect, the revelation is even clearer to me.  I realize that, somewhere rather late in the game, I started hatching and becoming the person I was actually always meant to be.  Now, in retirement, I am trying to break out of the shell that still remains.  Without the distraction of work, there is a wonderful opportunity to experiment with who I want to be.  As disorienting as transitioning into retirement can be, it is so worth it.  I never realized how big my world could be when I was struggling so hard to break through the shell.

So let’s hear it for the late hatchers! Maybe there is a little late spring miracle in all of us.  I’d like to think so.  Nobody should peak at 30!  Since the average lifespan for a person living in the United States is nearly 79 years, that would mean most of us would be looking at an awfully long downhill slide.  Once we think we’ve peaked, it might just mean it is time to start looking for another mountain to climb.  Or another layer of shell from which to hatch!

So what do you think?  Have you found new ways to hatch in your later years?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative,  you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  Have a wonderful, wondering day!

Terri 🙂

The First Man I Remember

I have many warm memories of my father.  Most of them are as vivid and dimensional as if they happened just yesterday.

I remember waiting in line to go on the Matterhorn at Disneyland with my father when I was a little girl.  I was the only one who would join him on this first Disney thrill ride.  Thinking back, I can almost feel the anticipation and adrenaline building as we got closer and closer to the front of the line.  I usually had enough time to get good and scared by the time it was our turn.  I always came very close to backing out at the last minute, but I always boarded the ride… and loved it.  I knew, if I was with my Daddy, it was going to be okay.  The ride was always wild and frenetic and absolutely entrancing to my young self…. partly because it was an experience that was special for just the two of us to share.  My father was brave.

I remember my brother and I waiting in the car with my father while my mother visited my dying grandmother in the hospital.  It seemed like we were in that parking lot for hours and hours at a time, night after night.  I’m not sure what all we did during that time, but I have a very clear memory of my father entertaining us by singing navy drinking singing songs.  My father was funny.

I remember visiting the Kern River when I was about nine or ten.  I was a little fish as a child and loved being in the water.  Little fish can get carried away with the current and survive.  Little girls, not so much. I have a picture of my father sitting on a flat rock on the river’s edge.  He is holding three lengths of rope.   One is attached to me, one is attached to my brother, and one is attached to Baron, our dachshund-ish puppy, as our squirmy little bodies whooshed down the river with the current.  It still gives my mother fits that all that stood between her little darlings and certain death were the ropes my father tied around our tummies.  Since I lived to tell the tale, it is proof that my father passed basic seamanship.  He could tie sound knots and haul small bodies out of the brink.  I’m not sure anyone in the navy quite envisioned him using these skills to keep his children and dog from meeting a brutal end crashing against the rocky banks of the Kern River.    My father was innovative. 

I remember camping out in the backyard in a teepee my father made out of bedsheets he dyed the color of buckskin.  He decorated it by having each member of the family make a handprint with a different color paint on the fabric.  My father, for some completely unknown reason, just decided he was part Native American sometime in the late 1960s.  There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that this assertion was true, but my father willed it so.  I think he felt his interest and passion for Native American culture should have been enough to entitle him to at least some connection.  Even if there was no true bloodline connection, he loved his way into the tribe.  He and my little brother became extremely active in Indian Guides.  My father tooled leather and created war bonnets with feathered trains longer than he was.  He did intricate beadwork designs on moccasins.  He read everything he could find about Native American history and culture.  Long into his retirement, he and my mother rarely took a vacation that did not involve travel to some ancient Native American tribal location.  When my brother “aged out” of Indian Guides, my parents actually came very, very close to adopting or fostering another child so my father could continue.  When they decided that action might be a little too extreme, my father just continued his exploration of Native American lore, culture, craft, and history on his own…. a sort of independent study version of Indian Guides.  My father was passionate. 

I remember being honored at an academic awards ceremony in high school.  In my time, mothers were usually the ones who attended these kind of things.  By the time high school rolled around, it was even rare to glimpse a mother watching the principal award her offspring with yet another certificate indicating “big fish in a small pond” excellence in something or other.  In my family, my mother and father both held jobs outside the home by the time I was in high school.  My father had more vacation time.  My father was the one who always came to school to watch me receive awards.  He was always freshly showered and shaved and wearing his “good” clothes.  I remember the lime green velour pullover shirt with thin violet and turquoise pinstripes (remember, it was the 70s!) that he wore to “dress up.”  I wore that shirt for years after he abandoned it.  My father was never a demonstrative man or lavish with praise.  In fact, some would say that he was too critical.  However, I knew how proud he was and how happy he was with his family, especially on those award ceremony days.  I could see the huge smile that came from the very core of his being.  It was one of the moments that occurred from time to time that made me certain that my father believed that the best and most important touchpoints about his whole life were his wife and children.  It defined him.  My father was loving. 

I remember moving into the condo I purchased on my own.  My father came and stayed with me for about a week when I first moved in.  While I was at work during the day, my father painted things and replaced things and fixed things in the condo.  When I came home, I could hear him whistling and humming as I came up the stairs.  He was busy and active, truly shaping the home where I would live for the next 23 years.  At night, we would go out to dinner, talk about things that we had never talked about, laugh together, and watch television.  My father was a fixer. 

I remember standing by my father’s bed in intensive care as he was dying twenty years ago.  He was only 72 years old.  He had been fine when my mother went to work in the morning.  He was fine when she came home at lunch.  He was laying on the floor in pain from a sudden heart attack when she got home in the early evening.  At the time, I lived about 70 miles away from my parents.  By the time I arrived to say good-bye, he had been unconscious for some time and I don’t know if he knew I was there.  My mother said that he was waiting for the priest and for me before he left us.  When I got to the hospital, the priest was in his room.  I went in and told him I loved him and didn’t want him to go.  While I was there, he passed away.  My father was gone.

I’ve always said that my father could fix anything.  I believe that, had he been conscious enough to open his own chest and wrestle his heart from his body, he could have jerry-rigged some way of keeping it going.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. 

When my father died, my life changed forever.  That was one of the pivotal moments of my life when I could literally see my world transforming as it happened.  It was the end of being a child.  I was in my thirties.  One could certainly argue that I had not really been a child for a long time.  I had graduated college, married, supported myself, advanced significantly in a career, gotten divorced, and bought a home on my own.  Still, as long as my father was alive, part of me was his little girl.  My parents were a safe place to land if things did not go well.  They were the safe haven to protect me when being a grown-up got too difficult.  Once my father was gone, I not only lost his protection, but I also became the one who had to protect.  My mother has always been a strong, capable person.  Still, her loss of her life’s partner was even greater than my loss of my father.  It was now my role in the parent/child relationship to let her feel her loss, absorb as much of it as I could, and provide her with the safe haven she and my father always provided me. 

It has been a lifetime since my father’s lifetime ended.  I have continued to grow and change.  The way I look at life and death and joy and grief and protection and support continues to evolve.  That is as it should be.  Still, some part of me still mourns for that last bit of childhood I lost the day my father died.  I hope, even in Heaven, Daddy sees a part of me that is still his little girl.

Happy Fathers’ Day to all the fathers out there!  This Sunday is a dedicated time for us to thank “the first men we remember” for being our dads.  What are your best memories of your father?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can send me an email at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Have a wonderful day!

Terri 🙂

 

Lunch With The Lemurs

One of the benefits of turning your whole world upside down is that you have the opportunity to try new entertainment experiences.  One of the most unique and entrancing new entertainment opportunities we’ve explored is the Giraffe Ranch in Dade City, Florida.

As odd as it sounds, before we moved, I goggle-searched to see if there was any place in central Florida where one could feed giraffes.  I was moving from a location close enough to visit the world famous San Diego Zoo often.   I’ve fed giraffes in a number of zoos and parks all over the country.  I’ve always felt feeding giraffes was kind of high on the “coolness factor” scale.  Don’t judge.  We all take our endorphins where we can get them.

The Giraffe Ranch is a little different.  It isn’t really a zoo or a theme park.  It is more like a sanctuary for exotic animals, operated by spouses Lex Salsibury and Elena Sheppa.  Lex is the former director of the Lowery Park Zoo in Tampa.  The grounds are on an abandoned cattle farm, adapted to create a home for dozens of species of animals.  Lex and Elena run tours of their facilities for no more than 20 people at a time.  They use their experience with African safaris as a model for their operation.

There are a number of options for touring the ranch, all of which include the opportunity to feed their giraffes.  The tour is a bit expensive, although not as costly as a day at an Orlando theme park.  It isn’t a whole day activity, but I think it is still worth every cent because of the uniqueness and exclusivity of the experience.  No crowds, no noise, no lines…. Just you and about 19 other people hanging out with the animals and discussing them.  And feeding them.  I’ve been there twice now.  It is way, way cool.

In addition to the basic giraffe tour, there are a number of optional extras that you can add for additional charges.  One of those extras is feeding lemurs.  Those of you who have seen the Madagascar movies may remember King Julien the lemur.  For those of you who don’t know what a lemur is, it may help if I tell you that they are about the size of a housecat and sort of resemble what might happen if a monkey and a raccoon could have a baby.  A baby with REALLY big eyes. There are many varieties of lemurs, all of which are endangered.  There are a couple of different types at the giraffe ranch.  I elected to participate in the lemur feeding, which involved interacting with ring-tailed lemurs.

There were basically four parts to the experience at the ranch.  The first part was a briefing when Elena told us about the history of the ranch and shared some basic information about the animals we would see.  The briefing came with visual aids- in the form of giraffe and zebra bones.  Next, we took a walk around the habitats close to the office.  We saw animals like gibbons and servals and kangaroos and pigs.  The third part was the feeding extras.  Finally, the fourth part was the safari tour in a 20-seat jeep type vehicle.

I really enjoyed everything the experience had to offer, but I was most excited about the lemur feeding.  After all, as much as I love feeding giraffes (and I love it a lot), I have done that often before coming to the Giraffe Ranch.  The lemurs were new to my animal-feeding repertoire.

When we got to the lemur enclosure, it was clear that those critters knew the drill.  It obviously wasn’t their first rodeo.   The lemurs attached themselves to the inner enclosure like peanut butter on bread.  They stared at us as we congregated in the little caged vestibule area that served as an anteroom to keep the lemurs from escaping as we entered their digs.  Elena gave us grapes (which seem to be the catnip of the lemur world, given their response) and instructions.  One of the most important things she told us was that we were not supposed to feed the lemurs near the door to the enclosure.  We were supposed to go over to a shelter at the center of the enclosure and only then offer the grapes.  This procedure was supposed to teach the lemurs not to congregate at the door. The idea was that, if the lemurs learned they only got the grapes well within the enclosure, they would not gather at the front door where they could tumble out into freedom (and, probably, certain death if the giraffe ranchers were not able to wrangle them pretty quickly.) It didn’t work.  I think there might have been one of three different reasons for its failure:

1)    There were sufficient people as impatient to feed the lemurs as the lemurs were impatient to be fed so the lesson was not consistently taught.

2)    Lemurs just aren’t that smart.

3)    Even in the lemur world, hope springs eternal and, hey, to a lemur, it’s worth a shot.

As the lemurs hung off the inside of the enclosure, they stared at us with their goo-goo-googly eyes, begging us to ignore the nice giraffe lady and hand over the grapes.  I’m sure those pitiful looks can be pretty effective motivation for early grape-feeding.  I, however, used to have a dog that employed the same technique, so it didn’t bother me.

Given the obvious enthusiasm the lemurs seemed to have for the possibility of grapes, you would have thought that we would have been trampled by dozens of tiny feet when we entered the inner enclosure.  I’ve been to petting zoos and have the goat hoof prints on my chest to prove it.  These lemurs were the politest creatures I have ever met, however.  Despite the emotional blackmail they employed unsuccessfully to get us to give up the grapes at the door, they amiably trotted behind us to the feeding shelter with no hard feelings.

I made my way into the shelter with the grapes hidden behind my back- another of Elena’s tips to make sure that the lemurs concentrated on one grape at a time.  These creatures are seriously charming.  Again, they produced the same pleading looks.  They exuded sweetness.  I was completely smitten.  In fact, I was momentarily enchanted into paralysis by the sheer cuteness of the animals.  That enchantment was detracting from valuable grape-gobbling time, in the lemurs’ humble opinions.  It wasn’t that they screeched or jumped or did anything obnoxious to jolt me out of cuteness overload and convince me to offer the grapes.  Just as I was struggling to come out of my adorableness-induced fog to offer a grape, one of the lemurs, with extreme courtesy, reached out with his soft little hand and patted me on the wrist!  Just a soft, sweet, momentary pat to remind me that he was there and waiting as patiently as his little lemur heart could wait for me to share a grape.  It felt just like a little human baby grasping your finger or patting your cheek.  And it happened over and over again.  With their pathetic looks and pleading pats, it felt like the lemurs were a bunch of furry Oliver Twists asking, “please ma’am, can I have some more?”

I offered grape after grape throughout this lemur happy hour.  When I found myself grapeless, Elena gave me more.  I could not stop smiling and cooing over the little creatures who took the grapes so daintily and licked my hands to make sure they consumed every drop of juice.  Adorbs.  Just adorbs.

When we finished the lemur feeding, we moved on to the vehicle safari.  As we bounded over the abandoned cattle ranch, Elena and Lex shared fascinating and entertaining animal information with us.  Among other critters, we viewed ostriches, rhinos, and zebras.  And, of course, the main headliner- the giraffes.

As much fun as feeding the lemurs had been, I was also really looking forward to feeding the giraffes.  It was awesome.  As I looked up into those huge dark, gentle eyes, I felt like those giraffes could feel me thinking.  And what I was thinking was, “you are just the most beautiful thing in the world.”  I am pretty sure the giraffes didn’t care what I was thinking as long as I kept the cabbage coming, but it made me feel good to think the giraffes and I were sharing a telepathic lovefest.  I was delighted by their warm smiles, lazy eyes the color of chocolate kisses, and the dexterity of the long tongues they employed to tangle my cabbage into their mouths.  I was lucky to be sitting in a front seat and Elena offered me a slice of juicy mango to feed one of the giraffes.    I’m not sure what is slimier- mushy mango or giraffe spit.  It doesn’t really matter.  They both wash off easily.

It was a great day.  After about three hours, I left proudly bearing my newly-purchased “I Fed The Lemurs” t-shirt.  On the way home, I thought about how lucky I am.  There aren’t many people in this world that get to lunch with the lemurs.

For more information about the Giraffe Ranch, you can visit www.girafferanch.com

So what are your thoughts?  What activities have you done that rank pretty high on the “coolness factor” scale?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can send me an email at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a wonderful day!  Lemurs rock!

Terri 🙂

Misfitting In

In some ways, retirement represents a return to the “real me.” 

In my childhood and young adulthood, I was naturally inclined to shyness, quiet, and observation.  Rather than joining groups of people or chiming in on conversations, I tended to stay on my own and listen covertly.  I avoided attending social activities and putting myself in situations where interaction was necessary.  I would “parallel play” my way through daily life- perfectly content to work side-by-side with others, but preferring to not collaborate.

At one point, I considered that I might actually be agoraphobic since there were some days when I literally could not leave the house to go to school and other times when I drove to a party or event, but could not make myself go inside.  Then, I realized that agoraphobia was not my problem.  It wasn’t open spaces of which I was afraid.  It was people.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t communicate with people or even that I did it badly.  In fact, I have always been good at putting my thoughts into words, both in speaking and in writing.  I also have decent empathy with others, good intuition about what the other person is thinking or feeling (must be all that listening over the years!) and a nimble ability to choose communication strategies likely to appeal to and engage the other person.  I just always kind of chose not to do so, except with people with whom I had long term positive relationships.   I used to say I have a slow emotional transmission.  It takes me a long time to get into a relationship gear and then I find it almost impossible to let go of that gear when it is time to part.

Once I started working, my natural sense of duty kicked in.  It struck me that it was my responsibility to take the lead when communicating with customers and employees.  I worked for a federal agency from which most people would be happy to never hear.  Customers were often frightened, upset, and irate, often for good reason.  It was my job to help them feel better and more comfortable dealing with their issues.  As I advanced in the leadership ranks, I recognized that it was my job to communicate well and to create an environment where my employees could feel safe and thrive.  I once heard that my job was basically to hold conversations and I think that was probably correct.

 As time went on, I made conscious efforts to use the communication skills and personal qualities I possessed in all my interactions.  I tried to “pretend until I was” outgoing.  While it got easier to pretend and sometimes I even thought I might be achieving outgoingness, I don’t think I ever actually got there.   I often enjoyed who I was when I pretended to be outgoing, but it took a lot out of me.   I was successful in doing the things that would make me appear warm, outgoing, approachable, trustworthy, and confident in my communication. It was my job.  I did it.  I did it well.  I was exhausted.

Now that I am no longer working, I have reverted to my natural preferences.  As much as I looked forward to joining the book club in my new community, I have somehow not found the time to attend any meetings.  When trying to arrange for vendors or contractors to take care of things around the house, I try very hard to find a way to accomplish my task by email.  When our new next door neighbors invited us to a Christmas party at their home, we went out to dinner first and “stopped by” for only half an hour or so.  I only managed that because I thought it would be rude to decline the invitation. When I go to the water aerobics class, I don’t fold into the little groups of two or three that form in the pool. 

I am finding this opportunity to slide back into observation mode to be very restful.  I am enjoying the blissful silence of my own thoughts, the absence of my frenzied mind spinning around trying to succeed in my charge of advancing the flag of conversation.  I listen and horde the little nuggets I hear inside my brain, turning them over and admiring them in the safety of my quietness. 

Still, this welcome isolation does have its downside.  I feel a bit removed and apart from my surroundings and community.  I have no sense of “belonging.” I initially thought this might be the age difference between me and most of the people around me, but I think it might be more my retirement from forced extroversion. 

The other day, Max asked me if I missed work at all.  I replied that I didn’t miss work, but that I didn’t feel like I “fit in” anymore.  He asked a very insightful question, “Do you want to?” Obviously, after over 30 years of basically communicating and forging relationships for a living, I know what to do to create those connections for myself.  I suppose when I want to fit in badly enough, I will find my niche in the relationship networks in my new life.  I recently offered a piece of advice to one of the women in the pool who I heard talking about her upcoming trip to the Grand Canyon.  I volunteered to help with the photography for the community’s new directory. I will probably go to the book club when it starts again in the fall. I have started to make friends.

In the meantime, I will enjoy the quiet and the nourishment I get from the enduring friendships that had their genesis in my working years.   These “forever friendships” were not dependent on the very intentional strategies and techniques I practiced to push myself into appearing outgoing.  Those friendships teach me that my natural self, with all its introversion, is enough.  I’m enough to fit into the hearts of those people I love. 

So what do you think?  How do you forge new relationships in a new life?  How do you balance friendship and introversion?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative,  you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Thanks for letting me fit in with you!

Terri 🙂

 

God’s Waiting Room

I think I may be too young to live in a retirement community.  When I was still living in the working world in my old state, even though I had stopped working, my brain sort of defined my retirement as “I’m being rewarded for working so hard and doing such a good job.”  When I moved to my new state, to a community where the average resident is probably a generation older than I am, my brain quickly started defining my retirement as “I’m too old to work.” 

It is a little odd.  I have almost always been the youngest in whatever circle I have orbited… at the workplace, amongst my friends, in my extended family.  As a result, I’ve usually felt even younger than I actually was.  I had just started feeling a bit wizened when I retired and moved to my over 55 community, which I lovingly refer to as “God’s waiting room.”  I thought that this return to being the youngest kid on the block might bolster up that youthful feeling, but no such luck.  I am actually feeling older.  I’m not sure why, because the folks in this community are incredibly active, involved, and energetic.  They play tennis, power through exercise classes, volunteer, run countless activities and events at the community clubhouse, and always seem to be popping out somewhere in their souped up golf carts. 

The friends I left in my old state are starting to refer to themselves as my “young friends,” even though they are older than I am.

The truth about my retirement is probably somewhere in between.  The good people of the United States are paying me a lifetime pension as part of my long term employment contract, not as a special reward for doing a really good job.  While I don’t believe I (or most anyone else, for that matter) is incapable of work after age 55, I do believe that we are each born with some finite quantity of patience, mental endurance, and tolerance for frustration and obstacles.  I think mine was just about depleted.  I could feel my “bounce back” mechanism getting a little less bouncy over the past couple of years, but I don’t think I realized how low the tank was really getting.  I shudder to think how that paucity of patience must have manifested itself under the daily schedule of frustrations that simply just exist on any job.  When I moved and began dealing with the myriad of issues related to a major life change, it became clear to me that the slightest little setback caused me to react with disproportionate frustration.  Any little thing that didn’t go exactly as I planned might start me crying and plummeting down the road to despair. 

I’ve had numerous opportunities to observe this reaction, as there have been so many setbacks in dealing with the house, the lawn, moving my mother to her new home, getting a new washer and dryer, etc., etc., etc.  It isn’t pretty and I’ve noticed my mother is starting to be afraid to open the mail or take a phone call because she is sure the communication will mean some new setback that will cause me to disintegrate before her very eyes. 

I’ve taken to purposefully maintaining a calm, albeit artificial, exterior over everything I can now.  I’m no idiot and I could see that my freak outs were not doing any good and just feeding into the frenzy of everyone around me, like my mother and Max.  I am embracing the mantra, “pretend until you are” and acting like I’m mildly amused rather than completely freaked out when something isn’t happening the way I think it should.  It is hard work and I’m not sure I’m succeeding, but maybe I’ll improve with practice. 

And maybe that finite quantity of patience, mental endurance, and tolerance of frustration and obstacles will regenerate itself when I finally stop drawing from it on an hourly basis, as I did while I was working.  Keep your fingers crossed!

So what do you think?  Is it possible to regenerate stresshardiness?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a wonderful day!

Terri 🙂

Finding My Way

I finally made it to the beach.

One of my critical deciding factors for where I would move in retirement was that I must be able to comfortably drive to the beach.  I grew up within a frisbee’s throw from Surf City, USA.  I spent a lot of time in my childhood playing on the beaches of Southern California.  As an adult, I lived about 10 miles from the beach.  Life got in the way and I never was the type to spend hours and hours sunbathing on a regular basis.  My father used to say I was whiter than a nun’s belly.  Still, the beach always held an allure for me.  I would usually spend a few hours there at least a couple of times a year.  It was the place I felt most relaxed.  It was the place I did my clearest thinking.  There is absolutely nothing in this world like walking on the beach, feeling the sun on my shoulders, wet sand under my feet, and ocean breeze against my bare legs.  Next to the ocean, I was always somehow lighter, freer, and happier.  I even felt closer to God.

Before I bought the house in Florida, I evaluated the distance to the beach.  Once I got over the whole “the ocean is to the east” instead of “the ocean is to the west” thing, I realized that it was, theoretically, about a 90-minute drive to the Atlantic coast and a 90-minute drive to the Gulf of Mexico coast.  That was acceptable to me.  The beach criterion was met and so I was contented.

I moved to Florida seventeen months ago.  With beaches in two different directions, you would have thought I would have made it there before now, wouldn’t you?

When I first began making “I want to go to the beach” noises, it was too rainy.  Then, it was too cold.  Then, it was spring break.  Then, there was a confluence of motorcycle aficionado clubs from all over the country scheduled to be zooming around the beach communities when I finally made a specific plan to go to the beach.  Then, there was a total eclipse of the sun.  Well, maybe not that one.  Still, it began to feel like there was ALWAYS something in the way between me and the sea.  I was sure I was never going to get to the shore.

I began to wonder what was really stopping me from just getting in the car and driving the 80 miles or so to the beach.  In thinking it through, it seemed to me that the big obstacle was fear of getting lost.  As I have crafted my new life in my new state, I have had to find my way across new geography many given times.  After a lifetime of living in the same general vicinity and visiting the same places time and time again, it is kind of stressful to face the fact that every time I get into the car, I am running the very real risk of getting lost.  Even with MapQuest, GPS, and local signage pointing the way to popular tourist destinations (like, say, THE BEACH!), I feel the juices in my stomach start to churn in a rather unpleasant way when I embark on a new journey. 

I guess the same can be said for just about everything I have done in the past year and a half. I have had to find my way in all kinds of contexts- dealing with house and yard issues, taking care of my mother, living far away from the friends who are dear to me, and learning how to be active and satisfied without a job telling me I am.  I guess I could deduce that my internal compass is a bit over-used and worn from all this “way-finding” and that is the reason that going to the beach seemed more like a burden than an adventure.  On the other hand, I think the truth is actually that my internal compass is more sound and more finely-tuned from all the practice I have had.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine from my old state was visiting her father who winters in a small beach town about 100 miles from where I live.  When she contacted me about meeting her for a visit somewhere halfway between her father’s beach home and my place, the planets seemed to be aligned.  I decided to carpe diem and told her I would meet her at her father’s condominium… which just happens to be situated on a beautiful stretch of beach.

I found the beach with zero trouble.  I loved seeing my friend.  I also loved walking along the beach, sliding my bare feet through the tide, and gobbling salt air.  All the reasons I love the beach came flooding back to me in an instant.  I found myself wondering why on earth I denied myself this pure pleasure just because of the fear of not finding my way. 

It was a lesson learned.  I think it is likely that, as I continue to go through life, I am often going to face situations where I need to find my way.  I can go with life’s adventure and be content with where I go.  I am likely to find my way.  If I don’t, that’s okay, too.  I’m sure to end up someplace.  Yes, something truly bad could happen if I get lost trying to find my way, but the odds are against it.  Realistically, the worst thing that is likely to happen is that I’ll just waste some time and energy getting back on track.  In those wanderings, I may even encounter some of life’s mini-miracles… beautiful places to see, fun things to do, and lovely people to know.  Who knows, I may just find a way that is better than the way I thought I wanted.

They say God draws straight, but with crooked lines.  I don’t know why I worry so much about finding my way.  I have a feeling that, no matter what crooked paths I take, I am going straight to wherever He wants me to be.

How are you finding your way?  Are you enjoying the journey?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a wonderful, wandering day!

Terri 🙂

The White, White Rose of Home

There was a white rosebush outside the house where I grew up.  It grew in a stony, rocky area between the house and garage where we kept our trash cans.  Nobody paid much attention to it.  I can’t imagine that the soil was particularly nourishing.  We didn’t water it.  It was shaded by the buildings, so it didn’t get much sun.  Still, that rosebush thrived and, year after year, it yielded beautiful white blossoms at Christmas.  White roses were more of a Christmas tradition at our house than poinsettias and holly. 

After we moved out of the house, I made sure my mother had white roses at Christmas every year.  Sometimes, it was a table arrangement.  Sometimes, it was a corsage.  Sometimes, the roses were artificial.  Sometimes they were real.  Sometimes, when I was particularly poor, it was just a Christmas card with white roses on it.  No matter what, there was some form of white rose for my mother at Christmas.

In November this year, my mother announced that she did not want me to buy her white roses.  She felt they were too costly, especially for something that didn’t last very long.  Instead, she said, she wanted me to wait until spring when the stores were selling those sad looking dormant rosebushes (or maybe “rose sticks” might be an appropriate name) with the roots in a bag and plant her one of those.

“Oh crap, something else I have to figure out how to do,” I said.  On the inside.  On the outside, I smiled and said, “okay.”  At least I figured I had a few months before spring to read up on rose resuscitation techniques.  Who knows, maybe she would forget the whole idea.

A couple of weeks later, we were at Big Lots and a group of cub scouts were selling small plants for a couple of bucks.  You guessed it.  They had one small white rosebush, with a few little buds on it.  My mother thought it was a sign from God that we should take it home and I should transplant it.

We took it home and I googled “how to transplant a rosebush.”  There was a pretty explicit, lengthy set of instructions.  Instead of trying to integrate the whole magilla, I focused on the first step, which was to wait until spring in order to prevent frost from killing the newly transplanted rose. Google-sanctioned procrastination!  Right up my alley. I explained this to my mother, who seemed good with waiting until spring.  On the outside.  I started working up to my new project by moving the potted rosebush from outside to inside. 

A couple of weeks went by and the rosebush was looking pretty rough.  The term “scraggly” comes to mind.  I put it back outside, hoping some sun would help.  No luck.  Every time my mother mentioned transplanting it, I brought up the Google instructions.  Finally, though, the rosebush seemed terminal and extraordinary measures were warranted.  My mother pointed out that it was unlikely that we would have frost in central Florida.  Back I went to Google to refresh myself on the rest of the long list of directions.  Armed with a print of the page, I went to the local home store and tried to purchase mulch, potting soil, and peat moss.  When I came face-to-face with the bags of these items, I discovered that I couldn’t even pick up the smallest bag of each of them without the aid of a chiropractor.  Not to mention that the cost and quantity seemed to be pretty much overkill for one tiny rose plant.  As I tried to figure out how I was going to explain to my mother that transplanting this rosebush was not cost-effective and was possibly hazardous to my health, I noticed a small bag of something called “potting mix” a few shelves over from the gargantuan bags of mulch, potting soil, and peat moss.  Sensing a conspiracy, I checked out the label and discovered that the $5 bag of “potting mix” contained…. mulch, potting soil, and peat moss!  What a bonanza! I purchased the potting mix, feeling very accomplished.  I was starting to get the hang of this gardening stuff. 

Since I was on a roll, I went over to my mother’s mobile home and starting digging the hole.  I followed the directions from Google and stuck that little rosebush right into the ground.  Filling the hole back up, I just said a prayer and hoped for the best. 

Two nights later, there were record low temperatures.  And frost.

God must have sent angels to blanket that rosebush, though.  Against all odds and despite my complete ineptitude, it flourished.  Within a couple of weeks, new buds started to blossom.  The bush is growing and roses keep on blooming! 

It strikes me that this rosebush might be a microcosm of all the caretaking tasks I have taken on for my mother. 

I won’t say that there are not real challenges and difficulties associated with caring for my aging parent.  Cleaning and medicating her feet and legs took some getting used to.  Doing her taxes wasn’t high up on my wish list of things to do. Fighting with the wheelchair to get it in and out of the trunk of the car everywhere we go wears me down some days.  Navigating around crowded theme parks and stores can be very frustrating.  Opening doors to restaurants using my backside is an acrobatic skill I never really aspired to learn.  Cleaning her bathroom is not a pleasant task.  Coordinating and attending doctors’ appointments can suck up a day like thirsty kindergarteners suck down juice boxes.  Even the thought of comparing insurance companies can cause my eyes to cross.  Dealing with the various contractors I’ve arranged to do work at her house at least doubles the burden involved with dealing with the various contractors at my own house. 

These are all very real challenges and I wish it wasn’t necessary to deal with these challenges.  I wish my mother was healthy and hearty enough to do all these things herself.  Still, I love that I can do these things for her.  If I can add to the happiness and freedom in her life, I want to do it.  My mother has always put me before herself.  Now, it is a gift to give.   The time I spend with her while helping her is also a gift.  We have a lot of fun together.  I am learning things about her and her past that I never knew. My mom and I have always been close, but there is now a new dimension and richness in my understanding of her and of our relationship.  We are playing a different kind of music together now, my mother and I, and I am enjoying the new song.  Yes, there are days when I may get a little overwhelmed, but, for the most part, it is great.  The real challenges involved with the help I provide are actually no big deal. 

The biggest difficulty and stressor, though, is much less tangible.  The biggest difficulty and stressor is my fear of doing something wrong.  It feels like a big responsibility to be such a strong influence on the way someone else lives, spends money, and gets medical care.  I want my mother to make her own decisions about her own life on her own terms as much as possible.  I always want to do what I can to relieve her of any undue burden. I try very hard to find the right balance to preserve her independence and autonomy while also doing things to reduce any difficulties in her life.  Still, I know that, more and more, she is relying on me to present her with the best options, give her good advice, and implement the decisions.  The idea that I might do the wrong thing is really where the burden of caretaking comes in for me.  It kind of haunts my thoughts.  What if I lead her to a decision that costs her more money than she can afford?  What if I recommend a doctor or insurance plan that means she gets inferior health care?  What if my complete lack of mechanical ability and visual reasoning means her home isn’t as safe or as comfortable as it could be for her? 

What if I can’t make her roses grow?

Yes, I think I should take a lesson from my adventure with transplanting the rosebush.  Maybe all I need to do is just the best I can with all the decisions and projects that my mother needs.  Continue trying, with whatever ability I can muster, to help her lead the happiest, most comfortable, and most independent life she can.  Then, all I can do is trust God to take my efforts and make them blossom into roses!

Most of us believe that every day is a great time to build our relationships and demonstrate our love to those who are important to us.  This weekend we have an extra special opportunity to honor our moms and those people who have been mother figures in our lives.  Happy Mothers’ Day, all you  moms! 

So what are your thoughts?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at www.terriretirement.com.

Have a wonderful day and stop and smell the roses!

Terri 🙂