My Hair Is Winning

The other day, I went to the hair stylist and begged her to transform my do.  I had been growing my hair for several months, in preparation of making a change.  I was managing that awkward “growing out” phase fairly well until about a week ago.  Then, I suddenly hit my personal wall in the hair-growing department.   

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t hate my hair.  In fact, it is one of the few aspects of my appearance that I can say I’ve always rather liked.  I have dark (well, with the help of a little gray-concealing enhancement), rich, wavy hair. It looks healthy and lush.  My curls tend to spring and bounce, which makes me look happier than I may actually be.  That, in turn, makes me become happier than I could be. 

So, if I am so enamored with my hair, why this passionate desire to change it? Call it a need for a pick-me-up. I don’t think it was so much about my hair as it was just that I wanted some sort of change.  Hair seemed like a relatively simple thing to change. 

Or so I thought.   

To be fair, I had mixed ideas on what I wanted.  As I thought about what I wanted my new hair style to look like and wandered around the internet looking for inspiration, the precision cut angled bobs called to me. The art deco sleekness attracted me.  On the other hand, I kept talking myself out of them because I was pretty sure my thick, curly hair would reject an angled bob as surely as a transplant patient rejects a mismatched organ. I went back to gathering pictures of shaggy, springy cuts similar to what I already had.   

When I went to the salon, I shared the story of my hair angst with the stylist. She listened to my thoughts on a new coiffure.  She looked at the pictures I brought with me.  Somehow, she heard what I really wanted through all the self-doubt.  She bobbed my hair beautifully.  We were both kind of astonished by the result. The stylist started snapping pictures. I stared into the mirror, gaping at my reflection.  My hair looked and felt great.   It swung around cleanly and softly, but never moved out of place.  No gel, no mousse, no hairspray.  It was magic.   

I turned to my hair magician and said, “I kind of love it, but I’m really depressed because I know I will never be able to get it to look like this again.” She immediately began to reassure me how easily I should be able to recreate the look at home. I knew that the key word in her exhortations was “should.”  When she realized I was still smiling sadly at the woman in the mirror, she started suggesting that I could come to the salon to get a blow out if I couldn’t get it the way I wanted it by myself.  I think we both knew that was never going to happen.  I don’t have the time, money, or inclination to be one of those women who go to the beauty parlor twice a week for styling. She suggested that, if I found the straightening too difficult, I could opt for a curly bob. I’m pretty sure a curly bob would make me look like a brunette Bozo the Clown. 

The day after my transformation, I said good-bye to the girl with the wonderful sleek new hair-do as I stepped into the shower.  I was pretty sure I would not be seeing her again.  Still, I wasn’t relinquishing her without a fight. 

I did my best with my hair when I got out of the shower.  The haircut was still nice and I managed to style it in a way that bore some resemblance to what it looked like when I stepped out of the salon…. But only the slightest resemblance.  The curls still flipped up a bit and the part didn’t seem to want to part the way it parted so naturally at the salon.  Everything didn’t look like it simply fell into place any more.  It looked more like it was pushed.  It was sort of like a new artificial Christmas tree.  When you first open the box, the pieces of the tree fit so neatly together and the whole bundle seems so perfectly packed.  After Christmas, you may be able to get the tree back in the box, but it is always a struggle and the pieces never lay quite right. There are always branches that seem to spring out all akimbo.  So did locks of my hair.    

When I decided I wanted to change my hair style, I never really intended it to be a battle. Still, I am fighting my hair and my hair is winning.  I guess I knew deep down that this would be the likely result if I succumbed to the allure of those bob pictures on the internet.  Sometimes, self-doubt is justified. 

I’m not giving up quite yet, though.  I haven’t thrown in the towel on hair diplomacy.  I keep thinking that, with a little quiet negotiation, I might be able to end the armed conflict.  With some practice, maybe I can figure out the technique that allowed my hair magician to tame my locks into straight submission.  Maybe my hair and I can reach a détente. On the other hand, my hair may demand complete independence.  If that happens, I am sure I will capitulate to the curls.  Playing against type is pretty tough.  I just haven’t the will to win a war with my hair.   

It is a good thing that I like my curls.

What do you do when you just want a change?  How has it worked for you?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a wonderful, springy day!

Terri 🙂

PS- Several days later…. It turns out my hair stylist is indeed a hair magician! The haircut has survived my ineptitude! I may not be achieving the same professional level of smoothness, but my hair still looks and feels good in “straight enough” mode. Even when I go curly on a given day (after all, it is June and I live in Florida, the hotbed of humidity), I don’t look at all like Bozo the Clown! Maybe there is hope for me yet.

 

Still Alive and Kicking

Based on the Holmes Rahe scale, I’m lucky I’m not dead yet.  The Holmes Rahe stress scale is a list of 43 stressful life events that can contribute to illness.  These stressors are not limited to negative events, but simply represent situations that typically cause change or a need for readjustment in a person’s life.  They range from the relatively benign (experiencing a major holiday, for instance) to the more cataclysmic (such as the death of a spouse.)  The scale assigns each event a weighted score and measures the combined score of all the identified life events a person experiences in a year.  Psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe conducted a scientifically valid study that resulted in a correlation between life events, as measured by stress scale scores, and illness.   

A score of over 300 indicates a significant risk of serious illness.  Even before my mother’s stroke, my score was 344.  In the year that included my retirement, the life events I’d experienced included but were not limited to:  changing jobs twice, retiring, moving across country, changing my entire financial situation, and taking responsibility for my ailing mother’s care, along with a few other more garden variety stressful life events like Christmas and a vacation.  And my elevated stress scale score doesn’t even include any events not included in the good doctors’ research…  like selling a home, moving my mother 3000 miles across the country, or finding snakes in the garage.      

Even with this empirical evidence to explain my feelings of stress, it still felt vaguely shameful to talk about that stress with family and friends.  After all, I RETIRED.  That should have been the end of my need for sympathy from them.  Obviously, if I am no longer working, I must have nothing about which to feel stressed.  It’s like I’ve lost my membership card to the Forever Frenzied Federation and am no longer entitled to vent about the frustrations and fears of my existence. 

When I think back about what the pace of life was like before I retired, it does seem silly to even think about my post-retirement stressors, especially before my mother’s stroke.  When I was working, I was constantly tossed and tousled by a hurricane at sea.  I was always struggling against drowning.  For some time after retirement, I waded at the edges of a still ocean.  Sometimes, a wave lapped a little too high on my leg and my pants got wet.  Certainly, not much comparison.  Still, the events in the year after my retirement truly were significant in their own right.   It would behoove me to pay attention to their impact, especially now that the cataclysm of my mother’s illness has caused a whole new type of storm in my world. 

So, what do I do?  Obviously, I can’t undo the life events and spread them out over a more reasonable time period. The damage is already done.   But maybe it is time to stand still for a while.  It is tempting, now, to invest any time and energy I can muster into pleasurable and fun activities.  When I take a day off from visiting my mother in the nursing facility, I tend to want to go somewhere and do something to divert my attention.  Running off in search of amusement whenever I have a spare moment may not be the healthiest strategy.  I think the situation calls for a little boredom to quell my overactive nervous system and dilute the overabundance of stress hormones in my blood stream.  Constant excitement, while entertaining, may not be all it is cracked up to be.   

So let’s hear it for monotony!  Sometimes it is better to lie down and yawn rather than to stand up and cheer.

Did any of you have a hard time responding to stress after you retired?  Did it feel like you somehow weren’t “entitled” to feel stressed once you weren’t working?  How did you cope with the situation?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a reasonably stress-free day!

Terri 🙂

PS I hope I didn’t throw anyone off by this early posting for the week.  I have a date with a dolphin tomorrow and must be on my way very early, so I thought I’d post tonight and save some time in the morning.  More about the dolphin day soon, I promise!  In the meantime, I’ll be back to posting on the regular day next Wednesday.

 

 

Springing Forward

The hospice nurse says my mother no longer experiences time in the same way most people do.  Do you think it might be contagious? 

Never before in my life have I messed anything up because of the beginning of Daylight Savings Time.  Last Sunday, I was getting ready to go to church.  I happened to look down at my phone and noticed it said the time was an hour later than I thought it was.  I wondered what was wrong with my phone.  As it turns out, nothing. 

I went to church, still operating firmly in Eastern Standard Time despite all iPhone indications to the contrary.  I thought I was arriving early for Sunday School and was surprised at how full the parking lot already was.  I noticed some folks going into the church and wondered at that.  By Terri Time, it was just about an hour before the service was to start and people usually don’t arrive that early.  Finally, out of nowhere (or, maybe, out of the numerous hints that my brain was consuming but apparently not digesting very quickly), I realized that Daylight Savings Time might just have started at 2:00 o’clock that morning.   

So, I did not have a spring forward this year.  It was more like a stumble forward.  Maybe I was actually pushed directly into the path of an oncoming time change.  I think there might be a message for me in this. 

I think I may have become a little stuck in flux during this past season.  Is that an oxymoron?  Can one be “stuck” if one is in a state of “flux?”  All I know is that I think my brain has been wallowing in some sort of disagreeable sludge ever since my mom had her stroke.  I have become used to living in a nearly constant mood of sadness, anxiety, fear, and inadequacy. It has become a comfortable ooze, if not a pleasant one.  I tend to sink deeper into it rather than exerting the effort to lumber out of it.  Yes, this whole journey started back in the last Daylight Savings Time.  Theoretically, I’ve had a couple of time changes to adapt to my new circumstances. I’m not sure my transmission is that good, though.  It tends to slip.  Given my sinister slide into the emotional muck, I’d say I had no trouble at all “falling back.” 

Now that spring is here (whether I sprung with it or not), it might be a good time to recognize and acknowledge new birth.  There has been a lot of growing inside me recently.  I’ve graduated from my perception that retirement is simply well-earned rest.  I’m now seeing how retirement can and should be enriching, as well as restful.    More than two years after my move, I have started thinking of Florida as “home.”  It no longer feels disloyal to prefer my life in Florida to what I was experiencing back in California.  I believe I have learned more about myself in the past two years than in the prior 30 plus “career” years put together.  The best news about that self-education is that I am figuring out how to appreciate myself.  I’m not saying that I am all that and a bag of chips, but I think I can now safely say that I am at least the bag of chips.  

In addition to recognizing and acknowledging the new beginnings I’ve birthed since my retirement, spring seems a good time to nurture the seedlings that are beginning to sprout for other changes.  I know I’ll never be okay with my mother’s condition, but I do sometimes feel the stirrings of acceptance and reconciliation.  This spring, I want to be a gardener.  I want to tend to my mother’s heart- to fill it with beautiful flowers and plants and lovely scents to remind her how much she is loved.  I also want to tend my own heart- to heal it and love it and remind it of how much I love. 

Is spring growing season for you?  Any particular “gardening” you are planning for this year?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Happy almost spring!

Terri 🙂

If Money Can’t Buy Happiness, Why Does It Cost So Much To Go To Disneyland?- And Other Ironies Of Everyday Life

We learn early on in life that money can’t buy happiness.  But it costs $97.50 to get into the Happiness Place on Earth.  Does anyone else see the irony in that?

A friend of mine once commented that I did not have a sense of humor- just a finely tuned sense of the absurd.  I’m not sure what she meant by not having a sense of humor, but I do think I understand what she meant by the sense of the absurd.  I am easily amused by life’s odd, random moments.  Especially the ones that are not intended to be funny.  I think I might tend to be one of those people who are too busy watching life to actually participate in it.  You know- one of those creepy people who just sit by the window and stare, observing life from a safe distance.  It is much easier to watch, giggle, and analyze than it is to actually live. I have to make a conscious effort to come away from the window and go outside to play.

When I retired and moved across the country, the view out my metaphorical window changed considerably.  It was an unexpected bonus- I have a whole new vision of the world’s ironies, inconsistencies, and absurdities to observe!

For instance, the other day I was driving down the turnpike and noticed one of those big electronic signs that usually either tell you how many minutes it will take to get to the next highway or advise you to look for a missing child. That day, I noticed it said “Distracted Driving Awareness Week.  Keep Your Eyes On the Road.”  Does anyone besides me think that it is sort of counter-productive to have a sign that tells you to keep your eyes on the road?  Isn’t a “Distracted Driving Awareness Week” sign, well…. a distraction?  This thought started me down a metaphysical discussion with myself.  If I am reading the sign, am I not already distracted from the road?  If I don’t read the sign, how am I to be aware that I shouldn’t drive distracted?  Is having this mental dialogue another form of distracted driving?  AAAARGHH!!  Must stop thinking about it before my brain explodes. The worst part was I kind of had a perverse desire to text someone… anyone… to point out the logical conundrum of the situation.

Another example of one of life’s little ironies that I find so amusing are the names of towns around here.  I think the people who name towns in central Florida might have delusions of grandeur.  Florida is the flattest state in the union.  The highest elevation in the state is 345 feet above sea level.  To put this elevation in some perspective, local radio and television stations in Los Angeles, CA use towers on Mount Wilson to relay broadcast signals.  Mount Wilson is in urban Los Angeles and is 5,712 feet above sea level.   A couple of towns over from us here in Florida is a town called Mount Dora.  Mount Dora is one of those quaint little historic towns that seem to manufacture bed and breakfasts as its principle industry.  I know, from personal experience, that pushing a wheelchair around Mount Dora can maybe make it feel like a mountain.  However, at an elevation of 184 feet above sea level, I don’t think Mount Dora qualifies as Mount anything.  I am apparently not the only one who sees the humor in the situation. A number of touristy gift shops on the main street sell t-shirts that proudly proclaim “I Climbed Mount Dora.”  Another nearby town is called Howey-in-the-Hills.  I have been to Howey-in-the-Hills and, let me tell you, there is nary a hill in sight.  I think you have to have a steeper grade than a parking garage ramp to call yourself a hill.  I refer to the place as “Howey-in-the-Bumps.”

Another new absurdity I have found is the “town square” system in a nearby 55+ planned community.  There are three of these little mixed use areas that serve the community.  They have live entertainment, restaurants, bars, movies, shopping, and professional services.  One common denominator for all three town squares is that drivers can access them only through a complex network of multiple roundabouts.  Color me crazy.  Does anyone else think it is a terrible idea to purposely build a transportation system based on what are essentially obstacle courses?  Especially when you have a population of over 100,000 senior citizens navigating them? I don’t mean to malign older drivers (especially since I am one), but traffic circles just seem to be asking for trouble. After all, our peripheral vision is often one of the first things to deteriorate as we age.  Do we really need to have a bunch of older drivers dodging incoming golf carts ever few feet?

The town squares are all elaborately themed.  One of them looks like an eastern seaport resort community.  I’m not sure, but they might even bus in the seagulls.  Another showcases an old west motif, including life-sized bronze statues of a cattle drive.  You really haven’t lived until you maneuver your way between giant bronze steers and cowpokes when you turn into a movie theater parking lot.  It is a bit disturbing until you get used to it.  The third town square’s theme emulates an old Mexican mission.  It is called “Historic Spanish Springs.”  It was built in 1994.  I am pretty sure I have at least one pair of shoes that is more “historic” than that.

My latest adventure into the absurd happened today at Starbuck’s.  I saw the local newspaper and happened to notice the headline- Sisters Dress Alike- Purely By Chance.  Really?  That’s news?  What’s next?  Grocery Stores Sell Tomatoes?  The real irony is that I contacted the editor of this same newspaper a couple of months ago to ask if she would read and, perhaps, promote my blog.  She never returned my call.  Perhaps my sense of the absurd is not as sharp as I thought it was!

Have you encountered any amusing ironies of everyday life?  I’m sure we’d all love to hear them!  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at www.terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a great day!

Terri 🙂

Practice Makes Perfect

Awhile back, I happened to look at the calendar and realized, with a start, that I was attending a wedding exactly 35 years ago that day. My own.
I remember that period around the middle of 1980 through the end of 1981. It was the last time, before my recent retirement and move across the country, that I navigated multiple life-altering changes in a relatively short period of time.

My parents sold the house where I grew up in mid-1980. They always wanted to sell the house and travel around the country when they retired. My younger brother had moved out on his own (well, on his own and about a hundred roommates, but that’s a story for a different day), but I still had a year or so of college to finish. My parents, two basset hounds, and I moved into a 27-foot travel trailer. We lived in the trailer full time in a campground across the street from Disneyland. I went to school, studied, worked a job part-time, tried to apply for and interview for post-graduation “career type jobs,” and planned my wedding from that travel trailer. We all lived together, ate together, watched television together for a year. There was no place to put anything (which was a special challenge when one considers the incredible amount of paraphernalia involved in organizing a wedding). Most of my worldly goods resided in a storage facility. There was no privacy. My “bedroom” was the dinette area that converted to a bed once any of the three of us decided it was time to go to sleep.

People thought our living situation was kind of weird, but it did make some sense in the big picture. My parents were beginning to live their “live in a camper and travel the nation” dream, albeit without the “travel the nation” part of it… yet. “As soon as we get rid of Terri,” (as they told anyone and everyone for the entire year of this limbo), “we are going to take off and be on our way.”

Between the end of May and the middle of August in 1981, I graduated from college, started working full-time at my college job, got married, and switched jobs to an extremely responsible “career type” government position (which, despite the fact that it involved constantly making decisions that impacted on people’s actual lives, paid virtually the same amount as my college “undersecretary clerical gopher” job). My parents hit the road, literally and figuratively. These were the days before cell phones, social media, and email. For about six months, my only communication with them were occasional letters (you remember, with the folded paper and envelope?) and cassette tapes we would make to send each other.

By the end of 1981, I think I already knew my marriage had been a horrible mistake and I was absorbed in the exhausting work of trying to pretend I didn’t already know it.

That interlude in 1980-1981 was the last time I went through multiple major changes in my life. Yes, certainly I navigated changes since then- a divorce, two moves, a couple of different jobs. All those changes, though, came more-or-less, one at a time. Each change was more like someone throwing a pebble into my life and watching the mild ripples rather than having changes crash unrelenting like waves on the shore of my life. The good news about singular changes is that they can become the focus of your life for a time. You can cogitate, analyze, grieve, and strategize about how to deal with them. You can reach out for sympathy. You can even turn your life into your own little soap opera for awhile, if you want. The bad news about singular changes is that you can also obsess over every little detail and become the object of pity.

When you find yourself in the tornado alley of change, you don’t really have the time to analyze and react to each one individually. Sometimes, the more you try to get your feet back under you and control things, the more changes seem to occur. Instead of focusing on the individual change and figuring out how you feel about it and how you are going to react, you tend to focus on the general whirlwind. Your brain begins to feel like a tornado itself. You feel too dizzy to see any way out. You have to seem pitiful, even to the point of tedium, to your friends. Let’s face it, even the best friends have some point at which they can no longer stand doling out sympathy and advice that doesn’t seem to be doing you any good.

Interesting that I’m finally able to “compare and contrast” the single change experience with the multi-leveled change twister. It has been over a two years since I plowed my way through the tornado alley of retiring, moving, and taking over my mother’s caretaking. I’m starting to feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.  Maybe, in some small ways, I’ve finally come through the storms and the house of my life has landed back on the ground. I’m wary when I say it, but I think I’ve managed my way through the worst of it. It has been an exhausting ride. Even though most of these changes were the result of my own choices, the stress has been way more than I ever imagined.

Why has it been so difficult? I think I’ve just figured it out. The last time I handled this sort of life-altering multi-level change was 35 years ago. When it came to facing the changes of the past couple of years, I clearly lacked practice!

So what do you think? Have you gotten better at managing change with practice? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can leave me an email at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Hope your topsy-turvies don’t leave you upside down today!
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

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 🙂 

Life is a Highway

Driving in my new home state is a bit of a challenge. 

I learned to drive in a place where the structure of the road and highway network is pretty simple.  Odd numbered roads go primarily north and south.  Even numbered highways, east and west.  While some highways have “honorary names,” being called after a political figure or public hero, numbered highways are almost always referred to in common vernacular by their numbers. All ten digits of the usual numbering system are used, so each highway is fairly distinctive. If the roads have actual names, those names, with few exceptions for long roads that meander through numerous cities, stay the same.   Someone might give you directions by saying something like, “Take the 203 freeway north to the Snickerdoodle Road exit, turn right on Snickerdoodle Road, drive about 3 miles to Hooligan Avenue, turn left and continue on Hooligan Avenue until you get to the second house on the right, 123 Hooligan Avenue.”

Not so much in my new state.  To begin with, whoever it is that decides on the highway titles is pitifully lacking in imagination.  It appears mandatory that each numbered highway must include the number “2” at least once in its title.  This makes it harder to remember which highway you are supposed to be on because they all kind of sound of like.  If that wasn’t bad enough, the highway system actually includes all kinds of offshoots and iterations of the same highway number.  For instance, there may be an Interstate 221, County Road 221, State Route 221, and random other roads labeled “221” with various suffixes like 221A, 221B, and 221C.  Roads often merge together, muddying the waters still more.  Then, certain communities rail against the lack of creativity and give these numbered road(s) their own names.  There is one such stretch of road that I travel rather frequently. At some points, it is Interstate 221, State Route 25, County Road 21, and Lemon Tree Trail- all at the same time.  Even my GPS gets confused.  The other day, I was trying to find an optometrist in a town about 40 miles south of my home.  I finally gave up when I realized my GPS had led me about 60 miles towards the state line…. The state line to the NORTH.

In my old state, driving is a well-regulated, tidy business.  There are helmet laws for motorcycles.  All passengers must wear seat belts.  All but the tiniest of intersections have traffic lights.  U-turns are frowned upon.  If U-turns are actually allowed at the intersection, there are usually signals to govern when drivers in a given lane can make a U-turn or left turn unimpeded by cross traffic. 

In my new state, traffic lights are for sissies. Turning left from a stop sign across a major highway without traffic lights is an adventure.  At first, I would sometimes drive literally miles out of my way to find a place I could turn around with the aid of a signal.  Now, I just take a deep breath, say a prayer, and tool across six lanes of traffic like a madwoman.   The citizenry also considers regulating U-turns to be some sort of infringement of personal liberty.  I have yet to see a sign prohibiting a U-turn, no matter how narrow or wide the road.  On roads that are so wide each side has its own zip code, people will make U-turns from anywhere on the highway.  It doesn’t matter if there is a light or a left hand turn lane or anything.  Sometimes, they will come to a stop in the fast lane and just wait until there is a break in oncoming traffic to make their U-turn. 

Motorcyclists wear helmets at their own discretion.  I think the wearing of helmets is considered more a fashion statement than a safety measure.  A lot of people around here have bumper stickers and decals on their cars that proclaim proudly, “I watch for motorcycles.”  I’m glad they do.  A mind is a terrible thing to waste by splattering it all over the highway. 

Adult passengers in the back seat are not required to wear seat belts.  When I first heard about the adult passengers in the back seat not having to wear seatbelts, I was kind of amazed.  Then, it made sense.  If you don’t wear a seat belt, it is way easier to reach the gun that is also legal to carry around in your car. 

They say life is a highway. In this state, however, I’m never sure which one I’m on or which direction I’m going.  I think I have to get used to the idea that life’s highway is all about the journey, not the destination!

What are your thoughts?  Don’t let life’s highway pass you by!  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  Have an awesome day!

Terri 🙂

Do Storks Really Bring Babies?

The “country-ish” place where we moved when I retired is a resort community for water fowl- herons, egrets, storks, and the like. 

 I was never really a bird person.  In fact, at the zoo, I have been heard to remark “birds aren’t real animals.”  For all the bird lovers out there, please do not take offense.  I am sure birds are perfectly lovely creatures.  They are, doubtlessly, imperative to the ecosystem.  Just personally, I could never get too revved up about them.  Maybe it is because my mother is afraid of birds, having been traumatized by an avian-related incident as a child.  Maybe it is because my ex-husband insisted upon bringing a loud, dirty, irritable canure parrot (appropriately named Manure), into our tiny living space.  For whatever reason, birds just never held the same appeal to me as furry mammals (to clarify, furry mammals like lions and tigers and bears- not furry mammals like mice and rats and possums). 

When we moved here, though, I have to say that seeing Sandhill cranes roam free around the community was pretty high on the “cool factor.”  There was one pair that we saw frequently when we took afternoon walks.  At least, I think it was the same pair.  Sandhill cranes all sorta look alike.  The two in question seemed to hang out around the same street corner every day.  They were always together.  They claimed their places in the universe with assertive tranquility.  They were not nasty when we approached them on our walks, but did not cede their ground to us either.  We walked around them and everyone was happy.

One day, though, we noted that one of the cranes was missing from their normal territory on the street corner.  It did not reappear over the next couple of weeks.  I was unaccountably worried about those birds.  What had happened to the other crane?  Was it sick?  Did it die?  Did they have a fight and break up?  Was one crane cheating on the other?  Was the remaining crane lonely?  Was it sad?  It just really bothered me that the pair seemed to have been separated.  My concern was pretty irrational, given the relative insignificance of two Sandhill cranes in my life, but there I was.  Anxiety-riddled over the disappearance of a bird. 

The other day, I was driving by my crane friends’ usual stomping grounds. I would say I screeched to a halt, except that you can’t really screech when you are driving at the community’s maximum speed limit of 10 miles per hour.  Both cranes were back.  And, with them, was the reason that the pair had not appeared together in some time.  A little baby Sandhill crane, cute as it could be.  It looked like a baby duckling strapped to the top of two pencils.  Apparently, spring is when a young crane’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.

 I can sleep again.

So, do storks really bring babies?  Maybe, but Sandhill cranes certainly do!

So what are your thoughts?    Spring brings change to the whole world!  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Terri 🙂