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People often express surprise and a bit of wonder when I tell them I come from a family of six girls. The most common response is akin to expressions of sympathy for my dad. It’s true. He was certainly outnumbered but trust me when I say he gave as good as he got! He may have had, however, some inkling of what he was getting himself into when he married our mother since she herself comes from a family of eight girls. Not a male child in sight. Mom’s maiden name evokes an Irish heritage and St. Patrick’s Day is always celebrated with an exchange of feisty, funny cards and often a gathering in one of the sister’s homes. Irish décor can be found in every one of their houses and it goes without saying that green is a favorite color.

My maternal grandmother was a little bit of a thing. Short and petite (lucky if she weighed 90 pounds dripping wet) she was blessed with a beautiful head of auburn hair. My dad loved to tease her and its amusing to me that one of his nicknames for her was the Old Battle Ax. (“Oh Richard” she’d say). My Grandma Monnahan did not have an easy life. Grandpa Monnahan struggled to support his family and often fell on hard times (he was a sawyer too and was instrumental in directing Dad toward that occupation – something my father did for fifty years and dearly loved). He died in at the tender age of 52, leaving Grandma to raise five daughters still at home, the three youngest under the age of ten. Sadness would strike a few years later when Grandma died in her mid-fifties as well.

Despite these hardships, this clan of eight — dubbed the Monnahan Mafia by my Uncle Ole (most certainly not Irish!) – was and are a joyful bunch (the eldest, Geri, died a few years ago). Holiday parties, weddings and family reunions are a mix of crazy, zany, silly fun, fun, fun. Laughter — always laughter! These women love to cook and garden and some of them enjoy knitting and quilting. Music was an important part of their lives as well. Rosie plays the accordion, piano and organ. Nancy, the guitar. Linda played the trumpet and Randi, the French horn. A special memory is the eight of them singing Irish Eyes are Shining as they gathered around the piano for Mom and Dad’s 35th wedding anniversary.

In August Mom and three of her sisters will travel to Ireland for the first time. I’m thrilled for them and can only imagine the mischief they’ll get themselves into.   Mom and Rosie are in their seventies and the two youngest ‘girls’ are in their late 50’s / early 60’s. I am so glad they are planning this trip. It’s sad that they couldn’t have all gone earlier. In any case, these ladies are wicked fun and it will be an adventure of the highest order. The Emerald Isle may never be the same again!

Brick & Ivy

For me there’s just something about these weathered doors , old brick and abundant greenery that makes for such a compelling scene. I wonder what this old structure, embedded in one of the bluffs in beautiful downtown Galena, Illinois, was used for back in the day. Any ideas?

After a much-delayed start in financially planning for my own retirement my husband and I both appear to be on a solid path. Flexibility is key and like most everyone concerned with their retirement years there are unknowns for which we are hopefully prepared to address. Health care is obviously the biggest concern as well as an unwelcome stock market crash that could send everything spiraling downward. But for now, all systems are GO and we continue to keep putting money away to help ensure a financially worry-free retirement.

An equally important component of retirement planning is deciding how we want to spend our time once we are no longer gainfully employed. Having a plan in place for what it is we that want to do is perhaps just as critical as amassing the nest egg required to support whatever lifestyle we choose to embark upon once we retire.

With my anticipated retirement date just a few years down the road (more or less!) I’ve given much thought to how I want to fill my days and enjoy life at that time – the true ultimate goal.

I’m always a little surprised to hear some folks say they don’t ever want to retire. They think they’ll be bored or maybe find themselves unfulfilled somehow. I suppose, for me, that’s a distinct possibility but all the more reason to think long and hard about what it is that I want to do and what I want for my life. The interesting side effect to this self-evaluation is that I came to realize what is truly important is the journey itself and not just getting to that longed for day when I actually retire. That is, rather than thinking about all the things I want to do once I retire I need to live my life TODAY and enjoy those activities now as well. Retirement, once she’s here, will simply allow more time and freedom – given ample and sufficient financial planning! – to be able to fully enjoy all the many things we want to do with our time.

Therein, however, lies the catch. The ‘gotcha’. We want to also be healthy enough to participate in our chosen activities – travel, golf, photography, adventures in cooking, adventures in baking, target shooting, bicycling, hiking, swimming and catching up on all those books I’ve yet to read. Maybe do some volunteer work or take a class or two at our local community college. A part-time job is also on the agenda – at outlet for interacting with people a few hours a week and earning a little mad money in the process. Yes, all these things and hopefully good health and vitality to make them all a reality.

Travel is probably, as for most people, the number one goal. Life wasn’t always easy for my parents but thankfully the last several years of their lives together Mom and Dad did quite a bit of traveling. The first trip they took together was to Mackinac Island and I was enchanted with their descriptions of this lovely, lovely place. We traveled there three years ago and our visit was everything I imagined and then some. It was wonderfully peaceful and relaxing and I’d go again in a heartbeat.

Our travel bucket list continues to grow and it’s sadly not realistic to think we’ll have the time, funds and good health to visit every single destination. Oktoberfest in Germany. Scotland, England and Ireland. A cruise down the river Rhine. Scandanavia. Italy. France. Istanbul. New Zealand. And not just foreign travel either. Here in the US there is New England, Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Door County, Washington DC, Napa Valley, Alaska and Hawaii. There’s also Nova Scotia and the Panama Canal and all the island destinations in the Caribbean. Just so much to see and do in this world!

In the end there are no guarantees in this life. We have all read or heard the stories of people who became ill and die or are incapacitated shortly after they retire. Conversely there are folks who save vigorously thinking they need a set amount of funds (and in the process not savoring life along the way) and wait far too long to ever enjoy the fruits of their efforts. All that we can do is strive to live healthy lives, stay active now, plan for the future and be prepared to tweak those plans should the need arise.

What is your retirement philosophy? Are you counting the months and years until you bid farewell to your job or do you want to work right up until the end? What are you looking forward to? I’d love to hear what other folks are thinking about. What’s on YOUR bucket list?

I grew up living ‘in the country’ and had no one to play with or pal around with other than my five sisters. We had none of what seemingly passes as today’s have to haves: no cable TV, no cell phones, no internet. The television programs we watched were always in black and white until I was in high school when Dad finally sprung for a color TV. With six girls underfoot and my dad’s hired help to feed Mom had neither the resources nor the inclination to drive us into town to participate in summer or after-school activities. We were pretty much left to our own devices and I don’t recall that we were ever really bored.

The only exception, around the time I was in junior high, was when we talked Mom into buying a season ticket at the swimming pool in town. For just $25 our entire family had access to the pool all summer long. Mom and Dad certainly got their money’s worth. We lived at the pool! In later years Mom confessed that it was as much for her own sanity and a little peace and quiet as it was for our enjoyment. As soon as the dinner dishes were washed and dried Mom drove us in to town when the pool opened at 1:00. How I loved the smell of the chlorine and the way the blue water shimmered in the sun. It was an opportunity to see our friends and make new ones as well.

I have many fond memories of those carefree afternoons: swimming underwater the full length of the pool – and back – all in one breath, jumping in the water to retrieve our locker keys, teasing (and being teased by) the lifeguards, sunbathing and jumping off the diving boards. Now, this last one was a huge accomplishment for me. Mom signed up us six girls for swim lessons at the same time. I was in the seventh grade then and still recall the humiliation of starting out in the baby pool with all the other students. Some of my classmates were lifeguards at the pool and it was embarrassing, to say the least, knowing they were watching me learning to swim with toddlers and elementary school kids. My younger sisters, especially, had a huge advantage. They were fearless and took to the water without hesitation. Before long they were jumping off the diving boards, first the low board and then the high dive. All of them except for me. I wanted to so badly but was terrified.

While I was truly scared of jumping off the boards into that deep section of the pool, if I’m honest, the thing that really held me back was knowing my classmates who were almost always on duty there would be witness to my failure if I had to back down. I don’t know what ultimately compelled me to do so but the day arrived when I finally jumped off the low board and it was exhilarating! I was thrilled and beyond pleased that I was able to do this. Eventually I mastered my fears and jumped from the high dive as well. Now I was a member of that elite club of pool patrons who had the opportunity to find themselves ‘stuck’ on the high dive when they announced the pool check at the top of each hour. Everyone tried to time it just right – often dawdling, taking their sweet time climbing the ladder – so that when ‘Pool Check –Everybody Out’ was called on the loudspeaker you were the lucky one at the top. It was pretty heady stuff and all six of us Clark girls loved it.

When my sisters and I started our own families two of us bought season tickets for our kids so they could spend their summers at the swimming pool just as we had. To our surprise (and disappointment) they became quickly bored and never seemed to enjoy it the way the six of us girls did. No matter. Those summer afternoons we spent splashing and swimming and jumping into those glorious waters at the pool are forever etched in my mind. Thinking back on those days always makes me smile. It’s truly a wonderful memory.

Books

  • Middlesex
  • True Crime
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns
  • The Book Thief

Films

  • The Godfather
  • Oh Brother Where Art Thou
  • Dogma
  • Pulp Fiction

Autumn is my favorite season and I very much enjoy decorating for all the holidays especially Halloween and Christmas.  I love peaches, a good cheeseburger, chai tea, turkey sandwiches and a glass of Cabernet.   If I could eat anything without having to worry about calories or cholesterol it would be potato chips and Crunchy Cheetos.   My favorite vacation destination is Mackinac Island in the fall.

As for music I’m of the stubborn opinion that the only decade that really matters is the 70’s.  Classic rock and blues inhabit my playlists.  Favorite artists include Joe Bonamassa, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Dire Straits and The Eagles.

When it comes to television there can be only one choice:  Breaking Bad.  Survivor, The Amazing Race and 24 also deliver.

How about you?  Are there some books, films, music genres or travel destinations not to be missed?  Tell me.  I love new experiences!

I love days like this.  Reclining in my gravity chair on the patio with the sun on my face enjoying the warm breeze, I close my eyes to listen to the birds singing.  I’m reminded of summers when we were kids when I’d lay in the tall grass next to the old wooden bridge not far from our house.  Day-dreaming, watching the clouds, not a care in the world. 

There are chores to be done, for sure. We’ll get to them yet.  However, we don’t get many days like this and after all enjoying life and relaxing — this is why we work.  This is what it’s all about or should be. 

Repeatedly and consistently I make that solemn vow every woman living on this planet has probably uttered at one time or another:  This is it.  NOW is the moment.  Because this time I’m really serious.  No excuses.  I’m finally ready to start eating better.  Exercising  more.  Getting in shape.  I stock up on healthy foods, read about nutrition, dutifully walk every day, run through my stretches and congratulate myself for the effort.  It feels good.  It feels right.  Eye of the tiger baby!

Until.

You know there’s always an ‘until’.  Until you’re just too tired so you tell yourself you’ll take a little break tonight.  Or until you have a (cough cough) bit of a sore throat and didn’t you read somewhere how you shouldn’t exercise if you’re sick.  Or the new guy at work brings in bagels or maybe your favorite dessert and you don’t want to offend.   Or you drive by your favorite burger joint and man it just smells so delicious!  And you’ve been such a good girl.  Just.  This.  Once.  It won’t hurt because you’ll jump back into Healthy Living Mode tomorrow.

Except tomorrow never comes.  There’s always another ‘until’.  (Hint:  It’s called Life).

I’m built fairly small and truth be known I don’t have that much of a weight problem.  I do, however, for the first time in my adult life have to start eating better and exercising to lower my cholesterol.  When I learned my numbers were a little high I was embarrassed.  Ashamed.  And I resolved to do what it took to turn things around.  And within seven or eight months I did just that.  Until.

Until I start to let up (just a bit) and allow the occasional pizza or cheeseburger and indulge once again in my daily Starbucks habit.  One thing leads to another and when it comes time for my annual cholesterol screening I begin to feel uneasy.  When the results come in I just know it’s not going to be good.

And so it begins again.  This time is different.  NOW is the time I’m going to start living healthily because, you know.  Today is the first day of the rest of my life.  Keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Forward momentum, right?  Yep, this time I’m really going to do it!

How do you stay motivated?  Are you winning the battle and keeping ‘until’ at bay?  What works for you?   I’d love to hear your recommendations for healthy living!

 

In many ways I have always been late to the party: Slow to pick up on fashion trends and clueless when it came to knowing how to style my hair or apply makeup. For several years I wore the same pair of earrings everyday. I can recall observing the popular girls in my class as early as the 6th grade and making mental notes of what they were wearing; however, I had no idea how to replicate that look for myself. None whatsoever. Coming from a family of limited means with six girls meant we shopped for clothing and shoes at second-hand stores. Occasionally we were allowed to purchase something new but even then being small and skinny I just wasn’t able to pull it off. When it came to how I presented myself to the world I always fell short. Now that I’ve got the means my clothes closet runneth over. And while I’m still relatively small and petite I’m better able now to pull together a look that tends to flatter rather than detract.

While all my friends were excitedly waiting to get their learner’s permits and driver’s licenses I was reticent and fearful.

During my junior and senior year of high school I was surprised to hear my classmates discussing college. College? They may as well have been talking in excruciating detail about the lunar orbit or analyzing Greek mythology or explaining the social structure of the ancient Mayans. I dutifully registered for classes at the local community college but chickened out and cancelled prior to the fall semester. At the age of 34 years I decided to quit my job and go to college. It was the best decision of my life. Being a non-traditional student attending the state university with my soon-to-be husband (who I met at college) was an amazing experience.

When it came to drinking and carousing I was also a late bloomer. I was stunned to learn of my classmates (and even — horrors! — my younger sisters) drinking in high school. Pregnant, married and divorced by the time I was 21 I managed to make up for lost time. But I was woefully naïve and stupid about the whole thing.

As a child I was a very picky eater. Sweet corn. I’ll pass. Strawberries? Yuck. Those seeds! Onions? Are you kidding me? Stuffing at Thanksgiving? No way. I didn’t eat cheese until I was in my early 20’s (it was a great accompaniment to the Malt Duck my girlfriends and I liked to drink).

Before I met my husband I dated a guy who detested my reluctance to eat certain foods. So shortly after I met Bill he offered to run and get us burgers. I was hesitant to tell him I wanted mine plain with NOTHING on it. I cringed a little, waiting for the backlash. To my utter surprise I learned that he was just as picky an eater as I was. (I knew then it was meant to be).

In the twenty-three years we’ve been together we’ve both become bolder and more adventurous with our appetites. Strawberries, onions (caramelized even!), stuffing, cheese (glorious cheese!), sweet corn on the cob slathered with butter and coated with salt & pepper — yes, yes, yes — and more! While I draw the line at tomatoes — yes, some things never change — I’m more willing now to experiment with a larger and larger variety of foods.

The upside to all of this of course is while others have had many more years enjoying all of these things, for me it’s relatively new and therefore exciting and awesome and delicious. Late to the party? Perhaps. But it’s still a party nonetheless and I welcome it all with open arms.

Popcorn please!!!