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I’m chagrined to admit that some of my recent posts have been peppered with a spray of negative words and tone when what I seek to portray instead through my blog is positive energy and optimism. Health wise, I think I may have turned the proverbial corner. The coughing and hacking have greatly diminished and soon I’ll be able to return to my RA meds to put an end to the debilitating stiffness and painful swollen joints that continue to hold me back. Hopefully I’ll return to the swimming pool in no time picking up where I left off in my quest for a healthier, more physically active me. Likewise I have already started to resume my daily walks. Granted right now it’s just baby steps but a definite move in the right direction. My mother has now successfully and triumphantly made the transition to her new abode, leaving behind the home she’s known for more than 55 years. The move was relatively painless and without incident. Mom embraced the change and that has made all the difference.

And now, as they say, it is time to move on…

Despite the challenges of the last month or so I truly am happy and content with my life and I am enthusiastic about what lays ahead. I’m just this side of the energy and motivation I require to pursue many of the things that I love: hiking and walking, swimming, Adventures in Cooking, Adventures in Baking, drinking wine in front of a roaring fire or listening to music at a local winery, driving country roads with my camera close at hand hunting for photographic inspiration, football games this fall (the first game of the season is less than a month away!) and otherwise enjoying time with family and friends. If I regain the strength in my hands and wrists in time I hope to get in a round of golf or two yet this summer and ride some of the many beautiful bicycle trails in the area. In September we’re visiting the Estes Park area in Colorado for a week and I’m starting to tingle with anticipation for the adventures as well as the relaxation that awaits us there.

I have an amazing husband who is oh, so good to me. He is handsome, sweet, sexy and kind and there ain’t nobody makes me laugh like he does. I often tell people Bill and I can have a blast together just sitting by ourselves in a car in a deserted parking lot. We are so well suited for each other and ours is a strong, happy marriage. For that I am supremely grateful. My son is thriving now at this stage of his life: loves his career teaching chemistry at a community college near St. Louis, enjoys playing in a blues band with like-minded musicians and he has met a wonderful young woman who matches his kookiness, enthusiasm, creativity and passion for life every step of the way!

None of these things has changed. These very aspects of my life – beautiful and real and quite comforting – have been there all along. I just needed to escape the fog of despair and frustration of being sick for so long. To be sure the RA continues to kick my arse but history has shown the medications to be effective in treating it. Hopefully soon I’ll be back on track with my meds and feeling strong and healthy again. Patience Grasshopper. Patience.

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Yesterday keys exchanged hands and now someone else calls the place his own. As I surveyed the property of my childhood home — the home my mother lived in for more than 55 years — one last time it was surprising to feel not so much sadness and loss but rather relief. Weeds were everywhere and trees so overgrown as to block out views of the house and other buildings from the road. The house itself, badly in need of some tender loving care, looked tired and forlorn. Over the years it has just gotten too much for Mom to keep up. She said the work was more than she could handle. Knowing she couldn’t do the work herself and seeing how much needed to be done was bringing her down. Mom loves to tinker, to keep busy. She took pride in her gardens and her many bird feeders. These past few years, due to recent health problems and getting older, she was able to devote less and less time to her passions and now the new owner, a retired single gentlemen in his fifties, has his work cut out for him. Hopefully curb appeal is as important to him as it was to my mother and he’ll restore the place to its former glory.

For Mom there was also the expense of keeping the old homestead running – the electric and heating bills for both her house and the apartments was astronomical compared to what they’ll run in the new place. She had to hire out to help with the mowing and repairs and snow removal and that only added to her expenses. Property taxes were another consideration. There was also the isolation she felt at times being out there alone, especially in the winter months when an ill-timed blizzard could make her a prisoner in her own home for days on end. Yes. The time had come for her to leave. Once she made that decision the other pieces quickly fell into place.

The new house is smaller and newer and yet it has five bedrooms, two of which are actually quite small. Three bedrooms are on the main level and two are in the finished basement. There is also a full bath in the basement and plenty of room for staging family get-togethers at Christmas and Thanksgiving. Four of us girls live out of town and the other two girls live not too far from Mom so the bedrooms will work quite well for our needs.   She has a nice open kitchen with a breakfast bar, a place to set up her sewing room, a nice-sized patio and best of all closer proximity to all her friends. She is very excited about her new digs and all of us girls are thrilled for her. My mother is a busy woman. Not only does she have a new house now to settle in to but she leaves for Ireland in a week! You’re doing it right Mom. You’re doing it right!

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Science has never been my strong suit. Blame it on cultural conditioning — the thinking in some circles (while I was growing up) that decreed math and science as school subjects for the boys while reading and English and social studies were topics that girls excelled in. Or perhaps it was merely just a lack of motivation on my part or (more likely) just that I was indeed more interested in reading (which I always have been).

So while I plodded along during science class – always doing my homework and paying attention in class – when it came to studying the weather I truly did struggle to comprehend. Show me pictures of the different cloud types and I simply drew a blank: whether grade school, junior high or high school science class, I was at a loss to differentiate an altocumulous from a cirrus. To this day I still don’t understand how high pressure vs. low pressure impacts the seven-day forecast.

As a non-traditional student, first at a local community college and then later in pursuit of my bachelor’s degree at Iowa State University, I originally set out to major in mathematics. I remember being very surprised to learn that one of the students in my calculus classes wanted to major in meteorology. He told me he’d always been fascinated by the weather. This was a foreign concept to me. Fascinated by the weather? Seriously? Of all the things to be fascinated by in this huge, beautiful, complex world of ours it would never have occurred to me that weather might be at the top of the list for some folks. Before I finished with my degree I would meet two others similarly enthralled with the science and ‘mystery’ in the skies above us – one of whom is currently a meteorologist for one of the local channels here in Des Moines.

Older and presumably wiser now I do have more of an appreciation for the weather if not exactly for the science behind it. I have always loved thunderstorms and I say this only half-jokingly but someday I would like to actually witness a tornado with my own eyes. Hurricanes are one phenomenon of nature that is hard for us land-locked Midwesterners to comprehend – thankfully! – but I am still in awe of the power and forcefulness (and the destruction) these storms are capable of unleashing. Living on a golf course that is fully open to the western sky, winter storms and blizzards are a mighty sight to behold as the winds and snow come ripping along the fairway outside our north-facing windows. Trudging through waist-high drifts once the storms have passed it is utterly amazing to ponder how such wind-blown beauty could possibly result from laying on one small snowflake upon another and another and another again. Over and over. Mind-boggling, really.

So yes, I suppose you could say that I too now have a fascination for the weather and what can be wrought by the wrath and fury (and delight) of Mother Nature. Now if I could just get this low pressure thing figured out…

 

Based on a recommendation from my son I am currently reading a book set in Alaska during the early 1900’s about a family struggling to settle the land, far from home, against a backdrop of a fierce and beautiful terrain. I’m struck by the descriptions of the mountains and frozen creeks and thick forests, the wildlife and the wind and the snow and the cold as well as the rugged individuals who have chosen to live there. It is an interesting tale and nudges me toward contemplation. How different things are now, in our lives of relative leisure, than they were back then. Would Bill and I have what it takes to endure, to thrive – to survive! – in this environment?

Self-sufficiency isn’t largely associated with those of us who call this country here home. We want for pretty much nothing in comparison to the characters in this story or, in fact, to those people living in hard-to-fathom conditions in many underdeveloped countries around the world.

And yet I wonder. If we were to walk – to bid adieu to the hustle and bustle of our technology-driven lives with 24×7 news, entertainment and more information than we sometimes know what to do with it – where would or could we go? Yes, perhaps Alaska. More of a wild frontier than anything else we have here in the intercontinental United States. Could we truly find a place of solitude that has not yet been touched by the ravages of modern man? And if we were able to, would our soft minds and bodies be able to adapt? Would we miss our devices and our television and the instant gratification to which we’ve become accustomed or would we relish their absences – growing and discovering more about ourselves than we ever thought possible?

To live off the land while being subjected to it at the same time. To quickly learn we have more strength and resolve than we currently realize. To move forward – always – one step at a time while accepting there will occasionally (and likely!) be setbacks. To hunker down within ourselves and find out what is truly important. To understand what our priorities really are or should be.

Yes. I think we could do that or rather I’d like to think that we could. It is both scary and wondrous to consider living our lives in such a challenging manner.  Whether we might choose to pursue such a life remains to be seen.

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” ~ Charles Darwin

July is almost over. And for me that’s just as well. June was pleasant enough – a sampling of what was yet to come. July is where high crimes and misdemeanors take place: crazy days of heat and sun and parties and swimming and picnics and baseball games and lakes and golf and, well, FUN! An ill-timed trio of infections put the kibosh on any hope of that for me this year. And now they’re reporting that July is one of the coolest on record. Enough. July – we are so over you. At least I am anyway…

All well and good. Time to move on. Except that August is normally a hot, humid, miserable month. Oh, it’s great for water sports and swimming, true. But the days start getting shorter and it can be difficult to plan anything with family and friends since this is traditionally when many people go on their summer vacations. There’s the state fair to contend with as well and school seems to start earlier and earlier each year. With the ungodly warm temperatures and all that humidity many people start to yearn for fall during this time. Indeed, for the most part August is a bust.

September is actually the only real true hope I have for ‘summer’ this year. By then, however, I’ll be ready for football and tailgating and cooler weather. This is when I start to gaze longingly at the funky sweaters and jackets and sweatshirts hanging in my closet. I’ll pull out my boots, dust them off and try them on to experiment with different outfits hoping to land on an exciting new look. Cooking starts to sound appealing again with thoughts of comfort foods and soups and stews and apple desserts and pumpkin bread swirling around in my head. I’m ready to pull out the dead, wilted flowers from the pots and containers – they are no longer able to pull off the objective in my efforts at curb appeal and truth be known haven’t for some weeks now. Mum’s the word and I want to fill every pot and planter with their beautiful reds and yellows and other autumnal shades and colors!

Until then we still have a few days left of July to contend with. Pulling up my big-girl panties and dealing with it. July is essentially lost to me forever this year. I’m getting a little healthier but just not quite there yet. There will be other July’s, other summers. This one just didn’t quite work out the way I hoped that it would. Shrug.  In the scheme of things, it’s not that big of a deal.  But I sure would have enjoyed sitting outside enjoying the fireworks on the 4th of July — the weather was spectacular that night.  Next year — there is always next year!

Several years ago my dad commissioned an acquaintance to create a totem pole for the old homestead. He was quite proud of the results and enjoyed showing off the ‘zombies’ as he once described them to me. Fortunately it occurred to me a couple of months ago after Mom put the place up for sale that maybe I should capture their likenesses for future reference, like maybe when the Zombie Apocalypse they foretell finally does arrive. This way I’ll know what to be on the lookout for.

My mother called me today.   A week from tomorrow the movers will come to start packing it all up — fifty-five plus years of living in the same house, walking the same grounds, tending the same gardens, greeting the same morning sun each day and watching the same sun set each night.  She’ll be leaving the house where she and dad raised the six of us girls, the house where we faced down hardships and rough times and celebrated many happy occasions:  birthdays, holidays, parties, milestones, graduations and weddings.  And the arrival of eleven beautiful grandchildren.

A final send-off is planned for the night before she closes on the new house.  If the weather cooperates we’re hoping to sit around the fire pit one last time.  Contemplating this celebration of sorts today gave me pause.  I didn’t choke up — not yet.  Because I’ve been sick the entire month of July I have not been able to help with the packing so when I go up there to help for the final move I know it’s going to hit me hard.  It’s going to be a difficult time for all of us for that matter.  We need to steel ourselves for Mom’s sake.  Put on a happy, optimistic, just-think-about-what-you-have-to-look-forward-to face. Full speed ahead!

We can’t or shouldn’t deny the sense of loss and finality — it’s going to be all too real for that — but we’ll strive instead to look forward.  Mom’s moving into a house in town where there will be less upkeep, less maintenance and she’ll be closer to friends, church, appointments.  She’s excited and we’re happy for her.  But she knows and accepts that it will be hard to say goodbye.

Since my dad died seven years ago her life has been a roller-coaster ride.  Ups and downs, many changes, health issues, family drama — adjustments to a totally foreign way of life.  Mom and Dad were married for more than fifty years.  My mother is not an out-going woman.  She doesn’t like to draw attention to herself.  Not in a withdrawn, wallflower sort of way but she’s just not one to put herself out there.  She likes her alone time and yet again since Dad’s been gone being alone has been extremely difficult for her as well.

As mothers tend to do she can cause some frustration and annoyance for us, her daughters.  Sometimes its a real challenge dealing with her and her ways.  I would guess we’re not alone in that based on conversations with others and things you read and hear about!  Mom will be 79 this year.  She’s not going to change and well, none of us is perfect.  We all — yes, even you Julie! — possess that innate human ability to drive others closest to us (those we love and who love us) absolutely bonkers.  So we accept her for who she is and do what we can to make these last years as comfortable and comforting for her as we can.

So.  Here’s to you Mom.  To yet another transition and best wishes for a happy, rewarding and enjoyable life change.  Good luck, good cheer and good health — may you have all three in abundance!

 

Laying on our glider after a short nap on the deck, still trying to shake this mid-summer malady that is currently making my life miserable, I began to notice different patterns and textures all within a ten to fifteen foot radius from where I was so comfortably situated. After awhile I was sufficiently motivated to duck inside to grab my camera to see what I could scrape together from the images all around me.

Sigh. Today’s non-post brought to you courtesy of boredom, lethargy and the summer sickness blues.

Retirement has been a recurring theme here on my blog as well as in some of my Facebook posts and conversations with friends, family and co-workers. Most of the time my husband Bill and I are just living our lives, going about our business and only occasionally do we think about retiring like when I’m updating the Excel spreadsheet I created a couple of years ago to track our progress. Now and then an article will catch my eye and I’ll get to thinking, all dreamy-eyed and such, about what it will be like to quit working and begin retirement in earnest. And now twice today I’ve been reminded yet again why this is such an interesting and important topic of conversation for us.

My husband and I are both at that age where if you aren’t thinking about retirement you seriously should be. It’s important to plan for this next phase of life both financially and emotionally.

Financially – unless the bottom drops out of the stock market – I believe we’re on solid ground. After many years of debt and no savings whatsoever I began saving earnestly and ferociously once I began my career after graduating in 1995 with my MIS degree from Iowa State University in an attempt to make up for lost time and lost opportunities.

Bill and I have no debt other than our mortgage and we are prodigious savers. We’ve been fortunate but we have also worked very hard and we have (hopefully!) made good choices about our finances to get us to where we are today. No one can predict the future but making the right decisions about how to get from Point A to Point B are imperative if one hopes to live well and comfortably in their golden years.

With all that due diligence out of the way let’s commence to the fun stuff!

Reminder #1: My sister called today to tell me about a visit she made to the health club yesterday where she and I are both members. It was an early morning swim on her day off and she saw a large group of what she assumed were retirees getting into the pool for a fun aqua workout class. She said it made her think of me and she now understood for the first time why it might just be nice to retire. I completely agree. To have the freedom to do the things you want to do without the nuisance and inconvenience of having to show up for work each and every day sounds heavenly to me. Don’t get me wrong. I like my job, I have a fantastic boss and I enjoy learning new skills and becoming more well-informed about the business as I take on new projects and work initiatives. And making money? Well, that’s pretty darn nice too of course.

It’s just that the alternative is SO much more appealing. It would be even more so if I could retire AND continue to pull in the money every two weeks. Not likely to happen so I’ll content myself with the wonderful prospect of all that free time when I retire to claim as my very own!

This might be a good time to point out that my husband is five and half years younger than me. I plan to retire early (I ain’t getting any younger and I want to relish and enjoy a life of leisure while I’m still relatively healthy). I can fall under my husband’s health insurance until Medicare kicks in and by then (again – hoping the Dow continues her upward trend!) Bill can retire as well.

Reminder #2: A friend posted a wonderful blurb on Facebook this afternoon stating one of the things she loved about getting older was the fearlessness that (my input here) most but not all people are able to harness from somewhere deep inside themselves. She’d talked to a woman in her early 60’s who had been planning a train trip to Canada. Unfortunately each of the friends who had planned to accompany her dropped out and decided not to go. Instead of cancelling the trip the friend decided to go anyway. She toured Canada by way of Amtrak, all by her lonesome, and despite the initial awkwardness said it was the best trip she’d ever taken.

This, my friends, is exactly the approach I hope to exhibit when I retire. Indeed, it’s how I want to live my life RIGHT NOW. Stepping outside our comfort zone can be a scary thing and while the outcome may not live up to our expectations the flip side is that it may just wildly exceed them! We never know until we try.

And now I’m pumped up again and more committed than ever to building up our retirement reserves and emotionally (and yes, realistically as well) planning for this next stage of my life. Life is good now, yes, it is. I am in no hurry to grow older – no one is – but I’m one of those people who enjoys planning adventures and who loves, even more, having them! I want our retirement to be lovely, comforting, nurturing and exhilarating as hell. With continued planning and foresight, a smidgeon of good luck and a kick-ass attitude I’m cautiously optimistic it will be all of those things – and maybe more!