When we were kids my dad planted sweet corn for us girls to sell. This was how we made money to purchase new clothes for school each fall. It was a relatively small plot of corn but enough to keep us busy from the end of July through most of August.

We lived along a fairly busy highway. Well, busy enough considering we were situated in north central Iowa where there isn’t a whole lot of traffic to begin with. Still we did alright.

The actual selling of the corn isn’t terribly difficult aside from the boredom of waiting for customers to pull off the road or into our driveway. I recall a few tense moments such as the time Mom made me run back out to the car because I hadn’t collected enough money from a customer or whenever folks would grumble about the high cost or what they perceived as ‘shoddy merchandise’.

Far and away the worst part was picking the stuff. I remember venturing into the cold, wet field first thing in the morning to fill the laundry baskets we used to harvest the corn. You had to peel back part of the husk to determine whether the corn was ripe enough to pick. You were looking for that creamy yellow color that folks seemed to like best. This might be a good time to mention that I never cared for sweet corn as a kid so this part of the process was something I based on others’ good judgment. (Later as an adult – thanks to some gentle prodding by my mother-in-law – I finally saw the light and now look forward to this ubiquitous Midwest summer fare!) Anyway, some of the ears had this black kind of mold or fungus growing on it. Yeah, pretty gross. There were also spiders to contend with and grasshoppers. I hated the grasshoppers. Going all spastic on you. Jumping who knows where. They kind of spooked me.

Once the baskets were filled we had to break off any extra length of the stalk or husks so that the ears were each of a manageable length so we could fill the brown paper bags for the customers to carry to their cars. Each bag held a dozen ears and we sold them for fifty cents a dozen.

We must have sold a lot of corn because there were six of us girls equally sharing the profits and I recall one summer where I had an entire twenty dollars (twenty dollars!) to myself to buy my clothes for the new school year. We went to Reuben’s Department store and one of my purchases was a brown ‘leather’ skirt and a frilly white blouse. I was not ever what you’d call one of the popular girls and I was absolutely clueless when it came to style or fashion or being trendy. Still I thought that skirt was pretty cool. Too bad I didn’t have the style or grace (or body) to pull it off. I cringe now to remember one of the older boys asking me for a date that Friday night. I couldn’t believe it! Bill Groh was asking me out! I rushed to the restroom afterward and noticed then that my slip was hanging down two or three inches below my skirt. Sigh. Junior high and high school: not the prime of my life.

In any case when I drive down a country road and come across a sweet corn stand or someone’s pickup with the tailgate loaded down with piles of corn and individually filled sacks holding a dozen ears I smile when I see ‘Sweet Corn $X.XX a dozen’. I don’t know what it’s selling for now – it hasn’t come into season just yet this year but it surely isn’t fifty cents a dozen anymore!

OK.  I’ve alluded to this before in another post and it’s only DAY ONE.  However….

This is it.  I’m pumped, I’m motivated, I’m going to do it this time!

I joined Lifetime Fitness today and swam laps for the first time in just ages.  It felt incredible!  When we were kids the six of us girls were regulars almost everyday at our local pool and we loved it.  So swimming this afternoon brought back a flood of good memories of those sun-drenched days!

The facility is just a few months old and it is simply amazing.  There are two laps pools, an open swim area for the little ones and a huge outdoor pool.  I swam that first lap and my heart was racing.  I’m small and petite but apparently quite out of shape!  I’m already formulating fitness goals vis a vis swimming targets to help me firm and tone this old bod of mine.  (Goal # 1:  Complete one lap without having to rest!)

The saunas (both dry heat and steam) are sweet and so is the hot tub — all of which are located in the women’s locker room.  (Assume the men’s locker room is similarly appointed — I didn’t check!)  Hot tubs are also situated poolside both indoors and out.  The outdoor pool is surrounded by dozens and dozens of chaise lounges for sunbathing. The locker rooms boast beautiful wood-grain lockers and there is a steady supply of fresh towels, toiletries and hair dryers. 

I’m excited about taking advantage of my new membership: the lap lanes, the saunas and hot tubs, the wide assortment of exercise equipment and a variety of free classes.  Another bonus will be meeting new, fitness-minded friends.  Maybe I’ll even convince my husband to join as well!

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It’s here!  The longest day of the year and the official opening day of summer – June 21st.  The year thus far has been a head-scratcher in the weather department and many of our trees and shrubs bear witness to the relentless cold, harsh winter that we endured — and endured — and endured.  There are far too many bare spots and dead branches and don’t get me started on our Knock-out Roses!  Not only was Mother Nature challenging to our psyches this winter but to the revival efforts of our prized garden possessions with the advent of spring.

Today however that is all behind us, here in the Midwest anyway, where blue skies and a beautiful sun lures us outdoors to tend to our gardens, stroll a shady path or curl up on the patio with a good book.  Sadly it’s all downhill from here as the days slowly become shorter and shorter but now is no time for negativity.  Celebrate the ample daylight we’re given TODAY for today is all that truly matters.

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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!

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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.