Saturday, 24 November 2012

#324: Someone New

My retirement is about to change up.  Become quite grand, in fact.

Tomorrow I am off to Saskatoon to meet Jenny and Patrick's baby, our 4-day old grandson Erik Bruce Gibson.

I can hardly wait!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

#323: "Stuff" Happens.

Confession time:  my basement is still waiting for its moment in the sunlight of my retirement.

Over a year ago I promised that it would get my immediate attention but, alas, the goods and chattels that reside there (aka "stuff") remain untouched.  (I suppose that is not quite true.  I have moved a few things around while rummaging for Christmas decorations or luggage, and I have even managed to offload a few items on one of my kids.  But, somehow, magically, my below-stairs-storage seems to hold a collective mass that remains constant.)  Then, there is above-stairs.  That is full of "stuff" too.

And I am not alone.

This is such a familiar state for most retirees, that I should not have been surprised to have my ladies' walking group toss around this problem for over an hour while we had a post-hike cuppa at Shirley's house.  I blame it on the tea.  As we sat in her comfortable living room partaking of her hospitality, someone admired the chinaware and soon every woman had an observation about the contents of Shirley's china cabinet --- and their own.  This pleasant but trivial topic hummed along until someone confessed to owning three complete sets of dishes, and someone else added "Me too.  I wonder what I'll eventually do with them? I know the kids aren't interested."

The room fell silent as we all did a mental inventory of our houses and apartments, all filled with things our children will have no use for.   But there was no enthusiasm for downsizing, de-cluttering, or pruning.  Whatever we called it, we agreed that getting rid of  "stuff" was hard, though not impossible -- if only we could rouse ourselves to the required decision-making.

The practical women in the group knew what to do (even if they hadn't yet done it themselves).  If you don't love something, pitch it.  Toss. Sell. Recycle. Re-gift. Donate.  

But none of us were half so sure about items of real and/or sentimental value.  Our stash of stuff, in this case, had nothing to do with procrastination, bad housekeeping, or borderline hoarding.  These were the possessions that contributed to our identities as sports-women, scholars, artists, friends, employees, mothers, daughters, or wives.  Carole looked so stricken at the prospect of parting with her 42 year old wedding dress that professional help was suggested.   Perhaps an organizer-- part therapist, part efficiency expert -- could talk her through the grieving process, make a photograph of the beloved object, and then post it on eBay.

But some things, we just knew, were beyond the power of a down-sizing consultant, and were destined to wind up in the will.  "This is family history!" exclaimed Sylvia.  "Do our children really not want our heirlooms?  Tough!"  We all recalled relatives who had identified and labelled various bits and pieces for specific recipients.  (I still own a gilded candy dish that came to me from Bruce's grandmother 50 years ago.   Note to daughters:  Before you throw it out,  check the bottom.)

Theorizing that providing the provenance would make a bit of old junk seem more appealing,  I suggested a card attached to each family treasure explaining its significance. (Librarians love to catalogue.)  How about:  Cloak brush. Beauly,  Scotland, Circa 1773. Note: Rodent damage to wooden handle and bristles.

Anne thought this might be worth trying, but she envisioned another note, one she intends to pin to the red satin dressing gown that belonged to her mother.  It will read: I loved this robe and I just couldn't throw it out.  But it is yours now, so do whatever you want.  I'll never know.  XXOO, Mom 

We all smiled. Now there was a suggestion we could use.


Thursday, 15 November 2012

#322: Dear, Dear

Oh, dear.  The only good thing to be said for my behaviour today is that I spoke my mind.

As I was shopping, an unctuous young bookstore sales girl came up to me and asked "Are you finished with the computer, Dear?"

I bristled.   

My husband is allowed to call me Dear.  My 93-year-old friend Kathleen is allowed to call me Dear. Anyone from Newfoundland is allowed to call me Dear. (It somehow doesn't sound so demeaning when said with an accent.)  But otherwise just call me Ma'am or nothing at all.

And that is pretty much what I told the astonished sales associate.

I don't think she really understood what I meant and she probably thinks I am nuts. Perhaps I am.

But I hope she goes home tonight and complains to her grandmother that some mad old bird snapped at her when she was only trying to be nice.  Perhaps she will get some advice about dealing with older customers.  As in:  "You are not a Newfoundlander, Dear. Just smile next time. It's safer and more respectful." 

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

#321: Never Say Never: Another Fifty Shades' Footnote

A few months ago, I wrote about Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades' Fuss ) and declared that I wouldn't be choosing it for any of my retirement home readers, in spite of the fact that it is available in Large Print, unless someone requested it.

Sure enough, today when I dropped in to see what my clients would like, someone did.

"My daughter says that I should read this", said "Hetty" taking out the bit of paper on which she had written the title.  "Have you heard of this book?" 

I hooted with delight, but I should not have been surprised.  "Hetty" is my 84 year old Hunger Games enthusiast.   I assured her that I knew the book and asked if she was prepared for a lot of adult content. She coyly replied,  "Of course! I am an adult."

I've just checked the library catalogue.  There is a large print copy on the Bookmobile that I can pick up for her tomorrow. 

I can hardly wait to hear what she thinks of it.

And I wonder if she knows about the forthcoming movie... 

Monday, 12 November 2012

#320: Dressing Down

Throughout October, I was an "emergency librarian" at a few locations where employees were raising money for The United Way by "dressing down".  In other words, they paid $5.00 a day for a label that proclaimed I'm dressed like this for the United Way, and (hooray!) wore jeans to work.

I remember those days.  The occasional opportunity to break with convention in a very formal work environment and dress casually, was cherished.  Along with my buttoned-up colleagues I was beyond happy to ditch business attire in favour of a weekend look.

But not any more. Now that every day is a dress-down day, I look forward to dressing -up.  An afternoon on the job? Oh good.  I will need to look smart and well-put together.  Where's that pretty jacket, the one that looks best with a skirt?  

I would even pay the $5.00 and accessorize with a sticky fund-raising label: I'm dressed like this for the United Way! 

Friday, 9 November 2012

#319: Emergency!!

I intended to be back to the blog earlier this week, but I lost most of last Monday.  I spent the better part of that day in the ER (or at "Emerg", as we say in Canada) with my husband.

Here is the story:
At 7:30, as I was waking up, Bruce stood by the bed fully clothed and announced, "I don't feel very well. My arm hurts, my back hurts and my chest is sore.  I might be having a heart attack."

That got my attention.

By 8:00 we were at the hospital, and by 8:30 he was on a bed in one of those little ER cubicles, hooked up to various machines. As I perched on the one chair behind the green curtain with him, it occurred to me that I did not have to phone anyone to explain my absence.  I could be where I needed to be.  Missing Monday morning Qi gong was not a big deal.

Through the morning and part of the afternoon, Bruce had blood tests, an x-ray, an ECG and a stress test. He seemed to be permanently attached to a blood pressure cuff.  Finally, at 3:30 they sent him home, suggesting that he eventually see a cardiologist, although as far as the Emerg doc and hospital specialist were concerned the pain was very likely due to an episode of gastric reflux (which Bruce later attributed to the broccoli that I had inflicted on him the previous evening.)

He will see a cardiologist, just to make sure, but we are not too concerned.

And in the meantime,  I am able to pass along advice to others who may have the misfortune to spend a day hanging out in their local hospital Emergency Department.

1.  Go early.  There was only one other person there when we arrived.  By noon the place was packed.  (And don't forget your Health Card*.)

2.  Unless the patient is in dire shape, use the car and don't call for paramedics.  You will arrive sooner.  (This advice came from a doctor friend several years ago.)

3.  You will be in Emerg longer, much longer, than you imagine.  If you have time (and don't feel as anxious as I did) grab coffee/ breakfast/reading material/ you gallop out the door.  At the Guelph General Hospital, there is nothing to read in the back blocks at Emerg, and it is a major trek to find the public cafeteria.  Don't count on anyone offering food to the patient.  Bruce's neighbours got hospital meals, but he made do with a Tim Horton's muffin.

4.  Suck it up and park in the expensive parking lot when you first arrive.  That short term spot on the street is short term.  Your visit to the hospital is not.  Bring money. $8:00 buys a whole day of parking in the GGH hospital lot, and that is what we eventually required.

5. When you are tucked behind the green curtain, remember that it is just a piece of cloth. Your voices will be be heard by all your hidden cubicle-mates who will hang your every word because they are also bored,  tired of waiting, and have nothing to read.  Too bad no-one gave this advice to our noisy next-door neighbours who shared details about smoking, drinking and rehab while chewing out staff and one another. Of course, we both found this intensely interesting.

*Health care is free in Canada.  Hospital parking and snacks are not.


Thursday, 8 November 2012

#318: The Retirees' Report

On our recent road trip, Bruce and I stayed primarily with friends and family, and in doing so, we managed to connect with 16 of our favourite people, folks we have known for a very long time. We didn't stay with all of them, but we we did visit with every one, and caught up on one another's lives. As a newish retiree, I was very keen to see how they were all managing to be happy and fulfilled while dealing with the challenges of aging.

But first, here is some background on this relatively homogeneous group:

Who they are:
Our 16 friends/family are all well educated, 70-ish, and a mix of couples and singles equally divided between men and women.  This is a reasonably healthy bunch, too.  There were a couple of major complaints and the expected minor ones (knees and hips topped this list) but by and large, there was no whining.  So far, the afflicted have adapted well.  Can't kneel in the dirt to plant the garden?  Raised beds are the answer. 

Where they live:
Only one person has downsized dramatically:  Alexis, retired and single, wanted a smaller space temporarily, but now she thinks it makes permanent sense.

Bruce's cousin Jim and his wife have moved, though their new residence in an "adult lifestyle" community is probably the same size as our detached house.   Their attached bungalow is a good choice, however, because it allows them lock-up-and-go flexibility when they set off on another travel adventure.

BTW, no-one had pulled up stakes and moved to a new "retirement town".  (Around here, moving away is not uncommon and usually begins with the following declaration:  "Guelph is getting so big that we are moving to Wiarton/Fergus/Bracebridge....."  This makes no sense to me.  Especially because the speakers invariably keep their Guelph physician, dentist, hairdresser and lawyer.) 

And here is where it gets interesting-- how they spend their time:
Once we got How are you? and How are the kids? out of the way, we moved on to What are you up to? 

We discovered that none of our friends and family is whiling away every afternoon in front of the TV.  Better yet, men as well as women are equally busy with yoga, tai chi, reading, volunteering, knitting, playing and writing music, flower arranging, scrapbooking, watercolour painting, language learning....... their activities are as diverse as they are.

There are very likely 7 volunteers in this group, 6 hobbyists, and about 12 are really committed to some sort of fitness. (Numbers are approximate.  We were just chatting.  I didn't have my clipboard.) Three people are continuing to work several hours a week!   And if there was a house, a garden, a pool, a pet -- I knew how these people spent their time.  Throw in illness, a few grandchildren and an aged parent (amazing genes in these families!), and that is a very full life.  Hobbies, lunches with friends or cultural outings are squeezed in if possible.  But regardless of what else was going on, everyone was able to travel.  We were delighted to discover that every one of our friends made at least one trip last year.  Not everyone went to Burma like Dale and Elizabeth who have a son living there, but they had all been tripping.  The top destination?  Ottawa, to visit friends and family.

Conclusions about a balanced retirement?
As a retiree who has trouble achieving the right busyness balance, I was interested to hear what other people had to say about the amount they do, and how they might change it.  What feels right, it would appear, is a mix of useful, satisfying, stimulating, and social pursuits.  Elizabeth (Seattle), who has a large house, a garden, 2 nearby grand kids and an elderly mother, feels a bit over-committed.  As a painter, she sighs over a half finished canvas down in her studio.  She'd like to do yoga more often, but what can she give up?   John (Edmonton). with a house, a garden and a dog, recognizes that he needs at least one more outlet, and has plans to do some volunteering this fall.  Sandra (Dauphin) teaches music but she is a big-time reader, helps with her grand kids, and goes to yoga.  She just knows that one more commitment would be waaay one-too-many.

I heard this story often enough to wonder about an unwritten retirees' "rule of 4".  That is, most of this youngish, relatively healthy and motivated group, regardless of what they do specifically, have the energy at this time of life for about 4 different commitments.  For example: House + trip + volunteering + grand parenting = A Full Plate.  The combination is different with every person, but on average (give or take health problems)  4 seems to be the optimum total.  Italian lessons + volunteering + elderly mother + dog = Enough Already.  The same for trip + trip+ trip+ trip.

What I learned:
The lesson for new retirees?  Start slow.  Do not commit to every darn thing that comes your way. If you are already busy with the usual house and garden responsibilities, you may not have as much discretionary time as you think.  Be warned: if you take on too much,  you will not have much fun.  You will be stressed and anxious and you will wonder why the basement is still as messy as ever.   

The lesson for me?  More Arithmetic practice is indicted. Nancy knows how to count, and she is very proficient at addition!   But she needs to work on subtraction.