Sharing the Load

Canadian wildfires more than a thousand miles away filled Wisconsin’s northern skies with haze. Following another warm summer day slightly diminished by the loss of blue heavens and the company of pesky mosquitos, helping a neighbor harvest their lavender field made a small part of the world all okay. At eight in the evening, thanks to Canadian smoke particulates, the July sun appeared a gentle gold surrounded by a flaming ring. With humidity and heat lifting, the air felt just right to stay outside

She knelt next to the plants, cutting the flowered sprigs with a curved knife. I gathered handfuls, wound the end with a rubber band, then handed each to her husband to trim and load for moving. Their collies laid between the rows, noses resting on paws. A hawk screeched above as it circled the field. We talked about nothing much scattered with deeply important stuff.

We have other jobs that claimed the day, but like all plants lavender has a time to be harvested. They had already completed hours in the field and hung hundreds of bouquets in the barn to partially dry. In a few days the lavender would fill a roadside cart for customers. Sharing the work, an hour went by quickly. Mosquitos called an end to our time.

Some kind of magic happens when friends share the work of their days. Weeding each other’s gardens, making a meal, washing dishes together, sanding another’s wood project, painting a room, harvesting lavender. Formality slips away. The need to create conversation slips into comfortable talk. We move in each other’s space naturally, slipping into the dance steps of our real lives without practice. That’s where memories are made.

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The Nature of Mother’s Day Gifts

Gifts I wrapped never looked this good–LOL!

This time of year, I recall standing in Herberger’s, a store that no longer exists, searching the clothes racks for something that would delight Mom. If I were on a roll, I’d buy several outfits and relieve my sister and one of my brothers of their anxious search (my other brother usually had his own plan). Not that Mom was so hard to delight, but more that we were striving so hard to convey a love that was too big to be contained by a gift.

My system was to try on the clothes in my size (several sizes larger than what Mom wore.) We had the same build, and if the clothes fit me, I’d buy them in her size and mail them (life before Amazon was a reflex). If they didn’t suit her, she could return them to Elder Beerman, the Ohio branch of Herberger’s.

I was curiously detached about the possibility of the clothes being returned. I’d tried my best and I knew that even if my gift didn’t work out, Mom saw the effort and recognized the love. She’d done the same anxious ritual for her mother and mother-in-law for years, too.

Mom has been gone nearly five years, a fact I still can hardly believe sometimes. When my sons ask me what gift I’d like, I often have no suggestions (none of us thinks purchasing clothes is realistic!) I suggest outings and time spent together, and that suits us. The real gift is that they care enough to ask, that they want to show their love.

Message received.

 

How Time Disappears in Retirement

To the uninitiated, retirement sounds like a vast stretch of free time with maybe a few minor chores like laundry thrown in. Theoretically, yes.

However, all of the retirees I know are as busy—if not even busier—than we were when we worked for pay. It’s a fundamental mystery of retirement that I have so little free time. Or perhaps I should say “unscheduled” time, because really, I have nothing but free time. But I’m using a lot of it. Having fun.

Now that I can choose whatever I want to do with my time, I’m like a kid in a candy store. There are so many choices: classes, writing, travel, volunteering, two book groups and the associated reading, hanging out with friends, family get-togethers, etc. Why not set a date to make sure it all happens? As a result, I regularly confound my sons and working friends with how booked up I can be.

Here’s how a lot of conversations go:

“You want to stop by on your day off? Great! Oh, wait, I’ve got pottery class that morning.”

Or

“Happy hour? I’d love to, but not that Wednesday—I’ve got Guthrie tickets. How about Thursday instead?

I get that this is annoying to people who have less flexibility than I do. But if another day works equally well, I’d rather do the original activity I planned and paid for.

Of course, I’ll drop everything when something comes up:

“My car is in the shop. Can you give me a ride?”

Or

“Can you pick me up at the clinic? I’m not supposed to drive after my outpatient procedure.”

For years, other people controlled my schedule. The magic of retirement is that now most of what I’m doing I’ve chosen to do. This time feels precious. It’s a gift—not empty hours while I’m waiting for someone to call or visit. Not too put too fine point on it, but I don’t know how much time I’ll have or how long I’ll be healthy.

I want to use my time well.

Can’t Do Kondo

At a recent gathering of women, I was impressed by how excited some of them felt about Marie Kondo (The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up). Her new Netflix show has boosted interest in the KonMari method. It is alluring—all those well-organized spaces. The simplicity of only keeping what sparks joy. The peacefulness of an orderly home that doesn’t contain random piles of junk. It all looks so virtuous. But I’m skeptical.

The key step in her process looks exhausting. You make an enormous pile of your stuff and then make endless joy/no joy decisions. I flash back to sorting out my mother’s household goods after she died. And then doing the same with my Aunt Corinne’s things. Repeatedly deciding which items were too good to throw away but not good enough to keep took such an emotional toll. After a while I stopped caring. Soon everything looked like junk.

It appears that’s the point people come to as they engage in the KonMari process. You become overwhelmed and stop making decisions. Everything except absolute essentials goes. So that’s part one of the magic. You have less stuff and feel lighter.

The young couple featured in the first episode did need help. They were unhappy about how out of control their home and life with two toddlers had become. They stuck with Marie Kondo’s process and voilà! Eventually they brought order out of chaos.

Last fall I dabbled with doing a little KonMari on my clothes. Admittedly, I only watched a short video about it and didn’t read her book. I didn’t pile up everything in my closet and dresser. Instead, I considered how long it had been since I’d worn something. I evaluated each item’s fit, style, and level of shabbiness. As a result, I cleared out a lot of stuff. Then I had the hassle and expense of replacing essential items that no longer were up to par. I’m still looking for wonderful replacements that spark joy.

After you get rid of stuff and organize what remains, another step in her process is folding clothes differently. I like her idea about folding t-shirts so you can see all of the colors. However, it definitely is more time-consuming, so often my laundry sits for days before I put it away properly.

What will keep me (or any KonMari advocate) from backsliding? I suspect it’s the painful memory of sorting through the enormous pile. However, I didn’t make a big pile and I’m known to have amnesia when it comes to recalling how hard a project is. It seems very likely that three years from now my closet will be overburdened again. At some point, folding t-shirts her way may be too much trouble.

I don’t doubt that Marie Kondo’s approach truly helps some people. The couple featured during the first episode came away with a system and new habits that will make their lives easier and more filled with joy.

Perhaps I’d feel lighter and more joyful if I fully embraced Marie Kondo’s system. But I know for it to work I’d have to incorporate her philosophy as well as adopt new habits. I guess I’m not ready.

The New Peer Group

Recently I joined the YMCA, tried a yoga/Pilate combo class then attended the orientation session required before a personal trainer consultation. I made my reservation, studied group offerings, and put together a few questions.

What I missed was the message that this meeting existed for adults fifty-five and over, complete with handouts and a discussion of course offerings that didn’t require doing anything on the floor. During introductions I shared my interests and mentioned an interval training course I thought might be a challenge. Chair yoga, gentle stretching, and a couple of special aqua classes were presented along with a building tour and treadmill demonstration.

Bundling all adults over fifty-five into one peer group makes as much sense as organizing only one social activity for school children between ages five and eighteen. The year my mother turned fifty-five she decided it was time to sell the house and move into a building built just for their peer group. They were in the prime of their working years, still building retirement accounts, dancing and traveling.  She believed the developer’s advertising about making new friends who were also unencumbered by children and building a rich social life.

My father noted the assistance bars in the bathroom, the lack of entertainment space in each unit, people my grandparents’ ages in the lobby. He refused to move into a senior citizen facility called something more attractive. And continued refusing for the next quarter century.img_5048

It appears that decades after my mother’s attraction to the advertising of an over fifty-five condo, marketers are still lazy about how to identify the needs of those who check the last box in the age question. How about adding a few more boxes? I am glad to be beyond tampon days but am not ready for Depends. I just wanted to know if a personal trainer would think that the interval course was going to be too much of a challenge.