Monday, May 28, 2012

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall... Who's The Most Wrinkled One of All?

“There comes a time when you look into the mirror and you realize that what you see is all that you will ever be. And then you accept it. Or you kill yourself. Or you stop looking in mirrors.” - Tennessee Williams

    I've come to that point in life when mirrors  become the enemy. Reflections are no longer a boost of confidence, rather reminders of what will never be again. Every line and sag seem less than fair and even more obvious in the fading light of day.  Vanity is a much more powerful emotion than I ever imagined. 
     It's sad that what I see in my reflection of late seems almost repulsive to me. I find myself less and less comfortable going out in public, unsure of what I'm wearing, doubtful about my hair style or the fruitless effort of applying makeup. What a shame that at this time in my life when I should be feeling strong, radiant with wisdom and accomplishment, I feel only loss and grief for what once was. 
     No more mirrors for me! I am who I am, brown spots, scars and all. I'm tossing out the fade creams. No more bending and stretching, pumping weights and sweating bullets in an effort to defy gravity and the weathering winds of time. No amount of effort can change the course of nature. Yes, I'll take my walks, but not because it will delay the inevitable. I will walk because enjoying a sunny day and seasonal flora brings pleasure and peace. I'll eat right, because good health is important to me. But, I have no intention of depriving myself of those small culinary indulgences that are some of my few remaining pleasures. From now on creme brulee for the simple joy of it! 

“Vanity is becoming a nuisance, I can see why women give it up, eventually. But I'm not ready for that yet.” - Margaret Atwood, Cat's Eye

    In this modern world of ours, we are surrounded by images of perfection. It is easy to be fooled into believing we can stop time with Optic White toothpaste, youth activating creams and serums, Quick Lift facial surgery, breast implants or tummy tuck. Despite everything we might try, we are still who we are in the end, and we judge our reflection in the mirror with the same eyes each day. While I'm not quite ready to toss good grooming and healthy living aside, I am ready to curb the harsh self-judgement and daily criticism of things I simply cannot change. Besides, I've earned every one of these wrinkles and spots with some genuine blood, sweat and tears.

Monday, May 21, 2012

STEP FIVE: Pay It Forward. The Art of Philanthropy Is More Than Simply Writing a Check.

Urban Ministry of Greensboro stages events, has volunteer
 opportunities, and always needs food donations.

    When we think about giving back the first thing that pops into our minds is money. It is generally understood that a donation to your favorite institution or charity is made in the form of cash or check. It's also the easiest way to give. You can hand a dollar to the homeless man on the corner, tithe to your church with a automatic monthly bank withdrawal, or put a gift to your favorite charity on your credit card. Money is quick, effective and it makes everyone is happy.  But no matter how generous the donation, this gesture of giving sometimes feels a bit hollow.
Horsepower Therapeutic Riding Center combines 
challenged children with gentle horses for real healing.
    In my mind the most rewarding generosity is realized through the selfless contribution of time, energy and compassion. Whether it is volunteering to collect donations for local food bank, giving your time as a dog walker at the animal shelter, or playing the piano for residents at a nearby nursing home, you are giving something priceless, personal and sincere to those on the receiving end. You also come away with the genuine knowledge that you have made a real difference. The shelves of the food bank will be full, an abandon dog's tail will be wagging because he feels loved, a lonely senior citizen hears a tune from happier times and smiles at the memories. Giving of yourself and a couple hours out of your day can be satisfying as well as significant.
Volunteer or give pet supplies and food at the Guilford County Animal Shelter
       Paying it forward is also something we can practice in our daily lives, not just through organized volunteering or monetary donations. There are endless ways to incorporate acts of kindness and generosity into our exchanges at work, at home and with our friends. We only need to take a moment to to consider the feelings and needs of others to find endless possibilities. For example, you might recommend a colleague for a special project because of his unique talent, or  you could share some one-on-one time with your summer intern teaching a few tricks of the trade. It is as uncomplicated as one person helping another, and might just make a lasting difference in someone's life. At home, a busy mom can turn off her cell phone when she picks up her kids from school so she can listen uninterrupted as they talk about their day. Giving fifteen minutes of undivided quality time to children, grandchildren or spouse is a simple gesture that soothes, comforts, and insures them of your love and support. You can be certain that unspoken generosity is contagious. The courtesy will be passed along. If a friend is battling an illness, whether just a cold or something more serious, pick up the phone instead of sending an email to express your concern, or drop by to see if you can run an errand or to drop off a quart of your famous chicken soup. Corny as it may sound, that soup made with love can bring a smile and some genuine comfort. Sharing a few moments of time is a precious gift in our self-possessed world.

Chicken soup can heal a cold and the soul
when made with love by a friend
     I believe that to be a true philanthropist, we must give in many ways, not just one. Money is the necessary fuel that keeps all charities and organizations in operation, so write those checks whenever you can. Giving personal time and energy as a volunteer helps the cause and give hands-on gratification in return. There is great joy to be found in doing for others. Living our daily lives with genuine consideration for those we love as well as the strangers around us is often the most life-altering gift of all, and it won't cost you a dime. Whether it's a hand out or a hand up or a warm smile, you can make someone's life a little better by giving, and make your own life more meaningful.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Earning Supplemental Income: Old Skills Are New Again.

     If you read one of my earliest posts STEP ONE: Getting My Finances In Order, you may remember my statement about the importance of earning extra income to supplement my Social Security benefit. The idea seems simple enough, but the reality is a challenge in this tough economy. I've even interviewed for part-time jobs doing simple office work, and find I am competing with a least a dozen better qualified candidates. Lucky for me I have some old, seldom used talents on the back burner. Who knew I would come full circle to use the very skills that launched my career over forty years ago. Now I'm making ends meet in my Golden Years doing what I dreamed of doing from the start.

     When I was twelve years old I had a passion for drawing. One of my favorite things was to peruse the Sunday newspaper, studying the advertisements and the illustrations of the newest fashions, appliances, housewares and even automobiles. I knew that somewhere someone was working away at a drawing board, creating the drawings that filled those pages. I was determined that one day I would be one of those artists too. That's exactly what I did. My very first real job was as a staff illustrator for the long gone Ivy's Department Store. I was paid almost nothing, and worked in deplorable conditions in a tiny mezzanine office packed with a dozen other artists and half dozen copywriters. I was never happier in my life. 

     Now I'm finding all these years later, that there are very few illustrators left. In this new age of computers and digital everything, the skill of drawing has fallen by the wayside. Surprisingly even with all the information available at the flick of a fingertip, I am discovering that many designers, manufacturers and even Creative Directors have a hard time communicating visually. They need someone like me to turn the idea in their head into an image others can see and understand. Whether it's the conceptual design for a new light fixture or the placement of a furniture collection in a room setting, I am uncovering a whole new market for skills I thought I'd never use again. Granted I'll never get rich being an illustrator. But I knew that forty years ago. What I can do is make a little extra cash to fill in my financial gaps, and maybe even save enough for that trip to Paris. 

     The thing is you just never know what opportunities are out there. By knocking on one door, many other open up to you. More importantly you will find the skills you need you have had for a lifetime.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

STEP FOUR: Make Time For Exercise. A Body In Motion Stays In Motion

    Why is it so difficult to make time for exercising? I've always been an active, athletic person. When I was young I bicycled everywhere. There was swimming and waterskiing, and lots of tennis. In my thirties and forties, it was jogging and aerobics classes several times a week. I was an equestrian well into my late fifties, riding four times a week or more. I had amazing energy for so many things including parenting and a demanding career. Now my gentle yoga class takes a back burner to any excuse I can invent. If it wasn't for my dog's need to be walked, I worry that the only activity I would get would be climbing the stairs to the bedroom each night.

    The thing is, physical activity is a must if we are to stay healthy and vital in the years ahead. My father always said, if you stop you drop. He was never more correct. He mowed his own lawn and played golf several times a week, walking the course rather than taking a cart, until he was ninety-five years old. I truly believe that if my mother hadn't fallen and broken her hip, forcing them to move into an assisted living facility, he would have lived well past one hundred years. Unfortunately my poor father went down hill fast without his daily yard work and the responsibilities of his home. After only two years in assisted living he passed away, in my mind of sheer boredom and a new sedentary lifestyle. When he was forced to stop, he dropped.

    When I think of my father I am inspired to get off my rear and get my feet moving. Here are things I'm doing to keep the momentum in my daily life.

  • WALK:  Quite simply the easiest way to get some exercise it to put one foot in front of the other and walk. My morning dog walk has expanded from a quick loop around the block to a brisk thirty minutes around the neighborhood or the nearby park, plus a second walk in the evening for fifteen minutes at the very least . I take the stairs whenever possible, avoiding the elevator at the doctor's office, in office building or in the parking deck. I look for parking spaces farthest from my destination at the shopping center, rather than the closest - anything to get in a few more steps.
  • EXERCISE CLASS: There are an amazing number of options out there for more formal exercise programs. Whether you choose the YMCA, a local health club or even regularly scheduled exercise programs on PBS or cable TV channels, the results are always good. For some reason I am finding it difficult to commit to an exercise program outside my home, although it is still on my radar for consideration. Instead, I've purchase instructional DVDs of yoga and aerobic exercises. I keep one in the DVD player at all times, and have my exercise mat where I can see it for inspiration. My goal is one hour of instruction, three times a week. Some weeks I'm good, some weeks not so much - but at least I'm trying, and I'm still walking the dog daily without fail.
  • YARD WORK: It may not work up an aerobic sweat but yard work does force different muscles into action. Despite paying someone for regular yard maintenance, I still like to do some of the work myself. I enjoy raking leaves in the fall and trimming back the shrubs. Planting seasonal flowers and keeping the beds weeded gives me a sense of satisfaction as well as forcing a little extra bending and reaching. I make an effort to putter in the yard regularly for the fresh air as much as the exercise. Seems there's always something that needs doing, even if it's only picking up twigs after a rain storm.
    What is important is remembering that the more you do, the more you will want to do. Sometimes it takes serious encouragement and a good push, but I always feel better mentally and physically once I get going. Even better is the budding new desire to find other ways to work my muscles. There are kayaking lessons at a city lake recreation area staring soon, and trail riding is available at a stable just outside of town. I also have riding a zip-line ride on my list of possibilities. Just do it - for fun and fitness!

Next week, STEP FIVE: Pay It Forward. Good Things Are Best Enjoyed When Shared With Another.