We’ve already had an end of a decade in the current century and I don’t remember it being much of a thing, but now we have another new decade starting in a couple of days and it has me thinking.
What do I appreciate more now than I did 10 years ago?
Well, coffee, for one. Ever since I learned that dark roast coffee beans have less caffeine (thank you Costa Rican coffee tour) I have left my caffeine worries behind along with dreadful decaffeinated coffee. I also appreciate coffee shops. Being partially retired, I have time to while away the hours every so often at our friendly and comfortable neighborhood coffee shop, where maybe not everybody but at least a few people know my name (mostly because they write it on my cup).
And yoga. Practicing and teaching yoga has brought me comfort, more flexible joints, a stronger core, better balance and the ability to look inward and find peace in trying times. I also appreciate the opportunity to be creative that yoga gives me each week as I plan the content of my classes.
I certainly appreciate walking. I’m pretty sure I took walking for granted before, but in this decade I have not. A left hip tear (it healed after many months) and a falling apart right knee (replaced earlier this year) made me very aware of how complicated and disheartening it is to walk with pain and how appreciated and freeing pain-free walking can be.
Grandchildren. Oh, I so appreciate grandchildren. It’s no secret that I adore our son, and I like other children quite a bit. Gaining grandchildren (one of each) during the past 10 years has enhanced my life immeasurably. As babies, they brought me back to my early days of motherhood, with all the positive and loving memories that entails. Now, as they reach each age and master new accomplishments, I enjoy everything along with them. Coloring? They think I’m Monet. Soccer, baseball, video games? I don’t play that well, but I’m a very good audience. Frozen (1 and 2), the Little Mermaid, what Barbie has been up to since I last spent time with her? It’s all there for me now.
I appreciate compassion. Navigating bumps in the road during the past decade has helped me appreciate receiving and giving compassion as never before. I like to think I’ve become less judgmental, and more forgiving, in the past ten years. I hope so.
Technology is something I appreciate more now than in the past decade, maybe because I use it more all the time. Registering to vote online couldn’t be easier. An enormous number of books are readily available via library websites. Recipes for absolutely everything I want to cook are instantly found and if I don’t feel like cooking I can search restaurant menus or order delivery online. And, I appreciate the technology that gives me a map to practically any place on earth right on my phone, no re-folding necessary.
Last, but not least, texting. Texting wasn’t available in much of the previous decade, but I have really embraced an appreciation of it now. I have friends who don’t text, and that’s ok, but honestly, my friends who text make sharing information and planning around our busy schedules much more efficient. Sorry, friends who don’t text. I still love you, but could you maybe step it up in the next decade?
a simple act
I remember my first presidential election, the one with me not actually voting.
We were living in Vallejo California near the naval base where my husband was stationed. Twenty-one was the minimum age for voting at that time, and when the 1972 presidential election was held, I was 23 and eager to finally get to vote.
We were still residents of Wisconsin, and had applied for absentee ballots. Unfortunately, the ballots arrived in California on election day, too late for our votes to make much difference in the landslide that swept Richard Nixon into office that year.
Missing out on that first major election resulted in my commitment to vote in virtually every primary and general election since.
Over the years I was aware that some people didn’t care about voting, and others couldn’t vote because of barriers such as disability, inability to read or criminal background status, but I didn’t give the issue of voter turnout much thought.
Now that I’m retired, I have time to work on things that interest me, and I’m interested in voting and encouraging others to vote.
Last year I started volunteering with a group that focuses on voter registration. We hand out flyers with upcoming election dates, directions for accessing the Wisconsin voter registration website, which documents are needed to register, and when re-registration is necessary.
We do this work at festivals and other events, at the department of motor vehicles and outside supermarkets, pharmacies and dollar stores, to name a few. Sometimes people are eager to get the flyers I offer, and sometimes I sense they just want me to leave them alone, which I promptly do.
I’ve learned so much while giving voting information to others. I’ve learned that people are uncertain how to register, how to find their polling place, and what to do when they get there.
Last year my husband and I trained to be poll workers for the fall election, and I learned how to help voters determine their ward, stand in the correct line, mark their ballot and insert it into the tabulating machine.
I also learned that when people accomplish the simple act of voting, sometimes for the very first time, they leave their polling place smiling and with a little spring in their step.
So, even as the weather gets chilly, I continue to volunteer to stand outside supermarkets and hand out flyers. I notice that at the end of my volunteer shift, I leave smiling and with a little spring in my step.
When I retired, I beat an immediate path to the YMCA.
At the Y, I was dazzled by the array of things to do. Water classes, aerobic exercise, a walking track, lots of equipment and exercise machines to learn.
And yoga, of course. Yoga, that I was never going to try again. Because I wasn’t flexible. And didn’t enjoy it. And wasn’t good at it. So, I tried lots of things, but not yoga.
For a few weeks I was obsessed by machines that worked every area of the body and counted repetitions. I challenged myself to perform more reps each week. I could link my workouts to an online program that showed my progress and measure myself against the progress of other users as well. I loved the competition of those workouts.
The Y then discontinued that particular equipment and somehow I never quite enjoyed the replacement equipment as much. The new machines had no online component. I used them, but the feelings of competition and challenge were gone.
Around this time, to my surprise, I began to feel the pull of the yoga studio. I saw people of all ages, but mostly younger than me, carrying mats, and would glimpse them stretched out in the semi darkness of the yoga studio.
I decided to drop in for a class. The instructor, recognizing that I was new, approached me and urged me to take it easy and not overstretch when attempting poses.
Beginning the class, she discussed the importance of breathing, and led us in several different breathing techniques. We started moving into slow, simple poses that were accessible and gentle, then gradually moved on to poses that were more challenging.
The instructor talked about body alignment, and about each of us working within our own level of comfort and ability. She stressed that yoga was non-competitive, and that we could each focus on our own practice. I couldn't perform all of the poses, but she gave options to modify the poses and I felt I was accomplishing what I could.
With the class nearing conclusion, we spent a few minutes stretched out in a comfortable pose known as Savasana, or Corpse pose. I felt relaxed and almost as if I was floating slightly above the yoga mat.
So this was what yoga was supposed to feel like!
I became a regular at this class. I adored the instructor, whom I trusted to safely guide me in this new practice. And, that's when I fell in love with yoga, not yet realizing that in less than a year I would be teaching my own yoga classes.
Not exactly Retirement
At the end of March, 2014, I retired after working as a Registered Nurse almost continuously for 45 years.
I retired partly because my husband wanted us to retire together. In good health at retirement age, he had successfully fought through a bad bout with cancer a couple of years earlier. I supported his wish to be done with work, to golf as much as possible and to enjoy the rest of our years together.
About a week into retirement I realized that I needed a routine and purpose each day. So, I joined the YMCA. I thought I'd walk the track and maybe get on an elliptical and stationary bike a couple of times a week.
Instead, I started taking classe in Yoga, Chair Yoga, Water Strength and Aerobics, CardioSculpt, and Zumba Gold. I also took a Women and Weights class and learned a lot about using free weights and weight machines. I was certainly developing a routine and purpose each day.
A couple of months later I was asked if I’d be interested in getting certified to teach Silver Sneakers classes to active older adults.
There was an available Chair Yoga class once a week that needed an instructor. I agreed, received training and by August I was teaching not one but four Chair Yoga classes a week, along with a Water class.
That soon expanded to another Chair Yoga class, a Gentle Yoga class (via a further certification in Yoga) and a Tai Chi class.
Teaching 8 classes a week, plus subbing from time to time, keeps me busy and focused on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays I'm happy to relax or stay busy as the day unfolds. Go out to lunch or read a book. Volunteer at the library or visit an art museum. Maybe cook a gourmet meal in the middle of the week.
Life right now feels pretty perfect. If I could I would press pause and stay right here in this so-called retirement for a very long time.
Fighting the flu
My final position in Nursing was at a long term care and rehabilitation facility, as a Nurse Educator. I was responsible for the educational needs of the Nursing Department as well as the mandatory educational requirements for all departments.
I was accustomed to being busy and having lots of interaction with about 200 employees and department heads.
In addition, I was responsible for the annual influenza (flu) vaccine campaign. As a huge supporter of the vaccine, I was always eager to get started.
The flu is dangerous for everyone, but especially for the population of long term care and rehab facilities. Patients who have compromised health need extra protection even if they themselves are vaccinated against the flu. That extra protection comes from surrounding patients with health care workers who are also vaccinated.
Each year in August I started education. I discussed the flu vaccine at leadership meetings, staff meetings, new employee orientation classes and, probably, in my sleep.
I created and distributed posters on the importance of the flu vaccine and how to avoid getting and spreading the flu.
I stocked the vaccine and related supplies and scheduled mass vaccine events where employees could come to a central place in our building to receive their vaccine. I also created a portable vaccine kit that could bring the vaccine directly to staff members anywhere in the building at a moment’s notice.
Receiving the flu vaccine at work was at first optional but encouraged. A few years later, my organization decided that receiving the flu vaccine would no longer be a gentle suggestion. It would be mandatory for all employees. Our goal: 100% compliance.
While the majority received the vaccine, employees who wished to opt out took up a considerable amount of time over many, many weeks. I found myself tracking down employees on all three shifts and using my powers of persuasion and scientific facts to convince them to get the vaccine.
They didn’t want the vaccine, but did want to talk about why they didn't want it. Reasons ranged from “I just don’t believe in it”, to, “I think it will give me the flu”, and “I’m pretty sure I’m allergic”. Also, “the vaccine is a scam by pharmaceutical companies”. Sometimes religious reasons were cited.
I helped refusers fill out refusal forms, submitted the forms and waited for a response to each employee. Most were told their refusal was not accepted. Others were told they could opt out of the vaccine, but would need to wear a paper mask at work during influenza season (roughly October through April).
A couple of people left our employ over their refusal to be vaccinated. A few wore masks for months. They included people in every department, and some department leaders as well.
Even as a supporter of vaccine efforts, each year, near the end of summer, I began to dread the start of flu season. I knew that instead of working on projects and offering needed educational programs, a lot of my time was going to be directed towards the mandatory influenza vaccine campaign.
I’m retired now, and last week my husband and I stopped in at a local pharmacy to get our flu shots. The pharmacy was quiet and calm, the pharmacist was congenial and soon we were on our way with matching tiny bandaids on our left arms.
I spent about 10 minutes thinking about the flu vaccine this year. Yes, life is good.