Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Giving myself a C+ on Retirement

I wake up in the middle of the night and start thinking about things, things that seem important to me and that I wish I could write down – instead of just thinking around in circles about them – but to get up and go to the computer would probably disrupt the dogs and that would mean that John’s sleep would be disrupted so I just lie there and think and think and think. Then I wake up in the morning and I can’t remember anything that I thought about.  I suspect that those thoughts I have in the middle of the night are not as deep or relevant or worthy as I imagine them to be at 3 AM.

I am not doing as well with retirement as I am telling everyone. I tell everyone that I love retirement – and that is true, but it is not the whole story. I think I’ve been suffering from some depression – especially since the weather turned colder and I haven’t wanted to go outside as much.

 I have no desire to go back to work. Retiring was absolutely the right decision. I do not miss the anxiety, fear, and stress that were a part of my work life for the past three or four years. After B__ A___ retired as president of the college, things just went to hell-in-a-handbasket. But truthfully things had started going downhill even before that. The budgetary situation and the enrollment declines made things iffy. I never knew for certain that I would have enough students to make a full-load, and I was always anxious about what would happen if I didn’t. It always worked out, but not necessarily easily – often with a great deal of extra work for me. The lack of proper leadership on assessment was always a stressor.

My personal situation with my weight and my health (rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes 2, asthma) needed more time and attention than I had to give while teaching full-time (and often overloads). It’s very hard to be properly active when your work requires 10 hours a day at a computer. Even when it didn’t require 10 hours a day, the stress was such that instead of getting up and doing something active when I took a break I just slid into Facebook and online games. I am so happy to be rid of the stress and anxiety. 

My life feels so much more peaceful and calm. During the last four years, it felt like I was angry all the time. Fear makes me react with anger. I didn’t like the person that I was becoming: someone who was hateful and suspicious and fearful and angry.

Most of that is gone, just a few anxieties now about money, but nothing really bad. I had a moment of sheer panic this morning when it seemed that my husband’s health insurance had not been properly processed for 2018. But things seem to have worked out and the knot in my stomach went away pretty quickly. Anxiety and tension are no longer my default setting like it was for the last few years. I feel so much more relaxed and comfortable and actually happy most of the time. It shows up in the photos that people have taken of me in the last six months – I’m smiling like an idiot in all of them, because well – life is pretty good on a personal level. I also find myself singing – something I did all the time when I was younger but hadn’t done in years. Of course, on a not so personal level, on the level of my community, my state, my country, my planet life is shit and getting shittier with each passing day. But that is a post for a different day.

My problem is that I’m still spending a lot of time killing time on Facebook and with computer games, and not doing all the creative things that I’ve waited years to be able to do. Yes, I did one painting – which I’m less than satisfied with, so I can’t seem to move on to a new painting. Also while the weather was still nice (in late September and October) I started doing ink sketches outdoors. But I really haven’t done any writing: a smattering of letters, little journaling, fewer blog posts, no poetry, I’ve not touched the novels, nor started any short stories, and as for the academic writing, it sits languishing unattended. You can’t be a writer if you don’t write. This is my beginning on that. I have to stop waiting until I have something really significant to say and just start writing. I may never have anything significant to say, but not writing gives is like having soul constipation. I need to write to keep the spirit flowing.

Another area where my retirement is not going the way I had hoped is with exercise and activity, diet and other healthy behaviors. I was doing much better with exercise and activity, moving more, walking more, and taking yoga class – until cold weather started. I can’t even get myself to get in the car and go to the gym to walk on the track when the outside temperature never gets about 25 degrees all day. Not sure what that is about because I can make myself go outdoors to take the trash, recycling or garbage out. Of course, sitting in a car waiting for it to warm up is a little different. My eating behavior is not the worst it’s ever been, but it is far from the best I can do.

At this point, I would give myself a C+ or maybe B- on retirement activity. I know this is really weird – people don’t earn grades on life. But I’m this achievement-oriented person and I somehow feel I owe the world more than I’m giving it. That I owe myself more than I’m doing. There are so many people that need to retire but cannot afford to do so. I feel like having had a career that allowed me to save adequately for retirement means that I have responsibilities to the universe to do more with my retirement than wash dishes, feed the animals, do housework and grocery shopping, pay bills, play Candy Crush Jelly on Facebook and watch Netflix. But so far I’m having trouble getting a handle on how to do that.

My plan is to write my way out of this. Writing has always worked in the past, so here’s hoping it will help me now. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Some thoughts on exercise/step monitors

A little over two years ago my primary physician read me the riot act. She told me to start moving more or die. I was 307 pounds, had type 2 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.  I knew she was right in principle, but knew her blithe pronouncement that I should just start walking 20 minutes a day, at a time when I couldn't walk 5 minutes without getting out of breath, was unrealistic.

I already had a Fitbit One, though my use of it was irregularly and without much focus. I used the incomplete data I had to see roughly where I stood in terms of daily steps.  On the days I was using the Fitbit I was averaging about 900 steps a day. So I gave myself the goal of 1100 steps a day - a manageable goal.  Once I was doing that consistently (within a few weeks), I upped it to 1300 steps a day. Within another month I increased the goal again. Before long I was consistently recording 2000 or more steps a day. 

I lost 60 pounds. Which was great. And I felt so much better.  But a year and a half later I was a little frustrated. I didn't feel like the Fitbit One was accurately assessing the amount of effort that I put in.  I increased my overall activity level - both the intensity of my "exercise" but also my NEAT (Non-exercise activity thermogenesis) and it just wasn't showing up in my Fitbit record. I would struggle to add steps, but it didn't seem to make a difference in calories burned. Not to mention that activities that I did like house cleaning or yard work that made me sweat, pant and left me exhausted, were barely a blip in the record because not that many "steps" were taken in doing them. 

I can only speak for myself, but I suspect that others have the same experience: having rheumatoid arthritis and substantial osteoarthritis in back, knees, ankles, and feet makes movement challenging.  While pain is reduced by keeping moving, getting moving takes more effort. And when one is moving an obese body with painful joints the level of effort is even greater.  

When I retired this spring, I decided to try something else.  I got a Fitbit Alta HR which has a heart rate monitor in it, and that changed the way Fitbit recorded my exercise. My simple walks had the same number of steps (in the beginning) but the Fitbit now recognized that my effort was "cardio" and "peak" heart rates. When I added up and downhill on my walks the increased effort was noted. Calorie burn recorded increased. 

Having what I felt was a more accurate record of the effort that I was expending actually encouraged me to do more. I started in May with a 3,000 a day step goal and now have (and meet) a 7,000 a day step goal. Before May 2017, I had only 1 day with 10,000 steps a few years ago.  Now I have at least one day a week with 10,000 steps and hope that by spring 2018 I'll achieve a daily goal of 10,000 steps. 

This may not work for everyone, but for me, having what I feel is a more accurate record of the effort that I put into activity is rewarding and encourages me to set and achieve higher goals. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

I suck at Yoga and that's a wonderful feeling!

This is not bragging just a realistic assessment: I am a person with multiple intellectual and artistic talents. There are not many things that I have tried in life that I could not learn to do moderately well with a modicum of effort. 

There were two negative consequences to that: First, because I could do many things pretty well with a little bit of practice (like playing piano, or  understanding mathematics) with a few exceptions I rarely put in the kind of concerted, long term effort it takes to get really outstanding. I've been content with being above average on many things but not really excellent at anything.  Second, on the rare occasions that I encountered something at which I truly sucked (like playing guitar), I very quickly gave up. 

So yoga is a whole new experience for me.  I'm over Medicare age, morbidly obese, with extensive osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis; my disks are deteriorating, my rotator cuffs in both shoulders scarred from multiple injuries, and while my knees and hips aren't ready for surgery yet, it may not be long before they are. I haven't tried any exercise beyond walking since 1989. So I truly suck at yoga.  

My first yoga lesson (four weeks ago) was nearly my last. By the end of the first lesson, when I couldn't come near doing any of the exercises or postures - except for the breathing - I felt I had no right to take up space in a yoga class or the time of the yoga instructor. At the end of the class feeling depressed and humiliated I went up to the instructor to apologize for my miserable existence and say that I would not be back. But before I could get the first word out, the instructor (a truly amazing young woman) put her finger over my mouth and said "NO! Stop! You are NOT allowed to criticize yourself here." I don't remember everything she said next, but I left that room knowing that I would keep coming back and that it didn't matter if I continued to suck at yoga for years to come, as long as I got some benefit out of it. 

The incredible thing is that even though I still can't do anything at all the way it's suppose to be done, I can see tiny improvements and I feel so good at the end of each lesson, despite sucking so completely. It feels like a huge life victory to keep doing something even though I'm terrible at it.  

Saturday, June 3, 2017


As an academic, retirement has been a process, a series of "last" milestones.

April 25th was my last honors night, giving awards to my awesome, outstanding students...and getting a "standing ovation" from my colleagues.  April 27 was my last classroom day, and at the suggestion of the students we had a little party (after I crammed in one more 30 minutes of lecture!) - they gave me a lovely picture frame as a gift.  May 5th was my last graduation ceremony. Time to say good-bye to most of my teaching colleagues as well as this years' graduates. Then the last weekend of grading, and turning in my final set of grades on May 8th.

The rest of May was a mix of vacation days and days working in emptying out my office. I had 35 years of files - from previous teaching jobs as well as my current one - to sort through. A few things to keep, a lot to toss in recycling and even more that had to be run through a shredder (student confidentiality). There were lots of memories in there, lots of wonderful students, and some lousy experiences as well. On the days I wasn't in the office I was working on organizing my home office space so that there would be room for the few things I wanted to save. A lot of vacation days were also spent dealing with retirement paperwork..."who knew" there was so much paperwork involved with retirement?!

There were things that needed to be given away:  a huge treasure trove of craft materials were donated to a local Headstart program; my microwave went to Wendy in the office on one side of me, the refrigerator to Ariel in the office on the other side of me; Pricie in the office got huge piles of file folders, pens, pencils, scissors, tape, and other sundry office supplies; my multi-colored dry erase markers went to John; the Respiratory Therapy program gratefully accepted drawer organizers for their new classroom, and the Adult Ed program was glad to have all my stacking in/out boxes; books were donated to a variety of sources; the faculty secretary got my collection of coffee mugs, and sugar containers.

There was paperwork involved with tying up the committee I'd chaired for 2 years and making sure all the documents were available to be passed on to the next chairs.

This past Wednesday, May 31st was my very last day in that office. Everything (except two telephone books left for the next occupant) was gone except for the college's furnishings and college computer. My diplomas and awards and paintings had been taken down from the walls and carried home. At the end of the day, I took all the office keys - keys to the office door, the building front and back, the other building, and all the desk, cabinet and file keys - off my key ring and left them on the desk, leaving the door unlocked.

I had not realized how final that would feel. This is the first time in 42 years (since I started graduate school in January 1975) that I do not have a huge bundle of office keys and access to an office space away from my home.  I actually feel "retired" now (although my official retirement date is June 30 and last pay check two weeks after that).

Suddenly I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that. The earlier stuff, the end of actual teaching and grading and going to graduation felt good, felt like letting go of a huge burden. Letting go of my own personal office space and all that entails is much more sobering and scary.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The best moment of the year

It's the middle of May in eastern Kentucky and white blossoms are everywhere. Wild roses (rosa multiflora) and blackberries spill from banks and hillsides perfuming the warm air, while field daisies and daisy fleabane (erigeron strigosus) march gaily along the roadsides and adorn the unmown yards and meadows.

Driving this week car windows down to smell the roses and blackberries, I found myself saying "now is my favorite moment of the year." Then I laughed to remember that just four weeks ago, when the purple redbud and lacy dogwood were in bloom, I had said the same thing: "my favorite moment of the year."  Moreover, a few weeks before that in mid-March I was sighing over the splashes of yellow daffodils, and exuberant forsythia everywhere, also thinking "best moment of the year."

Not long from now in June I'll be thinking the same thing when the first local blueberries come to the Letcher County Farmer's Market and the day lilies turn my hillside orange. The thought will come again in July when my first tomatoes get ripe and I eat them warm off the vine. I will also be thinking it when the jewel weed blooms its millions of tiny orange flowers that attract the hummingbirds to sup in September - also the moment when the Virgin's bower vines burst into delicate white blooms.

Then comes October and all the maples go scarlet and rose. Once again, I'm thinking "my favorite moment of the year."  One might think that was the end of it, but in November when all the leaves are gone the stately majesty of white limbed sycamores stand tall as the guardians of the winter forest causing me to once again think "this is it."

So it turns out that every moment in the mountains of eastern Kentucky is the best moment of the year.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Old Dogs (and Humans) Learn New Tricks

Eight years ago today (February 23, 2009)  I posted the following "25 Random Things About Myself" on Facebook:

In the last two days I've seen the 25 random things lists of two very different people (a fellow baby boomer poet and a 19 year old college student) which got me inspired to try. I'll bet I'd come up with 25 very different things a week from now.

25 random things about me: 
  1. The best portrait I ever drew was of my best college friend’s dad, George Porter – it was a tiny sketch that looked so perfectly like him it was almost as if some outside force had worked through my hands. 

  2. I hate asparagus – if I even attempt to eat them I start gagging. 
  3. The most thrilling experience I ever had was riding as a passenger on pilot check rides, where the pilots did touch and go landings at Half Moon Bay airport. Once at sunset, a pilot made the sun “set” and then “rise” by swooping down and then up above the fog bank. 
  4. My favorite city to visit is Boston – I love the MBTA and I always had the right change to get back off. The best hot fudge sundae I ever had was at Bailey’s in Boston (long since gone out of business). 
  5. I never spent a night alone in the house I grew up in until I was 19 years old, and found I was unable to sleep listening for every little noise. 
  6. My favorite book in childhood was Little Women, and my favorite character in the book was “Beth” – the one who dies before adulthood. My favorite book in adulthood is Beauty by Sherri Tepper in which she blends fantasy and science fiction in a moral tale about the destruction of beauty in the world, and really made me think about the choices we make. 
  7. As long as I have a nice warm house and no place I have to drive, the best weather is what I can see out my window right now – deep fluffy snow. The world simplifies down to the stark basics of white and black. 
  8. The person I enjoy talking to most in the whole world is my husband, John. 
  9. I love Cinderella stories. My favorites are Eleanor Farjeon’s book The Glass Slipper and the movie Ever After with Drew Barrymore, but I’m also found of the movie The Glass Slipper with Leslie Caron, the Rogers and Hammerstein television version from the 1960’s with Leslie Ann Warren (and her crooked smile), and movie musical The Slipper and the Rose from 1976 with Richard Chamberlain as the Prince. But I will read and watch any version of the story at least once.
  10. I cannot go to sleep unless I read first. My preferred bedtime reading is mysteries, especially police procedurals, detective fiction, and legal thrillers. 
  11. I’m not sure I was really “in love” with my first husband, although I certainly loved him. 
  12. Until I was in high school and was earning my own money, I had only three “store bought” dresses. All my clothes were hand me downs from older cousins, from rummage sales, and thrift shops or hand made by one of my aunts. I learned to sew at age 10 in self-defense and made most of the dresses I wore from fifth grade on. By the time I was in my twenties I was an excellent tailor, and made the wool suits that I did my job interviewing. 
  13. I haven’t sewn a dress or skirt or blouse since 1988 when I discovered credit cards and catalogs. 
  14. I never went on a date in high school. My best friend wanted me to come to the junior prom with her and her boyfriend, so she set me up with an old friend from junior high school (who went to a different school). I was so anxious about the date, that I worked myself into illness (supposedly strep throat but I don’t think that was diagnosed by a doctor) and cancelled out on the whole event. I never finished sewing the evening gown for the event. 
  15. My first kiss was at 16 from a college boy who was a counselor at a day camp where I volunteered. I was so terrified by the sexual feelings that were evoked that I actually blanked out the experience completely for more than twenty years. If you’d asked me at age 20, I would have said my first kiss came in college at age 18. 
  16. I hate grading essays. It’s the one thing that I really dislike about being a college professor. But nonetheless I think that students learn more from having to synthesize ideas from various sources into an essay, so I persist on assigning multiple essays in every class, every semester. 
  17. The only thing that makes being “pre-diabetic” tolerable is Russell Stover sugar free mint patties in dark chocolate. The thought that I might never be able to eat another box of See’s Candies dark Bordeaux chocolates is almost unbearable.
  18. I have not made any new close friends in fifteen years – a fact that I very much regret, but don’t quite know how to over come, as everyone I know locally these days has their life sewn up with children, grandchildren and other family ties. 
  19. Most of my interaction with people (other than my husband), including students is over the Internet or by long distance telephone, which I value but still miss the face-to-face connections. 
  20. In the winter, I’m obsessed with looking for sycamore trees, with their white limbs standing out against the brown of the forest. In the spring, my obsession is daffodils. In college, we could buy huge bunches of daffodils for 50 cents at the local grocery store. In graduate school, unable to find any to buy I would go out at night during spring break and steal daffodils from Fraternity row. 
  21. Currently my favorite color for clothing, flowers, and household stuff is yellow. But giving me a bright fire engine red car any day. 
  22. I don’t know which I regret more, the things I did do that I should not have, or the things I did not do that I should have. What I do know is that I try not to spend too much time regretting either thing – it detracts from living.
  23. People’s faces I can draw with ease, but I can’t draw a cat worth a darn. Their bodies always seemed distorted and too long and narrow. I’ve never tried drawing my dog. 
  24. During my senior year in high school, while working in the city library, I saw a girl I’d never seen before on the far side of the library’s main floor – more than 100 feet away, and knew instantly without a doubt that her name was the same as mine. I walked across the room, and asked her “are you Sue Greer?” and she said “yes.” So I said “hi, my name is Sue Greer, too.” She went to a different high school at the other end of the city, and was two years behind me. We were not related in any way. The only way I could have know who she was, was some form of extrasensory perception.
  25. I love television. I love sitcoms, dramas, movies, soap operas, 24 hour news channels, home improvement shows, the Weather Channel, even commercials, although I don’t watch as much as I once did. Nonetheless, my evening doesn’t seem quite complete if I don’t watch some TV.
What I find fascinating is that quite unexpectedly a number of those have changed in just 8 years.
#2 I've actually eaten and loved locally grown asparagus, turns out it all depends upon the quality of the food and the cooking!
#7 I have become much more active out of necessity to stay healthy and now don't much care for snow or cold weather (which mess with my asthma), now my favorite weather is anything above 50 degrees where I can be outside and moving - doesn't matter if its sunny or drizzly as long as I can walk, I'm happy.
#13 I've been doing more sewing in recent years, including making a skirt this past fall.
#17 Turns out sugarless candies give me gas. I did develop diabetes - now well under control - and it turns out I didn't have to give up See's dark bordeaux chocolates completely. What I did have to give up was being a couch potato and that is more of a gain than a loss.
#23 Gotten a lot better at drawing cats, and have done drawings of dogs.
#25 I don't care for television as much now that I am more active, and there are now many days during that the television does not get turned on at all. When I do watch it something specific that I share with my husband.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What is Romantic?

Apparently two years ago, my Valentine's Day must have been similar to yesterday, because I began this blog post exactly two years ago - and here I am wanting to write about the exact same thing. 

I have a wonderful husband.  He is kind and considerate, loving and caring. He cleans up after himself and after the cats and dogs and me at times. He does dishes, scoops kitty litter boxes, does laundry, does grocery shopping. But the best thing about him is that he is a wonderful conversational partner. Talking to John is the greatest thing in my life. He's knowledgeable and interested in the world, and very funny. We share many interests and points of view from our career paths (we're both sociologists and college instructors) to our social and political views. He is from my point of view just about perfect in every way.  

In fact the only flaw I see in him is that he absolutely refuses to accept that he is wonderful, and persists in believing that some how he is inadequate, and that I "deserve" someone "better." 

When I was a child my ideas of love and romance were influenced by what I saw happening between my parents and all the schmaltzy romantic movies that my mother loved and shared with me.  My parents had a pretty typical 1950's style marriage. My dad went to work everyday, earned a paycheck, brought it home, kissed my mom, ate dinner, watched TV and did yard work and worked on stuff in the garage. My mom did everything else. My father always remembered her birthday, Valentine's Day and their anniversary with flowers, cards, candy, and sometimes  sexy nightgowns. Each night they slept together in a cozy double bed. However, my father was also a petty tyrant who at times treated both my mother and us children as his subjects to be bullied and belittled. 

I grew up thinking that a husband had to do all those things to show his affection. And I have to admit that it took me a while to let go of all that external symbolic stuff. But let it go I did, because I'd far rather have the true romance of shared life and companionable equality, than a "romantic" tyrant.