I’m getting ready to go on vacation for three weeks, first to visit a good friend, and then to spend my granddaughter’s winter break with her when I don’t have to share her with school.   It strikes me as strange to take a vacation from retirement.  After all, isn’t retirement a never-ending vacation?  Your time is your own and how to use that time is totally in your control.

But wait!  Retirement isn’t quite all that free.  First of all, there’s 60 to 90 minutes of exercise 6 days a week required for my self-imposed mandatory heart medicine.  Since I no longer drive, that means taking a bus to get to the fitness center for weight training and cardio, to the gym for aerobics, and to the senior center for yoga.  Of course, I have to fit in a shower at some point in the day to wash off the sweat.

So much for the body.  But then there’s the brain.  How many times have I been told that the brains of seniors must be stimulated to keep it from atrophying?  I have friends who love doing  jigsaw puzzles, Sudoku, making up original riddles, doing crossword puzzles, finding the hidden words, and beating themselves on electronic games.  I hate all those things, and always have.  But when I was younger, I didn’t see any need for exercising my brain.  It just happened.  Now, as I regularly forget people’s names and why I walked into a room, I wonder if I shouldn’t force myself to do those brain stimulating games I hate.

They say that learning languages is a good way for an old brain to stay active.  I’ve studied Chinese off and on for years, never progressing past a certain level of survival Chinese.  But a Chinese resident of our retirement community has offered to give a class once a week, so I’m trying again.  Most of what I’ve accomplished so far is just re-learning what I’ve forgotten over the years.

Volunteering has always been a part of my week, so I continue to volunteer for clubs and committees, am the President of a local branch of the National League of American Pen Women, and am entering the tenth year of spending my Sunday afternoons as a docent with seals and sea lions at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach.

I noticed a shift as I aged from “doing” to “being.”  So, I make time for “being,” going down to a pretty creek near my home and sitting in a tree, taking solitary night walks, meditating and deep breathing.  I am usually reading a few books at a time, which is another form of “being” because it brings me to different ideas, new places, stationary travels, without “doing.”  I try, but don’t often succeed, in getting through one Saturday and one Sunday newspaper a week.  I used to get magazines, but they were an expense I’ve had to cut out of my dwindling budget.

Socializing is necessary for mental well-being, and mutual enjoyment.  Since I live alone, I need to allot time for being social and nurturing  friendships.  Living in a retirement community helps by offering many activities, club events, and chances to be with other people.  I won’t say there aren’t any isolated people among the 18,000 of us who live here, but there are numerous, convenient, and easy opportunities to be social.

I used to spend a lot of mental energy on planning what comes next, where to live, where to go next, how to find a job.  Although I like to be thinking a few months or a year in advance of travels, my future planning doesn’t extend too far into the future anymore.  It is in proportion to my lower energy level and my severe financial restraints.

Reluctantly, more of my mental energy seems to be going into physical realms.  Blood pressure and cholesterol and keeping down my food intake are daily thoughts.  There seems to be an increasing rate of “little” problems — strange twinges, tweaks, creaks, and pains that weren’t there when I went to bed.  Of course, Medicare reminds me regularly of all those regular preventive tests they think I should be taking.  It’s boring – and scary – as friends succumb to all sorts of ills.  I count my health blessings daily along with wondering, as I did today, if I really should still be climbing up a ladder to clean the outside of the my bedroom windows.  I still do all my own housecleaning, but it’s more tiring than it used to be.

In fact, retirement is a busy time.  No wonder I need a vacation!

Comments??  Please e-mail to Suellen@ZimaTravels.com

November 16, 2010

It happens to all of us if we live long enough.  We can see it happening to our aging friends.  And we feel it infecting us too when we walk into a room and wonder why we came in, or we see someone we know well, but can’t remember his/her name.  I thought of this today when talking to an aging friend I’ve known for about 4 years.  She’s been physically and mentally slipping during that time.  I feel like she keeps skipping beats during our conversations – forgetting words, mixing up names, re-telling me things.  I strain to figure out what she wants to tell me.

Thankfully, she is no longer driving and does have someone who comes to the house to help her with chores.  Sometimes she sounds unhappy and miserable with bad advice from her doctors and pressure from family members.  But sometimes she tells me she’s feeling great and getting back to her love — painting.  She’s an accomplished painter who has had her work in galleries.  Her love of painting is keeping her alive.  It gives her motivation and meaning in life.  She’s sure she’ll get better mentally and physically so she’ll be able to paint more.  I haven’t seen her recent work, so I really don’t know if her current artwork shows the effects of a mind that skips beats and wanders here and there.   It’s difficult to imagine a writer whose writing wouldn’t suffer when the mind skips beats, but perhaps some artists aren’t affected similarly.

I must admit it’s rather scary to see the small steps of a slipping mind – especially when it’s my mind.  And that comes at a time when my sight is blurring,  I’m asking “What?” more often, and I stand there for ages fumbling to open the plastic bags for fruit and vegetables at the supermarket.    It’s just normal, ordinary age deterioration.  But having seen a grandmother who became a mental vegetable and her daughter, my dear aunt, whose mind fogged over with Alzheimer’s, I know where brain deterioration can lead.

Physical exercise can definitely keep us more agile and stronger longer.  They say that exercising the brain helps too.  I envy friends who can put together puzzles, figure out word games, find the hidden vertical, horizontal, and diagonal words, and actually enjoy Sudoku.  I’m lousy at all those games.  But I remind myself that I’ve been dreadful at those games all my life.  Does my future brain power really depend upon them?

My mother’s favorite (although not original) saying in her old age was “Being old isn’t for sissies.”  That didn’t mean much to me then.  That’s one thing that’s beginning to come clearer to me now.

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