Creative Aging Expert

Winter 2010

In This Issue

The Red Hat Society

In my home town of Richmond, Virginia, the Red Hat Society filled the rotunda of the prestigious, five-star Hotel Jefferson for a Christmas luncheon. An attractive woman wearing a huge red-plumed hat gave Santa Claus some competition! Red Hatters, who number thousands across the world, believe that once a woman hits fifty, she should be able to do whatever she wants. High on the list is wearing purple with red and appearing together frequently in public places in large groups. I love the spirit of these women; they refuse to be ignored or overlooked.

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Joe Finds His Volunteer Niche

In my recent Caravan Tour of Costa Rica I met Joe Mathis. He was so enthusiastic about his volunteer work and what it meant to him I asked him to write an article for my newsletter. Here it is.

"If you come to a fork in the road, take it."

This quote, attributed to Yogi Berra, comes to mind as I ponder my stressful transformation from a career to retirement, my two-year struggle to reinvent myself, and my ultimate discovery of a new sense of purpose in volunteering.

Retirement proved to be most disruptive. My challenging and rewarding career as an agricultural economist and dairy industry leader was over. I still had (and have) a loving wife and family, good health, and stimulating hobbies. Nevertheless, there was a void in how I defined myself and, in particular, what provided me with a sense of purpose and self-worth. Filling that void proved frustratingly elusive being further complicated by our relocation to a new home in a distant state. I faced the task of reestablishing an identity, renewing a sense of purpose, and forming new relationships with others.

My long search ended quite unexpectedly. A fellow Rotarian suggested that I might enjoy volunteering at our local marine science laboratory and aquarium. As a recreational SCUBA diver, I had developed a fondness for life in the sea, but never contemplated adopting that interest as an avocation - particularly as a volunteer. Nevertheless - and thankfully - I took that "fork in the road."

I studied basic marine science, became an aquarium docent, then a guide trainer, a laboratory guide, a member of the lab's Speakers Bureau, and currently serve as president of its 1,200+ member volunteer association. The retirement void is filled with teaching others about the mysterious life beneath the sea and an appreciation for the wonders of nature. My sense of self-worth is restored, and I feel that I am making a difference in the lives of others.

The lessons learned
  • Transformation from a career to retirement can be disruptive.
  • Navigating the "fork in the road" in retirement is often difficult.
  • It is important to keep an open mind and remain receptive to new suggestions and ideas.
  • Once chosen, pursue the new "fork" with vigor.
  • As Yogi correctly observed, "It ain't over 'til it's over."

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Overnight Stays at Retirement Homes Offered

The McMakins, a couple from McLean, Virginia are not at all apprehensive about moving to their new retirement home. In fact they can't wait. They are sure because they spent several days and overnights at the home to get a feel for it. "We liked the people who all seemed to love being there," they said. The cool climate and nearby bike paths were selling points as well. They had stayed overnight at several other retirement communities before making their decision. Cost for these visits ranges from $30 to $150 for three to four night stays. This new program is like visiting colleges to choose which one suits you best - minus the keg party! (This information comes from an article in the January 14, 2010, New York Times by Kate Murphy.)

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Boston Columnist Ellen Goodman Retires

"I wish I could find the right language to describe this rite of passage. Retirement, that swoon of a word, just won't do. The Spanish translation, jubilacion, is a bit over the top for my own mixed feelings. The phrase that kept running through my head as I considered this next step was: 'I'm letting myself go.' Yes, I can imagine the response if a tweet came across the screen announcing, 'Ellen Goodman has let herself go.' I can see the illustration: out of shape, lazy, slovenly, the very worst things you can whisper about a woman of a certain age.

'Senior Citizen' is now a single demographic name tag that includes those who fought in World War II and those who were born in World War II. We don't have a label yet to describe the early active aging. But many of us are pausing to recalculate the purpose of a longer life. We are reinventing ourselves and society's expectations, just as we have throughout our lives....Now, when people ask what are you going to do next, I am tempted to co-opt Susan Stamberg's one-word answer when she left her NPR: 'Less.' I am more tempted to say, simply, 'We'll see.' After 46 years of deadlines, it is time to take in some oxygen, to breathe and consider.

As I wrote in a column thirty years ago, There's a trick to the Graceful Exit. It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, a relationship is over - and to let go. It means leaving what's over without denying its validity or its past importance in our lives. It involves a sense of future, a belief that every exit line is an entry, that we are moving on rather than out." (Excerpted from Ellen Goodman's final column, January 1, 2010, Richmond Times Dispatch.)

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Helping Older Adults Give Up Their Driving Licenses

Have you ever had to take a parent's driving license away for their own safety and the safety of others? It isn't easy. The children of my best friend, who is suffering from Alzheimer's arranged to have her doctor tell the Department of Motor Vehicles to cancel her license. Now the American Society on Aging and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have published a 54-page booklet, Driving Well, that addresses this issue. It gives tools, practice exercises, and scripts to help the older adult and his/her family prepare for the decisions they need to make about driving. The goal of the manual is to enable people to feel comfortable and competent when talking to older drivers and their partners and families about issues related to driver safety. A free tool kit is available at

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Simplicity and the "Elder Culture"

Cecile Andrews is the author of several books about slowing down and simplifying your life. Recently she discovered Theodore Roszak's book The Making of an Elder Culture, and realized how many of his ideas about elders meshed with her thinking about simplifying your life. He argues that as people age, most begin to cut back on consumerism, reduce their busyness and frantic pace, and spend more time in reflection about what's important and what matters. Roszak says that elders do these things naturally.

Andrews authored The Circle of Simplicity and worked for many years helping people understand these ideas. "I think of simplicity on two different levels," she says. "On one level it's about limiting your outer wealth so you can have greater inner wealth. It's cutting back on your consuming so that you can save money and afford to work less so you can have more time to pursue your interests and convictions.

But I like to think of simplicity in a deeper way: I think of it as 'the examined life,' making conscious choices about the effects of your behavior on the well-being of people and the planet. It's stripping away the inessential so you have time for the essential. It's living deliberately instead of being manipulated and deceived. Put succinctly, it's taking time to stop and think and choosing your life based on your values. It's cutting back so your life becomes richer." Her latest book, Less Is More: Embracing Simplicity for a Healthy Planet, a Caring Economy and Lasting Happiness, is a compelling collection of essays by people who have been writing about simplicity for decades.

"So when I read The Making of an Elder Culture and discovered that Roszak thinks that living more simply and slowly and more deliberately is what happens naturally as we age, I thought, yes, move with the flow, move with the tide. Living more simply and slowly and deliberately, the Boomers will do as they have done throughout their lives - they will bring change to the wider culture because of their sheer numbers. They will set the standard for the good life - slow and simple. They'll help us learn how to savor life, to appreciate it, to enjoy it." For more information go to

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Happenings at Make It Happen!

My book, Appalachian Trail Stories and Other Adventures: Living Your Dreams at 60 and Beyond, is selling well. You can find it on my web site, There you can read the beginning of one story, "Surviving Saddleback Mountain." Order it for $14 including postage and handling. I am speaking now about the importance of writing one's memoirs, how I went about it, what it took to get started, how I honed stories, and the process of choosing an editor and designer. It really was a major project for me in 2009. An amazing feeling of ownership and accomplishment came over me as I held the finished book in my hand for the first time. Have you considered writing stories from your life? I highly recommend it. If not for publishing, for your own enjoyment and that of your relatives.

Our cross country ski trip in Yellowstone National Park was graced with skiing amongst buffalo, elk, and coyote and seeing lots of wolf and snowshoe hare tracks. We also witnessed otters sliding down snow shoots into the rivers and playing in the snow. The Norwegian ice houses we stayed in were cozy - even when the temperature went down to 20 degrees below zero, and the yurt where we had our meals was warmed by a roaring fire in a wood stove.

Next I'm off to backpack in Cumberland Island National Seashore off the coast of St. Mary's, Georgia, and then on to Bike Safari in northern Florida where I will show slides of my bike trip across America and my Appalachian Trail hike.

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