Creative Aging Expert

Fall 2010

In This Issue


Giving Up "Shoulds" for "Coulds"

According to Carol Wiseman of Whidbey Island, Washington, there is much to be gained by dropping the shoulder bag many of us have carried around since adolescence. As Wiseman, who is in her mid-sixties, sees it, in the bag were all the "goodie good" rules that she had acquired during her growing up years in the 1950s. She resolved to replace her "shoulds" with "coulds." The result was the opening to a more creative and lighthearted life. "My brain was no longer cramped by a code, and the free space created a vacuum that sucked in new opportunities to grow." Among the things she has given up are looking perfect in public, wearing "torture shoes," and worrying about what the neighbors think. "I am no longer polite to the nth degree and have stopped taking things so personally." She has also begun swing dancing again, something she stopped after college. Now she is back, as agile as ever, and has even dared to ask strangers to dance. From The Positive Aging Newsletter, July/August 2009 healthandage.com.

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Volunteer on an Organic Farm

I recently came across an interesting organization--World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF). Started in the United Kingdom in 1971, it has become an international movement helping people share more sustainable ways of living. In exchange for your labor on their farms, hosts offer food, accommodations, and an opportunity to learn about organic lifestyles. Volunteers usually live as a part of the family. WWOOF publishes a list of organic farms, small holdings, and gardens that need help at certain times with a great variety of tasks. Participants then choose the locations and situations that most interest them, and make direct contact with the host. I see this as another inexpensive way to try something different, or experience another way of life. Details at WWOOF.org.

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Retirement Planning Resources Hard to Find

John N. Migliaccio, director of research at MetLife, describes the current state of retirement planning in the United States as "abysmal." He notes that until the early 1990s, about 35 percent of large and medium companies offered multi-topic, even multi-day, retirement seminars. These programs were slowly eliminated because of corporate downsizing, liability concerns, and the sense that retirement planning was not a company responsibility.

Judy Goggin, Vice President of Civic Ventures, says "Intensive (retirement) programs still exist but they may not be easy to identify. There is no one-stop shopping for this, so you need to make some phone calls. Many programs emphasize second careers, discovering a life's passion, or making a life transition. The word retirement is out of fashion and isn't used so much. The model is more living a balanced portfolio of work, lifelong learning, volunteering, hobbies, and travel."

Goggin suggests looking for life planning or holistic retirement planning programs in libraries, community colleges, universities, and adult education programs. Resorts including the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY; Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, MA; and Point Lookout in Northport, ME offer life planning assistance along with yoga and health assessments.

In the latest twist, alumni associations are beginning to host third-age planning sessions as part of class reunions. Goggin reports. "Harvard, Yale, and University of Pennsylvania have done it. Stanford is planning one soon." The MetLife program called Retirewise, offering on-site retirement planning education, has nearly doubled its roster of corporate clients to 450 from 250, since 2008, according to.. Migliaccio. "The first boomer turns 65 next year and that's a marker. We could be entering the golden age of retirement planning," he notes. The information in this article came from The New York Times, September 29, 2010, "Boot Camps for the Retired or Soon to Be."

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One Successful Retirement Planning Workshop

The Center for Creative Retirement in Ashville, NC, is out front in offering retirement workshops. Seniors who feel overwhelmed by all the choices facing them in retirement and at a loss when it comes to planning the next act can attend their workshop. The $850 weekend features self-assessment questionnaires, brief lectures, exercises, case studies, and small group discussions. It is one of a small number of short retreats, seminars, and boot camps focused on nonfinancial aspects of retirement, like when to retire; loss of identity; how to balance work and leisure; and relationships with friends, family and spouses. The center's program aims to build self-awareness rather than provide one-on-one counseling, or a didactic transmission of information--an approach that sometimes disappoints participants.

Dorothy Butcher from Shreveport, LA, a widow in her 60s had "worn myself out wondering if I should do this or do that." She had met with a financial adviser, looked at possible places to retire to, but became overwhelmed at the prospect of planning her next act. She was at first disappointed as she "wanted someone to give me a check list of what to do." Midway through the program, she found herself staring at a sheet of blank paper, struggling to come up with two or three dreams to share with others. "Then, suddenly - I can't explain why - I saw myself as Dorothy the Brave. I realized I didn't have to plan the rest of my life, just the next year. Instantly I knew exactly what to do. I've always played it safe because I didn't want to screw up." she said. "The workshop helped me realize I had nothing to fear."

By the end of the workshop she had put down a deposit on an Asheville apartment and instructed a real estate agent to list her Shreveport house. She was attracted by the city's artsy, friendly vibe. Settling into an apartment, Butcher spoke excitedly about day trips, farmers' markets, and the Center for Creative Retirement's packed social calendar and lifelong learning opportunities. The information in this article is from The New York Times, September 29, 2010, "Boot Camps for the Retired or Soon to Be."

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A Special Holiday Gift

If you're looking for a gift for an adventurer in your life, old or young, why not order my book, Appalachian Trail Stories and Other Adventures: Living Your Dreams at 60 and Beyond. Cost is $12 plus $2 postage. If you want a copy put your check in the mail (address below) and e-mail me that you have done that. I will trust you for it and immediately mail you my book. I do want it to arrive in time for the holidays. My website has more information about it. TheAgingAdventurer.com.

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Meet Up with The Elderwoman

I have often written about my Internet friend Marian Van Eyk McCain whose Elderwoman Newsletter I frequently quote. Marian has authored seven books mainly about aging and simple living. She lived only two miles from The SW Coastal Path in England where my friend Barbara and I were hiking in October. She offered to meet us on the trail and invited us to spend the night at her home. As the trail neared Hartland, where Marian lives, I saw an older woman walking towards us. Her long white hair was pulled back in a pony tail; I knew immediately it was Marian. She welcomed us with hugs and exclamations, and we walked two miles to her tiny, cozy cottage where her partner (husband) Sky greeted us. She generously put us up in her small guest room: Me on the couch, Barbara on a blow-up mattress. Her extensive garden provided most of our delicious vegetarian meals. Fresh raspberries garnished our morning cereal and fresh herbs added interesting flavors to our luncheon cheese sandwiches. We hiked together to Hartland Quay, an amazing formation that geological students from far away come to study. For pictures of the two of us at the Quay go to elderwoman.org and look under Walking with Emily. Better still read the entire newsletter. It is a gem and full of good information. This was my first experience in meeting in person an Internet friend. I was not disappointed!

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Seniors Differ More Than Any Other Age Group

Edward Ansello, Director of the Virginia Center on Aging, School of Allied Health Professions at Virginia Commonwealth University published an interesting article in The Richmond Times Dispatch: "Connecting the Dots: Avoid Those Easy Generalizations About Older Americans". I want to share excerpts with you.

"There's a style of painting called pointillism where the artist uses small dots of paint on the canvas. From a distance, you see the intended image, an apparent whole. But looking up close you can see thousands of individual dots of color, some big, some small, spread out all over the canvas. This is the picture of aging today. From a distance, there's what looks like uniformity--but in reality the big picture is made up of incredible numbers of separate colors, sizes, textures, depths, and so on. We tend to make policy and plans based on the apparent whole without appreciating the variety or diversity of older adults.

In fact, there is scientific evidence that members of age groups tend to grow less and less like each other with time. This is called within-group variance. One of the most significant breakthroughs in our understanding of aging is that, as groups of people grow older, the group members tend to become more dissimilar. This seems counterintuitive. True, there are commonalities such as shifting body shapes, graying or loss of hair, the need for corrective lenses, and the like. These, however, are relatively minor.

On virtually every important dimension from health to income to acquired skills and experience, growing older increases the variety within an age group, with each older individual reflecting the patchwork of his or her personal life history. Simply put, there is more documented variability in characteristics and function among 75-year-olds than among 45-year-olds ....

If we were to follow a birth group through the life course, we would see that life would affect each member differently; events would be experienced through individual prisms and catalogued differently because of cumulative lifetimes of idiosyncratic experiences. This means that it is harder and less accurate to generalize about later life and older people.

In the same way, as the baby boomer population moves beyond midlife, it moves toward more variety and diversity--toward individuation. Trying to identify the 'standard' or representative boomer is going to be as ineffective as trying to create one universally appealing cable channel. The task ahead is to call attention to the fundamental evolution happening in the nation's population--we're growing older, and will have twice as many people over the age of 65 in 2030 as in 2000. At the same time, we need to encourage greater celebration of individual differences. More older people means more differences, not more similarities.

Initiatives like the Old Dominion Partnership can help here in Virginia by discouraging pronouncements and generalizations about older adults. Rather they should encourage those interested in older consumers, for instance, to focus on subsets of older adults who may share particular characteristics (like the green dots in our painting analogy) instead of stereotyping them. Respecting individual differences should not be just a slogan. Somehow we celebrate diversity on the one hand (racial, ethnic, cultural, etc.) but then attempt to put everyone back into the same box when they (and we) grow older. Let's connect with older adults by realizing the dots that make up the whole are still individual dots." Ed can be reached at eansello@vcu.edu.

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Make It Happen Update

My next speaking engagements are a keynote and two workshops in Chattanooga, TN, at the Southeast Aging Conference, and a general session in Redmond, OR, at the Oregon Alliance of Senior and Health Services. Before signing off I want to tell you a little more about my most recent adventure.

At the end of October I returned from a 16-day hike on the SW Coastal Path in England. With the Bristol Channel Sea on one side, and sheep grazing in fields on the other- it was an awesome adventure. Between the path and the sea were fields of purple heather and yellow gorse, and long patches of rust-colored ferns spotted with splashes of green. The hiking was strenuous, especially when we opted for an alternative three-mile "rugged" route on the first day. My hiking buddy, Barbara, and I had anticipated this adventure with great excitement; we were not disappointed. The constant and magnificent views of the sea, the cliff climbs, the valleys, the harbors, the sandy beaches and estuaries, the small villages, and the nearby fields of sheep delighted us from sun up to sun down. For an article I wrote about anticipating and preparing for this trip go to activewomantraveler.com. I will also write follow-up articles at this site.

May you have a happy holiday season and lots of adventures in 2011.

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