For the past six months, I have behaved like a mother hen. Who are and where is my flock, you might ask? It’s kind of presumptuous to even call these chicks my “flock”, but that is how I feel about them. I’ve had the privilege of facilitating an “Exercise Your Creativity” class at a fitness center in Winter Park, Florida. Fitness center is really an under-representation of this beautiful space which is dedicated to facilitating the mental and physical well-being of its surrounding community.
The class is a creativity primer. My chicks (and they vary from session to session) are exposed to multiple art mediums, including painting, pottery, calligraphy, and beadwork. Some are more proficient than others. But I am so proud of each of the thirty or more women who participate each month. Even showing up is brave. The term “creativity” can be intimidating, and often misunderstood. Many people have been saddled with the label “not creative” from an early age. It’s risky to sing in public or have the person next to us peek at our unfinished still-life painting. Unveiling our creations exposes us in much the same way as dropping our drawers.
But, as I tell members of my flock, creativity is good for you. It’s good for your brain, it’s good for your body, and it facilitates social connections, which become even more important as we age. I am an avowed creativity evangelist on a crusade to spread the word about the life-changing potential of creativity. I wrote a book on the topic of creative aging–Be Brave. Lose the Beige: Finding Your Sass After Sixty. My book argues that creativity promotes creative thinking and creative thinking is an excellent partner in the quest to retain even a little control while navigating this aging journey. It’s fun and freeing to color outside lines that have constrained us for much of our lives, and creativity offers us a lightheartedness our aching backs and clogged arteries keep trying to steal.
Caveat: While it may feel magical when you are engaging in creative expression, creativity is not made of magic. Snapping your fingers to summon creativity is not really a thing. You must exercise those creative muscles. We all recognize the benefits of physical exercise. Weight training, biking, skiing, and swimming most certainly contribute to good health and well-being. Exercising our minds has similar benefits. We take classes, read novels and news magazines, and solve crossword puzzles and other brain games in the interest of keeping our noggins nimble. But once we transition from our teens, we tend to spend less and less time on creative endeavors. And just like physical muscles that fail to be engaged, so too can our creative muscles atrophy.
The Center for Health and Wellbeing, where we meet, is the perfect place for our creative calisthenics. There is a fitness center upstairs with state-of-the-art fitness machines and weight training paraphernalia. The Center offers yoga and spin classes, as well as continuing education programs. Fitness is the focus of people walking in the door, so it’s the perfect place to exercise our creative skills.
The women (and occasionally a man or two) pay close attention to the description of the project of the day. Seasons and holidays provide opportunities for inspiration. Hearts of varying colors and shapes graced hand-painted Valentines in February; “What can bloom anew in you?” was the theme for March. Participants created triptychs (a trilogy of three canvases) telling a visual story of how they view spring. I see shoulders relax as the tension of the day dissipates as my flock focus on their artwork. New friendships develop during these sessions. Two of my students have become movie mates, sharing in their mutual love of independent films. Studies confirm creativity is a stress reliever and builds social connections which are critical in the aging process.
The conclusion of each of the chapters in my book features creativity exercises such as:
Doodle for your Noodle – Doodling is a great technique for exercising one’s creativity and it’s a perfect activity for enduring monotonous meetings.
Tell your story in six words. Six-word stories are a two-for-one exercise that not only exercises your creativity but also helps with self-reflection.
Sketch your pet. Drawing challenges us to be brave. Those first few lines are wobbly and imprecise. Refinement of the lines comes later.
The exercises are designed to help readers nurture this important skill on their own time while also discovering interior truths about themselves.
Feeling control over our destinies is the best indicator of good health. It helps us imagine a more hopeful future.
“There is a difference between curing and healing. The true meaning of health is the attainment of the highest level of living, and art helps us achieve this goal.”
Feeling control over our destinies is the best indicator of good health. It helps us imagine a more hopeful future.
Liz Kitchens conducts workshops and seminars on creativity and directed a creative arts program for teens in underserved communities. She has also been a market researcher for thirty-five years and is the founder of What’s Next Boomer? a website dedicated to helping Baby Boomers navigate retirement options; and of the blog, Be Brave. Lose the Beige!, which focuses on issues facing Lady Boomers (women of the Baby Boomer generation). She is a contributing writer for the online magazine, Sixty and Me, and has been published in various online and print publications. Be Brave. Lose the Beige: Finding Your Sass After Sixty is Liz’s first book publication. She is married, the mother of three adult children, and the grandmother of three grandchildren.
Kathe Kline, the host of the Rock Your Retirement Show, welcomed Steve Lopez to discuss his book “What I Learned About Retirement… From Some Who've Done It and Some Who Never Will”. Kathe and Steve discussed the many variables to consider when contemplating retirement, including financial considerations, identity issues, and creative fields.
They also shared their own experiences with retirement; Kathe recently moved to one of the largest 55 and older communities in the United States while Steve took a huge pay cut in order to have three months off each year.
Additionally, they discussed how Steve has been using his newfound free time since retiring to explore new hobbies such as playing guitar and watching his daughter's college tennis team play. Kathe and Steve discussed the complexities of financial planning for retirement. They discussed how the pandemic has changed their lives, with Steve now working from home after 50 years of going to an office.
Steve suggested they take their show on the road, with Steve talking about retirement issues, playing guitar, and a 10-minute Q&A. They also discussed how Steve needs to develop a life outside of work in retirement and Steve shared that he had neglected his friendships in the past due to working long hours, but has since been making an effort to reconnect with old friends.
He also mentioned that Nancy Schlossberg advised him to embrace ambiguity during this transition period. They discussed the importance of nurturing relationships outside of work and family after retirement or semi-retirement. They noted that money is a major factor in retirement decisions due to inflation, stock market fluctuations, and medical costs.
Finally, they discussed how many people move away from California for cheaper housing costs but experience culture shock when they do so, as well as looking into parts of Spain with similar weather patterns to Southern California. Kathe and Steve discussed the potential difficulties of finding contractors and getting permits when immigrating to a new country, as well as the need to assimilate into the culture.
They highlighted how this is a problem that can occur anywhere, even within the United States. Steve shared his advice from his research, which was to search for the meaning of life and do what replenishes you. He was inspired by Father Greg Boyle who said, “Go where life is and do what replenishes you.”
They both said goodbye to listeners before Steve announced he was getting his guitar out to rock out.
Even though we made it to our RV resort in Yuma Arizona and immediately enjoyed all that our park and golf resort had to offer, we wanted to get to a remote area for an overnight in the desert. About a week after we arrived and attached our luxury motorhome to full hook-ups, we loaded up our Jeep with tent camping basics with the intention of roughing it.
We packed a cooler, pots and pans, sleeping bags and bedrolls, a cook stove, cots, rocking camp chairs, gas fire pit, and a tent. After all, we’re retired, we don’t want to rough it too much by sleeping on the hard ground.
We drove about 25 miles on a rough gravel road from the farmland and desert to the hills of Picacho State Park just across the Arizona-California border. Then we set up camp, pitched our tent, and went on a hike through the abandoned mining camp and town along the Colorado River.
The area is steeped in history and there are still working mines in the area. We enjoyed the interpretative signs that brought the ghost town to life. It was easy to visualize what life was like in this remote area just after the turn of the century.
We enjoyed a hearty dinner and settled into our comfy chairs and our cozy blankets around the gas fire. Our reason for coming was to see the stars in the dark night sky, but unfortunately just as we sat down, the clouds blew in and we were sprinkled by the rain. So much for seeing the stars! In January, the desert gets cold at night and the sun goes down around 6 p.m.
We put on headlamps and read for a while and went to sleep early. But part way through the night, around midnight, things got noisy and bright. I woke up to the sound of coyotes howling, lots of them and they were very close. Then I realized that someone was shining their car headlights right into our tent and it was completely lit up.
I got up and went outside the tent to see what was going on and realized that no, it wasn’t a car, it was the moon. A gigantic full moon! Which of course didn’t help with seeing the stars. Then we heard the hee-haws of feral burros. Hundreds of them! We were surrounded and they seemed to be everywhere.
I quickly went back inside the tent, zipped it tight, climbed into my sleeping back, and listened to the midnight concert in stereo of coyotes and burros under the bright light of the moon. I’m not quite sure if the burros were sounding the alarm that they and their babies were in danger or whether they were braying because the coyotes were howling at the moon.
But either way, I’ll never forget our night in the desert. While this type of experience was never on a bucket list, being retired and experiencing the sights, sounds, and even smells that night, especially those that were so different than what I’m used to at home in rainy Washington, made for an unforgettable memory.
Say what you will about social media such as Facebook and Instagram, but for retirees, it has been a portal for us to connect with old friends. Following a class reunion, way before the pandemic took hold and many of us retired, we shared our contact information or invited each other to be friends on Facebook.
In the intervening 46 years since graduation for the Class of ‘76, it was really hard to connect or know where people landed. But through the magic of having the ability to search for “friends finding friends”, we have been able to reconnect with people that we attended elementary school, junior high, and high school together. This has been a huge source of joy for us.
We reached out to two friends that retired much earlier than we did. We set up phone dates, asked them lots of questions, took our maiden voyage in our motorhome across the mountains to their home and spent a fun weekend golfing and planning for the winter.
There is something about reconnecting with people that have a shared life experience during retirement. We were in awe that it seemed like no time had passed since we had seen each other, even though it was many, many years. We caught up on family news and retold stories from our childhood. Mainly we laughed and laughed.
They wisely left a month earlier in mid-November than we did. Pro-tip in an RV: head south before the heavy rains and snow is flying. We followed them to Arizona and they were so great about sharing their travel wisdom. When we ran into travel challenges, it was so nice to be able to text them to let them know where we were and what was happening.
When we finally arrived, we were welcomed and shown around. Recommendations on where to eat, go golfing and sightseeing made us feel like locals. It was so nice to have friends in this new city we were trying out.
We met for dinner a few times and spent time sharing about classmates we have lost during the past nearly 50 years and shared some of our own health concerns as well as plans for the future.
If you are retiring soon or are recently retired, I encourage you to reach out to old friends if you can find them now, before it is too late. While it is wonderful to make brand new friends, and you definitely will, the richness of reconnecting with old friends, who know your story, share the same dating and family experiences, and usually have a similar perspective on life has been one of the most rewarding parts of retirement. How often during your working years did you have the time or ever make the time to reconnect? Find someone today and see what happens!
We are back again following Barbara Mock through her retirement journey. Barbara talks about what has been a summer of reconnecting so far.
Reconnecting with Family
In our last episode, Barbara was talking about cleaning up the yard in preparation for a graduation party for her niece. She has since had the party and talks about how nice it was to reconnect with family. Since the beginning of COVID Barbara has had other nieces graduate but their celebrations had to be virtual. This was a treat to have everyone together in person Barbara had a wonderful time with her family and it felt good to be together. She also talks about reconnecting with one of her uncles at the party.
Connecting with New and Old friends
Barbara and her husband met new friends while they were traveling in their motorhome. They were able to get together with them recently and spent 3 days in their home. They enjoyed riding bikes, golfing, and swimming. Barbara doesn’t remember a time when she met people during her travels and then actually reconnected with them later down the road. It meant a lot to her to foster the new friendship.
She also talks about getting together with friends they have had for many years.
Reconnecting with Grandkids
With their recent RV travels, Barbara and her husband haven't been able to spend a lot of time with their grandkids. Since returning, Barbara has been able to enjoy being a grandma and spending a lot more time with them. She feels fortunate that she is able to see them more than just on Holidays as she now has the time since she is retired.
New adventures on the horizon
7 months on an RV journey! That is what Barbara will be doing as of September. They will be going to South Dakota, Wyoming, Arizona, and Colorado. And who knows where else they may wind up. We discuss the planning for the trip which has been a fun but massive undertaking. Barbara is excited to get back on the road in their RV but does mention that there can be some cons when it comes to traveling this way. You never know what the weather will bring, sometimes the views aren't as picturesque as you would imagine and the cost can be pretty significant sometimes.
I know I look forward to hearing more about their travels and it will also be interesting to see if 7 months straight with Barbara and her husband traveling together will drive them bonkers! 😊
The Go-Go Years vs The Slower-Go Years
Barbra and I talk about trying to have discussions in advance on what you see for your life during your 60’s, 70’s, 80's, and beyond.
A very dear friend of mine who was in my synchronized swimming class with me said “don’t wait until you are 80 to figure out where you are going to go because if you do, you are going to wind up in a crisis. Start thinking about what you want to do. Don’t wait and figure it out. This is very good advice.
All though I think it varies for everyone The Go-Go Years are typically ages 65-75. These are the years to focus on family, travel, etc. Anything that may be on your bucket list and requires an active lifestyle.
The Slow-Go Years are typically ages age 76 to 85. They may look a little different as many people are still active but at a slower pace.
Photos and Memories
During the graduation party, Barbara's father came to visit and was searching for photos and scanning them into his iPad. He wants to remember things from her and her mom’s younger years. This got Barbara thinking about her own photos. So she is now tearing apart her old photo albums and getting digitized. It has been a trip through memory lane for her.
In a previous episode, Barbara talks about a gift from her daughter which was Storyworth. Her story is completed and her next project is to go through her mom's journals and create a Storyworth of her Mother's memories and photos. She passed away over 20 years ago and until now Barbara has never read these journals.
I think most of us lived in the era of disposable cameras and going to pick up our pictures at the store. Maybe you have photo albums or boxes of photos. Perhaps take the time to not only digitize your photos but turn them into something that people can look at. Work on capturing the memories for future generations to look at and read about.
Websites mentioned in the episode
Trusted Housesitters– If you use this link, you'll get 25% off your membership, and I'll get a couple of months added to mine