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Butterflies in a Windstorm

A dear friend wanted to take a last minute get-away to Mexico at the end August.  Since this is my year of “Yes!” I went with her. But I’m learning that traveling during a pandemic is a much different experience than previous trips.  The noise, music, laughter, and crowds were all missing. Added to traveling continuously with a mask from airport to hotel room were questionnaires, QR codes, phone apps to complete and COVID tests.

To stay safe we chose a private shuttle with a vaccinated driver, re-sanitized our clean room, donned our masks constantly and only ate outdoors.  We never left the resort, didn’t travel to town or eat at a restaurant.  What was striking to me was I have never before experienced a resort at only 30% capacity.  While this was required by the Mexican government guidelines, it felt strikingly empty.  

Many days we had the beach nearly to ourselves and the pools had very few people.  Yes, it was relaxing and quiet for sure, but there was a sameness to each day of that week. I found it to be an almost isolating experience. 

There were no fun groups of people to watch and even the wait staff and beach vendors maintained a distance giving you a wide berth. What I missed the most was not seeing anyone smiling.  Usually in Mexico the happy welcoming vibe with lots of smiles is my favorite part. Every local I saw, from construction workers, landscapers, truck drivers, to employees of the resort, they all had on a mask at all times even inside their cars. I never once saw someones full face.

Every morning I would wake up early and take a really long walk around the property. When the news said that Hurricane Nora was headed our way with a predicted direct hit in a few days, I noticed that everything was changing both at the resort and in the nearby area. I saw windows and doors boarded up on the local homes.  Even piles of sandbags were placed in many areas to prevent water damage and divert the expected floods. 

At the resort, the beach chairs and chaise lounges were put away, light fixtures, ceiling fans and televisions were taken down from the open air restaurants and employees were asked to bring two days worth of clothes in a backpack, just in case they needed to stay at the resort. Even the plants and trees were tied up so they had a chance to survive.

The night before Nora was predicted to hit Cabo its trajectory shifted.  For the first time in many years she made landfall in Mazatlan, but did the most damage to Puerto Vallarta. Watching the news was shocking to understand the impact on these tourist dependent communities.  Less people come during a pandemic and even less want to come during a hurricane. The stress and tension I saw on the faces of our servers was evident. They want us to come back because their jobs and the local economy is heavily dependent on tourism.

Without activities of any kind, I had lots of time to lay on the beach and at the pool and read.  I had worked my way through each and every book I brought within three days. I went to the place they give out towels and chose a book from the box by Jody Picoult called “The Book of Two Ways.”

https://amazon.com/s?k=the+book+of+two+ways+jodi+picoult&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

I read this huge hardback beach read in a day and a half. It is a well-written story but what I found notable is the main character is a “death doula”.  Unlike a birth doula who helps a new mother with the transition from being pregnant to delivering her child, a death doula helps a terminal person with the transition of being alive to accepting they are dying.

In one part of the story she explains the Nine Contemplations of Death and how it can be used as a meditation while we are alive. It is a way for us to understand how to be more fully present for the time in our life we have left.

http://www.allbeingseverywhere.com/the-nine-contemplations-on-death/#.YU9FeS-canE

On the morning after the hurricane just a day before we were to return home I was a bit melancholy.  I had just finished The Book of Two Ways, was feeling sad about the realization that I needed to cancel yet another dream trip, word that more people in my life were suffering health issues and the pandemic numbers in Washington and Oregon were distressing.  That morning the wind was howling in Cabo San Lucas.  The trees and plants were being whipped around with a vengeance.  But I still went on my walk that morning and mediated on the Nine Contemplations.

They are:

1     Death is inevitable.  No one is exempt.

Holding this thought in mind, I abide in the breath.

2     Our life span is ever-decreasing.  Each breath brings us closer to death.

Holding this thought in mind, I delve deeply into its truth.

3     Death will indeed come, whether or not we are prepared.

Holding this thought in mind, I enter fully into the body of life.

4     Human life expectancy is uncertain.  Death can come at any time.

Holding this thought in mind, I am attentive to each moment.

5     There are many causes of death – even habits, desires and accidents are precipitants.

Holding this thought in mind, I consider the endless possibilities.

6     The human body is fragile and vulnerable.  Our life hangs by a breath.

Holding this thought in mind, I attend to my inhale and exhale.

7     At the time of death, material resources are of no use to us.

Holding this thought in mind, I invest wholeheartedly in practice.

8     Our loved ones cannot keep us from death.  There is no delaying its advent.

Holding this thought in mind, I exercise non-grasping.

9     Our body cannot help us at the time of death.  It too will be lost at that moment.

Holding this thought in mind, I learn to let go.

I walked and walked and walked. I saw the whirling clouds in the sky.  It was as if they were in a circle around me.  Leaves and branches were falling and sand from the road was flying and hit my face. For a moment I felt immense gratitude that this town and community had been spared and I began praying for those in Puerto Vallarta that were experiencing wind damage and flooding.

I clung to the idea that when I returned home I needed to focus on the positive, to embrace the life I have, to enjoy what ever time I have left on this earth and remember that nothing is guaranteed. And then it happened! 

I was walking on the entrance road near the golf course and came to a section that was filled with flowers.  Purple, orange, yellow and red blooming flowers for a quarter of a mile were on both sides of the road. Swarming these flowers were hundreds, likely thousands of beautiful butterflies.  Huge orange Monarchs, pale yellow medium size, little almost neon green butterflies and the strangest looking insect I’ve ever seen.  It looked like a skeletal bee, but was much larger and came in and out of the flowers like a hummingbird with the colors of a butterfly.

The wind was howling but the butterflies were living their purpose. They were traveling from flower to flower and valiantly trying to hold on for a brief moment before moving to the next in the midst of a raging windstorm. It occurred to me that since butterflies only live for a few hours or a few days, what were the odds of being born the day after a hurricane?  Yet they weren’t complaining, they were doing what they were created to do in spite of the raging windstorm.

I watched in awe as they fluttered around me and immediately came away with a sense of peace and happiness.  I know that I have a purpose.  My life has a beginning and an end. A day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day. In spite of the storms of life, I can choose to fully live each day completely aware that “every breath brings me closer to death.” If we only had one day to live would we live it like the butterflies?

After this unexpected trip to Mexico and my encounter with hundreds of butterflies, I have a renewed appreciation for living in the moment. I am committed to finding ways to experience a different kind of life during retirement. I want to strive to be mentally present now, instead of regretting the past or being anxious about the future. 

I’m striving to hold the image of all those butterflies in the windstorm, living for only a day, in the front of my thinking and continue to ask myself, “How do I want to live each day that I’m blessed to have?”

Nana Camp – Part 2

Nana Camp Part 2After two days of learning about our Viking Heritage, it was time to change it up and have a cousin’s day!  For Day 3 of Nana Camp, we invited my niece’s three kids to participate in a day planned just for them. All seven cousins worked on making tie-dyed T-shirts – our first time!  Then after they ran through the woods, we played field games and created an obstacle course we dubbed the “Front Yard Olympics”.  It was hot so we set up a big table in the shade and everyone painted with watercolors and we did “art class.”  It was so fun to have them all together doing things that everyone enjoyed.

For Day 4 of Nana Camp, we focused on our Pacific Northwest Native American history and talked about the people that have been here for thousands of years before us.  We read them the story of the Maiden of Deception Pass the night before when we went to bed.  The next morning, their Amazing Race clues directed them to pack their backpacks and we drove 90 minutes north to Rosario Beach.  We planned for this day because of the low tides at the beach.  Earlier in the spring, my husband and I experienced what I deemed a Perfect Day and I wrote about our day in an earlier blog post.  We decided to take the grandkids back and hoped the weather would be good. The air was warm, the sky was blue and it was gorgeous.

Because we had just been there, it was easy to write the clues for this leg of the race in advance.  We had them hiking and searching for the Maiden, finding rocks and shells on the beach, and working together to locate a survey monument on top of a big rock looking out across Puget Sound to the Olympic National Forest.

After our morning of racing, we returned to the picnic area for a break. We packed a lunch, brought a portable barbecue and my husband cooked hot dogs right on the beach.  After lunch, we walked toward the south and found a sandy beach and built sandcastles together.  It was a long day but really memorable.

For Day 5, our last day of Nana Camp, we learned about our Scottish Heritage and added more to our family tree.  The race took them to the Snohomish Valley Golf Center in the morning where they had a private golfNana Camp lesson with my instructor Val. We all played a round of Putt-Putt golf and then had lunch outside on the patio.  

For the grand finale, we purchased tickets to the Everett Aqua Sox game and all wore our tie-dyed t-shirts.  This team is affiliated with the Seattle Mariners.  They are our local minor league team and play in a small venue, perfect for kids. Their race clues included tickets to the game, money to buy food, drinks, or whatever they wanted. While I assumed we could leave at 9 p.m. and during the sixth inning, the kids were having so much fun that when I suggested we leave there was shock and horror.

“Nana, we can’t leave until the game is over!” The Aqua Sox almost came back after being down and we went into an extra inning.  We stayed until 10:30 p.m. What a way to end Nana camp week.  They ate loaded nachos, pretzels, cotton candy, “dippin dots” ice cream, hot dogs, kettle corn, and drank gallons of sodas. Parents, you can cover your ears!  The baseball game was one of their favorite highlights of the week along with being Vikings.

The following morning their parents started arriving and we spent the weekend together.  By Sunday afternoon, it was time to say goodbye after a rewarding, exhausting but super fun week.  As they were packing up, there were a few tears though.  My youngest grandson said, “But Mommy, I don’t want to go home!  You and Daddy go back to Oregon now and come later to get me!”

I love that now that I’m retired, I have the desire, energy, and the privilege to spend so much time with my grandchildren. Planning for several months kept me focused and occupied with creating memories and thinking about ways of teaching my grandkids about our family and our values. Pulling my husband into all of this was a bonus.

Nana Camp-Rock Your RetirementYes, it was exhausting and probably a bit over the top but with grandkids, my philosophy is, “Why do anything halfway?”  They’ll be grown and on their own sooner than I want to believe.  In fact, I’m already thinking ahead to what we will do next summer for Nana Camp!

Nana Camp – Part 1

One of the reasons I retired was to spend more time with my grandkids, while they were still young.  In the early months of the pandemic, during the spring of 2020 when many of us started working from home and our kids transitioned to online learning for safety reasons, we just didn’t see each other.  By the time schools let out in June of 2020, I was placed on a one-week unpaid, unplanned furlough due to concerns about the county budget. What do you do when you have time off, nowhere to go and everything is locked down?

My answer was to invite my grandkids up for a few days and we called it Nana Camp. We simply played, laughed, had a sleepover and it was fun and exhausting all at the same time.  As I was seeing the world through the perspective of elementary school-age kids, I came away with the idea that I’m missing out. This solidified my decision to choose to retire early to spend more time with them.

It has been a crazy year since that major decision was made, so I chose the last week of July for Nana Camp 2021. I have absolutely no regrets about retiring!  For this camp, I was able to put my project management skills to work. With all that we missed out on last year, I think I went into “planner overdrive” and was striving to create an unforgettable camp experience for my grandkids with the bonus of giving their hard-working parents a break.

My daughter and her husband took the opportunity to enjoy an entire week away to celebrate their 14th wedding anniversary in Mexico.  My son and his wife traveled with a huge group of friends to beautiful Lake Chelan and joined in celebrating one of the couple’s 10th wedding anniversary.

I spent months planning, ordering things online, and creating lists and lists of activities.  Then I began organizing and programming each day of activities.  More than once my husband said, “You just need to stop!”  The weekends, like two bookends, were left open to play with cousins, soak in the hot tub, watch Disney movies, and just chill.  But starting on Monday, I had five full days planned for Nana Camp week.

My goal was to:

Share what we believe: “We Love God” and “We Love Each Other.” 

Teach them about our family heritage and genealogy. 

Experience lessons on geography and history.

Learn how to do something new.

Be challenged to develop problem-solving skills.

Work together as teams.

The theme to tie all of this together was The Amazing Race.  The kids love watching the show with their parents and understood the rules of the game.  I was able to purchase the bright yellow envelopes and a template to make the clues on Etsy.  Challenges included finding the Route Info, Road Blocks, Speed Bumps, Detours, and every day just like on the show there was a Pit Stop (a mandatory rest break from racing).

Starting with each team of two, they had to put up tents with minimal assistance.  They could ask Papa questions but it was fun to see them struggle and work through figuring it out.  These became our home base and their “Reading Dens” for discussions and looking at books.

We are of Norwegian descent so for most of the first two days we spent learning about the Vikings.  The clues directed them to put together a map, hear some family stories, read some books, and then they watched several child-appropriate Viking videos on YouTube.  They learned about their Norwegian ancestors and started making a family tree on index cards for each branch of the family.  

My creative and patient husband spent hours creating some replica Viking Shield bases from plywood and then we purchased the remaining parts to make a functioning shield.  Each morning they received clues that took them deep into the “Viking Forest” (the woods behind our neighbor’s house) searching for parts of a Viking costume. They traveled to the Rock Fairy Garden, the Valley of the Green Frogs, the Viking Village, and the Secret Viking Tree Fort looking for yellow clue boxes and their next clue.

After they found their wooden shields they came running back and were given replica templates they could use as design inspiration for Viking colors. They did an amazing job making decisions and painting their shields.  Then they went to Papa’s workshop to put them together.  

I haven’t sewn in 25 years but for Nana Camp, I braved the fabric store, watched some more videos borrowed a sewing machine, and created Viking capes, complete with faux leather and fur and chains.  Then I purchased some wooden swords and plastic Viking helmets.  My husband said, “This is a really bad idea to give 5, 8, and 9-year-old kids weapons.”  But my daughter and daughter-in-law both gave their full approval thinking it would be fun and maybe take care of future Halloween costumes.

Included in those first days we highlighted our Russian heritage, my great grandmother was born in Odessa Russia, and was a pioneer at the turn of the century, by traveling to a Russian bakery.  The Amazing Race clue cards included their own money to spend on a treat and a Pirosky for their lunch. When learning about the Romans and Italy I ordered pizza and served some Italian cookies for dessert.

After their swords and shields were completed the next day the race had them back in the forest.  They learned some more about our family tree, checked the maps, and heard about even more history.  Then they had to search for the rest of their costumes hanging in the trees. The final clue for that day was to come back to the reading den screaming their best Viking battle cry in their full regalia.

As my husband and I watched them running up the hill out of the forest he was laughing. I, however, had tears in my eyes.  Working together we had created an “eternal moment” neither of us will ever forget.  I hope in the future my four grandkids won’t forget either!  Days 1 and 2 are complete.  Time to get ready for Day 3 – Cousins Day!  I need some sleep.

E-Bikes

Over the years I have really enjoyed bike riding.  But as I’ve aged it seems like I spend more time going uphill than down.  It is easy to coast down a hill creating a gentle breeze with the wind in your face.  But traveling back home, I call climbing up a hill on a bicycle a “grunt.” Out of breath, tired muscles, and sweating profusely is getting less and less enjoyable as each year passes.

While we were attending a wedding and reception in Laguna Beach and Dana Point in California in mid-June, we decided to rent bikes to ride on the trails near the beaches and the bike lanes near our vacation rental.  Initially, we rented regular bikes but after my husband did some research on the trails in the area he noticed LOTS of hills and elevation changes.  A quick call to Synaptic Cycles and a few more dollars per day and we were set with E-bikes. They even had a concierge service that included batteries and chargers, a helmet, and free delivery and pick-up at our condo!

If you haven’t had a chance to try one of these, especially as a retiree, I would highly recommend giving this experience a chance.  Even if you haven’t ridden in years it all comes back.  The phrase, “It’s just like riding a bike” comes to mind.  I found that my mind and body didn’t forget and once I adjusted to the way an E-Bike performs I was hooked.

Each of three mornings before our evening wedding-related activities we set off on an adventure. We road the trail to the San Clemente Pier twice, enjoyed the Lantern District, explored Laguna Niguel, and even braved the Pacific Coast Highway (or as the locals say the “PCH”.)

On an E-bike you are still riding and pedaling – it is not a motorcycle or a moped.  You’ll definitely feel it the next day. But when you are going up a hill, you can turn a magic lever and get a little “assist.” On our rentals there was a “governor” that limited our speeds, however, these heavy, bulletproof, fat-tired bikes flew up some pretty steep hills.  For us, it was a game-changer.

We had such a fun experience we are thinking about buying a pair of E-Bikes to take on road trips and camping.  We’ll just wait a bit until the supply chain stabilizes.  What was a little surprising was how long we spent riding each day.  Instead of being exhausted after a few hills, we spent five to six hours outdoors each day and traveled on average between 20 and 25 miles.  We went everywhere!!  Secured with a lock on a bike rack, we could take a break to explore and get a beverage or lunch.

We saw so many places we would have never seen riding in a car and navigating traffic.  The bike lanes in this area were separated by either wide spaces, medians, or sidewalks. We felt safe, enjoyed the beautiful weather, explored numerous beaches and parks.  We even spent time watching the surfers in the Pacific Ocean.

E-Bikes in Retirement with Barbara Mock

Retirement is providing numerous opportunities to take adventures and try new things.  While biking is something we did when we were younger it was exciting to realize that with E-Bikes, even as our bodies age we can still get outside, enjoy nature and fly up those hills!

Lipstick, Dresses and Shoes

I read somewhere that retail sales have been surging on lipstick, dresses, and shoes. I imagine this is because, following a year of mandatory masks and lockdowns, contrasted with vaccinations and lower infection numbers, the entire world has decided to reschedule weddings, parties, family reunions, and travel for the summer of 2021.

We had been invited to a dear friend’s son’s wedding nearly two years ago but due to the pandemic, this was going to be their third wedding date! Since the wedding was out of state, it required a plane ride, rental car and we decided to sleep in a vacation rental to be safer.  This way we could come early and leave a few days later.

It was so exciting to prepare for a wedding.  The bride and groom are adorable and they have been waiting so long for this. We were thrilled to celebrate this long-delayed special occasion.

Not a surprise, but the big issue was that nothing in our closets seemed to fit the same way.  Luckily we did a survey of our formal attire choices soon enough to realize that we would both need to purchase something new.  I can’t remember a time in my life where I haven’t purchases any clothes for so long.  

As a new retiree, I don’t need to shop for workwear anymore and I now have plenty of shorts and tops for the summer, along with my new golf outfits.  Not so with our formal wear.  My husband opted for an online shopping experience and he purged and replaced all of the older fancy clothes in his closet, a rare occasion.

I, on the other hand, asked a friend who is an amazing shopper to help me find something to wear to a “black-tie optional” formal wedding.  After so many months at home, to finally go on a shopping trip, have lunch and a car ride was a long-overdue treat. Even my least favorite thing, finding shoes, turned out to be a positive experience.

With masks coming off it has been wonderful to actually see big smiles and the lower half of people’s faces.  Lipstick was definitely on my shopping list too.  

Everything about the wedding was fantastic.  The weather in southern California on the coast was gorgeous, the venue a five-star experience, and the ceremony touching and beautiful.  At the reception following the ceremony, the meal, music, and dancing all combined for a memorable night. 

What struck me was how much we can take for granted.  Before the pandemic and my retirement, I’m not sure that I always just took a moment to truly appreciate the life I was experiencing.  I was busy and always in a hurry and tired.

1 year retirement journey with Barbara Mock

But post retirement I have had time.  For this wedding, I was able to notice a gorgeous bride’s smile, a beaming groom, and the tears in their parents’ eyes.  I saw the tiny flower girl walking with her beautiful mother, smelled the soft breeze, felt the sunshine on my face, and heard the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. The dream and vision of the bride and her family was now finally fulfilled by the hardworking musicians, florists, photographers, chef, bartenders, waitstaff and DJ. 

I’m so grateful for this time in my life and I feel privileged that for just a few days that I was finally free to put on some lipstick, a pretty dress, and a new pair of dancing shoes. Dancing with my sweetheart as the moon was rising is an experience I’ll never forget.

Walking To School

One of the many blessings of retirement is the opportunity to help out my son and daughter-in-law.  Now that I’m retired, whenever they need a Nana to “stand in the gap” they know they can call.  If my schedule is open, I’m there!

As working parents and with all of the transitions associated with virtual learning during the pandemic, it has been a challenging year. They are working parents that sometimes need some help driving or picking up kids.  With a huge network in their neighborhood, they have lots of help, but sometimes it is nice to give their friends’ parents a break.

For me, the month of June feels like we are in an endless summer of travel, hiking adventures, golf trips, and reconnecting with friends and family. But in between trips I have been able to schedule a few days to spend at their house.

Last week, I was able to walk them to school, pick them up and take them out to their favorite lunch place on a rainy day. On another day I drove to soccer practice and watched my grandson do some drills. For some of the time, I was laying on the grass looking up at the sky with my granddaughter as the warm day cooled and the sun was setting. During the 90 minutes we were watching him, she and I had some really important life conversations. During the day, in between all the coming and going while their parents worked, I was able to clean the kitchen, throw in some laundry and get dinner started. Tucking them in at night, saying prayers, and singing songs is something I have missed in the years between when my own children grew up. While I was tired at the end of the day I felt like I was making an important contribution to their lives.

Walking to schoolI had a grateful moment on the way to class a few days ago.  They both held my hand and asked me to tell them stories about the past.  Lately, they have been asking for stories of my childhood. Sometimes they want to hear funny stories about their dad when he was a little boy. We’ve even talked about wars, the civil rights movement, and our country’s history! It all starts with a question they have and then I try to answer accurately and honestly. This has even caused us to look things up, research online, or look for movies and stories that supports some answers to their questions or even gives a different perspective. They are extremely fascinated by the scores of images that I can almost immediately find on my phone.

As I walked back to their home with their pandemic puppy Millie, I took a deep breath and praised God for the precious gift of time. I am so grateful for uninterrupted, intentional conversations with their trusting eyes looking up at me and saying, “Tell us another story, Nana!”

At church last week, our pastor shared about how important it is that all of us prepare the next generation. In fact, he preached an entire sermon on this topic!  The scripture was from Psalm 78:4-6.  It says in part: 

“We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children,”

I was challenged by this and lately have been adding a spiritual component or a moral message to my stories each time we are together. My stories now always have a purpose and a lesson. They keep asking so many questions!  Sometimes it can be exhausting but I know that now is the window of time that I get to speak truth into their little lives.  In a few short years, they’ll be forming their own beliefs and choosing who they will serve and what they will believe.

I’ve been remembering the book I read when my kids were young, “The Five Love Languages for Children” by Dr. Gary Chapman. 

I believe that both of my grandkids give and receive love the best through quality time and words of affirmation.  My grandson though especially appreciates physical touch. His hugs are the best! I’m treasuring these moments with them. I’m continually mindful of preparing for that last time I’ll get to do this.  I know they won’t always want to hold my hand and ask for a story on the way to school.  In just a few short years they’ll be driving themselves!

So here is a challenge:  As a retiree, even if you don’t yet have grandkids, I think the extra time you now have could be well spent preparing the next generation.  Maybe there are kids in your neighborhood or your church that might need your kindness and friendship.  There could be nieces, nephews, or young people that could learn from you. Take a few minutes to think about ways you could find to share your wisdom and experience. 

In fact, after that sermon, I began looking for ways to prepare the next generation in my own neighborhood. I imagine that was the purpose of the message that day, because for a week in July, I’ll be a small group leader for Vacation Bible School. Even now I’m planning for Nana Camp at the end of the month when we’ll have all four grandkids at once!

I’m so glad I was blessed to be able to stop working and retire so that I can experience these everyday moments. I know the window will close before I’m ready for it. 

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