Eularee Smith
Writer & Educator

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Snow in AugustWatchersRising SunThe Andromeda StrainThe ShiningThe Hunt for Red October

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Starting the New Year Healthy, Wealthy and Wiser

Happy New Year! We start the year off with resolutions to do better, feel better, work better. All good intentions, some of which come to fruition, while others fall by the wayside. It is perhaps the best and worst day of the year. A clean slate to begin again, or setting ourselves up to fail. A blessing or a curse, who can tell. Until the ball falls in Times Square 364 days from now, it is anybody's guess.

For me, this year was not the worst but rather an ongoing struggle financially. One of my three jobs ended in August, the monthly column was dropped after 7 years and have not published a single piece since. The monthly worry was looming large as the end of the year approached. 

Physically, I was given another reprieve as a cancer survivor. The best part of the year is my end of the year checkup to make sure that all systems are go and the new year will still have me to kick around. As of December 3, this makes 23 years of survival. Although to get through each day, you remind yourself of the blessings, you still look over your shoulder until the pronouncement that you are "normal". Sounds odd to a survivor, as nothing ever feels normal again after cancer.

I am, however, the wiser for the year past. 2013 was the year of decisions. I have decided that I want to retire. It never seemed possible to me and over many a dinner, it has been discussed with friends who felt the same. A dream once possessed by our parents, touted by financial planners with their talk of 401K and IRAs. The reality was looking much different than the promise and the golden years were looking more like fools gold. 

Rather than wait for the hard realities to take shape into truth, I made a conscious decision to plan to retire. Once my head was in that game, it was interesting how the impossible changed to possible. No magic potion or spell made the stars begin to align. Instead it was a change in the wind, or course, or attitude, to stop wishing, hoping and dreaming of the some day, and start planning for the day to arrive. 

Here are few tips to make retirement seem possible.

1) Apply for early social security. In my case, it was a small amount because I chose to stay home with my kids for almost 40 years. But it was enough to make the house payment.

2) Pare down. If you don't need it, sell it, recycle, donate, hand it down. This is a great way to focus on what is important. How many things do we really need? Could someone else benefit more? Would our kids like a certain treasure that sits and collects dust? It is a process but a worthy endeavor.

3) Find time for yourself. Just you. This is an extraordinary feat in my life, but once I did it, I was amazed at how other things fell into place. Somehow we become lost in the daily routine of worry, loss, grief, struggle and stress. Taking a time out, often is the cheapest form of therapy to find our way. I chose Tai Chi. The practice has helped me to slow down my life and my thinking.

4) Learn to say no. Admittedly, I am not even close to making this a habit rather than a rare occurence. It is however, helping me to understand that the world will not go spinning off it's axis when I do cry uncle. 

5) Make a timeline. I want to retire in the next 3 years. I set specific goals and laid a course that is doable in that timeframe. Getting your ducks in a row includes managing your living arrangements (keeping up property, house, driving). You may find that living closer to town or family or being within walking distance of your favorite haunts will serve you better over the course of time. Think ahead to avoid fewer choices in the end.

6) Eat healthy. Come on, this is not that hard. It isn't about living longer. It's about living better.

7) Teach by example, rather than preach to deaf ears. We all come to wisdom by means of mistakes, regrets and hindsight. This is not easily translated to those who have barely begun the journey and perhaps not the best use of the wisdom you have acquired. Live what you have learned.

That's it. Time to decide what you want to be when you grow up. Stop waiting for the golden years. Make your years golden. 

Any tips you can share would be greatly appreciated.

Happy New Attitude! 

Image: Flickr image by 123newyear1


The Ultimate Facelift

Ever wonder why your mother’s face keeps looking back at you in the mirror? Have you finally learned what Isaac Newton discovered hundreds of years ago? What goes up will eventually come down. Are you trying to understand what is so funny about laugh lines?

Welcome to the wonderful world of aging. Turning 21 suddenly transformed you from a child to an adult, while turning 60 moves you from adult to that, pardon the pun, grey area of senior status. The good news is there is a whole new beauty that awaits you.

Why do we say that a bride is radiant? Is it her make-up, the new do or the gown? What about the expectant mother? Is her radiance dependent on the size of her belly? What makes a woman radiant? Does her ability to be radiant diminish at age 60?

Unfortunately, radiance does not come in a bottle of wrinkle cream or through the art of aesthetic surgery. Quite the contrary. It comes in the form of a life altering experience, one that can come at any age. I have witnessed women who have survived breast cancer, lymphoma, divorce, death of a loved one or other tragic circumstances and the triumph brings a radiance to their eyes and skin that no miracle fountain of youth can provide.

It would seem that radiance is not something bought, but something sparked. A new bride is radiant because she has embarked upon a transformation of being one, to being one of two. A new mother radiates not only the new life from within but also her own transformation of self to selfless for another human being. It is the same life altering transformation that brilliantly shines through a survivor of any tragic life circumstance. The knowledge that one can spring forth from the ashes, perhaps forever physically altered, but certainly mentally reinforced that makes survival the ultimate radiant facelift. The radiance is so deep it defies wrinkles and gravity is no match for its brilliance. Like perfume, it's unique glow is defined by the very woman who possesses it and is as viral as the common cold.

It is the women who sport this glow that find the face of their mothers in the mirror one of comfort, humor, vitality and inspiration as they begin to recognize the strength that lies in the radiance of age.

Image: Flickr by emmar 


Weekly Photo Challenge: Good Morning!

Have you ever had one of those mornings, when right side up is definitely upside down? No, it is not necessarily Monday or it can be a whole week of Mondays. There you are thinking your day is off to a good start, coffee steaming in hand and then it all falls apart.

I spend more time looking for things than I do actually using them. Before you start throwing the "old age" stereotype at me, look in the mirror. Yes, you with the dyed hair or botox treatments or perhaps you are 16 and can't find your homework. Maybe you are 25 and can't find your phone or 35 and can't find your car keys. Having one of those days is as common as the cold and it knows no age or gender boundaries, just in case you men out there thought it was a "Venus" thing.

Years of Monday mornings have taught me one thing, the more you freak out about it, the less likely you are to find it, fix it or not be stuck in a continual loop for the rest of the Mondays of your week. The less I look, the more I find. Stop working against the clock and work with it. Having an extra minute of zen time is much more likely to produce results than putting a bag over your head to stop hyperventilating. In this case, ignorance is bliss. Admitting that it is within my grasp, on the tip of my tongue or at least on the same planet, often gives me better results to having a good morning, rather than spinning my wheels in absolute desperation. 

My advice to having a good morning, is being grateful you even woke up. How bad can the rest of the day be?

What advice to you have to getting your morning off to a good start?

Image: photo from my library, the head is covered to protect the innocent


Ebb and Flow

As I enter the sixth decade of my life, I can’t help but look back, while at the same time I keep moving forward. The ebb and flow of life really didn’t hit me until I was in my 40’s, more predominantly in my 50’s and now in my 60’s I hope there is a little more flow than ebb.

Recognizing the times in your life when things definitely seem to be pulling us back rather than moving us forward is important. Ebb and flow are not in opposition but rather a constant motion that should remind us how fleeting and precious life on this planet can be.

I spent a decade in cancer recovery in my 40’s. Like the sands slipping through your toes on the beach, I felt like my life was slipping through my fingers and I had to hold on tight everyday or be washed away in the pain and fear. It was sheer tenacity and my three kids that kept me from surrendering to the constant ebb of that tide.

In my late 50’s, when my brother died and then my dad a few months later, both by tragic circumstances, the ebb of their lives pulling away from mine was agonizing. There was no way out but to claw my way back into life and focus on making them present to restore the flow.

Now in my 60’s, I feel the flow returning, albeit slowly. I look forward to retiring, not from life but from the day-to-day grind that ebbs my energy. My flow consists of boundless energy. Rather than harness it, though, I want more of a daily ebb and flow. Choosing the projects to focus my attentions and releasing those that are moving against the flow, letting them ebb into oblivion, a part of the past, a fond memory as I move forward.

Ebbs and flows are not moments of angst as I once thought. They are moments of gaining strength to meet the next challenge. Together these forces create great power, and like the ocean, can be as calming as they are forbidding. Learning to ride out these tides is an inevitable lesson of life. As my grandmother would tell us as children, this too shall pass. I like Bette Davis’ line. “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Image: flickr by Nouhallier


If our lives were on video tape

Have you ever thought about what you would do if your life was on video tape? Just hit rewind and have a do-over? Would you delete portions of the tape or fast forward out of those regrettable moments? There are so many times I wish it was that simple. Viewing our lives with 20/20 hindsight would make editing much easier, but alas, the tape keeps rolling.

New scenario. What if you could slow life down and enjoy the good times longer. A little slo mo at just the right moments like a wedding, a birth, graduation, or vacation while speeding through the tough times like cancer recovery, a death, sleepless nights or a divorce. Manipulating time to our advantage might make hanging around until we are 100 years old, worth the trip. 

Does time speed up when we are anticipating a momentous occasion and drag when we are dreading a difficult life change? In our 60's does time move faster than it did when we were 10 and it seemed like an endless summer? Our parents told us repeatedly not to be in a hurry to grow up and yet it was agonizingly slow until we were considered adults. Now we look back and have a hard time believing that not only are we adults, but we are seniors demanding our senior discount and filing for social security.

Logically time is relative. Although it is an eternity until Santa comes down the chimney on Christmas eve, it is a quick trip from the cradle to the grave. The old saying "stop and smell the roses" doesn't actually stop time, but it encourages us to think of time as moments we can choose to slow down. On the other hand, I am not familiar with any sayings that prompt us to skip ahead. On the contrary, it's usually one day at a time, or one foot in front of the other as if the journey were designed to be a lengthy one.

I suppose the best advice here is to remember that without a bad day we would not appreciate (or need) to slow down and smell the roses on the good day. Living each day, for what it is worth, is really the only option left to us. So I guess we make the most of every day, good or bad, better or worse, sickness or health, fortune or poverty, but ultimately it is one day at a time.

What would you do if your life was on video tape?

Images: flickr image by grilled cheese

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