Gratitude for the Perfect Home

Gratitude fills the air this time of year. Many of the stories I’ve received give thanks for homes and communities that are sustaining and supporting us as we age. Jean has given me permission to tell her story. When I interviewed Jean for The Perfect Home For a Long Life she was 70 years old and living in a second-floor suite of rooms in a rambling 1910 heritage home owned by a childhood friend. Several years earlier her marriage had fallen apart and she was happy to retreat to the welcoming sanctuary of this home-like environment. That was four years ago. A couple of months ago Jean broke her ankle in one of those classic accidents, stepping the wrong way on a curb outside the store while her arms were laden with groceries. The break was bad enough that surgery was required to insert metal supports to shore up the bones. She’s still in recovery with probably six more weeks to go. You know it’s serious when the doctor says you aren’t allowed to put any weight on your leg - for months.

At this point, you’re probably trying to envision Jean struggling on one leg up the precarious narrow stairway of the hundred-year-old home - but your imagination is failing. There are 15 stairs by the way, and the same number to get into the house from the street. Knowing these old homes you would have guessed accurately that there are few bathroom facilities on the ground floor – in this case, only a toilet and tiny sink, with no bath or shower, but the room is too narrow for a wheel chair or walker, anyway.  Regardless, there is no room on the ground floor available for Jean to stay – even temporarily.

But Jean’s timing was impeccable. About a year and a half before her accident she realized it was time to move and her one criteria was that the building should have an elevator. One of Jean’s friends noticed a well-priced condo was available in an ideal location, and another friend with interior design skills helped ease Jean's apprehension about downsizing to a 600 sq. ft. home after being used to a large house. “I was so worried about the size and shouldn’t have been,” Jean says. “This darling apartment is perfect for me. It’s cozy, has a great view, and is really bright. There’s a balcony that’s just right for sitting on and growing a few things. And I’m on the top floor so I can hear the rain on the roof.  I’m grateful that when the universe gave me a thump and broke my ankle I was living here. I'm in the perfect place for my three-month recovery. First I hopped around with a two-wheeled walker and now I’ve graduated to a knee scooter and I scoot around happily. I hope I don’t have to move again until I’m carried off.”


Opportunities for Second Youth

Being interviewed by the talented and thoughtful Nam Kiwanuka on TVOntario’s Agenda in the Summer was such a pleasure. Nam has a real following judging from the feedback I received when our interview aired late last month.

One of the delightful responses I received was from Nancy Angus of Thunder Bay. Nancy was particularly taken with my response to Nam’s query about whether I was optimistic about retirement. I explained that I am optimistic because the concept of retiring - pulling back from life and from engagement - is completely out-dated. We need all the assets and skills of our retirees to be fully engaged. I said I’d love to see the development of an “Opportunities For Second Youth,” which would galvanize seniors to participate in community building projects across the country. (Also see the Huffington Post article)

Nancy wrote to say that my comments about “Opportunities For Second Youth” made her want to jump into action and help launch something like this.  Back in 1978, she was a participant in the federal youth program Katimavik.  “I’ve always felt that there could be a market for those of us “seasoned” youth!” she says.  Nancy would be an ideal person to have on this team. She just retired from the Recreation Division with the City of Thunder Bay and has been working on her encore career phase helping with age-friendly initiatives and recreation for seniors strategies.

You'll get a sense of Nancy's spunk by watching the digital story she produced called “Goddess of the Deep End”  It’s about her journey of learning to swim at age 55.

If you’d like to contact Nancy to talk more about her interests click on Contact Us on the left column and I’ll put you in touch.


Women and Retirement

     When I spoke with my publisher about writing a book on retirement we tossed around the theme “men are from Mars and women are from Venus.” The stereotype is that men are attached to their work so they have difficulty retiring. But when it comes to women, although they may enjoy their work, they don’t have as much difficulty saying goodbye because they have many other irons in the fire and are more likely to have strong networks of family and friends. But I was reluctant to go down this road because I had seen many examples of the converse. I knew women who had struggled in retirement and men who found this stage of life to be a time of reinvention and jubilation.

     To do the topic justice, I felt I needed to focus on one gender and I chose to look at what was happening to my generation of men when they hit retirement-age. One of the happy outcomes of this decision is that many women have told me they identify with the men’s stories and find them equally reflective of their own connection to work and their experience with retirement. I received the following thoughtful feedback from Anne-Marie Bugeaud. Her own dad worked until he was 78, then died at 80. “I vividly remember him always wanting and needing to be active,” she says, “always meeting people, staying energetic and vibrant and being a great inspiration to his family and friends.”

     She writes, “Why would it be any easier for women to adapt to retirement than for men? For the past three or four decades women have invaded the workplace, many as either the main or sole bread winner, many others were single or single moms, in all walks of life, from teachers, psychologists, to doctors, nurses, programmers, engineers, architects, police officers, managers, business owners. etc. Therefore for women, as for men, work is often extremely rewarding and gratifying in many more aspects than just the financial side. We invest so much for so many years that when we retire, we face similar psychological, intellectual and emotional challenges. We can fall in the same kind of ‘black hole’ that some men do. It is as difficult to find valuable gratifying replacement activities, we feel useless at times, and we also appreciate not having to deal with the stress of a constantly overbooked agenda. The fact is, we have not left our brain and our heart at work and we still wish to use them in a positive way.”

                        Authors for Indies at Tanner's Books in book city BC


Men’s Sheds

           For the past three years, the Okanagan Men’s Shed has been bringing men in the Kelowna area together for coffee, friendship, and woodworking. In addition to pursuing their own projects, the men have constructed frames for local fairs, built shelves for a seniors centre, and held workshops in the library. There are seven sheds in Canada with more in development and when I’m being interviewed about retirement strategies, the men’s sheds movement really captures people’s interest. For good reason. When men have a place to hang out and tackle fun community-minded projects, research shows benefits all round. For the men, the camaraderie improves mental and physical well-being. “Health by stealth” they call it. Communities gain from the useful projects. And the peer counseling the men provide each other takes a load off service providers and reduces demands on government programs.

            Art Post is the founder and President of the Okanagan Men’s Shed. He was inspired to investigate the concept when his son told him about the Australian men’s sheds movement, which began in the mid-90’s. There are now about one thousand sheds in Australia and they receive significant government funding in recognition of their contribution to personal and community well-being.

            The Okanagan Men’s Shed has made great strides in educating people about the concept and recruiting members. They currently have 25-30 members, of which about 15 are active. Art is particularly pleased they’ve been able to recruit people with the organizational skills needed to keep the group running. Their current challenge is to find an affordable work space that could accommodate larger scale projects. OKMSA has deliberately kept its membership fees low ($20/year) to ensure broad participation, so large expenditures such as space rental would require external funding.

            OKMSA has focused on building relationships with other community organizations, including tapping into the resources of the UBC Okanagan campus. Business students developed their business plan, and engineering students brain-stormed strategies for member recruitment. One outcome was a brochure targeting the partners of retired men, positioning OKMSA as a “cure for the underfoot spouse.”

            Last year the sheds movement in Canada got a big boost with the establishment of the Canadian Men’s Sheds Association. CMSA aims to connect existing sheds, help start new ones, and raise awareness of the social, physical, and emotional health benefits. You can find a “Shed Startup Toolkit” on their website. Two webinars hosted by UBC Okanagan provide additional insights - one offered in January 2016 and another in January 2015.


You Made a Best Seller!

Dear readers - thank you for buying Ready to Retire? in droves. You put the book on The Globe and Mail best seller list where it's stayed for the past five weeks. I'm very grateful to the hard-working journalists who discussed the book on TV, radio, print, blogs, videos, podcasts, Twitter, and Facebook. You'll find links to some of the coverage under MEDIA. To give you a flavour - I did 22 CBC interviews with radio morning show hosts from Gander, Newfoundland, to Whitehorse, to Victoria, and spots in between - and three CBC regional phone-in shows in the Maritimes, Alberta and BC. The article written by Victoria Ahearn, Canadian Press' multi-talented writer and videographer was picked up by newspapers from coast to coast and her video posted on news sites. It was great fun being on CTV's The Social and Sirius XM What She Said with their engaging hosts and dedicated audiences. And Global News and its committed newscasters have a serious following. I heard from many people who caught that piece.

None of this would have happened without the top-notch publicity team at HarperCollins especially Julia Barrett and Jason Pratt. I am particularly grateful to the 150 of you who came to the book launch and to Stephanie Woodward, ED of Ryerson's Pension Innovation and Research Centre and to her colleagues for hosting the event. Thank you all. It takes a big village to launch a book.

With Julia Barrett at Harper Collins