Living with Passion


Growing Older Isn’t For Sissies

As my friend Herb often says, “Growing older isn’t for sissies.” Everyday, we 50+ folks know he’s right. Along with all the other issues we face, as a man, I long ago had that experience of looking in the mirror and seeing my father. For women, aging in a society that celebrates glamour and youth, the mirror can become a dreaded enemy.

Each year, we seniors spend millions of dollars trying to look better (younger) and that probably isn’t a bad thing. When I compare our generation to previous ones, I do believe we are in pretty good shape physically and have aged quite well. I think it’s great that the majority of us continue to groom ourselves nicely and dress somewhat fashionably. I smile while writing that last line because I’ve never been known as a “clothes horse.” If you don’t understand that reference, you’re too young to be reading this blog.

So, what’s the point? The point is, as seniors, we will not win the battle against physical aging. We should stay in good condition, eat well and all the rest, but we are not going to overcome the changes aging will bring about. The wrinkles will come ever faster, the hair we love will thin, and the hair we don’t want will flourish. We need to develop an attitude of acceptance toward physical aging. Of course, my wife Trisha does not accept my view on this subject and has vowed to “go down swinging.”

I raise this issue to preface what I consider to be a more important aspect of the aging process, our minds. To me, the biggest difference I observe among people as they get older is not physical, but mental. I’m not talking about loss of mental acuity, but simply how people use or don’t use their minds. Some seem very engaged concerning current events, new ideas, and even strive to be creative and contribute to society. As Trisha and I wrote in our book, it seems as though retired life for many simply means not having a job any longer. We discovered so many folks in our age group who did not have a plan or set goals for their future. This isn’t a criticism per se because we firmly believe everyone should spend every phase of their lives as they choose. We simply find it curious that so many find themselves in such deep routines, often seem bored, and quite frankly, unhappy. The fact is, planning or not, life does happen.

In our case, my wife and I can’t think of anything more interesting or rewarding than meeting new people, having new experiences, creating something new, or seeing new places around the corner or around the world. I often think about the question I used to get during my teaching career. It was, “Why do you like teaching?” My response was always, “Because I learn so much.” I had to continually read new books, review the latest research, meet new students, learn and evaluate new ideas, and create ways to put them forth. It was always new and exhilarating. I guess that helped shape my views on how I wanted to spend my retired life. I can only say it works for me and my wife, but others must choose the path that works best for them. Choose wisely. As someone once said, “This is your life; it’s not the dress rehearsal.” We’ll drink to that.

Trisha and John Parker

Trisha and John Parker

 

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Socialization and Travel

Both in our book and in our presentations, my wife Trisha and I stress the importance of socialization as one grows older. There is overwhelming evidence that a senior’s physical and emotional health, as well as increased longevity on average is directly affected by frequent and continued socialization. Growing older in isolation is one of the worst things we can do in our retired life years.

Obviously, this is more difficult for some than others. I’m sure my friends would laugh and most likely be surprised to know that basically I’ve always been a bit shy. Once I get to know someone, I have no problem, but for most of my life I’ve found it difficult to be “outgoing” and social. Fortunately, I married someone who is probably one of the most friendly and outgoing people on the planet. I continue to learn from her each day and have actually gone through a bit of a change on the social front.

For those who read this blog, you know my wife Trisha and I love to travel. Certainly, our children, grandkids, and friends are the most important components of our lives, but the occasional travel adventure is the extra spice to our retired life. While we love seeing new sights and having different experiences, we have discovered that meeting and getting to know people from all over the world is both a learning experience and great fun. To know it’s also good for our well-being is icing on the cake.

In this case, due to unforeseen circumstances, we had to cancel a previously planned trip with our good friends and travel companions. In just a few days, Trisha put together a completely different trip through northern Europe to experience places we had not yet visited. As usual, she did a great job and we had a wonderful adventure together.

While we were warned weather is always an issue in this part of Europe, good fortune was with us and our weather was glorious. The sites, sounds, food, and most of all, the people were all wonderfully educational and interesting. We were once again struck by how remarkably easy it is to meet, converse, and even strike up friendships with people from other cultures. Not surprisingly, we all seem to want the same things, but politics and power seem to get into the way with our world leaders. I know this is quite a simplistic thought, and there are very real threats in the world, but as it was once said, “can’t we all just get along?”

Here is a brief summary of the places and people we encountered during our trip:

In addition to visiting all the sights of London, we shared conversations with Jerry and Marita at our hotel, and then the better part of a late evening with Canadians Colin and Monie at a local ice cream parlor. They were an extremely nice couple. Obviously, we were curious about the food in London, and I must say the Pub scene is great fun.

We would recommend The Queen’s Arm’s near Victoria Station for fish and chips and a tankard of ale. A real surprise was an Asian restaurant named A.Wongs. It was gourmet food with over the top preparation, taste, and presentation like nothing I’ve ever had before. Perfection would be the word I would use.

Trisha and John Parker at The Queen's Arms

Trisha and John Parker
at The Queen’s Arms

The Queens Arms

The Queens Arms

A. Wongs

A. Wongs

On a flight to Stockholm, I was privileged to meet a terrific man named Urban who provided me with valuable insights into Swedish culture and politics. Our first and lasting impression of this city was entirely positive. It was very clean, the people were exceptionally friendly, and ladies forgive me, some of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. Trisha might have called me sexist, but she was very busy looking at all the handsome men. Our first morning at a sidewalk bistro was very enjoyable.

Trisha and John Parker Morning in Stockholm

Trisha and John Parker
Morning in Stockholm

On our first night in Stockholm, we discovered a little bistro called Ristorante 60 with both indoor and sidewalk tables. Next to us were two interesting young musicians and graduate music students named Phillip and Victor. Although we were a bit travel weary and there was a definite age difference, we actually wound up closing the place. Time flies. Here’s Trisha with the manager.

Trisha Parker Ristorante 60

Trisha Parker
Ristorante 60

The next night, at a local pub we met three truly great young men, Joe, Andrew, and Joe (we think he said Joe because he was sure we would not be able to pronounce his name). They had all returned from their second tour as part of a peace-keeping force in Afganistan. They could not have been more interesting and were so humble when we thanked them for their service. It was another wonderful evening.

While we enjoyed everything about this beautiful city, a true highlight was our visit to Millesgarden. This is the estate, now museum of famous sculpture Carl Milles and his artist wife Olga. The estate sits perched atop a hillside overlooking the water and city of Stockholm. While the art is magnificent and inspirational, the serenity was refreshing. We stopped often just to sit and take in the sheer beauty of this truly must-see location.

Millesgarden

Millesgarden

Millesgarden

Millesgarden

I should mention that when Swedish musical legends ABBA needed a couple to fill in for one performance, Trisha and I helped out.

Trisha and John Parker

Trisha and John Parker

Should anyone be planning a trip to Stockholm, Trisha and I highly recommend the Miss Clara Hotel. It’s an eight story former girl’s school that has been remodeled and transformed into a bright and modern place to stay. It has a beautiful restaurant and a great sauna. Obviously, many hotels have similar amenities, but it’s the warm and professional staff that sets this hotel apart from the others.

Traveling to Copenhagen, we had the pleasure of meeting Christian and Caroline and their beautiful family while having lunch on New Haven Street along the canal. Each of them warm, friendly, and with a great sense of humor. We had many different servers at our outside tables, and only one of them did not seem to speak English. Finally, while Christian was helping me figure out my bill, I asked him if the tip was included. He said, “Yes, I believe the tip is included.” Our non-English speaking server was just walking by the table, and in a very loud voice in perfect English said, “The tip is not included!” We all laughed hysterically at this very funny moment.

Trisha and John Parker Copenhagen

Trisha and John Parker
Copenhagen

Of course, among the dozens of amazing sites in Copenhagen, a tourist simply cannot miss the Little Mermaid.

Trisha and John Parker  The Little Mermaid

Trisha and John Parker
The Little Mermaid

In Amsterdam, we had the pleasure of meeting Doug and Joan, and Jim and Judy while visiting the Anne Frank house. It was a moving experience and afterward we all found a canal-side restaurant with the best Panini I’ve ever tasted. These folks turned out to be wonderful company and after lunch we actually wound up walking through various parts of the city together. The next morning, along a canal we had morning coffee for Trisha and the best hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted. The sightseeing then continued. O. K., we did share that pastry.

Trisha and John Parker Morning / Amsterdam

Trisha and John Parker
Morning / Amsterdam

 

For our next stop we headed to Brussels and on the train met a very interesting young Frenchman and world traveler named Stephane. It so happened that while we were there, the G7 leaders were meeting which gave the city an extra sense of activity with helicopters, limos, and lots of police escorts flying through the city streets. On our last day there, while boarding a bus to visit the Atomium, the last site on our list, the driver said he did not take credit cards. Not having enough Euros left, and getting near the end of the day, our plans would have been crushed. Total strangers Denny and Mary spoke up and offered their own money to buy our tickets. Obviously, we later reimbursed them, but what a wonderful gesture. The Atomium was the high point of the 1957 Brussels World Fair and it was a stopping point recently on T.V.’s Amazing Race. We loved it, especially the rocket ship feeling on the high speed elevator to the top.

Trisha and John Parker Brussels Atomium

Trisha and John Parker
Brussels Atomium

After our days in Brussels, we traveled through northern France and then crossed the English Channel at the same time the Allies had done exactly 70 years before. Of course, we were going the opposite direction toward London, but it still gave us a bit of a chill, especially knowing Trisha’s father was one of those D-Day heroes.

Just one more mention of kindness from others we received on this wonderful adventure. On our original flight from San Francisco to London aboard Virgin Atlantic, the flight crew was sensational. Trisha noticed several of the women had their hair in beautiful tight bun-like configurations. She asked one of the attendants how their hair was styled so perfectly. It turns out it’s with the simple use of a mesh “doughnut.” Flight attendant Claire asked us about our travel plans and we gave her our dates. Two and a half weeks later, when we arrived at the gate at Heathrow in London, Claire was there waving at Trisha. They embraced and then Claire gave Trisha a bag with a hair “doughnut” she had purchased for her.

The answer to the question is, “Yes, we can all get along.” Thank you to all the special people who made our trip so much fun. It’s clear that socialization, maybe even especially while traveling makes our lives much richer and far better.

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Bucket List Category: Reconnecting

As readers of this blog know, I believe people of retirement age should spend their time doing exactly what they want to do. That means continuing to work if they so desire (or must for financial reasons), traveling, taking care of grandkids, lying around by the pool, golfing, fishing, volunteering, or pursuing any of the items on their bucket list.

While my wife Trisha and I have been taking a break from many of our normal activities over the last several weeks, we have been able to pursue a few of our bucket list goals. While we did spend a lot of time taking long walks and relaxing in the Florida sun and traveling to historic places in the southeast, it was our bucket list pursuit of reconnecting with old friends that really made our time away special. 

During the Viet Nam era, I served in the United States Air Force. After my technical school training I was assigned to Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio Texas. After that, I was assigned to a NATO base in a remote area of southern Italy. My friends and co-workers were all young and it was a crazy time in our lives. A few of us got married and we all supported one another. With little money in a small Italian village, it was a no frills life to be sure.

Of course, that was a lifetime ago, but during our recent travels we were able to reconnect with some of those wonderful people from our past. First, we met Duane and his wife Barb at a Daytona Beach restaurant in the shadow of the raceway. It was for lunch, but we spent over four hours catching up and telling war stories. He and Barb had married since we last saw Duane so many years ago and he is now retired. She was terrific and we had a great time getting to know her and hearing about their family and life together.  

After a brief time in Savannah, we traveled on to South Carolina where we met our friends Dan and Marian. These folks were newly weds when we first met in Texas, and we later lived in the same little apartments over an electronics shop in the Italian village of Mesagne. That was over 40 years ago, but we were able to pick up where we left off as though it was yesterday. There wasn’t enough time to catch up completely, so after another week of travel, Trisha and I invited them to Florida where we spent four days having fun and simply spending time together. It could not have been better.

Of all the categories on our bucket list, catching up with friends and family is certainly one of the most rewarding. Is there someone in your past with whom you would like to reconnect? Get to it. Let me know how it worked out.

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I Get It. I’m Getting Older

          This is a tricky one. I value all my family and friends dearly and don’t want to offend anyone. But enough is enough. For some reason, a number of folks in my age group seem to be obsessed with getting older. That’s fine and it’s really none of my business nor should I be evaluating their fixations or state of mind. But some lines are being crossed. 

If you have reached your golden years, perhaps you will identify with my dilemma. In a nutshell, it seems I can’t go a day without someone telling me how worthless they’ve become because they couldn’t think of a name or some other fact. This is always accompanied with the obligatory complaint about growing old. Also, every day my email contains more than one “funny” cartoon and/or forward about the perils of growing older. 

In a lesser vein, I also receive numerous emails taking strolls down memory lane. Did you know everything was better back in the good old days? Performers, automobiles, and virtually every other thing you can think of. Really? You may actually have some memory issues. 

Now before someone actually gets angry, let me say I understand. Fact is we do slow down in almost every way as we age. And yes, I would love to be riding around in my red ’56 Chevy. But here’s the deal. We are living in this world today. Key word here is living. Sure, we have some years on us, but there are questions we could be asking and answering each day. What would be productive and interesting for me? What can I accomplish? Who can I help? What would be fun? 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not up in some ivory tower scolding and passing judgment. I’m an observer of the aging process. In my humble opinion, we don’t really miss those old cars; we miss ourselves at that age driving those cars. Were drive-in movies really better than watching our big screen plasma with surround sound in the comfort of our home? No, but we remember being at the drive-in with that hot date on a Saturday night and miss all the fun of being young and having our lives in front of us. It’s perfectly understandable.  

But this is life. I’m always inspired by those who accept life and live it fully to its completion. You pick the cliché, but while we still have the ability to think and love, I would hope we would embrace life with every bit of energy and passion we can summon.         

Successful Aging is Living With Passion

For those of us living the second half of life, the reality of our mortality is always in mind. In just the last few months, my wife Trisha and I have lost four friends and one family member. As young persons, we probably all lived in that wonderful state of feeling immortal. Of course, it wasn’t true even then. As we grow older we become acutely aware that our time on this planet comes with a certain expiration date.

Given the responsibilities and unforeseen setbacks of life, it isn’t possible to live every minute exactly the way we might choose, but we should give it everything we’ve got. As a famous radio psychologist used to say, “This is your life, it’s not the dress rehearsal.”

Living our lives with as much passion as possible is certainly one of the principles of successful aging. Even as a young person, I was always struck by the differences in people’s lifestyles. As I age, I’m even more aware and curious about the lifestyles people choose to live.

As an example, there is a Subway sandwich shop I sometimes visit at lunchtime. For years, the same Afro-American lady behind the counter greets her customers with a wide smile and genuinely affectionate greeting. Her positive attitude and passion for life puts everyone in a better frame of mind. I’m sure the routine tasks of her job aren’t particularly fulfilling, but her customers love her and I’m sure she realizes her life is enriched by those positive and life affirming interactions. I’m also sure as many customers stop in to see her as for the sandwiches. I’ve even run in to a celebrity or two at her counter.

On the other hand, I’ve met people with wealth beyond my comprehension and other extraordinary gifts that appear to lead miserable and completely boring lives. What gives? While it may be cliché, “life is what we make it,” seems to be  an accurate truism.

So, how do we live with passion?

First, growing older means we all will have suffered loss in our lives. Overcoming the inevitable tears of life is something we must conquer.

We can live passionately by loving those around us. Be it family or friends, the richness of our lives is defined by our relationships. This doesn’t mean we have to love everyone. We should simply treat people fairly and with respect. Love is an active verb. We should shower those we care for with appreciation and affection. 

Enjoying the simple things in life is another key. Very few of us can afford the time or money for a life of continuous great adventures. Passion can be found by appreciating the simple everyday blessings in our lives.

Another way to live passionately is giving of ourselves by volunteering or donating to worthwhile causes. During this holiday season, the opportunities to help those less fortunate abound. We will always get more than we give.

On a more self-indulgent note, we can formalize the process of living passionately by making up a list of the things we still want to accomplish in our lives. We can learn to play a musical instrument, speak a foreign language, meet someone we admire, reconnect with old friends or family. The choices are many and ours to make.  

I would even add it’s more than acceptable to get a little crazy when making up our list. Remember, it’s our life to live. The possibilities are endless and we don’t need approval for anything we want to do. (At this point I began to write out and share some of the “crazy” activities I’ve engaged in and then thought better of it. Some things are best left unsaid.) The point is, especially in the second half of life, we should thoughtfully and methodically pursue our dreams and passions. It’s now or never. 

Let me leave you with a favorite quote:

A few can touch the magic string, and noisy fame is proud to win them: Alas for those that never sing, but die with all their music in them!   Oliver Wendell Holmes

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