A friend who is still getting her sea legs in retirement asked for sage advice. I ruminated and came up with the following:

Richard Johnson has done a lot of good work in the area of retirement. His Retirement Success Factors are:

Work Reorientation, Attitude Toward Retirement, Directedness, Health Perception, Financial Security, Current Life Satisfaction, Projected Life Satisfaction, Life Meaning, Leisure Interests, Adaptability, Life Stage Satisfaction, Dependents, Family and Relationship Issues, Perception of Age, and Replacement of Work Function. You might enjoy doing one of his online programs.

Having been retired 13 years, I’m finding myself fine-tuning my involvements in the community. For the first dozen years I said “yes” to too much, I think. All good stuff, but the work/life balance was skewed toward the work end of things too much. I’m starting to say “no” to another term on boards where I’ve contributed a lot. It’s time for others to have a swing at it. I’m transitioning the pet food program to the Shelter which will do it differently with less personal involvement. It’s hard to let go of things, especially because I haven’t found replacement causes to soak up all the time. Something is telling me it’s time to concentrate more on recreation, prayer, spiritual reading and rest. I’ve declared this year as a Sabbatical as in prioritizing some Sabbath for myself. I don’t exactly know what that will look like, but should be interesting to find out.

I have a hunch leisure activities get short shrift for many of us leading to burn-out (which is possible in retirement)! After so many years of doing for others, it takes thought to figure out how to just be and enjoy the moment for part of each day.

That’s my philosophizing for the moment. Back to attending a boring meeting by phone, luckily with my line muted so I can multi-task.

Enjoy fall, crunching leaves, apple crisp and the sounds of geese getting ready to go south!

In addition to all the great books about retirement, check out the podcasts at www.retireerebels.com for great info.

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As often happens, life clobbers me several times in a short period with something I’m supposed to do or think about. This week it’s how we’re all (including me) multi-dimensional.

For one of my book clubs we’re reading Settle for More by Megyn Kelly. Her memoir chronicles her evolution from a hard charging lawyer to a hard charging journalist and then to a multi-dimensional media personality, wife and mother. She glories in all of these roles and believes women don’t have to settle for less than being a success in career, relationship and parenthood arenas, or whatever arenas they want to be in.

At another book club we were discussing a novel An Available Man by Wolitzer with lots of intimate relationships mentioned. The gals in that group did a lot of personal sharing. I didn’t and when one gal wanted to know who had been married before she pointedly did not ask me. She assumed, I guess, that since I was blind, that dimension of life wasn’t open to me. I didn’t correct her partly out of anger and partly out of not feeling comfortable sharing as much as some were. The group knows me as a successful retired professional and disability activist, but not a divorced person.

Lately I’ve read several blog posts by people with disabilities showing vulnerability. One wrote about what if your guide dog looks to you for visual feedback about his/her performance and you don’t see the checking in? Another discussion on Facebook concerned the next version of the iPhone, X, which has a face recognition unlocking feature. What will blind people with artificial eyes do? A blogger wrote about her situation as a person who has multiple sclerosis and needs a good bit of personal care, “should” she become a parent even though she would need more help? Single dimensional Disabled Person who overcomes All Obstacles is giving way to multi-dimensional person with strengths but also doubts and vulnerabilities.

I’m on the cusp of deciding to go talk to my priest about our church’s need, in my opinion, to become more welcoming of people with disabilities. But this will show my vulnerability way more than I have when I read Scripture, serve on Parish Council and help with various ministries.

The first nudge to go talk came from a non-violence workshop that stressed go talk with someone you disagree with and ask them to tell you where they’re coming from before confronting them with your truth. The second nudge came a couple days later from an Occupy Democrats Facebook post of a Christian song, “No Longer a Slave to Fear, I Am a Child of God.”

Do I show the vulnerable, want to be welcomed part of me? Stay tuned and feel free to ask yourself the same question. It’s not all about me!

I’m sixty-eight, totally blind and retired, so I thought I’d sneak through life without ever having to do a PowerPoint presentation. But I’ll be doing a talk on Wisconsin Public Television and everybody else does theirs with a PowerPoint, so I reluctantly decided I’d do one. I had no trouble preparing the text for the slides, but I wanted it to “pop” as a sighted friend described it. Luckily this friend volunteered to do so for free, although some chocolate did change hands.

Next I had to figure out how to show the PowerPoint. I didn’t want to be trying to use someone else’s technology (which might or might not be accessible to me) to show it. I decided to number slides and ask an audience member to use the slide clicker for me. I’d ring a bell and state the number of the slide I wanted. The method worked perfectly and didn’t seem to distract the audience. The presentation is on Being Access Able, so it made a great example of asking for help and people being willing to make accommodations.

Getting ready for a White Cane Day celebration we’re having in Eau Claire gave me the justification I’d been looking for to buy a beeping ball. I needed it for outdoor games, but it costs $40. It’s low tech, just a battery and a beeper inside a soft, spongy ball. After the event, I’ll donate it where grandparents can check it out to play with grandkids, kids can play catch whether they have a visual impairment or not, etc. Once families know it’s out there, they can consider buying or approach a civic club like Lions International about funding a ball for them.

The new iPhone app that’s garnering a good bit of attention in the blindness community is Seeing AI. It’s a free app designed by Microsoft for I-devices. It takes a picture of text or bar codes and then reads it aloud. The entertaining part is that it will also take pictures of people and scenes. For people, it will tell you their age, gender and expression. It’s not perfect. I’ve been everything from a 77 year-old female to a 55 year-old male (after I got a haircut). It’s providing a good bit of hilarity at gatherings and sparking some interesting discussions about what artificial intelligence can do nowadays and how humans feel about it.

My reactions to this app and another one that described the recent eclipse are: bring it on! No app will be perfect and make my experience of the world be the same as a sighted person’s, but they add something to my experience. A beeping ball, an app or ability to do PowerPoint expands my choices which means empowerment in the technology field. I’ll still choose to rely on sighted friends’ reports to tell me if something “pops”.

For those of you who grew up before the Internet, a life hack is a strategy or technique used to manage one’s time or daily activities in a more efficient way. Think of them as shortcuts or thoughts to live by.  The Internet is full of life hacks for all sorts of folks, so I decided to use this format to bring up some ideas for a Wind Walkers group I guest lecture occasionally.  The group was eight people, middle-aged or better who have lung issues like COPD.  They know each other well, so I did the talk as a group discussion. When we’d get to a particular letter of the alphabet, I’d ask for their ideas, give mine and then play with the ideas raised.  The discussion got better and better as we went along and there was aerobic laughter by the time we reached Z.  You may want to share the blog with a friend for maximum benefit.

Here are the life hacks which might apply to all, but are guaranteed useful to people with disabilities or illnesses:

A: Accepting help (yes, even you!).

B: Be your own best friend or at least treat yourself as you would treat a friend or beloved pet.

C: Cookies, comfort food, chocolate! Making bars is easier than cookies and they get eaten just as quickly!

D: Distract yourself when thoughts get grim.

E: Escape, either literally or with a good book or movie.

F: Talk to a Friend.

G: Use gadgets; your local ADRC and/or Center for Independent Living has adapted ones you can try.

H: Humor. The joke a group member gave was better than mine, so I’ll try to quote it:

An oldster was interviewed by the local news about how he got to be that old and he said it was because he ate a spoonful of gunpowder every day. When he died he left a great legacy of good deeds done in the community and a huge hole in the crematorium!

I: Interrupt negative thinking and substitute “I’m doing as well as I can” thoughts.

J: Find Joy in the little things of life.

K: Keep it simple, stupid (as the expression says) or “short” if giving a sermon or talk.

L: Let go of thoughts about what you used to be able to do…

M: Meditate or pray.

N: Say “no” so you can say “yes” to what you really want to do.

O: Offer thanks at the end of the day.

P: Throw yourself a Pity Party or give yourself a Pep Talk—you know which one you need.

Q: Find a quiet place and use as needed.

R: Read memoirs that are realistic and/or Research new info about your disability or illness.

S: Find Support groups online or in person.

T: Take a nap or a break.

U: Be useful every day or do something useful even if it’s just making your bed.

V: Volunteer—we all have unique contributions to make.

W: Work on your wellness—mind, body, spirit. Design your own program, not what others think you should do.

X: Be an Example and look for people who are Examples you can copy something from.

Y: Yodel, yowl, sing or whistle.

Z: Do Zumba or laugh yourself silly about how you’d look doing Zumba!

 

How Do I Get There From Here? Planning for Retirement When the Old Rules No Longer Apply by George H. Schofield, Ph.D. talks about three overlapping stages of growth between fifty and old age. I think I’m entering the third one: new simplicity.  I’m becoming impatient with some volunteer commitments and am moving away from them as quickly as I can decently do so. I’m focusing more on how I can mentor younger people and do less myself. I want to take better care of myself; more exercise and de-cluttering come to mind.

Mentoring has involved going to meetings and making facilitative comments to help the chair keep the meeting on track. It also involves providing lunches for people who are working so they can come and bitch and strategize. I’ve said “no” to chairing projects so I can say “yes” to supporting younger people chairing. And then there’s the celebrating when a younger person has finished a project.

This week I had the opportunity to tell a young woman doing a project on the Schneider Family Book Awards about their history.  It felt odd to clearly be a historical figure—The Founder.  Founding something for me involved stepping up to do something even though I hadn’t a clue about how to do it and recruiting people to help me who had the right expertise.

The internal struggle for me is about am I being selfish?  A wise friend of mine in his eighties says it’s a balancing act between serving others and taking care of oneself and that the balance changes over the years.

As the Bob Dylan song says:

“The slow one now will later be fast

As the present now will later be past

The order is rapidly fadin’.

And the first one now will later be last

For the times they are a-changin’.”

My priorities seem to be changing toward putting more energy into fewer tasks, mentoring and a new balance of self-care and other-care.  In case any of this rings a bell with you, I’m reading Finding Our Way Again by Brian Mclaren and finding it helpful.  Onward!

With the health care situation in flux and Medicaid cuts looming, it seemed like a good year to do something public to celebrate the ADA while we still have it.  I approached some disability advocates in the community, the Center for Independent Living and a local health care advocacy group and they agreed.  My vision was for a public event where we handed out lemonade and chips, had booths with info about the Center for Independent living and the Aging and Disability Resource Center and displayed signs about “Don’t Cap or Cut Medicaid” and “ADA Matters”.

To make this happen in ten days, each of us took on several tasks.  I sought permissions from the police and the health department, made media contacts, recruited folks from the blind and Deaf communities and wrote a pep talk. One big learning from all of this was that things are more complex than you’d ever think. For example, I didn’t ask the Parks and Recreation Department if we could use the grassy plot near the farmers’ market. I blithely assumed it was public land and the police said that was okay if you don’t block motorists’ vision or sidewalks.  Or when it came to deciding to have the event or cancel because of likelihood of thunderstorms, I hadn’t even thought about power wheelchairs not liking to be out in thunderstorms.

Another learning for me is that compromising is good and leads to a better event in the long run. One gal wanted to bring a bubble machine. Bubbles don’t do much for blind people, so I scoffed a bit and figured out I could bring bells for blind folks to balance the bubbles. It turned out the bubbles attracted kids, which attracted their parents and great fun was had with both bubbles and bells.

Even though we weren’t allowed to hand out anything because we ended up escaping from the rain under the roof of the farmers’ market, the event was great. Lots of people with and without disabilities helped and many in-depth conversations about disability issues were held. Even the local newspaper story was respectful and got the facts right. Here’s my speech that somehow seemed to fit the tone of the event:

 

Happy Americans with Disabilities Act Day! Thanks for showing up to help our community celebrate the ADA and the Medicaid program.  Medicaid helps low income Americans of all ages get the services they need to live out the promise of the ADA for access.  My hopes for this event are that people learn about each other’s worlds. But that will take the bravery of asking other people how the ADA or Medicaid made their lives better and the bravery to tell pieces of your story to strangers not just throw out political sound bites.

The disability community has been the last group to achieve our civil rights with laws like the ADA in 1990 and the Help America Vote Act in 2002.

The disability community has some values I’d like to highlight today: resilience and a balance of independence and interdependence.  We feel the fear but do it anyway as we encounter attitudinal, architectural and communication barriers. We are problem-solvers and hard workers, just to get ready to get out the door sometimes. We’ve learned the truth of the Hopi Katchina Tehabi story “You see for me, I’ll walk for you”.  We’ve learned to ask for what we need and to give what we can. For example today I’ve asked Jeff to walk around with me being my eyes about who’s out there so I can greet them. I hope to learn some things about organizing from him too.  But I’ll also be educating him about the world of people with disabilities. So it’s a two-way street with the helping today. Both “please help” and “may I help?” are useful phrases for everybody.

As able, find a partner you don’t know and do the work of holding signs, conversing with people, handing out information or passing out snacks. Mix and mingle. Learn and grow and by all means have fun! Happy ADA Day!

This month the We All Love our Pets program turned thirteen. A few of our human participants and several of our animals have died over the years. This month one human, a cat and a parakeet from the program died. In the human’s obituary it said:

“Her most devoted friend, companion and longtime roommate was Ringo her tabby cat and often Garfield impersonator.” The animals we take food and cat litter to are beloved family members of the people we serve. So are our volunteers who get many thank yous, occasional home-baked goodies and the satisfaction of knowing people and pets are better off for the volunteering they do.”

I read Take this bread by Sarah Miles for one of my book clubs. I was so impressed I read two of her other books Jesus Freak and City of God. Sarah was a war correspondent and an atheist.  She moved to San Francisco. One day, on a whim, she walked into an Episcopal church. She became a Christian and organized food pantries inside the church and around the city. Her zeal for feeding the hungry and finding God in all things made me reflect on the parallels with my experiences in the thirteen years I’ve spent doing the We All Love our Pets program.

I’ve learned three things for sure from this program:

  • The poor have as much to give as the rich. It may be time and energy rather than money, but it’s giving. People tell me about taking care of their grandchildren and others’ animals while their neighbor is in the hospital. Pet food recipients who get most of their food from the food pantry bake and share goodies with us volunteers.
  • God is everywhere: in the love between animals and humans, in the shared joy of hearing about a pet’s antics and in the sorrow of pet loss and human illness and death. I get to witness and am sometimes asked to say prayers aloud for healing and hope.
  • God challenges me to grow through this program. Sometimes I don’t “feel” like doing the calling about needs or the delivering of the food and litter. God tells me to do it anyway and maybe in the doing of it, I’ll get over myself.

Why do I have a harder time loving the rich than the poor? I get angry when I encounter people who have a lot of money and are not generous. It’s hard to dig deep and realize they may be hanging on to what they have because they feel “poor” in some way.  Deliver me from self-righteously judging them and open my heart to see the good in them too.

So this Litter Lady keeps delivering pet food and cat litter and learning from the people she serves!

 

 

 

 

This week I was out fundraising and Friend-raising for Wisconsin Public Radio as part of my duties for their fundraising arm, Wisconsin Public Radio Association. I talked with donors about their love of WPR and how they could show it more love to keep it strong for the next hundred years. It made me think about my love affairs with radio.

I love public radio, both National Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Radio. But I’m not faithful; I also enjoy the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) as well. I became an adult as National Public Radio started up. I associate their news programs with balanced and thoughtful reporting. The jokes about “All Things Considered” being a little too long on the “all” never bothered me. The program about money, “Marketplace” “that they air is so well done I got interested in a subject that I didn’t think much about before—other than did I have enough!

I’ve moved around enough in my adulthood to have lived where public radio was good, Ames, IA and where public radio was almost absent, Scranton, PA. Wisconsin’s public radio has been on air for 100 years and is considered to be one of the best state-wide systems. Their program “To the Best of our Knowledge” is one of the most creative programs talking about big ideas I know. “Chapter a Day” has interested me in reading many books over the years. The readers of the books are so good and are a lovely change from the computer voice of most of my reading.

Then there’s BBC, broadcast on many public radio networks late at night. BBC has been criticized for being a tool of the British government, but it seems to cover both sides of British issues to this outsider. Also, it has more world news than National Public Radio, I think. It seems to me it is statelier or has more gravitas with its programs like “World Book Club”, “Thought for the Day” and “Prayer for the Day”.

The great news is that nowadays, we can have it all because of streaming online and podcasts. But like all good things, it costs money. Less and less tax dollars support public broadcasting. In Wisconsin, about 45% of the budget for public radio is individual contributions. Since this is not a pledge drive, I’ll quit there.

Enjoy good listening!

 

 

Wonder Woman appeared on my radar last year when the U.S. Post Office issued Wonder Woman stamps tracing her seventy-five year history.  Comics weren’t available in alternate formats and films and television programs weren’t audio-described when I was young, so I didn’t grow up with this icon.  Now with the buzz about the new movie, directed by a woman, I’ve started thinking what if Wonder Woman had a disability?

Wonder Woman interests me because she goes beyond just being a kickass super hero to represent female empowerment, work with other women to make the world better, face weaknesses, learn from experience and make her mark in a sometimes hostile world. She has empathy and is a pacifist. She’s not afraid to show her femininity.  I nominate these real women who have disabilities for the Spirit of Wonder Woman prize, if there is such a thing:

  • Tammy Duckworth: Iraq war veteran, double amputee, first disabled woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, currently junior Senator from Illinois “And still she persisted” comes to mind when describing this fighter for Americans of all incomes, disabilities, etc.
  • Alice Wong: founder of Disability Visibility Project, a community partnership with StoryCorps and an online community dedicated to recording, amplifying, and sharing disability stories and culture created in 2014. She Facebooks and Tweets more great disability-related articles per day than I can keep up with! She’s also active in the #cripthevote movement to fire up disabled people to get politically active on issues important to them. She has spinal muscular atrophy and appeared at a White House reception by a telepresence robot.
  • Joni Eareckson Tada: Fifty years in a wheelchair have led Joni to share her strength encouragement and Christian wisdom through a myriad of books, radio programs, daily emails, etc. The organization she founded, Joni and Friends, is all about ministries with people with disabilities worldwide. Ministries range from family retreats to providing wheelchairs in third world venues to training church leaders on inclusive practices.
  • Patty Overland, Judith Smith, and Laura Rifkin are the founders of Wry Crips, a theatre company, to give voice to under-represented women with disabilities. In their current play, “Iretonia, a Sci-Fi Fantasy”, each actress develops her own part. The actors include a woman who is blind, two who use power wheelchairs, one who uses a scooter, a woman who lost a leg to childhood illness and uses crutches, and a stroke survivor.

For those of you who say, I’m Not Wonder Woman, Sheila Walsh has written a book to help you find and celebrate the wonderful woman you are!

Fifty years have sped by, haven’t they? I won’t be at the reunion to catch up, but wanted to share a few reflections and many thanks with classmates and others reflecting on reunions.

When we were in school, students with disabilities were just starting to be integrated (as we called it then) into public schools. In many ways it paralleled the situations described in Hidden Figures. As the first blind student to graduate from the Kalamazoo Public Schools, I felt the fear of failure, the need to break barriers, the pressures of being a role model, and the dual minority statuses of being both blind and a woman. High school teachers gave me role models of people who bloomed where they were planted. They cared about their students and in most cases tried to accommodate my learning differences long before there were laws requiring it or courses to teach them how to do it. Fellow students gave me friendship, help when requested and relatively little bullying. I was lucky enough to find my niches, like chess club and honors classes. I was a nerd before the word was invented.

I went off to Michigan State, scared stiff about being able to make it. My dream of being a physicist morphed into being a clinical psychologist. Those skills of finding friends and a niche and giving my work 110% effort honed in high school carried me through a rewarding career. I worked at four universities as a faculty member, administrator and psychologist. In retirement, I’ve focused on giving back to the community by serving on boards, guest lecturing, writing three books and advocating on disability issues. Partly because I didn’t have children to raise and educate, I’ve been able to start some philanthropic projects including a statue in honor of guide and service dogs, a pet food program to take pet food and supplies to elderly and disabled in the community, some awards for children’s books and good journalism about disability issues and a fund called Access Eau Claire to help local non-profits meet access needs of their participants. In retirement I’ve gone back to playing some bridge, taken up Trivia Crack with a vengeance, joined four book clubs and become more active in my parish. I love having the time to connect with people over a cup of tea or a Facebook post.

Living with blindness and starting in middle age with fibromyalgia has been challenging, but also rewarding in many ways. I wrote my most recent book Occupying Aging: Delights, Disabilities and Daily Life to share tricks of the trade with the 50% of people over sixty-five who will develop disabilities. Among other things, I’ve learned much about interdependence—both giving and taking help. I’ve come to have pride in and gratitude for the full life I’ve had, disabilities included. I’ve learned to notice the positive, and find the humor in some of the tough interactions around my disabilities. Patience with myself and others as we try to be humane with each other is still a work in progress for me.

To have a little fun with the Billboard Top 100 songs for 1967, in closing, I send out “To Sir with Love” to our teachers. I’ve got to “Tell It Like It Is”, I’ve got “Respect” for each of you. We each went “Up, Up and Away” in our own way. I hope each of you can say “My Cup Runneth Over” as I can. “I Can See for Miles” and I see each of you “Groovin’” into the next part of life. I send all my best wishes to you.

I’d love to hear your “Reflections” on your fifty years!

schneiks@uwec.edu