Friday, January 16, 2015

Adventures from the Camino

Yesterday, I had lunch with a good friend who recently returned from completing the nearly 500 mile pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain.  In the course of the afternoon she shared her many experiences from the Camino.  She told of blisters and pouring rain, of sleeping in rooms filled with snoring strangers, of not speaking the language yet learning how to order a beer.  She told us about carrying stones from home, representing her burdens, and her opportunity to lay down those burdens at a cross along the way.  She shared the struggle of a middle aged woman walking 8-12 miles per day, up and down hills, over the Pyrenees Mountains.  She shared photos of centuries old churches, of stunning scenery and of quaint villages.

My friend was walking on behalf of those with autoimmune diseases, and carried with her a list of prayers which she burned at Finisterre (The 'End of the World'). She started out with a true purpose in her heart - that she would walk the entire Way of St. James as a spiritual pilgrimage.  

But what she learned along the way, and shared with the rest of us yesterday afternoon, struck a particularly meaningful chord:

1.  The Camino will provide - This saying is frequently heard on the Camino de Santiago. Along the trail, pilgrims find they always have enough. The true blessing is in discovering how little is really needed.  When you carry everything you own on your back for six weeks, you quickly figure out what's important.  It's not all of the "stuff" we accumulate in our normal daily lives. So how much "stuff" are we carrying that we truly don't need?

2.  The relationships are the important thing - Along the Camino, my friend met travelers from all around the world.  They shared meals and wine, stories and hardships.  What she learned is that we are all the same - people everywhere work hard, play hard, have health issues, daily struggles, and families they love...and she will forever treasure those relationships formed in their commonality. Perhaps we should all pay more attention to investing in those soul-enhancing relationships!

3. The sense of accomplishment - Once you have walked nearly 500 miles in all types of weather and terrain, there is very little you can't do!  I found myself thinking about the things in my life that give me that sense of accomplishment.  Maybe the message is that we should all have something to strive for, something that challenges us in some way.  It doesn't have to be a trek through a foreign country.  But the world is full of new things to create, do and try and we owe it to ourselves to stretch our potential!  

4. The strength of the human body - I asked my friend how she felt walking up the steps at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.  She told me that she felt complete joy, and was amazed with what her body could do!  She started the first day of her journey gasping for air as she climbed steep hills.  She finished the Camino feeling more fit than ever before. The human body and spirit have incredible resiliency when tested.

5.  "One Day, One Adventure" - As she neared the end of her journey, a fellow pilgrim shared this motto with my friend.  It could mean that we should live in the present, not wishing for the future or pining for the past.  It could be the acknowledgment that we have limited time on this earth, and that we should make every moment count.

As our afternoon drew to a close, I found that I was deeply touched by how my friend's insights from the Camino apply to our Encore Voyage.  Our longings for a minimalist way of life were proven valid by the few items she carried in her pack.  Her accomplishment of that 500 mile journey, with it's resulting fitness and friendships, confirms for me the things that are truly important in our retirement.  One Day...One Adventure for me means living with intention.  I get to decide what to make of the day, and to be present in it.   I found myself wondering if I would have been able to make that trek myself.  Who knows?  What I know for certain is that the lessons my friend shared yesterday inspire me seize each day with a spirit of "One Day, One Adventure!"


Monday, January 5, 2015

What's Your Word???

It seems everyone in the blogosphere is into choosing a "word" for the year to represent goals and dreams.  I'd say that's a far cry better than the standby "I'm gonna lose weight" resolution.  So I'm going to choose not one, but two words for 2015:
Isn't that just a really cool word?  For me it's about taking time to breathe, to live in the moment, and to appreciate all the good that we are experiencing on the voyage. It's about learning that it is not necessary to be consumed by busy-ness.

And here's what it looks like for me, today:  Having time to linger over my morning coffee with the morning news, and not needing to rush off to work - delightful!  Lingering in bed for just a few extra minutes in the morning, to stretch and breath and give intention to the day.  Lingering over a dessert treat, slowly enough to make it special - so that I don't feel like I have to deprive myself on other days. Paying attention to the moment!

My other word for 2015 is going to be:


2015 is going to be even more about exploration - new places, new foods, new books, new ideas, new skills.  Our plan this year is to head to New Orleans just to check it out and listen to authentic jazz.  Oh, and to eat my first oyster!  I've heard that if you're planning to explore oysters, NOLA is the place to do it!

The Encore Voyage is all about exploring new things, and then having and taking the time to linger and really appreciate all that's before us!

Lingering and exploring rock, yes they do!

So how about you!  What word or words represent your dreams for the upcoming year?


Friday, January 2, 2015

Resolutions Smezolutions

Perhaps you've noticed that I haven't been around for awhile.  Yeah, me too.  And as I've approached the end of the year, I found myself feeling sort of guilty that I didn't post on my blog more frequently. 

First, I made lots of excuses (Thanksgiving travels, Christmas preparation), but when I really got serious about it, I was feeling a little bit like a fake.  Yup, a big ol' fraud.  What the hell do I know about retirement? 

Technically, I guess you'd say that we're not eligible for retirement.  Not old enough to collect social security, still working at our own business, had some emergency savings money, so it wasn't like we really had to take some plunge. Fake, fakey, McFake-fake!

Even thought about giving it up.  But then some really great friends called us, 

just to ask how the hell we did it!

Really!  They did!  And it occurred to me that maybe it's okay just to share our experiences on the voyage.  Maybe, just maybe, someone will get an insight or two or even a little encouragement...

  Ya think???

I guess you might say this is sort of a resolution.  I'm going to keep at it.  Perhaps I won't worry so much that my posts need to be deep and insightful, full of lists and beeee uuuu tiful photography.  I'm no teacher, so I'm not gonna tell you how you should do it...

No wait - I AM a TEACHER... oops!

My point is that I'm hoping this year to treat my blog with a little more heart. This thing may change and include a lot more ramblings and nonsense and streams of consciousness.  I'm just gonna roll with it that way.  I'll tell you less of what you should do, and more of what WE did.  Seems a lot less stressful, no?

And one more thing...I'm really thinking that you should leave a comment or two and let me know if I should keep this up!  All the pro bloggers say that you should just keep at it, and I don't want to sound like I'm begging, but

Seriously, you can hear crickets if you listen...

Wow, that sounded whiny!  In any case, my New Year's Resolution Smezolution is to write, write, write and see what happens.  I hope you come along for the Voyage!


Monday, November 10, 2014

Soft Skills Matter - The Keys to Entrepreneurial Success

                                                                                                           (photo credit:  Tailwind via Pinterest)

Our encore voyage began when I asked Jeremy, "What do you really want to be when you grow up?"  Our journey into our entrepreneurial adventure started that very day. Up until that time, we had both been working since we were about sixteen years old...for someone else!  And let me tell you...starting your own gig and working for yourself is a whole different animal, for sure!  Fast forward four years, and our business is growing nicely.  The Frank, Warren and Jimmy plan is coming to fruition and the Jimmy part was recently able to take a nice vacation to visit Chicago.  

The other day I was freelancing at a meeting, where one of the participants was a representative from Junior Achievement.  Junior Achievements works with high school students to teach entrepreneurial skills and financial literacy.  One of the points the presenter made is that Junior Achievement is placing a heavy focus on teaching "soft skills." Today's employers are complaining that young people entering the work force may have content knowledge, but they are lacking in interpersonal skills, presentation skills, and general work values. 

In looking at our business, and evaluating just why we are able to pull this off, it has occurred to me that my guy has incredible soft skills - I know that sounds kinda weird, but just read on!  It's one thing to be good at the technical aspects of your career, but real success comes from the following things:

1.  A daily routine -  Even though we work out of our home, there is a business routine in place. Jeremy gets up, showers, shaves, and is in the office before 7:30 every morning.  We treat the business as a business!  There is a schedule of projects and a priority of what needs to happen, and in what order. Even though there is some flexibility in our scheduling, the business comes first.

2.  Dressing the part - I know this sounds strange, but Jeremy does not wear jeans to his office.  He generally dresses in khakis and a casual shirt, unless he is meeting a client, and then he steps it up a notch.  If he takes a break to mow the lawn, he will change into jeans, then change back when he returns to work.  The right dress puts him in the right frame of mind.  We treat our own business with the same respect we would if we were working for someone else.

3.  Keeping connections - I believe that one reason Jeremy has been so successful in this second act is that he not only knows hundreds of business people, but he consciously makes an effort to keep in contact with those folks.  Sometimes it's just to check in and see how they're doing.  Sometimes it's to buy a lunch or a cup of coffee.  If he has time while working on an out of town project, he'll try to fill his day by meeting up with other business people.  But the most important thing is that it's always genuine...never a leg humping sort of thing.  It is important to let people know that you value their friendship - not just their business.

4. Keeping your word - If you say you will do something, you do it!  It's as simple as that.  Yet so many young people do not understand the concept that your word is golden.  At the end of the day, your word is all you have!

5.  Being punctual - I sometimes tease the hubs that he is going to arrive early to his own funeral.  But it's a fact that being late to anything is a sign of disrespect.  It says simply, "I am more important than you are, and your time is of no value to me."

6.  Choosing your words wisely -  Handle conflict gracefully.  This is one that is particularly difficult for me, and I learn from the hubs every day.  He is an expert at holding his tongue, or negotiating his way through a difficult conversation without getting someone upset. Unlike me, he rarely just shoots off his mouth.  His responses are careful and considered, and that skill has served him well.

7.  Marketing what you do well - It's important to have a business profile, to understand your own strengths, and to be able to sell your skills, without sounding like you are bragging.  But it's also important to just be genuine about what you are trying to accomplish, so that you don't come off like an annoying salesman.  Have an "elevator speech."  Know how to describe what it is that you do.

8.  Being respectful - Jeremy is one of the most respectful men I know.  And most others know that about him. That quality has indescribable value.

9.  Never burning a bridge - This one can be particularly difficult to master.  When you want to tell someone to suck eggs, just suck it in and keep your mouth shut.  You never know what the future may bring.  The damaging words you say today may end up damaging your reputation tomorrow.  The person you want to rail at today, may end up hiring you tomorrow.

10.  Looking to the long term - Success doesn't happen over night.  It comes from doing your best over and over again.  To that end, take enjoyment in the little victories.  What did you do today that promoted your business goals?  Yeah it over again tomorrow and know that nothing worth doing well is easy. We knew going in that the second year is the year in which many businesses fail - and we kept focused beyond that second year!

11.  Being charming! - Have you ever noticed that many people who are successful in business are just awesome to be around?  They are often funny or charismatic and make those around them just feel good. Sometimes they joke around, but always they leave people feeling valued.  It's really an art - but it can be developed by emulating someone whose business personality you admire.  But be careful...there is a fine line between being charming and being a "suck up."  And the latter can be deadly in forming business relationships.

So how about it, you entrepreneurs out there...are there any other soft skills you can think of to add to the list?  Leave a comment - I'd love to hear about your own experiences!


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Lanyards for Dignity - Making Breast Cancer Just a Tiny Bit Prettier

Breast cancer patients who have had mastectomies are generally fitted with Jackson-Pratt drains to drain off excess fluids following surgery.  These drains are sewn into the patient, and have a long tube and bulb which must be supported so that the patient won't pull it out.

I found out about this nasty little device when one of my good friends, Darlene, underwent a mastectomy and left the hospital with her JP drain suspended from her neck with a 36 inch shoelace! As I understand it, some hospitals pin the drain to clothing, but in our valley, suspending the drain seems to be the preferred method.  

Now I don't know about you, but I can't even begin to imagine the indignity a woman must feel after having lost a breast and then having to wear a shoelace!  And so, the Lanyards for Dignity project was born.  Darlene, being a beader, went home and created a beaded lanyard to hold her drain.  It was quite simple really, just thirty six inches of strong beading wire, some beautiful beads, and a toggle at each end.  Voila - Jackson-Pratt jewelry!

But when she showed us the original hospital shoelace, and told us her story, well, a bunch of us gal pals became outraged and went to work.  A handful of us started buying beads, wire and toggles, and making lanyards for other women in the same situation.  Darlene would take them and package them in lovely bags and then would take a basket of lanyards to her surgeon for other women with breast cancer.  And that surgeon spread the wealth to other surgeons...

...And wouldn't you know it...we can't keep up with the need.  One surgeon in our area does approximately 15 mastectomies a month!  So we're trying to spread the word.  It's not a difficult or expensive craft project.  You can do it while watching television.  It's pretty mindless to string pretty beads on a wire, but it's oooohhhhhh so appreciated!  I can't tell you the number of times we've heard from ladies whose days were brightened because they were allowed to choose a beautiful beaded lanyard when times were at their darkest.

October 25th is National Make a Difference Day.  This is a perfect craft/service project for Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, church groups, retirees - pretty much anyone.  And all you need to do is locate a women's surgeon and share the love.  We even got a local craft store to donate some beads and set up a 'make and take' to honor breast cancer awareness month - only this event was 'make and donate!' 

So won't you join us and Make a Difference?  It means so much to the ladies who must endure this ultimate indignity!  It makes their fight just a little bit prettier. If you need more information, just leave your e-mail in the comments.  And thanks for helping to make Lanyards for Dignity!

#MDDay #breastcancer, #breastcancerawareness

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Do-Overs Can Happen!

Yesterday, I was doing some freelance work which involved looking through a college search engine which is being developed.  The search engine provides a simplified way for students to get information about applying for our state's colleges for the first time.  As I meandered through all of the college websites, I found myself thinking, "Dang!  It would be so fun to go to college again!"  Which got me to thinking about what I would have done differently.  And then that train of thought headed down the 'would you choose a different career?' track.  

Now don't get me wrong.  I was a special education teacher for almost 30 years, and I can honestly say it was my true passion.  But have you ever asked yourself,

"What would I do for a career
 if I could do it all over again?"

I worked my way through the college websites, looking at all the degree and program offerings, thinking, "Oh, that would be cool" or "I'd like to study that," and even, "Oh, yuck! That doesn't sound fun at all!" And then it hit me...There's not a reason in the world that we boomers can't study anything our hearts' desire!  It doesn't have to be a commitment to an entire college degree program.  I'm not planning on starting a new career anytime soon. What I discovered is that most colleges and universities offer a reduced per credit rate for seniors over 60. (It ticks me off that I'm not quite old enough! - Yep, I'm too young for college...who knew?!)  Many postsecondary institutions have adult learning and 'not for credit' programs at a greatly reduced cost.  And for that matter, there are lots of web-based learning opportunities out there that are totally cheap!  A quick Google search brings up plenty of opportunities from campus based programs to YouTube!  All that is required is curiosity and a little time!  And we retirees have nothing if not time, right?  So why not?

Is there anything that you have always wanted to learn how to do?  Any topic that has always peaked your curiosity?  Something that you've always wanted to try? There's no time like the present.  I'd love to hear your stories!  Have you tried any adult learning options or are you planning to do so?  Leave a comment, I'd love it if you'd share!

Monday, October 6, 2014

What Example Are You Setting?

The other night, the hubster attended an awards banquet of our state's professional architectural organization.  When he left the house, he was lookin' oh so fine in a starched white shirt, suit and tie. When he returned home, I asked him how his evening had been.  It had been a ceremony to honor the best architectural efforts by our state's finest.  The thing that disturbed hubs the most about the evening was the number of attendees who wore jeans to the banquet.  

Is this the new trend of the younger generation?  Has casual Friday spilled over into "casual everywhere?"  There had been only about a dozen of the more seasoned architects who wore suits to the event.  When I asked Jeremy if he had been over-dressed, his response was thought provoking:

"I refuse to dress down and set a less than professional example!"

It started our conversation about the number of ways and the reasons why we set an example for others:  

The career example - Are you acting like the type of professional that you would want to hire yourself? Jeremy is bothered by the number of architectural critiques he's attended where the budding architect wore a baseball cap, or stood with thumbs tucked in pockets. He most assuredly would never feel comfortable putting these individuals in front of a client - so he wouldn't hire them!   I know that I, for one, am disturbed by the numbers of young teachers entering the profession who are wearing shorts and flip flops to work!  Ughhh.....Yes, I'm sure they're comfortable - but if the complaint today is that teachers don't get enough respect - HELLO?  Duh...

The reading example - Parents, I'm just gonna say this once.  Parents who read frequently, to their children and for their own pleasure, have children who grow up to be readers.  And a child who reads well has the highest likelihood of success in school/college/life.  Figure it out. (That's enough of my teacher lecture for now...)

The electronic example - How can parents expect their children to develop social skills, and the ability to engage in conversation when they can't put down the devices for 45 minutes.  And worse still is the - "stick my kid on the phone app or I-Pad to keep him busy and out of my hair." (Oops, guess I lied about that lecture thing...)

The consumer example - Adults who must have new cars, jet skis, boats, snowmobiles, the latest rides and huge houses filled with stuff create families for which stuff = success. Only it doesn't.  Never has, never will.  Only leads to broke, unhappy people who will never, ever have enough, and who will define happiness by their possessions.  

The grandma example - I know, I know, don't start blasting me because I have no children of my own. This is just an observation from my perspective.  So many of my friends are constantly buying things for the grand kids because "It's a grandma's right to spoil the grandchildren."  Well, yup, I suppose you're right.  You've done your job raising children, and now you no longer need to think about the message you send them. But if you truly love them, shouldn't you?  Shouldn't you consider that you are sending a message that love is paid for with what you can give them, or that the kid with the most toys wins?  Yes, it's fun to see the reaction on their faces when they see that Grandma has purchased yet another toy. But who is that reeeaaalllly for?  What are you teaching them? How about giving them your undivided attention instead.

The birthday party example - This one baffles me completely.  If you throw a birthday party these days, you must invite everyone who has ever come in contact with the birthday kid (his whole class, the daycare, all friends) because God forbid anyone should feel left out. Then, at said party, YOU must give everyone who attends some sort of GIFT (the goody bag)!  What the hell????  Let's see if I have this right:  "Please come and give me lots and lots of presents.  And just to make sure you do, I'll bribe you with some cheap present back.  And the importance of your relationship to me is irrelevant, cuz you're all included in one big lump of a group."  Oh, and by the way, you'll never need to learn that EVERYBODY DOESN'T ALWAYS GET INVITED in real life. And, kid, instead of our setting the example of generosity, we'll reinforce your need to GET SOMETHING!  And don't even get me started on the ridiculousness of the party themes for 3 year-olds...

The savings example - I believe there are two types of people: Spenders and savers. Savers have grown up always saving something for a rainy day.  They are people who watched their parents routinely save from every paycheck.  They are people who have been taught to value the things they've earned and saved for, and they understand the concept of compound interest.  Spenders just keep buying until it's gone, and generally live from paycheck to paycheck.  The big expenses cause them a world of hurt. What example do you want to set...saver or spender?

The don't be a jerk example - I think this is the one that ticks me off the most.  Why, oh, why is it that grown-ups say ugly things to each other and about each other in the presence of others.  And it's not just in front of children, although children are the ones who bleed the most.  I cringe every time one of my friends says something disparaging about a spouse. Beware the person who will speak ill of someone behind their back - They are speaking about you in the same way in your absence.  

And then I recognize this in my guy...

The hard worker - I don't know how he developed into the hard worker that he is, but I'm fairly certain it's from watching his father.  There is not a lazy bone in the man's body, and he developed that trait from the examples he has seen...

The grateful heart - Not a day goes by that hubs doesn't comment on how lucky we are.  His mom continues to set this example for us all to follow.  At 99 years old, her daily motto is "Life is Good!"

The gentleman - My pet peeve is when I see, in any situation, a woman following along behind, while the husband heads off without her.  It makes me want to scream aloud, "Quit following him like that!  You are not a dog!" (You may correctly imagine that I have said that very phrase in a loud enough voice to be overheard - It's a wonder some man hasn't punched my lights out!)  My guy always, always, always makes certain that he is walking on the street side of any sidewalk, and that I am in a place of safety.  He holds doors, offers an elbow, opens my car door. He learned these social graces by following the examples of a generation of men before him, who learned those skills from their own role models.  

Yowza!  I guess that was just one big ol' lie about not being a naggy lecturing teacher!  Sorry 'bout that! But I fear we may be raising a generation without paying attention to the examples we set for them. When we crotchety boomers complain about the behaviors we observe in the younger generation, a guy's gotta ask, "...and just where did they learn that?"  So how about it?  Do you consider, in your routine, daily interactions, the examples you set for others?  

Leave a comment to let me know the examples I missed, or just to slam me for being an naggy old gal - I've got big shoulders...I can take it!