Sleep and Retirement

Are you getting enough (or too much) rest?

Saying goodbye to work life can mean a change in your sleep schedule. Learn how to sleep well during this new stage of life.

“Sleep, and the Workplace” at Sleep.org

cartoon what time do you want to get up

Did you know there really exists a National Sleep Foundation? Now that we are retired from full-time music teaching and the day-to-day stress of managing classes and a busy music program, do you think we need it? Can’t we sit back and enjoy “living the life of Riley” without experiencing any work-related tension or fears for the future?

Maybe not! What is that old Chinese proverb? “The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.” After all, as humans, we all seek new and unique challenges to grow (and that brings on stress), and sleep is a complicated issue!

But, no worries! Several someones have “our back” (or should I say “our pillow!”). Here is a collection of insightful resources on promoting better sleep habits and relaxation techniques from a variety of research-based and/or medical authorities.

bed-2932284_1280_naobim

I didn’t set an alarm for four months. I quickly learned that one of my favorite times of the day was 30 minutes after I first woke up. For the first time in decades, there wasn’t a rush to get out of bed. I’d let myself fade in and out of sleep several times, savoring the fact that I could let myself fall back into the hazy sleep rather – into the shower to wake myself for the morning drive. I’d gotten up at 5:30 AM for years the found that about 7:15 AM was a natural time for my body to wake up. The dogs seem to enjoy this new routine as well. We have four dogs, all of whom compete for space on the bed. Which ever one happen to be near my hand would nozzle under my fingers when they felt me start to wake up, being content to enjoy our laziness together as a new way to start our new days.

The Keys to a Successful Retirement by Fritz Gilbert

The perks of retirement are many, including the “freedom” to do new things and spend more time with family and friends as well as on travel, personal music-making, hobbies, babysitting loved-ones (or care-giving our elderly relatives), volunteering, and other projects or pursuits of “self-reinvention” suggested by “retiree gurus” like Dave Hughes, Robin Ryan, Kenneth Schultz, Hyrum Smith, and Ernie Zelinski.

Another benefit of post-employment? MORE sleep! According to Sleep.org, “people sleep approximately 20 minutes longer at night after retirement. Those who skimped on sleep the most during their working years see the biggest gains, increasing their nightly sessions by around 45 minutes compared to pre-retirement.”

The National Sleep Foundation website also offers articles on the “science of sleep.”

  • Sleep Cycles – Stages of Sleep
  • Circadian Rhythms
  • What Is Microsleep?
  • How to Fall Asleep Fast
  • What is the Sleep-Wake Cycle?

as well as mattress reviews and life style choices that may affect our sleep.

newspaper-149623_1280

 

The “serious stuff” for serious sleep issues

Experts do believe that “normal aging” brings on some changes to sleep… Basically, older adults tend to get sleepy earlier in the evening, and tend to sleep less deeply than when they were younger.

So it’s probably not realistic to expect that as you get older, you’ll sleep as long or as soundly as when you were younger.

That said, although aging by itself does change sleep, it’s also quite common for older adults to develop health problems that can cause sleep disturbances. So when your older relatives say they aren’t sleeping well, you’ll want to help them check for these. Figuring out what’s going on is always the first step in being able to improve things.

Better Health While Aging blogs by Dr. Leslie Kernisan here and here

The definitions, causes, and treatments of sleep disruption are described in great detail by Leslie Kernisan, M.D., authoring “5 Top Causes of Sleep Problems in Aging and Proven Ways to Treat Insomnia” outlined here:

  1. Underlying medical problems
  2. Sleep-related breathing disorders (snoring, sleep apnea, etc.)
  3. Restless leg syndrome (RLS)
  4. Periodic limb movements (PLM)
  5. Insomnia

Painful nighttime leg cramps may also interrupt sleep, as referenced by the American Family Physician, Mayo Clinic and WebMD.

Dr. Kernisan advises us against using sleeping pills or other sedatives. She prefers the following remedies which have shown great promise, backed up by published research:

  1. Cognitive behavioral therapy: New York Times and Mayo Clinic
  2. Brief behavioral treatment: Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine and National Institute of Health
  3. Mindfulness meditation: Journal of the American Medical Association and Mindfulness Awareness Research Center at UCLA
  4. Exercise: Science Direct, National Institute of Health, and New York Times

The Division of Sleep Medicine at the Harvard Medical School also offers these “Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep.”

  1. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other chemicals that interfere with sleep.
  2. Turn your bedroom into a sleep-inducing environment.
  3. Establish a soothing pre-sleep routine.
  4. Go to sleep when you are truly tired.
  5. Don’t be a night-time clock-watcher.
  6. Use light to your advantage.
  7. Keep your internal clock set with a consistent sleep schedule.
  8. Nap early, or not at all.
  9. Lighten up on evening meals.
  10. Balance fluid intake.
  11. Exercise early.
  12. Follow-through.

Another “sleep checklist” worth a quick examination is available from WebMD.

cat-30689_1280

 

Should we take cat naps? The jury is out.

At first glance, the National Sleep Foundation basically says NO! Napping during the day may “throw your body clock off and keep you awake at night.”

However, the truth may be more about how long to doze off during the daylight hours…

You may think that taking a catnap will make you feel more tired than skipping it altogether, but that’s not necessarily true.

The key to waking up refreshed from a nap is all about timing. Just 20 minutes is all you need to get the benefits of napping, such as improved alertness, enhanced performance, and a better mood. Naps of that length keep you in the lightest stage of non-REM sleep, making it easier for you to get up and go after your snooze session. Be sure to set an alarm so you don’t snooze for too long and wake up all groggy.

Nap for 30 to 60 minutes and you’ll hit the deeper stages of sleep, where your brain waves slow down, making you feel groggy (as if you have a sleep hangover) when you wake up…

It might not be worth it to nap at all if you’re going to nap for this amount of time because you’ll likely come out of your shuteye feeling less alert than before.

“How Long Is an Ideal Nap” at Sleep.org

The benefits and drawbacks of napping are further examined by the Mayo Clinic and even TIME magazine.

camping-32112_1280

Can too much sleep be bad for you?

According to new research carried out by Online Opinions, over-60s need to make sure that they are not in fact getting too much sleep once they are retired, as this can actually have an adverse effect on health.

According to the National Sleep Federation, the optimum amount of sleep for adults aged up to 64 to get each night is between seven and nine hours, while for over-64s, between eight and nine hours is deemed to be best.

You need to remember that your body isn’t as young as it once was and needs a decent amount of rest, but not too much, but the organization warns that more than ten hours’ sleep a night could be stopping people from using their bodies and brains as much as they need to in order to keep them active and hold on to their cognitive functions. In other words, too much sleep could carry a small extra risk of dementia development.

But there’s no need to worry too much; as long as you get plenty of exercise, keep your brain ticking, and lead a healthy lifestyle during the hours that you’re awake, there shouldn’t be too much cause for concern.

Just Group

WebMD warns that oversleeping has been linked to a host of medical problems, including diabetes, heart disease, depression, and increased risk of death.” The article “Physical Side Effects of Oversleeping” delineates the causes and effects of too much sleep, and points to an online “sleep habits assessment” to help you evaluate your needs.

This research seems to be supported by several other sources:

The amount of sleep you need varies significantly over the course of your lifetime. It depends on your age and activity level as well as your general health and lifestyle habits. For instance, during periods of stress or illness, you may feel an increased need for sleep. But although sleep needs differ over time and from person to person, experts typically recommend that adults should sleep between 7 and 9 hours each night.

WebMD

meditation-4674442_1280

More on retirement and “mindfulness”

From the author of one of my favorite “teacher self-care books,” I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me by Lesley Moffat, I personally recommend trying the “M-Power Method” of mindfulness practice during meals, movement, music, and what Lesley describes as the “5 S’s of clearing,” cited by the website dailyom.com:

  • Slowing Down
  • Simplifying
  • Sensing
  • Surrendering
  • Self-care

Jason Ong, a sleep psychologist at the Rush University Medical Center, offers these reminders of “Seven Tips for Falling Asleep” based on mindful practices of health and wellness (visit his site here to study these more in depth):

  1. Beginner’s mind
  2. Non-striving
  3. Letting go
  4. Non-judging
  5. Acceptance
  6. Trust
  7. Patience

Finally, if you want to immerse yourself in a comprehensive “mindfulness journey,” visit the blogs of Cindy’s Mindful Retirement to peruse “Mindfulness After Sixty: 21 Practices.”

moon-4546977_1280_ArtsyBee

Can you “trick” your brain into going to sleep?

One last interesting resource I stumbled on… how to “drum yourself to sleep” if you are having difficulty in calming the thoughts swirling around in your mind at night. This technique intrigued me enough to include it as one of the digital SHJO.clips for my community orchestra musicians sent out as a remote learning opportunity:

CLIP #22C: View and try the techniques in this YouTube “How to Trick Your Brain into Falling Asleep” by Jim Donovan (TEDtalk) using a simple 2 to 3-minute rhythm tapping and breathing “cool-down.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5dE25ANU0k

Now, although anticipated, I am not necessarily looking forward to website comments or emailed responses from mattress and sleep accessory manufacturers, sending me their advertisements, recommendations, and industry reviews. Regardless, one thing is true: “What you sleep on has a major effect on achieving a quality rest!” I can confirm this fact “living it” with a recent replacement upgrade to our master bedroom. If you are in this situation, you need to take ample time to explore all of your options in any new purchase of beds, adjustable or nonadjustable bases, mattresses, bedding, and pillows. Essential in education; here, too: you need to personalize and customize everything to meet your needs!

Just to stave off a few of these companies, here are a few websites to visit if you are in the market to buy a new bed, mattress, pillow, or other bedding:

asleep-1296292_1280

The final word? If you prefer a few “more heady” academic studies and statistics on retirement + sleep, look up “Sleep Before and After Retirement” from the National Institute of Health, the “Reduction in Sleep Disturbances at Retirement” dissertation from Cambridge University Press, or review the case studies discussed by Health.Talk.org in “Sleep Problems Later in Life.”

Have a good night!

PKF

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credits (in order)

From Pixabay.com

Teacher Self-Care During the Pandemic

We thought our next article in this series on music teacher health and wellness was going to center around burn-out. But then… COVID-19 struck (was this really only 3-4 months ago?), we were forced into self-isolation, and all “brick and mortar” schools closed. In the ensuing panic, we all scurried about seeking solutions to reconnect and engage our students from afar in compliance with strict shelter-in-place restrictions.

“Seemingly overnight, the world changed. Teachers and school leaders have had to revamp their entire instructional systems with, in many instances, only a day’s notice. To say many of us are experiencing whiplash, disorientation, and anxiety is an understatement.”

virus-4928021_1920_HoagyPeterma“Our students are feeling it too. Typically, nationwide, one in three teenagers has experienced clinically significant anxiety in their lifetime (Merikangas et al., 2010). It’s probable that during a pandemic that heavily impacts everyday life, levels of anxiety in children and teens are even higher, and the possibility of subsequent trauma greater.”

“In these unprecedented times, teachers are rising to the occasion creatively and quickly to shift to remote learning amidst school closures. Even in a traditional classroom, it can be a challenge to support students with anxiety and trauma histories to stay calm and learn. With distance learning, this difficulty is magnified. However, there is much teachers can do to reduce anxiety in students even while teaching remotely. During this crisis, we need to prioritize students’ mental health over academics. The impact of trauma can be lifelong, so what students learn during this time ultimately won’t be as important as whether they feel safe.”

“Maintaining Connections, Reducing Anxiety While School Is Closed” by Jessica Minahan in ASCD Educational Leadership, Summer 2020

My opinion? The Internet and other forms of media can be a godsend or a contributing factor to our feelings of malaise. The 24/7 nature and immediacy of news programs and web posts updating the statistics of new coronavirus cases, hospital admissions, deaths, shortages of personal protection equipment and respirators, unemployment numbers, and the stock market’s roller-coaster ride, have added fear, stress, and “noise” to the real problem… our ability to cope with the ramifications of this pandemic!

Well, at least a lot of dialogue has been generated “out there” about recommended remediation and “success stories.” The purpose of this blog-post is to share some of this “advice from the experts.” Many of you (I hope) may say, “This is just common sense.” True, but however “common” it is, more people than you think are not applying these principles to their own personal lives. And like the one online post that caught my eye the other day, “Teachers Are Breaking” by Jessica Lifshitz, all of us should share our anecdotes… the trials, internal struggles, and tribulations… to make it through this emergency.

Together, we are stronger!

books-4843726_1920_Myriams-Fotos

I have been accused of being a little too emotional and I should not “feed into the negativity,” as one reader complained in reaction to one of my blogs. However, according to this article by Christina Cipriano and Marc Brackett, “emotions drive effective teaching and learning, the decisions educators make, classroom and school climate, and educator well-being.”

“At the end of March, our team at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, along with our colleagues at the Collaborative for Social Emotional and Academic Learning, known as CASEL, launched a survey to unpack the emotional lives of teachers during the COVID-19 crisis.”

“In the span of just three days, over 5,000 U.S. teachers responded to the survey. We asked them to describe, in their own words, the three most frequent emotions they felt each day.”

“The five most-mentioned feelings among all teachers were: anxious, fearful, worried, overwhelmed and sad. Anxiety, by far, was the most frequently mentioned emotion.”

Navigating Uncertain Times: How Schools Can Cope With Coronavirus

Almost in unison, the strategies that seem to be echoed most often by medical and mental health professionals, educators on the front line, and even technology specialists, are outlined by this “wellness map of to-do’s!”

  1. Don’t obsess. Calm yourself. Set priorities.
  2. Connect and communicate often with your family members and your students.
  3. Set and maintain boundaries.
  4. Practice mindfulness.
  5. Take the necessary steps to maintain your own physical and mental health!

burnout-4778253_1920_Tumisu

Avoiding Becoming Overwhelmed

As a retiree, I “only” lost the spring season of my community youth orchestra to this crisis. In my position as state chair of the PMEA Council Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention (PMEA Council TTRR), I tried to soothe the “hysteria” of many of my still-working friends and colleagues who were grappling with the instantaneous roll-out of distance learning. After researching online music education resources, we were able to place countless links on the PMEA Council TTRR website (here). After 7+ weeks, one of our “omnibus Google Docs” has grown to 15+ pages and more than 225 separate sources of virtual, remote, and alternative music learning media and methods.

computer-768608_1920_free-photosFor some, this has made matters worse… an “overload of abundance!” The multitude of venues and opportunities (too many unexplored “new technologies” for many of us baby-boomers!) included information about virtual ensembles, YouTube libraries, music games, lessons plans and platforms for synchronous and asynchronous e-learning, video-conferencing techniques, hardware and software reviews, etc.

Take a deep breath! Focus! Prioritize your goals. What are you trying to accomplish? Don’t try to consume all of the available resources “out there,” nor use every application or online lesson that you find on Facebook groups like https://www.facebook.com/groups/mecol/. What was it my mother used to say at the dinner table? “Sip and chew slowly… don’t gulp!” Take away what might help your situation, but approach anything brand new in moderation!

online-5059831_1920_TumisuGo ahead and sign-up for a webinar or planned learning community meeting or two. Many professional development workshops are provided with “no extra fees” right now, like the NAfME library here, the aforementioned Facebook group and others, and if you already have a membership in PMEA, this website.

BUT… plan to take away ONLY one or two new “teaching tools” from each session… maybe consider trying-out one new app or lesson idea every other week?

As if to anticipate our needs, more than a year ago, Elena Aguilar published the in-depth piece “How to Coach the Overwhelmed Teacher” in Education Week blog, summarizing excellent stress-reduction treatments. (Share these if you think they will help you or some else! Read the entire article for more detail!)

desperate-5011953_1920_Peggy_MarcoFive tips for coaching overwhelm:

  1. Describe it.
  2. Recall previous experiences.
  3. Identify one tiny next step.
  4. Listen.
  5. Plan for action.

“When coaching someone experiencing strong emotions, it’s important to know the signs and indicators of depression and anxiety disorders. Emotions can turn into moods, and if moods hang around long enough, they may become depression or an anxiety disorder. People who feel overwhelmed a great deal may be experiencing depression, whereas those who are ‘stressed’ a lot may be experiencing anxiety. This resource, AppD Depression_Anxiety.pdf, can be offered to your coachees or used to consider whether someone may need professional help.”

“When coaching any strong emotion, it’s useful to remember that emotions can be guides to self-understanding. They are a normal part of being a human being, and strong emotions show up to get us to pay attention to what’s going on. We can welcome strong emotions—in ourselves and in our coachees—and explore them to gain insight into ourselves and humans and educators.” — Elena Aguilar

coronavirus-4991979_1920_enriquelopezgarre

Making Connections

Your loved-ones and friends probably need you now more than ever!

And, a myriad of research supports the assertion that social connections significantly improve our own physical and mental health and emotional well-being, such as published by the “Center of Compassion & Altruism Research & Education” of the Stanford Medical School:

“Strong social connection leads to a 50% increased chance of longevity, strengthens your immune system (research by Steve Cole shows that genes impacted by loneliness also code for immune function and inflammation), helps you recover from disease faster, [and] may even lengthen your life!”

“People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. In other words, social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.” — Dr. Emma Seppala

There’s even evidence that “human touch” and close connections with other people increase our body’s levels of the beneficial hormones serotonin and cortisol.

Just more common sense? Right? Probably!

human-2944064_1920_geralt

The first thing I did during that initial announcement of school/activity closures was to reach-out to my “musical kids.” Many music directors told me they quickly sponsored a Zoom/Google Hangout meeting of their ensemble members, mostly just to check-in with their players or singers and get everyone “on board” for future online interactions.

Perhaps COVID-19 has made me a better “citizen,” too. Much more frequently, I now call or text a friend, colleague, volunteer co-worker, or neighbor to see how they are doing. It’s terrible to admit that it took a world disaster to improve my interpersonal communications skills!

Finally, here’s a good “recap.” In spite of the need for social distancing, these examples of “safe connections” are suggested by Jennifer Wickham from The Mayo Clinic:

  • Use electronics to stay in contact with friends, neighbors and loved ones. This could include using video-conference programs, making voice calls instead of sending texts, or talking with a neighbor through windows while maintaining a safe distance.
  • Spend quality time with the people you live with, such as playing board games or completing an indoor project.
  • Make a family meal or dessert recipe that reminds you of friends or family you are unable to visit, and then call them to tell them about it. This way, you get an experience of internal and external connection.
  • Write in a journal about your experiences during this time of social distancing. Not only will this help you sort out what you are thinking and feeling, but also it can be shared going forward as a way for future generations to connect with the past.

timetable-2467247_1920_Comfreak

Setting Boundaries

Something else I admit to NOT doing!

“Going Google,” “exploring e-learning,” or “doing digital” –  it is easy to get carried away and not notice you just spent 12 hours in-a-row of “screen time” participating in online meetings or creating new remote learning opportunities for your music students. Exactly when are your classroom and office hours? You are likely pushing yourself too hard, even in your pajamas! This insane pace will only promote other health concerns!

The foresight of Elisa Janson Jones was evident for writing this in her blog “7 Self-Care Strategies to Prevent Burnout” back in September 2018 before the pandemic:

bulletin-board-3233653_1920_geralt“It’s hard to create a work-life balance when life is filled with work. Teachers are known for working long hours off-the-clock for no additional compensation. This is even more prevalent in music education. We add performances, competitions, musicals, individual lessons, fundraising, data entry, and even music composition and arranging to our task list.”

“We may find pride in saying we worked 60 hours this week, flaunting to our friends that we got to school in the dark and left in the dark. Perhaps we find self-importance in their pity and admiration.”

“However, to thrive in our profession, we must remember that teaching music is our career, not our entire life. Hobbies, families, volunteering, and other ways we contribute to our communities and our homes are also aspects of who we are.”

“Setting clear boundaries between when we are working for our paycheck and when we are working for ourselves helps us carve out space where we offer ourselves time to be free of obligations and burdens of our career. Whether it’s a few hours per day, a full day per week, or both, setting strict boundaries for when you’re on-the-clock and when you’re off is essential.” — Elisa Janson Jones

yoga-4595164_1920_laurajuarez

Mindfulness and “Living” in the Present

Another concept that Elisa Janson Jones covered in her Smartmusic blog: mindfulness.

Now is the time for a little nonjudgmental “free reflection,” or what the psychologists call the best practice of “mindfulness” – a focus with full attention on your thoughts, feelings, and sensations “in the moment.” I think the “Teaching with Orff” website really nailed it in the article “7 Self Care Tips for Quarantined Music Teachers.”  Read co-author Zoe Kumagai’s examples of affirmations: “How do I want to feel today?”

  • I allow myself time and space to reflect.
  • My mind is aware of the present.
  • My heart feels compassionate and is full of love.
  • My mind is stimulated by books, stories, art, scholarly articles, music that inspire me to be my best self.
  • I maintain boundaries with technology and intake of the news.
  • My body is free to dance.
  • My voice is clear to sing, laugh and converse authentically.

According to this Harvard Medical HelpGuide, the habits and techniques of mindfulness can improve well-being, physical health, and mental health:

“There is more than one way to practice mindfulness, but the goal of any mindfulness technique is to achieve a state of alert, focused relaxation by deliberately paying attention to thoughts and sensations without judgment… Allow thoughts to come and go without judgment and return to your focus on breath or mantra.” — HelpGuide

Band director, best-selling author, and acclaimed clinician Lesley Moffat devoted an entire chapter to mindfulness in her book I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me. You know what they say, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” After learning the techniques for herself, she adopted mindfulness practice at the beginning of each band rehearsal for her students, a 4-5 minute routine of guided breathing and relaxation exercises leading up to the daily warmup chorale.

 

snowglobes-437383_1920_jojokejohn

I love the symbolism in her “snow globe” analogy:

“Just like a snow globe that’s been shaken up, it takes time for your mind and body to settle down. If you try to get the snow globe to settle down while you’re still holding it and carrying on with your regular activities, the snow may fall slower, but it won’t completely stop and allow you to see the objects in the snow globe. You must allow it to be completely still long enough for the water to stop swirling and the glitter to follow the pull of gravity and settle on the bottom. It only takes a matter of minutes until it settles, revealing the magical scene inside, and the very glitter that was covering up the view when it was moving around has become a lovely blanket of snow that grounds the scene in the snow globe. But without a few minutes of stillness, it is impossible for it to become completely settled. So it goes with a mindfulness practice. Your mind and body needs time to go from hyper-speed to a pace that serves you well, a place where you have space to think – and space to not think. That begins by bringing stillness to your body and to your mind. Easy to say – hard to do… until you practice it every day and it becomes habit.” Lesley Moffat

Love the Job, Loss the StressHer book should be required reading for all music teachers, even retirees who want to remain active in the profession. (Read my previous review here.) It serves as a true treasure-house of practical applications for de-stressing and re-centering your life. Her “mPower Method of Meals, Movement, Music, and Mindfulness” may be the solution to improving your situation.

FYI, her next book, Love the Job, Lose the Stress, is on the way. You can request an advance e-copy here.

 

“Do as I Say… Don’t Do as I Do!”

The worst part of this? We seldom take our own advice. Hey teacher, “heal thyself,” and “practice what you preach.” Taking care of our children or elderly relatives, we are probably the last to comply with the tenets of our own sermons on health and wellness.

Lesley Moffat also devoted a chapter in her book to the airline safety bulletin “Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First.” You cannot take care of someone else (your family members or your music students) unless you first take care of yourself!

salad-374173_1920_stevepbMake self-care PRIORITY ONE for YOU! I know, you have heard all of these before:

  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Hydrate.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Exercise daily.
  • “Flex your brain.”

The latter “exercising your mind” is referenced in the Teaching with Orff website, and is a frequent emphasis on my blog-site (with examples here, here, and here). Pursue your own avenues of creative self-expression, and grow and learn something new every day!

According to charitable organization Waterford.org, the definition of “self-care” is “any action that you use to improve your health and well-being.” They cite extensive research from the National Institute of Mental Illness (NAMI), corroborating the statement that there are six elements to self-care:

  • Physical
  • Psychological
  • Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Social
  • Professional

self-care-4899284_1920_Wokandapix

And, as explained in the article “Why Teacher Self-Care Matters, and How to Practice Self-Care in Your School,” self-care is not about selfishness.

“Self-care is an important component of a teacher’s mental health, but there are misconceptions about what it is. It’s common for educators to dismiss the self-care movement as ‘selfish’ or ‘superficial.’ But for teachers, self-care is so much more than breakfast in bed or treating yourself to a spa day. It’s about taking care of your health so that you’re prepared to be the best teacher you can be for yourself and your students.”

Waterford.org

These endorsements probably represent just “the tip of the iceberg!” Peruse all of the resources listed below. In addition, perhaps we should take a close look at Alex Wiggin’s ASCD article,  “A Brave New World: A Teacher’s Take on Surviving Distance Learning” (Educational Leadership, Summer 2020), considering the adoption of these four lessons learned from the past four months:

  1. Relying on a team reduces work and stress.
  2. Connecting with students boosts morale.
  3. Learning new technology isn’t so bad.
  4. Model being a life-long learner

I predict that the hardest part, coming to the end of May and the completion of our first-ever “virtual spring semester,” is coming to grips with our “fear of the unknown!” At the date of this writing, no one really knows when “we” are going back to “in person” schools, how we will resume large group music instruction like band, choir, or orchestra rehearsals, and what will the “new normal” look like to successfully “move on!”

Summer break is just around the corner… a good time to stop and reflect! And yes, we will make it through this.

Please stay safe! PKF

park-5040260_1920_Queven

 

References

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credits (in order)

From Pixabay.com

 

One Happy But Solitary Retiree

 

concerns-4944455_1920_Larsgustav

The corona-virus crisis has created a new stay-at-home environment for all of us. With the exception of healthcare appointments, grocery pick-ups, and mail deliveries (as well as a few other essential services), we have been banished to indoors for the most part, allowing only an occasional excursion to go get take-out or walk the dogs.

And, many of us feel a bit claustrophobic and worried about the future!

Do not underestimate the cognitive and emotional load that this pandemic brings, or the impact it will have on your productivity, at least in the short term. Difficulty concentrating, low motivation and a state of distraction are to be expected. Adaptation will take time. Go easy on yourself. As we settle into this new rhythm of remote work and isolation, we need to be realistic in the goals we set, both for ourselves and others in our charge.

— Desiree Dickerson at https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00933-5

The purpose of this blog is to reflect on the measures we can bolster our sense of well being, stimulate new directions of personal growth, and endure the unpredictable “ups and downs” of this period of mandatory confinement.

yoga-3053488_1920_lograstudio

Self-Care and COVID-19

According to mental health providers and experts in wellness such as Geisinger Health, it is important to your overall health to make time for personal self-care.

From watching the news every hour to scrolling social media a little too much, it’s easy to get lost in the noise of what’s going on around us.

And you’re not alone in this.

If you’ve found yourself in an extended state of self-quarantine, there are some simple steps you can take to protect your mental health, in addition to your physical health.

— Geisinger Health at https://www.geisinger.org/health-and-wellness/wellness-articles/2020/03/18/17/56/self-care-during-quarantine

Geisinger recommends these practices of self-care during a quarantine:

  1. Make time to unwind.
  2. Exercise to promote good health.
  3. Be mindful to support your immune system.
  4. Take breaks from the news.
  5. Remind yourself why you are in isolation.

Here are a few more websites that might help if you are feeling depressed, confused, or just not coping well with all the “corona chaos…” (like us all):

score-4947840_1920_sweetlouise

What Are You Waiting For? Just Make Music!

If truth be told, as a writer and a musician, I personally don’t mind having all of this extra time to focus on creative self-expression.

Think about it…

  • What have you always wanted to explore… play… sing… compose… record… conduct… create?
  • When will you finish your own “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” prepare the parts, and eventually have it taught, performed, and/or recorded?
  • When are you going to publish your next song, article, book, warm-ups, instrumental method, essays on pedagogy, musical, drumline feature or halftime show… or write your personal memoirs?

Well, what’s stopping you from devoting yourself to it RIGHT NOW?

As retired music teachers, we have an advantage… avoiding most of the stress that our still-employed colleagues are experiencing, suddenly having to “catch-up” with the technology, search for online music learning tools and lessons for their classes, and facing even more mostly unanswered challenges:

  • How can I care for my music students and the school program from home?
  • What essential learning can/should I offer during the school/activity closures?
  • How can I rehearse my music ensembles?
  • How can we provide meaningful feedback? Should we assess their work?
  • How do I motivate my students to continue their practice or music enrichment?
  • How will I find the mental, emotional, and physical stamina to serve my students during this lock-down without becoming overwhelmed?

covid-19-4940638_1920+geralt

Costs and Risks Associated with All of This “Social Distancing”

Yes, we have ways to stay in touch electronically via text, email, videoconferencing, and social media, but it is not the same. In fact, many studies indicate that the more time we spend on social media, the less happy, less empathetic, and more envious we are.

The very act of meeting face-to-face, making eye-contact, and physically touching nourishes us but also exposes us to the coronavirus. We all know of the infant mortality research that shows babies deprived of physical touch experience development limitations. It is no different for adults. The Atlantic quotes Tiffany Field, the founder of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami, in describing the power of physical touch:

“…any pressure or movement on the skin helps increase the activity of the Vagus nerve, which connects to every major organ in the human body. Touch from another human slows down the heart. It goes to the GI tract and helps digestion. It helps our emotional expressions—our facial expressions and our vocal expressions. It enhances serotonin, the natural antidepressant in our system. That vagal activity can also lower a body’s levels of the stress hormone cortisol; cortisol is known to harm the ‘natural killer cells’ that can fight viral, bacterial, and cancer cells.”

Field concludes that as people are now especially stressed over the consequence of the virus, they have even greater need of these valuable effects of touch, now that they are afraid to hug or shake hands as usual.

— Robert Hall at https://ifstudies.org/blog/avoiding-a-relationship-pandemic

Indeed, what I do miss most is the human interaction… the ability to share two-way verbal and musical communication in an ensemble. I long for sharing music with the players in my community orchestra – the South Hills Junior Orchestra – who before the outbreak, rehearsed every Saturday for two hours at my former employment placement, the Upper St. Clair High School. I have to settle for sending them more of my “how-to” music articles (Fox’s Firesides) and basically low-tech “distance learning opportunities” discussed in my last blog here.

meeting-1019875_1920_Peggy_Marco

 

Go-To-Meeting, Google Hangouts/Meeting, or Zoom.com

Zoom is not a great vehicle for a “free and easy” exchange of ideas or being able to “monitor and adjust” the learning of a group of students. We use it, and other choices like Go-To-Meeting and Google Hangouts, because we have to use them. It’s better than nothing. It’s important to at least “check in” with the members of your community, church, or school band, orchestra, or choral ensemble, and give them a chance to talk to one another, if only by allowing the use of the chat feature or unmuting all of their mikes at once. (But, get ready for a loud cacophony of sound!)

Zoom is offering a package that is free as long as you stay under 40 minutes for your virtual meetings of more than two people. The sound (delayed and designed for voice not music) is not great,  and you will need to do a quick study of how to adjust the technology to fit your needs. Several websites offer some advice on adaptations for music educators:

If you are thinking about holding online private music lessons, take a look at my string colleague Susanna Sonnenberg’s article. 

wood-3119970_1920_Alexas_Fotos

Don’t Become a “Couch Potato!” Get Active and Stay Active!

What we don’t want to do during this emergency is to spend most of our time watching television. Besides being totally unhealthy, sitting in your easy chair like a lump and watching hours upon hours of generally, in my opinion, totally uninspiring programming, will drain the gray matter from your brain. I don’t know if I could stand watching another PBS broadcast rerun, National Geographic episode, or “Nature” program.

The bottom line: being solitary is not being alone. And even if you are left alone at a given moment, you should not be bored!

“Boredom isn’t good or bad,” said John Eastwood, who runs the Boredom Lab at York University in Canada and is co-author of Out of My Skull, a forthcoming book on boredom. “It’s what we do with that signal.”

That’s a confusing moment, especially amid the pandemic, with news outlets and social media publishing endless lists of things to do with all the newfound time, from the juiciest TV to downloading hours of podcasts — a digital bounty that Newton, thankfully, didn’t encounter.

“When you don’t have a lot going on, you might say, ‘Wow, I’m going to binge watch Netflix. This is perfect,’ ” Eastwood said. “That will get rid of the feeling in the short term. But treating yourself like an empty vessel to fill with a compelling experience makes you more ripe for boredom down the road.”

Why?

“Because what you’ve done,” Eastwood said, “is you’ve failed to become the author of your own life.”

— Michael S. Rosenwald at https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/these-are-boom-times-for-boredom-and-the-researchers-who-study-it/2020/03/27/0e62983a-706f-11ea-b148-e4ce3fbd85b5_story.html

sunset-485016_1920_95C

A Top-Ten List for Retired Music Teachers

So, here are my ten things-to-do when stranded at home during any period of forced inactivity or voluntary self-quarantine:

  1. Use Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, etc. to “call” several loved ones, friends, coworkers, or neighbors in your life, and “check in” with them to see how they’re doing. They would appreciate hearing from you!
  2. Feeling lonely or a little down yourself? Reach out to someone. Studies show that when we connect with someone, we release the hormone oxytocin, a chemical that can actually help repair your heart. Simply talking about our problems and sharing our emotions (positive and negative) with someone you trust can be profoundly healing—reducing stress, strengthening our immune system, and reducing physical and emotional distress.
  3. Practice. No matter your choice of instrumental or vocal self-direction, or exposure to the self-exploration of other art forms like painting, drawing, sculpture, sewing, woodworking, photography, or writing, now is the perfect time to develop greater levels of personal artistry, proficiency, and self-confidence… even to establish new goals/pursuits. I have found that mornings work best for me with anything that requires creativity. (Brainstorming for this blog occurred at 8:20 AM one morning, after sleeping in a little, watching the news, and having my breakfast and coffee).
  4. Go outdoors and exercise. Get your body moving… a little every day! If you are lucky to have a furry pet or two, venture into the neighborhood with them… of course, maintaining “safe social distancing” (even the dogs have to stay 6 feet apart from the two-legged mammals) and adhere to the essential rules of pet walking etiquette and citizenship (mentioned here).
  5. Return to those “old fashioned” leisure activities: listen to your favorite music or read a book. Revisit something from that Hornblower (C. S. Forester) or Tom Clancy series (my frequent “gems”). When I needed a break in college (100+ years ago?), I took the afternoon off, ordered myself a medium pizza (yes – I ate it all!), and then walked to the Oakland branch of Carnegie Library to sit in those wonderfully comfortable high-back leather chairs and pull out one of my “old friends” to read.
  6. In other sections of this blog site (here and here), I have already discussed avenues for developing the right side of the brain, mainly our innate creativity and curiosity quotient. Visit these notable sites: https://nationalcreativitynetwork.org/, https://curiosity.com/, Sir Ken Robinson, Odyssey’s 9 Useful and Inspiring Websites for Creative People, Dr. Curtis Bunk’s old “Best of Bunk” site, and the “pinkcasts” and eBooks of Daniel Pink.
  7. Puzzle doing or making can be a relaxing pastime. Some people like to create them (I drew mazes when I was in grade school), while others try to solve them. My wife can sit for hours completing crossword puzzles or assembling the pieces of a virtual jigsaw puzzle on her iPad. If you like making word games, look at websites like http://puzzlemaker.discoveryeducation.com/ or https://www.puzzle-maker.com. 
  8. If you are in a “tidy mood,” now would be a great time to reorganize, de-clutter, or sort through your closets, cupboards, or drawers. Put aside unused or unneeded clothing for Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Have you indexed your record/CD/DVD collection? One year I alphabetized (by author) and reordered the entire collection of sea books on the shelves in my library (100’s of fiction and nonfiction editions). Do librarians or data base managers get bored easily?
  9. If you are lucky enough to be a pensioner and can rely on a somewhat safe monthly income coming in, you might be surprised that this might be a good opportunity to save money. My wife and I have suddenly stopped going out to our favorite restaurants, which was our usual practice 3-5 times a week. Cooking and eating at home, although raising our grocery budget, has brought down our overall food expenses. Put away a little green every month while eating those healthy greens! And, if you can tolerate the stock market doing it’s “roller coaster ride,” consider planning a few new long-term investments if/when you decide the prices are low or discounted enough during the economic crisis.
  10. Finally, schedule a virtual field trip. During our careers and now retirement, my wife and I were never much into traveling around the country or the world. Professional responsibilities (string camp, music workshops, youth orchestra tours, and the extended marching band season) usually precluded taking cruises or long vacations. There are a lot of places on the planet to which we have not journeyed. One thing a lot of people have discovered during these shelter-in-place restrictions is the amazing number of FREE online resources that transport us to museums, galleries, architecture “wonders of the world,” online films of Met operas and Broadway musicals, etc. Plan to take a handful of these wonderful “Internet trips.” (Special thanks for the advance “legwork” of many of these destinations done by Andrea Romano at https://www.travelandleisure.com/attractions/museums-galleries/museums-with-virtual-tours).

virtual tours

pieces-of-the-puzzle-592798_1920_Hans

More websites with suggestions about conquering boredom or avoiding becoming too sedentary during the COVID-19 “stay-at-home” orders:

This article and researching the links above took 4-5 hours, and were the things I did to pass the time TODAY! So, now it’s your turn.

The world is your oyster. Get out there and crack it!

Best wishes for your continued good health, safety, happiness, and finding a little music and meaning in every day!

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order)

Shutterstock_1660879444

From Pixabay.com

  • concerns-concerned-about-the-anxiety-4944455 by Larsgustav
  • yoga-exercise-fitness-woman-health-3053488 by lograstudio
  • score-music-piano-guitar-melody-4947840 by sweetlouise
  • covid-19-coronavirus-distance-4940638 by geralt
  • meeting-relationship-business-1019875 by Peggy_Marco
  • wood-couch-potatoes-funny-potatoes-3119970 by Alexas_Fotos
  • sunset-island-mar-dusk-brain-485016 by 95C
  • pieces-of-the-puzzle-mix-hands-592798 by Hans
  • wooden-train-toys-train-first-class by Couleur

wooden-train-2066492_1920_

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Care of Music Teachers

Something New is a-Coming

You cry and you scream and you stomp your feet and you shout. You say, “You know what? I’m giving up, I don’t care.” And then you go to bed and you wake up and it’s a brand new day, and you pick yourself back up again.Nicole Scherzinger

Wellness seeks more than the absence of illness; it searches for new levels of excellence. Beyond any disease-free neutral point, wellness dedicates its efforts to our total well-being – in body, mind, and spirit. Greg Anderson

 

key-2114313_1920

What is that saying? “When you point at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you.” Or if you prefer the biblical reference (Jesus), “Don’t focus on the speck in your brother’s eye while ignoring the log in your own eye.”

Increasingly common, I find that our colleagues in music education do not model habits of good health and work/personal life balance. All fingers point at both my wife and I, as when we were at the pinnacle of our full-time careers (prior to retiring in 2013), teaching strings grades 3-12 in multiple buildings, preparing for concerts and festivals, designing curriculum, producing musicals, running marching bands, etc. often felt like a “runaway train ride” — a stressful 24/7 schedule with the two of us squeezing in time to meet for dinner in between our after-school rehearsals, and later “falling into bed” to snatch 5-6 hours of sleep, three to four days per week, ten months a year.

That said, I “see” little research, pre-service, in-service, post-service training, or even online dialogue about the wellness problems associated with our profession:

  • Overwhelming workload, long hours, and challenging classroom situations
  • Inconsistent hydration and consumption of a balanced diet
  • Irregular amounts of daily aerobic physical exercise
  • Insufficient quantities (length, depth, and frequency) of rest and sleep
  • Infrequent use of sick days or vacations as needed for restorative health
  • Misuse of the voice at work
  • Inadequate hearing conservation and protection from over-exposure to sound
  • Deficient scheduling of opportunities for mindfulness, meditation, and/or reflection
  • Deprivation of personal outlets for creative self-expression (not related to the job)
  • Lack of time to explore hobbies, interests, and socialization with family, friends, and loved ones

With the simplistic title of “Care,” blogs archived within the new section of this blog-site here will dive into these issues, remedies towards fostering a better “life balance,” and suggestions for the development of a self-care plan. Quoting from the timely article in the June 2019 issue of NAfME Music Educators Journal, “Health and Wellness for In-Service and Future Music Teachers” by Christa Kuebel, “Those in our profession need to increase awareness of the prevalence of stress and mental health concerns in music education.” We need to address methods for reducing job-related depression, anxiety, stress, loneliness, feelings of impotency, and “burnout,” which can lead to negative student outcomes, lowered professional standards, absenteeism, illness, and teacher attrition.

 

model-pillow-sleep-sleepwalking_2373534_1920_Engin_Akyurt

Definitions of Wellness

A state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. — The World Health Organization

A conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential. — The National Wellness Institute

According to the Student Health and Counseling Services of the University of California, Davis Campus, “wellness” is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life. Wellness is more than being free from illness; it is a dynamic process of change and growth.”

8 dimensions of wellness

Further elaboration of their eight dimensions of wellness is provided here:

  • Occupational
  • Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Environmental
  • Financial
  • Physical
  • Social
  • Intellectual

They conclude: “Each dimension of wellness is interrelated with another. Each dimension is equally vital in the pursuit of optimum health. One can reach an optimal level of wellness by understanding how to maintain and optimize each of the dimensions of wellness.”

 

runner-1814460_1920_skeeze

It’s Time to Bring on the “Experts”

Even though I would have told you “I am loving every moment of it” during my 35+-year career in music education, I would be the last person anyone should turn to for helpful advice on self-care. I cannot say I ever “practiced what I preached” lectured to my music students on taking care of themselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. So, for this forum, we will bring in leading authorities and even a few “frontier blazers” who have agreed to share new ideas in alleviating “the problem,” so well defined in the MEJ article by Christa Kuebel:

Music education has been shown to be a field in which stress and burnout are common. We must address this difficult realization in order to make changes for the health and success of our current and future teachers. Our concert seasons will continue to come and go, and our responsibilities will not decrease in number, but taking time to consider how to take care of ourselves may allow us to fulfill our responsibilities in safe and effective ways throughout our entire careers.

“Health and Wellness for In-Service and Future Music Teachers” by Christa Kuebel

 

breakfast-1804457_1920_Einladung_zum_Essen

Coming Soon…

Already, we have found a wealth of people who have perspectives and “prescriptions” that may help. We are anticipating future submissions from (or reviews of) the following self-care advisors:

  • Aforementioned MEJ article, teacher self-care assessment, and excellent bibliography by Christa Kuebel
  • Contributions by Lesley Moffat including her book I Love My Job, But It’s Killing Me and details about her Band Directors Boot Camp, “Music Teacher Mojo Meter,” and her website “Building Better Band Programs Without Burning Out”
  • Recommended by NAfME member Jennifer Dennett, the book Exhausted – Why Teachers Are So Tired and What They Can Do About It by Paul Murphy, who also has an extensive website and other books on “teacher habits”
  • Future wellness research and writings by Theresa Ducassoux, who has been accepted into the Google Innovator Academy, a program for teachers to work on tackling challenges in education
  • Survey of “prioritizing teacher self-care” articles posted by Edutopia
  • Other online sources

 

zumba-4333580_1920_arembowski

This is Where YOU Can Help!

If you find something interesting, please comment on it at this forum, or send an email to paulkfox.usc@gmail.com.

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Pets and Citizenship

Definitions of Neighborly?

The farmer and the cowman should be friends.
Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends.
One man likes to push a plough, the other likes to chase a cow,
But that’s no reason why they cain’t be friends.
 
Territory folks should stick together,
Territory folks should all be pals.
Cowboys dance with farmer’s daughters,
Farmers dance with the ranchers’ gals.
 
I’d like to say a word for the farmer,
He come out west and made a lot of changes
 
He come out west and built a lot of fences,
 
And built ’em right acrost our cattle ranges.

— Lyrics of “The Farmer and Cowman” from Oklahoma by Richard Rodgers

In 1906, when events in the show Oklahoma are taking place, there were plenty of reasons farmers and cowboys didn’t want to be friends…

Disputes over land and water rights were the most common reason for fights. Cowboys were used to having the whole territory available for them to drive huge herds of cattle, so when farmers settled near water sources and claimed areas for their own herds of cattle or sheep, there was an understandable amount of hostility. The farmers, on the other hand, would fence in territory and then have all their efforts trampled by cowboys and their droves of cattle, which was also frustrating.

“OKLAHOMA – The Farmer, the Cowman, and Why They Couldn’t Get Along”

What an unusual opening citation for an odd topic to share on this blog-site! Did I get your attention? Admittedly, I have few answers… just the ramblings of this senior citizen. (So, agree or disagree, we would appreciate hearing your views by posting a comment!)

fox_pups

This article was born from reading a resident’s rant about dog walking on social media:

“It has become apparent, especially in my neighborhood, some of you dog walkers have no respect for other people’s property. Some of us take pride in keeping our yards looking nice. Some also take time to add fertilizer. By letting the dog you are walking pee and or poop in another’s yard, the scent attracts other animals who also want to do the same. Also, urine can kill grass. Being a pet owner myself, I can state when my dogs see another dog peeing or pooping in my yard, they become territorial. The best part is when I politely state please don’t let your dog in my yard, I have actually been asked, “Why not?” The ones who are doing this are the same to whine, complain, and/or call the police when someone offends them.”

— Jason D. on Next Door app, June 17, 2019

My first reaction to this homeowner’s “beef?” He was not being very “neighborly!” But, there’s a lot more to this issue, and I may be on the lower moral ground of the argument.

neighborly
Adjective: Characteristic of being a good neighbor, especially helpful, friendly, or kind.

dogs at Christmas 2015 - 3Okay, since retirement, for the first time in my life, I may call myself a “good neighbor!”

Since becoming a “stay-at-home” retiree, I can now tell you the names of my neighbors, many previously unknown to me when I was a full-time, 24/7 music teacher constantly returning back to school for extra-curricular activities like marching band, plays, chamber choir practices, festivals, musicals, adjudication trips, and meetings. Until 2013 when we entered our post-employment “bliss,” my wife and I (both retiring from similar all-consuming music programs) were never home. Do you need proof? When we first moved here, my next-door neighbor accidentally “turfed” my front yard in the middle of a snow storm (and I did not notice it until the spring thaw). I was told their lack of notification was due to the fact they never saw us. “We were planning to tell you and promise to fix the damage, but you’re never around and seldom answer your phone.”

twodoggies4u - - 2Well, now I have two dogs (Gracie and Brewster) that I walk religiously several times a day. This means that, unless it is raining hard, I am “out and about” in my neighborhood, a wonderful “bedroom-community” with sidewalks and neatly manicured lawns, flower beds, and trees. One could say I have become a “watch dog” on things “coming and going.” Strangers should beware! We serve as an informal “fox and hounds” security service! The three of us know if you don’t belong on our block (although the pups love the mailman, and would probably bark first and then strain the leash to run over and kiss any other newcomer).

With several small “poop bags” in hand, I clean up our messes. Brewster and Gracie are about 12 pounds each… their impact on the environment is minimal! However, I have noticed a lack of citizenship from other pet owners. One dog walker (large breeds) leaves unsolicited “presents” on the grass near the sidewalk…. sometimes even “gift wraps” them in a plastic bag and drops them by the curb! Shame! It gives the rest of us a bad name! With gloves on my hands, I have taken up bringing a large trash bag with me, cleaning up any of these “rude” donations of doggie pollution, or even stray junk thrown from passing cars on our street.

our two pups 051216 - 1

On occasion, when we expand our territory and walk around the entire block, the dogs and I run into two types residents – opposites – those who love dogs and those who want nothing to do with them. I know there are some who are afraid of pets, so we give them a wide berth. We also avoid the ones who, when I was a kid, we labeled “crab grass kings,” homeowners with not single blade of grass or foliage “out of place.” If your ball accidentally rolled into their yard, you were admonished, “Don’t leave a mark on my turf!” (I remember an incident about a hyper-neighbor with “perfect landscaping” who called the police to “bust up a graduation party” when several teenagers legally parked their cars in his circle. The problem? Several of their tires “touched his grass” (by inches). If memory serves me right, “the rest of the story” was that the angry “lawn-master” would no longer be able to maintain a “perfect landscape” again… the vengeful adolescents retaliated and dug up his scrubs, turfed his grass, defaced his trees, and threw mud on his house and driveway – not once but every time he cleaned up the place.

IMG_1477Gracie, Brewster, and I don’t trespass. We try to model “good citizenship.” We do our best to honor the wishes of our neighbors, respecting any of their issues for privacy, restricted access, fears, or phobias. For the six years I have become a pet owner, only two people have told us, “Don’t let your dogs pee in my yard.”

But, dogs are dogs. Mine seek to “water” every mailbox post and tree trunk on our route. The ten-inch strip of grass between the curb and the sidewalk, a township “right-of-way,” also gets a lot of attention. And, yes, the grass in these areas often fares the worst with numerous brown or yellow patches (although road salt is probably more to blame!)

Am I the cowman whose feels he has the right to let his “doggies roam the pastures?”

No, I will NOT feed my dogs a supplement, like an amino acid-based oral product that claims to eliminate urine spots by changing the pH of your dog’s urine!

Contrary to popular belief, urine spots are not caused exclusively by female dogs or by certain breeds. Rather, it’s the result of urine being deposited in a small concentrated area. Since female dogs tend to squat and stay in one spot to urinate, it will be more likely to damage the grass in that spot. In general, any dog (male or female) that squats or sprays in one spot will deposit urine into a concentrated area. Dog urine spots may also be more noticeable with larger dogs, due to the higher volume of urine produced.

“Green Grass, Happy Dogs: Preventing Dog Urine Spots on Lawns”

If the trouble is in your own yard, there are plenty of sites recommending a solution:

 

But, first make sure your dog is really to blame! The are a lot of conditions that may cause discolored areas on your lawn! Other potential culprits are fungus and other grass disease, insect pests, lack of nitrogen or iron, over-fertilizing, or under-watering.

Believe it or not, dog urine is not as damaging as many people believe it is. Sometimes you may blame the dog for brown or yellow spots in the lawn when in fact it is a grass fungus causing the problem.

To determine if dog urine is killing the lawn or a grass fungus, simply pull up on the affected grass. If the grass in the spot comes up easily, it is a fungus. If it stays firm, it is dog urine damage.

Another indicator that it is dog urine killing the lawn is that the spot will be a bright green on the edges while a fungus spot will not.

“Dog Urine and Your Grass”

doggies 2017 to 2018 - 3

The bottom line? Walking your dog away from your property is important to your pet’s health. Besides elimination, walks are essential for exercise and mental stimulation. Someone once told me, taking your pooch out in the neighborhood on a daily basis is the dog’s equivalent of “checking email” and “posting updates on social media.”

Dogs like to go for walks to get outdoors, sniff and engage with their environment, exercise, and perhaps socialize with people and dogs outside the home. There is no reason that a walk cannot encompass and meet all the needs of both humans and dogs. Because time is often at a premium, it is useful to help owners understand and find creative ways to meet these needs.

“How to Walk Your Dog – How to Do It Well, and Why It Is So Important”

Retirees, read more about the essentials of dog walking here:

 

Other elements regarding pet ownership and citizenship (perhaps the perfect subject for a future blog):

  • Dogs jumping up to greet visitors
  • A large dog “saying hello“ to your guests by placing its paws on their shoulders
  • Dogs who like to play in the mud or wet grass and then leave their calling card with dirty paw prints (on floors, furniture, and people!)
  • Leaving unplanned (solid and smelly) “presents” at the most awkward times
  • Excessive barking, even in your yard, especially when it disturbs your next-door neighbor who likes spending time outdoors gardening

Remember, it usually isn’t the dog’s fault. You don’t actually train animals, you train their handlers! Citizenship is all about the pet owners!

I feel like telling “Jason D” (above) to CHILL OUT! GET A LIFE! There are so many more important things in life about which to worry! One might consider caring a little more about the people (and their children and pets) in his community. His attitude fosters animosity, and besides, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

But… Jason has rights! It is his yard!

What are your thoughts on this subject?

Now, I have to go walk the dogs…

PKF

gracie and brewster musical dogs1

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Unconditional Love (Dogs!)

Pets + Retirees… They Go Together!

dog-2729805_1280_gdjHappy Valentine’s Day to all of my readers. I could not think of a better way to “celebrate” our appreciation of “heart-day” with reflections on what our pets bring us… adulation, affection, attachment, companionship, devotion, enjoyment, good will, involvement, passion, stimulation, tenderness, understanding…

“The power of love!” They say that all you have to do is look at the face of a sleeping baby, or cuddle up next to a puppy or kitten, and it will slow down your respiration rate, lower your blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood, and increase in your body the levels of serotonin and dopamine, two neurochemicals that play big roles in the promoting feelings of calm and well-being.

people-1749382_1920_herney

From personal experience, having two of the most adorable and loving dogs… If you’re contemplating retirement and you have never owned a pet, let me be the first to tell you:

“Pets can change your life.”

I invite you to peruse several other blogs I’ve written on this subject:

If you are almost ready to retire, or you’re going through your first couple years of your post-employment “internship,” there’s a good chance that psychologically it would be good for you to “get out of Dodge” as you adjust to your new status. This might be a good time for you to take a cruise, tour Europe, go ice fishing up north, or plan a long road trip out west. Pack up everything and takeoff. Celebrate all those years that you put your nose to the grind stone.

But eventually, you may want to come back “to nest,” and “taste” a little transitioning into things that seem to go well together, e.g. small doses of (human) babysitting, grandparent/child interaction, and/or rescuing a pet. Becoming a homebody may also suggest the consideration of planning small or large renovation projects: fix up your garden or backyard, design your ideal kitchen, remodel the bathrooms, do a garage remake, downsize and de-clutter, etc. After the first several years of simply resting and exploring the options of your self-reinvention, NOW might be the perfect moment to add a furry friend to your family!

animals-2198994_1920_gellinger

Why get a pet?

Goodnet (“Gateway to Doing Good”) summarizes nine reasons you should adopt a pet:

  1. Pets have their perks when it comes to your health. (More on that later.)
  2. A pet will love you unconditionally. (Thus the title of this blog!)
  3. Adopting a pet is easy on your wallet. (Pet rescue from a shelter is less expensive.)
  4. Adopting a pet means saving a life. (Millions of animals are euthanized per year.)
  5. By adopting a pet, you’re giving an animal a second chance. (Another go at life!)
  6. Pets keep you active. (Dog walking provides owner aerobic exercise.)
  7. Pets bring joy and fulfillment. (Pet care enhances a sense of purpose for retirees.)
  8. dog-3243734_1920_kandykandooPets boost your social life. (Research indicates pets decrease social isolation.)
  9. Besides, how could you possibly resist this face?

 

Medical benefits including psychological health

There’s an avalanche of online research that backs up claims that pet ownership is actually “good for you!”

Pet owners know how much their furry friend improves their quality of life. But it’s not all about unconditional love—although that actually provides a wellness boost, too. On an emotional level, owning a pet can decrease depression, stress and anxiety; health-wise, it can lower your blood pressure, improve your immunity, and even decrease your risk of heart attack and stroke.

— Alexandra Gekas

 

dog-3128192_1920_maja7777

Here are my “top dozen” reasons and resources to peruse:

  1. Having a pet decreases stress: Promises Treatment Centers
  2. Caring for a pet lowers your blood pressure: WebMD
  3. Owning a dog reduces cholesterol and triglyceride levels: Harvard
  4. Pets keep you fit and active: Gerontologist
  5. Daily dog walking helps you to lose weight: Healthy People
  6. Owning a dog can help detect, treat, and manage disease and injuries: HuffPost
  7. Pet therapy eases pain management and reduces anxiety: Loyola University
  8. Pets may reduce doctor’s visits: American Psychological Association PsycNet
  9. Having a dog may make you (at least feel) safer: LifeHack
  10. Pets help you build friendships and find social support: Harvard
  11. Dog owners are less prone to depression: GrandParents.com
  12. Pet ownership adds meaning and purpose: BestFriends

 

Believe it or not, pets can be the best medicine, especially when a person is dealing with chronic pain such as migraines or arthritis. Just like Valium, it reduces anxiety. The less anxiety, the less pain…

People who have pets are less harried; there’s more laughter in their life. When you come home, it’s like you’re George Clooney. You’re a star. This is a primary reason pets are used in various forms of therapy.

If you have a dog around, your blood pressure is lower. A lot of it goes back to reducing stress: You might lose your job, your house, your 401(k)—but you’ll never lose the unconditional love of your pet.

— Dr. Marty Becker, DVM, veterinary consultant for Good Morning America and author of the book Your Dog: The Owner’s Manual.

 

doggies 2017 to 2018 - 3

Increasing your regular habits of exercise

The experts say that physical activity promotes flexibility, muscle strength, stamina, and balance, and helps us to remain mobile into our 70s and 80s. Caring for a pet may help! For example, studies from the National Center for Biotechnology of the U.S. National Library of Medicine (like this one) indicate that older adults who walked dogs with frequent moderate to vigorous exercise are associated with lower body mass index and faced fewer limitations to their daily living activities.

Having trouble sticking to an exercise program? Research shows that dogs are actually Nature’s perfect personal trainers—loyal, hardworking, energetic and enthusiastic. And, unlike your friends, who may skip an exercise session because of appointments, extra chores or bad weather, dogs never give you an excuse to forego exercising.

In 2008, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that only 16 percent of Americans ages 15 and older exercised at all on an average day! This is where your canine personal trainer can help.

—Dawn Marcus

walking-2797219_1280_mohamed_hassanHow much exercise is enough? Well, according to the World Health Organization, the “best practices” of a good health and wellness program includes:

  • 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily for children 5 to 17 years old
  • 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days per week for adults 18 to 65 years old, plus strengthening exercises two days per week
  • 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days per week, with modifications as needed in seniors over 65 years old, plus flexibility and balance exercises.

The good news? From Bark, “Researchers at the University of Western Australia found that seven in every 10 adult dog owners achieved 150 minutes of physical exercise per week, compared with only four in every 10 non-owners.” We already know that grabbing that leash, whistling for the pup, going for a brisk walk, and getting out to see what’s going on in your neighborhood, may help to reduce stress, depression, lethargy, the risks of obesity, and many other medical problems.

 

dog-1027549_1920_haidi2002

The all-essential quest for “mattering” and “feeling needed”

In the past blog “Retiree Concepts,” I mentioned the book, Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose by Nancy Schlossberg (definitely an excellent buy), and reviewed the issues of “marginality” (bad) and “mattering” (good). The essential question is worth repeating here: “Do you feel “needed” and that you “make a difference” to others?”

Caring for a pet does a great job of fulfilling our need to find in our retired lives the “purpose, community, and structure” referred to Ernie Zelinski in his book, How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free.

As we grow older—especially after we retire—it can be difficult to find structure and meaning day in and day out. Dogs take care of that.

— Kristen Sturt

They force people to continue to do things. So, even if you’re not feeling well emotionally or physically, the dog doesn’t care. I mean, they care, but they still want you to feed them and take them for a walk.”

— Kristi Littrell, Adoption Manager at Best Friends Animal Society in Utah

At Walter Reed Army Medical Center, they’re using dogs to help soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. They’re finding the guys who have a pet are able to re-enter society a little bit easier. They’re showing a decreased suicide rate, one of the biggest health threats [veterans] face. These guys who have a pet have someone they’re responsible for, someone who cares about them. And they don’t have to explain what they’ve been through.

— Dr. Katy Nelson, associate emergency veterinarian at the VCA Alexandria Animal Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia

 

It’s not only about the tangibles – physical, medical, mental

It’s simple… every day, my pooches make me feel good!

Oh, we have all witnessed the “life-changing power of pets” (Psychology Today) and the tremendous social bond partnering a dog (or cat) with a human. We agree, “Pet owners have big hearts and bestow good feelings on both animals and people. Having a pet does not replace a human social network, but rather enhances and enlarges it. Cats, dogs, birds—and pets of all species, shapes, and sizes—bring wellness.”

our two pups 051216 - 1On personal observation, I can attest that walking my dogs in the neighborhood can be one of the most contemplative (almost meditative) experiences of the day. I commune with nature, let my imagination wander (dream “wide-awake”), notice things I have never before stopped to see, hear, or smell, and reflect on my life goals. I find the “pause” in my daily routine (or should I say “paws”) makes me feel refreshed, thoughtful, more calm, tolerant, and patient while at the same time more alert and focused, and always leaves me in a better mood.

Dr. John V. DiAscenzo, my talented friend and PMEA music education colleague with great background in research, would now demand of me, “Show me the specific studies that support your claim that walking dogs make people feel happy!” Got it! I found numerous references, including this article from the National Institutes of Health.

 

You can’t buy this kind of shared love… a snapshot

  • No matter how good or bad my day is, the moment of my return to home, stepping into “puppy heaven,” Gracie and Brewster rushing up in full gallop to lick (kiss) and welcome me, jumping up as if to say, “Oh, we’re so glad he’s back!”
  • The vigorous wagging of her tail and the “happy dance” Gracie does when I reach for her favorite bone
  • The “nesting” impulse of Brewster as he paws his towel on top of our bed, just before he curls up in a small ball, leaning into the small of my back (giving me great lumbar support) and falling asleep
  • Gracie pushing Brewster out of the way when jockeying position to receive pats on the head from a visitor
  • canine club 2Expert cuddlier Brewster flipping on his back so you rub his tummy, and when you are distracted, gently pawing at you begging you not to stop
  • Gracie’s “happy barks” and squeals of excitement when mommy brings in the supper dish
  • Gracie jumping up onto the extra desk chair to watch daddy type on his computer (we even had to buy her own chair)
  • Brewster winning a contest for the most puppy-pushups (up/sit/down) in dog (people) training classes
  • Having totally original “dog-o-nalities” and never failing to amaze me every day, being awakened by them at 6 a.m.
  • But, after going out, all three of us climbing into the La-Z-Boy® combo recliners and falling back to sleep, Gracie between my legs with her chin on my ankle, and Brewster on my left shoulder like a violin shoulder pad

 

Lowering the numbers of neglected pets in overcrowded sanctuaries

Finally, although perhaps not the most significant rationale for a retiree to go rescue a pet, these are estimated animal shelter statistics from the ASPCA and the American Pet Products Association (source):

  • Approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, approximately 3.3 million are dogs and 3.2 million are cats.
  • Each year, approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats).
  • pit-bull-2047469_1920_rescuewarriorApproximately 3.2 million shelter animals are adopted each year (1.6 million dogs and 1.6 million cats).
  • About 710,000 animals who enter shelters as strays are returned to their owners. Of those, 620,000 are dogs and only 90,000 are cats.
  • It’s estimated that 78 million dogs and 85.8 million cats are owned in the United States. Approximately 44% of all households in the United States have a dog, and 35% have a cat.
  • According to the APPA, these are the most common sources from which primary methods cats and dogs are obtained as pets:

appa stats

LiveScience posted “A Blueprint for Ending the Euthanasia of Healthy Animals.”

Do you have Kleenex handy? Read “10 Shelter Stories That Will Make you Smile.”

Simply put, if you have it in you to consider pet adoption, your action will probably save the life of a sheltered animal and give it (and you) a second chance!

 

dog-3108509_1920_groesswang

Additional resources

Do you need more research? Be sure to visit the final link in the bulleted list below, which also has an exhaustive bibliography worth viewing.

 

CODA: The “‘last words” as a recap and a final website for you to check out:

Studies have shown that owning a pet can be physically and mentally beneficial for people of all ages. In the case of senior citizens, just 15 minutes bonding with an animal sets off a chemical chain reaction in the brain, lowering levels of the fight-or-flight hormone, cortisol, and increasing production of the feel-good hormone serotonin. The result: heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels immediately drop. Over the long term, pet and human interactions can lower cholesterol levels, fight depression and may even help protect against heart disease and stroke.

— Seniors and Pets

But, you knew all about this, right? So, what are you waiting for?

For me, I gotta go… and take Gracie and Brewster out for another walk!

Have a Happy PET Valentine’s Day!

PKF

pretty-girl-2039181_1920_terric

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

dog-1517090_1280_leunert

Besides the numerous pictures of Gracie and Brewster, photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “puppies” by kko699, “dog” by GDJ, “people” by Herney, “animals” by Gellinger, “dog” by kandykandoo, “dog” by maja7777, “walking” by mohamed_hassan, “dog” by haidi2002, “pit-bull” by RescueWarrior, “dog” by groesswang, “kitten” by creades, “pretty-girl” by TerriC, and “dog” by Leunert,

 

 

New Dreams and Horizons

“Self-Realization” ― The Key to Resolving Retirement “Conundrums”

Most gerontologists agree that a period of adjustment will occur during the first years of “interning” as a retiree. Even more crucial is the “pre-retirement” or “imagination” stage of retirement – (see https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/10/12/five-stages-of-retirement/16975707/ or http://www.investopedia.com/articles/retirement/07/sixstages.asp…) involving your preparation six to ten years prior to “taking the big leap” to FREEDOM!

Have you considered a few “terms of transformation” below that are all-to-common to soon-to-be-retirees undergoing that life-changing transition to “living their dream?” How should you unravel these “conundrums” or mysteries of transitioning to retirement?

  • Self-Identity and Change
  • Free Time
  • Energy and Fortitude
  • Losing Control and Perpetual Care

The only solution to “softening the blow” of the possible turmoil and incongruity brought on at this time is to follow the Boy Scout rule… BE PREPARED.

Tips Retirement for Music EducatorsThat means, according to TIPS Retirement for Music Educators by Verne A. Wilson (MENC 1989), at least three years before you leave your full-time employment:

  1. Sit down with your spouse if you are married (and other family members) and plan ahead carefully.
  2. Decide when you want to retire. Estimate as accurately as possible what your economic situation will be after you retire.
  3. Decide where you want to live after you retire. This means not just the neighborhood, city, or state, but also the kind and style of residence… retirement community, one-floor ranch, apartment, etc.
  4. Set some goals regarding how you want to spend your retirement time. Focus on your talents and abilities instead of looking at the handicaps that may come with the aging process.
  5. Be prepared for “change” and learn how to accept it, and be willing to embrace new opportunities for personal growth, flexibility, and adaptability.
  6. Be sure your intentions are clearly stated in writing (wills, power of attorneys, living wills, etc.)

Now, to define your “life’s goals” and anticipate several of the “big issues,” read on!

SELF-IDENTITY & CHANGE: Who am I?

The prep and passage to your “golden years” is the perfect time to a little self-reinvention based on self-assessment towards finding purpose, meaning, fulfillment in your life. There are many publications that promote personality and interest surveys to point you in the right direction and help synchronize your goals with your spouse, “significant other,” other family members.

the_retiring_mind_coverRobert Delamontagne writes in detail about using the enneagram as an evaluative tool in Honey, I’m Home: How to Prevent or Resolve Marriage Conflicts Caused by Retirement (Fairview Imprints, 2011) and The Retiring Mind: How to Make the Psychological Transition to Retirement (Fairview Imprints, 2010).

The definition of enneagram is “a system of classifying personality types that is based on a nine-pointed star-like figure inscribed within a circle in which each of the nine points represents a personality type and its psychological motivations (such as the need to be right or helpful) influencing a person’s emotions, attitudes, and behavior.” And now, the essential question: Are you and your spouse or significant-other “compatible” and facing your retirement future “on the same page?”

I have come to learn that different people process life-changing events in various ways, depending on their personality type. You slam a hard-charging personality type with an achievement addiction into an unplanned, downsized retirement life and you won’t see stress like this unless you invested your retirement money with Bernie Madoff.

― Robert Delamontagne in The Retiring Mind: How to Make the Psychological Transition to Retirement

enneagramDelamontagne labels the characteristics of each E-Type. After reading his book, which ones are closest to resembling you and your spouse?

  • E-Type 1: The Master
  • E-Type 2: The Enchanter
  • E-Type 3: The Star
  • E-Type 4: The Drama Queen
  • E-Type 5: The Solitary Mystic
  • E-Type 6: The Closet Rebel
  • E-Type 7: The Cruise Director
  • E-Type 8: The Conquistador
  • E-Type 9: The Harmonizer

Approaching it from an individual retiree’s quest for self-reinvention in their book Shifting Gears to Your Life & Work After Retirement (New Cabady Press, 2013), Dr. Carolee Duckworth and Dr. Marie Langworthy offer self-assessments and analyses with the four-letter personality type code in Chapter 6: “Reinvent Yourself” (see the Myers-Briggs Personality/Cognitive Style Inventory Test at http://www.personalitypathways.com/type_inventory.html and TypeLogic Profiles at http://typelogic.com/index.html) followed by the Interest Profiler in Chapter 7: “Rediscover Your Work” (see https://www.cacareerzone.org/ip).

shifting gears bookcoverOn their book jacket, Duckworth and Langworthy promote their work as “a call to action on your own behalf” to:

  • Jump start your newly invented personal and professional retirement ― your Next Phase life and work.
  • Create your own custom road-map to how Baby Boomer YOU will live your last and BEST personal opus, with vitality, enthusiasm, and enjoyment.

These sections from their reading were also very interesting to review: the 10-point Retirement Countdown, 7 “What Comes Next” Pathways, a 5-Step Process to Create Your Retirement, and 5 Major Types of Retirement Work Options.

In a similar fashion, before you finish the first three dozen pages of The Joy of Retirement, authors David C. Borchard and Patricia A. Donahoe introduce the Life Vitality Assessment and a Transition Readiness – Change Aversion vs. Attraction poll to assist in your self-analysis.

The book develops the “Core Themes for Your New Life,” with the hopes to assist you in re-creating a new life involving the following four phases:

  1. Envisioning the nature of the kind of future you desire.
  2. Articulating that picture into the written word.
  3. Claiming your passion once you are clear about what it is.
  4. Developing a plan or a map for getting where you want to go and for achieving who you want to be.

Joy of Retirement bookcoverLife Themes Profiler, a comprehensive assessment tool developed by David Borchard and laid out initially in Chapter 4, will help you understand and graph the retirement themes and “your intentions for the next chapter of your life.”

They say that 50 is the new 40. If you’re over 50, chances are you feel more vital, energetic, and passionate than ever. While you may be ready to retire, you may not be ready to stop working entirely. These days, life after work no longer conjures up images of couples wandering the malls, playing golf, and taking endless Caribbean cruises. As baby boomers reach their 50s and 60s, they are re-defining what it means to retire. What they want is joy, vitality, and meaning in their lives.

― Back cover of The Joy of Retirement

At the very least, these book resources may open-up new pathways to define your values, personality, temperament, and what may “float your boat” in selecting future service projects, “encore careers,” and hobbies.

Now, get busy on these and “the rest of your life!”

 

FREE TIME: Where do all of our hours go?

There’s never enough time to do all the nothing you want.

― Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes

It’s a good thing I have that Calendar app on my phone, or I would never remember all of the unique, non-repetitive, and less predictable appointments that I make as a retiree.

ZelinskiObviously, fulfilling your “bucket lists” and goals will influence the structure of your daily/weekly schedule.  According to Ernie Zelinski, with or without “a job,”  you need to find a “work-life balance” and devote equal time to these essential priorities:

  • Job or Volunteer Work
  • Family, Relationships
  • Friends and Colleagues
  • Community Activities
  • Self Care – Sports/Exercise
  • Religious/Spiritual Philosophical Concerns
  • Hobbies/Interests
  • Future Plans/Projects

In his book, How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free (Ten Speed Press 2016), Zelinski lays out his “plan” for finding purpose (and prioritize time) in his life:

  • To make a difference in people’s lives
  • To make a contribution
  • To find creative expression
  • To take part in discovery and challenge
  • To help preserve the environment
  • To accomplish or achieve a challenging task
  • To improve health and well-being

Design Your Dream Retirement Cover-slanted-with-shadowDave Hughes echoes these sentiments with his “four essential ingredients for a balanced life” in the book Design Your Dream Retirement: How to Envision, Plan for, and Enjoy the Best Retirement Possible (2015):

  1. Physical activity
  2. Mental stimulation
  3. Social interaction
  4. Personal fulfillment

Watch out for what I will call “the caretaker’s anchor.” One of the greatest things you can do in retirement is to surround yourself with young people… As many wise people have said, “They will keep you forever young!” However, unless you want it to be the primary focus of your life, your babysitting duties should not take over your entire retirement schedule. It is easy for your love ones to assume that since you no longer have a full-time job, you can assume the responsibility of serving as the “safety net” or even the number one full-time caregiver for your grandchildren and grandnieces.

Several additional time management tips:

  1. If you are married, synchronize your schedule with your spouse.
  2. Set aside at least 30-45 minutes a day for sustained physical activity.
  3. Avoid watching more than an hour and a half of television per day. Experts say this is not healthy.
  4. shiny-brain-1150907-1Do something every day that will expand your mind, stimulate your intellect, or increase your curiosity quotient.
  5. Hobbies that focus on self-expression or other creative pursuits are best enjoyed in the morning when you are fresh. You might consider doing your music warmups, practicing, composing, writing, painting, etc. ― anything that requires firing up your artistic “right brain”― before lunch and prior to your appointments, chores, and shopping. Besides, if it’s something you really look forward to doing, it will help motivate you to get out of bed early in the morning.
  6. Get enough sleep. Believe it or not, many retirees have re-occurring bouts of insomnia. Check out “Retirement Insomnia” by Claire N. Barnes at HUFFPOSThttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/claire-n-barnes-ma/retirement-insomnia_b_6395998.html.

It’s 3 a.m. and I’m awake! How many of you boomers have this experience? As the Inspirement journey continues, I have been surprised to learn how common insomnia is among retirees. Forget all the advice suggesting that when you retire, you can sleep more (or longer…. or later). The practical reality is a large percentage of retirees experience insomnia or sleep difficulties.

whatever clockAlthough the exact number of boomers and seniors who experience sleep problems is hard to pinpoint, a national study of our aging population suggests nearly 42 percent of those surveyed have sleep difficulties. That figure is beyond an epidemic.

― Claire N. Barnes

 

ENERGY & FORTITUDE: What happened to my stamina and endurance?

Participating in several extra-curricular programs (marching band, fall play, after-school strings, spring musical, etc.), my hectic music teacher weekday work routine began at school around 6:30 a.m., and often I did not make it home until after 9:30 p.m. Since retiring in 2013, I volunteer at the hospital several days a week pushing patients in wheelchairs (with some of our discharges weighing over 300 pounds!). Considering that 15 hours use to be my daily norm, I keep asking myself: “What’s up with my needing to take a ‘power nap’ after only three hours of a moderate physical activity?”

Aerobic activities, strength training and flexibility exercises can help retirees preserve muscle and bone mass, feel young and be better able to do the activities of daily living, such as putting items on shelves and even holding the grand-kids.

― Felicia Stoler, registered dietitian and exercise physiologist in Holmdel, N.J.

running-in-the-morning-1538848 Patrick NijhuisRegular physical activity is a must. Quoting from a future article I plan to submit to the state journal of Pennsylvania Music Educators Association PMEA News: “The definition of ‘exercise,’ especially in order to receive cardiovascular benefits, is to raise your heart rate for 30 minutes or more. Leaving your La-Z-Boy to let the dogs out or looking for the remote does not count!”

Actually, taking the dogs out for a long walk may be a good idea, but you need to move at a fast pace. Stopping to talk to the neighbors down the street or allowing the pups to slow down and sniff every bush, may not bring the health benefits you desire.

The best tip prior to adopting an exercise program in retirement is to see your doctor.

Here are a few Internet resources:

 

LOSING CONTROL & PERPETUAL CARE:  Should we expect our children to take care of us in our old age?

helping-the-elderly-1437135 melodi2This final category of “pre-retirement planning” has everything to do with living with independence and security as we grow older. Many Baby Boomers just starting their retirement journey may not actually see this as “a big deal” right now. However, developing a long term “backup plan” for maintaining our health care, mobility, and comfortable living is critical. Again… we must think ahead!

As a “senior” with no children, nephews, or nieces, I again seek the advice of experts.

First, visit Kathy Merlino’s recent blog for a good introduction on this subject, especially as it applies to your children becoming the adult caregivers: https://kathysretirementblog.com/2017/07/23/should-your-kids-take-care-of-you/.

She is very eloquent in her “independent-living manifesto”― being actively involved in her children’s lives but NOT leaving them the ultimate chore of “taking care of mom!”

The primary reason for my planning for independence is my children. I’d like for them to live unfettered with my care. They have their own lives, spouses, children and now, my oldest daughter, has her very first grandchild. Taking care of myself is the best gift I can give them…

We, as parents, should never expect our kids to resign from their lives to care for us. It is up to us to care for us. We owe it to our children to stay physically active, to eat a healthy diet, to pursue our passions, to stay mentally sharp, to develop a community of friends of our own, to stay spiritually true to ourselves. And, if necessary, live in an assisted living community. That is the best legacy we can leave them.

― Kathy Merlino

Consumer Reports offers an excellent online article “Healthy Aging in Your 80s and Beyond – 5 Tips to a Long, Healthy Life,” recapping the above advice on physical fitness and offering a few recommendations on how to live independently:  https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2014/06/healthy-aging-into-your-80s-and-beyond/index.htm.

Consumer Reports logoFifty-five percent of our respondents wanted to stay in their own homes, with help as needed, as they got older and required more care. But a recent AARP survey revealed that only about half of older adults thought their homes could accommodate them “very well” as they age; twelve percent said “not well” or “not well at all.”

“The time to think about your housing options is when you first retire and are relatively healthy and young,” said Linda Fodrini-­Johnson, a geriatric-care manager in Walnut Creek, Calif. “You need to think realistically about the things that might happen over the next 20 years.”

Consumer Reports, June 2014 issue

I like a few additional resources on the web:

romanticism-1309299 Claudia Meyer

CONCLUSION ― Food for Thought!

Gerontologists like Ken Dychtwald and Robert Atchley contribute loads of research and recommendations for the “imagination” (pre-retirement), “anticipation,” and “liberation” stages of retirement. They provide the basis for all the concern and rush to reflect on senior self-realization and dodge anticipated problems we may encounter during this period. One quote from TIPS Retirement for Music Educators by Verne A. Wilson sums up the need for a concerted effort in “advance planning” to enjoy and find meaning in your post-employment “new dreams and horizons!” Conquer your own retiree “conundrums!”

If you were planning to spend the rest of your life in another country, you would want to learn as much about it as possible. You would read books about the climate, people, history, and architecture. You would talk to people who had lived there. You might even learn a bit of its language. Old age is like another country. You’ll enjoy it more if you have prepared yourself before you go.

― B. F. Skinner and Margaret Vaughn in TIPS Retirement for Music Educators

 

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits from FreeImages.com (in order): “Sunset Years” by Bill Davenport, “Shiny Brain” by artM, “Running in the Morning” by Patrick Nijhuis, “Helping the Elderly” by Melodi2, and “Romanticism” by Claudia Meyer

Goals for the Musical Road to Success

Photo credit: FreeImages.com, photographer Matt Hains

Making mature and meaningful decisions to plan personal practice

As the school concert season draws to a close and summer is almost upon us, now is the perfect time to reflect on a little musical goal-setting, complete a personal inventory and needs assessment (in what areas do I need help?), foxsfiresidesprioritize what’s the most important, and define several new “practice plans.”

Do you recall a cartoon with Lucy van Pelt bossing Charlie Brown around and handing him his own very long list of New Year’s resolutions? Except for your parents and the music teachers who know YOU, it isn’t usually effective for someone else to pick your goals. (Of course, if you don’t listen to the suggestions from your music directors and private teachers, there’s a good chance you will never improve!) Sitting around doing nothing, accepting things as they are now, and randomly floating from one task to another accidentally “making music” without foresight or planning are not likely to work. Inattention and osmosis are slow ways to achieve anything in life. Obviously, you must be motivated, ambitious, focused, and committed to “whatever it takes” on the pathways towards self-improvement and musical mastery!

According to “goals experts” (such as the One Minute Manager book by Kenneth Blanchard and the Utah State University recommendations below), to create meaningful personal goals, they should:

  • Be written down (Take the time and post them in your room!);
  • Be specific (Keep it focused, simple, and to the point!);
  • Be concrete (Exactly what/how do you need to do?);
  • Be measurable (How do you know when you’ve succeeded?);
  • Be viewed and reviewed often (Look at them daily/weekly/monthly, and every time you practice!);
  • Be shared (Show them to your music teacher and/or parents/spouse!);
  • Be flexible and change as needed (Modify and adjust – set new goals!);
  • Have a time frame (When will these have to be completed?).

ALL students, parents, and teachers – CLICK ON THIS LINK! Download, print, and read Getting What You Want – How to Make Goals: https://www.usu.edu/asc/assistance/pdf/goal_setting.pdf

seriestoshare-logo-01Your practice should have well-defined goals. What do you want to learn as a musician? Are there particular pieces of music, styles, or technical skills you would like to be able to play? Knowing what you want to accomplish will help you decide what work is needed and assist defining specific learning targets. If you have a private teacher, he/she will automatically prescribe objectives for you, based on your present strengths and weaknesses. But if you desire to join the local youth symphony, participate in a music festival, play in a pit orchestra, perform solos or chamber music, become a conductor, help coach your peers, or want to improve a specific technical skill or general musicianship, make sure your teachers know it! They may be able to share warm-ups, strategies, or practice materials that will help you improve and expand your knowledge, technique, expressiveness, sight-reading and ear training.

Here are some goal-related questions to ask yourself (consider several of these):

  1. Have you signed up for the local band or string camp?
  2. Have you made arrangements to take a few lessons on your instrument or even on piano or music theory over the summer?
  3. What was the last method book you used? Did you finish it? How many pieces can you memorize from it?
  4. When was the last time you performed a solo or two and recorded yourself? Wouldn’t it be fun to video yourself playing a mini-recital and sending the DVD to your grandmother or grandfather?
  5. One of the greatest challenges in performance is sight reading. Can you pull-out a random piece of music (even something written for a different instrument) and play it straight through without stopping?
  6. Pick your greatest weakness or problem on the instrument. What needs your attention? New keys, rhythms, articulations?
  7. Ask your teacher what would be an appropriate exercise book. Can you define several new challenging goals in playing scales, arpeggios, other warm-ups, or études specifically geared for your instrument?
  8. For Western Pennsylvania residents, did you know the South Hills Junior Orchestra is always open to new instrumentalists? SHJO begins its Saturday practices a week after Labor Day (USCHS Band Room 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.). Everyone is welcome to play in 2-4 free-trial practices!

Take a trip to the South Hills Junior Orchestra website. Under “Resources,” check out the three sets of free “Series to Share…” additional “Fox’s Fireside” issues by Paul K. Fox, and “Music Enrichment Workshop” presentations by Donna Stark Fox.

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

This “Series to Share” is brought to you by… the Founding Directors of the South Hills Junior Orchestra (SHJO), “A Community Orchestra for All Ages” based in Western Pennsylvania. Feel free to download a printable copy and distribute to music students, parents, teachers, and fellow amateur musicians.

SHJO rehearses most Saturdays in the band room of the Upper St. Clair High School, 1825 McLaughlin Run Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15241. New members are always welcome! For more information, please go to www.shjo.org.

What I Have Learned from My Dogs… in Retirement

fox pups posing 051115It was one of the first things I did when I retired from more-than-full-time music teaching and serving as the Performing Arts Curriculum Leader of my excellent school system (Upper St. Clair School District/Western Pennsylvania). Start looking for a dog.

The incredibly hectic non-stop schedule of a husband and wife, both string teachers with a variety of responsibilities, music class assignments, after-school rehearsals, and concerts across numerous buildings, serving as spring musical directors, active music festival and conference participants in our professional groups (PMEA/ASTA), and co-director (wife) or assistant (me) of the marching band – totally precluded having a dog. I think it would have been considered animal abuse. We were never home, except to crawl into bed to fall sleep. That’s the “calling” of a devoted music educator, especially if he/she is passionate about and focused on inspiring and bringing creative self-expression to the students, willingly committing him/herself to countless hours of extra-curricular activities. We are proud of those opportunities that affected so many lives! (Do you remember the theme of that final scene in the movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus?”)

dogs_nopretender_IMG_1565It was quite by accident that we “found” our two puppies. (Actually, as most dog owners would attest, they chose us!) We visited the area pet stores, just to peruse all of the animal habitats, beds, toys, treats, and the like… and did not know that one chain store in our area actually sold dogs! Gracie, a pure-bred bichon frise selected my wife, and a yorky-poo we named Brewster picked me! The rest is history… at a high cost (the premium price for the dogs plus two of everything, including duplicate crates, dishes, bags of food, treats, and even toothbrushes). With lots of surprises in store for us, we rescued them from Petland!

dogs_scolded_IMG_1564After 35 years of having to run in and out of the house to travel and fulfill appointments, errands, practices, and performances, all at once I had a reason to stay home and share the unconditional love of owning not one but two “good dogs.”

New retiree “pet chores” were doled out. My wife was in charge of feeding and grooming. I did the lion-share of walks. We both attended “owner training” (they called it “dog training,” but we were the ones who needed to learn how to control our dogs).

For me, walking the dogs has become the most amazingly peaceful and reflective activity. It has improved my disposition, calmed my nerves, sharpened my senses, increased my dogs_walk_IMG_1782capacity for patience and tolerance, and lowered my blood pressure! Yes, between volunteer escorting patients at our local hospital several days a week and exercising the dogs at least four times daily, we add up a lot of mileage… an average of 15,000 steps or 5-7 miles a day!

Something I would never have predicted before my retirement:  I am now getting up as early as 5:30 most mornings… which is before the alarm would go off when I was employed! Of course, this is every day, every week, every season, rain or shine, with few exceptions. Who needs sleep anyway?

You really ought to try taking two warm bundles of fur to bed with you to hug and cuddle. Gracie and puppy moment3Brewster only have temporary residence on the top of our blankets and bedspread, and must later go back to their playpens in the game-room (our former music studio) once we decide to go to sleep. (My dogs are small… I don’t want to “squash them” when I roll over!)

So, who’s the teacher now? The following are a few of the “life’s lessons” I have learned from close observation of my dogs. Consider this a helpful guide for all retired people.

  1. Live enthusiastically in the “here and now.”
  2. Forgive unequivocally and immediately.
  3. Life is all about taking a long walk, smelling the roses (and everything else), bamboozling another treat from “daddy,” and getting my ears scratched or belly rubbed.
  4. dogs_fringe_IMG_1990Whenever possible, fearlessly explore the fringe (almost beyond the reach of the leash).
  5. Relax and snuggle with someone you love as often as possible.
California attorney Mike Vaughn posted several additional “bits of wisdom,” a map for happy and healthy retired living, on his Maritime Law Center website: http://maritimelawcenter.com/html/things_i_learned_from_my_dog.html
  • When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
  • If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
  • Never pretend to be something you are not.
  • No matter how often you are scolded, don’t buy into the guilt thing and pout… run right back and make friends.
dogs_IMG_1860doggie_heaven_ - 32Tara Mullarkey summed up a few more of the important ones on her blog “7 Life Lessons I’ve Learned from My Dog” (http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-7561/7-life-lessons-ive-learned-from-my-dog.htm):
  • We need to play (every day).
  • Love is all there isl

Attention all recently retired persons: If you do not already own a dog or other pet, I strongly encourage you to consider the option of adopting or rescuing a dog! It may be one of the best decisions of your life!

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox

Retirement, Exercise, and Balance

“One in three people 65 and older fall each year in the United States.” Source: Centers for Disease Control (CDC) at http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Falls/adultfalls.html

“Staying active with regular exercise can help seniors improve their health and hang on to their independence longer. Walking is a great way for seniors to fulfill the recommendation of two and a half hours of aerobic activity per week.” Source: Livestrong Foundation at http://www.livestrong.com/article/416885-walking-exercises-for-seniors/

According to the Centers for Disease Control, falls are the leading cause of injuries, fatal and nonfatal, by U.S. seniors. Older adults can stay independent and reduce their chances of falling by adopting the following strategies:

  • Exercise regularly especially to increase leg strength and improve overall balance.
  • Have a doctor or pharmacist review prescriptions and over-the-counter medications for side-effects or interactions that may cause dizziness or drowsiness.
  • Check the eyes at least once a year and update eyeglasses to maximize vision.
  • Reduce household tripping hazards by the adding grab bars inside and outside the tub or shower and next to the toilet, installing railings on both sides of stairways, and improving the lighting in and outside homes.
  • Lower the risk of bone fractures by consuming adequate calcium and vitamin D from food and/or from supplements, doing weight-bearing exercise, and being screened and treated (if needed) for osteoporosis.

The best advice I heard recently about retirement and remaining physically active was contributed to PMEA News (state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association) by colleague Chuck Neidhardt, a retired member of PMEA:

Begin a routine exercise plan, or begin a sport. You don’t have to be good at it – just do it for your health. This is a must for retirees because the exercise we got from walking the hall between our room and our mailbox (or elsewhere in the school) is no longer there. It only takes a short while to begin to add the pounds and lose the strength we had while teaching. Also, be sure to begin a regular regimen of seeing your doctor and having a physical check up at least once a year. 

Since I have retired, I have experienced a few surprises first-hand in maintaining my own physical fitness and stamina.

One would have thought that once we were released from the day-to-day demands of our music programs and school work, we could become “footloose and fancy-free” to enjoy free time and all kinds of physical activity – to the end-result of noticeably improved health, endurance, and vitality in our lives! (After all, have you noticed that the majority of recently retired people seem to look instantly younger, well-rested, and happier?)

What free time? For most retirees, it doesn’t take long to fill up their “dance card” and calendars with social engagements, family obligations, home improvements, yard work, golf/tennis outings, swimming, or other sports, doctor and dental appointments, local concerts and musicals, trips and vacations, systematic sorting/filing/downsizing the mounds of paper (and music) accumulated over 30+ years of teaching – you name it! You’ll hear it frequently lamented by most retired educators: “How did we ever find the time to do everything when we had our job?”

Where’s my stamina? When I was a full-time teacher with numerous extra-curricular activities, I would arrive to school by 7 a.m., teach 6-9 music classes or lessons during the school day, attend faculty, curriculum meetings or after-school ensemble rehearsals until 4:30, run home to get a quick bite to eat, and then more often than not return to school for at least another couple hours for play or musical practices. On most week-nights, lesson planning and prep had to begin at 9:30 or 10 p.m.

All those years and I didn’t even notice that this “rat race” was stressful and physically grueling! (Although, the evidence was there all along… such things like “always being tired” and “feeling stressed!” Really, is it normal for anyone to take only five minutes to eat lunch in his car traveling between buildings? Many itinerant music teachers who are assigned to 2-4 buildings a day may have to catch a quick-snack this way. Even today, if I don’t hold myself back, I can consume a meal in under 10 minutes!)

Now that I have retired and left all of these “bad habits” behind, why is it that volunteering 3 1/2 hours pushing wheelchairs at a local hospital sometimes seems to be more than I can manage? Nap time, anyone?

What’s a healthy solution? The first thing I considered when I retired was something I could never do during my teaching career – go out and buy two (adorable) puppies! Similar to the exhaustive physical demands of babysitting grandchildren, caring for my “Brewster” (yorkie-poo) and “Gracie” (bichon frise) has consumed every free moment! Just look at their picture above and you will instantly know the rationale behind my wife’s and my commitment!

Well, the good news is… now my weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol are down! For me, the secret is dog walking! According to the new app that suddenly appeared during an update of my iPhone iOS, I am now averaging 12,000 steps every day, at least five miles (and some days as many as nine!)… and the lion’s share is due to the doggies! To me, walking is a wonderfully peaceful and reflective stress eliminator, and puts me in a good frame of mind. No matter the weather or the season, my “pups” will help me stick to my plan of low-impact fitness training! Isn’t that why they say pet owners live longer?

In conclusion, retirement is a good time to “pump up exercise!” For more specifics, check out the USATODAY online article at http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/01/19/retirees-exercise-physical-activity/4262151/.

Of course, first consult your physician on what type of physical regimen would be good for you!

I will leave you with this summary from the Livestrong Foundation:

Exercise can have profound effects on a senior citizen’s vitality and overall well-being. Staying active can help to reduce pain and stiffness, improve energy levels and increase strength. Older adults who exercise are more mobile and independent. Senior citizens need to get a mix of four types of exercise: endurance, strengthening, stretching and balance. Your routine can be simple and does not have to involve elaborate or expensive equipment.

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox