Pet Ownership & Retirement

pmeaReprinted from the Winter 2016 PMEA News, the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association.

 

 

Many of us already know the immediate joys of dog or cat ownership – how much fun, affection, and meaning they can bring into our lives. According to HelpGuide.org International, a nonprofit tax-exempt 501(c)3 organization of “digital mental health pioneers,” pets also provide numerous benefits for your health and well-being, and even your longevity. Quoting from their website (http://www.helpguide.org/articles/emotional-health/the-health-benefits-of-pets.htm):

doggies_ - 3“Dogs in particular can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and playfulness, and even improve your cardiovascular health.”

Studies have found that dogs improve our mood and health:

  • Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than adults without pets.
  • People with dogs have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets
  • Playing with a dog or cat can elevate your levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.
  • Pets can help lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels (indicators of heart disease).
  • According to the American Heart Association, heart attack patients who have dogs survive longer than those without.
  • Pet caretakers over the age 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to their doctors than those without pets.

doggies_ - 5Once you reach full retirement, you may find yourself with a lot more “freedom” and time “at-home” to share with your spouse, other loved ones (babysitting grandchildren/ nieces?), friends, personal music-making, hobbies, and pets! Indeed, this may be the first chance you have to go out and rescue a dog from an animal shelter. Full-time music teachers with those incredibly packed schedules of after-school/evening marching band practices, choir, band, orchestra, jazz, musical, and/or dance rehearsals and performances, their own concert gigs, private lessons, etc. may not be able to properly care for a dog by themselves. The only reservation to bringing a new dog into your home is if you plan to take a lot of long trips in retirement. Perhaps then, you can revisit the option of animal adoption after taking several cruises, safaris, and cross-country road trips. Pets need your love and attention!

Having a dog or cat as a retiree will support many healthy lifestyle changes, such as (from HelpGuide.org):

  1. Increasing exercise
  2. Providing companionship
  3. Staying connected and meeting new people
  4. Reducing anxiety
  5. Adding structure and routine to your day
  6. Providing sensory stress relief
  7. Helping you find meaning and joy in life
  8. Boosting vitalitydoggies - 3

You need to read the entire HelpGuide.org blog-post and Harvard Health Publications for more information about dog ownership and issues dealing with heart-health, weight-loss, boosting your immune system, bipolar disorder, PTSD, Alzheimer’s patients, and children with learning disorders. They provide additional tips on choosing a pet, and the costs and commitment associated with them. Other excellent online resources include:

doggies_ - 4Several of my own experiences “learning and growing” with Brewster (a yorkie-poo) and Gracie (a bichon frise), “new children” added to my household immediately after retirement, are shared at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2015/09/22/what-i-have-learned-from-my-dogs-in-retirement/. Here are a few of the intangibles…  “rules for healthy living” our pets model and we realize by having them:

  1. Life is all about taking a long walk, smelling the roses (and everything else), bamboozling another treat from “daddy,” and getting your ears scratched or belly rubbed.
  2. Live enthusiastically in the “here and now.”
  3. Forgive unequivocally and immediately, and always run to greet loved ones when they come home.
  4. Whenever possible, fearlessly explore the fringe (almost beyond the reach of the leash).
  5. Relax and snuggle with someone you love as often as possible.

doggies_ - 7So fdoggies_ - 8or what are you waiting? Go out and find a dog or cat to rescue… or at least pet one! You’ll be glad you did!

PKF

 

© 2015, 2016 and 2017 Paul K. Fox

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This article is a complimentary re-issue to motivate retired music educators to join PMEA – their professional association. For more information, please go to the PMEA website http://www.pmea.net/membership-information/ and read the blog-post “PMEA in Retirement – What’s in it for Me?”

Is It Autumn?

Retirement… and the Seasons of Change

As I walk my two energetic dogs near our local school and park today, I noticed that the leaves are “holding on for dear life,” most have not fallen nor started their usual color transformations. This is Western Pennsylvania in mid-October. What is happening? What forces are disrupting our cycle of the seasons… from the normal spring re-awakening of our senses, to the heat and glory of summer, to the falling temperatures and brilliance of color in the autumn, just before everything shuts down for winter? Global warming? (Well, it was a balmy 75-degrees today!) Or, nature’s way of holding on to the past… and living every moment to its fullest?

Well, one thing is for sure. You can smell that change is in the air… and in our lives as we take on the great trek to retirement  – a process, like the unpredictable and evolving seasons, which can self-empower and lead us to creative ways to self-reinvent and thrive.

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If you stop to think about it, full-time retirement embraces many of the analogies we use for our changing seasons. If those early years of education, staff orientation and induction, job training, in-service programs, conferences, etc. stand for rapid growth and the budding months of spring, perhaps summer symbolizes our career accomplishments and professional journey towards harvesting our special skills, experiences, and interests in early fall. One may accurately depict the onset of a gloomy late autumn and stormy winter weather as our release from the employment routine, the sudden free-fall of retirement, retooling and coping with the emotional turmoil of momentous life-style changes, possibly even a short hibernation (rest, reflection, and a less frenzied schedule of activities), but eventually planting the seeds of new goals, habits, perspectives, and expectations… which leads us back to spring – the season of renewed hopes, revitalized rebirths, and new beginnings.

“Retirement is the last opportunity for individuals to reinvent themselves, let go of the past, and find peace and happiness within.” – Ernie J. Zelinski

Research suggests that, as wonderful as the retirement “voyage” is for some, many do not find it “clear sailing!” Dr. Robert P. Delamontagne wrote in his book Retiring Mind (Fairview Imprints, 2010), “50% of retirees will suffer some form of acute emotional distress. This is potentially a very large problem given the fact that 10,000 people are becoming eligible for Social Security every day for the next 20 years in the US alone.”

In the event your job was cut or downsized, or you were forced into “early retirement,” you may even be in the partial grips of post-traumatic stress disorder, or experiencing some of the stages of grief and loss (http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/mental-health-coping-with-grief):

  • autumn-1Denial
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Acceptance

At the very least, the passage to post-employment boils down to coping with a few of these very common emotional “bumps” along the way:

  • Loss of professional identity
  • Loss of goals, daily routine, and purposeful activity
  • Loss of social network and interaction with co-workers

“The greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions, and not our circumstances.” – Martha Washington

The good news? Yes, you can survive “Crossing the Rubicon” into retirement… and flourish while “living the dream” in your supposed “golden years.” Advice from gerontologists, psychologists, and other “experts” on aging include the following:
  • Prior to retiring, prepare for “life after work.” Cultivate interests outside the job, lead a healthier life-style, revitalize family relationships, and nurture friendships.
  • Stay engaged! Understand many “high achievers” never fully retire.
  • Take a break and self-reflect on trying new and fulfilling quests of work/life balance.
  • Find purposeful activities to do during your retirement.
  • Focusing on your talents and abilities, and set some new goals regarding how you want to spend your free time.
  • Because your brain’s reward center likes variety, give yourself an assortment of new or unique experiences.
  • Treat your first year of retirement as if you are interning.
  • Reprogram yourself to be less addicted to achievement (or linking your self-identity or self-worth to a job).
  • Limit your television viewing time (less than two hours a day!)
  • Plan some regular physical activity.
  • Revisit your creative roots and enjoy personal moments of “making music” – singing, dancing, playing instruments, composing, doing drama, writing, painting, sewing, woodworking, etc. – in short, CREATING SELF-EXPRESSION!

“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.” – F. Skinner and Margaret Vaughn in TIPS Retirement for Music Educators, MENC 1989

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If you ask the average retired music teacher, “Let’s get together for lunch. When are you free?” you’ll probably witness the retiree whipping out his smartphone to check his calendar app. Retirement does mean freedom, but it often also induces a very busy schedule of new commitments, perhaps even related “encore career pursuits” involving music and education such as student teacher supervision, private tutoring, coaching sectionals or small ensembles, assisting local music industry in organizing music tours/trips or delivering rental or repaired instruments, babysitting grand children or others, care-taking for an elderly loved one, etc.

“There is no pleasure in having nothing to do; the fun is having lots to do and not doing it.” – John W. Raper

A lot of our retired members enjoy part-time positions in guest conducting, teaching or presenting at the college level, providing private lessons, serving in state MEAs or the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), or other consultant services like the special interest categories on the PMEA State Retired Resource Registry Index. Many of these jobs can be started before retirement, just expanded to fit your new-found flexibility of fewer conflicts or time constraints.

The best advice I can give to newbie retirees is to learn from your peers and the successes of others who have come before you. Read everything you can get your hands on from these online “gurus” of retirement:

Check out other articles at this blog (click on “Retirement Resources” at the right), and peruse my two blog-posts at Edutopia:

Finally, if you are a NAfME member and want to see a little of Atlantic City next spring, come to my session, “Living the Dream – Survival and Celebration of Retirement” at the 55th Biennial Eastern Division Conference April 5-8, 2017 (I believe I am presenting on Thursday.) Join us, retirees! It will be FUN!

PKF

© 2016 Paul K. Fox

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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