Friends, Friends, Friends

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In a few days I will be leaving, with my husband, Steve, for Budapest, Hungary, a country I have never been to and know some, but not a lot, about.  I’ll be teaching in a high school, something I have also never done.  We will be picked up by my boss and brought to our new apartment which is less than 500 square feet.  I’m leaving the comfort of my home, my children and grandchildren and my wonderful, supportive friends, to embark on this new unknown journey.

When I think about the challenges I’ll face, the top one is starting over developing friendships with new women.  My women friends are and have always been the touchstones in my life.  When I was growing up my mother had lots of lifelong women friends and she was always doing things with them. She was a true role model for having and keeping women friends.  During my adolescents my mother would always say, “It’s your women friends, well she probably said girlfriends, who are important.  Hold on to them, cherish them, honor them and all else will fall into place.”  I have lived my life with that in mind.

A few weeks ago I celebrated my dear friend Debby’s 70th birthday.  We have been friends for our entire lives because our mothers were best friends.  At the celebration two other friends, Joan and Mame, where there. They have also been in my life for more than 5 decades.  These women, along with my sister, know me like no others and even though we don’t see each other that often these days, time means nothing.  We simply pick up where we left off and the friendship only deepens.

I have been faced with this challenge of meeting and developing friendships with women several times. It always works out and I find myself creating bonds and finding common ground and forging meaningful relationships.  When I return in 10 months all those friends that I left behind will still be in my life.  Thanks in part to email, SKYPE and Facetime we will stay in touch. Some of them will have visited and others will have had their own amazing adventures.  What I do know is that I will heed my mother’s words and I will hold on to my women friends, cherish them, honor them and I will trust that all else will fall into place.

Stay in touch and I will too.

With love and gratitude,

Marsha

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Retired or Unemployed?

imagesWhen I turned 62 people occasionally asked me if, or when, I would be retiring.  The idea seemed ludicrous to me and I didn’t give it much thought.  After being out of the country and working and living in South Korea for the past 4½ years, I returned home with every intention of being fully employed.  All summer my only income stream was Airbnb and my social security check.  When people saw me they would assume I was retired, hanging out with my grandchildren.  It seemed like an easy way to transition back while I figured out my next move. I would smile and not dispute their assumptions about my retirement.  The truth is I was unemployed, but when you get to a certain age there is a fine line, and a bit of confusion between retirement and unemployment.

I have no intention of retiring and think of myself as a person with lots of energy, creative ideas and the desire to continue to do interesting work.  So what does a 68-year-old woman do when the job market is not overly age-receptive?  Well, she starts a business, of course!  I have been an entrepreneur through most of my career, having run several businesses, loving my work and my life along the way. Things haven’t changed for me.  I hear all the rhetoric about how we, baby boomers, have lots to contribute to the work force and then I realize that most of the articles are about people in their 50s seeking a new career.  Well, I’m nearing 70 and I don’t want a new career; I like the one I have.  Since I have never taken no for an answer, and I see myself as a pretty recalcitrant citizen, I am determined to move from retired or unemployed, to fully employed.  I don’t know how long it will last or, if after a few years, I’ll call myself retired. But right now, I intend to make my way in the world of work.

After leaving Korea, my husband, Steve, and I, traveled for almost 5 months.  We travelled through Southeast Asia and then on to Europe.  We made our way to the southwestern part of France and began our amazing Camino walk.  The Camino de Santiago is a 500-mile pilgrimage across northern Spain.  We started on April 25th on the French side of the Pyrenees and ended in Santiago on June 1.  The trip was transformative and I took the lessons we learned on the Camino and started my new business:  Buen Camino Finding Your Way.  It’s a journey of discovery, reflection and action. The “journey” is an 8-week group for women that meets once a week for 2 hours to explore visions, goals, and values, as well as identifying and addressing what might be in the way of total success.  I’m having a great time and our second group will start soon.

I may look more like a retired person than an unemployed one, but I will defy all stereotypes and make those choices when I’m good and ready.  Right now, I’m moving towards full employment and there will be no confusion about my role in the world.

The fact is, that getting older is a privilege, no one gets out of this life alive, and I intend to make the most of my time in ways that bring me joy.  Truth be told, if I hit the lottery tomorrow, I would quit working, become a philanthropist, and travel to the places in the world that are still on my “living list” (formally known as my bucket list). But since that’s not happening today, I am loving my new business and having fun doing it. Now that I have reached a certain age, and realize the finite amount of time left, I try to only engage in things that bring joy and happiness.  A lofty goal I know, but until I chose to retire and take  that path, this one suits me fine.

Buen Camino

Am I Self-Actualized Yet?

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When I was in my early 30’s, I told a therapist that I wanted to be self-actualized by the time I was 40.  She and I laughed about that lofty expectation and she told me to watch out what I wish for since self-actualization might signal the end.

“Why did you come on the Camino?” is the third question pilgrims ask each other after, “Where are you from?” and “Where did you start your Camino?”  The answers are as varied as the pilgrims themselves.  Why did I come on the Camino?  My answer when I started was purely for the adventure and challenge. After more than 30 days of walking I would still include the adventure and the challenge amongst my reasons, but so much more has happened since that first day.  I have met so many people who have touched my life in both big and small ways, and I have had the time to self-reflect in ways I never dreamed possible.  I have spent every day joyously with the love of my life and strengthened our love and friendship beyond belief. I have experienced enormous kindness and generosity from strangers.  I will never be the same after this experience.  Am I self-actualized?  Hell, no!  I really don’t strive for that anymore. The lessons are more about humility, staying open, trusting both the process and myself.  People are here for lots of different reasons, all of them valid and important.  The Camino is filled with wonder and magic. The walking is coming to end in 5 days, but the lessons of the Camino will stay with me forever.

Buen Camino.

With love and gratitude,

Marsha

How are you getting to Santiago?

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During an interview with Bill Rodgers after he won his fourth Boston Marathon, he was asked what he thought of the people who were still running 3, 4 or 5 hours after he finished.  His response was great, he said, “I couldn’t possibly run that long.”

The Camino de Santiago is something that you walk at a pace that makes sense for you.  Steve and I start each day with dozens of “pilgrims.”  Most of them  pass us sometime during the morning, and by the end of the day, we often feel like we are the last people to arrive at our destination. Some people pass us at breakneck speed, as if this was a race.  I wondered about this and with a little research (not hard to do on the Camino) I discovered that without a reservation, or in the case of Albeurgues, a bed, folks need to rush to their destination or be shut out of a place to sleep, and may have to walk several miles to another town before finding a bed. Wait a minute!!! Aren’t we doing this to reflect on life?  To smell the roses, or the wild rosemary that grows along the way? A friend told us that people are leaving earlier and earlier each morning, some at 5:00 am to get to their destination to line up for a bed for the night.

Truth be told, we are doing this in a very different way.  We had all of our hotels booked in advance, and whether we arrive at 3:00 in the afternoon or 8:00 at night, our room awaits us. Each morning we leave our suitcases and they are magically waiting for us at our next destination.  We carry backpacks filled with raingear, water and snacks.  We have the luxury of enjoying some breakfast in the morning before we leave and stopping as many times and for however long we choose.  We are covering the same ground each day as most pilgrims, but at a pace that is sometimes akin to strolling.  We stop to take pictures, to watch the storks in their enormous nests atop churches, or simply to have a sandwich or a cup of soup at a restaurant or on a bench in a town as we pass through. We are also paying a lot more than 8 or 10 Euros a night for a bed.  That is a trade-off and one, at our age, we think we’ve earned. Some people cover the same distance we do in half the time and when they arrive in a town and secure a bed they can shower and explore the town.  We usually arrive between 3:00-5:00 pm each day and we shower and relax, sometimes exploring a town, having dinner and crawling into bed in our private room with our own bath.  Staying in Albeurgues is not for me, a room with 10-100 beds with people snoring or coughing and sharing a bathroom with loads of strangers.  There was probably a time in my 20’s when this appealed to me, but at 67, it’s the last thing I want after a long day of walking.  There are lots of ways to get to Santiago and people choose the one that works for them.  As we get further along the Camino there are more and more people joining the way, looking for rooms or beds and making it more and more competitive.  I suspect some people welcome the rush and challenge of getting a bed, others find friends to share hotel rooms with.  Whatever way people choose they will get to Santiago and have the same thrill of arriving.  We will likely come strolling in several days after most people we started this journey with and we will have a huge smile on our faces as we make our way to our hotel and the hot shower that awaits us.

Buen Camino.

With love and gratitude,

Marsha

Crossing the finish line!

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When I started running road races about 30 years ago, I learned quickly that when well intentioned spectators yell from the sidelines “You’re almost there,” it’s best to ignore them.  Unless I can actually see the finish line, I’m not almost there. When I cross the finish line I will be there.

We are on Day 10 of our walk along the Camino de Santiago.  No one could have prepared me for either the physical challenge, or the amazing natural beauty I would experience.  The first day was the hardest and yet the most extraordinary day.  We crossed the Pyrenees from France to Spain.  When we started, the weather was overcast and perfect for walking.  It was straight up for about 8 miles and then once we were on the top of the world we were treated to views beyond belief. I wanted to break into my Julie Andrews rendition of “The Hills Are Alive.” We began the descent, without my song and dance, to reach the first day’s finish line–which ended up being about another 12-13 miles.  We started in Saint Jean Pied de Port, France, and when we reached Roncesvalles, the first town in Spain after the descent, we discovered that we were actually staying in the next town, another 3 miles.  Most “pilgrims”, that’s what we are called, left us in Roncesvalles and we continued on in the rain towards the elusive first day finish line. I had my Garmin GPS watch measuring every mile and when that ran out of power, I switched to Map My Walk on my phone, checking regularly if we were there, by how many miles we had walked.   Of course, by then I had realized that most of the signs with kilometers listed were inaccurate and I stated laughing, a bit crazed and hallucinating by then, about how funny it was that I was measuring the miles.  First of all, it’s 500 miles from Saint Jean to Santiago, so no matter how I walk it, it’s 500 miles.  There are lots of up hills and down hills, some very long and steep, all with amazing natural beauty, so actually, who cares how far it is?  We leave every morning about 8:00 AM and many people pass us in the course of the day. We great each other with “Buen Camino,” have a great walk. We usually arrive at our destination between 4:00 and 6:00 PM.  We walk at a slow pace, take lots of breaks and are grateful for the long days of sunlight.  Once we arrive at the town, we head to our hotel, that’s where that day’s finish line ends. We have a hot shower, relax, and get ready for a great dinner complete with wonderful Spanish wine.  The Spanish eat dinner so late that it really doesn’t matter what time we arrive, restaurants don’t even open until 8:00 PM.

We will walk every day for the next 26 days, with 3 days for resting.  I stopped wearing my watch and when we see a town in the distance, I stopped wondering if that’s the town we’re staying in.  We will get there when we get there and the wonderfully friendly Spanish people will greet us like we are old friends who have finally arrived.  Walking the Camino and finding our way is an experience of a lifetime, each step.  When we arrive in Santiago on June 1st we will be there whether I have measured the miles or not. We will cross the finish line and celebrate this amazing accomplishment.

Buen Camino.

With love and gratitude,

Marsha

Do you mind if I ask how old you are?

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We have been traveling for the past nine weeks, visiting six countries, two in southeast Asia, and four in Europe. Throughout this journey, whenever they were available, we’ve asked for senior discounts–on trains, planes, museums and tours.  In most places we are given the discount with no questions asked, no proof of age.  That has been a bit disappointing.  I guess I really do look like a senior.  When exactly did that happen?  When was it that I stopped being asked to prove my age?  When was the last time I asked for a senior discount and the person looked at me with skepticism?  That just doesn’t happen anymore.

Today we were buying tickets to tour the amazing castle in Carcassonne, France, the last stop before beginning our Camino walk, and I forgot to ask for the senior discount.  The woman, probably in her 30’s, looked at me and sheepishly said.  “Do you mind if I ask how old you are?”  I laughed, and said I was certainly old enough for the senior discount, telling her I was 67.  I was hoping she would say, “Wow, you don’t look a day over 62!”, the age for a senior discount. She just smiled and told me I was getting a 2 Euro discount on the ticket price.

On Tuesday, we begin walking 500 miles of the Camino de Santiago.  We start on the French side of the Pyrenees.  From what I have read, the first day is the hardest day of the 34 days we will be walking.  People speak of starting in Saint Jean Pied de Port, where we will start, with great pride. There’s no senior discount for the Camino and no short cuts.

In 1999 I ran the Boston Marathon and I said to someone I knew who had also run that year, a world class runner, “Wow, I ran the Boston Marathon, but not like you.”  Her response has never left me, “You ran the same 26.2 miles that I ran, on the same day, with the same conditions. Never diminish your accomplishment.”

We won’t walk as fast as many people, but we will walk the same 500 miles, over the same terrain. We might be asked our age, but we won’t receive a senior discount.

Buen Camino!

Look for our updates on my blog and on Facebook.

With love and gratitude,

Marsha

 

On the Road Again

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Several years ago I took a test that measured the amount of stress certain situations and events have on a person’s life.  I was instructed to check off the things I was experiencing, or had recently experienced.  They ranged from death of a loved one to loss of a job  to moving, and the list went on.  I was surprised to see that one of the items listed was, “going on vacation.” Going on vacation?  What are they kidding?  Isn’t the whole idea of vacationing to reduce stress?

After 4 years of living and working in Korea, I am leaving in a week. I’m  packing boxes filled with all the things I’ve accumulated. I’m shipping those 10 boxes home to Maine.   At the same time, I’m packing my suitcase for a four-month adventure. Sounds amazing doesn’t it?  My husband, Steve, and I have been planning this adventure for some time,  and it is now upon us! If we don’t kill each other before we leave next week it will be a minor miracle.  “Why are you taking that?” “Are you sure you need that?”, are just a few of the questions we are asking each other.  The stress is building.  Luckily, we have travelled together all over the world, and we both know that once we leave all will be grand, but until then I have to remind myself that going on vacation was on that stress scale. We aren’t just leaving for a vacation, we are leaving for good.  That means if we leave something behind, it’s forever. Yikes! I can feel the stress as I write this.

In many ways this is the dream of a lifetime.  It also means I won’t have a “home” for all this time.  I’ll be staying in hotels, inns and hostels, on boats and on a cruise ship, in Airbnb apartments and travelling by plane and train.  I’ll be meeting up with friends in a few places and walking 500 miles in Spain in 37 days.  But truth be told, I’ll be living out of a suitcase.

I’ve written in the past about my need for “home” and my ability to make wherever I am home, but never for this long and never in this many places.  I’ll bring pictures of my grandchildren to put on a night stand wherever I am.  I’ll cook meals in the apartments we stay in.  I’ll do laundry and all the mundane things of ordinary living, except I’ll be doing them in extraordinary places.

My goal on this journey is to be present and to not be distracted by the past or the future, but instead focus on what’s in front of me.  The stress scale didn’t say that the vacation itself was stressful. Rather the preparation, anticipation and anxiety of what’s to come after the vacation is what causes a person to lose sight of the moment.  It’s a challenge to stay in the moment and I don’t have any illusions that I won’t be distracted by the future and what lies ahead.  My goal is to focus on my surroundings and not miss any opportunities.

While we were packing the other day I was carrying on about not having a home, Steve just listened and smiled at me reassuringly and I realized once again that home is where I am and where we are.

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My plan is to blog a lot more during this adventure.

Stay in touch and I will too.

With love and gratitude,

Marsha