Reining in post-election anxieties

scan-2A few evenings ago, I was enjoying a music program by three baritones in an intimate setting, enjoying it, that is, until the singers descended upon the small audience in search of one or two women willing to join them for their next pieces. One of the performers strolled my way, pointed to me, and invited me to come up to the stage. Immediately, I blurted, “No!”

Friends who were there asked why I hadn’t been willing to play along with them.  “Control,” I said. “When I’m standing up in front of a crowd, I want to be the one in charge.”

After I said this, I started to consider my ongoing angst in response to the outcome of the presidential election and my utter lack of any sense of control. The feeling continued the next day when I attended a memorial service for a good friend.  Talk about one thing none of us can control.

Many commentators advised those of us dismayed by the results to stop worrying and to let go of negative feelings. They cited research that suggests that control is a human illusion and our spheres of influence smaller than we might think.

It turns out that feeling in control, whether it’s an illusion or not, is a very important mental condition.

From Glenn Croston, PhD., Psychology Today, “A persistent lack of control in a person’s life often leads to depression and anxiety.  Anything that makes us feel helpless, lacking fundamental control over our surroundings, can have a lasting impact…”

On another website, IQ Matrix, Adam Sicinski speaks to The Universal Law of Control “When we are physically, mentally and emotionally controlling the changes in our lives, then this naturally leads to higher levels of achievement, emotional satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment.”

And from the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, “Born to Choose: The Origins and Value of the Need for Control,” three researchers conclude that, “…the perception of control is not only desirable, but it is likely a psychological and biological necessity.”

After reading these, I reminded myself that when I was working I had a great deal of control over how I did my job, and even in retirement still have influence in my local community, and with my husband and friends. My sense of personal control hasn’t changed. It’s true that I can’t control the choice of a Supreme Court Justice, changes in health care laws, or immigration regulations, but then, I never could before.





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Old Year’s resolutions


Hiroshige’s Wave-public domain  from Wikipedia

I’ve been riding an emotional wave this month, sinking deeply into the troughs and rising skyward with the crests.  The trough came on election day, the same day I received a rejection letter from an editor who had acted very interested in receiving my manuscript when I spoke with her last summer. The gloom continued for days after. Then last week, I was swept up to the crest as I completed a huge volunteer project.

I’m ready to sacrifice the waves for smooth seas, to tackle small projects — the antithesis of the recent one involving coordinating a retirement party with 425+ guests — and move more slowly. I’m now dreaming about spinning a cocoon around me during the December days ahead, and finding my way onto a different path, one more tranquil and less hectic.

Is this possible with the parties, shopping expeditions, and holiday celebrations that are part of every December? The weather, the addition of a few more minutes of darkness each day, and on-line shopping will support my dream.

Heavy rains and high winds — hallmarks of this time of year — make staying home more appealing.

A few days ago, malls started to fill with not-yet-harried shoppers. Enthusiasm for thrusting myself into the buzzing crowd to achieve the goal of making everyone on my list happy, is already waning.  I can keep warm and dry at home and shop with the help of the internet.

Finally, the receding hours of daylight inspire inertia.

Yes. It would be theoretically possible to stop and smell the gingerbread. What could possibly keep me from realizing my dream of pulling a throw over my lap, sitting down with a few good books, and chilling now and then?”

I know the answer: I am the one who gets in my way. I’m the one who fills my calendar with a hundred and one activities, and who chooses doing an errand over sitting still.

Here’s my December experiment:  I’m going to cut back a little on my social life, go cross country skiing, read a pile of books, meditate, and do yoga. Not all at once and not every day, just enough to see what happens, find out if I change in any way.  Calendar control will be the biggest challenge. I also want to know if what I fantasize about is not the road to smooth sailing but the road to boredom.

There are no serious consequences if I fail. I can think of my experiment as getting my usual unfilled New Year’s resolutions out of the way in the old year, thus saving myself time in 2017.


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Stereotypes in travel writing

baileys-antiquesAfter reading a recent Seattle Times travel piece that recommended particular activities for Baby Boomer and Millennial tourists in and around Waikiki, I’m writing a rant. (FYI, According to U.S. Census Bureau stats, in 2016, Baby Boomers’ ages range from 52-70, and Millennials’ from 16-33.)  This activity also provided a welcome distraction from worry about the outcome of today’s presidential election.

Dear Travel Editor,

Way to go with managing to stereotype older people in your recent piece listing things to do on Waikiki based on your age group. Your article also stereotypes the young, but my gripe is what you’ve decided is good for the former.

Let’s consider the activities you believe best fit these two populations.
1. Millennials, go surfing; Boomers, sit in a bar and watch the Millennials surf.
2. Millennials, climb Diamond Head; Boomers, taken in a free hula show.
3. Millennials, tour a ukulele factory; Boomers, take a tour of an old Hawaiian Palace.
4.Millennials, ride a vintage bike to the beach; Boomers, get a massage.
5. Millennials, go shopping for cheap stuff and visit Bailey’s Antiques and Aloha Shirts; Boomers, head for an upscale mall to buy “high-end crystal or fancy clothes.”

In other words, Millennials be active. Boomers, move as little as possible except to lift a mai tai to your lips or pull out your credit cards and shop away.

On several occasions, my Baby Boomer husband and I (born just after WWII) have somehow managed to reach the top of the Diamond Head Crater. Along the way we spotted many hikers who appeared to be in their early fifties. Imagine the stamina it must have taken for those aging bodies to drag themselves up the 1.6 mile trail.

As far as your Honolulu tour recommendations, my husband and I also visited a ukulele factory (different from the one on in your list).  I’m thankful we hadn’t read that this type of adventure was for Millennials, or we would have missed hearing stories from the son of the company’s founder about his father’s first ventures into the music business after traveling from the U.S. to Brazil and Portugal — to avoid being locked up in a Japanese internment camp during WWII –and discovering ukuleles in those countries.

Before I finish, I have to bring up the subject of shopping.  Okay. I admit that when in Honolulu we have never missed a visit to Bailey’s Antiques and Aloha Shirts. My husband’s closet is a testimonial that their shirts are not just for Millennials. As for your shopping ideas for my generation…Travel to the land of palm trees and orchids, stunningly blue water, crimson sunsets, and psychedelic fish to shop for high-end crystal? Really?


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What to do when we can’t control everything

fistBlog ideas and free time have been in short supply lately. However, something I found in my inbox today struck me as a worthy topic, especially as we’re still hoping that the eternal presidential election cycle will actually come to an end. The topic is how little in our lives we can actually control and how to respond to all that we can’t.

It’s not a new issue or a new solution. People have been using the Serenity Prayer for guidance for ages, praying for inner peace in situations over which they have no control. It’s no surprise that copies of this often sprout up in work spaces. How many of us have dealt with work situations where we felt like we had little control, yet found our hearts pounding in anger or frustration over the unfairness of it all, spent time complaining to others, losing sleep, and even gaining weight?

The piece I read, “Loosen Your Grip,” by Gregg Krech of the ToDo Institute, asks readers to list all the things they don’t have complete control over. My list includes the weather, the stock market, the feedback I get from different critique groups, moods of people around me, my overall health, war in the Middle East, ISIS, and the outcome of the upcoming election. The latter is on my mind more often than any of the former.

Krech’s advice is to “Loosen Your Grip.” He says that as events in our lives spin out of control, “Often we respond by trying harder to control what we can’t control. We tighten our grip.” Unlike most therapists, he acknowledges that usually we can’t control our thoughts and feelings. He advocates the Japanese philosophy of “letting things be the way they are instead of trying to make them the way we want them to be.” Instead of “things,” substitute “people, relatives, friends,” and you’ll immediately understand his point. Since much of what happens to us is uncontrollable, Krech says: “You don’t have to orchestrate everything… Even your heart has found a way to keep its beat without your vigilant efforts.”

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Buying cars and studio portraits: same revolting experience

self-portrait in old car

for now, sticking to self-portraits and old car

I’m about to shop for a new car.  Ever since the “good Samaritan” jammed the gearshift in my 2004 Subaru in the process of towing my car, which had a dead battery caused by the body shop that left the back door open too long…  Oh, wait. That’s another story. This story involves car salespeople and my futile dream of shopping for a car without ever talking to one.

I hadn’t thought about the car shopping experience until this past weekend, after my husband and I met another kind of salesperson: the photography studio portrait salesman. Here’s how that meeting came about. We had agreed to be photographed for a directory for an organization we belong to. However, when I signed us up, I was picturing the directory as a collection of selfies, not studio portraits.

Weeks ago, I booked our 10-minute appointment for this past Sunday. I was surprised to receive a confirmation a few days before the date advising me that the process would take an hour. This isn’t possible, I thought. We’re not talking about a complete wedding and reception package.

When it came to the taking of photographs the first communication was right: ten minutes was plenty. But then the photographer said,  “We’ll move to the next room and I’ll have you look at the shots I took on my computer, so you can pick out the one you want for the directory. This one comes free, though some people like us to airbrush, remove age spots, fill in whatever needs filling in, and these changes do come at an extra cost. As we scroll through the photos, think of it as walking through a department store. You can look at everything, but you don’t have to buy.”

The process began like an eye exam. “Which of these do you like best, A or B? Now, between these, which do you prefer, C or D?  It had the same effect on us as an eye exam. “Could you show us C again?  D also?” Once we’d agreed on those choices, the sales pitch began. Displayed on a table and against the wall in the room were sample photos framed in heavy wood to make it easy for us to choose a photo or two or three beyond the free one for the directory. They came in billboard size, the size of the ceiling on the Sistine Chapel, and smaller — merely life-size — diptychs and triptychs.

“We don’t need any photos of us,” I said. “The directory photo is fine.” Ignoring me completely, the photographer then made suggestions of all the ways we might use any extra, framed ones we might purchase.

In desperation, my husband asked the cost of one simple, framed photo.

“Everything is cheaper if you buy more than one,” the photographer said, “so let’s look at some combinations first. If you buy these two singles with this threesome, you’ll be shocked at the savings.”

Forty-five minutes later, we were ready to buy every sample and all his equipment to get out of his lair. We settled on one framed photo, and after he made a point of doing a few trillion calculations — calculations which he probably knew by heart — which involved writing down all the amazing discounts we were receiving, we fled.

We almost went car shopping today, but memories of last Sunday caused us to do something fun instead. We needed time to forget the trauma of one salesperson before we faced another.




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Travel as cultural immersion


Guanajuato on the street where Diego Rivera once lived (sketch by ann oxrieder)

When my roommate and I graduated from college, we worked for a year to save for a four-month European tour. We planned to hitchhike to every capital, sleep in youth hostels, and have adventures along the way. We ran out of money and came home early.

These days, my husband and I travel differently, as in, planning ahead, knowing where we’re going to stay, and being assured that we can always access cash machines. And, unlike college days, we never have to skip a meal.

Somewhere between these two travel styles is one we focused on in the 1990’s, where we traveled to Central Mexico four years in a row, stayed for a month, studied Spanish in schools dedicated to language study, and lived with Mexican families. We took side trips on weekends with classmates and the school’s director and met in teachers’ homes for social activities.

This week, my husband found my sketchbook/diary from one of the summers we spent in Mexico, and memories came flooding back.

Our first school was in the mountain city of San Miguel de Allende (6,284 ft.), which has since become an American and Canadian retirement haven. (Good luck getting any chance to practice Spanish there now.) Before we went, I read a memoir by an American woman who lived for a time in San Miguel. She stayed in what she said was a particularly rough part of town called San Antonio, characterized by raw sewage in the streets, sick children everywhere, and other dangers. Imagine our horror when we received a letter from the language school telling us we would be living with two sisters — Blanca and Alicia — in San Antonio.  We found out later that San Antonio was a charming middle class neighborhood, and that the sisters were equally anxious about our arrival. They had never hosted students before and their fears ranged from getting an American teenager who would smoke marijuana in their upstairs guest room, to hosting retirees who would be unable to manage the stairs, and injure themselves in a fall, requiring the sisters to nurse them back to health.

As things turned out we had nothing to fear and we all had a great time. Within a week or so they were piling tiny chiles in the middle of the table to accessorize the main meal of the day, sharing their tequila shots before we ate, and spilling the town gossip.

For at least two years after that, we went to school in Guanajuato, another mountain city (6,585 ft.) as yet undiscovered by retirees, home to a university and a place where few shopkeepers spoke English. Our first day there we got lost and a Good Samaritan drove us straight to the police station, where the officer sent us on a long walk up a steep hill to nowhere.

In Guanajuato, we lived with Marilu and her two sons.  She had never planned to host students, but agreed to as a favor to the school’s director.  Even during the years when we stopped going to school we stayed with her.  We call each other “hermana” — sister — and are now Facebook friends. We had many adventures in Guanajuato, including an interview with a reporter for the town paper, followed by a slight misalignment of our photo above the headline, “Drug Dealers Captured,” when the article was published.

When it comes to travel, spending time in one place, studying the language, sharing a home of one of the local residents, and immersing yourself in the culture, is ideal. We were in our late forties the last time we visited Mexico. Would we return for the same kind of experience at our age? Yes.

Posted in personal reflections, travel | 5 Comments

DNA reveals your roots

ancestorsA few years ago, my husband and I landed in Amsterdam after 19 days in Spain and Morocco, and soon were strolling along the city streets gawking at the canals, the skinny houses, and the people. After a few minutes, he said, “I feel like I belong here. It seems like the Dutch are my people.” I hoped for Dutch genes too, but after traveling to Iceland in June, I also wished I had Icelandic-Viking ancestors.

For most of our lives we think about the present and the future. But something happens later in life that makes us curious about the past. At a certain age, we want answers to questions we never thought to ask our parents while they were alive.  What were their lives like and the lives of their parents?  Where did their ancestors come from?

Too late to get information from the living, a year ago I took a course on how to research family histories, signed up for two genealogy websites – and — and started filling in some of the branches of my family tree and my husband’s.

The next step for us was to have our DNA tested by This involved paying a fee on-line, spitting into tubes we received in the mail, and returning our saliva samples to Ancestry. Our results arrived via email last week, about a month after we mailed the samples.

I highly recommend doing this for the surprise factor as well as the information. We were both astonished with some of our results. They are not as precise as we’d hoped.  For example, they don’t tell my husband whether he has Dutch ancestors, but our on-line research did confirm that he has Dutch and Belgian roots. One surprise was that he also expected to be part Scandinavian, but his total DNA match to Scandinavia was 0%.

I recently learned from one grandmother’s death certificate, that her parents were born in Sweden.  I only knew her and my grandfather as Minnesotans.  I only knew my other grandparents as Missourians.

According to my list of ethnic groups, I am 20% Scandinavian, which makes sense now that I know where grandma’s mother was born. But there were bigger surprises.  24% Irish?  23% Eastern European?  Me? And only 16% from Western Europe and 13% from Great Britain?

In the case of my husband, 28% of his DNA comes from ancestors from Great Britain, 8% from Ireland and 7% from Eastern Europe. 4% is European Jewish. He wondered about the name Zimmerman, recently found in his grandmother’s line. A full 46% of his  DNA comes from Western Europe. Western Europe consists of eight countries. Not nearly specific enough. French don’t share the same culture or language as Germans and Dutch look like Scandinavians. So what is ethnicity?

Wikipedia says, “Membership of an ethnic group tends to be defined by a shared cultural heritage, ancestry, origin myth, history, homeland, language or dialect, symbolic systems such as religion, mythology and ritual, cuisine, dressing style, art, and physical appearance.

“Ethnic groups, derived from the same historical founder population, often continue to speak related languages and share a similar gene pool.”

The last few words clear up the mystery.  Inhabitants of Western Europe likely “mingled” more and expanded the gene pool, whereas Scandinavia and Ireland were more isolated, though the Vikings traveled everywhere. “They traded and raided,” said the Professor of Scandinavian History on our Iceland trip.  Apparently, Irish women were among their spoils, and ongoing DNA research suggests that as much as “50% of the women in Iceland were likely of Celtic stock.”

Hmm. So I come from Scandinavian stock and Irish stock. Could I be Icelandic? Maybe someday I will be able to discover great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents Olaf and Njála (Niala in Irish) and place them in my family tree.










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Presidential election is a stressor

scan-2I have a stress problem that has lasted for many months. Lately, I’ve been searching for a reason to explain it.  I have what many older adults dream of: a peaceful retirement where much of my time is under my control, which is why my rising level of stress is so puzzling.

It finally hit me today that one situation looms over all others to raise my anxiety, something that is completely out of my control: the 2016 presidential election.

I did a Google search to find out if my friends and I were the only ones who felt this way. It turns out I’m not. Here’s a headline from an article in The Atlantic, May 24, 2016, by Robinson Meyer:  How to Preserve Your Mental Health Despite the 2016 Election.” And from the Washington Post, September 26, “Feeling anxious ahead of the debate? Here’s how to cope with ‘Election Stress Disorder.’” The Post article opens with: “By now it has been well documented that this presidential election cycle has had a particularly negative effect on Americans’ mental health.”

The American Psychological Association polled 927 U. S. working adults in August and found that “more than 1 in 4 younger employees reported feeling stressed out because of political discussions at work, and more than twice as many men as women said political talk is making them less productive.”

According to The Atlantic piece, “experts stressed that anxiety about an outcome or existential threat is completely normal.” However, in the same article, the writer cites clinical psychologist Stephen Holland, who makes a distinction between “productive and unproductive anxiety.” Unproductive anxiety occurs in situations you can’t take action to change.

In the same article, other therapists share tips for living with election stress, none of which is a new idea: accept your emotions, focus on what you can control, focus on the present, meditate. The one piece of advice I appreciated most came from a psychologist named Robert Leahy. Leahy encouraged worriers to focus on the structural limits of American government. “Think about the constraints or limits that all politicians face—for example, Congress and The Supreme Court. If you fear Trump, keep in mind that he won’t be able to do a lot of what he claims he wants to do,” he said. Now that’s a thought that brings me comfort in this period of pre-election unease, that and the hope I won’t experience post-election unease.

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Back to school memories live on


Courtesy of Clipart Panda

For most of us, the anniversary of a particular event, experience, birthday, or a death of an influential person in our lives will trigger memories. Most recently, the anniversary of the 9-11 tragedy brought back many memories of that day and of weeks and months that followed. In early September, I am always reminded of a more routine but also special event: the first day of school.

I haven’t worked in a school system for six years, but when I see ads for backpacks and three-ring binders, and friends posting their kids’ and grandchildren’s back-to-school photos on Facebook, the memories flood back.

In my childhood and youth, by mid-summer I was bored and ready to return to the classroom. I wanted to meet my teacher(s) and reunite with my friends. And I loved school. But those weren’t the only reasons for looking forward to September. I loved shopping for new school supplies: wide-lined tablets, freshly sharpened pencils and later fountain pens, pristine notebook pages unmarred by my sloppy handwriting, textbooks not yet coated with yellow Magic Marker. (I’m still addicted to buying writing supplies.) Even more special than locating just the right tools of the trade was the task of searching out the best possible first-day-of-school outfit, something that would easily be recognized by my peers as the latest fashion.

For my entire career I worked in school settings. In the K-12 system, even in administrative offices, the first day of school was a BIG DEAL. Schools had to be cleaned, teachers assigned to classrooms, food service ready to go, playground equipment put in good working order, and much more, including a plan for taking care of children who disembarked at the wrong bus stop. In my job as the media contact the first day and week were quiet. Typically, I’d have to scout out an elementary school principal willing to have TV cameras on campus filming parents saying goodbye to their kindergartners, ideally all sobbing together. At the end of the first day, the school board met and heard inspiring reports of all the first day happenings by school. Everyone left excited and possibly relieved that the news from the schools seemed to portend another successful year.

When I worked at a community college, the first day of school lacked the excitement of the public school system. Students registered, went to class, sometimes changed their schedules, and went home. While there was commotion, the spirit of a fresh start didn’t permeate this setting.  I worked in a counseling and career center, so we mostly saw the students who were frustrated and lost, physically or emotionally. The most predictable outcome of September was that my colleagues and I caught colds.

When I first retired I was well aware of opening day. Six years later I still know when school starts. The school buses roll through the neighborhood, and parents and children assemble expectantly at the stops. I think about past school beginnings as a student and a worker and am glad that the working life is behind me. But also happy that good schools in this community and learning will always be around.

While others think of January as a time for a fresh start, I often think of September as my time to get organized, slow down the social life, open a new notebook and make plans for writing, reading and learning something new. For three autumns I enrolled in non-degree programs at the University of Washington. This year, a friend and I joined an organization that offers frequent lectures by academic and literary figures. We’re attending our first on Saturday, the perfect way to start the school year. No textbooks, no homework, no awkward conversations with professors whose classes we plan to quit, no tests, and no colds.












Posted in changes after retirement, current events/themes, memories, personal reflections, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Seasons of change

fallen leavesNorthwest skies are gray and our backyard plum and maple trees have already begun to let go of their leaves.  No matter how warm the days, nights are cool. Projects I began in the spring, then ignored while the sun shone, are appealing again. Suddenly I’m in the mood to stay indoors, to read.  Books from and the library pile up in each room.


Since it’s obvious that the season is changing and because I just turned a year older, the first book I chose to read had to do with the seasons of our lives. It’s called “Triumphs of Experience” by George E Vaillant and tells the story of the 75-year-long Harvard study of adult development. The goal of the study was to determine what kind of family life, personal qualities, experiences, and behaviors would lead to a longer life and good physical and mental health in old age.

The author describes five stages of adult development* the last two of which he calls Guardianship and Integrity. I’m focusing on these two because for me the earlier stages are history. Guardianship, he says is “the capacity to care.” One of the study’s subjects tells a story that illustrates his entry into this stage. “‘I have finally come through to a realization of what is of critical importance to our future — that we finally come to live in harmony with nature and our natural environment, not in victory over it.'” Integrity is “the capacity to come to terms constructively with our pasts and our futures in the face of inevitable death.”


What have we learned from the Harvard research?  I cherry-picked a few of the study’s conclusions. Although only white males were included, the conclusions seem reasonable for either sex.

1. We don’t stop growing and changing when we leave school. We develop throughout our adult lives, even into our nineties if we live that long.
2. Marriage becomes happier after 70.
3. Being a conscientious child was the most important predictor of well-being among those 65 to 85 years old.
4. “A happy old age requires both physical and mental health. For mental health, love is a necessity.”
5. “Physical aging after 80 is determined less by heredity than by habits formed prior to age 50.”

This quote from a letter by George Eliot gives voice to the season of the year and the season of life:
“Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love – that makes life and nature harmonise.” In other words, a good day to curl up with a book.

*based on the work of Erik Erikson

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