Of Calendars and Trees

We are well into the first month of our new year. Hopefully, by now, your Christmas decorations are put away, although I do leave up a few, including a winter tree, which is a new addition from last year. The idea was used by several of my local friends to continue the holiday lighting tradition during the dark winter months. My tree has snowmen, snowflakes and winter birds on it and it helps to celebrate the season and winter’s beauty. The birds on the tree also remind my husband to put a steady supply of bird seed out for the outdoor residents during these frigid days

The Christmas presents have also been put away, except for a couple of calendars which have now been pressed into service. In some blog posts back several years ago, I mentioned how I used to not like the month of January, particularly when our family moved from the Deep South to the Northeast. Thanks to advice in some dated articles written by Martha Stewart, I now value January as my most productive month.  I love organization and planning ahead, and I detest being inside when the weather is beautiful and warm, so this month is a real bonus for me!  Just as a quick review, Stewart advises using January as a month to schedule the year ahead: home repairs, car repairs, doctor appointments, (ugh) and even the more fun parts of life such as vacations, concerts, and get-togethers. It is good time to also get your records in order for the upcoming tax season and declutter areas in your home. After spending many years always searching for important documents, I have found that it has very freeing to get rid of the papers and items I don’t need anymore.  To know what documents to keep, here are some valuable lists for how long to keep documents before shredding and what the IRS thinks you should keep.

There are lots of items you should have on your calendar, including Grandma’s birthday, but sometimes you don’t know precisely when to schedule something  but you don’t want to forget about it, either, so it is handy to just put it in the blank space of a monthly calendar page, if you are old school like me. As you get to the month, you will probably have a better idea of when you can schedule an activity or service. There are also a number of great digital planners with many templates, based on what your needs are, including how much you want to mesh your work and personal life.

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In addition to the practical and social calendars that are arranged in January, there is one more calendar that is vital to your economic health and that is a financial calendar.    It is never too early to find a financial planner to guide you for retirement, college funds and general investments. You might think that financial planners are just for millionaires but there are plenty to choose from and they work with people from all income levels. Just this year, a planner was able to help me change a dormant retirement account into an account that was actually making money. I am ashamed to say how long my hard earned money just sat there, doing nothing with a reputable company. The planner now keeps an eye on my accounts and also helps me make wise tax choices. It does pay to shop around for one that you can work with and that understands your goals, but it is well worth your time. We found our financial advisor through Dave Ramsey’s SmartVestor website. They are vetted through his organization and were very responsive. Of course, being affiliated with him means that they also encourage, not pressure you, to take care of your debt. The how and why of that will be a topic for an upcoming blog.

Just like my winter tree, it is beneficial to have something that illuminates the darkness and improves your spirits, health and path forward this season. Fingers crossed, these tools that have been shared will help shed some light on your financial health and well- being.

Life happens. So, you should plan ahead.

According to Merriam- Webster Dictionary, middle age is defined as the ages from about 45-64. There is some variation and some people believe it starts at age 36. That is fairly accurate because as of 2019, the average life expectancy was 72.6 years. For me, due to life circumstances, I felt that my youth ended at 35.

One reason that I felt that it was important to blog about middle age is my own life story. In our mid-thirties, my husband and I became a genuine part of “the sandwich generation.” I was an only child and in one day, our lives completely changed. My parents suddenly required caregiving after my mother had a severe stroke and could not sit up or talk. We then also realized that my father had been declining physically and had the onset of dementia. Since my husband and I met and married in our late twenties, we had only become parents of our dear daughter eight months previously. We later had our precious son, but by then, we were definitely sandwiched in by life, looking after the young and the old. Our decision to marry and have children was ours, but our challenge to give care was something we didn’t think we would have to do when our babies were still in diapers. Most parents help their adult children with the grandchildren; now mine were not able to even help themselves.  For almost thirteen years, we looked after my parents, concurrent with our two children’s early years and growing up.

For us, many responsibilities were smashed together at one time, and some life plans that needed time and thought to work out were decided with haste because we didn’t have the margin. These situations come to every family and we honestly didn’t regret working through them, even though they caused other challenges, later. No matter what stage of middle age you are, it is always good to stop and assess your goals and potential problems and the resources you might need to work them out, including time, money, or support and try to plan ahead.

Some of the questions that should be asked:

What do I want to accomplish? What am I planning for? What are the family constructs that support our goals?

How am I planning for the future? My children’s education?  Retirement? Chronic illness?

Who is my support network (really?) Family or friends? Religious community?

Evaluating the situation helps you to avoid stress and allows you to spend your emotional capital in the best way. Plans sometimes do change, like ours. Forethought enables some quality of life and control.

#middleage #planning #caregiving #responsibilities #future #support #sandwichgeneration

Beginning the Journey

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Today is the first day of a new journey for me. In my life, I have worn many hats: daughter, student, wife, mother, homeschooler, healthcare worker, researcher, higher education administrator and editor. One aim in my life has to be a dedicated writer and now, my sweet husband has given me a chance for a special birthday. It was actually last year, but as in so many events like weddings and graduations of the last COVID year, the celebrations and implementations have been delayed to this year.

We will see where the journey will take us, but my plan to discuss a topic that is not mentioned very much because we are too busy going through it and that is Middle Age. It is not a time for the weak of heart and what happens can form from youth and can then form your senior years. I am starting on an official quest of self-discovery and life improvement.  The information given will be from my own research and will include ages and stages of children, maintaining marriage and other relationships, care giving, business and financial matters that should be considered, retirement planning, self-care and spiritual matters. As my family reached certain milestones, I felt that there were some goals we accomplished well and others, not so well. I will evaluate my mistakes and hopefully, give myself a few pats on the back. You are cordially invited on this journey of discovery with me.

#middleage # lifeimprovement #happiness #success #marriage #relationships #retirement #writing #selfdiscovery #business #caregiving

January Essentials

The holidays are officially over, and now, we are all in one of my favorite months: January! It is not because I enjoy sledding, skiing, snowboarding or ice skating. In fact, I dislike going out in the wintertime, particularly if the salt trucks have had to be out on the road before me. I love January because   I know that because I have to stay inside, I have the chance to be super productive.  Whatever was disappointing or lacking (trips, house projects, events) about the previous year can be re-evaluated and researched in January and planned for  in the coming year. For me,  the word of the month is de-cluttering.  I found out last year that as I have less to maintain, the more ready my mind is to take in new ideas, new hobbies or new, endless possibilities. It can provide a fresh, blank slate, mentally, emotionally,  and spiritually.  I cleaned out a closet or two last fall and it gave me a wonderful feeling of control.  The things I have are actually the things I am using. It has reduced my need to buy more, just because I cannot find it.

It also helps to not have to so much to wade through when I need to find an important piece of information,  for  upcoming taxes or us college parents, the FAFSA. The older I get,  the more I realize that it would be such a relief for me to know that my family knows exactly where  to find the files they might need: account numbers, contact information, insurance, financial statements, car titles, mortgage papers, wills and power of attorneys, just to name a few. Here is the complete list: https://www.everplans.com/articles/checklist-documents-to-organize-and-share. In the meantime, it is pure joy  for ME to find that file right away! #productivity #organization

planner
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The Emptying Nest

It is 9:30 on a beautiful, sunny morning and my daughter has just left for her internship, and in a few days, she will be starting her senior year of college. Our son is outside mowing the grass for us, one more time, before we take him back to campus for his junior year at university. The summer has flown by, full of nice memories, and I realize that tonight will be last night the four of us will be together at this time, at this place.   Next spring when the school year ends, my children will be going off in different directions. For my daughter, it will be her graduation, the beginning of her career and a new location. For our son, a great research opportunity beckons. Summers will be quite different and our home will be quiet. All the years of activities and living together will be over in an instant. I am not sure how life changes so slowly, yet so quickly and suddenly, it is the next chapter.

I am very proud of the wonderful adults our children have grown into. I treasure how much time we actually have had and I am so excited for what life has in store for them.   I am just wondering how their parents will survive.

For one thing, my husband and I are too young to retire, so we will continue to work, as we dust off the list of things we wanted to accomplish, before we had children.  There are new regions of our marriage and life we want to explore and things we want to learn. For the first time, without the responsibilities of children and aging parents, the possibilities are endless. Also, for the first time, we can start to simplify life and pare down to the essentials.  I like author Ruth Berkowitz’s idea in the Washington Post article, “Parents, prepare your empty-nest bucket list” (August 22, 2018) of our “spreading our wings”, as our children do, as they leave the nest. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2018/08/22/parents-prepare-your-empty-nest-bucket-lists/?utm_term=.a32491857213

basket blur celebration ceremony
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What are  your thoughts on your empty nest experience?