How I became a born-again walker

A learner is sometimes the best teacher.

bootcamp2015-small 2Who am I to give advice about walking? Somebody who used to be not a human as we know it but a balloon on a string, that’s who.

I deeply appreciate the joy of walking for that very reason: for years I was virtually unconscious of my body when out for a trot. All my attention was locked inside my brain. And what an astounding machine it was too, by gum.

I was a mindless walker

Think think think. Puzzle puzzle puzzle. Imagine imagine imagine. I was a biological thinking machine, propelled forward horizontally by mysterious means. I was conscious only of my thoughts; I cared only for my thoughts.

I experienced myself as a free-floating brain sailing over footpaths and dangling something vague beneath me. That something vague was… my body. Legs? What legs?

You were right on the button, Vi!

My mother-in-law Vi used to say, often, in fact pretty much daily, “As long as you’ve got your health…” A cliché, and so true. By the time she died, she had 20 serious health conditions—19 that she knew about, plus dementia. She began suffering from arthritis in her thirties; even at that age, the idea of going for a walk for pleasure was completely alien to her.

Well, Vi, I’ve been a hell of a lot luckier than you were. And I’ll carry on walking, which is both a cause and effect of having my health, as you put it.

Walking up and down stairs. Walking to the pool on Tuesdays. Walking over Mt Vic on Fridays. Walking to town for errands and entertainment. Walking the compost bucket to the community gardens. Walking my grandson to the park on Saturdays. Walking to meet friends. And once in a while, most deliciously, walking on a beach or in a forest.

Enjoy your walk! 

You’ll have your own walking routes and reasons. Walking the dog? Hiking in the Solomon Islands, shopping for hot air balloons, touring the estate?

Enjoy your walk. It’s your very own. Your walk is your choice, your walk is you.
Enjoy your walk. Even if you are in a wheelchair or using a walker.
Enjoy your walk. That’s not just a cliché: it’s a prescription.

Image from Chiaroscuro 1910, Senior Class Yearbook, University of Montevallo, via Internet Archive Book Images. Image of cyclists taken by a friend or relative, but I forget who, sorry.

Doing the Otago Rail Trail with friends: my 70th birthday treat and a celebration of sheer good luck so far

Update on the shareable home

Clean and tidy! A new little sitting area!

Last year I took steps to make my apartment shareable. One year later, this plan is working well. The apartment is in good enough shape to host AirBnB guests, which is bringing many rewards.

Hosting AirBnB guests: valuable in so many ways

I had three reasons for starting as an AirBnB host, letting my spare bedroom and bathroom to guests.

  • An extra income source, necessary at this stage of my career
  • A test and rehearsal for ultimately sharing my space with a carer
  • A way to force me to keep my home clean and tidy.

That’s all well and good, but the real benefits are quite different and much bigger.

I love the experience! Who knew? That is completely unexpected. My guests have been almost without exception interesting, entertaining, charming, independent and thoughtful. Each person or couple in just one or two conversations has shown me a glimpse of their unique way of thinking and living and being. A few examples: I’ve met donkey farmers, aid workers, writers, dancers, experts in AI, genetics and earthquake strengthening—all with a personal philosophy to match. More and more I understand that we are all working hard to become the person we’re meant to be, and that every path is different — at least among people with the interest and income to use a bed and breakfast place.

So in just a few months my guests have expanded my world view, freshened my outlook, stimulated my brain. As well as boosting my income a bit and keeping me alert to housekeeping details.

Novella: my listing on AirBnB 

A Dutch retirement home mixing young and old to the benefit of both

As for sharing accommodation long term, how about this?

My 93-year-old flatmate


A home for old age is shareable


bootcamp2015-small 2

In which I confess that I designed my home for a hermit and that I now intend to mend my ways in preparation for an almost inevitable old age.

OK. My awareness of hazards within my home has been raised, and no doubt I’ll carry on making it safer.

But shareability is just as important if I want to stay in my apartment forever. Later, when independence becomes an unrealistic desire, it might be a rather good idea, just an idea, to share this apartment with another person. An old friend, a new friend, a nurse — someone who would notice if I didn’t appear for breakfast one morning.

I made my apartment unshareable on purpose

Now I have made it shareable by accident.

Because I now had a second bathroom, I decided on impulse to move upstairs. The tiny upstairs bedroom is in a sort of corridor on the way to my office, where I spend most of my working day. Sleeping there feels like playing hooky from real life, or camping under the stars. Up I went. More expenses followed, alas: in the office now I added a splendid built-in Lundia wardrobe-cum-office shelves. A big fat old couch in the corner and hey presto! this excellent study doubles as a private sitting room. Who’s a lucky girl?

Fix one thing and another needs fixing

Oops, the bedroom and bathroom downstairs need tidying up. New shower, mend a broken mirror, and boom! Now this is a guest-room with ensuite.

At that point I realised that I had a home that could easily be shared. Tons of usable, private space for two people or one plus a couple. I test it out with paying guests and yep, I could handle company, if carefully managed.

Slap me—I love living alone

This is a stupendous change in my mentality. I adore living alone. I choose to live alone. I love my people but I need buckets of privacy. I’m in no rush to share my space: I hope I can live alone for many many years. In fact my original design decisions (top bedroom in a corridor, for instance) guaranteed that nobody would dream of trying to share my space. It would be just too awkward. I did that on purpose, believe it or not: I put my own privacy ahead of my guests’ comfort, so they wouldn’t stay too long. So kick me.

But now, to my surprise, I feel confident that my apartment is arranged in such a way that sharing happily is possible, even for me. Meanwhile I practise on the occasional paying guest.

Retiring from the day job: Contented no more


It’s official. I’ve retired from my day job. While my friends barely blink at the news, the change in my life is massive.

Fact: on 31 March 2016 I ‘retired’ as Director and half-owner of a wonderful little online business, Contented Enterprises Limited.

Retirement is not headline news

Most of my friends raise a puzzled eyebrow when I tell them this momentous fact. They only just stop themselves from asking gormless questions like ‘Whaaa?’

For the last 20 years they’ve regarded my interest in digital communication as a slightly silly Rachel-ish aberration, a diversion from my true calling as a literary lady. As for that business with the awesome name and address (, which has been my primary occupation and source of income for 10 years, all eyes glazed over if I raised the subject.

I presume my friends are pleased that I’ve finally dropped my incomprehensible obsession with something mysteriously technical. They no longer have to smother their yawns.

And you know, I think this lack of interest is the norm. Don’t knock it: I believe it’s quite healthy and reasonable. After all, do you know what all your friends actually do at work, day by day? Do you understand their business? If not, maybe that’s a good thing: friends have more to offer than shop-talk.

Let’s be proud of our day-work

This is a good place to say it, and I hope you can say it too: I’m proud of my achievements in the day job. Let’s all take a moment to celebrate the work we eventually walk away from. Who cares if it has appeared boring to outsiders — we know better.

Mine has been useful to the world — apparently I wrote the first book ever about writing for the web: Web Word Wizardry, 1999 (first ed.). And I have also been useful to those I trained, whether as a live teacher from 1998 to 2015, or as an online course designer for Contented from 2006–2016.

Creative? Every day job is a field for creativity, including yours. For example, computer programming, often perceived as the most neurotically logical of disciplines, is teeming with creative people. As for me, I created 22 online courses on  how to make online content clear, readable, accessible, searchable, social — oops, I’ve lost you already! Never mind, it doesn’t matter any more. It’s over.

Every retiree deserves a party

Please raise your glass or a nice cup of tea to the work you do or used to do, your contribution to the world in the guise of a day job!

Please drink to your own achievements, visible or invisible. You know what they are: I salute you.

And now what? I’ll work off a little coffee-hangover and think about that tomorrow.


Image: from Viola Olerich, the famous baby scholar, 1900. Internet archive book images, no known copyright restrictions. (Sometimes I feel that young.)



Ageing by the book: too many ticks and crosses


I like lists. Writing them. Ticking the boxes. Moving on.

But sometimes I feel my life is becoming one great list, or worse, a monstrous database of lists within lists within lists.

A scatty bitsiness pervades my life.

I hear many retired people say they are busier than ever. Busy is good … up to a point.

But I don’t want my life to be bitsy or busy-busy. I don’t want to be swamped by daily, weekly, or monthly tasks, all apparently urgent and important. Life must have a shape, a larger structure.

I don’t like life to consist of management. That sort of list never ends. Daily, weekly, monthly, yearly tasks, tick tick tick tick tick. Clean the fridge, clear the drains, email notice of AGM, prepare the AirBnB suite for guests, pay tax, sort out a software problem, update a website…

Business-as-usual appointments never end either: gym, pool, choir, dance rehearsal, grandchild, dentist, Soup Kitchen, hearing clinic… All good or at least necessary, the etceteras would fill my computer screen.

Projects also produce a lot of lists. Adventures are projects: book the event, book the motel, book the plane, pack up, get on the plane… But at least ticking off that sort of list is fun!

I like projects. A project does have an end, you know when it’s finished, and completing it brings enormous satisfaction. My problem is that I’ve always got several on the go. 

I’m having a tantrum because I’ve just done a course on Strategies for successful ageing

The course from Trinity College in Dublin was excellent. I learned about new research, gained new insights and had old ones validated, and enjoyed some mild online socialising with other students.

Trouble is, each week brought new obligations, new lists, tasks to add to the lists. (As a well run MOOC ought to do!) For example:

  • Measure your own ageism
  • Improve focus
  • Learn something new
  • Introduce novelty
  • Map your wellbeing
  • Manage fear and worry
  • Fix your eating habits
  • Exercise in specific ways
  • Perform your life audit
  • Monitor your social engagement
  • Plan a street party
  • Try a strategy for being creative.

I know that all the guidelines in the course are spot on, based on excellent research, sifted by experts. But too much, too much, too many! Especially when I’ve just worked my way through my very own life audit.

(See my Boot Camp for Old Age if you can be bothered.)

So how to give later life a shape all its own, an elegant shape?

How to escape listomania?

At least half of the students on the course have figured this out for themselves, no sweat. They don’t feel a duty to improve themselves. They’re not getting their knickers in a twist. They feel just fine the way they are.

Where did I get that idea? Today I analysed (in a rough and ready way) the most recent 100 comments on one of the lectures on creativity. These amateurish statistics bear out my general impressions of the course, which is studied chiefly by people of at least 50 years old, as far as I can tell.

  • 45 were happy with their level of creativity and planned no change.
  • 31 had experimented with new creative outlets, or planned to.
  • 24 were non-committal, discussing the topic of creativity in general terms.

I figure — quit the list making. I’m doing fine, that’s obvious, and I didn’t need 5 weeks lite-study to learn that.

Nevertheless I will rejoice when one of my various projects swells up and dominates my days and weeks. Then those picky pecky pesky petty lists will fade into the background of my life.

All is well. Relaxxx…

Of 10-dollar notes and 20-dollar notes and giant gerbera

Gifts for 76th birthday: flowers and shredded dollar s

On 24 February I received  one of the most mysterious, comical and metaphorical birthday gifts ever.

OK, you recognise flowers, don’t you? They’re just background in this case, but so apt for my current state of mind. So big, bright and bold they seem artificial — but they’re real. You know how smiling or standing up straight  can generate happiness or confidence respectively, in a bio-feedbacky sort of way? Well, I need to be big and strong right now, and so these are the right flowers for the day.

But hey, what’s in that package?

I found a package of bitsy stuff on the kitchen bench when I returned from a birthday dinner. So, late at night. So, maybe I wasn’t looking very carefully.

Borage tea? I turned on the kettle. Fortunately, I didn’t feel like tea.

Pot pourri? If so, that could wait.

Something to smoke? Improbable: that would breach an unwritten rule of AirBnB etiquette.

Right on the money

Turns out the package is $500 in dollar notes, shredded, from the New Zealand Reserve Bank Museum. Money money money… Just when I’ve started to learn the skills of money management (about 65 years late).

Maybe this gift is a shriek from my conscience. Yep, I virtually shredded my own money for decades by purchasing unnecessary things that took my fancy at the time. By not paying attention to my earning and spending patterns. By trusting in the good old New Zealand motto, “She’ll be right!”

On the other hand, let’s keep a sense of proportion. Money squandered or lost in transit is not the whole picture. See how sweetly the shredded dollars settle in amongst the flowers? You could almost call it origami.

Say I employ 5 collage artists for 5 hours at $50 an hour, do you think they could reassemble the confetti into the original notes? Uh uh, arithmetic, darling.

Note to self: money

Squandering has had its hour.
Let your bad investments die
and wave your foolish buys goodbye.

Hope so far has mostly flowered
in the foreground of your life.
Sit with that and don’t ask why.
The New Zealand Reserve Bank Museum.

Slow thinking on the ageing identity: good things take time.


Only four more days until my 76th birthday — which means only four more days to wrap up my boot camp for old age.

When hurriedly writing today’s post, I compressed several weeks of heavy cognitive lifting into 516 words. To my surprise I found that 11 months of procrastination has paid off: I’ve spent the last 11 months growing up. A bit.

Now I’ll take an antidote: I’ll go to the New Zealand Ballet’s fabulous show (appropriately named Speed of Light) and write another entry tomorrow. Otherwise my beautiful schedule is well and truly in the poo.

Read all about it: how to maintain our identity as we grow old.

But this is just me: how is it with you?