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I Started…

July 31, 2020 Barbara Ballinger & Margaret Crane

When Margaret wakes up some mornings, as a strategy to get her through the day, she has started spending a half hour before she gets out of bed listening to classical music. It calms her and clears her head. When she does this, she feels better and is an optimistic person from then on throughout the day. This is one of many new endeavors she’s started since her move six months ago to New York City from St. Louis, another new start that has changed her life.

Barbara has become relentless about fitting in daily exercise, preferably at a new gym/spa connected to a small hotel and within walking distance of her home. She takes classes there in yoga, balance, barre, even boxing, and loves the joy such activities offer. Because of the hotel, she’ll sometimes meet her beau afterwards and they’ll have a glass of wine, which makes them think they’ve gone away on vacation. Aah, calm.  And she’s trying something else. Besides her weekly watercolor classes, she started recently a four-week charcoal portrait class, a totally new endeavor. She was pleasantly surprised by her first effort, loving the medium, process and result.

 

As we all know, it’s tough and often exciting to start anything new. It can be something simple like Margaret’s morning protocol. Or, it can be life changing and expand your world like her move to a bigger, more bustling city.

Yet, a change in one’s routine can be challenging, take you out of your comfort zone. “I don’t have time to start anything new,” you might say to yourself. You might even fear it. However, it’s kind of like exercise. You don’t look forward to working out, but once you do you feel so much better.

“I started” is a riff of a recent New York Times section called, “I Quit” (Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020), a series of essays about people who walked away from work, sex, dating, jobs and more. We decided to flip this idea and focus on what people have started. We’ve all quit things like our marriages, addictions, dating and even certain assignments, but as we age and attempt to be as healthy as possible, we want to approach each day as upbeat, optimistic and joyous. Let’s start something new, something positive to help us make the best of the time we have left.

Here are three short essays from four women who are 50-plus, all of whom started something new, often more than one thing… and why.

(Susan) Honey Good (Chicago/Palm Springs, CA), 75, started an internet website company in 2012. Today, she is the CEO of Honeygood.com, an award-winning internet website company, and the author of the stylish, interactive journal, “Stories for My Grandchild,” published by Abrams Noterie in New York. Her book editor describes Honey as a “cool 21st century grandmother.” She is also one of the most followed grandmothers on Instagram, enjoys more than a quarter-million followers across her Honey Good ventures and has been featured in The New York Times.

HoneyGood.com embodies its founder’s fierce, positive attitude, her contemporary style and her yearning to empower her women readers over 50.She helps women become GRANDwomen with Moxie in all aspects of their lives -- in their relationships with themselves, their friends, family and the world around them. Readers relate to her because she is authentic about her own life, empathetic and supportive in every way and because she shares similar joys and challenges with them. Even her grandson’s 20-something friend often said that he admired her because she’s authentic and always listened to him.

The Honey Good website is a collection of lessons learned, life advice and insights from Honey Good, herself, and from her contributing writers. And through her recently launched website column in 2020, called "Ask Honey," she extends a personal helping hand to readers wrestling with all types of situations she herself has experienced. Some of her experiences include: widowhood; moving to Hawaii; blending a second family; surviving two different kinds of cancer; navigating family relationships; family suicide; starting an internet business in her sixties; becoming an author; finding love; betrayals from other women; as well as confronting ageism (“age is just a number”) and “invisibility.” She answers other types of reader questions, too -- about beauty, fashion, decorating and entertaining; forming women’s groups and traveling the world.

She was widowed in 1990 at age 46 when her daughters were still in their early twenties. In 1992, she married real estate icon Sheldon F. Good whom she calls her “ultimate concierge” and they now have a blended family with 27 grandchildren.

Another project Honey Good just launched in 2020 is a private Facebook group called  GRANDwomen with Moxie - 'Where Loneliness Disappears.' She looks forward to restoring purpose, positivity and visibility in the lives of women who join her private group, particularly in these scary times. 

During the past year, she also started a podcast and just wrapped her first internet video commercial for an Easy Spirit Shoes campaign, also featuring actress/dancer Debbie Allen. 

“I Became a Writer/Blogger and Internet Company Owner in My Sixties.”

 The Back Story: A Purpose Fulfilled

During my sixties while I was searching for a new purpose in life, I met a professional writer who told me that if I wanted to write, I should keep a journal for three months and never miss a day of writing. “If you do this,” she said, “I promise you will find your voice.” I thought to myself, WOW, could writing truly become my new purpose? 

The next morning when I picked up my laptop to start writing, I felt my whole body relax. I went into a zone and haven’t stopped writing since. My friend Gail who read some of my stories was going to a networking meeting and offered to look for a professional to help me publish my stories online to share with other women. A few days later, a young man walked into our condo in Chicago and Honeygood.com was born. 

Soon, I not only became an international blogger, but also a nationally-syndicated columnist. Now, at 75, I continue to evolve as a person and as an entrepreneur. 

Four years ago, when my company began growing beyond my wildest expectations, I realized my work was taking me away from getting together with other women and I was beginning to feel lonely. So, I put together a group of seven women in California, and we meet weekly. Our conversations are very candid because everything that happens in the group stays in the group. The formation of this group led me to the realization that women need women and I began thinking about how I could form a network of women to connect with one another. Enter “Grandwomen with Moxie,” the private Facebook group I just launched. 

Doing all this requires discipline.I get up at 4:30 a.m. daily, put on my Hawaiian music (I lived in Hawaii with my late husband), sit with my dog and writing partner, America, and write from the 71st floor of my Chicago “condo in the sky” where I watch the sunrise over Lake Michigan. 

I never expected this much success doing something at which I felt initially I was not proficient. It points to the fact that women at any age should not let fear stop them from starting something new; “just do it!” My philosophy is never let the fear of the unknown stand in your way. Try, try, try. There’s a whole world out there. 

Mico Barkofske (St. Louis, MO), community activist/volunteer and art museum docent.

“I Started Art Classes at 76”

I’ve always been an artist, but I hadn’t taken any formal art classes since my 20s. I did my own thing for I was confident in my native ability. I didn't have the opportuity at that point to take art classes or attend art school.   

After I remarried more than 20 years ago, my now late husband Frank so admired my artistic ability that he built an English conservatory cum studio for me in our home. It’s glorious for it lets the outdoors in with its glass ceiling and glass paneled walls. While sitting in the conservatory, I can look out onto the garden that I created and nurture, which is a work of art.

However, shortly after the conservatory was finished, it sat unused. Frank got sick and all my creative juices went to taking care of him. Then he passed away less than a year ago. Yes, I am sad, but I refuse to feel lost and give up my purpose or passions. I could stay stuck in grief, but I’ve always prided myself on facing the many challenges in my life and powering through them. And then one day I thought, I can honor Frank’s memory by fulfilling his belief in me as an artist. 

There is something very meditative about painting that I love, yet there are so many styles and types of art that I didn’t know about. I realized too that what keeps people from trying something new is fear. I thrive on challenge; the best way to get across a river is to start. There is a whole lot I can continue to learn, and I don’t have to be intimidated. This isn’t about success or failure. It’s about personal edification and growth.

Initially, I started a materials class and was the only one who signed up. It was like having a weekly tutorial with this wonderful 30-year-old instructor. I learned about different kinds of paint—which dry faster, and which take their time to set allowing me to make changes; the importance of using different types of paper and brushes. I learned also techniques like how to use a brush stroke to create a leaf. Ironically, it took a class to learn what I didn’t know.  And while I was honing my skills, I am also broadening my world. At age 76, as a mother of four children and grandmother of eight and 11 stepgrandchildren, it was so refreshing to interact on a regular basis with a young person with whom I’d become friendly.  It’s brought a new perspective to my world and to my art. Shortly after, I took my first watercolor class.

I am so glad I started to immerse myself again in visual art (and writing, too). It is one way I can bridge my former life to my new one.  Art in all its forms feeds my soul.

Lynn A. Marks, (Philadelphia) 70, public interest attorney and professor

“I Started Co-teaching a ‘Hot Topics’ Continuing Ed Class at a Local University “

I have been a lawyer for more than 40 years with a focus on promoting equality and social justice. Nearly four years ago, feeling it was time to move on, I stepped down after 25-years as executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a statewide advocacy organization. Instead of worrying about meeting my organization’s budget and other administrative duties, I wanted to focus all my energy on policy issues that are close to my heart. I also wanted more time for myself.

So, I thought -- what could I start that was new and different but would still express my passion for justice.  I also wanted this endeavor to incorporate my penchant for hearing and sharing a wide variety of perspectives. And not be 24/7!

That’s when I started co-teaching a 1 ½ hour weekly class with a widely respected retired judge, Phyllis W. Beck, called “Hot Topics in Justice and Law”. The course is hosted by Temple University and our audience is adults over age 55. From the beginning, the demand has wildly exceeded our expectations. Approximately 400 people consistently sign up although our venue holds only 100.

Each week, we explore current policy and legal issues, utilizing expert speakers with opposing viewpoints. Whether you’re for or against President Trump, he has been a treasure trove of “hot topics.”  To name a few, we have discussed immigration, reproductive freedom, guns, sanctuary cities, criminal justice reform, the Me-Too movement, Presidential powers, voting reforms, poverty, and LGBTQ issues. 

Speakers have included community and political leaders, reporters, authors, judges, government reformers, pollsters, pundits (such as Edward G. Rendell, former governor of Pennsylvania, the mayor of Philadelphia, a former head of the DNC, and an MSNBC political commentator).. At the beginning of last semester, we had the chairs of the Pennsylvania ACLU and the Federalist Society debate their agendas for the year.

This class lets me continue to engage in the work of the Philadelphia justice community. The students, retired teachers, doctors, lawyers, business people, journalists, et al., are hungry for information, want to keep their minds sharp, and are excited to be presented with both sides of important subjects. It’s very rewarding when, after class, students tell us how much they’ve learned,

In the course of my career I have worked on many crucial issues, such as court reform, gender/racial bias in the justice system, violence against women, homelessness, reproductive rights, and breast cancer. Last year, I led an initiative of the Philadelphia courts to get more African Americans and other persons of color into the jury pools.  With a friend, I coordinate a group of public interest attorneys who are transitioning out of full-time work. This group enhances our ability to volunteer, helps us to confront together the challenges and opportunities presented by this major life change, and lets us support one another.

I am a breast cancer survivor and have become an international dragon boat racer, one of the world’s fastest growing water sports. When I signed up for a team of breast cancer survivors, my intention was to get exercise, enjoy the serenity of the water, and meet new women. But, to all our surprise, team members quickly become very competitive.  A dragon boat has 20 paddlers, 10 rows on each side of the boat, with a steersperson in the back and someone up front beating a rhythm on a drum.  We paddle in unison. It’s all about teamwork and we enjoy being part of the team.  We’re planning to compete in the French Alps this summer.

Had I continued to work in a demanding full-time job, these things might not have happened. How lucky I am to be engaged in so many new and exciting ventures.  Now, as I start the decade of my 70’s, I am still able to focus on some true passions and still (I hope) make a difference.