Your days of helping with homework are over. You no longer need to coach your child's youth baseball, softball, soccer, hockey or football team. You are retired -- or at least winding down at work -- and find yourself with more time than you've had in years.
So it is finally time to do some of the things you always wanted to do. Explore the world. Try some new activities or learn some new skills.
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Change your perspective. See the world a little differently.
"Today's average life expectancy in the United States is 78 to 82 (years). So once you hit 50, you probably have another 30 years of life," said Colleen Koziara, regional life enrichment manager for Pathway Senior Living. "What are you going to do with them? Now is the time to do all of the cool things you didn't have time to do when you were raising children and working constantly."
For Tom Peterson of Arlington Heights, that meant taking flying lessons with the goal of earning his private pilot's license. He chose Windy City Flyers at the Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling for his lessons.
Peterson, a retired electronics technician and helicopter mechanic, said he always wanted to learn to fly. In fact, in his younger days he was a sky diver, executing 420 jumps. When he turned 60, he revisited those adventures, making about 16 jumps in one summer.
But then he decided to turn his attention to getting his pilot's license. So he is at the airport three times a week for classroom and flight training.
"It is more challenging than I expected it to be, but they make it fun. These days I only do what I want to do, you know," he quipped.
He finds being up in a plane simultaneously exciting and calming and thoroughly enjoys his new perspective on the world.
"For 22 years Windy City Flyers, based at the Chicago Executive Airport, has helped thousands of people achieve their lifelong dream of sitting in the pilot's seat, taking the controls of an airplane and flying down the Chicago skyline," said Liz Ganz, director of client services.
"For some of our retiree clients, this is a one-time experience to cross off their bucket list. But for many others, it leads to additional flights or even accepting the challenge of earning their pilot's license. Each flight is a new adventure," she said.
Flying lessons include one-on-one training with a personally matched FAA-certified flight instructor. They fly seven days a week, 365 days a year, weather permitting, and can be reached at (847) 808-1188 or www.windycityflyers.com. On bad weather days, students can work with their instructor or take advantage of either their stationary or full-motion flight simulators.
"Every pilot enjoys a special type of freedom that is unique to aviation," Ganz said. "Many of our retirees use their pilot's license to visit family, get to vacation homes or reach other favorite destinations such as Mackinac Island, (Mich.); Eagle River, (Wis.); and Northern Michigan. By car, this could require up to 16 hours of driving. By plane, it may only take an hour and a half to reach one of these destinations. As pilots, they can bring their grandchildren to Mackinac Island -- leaving after breakfast and be home by dinner."
Up, up and away
Others choose to take hot air balloon adventures from balloonports located around the area, including Fox River Grove and Plainfield/Joliet. Both sites offer rides through A Great American Balloon Co.
Those who choose this three-hour adventure may only fly during perfect weather, at sunrise or at sunset. They must not weigh over 225 pounds; be able to stand for an hour; have no back or knee problems; and they must be able to climb the balloon's four-foot sides using one step. Call (877) 933-6359 for information and reservations or visit www.wedofly.com.
Prospective fliers who are not as able-bodied have another option, however, said Pathway's Koziara. There is an FAA-approved balloon called "Serena's Song" which is ADA-accessible, complete with a side gate on the balloon basket and a ramp for wheelchairs.
Based in Cushing, Iowa, it appears at hot air balloon events around the country, including Lisle's Eyes to the Sky Festival each July. For more information on this one-of-a-kind balloon, contact its owner/designer Gary Waldman at (712) 384-2358 to see when it will be nearby offering rides.
Barb Garrigus of Melrose Park gets her fresh perspective on life by getting on a horse. A resident of Victory Centre of River Woods, she has been partially paralyzed since a fall down some stairs seven years ago. So she never thought she would be able to ride a horse again.
But Garrigus learned she is only limited by her own preconceived notions when the Hanson Center Riding Arena in Burr Ridge, (630) 325-5330, installed a lift that allows staff to place physically challenged people on the back of a horse.
"It was heaven when they put me on that horse the first time," Garrigus said. "I rode as a child and a teen and even took lessons as an adult. At one point I almost bought my own horse. But I was afraid that my fall had changed all of that. There is no way I could swing my leg over a horse, so I was afraid that I would never get to ride again."
Being on the back of a horse gives people with disabilities more freedom than they otherwise have and allows them to look people in the eye instead of looking up at them all the time from a wheelchair, said Cathy LeBeau, coordinator of the horsemanship program at the Hanson Center.
"It is a great social event because they can encourage each other and physically, it is good for them because it enhances their posture, breathing and balance. It is also soothing and has been proven to lower people's blood pressure," LeBeau said.
The horsemanship center also gets lots of retirees to volunteer there, helping care for the horses and lead the riders.
"It is a great way for able-bodied retirees to keep active and they like it because it is very different from the high stress, corporate job they probably once had," LeBeau said. "We get many women volunteers who were horse-crazy as children or teens and then they got busy and weren't able to ride. Now they are coming back."
Travel the world
Those who want to see the world from a totally different locale and want to learn about the history, geography, architecture and products of the area while they are seeing it from a bus, boat, bicycle, canoe, horse or whatever mode of transportation, are flocking to Road Scholar trips by Elderhostel Inc.
A nonprofit organization, Road Scholar's mission is to inspire adults to learn, discover and travel. Their learning adventures "engage expert instructors, provide extraordinary access and stimulate discourse and friendship among people for whom learning is the journey of a lifetime." Road Scholar educational adventures are created by Elderhostel, a world leader in lifelong learning since 1975.
"While we originally offered more campus-based classroom learning and used hostels, now we offer more experiential field trips which aren't as sedentary," said JoAnn Bell, vice president of Road Scholar programs.
Their programs include a large range of topics, formats and locations in all 50 states, as well as in 150 countries, aboard ships and smaller sailing vessels on waterways throughout the world. Today's lodging involves comfortable hotels, inns and other luxurious, but affordable, accommodations.
Road Scholar's 6,500 different trips differ from conventional guided tours because they include expert lecturers from the local area, as well as group leaders who cater to the participants' needs. And the trips are themed. A trip to Normandy can either focus on World War II and D-Day or on French Impressionism. Both trips are offered at various times so the traveler chooses which one to take.
Trips oftentimes take unusual looks at commonly visited places like a journey through the United Kingdom visiting military intelligence locations and a Julia Child-themed trip to Paris. One of the new trips to Havana, Cuba, for instance, can explore the art and architecture of the Caribbean nation or the Jewish culture found there.
Road Scholar's most exotic trips go to places like Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Antarctica, Patagonia, Fiji, Machu Picchu in Peru and the Galápagos Islands.
There are also three types of programming. There is the highly structured, traditional trip in which everything is included and every adventure is related to the theme. There are also flex trips in which two meals a day are offered and only half the time is structured. The rest is free time. Finally, there are the very independent trips which include daily breakfast and only a couple of other meals. Only a quarter of the time is spent with a guide and the rest of the time you are on your own, with advice offered by a concierge. The latter programs are most popular with baby boomers, Bell said.
"We have travelers who range from 40 to 90, so we needed to develop more options. Every trip is ranked by activity level, from easy to active. This way we develop more cohesive groups. No one has to feel they are slowing down the group," Bell said.
Multigenerational family programs are also now offered, to better cater to the needs and requests of participants.
"Many of the people who travel with us are former teachers and most are well-educated, college graduates," Bell said. "And if they are traveling alone, we will match them with a roommate, if they wish.
"The group dynamic is very important to us. We want the travelers to bond with one another to have a memorable experience. We believe that having stimulating conversations about what they saw or did that day, sharing ideas and developing camaraderie is all part of the learning experience," Bell said.
Paulette and Daniel Kasperski of Naperville have taken five trips with Road Scholar, including one to the national parks of Utah, which was their favorite.
"We love the fact that before you go to see something, they have an expert in the field come to talk to you about what you are going to see," Paulette, a former teacher, said. "You aren't just hearing from tour guides. You are hearing from experts in the field.
"We will definitely take more Road Scholar trips, especially in the United States," she said.
Jim and Kathleen Secora of Hoffman Estates are also seasoned Road Scholar travelers. They have taken two bicycle trips in Europe, a 20-day tour of Hawaii and a trip to Manhattan.
"We aren't Lance Armstrongs, but we enjoy recreational cycling," Jim Secora said. "It is fun to stop in the small towns that you normally wouldn't see and then spend a few days in the bigger cities at each end. We took one trip from Berlin to Prague, mainly along the Elbe River, and another along the Danube River.
"In Hawaii we took hula dance lessons, heard lectures on volcanoes and even tried scuba diving one day. They give you a broader perspective than you would get if you went on your own and that makes the trip more memorable," he said.
For more information about Road Scholar trips, log onto www.roadscholar.org.