Changes came hard and fast for Brenda Milum. In the past few years she experienced an unexpected divorce, dating in her 50s, remarrying, selling her home and possessions, the end of her teaching career, retirement in a pandemic, and the arrival of grandbabies. These resulted in a major shift in mindset, new goals and purpose, new adventures, and the opportunity to rediscover and reinvent herself.
“I wasn’t always adventurous,” said Brenda, “but when I met my husband Bill, I became more adventurous. Now I see myself as very adventurous.” She’s traveled, jumped out of a plane, gone zip-lining, rode motorcycles, and toured the Grand Canyon on electronic bikes. “We got to ride around the rim on e-bikes. It was amazing! It was a long trip, but it was a lot of fun. We enjoyed it.”
The journey of self-discovery began when her elementary music teacher recognized her musical talent. Miss Kennedy encouraged her natural vocal abilities and taught her to play clarinet. “She really encouraged that in me, and I went on to do some things as a high school student because of her encouragement.”
Brenda became an elementary school teacher too, and taught for 30 years, the last six of which as a reading specialist. “Transitioning out of a career during the pandemic was very difficult. I didn’t get to say goodbye to my students. We left on spring break, and didn’t go back. I didn’t get to see them again.” When isolation orders were in place, teachers, students and parents had to figure out ways to finish lessons at home. It was challenging enough to teach students with learning differences in the classroom, but teaching from home required even greater creativity and flexibility. Because Brenda’s husband was also working from home, she often took her computer and visual aids outside, where it was a little quieter. “I would put big posters on the window and teach on the patio. Teaching at home was a big change, another adventure. It’s like trying to build a plane as you’re flying it. But I like a good challenge!”
“The job we were in can be very, very stressful,” she continued. One of her coworkers invited her and several others to join a relaxing online watercolor painting class through LetsMakeArt.com. “That was a year ago,” Brenda explained. “That was something I had no idea I would enjoy. I never had an artistic bone in my body, as far as visual art. But I’ve always been a learner.” She told herself, “‘I’m going to have to figure this out and learn new skills.’ That has really taken off, and I have really enjoyed it.” She paints food, florals, landscapes, animals and portraits. She painted a vintage truck. “I thought ‘This is going to be hard to do,’ It took a lot of time; I did it by myself, and it turned out really well. That one is probably my favorite.” She also painted an eagle that a patriotic friend just had to have. It’s now framed and hanging in her friend’s house. “It’s amazing to think that my art could bring joy to other people. That has been a really neat thing.”
With retirement looming, Brenda and Bill began to discuss what the future might bring. “He was big on: ‘What is your dream? If you could do anything, what would it be?’ As a teacher, I thought I was living my dream. I never really gave much thought of doing anything outside of that,” she said. But Bill pressed on, “What if someday we traveled and explored the world?” The more she thought about it, the more excited she became about the idea. “We began to look at what it would cost us, and we made a plan. What could we do if we got rid of all this stuff? We both are minimalistic, we don’t need a lot of stuff,” she reasoned. “Our realtor set us on the path, and made it happen. We moved out of a 3-story, 2500 sf home, into an 850 sf apartment. Pretty quickly I was on Facebook Marketplace, selling and giving stuff away. There was stuff on the curb, and people were coming by on trash day just to see if there was anything there that they wanted. A lot of people thought we lost our minds. They weren’t sure our marriage would survive it, but we loved it!” That was two years ago. Today Brenda and Bill are moving into an RV, with plans to follow the sun and visit the grandchildren who live in different states. “Our goal is to be able to wear t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops year round,” she said.
Brenda has no regrets. “There’s less to dust. It takes an hour or so to clean everything. Not having so much to manage has been a real blessing to us. We don’t have anything in storage, so we don’t have a monthly fee to keep stuff that we’re not using, things we never look at. We have everything we need.” There was a moment of hesitation when they came across old yearbooks. Bill found his from high school, and Brenda had one from every year, Kindergarten on. Bill said, “We can’t carry these in our trailer because they are too heavy. I think we should go through them.” So they sat together for several nights, looking at pictures, sharing stories and reliving memories. They took pictures of the pictures they wanted to keep, and uploaded them to an electronic album their children had given them. “We are actually looking at our yearbooks now,” Brenda said. “Afterward we took the yearbooks to a big dumpster, and that was kind of scary. I told myself, ‘Here we go. We’re doing it.’ So, not really a regret , but a new mindset of how we’re going to look at those things, and what we’re going to do with them.”
“I’ve always been a learner and interested in change,” but she quickly added, “and I’ve always said I like a good rut. I like to know, ‘What am I doing today? Where am I going?’ But when things change, it doesn’t bother me. I look at it as ‘I have a new adventure! I’m going to get to learn something new, and do something different!’”
She offers this advice to people going through transition:
- Jump in! What’s the worst that can happen? You find out you don’t like it, or you might find out ‘I didn’t know that I could love this so much! I didn’t know that I could do this!’ What joy you’ve brought to yourself and to your life. Just try it!
- Involve yourself with a good group of people. It’s helpful to have friends who have been through thick and thin with you. If you surround yourself with a group of people who are always negative and speaking that language over you, it keeps you stuck. But if you surround yourself with people who are positive, people you admire, who have strengths you don’t have, things that will build up what you have, you will be growing and moving forward. You have strengths others need as well.
- Stop the negative thinking. I believe God puts us in a community on purpose. He did not mean for us to be on our own because we are not nice to ourselves. If you said the things to your friend that you just said to yourself, you wouldn’t be friends. So we have to watch our negative talk and what we’re putting into our mind. “The loudest voice we ever hear is our own.”
- Ground yourself with truth. It’s important to speak truth to yourself. What people say to me may or may not be the truth. But I know what the Bible says to me, what God says to me, is truth. Not everybody is going to like me. Not everybody is going to agree with me. Truth gives you a foundation of who you are, whose you are, what’s important, and being who God made you to be.
- Share adventure. Because my husband loves his toys, we have had lots of fun vehicles that help feed our love for adventure, travel, and have introduced us to other people.
- Transition is just a normal part of life. Everybody has to go through it, at some point, some more than others. You can’t do anything about it, so be willing to embrace it. See it as an adventure! See what happens and just go with that.
You can also check out Lets Make Art for more of the art that Brenda is working on.