March 26, 2015

The Excitement of a Fresh Start

Our house has sold. It took 14 days to change the "For Sale" sign to one that says, "Sale Pending." While this was the goal it still took us by surprise: we had no place else to live and the new owner wants to be in our house by early May. The RV was beginning to look more and more like someplace we would be living for a period of time.

Not to worry. Two days later Betty and I found a home we immediately liked that is a mile from the grand kids and closer to our other daughter than where we live now. Of course, it broke two of the "rules'" we had established for the move: a smaller house and a smaller yard to care for. The new home is about 250 square feet bigger and the yard is almost exactly the size of the one we are leaving! 

Because it matched the two most important criteria of being closer to family and being one story instead of two, we promptly ignored the other two guidelines and signed a contract. We close and can move in just one or two days after the other sale is completed. So, making the RV home will probably only last for 3 or four days.

Now, the exciting part of all this kicks into high gear. I am calling moving companies, filling out reams of paperwork, making a list of all the things that have to be shut down, switched, and relocated. Betty has pulled dozens of boxes from our storage shed that helped each of our daughters move several it is our turn!

We have to become familiar with a section of the city in which we have very little experience. Where is the closest library, the stores and restaurants we like, parks for Bailey to run and play? Where is the nearest hospital and good urgent care facility, who will be our doctors and dentists? Where do I get my haircut? Is there a good pet doctor nearby? 

Insurance, driver's license information, post office concerns?  It is about time to renew our passports. Is it safe to start using the new address before everything is signed? The list that comes with a move is long.

For the first time we will be living under the watchful eye of an HOA. Checking it out beforehand and looking at the area indicates they don't have much to worry about and aren't changing enough each month to be an irritant. We will see. I do know that my ham radio antennas are going to have to go into the attic instead of on the roof. That restricts what I can do a bit, but it is not a big deal.

What church will we attend and become part of its life? The new house is about 35 minutes from our present faith community which isn't too far to drive, but doesn't allow us to interact with our new neighbors and area. So, this is yet to be determined. We are close enough to an occasional Saturday gathering of friends and a pastor who lives and meets about 20 minutes away.

Betty has begun to develop all sorts of ideas for the new home: color schemes, where furniture can go, what we need and don't need to buy, where her long-delayed art studio might be placed, do we need a new shower, and should the bathtub in the guest bath be replaced?

I have stocked up on Rolaids. I know where the aspirin bottle is. Betty keeps me focused and grounded. 

Here we go...a great adventure during my year of "move."

March 23, 2015

It May Be Part of Life But I Am In No Rush To Welcome It

Within the past month I have experienced the sting of death several times. My dad passed away on March 7th. On March 17th Betty and I received a call that a 87 year old gentleman we had driven to church every month for the past year was near death. He passed away two days later. Then, on March 18th, a man who I had worked with in radio over 40 years ago lost his year long battle with leukemia. 

I know it is part of life and I know it is unpreventable and inevitable, but I don't have to welcome it. My faith promises me that my death will not be the end of me, but only a passage from a temporary stay here on earth to an eternal existence with God. I believe that to be true and it gives me comfort and peace. As someone once wrote, if I am wrong and there is no afterlife then I will be dead and won't know the difference. But, for now, I find that promise to give me a freedom to live a life that is full and rich.

All that aside, I am tired of the rather constant knock of death on my door the last few weeks. After we reach a certain age, health discussions and the demise and death of family, relatives, and friends becomes all too common. I participate in a weekly ham radio gathering of those who love music from the 60's. Recently it has become a litany of medical concerns, operations, and illness. Instead of being called the 60's Net, we are joking that maybe we should rename our group the Health Net (and not after the company of the same name). In fact, the fellow who operates as the moderator of the group lost his mother suddenly just last week after a severe stroke.

I have read that one of the signs of maturity is an acceptance of the role of death in our life and the lessening of death anxiety. It is the last stage we all go through when death cannot be denied. From a a psychological perspective that may be true, and I do understand that at some point I will no longer exist on earth. After all, death is the only certainty of life. 

But, acceptance? That is a tough one. I worry that acceptance means the person slips into a maintenance phase, doing little and risking less. It can mean the person begins to pull back so the pain to self and others is supposedly lessened, though I doubt that is true. But, I may very well be very wrong about the entire issue.

Andrew Kneier wrote a book, "Finding Your Way Through Cancer" on how cancer patients reacted to their impending death with rather consistent attitudes and experiences. They included, gratitude for the number of years the person had lived and for the positive life experiences they had enjoyed, a sense of pride in one's accomplishments or in the inner qualities the person had developed over the years, religious faith or spirituality, and loving and being loved.

I find those responses from people close to death to be immensely uplifting. They show me a new way to understand the state of acceptance. Death remains an uncomfortable thought.  It is not a subject we want to face very often. I have seen, firsthand in the last few weeks, the grief and tears it leaves in its wake.

But, death is out there and will not be denied. We cannot let the reality paralyze us or cause us to deny our humanity. By the way, my health is excellent, I will celebrate my 66th birthday in two months, and I hope to live as least as long as my 91 year old dad. 

Two thousand years ago Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, said, "It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live."


March 19, 2015

Netflix's Business Model Explains A Lot

I imagine there are very few folks who haven't heard of Netflix. With over 54 million subscribers in 50 countries, it has established itself as the leader in streaming video services. Some could argue that it is largely responsible for the move away from cable TV in the home and into the world of on-demand video from companies like Amazon Prime and Hulu, as well as Netflix.

Personally, I am a huge fan of these choices. From paying over $100 a month for hundreds of cable channels that I rarely watched I now pay $17 a month for Netflix's unlimited streaming service and DVD mailed-to-my-home option. As an Amazon Prime member I pay around $100 annually for two day shipping and access to thousands of additional movies, TV shows, and original series.

It occurred to me that Netflix has done something that doesn't happen all that often: establish a new model of customer service in an industry that has been resistant to change for several decades. That raises the question, How have they done it? Are there any parallels to a satisfying retirement?

Recently I stumbled across a few articles that detail what Netflix has done to make them so powerful in a such a short period of time. While it is easy to blame cable companies for overcharging and providing miserable service, Netflix has brought more to the table than just obvious things like treating customers as something valuable, not as an irritant (airlines - are you listening?).

Their corporate culture is one that treats the employers like adults, meaning each is given respect and freedom to produce a quality product. Unlimited vacation time, elimination of unnecessary meetings and work reviews, superior pay rewards for superior performance, coupled with an expectation of working until a project is done, being inventive and creative, and "playing well with others" are key components of the Netflix approach. Also important is their attitude that long hours aren't required, only superior results for the company and its products.

The company has put together a a 124 slide presentation of its corporate culture and on what it places value. This Netflix "culture deck" has been viewed over 11 million times and is in partial use by a growing number of companies. Click here to take a look. It is well worth a few minutes of your time.

So, how does this relate to our retirement journey? Here are the nine behaviors that make up the core of the Netflix approach:

1. Judgment
2. Communication
3. Impact
4. Curiosity
5. Innovation
6. Courage
7. Passion
8. Honesty
9. Selflessness

I can't think of one of them that doesn't belong in the mix as part of a satisfying retirement. These behaviors govern our relationships, our approach to life, our ability to stay vibrant and engaged, and the way we strive to make our little corner of the world a better place.

Over the last few years Netflix has made some mistakes: a large price increase, and an attempt to split the streaming and mail service into two separate companies with two different names. After a large drop in customers and a loud outcry from the financial world coupled with a big drop in the price of their stock, they apologized and retreated from the worst parts of those decisions. They admitted their mistakes and moved on. Today, Netflix is as strong as ever and looking to expand into another 150 countries.

The takeaway lessons for us are simple: never stop growing, never stop experimenting and improving, admit mistakes to yourself and others, put failures behind you, and realize life is for the living.

March 15, 2015

Summer Travel Plans Come Together

In less than four months Betty, Bailey, and I will be back in the RV for another two month road trip away from the heat of a Phoenix summer. Last year we drove over 5,000 miles to and from Wisconsin, adding nine states to the map on the side of our motorhome. 

This year we have a less ambitious trip, one that will cover half that distance and allow us to add just three more decals to the map. But, we plan on spending a full month in one of our favorite cities: Portland, Oregon. There are few places prettier and more inviting for desert dwellers during the summer months than the green city along the Willamette River.

We will spend two weeks driving through Utah, Idaho, and eastern Oregon before arriving in the Rose City in mid July. After a month within a short drive of the Columbia River Gorge, we will spend almost three weeks driving down the Oregon and California coasts before turning back into the heat of the desert and home.

In addition to the adventures and memories we always generate on the road, we will be able to spend quality time with friends in Portland and in Paso Robles, California, on the way home. We will spend time on parts of the Oregon coast and Northern California we have never visited. 

After all the mental stress of my father's passing and hard work of getting our home ready to sell, being in an RV away from the routine and on the road and making new memories sounds heavenly.

Is it too soon to start packing?

March 11, 2015

My Word "Move" Becomes Literal

One of the decisions that Betty and I have been struggling with over the past year involves moving...not just in the sense that "move" is the word I want to focus on for 2015, but literally moving to another house.

We have lived in the same area for thirty years. Our daughters went from kindergarten through college while living in three different houses, all within a few miles of each other. 

We have been in our current home for fourteen years. Just about half the size of the house we occupied when both girls were high school and college age, it has served us well. Betty has done her usual amazing job of taking an older, smaller house and turned it into our home. The backyard has been transformed from a huge space with nothing but grass into an inviting oasis, with outside dining areas, a fire pit, and enough shade and seats to make it everyone's favorite part of the property.

Our church and friends are close, our doctors within walking distance, and shopping and hospitals are 5-10 minute drives. A tremendous neighborhood park is a 12 minute walk. The highlight of Bailey's day is chasing gophers that scamper everywhere in the park.

Unfortunately, it is a two story house, which as our knees age will become a problem. At times we creak up and down the stairs now; I don't want to wait until one of us can't make the trip without several aspirins. The large yard is a joy, but more work than I am willing to continue to support too much farther into the future. Our daughters and grandkids live between 25 and 45 minutes away. The frequent drives to see them are becoming more of a trek than either Betty or I want.

So, after much agonizing, we have put the house on the market. It has been repainted. The title and grout have been cleaned and sealed. The cabinets have been scrubbed and stained. We generated enough trash and junk to partially fill a rather large junk truck. The insides have been cleaned so thoroughly that the cleaning people have little to do. The timing turned out to be not the best: the same day the house went on the market was the day my father died. But, we pulled ourselves together and told the real estate agent to proceed.

Spare moments, not spent watching our daughter's new puppy, are spent looking at house listings on the Internet and driving around town with our agent. There are a few areas we like that are much closer to our kids.

Because we don't have to move right now, we have set an aggressive schedule for this house to sell. If we don't have a firm contract by the end of next month, we will pull the house off the market until early fall. Our plans to be away this summer are so locked in that cancelling or changing them would become a tremendous nightmare. Having the house sell anytime after April 30th would not allow enough time for all that happens when a house is sold and another bought before we leave for the summer.

The best scenario is we sell quickly, find a new home we like, buy it, and have everything completed before mid June. If that happens our daughters and son-in-law have offered to unpack and set up our new home so when we get back in early September almost everything will be done. Since we have helped each of them move a half dozen times, this is the perfect payback.

If the house doesn't sell within our time frame, we have a very clean, nicely freshened home ready to re-list when the time is right. We will have no regrets about staying and second-guessing about trying. We will move, when the timing is right.