January 30, 2012

The Little Things

I have survived the holidays with my sanity and budget intact. The weather has returned to winter time normal for Scottsdale (low 70's) so I can begin spending more time in the backyard. My wife, daughters, son-in-law, and grandkids have made it through various flues and colds. My dad is a month away from his 88th birthday and doing well. Betty and I have decided on our vacation plans for this year. So far, so good.


Let me tighten the focus a bit. With 2012 already almost a month old, now is a good time to reflect on all the little things that make up a satisfying retirement. Too often I get caught up in thinking about major problems or events and overlook the little sparkles of everyday life. When one reaches a certain age (different for everyone) it just happens: a realization of how marvelous the small stuff is that fills the nooks and crannies of a life.


As noted, the weather is now perfect for being outside. Summers in Phoenix are brutal, but from late October until mid April there isn't a better place to be. Over a dozen resorts, with room rates averaging close to $400 a night, are full of folks escaping the cold and snow. I just have to walk out the back door.


Too often, though, I take that fact for granted, stay inside, and make excuses for not taking full advantage of perfect, sunny days. Miles and miles of hiking trails are just minutes away. I live 5 blocks from a large, beautiful park just waiting for me to enjoy a picnic under a tree, watch the moms and kids play on the swings, or simply sit and read while soaking up the sounds of nature. There isn't a weekend from now until May that doesn't have at least two or three festivals or special events somewhere in the Valley of the Sun. I just have to make a little effort to enjoy something different.


I am thankful my almost 9 year old car is still running well. Yes, there are rattles, squeaks,and a noise here and there that I can't pin down, but none of that affects its purpose: to get me or my wife from here to there. The car was bought for cash so there has never been a payment. It still manages to get close to 30 miles a gallon. The air conditioner blows cold air in the summer and heat in the winter. It remains safe and dependable and still has less than 85,000 miles on it.


I am thankful for hobbies and interests to keep me busy. After 10 years of retirement I haven't run out of things to do. I still occasionally plunk away at the guitar. Every once in awhile I'll turn on one of my ham radios and talk to someone on the other side of the world. A few times a year I go to the garden store and buy enough flowers to fill the pots with splashes of color.

We have a bird and  hummingbird feeder out back. Most months of the year there are winged visitors at each one, adding color and song to my day. They don't ask much in return, just some peanuts and sugar water.

I am married to a woman who loves to do what I don't: physical labor. If a bathroom needs re-grouting, or a side yard needs a fence build for a new puppy, she will be the one to tackle those jobs. Paint a room? Call Betty. Re-finish the front door? I will help but she is the driving force. I am thankful for someone in my life who is strong where I am weak.

I am thankful that both of us enjoy the simpler things in life. We like finding a bargain at a second-hand furniture store. We get excited when we can re-purpose an old dresser or chair into a conversation piece for the house or yard. We feel like we winning when we can use a coupon at a favorite restaurant or enjoy a dinner of half-price appetizers during happy hour. We enjoy sitting in the lounge at a local resort, listening to a jazz trio, knowing we can drive 15 minutes to enjoy the free show any day of the week we feel motivated to do so.

I enjoy the process of clipping back the plants and bushes in February as they start to grow and green up for spring and summer. Raking up the leaves, trimming the trees, and making sure the drip system is working properly tell me the cooler days are almost over.


All of us, me included, tend to focus on the big stuff of life, both the good and bad. When we look back at years past it is the special vacation, the leak that ruined the bathroom, the birth of a grandchild, or the day the car died on the freeway during rush hour that first come to mind. That is not likely to change. 


What to do about it? Appreciate every small joy or smile today. You may not recall it next year, but the overall texture of your satisfying retirement lifestyle will be better for what happened today. 


Related Posts

January 27, 2012

Worth Working For: Friendship

A little less than a year ago I wrote about the loss of an important friendship in the post Until It is Gone. That story generated a lot of intensely personal comments. In many of us there is a place of real pain  from losing an important relationship with a friend whether we are living a satisfying retirement or are working. That deep hurt really doesn't  go away, especially  if the relationship ended for reasons that are left unclear or unresolved. There are feelings of rejection and betrayal that linger for years. There is the constant desire to know what went wrong.

That friendship I wrote about in that post did re-start a few months later and developed into an even stronger bond than before. My story had a happy ending. But, that isn't always the case. People come in and out of our lives. Some are just passing through while others linger long enough for us to begin to feel a connection. Then, there are those special times when two people find a bond that deepens to the point where it is an important part of their lives.

Almost 4 years ago blogger Lorraine Cohen wrote this:

"I believe people come into our lives to serve us to grow and evolve through the experiences we mutually create. We are all teachers for each other and student of life at the same time. Even in those times of conflict and discomfort, the invitation to discover the hidden blessings and gifts is always there if we are willing to look."

That is an excellent way to look at the place friends, of varying degrees of importance, have in our life. Any experience has teachable moments if we are open to receive them, and friendship maybe more than most. She continued to note that nothing stays the same forever. Change is the only constant in life. Holding onto others to keep us happy is a failing strategy, for both us and them. Losing a meaningful friendship puts us thorough a form of grieving that must be allowed to happen. Just like losing anyone, we might feel anger, depression, denial...all the normal emotions of grieving. But, there is finally acceptance and moving on.

I read somewhere that over a seven year period, roughly half of a person's friendships will change. At first that sounded like crazy talk. But, in reflecting back over my life certainly it is true over the past several years for me. Friendships have changed depth. Some have gone from being close to more of an acquaintance relationship. Others have deepened while a few have remained constant. Some of that was simply due to lack of contact. Schedules or places where we would normally interact changed so opportunities diminished. And, I believe it is quite true that if you don't feed a friendship with attention and time it will eventually wither away.

I have decided that some friendships that I had several years ago were really for one of two reasons: convenience or proximity. There was never a deepening or a sense that we really understood each other. It is just we kind of drifted into friendship that helped us in that stage of our life. But, when fractures appeared it didn't really affect either of us in a painful way to allow nature to take its course.

But, what if there is a friendship that is important to you, and you think for the other person as well? How do you heal the rift and move forward together? Obviously, both parties must still want the relationship to continue. One-sided friendships don't work. But, assuming you are both willing to work at a fix what to do?

Not being a relationship expert, I turned to what most folks do now: The Internet. On a web site Livestrong.com I found an excellent article on how to reconcile a broken friendship. While specifically written for women, the steps that author Anna-Sofie Hickson recommends are not gender-exclusive:
,

  • Admit your part in the deterioration of the friendship. Apologize for failing to be there in times of need and accept your responsibility.
  • Fight for your friendship.
  • Make amends. Initiate the opportunity to heal the relationship. Put your pride aside.
  • Leave the past behind you.
  • Give the person time to re-evaluate the situation, if that's what is requested. Allow him or her space to work on your friendship.

Friendship is a blessing. Nurture it, protect it, and pray for it. Your satisfying retirement lifestyle will be so much sweeter.


 

January 25, 2012

A 5 Year Old Teaches Me About Retirement

My grandson is an amazing 5 year old. He started reading almost 2 years ago and is now, even before starting kindergarten, at a second grade reading level. He is as comfortable figuring out computer games as he is solving math problems more appropriate for an 8 year old. Show him a book about woodworking and he wants to build something. Have him look at a cribbage board and he wants to know how to play. Leave a chess board lying around and he insists on knowing how the pieces move. If he sees a star map of the sky he wants to draw the entire thing...now.

I think I remember having a mind somewhat like that. Everything was a challenge to be solved or an experience to be lived.  My mind was an empty slate waiting to be filled with whatever I didn't understand. Now, almost 58 years later I need Josh to remind me of some of what is too easy to forget.

Finding Joy in Everything

He can find joy and excitement in the most common of daily activities. There is almost nothing that doesn't cause him to smile, gush enthusiasm, or run toward whatever it is that has captured his attention. He has yet to unlearn the precious belief that every moment of every day can bring a new adventure.

Sometime in the next few years he will probably lose some of this innate sense of joy. Disappointments, a bully at school, a friend who says unkind things, or a clearer understanding of the existence of bad things in the world will cause him to exercise caution. He will moderate his enthusiasm and be a little less free with hugs and smiles. He, his family, and our world will be a little less sunny when that happens.

Even so I doubt he will ever stop being the guy who asks why or how. That curiosity and eye of wonder we are all born with are easy to lose as we age, if we allow it. But joy and satisfaction are all around us. We simply have to shut off the negatives and allow the positives to find space in our life again.


Show Respect for Others

Something that used to be quite common in America but now is often restricted to the very young is respect for one's elders. He speaks with respect to his parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles. He listens when one of us is talking. He acknowledges our presence. He says, "excuse me" (no kidding!) when he would like to insert himself in the conversation.

Respect for experience and for gaining some perspective are attributes that come with age. Respecting what someone older than you can teach you is a missing part of our society's character. As I move through the elder stages I must remember there will almost always be someone older or with more experience than me. In a such a situation I must listen and learn.


Politeness Matters

Being polite gets you farther than being nasty. Josh can overpower his little sisters (who are also absolute gems!) and take what he wants or return to being the center of attention. But, he is learning the consequences aren't worth it. By asking politely to share more often than not he gets what he wants. By allowing others to shine for a little bit, his star is not diminished. Honey does get  more than vinegar.

The public discourse in our country has become quite unpleasant. Polite exchanges of honest differences of opinion are out of favor. Yelling and name-calling are more our style. Those who don't agree with us are not simply misinformed, they are probably evil. Politeness has become a weakness and we are the worse for it. We need to listen and learn from the children.


Money is often overrated

Money is completely unnecessary for many of life's greatest pleasures. I have yet to see my grandson decide not to explore something or taste something or do something because he has no money. He loves watching trains. He adores family picnics. He goes crazy over dinosaurs. He knows every character in the Cars movies. He plays for hours by himself or with his sisters. He doesn't miss any of this just because he has no wallet.

I'd contend that many of the sweetest experiences in life are absolutely free. A glorious sunset, a conversation with a friend, a cup of coffee on the back porch, a hand-in-hand walk with someone you love are still untaxed, unregulated, and available to you. 5 year olds have no concept of limiting their joy because of finances. We would benefit from remembering that lesson.

Control your own schedule

Eat when you are hungry. Nap when you are tired. Stop doing something when it bores you. Don't worry. My grandson has these guidelines pretty much figured out. Sometime he'll lose the freedom to act on them whenever he wants. But, for now he has life by the tail. He does not have a to-do list, except to-do everything.

I wish I were a little less controlled by the clock, the to-do list, and my schedule. I use these to help me navigate my day. Too often they dictate my day.


I must add that his 3 year old sister is quickly growing into her own, too. She has the drive and temperament to be an artist. Give her a box of crayons, or some paint and a brush, and she is quite content to go to her work space and lose herself. She loves her brother dearly but is beginning to find her own self and is not afraid to carve out the space she needs. There is a lesson there, too. Know yourself and feed yourself that what completes you.

I wonder what lessons my 20 month old granddaughter  will teach me when she is just a bit older! I can see several years worth of posts just waiting to be written.

Related Posts

January 23, 2012

Simple Living Can Become Silly

Hold one, what has happened? Haven't I been a major proponent of downsizing, simplifying, and eliminating waste and unnecessary clutter from a satisfying retirement? Haven't I written numerous posts in favor of simplifying one's lifestyle? Have I suddenly undergone a change of heart?

Absolutely not. Simplesizing, or whatever term you like for matching your resources and needs with your capabilities remains a driving force in my life. What I want to draw attention to is the mistaken interpretation of a simple life being one that lacks color, vibrancy, and well, life.

Consider these representative definitions of the word simple: without additions, consisting of only one part, common, ordinary. None of those phrases or words match what I hope my life is like. My goal isn't simple living...it is a full life lived simply.

To some, simple living can mean cutting back to the basics, maybe even a bit beyond. Like you, I have read of some folks who want to get rid of virtually every possession. They want to retain a very limited amount of clothing, live in 200 square feet or less, have no transportation (not even a bike), and give away all books, music, DVDs or whatever else may be considered entertainment. Even electricity and running water are impediments to what they view as the best way to live simply.

If you think I'm making this up, look at some of the links at the end of this post. There is a fellow who only owns 15 things....total. One of the actors on the hit TV show, Mad Men, lives without a toilet and is thinking about giving away his bed. Or, how about the family, with four kids, that has lived in a car/pop-up camper for 11 years?  The last link includes a video tour of a 12x12 foot home with no electricity. I'm sorry, but to me, living like these folks (and thousands of others I didn't list) borders on silly. It certainly isn't a goal I aspire to. That isn't simple living, that is fanaticism.

A full life, lived simply, is what I am striving for. I don't want my possessions to define me or how I live. I try to avoid the siren call of Madison Avenue as much as humanly possible, though I really want a Kindle Fire! I invest my money cautiously and take few risks. Do I miss a potentially quick gain by staying away from trying to play the market? Sure. But, on the other hand I am less seriously hurt during sell-offs.


I have no mortgage because I bought my current house for cash (average U.S. mortgage debt is $175,000). I have no credit card debt (average U.S. debt is $6,500). I have $2,000 left on a car loan that will be paid in full this spring (U.S. average is $15,370). The other car was bought for cash 8 years ago. Because of this I have no real worries of foreclosure or bankruptcy. Of course, a major medical disaster could put us in a deep hole. Even with insurance I know that my health company would look for any way possible to avoid paying its share. Even though they collect almost $9,000 a year from us in premiums, that buys me nothing if they decide to stonewall me at a time of need. Even so, my financial life has been simplified. 


I spend less than $600 a year on new clothes. Jeans, T-shirts, polo shirts, underwear, socks, and athletic shoes are my major clothing purchases. I gave away 10 suits and sports coats last year when I cleaned out a closet. I buy virtually no new books or movie DVDs, never buy new music, and go to a movie theater maybe 5 times a year. Even so, my life is filled with music, reading, movies, and documentaries. My clothing and entertainment life have been simplified.

I  live quite well in a smallish but comfortable, warmly decorated home in a resort town. My backyard is an oasis of plants, running water and calm. I am living my passions and dreams. I have simplified my life but I don't lead a simple life. There is a huge difference and it makes the difference between a retirement and a satisfying retirement.


How about you? Are you approaching voluntary simplicity as something to improve your life, or has it taken on a life of its own? Do you have an easy time purging, or can't you bear to get rid of the stuff you haven't needed for years? Are you after a simple life, or a full life lived simply?


Related Articles & Information

I have set some aggressive goals for myself and this blog for 2012. One of them is to increase rather dramatically the number of new people leaving comments, and another is asking new folks to subscribe either by e-mail or reader. If either of these situations describe you I'd appreciate your help in reaching my goals.

 
If you are already a regular reader or commenter bless you! If you know someone who you think might enjoy this blog would consider asking them to try it for a week or two?

Simply click the appropriate link on the right sidebar just above the ad for the Social Security Retirement Guide. I appreciate it.

January 20, 2012

What Are You Doing Now That Excites You?

A new year usually gives us a heightened sense of the possible. Our mind wants to distance itself from last year's problems and disappointments. We hatch new ideas, make plans both large and small, and rededicate ourselves to making the best of our satisfying retirement in the days ahead.

With that setup, it is now your turn. What are you doing right now that really excites you? What plans have you made for the coming year? I'm thinking a bit more than a resolution to lose weight or finish that bookcase, though they are important and worth your follow-through.

But, what is it that gets you out of bed, fired up and ready to go? It could be a passion or hobby you are in love with. Speaking of love, it could be a new relationship that has you unable to focus.

Maybe you are starting a new business, or closing down the one that has supported you and your family for a few decades and you are excited by the future.

You could be knee-deep in planning for that dream cruise in the Mediterranean or packing up for a move to the sunshine.

I write a lot about what excites me, and I plan on continuing to do so. But, for now, I am fascinated to find out what excites you. What does 2012 hold in store for you that you can't wait to experience or love doing as often as possible?

Tell us...........

January 18, 2012

Here Come the Holiday Bills: Now What?

The holiday bills will soon start to pile up. All that spending and giving, partying and enjoying friends and your satisfying retirement was fun, but now the unfun part starts. How are you going to handle all those credit card bills, along with the basics that must be paid, like heat, food, gas, and clothes?


The most important message I can communicate in this post is that a financial decision can be short-term. That is, some of the ideas I list below may not be necessary for any longer than it takes you to get back on top of the financial mountain. Don't say to yourself, "Oh, I could never live without this or that. They are too important to my happiness."


I'm not here to judge whether that is a legitimate position for you to take. One person's necessity is another person's extravagance. But, too often when we think of cutting back we picture it going on forever. Faced with such a future, we often can't take that step. So, just remember, what you choose to do now doesn't have to be permanent, just long enough to get back to an even keel.



Keep a budget

This will always be first on my list. Keeping a budget makes a person much more conscious of how money is being spent. Having a monthly limit for each category helps rein in spending. One fail proof method is to put cash into envelopes for each category. When the money is gone, stop spending until next month. If the envelope is empty before several months' end either the amount budgeted must be increased or spending for that expense must be cut back.

I used the envelope method for years until I was comfortable with my budget-setting skills. Today, I use Quicken as my "envelopes." When the amount in a particular category has been spent for that month, I stop.


Cancel Unnecessary Services for now

Find your newspaper subscription heading into the recycling bin everyday with most of it unread? Do you really enjoy all those magazines each month? Do you find you stream very few Netflix or Hulu Plus movies? Do you find yourself cleaning up after (or before) the cleaning people? Cancel what you can and reassess after the holiday bills are taken care of. You may discover you don't even miss some of those services.



Cut Way Back on Going Out to Eat

We used to allocate almost $250/month to dining out. It was a reward after being on the road many days each month and was one of my family's favorite forms of entertainment. That spending pattern extended into the first year or so of retirement.


Now, the dining out budget is just over $100 a month, enough for 3-4 meals out if we are careful and make one of them a lunch instead of dinner. Suddenly, the meal away from home becomes a special treat, something we look forward to. I know couples who spend that much (or more) in an average week. If we did it would cease being special and the money would be wasted.

At a few points in my career our dining out budget was zero. When I was between jobs or things were not going all that well we simply stopped eating in restaurants until the situation improved. It caused no harm and didn't leave us feeling deprived. It was simply a necessary, short-term step.



Coupons and Discounts are Your Friend


I receive every e-mailed discount coupon offer available: Groupon, Deal Chicken, Living Social, Entertainment Daily Deals...some I don't even remember the names of. I delete at least 90% of them, but restaurant or vacation deals get used. 

Our supermarket lets us "price match." They will match any special price offered by any other supermarket in town, By checking prices on Wednesday we design our shopping list for Thursday and save money. Rarely are national coupons a better deal than the generic house brand, unless there is no substitute. Then, a coupon is used.


Cut Out Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, etc.

Is Dunkin' Donuts, Einstein Bagels, or a coffee shop a regular for you? Stop going until you can afford it. Make your coffee at home. Donuts are bad for you so your body will thank you. Yes, I know Starbucks offers free WiFi, but then so does your home. 


Stop Carrying Extra Cash

How does this fit with the suggestion to use cash in envelopes? If there is little or no extra cash in your wallet impulse purchases might be reduced. It is wise to have a few $20 bills tucked away someplace for an emergency cab home or similar problem. But, carrying hundreds of dollars with you makes it much too easy to spend a little here and a little there. If possible use your debit card so the money comes right out of your checking account and you instantly see the purchase on your on-line account. Or, if you prefer, take the cash from the grocery envelope when you go food shopping. 


Remember, you may not need to take all of these steps and none of them need be permanent. After the holiday bills are paid, decide what should be reinstated and what you never really missed.

Related Posts


January 16, 2012

Getting Your Juices Flowing

Every one of us has the ability to creatively solve a problem or learn a new craft. We can come up with all sorts of ways to make something better or more productive. Like any other skill, creativity can be developed. Here are 5 ways I have used to get my creative juices flowing and make my satisfying retirement a daily adventure. Maybe one or more of them will help you feed your creative spirit and supercharge your internal idea machine.

A) Stretch Your Horizons. Stimulate your mind by doing things out of your comfort zone. Go to a museum you usually avoid. Listen to a type of music that normally isn't on your iPod. Visit web sites that present a point of view you don’t agree with. Pick up a magazine that covers a subject you are unfamiliar with. Stepping outside your usual behavior will energize your thought process.

For me, I respond best to the written word. So, on a regular basis I go to the bookstore and pick up two magazines from subjects I know little or nothing about, or ones presenting a different political perspective than mine. Also, I hunt out new blogs that are in subjects that have nothing to do with retirement. More often than you might think something I read on a random blog will spur a fresh thought for this blog or a way to spark up my life.

Betty and I became members of the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. At least once a month we spend an afternoon strolling among the cactus plants or trees, sitting by a fountain, having lunch, and people watching. Those few hours are just enough break in routine to make the rest of the day feel fresh.


B) Expand Social Interactions. Leave the iPad or smart phone for a while and go meet real people. The skills required to engage in small talk force you to think more deeply, listen more intently, and consider your response more thoroughly. People are highly unpredictable and often full of ideas you don’t have. Tap into that flow and see where it may take you.

This is a tougher one for me. Luckily at our new church I have become involved in several groups that have introduced me to new people. Every one has a fresh story to tell or insight on life, religion, and family that enrich me. I will freely admit, though, my social interaction isn't as open as I would like it to be. Maybe 2012 will be the year I take more risks in this regard.


C) Visit Web Sites Designed To Provoke. I have noted above I will visit web sites and blogs that present a different take on politics and our country's direction. But  provoke also means to excite to some action or feeling. Sites like TED or iTunes offer hundreds of free video and lectures specifically designed to make you think. In TED's case many are under 10 minutes on almost any subject you can imagine. Again, I will choose a subject in which my knowledge is rudimentary at best. I may not like the talk, but all it costs me is 6 or 7 minutes. By forcing myself to do it I have accomplished one of the goals of creativity: taking a risk.

One of the new items I am adding to this blog are videos at the end of an occasional blog. Many will be from TED. I hope they add a little different feel to the posts and give you the chance to go a bit deeper into the subject I have chosen to write about.


D) Keep A Journal. When I wrote about journaling very early in this blog's life, the response was underwhelming. In further conversations with folks in my life journaling isn't even considered by many people for two reasons: few of use actually use pen and paper to write anything anymore, and the time required for introspection isn't available. Every one is just too busy.

I urge you to abandon the "common wisdom" and try it. I've kept journals on and off for decades. They aren't the diary-like "here’s what I did today” recap. They may be during a vacation, or often during a Bible study. When I found myself becoming kind of negative toward the state of the world or my place in it I have kept Gratitude Journals. Writing down two or three things I am thankful for that day goes a long way toward keeping my focus on the positive.

I guess it isn't technically a journal, but anything that stimulates an idea for this blog goes into a notebook. If I thought about the need to write close to 2,500 words a week with no outside inspiration I might freeze up! For me adding to a journal or notebook on a regular basis works my mind. Have you ever thought of giving it a try?

When you learn something new, or tackle a difficult problem, you feel alive. What you are feeling is the power of creativity.  How do you stoke your creative fires? What are you doing to stay excited and engaged? Are you looking for something to give you that "I can't wait to get out of bed this morning" feeling? After all, retirement is only the beginning.

The Link Between Music and Passion

January 13, 2012

The Best Movies About Retirement: The Envelope, Please

Even though most contemporary movies seem to be marketed to those under 30, Boomers love motion pictures. Some of our fondest memories probably involve a date at the Saturday night show with popcorn and coke. Today, it is more likely to be a large screen TV in the living room, but the popcorn and soft drink remain. And so does our love of movies.

That got me to thinking about movies and a satisfying retirement. Are there any really good movies that use retirement as the central focus? Yes, there are. In fact, some of my favorites of all time fit into that category. Two years ago the Wall Street Journal published a list of their choices for the top retirement movies.  Here's is the WSJ list with some of my own comments added:

*About Schmidt (2002) Jack Nicholson plays a newly retired insurance man. Within the first few minutes of the film he becomes a widower. With nothing better to do he hits the road in the RV he and his wife had planned on using in their retirement. He heads toward his estranged daughter and son-in-law's house. Who can forget the hot tub scene with Jack and Kathy Bates? A great portrayal of a retired man searching for a reason to get up in the morning.

*Cocoon (1985) Retirement meets science fiction in Florida. Just going through the motions of living, Don Ameche, Wilford Brimley and Hume Cronyn are joined by some energetic aliens who revitalize the retirees. Mr. Ameche showed his dance moves and won the Oscar for best supporting actor.


*Going in Style (1979): George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg live together in an apartment in Queens, N.Y. With only Social Security checks to keep them going days are spent feeding the pigeons. To add spice to their boring lives, Mr. Burns' character suggests robbing a bank. While mainly a comedy, there are emotional moments when the pain of growing old while poor and without family overwhelm the laughs.




*Harry and Tonto (1974): Art Carney plays a retired teacher living in New York City. When his apartment building is torn down to make way for a parking garage he moves in with his son. After that proves problematic Carney's character and his best friend, a cat named Tonto, hit  the road. Their journey together is sweet and moving. Mr. Carney won an Oscar for best actor in this unassuming gem.

*High Noon (1952): Normally not thought of as a retirement movie, Gary Cooper is trying to stop working but a bad guy and his own conscience won't let him quit quite yet. Gary plays a small-town marshal whose new wife is played by a very beautiful Grace Kelly. He's one day away from handing in his badge when he learns a man he sent to prison is returning on the noon train looking for revenge. Cooper, playing Will Kane, stays and fights. Mr. Cooper got the Oscar for best actor.


*The Lion in Winter (1968): Peter O'Toole is an aging Henry II, hoping to choose a successor from among his three sons so he can stop all that kingly stuff. But the boys and their scheming mom, played by Katharine Hepburn, have their own ideas. Anthony Hopkins's makes his first screen appearance in this film. Ms. Hepburn won an Oscar as best actress.

*Lost in America (1985): One of my favorite comedian/actors, Albert Brooks, quits his job after he doesn't get the promotion he believes should be his. Ditching and selling everything, he and his wife, played by Julie Hagerty of Airplane fame, plan to spend the rest of their days exploring the country in their motor home. Unhappily, stopping in Las Vegas proves to be their downfall. Linda loses virtually all their money in a casino the very first night. The rest of this very funny movie has Albert Brooks' character, David, trying to get their money back and making sense of it all.





*On Golden Pond (1981): Henry Fonda, in his last picture, is a retired college professor. Nearing his 80th birthday his estranged daughter (Jane Fonda), son-in-law, and mouthy grandson arrive to help him celebrate. A missing boy and a near-death experience give Henry and his wife, played by Katharine Hepburn, a chance to grapple with mortality and the real meaning of love. Both Henry Fonda and Ms. Hepburn received Oscars.


*The Straight Story (1999): This is a real sleeper on the list, but one I have seen and thoroughly enjoyed. Actor Richard Farnsworth plays Alvin Straight, a 73-year-old retiree who lives in a small town in rural Iowa. Straight lives with his daughter ( Sissy Spacek) and neither is able to drive a car. Suddenly this becomes a huge problem when Straight learns that his brother, who lives 300 miles away in Wisconsin, has been felled by a stroke and is likely to die. Not being able to afford a bus ticket he drives a riding lawn mover, at 5 miles per hour, to Wisconsin to see his brother one last time. Ignore the fact that the gas would cost more than the bus ticket and enjoy a heartwarming tale based on a true story.





*Unforgiven (1992): Clint Eastwood plays William Munny, a retired gunman who now raises hogs with the help of a character played beautifully by Morgan Freeman. But when a young cowboy offers Munny a chance to avenge a cruel attack on a prostitute and earn some reward money he can't resist getting back in the game. Leaving the farming life behind he recaptures, at least for part of the film, his former glory. Oscars were won for for best director (Mr. Eastwood), best supporting actor (Mr. Hackman as a nasty sheriff) and best picture.


Here a few others that didn't make the Journal's top 10 but I like and are about retirement:

*Saving Grace: After her husband dies and leaves her deeply in debt, Grace grows massive amounts of marijuana to keep her home. Along the way she has to deal with drug dealers, a suspicious local constable, and a handyman with a girlfriend who is unhappy with the whole affair. Funny and well-acted.






*Calendar Girls: Older Bristish ladies help raise money for the local hospital by producing a calendar of themselves, in the nude. Funny and tastefully done, this proves you are never to old to take a risk. The movie is based on a true story.


*Secondhand Lions: Two retired brothers on a broken-down Texas ranch have nothing better to do than shoot at any salesman dumb enough to come on their property. That all changes with the arrival of their great-nephew who spends the summer with the men. In the process the boy and the men learn about life, adventure, the importance of memories, and family. Michale Caine is perfect in his role.







*Up (2009): This animated gem is all about living out a dream. An old, unhappy geezer is forced to sell his home, the home where he and his beloved wife lived for their entire married lifeand where he remains after her passing. An 8 year old boy, a bunch of balloons, a villian, and various animals end up taking the man on a journey of discovery that helps him understand some important facts about his life. Ed Asner, who voices the old man, is perfect as someone who finds a new reason to live and love. 


I thought of several more, but I'd like your input. What movies have you seen and liked (or disliked!) that deal with this journey we are on called retirement?  Did they accurately capture the ups and down of this phase of life. Were they Hollywood's version of retirement but not what you have experienced?

In closing, here are a few quotes from famous movies that fit our topic well:

Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic: "I figure life's a gift and I don't intend on wasting it. You don't know what hand you're gonna get dealt next. You learn to take life as it comes at you, to make each day count.”

Mel Gibson in Braveheart: "Every man dies, not every man really lives.”


Robert Duvall in Lonesome Dove: "The older the violin, the sweeter the music.”


Note: I  just found this list of retirement movies at Time Goes By under the heading Geezer Flicks...quite a list. 



OK, now is your chance to be Siskel and Ebert. Tell us about your choices for top retirement-themed movies.



January 11, 2012

A New Way To Look At Last Year

One of the steps I take every New Year's day is to pack away the previous year's receipts. Usually it is a mundane process that takes just a few minutes. But, this time I decided to look at them a little more closely as each month went into the box. Suddenly, I had my own year in review through bills and receipts.


Cable cancellation: Last March we cut the cord of our cable company and went to an off-the-air antenna, Netflix, and DVDs for our entertainment. I found the receipt for the turn-in of the cable box, remote, and assorted cords. This was the first time we have been without cable for 35 years of marriage. It was a big step and one that changed our nighttime schedule.


Receipt for Cabin rental in Greer. As recounted in the end of the road post our family had reserved a cabin the northeast Arizona hamlet of Greer for the first weekend in June.The idea was a good one: escape the desert heat for a few days of 70 degree weather in the mountains. After a 5 hour drive we settled into the cabin only to see a a huge plume of smoke on the distant horizon. A massive wildfire was burning, out of control, heading right toward Greer and my family. Shortly after 1 AM we were awakened and told to get out of town. Packing everything in 30 minutes, we beat a hasty retreat and drove 5 hours home, arriving at 6 AM. 


For the next few days we followed news reports as the huge Wallow fire ended up burning hundreds of thousands of acres, destroying dozens of homes in Greer and eventually burning its way into New Mexico before dying out. What started out as a quiet getaway became a story to add to our family's history.


Condo receipt for Hawaii. After a 10 year break,  Betty and I made it back to Maui. The receipt for the condo in Kihei brought the 18 day dream trip back again. In fact, the first thing I did was go to the digital files to look at all the the pictures again. Just last week we made our vacation plans for this year. I mentioned the idea of going back, but Betty strongly suggested we do something different. Reluctantly I agreed.


Income slips for guide work. For almost 5 years I had an interesting part time, seasonal job: tour guide for business people visiting Phoenix/Scottsdale for conventiuons and seminars. I was paid to show people some of the sights, take groups on horseback rides, hikes through the dessert, cookouts, or kayak floats down the Salt River. I spent many hours exchanging stories with bus drivers and fellow guides. The job paid quite well and added a few thousand dollars to my pocket each year. 


Through a combination of events I stopped the job last June. Though I will miss the people and money, I have found more satisfaction in other uses of my time: this blog, prison ministry, and more picnics, reading, and spending my nights with my wife. It is quite liberating to not have to make time for the job, but I will miss the money!


The repairs bills for our older car. Last year was not a particularly good year for our 8 year old car. I saw almost $600 in over-budget repairs, Betty and I wondered if it was time to cut back to one car, or buy a new one. The final decision was to do neither, but to keep the clunker running for another year or two. With only 81,000 miles it should be OK for awhile. Since depreciation instantly steals 30% from a new car, budgeting hundreds of dollars more for the 2003 Hyundai seems like a better decision.


It was an interesting experience - recreating some of the more memorable moments from last year out of a stack of receipts. I wonder if this year will have as many. We'll see.


What others are saying

January 9, 2012

Retirement & The Choices We Make

For many years before my satisfying retirement began I earned my living conducting market research for radio stations. The clients wanted to know which songs to play, what kind of contests would attract the most new listeners, which advertising campaigns might be most effective, even whether a particular announcer should be hired or fired.

Over the course of hundreds of different studies for radio stations all across the country, there were some obvious similarities in the results. It really didn't matter where the research was conducted, the key findings would be very much the same. Even knowing that to be true every client still believed their market and their situation would be different, would be the exception to the rule. Of course, that didn't prove to be so. But, confirmation was important to them so they still felt good about all the money spent.

What does any of that have to do with retirement? Frankly, quite a lot.  Not surprisingly, the results gathered twenty or thirty years ago for radio stations apply to you and me today. Human psychology, our needs and wants, and what motivates us hasn't changed.

One of the key findings remains the cornerstone of advertising today: Tell someone something often enough and it is believed to be true. In radio, a station would simply declare itself #1, repeat the claim over and over for months and months, and then have listeners tell researchers like me that the station was #1. Politicians are prime examples in today's world. Repeat a talking point or sound bite over and over until its truthfulness isn't even questioned. Repetition of an advertising message eventually convinces you that a certain laundry detergent really is better than all the others, or that a brand of automobile is the one missing ingredient to make you happy and sexy.

This makes a difference to us in one very important way: it calls into question the validity of "experts" who tell you how to invest your money, what to do to protect your health, or how to be happy when you follow their five easy steps. The real answer is there is no simple answer. One size does not fit all. Saying it is so doesn't make it so. To build a satisfying retirement you will ultimately be responsible for the decisions. You can't out-source your retirement and expect it to be a happy one.

That doesn't mean there isn't much to be learned from someone who has gathered experience along the way. After all, that is pretty much what this blog is all about: almost 11 years of retirement has taught me some things I'd like to share. But, it is important to understand that your life, your experiences, and your desires, are yours. Gather all in the input you can. Listen to what others say. Read extensively. Then make up your own plan. Take the road that is best for you.

The vast majority of us have no idea why we make the choices we do. In radio, no one really knew why they preferred a particular station over another that played the same music. They couldn't even remember which stations they listened to over a typical week. Something in the subconscious made one choice preferable over another, but verbalizing the reasons was often impossible.

For us, knowing that we operate on automatic pilot is important information. It is very easy to do something the same way without actually understanding why. It is very difficult to break a bad habit for the same reason. You must recognize you are living a certain way not necessarily from a mindful choice, but from a lifetime of habit. When you understand that basic fact, it becomes a bit easier to begin to change what you do.

Experience is a good teacher. Over time we learn some of the things that are best for us. The problem is we don't always follow those lessons and we don't know why. That is OK. You will make mistakes. You will make choices that, when looking back, amaze you at their stupidity. All that proves is you are human. Accept that motivations are sometimes going to be unknown.


Peer pressure affects everyone, not just kids. Advertising depends on peer pressure. "Keeping up with the Joneses" motivates a lot of people to aspire to a lifestyle they  can't afford and may not even like. In radio, listeners want to report they listen to the most popular or "hottest" station in town, even if they don't. There is pressure to be part of the majority.

For retired folks maybe you believe you must spend part of each year on a cruise ship or biking through Europe. Maybe the people you aspire to copy own a luxurious RV or a vacation home in Aspen. You drive a giant SUV even though you and your spouse rarely leave town. Others in your social circle drive one so it must be the right choice. Your house has three flat screen TVs that you rarely turn on.

It is quite possible that your life has been shaped by peer pressure and not by what you really want. There is nothing wrong with any of the things listed above as long as you truly want them, use them, and can afford them. It is when you possess something to be like others that you can encounter serious problems.

I've written a lot about simple living, or as a new phrase says, simplesizing your lifestyle. That has nothing to do with depriving yourself of what you need to be happy. It has everything to do with matching how you live with how you want to live.

Familiar always beats unfamiliar. This simple fact is what makes developing a new product, or in my case, creating a new radio station so difficult. No matter how often people claim to want new and different, it simply isn't true. Safe and familiar almost always trumps new and untested. Part of this is peer pressure, part of this is fear of the unknown, and part of this is laziness. We know what we get from product A. It may not be perfect but who knows what product B will be like. Why take the risk?

This is a major stumbling block to a satisfying retirement. Rather than try a new lifestyle, a new hobby, a trip to a foreign country, a new friendship, or even a new way  to manage our time, our human nature will attempt to revert to the familiar. We are programmed to default to the known. We hate uncertainty, which is odd when you realize life is a constant uncertainty.

Your creativity, your happiness, your entire retirement experience can depend on you understanding this core fact of life, and rejecting it. Something familiar isn't better, unless it is. Living life fully is knowing what you don't know and finding out if that is a mistake. After all, retirement is only the beginning.


What Others Say

I have set some aggressive goals for myself and this blog for 2012. One of them is to increase rather dramatically the number of new people leaving comments, and another is asking new folks to subscribe either by e-mail or reader. If either of these situations describe you I'd appreciate your help in reaching my goals.

If you are already a regular reader or commenter bless you! If you know someone who you think might enjoy this blog would consider asking them to try it for a week or two? 

Simply click the appropriate link on the right sidebar just above the ad for the Social Security Retirement Guide.  I appreciate it. 

January 6, 2012

Is It Time To Kick Start Your Retirement?

Don't we experience times when we are simply going through the motions? Every day is much like the day before. It is safe and predictable. There is a comfortable routine to the day. Nothing really new or interesting happens. There are no problems we can't handle without a little effort. Inspiration is taking a break. Life moves forward. But, is that truly living a satisfying retirement? How can I find new energy for whatever might be next in retirement?


Pay attention & shake it up

One of my best sources for renewed energy and a fresh direction is to stop long enough to look at the world around me. What in my life might give me inspiration if taken in a different direction? Old photos, movies, a play or theater presentation, mementos around the house, the birds in the backyard, people at the mall, actually just about anything can inspire if my mood is right and I'm open to seeing things in a new way.

Looking for a new angle or use of the everyday, meeting a new person or having a new experience, any of these can energize an otherwise mundane day. I might read something in a magazine that changes my perspective. Checking out my favorite bloggers almost always forces me to open my mind to some different idea. Shaking up a routine or attempting to break an unproductive habit can be just the boost I need to get moving again.


Sometimes you just have to act

There will be times when you must force yourself to take action. It would be easier and more pleasant to avoid whatever it is. But, the problem isn't going away until you confront it. Whether this is a relationship issue, a health concern, a financial upset, or even where to go on vacation you may have to simply grit your teeth and do something. Problems and opportunities don't respond well to inaction.

I dislike the "ready, fire, aim" approach most of the time. But, I have done just that at times when I had a brain-lock and had to simply "do."


Look for something fresh from others

Inspiration for your life can often comes from an outside source. Interacting with other people may be an effective way to find an answer to a problem. They may not directly address what your need is. But, by simply being with them you may find a new path toward something. Being with a group of people you enjoy can't help but make you feel better.

Joining a new club, organization, or church group may be the spark you need. Volunteering in a setting where you interact with folks who need your help and are different from those you normally spend time with can often do the trick. My last four years of prison ministry has given me an entirely fresh perspective on people. I helped out at the Phoenix Rescue Mission last week by serving dinner to almost 300 less fortunate folks. It felt worthwhile and the people were friendly, appreciative, and a joy to serve.


Maybe you simply need a retread

Reusing or reworking something you have done before is really what retirement is all about. A lifetime of behavior and expectations are up for review. Just because you thought one way while working doesn't mean that line of thought is best for your life now. Was there an interest or hobby you used to love that fell by the wayside? Is it time to bring it back, maybe in a slightly different way? When you were 30 you loved to mountain bike. But, now at 60, maybe trail riding is safer and more suited to your body. You still love to bike, but you change the approach.


Kick starting your satisfying retirement really is just a case of rejecting the status quo. As our hour glass begins to run lower on sand, waiting for tomorrow to energize yourself today is probably not the wisest course. From the book, Tales of Power, consider this quote 


"The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge while an ordinary man takes everything either as a blessing or a curse."

I prefer the warrior approach. You?


What Others Are Saying

From TED.com: Try Something New for 30 Days

January 4, 2012

Expect the Unexpected and Cherish Every Moment

This was the year we decided on no gifts for the adults at Christmas time. It was simply the right thing to do for our family. No one needed anything and budgets were tight anyway. Of course, the children would have presents under the tree, but none of the grownups.

That didn't mean we didn't want to be together and have a memorable experience. So, arrangements were made to spend a few days in the snow and cold of Flagstaff in a rented house. That was a great change of pace, but there was still one more thing needed to make it special. 

The "conductor"
Every Christmas time the Grand Canyon Railroad becomes the Polar Express, patterned after the hit movie. Leaving from a train station 40 minutes west of town, adults and kids dress in pajamas (well, not all of us), and board the train for an hour long ride to adventure. Telling the story of the Polar Express, drinking hot chocolate, eating cookies, and everyone singing Christmas carols sets the stage for the big moment. Santa Claus boards the train at the "North Pole," and goes from car to car greeting the children and posing for pictures, while handing each child a bell, just like in the movie. The excitement and glowing faces of all the kids, along with many of the adults, makes for a magical evening.


But wait, there's more. Picture an 18 month old, with a case of stomach flu, depositing the cookie and hot chocolate over mom and their seats just a few minutes before Santa comes down the aisle of the railroad car. Imagine several adults springing into action, mopping up the mess, changing the toddler's clothes, and getting everyone ready for pictures with the guy in the red suit and white beard.


Then, after  the train returns to the station, the adventure continues. Just as all of us are ready to head for dinner, another round of sickness hits the infant. More cleaning up and rushing to the the cars in 18 degree weather to hurry home and get everyone cleaned up and fed. Dinner becomes cereal and leftovers, but we are safely back in the house. Early to bed for everyone.

So, was this a very unpleasant Christmas experience? Absolutely not. The kids helped set up and decorate a 4 foot tree. On Christmas morning gifts were torn open and instantly any upset or concerns were forgotten as the squeals of joy and excited chatter filled the living room. The adults played games, watched a movie, relaxed, soaked in the hot tub (on a 30 degree porch!), and enjoyed each other's company.

We have always been a family that cherishes experiences over things. Memories never fall apart, shrink or break. They never are replaced by a new memory. They create the unbreakable fabric of a family that lives and loves together. This will always be part of our family lore. The infant's sickness will be part of the story as we remember Flagstaff and the Christmas of 2011, smile at all the fun and thank God for the blessing of family.

Oh, in case you are worried, within a day of our return to Phoenix, the flu had passed and everyone was fine. All that was left were the pictures and memories of a time well spent.



A perfect image of  our Christmas together
Related Posts

January 1, 2012

If I Had It To Do Over Again

There are questions we all ask ourselves at some point: " What if I could have a do-over on some of the choices I made in my life? What would I do differently?" Since life doesn't really offer such a correction, is there a benefit in asking? Yes, because it helps us see patterns in our decision making. There is the opportunity to learn from past choices to improve the ones we will make during our satisfying retirement. As 2012 starts, here is my look back at a few things I wish came with a do-over.


My life has been rather ordinary in most respects. I was raised in a typical 1950's-60's American suburban environment by two parents who loved each other and their three sons. I went to college, got married, had two daughters, and built a successful career in an industry I had fallen in love with at age 12.
Along the way I suffered the loss of a favorite uncle, a set of grandparents, and in-laws. Just over a year ago my mom died at 84. I don't think anything I have experienced is extraordinary. But, that doesn't mean there weren't a few times along that journey that hindsight suggests a different approach would have been wiser.

 I wasted my time at college. I went right after high school because that is what one does. Also, during my freshman year I drew a low lottery number (remember the draft?) and didn't relish the idea of being sent to Vietnam.  I graduated in four years with a degree in a field that had nothing to do with my career. In looking back I clearly wasted the opportunities, and my parents' money.

College, for me, was not a time when I allowed myself to be intellectually challenged. I took the courses I needed to, but was never fired up by most of them. I did feel a spark during a few urban study courses, but never fanned that flame. I doubt if I went to the library more than a half dozen times in 4 years. Since this was well before computers and the Internet, I have no idea how I put together the papers and essays required to graduate.


The cliché that college is wasted on the young is certainly true in my case. I was so focused on my radio career that classes were an interruption. I was the president of my fraternity for a year but I did nothing with that experience. I made no lifelong friends nor did I do more than to keep the place functioning. I rarely dated and enjoyed no new cultural experiences. My college years would be a productive do-over.


My business eventually died because I stopped growing. In my case it was a business that died, but the effect of standing still can be applied to any part of life. At the peak of my consultancy I was serving over 30 radio stations single-handedly and had worked for over 200 other stations at one time. That meant constant travel, spending each weekend catching up on all the office work, and re-packing for a flight out Monday morning. I allowed myself no time for two crucial elements of any business: learning new things and marketing.


I was content to continue to repeat the same mantra even as the radio industry was changing right before my eyes. I didn't take the time to think about new approaches because I was too busy keeping the cash flow up. I had no time to use my standing in the industry and the successes of my clients to generate new business. I became the worst thing you can become in life: complacent. I milked my present success dry until there was nothing left. While things have turned out well, I wish the business had continued for another 3 or 4 years.


I was a absentee husband for too many years. At the time I believed the message that if I made a good living and provided well for my family I was doing my job. If I resisted the lure of years on the road and stayed faithful to my vows and my wife no one could ask for more.


Wrong. While I was spending 170 nights each year in hotels, my wife was raising two girls, keeping the household functioning, and getting everything tidy for the return of her hard-working husband every Friday night. And my response? I looked for the smallest thing "wrong" to complain and point out to the family. Then, I was locked in my office working all weekend on everything that was piling up: bill paying, writing reports, picking new music to recommend, and critiquing tape recordings of the DJs on client radio stations. I helped out around the house but only if it didn't get in the way of my "real" job.

Once I stopped living that lifestyle, it was clear to me how much I had abused my family's love and patience. While it took several years of retirement to get my life balance back, I can never repay my wife and daughters for sticking with me through my "jerk" period and carrying more than their share of the load.



I could easily come up with several more re-dos but I'll save them for another time. The goal of this exercise is to look at mistakes or oversights and hopefully learn from them. I can honestly say that the three mistakes did result in my changing: to become dedicated to continual self-education and learning, to keep growing with new challenges and never allow myself to become stale, and to make every attempt to become the partner I am supposed to be to my wife and family.

I am ready to face a brand new year, full of confidence, but also with a clearer vision of my limitations and shortcomings.


What Others Are Saying