January 30, 2013

The Wisdom Paradox: Can We Get Smarter?

In 2006 author Elkhonon Goldberg wrote Wisdom Paradox, a book about how our minds can grow stronger as our brains grow older. I was unaware of the book until a few readers mentioned in in comments about an earlier post. Since then I have read Mr. Goldberg's work and found a lot to think about.

Wisdom Paradox is not a simple read. The author spends a good portion of the book on very detailed aspects of how our brain works, the interplay between the left and right hemispheres and what happens in all that grey matter as we age. Frankly, when his descriptions became better suited for a med student I skimmed those pages. But, there was plenty left to raise questions about some assumptions most of us make: that our mind goes into an inevitable decline as we get older. We lose memory function, we are vulnerable to dementia and Alzheimer's, and we become unable to learn new things.

Mr. Goldberg does his best to cast serious doubt on those contentions.  He leaves the reader feeling a new sense of hope and excitement about the future. Old age doesn't have to equal decay and loss. The mind has every possibility of becoming stronger and remaining vital. But, importantly, it changes how it does what it does.

To set the stage, here are several direct quotes from Wisdom Paradox:


"I wage a never ending war on stasis (def. standing still)

A life too settled is no longer a life but an afterlife

A mind isn't necessarily weaker or strongest than when we were younger..it is just different

We have an increasingly strong feeling that life is a feast, not a struggle.

Life is not a one way street of decay.

The aging of the mind has its own triumphs that only age can bring

Being at peace with oneself is an attribute of normal aging,geriatric depression is not."


I feel better already! Mr. Goldberg states that there are undeniable negative changes that occur in the brain as we age. Importantly, they can be balanced with increased competence and wisdom. Our memory and mental focus decline with age. That is true. But, it is also quite normal for our wisdom and competence to grow.

How? Our brain is used differently. He says, "The right hemisphere is more important in our youth but as we age the left hemisphere dominates. That is the side of the brain that builds upon experiences and patterns and allows us to more quickly come to conclusions and decisions, to possess wisdom. The left hemisphere also activates during positive emotions and it withstands the decay of age much better than the right hemisphere." 

The key to making the most of this shift in which side of our brain is more dominant is to engage in vigorous mental activity. Mr. Goldberg's studies shows such use does change the brain in positive ways by increasing the number of new neurons in certain areas of the brain. We have been lead to believe that our neurons are dying off by the millions, only to be replaced by...nothing. Not true. Rather, we form new neural pathways our entire lifetime. 

To scientists a startling fact is emerging: lifelong mental activities is sufficient to counteract the effects of an brain condition where dementia became evident. That is great news. While not true in all cases, many of us have the ability to delay or defeat the obvious effects of dementia.


An active mind?
His conclusion is simple: regardless of our age, we must continue to test our mind and strive for new mental challenges. Our brains get older, but our abilities to make the most of our accumulated wisdom and experiences get stronger. It is up to us to take advantage of that fact. "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" isn't true for pets or people.

You don't have to learn a new language, re-build a '57 Chevy, or write the great American novel for this to work. Changing simple daily routines is enough to start your new neurons firing. Read an hour a day instead of watching TV, go for a walk around your neighborhood and take note of front yards you've never noticed before. Your mind is built for change, any change.

As the author says, "a mental comfort zone is a mental stagnation zone." If we don't continually learn and try new things, we have missed a built-in system designed to keep us mentally on top of our game.

This is rather exciting news!

January 28, 2013

Retirement & Congress: No, Not What You Think

This post will have little to say about Congress and it's potential impact on our satisfying retirement. There has been plenty written about entitlement reform and debt ceilings and the like. Because everything at this point is speculation I see little to be gained by stepping into that swamp.

Rather, I would like to draw a parallel between how Congress seems to be performing and two similar problems that can affect our retirement. I welcome your comments but let's avoid blaming one party or another or the president. This post is not pointed that way.

Most people would agree that Congress is not handling the functions it was designed to handle. The latest poll numbers I saw put the approval rating of this body lower than it has ever been in history. In fact, the pollster joked that cockroaches have higher approval ratings than Congress! That's a little snarky, but the point is valid. Congress has become so partisan and focused on job protection rather than country protection that it can only do two things well: Nothing or kick the can down the road.

How does that relate to our retirement? Too many folks have one of the two attitudes about their own retirement. It is causing problems now and will cause terrible problems in the future if things don't change.


*Do Nothing  Those who take this approach to retirement believe the payoff to years of work and sacrifice is ....to do nothing. That may mean literally to do nothing except watch TV and sleep in a big, overstuffed armchair. Or, Do Nothing can mean to do nothing new: develop no new interests, pursue no new dreams, leave any relationships locked in place without attempts to improve them, make no adjustments to financial plans, even figure your health is OK now so why change how you have always lived.

Personally, I see this type of retirement as being a waste...a waste of potential and opportunity...and really a waste of a good chunk of one's life. Don't misinterpret what I am saying. Relaxing is great. Sleeping in is pure bliss. A daily to-do list that is blank is just fine. Being "productive" all the time isn't necessary.

But, I do not believe we were created to just take up space and kill time. A long walk in the country, watching the birds at the feeder in your backyard, enjoying a cup of tea in front of the fire, even watching Downton Abbey every Sunday night is so much more than doing nothing. So is learning a new language, travel, volunteering, going back to school, or writing a book of poetry for your grandchild.  A life that is allowed to just peter out as days "dwindle down to a precious few" is a life that is missing a solid close.

What you do with the ten or twenty or thirty years that retirement gives you is entirely up to you. It is one of the few times in your live when you have a real say in what your existence looks like. Grab it. Don't do nothing.

*Kick The Can Down The Road is another horrible choice for your retirement. We know what the expression means for Congress: put temporary patches on long term problems, let others worry about the country's future, never really solve a problem if it is too difficult or politically dicey.

The same approach to retirement will have the same negative consequences. Putting off the hard choices doesn't mean the tough decisions never have to be made. Sacrificing short term pleasure for long term gain doesn't come easy to some. Satisfying one's instant gratification is thought to be a birthright. Spending less than one makes is seen as foolish. After all, isn't that what credit is for?

Consider these terrifying numbers: The average American nearing retirement has only $30,000 in savings and investments. Poorer Americans average less than $17,000 set aside. For reasons that I will never understand 75% of Americans have less than $50,000 earmarked for retirement. Do they figure they will work until they die? Do they believe there will be decent jobs available to them at 70, 75, 80, even 85 years of age? Or, do they believe in the financial tooth fairy?

"Healthy food doesn't taste good. My grandfather lived to 100 and ate meat all his life." Well, you can certainly try that approach. There are folks who smoke and never get cancer or drink heavily and have a healthy liver right until they die. But, the odds are not in your favor. Ignore your eating choices or your body's signals of impending problems and you very well might find that the road you are kicking the can down comes to a dead end. 

Doing nothing or avoiding the tough choices will not work much longer for this country.  And, it certainly won't work as a retirement approach. 

A satisfying retirement is a proactive one. It is one that excites you, fulfills you, keeps you just a bit on edge wondering what is coming next. It is about as far removed from doing nothing and kicking the can down the road as I can imagine.


January 25, 2013

A Wife's Perspective on Retirement..Part 2


In last Friday's post, Betty Has Her Say: A Wife's Perspective on Retirement she answered some questions I posed to her about our satisfying retirement. I figured both you, and I, would be interested in her view of what the last nearly 12 years has been like.

The response was strong, both in the number of clicks and comments. So, today here is part two..the last few questions...with Betty's unique perspective:


...Do you think your husband is happy with retirement? Why or why not?

That first year was difficult for him. I don’t think he was lost as much as bored with the everyday “sameness” of it all. I had to quit my job as a Pre-School Teacher because of health reasons but then thought at age 47 I really needed another job. I took the 1st thing that came around and I was miserable with it .  Bob was now ready to have some fun with this whole idea of retirement but I couldn’t do anything because I was now working 8 hours a day 5 days a week. There was a lot of resentment on both sides that year.

Bob also spent that first year constantly going over the books to be sure we would make it before he would start bringing in Social Security or touch our IRA and have enough left over to enjoy our retirement. I also put a tremendous financial burden on the family because of all of my health issues.

So… that 1st year was difficult but then I quit my job, Bob put down the financial papers and trusted in himself that he planned well for our retirement, (which he did beautifully!) and we both haven’t looked back since!

I think he is extremely happy with retirement and with his life physically, emotionally and most important spiritually!


…What do you see ahead for you and Bob in the years to come? What would you like to see happen?

I see us both growing each day spiritually and in doing so we will not only have a better understanding of God but also each other, our family and our friends. Bob and I already volunteer a lot for our Church and I see us both doing more in the future.

I think that Bob and I will be seeing a lot of the United States in the next 10-15 years. I hope we’ll be able to see not only the fantastic and unusual sights of this country but experience the true spirit that’s in the diverse cultures and peoples of the United States and what makes this melting pot so “united”! Bob and I are so different in so many ways but we work! There are so many extremes in this country from cultures to politics. Yet we all somehow come together to make this country work. I’d like to find out how in subtle ways and not so subtle ways we as a country somehow come together.

I don’t want to give up the dream of traveling abroad. We’ve done a lot of that but I would like to explore some more. There’s nothing better than looking at our country through the eyes of other countries.

I hope that our health, mentally, spiritually, and physically gets better with age. Can it be done? I think we will both try!

I see us possibly moving to another State for the summer months sometime in the future.

Bob and I will be scouting around for a good assisted living community 15 or more years down the line. We have very strong beliefs that neither of us want to be a burden on our extended family. I would like to be very close to one or both of our daughters. We don’t want our family driving long hours just to visit.


…What advice would you give to a spouse whose partner seems unhappy in retirement?

I’m afraid that I am the spouse that would more likely be unhappy and it isn’t about retirement but about chronic health issues. I suppose many run into this problem at some time or another during retirement. If chronic illness does rear its ugly head I have some suggestions for both of you.

First of all without getting into all the boring details, I have several chronic illnesses both physical and mental. It is not easy for the whole family but it can be done! I’ll go one step further and say that these hardships can be frightening, impossible, crazy, wonderful, joyous, hopeful blessings for anyone who wants to grab a seat, buckle up and come along for an outrageous adventure of a lifetime!

God is there for you. Seek God first in all things and trust in Him. Face God honestly and He will take you on an adventure beyond your wildness imagination!

Hone up on your communication and listening skills - Take a deep breath then take a few more. Never be afraid to have a conversation about things but before you speak, think to yourself, “Does she want my advice, or support? Does she want a listener or someone to be a springboard with new ideas on the subject?” Sometimes you might have to ask what she wants but if you ask, show your concern by sitting down and looking at her and show her that you have her undivided attention.

Respect – Everything! – Respect all of the things that make this person a person. That includes all of those weird foibles and odd behaviors as well as all of the good things she or he does. Don’t forget to respect your spouse’s space, time, and how they accomplish things. Do they do these things differently than you? Does that bother you? Are you relaying anger or frustration back at them? Maybe they are pleasers and when they don’t “please” you they become unhappy.

Show an interest in each other’s (Fill in the blank) _____________.It doesn’t have to be everything they do. It’s nice to find some activities that are common ground so that you both can share this together.

Have there been changes in you or your spouse’s life? Remember, it doesn’t always have to be bad changes. Stress can build with wonderful changes also. Sometimes change can happen to you and you breeze by without a second thought, but it could be a devastating blow to your partner.

Pick your fights. And remember, you don’t have to win all the time. Play fair and fight fair. A heartfelt “I’m sorry” can turn your whole day around! (By the way, Bob is almost always the first to say those wonderful words!) You’ve heard it all before but I know that it’s true. Don’t go to bed angry or worse, giving the silent treatment.

Speaking as a women, if I’m crying silently into my pillow half the night and then thinking and rehashing the fight in my head for the other half of the night, I can guarantee you guys that whatever the fight was it is now blown up 100%! I know you’re tired but trust me, you need to solve it before bed!

Bob and I now have two figures (they can be anything) that sit right above our heads in bed. If one figure is turned away from the other, then one of us is upset about something. Does it work? Well, not always. Sometimes Bob doesn’t look at the figures for weeks. Ya gotta love him!

Be creative in solving problems. Don’t just think outside the box. Saw a hole in the box and look through it or better yet just get rid of the box altogether!

We all need to have a short pity party every once in a while. If you know you need one try to let your loved ones know ahead of time even if it’s just a verbal signal like, “Time out!” or even a red index card. (Yes the card might be hurled at your spouse but hey, we’re all trying!)

One word…Humor. We have a great situation right now at our house. Our grown daughter is now living with us. I have a severe hearing loss in both ears and Bob has a moderate hearing loss. I wear hearing aids and he doesn’t. (but should!) I sometimes I take mine out. One spouse will ask a question, the other spouse will answer with something that makes absolutely no sense, the other gets angry because of the silly answer and so on and so forth.

Bob and I do this on a regular basis and one evening our daughter clocked us going at this farce for 20 minutes! She finally burst out laughing saying we should write this material down as a sitcom. We’d make a fortune!

Be realistic. Really know what your limitations are. Have they changed in the last year, month, or even week? Sometime these limitations can change for the worse but sometimes they can get better. Take inventory often and then tell your spouse. He or she might think that you still feel that you can’t do something where now you feel you can tackle that something. They might try and talk you out of it and you want them to support you. Poor communication can be brutal.

Know that your spouse might be scared, nervous, worried, frustrated angry etc… as you are at this latest bump in the road.

Body language! Need I say more?

___________________________________________________


I'll add nothing to these fabulous answers. You must appreciate how tough it was for Betty to be so open on all these questions and share real emotions. My publishing them was the easy part.

January 23, 2013

Uncertain Times Call For Different "Rules"

What follows is a guest post from Donna Every, a financial advisor and author. Her latest book is her first novel, The Merger Mogul,” (www.donnaevery.com). While the target of her comments are entrepreneurs, i8t occured me that her points are equally valuable to those on a journey toward a satisfying retirement.


Savvy Entrepreneurs Play by Different Rules in Uncertain Times   

“The entrepreneurs who are successful during times of uncertainty are so because they don’t rely on the standard approaches they’d use in predictable times, and they look for opportunities – the positives -- in situations that would have been considered negatives five years ago,” Every says.

“It’s similar to how we deal with the weather. In places where it’s sunny most of the summer, we wouldn’t leave our house each morning packing coats and umbrellas just in case. The weather’s predictable. But in the winter and other seasons when the weather can quickly change, we head out with a different mindset.”

For businesses, switching gears to deal with inclement economic conditions involves adopting new perspectives and practices, she says.

“I incorporated some of these in ‘The Merger Mogul’ because it’s set during the recession and my protagonist, the mogul, had to adapt,” Every says. “He used many of the strategies I teach my business clients for thriving during economic uncertainty.”

What are some of those strategies?
• Build on what you have, not toward what you want: Instead of setting goals and then seeking out the resources you’ll need to meet them, assess what you have available and decide what you can achieve with that. This not only saves you the time and expense of pulling together resources you may not have, it also gives you the advantage of working from your business’s individual and unique strengths.

• Follow the Las Vegas rule: Tourists planning a weekend in Las Vegas will often set aside the amount of money they’re willing to gamble – and lose -- on cards or the slots. That way, they won’t lose more than they can afford. During an uncertain economy, entrepreneurs should calculate their risks the same way. Rather than going for the biggest opportunities as you would in prosperous times, look for the opportunities that won’t require as much of your resources. Calculate how much you can afford to lose, and always consider the worst-case scenario.

• Join hands and hearts: Competition is fine when things are going well, but when times are tough, you need allies. Explore forming partnerships with other entrepreneurs so you can strategize to create opportunities together. With what your partners bring to the table, you’ll have more strength and new options to work with.

• Capitalize on the unexpected: Surprises can have positive outcomes if you handle them nimbly by finding ways to use them to your advantage. Instead of planning damage control for the next unexpected contingency, look at it as an opportunity. Get creative as you look for the positives it presents.

• When life is unpredictable, don’t try to forecast: Focus on what you can do and create now rather than what you can expect based on what happened in the past. In good times, that information can be a helpful and reliable way to make predictions, but savvy entrepreneurs don’t count on that in uncertain times.

“While the U.S. economy certainly is improving, there’s still too much uncertainty both here and abroad to go back to the old ways of doing business just yet,” Every says.
“If you’ve survived the past five years, you’ve probably been relying on many of these strategies – maybe without even realizing it,” she says. “Don’t abandon them yet, and if there are some here you aren’t using, work toward incorporating them, too.”
 
Donna Every is director of Arise Consulting Inc., a company that offers business training, and consulting services. She can be contacted at donnaevery@sunbeach.net.
__________________________________________________


There isn't a point she makes that can't apply to building a successful retirement. Read them from your unique perspective and see if you don't agree.

January 21, 2013

Mom's Reading Cards

Recently I wrote about finding my mom's old travel journals. The insight into her life and thoughts was priceless. At the same time I found a large stack of index cards. These contained the names of every book she had read over an eight year period from the mid 1990's until her eyesight became too poor to continue, around 2004. At that point she shifted to audio books, but for any book lover, you know that isn't the same.

Several blog regulars asked if I would provide a list of some of the books mom gave high marks to.  Most of her choices were fiction, many leaning toward female-oriented plot lines (seems logical) or pure escapist fare with strong female characters. There were some historical fiction choice, too.

I did locate a few cards of non-fiction that contained some high marks. Each card averaged about 20 books and usually three or four of those received one, two, or even three stars.

There is no particular order to this list. I have only selected the ones I could find that had at least one star (up to three for real favorites). In many cases she only listed the author's last name so you will have better luck searching by title. Frankly, I have no idea what many of these books are about. Also, I don't know if all are still in print, so I leave that to your research.

These titles are from no more than 30% of the cards I found. If you think this type of listing is valuable I'll produce a part two.



Birmingham   Carriage Trade
                      The Rothman Scandal
                      The Lebaron Secret

L. Blair           With this Ring

Booth             The Sisters

J. Katz            Sign Off

P. McCabe      Wasteland

C. Leavitt       Into Thin Air
                      
M. Palmer      Critical Judgement

C. Allen           Illusions
                       Mixed Emotions
                       Somebody’s baby

E. Adler          The Secret of the Villa Mimosa
                       All or Nothing

Alcorn            Vestments

Wolitzer         Tunnel of Love

Tyler               Ladder of Years
                       Accidental Tourist
                       Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant
                       Saint Maybe
                       Back When We were Grown-ups
                       Morgan’s Passing

Thayer            Everlasting
                      An Act of Love

Van Slyke      A Necessary Woman

Van Wormer  Jury Duty
                      Only You  
                      West End

M. Atwood     Alias Grace

L. Battle         Storyville
                      The Past is Another Country

Barber            A Farewell to France

Banis              This Splendid Earth

Berg              Until The Real Thing Comes Along
                      Say When
                      Ordinary Life
                      True to Form

Wolf               The Harbinger Effect

Archer            Sons of Fortune

Howard          Dirt Rich

Inman            Old Dogs and Children

Hunter           Far From the Sea

Feldman         Looking For Love

Fielding          See Jane Run

Cookson         The Parson’s Daughter

Freeman         Illusions of Love

Coscarelli       Living Color

B. Bradford    Voice of The Heart
                      Act of Will
                      To be The Best

Bright            Parting Shots

Binchy           The Copper Beech

C. Alexander  The Endurance


Non-fiction:

Holland           One's Company (Reflections on Living Alone)

LeShan            It's Better To Be Over The Hill

Ellerbee          And So It Goes 

Buscaglia        Bus 9 to Paradise


In looking up some of these titles I discovered a new side to my mother: one who didn't mind a bit of violence and intrigue in her reading choices. For a proper Bostonian school teacher I thought I'd find more "high brow"titles. But, actually, it was nice to discover the very human side of a woman who liked escapist fare that had some kick to it for her leisure reading.

January 18, 2013

Betty Has Her Say: A Wife's View of Retirement

Over the past 30 months of writing for Satisfying Retirement  there have been lots of posts that have included information about my wife, Betty, and our journey together. Probably two or three dozen e-mails over that time have asked to hear more from her and what she thinks about the retirement from her perspective.

So, I took the bait and posed some questions for her to answer. Wow! Her insight and responses were so interesting and important that I am turning this into a two part post. This time, you can read her answers to the first four questions. Next week I'll have part two with her answers to the last three questions.




…What have been the biggest changes in your life over the past 11 years of retirement?

"First of all...Are you kidding? I get a whole blog post on my opinion about everything!"

Before Bob retired he worked 5 days and nights a week in other states. I worked as a pre-school teacher while raising our two daughters. Our family had two schedules. The girls and I lived a rather unstructured life (except for school work and extracurricular activities) when Bob was on the road. When he was home on weekends the girls and I “switched gears” and led a structured life with planned family fun time.

Bob has always had this marvelous way of finding fun things to do either as a couple or a family. It sounds as if it was hard for the girls and me to “flip” into another schedule but it really wasn’t at all. We had the best of both worlds. My Bohemian way of living (Eating when we’re hungry, dropping everything and veering off or doing messy projects all over the house and staying up late to finish projects) enabled the girls and me to be at our creative best during the week. It also taught the girls to be more disciplined on the weekends. The difference was we were scheduled and disciplined on the weekends and more laid back on the weekdays. Most families are the exact opposite.

The big change is having Bob here all of the time. He’s not used to seeing messes everywhere. (The girls and I would clean everything up on Fridays before he got home) He also was used to all of these projects being done every week before he got back. He never experienced the processes of our creations.

My spiritual life is deeper, more fulfilling and in turn, my friendships have become much more satisfying and more meaningful. My relationship with Bob is on a higher level, too. We have grown much closer.


What have been your biggest surprises about retirement?

That I can deal with a lot of change. Bob and I retired and I got another full time job, We downsized into a house half the size and retired about the same time the girls left for college. My doctor of 12 years moved away, my health insurance company pulled out of state, our beloved dog Muffin died, we started going to another Church after 20 years. Then the tragic events 9/11 happenbed which meant we cancelled our 25th anniversary trip to Europe which was to leave on 9/14. This was just the first year of our retirement!

I didn’t completely fall apart when we experienced a completely empty nest, but I loved it when one of our daughters temporarily moved back home.

I'm surprised we are still living in Arizona. But, with whole extended family living within 40 minutes of each other, moving wasn't really an option.

We own an RV! I never, ever dreamed that would be part of our life.


….What have been your biggest disappointments about retirement?

I still cannot find enough time for myself each day. I find myself comparing myself with Bob. He seems to be able to get all of his chores done and have lots of time for all of his hobbies. It’s been almost 12 years and I still can’t find the time!

My health is not where I thought it would be at this stage of my life. I have had lots of problems earlier than most people. Health is a huge factor when planning retirement. Do everything possible while you can because no one knows when you can lose your health.

I wanted to live in a small town where everyone has a huge front porch and you can walk to the downtown area or ride your bike around a nice lake. I wanted a place where the weather has mild seasons with green trees and grass that turn all different colors in the fall and all of the family is within walking distance of each other.

I live (and have lived for 28 years in a place where every house has a walled backyard, you have to drive a car to get to everything, the heat is in the triple digits for 5 months of the year, (you have to drive your dog to a grassy park because the sidewalks will burn the pads of their feet) most of our trees are 4 feet tall and prickly, and our front yards consist of rocks and not grass.

But… and this is a BIG but… My loving family is close by, we go to a church that we love, we can have lunch outside in short sleeved shirts in December, and most people have wonderful grassy backyards with swimming pools! You just have to put things in perspective!

My retirement has been wonderful in every sense and I couldn’t be happier with Bob and my family!


…How do you spend your days?


I would say that for the last year, two thirds of my day is spent taking care of our new pup! She has some emotional issues that have taken a lot of extra training and TLC.

I am just the opposite of my husband when it comes to planning anything. He will have lists of things that need to be accomplished every day, week, year. He will plan these things out on his smart phone and or his “Weekend List.” He then tells me what needs to be accomplished, we do it then if there is any time left I will do my list.

Unfortunately I never seem to have any time left in the day. I realize what a blessing this is for me knowing that he is taking care of me even beyond the grave. It is quite comforting to know that if Bob dies tomorrow I will know exactly what day to start compiling our tax information or his Father’s quarterly taxes, take out the recycling or the trash or our families’ Birthdays, until the day I die.

The thing that bothers me is that Bob seems to have plenty of time for reading and studying the Bible, pleasure reading, guitar practicing, e-mailing, reading blogs and writing his own blog; napping, etc…I can’t even find time to take a nap! We both watch the same amount of TV each day and he does 1/3 of the housework (We cut everything into 3rds with my grown daughter) and he does all of the finances plus all his own laundry etc….

Note…I think I have found out how I spend a huge amount of time around the house. I am the one in our household who does all of the seasonal changes to the house. I have “displays” that I set out for spring, summer, fall, winter, and all of the major holidays. I put up, take down, pack, unpack, buy new things, and creatively arrange them. I’m also constantly re-arranging the storage shed for all of these boxes. I also do all of the major projects around the house. Painting all of the walls, furniture, paintings, photography etc… Sanding and painting doors, replacing floor tiles, bathroom tiles grouting, and caulking and then cleaning the grout and re caulking the baths! I also dig holes and make waterfalls and ponds and such. Whew! It makes me tired just thinking about it!

____________________________________________________

There you go...Betty's honest and unadorned thoughts on retirement. Part Two, with the last 3 questions will run next Friday.

January 16, 2013

What Do You Think?


Once a week I get an e-mail from a reader asking for my advice about something. It could be financial or relational, or maybe a how-to question. I try to answer the best I can and hope my input has been helpful. Then, a few times a month I will get a reader suggesting a particular topic for an upcoming post. 

I love both kinds of e-mails. The first allows me to share my experience, while the second often gives me a great idea to write about. Honestly, coming up with thirteen new posts every month is getting harder. What haven't I written about several times? So, every new idea is more than welcome (hint, hint).

Regular reader and commenter, Jane, (not her real name), sent me such an e-mail a week or two ago. She asked if I thought three specific concerns of hers might be turned into a post for feedback from everyone. Absolutely! 

Question: Membership Clubs


One of her questions concerned the advisability of membership in stores like Costco or Sam's Club. After downsizing, the gigantic sized detergent or pickle jar became a storage problem. The second freezer didn't make the move so stocking up on meat was no longer viable. She found herself overstocking with six month's worth of paper towels and other products.

At the same time, Costco or Sam's Club often have attractive prices on clothing, automotive tires, carpeting, and appliances. The Costco near me has an excellent wine selection. Photo services and eye glasses are also very competitively priced. 

So, she wanted to know what others have done after downsizing. Do the savings in some areas make the yearly membership in these membership clubs worth while? Or, are you tempted to stock up on things you don't really need but the price is hard to pass up?

Question: Where do you go for vision care and exams?


Along the same lines, she wondered if most retirees go to more expensive eye doctors for exams and eye wear, or are the services at Walmart, Sears, or Costco just as good? Many health plans will cover services at these national chains while not paying for an expensive ophthalmologist. 

For me I choose the more expensive route. My family has a history of eye problems. It is important to me to catch anything like macular degeneration early. While I may be kidding myself, I trust the doctor more than the person in the mall. But, I may be wasting money based on a perception and not reality. What do you do?


Question: Family-Owned Business and Retirement


Finally, is an issue that many retirees struggle with: when one partner is ready to retire and the other isn't. The retiring half of the equation wants to travel or move or start enjoying life away from the job. The still-working half has decided he or she can't afford to quit now, or enjoys working over retirement.

Jane's question actually asked about this from an interesting perspective: a family-run business. Both spouses are important to the success of the company but one is ready to walk away. However, if he or she does retire now the business will suffer. The partner who still wants to work thinks another two years of keeping the company going would be best. Jane notes that her spouse is supportive of her desire to stop now. But, she is feeling guilty knowing the costs and the strain on her husband if she leaves. Training someone to do her job would take the better of two years so that's not a real choice. What to do?


OK, now your turn. Please help "Jane" and all of us with your thoughts on one, two, or all three questions. If you are part of (or were part of) a family-owned and run business your input would be especially helpful. I imagine there are lots of folks in her situation. Work and keep the business chugging along when you are burned out, or step off the train and potentially harm your long-term retirement. Big dilemma.

January 14, 2013

An Apology

Last summer I started work on my next retirement-based book. After the reaction to Building a Satisfying Retirement I decided to write a follow up. Based on feedback from blog readers, I thought a book built around answering the most often-asked questions by both those who are retired, and those close to retirement would serve a real need.

Instead of depending on me to answer those queries, I turned to the experts: you. Over 50 folks responded to my request for help by answering a dozen questions about their satisfying retirement journey: all about their hopes and plans, problems and disappointments, joys and fears.

The answers were tremendously insightful. Each one of the 50+ who responded gave me an in-depth look at their lives. I was honored to be allowed to see what folks were really feeling about the whole subject of retirement. The material for the book was just waiting to be put together.

I had originally promised to complete the book by late fall. It seemed as though the finished product might make a good holiday gift for many folks. My question-answering collaborators were anxious to read their words in print, along with everyone else's.

Why the apology?


Because, the book remains unfinished. For a variety of reasons I stopped work on the new book in late summer and didn't get the spark back to work on it again until just a week ago. I re-read some of the answers and realized how helpful the material would be.

So, out came the files and I have begun again. While I hope to have the e-book published by late Spring, I may be better off this time to not set a deadline but simply buckle down and finish what I started.

For those of you who took the time and energy to share your thoughts and concerns with me, I apologize for not finishing when I said I would. Be assured the book will happen and your participation will have not been in vain.

For everyone else, I can promise you the book will be one you will want to read. The answers and life stories are a treasure trove of helpful information and insight. Frankly, I have been re-examining my life based on what I have been reading. It is that powerful.

Whether you have been retired for less than a year or more than a decade you will learn something new. If retirement is still in your future you will better understand the process involved in getting from where you are now to where you want to be.

Now, back to work.


January 11, 2013

R.T. the RV and Our 2013 Travel Plans

On New Year's Eve Betty and I took a look at our calendar for the upcoming year. After reviewing our budget and our desire to hit the road when we can, we sketched out our travel plans. This will be the first full year we own an RV so our first reaction was to think about all sorts of extended trips we might take. "Let's be gone for months at a time! Let's drive to Alaska, then Maine, then Florida, and then home!"

After a deep breath we reached a wiser decision: to step gently into the RV world rather than plunge in head first. We need experience with this type of vacation and lifestyle. We have to see how Bailey, the dog, will handle being inside a rolling box for long stretches of time. Frankly, we have to see how we will react to that same scenario. For the trip I just described our yearly travel budget would probably just pay for the gas. Also, I have to see how my dad will handle going several weeks without our visits and closeness.


Nothing prettier than the Oregon coast
After our tremendous time in Oregon last summer we have decided to spend most of August there. That will involve renting a condo from a friend, so no RV will be required. Betty, Bailey, and I will drive up and back while letting our oldest daughter and her family have some fun in R.T. while we are gone.

So, what about RV trips?  Betty has a commitment at church that will make it tough for her if we were gone for even a week at a time until Easter. That means for the first two or three months of the year we will probably restrict ourselves to a few 3 or 4 day jaunts. With most of the country too cold to visit, we will certainly make a trip to the Tucson area and maybe the wine country around Patagonia. Southern California is a possibility but that is a lot of driving for just a few days. More likely a place like Lake Havasu or Palm Springs would make sense for these excursions.


Several years ago I wrote a travel book about Arizona. I only printed a few copies for family members but I believe there is a market for it. After all this time I have to freshen many of the pictures and update the information. April is looking like the perfect time to spend two weeks traveling around the state and working on the book project.

By June the heat in Scottsdale is over 100 degrees every day so that means it is time to head north. We are thinking of a 2 week trip across Northern Arizona along Route 66 and then into parts of New Mexico. Betty has never been to Santa Fe or Albuquerque. I think we'd enjoy small towns like Las Vegas and Taos, too.


In August we are off to Hillsboro, Oregon to see blogging buddies Barbara and Earl Torris and Galen Pearl. Missing the hottest month of the year in Phoenix made this a no-brainer! Our youngest daughter will probably join us for a week or so. She is giving some thought to relocating to Portland. The weather and lifestyle fit her very well.

Come October we are heading west: two or three weeks in California. There are so many tremendous state parks in the southern and central part of the state that our toughest job will deciding which ones to pick. Meeting blogging friends from that part of the state, like Early Retiree Tamara, her husband, Mike, and Sonia and Duke Marsh would be lots of fun.

Add it up and we will be away from home almost three months this year, half of that in the RV. Assuming all goes well, the tentative goal for 2014 is four months of travel, all of it in R.T. and most of it in the Midwest and East.

Just like the rest of retirement, this schedule is simply a plan and open to adjustment. Except for August in Oregon we are open to add or subtract as needed. We have talked about a trip to San Antonio but nothing firm is on our plate.

So, this is where you can help. Where should we go that we might have overlooked? What trips of 7-14 days from the Phoenix area do you recommend? What are your plans for this year? Maybe you will be someplace that sounds perfect to us.

For those wanting to see a few pictures of the inside of R.T. here you are:







Betty and Bailey enjoying a relaxing lunch

January 9, 2013

Retirement Calculator

Do a simple Google search for the phrase, satisfying retirement, and you will find 6 million references. That seems like a lot. But, wait. Try "retirement calculator" and the results soar to 12.4 million links. That actually doesn't surprise me since the financial aspects of retirement are top of mind to most.

Such a calculator allows the user to put in the amount of various investments, savings, pensions, Social Security, and the like and predict how much will be available upon retirement age. Or, it is possible to input your age and lifestyle information and determine how much money you will have to save to be able to retire.

But, I'd like to take the retirement calculator phrase and give it a different meaning. I'd like to input the things that tend to make up a satisfying retirement and predict what my life will be like. Instead of 401(k) or IRA numbers, investment and savings amounts, inheritances, and home equity I'd like to be able to input:


...My passion index would be a measure of my ability to truly enjoy the time and opportunity retirement gives me. Would I wake up each morning ready to fill my day (and night) with activities and events that light my fire?

...My relationship status. How healthy are my primary relationships? How about friends...do I have any? Like too many men, did I leave all my male relationships back at work? Do I have a mentor, someone I can learn from?

...My health and physical status. In addition to a BMI number, height weight, and overall heart health, am I following a path that will give me as many healthy years as my body is programmed to give me? Will my desire to eat well and relax cost me years of active, productive life?

...My attitudes and demeanor. Will I become like the stereotypical crabby old man...the one who gripes at everything and everyone, the one who believes the world has gone to hell in a hand basket? Will I approach change as a possible good thing?

...My spirituality and belief in a higher power. How can I calculate my place in the universe if I don't believe in something greater than me? What affect will my faith have in my future happiness? How will I handle adversity..as a personal affront or simply a way for me to test my faith and belief system?

...My risk-taking profile. Do I think change is good, or will I fight it? Will I be content to say "I wish I had..." or will I say "I'm glad I...." Will I shy away from challenge because I might fail, or will I embrace it as a true measure of my aliveness?


No such retirement calculator is for sale. Converting emotions, knowledge, attitudes, spirituality, and relationship health cannot be quantified. I'm afraid we all have to do these calculations the hard way...by hand, one-at a time, for the rest of our lives.




If only this were real


January 7, 2013

Back To The Future




Still one of my favorite movies, Back to the Future, gave us a fun way to escape the mid 1980's and watch Marty McFly travel back to 1955 and almost mess up his own future and his very existence.

Recently I re-watched the movie and thought how much today's satisfying retirement could be described as going back in time to save our future. Most of us agree that retirement today is very little like it was for our parents and grandparents. The concept of retiring did not exist until the Industrial Revolution and didn't become possible for many until Social Security was implemented in 1937.

For the period after World War II until the mid 1990's, retirement usually meant a decent company pension and medical coverage until death. It meant a safe and secure time after 30 or more years of working for one or two companies.

As we all know things this scenario began to show some cracks during the huge dom.com bust of 1997-2001. Many companies failed. Retirement plans were put in jeopardy. But, that upheaval was nothing like the 2007-2009 meltdown. The underpinning of millions of retirement accounts, pensions, and real estate holdings were wiped out. Massive financial failures brought us as close to another Great Depression as we have ever been.

Where does all this leave us in 2013? Do we have to go back to re-discover our future? Unlike Doc Brown and Marty we can't adjust a flux capacitor to change what happened to us. But, I can certainly look at how my family lived almost half a century ago (wow, is that possible?) and see if there is anything that translates well to 2013.

A few memories spring to mind:

...Stuff can't replace relationships and the gift of time. My parents always made time for each boy and the family. Dad was always home for dinner and we ate together at least 5 nights a week. As I have noted in earlier posts dad was unemployed for various stretches of time during my youth. But, that never affected our family time.

We were not a family of shoppers. Mom did like to buy clothes, but overall we had a home uncluttered with things. When one of us boys wanted something there was almost always a waiting period. That taught us the importance of delayed gratification. 

The biggest gift our family received from each other was that of time and attention. Mom and dad were never too busy for us, as a family and as individuals. Sadly, that doesn't seem to be the case in many families today.


...Waste not, want not. For most of their married life, my parents each held a job, raised three sons, and did it with just one car. We had a television set for over twenty years that was rather small, a little green in its color mix, and kind of tinny. Leftovers at least twice a week were normal. Clothes were replaced when we outgrew them or something become too worn to wear. Hand-me-downs were standard operating procedure.

We were a frugal family, sometimes by necessity, often by choice. The thought of throwing away food bought at the supermarket a week or two earlier just never happened. The idea of buying new clothes just because we could never entered our minds. Dad's 20 year old telephone answering machine just broke last week. His first response was to get it fixed, not replace it. 

The reality is most of us have all we need to be happy and satisfied. Making do, re-purposing something, and using an item up before disposing of it makes as much sense today as it did in my family's home in 1959.


...The less clutter the less stress. Our home was rather minimal in its decorations and furnishings. We had the normal sofa, easy chairs, coffee table, dining room set and so on, but nothing "extra." Generally if something was in the house it had a function. A console stereo set remained in the living room for at least 15 years after it quit working. It became a plant stand. I remember a rolling portable dishwasher that had to be hooked up to the kitchen faucet and plugged into a wall outlet to work. Well after built-in dishwashers were considered normal kitchen equipment we used this rolling monster because it still worked.

Mom was not fanatical about house cleaning so things stayed dusty for periods of time. Of course, this was well before men were expected or even encouraged to do "women's work" around the house so things were often less than spotless. Dad would have been glad to help out, but I'm pretty sure mom insisted that was her domain. This reality meant the fewer belongings the less cleaning to be performed. The fewer possessions the less stress to repair, replace, or upgrade.


In at least one instance going back would not be wise.  So, one trap I would avoid if I could go back to the future:

...Follow the crowd and lose yourself.  This time of American life was all about conformity. Television networks started showing the same entertainment to millions. Commercials told all of us what to buy to be happy and successful. We dressed the same and drove the same cars. Sexism, racism, and a very strong uneasiness around people who might be different were a part of daily life. Those problems continue today but at least aren't buried and shushed up like they were 50 years ago.

No one who wants a satisfying retirement today wants it to look like everyone else's. We realize retirement is an adventure we just can't wait to start. We aren't stopping anything, just moving to other passions and interests. Don't follow the crowd and find yourself is much more like it. Following the crowd and blending in one part of the 1950's that none of us miss.

Sometimes it is good to remember our past. There were approaches and concepts that worked well then and still make sense. In other instances, the past should remain "past."  Isn't the key to be able to tell the difference?

January 4, 2013

Mom's Travel Journals

While going through a closet I stumbled across two interesting items we removed from my parent's apartment when dad moved to assisted living last fall. One was an envelope stuffed with index cards. On both sides of each mom had listed every book she had read from the mid 1990's until her eyesight started to fail in 2004.

Included was either a star for a good book, or a emphatic "No" for the ones that didn't please her. Fiction was her favorite, especially crime  mysteries and historical romance novels.

I found it fascinating to look at her choices. I made a list of all the non-romance books she liked and have begun to read through them. It will be nice to know she and I are sharing some of the same experiences.

I also found a complete set of travel journals. Mom and dad loved to take road trips - everything from a few days away to 45 day marathons. Mom recorded her reaction to every day of every trip, even to the point of listing the cost of the meals and gas fill ups. As I reviewed each journal I was reminded how often they were on the road. Beginning in 1996 and continuing until early 2002, I was hard-pressed to find more than two months between entries. Even if it was just a quick overnight trip to Tucson, mom and dad were most happy driving somewhere. 

During that period they went to Europe twice. Just like the road trips, mom recorded her reactions to everything, both good and bad. While I think they enjoyed their time overseas, I sensed both were happiest inside the Toyota putting miles between them and home and then back again. 

As I read each journal mom's health decline was quite obvious. Toward the end of the 1990s she began referring to the use of a wheelchair or walker. Trips to an emergency room happened as she battled chronic knee and back pain, or her congestive heart failure symptoms became more apparent. I was unaware of dad's various fainting episodes on these trips until I read about them. My parents never wanted to worry Betty or me, so most of their medical issues during these years were their private secret.

As I progressed through the seven years of trips I became aware of a few important messages I was receiving from mom a decade later. Obviously, that wasn't her intent, but that is what has happened. 

1) Certainly, of primary importance is one's health. It was very clear that her enjoyment from traveling declined along with her strength, mobility and eyesight. The journal entries from 1996-1998 contain very few references to health problems. That began to change during a trip to Europe. Her limitations and their impact on my dad were obvious. As I read through the next few journals, there were:

...more references to her wheelchair or walker and how tough it made enjoying a trip

...memory lapses meant forgetting to bring essential items on a trip. 

...becoming tired and irritated at things that earlier she would have joked about

...trips being canceled at the last moment due to her health

...several trips to the emergency room and hospital stays while away from home along with a desire to get home to her regular doctor.

...dad's fainting episodes.

2) Their long driving trips were recorded honestly as a mixture of boredom and joy, mundane activities and beautiful sights, bad meals and hard beds, or a good steak dinner and pleasant room at the end of a long day of driving.

In fact, as I started to make notes of what she had written it became clear that a good bed, a nice meal, a pretty sunset, a simple card game at the end of the day or sunshine after rain were enough to interrupt a gloomy narrative. Travel is no different than home life. It is a blend of good and bad, exciting and boring, uplifting and depressing. The trick is to notice life's small joys and blessings and dwell on them. 

3) Mom always over-packed. It was a rare trip that she didn't mention she had brought too many clothes for both of them. They did occasionally use the laundry facility in a hotel, but apparently were afraid of running out of clean clothes. So, they dragged around (or, rather dad dragged around) much more than they needed.

4) As she became more physically challenged, mom became more easily irritated and angry. To her credit, she didn't shy away from venting on these journal pages, though I doubt she considered that anyone else would ever see them. I would guess that her various limitations were increasingly frustrating to her. Never one to ask for help until she simply couldn't manage on her own, the closing in of her world made her more prone to lash out at things.

Besides seeing some sides of mom I wasn't aware existed, I did take away a reinforcement of a few important life lessons:

  • Travel whenever and wherever you can while you are healthy enough to enjoy the experience. Soon enough, physical ailments will make trips more difficult and, eventually, unpleasant.

  • Especially on longer trips don't expect every day to be great. Travel is just home life but in a different place. Accept the bad as part of the journey and relish the small stuff that can brighten an otherwise rotten day.

  • Under-pack. No one cares (or will even notice) that you wore the same sweater and jeans three days this week. Don't spend time and energy lugging excessive belongings around. And, there are virtually no places you can't find a laundromat if needed.

  • Fight the natural tendency to become an angry, crabby, old person. Not only doesn't anyone else want to be around you, but it brings you down, too. Getting angry at your declining health is pointless. Instead, get even: do all you want before that happens!

Thanks, mom. I found it fascinating to see into your life 10-15 years ago. Even now, two years after your passing, you are still teaching me lessons.