October 15, 2019

Reader's Questions: Time To Ask a Few

One of my favorite parts of the blogging process is reading comments left by readers, receiving emails asking for my advice, or getting notes from authors interested in my thoughts on their new book. That type of involvement makes everything else worthwhile. 

A file folder full of questions has been calling me, asking me to answer some of the thoughts and concerns that you have. Well, since I can no longer close the desk drawer if I don't tackle at least a few of the things in that file, here goes.

Staying in Touch

Several folks wondered about staying in touch with co-workers and friends who are still part of the working world.

Steve noted his problem "stems  from my decision to keep my distance from my old workplace (I was a teacher) because whenever I went back, the stressed-out looks on their faces almost made me feel guilty. All they could really say was how lucky I was (I learned early to stop talking about how great things were for me....). They were all gracious, but the envy was more than palpable - from both the older and younger friends. This was/is pretty frustrating because I had/have such a strong connection and network among still-working friends."

An e-mail said, "Sometimes I miss the everyday contact with my fellow worker bees and the conversation. I probably need to work on this area."

Health Care Issues

As you might imagine this was the subject of several comments.

A lady presented a common situation and a question: " I'm not yet retired. My husband and I are inching toward it; he's down to four days/week, and I'm down to three. The big glitch, from my perspective, is health insurance... He's already on Medicare, but I'm several years away from that. Otherwise, financially, I think we could make retirement work (in a frugal sort of way). But for me to buy an individual policy in New York would cost over $800/month, and that just feels prohibitive. Even though I'm pretty healthy, I'm uneasy about going without insurance. If you or anyone had any suggestions, I would welcome them."

Unease about the Future

One regular reader hit on some of the basic day-to-day problems I had never considered: "I am on countdown now to retirement next May. As it gets closer, all the emotions are being pushed to the side by practical issues. If I can't buy my work computer, I have to buy a new one and transfer everything. I use my work email as my personal (non-blog) email. I have to transfer to a new email account. I have to buy my own health care, and I can't get one of my kids insured. I have to clean out my office. I have to figure out how to do some things for myself that assistants do for me now (I know--I'm spoiled). And so on. Oh, yes, and I have to keep working until May 31! I know it will all get sorted out, but right now I feel a tad overwhelmed."

Trying Other Things

Retirement can be a time to try on a different lifestyle, or indulge your love of exploration.

Jan asked, " What is your opinion on doing Peace Corps work for a couple of years? My husband doesn't have a pension, and would like to get away from his stressful job. I think we could rent out our house and save money by teaching abroad or doing Peace Corps work, and that would be another wonderful adventure that would teach us to be happy with less, and give us fabulous memories."

William wanted to know when are we are too old to try something new. I gather he had read about my guitar and painting efforts and wondered if there comes a time when our mind and body don't respond well to "new."

Other comments and concerns

"Here's the question....when our dog goes to dog heaven, do we enjoy our less complicated life, or do we continue with the complications a pet brings, and continue to reap the rewards of having a true friend to share our lives? There is no right answer, but I'd like to hear what people say."

One fellow e-mailed: "I have been retired a little more than 4 years at 55. Once I retired it so happened that 2 of my kids became homeowners - which meant helping them get the houses in shape. Then one of my daughters was raising money for a charity so that she could run in a marathon on the west coast. That provided an opportunity for my wife and I to take a 3 week trip to see her running. We had a borrowed laptop from one of our kids and it prompted us to learn about the destinations and get a room where we were headed.

Since my wife still works, I am the appointed Travel Director. Since my retirement we have been on cruises to Panama and Alaska, with road trips to North Carolina and the Daytona 500 with several stops including New Orleans. This period of my life has been enjoyable with occasional jobs, some volunteer work, walking daily, watching grandkids and all of the other little things that come up."

Another comment noted: "the best gift of retirement has been the gift of time. However, I am learning that I need to use my time with a plan rather than floating through the days as I did in my 'flower child' time of life. I find that having some structure and some flexibility is the best approach. Of course, all of this works only if you have already identified your hopes and dreams and aspirations for retirement."

Finally, Susie was one of several that asked about budgeting. She knows I am a strong believer in their usefulness, but her question was simple: "I have maintained a budget all my life. Now that I am retired, do I still have to keep track of everything? I want to cut loose a bit."


Now, it is your turn to weigh in with thoughts, suggestions, or questions. In summary, here were the major issues raised and questions asked:

  • Once you leave work do you leave that work world behind? Should you? How do you deal with jealous friends? How do you simply walk away from what was a big part of your life?
  • With health insurance to the point of being unaffordable for many of those still working, what can someone do? If too young for Medicare do you risk everything going without insurance? Are there other  options?
  • Have you thought about all the little stuff, like changing e-mail address, getting all your files from one computer to another, or buying a home computer? What other parts of your life have run through your work place that now must be handled in a different way?
  • Volunteering can be a good use of your time. What what about something as radical as 2 years with the Peace Corps? What do you do with all your personal belongings? Can you be away from family and friends for that long? What other considerations are there?
  • How structured are your vacations and travel experiences? Do you just pick up and go, or do you prefer to have everything plotted out? How do you stay in touch, handle bills and mail?
  • Are budgets and keeping track of how your money is spent still worth the effort? After all, isn't it time to enjoy what we have and stop worrying about that $5 coffee?

Pick one (or more) or the areas above and share with us your thoughts, experiences, and suggestions. Or, feel free to take on a new issue and raise a fresh question about an area that particularly concerns you. I promise I won't stick it in my file drawer!

October 11, 2019

Ageism: New Study Confirms What We Already Know

A recent article in the New York Times caught my eye. It summarized a study conducted by AARP that confirms what we already know: ageism in America is rampant in advertising and media. 

Consider these facts quoted in the study:
  •  more than a third of the country is 50 or older.
  •  About half of us over 50 are employed.
  •  We control trillions of dollars in purchasing power

OK, so we are not an insignificant slice of the demographic pie. Yet, the AARP results showed that:
  • We make up only 15% of media images
  • We make up only 13% of images showing people at work
  • Less than 5 % show us managing to deal with technology

What is prevalent are stereotypical media images of older folks either in hospital or medical settings, looking befuddled, and needing help from a youngster to use a computer or smartphone. More likely, our age group missing completely.

I know from personal experience that finding flattering, or representative photos for this blog is not easy. Rarely do I locate a photo of an older employee working at something other than an at-home computer, or as a clerk at a big box store. Photos of business people are invariably under 35. Clean-scrubbed, central-casting type couples with perfect grey hair in perfect home settings are available. Photos of regular people in regular housing doing normal things...not so much.

The solution the organization proposes is obvious: show more 50+ people somewhere other than in a doctor's office, wheelchair, or retirement home. Increase media representation of our age group that shows us not being confused, marginalized, or with your pants worn somewhere up around your armpits. Increase the availability of stock photos so advertisers and media outlets  have a wider choose of vibrant portrayals. 

All well and good, but is there anything we can do? Well, my suggestions may seem somewhat counter intuitive, but they involve ageism that begins with us. Do we act in a way that strengthens this basis against elders? Do we talk too much of the "good old days." Do we allow a clerk or office worker to disrespect us due to our age? Do we purchase products from a company that uses stereotypes to portray us? In short, do we feed the fire with our actions or inaction?

Do we treat others in our age group as less than fully functioning humans? We must remind ourselves that a lifetime of experiences reside in our somewhat saggy bodies that is overseen by a brain that has so much to share.

Sure, sometimes dementia makes it tougher for us to remember something. But, virtually all scientific studies make it clear that loses usually occur with short term memory. Ask me what I had for dinner three nights ago and it will be a struggle. Ask me how to market a product to someone who is indecisive or undecided, and I have all sorts of possibilities for you.

The next time a store clerk looks right through you to deal with a younger person behind you, politely remind him or her that you are standing right here, and would like to be served. Getting angry or sarcastic would be wrong; it would cement the image that person has of older customers. Thank the person behind you for their patience while you are waited upon, but insist on your right to not be invisible.

Never, ever, tell someone your age or older, that it is silly to (fill in the blank) at "your age." Going back to school, starting a business, learning to surf, setting a goal to hike in each National Park....whatever...no one is "too old" unless they are told so. There is no quicker way to shut down someone's enthusiasm and desire to gather experiences than to tell him or her it isn't possible. 

In the same vein, what limitations do you place upon yourself because of your age? True, physical or financial restraints exist. But, telling yourself you are too old for......only speeds up the process of retreating from life. 

A few nights ago I tried to remember some of the highlights of the past 18 years, the length of time I have been retired. I quickly remembered my time getting a ham radio license and eventually serving as president of a local ham radio club. Several years of intensive involvement in a prison ministry program was easy to remember; it was life-altering in several ways. Of course, this blog popped to mind. After all, it has been a part of my days for over nine years. 

Then, I struggled a bit. Surely in all this time there has been more. I pushed through my memory files and then other thoughts began to flow: involvement as a Stephen Minister and teaching several groups to become lay ministers, traveling oversees and around the U.S. with another couple.

More recently, a few years of Junior Achievement teaching, serving on a board at United Way, and now on the board of the local library friends organization. 

My experience list is not unusual at all. At 70, I have accomplished much of what I wanted to. But, I am not even close to being done. I am not ready for the age-police to tell me my best days are behind me, that I am only fit for playing with grandkids (fun as that may be), watching TV, and griping about the state of our rapidly warming and dysfunctional world, instead of taking some sort of action.

Ageism is allowed to affect us if we allow it to continue unchallenged and we inadvertently fulfill the stereotypes that limit us all.

Your thoughts?

October 8, 2019

My Climate Change Post Follow Up

Not surprisingly, the recent post about climate activists brought some serious emotions to the surface. Happily, the majority of comments were well-thought-out, civil, and added to our community discussions. Only a few comments never made it to print, or had to be called out for blatantly "fake" statements. I didn't expect my feelings would change anyone's opinions, but it is a subject that I have strong feelings about.

That is one of the joys of blogging: I wanted to express them and I did. That made some people happy, some not. If you don't believe that climate change is real or that humans have a major part to play, it might be best to simply skip this post. It is OK, I will not be offended.

For those still with me just raising the issue of climate change, global warming, and the place of humans is not enough. Something must be done, some action taken, otherwise it is just words. So, as a follow up, I should tell you what my wife and I are doing. Will our efforts reverse the damage? Of course not. Will these steps help lessen the damage? Yes, though in ways too small to measure. 

So, what's the point? It is the power of cumulative efforts. As two people, Betty and I contribute next to nothing. Hundreds, thousands, millions of like-minded people doing whatever works for them, may make enough of a difference to prevent the worst of what lies ahead. We may have already passed the tipping point where some level of change is irreversible. However, immediate steps now can prevent the damage from becoming catastrophic.

Here are the small actions we are taking:

  • Using face clothes instead of paper towels and napkins whenever possible.
  • Eating meat no more than two days a week.
  • Keeping the house one degree warmer in the summer and one degree cooler in the winter.
  • Using minimal electricity (including no AC or heat) during our peak hours of 4-7 pm. 
  • Turning off lights whenever leaving a room.
  • Washing clothes in cold water.
  • Running the short cycle on the dishwasher
  • Turning the water heater down to 120 degrees from the factory setting of 140.
  • Putting TVs and computers on power strips. Turning off when not in use so no phantom electricity is consumed by that equipment.
  • Working harder to stop throwing away produce and food.
  • Spending the last year with just one car. Next vehicle will be hybrid or plug-in hybrid.
  • Buying something only when necessary to replace something else. 
  • Buying carbon offsets for airplane and cruise trips.

None of these steps are difficult, inconvenient for us, or make us feel deprived. How much difference do they make in the grand scheme of things? Very little. How do we feel about even this easy-to-accomplish effort? Good. 

Without going back into the deep end of the pool about climate change, can you share anything you might be doing to lessen our carbon footprint? What steps can all of us consider for our lifestyle?

October 4, 2019

What Is An Active Retirement?

Not too long ago a reader asked me to pose a question to you: what makes an "active retirement?"  She wondered if we bring a meaning to the concept of active that is too restrictive. 

Ar first, the response seemed rather obvious: being busy with activities, going to the gym, traveling, volunteer work, creative pursuits...anything other than planting oneself in front of a TV and binge-watching Netflix. Especially during retirement, we have fewer obligations and limits on what we do, so we can be active, both physically and mentally, to our heart's content, or our body's limits.

On reflection, her question is really not that simple. Who determines what active means? How much do we have to do to not feel we are wasting our time and potential? Or, is part of the joy of retirement the freedom to do little that is productive, instead focusing on pleasing ourselves, whatever that might mean? 

From a post of a few months ago, reader Tom said that sometimes I make retirement seem too much like a job...constant busyness. His comment is really in line with the question: who determines what an active retirement is? What does that phrase even mean?

Is enjoying the company of friends active enough? How about a walk around the neighborhood to pick up any litter. Does that qualify as volunteering? Is reading a new novel on the back patio active enough? Do I have to break a sweat to be active? Must there always be a goal, with checkoff boxes for me to chart my progress? Must travel involve a passport, plane flight, and foreign cultures to count? 

Really, what is being asked is how does one quantify a retirement journey. What must occur for retirement to be a "success." If we don't have the "appropriate" answer when someone asks what we do, are we going to be embarrassed? Will we question our chosen path? 

These questions are excellent ones for this blog. After 9 years of studying, thinking, living, and writing about retirement, I know what my answer is to the original question and Tom's follow up statement. 

I will readily admit my answer today is much different than it would have been when I retired in June, 2001. It is different than my answer even 5 years ago. That is the thing about this stage of life: everything is evolving, all the time. 

The answer to a problem or opportunity isn't good forever. Heavens, it might not be valid next week. Our desires change. Our bodies certainly start speaking more loudly to us, demanding we pay attention to what they are telling us.

Our relationships are never static. Try treating your 13 year old grandson the same way you did when he as 5 and see how that works. Assume your relationship with your spouse or best friend hasn't changed in twenty, thirty, or forty years and troubles are likely in your future.

So, now I will ask you. Does the phrase "active retirement" make sense? What constitutes an active retirement? Does your answer change over time? If you are finding your body rebels at the 10 mile runs that used to start your day, have you redefined what active means? If you can still run all those miles but choose not to, do you still consider what you do to be active?

Should "active" even be part of our description of a satisfying retirement? Does it really matter?

Lots to consider. I am really eager to read what you have to say. The bottom line is we are attempting to define what makes a satisfying retirement.  

September 30, 2019

Are Young People Our Best Hope?

You probably recognize the young lady in this photo. Recently, Greta Thunberg addressed world leaders at a climate conference at the United Nations. That would be noteworthy for anyone; at age 16 it is breathtaking.

Her recognition and power to motivate others has grown almost faster than someone can track. Harnessing the power of social media and the building awareness of the mess we are in, she has started a tsunami of attention to a problem that threatens our very existence: climate change.  

Unafraid, and mature beyond her years, she shamed her elders at the U.N. In a speech that is worth watching on YouTube she asked the audience of decision makers, "how dare you" ruin the environment that they are leaving for young people. How "dare they" allow money and politics to remain more important than the survival of large chunks of the human and animal population.

Soon after her speech, the president of the United States mocked her on Twitter. Again, emphasizing her intelligence and passion, she responded to his slur by making part of it her Twitter profile. A commentator on Fox News called her "mentally ill." That statement triggered an apology from the network and a promise to avoid that person in the future.

At this point, to "not believe" in climate change is about as head-in-the-sand realistic as continuing to claim the earth is flat or the moon landing was a fake. Saying something equally as silly as the climate is always changing is just as bad. Humans are making that natural cycle much, much more severe and damaging our only home. Don't even get me started on "climate change is a hoax started by China."  

Unfortunately, refusing to admit the dire nature of the problem and continuing to claim that jobs and politics are more important than the planet that allows for those jobs and lifestyle, too many adults have turned their collective backs on their children, their children's children, and all future generations of both human and animal life. I guess the hope is the problem is not as severe as it is, or that someone, the mythical "they," will find and implement a solution just before we foul our own nest to the point of no return.

I mean, really, what the heck does a "good job" matter if big parts of the world are unlivable, the water undrinkable, the weather too destructive, and societies in turmoil? Who do these people think are going to buy whatever is being produced? How do they think a normal marketplace will even function on a toxic plant? Isn't the threat to our food supply and clean water availability, cities disappearing under a relentless rising sea, and millions upon millions of people forced to wander the earth trying to find a place to survive a bit more important than a new smartphone?

And, speaking directly to the whole premise of this blog for the past 9+ years, who cares how satisfying a retirement is if the environment and future is at ultimate risk? Our day-to-day concerns will become so trivial compared to the destruction of large portions of our planet...the very air we breathe and water we drink.

My generation and the one that came before it are responsible. We have only our selfishness and lack of will power to blame. Our "leaders" have fiddled while Rome (and the rain forests) burn, the seas rise, the air becomes fowl, and the weather becomes increasingly destructive and unpredictable.

I am pining my hopes on the people represented by Ms. Thunberg and every one of the millions who are marching, protesting, and taking concrete steps to save their lives and their planet from our blindness.

Are young people our hope? Can motivated people of any age learn from their example and finally say, "enough is enough? We will not take your destructive, selfish harm to our lives any more?"  Will we wake up to the end-of-the-pier seriousness of our situation before we all walk off the end?

For the sake of my children, precious grandchildren, and everyone else's families everywhere in the world, I can only hope so.