August 15, 2017

Retirement and Adventure: An Uncommon Couple?

Generally, I play it safe. You aren't going to to find me bungee-jumping, sky-diving, rock-climbing, even riding a big, fast roller coaster. Thunder Mountain at Disneyland is about my speed. Financially, my wife and I are conservative. Our possessions are quite mainstream. When we vacation we make standard choices like Hawaii or the Pacific Northwest.  Going to Tibet or the rain forest of the Amazon aren't really on our radar, though next year we will break out a bit with a river cruise in Europe.

So, why a post about adding adventure to your life? Primarily, I need to listen to the message. Also, adventure has a much broader definition than is usually assigned to the word. It doesn't have to just involve physical activities. Adventure is what being alive is about. This subject also seems like a sensible follow up to the post based on two quotes that ran last month.

Why Be Adventurous?

What are the possible gains if you decide to embrace a more adventurous life? Self-confidence and belief in yourself with be strengthened. You could discover abilities you think you lack. You might learn to overcome some fears that have been holding you back from a truly satisfying retirement.  Of course, fear is a good thing. It can keep you from physical harm. But, fear of things that aren't likely to hurt you can limit your life experiences.

Trying new things might help you understand more about your strengths and weaknesses. If your limits are not tested how can you know what those limits are? Henry David Thoreau said it best: "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them. "  We can't know what music is still in us if we have no idea what we are capable of.

What Does Adding Adventure Look Like?

Adding adventure to your life can come in several forms. No matter what I write here, I'm still not jumping out of a plane or exploring deep, dark caves. It just isn't going to happen. But, that doesn't mean I can't discover what would work with my personality and temperament. One idea is to look at friends and acquaintances who are higher up the adventure-meter than I and see if there is something I can adapt to my life.

I know a man who loves to mountain bike. He thinks nothing of hurling down a hill, full bore, with just his skill and a dash of luck to keep him from a serious spill. OK, not my style. Not gong to happen. But, I've toyed with the idea of getting a trail bike and starting to pedal my way through desert trails in the Phoenix area. There is still some danger from rocks, loose sand, even an occasional rattlesnake. But, that level of danger I believe I am able to tolerate. It sounds like fun, it is something I can handle physically, and would expand my horizons. I wouldn't shatter my comfort zone, just push the edge back a bit. It doesn’t matter how wild or daring this adventure is. What matters is trying something new.

I read somewhere a definition of adventure that includes anything that makes your heart race or your pulse quicken. Thus almost any experience in life qualifies. For example, what if you went to a restaurant that serves food you normally don't eat? What if you order something from the menu you can't even pronounce? Would that qualify as an adventure? Absolutely. You are allowing yourself to fail in an adventurous attempt to succeed. The only real risks are wasted money, you go home hungry, or you missed the chance to discover a whole new cuisine you enjoy.

Are these adventurous -  talking to a stranger at a social or community event, painting your living room a bold shade of red, or going to the opera when you are sure you will hate it? Absolutely. Each of those is every bit as much an adventure as rafting down the Colorado. How about trying a new flavor of coffee? Buy three magazines in subjects you don't know or understand. Read them.

Here is an example that I just added to my adventure palette: restoring vintage radios. I have bought a few radios from the 1930s and 40s. I find them pretty to look at. The wooden cases are beautifully crafted. Even more fun is actually getting them to work. 

I have the tools I should need and an excellent source of "how-to" steps. What I don't have is all the technical knowledge to be sure I will be able to repair and restore them. But, I am going to give it a shot. The worst that happens? I have invested a few hundred dollars in something that won't work but is still nice to look at. Whether these 70 year old radios work is almost beside the point. The effort is the adventure. 

Life is An Adventure, isn't it?

Adding adventure really just means that you choose to become a lover of life. Decide to say, "Yes," when your comfortable self wants to say, "No."  There be will  mistakes, there might be some embarrassment. Heavens, you may fall flat on your face, both literally and figuratively. If this happens get up, learn from you mistakes and give it another shot.

Choose to say, “Yes.” Do what have you always wanted but never dared try. Don’t fear risks. Take measured risks. Know that you are grabbing onto what life has to offer.

Question: What one thing have you done that surprised even you? What would qualify as an adventure in your life?

August 12, 2017

My Smart Speaker Experiment

Blog reader, Rick from Oregon, read my post from a few weeks ago,  Do You Have a Smart Speaker?  and decided to issue a challenge. He suggested I buy an Amazon Dot and try living with it for a few weeks. If I didn't find it useful he offered to buy it from me. That sounded like a win-win deal, so I took him up on the offer; my $50 Dot arrived on July 26th and was installed in the living room.

The Dot is the little brother to the Echo, the device that is getting most of the press. The Dot does what the more expensive version does but with a smaller speaker. If using the Dot to play music it should be plugged into a sound system or a better quality speaker.  Otherwise, it is the same device: an always on voice-activated command center.

In the almost three weeks I have had the Dot, how have I used it? I started by asking it to answer some random, silly questions, like the distance to Mars, the current temperature and chance of rain, the start time of a baseball game, and to tell me some jokes. I asked it to read what was on my calendar for the rest of the day and to set a reminder for several hours in the future.

Then, I asked Alexa to play some music. I  tried light jazz, oldies, smooth jazz (there is a difference), piano solos, and big band vocals. She (because of Alexa's voice I think of the Dot as female) performed flawlessly. I can ask her to raise or lower the volume, skip a song, or simply "Stop." Unfortunately, I can't use Spotify unless I upgrade to their premium service, which at $10 a month isn't worth it to me. Pandora's free service and Amazon music are just fine.

I am not particularly motivated to get whatever is required to have the Dot turn my lights on and off, or perform other smart home functions. I can see the value if my mobility were restricted, but for now I will control my own lights and air conditioner, thank you very much.

Betty likes audio books, and the Dot can fulfill that need. Any book we have purchased and downloaded to our Kindle can be read to us. There are other services, like Audible, that can be added for an extensive library of choices. 

What else can the Dot handle? I haven't tested any of these, but the list of functions is pretty impressive:

Calling and messaging
Check your calendar
Connect Bluetooth devices
Control music
Discover music
Find local businesses and restaurants
Find traffic information
Fun and games
Get weather updates
Find out about movies
Hear the news
Keep up with your sports teams
Listen to Audible audiobooks
Listen to Amazon Music
Listen to Kindle books
Listen to podcasts and radio
Request Music
Shopping options
Set reminders
Set timers and alarms
To-dos and shopping lists

I have disabled the microphone once: when the grandkids were here and peppering Alexa with unanswerable questions! Otherwise, I have left it on and am not feeling spied upon. I would probably turn it off if I was in the habit of discussing financial matters in the living room or running a business. I don't believe Amazon is monitoring my every conversation, but hacking into a WiFi network is very possible. 

I do assume the company makes use of what I may order or ask about to target ads to me on other devices. Amazon already uses past purchases to recommend similar ones, while Google certainly uses my searches to suggest what my life may be lacking. 

Bottom line: Rick, I will not ask you to buy the Dot from me. I could certainly live without it. It doesn't do anything I couldn't accomplish some other way. I would not have bought one without your challenge. But, it is convenient and easy to use, and at times, even fun. So, it will stay and answer my commands, or at least most of them. 

August 9, 2017

5 Retirement Myths You Should Ignore

Being human, we tend to look for simple solutions to complex problems. We accept "common wisdom" rather than do the hard work necessary to find answers for ourselves. 

What follows are five myths about retirement: beliefs that are comforting and sound logical, except, they are not true. Ask yourself how many you have fallen for, how many affected your retirement planning and lifestyle.

1) It will all work itself out

This has to be the most dangerous of the untruths we tell ourselves. With the typical 50-something American having less than $100,000 set aside for retirement, the next 30 years of your life will not magically work itself out.  No matter how generous a pension might be, or how much Social Security is likely to pay you each month, you are not going to have a satisfying retirement on a savings account that produces less than $300 a month of additional income. 

Think of your retirement as a complex machine with lots of moving parts, and one of them is financial. It is absolutely true that you can't know exactly how much money you will need during your retirement. But, any reasonable projection will start with the assumption that you need to have quite a bit more than that to a shot at a comfortable retirement. 

2) My retirement plans are based on solid, proven advice. I'm good to go. 

We are lucky. There are tremendously helpful resources available to us. The Internet can provide advice, planning scenarios, financial calculators, and income projections. Thousands of retirement blogs have all sorts of opinions. Investment counselors are a phone call away.

Sounds great, but it isn't enough. Your plans have one serious flaw: they will turn out to be wrong some of the time. Nothing can prepare your financial ship for another massive recession. There are no firm guidelines for handling a major stock market retrenchment. You may be just one major healthcare crisis away from kicking your plans into the gutter. You are not set. Retirement is a crash course in on-the-job-training. Base your planning on flexibility as well as solid advice. Plans are important, but they aren't infallible.

3) My spouse will welcome all my ideas and help

Maybe, maybe not. If you have a primary relationship that involves sharing space with another, be prepared for a time of adjustments and negotiations. The temptation is to analyze and then fix all the things that aren't being done properly. Having all that free time means you can bring your organizational skills to bear on the parts of home life that aren't operating at peak efficiency.

If that last sentence sounds like something from your work environment, that is the problem: where you live is not where you once worked. The person who shares space with you has not read, or even accepted the same playbook. There must be a time of compromise. Walk gently and talk softly as each of you figures out the best mix of talents and desires.

4) Boredom is bad - Avoid at all costs

I will quickly qualify:  Boredom is really bad if that defines most of your retirement lifestyle. But, in small does boredom helps push you to whatever is next. Boredom is actually good as an occasional motivator.

Let's say you have just finished something that has been a real passion for you: maybe completing a 10k run, knitting a sweater for a Christmas gift, redecorating the kitchen, cleaning out the garage so you can add a woodworking shop...something that has occupied your mind and energies for awhile.

Then, just like that, you are without an important driver in your life, a project to work on, finish, improve something, or even something as simple as to read a book that has always been on your must-read list. You are bored. Binge-watching Netflix or Game of Thrones becomes the centerpiece of your day. Nothing is really wrong except that spark just dimmed. Boredom sets in.

That feeling you are experiencing can be a powerful motivator to start something new. The feeling of drifting is not pleasant to you so you find something to shatter the boredom and push yourself forward. If you never experience even a moment of boredom you may be moving too fast to know what you are missing.

5) I come from a family with good genes. My uncle smoked until he was 95.

Good news for your Uncle, not all that relevant to you. Of course, your family genes, the pieces of your DNA that help determine your overall health and longevity play an important role in what type of retirement health journey you will experience. But, you are making a serious mistake if you build your retirement around the idea that you are destined for a long life.

The reason a professional athlete spends hours every day practicing his or her particular skill set is to be operating at peak performance. Both muscle memory and physical endurance slip after just a short time away from that repetition. A concert pianist spends 6 or more hours a day at that instrument for the same reason.

Retirement doesn't require that level of commitment to physical and mental conditioning. But, the old adage of "use it or lose it" is quite true for us. Because our cells die or regenerate much more slowly as we age, the need for exercising our bodies and brains remains. To believe otherwise is intensifying a risk with your future that you should not take.

There are more myths than just these five about retirement. Which ones have caused you the most problems?

August 6, 2017

Retirement Travel: Summer's Not Over Yet!

A part of a satisfying retirement for many of us is an active travel scheduleDepending upon our budget and personal desires, that could mean cruises, trips to Europe, and a few weeks in Hawaii. It might mean a long weekend in Durango, The Olympic National Forest, The Shenandoah Valley, or a B&B in Bar Harbor, Maine. It might mean checking into a hotel in a small town like Patagonia, three hours away from responsibilities and routine.

Over the past few months a few e-mails have asked me to investigate some unusual or different travel options. Of course, being retired, we are not restricted to vacations only from September through August, but maybe you want to get one more trip under your belt before Labor Day. I've located a few lists of places to visit and explore, some more expense than others, and the majority are within the continental U.S. so potentially doable by the bulk of the readers of this blog.

I know there are a lot of readers of this blog live in other countries: England, India, Canada, and Australia lead the list. For you folks, I'd ask a favor: leave a comment below with some of the most interesting and out-of-the way spots to visit in your country. Other readers who live there might find a great weekend getaway idea, or a longer excursion.  

So, are you ready to hit the road (or the skies, the seas, or the rails)?

This first site is from a fellow who collects vacation ideas. Some people collect stamps, quilts, old movie posters, or even tea spoons. Peter Shannon collects ideas for trips. His lists are extensive and fascinating. 

There is a seemingly endless list of vacation ideas grouped by location or type. Romantic vacations, those for the adventurous among us, unique places, seasonal trips, trips grouped by states or regions...the choices are all there. This link is one you should bookmark for all those times when the urge to explore hits: 1001 Vacation Ideas.

Another idea is to put together your own trip based around a theme. My wife and I like to drive portions of old Route 66. The famous "Mother Road" is still quite accessible in several places along its route from Chicago to Los Angeles. Old style motels, caf├ęs, and general stores that once bustled with travelers remain open for those who like to visit an important part of our past. Books that allow you to trace the route and provide specific, mile-by-mile recaps of what used to be there are loads of fun.

Over the last several years Betty and I have been visiting as many of the National Parks as we can every time we take a road trip. This goal feeds her photographic need and provides me with more blog ideas. You can specialize on national monuments, state parks, or anything that can be labeled.

How about all the places with picnic facilities that overlook a lake or stream within 150 miles of your home? Do you like to read? How about a trip that visits the best independent bookstores in your home state or region of the country. How about unusual museums? One of our most memorable finds was a salt and pepper shaker museum. Any hobby or passion can form the basis of a trip that you will remember forever. Now that I am collecting and repairing antique radios, I would love to put together a trip that visits stores that specialize in these beauties. 

The best idea generator lies between your ears. Take anything you like and build a vacation around that idea, hobby, or passion. And, of course, planning that trip is at least half the fun!

Get planning and start packing.