October 29, 2010

Simple Living My Way

The topics of simple living, voluntary simplicity, frugality, and decluttering are of great interest to many of us. In a couple of posts last month I quickly discovered this was an important subject area for Satisfying Retirement readers.

In those previous posts I provided information about some of the better known blogs and web sites that focus on those topics. In case you missed them, links can be found at the end of this post.

This time around I am personalizing the subject. I'm going to detail some of the steps my family have taken over the years that made us proponents of simple living before it had a name. We weren't trying to start a trend, this was just they way we decided to live.

Most of the things on this list I have been doing for decades. There are a few recent additions  as I have become more sensitive to the negative impact an overly-consumptive lifestyle has on the planet and my own happiness. I hope you will compare this list to your efforts in this area. Then, I would very much appreciate your ideas and steps you may have taken (or want to take) to simplify your life. This is a great topic to learn from each other.

A video talk I saw on TED by economist Tim Jackson contained the perfect quote to start me off. He was talking about the direction of our society in terms of its relationship to buying stuff. He said, "People are being persuaded to spend money we don't have, on things we don't need, to create impressions that won't last, on people we don't care about."  That sets the stage for my list.

I don't enjoy shopping so I don't buy much. I shop when I must for what I need. To some people, shopping is a form of entertainment or relaxation. To me it is a chore to be completed as quickly as possible. That saves me money and clutter. Maybe this is a guy thing, but I avoid malls.

Clothing covers me and keeps me warm or cool. That's it. For me clothing is not a fashion statement or an indicator of my economic status. If it performs its function, is within my budget, and I need it I buy it.

A car is transportation. It takes me from point A to Point B with a minimum amount of fuss. It must be dependable, relatively safe, and have good air conditioning (this is Phoenix after all). Its year, make and model, even its color are not terribly important (ask my wife about the baby blue Mustang I had in 1976).

I use it up, wear it out. Only then do I replace it. If something does what I need it to I don't feel the need for a replacement that does it 2 seconds faster, or is in a different color. I don't even require it to have all its parts as long as it still works. 

We repaint, re-purpose, reuse. My wife is amazingly creative in looking at something and finding a whole new use for it. We find it much more satisfying to do that than simply throw something away that can be used in another way.

I buy very few books or new music. I read books constantly and listen to lots of music. I just don't feel the need to own most of them. That's what libraries are for. That's what the Internet offers. Part of that belief came during my radio days. I was given thousands of free CDs (I still have most of them). So, I got out of the practice of buying music and never regained the habit.

Of the books I did own, I got rid of 80% of them.  I realized I would never re-read them. All they did was take up space and get dusty. Someone else might enjoy them. So, I took many of them to a used bookstore for credit, and donated the rest to charity. Then my wife re-purposed the bookcases!

Use our own photos and painting to decorate. My wife and I like to take photographs and she is a painter and mixed media artist. Why buy someone else's work to decorate our home? We have the photos blown up and framed, or printed on canvas. Her paintings grace several walls in the home. It is much more satisfying to be surrounded by something you created.

Simplify lawn and yard work. Within the last two years I have cut back considerably on the number of potted plants I maintain. It was getting to be a chore, not a pleasure. We converted most of our bushes and shrubs to low water, low maintenance varieties. This saves time and money.

Cook enough at once for two meals. It is very unusual for us to make a dinner that doesn't produce enough leftovers for next week. And, if an ingredient is required for a meal we find another recipe that requires the same stuff so it doesn't go to waste.

Family above all else. Can't get much simpler than that.

So, what steps have you taken to simplify or declutter or save money? Anything on my list spur your creative juices?

Related Posts
Living a Simple Living - 9 Places to Start
Helping You Live a Simpler Life -10 More Blogs

October 27, 2010

Retirement Blogs You Might Enjoy - In Addition to This One !

One thing I have learned in my first 4 months of blogging is that most bloggers are friendly and very willing to share. It is a community of people who enjoy what they do and are glad to help others discover what they have learned.  Since this blog focuses on helping readers build a satisfying retirement experience, I spend a fair amount of time reading what fellow bloggers in the retirement area are writing about.

Listed here are 9 blogs that I have found to be entertaining and well-done. Each has a slightly different slant and writing style. Each is visited by me at least once a week, usually much more often. I have provided a summary after each to help you decide if you think that site might interest you.

There are probably hundreds of other blog about retirement that I am unaware of. If you have a favorite I haven't listed I'd love to know about it. Leave a comment below or e-mail me and I'll take a look.

I did find some blogs that looked quite promising, but the content hadn't been updated in months, and in one case, two years. If the writer isn't dedicated to keeping his or her material fresh, they aren't on this list.

Retirement: A Full Time Job
This was the first retirement blog I discovered. The writer, Sydney, was the first blogger to respond to my new site and give me encouragement. She was also responsible for a lot of my early readers by giving me a guest post and lots of links from her site to mine. While she is now posting less frequently due to a new part-time job, I enjoy her take on issues. She covers a full range of topics. Her training is as a CPA, so many posts tend to be a bit more financial in nature, but in an easy-to-grasp approach. Anyone who can label a post "Does This Blog Make My Butt Look Big"  is someone I want to read.

Retirement - Only the Beginning
The writer, Dave, is not actually retired yet. In his early 50's, I believe his hope is to retire sometime in the next few years. So, he is looking at the whole spectrum of issues from a still-not-quite-there perspective. As he says, " I started to help myself and others approaching retirement to identify, understand and better prepare for the myriad of issues that impact retiring." His writing style is personal and open. His insight is first rate. Like Sydney, he has become a blogging friend who is supportive and helpful.

Adventure Retirement
Bill Birnbaum is a fascinating man. He has lived a retirement life that many would envy. He and his wife put all their possessions in storage and took off to help in a poor community in the Peruvian Andes. Then, they traveled extensively throughout South America before settling in Oregon. There he teaches English part time, and spends his free time engaged in active sporting activities.

He has written a few books; the latest comes out early next year. In between all that he offers thoughtful pieces on adventure traveling and how and where to live during retirement. Bill is a great example of a person who is building a unique and satisfying retirement around his own interests and desires.

Being Retired
Dan retired at 43 just a few months ago. His blog is a personal record of his journey. Because he often mixes photos with his articles you quickly learn he loves to fish. In fact, he has another blog just for that subject, plus one on rebuilding an old Jeep. One of his categories is Rambling Monologues which describes his style perfectly. Dan writes about what he is thinking or feeling at the moment, and often relates it to his family. He doesn't pull many punches so after reading a few of his posts you feel as if you know this man.  

Joan's Boomer Blog.
Helping Boomers Find Wealth, Health and Happiness in the Second Half of Life is Joan's goal with this well-done blog. She blends personal observations and reactions with plenty of book reviews and links to other sites. Originally she focused on helping readers develop ways to make extra money. Now, she has broadened her focus to deal with issues like health or goal setting, or creating the life of your dreams.

The category list on the left side of the blog is like browsing through a fascinating library that invites you to pull up a chair and spend time sampling what she has listed. You will find lots of book reviews and even occasional video clips. Besides being a regular commenter on my blog, she finds time to maintain a very active blogging schedule.

Frugally Retired in Texas
I mentioned Barb's blog in my post of several week's ago on Simple Living. Since she really covers many subjects in her attempt to "Live Large on a Small Pension" her efforts deserve another listing. A recent post on "Making New Connections" was especially timely. Building new relationships in retirement is a major problem for any of us. Barb isn't afraid to tackle important issues, usually with an eye to decluttering and cutting back.

Retirement Advice On Line
Wendy's blog is really a large, one-stop, resource for all issues dealing with retirement. She offers an endless supply of links to almost any subject you can imagine. Often, she will pose a question or make a statement and then let readers' comments make up the bulk of the content. Look at the list down the left hand side of the home page and you're likely to find a topic that interests you.

These last 2 blogs are ones I have recently discovered and have just started reading on a regular basis, so my comments are briefer. But, that doesn't mean you should bypass them. Actually, I think you might find all sorts of hidden treasures here.

Our own Time
Chris writes about her personal journey toward retirement, complete with bumps, detours, and new discoveries. Sometimes the topics are serious, sometimes about finding pawpaws (I didn't know what they were either).

Retired Boomer in the Sunbelt
I'm not quite sure how to categorize this blog. Mike is a retired fellow living south of Tucson, AZ. He writes about John Lennon, motorcycles, hippies, tragedies in his past, and the welcome summer monsoon rains in the desert. I would describe reading this blog as reading the personal diary of a fellow I'd like to know better. 

Why am I spending time listing the "competition" and inviting you to leave my blog to go to theirs? Because bloggers are friends and we share. The better each of us is individually, the more likely new readers will spend time with all of us. I hope you will visit some of the sites I've listed.

In return I ask a favor: if you like their blog leave a nice comment for them, and then return here. I'll miss you while you are gone.

October 23, 2010

Go Fly a Kite

We can remember when we were much younger. We were free to play and experiment. We were free to dream big dreams and see anything as possible. We had friends and parties and presents and good times.

Now we are all grown up. We have responsibilities. We are settled down and settled in. Our dreams of being a rock star, a fireman, or the president of a Fortune 500 company have either been achieved by now or are distant memories. We don't think much about playing or experimenting anymore.

Why not?  Who says we can't recreate some of the absolute joy and exhilaration of youth, when everything was possible and limits were not self-imposed. Part of the challenge of the retirement period of your life is to not let society limit your options with thoughts like:

  • "What you want to do is not age appropriate."
  • "What you'd like to try is for younger folks."
  • "Don't be silly, people your age don't do that anymore."
  • "I can't do that, I'm too old."
I give you permission to reject every one of those statements. Each one is based on a cultural stereotype that is not relevant. Fifty years ago retirement meant a rocking chair in Sun City. Today retirement means sky diving, fly fishing in Montana, starting a new business, traveling the world, taking up tennis, learning how to paint...whatever you want to try.

Here is a list of some of the fun stuff many of us did as carefree youngsters. Do you have the spark in you to say, "Yes. I liked it them, and I'm going to do it now!"

Fly a kite.  Fresh air, the wind at your back. Sunshine, laughter and excitement as the kite lifts off the ground to kiss the sky. Get a child or grandchild to run with the kite if you can't. But, if you can do it, run and laugh out loud as that beautiful hunk of cloth and plastic defies gravity.

Have a Picnic.  Any food tasted better outside, even Mom's Bologna sandwiches. Grab a blanket, a few sandwiches, some chips, an apple, a bottle of water, maybe some cookies. Find a park nearby, your backyard, your front yard, your balcony...it doesn't matter. You are on a picnic and the world slows down just for you.

Cook hot dogs and s'mores over the fireplace in the living room. As a youngster did your parents ever grab a few long sticks, plunk themselves down in front of the fireplace, and cook hot dogs over a fire in the fireplace? Did you end the meal with s'mores? What is stopping you from doing that again? Grab a few sticks, some dogs, and spend a glorious hour heating and eating them in front of the fireplace. No fireplace?  Is it too cold to do the same thing around a grill outside? Bundle up, share memories, and have the best meal of the week.

Camp out in the backyard Remember a  blanket thrown over a clothes line or a real tent complete with a flashlight and a few sleeping bags? The big adventure in the backyard, all those scary sounds, and the fear of an animal sniffing around your "campsite," even in the midst of suburbia. So, do it again. The backyard is still a bit scary after dark when sounds and the wind make going to sleep an adventure all over again.

Play hooky. I must admit that as a child I was too much of a straight arrow to do this. I have been accused of being born 40 years old and that may be true. But, now that I am retired, there are times when I can skip out on a meeting, or job, or something on my to-do list and feel a great sense of freedom and extra time.

This one can get a little tricky. If your absence causes another person a problem, then don't do it. But, if you are free to skip a chore scheduled for today, delay the garden pruning, or not attend a meeting you don't really enjoy anyway, go for it. You suddenly feel as if you have gained an extra hour or two for yourself. There is a feeling of liberation, even if you are skipping your own task.

Have a Birthday Party. In all likelihood you liked birthday parties when you were young. The excitement of tearing off the paper from presents, eating cake and ice cream in the middle of the day, and having friends all paying attention to you was hard to beat. Now, as adults , most of us dislike celebrating our own birthday. We'd rather the day was ignored.

Isn't that a shame?  Isn't it still nice when you are the center of attention for a while? What is wrong with having presents to open, special food to eat, and memories to share? Instead of celebrating being another year older, make the party a celebration of good friends and food. The birthday is just an excuse.

Visit Lover's Lane No reason for a lot of details for this subject. But, how long has it been since you and your significant other went "parking?" You don't have to do anything more than sit quietly, hold hands, and stare out the car window at the scenery. Of course, if that is a bit too tame for you, then go for.... whatever. The goal is to bring back, for just a little while, that fabulous time when love was new and you were terrified.

This post was written with me in mind. Out of the seven things listed I do two of them. As I wrote this I caught myself asking if I believed what I was saying enough to put it into practice. My wife will be the first to tell you I need to be more spontaneous. I could use a helping of the childhood stuff that I skipped the first time around. Well, here is a public pledge to do at least two more things on this list before the year is up.

Just as I was wrapping up this article I ran across a post that fits perfectly: Tonight we had dinner in the shower. They really did. Read it and marvel at the simple joy such an unusual event generated.

How about you? Anything on this list you want to try again? Anything else you want to do...run barefoot in the grass, smear finger-paints all over the big piece of paper, lay on the grass and look at the stars? Then, what's stopping you? Want to leave a comment and commit yourself to be a kid again, if only for a little while?

October 18, 2010

I Would Appreciate Your Help

When I launched this retirement blog almost 4 months ago I asked some questions about topics and content. Not surprisingly, because this site was brand new I received only a few responses. Now that the number of page views is approaching 25,000 I thought the time was good to ask the questions again.

I enjoy writing, so I could probably churn out a post about almost anything. But, to stay true to the title of the blog, Satisfying Retirement, I want to focus on topics that you care about the most.

So, the questions are simple:

 1) What topics about retirement living are most important to you? What would you like me to write more often: Health issues, Relationships, Finances, Simple Living, New Technology, Creativity & Learning, Time Management, My Life experiences? Anything else?

2) What topics don't really interest you as part of this blog? What should I write less about or even avoid entirely?

You will be an invaluable help to me if you would leave a comment answering one or (hopefully) both of the questions. With your responses I can be sure I produce material you really care about and avoid the stuff you don't. A sincere thank you for your support. My goal is to make every post valuable and meaningful to you.

One favor: if you have a friend or relative who is retired, or soon will be, and that person doesn't know about this blog, please ask them to visit here just long enough to answer the questions. A critical way for me to attract new readers is to provide content they would find attractive.

October 15, 2010

Texting, Talking and Listening - Where Are We Headed?

I'm not breaking any news by saying technology has impacted our lives in ways we may not have even imagined a few years ago. Perhaps the biggest shock has been the completeness of the changes.

Wired telephones have disappeared from millions of American homes. Compact discs are dying as iPods and downloadable music make the purchase of a CD unnecessary. It is virtually impossible to find a VHS player even though most adults still own VHS tapes. Now, even the plain DVD is becoming old-fashioned . Many new movies are issued on HD Blu-Ray, with a DVD copy thrown in for free. 3D televisions will hit the mass market in time for the holidays.

Try to find a cell phone that is just that: a phone without Internet, streaming video and audio capabilities. You don't text? Really? Why not? To call one of these computers-in-your-hand a phone is not very accurate. 70% of kids prefer to communicate non-verbally, meaning text messaging or using social media like Facebook and Twitter. Almost 3 million texts are sent every single day in the United States. The average American teen sends and receives over 3,000 text messages a month. Another startling number for you to consider: 25% of teens admit to texting while sitting at the dinner table. My experience is 100% text during a movie.

So, what is the problem? Technology makes it easier, cheaper, and quicker to move vast amounts of information. The consumer has almost total control of how and when he accesses that information and entertainment. The problem is we are losing the ability to engage in a verbal conversation.

In such a world the ability to listen to someone else while watching for smiles or frowns or confused looks is gone. Emotion and physical reactions are impossible to perceive when reading words on a 2 inch screen. Building a true friendship in a 140 character tweet can't be done. All this leads to a breakdown of civil dialogue and exchanges. People are becoming used to expressing opinions and feelings in rapid shorthand. The ability to listen politely and respond with respect is disappearing.

I am not likely to do more than stick my finger in a dike with multiple holes. But, I would like to offer some reasons why conversation (the verbal kind) is important. A recent national study that caught my eye noted there are 5 things we can do each day to improve our mental well being:

1) Connect with others. Make human contact.
2) Be active. Get off your duff and do something.
3) Be curious about the world. Ask questions and try new stuff.
4) Keep learning to keep your mind functioning at peak efficiency.
5) Give some of yourself to others. Share.

Guess which one human activity covers all five...verbal conversation. Talking with someone causes you to connect with another person. You are face-to-face, making contact with another human being. In doing so you will be active. You will generate and show emotion. You will gesture with your hands. Your voice will rise and fall. Your ears will hear the sound of a human voice.

Unless you only have conversations with yourself, and those don't really count, you will encounter something that is new or different. Something in the conversation will cause you to become curious. Maybe you wonder how the other person could be so wrong. Maybe he or she will tell you about a trip they took that prompts you to ask about that place. Or, maybe it will be as mundane as what is a good place for sushi. It is impossible to talk to someone and not have your curiosity triggered.

To participate in a conversation your mind has to be functioning at a certain level. Processing the words, thinking about what was meant, and then forming a logical response takes brain cells. You will learn something about the other person based on what is said. You will learn something about yourself based on your reaction to what is being said.

By listening and responding, you are giving your time and attention to another. Unlike texting or voice mail, you can't pretend to not be there. You are there as part of the dialogue. By actively participating you are showing respect for the other person. You don't have to agree with what is being said. But, the simple act of listening and responding shows you care enough about the other person to be there.

The average person speaks around 8,000 words a day. Using those words to establish and build friendships, strengthen business relationships, and maintain a healthy marriage all while helping to improve your mental health makes exercising your verbal skills during conversation time well spent. The ability to listen to someone else's words intently and genuinely care what they are saying is paying that person the ultimate compliment.

Texting, cell phones, and social media have their place. Most of us would not choose to give them up. They can enhance communication. What they shouldn't do is replace face-to-face communication. Physically being with another person and communicating is a large part of being human.

I worry that the skills of reflective listening and forming appropriate verbal responses are skills not being passed on to younger generations. Texting is to good communication what McDonald's is to fine dining. They may be in the same family but the results are quite different.

Am I old-fashioned? Is it better to reduce chatter and communicate as efficiently as possible? I'm afraid you can't text me your answer, but you could leave a written comment below.

Related Posts

10/17 Late Addition: Just appearing in a USA Today story about changes over the next 40 years: a man is trying to explain to his teenage daughter the importance of face-to-face communication. But, because of Facebook, "she could not grasp it."   My point, exactly!

October 12, 2010

7 Things You Can Do When You are Retired

The topic of Monday's post about aging parents is not a feel good subject. It can't be ignored, but it can be depressing. So, I decided to lighten things up a bit today and write about something fun. It might even cause you to smile. Here's hoping. This is my list of seven things that you can do when you stop working full time (there are more than seven, but you're busy, right?).

You can sleep late if you want to.  Just because I can doesn't mean I do. My warped sense of productivity screams that I've wasted half the day if I'm still in bed by 7 AM. Even on Saturdays when I really could laze around all morning I am up and on with the day by 6:30. But, the freedom to sleep later is still, in theory, available to me.

Going out to dinner at 4:30 PM and getting the senior price. I used to joke about the retired folks having dinner at 4 in the afternoon to get the blue plate special. Now that I am one of them, my wife and I do eat much earlier than we used to. We consider 5:30 PM to be late dining. If going to a restaurant, 4:30 PM is actually a good idea to avoid the lines and long waits. And, we always check the back page of the menu for the "55 Club" or whatever name is given to the senior prices. Of course, the smaller price also means smaller portions, but that's good for my waistline anyway.

Forgetting what day of the week it is, and not having it matter.  Except for church on Sunday morning, what day it is becomes rather unimportant. Monday feels like Wednesday which feels like Friday. The only downside is time has definitely speeded up. Whole weeks and now even months seem to be gone in the blink of an eye. I want to believe this isn't a memory issue, but more a function of me being busy and happy.

Taking advantage of cheaper matinee movie prices. Who in their right mind would pay $11 for a movie when shows before 6 PM are $7? At the local AMC theater shows before noon are $5. I'll see something I don't even like for $5. Or, I'll stay home and watch Netflix.

You can stop wearing a watch. Cell phones can tell you the time if you need to know. The clock on the computer screen, cable box, and car dashboard are entirely sufficient. Not wearing a watch is a physical and symbolic statement of freedom from the tyranny of time. That is not true, of course, but it sounds good.

You don't have to shop on weekends with everyone else. A rule in the Lowry household: no Home Depot, Costco, Wal-Mart, or shopping malls on weekends. There is no reason to subject ourselves to the hoards of weekend warriors and teenagers. Monday through Friday contains 120 hours. If I can't get my shopping done in that amount of time, I am shopping much too much.

You can wait at home all day for the repairman. I don't know why it is, but if there is a 3 hour window for a repair person, I am always in the last 5 minutes of that window. Never am I first or even in the first half of that big window. I don't know why but I've learned to accept it. With the flexible schedule of a retiree it doesn't matter. If I don't wear a watch I don't even realize how late the fellow is and I stay calmer.

These are seven rather silly reasons to retire, but all true for me. How about you? What less-than-life-changing  things can you do, or not do, if you don't work full time anymore? Let's call this a mid-week lighten up and have some fun with your answers. Comments are strongly encouraged!

Related Posts

October 10, 2010

A Real Life Love Story - Caring for Your Parents

A little over a month ago I wrote about learning to help your aging parents (or relatives). It is one of the toughest things most of us will have to go through. Watching the physical and mental decline is not an easy thing to accept. In many societies the norm is for one or both parents to live with one of the children and their family. While there can be tremendous positives in a multi-generational household, it does come with major risks and headaches.

In America it is much more likely that a nursing home or long-term care facility will be the end destination. There are probably many reasons why this is our standard way of dealing with aging parents. This is not the blog to explore why, though I'd welcome your thoughts in the comments section. . But, even that scenario certainly doesn't promise a stress-free period.

One of the comments left on the original post is worth reprinting here. His explanation is well-written, emotionally honest, and representative of what  many of us have, are, or will face.  

My Dad died at the age of 81, but his decline started well before that. During his lifetime, he often went through lengthy bouts of depression, and in his later years, the depression mingled with confusion, memory loss, irritability, and no doubt endless boredom, making his last years a nightmare, not only for him, but for those of us who tried our level best to be patient and understanding. He took boatloads of pills, and I often wonder how much the medication contributed to his moodiness and overall state of mind.

My Mom had no life at all during those years, such was her sense of commitment to taking care of him. In his final years, he could never be left on his own for fear of falling or getting into some other sort of predicament. With his confusion, he would often mistake her for someone else, and sometimes he would even convince himself that there were 2 versions of her, one good and one evil. He would often hallucinate and sometimes vehemently accuse her of cheating on him, even though she tended to him on an almost 24/7 basis and had no time to take care of herself, let alone find a boyfriend.

In later years Mom did all the driving. This tiny woman would load a man who could hardly walk under his own steam into her car and trot him around to his doctors’ appointments. I have no idea how she managed this without help.

If Mom was to have any time to herself in those years, it would require that I be available to “babysit” Dad while she went out. I hated every minute of it. I loved my Dad, but we seldom saw eye to eye on anything (I suppose the way many fathers and sons do). Conversation was difficult for any number of reasons, not the least of which was because he was so confused about what was going on around him, sometimes repeatedly asking me if I was going to take him home soon, when he was sitting in his favourite chair in the only home he’d known for 40 years. How can a man look out his front window at the same neighbour’s house that he’s seen every morning for 40 years and want to know if we’re going home soon?

My Dad would fall constantly. Even with his walker, I would have to walk slightly behind him with my hand gripping his belt to try and steady him so he wouldn’t hit the deck. You haven’t lived until you’ve had to wipe your father’s blood off of the kitchen wall because he split his head open on a corner after taking a spill. Or how about putting his head through the side of the bedroom dresser after falling backwards? And try lifting an elderly man off the floor by yourself when he’s too feeble to help in the process. I use to grab a blanket and wrap it around behind him to try and get some leverage to pull him back up on his feet, but sometimes I just had to wait it out until someone else came along to grab one arm. There is so little dignity in old age that I often wonder why we all seem to want to live forever.

I don’t judge my Dad based on those years. At his best, he was a decent, hardworking man, always willing to help a neighbour or drive the local kids to hockey practice when other fathers were nowhere in sight. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that the most recent memory we’re likely to be left with of an aging parent is usually a snapshot of them when they’re at their fragile worst, both physically and mentally, and possibly a glimpse into our own future.

This comment is absolutely first-rate in bringing to life the pain and struggles inherent in this situation. It is remarkably consistent with everything I have read on the subject, and my own limited experience to this point. The writer identifies several key areas of concern that are worth highlighting.

How much does increasingly high doses of medication help or hurt? How many of the problems during this stage of life are actually enhanced because the parent is taking medicines that counteract each other, or have serious side effects?  With strict privacy laws in place, how do you get straight answers?

The effect on the spouse or partner is significant. Control is lost over most of that person's own life. Having to be on call means being unable to do anything that delays immediate response to a need. The potential for abusive behavior is real, as is the heartache of confusion. It is impossible to imagine the pain of having your spouse of many decades not even remember who you are. Performance of unpleasant tasks of personal hygiene can't be handed off to someone else. Personal dignity is lost.

When to take away the car keys is a major area of contention. Driving an automobile is a significant statement of personal freedom. When that is taken away from someone for this own good, the emotional outbursts can be tremendous. The original post had a link to a very well written article on this subject. If you didn't see it the first time, click here

The final memories of a parent or loved one may not be the ones we want to hold onto. But, the struggles and pain make it difficult to remember all the good times that came before. Allowing some time to pass and then recalling pleasant memories of the past with family photos or videos would seem a possible way to soften the painful thoughts of the last few days. But, the hurt of those last months or days never goes away.

I am deeply indebted to the unnamed person who left the comment I have used as the focal point for this post. He has voiced some of the fears and concerns many of us must face. Here are some excellent links to articles from the web site Maturity Matters. I found them to be well-written and practical in their advice. If you are facing the dilemma of caring for aging parents, maybe you will find these links a good place to start.

Links to helpful articles
I can also recommend the book, How to Care for Aging Parents, by Virginia Morris. It is easy to understand and very comprehensive. I am using it for my parent's situations. Our health care system is confusing enough with trying to handle it alone.

In this area, we can learn from each other. If you have suggestions, insight, or a personal experience to share, I would be most grateful if you left a comment. This is an area where your experiences and suggestions will be very helpful to others.

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October 5, 2010

Pay Attention to What You Don't See

The author working on his observing skills
In the course of a typical day we make thousands of decisions, some relatively important, some certainly not. Our brains process tens of thousands of visual images. If we are like most people, very little of all this registers. Habit takes over and we go through a typical day largely on autopilot.

That equals missed opportunities. We live in an amazing world that can startle, stimulate,  energize, and provoke if we only pay a little more attention. Certainly you have heard the expression to live in the moment. If you slow down and open yourself to new experiences and new thoughts your life will be richer. You will see your world from a new perspective.

Last year I took a creative writing class for a few months. One of the exercises was to spend time observing something at our home and write a detailed description. I picked a portion of our backyard. While writing this assignment I noticed things I had never seen before. I noticed colors and textures that had completely escaped me. We have lived in this house for ten years but I had never seen the yard with this clarity. By simply paying close attention I found a new appreciation for my environment. To give you some sense for what I'm talking about here is a portion of that writing exercise:

In the far corner of the yard the bougainvillea has lost many of its bright red blooms.The leaves that remain are a mix of dark green and faded yellows with brown streaks.Top branches poke through the latticework of the Ramada, still reaching toward the life-giving warmth of the sun.

That desire to grow ever higher becomes a yearly lesson in limits.The exposed branches are defenseless against the sudden cold of a desert winter night.The flowers highest above the ground appear to be burned in a hot fire, rather than stung by the freezing blast of the wind. Lifeless blooms drop toward the earth, covering furniture and tabletops. Some leaves still cling desperately to the branches, but they are only delaying the inevitable. With color and vitality gone, death has already claimed them but they just won’t let go.

 Partly sheltered by the Ramada’s thin, brown, ceiling slats the remainder of the bush presents a resolute face. Reddish-pink flowers grip undamaged limbs. Leaves pretend the season has not changed; they are unchanged. By remaining content to dwell closer to the earth, this part of the bush survives intact.

Four sturdy brown posts, as thick as my thighs, disappear into the rocky, unforgiving ground. Their job is simple: keep the wooden slats that form a porous roof and support a fan from falling to the ground. For three years they have done their job, though the brown stain is no longer quite as dark and constant as it once was. Vertical cracks appear here and there in the wood, giving silent testimony to the stress the elements put on even the strongest-looking structures.

At the base of two of the posts clay pots sit on spindly metal legs with a ceramic tiled top. Succulents rest in the pots now, their colors only a pale copy of what will come with warmer weather. The outside of each pot is streaked with a washed out white film. Minerals must hide in the clear water gushing from a hose until heat and time allow them to become visible.

Flagstone pavers lie in the Ramada’s shade, strips of dirt and sand keeping each a separate rock island. Spent flower blossoms, twigs, and a lone, pale, green weed clutter the surface of most, waiting for the next strong wind to propel them to another temporary resting place.

The last two posts are starkly bare. No pots, no cacti, no flowers interrupt the eye’s journey from the top of the post to the bottom. Do they somehow feel ignored or unloved? Streaks of a light brown sappy substance on both could be mistaken for tears.

Four white, metal and plastic lawn chairs huddle at the round crinkle-topped table just outside the Ramada’s shade. Abandoned for the winter, the whole ensemble sits unused and unneeded. Thick cushions, striped blue, tan, and white invite anyone to sit. But, the dirt and decay of the off-season litter each one, making the likelihood of a visitor remote. The faded yellow umbrella is collapsed upon itself. A crank handle juts from the pole, idle. When warm weather returns it will spin nearly every day so the umbrella can open its panels and bathe the table top in shade. But for today, nothing.

The chairs and table legs rest in puddles of grime and dust on a light gray rounded piece of concrete that extends from the side of the house. Here and there paint has peeled away to expose the material underneath. A yearly ritual of scraping and repainting the exposed surfaces doesn’t last. Each spring the process is repeated.

Close by a two-person bench, rarely used, sits on four sturdy iron legs, waiting. Its streaked, dirty cushion has faded from whatever it once was to a non-descript gray. The stained wooden back and front edge are splintered and worn from too much heat and cold, too much wet and dry. Like someone considered past his prime but demanding his due, the bench remains convinced of its usefulness. Physical decay and worn-out cushions beg to differ.

If you are a writing instructor, be kind. The class was not hesitant to point out some of the shortcomings in this exercise. The point of my including it is to suggest you consider something like this in your daily life. It doesn't have to be written. It could be photographs, or a video. You could sketch or paint or draw something. You could sit quietly and make notes of the various sounds you hear over a 15-20 minute period. Or, you could simply sit and observe closely. The point is we live in a world that is overflowing with activity and sights and sounds, but we usually ignore most of it. My challenge to you is to take a little while and experience what you have been missing .

Please share some of your experience in the comment section. I would really appreciate reading what you learned from doing so.

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October 3, 2010

Life-Shaping Decisions

A life is a collection of events, happenstances, genetics, luck, and environment. It can be altered in a second by an accident or medical emergency. These factors are usually out of your control. But, a life is also the sum total of decisions that you make along the way. Regardless of age or present situation certain choices you make affect what happens to you from that point forward. Here are some of the decisions that have shaped my journey. Do any sound familiar to you?

People tell me I was rather odd in one regard: I knew what I wanted to do at age 12 and stayed with that choice for 40 years. A more normal occurrence is to struggle with the choice of one’s life work through the teen years, into college, and maybe beyond. But, the first time I stepped foot into a radio station in Cambridge, Ohio at that tender age I was hooked. By fifteen I was a DJ after school and on weekends at a tiny station in suburban Boston. Another dozen years of playing rock and roll records in various cities lead to a being a consultant and researcher.

I remained completely satisfied with my career choice until I stopped work at age 52. That I was able to discover my life’s passion for a career so young saved me a lot of struggles and uncertainty. The fact that I loved the radio business meant I was not going to a job everyday to earn money. I went to work everyday because I was passionate about all of it.

Marriage must be very high on any list of important decisions. Your life changes forever. It is no longer just your life, but a shared life. You are at least partially responsible for every major decision that now affects at least one other person. Your ability to compromise, to become less self-centered, and to share will have a direct effect on the marriage’s chances for success. I have been happily married for 34 years. It hasn’t always been easy; it isn’t supposed to be. But, the commitment we made to each other was forever and neither of us can imagine a life that doesn’t include the other.

From that marriage came two daughters. If you tell yourself that getting married means big changes, hold onto your hat. Having kids makes the changes of marriage look minor by comparison. The primary reason for living, the center of your world, and the force behind almost every choice you make from that point forward are different when you have children. Parents know the absolute love and complete terror that comes with children. At least for me (and my wife), there is nothing I have done that comes close to equaling the importance of the birth and development of our kids.

Not long after the birth of our second daughter I faced a critical decision that would have a huge impact on my family. We moved to Tucson, AZ for a new job I had accepted. Just a few months later I was fired. At that point I had two kids under the age of 3 and no way to support them or my wife and me. After rejecting the option of moving back to the city where I had left a previous job, I faced a very uncertain future. Then my wife and I made a key decision: I would try to start my own radio consulting and research business. It was a risky move that offered no promise of success. We’d have to spend some of our savings to launch the business. If it didn’t work we had no fall back plan.

It did work. From a very shaky beginning, the company became successful in radio consulting. It gave the family the financial freedom to not have to worry again. It allowed me to retire much earlier than I had planned. That decision to trust in myself and take that leap into the unknown paid off in every way imaginable.

Another key decision happened very early in our marriage. My wife and I agreed to live by three simple financial rules. We would always live beneath our means, we would not follow common wisdom as it applied to our investments, and we would value experiences over things. I have written a few posts about this direction for our financial life together. Rather than repeat all of that, here is a link to one of the posts that presents our approach in a bit more detail.

While I could probably ramble on for several hundred more words about decisions that proved important in shaping my life, I’ll conclude with this last one: spirituality. This isn’t the blog to get into a religious debate or attempt to convince someone else that my way is the way. What I do is attempt to live my life in a manner that allows others to see what choices I make and things I value. If that prompts questions about my beliefs and my faith, then I am happy to oblige. But, without equivocation, I can say that the decisions I have made to follow my faith and believe what I believe are at the core of who I have become.

The decisions I made were right for me at that time. If my circumstances had been different some of those choices may have been different. But, that is the amazing thing about life. Every one of us is different. At least to a degree we have the chance to shape and re-shape our life constantly. That makes waking up every morning exciting. What will the day hold and how can I shape it? What will happen that makes this a satisfying retirement?

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