November 29, 2010

A Free Day

A free day is a day without appointments, commitments, a to-do list, or nagging worries about tasks undone. A free day: isn't that what every day is when you are living a satisfying retirement?  Hardly.

Last week my wife and I declared a free day. It was supposed to be glorious. The calendar was cleared. We told family to call only if there was an emergency. We had a rough sketch of how to make the most of the day, but none of it was a must-do. If we felt like something we'd do it. If not, oh well.

Our free day lasted about two hours.  People we had asked not to call, called anyway. A problem with a volunteer project my wife is working on raised its ugly head and couldn't be ignored. My Mom's health was getting so tenuous we felt we better make time to see her. I realized I needed to be a few days ahead on this blog because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

At first we got upset. Two previous attempts at even half a free day had collapsed earlier in the month. We were determined to not mess this one up. We are retired. We have control over our day, didn't we? No, not so much.

Then, we simply sat down and laughed. My wife, Betty, put it all in perspective. Wasn't it great, she noted, that our family needs us and wants to be with us. Isn't it good that our skills are useful to others. Isn't it wonderful that we can just drop other plans to go see Mom.

Suddenly the free day became free again, but in a very different way. It was a day to freely bless what we had in our life. It was a time when we freely chose to help others.

All was not lost. We went out for a late breakfast/early lunch and ordered more than we normally would. We spent a few minutes shopping and then came home, pulled out a huge photo album and reminisced.

Our free day didn't go according to plan. But, the mark of a happy retirement experience is the ability to shift in mid-stream when needed. The day became much more memorable than it ever would have been if our original plans had remained unchanged.

And, yes, we have another free day scheduled for next month.


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November 25, 2010

Play it Again, Sam

Do you like movies? Is your idea of a great night at home a favorite flick and a bowl of popcorn? Are there certain movies you can watch again and again? I have dozens but here is my short list to get you thinking about some of your favorites. The holidays are here. What better time for a great movie !

 Casablanca. I am immediately transported to a time of mystery, romance and elegance. I want to find a club with a piano and the last plane leaving soon. Humphrey and Ingrid are the perfect couple in the perfect movie. And, who doesn't love the French Captain, playing both sides against each other. This is one of those movies I can only watch in its original black and white.

Blazing Saddles. A camp fire and baked beans, a hangman with a limp, a Governor with a slimy sidekick, and, oh my, a black sheriff. Mel Brooks makes it all happen with his wicked sense of the absurd. Rather cutting edge for its time.

French Kiss. Paris and love. A scoundrel with a heart of gold. A man, a woman, and a dream. No matter how many times I see this, I get misty when Kevin Kline sits next to Meg Ryan on the plane in the last scene.

Singing in the Rain. I'm still not sure how Donald O'Connor can pull off the dance moves he does. Gene Kelly and Debby Reynolds are actually believable as a couple, even though there is a 20 year difference in their ages. Gene makes rain and getting wet the height of romance.

Wizard of Oz. The transition from black and white to color when Dorothy arrives in Oz is still stunning after all these years of technical advances. The Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, and Tin Man are simply lovable. If you have ever been separated from your family, the story must touch you. After all, don't we all want to go home again, even if it is Kansas?

 Mary Poppins. This brings back tremendous memories of family nights when the kids were growing up. Singing all the songs, watching Dick Van Dyke do a chalk drawing and a bad English accent, or the proper English Dad getting so frustrated over his kids, while loving them to death. This was the perfect family film at our house.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. After seeing this I grew a mustache and have never shaved it off. The first of the successful "buddy films" this made Robert Redford a star. The shootout in Bolivia still brings chills, as does Katharine Ross, but for entirely different reasons.

The Quiet Man. I have been to the tiny Irish village of Kong, where much of this movie was filmed. It is every bit as quaint and beautiful as it looks on film. Seeing it takes me back to a simpler time when "men were men and women were glad of it." I always refer to a hike as just a "good stretch of the legs." This is proof John Wayne could do much more than ride a horse.

Get Shorty. I'm not sure why this is one of the movies I can see over and over. Maybe it is John Travolta playing a bad guy who so desperately wants to be good. Maybe it is Danny DeVito driving the "Cadillac of Minivans." It certainly has something to do with Gene Hackman absolutely nailing the part of a second-rate producer in over his head.

Avatar. The story has been told many times before. The characters aren't very memorable. But, seeing this in 3D changed the way I will look at movies forever. The colors, the absolute breathtaking visuals, and the majesty of a magical world takes me away. The film technique is so advanced that even in regular DVD, and especially BluRay, the picture leaps off a 2 dimensional screen like no other movie I have seen.


Those are 10 movies I can watch again and again. Now it is your turn. What movies are on your list and why? Leave your comment and maybe I'll just discover a flick I need to re-watch. Go ahead and give my choices a thumbs up or down. I can take it. Go ahead....Make my day.



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November 22, 2010

The Small Sparkles That Life Up Your Life


The sky was beginning to cloud over, kids were playing, ducks were looking for bread crumbs, bikers rolled by while teens on skateboards defied gravity. Sitting in a folding chair and watching the scene my eyes were drawn to the surface of the lake. The sun was at just the right angle to cover the water with sparkles. It was beautiful. I was enjoying a satisfying retirement day. Within a few minutes the sun's angle had changed and the sparkles were gone. Or, were they? From someone else's viewpoint they probably were just as fabulous. They were simply gone from my view.
Isn't life kind of like that? There are brief moments that sparkle and shimmer. We look upon them with awe. We remember them. We talk about them. But, real life takes place in between the sparkles. It is how we fill the space between them that matters.


Relationships are certainly made up off sparkles and spaces. There are the everyday moments in relationships which occupy most of your life. Those are the large spaces filled with chores and responsibilities, some arguments, making tough decisions, cooking, cleaning, and shopping. These don't sparkle at all. They are the mundane activities that fill your day when you have other people in your life. They are what we call living.

Then there are those times when you and your spouse or significant other are exactly on the same page. Everything is going according to plan. You are communicating well and any disagreements are minor. If you have children or grandkids there are times when things just sparkle: a vacation by the lake, a great day at the zoo, a family night watching a favorite movie.


As a retired person, you have control over most of your day. At least you think you do. But, when you must wait for a repair person, or your car is in the shop you are the mercy of others. When you spend a few hours waiting for an overworked doctor you are reminded you are not in control quite as much as you thought. Menus must be planned, food must be bought, bills must be paid, gardens must be tended, the bike should be ridden. The days and weeks pass by so quickly you wonder where the time went.

Then, there are those moments when you grab a little time and sit down to read that new novel you've been aching to open. Your hobby bench invites you to build that project or fix the broken lamp you want back in the living room. You find some time to write, and out flows everything you have bottled up while the spaces of life are filled with everyday stuff. You remember you have time with the school kids tomorrow night to tutor them in math or English. As they grasp the concepts you are explaining their smiling faces sparkle and shine. Maybe you sit in the sun at the coffee shop sipping you latte, reading the paper, and people watching the afternoon away. These precious times make you feel alive and vibrant. They are the sparkle that make a day special and memorable.


John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens while you're making other plans."  That is the human condition. We want a life that we control. We would like a day with nothing but sparkles. No chores, no irritations, to disappointments, no hassles.  A day that goes according to our plans.

But, that isn't how things work. We can be much happier and much more satisfied when we learn to accept the large spaces into which we put our everyday life, while being on the lookout for those sparkles of pure joy and beauty that brighten and enlighten. After all, if every meal was nothing but desserts, then desserts would not be so special and delightful.


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November 17, 2010

Are Healthy Eating and Exercise the Evil Twins?

It isn't as if we don't know eating the right foods, avoiding the bad ones, and exercising are good for us. If we want a satisfying retirement we'd better protect the only body we have. This isn't new information. So, why it it so tough to follow through? I know part of the answer: we are born rebels and we chart our own path. Well, maybe not. More is at work here. See if these reasons sound familiar to you. They have worked for me for years.

The payoff for good habits is in the future. This excuse just keeps on working. We are living today. Thinking too much about the future isn't our style. Besides, we have plenty of time to switch to healthier habits. Of course, the future isn't as far away as it used to be and what we do today will have a cost tomorrow. But, procrastination is a well-practiced skill by the time we are older.

Better food and healthy eating are more expensive. Organic vegetables and range-free chickens are probably healthier. But, have you seen the cost? The dollar menu at MacDonald's looks awfully appealing when compared to the cost of pesticide-free fruits and vegetables at Safeway. Farmers' markets aren't much better. The food tastes better and supporting area farmers feels like the right thing to do. But, does it fit the budget? Of course, the average American spends as much as $250,000 on out-of-pocket medical care from age 65 until death. Is that in the budget?

Other food choices are more pleasing. Being concerned about a healthy diet means a lot of the "good stuff " is off limits. Is Ice Milk really the same as Ice Cream? Even though the FDA allows it to be called low-fat ice cream, it is not. Rich sauces have been good for the French for hundreds of years. Shouldn't I be allowed a little?  Is there any way to make chicken fried steak that will pass the healthy test? The bottom line is we have 10,000 taste buds on our tongue that we hate to waste on food that lacks...well....taste.

The gym? It's 15 minutes away. Besides I have too much else to do. I have a stair master in the spare room. Come to think of it that's where my new sweater is hanging.  We have all sorts of reasons why exercising enough to help us is too much bother.  "I can't walk today, it is too (hot, cold, light, dark, wet, dry). I can't go to the gym, I'm trying to be green and I don't want to drive."


We know all these excuses are just that, excuses. At some point your body is going to start to break down. While genetics play a big part in what happens to us, we have a tremendous amount of control over the quality of our physical aging. Isn't it odd that we are a society of instant gratification for everything except health and exercise. Then, we figure we can wait just a little while longer.

This list comes from my personal list of lame excuses. The first one, about the future, is starting to catch up on me. Once you past 60 the future doesn't seem to stretch quite so endlessly ahead. The gym excuse was great for almost 5 years. Then, we switched to a facility only 5 minutes away (at half the cost) and I lost that one. Now, I'm pretty good about going 3 times a week. I bought a treadmill, used it to hang my clothes in the bedroom, and finally sold it a few years ago. Worst $900 I ever spent.


If you have uncovered any tricks or hints that work for you and may help the rest of us do what we know we should, I ask you to share! Personally I have no interest in entering an Iron man Marathon. But, I would like to not become the Falling-Apart-Man. Can you help us build a happy retirement lifestyle?

November 15, 2010

Two Decisions Made, - One Life Affected

A life is often molded by a collection of seemingly small events and choices. Something that doesn't seem very important at the time can change everything. 

There are two events from my life that make the point. They concern two decisions I made. One didn't seem like a big deal at the time but affected the rest of my life. The other involved a choice in my career's direction. I knew it was a critical decision and involved substantial risk.

Decision #1: Being a Camp Counselor

When I was 14 years old I applied for a summer job as a camp counselor. This was perfect for a teen boy. It meant being away from home for most of the summer, living in a cabin in the woods, swimming, boating, and hiking. It satisfied my need to be a leader and in charge of a group of young campers. After several meetings to discuss my responsibilities and allowing those in charge to judge my suitability, I was hired as a counselor in training. The day came to depart. My parents took me to the place where the kids were to board the buses. We said our goodbyes and I took my suitcase and boarded a bus for the two hour trip to the camp. I expected to be away for 8 weeks.

Exactly 6 days later my parents drove to the camp to take me home. Rather quickly I had learned that being a camp counselor was not for me. Whether it was homesickness, or living in a cabin with a dozen 9 year old boys, or for some other reason entirely I'll never know. But, it was not for me and luckily I was able to leave.

So, how did that leaving the camp affect my life in a profound way? By being home that summer I discovered my true love, radio. I spent all my free time learning everything I could about it. I set up two turntables and pretended to broadcast radio shows for hours at a time. That summer lead to my getting a job as a janitor at a small station not too far from my home a few months later. Then, to an on-air DJ shift which turned into a three decade long career. By "failing" as a camp counselor, I succeeded in finding my life's work.

Decision #2: Taking a Major Career Risk

In the second instance, I was working for a radio station in Morgantown, WV. While that is where I met and married my wife, that isn't the decision I'm referring to. Rather it was the choice I made to leave a comfortable life in town for the high risk chance to become a consultant.

At the time Morgantown was a small city of 25,000. West Virginia University is there so the town was a fun place to be. With only four radio stations being a DJ and program director of two of them made me a rather large fish in a small pond. I was a minor celebrity and people knew me. My favorite uncle lived there as did my wife's parents. It was a comfortable life. If I choose to do so I could have remained for the rest of my life and been happy.

In a lucky happenstance that I detailed in an earlier post, I was put in touch with the country's leading radio consulting and research company, and offered a job. To accept would require moving to Iowa and leaving all our family and friends behind. It would mean giving up my "big fish" standing with no guarantee that I was actually good enough to succeed in the rather rarefied air of big league consulting. Frankly, I didn't think I had the experience to be put in such a situation. I could easily fall flat on my face.

I did decide to risk comfort for greater challenges. My new bride agreed, with more than a little trepidation, to leave her family for Cedar Rapids, Iowa. That decision allowed me to learn the consulting side of the business from the best. Just by being part of that company I had instant credibility with every major broadcast group in the country. Eventually, that experience allowed me to start my own company and build a solid career. If I hadn't risked it all by leaving the safety of the familiar for the bigger payoff of the unknown, it is highly unlikely my life would have developed anything like it has. Certainly, it is unlikely I be sitting here in front of my computer blogging about having a Satisfying Retirement.


Your life's course probably mirrors mine in some ways. Decisions made or unmade, opportunities presenting themselves, lucky breaks, unlucky breaks...all combined to make your life what it has been to this point. You controlled some of those choices, but many you did not.

What that leaves all of us is to take what we are given and make it something uniquely ours. Any day you may be faced with a choice that seems unimportant, or one that is clearly of critical importance. What you decide will affect everything that is to come.


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November 12, 2010

Do You Love Where You Live? Is That Important?

The cool weather has finally arrived in Phoenix. Warm sunny days and cool, clear nights for the next 5 months makes me almost forget the furnace of summer in the desert. Each day is simply gorgeous. Typically, we will get no rain until late December, so most days aren't even marred by clouds. The tourists have arrived in force clogging the streets, but making the resorts and restaurants happy. It is a fabulous time to live where I live.

That feeling made me wonder if most people feel the same way. Do you love where you live or do you simply live where you live? No place is perfect. But, there are certain factors that will determine whether you are content with the place you call home. Take a look at this list and we'll have a quick quiz at the end.

Number one on most lists is the presence of family and friends. If you have good relationships with your family members who live nearby it is likely you haven't given much thought to moving. Most of us will put up with a lot to be close to loved ones. Good friends are also important to how you feel about your home town. As we age it seems making new friends becomes more difficult. If you live close to people you genuinely like and can turn to when you need help that is another check mark in the plus column. 

The cost of living affects us all. This includes cost of housing, taxes, food, and energy. Some places are just more expensive to live than others. Southern California, Connecticut, The Bay area of northern California, and Scottsdale (!) are well above average in this regard. To love living in one of these places is to accept that fact and budget for it. Other parts of the country are relative bargins in these categories. If your budget is tight, the cost of living may play an important part in where you hang your hat.

Recreational opportunities. Being outside and enjoying nature is an important component of happiness for many. Being close to lakes for fishing or boating, having mountain trails to hike or bike, being able to play golf or tennis when you want is crucial to many. If you live in Manhattan I will assume this isn't a key priority for you. But, if you do live where you can't satisfy your nature fix on regular basis that could be a big deal.

Educational and cultural offerings. College towns or cities with major universities often rank high in resident satisfaction. The concerts, plays, lectures, community classes, and art exhibits that are usually part of educational institutions may be quite important to you. A symphony orchestra or venues to see live plays and musicals may be the parts of a community you need. Then, again, maybe you could care less. But, the lack of these opportunities may be troubling to you.

Transportation. If you don't like to drive or own a car, don't live in L.A. or Phoenix. Cars are the only reliable form of transportation in these cities. If you prefer public transportation or walking to get from here to there how does your town satisfy you? This could be a major factor in how happy you are living where you do.

Sporting and Entertainment activities. Some of us are happiest as spectators of professional or college sporting events. Others require a variety of soccer fields, horse trails, golf courses, or baseball diamonds for happiness. A good selection of movie theaters and restaurants is a necessity for some. Can you satisfy your interest in sports where you live? How about being entertained? Have you had to give up what you love because it simply isn't available?

Health care facilities. The Phoenix area is blessed with excellent medical facilities. There are two Mayo facilities in town, along with dozens of hospitals and specialized treatment centers. Several medical schools provide us with a better than average doctor-to-patient ratio. In many parts of the country the residents aren't so lucky. If you or a loved one has a medical condition that requires specialized treatment, odds are you will need to live where those options are available.

The weather. We all talk about it. We all complain about it. Yet, most of us tolerate wherever we call home. There are some folks who love to ice fish when it's 10 below zero. I know some guys who love to camp in the desert when it is over 100 degrees. Take away someone's ski trails and you'd be in trouble. Portland or Seattle can get mightily gloomy in the winter with month after month of rain and drizzle but both cities consistently rank as some of the most popular places to live.

Weather is something over which we have no control. Your only ability to affect the weather where you live is to move to where that weather isn't. Are you sensitive enough to your hometown's weather for it to make you unhappy. Or is it simply an irritant that doesn't change the way you feel about where you live?

Especially in retirement, moving is one of the most critical decisions you are likely to make. So, ask yourself this important question: "Am I unhappy with enough of the parts of where I live to consider a move?" Or, did reviewing the list above make me think, "This really isn't that bad, in fact I really kinda like where I am and I can tolerate the rest."

I love where I live, though come summer I've love to be in Oregon or Flagstaff. But, I have carefully considered what parts of living in Phoenix are deal-breakers. So far, those parts don't equal a move. I can say I love where I live. I am enjoying a Satisfying Retirement where i am.

How about you? What factors are keeping you where you are? What things that are missing are making you consider a relocation? Let us know. It's like the weather, we are all interested in how others address this issue.


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November 8, 2010

Blogging - Why Me?

That is an excellent question. I saw some statistics recently that would scare off a saner person:
  •  Up to 80% of Blogs are abandoned within the first month
  •  20% of bloggers update their blog every single day
  •  There are over 130 million blogs on the Internet
  •  There are over 187 million domain names registered
So what is the attraction of getting involved in something that has an 80% failure rate, requires lots of time, puts me in competition with a huge number of people, and produces no income?  Couldn't I find something else to do with my time? At least as of today, my answer is "No." Maybe you will see a reason that prompts you to enter this fascinating world.

It satisfies a desire to write and blogging satisfies that need. My favorite courses in high school and college were those involving creative writing. It took me nearly seven years but I finished and self-published an Arizona travel book for family and friends.  For awhile last year I took part in a writing group that met twice a month. I didn't stick with the group, but it re-lit my passion to write. All I lacked was a direction and an outlet I would enjoy. I found it in blogging.   

Blogging can occur on a flexible schedule. Blogging can take a lot of time. Like any new hobby or pursuit there is a learning period that gobbles up the hours. Writing doesn't flow from my keyboard. Sometimes it is a real struggle to fill a page with something I am willing to put in front of others. But, I can decide when I want to sit down and churn out an article. Some days I tackle writing first thing in the morning. Some times I'll be ready to write after after dinner. This post is being written at 9 PM because I had other stuff on my schedule today.  

It encourages interacting with other people. There is a lot of people blogging. Many are willing to share ideas or help newcomers avoid proven pitfalls. I have found virtually everyone I have come in contact on the Internet is friendly and anxious to develop a relationship with other bloggers. They may be virtual friends, but friends they are.

There is a rush when something I have written generates comments from readers. The feedback from this type of writing is virtually instantaneous. I can post something on this blog and often within an hour someone has left a  comment. Something I have written has meant enough to someone else to take the time to leave their thoughts. That feels good.

Of course, the flip side also occurs. I have written some posts I thought were pretty good only to have virtually no reaction and very few readers That is frustrating and disappointing. But, I quickly remind myself that no one owes me anything. I am blogging because it satisfies a need in me. The poor response prompts me to take a critical look at the article and the subject matter to see what I can improve the next time.


There is the thrill of learning something new.  Six months ago I had no idea what a blog was or how one was created. I didn't understand the language or the process. I had heard of Twitter but I thought it was for teenagers. I had no idea how powerful it can be to promote something like a blog.  Successful bloggers have learned certain tricks of the trade that were totally alien to me.

Learning how to participate in this world and at least hold my own has been exciting. I need the constant stimulation of a new challenge. Learning how to build this blog has been the challenge I was seeking. I am learning something new almost every day which makes each day exciting and a joy.

Blogging can help others. Before starting I spent several weeks trying to decide what my blog's niche should be. Eventually it became clear that the only topic that I could really share anything of value was something to do with retirement. After almost a decade of figuring out what works and what to avoid, I thought I might have enough to offer  others.

There are literally thousands of blogs about retirement, and at least 80% of them deal with money and financial planning. I decided to pick an area that seemed undeserved: how to build a retirement lifestyle that is productive and satisfying. Feedback and comments seem to validate that choice. There is a real hunger for information and tips to make this phase of life a positive one. There seems to be an interest in hearing about my experiences in this journey. If what I pass along helps, the time and effort will be well worth it.


I don't know how long I will keep writing Satisfying Retirement. At some point maybe the thrill will be gone and I will move on to something else. But, at the moment that is the farthest thing from my mind. I am having a blast and have no intension of going anywhere.

If you have read this far and are thinking maybe blogging would fill a need in you, by all means go for it. There is virtually no cost, except in time and taking an ego hit now and then. The blogging world remains wide open to someone with an itch to write and a story to share. I'd be more than willing to help you in any way I can.   


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