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 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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