April 28, 2011

The Best Made Plans.....Are Changeable

As part of our satisfying retirement lifestyle last year Betty and I took a 5,000 mile driving trip around the Northwest. We started in Phoenix, went to Zions National Park, Jackson Hole, Yellowstone, parts of Montana and Idaho, and ended at Olympic National Forest in Washington state, before heading back through Oregon and California. Even though tiring and plagued with terrible weather most of the time, it remains one of our favorite vacations. The trip was almost a year ago and I don't think I have yet to make it through all 3,000 pictures we took.

This year's goals included another driving trip. We wanted a totally different "look" to the trip so visits to Santa Fe and Albuquerque, San Antonio and Austin were penciled in. Being an obsessive planner I began to explore routes, collect brochures, and build a budget for the trip. Family was alerted to our date of departure. 
Our two girls are now in their 30's....where did all that time go?

Then, about a month ago something happened. I woke up one morning with a tremendously powerful urge...an urge to re-visit Hawaii. Together and separately, Betty and I have been to the islands a dozen times. We celebrated Christmas on Maui twice with the family and again on the Big Island. The whole family became certified scuba divers during one of our stays. I had business clients in Honolulu, Kona, and Hilo that allowed me several trips. We were on Kauai just 3 months before the massive hurricane, Iniki, leveled the resort where we stayed.

We have a real connection to our 50th state. Hawaii feels like our second home. The minute we step off the plane, the scents and the trade winds cause instant relaxation. If it wasn't for family, I think both of us would have figured out how to live there, at least part of the year.

So, that morning when I felt this tug toward the islands, it wasn't the first time. But what struck me with the power of a tsunami was that I hadn't been back in 10 years. That was a startling revelation. It was a rude reminder of the passage of time. How could I have stayed away from a place that is so important to me for a decade?

That afternoon, after about 60 seconds of contemplation, Betty and I decided to scrap the driving trip and plan to head west across the Pacific. By dinner time I had plane flights booked, had a car reserved and a condo lined up. For several days less than the driving trip, the cost is likely to be almost $1,000 more. But, as someone who preaches the importance of memories over things, it seems like a worthwhile investment.

Camera-fanatic Betty is already insisting we stop at every waterfall on the drive to Hana so she can snap away. That may be impossible (there are hundreds) but I'm sure she'll fill at least two memory cards with beauty. With 600 curves and 54 one-lane bridges the drive to Hana is unique in all of America and worth the white knuckles.

One of the best things about a satisfying retirement is this ability to change plans in an instant. Albuquerque and San Antonio will still be there when we finally take that trip. But, we had a severe Hawaii itch and just had to scratch it.

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April 25, 2011

You Collect What?

After a few rather weighty subjects over the last few weeks, I thought I'd take a look at something fun today: unusual hobbies. One of the joys of blogging is the time spent on the Internet researching various retirement lifestyle topics. Part of what I am learning is that humans have the ability to entertain themselves in an infinite number of ways.

Most of us have a hobby or two, something we like to indulge in during free time.  As a youngster I was a stamp and coin collector. For a few years I had a growing collection of antique table radios. Most recently, my interest has been ham (or amateur) radio. Part of my office is filled with various transmitters, receivers, scanners, and things with dials all over them. The roof of my home is crowded with half a dozen different antennas , allowing me to  talk to other amateurs all over the world, or listen to programming from hundreds of other countries.

Those outlets and use of my free time (and money) are quite mainstream. I am a hobby straight arrow compared to some of the stuff I found with little effort on the Internet. Just to prove my point that we are a rather diverse life form, here is a small sampling of actual hobbies and collections that exit:

I'm Back!
  • real war tanks (Arnold Schwarzenegger, apparently) 
  • accordions 
  • McDonald Tray liners
  • colors (I gather paint chips from Home Depot)
  • toasters
  • air sickness bags (there is a museum for this one)
  • carved egg shells
  • snow globes
  • cigar bands
  • swizzle sticks (my father-in-law did this)
  • sugar packets
  • Zippo lighters
  • Swingline staplers
  • handcuffs (don't ask)
  • cookie jars
  • barbed wire
  • soap bars
  • decorated toilet seats

If you want to make something a little out of the ordinary and are feeling medieval, there are over 600,000 sites to tell you all about making chain maille.

Friends of our family were fascinated by mead, a drink of the same time period. They made it, consumed it, and served it at parties. No one else I know found the stuff very drinkable.

In case you are looking for a hobby, or you have a lot of free time, here is a list of 217 different hobbies and activities for you to consider. Actually, if you have time to read through all these items, you do need a hobby.

As a final treat, here is a video from Youtube of some of Britain's oddest collections. It is less than 3 minutes long, so if you have the time enjoy meeting the man who collect labels from Baked Bean cans, or the lady who saves the little labels from bananas!

I thought I'd be a little silly and trivial with this post. I hope you had a smile or two. After all, a satisfying retirement is about having fun and enjoying yourself. Hobbies are one way we do so.

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April 22, 2011

Universal Truths

Barb, at Frugally Retired in Texas , had a post a week or two ago about her new quilting business. As I read the steps she wants to take to make the idea begin to pay off I thought how closely those steps mirror the process of successful blogging. Taking it a bit further, I thought the steps also match up nicely with how one builds a satisfying retirement lifestyle. Finally, it seemed obvious they really are steps to a happy life, regardless of your work status. See if you agree that Barb is on to something universally important.

• One needs to focus on what people want, rather than what you like to make. Isn't that true of almost everything? If I blogged about something that didn't interest you or fill a need of yours, then you wouldn't stay and you wouldn't come back. If I always do only what I want rather than also doing what my wife wants and needs, how long do you think my marriage would have lasted? Staying focused on others is the quickest way I know to have lots of friends, keep a spouse happy, build a blog or any business, and be considered a success.

In order to be a success, you have to have some kind of schedule and make some kind of time commitment. Isn't this true of all parts of your life?  If you have no plan for how you want to spend your time then you will waste it. Managing the most important resource of your life takes discipline. To accomplish your goals you probably have to dedicate periods of time to each. Rarely does anyone succeed at anything if he simply lets events control his day and is unwilling to commit to the effort involved.

You need to learn to value your time. Often this is a hard lesson for a retired person to learn. If you say "yes" to everyone who wants a piece of you it is likely there will be nothing left of yourself except scraps. If you don't properly value your energy and effort then others won't either. Just because you are not working, or just because you are a volunteer your time is.... priceless. The credit card company was right.

While some income streams such as selling your stuff may bring in instant income, many income streams, even small ones take a while to get off the ground. Though talking about her quilting business, Barb is stating a basic fact of building a satisfying retirement lifestyle. It takes time for anything to develop. Developing patience is one of the most important skills to master. Rushing anything is unsatisfying and unproductive in the long term.

I’ve had to find a way to combine my creativity with good business practices. Expand the definition a bit and her point can cover anything. Whether you are involved in a hobby, a project at church or around the house, blogging or writing a novel, there are efficient ways to do something, and ways that waste your time and resources. Being retired means we have more freedom than most to figure out what works. Unlike running a business, those steps don't have to be formalized or even written down somewhere. But, eventually you learn how to do whatever it is you are doing better than when you first started. Just like Barb has discovered, there is a learning curve that occurs.

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April 13, 2011

2011 Goals Update

On December 28th I listed my goals for 2011. Hard to believe, but in less than three weeks the year will already be one-third gone. That is long enough to judge my progress. Let'[s take a look.

Goal #1 was to publish an e-book by March 1st. My reading and study of successful blogs make it clear that just blogging is probably not going to be enough to push any blog to the next level.  Its goal is not to make money, its goal is to increase awareness. So, it must be worthwhile and it must be free.

  • Goal accomplished. Building a Satisfying Retirement  became available  February 27th. As of today over 1,100 copies have been downloaded.

Goal #2 was to start a web site to sell my wife's abstract photographs by May 1st.  I wanted to work toward developing a web site that sells her incredibly inventive abstract photographs. With a digital camera and Photo Shop she produces true works of art.

  • Goal not accomplished. Even though it isn't May 1st yet, this isn't going to happen. A major project for church has occupied all her free (and not so free) time. That wraps up April 22nd. Maybe this summer. We'll see how she feels about the whole thing after a month to decompress.

Goal #3 was to become one of the top 3 blogs in the non-financial retirement lifestyle  niche by my one year anniversary of June 23rd.  I'm not quite sure how I'll measure this. But, it is goal I'd like to set for myself. Why? Personal satisfaction primarily. If I'm involved in something I want to keep growing and developing.

  • Goal  is a work in progress. I'm comfortable with the progress the blog has shown. Whether there is way to quantify this goal is yet to be seen.
Update: As of April 15th, out of 4.9 million results for search term "Satisfying Retirement" on Google, this blog holds the first 3 spots. Maybe I can move this goal into the accomplished column. Thank you readers!

Goal #4 was to take another extensive driving trip like last year's 5,000 mile jaunt. I refuse to wake up some day and be upset that I waited too long to get back on the road.

  • Goal  has been changed.  Instead of a driving trip next fall we have decided to spend 3 weeks on Maui instead. We both love Hawaii and haven't been back for much too long. A driving trip is still going to happen, but maybe not this year.

Goal #5 was to simplify/downsize one aspect of my life. I want to eliminate cable TV from our house by April 1st.. We watch so little that paying that bill every month is silly.

  • Goal accomplished. Cable TV went away in mid-March when the company wanted to raise my costs by 20%. An antenna now picks up local channels for free and the Internet and Netflix does the rest.


   2 - Goals accomplished
   1 - Goals not accomplished
   1 - Goals changed
   1 - Goals too early to tell

Since 2 goals were accomplished I should set 2 new ones. Here goes:

New Goal #1:  To produce a 2nd edition of Building a Satisfying Retirement by year's end. Besides fixing a few typos and some sloppy writing, I would like to include some pictures and maybe some graphics to make the book a more enjoyable read. This time, my goal is to sell the book on Amazon, as a e-book download. Price? Probably no more than $5.

New Goal #2: Make the second half of this year more focused on us. Betty has had a massive project at church that has consumed most of her time, energy, and attention since late last year. It ends April 23. I have been spending too much time on the computer working on developing this blog, putting the e-book together, developing a Twitter & Facebook presence, all while working at a part time job.

The concept of "we" has suffered. Time together as a couple has been in short supply. Starting May 1st the emphasis will turn back to why we has lasted 35 years together: spending our time and energies on each other.

What about you? Did you set some goals at the beginning this year? How is your scorecard looking? Time to redouble your efforts, refine your goals, or set some new ones?

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April 7, 2011

Let's Try an Experiment

The response to Monday's post, I'm Still Confused, was strong and clear. You are interested in reading about personal experiences, problems and successes. You enjoy my suggestions on building a Satisfying Retirement. While an occasional financially-oriented post or one that is more informational than personal is OK, that isn't your primary reason for visiting.

Message received.

Based on that I'd like to try an experiment. It will either fall flat, like one of my omelets, or become a regular part of this blog. As the comments left after each post prove time and time again you have tremendous insight and perspectives to share. You think of things that have not crossed my mind. You have ideas that would make tremendously interesting posts.

So, here is what I would like to try. I am asking for your help and openness. Every so often I would like to post a story about your retirement highs and lows. Each time I would like to feature a few readers who are willing to submit brief stories about their retirement or relationship issues, financial struggles, great ideas to raise extra money, creative breakthroughs, frustrations and fears, travel stories, questions they are struggling with...anything that helps all of us on this journey.

Everyone has something to add to this dialog. Everyone has an experience, concern, or opinion that could benefit others. I would like Satisfying Retirement to be thought of as an open forum for the airing of  different perspectives and insights. I already encourage that by posting comments that disagree with my opinion, or raise important concerns. I would like to take that one step further and see this blog as a community of folks with the same basic concerns, willing to share and learn from each other.

If you would prefer to submit something anonymously that would be perfectly fine. Who you are isn't the key. What you have learned or what your questions are is important. Don't worry about how well you write or whether you can clearly express what you want to say. I'll be your private editor to put a little polish on anything, if required.

Length?  A single sentence may be all you need to make a point or ask a question you'd like feedback on. Maybe your experience is best conveyed in a few paragraphs. The length is not important. In all likelihood I would add a comment or observation after each shared experience.

So, the next step is simple: e-mail me at Satisfying Retirement with anything that will add to our group learning experience. If you prefer, simply leave a comment at the end of this post and I'll incorporate it into the article.

When I have enough I'll put together a post. If you never see this idea referred to again you will know that the interest wasn't there. And, if that happens, that outcome is absolutely fine. I want this blog to reflect what you'd like to read about. If it is all me, all the time, then so be it.

I am looking forward to the outcome of this experiment! Let's see what happens together. I'll go check my e-mail now!

April 3, 2011

I Am Still Confused

I have been blogging for almost 10 months. In that time I have written over 83,000 words, around 145 posts, put together an e-book, guest posted on other blogs, and been interviewed and quoted in various publications. While there are a whole bunch of people who have been doing this much longer than me, you might conclude I am holding my own so far.

I would respond that I still have no firm idea what works and what doesn't. I start each week with no real clue how to craft a few posts that a reader will care enough about to react to or leave a comment. I have written something I could have sworn would generate lots of feedback and strong readership, only to see it bomb. Other times I have slapped something together and been knocked out of my chair by the instant reaction.

Even though finances and financial planning are very important to a satisfying retirement lifestyle, on this blog those topics seem to generate very little interest. There are hundreds of retirement blogs that focus exclusively on financial advice and planning so I have generally steered clear. But, I would have thought an occasional look at a financial subject would make this blog more well-rounded. Readership numbers say, not so much. There is one exception: articles about saving money or cutting out unnecessary expenses do seem to hit a positive chord. But, mention a 401k or long-term investment strategies and I lay a big egg.

There are thousands of excellent places on the Internet that specialize in simple living and downsizing. Yet, the posts I have written about those subjects tend to have a very strong, positive effect on readership. Again, I would never have guessed.

Posts about relationships also seem to be a powerful draw. Posts about losing a close friendship or smoothing over problems with adult children have generated lots of comments. Asking others for help or strengthening a marriage after retirement work well, too.

What does seem to work the best, regardless of the subject, is when I expose something personal about my retirement journey. I have had successes and I have had some colossal failures. It doesn't seem to matter-either one will get a response if I personalize the story.

Honestly, this is not the approach I envisioned when I began last June. I really thought this would be a blog with practical advice about retirement. I would cover the major areas that someone thinks about and provide resources and tips. Personal opinions and my own story would take second place to simply being a non-financially oriented resource. That has not happened. This blog has become much closer to a diary of my experiences, my thoughts, and my advice after a decade of retirement.

So, back to my original point: I struggle each time I sit in front of the keyboard trying to decide what to cover, and how much of me the reader really wants me to reveal.

A saner person might find another way to occupy his time. After all, blogging is time consuming and costs some money. There are literally millions of blogs vying for attention.  Some of the best bloggers have very few readers while many that post stale "eat your vegetables" advice are prospering.

My point in sharing this internal struggle with you is to let you in on a little secret: Each post on this blog will be an adventure for us all. I don't know for sure what to write about but I keep writing. You could help by letting me know, in a gentle way if possible, when a subject is on target and when I've missed by a mile.

In the meantime I'll keep writing and blogging, until something better comes along.

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