August 27, 2012

The New Retirement Go-To Web Site

A few months ago PBS launched an ambitious effort to connect with Baby Boomers and those approaching retirement age. The web site, promised to be a place where folks could receive and share information on all aspects of building a satisfying retirement.

The editor of the Money & Security and the Work & Purpose channels is Richard Eisenberg. Coming from previous positions with Yahoo, Good Housekeeping and Money Magazine among others, Richard joined PBS in November 2011 to begin work on this project. In May Richard contacted me to write articles for his section of the site. I thought now would be a good time to contact Richard, and ask how things are going so far.

*Richard, welcome. What prompted PBS to develop Five years in the making, Next Avenue is a new national public media website launched by PBS stations across America. It is focused on America’s growing 50+ population.  Next Avenue was developed in response to the unprecedented age boom occurring in America. The site has the potential to engage, inspire and inform the more than 100 million people who are transitioning into what many see as a new life stage in human development – a stage between young adulthood and “old old.”

Next Avenue was conceived and developed by Twin Cities Public Television (tpt), in St. Paul, Minnesota, under the leadership of its President and CEO Jim Pagliarini; former PBS executive Judy Diaz, who serves as Next Avenue’s president; and Donna Sapolin, who is the site’s vice president and editorial director.

*How is Next Avenue different from other sources of retirement information available on the Internet? is a rich and comprehensive resource that offers the best information about topics and issues important to the people in this new life stage. Next Avenue provides critical information and perspectives with articles and blogs written by staff journalists 
and expert contributors; curated content from government and non-profit agencies and commercial media sources; video from PBS stations and independent producers; and community discussions in which users connect and share stories.

*You have up and running since late May. What has been the marketplace’s response so far? The response has been enthusiastic and gratifying. We have received many compliments from readers on our Facebook site as well as positive stories about the site in the media.

Thanks, Richard. Like you, I believe NextAvenue has the potential of being an important one-stop site for those of us seeking to build a satisfying retirement. If you haven't spent much time exploring the site, let me give you a short overview.

There are six categories: Health & Well-Being, Money & Security, Work & Purpose, Living & Learning, Caregiving, and Video. In each are sub categories that include articles written about that subject, giving the reader a chance to join a discussion with others, and a toolbox to help set goals or learn even more about that topic.

I have found an absolute wealth of material in each of the categories. In fact, I look for topics and concerns that prove to be well-read as ideas for my own posts on Satisfying Retirement. If you haven't spent much time exploring, I urge you to head over when you have some time, hunt through all the categories, and see what you can find.

As retirement evolves from the "Sun City" image to a more active, productive, and individual journey I welcome sites like The more information we can share and explore the better off we are. 

For full disclosure I am being compensated by PBS for the material I write for their site.

August 24, 2012

3 Life-Altering Risky Choices

My satisfying retirement is settling into an end-of-summer slower routine. We have finished moving my dad into his assisted living apartment. My daughter, son-in-law and grandkids move into their new home over Labor Day weekend which will take some help from us, but no big deal. They have several friends to help. Betty and I are starting to get organized for our first ever RV trip in a little over a week. We will pick up the RV in Flagstaff and spend 9 days in the much cooler White Mountains, while Bailey the dog stays home with our other daughter.

Having a little extra time to think, I came up with an idea for this post that sounded like fun. I asked myself what are three big risks or life changes I could take in the near future. The answers had to be practical and possible; swimming across the English Channel was right out. I wanted to think of three things I could do that would really shake up my routine and life. Here is what I came up with:

1) Live in an RV for part of each year while traveling the country. Of course, if our time in Flagstaff isn't terribly enjoyable then this will drop from my list. But, in concept, what would my life be like if I was on the road for part of each year? What would it be like to travel back roads, stopping in small town or state parks for days or weeks at a time? Would we miss the familiarity of home, friends, family, and our daily schedule? Or would we find the uncertainty of what's around the next corner exciting and liberating?

Betty and I have talked about this very thing and think we'd like to try it for awhile. We listen to the stories that friends like Bill and Wendy Birnbaum tell us of their two month coast-to-coast trip in their RV. Tamara and Mike live in their RV for weeks at a time, now that both are retired, and love it. A couple I know lived full time in theirs for years.

2) Build a real business around the Satisfying Retirement brand. Blogging to me is mostly about fun and creativity. More than two years after starting all this I still enjoy the process, though I am giving some thought to taking a blogging sabbatical at some point down the road.

Satisfying Retirement is a phrase that this blog now "owns". A Google search will reference back to this blog almost exclusively.  The blog has been the reason behind my first book (with the second one well underway), magazine articles, the invitation to write for retirement books, being a paid contributor to a major PBS web site, and just recently, being contacted by a TV producer about a possible profile on national television sometime next year.

However I have not done much to turn that brand strength into income. Should I invest some of our savings in marketing, product development and speaking arrangements? Would it be wise to risk some of my retirement money to capitalize on the blog's status?  What would happen if I decided to turn satisfying retirement into a business? Am I ready to take on the full time commitment necessary to build a new business? If I did, my life would change in many ways.

3) Go back to school to get an advanced degree. I love to read and study. I thoroughly enjoy being around a college campus. I have toyed with the idea of going back to school to get a masters degree. What has stopped me are two major factors: cost and time.

The expenses would be substantial. With our close-to-the-vest style of retirement the money outlay would take a major bite out of our savings with no expectation of earning that money back. I would get a degree for the pure joy of study and the satisfaction of accomplishing the goal.

There is also the question of what would I want to study? The only subject that has popped into my head several times over the last few years is something involving religious studies or attending a seminary. Do I want to be a pastor? No. Then, why? I guess because my faith is important to me and the more I know the better I will be able to accept the unexplainable. It is a subject that requires a serious amount of deep thinking and writing. Could I learn Greek at my age? I have no idea. I guess that would be part of the risk.

So, there you have it. Three things I could conceivably do that would certainly alter a part of my satisfying retirement lifestyle. At the moment I am not rushing to any decision. But, it is good to consider possibilities and options, isn't it?

I must say I am having an absolutely fabulous time reading the answers the BRITW (best readers in the world) have submitted for the next book. It is giving me a tremendous insight into the state of retirement today...both the pluses and the drawbacks. Many responses talk about making changes in lifestyle and direction, taking some risks, and not settling.

What about you? What "risks" or changes in how you approach your daily life or retirement direction might be something you'd consider?  Give us your ideas. We are all open to shaking things up every now and then.

August 22, 2012

Simplify: Rubber Bands In The Drawer

For the past two weeks my wife and I have been going through all steps to move my dad from his independent living cottage to an assisted living apartment. For various reasons the time was right to make this move as well as sell his car and end his driving days. You can imagine it has not been the easiest few weeks, but as of Tuesday he is safely in his new home. 

At his age of 88 change in routine is tough. In fact, one of Betty's greatest fears is he will go back to his old home by mistake and get befuddled when the key no longer works. In taking him from a doctor appointment to his pharmacy last week, he became very confused as to the location of the drug store he had driven to for years. Because we left from a place different from his house he couldn't tell me how to find it. I finally did but a simple turn left -turn right difference was too much for him.

While we going through his belongings to figure out what would fit when moving from 1200 into 500 sq. feet I receieved another lesson in downsizing and simple living. It is so easy to allow little things to build up over time. Out-of-sight-out of mind.

This photo is a great example. Dad saved rubber bands...apparently for years. He doesn't use them, but habit says pull them off the newspaper and put them in a drawer. I got home and found...a drawer with hundreds of rubber bands! Like father, like son I guess.

In a hall closet we found at least half a dozen different back braces. I assume that when my mom lost her sight and needed a support for her lower back, dad just went to the store and bought one rather than check to see if there was already one in the house.

Home I go to discover four different knee braces, half a dozen elastic bandages, and two back supports. The excuse that they were in the back of a cabinet I never stoop down to look at isn't good enough.

As we continued to work through his cottage we found at least 3 years worth of sheet music from his church choir and 15 paperback books from the library that hadn't been returned. Since he no longer sings in that organization or goes to that library branch one full drawer became clean.

Another drawer held at least 10 years worth of expense journals. He had maintained records of every utility bill, vacation expense, magazine subscription, and credit card charge. That kind of financial awareness is one of the most important lessons I learned from him. But, at some point, the written records can go. Monday was the day.

As we continued through the downsizing process he decided his days of ironing are over.  The two rather battered and well-traveled suitcases will never be used again, either. Out they went. Since he will be eating two meals a day at one of the center's dining choices, the stacks of day-to-day plates, cups, and silverware could be reduced. All of the fancy serving platters in the dining room hutch would never be needed. In fact, all the dining room furniture could be sold since the apartment had no large dining area.

After having him decide which pieces of furniture, wall hangings, paintings and knick-knacks he'd like to keep, we made arrangements for someone to sell everything else or donate the leftovers to a local charity. He will be surrounded by what is important to him; the furniture that was just taking up space in the cottage will find a new home.

As we went through all of this, I was reminded again how little most of us need to feel comfortable. It is much too easy to have stuff pile up around us, even after it's importance and usefulness to us is over. I am in the midst of reading Sonia Marsh's new book, Freeways to Flip-Flops. She relates the story of moving her family from a large home in Southern California to a hut in Belize. All of the "stuff" that filled their home and life in the U.S. was left behind. Instead she and her family filled their life with memories and experiences.

Moving my dad from a cottage to an apartment won't be quite as dramatic. But, the lesson is still there: being surrounded by unused stuff doesn't add to the the quality of one's life or happiness. After all, it is just stuff.

August 20, 2012

Tuning Up

Music has been an important part of my life. I played piano and clarinet as a youngster. Then, my career in radio meant music 24/7 for almost 35 years. If you are ever in a trivia contest about hits from the 60s-80's call me. I can name that song in 3 notes.

But, somewhere along the way, well before my satisfying retirement started, I stopped making music. Playing records and hanging out with artists was fun, but wasn't particularly creative. Playing a 45 single on the radio isn't quite the same as playing the song. So, a few years ago I picked up a used acoustic guitar and started teaching myself the basics. I was able to play Christmas songs for the grandkids and a few Beatle tunes for my own enjoyment. But, I'd always get to a certain point and stall. I couldn't figure out things like finger picking or second position on my own.

I finally decided I should take some lessons to get me over the hump. Reader Chuck shared how much taking some lessons did for him; he now plays in an oldies group on weekends. That isn't my goal, but getting past my personal roadblock is.

I think this is correct for the D chord
So, a few weeks ago I started taking once-a-week lessons. My teacher, Kurt, is probably 25 years my junior, but patient and supportive. While teaching myself I developed some bad habits that I need to lose. My 63 year old fingers and tendons are rebelling against the stretching needed for certain chords. I have to look at chord charts more often than I think I should. When playing the melody I mistake the 4th string for the 3rd string much too often.

But, I persevere. My goals are modest: play well enough for personal enjoyment. If a family gathering would benefit from my version of Yesterday, then I should be able to comply but I am really playing for me. Unlike previous attempts, though, I am not comfortable getting to a certain point and stopping any growth. I will likely take lessons for two months and then stop for awhile to get a solid grip on what I have learned. At that point I hope I have the self discipline to take another month or two of instruction to push me to the next level.

It is true: when you pay someone for lessons the amount of practice time increases and the desire to not embarrass yourself is real. Having Kurt check me out every Wednesday afternoon and give me a new challenge for the next lesson is keeping me near the guitar. My finger callouses are coming back.

My parting words for you: take on a new or abandoned creative challenge as part of building your satisfying retirement. No matter how full you think your days are, or how overflowing your calendar seems to be, a creative outlet really needs to be part of your life. Guitar playing may not interest you. So, how about writing, journaling, sketching, or painting? Can you build a bookcase or end table? Can you take some wood and make colorful birdhouses? Do you sew quilts? Can you re-decorate a room to make you happy? Can you help your grandkids learn the basics of budgeting?

Creativity is a word that covers virtually anything you do during the day. The exciting part is finding a new or better way. The important part is keeping your mind active and yourself challenged.

Now, if I can just finger the F chord properly......

August 12, 2012

Were Our Parents On to Something?

A walk in the country; not a video game in sight

As we navigate our satisfying retirement journey we are living through the effects of The Great Recession. To us, it has been pretty bad. Our parents and grandparents lived through the Great Depression. That was a serious kick in the financial head. Even with our relatively high unemployment and anemic growth, I don't see many people selling apples on the street corners or broke businessmen leaping from tall buildings. Frayed as it may be, we do have a safety net to help the most destitute among us.

I was thinking about stories my dad has told me about being a young teen during the 1930's and how tight everything really was: a chicken for dinner as a special treat a few times a year, having to hunt rabbits and deer for many meals, fruit as a special is hard for us to imagine. If we could, maybe there would be a little less complaining about how "bad" things are now.

In any case, I was hunting around the Internet for approaches to life that folks used to help them through the depression and phrases or idioms to describe their experiences. That brought to mind some of those expressions  that might help us today. See if any of these resonate with you:

Waste Not, Want Not. The terms minimalist or voluntary simplicity didn't exit. Many people were living that lifestyle, though not necessarily by choice. But, they did learn to make the most of everything they had. Things were used up, re-purposed, or done without.

Today the average American family throws away $1,600 of food every year - food that sits unused in a refrigerator or on a shelf until it is no longer edible. I know how easy this is: Betty and I throw away $10-$15 worth of produce each week. We have plans to use everything, then something changes and we end up tossing stuff before shopping again. It galls me and we are better than we used to be. But still.....

Pull Yourself Up by Your own Bootstraps and Keep your Nose to the Grindstone. These phrases speaks to personal responsibility. Obviously, there are situations when outside help is needed. Hopefully we are still a society that takes care of those that need aid. But, during the GD, those who could did what they had to do to provide for their families and themselves. They found a way. They worked several jobs. My dad raised vegetables to sell and peddled magazine subscriptions door-to-door to raise money for college. People sold their own furniture or crafts they had created. In many respects we have lost some of this attitude. Too often we hear, "They did it," or "I don't want to work that hard."

A penny saved is a penny earned. This idiom would have to be updated a bit. Countries, including Canada, have plans to eliminate the penny because it costs more to produce one than it is worth. In the U.S. it costs 2.4 cents to produce a 1 cent coin.

But, the point is clear: what you don't spend you have saved. Contrary to the advertisements that claim "the more you spend the more you save," not spending is the best savings plan there is. Our parents and grandparents understood the difference between a want and a need. Too often, today we think those words mean the same thing.

Don't borrow or lend. This is another phrase that would have to be adjusted. It is quite difficult to be part of our society without borrowing money for housing or cars, educations, or even health care emergencies. But, like the "penny saved" idea, borrowing to go on vacation or for the 70" TV is just plain silly. And, we all have heard horror stories of those who lent money to a friend and never saw either again.

Keep your nose out of other's business. Obviously, this was well before the media and people became obsessed with the lives of the "rich and famous." Do we really need to know who will get custody of Tom Cruise's daughter? Is it right to gossip about others' misfortunes? Is your life any better by knowing who the Bachelorette chose?

Don't Cry Over Split Milk. The past is past. Complaining or looking for someone to blame doesn't solve a problem or provide a solution. Correct what you can, repair the damage to the best of your abilities, change your attitude and move on. We spend much too much time and energy rehashing what went wrong or who messed up. It is better to analyze what went wrong and try to prevent it from happening again. Then, move on. Your satisfying retirement requires it.

I am quite sure no one wants to re-live the Great Depression type lifestyle. But, like all of history, there are lessons to be learned. Some can come from simple phrases or idioms, like those above. Can you remember any from your parents or grandparents that I missed?

August 10, 2012

Prison Ministry: On The Road Again

My passion for prison ministry volunteer work has been documented several times on Satisfying Retirement  as well as in a few books. Most recently, in his new book, Are You Just Existing And Calling It a Life, Dave Bernard relayed how my interest in this type of volunteering began.

courtsey Libery Movement
I am surprised and gratified that readers and others respond so strongly to this involvement. Working inside prisons and with recently released fellows who are on parole and struggling to craft a new life is satisfying in a way that I could not have imagined before breaking out of the box that kept me from trying something new.

Last week I stared the process again as a mentor to a man who was released from prison after serving nearly 3 years. Because it is several hours away, I drove to the town near the prison the night before his release so I could get a good night's sleep. I was to be at the prison gates by 7:30AM the next morning. Because of prison paperwork, the fellow wasn't able to walk out of the gate until after 9:00AM so I sat and waited.

For the guy I was picking up, his day began hours earlier. He said he woke up at 4:00AM, nervous and anxious to get on with his life. He was given a set of clothing that was several sizes too big, but at least no longer an orange jumpsuit; he was happy. All his possessions fit in one box. After almost three years he left with less than $65 to start a new life.

By the time he came out of the gate, both he and I were ready to get on the road. My first question: are you hungry? My experience is there is too much excitement and nervousness to want to eat immediately. He fit the profile. We drove a little over an hour before he was ready for breakfast. Because prisoners make very few decisions, consulting a menu is often a daunting task. They can be overwhelmed with all the options. My mentee, however, knew exactly what he wanted: steak and eggs. When the food arrived he gave small moans of pleasure over the taste of meat, fresh eggs, and good coffee. It was fun to watch him enjoy something so much that most of us take for granted.

Another three hours of driving put us back in Phoenix where his first stop was the parole office to check in and begin fill out more paperwork. Then, we stopped by the main office of Alongside Ministries so he could meet the staff and be welcomed home. Next was a trip to the thrift store run by the ministry to get him several sets of clothing to supplement all he owned: one set of poor-fitting clothes he left the prison in.

Finally, I took him to his new home for the next six months, a complex of apartments also run by the ministry. He will attend daily classes on re-entering society, staying strong in his faith, financial basics, and being a Christan man. Church services and time to bond with the other men who live at the complex will also fill his calendar.

After a day or so of experiencing the feeing of freedom will come one of his biggest challenges: finding a job. Even during a strong economy, ex-cons have a tough time becoming employed. Unfortunately, most of society takes the view that once a felon, always a felon. There is rarely much in the way of forgiveness or giving someone a fresh start. Is it surprising so many released people (men and women) end up back behind bars? With few people hiring them, and even fewer willing to rent an apartment to them, we make it almost impossible for someone to stay on the right path. Luckily for my mentee, Alongside Ministries is a safe haven from that type of negative stereotyping. They also maintain a list of employers willing to take a chance on someone. But, believe me, that is rare indeed.

My role as his mentor is to help him stay focused on his goals, give him love and support, and help him develop good decision-making skills. I am not his daddy and not his parole officer. As long as it isn't something illegal or that breaks the policies of Alongside, if he decides to make what I consider a less-than-ideal choice I cannot (and would not) prevent him from doing so.
Like the rest of us, he will learn from experience about consequences and short-term versus long-term choices.

We will talk on the phone several times a week and spend an hour or so together at least once a week. Those sessions are designed to allow him to work through problems and choices with me, share frustrations and joys, read the Bible together, and let him know there are people who do want him to succeed.

Like most men I meet through this program, this fellow had a rough childhood, made terrible choices involving drugs, lost his family, and sealed his short term fate. Now, he is already making steps to re-establish strong relationships with his kids, ready to move on from a toxic marriage, and become an example of what God's love can do in a human life.

When I get tired and burned out from the travel and commitments of time and energy I remind myself what I am able to witness: a human life that was relegated to the trashcan, being turned around and put on a productive path.

There is nothing I could do with my time that has a better payoff.

prison in our rear view mirror


August 7, 2012

Successful Blogging & A Satisfying Retirement

A while back I read a guest post on someone's blog by Michael Chibuzor, a professional writer who specializes in content and marketing issues. His article listed several requirements for a successful blog. As I thought about each one, it seemed obvious that most of them also apply to building a satisfying retirement. I have taken some of his points and re-worked them to fit our needs:

(1). Support Your Passion. Fellow blogger Dave Bernard has just finished an excellent book on building a life around your passions. I have written about the subject quite a bit, too. Both Dave and I agree that a life without something that excites you and allows you to live fully is an unfulfilled life. Your passions are needed to motivate and stimulate you. You can't produce a lasting blog or have a happy retirement without passion.

(2). Content Is Still King (What You Stand For Matters). Retirement should have no effect on what makes you who you are. Your ethics and morals, how you view the world, your commitment to others, and your compassion are your content. Just like a blogger succeeds or fails based on the quality of his or her writing, your retired life will become something you can be proud of based on the values you adhere to. Your "yes" must mean "yes" and your promise must be dependable.

(3). Stay Relevant. The "good old days" are gone. Refusing to adapt to how the world is evolving will give you nothing but ulcers. This includes much more than accepting on-line bill paying or that many people don't write letters anymore. It means more than learning to text so you can communicate with a grandchild. It means being open enough to question assumptions or "facts" that may no longer work. It means being at least willing to try new technology or not dismissing those who do.

(4). Build A Strong Network of Friends and Contacts. This is what bloggers do all the time. My recent trip to see blogging friends in Oregon is an example. But, even if you never write a word on the Internet or anywhere else for that matter, a strong network of friends is a crucial part of a satisfying retirement. If you have been lax in this area before retirement, now is the time to make it a priority.

(5). Build An Email List (Stay in Touch With Others). After building that network of contacts (friends and acquaintances) take the next step: stay in regular contact. Call on the phone, write a real letter, even send e-mails with attachments of something you believe the other person will enjoy. Pay that person a visit. Solid relationships benefit from "pressing the flesh."

(6). Guest Posting is Mandatory (Share What You Know With Others). A blogger will guest post to expose his writing to a wider audience and to position him or herself as knowledgeable in a certain subject. That post is sharing something with others. In retirement, I am a firm believer in volunteering, mentoring, or somehow giving back to others who can benefit from your knowledge or time. Whatever you have to give, share it.

(7). Explore Your Business (Keep Growing and Improving At What You Do). Whatever you do will cease to satisfy if you are not looking for ways to learn more or improve what you are doing. Playing a guitar, building bookcases, planting vegetables, writing a weekly column for the local paper, running a day care center, being a really doesn't matter. Like a shark, we must keep moving forward.

(8). Take Action Everyday (Don't Coast Through Life..Be Proactive). Following the point above, study and contemplation are important activities. Rushing about without a plan or goals will usually waste energy and time. But, just is bad is to study and think about something, but never actually do anything about it. It is OK to go back to school...just don't live there.

There are other aspects of blogging that I could have tried to tie to a satisfying retirement like SEO (search engine optimization), freshening content, re-writing older posts, and allowing comments. But, I've made the point. Connections from one part of our life to another are common. We just have to look for them.

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