February 27, 2013

Where Do I Go From Here?

Blogging is an interesting endeavor. For some it is a job. There is the need to generate income on a regular basis, rank near the top during a Google search for your topic or niche, be very active in social media, and constantly educate yourself on the latest trends in the field. These are professional bloggers.

For others blogging is a hobby, a creative outlet. If only a few people ever read and comment on what is written that is OK because the goal is personal expression and satisfaction. If others come along for the ride, great. If they don't it isn't a big deal.

Then there are those who dedicate a fair amount of time to researching, writing, and promoting their site. They write for personal reasons but also work to build traffic and maybe generate a little income, enough to cover some expenses. They have enough ego involved to want to generate increasing levels of traffic and recognition. They don't get as deeply into keyword research, link building, and many of the tricks that professionals use but more so than someone who blogs just for purely personal reasons. Let's call them semi-professional bloggers.

This last group is the one I believe I belong to. My writing is an important creative outlet for me. I spend at least three hours a day, sometimes more, doing something blog-related. My writing for other web sites, book sales, Amazon Affiliate checks, and an occasional ad on the blog itself generate some money each year. It is enough to cover expenses, pay for a new computer and printer ink, but is not a significant source of satisfying retirement income. That is OK because I am not willing to turn blogging into a job.

I just passed a significant milestone a few days ago, at least for me: over 500,000 total views. Having half a million clicks is small change for the professional bloggers but I think is good for a semi-pro in a rather narrow niche. 

Which brings me, at last, to the point of this post. I have been writing about building and living a satisfying retirement for almost three years. I think I have covered virtually every topic and concern several times over. Unlike the majority of retirement-oriented bloggers I don't spend time dealing with in-depth financial issues. Too many others cover that subject much better than I could. Also, I believe a successful retirement requires much more than just financial issues. I attempt to cover all parts of what makes this stage of life happy and fulfilling.

So, here's my question to you: where do I go from here? Good friend and fellow blogger, Barbara Torris, recently decided to stop writing exclusively about retirement. She has been in this niche a lot longer than me and began to feel the same way: What else is there to say that doesn't bore me and my readers?

I have no plans to abandon the satisfying retirement niche that I have worked hard to establish. Since retirement is a time of constant change and evolution I can continue to find things to write about.

But, I'd also like to expand my topic selection a bit. Obviously, with the new RV and the number of trips Betty and I have planned for the next several years I will have all sorts of opportunities to write about those adventures. Betty's photographs and our adjustments with Bailey, our dog, adapting to weeks on the road will give me all sorts of ideas. Too much emphasis on that, however, will take me out of the retirement niche and into the RV universe. If a reader isn't interested in RV travel then a little goes a long way.

Over the past year or so some of my writing has been a bit more personal. The response to those posts is usually good. One problem is I had a happy childhood in a two-parent household with no major traumas or events and a very happy 36 year marriage so I don't have a lot of angst to expose.

I have touched on my spirituality and its role in my happy retirement. But, a little of that can go a long way, too. Much like the RV posts, my spiritual development is really only interesting to some people. Others will be driven away.

So, I would appreciate you putting on your thinking caps and giving me some ideas on topics and subjects you think I might be able to write about and you'd like to read. Importantly, they don't have to be restricted to retirement.

Would you find movie reviews interesting, where to find streaming movies on the Internet, maybe more book reviews? How about a discussion of home maintenance or financial record keeping?  Any issues concerning marriages or grandkids?

How about something that interests or concerns you that has nothing to do with retirement directly, but is more related to having a satisfying life? Maybe lists of great blogs in other subjects?

OK...fire away. What can I write about that would keep you coming back and keep me blogging away?

February 25, 2013

Pay It Forward

The movie, Pay it Forward, was a minor hit in 2000. It starred Kevin Spacey, Haley Joel Osmet, and Helen Hunt. I felt the movie's message of doing good deeds for others was seriously diminished by the death of Haley's character and the darkness of the movie as it careened to an ending. But, the acting was excellent. If you don't remember this flick, here's the trailer:

So, why am I bringing this movie up on a blog about retirement? Simple: a reader made a reference to her looking for ways to pay it forward as she begins her satisfying retirement. A little different from the usual approach to volunteering, she suggested that younger retirees look for ways to help older retirees. I thought that was a very important comment. Why? Because we tend to think of retirees as a homogeneous type of person. Someone who is retired is just like anyone else in that category.
But, that is obviously not true. Someone who has been retired for a few years, or retired at a younger age than most is very different from someone a decade or two older. The needs, interests, and requirements are just as different as those of a 25 year old and a 45 year old. She got me thinking of ways to pay it forward in this specific case. What could younger retirees do to come to the aid of their seniors?
There isn't room on this post to list all the possibilities, but consider these examples:
*Help set up a computer so he or she can use it to communicate with family and friends by e-mail or Skype.
*Help with basic financial bookkeeping or organizing files.
*Drive to appointments or shopping trips.
*Become a surrogate family member or friend to someone who is widowed or lives alone.
 *Help sort through photographs or write down family stories.
And, to expand on her idea, an older retiree can certainly help someone newly retired in all sorts of ways:
*Help him or her understand Social Security or all the decisions involved in beginning Medicare coverage. 
* Support someone during the initial transition from employment to retirement with encouragement and practical tips.
*Share your experiences in finding how best to use your time and find your passion.
*Act as a surrogate grandparent to a grown child of a retiree who needs someone other than a parent to talk to.
The reader's comment and what it suggests are very important. I believe most of society thinks of retirees in a certain stereotypical way - certainly in terms of our needs and interests. We are all alike.
But, that is simply not true. When retirement is seen as another phase of life instead of the last gasp of a life, it becomes obvious that the wishes and requirements are different depending on the age of the retiree. Helping those older or younger than we are to navigate that journey can be a tremendous use of our knowledge, wisdom, experience, and time.
It is a tremendous way to Pay it Forward.

February 22, 2013

A Burst of Mind Energy

Maybe it was reading The Wisdom Paradox and realizing my mind actually has a very bright future as I approach the anniversary of the 12th year of my satisfying retirement. Maybe it was beginning to plan for our month long RV trip in April. Maybe it was my just completed physical that says I have no health issues to worry about (at least for now).

Whatever, I suddenly had a burst of energy to do new things. First was to order a CD course on "How to Listen to and Understand Great Music. While I have been involved in music in some form or another most of my life, my listening and understanding has been on a casual level. I wanted to be able to listen to a piece of classical music and understand how and why it was composed.This course puts the music in context with the historical and social events happening at the same time.

The material is from a company that has a catalog of over 400 courses on both DVD and CD in virtually any subject you can imagine. The choices range from Essentials of Strength Training,to Calculus, Appreciating Wines to the Lost Art of Storytelling, Turning Points in Modern History to Comparative Religions.

The typical course has 30-40 lectures that last around 45 minutes each. For example, The Great Music course I purchased has 48 lectures, or a total of 36 hours of material plus a book that recaps the key points of each lecture. The fellow presenting the material really knows his stuff, but is also a bit of a frustrated actor. He puts a tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm into his subject, all while clearly explaining rather complicated details of music construction, like fundamental frequencies, polyphony, or melisma.

I try to set aside 45 minutes a few times a week to listen to the next lecture in the series. Some of the information is detailed enough I have found it better if I listen to the material and then repeat the same CD the next day. The idea is to understand and internalize what I am hearing, not to just get to the end of the course.

So while that is underway I suddenly woke up from a Monday afternoon nap and decided I would like to freshen the look of this blog. I had thought about the need before, but this time I actually spent a few hours playing with the template and the various elements of the design. After running the new look past Betty I set it up to go live in a few hours. So far, I am pleased and comments indicate most of you are too. I wanted something a bit bolder and cleaner than the previous appearance. After 30+ months it was time for a change.

Now I'm cooking. I pull out the catalog from the company that sent me the Understand Music course and found two more that caught my eye: The Symphonies of Beethoven  and Turning Points in Modern HistoryOut comes the credit card and I click to order these new courses.

Next up I set up a schedule to re-write an Arizona travel book I self-published two years ago (with a total press run of 12...family only!). With the new RV available, revisiting the places in the book to freshen the photographs and write ups will be fun and give me an excuse to hit the road. Betty is itching to take new photos to replace some of those she wasn't happy with in the original book.

Finally, I rededicate myself to finishing the Satisfying Retirement book that I wrote about in the post, An Apology. I have about 20% of the editing left to do. Then comes finding a company to design the book cover and convert the Word document to the format that Kindle requires. As I read through the answers to the questions that were submitted by over 50 of you folks, I am anxious to get this information in your hands. There is good stuff in here.

Whew...that is enough for now. It is time to stop and listen to the next lecture on the Fugue and its importance to Baroque music. Trust me, it is much more interesting than it sounds.

Retirement and a mind that is still kicking and growing....you have to love it.

February 20, 2013

Blogging Buddies in Tucson

Last summer Betty and I vacationed in Portland for two reasons: it is an exciting city with great weather compared to Phoenix in July. But, more importantly, we wanted to meet several people in person who had become blogging friends. Our time spent with Galen Pearl, of 10 Steps To Finding Your Happy Place, Barbara Torris who authors, Retire in Style Blog+, and Bill Birnbaum whose blog, Adventure Retirement, has taken a hiatus, was tremendous. We instantly fell in love with them as friends. Along with Earl Torris and Wendy Birnbaum we felt so comfortable in their presence we will be spending most of our satisfying retirement next August back in Oregon.

When the chance came to expand that type of contact came along, I jumped at the opportunity. Barbara and Earl Torris have owned a winter escape home in the Tucson area for a dozen years. Since that is only two hours from us in Scottsdale, we made arrangements to get together this winter, to renew and strengthen the friendship we started last July in Portland.

But, then things got even more interesting. Linda Myers's blog claims she is A Bag Lady in Waiting. She and her husband, Art, live in the Seattle area. This year Linda and Art decided a few months of southern Arizona sunshine would be a nice break from the winter time clouds and gloom of a Pacific Northwest winter. So, they rented a place at a huge RV resort just outside Tucson.

Suddenly, I had two blogging friends living within 10 minutes of each other and just a few hours down the Interstate. Here was the perfect chance to see Barbara and Earl again while meeting a new couple, Linda and Art.

Arrangements were made for a time to meet and talk with Linda and Art, hook up with Barbara and Earl, share a meal together, and add a few more people to my expanding circle of blogging buddies.

We already knew and loved Barbara and Earl. How would things go with Linda and Art? This past Monday Betty and I made the easy trip to Tucson to see what would develop. I can report a total success. Linda is an absolute ball of enthusiasm and energy. She is loving her time in Tucson in the sunshine, and has every intention of returning next year. She is inquisitive and so easy to talk to.

We chatted with Art about his powerful book, Return to Viet Nam. It details his journey back to Vietnam in 2005 to deal with his memories from his time in 1968 when he was stationed at Da Nang. He and Linda gave us the full tour of the resort. We even learned about Pickle ball.

Art and Linda, Betty, Barbara, Me, and Earl
A quick trip up the road and we arrived at Barbara and Earl's part time home. Earl was busy building a deck out front when we pulled up in front of their home. Frankly, I think he was happy to put down hammer and nails for a lunch break! 

The six of us drove to a neighborhood Mexican restaurant for big plates of chimichangas, Taco salads, enchiladas and blogging talk: how long will you keep blogging, what do you do about spammers, how do you make money....all the normal stuff bloggers talk about.

All of us seemed to instantly hit it off. When it was time for Betty and me to head home to make another appointment we felt we had made a great start on a solid relationship with Linda and Art, were reminded of why we like Barbara and Earl so much, and were pleased that we had taken the time and effort to connect with these fine folks.

If I have learned one lesson during my satisfying retirement journey it is to take a risk every now and again, especially with people. I kick myself for all the friendships and enriching personalities I overlooked in years gone bye because I didn't make the effort. 

I refuse to do that again.

February 18, 2013

7 Deadly Sins (No, Not Those Sins)

You are aware of what are known as the seven deadly sins:
  • Pride
  • Envy
  • Gluttony
  • Lust
  • Anger
  • Greed
  • Sloth
Jimmy Buffett adds an eighth one: Pizza, but that isn't really official.

No, this post isn't about avoiding these pitfalls. It is a brief review of a clever new book, The 7 Deadly Retirement Sins, by financial planner, Ryan Zacharczyk. He covers the biggest mistakes folks tend to make while planning for a satisfying retirement, but in a unique way. He has created a fictional character who interviews 35 retirees and uncovers the seven common mistakes that these folks made.

Samantha, known throughout the book as Sam, is as freelance writer who has an aunt facing the loss of her house due to poor money management. Desperate to help her, Sam sinks all of her financial resources into a cross country trip to visit and interview nearly three dozen retired people who tell her about the mistakes they have made. Sam's desire is to find some answers that will help her Aunt Cindy while turning the information she finds into a series of articles. The book traces her journey of discovery that leads her to an important decision: there are really only seven key financial mistakes that we make over and over again.

In an unexpected twist at the end, Sam's articles are so well received she is able to turn them into a book and establish a fund that gives money back to the interviewees who made it all possible.

The 7 Deadly Retirement Sins is an easy read but contains a strong restatement of what we all need to know for our financial health. Of course, our financial health has a direct influence on our physical, emotional, and relationship health as well.

I enjoyed Ryan's writing style and his creation of a character who is memorable and believable, except in one aspect: she completes her transcontinental, three month journey, by train! In America, trying to travel around the country on any type of schedule and under any reasonable budget cannot be done with Amtrak. But, I like train travel so I suspended my rational mind and let her complete her journey.

What are the 7 deadly sins? I could suggest you buy and read the book, but in the interest of time saving let me give you a sneak peak. Here are the common sins Sam "discovers:"

1. Retiring too early & living above your means
2. Allocated your assets improperly
3. Collecting Social Security at the wrong time
4. Working with the wrong (or no) advisor
5. Paying too much in fees and expenses
6. Trying to time the market
7. Lack of insurance to protect against a major health event

The author is a financial advisor so #4 is no great surprise. But, I was pleased that he kept any strong "sell" for what he does and its importance well in check. He lets the stories of each retiree make his point.

The book is available on-line between $12 and $16 in paperback and $8 for an electronic version. For more information visit Amazon or  7sinsbook.com

I enjoyed this book and can recommend it as a helpful reminder of steps we all should consider as we plan for our satisfying retirement. As the author states at the end of the story, "Retirement is not about money. Retirement is about freedom, exploration, and your ability to enrich your life, as well as the lives of those around you."


Note: I received no compensation for this review beyond a free copy of the book.

February 15, 2013

Health Care Costs Revisted

Two years ago I wrote about the tremendous inflation in health care costs in the post,  How am I supposed to Pay For This?  At that point I seriously wondered how I'd be able to pay the huge in rate hikes every year for Betty and me until I was old enough for Medicare. The health insurance industry seemed to have a rather twisted business model: drive away almost all your customers while trying to keep only the healthy ones who could afford the highway robbery rates. Is this what we are facing during our satisfying retirement?

Since that post was written there has been a lot going on, some of it good but most still confusing and potentially hurtful. So-called Obamacare became law about one year prior to my article. I have no interest in debating the political aspects of the law. Since the most important parts still haven't taken effect and won't for almost another year I do want to look at a few of the changes that are looming ahead of us.

After the Supreme Court ruling allowed the major parts of the law to proceed, states, insurers, and companies are scrambling to get ready. One of the key elements is that insurers will have to offer a policy to anyone who wants one, regardless of their health. The insurers will not be allowed to charge more in premiums to someone who has an expensive medical conditions. State or government-run "exchanges" will make policies available to those who cannot afford a private policy. Since these exchanges have yet to be set up no one really knows what the final costs might be for individuals and companies that continue to offer health coverage.

From personal experience I do know that the individual policies that Betty and I carry have increased at close to 17% per year since the bill first passed Congress. I would guess they are attempting to build up their cash reserves before unhealthy people can buy their product. These companies face another huge change in their approach. After years of treating the individual market as an annoyance, the law now forces them to actually pay attention to the individual buyer

Of course, once I reach 65 in 2014 I am all that interested in a standard health insurance product in any case. I will be in the market for a supplemental policy to help with the 20% Medicare doesn't cover, plus the various deductibles and the "donut hole for drug coverage."

A good friend sent me a large packet of information that her small business must understand in their response to the various mandates and directives. I don't envy her or any business owner the tasks of complying with all the new rules. I read through the Power Point slides she sent and became confused after the 20th one...with 49 more to go! While there are too many unknowns yet to make a definitive statement, I am willing to bet that many small businesses will face substantial increases if they want to continue to offer coverage, penalties if they figure incorrectly, or they may choose to simply stop offering coverage and let the individual purchase coverage through the private offerings or the government exchanges.

With that fresh introduction, here are portions of the original post that continue to resonate with most of us.

Costs Are Insane

My wife and I have been in the individual health insurance market for 32 of our almost 37 years of marriage. Today, just paying the premiums on policies with very high deductibles and no drug coverage consumes 25%  of our gross income each year. Even with me covered by Medicare in 1 more year, by the time my wife is old enough for coverage I expect we'll be forking over closer to 35%.

A simple 2 or 3 day stay in a hospital costs more than $20,000. The average hospital stay in this country is 5 days and the cost is $44,000. Two years before she died my Mom broke her leg. The cost was $110,000. Medicare and her supplemental policy paid all but $1,000 after the bill was cut by more than 70%.Note I said she broke her leg...she didn't have a heart transplant or anything fancy. Just a broken bone that we probably all have had at least once while growing up.

Those numbers make no rational sense. The entire system is based on the premise that those without insurance pay more than those with coverage. Hospitals agree to provide certain services and costs paid for by an insurance company at an extreme discount and then make their profit on hugely inflated charges that you have to pay. At the same time they are required by law to treat anyone who walks into their ER, regardless of that person's ability to pay.

We all have to take responsibility for keeping as much of our money out of the pockets of doctors, hospitals and insurance companies. Exercise, eating well, keeping stress low, and so on are steps every one of must and can take to prevent financial ruin from a preventable health issue. 

Your Turn To Help Us All

My questions for you, though, are more basic. Since we are all in this together maybe we can learn from each other. Maybe you have discovered a way to get decent health care without filing for bankruptcy. Maybe you have a horror story about costs or health care problems you want to scream about from the rooftop. How exactly do you cover your health care costs?

One favor: please avoid blaming a political party, president, or policy. While there is plenty of blame to go around and this problem has been festering for years, that is not my goal with this post. I hope we can help each other by comparing our situations.

Look at each of these scenarios. Which one describes you? Please answer one or more of the questions under that heading. You can leave your comment anonymously if you'd like. But, I really hope we can get a dialog going about this issue and share strategies.

If you are covered by Medicare:
  • Do you have supplemental coverage?
  • Do you purchase Part D?
  • Do you use an Advantage policy instead?
  • Are you worried about restrictions on what is covered?
If you are in the individual market (insurance not provided by work or government):
  • How rapidly are your premiums increasing each year?
  • What benefits or costs have increased while the policy gets more expensive?
  • Are you afraid your insurance company will stop covering individuals?

If you are covered through work or a pension:
  • Has coverage changed since you left work?
  • Have your costs gone up?
  • Are you worried your company may eliminate health coverage?

If you have no insurance (like 47 million of us):
  • Are you skipping medical tests, procedures, and pills due to cost?
  • What would you do if hit with a major medical expense?
  • Do you use the emergency room for treatment of non-emergencies?

In all fairness to the insurers and others involved in providing care, there are an increasing number of studies that show we, as Americans, are not helping this situation with our refusal to change how and where we live. Dr. Richard Johnson, of UCLA Medical School and host of several PBS shows says:

"The CDC monitors the health of Americans over time using portable clinics to visit and examine a solid sample of the American people. This article in JAMA Internal Medicine due out Monday validates what primary care clinicians already know: Americans are unwell and rapidly becoming sicker, and “care as usual” is failing clinically and financially. In less than one generation, comparable groups of middle aged Americans (ages 46-64) have gone from 32% saying they are “in excellent health” down to 13%. The portion needing canes and wheelchairs has doubled, and over half of us get no physical activity, up from 17% since 1990.

The patient, the United States, is getting sicker and the usual medical treatments are failing. It is time to step back to make a better diagnosis—what is the underlying disease? I suggest that in the US we have created isolating environments, high in calories and low in walking and physical activity. Every doctor knows what does not work: merely telling patients to eat less and move more. It is time to create environments, physical and social, educational and commercial, that promote health, not disease. Sometimes in medicine we need to watch and wait, but with this epidemic for America, that time is long past."

We are very likely a large part of the problem. But, that doesn't change the reality of a health care system that has become unaffordable to many of us. 

I really am looking forward to lots of comments and lots of feedback. Be as open as you are comfortable being in explaining your situation and answering these questions. I can't think of a subject that affects a satisfying retirement any more than this.


February 12, 2013

A New Look...What Do You Think

Did I just get bored with the old look or was it past time to freshen the blog's layout? I wanted something a bit bolder and cleaner-looking.

Is this it?

I'm anxious for your feedback. I can easily switch back or do some fine-tuning. But, like almost everything in life after awhile if something remains unchanged it just begins to blend into the background.

For a blog that can spell problems.

So....tell me what you think of this look for Satisfying Retirement.

February 11, 2013

Work Burnout: How Do I Know if I'm Getting Toasty?

A few weeks ago a reader asked me to address the issue of work burnout and how it affects the decision to retire. In September 2011 I did take a look at the issue with the post,  How do you know when to retire. Many of the reasons listed were related to job dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

Since this subject is a very important one I decided it was time to take a fresh look. To retire just because you have had a rough stretch at work or you have a strong urge to chuck it all is usually not wise. Launching a satisfying retirement takes planning and is a process that should begin well before you accept your last paycheck.

At the same time, staying employed after your mental and physical well being begin to suffer is not wise either. I found several excellent web sites that might help you take a fresh look at your situation to determine if your problem requires action.

What are some of the signs that help you know it is time? The site, HelpGuide.org has a short list that may help you decide if you are on the road to burnout at work:

  • Every day is a bad day.
  • Caring about your work or seems like a total waste of energy.
  • You’re exhausted all the time.
  • The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either  dull or overwhelming.
  • You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated
  • At stress.about.com I found a burnout quiz. Answer the twenty questions and the results are summarized to help you determine if you are at risk for at work burnout. Scientific? No. Something I'd use to decide whether to retire or not? No. Helpful to look at your situation? Yes. Just by answering the questions you have the chance to think through your condition.

    The Mayo Clinic web site has an excellent review of the subject. For example, there is the suggestion to ask yourself these questions:

  • Have you become cynical or critical at work?
  • Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started once you arrive?
  • Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?
  • Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
  • Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
  • Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
  • Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
  • Have your sleep habits or appetite changed?
  • Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, backaches or other physical complaints?  

  • The site continues with overviews on what causes job burnout, who is most at risk, the consequences of ignoring the problem, and importantly, how to handle it.

    From personal experience I can say that I did suffer from many of the symptoms of job burnout for two years before I retired. My radio consulting business was in serious decline for two major reasons: I had stopped trying to learn anything new in my field and was content to just offer the same solutions to client problems that had worked for the previous 15 years. I simply wasn't motivated to put in the effort to "grow" my knowledge, and that meant a slow death for the company.

    Secondly, I was sick of the travel, being away from home all the time, and knowing my marriage and family life were suffering. I saw no reasonable way to continue doing my job while protecting my relationships. So, my wife and I decided it would be best to close the business and take a very early retirement.

    It is important to note that this decision was not made hastily. For the better part of a year I struggled with the financial aspects of retiring at least 5-7 years before I thought I should. Betty and I discussed all the pros and cons of my retirement and what affect it had on her work, too. My personal identity was tightly wrapped with the business. I had no hobbies or passions waiting for me.

    But, the decision was one of the most important I have ever made. I was on the road to ruin and needed to get off before i crashed my life and my marriage. Work burnout is real and powerful. Just be sure you have thought everything through. A satisfying retirement does not follow automatically.

    February 6, 2013

    Where is Ajo? What is Ajo?

    Ajo (the Spanish word for garlic and pronounced Ah-hoe ) is a small town in southern Arizona, about 45 minutes from the Mexican border. A former copper mining boom town, Ajo is now a rather peaceful home to 3,500 retired folks, Border Patrol officers and their families, and a small community of artists.

    Why the review of Ajo? Because that was the most recent trip Betty, Bailey, and I took in our RV. With the weather an absolutely perfect 70 degrees and plenty of sunshine, we decided to just pack up and go for two nights and three days last week. Those are two of the nicest things about a satisfying retirement: no schedule so set it can't be broken, and an RV sitting in the side yard, gassed up and ready to go anywhere.

    Ajo Plaza

    By pure luck, the days we picked to visit Ajo were  busy. A Fiddler's Competition was underway at the Community Golf Course and an Artisan's Festival filled the town plaza. 

    The weather was just right for visiting the gigantic, now-abandoned copper mine just south of town and peak inside the nearby Historical Museum.

     The citizens of Ajo have done something very special with a large, abandoned school complex just a few blocks from downtown. Known as the Curley School, this seven building, 8 acre complex is being converted into art studios and galleries, as well as loft apartments that are home to all sorts of artists. The conversion began officially 3 years ago and is well underway.

    Just 6 miles from the Mexican border Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a place we have never visited. At 330,000 acres this massive park is full of hiking, biking, and driving trails. Over 28 different species of cacti are represented within the park. 

    Ranger programs, campgrounds, and plenty of wide open spaces for RV dry camping or just enjoying the silence are available. Interestingly, because Organ Pipe Cactus are very sensitive to the cold, they are only found on some of the warmer, south-facing hills in the park.

    Small Betty and Bailey with a large cactus

    The third largest National Wildlife Refuge in the United States, Cabeza Prieta, is just north of Ajo. Over 90 percent of the area is off-limits to vehicles, helping to preserve the natural beauty of the park. Also, the refuge lies within the air space of a very active Air Force Range. In order to enter to have to sign a waiver in case a jet lands on your tent. But, on the plus side, camping is free, although potentially a little noisy!

    Betty and I were pleasantly surprised by Ajo. While a large portion of the commercial section is too full of empty storefronts, the effects at the Curley School, the presence of the Border Patrol headquarters for this area just south of town, and the continuing downtown plaza redevelopment bode well for the town's future.

    The RV park was quiet with an easy pull-through spot for R.T. Away from city lights the night time sky was so full of stars that were so bright I felt as if I was at a planetarium. It was breathtaking. The stars seemed so close I thought I could touch them. 

    We tried something new this trip: using a mini slow cooker to prepare a pot roast dinner. We put the crock pot inside the kitchen sink and let it cook all the way to Ajo. By dinner time the tremendous smells let us know everything was ready.

    So, a perfect getaway. The total cost was $170, of which 65% went to gas. A satisfying retirement can be built on a little money and a lot of freedom, even in a place with a funny name like Ajo.

    February 4, 2013

    A Way To Live More Fully

    What follows is a guest post from author Boyd Lemon. His most recent book, Retirement: A Memoir and Guide, is an insightful and interesting look at one man's attempt to achieve a satisfying retirement. I'm pleased to share some of his thoughts on an important topic: living fully by living in the moment.

    A Way to Live More Fully: Being Present

    By Boyd Lemon

                One of the advantages and joys of retirement is the time to figure out some things that you just couldn’t focus on when you were working full time.  Figure out how to live more fully. One way is to “be present” or “live in the moment” as much as possible.  When you are present you notice and find joy in the beauty around you that you never noticed before. It really works, but you have to make the effort because most of us have spent years out of the present, worrying about the future, planning, or reminiscing about the past.

    Being present means focusing on what is in front of you at the moment.  The first time I was aware of another person who was “being present” was while talking with a woman I had recently met. There was conversation all around her, and her attention was not on me. I asked her a question. She turned to look at me and answered the question fully, which took several minutes. During that time she continued looking straight at me, concentrating totally on what she was saying and my reaction. Weeks later, I was eating dinner with a friend and noticed how she focused on chewing and the taste of the food, and did not converse much during the meal. When either of us talked, she stopped eating and was “present” for the conversation. Without trying, these people taught me what “being present” is.

    The more we practice being present, the less frequently our minds will wander back to the past or forward to the future.  I practice observing everything around me wherever I am—just being. I practice when I am doing mundane, everyday tasks. When I brush my teeth, rather than daydream or think about what I am going to do that day, I focus my attention fully on brushing my teeth, noticing exactly where I am brushing, what it feels like, what it tastes and smells like and the sound that it makes. When I do the dishes, I try to concentrate totally on that, rather than daydream about something. When I walk on the beach, unless the purpose of my walk is to think about something, I try not to think of anything except what I see, hear and smell on the beach. What a difference from when I used to walk on the beach and afterwards barely remember the walk! Being present is experiencing life; anything else is less.

    Living in the moment 100 percent of the time, even if possible, would invite disaster for all but cloistered monks. Sometimes, it is necessary to plan future activities or desirable to think about what we have learned in the past in order to solve present problems or avoid present threats to our well being, but clinging sentimentally to the unending stream of items that have flowed through our lives detracts from living.

    Here are some techniques I use to bring myself back to the present when my mind wanders.

    • Use my senses to focus on what’s right in front of me. I look at what’s in front of me now. I listen to the sounds around me, and touch something near me that is appropriate to touch, and notice how it feels.

    • Focus on my breathing. I take a couple of dozen deep breaths and focus my mind on inhaling and exhaling, as in meditation. This brings me back to the present moment.

    • Focus on my body. I try to feel the energy inside my body. One way to do this is to focus on my hand, to notice how my hand feels and how the energy flows through it.

    • Practice when I travel. Practicing being present is often fruitful when I travel because I am often seeing things for the first time. It is easier to focus on something new, and not as difficult to keep my mind from wandering.

    • See things as for the first time. This can be useful when I have a hard time just observing my surroundings. I try to look at things as if I were observing them for the first time, like a child who has never experienced this before. Sometimes it feels really nice. I have watched my grandchildren. Young children live in the present. It comes naturally to them.  Most of us lose that ability during the pressures of adult life.  Retirement offers the opportunity to retrieve it.

    *Boyd Lemon-Author of Retirement: A Memoir and Guide; Eat, Walk, Write: An American Senior’s Year of Adventure in Paris and Tuscany; Digging Deep: A Writer Uncovers His Marriages; and 4 other books. Information, reviews and excerpts: http://www.BoydLemon-Writer.com.  Amazon Author Page: http://www.Amazon.com/author/boydlemon.

    Satisfying Retirement received no compensation for this guest post or its promotional value.

    February 1, 2013

    Setting Up My New Computer...Ugh!

    The big, white box has been sitting in the dining room for three days, unopened. Usually if I spend close to $800 on something I make use of it immediately. But, not this time. I have to get myself geared up for a task I have to do about every four or five years....and dread every time: setting up a new computer.

    My workhorse computer has been in my office for almost ten years. It handles almost everything I do for the blog, calendars, e-mail, taxes, budgeting, and online financial stuff. While I have a laptop that is used on RV trips or downstairs while I watch a movie, the old Dell is my go-to computer. I have added RAM, an external hard drive and another DVD burner, replaced a processor fan, vacuumed out the dust and kept it running well.

    Starting a few months ago, though, things began to really slow down. My first thought was some type of virus or malware. I bought a top of the line security program to replace the one I had been using for years. It churned away for hours doing a full scan and found nothing. I checked the disc sectors, file structures and defragmentation needs. Nothing appeared wrong. But, it was taking a full minute to do what should take a few seconds. That is often a sign of a hard drive going down for the count.

    Finally I broke down and bought a new, all-in-one computer, the type where all the hardware, ports and burners are built in behind the monitor screen. The keyboard and mouse are wireless and there is no more large, bulky CPU on the floor. Most of the wires that were needed for the old unit will not be used. Because of bad press for Windows 8 I hunted until I found a new unit that was preloaded with Windows 7. The old Dell was an XP machine which I actually prefer, but the laptop has Windows 7 so I don't need to learn a whole new system.

    Even so, with a larger monitor, much faster response time, and much less clutter I still found excuses to not get started on the change-over. Why? There are so many files and programs that must be copied from one computer to another and so many settings that I have to change that I dread the task.

    But, today is the day.

    The first step is to decide where in my office the computer should go. Being someone who too often looks for the easiest path to problem-solving, I asked Betty where she thought I should put it, hoping she would say on the credenza. That would mean I wouldn't have to remove a shelf, relocate the old computer for data transfer, move all the wires for my various ham radios, and dust 10 years worth of whatever is lurking there.

    Drats. She said it should go where the old one is. Of course she is correct, so dusting I will go. In moving things I did discover a woofer that was attached to the old Dell that maybe usable in the living room for producing manly-like deep sounds for movie watching. Things are looking up.

    The new computer fits with less than 1/2 inch to spare. The DVD burner is on the side so I'll have to move it out a few inches, but I rarely burn anything so that is OK. Since there is no big box to sit on the floor all I need do is hook up the printer, cable modem, router, and the wireless keyboard and mouse and I should be in business. Famous last words.

    The first question I am asked is for the security code for the wireless router. Heavens? Who knows? I go to Netgear's web site and don't find an answer that works. So, I try several of my standard choices....and it connects!

    Next it is time to uninstall all the junk that comes preloaded: dozens of games, a few Norton products I don't want, a bunch of stuff from HP that I will never use, and Bing...a horrible search engine and cluttered command bar.

    Of course, new computers come with no documentation or manuals. If you aren't already familiar with the way computers are set up and operate you are in trouble. That is probably why services like the Geek Squad make so many house calls at $150 a pop. For many folks there is no other way to make that fancy new investment work. If you can't figure out how to get online you can't even download or look at the manual.

    OK, now how do I shift my subscription to Carbonite and the Bitdefender malware program to the new computer? Time for another trip to a few web sites to see what I can learn. Next, Microsoft wants another $100 or so to allow me to "unlock" Word so it becomes usable. What a money machine that is.

    Finally, it is time to decide which of the fifty-some programs on the old Dell are needed on the new computer, and which ones will work with Windows 7. I guess my best bet is to decide what I really need and start transferring those files from an external backup and see what works.

    My hobby of ham radio has taken a back seat to blogging and writing for the past few years so maybe I shouldn't even bother transferring those programs. Some even pre-date Windows XP so they aren't like to work anyway. I can always find new versions if and when I turn all those transmitters back on again. In one aspect getting a new computer does force me to clean out stuff I don't use.
    Fast forward one day and I think I am ready to go. The budget program in reinstalled, all my favorites are back on the Favorites bar, the to-do list manager and a few printer drivers are all in place. Turbo tax has been reinstalled and is ready for tax time.

    Luckily, I have been working with computers dating all the way back to my first Apple II in the 1980's. But, I will never understand why computer manufacturers don't make this process easier for the non-computer folks among us.

    It shouldn't be all that difficult to have a basic computer that boots up and loads what most folks need right out of the box without all the extra steps. The quick start sheet that comes with most new machines only makes sense if you are already comfortable with computers.

    One of the reasons why tablets and smart phones will eventually replace most standard computers is the ease of setup. Turn them on and they work!

    Note: This post was written written 5 years ago. Now, Windows 10  (or the Mac) is the system most of us use. Smart phones and tablets have made desktop computers a dying breed. Even so, a laptop I bought about 6 months go still forces me to go through all the same steps I did in 2103. Will computer makers ever put us first?