April 29, 2013

It's Good To Be Home

After 20 days and 2350 miles we are home. Betty, Bailey, and I arrived back on Friday after a tremendously enriching RV trip. Regular blog readers know we ventured from our home base of Scottsdale, through southern Arizona, across southern New Mexico, and ended as far east as central Texas. Our return took us through Big Spring and Amarillo, Texas, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Flagstaff, Arizona before returning to the Valley of the Sun. 

We spent $1,100 on gas, or about 45% of the total cost of the trip. We rented a car for a week in Fredericksburg, Texas and one day in Santa Fe. That $256 was some of the best money spent. It allowed us to explore without having to maneuver a 30 foot monster in and out of small parking spaces and on narrow mountain roads. Enterprise picked us up at the RV parks and returned us after each rental.....loved it!

Along the way we battled almost continuous winds. Most days, gusts as high as 45 miles per hour were not uncommon. The shorts and T-shirts rarely made it out of the suitcase. Temperatures stayed in the 50s or 60s during most days and in the 30s overnight.

As I noted in RV Travel and Lessons Learned I am spoiled by Scottsdale's warm weather and mostly calm winds. For many parts of the country April is a month of violent contrasts and weather extremes. Frankly, when we picked the dates for this trip we had no expectations that the weather would be the way it was. Live and learn.

We began this trip with high expectations but a realistic understanding that our ideas would be tested. Living in such a confined space, with a nervous dog that tended to bark at any distraction, and having to adjust to a rather substantial change in how we normally live, might work..... and it might not. There was a chance the money we spent on the RV might turn out to be a huge mistake. Even the vehicle itself was going to be put to the test. Previously we had never traveled more than 90 miles from home.

With a great sense of relief I can honestly report this was a positive adventure Betty and I won't soon forget. We have proven to ourselves that we truly enjoy the freedom RV travel provides. The simplification of life and the changes in daily routine are very attractive. The ability to be self-contained and to go where and when we want is a joy.

Betty was able to take thousands of photos which she will turn into a tremendous memory of this trip for us to enjoy for years to come. We both were able to read several books each. I wrote posts and had time to think about the blog's future direction. I even came up with a business idea that will allow us to write off many future trips. Even Bailey began to learn that the world isn't as scary as she thought and maybe every other person and dog isn't something to be afraid of.

We have just barely unpacked and started to scrub the RV inside and out and are already thinking of our 7 day trip to Payson and Show Low, Arizona in June and our three week trip through California in October. Add to that a non-RV month in Portland in August and 2013 is shaping up to be a very good year. We have discussed spending at least two months next summer in Flagstaff. Betty and I seem quite committed to avoiding as much of a Phoenix summer as we can from this point forward. 28 summers is enough. 

Over the last week of the trip I began to put together a list of what I had learned about RV travel. Three weeks on the road should produce something more lasting than good memories and 3,000 pictures. Here is what I have come up with:

...It is just as easy to over pack on an RV trip as for any type of vacation. Lots of heavy canned goods and too many clothes complicates things.

...A good Internet connection is important to a blogger, e-mailer, and Netflix watcher! WiFi is widely available but varies in quality tremendously. I am going to spend the extra money to turn my cell phone into a WiFi hot spot.

...It is important to have at least one goal a day. Otherwise, it is too easy to spend hours just reading and napping. Of course, that "goal" could be something as simple as working with Bailey for 30 minutes on her social skills, or rearranging the storage bins underneath R.T. It could be visiting a nearby park for a picnic and hike. The point is, something should be on the agenda.

...RV parks rarely look like the pictures on the web site. Even so, most are quite acceptable. During this trip we stayed at 12 different parks. Only two were really substandard. Both were rated well by Good Sam Club which makes me question their standards.

...It is very important to put things away after use. An RV is too small to allow any clutter. What you can get away with at home won't work in 200 square feet.

...It is too easy to slip up on personal hygiene and basic health maintenance, like washing often enough, flossing and vitamin-taking. I have discovered, though, that in cooler climates it is OK to not shower every day and still be allowed in polite society. 

...Once a week, we need to perform a major cleaning of the inside of the RV. Wash the sheets, wipe every surface down, sweep out every corner, disinfect the kitchen, and spend extra time cleaning the bathroom.

...Betty and I need private time, even on an RV trip. It could be a long walk alone, or one of us in the back bedroom while the other stays in the living area. In Fredericksburg, Betty had a tremendous time alone one afternoon after I dropped her off downtown. She went into virtually every store, took all sorts of photos, and spent time on a bench just people-watching. When I picked her back up later that day she was completely refreshed.

...Don't plan a trip that involves changing location every day. At least once every 3 days, it is important to stay put for two or three nights. Setting up camp, tearing it down the next morning, driving five hours, and setting up again can become exhausting and cause unnecessary tensions.

...Some of our future trips will be best taken without the dog. Bailey can spend 3-4 hours alone in the RV without a problem. But, if we have a full day planned away from camp, having a dog along limits what can be done.

...Three weeks on the road is not too long...quite the opposite. I don't think we fully relaxed and started to completely enjoy the change of pace until the start of the second week. Betty and I are giving serious thought to least two months in the RV next summer and a two month trip to the upper Midwest at some point down the road (pun intended).


Even so, Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz had it right: there is no place like home.

For lots of pretty pictures be sure to click on the link at the top of this page that says: Some Recent Photos From Betty's Camera: Wildseed Farm in Fredericksburg, Texas


April 26, 2013

Where is the Motivation?

Note: this post was written before we left on our RV trip. We return home today, Friday. I'll have some thoughts and a recap ready by Monday.

A few years ago I started to teach myself guitar after realizing I missed making music. I've been surrounded by music my whole life but had stopped playing an instrument when I was 17. With college around the corner and my radio career already beginning I just put that part of my life away. Except for listening to music, my satisfying retirement was lacking something.

After several false starts and stops with the guitar I started taking lessons about nine months ago. Teaching myself would only take me so far. Then, I'd reach a plateau or get to a point where I couldn't figure something out on my own (like finger picking) and stop. So I found a teacher I liked and showed up weekly for his guidance.

Not unlike my personal attempts, after the first two months I started inventing excuses to miss a lesson. I found I was getting very nervous and tense the day or two before each session. I understood that was silly. After all, I was paying him so he wasn't about to yell at me. I did practice 30-45 minutes six days a week but I seemed to be picking up the techniques more slowly than I thought I should. We seemed to be going over the same problem areas week after week.

Finally, I decided to stop the weekly lessons and go back to playing for myself. The last thing the teacher told me was to stop worrying so much about exactness and where my thumb was on the guitar neck and just have fun playing music.

That helped. I had picked up enough in those three months to be able to move forward in my ability. I could play both melody and the most common chords without much of a problem. I enjoyed hearing the songs coming from my efforts.

But, then for reasons I really don't understand I began playing less and less: from daily, to every other day, to twice a week, to finally once a week. Anyone who plays an instrument knows playing just once a week isn't going to work. That isn't enough practice for muscle memory or even to remember the chord progressions.

The part I don't understand is that when I finally do pick up the guitar I like making music. I enjoy hearing recognizable tunes coming from the instrument. But, the motivation to put in the work just isn't there. I look for every excuse in the world to put off playing.....but I like it when I do play.

That makes no sense to me. Something I enjoy I shy away from. Something I have invested time and energy in has become something to avoid in my mind. Yes, I have lots to keep me occupied. Sometimes I feel over-scheduled and look forward to the next RV trip because then I am away from the calendar. But, that still doesn't explain why I have this battle over the guitar.

Oh well, if this is my biggest problem, I guess my satisfying retirement is still playing the right notes.

April 21, 2013

RV Travel and Lessons Learned

Betty and I are spoiled. Living in Scottsdale has lots of advantages. OK, there are a few not so good parts like high costs and searing summer heat. But, one thing we take for granted is warm, sunny weather in April. We rarely have windy conditions any worse than a gust high enough to make me crank down the backyard umbrella.

So, the last 14 days on our RV trip have been eye-opening. The winds have blown pretty much without ceasing since we drove through Southern Arizona, traveled across southern New Mexico, and have spent the last 11 days in Texas. In Fredericksburg there were two days when the wind was under 20 miles per hour most of the time. We celebrated the relative calm. At home those days would have been considered a gale!

Driving a 12,000 pound RV through wind gusts of 35 or 40 miles per hour and steady breezes of 15-30 mph has tested my driving skills and patience. But, after getting used to how R.T. reacts in the wind we have simply accepted this as normal. Santa Rosa, New Mexico has had afternoon winds over 40 miles per hour as I write this.  

It has been cold, too. In fact, the area around Amarillo had two nights of a hard freeze, with overnight lows in the 20's. Looking ahead to the next several stops, Santa Fe and Flagstaff have had lows in the teens! If things don't warm up we may decide on a different route home. An RV is poorly insulated to begin with but in temperatures below freezing there are concerns of frozen or burst water pipes and plumbing. The propane furnace does a decent job of keeping the living space comfortable but not being able to go outside much does make the small space close in a bit.

I have learned that April in Scottsdale does not represent April in many other parts of the country. Future trips will involve a bit more research into weather and wind averages!

Since we left Fredericksburg we have spent nights in Big Spring and Amarillo, Texas and are now in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. At the end of the trip I'll post a list of all the parks where we have spent time along with some feedback just in case you ever find yourself passing through in your RV or tent.

I have already shared the dodgy nature of Wifi availability. I will add that the pictures of an RV park on their web sites and in directories usually involves a few liberties with reality. They are never quite as nice as described or photographed. So far we have not stayed at any place that made us uncomfortable. But, as a general rule, bathrooms and showers are usually in need of some repairs and upgrades, swimming pools don't really belong in RV parks, and those who live in these parks for months at a time aren't really focused on keeping their site neat.

Even with these glitches, the trip remains a real joy. Bailey, our cocker, is becoming less nervous with the travel and different accommodations most nights. The number of meals Betty prepared and froze ahead of time will run out the night before we get home...right on schedule. How did she do that? I give her complete credit for such good planning. 

We are actually under budget even with $125 gas bills every time I pull into a service station. We are eating most of our meals from our supplies. A dinner out once every 5 or 6 days and a lunch from a fast food place (usually Subway) every 4th or 5th day gives us enough of a break to not get tired of what is in the refrigerator or pantry. The RV parks have averaged $35 a night, after an RV travel club 10% discount. There may be enough left over at the end of the trip to allow us to buy two urban bikes and hitch for the next trip.

A few nights ago after dinner we were playing a board game and I asked if Betty felt the trip was too long, too short, or just about right. Like me, she thinks this three week adventure has been the right length, and sees us tackling longer trips in the future with no problem. 

Betty will not leave the RV without her camera. I have lost track, but I think she is already close to 2,000 pictures with 6 days still to go. Here is a very small sample of more photos from the trip so far.

Holding onto door to keep from being blown away in Amarillo

Oh, by the way, we have discovered that every town in Texas with a population larger than 1,800 has a DQ restaurant. Betty likes their dipped cones so she is pretty much in dessert heaven! Who knew?

April 19, 2013

Enough Already!

These are just a few of the headlines I’ve seen in the last few weeks.

The Greatest Retirement Crisis In American History
Retirement confidence at record low
Retirement getting further away
Survey: More Americans Unprepared for Retirement
Retirement worry is highest in 23 years

I've written before about the apparent love affair the media has for this subject. The end of all retirement, not just a satisfying retirement, is inevitable.  Aren't we getting a little tired of this drumbeat of disaster? Hasn't this doomsday message been sent enough? Is there any benefit from making things appear so bleak?

I am not Pollyanna. The last several years have been rough – very rough – for a lot of folks. Too many have lost their savings, their livelihood, their homes, and their future. Their retirement will not be what they thought it would be. Their pain is real and their plight must not be ignored.

But, to continually read that none of us will escape the tough times is simply not true. To assume that we will all have to work until we are 80, choose between meals or medicine, and live out our “golden years” as a ward of the state or in a relative’s spare room does a disservice to us all.

For almost three years I have been writing about retirement in all its various forms. Personally, I have undergone several changes in what I thought my retirement would look like. I have downsized and cut expenses. I have discovered new interests and passions that I didn’t know existed until I retired. I have found satisfaction in simple pleasures and the joy of experiences and friends instead of things.

Over 8,000 comments from you has convinced me that I am not alone. We retirees (and soon-to-be retirees) are a rather resilient bunch. If the plans we made don’t work we make new plans. If a lifestyle we thought we would live for the rest of our days no longer satisfies us or is not doable due to circumstances, we adjust.

What we don’t do is grouse about the unfairness of things. We don’t play the victim. We don’t talk about all the things we can’t do or can’t afford. We don’t give up and accept defeat (whatever that means to each of us).

Attitude is a force that can move mountains. Attitude is a force that can reshape problems into opportunities. Attitude is completely under our control.

I can promise you that Satisfying Retirement blog will not have posts with any of the headlines above. I can promise you that retirement today is alive and well, waiting for you to define it your way, live it under your terms, and spend this part of your life fully engaged and full of passion.

To accept the alternative is simply not an option.

What do you think?

April 17, 2013

A Love Affair: Fredericksburg and Texas Hill Country RV Vacation

Our home at the Oakwood RV Resort

Tomorrow morning Betty, Bailey, and I leave Fredericksburg and the Texas Hill Country after six fabulous days. If the area wasn't 1,000 miles from family we might consider a move here for at least part of the year. The town and area have captured our affections  and fit our satisfying retirement lifestyle very well.

Founded in 1846 by German immigrants, Fredericksburg is charming, welcoming, and pretty. While I imagine summer weekends are swarming with tourists, this time of year is quiet and unhurried. The main street is lined with almost 4 miles of restaurants, historic buildings, museums, art galleries, antiques stores, public gardens, and an unhurried lifestyle. The Chamber of Commerce folks claim there 350 places to stay, 70 restaurants, and hundreds of stores are here to keep you entertained. Literally dozens of wineries and wine testing rooms call the area home, too.

Pioneer Museum grounds
We spent a very pleasant 90 minutes touring the 10 buildings that make up the Pioneer Museum in the heart of town. They are filled with period artifacts and beautifully restored.

The town library, churches, and most important buildings are beautiful stone structures, many made from white granite. 

Quite surprisingly, the National Museum of the Pacific War, a huge block long structure is located just steps north of Main Street. Why a Pacific War museum in the middle of Texas? Admiral Chester Nimitz, one of the major players in the Pacific Theater during World War ll,  is a Fredericksburg native.

Just 10 minutes down the road is the town of Luckenbach, if you can call a general store, barn, and out buildings a town. Made famous in the 1977 hit song by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, something is always happening in Luckenbach. 

Concerts by known country artists happened almost every weekend, while every day of the week finds a local musician performing for free inside the eclectic general store.

LBJ's Texas White House
Since it is only 30 minutes east of town we also took the opportunity to go through the LBJ Texas White House grounds, the place our 36th president was born and is buried. 

A free, CD-guided tour around the stunning grounds made it quite obvious why President Johnson loved his ranch and hill country so much. He actually spent 25% of his presidency at the ranch.

A tiny corner of Wildseed Farm

On the way back into town we stumbled on an absolute gem: Wildseed Farms. Hundreds of acres of wild flowers, buildings and grounds with every conceivable yard and garden ornaments, waterfalls, and lily pads bask in the sun. 

Even on a weekday afternoon hundreds of folks wandered around, snapping photos and dreaming of backyard improvements. As you might imagine Betty felt like she had died and gone to heaven. After an hour I think I saw smoke coming from the back of her camera. We bought a few unique pieces for our back yard that will travel home somewhere in the RV.

An hour or so north of town are lakes and state parks galore. Betty, Bailey, and I spent an afternoon at the beautiful Inks Lake State Park. Tent sites, RV spots nestled in the woods overlooking the water, and a section of mini cabins were mostly full of families enjoying themselves. Swimming, kayaking, fishing, miles of hiking trails, and photo opportunities galore made for a perfect time for us.

I could go on for several hundred more words about this fascinating part of Texas, but instead here are a few more of Betty's photos. 

Part of the display outside the Pacific War Museum

Typical Fredericksburg storefront

More of the Pioneer Museum

More of Inks Lake State Park

Two old chairs destined for our back yard
Entrance to fascinating store
Inside The Luckenbach General Store

How many towns  still have a working 5 and dime?

Fredericksburg Library

Kayaking at Inks Lake

Fields of wildflowers all in full bloom

Where should be go next?

April 15, 2013

Discover Your Passion: Know Who You Are

What follows is a guest post from author Boyd Lemon. I'm pleased to share some of his thoughts on an important topic: discovering your passion by discovering who you are.

Key to a fulfilling life

A key to living a fulfilling life in retirement is having or discovering a passion (or passions), something that truly drive you, that you feel you are here on earth to do.

I have known a few people, one quite well, who discovered in their early twenties what was important to them, what their passions were, what they felt they were here on earth to do, and pursued those passions. They knew themselves and didn’t let their parents, friends or society dictate how they would live or what their life’s purpose was. I envy them. Most of us are not as perceptive of ourselves at such a young age.

I had to discover a passion for retirement because I had worked all my life at something that I was not passionate about. I understood that in order to discover a passion I had to understand who I am. Figuring out who I am was not complicated, but it required time and effort. It took a lot of mental work, the hardest kind of work. It took a lot of experimenting and trial and error, the scariest kind of work. But almost anyone can do it. You don’t have to be a monk, priest, philosopher or psychologist. You don’t have to have a college degree.

What does it mean to ask who am I? 

It sounds like some new age gobbledygook, but it is really not as mysterious as it sounds. Who I am, the authentic me, consists of what fulfills me; what, to me, is important and unimportant; what I like and dislike; what interests me and what does not; what I want out of life; what makes me feel that I am doing something worthwhile; what makes me feel happy, fulfilled, competent and esteemed. What makes me feel sad, frustrated, angry, afraid and inadequate was instructive. When I grasped what caused those feelings, I was close to discovering what I was passionate about.

Knowing yourself makes it more likely that you will find something that you are or become passionate about. Although there is such a thing as an epiphany, when all of a sudden something important just comes to you, the discovery of a passion did not come to me in that way. Usually some experience with something is required before it becomes a passion.

Finding out who I am not was also helpful. I am not my job. Although I didn’t realize it for years, I was not a lawyer. I practiced law, but a lawyer was not who I was or who I am. I was not wholly a husband or a father; they were only part of what I was. Just as one never really knows another person, he never totally knows himself. Knowing yourself is a lifelong process that never ends.

Questions Asked

During the process of finding out who I am and am not I found a passion. Some of the things I asked myself and did that helped me understand who I am and to discover my passion were:

• I thought long and hard about what during the course of my life I had enjoyed doing. I also thought about what I didn’t enjoy. I considered what made my heart sing, what excited me, what I wished I could do more of, what were some general characteristics of what I enjoyed. Were they usually done outdoors? Did they involve something creative—music, dance, painting, writing, building or designing things? Did they involve doing things with my hands?

• What part of my job or jobs did I enjoy?

• I thought about what other people that I admired were doing.

• I even made lists of possibilities.

• I understood that I liked to learn new things and considered what type of things I would enjoy learning.

• I asked myself whether I am a planner, or am I more spontaneous? Some activities need more planning than others. Some of the creative arts are relatively spontaneous. Organizing a political campaign requires a lot of planning.

• Many people are passionate about creating. I thought about whether there was anything I would like to create. Men especially often bury the creative side of themselves. Once guys reach adolescence they are not encouraged to pursue anything creative. That doesn’t mean it isn’t buried down there somewhere. I tried digging it up.

• I always knew that history, art and culture interested me. There are a lot of activities that involve history, art and culture, including travel and writing.

•I realized I am not really a people person. I am more the solitary type, an introvert. This is important because a people person probably shouldn’t try to pursue something that involves a lot of alone time—writing, for example; a solitary person should not try something that keeps him around people most of the time, such as fundraising for charities.

• Do I enjoy physical effort or mental effort more, I asked?

• Do I need to keep busy doing a lot of different tasks, or am I happy focusing on one thing for a long time?

• Do I enjoy dealing with detail, or am I more a big picture person?
• Am I a perfectionist?

• Does helping other people make me feel fulfilled?

• Do I like sports, reading, writing, listening to music, hiking, taking photos?

• I looked through the catalogue of local night schools and extension schools to find classes that interested me, not necessarily to take the classes, but to clarify what types of subject matter interested me.

• I thought about what the meaning or purpose of my life could be? What would fulfill me or might leave my mark here on earth?

• I tried to keep an open mind and do and see things I normally wouldn’t. I read about things I hadn’t read about before, realizing that I might discover something that I had buried, so I might not readily see or feel it. I examined every possibility I could think of.

• I thought about my values. Why am I here? Why is anybody here? What is most important to me? I read books about what other people have had to say about those questions.

Eventually, I discovered that my passions were writing and travel, and that is what I have focused during my retirement, which has been the most fulfilling time in my life.

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.

April 12, 2013

Report From The Road

A satisfying retirement greeting from Fort Stockton, Texas. Our first extended RV trip is well underway and we are still alive, speaking to each other, seeing new sights, and meeting new friends. Bailey has made the transition to RV dog without a hitch, except for early morning potty needs and an occasional barking fit for no particular reason.

We left home a day early because we could and the forecast was for very high winds along our route. Our first two nights were spent at the Butterfield RV Park in Benson, AZ.

In addition to the normal pool, spa, fitness room, laundry and shower facilities, computer room, and library, there is working observatory, the only one in the world that is part of an RV park. 

Betty and I thoroughly enjoyed an hour long program presented by a local astronomer. Using the resort's 16" telescope we had the unique opportunity of seeing other galaxies, blue novas, and dust clouds millions of light years away. Butterfield also has a working ham radio station that allowed me to talk to fellow amateurs as far away as Atlanta. For some reason I never take the time to do this at home. Silly, I know.

Between wind gusts in Benson

The next night was spent in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Again we fought very high winds all day, with gusts approaching 60 mph, causing dangerous driving conditions and low visibility from blowing dust. Luckily, that evening the winds finally died down though overnight lows were in the upper 30's...much colder than we had planned for. 

Hacienda RV Resort was not really much more than a typical RV park. Since a pool, spa, WiFi, and clean showers are becoming quite standard I didn't see anything that would put it in the "resort" category.
There was a long dog run area for Bailey, so she might feel differently. It was clean and just fine for the night.

I know there's a singal out there somewhere

The last two nights have been spent in Fort Stockton, 300 miles east of El Paso on I-10. The park is about 4 miles east of town but has its own café that serves breakfast and dinner. As a special treat Betty and I took a break from what is in the frig in the RV and enjoyed two meals where someone else did the cleanup and cooking.

As this trip is teaching us, ask about a park's WiFi service before committing to a reservation. The Fort Stockton park had workable service only in the dining room which was only open a few hours a day. Service at our site, less than 75 feet from the office was non-existent.

As you read this we have packed up and are heading for Fredericksburg, in the heart of Texas hill country. We are looking forward to exploring countless lakes, rivers, canyons, and parks. Because we will be here for six nights I have rented a car so we can leave R.T. hooked up and really explore the area. Betty would really like to revisit the River Walk in San Antonio so we'll clear one day for that. It is a beautiful site and only an hour away, so why not.

As promised here are a few pictures Betty took by our site in Fort Stockton.

This trip is turning into everything I hoped it would be. We are learning some of the things to do, and importantly not to do that I'll share in future posts. Have a great weekend - I know Betty, Bailey, and I are planning to!