March 29, 2013

Cooking for Relaxation...Really?


This is a post I wrote about 18 months ago all about my first attempt to see if cooking was an interest I wanted to explore. Because most readers today were not part of the satisfying retirement family then, I thought you might enjoy my story. What did I decide? Was my kitchen transformed into a place where Betty and I whip up meals to die for? What do you think?


Almost two two months ago I wrote about a growing trend among folks who cook for relaxation and as a hobby. If you missed it, click here. As I noted, I find cooking a necessary evil. Food is fuel and the less time spent in a kitchen preparing it the better. Part of a satisfying retirement for me is a fancy meal now and then. But I prefer to have a professional cook it and another professional serve it to me at a restaurant.

Many of the comments left on that post suggested I might be missing something with this attitude. I promised to take a stab at preparing a more involved meal and seeing if I was destined to be a foodie. Here is the result.

My meal was nothing terribly fancy. I picked things that didn't require all sorts of ingredients I'd only use for this project. Also, I wanted something that wouldn't take too much time to prepare. These two recipes fit the fill: a corn burger with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes as the main course and Italian roasted snap peas with tomatoes as a salad. Dessert was a scoop of ice cream with toppings. The recipes were found on the Internet and loaded on my laptop so I could consult them as I went.



I began the great cook-off just after 4:30 one afternoon. I don't know if this is the proper technique, but I found all the ingredients for both recipes and lined them up on the kitchen counter. Before going any further I poured myself a glass of white wine, took a few gulps, and plunged ahead.

I had assumed that anything that began with the same word could be a substituted for anything else with that same word. I quickly learned the errors of my ways. My wife informed me that baking soda and baking powder are, in fact, two different things and both will be required. With a little detective work, I found containers of both. So far, so good.

I'm not sure what leeks are supposed to look and feel like, but the ones we bought about a week ago for this project had turned somewhat brown and felt a little slimy to my touch. Not willing to get sick while slaving over a hot skillet, I made an executive decision and decided chopped up sweet onions would work just fine.


After finding a food processor, a few mixing bowls, a baking sheet, and a skillet the meal began to take shape. The corn burgers were the consistency of lumpy pancakes when I finally dropped them in the medium-hot pan. But, after giving them about 8 minutes per side, not the 4 suggested in the recipe, they were appealingly brown and ready for the crumbled goat cheese on top.

Since I bought creamy goat cheese and not crumbles, the ingredient was smeared on instead, but I think the end result was about the same. Oh, and I had missed the step about dicing up the sun-dried tomatoes, so they were a bit harder to bite through. After 15 minutes the corn burgers went on the buns, smeared with the goat cheese, and looking, well, nothing like my image of something called a burger.

The Italian snap peas with onions (instead of leaks!) and cherry tomatoes had been baking for about 15 minutes and looked about right. With a final dash of oregano they went on the plate next to the corn burger. Oven off? Check. Stove off? Check. Wine glasses refilled? Check. It was about 5:30 and time for dinner.

You'd probably like to know how it all tasted. The corn burgers were bland. A bit more salt and maybe some other spices would have helped with the overall flavor. But, they were cooked properly and quite filling. The Italian snap pea and tomato mix was excellent. I did add a dash of Italian seasoning to the final product...not in the recipe but by then I was bold and daring and ready to break the rules.



As you can tell from this picture, I left myself a mess to clean up. I have been told that it is best to clean as you go, but that would have been too advanced for my first attempt at something like this. So, 30 minutes after dessert I had the kitchen back in shape and ready for breakfast...which was going to be a bowl of cereal. I was tired of "creating."

Have I changed my opinion of cooking as an interesting pastime and hobby for me? In a word, No. Am I glad I did it? Sure. It gave me something interesting to write about and kept me out of trouble for an hour or so. But, I am quite content to go back to chili, grilled chicken, spaghetti, and (ham)burgers on the grill.

Wolfgang Puck and Gordon Ramsay have nothing to fear. What to do in retirement will not include cooking school.


Update: Nothing has changed in 18 months since I wrote this. Food is still fuel for me most of the time.

March 27, 2013

Dealing With a Real Life Disability RJ's Way


I am lucky to have RJ Walters as a regular reader and commenter on satisfying retirement. He is a  prolific blogger, maintaining several different blogs on a regular basis. He is well read, thoughtful, and not afraid to voice his opinion when something strikes him as silly, dumb, or dangerous.

In addition to all of that, RJ has a disability: He is deaf. Importantly, RJ is deaf but in no way does that define him. As we age many of us will face limitations on our health or well-being. I thought it would make for both an interesting and educational post to ask RJ some questions about his condition, how he deals with it, and what he can teach us about diversity. I found his answers insightful and motivational. I trust you will, too. 

1) You once said to me, “I am just a guy who is deaf, not a deaf guy.” In your mind what is the difference? Is it one of attitude or acceptance?
Let me start this answer with a question. Who are you? The answer to that might be “I am a Christian”; “I am a husband”; “I am an engineer”; “I am a father”. Your first few answers show primarily how you identify yourself. For me “I am deaf” would come pretty far down the list. When I do mention it I say “I am deaf but that is not who I am, it only an obstacle I face on a daily basis”

Some people, particularly those who are born deaf, often associate primarily with other deaf people. Those type of deaf people identify themselves as being part of the Deaf culture (with a capital D). I am deaf (with a little d). I seldom am around other deaf people instead I choose to live primarily in the hearing world. It is not that I don’t accept my deafness (it is impossible to not do that) but more of how my deafness doesn’t control my life.

2) How long have you been deaf? What caused the condition to start? How did you react and deal with the period when your hearing was slipping away?

I could fill a book with answers to these questions. I started going deaf in my early college years in the mid 1960s. My conditions has a long medical term but is basically that my cochlea have filled with cartilage replacing the liquid there that is critical for balance and hearing. It is supposed to be inherited but I can’t find anyone in our recent family history who was deaf. Go figure...

My hearing slipped gradually away between the time I was about twenty until I lost it all at the age of forty-two. At first it was only in one ear and I managed to easily cope. It bothered my roommate in college more than me. You see, I worked my way through college in a dormitory cafeteria. One year I ran the breakfast meal and had to get up every morning around 4:30am. When I ended up on my right side during that magical hour I never heard the alarm going off. My roommate had to jump down off the top bunk and shake me to wake up.

When I started losing my hearing in my good ear things started changing rather dramatically. I wore varying strengths of hearing aids for about fifteen years until they were no longer effective. During the last year I would wake up every morning and put in my hearing aid to see if I could hear that day or not. It was a guessing game. That was the most stressful part of my life. It was almost a relief to finally lose that last shred of hearing.  

3) How has the loss of hearing effected your retirement in terms of relationships and friendships, your marriage, what you choose to do to stay active and involved, like being involved with the soup kitchen?

My retirement years came more than twenty years after complete deafness so not a lot changed. But, like most I suppose, when I retired I went from being constantly around dozens of people everyday to primarily just my wife and I. That is a shock for many of us but it was a double whammy for me. Casual friendships are simply not easy, I might even say nearly impossible, for a deaf person in the hearing world. Chit chat is a normal part of most people’s lives and it is usually the beginning stages of friendship. Without it making friends is hard work for both me and my potential future friend. I’m not saying they don’t happen but they are rather rare. So, when I am asked what do I miss the most about not being able to hear I surprise many by saying I miss chit-chat. 

When I proposed to my wife more than twenty five years ago I told her I would very likely be deaf in the not too distant future and would understand if she refused my proposal. Instead she simply said “well then we better get started learning sign language”. I broke down in tears with her response and we did indeed get started learning signing soon after we were married. 

As far as [my volunteer work at] the soup kitchen goes I kind of fell into that in various degrees. At first it was doing the dishes and then that progressed over the years to doing all the meal preparations a couple of days a week. The friendships with the staff there was an ongoing process. Most there, both volunteers and customers, know I am deaf and over the years we have broken the communications barrier with hand written notes, gestures and whatever it takes.

That in deaf circles is know as “Total Communications”;using whatever is best for a given situation. There is one friend who comes often for lunch who knows some sign language. We always have a little chat; that means a lot to me and I think to him also. 

4) During a typical day, are you constantly aware of your situation or does it take something out of the ordinary to remind you, “oh yeah, they don’t know I can’t hear them.” 

When I spend the days here at the homestead I rarely think about my deafness. My wife and I fairly effortlessly communicate with each other. We even have arguing down pat in sign language. Since I have managed to maintain a pretty good speaking voice (but don’t ask me to sing) I talk and she signs so most of the burden is on her. It is funny in that regard, when we do go to functions and such with other deaf people I have to tell my wife what they are signing as she doesn’t see signing often and she has to sign for me to them as I don’t physically sign much myself. 

But, whenever I go out into the “world” I am constantly made aware that I can’t hear. That gets tiring but it is just something I just deal with. I always carry a small pad of paper and a pencil wherever I go but you would be surprised at the number of people who refuse to use them! They simply can’t understand that I can’t hear them since I still speak fairly clearly. I have become pretty good at anticipating questions people will ask in different situations. So, even though I am not a particularly good lip reader I can usually figure out what they say and respond correctly. Usually but not by any means always.

5) Normal parts of American society, like ordering at a drive-through, seeing a movie or performance, watching TV…what adjustments must you make? 

I am a techie so I have all kinds of tools around to help me cope but drive-throughs have long been a thing of the past for me. There are a few movie theaters in major cities that have a captioning system but I have never tried them. I just wait for it to come out in DVD. The movie “Lincoln” is one I am anxiously waiting for now. Closed captioned TV has been around for about twenty years now and is available on all new TVs so I have full access to most programs now. It took the Americans With Disabilities Act signed in 1990 to make captioning mandatory. The quality of captions varies somewhat depending on whether the show hires “on the cheap” and therefore produces poor captions.
I wake up to light now instead of sound. A light flashes over the bed at the given hour. I have  flashers in the shop and barn to let me know if I have left something on before I lock up for the day. Of course texting has brought me the capability of now communicating away from home. There are tools out there for most any situation. 

6) What words of encouragement or reality-checks would you offer to someone who is in the same situation as you, or dealing with some other limitation? Are there both specific and general thoughts you can share? 

When I went deaf I initially thought it was the end of the world for me. My ear doctors basically told me to go away as they couldn’t help me any longer. It took quite a bit of searching to find organizations to help me cope. One of the first was ALDA (Association of Late Deafened Adults). This group showed me that I was not alone in the world. They showed me that there is indeed life after deafness. Although I don’t have much contact with them anymore they were a life saver when I needed them.  

If there is such a thing as a good time to go deaf it is now. There are numerous tools for coping and the Internet is usually just a google away from giving you a list. Cochlear Implants which is a medical/technology procedure actually allows many who are deaf to hear again. Unfortunately my particular brand of deafness can’t be helped by it but it is quite successful for many. There are now tools to help cope with many different situations. Harris Communications puts out a good catalog of products. Due to limited use they aren’t cheap but... 

In some ways most handicaps are the same. They put obstacles in our path to normal living. The main thing I would say about this is that life goes on after the handicap. Even Helen Keller who was both deaf and blind went on to a very satisfying life. I can’t imagine being both blind and deaf! Don’t think it is the end of the world if tragedy strikes you in this regard. The Lord gives us the strength to cope. In some ways I think my life is even fuller now than it would have been if I had not gone deaf so many years ago. If nothing else it gave me a good dose of humility. (ha)

7) What haven’t I asked that is important to you to talk about?  

Being that your blog is primarily about seniors and retirement the one thing that still needs mentioning is the number of seniors who lose their hearing and do nothing about it. That is truly tragic when there are so many aids available. Let me give you some statistics about that. About 20% (one in five) people who are deaf were born deaf. They are known as pre-lingually deaf. 80% were like me and went deaf later in life. About 60% of that 80% went deaf after the age of sixty. In other words the largest group of deaf are senior citizens. Unfortunately the majority of this senior group won’t seek help. They for the most part simply slip into the background of life.

If I were to give any advice to family of these seniors it would be to get the person with hearing loss help even if they insist they don’t want it. Get them a captioned telephone, Teach them how to turn on the captions on their TVs. Get them to an audiologist to see if hearing aids are possible. Get a book and teach them some signs. Don’t let them simply go off on their own. When you have family or other group gatherings make sure that notepads are strewn around the area and encourage everyone to use them to “talk” with the hearing challenged person. When the group is having a discussion assign someone to write notes about what is being said. Keep the person involved. Just don’t let the person drop out of everyday life! That is a tragic way to end their years and totally unnecessary.

This post is longer than normal, but his thoughts are too important for me to edit them to make them shorter. His feedback is about deafness but applies to anything that holds us back or keeps us from trying something. As he notes, we all have some form of handicap to deal with but life goes on.

My deep appreciation to RJ for the time he took to answer my questions. My deep admiration for his forthright approach to living a satisfying retirement no matter what life throws at him.


The blogs of his that I read on a regular basis are RJ's corner and RedLetter Living.

March 25, 2013

Spring Time and Home Maintenance

For most parts of the country this has been a rough winter. Seemingly endless storms have marched across the country with rain, snow, and wind pounding everything in sight. Even here in the Arizona desert we have had much colder and wetter weather than normal. At one point we had four nights in a row with overnight temperatures in the 20's. As you might imagine that did serious damage to much of my backyard planting. Even though it had been drained of all water, I ran some heaters inside the RV overnight during that cold snap. I didn't know if temperatures below freezing might damage other components.

It is with more than a little relief we can begin to turn our sights toward spring that began officially a few days ago. Even with the strong likelihood of more nasty weather before us, at least there is  hope.  The season of growth and renewal is coming.

So is the home repair and maintenance season. I have received several requests for a post or two on this subject. If you knew how inept I am with most home fix ups, you might have not asked. I can present some thoughts from someone who once tried to install a new door handle upside down. If that is you, we will be in good company. If you are more of an expert and think nothing of re-roofing your home on a Saturday afternoon,  I am hoping you will add your advice and opinions, too.

There are some basics I do on a regular basis:

*Drain the water heater twice a year. Phoenix has very hard water and the minerals will kill a water heater before its time if not flushed out. At the same time test the pressure release valve.

*Have AC Heat Pump checked every 18 months. The company that installed our new unit says yearly tuneups are overkill.

*Change the house filter every 3 months. A cheap way to keep that expensive heat pump operating at peak efficiency.

*Check all sprinkler and drip heads twice a month. It is not uncommon for our lawn service to damage a sprinkler head or sever a irrigation line a few times a year.

* Look at roof condition once each spring. I have ham radio antennas up there, too that need a check after a windy & wet winter season.

*Recaulk around windows as needed. Our windows are old and are prone to leak. I do what I can to cut down on loss.

* Have chimney and flue inspected and cleaned every three years. We don't have many fires. If you do, then yearly is much better.

* Look for termite trails on foundation and patio three times a year. Arizona has a big termite problem. I want to catch any problems early.

*Lube garage door twice a year. With summer time temps very high, any lube on hinges will dry out and cause squeaking or damage.

* Check for any mold or cracks in caulking in bathrooms twice a year. The extra humidity and forgetting to dry the walls after a shower has cost us plenty over the years.

*Change battery in smoke alarms on my birthday.


Nothing too laborious or requiring much skill here. These are really the basics that keep our house functioning. As I noted, I am not a "This Old House" kind of repair guy. If I can manage this list, anyone can.

For budgetary reasons, Betty and I have rebuilt a powder room, put in new toilets, fixed bad tile in a bathroom (99% Betty), repainted the front door and installed new lock and handle (again, mostly Betty), and landscaped the backyard. Of course, there are bigger emergencies, like a leaking main water line into the house, or a garage door falling off its tracks. Then, we call a pro and save our sanity.

How about you and your housing situation? Different climates have different maintenance and repair issues. Let us all know what you do to keep your repair bills under control.


Don't let your home get to this point !

March 22, 2013

Prison Ministry: What Does It Accomplish?


Based on comments left on other Satisfying Retirement posts I know there is continuing interest in the work I do for a local prison ministry organization. The world of prisons and inmates is one I only knew through movies, news stories, and "common knowledge" about those who find their way into prison. I did know that the United States has both the highest percentage of its citizens behind bars and the highest crime rate in the world.

It would seem those two statistics shouldn't go together. But because they do it implies that the time spent locked up isn't turning enough inmates into productive members of society. With 69% of all of those released from prisons and jails returning within 3 years, it seems rather obvious that the penal system is good at locking people but not helping them.

Once freed, these men and women are often put in a position where failure is almost guaranteed. Over 12,000 inmates are released every single week in this country. That is 650,000 a year. They are set free with virtually no money, with only the clothes on their back, and little skill training, into a society that treats them as eternally guilty. Many apartments won't rent housing to an ex-con. Getting hired is very difficult when employers see the giant time gap on the resume or are told of the jail sentence. Some states deny food stamps or Medicaid coverage to these people.

So, with no money, no reasonable expectation of getting a job quickly, and very few willing to house, feed, clothe, or treat sickness, why are we surprised that nearly 7 in 10 end up back behind bars? Obviously, there are plenty of released inmates who will go back to their old habits because that is all they know. Maybe it is the only way they can survive. Many have drug or anger issues that were ignored during their time in prison. So, inevitably the same behavior begins anew.

I'm providing this review to help someone understand why I have become involved in trying to reverse this trend, one person at a time. Are there men and women who should stay behind bars? Sure. Do many inmates get released with little chance at avoiding failure? Yes, of course they do. But, there are those people who made a mistake, have paid the price society demanded, and want a fresh start. That's where prison volunteers and outside mentors become invaluable.

Many of these folks had a rough childhood. Physical or sexual abuse, a home without a stable father, a single mom on drugs or entertaining "boyfriends"...these are the typical childhoods for many of the men I meet. While that isn't always an excuse, it helps us understand what went wrong at a  young age.

My involvement is through a Phoenix-based Christian organization, Alongside Ministries. It provides in-prison and out-of-prison counseling, support, and accommodations for men and women who go through a rigorous program of Bible study and goal setting during the last year of incarceration. While the program doesn't promise a successful reentry into society, the odds are greatly increased. Prisoners are carefully interviewed and screened before joining the program. Only one in five is accepted.

Each person in the program is assigned a mentor, for both inside and outside prison guidance. That mentor is someone selected to help the inmate stay focused on goals, and stay strong in the face of disappointment and obstacles.

The mentor will visit the person twice a month for face-to-face support while their mentee is still in prison. Once released, the mentor and mentee will talk several times a week, and spend time together at least once a week. Most ex-cons are still under parole for several months upon their release so there is a requirement to report to the parole officer a few times a month.

Frankly, whether a man or woman succeeds, stays free, and restarts a life worth living is really dependent on that person's will power, strength of faith, a changed heart and character. He or she must want to avoid the people and situations that resulted in jail time.  

A mentor can be a help, but can't prevent someone from making mistakes. It can be frustrating and infuriating when you see someone making decisions that will cause problems. Even so, the time spent is usually rewarding and gratifying. The chance to be even a small part of helping someone turn his life around makes the risk worthwhile.

I've had my share of failures, but keep coming back for more. Even for those men who leave the program early or end up back in prison, maybe my time with them will pay off the next time they are freed. Maybe not. But, my faith requires me to persevere, so I do.

Volunteering for prison ministry may be impracticable or just too far outside your comfort zone for you to do what I do. I understand completely. Going inside prison walls still freaks me out. But, there is someplace that can use you and someone who needs you, whatever your skills and abilities.

Give of your time and love and you will get back more than you can ever imagine.



March 18, 2013

Music: Is There Anything New Worth Hearing?

The Grammy Awards a few weeks ago made it crystal clear to me that my music knowledge and growth stopped about 30 years ago. For someone who spent his life in radio hanging out with recording artists and staying on top of all the new music, this is a depressing realization. Play any rock song from the late 1950's through the mid 1980's and I can name it in 3 notes. Play any song after that and I am pretty much lost.

Not being one who is content to become an old geezer who complains about the quality of music today ( I sound like my parents!) I am making a concerted effort to find new artists I enjoy. I am absolutely sure they are out there. I just have to stop listening to The 60s on 6 or Classic Vinyl on XM radio. I am not trying to be hip, I'm just trying to find new music to like.

I asked my 32 year old daughter to recommend some artists. I printed out a list of the award winners and nominees for the Grammys. I have started listening to The Pulse channel on satellite radio. I looked at the most popular downloads on iTunes.

Guess what...there is some really good music being made today! The instrumentation, vocal and lyrical qualities, and technical production techniques are very engaging. This may not come as a shock to you, but for someone who views the Beatles as the last group to create memorable music, this is a big deal.

So, what I have done is include several YouTube clips of some artists I found who I like. What do you think?







 










Any newer artists you have found that make you smile whenever you hear their songs on the radio or Internet? Suggest away.




March 15, 2013

Learning To Budget All Over Again

I received the following e-mail from a regular satisfying retirement reader and commenter. Her questions and request for a post focused on budgeting are very much in line with some of the comments left on the post I wrote asking for your ideas for this blog. Except for a little editing and name changes, I've left her message intact. After reading through her concerns, see if you can add anything to my thoughts.

"Bill and I are definitely taking the next step towards retirement and we're getting our business ready to put up for sale.. a big step. Bill is pretty nervous,I am calmer about it. A big leap but we are sooo. ready. The stresses of business and the challenges of staying up to date in an ever changing industry are wearing us out! We're ready to move on to the next phase of our lives.
Reading your blog helps us both to have the large view and not be too scared. We'd feel better if our savings were still making the 7% and the 5% even that they used to, in municipal bonds. (Wouldn't everyone!?) We're having to learn more about investing. "IF" the economy had not taken a slide we probably would have retired about 2 years ago as we had originally planned.. but we're e in the same boat as everyone, with interest rates what they are. LUCKILY we did not lose in the stock market.
One thing we're going to do is sit down and remember what it is like to live on a stricter BUDGET. I wonder if you would address this issue in a blog post? How does one go from having a good bit of discretionary income to living on fixed income again? We certainly did this in our early years, but we have to relearn! Do you and Betty each get an "Allowance" monthly for personal spending? I don't spend much, monthly, but my husband does have a Home Depot habit.
We live frugally but well, but it is still a challenge to return to a stricter kind of budgeting so our retirement funds last..we are weighing that sense of FREEDOM and TIME we will gain (and better health, too, no doubt..) with the minor discomfort of having to watch pennies again. I read that the Frugal Girl and her spouse have a once a month budget meeting-- do you and Betty? Or do your retired readers?
One PLUS of doing this again in our lives (stricter budgeting) is that we are reviewing the importance and meaning of every expenditure, reviewing what kind of travel we REALLY enjoy and get our money's worth from, and just reviewing "meaning" in general-- a good thing!"
 
Besides writing most of this post for me (!), I seriously appreciate the thought Sue put into her questions and concerns. I'll take a stab at answering them. Like many, she is looking forward to retirement with a healthy mixture of edginess and excitement. With interest income almost too low to count, and the "normal" investments no longer the safe places we once thought them to be, she and Bill are refocusing on the need to choose how the monetary resources they have are best utilized.

Betty and I do not have a monthly budget meeting. We set our budget on January 1st for the coming year. It is based on last year's expenses, what we think we will need to spend, and what our income will be for the next 365 days. Also, we have a certain amount of money set aside for emergency expenses.

From then on it is my responsibility to keep things in balance. If we get some income we didn't plan on we discuss what we should do with it. If expenses are tracking higher than they should I make suggestions for cuts and adjustments and Betty gives her approval or suggests a modification here or there. I do record everything we spend in Quicken so I am never surprised by an out-of-whack expenses category. I can catch a problem very quickly.

Our total expenses have remained relatively steady over the past 12 years. How is that possible considering the effects of inflation and in areas like health care where costs have gone up a average of 15% a year? The answer is simple: they had to because my income is relatively fixed.

When I retired in 2001 at the age of 52 I had a investment/savings account designed to carry us until I planned to start taking Social Security and withdrawing from my IRA at the age of 64.  We have lived off that savings and investment account through boom and bust cycles. When those investments were making 10-15% we had extra cash flow. When our average return sunk to 3% or less, we were short. But, because we didn't spend more when times were good we had enough to carry through the tough times. A dozen years ago I had planned that the savings account would run out of money on my 64th birthday. I am going to be one month off.

Over the years we have adjusted budget categories many times. In some years we decide it is time to replace some home furnishings, so another category must be cut. In another year, maybe we decide we would rather cut back our dining out budget so we can spend a bit more somewhere else. Cable TV and the land line phone went away two years ago when we realized they weren't worth the money to us.

My clothing budget is 85% less than it was when I was working and I still have money left unspent at the end of the year. I need jeans, a T-shirt, and gym shoes. Heavens, our dry cleaning expenses for last year for both Betty and me was $36....not a month, but for all of 2012. We simply don't buy or maintain clothes than cannot be laundered.

We each get a small sum of money each month (less than $100) that doesn't have to be accounted for. Betty tends to spend hers on the grandkids or the house. I spend mine on stuff for my work with prisoners or books and blog stuff.

This post is getting a little long, so let me summarize what I believe the key to our financial stability has been:
  1. We have no consumer debt, no mortgage, no credit card debt
  2. We adjust our expenses to fit within our income, not the other way around
  3. We constantly adjust to stay on track
  4. We have learned that it doesn't take much for us to be happy

OK, your turn. What hints or tips can you give to Sue and Bill and everyone else? After all, we are all in this together.

March 13, 2013

At Home With Bailey: It's Been A Year Already



On March 6, 2012, Bailey became part of our life. After a three month search in Phoenix, and eventually on-line, we found her in Missouri. The money was paid, shipping arrangements set up, and an 8 week old Cocker-King Charles mix was on her way.

We had several dogs before Bailey but our home had been petless for several years. Retirement and the freedom to come and go with few responsibilities lead us to decide against adding a puppy. Then, for some reason in late 2011 the idea of a dog struck both Betty and me as a great idea.

Yes, we'd lose some of the ability to just pick up and go. Our home would go from being baby-proofed for the grandkids to being doggie-proofed for Bailey. The long-sealed off doggie door in the laundry room would have to be pried back open. Cleaning stains on the carpet and poop pickups in the backyard would go back on our to-do list. Training classes would be needed.

Our life hasn't been the same since. Bailey has added a missing ingredient back into our home - a rambunctious, fun-loving, cuddle-crazy pet. True, she hasn't been cheap. Between the purchase price, the vet bills, food, supplies, toys, and shots she added over $1,600 to our expenses in the first 9 months. But, not for one second have we regretted the cost.

She continues to bark at sounds only she can hear. Even if one of us is gone for only 30 minutes upon our return she still gets so excited she leaps all over the furniture, yelps in joy, and then has a little nervous piddle. I don't think she will go outside to do her business when we are gone for fear of missing our return. But, she doesn't have accidents anymore so she must have a strong bladder!

She tries to catch birds in the backyard and fails every time - but keeps trying. Other dogs make her nervous enough she still barks and tries to hide behind us. If one of us walks to the side yard where the RV is parked she makes a beeline for the motor home's door to make sure we don't leave on a trip without her.

At night she jumps up into bed and positions herself so her legs touch one of us and her head the other. After we wake up, go downstairs and take her to the doggie door so she can do her business, she curls up on the couch and slowly, very slowly, wakes up to begin her day.

Throwing the same toy 30 times across the room doesn't bore her, it thrills her. If one of us mentions her name her ears perk up and she gives us that doggie stare that asks if something exciting is about to happen.

Bailey has done well on the three short RV trips we have taken so far. The big test comes in April when we leave town for over 3 weeks. How will she fare? How will we do? That is for another post.

There have been some struggles. I think being shipped to Phoenix on a plane at 8 weeks stressed her rather severely. To this day she remains nervous. In fact, we have her on special calming pills for dogs to help her be less fearful. But, even a slamming cabinet door will give her the shakes.

She is the pickiest eater, ever. We went to the vet just last week to get some guidance. Dog food, whether dry or wet, doesn't interest her much. At the moment she eats lots of boiled chicken. Sliced cheese remains our go-to food to wrap up vitamins so she gets the proper nutrients.

She seems to produce too much stomach acid overnight which causes her to throw up some bile once a week or so. The vet wants us to give her Pepcid AC to see if that helps her acidic stomach.

But, even with those problems Bailey has enriched our life, re-taught us patience, and blessed us with the type of adoration and unconditional love only a dog can offer. Our satisfying retirement is better for it.

One year together and here's hoping for many more. Happy anniversary, Bailey.















March 11, 2013

Put out to pasture

On the west side of Tucson is Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Home to the 355th Wing,  this air base continues as an active training and support facility. It is also a storage facility for literally hundreds and hundreds of planes that have been pulled from service. Every type of military aircraft sits in neat rows, stretching for miles. To get a sense for how big this is, you have to drive by it. But, since that is impractical for most, watch this short video. Be sure to stick around for the last 30 seconds and try to count the planes:




Why are they here? My information is that parts are used to keep other planes flying. Some are sold to other countries that want the type of aircraft offered or need the parts for their own planes. And, of course, while 20, 30, even 50 years old, these aircraft could be made air worthy and fly again for the Air Force. What struck me as I drove down Kolb Road in Tucson and saw all these "retired" planes were the parallels to our own retirement.

For some of us, feeling "mothballed" after an active life becomes a problem. Just as these aircraft served their country for many years, we worked hard at whatever we did to be able to invest and save enough to be able to stop working. But, what happens next is really key. Without work do we feel sort of like an out of service airplane, put away with no real function? Do we sit in the Arizona (or Florida) sunshine waiting for.......?

Or, are we allowing our "parts" to keep functioning. As noted, these stored aircraft often have a second life. Their parts are used to keep other planes flying or they may be sold. They can be used for training purposes. The fact that they aren't being flown every day the way they used to be doesn't make them worthless. It just makes how they are used different.

A satisfying retirement is very similar. This phase of life has the same highs and lows, pros and cons, disappointments and joys as any other time of life. It offers the same opportunities to learn, grow, contribute, and make a difference. Attitude has a tremendous effect on the level of success at this time of life. If you view your productive life as over, in effect, put out to pasture, then that is probably how it will be.

I suggest we take a lesson from the planes sitting on those acres of tarmac in Tucson. If they were worthless it is likely they would have been turned into scrap a long time ago. But, as the video mentions, this part of the Air Force actually makes money for the government. These aging, pulled from service, past their prime machines have enough value for the Air Force to spend many millions of dollars to protect and guard them.

No matter our age or our current station in life we have value. Our job is to scrape off any dust, reinflate our tires, and figure out what we have to offer.

Heavens knows the world needs our wisdom and help.

March 8, 2013

To Me It Is A Freedom Machine

The post from a week or so ago, Where Do I Go From Here? generated a treasure trove of post ideas from you. I have reviewed every comment and made a tally of the responses. In all, 28 different topics or approaches were suggested, every one of them a good fit for this satisfying retirement blog. I have already revised my schedule of posts for March and early April to deal with the ideas that seemed most in demand, but I am likely to use all of the suggestions at some point in time.

A little surprisingly, posts about RV travel was the number one request. Folks want to know about the trips Betty, Bailey, and I are taking. There is interest in how daily life changes while traveling in a motor home. What are the expenses and pitfalls of RV ownership as well as the joys and positive experiences? Why did we decide to spend the money on something that sits unused for the majority of the year?

I need to make one comment early on: RV travel and lifestyle issues will not be taking over this retirement blog. It is just one part of what may make your retirement journey more fulfilling. Or, maybe not. You may have zero interest in driving around in a 25,000 pound vehicle that gets 9 miles to the gallon and has lots of maintenance issues.

So, don't fear. All the other stuff you say you like will continue to be written about and posted. RV-oriented information will remain a small part of the overall mix, with one exception. In April we will be taking a trip lasting most of the month. While on the road, by necessity, there will be more focus on the trip and our experiences. But, even then I plan on addressing other subjects that interest and concern you.

So, back to the subject today: How is my lifestyle different when in the RV and away from home? In some ways, not at all. The cell phone and laptop get almost as much use as they do at home. Since most campgrounds offer WiFi service I can continue to answer comments on this blog, pay bills, read and answer e-mail, watch streaming movies, or catch up on what is going on in the world.

Bedtime still tends to be around the same time. Just like at home, I make sure the doors and windows are locked, the curtains are drawn, and the furnace is set to maintain a pleasant overnight temperature. The night light in the bathroom is turned on, Bailey curls up between us, and it is lights out. We have found campgrounds are very quiet so we have only been awakened by high winds or a rain storm, not by noisy campers.

First thing in the morning the dog needs to go outside. Without a doggie door one of us must accompany her. Letting her out without a lease is not an option. But, then usually we can all go back to sleep so we do tend to get up later than at home.

In a major difference from our normal routine, the structure of the rest of the day really depends on what we decide to do. Some days are spent with no agenda. We will walk or hike around the camping area, sit in folding chairs under a tree, read, nap when sleepy, eat when hungry, and talk when feeling chatty. Betty might edit some photos while I work on a blog post or edit my next book.

At other times we want to explore the area so we will pack things up (it takes about 10 minutes) and go wherever we want. At the end of the day, we're back at the camp site, hooked up, and ready for the evening.

We eat simply, making clean up quick. Betty will prepare several meals ahead of time so something just needs to be defrosted and put in the oven or microwave. With no dishwasher or disposal we use paper plates more often and choose meals that don't generate a lot of garbage. Our slow cooker was a perfect addition to our rolling kitchen. Start something first thing in the morning and the smells fill the air all day long.

When we do finally get home, there is about an hour invested in emptying the trash and refrigerator, then sweeping and wiping down the kitchen, bathroom, and dining area. I check the various levels in the engine, make sure everything is locked, and walk back into my normal life.

For me, the biggest change is the freedom I feel from my regular routine. Even though many of things I do are the same, for some reason I feel almost no time pressure. The day seems much longer. Keeping 240 square feet neat and picked up is a lot easier than than almost 1800 square feet at home (did we really once keep 3200 sq ft clean?). Being in nature means I tend to move more slowly and breathe more deeply. I am more relaxed. I worry less. I enjoy life more.

I don't know why I am not that way at home. I can't explain what happens that makes me feel truly, fully retired. But, whatever the magic is that happens when we are rolling down the road, I am loving it and want the feeling to continue.






March 5, 2013

Adapting to a Retirement Community


This is a guest post from Sarah Jennings on the steps one can take to make the move to a retirement community as stress-free as possible. Whether a retirement community is in your future or maybe for a parent or relative, I find her suggestions and ideas wothwhile.


 

After retiring, many people choose to live in active retirement communities. Unlike assisted living homes, retirement communities are designed to keep newly retired individuals living independently but with an array of activities, hobbies, and social events to choose from.
However, as appealing as those services are, it can be hard to adjust to living in a different place than the one where you made memories in raising children, developing your career, and forming the person you are today. It’s often difficult at first to really feel at peace with the decision, but just like any major life change, it’s normal to experience cold feet and second thoughts. Chances are you made the right choice, but just like any species on the planet, being in a new environment is all about learning how to adapt.

Make it Feel Like Home

As obvious as this tip is, it’s normal for new residents to not decorate and adorn their new home right away, if at all. Remember, your new apartment is your home; it’s not a dorm room where you’ll be moving out it nine months. Don’t be afraid to go all out and really get creative with it as bare walls and naked rooms can make it hard to truly feel at ease.  Making it feel like a safe, relaxing, and comfortable place you can retreat will really speed up the adjusting process. Hang up pictures of friends and family, set and decorate the table, and get all your old, familiar mementos out and ready to display. However, try to avoid making it look exactly like your old home; let this be a new chapter in your life, and it’s important to let your new home be just that: your new home, not a replica of your old one.

Be a Neighbor

This doesn’t mean a quick wave to the person who lives across from you or an occasional, “How are you?” This is one circumstance where it’s good to be old fashioned; introduce yourself, offer your neighbors some baked goods or a glass of wine, and really get to know them. This is what the term “community” is all about. Getting to know the people who live around you allows for friendships to flourish, and the feeling of familiarity will make easing into your new home go much smoother.

Get Involved

Your retirement community most likely offers a large variety of events and activities to choose from. Avoid being a homebody, and get active. The sooner you start taking advantage of the available activities, the sooner you will warm up to the facility. Getting involved is the best way to meet other residents with similar interests, and making new friends is the key to feeling at home in a new place. Even just taking a good book down to the lobby to read is a simple way to surround yourself with others. Keeping yourself isolated does nothing but prevent you from experiencing your new life to the fullest, and a large percent of your rent goes to the amenities offered. You might as well take advantage of them and have a good time.

Keep in Contact with Friends and Family

One of the biggest arguments against living in an active retirement community stems from the fear of losing contact with close friends and family. However, it’s all about how you personally make an effort to keep in touch, and most facilities are more than happy to allow your guests to visit and even stay overnight. Minimizing your contact with friends and family can contribute to resenting your decision later on, but remember you’re not on a desert island; you just changed locations. Have your family over frequently to share meals or attend events, or schedule a coffee date with an old friend or neighbor. Sometimes, nothing is quite as comforting and enjoyable than spending time with a familiar face.

Talk with the Staff

It’s just as important to get to know the staff as it is other residents. It’s a good idea to build a friendly relationship with any them as they’re the ones responsible for taking care of any issues you have with the facility. Also, the employees see new residents move in all the time, so they most likely have some tips and ideas that would be helpful in getting you better acquainted with the place.

Moving into a retirement community is a major life decision, and it can take some time to fully adjust. However, by making your new place comfortable, actively reaching out to connect with others, and keeping old ties close, the initial hesitation will ease into a feeling of satisfaction and excitement about your future. It’s a brand new phase of your life; you might as well do all you can do make it one of the best ones yet.
____________________

Sarah Jennings has been taking care of others her whole life. In 2005, she moved her mother into her family home. She uses her personal experience to share with others about caring for the elderly. She currently writes on behalf of Brookdale Senior Living.
Note: I received no compsensation for this post or the links included.

March 3, 2013

A Small Goal Achieved

Life is an interesting journey of highs and lows, successes and failures, satisfactions and disappointments. Sometimes what happens are major events that can change the direction or shape of your life overnight. Other times, something occurs which is small in scope, but satisfying nevertheless.

This is a report of something small, or more accurately, smaller. Over the past few months I have been taking my belt in a notch or two. My jeans were feeling loose and more baggy than usual. Older men tend to lose their butts so I just chalked it up to one of the joys of aging. But, I had been a bit more careful about how much I was eating though I hadn't really been making a major effort to lose weight; that never seems to work for me anyway. Maybe more than a shrinking backside was at work.

So, last week after complaining about how my pants were fitting, Betty suggested I try a smaller waist size. Well, I've been a 38" waist for probably 15 or more years. I hadn't thought it is possible to actually go to something smaller. I figured I'm a 38 and that's what it will be.

But, I gave it a shot and did one of my least favorite things: clothes shopping. Lo and behold I fit into a pair of 36" jeans. It didn't look like 10 pounds of Bob in a 5 pound bag! The pants fit.  A life changer? No. Satisfying? Yes.

I saved the larger jeans, though I've read someplace I should toss them so I can't go back. I looked at the other pants hanging in my closet and realized this means I have to replace 8 pairs of pants. Oh well, there is a cost to anything worth while.

This rather insignificant event in my life is not something worthy of a post, except for the somewhat larger message: little things can mean a lot. Our satisfying retirement is made up of things that happen to us, because of us, for us, and in spite of us. There is nothing wrong in celebrating the smallest joys. In fact, because little things happen much more often than the big stuff, if you celebrate the every day victories you will likely have much more joy and happiness in your life.

Examples? All the corn in the microwave bag popped, the paper was actually thrown out of the rain this morning, the dog didn't bark at the UPS driver, you finished the book that has been on your night stand since Christmas (of 2011), and the dry cleaners didn't ruin that expensive outfit.

There are lots of small victories to savor. I choose to dwell on them rather than the irritants. Call it denial. I call it satisfying.