October 29, 2013

Offering Retirement Advice and Paying the Price!


A little over two years ago the following post ran after my wife and I were profiled in Money Magazine and on CNN.Com. I know there are lots of new readers who didn't see this when it was first published. I thought you'd enjoy it today.



Crew setting up for photo shoot in our backyard
In one of my braver moments I decided to look at the comments left on the CNNMoney.com web site about my retirement advice  that is also available in October's Money Magazine.

As I expected, many of the comments were negative, some downright hostile. There is something about the Internet that can bring out less than the best in people. In this case, instead of seeing if there is anything to be learned from the experiences of others, many of those who left their thoughts decided to use rudeness and draw incorrect conclusions.

The good news is, I didn't take any of it personally. Human nature is such that we all like to tear down someone else who does something we can't or haven't. It also gave me some quotes that I can use to try and set the record straight. So, here are a few of the quotes and my responses:

"What are they doing for health care? Obviously none of these people has health insurance or ever goes to the doctor."

 I can't  speak for all the other couples in the article, but our situation was pretty clearly spelled out:  We spend 33% of our total yearly income on health care. Betty and I have been on the individual market virtually our entire married life. Except for 4 years early on, we have never been covered by health insurance through work. We do skip or delay some treatments that aren't essential because of the cost. When safe to do so we usually split pills in half to keep prescriptions costs under control.

We both have regular physicals, see the dermatologist yearly, get new glasses every two years, and see a dentist twice a year. Betty gets new hearing aids as required. We have very high deductible health insurance that keeps premiums under control but that means we pay for most everything out of pocket. Betty has several health challenges that she manages the best she can by knowing as much about her problems and treatments as any doctor she deals with.

Are there people who pay a lot more? Sure there are. The article didn't say everyone in America can be exactly like us. It gave a snapshot of our situation so others could decide if they are better or worse off in certain areas.  But to assume we never go to the doctor and still leave a satisfying retirement is kind of silly.

"You can't use the phrase 'low cost retirement' and Scarsdale, NY in the same sentence."

There was a woman profiled who actually did live in Scarsdale and is living well in retirement on not much money.  Scottsdale isn't exactly low-rent either but we are making it work. Of course, some places are more expensive than others but we choose to live here for all the reasons listed in the article. If someone is living in an expensive community then logic dictates that will be part of the financial calculation to develop a plan for retirement. Could we live on less money somewhere else? Probably. But family, church, and friends are too important. It is part of the cost of retirement we are willing to bear.

"How do you save money like that with the average American living paycheck to paycheck?" 

The implication in the question is that you can't. I would respond that the median income for Americans is over $46,000 a year (more than we live on in high-rent Scottsdale). That average American family is carrying a $15,000 credit card debt, at least one car loan, a hefty first mortgage, and very likely a home equity loan. They are living paycheck to paycheck because they are overextended, over their heads in debt, and unwilling to delay gratification.

If your income situation is much more modest, then saving is a real problem. I am not minimizing the mess the economy has made of millions of lives. But, in that situation you are not likely to be anticipating retirement anytime soon which of course, was the focus of the article. 

"Don't they (the magazine) do articles on folks with a nest egg of $50,000 or less?  

If someone has less than $50,000 in a nest egg and is even thinking about retirement, they are in deep denial. The terrifying fact is the average American at age 50 does have just $50,000 set aside for retirement. That person has no legitimate hope of retiring, unless they want to attempt to survive on a typical monthly social security check of less than $1,200 (before deductions for Medicare).

What worries me the most about the tone of some of the "comments" left on the web site is the obvious lack of grasp of reality and what needs to be done to achieve one's goals. There is an undercurrent of looking to blame others for a lack of planning, of sacrifice, and of common sense.

The sad, horrible fact is that way too many of our fellow citizens will never be able to experience a truly satisfying retirement. For many, that reality is not due to any failure on their part. They are being passed over and trod underfoot by the way our world operates now. Their future is bleak. It should bother us tremendously.

But, the other side of that coin is that many millions could experience a tremendously gratifying retirement experience. But, they are not willing to take personal responsibility for the choices they make today that directly impact their future tomorrow.

Retirement is all about choices. Make the right ones and a satisfying retirement can be yours.


More from the Money Magazine photo shoot


October 28, 2013

Thanks Are Past Due



Perhaps I should have waited until the Thanksgiving holiday, but this topic was on my mind today, so here goes: I am past due in thanking some web sites and bloggers for their support over the last few year to satisfying retirement blog and me.


At the top of the list for its continuous support is the web site, Senior Correspondent. 88 times (so far) this excellent resource has re-posted my material. Most recently, they included the article about our just concluded RV trip to wine country and the Pacific Ocean. With writers and bloggers from almost every interest imaginable, Senior Correspondent is a place that you should have on your "visit frequently" list. They post consistently interesting and useful material.




The PBS site, Next Avenue, positions itself at the place where grown-ups keep growing. With a wealth of articles on subjects ranging from health and well-being, work and purpose, financial issues, living and learning, and caregiving there is very little you won't find here.

I am a paid contributor of retirement advice to Next Avenue but also find myself contributing to other articles. Just a few days ago, Richard Eisenberg, Senior Editor of two of the major channels of information on the site, asked for permission to link to an older post of mine and to use some information from my latest book in his excellent overview of Time management's importance to a happy retirement. A major media player like Public Broadcasting, is a nice feather in my cap. I am proud to be included on their site.

Content aggregator, Alltop, gathers information across a huge range of topics everyday from blogs and web sites. Last summer, Alltop decided to begin carrying posts from Satisfying Retirement. As only one of nine retirement blogs included, and only one of two non-financial blogs, I want to publicly thank Alltop for their support.

Blogger and friend, Barbara Torris, has seen fit to carry a link to my latest book in a prominent place on her blog, Retire in Style, for the last several months. I can track the sale of copies from her endorsement. I do appreciate her giving up some valuable space to me.

I would be missing a key "Thank You" if I didn't include blogging friends and supporters: 10 Steps to Your Happy Place guru Galen Pearl, Tamara Reddy and her stories of her amazingly active Early Retirement Journey, a couple of more Barbaras (Zero to 60 and Beyond plus Living Richly in Retirement), RJ Walters, Suzanne at Life out Loud, Linda at Thoughts from a Bag Lady in Waiting, Syd at Retirement: a Full Time Job, Dave at Retirement - Only The Beginning and Tom at Sightings at 60.

These folks have been a part of my day pretty much since the beginning and have become friends, both real and virtual.

Finally, I have to thank the world's best readers and commenters. You always stimulate, instruct, support, encourage, and occasionally kick me ever so gently in the rear. Without you I won't be here.

So, thank you to all who have made this retirement journey so satisfying.


October 25, 2013

Retirement Advice: My First-Hand Experience With Healthcare.Gov

 
Updated information: see end of post
 
 



Not surprisingly, recently I received a letter from my health insurance company telling me my present individual coverage is not compliant with the new law. But, not to worry, they had a policy that I could have without any effort on my part. Starting January 1st I would become enrolled in this totally compliant policy. Hidden somewhere on the third page was the rather important information: my rate would go up 18% (the same for the last 4 years) and my coverage would be on par with the a Silver plan (one of the four levels of coverage under the Affordable Care Act).


I assume they were counting on me just choosing the easiest option: do nothing and I'd have more expensive and poorer coverage. Also, they may have figured I will start Medicare in May of next year so I will probably just pay the extra money for four months.

I didn't like those options and I wanted first hand experience with the new insurance marketplace available to anyone who doesn't have group coverage or insurance like Medicare. Betty also has a rather poor individual plan and she wants to explore her options, too. So, I decided to go to Healthcare.gov and see what would happen.

I will provide some details of my experiences, but give you the payoff right now: I spent part of four days and a total of  five hours on-line and found a policy that is superior to the one I would be shifted to and it costs almost $200 a month less. I do qualify for a tax credit but even if I had not used it, my marketplace policy would still be $75 a month cheaper with much better coverage.

Some details:

*It took me about three hours over a several day time frame to complete the on-line application. The process is rather straightforward thought there were some questions and responses I missed and had to go back and fix the mistakes. The problem is the software. It is poor. It is full of glitches and is not ready for the demands being put on it. Several times I had to sign off and come back in again. The software froze at times and wouldn't advance. The application could have been completed much quicker if the people designing the software had done an adequate job. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the government has spent hundreds of millions on software that doesn't work right. Software rates a D-.

*There were 111 policies for me to choose from in the Marketplace in Arizona, spread across the Bronze, Silver, Gold, and (most expensive) Platinum choices. Since my present company wanted to sell me a Silver level policy I concentrated on those policies. Choices rates an A.

* After applying some but not all of my available tax credit, I looked at about a dozen policies that had better coverage and were much cheaper than my do-nothing choice. I picked three for a more detailed examination and verified that my current doctor accepts these plans. Quality of choices rates an A.

* Twice I had a question so I utilized the "Live Chat" option available on every screen. It took less than 30 seconds each time to connect. The agents answered one of my questions and directed me to an 800 number for the second. Live Chat rates a B- for helpfulness..

* I selected the policy I wanted and completed the enrollment process which took another 90 minutes. Enrollment rates a B.

* Bingo! I was enrolled in a new health insurance policy that should start January 1st. End result rates an B-.  It would be an A if the software wasn't such garbage.

Here is the punch line: the company that will be insuring me is the same company that I have now and the same company that tried to sell me a "comparable" plan for almost $200 a month more. Obviously, they are hoping folks don't spend the time to discover that the government marketplace may produce a much better choice.

As an update, when I tried to help Betty with her application and choices a few days after my successful attempt the web site was either down, frozen, or wouldn't accept her choices. At this point her application is mostly done but we will either have to wait for several weeks for the web site to get fixed, or use the 800 number which I imagine must have its own set of problems.

Finally, I have confirmation from the government that I have enrolled in a particular policy but I have yet to receive information regarding payments and confirmation from the actual insurance company. I understand the data sent to these companies by the government is sometimes garbled or screwy so I may be celebrating a bit too soon. I will contact the company directly if I have not heard from them in another week.

Based on the figures I have been able to collect I estimate Betty will save at least $130 a month for superior coverage.

Like all legal documents you are familiar with , I will state that your results may vary and my success is no indicator of what you may encounter. But, for me the ACA (or Obamacare for those who prefer the generic name) eventually worked and will save me several hundred dollars a month while improving my coverage.


UPDATE: I have received my correct paperwork for my new policy. It arrived within one week of my on-line enrollment.

October 23, 2013

A Quote To Take To Heart





A good friend of mine sent me a quote recently that seems to perfectly summarize what our attitude should be. It was:

 
TODAY IS THE OLDEST YOU'VE EVER BEEN, YET THE YOUNGEST YOU'LL EVER BE. SO - ENJOY THIS DAY WHILE IT LASTS.

Doesn't that put it all into simple perspective? Those of us who have less of our life ahead of us than behind us are reminded constantly about our age. Companies don't usually advertise to us. Doctors and airline pilots seem to be teenagers. Too many political figures look for ways to make our life tougher by threatening our safety nets and income or health coverage. Our bodies start to fail us no matter how conscientious we may be. We are not getting any younger.

Yet, that is the point of the quote. Why would I waste my time worrying about the past? Why would I get upset by what may happen in the future? The clock is ticking and none of that worry will slow it down, it can only make me enjoy right now less.

Frankly, I had never thought of time in the way this quote positions it, but it is so logical and true. It is a simple statement of fact that reminds me all I really have is today, right now.


There was another part of the note my friend sent me that contained a concept I really like:
"Move The Needle."
In essence that says to me life is not meant to be lived stuck in one place, doing one thing, in the same way. Being fully alive means moving the needle in your life on a constant basis. Crank it up, make the needle get close to the red line occasionally by pushing yourself physically, or mentally, or emotionally. Expand your horizons, push back against your supposed limits. Move the needle of your life.

Thanks, Pat. You've made writing today's post on retirement advice easy by giving us two important things to think about. Now, I need to get busy doing something that will move my needle while I focus on today and what my next step should be!




October 21, 2013

Letting An Unimportant Problem Derail My Plans

For someone who blogs, answers e-mails, pays bills on-line, and Facebooks (is that a verb?) having a dependable and fast Internet connection is important to my satisfying retirement. Not life or death important, but still something I count on. At home I pay for extra speed so we can stream HD Netflix at the same time someone is on the laptop or a computer. Rarely is there a problem.

But, there was one continuing glitch in our just-completed RV trip that threatened to put me in a permanent bad mood: lousy Internet service. Except for one park, the Wi-Fi service ranged from poor to unusable. All the campgrounds advertise its availability, but do not provide a robust enough service if many folks start using the Internet in the evening.

Forget streaming videos. These RV networks can't even handle loading a blog or e-mails with any consistency. True, I can make my cell phone a mobile hotspot, but that chews up my phone's data package very quickly so it is not an everyday solution.

I became increasingly angry at my inability to get on-line. I began to seriously question my willingness to put myself in that situation day after day for weeks at a time. I asked myself if blogging was important enough to sidetrack RV travel, or was it time to bring my blogging time to a close. Seriously, my frustration had gotten to the point where it threatened this trip and those in the future as well as this blog.

But, then, one afternoon, sitting somewhere cursing the crappy Wi-Fi I had an  flash of insight. The importance I was putting in my ability to connect like I can at home was silly. There is simply no way any RV park, a Starbucks, or even most public libraries can provide high speed service for everyone that wants it, whenever they want it. Wi-Fi is a bonus, a nice addition to an RV park's amenities. But, it is not what should make or break a stay or a trip.

A quiet campground, with plenty of shade and privacy, plus good water and electricity service are the essentials. Flawless Wi-Fi is no more a requirement than a fully equipped fitness center or a spa that is heated to 104 degrees and open until 10pm each evening. Many RV parks have them, but we don't skip places that don't.

I realized I was giving access to the Internet power over my happiness. I was on the way to building my life around something that wasn't that important. I stopped, turned to Betty and let her know I had reached an important conclusion: When I can get on-line I will. If I have to connect because bills must be paid I will use my cell phone's hot spot service. Otherwise, I will shut the laptop off and walk away. She sighed in relief. Watching me go nuts over the computer doesn't make her day, either.

Nothing is more important then the quality time Betty and I get to spend together in our motorhome, making memories and plans, sharing laughs, and enjoying each other's company with very few distractions. Unanswered blog comments, a post that stays on the home page a day or two longer than I originally planned for, or making a comment on Facebook or Google+ simply doesn't measure up. 

I had almost let something unimportant force a major change in my life. Luckily, I woke up in time.  I put my priorities back where they mattered. My satisfying retirement is back on track even if a reliable Internet connection is not.

October 18, 2013

How is My 2013 Budget Doing?

With 2013 already more than 75% gone, it is a good time to look at the budget and see how well I am doing. There is always a mid-year, end of June assessment that gives me the chance to make needed adjustments. But, by now, I am getting a clearer picture of what I going to have to do in 2014 to make things work out.

The two biggest changes so far this year have been the start of regular Social Security checks in June, and a decision to reduce my yearly IRA withdrawal from 4% to 3.5% to adjust to the economic reality of today. By bringing the withdrawal rate down I am also keeping our yearly gross below the 85% tax rate on my Social Security income. Next year I will be aiming for a 3% draw down since Social Security will then be paid to me for a full year instead of just seven months this year.

I am off pretty significantly in three budget areas: repair and maintenance of our oldest car, expenses for Bailey, our cocker spaniel, and furnishings for the house and yard. Since we had planned to get rid of the 10 year old Hyundai in 2014 and it is driven less than 5,000 miles a year, I thought I'd be able to limp along with minimal repairs. Not true. Almost $900 worth of fixes have put me in a hole.

You maybe wondering why I didn't dump it before putting that kind of cash into the car. Well, as these things often happen, it was $200 here, $150 there, $300 to keep it rolling.....the slow dribble of repairs that are never enough at one time to make me want to pull the plug yet. But, Betty and I are now of one mind: except for gas and maybe windshield wipers, we are done. If something else goes we will park it and make do with one car until it is time for a new one.

I can blame the overage in the furnishings and decoration budget on our RV trip to Texas last spring. We found several things that we wanted for our backyard. Betty made good use of them in her Backyard Magic redo. But, I had not anticipated that extra $700.

Because Bailey cost $800 to buy and there are significant "start up" expenses with a puppy, I assumed this year would be much cheaper. But, a health care plan, a few infections and medical issues, $47 haircuts every six weeks, and enough dog toys to start our own kennel means I underestimated her cost. Yes, the total is less than in 2012, but the expenses didn't drop as much as I had thought they would.

Another off-budget expense (sounds like the government, doesn't it!) was the cost involved with my prison ministry volunteer work. Clothing, supplies, transportation, food, and other costs for my menteee are not deductible so I keep track of them but didn't budget for them. Silly, I know. At just about $1,000 that  definitely throws things off.

Are we doing better than expected in some areas? Yes. The newer car is holding together nicely so costs are below what I had thought they might be. Our out-of-pocket medical expenses are also lower than I had allowed for. Prescriptions, tests, and doctor visits are nicely below what they have been in years past.
  Most other categories in the budget are either slightly above or below where they should be at this time of year. I am anticipating being about 2% over budget at the end of the year. I can live with that.

So, the budgeting process for next year begins for me in early November with several tweaks between then and January 1st when the finalized version goes into the computer.

How about your budgeting? Has 2013 been better or worse than you had anticipated ?  What have you done about it?

October 16, 2013

Inside One Man's Retirement Lifestyle

 
Each of us has a unique path to a satisfying retirement. Yes, there are plenty of general guidelines and suggestions that are part of the process; the pages of this blog are filled with them! But, recently I was reminded of how personal and individual all of this.

A regular reader and commenter sent me a copy of a letter he penned to his friends and family some nine months after moving from his home in L.A. and retiring to Nevada. He gave me permission to use that letter as a basis for this post. I have done a little editing for space and time, but thought you'd enjoy reading his words:

I have found, after giving myself permission to retire, that retirement is about giving myself permission every day. I still think of my day in a very structured way ( more on that later) and it can be difficult to break away from that ( given my sometimes rigid and simple view of life).
However, I am getting better at it! Last night I gave myself permission to turn in at 8:30, because I was beat! Today I feel great, and gave myself permission to....postpone weight training until tomorrow, and ride into town as my hour of aerobic exercise.   
But to truly understand my challenge, I want to tell you how I think of my time usage options...here we go..
*cook and eat meals....1 hour each, although morning is 2 hours including the paper, showering, etc.

*workouts...2 hours 6 days a week, dogs...1 hour walk, 30 minutes training and poop patrol
*bills and business 1 hour
*studying (trauma medicine for ski patrol)...1-2 hours plus classroom work twice a week 5 hours each night
*guitar practice....1 hr 
*long bike rides...3-5hrs
*recreational reading...1hr
*house/yard projects 1-6hrs
*dusting, cleaning....1hr
*unpacking (still!!)/organizing 1-2hrs
*hiking2-6 hrs.
*walking around Home Depot...1-2hrs
2-3 phone calls to Laura (wife still back in L.A.) 30-45 minutes
*nap..30 to 60 minutes.
So, way more than 18 hours a day. Some activities get done daily, some weekly, and all of them get juggled and rotated. There are always extras like getting a Nevada registration, car issues, grocery shopping, vet appointments, library, and dinners with neighbors. Sometimes I have a beer in the evening and just sit and look at the mountains.
Things will change drastically when Laura gets here in 12(!) days. There will be time spent watching TV, probably a little more house cleaning, and lots of "together" stuff. When the snow flies, there will be entire days of skiing, snowshoeing and hiking. I will have 8 days a month of on-mountain ski patrol training.
Of course I miss my good friends in California fiercely, but they (you) are forever in my mind and heart, so those relationships will continue to bring me great pleasure.
So my friends, those are my thoughts 9 months into this chapter of my life. I expect things to change drastically over the next couple of years, with time to travel and discover so many more great things about our new location. I will keep you posted and of course, would love to have you come up and see us, during which time, I give myself permission to not do all that other stuff!
All the best, Keith

Before retiring Keith was a doctor, which explains not only his detailed scheduling but also his desire to use his skills as a trauma person for skiing accidents.  By the time you read this his wife will have joined him. I wonder how his schedule will shift with her arrival and over time as they settle into their new home.

I thought this was an interesting look at the life of a recent (9 months is still recent!) retiree and how he is using his time. Thanks, Dr. Keith for sharing your letter and a peek inside your life! You are scaling the heights, to use Friday's post as a reference!

October 14, 2013

Wine Country and The Pacific Ocean: The RV Trip Rolls On


As part of our satisfying retirement Betty and I have been to California wine country before, at least the area most people think of when someone says wine and California: the Napa Valley and Sonoma. This is where the big boys play, wineries like Robert Mondavi, Beringer, Inglenook, and Chateau Montelena (Think the movie, Bottle Shock).
Tasting room at Tobin James Winery
But, there is another California wine country that is very different in attitude and scale; the area around Paso Robles. With near 200 wineries within a thirty mile radius this is the home of the smaller operators, the smaller vineyards, and the less pretentious tasting rooms. 

It is also home to stunning views and great wines at very reasonable prices. The rolling hills and the rural setting  reminds me much more of the Tuscany area of Italy than the Napa Valley. 





Robert Hall winery tasting patio

San Antonio winery



We stayed in the appropriately named Wine Country RV Park. Not surprisingly, there was one tasting room within a three minute walk of our parking spot, and another twenty within a 15 minute drive. While Betty and I are not big wine drinkers, it was fun to see the various types of tasting rooms, sample some of the local product, and check out the small gift stores that came attached to each.




Betty at one of the spas at the RV park.

Downtown Paso Robles is very attractive  Around a large, grassy, town square are dozens of restaurants, antique stores and wine shops. Bailey found all sorts of new places to sniff and new people to greet. She may be making progress in this area. Instead of acting scared of people and barking whenever someone new came into sight she either ignored them, or allowed herself to be petted and have her big floppy ears scratched.  





As has happened on all of our recent RV trips we had the chance to meet another person who has become a virtual blogging friend. Pam, a frequent commenter, lives in Paso Robles and  suggested we meet. Over hot chocolate and a Danish Betty and I had a delightful time sharing life experiences. 

Pam lives in a cohousing development in town and suggested a tour. I had written about this rather recent option for retirement living but now had the chance to see one in operation. It is a mix of single family homes and condos, walking paths, a common building for cooking, dining, meetings, and laundry. 

The weather turned cool with rain showers for our last day in town but that didn't stop our having a tremendous time in the area. Then, we were off to Morro Bay and Bailey's first chance to experience the ocean.



At 575 feet, Morro Bay Rock dominates the view from almost any part of town, along with the three towering smokestacks of the largely unused power plant built near the rock.

With the summer crowds gone, Morro Bay was quiet. On a Friday afternoon the waterfront area looked almost deserted, a few tourists looking for an open place for lunch and some locals making deliveries and painting a wall.


 Morro Strand RV Park is basically a parking lot, across the street from the city waste treatment plant and the power plant.

Pretty it is not but being only a block from the ocean made up for the obvious shortcomings. Bailey had plenty of places to sniff and roam and become friends with all the3 other dogs in the park.
Actually, we ended up with the best spot in the small park up against the back wall with shade and privacy. With most of the RVs in the park being much larger than ours we also benefited from plenty of shade when we wanted to use the chairs or picnic table.

There is a town bus pickup at the front entrance so we were able to "be local" and catch a ride to and from the downtown area.


Sunday morning we packed up and headed home. We have allowed ourselves five nights so we will take a leisurely route home, through Barstow and along the Colorado River near Parker, AZ before picking up the Interstate back to Scottsdale.

The highlights of the trip? Betty and I had the time and solitude to have some important conversations and sharing about our life together and how we wanted to enjoy our blessings to the fullest. And, Bailey gained new experiences and self confidence, making her less nervous around other people and situations.

For us RV travel is a chance to explore the country and deepen our love and relationship  And that makes it priceless.






October 11, 2013

Scaling the Heights




Betty took this picture a few years ago on our visit to the Grand Tetons. Even though we were there in late May, winter was still in full force on the peaks. I love this photo because of the power, majesty, and raw nature it captures.

It reminds me of my satisfying retirement goal: to scale the heights of my abilities, time, and energies as far as I can. Anything else seems like a waste of the opportunities given to me.  

Our small group at church is going through a series this fall entitled, "If You Want to Walk On Water, You Have To Get Out Of The Boat." This refers specifically to the passage in Matthew in which Jesus asks Peter to get out of the boat and walk on the water to him. The message is one of faith and trust.

For this post, I'd like to focus on the broader message implied by that title. If we want to accomplish anything of worth we have to "step out of the boat" of our own comfort zone. If we want to grow instead of stagnate we must (to use the same metaphor) risk sinking beneath the water a few times until we learn to swim.

Is it easy? Absolutely not. Safe and comfortable, calm and predictable are more normal choices for human beings. But, are we built to handle more than we do? Yes. How will we know what we can do? By stepping out of our boat every now and then.

What is our personal "boat?" It can be anything: our possessions, our health limitations, our relationships, our self-image. It could be money or financial issues, control over situations or shyness with new people. It is often simply the risk of failure in whatever the subject.

I want to encourage all of us to look at that photo of the mountain not as something cold, snowy, dangerous, and a barrier to what's on the other side. See it as a challenge to you, a challenge to get out of your own "boat" of safety and scale the heights of a new experience. Decide you want to see what is on the other side.

If you take on this task you will stumble and fall, you might even embarrass yourself for awhile. But, so what? We are all old enough that what others think shouldn't always be the standard we are shooting for.

Get out of your boat and climb that mountain. The view will be spectacular.

October 9, 2013

A New Writer Wants Your Feedback

Gary Chalk is a Canadian and a writer. Those two facts aren't at odds with each other, I just wanted to set the stage a bit. Not too long ago he wrote me to ask for some help.

He is 63 years old and recently retired from a communications career - broadcasting and public relations.  For the last 17 years Gary was the director of public affairs for a hospital system. this gave him the chance to write a weekly newspaper column. When he retired, he  wanted to continue to do some creative writing and began a column 'Living Retired' which is e-mailed to those interested in his somewhat satiric, always honest, take on the life of a retired man.

During the course of things Gary contacted me and asked for feedback on his writing and his idea to expand the appeal of his column. After reading several of his recent works, I suggested I run one of his columns here and ask you to give him some feedback. 

A 'LIVING RETIRED' FIRST

What you are about to read actually took place yesterday. The facts have not been embellished. This has never happened to me, ever. And to think it happened 'Living Retired.'
No, I did not call my cable television provider and listen to mundane music for what call centres figure is an appropriate period of time: overnight; before a polite and accommodating team member, one of those people who only ever seem to have a first name, satisfactorily helped me re-boot my whatever.

As an aside, if the kind call centre folks answered our calls sooner, they wouldn't have to bother reminding us every minute or so, that "our call may be monitored for quality purposes."  I figure they tape the conversation so that it can be used in a court of law because when they finally get to some calls customers explode and a litany of words only used by professional football players and soccer moms are directed to the kind cable call centre person.
What did occur took place yesterday here in Buffalo where Jan and I are in the midst of one of those long standing Canadian traditions: a cross-border shopping trip.
We had reached the conclusion of what Jan said was a good example of 'power shopping.' Translated, this means we maxed the limit we are allowed to 'legally' bring back across the border. Returning to the hotel we swung into a Wegmans grocery store if for nothing else but to salivate over American grocery store selection. We picked up some snacks to take back to the hotel- including some Bud Light.

 
Eventually after steering the grocery cart that had a mind of its own, which means the four wheels went in different directions all at the same time, we found ourselves at the checkouts. This is where this story gets interesting.
The cashier rang in the beer. (I think it was about three dollars because I only purchased a twelve pack! I'm kidding but American beer is cheap.) Then, she asked me, get ready for this, for my proof of age. You read correct: she required my proof of age so I could purchase beer!


Now I know why those checkout lanes are so narrow. Its not just so you have difficulty channelling the grocery cart through without banging from one candy display to the opposite side where magazines are stacked. With the two displays so close together, combined with the conveyer belt at waist height, there were numerous safety features strategically placed so that I could catch myself before falling all the way to the floor where I would have probably suffered a concussion when I hit my head!

 
" You want me to show you my proof of age?" I stammered as I tried to compose myself.
She was serious. "Yes sir. You have alcohol and I need to see your proof of age."

Suddenly, I was feeling rather confident, cocky. I thought to myself: she doesn't think I'm 21. I sucked in my stomach, acting cool. She probably thinks I'm only 19, okay maybe 20 years old.

But right then Jan spoiled it when she laughed out loud, "You don't think he's OLD enough!" By now Jan couldn't contain herself and was laughing so hard that I thought SHE was going to fall over and hit her head on the floor. Serves her right, I thought.


Suddenly the cashier's supervisor appeared and smiled at me as she acted like she had looked at the drivers license I had pulled from my wallet, "Sorry sir. It's store policy."

 
Driving to the hotel I just knew that Jan was still laughing inside. Me? I prefer to think that the cashier really didn't think I was old enough to buy beer.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

 
Buffalo getaway weekend..

 
New pants and shirt with in-store discount: $54.35 Dinner at PF Changs: $65 including tip (tip would have been more if waiter carded me!) 'Living Retired' and being asked to show proof of age to buy beer: priceless!!
________________________________

There you have it: time to tell Gary what you think of his approach and style. I am glad to give him this opportunity to receive your feedback.

Comment away!

October 6, 2013

So Far So Great! Feeling Good in California

It must be something about Betty, Bailey, or me: though not west Texas windy we were blown around a bit on the drive from Scottsdale to our first stop, Desert Hot Springs, a small city just north of Palm Springs. 

Our first two nights were at the Sands Golf and RV Resort. The golf course was closed due to overseeding for the season and most of the snowbirds have not returned to their Park Models so the place was rather empty and quiet. That is a good thing!

This park is very nicely laid out. Each RV site is shielded with tall rows of oleanders, allowing for a sense of privacy. The only thing missing are picnic tables at the sites. The main building has two huge game and meeting rooms, pool tables, and computers. The pool area is clean and includes two large hot tubs in addition to a good-sized main pool. A horseshoe pit and pickleball court complete the package. The entire complex is gated and requires a security code to enter so one feels quite safe. The shower rooms are modern, large, and very clean. There is even a sauna!

Here are a few photos of our site, the beautiful mountains and ever- present wind turbines, plus an excellent off leash area for Bailey.


Home for two nights

View from our site

Huge play area for Bailey





We almost didn't make our next stop. A Santa Ana wind event suddenly materialized  On the drive from Desert Hot Springs to near Castaic I battled winds that at times were downright dangerous. A steady 25 mile per hour cross wind included rather frequent gusts of over 50 miles per hour. At one point we pulled into a parking lot and the RV was rocking to the point I thought it might blow over.

We changed our route three times to find a safer road, but it is hard to avoid such a weather situation. Even after arriving at the Valencia RV Travel Village the winds were a steady 20 mph with higher gusts. As I write this on Saturday morning the forecast is more 20-25 mph winds all day today.

Valencia is not nearly as nice as our first stop. The park isn't as well kept and shows its age. On the plus side the pool area is nice and there is even a large fire pit that is lit every evening. There is a convenience store which comes in handy and a smallish off leash area for Bailey. 

On the not-so-nice side the showers and bathrooms are definitely past their replacement date. The WiFi is weak and too slow to permit streaming of Netflix movies. Many of the sites are used by full time or long term residents who have allowed their property to become junky and littered. 

But, Betty and I did have a nice spot close to the pool area and dog park. Bailey loved all the new smells and areas to explore. And, as an added bonus Mike and Tamara Reddy were rather close by for a dinner meeting, so they brought a bottle of wine, some lavender cheese and stopped by for a visit! Since meeting them for the first time in Portland, we have become friends and enjoy our time together. Betty whipped up some appetizers to go along with the wine.


What a special treat to have them near enough to get together. As I have noted before, RVers are a friendly group of people who like to spend time together.

Here are a few pictures of the Valencia Park. Sunday morning we are off to Paso Robles, hopefully without all the wind!













October 4, 2013

Can We Trust Our Banks?


This isn't a post about my bank. It isn't an analysis of our financial system's problems or shortcomings. This isn't even a rant about the widening gap between the rich and the rest of us.  It is about what seems to be our society's attitude of choice at the moment: distrust, and its effect on our satisfying retirement.

There have been plenty of actions and events that make distrust a seemingly legitimate choice. I don't have to list all the times we have been disappointed over the last decade or so by the people and institutions that are charged with doing what is best for us. I get as angry and frustrated as anyone at the greed or simple stupidity of what has been going on for far too long.

Importantly the "us" means the country as a whole. It doesn't mean us versus them. It doesn't mean left versus right. It doesn't mean angling for a short term gain at the risk of a long term decline.

As a society we have lost the concept of compromise and shared community. Battle lines have been drawn in politics, in religion, in neighborhoods, in ethnic origin.....seemingly everywhere. But, a democracy can't function without a basic level of trust and compromise. If there is no desire to compromise there is no democracy possible.

Wikipedia gives this definition of democracy:  a form of government in which all eligible citizens participate equally—either directly or through elected representatives—in the proposal, development, and creation of laws.

A minority attempting to change the mind of the majority is a good thing. That is part of democracy. Without that women still wouldn't be able to vote, and legal slavery would still be part of our culture. There would be no protection of children in the work place, and no minimum wage.

A minority attempting to force its will on the majority with threats ignores that key element of our form of government: compromise. Make no mistake: standing up for one's principals is crucial. Making one's views clear on an issue is our duty as a citizen of this country and the world. We must work through the system to attempt to change those things that are against our core beliefs. But, taking the position that it's either my way or no way is not how democracy works. In fact, it can't work. We can't legislate through threats or decide which laws we like and which laws we refuse to follow.

Heavens, without compromise marriages don't work, raising children doesn't work....relating to another person doesn't work....nothing works without some form of compromise. Nothing.

I wish I could wave a magic wand and eliminate the distrust and bad feelings that seems to be washing over our country. That isn't going to happen, so the only "bully pulpit" I have is my behavior and my writings here.

Do I trust my bank? I trust that my bank is in business to maximize its profits. I trust that my bank will be required to follow certain regulations to protect me from the worst of its actions. I accept that status when I use their services. I trust that the benefits to me are worth what I give up to them.

That's called a compromise.

October 2, 2013

California Dreaming

This song triggers great memories of an earlier time. For those of us who lived in a harsh climate, it also sang of a place far away from the cold and snow. 





Flash forward 47 years and it is time for Betty, Bailey the dog, and me to have out own type of California dreaming: our next satisfying retirement RV trip starts today! Golden State, here we come.

Because of the distance and time available, our trip to Portland last month was by plane so the RV has probably started to feel somewhat neglected. Since our 3 week trip to New Mexico and Texas several months ago and a quick 4 day trip to the White Mountains in June, it has been sitting on the side yard, feeling ignored. My oldest daughter and her family did borrow the RV for a 2 night-3 day trip to Flagstaff in July, but otherwise, nothing.

That changes today. We are headed out to the Palm Springs area, then wandering on to Paso Robles and Morro Bay. The route home hasn't been  picked. We may head for Flagstaff for a few days. Or, if the weather has become too cool in the high country, then we will take a more southerly route through Quartzsite. That is one of the best parts of this type of travel: we have a map, a GPS, and a directory of RV campgrounds. We will let our mood and the weather determine where we travel.

In another chance to turn a blogging friend into a real friend, we plan to meet up with Pam, a regular commenter who lives in the Paso Robles area. We are anxious to get together and exchange stories. We also have a list of the best wineries to visit, courtesy of Early Retirement Tamara.

Bailey has never seen the ocean so our time around Morro Bay should be fun to watch. Will she leap in or scurry away from the waves. We will see.

This will probably be our last trip this year in the RV. After our return in the middle of the month it will be time to perform all the end of the season maintenance and prepare for next year. We have a major, 11 week trip planned for mid June until Labor Day. This will allow us to miss almost three months of the Phoenix summer heat.

Look for regular posts on our progress, along with Betty's photos. We are learning a new photo editing program which will keep us busy.

But, for now, I am behind the wheel of the RV while California Dreaming.