January 31, 2015

Long Term Memory Loss?

Once again, we seem to be losing our long term memory. 

Gas prices have fallen to a level that many of us never expected to see again. As I write this, the station a few blocks from my house has regular listed at $1.79.9 (can't we just start called this $1.80 and forget the silly 9 tenths?). Many experts predict prices will at something around this level for most of this year.

Common sense tells us that such a prediction is probably not going to be completely accurate: too many events can cause all sorts of problems that will affect gas pricing. Believing our world will be stable and free of serious discord for another 11 months is a fantasy.

But, for now, the low prices are a tremendous boon to most of us. In its own view of reality Wall Street doesn't seem to like the fact we are saving billions of dollars. Some industries are adversely affected. The state of North Dakota is not happy. But, for the typical American (and world-wide consumer) we have extra money to spend or save.

Now, to the point of the post. While not a stampede, car buyers are beginning to exhibit the same behavior that has happened before when there was a temporary drop in prices at the pump: bigger cars and SUVs are selling while hybrids and sub compacts are lingering longer on the lot. 

It is as if people have collectively lost their long term memory. It is as if we have this strange mental fog that forgets that prices that go down always go back up again. The Giant SUV that seems so cool today with gas at $1.80 a gallon becomes a boat anchor that sucks away big chunks of the family budget when the prices rises back to $3.00 or more a gallon.

Gas is made from a finite resource that is also a potent force when those outside our control decide to use it as a political hammer. The result: gas is used as a weapon of control or coercion. 

With the Super Bowl happening this weekend here is an analogy we can relate to: The team that wins celebrates for a few days, they are in a parade, and everyone in their hometown is proud and happy. But, one week later that team is right back where it was before the start of the season: at 0-0 with absolutely no guarantee this year's wins will translate into success next season. Many of the same players will not even be back next year. No sports fan believes that because of the win in Glendale on Sunday there will be no changes in next year's standings or outcomes. Today's situation doesn't guarantee tomorrow's outcome. 

So why do we seem to believe that low gas prices today mean low gas prices forever? That somehow the drop of the last 6 months is permanent and the future will hold no unpleasant surprises? That buying a large car with poor gas mileage is a smart choice? That saving money by continuing to drive small cars or hybrids is not an appropriate choice?

Collective amnesia? I have no explanation.

January 27, 2015

Sharks and Retirement

Most of us have been taught that a shark must remain in constant motion or it will drown. Because of its gill structure a continuous flow of water is required to absorb enough oxygen. 

More recent studies have shown this belief to be only partly correct. While there are some sharks that must move all the time, several other species spend much of their time lying on the bottom of the ocean, quite content and very much alive. The difference is in their muscle structure and ability to force water through the gills as needed.

Originally, I was thinking of the first type of shark while considering the parallels between sharks and retirement. If we don't keep moving forward we may not physically die right away, but the quality of our life is affected and our exploration of all our opportunities is cut short.

Learning that not all sharks are swimming forever actually makes the idea behind this post more on target. Just like sharks, retirements take different paths depending upon the person.

Some like to be in constant motion. Exercises, hiking, biking, book clubs, on-line or on-site continuing educational classes, travel and exploring, volunteer work, meeting friends for meals, coffee and conversation.....their schedule is full and their retirement is very active.

Others find a blend of activity and relaxation to be best. Like a shark that swims for part of the day and settles on the bottom for awhile, this approach to a satisfying retirement mixes stimulation and times of calmness. A hike or brisk walk is followed by time on the back porch with a book or Ipod playing some favorite music. An active day spent with grandkids is balanced with a day spent with friends at a movie and relaxing dinner.

Still others are decompressing after a hectic life of career and family. A schedule that is open to whatever feels right today works for them. There may be extended periods of little physical or mental exertion, then a burst of action. But, the decompression means no pressure to "perform" and no guilt in that lifestyle choice.

This ability to be the type of "shark" that suits you at this stage of life is what is so satisfying about retirement. During much of our life we are not in control. Jobs, family, parents, soccer practice, business travel....whatever your life components there were responsibilities that restricted your freedoms.

Now, you are more likely to be restricted only by your own choices and decisions. Granted, health and financial concerns, maybe dealing with aging parents mean you are not completely free to do what you feel when you feel.

But, few would argue that retirement gives you a much greater ability to craft a life that is more to your liking. And, the type of "shark" you are can change as your circumstances and desires change. A constantly moving shark today may become a "bottom dweller" for a period of time, then become partly active again.

The next time you watch "Jaws" think about that shark and your approach to retirement! Are you going to need a bigger boat?

January 24, 2015

Life Lessons From 2,000 Years Ago

"Don't think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves.
If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.
Don't just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.
Bless those who persecute you. Live in harmony with each other. Don't be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And, don't think you know it all." 

If the above sounds a little familiar you are right. I didn't write it. It is a section from Romans 12 in the Bible.

Now before you wonder what is happening to Satisfying Retirement, rest easy. My faith in God is an important part of my life and I read the Bible most days. But, this blog isn't about to start quoting the Bible on a regular basis or preach to you. It did seem to me, though, that those few sentences from Paul are excellent guidelines for my life and might work for you, too. 

A Satisfying Retirement is really the result of everything we have learned throughout our life: all the lessons absorbed from mistakes and missteps as well as from successes and achievements. It is taking what we have learned in school, from books, from whatever our belief system is, and from family and friends.

It is an attempt to make the most of what time we have on earth: to maximize our potential, use our skills and talents to benefit ourselves and others in a positive way. It is to leave a legacy of purpose and truthfulness, of dependability, and honesty.

 A truly Satisfying Retirement is not a selfish period of life but actually quite the opposite. I believe it is when we have the time, the maturity, and the desire to make a positive difference in the lives of others and the world in which we live.

Romans 12 gives some pretty clear guidance to help me on that journey.
"My faith demands I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference." This quote from President Jimmy Carter
nicely sums up what I want my life to be for this phase of my existence.

January 20, 2015

Comtemplating Lifestyle Changes: Part Two

In Part One of this post I detailed the thought process for a move and its place in my plan for a needed lifestyle change. With my word for 2015 being Move, it seemed a logical place to start.

But, a physical relocation or reworking of our current house is only part of what I am feeling is required. What follows are some additional steps that have come to mind.

A critical decision Betty and I have discussed will be how we begin to live a life truer to our faith. I have written before about the importance of religious faith to us. We have come to the conclusion that we are not committing enough of our time, energies, and resources to this part of our lives. A more active involvement in trying to help the hurting people in our society is required of us.

It has been too easy for us to ignore the horrors of the homeless, the abused, the abandoned, and those seeking a way out of their misery. Safe and sanitized faith kept inside a box that is only opened once or twice a week isn't what we believe we are supposed to be doing.

I left prison ministry a few years ago for some reasons that remain valid. But, I feel a need to reengage with something that takes my faith from the safe environment of my middle class lifestyle and puts it to work. No, we aren't contemplating becoming full time missionaries. But, something is being demanded of us in this area that we have yet to figure out but are actively looking at options.

To kick start my creative side, I am going to try something very different (and scary) for me: find a ceramics studio that offers classes for beginners or take a shot at painting with watercolors. Also, I started Tai Chi classes a few weeks ago. They should help my balance, flexibility and an overall sense of well-being. 

I have plans for a third book, but for the moment I am putting that the shelf. I know I can turn out another retirement book but is that challenging enough for me at this time? Does it take me new places? At least for now, the answer is no.

 There remain many more questions than answers. There is still much more for me to figure out. But, that dead end feeling I wrote about a few weeks ago is changing and I am feeling a renewed sense of energy.

January 16, 2015

What's Next As I Comtemplate Lifestyle Changes: Part One

In a post a few weeks ago I noted I was feeling kind of bored and stale at the moment. My life had become too routine and I needed to find a new passion and a new spark. As you might imagine this "problem" has prompted discussions with Betty as we explore options together. I was glad to find her just as open to a change as I am.

The tremendous response to that post was also extremely helpful in giving me support and insight. Actually, it generated more comments as anything I have written over the years.

The time spent with good friends in Palm Springs helped a lot in shaking me out of my rut. The film festival experience was something I had never done before and it had been 4 months since our last RV trip. I came home with a new interest in sampling all the foreign and independent films available on Netflix and Amazon Prime as well as attending local film festivals this spring. I felt a burst of energy. I realized how much I missed being on the road in the RV.

One of the ways I crystallize my thoughts and come to some conclusions is to write about them. This forces me to think through all the pros and cons of something, evaluate the costs (both financial and emotional), and begin to focus on what seems best. The advantage of a blog is you can come on this journey with me and offer your input and counsel. 

Let's start with the biggie I am exploring: where to live. Our house has been our home for 12 years. This is our third house in the Phoenix area over the last 29 years. All three have been within 5 miles of each other, so obviously we like this area. We have a large backyard that Betty, Bailey, the rest of the family, grandkids, and I love. 

Shopping is very convenient. Our primary care physician and eye doctor have an office within three blocks of our home. We are close to several excellent hospitals, including the famous Mayo Clinic. A large neighborhood park is a 10 minute walk away. Our church is 15 minutes away. All our friends live in this section of town. 

So, what's the problem? Frankly, there will come a time when our two story home becomes a big problem. Betty already has struggles with her knees and I am not that far behind. The house is 30 years old, so maintenance is a constant. That beautiful yard takes a lot of work, water, and money to keep it looking nice and I am getting tired of worrying about all the things in an older home that might fail next. It is a chore to get this house ready for the 2 months we are gone each summer. 

If your family lives thousands of miles from you this might cause you to question our sanity, but Betty and I both feel the 45 minute drive to the grandkids' home is too far for us to see them and the family as often as all of us would like. Our other daughter and my dad are a bit closer to us, but everyone lives in the same direction: south of where we live now. 

The idea of a move to a new area of the city, closer to family, and to a home that is easier to care for and suitable for us as we grow older is enticing. Downsizing again is attractive to both of us.

At the same time, a move is a major headache. It is expensive, stress-inducing, and causes serious disruption for months at a time. Changes in shopping behavior, doctors, health facilities, and strained friendships based on the extra driving time must be considered.

Our first step to see if a move makes sense is to consult with a friend who is a real estate agent. We want her feedback on the value of our home and what we should do to maximize its selling potential. How much will we need to spend to get it sell-ready? Then, we will start to look at various areas of the city to see if the type of home we'd be happy with exists within our price range.

The end result of all this may be that we fix up where we are and stay put for several more years. Or, if we find the perfect place then we begin to pack. At the very least we will find out the true market value of our home and what could be done to make it a better match for our needs and desires at this stage of our life.

So, at this point we are in the information-gathering stage for where we will live. I'll let you know what we decide when we decide! But, with "move" being my focus word for 2015, this seems to be a nice place to start.

I will save other parts of our life that are under review or have just been changed for the next post.  

January 13, 2015

Movie Madness and Good Times in Palm Springs

Betty and I are just back from a fabulous time in the California desert. Palm Springs hosts an internationally known film festival each January. Over the course of 10 days, over 190 new movies and documentaries are screened, celebs dash in and out from Hollywood to be seen and promote a project, galleries and restaurants are overflowing......in short something very glamorous, exciting, and quite different from events Betty and I normally attend. 

All the movies shown are listed on a giant grid...an overwhelming abundance of choices.

We loved it. Invited by RV buddies Mike & Tamara Reddy to join them at this year's festival, we drove from Scottsdale to the city made famous by movie stars who spent their vacations and winters here. Mike and Tamara made their way from Orange County to meet us at an RV park just south of downtown.

For five busy days we watched some tremendous (and one not so tremendous) new films. We had dinners that ranged from a simple deli or pizza place to a lively and exciting dinner at glamorous Lulu's.

A peak through the trees at Cary Grant's Home

Together we did a walking tour of one of the neighborhoods where movie stars of the golden days of Hollywood lived part of each year. We peered through the gates at the homes of Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra and Jack Benny. We experienced Village Fest, where several blocks of downtown become a  feast of sights, sounds, and food every Thursday night. 

We saw films that may or may not show up at your local theater at some point. Each was thought provoking and very different from each other. It was quite interesting to discuss our feelings after the movie. One that I disliked Betty liked a lot. As we talked about the reasons for our reactions, I suddenly understood what I had missed and she had seen - and I had a new appreciation for that film.

We spent a few hours at the Palm Springs Art Museum, a beautiful building with some stunning works. That experience became much more meaningful because of the tremendous commentary of our guide. He gave us insights we would never have had on our own. He showed us how to look at something with a fresh perspective, and walk away with a totally different understanding of the artist's intent and its affect on us.

While The Reddy's hiked a few hundred miles (well, not that much but a lot), Betty and I set more modest goals: relax from a busy holiday season and set our sights on what our life should be in 2015. As you know from previous posts we are looking at some changes in several areas of our lives together, and the time away from home seemed a perfect time to discuss what is going on.

Besides the walking tour of the "movie" part of town we visited Sunnylands Gardens. This was one of the biggest surprises of our time in town. The Annenberg estate is one of the most beautiful places in America. But, more importantly, the couple who lived here donated hundreds of millions of dollars to important social causes. 

courtsey: palmspringslife.com
  They also opened their home to world leaders, presidents, and even British royalty to gather together to discuss world problems and craft political solutions. Even today, men and women seeking solutions to our most difficult problems gather together at Sunnylands. Every U.S. President from Eisenhower through Obama have spent time here with other world leaders. It was inspiring to learn what Walter and Leonore Annenberg had done with the wealth and opportunities life had given them.

Did we enjoy the festival and our time with Mike and Tamara? Enough that we already decided to spend a week there next year if all our schedules permit.
Unlike Las Vegas, what happens in Palm Springs comes home with us as memories and great times.

We had great weather

Temperatures around 70 made for a perfect stay 

One of the shorter lines waiting to see a movie

Starting my morning on the patio next to the RV

Good times together

Walking away until next year

January 9, 2015

Virtual Villages: What a Fabulous idea

While reading Tom Sightings' excellent blog, Sightings at 60, I came across a concept I was unfamiliar with: virtual villages. His post referred to an article in the New York Times that provided a thorough and intriguing explanation of this idea for shared communal living - but without living together.

For many retirees, a goal is to remain in one's home and in one's neighborhood for as long as possible until health issues force a move. One of the problems that choice can trigger is loneliness. Unless one's neighborhood has a number of folks of similar age and mobility, it is easy to become isolated. Friendships are difficult to maintain or start anew. Also, finding workmen who can be trusted to perform home repairs or modifications becomes a crap shoot. We are aware of companies that take advantage of seniors, turning simple repairs into costly replacement projects.

Welcome a new approach to aging in place: a group of people who form social connections and share information on service companies that have by verified by members. There can be a cadre of volunteers who help in dog walking, grocery shopping, or yard work.

Virtual Village members may meet in someone's home for a meal, discuss a book or current events. Meeting at a restaurant for happy hour or a movie theater to see a feature film together are common occurrences. Importantly, these are true communities where new friendships are formed and nurtured. Members watch out for each other and offer the caring support of an extended family.

Virtual village members can stay in touch through special village websites and email. Many also use social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or YouTube to stay in touch and foster friendships.

A company has been formed to help manage, promote, and coordinate these villages. According to the Village to Village Network there are 140 virtual villages established in 40 states with another 125 or so on the drawing board. For a monthly fee of about $30-$40 a month members get access to various resources and support for the group as well as forums and idea exchanges.

It would be possible for a group of people to organize a virtual village on their own and skip the cost. With today's social media environment finding people who would like to band together for social support would not be difficult. There is a web site in Phoenix, for example, that allows like-minded people to form social organizations that cover virtually every interest and mindset.

But, the network does offer a healthy dose of organizational input and the ability to tap into ideas from other villages around the country. Many of these villages are providing tremendously valuable services to their members. With a majority of seniors desiring to remain in their homes, these virtual communities seem to be one viable option. There is a risk that a virtual village begins to promise too much and become too expensive for the members to support. Of course, then the folks who know each other can simply continue the relationships without the fancy extras.

Frankly, I found the idea very appealing. Betty and I are determined to not burden our children with our end-of-life issues, so moving into a retirement facility with assisted living and nursing care options will happen. But, that step is at least 15-20 years in the future.

In the meantime we want to remain independent, vital, and engaged with others for shared experiences and help as needed, A virtual village seem like an opportunity to do just that. I encourage you to click on the link above read the full New York Times article and then let me know what you think.

Note: I am in Palm Springs for the International Film Festival. It will take longer than normal to respond to comments.

January 5, 2015

SnowBirds and the Family That Stays Behind

A few weeks ago I received an email from a reader who asked a question that I had never given much thought to before she raised the issue. Upon reflection, it struck me as not only a legitimate question but one that needed a follow up on  Satisfying Retirement.

Here is what she asked:
I’m wondering if you may have or know of any information in form of articles, a support web page or support group for Canadian families of snowbirds who are left behind. I am struggling with some issues and want to see if there are others who are in the same shoes as I am. I’d like to see how they cope, deal with and come to terms with the way in which we are left to deal with the life that snowbirds leave behind. It would be nice to share and communicate with other families - left behind.

Her question deals with one of the key elements of a successful retirement: relationships. In her case, and with many others, the relationship is disrupted when some members head to Arizona or Florida, or whether they go to escape the cold and snow for months at a time. While she is asking about Canadian groups, her question is really universal in importance.

I do not know anything about the particular concerns that prompted this email when (probably) parents or grandparents head south. But, I can speculate. There could be a natural concern for the health and well being of the snowbirds. Being away from a family support system and regular medical providers entails some risk.

In very close families (I can relate!) having important members gone for months at a time can leave others unhappy and without important interpersonal contact. Sharing good and bad news by email, phone calls, or even Skype video contact is just not as satisfying. Missing a grandchild's performance in a school play, or helping a son or daughter celebrate a new job are some of the missed moments that cannot be recaptured.   

Importantly, this reader is not asking for help in convincing the snowbirds to stay home. She is asking for feedback on how others deal with the extended absences of loved ones and the complications that arise.

On a personal note, I can relate to some of what this email expresses. Betty and I have decided that being away from our family for more than two months is just not workable. Luckily we don't have to escape the snow, but we do try to miss some of the brutal Phoenix summer heat by heading to Portland or San Diego in the RV. Originally we thought that 3-4 months on the road would work for us, but that just isn't the case. Being away from loved ones for that long doesn't make any of us happy. We all miss each other too much.

Now I am turning to you. What solace or comfort can you offer to not only this reader but others who have the same concerns? What suggestions do you have that might make being left behind easier?  Are you aware of any web sites or support groups that exist? When a snowbird leaves, what do those who stay behind have to do to cope?

January 2, 2015

A Word for The New Year

A former blogger and dear friend makes it a habit to pick one word for each new year. That word becomes a focus for what she hopes to accomplish and what she wants to keep moving toward. Satisfying Retirement reader, Nita, left a comment recently urging me to consider the same idea.

While I have never done so before, in my quest to shake my feelings of being stale and stuck, I thought this might be a good time to actually pick a word and see what happens.

So, I did. For 2015 my word is: Move.

The dictionary definition of move is to change or cause to change from one state, opinion, sphere, or activity to another.

That one word is speaking loudly to me in several different ways:

* Move physically. My body needs more exercise , more stimulation and stretching of what I think I can do. Laziness is the enemy.

* Move Literally.  Will this be a year I change where I call home? Maybe, but the reasons have to be compelling and have legitimate motivations and definable results.

* Move mentally. Push myself to keep learning something(s) new...but what?

* Move spiritually. My faith needs to be made more active..but how?

* Move the walls of my self-built box back a bit. Life require pushing against restraints, self-imposed and otherwise. What potentials have I left on the table so far. What mini Berlin Wall needs to be knocked down?

Now that I have the word I have a path forward. Part of it is spelled out above, but much of that path still needs to be uncovered. I must bring specifics to the generalizations.

I think I just found the basis for a few upcoming posts on this blog. But, for now, I will take some time to focus on the word and see where it moves me. 

The only way to see where the road leads me is to move from where I am standing now