February 21, 2015

Getting Off My Duff

Toward the end of last year I began to feel somewhat stale and bored. Things were going well at home and with the family. We were recently back from a great two-month RV trip to the upper Midwest. But, my days had fallen into a routine that I didn't like. The stimulation of new activities and challenges was missing. In the post, Time to Come Clean, I detailed my feelings. 

Your response was overwhelming. That post generated more feedback than anything I have written in almost 5 years of blogging. Along with a few comments that wondered what I was complaining about, the bulk of the suggestions, support, and ideas were very positive and helpful. I began to play with some ideas and ways of shaking things up.

Less than two weeks after that Betty and I joined friends Mike and Tamara Reddy at the Palm Springs Film Festival for a tremendously creative and fun-packed 5 days. Maybe that was the final push I needed to move forward. Since then I have been experiencing all the newness I craved. 

In early January I began twice a week Tai Chi lessons. The simple, low impact, and slow movements are perfect for improving my balance and flexibility. I am forcing myself to learn something completely new, and being a stumbling amateur in front of others - something I generally shy away from. The people are a nice bunch and totally accepting of beginners like me.

If I am lucky mine will look like this!

A few weeks ago Betty and I took a ceramics class together. Again, this was something I had never attempted before. Betty cautioned me to avoid the potter's wheel and attempting to turn a lump of clay into a bowl or vase since that takes quite a bit of experience and practice. But, she felt I would enjoy shaping a simple plate and spoon holder. In fact, I did, and it was fun to work alongside Betty who has done pottery before. We go back next week to glaze the final products and bring them home.

Then, last week, we attended a fascinating presentation at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts: Around the World in 80 minutes. An organization, ProMusica Arizona, is a group of nearly 100 singers and musicians who have performed 150 shows over the past eleven years. The premise for the show we attended was simple: seven different styles of music from seven different countries would be presented in 20 minute, mini-concerts, over an 80 minute period. Ticket holders pick four of the seven and rotate between venues to hear each performance.

Betty and I listened to a 60 person chorale sing beautiful South African music in the Zulu language. That was followed by a women's ensemble singing songs of Scandinavia. After a short intermission we thoroughly enjoyed a trio playing Chinese melodies, and wrapped up the afternoon with a men's group singing songs of the British Isles. 

German music played by a brass group, a full symphonic performance of Russian music, and a jazz combo with music from Brazil were also being offered, but limited to four choices, we can only guess they were every bit as good as what we heard. 

A final performance of the entire Chorale and Orchestra sent us home after a moving version of Let There Be Peace on Earth. The entire experience was tremendous. If it is ever repeated we will be the first in line to buy tickets.

On top of these activities I am taking three on-line courses: making the most of social media contacts and opportunities, an introduction to American Law, and one to help me stimulate my creativity.

I feel comfortable in saying my dip in energy and enthusiasm is past. I am off my duff and having a truly satisfying retirement again. I am living my word for this year: move, and it feels good.

February 14, 2015

Retirement and Your Social Network

When you read the phrase "social network" what do you think of - Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram? Is your first thought that it is past time to post some fresh pictures or read what your friends are doing and thinking?

The dictionary definition of social network agrees: a dedicated website or other application that enables users to communicate with each other by posting information, comments, messages, images, etc. 

Importantly, that is the second definition listed for the phrase, social network. The preferred explanation is the one that seems to be lost to many of us today: a network of social interactions and personal relationships.

For many in America (the only country I can speak of with any confidence) the first definition has been lost in the chatter and bustle of a permanently connected electronic leash between us and others. We are all familiar with the reality of the 24 hour a day nature of news and information. The gap between something happening and everyone being made aware of it is measured in seconds or minutes. 

I read an article on Huffpost not too long ago about a growing business: electronic detox. Attendees of these conferences are banned from cell phone, laptop, and tablet use for the weekend. The goal is twofold: to dramatically demonstrate how addicted many of us are to these devices, and to teach someone to physically talk with and respond to another human being, face-to-face.

Not surprisingly, the article mentioned the rather high dropout rate of attendees. After just a few hours, the desire to check for messages or text someone was too strong to deny. You can certainly appreciate the irony of texting someone that you are at a weekend retreat to break the hold electronics has on you. 

Regular readers know I have removed myself from Twitter. While I maintain a presence on Facebook to help promote Satisfying Retirement, my participation in the regular flow of messages and videos is minimal; the snarky, vulgar, and hateful stuff was affecting my attitude throughout the day. 

I get requests to join someone's LinkedIn network several times a week but I politely decline. Pinterest would take too much of my time to participate in a meaningful way.

The problem, then becomes, building and maintaining a meaningful social network of real people. I will be the first to admit I am a loner by nature. When you consider my 35 year career in radio that seems a little odd. Entertaining thousands of people at a time on the radio doesn't seem like a good fit. But, actually it worked well. Locked in a studio with some records and a microphone I could project a friendly, let's party type of presentation while operating completely alone and not having to really deal with many of those listeners.

In retirement, my loner nature pretty much continues. I can "behave" well in social situations. I smile, listen to others and affirm someone else whenever I can. But, I just find making many new friends to be hard work. I have lots of acquaintances and  "Hi, neighbor" type exchanges, but few close relationships.

Blogging has been good for me in this regard. I have met several new people in person who are either fellow bloggers or readers. I find those exchanges to be quite satisfying. I look forward to spending time with those folks. We share common experiences and common problems and have an easy time relating. Those friendships have blossomed into something much more than just blogging issues. 

I think as we get older friendship becomes more difficult at precisely the time they are needed the most. Work relationships fall away. Those we have known for many years move away, get sick, or die. Adult kids have their own lives and families so interaction time tends to diminish. 

There are solutions. Join a club or a group that focuses on an activity you like. Become more active in your church, something more than an hour spent in a pew Sunday mornings. Volunteer in such a way that you interact with people. Use the "other" social media to stay in touch with friends who live too far away to see anymore. Of course if your personality type leans toward being a loner, then those simple ideas don't hold much appeal or seem to work well. 

Many of my posts urge you to live your life your way. The retirement journey is personal and unpredictable. Part of the reason it is so much fun is that change is a constant. Yes, there may be periods of boredom or staleness, as I well know. But, overall the experience for most of us is quite positive.

So, my question to you is this: social networks and interacting are positive. The benefits of being with others is well documented. But, what if you are happier being alone, or primarily with your spouse? There are a handful of people you enjoy spending time with, but you are just as happy with a book, the back porch, and sunshine. Is that wrong? Is that approach meaning I am losing out on joyful interactions with others? Am I shortchanging myself by claiming to be happiest with my own company (and Betty's) or am I being true to myself?

Your thoughts and experiences are encouraged.

February 10, 2015

I Can't Say .........

Sometimes Betty and I feel a little like Ado Annie, the character in Oklahoma. There is a particular word she has trouble saying in situations where it would be in her best interest to use it. For those familiar with the musical/movie and the song I must quickly add that Ado Annie's non-use of the word is in an entirely different context than ours. But, the word, "No," is a toughie.

Betty will readily admit that she has a terrible time saying "no" to someone who asks her to help with some project, short term or on-going. If no one volunteers, heads turn to Betty. She feels compelled to be the one to step up and help. Even if she doesn't particularly like the chore involved, finds it stressful and time-consuming, and knows it will cause problems, she still says "yes." Even when she tells those involved she can't continue without help and someone to replace her, if they don't find another person to take the load Betty continues to perform the function.

I am right there beside her. I have been faced with exactly the same situations where I want to say, "enough is enough. I am done." Yet, because there is no viable alternative I continue plugging away. While I think I have gotten somewhat better over the years, saying "no" or walking away from a situation where others will be affected in a negative way is still tough for me.

I know you will advise us that if the organization or situation can't figure out how to replace Betty or me that becomes their problem. If driven to the edge of the cliff they will figure out a solution to keep things functioning, or fall over the edge. If not enough folks care to step up and volunteer then maybe it is time for things to end or change.

That sounds so logical, yet it doesn't work for us. Our personalities are such that walking away just isn't us. We mentally just can't do it. Even if our own well-being would improve with a change, we can't.

I am sure you can relate to this at some point in your life. Your child's classroom needs a volunteer for a field trip: you'd rather have root canal than go to the worm farm for the day but not enough others agree to go so you sign up. Work on a project is behind so you go in on a Saturday or Sunday to help out. Your neighbor, the one who borrowed the saw, lawn mower, drill, and hammer and kept them, needs help with a chore or maybe a ride to the doctor's office. You don't even think about the tools that never came home - you help.

There can be a strong argument made that in not saying "no" to others in need you are showing true love, compassion, or empathy. Based on my recent post on Romans 12, you have gifts that you are supposed to use. To not do so is selfish.

Even so, how do you say "no" when you really feel it is time to move on but without hurting others and ignoring the full use of your skills and talents?

Ado Annie couldn't figure it out, and neither can we. So, we keep saying "Yes."

February 7, 2015

Financial Advice From a Non-Financial Guy

First posted over four years ago, I continue to believe these approaches to financial health work. I have made one or two edits, like CD rates, to the original post but otherwise it is how I wrote it. 

Up front I'm telling you I am not an investment guru. I'm not pushing the next hot thing. I'm just an average guy who has managed to stay afloat by adhering to a few basic rules of financial sanity. How many are you following?

  • Don't Chase Returns That are Well Above Average. If most CDs are paying .9%, you can assume that one paying 5% has some problems. If a broker or friend says you can make a 15%  return on your money, turn and walk away quickly. If it is too good to be true, it usually is. Greed kills.
  • Home Equity Loans are Dangerous. Why? Because too many people use the equity in their house like a piggy bank. The problem is if this piggy bank breaks you could lose your home. My rule is simple: if the equity loan money is for a permanent repair, replacement, or upgrade and I can handle regular payments, then it is OK. But, I never use equity money for something that depreciates or disappears. That means never for a car, big screen TV, or vacation.
  • Use On Line Bill Pay. There is no reason to write a check, put on a stamp, and hope the Post Office delivers it on time. Virtually every bank allows you to pay your bills, on-line, for free. It is more secure than the mail. Often you can upload the data right into your budgeting software.
  • Get a Free Credit Report. Go to annualcreditreport.com for a free report at least once a year. Don't be confused by sites that promise a free report, but require you to purchase some other service. The one linked above is absolutely free. Look over your report for mistakes or problems. Contact the credit bureau immediately to fix anything that is wrong. The rate you pay for your credit card, auto loan and mortgage are directly affected by these reports. Know what they say.
  • Use A Budget. If you do nothing else, keep track of what you spend so you aren't surprised at the end of the month with more days left than money. There is no other way to keep yourself safely afloat. Otherwise you are leaving your financial well-being to chance.
  • Live Beneath Your Means. Spend less than you bring in. How do you know? Use a budget. Your goal is to spend 10-20% less than your income or investments generate. Why? That is the only way to build up a sufficient emergency fund and give you enough wiggle room to adjust to unexpected expenses or inflation. I wrote a post about this subject with more details. If interested, click here.
  • Whatever You Don't Buy is Money You Still Control. If the urge to splurge hits take a cold shower, take a walk around the block, take some time to think before you buy. After 24 hours if you still want the item and you won't break any of the rules above, get it. Too many people wind up in too much trouble by making impulsive decisions regarding money. Distinguish between a want and a need. Get the need, wait on the want.

Financial issues rank near the top of every list of retirees concerns. Is that your situation? Is there some particular area that worries you the most? I'm no expert, but I can certainly tell you what has worked for me. Leave a comment or e-mail me and we'll compare worries!

February 4, 2015

How It All Fits Together


Graphics are a great way to present something that may seem overly complicated, in a way that the concept is more easily grasped. This one is an example.

Building a satisfying retirement can seem overwhelming to many. There are so many pieces of the puzzle that must fit together that the thought of making such a major change can actually freeze someone in place.

The interlocking circles of this graphic representation might make it easier to see the big picture. Just like any stage of life, something you do in one area is likely to interact with another. For example, proper financial planning and preparation affects your plans for travel or how much time you can spend with friends. Health has a major impact in all the other parts of retirement.

Having a pet is not something isolated from the rest of your life, it impacts your finances, your family life, even whether you can take a three week trip to Bora Bora -  after all someone has to take care of Fido or Fluffy.

Your hobbies cost money, they take time away from your "spouse-time," and they may require learning more to really have fun with what you do.

I was somewhat limited in how many circles I could use and I know there are interconnections that don't appear, so please add your thoughts. What parts of life have you found impact (either directly or indirectly) something else going on?