November 27, 2015

A New Find on A Saturday Afternoon

Ask me what I know about olive oil and I might say that she was Popeye's girlfriend. That, of course, would be correct. But, the more common response would be an oil that is now used regularly in the majority of households in this country, and an even higher percentage in many other parts of the world.

A reader's suggestion (thanks, Mona) from a few months ago gave Betty and me a new place to explore: The Queen Creek Olive Mill, about 40 minutes from our new home. A week or so ago we downloaded a map and set out. I got lost. Or, should I say Google Map isn't always completely accurate, particularly in a rural part of the Valley. Roads that it thinks are connected, aren't.

No matter. Eventually, we figured it out and found a beautiful little corner of our area. The Queen Creek Olive Oil is the only place in Arizona that produces Extra Virgin Olive Oil. A market on site sells more types and blends of olive oil and vinegar than I knew existed. A coffee shop and fresh food restaurant are attached. On the other side of a stand of olive trees sits small stage where musicians perform on weekends. A combination grill and bar are also among the trees. serving cold beer and hot burgers. The day we were there a local vineyard had samples of Arizona wine available for tasting and purchase.

Enjoying a mid 70's, mid November day, we had a cheese board loaded with, you guessed it, olives and cheeses, roasted red peppers, honey, and crusty bread. A panini sandwich and prickly pear lemonade completed a perfect lunch while we listened to the music and watched a large Saturday crowd enjoy the setting.

Betty found a small Christmas ornament carved from an olive tree while I snapped some pictures. After an hour or so we headed back home, satisfied that our Saturday afternoon had been well spent.

To top off the day we went to dinner at an excellent Mexican restaurant in Old Town Gilbert. As we finished the meal, who comes around the corner but our grandkids with mom and dad in tow. The group spots us and rushes in for hugs and conversation.

A perfect end to a great day.

November 21, 2015

Is Leaving a Legacy Under Our Control?

What is a legacy? Most dictionaries define it as a gift of money or property for someone after you die. The second way to think of a legacy is something that has been achieved that continues to exist after someone's death. That is the form of legacy I'd like to explore as you move through your satisfying journey.

It would be a very rare person who doesn't want to be remembered after he or she is gone. As we age we understand how short life really is and that there are few opportunities for do-overs.

I have one life. What am I making of it? How would I like to be remembered?  Do I know what I would like to leave behind for others? These are questions that all humans ask themselves at some point. We have a very basic need to believe we have made a difference. A legacy is just that: something that can be pointed to that confirms you were here and you mattered. A satisfying retirement is great, but a strong legacy is something really worth striving for.

There are two basic types of legacies. The first involves tangible accomplishments. If you are an artist that's easy. Your paintings, sculptures or photographs will hang on a museum wall or grace people's homes for years into the future. If you are a singer, actor, or writer you will live on in your music, performances, or words.

Maybe your financial status is such that you can create an on-going scholarship at a favorite school or an endowment at the university you attended. You might be able to donate enough money to help fund on-going research into a serious disease. Maybe you established a volunteer organization that continues to help people for years into the future.

For someone who is handy with tools, maybe you built a vacation cabin in the woods, or a canoe that cuts gracefully through the water. Your family and relatives can enjoy what you made and think of you whenever they do.

The second type of legacy is the intangible kind. You have instilled a set of moral and ethical values in your children. You have treated loved ones and friends in such a way that when people remember you those memories are full of joy and fondness.

You have demonstrated through your life the importance of giving back to others, of leaving your little corner of the world just a bit better for you having been here. You have modeled a life worth living and are remembered by your actions, big and small, your beliefs, and your steadfastness. Years after you are gone, someone will mention your name and there will be a smile, or a fond memory, or a confirmation of how you spent your life's time. Maybe there will be the ultimate compliment when someone declares he would like to be like you were.

While both types of legacies have tremendous value, I think most of us have a better shot at creating a life worth remembering when we focus on the intangible characteristics. The good news: it is not too late to start. The bad news: too many of us never start.

The goal of a legacy can't be selfish. If so, it probably won't be very long-lasting. Even the person who donates $5 million to establish a scholarship fund is doing it because she believes her money can benefit more people if she uses it in this way. Will her name be associated with something good? Sure. But, that is not the primary motivator.

If you are remembered for teaching your children how to be responsible, caring, loving parents to their kids your legacy is worthwhile. If you instill a sense of civic responsibility in a child who goes on to help others for the rest of his or her life, you have created a legacy that is worthwhile.

Maybe your legacy is the guy who always smiled, who was always there to help someone when he was down, who loved others unconditionally. Maybe you were  the first to volunteer whenever your church needed help. You couldn't take off 2 years to join the Peace Corps so you always helped restock the food bank at an inner-city school. You were confined to a wheelchair after an accident. But, instead of being bitter and withdrawn you remained positive and upbeat. You affirmed that there were others in much worse shape than you.

All of us will be remembered for something. How would you like to be remembered for what you do while on this earth? How would you want your memory to affect others? Most of the answers are within your control. A legacy is built on beliefs and attitudes that are translated into actions. Turn whatever time you have left into a long-lasting legacy. Start today.

November 17, 2015

Update: So, You're Retired: What Do You Do All Day?

A post I wrote a little over five years ago remains the most-read one on this blog. In that time, almost 36,000 folks have clicked the link to take a peak inside the life of a retiree. Fresh comments are still left on a regular basis by someone who just discovered that post and wants to be part of the discussion. I love to see that; it means what has been written is still relevant.

So, You're Retired: What Do You Do All Day was written just a few months after I starting blogging. If I wrote that post today it would be quite different. In the five years that have slipped by I have changed my attitudes and understanding of a satisfying retirement. I have a better understanding of what leaves me feeling fulfilled. I have a much clearer picture of what is meaningful.  I have a better handle on the concerns that have turned out to be not important or worth the worry.

The path to my satisfying journey is available in previous posts available in the archives. I invite you to take some time to see if anything resonates with you and your needs. And, I do encourage you to email me if you have a specific concern or problem that you'd like my thoughts on. 

What I'd like to do with this "reboot" version is to take a quick sample at what the last few years of some national studies and authors have written about retirees and their use of time. Then, I ask you to comment on how well what has been described matches your day. I will bet there will be some very interesting and important differences!

One nationally respected source lists these three top "activities:"

  • Reading
  • Resting
  • Watching TV
A little farther down the list are:
  • Sleep
  • Shopping
  • Chores
  • Volunteer work
What seems to be missing are some rather important activities for retirees. Even though the number one concern of the vast majority of us is the state of our health, this list does not indicate that physical exercise or staying active is even in the top ten. Finding an activity or hobby to become passionate about is also missing. Spiritual development is something that many retired folks find is much more important in their lives; it isn't noted.

Another author was a bit more thorough. Financial concerns and management take up parts of a typical day. Working on relationships may not seem like it needs to be on a list of what retirees do during the day, but the author (and I) would certainly suggest it is vital. Nothing can make a 24 hour day a miserable experience than being with another person, all day, every day, and being unhappy or argumentative.

One writer used a phrase I understand, but I have a problem with because he is probably right more often than not: "Retirement takes place at the margins." He is implying that a typical retired person lives a life not that different from his or her working years, except in some of the spare time that now exists. Watching TV, eating, sleeping, doing household chores, shopping......a day after retirement looks like a day before.

Certainly, there are basic activities and duties we all must perform regardless of our employment status. I do agree that there are a lot of retired folks who fill their time with just more of the same. But, the comments left on hundreds of blog posts over the last 5+years, the research I conducted for my last book, my relationship with other retirees, and my personal experience tells me that a retirement that "takes place on the margins" is a wasted retirement. 

If the only way to tell if someone is retired is the the lack of regular paychecks or a daily commute, then that is a sad. For many of us, retirement will last almost as long as the years spent employed. If we are careful to watch our money we are not likely to "run out." If we take care of our bodies and minds by staying active and engaged, we will have productive decades ahead of us.

If we find a passion, nourish our relationships, give some part of ourselves to others, and understand that there is something greater than us watching over us, a satisfying journey through retirement is not only possible, but likely. 

Each day is a day full of possibilities and promise. What do you do with that time?

November 13, 2015

Taking the Time

This post first ran over 4 years ago. As I re-read it, the message seemed to be worth repeating, and to fit with several recent posts I have written about schedules, freestyling during retirement and making sure I don't let opportunities pass me by. Even though some of the descriptions are of the house we sold 6 months ago, the message remains the same: a satisfying journey is my responsibility.

My schedule is not as busy as it was when I was running my radio consulting business. I no longer travel half of each month. I don't have to worry about making payroll, government forms, marketing, or keeping clients happy.

But, retirement is not a walk in the park. And, that is part of my concern. It should be. Literally.  I live about 1/2 mile from a very nice park complete with sports fields, picnic tables, and a large play area for kids. A full walking circuit from my house, around the park and back is exactly 2 miles. Without pushing it that is about 35 minutes. There is no earthly reason why my wife and I shouldn't walk around the park, or have a picnic dinner, or simply sit and watch the kids at play on a regular basis. Unfortunately, it is rare event in our lives.

I have written before about our backyard. Lots of planting, a fountain, a Ramada, a shaded porch, an eating area....sounds even better to me as I describe it. What a perfect place for starting the day with breakfast and a book, for lunch, or simply relaxing at the end of the day. Again, like the nearby park, this oasis is underused.

There is one part of my office that holds the equipment for my hobby, ham radio. There are eight different radios and various amplifier or power supplies, microphones, and enough wires and cables to open a Radio Shack. The roof  has several different antennas sticking up above the roof so I can hear and transmit to places all around the world. Amazingly, last week was the first time in almost a year that I actually used a few of the radios to make contact with fellow radio operators in Minnesota and Washington state. Thousands of dollars of equipment have been gathering dust for 11 months.

So, what's the problem?  I certainly have the time. While my schedule is pretty full with blogging, volunteer work, exercising at the gym, meetings at church, and the normal work required to maintain a house and family, it is rather flexible. I can fit in something that is interesting or enjoyable if I so choose.

The problem is I don't take the time. I think of something interesting or pleasant to do, but let excuses at the last minute derail the idea. I keep putting it off until the moment is gone.

Phoenix Art Museum outdoor cafe
A few weeks ago this flaw in my satisfying retirement lifestyle became evident, even to me. An interesting art movie was showing on a Sunday afternoon at the Phoenix Art Museum. The movie was free, so my budget was happy. Show time was several hours after church so we could go without a problem.

At the last moment, Betty and I decided to leave early so we could enjoy lunch at the museum's restaurant. It was a lovely, breezy day...perfect for having a spur-of-the-moment meal on the outside patio before the movie began. Lunch, a walk around the neighborhood, the movie, and then a brief look at the latest exhibit at the museum made for an absolutely delightful 4 hours.

As we were driving home, the thought struck me that my retirement should be filled with many more moments like this. At a certain age you realize putting off something until later may mean you have missed an opportunity that may not come around again.

Taking the time to embrace happiness, to do something different, and to experience the world around you doesn't require being retired. All of us, at any stage of life, can fill our lives with those special moments that can brighten our daily life.

But, being retired and relatively free to do what I want when I want, removes all plausible excuses. Taking the time to live and not just exist should be our goal.

November 9, 2015

Uniting With a New Passion

A few months ago I wrote about The Stigma of Being Poor and asked about our responsibility to change our world for the better. In that post I mentioned my personal search for a new way to become involved beyond just writing about our society's problems. I want to actively do something about them.

After several years of personal counseling through the Stephen Ministry program, and five years deeply involved in prison ministry, I have taken a two year break. I needed a breather and the time to decide where my particular talents (or, is that peculiar talents?) might lead me.

I have found the answer. The local United Way organization has invited me to be a member of a steering committee for a new volunteer initiative that focuses on retirees in the Phoenix metro area. With life skills and experiences, a desire to give back to the community, and the time to do so, many of these folks are simply looking for information and the opportunity to help.

The Valley of the Sun United Way has been serving community needs in the Phoenix area for 90 years. Within the past four years it has made a major adjustment to its approach. 

 Previously, VSUW (Valley of The Sun United Way) collected donations from tens of thousands of individuals and hundreds of businesses. That money was then distributed to appropriate agencies that would apply the funds to the immediate needs in the community.

After some serious research and thinking about their overall role, the VSUW moved to a model where the donated money becomes the funding for programs with the direct involvement of the United Way team and cooperating businesses, agencies, and volunteers. In this way, problems such as homelessness and hunger, increasing the financial stability of families and individuals, and finding ways to help children and youth succeed in life can be dealt with in a more comprehensive and and long-term manner.

82,000 households in Maricopa County (Phoenix's county) experience chronic hunger. One in five Arizonans lives in poverty. Tens of thousands of kids come to local schools hungry each morning. With problems this extensive a concerted effort to look for solutions must be made.

Feeding someone who is hungry or finding a family of four clean beds for the evening are vital. Helping the individuals and families find solutions to these problems to get them off the same track is even more important. The new model that the VSUW is now following, allows for both short and long term commitments to finding solutions. Other United Way organizations around the country are looking at the success of the Phoenix model and making adjustments that allow them to better serve their own communities.

I am excited and energized over the chance to become part of an organization that is doing so much good for my hometown, and has the foresight to evolve its approach to the problems that affect so many. After attending the first steering committee meeting last month I have become involved in helping the new program develop promotional materials. I am helping to secure a presentation at a major retirement community in the Valley where I hope many of the residents find new outlets for their desire to serve. At some point I have been told I will become part of a speakers' bureau, to help spread the word about Retire United.

Over the next several months I will have some additional posts about this new chapter in my volunteer life. If you live in the greater Phoenix area, I urge you to check out the Retire United group. For everyone else, I urge you to always look for ways to serve others and your community that satisfies and nourishes you. 

November 5, 2015

Infrastructure Care and Maintenance

courtsey CNN

Much of the infrastructure in this country is decaying or in poor repair. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal noted that nearly 1 in 4 bridges are structurally deficient or obsolete. Highway congestion drains $100 billion from our productivity every year. All of us have regular contact with potholes and roads that are literally unsafe to drive. Some of us deal with power brownouts during heat waves because the electric grids are old or too small to handle the demand.

When the enlarged Panama Canal opens soon only 2 out of fourteen East Coast ports will be able to accept the larger vessels. Meanwhile, Cuba is busy building a giant port to accept these new ships and satisfy a need that U.S. ports can't. 

This post isn't about the damage to our present and future living standards due to the failure to maintain and improve basic infrastructure. Rather, the article caused me to think about another infrastructure: ours. The good news is we don't have to wait for Congress to act, or the utilities to expand capacity. We are in charge.

The dictionary definition of infrastructure is: the basic physical and organizational structures and facilities needed for the operation of a society or enterprise. For us that would include our health, our minds, our living environment, and our relationship with others.

I am beginning the process of planning and writing a new book. Building a Satisfying Retirement is almost 5 years old, while Living a Satisfying Retirement will have been on the market for three years next spring. Both continue to sell on Amazon, but a fresh compilation of my thoughts is probably due.

This concept of our internal infrastructure prompted me to think about a focus for a new book. Like a bridge needs a solid foundation or a roadway needs quality ingredients to last, retirement should have certain elements in place. As I reviewed my life over the past decade and a half, as well as several years of posts and comments, I have identified 9 building blocks of a satisfying retirement. 

Importantly, these components aren't unique to retirements. Some of them are part of our life from the day we were born. But, for our purposes, I believe they take on increased significance as we age and move through this next stage of life. They are the infrastructure that we depend on for a satisfying journey.

My writing schedule should mean the new book will be finished and available by late winter or early next spring. 

So, the next time you drive around a pothole or wonder if the workers will ever finish repairs on that freeway near your home, think about your internal infrastructure and what shape it is in. Then, I hope you will compare your results with what I come up with when the new book hits the market!

November 1, 2015

Can You Lead a Life of Significance While Still Nurturing Yourself?

How is that for a post title. Is it a rhetorical question or do I have an answer? And, what exactly is a "life of significance?" Is it diametrically opposed to a life where "self" is protected and nurtured?

Immediately, here in paragraph number 2, I will state that the question is not rhetorical. I will also note that I don't know if I have the answer. But, it seems like a question or dilemma that should be asked. So, let's see where the discussion takes us.

This potential dichotomy is not one that exists exclusively during the retirement years. Of course, as infants and young children the whole world is about us and our significance. Periods of loud crying and temper tantrums pretty much work to keep mom and dad focused on our wants.

Once we realize that the world is round and big and we are not at its center, hopefully we begin to incorporate the feelings and needs of others into our world view. Sharing, consideration, and compromise are skills that become necessary for our social survival.

If we look at our society over the last decade or two, I could argue that those precise skill sets of compromise, consideration, and sharing are falling into disuse as we age. How else to explain the extreme polarization in our world? 

One could make the point that some of us have regressed back into the young child mode of self being the only motivator and "what I want" becomes the mantra. There is no debate that our innate sense of self worth and preservation are powerful motivators. But, if we let those feelings rule all our decisions I contend we (and the world) are the worse for it.

Certainly, one of the most pleasing aspects of my satisfying journey through retirement has been the growth in my need to connect more with others and lend a helping hand when I can. I enjoyed what I did for a living for all those years. But, there was little time or motivation to do much for anyone other than my immediate family. They were my focus and the beneficiaries of my work and thoughts. 

For me, retirement has allowed me to see the deficiencies in that approach to life. The freedom of time and change has opened up parts of my self that were well hidden for years. My spiritual growth has made it abundantly clear that I was too self-centered and too concerned with the pleasures of the material world. Family is a blessing, but we are made to do more.

A life of significance is one in which an individual does more than is required, more than is expected, more than is simply expedient. It may mean volunteer work. It may mean using skills from your working years to help others now. It can mean clearing a large chunk of your schedule to be a caregiver for a family member or relative. It could mean getting deeply involved in a cause or subject that moves you or you believe has an importance beyond just yourself.

At the same time, you are nurturing yourself. You are likely to find parts of your character or personality that you didn't know existed. It is certainly probable that you will find a sense of fulfillment and joy that eluded you in the past. You will be more connected to the world around you, becoming stimulated and enriched in a way that would much more difficult if you were isolated and only focused inward.

Please, don't simply accept what you have just read without some serious thought on your part. You may disagree with some (or all) of what has been written. But, if you think about the subject and come to a way forward that works for you, then this post has served its purpose.

Note: did you remember to change your clocks this morning? Daylight Savings Time ended at 2 am Sunday, November 1st.