July 29, 2015

Pride In a Job Well Done

When we moved to our new home one thing Betty asked for was a house cleaning service a few times a month. After 39 years she was tired of the dusting, vacuuming, and floor cleaning. Since we both retired 14 years ago she and I have split the chores. Even so, it is something she (and I) don't particularly look forward to. So, we found someone we both thought would do a good job and asked her to come every two weeks.


Guideposts.org
The lady we hired does something that prompted this post: she takes real pride in the job she does for us. Sometimes with a helper, but often working alone, she spends more time and cleans more completely than we could have possibly hoped for. 

Betty, who is a bit of a perfectionist about cleaning, is wildly enthusiastic. She says she has never seen anyone who is so meticulous and so professional about her work. 

Then, just a few days ago, Betty visited a new dentist in our area. After 75 minutes, I called to make sure she was OK, that there hadn't been some problem during her checkup and cleaning. More than an hour and a half later she returned, singing the dentist's praises. He had been more thorough during the rather mundane task of cleaning her teeth and reviewing a full set of x-rays than any dentist she had ever encountered.

Assuming that all that extra time and effort would come with a big bill, I was flabbergasted to learn that he had charged 50% less than the dentist we had been seeing (and pleased with) for years. Betty says he really cared about her dental health and wanted to do the best possible job he could. 

That got me to thinking about something that we seem to have lost in our speeded-up, technological world: pride in doing a job well. Too often a job is finished, but only to an "acceptable" degree.  A real sense of giving more than expected is missing, not necessarily from fear of losing a job or facing criticism, but from a lack of pride in the task.

The house cleaner and dentist are two top-of-mind, fresh examples for me, and that is a little sad. The pride in what these two folks do should not prompt a blog post, it should be what happens all the time. Whether it is getting a car repaired, a house painted, a lawn cut, a washing machine fixed, a doctor visited, or a house cleaned, pride in a job well done should be common. 

Teaching a Sunday School class, serving a meal at the homeless shelter, completing a homework assignment, cooking a meal for friends - all can be done with a sense of pride in a job done well, or as Mary Poppins said in the 1964 movie, "a job that is well begun is half-done."

Pride in doing something, anything well, is part of a satisfying journey that I can rededicate myself to trying to achieve.


July 24, 2015

The Ultimate Power Source: An Eight Year Old Boy

As I write this I am worn out. After two days of being with my grandson, I am ready for a long nap. Did I ever have that much energy? Could I ever talk that much without running out of words? Did my brain ever generate ideas and thoughts that quickly? Is there any way to harness the pure energy that pours out of a young boy? If so, we could satisfy the world's power needs forever.

Let's recap. From late on a Friday afternoon until just after lunch on a Sunday morning, or roughly 45 hours, here is what our human dynamo of a grandson accomplished (minus 19 hours spent sleeping) 

* We watched two full length movies (Newsies & Star Wars) and a few shorter TV shows.

* We spent almost two hours Friday evening at a local park where we were treated to an exhibition and discussion on moths, scorpions, giant beetles, ants, and butterflies. For a break from all the learning we walked around a beautiful lake at sunset and he did some arts and crafts projects.

*The next morning was spent at a local Lowes building center, putting together a wooden action figure motorcycle. He barely looked at the directions for the dozen or so pieces; he just instinctively knew what went where.

* We took our dog, Bailey, to the park twice for walks and romping around the area, all in the 105 degree heat.

* Betty and he handmade dozens of miniature capes and coats for Lego action figures out of various colors of duct tape.

* We played a Disney board game.

*He invented a game involving a white board and colored pens. We played several times, with him usually winning.

* We had a 60 minute quiet time each day for book reading

* He helped clean up after meals

* We took him to dinner at a buffet restaurant, where he was allowed to choose whatever he wanted and in whatever quantity he desired.  He said this was the highlight of the weekend for him! At home, I am pretty sure chocolate covered marshmallows, cotton candy, a cupcake, and jelly beans are not on the menu. Add to that pizza, french fries, and watermelon, and he was a happy young man.

Betty and I are tired, but happy. Having grandkids who want to spend time with their grandparents is a special blessing. When they are as energetic and full of life as he is, that positive approach to life has to rub off.

...just another part of the satisfying journey.



July 19, 2015

A Trip To Strengthen Family Bonds


 I grew up in a very small family. For reasons he never really explained, my dad had no contact with his two brothers. I have uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews I never met. My mom's family was even smaller: one unmarried brother. He was an important influence in my life and I still miss him 30 years after his death. But, a Lowry family reunion was not very large.

On the other hand, Betty comes from a family with all sorts of connections, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins. At this point, many of them have passed on. Even so, she can count at least two dozen folks outside our immediate family who have a relationship to her.

Realizing that the passage of time does tend to cause relative shrinkage, she was determined to put together a family reunion this year. As a part owner of coal and natural gas holdings back East, she decided to try for a gathering centered around the annual coal company meeting held each June in a small town in West Virginia.

Through hard work and efforts from her brother who lives in Pittsburgh, a Montgomery clan gathering did take place in the tiny town of Terra Alta early last month. Circumstances managed to knock several folks from the "we are coming list" at the last minute. But, nine of us gathered for stories, pictures, and shared meals together. 

As a member of this group by marriage, I must admit I approached the event with some trepidation. The cost was not insignificant and it was to come just two weeks before our 2 month RV trip (which was cancelled at the last minute). The idea of looking at photos of long dead folks, touring cemeteries to find grave stones, and listening to stories about people I barely (or never) knew, sounded like a long weekend.

As I often learn my preconceived attitude was completely wrong. The four day trip was fun, meaningful, and a satisfying journey. Betty had the time of her life seeing loved ones for the first time in years. I enjoyed the conversations over meals or sips of honey whiskey. Our cottage on the grounds of a golf course-resort was comfortable and spacious. 

Before and after the West Virginia part of the trip, we spent two days with her brother and his family in suburban Pittsburgh.  My grandparents on my mom's side lived in Pittsburgh, so I spent lots of time there as a youth. The Steel City is one of my favorite places: the neighborhoods, parks, and downtown are enchanting.

While the weather was either rainy or very humid, both provided a change from our desert climate, so Betty and I enjoyed the differences. We agreed we wouldn't want to live with that weather on a permanent basis, but it was fun to see and feel rain for the first time in months.

I doubt if Betty and her brother will ever organize another gathering like this one. Several of those in attendance are having problems with travel or ill health. For some, the cost and distances are too great. It was very important to her that this went well and built memories for all in  attendance. In that regard, her efforts were a complete success.

Here are a few pictures of some of what we saw and experienced during our time in Wild, Wonderful West Virginia. 
Betty's first childhood home in suburban Pittsburgh

Her next home in Pittsburgh
Her grandparents' summer home in West Virginia
Her brother's home

Relatives final resting place in West Virginia

More relatives

Our cottage home for the reunion

The very comfortable living room
West Virginia countryside

Pretty park in Pittsburgh

A beautiful setting

We had a tremendous time in a beautiful part of the country with great people and memories.

July 14, 2015

The Gift That Keeps On Giving: Parental Financial Planning

One of the subjects that never fails to generate interest is almost anything to do with finances. That isn't surprising. After our health, having a firm handle on one's money is the most important topic for many of us. As we age, and either leave the work force or look ahead to a time when regular income will stop, the key question becomes, " Will I run out of money?" 

For most of us, I think the answer is, No. Are changes in lifestyle, a downsizing and pulling back on what we spend possible? Absolutely. In fact, I would probably say, likely. In our case, we are living on about 40-45% of our pre retirement income. Cutbacks in the type and scope of vacations, the number of meals out or how often we replace clothing and furniture, and how often we replace a car have changed since retirement. 

Importantly, what we find most satisfying and where we choose to invest the bulk of our time and resources are different. Family-oriented activities and making memories have become so much more important than material items and things. Stuff just seems, well, like stuff. We joyfully spend money if it makes our daughters, grand kids, or son-in-law's life easier and more fulfilling.

I have been reminded of the power of parental giving over the last few months. My dad passed away in March. Since then I have been the one charged with overseeing mom and dad's final financial gifts to their three sons. Our parents' desire was make life better for their offspring, both during and after their lives. I have a firsthand view of how stunningly successful they were.

We grew up solidly middle class, which considering our circumstances is quite remarkable. With almost 20 moves before I left for college, friends always assumed my dad was in the military. The reality was that he had a tough time holding onto jobs, so we were constantly moving to his next opportunity. One of my strongest childhood memories is our dining room table stacked high with resumes, as dad gamely searched for work.

Throughout every one of his periods of unemployment, he never became discouraged or took out his frustrations on the family. He did a masterful job of keeping his sons unaffected by his problems. Meanwhile, mom taught elementary school. Her steady paycheck kept us afloat. Most meals were simple casseroles, but we were never hungry and never wanting for anything important.

I am pretty sure only the death of my mom's brother and her parents, all within a year of each other, allowed my mom and dad to retire with the insurance and estate monies left behind. I can't think they had much in the way of savings.

I can only speculate that is what prompted mom and dad to be so vigilant in protecting their assets and providing such a life-changing financial gift to the three boys. With so many periods of unemployment and living on just a teacher's salary, leaving much of anything would seem unlikely, much less the balance sheet I am looking at.

My parent's gift of financial planning has made my future (and that of my brothers) much more secure. I am well aware that I am amazingly lucky that my parents did what they did. 

I am not one of those folks who puts a bumper sticker on the back of a monstrous RV that says, "I am spending my kid's inheritance." Nor, do I believe Betty and I should live a bare bones life so we can pass everything along when we die.

But, I do take the lesson of my parents' planning and thoughtfulness to heart and hope to make my children's lives just a bit better and easier when the time comes.

I see that as an important part of being a parent.

July 10, 2015

Summertime in Phoenix, or, Who Left the Oven Door Open?

From the last post you know Betty and I cancelled a two month RV trip to the Pacific Northwest, deciding to stay in town for most of this summer. As 30 year residents of this area we are well versed on what it is like from May through mid October: HOT. Hot, as in every day is at least 100 degrees, often in the 108-112 degree range. We lived here during the hottest day ever recorded in Phoenix: 122 on June 26, 1990. That was toasty.

So, after we agree that I must be crazy to pass up the cool of Portland for the baked treat that is Phoenix, what does someone do when it is too hot to touch the steering wheel? Actually, I have noticed a fascinating change in how locals approach summer. Folks used to simply hibernate. Virtually all activities stopped until fall. Many resorts would close for a few months. No business conventions would be caught dead in town. Concerts, plays, art openings......nothing. The town hunkered down (I love that phrase) and went into survival mode.

But over the last several years, things have changed rather dramatically. While most of us don't leap for joy at 105 degree afternoons, the tendency to hide and wait it out is no longer the first choice. Just like residents of Minneapolis or Fargo or other frozen places who don't lock the doors and stay inside until the spring thaw, Phoenix is running at full throttle year round.

No resorts close anymore. In fact, with special rates (and even better ones for locals), they are full all summer long. Using someone else's air conditioning, taking a dip in a beautiful pool, using the spa, and eating at nice restaurants makes the hottest days not so bad. 

Cultural activities like plays, concerts, museum shows, lecture series, and documentary films at the local library can keep someone busy all day. The Diamondbacks play baseball in an air conditioned facility, while the  WNBA team play just down the street at the home of the Phoenix Suns. The Arizona Cardinals start their preseason games next month, again, in an enclosed stadium.

Very likely, with most of the Valley going to a year round school calendar, it has become more difficult for those with school age kids to leave for weeks or months at a time. Our grand kids begin their new school year in two weeks, for example. What that means, is that things to keep kids and the family busy and engaged have to take place all year. Shutting down everything for the summer just doesn't work anymore.

So, for whatever the reason, Phoenix in the summer doesn't shut down and doesn't flinch in the face of the heat. Betty and I are staying every bit as busy and active as we do during more temperate times of the year. Maybe it is attitude, maybe it is just accepting what the good Lord gives us. We take Bailey for her romp in the park. She still loves to chase birds and smell those smells only doggies smell, regardless of the thermometer. 

Granted, Phoenix in the summer is not for sissies, nor is it everyone's cup of tea. Neither is it a time to complain and simply sit inside. We desert dwellers are accepting our reality and living our lives as fully as we choose. Heavens, Betty and I are even in the market for a pair of bikes to explore our new neighborhood....now, not just when the temperatures drop.

Our satisfying journey through life continues.  

July 6, 2015

Changing My Plans

My wife, dog Bailey, and I should be on the road right now on a two month RV trip. Planned almost 10 months ago, July 6th was to be the day we left the summer heat of Phoenix behind and spent two weeks making our way to Portland, Oregon. After a month's stay in one of our favorite cities, another few weeks would be spent coming down the coast before heading back to the desert on Labor Day weekend.

Two weeks ago, Betty and I had a conversation about our plans...and within short order decided to cancel the trip. Both of us were feeling that recent changes in our lives had made the idea of the trip something neither of us was actually looking forward to.

My left leg had been acting up. Pain and cramping were a daily occurrence. The thought of having a leg that didn't function properly on a 2,500 mile driving trip was unsettling. Betty can't drive the RV, so we might find ourselves stuck far from home for an extended period. Not good. The leg has improved over the last few weeks with more exercise and potassium supplements, but the risk was still there.

Readers of Satisfying Retirement know we moved to a new home in mid-May. After 30 years in the same area of Phoenix, we decided it was time for a change. We absolutely love our new home and being just 3 minutes from the grandkids. 

We are having a blast exploring the area. With so many parks to visit, restaurants to try, events, concerts, and activities to sample, the thought of leaving for two months just didn't have the same appeal it did before the move. Even the reality of 100+ degree weather for the next three months wasn't enough of an incentive to load up the RV and go.

So, I cancelled all the reservations I had spent months putting together. We made new plans for the stuff we wanted to do to our new home. We poured over maps and directories and listed all the local places we wanted to see and things we wanted to do. We began attending the same church as our daughter and grand kids. We set up regular pool parties at their house, followed by dinners or game nights. Our other daughter drops by on a regular basis with her new puppy for playtime and meals together.

Because we do love Portland and have some dear friends there, we will fly up for a week in August. And, a two night stay at a local resort, for pampering at the spa and restaurants, is a highlight on the calendar in a few weeks.

I am a planner. I have a weekend to-do list that extends into October. My Google calendar is my daily anchor. Everything, and I mean everything, goes there and is dutifully deleted as I accomplish the task.

As I age and understand what makes me happy, I realize that plans and to-do lists are not only open to change but somethings should be thrown out the window. Plans are a method to achieve a particular end, they are not the end in themselves.

The RV will probably hit the road for trip to Arizona's White Mountains this fall. Betty and I do love the experience of being on the go. But, for now, it sits in a storage yard a few miles from our home...while we embrace the new experiences in front of us with excitement and joy.

A satisfying retirement has become a Satisfying Journey that reveals new aspects of itself just when I least expect it. Being open to those changes seems to be the key.


note: while writing this post the temperature in Portland was close to 100 degrees! For that, I can stay home.




July 2, 2015

A Satisfying Journey: What a Satisfying Retirement Becomes

If you have been one of regular readers of the blog, Satisfying Retirement, you know I decided to stop writing in April. After almost five years I felt as though that well had run dry. I had written about every part of retirement from all sorts of perspectives and directions. 

Readership was at an all time high, comments were insightful and without the abrasive nature of too much of the blogging world today. With 10,000 Baby Boomers retiring every day for the next 14 years there certainly was an audience. My book continues to sell on Amazon and the requests for interviews, book reviews, and guest posts were steady.

Even so, I felt there was little more I could bring to the table on the subject of retirement as a full time topic. Coupled with an emotional and change-filled first 4 months of 2015, the time just felt right to stop.

However, a writer must write. I get a creative high from putting thoughts on paper (or computer screen). I enjoyed the family-like atmosphere that regular readers created for all of us who spent some time at that web address. I made some life-long friends from those interactions that took contact from the virtual world to the real one. 

So, after nearly two months of not thinking about blogging at all, I began to feel a stirring, an awakening that made me wonder what else I might find interesting enough to write about and worthwhile enough for others to read, without dealing with the familiar ground of retirement.

A Satisfying Journey is the result. 

During the last 18 months of Satisfying Retirement I gave myself permission to write more about lifestyle and family issues, health and finances, travel and learning from a perspective that didn't have to tie everything to not working.

If 14 years of retirement taught me one lesson, it is that this time of life can be fulfilling, creative, and energizing, while also being scary, confusing, and unpredictable. In short, it is like any time in one's life. Retirement is just a label. On its own it doesn't clarify or describe anything. It is up to us who have been limited by that word to show the world (and ourselves) that the only limits are the ones we accept.

A Satisfying Journey is going to be about a time of life that can be filled with purpose and joy. Will the word retirement ever be used? Sure. Is this going to be nothing but a rose-colored glasses look at a world that seems to be bouncing from crisis to crisis? Hardly. 

What I would like it to be is a voice of reason, of hope and enthusiasm, a call to rise above the negative, a take on life that says no matter what limitations health, finances, a difficult family situation, or the current political state we find ourselves, each life has the potential for fulfillment and joy that only needs encouragement and support to realize.

I am going to write about my own life and how it is unfolding since my retirement ( see, there it is!) in 2001. I may report on how others have taken something difficult in their life and made it a positive force. I will write about my failures, frustrations, and problems and how I plan to overcome them. I will write about the good times, the day-to-day of a life that tries to make the most of opportunity and options.

Occasionally, I may comment on something political or social in the news, but hopefully not in a way that inflames a difficult situation or upsets anyone. There are certainly plenty of web sites, blogs, and TV channels that do that already. Respect and civility will be the goals.

Blogging about retirement was fun and educational for me. But, it became too restrictive during a time of life when so many of our limits have been removed. 

Please join me as I explore my Satisfying Journey. 

To keep things simple and allow new readers to take a look at older posts in the archives that deal with retirement, I will be staying at the same web address, at least for now. If I do move, I will provide an easy-to-follow link.


And, yes, it feels good to be back at the keyboard.