June 26, 2016

A Satisfying Retirement Blog: 6 Years and Still Here

Dear Reader,

Today marks the six year anniversary of this blog. Except for a two and a half month sabbatical last year, I have continued to experience an ever-evolving satisfying retirement journey on these pages. 

742 published posts or about 500,000 words, well over 2 million page views, nearly 16,000 published comments (and probably 7,000 that never saw the light of day) - and I still look forward to sitting in front of the keyboard most mornings.

A year ago I began to burn out on writing about the same topic. After all, how many times can the same subjects be covered? Well, the answer seems to be for quite a long time. With a bit of a broader topic focus on my retirement journey, I have been able to continue to find new things to write about, or a fresh perspective on an ever-popular subject. I have found that a lot of my daily reading brings me a new idea for a post that might be interesting to you.

As has been true since day one, the posts I think will generate the most comments often don't. The ones I sort of dash off in 20 minutes, do. All that proves to me your interests are as varied as retirement is exciting and fulfilling. As long as that is true I plan on continuing.

Again, thank you, loyal readers. I write for my creative satisfaction. But, if all these words did not continue to provide a service to others, and generate readership and comments, I would likely take up a new pursuit. 

Since that is not the case, please make time in your day to read and react when you see a new post. If you are so motivated I would appreciate your "like" on the Satisfying Retirement Journey Facebook page and a follow on Twitter. Both tasks can be accomplished by clicking the links found near the top of the right sidebar. They are my only real promotional opportunities that fit a budget of close to zero!

Have a great day. My love and gratitude to you,


June 22, 2016

The Secret To Success: Begin

Famous Graphic Designer, Milton Glaser, once said, "You can't do [something] by simply thinking what you are going to do. So you begin. That's my entire secret: begin."


As someone who will read half a dozen books on a subject before starting anything, his simple statement resonated with me. Not too long ago I wrote about my dislike of being a beginner. Too often that feeling keeps me from following Mr. Glaser's advice - I don't get to the begin stage because I don't like the time I am stuck in the learning phase. Of course, as I noted, that is silly since none of us are good at much of anything without learning about it and then practicing.

Blogger Joel Gascoigne wrote that successful people always start with small projects. They begin at the beginning and then grow. "Try anything" says writer, Andi Cumbo-Floyd. Parenting advisor, Mary Kathryn Johnson, says we all need "Practice, Patience, and Perseverance." Author James Clear says, "Getting started is more important that succeeding."

Does all this advice relate to building a Satisfying Retirement? I'd suggest, "Yes."  In the post, You are doing nothing wrong in your retirement, I argue that your retirement journey is, or will be, unique. Your mix of circumstances, life experiences, trials and troubles, and preparation will be unlike anyone else. 

That really means you began at the beginning. Your whole life has led you to where you are today. You built a foundation and then added to it as you aged and matured. Now, you have constructed a unique path for your retirement journey. You didn't fear beginning because there was no other choice. 

That should be an encouraging thought, even for someone like me who hates not to be good at something from day one. If I look back at what allowed me to retire at 52 and where I have journeyed in the last 15 years, I was constantly starting over, refining and readjusting.

I am beginning some aspect of my life, over and over, rather constantly. I am absolutely not the same person I was years ago. Emotionally, financially, and relationally, Bob Lowry is almost unrecognizable from my days as a DJ, new dad, workaholic-travelling entrepreneur, or new retiree. 

"When there is a hill to climb, don't think that waiting will make it smaller."  Or, from the Sound of Music, " Let's start at the very beginning...a very good place to start."


June 19, 2016

Arrogant Ignorance - A Problem?

A while ago, the president of Arizona State University, Michael Crow, gave a fiery speech to a group of area leaders. As head of the nation's largest public research university he is well aware of the problems facing our society and particularly the educational system. In his speech he did not mince his words. Based on how directly he spoke I think we can assume he isn't running for a political office.

Intrigued by some of what he said, I thought several of his comments were worth repeating, with a thought or two of mine added. My thanks to an article by Sonu Munshi in the Arizona Republic for alerting me to his message.

Mr. Crow said, "A collective arrogant ignorance" holds the nation back. He cited the educational system that's not innovative enough, a lack of awareness or even acknowledgment, of global competition, and a lack of long-term vision. He said we, as a country, are resting on our laurels.  "We don't understand ...the development of the rest of the world as competitors. He went on to say " we are the means by which solutions will be derived."

Turning to the educational system, he noted we should be comparing our educational system not with the schools across town, but "with schools internationally." He accused his fellow university presidents of being too focused on the elite students and not thinking of what's best for educating the entire country.

Wow. I wonder what the reaction was in the meeting hall to those thoughts. He pulled no punches in laying blame where he saw it: the lack of appreciation for how the global economy has changed and a certain smugness on our part, the inability of the educational system to stay competitive, and the focus on just the cream of the crop, not everyone who is required to help us compete.

Personally, I believe he has made some extremely important points that more than just 200 people in a conference in suburban Phoenix needed to hear and think about. I was invited to attend but didn't. That was a mistake.

What is your reaction? Is he addressing critical issues that need to be discussed, or is he making things out to be worse than they actually are? Are we living with our collective heads in the sand about the world changes, or are we positioned to continue to lead the world in innovation and technology?

A few weeks ago an article in the Wall Street Journal presented the author's thoughts on why countries that have gotten much richer over the last century have done so. I think she glossed over some of the not-so positive reasons for this massive increase in wealth. But, her central point mirrors what Mr. Crow said: it is ideas and the ability to implement them that propel society forward. 

Personally, I think how we treat and pay teachers is shameful. They have direct, immediate, and a lifelong impact on our children. To pay them as little as we do is indefensible. Plus, all the teacher I know spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars from their own pockets each year for their students because there is not enough money in the budget for supplies.

But, that is probably a subject for another post. For our purposes this time, think about the "charge" that we are complacent and set our country's sights too low. Do ideas drive us? Are we losing the global ideas race?

June 16, 2016

Do You Shop Online or Prefer a Store?

credit: Huffington Post

I read some interesting, though not all that surprising, statistics recently in the Wall Street Journal about our changing shopping habits. In an annual study conducted by UPS, 51% of purchases are made online and 44% of smartphone users use their phones to make purchases. Only one in five say that they continue to make the majority of their purchases in a brick and mortar environment.

As a former market researcher, I must point out the obvious bias inherent in the survey results: all 5,000 of those participating in this survey have made online purchases recently. They are predisposed to be fans of the online shopping experience. So, it is not possible to project these results to the population as a whole.

Even so, other, more independent, studies have shown a strong shift to buying products online. More than half the U.S. population will make at least one purchase on the Internet this year. Quarterly sales results from traditional department stores or narrowly focused retail establishments, like office supply stores, show continued erosion in their ability to fend off competitors like Amazon. 

Importantly, to readers of Satisfying Retirement Journey, the move to online shopping by older adults continues to increase at a rate even higher than those in their 20's and 30's. While fear of credit card fraud or identity theft remain a hindrance to some, comfort in the safety of online shopping, along with the convenience of free, quick shipping, and simplified return policies, has made our age group a vital segment of that shopping experience. Besides, merchants like Target and Home Depot can lose millions of customers' private data to hackers just as easily (apparently) as online shopping stores.

As I write this post, I have just returned from a physical store shopping trip for some new home furnishings and supplies for an upcoming birthday party for my granddaughter. On the two days prior to this, I ordered several things for our dog and future travel supplies online. It was convenient and simple. Besides, with an outside temperature of 110, staying inside was a no-brainer. 

When I shop in a series of brick and mortar stores I tend to spend more because I see something that catches my eye for our house or a family member. When shopping at Amazon or some other online merchant, I am looking for something specific and stop when I have found it. So, the dollar amounts I spend when I physically drive to retail establishments is higher. But, I shop much more frequently online, so the overall expenses for the year are probably quite comparable. 

Regardless, Internet shopping will continue to grab a larger share of our purchasing dollars. I see no logical path back to the days when shopping malls or large department stores controlled the lion's share of purchasing dollars. With Amazon now selling virtually every product imaginable and promising same-day delivery in major metropolitan areas of the country, the trend is undeniable: we are choosing convenience over our physical presence in a retail establishment. 

What about you? 

How have your shopping habits changed over the last few years? Do you prefer to shop in stores for most of what you buy or are you finding the convenience of the Internet too compelling? Like me, do you notice a difference in the amount you spend when shopping in a "real" store versus online? Do you worry about credit card or identity theft when paying for something over the Internet?

I am quite interested in your feedback.

June 14, 2016

Where Is Our Humanness?

I have to write something, something about the unspeakable horror of the killings in Orlando and the political points heartless, moronic people are trying to score with the deaths of 49 innocent people. 

I am not going to point fingers at specific "leaders"  or others in the public sphere, because I believe the problems that are unfolding on an almost daily basis mean the fingers need to point at all of us. We are allowing our moral compass, our humanness, our basic decency, to be debased by those who seem to lack those values. 

If someone allows hate to be spoken often enough, then soon the hate seems normal. The ability of the human mind to become numb to a grotestic level of abuse is why folks were able to emerge alive from Nazi death camps after World War II. It is why people like John McCain were able to survive 6 years of torture with his humanity intact (yes, he was a hero). It is a self defense mechanism that allows humans to survive against unspeakable ills. 

It is also one of the reasons we seem to tolerate things that are so blatantly wrong, evil, and hateful. It must be why we allow people to shrink and poison our humanity without rising up against it, rejecting it fully and completely. We start to shrug at the horrors and retreat into our own space, thus allowing it to continue. 

What someone feels about homosexual people, people of color, people of different religions, people of different cultural heritage, or people who are just, different, is a matter between that person, his conscious, and his or her creator. It has no place being used to destroy or discriminate in public. 

Make beliefs known? Yes. Work to change laws if you disagree? Absolutely. Kill, denigrate, destroy, humiliate or marginalize others. No. Regardless of how much we think of ourselves, we are are not a Supreme Being and have no right to act like one. This applies to Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, follows of Hinduism, Atheists...whatever. We are not in control.

I don't expect these few words to change anyone or anything directly. But, if what I believe is true, then I must take this small, public stand against allowing others to steal my humanness when I stay silent.

I reject the mean-spiritedness that is our current method of public discourse. I reject the people who point their finger at others while ignoring their own part in the problem. 

I reject hate.

I choose tolerance.

I choose love. 

June 13, 2016

North To Alaska

Seward's Folly. The Land of The Midnight Sun, The Last Frontier, are slogans that have been attached to Alaska. After returning from a cruise to our 49th state, I will add one more: unbelievably beautiful. The weather was mostly rainy, cold, cloudy or foggy, yet the state's power and majesty were impossible to hide.

As one of things we are doing this year to celebrate our 40th anniversary, Betty and I took the Crown Princess roundtrip from Seattle to Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, and a quick stop in Victoria, British Columbia. 

Officially, I am now in love with cruising. We had been on a cruise ship several years ago, but nothing of the scale and glamour of this floating city. Our stateroom was almost 240 square feet, with a queen bed, good-sized balcony with chairs and a table, lots of storage space, and a closet bigger than the one in our master bedroom at home. The shower was hot and the bathroom well equipped. Frankly, I wouldn't have changed a thing about the room even if I could. It took me two days to feel comfortable with the ship's layout and how to best use our time - then, I was hooked.

Nearly a dozen different dining options and nearly as many lounges and bars, Vegas quality night time shows, comedians, musical groups, educational seminars and lectures, movies outside by one of four pools, a putting course, library, and full fitness center made it impossible to feel bored.

One of several lounges

850 seat theater

relaxing in the library, filled with books, games, and Alaska guidebooks

We left the ship in Juneau for an excursion to a rain forest garden, glacier, and then up a tram for a stunning view of the harbor and the four massive cruise ships docked at the smallish harbor. In Skagway we took a bus into Canada's Yukon Territory. A mother black bear and her three cubs posed for us along the side of the highway. Returning to town on an old fashioned railroad train, more bear cubs scampered on the hillside. All the while, we were surrounded by massive, snow-covered mountains, lakes, and streams with water pure enough to drink.

Coming into Juneau

our ship in Juneau

A rain forest in Alaska? Yes!

Bundled up at Mendenhall Glacier
The Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau

Heading to Skagway

Glacier Bay is home to several, shrinking glaciers that tower up to 250 feet over the iceberg dappled water, or almost twice as high as our massive ship. We came within several hundred feet of the edge and were treated to the "calving" of several icebergs that broke from the edge of the glacier with a noise of loud cracking and booming just like thunder. The ship pivoted 360 degrees so everyone on both sides of the ship had the same spectacular view.

Arriving at Glacier Bay

Ketchikan is the rainiest town in Alaska, with 150 inches on average, so being there in wet weather is not unusual. It is a true fishing port, but also hosted four massive ships during our daylong visit. Because of the conditions we did not get to see the nearby fjords. Instead, we bought souvenirs and gifts for family. Late in the afternoon, I spotted three small whales just a 100 yards away from my seat on our balcony. 

Rainy Ketchikan

The stop in Victoria was for only a few hours, but the skies had cleared so we spent a perfect evening on one of the highest spots on the ship, photographing a perfect sunset and watching a video on the massive movie screen by one of the swimming pools. 

Night time in Victoria
Betty talked me into taking a suit so we could take part in formal night, an evening when many of our fellow passengers dressed up to enjoy a first class meal in one of several plush dining rooms. For daytime and other nights, blue jeans, shirts, sweaters, or even sweatshirts were perfectly acceptable. We also had our picture taken 60 times (I know, I counted!). The pictures we brought home were the best ever taken of us as a couple. 

If you haven't taken an Alaskan cruise, I strongly recommend it. If you have, you can probably relate to our reaction to the seven day experience. Here are a sampling of some more of the nearly 1,500 photos that Betty and I snapped with a camera and our phones.

Our one sunny day - perfect for exploring the Yukon

Finally, the obvious choice to close out the post: Johnny Horton's 1960 hit song

I am already looking at more cruise possibilities next year!

Next time, maybe warmer?

June 10, 2016

How To Get More From Your Smartphone

credit: AFP

Many of us have a smartphone, a device that has the computing power of a desktop computer and a higher quality camera than was available not that long ago. We also have become used to a $200+ bill every month. Unfortunately, these phones don't come with manuals that detail all the things that the phone can do. That is left to the Internet where sites spell out lots of special applications or shortcuts. 

I still use my smartphone to make - phone calls, though I am in the minority. E-mail is falling from favor; it is too slow. Today, texting is the preferred way to contact others with super-short video messages gaining in popularity.

When I began to look at all the things my phone could do I was amazed. Admittedly, at the moment I have no interest in many of these options. But, if nothing else, I have learned that a satisfying retirement journey requires being open to new things, especially in the area of technology. 

Depending on the age, brand, model, and carrier (Verizon, AT&T, etc) you use, not all of these will work on your phone. Some require adding an app, many of which are free. Other functions may already be built into your phone. I don't want to list any particular apps because I can't check them all out personally and vouch for them But, everything on list list appeared on multiple references on the web, so they are well known.

If anything on this list catches your eye, check them out by just typing the name of the function in Google search, preceded by the word smartphone. You will find plenty of apps for both Android and Iphones listed. 

Some of these features require you to turn on that function. Again, the Internet is your friend. Search for what you want to do by typing in the function   followed by your phone model, like direct call samsung galaxy S6.

Manage your thermostat and control your home's lights

Monitor your heart rate

Speak a text, have it translated into words and sent.

Have an e-mail or text read to you.

Identify images

Measure speed, height, or distance of something

Find out why your check engine light is on

Identify song titles 

Visual voicemail

Block spam phone calls

Use camera as a magnifying glass

Snap a picture with the volume button

Use as a universal remote

Create a Wi-Fi hotspot

Barcode and QR code reader

Correct for color blindness

Use Data saver setting (can cut data use by 30%)

Quick launch the camera

Download booster (downloads large files much faster)

Direct call (put the phone to your ear and it dials the contact on the screen)

Split screen (2 windows open at once...sometimes called multi-tasking)

Leveler & compass

Distance finder

Send a mobile fax

Connect to a computer and use phone as an external hard drive

Transfer files wirelessly from phone to computer

I imagine there are all sorts of applications and special tricks you can share that are not listed above. Fabulous! Tell us what you use, or shortcuts you have found that make your day easier and more fulfilling.

If you don't have a smartphone, and don't want one, tell us why. Is it cost, complexity, no real need in your life? There are an estimated 120 million non-smartphones in use in the U.S. out of a total of over 320 million cellphones, so you are definitely not alone!

June 4, 2016

Sex and Retirement

Sex always grabs attention, especially the concept of retirement and sex. Of course, with a blog title of satisfying retirement you might imagine there is a connection. Well, sorry to disappoint, but this post will not be about what happens in private moments.

One of the major stumbling blocks to a successful retirement is how the two sexes react to not working. Previous posts have dealt with some of the adjustments that both partners must make when one or both retire from daily employment. This time around I'd like to focus on how men and women differ when each moves toward retirement or officially leaves the working world behind.

Retirement and men:

Various study show that men tend to be overconfident about their investing and retirement planning skills. This helps explain why so many enter the last decade of work with nothing close to what will be needed. In this country the average person within 20 years of a typical retirement age has a only $50,000 in retirement savings. For those in their late 50's and early 60's the average is not much better: $104,000. What are we thinking? There is no retirement tooth fairy that is about to leave hundreds of thousands of dollars under our pillow.  While these figures are not for men only, the investor and saver in the majority of couple or family situations is the male, so he must bear the most responsibility for this problem facing financial reality.

In additional to financial issues, for many men in our culture identity revolves around a number of commonly repeated central roles and skills:

•being a good provider for his family
•being 'useful' to society in general
•being in charge of situations

I might argue that these are more stereotypes than reality in the second decade of the 21st century. But, many men believe these three statements are true. That belief, whether based in reality or not, creates problems. In order to adjust successfully to retirement, men have to start redefining the bases of their sense of self. Without the role of breadwinner or leader to rely on, one may ask, who am I? Self-esteem can start to fall and depression can set in.

If prior to retirement your partner stayed at home while you worked, she may resent your intrusion into her areas of control. This is especially true if, in an attempt to direct your urge to do something, you attempt to impose yourself on her well-established routines. Tension can arise out of the increased need for joint decision-making.

Loneliness and isolation are a risk in old age for the simple reason that as people grow older, more and more of their friends tend to die, move away, or lose the mobility needed to keep in touch. This is particularly an issue for men, who tend to emphasize self-reliance and put less effort into maintaining their social networks. Most men have few friends, and often not a single close friend in whom they can confide.

Retirement and women:

Contrary to what some may assume, research indicates women overall bring less emotion to the stock market than men and approach investing more dispassionately. This can make a big difference in the size of one's investment and savings situation. Mistakes are admitted and a women moves on. Men are more likely to hold onto a losing investment longer in hopes it will turn around, thus avoiding having to admit making a mistake in the first place.

This is an important consideration because women, on average, outlive men by about six years. This means women will require extra money for their retirement. According to some studies most baby boomer women who are approaching their retirement age are expected to live well into their nineties. This says that women will have to prepare for emotional and financial security during a retirement that could last more than thirty years.

Another factor typically faced by many women is they spent less time in the work force. On average, men have 44 years of work while women average 32 years. Why? It is the female who usually takes a break from her career to have and then take care of children, and sometimes even to become a full time caregiver for aging parents, both hers and his.

Interruptions in the working life of women have important financial consequences. When women stop working Social Security contributions cease.  Obviously, that means reduced benefits later on. Plus, women still earn only about 77 cents to every dollar earned by a male.

Women have one major advantage over men during their prime years: diversity. Many women juggle both a job and a household. This situation teaches women to be able to handle a wide range of problems and tasks simultaneously, skills which come in handy during retirement.

A fascinating finding I discovered while preparing this article came from a study conducted at a university in Australia. The researchers looked at the concept of a retirement letdown. This is the period I have referred to as the second stage of retirement. The initial honeymoon period has worn off and the stark reality of not working becomes a major factor. Stress, worry, feeling unfulfilled, and extra strains on a relationship begin to occur.

Men tended to experience this retirement letdown after six months. Women, on the other hand, didn't experience similar problems until five years after retirement. Unfortunately, the study didn't answer the obvious question: why is there such a difference between the sexes in going through this down period?

I could speculate that it comes from points made earlier in this post. Men have so much of their identity wrapped up in their jobs, are so focused on just a handful of things, and have a weaker social support system that the end of work creates a much bigger problem for guys. Interestingly, if this study is repeated in another 5 or 10 years I wonder if the results would be the same. The increased role of women in the business world and the evolution of more shared responsibilities at home might push women closer to the man's timetable of six months before the letdown.

All of this proves a point made may times in satisfying retirement: this journey we are on is not easy. Hard work, planning, compromise, sensitivity to others, and personal growth are not just nice attributes to possess: they are requirements. Add to that the differences between men and women and it is a pleasant surprise how many of us are enjoying the ride!