December 27, 2016

End of Year Break

Bob, Betty, and Bailey

Ready or not, the new year is coming. To give myself time to recharge, I will be taking the week off between Christmas and Near Year's. Look for a fresh post on January 2nd.

December 20, 2016

Post-Truth - I Feel Like Alice in Wonderland

Nothing is as it seems. What I know to be real, believe to be true built on my reliance on facts is apparently passe. It's official: Truth is dead. 

The latest edition of the Oxford Dictionary has made it official. Post-truth now has an explanation: "objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief." 

Of course, that definition is post-truth, so it may or may not be true. The Oxford Dictionary may be a propaganda tool written by the liberal media, the alt-right, conservative pundits, or some unknown Russian hacker. 

And, therein lies the problem that has me scratching my head. If "truth" or "reality" are no longer what they have always been, how does one separate the wheat from the chaff? How does one construct a rational response to events when rationality is under attack?

Is Mars really populated by little green men (and women)? If enough people on the Internet claim it to be so, then does that makes it so? Did we go to the moon, or just stage a launch in a studio? Is there a child sex ring being run from the basement of a pizza restaurant by a former presidential candidate? Is the government planning on installing microchips in our arm the next time we get a flu shot? 

These examples are absurd, at least to me, but believed at some point in our history. They gained traction with our fellow citizens. No matter how bizarre or disconnected from how we think the world and its citizens operate, any statement has the potential to be accepted in a post-truth world.

So, how do you determine the difference between what is downright silly or ludicrous, and that what is true, meaning facts and reality support the premise? At the risk of being seen as part of a plot to deceive, I offer the following suggestions:

1). If something seems too far-fetched to be true, then do your research rather than accept it as presented. Most of us agree that if something is too good to be true, like an Hawaiian vacation for $99, then it probably is a scam. Use that same discernment with news or "facts" that raise questions. Something important can be found in multiple sources, not just one that is re-tweeted or shared over and over.

2) Realize that truth or facts are not dependent on what you believe. They are independent of emotions and beliefs. An inconvenient truth is still true. 

3) If someone claims to have the answer to a complex or difficult question that has bedeviled humans for a long time, question that solution. Complex problems do not have simple answers, especially those that can be summed up in a 140 character tweet.

4) Does the story attack a large non-specific foe, like Big Government, or Republicans, or The Media? Such broad-brush revelations are very rarely based on fact, but much more likely emotion or a particular agenda.

5) Accept that uncomfortable "truths" may require you to change your world view or opinions about something. To ignore or deny simply because you may have to change is done at your own peril.

6) "Truth" does not change over time: the world was flat for thousands of years until the truth of its roundness became obvious. The world was always round; people just didn't have the tools or mindset to accept it. What changes is our awareness and understanding of what is true, not the truths behind it.

With all that being said, I would add a suggestion: question everything. Just like the round world example, question what you believe at every turn. The "truth" as you know it may be wrong, or not fully understood. Be ready to adjust to new, credible, information. It is not easy, it goes against human nature. But that is the only way we evolve as a species: to separate fiction from truth, rejecting the former while embracing the latter.

If you'd like to read an interesting article, check out this link from NPR:

December 16, 2016

To Everything There Is a Season

2016 has been a year when we decimated parts of our budget. As someone who has lived with a strict budget since my first years in college (was that really 49 years ago?), I am a firm believer in knowing what I spend and staying within the lines. 

Last year was when my share of my parents' estate started to find its way to into my accounts. By early this year I was feeling quite flush. With even more money to come over the next 4 years before the estate is closed down for good, additional cash flow was on the horizon.

Betty and I have always lived well beneath our means. One of the reasons we were able to retire 15 years ago was the habit of carrying no debt beyond a mortgage, and saving 20-25% of our income each year. We have played it close to the vest; there have been plenty of splurges for vacations with the kids, but we never ignored the income/outgo realities. Well, this year not so much.

Call it pent up demand, a realization that if not now, then when, or just never having the resources so readily available, but our budget for vacations and trips went out the window...way out the window.

Let's review: renting a house for the whole family 3 blocks from the beach in San Diego for a week around the 4th of July, taking a 7 day Alaskan Cruise, putting 5,000 miles on the RV during a 7 week long trip as far east as North Carolina, RVing in Show Low, spending a few nights in a hotel in Flagstaff and flying to Disneyland for a weekend at The Magic Kingdom with the family.  As you might guess, the financial cost was high, about 300% of what had been set aside on January 1st, not including repairs to the RV.

After the big party come the consequences. The spilled drinks must be cleaned up, the trash disposed of, the scratched furniture fixed, and that hole in the entry hall repaired. If the big party involves expensive travel and experience-gathering, the consequences are every bit as real.

For the last two weeks I have been pouring over the 2017 budget. Betty and I agree that during the coming year we will be much more restrained. We are cutting back on categories as diverse as furnishings and backyard improvements, kitchen cabinet refinishing, our clothing expenditures, and an office redesign for me. The 13 year old second car will continue to occupy one side of the garage rather than being replaced.

Direct TV may go away, especially if they raise the rates again. Much like cable, we watch 10-20 of the 200+ channels available, making the cost per choice rather pricey. Our telephone bill has surpassed our water bill each month. It may be time to find another carrier.

Vacations are still part of the budget, but as a much smaller line item. Long weekend RV trips within 6 hours of our home are in our future for the new year. Two month-long jaunts, cruises, or beach house rentals are right out. 

Looking ahead, 2018 may be a year when we add back some more elaborate adventures. Betty would like to go back to Europe. I would love a cruise around the South Pacific. We may have one more long RV trip in us (and the RV). By showing serious restraint in the new year, our investments will have had time to grow and support a more expansive 2018. 

I am reminded of the verses in the Bible and the song by the Byrds: To everything there is a season, Turn, Turn, Turn. 2016 has been a season of big memories and big dreams. 2017 will turn smaller and closer to home. It will be a season of regrouping, but still a season of our life that is satisfying and fulfilling.

December 13, 2016

5 Reasons a Vacation Can Disappoint

All of us have probably experienced at least one vacation that didn't live up to expectations. The planning, the anticipation, along with the money and time invested produced a flop. No matter how we sugar-coated the experience, that vacation was disappointing.

Of course, some of the reasons can be purely bad luck: getting sick or being injured can happen. Something goes wrong at home or with family and the vacation must be ended quickly. But, in thinking about vacations my family and I have taken over the years, there are five factors that seem to conspire to lay waste to the best-laid plans. Being reminded of their potential to mess things up may help you avoid a vacation washout. 

Over or Under Scheduled

I am a planner. When my family and I take a vacation, the days are often plotted as carefully as a military campaign. If we are going to spend the money and take the time, by golly, we will not waste a minute, we will enjoy everything and at double speed. Luckily, my wife and one of my daughters are fine with this. Our youngest, though, does her best to suggest we take time off to smell those darn roses, sleep in, and leave time for simple pleasures. I will be the first to admit, her approach is gaining appeal as I get older. Why should a vacation be a forced march?

When Betty and I took our first Alaskan cruise this year, I became aware of the joys of under scheduling. Yes, a cruise ship offers all sorts of ways to separate you from your time and money. But, you can choose to skip most of it and simple enjoy the scenery passing by the windows, eat when you are hungry, and watch others rush from seminar to casino to sales pitch. 

Each of us feels most comfortable with one of these two models. Adopting the wrong approach can leave you frustrated.  

Unrealistic Expectations

You walk to the corner mailbox and back once a day. You stroll with the dog to the neighborhood park first thing every morning. Neither of these activities means you are ready to hike across England, or tackle part of the Application Trail. Swimming a few laps in your pool doesn't prepare you for an ocean dive to earn your scuba certificate.

A vacation with an ambitious goal can be tremendously satisfying, or quite a letdown. Trying different foods, avoiding the top tourist destinations while seeking out where the locals go are laudable targets. Trying something physically beyond your capabilities, or forcing yourself to only eat local cuisine for a two week stay in Sweden will probably lead to disappointment, if not injury or illness.

Knowing your limits and knowing what crosses the line from interesting to excessive are important.

Wrong place or wrong time

You don't like cold weather yet you decide to go to Iceland in January because the airfares are cheap. Bugs and humidity drive you batty. Even so, you decide Miami in August would be a fun experience because the hotels are less expensive. 

Your oldest child just landed the lead in the school play, but you think it best to take the whole family on a camping trip to Yosemite. Your wife opened a new business that needs her full time attention for several months. You are surprised when she balks at a week in New York City.

A vacation is a balancing act between time, needs, and location. While not everyone may be jumping with joy, everyone should be engaged enough to agree that the potential for fun exists.

Expecting it to be the same as home

I shudder when I hear a tourist complain about something by saying, "We do that differently at home." My immediate thought is, well, stay home! What would be the point of going somewhere and having everything just like where you live? Isn't the point of travel to see and experience differences? 

During our trips to Europe, I can't count the number of times I heard travelers react poorly to everything, from the time restaurants open, to the type of toilets that are available. A foreign country isn't home. Even parts of this country have different customs and norms, even names. Don't ask for a milk shake in Boston or a grinder in Amarillo. Different can be good.

Bad weather (really bad!)

We have spent 3 days stuck in a motel in Key West during a hurricane. We have been almost blown off the road during an RV trip through West Texas. Betty and I experienced six straight days of rain in Bermuda. We were caught in a blizzard near Yellowstone in late May.

Bad weather happens. It happens when you are spending time and money on a special trip. Mother Nature always wins. You can only change plans on the fly, make the most of a bad situation, but realize you will have a great story to tell when you do get home (our daughters still remember the Key West "adventure" almost 25 years later). 

Bad weather also teaches us that no matter how much we like to be in control, that is usually just an illusion.

December 9, 2016

The Achievements You Are Most Proud Of

We have all experienced disappointments, loss, and troubles both big and small. If you live long enough there will be things you have done you'd probably like to undo. Life is a never-ending challenge that requires us to have hope in ourselves and the future.

All too often, though, we can forget our achievements, those things we have done over our lifetime that make us happy, maybe even a little proud. As we enter the last few weeks of 2016 (Yea!) I thought it might be encouraging to focus on some of the achievements that we are most proud of. I will list a few of mine to get you started. Notice that some of the things on my list seem rather small. But, that is the important thing about achievements: size doesn't matter.

1. I quit smoking (That was a tough one)

2. Raised two well-adjusted, happy daughters who want me in their lives

3. Have been happily married to the same woman for over 40 years 

4. Am loved by my grand kids

5. Rebounded from being fired to forming a successful business

6. Retired early and have made it work

7. My parents were proud of me and loved being part of my family's life

8. Learning to scuba dive

9. Haven't become a grumpy old man (yet!)

OK, what is on your list? Take a little time to think about all you have accomplished in your life. What are some things that make you smile, make you feel good, make you proud? 

December 8, 2016

Comments and Restrictions

Over the past several weeks the number of comments left on the blog have dropped. I have been notified by one reader that she has encountered problems adding a comment, usually in the form of a a multi-step captcha process.

I have made no change to the comment verification requirement to the blog. For older posts I do review the comment before it is added. But, for newer posts, I find it easier to simply delete the occasional ones that don't fit. Also, Google seems to do a decent job of detecting obviously inappropriate attempts.

So, I have a two part question to my regular readers:

1) Have you had problems adding comments over the last few weeks? If so, please email me at to let me know.

2) If you have been commenting less, is it because the posts aren't the type that prompt you to leave your thoughts, or is your schedule just too busy at this time of year to be quite as active?

Your feedback will help me alert Google if there is a problem on their end. If the recent posts aren't as stimulating as they have been in the past, that is helpful to know, too.

Thanks for your feedback.


December 5, 2016

An Outsider Looks At Social Media

Well, not a true outsider. I do have a Satisfying Retirement and personal Facebook page and a Twitter account. Primarily, I use them to promote this blog. I will comment on someone else's postings if I feel particularly engaged by something, but not very often. I don't use LinkedIn or Pinterest. I have heard of Snapchat but know nothing about it. Instagram is not part of my life. Even Google Plus isn't on my radar. So, compared to a lot of folks I am a low level social media participant. 

Interestingly, the demographic with the largest growth in Internet use over the past half dozen years are those in the 65+ age group. Daily Internet use jumped 71%, with an accompanying 34% increase in the use of social media. 

Staying in touch with family, relatives, or reconnecting with friends are key motivators. Social media can help reduce feelings of isolation or being out of step in a world that is increasingly technological in orientation. Recently, I was contacted about my 50th High School Reunion by someone who tracked me down on Facebook. Twitter is being used to keep up with the topics folks are talking about. Discussion groups and finding others who share opinions and struggles can be empowering. 

I fully support that type of involvement. When its use helps lessen feelings of loneliness or allows someone to connect with others who share concerns and beliefs, social media can be a powerful tool for good. Learning to use a computer and navigate the Internet helps keep an aging mind active and open.

But, with that new world come risks and dangers. A week or so ago I wrote about the malware epidemic. One of the targets that hackers love is social media.  Clicking on a link that seems interesting or going to another site to look at a fascinating video can lead to computer infection. Stealing someone's identity or taking over another's Twitter or Facebook account is a rather common occurrence.

Actually, I have had both my Twitter and Facebook accounts hacked. In each instance someone started sending out spam and dangerous links to those in my on-line "friends.". Luckily, I was notified quickly that I appeared to be sending out odd information. 

Another recent development is the problem of fake news on Facebook and other sites. These legitimate-looking articles contain "news" stories that have little or no truth in them. They are designed to promote a particular point of view, to deceive readers, or to prompt action based on fabrications. I must admit I have clicked on several stories that seemed to be legitimate, but on closer examination, were not.

Social Media can be anonymous. The name chosen to represent someone is usually not the person's real name. Even a picture may be of someone else. With that comes a problem. It is too easy to hide behind a made-up name and spew hate or slurs with impunity.

Though we tend to think of younger folks as the ones using social media to settle scores or degrade someone, I doubt if age is a reliable test. During the last election season, Twitter, Facebook, and I assume other sites, were positively toxic at times and it seemed clear that many of the participants were from our age group.

Even if you'd never consider sending messages like that, just reading them can be upsetting and depressing. It is vital that we steer clear of reading things that are designed to add stress to our lives or cause us to react in a negative way.

Social Media has been a tremendous tool for good. If used responsibly these outlets keep us connected, informed, and entertained. Like almost anything else, if used recklessly or without common sense, there can be serious problems. 

User beware.

December 1, 2016

A Letter To My 40 Year Old Self

If given the chance I am not sure I would want to go back almost 30 years to give pointers to my 40 year old self. The rule of unintended consequences would might make such time travel a disaster. But, for purposes of this post, let's pretend it would be a good thing.

Dear Bob,
Experience is unteachable. It can only be gained by living and learning. If you will allow me to tell you what is to come in the next few decades of your life, I may be able to spare you a lot of wasted time, effort, and heartache. 
I am not going to detail what happens with your career. If I do you might be tempted to change something and therefore miss both the highs and lows you will experience. So, just trust me, you do well and you will overcome some sizable bumps in the road. And, since you are reading this letter you know you won't die young.
I won't tell you what is ahead in America or the world. Nor, will I make you a rich man by alerting you to inventions before they are reality, or tell you if the Cubs ever win the World Series. Those are mysteries that will unfold, in their proper time and sequence.
But, I will tell you four things now, that if you pay attention, will make your life fuller and more satisfying than you might imagine. They are in order or importance, so don't skip to #2 before you deal with the first one.
#1) Nothing is more important than relationships & friends.
There is nothing in life that can make you happier and more joyous, or more depressed and sad than neglecting important relationships. No amount of money, no second home, no possessions, no fame, no power, nothing can fill the void in your life if you allow meaningful relationships to die. 
We are not designed to be alone. We need others to care for, and care for us, to allow us to feel alive. A strong and fulfilling marriage is not required for a satisfying life, but it can make things so much sweeter. Don't put off fixing problems or assume that things will work themselves out. Your marriage will endure (spoiler alert), but you will lose a few decades of true partnership and joy if you place your career and self above your wife's needs.
You need friends, true, deep, share-everything-type friends. Take whatever steps are necessary to keep renewing your roster of friends. It becomes much harder to develop deep relationships the longer you wait.

#2) Trust your common sense and yourself.
Experts are highly overrated in too many areas of life. A doctor, a good lawyer, a caring spiritual these areas pick the best people you can find. But, for many of the decisions you will have to make for the rest of your life, depend on what mom and dad taught you, what you have learned so far, what trusted loved ones tell you, and your moral code. 
Believe in the gifts the Creator gave you to pick the right path, or get back on track if your steps falter. Now and then, self doubt is normal. But, don't let it paralyze you. Any action is better than inaction. Doing nothing is actually a choice. Decide to take a step and see what happens. 

#3) Good comes from every experience, even the ones that seem bad.
You have been raised to believe their is a superior being who has a plan for everything and everyone. Every bad experience you have has an eventual good purpose.
Whether it is to teach you a lesson about pride, or hope, or trust, or perseverance, there will be a reason everything in your life occurs.
Be open to what lies ahead. Don't hide from what life will bring to your doorstep. Trust me, the journey will change you for the better.

#4) Don't be afraid of risk-taking.
Up until this point, you have led a rather conventional life. Yes, you experienced the loss of your job 10 years ago, with two young children and a wife depending on you, but you took a big chance on yourself and it has worked out so far. Generally speaking, though you have played it safe.
I don't mean just in your career, but in how you live. You hate being a beginner so you are loath to try new things. On vacations, you pick safe places and "normal" activities. You rarely push the envelope in much of anything.  
From where I sit now, I wish you (I) had been more willing to stretch myself. I wish I had tried different lifestyles, hobbies, creative outlets, and physical expressions. Over the last few years I have come to appreciate what pushing back a bit can mean to the fullness of life. Get a jump start. Take more risks now, when you are still healthy and young enough to do so.

         Love you,
Your older self