July 25, 2017

Do You Have a Smart Speaker? Why?

Amazon Echo

This topic seems like a logical one after my experience with computer cyberattacks. A smart speaker is one that allows you to ask a question, play a certain type of music, ask about the weather, or order a product without the effort involved in getting out of your chair. Talk to a smart speaker and it handles your needs. Amazon has its Dot and Echo while Google sells Home. Other companies offer similar products, either as a standalone product or hooked to a home security system.

A smart speaker is usually connected to your home wireless network. It has a speaker and a microphone. A "trigger" word, like the default, Alexa, for the Echo, causes the microphone to activate. After receiving a command, question, or other accepted action, that audio clip is sent to a server that executes your command, all in the blink of an eye. 

Third party apps can be programmed to turn on and off lights in your home, set your thermostat, lock or unlock doors, change the settings on your refrigerator, even order groceries or have a meal delivered. In short, a smart speaker has the potential to be  a 24 hour a day servant, fulfilling your desires with little effort on your part.

I will skip discussing the obvious question, "How lazy are we?" Anything a smartspeaker can do can be done by a smart phone, a computer, a tablet, or getting out of the chair and flipping a switch. Ordering something online becomes ridiculously easy, something Amazon Prime already makes much too convenient for my budget.

More to the point, how dangerous is this toy/tool? If a simple word turns on the microphone and sends whatever you say to some server in some cloud somewhere, what are the risks of cyberattack, having personal data compromised, or finding a hacker ordering a full set of encyclopedias without your knowledge? Are you sure whatever you are talking about in the room with the device isn't being recorded?

In theory the voice clip you send after speaking is encrypted, but we know how well that doesn't work today. Besides, your audio files are all stored until you go through several steps to delete them. I am sure marketers would love to know everything you ask about or want to know. Advertising targeted to interests would quickly follow. 

Are we trading privacy for convenience? Well, no news here, that train left the station years ago. Google, Amazon, and every place you visit online already knows more about some of your habits than your mother or spouse. When you visit a web site your computer collects cookies and the merchant collects patterns. Why do you think after visiting a site that offers cruises do you think ads for Mediterranean trips pop up on your next Google search or looking at Facebook? 

I like new technology but I don't own a smart speaker, yet. So my questions to you are rather basic:

1) Do you own a smart speaker? Do you like it, use it often?

2) If you don't own one, are you considering it? Does the convenience appeal to you?

3) How do you feel about the privacy issue? Is there a risk? Are you willing to accept it?


Google Home


Amazon just finished their huge Prime Day deals sale. I noticed the Echo was cut to half price. I will admit I was tempted, but decided to wait for your feedback.


July 22, 2017

Could I Live Without?




My recent computer hacking problems have forced me to think about what I could live without. and what would diminish my life's satisfaction. Some things are essential to me, some to my happiness and sense of satisfaction. Others are a part of of daily life but I could certainly function without them. This list is by no means complete, but it might be a thought starter for you, too.

 
It would be very difficult  or very unpleasant to live without:



My wife and family


Could I physically survive without them? Yes. Would it turn my world upside down and remove a large share of what I feel makes my life meaningful? Absolutely. If things ever begin to unravel I want to have those most dear to me by my side. 


Freedoms


If I had been born someplace other than The United States or another country in the developed world my sense of what constitutes key freedoms would probably be very different. But, being born to a middle class family in 1949 in America I have come to believe certain freedoms are a part of life. Among those are the freedom to live where I want and choose my life's work.

The freedom of the press, of peaceable assembly, to raise my children they way I believe is best and of an orderly and non-violent transition of power are what I expect. On a daily basis I don't think how unusual this list would be to billions of people around the world. But, if suddenly they were gone I would be hard-pressed to adjust.


Basic services



Dependable electricity, clean water, police and fire protection, good medical care, access to safe and plentiful food are certainly high on my very important list. Could I survive without them? Frankly, I don't know. Particularly in Phoenix, making it through a summer without air conditioning would be nearly impossible and is fatal to some of our citizens every year.

An automobile


It would very very difficult and very uncomfortable to live where I live without access to a car and gas. Phoenix is not designed with pedestrians, bike riders, or users of public transportation in mind. I would most likely survive but it would be extremely limiting, inconvenient, and in the summer, downright dangerous.


Things I could live without but would rather not:



Good friends

Having good friends is important to me. When a friendship ends I feel a loss. When a friendship continues and strengthens my life is enriched. I certainly could survive if I had no close friends, but the effect on my life would be unpleasant.


Access to the world through Internet.



It wasn't until 1995 that tapping into the Internet became common. True, it was only dial-up with all sorts of limitations. But, from that point forward the world and our lives would not go unchanged.

Today, the Internet is essential to the smooth functioning of the global economy. It is so much a part of our daily lives we only think about its importance when we lose access for a few hours or days. I am sure you have noticed that one of the first things an autocratic government does when it gets into trouble is to prevent its citizens from connecting to the rest of the world. Could I live without the Internet? Yes. But I would be living in a very different world.


Availability of cultural, sporting and entertainment options. Access to music and books.



What brings dimension to my life is the ability, on occasion, to add something different to the usual routine. Music concerts, plays, a hike through the mountain preserves, a picnic on a warm afternoon are spice to my normal diet. While I may someday end up with nothing but a Kindle, for now I enjoy the feel of a book. I enjoy listening to Spotify radio, but live music is just better. Certainly I could easily survive without any of this, but life would be much less enjoyable.

In reviewing this list it is clear I live a privileged life. In many parts of the world  and for the majority of its population, even clean water and safe food are too much to hope for. Those billions are focused on pure survival and nothing else. I don't feel guilty about what I have. But, I am very much aware of my blessings and my responsibilities to reduce as much as possible the damage I cause to the environment.

Overall, I am an optimist. Excessive worry is a waste of energy and time. But, prudent preparation and awareness are not incompatible with believing things will be OK. After seeing the end of the horrible economic mess of the last decade now we seem to be in another period of political uncertainty. I am still confident in my future, but my eyes are wide open.


 
What about your list? What could live without and still function? What would make your list of essential to your happiness and well being? 


July 19, 2017

Learning to Fail


I guess I shouldn't be surprised by much of anything anymore. An article in the New York Times a few weeks ago detailed one of the hottest new presentations on college campuses: "How to Fail."  These seminars are designed to confront something that too many college freshmen have never faced: not being the best in the room.

Taking home a gold trophy for participation after a season of little league, never getting a grade lower than an A-, always having their wishes fulfilled, hovering helicopter parents protecting children from facing the reality of a world full of disappointment....these young adults don't know how to handle failure. Depression and dropout rates reflect the problems with a generation who spent life in a bubble.

Colleges have discovered that the problem is serious enough that these students need help in accepting less than perfection from themselves. They have to learn that a B or C isn't a mark of a loser. Not getting a class they want, or having a less than perfect roommate is part of life. Failing to be picked by your first choice Greek house is way down on the important list. Being trolled on social media is small potatoes.

This is one part of life retirees don't need to worry about. We don't need a class in failing occasionally, sometimes spectacularly. We know life isn't fair, some folks are jerks, and few people ever ask to see your resume later in life.

The mark of a life well lived is in how we respond to disappointment and failure. A complete life leaves a trail of good and bad, happy and sad. Friends and enemies populate our past. Sometimes family members need to take a time out. Sometimes we need to sit in the corner for awhile.

Only if we let those events, both positive and negative, define who we are, should we sign up for one of these courses. By now we have learned the art of balance, of compromise, of accepting. We look forward to challenges rather than avoiding them. We appreciate the nuances of life, the things that paint our canvas with subtle or unexpected colors.

I am pleased higher education has discovered the need for teaching failure as well as success. That bodes well for the proper maturation of the students lucky enough to participate. It suggests that when they are ready to retire they will know what we learned on our own: a life is build through a series of stumbles and advances, adversities and achievements. 

Ultimately, a satisfying retirement is what that process creates. 



July 15, 2017

Retirement Blogs Worth a Look


A week or so ago I noted the reasons why I blog. That made me think of all the very good people who are writing and publishing and freely available on the Internet.

The ones I read on a regular basis are listed on the right sidebar. I encourage you to check them out if you haven't already done so. Every 8-9 months I update that roll call, adding some fresh ones, while removing those that no longer seem to be the best use of my time, or the blogger has stopped posting fresh content regularly.

I decided it was time to search for some fresh choices for both you and me. Here is a list that may help you discover some new blogs to add to your personal must-read list. Don't be surprised if some of these show up on my blog list, too. 


I have grouped them by category to make it a bit easier. I hope you find them worthy of your consideration.


Focus on Financial Issues


The Retirement Cafe

The Retirement Manifesto

The Squared Away Blog

Our Next Life

A Wealth of Common Sense

Focus on Lifestyle & Health Issues


Our Empty Nest

Any Shiny Thing - Life After 50

Changing Aging

Intentional Retirement

U.S. News on Retirement

Frugalwoods

Retire Early Lifestyle

Focus on Senior Travel


My Itchy Travel Feet

Travel past 50

Hole In The Donut

Solo Travel Girl

Never Stop Traveling



Who are your favorite bloggers that aren't listed? I'd love to sample some more.



July 12, 2017

You Have To Be A Little Crazy To Retire

Let's review.


Retirement means you:


1)  Stop getting a regular paycheck
2)  Give up employee health insurance
3)  Say goodbye to coworkers and companions
4)  Don't get paid when you take a vacation
5)  Have to fill an extra 8 hours a day on your own
6)  Must find ways to feel productive 
7)  Are your own financial safety net

Of course, all seven negatives can befall you without retirement being the cause.  Your company may downsize, be purchased by someone that loves automation, fails to please stockholders or owners, moves its factory to Mexico, or tries to sell a product the Internet has made obsolete.

Now, you are unemployed, which is like retirement, except you are under serious pressure to end your forced lack of work as soon as possible. You want to go back to work. You need to go back to work. You spend every waking (and sleepless moment) thinking about work. 

So, all a bit tongue in cheek, right? If these points were the sum total of retirement, you would have to be a little crazy to agree to do so voluntarily. If given the choice you'd stay at your desk, on the factory floor, in the company car, or wherever your presence was validated every few weeks with a paycheck, until your employer changed the lock on the door.

The good news is all these scary possibilities are more than outweighed by a much longer list: the reasons why you decide to retire, on purpose. You are not a little crazy. I contend you are about to start living fully for the first time since you put on big boy or big girl pants.

A quick summary is in order. You are raised by a parent or two, or maybe a relative. You are under their control. You eat what they serve, you sleep and wake when they tell you, and pretty much are lacking any real independence.

If you decide to go to college, things change a little. You are free to skip classes and generally make a fool of yourself. If you learn much it will be a by-product of an extended childhood.

Then, to pay for those 4 or 6 years of "freedom," you find yourself with a very large student debt. You must get a job to pay off that debt and support yourself.

For the next 35 years or so, you live to work. You spend untold hours in a car to and from your job. You do what you are told to do (not unlike childhood). For the more unlucky among us, you are available well after working hours and on weekends for phone calls and emails. Sunday night is the most stressful time of  your week.

Finally, you retire. You have looked over the seven points that began this post and have come to the logical conclusion that you would still like to stop working. You believe that having control of your days, schedule, and productivity are worth more than the downsides. You think that freedom is worth the cost.

At this point, you decide you'd have to be a little crazy to keep on working.


July 10, 2017

A Hacking Attack Triggers Some Changes



A few days ago I noticed a massive bump in the number of daily visitors to Satisfying Retirement. Six times the normal views showed up on the blog's stats page. For no discernible reason I was in the top tier of retirement bloggers. 

I figured a bunch of computers had clicked on the spot for some reason, one I didn't immediately figure out. The number of spam comments didn't increase dramatically. The comments came from the normal folks and regular blog readers. There hadn't been a huge spike in book sales. So, I assumed the traffic spike was just an odd occurrence.

Then, on Friday afternoon I learned differently: my computer had become loaded with malware, trojan programs, ransomware, and other not-so-nice software. My home wireless network had been overwhelmed with attacks, many of which got through. The computers began behaving erratically. The printers stopped printing. When I tried normal fixes for typical computer glitches the problems only became worse.

Finally, Betty called a representative at our computer company who listened to our problems and receieved our permission to remotely look inside the machines. He found software with the signatures of Eastern European and Russian hackers. He found good chunks of the computers were remotely turned off or had their settings changed.

At that point he switched us to a Microsoft support company that spent nearly four hours cleaning out all the poison, resetting up the wireless router, and re-programming two printers had had become unworkable. Several times during this process I had to plug or unplug certain pieces of equipment, turn printers on and off, then on, off, and on again. I was forced to reprogram the Roku device to get the television system back on line.

Finally, I was informed that the malware was gone, both printers were back in working order, and the router was operating properly. Hundreds of malicious programs were removed. A new malware detecting program was installed to work in conjunction with the firewall program already in place. For about $300 my electronic life had been made whole again.

The day of the attack's repairs was certainly one of the more stressful I have had in quite awhile. Only my heart episode of two years ago raised my anxiety level as high as this violation of my privacy by computer hackers. I feared the blog and everything electronic had been compromised. 

This event has triggered the following steps by me. Whether they keep me any safer is debatable, but I have to take some action to feel better:

1)  Our smart phones will have wireless and mobile data turned off at all times except when needed. There is no benefit , only risks, from being connected to the Internet at all times.

2) I am curtailing some of my Internet activity. I have cut way back my the number of "friends" on my Facebook page., friends I actually know and trust. The Satisfying Retirement Facebook page is gone. It is a way into my life that may or may not be exploited; it is not important enough to me to continue.

3) I have purchased and installed a much more robust anti-virus, anti-malware, anti-phishing program. It is set to the highest level of protection. It scans for problems every few hours.

4) I have changed my Chrome settings to block all self-starting videos without my permission. 

5) Both computers and wireless printers will be turned off overnight. 

6) For now, I will continue to blog. But, if I see another massive bump in clicks, I will terminate this blog instantly. I will start up somewhere other than on Blogger. 


These steps will not prevent a persistent hacker from making our life a mess. If people can break into the computers of big companies, utilities, the NSA, or anyone, anywhere, at anytime, I know I will never be entirely safe. Even so, the benefits of  the Internet far outweigh the negatives, for now.

I sincerely hope you don't have to deal with this type of problem. It can shake your belief in the goodwill of  too many people. At the sametime, it is comforting to know there are folks out there who can fix these problems quickly and at a reasonable cost.


July 6, 2017

Why Do I Blog?


That is a good question. More than seven years after beginning all this, I'm don't have a simple answer. Certainly, it is satisfying to see something I have written on the Internet and pulled up during a Google search. Those small monthly checks from Amazon for selling a few books or getting clicks on the ads that flow down both sidebars is nice. They don't pay for more than some legal pads, printer ink, or downloaded photos. But, there is some validation there.

I guess there are a few parts to the answer of why I keep doing this. First is my need to write. A blog gives me a reason. I know myself well enough to know I don't have the patience or drive to write a novel or even a nonfiction book. A long time friend of mine has written two mystery novels, both of which I bought and enjoy. It has been a joy to watch his writing improve and his lifelong dream become fulfilled. It was hard, stressful work for him. That path is not for me.

Six to seven hundred words a few times a week is not a lot of heavy lifting. It scratches my itch. Finding a topic usually isn't a problem. Since Satisfying Retirement covers so many topics, I have few restrictions on what can be written about. Committing to something fresh every three or four days gives me the structure I need.

Politics is generally avoided. That subject is so overdone today and almost always guaranteed to generate more heat than light. Religion and sex, the two biggies to avoid in polite conversation, are not often the focus of a post either.  That leaves quite a few topics I can pick from.

Honestly, another reason is I sincerely enjoy reacting to the comments left on the posts. I know some bloggers don't respond, but that couldn't be me. if someone reads what has been written and then actually take the time to add his or her thoughts, I feel it would be unseemly to not recognize that effort with one of my own.

It is interesting to watch the flow of readers into and then away from the blog. I guess this is rather typical, but almost all of the folks who commented on posts of say, five years ago, have been replaced with a a new set of regular participants. If I am still doing this three or four years from now, I imagine there will be a new crop. I guess regular readers just feel the need for freshness and find new blogs to read. Or maybe there is a change in their daily schedule that makes active participation more difficult.

I sometimes wonder where the people who were here earlier in my journey, have gone. Are they still reading  but just not leaving their thoughts? Have they grown tired of retirement as a topic and simply moved on? Since I am a proponent of change, I am not disappointed or upset of this turnover. I am just a little curious.

Blogging is one of the best ways I have found to expand my horizons. I will write a piece that seems to be coherent, on target, and answers the questions that prompted the post in the first place. Then, a reader will leave a comment that adds an entirely new thought or poses a question I hadn't considered. Someone will write something that shows me a direction I hadn't even thought about. Maybe a comment will send responses along a certain tangent that opens up an entirely new path.

Each time this happens I am instantly, and very publicly, reminded that I have a lot to learn. It is clear that my thoughts are not complete. I'm also continuously impressed with the effort that people put into their comments. There is obvious thoughtfulness happening. The comments are meant to enlighten, educate, subtly criticize, be supportive, or allow someone to share a personal experience that relates to the topic. 

The final reason I keep blogging is probably a little silly and exposes a problem with my ego: I don't want to disappoint those who make this blog a regular part of their Internet time. To keep doing something as personal as blogging because a little bit of me says folks would be sad if I stopped seems to be a reason that is both embarrassing and based on an an unattractive level of self-deception.

Importantly, this last reason that I still blog is pretty far down the list. But, in all candor, I felt the need to expose it. Like I noted above, blogging is forced learning and maybe a bit of therapy. Until I am all-knowing and completely healed of my delusions there are reasons to keep at it. 

That suggests I will be here awhile.


July 3, 2017

7 Perks of Retirement: Small but Nice!





Every once in a while it is good to be a bit whimsical. Retirement isn't always serious and important. Here is a list of seven things that you can do when you stop working full time (there are more than seven, but you're busy, right?).


1) You can sleep late if you want to.  Just because I can doesn't mean I do. My warped sense of productivity screams that I've wasted half the day if I'm still in bed by 7 AM. Even on Saturdays when I really could laze around all morning I am up and on with the day by 6:30. But, the freedom to sleep later is still, in theory, available to me.

2) Going out to dinner earlier and getting the senior price. I used to joke about retired folks having dinner at 4 in the afternoon to get the blue plate special. Now that I am one of them, my wife and I do eat much earlier than we used to. We consider 5:30 PM to be late dining. If going to a restaurant, 4:30 PM is actually a good idea to avoid the lines and long waits. And, we always check the back page of the menu for the "55 Club" or whatever name is given to the senior prices. Of course, the smaller price also means smaller portions, but that's good for my waistline anyway.

3) Forgetting what day of the week it is, and not having it matter.  Except for church on Sunday morning, what day it is becomes rather unimportant. Monday feels like Wednesday which feels like Friday. The only downside is time has definitely speeded up. Whole weeks and now even months seem to be gone in the blink of an eye. I want to believe this isn't a memory issue, but more a function of me being busy and happy.

4) Taking advantage of cheaper matinee movie prices. Who in their right mind would pay $12 for a movie when shows before 6 PM are $7? At the local AMC theater shows before noon are $5. I'll see something I don't even like for $5. Or, I'll stay home and watch Netflix.

5) You can stop wearing a watch. Cell phones tell you the time if you need to know. The clock on the computer screen and car dashboard are entirely sufficient. Not wearing a watch is a physical and symbolic statement of freedom from the tyranny of time. That is not true, of course, but it sounds good.

6) You don't have to shop on weekends with everyone else. A rule in the Lowry household: no Home Depot, Costco, Wal-Mart, or shopping malls on weekends. There is no reason to subject ourselves to the hoards of weekend warriors and teenagers. Monday through Friday contains 120 hours. If I can't get my shopping done in that amount of time, I am shopping much too much.

7) You can wait at home all day for the repairman. I don't know why it is, but if there is a 3 hour window for a repair person, I am always in the last 5 minutes of that window. Never am I first or even in the first half of that big window. I don't know why but I've learned to (mostly) accept it. With the flexible schedule of a retiree it doesn't matter. If I don't wear a watch I don't even realize how late the fellow is and I stay calmer.



These are seven rather silly perks of a satisfying retirement, but all true for me. How about you? What less-than-life-changing  things can you do, or not do, if you don't work full time anymore? Let's call this a mid-week lighten up and have some fun with your answers. Comments are strongly encouraged!

Oh, and if you are reading this in the U.S.A. have a Happy 4th of July holiday!




June 30, 2017

How Can We be More Friendly to the Environment?


The post, from a few weeks ago, Being a Penny Pincher Even if You Don't Have To, had some excellent thoughts on being frugal without being cheap. Saving money is all about balance: cutting back where you can to be able to afford things you want. Retirement brings financial caution into focus, but it is also a time of life when we appreciate the difference between needs and wants, instant gratification and wise delays.

Several of the comments talked about being aware of our "footprint," those things we do that can have a negative impact on the earth's soil, water, and air. Being diligent about recycling, a focus on how much food is thrown away, composting, using rainwater for gardens, cutting back to one car - all are good for our budgets and our earthly home. 

That raised some questions for me about what small steps we can take to help be more friendly to the environment: the air we breathe and the water we drink, the landfills that we fill with our trash, and the chemicals we use that fill the space under the kitchen sink.

One of my pet peeves is excessive packaging. One of the worst examples is pretty much gone from our lives: CD cases. Designed to stand up in the racks originally used for vinyl albums, these things were maddening, not only to get open but with the incredible waste of plastic and energy to create each one. 

A new contender for wasteful king is the allergy nasal spray that will go unnamed. A two slot container contains one spray bottle. Like the compact discs, the overkill of plastic and energy needed to manufacture each one is mind numbing. No wonder each spray container is close to $20.

What I'd like to ask you to do is to share anything you do to cut waste, help protect the environment, and probably save some money in the process. What steps have you taken to cut back on the trash and garbage your household produces? Harvesting rainwater isn't practical in Phoenix, but maybe is where you live. Have you tried to catch this free water for gardens or other uses? 

Do you try to avoid certain types of packaging or products that seem insensitive to this problem? Do you make your own environmentally friendly cleaning products, and do they work? What about composting? That seems like a lot of work to me, but maybe my garden would appreciate the nutrient boost.

Some of the basics like reducing electrical use by turning off TVs, computers, and stereos when not being used, washing only in cold water, running the dishwasher with only a full load are things most of us can do with little effort, but they do make a difference. 

The average American creates 18 tons of CO2 every year while the average person on the plant contributes less than 4 tons. Whatever your feeling about climate change and global warming and all the factors that might affect those numbers, it is obvious we are creating that gas at a tremendous rate. 

What small, or larger steps can you suggest each of us consider to reduce our addition to these numbers, create less waste, pollute the groundwater a bit less, and save money in the  process? 



June 27, 2017

Pulling Out Your Stake

First posted almost 6 years ago, it seems worthwhile bringing back for you.



There is a story you may have heard about a giant circus elephant and how it was controlled. The animal was huge and very powerful. It could knock over a brick wall with it's trunk. But, in between performances all the massive beast had to keep it secure was a simple chain around its foot connected to a 12" wooden post hammered into the ground.

Certainly the elephant could have torn the stake from the ground with one tug, but it never did. As a baby it was chained to the same post. Being small, no matter how hard it pulled the youngster could not free itself from the restraint. Obviously, as it grew in strength and size it could have yanked the chain free in an instant. But, the elephant had convinced itself the chain and post were unbreakable so it simply gave up trying.

We all go through life being taught things that can limit our growth. We are told something that makes us doubt our potential or our abilities. Sometimes it is true. I was never going to be a major league baseball player. The coach that suggested I find another outlet was just being honest. I liked playing the clarinet but it was clear my musical skills were not going to get me first chair with the Boston Pops. That was not one of my gifts. I enjoy playing the guitar (poorly) now for relaxation, but Paul McCartney has nothing to fear.

What we must fight against are those limitations we are taught to believe are true when they are not. Sometimes it is a parent who tells us we aren't good enough to accomplish something. (if you are a parent, please never tell your kids or grandchildren that!). It might be a teacher or a coach. I had a drill instructor in the army who convinced me I was a danger to the entire U.S. military. Even though I actually became the honor graduate from basic training, he was right. I wasn't cut out to be a career soldier.

My wife loved painting when she was young. She would spend hours with a canvas and paints and her amazing imagination creating something that pleased her. But, at some point in college a teacher told her she wasn't good enough to continue. In fact, he suggested she was better suited to be a housewife. It has been 35 years and she still hesitates to pick up a brush with any confidence.

As we raised our two daughters, Betty and I were very aware of limitations imposed on children by well-meaning but shortsighted parents. We were very careful to teach our girls they could do absolutely anything they set their minds to do. We gave them the freedom and support to become experienced world travelers before many kids their age had left their hometown. It is gratifying to see our grandchildren being given the same support and excelling in just about everything.

In Betty's case, she pulled out her stake by finding another outlet for her artistic impulses. The painting dream had been seriously damaged by that thoughtless professor back in West Virginia. Even though those around her believe she has the talent, the barrier is still too high to overcome. So, she immersed herself in taking ordinary photographs and turning into works of art. Some samples were posted a few months back. If you missed seeing them click here to see what she can do with a simple camera and Photo Shop.

In my case my self-imposed barrier was writing. I had been told all my life that I wrote well. So, I tried over and over to write something of substance. I have started at least half a dozen different books, both fiction and non-fiction. I have been part of a few different writers' groups for brief periods of time. But, each time my 12" stake convinced me whatever I was writing wasn't good enough. I couldn't convince myself to put in the hard work required to learn the craft well enough to develop whatever ability I had. I would write a chapter and stall, then stop.

When I discovered blogging I discovered the way to beat my personal restriction: short form writing. I can churn out several hundred words with few problems. Give me a topic and I'll fill a page. I don't have to worry about dialog, character development, extensive research, or all the other parts of long form writing. My self-imposed limitation was gone and I could write to my heart's content.

So, what about you? Did you have certain limitations imposed on you as you grew? Are they still restricting what you believe you can accomplish? Have you been chained to a 12" stake that has kept you moving in a tight circle all your life when what you really want to do is break free and roam?  Is that restriction self-imposed or based on something that is not true? Isn't it time you pulled hard enough to pop that stake out of the ground?

What stake are you ready to pull against?

June 24, 2017

A Reality Check


I have been lucky. Throughout my life I have had few health problems. I went to a doctor for checkups and an occasional medical bump in the road. Even spending 150 days  each year in airplanes and hotels rarely resulted in more than a cold or occasional case of food poisoning.

Things started to change about three or four years ago. Slowly, I began to notice strange pains, OK , strange to me. Some of my fingers seemed a bit stiff when I first woke up. A twinge in my lower back wouldn't go away after a hot shower. I had some shortness of breath after a bit of yard work.

Two summers ago things got a little more serious during a trip to Portland: I ended up in the hospital for a few days with a cardiac episode. It wasn't a heart attack, but a small vein was blocked, resulting in pain and a small area of dead heart muscle. Scary for me, my wife, family, and friends, but eventually under control.

A year later, sharp pains in my lower left side wouldn't respond to my normal treatment method: take some aspirin and ignore it. I ended up in the emergency room with diverticulitis, painful but easily cured with antibiotics.

Then, this spring I caught a whopper of a cold. After two months, still coughing and feeling weak, I sought a professional opinion. Based on my description he thought bronchitis was a logical choice. Twenty days of steroid pills later, the cough and weakness still present, he decided to try antibiotics. Maybe my sinuses were infected and that was causing my problems. Nope.

Thinking it was time to up my game, I secured an appointment with an ear, nose, and throat specialist. If nothing else, I wanted a doctor to actually look at something up close and personal. A scope of some kind was threaded up my nose and down my throat; everything looked fine with only a slight swelling on one side of my vocal chords. Of course, that could be from all the coughing, but he thought it might also be caused by some acid reflux problem. So, a new set of pills to take. Some unpleasant side effects and a slight, temporary improvement didn't indicate he was right. 

Frankly, by now I was becoming a bit depressed. I began to see my future: endless trips to doctors, all taking guesses but never really solving the nagging aches and pains of  aging. Slowly, but surely, body parts and functions would begin to slip, just enough to be constantly there, never bad enough to prompt a real investigation, but just enough to sap my spirit and strength. I had been through that with my parents and didn't want it for me.

Then, after four months of this problem, the cough began to diminish, from being my frequent companion  to only an occasional visitor. My mood lifted, my energy returned enough to allow me to start going back to the gym, and life seemed brighter.

Had the cold and its effects finally gotten tired of playing with me and left to move onto someone else? Had I completed my 40 days in the wilderness (more like 120 days) and was freed from this test of patience and faith?  I doubt a medical professional knows, I certainly don't.

But, this experience reinforced a few important realities that this 68 year old man must face:

1) My future will contain problems  like this, and worse. The approach of benign neglect that worked so well for the first 64 years of my life is over, finished, no longer on the table.

2) We say doctors "practice" medicine because the human body is too complex for anyone to be able to arrive at more than an educated guess about what may be wrong. I am seriously grateful that the medical profession exists and that I have insurance that allows me to benefit from that  knowledge, but doctors are not always right. Sometimes, they are wrong. 

3) My wife has lived with constant aches and pains for the last 30 plus years. Because of a hypersensitive system she must avoid most pills or medical options. Importantly, she rarely complains. She certainly doesn't give into the disabilities, but works right through them.  Instead of shutting down and bemoaning my fate, I must try to emulate her approach.

4) Ultimately, I am in charge of how my body's treated. If what a doctor gives me doesn't seem to be working, I will not stay on that course. I will ask him to look at other options, i will find a specialist, I will look for second opinions. I will do my own research.

5) As time progresses  I must learn to adjust to more limited choices. Hopefully  I will continue to see the glass half full, but accept that aging has consequences.


We all learn so much on our retirement journey. Some of it is hard to accept, but accept we must. I think what makes the difference is how we deal with the inevitable.


June 21, 2017

Retirement Vacations: Worth the Time and Money?

First posted almost 6 years ago, it seemed appropriate to bring back my thoughts on the staying power of s vacation as we move through the summer season. This seems especially relevant because I have a busy set of vacation plans for 2018.


Betty and I returned from an 18 day glorious vacation on Maui a little over two weeks ago. Even now we are still sorting through the 2,400 photos. I have yet to wear all the T-shirts and Aloha shirts I bought, but the new flip flops are still getting daily use. We had perfect weather and a time of total relaxation. 


Several friends have asked what was my favorite part and the answer is always the same: sitting in a folding chair and watching the sunset every night from a different beach, until all the color faded from the sky and it was dark...the perfect end to a satisfying retirement vacation.

Virtually each evening, we were given a spectacular exhibition of  streaks of vibrant oranges, pinks, yellows, and various shades of blues. The show lasted almost 30 minutes after the sun was below the horizon.

We returned completely refreshed and relaxed. That feeling lasted...... about 36 hours. Then, the real world made itself known and pushed the euphoria of Maui to the sideline. There was nothing dramatic: no bursting of pipes or a major illness. None of our family had a problem that needed addressing. My dad weathered our being gone for an extended period just fine.

It was simply a case of commitments and meetings, chores, bills, computer glitches, and putting things away from the trip....real life....sucking the air out of the vacation glow quite quickly. It felt as if we hadn't gone anywhere. This vacation wasn't unusual in this regard. I remember the same thing happening after trips to England, Ireland, and Italy. So, the question is why? Are vacations destined to have little or no carryover benefit once someone arrives home? If so, is all the money worth it? 

When I was younger I seem to remember a great vacation had a much longer shelf-life. Whether as a youngster with my parents and brothers, or as a young married guy with my two daughters, I remember that afterglow lasting at least several days, sometimes even weeks. The work and home pressures were just as great, if not more so than they are now. But, the warm, post-vacation feeling lasted longer. Why? Was it because there were four people to remind each other of specific events or moments? Was it because there were more memorable moments when a young family is involved? Was it because I was younger?

Is a good vacation one that allows you to accomplish whatever the goal was for that time away regardless of the let down afterward? If I totally relaxed for those 18 days but fell right back into the daily routine almost immediately, was the vacation still a success? 

Looking at all the photos Betty took can bring back memories of where we were and what we were doing when the pictures were taken. 



But, as soon as the digital album closes, the real world is back. Maybe that is the way it should be. Stop the world, I want to get off, for a little while. But a really satisfying retirement requires me to be active and productive. A permanent life on the beach just isn't my style. A long visit every once in a while is just what the doctor ordered, even if the medicine wears off rather quickly.

Has this been your experience after a great vacation? Does the real world force its way to the foreground more quickly than you'd like? Does that mean all the money invested in time off was worth it? Enlighten me!

June 18, 2017

Why Civility Is In Decline

I wish I knew. More to the point, I wish it would stop. As the recent shooting at the baseball practice in Washington demonstrates, things seem to be escalating in a very dangerous way. 

An article in Psychology Today said,  "There seems to be more and more rude, demeaning, insulting, and aggressive language and behavior in our society."  That sums up what most of us experience on a too-regular basis. The question then becomes, why?

Civility is defined as courtesy in behavior or speech. I'm pretty sure we all know it when we experience it. From holding a door for a stranger to helping someone reach a box of cereal on the top shelf, from disagreeing without disrespect to making a fresh pot of coffee after taking the last cup, civility makes life more pleasant and satisfying.

So why does civility seem to be in decline, maybe even dying from disuse?  I can offer a few possibilities. Your (civil) additions to my list are encouraged!

1) Social media

Facebook and Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat didn't start out to be uncivil. I imagine the inventors thought just the opposite. People could connect with others anywhere in the world to share ideas, photos, thoughts, and feelings. What was not anticipated was the anonymity of the Internet giving some people the freedom to insult, demonize, and degrade with no personal consequences. 

Those first hurtful comments seemed to open the floodgates. Decency and respect were swept away. Nice comments didn't get retweeted or reposted nearly as often as the hateful, inciteful ones. The lack of any boundaries seems to have encouraged a certain type of person to flourish while those repelled by the verbal vomit stopped participating. Politeness was buried under waves of disrespect. Of course, it is possible to avoid this stuff on your feeds, but that doesn't mean it isn't there.

2) Political Correctness

I dislike the term, political correctness. It has come to mean something very different from its original meaning, which was to avoid words or phrases that denigrated certain people based on differences, disabilities, sexual or racial matters. Because of the extreme nature of some PC zealots, the whole idea of being sensitive of those different from us has become a reason for pushback. Being politically correct has become a negative.

This allows for some of the worst traits of humans to be expressed under the banner of being freed from the abuses of extreme PC.  Rebellion has allowed the pendulum to swing so far to the other side that marginalizing the "others" has become acceptable to many. Civility is one of the victims of this mindset. 

3) 24 hour news cycle

Most readers of this blog grew up in the era of three networks on television and a morning newspaper. Whatever happened in our town, state, nation, or the world, would only come to our attention if it was part of the 30 minute Huntley-Brinkley or Walter Cronkite newscast at 6pm, or on the front page of tomorrow's paper. Radio newscasts were about the same: hog and wheat prices, a local robbery, or whatever the networks in New York could fit in a 5 minute update at the top of the hour. Everything was slower. Reactions were muted by time and distance.

No more. Hundreds, if not thousands of sources, rush to inform us of whatever they deem important in a continuous flood. Something that happens in Paris or Moscow, New York, Washington D.C., or Phoenix is before our eyes or into our ears with virtually no delay. The time to verify facts or put something in context is no more. On the plus side, we can be much more aware of what is happening in the world around us. On the other side of the ledger, the tsunami of stuff simply washes away our ability to process all this information. More often than not we react with emotion, not consideration. Blame, anger, and condemnation are too often the first responses.  


4) Lack of shared visions

The word bipartisan could join civility in the endangered column. Extreme political divides, believing the other party is not only wrong but evil and doing the devil's work, seems to be par for the course. Why that matters is two-fold. Firstly, governing in a representative democracy requires working together. It isn't simply nice and more productive in the long haul, but it is required. Even if one party controls all branches of the government, without working together on major initiatives, the out-of-power party will just do their best to gum up the works and bring governance to a halt.

Secondly, the dysfunction in Washington spills well beyond its borders. Citizens find little reason to participate in building something; tearing down and obstructing become the new norm. We stop seeing ourselves as part of a whole. There is little shared vision of what made us who we are, and what is needed to maintain and build upon the successes and learn from the failures. Being civil when a person views others as a threat is impossible. It is very much a Lord Of The Flies worldview: survival of the fittest.


A little over a month ago I wrote A Different Way To Think About Politics. As expected, there were some comments that suggested my plea for moderation and civility in political matters was naive and dangerous. I expected that; I rarely write about politics because that isn't what this blog is about and most readers don't want to find it on these pages.

This post really isn't meant to be political.  Point #4 above, The Lack of Shared Visions, happens in part because of politics, and I believe rubs off on our everyday life. But, civility and its importance in making life more pleasant is one that transcends donkeys and elephants, as the previous three points emphasize.

I am very interested in your observations in this area. Also, I am hoping you have some suggestions to improve our situation. The post on the positive power of affirmations, A Force That Powers The World might shed some light on how we deal with this problem, too.

OK, that ends my thoughts. I politely and respectfully ask you to add to this discussion!




 

June 15, 2017

How To Guarantee a Satisfying Retirement


If only that were possible. Except for knowing you will die at some point, life doesn't come with a guarantee, and that includes retirement. 

After 17 years of experience, there are a few key concepts I'd be glad to share. Maybe I can help you eliminate some of the risks involved, though there is no guarantee.


1) Numbers

All sorts of numbers will determine the extent to which your retirement is satisfying: figures in your budget, income, outgo, the size of your investments and pension or IRA, the age you decide to start Social Security, and how you spend the hours in a day.

Not completely under your control but still important is how long you will have good enough health to do what you like to do. Days and nights spent in front of a TV or in an easy chair aren't very satisfying if you have other options. 

2) Assumptions
No one really know what the government will do with Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security payments, or what will happen to the health insurance markets. Inflation, deflation, interest rates, the end game with terrorism, all will affect retirement. Being frozen into inaction by uncertainty is not a good choice. Waiting for complete clarity means waiting forever.

The only way to approach these unknowns is to make basic assumptions and move forward. Until something definitive happens, plan on the social safety net remaining intact for you. Assume that interest rates will rise and fall, but in ways that won't place your retirement in jeopardy. Assume that terrorism will continue for the foreseeable future, but realize your odds of being struck by lightning are substantially higher than being harmed in some sort of attack or bombing. 

Your attitude and approach to each day are under your control. Assume that, too.

3) Flexibility

Flexibility is in your willingness to adjust things as you move through retirement. A plan is important; entering retirement without one is not advised. Sticking to that plan without allowing for changes based on finances, interests and desires, health, or family situations is just as dangerous. Show me someone who claims he or she developed a plan for success after work and has followed it to the letter, and I will show you someone whose original plan was severely lacking in details. 

Odds are good you showed flexibility when you were raising a family. Dr. Spock was good but didn't have all the answers. If you have ever been the parent of a teenager, I know you learned to be flexible. It is quite likely you were flexible in how you fulfilled your responsibilities at work. You adapted to changes as needed. You changed employers when required. You made do when that was required. 

Retirement is no different. Flexibility is a show of strength, not weakness.

4) Luck

I'd be less than honest if I didn't note that sometimes luck plays an important part in your retirement. Through no fault of your own the economy slips into a serious recession, taking a chunk of your savings with it. An impaired driver slams into you at an intersection, putting you tens of thousands of dollars in medical debt.

You try your hand at building your own business, and you just happen to tap into the hottest trend in the world. It succeeds beyond your wildest dreams and Google buys it for 10 billion dollars. My mom's chance visit with me in tow to a local radio station resulted in an interest and career that stuck with me for almost 40 years. My going with her that day was pure happenstance.

Luck is when you and reality intersect in a way that helps or harms you in a way that you can't predict and can't avoid. A dictionary definition is, "success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one's own actions." Many religious traditions would say that God is ultimately in control, there is no such thing as luck. In that case, I could define luck as what happens when we can't explain what God has decided to do (or not do).


Get a warranty for the new solar panels on your roof or the repair work on your car. Get serious when planning for your retirement. That is the best guarantee available.


June 12, 2017

Being a Penny Pincher Even If You Don't Have To


Voluntary simplicity, frugality, simple living, down-sizing....all have their genesis in trying to cut expenses. Less harm to the environment is another motivator, but the financial aspects are usually key. 

Certainly, for many of us, spending less money, living within or below our means is necessary. A faltering, or failed pension from work, a job loss at the wrong time, unexpected medical, housing, or caregiving expenses can force our hand.

For others, money isn't the overriding concern. Sure, we worry the money will run out before we do, and we can't predict some future financial disaster. But, overall, we are in good shape. There is something else that motivates us to reduce.

Interestingly, being in the first or second camp doesn't seem to be a solid predictor of our urge to cut expenses, pinch pennies, and find a less expensive way to accomplish a goal. Maybe it is a gene many of us carry. Maybe it is lesson we learned from a parent. Or, a rough patch in our past has left us with the desire to be more of the master of our own financial fate.

Whatever the reason, I find that posts that deal with frugality (or penny pinching, to use an older expression) usually prompt some good comments and interaction. Certainly, I always learn something new to consider as I review my budget. 

There are those who view cutting expenses as sort of a challenge: how low can I go? You have heard of extreme couponers who can buy hundreds of dollars in food and supplies for just the loose change in their pocket. Besides savings lots of money, these folks probably get a thrill from using the system to beat the system.


A while ago I wrote about people who have cut their wardrobe down to a few dozen items of clothing. They haven't seen the inside of a dry cleaning store in years. Their clothing budget is almost non-existent. Others have joined the tiny house movement, slashing housing and utility costs in the process.

I have written about replacing cable or satellite TV with a mixture of various streaming choices, over-the-air television, or Sling TV. Some remove the television completely, figuring their time is better spent in other ways.

One car instead of two, using the library instead of Amazon or Barnes and Nobles for your book fix, always cooking enough of one recipe for at least two meals, shopping for clothing or household needs when a store has a BOGO sale, realizing that Goodwill has some amazing bargains...the list is endless.

Being frugal or a penny pincher is different from being cheap. You don't save small slivers of soap, reuse aluminum foil, or figure out a hundred uses for a rubber band. Maybe you buy a high quality product or item of clothing, but you know it will last much longer than a poorly made one and it makes you happy. The cheapest choice isn't often the best one, but a frugal choice may be. 

So, my question to you is, are you a penny pincher (either from necessity or by choice)? No one likes to waste money unnecessarily, but how many of us look for ways to shave a budgetary corner here or there, or feel a thrill when we figure out how to pay less for something then we once did? 

What ideas and tips can you share with us?