April 27, 2017

A Different Way To Think About Politics?

Would you like to start a fight, or at least a heated discussion? Would you like to anger half the people in a crowd while mollifying the other 50%? Then talk about politics. Along with religion, there is no way to trigger emotion and passion faster than this subject. 

Applying the usual definition, politics are "the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power." Today, in our society, politics is about the conflict,  staking out turf and defending it to the verbal death, or something even more literally. It is usually loaded with sarcasm, fixed belief systems, and distortion of the opposition's position.

Can I suggest a different way to think about politics? Can I offer an alternative that allows us to engage instead of enrage? Can I propose a way forward that may have more positive results?

Yes? Then, please think of the subject of politics at its most fundamental level: human beings trying to live together in peace and prosperity. Remove all the fancy language and organizational double-speak, and politics is about accomplishing shared goals. It is about success as a species. 

The origin of the word is from the Greek, polis, which means community. What is community?  That is a body of persons or nations having a common history or common social and economic standards.

So, at its core, politics is nothing more than a shared experience. Using that definition, this hot button word becomes all-inclusive instead of mutually exclusive. It means those of us who live within the boundary of this nation share basic, common goals.

What gets us into trouble is when we begin to stack layers of emotion and personal bias on that simple explanation. We look to emphasize our differences, not our similarities. We see ourselves as aggrieved, not connected. We do not accept that we could possibly share similar goals with those on the other side of the aisle.

My belief system assures me we are flawed creatures who sin and play to our worst instincts on a frequent basis. But, that belief system also tells me that I should strive for a better way. I should rebel against my baser instincts, of which our current view of politics is an excellent example.

So,what is to be done? I can think of three steps I can take, and maybe you can be right there with me. Also, please add something that I may have overlooked.

1). As much as it may go against my nature, accept that the majority of the political opposition really wants the same thing I do, they are just going about it differently. As much as it may feel as though they are dead wrong, harmful, or seriously misguided, accept that their motivation is not to do the devil's work. This will allow me to see them as fellow human beings, not creatures bent on destruction.

2). Do not become so fixed in my beliefs that I can't adjust and modify as needed. Do a quick review of American history over the past 241 years for a reminder of how things change on a regular basis. What I think is absolutely correct today may prove to be completely wrong if I live long enough.

3). Interact with people who aren't just like me. You never learn much staring at a mirror. As uncomfortable as it may be, I shouldn't isolate myself from others who hold different political views. Be an advocate for what I believe and explain why respectfully and with passion. Listen to any response. If it is filled with anger and spite, don't respond in kind. Thank the person for listening and walk away. My goal is to plant a seed, not wait for a tree to grow.

I am not naive. I know there will always be people in politics who have little or no moral center. They are greedy and self-serving. They may even be criminal in action and intent. Every effort to play to their better nature will fail because they don't possess one. We need to keep the spotlight on those people, call them out, vote them out, impede the damage they can do.

But, for the vast majority who truly believe what they are doing is for everyone's good, we will accomplish nothing by constantly attacking and denigrating those who see things differently. 

Personally, this post is needed reading for me. I spend too much time obsessing over things that I disagree with, give a fist pump when something political I don't like fails or goes wrong, and hope for the failure of policies I believe to be dangerous or counterproductive. Yet, I rarely put myself in the position of trying to understand the other point of view. I am too much of the mirror-gazer I mentioned above.

Seriously, I have no idea what your reaction will be to this post. Am I kidding myself? Are things so seriously off at this point in our nation that I should be marching in the streets? Or, can more be done by understanding a point of view I don't believe is right, and reacting as if that other person has as much value as I, even if I may not get that same respect in return? Can I help things by participating and interacting rather than just rooting for failure?


April 23, 2017

Delayed Retirement Maintenance Has a Cost

For the majority of us the last effects of the 2008-09 recession are in our rear view mirror.  Unemployment rates are low and inflation seems to be under control. Interest rates on investments remain miserable, but decent returns are available with a little bit of risk.

Housing prices have rebounded in most part of the country. That allowed Betty and me to move just about two years ago to be closer to our grandkids. We have been in the new house just long enough that my thoughts to turn to what maintenance should be considered, now and in the future. Owning a house means owning the problems that come with that property. 

Delayed maintenance never got this bad
Unfortunately, over the years I have become the master of delayed maintenance. If something isn't dangerous, leaking, or unusable, I find it much too easy to wait.  We know that something will require fixing but decide it can wait a while longer.

That toilet is more difficult to flush, but it still works. The front door is showing wear and the wood is starting to crack. But, hey, there's no budget right now for a new $2,000 door. The roof should last another few years, I hope. I know the car battery is pretty old but it still works. Let's wait until fall before replacing it.

My experience with delayed maintenance is that the eventual cost is always higher than when the problem is first recognized. I have always wondered why I wait until it is time to move or until something stops working completely before I repaint, repair, or replace. The hassle is always worse than if I had simply taken care of it when I should have.

When building a satisfying retirement, delayed maintenance can describe similar behavior. One example might be our investment plan isn't really working well for us anymore. We know we should spend time reviewing our approach. But, that is a lot of work and it might force us to admit we are not in the type of financial shape we thought we were. Things will work out, they always do. We'll just wait awhile and see how it goes.

Another type of delayed maintenance might involve a business venture of yours. I have personal experience with this type of delayed maintenance. For at least 4 years before my consulting business declined to the point I decided to shut it down and retire, there were plenty of signals that things weren't going as well as they once did. The industry had changed dramatically a few years before that, resulting in a drop in demand for what I offered. The number of clients had grown regularly every year for the previous decade. Then, the growth stopped. I decided that was fine with me. I was overextended and tired.

Suddenly, the number of clients I served began to drop, one this month, two a few months later, a couple more at the end of the year. I was concerned, but still convinced things would stabilize at a comfortable level. That was not the case. The loss of business continued and accelerated.

Suddenly I was at the point where my cash flow was dangerously close to my expenses. I knew what I needed to do: increase the marketing and promotion of my business, become much more focused on the clients and their particular needs, and find a way to re-brand myself for the changes the industry was undergoing.

Unfortunately, I had delayed that business maintenance too long. When things were good I didn't spend time looking for cracks in the foundation. I didn't figure out I needed a major overhaul. When I realized things had slipped to a near-fatal level, it was too late.

Your most significant relationship can certainly suffer from delayed maintenance. Several years ago I wrote a post on Relationship Maintenance suggested steps you can take for a relational tuneup. Just like a car that misses regular oil changes, new brakes, or a new set of spark plugs, your marriage or key relationship can't be ignored for too long before trouble will surface.

Health is certainly a key area of delayed maintenance for many of us. We know a diet of fatty foods, a lack of fruits and vegetables, and a sedentary lifestyle will probably end badly for us. We know sun screen is important. We know about checkups and tests that should be conducted.  But, the future is still way out there. We can change later. We can adjust our living habits when we turn 65....or 70...or 75...or.....

Not doing what we know we should will hurt us. Our quality of life will suffer. Our ability to do what we like will be curtailed. Taken to its logical conclusion, our delayed maintenance in taking care of ourselves could end our life early.

What is the answer? Preventive maintenance. This is a proactive, deal-with- a-problem-before-it-gets-out-of-hand type maintenance. Act before something becomes critical or dangerous. Maybe there are no visible signs of a problem today, but we all know the consequences of a certain action is likely to cause problems.

Preventive maintenance is the best way to build your satisfying retirement. It may be a tough habit to develop. I think most of us are hard-wired for avoidance. But, waiting until things break or decay or become much too difficult and expensive to repair is the wrong choice.

What in your life requires some preventive maintenance? What delayed maintenance have you put off because the task is too difficult or the answers too unsettling? Share with us, if you dare!

Note: Yesterday morning I woke up to a flooded front yard. An underground sprinkler line had ruptured. There had been a small wet area near the front walk that I conveniently ignored for over a month. Delayed maintenance in action!

April 19, 2017

Moving To Be Near Family After Retirement: A Good Idea?

I am among retirement writers who suggest that moving right after retirement is a step that should be taken with caution. Leaving friends and familiarity is never easy. The adjustment after leaving work generates enough stress. Adding a move and all that implies just puts more pressure on you. Moving after retirement is an important decision; it takes time and planning. 

Over the six plus years of this blog I have shared several stories of newly retired folks who have left both a job and a long time home in short order, and regretted that move more often than not. Usually, the difficulty in establishing new friendships and missing ties at home lead the list. In short, home sickness can strike at any age. Others found the weather not as ideal as it seemed after watching the Weather Channel. Housing prices may be so different that affording a place to call home is too difficult.

That being said, for some of us a move soon after retirement is the right step to take. If your job kept you in a climate or community that left you unhappy, then the freedom to leave all that behind is welcome. If you have no family nearby and living near the ocean or a high mountain meadow has always been a dream, now you can make it a reality.

The most common reason we move after retirement is family-related. Sometimes it is the need to be able to care for an aging parent or relative who lives far away. There are no other siblings who can help, so the responsibility is yours. Other times, it may be the desire to be closer to a grown son or daughter and the grandchildren.

I can certainly relate to that desire. Betty and I moved from the area we called home for 30 years to be close to the grandkids. Granted it was only 40 minutes away, but we did leave an area, friends, and a church relationship we liked and had spent three decades building. In our case it has turned out beautifully. We love our new area and interact with family all the time.

The flipside of our experience was shared with me by a reader a few years ago. He and his wife left their long time home community to be close to a son and his family. Within a few months they realized they had made a big mistake. Their new community was so different from "home" that they struggled to adapt to the weather and different culture. Their son and his family had their own very full life and were rarely available for mom and dad. That couple ended up moving back to their old area and way of life. An occasional plane flight to keep the family connected turned out to be the better option.

What about you? After retirement have you moved to be closer to family? Have you decided to relocate to provide care for aging parents or to be closer to grown children and grandkids? Or, have you made the decision to stay where you are, depending on travel to stay in touch? 

This choice is one of the most important ones you may face during your retirement. While the urge to move is often quite strong, the reasons to do so must be solid and well planned.

I invite you to share your experiences and decisions. We can all learn from what you have decided.

April 15, 2017

5 lessons I've Learned About Relationships

After 40 years of marriage I have learned a few things along the way that have proven helpful. Actually, there are a lot more than five lessons, but I know your time is limited, so I will stick with a few of the biggies. You are welcome to try them out. If you don't, you can't say I didn't warn you!

1. You can't change another person, only how you react and relate to that person. One of the myths of marriage that engaged and newlywed folks fall for every time is that you can change the person you are planning on spending the rest of your life with. He or she may have some habits that annoy you, or character traits that aren't all that warm and fuzzy. Given enough time and energy, you can remake that person into the model spouse you want. 

Reality check: that is not going to happen. Assuming you are a functioning adult, there are traits and habits that you have brought with you into a new relationship. Sure, you can learn to put the toilet seat down, or not chew with your mouth open. You can take some hints about your choice of pairing plaid pants with striped shirts. Purple highlights in your hair may have been cool in college, but can be distracting at the PTA meeting.

A solid relationship is built on one person relating and accepting another. If you look upon the other half of your team as a project, I wouldn't plan on making it to 40 years together. Acceptance and compromise are the keys.

2. Each person requires private time. Retirement often exposes an inconvenient truth: 24/7 of you is too much of you. No matter how much you are in love, how compatible the two of you are, or how much you find each other's quirks endearing, an individual must have some private time and space. 

Think of a relationship sort of like raising a kid. When the relationship first starts (the child is born) he or she wants and needs to be with you all the time. Normally around 8 or 9 years old, that child begins to become his own person. He needs you in his life, but he also needs to develop his own friends, interests, and abilities. Smothering a youngster doesn't work well. Neither does a relationship. "Us" time and "Me" time are both required for a relationship to last.

3. A static relationship is one that is dying. You have heard the line in countless movies or TV shows: "You've changed. You aren't the person I married!" Well, let's hope not. Life is designed to change us, hopefully for the better, but change is going to happen. A relationship must change with it. 

Echoing point #1, accepting and relating to someone else as they mature and develop is part of the bargain, and part of the excitement. You and your significant other will change how you feel, how you think about things, even how you want to live. Some of this will occur together, some as individuals. Moving forward is inevitable, so it is best to jump on board.

4. The little things always matter. Whether your relationship is 4 months or 40 years old, certain things never grow old. Appreciation for a well-cooked meal, a thorough cleaning of the garage, or even a kind word to an in-law remain important. So does common courtesy, a flower arrangement for no particular reason, dinner out after a hard day, a foot massage...you get the point. Something that shows you are thinking of the other person enough to take that extra, unprompted step always matter.

5. Please and Thank You are still the magic words. We are never too old or too comfortable in a relationship to not use the "magic words" we learned in kindergarten or from mom and dad. I am not sure how this was measured, but a study shows a 50% increase in effort among co-workers who are graced with these words during the course of a project. A relationship benefits as well. Beyond simply being polite, using these words shows an awareness of their importance as a human being, worthy of appreciation.

April 12, 2017

Saying Goodbye to the RV Lifestyle

*19,000 miles driven

 *32 states visited

 *107 different RV parks

The last four and half years have been busy ones. After buying a used 30 foot RV in September, 2012 from the rental company, Cruise America, Betty, Bailey, and I have done everything we hoped to in our motorhome. We have seen the country in a way that only comes from driving miles and miles of Interstate and back roads. 

We have battled high winds that wanted to shove us in a ditch. We have suffered through the failure of an air conditioner in late summer, in Texas. We have had a side mirror fall off in Alabama that had to be ducted taped to the window so we could drive home. We have learned how to tow a car behind a 6 ton RV and not have an accident. 

We have learned to pack for two months away from home. We have learned to live together in 200 square feet and stay happily married.  We have learned how to feed ourselves with a minimal amount of mess to clean up afterwards. We have collected memories and experiences that will last the rest of our lives.

But, like all things in life, we have decided it is time for a change, it is time for us to sell the RV and shift to other vacation and travel options. The vehicle is eleven years old. That means major systems will begin to fail and need to be replaced. The air conditioner was just the first fatality. The furnace blower fan sounds like a bearing may be going. Six tires are nearing the end of their usable life. 

Living in a hot climate means we can leave very little in the RV while it is parked at a storage yard. Packing before a trip takes a lot of preparation and then re-loading the rig every time. Arriving home, we are faced with taking everything out until the next trip. Frankly, that part is getting old. Driving an ungainly 6 ton motor vehicle through traffic and bad weather has become a bit stressful.  

Buying an RV and exploring the country was one of those "bucket list" things we dreamed about, and are so happy we took the plunge. It has been a tremendously satisfying experience. It has been an important part of our retirement.

So, what's next? Betty and I want to go back to England, Ireland, and Scotland. We are anxious to take a river cruise from Amsterdam into France and parts of Germany. A cruise to the South Pacific calls to me. A few more trips to Hawaii are a must. Flying to Portland and maybe eastern Canada are possible. We have even discussed taking the train from Vancouver to Toronto or points east.

Retirement is about adjustments and changes. The RV time has been fabulous. What comes next will be just as good. We can't wait.

Goodbye, dear and faithful friend.

April 8, 2017

I Couldn't Blog Without

Closing in on 2.5 million views, Satisfying Retirement appears to have filled a need in the crowded retirement preparation field. June will mark our 7th anniversary, probably 5 or 6 years longer than I expected when I first started.

Writing 650 words every 3 or 4 days is actually not as difficult as I thought it might be. Just keeping my eyes open, writing about life as I live it, and having the best blog readers in the world to keep me honest and on target means I rarely struggle to find something to write about.

That said, there are five things I couldn't blog without. I haven't put them in order of importance, just trust me that each one keeps me here.

A good spellchecker. If I am not the worst speller you have ever met, I am certainly on the team. My hidden secret? Every sentence contains at least one mistake. Typing is a two finger hunt and peck, though after all this time I am pretty quick. But accuracy is not my strong suit. Most readers would have given up long ago if it weren't for that red underline that urges me to stop and correct.

I use the Internet to research facts, ideas, and a fresh perspective virtually every time I write a post. Unless I am dealing with a personal memory or expressing an opinion, research is essential. I may need some statistics to buttress an argument. It might be helpful to see what others have said on a particular subject. I may feel I have been down a particular path too many times and want a fresh take on something. Whatever the case, The Internet (remember when it was called the World Wide Web?) is a must.

An on-line thesaurus is very important as a place to turn for synonyms.  I still have a red-covered Roget's Thesaurus in the office, but the on-line version is quicker and has more possibilities when I am stuck for a better word. Did you realize there are almost 50 different words or phrases for retire, and that is just as a noun.

Inspiration from other blogs and social media. There are some fine bloggers adding valuable content day after day, and not just in the retirement arena. Everything from inventive life hacks, to political insights, financial traps to avoid, relationship improvement suggestions, feel-good stories, movies to see (and to avoid!).....there is a lot of excellent material to read. I am inspired by good writing, well-crafted articles, persuasive opinions, and  anyone who is dedicated to being good at something. 

Comments from readers. I have saved the most important factor for last. Without the support of this blog's readers, there would be little reason to continue. While many blogs have a lot more readers, I would put the quality of satisfying retirement's audience on par with anyone. The comments are rarely off-target or inappropriate. In fact, I am surprised when one pops up that must be deleted, it happens that infrequently.

The insights, ideas, support, and degrees of caring concern for others that are expressed on these pages makes blogging a treat. This active participation is a necessary element to blogging. 

April 5, 2017

Eliminate These 3 Retirement Stumbling Blocks

A successful satisfying retirement can be upended by any number of problems, some of which you determine and some of which you don't. Your lifestyle and genes will play a large part in your health. Financial planning will be a crucial factor in how comfortable your life is after retirement. Your relationships can help make daily life happy or miserable. 

There are three additional stumbling blocks to success that are completely under your control. None of them has to upend your journey. But, any one of them can, if you don't pay attention to their potential for problems.

The number one stumbling block is lack of self confidence

In previous posts I have stressed the importance of attitude in how satisfying your retirement will be. To steal an overused political phrase, I am doubling down on that belief by making this the most important stumbling block. You have made it this far in life by making more good decisions than bad, correcting mistakes, and maturing in your decision making ability. 

Then why is it that the thought of retirement can bring out a lack of self-confidence, a fear of taking any risks, a dread of making all the wrong choices? Recently I wrote about Stage Two of a typical retirement, the time of self-doubt and worry. It happens to almost everyone.

It happens because our self-confidence falters. Usually for no specific reason we begin to doubt ourselves and our decisions. And, for almost everyone, that period of fear and worry turns out to be unfounded. There is nothing wrong with introspection. But, when it throws us in a tailspin, we are putting our retirement progress in jeopardy. 

Second is sticking with your plan after it proves unworkable

I am a planner. My family used to joke that I had a do-to list that extended months in advance. Little did they know that I had another list that included the entire year! I like predictability and having a feeling of control. Unfortunately, I had to learn those personality traits don't always work well in retirement.

No obsessive planning, no mystic with a crystal ball, no blog or book, can provide you with the perfect plot for your journey. No matter how meticulous you are, the way you expect things to turn out, won't. What you want, what you need, what is important to you, will change over time. 

The second stumbling block to a satisfying retirement is the refusal to accept that reality and to continue to plow ahead with a plan that no longer works for you. The refusal to admit you are not the same person today that you were when your master life plan was developed will not end well. The dogged insistence on following your master plan, regardless, is not recommended. 

The third stumbling block is modeling your retirement after someone else's.

Wouldn't it be great if you could just find a book or web site that gave you a retirement model that you could follow, verbatim, and be assured of a wildly happy existence? Yes, it would. Too bad, there is no such thing.

Each retirement is unique. While my writings and those of thousands of others are meant to help you avoid serious pitfalls and give you lots to think about, no one else is you. Think of your friend who lives on a sailboat in the Caribbean, your sister who has a flat in Paris and spends her days painting street scenes, or even your parents who live in a retirement community and are busy and happy.

While there may be bits and pieces in each of those lives that are a good fit for what meets your needs and desires, none should become your life without putting the essential "you" in the equation. Following someone else's game plan is a guarantee of unhappiness at some point. The right path is the one you discover on your own, adjust as you go, and put your unique stamp on that life.

Visualize yourself as the man in the image at the top of this blog. Imagine yourself leaping over those three stumbling blocks. That is the way toward a satisfying retirement.

April 2, 2017

A Patagonia Escape

A little over a week ago Betty and I loaded up the RV and our dog, Bailey, and headed to the southern Arizona area around Patagonia. About 3 hours from our home, it is the perfect spot for a 4 day getaway. Patagonia Lake State Park is about 10 minutes south of the small (920 residents) town, and 20 minutes north of the border with Mexico. 

Yes, there is already a wall there. It runs right through the middle of Nogales, dividing the town into American and Mexican communities. Border patrol check points are common on the major roads in and out of the area. Seeing a white and green Border Patrol truck perched on a ridge line is par for the course.

The American side is lined with massive warehouses, trucks coming and going at all hours with produce and products bound for one side of the border or the other. I imagine a tightening of the border or a change in NAFTA would hit this part of the state pretty hard.

But, all that politics aside, we came to relax, give Bailey the chance to explore a new area chock full of smells and sights, and step off the merry-go-round for awhile. Long walks around the large lake were accompanied by the sounds of hundreds of birds tweeting from dawn until dusk. Saturday morning we took a pontoon boat tour while a guide told us about the history of the lake and the wild plants we were seeing all around us. This part of Arizona is a major birding destination, so information on what was flying over our heads was an added bonus.

We slept late, read a lot, watched downloaded Netflix shows since Internet doesn't exist, and enjoyed a few dinners in town. With only 4 restaurants to choose from, Patagonia is not a foodie destination. Actually, one of those eating spots is not open Sunday evenings, so choices are quite limited. Arizona wine country is only 25 minutes away though, with some additional dining and wine tasting options in nearby towns.

The town has an active local theater organization with its own dedicated performance venue. Plays, art films, and exhibitions are common. Opened for only a few months. a brand-new Opera House is now part of community life, too. Based on the entertainment model of old western opera house entertainment,  this 80 seat building features local and regional music as well as dance performances. On one of the days we were in town a trio from the Tucson Symphony held a concert in the Opera House; it was sold out for the night time show.

The last time we were in Patagonia was probably 4 years ago. Frankly, Betty and I were a bit disappointed in the changes we noted in town. Two restaurants and a large antique business are gone. The town's coffee shop and ice cream parlor locks its doors at 4pm. Everything had a bit more run-down feel. Tourist traffic was light, though birders were in evidence, obvious with their long lens cameras and binoculars. 

On the plus side, we loved the State Park. It was obviously spring break for the kids in the area. Hundreds took advantage of the time off to come with their families to enjoy the sandy beach, boating and kayaking options, and sitting around camp fires each evening. With overnight lows near freezing, those blazing logs added needed warmth and delicious smells to the night air. Since many of the campers were in tents, the fires were restarted early each morning to help defrost the adventurers.

I will leave you with some pictures, and a teaser: Betty and I reached an important decision about our future vacation plans. I will share those thoughts in a future post.

The break is over and spring time activities are in full swing. But, thank you, Patagonia Lake State Park for a memorable time!