July 31, 2017

Two Simple Quotes About Life To Ponder

Recently, I have been sorting through a few shelves of books in my office, deciding which ones to give away and which ones to re-read. While doing so, I stumbled across two quotes that prompted this post:

"Simplify the material side of our lives and enrich the nonmaterial side"

This is from well-known simplicity author, Duane Elgin. Over the years I have owned and enjoyed several of his books. Voluntary Simplicity was one of my first exposures to the topic of cutting back and reducing consumption. First published over 35 years ago, he has reissued this important work several times. Even after several re-reading of this book, I continue to find something to inspire me. This quote is a good example.

I haven't counted, but I would guess I have written at least 50 posts on the importance of focusing on the nonmaterial side of life during retirement. By the time we stop working, we have accumulated enough stuff to last for the rest of our life. Certainly, new clothes, a replacement automobile, a computer to replace the one that died....there are items we must buy, as needed, for the rest of our life. There are things we can afford that enrich our lives, like travel, gifts to adult children or grandkids, going back to school, or taking on a new hobby. 

But, Duane's point is that stuff just for stuff's sake is what we can eliminate. In America, our culture makes every effort to convince us our lives aren't complete until we own the next trinket or toy. We won't be satisfied until we add ...fill in the blank....to our possessions. 

His central point is not to eliminate everything that makes life joyful. Rather, it is to cut back by resisting the urge to buy and add to our stuff, just because we can, while bulking up on the things that make a life a satisfying journey.

"Life that is not growing and advancing makes living only not dying"

French writer and philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir, is the source of this intriguing quote. If she were still alive I am not sure how she would feel about this comparison, but her thought is not much different than Jimmy Buffett's, "I'd rather die while I'm living than live while I'm dead."

Both are saying the same thing: living less than a full life isn't much better than being dead. I'm not prepared to go quite that far. But, if the only way to define a life is by saying at least that person isn't dead, there should be a great sense of loss or missed opportunity.

Do you know any retirees who spend their precious gift of time as if it were endless, always putting off something today until tomorrow? Maybe even worse, are those who "kill time" just to make the clock move from the time they wake up until it is OK to climb back into bed. 

Why? A serious health problem, a real financial hole they can't escape, a toxic relationship....there are reasons why someone would feel forced to endure a life that has little living in it Certainly, it is not fair to judge that type of existence.

For those who do have an option, promise yourself you will not live a watered-down life. We only have one shot at our time on earth (sorry, Shirley MacLaine). Make sure it is easy to tell the difference between living and not dying.

July 28, 2017

Random Notes from my Desk

No particular topic or focus this time, just some loose ends to clear out off my desk. They aren't worth a full post, just a few paragraphs each:

*Britbox  This is a streaming service I became aware of after seeing an article in the New York Times. Betty and I enjoy many of the British shows that make their way to PBS, Netflix, and Amazon Prime. While humor from the U.K. often eludes us, British crime dramas are a very nice change of pace.

Since the police don't carry guns, crimes are solved more with intellect and old-fashioned sleuthing. There is much less violence, no explosions, and no on-screen shootouts. If a gun is used in a crime, these programs tend to show the victim after the detectives enter the story. The appeal of American shoot-em-up crime shows has worn quite thin.

Documentaries and lifestyle shows that feature the beautiful U.K. countryside are enjoyable, too. It is interesting to us that the hosts are not usually "Hollywood" beautiful. Rather, they are common folks who love what they are showing. They are refreshingly real.

*Restoring old radios  I have started a new hobby. As a natural extension of my ham radio activities and career in broadcasting, I have started buying and restoring vintage radios. These wooden-boxed beauties are from the 1930's and 40's, well before FM or any form of digital transmissions. I don't buy them to really listen to them since the AM band is now almost exclusively talk or religious stations. In Phoenix the only music heard on AM is Mexican, except for one 60's oldies station. 

I am collecting them for the beauty of the cabinets and the fascination with bringing something back to life that is sixty or even seventy years old and still works. 

*Being careful how you act around others   We were taking care of our grandson for a few days a couple of weeks ago. Mom and the girls were out of town on a Girl Scout trip, and dad was working. So, to help out we agreed to have him spend the days with us. Unfortunately, this was the period when our computers were malware-attacked. Tempers were shorter than normal. I was snapping at Betty and she was getting agitated with me. 

Our attitudes did not go unnoticed by him. After a while, he simply asked if we could stop arguing. He suggested we stop working on the computers since that seemed to be the cause of our anger.

Few things can get you back under control more quickly than to have a grandchild ask you to change your behavior. What a great lesson in proper respect for each other and controlling one's emotions.  It was embarrassing and sobering, but he was completely in the right.

*Summers and heat  We are less than halfway through the mind-numbing heat of a Phoenix summer. Daytime highs won't drop below 100 until mid to late September. Open window weather will arrive in November. That is a long way away.

For both budgetary and family-oriented reasons, we decided to spend the summer in town. Except for a five day trip to Disneyland next month, we are here for every one of those hot days.

Betty and I are coming to more fully appreciate why we usually plan on being gone for at least part of each summer! Day after day of the same toastiness is draining. I grew up back east so I remember the winter weeks of snow and cold that seemed like they would never end. The heat in the desert produces something kind of like that...a cabin-fever feeling of an unpleasant mother nature lurking just outside your door.  Next summer....

*E-mails should come with warning labels  Because they are so easy to use and such a part of our lives, we tend to forget the power of e-mails. Donald Trump, Jr. and Hillary Clinton are recent high profile instances of e-mails gone bad. Stories of folks losing jobs or harming relationships over missent electronic mail are common. 

We forget that once we hit send, there will be a permanent record of whatever you typed. If you send a e-mail in anger or without thinking through the ramifications, there is a never-ending risk of harm. 

Perhaps we'd all benefit from an attitude that an e-mail is no different from the written note you once put into the mailbox. Once it drops into the box, whatever you said cannot be taken back. To paraphrase a Jimmy Buffett expression, "an e-mail is a permanent reminder of a temporary feeling."

OK, cleaner desk top. Thanks for letting me post these random thoughts.

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. 


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


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 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!