November 16, 2019

A Retirement Reality That Is Important To Remember

On a regular basis, readers will leave comments that remind me of one important reality of retirement that doesn't seem to generate enough attention:

Simply put, retirement is a self-correcting process.

OK, that needs explanation. Regardless of what part of your non-work life we discuss, this principle remains the same. We constantly adjust to what is our reality at that point in time.

This should be quite comforting. All the worry we put ourselves through is because we get hung up on what we want to happen, or what we think should happen. That causes us to become fearful that the money we set aside will never be enough. Our health will fail us so completely we will be unable to do anything we enjoy. We will become bored silly. Our relationships will weaken, leading to divorce, no friends, and a solitary future. Looking back to a previous post, we will find ourselves helping to support or care for a grown child. Retirement will not be what we dreamed it would be.

I will say right now: retirement will not be what you thought it would be. OK, maybe you are one of the few who are living precisely how you want. Everything you planned for came true. You wish you had started years earlier. You are living your retirement dream.

This outcome is not unheard of, but not the norm. Just one caution. At some point it is likely one of the three stool legs that are supporting you: finances, health, and relationships,  will break, or at least wobble. Are you confident in your ability to adjust? My message is, you should be. 

Maybe the whole experience is completely different than what was in your mind's eye. Maybe it is so much richer, full of experiences that make your days fly by. You have discovered new facets to your personality and talents that you never knew you had. You couldn't plan for what has unfolded because your dreams didn't expand that far.

Or, it is certainly possible that this phase of life will throw enough struggles your way that you are thinking of renaming yourself Job. Nothing is how you planned it, and that isn't good. You wish some parts of your life were different, or at least easier, but that is not how things are going.

No matter in which of these three scenarios you find yourself, the truth that retirement is a self-correcting process remains. We have the remarkable ability to take what we are given and make it work for us, the best it can, at that moment.

Retirement is self-correcting. I wish I had understood that much earlier in my journey. Now that I do, my worry meter is dialed way back. I am confident I can, and will adjust as circumstances present themselves.

So will you.

November 12, 2019

Hidden Treasures In A Closet

While going through a closet for our fall declutter project, I stumbled across two interesting items we removed from my  parent's apartment years ago when dad moved to assisted living. One was an envelope stuffed with index cards. On both sides of each mom had listed every book she had read from the mid 1990's until her eyesight started to fail in 2004.

Included was either a star for a good book, or a emphatic "No" for the ones that didn't please her. Fiction was her favorite, especially crime mysteries and historical romance novels.

I found it fascinating to look at her choices. I made a list of all the non-romance books she liked and have started my own list to read through them. It will be nice to know she and I are sharing some of the same experiences.

I also found a complete set of travel journals. Mom and dad loved to take road trips - everything from a few days away to 45 day marathons. Mom recorded her reaction to every day of every trip, even to the point of listing the cost of the meals and gas fill ups.

 As I reviewed each journal I was reminded how often they were on the road. Beginning in 1994 and continuing until early 2002, I was hard-pressed to find more than two months between entries. Even if it was just a quick overnight trip to Tucson, mom and dad were most happy driving somewhere. 

During that period they went to Europe twice. Just like the road trips, mom recorded her reactions to everything, both good and bad. While I think they enjoyed their time overseas, I sensed both were happiest inside the Toyota putting miles between them and home and then back again. 

As I read each journal mom's health decline was quite obvious. Toward the end of the 1990s she began referring to the use of a wheelchair or walker. Trips to an emergency room happened with regularity as she battled chronic knee and back pain, or her congestive heart failure symptoms became more apparent. I was unaware of dad's various fainting episodes on these trips until I read about them. My parents never wanted to worry Betty or me, so most of their medical issues during these years were their private secret.

As I progressed through the  nine years of trips I became aware of a few important messages I was receiving from mom a decade later. Obviously, that wasn't her intent, but that is what has happened. 

1) Certainly, of primary importance, is one's health. It was very clear that her enjoyment of traveling declined along with her strength, mobility and eyesight. The journal entries from 1994-1998 contain very few references to health problems. That began to change during a trip to Europe. Her limitations and their impact on my dad were obvious. As I read through the next few journals, there were:

...more references to her wheelchair or walker and how tough it made enjoying a trip

...memory lapses meant forgetting to bring essential items on a trip. 

...becoming tired and irritated at things that earlier she would have joked about

...trips being canceled at the last moment due to her health

...several trips to the emergency room and hospital stays while away from home along with a desire to get home to her regular doctor.

...Dad's fainting episodes.

2) Their long driving trips were recorded honestly as a mixture of boredom and joy, mundane activities and beautiful sights, bad meals and hard beds, or a good steak dinner and pleasant room at the end of a long day of driving.

In fact, as I started to make notes of what she had written it became clear that a good bed, a nice meal, a pretty sunset, a simple card game at the end of the day or sunshine after rain were enough to interrupt a gloomy narrative. Travel is no different than home life. It is a blend of good and bad, exciting and boring, uplifting and depressing. The trick is to notice life's small joys and blessings and dwell on them. 

3) Mom always over-packed. It was a rare trip that she didn't mention she had brought too many clothes for both of them. They did occasionally use the laundry facility in a hotel, but apparently were afraid of running out of clean clothes. So, they dragged around (or, rather dad dragged around) much more than they needed.

4) As she became more physically challenged, mom became more easily irritated and angry. To her credit, she didn't shy away from venting on these journal pages, though I doubt she considered that anyone else would ever see them. I would guess that her various limitations were increasingly frustrating to her. Never one to ask for help until she simply couldn't manage on her own, the closing in of her world made her more prone to lash out at things.

Besides seeing some sides of mom I wasn't aware existed, I did take away a reinforcement of a few important life lessons:

*Travel whenever and wherever you can while you are healthy enough to enjoy the experience. Soon enough, physical ailments will make trips more difficult and, eventually, unpleasant.

*Especially on longer trips don't expect every day to be great. Travel is just home life but in a different place. Accept the bad as part of the journey and relish the small stuff that can brighten an otherwise rotten day.

*Under-pack. No one cares (or will even notice) that you wore the same sweater and jeans three days this week. Don't spend time and energy lugging excessive belongings around. And, there are virtually no places you can't find a laundromat if needed.

*Fight the natural tendency to become an angry, crabby, old person. Not only doesn't anyone else want to be around you, but it brings you down, too. Getting angry at your declining health is pointless. Instead, get even: do all you want before that happens!

Thanks, mom. I found it fascinating get this glimpse into your life all those years ago. Even now, almost nine years after your passing, you are still teaching me lessons.

November 8, 2019

Medicare: What You Need To Know

We are in the midst of the annual Medicare enrollment period, a time when Medicare recipients can make changes to their coverage for a start date of January 1, 2020. Ending December 7th, this is the time each year when you are allowed to change from Medicare to a Medicare Advantage program, or back to traditional Medicare from an advantage plan. You can change from one supplemental policy or company to another, and change your Part D drug coverage. In case you had forgotten, the flood of junk mail over the past few weeks would have served as a strong reminder.

Does it pay to switch? Not always, but looking at options every year is a wise decision. Betty and I are switching to a different Part D coverage plan, for example. The one we have this year imposed a 100% rate increase...yep, double. Instead, we picked one that covers the drugs we take at the pharmacy we use at 50% less than this year's monthly premium. Just by spending 20 minutes on line, we saved nearly $1,000 in costs for next year.

So, this post has a dual purpose: urge you to do some comparison shopping, and for those approaching Medicare age, a brief review of what can be a complicated system.
 I am covering Medicare, not Medicaid which is an entirely different program. As with most federal programs and health insurance coverage, there are enough exemptions and differences to fill 20 posts. I will only attempt to explain the usual, most common situations.

Medicare is a federal program that pays for certain health-related expenses for people 65 and older (and younger in certain situations). While many costs are covered, an individual enrolled in Medicare is responsible for certain deducibles and copays. Some services are not covered at all and others for only a limited period of time.

There are four parts of Medicare:

Part A is hospital insurance. Copays, and deductibles will determine what you pay. Usually there is no premium for Part A.

Part B is medical insurance that helps pay for doctor visits, outpatient care, preventive health care, and equipment. There is a monthly premium for Part B.

Part C is better known as Medicare Advantage. This is coverage provided by Medicare approved private insurance companies.

Part D is prescription drug coverage. This is also run by Medicare-approved private insurance companies.

Most folks get Part A and Part B automatically. If you receive benefits from Social Security you will automatically get Part A & B coverage starting the first day of the month you turn 65.  If you aren't yet receiving Social Security (because you are still working for waiting until your full retirement age of 66) you must sign up 3 months before your 65th birthday to get Medicare coverage. In this case you will get a bill every three months to cover your Part B premium.

If you must sign up (as noted above) there is something called the Initial Enrollment Period which is the period from 3 moths before until 3 months after your 65th birthday. If you miss this window your benefits will be delayed.

If you decide to wait until after the Initial Enrollment Period, there is a general Enrollment Period during the first three months of each year. However, if you use this option, realize your part B premiums will be higher for the rest of your life.

If you are covered by a group health plan at your place of employment  and then want to start Medicare, there is another time period, called the Special Enrollment Period that generally allows you to avoid the higher premiums for late sign up.

With me so far?

Other Factors to Consider

Medicare does not pay 100% of most services. So-called Obamacare has put in place several free screening tests for those on Medicare, like colonoscopies and mammograms. The current political system keeps changing the parameters of what Medicare will or will not cover, so don't take what I am writing today as gospel truth for the future. Double-check your specific situations.

Most doctor visits, tests, drugs, and equipment are going to cost you money...usually something approaching 20% of the total, discounted rate. That's where Medigap coverage enters the picture. This is a policy, sold by a private insurance company, that acts as secondary coverage to Medicare. It pays what is left over after Medicare pays what it will. As a point of reference, our Medigap, or supplemental policy, has worked perfectly for the last several years. We have had to pay nothing for any service or procedure after Medicare and the supplemental policy have taken care of all charges.

Just like the rest of Medicare there is a specific enrollment period for Medigap coverage. You can buy any policy that is offered for sale in your state, regardless of your health status. The amount of supplemental coverage, the monthly cost, and any deductibles are different for each policy offered. You decide how much supplemental help you want and can afford. A word to the wise, though: if you decide to buy a less expensive policy at some point in the future from the same company it may be allowed to prevent you from doing so due to pre-existing conditions, at least for a period of time. 

Speaking of costs, Part A Medicare coverage costs you nothing since you already paid into the Medicare fund while you were working. Part B coverage does carry a monthly cost. For 2019 most have paid $135.50 per month. Higher income folks will pay more and the rate is likely to increase slightly next year.  There is also a $185 deductible. 

Part D prescription coverage costs vary depending on the plan you select and the level of drug coverage. Again, Obamacare has lowered the payments you must make when you enter the drug "donut hole." 

What is Covered?

There is no simple answer to that question. Medicare publishes a booklet that is an excellent resource. In general, here is what you can expect:

Part A pays part or all of inpatient hospital care, inpatient care at a skilled nursing facility, hospice care services, and home health care services for a defined period of time. As you might guess there are all sorts of qualifications and exclusions for this list but this is the primary purpose of Part A coverage.

Part B helps cover medically necessary services like doctor visits, outpatient care, durable medical equipment, and several preventive services and screenings.

Part C is the designation of Medicare-approved private insurance companies that has various coverage options and costs. You still have Part A and Part B coverage, but the specifics are likely to be different from original Medicare. Generally, coverage is more complete and the costs may be lower. But, that comes with network restrictions and gives the company the ability to deny coverage for certain procedures or tests.

Part D covers some of your prescription drug costs. If you don't need a lot of drugs now, it still may be wise to take this coverage because of late enrollment penalties. Part D is provided by private insurance companies and varies widely in costs and coverage. There are usually copays and deductibles involved. As my example above notes, rates can vary widely and change dramatically from year to year. 

Importantly, these items are not covered by Medicare (not a complete list...some of these services are covered by some Medicare Advantage Plans):
  • Routine Dental care
  • Dentures
  • Cosmetic surgery
  • Hearing Aids
  • Exams for fitting hearing aids
  • Long term care

If you'd like more detailed information or see if specific services are covered, this government website should be your first stop.

On a personal note, Medicare, along with a supplemental policy and Part D drug coverage, has been a blessing for us. While we are still spending close to $700 a month for premiums and prescriptions, the process is so simple: no paperwork, no claim forms, no hassle. Before both of us reached coverage age we were spending over $900 a month. Today I am sure we would be forced to pay almost double that for much poorer coverage through the private insurance market, if we weren't Medicare-qualified.

There are many advantages of turning 65, but one of the most cherished in Medicare coverage. It is a life-changer!

Questions? Feel free to ask. Comments? Feel free to type away!

November 4, 2019

Helping an Adult Child: Pitfalls and Positives

I have noticed a lot of web articles recently that deal with the issue of grown children and retirement. A descriptive phrase like "boomerang kids" is common. "Helicopter Parents" is usually used to explain overly involved parents during a child's educational career, but I guess it could fit here, too.

The adult child has to move back home due to a lost job, or medical condition. The grown child needs help to pay for additional education to reenter the job market. A divorce may mean that child brings along his or her own children when moving back home. This is not a rare occurrence. One survey I found showed that 44% of jobless 18 to 34 year-olds live with their parents. Almost 25% with jobs are still at home.

Some of the articles take a firm position As parents, you have already done your job. The grown child is on his own. The money saved for retirement is not going to be used to solve someone else's problems. Maybe a small loan here and there, but no full scale bailout. You are not going to become a full time babysitter for your grandkids. The house is no longer set up to handle an extra person, or two or three.

The flip side to that is your child needs your help and you are going to provide it. When you became a parent you believe your responsibility doesn't end after a certain age, regardless of the circumstances.  You do what you have to do to provide shelter and food, or money for an education or a car to get to work, or whatever. If your retirement savings take a hit, so be it. Family comes before your portfolio.

So, what do you do? Cut the cord and tell the robin to fly, or provide support, both emotional and financial, as long as needed? How much should your own future be adjusted for an adult child?

Here is another toughie. I received an e-mail from a fellow a month or so ago asking for feedback and ideas from readers on another adult child-parent issue. His youngest daughter was into her final year of  college. She had done her part by getting scholarships and taking on a rather sizable student loan. Even so, helping her with college tuition put mom and dad further behind each month. Saving for their own retirement had to be delayed and their own debts were increasing.

This couple is within a few years of retirement. They are worried that the financial hole they have dug for themselves means retirement may be just a dream. The fellow's question was a simple one: if you have committed yourself to doing what you must for a child, do you have to accept that retirement is not a likely scenario? Is working well into the future the only option? They willingly helped their daughter and are not interested in abandoning that promise. Yet, they wonder where they are headed.

These are not easy questions. Society continues to change, making the answers and solutions less obvious. When we were a rural society this type of problem rarely arose. Everyone stayed close to home or accepted that each family member was responsible for the well-being of the rest of the family regardless of age or circumstances. That model no longer exists for most of us. Multi-generational living is still the exception rather than the norm.

Do you have any experiences in this area to share? Can you give some solace to the parents who have put their own retirement in the deep freeze for their daughter? Do you have feelings about where and when the obligations of parents ends...if it does?  Would the door to your home and bank account be closed or open in a similar situation?

Are you helping or hurting a grown child if you provide support and lodging? How much enabling is too much? 

Toughies, I know.

October 31, 2019

Back To The Future

Still one of my favorite movies, Back to the Future, gave us a fun way to escape the mid 1980's and watch Marty McFly travel back to 1955 and almost mess up his own future and his very existence.

Recently I re-watched the movie (again!) and thought how much today's satisfying retirement could be described as going back in time to save our future. Most of us agree that retirement today is not at all like it was for our parents and grandparents. The concept of retiring did not exist until the Industrial Revolution and didn't become possible for many until Social Security was implemented in the 1930's.

For the period after World War II until the mid 1990's, retirement usually meant a decent company pension and medical coverage until death. It meant a safe and secure time after 30 or more years of working for one or two companies.

As we know this scenario began to show some cracks during the huge bust of 1997-2001. Many companies failed. Retirement plans were put in jeopardy. But, that upheaval was nothing like the 2007-2009 meltdown. The underpinning of millions of retirement accounts, pensions, and real estate holdings were wiped out. Massive financial failures brought us as close to another Great Depression as we have ever been.

Now, an economy that has been growing for almost a decade is starting to show some wear and tear. a recession isn't expected by most economists, but those are the same folks who missed the warning signs in 2007, so.....

Where does all this leave us in 2019? Do we have to go back to re-discover our future? Unlike Doc Brown and Marty we can't adjust a flux capacitor to change what happened to us. But, I can certainly look at how my family lived almost over a half century ago (wow, is that possible?) and see if there is anything that translates well to 2019.

A few memories spring to mind:

...Stuff can't replace relationships and the gift of time. My parents always made time for each boy and the family. Dad was always home for dinner and we ate together at least 5 nights a week. As I have noted in earlier posts dad was unemployed for various stretches of time during my youth. But, that never affected our family time.

We were not a family of shoppers. Mom did like to buy clothes, but overall we had a home uncluttered with things. When one of us boys wanted something there was almost always a waiting period. Once we were given a regular allowance, our own saving became part of the process. That taught us the importance of delayed gratification. 

The biggest gift our family received from each other was that of time and attention. Mom and dad were never too busy for us, as a family and as individuals. Sadly, that doesn't seem to be the case in too many families today.

...Waste not, want not. For most of their married life, my parents each held a job, raised three sons, and did it with just one car. We had a television set for over twenty years that was rather small, a little green in its color mix, and kind of tinny. Leftovers at least twice a week were normal. Clothes were replaced when we outgrew them or something become too worn to wear. Hand-me-downs were standard operating procedure.

We were a frugal family, sometimes by necessity, often by choice. The thought of throwing away food bought at the supermarket a week or two earlier just never happened. The idea of buying new clothes just because we could never entered our minds. Dad's 20 year old telephone answering machine sat on the desk until it finally quit recording on that little tape cassette. His first response was to get it fixed, not replace it. 

The reality is most of us have all we need to be happy and satisfied. Making do, re-purposing something, and using an item up before disposing of it makes as much sense today as it did in my family's home in 1959.

...The less clutter the less stress. Our home was rather minimal in its decorations and furnishings. We had the normal sofa, easy chairs, coffee table, dining room set and so on, but nothing "extra." Generally if something was in the house it had a function.

A console stereo set remained in the living room for at least 15 years after it quit working. It became a plant stand. I remember a rolling portable dishwasher that had to be hooked up to the kitchen faucet and plugged into a wall outlet to work. Well after built-in dishwashers were considered normal kitchen equipment we used this rolling monster because it still worked.

Mom was not fanatical about house cleaning so things stayed dusty for periods of time. Of course, this was well before men were expected or even encouraged to do "women's work" around the house so things were often less than spotless. Dad would have been glad to help out, but I'm pretty sure mom insisted that was her domain. This reality meant the fewer belongings the less cleaning to be performed. The fewer possessions the less stress to repair, replace, or upgrade.

In at least one instance going back would not be wise.  So, one trap I would avoid if I could go back to the future:

...Follow the crowd and lose yourself.  This time of American life was all about conformity. Television networks started showing the same entertainment to millions. Commercials told all of us what to buy to be happy and successful. We dressed the same and drove the same cars. Sexism, racism, and a very strong uneasiness around people who might be different were a part of daily life. Those problems continue today but at least aren't buried and shushed up like they were 60 years ago.

No one who wants a satisfying retirement today wants it to look like everyone else's. We realize retirement is an adventure we just can't wait to start. We aren't stopping anything, just moving to other passions and interests. Don't follow the crowd and find yourself is much more like it. Following the crowd and blending in is one part of the 1950's that none of us miss.

Sometimes it is good to remember our past. There were approaches and concepts that worked well then and still make sense. In other instances, the past should remain "past." 

Isn't the key to be able to tell the difference?

October 27, 2019

The Talk

We know all about "The Talk." As kids growing up or as parents to our children, there were certain times when the passing on of basic information occurs. Do you remember these?

  • Stranger-Danger
  • Look both ways before crossing the street
  • The sex talk
  • The protect yourself during sex talk
  • The it's time for you to move out and get a job talk

I still remember when I had to have "The Talk" with my dad. No, it wasn't any of the ones listed above. It was the dreaded "it is time to move to an assisted living apartment and stop driving your car" talk. If you are involved in your parent's life, at some point you are likely to have to do this. It is not pleasant.

My mom died in December 2010. Dad remained in the same independent living cottage they shared. It was spacious, with a full kitchen, living room, two bedrooms, two baths, a laundry and store room, and a back patio. There was a carport and some nice planting up to the front door.

The reality was he spent virtually all his time in the master bedroom or the second bedroom which became a den. He didn't cook any meals so the kitchen sat unused. He certainly didn't entertain or invite anyone into the home except Betty and me, so the living room remained empty. His days were spent sitting in an easy chair in the den reading, napping, and watching the evening news. He drove his car to the building where meals are served - all of four blocks away, even though a tram could pick him up and take him whenever he wanted to go.

I'd be surprised if he drove 25 miles a week. The car wasn't needed to get around the complex or to local shopping and doctor offices. Shuttle buses  provided all transportation. But, for him (like most of us), the car represented freedom and control. Even if he rarely went anywhere, as long as he had car keys, the possibility existed.

After lunch during one of our weekly visits we went back to his home and laid out the reality of the situation. After a few fainting instances, including one in front of staff at lunch, he was rapidly becoming a danger to himself and others. The rules of the community required someone in that situation to leave independent living.

What made it tough is that physically he didn't look 88. He didn't use a walker or cane. He had a slight stoop but was still solid-looking. While his short term memory was poor and hearing even worse, he was still capable of caring for himself on a daily basis.

But, with the random fainting episodes (likely due to dehydration and low blood pressure) he couldn't continue to live alone and certainly shouldn't still be driving. While the complex required that he check in with a nurse every morning, if he fainted during the day, struck his head, or broke something, it could have been many hours before he was discovered.

In the assisted living section there are nurses that would check on him several times a day, be sure he is taking his pills, and encourage water consumption. He would be required to eat two meals a day at one of their dining rooms. This helps insure he was getting adequate nutrition. The one bedroom apartment would provide him with the amount of space he is already using.

The car was actually the bigger issue. Someone with a documented history of fainting who continues to drive is open to lawsuits, even criminal charges, if he caused an accident that injures or kills someone else. With virtually all his transportation needs covered by the community there were only a handful of times he would be unable to go where he wants. In those cases, Betty or I  volunteered to drive him to appointments or to the pharmacy.

Logically, every reason in the world existed for taking these step. Even so, having to shrink his world, take away many of his freedoms, and remove him from the home he shared with his wife for several years was not easy.

Frankly, I was afraid this move and the loss of the car would speed up his aging and possibly lead to depression. It did not. After getting over a brief period of adjustment and donating the car to a granddaughter, he did quite well for the last few years of his life.

He died in 2015, quickly one afternoon just a few hours after lunch, after living a full life of 91 years. He was content to the very end and never had health problems that made him feel like a burden on me or anyone. 

Many of us will have "the talk" with a parent or two sometime during our life. As hard as it was with Dad, I remind myself my children will have to do the same thing with me one of these days.

 I hope I remember how tough it can be on everyone involved.

October 23, 2019

Simple Computer Clean-Up Steps For Us Non-Techies

I don't know many people who like to replace an old, failing, slow-as-molasses computer with a new one. Regardless of how many times a day you curse at that stupid desktop or laptop computer, you are familiar with where your documents are, how to pull up Word or Excel, and what apps will do what. There is comfort in familiarity, even if it is frustrating.

A fact of modern day life is that you will have to replace that old machine at some point. While computer companies suggest you upgrade to the newest and fastest every two years or so, most of us can resist that siren call of planned obsolescence. We wait until it takes 5 minutes to boot up, or the hard drive begins to sound like an old lawnmower.

I speak from current experience. I am in the midst of moving my life from an eight year old desktop computer to a laptop. For decades I've believed I'd only be comfortable with a big CPU sitting on the floor, complete with DVD or CD burner, and a separate monitor, keyboard, and mouse sitting on a desk.

Guess what? A laptop works just as well. It has double the hard drive storage space, three times the RAM memory, and a keyboard that makes just as many mistakes as my old one (hold on, that is my typing?). Saving about 20 pounds and lots of space, I made the move a month ago. Of course, I am still behind the times; many folks have decided either a tablet or smartphone are enough. But, for blogging, and other functions, I needed something a bit more robust.

I am approaching the transition slowly and with an overabundance of caution. The budgeting program I depend on is loaded on the laptop, but not set to take over until January 1st. All the programs and files I want from the desktop were put on an external hard drive. I upload what I need, when I need it, to the laptop. If there is a new program or web site that looks interesting, it is tested on the old computer first.

There are still plenty of hassles. The laptop has to be set up to work and look the way I prefer. Connections between the wireless network and printer must be reconfigured. The default programs for opening email or viewing videos must be selected. 

Even so, I am very happy with the move. The laptop is many times faster than its older brother. The screen, at 17", is generous by laptop standards, but smaller than the old monitor. With a crisper screen I am quite content with the somewhat smaller size. By only transferring programs or files when I need them, the process is not overwhelming.

All that said, most of you are not about to upgrade or replace your computer. It is expensive and only undertaken when need be. Readers have asked that I provide a few basic computer cleanup tips, so this seems like an appropriate place to put them. If you are not changing electronics, but would like to make what you own operate a little quicker and be more reliable, here are some ideas from a non-computer expert that have worked well for me over the years.

1) Make sure you have well respected anti-virus and malware programs operating and regularly install any updates they offer. The world is a nasty place; there are lots of bad actors who want to make your computer life unpleasant, or dangerous. 

2) Run a basic disc cleanup every few months. Navigate to your hard drive (usually found in your files area), right click the :C drive, click on Properties. That will open a screen that has a clickable box labeled "Disc Cleanup." Click it, and follow instructions. This step allows you to get rid of all sorts of junk that can slow down your computer and eat up hard drive space. Most good anti-virus and malware programs offer similar steps to clean up data clutter. Disc cleanup is one of the simplest ways to reclaim wasted space and speed everything up.

3) Be sure you have Windows updates and Microsoft security patches installed whenever they become available. I suggest you allow them to install automatically, meaning one less thing to worry about.

4) Type Control Panel in the search box usually found in the lower left corner of the home screen. Click it and find Programs, Uninstall a program. Click that link. Every program installed on the hard drive will be listed. Choose uninstall for any software program that you no longer use. Only uninstall programs you recognize. There are plenty of things on that list that the computer needs to operate, so if you don't know what something does, leave it alone. 

5) Most of us forget this step, but is essential if you have a desktop computer with the big box holding all the components on the floor. Dust kills computers. Be sure to use a vacuum cleaner on any vents, fans, or openings you see where dust can become trapped and choke off air flow into the computer. Actually, the inside of the computer should have this same treatment, though most of us are hesitant to take the thing apart.

6) This is a little more advanced but can make a big difference in how quickly your computer starts up each morning: change the startup programs that load when the power switch is turned on. Rather than try to walk through all the steps in this post, follow this link. This makes quite a difference in how long you wait for your beloved baby to boot up.

I can only speak to Windows, so if an Apple reader would like to leave the steps for a Mac, that would be great. 

I hope all this helps you make peace with an essential part of modern life. If you are thinking of getting a new system, I wish you good luck and a virus-free experience.

October 19, 2019

A Relationship Tuneup (or Reboot)

Relationships are tricky. A good one can make your days joyful and exciting. A bad one can make every day seem like a never-ending battle. In the post that continues to be clicked 9 years after being written, Who is that person sitting beside me I discussed some of the adjustments that retirement often brings.

This time, I'd like to look at a few of the questions that should be asked as any serious relationship moves forward. Trust me, after 43 years of marriage and almost two decades of retirement I am more an expert in the questions than the answers.

To get the most value from this post you will have to pause and think about your answers. I am assuming a marriage relationship as the basis for the questions. But, any relationship, friendship, a relative, even work-oriented collaboration can produce some of the same questions. So, if you are not married you should still find some benefit in these questions. Are you ready?

Go back to the beginning

Think back to when you and your significant other first became aware of each other. What was it that attracted you to that person?  What qualities did he or she possess that made you think this may be the one?

 Over the years of being together it is easy to forget what made you willing to make a lifelong commitment with this person. What has changed? Are those attractions still there, only somewhat covered up by whatever builds up over the years?

Since all of us change over time, you must ask what are you willing to overlook. If some of what attracted you to that person in the first place no longer exists in the same way, how important is that? While asking yourself, remember you have changed, too. This question goes both ways. With change as the only constant in life have you accepted the changes in your relationship? 

Identify areas that need improvement 

All relationships go through periods of ups and downs. But, it is quite important to recognize when a problem you are having with some area of your life is invading the relationship. Are you taking out that dissatisfaction on your spouse or best friend? Are you taking out misplaced anger or frustration on the person closest to you or a trusted co-worker?

Can you sense any warning signs of building problems? Spending a lot of time on solo projects or in separate rooms doesn't prove a problem, but can point to one. If two people don't enjoy spending time together there are often underlying reasons that need to be explored. Has conversation ceased? How about doing something together outside the home?  Do you still have "date" nights?  How about shared responsibilities? Does one person handle all the "important" stuff? If so, is it because of a belief that the other partner is incapable? That attitude is not conducive to a happy home.

ust and honesty

Trust is everything. Without trust there can be no healthy relationship. Are there any trust issues that are harming your relationship? Have you openly discussed the problem?  I'm afraid I've never read anything that says the loss of trust can be improved by ignoring it.

Regaining lost trust requires complete openness and quite a bit of time. It requires humility, compassion, empathy, and a willingness to move on from both sides. It requires a belief in the worth of the effort. It demands respect for the other person's feelings. Some issues of broken trust cannot be repaired. But you will never know if a good faith effort isn't made. 

Think about new activities and interests

Over a period of time you and your significant other will lose interest in some activities and add new ones. Change is part of the human condition. For a relationship to remain healthy there should be at least a few of those activities that you two share. If the interests you once enjoyed together no longer turn you on, look for new ones you could enjoy together.

Compromise becomes important. If she loves to dance and you would rather have root canal work, occasionally you are going to have to find a dance floor and stumble around for awhile. Likewise, if you love watching grown men on skates bash into each other (that would be NHL hockey) your spouse or friend needs to join you at a game or two. Buy that person lots of food or drink. Explain why something played on ice has a rule against icing.

The goal (pardon the pun) isn't to convert the other person to your level of interest in something. It is to share time together and show your willingness to support each other's passions.

Communication is crucial

It is commonly accepted that men aren't particularly verbal while women love nothing better than a good talk. This basic conflict between the sexes trips up a lot of relationships. Texting your feelings to a spouse isn't going to work long term. Discussing the plot line of a TV show isn't enough, either. Sharing of emotions and beliefs is required. Reviewing each other's day must be more than a recitation of how hard you worked and how tired you are.

Communication is hard work. It involves a type of listening called reflective listening. This is when you briefly summarize what you believe the other person has said. Reflective listening is a sign of respect for the other person. You are not formulating your answer while he or she speaks, rather you are actively listening to what is being said. 

Stop Thinking and Start Doing

OK, it is time to stop reading and start taking action. Relationships are dynamic. Every minute of every day it is shifting in some way.

Your goal should be to have it shift in a positive direction. That will involve taking some action. Adjust your mindset, agree to some things you'd rather not do, and show a willingness to adapt. If your primary relationship is to grow, you're going to have do do some occasional heavy lifting.

October 15, 2019

Reader's Questions: Time To Ask a Few

One of my favorite parts of the blogging process is reading comments left by readers, receiving emails asking for my advice, or getting notes from authors interested in my thoughts on their new book. That type of involvement makes everything else worthwhile. 

A file folder full of questions has been calling me, asking me to answer some of the thoughts and concerns that you have. Well, since I can no longer close the desk drawer if I don't tackle at least a few of the things in that file, here goes.

Staying in Touch

Several folks wondered about staying in touch with co-workers and friends who are still part of the working world.

Steve noted his problem "stems  from my decision to keep my distance from my old workplace (I was a teacher) because whenever I went back, the stressed-out looks on their faces almost made me feel guilty. All they could really say was how lucky I was (I learned early to stop talking about how great things were for me....). They were all gracious, but the envy was more than palpable - from both the older and younger friends. This was/is pretty frustrating because I had/have such a strong connection and network among still-working friends."

An e-mail said, "Sometimes I miss the everyday contact with my fellow worker bees and the conversation. I probably need to work on this area."

Health Care Issues

As you might imagine this was the subject of several comments.

A lady presented a common situation and a question: " I'm not yet retired. My husband and I are inching toward it; he's down to four days/week, and I'm down to three. The big glitch, from my perspective, is health insurance... He's already on Medicare, but I'm several years away from that. Otherwise, financially, I think we could make retirement work (in a frugal sort of way). But for me to buy an individual policy in New York would cost over $800/month, and that just feels prohibitive. Even though I'm pretty healthy, I'm uneasy about going without insurance. If you or anyone had any suggestions, I would welcome them."

Unease about the Future

One regular reader hit on some of the basic day-to-day problems I had never considered: "I am on countdown now to retirement next May. As it gets closer, all the emotions are being pushed to the side by practical issues. If I can't buy my work computer, I have to buy a new one and transfer everything. I use my work email as my personal (non-blog) email. I have to transfer to a new email account. I have to buy my own health care, and I can't get one of my kids insured. I have to clean out my office. I have to figure out how to do some things for myself that assistants do for me now (I know--I'm spoiled). And so on. Oh, yes, and I have to keep working until May 31! I know it will all get sorted out, but right now I feel a tad overwhelmed."

Trying Other Things

Retirement can be a time to try on a different lifestyle, or indulge your love of exploration.

Jan asked, " What is your opinion on doing Peace Corps work for a couple of years? My husband doesn't have a pension, and would like to get away from his stressful job. I think we could rent out our house and save money by teaching abroad or doing Peace Corps work, and that would be another wonderful adventure that would teach us to be happy with less, and give us fabulous memories."

William wanted to know when are we are too old to try something new. I gather he had read about my guitar and painting efforts and wondered if there comes a time when our mind and body don't respond well to "new."

Other comments and concerns

"Here's the question....when our dog goes to dog heaven, do we enjoy our less complicated life, or do we continue with the complications a pet brings, and continue to reap the rewards of having a true friend to share our lives? There is no right answer, but I'd like to hear what people say."

One fellow e-mailed: "I have been retired a little more than 4 years at 55. Once I retired it so happened that 2 of my kids became homeowners - which meant helping them get the houses in shape. Then one of my daughters was raising money for a charity so that she could run in a marathon on the west coast. That provided an opportunity for my wife and I to take a 3 week trip to see her running. We had a borrowed laptop from one of our kids and it prompted us to learn about the destinations and get a room where we were headed.

Since my wife still works, I am the appointed Travel Director. Since my retirement we have been on cruises to Panama and Alaska, with road trips to North Carolina and the Daytona 500 with several stops including New Orleans. This period of my life has been enjoyable with occasional jobs, some volunteer work, walking daily, watching grandkids and all of the other little things that come up."

Another comment noted: "the best gift of retirement has been the gift of time. However, I am learning that I need to use my time with a plan rather than floating through the days as I did in my 'flower child' time of life. I find that having some structure and some flexibility is the best approach. Of course, all of this works only if you have already identified your hopes and dreams and aspirations for retirement."

Finally, Susie was one of several that asked about budgeting. She knows I am a strong believer in their usefulness, but her question was simple: "I have maintained a budget all my life. Now that I am retired, do I still have to keep track of everything? I want to cut loose a bit."


Now, it is your turn to weigh in with thoughts, suggestions, or questions. In summary, here were the major issues raised and questions asked:

  • Once you leave work do you leave that work world behind? Should you? How do you deal with jealous friends? How do you simply walk away from what was a big part of your life?
  • With health insurance to the point of being unaffordable for many of those still working, what can someone do? If too young for Medicare do you risk everything going without insurance? Are there other  options?
  • Have you thought about all the little stuff, like changing e-mail address, getting all your files from one computer to another, or buying a home computer? What other parts of your life have run through your work place that now must be handled in a different way?
  • Volunteering can be a good use of your time. What what about something as radical as 2 years with the Peace Corps? What do you do with all your personal belongings? Can you be away from family and friends for that long? What other considerations are there?
  • How structured are your vacations and travel experiences? Do you just pick up and go, or do you prefer to have everything plotted out? How do you stay in touch, handle bills and mail?
  • Are budgets and keeping track of how your money is spent still worth the effort? After all, isn't it time to enjoy what we have and stop worrying about that $5 coffee?

Pick one (or more) or the areas above and share with us your thoughts, experiences, and suggestions. Or, feel free to take on a new issue and raise a fresh question about an area that particularly concerns you. I promise I won't stick it in my file drawer!

October 11, 2019

Ageism: New Study Confirms What We Already Know

A recent article in the New York Times caught my eye. It summarized a study conducted by AARP that confirms what we already know: ageism in America is rampant in advertising and media. 

Consider these facts quoted in the study:
  •  more than a third of the country is 50 or older.
  •  About half of us over 50 are employed.
  •  We control trillions of dollars in purchasing power

OK, so we are not an insignificant slice of the demographic pie. Yet, the AARP results showed that:
  • We make up only 15% of media images
  • We make up only 13% of images showing people at work
  • Less than 5 % show us managing to deal with technology

What is prevalent are stereotypical media images of older folks either in hospital or medical settings, looking befuddled, and needing help from a youngster to use a computer or smartphone. More likely, our age group missing completely.

I know from personal experience that finding flattering, or representative photos for this blog is not easy. Rarely do I locate a photo of an older employee working at something other than an at-home computer, or as a clerk at a big box store. Photos of business people are invariably under 35. Clean-scrubbed, central-casting type couples with perfect grey hair in perfect home settings are available. Photos of regular people in regular housing doing normal things...not so much.

The solution the organization proposes is obvious: show more 50+ people somewhere other than in a doctor's office, wheelchair, or retirement home. Increase media representation of our age group that shows us not being confused, marginalized, or with your pants worn somewhere up around your armpits. Increase the availability of stock photos so advertisers and media outlets  have a wider choose of vibrant portrayals. 

All well and good, but is there anything we can do? Well, my suggestions may seem somewhat counter intuitive, but they involve ageism that begins with us. Do we act in a way that strengthens this basis against elders? Do we talk too much of the "good old days." Do we allow a clerk or office worker to disrespect us due to our age? Do we purchase products from a company that uses stereotypes to portray us? In short, do we feed the fire with our actions or inaction?

Do we treat others in our age group as less than fully functioning humans? We must remind ourselves that a lifetime of experiences reside in our somewhat saggy bodies that is overseen by a brain that has so much to share.

Sure, sometimes dementia makes it tougher for us to remember something. But, virtually all scientific studies make it clear that loses usually occur with short term memory. Ask me what I had for dinner three nights ago and it will be a struggle. Ask me how to market a product to someone who is indecisive or undecided, and I have all sorts of possibilities for you.

The next time a store clerk looks right through you to deal with a younger person behind you, politely remind him or her that you are standing right here, and would like to be served. Getting angry or sarcastic would be wrong; it would cement the image that person has of older customers. Thank the person behind you for their patience while you are waited upon, but insist on your right to not be invisible.

Never, ever, tell someone your age or older, that it is silly to (fill in the blank) at "your age." Going back to school, starting a business, learning to surf, setting a goal to hike in each National one is "too old" unless they are told so. There is no quicker way to shut down someone's enthusiasm and desire to gather experiences than to tell him or her it isn't possible. 

In the same vein, what limitations do you place upon yourself because of your age? True, physical or financial restraints exist. But, telling yourself you are too old for......only speeds up the process of retreating from life. 

A few nights ago I tried to remember some of the highlights of the past 18 years, the length of time I have been retired. I quickly remembered my time getting a ham radio license and eventually serving as president of a local ham radio club. Several years of intensive involvement in a prison ministry program was easy to remember; it was life-altering in several ways. Of course, this blog popped to mind. After all, it has been a part of my days for over nine years. 

Then, I struggled a bit. Surely in all this time there has been more. I pushed through my memory files and then other thoughts began to flow: involvement as a Stephen Minister and teaching several groups to become lay ministers, traveling oversees and around the U.S. with another couple.

More recently, a few years of Junior Achievement teaching, serving on a board at United Way, and now on the board of the local library friends organization. 

My experience list is not unusual at all. At 70, I have accomplished much of what I wanted to. But, I am not even close to being done. I am not ready for the age-police to tell me my best days are behind me, that I am only fit for playing with grandkids (fun as that may be), watching TV, and griping about the state of our rapidly warming and dysfunctional world, instead of taking some sort of action.

Ageism is allowed to affect us if we allow it to continue unchallenged and we inadvertently fulfill the stereotypes that limit us all.

Your thoughts?

October 8, 2019

My Climate Change Post Follow Up

Not surprisingly, the recent post about climate activists brought some serious emotions to the surface. Happily, the majority of comments were well-thought-out, civil, and added to our community discussions. Only a few comments never made it to print, or had to be called out for blatantly "fake" statements. I didn't expect my feelings would change anyone's opinions, but it is a subject that I have strong feelings about.

That is one of the joys of blogging: I wanted to express them and I did. That made some people happy, some not. If you don't believe that climate change is real or that humans have a major part to play, it might be best to simply skip this post. It is OK, I will not be offended.

For those still with me just raising the issue of climate change, global warming, and the place of humans is not enough. Something must be done, some action taken, otherwise it is just words. So, as a follow up, I should tell you what my wife and I are doing. Will our efforts reverse the damage? Of course not. Will these steps help lessen the damage? Yes, though in ways too small to measure. 

So, what's the point? It is the power of cumulative efforts. As two people, Betty and I contribute next to nothing. Hundreds, thousands, millions of like-minded people doing whatever works for them, may make enough of a difference to prevent the worst of what lies ahead. We may have already passed the tipping point where some level of change is irreversible. However, immediate steps now can prevent the damage from becoming catastrophic.

Here are the small actions we are taking:

  • Using face clothes instead of paper towels and napkins whenever possible.
  • Eating meat no more than two days a week.
  • Keeping the house one degree warmer in the summer and one degree cooler in the winter.
  • Using minimal electricity (including no AC or heat) during our peak hours of 4-7 pm. 
  • Turning off lights whenever leaving a room.
  • Washing clothes in cold water.
  • Running the short cycle on the dishwasher
  • Turning the water heater down to 120 degrees from the factory setting of 140.
  • Putting TVs and computers on power strips. Turning off when not in use so no phantom electricity is consumed by that equipment.
  • Working harder to stop throwing away produce and food.
  • Spending the last year with just one car. Next vehicle will be hybrid or plug-in hybrid.
  • Buying something only when necessary to replace something else. 
  • Buying carbon offsets for airplane and cruise trips.

None of these steps are difficult, inconvenient for us, or make us feel deprived. How much difference do they make in the grand scheme of things? Very little. How do we feel about even this easy-to-accomplish effort? Good. 

Without going back into the deep end of the pool about climate change, can you share anything you might be doing to lessen our carbon footprint? What steps can all of us consider for our lifestyle?