April 6, 2020

Thinking of An Escape Plan?

As my stay-at-home period continues I must report I am starting to feel a little antsy. Betty and I have visited our daughters' homes over the past few weeks for Sunday games and meal time. One major change: each couple or single person brings their own food and drink. Obviously it would be quite difficult to expect the host to feed 8-13 people. So, we all contribute. Last weekend: mac and cheese with a green salad for us.

I have squeezed in a run to Lowes for a lawnmower.  If my lawn service stops coming the grass will keep growing, so the mower might become quite important. Never fear, it was ordered and paid for online, brought outside by a worker and loaded into the car without my touching anything. At home, after unloading the box, hand sanitizer was liberally applied. Otherwise, with everything closed, a neighborhood walk with the dog and a book on the back porch is my world.

Each day I wake up to reports about the spread of this invisible menace. The number of cases, the mounting death toll, the use of refrigerated trucks to hold the bodies...it is all surreal. People using scarves as masks, health workers so overwhelmed that they must rely on food and supplies from fellow citizens to stay on the job...how will this end?

It is hard to stay mentally upbeat when everything we have known as normal is upended. It is humbling to see the power of Mother Nature, uninterested in the politics and desires of man, do what she will do. It is distressing to realize that the minor inconveniences my family faces are nothing compared to so many parts of the world, including our own country. It seems very selfish to celebrate the food deliveries from Walmart and Amazon, when millions, soon to be tens of millions, have no money for food, rent, or medicines.

I have read a few comments from some knuckleheads on various social media sites that bothered me, and prompted this post. The premise of those thoughts was that we should be thinking of where we can escape to, now, or after the pandemic is starting to wane. I gather these folks are thinking about outrunning, or hiding from two things they fear: the spread of the flu and the collapse of the social and economic system we have come to expect.

Frankly, it reminded me of the rush to build bomb shelters during the height of the arms race and the Cuban missile crisis. People were tearing up their yard to dig a giant hole, line it with concrete walls, ceiling and floor, install a bombproof (and neighbor-proof) door, and stockpile several months worth of food and water for the day when Russia launched the missiles.

Now, it seems that these modern-day people are convinced that this pandemic will linger for not just months, but years. Food supply chains will rupture. Hospitals and those who work there will have all gotten sick, or so burned out they can longer help. Medicine, masks, and ventilators will be unavailable at any cost. Most of the businesses that are shuttered now will stay that way. Millions will roam the streets, willing to do anything to find food. Government will have imposed draconian restrictions and used the pandemic as an excuse to expand their powers.

The only option these folks see is to head for the hills, either here or some other country. Take as many supplies as they can get their hands on, and find someplace that is isolated from the disaster they see coming. Live off the grid and away from a society that has collapsed. 

Whoa. Let me modify my first sentence. Compared to the mindset of these people, I am not getting antsy at all. In fact, I am downright content and feeling blessed. I have plenty of food, I have my family all nearby, I have books and the Internet to keep me content. My guitar works, my paint brushes still paint. My turntable, old CDs, or Spotify keep the music flowing.

We are going to have a tough go of it for a while. There will be a terrible human toll on way too many of us. Our economy will struggle to restart itself, the financial health of millions will be compromised. If for some reason the November election is postponed things will get seriously unpleasant.

But, with all that said, I firmly believe the answer is not to run from what faces us. I have a solid faith that God is with me. He (or She or It) gives me hope and a strength to go through whatever I must face. He won't make it go away if I pray enough; the virus is part of the natural world that will follow its very well-defined rules. God isn't going to interfere with what has been created. But, he will walk through it with me.

Nor do I believe that the virus will destroy our way of life. Will there be changes? I think there will. There could be more awareness of the importance of social interaction, and I don't mean on a smartphone, but real human-to-human relationships. Our belief that the stores will always be open, the shelves always fully stocked, and instant gratification is a law of nature could undergo much needed adjustments. Our appreciation for medical workers, teachers, and delivery people will grow. 

But, thinking of an escape plan, whatever that means....no way. We are in something very big and very scary, and we are in it together.

April 2, 2020

None of Us Are Quite What We Appear.... Are We?

If I mention the name, Walt Disney, what are your first thoughts? Disneyland? Disney World? Mickey Mouse? Bambi? Dumbo? "Uncle Walt" on the TV every Sunday night? Maybe it is watching Frozen for the twentieth time with a grandchild. How about being scared by the various wicked witches or the  marching broomsticks in Fantasia?

Whatever your Disney trigger, more than  fifty years after his death Walt Disney remains a powerful part of our collective memories. What he created has an amazingly powerful pull on us. Over 70 million stream through his major theme parks in the U.S. with double that entering the various Disney parks around the world.

I am finishing a fascinating biography of Mr. Disney. At over 600 pages, Neal Gabler's, Walt Disney, The Triumph of The American Imagination, covers every aspect of Walt's life, from his humble beginnings in Marceline, Missouri, through his struggles with his parents and finding his way in the world. As he found his artistic voice, the book takes the reader deep inside the development of what would transform him, and the rest of us: Mickey Mouse and animated films. 

Eventually, his ultimate creation, a place where dreams come true, begins to consume his time, energy, and hopes, even at the cost of attention to his company's film and television efforts. He becomes an American icon and has to play the role of "Walt Disney" even as his health begins to slip and the business pressures change him.

He becomes a difficult husband, harsh employer firing employees on a whim, treating others poorly, all while forcing himself to conform to the image the public expected. The public Walt Disney forced the man, Walt Disney, to change from a happy farm fellow following his dreams into the face of a huge corporation, with responsibilities and duties that began to overwhelm him.

My reason for focusing on this book and his story is detailed in the blog title: "None of us are quite what we appear...Are We?" Walt Disney was not alone in finding the forces of life and commitments changing his personality and joy of life. All of us have at least two personas: the one we show to the world and the one that only we see and live with.

We would assume that the happiest people have managed to keep those two parts rather closely aligned. What you see is what you get would be a good summary. There is no ongoing struggle to keep the two parts in sync. This is someone who has figured out a good balance.

Of course, that doesn't always mean such a well-balanced person is nice to be around. The "inside"  can a bit of a loner, someone firm in his or her convictions, and not really a big believer in compromise. The world is mostly black and white, with good and evil rather easily defined. For that person, it is possible the public perception is the same. This is not a person you expect to be the life of the party. A smiley face is not his choice for an emoji. Compromising to fit in isn't how she functions. 

Someone who has very different personal and public images might be easier to be around, but could be quite unhappy trying to protect the two realities. The face we see is happy, engaged with others, willing to help when asked. Inside, the pressures to retain a pleasant public image is causing all sorts of stresses and problems.

That person could feel used by others since he or she is always the first to be asked to volunteer.  Damage to personal relationships occurs on a regular basis. The work required to keep a private and public image separate is overwhelming at times. Celebrities and politicians spring to mind as groups that are more likely to exhibit this clash, but this conflict can occur in anyone.

What is the lesson, then, from Walt Disney's story that we can use as a check on our own balancing act? How important is it that our private self and a public self are well integrated? Which one should we change to make life more of a smooth sail than a choppy voyage?

The amount of effort required to maintain the image of the person happy to serve, never turning down a request, and willing to take on other's burdens, all while feeling put upon, taken advantage of, and unhappy with a schedule overwhelmed with the needs of others, creates a very unhealthy tension. The mental and physical strain takes a toll. 

I have written several times before about the need to say, "No," in retirement. Assumptions about all our free time (really?) and having so little to occupy us that we are glad to be asked, is one of the more important hurdles we must overcome.

Making it clear that you will not always be available, always say "yes," and agree to always subjugating your needs to others becomes a survival skill. For many of us, saying we can't do something is tough. Turning down a chance to serve in some way risks harming our public image: how others think of us.

To answer my question about changing one of our images to make things go well, I would suggest that changing the core, personal you is a mistake. If your true, inner self believes certain things to be true, wants limits on your availability to others, and does not "follow the crowd" in how you think about certain subjects, then to bury those parts of yourself so the happy, always helpful you is what others see will not end well.

What if the inner you desperately wants to serve, loves being asked, and wants to adopt five strays from the pound but people perceive you to be very private, standoffish, and somewhat rigid? Should you allow your public image to keep you from experiencing all the things that make you happy? 

No, of course not. In this circumstance, changing the perception that people have of you to one that reflects who you really are becomes a necessity. The frustration of being unable to use what makes you the very unique person you is not healthy.

Personally, I have a somewhat conflicted inerr/outer profile. Around others I can be involved, happy to meet someone new and eager to engage in conversation. Maybe not the life of the party, but certainly not a wallflower.

The inside "Bob" is more reserved and private. Happy to be alone or with family members is my default feeling. Not counting the present situation, a day when the car doesn't leave the garage is a good day for me. Maybe that is why I enjoyed radio so much: locked away in a studio, talking to thousands of people that I didn't really see or interact with, all while projecting the image of a typical rock DJ. When the microphone went off I was just Bob again, happy to head home.

Over the years I have worked on making these two sides of me more compatible. Blogging has helped tremendously in giving me the chance to interact with others, at times even meeting readers and enjoying the time together. I have gotten better at restricting the time I am volunteering to only those activities that really satisfy me. 

But, I am still happiest with a good book, a sunny, warm afternoon on the back porch, or time with my wife and family. 

How about you? How well do your private and public selves mesh? Is there a constant conflict that causes some stress? Or, have you learned to keep the two sides of you in balance? How about right now?

Has our virus-infected world caused you to rethink how you feel about the two parts of you? Do you see a change taking place? Do you think what we are experiencing may change you?

Pandemic or not, this seems to me to be an important question to answer to really have a satisfying retirement journey.

March 29, 2020

RV Travel: A Wife's Perspective

How about something very different today? No virus talk, no worries about the future. A look back when things seemed easier.

It has been a few years since we sold our RV. There are times we really miss the freedom and excitement of cutting the cord that binds us to home and setting our sights on someplace down the road. After almost 5 years, though, we felt it was the right time to sell it and try other experiences.

A post from our RV days did receive a lot of interest, so I have decided to rerun it. I asked Betty what she thought of RV travel after one of our first trips in a rental unit before we plunked the money down on our own rig. While we shared the duties, there was still shopping, cooking, and cleaning every day. So, time on the road still meant the same type of duties we did at home.

Overall, though, what did she think?

What was the overall experience like? Is it something you're glad you did?

Frankly I was a little apprehensive about trying this adventure with my husband who is a bit more serendipitous than I am. I have always trusted Bob and usually am always ready to try new things. (within limits!) As it turned out it was quite enjoyable. We were able go someplace where it was a little cooler and leave our worries behind for awhile. 

This was a test not only to see if we could manage the hookups but also to see if Bob and I could live with each other in small quarters for an extended period of time. I’m happy to announce we did very well and passed both tests! 

The big test next time is to try this with a puppy who barks at everything. There will be obedience classes and lots of socializing with the pup before venturing out.

What were the biggest surprises of RVing...both good and bad?

Everywhere we looked we ran into friendly people who were willing to lend a hand, come and visit and knew when to give you space. It was so refreshing to meet people literally face to face. In this world of texting and Smartphones it was great to sit outside and have someone come up to your “front porch” and chat a while.

About 2 in 3 campers had a dog. There were all different types of dogs from the tiniest to huge breeds. Out of all of the dogs that we saw all but two were extremely well behaved. I loved watching the dogs go by.

The showers/bathrooms at the RV Parks/Campgrounds were beautifully maintained.

It can get to be a little boring if you stay in the same place for an extended period of time. Unlike Bob, I can get antsy in a short period of time. Except for photography, and reading, my hobbies can be quite messy and take up a huge amount of space.

Painting, carpentry, scrapbooking, and building things are hard to do in an RV. But with a little imagination everything can be geared down to a miniature level. I even saw a man with his saw horse and table saw set up outside his RV. One word of caution… Don’t scrapbook outside on the picnic table on a windy day!

What were your favorite parts?

The people!

I love getting outside during most of the day, something I don’t do it very often when I’m home. It was wonderful being able to get to the cooler weather.

I loved seeing all of the different breeds of dogs. It seemed as if every other RV had one or two dogs enjoying the RV life as much as their humans!

Having the ability to pack up and leave with your “house” anytime you want.

What were your least favorite parts?

Alas, it is kind of a working vacation for all. Since Bob did all of the driving and hooking up, it fell to me to pack, unpack, prepare meals, and clean up.

The bed in our rented 25’ RV camper is small, (a double?) and they supplied us with only a flat sheet, making it next to impossible to make the bed. The sheet and comforter kept coming out, plus I had to crawl over Bob to get to my side of the bed.

What I worried about most was how much stuff I should I bring. I am sure it would be loads of fun supplying your own things when you have your own camper. Because we were in a class”C” camper and we needed transportation to get supplies, go sightseeing and go into town I had to drive our car behind the RV for the whole trip. Next time we’ll see if we can our car behind the motorhome.

The air conditioning was loud. (Question – Are most RV air conditioning loud or was it just a rental thing?) You couldn’t watch a video with the air conditioning running.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of taking their first RV trip?

The most important thing to bring is painters tape. We used it to hold several drawers and the stove grate in place because they rattled.. Painters tape does not leave residue like duct tape.

I would pack everything in labeled (Kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, tools, clothes) appropriate sized plastic totes. Labeling everything makes it so much easier to find it in the storage area underneath the RV.

I literally went room to room in our home before leaving and put things in that I thought I’d need. Overall, we did well, though I  got kind of tired of the handful of clothes that we brought. 

Betty hugging a tree (don't ask)
So, there you have it: RVing from my wife's perspective. I must say I am very happy she enjoyed the experience as much as I did. I would add one essential ingredient to her list: good WiFi availability at your campsite. With the need to maintain the blog, respond to e-mails, pay bills, and watch movies on Netflix, solid Internet service was a must-have. Unfortunately, our experience was that most campgrounds and RV parks do not have good WiFi. At times that was quite frustrating. I am afraid we were unable to leave all the electronics behind.

Followup: As regular readers know, after this positive rental experience we did buy our own RV: a 30 foot Class C that could tow our car.

We visited 32 states, a dozen National Parks, and had a ball. It was a part of our satisfying retirement that was worth every penny and all the hassles. 

If this is a dream of yours, Betty and I urge you to go for it. The memories will last a lifetime.

March 27, 2020

Count Me Out

In possibly the most insensitive comment of the past several years, a Texas official suggested that older Americans should be willing to sacrifice themselves to help the the economy through this period of shutdowns and closures.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick thinks the right thing to do is for people of grandparent age (which includes the 69 year old Patrick) to risk contracting and dying from Coronavirus if that means the country could get back to business. Forget the social distancing, forget the dangers of being near lots of other people. For the stock market's health, older folks should simply suck it up and take the risks as a matter of doing their part for the country's economy.

Are you kidding me? I couldn't have made this up. No one would believe me. Obama's fictional death panels would be back, but very, very real. Over 65? Don't even ask to be tested or for a ventilator. Stay away from the hospital where you might infect more productive (younger) people. Say goodbye to your adult children and grandkids now, so you don't waste time later.

Well, maybe the sickness police will be coming for me soon. But, count me out. Mr. Patrick can stand next to someone in line at the counter who has the disease, inhale the droplets, and then say goodbye to his wife and kids. He will have done his duty on the altar of economic sacrifice. But, I will be nowhere near him.

To be fair, if that is even possible with such a repugnant idea, Mr. Patrick would make the decision to risk catching the virus a voluntary one. Unless, not enough of us raised our wrinkled arms to join the parade. Then, who knows.

Have you seen the 1973 movie, Soylent Green? Set in New York City (see the connection?), this charming little film is about a society that is running out of food. Then, someone decides that old people could be killed and processed into food, the aforementioned, Soylent Green. 

Probably tasting like WWII "C" rations, these little green blocks of protein would keep the younger people alive and serving the government. No one would miss the seniors and turning them into food would solve two problems at once.

Since the president is 73 (Turning 74 in 3 months), I assume Mr. Patrick is not including him, or more than half the members of Congress who are grandparent age. He is just suggesting that places where us oldsters congregate, like Sun City, or The Villages, or churches (the perfect place to congregate) and Walmart be the place where this exciting, one-way voyage should begin.

Is 1 million deaths enough to keep things humming? 2 million? I appreciate I am being quite snarky, maybe even disrespectful to an elected official of the great Lone Star State. Tough. Count me out of laying down my life for the lords of Wall Street. 

And, if that means a recession, then so be it. We will all be in it together, regardless of our age or "usefulness." When it is even suggested that human lives count less than the state of the economy we have lost whatever separates us from the animals. 

March 25, 2020

Our Aging Brain

Several years ago I read, and reviewed a book,  Wisdom Paradox, about the effect of aging on our brain. The author made the point that our brain works differently as we age. Our mind has the potential to get stronger as the brain itself actually deteriorates in a physical sense. We gain the ability to more effectively analyze information and come to new conclusions to help us. Many of the neurons in our brain do die, but are replaced by other neurons that keep pace. The key point of that post was that we can gain wisdom and insight as we age.

Let's assume the author is correct: our mind can be stronger at 65 than 25 because we have gathered life experiences, both good and bad, for decades. Our brain sorts and connects all the electrical impulses in such a way that we are left with the ability to make better choices and decisions.

So, today I'd like your input. Can you share an example of how failures or successes in your past taught you important lessons that have helped you as you have aged? Do you find your earlier life experiences have resulted in an extra dose of wisdom now? Have you learned valuable lessons from simply being alive this long?

Maybe you disagree with the book's premise...that your younger mind reacted more quickly to a problem or seemed to generate lots of solutions? Now, you seem to fall back on the safe and customary responses rather than plot a fresh course.

I think it will be interesting for us to share stories how the effects of our aging brain and mind have served us during our retirement. To get the process started I'll share an example.

Would you take advice from this man?
For most of my life I have been quite controlling (ask my wife!). There are those that would claim I still am, and they are probably correct. Yet, this condition used to be much worse.

By my 34th birthday I was advising the ABC Radio networks. I had helped write a ground-breaking study for the Associated Press that help change the style of radio news. Radio stations were competing for my services. I was unstoppable. I was convinced I was smarter than most. I owned the golden goose.

Not so fast.  This attitude threatened my relationship with my wife and kids. It harmed my business because I rarely accepted someone else's fresh ideas. I didn't work to live, I simply lived to work. Ultimately, within 16 years I either became much dumber or I was never that smart to begin with: my business went into the toilet along with my invincible attitude. The illusion of control turned out to be just that: an illusion.

Fast forward several years from that point and I had that proverbial slap upside the head. I finally was able to analyze the decisions I had made on how I had lived my life. I could see the flaws in my world view. Quite clearly I was able to put together all the pieces of my life. I could see that where I had ended up should not have been a surprise. It was a direct result of my lack of life experiences and inflated ego. I had achieved success too easily and at too young an age.

Luckily, for me and those around me my mind has become much better at processing information and experiences. I know what it takes to live a life worth living. I understand a bit better the consequences of actions and attitudes. I am much quicker to listen to others and throttle my control gene. I have a better grasp of the difference between needs and wants.

I am not lamenting that I screwed up badly in my earlier days. The Wisdom Paradox makes the point that the experiences we have when we are younger are necessary for us to be "smarter" as we age. But, I am quite thankful that my (soon to be ) 71 year old mind is able to use my life experiences to help me live a life much more satisfying and complete and it has given me enough discernment to chart a more productive path.

OK...enough of my dirty linen flapping in the breeze. Can you think of a situation where your aging brain is actually stronger now than it was at some point in your youth? Are you better able to make sense of a crazy world and plot a path forward that is satisfying? 

Or, can you cite an example where those youthful neurons zipping around inside your head gave you an advantage you'd like to have back? Not necessarily short term memory skills, but a  feeling that creativity and and energetic learning are best seen in your rear view mirror?

March 22, 2020

Losing Control: a Disturbing Byproduct of Coronavirus

We crave control. That is a human condition. The feeling that something is happening that we can't manage or bend to our will is upsetting. What we are living through at the moment is a good example.

Finding basic supplies gone from the store can induce a feeling of panic. No TP, our regular dog food out of stock, no baby wipes, cleaning supply shelves stripped bare, limited meat and bread.....for most of us these are conditions we have never experienced. Even after major hurricanes, most folks have a temporary period to endure while food and supplies flow in from other places. 

This time, there is precious little one section of the country can do to help another. This isn't a local or regional problem, it is worldwide. There is no clear end in sight. Declarations from Washington change daily, first full of promise and hope, and then almost immediately word that we are on our own. Hospitals beg for supplies, restaurants that close may never reopen, schools may be shut down until fall...everywhere we turn we see uncertainty and mounting effects of the disease. City after city asks its residents to stay at home, limit any contact with others, and prepare for an extended period alone.

This puts a ton of stress on a species that thrives on control, real or imagined. I don't know this for a fact, but I assume that calls to various mental health services, religious organizations, and charities have skyrocketed in the last month.

I have not been immune. It is almost impossible to not react to how much our lives have changed. Even limiting my news input hasn't helped much. One surprising source of feel-good material has been Facebook. A place that I usually avoid due to all the trolls, distortions, misinformation, and hateful content, has been a source of comfort, at least from the people who are my FB "friends." 

Even so, I have found myself pretty much drifting through the day, reading when I am at a loss what to do, looking forward to nighttime TV as a distraction and time-filler, doing yard work that is more busy work than necessary, checking Facebook too often, and taking extra naps

I woke up this morning with an idea for an approach to my locked-down day I believe will interject a needed sense of control back into my life: a more structured daytime schedule. Normally, I don't find such an approach useful. It all feels too rigid. After all, retirement is about freedom.

But, in this situation I think I will benefit. Specifically, this means:

* I will wake up at a set time instead of just when I finally feel like rolling out of bed. There is no physical reason for me to lie there until 7 or 7:30.

* Instead of of just doing something when I can't think what else to do I will set aside blocks of time for reading, house chores or cleaning, yard work, and personal hygiene. For now, guitar practice, oil painting, and working on this blog will be schedule-driven.

* Walks with the dog and Betty will not just occur when we remember them. Using exercise bands and online exercise programs to keep my physical self intact until the gym reopens will have slots on the schedule.

These steps will give me things to look forward to and give me more of a sense of control over my life at a time when what is "normal"  seems to be slipping away. True, this an artificial creation of control, of normalcy. But these are strange times that require unusual approaches.

Late Addition:  Reader Mike Drak sent me this cartoon. This is a time for the comfort of Winnie and the support of friends

March 17, 2020

A Place For Open Constructive Conversations?

Everything seems a little out of whack at the moment. The daily news brings us more examples of a world that is hunkering down, closing places we normally go for comfort and social interaction. Plans made months ago are dashed.

So, maybe I should shake things up a bit, too. I'd like to try something quite different. Whether it is a one-time experiment that falls flat on its face, or becomes a regular part of life here is entirely up to you.

We exist in a society where more time is spent talking at each other than with each other. Polarization is a fact of life. Our civic (not civil) discourse is too often an "us versus them" type exchange. We are right and others are not only wrong, but possibly evil.

The ability to pose a question and receive a polite, helpful response has been severely hampered. The places we can discuss issues of importance are rare.

I would like to take a shot at changing that dynamic. How? By having an open-ended forum here at Satisfying Retirement. Since I expanded the subjects that I write about I have been encouraged by the response and the civility of the comments. So, it occured to me to try the next step.

How would that work? By asking you, dear readers, to pose a question or make a statement about what troubles, bothers, or baffles you. Maybe you'd like to know more  about a particular subject but you don't know where to turn. State your position on an issue of importance to you or pose a question and let's see if we can generate a meaningful back and forth discussion.


*Why do some folks resist legal immigration? But, how do we secure our borders so we are not overwhelmed by everyone wanting to come?

*Are there real dangers in vaccinating our children? 

*How do our young people survive a crushing student debt? Is it their fault for taking on so much, of the colleges for charging so much?

*What will it take to fix our healthcare system, or is it alright the way it is...the private sector is better at this then the government would be.

*Is income equality a serious concern, or should there be winners and losers in a capitalistic system? Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and all that.

*It is OK to have a few billion dollars or is that morally wrong somehow?

*Has the #MeToo movement overreached or not pushed hard enough?

*Our country's infrastructure is falling apart? What do we do about it? How pays for it?

*Is the two party system broken, or has it proven  to be the best long term answer? 

*When will we have a woman president, or is the sex of that position irrelevant?

These topics are simply thought-starters, and just a handful of the dozens of subjects we could address. Please use one of these, or one of your own choosing to start a conversation.

Importantly, comments and discussion threads do not need to be restricted to the first comment. If that particular subject interest you, add a reply.

If it doesn't, leave a comment, pose a question, or make a statement on an entirely different subject that others can then respond to.

I am hoping we have a comment section full of various topics, each with its own series of replies.

This will work only if enough readers see the value, feel comfortable opening up a subject for discussion, and others actively participate. If there is good response I will repeat this open forum approach maybe once a month or so.

If it is a concept that simply doesn't work, you will never be burdened with it again. 

Now that most of us are spending more time at home because of the flu situation., I thought this might be a good time to give this a try. 

So, the door is open. Let's start exchanging ideas, views, and opinions. Who will be first?

March 14, 2020

The Power of Memories

courtesy Wikipedia

Let's deal with a much lighter, less serious subject today. We all need a break from virus talk for a moment.

Betty and I have become fans of a British show, "The Repair Shop" streaming on Netflix. In each episode three people or couples bring a cherished memento, piece of furniture, or keepsake that is very important to them to the shop. Either it is something from their childhood or from a generation or two earlier that is in need of serious renovation.

After an expert repair person has done his or her magic, the owner is invited back to collect the beautifully restored memory maker. In many cases, they are reduced to tears of joy or rendered speechless at seeing a cherished belonging as they remember it from all those years ago. A beloved teddy bear, a toy fire engine, a piece of furniture owned by a great grandparent, even an important sign from a small village that was falling apart generate these rather intense reactions.

Besides enjoying the process of watching each repair take place and being in awe of what someone can do with what seems to be destined for the dump, the emotional response of the reunited owner is actually quite moving. Each episode reminds me of the power that good memories have in our lives.

A few weeks ago the post, Now We Are Six, shared the grip Winnie the Pooh holds on my memories. Having an inscription in the front of one of the books from my grandmother, written almost 68 years ago, still stirs me and memories of Gran and how important she was in my childhood and as a teen. If I had my original Pooh bear it would be a perfect project for the folks at The Repair Shop.

I know I am lucky in this regard. I literally have no bad memories from childhood. My dad was unemployed for several stretches during my youth. Money was very tight; we existed on what my mom earned as an elementary school teacher. Even so, my brothers and I never felt deprived or that we were struggling. 

Mom and dad kept a positive attitude and helped us love simple times together like picnics or drives in the countryside. I don't remember us getting many new clothes during those periods, but we never went to school with something that looked shoddy or worn. If we outgrew shoes, I am sure mom and dad gave up something else to make sure we were taken care of. We lived in a loving, nurturing environment.

There is a very good chance that my attitude as an adult toward experiences instead of possessions sprung from those periods in my childhood. I have never felt compelled to keep up with the Joneses or worry that I didn't have what some others owned. I live comfortably and can buy what I need. But, shopping has never been a sport, or fun, or a way to kill time; it is a chore for me.

"The Repair Shop" is not real. The building that is used is actually just a barn on the grounds of a living history museum. For the TV series the inside is converted into a place where various repair and renovation experts appear at their own workbench.

The people who bring heirlooms for repair are prescreened and told when to bring in an item. They are not charged for what can easily be hundreds, if not thousands of pounds (dollars). Even so, the emotional attachment of the people to each item is profound. 

What's my point?  The power of memories is very real. It is important to understand the place they hold in our life and what effect they have had on us. Not all of us had the type of memory-building childhood that I did. Comments shared in other posts have made that clear. I know of people who were abused, neglected, marginalized, and make to feel responsible for some of their parent's failings.That is heartbreaking and leaves marks that never go away.

If that describes you may I give you a virtual hug and urge you to try one thing: search your personal databank, the place in your mind where memories reside, and recall one or two good reminiscences, a recollection of some experience, event, toy, or childhood friend, and bring that into clear focus. Force the bad stuff into the back of the closet, if only for awhile. 

On days when the world seems out of control or your personal life feels topsy-turvy, one or two memory when everything made sense, when the future was a shining path still to walk, will give you the type of comforting jolt that only a powerful memory can.

March 10, 2020

The Coronavirus and Me

It has been an interesting experience to see myself react to the Covid-19 situation. I have never been the type of person who is a doomsday thinker, prepped for the end of civilization, or thought that any particular crisis was going to upend my life.

This flu virus hasn't sent me into a tizzy either. We have a trip to Canada in May and a month-long cruise in the South Pacific in October; I assume we will go on both and everything will be fine. We haven't wrapped the house in saran wrap or taken to wearing masks. We haven't bought gallons of hand sanitizers or extra amounts of toilet paper.

Yet, I am exhibiting a more obvious sense of caution than I have before. Betty and I bowed out of a large family dinner at a restaurant a few days ago. Being in a public space with maybe a hundred members of the general public and wondering how diligent the kitchen and wait staff was in cleanliness made us a bit uneasy. 

Unfortunately, five of the people who were to be part of our dinner had just flown in from Seattle. As I write this Washington State has suffered the most deaths from the flu and has had several new cases reported. The deaths were primarily in a nursing home, but even so, being with people from that area, in a public setting, just put up our red flags. My suggestion that we skip that public meal surprised me, but I went with my feeling. The rest of our family understood but went ahead anyway.

The very next day, those same Seattle folks, along with the rest of my family, did get together at my daughter's home for a day of games, conversation, and two meals. Betty and I went to that gathering with much less trepidation. Not having members of the general public and restaurant employees near us lessened our reluctance. Hand-shaking, hugs, or other touching was still not on the menu, but we were not worried and knew we could make a courteous exit if someone starting coughing or looked unwell. (FYI...everything was fine)

This weekend we have tickets for a concert at the Phoenix Symphony. Once again, our caution told us to not go into a large public space, with 1,500 older adults, for the two hour event. We threw away the $60 worth of tickets and didn't think twice. 

For the next few weeks we are likely to avoid movie theaters or other crowded spaces. The CDC has advised those over 60 or with compromised immune systems to stay home as much as possible. Well, we are both over 60 and Betty has a very poor immune system. We are heeding their suggestion for the time being.

Maybe it is my age that has triggered this extra dose of caution. The government has been caught flat-footed at times and the trust we have in "official" statements from the Oval Office is zilch, Even so, I don't think we would have taken any of the steps we have if both of us were 20 years younger and certainly if Betty's auto-immune issues weren't so bad.

Honestly, I expect the flu situation to get somewhat worse for the next month or so, then begin to taper off and allow us to feel comfortable in large public settings again. I don't expect anyone in my family to become infected; that is just my natural optimistic nature.

Living where we do, with the resources we have, and the ability to take common sense steps makes the situation in China, Italy, and South Korea hard to relate to in terms of the level of sickness and death.  Our complete empathy is felt for those affected by Covid-19 but I believe we will escape any personal problems if we are wise about how we live for the next few months.

What about you? Have you changed anything about how you live your day-to-day life. Are you more conscious of people who cough or sneeze? Are you stocking up on GermX?

Or, are you like my 40 year old daughter who says she always exercises caution when in public spaces. but refuses to become a hermit and stop doing things she enjoys. She figures her odds of becoming sick are too low to worry about. 

Wash your hands, and type your response (then wipe the keyboard again)!

March 7, 2020

Helicopter and Snowplow People

You are probably familiar with the term, helicopter parents. They are the ones who sweep in to fix a problem for a growing (or grown) child. While helping one's offspring is part of parenting, a helicopter parent goes overboard. Their child is protected from virtually all of life's stumbles and fall or failures and predicaments when the parents "helicopter" in to save their offspring from any inconvenient parts of growing up. The result is often delayed or insufficient maturity or the ability to make decisions and one's own way in the world.

Well, here's a new one: Snowplow parents. Think of the headlines not too long ago of parents who paid large sums of money to get their kids into prestigious colleges by having SAT scores inflated, or becoming a member of an athletic team even though the child didn't excel in that sport. Those parents face large fines and jail time; their kids risk not be accepted at those colleges even if, on their own, they would have qualified. 

A snowplow parent is one who pushes all impediments or legal niceties out of the path of their child. They plow away any problems that may lie ahead, at the risk of creating a mess for themselves and their kids anyway.

I am sure some form of these parental behaviors occurred when I was growing up, but I certainly can't remember ever hearing about them. I know my parents didn't use either in raising three boys. They were closer to: "Here is your boat, get in and we will push you forward but now it is up to you to make your way." They were incredibly supportive, loving, and deeply involved. But, they understood there is a line that parents should not cross if they want their offspring to become a fully functioning adult.

Of course, it is the parent's job to protect and nurture. Teaching a child to become a productive member of society, feeling confident and secure in his or her abilities to navigate the stuff life will throw at them. But, becoming as deeply involved as either a helicopter or snowplow parents creates many more problems that it solves.

All very interesting, Bob, but does this have anything to do with retirement? Yes, it does, on two levels.

First, if you have children and maybe grandkids, you are just one or two inappropriate interventions away from becoming a helicopter or snowplow! Those of us lucky enough to have both adult  children and rapidly growing grandkids know one of the cardinal "rules: your "kids" are not yours to control any longer, and the grandchildren are not being raised by you (unless, or course, they are due to circumstances).

Sure, you may be asked for advice, help, or to lend a hand as needed. But, there is no quicker way to build a barrier between you and the next two generations than stay stuck in the parental role. Unless someone is in physical danger, how your adult children and grandkids live and are raised is not your business. You may disagree with choices that are being made, but they are not yours to change. That is a hard lesson to accept, but it is critical to follow it.

The second way over-involvement can occur is if you are the recipient. Your grown children might be the helicopter or snowplow. With the greatest intentions in the world, your kids could decide that their involvement in how you live, where you live, or how you spend your money requires their direct intervention. Worried that you are risking life and limb, financial disaster, or being taken in by some sort of scam, your children might swoop in and decide they must become the parents. Or, they take it upon themselves to clear away all the obstacles that they perceive.

Importantly, I quickly add that there are times when such an intervention is necessary. If someone is driving who shouldn't be, medications are not being taken as directed, the house is dangerous to walk in, or any myriad of issues exist, then, yes, love requires an adult child to step in and step up to a more direct position of responsibility, even if the parent resists.

But, this causes real familial rifts when conditions are simply lifestyle or preferences, and a grown child decides he or she doesn't approve or thinks it is inappropriate. Inserting themselves into the parent's life on those conditions is no more appropriate than when done to a grandchild.

The important takeaway is a plea to monitor your behavior when you are tempted to hover or plow all obstacles away....or to understand the motivation when you are the object of such attention. Clear communication on either side of this dilemma is a must. The relationships between all family members, regardless of their place in the pecking or chronological order, is too important to plow ahead (pun intended) without considering the consequences.

March 3, 2020

How Do I Know It Is Time To Retire?

This is one of the posts that continues to be read several years after first being published. Knowing when to retire is a key question we all must answer at some point.

For those of you not yet retired these points should help you determine how close you really are. If you are retired, please add your comments at the end, indicating which of these factors were most important to you when you moved into this new phase of life.

One of the questions I get asked most often is, " How do I know when it is time to retire?"  The answer is I don't know when you should retire, but I can give you some indicators to look for.  Then, you will have to decide if the time is right. 

With that disclaimer out of the way, when several of these indicators are present it may be time to retire.

You dread going to work everyday. You are tired and dispirited. Everyone has an off day or few days every now and then. But, if that feeling is present pretty much all the time, you may have reached your limit.

Your are being asked to do a lot more work for no more money. This is the hidden message in that last productivity memo you received. To preserve your job you will have to accept the situation and pick up the slack of those unfortunate souls who got a pink slip. For the short term it may be in your best interest to accept this. But if the situation begins to look permanent, you may have second thoughts.

You feel the essential "you" is slipping away. There isn't enough time for you to do what satisfies you and makes you happy. You find yourself doing things that make you uncomfortable. Your world has shrunk to work-sleep-work.

You can't wait to get home to work on a project or new passion. Closely tied to the "you" reference above. All your thoughts revolve around after work hours. There never is any time to do that thing you really love.

You complain to anyone who will listen (and even many who will not) about work. Spending your energy and life in a negative place increases your stress and shortens your life. It is also a quick way to get fired.

You have enough to live without a regular paycheck. You have run the numbers so often your calculator is melting. There are solid income streams that make you feel you can do this. You have thought through contingencies. You have thought about worst case scenarios. The numbers still work. You feel confident in your financial planning and long term situation.

A loved one is very sick and you'd rather spend your time with that person while you can. Whether a parent, child, relative, or best friend there is no do-over if that person isn't likely to be with you through your retirement. Do you feel strongly that person needs you right now?

Your health is beginning to slip and you have things you want to accomplish while you still can. In this case you are on the other side of the fence. You are sure you will not be physically or mentally able to do what you'd like to do if you wait too long to retire. You decide it is more important to enjoy your freedom while you have it, even if it means a more limited lifestyle.

You have affordable alternatives for acceptable health insurance and care. Your health coverage through work will continue or your individual policy is still functioning. You may be able to find a policy, with a subsidy, that works. Over 65? Medicare and supplemental policies are your answer. 

Plan to spend much more than you think you will. If the budget still works you have dealt with one of the biggest hurdles to a satisfying retirement.

You are excited about making a major change in your life (where you live, how you spend your time) Change is life. A life without change is in a rut. Change can be stimulating, exciting, terrifying, and necessary. Sometimes you just have to shake it up and that thought gets your blood racing.

Your self-identity isn't defined by your job. You have a life and and sense of self worth not dependent on work. This is important. There are few things sadder than someone who retires, and discovers he has no life outside of work. If you have at least some friends who are not co-workers, enjoy hobbies or other activities you are much closer to being ready to leave the job.

What do you want to do with the rest of your life? When do you want to do it? Aren't those the most important questions? When you can answer them you may be ready.

There you go: a checklist for retirement decisions. I encourage your comments and additions to this list.

March 1, 2020

Coronavirus Is a Hoax

Truth and reality have finally hit bottom. As of this writing, this disease that has affected close to 50 countries, killed thousands and sickened hundreds of thousands worldwide. It is spreading more quickly than can be accurately reported.

Economies worldwide are reacting to the effects of disrupted supply lines, the need to close businesses, stores, schools, and public places. The Dow Jones fell more in one week in late February than at any time since the 2008 near depression. A world-wide recession is suddenly not such an impossibility.

The response from the U.S. government is almost impossible to accept with a straight face: this out-of-control, worldwide disease is being given prominent media attention as a way to harm the current administration and affect the fall elections. It is being used by the Democrats and liberal media for political reasons. The actual virus is no worse than a cold, and will one day just magically disappear. Its effects will be no big deal. It is a hoax according to Mr. Trump in remarks Friday. 

One prominent senator decided that the virus was actually developed in a laboratory in China and then used to terrorize its own citizens and the rest of the world. A certain news organization known for its disconnect from truth found that a reasonable point for discussion and speculation. 

If these incredibly self-serving, ludicrous explanations were matched with an aggressive, well-coordinated response from those who understand it is not to be taken lightly, one could almost laugh at the silliness of the attempt to "sell" the political spin, knowing that steps were being taken to do everything possible to limit the virus's spread and dangers.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. Because of budget cuts, the CDC in Atlanta and the various health centers around the country are woefully ill-prepared. The medical people sent to meet the first group of Americans coming home from the infected cruise ship, Diamond Princess, were given no training or procedures to follow. They did not wear proper hazmat suits; some who met the passengers weren't even wearing masks or taking any of the bare minimum precautions to not become infected themselves and then spread the illness to others. Closer to my home, the virus test kits sent to Arizona were defective.

Why? The administration had no serious plan in place, no system established to respond. Of course, if the whole thing is deemed to be much ado about nothing then that makes perfect sense. Mike Pence is now on the case and insists that all updates on the virus must run through his office before being released. How better to insure all information is unbiased and accurate.

I have no great insight on how to respond to this health issue. Betty and I are using hand sanitizer, steering clear of anyone who is coughing or seems ill, and adding some extra items to the pantry in case shipment problems become worse. Face masks don't seem to provide much protection but they are in short supply anyway so I guess that is a good thing. We are hoping for the best, apparently the same plan as Washington.

But, more importantly, I just cannot believe there are people in leadership, the media, and the general public, who are accepting this pure BS without outrage. Even if Coronavirus never blossoms into a pandemic it has exposed the problem of people who cry wolf over pretend emergencies. Then, when believability is essential there is zero credibility at a time when we must depend on leaders to do what is best for our country, and the world's well being. 

There is a hoax at play but it has nothing to do with Coronavirus.