December 29, 2020

4 Norms of Society Worth Ignoring

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness." 

With a nod to Charles Dickens, many of us may believe his famous opening of A Tale of Two Cities is an apt description of today's world. 

Things we thought we could count on seem to be on shaky ground. The way people, governments, and technology interact with each other seems to be shifting beneath our feet. The rules of the game have changed.

I agree, but with one important qualifier: every time in history is a combination of wisdom and foolishness, threat and calm, stupidity, and brilliance. In the middle of the chaos and upending of longtime standards, I offer another quote as a reason to be optimistic: "this too shall pass."

That said, what are these "norms" I am referring to, some that we should reassess. What seems to be common wisdom, but maybe it isn't so?

1) No one makes phone calls anymore. Texting is quicker and easier. For many of us, texting has replaced making or receiving phone calls. Maybe it is because of all the spam calls we are receiving, or maybe just another step into a very private world, but calling someone is becoming increasingly rare. 

Almost 60 million robocalls were made to Americans last year. The "Do Not Call List" has been a joke almost since its inception in 2003. Technology has allowed spammers to call your phone and appear to be from a number close to yours.

Even worse, many now go directly to voice mail without ever giving you the chance to disconnect, thereby forcing you to check and delete the message. Sure, there are phone apps that help, but answering a phone is a risky business. That is part of why texting is more popular. Also, sending a text forces someone to be more concise in what they want to say.

Unfortunately, I suggest texting often harms communication rather than helps. It is very easy to misinterpret what appears on the smartphone screen. Words written in haste or anger can cause lasting damage. Sometimes I find I have to exchange multiple messages with someone just to ensure clarity. A voice call would be much quicker and eliminate all the back-and-forth.

Our Covid experience has helped us understand the importance of person-to-person communication. Being kept away from friends and family for month-after-month-after-month has sent many of us back to an actual phone (or Zoom) call. We long to hear the sound of a voice other than our own. We need to share and get or give affirmation. We long to share with another human, even if it is just electronically.

When this is finally over, my personal hope is we will have rediscovered the joy and importance of speaking, rather than just texting. Our voices can convey feelings, emotions, and preciseness. Texts can not. 

2) Get your news and information from services that think the way you do. Few will argue that too many of us are stuck in a closed loop. We find confirmation and validation by watching news channels, reading web sites, or listening to talk radio shows and podcasts that reflect our viewpoints. This behavior is physiologically satisfying; we are not alone in how we see things.

It is also behavior that makes integration into the real world much more difficult. When you confront an idea that varies from yours, the natural reaction is to reject it. After all, your usual sources pat you on the back. The one that presents an alternate interpretation must be wrong. 

I suggest that approach to knowledge, opinion, and dare I say, truth, is a large part of our society's problem at the moment. Too many of us are incapable of acknowledging that we may not have all the answers or that others may have a valid point to consider.

Confirming my old guy status, I remember when there were just three TV networks who went to great lengths to play things right down the middle. If a story presented a liberal view, the news programs were careful to balance the presentation. Of course, they didn't have to fill 24 hours a day with content, which may be part of the problem. 

As a society, and frankly, as better informed citizens, may I suggest we all broaden our informational input. It is important to know what others are seeing, hearing and learning. And, every once in a while, you may decide the idea or belief you hold so dear needs to be reexamined.

3) Technological Progress is good for you. Not always. Planned obsolesce is particularly insidious in this area of our lives. We are expected to upgrade to a new smartphone at least every two years. Most suppliers stop providing updates to a phone's operating system after a few years to encourage that behavior. 

Recently, I was notified by Google that the Android system on my 4-year-old phone would not work for many Internet searches after next fall. Since my phone cannot be updated to the operating system required, I will find myself forced to replace it, whether I want to or not.

Betty's printer was set up with the manufacturer's instant ink replacement program when she bought it four years ago. Once we decided that letting HP tap into our home wireless network to check on our ink usage was just a bit too intrusive for our tastes, the fun began.

Trying to delete the changes in the printer's ROM to stop the company from invading our privacy became a months-long battle of phone calls, factory resets and using an Ethernet cable instead of WiFi to hook up the printer. Still, the machine asks us to sign in to our (non-existent) account every time it is powered on.

I am not a Luddite. I love what technology allows me to do. I enjoy its benefits....when they benefit me. What irks me is when a machine, device, or company tries to force my hand. 

4) Walls make better neighbors. While lots of talk and emotion has centered on the barrier between the U.S. and our southern neighbor, that is not really the wall I am referring to, although that applies, too. I use "wall" as a metaphor for the barrier many of us erect to keep others away.

Where I live, walls around every suburban home are so common that finding a neighborhood without them seems odd. Those beige-colored walls allow us to drive into our garage, put down the door, and step into our home without encountering anyone else. We spend time in our walled-in backyard, isolated from even the people who live on either side of us. Knowing their names would be uncommon for most of us. Front porches? Not here.

If the discord of the last several years has proven anything (and it has proven quite a lot), it is important to maintain a dialogue between people. It is the absolute necessity of having some common ground between us and others to allow things as essential as virus control, economic progress, and a functioning country. 

We have become a nation of walls, literal and figurative, between groups of people, large and small, emphasizing the differences, not the similarities between us. And, how's that working out for us?

Society must have some shared beliefs, expectations, goals, and ways of living, or it shatters into factions constantly at war, usually figuratively but not always. Unfortunately, some of those points of agreement actually pull us apart.

I am interested in your thoughts on these (and other) ways we look at what is normal and what may need to be adjusted or abandoned as 2021 looms on the horizon.

December 26, 2020

Will Covid Be A Turning Point....For Good?

Maybe this is just an end-of-the-year desperate desire to find some good in what we have been forced to endure for the last 10 months. Or maybe my deeply buried, optimistic side is struggling back to the surface. 

Whatever the cause, I actually had a minor epiphany a few weeks ago: what if the horrible nature of the Covid pandemic actually ended up doing some good? What if all the deaths and illnesses were not completely in vain but made us change some important parts of our collective lives?

We must never forget what started earlier this year. How a combination of hubris, political calculations, and the unstoppable force of nature killed and sickened so many and upended our world. But, if we don't learn some lessons from the experience, haven't we missed a tremendous opportunity to improve? 

To that end, here are some thoughts I had about the potential for change.

Value essential workers. Doctors, nurses, hospital staff, those who work in nursing and retirement care facilities, firefighters, police...the type of people we think of as providing essential service to the rest of us have played a major role in our collective lives since March. These folks have always been necessary but even more so since March. They deserve everything and anything we can do to make their lives a little brighter and the load a little lighter.

There is an entirely new class of essential workers that Covid has exposed, or maybe the better word is spotlighted for us. To borrow a military expression, these are the tens of thousands of people on the front line, providing critical service to us all. After too long filling an almost invisible role, grocery store clerks, stockers, and delivery people have become noticeable for their day-in-day-out labor. The people that work to sort, package whatever we have ordered online, and then drive the trucks that bring all packages to do our door keep us supplied, entertained, educated, and sane during a time when our social moorings have been demolished. 

Even though it seems embarrassing to have to point this out, teachers must be on this list. Early on, moms and dads were forced to take on the critical duty of providing for their children's educational needs, a task many were not really equipped to handle.

Then, when it became obvious this was not going to be a short-term inconvenience, teachers took on the extra load of preparing and teaching virtual lessons, coupled with partial in-person duties, when possible. The men and women we give the responsibility to prepare our children for a meaningful life are underpaid and underappreciated in normal times. Their dedication deserves our strongest support in the midst of a double workload, both emotional and fiscal. 


Make clear the importance of relationships. Zoom and its sister apps have saved our collective bacon this year. Many businesses have stayed afloat and functioning, teachers have instructed our kids, family members have shared storytime, birthdays, and other important milestones with these electronic links.

But, quite obviously, we are missing human contact. Hugs, handshakes, in-person greeting, smiles, laughter, tears...The importance to our emotional and physical wellbeing has never been more apparent. Humans are social animals. I venture to guess that enforced isolation is partly responsible for some of the divisions within our country at the moment. We are physically cut off from others; that could easily lead to emotional separation. 

Kickstart climate change efforts. I'm sure you remember some of the dramatic photographs from around the world during the early days of the pandemic. With businesses closed, fewer people driving, and large manufacturing plants on reduced schedules, the skies over many major cities worldwide, were suddenly almost free of visible pollution. Mother Nature had taken the opportunity of reduced human activity to blow away the gunk.

Of course, as soon as we began to open back up again in early summer, the pollution returned. What that small window of better air made abundantly clear was our impact on what we breathe and live with. Hopefully, that vivid demonstration of what is possible was not a one-off display but a preview of our future. 

Developing a vaccine in record time for Covid should encourage us in the battle against other diseases. Building on what scientists had learned during the SARS epidemic of the rally 2000s, the ability to produce highly effective vaccines in just months was an amazing demonstration of the power of money and knowledge to help all of mankind. While real-life use will probably uncover some issues, the promise of these shots will alter the world's future moving forward.

Based on this success, one would hope that those working on the treatment and prevention of other diseases would redouble their efforts. Cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, heart disease...the things that kill so many of us are solvable. The rapid work on Covid shows the way forward: a singular focus and the financial support to put these deadly scourges behind us. 

Demonstrate the importance of more self-reliance. Locked up at home, severely restricted in shopping opportunities, having away-from-home entertainment come to a screeching halt, finding our children depending upon us for their education...Covid has forced many to rediscover our innate abilities to solve problems and find solutions. 

"They" can't solve everything. "They" may be part of the problem. "They" may actually be making things worse.  We have been pushed to become creative and innovative when dealing with the hassles, shortcomings, and dangerous world we now confront. We are stronger than we thought. We have discovered solutions to obstacles on our own.

Rediscovering the joy of cooking and baking at home, or a long lost passion or interest. Learning to be content with ourselves. Finding an unlimited world of entertainment and education online, most of it free for the asking. Finding out shopping is not as important as we once believed it to be. Not missing the hours spent in cars and traffic.

Covid-19 has been a horrific experience. It has exposed the strange sight of sane people denying reality because it is inconvenient. It continues to kill and sicken tens of thousands a day all around the world. It has likely changed parts of the economy and employment options for years to come. Traveling on a plane, getting on a cruise ship, even taking a road trip remains too dangerous for most to consider.

But, like many disasters, from the negative effects may come some positives. As one of the worst years I can ever remember comes to a close, I am turning my eyes and thoughts to what 2021 may hold for us all. Fingers crossed, I think of the upside before us.

December 18, 2020

Family Break Time - So An Early Merry Christmas!

As you read this, our family is in Flagstaff spending time together. We are away from thoughts of pandemics, politics, bills, jobs, school, and anything else that might put a damper on this season of the year. I am reminding myself why I am not a big fan of below-freezing temperatures.

We are not running away from our problems; we are very aware of the real world that isn't stopping so we can get off. We are counting our blessings to be able to do what too many of us can't: enjoy family time together with our only focus on games, good movies, and meals shared with each other. We are building memories that will last a lifetime. We are giving our grandkids the gift of uninterrupted attention and love while we can.

So, I will be taking a longer break until the next post. We aren't taking computers, and cell service is spotty! Comments on this post have been disabled since I may not have much time to respond.

Our focus will be on the eight of us (plus two dogs) sharing time and love at the "most wonderful time of the year."

Look for a fresh post on December 26th, the day after Christmas.

In the meantime, the very best to you and those you love.

December 15, 2020

Take Out The Trash That Clutters Our Lives

We can almost taste the end of 2020. It is just a few weeks ahead. I know that all our problems won't magically end on January 1st, but it will still feel good to start a new year with its promise of solutions. 

So, this seems like the perfect time to talk about taking out the (metaphorical) trash. As I review the "trash" that needs to be put by the curb, I am reminded how much is still part of my life and how much work I still have to do.

One chore we are all familiar with is taking out the trash. While it may not be fun, it is necessary. Our junk stuff will not walk itself to the curb for pickup. Holding on to it serves no purpose but to clutter up our lives.

I suggest the same requirement exists in our personal lives. A satisfying retirement will require getting rid of things regularly that no longer serve a purpose or just clutter up your life. A life accumulates various types of  "trash" that are best dumped.

Self-imposed Limits. I'm hard-pressed to think of anything more destructive to our personal development and growth than the limits we put on ourselves (see previous post about breaking out of our creative comfort zone). We think we aren't very creative, so we never explore that part of us. We have been told by someone in the past we aren't very smart or strong or productive or capable or.....(fill in your externally imposed limits). We have internalized that judgment of part of us by accepting someone else's view of our abilities as true. So, we no longer try.

We have failed at a previous attempt to form a meaningful relationship, start a business, write a book, learn to play tennis, grow vegetables in the back yard....whatever...and so we are afraid. We eliminate the chance of failure by refusing to try. Actually, we eliminate the chance of success.

Self-imposed limits are part of the trash of our life that must be disposed of regularly. These limits will limit your happiness and satisfaction. These limits will make it impossible for you to grow to your potential. Label these self-imposed limits for what they are: garbage that needs to go. 

Habits that no longer serve a purpose. We all have them. They could be habits we know aren't good for us but are tough to dump. They could be habits that affect our interaction with others. The list is long, and the causes are complicated. I tried to quit smoking at least five times before it actually stuck back in the late '80s. 

In this case, though, I'm referring to habits or patterns of behavior that once served us well but no longer do. Previous posts have talked about how I fell into a routine of reading two newspapers every morning until I realized I was wasting my most productive time of the day on something that could be done later (or eventually dropped completely). Maybe we have always answered every e-mail the second it hits our inbox until we realize that is amazingly unproductive.

Pre-Covid going out to eat a few nights a week was an easy habit to develop. Cooking after a full day of work is not something everyone looks forward to. But, now that you are retired, the pattern of eating dinners at a restaurant no longer serves the same purpose. Also, it is probably putting a major dent in your retirement budget. Have you noticed a major saving during the last year since going out has been such a no-no? 

I used to buy lots of books from Amazon until I ran out of bookshelf space. Now, the library, with the purchase of an occasional book I really want to read, is a much better match for my lifestyle. 

We are resistant to change and comfortable with our routines. In fact, for many of us, our routines comfort us to the point where even the simplest change takes effort. But, are the routines and habits still serving a purpose? Do some of them need to be taken to the curb?

Grudges and Past Hurts. Here is a tough one. Doesn't it feel good to dislike someone who did you wrong all those years ago? It is easy to work up a towering inferno or rage and anger...until you stop to remember what caused the problem in the first place, and can't. Or, you review where the grudge came from, and now, years later, it seems so petty and silly. 

An example of grudges and past hurts that continue to harm us is the divisions and ill will caused by politics. Speaking for myself, I know how hard it is to leave all that stuff by the curb and move forward. This election has been a prime example, simply because the drama never seems to end.

Holding on to an insult or unkind action is never very helpful. It may feel good for a moment to zing someone back but rarely does it solve the problem. Even worse is to allow a past hurt to fester for years, preventing you from moving on.

Taking out the trash every week helps keep your house free of clutter and unpleasant smells. Getting rid of the trash in your life is more complicated but every bit as important.

Kick that trash and clutter to the curb to start 2021.


December 11, 2020

Will You Get a Covid Vaccine Shot?

 In record time, several pharmaceutical companies have developed vaccines that seem to be extremely effective against Covid-19. After multiple clinical trials and lab testing, they appear to be ready for prime time. The FDA has yet to approve any of the drugs for public distribution, but permission to proceed is very close, maybe even granted since this post was written.

The U.K. started giving Jabs, as they call it, earlier this week. Apparently, two people who had very bad allergies to several things had a reaction to the shot, so the drug company is cautioning those who carry an Epipen to avoid shots at this time.

The logistics of distributing this medicine will not be simple. The speed at which doses can be produced is unknown. One company says they may be able to produce 100 million doses by spring. While that sounds like a lot, remember that people all over the world are in need. 

Exacting standards for both preparation and storage will make a quick nationwide rollout impossible.  Who is offered the vaccines, and in what priority is a decision still under discussion. As you might imagine, there are major moral, economic, and political calculations involved. Are there enough people trained to inject others is a real question. Will the military have to help with distribution? 

Several public figures have stepped forward to help promote the safety of the shots. Bill Clinton, Barrack Obama, and Joe Biden have said they will be publically inoculated to show their support, both literally and figurately. At some point, we should expect Hollywood and sports celebrities to join them.

Obviously, the long term effect of a particular type of vaccine is unknown. Anyone who accepts one of the first batches of doses is taking a risk, however small. Because of pre-existing conditions, some may not be the best candidates this early in the process. There are also tens of millions of people who hold beliefs about most vaccines that would mean they are not likely to volunteer to be poked with a needle.

Anti-vaxxers will complicate the effectiveness of any medicine. If even a significant minority of any country's population chooses to not be protected, the spread of Covid will continue to be a global problem. Any anti-vaxxer who falls ill might need hospital space and medical care. And, of course, they could affect others in the family or around them.

Could businesses require proof of a vaccine to become employed? Will airline companies ask for proof before allowing people to board planes? What about schools and colleges? If so, how will those who refuse the shot be dealt with?

All of which brings me to the question I am asking you: will you get a Covid vaccine when it becomes available? For high-risk folks, that may be a question that becomes real over the next few months. For those who are at a lower risk of becoming seriously ill or die from the pandemic, the question may not become a reality for the better part of 2021.

Eventually, each of us will be faced with a critical decision: get a shot now or wait for any side effects to surface and the safety of the medicine to be validated by others.

So, there you have it: what will you do when the opportunity presents itself?

December 8, 2020

Moving Away From Our Comfort Zone

painted several months ago

Over a year ago, I wrote about attempting to paint. For some reason, I found myself doing something I had never tried before. For years, I had told myself I had no ability in this area. Even with a ruler, I had trouble drawing a straight line. 

Then I stumbled across a few paintings my father had completed during the last several years of his life. He had never demonstrated any interest in putting brush to canvas. But, something motivated him to give it a try; his works were quite attractive. He experimented with oils, acrylics, and even watercolor while taking classes and practicing in an art studio near my parent's retirement home.

I guess that was the moment when I thought, "If he could give it a try, then so could I." Searching the Internet, I ran across the Bob Ross channel. Famous for a technique of oil painting known as wet-on-wet, his silky smooth, calm voice promised that anyone could paint. As he said, "There are no mistakes, just happy accidents." 

Even though he passed away in 1995, his "Joy of Painting" television series continues on many PBS stations. Every one of his episodes over a 31 season period is available on YouTube. With artist wife, Betty, urging me to give it a try, I stepped bravely into the world of painting. 

Bob Ross makes it all look much easier than his technique really is for someone with zero experience. My accidents weren't all that happy. A range of mountains one time would look OK. The next time, they resembled an undulating brown blob with some white streaks that were supposed to be snow. My trees had very odd-looking branches. A cabin? It seemed about ready to topple over.

I stuck with it, partly because I had invested several hundred dollars in supplies, and mostly because I actually enjoyed the process. The completion of a painting might be met with disappointment at the outcome, but I found myself anxious to pick up a fresh canvas (or canvas board) and go at it again.

Over time, there was improvement. I allowed family members to see what had been created. To their credit, support was what I received, even if the end result was marginal. I knew there was some progress when Betty suggested (allowed?) that I frame a few and mount them in the living room.

About 15 months later, I can report the experience is still frustrating because my paintings have parts that look OK, coupled with sections that don't. Yet, I continue to look forward to picking up the brushes and trying another.

I have moved beyond just trying to mimic Bob Ross's style. Using the wet-on-wet approach for part of the painting, then switching to applying oil paint directly to a dry canvas gives me better control of the final look I want. So, I guess my technique is Bob Ross-Lowry. There is no Youtube channel yet, but I am having fun.

A few readers have asked if I am still painting, and would I consent to exposing a few of the more recent ones here. At the risk of public embarrassment, I am doing so. Not because any of these paintings are great, or even all that good. But, if I am to fully embrace the idea that a comfort zone needs to be ignored now and then, a demonstration is necessary.

Studio set up

The point of this post is really to emphasize my contention that retirement offers us the chance to take a chance....on almost anything. A lifestyle change, a new hobby, different use of our time, learning a new language, a renewed dedication to fitness...whatever we think we might like to try, we can. For me, it has been painting. For you?

A comfort zone is a good thing for many parts of our life, but not all. If we allow ourselves to only stay comfortable in everything, how will we discover something that turns us on, something that brings satisfaction?

December 5, 2020

Life is a Box of Chocolates...or Jelly Beans

First posted over seven years ago, this is one of the more powerful visuals I have seen in quite a while. In a way you can't ignore, it shows us the effects of decisions we make with the time given to us. Then, it asks some important, possibly life-changing questions.

With a new year just ahead, this seems like a good opportunity to talk about time.

Watch the video, read my recap, and see what your answers may be.

If all that went by too quickly, the average American will live 28,835 days, or 79 years. How do we spend that time?

  • Just to get to the edge of adulthood, age 15 in this example, we spend 5,475 days.
  • 8, 477 days are spent asleep
  • 1,635 days are spent eating and preparing food
  • 3,202 days are spent at work
  • 1,099 days are spent commuting to that work, or other errands
  • 2,676 days are spent watching television in some form
  • 1,576 days are spent doing chores and household duties
  • 564 days are spent caring for family and friends
  • 671 days are spent bathing, grooming, and other bathroom duties
  • 720 days are spent on community and religious activities

That leaves, on average, 2,740 days, or 7.5 years of our life to do everything else that interests or motivates us.

So, the obvious questions:

*Depending on your age, how many "beans" do you think you may have left?

*What do you plan on doing with them?

*What if only half of those 2,740 beans are left in your pile. Now what?

*What if only half of that half is left? What would you do differently?

*How are you going to spend your remaining beans?

Makes you think, doesn't it?

December 1, 2020

Mr. Rogers Is Helping Me - Really?


A much shorter post than normal for me, but the message is quite straightforward. 

Recently I have been kind of immersed in the life and impact of Mr. Rogers. I guess that's a little odd for someone my age, but there is something so hopeful and encouraging about how he went about teaching and influencing children with a sincere approach.

He honestly cared about people "just the way they are," and he truly listened to what children (and adults) were saying when they expressed worries or concerns. Then, he responded in a way that reflected those worries while offering an explanation designed to comfort and calm the person he communicated with. He didn't sugarcoat bad things but helped a young mind process them.

I thought about the way he dealt with the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, or toward the end of his life, how he addressed children and their parents right after 9/11. He had a way of speaking slowly, choosing his words and inflection with great care, all while acknowledging the uneasiness others felt at that moment.

Like you, I have been worrying a lot about the fate of our country. Under assault by a deadly virus, racial unrest, an illogical refusal by many regarding masks or simple safety precautions, and the effect of an election that, at times, seemed destined to veer completely off the rails. I have had some trouble sleeping and turning off the chatter.

But, in listening to a tremendous podcast about Fred Rogers (Finding Fred on all major podcast sites) and reading a few books about his approach to worry and uncertainty, his total love for others, and his unfailing optimism for the human race, I feel better than I have in a while.

Maybe just pulling away from my own filters and trying to see things through someone else's' eyes, like Mr. Rogers, is exactly what I needed at this point.

Mr. Rogers was a unique TV personality and human being, one we can look to for comfort and encouragement. Thank for the virtual warm hugs, Fred.

November 27, 2020

Running Low on Money: Part of Retirement?

 This type of question is e-mailed to me rather frequently:

"How do you manage your finances so that you make sure that you do not run out of money?"

If you are retired or looking forward to this next phase of your life, that is a question you have asked yourself. Everybody asks this question. Regardless of how well you have planned or how well you think you are positioned for life without a regular paycheck, you wonder and worry. I am 19 years into my retirement lifestyle, and I still ask this question on occasion, though much less often.

Here is the unfortunate reality: there is no way to make sure you do not run out of money. We live in an inter-connected world. What happens in China or Europe can have a straightforward impact on our financial status. Obviously, whatever wind is blowing, the folks in Washington blow through your life. Decisions in your state capital and even local government mandates are not without consequences.

The days when most of us lived on a farm or in a small, self-contained community where we were much more in control of our own financial destiny are gone and never coming back. We are at the mercy of many forces that we cannot control or even predict with much accuracy.

So, as we move through or try to plan for retirement, we are really in a Catch 22 situation. I like part of Wikipedia's definition: A Catch-22 often result from rules, regulations, or procedures that an individual is subject to but has no control over.

So, what's a conscientious person to do?  Simply, the best we can with what we have available. Over the past few years, I have written several posts that deal with the importance of taking personal responsibility for our financial well-being. Here are a few excerpts from a couple of those posts: 

"Financially, we must take control of our own money. If your bank is treating you poorly or layering on the fees, move to another bank or credit union. If you are comfortable with an Internet bank, go for it. If you have a financial advisor or stockbroker, are you confident he or she understands your desires, your risk tolerance, and your goals? Sit down with them and review your account—question everything that doesn't make sense to you. If you are unhappy, give that person new marching orders or switch to someone else.

We can't afford to be uninformed about the world of money. If you don't use a budget, start. If you have no idea how much interest your credit card company charges, find out. If you don't understand your pension or IRA, use the Internet to get educated. If you don't understand some aspect of the financial world that affects you, ask questions, and get answers you can understand. If you still believe these folks are really looking out for your best interests and ignorance is bliss, then you are likely heading toward a rude awakening.

The government may be unable to figure out how to tame a deficit, but luckily we are quite a bit smarter. We can choose to not spend more than we make. It is easy to eliminate things from our life that cost more than they are worth to us. We understand we can't afford every want when we want it. Instant gratification is a freeway to financial ruin. Simplifying our lifestyle, cooking more meals at home, using coupons, and shopping grocery store specials can save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a year. 

We control how much we spend on travel, leisure, and entertainment. Leading a satisfying retirement is really about making smart choices. If you have saved enough money for the 12 day Caribbean cruise and it is important to you, take it. If you don't have the money, then stay off the ship. Spend the time finding things going on around you that are free or very low cost. Unlike the government, we don't have to spend money we don't have."

Another post focused on how our parents and grandparents lived. I suggested several of these approaches would work for us today:
  • Waste Not, Want Not.
  • Pull Yourself Up by Your own Bootstraps and Keep your Nose to the Grindstone.
  • A penny saved is a penny earned.
  • Keep your nose out of other's business.
  • Don't Cry Over Split Milk. The Past is Past.

So, the answer to the question, "How do you manage your finances so that you make sure that you do not run out of money," is actually quite simple. Let me reduce it to these five steps:

1. Save at every opportunity, both before and after retirement. If you think you are saving enough, you are probably wrong. Save more.

2. Spend as if you have less than you do. Under-consumption and living beneath your means are the two essential steps to financial well-being.

3. Take responsibility for your financial future. The minute to stop paying attention or turn it over to someone else is the moment your future is at risk.

4. Realize you have much less control than you think you do. It will help you stay sane in an insane world.

5. Enjoy your life with whatever resources you have. The biggest lie we tell ourselves would begin with the words, " if only I had enough money, I'd..." As far as money is concerned, there is no finish line. There never is a time when you can say, "now I have enough money, so now I'll be happy."

Of course, nothing this important is as simple as just following five steps. But it is a good start.

November 26, 2020

Time for Thanksgiving and Family

The Thanksgiving holiday is a time for family, friends, and a heartfelt thanks for all our blessings. It is time to enjoy a special meal, maybe a football game, sleeping late, and remembering how far we have come on life's journey.

If Covid is making a traditional holiday impossible for you, I sincerely hope that your extended family and relatives are safe and in your mind. If all you can manage is a phone or zoom call, be grateful you can still connect. There are over 265,000  Americans this year who can only be accessed in our memories. 

It is a time to give thanks that the year, 2020, is almost over. There is always a feeling of renewal and fresh possibilities at the start of a new year. All of us will really hope that is true in just 5 weeks.

It is a time for me to thank those who have viewed satisfying retirement blog almost four million times since it began in June of 2010.

It is time for me to thank my regular readers.

It is a time to thank all those who leave comments, send me e-mails, or just let me know they are there. Even when we disagree, we are polite and show each other common courtesy..a rare commodity today.

It is time for me to turn off the computer and join the family.

Give thanks!


November 22, 2020

Imagine If We Treated All Problems This Way: No, Wait. We Do.

We notice a 5-year-old child is struggling with reading. We assume she'll figure it out in time so we ignore the problem. 

By 10 she has fallen behind all her classmates in her ability to comprehend the words in her books. and is at risk of being kept back a grade.

The teacher suggests she spend more time practicing her reading and a little less on video games. Her parents don't seem all that concerned.

At nineteen she finally graduates and tries for a job at a local restaurant but can't read the IRS's W-4 form properly, or even parts of the menu. The owner agrees to use pictures instead of words for each menu item. After all, we are a very visual society.

Far Fetched? Maybe, or maybe not.

Now, take that train of thought and apply it to some of the mess we face in our country at the moment.

The Covid pandemic is sickening 150,000 each day...I say that again...EACH DAY. It has killed over 260,000. The response from tens of millions? It is no biggie. I haven't gotten sick so what's the problem. Wear a mask? And look weak? Restrict my freedoms? This is America. I am free to get sick and make you sick. Where are the hot sports for infection and death at the moment? The two Dakotas, one of which is run by a Governor who refuses to take meaningful steps to save her fellow citizens. 

Frankly, I assumed it was a joke until I read several confirming reports, about a person who died even while denying his Covid case was real. The patient asked the attending nurse to tell him the truth...was it pneumonia, strong flu? Why did he need the tubes and masks if he didn't have the pandemic? This individual literally died while using his last breaths to deny the reality of the virus killing him. That has to be one of the saddest stories I have ever encountered about the harm that a world of "alternate facts" can cause. 

The election from hell drags on. Every time there seems to be a clear path forward someone puts up a barrier. The reality is unable to be faced. So, keep saying "it ain't so" until it ain't. 

You might not like the name, climate change, so call it something that isn't so about "weird weather?" Regardless, whatever its name it is reality. Coastal cities are flooding on a regular basis. Hurricanes are getting more intense and forming more frequently. Places like Phoenix are getting hotter and drier. The desert southwest will become unlivable within my grandchildren's' lifetime. The climate will continue to change whether we want to admit it or not.

How about the looming disaster facing our Social Security benefits, a train wreck that has been right in front of us for at least twenty years. While the exact date is up for debate (like everything else), at some point in the next 15 years or so the payments to Social Security recipients will have to come from the trust fund, something that hasn't happened since 1982. When that happens, benefits will be cut by at least 20%. And, that will be just the first cut, but it will not be the deepest or last. 

All the warnings and all the demographic trends haven't been enough to motivate politicians to do their job for this problem. Like nearly every important issue of the last few decades, those fine folks in Washington wait until the clock has hit 11:59 before even admitting there is a problem. Knowing that a cut in the monthly checks to nearly 79 million of us is looming isn't enough yet to prompt any serious responses.

This leads me back to my story at the beginning. Knowing about a problem and ignoring it too long never produces the best results. Emergency patches always contain glitches or unintended consequences that must be repaired. By waiting until the last minute, or beyond, the lives of tens of millions of us will be balancing on a razor's edge of uncertainty.

During our retirement, I believe the dangers of not facing a problem head-on are substantial. The same logic applies to how everyday problems, challenges, and hard decisions are resolved.

Wouldn't it be refreshing if we started dealing with what we know is coming instead of turning away or simply closing our eyes, looking for the mythical "they" to solve all the problems so we can skip merrily through life?

November 18, 2020

Retiring Overseas: Is It An Option For You?

Over the years, I have written quite a few posts about various housing options we have to choose from for our satisfying retirement.

A few weeks ago, How Covid Might Affect Your Housing Choices attracted some insightful comments. A few years ago, I wrote about a new spiritually-based community taking shape on Hawaii's Big Island. 

If you want to remove yourself from the daily mayhem, how about spending your retirement living on a cruise ship or in an RV? See Unusual Retirement Options for more details. Of course, the debate between aging in place or moving to a planned retirement community is one we are all familiar with. I've written about those options many times, including What's Best: Aging In Place or A Retirement Community. A few months ago, there was When Is It Time To Move Into a CCRC?

Of course, the idea of living somewhere other than the U.S. has been in the headlines over the past several months. Some are overwhelmed by the out-of-control virus that feels like it is becoming a permanent part of our lives. These folks are looking for a place that takes the pandemic seriously and has concrete steps to limit the deaths and disruption.

Others have found the political mayhem a bridge too far. Recent events make it reasonable to assume a change in administration will not solve all the problems; the departing Administration and its Congressional supporters seem determined to make things as disruptive and difficult as possible for the country. With the prospect of years of this narrative, an escape to somewhere else (anywhere else!) begins to sound more attractive.

One option I have not really explored as much is the idea of becoming an ex-pat...moving to another country full time. A few readers live in Mexico for part of the year and have commented before on the cost benefits and friendships they enjoy. Former blogger Sonia Marsh spent a year in Belize. The latest figures indicate that over 9 million Americans live overseas for all or part of the year. This total does not include those who have given up their American citizenship to become citizens of another country.

Because I have no experience or personal insight in this area, I thought it best to take a two-pronged approach. First, here is a list of several websites that seem to do an excellent job of looking at the pros and cons of retiring overseas. Not all are U.S.-based, but it seems their advice is universal enough to be worth the inclusion. Each has a slightly different approach, but are worth looking at if this subject interests you.

The last site listed ( expatexchange) is a tremendous place to go if you have a particular country or continent in mind. There are dozens of links to other sites that provide the specifics you may be looking for.

The Costs of Living Abroad

The Pros and Cons of Retiring Abroad

What To Consider When Retiring Abroad

Expat Exchange: Country by Country Guide

Secondly, I ask anyone living abroad, has thought about living abroad, or was an ex-pat and has returned to their home country to share your expertise with all of us. Obviously, moving to another country is not a step to be taken lightly. Nor should it be dismissed as completely unworkable. If the idea is interesting to you, do yourself a favor and spend some time at these web sites and come back to read the comments from readers.

Who knows. Maybe Satisfying Retirement will be typed while sitting on a South Pacific beach someday.

November 14, 2020

Aging Well, or, Well, Just Aging?

Yes, the title is a play on words, but one that makes sense. Getting older is something we cannot control. Yet, we have a lot of sway over how we age. 

There are examples all around us, in public and private life, in our present and our past. The obvious examples are the two 70+ year-old men who ran for president this time around. The Speaker of the House is 80, the Majority Leader of the Senate is 78. Nearly a dozen members of Congress are in their mid-to-late 80's.

Mick Jaggar is 77, Paul McCartney is 78, Ringo is 80. Bob Dylan is 79. Bruce Springsteen is my age, 71, and rocking harder than I did at any age. Cher is 74, and Tina Turner still has excellent legs at 80.

My dad made it to 91, without a walker or wheelchair, living independently. My son-in-law's dad is fighting Parkinson's Disease, but at 74, attends every weekly family dinner and plays cards well enough to often win.

The point is age no longer defines us like it did a generation or two ago. I was sent an excellent article from the Atlantic magazine by long-time blog reader, David Davidson. I will give the direct link at the end of this post, but I suggest you spend a few minutes reading it yourself. 

The author cites an example that resonates with me: Lyndon Johnson. He was 55 during the first year of his presidency. Look at a picture of him from 1963 or '64. He didn't look like many 55-year-olds I see today. He was more wrinkled and worn out than most of us appear at 70 today. He left the presidency just 5 years later, looking very beaten down, the same age the actor Colin Firth is today. He looks, well, younger.

Most of David Brooks's piece is about Bruce Springsteen, his new album and film. The author is a fan; that much is clear. His point about how we choose to age and continue to grow is important, even if you are not a big follower of 'The Boss." 

He says, "the urge to give something to future generations rises up in people over 65."  I would suggest that empathy and compassion start earlier than Medicare age, but his point is well taken. As we age, we have the chance to turn inward, focusing on our own problems and possibilities. Or, we can look outward toward the larger community for inspiration and satisfaction.

If you have grandkids, you probably know the innate urge to give them unconditional love and support. If you are happily married or in a committed relationship at our age, you are aware of the importance of that other person to help complete you and allow you to support and nurture him or her.

Volunteerism is highest among seniors. The urge to mentor, to teach, to pass along a life's wisdom is a powerful force that helps allow us to age well if we encourage it to thrive.

Just being mindful of the blessings of being alive: touching, tasting, smelling, and seeing all our world has to offer, is a powerful induction to age well.

Here is the article if you are so inclined:

November 10, 2020

Sex and Seniors

The title of this post may generate extra views and spam. Mention sex, and virtually everyone perks up. Even though sex is required for the continuation of the species and is a natural and normal activity as part of a healthy life, the subject comes with tremendous baggage. Some of that baggage is cultural, some religious, some from lack of information, and some from too much information.

Why am I writing about this subject? Because it is a subject that is important but pretty much ignored in the retirement blogging world.

If you are reading for a gratuitous thrill or titillation, you will be disappointed. I am not discussing specific activities, body parts, or anything that may shock you. There will be no YouTube video clip. My intention is a mature discussion, not a wink and snickers interaction.

The questions are really simple: What role does sex play in a relationship as we age? How important is it? How does it change over the years? Is there a way to maintain a romantic feeling without active sex? A change in public perceptions and the place of sex in relationships that don't require marriage means this subject can affect all of us. Single, widowed, doesn't change the importance.

Plenty of studies indicate that our improved health allows for sexual activity to extend well into our later years. Common wisdom used to be that "senior citizens" didn't engage in sexual activity after a certain age, often by 60. But, recent studies rebuke that. In fact, a federal study released a few years ago found that at least a quarter of respondents still were sexually active in their 70's and 80's. The decline in sexual activity can be traced as much to being alone after the death of a partner as to physical or psychological reasons.

It is true that sexual activity does taper down for many in their late 50's. But, it certainly doesn't have to stop. There may be changes in the type of activities undertaken, but total cessation is usually not necessary.

There are obvious physical changes that happen to our bodies. Embarrassment over sags and bags can prevent someone from feeling comfortable during lovemaking. Male and female bodies may not perform the way we want them to as we age. While pills or other medications can help, the result isn't as natural or spontaneous as we remember.

So, what should be done? What can be done?

The most important answer is no different when you are 60 or 70 than when you were 20 or 30: become engaged in sexual activity for the right reasons, like love and companionship, not become someone wants you to or you feel you are "supposed to."  From what I have read, the pressure to have sex doesn't stop just because a certain birthday is reached. And, that type of pressure is wrong at any age.

Your doctor can determine if you are healthy enough for any type of sexual activity. Various medications can be prescribed if the need is indicated. Probably every single one of us would be hesitant to discuss this with a doctor. But, I think you will find your physician understands how important sex can be to your emotional and physical well-being so they should be strongly supportive.

Other web sites dealing with this subject offer plenty of options for maintaining the physical or romantic side of a relationship even if sexual activity is not possible. Holding hands while walking or cuddling on the sofa while watching a movie together allows for the power of touch. Hugging and kissing can be quite pleasant at any age.

Having a regular "date night" could mean a meal at a favorite restaurant (maybe not at the moment, but you get the drift)  followed by a walk together while holding hands and window shopping. Or, it could mean shutting off the computers and cell phones, lighting a few candles while dimming the lights, and watching a movie together at home. The key is to make time to be with each other without interruptions. Sex doesn't have to be on the menu for a date night to be memorable and meaningful.

The web site romanceclass had an excellent summary of the way to think about non-sexual romantic activities: "Intimacy is all about two people forming a connection and bond between them. That involves becoming best friends, trusting each other, knowing each other, understanding each other. A couple holding hands and sitting together quietly, watching a sunset, can be FAR more intimate and connected than sex. Intimacy is grown and developed; it can't be rushed."

Absolutely. I guess if I throw in my 2 cents worth (and I probably should), keeping the romance alive is a very important part of a satisfying retirement. If it involves fulfilling, consensual sexual activity that is great. If it involves looking into each other's eyes, holding hands, giving a shoulder rub after a tough day, or simply giving your full attention when your partner wants to talk, that will heighten your intimacy and satisfaction every bit as much.

One thing we can be thankful for: the pressure to perform in one way, and one way only, is something most of us left back in our youth. Life and love are so much richer when you engage all your senses and your mind instead of just your body.

If you'd like some additional thoughts, this is a good web article: Sex As You Age.

Now, wasn't it nice to not think about a virus for a few minutes!

Note: a heartfelt thank you to all the expressions of concern and support in the comment section of the last post, Goodbye Dear Bailey. It meant a lot to Betty and me that you shared your experiences and let us know we were not alone in our feelings of loss and pain.

November 8, 2020

Goodbye, Dear Bailey


Have you ever had a pet that when it passed away, left you crouched on a closet floor, crying and yelling out in pain and loss?  

Have you ever made the decision to end a dog or cat's life, sure you are doing what is best for the animal but still agonizing over the decision, wondering if you could have done more?

When we bring a pet into our lives, we accept the reality that one day it will leave us, that its all too brief life will mark us for the rest of our days, with great joy and almost unbearable grief.

And, we willingly do it again and again. In our case, Bailey was our fifth dog in the 44 years of our marriage. Each time we said goodbye, our insides broke, and our home was instantly quiet, still, and empty.

Human beings have a bond with a pet that really defies reason. We know it will break our hearts, but we keep putting ourselves back on the path of certain loss. I have never had a cat, but I assume that the relationship is just as strong. 

What does a dog in your life do? It teaches responsibility, it alters your life, it makes you think of another living creature that is totally dependent on you for its survival and comfort. It demands little, just the chance to share its heart with you.

Bailey was near death in early July. She had begun bleeding internally. After thousands of dollars and what seemed like oceans of tears, we brought her home to die with family. A tumor on her liver was large and inoperable because of her spontaneous bleeding problems. While steroids and other meds kept her comfortable, she was obviously struggling.

Literally, one hour before we were to take her to the vet to be put to sleep, she suddenly started to perk up. She got up, wanted to play, and started acting like a puppy...a healthy puppy. She ran around the house, wanting to tug on her favorite toys. She begged to go outside to explore. We knew in our hearts her time was limited, but we saw it as a blessing that she could be part of the family for a while longer.

In mid-October, things started deteriorating again. She couldn't catch her breath, stopped wanting to leave the house for walks, lost most of her appetite, and was showing us it was time for us to let her go.

October 26th, we said goodbye to our darling dog. While surrounded by family, crouched on the floor of a room at the pet hospital, she slipped into a deep sleep, and within a few seconds, her chest stopped moving. The vet nodded to confirm what was obvious. 

The next day, I was a basket case, tearing up, crying, and despondent. At the exact time she had died 24 hours earlier, I lost it, worse than I remember for any of our other pets. She was Daddy's girl and never left my side. Now, that space was a painful hole.

A few days later, I had regained control of my emotions. I was able to look at pictures of her and smile. I could laugh and relive memories of the great times we had together. I still have moments when I look for her or say her name, but they are less frequent.

At some point, it is likely Betty and I will decide to ask another dog to share some of our life. We will find a rescue dog that needs a home, love, attention, and everything we can do to make its time with us special.

Why this post, now? After a political and election season that refuses to end, I wanted to focus on something that involved pure love and sharing. I needed to remember something so good and positive in my life, untouched by discord. For over eight years, something that was a daily reminder that loving and being loved is powerful and affirming.

Goodbye, Dear Bailey. Thank you for the gift of your personality, your love, and for sharing your life with us. You will never be forgotten.