November 27, 2021

Building Friendships Takes Work

 


I have lots of acquaintances. I have made some good friends through blogging, both virtually and in person. Even though I am happy with my own company, I understand that having a few companions can make this time of life more fulfilling. Having someone to turn to during a tough time can make a problem less fearful.  Before making a decision, asking for an opinion from a trusted source helps us make a wise choice. What are the characteristics we look for when asking someone else into our life?  

One of the keys is the ability to share openly. If we are with someone and we must constantly watch what we say or self-censor too much, then a real friendship is unlikely. Sharing both joys and sorrows is critical to a meaningful friendship. That can't happen if communication isn't open and expressive. We shouldn't be hesitant to open up to a real friend.

Be willing to try and experience new things together is a good test of friendship. When any of us leave our comfort zone there is some tension and nervousness present. Even something as simple as trying a different cuisine because your friend likes it can reveal a lot about the state of the relationship. Traveling might be a good test. Being together for several days while away from the security of home and routine can quickly test a budding friendship. If you can laugh together at misfortunes and share great experiences, then a deep friendship may be possible.

A core of common ideas and the acceptance of different beliefs must both be present. While these points might seem contradictory, I believe they are critical. Common beliefs might include the importance of respect for other people, that discrimination has no place in our society, or that children deserve the very best we can provide. 

Obviously forefront in our lives today seems to be highlighting differences in place of similarities. Where we stand spirituality, politically or in one of a dozen hot-button issues of the day can make finding people to share time with seem like a continuous struggle. For a deeper relationship, these differences can't be used as a wedge or weapon. Honest disagreements should create a stronger bond between two people that value that relationship.

There must be no pressure to "perform." Think back to a dating relationship you had. Small talk and overt politeness are part of that world. We want to present our best possible face to the other person. But, in a true friendship, it is perfectly OK for one person to be having a bad day and admit it. We don't have to always look or feel our best all the time. That isn't real life and friends don't want someone to put up a front or play a part. "Dress-up" isn't part of this type of relationship.


There must be a sincere interest to learn more about that person. Nothing could be more unfulfilling than to spend time with someone over a long period of time and never learn more about each other. That would mean one or both people are being dishonest about their feelings and needs. It would mean that the relationship would never become more than skin-deep.

Many people much wiser than I have made the point that friendship brings depth and joy to someone's life. True friendship is a special gift that two people give to each other. As Proverbs notes, "Disregarding another person's faults preserves love." Deep friendship can be an essential part of a life lived well and fully.

Luckily, my wife is my best friend, and my family (daughters, son-in-law, and grandkids) are a close second. My retired life feels nicely complete because I am surrounded by people who let me be me while still inviting me into their lives.

November 25, 2021

Giving Thanks

 Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It is four days of family, food, relaxation, and no gift-giving pressure. I refuse to participate in the insanity of Black Friday. In fact, unless it is to visit family I make it a point to not leave the house. 


My life is blessed. I know that and I thank God every day for it. I also know it could be taken away from me, or someone I love, in an instant so I take no precious moments for granted. It is truly a satisfying journey.




I wish for you and your family a happy, joyous, and peaceful Thanksgiving weekend. Whatever your circumstances you have something to be thankful for. Dwell on that for a while.



If you have a special Thanksgiving memory, or someone you want to wish an extra-special weekend, here's your chance!

November 22, 2021

What Does All This Mean?


I had experiences twice in the past few weeks that were firsts for me. I visited a chain fast food restaurant to get something quick for Betty. She had just finished a medical procedure that required fasting; she was very hungry.

Inside, I was greeted with a sign that listed several standard ingredients and supplies that were unavailable. 

A few days earlier I entered another well-known chain to see two middle-aged men without the usual clothing of the company, along with two harried teenagers. trying to accommodate both the drive-through customers and those of us at the counter all while running the various cooking appliances and putting together the orders.

It is not my usual practice to be at fast food places very often, so maybe what I saw is the new normal. I am well aware of supply chain problems and the  phenomenon of low-paid workers walking away from burger-flipping positions. But, until last week I hadn't seen the direct impact on what has been a regular part of American Life.

These instances raised a question for me: will Covid and all its effects on both health and attitudes begin to force a fundamental readjustment in part of our social structure? Will a culture built on instant gratification and workers always available to take care of our needs have to rethink this foundational mindset?

The supply-chain issue should not come as a surprise. Yes, Covid has made it difficult for finished products and raw materials to move from place to place. Shutdowns and illness have thrown a monkey wrench into a system built around the idea of "just in time." Keeping inventory limited, knowing that restocking something was just a phone call or computer click away, has shown its vulnerability.

It made quite clear what happens when an economy that is built around having supplies scattered all over the world, suffers a disruption. For those of us old enough to remember the oil embargo of 1973, we watched as things began to shut down, gas stations had lines stretching for miles, and our economic system and national security were being seriously disrupted.

Now, with that lesson way back in our past, we are more dependent than ever on other countries to keep things humming. China is a major problem for us in the world, yet that country owns over 1 trillion dollars of American debt, and simultaneously, is the most important supplier of products that we have come to depend on.

The second part of the "fast food" lesson I learned is the direct impact of both Covid and an awareness that the "invisible" workers are essential to our business model. I quickly add that the term, "invisible workers" is not a judgment on the quality or type of work being done, rather it refers to all the people who work out of sight and are not part of our daily thoughts.

Think of many hospital workers and staff, truck drivers, clerks in retail, warehouses, and grocery stores, and the two teens I saw at the burger place. Think about the people who restock the shelves at the grocery store or the neighborhood Walgreens. When we stop to think about it, the list includes most of the people who keep our world working.

What is happening is that these employees are realizing they have some real power to change the equation that has left them behind any economic recovery. Millions of workers have decided that the wages offered by the companies they work for are unlivable and demeaning. With the demand for people to restaff, these folks are refusing to go back to the old model of minimum wage for long hours. They have the newfound economic clout to hold out for better wages and benefits. 

Consequently, the impact of our dependence on a worldwide supply chain to respond instantly to our needs along with the realization by many on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder that they have more bargaining power than ever before might cause a basic adjustment in how we live.

Being able to order anything we want at any time, expecting shelves to always have 50 different kinds of cereals, and becoming frustrated if our time in the drive-through window is longer than 30 seconds, we may find that Covid has done more than kill 775,000 Americans and over 5 million human beings worldwide. 

Maybe it exposed some inherent weaknesses in a system built around getting whatever we want, whenever we want it, at a price that harms those who provide that service. Maybe we will understand the costs of a society built around convenience and choice at any cost. Maybe Covid and its aftermath will teach us the value of patience and placing value on everyone who works at whatever job they hold, be it a doctor or a shelf stocker.

The next few years will reveal whether we have learned some valuable lessons this time.


November 18, 2021

Planning Your Own Retirement Party


For the last 20 years of my career, I worked for myself. So, I never had a retirement party. Frankly, I don't know they are still a thing. I'm pretty sure the gold watch cliche is history. But, a party of co-workers gathering to wish someone well as retirement begins probably continues.

What I want to do with this post is to use our imagination. Plan what others would say about you as you turned in your name badge for the last time.

What would fellow employees remember most about you? What uniqueness did you bring with you to work? Would clients miss your weekly sales calls?  Would people you see every day be happy for you...or envious? Will your former students stay in touch through the years?

I completely understand the idea of thanking someone for years of work, for dependability, for putting the job (whatever it is) before personal concerns from time to time. We all like a pat on the back and a "thank you" for a job well done. Even so, the concept of what retirement is and what it can be has changed so much over the last generation that a farewell party may be passe. 

Driveby teacher thank you.

When my parents retired, for example, they were about to start what every one of their generation expected after years of work. Whether it was my dad's engineering and sales positions, or mom's decades of teaching, their parties made the standard jokes about rocking chairs, long vacations, and sleeping late. 

Schedules and requirements were seen as ending. The hidden, or unspoken message was implied: "Your productive life is over. Relax and enjoy your sunset years."

Today, that is not how most people I know, those who I interact with on this blog or read about on the Internet, think about retirement. Yes, there is a major life shift after leaving the world of work. For too many their personal identity is so wrapped up in their employment status that they feel adrift, without purpose, and invisible.

But, I would hope that those who read this blog, and others, have come to the conclusion that not only is retirement not the end of anything, but actually the start of a stage of life filled with a sense of freedom and possibility that most of of us have not experienced since early childhood.

If this is true, then how do we plan our own retirement party? I think there are a few elements that should be included. Firstly, if you have worked for a company and with other people for a period of time, it is proper to thank them for what you have learned, been allowed to contribute, and being made to feel valued. 

If your co-workers want to throw you a farewell party, by all means, allow it and react with graciousness and good humor, even if there are foam tombstones and old geezer baseball caps presented as gag gifts. Likely, there is affection and a feeling of loss at your departure. A retirement party can be a form of grieving for some people. Your presence will sincerely be missed. The party is also a reminder that time is passing for all of us and someday we will be the person being given a desk plate and silly coffee mug.

The second part of your own retirement party should be a period of reflection. What parts of yourself were well utilized at work? What skills and talents did you develop? Importantly, what did not get a chance to shine, to be explored, to be exposed? What parts of you were left on the shelf?

Why dredge up those thoughts? Because, starting now, you have the permission, the freedom, even a strong need to bring those parts of you out of hiding. Open the storage door wide and allow the parts of you left in the dark for too long to shine, to be put to use, to be explored.

Part three of your retirement party comes later. It starts on the day you stop defining yourself by what you once did and frame the narrative around what you want to be, what you could be. This is when the retirement phase of life truly begins.

After any "official" going away party, I urge you to throw your own retirement party.  The most fascinating, creative, and fulfilling stage of life deserves nothing less.


November 14, 2021

Why Is It So Hard To Buy A New Car?


We have been without a second car for almost two years. At the time we donated the older car to a charity, Betty was a bit worried about the loss of freedom another car provides and about scheduling conflicts. Early on there were a few times when each wanted to be somewhere at a time that caused a problem for the other. Careful schedule coordination was required.

Within the past five months, I have accepted some additional volunteer commitments that mean driving somewhere. At the same time, our doctor appointments have shown an increase. One car has become an obstacle that is increasingly difficult to overcome.

Another factor is the poor gas mileage of our 2011 small SUV. Overall, even after 100,000 miles, it is performing well. This particular car was chosen for its ability to be towed behind an RV that we no longer own. So, its size is more than we require, and its appetite for gas and the pollution it produces grates on us.

We came to the logical conclusion: keep the SUV for occasional trips or chores that require extra room. Get a plug-in hybrid for everyday trips and 90% of our driving needs.

Unfortunately, right now vehicles are about as scarce as a TV without a remote. Forget about finding a new car that matches our criteria and comes in a color we could accept. Used cars? Just as bad. Plus, prices have inflated beyond reason.

Computer chips, metal, and plastic, fabric for upholstery...all the parts that go into an automobile are either stuck on a container ship somewhere or waiting to be made in a factory in southeast Asia. Repair parts for the vehicle we do own? Availability is hit or miss. Just pray something that is unique to a 2011 Honda CRV isn't needed anytime soon.

This puts us in a position we have never considered before: leasing a car that isn't one we would want to buy, but having it as a second vehicle until what we would like to buy becomes available.

With a lease, I have to pay a few thousand dollars in cash upfront and make regular payments for the use of the car, normally for 3 years. At the end of that time, I turn the car in, pay for any excess mileage or wear and tear, and walk away with nothing to show for the money I have spent over that period. In essence, I am renting the car. But, I am not paying for depreciation.

The key question we have is important: can a lease be terminated early if we want to buy a car? Will the dealer agree to such an arrangement?  As another option, can we lease a vehicle for one year, or two instead of three? Twelve months from today I have to believe new hybrid cars will be more readily available. 

Yet another option is to find a car, either new or used, that is acceptable and buy it. It may not be the brand, model, or color we would prefer, but it is just transportation. Neither of us bases any of our identity on the car parked in the garage. As long as the mileage is much better than the SUV we would feel less a part of the pollution problem. 

With our FICO score, I am sure we could find something that had zero, or very close to zero, interest. A decent down payment would mean monthly payments within budget, though a bit more than a lease. And, we wouldn't need to worry about an occasional spill, dog pawprint, or a scratch or two.

Then, in another year or so, when the hybrid plug-in we want becomes available, we could dump the SUV and have the car we originally wanted. Maybe, at that point, one car would be enough again, so the other newer vehicle could be part of the trade-in.

Not as easy as it should be, right?  Keep driving the SUV, hope it doesn't break down, and wait for the plug-in we want, or, lease a car for a few years, or, get a car that is OK for now, then buy the hybrid when they become available in sufficient choices. 

Frankly, I could choose any of the three options and be alright with the decision. But, I know you, dear reader, will offer sage advice and point out something I may have overlooked. So, comments, please.

I promise to let you know what is the ultimate outcome of this unexpected complication in what is normally a simple calculation.


November 10, 2021

What's So Wrong With Relaxing?


If the enforced isolation and social distancing of the last 20 months have taught me anything, it is that not being busy all the time is really a delightful thing. Not driving to an appointment, deciding right now is not the only time to get a new pair of shoes, or dressing up for dinner at a restaurant when the pantry is fully stocked. 

Of course, there is a new book I want to pick up at the library even though I have three yet to be finished on the side table. An online course catches my eye. Yes, it will require several hours a week of study and reading but, hey, I am stuck inside anyway. Yet, I postpone a decision to sign up.

Our minds often seem to be happiest when they are the busiest. Planning, projecting ourselves and our circumstances into the future makes the mind tingle with firing neurons. Reliving the past allows us to rewrite our motivations or decisions, some of which turned out well, some not so much.

The present is well, just present. Society has been put into a kind of deep freeze, so there is not much to do or think about unless it is to worry about toilet paper shortages.

Do these paragraphs kind of resonate with you? They certainly did for me. I have a low threshold of boredom. (So far) Covid has left me free of disease. But, it has had a rather interesting effect on my daily performance. I have discovered that not having multiple things lined up to do is not a bad place to be. 

I learned that I need not be afraid of silence, of quiet times, of inactivity for a while. I found that my mind can operate quite nicely, thank you, without constant outside stimulation. I can be very good company for myself.

For the last five months, Betty and I have begun the day with 10 minutes of meditation.  Sometimes it is guided by a pleasant-voiced man who helps us focus on some aspect of our life.

Other days we will choose to start and end with a simple gong; silence and our thoughts fill the gap. It has become enough of a habit that without it the day fills a little off-kilter. Studies show meditation helps seniors with stress, better sleep patterns, memory, and mental clarity, so we feel good about investing a few minutes a day.

Obviously, I have restarted this blog. The writing and taking the focus away from all retirement topics have made the creative process enticing again. Since all that is needed is a laptop and some quiet time, this almost post-Covid time has been the perfect opportunity to see where things go.

The weather is finally becoming pleasant enough for time on the back patio, with coffee, a book, maybe a sketchpad, or simply the sounds and sights of nature. A reinstalled hummingbird feeder has started to attract several of the tiny wings-never-stop creatures. 

Because my painting skills are strictly amateur level, I can relax even when facing a blank canvas. I have fun mixing colors and trying to create something recognizable. If the end result doesn't please me, I do not hesitate to cover the canvas with white gesso and start anew. Surprisingly to me, stress is never present during this time.

Yes, I remain busy with my volunteer work with the local library system's Friends organization. I am on a steering committee with United Way to help build a retiree group. I even joined the Rotary Club while in Kauai last month. That involves some time and money but keeps me semi-connected to the island.

So, it is not as if I am sitting and vegetating. But, when I decide to do something I think the decision is a bit more considered, with a bit more purpose than before. I have learned how to satisfy my buzzing brain while keeping my body mostly still and at rest.

Reading is one of the real joys of my life. The Covid lockdown followed by steps out of my safe zone has allowed me to indulge this passion. I get excited when I find a new author, or at least new to me, who knows how to write well, build characters, plot, and drama. At the same time, as the Internet privacy post demonstrated, non-fiction is part of my reading palette.

Since this is where this side trip seems appropriate, let me take a slight detour and list just a few books I have enjoyed over the past few months. If a title intrigues you, take a look:

Nine Perfect Strangers  by Liane Moriarty (a series on Hulu.. the book is better)

A Trick of The Light by Louise Penny

Mercy Falls by William Kent Kruger

The Voice Catchers  by Joseph Turow

Why Christianity must change by John Shelby Spong


Relaxation is assumed to be one of the primary benefits of retirement. After working for twenty, thirty, even forty years that makes sense. Yet, our mind has been working at such a pace for so long, relaxing just seems wrong, like a waste of our potential.

I bought into that perception for way too long. As I move through my seventh decade, I am realizing that the opposite is really true. At least for me, my fullest sense of potential comes when there is no one pressuring me to complete something. When I have the time and space to think and consider my actions and my options, and how  I spend my energy and time, the end results seem better.


November 6, 2021

Two People At Home: Not The Simplest Arrangement

Part of the post, Passionate about the Possibilities and Honest About the Realities, dealt with adjustments to marriage after retirement. Certainly, the same problems can exist in any committed relationship, married or not. For single folks, I would suggest there are just as many pitfalls that have to be faced. Let me address some of the situations most of us will face upon leaving work. I know, because I had to deal with almost all of them.

What is one of the most important questions that cannot be answered until it happens? "How will my home life change after I retire?" 

If you are the person leaving work, you are wondering about managing your time and staying busy. If you happen to be the person already at home you are wondering what is going to happen when your partner is around the house 24 hours a day. If the couple is like Betty and me with both people retiring together, these potential stumbling blocks definitely appear.

Figures that specify the divorce rate among retired folks are a little hard to come by. But, for married people over 50, the divorce rate has more than doubled in the last 25 years. Some lawyers report up to 25% of their clients are men and women over 65.

Certainly, there are lots of reasons for a marriage to end. But, a severe strain on a relationship can occur when at-home routines are disturbed by a newly retired spouse. Also, the reason for retiring can affect what happens at home. Being forced from work leaves a much different taste in one's mouth than voluntarily ending employment at a particular job.

Some of the problems that often arise when a newly-retired spouse or partner is suddenly home full-time are well documented:

  • The retiree has lost a major source of self-identity. Especially for men of my generation, so much of who we are is defined by our job. When that ends there is a shock to the ego and we can feel cut off from society. Men have to find a new way to define themselves outside of work or activities.
  • When the blush of sleeping late wears off, there is the realization of diminished income. Suddenly, expenses that were not questioned can become points of argument.
  • Seeing that other person all day, every day can quickly wear thin if the partners do not have a healthy relationship. After building parallel lifestyles for decades, their time is suddenly shared with just one other person. Folks discover they have little in common and very little to talk about.
A quote I keep in my files for use in posts like this comes from Dr. Larry Anderson: "There has been much less investigation of women’s retirement experience. It is reported that, as working couples age, men report greater marital satisfaction than women. Comparing men's and women’s retirement is somewhat like comparing apples and oranges. For instance, women are more likely to work part-time.  Women may have more interests outside of work and thus have less of an adjustment when retiring."

I would speculate that younger generations will produce more meaningful data in this regard. As women continue to be a significant part (if not the majority) of the workforce, there will be instances when the husband has retired and is at home, while his wife continues to remain employed. When she stops working, how will the dynamics change? 

The good news is there are definite actions that can be taken before things reach such a critical state. 

Communicate Openly.
Communication both before and after retirement is essential. Some of us are generally less likely to want to "talk," but in this case, self-interest dictates that we do. 

It is important that couples discuss their expectations for retirement from a personal perspective, such as interests, goals, even long-range goals. 

In addition, discussions from the couple's point of view are just as critical. What activities will be shared, what goals are the same, even intimacy issues.

Setting Boundaries. We all have different needs for "alone" and "together" time. To ignore that reality is harmful to the relationship. There must be a balance between "separateness" (personal privacy, pursuing individual hobbies, spending time with friends) and "togetherness" (participating in joint activities and socializing as a couple).

Don't forget to discuss time spent with family and friends, both his and hers. Women tend to have a stronger social circle of female friends while guys don't. Men can get jealous if his wife is busy with friend activities while he sits at home.

Obviously, that is his problem to solve by making friends, taking on new activities, and building an interesting life outside the home. But, just because he is the one with the friend deficit doesn't mean both partners shouldn't discuss the issue.

 Prepare for the loss of how you have defined yourself. The end of work can lead to feelings of depression, or of being worthless. One or both partners may have health limitations that must be dealt with.

Couples need to recognize this can be a serious problem. Working together to help each other feel a sense of fulfillment through other activities is important. This is where hobbies, interests outside the home, volunteering or discovering a new passion become so important.

Designate household tasks. This is one of the biggies. Deciding the role of each partner in keeping a household functioning is more important than many couples realize. A common source of conflict for retired couples involves the division of labor in the home. Will the division of chores that existed before retirement still work? Will the retired spouse be expected to divide tasks more equally? This needs to be discussed. Making assumptions can spell big trouble.

The number one complaint from women whose husbands have retired falls into this category. Assuming they operated with a "traditional" division of chores before retirement, the wife gets unhappy very quickly when suddenly she is expected to prepare three meals a day, plus do the shopping, laundry, and housecleaning like she did when he was gone 8 hours a day. Hubby is perceived to be expecting to waited on hand and foot as a just reward for working all those years.

That attitude will not fly. Younger men are much better at handling their fair share of the chores even before retirement. But, for some reason social expectations are that the female continues to be responsible for the "inside" stuff while the man will take care of maintenance and outside chores. The problem is obvious: there isn't nearly as much "outside" work on a daily basis. Plus, as we age we are more likely to hire someone to do repair and maintenance chores, so the husband's responsibilities disappear.

Just for full disclosure, I have done my own laundry my entire married life. I plan and cook half the dinners each week. My wife and I rotate house cleaning chores every two weeks, as well as who empties the dishwasher and makes the bed. At least in this area, we never have disagreements. Guys...it is worth it.

A partnership only works if there is a sense of sharing, the good and the bad. That sharing becomes even more important after retirement. Take the time and make the effort.

Retirement is a major life adjustment. Take the time to think about what will happen. Then, take the steps needed to make your time with another person one of joy and contentment, not one of turf battles and resentment.

Single folks: Communication and setting boundaries apply just as much when there is one person at home. How you spend your time will be tested by requests from friends, volunteer organizations, even your own family. Be firm in how much of yourself you are willing to parcel out to others.
 

November 2, 2021

Two "Laws" to Consider


Recently, I read two "laws," philosophical phrases that pack a lot of truth into just a few words. The first is known as Stein's Law-"Things that can't go on forever don't." The second is referred to as Davies's Corollary-"Things that can't go on forever can go on much longer than you think." What a clever way to summarize the human condition, and to highlight the cause of so many of our problems. 

I am looking at these phrases from a few different perspectives. The first is the sadness we all feel when something really good ends. Think about a memorable experience from your childhood. Maybe the whole family was together for a picnic, everyone laughing, playing and enjoying each other's company. Or, that Christmas morning when the one toy you had hoped would be under the tree, was.

Your first date might qualify. Maybe it was homecoming, or with a group of friends. Possibly it was your first solo date with someone; no parents or wise-cracking friends anywhere around. Nerves, terror, anticipation, giddiness, and then what you had dreamed about for weeks comes to an end. A profound mixture of joy, relief, and sadness wash over you. Of course, if that first date did not go as you has dreamed it would, then a welcome release at the end: "Who knew three hours could last so long?"

Anything that we engage in, has a conclusion. Whatever the experience or feeling, good or not-so-good, has an end. 

The second statement is also very true. In this case, it seems that this truism is more often the case when we are in a not-so-pleasant situation. I remember quite vividly feeling several times, over a three-month period, that Army basic training would never end. It did and I survived; I am pretty sure I actually matured and grew more self-confidence during that cold and wet time at Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri. But, those three months looked endless as I stepped off that bus.

Covid and all its ramifications certainly have seemed to go on much longer than I expected. Who would have thought we would be within 4 months of registering two years of this assault. Things that can't go on forever sometimes seem like they can.

I think how we respond to either of these phrases tells us a lot about ourselves. When we were younger didn't we live as if things do go on forever? The future is simply too far ahead to worry. 

Age has a habit of bringing the last part of that first statement into focus. Things in our life that we always assume will continue, don't. A relationship falters, a job ends, illness and a body not built to last let us down. Years of denying poor health and personal maintenance practices catch up with us.

Yet, as an optimist, I accept the first truism but absolutely believe in the second. Yes, my life has an expiration date. Unlike a carton of milk, I have no idea when that is, but I know it will happen.

in the meantime, I lean into the idea that my future will last longer than I know. I will take that extra time to explore what being a human means, love passionately and fully, spread joy, and relish the wonder of human existence.

When my future finally ends, I won't look back in regret that I spent whatever time I am given worrying about that invisible expiration date. 

October 29, 2021

Food Delivered To My Door...A Good Thing?


Being isolated for months by Covid forced us to alter several normal behaviors. One that has become obvious to me is the concept of food delivery to our homes. Both grocery and individual meal delivery have become major businesses. Actually, grocery delivery to homes started in the 1990s though it never really caught on.

Fast forward a decade. Being able to compile an order on a computer and have it ready for pickup became a viable option. Not surprisingly, Amazon was the first major company to try its hand at mastering the complexities of online order fulfillment. Amazon Fresh began in 2007 in select cities. In 2013 Walmart began to offer something similar.

Without turning this post into a history of grocery chain development, suffice it to say the outbreak of social isolation in early 2020 solidified the benefits and expanded the offerings. When it became clear that normal trips to the grocery store were not going to happen, Betty and I went the route of stocking up our pantry with several weeks' worth of food. Places like Walmart and Safeway offered special hours when only seniors were allowed in the store. With masks, social distancing, and lots of hand sanitizers, we would leave the house every few weeks to restock. Even so, it was nerve-wracking since this was before vaccination availability for many.

While we were venturing forth, a lot of the American public was making other choices: picking up bags of food that someone else plucked from the shelves and delivered to the car's trunk, or having those same bags deposited by the front door. While I can't find figures that always agree, somewhere between 33% and 45% of us have ordered our food online for pickup or delivery, at least once in the past 18 months.

Those who track these things are unsure what the future will look like. During pandemic times, use skyrocketed. But, when either Covid has run its course or we have enough vaccinated people to feel safer, what will happen? Will we be spoiled by the convenience of someone else doing the hard part? Or, do we miss walking the aisles to make our own decisions? Will delivery services make too many mistakes for us to trust them? Will the price of delivery start to outweigh the pluses? Or, have we found an easier way of living that we want to keep?

Do we consider the economic impact of the delivery vans and cars, or make the argument that our vehicle is not on the street; multiple deliveries by one driver have less impact on the environment? 

Ponder all that for a moment while I switch gears to ask about individual meal delivery. GrubHub, Door Dash, Postmates, Uber Eats....each month brings new companies to our attention. They all provide the same service: meals ordered from a restaurant or fast-casual restaurant are picked up and brought to you. For a fee, delivery charge, and a tip, getting that  Big Mac Combo or four-cheese lasagna dinner (with garlic bread and salad) no longer has to mean leaving your home. Specialty companies will deliver a week's worth of healthy, vegan, meat, or other mixture in a box and leave it by your door.

Staying socially distant has never been so easy. If your budget allows for it, why drive across town? Enjoy the same meal in front of your own TV screen or on the patio. No risk of rushed waiters, screaming babies, or a waitlist of 45 minutes. 

For others, eating a meal at a restaurant is considered a special treat. No cooking, no cleanup, an extensive menu, being served by someone else, seeing other human beings enjoying themselves, and I really want to get out of my house!

I will admit to being conflicted about this meal-at-home delivery option. The added costs make a relatively simple meal more expensive. I am a firm believer in dealing face-to-face with a waitperson, interacting with them, and leaving a generous tip for catering to me. Giving the same money to someone who drives the meal to my door doesn't have the same attraction.

Yet, there are times when getting dressed up (even a little) is beyond me. Dealing with traffic, parking, and that loud TV over the bar playing a soccer match from Romania turns me off. Home delivery becomes a special treat.

At least for my family, grocery delivery has never really been a draw. Even though we shop with a list, there are additions, a change of plan, or something that just appeals to us. That spontaneousness cannot occur when ordering online.  

Individual meal delivery is more likely to become part of our routine. There is a cost, but usually less than a restaurant experience. Every now and then not having to cook and clean is worth a premium.

How about you? Online or in-person? Delivery or pickup/stay and eat? Each of us has probably seen a change in attitude since the spring of 2020. I am fascinated to learn what you are choosing to do.


October 25, 2021

When Radio Was A Thing

courtesy Joe Haupt Wikipedia

I am sure you grew up listening to the radio. The day you received that first transistor radio was a big deal. There was probably one station that you called your favorite. You knew the DJ's names and what made them fun to listen to. Maybe one of them even showed up at your school to host a sock hop; that was a big deal.

There were some hit songs you just couldn't hear often enough. When you got your driver's license, one of the buttons on the radio became yours: no one touched your station. When a favorite song started, the instinct was to crank up the volume and sing along at the top of your lungs.

It is no surprise that this relationship with a radio station doesn't exist anymore. Oh sure, there may be a person hosting a talk show that you make an effort to hear. But, the days of DJs and music are gone. Just like streaming video channels are rapidly replacing cable TV and even movie theaters, streaming music services are the go-to choice. No commercials, no chatter from a fast-talking announcer, nothing that interrupts the constant flow of music. Spotify, Prime Music, Pandora...take your pick. They all provide instant access to millions of songs when you want to listen.

I miss the days when radio announcers were an exciting addition to the music-listening experience. Today, a DJ talking over the beginning of a song, stopped just a split second before the vocal part begins, is irritating (and almost never heard). 

For me, being able to do that was a point of professional pride. I would practice for hours to make sure I could deliver a rapid-fire patter of promotion or simply energy and song identification, stopping within a half-second of what was known as "stepping on the vocal." Still talking while the artist or group started the lyrics upset listeners, but also marked the announcer as not up to professional standards. 

I will admit that I still practice that "skill" in a car. The local oldies station is mostly announcer-free. So, as I am rolling down the highway, rocking out to The Stones or BTO, I will "talk up" the song, and give myself a fist pump if I "hit the post," or stop when the singing starts. Silly? Yes. Irritating to Betty? No, she is used to it. I will say that if the grandkids are in the car, they think old Grandad is a little odd.

I also believe radio lost a big chunk of its influence when it was no longer local. I am not spilling a big secret if I tell you that for stations that still have announcers at all, virtually all of them are located in some major city, far removed from where their voice originates on a local radio station. 

Their "show" is actually just them recording their talk segments. Then, those are inserted into the music programming for that hour by computer and eventually delivered to the local station by satellite or Internet. "Local" radio is local the way the Burger King down the street is "local."  All the possibilities for a true personality, talking about a local issue or problem are gone. The DJ is polished and professional, but she or he will never be at your school mixer. They are now faceless voices.

Jethro Tull
It was quite a kick for a 21 or 22-year-old guy to introduce a major rock act in front of a concert venue of 2,000 screaming fans. 

Spending time with the likes of Rod Stewart, Jethro Tull, or Bob Seger before and after the show was exhilarating. Being asked for an autograph, being featured on the weekly music survey available at local record stores (remember those?), and being a minor, local celebrity was a real kick. Of course, eventually, I grew up and decided to earn my living in another area of broadcasting. But, while it lasted, it was a hoot. No great surprise, it fed my ego and made me feel like a success.

Bob Seger & his band

That experience is gone. If some teen or young adult says he or she wants to be a DJ, they mean the type who mixes music on a stage in front of a 1,000 writhing dancers, not the voice on a radio. I am not sure anyone under 35 even connects the term DJ with what comes out of a speaker.

Music remains an important part of my life, even if I am not being paid to play it. Today, Spotify fills my need to hear music from my past and what is popular today. I listen to oldies, all sorts of curated playlists, a carefully selected (by Spotify) of the best of new pop, rock, instrumental, and even classical recordings. 

During Covid, I bought a turntable, found some old vinyl LPs, bought more at a local vintage store, and have discovered the joys of music on large, black, platters again. Having to flip over the album every 15 minutes or so keeps me from dozing off!

I got rid of hundreds of CDs a year or so ago. Everything on them is on Spotify with instant access and better sound. Cassettes? Not for 20 years.

So, much like the post about the streaming video services you choose, what about music? Spotify is my favorite, but I also have the free versions of Pandora and Prime music that I spend some time with. What service do you depend upon?

Do you have CDs that remain important to you? Any vinyl album users among us? Cassettes, 8-tracks? 

And, in a question that interests me on a very personal level, what part do radio stations still play in your life? Do you miss the chatter and local touch, or was that always something you could have lived without.

You won't hurt my feelings with whatever your response might be. Frankly, I rarely listen to a real radio station much anymore, except in the car. But, I am interested whether you remember and miss those days of Wolfman Jack or your local DJ star.  At one point in your life was that important?

Thanks for sharing. Now, I must go and practice my ability to still hit the post and not step on the vocal.  

Some things never change.


October 21, 2021

Internet Privacy and Us

I just finished, An Ugly Truth, the story of Facebook's efforts to protect its user's privacy and prevent so-called bad actors from employing the platform to spread misinformation and deceive people. Well-researched and using sources from both inside and outside the company, the narrative paints a disturbing picture of a company that struggled to control the behemoth it created. 

One camp of employees is fully committed to freedom for virtually all expressions of opinions and advertising messages, while the other is concerned about the potential for serious damage to democracy and privacy of personal data.

Watching the company leaders, employees, government officials, and Facebook users attempt to find the proper balance between freedom and protection is like watching a slow-moving disaster movie that affects pretty much the whole world.

Culminating with Russian and other hackers, stolen emails, bogus account ownership, propaganda, lies spreading like wildfire, and an internal system that chose profits over protection, the effect on the 2016 American election is painfully clear.

This post is not about Facebook, though I recommend this book for a deep dive into what can happen when almost 3 billion people are instantly and continually connected. More broadly, I would like to take a look at decisions we all make, almost daily about who can see, sell, and control our personal information. Problems can range from simply irritating like trying to sell us something, to outright dangerous like stealing bits of data that can end up with our credit ruined, even our Social Security number being sold to others. 

Somewhere in the middle is the issue of changing public opinion on issues that dominate the news today: racism, feminism, LGBTQ rights. Facebook, for one, has been a major force in helping to publicize events as diverse as the Women's March on Washington in 2017 or the public demands for more freedom in Egypt  Giving people a way to connect can be a very positive thing.

Unfortunately, given the number of people involved and the lack of concrete guardrails to prevent misuse, propaganda, false or exaggerated "news stories," even outright lies. find their way on these same pages. Apparently, removing them before they do serious damage is not easy and too often not a top priority.

What I'd like to focus on for the rest of our time together, is the issue of our personal online privacy. Facebook is not alone, not by a long shot. Google and Amazon hoover up data at an unbelievable rate.

Twitter, Instagram, and WhatsApp (the last two owned by Facebook) exist because they can provide extremely detailed profiles of users to advertisers willing to spend billions of dollars in reaching us.

Banks, credit card companies, online merchants, even those sites that sell you funny coffee cups or T-shirts depend on what we freely tell them about ourselves, our buying habits, our demographics, education level, even our marital status or sexual preferences.

I have read enough on this subject to understand that living even part of our lives online means we will share things about ourselves. That is part of the arrangement we agree to: convenience and selection in exchange for something detailed about us. There is really no way to be completely anonymous and use the Internet.

I am not sure enough of us realize how much we are giving away each time we click. Nor, do I believe many of us know there are steps we can take to close the firehose of data if even just a little.

Facebook and Google both offer privacy settings that are at least steps in the right direction. While not easy to find, it is possible to protect parts of yourself online. I strongly urge you to not accept the default choices from mainstream browsers. Take the time to switch off some of the more intrusive settings. Of course, using a browser like DuckDuckgo or even Firefox is more protective of your privacy than Google's Chrome or Microsoft's Bing. 

If you are more serious about building a bit of a wall between you and the data harvesters, a VPN is a good step. These Virtual Private Networks put you in a private network, away from prying eyes.

Foolproof? No. Better than the standard Internet. Yes. With your data encrypted and your IP address hidden, this is about as private as most of us would need to be. In some countries having a VPN is illegal, but not in the U.S. 

A solid Firewall to protect you from many hackers and malware is a must. I have both anti-virus and malware software installed, with automatic updates keeping the latest versions in use. If you use Windows, make sure you install the latest patches and fixes. Attempts to penetrate software happen hundreds of times a day. Out-of-date software can be fatal. Though not as porous as Windows, Apple products are not immune to hacking attacks. The same rule of updates and extra software applies.

Of course, none of these common-sense steps matter if you aren't selective about what you post on social media. Remind yourself that a picture you upload, a comment you make, or a nasty remark you publish will stay somewhere on the Internet forever.  

Sharing your full birthdate, the high school you attended, college attendance dates, or a list of all the places you have lived makes it easier for data thieves. Those personal details can create a direct path to your most personal information.

We can't live in fear, nor can we really be involved in life without the Internet. What we can do is be aware of what is at risk if we are not paying attention.  A long-time Facebook employee is quoted as saying, " [Social media's] effects are not neutral. "

As a character on Hill Street Blues said so many years ago, "Let's be careful out there, people."


A Retirement ReminderMedicare open enrollment is now underway until December 7th. This is your yearly opportunity to change plans for supplemental coverage, Part D, and from or to Medicare Advantage programs versus traditional Medicare.

Go to Medicare.gov for more information.


October 17, 2021

Passionate About The Possibilities and Honest About The Realities

This phrase used to be the one that appeared just under the Satisfying Retirement title until a few years ago. Though I haven't used it for quite a while, Passionate About The Possibilities and Honest About the Realities is a phrase I like. This is the stage of life when we are faced with all sorts of new opportunities, challenges, and adjustments. No matter how well prepared we are, there will be hurdles we must overcome. To be less than honest about that part of the journey isn't helpful. 

If my working life was at all typical, there was little opportunity for introspection. There were few opportunities to assess where I had been or where I was headed. Family time was squeezed into little slots of open schedule between work-related necessities. The pressures of keeping my little enterprise going and growing did not have an on-off switch.
 
As long-time readers know my business came to a screeching halt in June 2001. Rather than pumping more resources into keeping things afloat, my wife and I decided to retire. I was 52 and she was 47....to call us early retirees would be accurate. To call us nervous, unsure retirees would fit, also.

As we began to get our footing in a world not defined by work, schedules, and regular income, we both began to grasp the amazing opportunities we had been given. Our days were wide open, open to inspiration, and possibilities.

Within the confines of a tight budget during those early years, we learned a few important facts about ourselves: our marriage must be strengthened and remain at the center of our universe, our creativity should be allowed to express itself in ways we had never considered before, and the only limitations on what happened were ones we imposed on ourselves. 

In the intervening years, some of those conclusions about life have shifted, some have been tested and found wanting, some abandoned by the side of the road of life, and others discovered and embraced.

Perhaps the most important discovery was being honest about the realities of our marriage. Since we celebrated our 45th anniversary four months ago, rest assured, we have figured things out.

Not us, but you get the idea
But, I had not understood how much my working schedule and attitude toward what happened at home while I traveled had put things at risk. Being together full time forced us (mainly me) to see beyond the public picture of contentment and domestic bliss.

Our communication was strained. Our expectations of what each of us should be doing, both separately and together, were not realistic. There were miscommunications and conflicts that tended to be swept under the rug. An artificially calm and well-ordered household was what I saw after returning from a business trip. Even so, I would criticize something, usually quite minor, that hadn't been done.

You can imagine the stress and unhappiness this caused, not only to my wife but also to the kids. Unbeknownst to me, both girls would hold their breath when Daddy came home, hoping he would not be in a bad mood.

After retirement, as my personal bubble began to burst and I was not running on all cylinders, it took several years for me to understand, accept, and change my behavior. It took a fresh appreciation of the concept of a team building a marriage together, not just two separate people who agreed to share the same space. An honest look at the realities of a long-term marriage revealed cracks and stress fractures that had to be addressed. 

Over the years I have been pleasantly surprised at the personal growth retirement has allowed me to experience. After the period of euphoria and feeling large weights gone from one's shoulders, there comes a letdown.

In the past, I referred to this as Stage Two of retirement. This is when you have no idea what you are going to do with all your free time. You no longer have much structure in your daily life; one needs to be found to prevent feeling aimless or living without much purpose.

Coming out of that period of questions and searching are discoveries of what really motivates and stimulates me, what risks I am willing to take, and what elements of daily life are really most satisfying.
Getting my ham radio license opened me up to a whole world of experiences, friendships, and a chance to use some of my leadership skills.

Prison ministry yanked me completely out of my comfort zone but proved to be life-changing. Helping others in an environment that had been alien to me opened my eyes to parts of society that I had been sheltered from as a child and young adult.

Going through the training to become a lay minister, charged with counseling others, once again put me in direct contact with the personal problems and dysfunctions of others that had not been part of my world.

Volunteer work with Junior Achievement allowed me to satisfy the teacher hiding inside me. Accepting a position on the board of directors of our library's friends' organization gave me a special thrill. Besides being a lifetime lover of books, this work let me feel directly connected to my grandfather and favorite uncle, both of whom were librarians of some fame and importance. Recently, I rejoined a steering committee for the retiree's arm of the Phoenix area United Way.

As my creative side continued to demand more attention, I found myself learning to paint. The progress has been slow; my standards are high. Importantly, though, sitting in front of a blank canvas fills me with possibilities and a positive sense of anticipation. As long as those feelings exist, I will tolerate an end product that will go no further than the walls in my office.

Importantly, as each of these commitments and hobbies was added to my week, I found I had more energy, not less. I realized that I feel tired and sluggish when I am not doing enough, not when I am trying to fit something else in.

Now, with me blogging again, the same feeling applies. Yes, sometimes it is hard to sit down in front of a blank screen and write 700 words that will express how I feel about something while remaining broad-based enough to allow others to see themselves in the words. Yet, there is a positive feeling after finishing the task and feeling good about what has been written. 

R.J. Walters is a blogger that I read on a regular basis. He has so many different blogs and topics that it is nearly impossible not to find something he has written that grabs me on a regular basis. Don't believe me? Click on his name above and settle in for a few hours of exploration.

A few weeks ago a sentence in one of his writings grabbed me with its simplicity. And, it seems to fit with this post. He said, " the future is moving into the past. I am dreaming away my future with dreams."

That is precisely what I have discovered about this time of life. If I think about doing something for too long, that idea is now part of my past. The magic moment has gone. I am spinning all sorts of wonderful ideas of "what if I did this," or "I would love to try this," even, "it is time to stop doing that." 

Yet, if these thoughts remain nothing more than dreams, unacted upon,  they are missed opportunities that may not come my way again.  Being passionate about the possibilities I have while not blind to the realities is what makes a life worth living (even if  you are feeling a little silly!)





October 13, 2021

When The Grandkids Begin To Chart Their Own Paths


Betty and I are supremely blessed. Our grandchildren live about five minutes away. We share time at church, play games, watch football, and have dinner together most Sundays. Whenever one or more of them appears in a school play or musical performance, usually we can attend.

We have gone to both Disneyland and Disney World together. Several times we have rented a large house to spend Christmas with each other in the snow and cold of Flagstaff. New Year's Eve sleepovers were a common occurrence for a few years. We played chess together, via Marco Polo, for several months of Covid. 

In short, we have a very close and marvelous relationship with the kids. We are their guardians if the need arises. They have benefited from having both sets of grandparents as part of their young lives close by and involved. When our youngest daughter is not out of town on a business trip, she jumps right in; we have a full house!

However, none of these good things can slow the tick of the clock. With our grandson about to turn 15, one granddaughter 13, and the youngest girl 11, we see things begin to change. No, there is no loss of love between us all. We continue to spend Sundays, birthdays, and occasional vacations with each other. 

Quite naturally, though, friendships are starting to take an increasing percentage of their time. At church, the older kids gravitate to a core group of friends, both before and immediately after the service.  A week or two ago, the almost 15-year-old worked up the courage to ask a girl to a homecoming dance. Suddenly, he realizes his gym shorts, sneakers, and too-small T-shirts, his everyday wardrobe, should be upgraded for the dance (and probably beyond).

The just-barely teenaged girl is quickly becoming a young lady. While she is not rushing headlong toward cosmetics, gossip, or becoming part of a clique at school, it is obvious her attentions are less likely to be directed toward Betty or me. Trying different looks and clothes combinations has become common. 

Even the youngest is showing signs of wanting a bit more distance from the Grans. She still sits by me at church but will then move over a seat to be closer to the rest of her family. 

Of course, all of this is perfectly normal; I would be worried if it were any other way. Just like our own daughters, these three individual human beings are beginning to find out how they fit into the world. Their sense of identity is not linked quite so tightly with either parents or grandparents. They are establishing some new boundaries.

I am very confident that because of the way they were raised, the family will remain irreplaceable, regardless of their stage of life. Even so, there is a palpable sadness as this natural maturity begins. It seems like just yesterday, they were giggling bundles of energy and questions, each fighting to be the closest to Gran or Grandad. We spoke, and they instantly stopped whatever they were doing to listen or react. 

We would once worry about taking an extended RV trip. After a month or so, when we returned home, each child would have changed and grown so much! How could we voluntarily miss all that?

Now, in a nod toward an adjustment that all parents and grandparents must make, Betty and I realize that in just a blink of the eye, the length of a vacation we take will not upset the grandkids. They will not worry that we are not instantly available. 

A month-long cruise to New Zealand? A five-week driving trip to Quebec and New England? Our decision of when, or even whether to go, will no longer be based on bothering the kids.  When we return, they will want to see the pictures and hear all about it. Each will be bursting to tell us about what has been happening in their lives since we left.

Each of us will understand the way of the world: children are meant to fly with the wind beneath their own wings. And, in the not too distant future, those wings will carry them out of our immediate orbit and on the journey of living.

It is expected, but it is still sad.


October 9, 2021

What if Where I Live becomes Unlivable?


For over thirty-six years, I have called the desert my home. Clearly, my family's decision to live in a land with little rain and more than enough heat was not unpopular. The Phoenix area has claimed us since 1985. During that time, the metropolitan population has grown from 1.7 million to almost 5 million fellow Phoenicians. It is the fifth-largest city in the country.

In 1985 there was one (partially completed) freeway. Now, there are seven and more are needed because of our love of cars. Yes, there is a decent bus system and even light rail. But, prying us out of our vehicles will be a tough sell, especially when you consider the full metro is almost 15,000 square miles in size.

Using a more conservative measurement, the metro area is only 10,000 square miles or 100 miles in each direction. To put that in perspective, the island we spent a fabulous vacation on just three weeks ago, Kauai, is only 552 square miles. Twenty-eight Kauai's would fit inside the full Phoenix metro with room to spare!

We have come to tolerate the 100+ degree days from May to October. Neither Betty nor I would exchange that high heat for a place with lowers temperatures but higher humidity. "It's a dry heat" is really real. 15% humidity makes 100 bearable, sort of, for a while.

But, wait. Climate change and its effects on the desert are beginning to show its power. Projections of more days over 100, even 115+ readings, will become not just an occasional occurrence. Already, we expect at least 120 days over 100 degrees and a dozen over 115. Add an increase due to global warming, and a logical conclusion is half of each year will warm past the century mark.

Just last month, a potentially fatal development was reported. The Colorado River is not that many years away from running out of enough water to serve the 40 million folks who depend on that flow to live, grow crops, even generate electricity. The 336 miles long Central Arizona Project uses water from the Colorado River to serve Phoenix and Tucson.

Both Lake Powell and Lake Mead are dropping to the point where there won't be enough water to run the massive electric generators that supply Las Vegas and much of Southern California by sometime in the next decade. Phoenix gets one-third of its electricity generation from nuclear power, but oil remains vital. Yes, solar power is growing, but will there be enough time?

So, there's the picture. The place I and millions of others call home is facing an uncertain future. With heat building and water dwindling, America's southwest desert is at risk just as much as coastal areas that will flood or the places devastated by increased hurricane and tornado activity. As weather patterns change, what we "expect" a place to be like will not be what it is. 

How do I plan for that? Where would we go? I am not so worried for Betty and me. When the conditions here are beyond acceptable, we will be pushing up daisies (or cactus). I am more concerned for my daughters, my son-in-law, and my grandkids. Regardless of where they go, how disruptive and unpleasant will their next choice be? 

Just for the sake of argument, let's say humans are not responsible for global warming. I don't believe that for a second, but humor me. Even if what is happening is purely a normal cycle of change, after the last time something this dramatic occurred, dinosaurs could only be found in movies and their bones in a museum.

Why do we continue to act as if someone, or that all-power "they," will find a solution that doesn't disrupt everything we have come to know and expect? What happens when the water stops flowing, the electric grids can't cool a home in Phoenix, and Palm Beech, Florida, becomes an underseas diving attraction? What happens when Portland regularly breaks 90 degrees, all the permafrost in Alaska melts, and St. Louis begins to experience the heat and humidity of the south? 

I don't have an answer. But, I truly believe we are running out of time. And, I haven't a clue how I, or you, or our grandkids will solve this problem.

My only hope is enough humans are made uncomfortable and scared enough to give this situation the attention and urgent action it demands. We seem to only react when everything is on the line.

At least in the desert, I can see that line moving ever closer.