September 10, 2021

Hello? Are You Still Here?

Since I stopped writing new posts a few months ago I have noticed two things:

1) An average of 300 people a day still visit, some days actually have over 1,000. I assume to check out all the material in the archives. Frankly, I am amazed that such a steady stream of readers continue to click on this site.

2) I miss writing and exchanging ideas and thoughts with you. After eleven years, I have pretty much exhausted all I have to say about the nuts and bolts of retirement. A few days ago I looked closely at the posts in the archives to see if there were topics I had not given proper attention to, but that wasn't the case. It seems to me that every stage of retirement and relevant aspects had been covered.

Of course, my life and yours aren't just defined by how we manage the retirement journey. Many of us will spend 20, even 30 years after work ends, living our lives. We will continue to learn and explore, make mistakes and enjoy successes, and have reactions to what is happening in the world around us. Relationships will end or start. Families will still be part of our lives, either to our benefit or our consternation.

What this means is I can begin writing about things that pique my interest or cause me to furrow my eyebrows in amazement or disgust. I can share thoughts about my life that happen, not necessarily because I am retired, but because I am still continuing my journey.

Obviously, I hope that my observations, thoughts, or questions resonate with you. They will make you think, respond with a comment, or cause you to delve a little deeper into a subject I have written about.

While it is hard to live in America at this stage in our history and completely avoid politics, or what is referred to as the culture war, that will not be my focus. Yes, when something is so important and can directly affect us I will share some thoughts. But, if you want a place with partisan rants, go to any number of social media sites. That need will not be satisfied here.

My wife and I are headed out on a vacation. After having everything canceled in 2020 and for the first half of this year, we just feel we must escape the routine of our day-to-day schedule for a bit.

When I return I will start writing new posts. The Satisfying Retirement name will probably change a bit to reflect a different direction, but the website will remain right where it is. To sample my fresh take on things, just continue to come here.

No firm promise, but early October seems like a reasonable target for me to be back up and running.

Google no longer offers email alerts, but I did keep all the addresses that were here previously, so I will make arrangements to bring that service back.

So, for all those who predicted I couldn't stay away forever, you are correct. The last three months have been a refreshing and necessary break. Even so, my mind and fingers need to become re-engaged.

Stay safe and healthy (get the vaccine and wear your masks, please!). I will see you soon.


Bob


June 12, 2021

Publication Has Ceased



While Satisfying Retirement has ceased publication, the blog with the archives of all past posts will remain here for your use.

The comment function has been turned off. If you would like to reach me, use the link above for my email.

I have plenty of ideas for ways to allow me (and you) to interact again. I will take a few months off and see where my thoughts take me.

Thanks for all the comments and support over all these years.

My very best to you and yours,

Bob



June 7, 2021

Know When To Fold 'Em

It started with a need. As I struggled through the first phase of my enforced retirement, I was looking for help...help in the form of guidance from someone who had been down this path before and could tell me where the pitfalls were, how to manage life without work, and what made retirement worth it.

After several years of figuring it out for myself, I realized there were very few resources for someone like me. Plenty of websites would help me with financial decisions and choices. But, to learn about managing my time, strengthening important relationships, managing my money without obsessing over it, finding hobbies and interests, and making where and how to live choices, there wasn't much available.

After nearly a decade, I figured I had some thoughts and cautions to share. Plus, writing was something I loved and wanted to do every day. So, Satisfying Retirement was launched in June of 2010 specifically to fill that need for all aspects of retirement information from someone who was living it, as he wrote.

Nearly 4 million views, 1100 posts, and 30,000 comments and questions later, apparently that need was legitimate. With five books, co-authorship in four others, and a profile in a national magazine, I have been privileged to spread the message that retirement is the stage of life that is only limited by your imagination and creativity.

It has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life, certainly for me, and I hope, for many others.

Like everything in life, change occurs. A path chosen begins to lose its way in the forest—the drive to do something fresh forces a look for new challenges. What once was fulfilling begins to feel too much like an obligation. 

When a journey has taken someone to the logical end of the road, it is essential to accept reality and find a new path. As the song says, you've got to know when to fold 'em.

When one accepts life's limits, that means we know the number of opportunities for making a difference and accepting challenges is not endless. To continue to trek along a path out of habit is against everything I have been writing about.


All of that leads me to this: with this post, I am ceasing publication of Satisfying Retirement. The website will remain active for the time being, so you can come back and read any of the 1100+ posts from the past. Also, I want to protect the Satisfying Retirement name from being taken over by someone else, someone who isn't interested in what was built here. The email address will continue to work.

Thank you for the support and warm words. My decision may be a bit of a shock and disappointment, but I trust you understand. 

A Satisfying Retirement is completely within your grasp. Go out today and give it all you've got.


All my best,

Bob



June 3, 2021

RVing in Wine Country" What a Tremendous Trip

Even though we sold our RV five years ago, Betty and I often think about the trips we made with very fond memories. Seven years ago we visited a part of California famous for its wines and beautiful countryside that had avoided our attention before that. 

With the travel season upon us, vaccines available for many of us, and Covid restrictions starting to ease, it seems like to good time to revisit that trip with pictures and experiences. Now that things are opening up again, maybe it will give you a destination to add to your list for this summer. 



As part of our satisfying retirement, we have been to California wine country before, at least the area most people think of when someone says wine and California: the Napa Valley and Sonoma. This is where the big boys play with wineries like Robert Mondavi, Beringer, Inglenook, and Chateau Montelena (Think the movie, Bottle Shock). 

But, there is another California wine country that is very different in attitude and scale; the area around Paso Robles. With near 200 wineries within a thirty-mile radius, this is the home of the smaller operators, the smaller vineyards, and the less pretentious tasting rooms. 

 It is also home to stunning views and great wines at very reasonable prices. The rolling hills and the rural setting remind me much more of the Tuscany area of Italy than the Napa Valley. 

Here are some photos we snapped in this part of wine country 



Tasting Room at Tobin James Winery


Robert Hall winery tasting patio

San Antonio winery



We stayed in the appropriately named Wine Country RV Park. Not surprisingly, there was one tasting room within a three-minute walk of our parking spot, and another twenty within a 15-minute drive. While Betty and I are not big wine drinkers, it was fun to see the various types of tasting rooms, sample some of the local products, and check out the small gift stores that came attached to each.




Betty at one of the spas at the RV park.


Downtown Paso Robles is very attractive  Around a large, grassy, town square are dozens of restaurants, antique stores, and wine shops. Bailey found all sorts of new places to sniff and new people to greet.

She may be making progress in this area. Instead of acting scared of people and barking whenever someone new came into sight she either ignored them or allowed herself to be petted and have her big floppy ears scratched.  



As has happened on all of our recent RV trips we had the chance to meet another person who has become a virtual blogging friend and a frequent commenter,. She lives in Paso Robles and suggested we meet. Over hot chocolate and a Danish Betty and I had a delightful time sharing life experiences. 


The weather turned cool with rain showers for our last day in town but that didn't stop our having a tremendous time in the area. Then, we were off to Morro Bay and Bailey's first chance to experience the ocean.


At 575 feet, Morro Bay Rock dominates the view from almost any part of town, along with the three towering smokestacks of the largely unused power plant built near the rock.

With the summer crowds gone, Morro Bay was quiet. On a Friday afternoon, the waterfront area looked almost deserted, a few tourists looking for an open place for lunch and some locals making deliveries and painting a wall.



 Morro Strand RV Park is basically a parking lot, across the street from the city waste treatment plant and the power plant.

Pretty it is not but being only a block from the ocean made up for the obvious shortcomings. Bailey had plenty of places to sniff and roam and become friends with all the other dogs in the park.

Actually, we ended up with the best spot in the small park up against the back wall with shade and privacy. With most of the RVs in the park being much larger than ours we also benefited from plenty of shade when we wanted to use the chairs or picnic table.

There is a town bus pickup at the front entrance so we were able to "be local" and catch a ride to and from the downtown area.


Sunday morning we packed up and headed home. We have allowed ourselves five nights so we will take a leisurely route home, through Barstow and along the Colorado River near Parker, AZ before picking up the Interstate back to Scottsdale.

The highlights of the trip? Betty and I had the time and solitude to have some important conversations and sharing about our life together and how we wanted to enjoy our blessings to the fullest. And, Bailey gained new experiences and self confidence, making her less nervous around other people and situations.

For us RV travel is a chance to explore the country and deepen our love and relationship  And that makes it priceless.







As I reread this post, it brought back of flood of RV-oriented memories and reminded me of what an important part of our satisfying Life that 30-foot vehicle of fun was. And, how important Biley was in our lives and adventures. She left us last October but will be in our memories forever.


May 30, 2021

A Summer Challenge With The Grandkids - I Can't Wait

Our three grandkids are now out of school for a few months. While the family has some trips and other activities planned, I know their mom and dad would appreciate something to keep them occupied and excited during the time when they are stuck inside by the temperatures. After all, you can only jump in the pool so many times before a new activity is needed.

Problem solved by Gran and Grandad. First, here is the backstory. These three reading machines introduced me to a series of young adult books based on the hobby of book scavenging. The young heroine and heroes discover a real aptitude for solving puzzles and riddles, even ancient ciphers and learning about documents written with invisible ink.

A famous fiction author and local bookstore owner befriend them and soon these three kids are scouring the city for clues that lead them to locations of hidden books and finding buried treasure after following long-forgotten historical clues. Think of it as geocaching for books.

Well, this is right up my alley! Gran and I are hiding some books the kids have identified as ones they would love to own and read. Each book will be discovered only after following clues, figuring out the secret code to read where to go next, and then finding the prize.

At the moment I am discovering dozens of different ciphers and ways of hiding a message behind codes and letter substitutions, all of them geared towards the grandkid's age level. I am learning about the Ogham, Pigpen, and Atbash ciphers, the Ceasar shift code, and letter substitution puzzles. There are hundreds of websites that explain these and many other ways to making a simple message become a brain-teasing exercise in decoding. 

Betty and I scouted out nearby hiding places a few weeks ago. Now  I am busy writing clues in code! Their mom will join us as we let the grandkids direct our route to find what is not in obvious sight.

I emailed the author of the books to let her know of our plans, using her novels as the genesis of the activity. Within hours, she responded with excitement and obvious joy that her efforts were spurring such an inventive way of taking her fictional ideas and making them come alive. She has offered to send personalized Book Scavenger bookmarks and other materials to hide along with the books to make it all extra special. They arrived just in time!

So, later this week the kids will become book detectives, solving ciphers, following clues, and being rewarded with a book they want to read and own. Each week a different grandchild will be in charge of decoding and sleuthing.

I can't think of a better way to spend part of their summer break.


May 25, 2021

Medical Expenses - Even With Medicare

 


It probably comes as no surprise that a top concern of retirees is the unknown cost of ongoing and future health issues. Even with Medicare or Medicare Advantage, private insurance through a former employee, or some other way of paying for health costs, many of us are not fully prepared. We may be in for a rude awakening over what lies ahead.

Recent studies tell us that up to $300,000 in costs are is possible for those over age 65. Don't we assume that with Medicare, a Medigap policy, an Advantage option, and drug coverage, that can't possibly be right? 

Unfortunately, the most expensive parts of our health costs aren't covered by those policies. Moving into an assisted living facility can easily cost $4-$5,000 a month. A nursing home might be closer to $7,000 every 30 days. Medicare covers your residence in such a facility for only a limited period of time each year.

When my mom went into such a facility,  I remember she had a change rooms from a Medicare-covered to a non-covered room after just a few months. If you elect to stay in your home, you will still need expensive on-site nursing and custodial care that can cost about the same as being in a facility. Research shows 70% of us will need either short and long-term care at some point.

True, you can buy a long-term insurance policy, but they are quite expensive and usually have a waiting period before payments start. They are dependent on the insurance company staying in the long-term care business, not a sure thing as costs outstrip their ability to generate sufficient return on their investments. You could face either large premium increases every year or the company leaving that segment of the insurance market completely.

Vision and dental care are expensive and not covered by traditional Medicare. True, some Advantage policies offer these services but usually require visiting a tightly controlled network of providers. Hearing aids? Not covered by Medicare. These three expense categories can add up quickly. 

A part D drug coverage policy does make the expense of many prescription drugs reasonable. But, there are still co-pays and deductibles. Newer drugs aren't necessarily covered right away. And, because Part D coverage is provided by private insurance companies, they can assign certain drugs to the highest cost category or deny filling a prescription without an appeal process and approval. 

More than half of us fear falling victim to Alzheimer's or dementia more than any other health issue, even cancer, heart issues, or stokes. Another study tells us that most retirees fear medical debts may overwhelm their finances, with up to a quarter of us already in trouble due to medical bills.

The good news in a not-so-good scenario is that Medicare does cover a good portion of both the in and outpatient costs of dealing with these debilitating diseases. 

So, why am I detailing these scary numbers and scenarios? Because being prepared and facing reality are our best weapons. To have a satisfying retirement, a position of denial is not going to work. Facing the financial possibilities of health costs down the road now will help you if, and when, it occurs.

Remember that $300,000 cost cited earlier for a typical couple after age 65? Well, assume an average life expectancy of twenty more years, and your budget must cover $15,000 a year, and that does not include nursing home costs, long-term in-home care, or long-term insurance.

Obviously, we must do our part to stay as healthy as we can as long as possible. Medicare or Advantage plans offer plenty of free or deeply discounted ways to stay on top of our health and take steps to short-circuit problems. Too many issues we face, however, cannot be avoided just by doing extra situps or laps around the track.

A line item in our budget must include reasonable projections for future medical costs. Forgoing some present pleasures may be necessary to help with future expenses. The health care center won't offer much sympathy when you tell them you can't pay their bills because you took a month-long cruise down the Amazon or have a vacation home in Vail.

The health care system in the United States is unlike any other developed country. We have a for-profit approach to health care. While that provides for the potential of the best medical care possible, it brings with it financial hardships or even ruin if someone isn't prepared.


After several years of Medicare, a Medigap policy, and drug coverage, I am pleased with the large reduction in my medical costs compared to previous years. 
 We are both relatively healthy and have avoided expensive problems or costly drugs. 

However, even with those policies in place, we still spend over $9,000 a year in health care costs, and that figure will only increase. Thinking even ten or fifteen years down the road I wouldn't be surprised if we see our yearly costs almost double. I am aware of what may lie ahead and am doing my best to protect Betty and me from a rocky financial future.

I'd rather spend the money on something else, but health care savings have become part of our life. That is our responsibility.


May 20, 2021

Suddenly You Are A Parent Again - To Your Grandchildren

 grandparents walking with grandkids

"One subject that I would suggest has to do with Grandparents (retired) who find themselves assisting adult children and grandchildren through financial and/or emotional difficulties; sometimes long term. I have two friends who have custody of their grandchildren.
 One has embraced it as a "second chance", while the other struggles with the disruption to her recent retirement. In both cases, they were the only option for the children. So, it makes me wonder just how many situations like this there are out there, and how people cope with their circumstances."

What an excellent and important question. Whether you are a grandparent or not, have a similar situation, know of someone who does, or have never really thought about it before, this is a topic full of important issues. For this post, let's assume that the grandkids are not someone's responsibility because of the tragic death of the parents. I think that probably changes the responses dramatically. Rather, because of a divorce or other familial problems, children need a home and someone to raise them.

Most of us expect a satisfying retirement to be the time in our life when many major family responsibilities are no longer of concern. Any children of ours are grown and on their own. While they may need occasional help to get through a rough patch, day-to-day involvement is unlikely. Yes, there are situations where a life crisis means moving back home or more active involvement in that adult child's life, but such situations are usually short-term. For many of us, grandkids pay a visit, are a joy for a period of time, and then whisked back home. 

Care for aging parents may become part of our routine, too. From occasional visits to check on their welfare, to actually having one or both parents living with you full time, this situation can substantially alter one's retirement plans. But, I am not sure there is any more unsettling event than that questioned by the reader: suddenly becoming full-time "parents" to grandchildren. 

To have a new infant, a young child, or teenager in your home brings an immediate change to the routine, budget, and energy needs of a retired person. Regardless of age, that child (or children) will require 24 hours of your commitment for years. The normal definition of retirement doesn't include such a situation.

As the reader notes, there are different reactions possible. One is viewing the care of grandchildren in a positive light. Some of the mistakes from the first time raising kids can be avoided. Being older and more experienced than as a young parent, a grandparent has the advantage of hindsight. The energy of a young child can be contagious. A deeply meaningful purpose in life becomes clear.

On the other hand, it is entirely understandable for a grandparent or a retired couple to be less than pleased with this new responsibility. Well-laid plans and expectations must be shelved. That energy bubbling out of a youngster can be draining and frankly, overwhelming. Never-ending 'why" questions are the new norm. The budget is knocked seriously askew. 

My question to you is how would you cope with this situation? If you are a full-time "parent" to a grandchild, please share your thoughts and experiences. If this is not your reality, but you know someone who is raising a child, again I'd urge you to give us all some insight. Even if you have no children who might leave you children to raise, you can empathize with those who do and share some thoughts.

This is a very tough question. It carries with it all sorts of feelings of responsibility. There may be some guilt and anger. Or, there may be a feeling that someone has been given an incredible opportunity to properly shape a human life. I can understand both reactions.

How do you feel?


May 15, 2021

How Important Is Finding Your Retirement Passion?

I read something a while ago that has stuck with me. It was a piece of advice that seems counter-intuitive to common wisdom. But, as I thought about how life unfolds, it made sense: spending time and energy focused on looking for the next great passion or overriding interest might not be the best approach.


Let me explain.




There is no doubt that a passion or hobby that is meaningful to you is one of the keys to a satisfying retirement. Just filling time will not keep you happy for long. So, why might searching for those things that inspire and motivate you be a waste of time? Because it may mean you miss so many other experiences that will enrich your retirement. 

If you spend all your time searching for that perfect passion, or the one activity that will define you, are you missing the fact that all we really have is today, right now? (see the post on meditation!). Are you bypassing experiences or something that might be fun or memorable but you think isn't really part of your passion search? Or, how do you know something that strikes you today as fun or a momentary pleasure may not open the door to a whole new avenue for you to explore? 


Examples? OK, let's say you play the piano for fun. You can follow a melody or handle the most important chords, with either hand, enough to have fun but that is about it.

Then, one day you find yourself playing a melody, with harmony and varying tempos just because they sound good together. You work at it a bit and realize you have just composed a new piece of music.

Suddenly, you realize you have an ear for making new music; melodies are popping into your head. You have stumbled onto a passion for creating music that never would have happened if you hadn't started playing the piano just for fun.

How about the last time you volunteered to tutor a youngster after school. You find you enjoy watching him or her light up when they finally understand that math problem or importance of a historical fact. They get excited because they can read a page in a book without help.

You get excited: you have discovered you REALLY like to teach and interact with kids. You discover you can get a teaching certificate based on your life experiences. Your long-buried passion for teaching explodes after a stint of volunteering.

How about this blog? I have always liked to write but didn't have any outlet so I kept journals. It was pure happenstance that I stumbled into the world of blogging almost eleven years ago and discovered an important interest.

The point is don't allow yourself to stagnate just because you haven't stumbled onto the one thing that lights your fire. Try all sorts of activities, add to your life experiences, take a gamble on something different. 

If what you are doing does not grab you, stimulate and energize you, drop it.  When you find that passion, the thing that pushes you out of bed each morning, you will know it.

In the meantime, you have had fun, learned something new, helped others, got your blood pumping, or at the very least gotten off your butt.

May 10, 2021

Why is It So Much Easier To Offer Help Than Accept It?

 


At one time or another, all of us need some type of help. We may be unsure about a financial decision. Something about our important relationship seems a bit off. A relative has a health problem we don't know enough about. The point is, none of us comes with a complete set of knowledge on every subject. So, we ask friends, experts in the field, even strangers on the Internet for some feedback.


Even knowing we could use some assistance doesn't mean it is easy for us. We love to give advice, we're not as anxious to receive it. I certainly needed help several times in my life, but was slow to ask. In looking back I have thought of some of the reasons. So you don't repeat my silliness here are some reasons why you shouldn't hesitate to seek and accept help when you need it (me, pay attention!). 


Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness. From time to time, every one of us needs the advice or opinion of others. Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness, rather it is a sign of strength. You recognize a need and take an assertive step to fill it. A true leader knows his or her strengths and weaknesses and takes steps to shore up the areas that need reinforcement.


Asking for help allows you to tap into a large pool of knowledge. There are people who know a whole lot about something you don't. To seek out that advice, when you could benefit from it, is a smart thing to do. After all, if you are asking for help shouldn't you check the best source available? If you look closely you will notice that the most successful people surround themselves with other people stronger than they are in other areas.

 Most people love to be asked for their help. Unless you are asking a complete stranger, someone you approach to give you a helping hand will be quite willing to do so. If that person is qualified to advise you, then both of you will benefit. Don't worry about others judging you because you asked for their help. They are likely to think quite highly of you for turning to them for the advice!

Don't assume the person you need help from isn't willing to give it. Most of us are leery of imposing on a friend or someone who has experience solving your particular problem. We may rationalize they are probably much too busy to spend time with our issue. If that's your thought, re-read the section above.

Accept help or advice graciously. If you ask for help, it is not a good course of action to tell that person why his or her suggestions won't work. Remember, you asked them. Accept what they have to say and decide later if the answer will work for you. Even if a friend, co-worker, or spouse offers unsolicited advice, accept the offer to help with a smile. That person may have noticed something you didn't or has fresh insight. Ultimately, you decide whether to act on the suggested fix.

Ask for input before you are overwhelmed, frustrated, and angry. You won't be at your receptive best if whatever is bothering you has reached a critical stage. You will be looking for a quick fix that may do nothing to solve the underlying issue. You won't have the patience to explain the situation fully so the other person can give you good advice. Ask for help as soon as you are aware you need it. 

Finally, say thank you. People like to help other people. They also like to be acknowledged for that assistance. Someone went out of their way, probably invested some time in the problem, and gave you their best advice. Thank them, even if you don't plan on using the suggestions.



Many of us do everything we can to avoid admitting we could use assistance. We will knowingly make the situation worse before asking for help. I am living proof. At one point or another, I have ignored every single item listed above. I think I'm a bit smarter in my old age. I realize that asking for help is not an indication I'm weak. I hope this post will help you to avoid my mistakes.

Then, I will have been helpful.



p.s. today is my 72nd birthday. I feel lucky, blessed, and pretty good for an old rock 'n roller!

May 5, 2021

Retirement and Working From Home

No toilet paper or sanitizer on the store shelves? Kids can't go to school? I must do all my work on a laptop in the dining room? Is it safe to walk in the park with so many others making the same choice?

Zoom allows me to see other human beings and keeps me sane. I had no idea how much I needed my weekly book club meeting until it was canceled. 

I complain about going to the gym, but I couldn't wait for it to reopen.

If the last 15 months of a major disruption to our life has taught us anything, it is we must be adaptable.  From time to time we may grouse about our computer, tablet, or smartphone. We may cringe and swear at our Internet provider every time the rate jumps. Or, we worry that we have no privacy left; every bit of our life is for sale to the highest bidder. Being overly connected can be a problem, too.

At the same time, the links we have to the rest of the world have opened doors that didn't exist for us before and became life-saving during the worst of the pandemic. In addition to the ability to stay connected with family and friends, stream movies, or read or listen to almost anything, we discovered we may not need an office to work. We learned how to create from home.

What? Work? Retirement means not working. Well, not always. Retirement can mean we have the freedom to work in all sorts of different ways. Sure, the traditional away-from-home employment picture is starting to brighten. You may decide that after being separated from people for so long, you want to reengage with the rest of the world and get paid for it.

Volunteering is becoming safer. The need to serve didn't stop with Covid. if anything, it intensified our need to share ourselves in some way. Libraries are reopening, Food banks continue to operate at high capacity. Docents are coming back to museums or botanical gardens as we venture outside again.

Maybe the enforced severing of normal human contact has led you to a new idea for using your talents or hobby, or skill set to produce something that others want to buy. eBay, Etsy, or similar e-commerce sites are chock full of folks just like you, selling flea market finds, quilts, clothing for children, online tutoring lessons in computer skills, financial literacy, or any of a million interests that others have. 

Create your own website with simple, free web page builder services. Again, there are all sorts of people who would love to help you build a business online.

I have learned about a company in the business of hiring retired professionals in medical, legal, or mechanical fields to answer questions posed by those needing help. If this is you, check out JustAnswer.com. There is even a company, called Swimply, that allows you to rent your swimming pool to others by the hour or longer. Who would have thought? 

Do you love the smell of sawdust as you create wooden tables, cabinets, or rocking chairs? Do your photographs always elicit praise and envy from friends? Those watercolor paintings stuck in your office actually look as good as some of what you see for sale at craft fairs or online. Let the world pay you for your creativity.

Guitar, piano, or violin lessons? Online is where people are now turning for your help. Cooking hints and tips? Do some easy-to-make video clips of you in the kitchen and post on YouTube. Have enough people click on what you are showing, and you have a business to promote and sell sponsorships.

Covid has turned the world on its head in many ways. One is making money and feeling fulfilled. We have had obvious evidence that the electronic tools we have in our home, the creativity we all possess, and our need to connect with others does not require anything more than a little space in our home, the time to dedicate to a passion, and the will to succeed in any way you define it.

Working from home may have very little to do with additional income, though who'd complain about a new money source? Maybe, more importantly, it allows us to feel competent, productive and involved. 

After a year of being literally on the shelf, your creative and entrepreneur self may be ready to blossom.

I'd be fascinated to learn about anything you have done to fill in the Covid-separation with some type of work, craft, or another endeavor that allowed you to make the most of your enforced time at home.


May 1, 2021

Second Helpings and Retirement

 


Remember second helpings? When you were younger with a body that would allow you to eat almost anything without gaining an ounce, second helpings were probably quite common. The food was good, you still had room to squeeze in more, and the platter beckoned you to help yourself. You may have felt stuffed when you were finally done, but so what. Even cotton candy was on the menu. Life was good.

As we age, weight seems to pile on with virtually no effort. We have learned that our body will gain pounds and inches just by thinking about food. Second helpings are a fond memory. We eventually learn to push back from the table.

What about other things? Have you developed the habit of pushing back from the table of life? Do you "know" that certain things just aren't good for you or probably not worth the effort? Instead of pounds, are you afraid of change?

If so, you are entirely normal and human. Certainly, I went through a period in my life where I became so comfortable with a certain pattern of existence that I avoided most variety. I wasn't thrilled with the rut I had parked my life in, but I was comfortable, and comfort tends to win. That is sad. When I think back to what could have been during those years, I wish for a magic wand that could give me a partial "do-over."

What was it that kept me living a life that was far less than it could have been? 

  • Fear of change and the risks involved
  • Fear of the unknown. I was doing OK with the known
  • My family seemed to be prospering. Why shake them up?
  • I had to act age-appropriate, didn't I? I had responsibilities
  • I had expenses. The cash flow had to be maintained
  • I knew how to do one thing. What else could I do?

It took a major jolt to my nice, safe, tidy little world for me to understand I had been pushing back from the table of life for years. What happened? My business died. It faded away to nothing a good 10 years before it was supposed to. I was kicked out of my rut and into retirement before I was ready.

Guess what? I landed feet first with a burst of insight and clarity that money and security and safeness had been hiding: I disliked what I had been doing and how I was spending my one and only life on earth. I had been avoiding life by pretending to live.

From that moment on, I wanted second helpings. I wanted to repair the damage to my marriage. I wanted friends. Wanted to know God and deepen my spiritual side. I wanted to push myself. I wanted second helpings...not of food, but of experiences and a sense of opportunities waiting to be "eaten."

The last fifteen years of retirement have been some of the most satisfying of my (almost) 72 years. It took a kick out the door of comfort, but I finally realized how much more I was capable of. The box I had drawn for myself was too small for the person inside. Most of the limits were self-imposed. I had become afraid of stretching myself.

Am I a wild and crazy guy? No. Am I likely to walk across Africa or live in a tent in Alaska during an Arctic winter to prove I can do it? Not going to happen. How about a 100-mile bike ride? Nada. Will I surprise myself occasionally by tackling something new and different? Yes, and that part of me is getting better.

I am willing to bet there are parts of your life that could use a shakeup. Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to think of a few ways you want to add a dash of change, a pinch of excitement, and a spoonful of risk to your satisfying journey. Come on, admit it, there are times when you really would love going back for second helpings....maybe even an entirely new cuisine.


April 27, 2021

Starting My Day With Meditation



For the past few months, I have started each day with a 10 minute period of meditation. I know...kinda New Age, isn't it, Bob? Do you wear a tie-dyed shirt? Well, no to both, and I don't chant a mantra, pinch the ends of my fingers together, or raise my palms toward heaven, although those are completely acceptable ways to help one focus.  For me, I sit comfortably on a sofa and use a very 21st-century app on my phone to give me both encouragement and a timer.

Why you may ask, do I feel the need to meditate? Is it Covid overload? Am I feeling out of sorts? Maybe a little of both, but it is more a desire to increase my appreciation of what I do have and to spend less time worrying about the past or obsessing over the future.

My app version has no spiritual overtones. Rather,  each day it is a brief time to quiet my mind and focus on something like my breathing. If thoughts intrude, like they do, then I am to acknowledge them, and then let them go while returning to a concentration on the breathing.

In the last few moments, I shift my focus to everything around me: sounds from inside and outside the house, creaks of a house waking up, feelings or sensations in my body...anything that is happening right now, in the moment. After ten minutes, I open my eyes and resume my day.

What does this short break do for me? There is a sense of calm and being in control of my thoughts and environment. While I will do plenty of worrying and stressing during the day, meditation allows me to start with a fresh slate.

During the day, if I find myself in a thought loop of past or future that isn't productive, I can stop, breathe for a few minutes with my eyes closed, and gain control again. What is happening in the present comes back into the forefront. 

Until I read a few books and articles on the benefits of this practice I didn't understand its potential impact. From a source as well-respected as the Mayo Clinic comes this summary:

  1. Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations.
  2. Building skills to manage your stress.
  3. Increasing self-awareness.
  4. Focusing on the present.
  5. Reducing negative emotions.
  6. Increasing imagination and creativity.
  7. Increasing patience and tolerance.

Honestly, I am not expecting ten minutes every morning will do all this for me. I am a pretty stable, optimistic person who doesn't spend much time agonizing about the past or stressing over a future I can't predict, much less control. But, I do not grab as much as I could from each day of living. Too much is on automatic pilot; too many sensations and appreciations are left on the table.

After just nine or ten weeks of my new morning routine, I can sense a difference, at least some of the time. I actually hear all the different bird songs in the backyard. The music on as a background during the day may suddenly jump to the foreground; I am really listening to the notes and melody. Sensations, like feeling a little hungry, thirsty, or needing to get up from a chair, are stronger I don't ignore them but focus on the need to react or dismiss them.

Beginning my day with this ten-minute focus has become a habit that I expect to continue. 


April 23, 2021

Seven Reasons Your Retirement May Not Satisfy You

 


Satisfying Retirement isn't a reality for everyone who is ready to retire, or close enough to dream about it. I am a firm believer in the endless opportunities for personal growth and passion fulfillment of this stage of life. But, I have openly admitted I struggled during the first few years.

Without rehashing everything that can cause problems, here is a list of seven things that can cause an unsatisfying retirement, at least for a period of time:

1. Not ready..-still enjoying work. Not everyone wants to retire when society seems to tell us it is time. For many, it isn't even about wanting to add to retirement savings. it is still about personal satisfaction and challenges. As long as what you do to earn money satisfies you and is in harmony with the rest of your life, it isn't time for full retirement. 
 
2. No replacement for the place of work in your life. This is the opposite of the situation above. Retirement sounds great and you are ready, but you have nothing to come home to. You have never developed interests or passions away from the office or job site. Without something to stimulate you in this way, retirement will only cause frustration. Too many folks go back to work not because they miss it, but because there is no structure or stimulation during the day.

3. Unrealistic expectations. If you believe no more work means no more responsibilities or complications you will be disappointed. If your savings are more appropriate for long weekends in the nearest state park but you think you are entitled to a world cruise, there are heavy seas ahead. If you think the mundane stuff of everyday life will disappear, that is not how it works. If you think being home full-time with a significant other will solve all problems, don't count on it. 24/7 with one other person puts any relationship to the test.

4. Fear and Worry. The opposite concern is to worry about every penny you spend or to live in fear that your planning was not sufficient. Financial pitfalls don't stop just because you don't work, but to focus on them will make for an unhappy existence. Dreading the loss of physical wellbeing or independence? Those are natural concerns, but you can't let them dominate your outlook. Live now to your fullest abilities. 


5. Poor time management. When folks retire, many over-commitment themselves to projects, goals, volunteer work, and travel plans. Others suddenly realize the day is still 24 hours long and you are responsible for filling it. Either approach usually results in an unsatisfying experience. Learning how to balance "me" time, "us" time, and "other's" time demands is a skill you will develop.

6. Entered unprepared financially and emotionally. Just because the calendar says you are retirement age, doesn't mean you can. As this blog has pointed out time and time again, there is a real requirement that you enter this new phase of your life well prepared. Unless you are forced to retire quickly and unexpectedly, use the near future to be as prepared as you can be...realizing that most of your plans and ideas will need to be adjusted as your new life unfolds.

7. Looking at others' lives. Retirement is an individual adventure. How mine has unfolded will not be like yours. While I hope my experiences can help you make the best decisions, eventually your life will assume a direction that is right for you. 
Just like it is counterproductive to envy someone's bigger home or newer car, trying to match a retirement lifestyle you read about in a magazine or hear about from a friend will not make you happy.


Every one of these seven pitfalls can be overcome if that is your goal. Each simply takes some effort, a fresh perspective, and an honest appraisal of your situation, needs, and desires. 

But, I can't stress enough that you must be committed to retirement for it to satisfy you. And, you must be willing to endure lots of mid-course corrections on this most unique of all journeys.


April 19, 2021

Medicare Basics Explained

 

For the last several years, a unique ID number has been used instead of your SSN.


Turning 65 is a milestone in anyone's life. Studies indicate that you have a statistically good chance of living another 18-21 years. Of course, your mileage may vary. Still, it is nice to know your odds look pretty good for having a long time to enjoy living.

65 is also when most of us grab the brass ring of health care: Medicare. The sense of relief in receiving that red, white, and blue card is immense. Not only are you less likely to be put in the poor house by a disease or illness, the lack of all the paperwork, forms, and pre-approvals feels like a two-ton weight has been lifted from your shoulder.

If so, then why do I continue to receive so many questions about Medicare? Why are people so confused? Well, to put it simply, the government has made things rather more complicated than need be. The program may be a godsend to many of us, but you have to make some important decisions before you begin. Then, every fall, you are asked if you want to change your mind about anything. Plus, the reality is, there are serious gaps in what Medicare will and will not cover, requiring you to make more decisions that often involve balancing risk against cost.  "

Disclaimer: Just about seven years ago, I made my decisions. Today, I remain comfortable with what I picked: traditional Medicare with a supplemental policy and drug coverage. Of course, that doesn't mean you should follow my lead unless that is what is best for you and your spouse (if married)

I'll do my best to summarize what you need to know. I will be covering Medicare, not Medicaid, which is an entirely different program. As with most federal programs and health insurance coverage, there are enough exemptions and differences to fill 20 posts. I will only attempt to explain the usual, most common situations.

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

There are four parts of Medicare:

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

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

Part C is better known as Medicare Advantage. This is coverage provided by Medicare-approved private insurance companies. All plans must provide A and B coverage, just like Medicare.  Services not covered by traditional Medicare are often included. Roughly 40% of all Medicare-eligible Americans now use an Advantage plan. Some plans have a zero monthly cost but look closely at what you may be doing without. 

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


Most folks get Part A and Part B automatically. If you receive benefits from Social Security, you will automatically get Part A & B coverage starting the first day of the month you turn 65.  If you aren't yet receiving Social Security (because you are still working or waiting until your full retirement age of 67 (or 70 for extra income), you must sign up 3 months before your 65th birthday to get Medicare coverage.

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

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

Every fall, for roughly 45 days, you can change to or from Medicare and Medicare Advantage, pick a different supplemental or Part D drug coverage plan.

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

With me so far?


Other Factors to Consider

Medicare does not pay 100% of most services. Several free screening tests for those on Medicare, like colonoscopies and mammograms, are covered under the ACA or Obamacare if you prefer. But, most doctor visits, tests, drugs, and equipment are going to cost you money...usually, something approaching 20%. That's where Medigap coverage enters the picture. This is a policy, sold by a private insurance company, that acts as secondary coverage to Medicare and pays most or all of what is left over after Medicare pays what it will.

Just like the rest of Medicare, there is a specific enrollment period for Medigap coverage. You can buy any policy offered for sale in your state, regardless of your health status. The amount of supplemental coverage, the monthly cost, and any deductibles are different for each policy offered. You decide how much supplemental help you want and can afford.

Speaking of costs, Part A Medicare coverage costs you nothing since you already paid into the Medicare fund while you were working. Part B coverage does carry a monthly cost. For 2021 most pay $148.50 per month. There is also a $203 yearly deductible. Part D prescription coverage costs vary depending on the plan you select and the level of drug coverage. 


What is Covered?

There is no simple answer to that question. Medicare publishes a 130-page booklet that still suggests calling them for specifics. But, in general, here is what you can expect:


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

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

Part C is the designation of Medicare-approved private insurance companies that has various coverage options and costs. You still have Part A and Part B coverage, but the specifics are likely to be different from original Medicare. Generally, coverage is more complete, but the monthly costs vary widely.

Part D covers some of your prescription drug costs. If you don't need many drugs now, it still may be wise to take this coverage because of late enrollment penalties. Part D is provided by private insurance companies and varies widely in costs and coverage. There are usually copays and deductibles involved. Some drugs require prior authorization. 

Importantly, these items are not covered by Medicare (not a complete list):
  • Routine Dental care
  • Dentures
  • Cosmetic surgery
  • Hearing Aids
  • Exams for fitting hearing aids
  • Long term care (past a limited period each year)


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

The official government handbook Medicare and You is also a must-have resource.



OK, now the fun part. What have I missed or overlooked that you want to pass along? Why did you choose an Advantage plan instead of traditional  Medicare? Are you happy, or do you ever consider switching back? How has Medicare treated you so far?

Personally, Betty and  I have paid for our own health insurance for over 40 years. We made a very deliberate decision to avoid private insurance companies as much as possible. Hence our choice of traditional Medicare, along with supplemental and drug coverage.



April 15, 2021

Toward The End of My Life I'd Like To Look Back and Say...




Our mortality is never the best topic to keep a party going, impress someone new, or say to a mortgage broker when you're hoping for a thirty-year loan. Religions talk about how to live one's life on earth or to prepare for eternity. But, that messy stage between here and there: not a crowd-pleaser.

Then, why am I bringing it up? Because I am retired, therefore fearless, and ran out of pleasant blog topics this week? No, though each of those reasons would work. I want to make it the focus of this post because I believe it is essential to consider how we will finish the race while still having time to make course adjustments. I'll give you examples of what I mean:

1) I'd like to look back and say I loved often and well. Not in the sense that I had a string of love affairs or relationships (!). Rather, I lived in a way that fulfilled my very human need to be deeply cared for while giving as good as I got. I have concluded that too many people view love as something in limited supply, so they parcel it out to only a few people, Or it is only given when there is an equal or greater flow of love coming back. 

Love given only with an expectation of reciprocation is not really love. This powerful force for good is meant to be spread freely. The "love your enemy" admonition did not continue with, "if he loves you back."  Love, used as a weapon, tool of power, or to get what you want, is coercion or deception. 

2) I'd like to look back and say I didn't always settle for the easy or the quick. While only a children's tale, the Tortoise and the Hare is based on how the world really works. Sure, some hit on an idea or invention and become insanely rich and powerful almost overnight. But, they are the exception, not the rule. 

Most of us build a life with steady steps forward, back a bit, maybe sideways for a time, then forward again before repeating the process. We may not have a specific goal or finish line in mind. But, we have been around the block enough to know shortcuts often leave us lost. Not putting in the time and effort on most anything usually does not end well. Whether a relationship, a financial plan, a career approach, finding a passion or meaning in life, there is work to be done. 

3) I'd like to look back and say I am leaving a positive memory with those left behindOne way to guarantee a smile on my mom or dad's face was to state, quite honestly, that I had no bad memories of my youth. There was nothing they or I had done that left me with a "what if" or "why did you do that" feeling. I don't believe this was a case of selective memory. I just had nothing to build a memoir around that had disasters or rough patches to recount. 

I would very much like my family to say much the same as they remember me. Of course, being separate individuals, we all interpret events in our own way, using our own filters and experiences. Certainly, something thing (or things) I did might not be all smiles and hugs. But, I am doing my best to hold those recollections to a minimum.

4) I'd like to look back and say I don't have very many regrets. Sure, there are times in both my private and personal life that I screwed up. I have occasional dreams of going back and choosing a different response or reaction to something that bothers me. Of course, that's a little unfair: what I have learned in almost 72 years on this earth should mean I would adjust my approach if I knew then what I understand now. 

Even so, I believe I have the opportunity with every decision made every day to choose wisely, to do something that doesn't compromise my principles or cause harm to anyone else. Being true to myself was a common phrase my parents and uncle shared with me often. They understood the biggest fake in the room is the person who takes a position, presents a facade, or makes a choice that is strictly transactional: only for the moment. They knew that ultimately, that falseness would have a cost, one of regrets.

5) I'd like to look back and say my spiritual journey evolved over the years, bringing me closer to the ultimate answers. Not having the answers, certainly. But understanding enough to keep asking questions and working out reasonable answers in my own mind. Even though I have no idea what really happens after death, readings, discussions, and thinking about life's ultimate issues leave me more comfortable with both the possible and the uncertainties. 


A life in balance: is that the ultimate answer?