March 30, 2021

Spring Time and Home Maintenance...Yes, It is Important



For many parts of the country, this has been a rough winter. Seemingly endless storms have marched across the country with rain, snow, and wind pounding everything in sight. Texans won't likely forget their time in the deep freeze. Blizzards continued to barrel across the mid-Atlantic every few weeks. Didn't Denver pick up 27" just a few weeks ago? Friends in Prescott, AZ were digging out of over two feet of snow a month or so ago. Tornados tore through the deep south just a week ago.

so, it is with more than a little relief we can begin to turn our sights toward spring which officially began 10 days ago.  Even with the strong likelihood of more nasty weather before us, at least there is hope. Couple the slow warmups with Covid vaccinations becoming more available and a time of growth and renewal is before us.

Of course, that also means the home repair and maintenance season. After being cooped up for so long, we probably have a better appreciation for the blessing of a place we can feel safe and warm (sorry, Texas). It only makes sense to protect our home, maybe even more so this year.

I have received several requests for a post on this subject. If you knew how inept I am with most home fix-ups, you might have not asked. I can present some thoughts from someone who once tried to install a new door handle upside down and a bathroom faucet repair that left an inch of water on the floor.

If you are more of an expert and think nothing of re-roofing your home on a Saturday afternoon,  I am hoping you will add your advice and opinions, too.

There are some basics I do on a regular basis:

*Drain the water heater twice a year. Phoenix has very hard water and the minerals will kill a water heater before its time if not flushed out. At the same time I test the pressure release valve.

*Have AC Heat Pump checked every 12 months. In fact, the technician was here just a few weeks ago to clean the outside coil, replace a dangerous motor capacitor, and check my split (sounds painful, but it is important!)

*Change the house filter every 3 months. A cheap way to keep that expensive heat pump operating at peak efficiency. A real expert told me there is no reason to buy the really expensive filters. If you are good at putting in new ones four times a year, the cheaper filters will be just fine. The only exception is if you have really bad seasonal allergies or a super-dusty environment. Then, get filters that can catch the smallest particles. 

*Check all sprinkler and drip heads twice a month. It is not uncommon for our lawn service to damage a sprinkler head or cut an irrigation line a few times a year. I just had a fellow install several new sprinkler heads and extend the lines as needed. There were spots on the lawn that are always dead-looking due to underwatering. Now, problem solved.

Look at roof condition once each spring. A new tile roof is around $12,000. It will be needed at some point, but for now, I am content to have loose tiles repaired. 

*Re-caulk around windows as needed. Our windows are old, not-very-efficient double pane windows and are prone to leak around the frames. I do what I can to cut down on loss.

* Have chimney and flue inspected and cleaned every three years. We don't have a fireplace in this house, but if you do, this is a vital safety step. As a country, we average 25,000 chimney fires a year. Not good.

Look for termite trails on the foundation, garage, and patio at least yearly. Arizona has a big termite problem. We have a bait system, but those little devils continue to hit the traps and may find a way around my defenses.

*Lube garage door twice a year. with summertime temps, any lube on hinges will dry out and cause squeaking or damage. I use a special spray that is designed for garage doors. Oh, and change the battery in the door remote once a year. Pushing that button and having the door refuse to budge is a pain.

Check for any mold or cracks in caulking in bathrooms twice a year. The extra humidity and forgetting to dry the walls after a shower has cost us plenty over the years. I hate to recaulk, but I dislike black mold even more.

*Change the batteries in the smoke alarms on my birthday. A house fire and a dead smoke alarm = disaster. This is especially important if your smoke alarm is hard-wired to your electric system. If that fails due to a fire, it isn't going to work without the backup battery in place.


Nothing too laborious or requiring much skill here. These are really the basics that keep our house functioning. As I noted, I am not a "This Old House" kind of repair guy. If I can manage this list, anyone can.

How about you and your housing situation? Different climates have different maintenance and repair issues. Let us all know what you do to keep your repair bills under control.

March 26, 2021

Life Lessons From a Three year Old

Even though he is now a teenager, I remember the absolute joy of watching my grandson grow up over the years. At one point, probably ten years ago now, I made note of what his worldview was. It occurred to me then and still does today, that his (and most children's) way of navigating through life makes all the sense in the world. How much better off would we be if this approach to living didn't disappear at about six years old? 

You can wear the same shirt 2 days in a row.  Adults are often obsessed with cleanliness and freshness. Clothes washers get bigger and faster each year for a reason. If we wear something for even a few hours it is likely to go into the clothes hamper or off to the cleaners. Three-year-olds aren't concerned with such things. If the shirt covers me, keeps me warm, and isn't too big or small, what does a jelly stain matter?  Who cares that I wore it yesterday? In fact, I don't remember what I wore yesterday.

I'd save a few loads of wash every Saturday if I followed his lead. The bigger lesson he is teaching us is to not be overly concerned with little things that don't matter much. My grandson saves his focus for the important stuff: food, play time, naps, and his sisters. If something doesn't get in the way of his enjoyment of those four issues, then why worry?


The best toys are the simplest. Give almost any child a cardboard box and he or she will play with it for hours. It becomes a boat, a rocket ship, a train, a fort, the list is endless.

Yet, every Christmas billions of dollars are spent on fancy, high-tech, plastic toys that are forgotten much quicker than the big box in the corner. Complexity is something adults seem to relish, but not kids.

The solution to many problems is often the simplest. In fact, something called Occam's Razor is a well-known scientific principle. It says the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. While adults don't spend much time playing with toys, the belief that something must be expensive or complicated to be best is just not true. Finding my "cardboard box" might be better for me in the long run.

It is OK to create a mess occasionally. Children live in a world of messiness. They are at their creative best when things are strewn everywhere. They easily find connections and uses for all that stuff. While I have no proof, I would bet their minds are a bit messy, too. All sorts of random thoughts, impressions, and stimulations are continuously bouncing around in there. Over time an order is imposed and they learn to think like we do.

Maybe we'd be better off thinking like them, at least part of the time. I am at my peak of production when stacks of books, legal pads, and paper cover the desk. Sticky notes line the edges of the computer screen. It is when I stop creating that I put everything in piles, clean up the papers, and clear off the desktop. Order has returned. Creativity has stopped. I think I'd like to be messier more often.


At times you have to do something you don't want to do. Watch my grandson when it is time to go to bed, or turn off his Thomas & Friends video. Rebellion bubbles just under the surface. He is totally absorbed by some game or play activity, but it is time to stop and do something else.

He may not be happy, but he does it. He knows where the power is. He respects his parents and does their bidding. Does that mean he is always happy about it? Not likely.

As an adult we know there are a lot of things we have to do we don't want to do. In fact, for many of us, that seems to make up most of our day. Unlike a child, we often forget that everything we want, when we want it, isn't going to happen. We get angry or stressed, rude or combative. We have clearly forgotten we don't make all the rules and there are consequences when we forget that.

Changes in routine can be very exciting. Years ago, the grandkids had their first sleepover away from home, at our house. My grandson was beside himself with excitement. He was ready to start packing a week beforehand. His mom had to make a calendar so he could cross off the days until the big event. The kids visit our home every week or two so that wasn't the reason for the excitement. I'm guessing it was a change in where they slept and all the things that would be different from their regular schedule. It would not be routine.

Change can be exciting whatever your age. This blog makes it quite clear that I view retirement as one of the most exciting and enjoyable times of my life. The routine of working for over 30 years gave way to a time where the only routine is the one I create. And, I am free to create a new routine whenever I want. Come to think of it I like sleepovers, too. In my case, a nice resort in Hawaii or a B & B in England is probably more my speed than a sleeping bag in the living room, even though Covid restrictions have given me a new appreciation of the joys of staying put.

Love is all you need. With apologies to the Beatles, children are supposed to live in a world of love. I know that doesn't happen all the time and that is a tragedy. Too many children grow up in anxious uncertainty and misery. 

For youngsters like my grandkids their world is safe, secure, and makes sense because they are loved. They have no doubt that mommy and daddy will protect them and always be there for them. Their worldview doesn't yet include hate or oppression or rancor. Their world is love.

The adult world is not so lucky. I'm not going to dwell on all the reasons  but  I doubt many would disagree with the belief that all of us would be a whole lot happier and more joyful if our world view was closer to that of a 3-year-old. We know that love isn't all you need. But, the more of it you have in your life the more life you will have in you. 


March 22, 2021

Handling Legal and Heath Issues When There Is No One To Help




Several readers have expressed interest in a subject that could be extremely important to the future of your satisfying retirement: How do we prepare to have our legal and health wishes followed if there is no family, relatives, or friends willing or competent to take on those responsibilities? Are we willing to have a court decide what is to become of us and our affairs? I assume that the answer is, "No." Being at the mercy of an anonymous judge in probate court is not where most of us would choose to find ourselves.

That means there are certain basic steps that should be taken while we remain in full control of our facilities and decision-making abilities. There are documents to be prepared and someone to be selected to implement our wishes. Since I am not a lawyer, anything I say comes from my own experiences and Internet research. As the saying goes, check with an attorney before proceeding.

Likewise, I have a family, and others I would trust to handle decisions that are in my best interest. So to answer the questions asked, again I turned to some basic research that I hope will provide some answers.

Let's start with some of the legal stuff that can be the foundation of your future care. I won't go into too much detail, but if something seems as if you should have this, I will provide a few links at the end of the post. Plus, the Internet has all sorts of reliable resources to find out more.

1) Will. This should be the first document you prepare (or have prepared for you). It is the legal framework for what happens to your possessions and financial resources upon your death. It specifies who gets what and when. Wills can be prepared using a simple online form or from forms available in office supply stores. Online places, like Legal Zoom, are places to look.  A lawyer can draw up a will as well. This is best if your situation is a little more complicated.  

2) Living Will. This document is the one that helps spell out the medical care you want prior to your death but when you are unable to communicate your wishes. Do you want or not want a feeding tube used? Do you want a "Do Not Resuscitate"  order for medical workers, and when should it be invoked? How about devices that keep you alive when the medical likelihood of recovery is minimal? 

These are very tough subjects to think about, but imagine how much more stressful and difficult it would be for someone else to make these decisions without knowing your wishes.

3) Power of Attorney. This document gives some other person or entity the ability to make medical and financial decisions for you. You can revoke and rewrite a POA as many times as you want.

3) Durable Power of Attorney. This is what takes the place of the Power of Attorney document upon your incapacitation or death. The person or entity named is fully responsible for all decisions that involve your care and finances.

4) Health Directives. Basically, this acts as a Durable Power of Attorney directive, though it only deals with health decisions, not financial ones.

There are other ways to handle your affairs, such as putting possessions in trusts or estates, but those topics are too involved for this post. In essence, they create a separate legal entity for all your possessions and resources. I urge you to do some research if this seems like something you'd like to know more about.


OK, now we are at the heart of the issue: We have reviewed what legal documents should have prepared. But, who is going to implement them according to your wishes? Who knows you well enough to make tough decisions and speak up on my behalf, even if that means demanding more information and details from a doctor or lawyer? Who will do what you want to be done for as long as possible?

One caution as you think about the medical concerns is to not make it impossible for the person implementing your wishes to follow through. For example, you tell someone you never want to go to a nursing home. Well, the reality is that sometimes the only prudent medical or financial choice is to do so. Staying at home just won't work. I caution to be careful of how narrow a window of options you make part of your legal desires.

The place I found to begin to help find answers and workable solutions to this critical dilemma is an organization called Healthcare Improvement. On a special website,  they have assembled the best collection of information on this subject that I found.

It explains all about what a health proxy is and how to find one, even if a choice isn't obvious. There are sections that provide checklists to assess possible candidates for you. It helps guide you into what to do if you don't have a family member, relatives, or even neighbor you trust to take on these responsibilities. Fiduciary companies, Banks, and other financial institutions are possible options that have very strict legal oversight and responsibilities to you that must be followed.

This site makes the very wise suggestion of filling out the various forms and putting your wishes in writing; even if you don't settle on someone to handle your affairs, the court system will place great weight on your notarized, written wishes.

I urge you to visit The Conversation Project website for the most complete review of what all of this means to you and how to make the best decisions.

If a lawyer reads this post and would like to clarify or amend anything written, by all means, leave a comment. My legal training begins and ends with taking care of me and my wife's preparations and overseeing my parents' estate after their deaths.

For those who asked for a post centered on this delicate subject, I hope I have given you at least a place to start to get answers for your unique situation.


March 18, 2021

What Does Middle Of The Road Mean Today?


 When I first raised this subject several years ago, blogging buddy, RJ Walters, suggested that the extremes in our life are the new middle of the road. That was a disturbing, yet probably accurate summation of what was going on a few years before the 2016 election and everything that has followed. 

Even more so than when this thought first crossed my mind our world seems to be one of extremes. Extreme weather, extreme politics, extreme religious positions, extreme Internet hacking, extreme reactions to masks, vaccines, extreme diets, extreme, extreme, extreme. Things seem to have gravitated to the edges of whatever the subject may be.

Maybe it is because of the nonstop intrusion of technology into our lives. In order to break through to be heard or seen, something outrageous has to be said or filmed or posted. Even if based on fact (whatever that means today), a simple, quiet presentation will slip beneath the waves without a trace. The presence of anything on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, or the medium of the month gives something gravitas and instant credibility.

Actually, let me amend that: especially if something is based on fact it will have a difficult time being heard. There seems to be a requirement for an attention-grabbing presentation, or the ability to generate a visceral, emotional, response to something that need not be grounded in reality. 

All of this forces me to look back to a phrase that was quite common not all that many years ago, a phrase that was usually describing a good thing, a goal for life, media, advertising, politics, almost everything: middle of the road. Today, being branded Middle of The Road is a kiss of irrelevance, of a quaint part of our past.


An online dictionary defines Middle of the Road as
  • not extreme politically 
  • entertainment that is ordinary and acceptable to most people, but is not exciting or special in any way.
  • a lifestyle that doesn't lean either liberal or conservative, but is mainstream.

The definition of middle-of-the-road entertainment sounds a bit judgmental to me. "It is not exciting or special in any way" certainly implies boring, and unimaginative. I disagree. I grew up in a time when "middle of the road" was satisfying and could be exciting. It was safe, but not pablum. Violence and sex were not required to succeed.

There was "middle of the road" music - songs and artists that the whole family could listen to together. Politicians and political parties wanted to be perceived as middle of the road so large blocs of voters would not feel alienated. Movies were often marketed as family-friendly, or one mom and dad could send junior to see without worrying about its content. Though the phrase wasn't used in this context, most restaurants served MOTR food, comfort food, that satisfied the majority.

Time for an important caveat: the MOTR mindset had its serious disadvantages. Those looking for something out of the mainstream had a problem. Those not included in society's definition of being "normal" had a struggle. Racism and sexism flourished while most of society turned a blind eye. Diversity was a foreign concept. Want a different food than burgers and KFC? Not so easy.

So, I am not suggesting a return to the time of Beaver Cleaver. What I am concerned about is why being middle of the road in almost anything is considered wimpy, wrong, almost a dirty word (or phrase). If a choice in politics, religion, entertainment, family structure, or lifestyle isn't closer to the edges than the center it is deemed defective. I think that was the core of RJ's comment.

In our drive to be all-inclusive of everyone and everything, we have actually shut out the middle of anything. Pick a position and fight to the death. Vilify anyone who doesn't agree with you 100% as the devil's child. Question their sanity, loyalty, intellect, and do it loudly and continuously. Deny inconvenient truths.

One of the "rules" I learned during my years consulting radio stations was the if you tell someone something long enough he believes it. If the client radio station said, "We are the #1 Radio Station at Work" often enough, listeners would begin to think of the station that way, regardless of whether it actually was the #1 station people listened to at the office or factory. Perception becomes reality. See Making the Choices We Do for a more in-depth look at this phenomenon. 

I think that applies today in almost all parts of society. The loudest voice, the most extreme position, the largest disconnect from fact, becomes the new truth. The concept of authenticity becomes relative.

Maybe there is no true middle-of-the road anymore. In honesty, I think all of us have certain beliefs or core principles that would best be described as leaning one way or another. Example? While I am strongly liberal in some areas of life, I am conservative in others. Overall, if forced to apply a label. I would average out to be center-leaning left.

Maybe middle-of-the-road is what allowed us to become much more radicalized in certain areas, and certainly more open about airing our disagreements. After all, MOTR didn't welcome anything edgy or disruptive. And, in a socially undergoing so many racial, sexual, economic, and political redefinitions, taking only the center position may seem more like an ostrich with its head in the sand.

I think what has happened is I have changed my view of middle-of-the-road as a good thing, as a notable goal, into a potential denier of our problems. To attempt to remain separated from all that is happening, all the fundamental issues of our day, by taking no real position, is not viable.

Am I wrong? Is Middle-of-the-road no real position at all? Or, am I being swayed by the loud voices on either side that being balanced is bad?

I'd love your thoughts.

 


March 14, 2021

Parental Financial Planning



One of the topics that never fails to generate interest is almost anything to do with finances. That isn't surprising. After our health, having a firm handle on one's money is vital for most of us. As we age and either leave the workforce or look ahead to a time when regular income will stop, the key question becomes, " Will I run out of money?" 


For most of us, I think the answer is, No. Are lifestyle changes, downsizing, and pulling back on what we spend possible? Absolutely. In fact, I would probably say, likely. In my case, Betty and I live on about 40-45% of our pre-retirement income. Cutbacks in the number of meals out or how often we replace clothing and furniture, and how often we replace a car have changed since retirement. Medicare has resulted in substantial health care savings compared to our pricy individual market policies.

Importantly, what we find most satisfying and where we choose to invest the bulk of our time and resources are different. Family-oriented activities and making memories have become so much more important than material items and things. Stuff just seems, well, like stuff. We joyfully spend money if it makes our daughters, grandkids, or son-in-law's life easier and more fulfilling.

My dad passed away six years ago, in March 2015. I was the one charged with overseeing mom and dad's final financial gifts to their three sons. Our parents' desire was to make life better for their offspring, both during and after their lives. I have a firsthand view of how stunningly successful they were.

We grew up solidly middle class, which considering our circumstances, is quite remarkable. With almost 20 moves before I left for college, friends always assumed my dad was in the military. The reality was that he had a tough time holding onto jobs, so we were constantly moving to his next opportunity. One of my strongest childhood memories is our dining room table stacked high with resumes as dad gamely searched for work.

Throughout his periods of unemployment, he never became discouraged or took out his frustrations on the family. He did a masterful job of keeping his sons unaffected by his problems. Meanwhile, mom taught elementary school. Her steady paycheck kept us afloat. Most meals were simple casseroles, but we were never hungry and never wanting for anything important.

I am pretty sure only the death of my mom's brother and her parents, all within two years of each other, allowed my parents to retire with the insurance and estate monies left behind. I can't think they had much in the way of savings.

I can only speculate that is what prompted mom and dad to be so vigilant in protecting their assets and providing such a life-changing financial gift to the three boys. With so many periods of unemployment and living on just a teacher's salary, leaving much of anything would seem unlikely, much less the balance sheet I was left looking at.

My parent's financial planning gift made my future (and that of my brothers) much more secure. I am well aware that I am fortunate that my parents did what they did. 

I am not one of those folks who puts a bumper sticker on the back of a monstrous RV that says, "I am spending my kid's inheritance." Nor do I believe Betty and I should live a bare-bones life so we can pass everything along when we die.

But, I do take the lesson of my parents' planning and thoughtfulness to heart and hope to make my children's lives just a bit better and easier when the time comes.

We saved a lot and inherited more. But, that does not mean we are to spend it all in such a way that what my parents passed on to us or what we worked for should come to a grinding halt. 

As an important part of being a parent, I see that bringing some financial comfort to my offspring. 


March 10, 2021

Retired and Married

 

As a follow-up to the post, Retired and Alone from a few weeks ago,   I thought it would make sense to look at the other situation.

satisfying retirement requires lots of pieces to fit and work together. Obviously, your financial situation must be sufficient to support you. Your health, or lack of it, will play a huge role in how much you enjoy your time after work. But, if you are asking my opinion, If you are in a marriage or committed relationship, the quality of that union will be more important than all the rest in how happy your retirement lifestyle turns out to be.

There are all sorts of studies on the Internet, books in the library, experts with degrees in counseling, and your sister-in-law who will tell you what to expect. It has been said that the first few years of retirement are a lot like the first few years of marriage: learning enough about each other to stick it out until you figure out how the game works.

As Sydney Lagier said in a blog of hers several years ago, " [It] turns out that when you spend all day with your best friend, he is going to annoy you, and really for nothing more offensive than eating, breathing, and living." She has captured the mood perfectly. Ships passing in the night are suddenly docked at the same pier.

I have written a few posts that give you some basic guidelines from various sources on making the relationship work. It is generally agreed that communication and commitment are the two linchpins of a successful retirement and marriage or serious relationship.

Rather than rehash that material, I thought I'd share some of the marriage relationship's ups and downs that I know rather well: mine.  After 44 years together, with 20 of them as a retired couple, I have a fair amount of experience to draw on. I have no intention of telling you this is the way that will work for you. That would be foolish. All I can tell you is about some of the problems we encountered and how Betty and I resolved them (for the most part).


Timing

We discussed our plans for retirement in general terms a few years beforehand. But, the reality of what a non-working life together would mean to us wasn't seriously addressed until the last year or so. When we decided to pull the plug on my declining business, and she was tired of preschool teaching, the timing of that change was something we both agreed to. We also decided that when I stopped working, so would she.

That didn't work out quite as we planned. Within a year or so of us being home, she went back to work full time at a department store. She hated the job, but a sudden fear that we didn't have enough money prompted her to agree to un-retire. That lasted a year, during which I felt guilty sitting at home, and Betty disliked the job enough that we agreed to re-retire. Besides, by then, my financial phobia had calmed a bit.

Daily Routines

Being married and retired is an interesting study in balance. Each of you wants to spend time together, and each of you requires time apart. Just because a job has ended doesn't mean everything else that makes up a typical day will change. We each have certain routines and habits that bring us comfort and happiness. Starting the day quietly, reading, and enjoying a cup of coffee alone may be an important part of your schedule. To lose that "me" time just because your spouse is now home could be a serious mistake. Then again, maybe you are ready for a change and would enjoy sharing cereal and conversation. 

The point is to make a change to accommodate another person may be risky to the overall retirement experience. Marriage is a constant compromise, but sometimes your turf must be protected. Betty and I want a mix of both together and alone time. We must be "allowed" time to pursue solo activities and interests without feeling guilty.

Even after two decades, I can't report we are entirely successful in this regard. But, we are getting better at voicing our need for separation as well as togetherness. I am more respectful of Betty's timing, and she is getting better at telling me to buzz off.


Chores

A past post generated some rather strong comments (several of which never saw the light of day), particularly from men, that I had caved into the pressure of becoming too much of a house husband. I had earned my leisure time and shouldn't have to do chores.

Besides being downright silly, that attitude will buy you a miserable household. Betty and I have divided the chores for our entire married life. The only change retirement brought was I stopped traveling so I could pitch in a bit more.

I have always done my own laundry. After all, I dirtied the clothes, why shouldn't I clean them? One of us cooks, and the other cleans up. While I tend to do most of the yard work, it isn't because that is "man's work." It is simply that she can't take the heat like she used to, and I enjoy the process more. Plus, her body is not nearly as flexible and forgiving
 as it once was.

Every week we rotate between emptying the dishwasher and making the bed, so one person isn't always stuck on the same job. In this area, things have worked well because we followed the same procedure before retirement.

Goals

This is one area where we need to do a better job: setting goals more democratically. I will admit that most of the time, my opinion wins. What I think should happen usually does. But, over time, Betty has used various methods, both passive and aggressive, to remind me she gets a vote, too. Actually, over the past half dozen years, I think she has "won" more often than "lost" when we have a goal to set.

Short and long-term goal setting is vital in a retirement relationship. Everything from financial adjustments to vacation choices, when to see the grandkids, and whether we should get a new dog requires a decision. Both partners need to feel his or her opinion is being considered. Both pros and cons need to be aired. I have been very good at airing my thoughts. This is a very public way to say I need to shut up more and listen harder. It will make the marriage stronger and the experience richer.

Marriage after retirement is different. But, as any married person will admit, nothing in a marriage is static. Change is continuous. What retirement does give you is the time to improve how that change is handled. If you do it well, the odds of being happy increase dramatically.


March 6, 2021

Never Be Satisfied With How Things Are



 Several years ago, the president of Arizona State University, Michael Crow,  gave a fiery speech to a group of area leaders. As head of the nation's largest public research university, he was well aware of the problems facing our society and particularly the educational system. In his speech, he did not mince his words. 

Recently, I was rereading his thoughts and it struck me: his unflinching assessment of the root causes of some of our most pressing problems as a country fits like a glove today. 

Mr. Crow said, "A collective arrogant ignorance" holds the nation back. He cited the educational system that's not innovative enough, a lack of awareness or even acknowledgment, of global competition, and a lack of long-term vision. He said we, as a country, are resting on our laurels.  "We don't understand ...the development of the rest of the world as competitors. He went on to say " we are the means by which solutions will be derived."

Turning to the educational system, he noted we should be comparing our educational system not with the schools across town, but "with schools internationally." He accused his fellow university presidents of being too focused on the elite students and not thinking of what's best for educating the entire country.

He pulled no punches in laying blame where he saw it: the lack of appreciation for how the global economy has changed and a certain smugness on our part, the inability of the educational system to stay competitive, and the focus on just the cream of the crop, not everyone who is required to help us compete.

It is no news that for the last four years, America has turned inward. Internationalism has been replaced with populism. Global alliances have been shredded. Many have expressed the belief that American exceptionalism renders what others do unimportant or unnecessary. Tariffs will bring other countries to our will. If that doesn't work, threats are always available.

Without plowing toxic soil all over again, the election last fall made it clear that the majority of us said, "Enough."  The inward focus, rejection of basic science and facts, and turning our country into an isolated one, have caused damage and death on a massive scale. We are open to a new direction.

Mr. Crow's comments in 2011 were on target then, and even more so today. As a society, we must stop believing the lies and misconceptions we tell ourselves. Reality doesn't care if the truth is inconvenient, or hurts. 

Our competition is not just within and between our 50 states, but virtually every corner of the globe. This is true not only in an immediate economic sense but in things like innovation, educational training, and technological advances. 

We must take the attitude that resting on our laurels, believing our own systems and approaches are the best in the world will lead to us slipping well below the top rung of success. We run the risk of losing the top talent and innovators to other countries who encourage breaking out of what is in the quest for what could be.

Let's end on a very positive note: The development of just not, but three Covid vaccines at a speed that has never happened before shows what can be accomplished when powerful forces work together to find the solution a very serious problem.

We have the ability to tackle anything before us, but only if we are never satisfied the way things are...but, rather how they could be.

March 2, 2021

Retired and Alone

 


A few facts:

* 27% of Americans over 65 live alone

* 69% of those folks are women

* 61% say they would like to stay in their own home with the assistance of a caregiver

Living alone can mean the person has never married, is single because of divorce or the end of a long-term relationship, or is a widow(er). Whatever the definition, being retired and single (at some point) does present a different set of challenges and decisions than if part of a couple.

As a guy, married for almost 45 years, I cannot speak about this important subject with any personal insight. So, I must depend on Internet research and your input. 

There are all sorts of sites loaded with suggestions on how to live a full and active life as a single. What I found rather interesting is that most of the suggestions are very similar to those for retired folks who are part of a couple. The basic steps to stay involved and connected aren't very different.

Now, that raises the obvious question: is that similarity real, or just what some people presume? Is what a single, retired person faces quite a bit different? And, if so, what to do about it?


An Important Difference

There is an important distinction to be made. Being alone, either by choice or fate, is not the same as loneliness, but there can be a strong link. Some people relish solitude. Their basic personality is such that they function best without having to interact with someone else on a regular basis, and I don't mean during a pandemic.

That doesn't mean someone who enjoys solitude doesn't enjoy being with others, having friends or joining groups. Rather, it seems to be a state of mind that says I do not need another person around me all the time to feel complete.

Others find solitude to be debilitating. A major cause of depression in older people is the loneliness that can overwhelm someone after the death of a spouse or having to confront a life crisis alone. Richard Norgaard wrote in an article that what tends to happen is these people become isolated, afraid to change, or maybe don't know how to change anymore. Learning something new and engaging with other people takes too much energy and dedication. The world keeps shrinking as friends and relationships slowly slip away.

Several years ago blogger Carolyne Marshall said, " Loneliness is more of an emotional state consisting of a hollow emptiness and profound unhappiness. It is not a voluntary condition like solitude might be. Loneliness can affect us all at different times, in different ways – whether it’s a fleeting feeling or a constant state of disconnection or isolation." 

I still remember blogger Dave Bernard asking an important question in one of his posts: ""How many relationships exist where couples stay together out of a fear of being alone when they would really be better apart? How many people rush into a new relationship because they do not want to go through life alone, preferring a bad match versus no match at all?"

Sex Plays A Major Role

Females live, on average, seven years longer than males. Therefore, being alone at some stage of life is more likely to be reality for women.  Of the nearly 14 million widows in the United States, over 11 million are female. Estimates are that 25% of all married women in the United States will be widowed by age 65, and that 50% of the remaining women will have lost their husbands by their 75th birthday. Coupled with the statistics that shows divorce is growing among those 55 and older, being retired and single will become a greater issue.


As I noted, the suggestions for those who find themselves retired and alone are not unique. Getting a job or volunteering so you interact with people is suggested by many. Staying fresh by learning new things, taking classes, reading non-fiction to stay up-to-date on important issues, attending plays and concerts....all good ideas but maybe they miss something important that someone who is retired and alone can add to this discussion.

I am a person who enjoys solitude. I need "me" time and a clean and clutter-free space on a regular basis. But, I have been happily married for 44 years, retired for almost 20, and am confident my wife will be by my side as we age together. I really can't place myself in the shoes of someone who is on the retirement journey alone.


Retired and Alone: Can You Help Us?


So, this is where I need you. If you are retired and single for any reason I would really appreciate your insight. If you have friends who are single and retired and would consider adding their thoughts, please ask them to visit here.

How does being alone affect you, your lifestyle and your choices during retirement? Is it nice to be able to do what you want when you want without meshing schedules with someone else? Have you always been single and can't imagine any other way? 

Or, is your aloneness in retirement something that you didn't plan for or think might happen to you? How are you handling this life change? What suggestions do you have for others in the same situation? What makes it better, or at least bearable?


Being single, divorced, or widowed brings financial concerns. Social Security spousal benefits are not as generous as two separate accounts. Any pension may not continue after a partner's death or departure.

Not having a partner or family member to help with illness and injury changes how one thinks about convalescence needs and costs. Where and how to live as we age is a different calculation for someone who is single.


As you can tell from the number of questions above, this situation is one in which I am the student and you are the teacher. This is an important subject and one that deserves our discussion. A satisfying retirement is our goal. How does our relational state affect it?
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Note: I think I have finally found a way to eliminate all ads from this blog, even the ones Google inserts on its own. They have irritated you (and me) for quite some time. I hope this makes your time spent here more pleasant.