October 29, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 25, 2021

When Radio Was A Thing

courtesy Joe Haupt Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bob Seger & his band

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some things never change.

October 21, 2021

Internet Privacy and Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go to Medicare.gov for more information.

October 17, 2021

Passionate About The Possibilities and Honest About The Realities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 13, 2021

When The Grandkids Begin To Chart Their Own Paths

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is expected, but it is still sad.

October 9, 2021

What if Where I Live becomes Unlivable?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 5, 2021

Streaming Services: How "Plus" Are All The Plus Options?

Remember when the concept of streaming shows on TV, on-demand, on your schedule, did not exist? Unless you had a VHS machine hooked up to HBO or one of the channels available on your cable provider, you watched what was offered at the time it was on. Likely you had a hundred, maybe two hundred choices. The fact that you really only watched a dozen of them with any regularity was simply the way the video ball bounced. You did not have many choices to drop things that didn't interest you, though the companies were quite happy to give you "premium" channels, for a higher bill.

All that began to change in 2005 when YouTube starting offering streaming videos. In addition to DVDs mailed to your house, Netflix began streaming movies and TV shows directly into the home in 2007. Watching became something that could be based on the user's schedule. Amazon launched Instant Video in 2011. And, the race was on.

Over the next several years "cutting the cord" became common practice: getting rid of your wired TV service and signing up for one, two, or more streaming services. For many of us, our monthly bill for entertainment was cut in half, and the choices of what to watch seemed almost infinite.

What came next should have been completely predictable. Realizing their dominance over our watching choices, streaming services began to segment their product. Hulu was the first. In 2010 it added Hulu Plus as a choice: no commercials but a monthly fee higher than the streaming service with advertising. Other companies quickly followed. Content moved from the mainstream service to a premium, or plus, channel that cost more but promised exclusive programming and more choices.

The Plus choice race was on. Just a sample includes Disney Plus. Apple TV Plus, PBS Passport, HBO Max, ESPN Plus, Discovery Plus,  Samsung TV Plus. BET Plus, and Paramount Plus (the old CBS Access)At last count, there were over 400 "Plus" streaming services.

And guess what? Folks started migrating to the more expensive Plus choices while keeping "standard" options like Netflix and Prime. With the price increase for Netflix and Prime (based on increases in the shipping service), some selectivity was needed. Otherwise, the monthly bill for video services would start to approach the old cable TV days.

The Lowry household has Netflix, Prime, Hulu (with the ads), Disney Plus, Curiosity, and PBS Passport. We have toyed with the offering from Discovery Plus and HBO Max. Services that we have enjoyed in the past, but no longer have include Britbox and Acorn TV, for the great British mystery and crime shows.

Before we add to our monthly bill and have even more choices to make, I am turning to you. This is really an information-gathering post for me. I would like to know what "Plus" services you subscribe to that you can recommend.

What streaming services do you spend the most time with? Where are your streaming entertainment dollars being spent? Should I add to my line-up?

Oh, and while I have your attention, do you still go to regular movie theaters? Is the experience of sharing a movie with other people in a dark room, with great sound, perfect picture, and over-priced popcorn part of your entertainment experience? If you are avoiding them until Covid has lost some of its power to hurt you, do you think you will go back to the local multiplex?

October 1, 2021

Be Yourself - Everyone Else is Taken

This seems like a good place to restart this blog. The focus moves from how to retire successfully to something a little more inclusive. You might have noticed the blog name changed slightly, as did the tag line. Both represent a way to telegraph a shift away from just retirement how-to subject matter.

Regardless of your age, I hope you will find some thoughts and ideas on these pages that resonate with you. I encourage you to leave comments. That is how we build a community of folks who feel comfortable enough to share personal concerns and reactions.

For this post, I am using a quote from author, Oscar Wilde, as a starting place. Sure, his phrase is a little glib and simplistic. Even so, in six words he expresses one of the elemental problems of being human: Who are we? What do we do with our one and only life on this planet? How do we avoid copying someone else's experiences yet still remain connected to other people?

Aren't you glad I tackled such an easy topic on the first full post after a four-month break? 

Let's look at a few of the areas in our lives that have the ability to make it more difficult to be the authentic "us."

Social Media. Personally, I often think of this broad category as unsocial media, but maybe that's just me. The idea was originally a good one: allowing us to connect with friends, family, and new people with whom we share something in common.

That is not how it has evolved. I am hard-pressed to think of any other method for spreading dissatisfaction, misinformation, hatred, bullying, or saying something that makes someone else feel small. 

With that caveat, I am on Facebook. I have family, friends, former work colleagues, and groups of people who share some of my interests. I do admit I find some of Facebook's decisions on what to ban or label as misleading to be puzzling. During the past year of political craziness, I admit to adding to the noise level with some posts that fit the above categories.

I am fighting to control that tendency. The whole vaccine issue has promoted me to share thoughts that express my frustrations. I am trying very hard to control my tendency to point fingers, draw broad-stroke conclusions about others, or do something that contributes to the nastiness that seems to be a regular feature of the Internet.

I left Twitter over two years ago and have felt no pull toward Pinterest, Instagram, or any of the dozens of other ways of spending my time.

Doing something I enjoy even if I am not very good at it. Painting comes to mind. I picked up a brush and canvas about two years ago. A few Bob Ross YouTube videos seemed to promise nearly instant success. Well, not quite. He painted over 10,000 of his wet-on-wet oil paintings before his death; I expected a dozen or so would put me in his category. 

Nope. On average, I painted over or tossed away about 90% of the first year's output. A few were decent enough to frame and put on living room and office walls. But, that speaks more to Betty's graciousness than the quality.

Eight months ago I shifted to acrylic paint. Cleanup was much simpler, paint was less expensive, and the drying time was in minutes instead of days. Again, the acceptable rate was 10-15%.

Importantly, I continue to enjoy the process. Sitting in front of a blank canvas or canvas board, anything is possible. The finished product isn't about to sell on eBay. But, my creativity is being fed and satisfied. 

Not continuing to do something that no longer satisfies. The flipside of the above is learning to not keep doing something because you are supposed to, others want to you, or you feel a sense of obligation that isn't accompanied by satisfaction. 

There is a particular activity that a local volunteer organization made possible that occupied part of each week for almost three years. I enjoyed preparing for each meeting, and time spent working with others. Then, Covid shut everything down. 

When it became possible to reengage, I realized the "been there, done that" feeling was more prevalent than wanting to go back. Certain people expected me to pick up where I left off but that wasn't enough to put me back in that situation.

I have had similar decision points over my journey after work. Looking back, I realize in each case I made the decision that was right for me. For one reason or another, I had moved on. 

Questioning some of my foundational beliefs held since childhood. This is really a whole post in itself, so I will only touch on it now. In matters of religion, church, and beliefs there has been a questioning of much of what came with me from childhood into my adult self. Spirituality and a belief in something larger than myself remains. But, how I experience and react to that belief is evolving. 

This is tricky. My goal is not to upset those closest to me, nor is it to challenge their beliefs in this area. This is a private part that needs to be adjusted with what seems to make the most sense to me. So, I am proceeding quietly.

In 21st century America, and in many other parts of the world, being yourself is not always easy. Pressures to conform, to say the "correct" things in a particular situation, or to not appear too far out of the mainstream are ever-present. We seem to have separated into tribes or cultural camps that act like polar opposites of each other.

I don't believe any human life is meant to be a copy of another's. What satisfies me, what allows me to achieve whatever potential is given to me at birth, to help make the lives of both those I know and those who are strangers to me better is the path I am trying to walk. As Mr. Wilde said, all the other options are taken.