November 27, 2021

Building Friendships Takes Work

 


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

November 25, 2021

Giving Thanks

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


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




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



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

November 22, 2021

What Does All This Mean?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


November 18, 2021

Planning Your Own Retirement Party


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

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

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

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

Driveby teacher thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


November 14, 2021

Why Is It So Hard To Buy A New Car?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


November 10, 2021

What's So Wrong With Relaxing?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Trick of The Light by Louise Penny

Mercy Falls by William Kent Kruger

The Voice Catchers  by Joseph Turow

Why Christianity must change by John Shelby Spong


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

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


November 6, 2021

Two People At Home: Not The Simplest Arrangement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 2, 2021

Two "Laws" to Consider


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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