July 1, 2022

Hidden in Plain Sight

Sometimes we miss the obvious. What we see every day can lose its importance, or its ability to please. Things that once caught our eye become part of the decor. That is until someone else points out what is right in front of you.

That someone else was RJ Walters. In the midst of his 6,000-mile drive around a healthy chunk of this country, he paid Betty and me a visit. As part of our time together, we gave him a quick tour of our home. He was interested in where I sat to write this blog. 

When he entered Betty's office/creative space, his eyes opened wide. She has covered most spaces with her current favorite pursuit: flow art. Dozens of examples cover a corkboard and are displayed on all four walls. I see them every day, RJ really "saw" them. 

Later we spent some time on our back porch. RJ's aversion to heat kept that experience short, yet he still had plenty of time to notice, and emphatically point out, the artwork and clever hangings Betty has mounted on the property walls. Much like her office, I have "seen" those examples of her creativity for years, but it took someone new to appreciate them with a fresh eye.

Before he left, RJ made me promise to write a post that features some of Betty's creativity. Regular readers know I have been amazed at her abilities for decades. I have written about her capacity to paint rings around me, though she always is quick to praise my substandard efforts in return. Her photographs could easily sell on a platform like Etsy.

So, to fulfill my promise and give my bride of 46 years (as of two weeks ago!) her proper spotlight, enjoy what I had stopped seeing until I was given a fresh perspective by a friend.

Including the painting at the top of the post, these are examples of her flow art technique:

Using pallets of wood, old barn hinges, crates, and some other add-ons, here are some samples of what Betty designed for our backyard walls:

And, because she has a modesty streak a mile wide, she insisted I add a few of my recent painting attempts:

June 27, 2022

Retirement and Relationships: What Will Change?


This is one of the questions that blog readers ask most often. After finances, what to do all day, and where to live, what retirement does to relationships is top of mind for many of us. We realize there will be changes in how we interact with others. But, will they be for the better or aggravate problems that already exist? Thinking about this issue before you retire (and afterward!) can make a tremendous difference in how smoothly things go.

There are five major categories of relationships that are likely to be affected:

1. Primary relationship: Your marriage or committed partnership will probably undergo the most significant adjustment and become a real 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 is going to change. We each have certain routines and habits that bring us comfort and happiness.

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 require a decision. Both partners need to feel their opinion are being considered. Communication, always vital in a long-term relationship, becomes even more important when two people are sharing the same space 24 hours a day.

2. Adult children: One of the toughest suggestions is to accept the differences between you and your grown kids. Your adult child is not you. As he or she grows, life experiences will result in changes that you may not fully approve of. At this stage of the game, it isn't your job to approve. It's your responsibility to accept them. 

I realize this isn't always easy. You want to save that child from harm, heartbreak, or disappointment. You feel the overwhelming need to share your life experiences.

I urge you to respond to questions or pleas for help as you would any other adult, not your child. Do you talk with your adult child like you would a co-worker, or a friend? Or, do you talk at them? Unsolicited advice-giving or lecturing won't work on another adult. Why would you think it would work on your grown-up child?

3. Grandkids and other relatives: If you are lucky enough to have grandchildren and get to see them often enough to have a relationship, you will experience one of the greatest benefits of retirement: being part of their lives in a method that can change them and you in so many positive ways. To see your children have children is an amazing experience. To be able to participate in their lives is a joy that never ends. Frankly, to be able to say goodbye at the end of the day and leave the messy parts of child-rearing to others is also very nice!

Few things can sour a good relationship with your grown child, his or her spouse, and grandkids quicker than inserting yourself into how the children are being raised. Saying something meant to correct behavior you think is wrong rarely is a smart decision. Talking privately with your child with a suggestion that he or she is making a mistake in child-rearing will not go much better. "That's not how we raised you" are six words that never produce a positive outcome.

Of course, if there is some form of child abuse or serious neglect you must take steps to bring it to a halt. But, usually, the problem is simply one of differences: your child has chosen to raise his or her child without copying your parenting playbook. Accept it.

My youngest daughter is single and intends to stay that way. But, she absolutely relishes her ability to play "Favorite Aunt" to her nieces and nephews. It isn't necessary to have grandkids to be part of the younger people in your family. Maintaining a good relationship with a brother or sister, their significant other, and their offspring can enrich your life tremendously.

4. Work friends: The reality is simple: after a time, you will lose touch with most of the friends you had while working. As a retired person you will move in different circles than they will. Your use of time and schedule will reflect your needs and interests. Moving after retirement is a common occurrence. Without shared experiences at work, you will have much less to talk about. The water cooler gossip will no longer seem important in your new world.

The loss of a circle of friends with whom you shared your life every day is tough. It is very rare that many work friends will still be an important part of your life a few years after you leave work. As we age, we often find it harder to make new friends, but the effort must be made. I will admit adding new friends remains difficult for me. I find new relationships through church, and volunteering, but they are not deep friendships.

5. Social Friends:  Surprisingly, what started out as just exchanging comments with some readers of this blog has produced several, real, in-person relationships where we have traveled with each other or visited them when Betty and I took an RV trip. 

As a single woman, my youngest has a solid group of female friends she can depend on. Her work puts her in contact with dozens of co-workers both male and female. Betty and I know several widows who find strong ties to those in a similar situation through church groups.

Honestly, supportive relationships will make a positive difference in producing a satisfying retirement. They are the building blocks to a happy future.

June 23, 2022

Does It All Add Up?


Do a simple Google search for the phrase, satisfying retirement, and you will find 13 million references. That seems like a lot. But, wait. Try "retirement calculator" and the results soar to 933 million results! I guess I shouldn't be surprised at nearly one billion options for a two-word search since the financial aspects of retirement are top of mind to many.

Today, a true retirement calculator is likely to be found on the Internet. The user enters the numbers of various investments, savings, pensions, Social Security, and the like and predicts how much will be available upon retirement age. Or, it is possible to input your age and lifestyle information and determine how much money you will have to save to be able to retire.

Bear with me.  I'd like to take the retirement calculator phrase and give it a different meaning. I'd like to input the things that tend to make up a satisfying retirement and predict what my life will be like. My dear friend, Galen Pearl, had a sentence in a post several years ago that sums this up quite well:"Balance sheets work with money, but not always with life."   Instead of 401(k) or IRA numbers, investment and savings amounts, inheritances, and home equity I'd like to be able to input:

...My passion index would be a measure of my ability to truly enjoy the time and opportunity retirement gives me. Would I wake up each morning ready to fill my day (and night) with activities and events that light my fire?

...My relationship status. How healthy are my primary relationships? How about friends...do I have any? Like too many men, did I leave all my male relationships back at work? Do I have a mentor, someone I can learn from?

...My health and physical status. In addition to a BMI number, height weight, and overall heart health, am I following a path that will give me as many healthy years as my body is programmed to give me? Will my desire to eat pretty much what I want and relax cost me years of active, productive life?

...My attitudes and demeanor. Will I become like the stereotypical crabby old man...the one who gripes at everything and everyone, the one who believes the world has gone to hell in a handbasket? Will I approach change as a possible good thing?

...My spirituality and belief in a higher power. How can I calculate my place in the universe if I don't believe in something greater than me? What effect will my faith have on my future happiness? How will I handle adversity..as a personal affront or simply a way for me to test my faith and belief system?

...My risk-taking profile. Do I think change is good, or will I fight it? Will I be content to say "I wish I had..." or will I say "I'm glad I...." Will I shy away from a challenge because I might fail, or will I embrace it as a true measure of my aliveness?

No such retirement calculator is available. Converting emotions, knowledge, attitudes, spirituality, and relationship health cannot be quantified. I'm afraid we all have to do these calculations the hard way...by hand, one at a time, for the rest of our lives. 

If only this were real

June 19, 2022

You Are Not Doing it Wrong


For lots of reasons, retirement seems to bring out the critics in us and in others. Too often, we are convinced we are doing it all wrong. We didn't plan well financially. Our kids live a thousand miles away and we only see them twice a year, but we love our home, too. 

We haven't found a passion that has us so excited we bounce out of bed at 5 in the morning to get started. We do a little volunteering but not nearly as much as others seem to. We binge-watch shows on Netflix instead of taking art classes or going to plays. In short, we are messing up our retirement.

Stop. Rewind. Reboot. Reject your internal judge. A satisfying retirement is an individually-designed unique path. Since unique means there is nothing else like it in the universe, you can't be doing things wrong....there is nothing to compare your retirement to. There is no way to judge uniqueness as either right or wrong. That's the beauty of living a unique life.

Isn't that an empowering thought? You don't have to compare anything you are doing to what another is doing, whatever books, the Internet, or your friends say.  There are good ideas or new concepts to consider. Hints and tips from others may be worth adopting. But, you can't be wrong, you can only determine you need to make a change.

Now, this doesn't mean you can't make mistakes. It doesn't mean you could have done something differently that might have been more satisfying for you. It doesn't mean you won't make adjustments to your retirement lifestyle. 

But, those things are not wrong. They represented your best decision at the time. The choices were what you believed best suited you at that moment. If some of those choices proved to not work well for you, then you adjust them. You find something that fits your needs, your wants, your comfort zone. Your retirement evolves as you do. 

Would I live the same lifestyle now that I did when I was in my 20s, playing rock music on the radio, even if I could? Not for a second. Would I want to repeat my 30s as a new dad? No. Would I have wanted to live in my 40s the way I am living now? Of course not. 

Every decade of my life has involved changes in attitudes and decisions. What I have done along the way did not always have the best results. So, I adjusted or replaced what had been parts of my life with something more in tune with the essential me. Those changes happen over and over again, especially in retirement because I have the freedom to make those changes.

I've done nothing "wrong" in my retirement, and neither have you. It is just not possible.  

June 15, 2022

A New Challenge!

 A few weeks ago, RJ Walters, blogger at RJ's Corner,  paid us a visit. He was in the midst of a month-long, several thousand-mile journey in his self-built mini RV. After a decade of being virtual blogging friends, he was anxious to finally meet Betty and me in person. His trip took him through Arizona so we did spend time together.

In addition to several hours of conversation, we shared a delightful meal at a local Mexican restaurant. RJ is totally deaf and has been for years. Even so, technology has advanced to the point where he can have his tablet convert someone's spoken words into text for him to read. His brain still remembers what words are supposed to sound like, so he talks very well and responds to the text he sees in front of him.

Betty is not deaf but has significant hearing loss. Her hearing aids allow her to overcome that disability quite well, but there are times when she doesn't wear them, or finds them irritating, like in a loud restaurant or public setting. My hearing is showing age-related losses, too. As soon as over-the-counter hearing aids of decent quality are available, I will get a pair. 

In the meantime,  RJ presented me with a challenge. He suggested that we both learn sign language. There may come a time when Betty's hearing aids, or the ones I get are no longer able to make spoken communication possible. 

Before that happens, we would be well-prepared for that eventuality if we mastered the basics of signing. Since our youngest daughter is also suffering from hearing loss, there may be a time when the three of us need this skill.

Not one to turn away from a challenge, and married to a woman who believes the same, we are committed to following his suggestion. We don't have to learn it all; we need to know enough to allow us to not sink into feeling cut off from others.

We learned there are several types of sign language. The most commonly used in the U.S. is American Sign Language. Hand signs represent concepts or phrases.. Signed English allocates different signs for each word in a sentence; communication is more precise.  For our purposes, we have decided to go with the ASL approach, at least to get started. After all, being married for 46 years means we already communicate in a form of old people shorthand.

I am now looking at our options: online courses or YouTube videos seem the most logical choice. Then we will commit to a few hours each week to learn and practice new signs. I certainly want to thank RJ for this suggestion. It is one I am quite sure will come in handy in the not-too-distant future.

By the way, the hand symbol pictured at the top of this post means, good, in ASL.

June 11, 2022

A Life-Changing Letter

The air was heavy with mosquitos and humidity. Shouts from young boys came from every direction as energy not burned off during the day had to go somewhere.  Sunset was fast approaching, the end of my fifth day at Camp Ockanickon an hour or so away from our Southern New Jersey home, 

I was familiar with it all: the tents, a dingy dining hall, a lake brown with decaying leaves and weeds that required a hose down after swimming, the nightly campfire, counselors with whistles, and a daily schedule full enough that everyone was too tired to notice the lumpy mattresses. 

Nothing was different from what it should be except, this year, I was a C.I.T., a counselor in training. Not that different from a first-year student at a military school, the C.I.T.s were responsible for all the grungy, routine chores necessary to keep a hundred boys from hurting themselves or others over the seven days we were together. 

Being a summer camp counselor was a position most of my acquaintances yearned for. Away from parents, annoying brothers and sisters, and not being at home for the seven weeks of summer break was the stuff of dreams. Living in the woods and being in charge was the ultimate...and there was your first real paycheck. True, it was sent home to mom and dad, but still, the path to financial independence had been started.

There was only one problem for me: I hated the job. I disliked the eight to ten-year-old boys I was supposed to guide through their wilderness experience. They had an independent streak wider than the lake. Bedtime and lights out held no meaning. Two of the youngest still wet their beds at night, too afraid to venture to the outhouse in the dark. 

Amazing to me, within the first two days cliques had formed; the less popular boys found themselves picked on, ignored, or the butt of practical jokes from sunup to "supposed" bedtime. 

The full-time counselors found my struggles funny. Being a few years older than me, they took it upon themselves to make sure I understood my place in the camp hierarchy. 

The fun stuff, like swimming, boating, games, or free time to explore was for the "paying" customers. I was responsible for maintaining order and not losing anyone in the woods. But, actually doing any of the things a twelve-year-old boy would enjoy at a summer camp...were off-limits to me.

By the end of the first week, I was ready to admit defeat, throw in my whistle, and have my parents pick me up and take me back to the safety of my suburban home. 

I was a quitter. I couldn't handle my first taste of responsibility. I was homesick an\d unable to rise to the challenge. I had ruined my chance of becoming someone. If I had a tail it would have been tucked far enough under my legs to reach my chin.

During that low point, my grandfather did something that literally changed my life.  He wrote me a letter. In it, he calmly explained what my choice to quit meant, what it said about me, and what it would mean to my future. The result was his turning a seeming personal disaster into one of the most important lessons of my youth, and one that directly affected the next forty years.

He assured me my decision was not a failure. While disappointing and seemingly a mark of immaturity, he wanted me to see the silver lining inside that dark cloud. He made the point that I had admitted my incorrect choice and had determined that all would be better off with my departure. 

He made it clear that life is full of mistakes and choices that do not work out as envisioned. The only failure is not learning from such a development. He made it clear he loved me and knew my future was bright.

His words lifted a crushing burden from my shoulder. Though I was not ready to admit my leaving camp was bad, he give me the opportunity to see what had happened from a different perspective.

Within a few months, our family moved to a different part of the country. Camp Ockanickon was behind me. As luck or fate would have it granddad's words would come alive, I had my first exposure to the inside of a radio station.

Instantly, I was captivated by the sights and sounds of what I saw. In less than an hour, I had found the path my life would follow for the next forty years. My grandfather's grace and wisdom let me be open to a new experience not many months after my camp failure. His letter gave me permission to think about what could be, not what was.

His wisdom not only turned
 a humiliating childhood experience around, but he gave me the confidence to look for other opportunities to figure out where I fit in the world. His profession of librarian and lifelong lover of the written word is responsible for my passion for books, reading, and volunteering for a leadership role at my local library. He not only turned a humiliating childhood experience around, but he gave me the confidence to look for other opportunities to figure out where I fit in the world.

Bless you, granddad.

June 7, 2022

Creativity May Not Be What You Think It Is

Creativity is a word that sometimes scares people. Many of us have this self-limiting view of the subject and believe we aren't gifted in that way. If that describes you, then it is important to understand what it means to be creative. 

What is Creativity?

It does not have to be anything to do with painting, writing, sculpting or any of the things we usually think of as being creative. Rather it is seeing the familiar in a different light. It is the desire to work on something because it’s interesting, exciting, satisfying, or personally challenging. It is about expressing what is uniquely you. It is being unconventional when needed, or part of a team when that is required. It involves being driven to find an answer. 

We use creativity every day in every aspect of our lives. Our creativity is evident in the clothes we wear or the style of our hair. Creativity is expressed in the way we talk to others or write a report. It is exhibited in our ability to play sports or dance or perform yoga movements. Creativity is happening when you understand your own feelings or those of others.

One of the problems people have in seeing themselves as creative is the fear of not being perfect, to do something well right from the start. That holds us back and keeps us from expressing ourselves fully. I am a prime example of someone with a severe case of "beginners"  syndrome: I hate not being good from the get-go. 

The Core of All Creativity

The core of creativity is a sense of curiosity. Without wondering how things work,  how something is made, or how to improve something, creativity isn't needed. Curiosity is what pushes you to learn something new or try a different way of solving a problem. It can be as simple as wondering what would happen if you added rosemary and salsa to the recipe or tried to grow a tomato in a pot on the porch. It could be as complicated as building a kiln and learning how to fire pottery. It could be as mundane as finding a new way to organize your daily chores so you finish sooner.

The point is, creativity covers virtually every aspect of our life. Only when we construct a comfort zone and place a wall around our ideas does creativity stop. Then you meet no new people, you experience no new sensations, you try no new way to solve a problem. At that point what happens is your life begins to die just a little every day.

Author Jordan Ayan in his book, Aha! uses a strong image to describe the curiosity that is the driving force behind creativity. He says to think of a funnel. Through the hole at the bottom of the funnel flows what you know. The main body of the funnel holds what you know you don't know. Then above the top of the funnel lies what you don't know you don't know. That is what you explore when you become curious.

The Characteristics of Curiosity

There are several characteristics a curious person possesses. The first is openness. This is the willingness to respect something new and accept a different way of doing something. It is being open to new people, thoughts, and things.

Another important characteristic is the ability to accept ambiguity. If an answer to a problem or a fresh idea isn't immediately available, a curious person is OK with that. The lack of certainty is the opening for creativity to begin.

The acceptance of risk is important. This isn't the type of risk involved in betting everything on a spin of the roulette wheel, or jumping out of a third story window to see what happens. It means being OK with failure. It means risking that you might look less than perfect. It also means taking the risk that you will discover something new and exciting.

Another quality of the curious is energy. Mr. Ayan talks about not just the physical energy to work at a task. There is the mental energy to think through a problem or confront something unknown. There is the energy of passion that drives you forward.

Optimism is a characteristic that I believe to be essential. This is the belief that whatever is being done will ultimately pay off. While failure may happen again and again as new ideas are explored, that is OK. Each wrong approach gets you closer to the right one. Even if the entire experience does not end in the result you want, the process was still rewarding. That is optimism.

The exciting thing about discovering your own creativity is once you start it is almost impossible to stop. Each new discovery opens up a new inspiration or approach. Each step forward makes it easier to take the step after that. Creativity begins to feed on itself. Sounds great, doesn't it? But, how exactly does one tap into this flow of creativity? If we all have this ability, how do we use it to enhance our life?

Questions for you: Tell us about a time when you discovered a creative answer to a problem. Have you ever been startled by an idea that just suddenly popped into your head?

June 3, 2022

Looking Back At My Younger Self


One of the weekly writing lessons that popped into my inbox a few weeks ago seemed worth pursuing. The focus was on my youth, specifically early childhood. To stimulate my memories the exercise posed several questions. Since I tend to be more forward-looking than reminiscing about the past, this seemed like a worthy challenge. 

The first question asked me to paint a word picture of the first decade or so of my life. That one was easy: secure and loved. Even though we moved a lot a bit later in my life, my formative years were spent primarily in two communities, one in southern New Jersey and a suburb north of Boston. The towns were safe.  Schools were well maintained with lots of PTA support.

The one I have the most memories of was in Massachusetts. It was a typical, well-off Boston suburb, with a white-sided Congregational church dominating the public square. Fourth of July parades, complete with high school bands and cheerleaders, kids on bikes with baseball cards stuck in the spokes to make a motor sound, and the local VFW in full dress. 

I was the firstborn, which comes with its own privileges and burdens. First children usually have the strictest rules and concerned parents. We are given duties and chores that build in us a sense of responsibility, but also a pressure to not let others down. It is likely my need to have a to-do list for everything began during this period. While I wasn't given specific instructions to watch over my two younger brothers at all times, the expectation was unspoken but clear.

Frankly, I don't recall any early struggles. I remember my father spanking me once over some infraction, but that was a singular event. Neither mom nor dad believed in corporal punishment, understanding that expressing disappointment in my behavior was a more powerful deterrent.

I have written before that my dad endured several periods of unemployment and one major business failure. Yet, he never allowed his struggles to impact his family. In fact, until I was old enough to grasp what all the stacks of resumes meant on the dining room table, I had no reaction to his being home a lot more than other dads. It was simply the way our family was.

Mom's teaching job, her ability to make casseroles out of anything, and her solid support for her husband meant the three boys were pretty much in the dark about family struggles. Decades later, when they both had died and left a sizable estate to their three sons I fully appreciated what financial discipline and familial dedication look like.

Watching Boston Celtics or Bruins sports on TV, a weekly time for Ed Sullivan (yes, watching the Beatles as a family), and an occasional special event were the extent of our TV viewing as a family.  Howdy Doody was a favorite of mine but was watched at a neighbor's home. 

I do remember two special "Lowry" rules: no comic books, ever, and only one Coke a week. Of course, reading books and even newspapers was strongly supported. Even today, in my mind a cola is sort of a special treat. 

Considering my career in music and radio you would think the groundwork was laid early, with music an important part of my childhood. Nope. I don't remember music being on in our home very often at all. A record player broke early on but was kept as a piece of furniture near the front door; dropping keys and mail on it was the primary reason for its existence. 

The writing course asked if I had any early influences or role models. As a young man, I remember Christmas get-togethers and a week's stay at my grandparent's "farm" north of Pittsburgh were enjoyable, but I was too young to be aware of any behaviors these folks modeled. As an energy-filled youngster, I don't remember specifics.

As I went through my teen years that changed. In particular, my uncle was someone who shaped me in ways I am still uncovering.  With maturity comes awareness. How he conducted himself and treated my brothers and me has had a lasting impact, even if I wasn't aware of it at the time. 

Rereading this post and reflecting on my early years convinces me I was incredibly lucky. Literally, I have no bad memories or lasting emotional issues to deal with. I was given a model of behavior and what it means to be a man, a husband, and a father that I continue to strive to achieve.

My early years had no drama, no pain, and very little disappointment. Things became a bit for interesting as I aged, but never of the sort that would make a good movie or novel.

Boring but true.

May 30, 2022

Social Media: Its Place in Our Lives


When you read the phrase "social network," what do you think of - Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or Tiktok? Is your first thought that it is past time to post some fresh pictures or read what your friends are doing and thinking?

The dictionary definition of a social network agrees: a dedicated website or other application that enables users to communicate with each other by posting information, comments, messages, images, etc. 

Notably, that is the second definition listed for the phrase, social network. The first explanation is the one that seems to be lost to many of us today: a network of social interactions and personal relationships.

For many in America (the only country I can speak of with confidence), the first definition has been lost in the chatter and bustle of a permanently connected electronic leash between us and others. We are all familiar with the reality of the 24-hour-a-day nature of news and information. The gap between something happening and everyone made aware of it is measured in seconds or minutes. 

I read an article on HuffPost a few years ago about a growing business: electronic detox. Attendees of these conferences are not allowed a cell phone, laptop, or tablet use for the weekend. The goal is twofold: to dramatically demonstrate how addicted many of us are to these devices and to teach someone to physically talk with and respond to another human being face-to-face.

Not surprisingly, the article mentioned the relatively high dropout rate of attendees. After just a few hours, the desire to check for messages or text someone was too strong to deny. You can certainly appreciate the irony of texting someone that you are at a weekend retreat to break the hold electronics has on you. 

I removed myself from Twitter several years ago. While I maintain a presence on Facebook, my participation in the regular flow of messages and videos is minimal; the snarky, vulgar, and nasty stuff affects my attitude throughout the day. I felt motivated to respond in kind. 

Frankly, I am interested to see what happens if Elon Musk follows through on his plan to purchase Twitter. He talks about more freedom of speech, apparently forgetting this was the place that was such a negative part of the 2016 and 2020 elections because of all the misinformation, hate, and fear-mongering. Is Mr. Musk going to open the floodgates again?

How will he pay back the tens of billions this purchase would cost him? Will Twitter become a subscription service? Will the doors to all advertisers swing wide open again? It will be both fascinating and terrifying to watch.

I get requests to join someone's LinkedIn network once a month or so, but I politely decline. While I occasionally look at Pinterest to get some fresh ideas for painting, it would take too much of my time to participate in a meaningful way. Instagram? TikTok?  Nope.

Another development is the problem of fake news on Facebook and other sites. These legitimate-looking articles contain "news" stories with little or no truth. They are designed to promote a particular point of view, deceive readers, or to prompt action based on fabrications. I must admit I have clicked on several stories that seemed legitimate but on closer examination, were not.

Social Media can be anonymous. The name chosen to represent someone is usually not the person's real name. Even a picture may be of someone else. With that comes a problem. It is too easy to hide behind a made-up name and spew hate or slurs with impunity.

Though we tend to think of younger folks using social media to settle scores or degrade someone, I doubt if age is a reliable test. During the last election season, Twitter, Facebook, and I assume other sites were positively toxic at times, and it seemed clear that many of the participants were from our age group.

Even if you'd never consider sending messages like that, just reading them can be upsetting and depressing. It is vital that we steer clear of reading things that are designed to add stress to our lives or cause us to react in a negative way.

The problem, then becomes building and maintaining a meaningful social network of real people. I will be the first to admit I am a loner by nature. When you consider my 35-year career in radio, that seems a little odd. Entertaining thousands of people at a time on the radio doesn't seem like a good fit. But, actually, it worked well. Locked in a studio with some records and a microphone, I could project a friendly, let's party type of presentation while operating wholly alone and not dealing in person with many of those listeners.

In retirement, my loner nature pretty much continues. I can "behave" well in social situations. I smile, listen to others and affirm someone else whenever I can. But, I just find making many new friends to be hard work. I have lots of acquaintances and  "Hi, neighbor" type exchanges, but few close relationships.

Blogging has been good for me in this regard. I have met several new people in person who are either fellow bloggers or readers. I find those exchanges to be quite satisfying.

I look forward to spending time with those folks. We share everyday experiences and common problems and have an easy time relating. Those friendships have blossomed into something much more than just blogging issues. 

I think as we get older, friendship becomes more difficult at precisely the time they are needed the most. Work relationships fall away. For many years, those we have known move away, get sick or die. Adult kids have their own lives and families, so interaction time diminishes. 

There are solutions. Join a club or a group that focuses on an activity you like. Become more active in your church or spiritual community, something more than an hour on a Sunday morning. Volunteer in such a way that you interact with people. Use things like Zoom or Marco Polo to stay in touch with friends who live too far away to see anymore. Of course if your personality type leans toward being a loner, then those simple ideas don't hold much appeal or seem to work well. 

Many of my posts urge you to live your life your way. The retirement journey is personal and unpredictable. Part of the reason it is so much fun is that change is a constant. Yes, there may be periods of boredom or staleness, as I well know. But, overall, the experience for most of us is quite positive.

So, my question to you is this: social networks and interactions can be positive. The benefits of being with others are well documented. 

But, what if you are happier being alone, or primarily with your spouse or partner? What if social media's whole "social" part feels badly misnamed?  How do you respond when someone wants to be a friend on one of the social media sites? Do you accept or politely decline? 

How "social" are you?

Your thoughts and experiences are encouraged.

May 26, 2022

Changing Positions

Recently, I read a poem in the New York Times Sunday Magazine  Of Errands by Rick Barot. It is about how roles in life often reverse themselves as we age. The author's core example was of his parents, his sister, and himself. 

His parents would be in the front seat, his sister and himself in the back. Whether it was to go to church, on a road trip, to visit a relative, or any of the times the four of them were together, that was the way things were: parents in front, kids in back.

I still remember the first time I was considered old enough to sit in "mom's" seat. That meant I was allowed to pick the radio station we all listened to. I remember not being terribly adventurous in my choice; I didn't want to lose my future seating. 

Then, not too many years ago, things started to switch.  When running errands, going to the store, visiting friends, or taking a Sunday drive, the author realized that functions had been reversed. He drove while his sister occupied the passenger seat. Mom and dad were in the back. He felt "everything was in the wrong place."  He observed that throughout life, sometimes people are beside you, sometimes in front, and sometimes behind you. Time adjusts our position.

The images he created are powerful.  This reversal of roles is very real for those of us of a certain age. Maybe Dad finally gave up driving when he couldn't pass the eye test. Mom was never comfortable taking "Dad's place" behind the wheel unless it was an emergency. 

Slowly, over time, we became the parent to a parent. To go to a doctor's appointment, pick up a prescription, visit the bank, or travel across the state to see a sister, we become the person behind the wheel, while the children's usual place is taken by a parent or two.

The seat-switching occurs in all areas of our relationship. Making financial decisions is often ceded to us. When it is time to move to a different housing arrangement, we can be put in the difficult but critical role of insisting a parent must leave their lifelong home for someplace safer. And, there are the medical decisions that our parents once made for us that now fall on our shoulders.

For those who move up to the front comes a new way of reacting to life, a different order to things. Aging has worked its slow but never-ceasing adjustments. At some point, we will move into the back seat while someone else drives.

May 22, 2022

Financial Security in an Insecure World

Financial Security


Over the last few months, the stock market has proven yet again it is no place for sissies. Huge drops in the Dow Jones average one day (over 1,100 points in a single session last week!), followed by encouraging partial recovery, only to be dashed by another fear-induced sell-off, makes for an emotional roller coaster. What will the Fed do about interest rates? What happens to the price of oil? Who can do something about inflation? Will the supply chain problem ever be corrected?

The war in Ukraine drags on, with millions of its citizens displaced and thousands killed. Putin doesn't know how to quit without putting control of his country in serious jeopardy. The underdog lives to fight another day, but the outcome is pure speculation. The world economy is in a tizzy, and Europe trying to make do without Russian oil, gas, and wheat. NATO might gain new members, but only if Turkey allows it. 

China has become the financial equivalent of jello: a seemingly solid mass that quivers and shakes with each new move by its government to hold things together. Covid is back, resulting in millions back into lockdown.

The bottom line is financial headaches, real or imagined, for nearly all of us. Even if you don't have much skin in what happens on Wall Street, we are all affected by what happens worldwide. It is absolutely true that if one developed country sneezes, we all worry about catching a cold. 

So, what does all this mean for the concept of planning for retirement financial security? If you are retired, close to leaving the workforce, or even just thinking about the time when you will be freer to live your dreams, what are you supposed to do when the Dow drops 1,000, you can't afford your dream home, or China, the world's second-largest economy, starts to slow down? 

Do you rejoice when gas prices drop or realize that it is likely a temporary blip Prices around $5 a gallon may be the new norm for quite a while. ? What about the West's drought...how will that affect food prices and life for the 40 million people who depend on the Colorado River to keep flowing?? Lake Mead and Lake Powell are draining faster than a toddler's bathtub.

As regular readers know, I am a non-financial blogger. I still managed to retire at 52 by following a simple rule: spend less than I made. I have had a few financial advisers over the years. Generally speaking, they have been positives for me.

Yes, some of their recommendations were poor (think Greek banks in 2012), and I lost money. Since the financial markets are not logical and are subject to seemingly counterintuitive moves, I  know losing is part of the process. As long as the growth exceeds the decline by a decent percentage, I am happy. 

So, what is financial security, and how do you achieve it? I suggest there are three parts to the answer:

1. Knowledge. I don't mean understanding derivatives, swaps, or other esoteric financial tactics that helped launch the 2008 meltdown. Obviously, many professionals didn't understand what they were buying either. I mean knowledge about your goals, the actual state of your financial health, and the amount of risk and uncertainty you are willing to tolerate. Self-knowledge is key. Without it, your future is at the mercy of others.

2. Patience. This is a tough one in a culture that literally screams at us, "buy now and buy often." Saving for something and delayed gratification is not part of our collective mindset. An article in the paper last weekend recounted the trend of those under 35 giving up on saving for retirement. After two years of Covid, these folks have decided that planning for an unknown future is silly. Enjoy life while you can before another ...whatever...knocks us on our rears again.

Even if we have little or nothing invested in stocks, when the market falls, we react in precisely the wrong way by allowing panic or fear to dictate how we manage our financial assets. When housing prices begin to skyrocket like they have been for the last few years, we decide to sell our homes so we don't miss out on the rising tide - completely forgetting that the house we are moving to is also hugely more expensive. 

Patience is a winning strategy in much of life, particularly in financial matters. The hare lives up to 10 years. The tortoise is closer to 150 years. There is a reason he eventually wins the race. 

3. Attitude.  This is the belief that you have successfully prepared for your retirement. Life may make that difficult, but without an attitude that the problems can be overcome or worked to your advantage, severe damage will have been done to your long-term success. This isn't just positive thinking. Instead, the proper attitude allows you to make appropriate decisions, execute your plan, and adjust your goals. I know that the losses my investment account is showing are only real if I liquidate now. My attitude is they are paper losses, I will not deviate from my plan.

Financial security does require some money. It does require being smart with your investments. It does require a certain level of resources, though that level is different for each of us. That is the reality. 

But, I contend that the mental part of the equation is as important. With self-knowledge, patience, and the right attitude, your financial security is not just what is in the bank or the broker's, but what is in your mind. 

And, unlike a stock market that runs more on emotion than logic, I find it quite comforting that the mental part of financial security is 100% under my control.

 I find that quite satisfying.

May 18, 2022

Grownups in The Room


The title grabbed my attention: 10 Ways to Live More Frugally. In the section on retirement, this article in a national newspaper listed ideas for cutting back spending during retirement.

Unfortunately, the author used an approach I refer to as "Eat Your Vegetables," meaning the information is so basic, so much common knowledge, it is like telling someone to stop smoking, exercise more, and eat more fruits and vegetables to improve his health. There is nothing new, nothing that hasn't been suggested a million times before.

A sampling of the 10 Ways included:

* Plan carefully if you are thinking of moving
* Plan your meals for the week
* Review your cable or streaming bills
* Be a savvy grocery shopper
* Check out discounts and freebies

I am a little surprised that the list didn't include: don't walk in front of a bus, and close the windows when it is raining. OK, that is a bit snarky. But, seriously, the best this national newspaper can come up with is to review your Internet bill and look for dining discounts?

Sometimes I think folks who write retirement articles are all in their 20s or 30s and look at us as if we have lost the ability to think. They present ideas as if their target reader is a class of 2nd graders. They have no clue what our life is like or what steps we have already taken to ensure a satisfying retirement. They tend to overlook that we have had to make a lot of decisions and hard choices just to be old enough to qualify as a retiree! 

A thoughtful article on ways to cut expenses during retirement is always welcome. Cutting out waste and evaluating where our money goes is important. A  national survey of those 65-74 suggests that we spend 43% of our money on our home and house-related expenses. 14% for transportation, 13% for food, and 11% for health costs (thank you Medicare!). 

If those numbers are accurate, nearly half our money each year goes to keeping a roof over our head and in good repair. Logically, there are substantial saving possibilities in that category alone. Everything from freezing property taxes for those over 65, or getting help with utility bills if your income is low enough to qualify, to the potential savings from installing energy-efficient windows, solar panels, new siding, or using LED lights are worth exploring. 

My bottom line is simple: articles in national newspapers and magazines that target retirees should be putting more effort into the content. We are not simpletons that need to be told to look for coupons to save money when dining out. We are grownups who have done quite well, thank you very much. Give us meaningful, actionable information that isn't a simple repackaging of hackneyed, trite, and obvious material. 

Does this qualify as a rant?

I feel better now.

May 14, 2022

When Should I retire?

 Every so often, I am returning to the roots of Satisfying Retirement and rerunning an older post that deals with the nuts and bolts of retirement. This post has been read almost 50,000 times since first published, so if anything I have written before is deserving of another airing, this is it.

If you have yet to leave full-time work and have questions about what is ahead, I trust these posts will help you. If you have already retired, there is never a bad time to review what got you there and how to improve your experience. 

From eleven years ago

"When should I retire" is a question I hear a lot. Comments left on the blog or e-mails filling my inbox ask for help in knowing when it is time to call it quits. The answer I give is usually the same: For your individual situation, I have no idea. Retiring from your present full-time job to begin your satisfying retirement is one of the more important decisions you will make during your lifetime. There are so many factors to consider that you must put in the time and effort to come to the best answer for you.

I wrote the  following post about 6 months ago. In looking it over I think the information is valuable enough to repeat now without many changes. I have a lot of new readers who may not have seen this the first time. If so, I urge you to add your comments at the end. Fresh input is very valuable to all of us. If you remember reading this post when first published, I hope a second time will spark your thinking about one or more of the points raised.

You know it is time to retire when....

You dread going to work every day. You are tired and dispirited. Everyone has an off day or a few days every now and then. But, if that feeling is present pretty much all the time, you may have reached your limit.

You are being asked to do more work for a less money. This is the hidden message in that last productivity memo you received. To preserve your job you will have to accept a salary cut and pick up the slack of those unfortunate souls who got a pink slip. For the short term it may be in your best interest to accept this. But if the situation begins to look semi-permanent, you may have second thoughts.

You feel the essential "you" is slipping away. There isn't enough time for you to do what satisfies you and makes you happy. You find yourself doing things that make you uncomfortable. Your world has shrunk to work-sleep-work.

You can't wait to get home to work on a project or new passion. Closely tied to the "you" reference above. All your thoughts revolve around after work hours. There never is any time to do that thing you really love.

You complain to anyone who will listen (and even many who will not) about work. Spending your energy and life in a negative place increases your stress and shortens your life. It is also a quick way to get fired.

You have saved enough to live without a regular paycheck. You have run the numbers so often your calculator is melting. There are solid income streams that make you feel you can do this. You have thought through contingencies. You have thought about worst-case scenarios. The numbers still work. You feel confident in your financial planning and long term situation.

A loved one is very sick, and you'd rather spend your time with that person while you can. Whether a parent, child, relative, or best friend, there is no do-over if that person isn't likely to be with you through your retirement. Do you feel strongly that person needs you right now? 

Your health is beginning to slip and you have things you want to accomplish while you still can. In this case you are on the other side of the fence. You are sure you will not be physically or mentally able to do what you'd like to do if you wait too long to retire. You decide it is more important to enjoy your freedom while you have it, even if it means a more limited lifestyle.

You have affordable alternatives for acceptable health insurance and care. This question is hard to answer at the moment. Everything seems to be in a state of flux. But, if your health coverage through work will continue, or your Medicare and supplemental policy are working well you are better off than many. Plan to spend much more than you think you will. If the budget still works you have dealt with one of the biggest hurdles to a satisfying retirement.

You are excited about making a major change in your life (where you live, how you spend your time) Change is life. A life without change is in a rut. Change can be stimulating, exciting, terrifying, and necessary. Sometimes you just have to shake it up and that thought gets your blood racing.

Your self-identity isn't defined by your job. You have a life and and sense of self worth not dependent on work. This is important. There are few things sadder than someone who retires and discovers he has no life outside of work. If you have at least some friends who are not co-workers, enjoy hobbies or other activities you are much closer to being ready to leave the job.

What do you want to do with the rest of your life? When do you want to do it? Aren't those the most important questions? When you can answer them, you may be ready.

Which of these questions and statements fit your situation? If you are retired, which ones were most important to you when you made the decision? Retirement today is quite different from a retirement lifestyle of even 10-15 years ago. You may plan for more work. You may want to stay in your home as long as possible. Sun City holds little appeal. You may be chomping at the bit to spend a few years overseas on mission work. You are ready for a new phase of your life, not for your life to end in a whimper. Your thought: retirement  only the beginning of a new part of my life.

How do you know when to retire? You just do.

May 10, 2022

Traveling and Pets: What's An Owner To Do?

A reader asked if I would address an issue that is causing her some conflicting emotions. She and her husband like to travel on occasion. What deeply bothers her is the reality of pets that must be left behind. She has a friend that will take care of the basic daily needs of her cats. Yet, she worries about loneliness and shirking responsibility for the animal's well-being. She notes the cats have difficult schedules and need special attention. Her concern is deep enough that it is affecting her willingness to travel.

For some of us with pets, friends willing to act as pet-minders don't exist. That means our furry family member must endure days or weeks in a kennel cage. Sure, the better facilities will make sure the dog or cat gets daily exercise and human contact. Even so, to think of Muffin in a cage, away from all she knows, can be just as upsetting for the human owner.

One option is a pet sitter. We have used this option a time or two with good results.  A trained and vetted person moves into your home or apartment for the time you will be gone. They will allow the animal to stay in a familiar setting and retain its usual schedule. Obviously, the owner must be comfortable having a stranger spend time in their home, sleeping in their bed, using their facilities, all while caring for the pet. There is a level of trust that may be uncomfortable for some. While not inexpensive, our experience is the cost is no greater than a good quality kennel. 

Even though our beloved Bailey died almost a year and a half ago, we are experiencing the same travel-dog issues as the reader. One of our daughters is out of town a lot for her business. That means we are home to her doggie, Adler, for probably 100 days a year. The good news: we love her, and she loves our house. For the first few days, she mopes around wondering where her real mommy is. But then she settles into life with Gran and Grandad.

The only problem, and it is a minor one, is our travel. Any plans we have must be fitted into those times when we aren't dog-sitters. A spur-of-the-moment getaway has to be carefully planned, which kind of kills the spontaneity of the concept! But, we willingly accept that restriction because we know Adi would not do very well in a kennel environment. She is a very people-centered pet who needs to be around humans on a continuous basis. She has never been crate-trained so a kennel would not be in her best mental interest.

Plus, we can save our daughter thousands of dollars in boarding fees by opening our door and hearts to her fur baby, and the hole in our home left by the passing of Bailey is amply filled by Adi. All in all, a win-win for our daughter, her pet, and us.

Obviously, there are solutions to the pet-travel puzzle. However, none really address the very real problem of being able to leave a beloved pet that may have special needs. Worry is not conducive to a great travel experience.

So, here is my question to you: if you have a pet, how do you handle this situation? What steps do you take to feel OK about leaving? If you don't have a pet at the moment but did at one time, I invite you to share your story. 

Each one of us has a different attachment to our pet(s), For some, the pet is such a part of the family, and we have bonded in a way that our emotional attachment can alter travel or lifestyle choices. For others, the dog or cat is a positive addition to one's life, but not something that affects decisions at this level.

There is no wrong answer to this dilemma. But, I trust we can offer this reader some options, or at least words of support for this predicament. She is aware her feelings are an impediment to fully enjoying travel and vacation options. I think she just wants understanding and "I've been there" kind of backing.

And, for those of us with pets, I am anxious to learn how others address this situation.