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.