November 30, 2022

Predictability is Not in Fashion Anymore


Predictability is not very predictable anymore. The world, our country, our schools, our politics, what is up and what is down are in constant flux. Rules and social norms of even just a few years ago no longer necessarily apply. In many cases, we have become immune to the constant shifting of what we take for granted and what we believe to be true. The shift under your feet isn't just an earthquake, it is a societal shift. 

*Have you tried to find a cell phone recently whose primary function is a phone? Does it matter since texting has replaced real conversation? 

*Desktop computers are pretty much gone. Even laptops are giving way to tablets and smartphones. Oh, and e-mail is no longer used by many of us.

*The promise of a pension or 401k being there when you need it is not true anymore. We are mostly on our own.

*Health studies are produced every day that contradict what yesterday's said.  Now, coffee can help prevent heart attacks?

*The political climate is as unstable as the actual climate.

*Even something as commonplace as repairing your own car requires specialized computers. "Check engine" light? To the repair shop, you go.

*Network and cable television have lost the war to Internet streaming that has become as complicated as cable ever was. Who decided everything is now + ?

So, what should our response be to this onslaught?  Can we do anything to get a sense of control back? Simple living or voluntary simplicity is a lifestyle choice that has several attractions. Cutting back on possessions and avoiding much of the material society in which we live have benefits that I have detailed in earlier posts. But, it really has little to do with a response to a complicated and uncertain world. Here are some thoughts to get your own creative juices flowing:

Put more stock in you.  Gather all the opinions you want. Do all the research on any subject that helps you get a handle on the issue. But, when it is decision time, trust you. You should not doubt your own abilities. Learn to trust your gut and intuition. If something doesn't seem quite right to you, then it isn't. Will you make mistakes? Sure you will. But, guess what, you'll make mistakes even if you wait for others to tell you what you should do.

Personal responsibility must make a comeback. The time when we could safely outsource all our decisions to others has ended. Believing the experts almost brought down our economy not that long ago. It should be obvious by now that promises to you by corporations or government aren't always binding. You need to take on more of a load of managing and guiding your own life.

Decide what adds clutter to your life and reduce it. It could something as obvious as too much time on the computer or the Internet. It could be too many possessions to repair, maintain and insure. It might be a house that is much too big for your needs. Maybe a three-car garage doesn't need three cars. Over-commitment is a dangerous form of clutter. Are you the go-to volunteer for everyone? Determine what can be eliminated or cut back and do so.  Less clutter means less stress. Less stress means less complexity.

Learning and changing never stop; don't even tryIt is useless to dig in your heels and try to keep things the way they were (or are). Your life will probably be OK for a while without rushing out for the newest 5G phone. But, to refuse to consider change is a doomed strategy. Read, study, ponder. Try to understand how a change you've been reading or hearing about may affect you.

In summary, I believe there is one basic truth that gives us hope: the more we learn to handle complexity, the simpler it becomes.

Question: Am I overstating the problem of complexity and its effect on us? Have I missed a way to find more simplicity? I encourage your feedback.

November 26, 2022

At Least It Keeps Me Busy

Every once in a while I feel compelled to display what I have painted over the last few months. I show them to push myself to improve and tackle new subjects. If  I didn't have anyone other than me or Betty see what I am up to, I am not sure there would be much improvement, or I would find one thing that is decent and just reproduce the same scene again and again. There is power in accountability.

Also, I know my humble attempts to put brush to canvas have inspired a few others to pull out the long-dormant easel and paint to give it a go, or some other creative attempt that has been forgotten.

My granddaughter noticed months ago that I prefer landscapes to people or animals as my subject. She is correct. I have tried living things, particularly when sketching. But, the end result is more Halloweenish than I prefer, plus I  find landscapes more calming to paint and look at afterward.

So, what follows is a sampling of some of what has been finished. I am averaging a new painting about once a week; some survive and others get covered in white gesso, never to see the light of day until I try something new.

I have asked Betty to share some of her flow art, too. It is a technique that appears deceptively easy but is not. Pouring paint on a canvas and then blowing all the colors around with a straw and hairdryer takes a real artistic eye. I have found the freeform abstract approach isn't my thing.

And, here are some samples of Betty's flow art

I hope this leaves you inspired to follow your passions and interests wherever they lead you!

November 24, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving To All


Though the election season is past us, there remain powerful feelings and a sense that we have a long season of healing.

Even more than most years, for this day I want to keep my focus on the good things in my life, and that starts with family. As we gather together, all the other problems will disappear and become unimportant, at least for a day. Covid may not be gone, but it no longer preventing me from being with the ones I love.

I also must thank my faithful readers. For over twelve years you have made Satisfying Retirement a labor of love for me. You are part of my family, too.

God Bless you and yours on the day to remember the good things in our life. 

Happy Thanksgiving,

Bob and Betty

November 20, 2022

Cooler Weather is Here: Where I Live That a Good Thing

No longer too hot for this!

Cooler weather is a fact of fall. Summer left us two months ago and winter is not far away. Yet, like so much in life, how each of us reacts to seasonal change has a lot to do with where we live, and probably where we grew up.

I spend the first thirty years of my life in the Northeast and Upper Midwest. Lots of cloudy skies, muggy, humid summers, frigid winters, snow as a chore-producing hassle, with icy sidewalks, slippery roads, and the constant need to shovel something....that was my universe.  I am reading that parts of the Buffalo area have  received 6 feet of snow this weekend. That is a lot of shoveling.  

Of course, I understood that places like Florida or Hawaii, or the Caribbean did not experience what I did. But, in that way of making sense of where you are, I just assumed that winters were meant to be cold and miserable, summers sweat-inducing, and the in-betweens of spring and fall not nearly long enough to make up for their evil twins.

Then, I moved to the Southwest. Are you kidding me? There are places where people don't shovel much of anything, plus blue skies and even the sun most days? Because of low humidity levels, it is possible to see 30 miles to the horizon? Winter is to be celebrated, not feared?

I immersed myself in a new understanding of how the weather could directly affect my mood. Three overcast days in a row suddenly seemed unnatural. Rain became a natural phenomenon worthy of soaking in the experience while sitting on the porch with a cup of coffee. 

Blistering summer days were not a biggie. I spend most time inside air-conditioned spaces. Unlike snow, sleet, or ice, there was no shoveling. I could structure any time outside for early or late and hibernate during the day. I found adaption to the new normal easy.

Hot days start sometime in April and last through most of October. The various equinoxes that mark seasonal shifts don't apply. For us, fall starts about now. January often includes stormy weather with temperatures in the 50s from time to time, so that must satisfy nature's need for winter. 

By late February it is not unusual for the thermometer to creep into the 80s every now and then. By March, we are skipping what you probably think of as spring to begin an early summer warmup.

After 37 years of this, I accept our off-kilter way of marking the seasons. But, I have developed a special love, an almost religious greeting of cooler weather. It is welcomed with open arms (and windows and doors). Here in late November, we are just leaving the 80s with the 70s and 60s as the norm. This lovely condition will remain until the atmosphere turns the heat back on in four or five months.

When I was younger, cooler weather and early sunsets felt like a kind of death. The scourge of a frozen winter was bearing down on me and there was to be no respite for many months. Now, cool weather is a rebirth of being able to reengage with nature, fresh air, and a reinvigorated attitude. 

How do you feel about autumn and the inevitability of winter just a month ahead? Do you welcome the changes, or are already making plans for what to do next spring? Is a frozen pond the perfect place for an afternoon of ice skating, or a reminder that it is way past time to pack away your shorts for this year?

My attitude has changed completely based on where we live. 

How about you, even with a ton of lake-effect snow covering the ground?

November 16, 2022

How Is Inflation Impacting You?


Are we in a recession? Is the housing market in the midst of a correction? Are the prices at the store changing your buying habits? Have you dropped something from your normal routine because of the cost?

How about retirement? Particularly with a fixed income, the relentless uptick in prices has likely caused a rethinking of what lies ahead.

If so, you are not alone. A new study from Magnify Money reports that 50% report inflation has impacted their retirement strategy, More than half of us report delaying a financial milestone for now. Over the last two years, 20% of us have had to take money from our retirement accounts to cover emergency expenses. If you'd like to see the full study click here.

Personally, the Lowry household has made some adjustments. Between the higher food and gasoline prices, plus the uncertainty and costs of air travel, our shopping lists and plans for the future have been modified or even canceled. The last few months of wild swings in the stock market haven't helped our sense of stability.

The most obvious shift for us has been at the grocery store. We had already reduced our meat eating; the price stickers have accelerated that change. Once a week something involving a read meat is all we are comfortable with, both for cost and health reasons. Chicken has gone way up in cost, too, but it remains an important part of our week's planning.

Eggs have left the building. Usually, we buy just a half dozen a week, for a fried or hard-boiled egg, or maybe a recipe.  With the price for six eggs 300% higher than last spring they are much less likely to be on the list. Pasta, fruits, vegetables, salads, a chicken-based something, and homemade soups are now the bulk of most week's planning. 

In a stroke of good luck, we bought a hybrid plug-in car last March. 26 miles of range on electricity covers most days' worth of errands and trips.  We rarely have to switch over to the gas engine, sometimes doing so just to keep the gas from going bad or deposits forming. In eight months we are only halfway through our third fillup. The old SUV, with its 20 miles per gallon habit, is used only when absolutely necessary.

An expected trip to Portland was shelved earlier this year due to an impending railroad shutdown. Even though the strike was settled at the last minute we had already canceled everything. We lost close to $1,500 in cash, and have $2,100 worth of credit that must be used or will be lost, too.  All this put any additions to our travel budget in a rocky position for the next 12 months.

Occasional periods of inflation are normal in our economic system. Stock markets go up and then come down. Housing prices form a bubble and then drop closer to earth. Those egg prices will eventually return to a more normal level. Being humans, we tend to forget about the cycle and always look for someone or something to blame. 

This time there are some obvious inflation drivers: the effect of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on energy costs, the overspending, by us, on almost everything after two years of Covid shutdowns exacerbating supply and demand issues, a series of Federal Reserve inflation decisions that were slow in coming, and some government stimulus programs that pumped a serious amount of cash into a system still unstable from the pandemic.

Whatever the reasons this time around, I am interested in how it is affecting you.

  • What have you had to cut back or cut out? 
  • Is your income straining just to cover necessities and fewer extras? 
  • Are you driving less, changing your menus, and bypassing movies or other entertainment.? 

Inflation is part of life, but that never makes it easy.

November 12, 2022

Well, That Is Over...And I Feel...Better

Have you more barrage of political ads filling your TV screen? Is your mailbox a little less full of those staged shots of someone with their family looking sincere and serious? Has your favorite news source stopped quoting the results of new polls every day?

November 8th has come and gone. When I looked out my front door this morning everything was still in its proper place. People were still walking dogs and pushing strollers with toddlers aboard. Amazon, UPS, and FedEx trucks continued their constant parade up and down the street. The sun still appears every morning and seems to sink below the horizon around 5:30 each evening. Not believing in a flat earth, I realize the sun isn't moving, the earth is.

Yet, just days ago the headlines would have us believe the end is near. Our life is destined to be turned upside down. A Red Wave would wash over us and a new day would dawn.

Oops...didn't happen. Actually, it was barely a pink puddle. For the first time in decades, the party holding the White House didn't suffer huge losses in both House and Senate. As I type this there are still races to be decided at all levels, with continued control of the Senate still well within Democratic reach while the House is likely to turn Red. Several governor races flipped to Blue and the number of female governors hit an all-time high.

The point of this post is not to gloat over the results, though I am pleased that things turned out much better for my preferred candidates than the polls and pundits led me to believe were possible.

Rather, this election seems to signal that the turmoil, rancor, misinformation, and hostility may have reached a tipping point for the majority of American people. I have read a description of this election as a move toward normal. Ticket-splitting was clearly in play with not everyone voting strictly along party lines.

I am not naive. I fully expect the grandstanding and politicking to continue in Washington and elsewhere; that is how our system works. Opposition is a must to keep those in power in check. There must be debate, dissent, and loud differences to allow all views their day in the sunshine.

But, the level of distrust and bitterness, of literal hate for the opposition may be doing a slow fade. I completely understand your disappointment if your chosen ones did not prevail. Talk to me about 2016. Supporting the losing side has happened many times in my lifetime. Yet, never have political differences been so likely to spark violence.

Remember the 2000 election when the Supreme Court gave the election win to George Bush over Al Gore. The two men were separated by a literal handful of votes and hanging chads. 

Yet, Once the decision was made, we moved on. No one from the Gore side talked about secession. No one from the Bush side talked about political vendettas. This was only 22 years ago, though in today's climate seems almost quaint in how polite and civilized it was.

November 8 (and counting) gave me a new sense of optimism. We are not likely to return to the 2000 level of interaction anytime soon. But, I really sense the pendulum has swung as far as we will let it in one direction. Now, just like in life and history, it will inevitably move back toward the center.

At least, here's hoping.

November 8, 2022

I Miss This Hobby

Growing up, I had a few hobbies that filled time that wasn't taken up with music lessons, band practice, dealing with two younger brothers and school work. But none grabbed me quite as firmly as shortwave radio listening.

I guess I was about twelve when I was given my first shortwave radio. I still remember it was made by a company, Lafayette, that no longer exists. About the size of a kitchen radio, that electronic box was a window to the world and the beginning of a lifetime of connection to radio and the endless excitement of broadcasting.

To most folks today, shortwave radio is probably an unknown concept. Except for an occasional reference in a World War Two movie about spies and transmitters hidden in suitcases, the idea of sending a signal into the atmosphere for someone else to receive it seems downright silly. The concept seems so haphazard. 

Yet, there was a time not all that long ago that was how a lot of people received information. Governments broadcast information to enhance their image in the world, news and documentaries were aired, and even religious groups spread their messages on what was known as short wave broadcasts. 

Though called short wave, these radio signals could travel thousands of miles. A broadcaster, like the BBC or Voice of America, would have transmitters all over the world, sending signals that anyone could listen to, usually in their own language. Before computers, the Internet, smartphones, or social media, a  $30 shortwave receiver would connect someone to the world. 

Growing up, I became hooked on tuning in all the strange and exotic broadcasters. Radio Havanna, Radio Canada International, Radio China, Radio Australia, Radio Moscow, and Switzerland Radio became my nightly companions. Heavens, (pun alert), even the Vatican had its own broadcasting wing. 

Most countries in Africa or the Far East were easily received and always offered at least some daily programs in English. Those spreading their version of the Gospel used radio to reach and, hopefully, convert, anyone who tuned in.

There used to be an annual book, about the size of a 300-page novel, that listed every broadcast from every country and when they were receivable in the United States. That was my ticket to a hobby that enthralled and educated me for years. 

Today, the world of shortwave broadcasting has virtually vanished. Yes, The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) still sends its messages to various parts of the globe, but its antennas no longer point toward the U.S. It is illegal for The Voice of America to broadcast a signal that can be heard here. Radio Havanna in Cuba, and Radio China are still out there but in very limited ways. Religious sects, primarily fundamentalists, are about all that is heard anymore.

Why? Shortwave broadcasting is very expensive. Whether a program can be clearly received depends on the atmospheric conditions required to allow a radio signal to travel from here to there. Multiple arrays of antennas, soaring hundreds of feet in the air, were necessary, as were several high-powered transmitters and the costs for all the people who worked there.

Broadcasters realized the Internet provides a much less expensive and more dependable way to make all that programming available to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. But, "listening" to the music programming from Findland on a secure Internet connection destroys the excitement of pulling that same program "out of the air," knowing it traveled thousands of miles to get to my ears.

Shortwave listening, or SWL as it is known, is gone. I mourn its loss and miss that important part of my younger years. I am still somewhat involved in Amateur, or ham radio which uses the same radio frequencies. But, my talking to someone in Canada or Hawaii isn't the same as snagging a station from Ethiopia or New Zealand. That thrill is gone.

Your turn. What hobbies excited you at some point in your life but are either no longer viable, or you simply moved on? What interests helped shape you when you were growing up? Is there a passion you had all those years ago that you have recently rediscovered? 

November 5, 2022

A Shift is Needed

Over this year there has been a clear sign that I need to make adjustments to my topic selection. After 12 years, I can't be surprised. 

Everything has a certain life span, whether it is a dishwasher, a fashion trend, the dominance of a sports team, a bull market, or the focus of a blog.

When I write something that has to do with the nuts and bolts of building a satisfying retirement, the number of comments tends to drop. If the subject is narrowly focused on retirement relationships, housing choices, dealing with aging parents, or the hows and whys of Medicare, the number of views is often below average. A "How To" post isn't connecting as often with readers as it once did.

On the other hand, if the subject is about how to have fun, what streaming services are worth the money, good books you have read, vacation ideas, friendship, or any subject that is more about living a full life that just happens to be after retirement, the views and comments are usually higher.

Since I continue to write because I still enjoy the process, should I really care if certain subjects don't have the appeal they once did? Well, the answer is, Yes. If I am going to spend the time and energy, I would rather it be on a subject that connects and engages others.

So, while the blog name will remain the same, you should begin to notice a wider selection of topics. Hopefully, there will be more about subjects that stimulate you to leave a comment or suggest a friend of yours would enjoy the article.

I won't turn my back on retirement; I have spent twelve years building a  reputation for solid advice based on experience. There will continue to be days where the focus is on "need to know" information. Trust me, after all these years I continue to learn more about this journey, often from comments. Retirement discussions are important.

Just look for a bit more personal, wider-ranging take on our life and times, the challenges we face, and ways to bring more joy into our lives. Together we will see how it works.

November 1, 2022

Financial Literacy

At a recent meeting of the Friends of the Library board, one of the members raised the question of whether our group should, and could, sponsor a series of financial literacy workshops for teens, young adults, and seniors. She expressed concern over the lack of educational outlets for this vital part of living a satisfying life. 

There are real-world consequences in not having an understanding of some of the basics: compounding interest, FICO score importance, short-term versus long-term thinking, and even the risks and powers of proper credit use. Unfortunately, it is very easy to not have access to this foundational information.

Each age group faces distinctive challenges in navigating an increasingly complex financial world. For teens, social media and advertising can create a seriously distorted picture of consumption. What you wear and own, how instant gratification is a basic right, and the whole crazy world of influencers is your school. 

For young adults faced with building their own life, the "shopping lists" are endless. Housing options, furniture, that big screen TV you have always wanted, maybe marriage and children, a car, and let's not forget any student loan that must be paid for. Credit cards are readily available, but is the knowledge to not get in way over your head? 

Seniors have unique challenges: usually a fixed income without many options to bump up cash flow, ever-increasing health issues, expenses, and needs, and even housing for the future. Older adults are a primary target of scammers, out to separate someone from their home, money, or savings. 

The board member's suggestion received solid support and will be passed along to the library administration to explore the possibilities. If it can happen, the Friends organization will sponsor the workshops and pay to make them happen.

When I taught a Junior Achievement economic overview class to 5th graders for a few years, I found those children to be blissfully unaware of how this world works. Checking accounts were pretty much a mystery. They knew about credit cards but didn't really grasp that those charges must be paid. Compounding interest on outstanding balances? No clue. Getting a job after school to help the family? Yes, but no real grasp of how a job interview works, or the importance of dependability and being on time. 

I fully supported the suggestion of financial education workshops. To me, learning how the world of money works is as essential as a good education in any subject.

While this post is a little shorter than normal, I want your input on what I think is a critical part of growing up, and one that is shortchanged too often by our schools, our media, and even our parents and peers.

How important is financial education? How do we explain money literacy to the young and those of us who are vulnerable to some of its traps?  Where can anyone turn for reliable, relatable help?