Friday, December 15, 2017

From Bored . . . to The Front Bottoms

     A well-known pitfall of retirement is boredom. We have no children to take care of. No job to go to. In some ways we lead parallel lives to the rest of the community, as we go about our business and they go about theirs. B and I went to the annual meeting of the Center for Learning in Retirement the other day -- our business -- then yesterday B attended lunch at the Encore club, for women over age 60. Meanwhile, they are taking their kids to school, going to visit Santa at the mall, putting lots of presents under the tree.

Our new wallpaper
     Actually, I have not been bored so much as I feel as though I've been leading a boring life. There's a difference. I've been keeping busy, so I'm not bored. But I haven't been doing anything the slightest bit interesting -- running errands, buying presents, making trips to UPS and the post office, arranging travel plans for after the new year. In other words, I've either been sitting at my desk or driving around in my car.

     We are renovating our downstairs powder room. We spent way too much time in the past two weeks picking out a new tile for the floor, and even more time selecting just the right vanity and sinktop and faucet. Yesterday we went shopping for wallpaper, because we think wallpaper will give our tiny otherwise-unremarkable bathroom a bit of a . . . as B puts it, "wow" factor.

     Just so you know, while B seems to have some interest in wallpaper -- as well as a new window shade for our bedroom (I didn't even know we needed a new shade) -- I consider shopping for wallpaper a boring activity. I try mightily to show some engagement in the process, but it didn't take long for B to catch me pouting in the corner of the shop.

Poster for Champagne Jam
     I do have one piece of useful advice that I discovered this week. I took several packages to the UPS store to send to our children. It turns out that UPS is good for sending big packages short or medium distances. But I had a package going to the West Coast. It wasn't very big, wasn't very heavy. UPS charged me $16.80. It will arrive on Thursday. Later, I found out I could have mailed it at the U. S. Post Office, priority mail, for just $13.60, or $3.20 cheaper . . . and it would have arrived on Monday or Tuesday, two or three days faster!

     So those of you still to send out your presents . . . take heed.

     Otherwise, B and I are going over to Asbury Park, NJ, this weekend to take in a show at Convention Hall. The venue is on the boardwalk, on the beach. That alone should be fun.

     We're going to see Champagne Jam, a holiday party for a lineup of Indie Rock bands. The show is headlined by The Front Bottoms. If you don't like this sample, below, don't bother trying to look up another song, because -- again, according to B -- all their songs sound alike.

     I like them. But whether you like them or not, you might identify with their one lyric: "I miss the way things used to be."


Saturday, December 9, 2017

Two-Day Trip

     My sister and her husband, who live in Phoenix, visited New York City for a few days this past week. "Why don't you come up and join us?" she suggested. "You can stay with us."

     So B and I drove over to Hamilton, NJ, and took New Jersey Transit to Penn Station ($14.70 round trip with our senior discount), and then the subway (two trips for the price of one with senior discount) to the upper East Side where they were renting an airbnb (free for us, with the sister discount).

These two fellows were keeping watch at the house next door to our airbnb

     That evening we met my son and his girlfriend for a thoroughly immoderate steak dinner at Smith & Wollensky (senior discount, hah ... no way!). The next day we walked over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art ($17 with senior discount). On the way we noticed that 87th Street was closed off -- apparently there's a school on that street, and for recess they just close off the block.
 
Kids playing on a Manhattan street

     We were going to the Met to view the Michelangelo (1475 - 1564) exhibit. There were many drawings and a few sculptures. My favorite was Michelangelo's bust of Brutus.

Brutus looking powerful

     There was also a controversial portrait of the youth Andrea Quaratesi, 37 years younger than the great artist himself. Apparently Michelangelo was smitten with the young man, and, well . . . Michelangelo by that point was a very celebrated and powerful man. (Remember, those were different times -- they would even castrate some young male singers to keep their voices from changing.)

Andrea with hooded eyes

     A portrait of the great artist himself, painted by one of his students.

Michelangelo as painted by a protege

     After Michelangelo we had a little extra time, and so I ducked into the David Hockney (b. 1937) exhibit, over in the next wing. Hockney is an Englishman but lived for a number of years in California and is famous for painting scenes of mid-20th century swimming pools.

The splash is ill-defined, but it's kinda cool isn't it?

     Here's another one, painted from two separate photographs in 1972.

Two photos merged together in a painting

     This is a more recent (2006) landscape of the British countryside. "Trees are never more alive than in winter," Hockney said. "You can virtually see the life force, thinned but straining, pulsing, the branches stretch palpably, achingly toward the light."

A winterscape near Hockney's studio in Yorkshire

     After that B and I headed back to Penn Station for our trip home, while my sister and brother-in-law were staying on for a few more days. It was my sister who took this photograph, as the two of them walked across Central Park at dusk, looking across the lake to midtown Manhattan.

New York skyline from Central Park

     A memorable little mini-trip. Isn't it wonderful that we're retired and can do these things!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

What Makes Us Happy?

     There is no doubt we have some issues to face when we retire. We may have money problems or health problems. We may face episodes of boredom and loneliness, or fear that we'll become irrelevant as our careers fade into the distance and our children increasingly develop their own lives. But do these issues stand in the way of our happiness -- any more than any of the other problems we faced along the way?

     Psychologists have demonstrated that each of us has our own individual set point of happiness. As events unfold in our lives we may temporarily become more or less happy, but then as time goes on we revert to our own mean level of happiness. However, those same experts also tell us that as we get older, our happiness set point gradually goes up. In other words, most people get happier as they get older.

     Then retirement gives us a bonus. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, retirement by itself often produces a positive impact on people's sense of well-being, a feeling that lasts for a considerable length of time. Why? Because there are fewer demands on our time, and we have more control over our lives. We experience less pressure, less stress; and we enjoy a less-hectic lifestyle.

     So what can we do to bolster our happiness levels as we retire and get older? You may have your own ideas -- and I'd love to hear them -- but here are five ideas I have as they apply to my own life. 

     Don't worry about money. Easier said than done. But multiple studies have shown that after a certain basic level of income that covers housing, health care and other necessities, there is no relationship between how much money we have and how happy we are. What matters is what we focus on. So there is no reason to envy those who have more than us, for they are not happier than we are. But there is plenty of reason to focus on the blessings we enjoy in life, whether it's close family ties, a supportive group of friends or an opportunity to spend time pursuing an activity we love.

     Use money to purchase experiences, not possessions. Many of us have recently downsized and spent countless hours disposing of carloads of material possessions. Some of those things are valuable -- but almost always for the memories they evoke, not for their intrinsic market value. B is always reminding me that it's not important to drive a fancy car, or watch a bigger TV. We should use our money to create positive and lasting memories with our friends and children, or just for ourselves. So we don't live in the most exclusive neighborhood, we don't shop at Nordstrom's. Instead, we  go on vacation, invite friends for dinner, organize a family get-togethers -- and B has been known to pay for those who can't afford to come.

     Make time for friends and family. You can see a theme developing here. We all know that shared experiences bring more happiness than those experienced alone. Why else do people go on Facebook or Instagram? Just think of the last time you ate alone in a restaurant with your nose stuck in a book or magazine. It probably wasn't much fun. But when you go to the same restaurant with friends, you almost always have a good time talking and laughing and sharing your stories.

     Take care of yourself. People in poor health almost always report lower levels of happiness than people who are in good shape. It works the other way around, too. People who eat better, get more exercise and suffer less stress tend to lead healthier and happier lives than the sedentary couch potatoes. So while we want to be connected to other people, we also want to make time to treat ourselves right. Surprisingly, some surveys have even shown that cosmetic surgery makes people happier, both in the short term and over longer periods of time. Why? Because nothing makes people feel better than knowing they look their best.

     Engage in an interesting activity. Not necessarily an activity that is interesting by some objective measure -- surfing in Hawaii, say, or acting in a play, or walking El Camino de Santiago -- but something that's interesting to you. It doesn't matter whether you're perfecting your golf game (by the way, did I tell everyone that I got a hole-in-one this past summer?!?), babysitting your grandchildren, doing arts and crafts or . . . or writing on your blog. The important thing is that we get involved in something that bounds us out of bed in the morning and gives us a sense of purpose. The happiest people view retirement not as an endless vacation, but as a chance to pursue new opportunities and take on new challenges.

     I've found that what makes us truly happy in retirement is that there are no more expectations. We don't have to please our parents, or bear responsibility for our kids. We can move to the city, or the country. We can do something, or do nothing. No matter how well-financed we may or may not be, we can live the lifestyle of the truly wealthy – that is, we can do what we want and answer to nobody.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Catch Up with These Blogs

     N. C. State beat North Carolina. And Stanford overpowered Notre Dame. I'm a happy man. Not that I watch a lot of football. I don't. But what else is there to do over Thanksgiving weekend?

     Well, you can catch up on your blogs . . .

     First of all, I just heard -- Kathy Gottberg has a new book out called Positive Aging. It has a long subtitle, but to see that -- and get your own copy of the book -- you'll have click on the link and go to amazon.

     Also, if you want to lower your holiday stress levels and avoid all the angst, check out her latest post 10 Ways to Rightsize Your Christmas. I like her advice, especially numbers 5, 9 and 10. But I have to admit, I'll never go for number 4.

     Meanwhile, Six Decades and Counting’s Meryl Baer spent Thanksgiving day with family, enjoying traditional fare and political discussions, but no yelling and screaming. Everyone in her family (that was at dinner!) is on the same political page. Travels to her holiday destination were bookended by hours of driving, summarized in On the Move Again.

Oops, I gave away the subtitle!
     Rita Robison of the Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide offers a list of What Not to Buy during the post-Thanksgiving sales. But her main focus is on Australia -- because  that's where she is right now.

     We're having a great time, she writes. It's too bad it's so far away and expensive to visit. Sydney has grown so much. Lots of cranes everywhere. The economy is good. Australia now has 24 million people. It had 11 million when I lived here in the late 1960s. A good part of the growth comes from Asians, who have discovered that Australia is in their backyard. And not just for tourists. Eastwood, one of the neighborhoods where I lived, is now 90 percent Asian, with homes costing upward of $1 million Australian (or about $760,000 American). On the front of the library, there is a mural with an Indian child, a white child, and an Asian child. It's a different place . . . and thriving . . . and so far away.

     For her part, Laura Lee Carter has been lost in gratitude this week, a very nice place to be. She says she has found a simple way to focus completely on Feeling Daily Gratitude -- which isn't hard to do when you wake up to a sky bursting with bright colors, as in A New Sunrise in Southern Colorado.

     Jennifer Koshak, of Unfold And Begin, notes that practice is important to creativity. But at times we need some inspiration, some help, and some guidance. So whether for your own needs, or as holiday gifts for those artists, crafters, writers and bloggers in your life, she shares 6 Unique Gifts To Inspire Creativity

     And finally, Carol Cassara offers a guest post from Gayle Kirk who has a website called A Healing Spirit. In her post The Bond of Love Is Never Broken she recognizes that many of us, especially during the holidays, find ourselves missing loved ones who have crossed over. So this piece on grieving might give us some comfort, because as Kirk points out, they are still with us, just in another form.

     Happy holidays to all, and may your upcoming Christmas season be cheerful and bright.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

There's a Generation Z -- Who Knew?

     We all know about the Greatest Generation and the Silent Generation and the Baby Boom Generation. And then there's Generation X, the people who followed on the heels of the baby boomers.

     And of course we've all heard about the millennials -- ad nauseum -- who are also known as Generation Y. By and large, these are the children of the baby boomers, born in the 1980s and 1990s. This cohort is some 80 million strong, and believe it or not, they now outnumber the baby boomers.

     And we thought we were the biggest kids on the block!

     Just f.y.i., there were some 76 million births in the United States from 1946 to 1964, the baby boom era. Of those original 76 million, about 13 million have died. But there are some 11 million immigrants who are now in their 50s and 60s. So if you count these "replacements" there are still some 74 million people who make up baby boomers in the U. S.

     But now I've come to find out there's a new generation. Generation Z. Jeez, doesn't that make you feel old?!?

     Generation Z consists of people born in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The oldest Generation Zers are beginning to graduate from college. And according to some reports, they have their own distinct view of the world.

     Gen Z is the first generation that grew up with the Internet and smartphones. These kids only know about things like landlines and AOL through history books and movies. They also grew up in a time of economic and political uncertainty -- think recession of 2002 and the bigger one in 2008-9 -- and have watched their millennial predecessors struggle to find jobs and become financially independent. Gen Zers are well-versed in technology. The brass ring in terms of jobs hangs in Silicon Valley, or other technology hubs, or else in the technology divisions of major companies.

     They grew up with social media, and so they want to work in collaborative teams and learn from their peers. They are less likely than millennials to want to be entrepreneurs. They would rather work for a big company that offers benefits and flexible work hours.

     Many of Gen Zers studied abroad in college and so they are interested in traveling for work and even exploring opportunities to work in another country. They are also used to real-time responses, and so are pushing for more frequent feedback at work. The annual performance appraisal is giving way to regular, ongoing feedback programs.

      On the other side of the equation, a survey of corporate managers found they are worried that Generation Zers will be hard to communicate with and hard to train. Older managers fear that Gen Zers feel entitled, and lack a purposeful work ethic. And they believe this younger generation may have difficulty making personal connections and working with others .

     But I remember when we baby boomers were entering the workforce, back in the 1970s. People thought we were lazy. They thought we only liked to sit around with our friends and get high. They thought we had it easy. We'd never experiencing the Depression, or a World War, and we were supposedly handed everything on a silver platter by our post-war parents. We felt entitled to a good job and respect from our bosses, simply because we were young and thought we were so wonderful.

     So . . . have things changed all that much? Well, one thing has changed. It turns out that the millennials and Generation Z are not really official generations, after all. They are merely convenient constructs developed by demographers and marketers. In fact, the baby boomers are the only demographically significant "generation" officially recognized by the U. S. Census Bureau. The baby boomers changed the world, like no other generation.

     Besides, there's another issue. What comes after Z? They've run out of letters!

     B and I had a grandchild born earlier this year. What are they going to call him and his friends? How will they get categorized? Right now he's just a baby, no different from my kids when they were babies, probably not much different from us when we were babies. But what is he going to be like -- what's the world going to be like -- in 20 or 25 years when he enters the workforce?