Category Archives: retirement

A Winter Walk

What was that?  A large bird with a bright red crest flew through the woods in the distance, making quite a racket with it’s cawing sound.  A Pileated Woodpecker! You know, the big woodpecker that Woody Woodpecker was modeled after, the one that looks similar to the now extinct Ivory Billed Woodpecker! I maybe see one every five years.  What more could one ask for on a cold winter day?

Hidden Valley Park January 2016

Perhaps a flock of Bluebirds feasting on yellow berries in a sunny field?  A Red-headed Woodpecker  searching the side of a tree for goodies.  Two White-tailed Deer bounding across the trail?  I could have been inside grousing about the weather but Bill and I had decided to check out a park that we had never visited in the northern part of our city.  We were being paid back for our effort with a mostly clear sky, dark winter branches against the blue, our warming bodies from the exertion, and some very fun creatures crossing our path.

One of the nice great things about being retired is that you can decide to go for a walk in the woods on a January morning.  You can bundle up with long underwear, a warm coat, and head out with your honey or a friend to check out a nearby natural area.  It might be 18 degrees out but the sun is shining, the woodpeckers are flitting about and there’s a frozen silver river winding down a deep ravine.

I’ve been trying to walk 7,500 steps daily even though it is pretty chilly in January in Kansas City. My doctor wants me to walk for my bones and I sleep better when I do.  In my neighborhood there are a few hardy runners out in the evenings and the dog walkers are hurrying their pets around the small park behind our house.  There’s even a Mom or two with the jogging stroller and their little one under a pile of blankets.  But mostly people are rushing from house to car to destination.  Time to be a contrarian!

The park we decided on is about a half hour drive from home – Hidden Valley Park.  Sounds fun doesn’t it?  We had a little trouble finding an entrance to the hiking trails in the natural area of the park which is managed by a combination of Kansas City Parks and the Missouri Department of Conservation.  We found a parking lot near a shelter house and crossed the road, walked through a field.  There was the trail – maintained, but not otherwise marked.  In the winter it is easy to see the lay of the land and the hidden valley consisted of some incredible deep ravines with a frozen creek carving its way to the Missouri River, not so far away.

Walking outside has so many advantages.  Uneven ground causes you to use all sorts of interesting muscles.  While a lot of people worry about falling, research is telling us that practice at maintaining your balance is protective.  You lose your abilities if you don’t use them.

What other advantages? – vitamin D from the sun, better sleep, and interesting things to see.  But best of all, I always feel happy after a walk in the woods.

Hidden Valley Park  January 2016

Some places to read more about it:

Hidden Valley Park Natural Area

The Pileated Woodpecker at “All About Birds”  from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Richard Louv’s blog about the importance of nature in our lives.

Nature:  science shows it’s good for the body and mind.  AARP Bulletin

 

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The Best Laid Schemes of Mice and Men

I have a plan.  My plan is to retire fully in three years so that Bill and I can enjoy more of the active travel we love while we still can.  We’ll go cross country skiing in New England and have friends over for wine and cheese after a play or movie.  We’ll paddle our kayaks on the Mississippi River and take the train across Canada.  We’ll go hiking in New Zealand.  Instead of a long weekend with the grandchildren, we’ll spend a whole week.  (If that’s ok with you, Linda.) I’ve got a little piece of paper in my wallet with the remaining months listed.  On days when workplace tensions run high, I take it out and mark off the months that have passed.  

In pursuit of my plan, I have expense and income spreadsheets with different scenarios.  We’ve got another spreadsheet, updated quarterly with our savings.  I’ve run the options through online retirement calculators.   The numbers seem to work.  Our health seems to be holding up.

How do you decide if your plan is sound?  The reality is that for most of us, once we’ve hit the retirement button there will be no “undo”.  We might be able to go back to work but we are unlikely to make what we did at the height of our earning years.   This is a decision that involves some anxiety, some fear of the unknown and unknowable. 

I was born in the early 50s in the United States of America.  For most of my life, I’ve known a stable world.  Recessions were blips in a generally positive economy. Life spans expanded and old people grew fitter.  For people of my great grandparent’s time, retirement often meant poverty or dependence on children.  Not for my grandparents or parents, even though both had modest incomes.  With a little prudence, planning, pensions, and social security, retirements could be enjoyed.   Three years ago, I felt certain that my retirement world would be similar.  Most days, I still do.  As I said, I’ve got a plan. 

So when I cross the last month off my list, will my plan hold?  Will I be ready to move ahead?  Or will I have waited too long and not be able to do the things I hoped to do?  None of us can see into the future.  We can only make the best plan possible and take the leap when the time comes.  And so like a fantastical cross between Aesop’s grasshopper and his ant, I spend some time playing in the summer sun and some time shoring up stores for the winter. 

The last two stanzas of, “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns (slightly modified with some of the Scottish dialect replaced by more modern English)

But Mousie, thou are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,
oft go awry,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e’e,
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!

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Outdoors in the Midwest – Cuivre River State Park, Missouri – or having time to do what you love

There are nature people and there are people who don’t do nature.  Though I don’t understand the people who don’t do nature, I will forgive them if they want to skip this post, because it is all about my love for nature. 

One of the absolutely best parts of being semi-retired (or fully retired, though I wouldn’t know by first hand experience) is the chance to pursue interests that I wouldn’t otherwise have much time for. Nature/natural history/outdoor and active travel is one of mine.  We don’t live near the mountains or the oceans or large National Parks so we fill this interest on vacations and in less dramatic ways by volunteering with nature organizations and visiting state parks and other more modest but equally delightful outdoor locations. 

This past weekend our Master Naturalist group met for a state conference at Cuivre River State Park in Missouri.  I had never visited this state park on the Eastern side of the state.  In a state with some great state parks, this is one of the best.  Though the park is North of the Missouri River it has a landscape more like the Ozark Hills.  I took mini-classes on insect interactions with plants, invasive diseases and insects that threaten some of our most gorgeous forest trees, and big river ecosystems.  We camped in the state park, popped corn over the campfire with friends, and met lots of other nature nerds.  

October is usually one of the best months in this part of the country.  It is cool enough that mosquitoes and humidity are not a problem but usually warm enough to be comfortable.  The leaves are changing colors.  It could have been cold and rainy.  But it wasn’t.  It was perfect! 

We joined this organization four years ago and I’m amazed at how much I’ve learned.  And how much there is to learn. 

What are we encouraged to do in order to stay healthy and happy as we age?  Exercising, learning new things, and building social networks.  How lucky I am to have an avocation that fills all three.  Exercise doesn’t feel like a chore when you are trooping through the woods looking for interesting mushrooms.  Learning about birds from avid bird watchers is a hoot – especially if it involves owls.  And sharing interests is a great way to make new friends.

What else? – dancing to a blue grass band in the open air – even convincing Bill to join me, walking around camp in the moonlight, the constellation Orion in the early morning, getting to learn from experts who love sharing… 

What passions are you exploring in your retirement?  What new things have you learned?  How do you share it?

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Does early retirement harm your memory?

Doesn’t everyone have an opinionated relative who says he’ll never retire because he had a friend who retired and then died the next week (month, whatever)?  As much as I look forward to retirement, I sometimes wonder if those who think it isn’t such a good idea might be right.  What will I do with my time?  Perhaps I won’t feel productive.  My brain will turn to mush.  Well thank goodness, someone has done a study to look at just this issue.  Here’s a NY Times article about a study purporting to show that early retirement reduces your memory. 

My first response was, “Wow, someone really designed a study that shows a relationship between working and mental ability!”  But the more I looked at the data in the graph, the more I doubted that this study could say anything.  Admittedly, I’m basing these comments on the graph provided with the New York Times article.  If you are interested in the full study, it is available for free at the Journal of Economic Perspecives’ web site

My first concern is that it is a correlation study.  Anyone who has taken statistics has heard a professor beat into them, “Correlation doesn’t prove cause and effect.”  Just because two things seem to be related doesn’t mean that one causes the other.  The sun comes up about a half hour after I get out of bed every morning, but my getting out of bed does not cause the sun to come up.  The sun coming up doesn’t cause me to get up either, though the fact that the day is beginning is related to the fact that I need to get up and head to work.

In this case the researchers looked at aggregates of two numbers for different countries, how well 60 to 64 year olds did on a simple memory test and what percentage of 60 to 64 year olds were retired in that country.  On average people in countries that had more people still working did better on the memory test.  But if you look closer you will see that this is far from conclusive. 

There are only 13 countries in the analysis and they are scattered all over the plot.  For instance, the Netherlands and Spain had about the same early retirement rate but their scores on the memory test were nearly 30% apart.  Austria and Switzerland had similar scores on the memory test but their early retirement rates are nearly as far apart as any two countries in the study.  You can look at the same plot and say that people in countries further from the equator did better than those in countries nearer to the equator.  Since the study is comparing countries, could there be other factors that might cause this sometimes tenuous relationship?  Perhaps education level, diet, income…  Could you make a similar graph using these other factors? 

What do you think?  Is this study intriguing?  Does work improve your memory?  Or do you think you’d be more intellectually stimulated in other activities?

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Spend less and save more – a book review of “the hard times guide to retirement security” by Mark Miller

Real  estate shows on the Home and Garden Network drive me nuts.  You know the shows – a first time home buyer viewing a series of starter homes, or someone trying to find a buyer for the McMansion that they now need to sell.  I always want to know when the segment was filmed.  Is this person buying a house before the real estate bubble burst, during the meltdown, or just after? Of course the network wants to rerun the shows for years so they don’t identify the date.  But how can we tell if the strategy being suggested by the helpful agent makes sense now?   I sometimes feel the same way reading retirement advice books.   Are they writing for a time that is past?  Does this advice still make sense after the Great Recession?

Mark Miller’s book, the hard times guide to retirement security: practical strategies for money, work, and living was published in 2010 and uses its 209 pages to answer questions about what we should do now.  He focuses a lot on working longer, spending less, and saving more.  That part, I could have figured out on my own.  Is there anyone out there who hasn’t figured out that if your retirement savings have taken a big hit, you should adjust your spending and withdraw less than you had planned until your savings recover? 

Working longer if possible seems equally as obvious,  but Miller explains how working a couple of extra years gives a double result.  You will continue to earn and contribute to retirement accounts for those extra years and you won’t be drawing on your savings.  To his credit, he recognizes the difficulties that some older workers may have keeping their jobs and getting hired in a tight job market.  He provides some simple ideas to help improve your chances of getting an interview, and hopefully a job.  Another suggestion is to start a lifestyle business, essentially a small solo business that will bring in some income but be more flexible than most jobs.  

The chapter on income annuities was helpful.  In many ways, an income annuity is a self financed defined benefit pension.  You give the insurance company a hunk of your savings and the annuity provides a regular income that can be counted on until death.  There are all kinds of annuities, some of which are totally inappropriate for this purpose.  It can get confusing.  Miller’s chapter was a good introduction, clearly explaining the basics and how to avoid some of the risks, like a company that doesn’t survive as long as you do.  I still don’t know if it is right for me but this chapter helped me to understand the issues.

This is a breezy little book that touches on quite a few topics, some in more depth than others. It is easy to read, reflecting Miller’s many years writing about aging and retirement issues.  Some of the more timely chapters are “Coping with Post-Bubble Real Estate” and “Resuscitating the 401(k)”.  You’ll get a good introduction to any of the topics covered.  He has a section on lifestyle issues and great web links as well as lists of other publications for more in-depth information.  Miller also publishes an extensive web site on retirement issues, RetirementRevised.com .

You may not keep this book on your shelf for years but it provides a nice overview of the retirement issues of our time.  I’d definitely recommend reading a copy from the library and then buying one if you think it fills your needs.

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