Monday, May 27, 2013

Keeping Creative

Holy Trinity

In some circles the Holy Trinity is a reference to the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.  I am not a religious person, and not even Catholic, so that Trinity is not the point of this blog.    And I have a policy to ignore religion and politics in my blogs.

For cooks the trinity is celery, onions and peppers.  I am familiar with that combination from a cooking class I took in New Orleans and my twice annual gumbo soup blitzes.  I make a decent gumbo but not outstanding, kind of ordinary.  I need to work on my gumbo technique.  One of my retirement plans is to do more cooking from scratch and perfecting gumbo is high on the goals of that activity. But cooking is not the thrust of this blog, even though Sunday night I prepared a tasty, if slightly spicy chicken stir-fry.  Saturday we made an unexpected stop at our favorite Oriental market and stocked up on a few items, including a new Lo Mein noodle that we cooked then crisped in the wok before topping with the stir-fry.

But I am digressing from my original thought: my Holy Trinity is thinking, acting and reflecting.  Saturday afternoon I was sitting on my patio after a long night and morning of tropical rains (10 inches total) pondering the upcoming day.  The rains had let up and after our rush of morning errands I relaxed on our patio.

Lightning struck.  More accurately, inspiration struck.  This is as rare as getting hit by lightning.  The sky brightened up and my solar powered fountain began operating.  The sun still hadn’t appeared but enough light peeked through the overcast sky to power the pump.

Several months ago I had built a small water feature fashioned out of a galvanized tub, a small electric submersible pump, a small section of rubber hose, a burner from a gas space heater and a variety of rocks.  It was really an impulse project.  I put the pump in the tub to see how much water it would move, then connected the burner to the hose and finished the water feature with rocks from my garden.  Later I added several pieces of copper pipe to direct the water to different areas.  Not much planning but the process got me thinking (Step One).

Electric Fountain

Close up of copper pipes, note water streams from hidden gas burner

Wine bottles with Christmas lights, a different project. 

Step One:  Thinking.  Formulating.  Gathering ideas.  Research.   Any creative activity must commence with constructive thought.  What do you want to accomplish, visualize the end first (credit to Covey), and create your road map.  The water feature initiated a thinking period with some research.  I wanted to build another feature.  An idea slowly formed to build a small solar powered feature for the patio.

Solar Fountain

Operating Solar Fountain

Close up of water flow with reflection of grass through the water stream

Step Two: Action.  Detailed plans, work.  Transforming an idea into a finished product requires effort.  Ideas are easy.  Transforming an idea into some meaningful result is the most difficult aspect of any creative undertaking.  My solar water feature caused me to investigate a variety of pumps, containers and a review of my budget (near zero).  The end result is a very small system utilizing a small container, a ceramic bowl and garden rocks; the water cascades from the ceramic container into the galvanized tub.  The building of the two features and resulting thought process has started the planning for a third feature for a distant area of the yard.

Step Three: Reflection and Use.  Creative activities and projects need to fulfill some purpose.  On a completely abstract level creative acts satisfy the artist and others must “buy in.”  Other projects are more utilitarian but still are creative efforts by the builder.  The fountains are decorative but I find a subtle benefit.  The soft sounds of rippling water during the day and in the evenings are soothing and have a meditative quality.

The lightning (inspiration) that struck me Saturday afternoon caused me to get my camera and take a few pictures for this blog.  The trinity of the fountains was building them, photographing the two fountains and writing a blog.  

The blog has its own trinity: draft, edits and final copy.  The fountain trinity is waiting for the third water feature.

Good things happen in threes.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Book Review: Living a Satisfying Retirement

Living a Satisfying Retirement
Bob Lowry

Perhaps I have found a new direction for my blog: Book Reviews.  This is the second sequential book review I have written.  I had the chance to get a copy of   Bob Lowry's (a fellow blogger) new book, Living a Satisfying Retirement.  Bob's blog, Satisfying Retirement, has given him a chance to write about retirement and produce a book from material supplied by his followers.  

Bob Lowry’s successfully asked strangers questions that most of us would have great difficulty or considerable reluctance asking our friends or acquaintances.   Lowry received enough information from the response to garner a number of gems about retirement to share with his readers.  I had a chance to participate in the survey in the summer of 2012 but declined.  Perhaps for the purpose of this review it good that I didn’t because it would have slanted or influenced my review.  During the reading of his book I did mentally consider the questions and compared my answers to his respondents.

For “Living a Satisfying Retirement” Lowry created a dozen questions that he asked the already retired followers of his blog to answer.  In addition to this group, he asked ten questions of his blog followers who were approaching retirement.  He received answers from about fifty people and from their answers he presents first person reflections about retirement life.

Some of the questions merely gather background, such as: How long have you been retired?  Others are more personal and delve into financial issues, one example is:  What percent of your pre-retirement income are you living on?  Others deal with relationships, time, expectations and surprises.

Most of the respondents to his survey seem to have been mostly successful about reaching their financial goals, or have very definite goals set and are on target to reach them.  So in this respect I think his sample of retired persons is not typical or that of your average retired person.  Certainly, my goals have been missed, mostly due to career changes, deliberate and unforeseen.  But still the answers provide interesting insights into retired life in manageable chunks.  Bob then summarizes the answers from many respondents into a somewhat general overall statement about the question.  He is a good listener and synthesizes multiple answers into a cohesive conclusion.

One of my favorite answers to a question is from Doug N.  He states, “Instead of dwelling on old memories I’ve enjoyed creating new ones with my family.”  Doug is very upbeat and positive.  All of us can use that advice.  Retirement is time that a person can create new activities and memories.  The past is gone.  We don’t necessarily need to start our entire life over but we can change the direction of our lives and try new things.  And switch them without regret, if needed.

Bill D answered another question about plans with, “I have also learned that each person’s retirement is a unique experience.  There is no set way to achieve a satisfying retirement.”  This comment cuts to one of the truths revealed in this book.  Everyone is different and retirement is not the same for everyone.  There is no single secret revealed in this book.  This book is not a retirement guide book, nor is it is a ten steps program or a list of things to do.  Living a Satisfying Retirement is a peephole into the lives of a variety of retired people, each with a unique perspective.

Living a Satisfying Retirement is short presentations of the personal accounts from real people about their retirement or planned retirement.  They answer questions your friends can’t or won’t articulate or you are too afraid to ask.

Perhaps in that respect there are secrets revealed.  Those personal comments are a gateway to understanding what retirement will be for you. 

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

I Want to Retire!

Book Review: I Want to Retire!  Essential Considerations for the Retiree to be
by Dave Bernard

In just fourteen short chapters Dave Bernard again is the cheerleader for the reader as he or she approaches retirement.  The chapter topics range from Redefining the Retired You, to Accepting Aging and What will be your Legacy.  A very impressive assortment of topics addressed in his usual snappy style: quotes and relevant thoughts.

I’ve followed Bernard’s blog, Retirement – Only theBeginning, for about a year and find this book condenses a long series of blogs about retirement into essential topics.  The ultimate goal of the book is to help the future retiree find his passion.  He reminds us that, “Retirement is your time to do what you want to be doing.”  Sounds easy on paper.  I trust that I’ll be able to live up to his admonition in the years to come.

What is retirement?  What is life about?  One of his blog followers writes and quotes Robert Frost, “In three words I can sum up everything about life – it goes on.”  So life goes on during retirement. 

Rather than expand and comment on the entire book I encourage future retirees and those now retired to buy and read “I Want to Retire!”  Instead of the classic review of a book I will make a few comments about Chapter 8: Staying Busy and Engaged in Retirement.

Staying engaged during retirement can be more challenging than it sounds.  Many retirees now face a loss of income and in these days of uncertain financial times this is a serious issue.  I myself face a less than ideal retirement.  Retirees now have more empty time they ever envisioned.  There is only so many honey-do projects, so many garden projects, walks in the park, golf or card games a person can participant in before he or she begins to wonder about Purpose or becomes so bored that they become a couch potato.

Decision about what time to wake can be irksome.  If there is no reason to get up then the day becomes merely a chore to get through.  Dave tells us to create a schedule of a mixture of activities blending purpose, health and relaxation (yes – you deserve some do nothing time). Finding the balance is the challenge.  Retirees can determine the pace of the day, the week and the rest of their life. 

The chapter ends with a list of possible things to do, activities with purpose and meaning.  My charge is for the reader to review the list and then start your own.
You are now your own boss; you don’t need someone else’s list.  Create your own.  I have a dream list that I review and think about from time to time.   I am on the board of directors of a senior services granting agency and the organization has been tasked to create a few programs of its own.  This summer I am starting a weekly walking group for baby boomers.  This project combines my regular walking habit and the desire to bring a healthy activity to my peers.

Next year I plan to take another passion of mine and transform it into a program, A Seniors Writing Group.  More intensive research into writing groups and senior needs is required before this concept launches.  My approach to it is to be open-minded and if it doesn’t work try a different approach or something different.  Being open-minded is another one of Dave’s suggestions about finding activities that elicit passion.

What is on your list?  Read Dave Bernard’s “I Want to Retire!” and use it as a guide to create passion and meaning in your retirement years.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book and no other financial considerations were received.

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Monday, May 6, 2013

Cinco de Mayo

San Antonio needs little reason to celebrate or have a party.  We have a giant New Year's Eve party, Fiesta in April with at least four parades, and three Independence Days.

Of course July 4th is one.  The other two may surprise non-Texas readers.  One is Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) and the other is Diez y sies day (September 16).  Cinco de mayo is the celebration of Mexico's independence from France in 1862 and Dies y sies is the celebration of the delcaration of independence from Spain in 1810.

My wife and I went to El Mercado in downtown San Antonio on May 5 fully aware of the holiday and celebration in San Antonio.  El Mercado was packed and almost impossible to walk.  So we enjoyed a lunch at a side walk cafe in the market area.  It was a wonderful opportunity to  photograph a number of interesting faces

Lunch was great and the photos are nice too.

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