Retirement-In Praise of Pets or Not

pets retirementWhen our neighbors were discussing their upcoming cruise and how much it would cost to board their dog, my husband and I decided we would offer to watch “Muffy”, an eleven year old Shitzu.

The irony is when we were working and gone most of the day, we always had a pet. However, once we retired and had more time to have a pet, we have remained pet-less.  So, this was our opportunity to see if a dog would prove enjoyable with our new lifestyle..

Dogs are still the pets of choice in the United States with 74.8 million households  having dogs. However, for sheer numbers, cats outnumber dogs with 88.3 million, since many households have several cats.  For those looking for pets with a little less upkeep, (although I am sure that is debatable when it is time to clean the tank)12 million households have freshwater fish and 9.6 have saltwater fish.  16 million households have birds, while another  24.3 million have  small animals. 13.8 million households have horses, followed closely by 13.4 million with reptiles.  So, what does this say about Americans? I am not sure, but apparently many people derive great pleasure taking care of something other than themselves.

There is no doubt that pets require a commitment.  Just like our traveling friends, if you have a pet that is not traveling with you, someone must take care of them in your absence and it is not an inexpensive proposition. They also require time and planning.  No longer do we just walk out the door.  We now have Muffy to consider. Has she been outside lately?  Has she been fed?  Not that we have to worry.  It soon became apparent that Muffy would  train us in no time. The first few days she was up at the crack of dawn and ignoring her was not an option.  No matter how often we begged her to go back to sleep, she would have none of it.  She was then ready for her morning walk.

Ironically, when people saw me walking my new pet while they were taking care of theirs, they confided that as soon as theirs went to the Great Beyond, they probably would not rush out to get another one.  However, I have other friends who have lost pets and rush to get another to fill that  void they are feeling.

Unquestionably, research shows that petting an animal can lower blood pressure and add another dimension of pleasure to life.  But it’s not for everyone.  I have enjoyed having Muffy, partly because I know I am helping our friends and she will be going home.  And it was an opportunity to see if we would enjoy having a pet.  I no longer feel guilty to say I don’t .

My advice: never be pressured to get a pet. Try caring for a friend’s pet for a couple of weeks and you too may come to the conclusion we did, pets are not for everyone.

What You Need to Know About Making A Will

When Michael Jackson died unexpectedly, it showed, once again, how life is often unpredictable. It also made me think that I need to have a will. Most of us don’t and while we like to think we are immortal, the death of a super rock star at age 50, reminds us we’re not.

Nearly everyone needs a will. While succession laws vary from state to state and circumstance, if you do not have a will, the state will decide for you how your property is to be distributed and it may not turn out the way you had planned.

USA Today advises that if you are younger than 50, in good health and don’t expect to owe estate tax that a no frills will is probably appropriate. However a lawyer should be consulted if:

  • You expect to pay estate tax when you die.
  • You want to control your property.
  • You have a child with a disability or special needs.
  • You have children from a prior marriage and you fear conflict between them and your current spouse.
  • You think someone might contest your will.

Some of the things to consider when you visit a lawyer are:

  • What property do you want included
  • Who do you want to inherit your property
  • Choose an executor
  • Choose a guardian for your children
  • Choose someone to manage children’s property
  • Sign your will in front of witnesses
  • Keep your will in a safe place where people know where to find it

Author, Christine Dugas, advises some of the common mistakes to avoid:

  • Lack of signatures. A will must be properly signed and witnessed with witnesses present in the same room. If not, the will can be contested.
  • The will can’t be found. A will needs to be stored in an accessible place, where the executor is able to obtain it. Some people keep it in a safety deposit box at the bank, but the executor might not be able to get to it after your death. One suggestion is to keep it in a fireproof box with other valuable papers.
  • If you change your will, make sure any copies are destroyed and that the executor has the will.
  • Be specific and list the names, so it is clear if adopted or step-children are included, rather than just stating you want to leave the estate to your children.
  • Make sure you choose the right executor. Relatives or friends are not necessarily the best. It should be someone who is intelligent and trustworthy and will ask for help if needed.

And if you do consult a lawyer, be sure you have done your homework ahead of time. Have your questions ready before going in.

There is peace of mind to be had by knowing you have a will. None of us likes to deal with this unpleasant matter but the consequences to our survivors can be catastrophic and are avoidable.

Spring Renewal

   There are several times throughout the year that I think you get to start over.  One, of course, is on New Year’s Day when a new year begins.  I also think your birthday marks a new beginning.  And of all the seasons, I think Spring begins a time of renewal.

 Yet with all these opportunities to start over,  I have been observing something different this year from recent years’s past.  I don’t know if it is because we have started a new decade, or because we just went through an awful financial calamity,  but I get the strong sense many people want to start over and they want things to be different this time around. 

 My observation began when a customer, at the jewelry store I work in part-time, called and complained about what she perceived as our lack of service.  While I am happy to report that is not a common occurrence, what happened next is: she called back to apologize.  She said she just didn’t want to start the year being rude to people.  I like that sentiment.

While nothing about my observations could be classified as scientific, I have also observed this new civility at the grocery store too.  People seem to be more forgiving when someone is taking up too much room in the aisle and people say excuse me when they pass in front of someone deep in thought as they search the shelves for a specific product.  And yes, I have witnessed people letting people with less items actually go first.

Is this just wishful  thinking or could it be that the economic crisis of the last few years has brought us closer together?  Could it be that these hard times  have shown that we are all in this together and for our planet to survive we must all come together as one and help one another. While the previous decade might be more about greed and a dog eat dog mentality for getting ahead, maybe this time around we will see that the best way to proceed is by courtesy and helping each other achieve our goals.  Success at another’s expense is not happiness.

 I recently read of a man, Bob Totruba, who is traveling to college campuses throughout the country, on a ten year mission to encourage and remind people to be kind every day.  This includes simple acts from smiling to picking up trash.

I don’t know if he has been to our town, but maybe his movement is spreading.

What’s Your Calling?

There is something special about the start of a new year, but starting a new decade is extra special.  And even though we have gotten off to a rocky start with the earthquake in Haiti, I sense that not only is this going to be a great year, but a pivotal decade.

 While the earthquake has been heartbreaking on many levels, it has also been a reminder of how amazing people can be. The desire to help people  and the feeling of being productive doesn’t have an age limit.  And that is true with retirement.  Just because someone has retired from their job, doesn’t mean they have retired from life.  And if they have it is time to reevaluate.

  An inspirational story recently appeared on NBC Nightly News.  Dr. Basil Jackson, a retired physician from Milwaukee, saw the devastation on T.V. and thought he could still be of use.  He flew to Haiti with a group of other physicians and he was shown comforting patients and offering his years of experience.  He is 78 years old.

What makes a person respond to a calling?  What makes a person want to help people?  While no one may know the answer, the good news seems is it seems to be a quality that lasts a lifetime.

 So, as we begin this new year, this new decade, perhaps, the tragedy in Haiti is a time to ask ourselves what we can do.  What is our calling?  What can we do to help people?  We don’t have to fly to another country.  There are people that need help and you don’t have to look very far.  Maybe this can be the year which started with tragedy, but inspired us to do more.

Philosophical Discussions

“I think, therefore I am and I don’t see myself living in this home for the next twenty years.” While I never claimed to be a great philosopher, my simple statement touched off a debate almost as intense as when Rene’ Descartes proposed his initial theory.

In retirement, life is shorter and faster. Granted, while there are few guarantees in life, in retirement you are probably focusing on doing a little less and maybe enjoying it more. But when you think about it, is there a better time to seek new adventures than in our retirement? If our health is good, why not take on a new adventure and live life rather than retiring and calling it quits?

When my husband and I retired, we moved from a home into a condo, from a state where the weather is questionable nine months of the year, to a state where the sun shines nearly every day. So here I am several years later at the point where I had finally adjusted to the changes and was enjoying my new life.

So why would I want to bring upheaval into my peaceful existence? I guess, sort of like what Descartes was saying, because I can. I need excitement periodically. And while I do think there will come a time in my life when I will contentedly settle in and say this is my last big move, I’m not there yet.

But what is it that motivates me to make a change that isn’t really necessary or probably even financially sound? That is what I keep asking myself and the answer I come up with is because I can.

As we close the chapter on 2009 and look forward to 2010, I want to challenge myself to look at my life and see what I want to remain the same and what I want to change. While it is scary to think about doing something new, retiring from life into the security of a predictable existence is not what I am willing to settle for.

What Price Healthcare and Friendship?

Lately it’s hard to watch the news, or read the paper without being bombarded with the controversy of healthcare reform; how to pay for it and who should get it.  This is a major concern for retirees, who may be fortunate enough to have health benefits from their former employers, or retirees that are now eligible for Medicare benefits.

While I try to live a healthy lifestyle and do what I can to preserve my health, I recently had an experience that really made me think about health and friendship.  A friend donated his kidney to another friend. Wow! Since that happened, it  made me think about how lucky I am to be healthy!   What if you have a disease and you realize that your life may end if you do not receive an organ and perhaps, more importantly, where will this organ come from?

In this case, a letter was sent to family and friends explaining the renal disease and the grim expectations if a transplant was not performed.  I think of how scary it would be to send that letter, but also to receive it.  You are then faced with a moment that can define your character.

Interestingly, my friend who made the donation chose not to tell anyone until the process was complete.  And quite a process it is. Donors are carefully evaluated on medical and psychological grounds. Last year in the United States, 16,517 kidney transplants were performed, 10,551 from cadavers and 5,966 from living donors.  The typical transplant patient lives 10-15 years longer after the donation and no longer has to bear the rigor of dialysis.

When my friend finally did confide that he had donated his kidney, I was not surprised as I always knew the strength of his character. However, when I told another  friend about it, she quickly said she didn’t think she could do that.  And then added she would definitely not do it for someone that was not a family member.  That also did not surprise me.  It made me think the world is divided into people who will sacrifice their comfort and time for another, and those who would not.

This personal experience made me also think about those who have a disease and do not have health insurance and how this pre-existing condition might affect their longevity and future quality of life.  The major consideration about whether an individual is accepted by a kidney transplant program in the U.S. is whether that person has employer based insurance.  Transplant recipients must take immunosuppressive anti-rejection drugs for as long as the transplanted kidney functions and this is beyond the financial means of most people without the assistance of insurance.

In March, 2009, a bill was introduced in the Senate and in the House (HR 1458) that will extend Medicare coverage of the drugs for as long as the patient has a functioning transplant.  This means patients who have lost their jobs and insurance will so not lose their kidney and be forced back on dialysis.  Dialysis is currently using $17 billion yearly of Medicare funds and total care of these patients amounts to 10% of the entire Medicare Budget.

The healthcare debate is complicated and  difficult .  However, the one thing that we can put no price tag on is friendship.  I am happy to have a friend who made such a magnanimous sacrifice for another friend.

Retirement Planning Blues

My grandmother lived to be 101. I used to reflect on all the things she had seen in her lifetime and how she was able to adapt to change. I am not yet close to that milestone year, but in retirement I am learning that adaptability may be the key to successful living.

As you near retirement, you are told to plan. Plan for your expenses, plan where you want to live, plan for your health and plan on living life and having fun. Plan for the future.

Unfortunately, planning for the future based on today’s circumstances is a risky proposition at best. As older Americans we have learned that no matter how much we plan, the future is likely to be different. The adage “the future is now” has never been more true.

If someone had told me that I would see some of the auto companies go out of business, that my local newspaper might be a thing of the past, and that a major recession would change life for nearly everyone, I wouldn’t have believed it, and certainly would not have planned for these things!

A recent survey by AARP Magazine targets 45-64 year olds as “a high anxiety age group”. They are preparing for their retirement, but they are worried about other generations as well.

The AARP Survey called “A Closer Look” was last done about eight months ago, before the full effect of the recession was felt. New findings show:

  • 30 percent of those surveyed have stopped contributing to their 401 (k) or IRA
  • 18 percent have prematurely withdrawn funds from their retirement accounts
  • 12 percent say they have, or a family member, have lost a job in the last year
  • Nearly half, 49 percent say they are not confident that they will have enough money in retirement.
  • So, with those sobering statistics, it is more important than ever to plan. Chances are things will not go like you thought, but it is the successful plan that allows for change and our ability to adapt to it. Once you realize that you can react and adapt to your life’s many challenges, life becomes a very exciting journey.


    Maybe it is the anniversary of Woodstock, but lately I have been thinking about different age generations, the labels that are placed upon them, and what that actually means. When controversial issues like health care are being discussed, we need to be careful about characterizing people based on their ages or arbitrary generational labels. This tends to divide rather than unite people.

    It started with Tom Brokow and his book, The Greatest Generation. Who wouldn’t like that label? True, our WWII soldiers exhibited extraordinary bravery and the world is a very different place today because of it. However, this is also the generation that lived in a segregated world and had African American soldiers fight the war, apart from their fellow soldiers. It was also a world where women had limited opportunities. While it was a great generation, they were not without their problems. Tom Brokaw may have been a great reporter, but his view of history is limited and controversial.

    The generational labels of Bridge and Baby Boomers are often described with less flattery and who wants to be considered second rate compared to the so called Greatest Generation anyway?.. Personally, I find these labels distasteful and as a Baby Boomer would like to think our generation might have had a hand in making our country great too. After all, civil and women’s rights came to be recognized during these years.

    People of retirement age have enough labels placed on them already. To me, the labels placed on older people just limit us and we have more in common with the other generations than differences. We have forgotten what happens when issues are broadly categorized and we lose respect for other’s opinions.

    Health care is an issue that affects everyone in this country and could divide us if we allow generational issues to influence these important decisions. While we might not always agree with one another on this issue, it is a call for civility and remembering what made all generations important in the formation of this great country. As President Obama has said, it is a time to examine the character of our country. And to do that, it will take every generation to show respect for all that have gone before and all that come after.

    Seize the Day

    Traveling this summer has afforded my husband and I an opportunity to catch up with old friends. It has also given us insights as to how different friends are handling retirement.

    We are blessed with good health, which may be one reason we have not considered retirement communities as our retirement option. Nevertheless, this year we have noticed that suddenly the lawns, trees, flowers and gardens, that were once a source of enjoyment for many of our friends, have now become a burden. The lawn is too much to mow. The rabbits are eating the garden and the flowers just aren’t worth the time-commitment. These friends are now considering retirement communities while planning for assisted living options.

    Granted, it pays to plan ahead, but friends who really should be enjoying their health and good fortune are looking to the end of their lives and not living fully in this moment. While I can certainly understand not wanting to spend a good part of my day mowing the lawn, I don’t want to hasten the inevitability of not being able to or looking forward to the time when most of lives are spent looking through windows at the world passing us by.

    On the other end of the spectrum are friends that have decided to seize the day and have an adventure that many of us dream about. They have bought an RV and are going to travel while they can and enjoy the thrill of being able to do what they want to do. And that is the kind of friend I want to emulate. Those who realize we’re only going around once and enjoy it for all that it’s worth.

    While not everyone has the ability or desire to move to a retirement community or travel in an RV, there is something that everyone can do and that is to appreciate every day. We may be the last generation that will be able to retire gracefully in relative financial security. Let’s seize this opportunity. Enjoy, but don’t overindulge. Exercise our brains and bodies every day. And enjoy our time. Those of retirement age will certainly understand that time is flying by and every moment is now precious.

    Enjoying the Summer Bounty

    Do you ever have times when you are not really paying attention to what is on T.V?. Then all of a sudden something is said that really catches your attention. That’s how it was when I heard Kathy Freston talking about her new book, Quantum Wellness Cleanse: The 21-Day Essential Guide to Healing Your Mind, Body and Spirit recently on the Ellen DeGeneres show. With typical Ellen humor she was confessing that she wouldn’t be able to give up everything that was advocated in the 21 day Detox Plan. Specifically alcohol. That is only one of the things that Freston suggests in her 21 day healing plan. Also, included is sugar, gluten and meat. Essentially everything. She advocates a cruelty free lifestyle and choosing food with integrity and consideration of how it arrives at our table.

    Detox plans or fasting seem to be the newest craze. Opening a magazine, the headlines in Elle question “What if you could reverse allergies, mood swings, stomach ailments-even some chronic diseases-with a periodic three-day cleanse?” The medical community is embracing the ideology of Jeffrey Bland, the co-founder of the Institute of Functional Medicine in Washington State. In essence his theory is: the body is constantly dealing with foreign chemicals that it (ingests, breathes, absorbs) from the outside world in a two-step process. In phase I, liver enzymes break down the chemicals into compounds that are often more dangerous than the original stuff- in the process, creating free radicals that cause “oxidative damage” in the cells (or rust). In phase 2, the liver neutralizes these compounds with the help of other nutrients, including key amino acids made from the protein we eat, and the waste is excreted. The theoretical justification for fasting is that it removes the bad stuff from fat-cell storage. If the body doesn’t take in the necessary nutrients during a water fast, the liver doesn’t get the nutritional support it requires to neutralize (phase 2) all the free radicals produced in phase 1, which can wind up making you feel worse.

    So what does all this mean? One of the themes that seems to hold for all the Detox Plans is that it is a healing mechanism which supports balance in our bodies and minds and offers an alternative to conventional Western medicine.

    All I know is, that as I get older, I want to do what I can to feel better. While the jury is still out for me on whether detox programs are effective, I do believe that thoughtfully considering what we eat can only be a positive action. In the words of the Muppet Miss Piggy, “Never eat more than you can lift.”