Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Europe Travel

My wife and I want to do a trip to Europe in the near future. We would like to see some of the typical tourist attractions all over Europe. I think most of what I would want to see would be in Italy to start with. I have on my list the Colosseum, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pompeii, the Vatican Museums and many other places. 

I'm looking for advice on what time of year to go and how long to stay. I don't want to fly across the ocean for a 3 day trip but don't want to be exhausted trying to stay 3 months either. Is it best to visit Europe in pieces and see Italy one trip, France and Germany another trip and England another trip? Or, is it possible to see much of the highlights of Europe in a few weeks? We enjoy a good cruise and I know there are several that do Italy, Greece, etc. So, I've thought of going for several weeks with a week cruise somewhere while we are there.

If you have been to Europe, do you have suggestions or tips? Are some sites overrated? Are there some sites, that you saw, that are under the radar but must see in your opinion? Any suggestions on transportation once we get there? Any suggestions will be woven into my planning and decision making and are greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

What's Your Name?

My 3 year old granddaughter takes on many roles throughout the day. She arrives at our house in the morning most days clothed in a princess dress of some kind. She may start out the day as Elsa from the movie Frozen. Within the next hour she may take off that dress and put on her Ghost Spider cape. In the next hour she has butterfly wings or bee wings on. During the day she becomes many different things. If I call her by name, she will say "I'm Ghost Spider" or "I'm Elsa". Often while in her different roles she will come up to me and ask "What's your name?" If I say "Pawpaw", she says "no you're not, you're Anna" or "you're Cat Boy" as she wants me to role play with her. I have recently been Cat Boy (PJ Masks show) , Mecha Cookie (Mecha Builders show) and the villain Romeo or Night Ninja (PJ Masks). When I am handed the role of a villain she will say "I want you to be mean!" so I play the part while she saves the world.   

                                            Ghost Spider                                 Romeo

As my granddaughter plays many roles through the day, it makes me think of the different roles we all play in life. When we are born we become a son or daughter, a grand child and possibly a niece or nephew. In those various roles, we mean different things to different people and have a variety of relationships based on those roles. Of course, when I was born, the common thing with my various new roles was that everyone said "He's the cutest baby I have ever seen!". 

As we continue through life we continue to assume new roles. We become siblings, students, team players, friends, etc. Each new title we get brings on new responsibilities and individual parts to play in those roles. As we continue on in life we become employees and coworkers. We may take on roles of spouses and parents, aunts or uncles and maybe grandparents. We may become teachers and mentors. We become neighbors. 

Some roles change over the years. As you move into new roles, some old roles may disappear forever. I once was a grandson and son. Once my grandparents and parents passed away, I no longer actively served in those roles. I used to be an employee/manager/coworker but gave those roles up upon retirement. 

Some people in this world take on the role of the villain and become thieves, murderers and other criminals. Some just shirk their responsibility of their roles and become absent parents or terrible employees. These people have an entirely different viewpoints than I on the responsibilities given for each of these roles. 

I currently have many names that include the following: brother, uncle, father, grandfather, husband, neighbor, friend, club member, and many others I can't name at the moment. When I look at all the roles I have played, the greatest has been husband, father and grandfather. The names of dad and pawpaw are my favorites. I read an article in the latest edition of the AARP magazine about Tyler Perry. He has had great success in his career and is a self made billionaire. At the end of the article he was asked "Who is Tyler Perry today?". He replied "I'm Maxine's baby. I am defined by everything she put in me. She was the kind of woman who tolerated or accepted nothing but your best. And I'm Aman's father. All of this other stuff is really great. But the thing that gives me motivation every day is being Aman's father." Well said Tyler, well said!

What is your name? What roles do you currently play? In retirement we move from employee/coworker into the role of retiree. At that point you may take on new roles of mentor, teacher, volunteer, part time employee, hobbyist or something else. What roles did you embrace after taking on the retiree role? Are you performing well in each of your given or chosen roles? Or, is there room for improvement in your roles? What is your favorite role, past or present?

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Alaska Cruise!


My wife and I just returned from an 8 day cruise to Alaska. We had an Alaska cruise scheduled in May 2020 and then the pandemic hit. So, two years later we finally got to set sail! We had never been to Alaska and we thoroughly enjoyed this trip. The scenery was spectacular and the wildlife was abundant. The views from the ship alone were worth the price of the trip. We saw waterfalls, bald eagles and a lot of whales from the ship. Onshore we saw bald eagles, bears and salmon. The weather was very nice with high temperatures of 65 or less. We expected more rain, but were lucky we only go a little rain at one stop in Ketchikan. Our ports were Icy Point Strait, Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan and Victoria, Canada. We cruised up the Tracy Arm Fjord and took a small boat excursion up close to the Sawyer Glacier. That excursion was incredible and we saw icebergs, waterfalls, seals and one black bear. If you ever get a chance, I highly recommend at least one cruise to Alaska! This is what retirement is all about!

Have you had any recent travels or have anything planned in the near future? Do you feel safe enough to get out these days? We have been vaccinated and double boosted, plus we had a dose of COVID so we feel pretty confident we won't get deathly ill from COVID at this time. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

The Dead File

As we all get older we need to think about some estate planning issues. Since we are all retired and have nothing to do, I have a little project for you....create a "dead file". 

Early in my career I became very good friends with a coworker of mine. At work one day Mike had a document in his hand and made mention of adding it to his "dead file". I was curious about this "dead file" and asked him what he was talking about. He said he had made a file folder that contained a variety of information for his wife to refer to when he was dead. He thought he was real funny by naming it the "dead file". I was in my 20's at the time and didn't see what the big deal was. Later in life I saw the value of a "dead file". Mike passed away unexpectedly at the early age of 51 and I'm sure he left a detailed "dead file" behind for his wife.  

In most marriages or relationships there is one person that handles the finances and day to day aspect of keeping the lights on. This person is usually the planner of the two and is more detail oriented. I am that person in my house. I handle the utilities, insurance, investments, streaming subscriptions, etc. Even though I have offered the management of these duties to my wife, she has declined many times. She would prefer that the light turns on when she flips the switch, the house and car are insured, Netflix works and money is in the bank without knowing how the Wizard behind the curtain operates it all. 

The problem with this scenario is if the "Wizard" dies without leaving an instruction manual to operate the buttons and levers. Several years ago I created my own "dead file". This simple manilla folder contains a sheet of paper with information about everything I could think of that she may not know the details about. It begins with information on our life insurance and where the documents are located. Home information includes the details of what company has the mortgage and what company handles the insurance. Next is info on our cars including where the titles are located, insurance and any loans against them. Next up is where our important documents are located including birth certificates, marriage certificate, passports, etc. I have them all in one place and want to be sure they can be found by accessing the "dead file". The next item on my list is a list of all financial accounts and where they are located. Next is health insurance info and then info on who to contact on my retirement pension to seek survivor benefits. I have also included info on actions to be taken to access my 401K funds. 

My "dead file" also has small things in it such as the combination for my gun safe and the combination for the lock on an outside gate. The file has the location of keys to our outdoor shed. The file also tells where a list of passwords is kept for all online accounts. I tried to include everything that I know her or my kids would not know the details about or think about while dealing with by passing. I included a line on who our utilities are with and about our auto toll pass account. There are so many little details that need to be known to make life easier on the surviving spouse or children. 

While writing this post, I noticed my "dead file" is dated 2020. So, I need to update it soon and add any new details or accounts. Updating the dead file should be a frequent event so put it on your New Year's list of things to do every year. Your "dead file" could contain anything you want it to. When my dad passed away in 1993, he left a hand written letter in which he spelled out a few of his wishes. Your file could  contain a one page document with info similar to what I have talked about here or it could be inches thick and contain all the reference documents needed. You should include your will and any other end of life documents. If not previously discussed, it should include any burial or cremation wishes you may have. You could include a letter to your family or reveal family secrets or buried treasure or who gets the dog. Make your file whatever you want it to be. My "dead file" is in a larger plastic file box that also contains folders for life insurance and retirement that I refer to in the "dead file". 

I know this is one of those conversations that is sometimes difficult to think about. But, after going through the death of my mother about two years ago, I know it is difficult to figure out those things listed above when account statements, bills, etc. are scattered about a desk or a room. My mother's bills and finances were pretty simple but there were some surprise accounts that I didn't know about until I found an old credit card or a new statement came in the mail. While dealing with mom's estate I learned a few things that I need to add to my file as tips or suggestions and I will share them here. Order many copies of the death certificate as they are needed many times when trying to access financial accounts or to close accounts. Also, remember there is a death benefit from Social Security. It is small and something like $250 but remember to file for it. I went through mom's bills and statements and quickly settled and cancelled all credit cards and subscriptions. Most had balances of $0 or small amounts like $25-50 for her most current purchases. 

Who is the "Wizard" in your relationship? Do you already have a "dead file"? If so, what does it contain? Do you have any other suggestions on what the file should have in it? Do you have any tips or suggestions for others when dealing with an estate after someone dies? 

Please don't procrastinate on this project that I have assigned you. If you are the "Wizard" in your relationship, you have an obligation to write out an instruction manual for those you may leave behind. If you work on your "dead file" and can't figure out what to do with all your money, please include this statement in the file "Send Mitch, at Retirement Coffee Shop, a large amount of money"!  But please, don't leave me any pets!

Friday, August 5, 2022

Smells & Memories

Oh those sweet memories. Our brains amaze me in their ability to store long term memories. My last post was Music & Memories and associated music with memories. Another thing that triggers a few memories for me is smell. Smell doesn't seem to attach itself to my memories as much as music but there are a few smells out there that bring out a memory or two.  

If you read the last post you will remember that I had a crush on a certain cheerleader in high school. After agitating and pestering her for months, I won her over with my wit, charm and handsome good looks. One thing that drove me crazy about her was the smell of her perfume. That perfume was Sand & Sable. A whiff of that perfume today will take me back to those teenage years and our dating and early marriage life. She has long moved on to new perfumes, all which smell wonderful, but that Sand & Sable has stuck in my memories. I'm sure she could have worn Ode De Skunk, and since I was so smitten by her, I would have stored that smell into my brain with those same great memories. 

Another really strong memory producer for me is not a pleasant memory. In 1995, I was across the street, in my office, from the Murrah Federal Building the morning it was blown up by a homegrown terrorist. In the days following the explosion, I was in the area assisting our office and providing security while rescue operations were being undertaken. After a day or so, Little Caesars Pizza set up a portable pizza oven in a tent in our parking lot to serve the first responders. The weather was cool and rainy during that time and you could smell the pizza being cooked every day. That pizza smell, along with the smells of the remnant of the building are deeply set in my memories. Today, I walk at a local park walking trail and across the street is a Little Caesars Pizza. On certain cool days, and with the right conditions, I get a huge whiff of pizza and with the cool weather, all of a sudden I'm back in that 1995 memory. The strength of that memory with that pizza smell amazes me every time.

My dad was a smoker. He smoked a lot of cigarettes but he also enjoyed smoking a pipe in the evening. I always loved the smell of his pipe tobacco when he packed his pipe and when he smoked it. He used Sir Walter Raleigh and Prince Albert tobacco if I remember correctly. I would use an empty tobacco can to store pennies in. Today, although very rarely, I will pass someone smoking a pipe and it reminds me of him instantly. 

Another smell that takes me back in the time machine is the smell of fresh asphalt or at least recently laid asphalt. As a young kid and up through my late teens, I would go to Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington, TX. Their walkways around the park were asphalt and always smelled of asphalt during the hot summer months when I visited. My Sand & Sable, cheerleader girlfriend and I went at least once or twice together. Even today, if we step out of the car and smell asphalt, we will look at each other and say "It smells like Six Flags!".  

Which triggers your memory more, music or smells? Do you have any smells that take you back in time to some really great memories? Any smells take you to a bad memory?

Monday, August 1, 2022

Music & Memories

My parents, both born in 1943, listened to country music when I was young. The late 1970's country music scene included singers such as Willie Nelson, Charley Pride, Tammy Wynette, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Barbara Mandrell and Conway Twitty to name just a few. Last year and into this year, when my wife and I travelled to Houston several times, there was a spot between Dallas and Houston in which we could only find a few radio stations that came in clear. It seemed that every one of them was classic country and featured songs from those mentioned above. Every time that I heard one of the hits from these artists, it transported me back in time to the 1970's with my parents. I could just see myself in the car or truck with one of my parents with the radio tuned to country music. I could visualize the clothing and cars of that time period of my life. My dad loved music by Patsy Cline. Every time I hear one of her songs, I think of dad.   

Music is connected powerfully to memories. There is something that clicks in our brains that matches the music up with certain memories and that match seems to stay linked forever. Music is often used in therapy with dementia patients to help with recalling the past. Music is usually associated with different events in our lives. You may remember songs that were played at your wedding or other special events. I have a lot of memories that pop up when I listen to 80's music. I was in high school in the early 80's and music was a big part of my teenage life. When "Footloose" comes on, I think about my first date with my wife and our dating life in general. When any song from Def Leopard, AC/DC or Foreigner come on, I am instantly transported back in time and I'm cruising the streets of my old home town (Pop. 800 or so) and blasting the songs away in my 1973 Mustang before or after a Friday night football game. 

One song "Islands in the Stream" by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers takes me back to study hall in high school. I had a crush on a cheerleader who was dating one of my best friends. We had study hall together and I flirted and teased her relentlessly. We had music playing during study hall and when "Islands in the Stream" came on I would tease her and say that it was our song. My tenacity paid off and we started dating the next summer and have now been married 33 years. When I hear that song, I'm back in that study hall flirting with that 15 year old cheerleader all over again! We laugh every time we hear it played.

Music was much different in the 80's. We played it on the radio or on cassette tapes. I kept a cassette tape holder in the back seat with some of my favorites. The tape holder looked like a briefcase. At the time, I joined Columbia House (I think that was the name) which allowed you to choose something like 10 tapes for free and you had to buy 1 or 2 a month after that. Car stereos were popular with my age group and I always wanted to upgrade my stereo to a more expensive and powerful model. I did eventually get a set of better speakers for the back window tray area of my car and bought a cheap equalizer that I screwed to the bottom of my dash. Nothing better than turning up the music and hitting the power on the equalizer and seeing all the green lights flashing. I'm not sure it helped a lot, but it did seem to get a little more volume and a little more treble. With the 80's music, I always like the treble set a little higher. I guess I was tired of all the old bass sounds in the old country music!

One of my best friends in high school drove his dad's green 1970's Ford truck. This truck had an eight track tape player in it. That was old school at the time as the latest and greatest was the cassette tape. He loved to hunt deer with his dad and one of his favorite, and maybe only tape, was a Hank Williams Jr. tape. I think the only song he played on that tape was "Country Boy Can Survive"! Whenever I hear that song, I am again transported to the 80's and I am riding in that green Ford with Steve. My dad also had an eight track player under his dash in his ford truck. His collection of tapes consisted of "simulated artist". These were tapes he got at discount stores that had current hits but were sung by someone that sounded a lot like the original artist. How funny is that? He saved a few dollars on his music collection!

Another song that is strongly connected to a memory is "Bad Boys", the theme song to the TV show COPS. In the Fall of 1991 I was at a federal law enforcement academy in a three month training to become a federal agent. In our dorm we had a common area with couches and a large TV. A few of my classmate and I would meet down there and watch COPS in the evening and sang the "Bad Boys" song along with the intro. It was a great time and that memory will be forever linked to that song and show. 

I'm sure you have similar memories that are attached to music even if it is from a different decade. Those in high school in the 70's probably have memories related to bands such as Aerosmith, .38 Special, Boston, REO Speedwagon and others. Those of you who are even older will have similar memories of music of your generation. Recently, I have been picking up record albums at thrift stores that include Big Band and Swing music and some Waltz music. I really enjoy this music and even though I don't have memories of that era, I can picture in my mind WWII soldiers and their dates dancing to that music in big ballrooms. 

There are many more songs that bring up memories. I can't think of them all right now, but when that song is coming through the speakers, I will remember. Are there songs that take you back in time? Any particular one that really triggers a great memory? Any of you still have a cassette tape or eight track tape collection out there? 

Keep the music flowing and the equalizer on and enjoy those memories or enjoy making brand new ones to new music!