Thursday, October 29, 2020

Book Release! "Enough: A Retirement Life That Works for Me"

 Hello readers!

 I hope this finds you all warm and well! It has been awhile! In March my Stories We Leave Behind presentations moved online. As the quarantine continued I launched a 5-week workshop for those needing to make more room for a home office or just breathing space! The next workshop begins in January via Zoom. Once registration begins I’ll post a link! 

But today I have BIG NEWS!

 My latest book, Enough: A Retirement Life That Works for Me is now live on Amazon (here)!  Enough follows The Stories We Leave Behind, where I share how I curated possessions to preserve my legacy stories and clear the way for a great retirement life. Enough shares how I sustain that life on a middle-income retirement budget.

Like many of you, I’d attended employer-sponsored workshops and free seminars, read books and articles about retirement finances, and chatted with friends. But I often felt out of place. In truth, none of them really spoke to me – a middle-income professional with savings far below the oft-cited million-dollar bar for financial security in retirement.

Advice often presumed one had significant resources or none at all. And unlike challenges such as parenting, personal health, or elder care, retirement finances is a topic we have in common but don’t share in detail. Not that we should. We just don’t. Popular articles on retirement finances can be scary and misleading. Without peer discussion I couldn’t assess how I was doing.

As I watched retired peers whose lives I hoped to emulate, I wondered if they had figured out how to live on a budget like mine or if they were secretly rich. I knew I hadn’t earned an “A” for retirement finances, but was I average – or was I on the financial edge? It was unclear. I didn’t need to sail around the world or endow a scholarship fund, but did I have enough for a lifestyle that works for me? Tired of worrying, I put on my research hat and dug in.

Enough begins by describing my experience as a middle-income retiree in a world of uncertain finances, out-of-control healthcare costs, and endless “encore” possibilities. Chapter 1 ends with a snapshot of retirement trends and retiree expectations across three generations and a brief discussion of the peer problem.

Chapter 2 is the data chapter. I dug deep. You’ll find charts and graphs, numbers and ranges, and yes, humor. My goal was to do the necessary math to locate and share trustworthy data on the financial lives of “average” American retirees. Along the way I learned that only 16% of American’s age 60+ have reached the million-dollar mark for a secure retirement. Another 36% are financially insecure, living at or below 250% of the federal poverty level. The remaining 48% of us are in the middle.   

Chapters 3 through the end lay out what happened when the search for a definitive datapoint came up short – and I set out to create my own retirement plan. A plan “that works for me”.

My hope is that Enough opens conversations about middle-class retirement and provides a welcoming place where those in the middle can feel comfortable designing a retirement life that works for them.

Stay Safe. Stay Warm. And Happy Storytelling!



Thursday, April 16, 2020

5 Great Projects While Stuck at Home - Or How to Feel Productive While Binge Watching Netflix

Being stuck at home is a great time to tackle our volume of things. But what can we do while we wait for donation sites to reopen?

Here are 5 projects that often get pushed to the back burner. The rewards are less visible than donating a couch but the long term impact is huge. Tackle a little here, a little there - whatever is compelling at the moment. Every step deserves a gold star.

Mark Sentimental Items

Make sure loved ones recognize sentimental items. Stick a post-it on the back of sentimental items with the basics. Be brief. "Great Grandma brought this from Hungary" "Aunt Betty's prized cake plate" "Grandpa's favorite fishing rod"  BONUS: If relevant, include "appraised" and keep appraisal information (or resources) with important documents.

Gather Important Legal & Financial Documents

Do yourself and loved ones a huge favor. Put important docs in one place (or two if some are in a fire safe). You'll save yourself time now and reduce loved ones' worry about whether they've found everything. Deeds, titles, wills, bank & investment info, retirement sources, insurance coverage and more. Count it as exercise if you have to lift boxes or climb stairs to find things.

Clean Out File Cabinets

Take one folder at a time (or a stack). Toss docs that are outdated or no longer of interest. That alone will buy you space and feel great. By the way, sorting through paper files is a great project to do while binge watching Netflix (so I've heard...)  And files can be heavy so this too counts as exercise.


Emotions and volume can make photos a tough project. Look for low-emotion steps like sorting a box of photos by subject (ditching photos of unknown people or places). Next spread out photos of one person or a single event you want to capture. Decide how many you'll keep then choose the best. If you can't toss the rest put them in an envelope or box marked "available for others".  Mail it somewhere. Caution: Don't get stuck searching for a right way. These are your photos. Your way IS the right way. And again, photo boxes are heavy so...exercise :)

Preserve Critical Electronic Files

Do you have important documents that are only in electronic form? Save those to a thumb drive, mark it, put it in a fire safe, and update it each year.

Stay Safe! Stay Home! Happy Storytelling!


Tuesday, March 17, 2020

When Home is Every Place

Hello readers!

Many of us are spending way more time at home these days than we ever have. Practically overnight our homes have become home, work, gym, entertainment venue, and school to name a few. If our home were an actor it would have just taken on all the roles, all at once. Yikes!

This can be an extra challenge if you've been meaning to clear out old stuff and just haven't gotten there yet. For me, instead of being able to leave those projects, I have to work amongst them. By the third day I think fondly of the office clean-up crew who keeps the carpets clean and my trash cans empty. I wonder if they do home visits. [Note to self: buy them a gift card when we return.]

If you're like me I get cabin fever fairly quickly. As my need to flee increases, so does the noise from those "I'll deal with that later" projects lying around the house. Piles to put away, boxes to sort through, ill-fitting clothes that crowd my drawers and closet.
Positive interactions and finished products provide energy at work. At home an improved experience with stuff can be its own reward especially when an area feels less cluttered or when I can easily find something. Plus, like a finished work product, I can check something off the "someday" list and talk about it during "how are you doing" chats.

The big win for me during stressful times is that decisions are easier & faster because I'm motivated to "do" something tangible - which means this can be a great time to tackle areas that could use a ruthless (or firm) touch :)

Here are a few ways I turn stress to my advantage when I'm stuck at home.

1. I clean the fridge. This is easy, healthy, quick, and includes a cool breeze.

2. I look through my closet and drawers for clothes to toss or giveaway.

3. I sort my junk drawer.

4. I put things back where they belong (and create homes for items that appear homeless).

5. I take a lesson in creativity and flexibility from my cat. When we moved from a four bedroom house to a 900 square foot condo I wondered if she'd have enough places to run, play, sleep, hide. Four years later she still finds new places to explore and find comfort. Where else could I work from? Relax? Exercise? How would it feel if I rearranged the furniture? These are perfect times for trying new things in our space.

How are you making your space work for you in these challenging times?

Thank for reading and happy storytelling!
PS I've started a daily FaceBook post called "Grandma's House". For at least the next couple weeks I will post topics of the day with activity suggestions for all ages; nothing fancy or complicated...just a few ideas from Grandma's House.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

It's OK to Say Goodbye

In spite of my minimalist leanings, there are still some things I can't seem to release. These things are not used, nor do they match my lifestyle or interests. Instead, these things live a sad and lonely life on a back shelf or squirreled away in a cold, dark corner of my closet.

Once loved (by me or a relative), their only purpose for some time has been to be "on hold" - just in case. Maybe my 4-year-old granddaughter will have a daughter some day who would like this Shirley Temple dress. Maybe my toddler grandson's eventual spouse will be thrilled to have my grandmother's crystal. Maybe some relative will be born, become a cartoonist and lovingly display this 1950's animation toy on his desk. Maybe.

The fantasies are absurd, built on a plethora of assumptions reminiscent of the original time period of each item. Who knows if today's 4-year-old will have her own child decades from now and want to dress her in an absurdly short, frilly dress; or if my toddler grandson will marry - and marry someone who wants old crystal in the pattern I have; or if a relative will appear, become a cartoonist and want desk art (or even use a desk)? [add more glaring assumptions here...]

Yet imagining a future use feels like I'm respecting family history or responsibly preserving relics from times gone by. The thought of failing includes a lifetime of impending guilt. "I wanted to wear your wedding dress, Great-Grandma, but alas, you ditched it. What will I wear now!?!?!." Yeah...that kid has bigger issues than finding a dress but these silly thoughts persist.

So I continue to hold on to certain items I don't use or really want. Why? I'm a rational, logical person. I'm also a great downsizer. Perhaps they seem historically or psychologically more worthy than other things I've moved along. Or perhaps I'm simply caught in a circular version of the grief cycle:
  • This doesn't take up much room! (Denial; it actually does, emotionally if not physically.)
  • I hate having all this mess! (Anger)
  • I'll let go when I find a deserving home for it. (Bargaining)
  • Doesn't anyone want this wonderful item? (Depression)
  • I'll just keep it for awhile longer. It doesn't take up much room. (Skipping Acceptance in favor of a return to Denial and the cycle continues) 

I don't know why certain items are so hard to release. But I do know that time quickly slips away. And, as I age I have less physical ability to dig through boxes and more emotional interest in doing things that bring me joy and calm. Over the years I've learned it is ok (and healthy) to say goodbye to people and experiences I've loved as well as those that weigh me down. Certainly, it is equally ok - and healthy - to say goodbye to physical things whose time has come.

So, yesterday I tackled my storage closet where 90% of my "on hold" items live. One by one I relinquished items to the next phase of their journey - one bag for a grade school, one for charity, one for the local VFW, and one for trash. There was no guilt, no remorse. But there is a sense that I've given these items their freedom - and also a little to me.

Happy storytelling!

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Grandpa's Watch

Grandpa Roy was born in 1900. From his early years he was a train buff. After serving in World War I, Roy joined his dad at the Nickle Plate Railroad Company. Growing up I heard many stories of his adventures at the station - interesting passengers, odd cargo, even a stubborn mouse that refused to be caught. Grandpa died in the early '80s. A few years ago my mom (his eldest daughter) sent me a handful of fun photos of Grandpa's railroad days. Last year she gave me Grandpa's jewelry box.

Grandpa was a simple, practical man, so it was no surprise to find few items. Yet among the rusty pins and crumple papers was a pocket watch. The face was ornate and detailed with the customary long gold chain attached at the top. A separate miniature clock face sat below the number "6" to count off the seconds. But the real surprise was on the back: a steam engine in motion etched into gold - an homage to Grandpa's early days on the railroad.

Immediately I wanted to know its story! Was this a retirement gift from the railroad - the proverbial gold watch? Had it been a gift from his own father when Grandpa became a station master? Did Grandpa purchase it for himself - a luxury with a practical use? I had many questions, each the start of a great story, and no one to ask. So I decided to find out where and when it was made and go from there. Sadly, a reputable antique watch expert confirmed this watch was likely purchased in the 1970s from a discount store. The cheap metal was only gold in color and the clock face could not be opened to change the batteries. It was, by design, disposable.

I was crushed - not because it lacked monetary value but because it was so cool but now lacked "true story" value. I paused and thought. But what about "story" value? Or even, "based on a true story"?  As I picked up the watch I turned to the dealer and asked, "So...would this be a fun gift for a four-year-old who loves to play train engineer?" "Perfect", she said.

Next week my grandson Sammy turns four. Sammy loves trains. Sammy loves books. Sammy loves pretending. When Sammy opens his gift from me he'll find a book titled "A Boy Named Roy Who Loved Trains". The book is filled with pictures of his Great Great Grandpa Roy's life and his love of trains. There are pictures of trestle tracks, horse carriages at train stations, and Roy with his father at the station. Page by page Sammy will also read about an important station master's tool - the gold pocket watch (fuzzy but visible in a couple pictures). At the end of the book Sammy will find an envelope holding another present: a pocket watch - Great Great Grandpa Roy's pocket watch - with an awesome picture of a steam engine etched on the back.

Happy storytelling!

Thursday, August 22, 2019

4 Lessons for Baby Boomers from Back-to-School Season

It's back-to-school season again! While students think about friends, new teachers and what cool class is on the horizon, parents tackle the details - new clothes, supplies, transportation, and after school activities. We know it's coming but we also know each year comes with unpredictable twists and turns - Brenton takes the wrong bus, Samara needs these supplies not those, Gillian's soccer practice clashes with Tara's cello lessons. And yet somehow it comes together, each and every year.

As I wiggle my way through the confusion and chaos of the back-to-school supply area of Target for one folder (maybe I can wait), I sense excitement and trepidation for the imminent future. We want to be ready - but we can only do so much.

And each year we get a little better, a little calmer, and little more comfortable with the inevitable surprises.

So what does this have to do with all the stuff Baby Boomers are sorting through? As we move into our retirement or "encore" years, we, too, face a new season.We'll make new friends, learn new things, need new supplies (for new or expanded hobbies), and may even move to a new location.

Here are 4 lessons I learned from my own Back to School seasons:

1. Acknowledge the past but focus on the new season. Before our parents decided it was wise to save everything, many of their parents let go of everything in search of "a better future for our children and our  children's children." Sort with an eye to tomorrow. It was what your ancestors would want.

2. Identify your basic needs for the upcoming year. Before tackling a lifetime's worth of stuff, get clear on the basics. Think about your favorite activities and new goals. Next, make your own "supply list". What do you need as a starting point for the upcoming year? My list includes age-appropriate supplies to entertain the grandkids, biking clothes to replace worn or ill-fitting ones (or something fun for motivation), and a smaller, lighter suitcase for quick, easy traveling.

3. Weed out the old. Space is finite. Now is the time to be realistic. Just like old school supplies, what items no longer serve your needs or interests but might serve someone else's? Pass them along and free up space for something new!

4. Prepare to be surprised. The strongest trap that keeps us tied to things is the fear that "I might need it someday". You might. But holding on to everything creates chaos and clutter for today and leaves little room for tomorrow. While a 10th grader might hold on to certain science supplies for 11th grade coursework, imagine saving every picture, every supply, every book, every toy, every item of clothing from kindergarten through high school - and then taking it all to college because "I might need it". Sound ludicrous? Of course it is. But not any sillier than the stuff some of us continue to hold onto and drag from house to house (for me it was way too many tools, clothes in three sizes, an old brown jug, box of high school theater scripts, boxes of unknown relatives photos...the list goes on). When I separated the stuff I was likely to use in the near future from the stuff "I might need someday", I validated my actual interests and passed other good stuff on to new homes. For me, the inconvenience of the occasional surprise doesn't begin to compare to the calm and joy of having fewer things.

So, for this back-to-school season what will you carry forward into your new year?

Happy Storytelling!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Telling Family Stories through Film and Photos

Most of us want to capture and preserve cherished family stories in order to enjoy them today and pass them down for generations to come. But how?

Growing up in the heyday of cameras many of us have amassed an overwhelming number of photos (ours and from others). While it is possible (and traditional) to create albums of every photo from every box currently squirreled away in every corner of the house and garage, younger generations aren’t inclined to spend hours casually perusing album after album. The truth is the sheer volume is simply too much.

Likewise, I hear from lots of baby boomers who hope to spend retirement writing a family memoir – only to realize several months and dozens of pages in (the record so far is 600) that (a) they’ll never finish in their lifetime, and (b) core stories are lost in non-essential details not even the writer wants to re-read.

The solution: enlist the help of a professional storyteller! Last month I met Amanda Lathrop and Holly Corbid, two awesome young entrepreneurs who help families preserve stories for generations to come. Besides great personalities and impressive technical skills, both women totally "get" how to preserve family stories using methods that are compelling and meaningful to younger generations.

First, Amanda Lathrop - owner and storyteller at Lead Sheep Productions, LLC. Armed with some very impressive video production credentials (including a stint with Prince at Paisley Park), Amanda helps clients craft their family story and then capture it on film - a medium that appeals to all generations. As a seasoned storyteller Amanda knows how to find the essence of a story and then make it compelling and meaningful for the intended audience. Learn more about Amanda's personal story here.  There are many video services that claim to "preserve your history". What distinguishes Amanda is her personal approach and intent to act as a bridge connecting and preserving family stories for future generations. As Amanda says, "In order to know where you're going, you need to know where you come from."

Next, Holly Corbid - owner and organizer extraordinaire at Capture Your Photos. Holly is the person to call when you have more photos than you know what to do with and want to preserve (or find) important family stories for future generations. That would be most of us. Using a simple sorting process Holly has helped countless individuals and families select photos that bring family stories to life, and then capture them in storybook form. Holly can also help organize and incorporate photos scattered throughout computer files as well as multi-platform family films. There are many full-service and self-service vendors through which to create storybook albums. None offer Holly's gentle, personal touch, organizational skills and multi-media capability. Holly is "all about bringing joy and peace of mind to our clients and the people they love."

Visit Amanda's or Holly's websites for more information, ideas,and inspiration.

Happy storytelling!

Book Release! "Enough: A Retirement Life That Works for Me"

  Hello readers!  I hope this finds you all warm and well! It has been awhile! In March my Stories We Leave Behind presentations moved on...