Saturday, January 31, 2009

Another Dozen Examples

25. Design and make a set of Christmas ornaments - in fact, make several sets and give them away for Christmas presents - using a number of media.
26. Ride every bike trail in Wisconsin.
27. Create a Web site for the exclusive use of your extended family.
28. Work on an archeological dig.
29. Volunteer for a theater company - as a performer, director, set designer/builder, lighting designer/operator, props manager, stagehand, gofer, or whatever appeals to you and is needed by the company.
30. Learn to juggle.
31. Take piano lessons (or some other instrument you already know) and give a recital.
32. Build a great model railroad.
33. Complete a different jigsaw puzzle every day and track the total number of pieces.
34. Create and follow a fantasy stock portfolio.
35. Design and create your dream room.
36. Create a set of children's books.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

One Idea in Detail: Create Your Dream Room

By this time in our lives, if we haven't already acquired our dream house, we probably won't. But a "dream room" is very achievable and well worth the investment in time and money.

You may have been saying to yourself and/or your significant other for years: I wish I could have the perfect room for . . . . (pick one) writing, entertaining, cooking, sewing, crafting, reading, building, music making, movie watching, exercising, meditating, massaging, taking afternoon naps, having (ahem) sensual encounters . . . . or any number of others you might think of.

Now is the perfect time. Chances are good that you're an empty-nester and have a spare bedroom, garage stall, or basement corner that will work nicely. It's also likely you'll be spending a lot more time at home than during your working years, so why not invest in one room that you can't wait to spend time in. Conceptualizing, planning and creating that room makes a good HarvilleQuarter. Some ideas:

Gourmet kitchen: This could be expensive, but if you love to cook and bake and entertain, the complete kitchen do-over is worth the money while increasing your home's market value. It might also be possible to create a kitchen you love (which may not be a "gourmet" kitchen, but works perfectly for you) without spending bucks by the tens of thousands. Your kitchen may have just a few shortcomings that, when corrected, will convert it from a place that's strictly utilitarian to one that's a pleasure to work in. New countertops, improved lighting (which I know from experience can make a huge difference), more electrical outlets, a couple of high-end countertop appliances, better storage, new paint, some bright artwork, an undercabinet TV/DVD player, a skylight, new flooring - changes like these may be enough. Of course, ripping out walls and replacing all the cabinets and appliances are an option as well.

Library: If you love to read and write, make a spare bedroom into a library. Build in floor-to-ceiling bookcases. Acquire a great desk or some modular office furniture (used options are available). Buy an antique oriental rug (or a new one - genuine or fake) for the floor. Get a nice leather armchair with ottoman and a floor lamp that gives great light for reading. A ceiling fan would be nice as would some indirect lighting on your book collection. Paint the remaining walls with a library-like color (deep maroon-red, perhaps), hang some tasteful etchings or photographs nicely framed, add wood blinds for the windows, and if you're a booklover or writer, you'll have a room you'll want to live in.

Workshop: If you enjoy building things and plan to do more of it in retirement, it is time to get past the makeshift workbench you have in the corner of your garage or basement. Use a HarvilleQuarter to plan and create the perfect workshop that exactly matches your hobbies and crafts. Storage, work surfaces, tools, lighting, electrical outlets, noise and dust control, ease of clean-up, safety - consider all of these in your design.

Outdoor entertaining: If you love to entertain and especially if you live in a warm climate, think about your outdoor entertaining space. This is an opportunity to build something really spectacular where friends will want to gather and linger and you'll have everything you need close at hand to enjoy the experience as well.

Greenhouse: If you have a green thumb and love to grow things - and especially if you live in a cold climate - build a greenhouse as a separate structure or add one to the south side of your house. You'll be able to putter among your plants all winter long, experiment with new varieties, have cut flowers year-round, grow seedlings for spring planting, and generally bask in the sun, humidity, bright colors and fragrances of your greenhouse. On sunny days, you may also be able to move some warm air from an attached greenhouse into the rest of your house.

Exercise room: If you have the motivation to exercise by yourself or with your significant other and prefer working out at home to the gym, plan and create an exercise room. Again, an extra bedroom or basement space will work. Decide what equipment you need as well as amenities - video, music, towel racks, storage, ceiling fan, mini-fridge, mirrors (or not) - and start planning. Consider used equipment (it seems some people over-estimate their enthusiasm for exercising and over-invest in high-end equipment) to help control costs.

Sunroom: As of now (in the middle of a Wisconsin winter), this is my dream room. I live in a modest 50's ranch but it does have a small (about 10X11) screened porch on the southeast corner. The porch is enjoyable on breezy, warm summer nights, but I think I'd sacrifice it for a cozy little sunroom/den. I'm thinking mostly glass on the south side, which looks out onto the backyard and is shaded by a honey locust in the summer but gets full sun in the winter. I'd like a tiny gas fireplace for both atmosphere and extra heat and/or radiant heating in the floor for sunless days and evenings. It would have a skylight or two, a ceiling fan to help distribute the heat, a few small bookshelves, a really comfy chair for reading and TV viewing (I'm thinking Ekornes recliner), a small flat screen TV/DVD, wireless Internet, and a sofa just long enough for those Sunday afternoon naps.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Creative, Playful, People and a Little Risky

In one my first posts, I suggested that any HarvilleQuarter should include elements of learning, growth and satisfaction. At the end of the 3 months, you will have gained knowledge and/or technical skills (learning), grown as a human being, and experienced the satisfaction that comes with learning and growth. Accomplishing these three things suggests that the particular HarvilleQuarter was a great choice for you.

Now I'm going to add a few other elements that would contribute to a really satisfying HarvilleQuarter: creativity, playfulness, people and risk.

A HarvilleQuarter that brings out your creativity - and requires you to be creative in new ways - will enhance the learning and growth aspects of the experience. Retirement is a great time to find out that you can be creative in ways you hadn't previously imagined or were too self-conscious to attempt.

Playfulness is another great attribute for a HarvilleQuarter. When I was growing up, senescence was sometimes referred to with the euphemism "second childhood," which was not a compliment. However, maybe we should "re-brand" that term into a positive - a chance to be playful when you have the time and self-confidence to spend time just having fun. Bear in mind that for young children, the best learning often occurs in the context of play. That may prove true for retirees as well.

HarvilleQuarters can also earn bonus points if they bring you into contact with people whom you would not otherwise have met. We're never too old to make new friends and find interesting people to share our HarvilleQuarters activities. If you start frequenting jazz clubs, poetry readings, clown school, political campaigns or community gardens, sooner or later you're going to see some of the same people repeatedly, strike up a conversation, and who knows where it will go from there.

Finally, I've decided that a really great HarvilleQuarter should feel at least a little risky. Can I really pull this off? Will other people make fun of - or disapprove of - me? Will it take me into a new world that's completely unfamiliar? What if I don't enjoy it as much as I hoped? Will I have the stamina to accomplish everything in my plan? Experiencing some of these concerns as you're planning your HarvilleQuarter is a good thing - a quarter that's completely safe will probably not provide the learning, growth and satisfaction that you're looking for. Come on, take a chance. (At your age, what have you got to lose?)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

One Idea in Detail: Create a Set of Children's Books

A few of you may have the creative and artistic skills to become the next Dr. Seuss, J. K. Rowling or Raold Dahl. If that's your goal, by all means, go for it!

For the rest of us, a more realistic but very satisfying HarvilleQuarter could be planned around creating and "publishing" - at least for your own grandchildren - books created specifically for them, such as a children's ABC book. ABC books require no plots, character development or graphical arts skills, although those aren't forbidden either.

To create an ABC book, you simply need to think of at least one word beginning with each letter of the alphabet. Since it's a children's book, you will also need one or more illustrations for each word. You can get out your watercolors and paint your own, or use photographs, pictures copied from books and magazines, or clip art available on the Web.

I think the best ABC book may be one that you customize for your own grandchild or grandchildren. Take a camera and shoot pictures from their own environment to illustrate the book. For example, if "D is for Door", take a photo of the doors in their lives, such as their bedroom door, garage door, car door, your front door, daycare door, church door, or any other door they'll recognize. Transfer the photos to your computer, crop, enlarge and adjust their colors and brightness as needed, paste them in an attractive arrangement on the page, add some large text as basic as "D is for Door" and you're on your way. When the alphabet is done, print the pages on glossy, heavy paper (or take them to one of the quick copy shops for printing and sturdy binding) and you have an ABC book that your grandchildren are going to love.

Besides familiar inanimate objects, try people they know, such as Aunt Zelda, cousin Quentin and their friend Xavier. Another idea is to use body parts - smiles, noses, hands - so you could have a page of "H is for Hands" - with photos of Mommy's hands, Daddy's hands, big sister's hands, Grandpa's hands, etc.

You can also use a coloring book format, either for the ABC book or a completely separate book. There is software available on the Web now that facilitates converting photographs or art into line drawings that a child can color.

And, as long as we're talking ideas for personalized books for a special child in your life, here's an idea for a somewhat older child who's outgrown alphabet books - a book about people who share his or her first name. For example, my only grandchild so far is named Charles. In a few years, perhaps I could spend at least part of a HarvilleQuarter creating a book about famous Charleses - Darwin, Lindbergh, Chaplin, de Gaulle, Schulz, Parker, Ives and others. Biographical information and photographs are readily available on the Web - Wikipedia is a good starting point. You might even have a page for the child's biography (so far) or for them to create a biography for themselves as they imagine their life will be.

And let me propose one more fun and customized book for a child you know. We've all seen the books that show full length pictures of people or animals where each page is divided into three sections. The child can mix and match the head from one person with the torso of another and the legs and feet of a third. Why not make a book like this populated with people and characters that your child knows and loves. Take full-length photographs of favorite people in the child's life, enlarge the photos on the computer to fit one page, include some favorite characters like Big Bird or Spongebob Squarepants, print them on heavy stock, cut them into three section, use a spiral binding, and your child will have his or her own book to love.

And - if I can add one more idea - I'm reminded of Laura Ingalls Wilder who wrote The Little House on the Prairie and other books based on her actual childhood experiences. Our lives may not have been so filled with excitement and drama as young Laura's, but I'm betting our grandkids would be fascinated by a book with chapters describing some of our experiences when we were their age. The 50's and 60's may seem just as exotic to them as frontier life was to us. A description of your most memorable birthday party, school play, Christmas pageant, baseball game, favorite teacher, a trip with your grandparents, a facedown with the school bully, your remembrances of major news events like the Kennedy assassination or moon landing - all could be the raw material for your "memoir." Add some appropriate photographs or drawings and you could have a book they'll want to read over and over. Is absolute accuracy in every detail a requirement? I'll let you answer that question for yourself.

One thing's for sure - no other child in the world will have a set of books just like theirs.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Another Dozen Examples

13. Learn to give a great massage and give a massage a day to a partner or friend.
14. Perform volunteer work in a political campaign for a cause or candidate you really believe in.
15. Learn how to create a Website and build one on a topic that interests you.
16. Write a set of Christmas carols.
17. Do a complete makeover of your backyard.
18. Visit a major museum every day for three months, focusing on one or two rooms per day.
19. Take on a project for a not-for-profit organization that it does not have staff to do and cannot afford to hire someone to do.
20. Get into the best physical condition of your life, or as close as you can get.
21. Experiment with a new recipe every day. Share extra food with others. Create your own recipe book with the successful recipes from the HarvilleQuarter and your other favorites and give it to your friends and family.
22. See a baseball game in every major league park (could also be hockey, football, basketball or cultural events - for example, attend a concert in every major hall).
23. Build a cabin for your personal retreat.
24. Sign up for a community garden space and create a great vegetable garden. Give away the produce you can't use yourself.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

HarvilleQuarters - One Dozen Examples

If you've read the preceding posts, you now understand the whole HarvilleQuarter concept. But if you're like me, a few examples always help. Since I'm not retired yet, I haven't actually done a HarvilleQuarter, but I have thought about some that appeal to me. I've listed them below.

I've included a range of ideas from no-cost to low-cost to expensive, and from the physically demanding to some that can be done sitting at home in your most comfortable chair.

  1. Live in a city you've never lived in, exploring both its daily life and its cultural treasures.
  2. Go to yoga, tai chi, meditation and other similar classes daily.
  3. Visit all your living relatives down to second cousins and record their remembrances.
  4. Learn to create crossword puzzles and submit some for publication.
  5. Help an elderly or disabled person with a significant household task each day - painting, cleaning, repairs, upholstering, gardening, setting up a used computer - whatever you have the skills to do, and they can't do for themselves or afford to hire someone to do.
  6. Memorize a new poem every day.
  7. Attend an event in your town every day - from sporting events, to visiting a museum, attending a concert or a jazz club, a poetry or book reading, a high school theater production, a civic meeting, a religious service - the possibilities are endless but you must get out of the house every day and many of them should be events you would not otherwise have attended.
  8. Watch every movie that has won the Oscar for Best Picture, including the director's comments.
  9. Research and write your family's history and distribute it to all your relatives.
  10. Spend three months with one of your children immediately after they've purchased a house, and remodel or redecorate it for them.
  11. Take a writing class and write at least one short story a week.
  12. Walk or bicycle (depending on the distance) every block in your town. Take a camera and record interesting buildings, landscapes and people. Create a photograph album with detailed captions to document your experience.

Well, that's my first list of a dozen. Anyone like to add his or her own list?

HarvilleQuarters - The Rules

It may seem a bit silly for me to define rules for what does and does not constitute a HarvilleQuarter, but if we don't have some common understanding of the term, it will become rather meaningless. Now, you may be thinking that it's pretty meaningless to start with, but we need to correct that. Hence this post.

So - in order to use the term HarvilleQuarters in accordance with the intention of its creator (i.e., me), here are the rules - or at least...

The Guidelines
  1. A HarvilleQuarter will last approximately three months, although we won't be terribly fussy about that.
  2. A HarvilleQuarter occurs during your retirement years.
  3. A HarvilleQuarter represents a discrete "project" that is different from how you spent your time during the three months before and the three months after the HarvilleQuarter.
  4. A HarvilleQuarter activity occupies at least 20 hours a week on average during the quarter.
  5. At the end of each HarvilleQuarter completed, you will write up a report of your experience and post it to this Web site (aha, you weren't expecting that one, were you?).
  6. When you've completed a HarvilleQuarter, you will feel that your life has been enhanced in an ongoing way.

Other Important Information

  1. Although it is assumed that most HarvilleQuarters will be unpaid, there is nothing in the guidelines to prevent a paid work experience from qualifying.
  2. Serving your fellow man - or your planet - is always a good way to spend a HarvilleQuarter, but is not a requirement.
  3. HarvilleQuarters can be done by yourself, with a spouse or friend or in small groups.
  4. While some HarvilleQuarters could be expensive, many should require little or no cash outlay.
  5. The fact that a HarvilleQuarter has ended does not mean you have to give up the activity entirely, although it will probably occupy much less than 20 hours a week going forward.
  6. Highly successful HarvilleQuarters can be repeated in subsequent years if you feel that you did not exhaust their possibilities the first time.
  7. Sharing your HarvilleQuarter experiences with fellow HarvilleQuarterMasters (I just made that up) is an integral part of the process.

Why the Name "HarvilleQuarters?"

Why not?!

The short answer is - it's the best I could come up. "Quarters" by itself has too many different meanings and only us financial guys would think of it as the equivalent of three months. But I couldn't think of another word that means "three months." Appending other possibly appropriate words (RetirementQuarters, LivingQuarters, etc.) made me think of a place to stay while you're traveling.

So, as long as Quarters seemed to require a modifier, I figured I may as well use my own name. Since no one will have preconceived ideas of what it means, I can define it exactly as I want it to be.

And, who knows, maybe it will stick and I'll finally get my 15 minutes of fame.

So What Exactly is a HarvilleQuarter?

The short definition is: "A retirement activity that lasts about three months and produces learning, growth and satisfaction." I came to the idea as I was thinking about my own retirement which, I hope, will begin in about eight or ten years. I've always found it difficult to envision really attractive ways to spend my retirement, at least within any kind of reasonable budget.

This is not a minor issue for me. My Dad died just last spring at age 100, in amazingly good physical condition until the last nine months; if I follow in his footsteps, I will have several decades of retirement in which to do something (what?) or possible nothing. 30 years of "nothing" is not that attractive, so that leads to the question of what kind of "something" do I want this retirement thing to be.

Having read a few articles and blogs about retirement plans, most seem to assume a continual, indefinite timeline of one or more favorite hobbies or activities - traveling, volunteering, quilting, reading, wordworking, gardening or a host of others. It seems that you pick a few of these and keep doing them until you can't anymore. Frankly, I can't think of anything I want to do for 30 years. It really didn't seem to be much to look forward to - but neither did working for another 15 or 20 years.

Thinking back on career experiences that brought me the most satisfaction, I realized they were projects with clear goals and defined beginnings and ends. The best projects required me to work with new clients in new industries with new colleagues doing work with new elements that demanded creativity on my part.

I wondered - could I build a retirement around a set of "projects" with all or most of those elements? That's when the idea of creating distinct projects of roughly three months' duration struck me. Every three months, I'd get to make a new beginning on something that I found interesting (or, if it turned out to be disappointing, I would only be into it for three months). Retirement, rather than one long "petering out" doing a few things, would be populated by a host of planned, enjoyable and memorable events.

At age 65, assuming relatively good health until at least 85, I'll have the opportunity to engage in 80 different HarvilleQuarters. That sounds much more enjoyable and satisfying to me than 20 years of ongoing gardening, traveling and volunteering. (Of course, gardening, traveling and volunteering could all be candidates for one or more HarvilleQuarters.

My purpose in building this blog is to start my journey in clarifying, elaborating and recording my ideas for HarvilleQuarters. I hope that some of you will help me by adding your thoughts and suggestions to mine, as well as proposing entirely new ones that we can build on together. If there are in fact many people out there who feel as we do about retirement, this site could become a terrific resource for all of us to discover better HarvilleQuarters than the ones we'd thought of by ourselves.

Plus, 80 HarvilleQuarters are an awful lot to come up with on my own. I need help! I'll start by posting about a few that I've thought of and wait for you to add yours.