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Making Music in the Mountains of Colorado

Steve Blechschmidt traded in his corporate life for a place in the mountains and he couldn’t be happier.

Steve Blechschmidt traded in his seat at the corporate table for a home in the Colorado mountains and he couldn’t be happier.

When Steve was offered a promotion during a company reorganization, he knew it wasn’t the right move for him. “I knew deep down inside that I didn’t want to put in the effort it would take to do one those big jobs properly,” Steve said. “Those jobs are hard, hard, hard.” Instead, he suggested a compromise that helped him transition into retirement.

In 2015, Steve offered to work remotely as a contractor, performing a critical function for the company. It was less money, but it was also less stress. The company management team agreed to his terms and he worked in that capacity for four years until he was laid off.

“I never decided here we go. Now’s the time (to retire),” Steve said. If he hadn’t been laid off, he would have kept on working.

However during his transition time, he and his wife, Carol, took steps to make retirement possible. They moved from Denver, Colorado to the mountain town of Pagosa Springs, Colorado where he has lived for the past six years.

They also became debt-free. To him that meant no house payment and no car payment. “Debt is slavery. You are a slave to the bank,” Steve said. “I don’t need a lot of money to live. Being debt free is very freeing, a game changing place to be.”

Being debt-free also allowed him to not worry about bringing in additional income and he was free to pursue his real passion full-time: playing the guitar.

Becoming a Full-Time Musician

“I’m a musician now,” Steve said. He plays finger style guitar. “It’s the way Chet Atkins plays the guitar.” He said he feels a passion for guitar that he never felt when working in IT.

Steve practices between one and four hours every day. “I play ambient music in beautiful settings,” Steve said. You’ll find him playing his guitar at wine tastings, very nice restaurants and world’s deepest hot springs that are right there in Pagosa Springs. ”I love giving someone a moment of peace visa via a guitar,” Steve said.

He started playing the guitar at 38 as a promise to his daughter. When she was ready to give up on her piano lessons, he made a deal with her. “If you keep up with your piano lessons, I’ll learn to play the guitar,” Steve said. She did and as a result, he learned to play the guitar.

Something happened when he picked up that guitar, “A tremendous passion came over me.  Some people even think I’m a bit of a nut in how hard I work at playing the guitar,” Steve said with a chuckle. “It’s not an easy way to play a guitar.” He loves playing the guitar and practices between 1 – 4 hours a day.

Making Retirement Work

In addition to playing the guitar, Steve spends quite a bit of time preparing wood for the winter. He has a permit to chop down wood to help heat his cabin and of course has household chores and a honey do list to keep him busy.

“Still, I have those retiree days where I say ‘What day is it today? Wednesday? Thursday?’” Steve said. The only thing on his calendar are gigs.

“I like being completely in control of my days and schedule,” Steve said However, he understands the importance of having some type of focus in his life. “It’s important to have something to latch onto and for me, that’s music.”

He has a word of warning to people contemplating retirement. “It’s important to not let yourself dissolve into nothingness,” He said, “it’s easy to drink too much, eat too much, watch too much TV and not do a damn thing in retirement.”

He encourages people to find their passion and start working on it even before they retire. “Begin now to understand your passion and begin working on it,” Steve said.

Planning Out Finances in Retirement

In addition to his plan to become debt free, Steve also credits his and Carol’s attitude towards money as a contributing factor to their retirement success.

“My wife and I have always been down to earth people. I like old pickup trucks rather than BMWs,” Steve said. “This lifestyle of not wanting fancy glitzy things has served us well.”

In addition, Steve said he and his wife have never been big travelers so that was never really part of their retirement financial plan. “We chose live in the Colorado Rockies. Every day is a vacation. People come to where we live for their vacations.” Steve said.

But Steve never really had a true plan for retirement. Instead, he decided to figure it out as he went along.

He said he was lucky enough to do well in some real estate transactions. That money helped him until he was able to collect social security at 62. “I took it as soon as I could,” Steve said. Carol’s retirement and Steve’s social security take care of their monthly expenses.

In addition, Steve uses his guitar playing to supplement his retirement income. “It’s very hard to make a lot of money being a musician,” Steve said. However, he said, “In a good month I can make about $1,000.”

They have savings and a stock portfolio that they can leverage for any unexpected expenses.

Handling Health Insurance

Steve is fortunate enough to be covered under his wife’s medical plan. As a retired school teacher she had a medical plan that continued even after she retired. Even though she is now on Medicare, her insurance will continue to cover him until he turns 65 in three years.

However, Steve said he has not really needed much health care so far. He describes himself as a “dietary nut” who has been blessed with good health. He doesn’t eat processed sugar and eats completely organic food. He does still like to indulge in a beer occasionally. After all, he lives in Colorado where good craft beer is everywhere.

Steve stays fit walking in 7,500 foot altitude and preparing the wood pile for the long Colorado winters. He also loves preparing wood for winter including chopping down trees (with his permit) and stacking wood.

Advice for Others

Steve said he believes what is most important in life is contribution. “I think you need to contribute and I contribute through music,” Steve said. “You need to find your passion. Grow your skill set at your passion. There is no magic, secret sauce, you have to work your ass off.”

If you would like to know more about Steve or hear him play the guitar, go to his website: SEBguitar.com.

If you know someone who has made a big life change after 50, please email me at: ksparis15@gmail.com

Making Dream Vacations Come True

When Chris met her new husband, she also found herself starting on a new career as well. It’s been a perfect combination.

When Christiane Schmitz Beavis married her second husband, David, on the island of Tortola in 2014, she got more than a life partner, she also got a new career.

David, is part owner in VOYAGE charters reservations, specializing in luxury charter yacht vacations in the British Virgin Islands, (BVI). His venture started when he began working as crew on catamarans in the Caribbean. David met Robin and his wife, Jo Ann in the BVI as they were starting up a small charter company with another couple. Twenty five years later, the business has grown into a family owned, boutique charter business on Tortola. After working as crew, David and his first wife participated in the start up of the Annapolis reservation office in 2000, working exclusively with VOYAGE charters BVI, booking charters on VOYAGE yachts in the BVI.

In 2016, Chris joined the company. After a lifelong career in the lab industry, she was ready for a change. “It was a world I was completely unfamiliar with prior to meeting David,” Chris said. But over the years she had developed strong customer service and management skills that she was able to bring to VOYAGE charters. “It was scary (leaving corporate America), but it was also very freeing,” Chris said.

Although perhaps lesser known then the U.S. Virgin Islands, they are no less beautiful with white sand beaches, clear ocean waters and amazing snorkeling and scuba diving.  The BVI also have rock formations called the Baths that people come from all over to see.

Chris spends most of her time at the reservation office in Annapolis or working from a home office. She and David work together with their team answering people’s questions about charters, doing computer work and brainstorming ways to promote and grow their business.

Their days start by “walking” their 14-year-old dog and then taking another walk “to get the blood flowing.” During this second walk, they discuss the day ahead and form strategies on how to grow the business and address issues that come up. “I never thought I’d want to live and work with my husband,” Chris said. They are partners in life and in business. After their morning walk, David and sometimes Chris, ride their bikes to work. “I love working with and traveling with my husband.”

“It’s a very different pace than working for corporate America,” Chris said. “Now I work for a small family-owned company where my work is my life. It is a seven-day a-week job.” However, Chris doesn’t mind. “I’m working harder, especially the last couple of years. But it’s wonderful because I have my partner with me.”

A side benefit of her new career is that Chris has been able to experience these luxury vacations, sometimes complete with a captain and chef. She has also had more time to travel. She and her husband head down to the BVI a couple times a year to meet with their business partners and to see how everything is going.

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“It’s very beautiful, but it has its challenges living in paradise. It’s very different from our life here.” Chris said. However, Chris is grateful to have the opportunity for frequent visits. “Even though I’m not a sailor, I find it incredibly relaxing to be on the water in such a beautiful part of the world. There’s no better way to see the islands.”

Hitting Rough Waters

But not everything has been a fantasy. In 2017, the BVI was decimated by Hurricane Irma. “It took out our entire fleet and our base down in the BVI,” Chris said. At first, she and her husband didn’t even know if anyone at VOYAGE charters had survived. A second storm soon followed. “David flew to Puerto Rico and made his way to Tortola to drop off some cash, a satellite phone and medicines before the second storm was predicted to hit,” Chris said. “It was very scary for us.”

“I was so new to the business I thought ‘What does this mean’?” Chris said. She knew it wasn’t good. “It took us a few years to dig out from that.” At first, Chris was wondering if she would need to go back to her job in corporate America. But it worked out that she was able to stay on and help rebuild the business.

That didn’t mean that they didn’t have to do a lot of belt tightening, but “we had a nest egg if we needed to tap into it.” They did.

Chris had already been through some challenges in her life including the settlement of her home’s foundation shortly after leaving her job to be a full-time mom and then a divorce from her first husband. However, she feels that those experiences gave her “strength and resilience for the future,” she said.

“We were just coming around the corner from after the hurricanes when COVID hit,” Chris said. The BVI shut down from March 2020 to December 2020 and no tourists were allowed into the territory. According to Chris, even once it opened there was quarantining and multiple testing for tourists visiting the BVI. The BVI lost much of its business to the U.S. Virgin Island, which had fewer restrictions.

“When the BVI was locked down, most of the people there (in the BVI) had no source of income. It’s amazing they were able to get by,” Chris said. It was a struggle for VOYAGEcharters as well. “As a company, we were very fortunate to have boat owners and customers who were supportive of us,” Chris said.

One of their customers, The Cathy Family, owners of Chick-Fil-A, who organizes retreats with VOYAGEcharters, was one of the first ones to call and ask what they could do to help after Irma and the pandemic.

“Through the grace of God and perseverance of the family that owns the charter company, we got through it,” Chris said.

“I have such admiration for what they went through and the positivity that they carried with them throughout it.”

Coming Out of the Storm

Now in 2022, Chris said it finally feels as though things are getting back to normal. “Things are busy, busy, busy.” They are back up to 21 yachts in the fleet and have a new model which will have added 9 new yachts to the fleet by 2024.

“They’ve had a really lush spring down there. The remnants of the hurricane are all but gone,” Chris said, having just visited recently. “You do see some abandoned boats and damage that was done by the storm, but all the greenery has come back.”

Managing Health Care

Working for a small business, Chris relies on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for health insurance. “That was very eye opening for me. In corporate America, I always had great insurance, but now I’m on the open market.”

At first, she went to a private company that said she would have to have a $30,000 rider, per year for her lifetime, in case she hurt her knee. She had previously had ACL surgery and as a pre-existing condition, it wasn’t covered.

“Obamacare did me a huge favor because I had ACL surgery and I have high blood pressure,” Chris said. Both are considered previous existing conditions and weren’t covered under private insurance. The ACA covered both her high blood pressure and any injuries she might have to her knee leaving her free to resume a more active lifestyle.

In addition to walking and biking, Chris has taken up paddle boarding that she loves doing on the Severn River as well as in the Caribbean.

However, Chris said she’s found some downsides to getting her own insurance. “It is an incredible expense, and you still have copays,” Chris said. She has also had difficulty finding doctors she in her plan.

Advice For Those Looking to Make a Change

Chris said she encourages her peers, those 50+, to explore options and figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives.

“By the time you’re our age, you should be able to trust your gut. There are so many resources to research what you want to do and explore,” Chris said. She encourages people to find out more about different life options. “People are so willing to talk and share their experiences.” She credits Facebook as one way to reach out to people and find out what they’re doing and what might be right for you.

Her final words of advice. “Don’t be afraid. Don’t settle for unhappiness. You are in charge of your own destiny and happiness. There are so many things that we can’t do anything about but there are things we can do something about and the biggest thing is our attitude.”

Smooth sailings Chris.

To find out more about VOYAGEcharters, go to their website VOYAGEcharters.com.

If you know someone who would be an interesting subject for my blog, email me at ksparis15@gmail.com.

Starting Her Next Chapter

Fulfilling a life long goal as a children’s author is only one of the parts of Susan Diamond Riley’s wonderful life.

While many people move to Hilton Head Island to begin their retirement, Susan Diamond Riley had a different plan. Hilton Head opened up a whole new world for her. Rather than a second act, Susan said, “I like to think of it as a second chapter.”

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Her “second chapter” began at her daughter’s graduation from the University of North Carolina Charlotte. Susan became inspired when she saw that some of the master’s degree candidates were her age and older. “I thought, ‘Wow! I could go back to school’”

At 50, it had been a long time since she’d been a student. “I thought that I had missed that boat,” Susan said. But when she saw people who had “hopped on that boat”, she decided to join them.

Driving home that night, she told her husband, “I’m going to earn my master’s degree.” She applied the next week. “I jumped on it while I was still enthusiastic and before I chickened out,” Susan said.

Choosing a Major

Susan had spent her professional career writing and editing. Even after she had left her full-time career to raise her children, she continued to do freelance work writing for local publications and taking editing jobs. But it was her work as a substitute teacher that inspired her to write for middle schoolers and led her to major in Children’s Literature.

“I had always had a goal of writing a novel, however it never took priority. It was one of those things that was a dream, but there were everyday things that took precedence,” Susan said. “I needed some accountability to make me do it.” That’s what going back to school gave her.

During her course work, she received an assignment to write a thriller. Trying to combine her interest in children’s literature with the assignment, she asked the professor if she could write a thriller for children. He said, “Hey, if you can pull it off, you can do it.”

The Origin of Her Idea

Susan was struggling to find inspiration for her assignment. While on a family vacation to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, she asked her children and in-laws for ideas. Her children suggested setting the story on Hilton Head. Although Susan liked the idea, she found it difficult to imagine a thriller in such as idyllic setting.

Susan’s first book Sea Island’s Secret

“Maybe they find a skeleton in the salt marsh?” her mother-in-law suggested. Intrigued, Susan thought about the idea, but decided it should be an old skeleton to make it “less creepy” for her middle-school-aged readers. The story idea (which eventually became her first novel, The Sea Island’s Secret) began to develop. Soon Susan began thinking about how the skeleton could have gotten there, what event could have happened. She began researching the history of Hilton Head. “I discovered there’s tons of history in the Lowcountry.” Susan decided to weave that history and mystery together for a winning combination.

Part of that research involved taking a tour of Hilton Head with a local historian, who took her to a gated community. “There was so much history there. That neighborhood was the site of Civil War history, relics from the Spanish-American War, and it was the site of the start of the first self-governing community of freed slaves.” Susan said. “I told my husband that if we ever move down to Hilton Head full-time, we need to live in this neighborhood where we can be in the center of all that history.”

The Move to Hilton Head

Although many people move to Hilton Head to retire, that was not Susan’ plan. While writing her books in Charlotte, she had fallen in love with Hilton Head.“People assume because my books are set in Hilton Head that I was living there when I started writing them, but it was just the opposite,” Susan said.

So, shortly after she received her master’s degree, Susan and her husband of over 30 years, Steve, moved their family down to Hilton Head and into the neighborhood she had toured with the historian. Fortunately, her husband was able to continue working with his company remotely.

“Once I moved down here, I felt as though there was a lot of history in this part of the country that had been forgotten. I decided I would write books to tell those stories,” Susan said.

Her stories weave together historical events with some made-up fiction. As a former teacher, Susan loves the fact that the students are learning history that they might not learn in the classroom. However, at the end of each book, she devotes a section to clarify fact from fiction in the story.

What’s Special About Delta and Jax?

Susan’s books are about siblings from Chicago, Delta and Jax, who go to visit their grandparents on Hilton Head for the summer. They always encounter some kind of mystery from the past they have to uncover.

When asked why her books are so popular, Susan said. “The kids like the humor of the brother and sister and their friends. And they like learning about the history they haven’t been taught in their history classes.” In her books, Susan tries to give history context. “As they (Delta and Jax) are solving this mystery from the past, something’s happening in the current day too. They’re learning lessons from the past that maybe help them solve something they are dealing with in the present day.” She tries to make history relevant to her characters—and readers’—modern lives.

Bumps in the Road

Shortly after the move to Hilton Head, Steve’s company went through a transition and his position was eliminated. Although he had the opportunity to find another position within the company, he chose to take the severance package his company offered and retire at age 54. “We decided it was a sign from God,” Susan said. However, that was not without looking at the numbers and talking to their financial planner.

Then, just as Susan was getting ready for her second book to drop, COVID hit. “My second book The Sea Turtle’s Curse (exploring the Spanish explorers and Native Americans who called the Lowcountry home in the late 1600s) came out smack in the middle of COVID,” she said. She had a number of in-person events including a launch party, speaking engagements, and book festivals scheduled. “I had a full schedule of marketing events planned for the next six months,” Susan said, “and every single one of them was cancelled.”

Suddenly she had an open period, but she also had writer’s block. “Fortunately for me, other people didn’t,” Susan said. During COVID, many people took the time to do some writing, so Susan said, “I had a lot of editing business which I could do from home.”

She also began researching her next book which is due out in September, The Sea Witch’s Revenge. In her third book, Delta and Jax face a mystery involving the Revolutionary War.

During this time, Susan was able to do some virtual school visits and online writing and editing workshops for adults and kids via Zoom. She is also affiliated with the Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort, SC about an hour from her home. “They kept a lot of programming going virtually. So, I taught classes, did virtual author visits, and even a couple of videos for public television.

“But there’s nothing like really being with the people,” Susan said. She is now back to in-person events. After a recent visit with a group of 8th graders, Susan received a packet of thank you notes. “You don’t get those when you’re just a face on a tv screen in their classroom,” Susan said.

Making Dreams Come True

Although, Steve ended up retiring earlier than they had planned, the couple was ready for it.

“We started planning for retirement at 25,” Susan said. The plan had always been for Steve to retire in his 50s. They had always made savings a priority and fully funded their 401Ks. But the key to their financial success was simple. “We always lived below our means,” Susan said.

She explains, “When we could have moved to a bigger house, we didn’t quite yet. When we could have gotten a bigger, fancier car, we didn’t. All with the idea that we wanted to plan for the future.” Those goals didn’t only include early retirement, but also putting their three children through college.

Even today, if they have any major financial decisions to make, they call their advisor and have him “run the numbers.”

In her “free” time, Susan likes to take advantage of all of the activities on Hilton Head. “One of the reasons we decided to move down here is because people are so physically active and the climate makes it possible,” Susan said. “We thought we’d be encouraged by all the other active people.” She swims, plays pickleball, and takes walks on the beach. She sometimes plays golf, but her husband plays golf several days a week.

She loves making her own hours and having her husband have that same flexibility. “He is so much more relaxed,” she said. “We have been able to make so many friends here in such a short period of time because we have more time to socialize.”

In addition, her family has recently had some health issues to deal with and she said, “Our neighbors have come out of the woodwork to help by offering rides, making meals, and giving emotional support.” She said she doesn’t think it would have been like that anywhere else they’ve lived because people were busy working.

Because of the couple’s many new friends and active social life, “Our kids say it’s like we’re in college again except we don’t have to go to classes,” Susan said. “I highly recommend it.”

“We love it down here. We really do.”

Her biggest issue is that she needs to learn to say no. There is always something to do and she wants to be involved in everything. “I want to do all the things,” Susan said, but adds that she needs to balance her social and volunteer activities with her time writing the Delta and Jax mysteries and her “day job” as a freelance editor.

Health Care Before Medicare

For many people over 60, healthcare is a huge issue. Susan said they were fortunate to qualify for her husband’s company healthcare plan after he retired, but they did weigh all the options available. “We looked into getting private insurance. We knew there were good options out there. We could have gotten something for slightly less than we pay now, but a lot of those plans restrict you to a certain state,” Susan said. They ultimately chose a plan that wouldn’t restrict them to one state since Hilton Head is so close to the Georgia border.

“People stay in jobs that they frankly hate just for the healthcare,” Susan said. “It’s an urban legend that you can’t retire until you get Medicare because otherwise you won’t have health insurance.”

She encourages people who are using lack of health insurance as an excuse not to retire to look into insurance options more. “It’s not that black and white at all. There are a lot of options for health insurance in retirement.”

Advice for People Ready to Make a Change

Although, the word retirement does not exactly describe Susan’s life on Hilton Head, she and her husband made some big changes after 50. She began a new career and her husband retired from his. Susan often has to remind her friends, “My husband is retired. I’m not retired.” She’s self-employed and is learning to balance her work with all the other activities available to her, but she wouldn’t change a thing.

She has some advice for people looking to make a big change in their lives. “I’m a big proponent of lists. So, if you need to, make a list of the pros and cons. Then, check the numbers. Your chances of success are better if you know it’s financially feasible,” Susan said.

But even if retirement isn’t an option right now, Susan’s advice is to figure out a way to make your dreams a reality. Her philosophy is: “A thousand things can happen between now and dinner time. So, better now than later.” Even before beginning her new career as a writer, Susan and her husband were ticking things off on their bucket list including visiting all 50 states.

“If there’s something that’s on your bucket list, do it. What are you waiting for?” Susan said. “Figure out a way to make it happen while you can.”

Susan is enjoying her life on Hilton Head, her career as an author/editor, and life with her husband Steve. She is currently working on her fourth novel The Sea Devil’s Demise, set in the early 1700s and involving a reader favorite: pirates.

If you want to find out more about Susan and her career, visit her website at SusanDiamondRiley.com.

If you know someone who would make a great subject for my blog, email me at ksparis15@gmail.com.

A Picture Perfect Retirement

From IT professional to a traveling man, Geoff Prior is having the time of his life.

“I made it to the bonus territory,” Geoffrey Prior said. At 57, he had lived longer than his own father and he knew he wanted to do something special with the extra time he had.

Geoff was ready to make a change in his life and decided he needed to transition from his busy lifestyle traveling around the world as an IT executive. He took a job where he worked from home and started to wind down. Then Geoff got hit hard with sciatica and he began to wonder, “Is it too late?” Too late to have the type of retirement he dreamed of filled with hiking, biking and traveling.

He steeled his resolve to get healthy and knew then it was time to retire. In 2019, at the age of 59, he and his wife decided they had sufficient money so he could retire. There was still a question of health care. Geoff said they decided to take advantage of the Affordable Care Act. “I’m loving it,” Geoff said. He admits that initially there were bureaucratic hassles, but now he says, “it’s the best health care I’ve ever had.”

Beginning His Dream Retirement

Geoff knew he wanted to make travel a priority in retirement. As an IT executive, he had spent much of his life traveling around the world for work. He knew his retirement travel would be totally different since he wouldn’t have the finances for planes and hotels, but his priority was more to just see new places.

So, he bought a travel van, not the VW Campervan of our youth. Instead, it was a 2019 Travato Campervan with a bathroom, shower, refrigerator, stove and two beds.   His first trip was a 72-day trip across the country that was a high school graduation present for his son.

Because his own father died when he was 12, he never had experiences like that with him, so spending time with his son was important.  They started down south in the Smokey Mountains and then travelled west through St. Louis, Kansas then up to Lake Superior, Rochester and Cape Cod.  Along the way they took biking trips on “Rails to Trails”. Geoff said, “Miraculously, we got along great”.

This first trip only made him want more and he began planning trips every year. The next summer during 2020 he went on a 3-month trip during which he spent much of his time alone. This trip was difficult because of COVID. Even as a self-described introvert, the lack of interaction with others, even as simple as going into a diner and eating with other people around him, was a challenge. But Geoff said he was always “comfortable with himself” and he spent time exploring and taking pictures.

His five-month 2021 adventure was a little easier and his wife, who lost her job during COVID, was able to join him for part of the trip as well as his son for another part.  They traveled in his van visiting Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington and Arizona.   As the summer drew to a close, not yet full of travel, Geoff headed north on his own to visit Glacier, Banff, Jasper, the Tetons, and Yellowstone National Parks.     

A New Hobby/Business is Born

An additional benefit of his traveling retirement has been starting a side business, GRP Imagery, where he sells the photos he takes while traveling.

Geoff had been taking pictures for years of the family vacations and important events. But something changed when he started taking pictures to document his travels. He started sharing them on Facebook and Instagram and received great feedback from his family and friends. Then he decided to upgrade to a Sony a7iii full-frame camera and an assortment of lenses.

“I realized they (his pictures) were as good as any picture I had seen on the internet,” Geoff said. In fact, they are so good, he has started entering them in contests and winning! His first win was a photo he entered through the Glacier National Park Conservancy Photo Contest.

Geoff’s Winning Photograph

The photo was an example of Astro-Landscape Photography. This is a type of photography Geoff specializes in. It is exactly what it sounds like, shooting a landscape with the Milky Way in the background. To get these pictures he needs to wake up early and take photos between 2-4 a.m. or stay up late and shoot after 10 p.m. To get the perfect picture he takes multiple pictures. 10-15 and stacks them.

He also selected as a category winner in the Stewardship Network 2021 Nature Photo Contest for his picture of a goat. “I take full advantage of serendipitous moments,” Geoff said. The day he took the goat picture, he wasn’t taking pictures of animals, but a goat jumped down right in front of him and another awarding winning picture was born.

One of his favorite photo stories is about his trip down the Oregon Coast. He describes capturing a sunset at the Yaquina Head Lighthouse

It was so beautiful that he stayed there much longer than he should have and wasn’t sure where he was going to sleep. Luckily, there was a Walmart nearby and he “Wally-Docked”, which means taking your camper and sleeping in a Walmart parking lot. Not only does Walmart allow this, but also you can “Cracker-Dock” at Cracker Barrel.

He was able to stay so close to the lighthouse that he got up in the morning to take sunrise photos as well.

Life At Home

Geoff has 1,000s of photographs and spends hours processing when he’s home. He is also taking classes that can help enhance his career. “I took Adobe Illustrator through CCBC online,” Geoff said. CCBC has a program where people over 60 can take classes tuition-free.

This class will help him with his photography business. “I love having the opportunity to explore new things,” Geoff said.

He considers himself a “rookie retiree” who’s still learning how to manage his time, especially when he is home. He’s been considering getting a part-time job, but doesn’t want it to interfere with his ability travel.

Right now, he’s preparing for his road trip to Alaska (which has been on his bucket list for years), entering more contests and selling his photography through GRP Imagery.

Geoff’s advice for other individuals considering retirement. “Don’t wait until it’s too late.” He said he has never regretted his decision to retire early.

Rocking the World with 97Underground!

For school teacher to media mogul, Tom Pless is having the best retirement ever.

When Tom Pless retired in 2017, after more than 40 years as a public-school teacher, he had no idea that just a few years later, he would be running an internet radio station with more than a million listeners worldwide.

“I got in at the right time and I got out at the right time,” Tom said of his teaching career.

Although there were many things he still enjoyed about teaching, one thing made the decision to leave relatively easy. “I left because I had the golden ticket,” Tom said. He had more than 30 years of public service and he was 66 years old, which meant he could retire with a comfortable pension and good health care coverage.

Having his finances and health care taken care of, Tom was more concerned about staying busy, then making money. “I needed a purpose,” Tom said.

The Origins of 97 Underground

He found that purpose at 97 Underground.com, a pure rock station that he had started over 40 years ago.

Tom began working in radio and television in 1974 part-time to help supplement his teaching income. Then in the 1980s, he began 97 Underground, an FM radio station, at Dundalk High School where he taught. The students participated in the running of the station and used it as a learning experience.

After a while Tom took the station off the air until the concept of internet radio was introduced.  He then ran the station out of the high school as a music box, a station that simply plays music with no programing or commercials.

Prior to retiring, Tom attempted to partner 97 Underground.com with the new HammerJacks Nightclub in Baltimore, but when that deal fell through, he decided to run the station out of a studio from his home.

With the help of a friend, he built a fully functioning studio in his basement. “I bought all the pieces on eBay,” Tom said and his new 97 Underground.com internet radio station was born or reborn.

Back then, in 2017, Tom had no more than 15,000 listeners. Now he has Roku and Amazon FireTV stations as well as in his App on Apple and Android and social media channels. You can even buy a T-shirt through his store, Metal Merch Nation. He’s become a media mogul.

A Typical Day at the “Office”

Now, he starts his day with a cup, no a gallon of coffee. Then he gets to work on his station scheduling music and programs, creating slides and commercial spots for his sponsors and advertisers and hustling to get more exposure.

Whiskey Samples from Heaven Hill

One of his biggest advertisers and sponsors is Elijah Craig Bourbon from Heaven Hill Distillery. Tom is a whisky aficionado and during his show , The Phantom’s Lair, Wednesdays from 2-4 p.m., he dispenses quality pours for review on the “Whiskey Wisdom” segment of the weekly live broadcast. During this time, Tom tastes and rates different whiskeys provided by Heaven Hill.

But Tom has other sponsors as well including many local venues such as the Rams Head On Stage Annapolis, Baltimore Soundstage, Metro Baltimore, and Rams Head Live.

He not only provides radio spots for these sponsors, but also creates slides that are displayed on his multiple outlets.

When he compares his life now to when he was working, he said, “Same amount of hours. Same amount of stress. No personal contact. That’s the one thing I hate about this work, no personal contact,” Tom said

But don’t let him fool you, the smile that spreads across his face as he talks about 97 Underground.com says it all.

What Makes 97 Underground Different

His radio station has grown over the years to include 15 different hosts each bringing their own unique perspective to rock music. Many of them have loved music almost as long as Tom has and he has hosts that are from as far away as Great Britain.

97 Underground.com plays rock music from the 1970s and 1980s. Much of the music is fairly mainstream until 9 p.m. when the station plays harder music during “Nasty at Night.”  97 Underground.com has everything, plus one thing that makes his station a little different from other rock stations — he plays new music.

Tom is always looking for new music and enjoys discovering new bands. He spends Fridays listening to new music and gets “bombarded” with emails from new artists saying, “Please play my record.”

Not only does playing new music give him a unique sound, but it also helps promote his station. Tom posts a playlist of the songs he will be playing that week and the featured bands promote his station on their social media sites.

Tom also wants to find out how his listeners feel about the music he’s playing. He surveys his listeners to find out what songs are their favorites.

One of his favorite stories is about a new talent he discovered, Abby K, a female bass player. He helped her get her first gig outside her home state of North Carolina. She and her band played at the Ottobar. Now she is living in Nashville making a name for herself and has already put out eight singles.

What the Future Holds

For a self-described “analog person in a digital world”, Tom has become very tech savvy running five different pieces of software and producing all the commercials.

One thing he doesn’t like about internet radio is that listeners have to find him intentionally. “It’s not like the old days when you were sitting in the car searching through stations, Tom said. However, over a million people have made the effort.

Tom and Ron Keel from The Ron Keel band

At 71, Tom shows no signs of stopping. Next month his is doing the Red Carpet at the Central Pennsylvania Music Hall of Fame. He will be playing music and interviewing the bands.

He also has plans to broadcast live from a rock festival in Atlantic City and for the upcoming Bike Rally in Dundalk as well as other music events. These live presentations and word of mouth are where Tom gets his listeners.

For Tom, every day is a new adventure. “It’s my world. I have a purpose,” Tom said.

When asked about his advice for others considering retirement he said, “You have to have a plan. Inactivity causes you to become complacent.” That word will never be used to describe Tom Pless.

Yes! That’s Tom with Alice Cooper.

If you are ready to listen, go to 97underground.com. For more information, email contact@97underground.com.

If you know someone who you think would make an interesting subject for my blog email me at ksparis15@gmail.com.

Taking Retirement One Day At a Time

Not everyone has a detailed plan when they retire, sometimes they take it a day at a time.

(In full disclosure, Scott Paris is my husband of 35 years.)

“Why would you want to include me,” Scott Paris said. “I don’t have everything figured out.”

But that’s why I wanted to include Scott in my blog. Not everyone has their retirement plan in place when they leave. Instead, he is constructing a plan as he goes.

That’s not to say that Scott hadn’t thought about retirement before leaving. “I had always planned to leave the Federal government when I was 62,” Scott said. With that goal in mind, he had already begun thinking about what would be important to him once he retired.

Employed as an economist for 35 years at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), his most important goal was being financially comfortable after retirement, but he also recognized the need to build his social network in the town where he lived.

Scott had taken the train to Washington D.C. from his town outside of Baltimore City for more than 35 years. That meant that many of his social connections were in D.C. Scott looked for ways to build more relationships closer to home as having a local social network of friends was very important to him.

In addition, Scott wanted more time to enjoy his two passions: playing music and exercising. Once he stopped commuting during the Pandemic, he had more time for the things he loved most, including spending time with his wife. “I spent more time in my house during COVID than I had during the past 25 years,” Scott said. He found that he liked being home and liked the time he and his wife had together.

So why leave during the Pandemic when he was working remotely 5 days a week?

In the past few years, Scott had taken a leadership role in his Union as the Executive Vice President. After a change in Union leadership, Scott found the environment was too stressful to stay and decided to retire at 59 ¾ years old.

However, before leaving, Scott checked in with his financial advisor to see how this change would affect his retirement income.

Money Matters

As a government employee with 35 years of service, Scott received a pension, but not one large enough to cover all his expenses. However, he learned of a supplement to his retirement pension that he could receive until his was eligible for Social Security at 62, which was called the Federal Special Supplemental Annuity . The additional monies were designed to help federal employees who had 30 plus years of service cover expenses in the intervening time from retirement until they become initially eligible to collect Social Security.

Also, Scott realized that staying with the government those two years additional years would not significantly increase his pension. This revelation made him much more comfortable with retiring.

Scott was not yet ready to tap his 401K, but looked at it as an option if necessary since he had met the 59 ½ year old age requirement.

The other thing Scott had going for him was that his spouse (that’s me), continued to work.

With all that in mind, his financial advisor and his wife gave him the green light to retire.

Social Connections

Scott chose July 29, 2020 as his retirement date. As an avid cyclist and runner, Scott knew that retiring when the weather was nice was essential. He knew that the extra hours of sunlight would allow him to be more active and elevate his mood.

However, for Scott, the transition to retirement was not easy. He had been raised to have a purpose every day and without the Union and/or his job as an economist, he had lost that purpose.

So, he decided to try a variety of activities. His brother-in-law had told him. “Retirement isn’t about having nothing to do. It’s about having the time to do whatever you want.”

Scott was already involved with two bands and retirement allowed him to take it up a notch. Since the members of one band were all retired, they decided to start practicing once a week. Although his other band only practiced intermittently, his frequent practices greatly improved his bass skills.

In addition, even before Scott left, he had begun exploring joining the Masons.

“I had spent my life in Washington and realized I didn’t have a lot of local connections,” Scott said. After hearing about the Masons from a family friend, Scott did some research and decided to join.

The Masons offered, not only social connections and mental stimulation (memorizing information), but also yet another group of musicians to play with as one of the other members invited him to a weekly Friday afternoon jam.

But Scott was looking for something more. He had spent years with the Union negotiating contracts and settlements, so he decided to pursue a master’s degree in Mediation and Conflict Management from the University of Baltimore (his third master’s degree). In addition, Scott already had a basic certificate in mediation, and he had always been interested in a position with the Federal Mediation Conciliation Services (FMCS) which adjudicates differences between Management and Unions. This degree seemed like a natural fit.

While pursuing this degree, Scott was recommended for a part-time internship with the Global Peace Foundation. The goal of the project is to address concerns between the Black and White communities in Baltimore City.

“Although I feel as though I am totally outside my comfort zone, it is such a worthy project that it seems like a great way to invest my time.” Scott said.

Staying Active

However, Scott also wanted to make sure he had time to have fun outdoors.

Scott has always been incredibly athletic. He has run the Boston Marathon 6 times and believes going out for a two-hour bike ride is a just a quick trip. Getting back those three extra hours a day not commuting, especially in the winter, gave him an opportunity to use his new retirement gift.

As a retirement present, Scott bought himself a custom-fit road bike, a bright orange Tommasini Techno complete with Campagnolo parts. Apparently, that is a really cool bike and other cyclists, who know bikes, stop him to comment on it when he’s out riding.

Both the music and activity put Scott in his happy place.

Moving Forward

At this point, Scott does not have a clear direction of where life will take him. He still thinks about going back to a full-time job, if the right one would come along. However, commuting back to Washington D.C. five days a week is not an appealing option.

He is looking forward to more hours of sunshine and the warmer weather of spring. The winter and the cold weather which sometimes limits his outdoor activities are still sometimes challenging.

Still, he is excited with all the activities he has chosen although there is a downside, “Sometimes I’m busier than I was when I was working,” Scott said.

If you have an interesting story or know someone you think would make a great subject for my blog, email me at ksparis15@gmail.com.

Starting the Journey to Retirement

I have always wanted to retire, Maybe not always, but I have never been a fan of traditional employment.

I have always wanted to retire. Maybe not always, but I have never been a fan of traditional employment. I even tried to leave my job a few years ago, but my boss talked me out of it. Then the pandemic hit and my perspective on everything changed. I had my own consulting company, in addition to my full-time job, and I was doing well. I had plans to leave my traditional employment and slide into consulting full-time, but during the pandemic I lost most of my business and I just didn’t have the energy to rebuild.

So, I now have to reimagine what retirement looks like and when it’s going to begin. At this point, my husband and I can’t decide where we want to live. Do we stay in place in the community we have always lived in with great neighbors and businesses and services we can count on? Or do we trade that life for Margaritaville? Literally, we are considering moving to Margaritaville in Hardeeville, South Carolina. Or do we teach English in Prague for a year? My husband’s best friend from high school lives there and I spent time there in college. It sounds like a great adventure.

Or do we move down to Australia to be closer to our daughter. Long before she moved down there, my husband and I always longed to move Down Under.

Sometimes it all seems so overwhelming that we just table the topic and have a glass of wine (a glass of whiskey for my husband).

In full disclosure, my husband retired hast year. Even though he had not planned to retire when he did, he had planned to retire. He has been thinking about and designing his retirement for years, worried that he would be bored and grow fat and drink too much. He’s managed to avoid two of those outcomes.

Watching him navigate the past year has made me rethink my plans to leave my full-time job. He’s done a great job in keeping himself busy and I wonder if I would fare as well.

I know many people who have retired with varying levels of success. Some left voluntarily, others did not. Some had everything planned, some did not. I don’t think anyone has everything figured out and even if they did, it doesn’t mean that’s the right road for me. But I believe you can learn something from everyone.

So I am setting out to study retirees and look at all the options out here. I want to know what they think they did well and what advice they have for others considering. I’ve never been a very good student, but I am a great teacher. The best part about teaching is I learn as much as my students do.

I don’t know where this journey will lead me. Maybe I’ll decide to continue working, maybe I’ll move to a Caribbean Island like our friends or maybe I will just mosey on down to Margaritaville.

Join me every week I explore my options and maybe you’ll even find a path that works for you.

Even though I know many retirees who have taken different paths, if you know someone you think I should interview, message me at ksparis15@gmail.com

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