Ken Answers Some Questions

May 26, 2009

Have you two gone mad?

It may seem that way, but we don’t think so.

How else can you explain giving up your friends, family, all your possessions and your home?

We’re not homeless; we’re home in our motorhome. We’ve still got our friends, family, and all the possessions we need.

Are you coming back to Florida?

We plan to spend winters in Florida.

We’ll come back for our doctors' checkups.

We’ll come back to visit with our friends.

We’ll come back to confirm our Florida residency.

We’ll come back to visit with my son, his wife, and our grandchildren who live very near to Tampa.

Maybe not next winter, but we’ll be back when the winds blow us that way.

See! Those are the ravings of people gone mad.

Would you like to know the whole story?

I certainly would!

Let’s start with “How to be happier”

In about 2003 I studied for 6 months with Marty Seligman, the renowned guru of happinesss (, and wrote a book called “How to be Happier.” The gist of the book was happiness could be best achieved by large doses of three things:

  • Pleasure...hedonistic pursuits and loving relationships.

  • Meaning...doing things that gave your life meaning (something meaningful to you).

  • Flow...activities so engaging you could lose yourself in them.

If you're curious and would like to read a copy of my book, download the pdf at:

For about 5 years I wrote books and training programs I thought would be meaningful for others. I found flow by writing. I was eager to get to my computer and was totally engaged in the topics I was writing about.

Shannon found meaning in creating web sites, making them appealing and useful. She found flow by building and tending the websites that offered my books to people looking for better relationships and to be happier. We even learned about Internet Marketing so we might sell some of the books and training programs.

We both found pleasure in our affluent life style that included a limo, a driver, full time housekeepers, and never doing any task or chore unless we wanted to.

What went wrong?

We both hated internet marketing. That is, getting people to find and consume the books, articles, forums, that we spent years creating. Shannon found it frustrating to build web sites hardly anyone would find. I found less meaning in writing books people weren’t reading.

Then we read “The Four Hour Workweek.”

In March of 2007, we read a smashing best seller entitled “The Four Hour Work Week” by Timothy Ferriss. I highly recommend it to anyone. One of the author's main themes was to do what you wanted to do now, rather than waiting for some future time. We realized we had started many dialogs with the phrase: “When mom goes and the dog dies we’ll be free to do" such and such.

We were putting our life on hold awaiting events we had no control over.

Within five weeks after reading the book, we had our house in Laurel Oak on the market, and settled on The Glenridge as the place we would live out our remaining years. Some years ago we had settled the final affairs of Shannon’s mom, then dad, then my dad, and were managing the affairs of my mother, then aged 99.

We resolved we wouldn’t put that burden on any of our kids, so we chose a retirement community where any future eventuality would be handled by professionals.

Then we discovered “brain plasticity.”

Many neuroscientists were researching the ability of the brain to continue to grow and change over time. Until the late 1990’s doctors were taught that the brain was not changeable after childhood. So, dementias couldn’t be cured and cognitive impairments that come with aging would simply get worse over time. By 2008, it was becoming more widely known that brain plasticity meant that one could fight against further damage and even build new neural pathways.

(The book we liked best was “The Brain that Changes Itself.” by Norman Doidge)

We watched my mother become gradually diminished in her cognitive functioning: from the age of 90, where she had a good enough memory to write her life story, to her death at 100 when she had no recollection of her husband of 67 years, and confused her four children with her brothers and sisters.

We realized that we were each exhibiting little signs of gradual cognitive decline, and took steps to stop the decline and even rebuild new neural pathways to help our plastic brains become better functioning.

We started with brain exercises on the internet. Sites like and others.

More research showed us that the scientific heavyweights were behind a site called Posit Science that offered complete courses to help build auditory and visual acuity. We paid almost $800 for the courses and later were delighted when The Glenridge made a deal to bring them to every member for free in a classroom or just over $100 for home use.

Why did you choose to live in a motorhome?

I'm getting to that. For the past 15 years we had been deeply involved with my family, and because Shannon’s boys (who won’t fly) live in Los Angeles, we only saw them on the computer screen on iChat. (Unless we flew out west, which we were were less and less inclined to do.)

Then our dog and cat both died in 2008 and Mom died in February, 2009, so we were totally unemcumbered. We could do anything we wanted. It was the first time in my adult life when I didn’t have any responsibilities for others.

The beginning of the answer started with the idea of buying and keeping a motor home out west, like a second home. But, that still involved flying back and forth and we had become increasingly tired of the hassles of flying.

So, we thought of simply buying the motorhome and driving it out west as a first leg of "wherever we want to go."

Shannon adds: we'd had three other motor homes in the past and always enjoyed the experience.

How long will you be gone? Why did you leave The Glenridge?

We're not sure how long. However we were sure that every month we'd be gone would still cost us a lot of money to keep our membership at the Glenridge. With the beating our investments had taken in the 2008 crash, and wanting to stay liquid in case we were to live long lives, we decided to give up our membership at the Glenridge and build up our funds.

Why did you get rid of all your belongings?

At first, we decided to put our furnishings into storage — until we got the estimate. Between moving stuff into storage, paying the monthly fee plus insurance for storage, and then paying to have our stuff moved to our home when we got too old for RV living, we thought we could probably start over and have all new stuff in our next non-rolling home.

We put a few things we were emotionally attached to in storage and all those paper records you keep “just in case,” then sold or gave away everything else.

We moved into the motorhome and we’ve been rolling down the road. Our only possessions were what we carried with us.

So how is this brain plasticity working out for you?

Ruts lead to cognitive impairment. Ruts are the friends of dementia.

Ruts are also comfortable and make life easy.

Our old life: up by 6:30. Breakfast, paper and puzzles until it was time for tennis or workout. Read or write until time for cocktails and dinner or dinner with friends. TV or visiting until bedtime. Then, the next day we do it all over again.

Now we’re having to learn so many new things, I’m sure we’re building new neural pathways in our brains. We’ve totally gotten out of our ruts, and haven’t yet built new ones yet

Shannon adds: however we still enjoy three squares and a good night's sleep.

Today, I’m writing this explanation. I’ve gotten half of my days exercise walking through the hilly park to buy today’s paper.

I’m typing on a different keyboard, and using an unfamiliar mouse (out of the rut, more new pathways).

I’m sitting in a $46 chair I bought from walmart and assembled myself (more new neural pathways).

Shannon adds: for those of you who remember, it took two of us sweating and swearing to put the chair together.

Where are you, anyway?

For the next month or two, we’ll be in Escondido California. About half way between Los Angeles and San Diego.

How has all this change worked out for you?

It’s been overwhelming for me.

New things have come at me fast and furiously.

Haven’t had time for any of my old things. No writing. No tennis. Not working out (enough).

All my old activities seemed effortless. Everything, even the simplest things, in my new life seem harder, and I’m not good at them yet. I don’t mind because I know that’s the price I have to pay to build all those new neural pathways.

I’ll leave it there. Expect more reports on new learnings in coming notes.

Best wishes to all who are reading about our adventure.


PS: I recommend to your attention a very special article in the June 2009 Atlantic magazine:

It chronicles a 70-year, longitudinal study of a group of male college students. This exhaustive effort determined that the single, strongest correlate for longevity and happiness was the quality and durability of the relationships each man had during his life.  Women seem to know this intuitively; it’s harder to learn for guys.

Now knowing the importance and value of relationships, I’m going to work more diligently at nurturing the many relationships Shannon and I have built over the years. This note is the first of many that may stimulate dialogue that will keep those relationships robust.

I’d be delighted to hear from you if you have questions or comments on the contents of this very long message. Write me at

The Story Starts with Chapter One