Wednesday, June 21, 2017

One Piece of Advice

     I remember the first real move I made, not counting moving around in college. My new wife and I had been living in a one-bedroom apartment in a high-rise in the city, and we were moving to the suburbs, renting the first floor of a house located right across from a fire station.

     I rented a U-Haul trailer that attached to the back of my car. My wife and I and a friend of ours did all the packing, the loading, the moving, the unloading. One problem: I got a traffic ticket because I unknowingly drove the U-Haul on a parkway that didn't allow any trailers or commercial vehicles. But it was still a lot cheaper than hiring a moving company. And a lot more work.

     These days I wouldn't dream of trying to do it myself. We have far more stuff, for one thing, despite all our downsizing. And I am older, not as strong, and more prone to injury than I was 40 years ago.

     Anyway, we are all packed up now -- or almost -- and the movers are scheduled to show up tomorrow morning. They will arrive at our new place on Friday, and then we start the next phase of the process:  unpacking and figuring out where everything goes.

     B drew out a plan of our new place and arranged our furniture on paper. But we have a lot of stuff in storage, and we neglected to measure all that furniture. Plus, we've lost track of what is in our mountain of boxes -- yes, we labeled them, but we keep asking, "Beach pictures? What beach pictures? And what's in that box marked Garage?"

     And we still cannot believe we have so many boxes! We bought boxes at U-Haul. We got others at Home Depot. Our movers gave us some boxes. You just don't realize how much stuff you have until you try to put it all in boxes. So we're doing a lot of guessing, and probably quite a bit of rearranging at some point after we move.

     By the way, if you ever take any advice, take this one piece of advice from me. If you're moving at our age, don't try to do it yourself. The packing itself is enough to produce back pain (we both lie on the floor every night now, doing some back stretching), strain the ankles and knees, raise a few bruises on the arms and shins, and amp up stress levels to megawatt proportions.

     But we can see the finish line. We are exhausted, but also excited. Please, wish us well. Oh, and one more thing. If you want to sleep at night, never move into an apartment located right across the street from a fire station.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Weekend at the Shore

     I'm in Cape May, NJ, for the long weekend. For those of you who do not come from the Northeast, Cape May is also known as Exit 0 -- at the beginning, or Exit 0, of the Garden State Parkway -- as opposed to The End, which refers to Montauk, NY, which is out at the tip of Long Island.

the town
     Montauk sits across from New London, CT, while Cape May is located at the point where Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic ocean. It's actually at just about the same latitude as Washington, DC, which means it enjoys a more mild climate than anything in New York or New England.

     Cape May is named after the Dutch captain Cornelius Jacobsen Mey, who explored the Jersey shore and the Delaware River in the early 1600s and claimed the area for the province of New Netherland.

     The place became a prime vacation spot for Philadelphia high society in the mid-to-late 1800s, and despite some ups and downs over the years is now known for its many well-kept Victorian buildings -- reportedly the second largest collection of Victorian homes in the country after San Francisco.

the beach
     Today, Cape May has become a prime destination for weddings. And so, sure enough, I am here for a family wedding, which takes place on the beach, before we retire inside for a reception at one of the seaside Victorian-style inns.

     There are a lot of retired people who live in Cape May, including the woman in the other side of the two-family house we are renting. But this house we are in is not like any two-family house I've ever known. It has four bedrooms, three baths, nine-foot ceilings, a spacious front porch. It is also completely renovated, sits two blocks back from the Atlantic ocean, and is worth close to $1 million!

the house
     B and I actually came to Cape May a couple of times in the past few years, when we were shopping for a place to retire. But we ultimately decided against, because the town seems pretty lonely and deserted from October through May.

     It's also in New Jersey, which means it's an expensive place to live. The real-estate prices are high (as you can see), and so are the taxes on retirement income.

     We couldn't really afford to live here -- not in the style we'd like to become accustomed to in retirement -- but we can afford to rent here for a long weekend. So I guess for us, Cape May comes under the heading of ... nice place to visit, but we wouldn't want to live here.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Is Early Retirement Still Possible?

     As I've said many times, I am a Baby Boomer who was able to take early retirement. It's just that, for me, it wasn't entirely voluntary. But after what my boss said to me, I found that I could no longer in good conscience work for that company anymore. What did he say? "Tom, you're getting laid off. You have two weeks notice."

     Some people think two weeks notice is actually pretty good. I remember my ex-wife, early in her career, was once informed of her layoff after lunch on a Friday. She was told to clear out her desk and be out of the building by the end of the day.

     I personally made early retirement work for me for a variety of reasons, but mainly because:

     1) I was old enough (54) so my two kids were halfway out of the house. Therefore, my financial obligations were going down significantly.

     2) I had a small but still-helpful company pension, and I had contributed consistently over the years first to an IRA and then to my 401K plan, so I ended up with pretty healthy balances.

     3) I could never find a fulltime job in my industry (printing and publishing) at my age -- not one I was willing to take anyway -- but I was able to cobble together some freelance work to supplement my income. I continue to take occasional assignments to this day, more than a decade later, to help finance my retirement.

     All this is by way of introduction to some good advice offered by my friend Jeremy Kisner, of Surevest Wealth Management in Phoenix, AZ, who has penned a helpful piece on early retirement, presented here with his permission (with a few slight modifications for space and style).

     And by the way, if you think you're beyond the topic of early retirement ... wait for the last line!

Some people never want to retire. In fact, some research shows that the happiest seniors are those who continue to work, at least part-time, as long as they can. Nevertheless, others cannot wait to retire and are focused on achieving financial independence as soon as possible. Few things give you a greater sense of freedom than knowing you do not need to work anymore, even if you choose to. This type of financial freedom is possible prior to full Social Security retirement age for young families willing to make some sacrifices.

The simple truth is the higher your savings rate, the sooner you can retire. Pretty simple, eh? You must spend less and/or earn more if you want to move up your retirement date. We usually have more control over spending than income, so spending less is the more practical strategy for most people. The biggest categories (by far) to make a real dent in spending are housing and transportation. Those two categories represent around 63% of the typical household budget, whereas entertainment is only 5.5%, clothing 3.5%, and food 13%.

So if you want to retire early, you most likely will need to live in a modest home and drive used cars until the wheels fall off. The good news is smaller houses and older cars are unlikely to reduce your happiness level significantly. A growing body of research shows that we get the greatest happiness (per dollars spent) by spending our money on experiences, not material things.

Conventional wisdom says you need to save 10-15% of your income to retire by age 65 at a similar lifestyle to what you enjoyed while working, assuming you will not have a big pension or significant inheritance. You will likely need a 25 to 30% savings rate throughout your career in order to retire in your early to mid-50s.

The average American has not demonstrated a willingness to save nearly this much. The average savings rate in the U. S. is only around 5% which includes contributions to retirement plans such as 401Ks. Here is an idea: If your savings rate is too low and the idea of budget cuts is too painful, simply commit to saving 50% of all future raises and bonuses. This strategy can produce significant savings and also keep a lid on lifestyle creep, in which your expenses grow proportionally with your income. Another pitfall of lifestyle creep: It just increases the amount you will need to maintain that lifestyle in retirement.

Here are a few other early retirement tips:

1.  Start investing as young as possible. Savings is a habit that should start with a person's first paycheck. The math tells the story: You can save just over $998,000 by age 60 if you invest $5,000 a year starting at age 20 and average 7% investment returns. However, if you wait until age 30 to start a similar saving regimen, your nest egg would only be $472,000 at age 60.

2.  Invest aggressively, assuming a time horizon of 10 years or more. The chances of retiring early are very slim if you keep your money in the bank or in very conservative investments. That most likely means investing in stocks, which have averaged about a 10% return per year over the past 90 years. Most investment analysts expect more modest returns in the future so dial back those expectations a bit (e.g. 7%).

3. If you are planning on Relocating in Retirement take a look at a state with lower state income and real-estate taxes and a lower cost of living. Consider these 23 Cheap Places Where You Will Want to Retire, or other places with similar characteristics.

4. When you consider the cost benefits of downsizing make sure you are not simply trading home-maintenance costs for steep association fees.

5. Avoid debt. Try not to ever borrow money for anything that is going to depreciate (e.g. a car, a boat, a home-entertainment center). Plan to have your home mortgage paid off by your planned retirement date. 

Here is a cool (yet simplistic) When Can I Retire Calculator. This calculator assumes 5% investment returns after inflation and a 4% withdrawal rate once you retire.

P.S. If you are already retired, pass this on to your kids.

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Perils of Downsizing

     Right now I am sitting in an empty house, all alone in our new community, with only our dog for company. I have nothing to do but clean out the basement, change burned-out lightbulbs, fix broken hardware, and go out to our new yard to pull weeds or clip back some long-neglected trees and bushes.

     I remember my sister telling me, after she moved from Portland to Phoenix a little over ten years ago: "I am never moving again!"

Our living room, with dog bed
     Now I know what she's talking about.

     Am I looking for sympathy? No. Am I having regrets? No. We planned this move, and have been preparing for it for ... literally, years. Last summer we sold our family home. We moved into a one-bedroom condo and spent the past year looking for a new place to live. And now we have found it: a little house with a small yard, with a sidewalk out front and a ten-minute stroll down a tree-lined street into a cute town in Bucks County, Pa. Our taxes are lower; the utility bills are lower; even the restaurants seem less expensive.

     I am simply reminding anyone (and myself) who is considering a downsize that there will be times when the going gets a little difficult. It's a lot of work to sell your old house and buy a new one. It's even more work to pack up dozens of boxes of dishes and clothes and books and pictures and the millions of other things you never even knew you had sitting in some remote corner of your house.

     There will be times when you will likely be uncomfortable. You might have to live in a motel for a period of time between moves. You might have to put up with the dust and dirt of any renovations you're making. I, personally, have been living with the smell of fresh paint for the past week. Yes, the walls look nice now; but I am getting real sick of living with paint fumes that linger despite every window in the house hanging wide open.

My new chair!
     You might also have to spend some time in your new house (as I am) with virtually no furniture. I have a bed. I have a small desk with a desk chair, and I brought my laptop with me. Other than that, my new house is empty.

     The place echoes with no carpets on the floor. Even though the weather has been nice, the house seems cold with no furniture in it. And that desk chair kept getting harder and harder, each day, until last night I saw some canvas deck chairs "on sale" outside of the Acme supermarket. So now I have a new blue deck chair that's marginally more comfortable than the torture chair I've been sitting in.

     Right now B is back at our old place. She has all the furniture, which sounds like she has it pretty good. But I talked to her last night. She'd spent the day packing boxes -- she counted them up for me, over the phone, and added up a dozen boxes she'd piled up against our old living room wall.

Our guest room. Doesn't it look inviting?!?
     Our mover is coming in two weeks. That's when she will be done packing, and I'm supposed to have the new place ready to receive our furniture -- furniture that we cannot for the life of us visualize fitting into this new house. (I say "new house." It's new to us, but it was built almost 60 years ago.)

      As far as I know, my sister is still sticking to her resolution to never move again. We'll see what happens with our move, when everything settles out. But whatever happens, I'm beginning to think that both B and I will be crying: "I am never moving again!"

Saturday, June 3, 2017

A Weekend to Remember

     I am spending the weekend in Washington, DC. This morning I took the Metro from my hotel down to the Mall. Did you know that they charge an extra $2 to purchase a card for the Metro? It doesn't matter whether you use it and reuse it and recharge it forever, or if you just use it for one day. I guess it's a way to soak the tourists.

Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center 

     I came out of the Metro at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. It made me wonder: what would Reagan think of Trump's trade policy?

     I am here to pick up our dog from my daughter, who has been dogsitting for us since last summer when B and I moved into a condo complex that prohibits pets. But now we have a house again, so we can take back our dog.

I think my parents had a car like this when I was a little kid

     I am meeting my daughter, up from North Carolina, on Sunday. I came early, so I could play tourist for the day -- and also reminisce a bit, since I spent a semester here when I was in college, and then visited several times a year when my sister lived in DC in the 1980s and '90s.

     Back when I was younger (and more idealistic?) I did a fair amount of volunteer work in politics. I was a Democrat (still am, tho' not as enthusiastic as I once was) and worked for McGovern and Carter, as well as several local candidates. I canvassed for our city mayor (he won) and for a candidate for the New York State Senate (he lost) and was even appointed to a town commission for my efforts.

Ah ... the memories!

     But that was then, and this is now. I wouldn't dream of working for a political party these days -- not because I don't think politics are important, they are, but because things have gotten so ugly and fractious. It seems politics have become a religion. You must believe in party dogma, which allows for no dissent unless it's from the most fundamentalist faction. You hate anyone who doesn't believe what you believe; you call them names, dehumanize them and ridicule their views.

     It seems that, as Yeats wrote in The Second Coming, "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold ... while the best lack all conviction, and the worst are full of passionate intensity."

     But as you walk along the National Mall and visit the museums and see the people from all corners of the country, the political venom seems to fall away. Everybody stands in reverent memory over the events recollected in the Newseum, from the Berlin airlift to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Everybody can identify with the historical exhibits in the National Museum of American History. I learned that before Benedict Arnold turned traitor, he was a hero who along with Ethan Allen captured and defended Fort Ticonderoga, thwarting Britain's attempt to invade from Canada.

National Museum of African American History and Culture

     And, it seems, everyone is interested in the newest building on the Mall -- the National Museum of African American History and Culture. I tried to get a ticket to the museum ahead of time online; but it was sold out. When I went down there, I saw a huge line trailing down the street for the few tickets available at the door.

The Washington Monument

     So I the went to the history museum and saw the exhibits on money, transportation, military history, Japanese internment. I walked the Mall; saw the Capitol building, the Washington Monument, the White House. I wanted to see the Vietnam memorial, which I visit pretty much every time I come to Washington, but my knee gave out and so I just walked back up to Farragut Square (named after Civil War Admiral David Farragut, famous for the Battle of Mobile Bay) where I caught the Metro back to my hotel.

Farragut Square at K and 17th St.

     By the way, is anyone visiting Washington, DC, anytime soon? I have a Metro card for sale . . . just $2, which includes the cost of the card, plus a 65-cent credit for the amount I did not use this weekend.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Do You Ever Feel Trapped?

     Do you feel trapped by medical costs -- paying more and more out of pocket while receiving, or foregoing, necessary care or drugs?

     This week on The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide, Rita R. Robison, consumer journalist, tackles the issue of Prescription Drug Prices Rising -- to the point where some people are unable to fill their prescriptions. According to a survey by Consumer Reports, 25% of Americans who regularly take a prescription drug say they now pay more out of pocket than they did 12 months ago.

     Some of the price increases are substantial -- 24% of regular prescription takers said they paid $50 or more out of pocket for a single prescription this year than they did for the same medication last year. And 15% paid $100 more than they did in 2016. One result? Some 14% of those surveyed said they didn’t fill their prescription due to the increased cost.

     On a related note, Carol Cassara points out that you can feel trapped when you're suffering from a disease, especially cancer, but it's important to keep a positive attitude, for your thoughts and feelings can certainly affect your health. In Chemo & the Mind Body Connection she points out that stress and negative thinking can increase heart rate and blood pressure and may even be a contributing factor to heart attacks and stroke. But now an increasing number of scientific studies show that the mind can also support whatever treatment a patient is getting through affirmations and other positive thoughts and thus can play a role in helping heal as well.

     Meanwhile, Laura Lee Carter saw an old movie this week -- Easy Rider, remember that one? -- which made her reflect on how much she has changed since 1969, and how most of the changes have come since she escaped the trap of her city life and struck out for the hills of rural Colorado. But whether you live in the country or the city, she says in Easy Rider: The View from 62, you can certainly appreciate and maybe recognize how she has learned a lot about her biases and judgments of people she doesn't know -- and how she has lightened the load of judgments on those who don't look or talk like her.

     Kathy Gottberg asks us if we ever get caught up in thinking or doing things that you know aren't healthy or good for you. In The Art of Trapology, or a Bedtime Story for Thriving and Happy Adults she reviews a new business-parable book called Trap Tales -- Outsmarting the 7 Hidden Obstacles to Success that offers a number of great life lessons and also provides a fun way to learn and become a certified trapologist!

     Finally, Meryl Baer never seems to sit still long enough to be caught in a trap. Following a few weeks spent at home, she is once more on the road. Her travels began not in the air or the sea, or comfortably seated on a bus or train, but in her small but extremely efficient car. Read about the first day of her latest escape in Was Driving Ever Fun?

     Well ... whatever. To be philosophical about it, take a look at the Robert Frost quote from Heart, Mind, Soul. Maybe you'll get an inspiration for living your best life, which after all, is the most important thing we can ever ask for.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

8 Things to Love About Retirement

There is no doubt we have some issues to face when we retire. We may have money problems or health problems. Our relationships with friends and family are likely to change, we may experience episodes of boredom or loneliness.

Some people wonder what they will do with all their extra time. They fear they’ll become irrelevant, or that they’ll feel aimless or out of sorts. And that’s why retirees should make some decisions about what is important to them so they can plan out the future and appreciate retirement for the exceptional opportunity that it really is.

So think of the opportunities that present themselves in retirement. It’s no coincidence that studies have shown people tend to be happiest when they are in their 60s and 70s – when work responsibilities have been shed, when the kids have grown up and are on their own, when everyday stress levels seem to melt away like the spring snows.

Of course, different people appreciate different aspects of retirement. Do you have some special reasons of your own? Here are a few mine.

1. We're free of the drug of ambition. I spent a lot of my working life competing with my colleagues, pushing for a raise, angling for a promotion – all in the pursuit of getting ahead, because that’s what American are supposed to do. But now I no longer care if I get promoted, no longer have to jockey for a better title or an office with a window. A big weight is lifted from your shoulders when you quit the rat race. It’s the freedom that many retirees appreciate so much – freedom from the pressure to get ahead at work, to get your kid into college, to keep up with the neighbors.

          2. We have time to appreciate culture. You might have been too busy with career and kids to follow some of the great  movie directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Woody Allen, Robert Altman. Now you can go on Netflix or Amazon – or borrow DVDs from the library -- and enjoy some of the great stories of our time. There’s also time to keep up with current programming, or just to read a book. B has belonged to a book club for years. Now I finally have the time to read a biography or a novel, and sit around to talk about it. The latest book on my reading list is News of the World, getting ready for my next meeting over at our senior center.

3. You can still work part time. Just because you’re retired doesn’t mean you can’t pick up a job here and there. I still get an occasional assignment from my old company. B, who retired from the library last September, is now back working there one day a week. A friend of mine took a part-time job as a checker at our local grocery store; another works three days a week at the public golf course. There are many possibilities, but no obligations.

4. We babysit our grandchildren. We just had our first grandchild, and so like many retirees we look forward to the opportunity to get to know our grandchildren, spend time with them, and hopefully create deep and lasting memories with them – memories that will last long after we are gone.

5. There’s time to give back. To be honest, I didn’t do much volunteering when I was working. I didn’t coach Little League or belong to the Lions. But now I have found my niche as a volunteer tutor at our community college, and I find it enormously rewarding to share my knowledge and skills with young, sometimes-disadvantaged kids who so obviously appreciate my efforts.

6. We can go whenever we want.  B flies midweek to see her son and saves a lot of money. We drive during non-rush hours. We feel free to go out to dinner at 5 p.m. Or, we can stay out late because we don’t have to go to work the next morning.  Personally, I’m not a big traveler. But plenty of retirees are, and they make bucket lists that include trips to the Grand Canyon or the Empire State Building, to the Pyramids or the Great Wall of China.

7. We have the time to do nothing. Finally … there’s time to enjoy the pleasure of sitting on the front porch or the back deck and soak up the atmosphere, reflecting on your life and enjoying the cool breezes wafting across your face.

8. We can do what we want, instead of what other people want us to do. In retirement there are no more expectations. You no longer have to please your parents, or support your kids. You can move to the city, or the country. You can write a book, trace your ancestry, take up a new hobby. No matter how well-financed you may or may not be, you can live the lifestyle of the truly wealthy – you can do what you want and answer to nobody.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Other Side of Buffett

     The great Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha, held his annual shareholder's meeting for Berkshire Hathaway this past week. Some 40,000 people attended the event, called the Woodstock for Capitalists, to hear Buffett and partner Charlie Munger hold forth on the company, the country, the state of capitalism and what is perceived to be sane, responsible investing advice for regular middle-class Americans.

     Buffett is lauded for his common sense and his modesty -- the very fact that he still lives in Nebraska, rather than moving to New York, LA or Washington, DC, seems to give him credibility. And the fact that he lives in the same modest house he bought many decades ago somehow shows that he is "one of us" rather than the usual greedy, grasping, maximizing-shareholder-value corporate executive or Wall Street shark.

     To be honest, I have read several books by and about Buffett, and have paid attention to his musings for a number of years. He does offer good investment advice, and in many ways he is a reasonable, responsible person.

     He is a good businessperson. And there's nothing wrong with being a businessperson. But let's face it, that folksy image and golly-gee-whiz approach is mostly a product of marketing and public relations. He may be skeptical, like many of us, about the salesmanship and sheer arrogance that comes out of Wall Street. But he himself is a sharp, crafty operator who is singularly focused on making money for himself, his partners and, sure, his shareholders, too -- anyone who can pony up for at least one unit of BRK-A at $247,000 per share.

     What got me started on this is my recent experience with a real-estate agent who works for Berkshire Hathaway. Normally the real-estate agent is paid by the seller. But now Berkshire Hathaway is sneaking in a new fee, charging an extra $375 to the buyer. For administrative fees. For doing all the paperwork. In other words, for no other reason than it can.

     So at the same time folksy old Buffett trades on his image as a regular guy, in favor of fair, honest liberal capitalism, he is gouging homebuyers for an extra $375 just for the privilege of doing business with him.

     Meanwhile, Buffett is a vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton and other Democrats. But does he truly support Democratic policies and values? Well, Berkshire Hathaway also owns a railroad company that makes a lot of money by hauling coal -- dirty, old coal -- for the electric companies to burn and pollute the atmosphere. Buffett says the right things about the environment. But let's pay attention to what he does, not what he says. Think about it ... is what he does much different from Donald Trump lifting regulations on coal miners?

     Buffett also own a big interest in United Airlines. He surely had nothing to do with pulling that doctor off the flight. But don't you think, as a major shareholder, he has something to do with the general atmosphere and culture of the company? Ditto with Wells Fargo and all those bogus accounts the company opened without the permission or knowledge of its customers.

     Then there's Coca Cola. He owns a big chunk of the company, and guzzles several cans of Coke a day. Does it worry him that Coke contains enormous amount of sugar? Does he feel in any way responsible for the obesity epidemic going on in America today?

     Apparently not. For when he defends his product he sounds disturbingly like the cigarette makers who defend smoking, or the gun manufactures who say that guns don't kill people, people kill people.

     Says Buffet, as quoted in Fortune: "I drink about five Cokes a day. It has about 1.2 ounces of sugar in it ... I like to get my calories from this. I enjoy it ... and I think that choice should be mine. Maybe sugar is harmful and maybe you'd encourage the government to ban sugar ... But I think Coca Cola has been a very positive factor in the country and the world. And I really don’t want anyone telling me I can’t drink it."

     Now I don't mean to bash Warren Buffett. Or Coke, for that matter. Or Wells Fargo. I occasionally enjoy a Coke or a Diet Coke. Just please don't try to tell me that Coke is good for me. I have an account at Wells Fargo -- but it's been a joke in my family for years that you simply cannot walk in the door of a Wells Fargo branch without the teller trying to sell you on a service or open a new account -- and if you have a credit card through Wells Fargo it doesn't blush at charging 20% interest or more on an unpaid balance or cash advance. So don't try to tell me that Wells Fargo is looking after my best interests.

     And please don't try to tell me that Warren Buffett is some kind of American hero, or friend of the American consumer. He is not an evil person. He gives a lot of money to charity. But he has made his fortune selling sugar and coal and questionable financial products to the masses. All I'm saying is, it's a little early to start granting him sainthood.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Did You Forget Something?

     "Honey, where did you put the coffee?" I called out to B in the living room. She went to Costco yesterday to pick up some things, mostly for her church picnic, but I had asked her to buy one of Costco's big jars of coffee. Now I was looking for it in the kitchen cabinet.

     "It's on the top shelf," she called back.

     I looked again at the top shelf. But it wasn't there. I looked in a couple of other cabinets. Then B came in and searched around the kitchen. "I don't know," she said. "Maybe I left it in the car."

     "Don't worry about it," I said. "We have enough coffee for this morning. We can check the car later."

     "No I'd rather do it now, while I'm thinking about it." Then, a  few seconds later she asked me: "Do you have the car keys?" They weren't in their regular place.

Where's the coffee? No joking matter.
     We were out late last night, and I drove home. Where were the keys? I looked on the bookshelf where we usually keep them. Not there. I looked on the dining room table. Then I went into the bedroom and found them on my bureau, under a couple of papers ... realizing I had to look for something first, in order to then go look for something else!

     The coffee wasn't in the car. B came back inside. "Did I buy the coffee?" she asked herself. "I'm pretty sure I did." She checked her Costco receipt. It was there. And finally, a minute later, she found the coffee, behind a big jar of pretzels and a bag of cookies sitting on the kitchen table.

     Does this scenario sounds familiar? Do you forget things? Last night we were talking and the movie Sophie's Choice came up in conversation. Who starred in Sophie's Choice? We could both picture the actress, but couldn't retrieve her name. Until later, when it finally came to us: Meryl Streep.

     Then the same thing with Sex in the City. An hour later, while we were doing something completely different, B suddenly blurted out: "Sarah Jessica Parker!"

     The early stages of Alzheimer's disease? Well, despite the evidence, I don't think so. I recently read a long New York Times story called "Fraying at the Edges" about a woman who, at age 69, walked into the bathroom, looked herself in the mirror ... and didn't recognize her own face. She'd been having some problems. She'd lost her train of thought at a meeting and someone else had to bail her out. She kept getting confused over which string to pull to raise and lower the blinds in her bedroom. One day she got off a train, and couldn't figure out what she was doing there.

     She saw a neurologist who administered a cognition test -- count backward from 100 in intervals of seven; say the phrase "No ifs, ands or buts," remember three common words for later (she recalled one) -- and the doctor did indeed diagnose early-stage Alzheimer's.

     Alzheimer's is "degenerative and incurable, and democratic in its reach," as the Times put it. Worldwide, 44 million people have Alzheimer's or related dementia. It is most common in Western Europe, with North America close behind. More than 5 million Americans are believed to have it. The disease affects women more than men, mostly because it's primarily a disease of old age and women live longer than men. People on average live with Alzheimer's about 8 to 10 years, though some of course live longer.

     The doctor put this woman on a drug, Aricept, and she later was included in a trial for a new experimental drug that did seem to slow her decline. She joined a support group. The people shared their stories, played memory games, talked about ways they and their families coped with the disease.

     She found she started relying on her iPhone to make notes, keep her schedule, even to take pictures of places where she had gone so she could remember them. She leaned on her husband, who watched over her schedule, made sure she didn't get lost ... and who drove her around. She had to give up driving after she had a couple of minor mishaps on the road.

     What helped her most, though, was finding a new purpose in life. She and her husband began to talk to groups about living with Alzheimer's. They worked with several organizations to develop strategies for coping with the ravages of the disease. They fought against the stigma of Alzheimer's -- how so many people are in the closet because they're afraid they will be dismissed by friends and colleagues, dropped from social situations, considered no longer relevant.

     Today, five years later, the woman, now 74, is still dealing with the everyday challenges of Alzheimer's. But she is still very much alive.

     Hopefully, neither B nor I will have to face these issues. B's mother is losing the mental sharpness she once had. But B's mother is 100 years old, going on 101. Otherwise, we have no history of dementia in either of our families. But if we ever do become afflicted with Alzheimer's, or any other disease or disability, I hope we will be able to still find some purpose in life, as this woman has found a new meaning in Alzheimer's -- which, after all, is a challenge for all of us retired people, in sickness or in health.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Something in the Air

     Maybe there's something in the air -- something about spring and new beginnings and fresh starts. Our Baby Boomer bloggers seem to be in a reflective mood this week, taking stock of their lives and looking around to see what kind of people we have become.

    Carol Cassara at Heart Mind Soul realizes that at our age we have all grieved a loss. Or two or three. As an outgrowth of her own experience, she now acknowledges that it can be hard to understand the nature of grief, and at Grieving Too Long she offers some suggestions on how people can manage through the process.

     She goes on to demonstrate that whatever losses we may have suffered, it's never too late to start anew. In Healing Spirit Cassara explains how she has moved on from experiencing grief to starting a new venture -- one that may help you if you are having trouble moving past grief to a new stage of life.

        As for Meryl Baer of Six Decades and Counting, she never thought about growing old when she was a kid, and it never crossed her mind that she would some day be like the old folks. But it has happened, and now, at a get-together with friends, she realizes the similarities between her 60-something self and the older generation she knew and loved as a child.

     Do her revelations involve exercise and healthy eating? Or cataract surgery and hearing aids? Read about it and laugh at her post A Downside to Adding Up the Years.

     Meanwhile, Kathy Gottberg reminds us that wherever we go we bring our own energy -- our own vibration -- along with us, whether we're going to a party, talking on the phone, or just posting on Facebook. We all know this, she says, but the chances are we forget it from time to time.

     So when we encounter friends and colleagues, are we bringing our wholeness, wisdom and clarity, or are we bringing our worry, fear and pain? In her post Be Responsible for the Energy You Take with You she wonders: Can you imagine what might happen in the world if we all just paused for a moment before we spoke to another person and thought about the energy we are offering?

     Laura Lee Carter in her post Watch Out What You Wish For looks outward instead of inward. She reflects on the state of our country, what it says about our society and what we value in America today. Are we all about self-promotion and manipulating others? Is that what it's come to? Take a look at her post. You may or may not agree with her; but she will definitely get you thinking.

     And finally, Rita R. Robison blogging on the Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide, points out that while Earth Day just passed us by on April 22, we still have many Ways to Help the Earth Throughout the Year. For example, you can avoid using pesticides, grow your own vegetables, drive a low-emissions vehicle, join an environmental group. Which begs the question: What did you do to celebrate Earth Day?

     Or, another way to put it: You can sit around and complain about Donald Trump or the electoral college, or any of a hundred other things. But isn't it much more effective to actually do something positive, something you believe in, even if it's only in your little corner of the world?