Saturday, April 21, 2018

My Worst Investment Ever -- Part I

     I've made some bad investments in my life. But the worst? It was one I made in the 1980s, soon after my daughter was born.

     A friend of mine at work had what we now call a side hustle. He invested in condominiums. He owned a rental unit in New York, and he bought and sold a couple of condos in Florida. He purchased one when it was still on the drawing boards, then sold at a profit even before it was built.

     It sounded pretty simple to me. I asked him for advice, and he gave me some tips. He told me to buy a one-bedroom unit, because they are the easiest to rent.

     I found a condominium complex in Connecticut, which to me seemed a better idea than buying in New York. Condos in Connecticut were less expensive. And at the time there was no income tax in Connecticut, so when I sold (at my big profit) I wouldn't have to pay any state tax. I thought: this should be a great investment; it'll pay for my daughter's college education when the time comes.

     So I bought a one-bedroom unit. An older woman rented it from me right away. She paid her rent on time, and aside from calling me up now and then to come and fix something, she was a perfect tenant.

     The year after I'd bought the condo, units like mine were selling for $15,000 or $20,000 more than what I'd paid. This is great, I thought. Easy money. It'll take care of my daughter's tuition, just like I figured.

     The problem was (looking back), the year after I bought my condo was the peak of the local real-estate market. Prices flattened out, then went down, not to fully recover until the late '90s. By then I had the place rented to someone else -- a divorced mom with a young daughter who, it turned out, had trouble collecting her child support, which meant I had trouble collecting the rent.

     I tried to sell the condo in the early 2000s; but with no takers I ended up renting it again -- but not before sinking several thousand dollars into new carpeting, a new dishwasher, and fresh paint.

     My new tenants were Philip and Deborah, a nice married couple. What I didn't know was that she hadn't exactly told me the truth about her job, and they were soon to be getting divorced, and so whenever the rent was late, and I talked to Deborah, she told me to talk to Philip. And whenever I talked to Philip, he told me to talk to Deborah.

     They went three months without paying rent, just making all kinds of excuses. They finally came up with most of the back rent, only to fall behind again. I ended up driving over to the condo every month to collect the rent, sometimes in cash, sometimes a hundred or two short, because I knew if I left it up to them to send me a check, it would never arrive.

     But what was I going to do? It's a long and expensive process to evict a tenant. And besides, I'd feel like a real heel trying to do that to someone.

     To add insult to injury, it was about this time that the condo complex voted through an assessment for a major renovation project. So even as my tenants were stiffing me for rent, I had to raid my savings account to pay the special assessment.

     Meanwhile, Philip had the temerity to complain about the upstairs neighbors making too much noise. There was a dispute that ended up with me having to attend a disciplinary meeting of the condo board. Finally, Deborah moved out. A friend of Philip's moved in. They did better on the rent. But when I told them I wanted to put the condo up for sale, they left in a huff. Which was, actually, a relief.

The heart of my condo
     I had the unit on the market for three months. No sale. By this time, despite the new windows that came with the renovation, the place looked pretty shop-worn. But I was able to rent it again, on a one-year lease. Then the next year, in 2016, B and I moved in. We spent $20,000 fixing up the bathroom and kitchen, and installing a washer/dryer. And then, finally, last year we sold the place.

     It went for $148,000. After I paid the lawyer and real-estate agent and the transfer taxes, and deducted the special assessment I'd paid and the $20,000 I'd just put into it, I ended up with $100,000. I'd paid $90,000 for it back in the 1980s. So I had a $10,000 profit to show for my 30 years of effort.

     And now (this is why it's on my mind) I'm paying $8,000 in Connecticut state tax. (Yes, of course, Connecticut instituted an income tax in the intervening years.) And I also owe a little over $20,000 in Federal tax on the sale. So after taxes, I'm really taking a loss.

     To be honest, when I bought the place I took out a mortgage, which I paid off over the years from the rent I received. And the reason I owe so much tax is because I depreciated the unit over 20 years, saving myself probably about $1,000 a year in taxes.

     Still, $10,000 for 30 years of work? For the time and trouble it took me, I was making less than minimum wage.

     I know other people who have made good money in real estate -- my old friend, for example, who last I heard is living in a luxury condo in Chicago. I have a golfing buddy who bought a house in Florida during the 2009 recession. It's now worth twice what he paid for it -- and more importantly, it's only because he grabbed a bargain back in 2009 that he's now able to afford to spend his winters in Fort Myers.

     But me? Maybe I just don't have the savvy to buy and sell at the right time. Maybe I don't have the temperament to be a landlord. My real-estate adventure was . . . well, it wasn't a complete bust, but it sure wasn't worth the time and aggravation.

     The lesson? Investing in real estate may be for some people -- people who are smart, and perhaps lucky, and who have the mind-set to be a landlord. But it's not for everyone.

     So was my daughter able to go to college? That's a topic for my next post.
   

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Truth About Taxes

     The deadline for filing taxes is usually April 15. This year April 15 falls on the weekend so the deadline is pushed to the 17th. This coming Tuesday, in case you've forgotten.

     In honor of tax day I thought I'd revisit some thoughts I've had before on the truth behind the tax code -- a look at what kind of behavior the government encourages through the tax system, and what kind of activities it actually penalizes.

     Most people do not do their own taxes. They throw up their hands, decide it's too complicated and run to an accountant or H & R Block. The IRS also offers a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, typically through libraries or community centers, that gives free tax help to people making less than $54,000 a year. There's also a Tax Counseling for the Elderly program offering help focused on pensions and retirement-related issues.

     All this is convenient, of course. But when you rely on someone else to do your taxes you get no understanding of how the tax code really works -- and what it can do for you, or to you. Meanwhile, a lot of people use electronic services such as Turbotax. This is kind of like doing it yourself, but the electronic process still does hide some details of the tax system and how they affect you.

     I have always done my own taxes -- except for a couple of years when I tiptoed into an accountant's office and found out they don't necessarily do a better job, and they charge you an arm and a leg for the service.

     While it does take some time, and the process is not entirely painless, doing your own taxes can provide an educational experience. I'm not talking about practicing your arithmetic skills. What I mean is that you find out what the government is really encouraging you to do (despite what it says) and what it really penalizes. In short, you find out how the world works.

     Here are ten lessons I've learned doing my own taxes. 

     1. The Federal tax system penalizes workers. Not only do you pay the highest rates on income you earn, but you also pay Social Security (aka payroll) tax of about 7% on your salary. Your employer pays an additional 7% -- which means, at least theoretically, they could pay you 7% more if they weren't giving that money to the government. But wait . . . the government likes you if you make a lot of money -- after a worker has crossed the salary threshold of $128,400 a year, the government exempts the rest of earnings from the payroll tax.

     2. Invest in the stock market. Some of the money you make from capital gains -- the profit from selling a stock for more more than you bought it for -- doesn't get taxed at all. The rest is taxed at a lower rate than the money you make on your job. Most stock dividends are taxed at a lower rate as well. 

     3. You're a sucker if you have a savings account, or buy a bond. The interest rate you receive from a corporate or government bond, or a regular savings account, is as low as it's been in decades. It's below the rate of inflation, which means you are actually losing money. The IRS doesn't care. It taxes the little bit of interest you earn at its regular rate, meaning you lose even more money.

     4. The IRS can't make up its mind about real estate. Real-estate investors can take advantage of certain tax breaks, such as depreciation; but are excluded from others. Rental income is taxed at the full rate, as opposed to stock dividends which get preferential treatment. Bottom line: Investing in real estate can be a good deal, but it's not for everyone. 

     5. Or owning a business. Again, many tax breaks are available to people who work for themselves, such as deductions for "travel and entertainment." But there are drawbacks as well. For one, you have to pay both the employer's and the employee's part of the Social Security tax. And the tax-filing process can be confusing and complicated, requiring obsessive record keeping, mind-numbing calculations . . . and usually the expense of paying a professional accountant.

     6. But it does want you to save for retirement. The government offers a wide (some would say overly complicated) array of options -- such as the IRA, the Roth IRA, the SEP IRA, the 401(k) plan – which allow you to escape, or at least defer, taxes on your retirement savings.

     7. It wants you to get health insurance through your business, but not on your own. The IRS doesn't tax income a worker uses to pay for health-insurance premiums -- but ony if the medcal insurance comes through the workplace or through a business. If you buy medical insurance on your own, including Medicare . . . no tax break for you!

     8. The government will cut you a break if you're sick, but only if you're really sick. You can deduct out-of-pocket medical expenses, including dental expenses, that exceed 10% of your income, or 7.5% of your income if you're age 65 or over. 

     9. The government wants people to go to college. The silver lining to the ridiculous cost of higher education is that there are several ways to deduct a portion of college tuition on your Federal tax form. Many states offer tax breaks for educational expenses as well. The 529 College Savings Plan is a relatively simple and easy way to avoid taxes on money you put aside for college . . . for yourself, your grandchildren, or anyone else in the family.

     10. The government doesn't want you to do your own taxes. The Federal tax code reportedly runs 70,000 pages or more (people can't even agree on how long it is), and details all kinds of rules, regulations, tax breaks and penalties. Plus, there are many more pages at your state level. The whole process is way too complicated for the average person. The IRS really wants you to pay an expert, who is more likely to get it right, and who will file electronically, saving the government (but not you) a little bit of money.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Quotable Retirees

     I've collected some quips and quotes that you might find amusing. Many reflect on retirement. Others take on different subjects, but can only really be appreciated by those of us who have been around on earth for a good long while.

     If one of them seems particularly relevant to your life, pass it along to a friend or family member, or print it out and post it on your refrigerator.

     Which one is your favorite . . .

     "Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save." -- Will Rogers

     "As I get older, the things I'm sure of become fewer." -- J. A. Jance

     "Humans were built to look back; that's why we have that swivel joint in our necks." -- Stephen King

     "When men reach their sixties and retire they go to pieces. Women go right on cooking." -- Gail Sheehy

     "Don't be overly concerned about your heirs. Usually, unearned funds do them more harm than good." -- Gerald M. Loeb

     "Men do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quit playing."  -- Oliver Wendell Holmes

    "It's paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn't appeal to anyone."             -- Andy Rooney

     "Life after 50 or 60 is itself another country, as different as adolescence is from childhood, or as adulthood is from adolescence."             -- Gloria Steinem

     "If you are creative, you get busier as you get older." -- Tony Bennett

     "When a man retires, his wife gets twice the husband but only half the income." -- Chi Chi Rodriguez

     "It is better to live rich than to die rich." -- Samuel Johnson

     "Aging seems to be the only available way to live a long life."
  -- Kitty O'Neill Collins

     "Grandchildren are God's way of compensating us for growing old."
  -- Mary H. Waldrip

     "The best time to start thinking about retirement is before the boss does."
  -- Anon.

     "People worry so much about aging, but you look younger if you don't worry about it." -- Jeanne Moreau

     "Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory."
  -- Franklin Adams

     "Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."
  -- Mark Twain

     "At age 20, we worry about what others think of us. At age 40, we don't care what they think of us. At age 60, we discover they haven't been thinking of us at all." -- Ann Landers

     "When you get to my age, you'll see that it is wiser to make your own decisions than let time make decisions for you." -- Charles Finch

     "All men come to resemble their fathers. That isn't a tragedy. But you need a hell of a sense of humor to handle it." -- Philip Kerr

     "Fun is like life insurance: the older you get, the more it costs."
  -- Ken Hubbard

     "Others will keep working because the 'gold' in our so-called 'golden years' doesn't have to come from watching sunsets." -- Arianna Huffington

     "If I were to say, 'God, why me?' about the bad things, then I should have said, 'God, why me?' about the good things that happened in my life."
  -- Arthur Ashe

     "Modern man was not meant to do his best work before forty but is by nature, and is becoming more so, an afternoon and evening worker."
  -- G. Stanley Hall

     "Before you speak, listen. Before you spend, earn. Before you criticize, wait. Before you pray, forgive. Before you quit, try. Before you retire, save. Before you die, give." -- William A. Ward

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Can We Be Happy for the Rest of Our Lives?

     Psychologists say that each of us has our own individual set point of happiness. As events unfold in our lives we may temporarily become more or less happy, but then as time goes on we revert to our mean level of happiness. But the experts also tell us that as we get older, our happiness set point gradually goes up, from a low in our 40s to a high sometime in our 60s or 70s. In other words, most people get happier as they get older.

     In addition, retirement gives us a happiness bonus. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, retirement by itself produces a positive impact on people's sense of well-being, a feeling that lasts for a considerable length of time. Why? Because there are fewer demands on our time, and we have more control over our own lives.

     That's what the experts say. Then I got thinking about it. Personally, I admit that I have a lot of nostalgia for the 1990s, when I was doing well at work (before the you-know-what hit the fan in the 2000 - 2002 recession), when my kids were growing up and we lived in a big house and we had lots of like-minded friends and my parents were still alive and I was still relatively young and active.

     But there were a lot of pressures. I was worried about money (I had two kids who wanted to go to college ... imagine that!). I was worried about my job; I was working 50 - 60 hours a week; my marriage was showing strains (and we ultimately got divorced).

     So am I happier now . . . now that I'm well into my 60s? Are you?

     Let's look at some specifics.

     Well, I try not to worry about money. This is easier said than done. But with Social Security, Medicare and an IRA, I have a basic and secure level of income. Also, I have no prospects for more income; so I'm relieved of that nagging feeling called ambition.

     Studies have shown after a certain  level of income that covers housing, health care and other necessities, there is no relationship between how much money we have and how happy we are. What matters more is what we focus on. I think by now we all know there is no reason to envy those who have more than we do, for they are not necessarily happier. Instead, we can relax and focus on the blessings we enjoy in our own lives -- family, friends and the activities we choose to spend our time on.


     Most of us, I think, are now using our money to purchase experiences, not possessions. (In fact, a lot of us are trying to get rid of possessions!) Or as B says, we want to use what money we have to create positive and lasting memories for our friends, our children and ourselves. So we're not taking out a big loan to buy a fancy car that will impress the neighbors. We're over that. Instead, we go visit our kids, and our new grandchild. We get together with our siblings (Easter at B's sister's house this year) or we invite friends over for dinner or meet them for a show.

     In other words, I think we all make more time for family and friends. So maybe there's a theme developing here, one that provides the key to unlocking the secret to happiness in retirement. We all know that shared experiences bring more happiness than those experienced alone. Why else do people go on Facebook or Instagram? Or write a blog?

     Think of the last time you were alone in a restaurant with your nose stuck in a book or magazine. It probably wasn't much fun. But when you go to the same restaurant with friends, you almost always have a good time talking and laughing and sharing your stories.

     Retirement also gives us the time to take care of ourselves. When we're young it's easy to think we'll live forever, that nothing will hurt us. How many of us smoked back in the 1960s and '70s? How many were chained to a desk all day, all week, and then too tired and stressed-out to get to the gym?

     We now know that good health is a key to happiness and most of us, I think, are focusing on eating right, getting some exercise, and avoiding too much stress. With no boss, no kids to worry about, we can finally put ourselves first, to look and feel our best. I've even read about surveys showing that cosmetic surgery can make us happier. Why? Because nothing makes us feel better than knowing we look our best.

     We can finally do what we want. It doesn't matter whether we're perfecting our golf game, babysitting grandchildren, doing arts and crafts or hiking the Appalachian Trail. The important element for happiness is that we are involved in something that engages our interest, that gives us a sense of purpose to our lives, that gets us out of bed in the morning. Not stumbling out of bed at 7 a.m. to shower and rush to work. But jump out of bed ready to meet the day.

     It seems the happiest people view retirement not as an endless vacation, but as a chance to pursue new opportunities and take on new challenges. So I guess the lesson for all of us is, don't be afraid to say no to people who even with the best of intentions try to steal our time for their own purposes. Instead, we need to focus on the people who are important to us, and the activities that we believe are worth our time and energy.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

     I read recently on the Forbes website that 15 percent of Baby Boomers are millionaires. Can that possibly be true?

     But then, a million dollars isn't what it used to be. According to a 2016 report from the Federal Reserve, it takes a little more than $10 million to be in the top 1 percent. So $1 million might make you "comfortable" but it doesn't make you "rich."

     After all, if you own an average-type house and have been making your mortgage payments for 30 years, you probably now own it outright. And it's likely worth close to half a million right there. Add to that your IRAs, or 401Ks, maybe a second home, a boat, whatever, and, yeah, I guess I can see that 15 percent of us are millionaires.

     Plus, if you count the real value most of us have in Social Security and some of us have in pensions (for example, if you have a $20,000 a year pension, at a 4 percent withdrawal rate, that could be considered the equivalent of owning a half-million-dollar asset) then a lot more of us are millionaires . . . at least, of a certain kind.

     That's not to say probably at least 15 percent of us don't make $1,500 a month in Social Security, don't have a 401K plan and don't have a pension either . . . but that's a subject for another post.

     So anyway, despite all the reports of a slow-growth economy, the lack of wage gains, the greed of the 1 percenters, and the woe-is-me articles you see in the media . . . sometimes, we're better off than we think.

     With that in mind, I saw this piece from my friend Jeremy Kisner of Surevest Wealth Management in Phoenix, Ariz., who also produces a helpful website focused on "planning great retirements." He refers to a book first published in 1996, but the concepts and principles are no less true today than they were back then. And if you don't think so, I checked: the figures Kisner uses are current numbers.

     So, for some perspective . . .


     One piece of advice that has served me well, and I often repeat is: "When what you see and what you hear are in conflict, believe what you see." However, one area where that advice does not hold up is in judging how wealthy people are. We often see people who appear wealthy but are not, and visa versa.

     The book that really demonstrated this, with research, statistics and stories, is The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley and William Danko. The book's major argument is that the vast majority of millionaires do not look or act like we would expect based on popular culture.

     Most Americans would define "wealthy" the same way as Webster's dictionary: "People who have an abundance of material possessions." It is hard to believe that most millionaires do not have fancy watches, sports cars or extravagant homes. In a word, they are frugal, living on an average of 7 percent of their net worth. In other words, a household that has a net worth of $1 million, on average only spends $70,000 per year.

     "These people cannot be millionaires! They don't look like millionaires, they don't dress like millionaires, they don't eat like millionaires, they don't act like millionaires -- they don't have millionaire names. Where are the millionaires who look like millionaires?"

     The person who said this was the trust officer of a bank who was hosting a dinner for ten first-generation millionaires. The trust officer had an expensive suit, an expensive watch and a nice car. He was not a millionaire, but he thought he was looking the part. Naturally, he was surprised when the bank's wealthy clients did not look the part.

     Here are some other interesting facts and figures about millionaires:

     About 5 percent of Americans are millionaires (1 in 20). Most of them -- about 95 percent -- have between $1 million and $5 million.

     More millionaires identify as Democrat (58 percent) than Republican (38 percent).

     Many do not drive luxury cars. Ford is the second most popular car behind Mercedes, but ahead of BMW. In addition, cars are typically not the current model year and are rarely leased.

     94 percent are married.
     
     83 percent attended public schools, and 80 percent have college degrees.

     97 percent are homeowners and have on average lived in the same home for over 20 years.

     80 percent are self-made, first-generation rich. Less than 20 percent inherited significant money (at least 10 percent of their wealth).

     Most millionaires who own their own companies are in dull, low-tech businesses such as construction trades, farming, mobile-home parks, pest control, retail stores. Professionals with advanced degrees, like doctors, dentists, lawyers and accountants, are also well-represented among this group of everyday millionaires.

     On average, they save and invest 20 percent of their realized household income.

     I find the truth about the "millionaire next door" much more motivating and inspiring than the myth. The myth is that wealthy Americans inherited their money or had a large windfall (e.g. stock options). The fact is America is still the land of opportunity where poor people can -- and do -- go from nothing to significant wealth. Many hard-working Americans create life-changing opportunities for themselves, their children and grandchildren through hard work, and systematic saving and investing. We celebrate it, write movies about it, and our libraries are full of books about it.

     So if you are the millionaire next door, I applaud you! And even if you're not, let's be friends. 

Sunday, March 25, 2018

A Potpourri of Blogs

     I remember when I met my first wife, her job was to write and edit her company newsletter. It was a non-glossy 8-to-12 page monthly called Potpourri.

     "Why Potpourri?" I asked her.

     "Well, it's a mixture of things," she explained. "A little bit of this, a little bit of that. A gathering of news and various items from around the company."

     At first I thought the name was pretty lame. Just a placeholder, really, because they couldn't think of anything better. But as I considered the name over time, I realized it was pretty good. Better than Miscellany, or Gatherings, or Tidbits. Besides, potpourri smells good!

     So . . . take a whiff of this potpourri of blogging topics from our company of baby boomers.

     Six Decades and Counting -- Meryl Baer says one of the benefits of retirement is the time to try new things. So prodded by a friend of hers, she attended a class inspired by the New Age spiritual/consciousness-raising movement. In Energizing Spiritually? she reports on her somewhat successful experience.

Carter's before ...
     Unfold and Begin -- Jennifer Koshack just realized that time has sneaked up on her, and so even before she realized it, she found that she's celebrating an unusual anniversary. A year has gone by since the closing of the call center where she had worked for the last 25 years. This week she shares a throwback post called Endings Are a Time for New Beginnings -- which may just inspire you to follow your passion.

     Adventures of the New Old Farts -- Laura Lee Carter is running a selection from her book Memoir of Retirement: From Suburban to Solar in Rural Colorado. The piece, Remodeling and Menopause, reminds us that small changes in our 40s can lead to major life transitions later on.


and after. A metaphor?
     The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide -- Rita R. Robison, consumer journalist, reports on U. S. Cities Where Consumers Have the Highest, and the Lowest, Credit Scores. In case you don't know, a credit score is a number that predicts the risk that a person will become delinquent on their credit obligations over the following 24 months. Hint: the highest scoring city is in Florida (but not where you'd expect), and the lowest is in New Jersey (exactly where you'd expect).

     A Healing Spirit -- Carol Cassara reminds us in Stubbornness Is an Obstacle to Healing that so many of us hold on to "that's the way I am" even when it no longer serves our own well-being. She addresses how stubbornness can keep folks from trying different treatments, and in some cases actually hinder healing.

     BabyBoomster -- Rebecca Olkowski points out that March is Women's History month. She met with a group of women in Sherman Oaks, CA, and in Entrepreneurs Celebrate Women's History Month reports on their discussions about what makes a good leader in business. She also found out that more women than men are opening new businesses, which "may be a result of women having better organizational skills than men, an eye for detail, and more compassion."

     SmartLiving 365 -- Kathy Gottberg is traveling this week, so she enlisted Haralee Weintraub as a guest blogger. Weintraub offers some practical advice in 10 Suggestions to Rightsize Your Wardrobe -- including a couple of links to online second-hand sites.

     Sizzling Toward Sixty & Beyond -- Sue Loncaric has taken up the Blogging From A to Z Challenge. (She did it last year as well.) This involves publishing a post for 26 days based on a particular theme, and working through them from A to Z. This week she reveals her theme, which you can find out at her A to Z Guide to . . . Wait a second, I'm not going to spoil it -- you'll have to click over there yourself to find out!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

A Few Reminders About Your Health

     It's amazing how fast the calendar pages flip over, especially when you're talking about a certain physical test, one that shall remain unnamed, which everyone is supposed to endure periodically after age 50. The doctor found a polyp in me on the first go 'round. So I have to go every five years. But B, because of her preternatural good health, had a ten year reprieve after her last test. Still, the calendar rolls around, and so it's time for both B and me to undergo this particular humiliation.

     She got hers last week. This time they did, in fact, find a non-cancerous polyp. No worries, the doctor said. Except, much to B's dismay, she now has to go back in five years, not ten.

     I have my test coming up in June. It takes three months to schedule one of these things, because there are a lot of older people around and they all seem to be lining up for this procedure.

     All of this got us thinking about taking care of our health, trying to do the things that not only will allow us to live longer, but also to feel better, be more energetic, more able to do the things we want to do.

     So here are some reminders. Maybe you have a few more?

     1. Get Screened.  Well, we just talked about one type of screening, for colorectal cancer. Presumably, we all get an annual checkup which monitors our blood pressure, cholesterol and a series of other life signs. Many of us, by this stage of our lives, have our own personal problems. I get an annual skin screening because I've had several skin moles removed over the years -- a result, I'm told, of a misspent youth with too much time at the beach. Do you get a mammogram? B hates them; but she does get one occasionally, though not as often as she probably should.

     2. Get Vaccinated.  Flu and pneumonia comprise the seventh leading cause of death among older Americans. We should probably all get the pneumonia vaccine at least once, and the flu vaccine every year in the fall. This year the flu season was bad. Both B and I got shots, even though we knew they were not all that effective. But neither one of us fell to the flu this winter. That's something.

     3. Get some exercise.  Everyone – not just seniors -- should participate in both moderate-intensity aerobic activities as well as muscle-strengthening exercise on a regular basis. B is better at this than I am. She takes the dog for a long walk almost every morning. In fact, right now while I'm sitting on my butt, she's running around the dog park. I do my knee exercises pretty regularly, and I play golf when I can, and I do some walking too, but not as conscientiously as B does.

     4. Eat fruits and vegetables daily. According to the Center for Disease Control, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is linked to reduced risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. The recommended "dose" for people over age 65? Five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day. That seems like a lot of food! But I have fruit every day for breakfast (plus orange juice) and B serves a vegetable (or two) every night for dinner.

     5.  Don't smoke. A no-brainer. But I admit I smoked when I was younger, and even kept up the filthy habit in the form of cigar smoking at our monthly poker game, well into middle age. 

     6. Watch your blood pressure. I used to have low blood pressure. It's gone up a little bit in the past few years. Meanwhile, the CDC says that over 60 million Americas have high blood pressure, and almost half of them do not have it under control. I guess it's not for nothing they call it the Silent Killer.

     7. Get plenty of sleep. I've read that a good night's sleep helps lower blood pressure, and also bolsters your immune system, making your body better able to fight off infection. I found one study that showed people sleeping less than six hours a night have an increased risk for stroke, and a higher risk of cancer. Of course, sleeping well is easier said than done. My go-to technique is reading a book in bed at night. Puts me out every time.

     8. Maintain an active social life. It seems intuitively obvious that people who enjoy a close family life, and/or plenty of friends, feel better, enjoy better health and live longer than people who are lonely and depressed. Being engaged in a community gives people a sense of connection and security -- a reason to get up in the morning and go out and do things. But my theory? I think friends and family help promote healthy behavior such as exercising, eating well, and avoiding self-destructive habits like taking drugs or drinking too much. After all, B is the one who makes me eat my spinach and broccoli. And she's the one I go dancing with. But . . . 

     We went dancing last night. A friend of ours brought a cooler along. He opened it up, and had a McDonald's Shamrock Shake for everyone. So much for friends helping you stay healthy. Anyway, happy St. Patrick's Day. It's only once a year.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Life Is Uncertain

     I read, on average, one book a week. I keep a journal of my books, because otherwise I wouldn't remember them. I consider myself a reader, although I know others who read more than I do. I plowed through Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson, at a little more than 500 pages; but there's no way I'm picking up Grant by Ron Chernow. It's over 1000 pages!

     I have a friend who reads, literally, a book a day. He's a fast reader, and I always think he must be skimming; but I find that he often remembers more about a book than I do.

     B, a retired librarian, usually has two or three books going at once. She has an upstairs book and a downstairs book. And very often she's got something else going as well. We both like mysteries, but otherwise we don't read a lot of the same books, just as we don't watch a lot of the same TV programs. (She's currently binge watching Grace & Frankie, a show I tried once but didn't like.) She reads a lot of chick lit and a lot of book-club-type books. I read mysteries and some history and a few biographies.

     Are you a reader? I know not everyone is, which is why I generally don't recommend books on this blog. A lot of people don't care. But I have to point you in the direction of one book I just finished. B read it two years ago when it first came out. It's called When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi, a surgeon at Stanford Medical School.

     Here's how the story begins:

     “I flipped through the CT scan images, the diagnosis obvious: the lungs were matted with innumerable tumors, the spine deformed, a full lobe of the liver obliterated. Cancer, widely disseminated. I was a neurological resident entering my final year of training. Over the last six years, I’d examined scores of such scans, on the off chance that some procedure might benefit the patient. But this scan was different: it was my own.”

     He goes on to describe how he lost weight and suffered from back pain, attributing his symptoms to a punishing schedule at the hospital. But he finally gets an X ray, on his way to visit friends in New York. “I'd hoped a few days out of the OR, with adequate sleep, rest and relaxation – in short a taste of normal life – would bring my symptoms back into normal range. But after a day or two it was clear there would be no reprieve.” He goes home early; sees the blurry X-ray, and lies down next to his wife. “I need you,” he says.

     The author then recounts how he got to where he was – growing up in Arizona the son of Indian immigrants, studying English literature at Stanford trying to divine the meaning of life; then after a post-graduate year in England, opting for Yale Medical School, then back to Stanford for his residency. He describes his first experiences cutting up a cadaver; the first death of a patient; his decision to go into neurosurgery where the mind meets the brain, where life meets death, where the meaning of life is never more critical.

     He undergoes one therapy which puts him in remission, and he goes back to work. But again the pain, the exhaustion. The cancer reappears. Before he undergoes chemotherapy he freezes sperm, because the chemo can damage the genes . . . and his wife gets pregnant.

     There's more to the story. So if you want to be inspired by someone's courage and honesty in the face of a life-changing disease, pick up a copy of the book on amazon, or at your library. It's only 230 pages, so you can share his "beautiful mind," even if you're not a big reader.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Best Laid Plans

     We had it all figured out. We were retiring from our high-tax state to a lower-tax state (Pennsylvania is not that low, but it's lower than New York). But we were still staying relatively near our old home and our old friends. Still staying in the Northeast, where we wanted to live.

     But we were also going to a slightly milder climate. Not much; but some. The average daily high temperature in March in our old town is 48 degrees, the average low 29 degrees. In our new town in Pennsylvania, the average high in March is 51 degrees, with an average low of 31. It's just enough so summer and fall last a week or two longer, and spring comes a week or two earlier.

     And then, the plan was, we would go away for at least part of the winter. This year I left in mid-January, after one fairly major snowstorm which found me helping to shovel my neighbor's driveway so it wouldn't get flooded when the next storm arrived, a storm that was predicted to bring rain. So by then I'd seen my one picture-perfect snowstorm. That was enough.

     I left on January 14. Then, come the end of February, B and I started making plans to go back home. We heard about the big storm, Riley, that was wreaking havoc in the Northeast last Friday and Saturday. No problem. We were planning to leave Friday and get home Saturday. Instead, we delayed for a day and let the last of winter blow itself off without us. You see, just as we planned.

     We watched as we drove north, seeing signs of spring all through North Carolina, Virginia, and even into Maryland. They'd petered out by the time we got to Delaware, and they were gone by the time we arrived home.

View this morning from our front door
     There were plenty of tree limbs down from the storm, and we heard that much of the town had lost electricity for somewhere between 24 and 48 hours. But we woke up Monday morning and the sun was shining. We even saw a few daffodils poking up in the side garden. It was warm, and we knew spring was right behind us, and would follow us up north in no time. We'd timed it perfectly.

     Or so we thought.

     And then comes Quinn. We woke up this morning to three or four inches of snow on the ground, and more to come. The driveways and walkways are covered. The street is a slushy mess. More tree limbs litter the yard, torn down by the wind and the heavy, wet snow. It looks like the middle of winter here today. Our only consolation: Here we're expected to get 6 - 9 inches of snow. Back in our old hometown in New York they're predicting 12 - 16 inches.

     And so I reflect back on my college days as an English major, summoning up Percy Bysshe Shelley's Ode to the West Wind . . .  "Oh Wind/ If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?"

Saturday, March 3, 2018

How to Lose Weight ... Guaranteed!

     I read recently that the latest studies have cast doubt on the benefits of the low-carb diet. A group of people consuming a high-protein, low-carb diet lost no more weight than the control group consuming a normal diet.

     This doesn't surprise me. I've been around long enough to see the Atkins Diet, the Gluten Free diet, the South Beach diet, the Mediterranean diet, the Paleo diet, and a hundred others come and go. But . . . my diet works, guaranteed. It's called the Do-Everything-But-Eat-It diet. You just follow these principles . . . and don't worry about what anyone else thinks.

     Honest spillage. So the way I got the idea for this diet is by looking down at my shirt and pants the other evening during dinner. I thought I dropped some spaghetti sauce off my fork. Oops, there it is on my sleeve! Next to a bit of egg that somehow found its way there at breakfast. And low and behold, there was some other unidentified stain on my pants . . . maybe from the French fries last night. The dietary lesson? If you spill, drop or otherwise lose 5 to 10 percent of your meal, you have not made a mess. You have cut your calorie intake by 5 to 10 percent!

     A corollary of this technique is to be more discriminating when it comes to leftovers. I swear, B (who, by the way, is thinner than I am, but how she does it I'll never know) will eat a plate of food that's been moldering in the refrigerator for a full week. And she eats leftover pizza. Leftover pizza! Yuck!  Just . . . don't . . .  go . . . there.

     Serious competition. I grew up as the youngest in a family of four kids. I had some serious competition for the mashed potatoes, not so much for the cauliflower. So I developed a taste for the vegetables that nobody else wanted.

     Later on, I would watch people with kids eating in a restaurant. The kids would order a meal, eat about half of it -- and then the dad got the rest. This seemed like a good deal . . . for the dad. So I talked to my wife, and we agreed to have kids. The result? Sure, I gained a little weight. But my kids never got fat.

     However, now the shoe is on the other foot. B and I go out to dinner. Do you want any dessert? asks the waiter. Yeah, I'll have that caramel sundae, says I. Oh, nothing for me, B demurs, just an extra spoon. Well, you can see where this is going. I order dessert, B eats the lion's share of it. And I retain my thin, youthful appearance.

     Inedible meals. The other night B and I went to a fancy restaurant in Charleston. It's been on TV. Cost way too much money. I figured I ought to be a little adventuresome so I ordered the quail, with collard greens and a side of lettuce wrapped pig's ears. I felt very sophisticated. However, the meal was absolutely inedible. The dinner maxed out my credit card. But I consumed less than a hundred calories that evening.

     Similarly, B has a couple of favorite dishes she likes to cook. The other night she fried up some sausage (okay so far), but then in another pan she made broccoli rabe, which is like spinach, only worse. Then she throws it all together with little curly pasta that's impossible to fork up from the plate. So the stuff tastes awful, but even if you did want to eat it, you can't possibly transport it from the plate to your mouth.

     But B likes it. I don't know why. She scarfs down the whole thing; looks at me and smiles. I know you don't like this dinner, she says, so thanks for indulging me. Sure, I went to bed hungry. But who cares if you're hungry when you're asleep?

     The lesson: As long as you're served food that you don't like, you'll never get fat!

     Play with your food. To give credit where credit's due, I got this technique from my daughter. Back when she was a teenager, and becoming a vegetarian (a religion she later gave up), she would lift her chicken breast off the plate, let it hang there dripping over the table, and then start waving it around, complaining in a pained and exasperated voice: How can you ask me to eat dead animals? That's so gross!

     Of course, this kind of behavior, expected from a teenager, is not really acceptable for a grown man. So I use another technique, also inspired by my kids. When they were young, they could never sit still through an entire meal. It was up to me to entertain them -- push away from the table, walk them around, find something else for them to do for a little while.

     So now, many years later, I find that I, myself, can no longer sit through an entire meal either. To this day, halfway through a meal, I find myself getting up from the table and taking a little walk around the house. I come back. The table is cleared. Hey, I wasn't finished with my supper! But it's too late. The dishes are cleared. Oh well, I realize, I wasn't hungry anymore, anyway.

     One last hint, under the heading of play with your food. Order lobster, or mussels, or artichokes. You actually use up more calories fighting for the food than you take in by eating it.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Do You Believe These Myths About Aging?

     It's fair to day that most Americans do not look forward to old age. They fear sickness and disease, their diminished physical and mental capabilities, and the attitude of younger people who often consider them irrelevant, or even amusing. But it turns out that what a lot of people believe about the aging process is wrong. Do you fall for any of these common myths about aging in the 21st century?

     How long we live depends on our genes. We cannot pick our parents, so we are stuck with the genes we were born with. But in reality, how those genes are expressed depends a lot on how we live our lives  Our thoughts, emotions, lifestyles, and how we cope with stress, all go a long way in determining whether certain genes are turned on or off.

     This means we have the power to nurture the good genes and prune back the bad ones. For example, someone may be genetically disposed toward Alzheimer's disease, but whether they actually get Alzheimer's depends largely on their lifestyle, including sleep, diet, stress levels. My brother-in-law, whose father died of heart disease at age 49, never smoked or drank, and he just celebrated his 74th birthday. My ex-wife's older brother, a former marathoner, is the first person in his family to reach age 80.

     Our bodies will get frail and fall apart. Everyone who has been on earth the same amount of time has the same chronological age, but they don't all have the same biological age. Our biological age is based on how well our bodies function, including blood pressure and weight, bone density and cholesterol levels.

     A healthy 60 year old who takes care of herself may be biologically no older than a 40 year old who does not. Anyone can lower their biological age with exercise and good nutrition. One simple example: Harvard Magazine reported that subjects who walked an average of just ten minutes a day lived almost two years longer than those who didn't exercise at all.

     Our sex lives will deteriorate. Our energy levels, of all kinds, depend more on lifestyle and attitude than they do on chronological age. Meditation, restful sleep and exercise are effective ways to pump up energy levels. While it's true that testosterone, the hormone associated with male sex drive, diminishes with age (f.y.i., testosterone levels are higher in the morning, lower at night), the reality is, for men as well as women, sex drive is mainly generated in the head.

     More problematic than aging, for both men and women, are factors such as stress, fatigue, medical conditions and tensions within a relationship. So as long as we can think sexually and communicate our needs and desires, we can remain sexually active – which may not always involve intercourse but can include plenty of other intimate activities.

     We're not as smart as we used to be. B doesn't like me to brag about this, but she was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate at her college. Now one of her go-to phrases is: "I used to be smart." But I keep reminding her of a study from the University of California and Columbia University. Researchers tested a group of 20-somethings against people in their 60s and 70s, in various subjects, and found that despite a general loss of mental acuity, the older group did better than their younger test-takers in almost every category.

     How is that? The younger people were better able to manipulate information and process it quickly. But the older subjects benefited from their knowledge acquired through culture, education and a lifetime of experience. They had more focus, a better perspective and more patience. And for most practical applications – whether buying a house, driving a car, or playing cards – the wisdom that comes with age trumps the quick-mindedness of youth.

     We will get cranky and be unhappy. Not true. Here's what the scientists found out. Studies have consistently shown that happiness declines with age for the first couple of decades of adulthood – even for people who are successful, as many high achievers never seem to fully appreciate their success. People's levels of life satisfaction typically bottom out in their 40s. But then they begin to increase as they age through their 60s. The pattern has become known as the happiness U-curve.

     So take heart in the 2011 study from Stanford University that concluded, "The peak of emotional life may not occur until well into the seventh decade.”


Friday, February 23, 2018

The Philosophy of the Beach

     We're tourists here in Charleston, SC, and so when it gets cold or cloudy on the beach, as it did the other day, we go do the other thing that tourists do -- visit the local shopping area and browse around the souvenir stores, with their t-shirts, pillows and candles.

The fog keeps some people away, not others

     Some of the sayings on the t-shirts are funny, some are inspirational. All of them taken together could be said to offer a philosophy of the beach. Here's a sampling of what I saw the other day, when the mists rolled on shore and sent us inland for a shopping excursion:

     Go where you feel most alive

     Happiness is sand in your toes and a shell in your pocket

     Coffee keeps me busy, until it's acceptable to drink wine

     Live a pineapple life: Be sweet on the inside, stand tall, and wear a crown

     Not all who wander are lost

     For a happy life you need three things: Someone to love, something to do, something to look forward to

     I could keep this kitchen clean if you people would just stop eating here

     If you love me, you'll let me sleep

     Today's menu: Eat it or starve

     Family means nobody gets left behind

     In our home we laugh, we share, we make mistakes, we love, we dream, and count our blessings

     Fortunately, the sun has come out again, so it's time to take a walk down to the pier and take advantage of what we really came here for -- the sand, the sun and most especially the warm weather. It's going up to 82 today. We have another week or so of Snowbirding. Then it's back north to find -- I hope -- early spring in the mid-Atlantic state that we've chosen to make our home.

It's a new day!


Friday, February 16, 2018

The Educated Retiree

     Last year B and I took part in a series of discussions offered by the Foreign Policy Association called "Great Decisions." The eight-week program was offered at the senior center where we were living at the time, in Connecticut, and also where we were vacationing at the time, in Charleston, SC. So while we were away from home, instead of missing some sessions, we caught up with them in South Carolina.

     So this year, when we moved to Pennsylvania, we looked for a place where they offered the course. We didn't find anything near where we lived, so we approached our local Center for Learning in Retirement and . . . long story short, we will be moderating the course this spring at home, starting in March.

     In preparation for that, we are attending the sessions which have already started in Charleston. So far we've learned about Russia and China, and yesterday we talked about Turkey.

     The Great Decisions program is offered every year, all over the country, typically in a local library or senior center, or the community college. I'd encourage anyone who's interested in foreign policy, or learning a bit more about the world, to look into the program in their area.

     As you know, I'm all in favor of using retirement to enrich our lives and advance our education. So I wrote a piece for US News called 4 Ways to Further Your Education in Retirement. Here's how it begins; go check it out if you're interested.

     A couple of years ago I visited my sister in Jacksonville, Florida, as part of my annual snowbird trip. When I arrived she told me she and her husband would be busy one night. They were taking a course called "The 1960s and Vietnam" at the University of North Florida. She went on to explain that the university has a program allowing Florida residents, age 60 and above, to audit regular undergraduate courses with tuition waived.
     I asked to come along. So one weeknight in February we joined 20 or so undergraduates, along with half a dozen retirees, to listen to a lecture and participate in a class discussion about the Kennedys, the Johnsons and the Vietnam War. The 20-year-old students got first-hand reports about the 1960s from people who lived through the events. Two of the retirees in the class were Vietnam veterans who related personal observations about the conflict.

     There are many learning opportunities available to retirees for free or at a low cost. And there’s a bonus: You not only learn something, you also have the chance to socialize with other people who have similar interests. Here are four ways to further your education in retirement . . . 

   

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Sightings of Charleston

     I signed up for another photography class at our Center for Learning in Retirement, at home in Pennsylvania. Like the course I took last fall, the class culminates with each student presenting a portfolio of pictures centered on a particular theme.

     Since I'm in South Carolina, and not in Pennsylvania, I picked for my theme: historical Charleston.

     So here's a preview of the photos I've been taking. Of course, I'll be taking more, and culling trough them to choose the best, but this is my first effort. Any feedback you can give me -- photos you especially like, or ones you think are boring or cliches -- would be much appreciated and help me put this all together.

     We'll start out with a picture of East Bay Street, showing the elegant houses along Charleston harbor.


     And then a view across the harbor, out to Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.


     This is a view of the First Presbyterian Church of Charleston . . . with three doors, perhaps symbolizing the holy trinity?


     And here's a view down Broad St., a main thoroughfare in Charleston, taken from the Old Exchange Building, once a slave market and prison. Notice the British flag (Charleston was named after King Charles) and the American flag with 13 stars.


     So the theme is Charleston history. Two signers of the Declaration of Independence are buried in this churchyard: South Carolina governor John Rutledge (1739 - 1800), who was rejected as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and tried to commit suicide by jumping off a wharf into Charleston harbor, and another South Carolina governor Charles Pickney (1746 - 1825) who went on to become a U. S. Senator. But I was more interested in this grave, of Margaret Charlotte Elford, 1817 - 1860. The inscription says . . .

Leaving a husband with seven young children to lament their irreparable loss
She was
In childhood obedient
In wedlock virtuous
In prosperity humble
In adversity resigned
In sickness patient
In death happy


     And here's another photo from the graveyard which I thought was interesting simply because there's a daffodil blooming, in early February!


     This rather abstract photo shows the buried-and-recovered city wall from the 1700s, visible along the top of the picture.


     And this abstract photo is a close-up of a sweetgrass basket, traditional work from the local Gullah culture, still handmade and then sold on Charleston's city streets.


     And finally, two photos showing typical, traditional Charleston features. A gated private garden . . . 


     And the side porch of a house, with the front door leading not into the house, but onto the porch -- all designed to let the sea breezes through to cool off the home.



Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Sunset in South Carolina

      I have drifted north from Florida to South Carolina, where a few days ago I met up with B. The weather is sunny and in the 60s.

     I finished the project I was working on, and so now I'm back to being retired. And back to blogging. Congrats to Bob Lowry who, I saw, had a piece of his called "What Factor Determines the Success of Your Satisfying Retirement" picked up by the Olderhood website. How can you not want to click over to Olderhood and find out what it is?

     Which reminds me . . . don't forget that I have a list of "More Resources" way down at the bottom of my blog, referencing lots of other sites that might be helpful to us in retirement. Check it out . . . or really, check it out periodically to see what's going on elsewhere in the world of retirement.

     So anyway, last evening B and I together walked out to the pier and watched the sunset.

     This is the view at 5:57 p.m. yesterday, looking east.


     And this is from the same spot, also at 5:57 p.m., looking west.


          As Bob Lowry reminds us, none of us will ever have a problem-free retirement. But may we all have a happy and peaceful retirement.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Pobody's Nerfect

      The theme that resonates with me this week from our Baby Boomer bloggers is self-examination. We are all human, we all make mistakes. We procrastinate and rationalize our behavior and blame others for our own shortcomings. We all have our own biases, and look for information that supports our own view, but have a blind spot when it comes to seeing the world from someone else's perspective.

     Here's one silly-but-true example. I came to Florida for my winter break. Duh . . . where else would you go?

     Well, Meryl Baer went to New York City.

     As she recounts in her post Winter Escape to the Big Apple, she walked, she ate, she saw Broadway shows, toured a museum, window shopped, and spent too much money (hey, that's something we have in common!). So visit her post for the New York experience, without the New York prices, and then after taking a center row seat at Come From Away Mesmerizes you might think . . . yeah, New York is the perfect place to go in January!

     On a more serious note, do you have a dream or goal but just keep procrastinating and putting it off? This week Sue from Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond, challenges us in Don't Keep Saying One day -- Make It Happen to stop waiting and substitute "one day" and "if only" with "I can" and "I will."

     Meanwhile, many Boomers are saddened by the lack of civility in our world today. So much for the peace and love we'd all once hoped for, says Carol Cassara of A Healing Spirit. She suggests that consciously Seeing with the Eyes of the Soul can allow us to look past our differences and our "stories" and find at least a sliver of common ground.

     She also recognizes that by the time we reach midlife, we begin to see that mistakes are really opportunities for learning. Most of us Boomers have been around long enough to know this only too well. So now Carol is celebrating mistakes on her post Mistakes Are the Portals of Discovery and she's collecting people's comments on mistakes they have made that turned into important life lessons.

     Over on Unfold and Begin, Jennifer Koshak provides encouragement to people who want to or need to start over, people who may now have an empty nest, who have lost a job, who just want a change. In What She Did After a Layoff Jennifer interviews a woman who was laid off from Head Start and finds out how she dealt with the emotional impact and found the motivation to move forward.

     Meanwhile, Rebecca Olkowski from BabyBoomster went to the 2018 Women's March in Los Angeles. She offers her perspective on the march -- what and who she saw, and how others may have misconceptions about it.

     And Rita Robison, consumer journalist, writes on The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide about the "foxes guarding the henhouse" as Trump Chooses Former Pharmaceutical Company CEO to Head HHS.

     But perhaps Kathy Gottberg has the solution, or at least an approach we can all learn from. It's a common practice, she says, for lifelong learners to pick one word to focus on as an intention for the new year. Now in My Word for 2018 she has picked her word -- and explains why it is important and relevant to her life, and maybe yours.

     So what is your word? Action? Healing? Civility? Understanding? Opportunity?

     I hope it's not: Flu. We've all heard about the severe flu season this year. Well, apparently it's hit Colorado along with, probably, 49 other states. So Laura Lee reports from her sick bed: Boomer Flu Is Virulent and Deadly. Don't worry, you can safely read her blog without being exposed to the virus. And we can all find common cause in wishing her well, and a speedy recovery.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Nostalgia -- When Is Enough Enough?

     I'm on my annual Snowbird trip to Florida -- I've been to Florida almost every winter since 1972, the year I came with my fiance to visit her mother for a brief Christmas holiday. Only now, being retired, I'll spend three weeks in Florida. And with B's son living in Charleston, SC, I will follow my three weeks in Florida with another month in South Carolina. Or, as my sister who lives in Jacksonville calls Charleston . . . the North.

     I think I know why I like to visit Florida, for the warm January sun, the sea breezes, the swaying palm trees. But now I think I know why I wouldn't want to live here.

     It all comes down to the entertainment.

     I admit, I occasionally like to listen to music from the '50 and '60s and '70s.  B and I go dancing about once a month, and the music often comes from the 1940s (Fox Trot) or 1950s (Swing). B dragged me to see Mamma Mia! a few years ago and I enjoyed the music and the dancing. (I did not go back with her when she went with a friend to the Mamma Mia! sing-along.) Now there's a sequel coming out Mamma Mia -- Here We Go Again! She'll probably want to go to that one as well, and I will probably go with her.

     A couple of years ago I also went to a performance of "Lennon Reimagined" by The Nutopians, a relatively small-time engagement held at a local venue in suburban New York. I enjoyed it a lot.

     But at some point, isn't enough enough? Looking around for something to do here in Florida, I couldn't help but notice the entertainment offerings advertised in the local newspaper. Here's what's coming up for the next week or so in the Sarasota area:

     The Doo Wop Project -- five guys singing harmonies from the street corner
     Paul Anka -- not a cover band; the real thing
     Cabaret -- a remake of the '60s musical
     In the Mood -- a 1940s musical revue
     Michael Feinstein -- celebrating Sinatra, Dean Martin and others
     Creedance Clearwater Revisited
     The Vogues -- remember them? "You're the One," "Five O'Clock World"
     The Shake, Rattle and Soul Fest -- featuring an Elvis tribute band
     Jimmy Buffett tribute
     Stayin' Alive -- tribute to the Bee Gees
     Morrison and Joplin Review
     Born to Be Wild Party -- featuring a Rolling Stones tribute
     Barry Manilow -- again, the real thing, straight from the 1970s
     Paisley Craze -- The ultimate '60s party band
     Tapestry -- a tribute to Carole King
     Scarborough Fair -- a Simon & Garfunkel experience

     I mean, did they miss anybody? Like I say, I like nostalgia as much as the next person. But I wouldn't want to be steeped in it, like they are in Florida, week after week, month after month, for the rest of my life, to the exclusion of everything else in the world.

     I don't mean to be anti-Florida. I'm not. After all, I come here every year. I just think there's something to be said for living in the real world, and not cordoning yourself off into the retirement world . . . at least not full time.

     That being said, here's a John Lennon mashup that I like, just two old guys singing their hearts out . . .