Friday, August 16, 2019

Should This Couple Downsize?

     We were at a wedding reception recently and sat down with another couple from our old hometown. We know them, but not too well. They are a few years younger than we are, and they live in a big house in one of the pricier neighborhoods in the area.

     Of course, they wanted to know why we moved to Pennsylvania, and so we filled them in on our recent move to downsize to a smaller home, in a place where the cost of living, and especially the tax burden, is considerably less. They were interested in our experience and eager for advice.

     They had raised their three children in a New York suburb. Now they were rattling around in their big house and thinking about downsizing. They had vacationed on Cape Cod a number of times, and were thinking about moving to the area. In fact, they had been on the Cape for a couple of weeks this summer, and had seen a cottage one block from the water that they liked.

     "It's a really nice little place," said the wife, "with two bedrooms upstairs and a bedroom downstairs with a bathroom. We'd take the downstairs bedroom, so we wouldn't have to do stairs, and then the kids could stay upstairs when they came to visit."

     "It's smaller than your house in Westchester?" I asked.

     "Oh yeah," said the husband. "We'd be going from 3500 square feet to 1500 square feet. But what do we need more room for, at this point?" he asked rhetorically.

     "But I don't suppose things are much less expensive in Cape Cod," I ventured.

     "Oh, you'd be surprised. Not income tax. But the real-estate tax on the Cape Cod house is less than $5,000, compared to over $15,000 for our current New York house."

     "But what about our friends?" the wife wanted to know. turning to B. "Do you keep up with your old friends in Westchester? And were you able to make new friends?"

     So we explained how we'd considered moving into a planned community, with a clubhouse and a pool and built-in social groups, where we would almost automatically make new friends. But in the end we decided we wanted to be in a real town, with sidewalks, where we could walk to the restaurants, movie theater and library.

     How did that work out for you? they wanted to know.

     It was probably a little harder than moving to a place where your social life is already set up for you, we explained. But B has met plenty of people through church and the local women's group. And I joined a golf league and found a place where they play ping pong once a week. And we both have become involved in our senior learning center where we've met some like-minded people.

     Then we told them we get back to Westchester three or four times a year and meet up with old friends for dinner or some other occasion. A few friends have come to visit us in our new digs. It's a 2 1/2 hour drive, so they can do it in one day if they don't mind a five-hour round trip. Or several have come down and stayed overnight, either with us or at an airbnb.

     They brightened up when they heard about that, since they figured they'd have no problem attracting their old friends to come visit them on Cape Cod, even though it is a little farther away from home -- about 4 hours. And they liked the idea of  settling in a town. The house they were interested in was one block off the main street, near a church they could join.

     So, thinking about Cape Cod, I asked them if they liked to sail or go fishing. No, they said. They liked being near the water. But they were not big on boating or fishing. But the husband already had his eye on a golf course -- he'd played it once, and saw that there were several leagues. He felt he could find a group of guys to play with. He even thought he might get a part-time job at one of the golf clubs, in the golf shop or working on the course.

     Still and all, they were having second -- and third -- thoughts about moving from the home where they'd lived for 25 years, where they raised their kids and where their kids stored all their old toys, stuffed animals, high-school reports -- and the athletic gear they hadn't used in years but assured their parents they would use again, just as soon as they got a chance.

     But, like us, they have kids who have left home -- one in Virginia, one in New Jersey, and one on the West Coast. And they didn't have any grandchildren yet, so they didn't feel the urge to move to be near any one of the kids. Besides, they said, you never know when the kids are going to move again for a new job. None of them had bought a house yet; and they'd all moved at least twice since leaving college. They figured if they moved near any of the children, the kids would only up and move away again.

Our garage after we moved
     But still, the wife thought maybe they should wait to make their move, until they did start to have grandchildren. That way they could move near the new family that would be more likely to stay put.

     And the kids themselves were resisting the idea of their parents moving to Massachusetts. They wanted to have a home base when they came back to see their friends, several of whom were still around, or if they wanted to take a trip to New York City.

     And this couple also found the prospect of downsizing rather daunting. They had a four-bedroom house with a finished and furnished basement -- and probably very little of it would fit into a smaller New England home. And they had shelves and shelves of their kids' books and trophies and toys and equipment. Were they ready to deal with all that, or insist their kids come home and deal with it?

     When the reception was over, after the speeches and the cake and the dancing, we said goodbye to our friends and wished them well. On the way home, B and I talked about them, wondering if they were really ready to make the big move, or if they were just dreaming.

     We know that, despite all the people we know who move to the Sunbelt, or the articles we've read about downsizing, that in the end most people choose to stay where they are after they retire. A Freddie Mac study from a couple of years ago showed that over 60% of older homeowners said they would prefer to age in place, rather than move to new quarters. It's the easiest option. You don't have to say goodbye to your friends. You don't have to find a new place to live. You don't have to clean out your basement or garage or attic, and confront your kids about leaving behind their childhood home.

Downsizing? It's never over. -- my closet today.
     I remember when my first wife and I sold our family home, soon after our daughter went away to college. My daughter was devastated. "What do you care?" I asked her. "You've moved away, and you're in college now."

     "I know," she said sadly. "But I've lived in that house my whole life. It's my home."

     That certainly gave us pause. But in the end we had to do the right thing for us, which was to move to smaller, cheaper quarters because it was a turbulent time, in the post-9/11 political and economic atmosphere. Or, to put it bluntly, I was losing my job, and we had to consolidate our finances.

     Anyway . . . we thought that this couple was serious about moving. They seemed to have things figured out, as much as possible, and I also noted that the woman got a gleam in her eye when she talked about that house they were interested in. That's usually a telling sign.

     We'll be interested to find out, next time we're back home in New York, if these people made the move, or decided to stay where they are, at home in their familiar community.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Song Is Over

     We know from raising children that the days are long, but the years are short. So it is with vacation. The days are long and languid. But suddenly, before you know it, the time is gone and we have to go home.

Just thought this was cool: License plate map posted in Cape Cod restaurant

     Then we must say goodbye to that interlude in life when we leave behind our day-to-day concerns to float on a tide of fun and friends and family and . . . way too much food.

In the sand at Harwichport beach

     So it is with us. Our time on Cape Cod has come to an end. We are spending a couple of days around Boston with family, and then the long car ride home.

Evening sky over Nantucket Sound

     But we have some memories. We have some photos. It's been a good vacation, so we go home refreshed and renewed, ready to settle back to our usual routine.

The day is over

     And, really, aren't we glad to land back home to resume our real, normal lives? There's always next year. But, for now, the song is over . . .


Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Perfect Food

     So we finally made it to our favorite ice-cream stand, called Sundae School, located in Harwichport, Mass., with two other Cape Cod locations, one in Dennisport, the other in Orleans.

     Sundae School ice cream is advertised as home made. I don't know exactly what that means. But it's rich and creamy, without being overly thick or solid (like Haagen Daz or Ben & Jerry's which in my opinion are so thick they leave you gagging). And the flavors are true and authentic. The coconut tastes like real coconut, not artificial. The mint tastes like real mint, without the toothpasty overtone that some mint ice cream has.

The front door

     In other words, Sundae School has the perfect ice cream. Which in my book means it has the perfect food.

     The first night I had a cup of mint chocolate chip. That's my favorite flavor of the moment. B had a strawberry sundae with hot fudge, whipped cream and a cherry. B is my wife, and she loves me. But she loves me more when I buy her some ice cream draped in spoonfuls of hot fudge. (But she wants everyone to know, she it was a small sundae, not the large . . . "It's not even a real sundae," she told me daintily, "it's just one scoop with hot fudge.")

Where the fun begins

     The second night I decided to really indulge myself. Because we're on vacation. Because I'm worth it. Because we only do this once a year. I ordered a butterscotch sundae with marshmallow topping. A real one, not just one scoop. And I ate the whole thing, with no regrets (minus the obligatory bite that my wife always takes).

     B just had a small cup of strawberry ice cream. So I guess you can tell, her favorite flavor is strawberry. Mine is, as I said, mint chocolate chip, followed by vanilla (usually with rainbow sprinkles), and then regular chocolate chip. I also like peach ice cream, when they have it, but peach ice cream is hard to find.

The piece de resistance

     I'm sure we all have our own favorite flavors, and our own favorite local ice-cream stands. But in case you think I'm just bragging, on its website Sundae School points out that it was named one of the "Best Ice Cream Spots in the U. S." by Food and Wine magazine. And it was ranked #5 in the country by USA Today.

     Which begs the question: What was rated #1? A place called Moomers Homemade Ice Cream, in Traverse City, Mich.

     Hmmmm.  Maybe next summer we should plan a trip to Michigan . . . unless you have a better idea.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Our Favorite Restaurant

     I recently ran across an article online asking "Do You Spend More Time Planning for Vacation than Planning Your Finances?"

     I used to spend more time on my finances, back when I was working and supporting a family and saving to send my kids to college and hopefully put aside a little for retirement as well. But today, now that I'm retired, I must admit I spend more time planning our vacations.

     Most of my income now is automatic. I won't ever get any more raises or promotions. I'll just receive my Social Security, and an automatic withdrawal from my IRA. (Sorry, Tom . . . no pension for you.)

     Since there's nothing I can do about my finances, why spend a lot of time on them? But there's plenty to do about vacation . . . in part because I have more time to actually go on vacation. And even though we often go back to the same spots, we still have to figure out where we're going to stay, what we're going to do, where we're going to eat.

We pull into the parking lot ... anticipation!

     But when we arrive on Cape Cod, where we go for a week or two every summer, there's no question. The first night, we head straight to Kream N' Kone in Chatham, Mass.

Bellying up to the counter

     Now maybe your dream restaurant involves tablecloths and dimmed lighting and waiters and fancy embossed menus. Ours features picnic tables out in the parking lot, counter service, and a menu in large type displayed up on the wall.

Wide selection of refreshing drinks

     Maybe your dream restaurant features various steaks and chops, grilled salmon or swordfish, or gourmet variations on risotto or artichokes or asperges blanche.

Clam chowder ... or "chowdah" as they say here on Cape Cod

     Our favorite restaurant offers clam chowder, fried clams on a hot dog bun, piles of greasy onion rings, vats of creamy cole slaw. And for dessert . . . well, they have pretty good soft-serve ice cream at Kream N' Kone. But instead we plan to stop of at Sundae School on the way home, for the best ice cream cone you can ever find in New England . . . actually, on the whole East Coast . . . actually, probably in the whole United States.

Yes, there's a hot dog bun under there somewhere

     And the total cost? Well, let me tell you, the most I ever spent for a restaurant dinner was $328.00 for four of us. I got a gift certificate to this fancy restaurant for $100 and thought, B and I will never spend $100, even though the restaurant had tablecloths and dimmed lighting and waiters and fancy embossed menus. So we invited another couple to come along. "On us," we told them boldly.

     But the restaurant was a lot more expensive than we anticipated. And we didn't count on them having two glasses of wine. But we . . . well, we invited them out to dinner. So what could we do? At least we were out of pocket only $228 because of the gift certificate.

     But dinner at Kream N' Cone was $27.00.

     I have had cheaper dinners. But never a better one. Only problem: we were so full we couldn't even stop for ice cream. So we'll leave Sundae School for tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Taste of the Big Apple

     B and I were invited to a wedding party held at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, NJ. We could drive there and back in one day. But we decided to go a day early, stay overnight, and see a few sights.

     Actually, my mother grew up in Jersey City, back in the 1920s when it was a decent, middle-class suburb across the river from New York City. But by the time I was growing up in the 1960s, Jersey City had become a slum.

     No more. Jersey City is now a thriving metropolis with soaring office buildings, luxury apartments, and easy access to downtown Manhattan.

Jersey City skyline

     But still, it's less expensive than Manhattan, which is why, when we decided to come a day early, we booked into a hotel at Harborside, a development on the New Jersey shore of the Hudson River. But we thought, as modern and upscale as it is, why hang out in Jersey City when we could take the Path train and be in New York in a few minutes.

     Well, the Path train is closed on weekends, we found out. They are still working on repairs left over from 2012's Hurricane Sandy. But there's a ferry, we were told, right down at the end on the block.

     So we hopped the ferry and for $6 took a ten minute trip to downtown Manhattan.

The New York skyline

     We got off and walked into Brookfield Place overlooking Rockefeller Park, which hugs the Hudson River. From Brookfield Place you can see the Oculus, the $4 billion structure that replaced the Path station that was destroyed on 9/11. Oculus, derived from the Latin word for "eye," refers to a circular opening in a dome or wall.

The Oculus, as seen from inside Brookfield Place

     Built by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the Oculus design was inspired by a child releasing a dove.

Looking up from just outside the Oculus

     We came out at the World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial. Even today, it's a remarkable site. Flowers and small American flags are stuck into the cracks of the wall. People are visibly moved, even 18 years later.

9/11 Memorial, South Tower

     From the World Trade Center we walked north on West Broadway, and realized once again that in New York, you can find almost anything . . .

In New York City ... really?

     . . . including a poster store that sounded interesting, not that we could afford any of the posters. They're for collectors only.

Philip Williams Posters

     Then we poked our way into the Mysterious Bookshop, which is more our speed -- an entire bookstore chock-a-block with nothing but mystery books. B bought a copy of Murder in the Marais by Cara Black. Don't know much about it, except apparently Parisian investigator Aimee Leduc finds herself in a "dangerous web of ancient secrets" after finding a woman strangled in her home.

The Mysterious Bookshop

     We spent some time in the park, watching the river flowing by, and the people relaxing along the waterfront. Then we went to the Brandy Library for dinner.

Girls exercising on the shoreline

      Lest you think we have a literary bent . . . the Brandy Library does not have any books. Instead it features bookcases packed with bottles of wine and spirits. The menu consisted of one page of food selections, and 20-some pages of alcoholic opportunities.

Brandy and more brandy

     B and I are not drinkers. But we enjoyed the atmosphere, and listened in as the group of young guys at the table next to us ordered a flight of rare brandys and got a ten-minute lesson in spiritology from the young, French-accented waiter.

The sun sets over New Jersey

     Most of the locals, it seemed, went to the Brandy Library for drinks and appetizers, and then they were going off to dinner.

     But for us, when 8 p.m. rolls around, we are ready for the end of the day. So we walked back to the ferry and cruised back west across the Hudson.

The New York skyline, on the way home

     Then the next day we went to the wedding reception in Liberty State Park. And we left early, not because we had a long drive back home (about an hour and a half) but because . . .  no matter where we go, we usually leave early.
View of Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty and Verrazano Bridge, from Liberty State Park, NJ

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Why I'll Never Move to Florida

     B and I occasionally go ballroom dancing, and sometimes we take lessons too. This past spring we took a series of lessons through our town's community center. We were thinking about signing up again for the fall. But then we learned that our dance instructors, a couple in their early 60s, are moving to The Villages in Florida.

     They've bought a house, and their Pennsylvania home is now on the market. They say they'll move as soon as their current home sells.

     What I wanted to tell them (but didn't) was:  Well, I hope your house doesn't sell too soon, because you don't want to move to Florida anytime in the next two or three months.

     So this got me thinking why, while I do like to vacation in Florida for a couple of weeks in winter, I would never move to Florida on a fulltime basis. Why not?

     It's too hot. I remember one time I was in Sarasota in September. I had to walk across a parking lot to an office building. The heat from the pavement burned through my shoes so badly that I broke into a run just to get into the shade of the building, and then inside to the air conditioning. Of course, I was sweating like a pig when I arrived at my appointment. So . . . I looked it up. The average daily high August temperature for Florida is 92 degrees -- and that's in the shade, if there ever was any shade. And it doesn't cool off at night. The average nightly low is 76.

     It's too muggy. It feels hotter in Florida when it's 90 degrees than it does in Arizona when it's 100 degrees. Because of the 80% humidity. And then . . . it rains!

     It's too trashy. Except for a very few nice downtown areas in Naples, Miami and a scattering of other places, the typical landscape in Florida involves a six-lane thoroughfare lined with gas stations, fast-food restaurants, strip malls and motels. It's just ugly.

     There's too much traffic. Those six-lane thoroughfares are choked with traffic, even out of season. And then, of course, Christmas arrives with its four-month infestation of SUVs from New York and New Jersey, Illinois and Indiana, Michigan and Massachusetts.

     It's too crowded. All those cars bring hordes of tourists and retirees who stand in line at restaurants, mob the amusement parks, overrun the beaches. Then out of season . . . the place is deserted. The condos are dark, the malls are empty, the beaches are a wasteland . . . yet, somehow, the roads are still choked with cars.

     Too many old people. I realize this is the pot calling the kettle black. Nevertheless, I don't think I'd like living in a place where everyone is as old as I am. I like living on our street where there are families and children. (A kid down the block has a lemonade stand out this weekend!) I like going to a restaurant where there are young couples and groups of middle-age women. I like walking around town and seeing teenagers bouncing into the ice-cream shoppe and young singles lining up at Starbucks.

It's not all bad ... January sunset over Gulf of Mexico
     The algae blooms. You can't go in the water because of the red tide and other algae blooms. And now they've discovered something new: Sargassum seaweed on Florida beaches contains arsenic and other health hazards.

     Bugs, alligators, sharks and snakes. 'Nuff said.

     Too much crime. Florida boasts seven spots on the top one hundred U. S. cities with the highest crime rates. That's more than any other state except California and Texas. Just by way of comparison, the following Florida cities have higher crime rates than Philadelphia (and Philadelphia certainly has its share of crime): Riviera Beach, Lake Worth, Daytona Beach, Miami Beach, Fort Myers. By some measures other Florida cities like Orlando, Miami, St. Petersburg and Jacksonville.are even worse.

     Lightning. Florida has been dubbed the lightning capital of the world. It has an average of 1.45 million lightning strikes every year, more than any other state. It also has more deaths by lightning -- over 60 in the last ten years.

     Hurricanes! We're just starting the hurricane season, and Florida experiences more than twice as many hurricanes as Louisiana or North Carolina, and almost twice as many as Texas. Hurricanes have caused an estimated $225 billion in damage since 1980, and have killed literally dozens of people.

     Okay, okay . . . I'm not trying to say that Florida is the worst place on earth. Besides, I like visiting in the winter, so I don't want to get banned from the state by the Florida Chamber of Commerce. There are certainly places that are hotter and more uncomfortable, that have higher crime rates and more dangerous animals. And think of this: there are no volcanoes in Florida! (But believe it or not, there have been earthquakes.)

     I'm just saying, it's not to my taste as a place to live. But I wonder . . . do you think our dance instructors might have a guest room in their new house where we could stay for a week or two in January?

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Are Things Really That Bad?

     I was at a dinner party last week with three normal, middle-class retired couples, and while there was no overt talk of politics, everyone in the group seemed to take a dark and pessimistic view not only of our own country but the rest of the world as well.

     Of course, Trump was the elephant in the room. But it's more than Trump. It's the rise of nationalistic and authoritarian governments around the globe, from Russia to Turkey to Venezuela. It's the rise of racism and religious hatred. The rise of economic inequality. The nuclear threat. The endless wars. Global warming. We're even told we're running out of water.

     One woman talked about her 30-something son and his wife, who (according to her) were thinking that they would not have children, because it wouldn't be right to bring kids into a dying, dysfunctional world.

     I found myself being the lone voice of optimism in this group. Of course all our problems have not gone away. But I believe the world today is better than the one we grew up with, and far and away better than the world of our grandparents' day. And it can certainly continue to get better for our children and grandchildren, as long as we keep our heads about us.

     So with that in mind I decided to reprise a post I did last summer, courtesy of Jeremy Kisner, an investment adviser with Surevest Wealth Management in Phoenix, AZ.

     Kisner reminds us that the world has improved dramatically over almost any time frame you can consider. But, he acknowledges, it doesn't always feel this way because negative headlines attract eyeballs and sell advertising for the media. Granted, there are tons of very real problems. Nevertheless, Bill Gates nailed it when he said, "Headlines are what mislead you, because bad news is a headline and gradual improvement is not."

My favorite optimist
     Human progress occurs because every day a few billion people go to work and figure out ways to improve living standards. Individuals do not always recognize the gradual improvements. But one place you can see the progress is in the stock market which has been going up for most of our lives (with, granted, a few bumps in the road) and is now right at all-time highs.

     People get scared reading the news -- North Korea, Iran, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, refugees, economic disparities, global warming -- and then they get even more scared thinking about the things that might go wrong. But meanwhile, people buy more things, companies grow, wealth is created, and billions of people live longer and better lives.

     Here are a few of Kisner's examples of human progress,:

     Life expectancy: Consider this: If you were born in 1900, you would have had a 23% chance of dying before age 20 and a 38% chance of dying before age 45. Kids born today have about a 1% chance of dying before age 20 and a 4% chance of dying before age 45.

     Modern Conveniences: When our grandparents were born, virtually no one had electricity ... or telephone or indoor plumbing. They didn't have a car and couldn't fly in an airplane. Today, 85% of the people in the world enjoy the benefits of electricity. And two-thirds have a cellphone.

     Poverty: Twenty years ago 29% of the world population lived in extreme poverty. Today it's only 9% . . . and the rate is still falling.

     Crime: Violent crime has been on a downward trend in the U. S. since 1990. Almost 14.5 million crimes were reported in the United States in 1990. By 2016 that figure was under 9.5 million.

     Retirement: Some 90% of 65-year-old American men who were still alive in 1870 were working. Today only about 20% of 65-year-old American men are still working ... and many of them are working by choice not necessity.

     Housework: The average family spent 11.5 hours a week doing laundry in 1920. That has fallen to 1.5 hours a week as of 2014.

     Safety: Americans became 95% less likely to be killed on the job over the last hundred years. Seat belts, air bags and other safety features have brought down auto fatalities from 50,000 a year in the 1970s to about 37,000 today, despite more cars on the road. The auto fatality rate per 100,000 people has dropped from 25 to 11 -- less than half what it was in the 1970s.

     Disease: In the past century, vaccines and antibiotics have brought miracles for modern medicine. Just since 1990, the control of infectious disease has saved the lives of an estimated 100 million children.

     Food. Between 1961 and  2009, the amount of land used to grow food increased by 12%, but the amount of food grown has increased by 300%.

     Kisner maintains that people who think the best days for America, and for our economy, are behind us are essentially saying that human innovation is going to slow down or stagnate. He says that doesn't seem likely, at least over the next 20 to 30 years. Don't you agree?


Saturday, July 13, 2019

Why Do They Do It That Way?

     Apparently I've got my curmudgeon on today. But it's not my fault. The blame goes to the new switch on the kitchen fan.

     I turned off the ceiling fan in the kitchen yesterday afternoon. But it came on again. I turned it off again. Then last night, as I was upstairs getting ready for bed, I heard this strange whirring noise. Was it the dishwasher down in the kitchen? I had turned it on. But it's supposed to be quiet. It wouldn't be making that much noise.
     Maybe the noise was coming from something outside?. We live in town and so we occasionally get street noise, or strange sounds coming from the neighbors. I opened the window. But, no, it wasn't coming from outside.

     So, reluctantly, instead of dropping into bed, I turned on the hall light and trundled downstairs. The first floor was dark. But the noise seemed to be coming from the kitchen, and when I turned on the light, the fan was running on high, . . .  whirring like an airplane propeller!

What ... you can't see?!?
From top to bottom: Hi, Med, Low, Off.
Bottom switch: the real Off switch.
 Green button for light. Why do they make it so complicated?

     I tried to look at the little buttons to see what was going on. But I couldn't read the fine print. And I'd left my glasses upstairs. So I looked around, found a pair of B's reader's, which were on the kitchen counter, and slid the switch to off.

     So why do they make it so damn hard to turn the fan on and off!?!

     And by the way, the regular Off button seems to turn it off only temporarily. The fan comes back on again. So you have to slide the bottom switch to the side to really turn it off.

     But of course it's not the only problem we have. Do you know what half the dials and switches on the dashboard of your car do . . . if you  can even read them?

     We have another switch to turn on our ceiling fan in the bedroom. You need some incredibly good fine motor skills to turn the fan on and off, or adjust up and down.

See the little things next to the two switches?
That's how you turn the fan and light up or down ...
If you can get to them.

     And then there are light bulbs. Let's face it, the only thing you want to know about a light bulb is how bright it is. How many watts. Is it 40 or 60 or 100? But I challenge you to find a light bulb, any light bulb, and then ascertain how bright it is. Can't be done!

     I found yet another issue the other morning, when I was waking up early for golf. I actually woke up a few minutes before the alarm went off. And so I thought I'd be nice to B and switch off the alarm so it wouldn't wake her up as well.

Can you tell what to push to turn it off?

     I look at the clock radio for the on/off switch. I can't see a thing. Eventually, I got my reading glasses, and used the flashlight on my iPhone to figure it out . . . it's the top left.

     So now I have a birthday coming up. B asked me if I'd like an apple watch for my birthday. But what good would that do me? I couldn't see what the damn thing was saying!

Sunday, July 7, 2019

What Is Vacation For?

     It's the week of July 4, and so it shouldn't surprise anyone that what's on people's minds is . . .  vacation!

     Meryl Baer reports that the weekend brought a record number of visitors to the New Jersey shore town where she resides year-round. With the weather reliably hot and sunny, the beach beckoned, and retail stores eagerly greeted shoobies (out-of-towners). Baer says that in honor of the 4th she fulfilled her patriotic duty and spent money she doesn't have on a  . . . well, zoom over to Celebrating Independence Day to find out what she bought.

     Rebecca Olkowski of Babyboomster had a slightly different July 4th experience. In Earthquake: Rollling and Shaking in Los Angeles she explains how she swayed and shook in LA for two days, first with a 6.4 tremor, then a 7.1 quake. She survived, just fine, but the effect on her dogs was a little different. One of them was passed out; the other freaked out.

     If you need some advice about how to deal with summer issues (my dog freaks out from fireworks) then swim, skate or surf over to consumer journalist Rita Robison's post Think Safety This Summer. She offers some reminders about staying safe while hanging out at the pool,.cooking on the grill, mowing the lawn, even putting up your beach umbrella.

Have fun ... but be safe!
     And Jennifer of Unfold and Begin serves up another helping of tips with How to Save on Your Meals on Vacation. It includes a helpful checklist for your vacation cottage.

     On a more metaphysical level, Laura Lee Carter, says that no matter how disturbing the world seems, she finds she is Seeking Solace in Nature. And now at the age of 64 she finally knows "the peace that only nature can offer."

      Laurie Stone of Musings, Rants & Scribbles suggests that we all have a special place -- a place we return to that sustains us, restores us and comforts us. She shares the magic and memory of her spot, just across a bridge in the mythical land of . . . find out where in her post Where Is Your Place?

     And Carol Cassara of A Healing Spirit comes around to the topic of vacation, in a certain way as well. In her post What Does Your Life Path Look Like? she acknowledges that many of us sometimes think that everyone else enjoys smooth sailing in life, while we always seem to be facing gale force winds. So she tells us to take a vacation from constantly comparing our life to other people's ... because no matter what their Facebook page says, they are facing challenges as well.

     And finally, as if to remind us all about what vacation is really all about, Kathy Gottberg of SmartLiving 365 offers the post Could Contentment Be the Treasure We All Seek? For what's the purpose of vacation if not to achieve a state of peace, harmony and gratitude . . . and appreciating the luxury of just being alive.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Summer Heat

     Summer is finally here, after a rainy spring and only the occasional warm day to tease us with false hope.

     But now the heat is here in full force -- in both the weather and in politics. It's been hitting 90 degrees almost every day for the past week. I know that doesn't seem like much to friends and family in Phoenix (where it's getting up to 110 degrees today). But remember, that's a dry heat, and we have humidity here in Pennsylvania.

     And we saw the other day, it was hotter in Philadelphia (at 89) than it was in Charleston, SC (at 86). That's weird, isn't it?

     So we've slowed down and we are doing summer things. Fortunately, since our credit card bills are starting to come from our trip out west, a lot of summer activities for us retirees are free or inexpensive.

     We went for a swim. For free. We dined on the "outside patio" at our local pizza place (actually three tables sitting in front of the storefront, next to the handicapped parking places.) Total bill: $28 plus tip ... but only because B had a beer in addition to her usual glass of water.

     The next day we drove over to Dilly's, a hot-dog and ice-cream stand on the Delaware River. I don't eat hot dogs. So I had a fried cod sandwich, which B assured me was absolutely no better for me than a hot dog with all the fixin's. Cost us $17.50.

     After dinner we took a walk across the foot bridge to New Jersey. Another free activity. This particular bridge was originally built by John Roebling, the man who later designed the Brooklyn Bridge. However, there's nothing left of the original Roebling structure -- the bridge has been rebuilt twice since the 1860s.

Summer scene, or political metaphor?
     But it was a nice walk, 30-some feet above the rushing water. The river was high, swollen with the spring rains. And it was cool on the bridge, with a breeze coming down the valley from the wooded north.

     For two nights we also watched the Democratic presidential debates. That was free, too. B likes Elizabeth Warren. And she allowed as how she liked "that other lady" too (referring, I believe, to Amy Klobuchar.) She was also impressed with the performance by Kamala Harris.

     I like  . . . well, I'll keep you guessing since this is a nonpolitical blog. It was kind of a shout-fest, though, wasn't it? And there was no discussion of issues directly affecting seniors, like how to secure the future of Social Security (remember the Lock Box?) or how to protect our IRAs or other retirement funds. And, considering the current hot weather, there was little discussion of global warming.

     They did talk about Medicare -- not how to save it, but how to expand it. I'm generally in favor of some kind of Medicare for all. Not because I believe that the government should run things. But because the medical system has become too big, too expensive, too complex and too arcane for the individual person to negotiate. There's no free market in medical care or in health insurance.

     However . . . it does drive me crazy (and it makes me feel like they're trying to sell us snake oil) when they bandy about terms like Medicare for all, universal health coverage, free medical care, as though they are all the same thing. They are not the same thing. I know, because I have Medicare -- and Medicare plus my supplemental insurance cost me $$400-something a month, and it costs B another $400-something a month as well. It's still a good deal . . . but it's not free. And it doesn't cover everything. So, ladies and gents, please be honest with us.

     Anyway, enough about that. We're going to the matinee movie this weekend. Senior rate: $7.50. B wants to see "The Late Show." And so it will be done. Afterward, we're coming home for salmon and zucchini. Total cost for two: $12.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

I Try to Exercise, I Really Do

     Last September B and I joined our local YMCA. We had to sign a one-year contract, which made me nervous because I was afraid I'd start out with a burst of enthusiasm, exercising two or three times a week through the fall, but then by spring I'd never darken the door of the Y again.

     B joined a yoga class. At 7 in the morning, no less. And she has been faithful about going, twice a week.

This is B ... well, almost
     As for me, I did go to the gym more often in the beginning. I even joined a spin class. But I must admit, as predicted, my enthusiasm waned. I didn't like the spin class, so I quit. And the twice a week eventually became once a week. And then I started to skip a week.

     But when the weather got warmer I started to go over there for a swim. Plus, there's also a hot tub, which feels good on my sometimes-aching back, and just feels good all over. And that got me to rededicate myself to going again on a more regular basis, to take a spin on the bicycle and grunt and groan on the weight machines.

     The truth is, I really don't like to exercise. Instead, I like to hit things. I like baseball and tennis and golf. The trouble is that these sports -- especially the way they're played by late middle-agers -- do not provide a good workout. And some of them can be dangerous for us aging baby boomers. Think tennis elbow, sprained ankle, torn cartilage. Do I know anyone who hasn't had back or shoulder surgery, or replaced a knee or hip?

     In fact, I retired from the tennis court several years ago, due to a bad knee and touchy ankle, and now limit my racket sports to Ping Pong, once a week at our local senior center. And golf . . . well, golf you can play in your sleep.

     So my doctor has told me more than once that swimming and riding the stationary bike are easier on my brittle knees and ankles than running (not that I did much running) or playing tennis, or even walking. So that's what I do now, when I do get to the Y.

This is definitely not me
     Some people can read while they use the treadmill or bike. I cannot. So I time my trip to the Y to early evening reruns of half-hour comedy shows on TV. I am now more familiar with "Friends," "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "King of Queens" than I'd like to admit.

     Then there's always "people watching." I enjoy the spectacle of the women's Zumba dance class that takes place Mon., Wed. and Fri. at 5 p.m. There are young male bodybuilders in the corner. Girls on the ellipticals with their ponytails bobbing up and down. Some middle age women seriously into the treadmill. And a few of us older guys huffing and puffing on the machines.

     The funny thing is, at first I thought I might feel self-conscious exercising along with a crowd that's younger, better looking, and in better shape than I am. But it turns out that everyone is very supportive at the Y. I never get a condescending comment or dirty look. Just some occasional helpful advice, or a friendly greeting. And when I see a guy even older than me, who's fat and out of shape and shaky on his feet, it doesn't enter my mind that I'm better than him. I think, good for him.

     I don't get to the health club as often as I should. But it's still worth it. We'll definitely be signing up again for next year.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Travel Is a Lot Like Sex

     I just got back from a two-week trip to Las Vegas, Utah and Arizona. Our trip was part vacation, to see the sights of Zion and Bryce, and part family, to see some relatives and a new baby.

     And it occurred to me this morning that travel is a lot like sex (Don't worry, I'll keep it PG rated).

     First, there's deciding whether or not you're going to do it. We were invited out when the baby was born, last January, and we did think about going then. But traveling in January? After all the festivities of Christmas? It seemed too much. We didn't want to say no. We wanted to do it, eventually. So we teased them -- maybe we'll do it; well, not now, maybe later. And then we finally did commit, and did the deed in June. 

     B and I made sure we were traveling together. I mean, you can travel alone, just like you can have sex by yourself. But it's much more fun with another person. (I won't get into the group thing. B and I have no interest in traveling with a group. Like taking a cruise with a  group of friends? Not for us!)

     Actually, sometimes B and I will travel alone. She will make a four-day trip to Charleston to see her grandson. I typically take a little extra vacation by myself in Florida in the winter. But like I said, these are quickies. Whenever we go anywhere for any length of time, we go together.

     Then there's the anticipation. Half the fun of travel is making the plans, deciding on the itinerary, making hotel reservations, scheduling the airplane. Thinking about what you'll be doing, imagining how it will be. 

     There's also the anxiety. You have to pick the right clothes. Go to the right restaurant. Will we be able to perform? I worried about how much hiking I'd have to do at Zion and Bryce, given my bad knee. B worries about the airport and the hotels and all the connections we have to make. As it turned out, we were able to do the required minimums. I walked the flat paths and the walkways around the canyon. I didn't even try to scale the heights of Angel Mountain, or plumb the depths of Bryce's hoodoos. And B was happy that the airport, the car rental, the hotel reservations, all worked out just fine. 

     Afterwards, of course, you wonder if the reality of vacation measured up to the promise. When you're actually there, you're probably not thinking about that. But afterwards, you look back on the vacation with fondness, remembering the good parts and not dwelling on the occasional hardships or uncomfortable moments.

     Of course, there are always certain vacations when you just say -- well, I enjoyed it, but I'm not going back there again. Or you might even say ... well, that was a mistake.

     Travel is an adventure. Sometimes we do it just for fun. Or when we travel with someone, it often brings our relationship closer together. Sometimes there's a purpose. The point of our trip to Arizona was to see the new baby. Sometimes we forget that travel and babies go together.

     And then, the very next day after I got home, I began to wonder. Okay, that's done. I wonder where we should go next? Home life can be so boring. We want the next adventure. You see, travel can be addictive too!

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Do You Argue About Money?

     Right now I'm in Phoenix, but I'm thinking about a time at home, about two weeks ago, when B approached me after breakfast. "I have something to ask you," she said. "It's a little awkward."

     "Okay," I replied, wondering if anything was wrong. "What is it?"

     "You have to leave the house tomorrow. Between 12 and 1 p.m."

     "Uh, okay." Now I was really puzzled. "Why is that?"

     "Melanie is coming over."

     "Who's Melanie?"

     "She's from the fabric store. We're going to talk about recovering those two chairs in the living room."

     "Ah," I said, suddenly understanding. We've been talking about those two chairs for at least a year. They seem fine to me. But B says they don't fit into our decor, and they have to be either recovered or replaced. I don't see the point. Recovering old chairs? It costs hundreds of dollars, for each chair! We certainly have better things to spend our money on than recovering perfectly good chairs that we hardly ever use.

     Which is why B is asking me -- no, telling me -- to get out of the house, and out of her way. She doesn't want me skulking around and harrumphing about how it costs too much and we don't need to do it anyway. .

     Still . . . "I have to be out of the house?" I pursued. "I can't just go upstairs, and stay there and not show my face?"

     "No. Out of the house." Clearly, she has heard enough from me. And no matter what I say, she is doing this.

     And so I went out for the afternoon. I went to the mall and bought myself a new Ping Pong paddle and had lunch in the food court. And with this scenario in mind, I thought I'd bring you some advice on how not to argue about money. Goodness knows . . . not from me. But from Jeremy Kisner, my go-to financial adviser at Surevest Wealth Management in Phoenix (which is maybe why I thought of this).

     Here's what he says. And it occurs to me that his approach might extend beyond money issues and be helpful for any kind of communication with a friend or loved one:

     Money is a hot-button issue in many relationships. It's common for partners to have different spending and savings priorities, and this often leads to conflict. Usually, one partner is more focused on the present and places a higher priority on using money to have fun, buy nice things, be generous, or engage in "retail therapy" to escape stress or anxiety. The other may be more focused on the future, feeling that the most important use of money is to provide security so they will be financially independent.

     Partners often try to convince each other that their priorities are the correct way of looking at things. But this usually doesn't go well. Discussions about money often lead to arguments or uncomfortable silences. Furthermore, financial distress is often cited as the #1 cause of divorce. So instead of avoiding financial discussions, try to follow these seven tips for better outcomes:

     Start with questions. Your first instinct is probably to "tell" your partner what you want, why your priority is important. That is the opposite of how you should approach these conversations. Instead, ask a question that might start a productive dialogue. What do you think has been your best, and your worst, financial decision? What spending decisions have brought you good memories? What was money like in your household when you were growing up? The answers show you why people think the way they do, and help you better understand their financial mindset.

     Don't focus on what you are going to say. Instead, focus on listening. Good listening is a learned behavior that doesn't come naturally for most people. It entails more than waiting your turn to talk. Good listening means asking clarifying questions, even when you think you know what the other person means. Learn to pause before speaking and repeat back what you've heard.

     Find goals you both agree on. Each of you should make a list of the goals you'd like to reach. Then find common goals and agree to work toward them. Each of you needs to be willing to make sacrifices to reach the goals, and if you're initiating the conversation, you should be the first one to offer up something. Do you need to cut down on the Starbucks visits, Botox treatments, dog grooming, poker nights?

     Do not be judgmental. You may find yourself thinking, Wow, it is really stupid to spend so much on XYZ. It is completely normal to have different spending priorities, but if you're judgmental, you're going to poison the well and kill any chance of progress.

     Admit your own mistakes and regrets. The best way to prepare for this discussion is not by gathering evidence of what your spouse has done wrong. Instead, evaluate your own spending and figure out which of your own decisions turned out to be mistakes, and what changes you can make. Then you might ask if your partner has any spending habits or decisions they would be willing to change.

     Be appreciative. If your partner admits to overspending, don't pounce. Instead, be understanding, even sympathetic, and ask more questions such as: What do you think would be more reasonable? Then appreciate their answer, their honesty, and their willingness to work together.

     Agree to revisit periodically. You and your partner should meet to discuss your household budget on a regular basis, perhaps once a month. This is an ideal time to reaffirm priorities and talk about financial goals. Of course, it's always easier to avoid these conversations. But as I like to say, "A lazy man works twice as hard." In other words, a little discipline prevents a lot of future headache. Good luck with your money conversations!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

In a Canyon

     We're on a little vacation, so we drove up from Las Vegas to Springdale, UT, about 160 miles, and spent a day and a half exploring Zion Canyon. Of course, I'd left my National Park senior pass at home, so we had to buy another one. But we were happy to contribute an extra $20 to the cause of protecting the national park system.

Entering Zion Canyon
     There were a lot of people visiting the park. It made me wonder, as Annie Lowrey does in The Atlantic, if Too Many People Want to Travel. It's certainly true that the hordes of tourists from all over America and beyond tramp down and destroy some of the natural habitat.

A Flyover
     But Zion park management is very aware of the danger. Cars are not permitted beyond a certain point in the canyon. Instead, tourists take a shuttle out to the end of the road -- and then they can walk a little over a mile along the Virgin River.

A Zion waterfall
     The Riverside walk, from the end of the road, ends at a place called The Narrows. The Narrows were closed, however, since the river was high with snow melt, and there was no river bank to walk on.

Looking into The Narrows
     We spent two nights in Springdale, then drove up even more, to Bryce Canyon, which sits at 8000 feet elevation. We thought the elevation might affect us; but we were okay, just a little tired at the end of the day.

A vista over Bryce Canyon
     Bryce is in some ways even more spectacular than Zion, with its time-worn hoodoo rock formations. But the main difference in my mind is that at Zion you're below the canyon walls. At Bryce you stand above the canyon, looking down (although intrepid hikers can take paths that twist down into the abyss).

Looking into Bryce Canyon
     A lot of people have already been to these canyons and beyond, so these pictures may seem familiar to you. But to anyone who hasn't gone, I would recommend the trip. Just tread lightly, so Zion and Bryce and all our other natural resources are still around for our grandchildren to wonder at as well.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

What a Difference a Day Makes

     On Monday, Memorial Day, we watched a traditional parade that marched down the street to the historic cemetery, around the corner from our house. Then on Tuesday we hopped onto American Airlines Flight 1886 and flew to Las Vegas.

The view outside our hotel window -- we're not going to see JLow

     I admit I don't like to fly. And then American is talking about going on strike, and the weather report said there were scattered thunderstorms coming in during the afternoon . . . and yet, the flight took off on time and went perfectly smoothly. Sometimes we worry too much.

Gambling machines everywhere

     Neither B nor I is a gambler. We're spending two days at the MGM Grand. B has taken a tour to see the Hoover Dam, while I go rent a car and then spend the afternoon in the hotel's Lazy River. Tonight we're going to see Cirque du Soleil Ka.

We are going to see Cirque du Soleil

     So we're skipping most of the "charms" of Las Vegas, in favor of driving up to see the more natural beauty of Zion Canyon in Utah and the even more spectacular vistas of Bryce Canyon further up in the hills.

This is not us ... we don't really gamble
     Then it's on to Phoenix, the real reason for our trip.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

In Case You Missed the Parade

     It was Memorial Day, dedicated to remembering and honoring people who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. And it is also the unofficial beginning of summer

     The Memorial Day parade is a time-honored tradition in small towns and big cities all across the country. In case you weren't able to get to a parade this year, here are a few photos from our parade in Pennsylvania.

     There were fire engines.

     An honor guard.

     Old cars.

     And horses ... a local group works with horses and wounded vets.

     Along  with boy scouts and cub scouts, brownies and girl scouts.

     Some weird stuff, too, like this old VW bus (which if you look carefully, is being pushed!).

          A marching band.

     The Village Improvement Association supports the hospital and other health facilities in town.

     Another marching band.

     This guy on an old-style bicycle.

     A patriotic group of players.

     Yes ... a helicopter!

     A dancing troupe tumbled along.

     There's a Civil War museum in town -- Pennsylvania is rightfully proud of its role in abolition, the underground railroad and the Civil War.

     And, finally, the farmers brought up the rear.