"The lies we want to believe tell us something about ourselves."
-- Eula Biss, Having and Being Had

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Part 2: Review Your Supplemental Plan

     I read last week that our Social Security increase for next year will be 1.3%. Will that be enough to even cover the increase in our health-insurance premiums?

     Last week I decided to review our medical insurance, because open enrollment is about to start. And I thought maybe I could find a way to save a little money. My wife and I have the same supplemental Medicare plans. Plan N. But we have them with different companies, and it turns out I pay $190 a month, while she's only paying $120 per month 

     That didn't seem right to me, so I decided to look into it. I also wanted to see if Plan N is still the best option for me. I checked several websites and found that the cost of the premium depends on the insurance company, as well as where you live (but B and I live in the same house!), your age, your gender, your marital status, and the way you answer some key health questions.

     I found out that men pay a higher premium than women. Is that fair? It seems to me that women go to the doctor more often than men, so they should pay a higher premium. But maybe men have more expensive problems like heart attacks and strokes.

     And that brings up the fact that men don't live as long, either. According to the Social Security life expectancy table, the average life expectancy of a female, at birth, is fully five years longer than it is for a male. Isn't that the ultimate sex discrimination? Even if a guy like me makes it to age 70 (by avoiding dangerous jobs, the military and risky male behavior) his life expectancy still falls more than two years short of the average woman.

     Anyway, I really couldn't get any specifics on the websites, so I called my Supplemental carrier, which is United Health Care through AARP. Yes, there was a phone tree, but before long a friendly young woman answered the call, and she seemed fairly knowledgeable.

     First, we went over the various plans. I have original Medicare Supplemental Plan, not a Medicare Advantage plan. It's slightly more expensive. But I don't have to stay in network. I like having the option of going to any doctor I want -- especially if I end up getting some complicated disease that my local doctors don't know too much about.

     There were less expensive plans, and one that was more expensive. Plan F. The less expensive plans didn't cover enough and made me feel insecure. Plan F pays for more deductibles, as well as "excess charges above Medicare approved amounts." But Plan F is another $80-some a month. I decided it wasn't worth it. I'll stick with Plan N.

     Then I asked the United Health Care woman about the cost. Was I eligible for any discounts? I mentioned that my wife has Plan N with another carrier and pays much less than I do. She took a minute to check for me, but then came back and told me: No, you've got the lowest rate.

     So I said: I'm married now. I wasn't when I first signed up for the plan. Do you offer any marital discount that could save me some money?

     No, she said. If my wife and I were on the same plan we'd each get a 5% discount. But just being married doesn't qualify for the discount when my wife has her insurance from a different company.

     The young woman went on to explain that I already have one discount, one that I got when I first signed up. But the discount decreases every year. I started out at age 65 with a 39% discount. But every year since then the discount has gone down by 3%.

     I thought about that for a second. In other words, I asked, in addition to whatever usual price increases are involved, the insurance company tacks on an extra 3% every year just because I get older?

     She laughed. Well, I guess that's another way to put it.

     B is four years younger than I am. So if her insurance company works the same way, that accounts for 12% of the price difference between her policy and mine. Add in the male surcharge, and probably a few other hidden fees, and -- bottom line, I'm just keep my same Supplemental Plan.

    Together, B and I pay almost $1000 a month for medical insurance, when you count Medicare, Plan B, Plan D, plus a relatively modest dental plan. But I think it's worth it, when you consider how expensive medical care can be. But clearly, anyone who suggests that Medicare for All is the same as free medical care doesn't know what they're talking about.

      Anyway, I guess the only real strategy to save money is to keep away from the doctor. So I'll eat my vegetables, get some exercise, avoid too much stress, get plenty of sleep, wear my mask and keep my distance. And the hardest part . . . try not to do anything stupid!

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Pumpkin Patch

     Halloween is soon upon us, so B and I take a drive across the Delaware River to a park in New Jersey that holds an annual pumpkin fest.

     We get scared as soon as we arrive!


     We have a pumpkin fest in our town as well, and I'm sure there are thousands of others all across America. But as far as pumpkins go, this is a pretty haunting collection.


     This one is truly CarnEvil.


     A fire-breathing dragon turns up the heat.


     This witch is giving me the chills.


     My, what big ears you have . . . and the nose!


     He has a sinister grin and fierce eyes.


     But this one looks more friendly, a little like Santa Claus. Is he trying to warm us up for Christmas . . . or just hiding something behind that grin?


     Whew, home sweet home! But it looks like we have a few skeletons in our own closet!


     

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Part 1: Medicare Just Got Cheaper

     Okay, Medicare is not getting cheaper for everybody. But it is for us, because there's been a screw up. Yes, it turns out that Medicare can make a mistake, so it's best to pay attention.

     Medicare uses your 2018 tax return to figure out your Medicare premiums for 2020. If you make too much money, there's a surcharge on both your Medicare Part B and also Part D. For example, if you're single and make over $87,000 and less than $109,000, you pay a $57.80 surcharge every month for Part B, plus an extra $12.20 for Part D.

     B and I got married in 2018. Once you're married, as a couple you can make up to $174,000 per year before the first surcharge sets in.

     All this year I've been paying my basic Medicare premiums, no problem, no complaints. But this past week I decided to review our medical insurance, because open enrollment is about to begin.

     I thought I'd start by checking our Medicare payments, and that's where I found the problem. B's Medicare premiums were more than mine. She was being hit with a surcharge. That didn't seem right. We filed a joint tax return in 2018, so shouldn't our payments be the same?

     I searched the Medicare website for an answer then, finding nothing relevant, called the main Medicare number. After negotiating the phone tree and waiting 40 minutes on hold, I finally got a very nice man on the phone.

     It was a little hard to explain, but after 20 minutes of going back and forth he discovered the problem. Medicare never received B's 2018 tax information from the IRS. Medicare had mine for 2018. But not hers. Even though we filed jointly, and they were on the same tax form!

     Therefore, Medicare was using B's 2017 taxes to base her Medicare premium. She was single in 2017, and her income was over the threshold of $87,000. So she was getting a surcharge.

     The man from Medicare sent me to the IRS to straighten out the issue. After another 20 minutes on hold, I got a real person who . . . turned out to be no help. The IRS representative said I should talk to Social Security, and gave me the main number.

     By that point I could not abide sitting on hold on the telephone for another 40 minutes. So I got an idea. I found the number for our local Social Security office. A real woman answered the phone. I told her my problem, and she put me through to the man who handles these things. Surprise, surprise. He had access to our records!

     He could see the problem right away. Yes, Medicare was using B's 2017 tax form instead of the 2018 tax form to base her Medicare rate. So he told me to send him a copy of our 2018 Form 1040 along with a copy of our marriage license. And he would take care of it.

   "You'll get a refund," he said. "But it may take a while because it has to wend its way through the bureaucracy." So if everything works out, we'll get a refund of several hundred dollars; plus, B's Medicare premium should go down for 2021, because they'll be using the correct information, now from our 2019 tax form. A double win!

     He said the situation should be corrected for next year and beyond. But I should double check. When I receive the notice for my 2021 Medicare premium -- sometime around Thanksgiving -- I should check and make sure the premiums are based on our 2019 married-filing-jointly tax forms.

     The takeaway? Sometimes it's a good idea to check Medicare, especially if you've had a life-changing event in the last few years. Things change, and what you had when you turned 65 may be different by now. Also, if you have to deal with the government, don't call the main 800 number. Find a number for your Social Security office. That might save you some time and aggravation.

     We all love Medicare. And it usually works pretty well. But -- as they say -- pobody's nerfect, not even the government.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

The Changing Tides

     For many people retirement is like diving into a pool. They take the plunge. One day their lives are crammed with work, bills, children. The next day they're free. Suddenly they can do whatever they want.

     It wasn't like that for me. I tiptoed into retirement. I got packaged out in my 50s. I still had to make some money, so I continued to work part time. Some weeks I worked; other weeks I dabbled in retirement. As the years went on, I worked less and retired more. It was an easy and long-lasting transition from working to retirement.  And there were many changes along the way. I moved. Got divorced and remarried. Watched the kids go off to college and careers. Downsized to a new town in a different state.

     What I now realize is that after we retire -- whether we retire all at once in a great seismic shift, or retire slowly over the years -- our lives do continue to change. Retirement is not static. It changes like the tides.

     I recently mentioned to a new friend that my wife and I were getting ready to celebrate our third anniversary.

     "Oh, that's nice," he said. "Your 30th anniversary."

     "No, not the 30th," I corrected. "Our third."

     "Oh . . ." He was slightly embarrassed, because he'd made an assumption. But there was also an uplift to his voice. He was glad to hear it, reminding himself that life still happens even after we're retired.

     I'm not working at all anymore, but I still find my life slowly changing, my goals evolving. Don't you?

     The pandemic has shifted the sands beneath us once again. Last year I was at the community center twice a week playing table tennis. Now I haven't played at all since March.

     Last summer we made a trip Arizona to see my sister and her family. This year we were planning to drive to Wisconsin to visit my daughter. But this year the trip got canceled.

     Last year at this time we were getting ready to go to South Carolina for Thanksgiving, and making plans to return for the month of February. This year, we're not going for Thanksgiving, that's for sure. Are we going in February? We don't know yet. It's hard to make plans this year. What's the old saying? Man makes plans, and God laughs. 

     Retirement is a time for exploring, for developing old skills and trying out new interests. Even trying out new identities. In the old days, when we were working, people would ask us: What do you do? And we'd answer: I'm a teacher, or I'm a lawyer, or I manage a business.

     For a while, after we retire, we tell people: I'm a retired teacher, or I'm a retired lawyer. But I think, after a few years, we  lose that identity. And sometimes we flounder, or feel the stigma of not "being" anything anymore. So we we reel off a string of activities. I play tennis and babysit my grands . . . and I like to read a lot.

     But over time we settle into our new identities, we become more comfortable with our new lives, even if they sometimes seem less important or less comprehensive than before. Sometimes we're forced to change by events, or physical limitations. Sometimes we just lose interest in old activities and develop new ones. So we say: I volunteer at the library, or I've taken up painting; or I live at Sunrise Village, or I'm heading to my place in Florida next month.

     For me, for many years, my answer was: I'm semi-retired, as though that answered all the questions. Then for a while I was playing a lot of golf, and started getting into pickleball and table tennis, and I would joke that I was an aging jock. 

     These days, since Covid came on the scene, I'm still playing some golf, but I find myself more focused on volunteering at our senior learning center, and tutoring at the educational services organization. Times change. And we adapt. So now I say: Oh, I'm with the Center for Learning in Retirement.

     Retirement is not a one-time event. It takes place over time, and we develop new interests, explore different parts of ourselves, meet new people and yes, form new identities. 

     I wonder what I'll be doing this time next year. How will I define myself in 2021 and beyond?

Sunday, September 27, 2020

After the Fall

     It happened to me about three weeks ago. I was on the golf course. It had rained the day before, but now the sun was shining, with temperatures in the near-perfect high 70s. About an hour into the round I climbed up onto the tee box, and without even thinking about it, stepped onto a wet railroad tie. My feet shot out from under me. Boom! Next thing I knew I was on the ground, lying on my left side, my head swimming and leg screaming pain.

     I lay there for a few moments, shaken. My golfing partners came over and hovered and asked if I was okay. I nodded, and said yes, just give me a moment.

     After two or three minutes I labored to my feet. I was still a little fuzzy. So I told my friends I would sit out the hole. We were riding carts. So I just cruised in my cart down the next fairway, gathering my wits. 

     I was okay. My leg hurt, but I could tell nothing was broken, nothing strained. No bleeding, not that I could tell.

     By the next tee I felt able to resume play, and so I did. I was a little sore for the rest of the round -- about two more hours -- but I didn't feel that I was being seriously hampered. After the game I got in the car and drove home. No problem . . . until I pulled into my garage and tried to get out of the car. My left thigh had swollen up, and I had trouble bending the knee. I had to swivel around and gingerly angle my leg out of the door. When I stood up, my leg was killing me.

     I hobbled upstairs, took a shower and examined the damage. It didn't look too bad. It was swelling up, but my leg seemed intact. After the shower I sat down in front of the TV, put some ice on my leg, and just relaxed the rest of the day.

    In the morning it looked looked like I had a football attached to my thigh. That's how swollen it was. And the black-and-blue was starting to show up. Also, as I was getting dressed, I felt a twinge in my left shoulder. 

     I limped around for the next few days, watching my leg get uglier and uglier. The black-and-blue mark went from my hip down my thigh and extended along the back of my knee. It looked worse than ever. But actually, it was feeling a bit better. I thought about going to the doctor, just to make sure, but I decided, really, it wasn't that bad.

     Slowly, my leg began to heal. I skipped golf the following week, but then played the week after -- being very careful around the railroad ties. Now, today, my leg is virtually back to normal. I still feel a twinge in my shoulder, but that's slowly going away as well.

   I'm not I telling you this story just to get your sympathy. I'm telling it as a warning. Falls are a leading cause of injury in older adults. The older we get the more likely we are to fall, and the longer it takes to heal after an injury. Falls can also be extremely serious, even life-threatening. If you break something and are laid up for a time, it's extremely difficult to work your way back -- if you come back at all.

     According to the CDC, one out of five falls causes serious injury like a broken bone or head injury.  Each year over 3 million older people are treated in emergency rooms for fall-related injuries. More than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falls.

     So please, be careful. I'm sure you know what to do. But if you're like me, that doesn't mean you actually do it. So . . . make sure your stairs well-lit. Keep a light on in the house at night. Get rid of throw rugs and other tripping hazards. Keep hallways and other walkways free of cables and wires.

     Be extra careful of wet tiles in bathrooms and kitchens. Wipe up spills right away. Install grab bars and railings. Do not store things in high cabinets, and whatever you do, do not get on a ladder or stepstool.

     Wear shoes that give you some support, and clothes that won't drag on the floor or catch on something. Be extra cautious if you're taking any medications. Consider doing some strength exercises to improve your balance.

     Are there other tripping or falling hazards we should know about? There probably are, but all I've got left to say is:  Watch out for those wet, slippery railroad ties!

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Top 10 Places to Retire 2030

     Yes, that's right. Not the best places in 2020, but the best places ten years from now.

     We all know that today the most popular place to retire is Florida. Warm weather. Low taxes. Lots of golf courses. Plenty of beaches. What's not to like? Florida is followed by Arizona, then Texas, then the Carolinas. Retirees are drawn by the low cost of living, the warm weather, the recreational activities.

     But things are changing. Florida and the Gulf Coast are pummeled by more and more hurricanes and tropical storms. Arizona has been roasting in 100 degree heat all summer, with Phoenix topping 110 on more than 50 days.

     Will retirees really want to move into an area where the flood waters rise, forcing them to evacuate as soon as they arrive? Will they want to bake in the hot sun of the Southwest . . . or, just in case anyone can afford to retire to California, risk the fires and rolling blackouts of the West Coast?

     According to most experts, the country is getting hotter. Climate journalist Abraham Lustgarten in an article for ProPublica and the New York Times, says that Buffalo, NY (believe it or not!), "may feel in a few decades like Tempe, Ariz., does today." Meanwhile, Tempe itself will be sweating away in the triple digits.  

Buffalo, NY, street scene
   He also says that extreme humidity in the Mississippi valley, from New Orleans north, will make living conditions unbearable. Fresh water will be in short supply throughout the West and also across Florida, Tennessee and Alabama. He sees California-type megafires threatening the South from Texas to Georgia.

     While some parts of the U. S. bake in the heat, rising sea levels will chew up shorelines along the East and Gulf coasts, swamping many coastal areas and infiltrating underground aquifers. One estimate projects that high water will force some 13 million Americans to move away from the coastline.

     Experts predict the recent migration of retirees toward the coasts, and toward warmer weather, will reverse. Now instead of retiring to Florida or Arizona, people will head north. They will seek cooler summers. They will avoid fire-prone regions and shy away from low-lying areas subject to flooding.  

     So where will people be retiring in 2030? Okay . . . nobody really knows. But here's a good guess.

     1. Minnesota. The land of 1000 lakes is already rated high on many retirement lists for its low crime rate and great medical care (think Mayo Clinic). Minnesota residents also enjoy the longest life expectancy of any people in the country. Jesse Keenan, Harvard climate-change professor, seriously suggests Duluth as a promising location. He says the city should brace for a coming real-estate boom as climate migrants move north.

     2. Colorado. The state is high and dry, with clear air and access to plenty of recreational activities. There are good medical facilities and a wide array of cultural offerings. According to the Business Insider website Colorado has already become the quarantine location of choice, mostly for people moving from Texas and the West coast.

     3. Northern Florida. In 2030 people will still like the sun and warm breezes. Southern Florida will be awash in brackish water, with cities like Miami and Ft. Lauderdale separated from a beachless waterfront by huge concrete walls. But northern Florida is protected from the hurricanes, has more access to drinking water, and has a slightly more temperate climate. Lustgarten thinks Orlando alone may receive more than a quarter million new residents as a result of sea-level displacement, and it's possible that the Atlantic coast north of Cape Canaveral may still be habitable.

     4. Coastal Oregon and Washington. According to Lustgarten the migration from California, particularly Southern California, to the Pacific Northwest will only increase as people look for a better economy and more temperate climate. The megalopolis of Seattle will essentially merge with Vancouver to its north.

     5. Idaho. Another refuge for West coasters looking for clearer air, cooler temperatures, lower crime rate . . . and its up-and-coming wine country is not threatened by constant fires.

     6. Michigan. Lustgarten suggests Michigan has a climate that will only get "more temperate, verdant and inviting." He predicts a renaissance for currently downtrodden Detroit.

     7. Wisconsin. Almost as good as Minnesota, with plenty of drinkable water, cooler temperatures and a healthy lifestyle. Madison is home to a top university, while Milwaukee on Lake Michigan offers an underused infrastructure that could be brought back to life.

     8. Pennsylvania. The state has the cultural and seasonal advantages of the Northeast, without the high taxes and high cost of living. New Yorkers are already fleeing the city to settle in eastern Pennsylvania . . . close enough to the ocean to visit, but far enough away to avoid the storms and floods. Like football? Penn State hosts Big Ten sports (as does Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota).

     9. Vermont. It has the Green mountains and a green lifestyle . . . and according to Lustgarten, will soon have a more temperate climate. 

     10. Upstate New York. Cities like Rochester and Buffalo could revitalize an already-existing infrastructure, and offer safe, secure neighborhoods overlooking Lake Erie and Lake Ontario -- all with, you guessed it, cooler summers and milder winters.  

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Mastering Our Power

     "Mastering others is strength," wrote Lao Tzu, "mastering yourself is true power." 

     I just saw an article by someone who was mastering the power in himself. He wrote that for most of his life he had never voted in any elections. He felt that politics was dirty. Political people were often angry and unpleasant to be around. He didn't want any part of them. He also figured that one vote has no impact. One vote out of tens of millions? It's insignificant.

     He had heard all the arguments about how it was his civic duty, how if he didn't vote he had no right to complain, how one vote really can make a difference. None of those arguments moved him.

     So what finally changed his mind? He realized that politics doesn't affect him very much, but they do affect many other people he knows -- people with disabilities or chronic illnesses, people fleeing domestic violence, people suffering from racism, genderism, ageism. So he asked himself: How can I say I support these people if I can't take a few minutes to vote? It costs me almost nothing, but it means a great deal to many of my neighbors, including those who have the misfortune to be in the way of a wildfire, hurricane or pandemic.

     It's the power of the vote. And maybe because we all feel so powerless these days, this week Baby Boomers are talking about power. 

     Laurie Stone of Musings, Rants & Scribbles asks us to picture a female brought up without any gender conditioning, a female who does what she wants whenever she wants. Picture a dog named Libby. Then you can picture all the things Laurie admires about her Yorkie's chutzpah in An Untamed Unfettered Female.

Libby does her thing
Libby does her thing
     Carol Cassara at A Healing Spirit addresses another aspect of empowerment. We have created and directed our lives, she says. We're the make-it-happen generation. So it's no surprise that some of us have trouble sitting around, doing nothing, and letting things happen of their own accord.  She offers a simple exercise to discover The (Sometimes Painful) Gift of Sitting with a Blank Canvas.

     Meanwhile consumer journalist Rita R. Robison provides information that will give us power in the marketplace. In Price Gouging Persists on Amazon she reports on an analysis showing that some items on Amazon were up to 14 times more expensive than identical products sold at other retailers.

     (I second Rita's report. I was on Amazon looking for health and cleaning supplies. A bottle of simple rubbing alcohol was priced at $10. That seemed like a lot to me. So I checked out Walmart.com. Sure enough, there was a same-size bottle for $3.92 -- for a two-pack! So I continued my shopping on the Walmart site.) 

     Then we have Rebecca Olkowski with BabyBoomster.com who is Remembering Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The justice, who died on Friday at age 87, spent her life fighting for equal rights and the empowerment of women everywhere.

     For her part, Meryl Baer of Beach Boomer Bulletin focuses on overcoming discrimination and the relentless push for change in Notorious RBG and the Women Who Persevere.

     Finally, as a postscript, you might want to check out Kathy Gottberg's vlog Today Is a Good Day to Live. She reminds us that regardless of our circumstances, we each have the power to shift our mindset and create days filled with things that matter to us. 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Old Dog, New Trick

     Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks? B and I have not only learned something this summer. We've become experts. On Zoom.

     We started out attending Zoom sessions hosted by someone else. That's Zooming 101. It's pretty easy. Someone schedules a meeting, they send you an email with a link, and you open the link. The only thing you have to know is how to turn on your camera and make sure your audio is on.

     We belong to the Center for Learning in Retirement (CLR) at our local university, and after closing down the spring session in March, the university decided to hold summer courses online. So I signed up for "Strategic Leadership in Times of Crisis." All on Zoom. The course focused on the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, and drew lessons about leadership from how John Kennedy and others handled that historic crisis.

     So I logged in, listened to a presentation by the host, watched a few video clips he shared with us, then took part in a discussion about what we could learn from it all. The only thing I had to do was log on (see above) and then press the space bar on my keyboard whenever I wanted to participate in the class discussion.

     A few days later I joined a movie discussion group through our local movie theater. We each watched the movie in advance on Netflix -- Mount Rushmore, a 1998 coming-of-age film starring Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray. Then we all logged onto Zoom. The discussion was led by an independent movie director who filled us in on some background, then opened up the session for discussion. I didn't like the movie -- I found the characters unappealing, the situations unbelievable -- but I was in the minority. What I learned is that the movie is beloved by people growing up in the late 1990s and early 2000s (ask your kids about it).

     In July, B and I stepped up to actually host a CLR discussion group via Zoom. It wasn't too hard. All we had to do was figure out how to schedule the session, then admit people to the meeting and master the art of calling on people electronically. Yes, we made a few mistakes. But everyone was new at this. Our audience was very forgiving.

     Zoom offers a free version, but you can also buy an upgraded version, Zoom Pro, for around $13 a month. The main advantage is that while the free version limits a session to 40 minutes, the Pro version allows unlimited time. We knew we would be hosting an hour-long course in the fall, and we wanted to set up Zoom to meet with friends and family, so we ponied up for the Pro version. Well, actually, B ponied up for the Pro version.

     Since then we have held a birthday party online with Zoom. We have hosted a family reunion. We've met with a number of friends. B also does church meetings via Zoom, and she recently joined the League of Women Voters which now holds meetings on Zoom.

     Lately, we've been getting ready for the class we'll host in the fall, "Great Decisions in Foreign Policy," a program from the Foreign Policy Association. We've directed this program before in person. Now we have to do it via Zoom. The format calls for us to share a video, then direct a discussion with 25 people. So we have to know how to screen share. That's the AP course in Zooming. Now we've enlisted a few friends to practice how to share a DVD video, then go into discussion mode without totally messing things up.

     Does it sound like I'm bragging about how smart I am learning all about Zoom? Darn right I am!

     I'd say, with all due modesty, that I have the equivalent of a Master's degree in the program. But to be honest, if I have a Master's, then B has a Zoom Ph.D.!
 

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Held in Contempt


     I once read an article about how psychologists could predict which couples in therapy would end up getting divorced and which ones would patch things up and re-establish their relationship. The key element was not how much they argued, how different their views were, or how much they screamed or cried. The key element was contempt. If husbands or wives felt contempt for their partner, then divorce was almost inevitable.
    
      This came to mind as I was scrolling down my Facebook feed -- which I try not to do because there's little to be gained from the exercise. But sometimes in the middle of a self-isolating-induced coma of boredom, I can't help myself.

     And what strikes me is how much contempt my liberal friends have for their fellow Americans who are conservatives -- or anyone who happens to disagree with them -- and how they attack anyone who's not on board with their woke agenda. Their call their opponents dumb or stupid. They are liars, racists, even Nazis.

     Meanwhile, conservatives on social media reply in kind. They take pride in denying established facts, disdaining legal authority, ridiculing academia, the media, the government. They say liberals are either rich power-hungry hypocrites or else poor morally corrupt losers.

     That's on Facebook, or other social media, or sometimes on the so-called news channels on TV. It's enough to make you think that there are two different realities -- and that the country is falling apart.

     But then there's real life. I'd say most of my friends are liberals, some vehemently so. But I have a few conservative relatives who voted for Trump, and some neighbors who by all outward signs are proud flag-waving conservatives. And the funny thing is, in real life, we all get along pretty well.

     Okay, part of that is the natural tendency of people to avoid religion and politics in polite conversation. But a good part of it is that the stereotypes posted on social media are not just misleading, they are downright false.

     For example, in real life my across-the-street neighbor is a truck driver who hangs a big American flag outside his front door, and I've heard him make a few comments about how he's out-of-touch with our generally more liberal town. A selfish, narcissistic racist? Well, actually, no. He mows the lawn and plows the driveway of the elderly widow next door, for free as a neighborly gesture. And I've stood around with him on the sidewalk more than once having a friendly conversation with the African-American woman who lives down the street or the Asian couple that lives around the corner.

     Or there's my brother-in-law who is devoted to his conservative Christian church. I know he voted for Trump and -- yes, he's denies global warming and is socially conservative. But is he your typical non-college-educated redneck? No. He graduated from college and he's also taken some continuing education courses. But more than that, he defies the stereotype because he volunteers in the community helping people less fortunate than he is, and despite his views on global warming he drives a gas-sipping VW, has no a/c in his home, grows his own vegetables, and composts most of his garbage. Despite his political views, he actually lives the lifestyle of an ultra-liberal Vermont hippie!

     Then there's the nephew from Chicago. He and his wife are both Trump supporters. You get them started, and sometimes it's a bit much. And yet he's in the music business and somehow gets along with his liberal colleagues. And they live in an integrated building in an integrated neighborhood, so in terms of anti-racism they're way ahead of my liberal friends who live in middle-class white neighborhoods.

     On the other side of the ledger, one of my friends is self-consciously super-liberal. So is his wife. They support Black Lives Matter, LBGTQ rights, free health care -- and I'm guessing they'd support AOC if she ran for president. And yet they actually lead lives that any conservative would  aspire to. They're not welfare cheats. They're not morally corrupt by even the most conservative standards. They both have jobs; work hard; pay their taxes, go to church, don't do drugs. They own their own home, and they've raised two responsible children. Given their actual lifestyle, they could be Mormons!

     Now I'm not saying that there aren't some truly hateful people in the world. But most of us have good intentions based on our own beliefs. Each of us may think that we have better ideas, or support policies that are more fair or more effective. But as people we are no better than our neighbors. Besides, do you really think you'll convert someone to your point of view by insulting and demeaning them?

     I have another relative who lives in Florida. She's a card-carrying feminist -- her hero is Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- but she's been married for over 20 years to a retired military engineer who's about as conservative as you would expect. Yes, I've seen an eye roll or two when the subject of politics comes up. But for the most part they get along just fine. They agree to disagree on some items, but they respect each other as people and for the most part their lives and values are compatible. They obey the law, love their children, pay their taxes, get along with their neighbors, and they both volunteer to help out other people in the community. She volunteers at the art museum and helps raise money for community services, and he supports an organization for retired servicemen.

      So it is possible. We can disagree about things. We can argue and yell and scream. But we need to remember that above all we are Americans who believe in democracy -- and to believe in democracy we have to respect our fellow citizens, even if they have a different point of view. Question their assumptions, tear apart their logic, disagree with their opinions. But there's no benefit in insulting them or calling them names. We cannot hold our fellow citizens in contempt.
   

Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Health and Wealth Gap

     Retirees are not worried about money. We are worried about contracting Covid. Our children are not worried about Covid. They are worried about money.

     So Covid presents a health gap between young and old, as well as a wealth gap between young and old. That's an undeniable conclusion from an Edward Jones and Age Wave multi-generational study of some 9,000 Americans.

     It makes sense when you realize that Covid-19 has in six months killed over three times the number of Americans who died in all the years of the Vietnam War. Today Covid is the third leading cause of death, behind heart disease and cancer, but ahead of Alzheimer's, accidents and any kind of criminal activity including gun violence.

     Most of the people who get Covid are under 40. But most of the people who die from Covid are over 60. A quarter of people over age 60 who come down with Covid end up in the hospital. But only 3% of those under 40 spend any time in the hospital. And they usually get better. It's extremely rare for someone under age 40 to die of Covid.

     But if retirees have to worry about Covid, we are not by and large worried about our income. We're not losing a job or suffering a cutback in pay. Our incomes are secure, from Social Security, pensions, IRAs and other non-earned income. Plus, three-quarters of retirees own their own homes, half of us owning outright with no more mortgage. So only about 10% of retirees report that Covid has "negatively impacted" their financial security.

     For our children it's a different story. They have lost over 20 million jobs. Some of those jobs have come back in the last two months. But further layoffs linger. And nobody knows how many are still working but are taking home half a salary, or even less.

     In our case, out of four children, two are still working at full salary. One was furloughed for three months on a fraction of his salary. He's now back at work, hoping for the best. The fourth kept his full salary until June, then was cut back by 50%, and recently was cut another 15%. He still has a job, but there are no clients and there's not much to do . . . and he's fearing the worst.

     Our own experience reflects the broader picture. According to the survey, a third of Millennials say their finances have been impacted by the pandemic. Many of them have stopped making contributions to their retirement plan, and a significant number have dipped into their retirement account to pay current bills. Some adult children have even been forced to move back to their parents' home due to a job loss.

     The financial stress has also caused mental health issues. Over a third of young adults say they have suffered mental health declines since the pandemic began, compared to just 10% of their parents

     It's another story for younger Baby Boomers who are not yet retired, but suddenly find themselves out of work. Some Baby Boomers Are Pressured to Cut Spending since they're too young for Medicare or Social Security, but they may still have children to support or college tuition to pay -- and yet their prospects for finding a new job are slim to none due to ageism. Even 50-somethings who are up on the latest technologies are often passed over in favor of younger people with fewer skills.

     Meanwhile, almost half of retired Americans said the pandemic has made them worry more about their children. Some 24 million Americans say they have provided some financial support to their adult children during the last six months. Many of us have had no problem helping our kids. Our income has remained steady, but expenses have gone down, so we have more money sloshing around in our accounts -- money we can afford to give away.

     But others have to put off more necessary expenses in order to help their kids -- delaying home repairs, foregoing new clothes, stretching out credit-card payments. Yet the majority of retirees still say they would offer financial support to their kids even if it did jeopardize their own financial future.

     Many of us can afford to help our kids now, but we worry the economic impacts will linger, causing us to compromise our longer-term financial security. The majority of retirees see retirement not just as an end to work, but as a new chapter in our lives, when we can pursue new dreams, enjoy new freedoms, take on new challenges. Covid by itself puts a brake on pursuing new opportunities since it's hard to connect with a new group or a new cause when we can't meet people face-to-face. Any financial squeeze just further inhibits our pursuit of new opportunities.

     There is at least one silver lining to Covid. According to the survey, two-thirds of Americans said the pandemic has brought their families closer together. The experience has inspired them to have important discussions about financial planning, preparing for retirement, end-of-life issues, and strategies for protecting and improving health. Perhaps we could also count our new proficiency in Zoom and FaceTime!

     Also, we retirees have something going for us:  We have seen a lot of problems come and go. We have a longer-term view. We realize that as hard as it is, this too shall pass.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Take a Day Trip

     If you're ever in a funk, due to Coronavirus or for any other reason, sometimes the cure is a day off -- a break in the routine to reset your attitude. We were getting tired of feeling sorry for ourselves because we're self-isolating, staying home, avoiding friends. We're watching TV, reading books, cooking, working in the yard. All things to keep us occupied. But they are not enough . . . just not enough.

     So we decided to take a day trip.

The surf was up

     We've been on a few outings since lockdown began -- to see our local covered bridges, walk along the canal by the river, visit a few historic towns. But there's nothing quite like going to the beach.

Plenty of beachgoers
   
     For us it's an hour-and-a-half drive to the Jersey Shore, where for $10 you can purchase a ticket to get on the beach. Tickets are limited to keep down the crowds. We wore masks as we entered through the gate, where you might be in close proximity to other people. But once on the beach it wasn't hard to maintain at least six feet distance. Yes, someone might come a little closer as they walk by -- but only for an instant, and in the breeze.

But not too crowded
   
     The surf was up, so there were plenty of young surfers (and a few old ones) catching waves and enjoying good long rides. Most of the schools and universities in New Jersey seem to be opening up remotely, leaving people free to spend some extra time at the shore.

Catching a wave
   
     The sun was out, the temperature in the high 80s, and the water was 73 degrees.

Surfing beauty
 
      Still, there was plenty of space to relax and soak up the last rays of summer. A perfect beach day.

Peaceful times
   
     We drove home at the end of the day, back to reality. But the ocean is always there if we feel the need. The beach is beautiful in September.
 

Saturday, August 22, 2020

I'm in a Lousy Mood. Aren't You?

     It took me a long while to begin to notice it, but now I finally realize what's wrong. I'm in a lousy mood. The Coronavirus lockdown is getting to me.

     Lethargy has set in. I sit around the house. It's an effort just to get up out of a chair, go upstairs and find my book. I'm tired of reading anyway. I've been reading twice as many books as I normally do, spending an hour or more in the morning lounging in a chair, drinking coffee and reading a book . . . and sometimes staring into space because it's hard to focus these days.

     We also spend too much time watching TV. The highlight of our day comes at 7:30 p.m., when we finish dinner and get to turn on Netflix or Amazon prime. We've watched an embarrassingly large number of videos: Babylon BerlinFauda, Dead to Me, Call My Agent, Wonderland, Offspring, Schitt's Creek  The list goes on and on.

     Now we're getting sick and tired of watching TV. We typically only last through Season One of any series before we get jittery. We feel like we have to move on to the next one. We're so easily bored these days.

     We watch the weather on TV. After a while it all seems the same. Sunny or rainy. What's the difference? We watch the news, but the commentators are so nasty and hateful, we just turn them off. We saw a little of the Democratic convention, but it was too predictable. With only a few exceptions (like the courageous Gabby Giffords on Wednesday night) it's just politicians talking . . . blah, blah, blah . . . tell me something I don't already know.

Do you feel trapped?
     We spend a lot of time Zooming with friends and family and people we volunteer with over at the college or down at the church. Zooming is another highlight of our day. But it's not the same as seeing someone in person, talking face to face. You go on Zoom to get the job done; not to have fun.

     And then there's way too much time just sitting around and . . . doing nothing. Too much time to think about the past and regret the stupid things we did when we were young -- the opportunities we may have missed, the people we may have let down. Too much time to worry about the kids and what they're doing and how this pandemic is going to affect their lives for now and forevermore. Too much time to wonder about what's going to happen to us. Are we going to be forced to spend our retirement years living like shut-ins, robbed of the excitement of travel, the joys of grandchildren, the satisfaction of helping in the community?

     B and I have talked about this. We feel bad that we feel bad. Many people have it worse than we do. We're not losing a job. We're not losing income thanks to Social Security and a still-thriving stock market that props up our IRAs. We're not front-line workers risking our lives in a hospital or a grocery store. We're just in a bad mood, feeling grumpy, because we can't get on with our lives. We feel stuck. Trapped.

     Day after day is the same. "There's nothing to look forward to,," B complained. "We can't make any plans."

     But we did acknowledge that when we feel frustrated and constrained, the temptation is to take it out on the people nearest and dearest to us -- spouses, family, friends. Yes, we've been snippy to each other -- not because of anything we've done, but just because we're feeling snippy. Dirty dishes in the sink have somehow become important. Clothes left on the floor used to be ignored; now they are annoying.

     We have to consciously be aware that the problem is not with us. It's not the clothes or dishes. It's the situation. We remind ourselves not to turn against each other, or turn against ourselves. There's too much time to judge and criticize -- judge our family, criticize our friends, blame ourselves, demonize people on Facebook. Enmity breeds enmity.

     We have to give everyone a break, including ourselves. I'm lucky to have B, and she's lucky to have me, even if we do occasionally get on each other's nerves now that we're spending so much time together -- and so little time with anyone else. We are lucky to have friends and family who show up on the other side of a Zoom meeting or Facebook call. We're lucky to have a comfortable home and plenty to eat and all the electronics to entertain us.

     Of course there are problems in the world, as there always have been and always will be. But don't take them personally. Don't judge other people too harshly -- don't get down on yourself. We'll stay busy, even if it sometimes seems pointless. See friends when we can. Go for a walk. Go for a ride. Keep our eye on the horizon. Stay positive. We'll get through this.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Are We Cool?

      I've seen a couple of lists on the internet claiming to show what Baby Boomers think is cool. These lists are written by younger people -- Millennials or Gen Xers or Gen Zers or whomever -- and so of course the clear message is that whatever a Baby Boomer thinks is cool has got to be the most uncool thing in the world.

     Some of the items on these lists are set-ups. Mom jeans, for example. Has anyone ever thought that mom jeans are cool?

     But other items are up for debate. For example.

     Sending emails. Supposedly, Baby Boomers think sending emails is cool, while Millennials wouldn't get caught dead using email. They text. Or use Instagram, Snapchat or something else that requires only a few words. I don't know if Baby Boomers really think emails are cool. But they are useful. So the only thing I can conclude is that Millennials don't have much to say.

My clunky old phone
     Landlines. Okay, a few of the coolest people I know have given up their landlines. But most of us have kept them. If landlines are not cool, then a telephone book is even less cool. But the other day we got a letter in the mail addressed to an unfamiliar name at our address. If we had a telephone book we could have looked up the person's address and if she was local, just dropped off the letter on her doorstep. But now, no phone book, no way to find her address. All we could do was hand it back to the post office to return to sender. 

     Cruises. We've never taken a cruise, although it seems that most of our friends have been on at least one, and we have a few friends who take two or three a year. So, yes, they're right. Baby Boomers do think cruises are cool. 

     Paper bills. Uh, guilty. I pay my bills electronically, but I like to get paper bills in the mail. I find them easier to keep track of that way. Otherwise, you get some bills by regular mail, some by email, some by text . . . you never know where the heck the bills coming from and invariably one gets lost and doesn't get paid on time -- and we get stuck with a late fee!

     Retirement funds. Baby Boomers are big on IRAs and 401k plans. Apparently, Millennials not so much. But I got news for Millennials, Gen Xers and all other young people, wherever they are -- they'd better get with the program. Otherwise, when they get to our age, they'll still be eating ramen noodles for dinner.

     Pickleball. Guilty. It's all the rage where I live, or at least it was before Coronavirus set in, and hopefully will be again. But whether the so-cool Millennials think it's cool or not . . . it beats playing Hero Academy on your smartphone.

     Cable TV. We still get cable TV. Our kids do not. But as a Baby Boomer I'm not sure I think cable TV is actually cool. It's just a force of habit.

     Meatloaf. B likes meatloaf. I don't. That makes me -- ahem -- cool in the eyes of the younger generation.

     Catalogs. Same as above. You see, I am cool.

B's pillows

    Throw pillows. Ditto. I'm so cool!

     Newspapers. We get the weekend editions of the N. Y. Times. But cool or not, lemme tell you, the world would be a better place if more people read good old-fashioned newspapers.

     All-you-can-eat buffets. Nobody thinks all-you-can-eat buffets are cool. But I love 'em. So much comfort food!

     Bar soap. I use a bar of soap. B uses liquid soap. I always thought it was a male-female  thing, not a difference between people who are cool and people who are uncool. Okay, I'm beginning to get the picture. Maybe I'm not so cool after all.

My bar of soap
My bar of soap
     Malls. Honestly, we don't go to the mall very often. But what's Christmas without spending some time at the mall with Santa, the Salvation Army, the tree and the decorations?

     Clint Eastwood. Whatever you think of his movies, and I don't care how old you are, Clint Eastwood is definitely cool. 

     Golf. Golf was cool back in the 1990s. Not anymore.

     Visors. The coolest guy in our golf group wears a visor. I guess that shows you how cool our golf group is.

     So I might as well tell you, when I was in high school, I wasn't exactly the coolest guy in the class. It wasn't for lack of trying. I smoked cigarettes, drank beer, and did a lot of other stupid things that I thought might make me cool. Then I finally realized. The truly stupid thing is to try to be cool. Because it doesn't mean a thing. You're much better off being yourself.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Lessons from 60 Years of Living

     My wife and I Facetimed with my daughter and her husband and our baby granddaughter the other day. They're busy starting a family, moving to a different city, getting a new job, buying a house. It's great to see them, talk to them, but I had to bite my tongue because all I wanted to do is give them advice -- and they really don't need my advice.

     Nevertheless, I've been on this earth a long time and have learned a few things, although as my wife often reminds me -- ha, you don't know everything. So if you can add anything to these lessons, please, be my guest.

     So some lessons, learned the hard way:

     The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. I learned this in high-school geometry. The principle goes well beyond mathematics and applies to everything from mapping out a trip to planning out a career

      Look to see what's coming. This comes from driver's education. Look both ways, and anticipate what the other drivers are going to do. This is especially important if you (as I did) learned to drive a stick shift, to avoid excessive shifting, excessive braking, and just generally knowing what's about to happen so you don't get blindsided. In driving, as in life, you don't want to get blindsided -- whether it's by a divorce, a layoff, a sudden accident or mishap that could have been foreseen and thus avoided.

     Don't piss into the wind. I learned this at Boy Scout camp. But aside from not getting yourself wet, the message is: don't buck the trend, whether it's the prevailing opinion at work or the prevailing opinion among your friends -- unless you want to lose your job or your friends. So . . . go with the flow.

     Know when to break the rules. Of course, there are always exceptions to the previous piece of advice. Sometimes the rules make so sense; they're holding you back, and you need to break out of the box. I learned this in my first job, when I broke some rules and catapulted myself into a promotion. But, I realized later, I was lucky. Because make no mistake. Most of the time you'll be opposed by the hidebound, the people with a vested interest, the people who can't see over the horizon.

     Stay on your toes. I learned this one in Little League. I played second base because while I was not afraid of ground balls, I had no arm and couldn't make the throw from shortstop or third base. But playing the infield, the ball comes at you pretty fast. You have to be ready. The coach would tell us, "Stay on your toes."

     How to make a decision. Some people make a list of pros and cons. Others flip a coin -- and know the answer when the coin is in the air and they're hoping for a particular result. But I learned the concept of "expected value" in business school. Suppose you have one die. It costs you a dollar to roll the die. You pick a number, and if your number comes up you win $10. Should you play? The answer is yes, because on average it will cost $6 to win $10. If you're expected value of an action is positive, then you should take the action. It works in business but also in other aspects of life including your love life. It also works in gambling. Or as Kenny Rogers told us: "You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em."

     Pick your fights. I learned this from my older sister. We used to fight all the time when we were little kids and I would always lose -- until one day when I got a bigger, I finally got on top of her and pinned her against a rock. We never fought again, because my sister was smart enough to know she wasn't going to win anymore. I learned it again later in life when I stood up to my boss when he was doing something wrong. He backed down, because he had to, but it wasn't long before I found myself with an early retirement package.  

     Go down swinging. Sometimes you have to fight even if you think you might lose -- if it's a matter of principle, or justice, or desperation. If that's the case, don't give up. You never know. You might surprise them. But if you do lose, lose with honor. So maybe if I hadn't picked that fight with my boss I'd have a more generous pension today -- but at least I can live with myself. 

     Get out of your rut. I learned this from tennis. It's easy when you're playing tennis to fall into the habit of hitting the ball back to your opponent. He's standing right there. So sometimes you have to remind yourself:  Hit the ball to the other side of the court! Make him run! Similarly, in life sometimes you have to shake things up -- to make people notice, to catch competitors off balance, to change the pace -- whether it's a career, a relationship, a vacation, an investment. Don't always just hit the ball back.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Is This Really Urban Renewal?

     I mentioned that my wife and I took a day trip up to Bethlehem, PA, to catch a sight of the so-called Steel Stacks. So here's what we saw as we turned into the parking lot.


     Pretty amazing, huh? We arrived the afternoon that Musikfest was to begin, held annually at the beginning of August. Gates open at 5 p.m., the music starts at 6 p.m. Below is a picture of the main stage, hard up against the Steel Stacks,. Usually Musikfest attracts thousands of young people -- it's located just down the hill from Lehigh University --  but this year crowds are limited, so the main stage is not being used.

 
      Instead the bands are playing at a secondary stage, across the street in front of the ArtsQuest center. The crowd is limited to 250 people in the main area, and another 250 in this secondary area. Foods tents have been set up in one of the parking lots. Again, only 250 people are allowed into the food area at one time -- all arranged around a one-way pathway. Take-out only. 


     We were not there for the music. We just wanted to see what this was all about. Musikfest is held at the site of the old Bethlehem Steel Company, founded in 1863 to make iron rails for the railroad. The plant was a major manufacturer during both World Wars and went on to produce steel used in modern bridges and skyscrapers. After the plant closed in 1995, it was left to the elements. But in recent years the site has slowly been renovated as an urban chic destination for tourists, music lovers . . . and gamblers. 


     Down the street, behind an abandoned building, we could glimpse Wind Creek casino, which in my mind illustrates the change in our economy from manufacturing (steel making) to services (games of chance). The casino, here since 2009, closed in March and re-opened in June to a Covid-limited audience. We didn't walk all the way to the casino. Instead, we circled back around the other way and found . . . a Roman ruin?


     No, just another post-industrial American ruin.. And beyond that, another one . . . 


     and yet another, whose falling-apart roof lends itself to a more abstract view.


     So as you can see, they have a ways to go in the renovations. Still, there are economic green shoots growing out of these old ruins. There's an industrial museum buried among these buildings. A community college has claimed one corner of an old building. Then, of course, there's always tourism, the great American pastime. 


     The Visitor Center was closed -- it was opening later in the day for Musikfest -- but we probably wouldn't go in anyway. We don't even use public restrooms these days. So we left for home, wondering all the way: Is the new American economy really better than the old one?

Sunday, August 2, 2020

"Oh, My God!"

     Laurie Stone woke up an hour later than usual. "Oh my God," she thought. "Where's Rocky?" Her kitty always roused her at the crack of dawn with his loud Meoooowww!

     A sense of dread rose as she got out of bed. She'd heard about older pets dying quietly in the night. She called for him as she looked around the bedroom. She walked through the living room, through the dining room, to the kitchen . . . .

     For the rest of  the story, you have to go over to The Morning the Cat Didn't Wake Me. And after you've done that, we can run down the posts of some other bloggers -- bloggers who are mostly staying home, sometimes sleeping late, but also venturing out, one way or another, to ponder different points on the compass.

      As for me, I've had to cancel several vacations due to Covid. Instead, my wife and I have been making day trips. We drove over to Princeton, NJ, and walked around the beautiful college campus. We traveled up to Bethlehem, PA, and took a tour around the old steel furnaces. We followed the Delaware River down to Bristol, PA, where the river meets up with the canal that once was used to haul coal from the mountains to the city.

     But other than these short journeys (okay, a secret -- we can't go for more than three hours total, because we don't want to "go" in a public restroom), we've been staying close to home.

Back home for Carol. But where is it?
     Carol Cassara, blogging at Heart, Mind, Soul, suggests that the pull toward "home" seems stronger than ever in our senior years. She left home when she was 21 and made a life for herself in California. But now something has shifted. She and her husband have been spending more time back home with family and old friends . . . all of which has led to a life-changing decision that she explains in Can You Really Go Home Again?

     Rebecca Olkowski with BabyBoomster.com felt a pull toward another kind of home. As she tells us in Escape to Tempe, AZ, she was invited on a virtual tour of the city, where both her mother and brother once lived. The city has changed a lot, she reports, and now offers festivals, fine dining, major sports events. But with temperatures currently hitting 118 degrees, and Covid running rampant (Arizona is averaging about 2,500 cases a day) it might be best to stick to wide-open outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking and golf . . . at least for now.

     Meryl Baer reminds us that the political hype continues to escalate as election day nears. By the way, did you know? Meryl Baer has a new blog called Beach Boomer Bulletin. Check it out -- it may be the only chance you get to go to the beach this summer.

     Anyway, Baer certainly echoes my feelings when she says that most of us can't wait until November 4 when the craziness ends. (Wishful thinking!) But political madness is not a new phenomenon. To give us all some perspective, she reviews in Political Scandals to Ponder a variety of scandals that caught the nation's attention over the years.

     To bring things up-to-date, Rita R. Robison, consumer journalist, offers us news and reviews of Trump's Four Executive Orders on Prescription Drugs. According to Peter Maybarduk of Public Citizen's Access to Medicines Program, she reports, the half-measures are weak and will make only small changes in some drug prices to some people.

     Finally, whether you're at home pondering politics, or taking care of aging pets -- or finding a way to travel in these treacherous times -- Jennifer Koshak has a simple message: Remember to laugh, don't be afraid of being silly, and Never Stop Having Fun

Sunday, July 26, 2020

We've All Canceled Plans

     My wife and I were supposed to leave for Wisconsin today, on a two-week trip to visit my daughter and grandchild. Instead, we decided to stay home.

     We'd booked the trip back in May, when Covid cases were going down from an average of 30,000 a day to 20,000 a day. The virus was supposed to take the summer off, with the experts only worried about a second wave that might come in the fall.

     So we booked an airbnb, and I told my daughter: "We've got reservations, and we'll be there ...  you know, unless the Coronavirus makes a big comeback and stops us from traveling."

     We carved out the time on our calendar and looked forward to a Wisconsin vacation -- we'd never been to Wisconsin. We were doubly excited because we'd already had two trips canceled because of Covid. We were going to take a long weekend back home in New York at the end of April, but the event got canceled, and we were wary of traveling anyway, so we didn't go. Airbnb was good to us -- it gave us a full refund.

     Then our summer trip to Cape Cod was canceled. We had signed up for a week in July, but the woman who rents us her house called us and said they'd decided not to rent at all during the summer.

     We found out later, from a friend who lives on the Cape, that a lot of Bostonians and New Yorkers who have summer places on the Cape have moved there for the duration. The Cape is pretty crowded -- not with tourists, but with second homeowners.

     B read that on nearby Martha's Vineyard, where the rich and famous summer, they're experiencing a surge in fall school registrations. A number of second homeowners intend to spend the next year there, working from home and sending their kids to the local school.

     Anyway, we had two trips canceled. But I bet we're not alone. I'd guess a lot of us have had to cancel travel plans because of Covid.

     Still, we were looking forward to the trip to Wisconsin. And we prepared. We checked with our airbnb host to make sure she cleaned and disinfected. We made reservations at a hotel along the way with a "CleanStay" program. We stocked up on disinfectants and masks, and even researched how we could avoid public restrooms on the highway.

Not going to Wisconsin
     But there was no way around it. Instead of going down, the cases of Covid began to rise again. Big time.

     On May 17 new cases were down to 13,000 a day nationwide. There were several other days at the end of May when new cases came in under 20,000. But then they began to go up again -- 21,000, 23,000, 25,000. They crested 30,000 again on June 19. They hit 40,000 on June 25. They climbed to over 50,000 by July 1. And over 60,000 by July 8.

     This was making us nervous. The virus was supposed to go to sleep for the summer; instead, it was raging back. I began to drill down, looking at the cases in Wisconsin -- and in Ohio where we'd have to spend a night in the hotel. In July, Wisconsin went from 500 cases a day to 700 cases a day, to 900 cases a day. On Friday new cases in Wisconsin numbered 1,058. Ohio was worse. The state has suffered over 1,000 cases every day since the beginning of July, hitting 1,560 on Friday.

     The numbers at home have also been going up. But more gently. Pennsylvania currently has about 800 cases a day. So we finally decided it would be foolish to drive into the teeth of the epidemic.  Even if we're careful, we realized, we'd have more contact when we're away and on the road, exposing ourselves to more public touch points.

     So it's back to stay-at-home, self-isolation, talking to people on Zoom. But that's better than contracting Covid, maybe ending up in the hospital, or worse, and possibly giving it to my daughter and her family.

     So this morning I woke up. And my first thought was: What about Thanksgiving? Maybe we could go to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving! And then there's our winter trip ...