"An empty man is full of himself." -- Edward Abbey

Sunday, June 20, 2021

What's Your Retirement Type?

     When we're younger our identity is often defined by our career. We're a teacher, a doctor, a banker, a homemaker. But after we retire things change. We find a new identity or new profile . . . if for no other reason than having a way for people to remember us.

     So what's your retirement type? Are you . . . 

     1. The Grandparent. I myself would like to be more of a grandparent. But my grandkids live in three different states -- not one of them the state where I live. But I know several people -- mostly women, but a few men as well -- who live near their children and babysit the grandchildren several days a week, or live with their children and take care of the grands so the parents can work. This has now become their role in life, to take care of the kids. And I, for one, believe this is an honorable and meaningful role.

   2. The Sportsman. I belong to a golf group that plays every Wednesday from April through October. I like to play golf. But I'm not a fanatic. Some of these guys play three times a week, and continue through November and into December, as long as there's no snow on the ground. They are the true Golfers. I have a friend who's a Cyclist. He bikes 15 or 20 miles three or four days a week. Another is into sailing and canoeing. Some people have more exotic pastimes -- like my friend the pumpkin chucker. Yes, there's a sport called pumpkin chucking which involves hurling or chucking a pumpkin for distance by mechanical means. 

     3. The Volunteer. I was never much of a volunteer in my younger days. I was too busy going to work and earning a living and taking care of my kids. But in retirement I've found a lot of satisfaction in volunteering for several organizations. I tutored kids at our community college, I've helped adults with ESL, and I'm currently volunteering with a senior group. Maybe I'm a volunteer -- but with a small "v." I know people who volunteer like a fulltime job with their church, a veterans organization, a community center, an environmental group. Their true identity is Volunteer. 

     4. The Traveler. We focus our travel on the grandchildren -- since, as I mentioned, they live in three different states. But we have friends who, before Covid, would go on three or four cruises a year. They're already planning a cruise for the fall, and maybe another one next winter. Another couple we know has already been to the Maldives this spring. They're heading to the Caribbean in a couple of weeks; then a week in San Francisco; then a trip to Italy in the fall.

     5. The Homebody. Some people are more comfortable just staying home. They clean and decorate and make sure things are well ordered. Maybe they watch sports or news on TV, or like to read, or do jigsaw puzzles. After all, isn't this what retirement is all about -- relaxing and enjoying life without the pressures of making a living or trying to impress other people?

    6. The Gardener. We have one friend who studied to be a master gardener in retirement, and she now works part-time at a flower shop. She had an exhibit at the Philadelphia Flower Show. The show ended on Sunday, and by Wednesday she was spending the day viewing the flowers at nearby Longwood Gardens. Needless to say, she has a beautiful gardens in her backyard. Then there's my brother-in-law. No flowers for him. He raises an acre's worth of vegetables. We like to visit our family Gardener in August when the corn and tomatoes come in.

     7. The Professional. Some people retire -- and then go right back to work. The very idea of sitting around the house, or looking for things to keep them busy, drives them up the wall. They liked what they were doing when they were working, and so they keep going as a consultant, a freelancer, or with another firm. My doctor was forced to retire from his medical group at age 70. But it wasn't a week before he had set up his practice with another doctor the next town over. My own Uncle Tom somehow managed to keep going to his office, at least a couple of days a week, until they finally kicked him out at age 90. We joked that he was just afraid to stay home with his fierce and sometimes-dominating wife.

     8. The Financial Guru. I know a few guys -- they're mostly guys -- who spend a good portion of their day, every day, following the ups and downs of the stock market. They watch CNBC, follow Yahoo Finance, subscribe to The Wall Street Journal and Investor's Business Daily. They guys aren't necessarily rich. But they like the action, feeling that they're keyed into something important.

     9. The Culture Vulture. These retirees go to museums, belong to the arthouse cinema, travel to the city to see the theater and the galleries. They're members of PBS. Maybe they belong to a local writers' group or photography club. Whatever. This is what makes their lives interesting.

     Of course, few of us fit into just one category. I myself dabble in several of these types -- a little bit of the sportsman, a little volunteer . . . and I try to be a culture vulture, but I know I fall short. And then, I tried to come up with ten retirement types. But I only got nine. What did I miss?

Saturday, June 12, 2021

P as in Phoenix

     We are vaccinated and masked and traveling again. Are you?

     We spent two weeks in South Carolina at the end of April. Last week we flew to Phoenix for a family get-together. We have plans to go to Wisconsin later in the summer. Why? Because we have family in South Carolina, Phoenix and Wisconsin.

     Masks are required in airline terminals and on airplanes. And they're serious about it. I had to keep a mask on for over seven hours each way. I thought that might be a problem. But it really wasn't. I got used to it.

     In Phoenix these days many people have dispensed with masks, especially when they're outside -- or in restaurants. We went to two museums. At the indoor Musical Instrument Museum, a little more than half of the people wore masks. At the outdoor Pioneer Living village, hardly anyone wore a mask.

The view from our condo

     Whenever I think of Phoenix I recall the Nichols and May telephone skit where May is confirming the spelling of the name Kaplan: "K as in knight," she says. "A as in aardvark. P as in pneumonia . . ."

     I guess I understand why Phoenix is pronounced with an F. So is Philadelphia. But there are a lot of things I don't understand about the Sunbelt. The first of them is: why does everyone move here?

Local fauna includes the pig-like Javelina

     The Phoenix area use to be cheap, uncrowded and not quite as hot as it is today. But now Phoenix has gotten expensive. Six of us went to dinner at a restaurant in a strip mall. It was a nice enough restaurant, but the bill was over $400!

     The city is also mobbed. When Glen Campbell recorded "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" the population of the whole area was under a million. Now there are over 5 million people crowded into the Phoenix metro area. And that doesn't even count the tourists.

At Pioneer Village they aren't kidding about the snakes

     We were there for a week. We agreed ahead of time that we'd go swimming in our airbnb pool every day the thermometer hit 100 degrees. We went swimming every day.

     But it's only getting hotter. We saw the sun out every day, with temperatures rising to 104 or 106 degrees. Next week, according to weather.com, the temperature in Phoenix is climbing to 117 degrees. Meanwhile, although we did not see it, the Telegraph fire is burning east of Phoenix, consuming 40,000 acres and counting. 

     But I have to admit, I enjoyed swimming every day. And there's a silver lining to the heat. Our rental complex wasn't very crowded. A lot of people who live there are snowbirds, and they've fled to cooler climes for the time being. 

     Anyway, I was visiting family. They moved to Phoenix in 2002. And they love it.      

The teacher's house circa 1890

     There are a lot of things to do in Phoenix -- from the sports venues to the zoo and the botanical gardens and the art museum and an American Indian museum. 

     We spent most of our time hanging out with family. But we did make those two excursions. The first was to the Musical Instrument Museum which houses a large, well-organized and interactive collection of instruments from around the world. We saw all kinds of strange instruments, listened to lots of different music, and even caught a live bluegrass show.

The sheriff's office included a jail

     We also spent a morning at the nearby Pioneer Living History Museum, located in an area that was once a ranch, a few miles north of the city.

     Some of the buildings are re-creations; others are original buildings that were moved there when the museum opened in 1969. Either way, they were all sitting in the desert, baking under a remorseless sun.

Peek inside a fancy dress shop

     Now we're back home, outside of Philadelphia. It's raining. It's 58 degrees. There's no swimming pool, just a lawn that needs mowing. Maybe I do know why people move to the Sunbelt!

Phoenix today, at the corner of . . . well, any corner

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Resources for Retirement

     Over the years I have collected a number of links to websites that offer information, inspiration, research and entertainment geared to people over age 60. You'll find this list of Retirement Resources down on the right hand side of the blog, below More Grownup Voices.

     I've found these sites to be helpful and informative, and so I encourage you to check them out. Explore the sites. Look for ideas and issues that are relevant to your life.

   For example, travelers can climb aboard Roads Scholar or National Geographic. Lifelong learners can attend the Osher foundation site.  People looking for post-retirement work can apply at Encore or Second Act. Volunteers can find opportunities at Volunteer Match.

     I also have some of the standard sites for seniors, such as the AARP site, and two links to the New York Times. One is for The New Old Age, a page that has been suspended but still offers archived material. Newer articles about retirement have been folded into New York Times -- Health. (Note, however, that the Times limits your number of free visits per month unless you have a subscription.)

     I recently added Aging Parents Insights which covers topics like Alzheimer's, aging alone, caregiving and end-of-life issues. On the lighter side, there's a link to Manopause, for "men over 50 and the people who love them," which features videos, interviews, humor . . . and at least one Pulitzer-Prize winner.

     For those who are academically inclined, I've posted a number of links to universities sponsoring retirement research. They cover issues like health, finance, relationships and other concerns of the older population. So take a look. There are links to the well-known Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, as well as research centers at Johns Hopkins, Michigan, Stanford, and the University of Utah.

     I've done a post on this list before. But for those who are new to this blog, or those who didn't pay a whole lot of attention (let's face it, most of us don't), I hope you'll scroll down on the right and take advantage of this trove of information available to us, all for free.

     Meanwhile, if you've run across any other useful, reliable websites that will enrich our retirement lives, I hope you'll share them with us. May we all have a happy and healthy post-Covid retirement!

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Where Did You Retire?

     We read so many articles about the best places to retire. The lists are typically based on statistics about climate, income, life expectancy, access to health care. But all these are theoreticals. I wonder what people really care about when they decide where they're going to live after they retire.

     I remember my parents disagreed about where they were going to retire. My mom wanted to move to warm, sandy Florida. My dad wanted cool, blustery Cape Cod. They solved the problem by selling their suburban home and buying a place in Florida along with a summer cottage in Cape Cod. They spent eight months in Florida and four months in Cape Cod. When they got into their 80s and couldn't handle two places, they finally settled in Florida.

     We had neighbors back then who didn't know where they wanted to retire. So they sold their house, rented an RV and spent a year traveling all around the country, searching for their retirement haven. They ended up in Greenville, SC. Why? I don't know. But for them it was the place to be.

     We have friends from New York who retired to Charleston, SC. They told us they had always expected to move to Florida, "because that's where New Yorkers go when they retire." They took several trips to Florida looking for a retirement location, but never settled on anything. On the last trip, they stopped in Charleston on the way home to see an old friend. "We fell in love with the city immediately," they told me. Two days later they agreed to buy a townhouse outside of Charleston. And now, five years later, they are happily living in the townhouse . . . and one of their children has now moved to Charleston as well. 

     I have two sisters. One moved to Florida in her 30s. And she's still there. The other moved all over the country and beyond. Her last job was in Phoenix, and after she retired that's where she stayed. I don't know if she really feels like Phoenix is home; but she has a grandchild there now so that's where she's gonna be.

     So what's your story? Where did you move when you retired? And what led you to go there? Or, if you never moved at all, why not?

     My wife and I moved from New York to Pennsylvania. We were both born and raised in the Northeast and realized we would never be comfortable living anywhere else. Florida? The Carolinas? The West Coast? Great places to visit. But not to live. At least for us.

    But we wanted someplace a little less expensive than our pricey New York suburb. We considered Cape Cod. Too cold and dreary for nine months of the year. We visited Annapolis, MD. It's pretty expensive there, and seemed kind of cliquey. We looked at half a dozen places in New Jersey, including Cape May. But then we found out it's a lot less expensive if you just move across the state line into Pennsylvania. 

     So that's what we did. To be honest, we might have moved to be near our children. But we have four children between us, and they are spread out all over the country. So that wasn't in the cards. B does have some family in Pennsylvania and nearby New Jersey. That was a draw. And now, occasionally, my son is able to drive an hour west from Brooklyn, and I can drive an hour east from Pennsylvania, and we'll meet up in New Jersey for a round of golf. 

     That's our real-life retirement story. What's yours?

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Sobering Stopover

     We didn't make as many stops as usual on the way home from Charleston, SC, and they were quicker too, so we were a little ahead of schedule. As we traveled up I 295 around Richmond, I saw the Cold Harbor Civil War battle site was just off the highway. I suggested to B: Maybe we could stop for an hour.

     I don't know why -- I had no ancestors who were in the Civil War -- but I find Civil War history fascinating. Not just interesting in a general sort of way, but fascinating in the original sense of the word that suggests arousing interest through terror, like the way we are fascinated by the sight of a snake.

     I've taken an online course about the Civil War, and a Civil War class at our local Center for Learning in Retirement. I am not a scholar, but I've read several books on the period (although I was too intimidated to read the thousand-page-plus Grant by Ron Chernow -- which is why I'm no scholar.)

     Anyway, few years ago I visited the Petersburg, VA, battlefield site, with my daughter. We saw remnants of the Confederate defenses against the Union siege of 1864, along with the underground tunnel used by Federal forces to blow a hole in Confederate lines -- a move that backfired when Union forces got trapped in the crater left by the explosion.

     Last year B and I spent a day at Gettysburg. We got a tour of the battlefield, and heard about Little Roundtop and Big Roundtop, and looked out over the field where Picket's men charged the Union lines, costing the Confederates over 2000 casualties in less than an hour.

The Cold Harbor Killing Field today
     The fighting at Cold Harbor was part of Grant's Overland Campaign of 1864, as he pushed back the rebels in the Battle of the Wilderness, at Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor, on the way to Petersburg and then Richmond.

   B and I arrived at the site and walked the one-mile loop around the battlefield, surveying the remnants of trenches, rifle pits, and an open area called the Killing Field where on June 3, 1864 advancing Federal troops were cut down by entrenched Confederate soldiers. From May 31 to June 12, nearly 18,000 men were killed, wounded or captured.

     Of course, as we all know, a year later, on April 9, 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederates to General Grant, at Appomattox Courthouse, marking the end of the Civil War. The Union was saved. And some 4 million slaves won an uncertain freedom.

     The cost was an estimated 620,000 people killed in the military, with almost a million more wounded, captured or missing. And who knows how many civilians lost their lives or livelihoods because of the war, or how many survivors suffered what we now know as post-traumatic stress disorder -- damaged people who went unrecognized and uncared for.

Looking over the field from a trench
   When people today talk about how divided we are, how we don't tolerate fellow citizens who have different values, different lives, different views, I think to myself -- they are being myopic. We've seen plenty of division in American history, starting with the Revolution and including not just the Civil War and Reconstruction and Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan, but the Gilded Age and violent worker strikes, the 1950s and McCarthyism, the 1960s and Vietnam, and on and on. 

    It's an American tradition to speak our minds, get into arguments, divide ourselves by sex, race, class, ethnicity, region and religion. But hopefully our identity as Americans will overcome all that -- at least to the extent that we will never become so divided that we end up at a place like Cold Harbor again.