Sunday, December 4, 2016

6 Things Retirees Can't Afford

     The big day arrives, and we're off on that new adventure called retirement. Hopefully we've got our finances in order, and maybe some dreams of traveling the world or resettling in the Sunbelt.

     We are lucky to be able to retire. It's an opportunity not available to many others in the world and, except for the rich and famous, was never available here in America either, until well into the 20th century. The problem is, there are no guarantees that come with retirement. So as we go forward we should remember that there are a few things retirees simply cannot afford to do . . . and maybe you know a few others that I haven't identified here. 

     1)  We can't afford to ignore our finances. It doesn't matter how big our nest egg is or how generous our pension, we have to remember that we could easily live another 20 or 30 years -- all without a paycheck. We will inevitably go through a financial crisis or two, and perhaps another bout of inflation. The purchasing power of a pension that looks good today could dwindle if inflation returns. Ask your parents who lived through the 1970s and 80s. So we need to make sure our investments are diversified and our incomes derive from several sources, so if one asset runs into trouble the others will pick up the slack. 

     2)  We can't afford to ignore our health. This is right in front of our eyes, but sometimes we don't see it. As we get older, our bodies become less tolerant of injury and more susceptible to disease. An injury we could recover from in two weeks when we were in our 30s now takes two months -- or we may never fully heal at all. So we need to get our checkups, eat right, sleep well, avoid stressful situations and get some exercise. But don't be foolhardy. Say yes to walking, hiking, playing tennis or golf. But don't go skiing, skateboarding or skydiving unless you really know what you're doing. 

     3)  We can't afford to hold on to a large home. We like our suburban house with its backyard and tree-lined street. Perhaps we want to keep the old place so the kids will come home and show the place to the grandchildren. There may also be sentimental memories attached to the house. But again, remember that we now are getting older, and we are less able to clean and maintain a big three- or four-bedroom house, especially if it's showing its age and may need a new roof and new windows. We don't want to end up rattling around in a big old house that's falling down around our feet. 

     4)  We can't afford to skip planning ahead. Retirement is not a destination; it's a starting point and may involve some time for transition. Life goes on, and so we can't think that all our decisions have been made. Someone may need to plan ahead for their creaky knees or painful hip and live in a place with a bedroom on the first floor. Maybe a divorced child will want to come back to live at home, or perhaps there's a grandchild in the future (as there now is in ours). Our job is to look ahead, as best we can, and set ourselves up for the most likely possibilities. We're retired, but we still may have to adapt our lifestyle to new situations.

     5)  We can't afford to lose our friends. Many older people are lonely. They've lost some friends and others have moved away. The kids may be halfway across the country. So we can't just plan where we're going to live and what we're going to do. We have to figure out who we're going to do it with. So we can't be shy about signing up at the local senior center or trying out a new activity where we can meet new people, whether it's joining a card group or taking a dance class. If we're going to relocate, we need to consider where our friends are going and whether we want to join them. Also, we need to make sure to find a community that will welcome us as newcomers, whether it's a retirement mecca, an over-55 community, or (what we're looking for) just a neighborhood with lots of friendly people. 

     6)  We can't afford to take our family for granted. Our kids, or our siblings, may have been around so long that we assume they will always be there for us. But they can move away for a job or a new lifestyle. We need to make the effort to stay connected to family. Before anyone retires to Hawaii, Key West or another country, they should think about the family. And (as I keep reminding B), we shouldn't underestimate the pull of children and grandchildren. For most of us, they're worth sticking around for.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Remember Him?

     He died from cancer 15 years ago today, at the age of 58. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in India, according to Hindu tradition. Surely you remember him, since we still hear his voice all the time.

     He was born in 1943, the youngest of four children, into a household that had no indoor toilet and relied for heat on a single coal fire. His father was a conductor on a bus and his mother worked in a shop. His mother was an enthusiastic music fan and was known for her loud singing voice, which at times startled visitors by rattling the windows in their apartment. Reportedly, when she was pregnant, she listened to the weekly broadcast of Radio India, hoping the mystical sounds of the sitar and tablas would bring peace and calm to her baby in the womb.

     Later on, the boy would become interested in transcendental meditation and Hindu philosophy, and he developed an association with the Hare Krishna movement. But first, he became interested in music, and in particular the guitar.

     His father bought him an acoustic guitar, and a friend taught him how to play. He listened to American jazz and rockabilly music. In 1956, while riding his bicycle, he heard Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" playing from a house, and that song set him on a course of rock 'n roll.

     Before long he had formed his own group with his brother, Peter, and a friend. Then one day on the school bus he met another avid guitar player, Paul McCartney, who was a year older than him. They quickly became friends, and McCartney introduced him to John Lennon. Soon after George Harrison -- for surely, you know by now this is George Harrison -- auditioned for their group called the Quarrymen.

     Harrison was not immediately invited to become part of the band. But he started hanging around with McCartney and Lennon, filling in from time to time, until he became a full-fledged member of the band. He quit school when he was just 16, worked for a bit at a local store, then joined the group on their first tour of Scotland in 1960.

     The rest, as they say, is history. Harrison played lead guitar for The Beatles, but wrote no songs, at least at first. Even later he had a hard time getting his songs on their albums, but eventually some of his work proved among Tthe Beatles most popular selections, including "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Here Comes the Sun," and "Something" which is The Beatles second-most-covered song after "Yesterday."

     He developed an interest in Indian music in the mid-1960s and learned from Ravi Shankar how to play the sitar. As the 1970s dawned he learned the slide guitar and began to work with other musicians such as Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and The Band. After The Beatles broke up, Harrison recorded All Things Must Pass, a triple album featuring his hit single "My Sweet Lord" that topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.

     Harrison went on to organize the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, produce several more albums, and appear in a number of concerts. In 1988 he formed a new group, The Traveling Wilburys, with Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty. The group never performed live, but did record two albums.

     In 1997 Harrison was diagnosed with throat cancer, which he blamed on years of cigarette smoking and drug use. In 1999 a man broke into Harrison's palatial English home, called Friar Park, and attacked Harrison with a knife. His wife, Olivia, subdued the assailant by hitting him with a fireplace poker, but Harrison ended up in the hospital with some 40 stab wounds.

     In May 2001 his cancer came back, this time in his lungs, and then again in his brain. He died a few months later, on November 29, 2001, in Los Angeles. His final album was finished by Jeff Lynne and his son Dhani, and the notes featured a quote from the Bhagavad Gita: There never was a time when you or I did not exist. Nor will there be any future when we shall cease to be."

     The official George Harrison website offers plenty more information if you're interested, and also a link to a Spotify play list of Harrison originals. You can also find on youtube the 2002 Concert for George Harrison which features Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton and a great version of Harrison's "A Horse to Water" by Sam Brown.

     Meanwhile, here's my favorite.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

What Did You Do Over Thanksgiving?

     We drove up to B's brother's house, outside of Boston, where . . . no, we didn't see any Pilgrims, but it did feel very Thanksgiving-like, with the scudding clouds, cold air and bare-fingered trees. We had dinner with her brother and his wife, their three children and nine grandchildren, then stayed overnight and left the next morning.

     On the way home we stopped for another night in Sturbridge, MA, which features Old Sturbridge Village, a re-creation of a New England village of the early 1800s.

     The docents are dressed in period costume. They do not play the role of their historical characters (like the guides at Plimouth Plantation, who speak in a 17th century dialect). But they do demonstrate some of their crafts, such as this woman who was carding wool.

     B got to try some carding (do you know what carding is?), while I went next door and viewed the loom and the spinning wheel.

     By the 1830s the factories and railroads were starting to transform the way things were done in New England. Still, if you wanted to go from Hartford to Worcester (about 65 miles) you'd get on a stagecoach and, making stops every 12 to 15 miles to change horses, arrive at your destination a mere 12 hours later.

     As you probably know, there were other aspects of 1800s life that lacked the creature comforts we enjoy today. No central heating. No indoor plumbing. We went into one small house, and noticing no bathroom, I asked the guide, "Oh, is there an outhouse?" She shook her head and pointed outside. "They used the trees over there behind the wood pile." I was aghast. "Really? Even the women?" She nodded. "Only the bigger houses had privies."

     We stopped at the bank, which was originally built in the 1830s and later moved here from Thompson, CT. There was no ATM. But there was a modest collection of old coins, a tiny wood-burning stove and a small but very formidable-looking safe.

     After carding, B made a candle; I looked at the old rifles and guns and then visited the printing house. I also was interested in the clock collection -- which has nothing to do with Sturbridge Village except the Wells brothers, who owned an optical company and founded Old Sturbridge in the 1930s, also had a collection of old clocks, some of which are now displayed in the welcome center.

     There is a Protestant church and a Friends Meeting House (I was surprised; apparently there were some Quakers in New England in the 1830s, although Catholics were still frowned upon) and a General Store.

     A few animals roam the grounds -- chickens and . . . I don't what these are, but we got out of there fast!

     So what about you? How did you celebrate the holiday and give thanks for all our progress and all our modern blessings?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Is Thanksgiving Different This Year?

     Some people are giving thanks for the outcome of the election; others are horrified. Many are just thankful it's all over. But we'll get to that in a minute.

     Meantime, Laura Lee Carter gives thanks for her new lifestyle in an article One Baby Boomer’s Dream Come True that was published on The Boomer Cafe website. 

     Meryl Baer of Six Decades and Counting, like many others, is grateful for her grandchildren. But (it occurs to me) she does the whole thing backwards.

A princess in Florida
     Usually it's the kids who live in New Jersey and fly to Florida to visit grandma. But in Baer's case, it's the grandparents who live in New Jersey and fly to Florida to see the little ones.

     Anyway, this past weekend, as she reports in Spending Time With the Future, they spent four fun but exhausting days with the grandkids -- which provided a change from the less hectic, more laid-back lifestyle of the retiree.

     But if your Thanksgiving involves the appreciation of eating rather than travel, look to Carol Cassera for a simple and yummy stuffing recipe in Easy Chestnut Stuffing.

     Or if you're looking for a bit of nostalgia, Carol recommends an article by Charles Brady, which begins with his short, charming poem Once There Were Peaches. I leave it to you to decide if Brady is entirely serious, or if he has a bit of tongue in cheek.

     Finally, to more serious things. The election.

     On The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide, Rita R. Robison is thankful for our consumer protection laws – and expresses her concern that Republicans typically water down regulations and Trump seems to be filling his transition team with lobbyists and insiders, despite his promise to “drain the swamp.” Her latest covers Trump University Fraud Cases Settled for $25 Million. 

     Meanwhile, Kathy Gottberg on SmartLiving365 steps back and takes a more philosophical approach. She begins: "As the dust settles, emotions are running high. Mine included."

     But then she goes on, "It is tempting to make those who see things differently as the enemy, and to self-righteously soothe myself with my so-called intellect and reasoning skills as being morally and mentally superior. But where is the compassion? And what does retaliation do except build a wider chasm in a world in desperate need of unity, peace, and understanding?"

     For her full perspective go over to Is It Possible to Be for Something and Against Nothing? And be thankful that, despite our differences, we can all live together if not in complete unity or understanding, at least in peace and with some degree of compassion.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Roll of Honor

     There's a recent article in The New Yorker "The Enemy Next Door" about how life seems to develop along two streams -- the neighborly stream where we're all friendly and polite to one another and treat any problems in a simple, practical manner; and then there's the political stream which is much more poisonous, where people identify with a particular group, almost like a sports team or a religion, and they are passionate about their sometimes abstract beliefs, they get angry at people who don't agree with them, and believe their opponents are untrustworthy, harmful and downright evil.

     I wonder if a similar dualism takes place within ourselves when it comes to automobiles. I've often wondered why someone who's perfectly nice, who might wave you ahead in the grocery line if you only have a few items, will as soon as he gets in his car, start breaking the law by casually ignoring speed limits and other traffic regulations.

     On the way home from South Carolina we stopped at a rest stop in Maryland. On the way out, we got to our car, and a man sitting in a brown Toyota had his car door open next to me. He smiled. "Oh, you go ahead," he said. "I'm waiting for somebody."

     I noticed he was wearing a Boy Scout uniform, and saw a scouting sticker on his back bumper. He closed his door, gave a little wave, and waited politely as we pulled out of our parking space. As we we leaving, I saw a couple of young scouts climb into his car.

     B and I merged back onto the interstate, and about 15 minutes later I noticed the scout leader in my rear-view mirror. I was doing the speed limit, 65 mph on this stretch of I95. He was coming up behind me in his brown Camry. He moved into the left-hand lane, passed me by, then disappeared down the left-hand lane. The problem? He was doing at least 75, maybe 80, or 10 or 15 miles over the speed limit. With Boy Scouts in the car. So what lesson was this scoutmaster teaching the kids? What would their mothers say if they knew their boys were hurdling down I95 at 80 mph with their scoutmaster?

     Anyway, as a follow up to my last post, I thought it would be interesting -- perhaps a little morbid, but interesting -- to see what famous people lost their lives not to a drug overdose or alcohol, not in a plane crash or some violent act. But from the lowly, boring, but no-less-deadly car crash. See if your favorite celebrity is on this dubious honor roll. Then if you're really morbid, you can get a longer list at

General George S. Patton, in 1945 at age 60.
Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind, in 1949 at age 48.
James Dean, actor, in 1955 at age 24
Jackson Pollack, artist, in 1956 at age 34
Julia Lennon, John Lennon's mother, in 1958 at age 44
Mel Ott, baseball hall of famer, in 1958 at age 49.
Albert Camus in 1960 at age 46
Ernie Kovaks, actor, in 1962 at age 42
Jayne Mansfield, American actress, in 1967 at age 34
Mary Jo Kopeckne, in 1969 at age 28
Duane Allman, in 1971 at age 24
Steve Prefontaine, runner, in 1975 at age 24
John D. Rockefeller III, in 1978 at age 72
Harry Chapin, singer, in 1981 at age 38
Grace Kelly, princess of Monaco, in 1982 at age 52
Jessica Savich, journalist, in 1983, at age 36
Billy Martin, baseball manager, in 1989 at age 61
Dottie West, Grammy winning country singer, in 1991 at age 59
Sam Kinison, comedian, in 1992 at age 38
Wallace Stegner, Pulitzer-Prize winning writer, in 1993 at age 84
Jerry Rubin, '60s activist, in 1994 at age 56.
Princess Diana, in 1997 at age 36
Alan J. Paluka, movie director, in 1998 at age 70
Pete Conrad, astronaut, in 1999 at age 69
Steve Allen, in 2000 at age 78
Linda Lovelace, porn actress, in 2002 at age 53
Lisa "Left Eye" Lopez, American rapper, in 2002 at age 30
David Halberstam, Pulitzer-Prize journalist, in 2007 at age 73
Stephen Covey, author, in 2012 at age 79
Paul Walker, actor, in 2013 at age 40
John Nash, Nobel-Prize mathematician, in 2015 at age 86
Bob Simon, CBS news, in 2015 at age 73
Aubrey McClendon, Chesapeake ceo, in 2016 at age 56