"To be too certain of anything is the beginning of bigotry." -- Novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah

Friday, June 26, 2015

Getting Married

     B and I have four children between us. Tomorrow, the first of them, her younger son, is getting married. At age 23, he is the youngest of the four.

     That seems a little young to me, in this day and age, but he and his bride seem mature for their age, and well suited for one another. They grew up together, went to the same high school, and started going out together when they were freshmen in college. She transferred after her freshman year, in order to be closer to him, and now they've been living together for almost two years.

     Some people balk at the idea of two people living together before they get married. But B and I are hardly ones to object, since we have been living together for eight years without benefit of marriage.

     But, for us, there is no benefit of marriage. At least not financially. Neither one of us needs to piggyback on the other's medical insurance; and we'd have to pay more in taxes if we got married. We won't be having any more kids; so we don't need to make it official for that reason. In fact, if we were to get married it might just complicate things for our kids.

     But B and I might get married anyway . . . eventually. Even though we're not raising a family, there's still something appealing about marriage, making the relationship official, for all the world to see.

    Anyway, we're going off to watch our little boy (well, not my little boy, but I've known him since he was in 8th grade) march down the aisle.

     They're doing it up pretty big -- with a minister, at a fancy wedding venue, expensive rings, with a rehearsal and rehearsal dinner and roughly 150 friends and family at the wedding. Flowers, professional photographer, gift bags, bachelor and bachelorette parties. All the women in the wedding bought a new dress for the occasion, and they are going together to get their nails, hair and makeup done.

     It seems a bit over the top to me. But then, I got married in 1973 in a little church in the country with about 15 guests, and my bride wore flowers in her hair and we all went out to lunch afterwards. We were together for 28 years, raised two great kids, and had a pretty good run.

     So if that simple little ceremony was good for 28 years, then B's son and his bride will be married forever.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Don't Overdo the Pills

     I had a little medical problem yesterday.

     For the most part, I feel fortunate because I do not take any prescriptions on a regular basis, while most of my friends seem to be on all kinds of medications -- for cholesterol, high blood sugar, and who knows what else.

     I'm basically healthy, but I do still suffer a few aches and pains. I have a bad knee from an old sports injury and a bad ankle from a car accident I was in when I was a kid. My back acts up occasionally, which I attribute to 30+ years sitting behind a desk. Then sometimes I get a headache -- when I get tired or dehydrated, or when I have a drink.

     On Sunday, which was Father's Day, B and I went out to dinner, and we each had a glass of wine. When I know I'm going to have a drink, I take two Advil before I go out, then another two Advil before I go to bed . . . to prevent a headache.

     Then yesterday I played a round of golf, and afterwards I felt a little crick in my back. So I took another two Advil.

     I guess, between my aches and pains, and then occasionally taking an aspirin because it's suppose to help your heart -- and I've read it may even help prevent cancer -- I pop maybe six Advil and two or three aspirin a week.

     So yesterday afternoon, after I got home from golf, and took the Advil, I sat and relaxed for a while watching TV, made myself some iced coffee, then went up to take a shower. I was standing in the shower when I suddenly noticed a big bump in my hand. It hadn't been there ten minutes ago. It was dark colored, almost purple. As big as a golf ball. I felt it, and it wasn't hard. It moved a round a little bit.

     I thought of the sci-fi movies where snakes and worms come crawling out of people's skin. It looked like I had a giant slug buried under the skin on the back of my hand.

     I thought, maybe I ought to get this checked out. We have a walk-in clinic in our town. I've never been there before, but I figured this might be the time to try it out.

     I called them up. Yes, the woman told me, they take Medicare. She said to come right in. Fortunately, they weren't crowded at 6 p.m. on a Monday. A very nice nurse took my pulse and my blood pressure. The doctor came in and examined me. I showed him my hand and explained that it had come up very suddenly.

     It didn't take him long to figure it out. He told me a blood vessel had burst in my hand. It's nothing to be concerned about, he said. Did I injure my hand, or hit it against anything?

     No, I replied.

     Have you taken any aspirin lately?

     Yes, I told him. I take an aspirin, probably one every few days. And I use Advil for pain.

     Have you taken Advil recently?

     Yeah, I took, um . . . four yesterday. And actually, two more today.

     That's likely the cause, he said.

     Well, I know aspirin thins the blood, I said. Does Advil do that as well?

     Oh yeah, he replied. Aspirin, Advil, Motrin, Tylenol. They all do.

     I see, I acknowledged. But I've been around for 60 years. It's never happened to me before. Why would I suddenly burst a vein?

     I can't answer that, he said. What I can tell you is that this is nothing serious. Your body will reabsorb the blood. He suggested that I ice my hand, and then starting tomorrow, put a warm washcloth on the hand, a couple of times a day for a few days.

     Then he looked up and down my arms. You have a few other bruises, he said, pointing to one on the inside of my wrist and another by my elbow. So don't take any aspirin or Advil for a least a week. It takes that long for it to get entirely out of your system.

     And so now, in addition to not taking any prescriptions, I'm off the painkillers. Who would have thought? But I guess even mundane medicines like Advil and aspirin have side effects.

     The doctor also did a blood test to check my oxygen levels and my clotting factors, just to be sure. He told me to come back if it gets red and painful. It's possible it could get infected, but he didn't think that would happen.

     He didn't tell me I could never take aspirin or Advil again. But I got the message: Don't overdo the pills, even if they're as common and mundane as aspirin or Advil.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Let's Hear It for Summer!

     Welcome to summer . . . to those of us north of the Equator.

     Laura Lee Carter is blogging today, wishing everyone a Happy Summer Solstice, which, as she reminds us, heralds the beginning of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. This year the solstice also happens to occur on Father's Day. She hopes the arrival of summer will offer an opportunity for fathers and families everywhere to venture outside today (and maybe get some healthy exercise). And for inspiration she offers some photos of Colorado wildflowers gone wild.

Colorado wildflowers
     But as a warning to those of you planning to phone your fathers today, Rita Robison of The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide reports that the FCC Plans to Fine AT&T $100 Million for misleading customers about unlimited data plans. The Federal Communications Commission alleges that AT&T severely slowed down the data speeds for those with unlimited plans, and that the company didn't notify customers that they could receive speeds slower than those AT&T advertised.

     I don't use a lot of data myself, so this wouldn't affect me (I have a Verizon plan anyway); but it does seem to me that any company ought to be straightforward with its customers. Regardless, I hope I don't hear that excuse from my own kids about why they couldn't call me on Father's Day!

     Meanwhile, Meryl Baer of Six Decades and Counting offers up a tribute to her dad, who grew up in the Depression, served in World War II, made a career in advertising, and by all accounts, proved to be a great father and grandfather. She recalls some nice memories in Happy Birthday and Happy Father's Day, Dad, who, as she says, "Is not around anymore to celebrate with us, but his spirit is."

     Finally, in her blog Smart Living365 Kathy Gottberg says that she doesn't know any woman who doesn't care, at least a little bit, about how she looks to others. But hopefully, she continues, "By the time we get to our age, we care less about how other people judge us, and equally important, we stop letting the opinions of others make critical life decisions for us."

     That sentiment led to her recent decision to purchase and wear hearing aids, which, she says, is, "One of those moments when my perception of myself changed."

     For an account of her whole life-changing experience check out Do My Hearing Aids Make Me Look Fat? Which I did, and to which I respond . . . Kathy, you don't look fat to me!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Are You as Smart as a 5th Grader?

     While everyone else is reading The Girl on the Train (billed as the next Gone Girl) and The Boys in the Boat (about the Univ. of Washington oarsmen who rowed for the U. S. in the 1936 Berlin Olympics), I've been reading something entirely different.

     As anyone who visits this blog knows, my beloved B, aka Bridge, is a librarian. She spends her days in the children's room reading to kids, helping them find books, and creating all kinds of programs to engage their interest, enrich their minds, and . . . well, to be truthful, keep them out of their parents' hair for an hour or two.

     So last summer, and again this summer, B is involved in The Battle of the Books, a competition that involves kids from our library facing off against kids from five other local libraries. There are two levels, based on age. So our library has a 4th and 5th grade team, and a 6th and 7th grade team. They will meet the other teams sometime in July for the actual contest. In the meantime the kids are reading the books, studying them, going over practice questions.

     Each group has five books they will be asked questions about. I'm not sure exactly how the competition works; but basically, the team that gets the most questions right, or makes the fewest mistakes, will win some kind of prize.

     In the meantime, someone has to select the five books for the battle. And the librarians running the program have to read the books and come up with questions for the kids to answer.

     So B has asked me to help her out with the 4th and 5th grade team by reading one of the books, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein. I have to generate 60 questions based on the book. Many of the questions are about the plot or the characters. For example: How old is Kyle, the main character?

     But other questions involve general information that gets woven into the story in one way or another. So, go ahead, take this test . . . and see if you're as smart as a 5th grader.

     1. What's a fancy word for library?

     2. What's the shortest distance between two points?

     3. What two coins add up to 30 cents -- but one of them can't be a nickel?

     4. What US Navy ship was once captured by the North Koreans?

     5. What did Apollo 8 accomplish that had never been done before?

     6. What's the nickname of the state of Indiana?

     7. Who wrote Around the World in Eighty Days?

     8. 0 +27 + 0.4 = ???? (but don't use math)

     9. What was the name of the gleaming white elf-horse that carried Frodo Bagins across the River Bruinen?

     10. Who said, "Knowledge not shared remains unknown."

Answers, according to Chris Grabenstein:

     1) Athenaeum; 2) A straight line; 3) A quarter and a nickel (one of them is not a nickel); 4) USS Pueblo; 5) It was the first spacecraft to orbit the moon; 6) Hoosier State; 7) Jules Verne; 8) 027.4, the Dewey decimal no. for library information; 9) Asfaloth, from Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; 10) Why . . .  Mr. Lemoncello of course!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

No Car for Old Men

     B and I are in the market for a new car. And since this blog is all about honesty and truthfulness, I will admit something I do not like to admit. It's about vanity. I do not want a car that makes me look like an old geezer.

     So, at the risk of offending some people, that means . . . no Dodge or Chrysler for me.

     We already have a Subaru Forester. That's mostly what B drives. She is very trepidatious about driving in the snow, and not so keen about driving in the rain either, and so she insists on driving an all-wheel-drive vehicle. She feels safer with the extra traction, and has reminded me more than once about how last winter her colleague got stuck in the snow in the library parking lot, and her husband had to come over in his all-wheel-drive vehicle to pick her up.

We're looking for something to go with the Subaru Forester
     I've never had an all-wheel-drive vehicle in my life. I don't see the need for it. Sure, we get some snow here. But the people I know (other than B) who have a Subaru or other all-wheel-drive vehicle are skiiers who trek up to Vermont or New Hampshire for weekends in January and February. That makes sense to me -- not the skiing, I think skiing is a suicidal sport, especially for anyone over age 50 -- but the idea of an all-wheel-drive vehicle if you're going to be slipping and sliding around in the Northern latitudes all winter.

     I suggested to B that one all-wheel-drive vehicle in the family is enough. She can use the all-wheel-drive, and I'll use the front-wheel drive. But, she says, the whole idea of having two cars is so we can switch back and forth, for our convenience. I pointed out that we could switch back and forth most of the time, just not on snow days. In other words, probably about 350 days a year. She's not convinced, however.

     Anyway, we looked at a Volvo. I had a Volvo once and I liked the car. Trouble is, the all-wheel-drive Volvo is trop cher. And by trop cher I mean north of $40K. Doesn't that seem like a lot of money for a car? Even if you lease it, you're talking well over $400 a month.

     I also looked at the Ford Fusion. One of our neighbors recently bought a Ford Fusion. They got the front-wheel drive version; but there is an all-wheel-drive version as well -- for, of course, an extra $3,000 or $4,000. We did a test drive, and I just didn't like the car all that much. You sit down in the car and can't see out very well, and the thing just seems very big and boaty.

     I looked at a Buick Regal and the lower priced Buick Verano. See the note above about "old geezer."

     We're going to see an Acura, which is nothing but  a fancy Honda; a little upscale, but not as expensive as a Lexus or BMW. I don't like BMWs anyway. I don't know what it is, but something about the BMW sticks in my craw.

      But in the case of the Acura, the all-wheel-drive version is almost $10,000 more expensive than the base model, largely because you can't get an all-wheel drive Acura unless you go to the top of the line with leather seats, a moonroof, a navigation system, and a whole list of other bells and whistles.

     Then we've got an appointment to test drive a Subaru Legacy, which is the four-door sedan entry in the Subaru lineup. But, I mean, we like B's Forester okay. But we don't think of ourselves as such Subaru fans that we want to be a two-Subaru family.

     This business of buying a car is fraught with all kinds of emotional and psychological, as well as practical issues. Isn't it?   

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Does Your Sibling Know You Best?

     Last weekend on our way to Pennsylvania, B and I listened to a podcast of interviews with Philip Galanes, who writes the Social Q's column for the New York Times. Since we were going to visit B's family, we focused on the interview about siblings.

     The questions involved adult siblings with various problems -- what's your obligation to help out a brother who can't keep a job; how to deal with a sister who doesn't get along with her brother's wife; how does a younger brother stand up to to his older brother who's always bossing him around.

     Galanes gives common sense advice, sometimes with a dash of humor, for sometimes awkward but otherwise fairly ordinary problems. He makes a point of saying we should all try to get along with our siblings, because they are our oldest friends, and they know us better than anyone else, right down to our roots.

     At that point, B and I looked at each other. Bridge comes from a large family. Her oldest sister is ten years older than she is; her youngest brother is ten years younger. And as she pointed out, she barely knows either one of them. (Her older brother doesn't try to tell her what to do; but he does try to boss the youngest brother around.) She is close to one sister, who is two years older than she is. But the rest of the family -- seven kids in all -- just seemed like a crowd of people to her. They don't know her down to her roots; they know her in only the most superficial ways.

     I grew up in a family of four kids -- two older sisters, and an older brother who died when I was in 10th grade. I barely knew my brother. He was five years older, and while I looked up to him, and thought he was just about the coolest kid in town, I didn't really know much about him.

     I didn't know my older sister at all. She's six years older. She says she used to babysit for me when I was a toddler. Maybe she did -- I don't remember. She claims I "was a handful" (but I'm sure she's exaggerating!). She went away to school starting in 11th grade, and so she was out of the house by the time I was entering 5th grade. I only knew her as the slightly rebellious older sister who couldn't wait to get away from home and go out into the world.

     I didn't see my older sister more than a few times for the next 30 years. We weren't estranged; we just had no reason to keep in touch. Now we see each other once or twice a year, mostly because she lives in Florida, and I stop by her house for a couple of days when I take my winter break in Florida, as I've been doing for the past ten years. I play golf with her husband; we catch up on news of cousins and nieces and nephews. But it's definitely an opportunistic, long-distance relationship. 

     I was much closer to my other sister, only two years older than I am. We did hang out together as kids. We went to the swimming pool together in the summer; we went on vacation with our parents; we were the two kids still around after my brother died and my older sister went off to college.

     But how much does she know me now? Yes, she would recognize my computer passwords -- the name of my first dog, the street address of our house; our telephone number back when we were kids. But other than that, she doesn't know a whole lot about me either. After all, she went off to college; got married; moved out west, and now lives 2000 miles away.

     We see each other a few times a year. She's a lawyer who's still working part time, and she occasionally has to fly back east for a job, and then she'll come visit for a few days. We get along; we're still friends, in a way, and we will occasionally get on the phone and share worries about our kids, tell stories about our vacations, or talk a little bit about financial matters or retirement plans.

    But the point is, both Bridge and I disagree with Galanes. Sure, if we still live in the same town where we grew up, and so do our siblings, then he's probably right. But who does that anymore? My family is spread out from New York to Florida to Arizona. B's family spans the country from Boston to Seattle. Our siblings know what we were like 40 years ago; but that doesn't have much to do with who we are today.

     Maybe you know your siblings down to your roots if you're all involved in a family business, or you still live in the same neighborhood. But for most of us, I think, the people who know us best are not our siblings, but our spouse, our children, our friends. Don't you agree?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

How Much Money Do You Need in Retirement?

     A survey done in April by the Employee Benefits Research Institute, a Washington D.C.-based nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization, concluded that people are feeling better about retirement than they were just a few years ago -- although they're still not as confident as we were back in our day, the halcyon days of the 1990s.

     Today, almost 60 percent of American workers feel relatively comfortable that they will be able to finance their retirement, compared to fewer than half during the Great Recession -- but less than the 70 percent in the mid-1990s who figured they had enough resources to support a comfortable lifestyle after they left work.

     What's interesting is that people who are already retired have greater confidence in their financial future than people who are still working. Over 80 percent of current retirees say they have enough money to pay for their basic expenses. And 78 percent of retirees feel confident they can afford their medical expenses, compared to only 56 percent of people still working who think they will be able to afford medical care after they retire.

     Perhaps this reflects a difference in views toward Medicare. We expect that Medicare will be there for us. But apparently our children are not so sure. Only 43 percent of today's workers think that Medicare "will continue to provide benefits of at least equal value to benefits received today."

     One thing that strikes me about the report is that 59 percent of retirees believe they have enough money to pay for long-term care, such as a nursing home or at-home care, should they need it. I don't know how this can be true, considering assisted living can cost up to $10,000 a month, and a nursing home even more than that.

     Last year (at B's encouragement) I purchased a long-term-care insurance policy, and I'm still not particularly confident I can afford to survive in an assisted living facility for very long. I guess if you go broke, they put you on Medicaid and (as happened with the father of a friend of mine) send you down to the end of the hall where the rooms are smaller and the services not quite as good.

     So how much money do most people think they need to have saved up by the time they retire, so they can live comfortably? About a quarter of those surveyed say you only need something less than $250,000. On the other end of the scale, 20 percent figure you should be sitting on at least $1 million to live a comfortable lifestyle after you leave work.

     Of course, a lot of that depends on whether or not you have the benefit of a pension plan. Obviously, if you're receiving 80 percent or more of your salary from a defined-benefit plan, you don't need to have much in the bank. But if you have no pension at all, you'd better have something substantial to supplement that Social Security check.

     Finally, what percent of your pre-retirement income will you need to live comfortably in retirement? Most people say it's somewhere between 50 and 70 percent. But a significant number of people think you'll be perfectly okay with less than half of what you were making while you were working.

     I know in my case, my expenses went way down when my kids finished college, moved out and began careers of their own. No more diapers to buy; no more sports equipment; no more college tuition. I'm also saving money on medical insurance, now that I'm on Medicare, and at some point in the not-too-distant future Bridge and I will be moving to a smaller house with lower taxes, lower heating bills, and (hopefully!) no lawn maintenance.

     So just suppose, someone in their 50s comes up to you and asks, "How much money do I need to retire?" What would you tell them?