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

Sunday, July 31, 2016

What to Do with Donald Trump?

     You do realize, don't you, that the Clintons and the Trumps are friends . . . or have been until recently. The Clintons joined the Trump National Golf Course when they moved to Westchester, NY, after Bill Clinton left the White House. The Clintons attended Trump's wedding to Melania in 2005. And Clinton daughter Chelsea is friends with Trump daughter Ivanka. "Friendship is more important than politics," Chelsea explained.

     And despite their different temperaments -- Trump, the garish, in-your-face braggart who shoots from the hip, and Clinton, the crafty behnd-the-scenes manipulator whose every moved is scripted -- they have a lot in common. Both are Ivy-League educated, both are wealthy, both are longtime members of the New York/Washington/Los Angeles ruling elite.

     So I find this very curious. Real Clear Politics has a poll asking people if the country is headed in the right direction. The latest finding reports that 68% think we're headed in the wrong direction, compared to 18% who say we're on the right track. And yet our choice this year is more-of-the-same vs. barroom-brawler.

    But what do I know? I was not one of the 27 million TV viewers who saw Hillary Clinton's acceptance speech, nor one of the 30 million who watched Donald Trump. I was on vacation during the Republican convention; and as for the Democrats, by then I felt like I'd already heard all the nasty name-calling I could possibly stand.

     We know that politics is a nasty game. At least we don't have duels anymore, or attempted coups that seem almost routine in the rest of the world. For another perspective check out Meryl Baer who ponders this crazy election season in Donald Trump and His Co-Conspirators. She suggests at least one reason why Trump was able to brilliantly move beyond the penthouse of Trump Towers to become the GOP's presidential candidate.

     But if, like me, you are now trying to avoid politics, consult what I think is a more constructive post, Delaying the Arrival of Alzheimer's and Dementia, about how watching your grandchildren (rather than presidential debates) can help defer the onset of these much-feared disabilities.

     Meanwhile, Rita Robison takes on those robocalls. (Businesses may be the worst, but politicians aren't far behind. A friend of mine gave $25 to a political candidate. He is now inundated with emails and telephone calls every day. "I kid you not, I got 40 emails yesterday from politicians in six or seven states asking for contributions," he told me.) Now a federal agency is trying to require the phone companies to provide customers with free ways to block unwanted robocalls. Ring up The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide to find out more.

     Carol Cassara agrees with me, at least to the extent that there hasn't been much to laugh about lately. But that hasn't deterred her, over at Heart, Mind Soul, from talking about some of the benefits of laughter and why it's so important -- and thankfully she demonstrates her sense of humor when her son . . . well, read about it yourself over at Don't Text Me.

     Despite all the sturm und drang, I think it's pretty clear that Donald Trump will need a vacation in November, after he experiences defeat at the polls. (Real Clear Politics has Clinton leading by somewhere between 50 and 100 electoral votes). Besides, we all know that Trump needs to calm down anyway. And so it suddenly hit me that Kathy Gottberg has inadvertently come up with a good idea for the Trump family.

     Every summer, she reports in The Cure for Worry, Fear and Narcissism, she and her husband rent a house up in the mountains, primarily to connect them to the feelings of beauty and nature that they can't get at home. "Being in nature," she writes, "and finding an ongoing sense of awe and wonder, is critical to our feelings of happiness and well being . . . and besides that, it also makes us nicer people to be around."

     Just the cure for Donald Trump. Don't you think?

     Or, perhaps Laura Lee Carter suggests another scenario. In her post High in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains she tells us you might, as she does, harbor some romantic visions about living high in the Colorado mountains. She visited some new friends who live in an old miner's cabin at 8,200 feet, and then she came home with a few stories about living way up high.

     I know this was not Carter's intent. But I can't help thinking Donald Trump, at 8,200 feet . . . as Jack Nicholson in The Shining. What say you?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

8 Tips for Decluttering

     Like many retirees, our household is downsizing. As many of you know, we have sold our house in the suburbs and now, just last week, moved into a one-bedroom condominium. Six months ago we had a basement full of old boxes and an attic full of memorabilia. We had overflowing kitchen cabinets, closets bulging with old clothes, bookcases bursting with books and tabletops littered with little trinkets and tchotchkes.

     But now, everything has been packed away and moved out the door. We have one truckload in our condo, and another has been sent to storage -- to await the time when we settle down into a house or condo that is bigger than what we have now, but smaller than what we had before.

     How did we do it? Honestly, a month ago it seemed like an impossible task. But it happened. So here are eight tips from personal experience on how to declutter and prepare for downsizing in retirement. 

     1. Call the kids. The first thing we did was put our four kids on notice that we were moving, and we expected them to come and sort through their things, take what they wanted and dispose of the rest. One son had already moved 800 miles away and had taken most of what he wanted. We sent him photos of the rest. He told us what to bring him when we met him at B's mother's 100th birthday party. The rest we got rid of. We were lucky that another son had recently bought his own house. He came with a U-Haul and not only took all of his own stuff, but loaded up a couple of extra pieces of furniture into the back of the truck. 

     2. Donate to the church rummage sale. Our church has a big rummage sale every April. We donated two carloads of clothes and kitchen equipment. Plus, church volunteers came with a pickup and took away several bookcases, a TV case, a dining room sideboard and a few other pieces of furniture. 

A work in progress
     3. Make trips to recycling. Our town recycling center accepts old electronics (so do electronics stores such as Best Buy), both paperback and hard back books, scrap metal and paper of all kinds. I made at least a dozen trips to our recycling center. 

     4. Shuttle to Goodwill. We have a Goodwill store near us; others have the Salvation Army or some other thrift shop. They accept free donations of clothes, books, CDs and small household items. My Goodwill does not accept rugs. We had three rugs that I had to cut up into strips and throw away. 

     5. Find your pickers store. There's a second-hand store in the next town over from us. There's probably one near you, too. I called the owner and made an appointment. Then I loaded up the back of our small SUV with tools, framed prints and a few knickknacks, and the woman there picked through my pieces, took what she wanted and gave me $140. I made a second trip a few weeks later, and she gave me another $60 for the lot.

     6. Trash, trash and more trash. Some towns offer bulk pickup a few times a year. Our town does not. We have a limit of two full garbage cans, twice a week. So we didn't miss a trick. We filled two garbage cans to the brim, twice a week, for six months straight. Plus, we sneaked in a few extra items when we thought we could get away with it. 

     7. Call the junk man. There are people who will come and haul the last of your stuff away, for a fee. They advertise on community bulletin boards, or leave their business cards in local shops. I found a card at the second-hand store. Fortunately, using all the other methods, we never had to call the junk man. But it's good to know he's there, if and when you need him. 

     8. Have a heart-to-heart with your partner. None of this works if you are furiously disposing of things while your partner is agonizing over whether to throw away a Christmas card from 1985. Most relationships, it seems, consist of one hoarder who has piles of possessions, and one simplifier who owns one coat, one book and one photo. To avoid working at cross purposes, you need to sit down and talk things out. The hoarder must realize that many things (VHS tapes, a record player, old sports equipment) are outdated or can easily be replaced. The simplifier has to appreciate that some things have sentimental value and can't be replaced, and if you get too enthusiastic about downsizing you might end up regretting what you've lost. So don't be like our dysfunctional politicians. Respect your partner's point of view, realize there are deep emotional issues embedded in this whole process and be ready to compromise.

Friday, July 22, 2016

I'm "Out of It"

     A week on Cape Cod. Here are some of the things we've done:

     We went to see a Vince Gill concert at the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis. I'm not a country fan and barely knew who he was; but we wanted to see what the venue is like. He put on a good show and in addition to some of his well-known (to others) country songs, he rocked out a few numbers that appealed to the rest of us.

     We also went to the Harwich band concert, held outside on the village green and led by a conductor who is well into his 80s. The songs were very different, kind of corny, featuring the likes of Disney and John Philip Sousa. But the audience was enthusiastic and consisted of pretty much the same demographic as the Gill concert -- men and women over age 50.

     We rented bikes and rode up the old railroad trail to a freshwater pond to go swimming. We also made a few trips to the beach on Nantucket Sound where the water was warm enough to take a swim. We drove up to the ocean in Orleans, at Nauset beach, but the water there was not warm enough to go in, at least not for us -- there are always a few kids who will brave the frigid waves.

     We attended the Harwich music stroll, with several bands outside on the street playing music from the 1960s and '70s. Later, we walked down to the beach and watched a full moon rise over the waters of Nantucket Sound.

     I read two mysteries set on Cape Cod. They were okay. I also read American Lion by Jon Meacham, and decided if the nation survived the presidency of Andrew Jackson (1829 - 1837) -- an outsider from Tennessee with two bullets in him (one from a dual, the other from a gunfight) who owned scores of slaves, ran as a populist against the Eastern establishment and was largely responsible for the Trail of Tears that removed Native Americans from the South and sent them out West -- then we could survive a presidency of Donald Trump. Not that I'm recommending Donald Trump. Far from it. But I'm not too worried about it, especially since his chances of winning seem slim to none.

     But here's what we did not do. We have not watched TV. In fact, the last time I was in front of a TV was two nights before we moved, a week ago Monday, the 11th, when I saw the last episode of the Netflix show "Happy Valley." If you haven't seen it, I recommend it highly. It features a strong female lead in the form of a British police detective who has troubles with her family as well as the evil nemesis who raped her daughter.

     I have not seen the news. But I heard there were more shootings. I saw something on the Internet about Trump's wife plagiarizing her speech (don't they all?). And Trump picked a vice presidential candidate. I didn't catch his name. Has Trump actually been nominated yet?

     Two more days of vacation. Then it's back to reality . . . or what passes for reality in our crazy modern world.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Tom, Where Ya Been?

     B and I recently downsized from our four-bedroom house in New York to a one-bedroom condo in nearby Connecticut. We moved last week. We were in the condo for three days, and then as planned, we left for a week-long vacation to Cape Cod.

     The idea of temporarily moving into condo is to give ourselves the time and money to travel around and seek out our retirement destination. One problem is that B and I have different ideas about what our destination should look like. But that's a story for another post.

     There are a lot of retirees living on Cape Cod. But for various reasons we've decided that Cape Cod is not a possibility for us (or at least, we think it isn't but, gee, it's awfully nice up here). We're just taking a brief vacation to rest and recuperate from the move.

     The first thing we did was rent bikes and ride up to a pond to go swimming.

     Then we went into town and had a drink and some clam chowder.

     On the second day, after a couple of hours on the beach, I drove over to the fish market, bought some fresh swordfish, then we cooked it on the grill of our rental house.

     We'll be here for a few more days while the workmen finish up some renovations on the kitchen and bathroom of our condo. Hopefully, by the time we get home, the place will be back in one piece and we can finish unpacking. Then we will continue to transition from our old lives (I'll still be playing in my old golf league; B is still working at the library, until she fully retires at the end of the summer) into our new lives (we've already got three other trips on the planning board).

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Today We Move

     Yesterday the movers came and put half of our belongings into storage. Today they arrive to take us to our new condo.

     This morning we are still New Yorkers. Tonight we will sleep in Connecticut. We are only moving about 25 or 30 miles away, but we will now become New Englanders.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Volunteering an Opinion

     I just finished tutoring for the first summer session at our community college. I've been volunteering there for the past three years, helping students with their essays and presentations, their applications to four-year schools, their resumes and covering letters for job openings.

     I can't volunteer for the second summer session, because I am too busy moving. And I'm not volunteering next year, either, since I'll be doing a lot of traveling and won't be around that much.

     I'll miss going to the college, helping the kids, and hanging out with the other volunteers. It got me thinking about volunteering, and how much it means to us retirees.

     There are about a dozen volunteers in the writing center, a division of the Academic Support Center. There are over a hundred when you count those volunteering in the math center, in science and technology, and for ESL as conversation partners. So I have a lot of company, but not just here in New York, all across America as well. It turns out that America is one of the most generous nations in the world. According to figures from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, some 60 percent of Americans regularly engage in some kind of charitable activity, compared to an average of about 40 percent for other developed countries.

     Another study, from Merrill Lynch and Age Wave, found that Americans offer almost 8 billion hours a year volunteering for charitable causes, from church activities to political organizations to helping out neighbors and strangers. While Americans of all races and ages contribute both their money and time, retirees are the ones who reach out the most.

I tutor writing at -- where else? -- the school library
     Retirees have the most opportunity to volunteer, since our time isn't consumed by working or taking care of children. We have almost twice as much free time as working parents in their late 30s and early 40s, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and we are looking for something to do with all that extra time. So while retirees comprise less than a third of the population, we account for 45 percent of all volunteering hours, Merrill Lynch found.

     We also have the most money. Retirees have the lowest poverty rate among all age groups, and also have the most savings. As a group, we are sitting on more than four times the net worth of our children who are working and raising families. This explains why retirees account for 42 percent of the money donated to charity, according to Merrill Lynch.

     As my own experience has shown, retirees find it fulfilling to volunteer; it gives us the feeling that we make a difference in the lives of others. Most volunteers report that helping others brings them more happiness than spending money on themselves. Retirees who are active in charities also exhibit a stronger sense of purpose and higher self-confidence, with lower reported rates of depression as well as lower blood pressure and lower mortality rates.

     Volunteering is also a way to make social connections, offering retirees an opportunity to meet people with similar interests and values. Some 85 percent of retiree volunteers say they have developed new friendships through their volunteer activities. Personally, I've found a group of like-minded friends at the college. We sit around and talk shop, but we also talk about our families, our lives, our interests. We occasionally get together for coffee before or after a session, and I've found one fellow volunteer who likes to dance, and so B and I meet up with her and her husband once or twice a month to go dancing.

     Speaking of B, she devotes most of her volunteer time to her church, and according to Merrill Lynch, that makes her more typical than me. About half of people who donate to charity contribute to a religious or spiritual organization, while 30 percent donate to relieve poverty, 25 percent to provide disaster aid and roughly 20 percent to educational institutions.

     But it's true that charity begins at home. While some people say that leaving an inheritance to their children is an important goal, today's retirees are twice as likely to say it's more important to help out family members in times of need instead of accumulating an estate for their children. Over 60 percent of parents have given some kind of financial support to their adult children. Others have extended a helping hand to parents, siblings, in-laws and grandchildren.

     It may come as no surprise that women are more generous than men. They are more likely to give money and more likely to volunteer. They are also more likely to say they achieve happiness by giving to others rather than spending money on themselves, and define success in terms of helping others rather than accumulating wealth. Women give out of gratitude, not guilt. And because of their greater longevity, women also exercise control over the family inheritance. Today, about a third of charitable bequests are made by married couples. But almost half are made by women alone.

     So anyway, I got an email from the college the other day. The writing coordinator said she understood I wasn't available next year, because I'd be traveling. But maybe I'd be around toward the end of the semester when things got busy. Would I be available to volunteer in November and December? So now I'm thinking, I'll probably be home, maybe I could just help out during the crunch period.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Finding Your Place in the World

     Anyone who has a passing acquaintance with this blog knows that B and I have sold our house -- we're moving out in two weeks -- and are renting a small one-bedroom condo for a year while we go in search of our place to retire.

     B and I have experienced one place in the world for a long time. But now we're looking at a challenge faced by many retirees -- finding a new place in the world. For many people it's right in the same town where they raised their family and where they've been living for years. But others, no longer tied down by job or family, may want to try an entirely new lifestyle -- perhaps in Florida or the Carolinas, or Arizona or the Pacific Northwest. It could even be in a place outside America, as featured in Kathleen Peddicord's blog Live and Invest Overseas.

     Blogger Laura Lee Carter made a complete change in her life when she retired, moving from the city to the country. Today, she writes in What Is a Palisade Anyway? that she is busy driving to Taos to meet her brother, which inspired her to share a new painting by her niece the artist, as well as an Essay About Belonging she wrote a few years ago about finding her new place in the world.

An artist's eye on Arizona
     Kathy Gottberg of SmartLiving365 turns her eye toward immigrants who come to this country in search of a better place to live. She says she does her best to stay away from politics -- not because she doesn't have opinions, but because the focus of her blog is to inspire and encourage all of us to form our own opinions from a space of awareness, compassion and personal responsibility. With that said, she offers 10 Lies We Tell Ourselves That Keep Us from Living Happy and Smart.
          Meryl Baer, of Six Decades and Counting, sent me a missive wishing B and me good luck with the exhausting, seemingly endless process of packing up our house. She herself is dealing with a problem we may soon face ourselves. Glitches learning the nuances of new electronic devices are common, if annoying, but problems using common new appliances are unexpected. The Baers purchased a kitchen range and assumed they knew how to use it. After all, she has owned and operated ovens her whole adult life. However, as she relates in Oven 101, she was wrong about this one. The result: She cooked a memorable meal for her family, but one that was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

     Regarding another consumer product -- one you're especially interested in if you're traveling to find your special place for the holiday -- on The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide Rita R. Robison writes about the $14.7 billion Volkswagen settlement on charges of emissions cheating. The company will offer consumers a buyback for nearly 500,000 vehicles and spend up to $10 billion in payments to consumers.

     And finally, Carol Cassara at Heart Mind Soul approaches the holiday by reminding us that these lazy summer days are meant for taking it easy and finding relaxing activities. To see how she discovered a place of peace and calm, float over to The Zen of Birdfeeding -- and enjoy a moment of quiet contemplation.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Our Beautiful New Condo

     So B and I are selling our house (see previous post), and are downsizing ... at this point into a small, one-bedroom condominium.

The carpenter measures for new kitchen cabinets

     The plan is: We will live there for a year while we travel around looking for our dream retirement destination. The carrying costs of the condo are small, leaving us plenty of money to travel. And because we will be away so much, we will not get on each other's nerves when we're confined to 900 square feet.

View of the basement ceiling where new plumbing will go

     That's the plan, anyway. We'll see.

Our beautiful new kitchen

     So the other side of the box (so to speak) is a beautiful new condo. Except the condo is neither new nor beautiful. So we're doing some renovations. At the same time we're packing up our old house and deciding what goes with us to the condo, and what goes into storage for a year or so.

Our beautiful new bathroom

     I went up the other day to see what the condo looks like. It may not seem like it to you, but this is progress. Things are getting done. And, God willing, there will be electricity and running water by the time we close on our house in a couple of weeks and move into the condo ... ready or not.

We have a nice tall ceiling

     Please wish us luck.

You can see the living room through a hole in the bathroom!