Thursday, October 17, 2019

How to Give Money to Your Children

     B and I recently redid our wills, and this got us thinking about how -- and how much -- money to leave for our children and grandchildren. Then we realized we are not alone. Over the next couple of decades by some estimates Baby Boomers will leave around $30 trillion to their Gen-X and Millennial children.

     Of course the answer to how much we give away is: whatever is leftover after we die, minus a few minor bequests to a couple of favorite charities. But of course the issue is more complicated than that. For example, should we give some money to our kids now, while they're still young and could really use it to buy a house, pay for day care, or start a college fund for the kids?

     For some clear and sensible advice I turned to my financial guru, Jeremy Kisner, Director of Financial Planning & Senior Wealth Adviser at Surevest Wealth Management in Phoenix, AZ. He has covered various aspects of the issue in his blog, Clear and Concise Financial Advice, and so with his permission I've cribbed some of his counsel.

     Can you afford it? The first thing to consider is: Can you afford to give away assets now without concern that you may run out later in life? The last thing you want to do is give away money, then become a burden to your children in a few years when they themselves are pressed for money to send kids to college or save for a retirement of their own. You can give money more confidently if you have long-term-care insurance to handle future medical expenses and you have guaranteed income sources such as Social Security and pensions that cover all or most of your living expenses.

     Will an inheritance affect the recipient's motivation? Many clients who have substantial assets earned them on their own. In fact, 80% of millionaire households did not inherit their money or enjoy any kind of windfall. These people are generally proud of the struggles they went through and the prudent financial decisions they made. Ironically, they then often want to make life easy for their children and grandchildren. Paving an easy path for children can deny them the pride-inducing sacrifices that make life's journey meaningful. This is less true if you are gifting to children who are older (in their 50s or 60s), and also less true for gifts that provide experiences, such as sponsoring  family vacations or reunions, or subsidizing educational expenses.

     Will you give equally? There is almost nothing you can do to create more hurt feelings and dysfunction in your family than gifting unequally among a group of children or grandchildren. It may seem reasonable to support one child or grandchild more than others, either because one child needs more help, or one child wants to start a business or go back to school. Just be careful. You don't want to be perceived as playing favorites.

     But does equal always mean fair? My advice is to leave equal bequests to your children and grandchildren, unless there is a clear and persuasive reason for the inequity. You should always communicate why you are making an unequal distribution, either while you are alive or else by leaving a letter with your estate-planning documents. This can be uncomfortable to do, but your children will likely come up with their own explanation (e.g. my parents had a favorite child, and it wasn't me!) if you don't communicate why you made the decisions you made.

     What about giving to charity? I also recommend a conversation or letter explaining why/if you're taking some of "their" inheritance and giving it to a charity. It may seem as though you shouldn't need to explain what you do with your money, but better to err on the side of oversharing, because hurt feelings can last a lifetime and overshadow all the good times you had together.

     What are the tax ramifications? To the IRS it makes little difference whether you make your bequests during your lifetime or after your death. In 2019 you can transfer up to $11.4 million  without the gift being subject to federal gift or estate taxes. (Some people think this amount is too large, contributing to inequality, but as things stand it will slowly get larger since the amount is indexed to inflation.) You are also free to give up to $15,000 annually to as many people as you like without owing any federal gift tax, or using up any of the $11.4 million lifetime exemption. You can gift more than $15,000 in a year, but you must file IRS Form 709 to let the IRS know that you are using part of your lifetime exemption. All these amounts can be doubled if you and your spouse each make a gift.

     Is it better to give cash or appreciated assets? Parents usually give their children cash, because it's the easiest thing to do. However, when assets such as stocks or real estate are passed with your estate the recipient steps up the cost basis to the time of your death rather than using your original cost. In the event you have substantial assets, or assets that have appreciated in value, it's probably a good idea to discuss your strategy with a financial adviser.

     How do we talk about this? It's important for people to have open, honest communication about money with family members before they inherit assets. This does not mean the kids need to see copies of your financial statements. You just want your beneficiaries to know what to expect -- and you can use these discussions to pass on your values along with the money. One way to do this is to tell personal stories  -- some of them may even be humorous -- about the risks you have have taken and the sacrifices you've made in order to build a successful business or career. Gifts that are shared without purpose or intention can feel like welfare. Beneficiaries tend to have a greater sense of ownership and responsibility when they are included in family discussions about bequests, however generous or modest they may be.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Cold Chills

     This week we're getting cold chills . . . not because of the weather, not because Halloween is looming on the horizon, but because of a few things on the minds of Baby Boomers.

     Laurie Stone of Musing, Rants & Scribbles gets a cold chill whenever she hears certain fateful words. Her pulse increases, her stomach tightens, she starts feeling lightheaded. Did she hear that right? Maybe she got it wrong? But yes, her husband just uttered that fright-filled sentence "I'm Going Food Shopping." So go trick-or-treat over at Laurie's blog, if you dare.

     Rebecca Olkowski with wonders if you've ever gotten a weird rash and don't know what it is, or what caused it. Rebecca is itching to tell you about hers in Dealing with a Rash: or Fun with Aging. I think we can all relate as she asks: Is it an allergic reaction? Can it be a touch of eczema? It is due to stress? Check out her post to see how she's dealing with it -- and for a reminder about how to keep up to speed with your routine preventive care.

     Meryl Baer admits to spending too much time surfing the net -- and if surfing the net doesn't give you the chills, I don't know what does. (See Carol Cassara's post below). Anyway, Baer reports that sometimes she uncovers interesting but completely useless information on the internet, such as . . . well, see what she found this week in her post Three Blind Mice and Another One.

     At Unfold and Begin, Jennifer is wondering why the media drum it into our heads that "failure is not an option." The phrase gives her the chills, since she feels the only place it really rings true is in a life-or-death situation. Instead, she sees failure as a great learning tool and a necessary step in learning new things. So if you yourself have ever felt a fear of failure, don't fail to find out why Jennifer says Failure Is an Option. -- and see what the likes of Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill and Robert Kennedy thought about failure.

     On The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide Rita Robison got chills about a study that said advice to eat less red meat for better health is unscientific. The report is critical of existing nutritional studies that rely on self-reported information that is necessarily flawed. However, Robison also points out the holes in the new report. For a full serving of why you really shouldn't consume too much meat belly up to her post at Researchers Who Say Red Meat Isn't That Harmful Are Wrong.

     And finally, it's the incivility of life today that gives Carol Cassara the chills. Over at A Healing Spirit she asks, "Are we humans? Or animals? Or savages?" And in her post How Did We Become Lord of the Fliesshe draws eerie parallels between our lives today and the classic novel by William Golding.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

In Defense of Old White Males

     Someone recently commented on one of my posts that Old White Men have left us "a country crippled by debt and covered in unbreathable air and undrinkable water."

     I get the point. Old White Men have basically been in control of things for the last, oh, eight or ten thousand years, and so they are the ones responsible for all the bad things happening in our world today, from inequality to global warming to wars in the Middle East. I not only get the point, I can't even disagree with it.

     However, I happen to be an old white man myself, so I feel like I have to come to the defense of my own kind. And while I admit to some bias, I just don't believe old white males are as bad as they are sometimes made out to be. In fact, any statement blaming old white males for every problem under the sun hits the trifecta of discrimination: it is ageist, racist and sexist!

     So first of all, all the bad things can't possibly be entirely the fault of men in power, because there are, and have been, plenty of women in positions of power, ever since Cleopatra. So for example, we have had three recent female Secretaries of State: Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. There are plenty of corporate ceos, such as Ginni Rometty at IBM, Mary Barra at GM and Indra Nooyi at Pepsi. Plus there are 25 women U. S. Senators and 102 female U. S. Representatives, as well as crowds of prominent women in the media (Oprah Winfrey), literature (Toni Morrison) and academia (Amy Gutmann, who as pres. of Univ. of Pennsylvania makes $3 million a year . . . hello income inequality, hello college debt!)

     So has the female record been any better than the male record? I dunno. In most cases, it's hard to tell. How do you compare, say, comedian Stephen Colbert with comedian Chelsea Handler? They're both funny in their own way.

     But what we can say is that women don't always do better than men. Carly Fiorina didn't do too well at Hewlett Packard. When she was named ceo in 1999 Fortune magazine gushed, "she didn't just break the glass ceiling, she obliterated it." Then she went on to lay off some 30,000 employees (yes, 30,000!), and was finally forced out in 2005.

     Or look at Marissa Meyer, who was supposed to save Yahoo. But instead, according to Business Insider, she generated "slowing growth, internal dissent, plummeting employee morale and calls for her resignation," before finally selling the company to Verizon for a fraction of what it was once worth.

     Or think about Indra Nooyi at Pepsi. She's considered a success for increasing profits and developing new products. But Pepsi basically makes its money selling sugar, salt and high fructose corn syrup to the masses. In short, she's done just what a successful man would do!

     Anyway, if you blame men for all the bad things in the world, you also have to give credit to men for all the good things as well, including all the great art, music and literature -- plus the modern conveniences in the home that save us from a life of drudgery, the modern transportation system that, for whatever its faults, allows us to visit our relatives and go on those wonderful vacations; the modern health-care system that, again for all its faults, has allowed us to live healthier, more active and much longer lives.

     Let's face it. If it weren't for old white men, most of us would be dead by now.

     Maybe if women had been in charge there would have been fewer wars. Maybe society would be more equal. Who knows? But one thing's for sure. Women will get their chance. Today, women earn 57% of bachelor degrees, 60% of master's degrees, and 52% of doctorates. And you can bet, that's where the leaders of tomorrow will come from.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

What's Our Responsibility?

     I just read a book called The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan. It chronicles the history of the southern high plains -- how they were taken over from the Native Americans, plowed up by settlers, and then scraped dry by the drought of the 1930s.

     What struck me about the story is how the EuroAmerican farmers, encouraged by the government and supported by a good economy, tore up the native grasses, grew wheat and other grains and made lots of money in the process. But then came the Depression, and crop prices went down.

     To cover their debts and still make a profit, farmers plowed up yet more grasslands and planted more crops. Then a dry period arrived. The native grasses could survive the dry periods, but the grains could not. The crops withered and died. The dry dirt blew away in the wind. The farmers grew increasingly desperate. Many of them were foreclosed; many of them left. Some of those who stayed behind died of lung diseases or starvation.

     In other words, maybe through no fault of their own, but through their ignorance of the climate, their lack of foresight, their eagerness to make more money -- and urged on by the government -- they brought this crisis on themselves.

     Sound familiar?

     Most of us care about the environment, whether we believe global warming is an immediate  threat -- like Al Gore or this young climate activist from Sweden Greta Thunberg -- or simply regard it as a long-term concern. Or even if you think global warming is a hoax, you still probably want to breathe clean air, and don't want to be sucking exhaust out of the tailpipe of a ten-year-old pickup truck or live within spitting distance of a coal-fired electric plant.

     Of course we all want the government and the big corporations to do something about it. But what is our responsibility?

     Do we blame the oil companies for digging up the oil? Or do we blame the auto companies for producing gas-guzzling SUVs, or ourselves for buying and driving those gas-guzzling SUVs? (Trucks and SUVs now account for roughly 65% of new vehicle sales, and according to the EPA, the Jeep Wrangler averages 18 mpg, the Mercedes standard SUV gets 16 mpg and the Dodge RAM pickup limps in at 14 mpg.)

     Still, we have to live in our world, and we need to get around. And there are plenty of good reasons why we retirees like to drive father than to the corner store. We like to travel. We travel to meet up with family and to bring our friends closer together. We travel to broaden our horizons, to see how other people live, appreciate other cultures and better understand our world.

     And then there's the kind of travel that B calls "expensive entertainment." That's when you go to Disneyworld or a resort in the Caribbean or pretty much anything you do in Las Vegas.

     But when we travel there is a cost to the environment. That four-hour drive down the interstate in your SUV, at 70 mph, burns up about 12 gallons of gasoline, spewing those hydrocarbons into the air. The coast-to-coast airline flight burns about 15,000 gallons of fuel (or roughly 40 gallons per passenger). When you consider that every day there are about 100,000 commercial flights in our skies, plus another 30,000 non-commercial flights -- that's a lot of hydrocarbons!

     So what do we do? Just continue to blame big government and big business? Or can we modify our behavior enough to make a difference?

     Personally, I try to stay off airplanes anyway, because I don't like to fly. But maybe we should be more intentional about hopping on a plane just because the airline is advertising a cheap rate to some entertaining destination.

     Maybe we should try to go by train, if possible. (Kudos to the 200 - 300 retirees, per day, who make their trip to Florida on the Autotrain.) Or perhaps we can carpool.

     My golf group of mostly retired teachers travels around to different golf courses, often bypassing perfectly good courses to travel 30 miles to a place with slightly cheaper rates. But the guys do make an effort to carpool. Sometimes it's a pain in the neck, turning a 30-minute drive into a 45-minute drive by the time you go out of your way to get to a meeting point, then wait for other people to arrive, and then all pile in and get going again. Does it make any difference?

      But as far as our own travel goes, maybe we can focus our trips closer to home. How many New Yorkers jet off to France to see the Eiffel tower, but never bother to take the ferry out to the Statue of Liberty? There often are plenty of interesting places close to home that are just as enriching, just as entertaining as the place a thousand miles away.

     I remember when I was a kid, my mother urged us to batch our car trips. Why make three car trips when you can get everything done in one trip, and save a little on gas, she'd challenge us. And this was before the energy crisis, when gas cost 35 cents a gallon!

     I don't have all the answers. Honestly, as far as global warming goes, I think if anything saves us from ourselves, it will be technology. But it can't be electric cars. Where do you think we get the electricity to power electric cars? From burning coal and oil and natural gas.

     But I'm guessing they'll come up with some new form of energy that will be cleaner than petroleum and more powerful than wind or solar (but that will probably pose some other problem to challenge our grandchildren). In the meantime, maybe we should help out, at least where we can . . . before everything turns to dust and blows away in the wind.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Playing by Different Rules

     B and I are having a dinner party next week. Well, it's not exactly a party. Three of my old friends are coming to visit. We're going to play golf together. Then they're coming over to our house for dinner and a round of poker. They're staying overnight in a local motel, and we're playing golf again the next morning before they go home.

     These guys are part of my old crowd of about eight or nine of us who used to play golf and poker together. When we played poker we took turns hosting -- the host would provide the house, the dining room table, some poker chips -- and when we first started out the host would also supply pizza and beer and a couple of family size bags of potato chips.

     We played together for 25 years before people started retiring and moving away, and finally the group kind of broke up -- although I know a few of the guys still get together occasionally to play golf. Anyway, slowly, over time, people started to up the ante on the evening's cuisine. One of the wives decided that pizza was too low class, and she made it her job to broil up a platter of chicken legs and wings and mix a green salad.

My idea
     Then one of our original players dropped out of the game, and we replaced him with another friend who turned out to be a vegetarian. His wife prepared a sophisticated vegetarian stew, preceded by appetizers featuring various cheeses, flavored hummus and  European-style crackers. She also put out a bottle of wine -- for the more refined palates.

     Meantime, while this gradual improvement in our culinary routine was going on, I was getting divorced, moving into a condo, and sticking resolutely to the routine of pizza, chips and beer. When I got together with B, and she found out about the poker game, she immediately decided that pizza wouldn't do. She wanted to cook. I discouraged her, not wanting to prevail upon her good nature to feed my friends. We reached an impasse. She did cook for my crowd a few times. Other times, especially if she was busy with her own activities, she bowed out, and I just followed my old routine of pizza and chips.

     But of course, that was then. And this is now.

     When she caught wind of my plans to have the guys over, she went into overdrive in planning a menu that would impress the Queen of England.

     I tried to discourage her. "Really," I told her, "you slaving over a hot stove for this group of guys is not what I was thinking about then we made these plans. You don't have to do that."

     "Oh, yes I do," she responded. "And I don't mind. I like to cook."

     "Yeah, but I don't want to be the one causing you to have to do a whole lot of extra work."

     "It's no big deal," she assured me. "I enjoy doing it. I'll cook up some pasta primavera, make a salad. I'll bake a pumpkin pie. I'm just wondering what I should serve for hors d'oeuvres."

     "No, that's too much," I protested. "It's too much work."

     "No, not really," she insisted. "I've got plenty of time to get ready."

     "Okay . . . I guess," I said. Then, trying to compromise, I offered, "But we don't need dessert and we surely don't need hors d'oeuvres. These guys expect pizza and potato chips, nothing else.You're already exceeding expectations."

     I was thinking about people's expectations and their judgments, and . . . what's good enough. In my mind, these guys were expecting to have a good time playing golf and cards and joking around. They were most certainly not expecting a gourmet meal.

Her idea
     But B plays with a different rule book. She looked at me and said, "It's okay for you to serve pizza. It's not okay for me to serve pizza."

     "Why not?" I asked innocently.

     "Because, like it or not, we live in a society that still judges women differently from men. You can serve pizza. I can't serve pizza."

     "But they're not bringing their wives. You don't have to impress the women. It's just the guys."

     She said nothing. She just gave me a look . . . you know the look, the look that says I'm clueless but she loves me anyway.

     "Well, at least let's try to keep it simple," I finally said, giving up, "so you don't have to do too much extra work."

     "You're not making me do extra work. I want to do this. Now, I'm thinking about the hors d'oeuvres."

     "Ah," I said, brightening. "So at least let me take care of the hors d'oeuvres. I've got them covered. I'll get a family size potato chips . . . and maybe some dip too."

     "Yeah, okay, get some chips," she smiled indulgently. "Now let's see," she murmured to herself, "maybe I can drive over to Altamonte's and pick up one of their special cheese plates."

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Does Anyone Know What's Next?

     B and I have been busy lately. But we've also been wondering: What's the point? Are we doing anything meaningful? Are we making any difference?

     To be honest, B worries about this more than I do. Still, I look at my calendar for the week. I see that it's full of activity. But at the end of the week I wonder: Have I accomplished anything?

     B is busy volunteering at her church and doing yoga at the YMCA and visiting with her new friends. I keep busy doing my blog, playing weekly golf with a group of retired guys, going to table tennis at a local club.

     Fortunately, neither one of us has to spend too much time on doctor appointments. She had her cataract surgery. I go to the orthopedist now and then for a checkup on my back and my knees. We joke about how as we get older, it takes more time just to take care of our daily routines -- stretching and doing our exercises, making an effort to eat right and take our vitamins,. and ... er ... it seems we spend a lot of time looking for reading glasses, searching for car keys, and fiddling with something that's gone wrong on the computer or the phone.

     Now both of us have started in on our new semester at the Center for Learning in Retirement, held at our local college. I'm taking a history course on the Civil War and a literature course on James Joyce's Ulysses. Also, B and I for the first time are leading our local chapter of the Socrates Cafe. We hope that will be interesting, and not too challenging.

     But still, maybe because it's September, and even though I've been out of school for decades, there's still that feeling that we should be starting something new. That somehow we should be moving up to a new school or at least a new grade. Or maybe starting a new job.

     One reason for this feeling -- this low level of floating anxiety -- may be that we've spent the last four years finding our place in retirement, relocating our home and establishing new lives. That has been a big project, and through it all we knew there was an overarching goal to our efforts.

     First we spent a year decluttering our old house, fixing it up and putting it on the market. Then we spent a year living in a one-bedroom condo and traveling around four or five states looking for the place we wanted to resettle. Then, after we finally bought a new house, it's taken us two years to fix it up and to find new friends and new activities.

     But now most of that has been accomplished. We're done with the house. We're settled in. We'll still be meeting new people, trying out new activities -- I'm thinking about joining our local photography club, for example -- but the major items have been accomplished. So what's next?

     B is leaving in a few days to go babysit her two grandchildren in Charleston, SC, while the kids go away for a few days. She's looking forward to that. Then we're planning our November trip to see my daughter who's expecting my first grandchild.

     We'll be going back to see my daughter in February, after the baby comes. We don't know how long we'll be staying at that point. We don't know how much she'll need us, or want us. But then it will be on to Charleston again. Even though our grandchildren live hundreds of miles away, we want them to know who we are, and that means we have to visit for more than a few days once or twice a year.

     We have used Facetime to talk to our oldest grandson, who's 2 1/2. He's old enough now to recognize us on screen, and to interact with us to a small degree. Anyway, he's happy to see us, if his laughter and his antics are any way to judge.

     I wonder: Just as we have settled here, with our focus on our new house and our new community, is our focus now going to turn once again . . . to our grandchildren and what they will mean for our future lives? I don't know. But I guess I'm coming to realize, once again, that we do our best, we try to make some impact, and then life moves on.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

More Clichés for the Candidates

     As I mentioned in my last two posts, we sometimes have time to do things in retirement that got squeezed out of our lives when we were working and raising a family. Polo, for example. Or tennis. Or politics . . . .

     The "proof of the pudding" as it were:  In the 2016 election, according to the U. S. Census Bureau, some 71% of Americans over age 65 voted, compared to just 46% among 18-to-29 year olds.

     Now we have another Democratic presidential debate coming up on Thursday, Sept. 12. In the last debate Joe Biden famously called one of his opponent's medical plans "a bunch of malarkey." The reaction by people and pundits alike had nothing to do with the merits of the medical plan. It had more to do with how using that very phrase demonstrates that Biden at age 76 is a relic of the past, since no one has heard that term in probably 40 years.

     As one wag said, "Millennials are all googling what 'malarkey' means."

     In case you don't know, according to the dictionary malarkey means "speech or writing designed to obscure, mislead or impress."

     Kind of like "a bunch of baloney." Or something that's "for the birds." (Of course, Biden calling anything an opponent says a bunch of malarkey is like "the pot calling the kettle black," since Biden has offered up plenty of malarkey himself.)

     But aside from that, remember when Ronald Reagan became the oldest president in history? He was 69 when he was elected. Today, all of our leading presidential candidates have already hit the 70 mark! The three top Democrats are Bernie Sanders, at age 77, Joe Biden at 76, and Elizabeth Warren at 70. And then there's the Republican candidate. He is 73.

     I guess we're living in a gerontocracy. But is that necessarily a bad thing? Maybe not if they would act their age!

     I take part in discussion groups with my fellow senior citizens at our local college. Most of them are intelligent, creative, reasonable people with a deep well of experience. So I don't necessarily see a problem electing a president from among a group of 70-year-olds.

     So there is nothing wrong, necessarily, with the kind of person who uses an old-fashioned word like "malarkey." It used to be that our elders were venerated. Tradition carried some weight. Older people were revered for their wisdom, judgment, experience and perspective -- although now, at least in some quarters, older people are considered hopelessly irrelevant, totally out-of-date.

     Nevertheless, it seems we don't want some new and fresh "whippersnapper" in 2020. Instead, we're looking for a more seasoned presence who exhibits wisdom, judgment, experience and perspective.

     In the last go-round, in 2016, the country ended up with someone who . . . well, he wasn't young. But like the know-it-all teenager, he was brash and bold. He knew what he wanted, he was itching to take the country in a new direction, and he has stood firm in the face of criticism.

     So what did we get? Someone who when it comes to global warming "fiddles while Rome burns." He has his fellow countrymen "fighting like cats and dogs." And perhaps as my mother liked to say (consider Hurricane Dorian), he's left us "up the creek without a paddle."

     It made me think that just maybe we need a president who remembers the lessons that their mom and dad told them, and who knows and practices some of the old verities, including a sense of humility -- the knowledge that the person doesn't always have all the answers, the wisdom to listen to other people, the presence-of-mind not to be seduced by his or her own self-righteousness.

     As Mark Twain told us, "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."

     Perhaps we need someone who doesn't claim to know all the answers, who won't let foreign leaders "pull the wool over their eyes," who can "keep their shirt on" in the midst of a crisis, who realizes that "a stitch in time saves nine" when it comes to global warming, who knows "money doesn't grow on trees" when it comes to the national debt. In other words, someone who won't fall for a "bunch of malarkey."

     Maybe the best adage for any president should be: "First, do no harm."

Friday, September 6, 2019

How You Know You're Retired -- Second Set

     As I mentioned in my last post, and as everyone knows, one of the benefits of retirement is that you have time to do things you might not otherwise do. If it sounds like it might be fun, then go ahead and do it!

     Have you done anything recently that's a little out of the ordinary? Not the big things like a trip to Europe or Hawaii, but the little things that are fun or unusual -- that you never did when you were working or raising kids.

     Anyway, last week we went to a polo match. Why? Because we could. And it was a blast.

     This week I took a New Jersey Transit train up to New York City to spend a day at the U. S Open, a signature New York event that takes place out in Flushing Meadows, Queens, at the end of summer.

     We all know about tennis greats Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. But there's a lot more to the Open than the stars.

I saw this ad for the Open, featuring Roger Federer, at a New Jersey train station, 

     For example, there is a junior division where dozens of promising young tennis players from around the world meet to compete for a chance to test their mettle, hone their competitive skills, and perhaps get noticed by coaches or sponsors.

Young players practice on the side courts

     Tens of thousands of fans descend on the tennis center every day during the two-week tournament -- and security is tight. Nobody wants a problem, and the police presence is both robust and obvious.

Police are out in force

      So my jaunt over to the polo match with B was spontaneous. But the trip to Flushing Meadows is a planned event. In fact, I've been going with my son for a number of years -- it's a way for us to get together and spend some quality time together.

Heading for the matches

     We met at the tennis center, and first stopped off to watch a juniors match, where we saw a young Belgian edge out a Canadian 2 sets to 1. I like watching the boys, because first of all you can sit right next to the court and get a close-up view of the play. And also, these kids are good, but they're not like Roger Federer or Raphael Nadal -- they make mistakes, they feel the pressure. In short, they seem more human.

     Then we walked over to Arthur Ashe Stadium and viewed a women's quarterfinals match between Elina Svitolina of Ukraine and Johanna Konta of Great Britain. Svitolina was more confident, more consistent, and won the match 6-4, 6-4. But (we found out later) Svitolina in turn bowed to our own Serena Williams in the semi-finals, played last night. Williams will meet Bianca Andreescu of Canada for the women's finals tomorrow, Saturday, at 4 p.m. It will be on TV if you're interested.

Wawrinka makes a serve

     The next match we saw brought up the new bad boy of tennis, Daniil Medvedev from Russia, playing against former champion (in 2016) Stanley Wawrinka from Switzerland. Medvedev had made a "name" for himself in a previous match by rudely grabbing a towel from the ball person, then throwing his racket and later giving the finger to the crowd that booed him.

     So the fans were definitely on Wawrinka's side for the quarter finals. But it didn't matter. Medvedev behaved himself and won 3 sets to 1, and earned a place in the semi-finals against Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, who upset Roger Federer to get through to the second-to-last round. That match is played later today, Friday. The winner meets the winner of the other semi-final -- most likely Raphael Nadal -- for the championship on Sunday afternoon, Sept 8.

Medvedev up on the screen

     But for us, who wins is not so important. We love watching a day's worth of top-notch professional tennis. We love the crowds, the spectacle, the excitement, the international flavor -- and the chance to witness a small part of this historic sports event.

View across the grounds to the iconic Unisphere from the 1964 NY World's Fair

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

How You Know You're Retired

     You know you're retired when, as happened to me yesterday, three pieces of mail arrive at your door:  one from AARP, one from Medicare, and the third one advertising the local assisted-living facility!

     How else do you know you're retired? When you begin to realize that you have a lot of time on your hands and can take a day and go off and do something new and different and a little off-the-beaten track.

     So this past weekend B comes up to me and says, "There's a polo match over by the river."

     "Yeah?" says I. "So what?"

     "I've never been to a polo match. Why don't we go?"


     "I like the horses," she says by way of explanation.

     So we went to a polo match . . . proving that we have a lot of time on our hands. So we must be retired.

Here they come!

     Luckily the announcer, a pleasant older woman with a southern accent, offered some color commentary, along with calling the action of the game, so we could understand at least a little about what was going on. For example, she told us that a polo field is ten acres. You can fit nine football fields into a polo field, and still have room left over.

View from the booth

     Each team has four players, numbered 1 through 4. As best I could figure, the Number 1 player is the scorer; the Number 4 player is the defender; and Numbers 2 and 3 are in the middle to set up plays.

A number 4 player

     All you have to do is hit the ball with your mallet into the opposing team's goal, which is undefended by a goalie. But it's definitely harder than it looks.

Scrambling for the ball

     First of all, the horses -- or ponies as they're called -- tend to bunch up around the ball, getting in each other's way. And then someone might break out and suddenly the horses are flying -- at up to 35 m.p.h. we were told.

On the run

     The ball can get tangled up in the horses' feet, or go sailing up into the air. It can't be too easy to strike the ball when it's bouncing along off the bumps on the ground and the divots left by the horses' hooves.


     Players are ranked from -2 up to 10. So if you're ranked at 1, you're not the worst, you're three steps up the ladder. Don't ask me why.

     The horses look very smooth and elegant when you're watching them across the field. But when they get close, you can feel the weight, the power, the speed of the animals. It may be the sport of kings; but there is nothing delicate or formal about it.

Yes, women play too

     I really don't know if polo is a rich person's sport. We did see a few flutes of champagne and some fancy women's hats and people nibbling canapes under the shade of tents. But there was a lot of  tailgating going on as well. And the only admission charge was $10 for parking. Which makes it a lot more reasonable than . . . oh say, the U. S. Open tennis championships going on in New York right now.

Flowers, drinks and hats

     Which is what my next post is all about . . . for yes, being retired, I do have the time to travel up to Flushing Meadows, Queens, to watch a couple of matches at this premier American tennis event.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

What Does Medicare Cost?

     I was surprised when I read in a recent poll from that about half of the people surveyed believe Medicare is free. Is that what you thought?

     We who are retired know it's not true. So for the uninitiated -- or the forgetful -- here's a run-down of how much Medicare costs us.

     Part A covers hospitals, nursing and other medical services. This is the part that's free -- as long as you've met the work-related requirements to qualify.

     Part B covers outpatient care and medical supplies. The standard rate for Part B is currently $135.50 per month. The rate is graduated by income, so higher earners pay more. If an individual earns more than $85,000, or a retired couple makes over $170,000, the rate is $189.60 per person per month. And it goes up from there. For individuals who earn more than $160,000, or couples above $320,000, the rate is $433.40 per person. For most of us this charge is automatically deducted from our Social Security benefit.

     Part B also comes with a deductible of $185.00. And after the deductible is met, Medicare only pays 80%, leaving us responsible for 20% of the cost.

     Parts A and B do not cover drug costs. So there's a Part D for prescription drugs. The cost for Part D varies depending on how comprehensive the plan is, but the average cost runs around $33 per month. And again, higher earners pay higher premiums.

     Since Medicare doesn't pay for everything, most retirees also purchase a supplemental plan of one sort or another from a private insurance company. How much it costs varies with how much coverage you get and the company you buy it from. Just by way of example, I get mine through AARP and United Health Care, and currently pay $184.34 per month. B has her own supplemental plan through Cigna. Some retirees (not us) can still get this coverage from their old employer.

     You can also sign up for a Medicare Advantage Plan which typically packages Part A and B with a drug plan. These offerings are often less expensive, but may restrict which medical providers are available to you.

     One Medicare pitfall is that if you don't sign up right away, at age 65, you face penalties that will increase the premiums for the rest of your life. If you're already enrolled in Social Security at age 65, then you will automatically be enrolled for Medicare Parts A and B. But if you're not taking Social Security, then it's up to you to sign up. (However, if you're still working and covered by an employer plan, you may be able to delay Medicare without the penalty.)

     There is another option for people who can't afford to pay for Medicare. Medicaid provides health coverage for certain low-income people, including the elderly and people with disabilities. Check out to you want to see if you qualify.

     One last thing to consider in planning for medical bills in retirement is that neither Medicare nor Medicaid covers everything. Medicare doesn't cover dental work, glasses or contact lenses, over-the-counter drugs, or long-term care. Other policies are available to cover at least some of these expenses. But long-term-care insurance is increasingly hard to find and complicated to negotiate.

     Who said there's no free lunch? Some attribute the quote to Depression-era New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia, others to economist Milton Freeman. Still others say it goes back to the 1800s practice of offering a free lunch in bars to entice people to buy more drinks. Who knows? But at least so far, there's no free medical care.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

What Are We Doing?

     Blogger Laura Lee Carter asks an interesting question. She first reminds us that we are living much longer than our great-grandparents or even our grandparents. The average life expectancy for a woman born in 1900 was 52 years, for a man just 48. We don't realize how young most of our forebears were when they died.

     But life expectancy has increased some 20 years since the early 1900s. The average 65-year-old American today can expect to survive well past 80. So the question is: What do we do with all this extra time?

     Unfortunately, not all of us use the time constructively. Rates of binge-drinking and suicide are up among the elderly. But most of us have a more positive experience. As Laura says in Boomers: What Are You Doing with All Your Extra Years? we get more involved in everything from cooking and gardening, to meditation and yoga, to all forms of freedom and creativity.

     So what are Baby Boomer bloggers doing these days?

     Rebecca Olkowski with wonders: What happens if you are a woman over 50 and suddenly find yourself single? If you don't have a pile of money, she suggests, you might think about alternative living options. In House Sharing: A Trending Solution for Baby Boomer Women she explores this new trend and concludes that it makes sense for more and more Baby Boomers.

     Carol Cassara at A Healing Spirit is focusing on some other transitions, like job changes, empty nest, divorce, widowhood, retirement. Any life transition can be challenging, she acknowledges, and so in Ways to Make a Transition Work for You she offers four strategies to turn these sometimes difficult moments into opportunities for discovery.

     Jennifer of Unfold and Begin has been thinking about her mother, who as the exception that proves the rule, would be celebrating her 100th birthday if she hadn't passed this past January. In Why Is There Pie in My Creativity Prompt? Jennifer shares one of her Mommyisms that made life with her mother so interesting.

     Kathy Gottberg of SmartLiving 365 is using much of her extra time to travel. She understands that not everyone likes to travel as much as she does, but in A Rightsized Way to Travel she explains how if you do have a desire to travel, yet only seem to find excuses not to do it, then you should consider the benefits of rightsizing -- not just your home, but the rest of your life as well. Rightsizing sometimes involves trade-offs, but the benefits bring opportunities for more freedom and fun, and offer you the time to meditate and relax, exercise and eat healthy, laugh and dance, spend time with friends and the people you love.

More freedom and fun 
     Meryl Baer of Six Decades and Counting certainly likes to travel. But in Lost Then Found she acknowledges that there can be some bumps in the road. Sometimes our mind and memory play tricks on us. And so she relates how, after coming home from a trip to Scotland, she simply could not locate a key item in her luggage -- an item that she'd placed in a safe and secure place (or so she thought) before she left -- and in so doing demonstrates that Baby Boomers haven't lost their sense of humor.

     Meanwhile, Laurie from Musings, Rants & Scribbles turns her attention to marriage -- or the challenge of living full-time with anyone, I suppose. "Like Sisyphus rolling that rock up the hill, only to have it tumble back down," she says, "my husband and I have been having the same arguments year after year. They've become as predictable as the sun rising, and, although small, these issues never seem to get resolved." And so in Do You and Your Spouse Keep Having the Same Arguments? she confesses: "Here they are in no particular order . . . "

     How can you not want to find out what those arguments are about, in no particular order?

     As for her part, consumer journalist Rita Robison examines How to Reduce the Amount of Plastic You Eat. If you care about the environment, or your health, you should be concerned about the microplastics that are everywhere, including at times even the rainwater, and so Robison offers some tips on how to reduce the amount of plastic you ingest into your body.

     And as a final note, if you care about the environment, you might want to check out the latest recommendations from Energy Star about the settings on your air conditioner. Some people are startled to find that they should be much higher than they think. And if that makes you uncomfortable, well . . . I guess that's what shorts and short-sleeve shirts and percale sheets are for.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

How We Can Save Money

     One way B and I save money is by paying our bills on time. We never (well, almost never) pay a late fee on a utility bill or tax bill, and every month we pay off our credit cards on time -- so no interest, no penalty.

     As an aside, we have several credit cards ... which is probably not the best way to do it. But both of us agree, we'd rather pay one bill for $500, and then a second bill for $700, rather than have to swallow one bill for $1200 all at once. I realize this makes no financial difference ... but don't you agree, it makes it easier?

     Here are a few other ways to save money. Some of them B and I practice (although, as you'll see, I don't necessarily hold us up as paragons of frugality). Others I've recently read about, or heard about. Feel free to add some others, since we could all benefit from saving a few dollars here and there.

     Vacations. Travel is expensive, and so the best way to save money is to stay at home. But we want to visit the grandkids, or go to the mountains or the beach, or take a long-dreamed-of trip to Europe. One strategy we use is to go out of season -- the beach in November or February. We have also cultivated connections. We rent the same house on Cape Cod every year, from a woman who hasn't raised our rent in the past four years. We use a rental agency in South Carolina that periodically offers seasonal or longer-term specials ... and we jump on them. One thing we do not do is frequent miles. We've never been able to figure out how they pay off. (We get cash back instead).

     Restaurants. One way to save is to go out for lunch instead of dinner, when the fare is less expensive. Unfortunately, we don't really eat much of a lunch. But when we go out to dinner we often share a plate, or skip the drink, or go for the chicken dish instead of the steak or lobster. Also, to be honest, we are not really gourmets ... we do pizza as much as anything else, and we avoid any restaurant that sports tablecloths. Also, on the rare occasion we go out for coffee, it's Dunkin' Donuts, not Starbucks.

     Transportation. We recently got our Senior Fare cards for SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority), and so we can ride for free -- which we did just the other day. We still have two cars; but we're talking about downsizing to one, because we hardly ever use both of them at the same time. Has anyone done this?

     Gambling. We don't gamble. That includes the state lottery.

     Clothing. B spends a lot on clothing. I spend almost nothing. It averages out.

     Entertainment. I play golf in a league, which always negotiates a better rate than the normal greens fees. I also play ping pong for $5 a night at the senior center. B does a lot of her entertainment at her church, which is largely free. We also get the senior rate at our local movie theater. However, I did just spend a fortune to buy two tickets to the quarterfinals at the U. S. Open in a couple of weeks. Don't do that if you want to save money. (I'm guessing it's a similar story for football tickets, but I don't know for sure, I've never been to a professional football game.)

     Souvenirs. See above, the item for clothing.

     Haircuts. According to Brandongaille Marketing the average man's haircut costs $28.30 -- plus tip, presumably. I go to an old-fashioned barber shop located in the parking lot of a mini-mall, and I pay $17 plus $3 tip for $20 total. I honestly don't know what B pays (what, you think I'm gonna ask her?!?) but she doesn't go to the fanciest place in town, and her hair looks great!

     Storage units. In my opinion, keeping stuff in a storage unit only means that you haven't made the hard decisions. And not making decisions costs you money. We rented a storage unit for a year, when we were between moves, and that lightened our wallet by over $200 a month. Fortunately, we now have that monkey off our backs.

     Gym membership. Well . . . it all depends on whether you use it or not.

     Grandchildren. B sends her grandchildren a book every month. (Remember, she's a retired librarian.) That may sound like a lot, but really, it's only a few bucks. I don't have any grandchildren yet, so my cost so far is $0.00 per month. But my first grandchild is on the way, and B thinks I'm going to be a pushover. We'll see . . .

Friday, August 16, 2019

Should This Couple Downsize?

     We were at a wedding reception recently and sat down with another couple from our old hometown. We know them, but not too well. They are a few years younger than we are, and they live in a big house in one of the pricier neighborhoods in the area.

     Of course, they wanted to know why we moved to Pennsylvania, and so we filled them in on our recent move to downsize to a smaller home, in a place where the cost of living, and especially the tax burden, is considerably less. They were interested in our experience and eager for advice.

     They had raised their three children in a New York suburb. Now they were rattling around in their big house and thinking about downsizing. They had vacationed on Cape Cod a number of times, and were thinking about moving to the area. In fact, they had been on the Cape for a couple of weeks this summer, and had seen a cottage one block from the water that they liked.

     "It's a really nice little place," said the wife, "with two bedrooms upstairs and a bedroom downstairs with a bathroom. We'd take the downstairs bedroom, so we wouldn't have to do stairs, and then the kids could stay upstairs when they came to visit."

     "It's smaller than your house in Westchester?" I asked.

     "Oh yeah," said the husband. "We'd be going from 3500 square feet to 1500 square feet. But what do we need more room for, at this point?" he asked rhetorically.

     "But I don't suppose things are much less expensive in Cape Cod," I ventured.

     "Oh, you'd be surprised. Not income tax. But the real-estate tax on the Cape Cod house is less than $5,000, compared to over $15,000 for our current New York house."

     "But what about our friends?" the wife wanted to know. turning to B. "Do you keep up with your old friends in Westchester? And were you able to make new friends?"

     So we explained how we'd considered moving into a planned community, with a clubhouse and a pool and built-in social groups, where we would almost automatically make new friends. But in the end we decided we wanted to be in a real town, with sidewalks, where we could walk to the restaurants, movie theater and library.

     How did that work out for you? they wanted to know.

     It was probably a little harder than moving to a place where your social life is already set up for you, we explained. But B has met plenty of people through church and the local women's group. And I joined a golf league and found a place where they play ping pong once a week. And we both have become involved in our senior learning center where we've met some like-minded people.

     Then we told them we get back to Westchester three or four times a year and meet up with old friends for dinner or some other occasion. A few friends have come to visit us in our new digs. It's a 2 1/2 hour drive, so they can do it in one day if they don't mind a five-hour round trip. Or several have come down and stayed overnight, either with us or at an airbnb.

     They brightened up when they heard about that, since they figured they'd have no problem attracting their old friends to come visit them on Cape Cod, even though it is a little farther away from home -- about 4 hours. And they liked the idea of  settling in a town. The house they were interested in was one block off the main street, near a church they could join.

     So, thinking about Cape Cod, I asked them if they liked to sail or go fishing. No, they said. They liked being near the water. But they were not big on boating or fishing. But the husband already had his eye on a golf course -- he'd played it once, and saw that there were several leagues. He felt he could find a group of guys to play with. He even thought he might get a part-time job at one of the golf clubs, in the golf shop or working on the course.

     Still and all, they were having second -- and third -- thoughts about moving from the home where they'd lived for 25 years, where they raised their kids and where their kids stored all their old toys, stuffed animals, high-school reports -- and the athletic gear they hadn't used in years but assured their parents they would use again, just as soon as they got a chance.

     But, like us, they have kids who have left home -- one in Virginia, one in New Jersey, and one on the West Coast. And they didn't have any grandchildren yet, so they didn't feel the urge to move to be near any one of the kids. Besides, they said, you never know when the kids are going to move again for a new job. None of them had bought a house yet; and they'd all moved at least twice since leaving college. They figured if they moved near any of the children, the kids would only up and move away again.

Our garage after we moved
     But still, the wife thought maybe they should wait to make their move, until they did start to have grandchildren. That way they could move near the new family that would be more likely to stay put.

     And the kids themselves were resisting the idea of their parents moving to Massachusetts. They wanted to have a home base when they came back to see their friends, several of whom were still around, or if they wanted to take a trip to New York City.

     And this couple also found the prospect of downsizing rather daunting. They had a four-bedroom house with a finished and furnished basement -- and probably very little of it would fit into a smaller New England home. And they had shelves and shelves of their kids' books and trophies and toys and equipment. Were they ready to deal with all that, or insist their kids come home and deal with it?

     When the reception was over, after the speeches and the cake and the dancing, we said goodbye to our friends and wished them well. On the way home, B and I talked about them, wondering if they were really ready to make the big move, or if they were just dreaming.

     We know that, despite all the people we know who move to the Sunbelt, or the articles we've read about downsizing, that in the end most people choose to stay where they are after they retire. A Freddie Mac study from a couple of years ago showed that over 60% of older homeowners said they would prefer to age in place, rather than move to new quarters. It's the easiest option. You don't have to say goodbye to your friends. You don't have to find a new place to live. You don't have to clean out your basement or garage or attic, and confront your kids about leaving behind their childhood home.

Downsizing? It's never over. -- my closet today.
     I remember when my first wife and I sold our family home, soon after our daughter went away to college. My daughter was devastated. "What do you care?" I asked her. "You've moved away, and you're in college now."

     "I know," she said sadly. "But I've lived in that house my whole life. It's my home."

     That certainly gave us pause. But in the end we had to do the right thing for us, which was to move to smaller, cheaper quarters because it was a turbulent time, in the post-9/11 political and economic atmosphere. Or, to put it bluntly, I was losing my job, and we had to consolidate our finances.

     Anyway . . . we thought that this couple was serious about moving. They seemed to have things figured out, as much as possible, and I also noted that the woman got a gleam in her eye when she talked about that house they were interested in. That's usually a telling sign.

     We'll be interested to find out, next time we're back home in New York, if these people made the move, or decided to stay where they are, at home in their familiar community.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Song Is Over

     We know from raising children that the days are long, but the years are short. So it is with vacation. The days are long and languid. But suddenly, before you know it, the time is gone and we have to go home.

Just thought this was cool: License plate map posted in Cape Cod restaurant

     Then we must say goodbye to that interlude in life when we leave behind our day-to-day concerns to float on a tide of fun and friends and family and . . . way too much food.

In the sand at Harwichport beach

     So it is with us. Our time on Cape Cod has come to an end. We are spending a couple of days around Boston with family, and then the long car ride home.

Evening sky over Nantucket Sound

     But we have some memories. We have some photos. It's been a good vacation, so we go home refreshed and renewed, ready to settle back to our usual routine.

The day is over

     And, really, aren't we glad to land back home to resume our real, normal lives? There's always next year. But, for now, the song is over . . .


Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Perfect Food

     So we finally made it to our favorite ice-cream stand, called Sundae School, located in Harwichport, Mass., with two other Cape Cod locations, one in Dennisport, the other in Orleans.

     Sundae School ice cream is advertised as home made. I don't know exactly what that means. But it's rich and creamy, without being overly thick or solid (like Haagen Daz or Ben & Jerry's which in my opinion are so thick they leave you gagging). And the flavors are true and authentic. The coconut tastes like real coconut, not artificial. The mint tastes like real mint, without the toothpasty overtone that some mint ice cream has.

The front door

     In other words, Sundae School has the perfect ice cream. Which in my book means it has the perfect food.

     The first night I had a cup of mint chocolate chip. That's my favorite flavor of the moment. B had a strawberry sundae with hot fudge, whipped cream and a cherry. B is my wife, and she loves me. But she loves me more when I buy her some ice cream draped in spoonfuls of hot fudge. (But she wants everyone to know, she it was a small sundae, not the large . . . "It's not even a real sundae," she told me daintily, "it's just one scoop with hot fudge.")

Where the fun begins

     The second night I decided to really indulge myself. Because we're on vacation. Because I'm worth it. Because we only do this once a year. I ordered a butterscotch sundae with marshmallow topping. A real one, not just one scoop. And I ate the whole thing, with no regrets (minus the obligatory bite that my wife always takes).

     B just had a small cup of strawberry ice cream. So I guess you can tell, her favorite flavor is strawberry. Mine is, as I said, mint chocolate chip, followed by vanilla (usually with rainbow sprinkles), and then regular chocolate chip. I also like peach ice cream, when they have it, but peach ice cream is hard to find.

The piece de resistance

     I'm sure we all have our own favorite flavors, and our own favorite local ice-cream stands. But in case you think I'm just bragging, on its website Sundae School points out that it was named one of the "Best Ice Cream Spots in the U. S." by Food and Wine magazine. And it was ranked #5 in the country by USA Today.

     Which begs the question: What was rated #1? A place called Moomers Homemade Ice Cream, in Traverse City, Mich.

     Hmmmm.  Maybe next summer we should plan a trip to Michigan . . . unless you have a better idea.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Our Favorite Restaurant

     I recently ran across an article online asking "Do You Spend More Time Planning for Vacation than Planning Your Finances?"

     I used to spend more time on my finances, back when I was working and supporting a family and saving to send my kids to college and hopefully put aside a little for retirement as well. But today, now that I'm retired, I must admit I spend more time planning our vacations.

     Most of my income now is automatic. I won't ever get any more raises or promotions. I'll just receive my Social Security, and an automatic withdrawal from my IRA. (Sorry, Tom . . . no pension for you.)

     Since there's nothing I can do about my finances, why spend a lot of time on them? But there's plenty to do about vacation . . . in part because I have more time to actually go on vacation. And even though we often go back to the same spots, we still have to figure out where we're going to stay, what we're going to do, where we're going to eat.

We pull into the parking lot ... anticipation!

     But when we arrive on Cape Cod, where we go for a week or two every summer, there's no question. The first night, we head straight to Kream N' Kone in Chatham, Mass.

Bellying up to the counter

     Now maybe your dream restaurant involves tablecloths and dimmed lighting and waiters and fancy embossed menus. Ours features picnic tables out in the parking lot, counter service, and a menu in large type displayed up on the wall.

Wide selection of refreshing drinks

     Maybe your dream restaurant features various steaks and chops, grilled salmon or swordfish, or gourmet variations on risotto or artichokes or asperges blanche.

Clam chowder ... or "chowdah" as they say here on Cape Cod

     Our favorite restaurant offers clam chowder, fried clams on a hot dog bun, piles of greasy onion rings, vats of creamy cole slaw. And for dessert . . . well, they have pretty good soft-serve ice cream at Kream N' Kone. But instead we plan to stop of at Sundae School on the way home, for the best ice cream cone you can ever find in New England . . . actually, on the whole East Coast . . . actually, probably in the whole United States.

Yes, there's a hot dog bun under there somewhere

     And the total cost? Well, let me tell you, the most I ever spent for a restaurant dinner was $328.00 for four of us. I got a gift certificate to this fancy restaurant for $100 and thought, B and I will never spend $100, even though the restaurant had tablecloths and dimmed lighting and waiters and fancy embossed menus. So we invited another couple to come along. "On us," we told them boldly.

     But the restaurant was a lot more expensive than we anticipated. And we didn't count on them having two glasses of wine. But we . . . well, we invited them out to dinner. So what could we do? At least we were out of pocket only $228 because of the gift certificate.

     But dinner at Kream N' Cone was $27.00.

     I have had cheaper dinners. But never a better one. Only problem: we were so full we couldn't even stop for ice cream. So we'll leave Sundae School for tomorrow.