"I imagine a man must have a good deal of vanity who believes that all the doctrines he holds are true, and all he rejects are false." -- Benjamin Franklin

Sunday, December 27, 2020

A Time to Hope

      "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was an age of wisdom, it was an age of foolishness, it was an epoch of belief, it was an epoch of incredulity . . . "

     So begins Charles Dickens's novel A Tale of Two Cities. And I'd guess most of us agree that these lines are as relevant to our own world today as they were to 18th-century France and England.

     The Dickens outlook no doubt applies to politics, class, economics, race. It also applies to this year's holidays. For me, it was the worst of times, because I spent Christmas alone. Yet it was also the best of times because, through Zoom, I was able to meet up with far-flung family members from New York to Arizona, from Wisconsin to Florida -- people who otherwise I rarely get to see.

     Carol Cassara of Heart, Mind, Soul, certainly agrees that this has been a different kind of holiday, one that's not very merry or bright. In her post I Carry Your Heart she offers support for those who have suffered losses, and she reminds us that we "carry the love we feel for others all our days."

     Rita Robison, consumer journalist, warns us to Watch Out for Scammers who are looking to steal pandemic stimulus checks -- assuming Congress and the president finally do agree on the amount. She offers information on how to safeguard your payment, along with a website where you can report suspicious behavior.

     Holidays tend to evoke misty memories of childhood celebrations. This Christmas, Meryl Baer of Beach Boomer Bulletin recalls traveling with her sisters and parents to spend a Christmas day of yore with her aunt and uncle in New York City. But if you think it's all gauzy nostalgia, think again. Instead, Baer reveals the shouting, taunting, giggling and scolding that went on in A Manhattan Christmas of the 1960s.

     Jennifer at Unfold and Begin acknowledges that 2020 has been a long and difficult year. Many of us have been playing hooky from our healthy lifestyles, workout routines and other goals that were on track until last March. So Jennifer plans to start a new regimen to heal mind and body and invites us to join her at Let's Ease into 2021.

She shows us how it's done
     Rebecca Olkowski turns to a book called On with the Butter for an inspirational guide to living a more active, joyful life. The title comes from an Icelandic phrase about spreading more joy in our lives. She offers a brief excerpt, some motivating quotes, and a link to the book's amazon page.

     As a follow-up, Kathy Gottberg of SmartLiving365 has selected a list of Best Blogs & Websites for Positive Aging -- some two dozen websites that share thoughts that "engage, inspire and encourage us as we age and/or retire."

     Finally, Laurie Stone of Musings, Rants & Scribbles turns to her 85-year-old mom for a role model. When people meet her mother they often exclaim, "I can't believe her age!" And while Laurie believes her mother's sturdy Irish genes play a part in her good health, she also credits her mother's lifestyle for helping her stay fit, strong and ... yes, young. So check out 8 Vital Lessons from My Mother to meet the lady who "shows us how it's done."

Sunday, December 20, 2020

What's Your Favorite Restaurant?

      Our local news website just came out with a list of favorite restaurants in our town. The timing of this "favorites" list seems odd to me, since by and large people aren't going to restaurants anymore.

     A lot of people enjoyed dining outdoors throughout spring, summer and fall. Around here, indoor dining was banned for a while, then restricted to 50% capacity. Now indoor dining is banned again, through Jan. 4, since Pennsylvania is currently reporting the highest number of Covid deaths since the pandemic began (although somehow, some restaurants are still open).

     During the summer months outdoor dining thrived. Our town council closed a couple of downtown streets on weekend nights, and tables were set out along the sidewalk, people strolling up and down the street. Some intrepid diners were seen outside as recently as last week, bundled in coats and huddled under gas-fired heaters.

     When was the last time you went to a restaurant? B and I have been cautious. We have not been to a restaurant since . . . well, I can't remember exactly. We got home from South Carolina at the beginning of March just as the pandemic began. I remember I went to my last table tennis session on Mon. March 9. We had out last Senior Learning class on Fri. March 13.

     What I don't remember is whether we went to a restaurant after we came home. Probably not, since we were already getting scared, and we'd probably had our fill of restaurant meals during our February vacation. So I'm guessing our last restaurant was the seafood place on the South Carolina beach at the end of February.

     Since then our favorite restaurant meal has been take-out. We've done Chinese a couple of times. We went to a chicken place once. But our go-to is pizza. Once a week. Our favorite is mushrooms, onions and peppers.

     So according to the website survey the favorite local eatery is an Italian restaurant -- not our pizza place located behind the 7-Eleven, but an expensive Italian restaurant in town. A brew pub came in second. Third was a downtown bistro with excellent food that happens to be B's favorite restaurant.

     Fourth position was taken by another Italian place -- not as fancy as the other restaurant, but one that offers live music two or three times a week. And fifth most popular? The local diner.

     My favorite didn't make the list. It's a plain old American restaurant. The food is decent, nothing special, but it has a fantastic outdoor patio with a view of the street where we like to lounge in the summer and watch the world go by.

     I guess I'm not much of a connoisseur. To me the ambience is more important than the food. Except for Japanese. I like sushi, but I don't want cheap sushi, so there's only one Japanese restaurant I'll go to. Otherwise, I want decent food. But it doesn't have to be fancy or expensive. 

     I'm waxing nostalgic about restaurants because I miss them so much. Maybe that's the method behind the local website's madness -- why they did this survey now. We miss our restaurants, and look forward to a new thriving restaurant scene come spring.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Surprises in Retirement

     B said to me the other day:  "Now I finally know what retired people mean when they say every day seems the same. I can't even tell when it's the weekend anymore!"

     She went on to explain that before Covid, we had some structure to our lives. I played table tennis on Mondays and Wednesdays, did my tutoring on Thursdays. She led her therapy group on Thursday nights and went to church on Sundays.

     But now we have nothing on a regularly scheduled basis. We do Zoom meetings, but they are catch-as-catch-can. We will see friends for an outdoor get-together, but again, not on a regular basis. The only constant we have right now is watching the Philadelphia Eagles game on Sunday. And we're not even football fans! We only do it because it's an appointment we can hang onto.

     I remember, when we first retired, we wondered how we would spend our days. We knew there'd be some tension between enjoying all the time in the world and finally be in charge of our own lives -- and the responsibility for creating some structure and meaning in our lives. Would we find new activities, new friends -- and new meaning beyond work and children?

     We were surprised how easy it was to fill our time. So easy that we wondered how we managed to to hold down a job. The search for structure and meaning has been more challenging. But we were getting there until . . . 

     . . . the biggest surprise of all:  Covid-19. People talk about how Covid-19 is exacerbating the trend toward digitalizing our lives. We don't go to stores anymore, we shop online. We don't have dinner at other people's homes, we talk on Zoom.

     I think Covid has also forced us into a more traditional retirement. Today, we're not getting out, not traveling, not getting a post-retirement job, not doing as much as we thought we would. So we have time to make breakfast every morning, sit around and drink coffee and read a book or troll the internet. Dinner is now a daily event, when it used to be something we often rushed through on the way to a meeting or event.

     Has Covid changed your life? Do you think the changes will continue after the Coronavirus has disappeared?

     One thing I've loved about retirement is that my stress levels have gone down. Way down. As a result I lost about 15 pounds. But now the stress is building again. I'm not sure why. Maybe the feelings of confinement, maybe the anxiety of waiting for this thing to finally end. 

     So I find myself snacking in the afternoons. I try to take a walk, but I'm not as consistent as I should be. A schedule is what got me to exercise regularly. So since this all began in March I have gained back a few pounds.

     One thing I have not done -- but should -- is try to develop a new skill. Several friends have discovered the joy of cooking, now that they have time on their hands. One friend of mine has taken up painting -- and you know, he's not half bad! -- while a couple I know is starting to learn Italian -- in preparation for a trip to Italy they intend to make as soon as this is all over.

     In some ways retirement has actually prepared us for the Covid lockdown. We don't have to worry about work or a paycheck -- and that is an incredible blessing in this world. Also, I've become more comfortable with my own company, and in retirement B and I have already figured out how to spend more time together.

     Finally, I'm really surprised at how long this pandemic has lasted. Remember March? We thought it would go away by summer! But now I wonder -- what surprises await us next year? Will Covid linger longer than we think? Will we keep up our new activities, or go back to the old normal?

     I always thought retirement was a time for quiet reflection, for comfortable days and serene sunsets. Who would'a thunk it would be so full of surprises?

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Alone Again, Naturally

      Yesterday, December 7th, was the 79th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It used to be more present in our minds, command more attention. But a lot of time has gone by. I remember in high school a surprise quiz was called a Jap quiz. Can't say that anymore.

     Today is the 40th anniversary of the killing of John Lennon outside the Dakota in New York City. He was only 40 years old. It's hard to believe that the amount of time elapsed between John Lennon's death and today is the same time span as his entire life -- and is actually longer than the time between Pearl Harbor and Lennon's death -- not the advent of The Beatles, but the end of The Beatles.

     As I'm writing this, I'm listening to a recording on Youtube of The Beatles' rooftop concert, with "Get Back and "Don't Let me Down." This was the last appearance of The Beatles, in 1969, over half a century ago. Now George Harrison is also dead (of cancer at age 58 on November 29, 2001, my son's 16th birthday.)

     Paul McCartney, age 78, has five kids and is on his third wife (but fourth partner counting Jane Aster his girlfriend and muse for the crucial years of 1963 - 68.) and he still tours and performs, sometimes with 80-year-old Ringo Starr who also tours as Ringo Starr and His All Star Band.

    What's your favorite Beatles song?

     I find myself in a reflective mood these days, so I'm thinking of She's Leaving Home or Across the Universe. I eventually get sad when my wife is away and I'm living all alone. I think too much about the past. About growing up in my New York suburb, going to high school and college. then going to work in New York City before eventually taking a job with a magazine back in the suburbs.

     I have mixed feelings about it all. Who among us didn't have a first love in high school that subsequently crashed to the ground? Who among us graduated from college with the record and the confidence to change the world? Who can't have mixed feelings about a career that was largely satisfying, reasonably well-paid, but also contained its share of defeats and downright humiliations?

     So I'm finding find myself wallowing in nostalgia, which is what too often happens when I am alone, with nothing else to focus the mind.

     I think about my two kids, growing up in the 1990s, and all the fulfilling moments, and how great it all was. But then I realize: it's all over! And everything since then, since the early 2000s, seems to have gone by so fast.

     The problem seems worse on weekends when all other activities shut down. No Zoom meetings with my senior learning center. No contact with the students I'm tutoring. There isn't even a stock market to watch, to pass the small bits of time, and the weather channel seems to repeat about every 15 minutes.

     I did finish reading Louise Penny's latest book All the Devils Are Here, which brings Inspector Gamache and his family to Paris for a case about corporate greed and intrigue. It's a good page turner, although I thought the ending flew off the handle a little bit. 

      I've also been watching Dawson's Creek, which I had never seen before. My son told me a while back that it is much better than The OC -- more real, more genuine, more gritty with its seting in Cape Cod not Southern California. The show debuted in 1998, when my daughter was in 10th grade and my son in 7th grade, in those last innocent days before cellphones, before the internet took over our lives. 

     Those Dawson Creek episodes reflect high-school life in the 1990s, but could for all intents and purposes echo high-school life from the 1960s. The teenage romance, the parents getting divorced, a death in the family, rebellion against arbitrary school authority. Maybe these are themes still relevant to coming-of-age stories. But for me it all seems nostalgic, and gets me thinking about my own past during all those hours when I'm alone, with no on to talk to, not much to do.

      B and I have been trying to Zoom together almost every night. We catch up on what the grandkids are doing. She's been spending afternoons playing with a three-year-old, and occasionally babysitting for a 22-month old. B is relishing the role of grandmother-in-residence, but she's already getting tired. "I've only been here a week," she told me last night, "and I'm feeling like I've stayed long enough, that it's getting to be time to head home." She paused. "What made me think it was a good idea to come here for a month?!?"

      Meanwhile, she sent me an email with a link to a local outfit that delivers Christmas trees. But I've decided I don't want a tree. I already have greenery and the lights on the mantel, and the outdoors lights over the garage. That's enough. I'm afraid a tree would emphasize how alone I am at Christmas, and remind me of all the Christmases past, with the kids, the costumes, the groaning dining room tables.

     I did talk with my daughter by Facebook. My granddaughter at 10 months is now officially crawling. She would power crawl from one end of the living room to the other to get her hands on my daughter's iPhone. I suggested putting the phone around a corner. Could she locate a phone if it was out-of-sight?

     The answer is: no. She lost interest when she couldn't see it. I guess that's a skill they learn later in life. When I told B about this later, she suggested my granddaughter had to play more hide-and-seek to develop the skill of retaining an image of something when it's not there any longer.

     Which is kind of what nostalgia is, isn't it?

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Plus ca Change ...

     "The toilet paper is just the same," I said, walking into the kitchen. "And so are the paper towels."

     "What?" B responded. 

     "In fact, the entire bathroom is just the same as when we were kids."

     "What are you talking about?"

     "And so is the kitchen," I continued as I looked around at the refrigerator, the stove, the dishwasher. "You see, everyone keeps complaining about the 'pace of change' -- that everything changes so quickly these days, that it's hard to keep up. But I don't think it's really true."

     She rolled her eyes. "Well, then, why don't you tell that to my iPad. I can host a Zoom meeting from my desktop, but I can't figure out how to do it from my iPad."

     "Okay," I acknowledged. "We have personal computers and smart phones and other ways to communicate at the drop of a hat . . . or at the swipe of a key. But otherwise, our lives work pretty much the same way as when we were kids. In fact, I'd argue that our grandparents experienced more change in their lifetimes than we have in ours."

     "Okay, I'm listening," she said. "Please explain." 

     I knew I had to jump at the chance, because B says she's listening about as often as she says that I am right! So what was I talking about?

     I'd been sitting in the living room, reading a book, and happened to lift my gaze over to the fireplace. We don't use the fireplace very often because we have central heat. An oil burner with baseboard hot water. Or . . . exactly the same kind of heat we had in our house when I was a kid, 50 years ago.

     So I began to wonder: how much has really changed? I live in a house that was built in 1963. I think the windows were replaced, and I know central air conditioning was installed at some point, because I can see the ducts in the back of the closets. But everything else about the house is the same as it was in 1963. So everything about our daily lives -- especially when we're mostly confined to our house during the pandemic -- is pretty much the same as it would have been in 1963.

     Except for the computer sitting on my desk, and the phone in my hand. Those are different, to be sure. Now I have the dubious pleasure of watching the cable channels that were not available in the 1960s, and the even more doubtful experience of checking in on Facebook or Twitter to view the latest rant by some political extremist . . . or see yet another picture of my cousin's grandchildren who are just the cutest kids on earth and I know that because she posts pictures of them three times a day.

     I can also watch a lot of movies and TV series through Amazon or Netflix, on demand. That's pretty cool. I can get reruns of Seinfeld, The Carol Burnett Show and even Gunsmoke on some of the cable channels. And I can watch 60 Minutes, a show which premiered in September 1968.

     But even when the pandemic lets up and I can go outside, how different will the world look? I'll get in my car to go to the grocery store. But I could drive a car in the 1960s, too. Sure, there are some improvements. There were no airbags, no backup cameras, no GPS, in the 1960s. But the basic experience is the same. The grocery store looks the same. The food is still the same -- they still sell broccoli!

     I'll be able to get on an airplane and fly to Charleston, SC, to see the grandkids. But I could get on an airplane in the 1960s, too. The flight is a little less expensive now (adjusted for inflation) and probably more crowded. But basically, it's the same experience.

     Compare this to the lives of our grandparents. When they were kids, there were no airplanes. There were no cars. They took a trolley, or rode a horse. Many of them had no electricity, and no central heat until they upgraded their homes as adults. They didn't have Social Security or Medicare. And they didn't live long enough to need them. 

     My grandparents were all born around 1885. Life expectancy in the U. S. at that time was about 41 years. By the time my parents were born life expectancy had gone up to 54. By the 1960s, it was 70 years. Since then it's gone up some more, but despite advances in medicine the increase has leveled off. It has shown less change, not more change. 

     And recent statistics show that the life expectancy for our grandchildren has not changed at all. For those born in 2010 the average life expectancy is 78.7. For my granddaughter, born in 2020, it is also 78.7.

     Anyway, I have to go now. I have to set the table for dinner. And light the candles. B likes candles. 

     Or . . . plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Faces of Covid

     We held several Zoom meetings with family and friends over the Thanksgiving holiday. We talked about children and grandchildren and other usual things, but of course the topic of Covid came up. One thing that struck me was how the disease has affected different people in different ways -- and how our attitudes vary depending on our situation. I see three or four different faces of Covid.

     Those of us who are retired talked mostly about how we are isolating, and not traveling, and not able to see our grandchildren in person. We fear the disease and avoid other people. We are bored and sometimes lonely, and sometimes frustrated by the restrictions on our lives. Most of us know someone who has been in the hospital with the disease. We know one or two who have died -- usually someone's elderly relative in a nursing home.

     What we don't worry about is our finances. We have no job to lose. Our salaries just show up in our bank accounts -- automatically from Social Security or a pension or an IRA withdrawal.

     Then there's our children. Most of them are still working. A couple work exclusively from home -- and for at least one of them it's been a blessing. He has a one-year-old at home that he now gets to see -- and a long commute to work that he doesn't have to make.

     Others have had to figure out how to work from home, when they can, but still at times go into a workplace with other people. My daughter has been tested for Covid four separate times, because someone in her building tested positive. So far she's been negative. But Covid is running rampant where she works. She's a healthy young adult, but still a little nervous about the whole thing.

     We have a couple of grandchildren who are going to school. A third-grader is taking part in the hybrid approach. He spends a lot of time doing lessons on Zoom. He declined to attend our family Zoom meeting. He's had enough.

     One grandchild is going to preschool five days a week -- so far, so good. It turns out for some reason schools are not the super-spreaders that we might expect. But another one of our grandchildren is being homeschooled this year -- because her mother isn't taking any chances. Different people, different solutions.

     We have one child, in his mid-30s, who has yet another attitude. He is angry. He was 15 years into his career and doing well ... until the spring of 2020. He's in the entertainment business. His company has lost virtually all of its revenue. It kept him on full salary until July, then on half salary until just last week. But now the company is shutting down. He's getting paid and keeping his benefits until the end of the year. Then he's on his own. 

     As you might expect, he takes a different view of the pandemic. He's young and healthy. He's not afraid of Covid. He's afraid of running out of money and losing his medical insurance. His career has been torpedoed -- and he has no idea what the future holds for him. Will a vaccine allow people to congregate again and save the theaters, the movies, the music venues, the restaurants and travel industry? Maybe. But who knows how this will change people's habits and expectations? Who knows what the world will look like after this is all over -- assuming it's ever all over?

     Covid is unpredictable. Some people get it and don't even know they have it. Others feel the dreaded cough, the headache, and a few days later they're in the ICU. The fear of the disease is only a minor inconvenience for some. For others it kills their careers, turns their world upside down.

     No doubt, Covid has affected us all -- all in different ways. What we share is hope. The hope of better treatments. The hope of an effective vaccine. And the hope that by this time next year it will be but a distant memory.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

The 1.3% Solution

     I just got an email from Social Security notifying me there is a message for me on My Social Security. I signed up for the online account a couple of years ago, and now all my records are available on the website. B has not opened a My Social Security account. She still gets her information on paper, in the mail, which will probably arrive sometime next week.

     The message included a statement of my new benefit amount for 2021, before deductions, with a list of deductions for Medicare and taxes, and then the amount to be deposited in my bank account. Why, it's just like getting a paycheck! There's your gross salary, then all the  deductions, then your take-home pay, which is a whole lot less than your salary.

     Social Security benefit is going up by a paltry 1.3% for next year. The basic premium for Medicare Part B is going up by 2.7%, from $144.60 to $148.60. So our take-home will be something less than a 1.3% increase. Then if your income is above $88,000 for an individual, or $176,000 for a couple, you pay a surcharge, and that's going up, too. Or ... what Social Security giveth, Medicare taketh away.

     The threshold for being taxed on Social Security benefits is not going up. It remains at $25,000 for an individual and $32,000 for a couple. Anything above that is subject to federal income tax.

     These tax limits were set in 1985, back when you could live on $25,000 a year. If the limits had been adjusted for inflation, Social Security beneficiaries would only begin to pay tax starting at $60,500 for an individual and $77,400 for a couple. And so today, what Social Security giveth, the IRS taketh away.

     For comparison, in 1985 the premium for Medicare Part B was $15.50, not $148.60. However, there was no Part D to cover drug costs back in 1985. So that's definitely an improvement.

     Another point to consider. When you get health insurance through an employer your premiums are tax deductible. When you pay them on your own, such as through Medicare, they are not tax deductible -- making them more expensive.

    We may complain about the small increase in benefits -- that may actually prove a decrease for some people because of higher Medicare costs. Still, as we all know -- but don't always appreciate -- Social Security is a vital financial asset for retired Americans. What makes the asset so valuable? For one thing, the value of Social Security does not gyrate up and down like an IRA or 401K that's invested in the stock market. For another, as paltry as a 1.3% increase is, it's still a better rate than what you'd get from, say, a 10-year government bond which pays an even more paltry 0.8%.

     A bond is not exactly the same thing as Social Security, but it provides a relevant point of comparison. The bond rate determines the rate for an annuity. According to Jeff Sommer in the New York Times, the average 65-year-old man receives a Social Security benefit of $1,375 per month. An annuity paying him that much would cost almost half a million dollars. So that $1,375 per month is the equivalent of a half-million-dollar asset.

     There's one problem with Social Security. The system pays out more than it takes in via taxes -- a problem made worse by Covid, which has thrown a lot of people out of work, which means they are not contributing payroll taxes. The Social Security trust fund is projected to run out of money in less than 15 years. If nothing is done, benefits would be cut by more than 20%.

     We all assume that something will be done to shore up the system. But who knows what it might be. Some people suggest raising the retirement age to 68 or 70. Others want to raise the payroll tax, currently at 12.4% (half paid by the employer, half by the employee).

     Currently the tax only applies to incomes up to $137,700. President-elect Joe Biden has proposed adding the payroll tax to income above $400,000. That would raise some extra money. However, it would create a donut hole for incomes between $137,700 and $400,000, which some people might consider unfair. But more importantly, applying the payroll tax to income over $400,000 would only close about half of the deficit. 

     And Biden is also talking about expanding benefits by setting higher cost-of-living adjustments and increasing benefits to lower income retirees and to widows and widowers. Who would argue against giving poor people more money? But wouldn't it just make the Social Security funding problem worse? 

     It seems there are no easy answers. But there's one thing we'd all agree on: Social Security must be preserved and if anything, strengthened.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

What's Wrong?

      Last night I felt a little off. Nothing serious. No headache. Just a little spacey. Maybe a touch of an upset stomach. It can happen when you've been cooped up in your house for days, weeks, months at a time.

     I went to bed at my normal 11 p.m., but woke up at 3 a.m. Found the bathroom. Stumbled back into bed, fell into a fitful sleep. I woke up again, and it was still dark. Couldn't see the clock, didn't know what time it was. I had a little headache now, and knew it would get worse. 

     It was hot. I pushed the covers off me, but couldn't get back to sleep.

     I drifted in and out for I don't know how long. Had a nightmare. I was on a golf course on the first tee, and as I swung I fell backward and shanked the ball into a bush. I rode the golf cart up the fairway, then had to take a long walk downhill to try to find the ball, rummaging through the underbrush. Something else happened, something completely unrelated, but I can't remember what it was.

     Then I woke up again. With a definite headache.

     I sensed B getting out of bed. I rolled over on my side, trying to find sleep again. Next thing I knew there was a rumbling on the street outside my bedroom window. The big leaf-loader was starting up, at 7:30 a.m., vacuuming up the piles of leaves that people had raked into the gutter.

     I sat up and paused for a moment, trying to clear my head. Then I hauled myself out of bed and wandered into the bathroom, feeling drowsy and headachy. I avoided looking in the mirror, then came out and got dressed and began to wonder. Could this be it? The first signs of Covid?

     I started toward the kitchen, but instead detoured back into the bathroom. I opened the cabinet drawer, took out the thermometer and jammed it into my mouth, under my tongue. While I waited -- about two minutes -- I washed my hands. Thoroughly. For at least 30 seconds. Under warm water.

     The beeper on the thermometer went off. I pulled the thermometer out, turned it over and read the display. 97.4 degrees. That's perfectly normal for me.

     I finally made it into the kitchen, brewed some coffee, had breakfast. I shook two Tylenol out of the bottle and washed them down with orange juice. Slowly, throughout the morning, my headache receded. Later, while reading my book, I took a short nap.

     Now it's getting on toward 4 p.m. I feel a little washed out, from lack of sleep, but I don't feel sick. The headache is gone. I take my temperature again. It's still 97.4. I guess I don't have Covid after all. 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Eternal Questions

     I just read a book called The Secret Place by Tana French. It's a mystery that takes place at a private girls' high school in Dublin. It's one of French's six Dublin Murder Squad books, which she's written along with a few other mysteries, all set in Ireland.

     If you're looking for something to read, I recommend all of her books. But that's not the point of this post. What caught my eye in The Secret Place is a series of questions about human nature that came up while the two detectives were interviewing various persons of interest at the school  And I'm thinking, those of us who have been around a while, who have a lot of life experience -- and who are looking for something to think about other than the remnants of an election -- might be able to answer these questions.

     Most of the interviews involve teenage girls. But they cover boys as well, along with a few adults.

     Throughout the interviews the detectives have to figure out who's telling the truth, who's holding back secrets, who's passing on stories fed to them by someone else. And this suggests some questions about human nature. Let's see if you have any answers.

     At one point, one of the girls says: "Everyone thinks girls blab everything, yap, yap, yap, like idiots. That's total crap. Girls keep secrets. Guys are the ones who can't keep their mouths shut."

     Do you agree? Are girls better than boys at keeping secrets? How about grownups? In general, who is better at holding onto secrets, men or women?

     Another issue comes up -- and you'll have to "excuse my French" so to speak. One guy is called a "prick." Later, a girl is called a "bitch." Here's the question: Is a bitch simply a female version of a prick, and a prick a male version of a bitch? Or are they fundamentally different?

     One last issue. The plot of the novel turns on Chris who is a handsome, popular 17-year-old from the boys' school next door. He's also a player. First he goes out with Joanna. He dumps her because he's smitten with the dreamy and fragile Selena. But Selena's friend Julia knows that Selena will only get hurt. So she seduces Chris -- not because she likes him but to keep him away from her friend Selena.

     My wife B says, "Oh, come on, I don't believe a girl would 'give herself' to a guy just to save her friend. I can't suspend belief that much." Can you?

     By the way, if you're instantly angry at Chris, don't worry, he gets murdered. But that's not a spoiler. The question is: Who did it? To answer that, you have to read the book.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Life Beyond the Election

     According to Yahoo Finance, alcohol sales went up by 68% on election day. Guess who bought more: Democrats or Republicans?

     Joe Biden made a good speech on Saturday night, don't you think? He took on the mantle of the presidency but was not vindictive against his opponent and pledged to be president not just to the people who voted for him, but for all Americans. 

     Anyway, if you're ready to move past the election, so too are our Baby Boomer bloggers. They are already shaking off the distraction, the depression, the anxiety, and looking forward to other more personally fulfilling aspects of their lives.

     Laurie Stone of Musing, Rants & Scribbles has lately been buzzing with so much tension she's wanted to reach for a tranquilizer, two shots of tequila, or both. But then she found something in her desk drawer. Something small and plastic and gray. Something she'd completely forgotten about. So she clipped it to her waistband and now gives us 3 Reasons Why a Pedometer Is Better than Xanax.

     Carol Cassara of Heart, Mind, Soul is developing a new appreciation for clarity in our lives. Clarity can be difficult to accept, she says, but it is also a beautiful thing, making life easier even in all its difficulties. Confused? In Connect with the Clarity that Comes from Maturity she decides what really matters is how we face our challenges and see a clear path ahead for ourselves.

     Rita R. Robison, consumer journalist, notes that many of us are avoiding cash during the pandemic and are instead turning to app-based payments like CashApp. In Watch Out for Scams When You Use CashApp she reveals how con artists are finding ways to trick us into sharing personal information or buying things we don't want.

     On Unfold and Begin, we are reminded that Veteran's Day is upon us, a day when we recognize and thank those who have served and those who continue to serve to protect our country. All is not well with many veterans, Jennifer points out in The War Is Not Over for Veterans, and she offers several links to sites that have information to help vets, including one with resources for families, one allowing the sharing of stories, one offering discounts for vets.

     All of us can sometimes be grouchy, negative or sullen, especially these days in the teeth of a pandemic. But Rebecca Olkowski of BabyBoomster reminds us that Your Attitude Determines Your Altitude. She catalogues some of the ways we can go wrong, and shows us how respect, optimism and kindness are the keys to success and happiness.

     Meanwhile, Meryl Baer of Beach Boomer Bulletin, like a lot of us, was missing her kids and grandkids. But unlike many of us, she and her husband took action. They jumped in the car and drove from New Jersey to Florida, and then home again. "Our car and our bodies returned home safely," she now reports from her two-week quarantine "The election wait is over," she continues in Under House Arrest, and then she ends with a thought we can all share: "Now, if only the Covid crisis clears out."

     Amen to that. And by the way, the answer is . . . Democrats.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Apologies for Pennsylvania

      Normally I stay away from politics on this blog -- not for any other reason than I don't have anything particularly original or insightful to say. Most of the issues I think about have already been talked over ad nauseum.

     But right now I feel like I have to apologize for my adopted state of Pennsylvania. I mean, here it is two days after the election. Forty-eight states have managed to count their votes. Only two have been taking this long: Nevada and Pennsylvania. 

     I can't speak for Nevada. Well, I can't really speak for Pennsylvania, either. It's just that the delayed counting of the vote makes us seem a little, well . . . slow. As though we can't quite handle the situation. As though we're all a little dim-witted.

     The problem is not the poor souls who are working diligently to actually process the paper and count the votes. The problem is that there was a kerfuffle in Harrisburg about when to cut off the mail-in ballots. First they had to be postmarked by November 3. Then, no, they had to be delivered by November 3. Then, no again, they could be postmarked by Nov. 3 and counted as long as they arrived by Fri. Nov 6. Then there were rumors that the post office couldn't possibly handle all the mail, so they urged people to drop off their ballots in person.

     It almost seems as is they were deliberately trying to confuse us.  I mean, the post office can handle Christmas mail. Surely they can handle a few thousand mail-in votes.

     So anyway, at this point President Trump is ahead in Pennsylvania by 200,000 votes, or about 1.5%. But the mail-ins reportedly lean more Democratic than Republican, so the thinking is that Democrats are going to catch up. And now Trump is talking about suing the state to stop the count of late-coming votes.

     The lawsuit was so predictable  But our politicians did nothing to avoid it. And I'll tell you, if I were a Republican I too would be suspicious of an election board that kept pulling more votes out of a hat days after the election was supposed to be over.

     Just as a Democrat, I'd be suspicious of Nevada where Joe Biden is ahead by just 0.5% points, if the Republicans started "finding" new votes that conveniently back their nominee. 

     Meanwhile, I sent my vote in about two weeks ago. Apparently it has still not been counted. It's kind of embarrassing. All my friends around the country have had their vote registered. But apparently mine is still sitting on a desk somewhere, waiting for someone to dig through the pile and get to it.

     They should have had a hard deadline on the mail-in votes, and they should have started counting earlier. But now we're stuck with what we have. My only consolation, personally, is that I know how my friends and I voted, and so my suspicions will not kick in if and when the election board start reporting more votes for Biden long after the bell has rung.

     Pennsylvania was supposed to be an important swing state. That was exciting to me. When I lived in New York my vote didn't really count. No matter what any individual does, the state is marked solid blue. (And for that reason New York turnout was low.) 

     But now my vote was supposed to actually make a difference. But it looks like Pennsylvania blew it. Wisconsin and Michigan have now been called for Biden. So right now all he has to do is finish off Nevada and he'll have enough electoral votes to win the presidency. So Pennsylvania will not be a deciding factor. It will be irrelevant.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Saving the Planet with Covid

      One silver lining to the Covid-19 pandemic is that air pollution levels have gone down, not just around metropolitan areas but throughout the country -- and even in China!

     Most of us are driving less. I last filled my gas tank over three weeks ago, on October 9, and the tank is still 3/4 full. Instead of grumbling about the cost of gas, I'm complaining about the monthly payment for the lease on my car that sits in the garage all week.

     But maybe it's better this way. We live in town. Our street is not a major artery, but it is a through street so we normally get a medium amount of traffic. But lately, we can sit on our front porch and not see a single car go by for ten minutes.

     For the past six months, having two cars has been a hassle, and so we're now starting to think maybe we can get along with just one. My lease runs out next June. My plan right now is to replace the car with a bicycle. A bicycle is not the perfect way to get around. There's traffic to negotiate, and it's no good in the rain or the winter. But it might be worth a try.

     If that doesn't work, maybe we'll get an electric car. But I'm not quite sold on the idea. I've read that an electric car, after you account for making and disposing of the batteries and generating the electricity, saves only about 20% of the pollution. Now 20% is better than nothing. But you can do just as well simply by trading in a 22 mpg SUV for a 27 mpg car. 

     Covid is definitely changing our thinking and our habits. Is the pandemic changing yours?

No more of this
     We've been recycling paper and plastic for years now. The only problem is, I've read that they can't recycle all the plastic. It's just too much. A lot of it ends up in a landfill anyway. So we're trying to cut back on plastic. I used to drink bottled water. Now I fill my glass at the tap. Our town water is perfectly fine. 

     We've tried all along to bring our own tote bags to the grocery store -- but somehow we hardly ever remembered. So we went through a lot of plastic bags. But now with Covid, we wouldn't be caught dead taking a plastic bag from the supermarket. We've completely changed that habit. We never go anywhere without our tote bags.

     It almost goes without saying that we're traveling less. Covid has been killing the airline industry. But it's saved a whole lot of jet fuel. Maybe after this is all over, the airlines will be downsized, and we can spend less time flying in jet planes. Sure, you might want to take that special trip to Hawaii or Europe, or to see family. But we won't be quite so casual about contributing to all those jet fumes.

     Instead, we're discovering the charms of the Microadventure  For us it's been an afternoon at a park, a drive to visit another town. But even more adventuresome people are discovering sights closer to home -- Boston or Washington instead of Paris or Helsinki; one of the national parks instead of el Camino de Santiago, a local beach instead of Cancun.

     We don't eat much meat anymore, not because it's environmentally punishing -- although it is -- but because we're trying to be more healthy. We had a steak dinner for B's birthday. And we ate hot dogs exactly one time this summer when we had a cookout. Other than that it's chicken and fish and lots and lots of vegetables. (Not that we're perfect; we do like our baked goods.)

     We do not grow any of our own food. That would be a good thing, but we don't have the property or the green thumb. Instead, we signed up with a local farm to supply fresh produce. It's a little more expansive, but still cheaper than all that meat. And nothing comes wrapped in plastic. 

     We've also been more careful about throwing away food. We have leftovers once or twice a week -- again, not trying to save the environment -- although it does -- but because in these pandemic times we want to cut down on the number of trips to the grocery store.

     Like many other people, we use the library more. We haven't needed much in the way of clothes. We support our local restaurants by doing take-out -- for us, mostly curbside pickup at the pizza place.

     In many ways I can't wait to get back to normal. But maybe, just maybe, a few of these new habits will stick with us -- and we'll take one small step toward saving the planet. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Change of Scenery

     We've been told that walking is the best exercise, especially for seniors. So I'm taking a page from DJan-ity's blog and offering a glimpse of a walk we took recently.    

In our neighborhood

     To be honest, my wife B does a lot more walking than I do. She takes a three-to-four-mile route around our neighborhood almost every day. I only walk three times a week -- and that's a good week. Sometimes it's only twice.

I found these fellows downtown

     I find walking kind of boring. I mean, it doesn't take a lot of concentration to put one foot in front of the other. And then what else do you do? Look at the scenery? I usually walk into town, a little over a mile, and it's basically the same scenery every time, even if I do vary the route a little bit on the way there or back. 

One large New Jersey leaf

     But sometimes B and I go farther afield. During the self-isolation of the last six months we've traveled to several nearby towns to walk around and see different sights. We've been to a few local parks. In the summer we drove over to Princeton University, and another day up to Lehigh University, to walk around a college campus.

The reservoir was low

    Some friends suggested we take a short trip over to a park they knew about in New Jersey. So on a warm and cloudy day last week we crossed the Delaware River and turned north up into the Jersey hills. Following their directions, we found Round Valley State Park which surrounds a reservoir outside the small town of Lebanon.

We started uphill. Can you tell?

     The several-thousand-acre park offers swimming, boating, even camping. But everything was closed down except the hiking trails.

Pine trees against a cloudy sky

     We drove in and parked. We walked along the shoreline, then climbed up a path into the trees. We saw a few people down by the water, and passed some other hikers on the trails. But not many, and most were wearing masks.

A shot of red

     It was a nice fall day, and by the time we circled around a small peninsula and got back to the parking lot we had covered about four miles.

The way home

     The outing was nothing spectacular, nothing challenging. But we got out in nature. We got our exercise. We got some fresh air. And now tomorrow, it's another walk into town.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

How We Got Here

     How did we end up in this situation where everyone is so polarized, so surrounded by like-minded people, and so dismissive of others who have a different opinion or different lifestyle?

     It all started with television, according to Jill Lepore, Harvard history professor and author of the new book If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future.

     When television started broadcasting the news, back in the 1940s and 1950s, it put newspapers in a difficult position. Everyone already had the news from TV, so why would they want to read it the next day in the newspaper? So newspapers reinvented themselves by focusing more on analysis than straight news, and before long the line between analysis and opinion was blurred. Now newspapers give us more opinion than news, and sometimes the opinion is disguised as news.

     But the main thrust of Lepore's book is the story of how Simulmatics, an early computer-based organization that came out of MIT, pioneered the process of collecting data, massaging it, and selling it to businesses and governments in an effort to predict and even manipulate people's behavior.

     Simulmatics failed. But like what AOL was to the internet, Simulmatics pioneered the era of Big Data. Both big government and big business began to electronically spy on people, collect enormous amounts of personal data, then slice it up into special interest groups so that they could manipulate minds, sell products, win over votes.

     John Kennedy and later Lyndon Johnson, for example, used computerized research to develop political messages appealing to the Black vote. Richard Nixon identified the Silent Majority and crafted a message to appeal to the white middle-class concerned about communism and law-and-order.

     At the same time, Proctor & Gamble and other consumer goods companies targeted their ad campaigns to different market segments, from the working stiff to the suburban housewife to the Pepsi Generation. The politicians wanted power. The corporations wanted money.

     Meanwhile, news organizations and university professors began to question the very notion of objective facts. New Journalists argued that everything is relative. Everyone's view of the world is colored by their own experience. There is no Truth. There is only your opinion.

     As time went on, mass media carved the audience into thinner and thinner slices, tailoring their content to the interests of very specific groups. General interest magazines like Life and Look went out of business, replaced by specialized publications on fly fishing, race-car driving, organic farming, or long-distance running. Then along came cable TV, again slicing up the audience to special interest groups. Gone were Ed Sullivan and Carol Burnett, who appealed to the mass audience. Those shows were replaced by the food network, the classic movie network, the history channel, a dozen different sports channels -- and the left-wing and right-wing news channels.

     From there it was only a short step to what we have today on the internet and social media. Organizations collect data, detect patterns, identify our interests, exploit our biases, and classify us into precise targets for their messages. They enlist our sympathies, sell us their products, win our votes, all in a system that "manipulates opinion, exploits attention, commodifies information, divides voters, fractures communities, alienates individuals and undermines democracy."

     Lepore is not saying that all Big Data is bad. Computer-aided analysis has helped us build better buildings, safer cars, more powerful medicines. It has opened up the mysteries of space, and now can help us meet the challenge of climate change. 

     The problem is that we humans have a natural tendency to seek out information that confirms our pre-existing convictions, and we tend to ignore or discredit information that runs counter to them. Modern marketing, polarized politics and the mean-spirited media all benefit by exploiting this trait and splitting us farther and farther apart. But people should not allow themselves to be "managed" into micro-markets just to they can sell us more products or focus-group us into gender/race/class divisions to make us easier to influence or control. 

     All knowledge is not biased. There are facts that are true beyond our own views of the world. We should not let the social scientists and market researchers tell us what to think or do. But it takes a conscious effort to resist these divisive forces. And it takes a willingness to walk a mile in someone else's shoes to rebuild a sense of community. 

     Or as Shakespeare said long ago: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Part 2: Review Your Supplemental Plan

     I read last week that our Social Security increase for next year will be 1.3%. Will that be enough to even cover the increase in our health-insurance premiums?

     Last week I decided to review our medical insurance, because open enrollment is about to start. And I thought maybe I could find a way to save a little money. My wife and I have the same supplemental Medicare plans. Plan N. But we have them with different companies, and it turns out I pay $190 a month, while she's only paying $120 per month 

     That didn't seem right to me, so I decided to look into it. I also wanted to see if Plan N is still the best option for me. I checked several websites and found that the cost of the premium depends on the insurance company, as well as where you live (but B and I live in the same house!), your age, your gender, your marital status, and the way you answer some key health questions.

     I found out that men pay a higher premium than women. Is that fair? It seems to me that women go to the doctor more often than men, so they should pay a higher premium. But maybe men have more expensive problems like heart attacks and strokes.

     And that brings up the fact that men don't live as long, either. According to the Social Security life expectancy table, the average life expectancy of a female, at birth, is fully five years longer than it is for a male. Isn't that the ultimate sex discrimination? Even if a guy like me makes it to age 70 (by avoiding dangerous jobs, the military and risky male behavior) his life expectancy still falls more than two years short of the average woman.

     Anyway, I really couldn't get any specifics on the websites, so I called my Supplemental carrier, which is United Health Care through AARP. Yes, there was a phone tree, but before long a friendly young woman answered the call, and she seemed fairly knowledgeable.

     First, we went over the various plans. I have original Medicare Supplemental Plan, not a Medicare Advantage plan. It's slightly more expensive. But I don't have to stay in network. I like having the option of going to any doctor I want -- especially if I end up getting some complicated disease that my local doctors don't know too much about.

     There were less expensive plans, and one that was more expensive. Plan F. The less expensive plans didn't cover enough and made me feel insecure. Plan F pays for more deductibles, as well as "excess charges above Medicare approved amounts." But Plan F is another $80-some a month. I decided it wasn't worth it. I'll stick with Plan N.

     Then I asked the United Health Care woman about the cost. Was I eligible for any discounts? I mentioned that my wife has Plan N with another carrier and pays much less than I do. She took a minute to check for me, but then came back and told me: No, you've got the lowest rate.

     So I said: I'm married now. I wasn't when I first signed up for the plan. Do you offer any marital discount that could save me some money?

     No, she said. If my wife and I were on the same plan we'd each get a 5% discount. But just being married doesn't qualify for the discount when my wife has her insurance from a different company.

     The young woman went on to explain that I already have one discount, one that I got when I first signed up. But the discount decreases every year. I started out at age 65 with a 39% discount. But every year since then the discount has gone down by 3%.

     I thought about that for a second. In other words, I asked, in addition to whatever usual price increases are involved, the insurance company tacks on an extra 3% every year just because I get older?

     She laughed. Well, I guess that's another way to put it.

     B is four years younger than I am. So if her insurance company works the same way, that accounts for 12% of the price difference between her policy and mine. Add in the male surcharge, and probably a few other hidden fees, and -- bottom line, I'm just keep my same Supplemental Plan.

    Together, B and I pay almost $1000 a month for medical insurance, when you count Medicare, Plan B, Plan D, plus a relatively modest dental plan. But I think it's worth it, when you consider how expensive medical care can be. But clearly, anyone who suggests that Medicare for All is the same as free medical care doesn't know what they're talking about.

      Anyway, I guess the only real strategy to save money is to keep away from the doctor. So I'll eat my vegetables, get some exercise, avoid too much stress, get plenty of sleep, wear my mask and keep my distance. And the hardest part . . . try not to do anything stupid!

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Pumpkin Patch

     Halloween is soon upon us, so B and I take a drive across the Delaware River to a park in New Jersey that holds an annual pumpkin fest.

     We get scared as soon as we arrive!


     We have a pumpkin fest in our town as well, and I'm sure there are thousands of others all across America. But as far as pumpkins go, this is a pretty haunting collection.


     This one is truly CarnEvil.


     A fire-breathing dragon turns up the heat.


     This witch is giving me the chills.


     My, what big ears you have . . . and the nose!


     He has a sinister grin and fierce eyes.


     But this one looks more friendly, a little like Santa Claus. Is he trying to warm us up for Christmas . . . or just hiding something behind that grin?


     Whew, home sweet home! But it looks like we have a few skeletons in our own closet!


     

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Part 1: Medicare Just Got Cheaper

     Okay, Medicare is not getting cheaper for everybody. But it is for us, because there's been a screw up. Yes, it turns out that Medicare can make a mistake, so it's best to pay attention.

     Medicare uses your 2018 tax return to figure out your Medicare premiums for 2020. If you make too much money, there's a surcharge on both your Medicare Part B and also Part D. For example, if you're single and make over $87,000 and less than $109,000, you pay a $57.80 surcharge every month for Part B, plus an extra $12.20 for Part D.

     B and I got married in 2018. Once you're married, as a couple you can make up to $174,000 per year before the first surcharge sets in.

     All this year I've been paying my basic Medicare premiums, no problem, no complaints. But this past week I decided to review our medical insurance, because open enrollment is about to begin.

     I thought I'd start by checking our Medicare payments, and that's where I found the problem. B's Medicare premiums were more than mine. She was being hit with a surcharge. That didn't seem right. We filed a joint tax return in 2018, so shouldn't our payments be the same?

     I searched the Medicare website for an answer then, finding nothing relevant, called the main Medicare number. After negotiating the phone tree and waiting 40 minutes on hold, I finally got a very nice man on the phone.

     It was a little hard to explain, but after 20 minutes of going back and forth he discovered the problem. Medicare never received B's 2018 tax information from the IRS. Medicare had mine for 2018. But not hers. Even though we filed jointly, and they were on the same tax form!

     Therefore, Medicare was using B's 2017 taxes to base her Medicare premium. She was single in 2017, and her income was over the threshold of $87,000. So she was getting a surcharge.

     The man from Medicare sent me to the IRS to straighten out the issue. After another 20 minutes on hold, I got a real person who . . . turned out to be no help. The IRS representative said I should talk to Social Security, and gave me the main number.

     By that point I could not abide sitting on hold on the telephone for another 40 minutes. So I got an idea. I found the number for our local Social Security office. A real woman answered the phone. I told her my problem, and she put me through to the man who handles these things. Surprise, surprise. He had access to our records!

     He could see the problem right away. Yes, Medicare was using B's 2017 tax form instead of the 2018 tax form to base her Medicare rate. So he told me to send him a copy of our 2018 Form 1040 along with a copy of our marriage license. And he would take care of it.

   "You'll get a refund," he said. "But it may take a while because it has to wend its way through the bureaucracy." So if everything works out, we'll get a refund of several hundred dollars; plus, B's Medicare premium should go down for 2021, because they'll be using the correct information, now from our 2019 tax form. A double win!

     He said the situation should be corrected for next year and beyond. But I should double check. When I receive the notice for my 2021 Medicare premium -- sometime around Thanksgiving -- I should check and make sure the premiums are based on our 2019 married-filing-jointly tax forms.

     The takeaway? Sometimes it's a good idea to check Medicare, especially if you've had a life-changing event in the last few years. Things change, and what you had when you turned 65 may be different by now. Also, if you have to deal with the government, don't call the main 800 number. Find a number for your Social Security office. That might save you some time and aggravation.

     We all love Medicare. And it usually works pretty well. But -- as they say -- pobody's nerfect, not even the government.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

The Changing Tides

     For many people retirement is like diving into a pool. They take the plunge. One day their lives are crammed with work, bills, children. The next day they're free. Suddenly they can do whatever they want.

     It wasn't like that for me. I tiptoed into retirement. I got packaged out in my 50s. I still had to make some money, so I continued to work part time. Some weeks I worked; other weeks I dabbled in retirement. As the years went on, I worked less and retired more. It was an easy and long-lasting transition from working to retirement.  And there were many changes along the way. I moved. Got divorced and remarried. Watched the kids go off to college and careers. Downsized to a new town in a different state.

     What I now realize is that after we retire -- whether we retire all at once in a great seismic shift, or retire slowly over the years -- our lives do continue to change. Retirement is not static. It changes like the tides.

     I recently mentioned to a new friend that my wife and I were getting ready to celebrate our third anniversary.

     "Oh, that's nice," he said. "Your 30th anniversary."

     "No, not the 30th," I corrected. "Our third."

     "Oh . . ." He was slightly embarrassed, because he'd made an assumption. But there was also an uplift to his voice. He was glad to hear it, reminding himself that life still happens even after we're retired.

     I'm not working at all anymore, but I still find my life slowly changing, my goals evolving. Don't you?

     The pandemic has shifted the sands beneath us once again. Last year I was at the community center twice a week playing table tennis. Now I haven't played at all since March.

     Last summer we made a trip Arizona to see my sister and her family. This year we were planning to drive to Wisconsin to visit my daughter. But this year the trip got canceled.

     Last year at this time we were getting ready to go to South Carolina for Thanksgiving, and making plans to return for the month of February. This year, we're not going for Thanksgiving, that's for sure. Are we going in February? We don't know yet. It's hard to make plans this year. What's the old saying? Man makes plans, and God laughs. 

     Retirement is a time for exploring, for developing old skills and trying out new interests. Even trying out new identities. In the old days, when we were working, people would ask us: What do you do? And we'd answer: I'm a teacher, or I'm a lawyer, or I manage a business.

     For a while, after we retire, we tell people: I'm a retired teacher, or I'm a retired lawyer. But I think, after a few years, we  lose that identity. And sometimes we flounder, or feel the stigma of not "being" anything anymore. So we we reel off a string of activities. I play tennis and babysit my grands . . . and I like to read a lot.

     But over time we settle into our new identities, we become more comfortable with our new lives, even if they sometimes seem less important or less comprehensive than before. Sometimes we're forced to change by events, or physical limitations. Sometimes we just lose interest in old activities and develop new ones. So we say: I volunteer at the library, or I've taken up painting; or I live at Sunrise Village, or I'm heading to my place in Florida next month.

     For me, for many years, my answer was: I'm semi-retired, as though that answered all the questions. Then for a while I was playing a lot of golf, and started getting into pickleball and table tennis, and I would joke that I was an aging jock. 

     These days, since Covid came on the scene, I'm still playing some golf, but I find myself more focused on volunteering at our senior learning center, and tutoring at the educational services organization. Times change. And we adapt. So now I say: Oh, I'm with the Center for Learning in Retirement.

     Retirement is not a one-time event. It takes place over time, and we develop new interests, explore different parts of ourselves, meet new people and yes, form new identities. 

     I wonder what I'll be doing this time next year. How will I define myself in 2021 and beyond?

Sunday, September 27, 2020

After the Fall

     It happened to me about three weeks ago. I was on the golf course. It had rained the day before, but now the sun was shining, with temperatures in the near-perfect high 70s. About an hour into the round I climbed up onto the tee box, and without even thinking about it, stepped onto a wet railroad tie. My feet shot out from under me. Boom! Next thing I knew I was on the ground, lying on my left side, my head swimming and leg screaming pain.

     I lay there for a few moments, shaken. My golfing partners came over and hovered and asked if I was okay. I nodded, and said yes, just give me a moment.

     After two or three minutes I labored to my feet. I was still a little fuzzy. So I told my friends I would sit out the hole. We were riding carts. So I just cruised in my cart down the next fairway, gathering my wits. 

     I was okay. My leg hurt, but I could tell nothing was broken, nothing strained. No bleeding, not that I could tell.

     By the next tee I felt able to resume play, and so I did. I was a little sore for the rest of the round -- about two more hours -- but I didn't feel that I was being seriously hampered. After the game I got in the car and drove home. No problem . . . until I pulled into my garage and tried to get out of the car. My left thigh had swollen up, and I had trouble bending the knee. I had to swivel around and gingerly angle my leg out of the door. When I stood up, my leg was killing me.

     I hobbled upstairs, took a shower and examined the damage. It didn't look too bad. It was swelling up, but my leg seemed intact. After the shower I sat down in front of the TV, put some ice on my leg, and just relaxed the rest of the day.

    In the morning it looked looked like I had a football attached to my thigh. That's how swollen it was. And the black-and-blue was starting to show up. Also, as I was getting dressed, I felt a twinge in my left shoulder. 

     I limped around for the next few days, watching my leg get uglier and uglier. The black-and-blue mark went from my hip down my thigh and extended along the back of my knee. It looked worse than ever. But actually, it was feeling a bit better. I thought about going to the doctor, just to make sure, but I decided, really, it wasn't that bad.

     Slowly, my leg began to heal. I skipped golf the following week, but then played the week after -- being very careful around the railroad ties. Now, today, my leg is virtually back to normal. I still feel a twinge in my shoulder, but that's slowly going away as well.

   I'm not I telling you this story just to get your sympathy. I'm telling it as a warning. Falls are a leading cause of injury in older adults. The older we get the more likely we are to fall, and the longer it takes to heal after an injury. Falls can also be extremely serious, even life-threatening. If you break something and are laid up for a time, it's extremely difficult to work your way back -- if you come back at all.

     According to the CDC, one out of five falls causes serious injury like a broken bone or head injury.  Each year over 3 million older people are treated in emergency rooms for fall-related injuries. More than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falls.

     So please, be careful. I'm sure you know what to do. But if you're like me, that doesn't mean you actually do it. So . . . make sure your stairs well-lit. Keep a light on in the house at night. Get rid of throw rugs and other tripping hazards. Keep hallways and other walkways free of cables and wires.

     Be extra careful of wet tiles in bathrooms and kitchens. Wipe up spills right away. Install grab bars and railings. Do not store things in high cabinets, and whatever you do, do not get on a ladder or stepstool.

     Wear shoes that give you some support, and clothes that won't drag on the floor or catch on something. Be extra cautious if you're taking any medications. Consider doing some strength exercises to improve your balance.

     Are there other tripping or falling hazards we should know about? There probably are, but all I've got left to say is:  Watch out for those wet, slippery railroad ties!