"In this sticky web that we're all in, behaving decently is no small task." -- Novelist Stacey D'Erasmo

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Just for Fun

     The story goes that Albert Einstein met Charlie Chaplin and told him, "What I admire most about your art is its universality. You do not say a word, and yet the world understands you."

     Charlie Chaplin replied, "It's true, but your fame is even greater. The world admires you even when nobody understands you!"

     Meanwhile, it was Albert Einstein who ultimately concluded: "There is a major difference between intelligence and stupidity. Intelligence has its limits."

     Okay, so if we're so intelligent, maybe you can tell me . . . 

     Why don't we ever see a headline that says: Psychic Wins the Lottery?

     Or, why do we leave cars worth thousands of dollars in driveway and put our useless junk in the garage? 

     Why is lemon juice made with artificial flavoring but dishwasher liquid made with real lemons?

     Why is the man who invests your money called a broker?

     Why is the time of day with the slowest traffic called rush hour?

     Why isn't there a mouse flavored cat food?

     Why are they called apartments when they are all stuck together?

     Are you baffled yet? Then I have a riddle for you:  The poor have it, the rich need it, and if you eat it you'll die.

     Give up?

     It's nothing. The poor have it, the rich need it and if you eat nothing you die.

     A final conundrum. We both were born of the same mother, in the same year, in the same month, on the same day, and at the same hour. But we're not twins.

     You know why?

     We're triplets.

     Have a good holiday and a Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Too Old ... Too Cynical?

      Last week I attended an online presentation from Network 20/20, a group that hosts programs addressing various current issues. My wife and I have attended several of the sessions and found them informative and thought-provoking.

     This last one was called Is American in Decline: Challenges and Opportunities in the 21st Century. The two panelists were Paul Kennedy, age 76, professor at Yale University, and Jessica Mathews, age 75, of the Carnegie Endowment for World Peace.

     What struck me was not so much their take on the issues of the day -- Trump, Covid, Climate, China, the Middle East -- but their overwhelming negative view of the world. Democracy is in decline. Authoritarianism is on the march. War is looming on the horizon. Global warming is choking us to death. 

     They also seemed nostalgic for the better times of yore -- of Roosevelt and Johnson and Clinton -- when America led the liberal world order and spread the ideals of democracy around the globe.

     Then it occurred to me. Maybe Dr. Kennedy is Gloomy Gus, and Dr. Mathews is Debbie Downer, because of their age. It seems like a lot of us in our 70s pine for the old days when life was simpler and America seemed a better place.

     If you're conservative, you look through rose-colored glasses at the age of Eisenhower and Reagan. If you're liberal you dream of Roosevelt and Johnson, or maybe Kennedy and Carter.

     I admit, sometimes I fall into the same way of thinking. Sometimes, it seems, life was better back when we were kids. We walked to school and played in the neighborhood without fear of crime or kidnapping. Mom was home to fix lunch and dinner. Dad went to work and coached Little League on weekends. We didn't worry about money -- either we had enough or didn't care if we had enough -- and everyone wasn't so competitive.

     But then I'd remember. The reason we could run around in the neighborhood was only because we didn't live in the inner city. I'd recall the family that was killed in a car accident, in the days before seat belts and airbags. My mother had a dear friend who died of breast cancer, when medical treatments were much more primitive. I knew a kid with polio who walked with braces. There was the boy with learning disabilities who was shipped off to some institution, never to be heard from again. Our neighbors got divorced -- and at the time it was a huge scandal. 

     We didn't have China as an adversary. We had the Soviet Union, which was worse. Remember hiding under our desks for the air-raid drills? Then there was Vietnam, the assassinations, the race riots and more.

     Maybe life seemed better because . . . we were kids. But I can only imagine was life was like for people of color back in the '60s. Women were pressured into domestic roles that for many became stifling. Men were trapped in jobs they had come to hate. My older sister told me that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was her hero, because she really didn't want kids and she credits RBG as the one who finally came along and gave her the options of birth control, and abortion if she ever needed it.

     I'm not here to argue one way or the other about racism or abortion or any other "hot topic" issue. I'm only saying that people who think America is in decline have got it wrong.

     Crime is down. Traffic fatalities are down. Life expectancies are longer. Social Security and Medicare help keep us comfortable in retirement. Yes, China and Iran and Korea and Russia present their challenges. But we are not on the brink of annihilation as we were in October 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. 

     Sure, there's still racism in America, as there is in many other countries of the world -- but it's nowhere near what it was 50 years ago. I live in a suburb of Philadelphia. The kids in my neighborhood walk to school, just like we did a half a century ago. But there are Asian kids who walk to school, and African American kids and other kids who ... well, I don't know what they are -- presumably some mixture -- but I don't really care.

     Meanwhile, the girls are on a college track, not shuffled off to home economics. And, yes, everyone has been dealing with Covid for the last two years, and it hasn't been easy. But at least we have a new world of technology to help us navigate the challenges.

     I dunno. Maybe I'm too much of an optimist. Or, maybe I'm just not acting my age.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Rule by the Irresponsible

       We were supposed to go to my sister-in-law's for Thanksgiving. There were going to be 8 or 10 people sitting around the table. We asked if everyone was going to be vaccinated. My sister-in-law was vaccinated, so was her husband, but she didn't know about the rest. She'd find out.

     She reported back to us that one of her husband's brothers was not vaccinated -- and he wasn't going to get vaccinated. Plus he was bringing a friend, and she didn't know if that person was vaccinated.

     So B and I elected not to go, because we didn't want to be sitting around indoors, for hours, talking and laughing with one or possibly two unvaccinated people.

     I was a little miffed, honestly. Why does one unvaccinated person get to dictate the terms of engagement for everyone else? But at least he was honest about it. He didn't try to hide the fact that he was unvaccinated.

Too close for comfort
     I also belong to a table tennis club. It has 40 to 50 members, ranging in age from 20 to 80. We used to play once or twice a week, with 20 to 30 people showing up for each session. Play was suspended because of Covid in March 2020. Now the club has resumed play.

     Here's the problem. We meet indoors at the community center. Once play gets started people begin to sweat. They breathe heavily. There's one door leading to the outside that is often left open. But there are no windows. The ventilation system is probably as old as the building. It would be hard to wear a mask. In other words. it's a perfect environment for spreading an airborne virus.

     Yet club organizers decided not to require that participants be vaccinated. Further, they decided, due to privacy concerns, that participants should not reveal their vaccination status. That means, with 20 - 30 people playing, odds are 6 or 7 people are not vaccinated. But no one really knows.

     Now some people say: So what? I'm vaccinated. I'll be alright. Honestly, if I were 20 years younger, I might feel the same way. But I'm not 20 years younger. 

     Meanwhile, in our county Covid cases are running between 200 and 300 per day, up from fewer than 100 a day a few weeks ago, even though some 75% of adults are vaccinated. Currently, 76 people are in the hospital with Covid. Last week 9 people died from Covid.

     So I decided not to play. I don't think it's worth the risk. But honestly, the situation leaves me a little peeved. Why? Because it's the minority of the unvaccinated who are in effect preventing the responsible majority from participating in a normal community activity. And the minority should not rule.

     Plus, if for whatever reason someone decides not to get vaccinated, shouldn't they at least be honest about it, not try to hide the fact? That way, at least those of us more susceptible to the disease, or who are more conservative, could make an informed judgment about how much contact we want to have, how much risk we want to take.  

Saturday, December 4, 2021


      I'm alone for the weekend. My wife has gone to meet up with her two sisters. She'll be back on Tuesday night.

     According to an ad from Meals on Wheels, "Social isolation is as deadly as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day." I don't know where they get that information. But I think it's probably true -- for some people, not for others.

     I have a sister who was single for about 25 years, between marriages. She lived by herself. But she had a job and several good friends and belonged to a couple of clubs, and so she wasn't socially isolated. 

     I have a brother-in-law who's been single most of his life -- he had one brief marriage back in the 1990s. I've never known him to have a lot of friends; but he is close to his siblings, and he never hesitates to travel alone. He seems comfortable with the situation. 

     Myself, I am not an alone person. I don't do well as a single. I just don't like my own company that much.

     I've never really lived alone. I grew up in a family of six. Had several roommates in college, and a roommate when I moved to New York City. Then I got married. After we got divorced I did kind of live by myself for a while. But my son was still in high school, and we had joint custody, so he slept at my house three nights a week. And when my daughter was home from college, she often stayed with me.

     By the time my son went to college I had developed a relationship with B, my current wife. Technically, I slept home alone most nights, but in fact we were together a lot of the time. I was not lonely. Then we moved into together and eventually got married.

     Last December my wife went away for a month to visit her two grandchildren in South Carolina. I was invited. But it was the height of Covid, and I elected not to travel.

     So I was home alone for Christmas and New Year's. I set up my own small Christmas tree. I put lights out in front of the house. I forget what I had for Christmas dinner. It was probably a Lean Cuisine from the microwave.

     But I didn't feel isolated, because B and I Zoomed or Facetimed pretty much every night while she was gone. I didn't really have much opportunity to sit around and feel sorry for myself.

     And that, for me, is the problem about being alone for too long. I start thinking negative thoughts, going over the regrets in my life. Why did I break up with my girlfriend freshman year in college? That was a stupid thing to do! Why didn't I become a lawyer? I could have. I would have made more money -- maybe had a more interesting job, too, you never know. Why did I get married so young? Didn't work out in the end. The divorce was good for me. But what did it do to the kids?

     That's why I don't like to spend time alone.

     Well, that's not entirely true. Before Covid, I would always go to Florida in the winter -- for a week or two while I was still working, longer after I retired. After I met B, I'd always invite her along, but she only came with me one time. She doesn't like Florida.

     So any number of times I was by myself, at least for a little while. It was fun. I could do what I wanted, keep my own schedule. I'd eat junk food, including dessert. Play music that nobody else wanted to hear. Oldies like Simon & Garfunkel, Pink Floyd, the Beatles, even some Doo Wop.

     But it never took long for me to start feeling lonely. I once went to Disney World by myself. I felt kind of stupid. Many times I sat by myself in a restaurant, amid a crowd of people, and felt socially isolated.

     Fortunately, I now know this about myself. So when I go to Florida I make arrangements to meet up for a day or two with my sister who lives in Jacksonville. And after my Florida sojourn, I reconnect with my wife and family in Charleston, SC. We settle down into our rental near the kids and grandkids, and suddenly I'm surrounded by loved ones -- and my alone time is over. Social isolation, no more.

     B and I are going to Charleston again this winter. We feel Covid is now less of a threat. But because of Covid, I am not taking my extra trip to Florida. That's okay. I've got these next three days to myself. I can do it.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Ghosts of Thanksgiving Past

      After Thanksgiving dinner was safely tucked under our belts -- standard fare of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, peas, cranberry sauce -- we joined our family on Zoom and started reminiscing about Thanksgivings past. Most of the memories were fond ones -- of mini-vacations, family get-togethers, convivial dinners and good food. 

     I recalled one Thanksgiving, back in the 1970s, when my wife and I were vacationing with a few friends. Nobody wanted to cook, but being in our 20s we didn't plan ahead, so we couldn't get a table at a restaurant . . . that is, until we found a Chinese place tucked into the back of a mini-mall. We walked into an empty room, with 20 or so empty tables, and proceeded to enjoy a great meal with great service. The cuisine seemed a little out-of-place for the occasion -- I had the pu pu platter -- but we all had a wonderful time laughing and joking about our sudden and unexpected cultural adventure.

     My sister remembered with a laugh the frozen string beans our mother used to overcook. I recalled the cranberry sauce plopped straight out of the can -- and the sweet potato casserole drenched in sauce and decorated with little marshmallows.

     "Speaking of marshmallows," my wife said, "did you guys ever have Jello with fruit in it? We used Mandarin oranges. with marshmallows and sometimes sour cream on top."

     "Oh, we had that stuff," said my daughter. "It was terrible. I also remember the turnips and mashed potatoes." She wrinkled her nose. "Mom used to mix the turnips in with the mashed potatoes -- thus completely ruining the mashed potatoes!"

     But then my son recalled how he loved to sit around in his pajamas on Thanksgiving day, watching the Macy's parade and helping his mom tear apart the bread and prepare the stuffing -- and how great it tasted after it came out of the turkey.

     "Yeah," my daughter added. "And I loved drowning everything in gravy. Mom made really good gravy."

     Then my other sister recalled, "Well, our mother wasn't much of a cook. But in her defense, she made a great leg of lamb -- not for Thanksgiving, but usually for Christmas."

     I remembered the leg of lamb. I don't even like lamb anymore, but I did back in those days. I liked the lamb and the roasted potatoes and all the other trimmings -- and just the fun and the warm feelings you get sitting around the table with eight or ten or twelve family members.

     "And remember Mom's hard sauce?" my sister added. "How did she make that? I think it was basically butter and sugar. It might've had a taste of vanilla and maybe some nutmeg."

     "And a drop of rum," I added. "Don't forget the rum! But . . . what did we put it on?"

     "Pecan pie," she said.

     "No, pumpkin pie," I corrected. 

     "Maybe fruitcake," added my other sister.

     "Oh, God, not fruitcake . . . spare me the fruitcake . . . "

     And thus it went. Another Thanksgiving full of family fun and fond memories. And now it's on to Christmas . . . 

Sunday, November 21, 2021

You Don't Have to Be Rich to Enjoy Retirement

     When we're in our 50s and 60s, before retirement, we tend to think retirement is all about money -- saving up in our IRA or 401K, watching our pension grow, figuring out our Social Security strategy. But one thing I've learned in doing this blog is that retirement is not primarily about money.

     Most people will have enough money, especially if they're flexible enough to make a few changes in their lifestyle. We do not need an impressive McMansion; we do not need to wear the latest fashions; we do not need to travel; we do not need a new car, or maybe not even a car at all.

     Instead, retirement is about family, friends -- and some activities that we like to do and might even find meaningful. And all we need is the courage of our convictions. The courage to pull up roots and move near our grandchildren -- or perhaps overseas if that's what we always dreamed about. The courage to take a class, join a church group, pick up a paint brush, start a band, or just to step up to the mike and sing karaoke.

     I like to play golf and ping pong; I like to go visit my kids and grandkids; I like the volunteer job that I do. And of course, I do this blog. But you know what? I feel like I could do more, something more meaningful or impactful. I'm still searching.

     What do you like to do? What would you like to do?

     I heard some advice that I try to take to heart: Instead of just killing time, we should try to do things that we find both fun and meaningful. And whatever it is we do, it should involve some time spent engaged in physical activity, some time engaged in mental activity, and some time in social activity.

     My brother-in-law recently emailed me. He's 87, and still an avid golfer. Last week, he boasted, he almost shot his age. He got 88. Didn't quite make it; but he'll keep trying.

     I know someone else who can match his age in pushups. He's a bit younger. But a couple of times a week he gets down and does 70 pushups. And I just read about the guy who celebrated his 90th birthday by jumping out of an airplane . . . 9 times in one day!

     One thing I'm just beginning to realize, however, is that as we get older we become more invisible. People don't ask our opinion. They don't include us in social activities. They ignore our suggestions.

     Some of that is inevitable, but if we know it's a problem we can work around it. We can find something more interesting to talk about than our health problems, or how the world has been going downhill ever since the 1970s. And if we're involved in something, we can talk about what we're doing, where we're going, who we've met along the way.

     Another thing we realize is that our lives are finite. We've seen friends and family develop health problems, or decline mentally. We don't know how much time we have left. So while I don't believe we should ever give up searching, there's no reason to put off doing what we want to do. 

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Is Your Home Retirement Ready?

     Maybe my wife and I are in denial. We've been talking to some friends lately, and it seems that everyone we know has prepared themselves for living with a disability -- or "aging in place" as they say. Meanwhile, we're cruising along in a center hall colonial that was built in the early 1960s.

     We have a yard. This afternoon we're going outside to rake leaves. Fortunately, we only have to get the leaves to the curb. Our town picks them up. Still, even though we have a small yard, we have an oak tree and a couple of maple trees, plus there's a huge tree in our next-door neighbor's yard that seems to drop most of its leaves onto our lawn. 

     Meanwhile, most of our friends have moved into a townhouse or condominium. They don't have to rake leaves at all.

     We'll see how my arthritic ankles and knees hold out for the afternoon. But my wife B says the exercise is good for me. 

     We know several people who have moved out of their family home into a one-story house. The master bedroom is on the first floor. They don't have to climb steps.

     Our bedroom is on the second floor. I go up and down the stairs at least ten times a day. Again, B says it's good for me.

Be careful!
     Actually, going up the stairs doesn't bother me. But going down is a little more difficult. I get a twinge in my knee, a crack in my ankle. I have resolved to always make sure to hold onto the bannister when negotiating the stairs. I know the last thing you want when you're our age is a fall. 

     So what about you . . . have you given up lawn care, settled into living on one floor without the hazard of stairs?

     One good thing for us: We have only one step up to enter the house. I remember when we were touring around a few years ago looking for a place to retire. We considered Charleston, SC, where we have family. Every house we looked at was built on stilts. We had to climb a full set of stairs just to get to the front door. It honestly didn't bother me at the time -- we moved to Pennsylvania for other reasons -- but today I'm glad I don't live in a house that's 12 or 14 feet off the ground.

     What about throw rugs? They are a tripping hazard in my book. But B thinks that they look nice, that they brighten up the place. We've compromised. There's a throw rug in her office, and another one in the guest room. But for the most part we have bare floors, except for the carpeting in our bedroom.

     When we redid our bathroom, I insisted on installing a grab bar. I remembered the time, six or eight years ago, when I slipped in the shower. I grabbed the soap dish and pulled it out of the wall. I went down hard, taking the shower curtain and shower rod with me, ending up sprawled over the edge of the tub. I didn't break any bones. But I had a nasty bruise from hip to shoulder -- one that took two months to clear up entirely.

     Some other things to watch out for:  Lighting. We have good lighting on our stairs. But there are darker areas in the house, and yes, I have tripped over the corner of a chair, or banged my hip on the side of a kitchen counter. But even if you have good lights, you have to turn them on to do any good. I have been known to prowl through the house at night when I can't sleep and decide I need to find the kitchen, or the bathroom ... all in the dark. 

   Most of our doorknobs are the old-fashioned round ones that you twist to open or close. But we do have a levered doorknob on the front door. I don't know why. We didn't put it there. But in all honesty I do find it easier to open and close than the door to the garage which seems to simultaneously get stickier and slipperier with every passing year.

     There's definitely more for us to do to get ready for "aging in place." One thing I refuse to worry about is making the house wheelchair accessible. When and if that time ever comes, I'm heading off to a retirement community.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

For Women Only

      I recently attended a book festival where I heard author Maya Shanbhag Lang talk about her book and her life -- her pregnancy, her daughter, her mother and her mother's journey into Alzheimer's. The book is a memoir called What We Carry, and I recommend it to all women, especially women who are around our age.

     I usually don't recommend books. For one thing, most people aren't interested in books -- or at least not interested enough to read them. According to the Department of Education fewer than half of Americans adults are proficient at reading. A quarter of Americans admit to never reading a book. Many others say they read or listen to just one book a year. The average book reader gets through four books per year. But the average is skewed by a few avid readers -- mostly college-educated women -- who go through a few dozen per year.

     I guess I'm a pretty avid reader. But honestly, most of the books I pick up are not academic tomes or serious literature. I gravitate toward mysteries from people like Michael Connelly and Robert Crais . . . and yeah, I admit it, I have gone through Sue Grafton from A is for Alibi to Y is for Yesterday

     Sometimes I read history (like The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson), but my latest finds are George Pelecanos, who sets his stories in Washington, DC, and Stephen Mack Jones who prowls the streets of Detroit.

     So reading Maya Shanbhag Lang was a stretch for me. It's a memoir mostly about her mother, a doctor who immigrated from India.

     To be honest, I didn't much like the first half of the book. The author drones on, charging her father with abuse, complaining about her mother's neglect, moaning about her depression.

     But then her mother starts to develop Alzheimer's. About halfway through the book the mother moves in with Maya and her husband and young daughter. That's when Maya begins to unravel the myths and false stories of her mother's life, and gets to know the real person with all her strengths and frailties.

     Eventually Maya and her brother (who doesn't do much to help) decide to put their mother into an assisted-living facility. This changes things yet again. Maya finally accepts who her mother really is and begins to appreciate all her mother has done. Maya struggles to understand the idea of home, the reality of love, the tension between self care and caring for others. This new relationship also influences how Maya sees her own daughter and affects her emotional reaction to the demands of motherhood.

     Like I said, most men will probably not be interested in the complexities and emotional ups and downs of this mother/daughter relationship. But I think a lot of women will identify with her journey. If I'm wrong, in my next post about books I'll gun for mysteries which, by all evidence, are more closely handcuffed to my own guilty pleasures.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Starry Starry Night

      My sister was visiting New York City, so B and I went up to see her one day. We drove from Bucks County to Jersey City, NJ, then took the ferry across the Hudson river to Battery Park (thus avoiding the Holland Tunnel and the impossibilities of parking in Manhattan).

View of the Freedom Tower from the ferry

     We stopped by the Irish Hunger Memorial, the Mysterious Bookstore, and later went to dinner at the Tribeca Grill (Robert DeNiro's restaurant with great ambience, outside seating and decent-but-not-great food). But the main event of the day was a visit to an exhibition called Van Gogh Immersive Experience, now showing in New York as well as other major cities from Boston to Seattle. It is one of the panoramic shows that comprises the "immersive Van Gogh craze sweeping America."

A projection of Van Gogh's hayfield

     There are no actual original Van Gogh paintings in the exhibition. Instead, we get to "meet the artist like never before." To begin with, reproductions of his paintings hang like windows in several rooms, one after the other. 

Cafe terrace at night

     The displays offer a sampling of his hundreds of paintings. But the focus is on his major works: hayfields, flowers, peasants and towns in the south of France in the 1880s. 

Van Gogh's sunflowers

   And then there's the star of the show: The Starry Night. 

Close-up of Starry Night

   The experience culminates in a large auditorium-size room with a light-and-sound show that brings his paintings to life. Images are projected onto the walls. They fade and merge into one another. Trains move and blow off steam. Boats sail along the river. Petals float down off the trees.

Van Gogh self-portrait

     The show also brings Van Gogh to life as a person -- his early days as an art dealer, then discovering his talent, moving to Arles, descending into madness. Apparently, Van Gogh was somewhat color blind which explains in part his use of vibrant colors. He painted what he saw -- but his reality comes across to us as bold and bright and almost other-worldly. 

Self-portrait with bandaged ear

     He famously cut off part of his ear after a feud with his friend and fellow artist Paul Gaugin. Van Gogh eventually committed himself to a mental facility, as he alternated between periods of near-catatonic depression and manic periods of painting. 

The Freedom Tower, from the ferry ride home

   Van Gogh died a pauper in 1889 at the age of 37. He reportedly sold only one painting during his lifetime. But today the few paintings in private hands sell for tens of millions of dollars, while most of his work hangs in museums. And now we can see his tortured genius splashed across spacious arenas around the country, bringing his larger-than-life talent to the large screen.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

What Would You Do if You Were Rich?

     What would you do if suddenly you came into a lot of money -- like ten times the amount you now have? We asked this question at a Socrates Cafe session we attended (on Zoom of course). The question was seen as a way to get to the more fundamental issue: What do we want money for?

     (Socrates Cafe is a discussion group through our local retirement learning center. It's part of a larger movement encouraging people from different backgrounds to exchange views and perspectives based on their own experiences.)

     There were about 16 or 18 people on the call. The first person piped up: "My first reaction:  I would buy a bigger house." Then she paused. "But even as I'm saying it, I realize that might not be the right answer -- not because I want to be politically correct, but because maybe that's not what I really want." She paused, reflecting, "With a bigger house comes more work, more cleaning, more upkeep, more worry." Then she brightened. "Actually, maybe what I'd really want is a second home -- a house on the beach!"

     The second person to offer a response said, "I'd hire myself a personal assistant -- someone to handle all the annoying but necessary chores in my life from paying bills to making appointments, answering emails, cleaning the house, organizing the insurance, the medical bills. I'd really love to be free of all that hassle."

     So . . . what would YOU do with a whole lot of extra money?

     One guy raised his hand. He paused for a moment, then said: "I would do nothing." When met with surprised stares he explained, "I pretty much have everything I want right now. Besides, I'm in my 70s. I'm trying to get rid of stuff in my life, not acquire more things."

     One woman explained that her nephew suffers from learning problems and mental health issues. He graduated from high school, but he has trouble keeping a job and is prone to fits of paranoia. She knows he will never be able to fully take care of himself. If she had the money, she would set up some kind of trust for him, so she could rest assured that he'd never end up living on the street or in some terrible shelter.

     Another fellow is an immigrant from a Caribbean country. He came to America in 1970, got an engineering degree, had a successful career, was able to support his family -- and even send some money back to his immediate relatives. If he had more money, he said, he would set up a foundation to help feed, clothe and educate all the people he left behind.

     Another woman said she was less ambitious than that, admitting she didn't have any special cause she wanted to support. She'd give some of it to charity, of course, but what she really wanted to do was travel more. "If I had plenty of money," she said, "I'd go to Hawaii, I'd go to Asia, I'd take a river cruise in Europe ... and maybe the Galapagos. I'd love to see the Galapagos."

     If you think the idea of suddenly receiving a boatload of money is preposterous . . . not so fast! The government just announced that Social Security payments are going up a bracing 5.9% next year. And a group called The Senior Citizens League is campaigning for special $1,400 payments to Social Security recipients. So if you got a $1,400 bonus -- or presumably $2,800 if you're a couple -- are you traveling to Hawaii or sending it to disadvantaged people in the Caribbean?

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Do You Have a Hobby?

     When I think of a hobby I think of coin collecting or stamp collecting, sewing or knitting, model trains or woodworking. By that score I do not have a hobby.

     When I was a kid I collected coins. I started when a friend of my dad's gave me ten Indian head pennies for my birthday. I went on to get the coin books and fill them up as best I could. I bought some coins at the old Gimbels department store, and later signed up to receive proofs from the U. S. Treasury.

     Alas, during my high school years my interest in sports and girls surpassed my interest in coins. Today, my coin collection sits on the floor of my closet. My last acquisition was a roll of World War II steel pennies I bought at a fall festival about 15 years ago. Otherwise, I haven't looked at my coin collection in decades.

      All the retirement experts say we should have a hobby in retirement. A hobby can keep the mind active, provide hours of enjoyment, help with stress, even contribute to self-esteem and provide a sense of identity.

     My brother-in-law is a woodworker. He has a shop in the basement and has crafted many wooden toys for his grandchildren. Another brother-in-law is a gardener, with about two acres of corn, beans and other vegetables in his backyard. He and his wife give away loads of vegetables to friends and family (thank you, thank you!) and eat out of their freezer for much of the winter. 

     I have a few friends who have taken up art in retirement. One is painting. One is doing pottery. Another glasswork. So do you have a hobby? I guess we could consider blogging a hobby, couldn't we?

     My sister plays bridge twice a week. Is a card game like bridge considered a hobby? My other sister is trying to learn Italian. Is taking a class or learning a language a hobby? How about travel?

     Then there's golf. A lot of seniors play golf. Is that considered a hobby? Or fishing or sailing or tennis or any other sport? How about just . . . walking?

     I have one relative who's a movie buff. That might be considered a hobby. But I doubt scrolling through netflix or spending hours watching cable news qualifies as a bona fide hobby.

     What's the difference between just wasting time and a genuine hobby? I think the difference is that you DO something with a real hobby -- not just watch movies, but lead a class or join a cinema club. Not just read books, but take part in a book club or volunteer at the library.

     Studies show that time spent on hobbies can help lower blood pressure, improve our mood, keep things in perspective. They sometimes offer that much-desired state of "flow" -- when you're lost in an art project, a sport or other activity and achieve that feeling of being fully engaged, while worries fall away, self-consciousness disappears and time flies.

     Hobbies can also help us make friends, perhaps replacing some of those we lost when we left work or moved away from our old home. Hobbies also make us more interesting. We don't talk about work anymore. And eventually our friends get tired of hearing about our grandchildren and all their impressive accomplishments. But people are interested in what we're doing, especially if it seems important or even just a little bit offbeat.

     It's never too late to start a hobby. My friend actually produces pretty good paintings, even though he never picked up a paintbrush before he retired. My sister . . . well, she's hardly fluent in Italian. Not yet anyway. But her halting attempts at the language gave her the motivation to take a trip to Florence and Venice, before Covid. And now she's planning a post-Covid trip, this time to Rome and southern Italy.

     Buona fortuna e avere una pensione felice!

Saturday, October 2, 2021

End of Summer

     Many people our age, who no longer need to keep to a work or school schedule, have found that September is the best month to go on vacation. Don't you agree? Summer crowds are gone, but shops and restaurants remain open. The weather is still pleasantly warm -- no longer stifling hot, but not yet cold and blustery. And sometimes there's a surprise.

What is this ... a surprise?

   We just took a trip to one of our favorite places, Cape Cod, on the eastern end of Massachusetts.

The road down to the water

     We found an airbnb at a post-season price, near Nantucket Sound.

The shimmering sound

   We spent a few days walking on the beach, wading in the water, and enjoying the light September breezes.

Late summer beach

     The shoreline was mostly empty . . . 

A few stragglers

     Although a few late-season vacationers played on the abandoned-for-the-winter lifeguard stand.

Fog and mist

     One day we drove up to Nauset beach on the Atlantic Ocean.


   The waves came crashing out of the fog.

The fire is lit

     We hung around until dusk when -- surprise! -- the town of Orleans held its annual end-of-summer bonfire.

In full flame

          Now that's a fire!

Evening colors

   The last night we headed back down to our beach . . . 

The moon emerges

     and watched a full moon rise over Nantucket Sound.

End of day

     And now the day is done. 

Saturday, September 25, 2021

What Do They Do Now?

      The other day we got a phone call from one of our old neighbors back in New York. She's actually my wife's friend, but I was in the car so we were both on the phone.

     The neighbor -- I'll call her Amy -- asked how we were doing, wished B a happy belated birthday. Then she blurted out: "We just sold our house!"

     "Wow, congratulations!" we chorused. "So what are you going to do now?"

     The woman was bubbling over with enthusiasm. They'd sold their suburban three-bedroom in one day. They got full asking price, which was more than either one of them expected.

     It turns her her husband John had taken retirement back in January of this year. "I myself haven't given notice yet," Amy said. "But we're ready to retire."

     We said how happy we were for them. Then B asked, "So where are you going?"

     "Oh, we don't know yet," Amy replied. "We've been thinking about moving to Cape Cod. But maybe also South Carolina. And then there's always Pennsylvania."

     Amy had grown up in Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia. She still has some family in the area. But they were also thinking farther afield.

     And then it dawned on me why she was calling us. She knew we had gone through the same retirement process that she and her husband were about to embark on. B and I had considered Cape Cod as a retirement home. We'd thought about South Carolina, since one of B's sons was already living there, with a new baby, our first grandchild.

     We had finally decided on Pennsylvania, partly because B has family in the area. It has a lower cost of living than New York or New Jersey. And it's not too far from our long-time home. (We were just there a couple of weeks ago, visiting old friends.)

     But here's what stopped us. We'd started looking for a place to retire a year or two before we sold our house. Then, as we'd planned, we spent a year living in a condo, while we continued our search and finally made a decision.

     But Amy and John? They've sold their house. The buyers want a November 1 closing. And as of right now they have no place to live. And do they realize that while they got top dollar on the sale of the house, they'll have to pay top dollar on any house they want to buy? Prices are high where we live in Pennsylvania. They're high in Cape Cod. They're high in South Carolina. My sister tells me they're absolutely ridiculous in Phoenix. Is there anyplace where house prices aren't out of sight?

     Also, do they realize that it takes at least a month to close on a house after they've agreed to buy it? Are they going to do like us, and rent for a year or two? If so, they have a major downsizing job in front of them.

     They have three kids. They are grown up and out on their own. But they've left a lot of the usual stuff in their parents' attic and basement. And by Amy's own admission, "I'm a bit of a packrat."

     All those questions are hanging out there. But we didn't want to rain on their parade. We're happy for them, if they're ready to retire and move to a more relaxed and perhaps less expensive area and settle down and enjoy life. But I think they're putting themselves pretty far out on a limb. They have a lot of work ahead of them, don't you think?

Saturday, September 18, 2021

10 Things the New Census Says About Seniors

      I was recently reading parts of my son's old American history textbook (I know, I do weird things). The last chapter pointed out that during the 1960s and 1970s, and even into the 1990s, the average age of Americans kept getting younger and younger.

     My, how things have changed! Today, due to decreasing fertility and increasing longevity, our country is getting older. In the ten years from 2008 through 2018 (according to the latest Profile of Older Americans) the 65-and-over population has increased from 38.8 million to 52.4 million people -- a 35% increase.

     That's the general trend. Here are some interesting details:

     1.  Today, older women outnumber older men in America by about 30 million to 24 million. That's because women live longer than men. At age 65 an American women has an average life expectancy of 20.7 years. An American male just 18.1 years.

     2.  In total, some 16% of Americans are 65 and over. But the U. S. has plenty of company. The population is aging on every continent in the world. Europe currently has the oldest population of all, with 18% of its population age 65 and over.

     3.  What are the oldest states? According to the U. S. Census Bureau, Maine is number 1, with 21.2% of its population in the 65-and-over group. Maine is followed by Florida (20.9%), West Virginia (20.5%), and Vermont (20.0%). The youngest state is Utah with only 11.4% of its population climbing into that cohort.

    4.  For perspective, the U. S. population as a whole increased 7.4% from 2010 to 2020. Four states have lost population: West Virginia, Illinois, Vermont and Connecticut. All the other states have gained, but some more than others. Because of population shifts, Texas is now slated to gain two congressional seats. North Carolina, Florida, Oregon, Montana and Colorado will each gain one. As an offset California will actually lose one representative. So will New York, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and West Virginia. 

     5.  Some 69% of men age 65 and over are married, compared to 47% of women. So the complementary figure: just 21% of men live alone, compared to 34% of women who live by themselves.

     6.  Racial and ethnic minority populations have increased their share of the 65-and-over set, from 19% in 2008 to some 23% today. Still, the 65-and-over population is less diverse than the rest of the country. Three quarters of Americans age 65 and over are white, while 9% are African American, 8% Hispanic, 4% Asian. That compares to the general population where 62% are white, 17% Hispanic, 13% African American and 5% Asian.

     7.  The retired community is wealthier than the general population, due in large part to Social Security and other benefit programs. Only 9.7% of people 65 and over live below the poverty level, compared to some 15% of all Americans. 

     8.  There are at least 10 million Americans 65 and over who are still working. That represents about 23% of the men and 16% of women.

     9.  Historically speaking, the labor participation rate for older men declined steadily throughout the 20th century, sinking to just 16% by 1985. But since then the rate has gone back up -- now to 23%. For older women the working rate was below 10% for all of the 20th century. Since 2000 the rate has risen to 16%.

     10.  One last, but uncomfortable fact: Some 40% of men age 65 - 74 are obese (BMI of 30 or more) while even more older women (44%) are considered obese. 

     Whatever else may be true we know one thing. As time goes on, there will be more and more of us. Today, the U. S. boasts some 55 million people age 65 and over, and counting. By 2040 the figure will rise to 81 million and by 2060 some 95 million Americans will be collecting Social Security, relying on Medicare -- and blogging about their favorite activities, deepest concerns and most pressing issues.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

On Death's' Door

      I don't mean to scare anybody with the title. It's  just that we spent a week in Door County, Wisconsin. The county is named after the treacherous passage around the northern tip of the peninsula called Porte de Morts. 

Overlooking Green Bay

     The name refers back to a deadly raid in the 1600s by a group of Native Americans against a rival tribe. But later the name proved providential for Europeans since the passage became the site of scores of deadly shipwrecks suffered by French explorers and others who dared make the turn around the northern tip of the peninsula into the safety of Green Bay.

Fish Creek has a fairly large marina

     We were there as part of our trip to see my daughter and granddaughter, who live in Madison, and who were able to join us for a week of vacation. We were also attracted to the area because it's been called the Cape Cod of the Midwest. We love Cape Cod. So we figured we would love Door County.

We asked:  this boat came up the Hudson River and across the Erie Canal

     There are some similarities. Cape Cod is a peninsula east of Boston. Door County is a peninsula east of Green Bay. Both have modest populations in the winter, but are flooded with vacationers in the summer. A lot of people own second homes. We know a few New Yorkers who have vacation homes on Cape Cod, along with people from Connecticut and the Boston area.

Street in Fish Creek

     Cape Cod also has its share of retirees, including some friends who live in Falmouth. B and I even considered retiring to Cape Cod. But we finally decided that the winters are to long . . . which is what we hear about Door County as well.

A child's eye view of Lake Michigan

     Similarly, people from Milwaukee and Madison and other places around Wisconsin have vacation homes in Door County. But we were told the big crowds -- and big money -- come from Chicago, about a four-hour drive away.

An aid to sailors in Bailey's Harbor

     We stayed at a lodge in Bailey's Harbor on Lake Michigan, considered the "quiet side" of the peninsula. The more touristy side borders Green Bay where the water is warmer. There are more beaches on the bay. There's more shopping and things to do with the kids. And apparently the fishing is better. I don't fish. So I can't confirm that piece of advice.

Johnson's Swedish Restaurant in Sister Bay ... that's real grass on the roof

     We found several nice restaurants in Sister Bay, Fish Creek and Egg Harbor, all with outdoor seating. We went to the beach, took a bike ride through Peninsula State Park, spent some time shopping for presents and souvenirs. But with a grandchild around (as many of you no doubt know) we spent most of our time on the playground running after a toddler.

Remember, we're in America's dairyland

     We drew the line at changing diapers. That's a parent's job, not a grandparent's responsibility. Don't you think?

A cove in Bailey's Harbor

     We're back home now. But we're planning a trip to the Massachusetts Cape Cod later in September -- to visit friends, eat lobsta and clam chowda, and maybe even go for a swim. The Cape can still be warm in September.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Journey Across the Water

     I never paid attention to the Great Lakes. I'm not even sure I could name all five of them. Can you?

     I spent most of my life in New York state, which borders Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, and I now live in Pennsylvania which also touches Lake Erie. But I have always lived downstate so the waters I see are not the Great Lakes, but Long Island Sound, the Atlantic Ocean, the Hudson and Delaware rivers.

     To be sure, I have spied Lake Michigan a few times, when I was in Chicago, and once I glimpsed Lake Erie from Buffalo. I've also seen Niagara Falls -- does that count? But the Great Lakes simply do not loom large in my mind.

     Until a couple of weeks ago. That's when we boarded a ferry to cross Lake Michigan. It turns out . . . those lakes are big!

Harbor in Muskegon, Mich.
   We left Muskegon, Mich. at 10:15 a.m., heading west, due to arrive in Milwaukee, Wis. at 11:45 a.m.. An hour-and-a-half voyage, I thought. But no, it's actually a 2-1/2-hour journey because of the time change, from Eastern time to Central time. And that's the high-speed ferry. The regular ferry takes four hours to make the crossing.

Ship docked in Muskegon

     It's about 90 miles across the lake, and you're out of sight of land for half the trip. It's a lot of water, which is why the Great Lakes are called an inland sea -- the largest group of freshwater lakes on earth, according to one source, containing 21% of the fresh water on the surface of the globe.

Michigan fishing boat

     The Great Lakes are subject to storms and rolling waves. But when we made the crossing the waters were calm. In case you're wondering, masks were required inside the rather spacious cabin, but not outside since the speed of the boat created a 30-40-mph wind in our face. 

Goodbye Muskegon

     But we knew we couldn't let complacency overtake us. After all, we were headed to Door County for a week's vacation. This region of Wisconsin is like a finger sticking out into Lake Michigan, with the lake to the east and Green Bay on the other side.

Open water

     The county is named from the French Porte des Morts, or Death's Door. The name refers back to a deadly raid in the 1600s by a group of Native Americans against a rival tribe. But later the name proved providential for Europeans since the passage became the site of scores of deadly shipwrecks suffered by French explorers and others who dared make the turn around the northern tip of the peninsula into the safety of Green Bay.

Land ho!

     According to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, in all at least 6,000 ships and 30,000 lives have been lost on the Great Lakes. Some historians say the numbers are even higher, as many as 25,000 ships in the course of the past 300 years.

Milwaukee skyline

     But as I said, the day we were on the lake the waters were calm, the sailing smooth, the trip offering a safe and pleasant morning. And so we continued on . . . to tempt the fates of Door County.