"Change is never a smooth curve, it comes in leaps and jolts, plateaus and remissions." -- Alexandra Andrews, "Who Is Maud Dixon?"

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Summer Vacation

      I remember when we were kids, my mom and dad would pile us into the car and we'd ride up to a lake in New Hampshire or Vermont for a month's vacation. It was a long trip, before the Interstate went that far north, but it was a lot of fun.

     My dad didn't stay the whole time. He had to go back to work. But we drank in every moment -- swimming in the lake, jumping off the raft, running through the woods, and picking leeches off ourselves at the end of the day. Somehow those leeches, aka blood-suckers, didn't bother us at the time. Kids don't care.

     Later on it was summer jobs. I worked at an amusement park, a beach club, and one summer as a camp counselor.

     By the time I had kids, time and activities were more structured. We went to visit Nana and Grandpa every summer, usually for a week. But otherwise the kids were taking swimming and diving lessons, or tennis lessons, and entering local tournaments. They later went on to become a lifeguard, an assistant tennis pro, and then play in college.

     So what are your fond memories of summer vacation? I can guarantee, they were always good, weren't they?

     I am taking a summer vacation from blogging. No tennis. But probably some golf, maybe some swimming, and a little bit of traveling. I'll see you again after Labor Day. Have a good rest-of-the-summer!

Saturday, July 10, 2021

What Was Your First Car?

     Occasionally we look back and remember . . . our first car.

     My parents were General Motors people, and they thought Buicks were the best (except for Cadillacs which they couldn't afford). So we had Buicks when I was growing up.

     The first car I ever drove was a 1961 Volkswagen Beetle. Red convertible. Stick shift. No radio. That was the first "second car" my parents had. They bought it used for my older brother and sister, and eventually I got to drive it when they weren't around.

We had one of these
     At one point, I don't remember exactly when, we had a Nash Rambler. That was one terrible car. It had a push-button gear shift, and labored mightily to climb even the most mild of hills. 

     The first car I ever owned was a 1971 Volkswagen 411 stick shift. It had a weird heater that always smelled like gasoline. My wife and I bought it, used, for $1,965 in 1975 when we moved out of the city.

     My first new car was a 1977 Saab 99. It cost $5,200 (as I remember.) Stick shift, manual windows, am/fm radio, no air conditioning.

     Today my wife and I have a 2015 Subaru Forester and a 2018 Volvo S60.

But never one of these
     You might ask: Haven't you ever bought an American car? Yes! We had a Ford Taurus wagon to carry around the kids in the 1990s.

     I was going to boast that I've never owned a gas-guzzling SUV. I guess that's not quite true, since B has that Forester. But it does get close to 30 mpg on regular gas.

     Enough about my reminiscing. What was your first car? Or your family's first car? Or your favorite or most memorable car from back in the day?

Sunday, July 4, 2021

What Does July 4th Mean to You?

     July 4th is the day we declared independence from the tyranny of the English crown, 245 years ago, which eventually, after much argument, negotiation and an eight-year war, led to the formation of the United States.

     By now, of course, we've forgotten much of what we're celebrating. Most of us have no ancestors who were there at the time. At least, I don't. In 1776 my forebears were scratching out a meager existence on the periphery of Europe.

     Many Americans just use July 4th as an excuse to enjoy a long weekend and go to the beach or have a barbecue. Others may even harbor resentments about the holiday, as a symbol of how their parents or grandparents were treated when they arrived on these shores . . . African Americans, obviously, but also Asians, Italians, Latinos, Irish, Eastern Europeans. 

     I blame the English -- not the English of England, but the English of America, many of whom, egged on by PBS and other anglophiles, still think they are better than the rest of us.

     Sure, I have an abstract appreciation of what our Founding Fathers did. But I have no direct, emotional connection. Neither do I hold a grudge against the people who thought less of my ancestors because they were just off the boat -- maybe because my grandparents were able to join the great American middle class.

61% of us own an American flag
     So July 4th means different things to different people. For me, I'll admit, I mostly enjoy the fireworks, the parade and the parties. 

     To Meryl Baer, who retired to a beach town in New Jersey, it means the arrival of tourists. "Folks love three-day holiday weekends and particularly the long summer weekends -- especially this year with the launch of post-Covid life." So in Holiday Happenings she offers her view of the crowds packing her shore town, and reveals when she and her husband like to venture onto the sand.

     For Laurie Stone it's A Different Kind of Fourth. She remembers sitting in a veteran's hospital with her dad. He gives a weak cheer when he learns the Yankees won. Nathan's is holding its annual hotdog-eating contest. The heat outside is record-breaking. And his Parkinson's is progressing.

     Carol Cassara looks at the broader landscape and worries that Something's Going On and It's Not Good. She sees how the Covid lockdown has cost us, as we feared doing something as simple as going to the grocery store or eating at a restaurant. It's easy to stay cocooned, she says, but fear and anxiety prowl our world, and we need to do something about them.

     On a more personal note, Rebecca Olkowski with babyboomster.com asks: Have You Lost Interest in Love Now That You're Older? She has some ideas about how to enjoy being on your own, how to discover who you really are, and how to enjoy being yourself for a while.

     Rita R. Robison, consumer journalist, offers Facts and Figures for July 4th, 2021. Her pictogram shows, sadly, that only 42% of us are "extremely proud" to be American, compared to 70% in 2003 -- yet paradoxically 61% of us own an American flag.

     Jennifer of Untold and Begin asks What Does Success Look Like to You? She suggests a couple of ways to focus not on the kind of success that looks good to the world, but the kind of success that will make you happy. 

     Finally, I want to mention a blog I ran across from Wealth Legacy Institute, a financial advisory firm based in Denver and managed by women. The company specializes in financial planning, of course, but also publishes a blog that covers retirement. The latest post Pinpoint Your Passions -- Opportunities for Volunteering in Retirement offers some concrete advice as well as links to several organizations doing meaningful work.

     Because in my opinion, the American Way that we can all believe in, no matter what our ethnic, political or social stripe, is how we help each other out, whether it's volunteering for our fire department, sponsoring an exchange student, running for local office, sharing our lives with other people through a church or community organization. These are the things -- perhaps even more than national holidays -- that bring us together, make us a community, and produce real pride in America.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Do You Have Your REAL ID?

     "On May 3, 2023 U. S. travelers must be REAL ID compliant to board domestic flights and access certain federal facilities." -- U. S. Department of Homeland Security.

     Starting in May 2023 your regular drive's license will no longer serve as proper identification. If you don't have a REAL ID, which is a specially certified driver's license, you'll need to produce a valid, current passport.

     Have you received a notice with a link to apply for your REAL ID? I moved to Pennsylvania four years ago, and the state has all my current information. I was informed that I was pre-qualified to get my REAL ID online. So I filled out the form, sent it in, and commenced to wait.

    Eventually I got a message back, telling me that I was not pre-qualified after all, due to "Error 6001."

     I wrote back: "What is Error 6001?"

     I got an answer. Something to do with my Social Security number. So I had to go to a PennDOT (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation) office in person to apply for my REAL ID.

     I looked it up. My nearest office is open Tues. through Sat. from 8:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Well, I think I'm pretty smart, so I decided to arrive right at 8:30 before anyone else got there.

     I gathered my materials: Social Security card, passport, driver's license, an electric bill showing my address. Then I jumped in my car a little after 8 a.m. and drove to the PennDOT office, located in a strip mall. I pulled into the almost-empty parking lot, once again congratulating myself on how smart I am.

     Except there was a group of cars crowding one side of the parking lot. Then I saw a line of people strung out along the entire front of the mall. And I realized, once again, that I'm not as smart as I think I am. 

     I almost gave up, thinking I'd come back another day. But what day? When would motor vehicles be any less crowded? I heaved a sigh (and maybe a curse word), then parked my car, trudged up to the back of the line, and waited for the place to open.

     Five minutes later the doors swung out, and the line slowly disappeared into the building. Amazingly enough, I found myself at the door in just a few minutes. "What are you here for?" a man asked, as I donned my mask.

     "My REAL ID."

     He gave me a number and told me to take a seat. I walked into the room, noticing that people were socially distanced. I took a seat next to two empty chairs. I saw half a dozen windows in front of me, with numbers lit up on a screen on the wall. I sat down, looked around at the people, then pulled out my phone and commenced to bide my time.

     I decided I ought to check my paperwork. Yes, all my ID papers were there. Then I pulled out the PennDOT instructions. A payment of $60 was required. Credit cards were accepted online. But in person, the requirement was check or money order.

     Oh God. I didn't bring my check book! Would I have to go back home to get it and return? And wait some more? Was this going to take all day?

     Then I remembered. I had cash. I pulled out my wallet. There was a $50 bill, along with a $5 and a $10 and a few ones. Maybe they would take cash. I decided to wait it out.

     The fellow who'd been in front of me in the line outside went up to the counter. He didn't take long. Then they called my number. I saw it on the screen. I felt like I'd won the lottery!

     I walked up to the counter and was greeted by a friendly woman who asked my name and birthdate, wanted to see my license. "Oh, this is easy," she said. "You're pre-qualified."

     Really? I confessed that PennDOT had told me there was something wrong with my application. Error 6001. She looked at her computer. "I don't know what 6001 is. But everything looks in order."

     Then I gulped. "Um, I didn't bring my checkbook. Do you take a credit card? Or ... I have cash."

     "We don't take cash," she said. "A credit card is fine. Just insert it in the machine."

     I put in my credit card, signed the form she slipped to me across the counter. She told me my REAL ID would arrive in the mail in ten days or so. 

     Mission accomplished -- in just half an hour! The woman behind the window was even nice.

     So I await my REAL ID, hoping I don't get any more error reports. Starting in May 2023, I'll be able to enter federal buildings and take a domestic flight, without worrying about carrying a passport. Gee . . . I wonder if I'll need a vaccination card.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

As My Mother Used to Say . . .

     I first knew there was something going on when I heard my teenage son say that something was "sick" -- meaning is was really good. Or it was "fat" -- which made it even better. Except I think he and his friends spelled it "phat."

     More recently I've heard him talk about "doom scrolling" -- which refers to trolling through the Internet looking for negative news about the economy or anything else. He's mentioned "ghosting" -- which means ending a relationship by suddenly and without explanation halting all communication.

     My, how things have changed. 

     When I was a kid things were much more simple. Something was either "cool" or it was, "Hey, that's not cool."

     We must have had a few other references and sayings. But I think I took most of them from my parents. For example, my mother would always caution us kids that we didn't want to find ourselves, "Up a creek without a paddle."

     She also used to tell us that "a stitch in time saves nine" -- which basically means the same as "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." She also warned us: "Better safe than sorry."

   My dad always told us that "we reap what we sow." But his favorite saying was: "A penny saved is a penny earned." And then he'd go on to explain that, actually a penny saved is really more than a penny earned because the penny you earn is subject to income and payroll tax. He was a stickler for detail. And also a child of the Depression.

     Of course, these old sayings are "a dime a dozen." But let's face it, they are often so true that they "hit the nail on the head."

     I remember my high-school math teacher used the phrase: "Belt and suspenders." I think it means essentially the same as "better safe than sorry." But the point is, the teacher wanted us to solve a problem, then go back and check our work, and even go back and check it again. (I never went that far, which might explain why I got Bs in math and not As.)

     My next-door neighbor liked the phrase: "That's a fine kettle of fish." I'm not even sure he knew what it meant. But his parents used the phrase, and he liked to mock his parents . . . in front of his friends, but never in front of the parents themselves.

     I don't mean to open up a can of worms. But don't just sit there like a lump on a log. What are some of the truisms you learned from your mother or father . . . or passed on to your own kids? Go ahead. Don't be a stick in the mud. You can let the cat out of the bag. 

Sunday, June 20, 2021

What's Your Retirement Type?

     When we're younger our identity is often defined by our career. We're a teacher, a doctor, a banker, a homemaker. But after we retire things change. We find a new identity or new profile . . . if for no other reason than having a way for people to remember us.

     So what's your retirement type? Are you . . . 

     1. The Grandparent. I myself would like to be more of a grandparent. But my grandkids live in three different states -- not one of them the state where I live. But I know several people -- mostly women, but a few men as well -- who live near their children and babysit the grandchildren several days a week, or live with their children and take care of the grands so the parents can work. This has now become their role in life, to take care of the kids. And I, for one, believe this is an honorable and meaningful role.

   2. The Sportsman. I belong to a golf group that plays every Wednesday from April through October. I like to play golf. But I'm not a fanatic. Some of these guys play three times a week, and continue through November and into December, as long as there's no snow on the ground. They are the true Golfers. I have a friend who's a Cyclist. He bikes 15 or 20 miles three or four days a week. Another is into sailing and canoeing. Some people have more exotic pastimes -- like my friend the pumpkin chucker. Yes, there's a sport called pumpkin chucking which involves hurling or chucking a pumpkin for distance by mechanical means. 

     3. The Volunteer. I was never much of a volunteer in my younger days. I was too busy going to work and earning a living and taking care of my kids. But in retirement I've found a lot of satisfaction in volunteering for several organizations. I tutored kids at our community college, I've helped adults with ESL, and I'm currently volunteering with a senior group. Maybe I'm a volunteer -- but with a small "v." I know people who volunteer like a fulltime job with their church, a veterans organization, a community center, an environmental group. Their true identity is Volunteer. 

     4. The Traveler. We focus our travel on the grandchildren -- since, as I mentioned, they live in three different states. But we have friends who, before Covid, would go on three or four cruises a year. They're already planning a cruise for the fall, and maybe another one next winter. Another couple we know has already been to the Maldives this spring. They're heading to the Caribbean in a couple of weeks; then a week in San Francisco; then a trip to Italy in the fall.

     5. The Homebody. Some people are more comfortable just staying home. They clean and decorate and make sure things are well ordered. Maybe they watch sports or news on TV, or like to read, or do jigsaw puzzles. After all, isn't this what retirement is all about -- relaxing and enjoying life without the pressures of making a living or trying to impress other people?

    6. The Gardener. We have one friend who studied to be a master gardener in retirement, and she now works part-time at a flower shop. She had an exhibit at the Philadelphia Flower Show. The show ended on Sunday, and by Wednesday she was spending the day viewing the flowers at nearby Longwood Gardens. Needless to say, she has a beautiful gardens in her backyard. Then there's my brother-in-law. No flowers for him. He raises an acre's worth of vegetables. We like to visit our family Gardener in August when the corn and tomatoes come in.

     7. The Professional. Some people retire -- and then go right back to work. The very idea of sitting around the house, or looking for things to keep them busy, drives them up the wall. They liked what they were doing when they were working, and so they keep going as a consultant, a freelancer, or with another firm. My doctor was forced to retire from his medical group at age 70. But it wasn't a week before he had set up his practice with another doctor the next town over. My own Uncle Tom somehow managed to keep going to his office, at least a couple of days a week, until they finally kicked him out at age 90. We joked that he was just afraid to stay home with his fierce and sometimes-dominating wife.

     8. The Financial Guru. I know a few guys -- they're mostly guys -- who spend a good portion of their day, every day, following the ups and downs of the stock market. They watch CNBC, follow Yahoo Finance, subscribe to The Wall Street Journal and Investor's Business Daily. They guys aren't necessarily rich. But they like the action, feeling that they're keyed into something important.

     9. The Culture Vulture. These retirees go to museums, belong to the arthouse cinema, travel to the city to see the theater and the galleries. They're members of PBS. Maybe they belong to a local writers' group or photography club. Whatever. This is what makes their lives interesting.

     Of course, few of us fit into just one category. I myself dabble in several of these types -- a little bit of the sportsman, a little volunteer . . . and I try to be a culture vulture, but I know I fall short. And then, I tried to come up with ten retirement types. But I only got nine. What did I miss?

Saturday, June 12, 2021

P as in Phoenix

     We are vaccinated and masked and traveling again. Are you?

     We spent two weeks in South Carolina at the end of April. Last week we flew to Phoenix for a family get-together. We have plans to go to Wisconsin later in the summer. Why? Because we have family in South Carolina, Phoenix and Wisconsin.

     Masks are required in airline terminals and on airplanes. And they're serious about it. I had to keep a mask on for over seven hours each way. I thought that might be a problem. But it really wasn't. I got used to it.

     In Phoenix these days many people have dispensed with masks, especially when they're outside -- or in restaurants. We went to two museums. At the indoor Musical Instrument Museum, a little more than half of the people wore masks. At the outdoor Pioneer Living village, hardly anyone wore a mask.

The view from our condo

     Whenever I think of Phoenix I recall the Nichols and May telephone skit where May is confirming the spelling of the name Kaplan: "K as in knight," she says. "A as in aardvark. P as in pneumonia . . ."

     I guess I understand why Phoenix is pronounced with an F. So is Philadelphia. But there are a lot of things I don't understand about the Sunbelt. The first of them is: why does everyone move here?

Local fauna includes the pig-like Javelina

     The Phoenix area use to be cheap, uncrowded and not quite as hot as it is today. But now Phoenix has gotten expensive. Six of us went to dinner at a restaurant in a strip mall. It was a nice enough restaurant, but the bill was over $400!

     The city is also mobbed. When Glen Campbell recorded "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" the population of the whole area was under a million. Now there are over 5 million people crowded into the Phoenix metro area. And that doesn't even count the tourists.

At Pioneer Village they aren't kidding about the snakes

     We were there for a week. We agreed ahead of time that we'd go swimming in our airbnb pool every day the thermometer hit 100 degrees. We went swimming every day.

     But it's only getting hotter. We saw the sun out every day, with temperatures rising to 104 or 106 degrees. Next week, according to weather.com, the temperature in Phoenix is climbing to 117 degrees. Meanwhile, although we did not see it, the Telegraph fire is burning east of Phoenix, consuming 40,000 acres and counting. 

     But I have to admit, I enjoyed swimming every day. And there's a silver lining to the heat. Our rental complex wasn't very crowded. A lot of people who live there are snowbirds, and they've fled to cooler climes for the time being. 

     Anyway, I was visiting family. They moved to Phoenix in 2002. And they love it.      

The teacher's house circa 1890

     There are a lot of things to do in Phoenix -- from the sports venues to the zoo and the botanical gardens and the art museum and an American Indian museum. 

     We spent most of our time hanging out with family. But we did make those two excursions. The first was to the Musical Instrument Museum which houses a large, well-organized and interactive collection of instruments from around the world. We saw all kinds of strange instruments, listened to lots of different music, and even caught a live bluegrass show.

The sheriff's office included a jail

     We also spent a morning at the nearby Pioneer Living History Museum, located in an area that was once a ranch, a few miles north of the city.

     Some of the buildings are re-creations; others are original buildings that were moved there when the museum opened in 1969. Either way, they were all sitting in the desert, baking under a remorseless sun.

Peek inside a fancy dress shop

     Now we're back home, outside of Philadelphia. It's raining. It's 58 degrees. There's no swimming pool, just a lawn that needs mowing. Maybe I do know why people move to the Sunbelt!

Phoenix today, at the corner of . . . well, any corner

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Resources for Retirement

     Over the years I have collected a number of links to websites that offer information, inspiration, research and entertainment geared to people over age 60. You'll find this list of Retirement Resources down on the right hand side of the blog, below More Grownup Voices.

     I've found these sites to be helpful and informative, and so I encourage you to check them out. Explore the sites. Look for ideas and issues that are relevant to your life.

   For example, travelers can climb aboard Roads Scholar or National Geographic. Lifelong learners can attend the Osher foundation site.  People looking for post-retirement work can apply at Encore or Second Act. Volunteers can find opportunities at Volunteer Match.

     I also have some of the standard sites for seniors, such as the AARP site, and two links to the New York Times. One is for The New Old Age, a page that has been suspended but still offers archived material. Newer articles about retirement have been folded into New York Times -- Health. (Note, however, that the Times limits your number of free visits per month unless you have a subscription.)

     I recently added Aging Parents Insights which covers topics like Alzheimer's, aging alone, caregiving and end-of-life issues. On the lighter side, there's a link to Manopause, for "men over 50 and the people who love them," which features videos, interviews, humor . . . and at least one Pulitzer-Prize winner.

     For those who are academically inclined, I've posted a number of links to universities sponsoring retirement research. They cover issues like health, finance, relationships and other concerns of the older population. So take a look. There are links to the well-known Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, as well as research centers at Johns Hopkins, Michigan, Stanford, and the University of Utah.

     I've done a post on this list before. But for those who are new to this blog, or those who didn't pay a whole lot of attention (let's face it, most of us don't), I hope you'll scroll down on the right and take advantage of this trove of information available to us, all for free.

     Meanwhile, if you've run across any other useful, reliable websites that will enrich our retirement lives, I hope you'll share them with us. May we all have a happy and healthy post-Covid retirement!

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Where Did You Retire?

     We read so many articles about the best places to retire. The lists are typically based on statistics about climate, income, life expectancy, access to health care. But all these are theoreticals. I wonder what people really care about when they decide where they're going to live after they retire.

     I remember my parents disagreed about where they were going to retire. My mom wanted to move to warm, sandy Florida. My dad wanted cool, blustery Cape Cod. They solved the problem by selling their suburban home and buying a place in Florida along with a summer cottage in Cape Cod. They spent eight months in Florida and four months in Cape Cod. When they got into their 80s and couldn't handle two places, they finally settled in Florida.

     We had neighbors back then who didn't know where they wanted to retire. So they sold their house, rented an RV and spent a year traveling all around the country, searching for their retirement haven. They ended up in Greenville, SC. Why? I don't know. But for them it was the place to be.

     We have friends from New York who retired to Charleston, SC. They told us they had always expected to move to Florida, "because that's where New Yorkers go when they retire." They took several trips to Florida looking for a retirement location, but never settled on anything. On the last trip, they stopped in Charleston on the way home to see an old friend. "We fell in love with the city immediately," they told me. Two days later they agreed to buy a townhouse outside of Charleston. And now, five years later, they are happily living in the townhouse . . . and one of their children has now moved to Charleston as well. 

     I have two sisters. One moved to Florida in her 30s. And she's still there. The other moved all over the country and beyond. Her last job was in Phoenix, and after she retired that's where she stayed. I don't know if she really feels like Phoenix is home; but she has a grandchild there now so that's where she's gonna be.

     So what's your story? Where did you move when you retired? And what led you to go there? Or, if you never moved at all, why not?

     My wife and I moved from New York to Pennsylvania. We were both born and raised in the Northeast and realized we would never be comfortable living anywhere else. Florida? The Carolinas? The West Coast? Great places to visit. But not to live. At least for us.

    But we wanted someplace a little less expensive than our pricey New York suburb. We considered Cape Cod. Too cold and dreary for nine months of the year. We visited Annapolis, MD. It's pretty expensive there, and seemed kind of cliquey. We looked at half a dozen places in New Jersey, including Cape May. But then we found out it's a lot less expensive if you just move across the state line into Pennsylvania. 

     So that's what we did. To be honest, we might have moved to be near our children. But we have four children between us, and they are spread out all over the country. So that wasn't in the cards. B does have some family in Pennsylvania and nearby New Jersey. That was a draw. And now, occasionally, my son is able to drive an hour west from Brooklyn, and I can drive an hour east from Pennsylvania, and we'll meet up in New Jersey for a round of golf. 

     That's our real-life retirement story. What's yours?

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Sobering Stopover

     We didn't make as many stops as usual on the way home from Charleston, SC, and they were quicker too, so we were a little ahead of schedule. As we traveled up I 295 around Richmond, I saw the Cold Harbor Civil War battle site was just off the highway. I suggested to B: Maybe we could stop for an hour.

     I don't know why -- I had no ancestors who were in the Civil War -- but I find Civil War history fascinating. Not just interesting in a general sort of way, but fascinating in the original sense of the word that suggests arousing interest through terror, like the way we are fascinated by the sight of a snake.

     I've taken an online course about the Civil War, and a Civil War class at our local Center for Learning in Retirement. I am not a scholar, but I've read several books on the period (although I was too intimidated to read the thousand-page-plus Grant by Ron Chernow -- which is why I'm no scholar.)

     Anyway, few years ago I visited the Petersburg, VA, battlefield site, with my daughter. We saw remnants of the Confederate defenses against the Union siege of 1864, along with the underground tunnel used by Federal forces to blow a hole in Confederate lines -- a move that backfired when Union forces got trapped in the crater left by the explosion.

     Last year B and I spent a day at Gettysburg. We got a tour of the battlefield, and heard about Little Roundtop and Big Roundtop, and looked out over the field where Picket's men charged the Union lines, costing the Confederates over 2000 casualties in less than an hour.

The Cold Harbor Killing Field today
     The fighting at Cold Harbor was part of Grant's Overland Campaign of 1864, as he pushed back the rebels in the Battle of the Wilderness, at Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor, on the way to Petersburg and then Richmond.

   B and I arrived at the site and walked the one-mile loop around the battlefield, surveying the remnants of trenches, rifle pits, and an open area called the Killing Field where on June 3, 1864 advancing Federal troops were cut down by entrenched Confederate soldiers. From May 31 to June 12, nearly 18,000 men were killed, wounded or captured.

     Of course, as we all know, a year later, on April 9, 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederates to General Grant, at Appomattox Courthouse, marking the end of the Civil War. The Union was saved. And some 4 million slaves won an uncertain freedom.

     The cost was an estimated 620,000 people killed in the military, with almost a million more wounded, captured or missing. And who knows how many civilians lost their lives or livelihoods because of the war, or how many survivors suffered what we now know as post-traumatic stress disorder -- damaged people who went unrecognized and uncared for.

Looking over the field from a trench
   When people today talk about how divided we are, how we don't tolerate fellow citizens who have different values, different lives, different views, I think to myself -- they are being myopic. We've seen plenty of division in American history, starting with the Revolution and including not just the Civil War and Reconstruction and Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan, but the Gilded Age and violent worker strikes, the 1950s and McCarthyism, the 1960s and Vietnam, and on and on. 

    It's an American tradition to speak our minds, get into arguments, divide ourselves by sex, race, class, ethnicity, region and religion. But hopefully our identity as Americans will overcome all that -- at least to the extent that we will never become so divided that we end up at a place like Cold Harbor again. 

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Some Intriguing Questions

      We have a lot of questions going on in our minds these days. Have you been vaccinated? Do we have to wear masks? Is the Colonial pipeline back in service? Are those UFO sightings for real?

     Well, we Baby Boomers have some questions of our own.

     Have you ever heard of the Teacup List? Instead of the Bucket List with its dramatic before-I-die goals, and the panicked feeling you get when you realize you haven't gone on that cross-country road trip or parachuted in the Gobi Desert, you focus on the smaller, more doable things . . . like the ones Laurie Stone of Musing, Rants & Scribbles outlines in What's on Your Summer Teacup List? 

The Coleman Still
   Carol Cassara of the blog Heart, Mind Soul, asks: Do you ever think of times gone by? At our age, she says, we've got enough years behind us to remember a lot of places and a lot of people. In When Memories Take Us to a Different World she reflects on some friends -- and a California eatery called The Coleman Still -- from back in the hazy days of the 1990s.

     Can social media be fun? Yes, according to Rebecca Olkowski. But it can also be intimidating, especially when you see people your own age flaunting what they have done, or how great they look. In Is Social Media Making You Lose Your Self-Esteem? she elaborates on how oversharing by some people can make you worry that you're too fat, too old, too poor or too disorganized. If that bothers you, she includes a link to a comic-serious video by Trevor Noah about the harmful effects of social media.

     Jennifer of Untold and Begin asks: Am I Brave Enough to Live Creatively? It's important to dare to be the person that we are at our core, she says. Living creatively means living your version of yourself -- not someone else's -- which could be the motto of every retiree in America.

Surprise visitor
     Do you want to travel? A lot of us hit the road, or the skies, before the pandemic blew in. Meryl Baer of Beach Boomer Bulletin couldn't wait to get on the go again. In Up, Up and Away she recounts her first trip in months, to a family event in Florida, and laments her on-again off-again affair with a budget airline.

     Finally, speaking of the hazy days, Rita Robison asks: Do you have a garden? In this week's post she says Growing a Vegetable Garden Is Easier Than You Think . . . and offers a few of the benefits of tilling the soil, including a surprise visit by a cute little animal or two.

     As for me, I think I'll get to work on my Summer Teacup list, which will include a small, non-vegetable garden, two trips (one to Phoenix, one to Wisconsin), probably more time on social media than I should . . . and no doubt a few meet-ups with family and old friends when we will reminisce about the hazy days of the 1990s and before.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Travel in the Time of Gas Shortage

     We were vacationing at the beach in South Carolina while visiting family outside of Charleston. We did not venture into the city, as we usually do (the streets are crowded, we were told, and nobody is wearing a mask), but instead we focused on family and hung out in our beach community.

Rolling dunes protect the shoreline

     The beach was great. But a few days before we were scheduled to go home, the Colonial Pipeline went down. (I have photos of the beach here, not gas pumps -- they're prettier.) But how were we going to make the drive home -- a little over 700 miles -- with no gas?!?.

     As soon as I heard about it, on Monday last week, I filled my tank -- before the crowds arrived at the gas stations. But we were traveling back and forth between the beach and the grandchildren's house, so by the time we left, the tank was down to a little over half. On Wednesday and Thursday we saw several gas stations that were empty, trucks parked out in front of the pumps, black bags covering the handles.

A long walk to the beach

      How bad is this? we wondered. Should we see if we could stay over a couple of extra days until gas was more readily available?

     Our kids suggested that if anyone had gas, it would be Costco. So on Friday, the day before we left, B stopped off at Costco. There was a line. But there was also gas, and she was able to fill up.

The sand was dotted with jellyfish

     Still, we couldn't make 700 miles on one tank of gas. We'd have to stop once along Route 95. I checked online. Pilot Flying J showed many of its locations out of gas. TA Truck stops offered no information about the situation. Love's had a list of stations that were out of gas or "in danger" of being out of gas. But most of its locations seemed to have supplies.

     We decided to leave as planned. Online I found several stations along our route that said they had gas. But would they in real life?

A man casts for dinner

     We set out on our trip, along I26, turning north on I95. We watched the gas gauge sink from full to three quarters to half. My odometer estimates how many miles we have left in the tank. We started at 520 miles. We got down to 400, then 300. At 240 we reached the Virginia state line, where my research indicated there was a Love's with gas.

     We exited the highway and saw the station. It was crowded, but we found a pump. When I went to insert my credit card I saw the message: Please wait. Pump temporarily out of order.

A bird finds some food

      I saw a guy leaning against his car on the other side of the island. I asked him if he knew what was going on. Apparently there was gas at several of the pumps, but not all of them. Which ones? Probably the ones with the long lines. The place was a madhouse.

    Then I noticed Flying J across the street. It wasn't too crowded, but there seemed to be activity. So I crossed over and pulled up to a pump. It was working. We were able to fill up.

The end of a day

     We got home as scheduled, on Sunday, gas emergency notwithstanding. The fact is, we saw a lot of cars and trucks on the road, traffic as usual. The gas shortage didn't seem to stop anyone. And when you think about it, it's pretty impressive that the petroleum infrastructure was able to refill the network as fast as it did.

     People blame the big oil companies for global warming. Sure, they have something to do with it. But the real problem is the American public that is addicted to driving -- typically in a gas-guzzling SUV, at a gas-guzzling speed of 70 or 75 mph.

     But that's not really my point. (Okay, we're addicted to driving, too, but at least we don't drive an SUV and we try to keep it to a more efficient 65 mph.) I just want to say: It was great to be traveling again after our long quarantine. It was great to see the grandkids. And we got home. Safe and sound. 

Friday, May 14, 2021

Interesting Facts and Figures

      I ran across a report entitled Older Americans: Key Indicators of Well Being. It came out last fall, so it's possible you're a step ahead of me and have already seen it. But a lot of this information is new to me. The report acknowledges that it does not include the effects of Covid-19. But it does contain the most current data available.

     Here are a dozen highlights you might find interesting:

     There are roughly 52 million people age 65 and over living in the United States today, accounting for 16% of the population. That compares to just 35 million people in 2000 -- and a projected 73 million, or 21% of the population, ten years from now.

     Less than half of women 65 and over are married. The married rate for women is 46%, compared to 71% of men who are married. Some 32% of women are widowed, and 11% of men.

     About 30% of people 65 and over have a four-year college degree, and 86% have a high school degree.

     Older people have a lower rate of poverty than any other age group -- just 9% of people age 65 - 74, and 14% for people age 85 and over. Overall, the poverty rate of people 65 and over has decreased from 15% in 1974 to 10% today.

     Social Security benefits for women have changed dramatically, from spouse-only or widow-only benefits to earned worker benefits. Today some 80% of female beneficiaries get earned worker benefits.

     We're getting wealthier. Since 1989 the median net worth, adjusted for inflation, of households headed by people age 65 and over has increased by 60% -- from $158,225 to $253,800.

     On average, for people age 65 and over, some 33% of their income went to housing, 14% to transportation, 13% to health care, 13% to food. For those who are older, age 75 and over, the figures are 36% for housing, 16% for health care, 13% for food and 12% for transportation.

     Life expectancy has increased for everyone -- men and women, white, black, Hispanic and Asian. In just the last decade alone, life expectancy for men at age 65 has increased from 17.2 years to 18.1 years. For women the increase is 19.9 years to 20.7 years. (But Covid has no doubt changed these numbers, at least temporarily.)

    Death rates for heart disease, cancer and diabetes have gone down. Death rates for Alzheimer's disease and injuries have gone up. (About 7.5% of people 65 and over not living in nursing homes are reported to have dementia.)

     About 22% of people age 65 and over report some kind of disability -- vision, hearing, mobility, cognition.

     Only 14% of people 65 and over participated in physical activity that meets recommended guidelines. The obesity rate has increased from 22% in 1990 to 40% today.

     Some 13% of people age 65 to 74 admit to limiting their driving to daytime hours because of their vision or health. (Okay, I admit it! Well . . . I will drive at night; but I prefer to drive in daylight, especially on unfamiliar roads.) Meanwhile, only 41% of people 85 and over limit their driving to the daytime. (IMHO that figure should be higher . . . I remember my dad driving when he was in his late 80s, it was a scary ride!) 

     If you want to know more about the lifestyles of older Americans, you can check out the report yourself at Older Americans 2020: Key Indicators of Well Being. It's only, um, 184 pages long.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Second Home -- a Good Idea?

      So my wife and I are finally traveling. We're vacationing in South Carolina and visiting children and grandchildren while we're here, as we've done almost every year since the kids moved down from New York in 2012.

     We always get our own place when we come. Their house really isn't big enough to accommodate us. Plus, we'd rather be out at the beach rather than in the suburban development where they live.

Our rental. Would you buy it?
     It only takes a few days for us to become accustomed to the Carolina beach lifestyle, which at this time of year involves throwing open the windows to the sea breezes, wearing t-shirts, and going out to the beach or up to the marina to watch the sunset.

     And it only takes a few more days before we start looking around and begin thinking about buying a second home at the beach -- or near the beach. Lots of other people do it. Why can't we?

     Just last night we ate outside at the Salty Dog Cafe. We were outdoors so we didn't have to wear masks. There was a nice breeze wafting off the water so we didn't even have to worry about Covid. After dinner we walked up along the boardwalk, got ice cream, then stuck around to watch the sun set over the sailboats. We strolled down the boardwalk, eyeing the condominiums that face the water and the sinking sun beyond. 

     This morning I recalled reading an article about owning a vacation home by Jeremy Kisner, director of financial planning at Surevest Private Wealth in Phoenix, AZ, who writes a blog Clear and Concise Financial Advice. I thought I'd better consult the piece to get a dose of reality. Is it really a good idea?

     Here's what Kisner says about second homes:

     I thought vacation homes sales would be breaking records since Baby Boomers are better positioned to buy them than any previous generation. A number of other factors should also be propping up the vacation home market: a strong economy, a decade-long bull market in stocks, low mortgage rates.

    However, vacation-home sales, despite having picked up within the last year due to the crosscurrents of Covid, have actually been relatively weak for the past decade. For example, price appreciation in popular vacation home areas lagged non-vacation home areas by some 10 percentage points from 2015 through 2018.

     One reason vacation home sales have lagged may be airbnb and other similar sites. These services have made it easy to find vacation rentals in desirable places -- without any down payment, mortgage or upkeep costs.

Jeremy Kisner
     Are you still tempted to buy a beach house, mountain cabin, or Gulf-side condo? If so . . .

Here are a few things to consider before buying a vacation home:

     Costs. The median vacation home price nationwide is over $200,000 -- higher in popular beach locations. In Delray Beach, FL, for example, the median house price is over $300,000. Even if that seems reasonable to you, do not underestimate the ongoing expenses. A modest home will likely have up to $1000 in monthly expenses (taxes, utilities, HOA, maintenance).

     Financing. Approximately 30% of second-home buyers pay all cash. The remaining buyers need to come up with a hefty down payment. Most banks require 25 to 30% down on a vacation or rental property. They also require a higher credit score and charge higher interest rates. This is because these properties have more severe default rates than primary residences.

     Insurance. Homeowner insurance tends to be more expensive for vacation homes than for primary residences, because vacation homes are at greater risk for damage or theft since they are not lived in year-round. You may be required to carry a "landlord policy" which can cost 20 or 30% more than typical homeowners insurance. In addition, many homes are in hurricane or flood zones. Due to more severe storms, flood insurance costs have gone up significantly in recent years.

     Renting it out. People who rent out their vacation homes do so for an average of 18 weeks per year, according to HomeAway, a vacation rental marketplace. Property management firms typically get 20 to 35% of the rental income. Or you can do the work yourself. Some people make a decent side income by renting out their guest house on airbnb or VRBO. However, it usually takes a few hours a week to respond to inquiries and coordinate check-ins, check-outs, reviews and cleaning services. For more information about potential rental income vs. expenses consult this rental income resource.

     Classification as a Rental Property. If you limit your personal use of your second home to 14 days, or 10% of the time it's rented, it can be classified as a rental (investment) property. That means you can write off most of the expenses (insurance, maintenance, utilities, interest, depreciation) against the rental income. If the result is a loss, it is typically considered a Passive Activity Loss which in most cases can be used to offset other income on your tax return. 

     Classification as a Vacation Home. On the flip side, your property will be categorized as a vacation home if it is used primarily for personal use. You do not get to write off all the expenses like you do with a rental, but you can still write off the interest expense as an itemized deduction assuming you meet the requirements. In addition, you can rent your place for 14 days or less and keep that rental income tax-free, with no extra reporting requirements.

     Second homes can be a great place to make memories with your kids and grandchildren. They can also be a major expense and/or commitment of time. So a piece of advice: the wealth-maximizing strategy for a second home is to have a friend or relative with a vacation home ... and then an offer to house sit.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Exploring a New World

      Like the ancient mariners who set out from Europe to discover the New World, we set out from our home in Pennsylvania to test the waters of the Post-Covid World. We're headed to Charleston, SC, to see children and grandchildren. But on the way we stopped in Williamsburg, VA, to meet up with friends and tour the Colonial capital.

     Williamsburg, capital of Virginia from 1699 to 1780, is now restored as a living-history example of an 18th century Colonial town. We spent the evening there, walking around the historic streets, meeting some of the guides, seeing a few of the old buildings.

     But we were more interested in nearby Jamestown, the first English colony permanently established in America. (The first was Roanoke Island in the 1580s -- known as the Lost Colony because the settlers mysteriously disappeared.)

     As we went through the museum we discovered that in May 1607 a little over a hundred English settlers in three sailing ships landed in Jamestown. They built a fort, tried to grow some food, and were soon set upon by the local Powhatan. As you know from middle-school social studies, the story gets complicated from there, with Captain John Smith and Pocahontas and the arrival of "20 and odd Negroes" in 1619.

     Many of the settlers were killed, or starved to death, but the settlement did survive and remained the capital of Virginia for almost a hundred years. We saw a re-creation of the fort, a Powhatan village, and two of the three ships that carried the settlers.

     Of course, B and her friend had to stop in the gift shop. So while I waited I perused the 50 state flags flying outside the museum. Small factoid: We all know what the original 13 states were. But do you know the 14th state? It was Vermont, which seceded from New York in 1777, and was admitted as its own state in 1791. Vermont's constitution of 1777 was the first to provide universal suffrage and the prohibition of slavery.

     Then we took a ferry across the James River and had dinner on the outside deck of a waterside restaurant . . .

     . . . and ended the day watching the sun set over the James River.

     So we're traveling again. I can report that almost all the people stopping into the highway gas stations and restrooms were wearing facemasks and keeping their distance. So far so good. More than a hundred of the original Jamestown settlers died from starvation, Indian attack or malaria. We're pretty sure we're safe from starvation and Indian attack. We'll see if we survive Covid-19.    

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Who's Going to Travel?

      The last time we went anywhere was February 2020 -- 14 months ago --when we made our annual trip to Charleston, SC, to see kids and grandkids. We had planned to travel to Wisconsin last summer to see more kids and grandkids, but that trip got canceled.

     Now we're vaccinated, and we've decided it's safe -- or safe enough -- to get on the road again. We're heading to Virginia and South Carolina at the end of the week. We are driving. We are staying in a condo with vaccinated friends for two nights in Virginia. Then we will have our own airbnb for two weeks on a Carolina beach outside of Charleston.

     So no hotels. We will bring along our portable potty so we don't have to stop at a public restroom. We will be seeing the grandchildren, who of course have not been vaccinated. But they're used to wearing masks, so we've resolved to wear masks as well. It will be hard to keep them on all the time. But we think we'll survive a few slip-ups since, as I said, we're both vaccinated.

     We'll have to go into a supermarket to pick up groceries. We'll wear masks. And we think we could actually be safer doing that in South Carolina, rather than Pennsylvania, since the Covid count is lower there (15 cases/100,000 population in Charleston vs. 36/100,000 at home). Presumably, less virus in the air means less chance of being infected.

     We also plan to go to a restaurant or two -- but only outside. It should be plenty warm in the South Carolina evenings at this time of year.

Destination: Charleston
     We think we will be safe. We hope we will be safe. But regardless, we've decided it's worth the risk -- and we're not even sure being away is any risker than staying home.

     However ... we do have a plan to fly to Phoenix in the beginning of June. This outing has me a little more worried. An airport, an airplane, a rental car. Another airbnb. But it's a family thing. And we feel as though we have to go.

     And then in August we're finally going to make that trip to Wisconsin. Again, we'll be driving; we're staying in an airbnb by ourselves -- although it's far enough away that we will have to hazard a night in a hotel on the way there and the way back.

     We're relying on the miracle of modern medicine (we both got the Pfizer shots) to keep us safe, along with our own caution in staying to ourselves as much as possible, staying outside when we can, keeping our masks on when we're with other people.

     Are we crazy? 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Please ... Be Careful

      Okay, this maybe too much information, but I typically get up once in the night to go to the bathroom. Usually around 4 a.m. It's pretty routine. I can do it in my sleep . . . or so I thought.

      The other night I got up as usual, stumbled into the bathroom and for some reason I tried to lean against the edge of the shower. I stuck my arm out. Felt my hand bump against the wall. Then it slipped. Next thing I knew, I was keeling over. I hit my head on the edge of the shower.

     I caught myself before I fell over completely. So I just banged my head a bit. But, ouch, it hurt! I stood there for a moment. Rubbed my head. I'd only fallen the length of my arm. How bad could it be?

     I proceeded to go to the bathroom, then take a drink of water, and go back to bed. I fell right back to  sleep.

     In the morning I woke up at the usual time. Remembering my middle-of-the-night fall, I touched my head on the left side where it hit. It was still a little sore. Was there a bump? I didn't think so, but I couldn't really tell.

     I popped a couple of Tylenol and went about my day. I did some yardwork, ran through my exercises, read my book, watched TV. To be honest, I felt a little fuzzy, especially toward evening. I probably should have rested for the day instead.

     The next day I still felt a little fuzzy, but the soreness had mostly gone away. Ironically, I had a doctor's appointment that afternoon. But it wasn't with my regular doctor, it was with an orthopedist who was checking out my bad knee. He gave me a Cortisone shot, which I've been getting about once a year for the past few years. That seems to be enough to keep the arthritis at bay -- along with the knee exercises I do almost every day for 20 minutes or so.

     It was the day after that when I saw on the news some fellow in the Midwest had gotten into a fight. He was knocked down. He struck his head in the parking lot, and he died before he even got to the hospital.

     My head was pretty much better by then. Still, the news report gave me the chills. I realized a head injury is nothing to scoff at, nothing to ignore.

     And, of course, neither is the prospect of falling. I've fallen a few times. Once in the shower, around 2014 or 2015. I remember I slipped on the slick shower floor. I grabbed for the soap holder, yanked it out of the wall, and took the shower curtain and shower rod down with me as I fell over the bathtub. I ended up with a nasty bruise that ran along my side from the top of my thigh up to my armpit. 

     I couple of years later I tripped over one of those cement bars in a restaurant parking lot. I scraped up my hands and arms pretty good. Then last year I slipped on a wet railroad tie on a golf course. (See After the Fall.) I got another big bruise from that one. It took about a month to go away.

     In case you think I'm clumsy (well, okay, I am)), I'm not the only one. B tripped on the sidewalk last year. For some reason she couldn't get her hands out in front of her, so she went down right on her face. That was pretty ugly . . . although she eventually healed up, no scar. She took another fall this past winter on the walking path in the park -- slipped on a patch of ice.

     As I've reported before, every year some 3 million older people are treated in emergency rooms for fall-related injuries. The majority of severe hip fractures are caused by falls.

     So now I've learned to be careful in the shower. In the parking lot. On the golf course and now when I go to the bathroom at night. But is that enough?

     We've been told to make sure our stairs are well-lit, to keep a light on at night. We get rid of throw rugs and other tripping hazards. Keep our cables and wires neatly stashed away. Watch out for wet tiles in the bathroom and kitchen. But beyond all the obvious things, just please be careful. It always seems to happen when we least expect it. 

Sunday, April 18, 2021

"But I Might Need It Someday!"

      When  I was younger I liked to go sailing. I never owned a boat. But I had a friend who sailed out of Stamford, CT, and he took me on a couple of weekend trips up to Block Island and Cape Cod. One summer I  took a series of sailing lessons on the Hudson River, and another summer I rented a small sailboat which I used to tool around Long Island Sound.

     Sometimes, when I dreamed of sailing away into the sunset, I'd wonder if I could fit all my possessions onto a boat. I thought I probably could. A few clothes -- not many, since I would be sailing into the southern latitudes. A few provisions, a bag of books, one box of memorabilia.

     I never got a chance to prove it because I never sailed away into the sunset. That's probably a good thing, for many reasons, not least of which is that it's easier to downsize in your head than it is to downsize in reality.

     But I do remember downsizing from our four-bedroom house into a one-bedroom condominium. We got rid of a  lot of stuff, put a lot more into a storage locker, and crammed the rest into our condo. It was hard.

     I'm sure many of you have been through the process yourselves. What was the hardest part of downsizing for you?

     As we tossed out stuff, we kept saying, "But we might need this again someday." Or else it would be, "But I paid $700 for these . . . " You fill in the blank. Sports equipment, musical instruments, special furniture.  Or else we'd say, "But the kids might want this dining set from Aunt Martha." 

     We managed to get rid of a lot. But we still found that when we upsized again, into a small house, we ended up giving away or tossing out a few items from the condo and at least half the stuff we'd stashed in the storage locker.

Some of my decluttering sins
     I realized, the biggest enemy of downsizing are the words: "We might need this again someday."

     But the fact is, you probably won't. And if you do, it will be easier to buy a new one than dig out the old one -- one that might not work anyway. We have several pieces of audio equipment to prove it. Some speakers, a CD player, an old radio. But now we get our music on an iPhone, or through our Google Play, or via Youtube. Those speakers are still moldering away down in the basement.

     Here's one suggestion I read about. Put your least-used "I might need it someday" into boxes and store them somewhere. Maybe you can exchange some boxes with a similar-minded friend. You each store the other's boxes in your basement. After a year or two, you can revisit your boxes and decide if you still want to keep them. Chances are you won't.

     As for those other words: "But I paid $700 for those . . . " I'll tell you about my son. He was a musician in high school and college. We'd invested literally thousands of dollars in guitars, drums, amps, mixers and other equipment. He didn't want them anymore. They were outdated. So I tried to sell some of it. Nobody would buy it, but I managed to give away some of the stuff. However, I just could not bring myself to let go of the saxophone that had been glued to his hip for 15 years, or the banjo that he decided he just had to learn to play in 11th grade.

     I'm no expert on decluttering. I've just been through it. And so I can tell you. Get rid of the just-in-cases. Get rid of the but-I-paid-so-much-for-this. Divest yourself of the old coin collection or photo equipment if you're no longer interested in the hobby. Give away the clothes that no longer fit. Toss all the stuff that's outdated or doesn't work anymore. And take the hint: If your kids don't want it, neither do you.