“People who don't want to think about outlawing handguns haven't seen firsthand the kind of damage they do." -- J. A. Jance, "Payment in Kind"

Saturday, December 31, 2022

The Year in Review

     Another year over and done with. The years seem to go by faster and faster as we get older, don't they? So it's time to pause and reflect back on the important, memorable items of 2022.

     January.  For several years my wife B and I have been spending February in South Carolina. This year we decided to go early. We left on January 22. And what did we learn? South Carolina is freezing in January. We both came down with nasty colds (not Covid, we tested) but according to B our colds were especially bad because we'd been isolating due to Covid. Our immune systems were out of practice.

     February.  We spent the month in Charleston, visiting children and grandchildren. In the past, my sister would usually join us from Arizona. This year she was going to bring along her two-year-old granddaughter. But the girl was too young to get vaccinated, so my sister didn't risk the trip. B's sister did fly in for a few days. She got sick too. Aside from our own problems, Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24th. It's a terrible situation. We thought it would be over soon. But now it seems like it's going to drag on for who-knows-how long. Let's hope it doesn't escalate and involve European or American troops or, God forbid, "tactical" nuclear weapons.


     March.  When we got home we started in on our Center for Learning in Retirement. We hosted a discussion group on foreign policy and covered topics involving Asia and Latin America, as well as how changing demographics and climate change are affecting U. S. foreign policy. We had some lively and informative discussions. I remember how I used to dismiss older people as out-of-it and irrelevant. But our group has a good historical background. Some of them have lived and worked overseas. And all of them had sharp, cogent comments about the state of the world. Maybe it's not so bad to have an 80-year-old president.

     April.  Speaking of Joe Biden, a Federal judge struck down his mask mandate on airlines. A mistake, in my opinion. Also in April we found out inflation has risen to 8.5%. We're glad we already reserved our place in Charleston for next February when the price will no doubt be even higher. At this rate, how much longer will be be able to afford to go?

     May.  This month we crossed the threshold of 1 million Covid deaths. And yet . . . it's hard to find anyone wearing a mask, anywhere.  Partly because of that, we haven't been going to restaurants. But now it's getting warm enough to eat outside. I love summer!

     June.  The Federal Reserve raised interest rates by 0.75%. That really doesn't affect us. We no longer have a mortgage. We paid off our car loan last year. Maybe this will mean we'll finally get some interest paid on our retirement savings accounts. In other news, Ketanji Jackson Brown was sworn in as the first black female on the Supreme Court.

     July.  Another mass shooting -- this one in Highland Park, Ill. Biden signed into law new gun-safety regulations. Do you think they will do any good?

     August.  We drove out to Madison, Wisconsin, to see my daughter and granddaughter. Madison is a university town and a "happening" place. Then we took a side trip to see the Frank Lloyd Wright house in Spring Green, WI. Author Salman Rushdie was attacked while giving a presentation at the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York. We spent a week at Chautauqua a few years ago. It's a great place. And I guess it goes to show that nobody needs a gun to inflict pain and suffering. At least the guy didn't shoot up the audience.

     September. We try to do an end-of-summer week or two in Cape Cod. But this year we decided instead to go to a place where the water is warm -- Charleston, SC. What we didn't count on was a hurricane. Hurricane Fiona brushed by the coast causing no rain but heavy surf. A few days later Hurricane Ian took dead aim at Charleston. We got out of there. Turned out Ian caused some flooding in the area, but nothing like what it did to Florida.

     October.  A U. S. House Committee subpoenaed Trump for documents and testimony relating to January 6, 2021. I don't know about you, but as horrible as the attack on the capitol was, I still think this investigation looks like revenge -- and it's certainly looking backwards. I wish instead that Congress could focus its efforts on bringing down inflation, on climate change, on the crisis at the border, the Federal deficit, the underfunding of Social Security and health care, and the list goes on and on. 

     November.  The election. Republicans main a few gains, but Democrats did better than expected. In other words, more gridlock, more fighting, more arguments and angst. But is that so bad?

     December. News reports say that travel has rebounded for the holidays. We just went to B's sister's house for Thanksgiving and Christmas, an hour-and-a-half drive away. My son and his girlfriend came down from New York for a day. We saw other family members on Zoom -- a technology I'd never even heard of in 2020 but now seems as simple as picking up the phone. So it's been a quiet December, at least for us, even if the world is still in turmoil.

     What did I miss? More importantly, what do you suppose 2023 will bring? 

Saturday, December 24, 2022

The Latest Thing

     Here's my Christmas list for this year:

     Large bottle of Tylenol.

     Ice pack.

     Tube of CBD cream.

     Two knee braces.

     One ankle brace.

     New pickleball racket.

     Yes, pickleball racket. A few years ago I started playing pickleball. I took a series of introductory group lessons and played a half a dozen pickup games. Then I blew out my left knee. I haven't played since -- until a few weeks ago. Now, throwing caution to the winds, I've started playing again.

My old pickleball racket
     Pickleball is the latest craze for seniors. It's a cross between table tennis (which I've played off-and-on for years) and tennis (which I played when I was younger but I was never very good). The game is played on half a tennis court, with a solid fiberglass or composite paddle and a whiffle ball, and since it's almost always played as doubles, there's only a little bit of running involved.

     If my knees hold out, I think I'll enjoy the game, meet a few people, and get some exercise. But, ultimately, it's up to my knees. And my ankle as well.

     For a guy who's pushed past 70, I'm in decent shape. I'm not overweight. Don't have heart problems. No diabetes. But I do suffer from arthritis. I have chronic arthritis in my ankle and both knees, due primarily to old injuries. I have arthritis in my back, due to sitting behind a desk for 40 years.

     I also blame my parents for the bad bones. My dad dealt with back pain for as long as I can remember, and my mother got osteoporosis later in life. I don't know how much arthritis is hereditary. But both my sisters also have bone issues. One has had surgery on her foot and her shoulder. The other has had both knees replaced.

     I have not gone under the knife myself -- although I've considered it, and may yet get to that point. Instead, over the years I've been through several rounds of physical therapy, and to this day I do stretching exercises every night for my back, my knees, my ankle.

     I've had cortisone shots in my knees. Then in September I went through a round of prednisone. I don't know if you've taken prednisone, but that stuff must be dangerous. The doctors didn't prescribe it lightly, and the list of side effects is a long as my arm. But I took it for six days and experienced no side effects -- and it worked its magic on me.

     Still, now before I play pickleball, I take a couple of Advil or Tylenol. After I get home I ice my knees. Sometimes I rub some CBD ointment on my knee and ankle. I think that helps a little. But it's hard to tell. It might just be the placebo effect.

     I'm always wondering if there's anything I can do to slow down arthritis, to keep the pain down. There's a lot of advice about diet. The problem is that none of it is conclusive.

     Everyone agrees that eating plenty of vegetables, especially broccoli and cauliflower and spinach, is good for arthritis, as well as virtually every other health issue we have. We're supposed to consume lots of fiber, and restrict intake of salt and sugar. People disagree about milk and milk products -- although no one thinks eating a lot of cheese is a good idea. But that may be as much for the salt content as its milk content.

     The truth of the matter is that you can't eat your way out of arthritis. There's no real "cure." Pain killers might help. Surgery can be useful for severe cases. But for most of us the best medicine is exercise -- stretching for sure, as well as light-to-moderate, low-impact movement like swimming, walking, biking. And, hopefully, pickleball.

     I did ask my doctor if playing pickleball is okay. His basic response was that the best thing to do is keep moving. So do anything, as long as it doesn't hurt -- although he did tell me not to run long distances (no danger of that!). He recommended biking and swimming because they are low impact and they build strength. But he said, don't buy a bike and then never use it. Do some exercise that you will actually do.

     So it's pickleball for me. I just hope that, uh, I'm being careful what I wish for. 

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Top of the Heap

     I consider myself a reader. I wasn't always that way. I remember as a kid, my dad and my teachers tried to get me to read books all the time. I read what I had to in middle and high school. But truthfully, I'd always rather be outside playing with friends.

     I became a reader in college -- after all, I majored in English literature. But I think what turned the corner for me was being able to read outside. I remember those bracing fall days and soft spring afternoons, sitting on the stoop of a college building, reading through Hardy and Hemingway, Wordsworth and Yeats, as well as non-fiction writers like Thomas Carlyle and John Stuart Mill.

     I've been reading a lot ever since, but never more than now. 

     Before Covid, I used to say I read a book a week. But I really didn't. I keep a log. Before 2020, I would top out between 45 and 50 a year. But when I was stuck at home with the pandemic, my count went up to about 60 a year. Now that Covid is largely over -- or ignored -- I am getting out more, but still somehow reading more books. Right now I'm on my 63rd book of the year.

     But of course, the other side of the equation is that I'm always looking for good books to read. So if you have any suggestions . . . 

     Meanwhile, I thought I would be in a position to recommend some books. So here are my Top Ten of the year (with publication dates so you know how old they are). Disclosure: I tend to read mysteries and histories. My wife reads a lot of memoirs, self-help books and pop psychology. So if you want that, you'll have to ask her.

     Here's my countdown:

     10. The Order by Daniel Silva (2020). Archbishop Luigi Donati is summoned to the Vatican. The pope has been found dead. Donati calls friend Gabriel Allon (longtime Silva character), a top Israeli spy vacationing in Venice. They suspect the pope has been murdered by a secret right-wing group, the Order of St. Helena, so it could take over the Catholic church. Several people are killed before Donati confronts the papal conclave, just in time and with remarkable results. It's a thriller alright, but pretty far-fetched.

     9. The Woman in the Library by Sulari Genrill (2022). Australian writer offers a clever mystery focusing on four young Bostonians -- Freddie, Cain, Whit and Marigold -- who become fast friends when they hear a woman scream in the library. The woman is found dead. A homeless man -- friend of Cain's -- is knifed to death. Whit gets stabbed. His mother is attacked. Who's the culprit? Is it Cain the ex-con? Too obvious. One of the other three? Or Freddie's neighbor who writes creepy letters? Some might find the novel manipulative, but it's still a great read. 

     8. In the Morning I'll Be Gone by Adrian McGinty (2019). Irish detective Sean Duffy is a Catholic working for the RUC of Northern Ireland in the early 1980s. Duffy is trying to track down IRA terrorist Dermot McCann who's planning a major strike. But no one will talk ... until Duffy finds Mary Fitzpatrick, Dermot's mother-in-law, who will turn him in if Duffy solves the murder of her daughter. It's a clever plot that ultimately leads to a shootout in front of Margaret Thatcher's hotel. The story is well-crafted, and Duffy a sympathetic and believable detective.

     7. The Maid by Nita Prose (2022). A mystery narrated by simple hotel maid Molly Gray, who is presumably "on the spectrum." She finds the body of wealthy businessman, Mr. Black, in his hotel room. But what else did she see? And can you believe it? It's clever, to be sure, but sometimes reads like a fairy tale.

     6. Prague Fatale by Philip Kerr (2011). Book No 8 of 14 in the excellent Bernie Gunther series, loosely based on the real-life assassination of Reinhold Heydrich in May 1942. Heydrich summons Gunther to Prague to flush out a possible assassin. When Heydrich's adjutant Albert Kuttner is found dead in a locked room, Gunther has to solve the case ... or else. Complications arise as Gunther unmasks the murderer and the real point of the investigation is revealed. Nobody does it like the cynical but honest-to-a-fault Bernie Gunther, and nobody writes like Philip Kerr who left us too early in 2018 at age 62.

     5. Marco Polo: The Journey that Changed the World by John Man (2014). Retells and analyzes the famous late-1200s trip to China made by Marco Polo, along with father Niccolo and uncle Maffeo. The trio spent over 20 years trekking across Asia, and at the behest of Kublai Khan (grandson of Genghis Khan) traveled extensively around China. After Marco returned to Venice he was captured in a sea battle against Genoa, and while in prison he dictated his adventures to a friend. He tells some fantastic tales, and according to Man some of them are actually true. Fascinating book opens your eyes to Asian geography and history.

     4. A Short History of Reconstruction by Eric Foner (2015) An updated and shortened (350 pgs. instead of 650 pgs.) version of his original book chronicles the path of reconstruction from 1863 - 1877. There was some progress, he concludes, in the development of black citizenship and changes in worker relationships, but ultimately Reconstruction was a failure because of resistance from the Democrats, factionalism among Republicans, weak cotton markets, the depression of the 1870s, and KKK violence. The book, honestly, is not an easy-to-read narrative like we get from Erik Larson or Candace Millard. It's more analytic and legalistic. Still, a must-read for anyone with even a passing interest in the era.

     3. The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian (2022). I'm a Chris Bohjalian fan, so I love his novels. In this latest book it's 1964 and movie star Katie Batstow is leading a group of Hollywood types on a photo safari in the Serengeti. They're ambushed by a gang of Russian mercenaries and held captive. There are fistfights, gunfights, animals attacks. Several people die. It's all told through the different characters, which I found a little awkward, but it's still a rip-roaring tale of intrigue and adventure.

     2. River of the Gods by Candace Millard (2022). One of my favorite history writers takes on the search for the Nile. She does a good job, especially in giving us a taste of the age of exploration in the 19th century. But the material lets her down a little as our hero, rebellious Englishman Richard Burton, is upstaged by second-in-command John Speke who stole the glory by reaching Nyanza, aka Lake Victoria, and connecting to the Nile. Only in the epilogue does Millard tell us what we've wondered all along: a British explorer in 2006 traced the actual source to Nyanza's largest feeder the Kagera River, now considered the most remote headwater of the Nile.

     1. Powers and Thrones by Dan Jones (2021) If you think you live in a brutal world now, take a look at the Middle Ages, from the fall of Rome in the 400s to the Black Death of the 1300s, and beyond to the conquering of the new worlds in the 1500s. This is a very readable, accessible account of a thousand years of history (as opposed to some of his other books which focus in great detail on specific eras). I'd recommend to all amateur historians.

                                        Honorable Mentions:

     Too many to ... uh, mention. There's Crossroads, Jonathan Franzen's latest novel from 2021. Vermeer's Hat by Timothy Brook, an interesting look at 17th century history. The Men Who United the States by one of my favorite history writers Simon Winchester. Bewilderment a 2021 "sciencey" novel by Richard Powers, The Current, an interesting Midwestern mystery by Tim Johnston, The Thin Light of Freedom by historian Edward L. Ayers about the end of the Civil War.

     One more thing. I asked for Michael Connelly's new book Desert Star for Christmas. That'll surely be on my best-of list for 2023!

Saturday, December 10, 2022

The Tooth of the Matter

      When I was younger, living in New York, I had a good dentist. He had a terrible bedside manner -- he was gruff, he scowled, he was almost scary-looking -- but he knew his stuff. He kept my teeth bright and shiny for 25 years.

     Then he retired.

     After that, I had trouble finding a decent dentist. I got one who messed up my root canal. Didn't go back to him. I tried another who charged a lot of money, but the cavity she filled fell apart in less than a year.

     After I left work I found a dental office that was "in network" of my new dental insurance (Delta Dental through AARP). I liked the dentist; she seemed both caring and competent. But she always seemed like she was bring rushed. I felt that the office was pushing her to treat as many patients as possible as fast as she possibly could.

     I finally got a good dentist, recommended by a neighbor. I googled him. He went to Columbia University dental school and was voted one of the "Hudson Valley's Top Dentists". That seemed like good credentials. He was not in my network, but he still ended up charging me the discounted insurance rate, which meant he was affordable. He took care of my teeth, filled a few cavities, made sure everything was clean and up-top-date. 

     And then I moved.

     When I landed in Pennsylvania I found a good dentist, right in my own town. He'd trained at the University of Pennsylvania dental school and was voted a Philadelphia Top Dentist. He had a great staff that gave me all kinds of tips about flossing (every day), mouthwash (with fluoride but without alcohol), brushing my teeth (always use a soft brush), and recommended the mini-picks which I still use almost every night, just to make sure those pearly whites are as clean as can be.

     And then this dentist retired!

     I tried the dental office that advertises at our local movie theater. Didn't like them. 

     Then a friend recommended a dentist a few miles away. "But worth the trip," she assured me. I googled him, and he too, had trained at the University of Pennsylvania and was voted a Philadelphia Top Dentist. One problem: He didn't take insurance. So he was expensive.

     He had all the latest computerized equipment; he took lots of x-rays; he was short with his staff, almost rude . . . making me think that he had exacting standards. He was confident, perhaps even overconfident. 

     But then one of my crowns fell out. He said he could put it back, and he did. But ever since, it's seemed a little crooked to me, and the gum above it sometimes feels chafed. Later, he replaced a different crown. It was never right. It hurt for a long time -- about a year before it finally settled down. And even today there must be something wrong with it. It catches food all the time. I have to floss after every meal.

     So now I have yet another dentist. She's shockingly young . . . at 28, almost a decade younger than my daughter. She went to Temple University dental school, graduating just two years ago. She's not on anyone's Top Dentist list.

     But on my first visit she seemed very caring, very thorough. She found one cavity. The tooth already had a large filling, so she said I needed a crown. I went back to her last week for the drilling, and she fitted me with a temporary crown. I'll get the permanent crown in a couple of weeks.

     I hope she knows what she's doing. Wish me luck.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

How to Live a Long Healthy Life

      Many of us say we don't care how long we live, only that we live well while we're around. But the two are intertwined. Those of us who are healthy and feel good are likely to live longer.

     So how do we stay healthy? I wish I had the answer. There probably isn't just one thing, but a package of habits and activities that, put together, help us get out of bed in the morning and keep us moving and living.

     Here are some ideas . . . and how I measure up. How do you measure up? More importantly, do you have any other suggestions? Because I'm always looking for suggestions about how to feel healthier and have a better attitude.


     1.  Get a good night sleep. Eight hours are recommended. Check . . . I'm a good sleeper.

     2.  Eat three healthy meals a day. I start eating breakfast about 7:30, and usually string it out until noon. Is that one meal or two? Then we have dinner around 6:30. Occasionally I have an afternoon snack that, um, sometimes involves potato chips.

     3.  Eat lots of fish, not too much meat. Check.

     4.  Don't eat too many carbs. Unfortunately, I live on carbs.

     5.  Exercise on a regular basis. I exercise on a non-regular basis. Should do more.

Can you touch your toes?

     6.  Drink plenty of water. I should drink more.

     7.  Don't smoke or drink too much alcohol. Haven't done that in years.

     8.  Have a positive attitude. Most of the time.

     9.  Have a good intimate relationship with another person. Yes.

    10.  Laugh a lot. No problem, I laugh at my own jokes!

    11.  Cultivate a few good friends. I don't have really good friends. I have several groups of casual friends.

    12.  Have a purpose in life. Sometimes I think I do; sometimes I wonder.

    13.  Have good genes. My mother lived to 89, my dad to 91. That's pretty good. But not as good as B. Her mother lived to 103.

    14.  Avoid negative, toxic people. But what if they're part of the family?

    15.  Get your regular medical check-ups. Yes, I do that . . . and, with all the vaccinations, have the sore arm to prove it.

     Now it's your turn. Any confessions? Any suggestions? Thanks!

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Are You Happy Where You Live?

      There are several lists of U. S. states where people are the happiest . . . and the unhappiest. According to one list, the most miserable people live in California and New Jersey. But another survey cites Alaska and Maine.

     Some of the happiest people live in states like Colorado, Wisconsin, Washington and Idaho. Everyone else, presumably, is normal -- not depressed but not euphoric either.

     Of course, this assumes that where we live can make us happy. Do you think it does?

     Surely, people who hate the cold shouldn't retire to Michigan or Minnesota. People who hate the heat should avoid Florida and Arizona. I wonder if these days another climate -- the political climate -- can make us happy or miserable. We do typically end up sorting ourselves into like-minded groups, don't we?

     I have several liberal friends who live in liberal New York. Residing among their fellow liberals may make them feel comfortable. But I don't know if that by itself makes them happy. But the reverse can be true. I have a liberal friend who moved to Florida. He lasted a couple of years, then moved back to New York. He got fed up with all the people who, in his opinion, were conservative, Trump-supporting cretins.

     I have a brother-in-law who is a religious conservative living in conservative central Pennsylvania. He seems very happy with his situation, with lots of friends through his church, his community, his family. He would be a fish out of water if he lived in a liberal mecca like Boston or Washington, DC.

     Of course, not all of us identify so closely as liberals or conservatives. Politics is not that important to everyone. I belong to a golf group. There are conservatives and liberals in the group and some independents as well. But it doesn't matter. Everyone is happy to be outside playing golf and joking around with friends instead of sitting at home alone watching TV or doing chores.

     But I'm thinking that there's a lot more to happiness than where we live or even who we hang out with . . . as outlined by my friend Jeremy Kisner in a post I did last year. It helps to be healthy, to have a circle of friends, to have something to do. Wealthier people are happier than poor people -- but only up to a point. I've read that even something as simple as owning a pet can make us happier. And it may not be a coincidence that the things making us happy can also help us live longer.

     I've also read that each of us has our happiness "set point." How happy we are depends more on how we look at things rather than what happens to us, or where we live. If something bad happens to a happy person -- even the loss of a spouse -- they grieve for a while, feel depressed, but eventually their happiness returns to their own natural level. Similarly, the curmudgeons among us might experience a burst of happiness if they win the lottery. But a year or two later? They're still curmudgeons.

     What makes me happy? Having a nice home, a beautiful spouse (both inside and out), some friends to hang out with, a few activities that I find interesting. I do sometimes wonder about the actual purpose of my retired life. Is it bringing me real satisfaction? Am I making a difference?

     I don't know. I used to have the same doubts when I was working, too. For the most part I enjoyed my job. I certainly liked getting paid. But was I really doing anything to improve the world?

     Maybe when we're retired we have a smaller world, bounded by family and neighbors and limited activities. But we can still make a difference to our community, and to the people we love.

     So who are the absolute happiest people? You can check out the list at Digg.com. But according to them, it's the people from Utah. I guess the clean-living Mormons have it all figured out. 

Saturday, November 19, 2022

I'm Giving Away My Fortune!

     I just found out that I have some surprisingly valuable art hanging on the walls of my house. I am also in possession of a remarkably prized collection of rare, antique shoes. But more on those in a minute.

     I live a modest lifestyle, but you should know that many of America's wealthiest people live fairly modest lifestyles as well. Investor Warren Buffett famously lives in a house in Omaha, NE, that he bought in 1958 for $31,500. Now it's worth a little over $1 million, but that's pocket change for someone worth more than $100 billion.

     I paid much more than $31,000 for my house. So I must be even wealthier than Warren Buffett, right? The fact that I drive an eight-year-old Subaru shouldn't fool you into thinking that I can't make a substantial charitable donation. And so today I am making a major announcement.

     I was inspired to make my pledge by the news last week that Jeff Bezos announced plans to give away most of his $124 billion fortune -- all except a few billion or so. So now, like Bezos, I am "establishing a framework to determine how to donate my wealth."

     Warren Buffett has founded an organization called The Giving Pledge. This is a campaign to encourage wealthy people to contribute a majority of their money to philanthropic causes. Bill Gates has signed onto this pledge. So have Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Carl Icahn and others. If they follow through, they will each be left with less than $50 billion. And some of the lesser lights, who aren't even worth $10 billion, may have to scrape by with only $1 billion or so!

     So I am now personally and publicly making the promise:  like Jeff Bezos and the others, before I die I will donate every single cent that I own above the level of $1 billion.

One of our priceless paintings
     Of course, I did not found a major internet company. So my fortune is a little less than $124 billion. Also, part of the Bezos fortune is supported by armies of Amazon workers, making $15 to $18 an hour, who contribute mightily to the Bezos bank account. I do not employ any minimum-wage workers who can fatten up my fortune.

     Also, I can't bolster my personal Fort Knox by firing thousands of employees in the name of "rightsizing," the way Zuckerberg and Musk are doing. And unlike some billionaires, I actually do pay my taxes. Every month the government grabs 10% tax, as well as the charge for Medicare, even before my Social Security benefit lands in the bank account.

     However, I do save a lot of money compared to Jeff Bezos and the others. For example, however Bezos avoids income tax, he does have to pay real-estate tax, property insurance and general upkeep on his 27,000-square-foot home in Washington, DC, as well as his 15-bedroom apartment in New York City and his $165 million mansion in L.A. 

     Meanwhile, I just pay for a Buffett-level home on a standard suburban street. Also, think how much I save by not own my own private jet. And just this past summer I saved $28 million by not buying a ticket for a 15-minute Bezos Blue Origin trip into space.

     Already I'm saving $100 million, making me $100 million richer than I otherwise would be.

     Also, I did inherit a substantial amount of money. When I was a kid my Aunt Alice gave me $2 for my birthday . . . every year! The dollars were slipped into an envelope, and when I saw George Washington's face peering out at me through the little hole, I felt like a million dollars . . . back when a million dollars meant something. If I had only held onto that money and invested it in Amazon stock when it went public in 1997, or Apple when it . . . no, no, we won't go there.

At $218,000 per pair they add up
     I am not at liberty to reveal how large my fortune is. However, just last week I not only started "establishing a framework to determine how to donate my wealth," but I began executing the plan. I sent one check to our local food bank for $25, and another for the school clothing drive. 

     Maybe that doesn't sound like much. But, for me, it takes a bite out of my account. And there's more to come, since it's just the start of the giving season. Meanwhile, I wonder what causes you support.

     But back to that art. Just last week a Cezanne was auctioned for $138 million. A Seurat went for $149 million. Look at that painting. I've got lots just like it. Just think how much I'll get for my collection!

     Also last week, one pair of Steve Jobs' Birkenstock sandals sold for $218,000. Well, B has a closet full of old shoes . . . not to mention the boots and sneakers in the back of the garage. What'd'ya think we'll get for them? The Giving Pledge . . . get ready. It's all going to charity. Thank you very much!

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Games People Play

      I just finished doing today's Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle. Later, I'll do the New York Times crossword. I do it online. I started doing crossword puzzles during Covid as a way to pass the time. But somehow I've become addicted, and I've continued doing them pretty much every day, long after our lives have returned to some semblance of normal.

     My wife turned to jigsaw puzzles during Covid. She started with a few 500-piece puzzles, then graduated to 1000-piece puzzles. When she completed one it sat on the dining room table for a few weeks to show off her accomplishment. However, unlike me, once Covid was over she stopped doing the puzzles. She had better things to do.

     She also spent more time playing the piano during Covid. I think she regrets not having used more of the extra time Covid gave her to really improve her piano skills -- to accomplish something constructive during Covid. However, now she's been going out more, spending less time at home and less time at the piano as well.

     I wonder what games people started to play during Covid -- and if they're still playing them or if they've stopped. I also wonder how much people have returned to pre-Covid normal. Do you do all the things you were doing in 2019?

     The other weekend, my wife hosted a party. She and a group of neighbors -- eight women altogether -- drank wine, ate pie, and played Apples to Apples, a game where people draw cards and a judge decides who has the best match. It's a perfect party game that produces lots of laughter -- I know because I was upstairs in my office and had to put on headphones to hear the Netflix program I was watching.

     We'd played Apples to Apples a few times in the past. But never during Covid. Now people are comfortable gathering indoors, without masks, to laugh and have a good time. At least the weather was warm, so B could keep the windows open.

     I wonder what else people have been doing post-Covid -- or have not been doing. B and I like to dance. When we moved in 2017, we joined a local dance club that held social dances once a month at our community center. The club closed down during Covid. Now it's back holding Saturday night dances. But we have not been going. The thought of spending two or three hours on a dance floor crowded with unmasked people -- that just seems a bridge too far.

     I did go back to my table tennis club for a while, when Covid numbers were very low in our area. But I stopped when the numbers went back up. I've been thinking of going back again. But every time I think of sharing a room with 20 - 25 people who are running around and sweating and breathing heavily, I decide . . . well, maybe later.

     We have done some traveling -- mostly by car, not by train or bus or airplane. I am playing golf, because it's all outside. We've been to the movies a couple of times -- the theater has not been crowded at all. We have been going out to restaurants because it's been warm enough to sit outside.

     I'm not sure what we'll do now that the weather is getting colder. I don't mind popping into a store or the post office for a couple of minutes without a mask. I get my haircut. Can't wear a mask when you're getting your hair cut. But I'm just not sure I'd enjoy myself inside at a restaurant, sitting there for an hour or more, breathing in air recirculated through dozens of other people's respiratory tracts.

     Many people are more casual about Covid than I am. They think: heck, we're vaccinated, there are treatments now, it's no worse than getting a cold -- and besides cases are way down, we probably won't get it anyway.

     For us, Covid is over. But it's not over. Anyway . . . I'd better get to that New York Times crossword puzzle.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Oh Man, I Don't Feel So Well

     Yesterday I got my second shingles shot. And today I don't feel very good.

     The same thing happened after my first shot, back in May. I didn't get a cough or a sore throat; didn't have a headache. Well, maybe today I have a little headache. I also have a low-grade temperature. But mostly I just feel tired. I slept in this morning until 8:30, got up for a while, thought I was okay, then found myself flopping onto the couch and napping from 9:45 to 10:30. Now I'm awake again. Had a bite to eat. Feeling a bit better.

     Last May. the symptoms lasted throughout the day. Then the next day, I was fine.

     For those of you who don't know, the shingles vaccine is yet another shot, recommended for people over age 50. I got the original shingles shot back in 2015. That was the old vaccine called Zostavax, which was used in the early 2000s, up until 2020. It required just one dose.

     The new shingles vaccine, called Shingrix, requires two doses, given a few months apart. Presumably it is more effective; plus, the preventative effects of that original vaccine do wear off over time. So we should get the two Shingrix shots even if we've previously gotten the Zostavax vaccine.

     I don't know if any of you have gotten shingles. But it's a nasty disease that comes from reactivated chicken pox.
  
     My dad got it the last year of his life in 2001-2002. He suffered a painful red rash up and down his abdomen, with blisters that broke open and leaked puss. He described it as a severe burning sensation. It never went away. He suffered with it until the end.

     My brother-in-law has shingles now. He was going to get the vaccine, but he put it off, didn't get around to it, and then he got shingles on his face. This was about two years ago, and it still plagues him, even affecting the vision in one eye. He's gotten some treatments, which he says have alleviated the pain to some extent, but it still hurts enough to sometimes keep him up at night.

     So the Shingrix vaccine is another shot to add to your regimen. It's a pain, I know, getting all these jabs. But it's better than the alternative.

     This fall I already got the regular flu shot, on Oct. 24. Now I'm scheduled to get the Covid vaccine booster in a couple of weeks. I got the last one at the beginning of June. I think we're supposed to wait six months until the next booster. But meantime, I got Covid itself at the beginning of September -- and I credit the vaccine for keeping it to a mild case. 

     Now I'm supposed to wait two months after Covid to get the vaccine. So the timing works out. I want to get the booster before the holidays when, undoubtedly, I'll be more at risk for exposure.

     I have a friend in my golf group who's an anti-vaccer. The Covid vaccine wasn't thoroughly tested, he says. It doesn't work anyway. You still get Covid. The vaccine can cause heart problems. It's all a scam by the drug companies to make more money.

     Look, I know there are no guarantees. But I took statistics in college. Perhaps more to the point, I play poker. I know a little bit about odds. I bet when the numbers are in my favor, and I'm betting on the vaccines -- even if my arm does look like a pin cushion.

     Now . . . I think it's time for another nap!

Saturday, October 29, 2022

How Did We Get Here?

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

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

     In her book If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future, Lepore chronicles the rise of this early computer-based organization that pioneered the process of information collection. The company sliced and diced the data, and sold it all to businesses and governments in an effort to predict behavior, manipulate minds, sell products, win votes.

     According to Lepore, politicians starting with Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon have used computerized research to select and distort information, and then craft messages to win the votes of specific audiences -- unions, suburbanites, students, African Americans, Latinos, women, men.

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

     Meanwhile, news organizations and university professors began to question the very notion of objective facts. New Journalists in the 1970s began to argue that everything is relative. Everyone's view of the world is colored by their own experience. There is no Truth. There is only your opinion.

     As time went on, mass media carved the audience into thinner and thinner slices, tailoring their content to the interests of very specific groups. General interest magazines like Life and Look went out of business, replaced by specialized "lifestyle" publications. Then along came cable TV, again slicing up the audience to special interest groups. Gone were Ed Sullivan and Carol Burnett, replaced by the food network, the history channel, the shopping network, a dozen different sports channels -- and the left-wing and right-wing news channels.

     The internet and social media have only made it worse. Organizations collect data, identify our interests, exploit our biases and enlist our sympathies -- all to sell us products or win our votes. It's a system, according to Lepore, that "manipulates opinion, exploits attention, divides voters, fractures communities, alienates individuals and undermines democracy."

     Not all Big Data is bad. Computer-aided analysis helps build better buildings, safer cars, more effective medicines. It has opened up the mysteries of space, and can help us meet the challenge of climate change. 

     The problem is that we humans have a natural tendency to seek out information that confirms our pre-existing convictions, and we ignore or discredit information that runs counter to them. Or, as singer Paul Simon recognized many years ago, we all "hear what we want to hear and disregard the rest."

     So what does this have to do with retirement, with older people? Well, we're supposed to have perspective, and pass on our wisdom. We should know that modern marketing, polarized politics and mean-spirited media all benefit by exploiting us and splitting us apart.

     Younger people are less experienced, more credulous. We should remind each other, and tell our children:  Don't allow yourselves to be "managed" into micro-markets just so corporations can sell more products or politicians can focus-group us into gender/race/class divisions to make us easier to manipulate and control.

     We should not let market researchers and political operatives tell us what to think or do. But it takes a conscious effort to resist these divisive forces. We can greet messages with a skeptical eye -- especially those from "our own side" -- and we can check facts. (Take a look at Bob Lowry's excellent post at My Satisfying Retirement for some links to fact-checking sites.) 

    All knowledge is not biased. There are facts that are true beyond our own narrow views of the world. Or as Shakespeare said long ago: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Sunday, October 23, 2022

My Useless Skills and Knowledge

      Admittedly, our children and grandchildren know more about technology than we do. They can play enormously sophisticated video games. They know how to Snapchat and TikTok, they can upload photos on iCloud and text using their watch. They can pay for a purchase in the store just . . . just by thinking about it.

     But there are plenty of things I can do that they can't. And plenty of things I know that they don't. They're not smarter than I am. My skills are more like fine wines . . . they've been aged and matured and are only appreciated by the, uh, the cognoscenti. 

     For example . . .

     I know how to iron.

     I remember my telephone number when I was a kid:  PE8-3840, no area code needed. My kids don't know anyone's telephone number. All they know is how to tap in a name.

     I can balance my checkbook.

     I don't know a Mocha from a Macchiato or a Costa Rica Naranjo from a Sumatra Clover. But I do know how to make instant coffee.

     I know how to write cursive . . . and I know what cursive means!

     My kids might be able to name the band members of Glass Animals or Chubby and the Gang. But I know the names of The Mamas and Papas. And the first names of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

     I can identify where Quemoy and Matsu are located on the map.

     I can drive a stick shift.

     I can fold a newspaper in half, and then halves again, so it doesn't hit your seatmate in the face on the bus or commuter train. 

     I know how to play Scrabble (but not Wordle).

     I can read a map.

     I know what Mercurachrome is . . . and still have some in the bathroom medicine cabinet.

     Okay. Your turn. What useless skill -- or useless knowledge -- can you brag about?

Sunday, October 16, 2022

We Got a Raise!

      The news this week for us seniors:  It was just announced that Social Security benefits for next year will increase by 8.7%. That comes after a 5.9% increase for 2022. The average monthly benefit for a retired worker currently stands at $1,660. So the average retiree will get an increase of a little over $140, to about $1,800 per month.

     That's pretty good when you consider that, according to The Conference Board, a nonprofit business think tank, the average U. S. salary increased by only 4.1% in 2022, and is expected to rise 4.3% in 2023.

     That's the good news for seniors. But there's always a catch, isn't there? For one, the bump-up in benefits could affect people who receive low-income subsidies for health care, meaning reduced amounts of assistance. The increase could also lead to cutbacks in income-related benefits such as SNAP and low-income rental assistance. By one estimate, about 40% of those receiving low-income benefits will see some reduction in at least one assistance program. 

     Others could see their incomes increase to the point where they have to pay income tax on their benefits. It gets complicated, but the basics are:  as an individual, if your income is above $25,000 a year -- or $32,000 for a joint return -- you are liable for federal tax on a portion of your income. If your individual income is above $34,000, or joint income above $44,000, then 85% of your benefits are subject to tax.

     Unfortunately, these thresholds were established in 1986 and never adjusted for inflation. So in 1986 some 15% of beneficiaries paid income tax on their benefits; today 56% of Social Security recipients owe taxes on their benefits.

     Then there are Medicare premiums. Those increases have not been announced yet. They went up by 14.5% for this year. There's some talk they will not go up at all for next year, or could even go down, due to the large increase last year. But who knows at this point. 

     In addition, a jump in Social Security benefits could push your income up to the point where you'll have to pay a surcharge for Parts B and D of Medicare. Currently, the level that triggers the extra charge is $97,000 for an individual, and $194,000 for joint filers.

     Still and all, we're glad to see an increase in benefits, even if our "take-home pay" is less than our gross pay. But there is one other bugaboo. The 8.7% increase to current and future retirees means more money is flowing out of the system. That in turn could mean Social Security reserves will run out of money sooner than 2034, which is the current estimate.

     Currently, about 90% of benefits are paid out of payroll taxes. The rest comes from the infamous "lockbox" of the Social Security trust fund. If the economy goes into recession, as many are expecting, higher unemployment will mean a drop in funding from payroll taxes.

     But no one knows for sure. Even if some jobs are lost, if wages rise next year, that will mean more payroll tax is collected. And also, the maximum amount of earnings subject to payroll tax will increase next year from $147,000 to $160,200 -- another source of more funds for Social Security.

     Social Security is a great program, keeping many seniors out of poverty, and bolstering the incomes of many others, allowing us retirees to hang onto our middle class standard of living. But there are no guarantees. For every push there's a pull. We manage as best we can.  

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Words of Wisdom

     I don't know about you, but I sometimes wonder what getting old is all about. The whole notion seems strange to me. Why do I find myself taking a nap in the afternoon? Those little bumps and bruises that show up on my body -- where do they come from? Why don't people speak a little louder . . . and maybe talk a little more slowly? And most of all: who is that stranger staring back at me from the mirror?

     When I'm confused about life, or questioning what's happening to the world, I usually go back to the writers and philosophers who guided me earlier in life. So here are a few quotes about aging from people smarter than I am. Some of them are funny, some inspirational, some comforting. And . . . maybe you have a favorite quote of your own?

     "The older we get the fewer things seem worth waiting in line for."  -- Will Rogers 

     "To get back to my youth I would do anything in the world except exercise, get up early, or be respectable."  -- Oscar Wilde

     "Old age is like a plane flying through a storm. Once you are aboard there is nothing you can do about it."  -- Golda Meir

     "The older I get, the more clearly I remember things that never happened."  -- Mark Twain

     "Always be nice to your children, because they are the ones who will choose your retirement home."  -- Phyllis Diller

     "Getting old is like climbing a mountain. You get a little out of breath, but the view is much better!"  -- Ingrid Bergman

     "You can live to be a hundred, if you give up all things that make you want to live to be a hundred."  -- Woody Allen

   "It's paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn't appeal to anyone."  -- Andy Rooney

     "The older I get, the better I used to be."  -- Lee Travino

     "I was thinking about how people seem to read the Bible a lot more as they get older, and then it dawned on me -- they're cramming for their final exam."  -- George Carlin

     "I don't feel old. I don't feel anything until noon. Then it's time for my nap."  -- Bob Hope

     "I have reached an age when, if someone tells me to wear socks, I don't have to."  --  Albert Einstein

     "When your friends begin to flatter you on how young you look, it's a sure sign you're getting old."  -- Mark Twain

     "The idea is to die young as late as possible."  -- Ashley Montagu

     "You don't stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing." -- George Bernard Shaw

Saturday, October 1, 2022

The Accident

     We just returned from what was going to be a 12-day vacation to the beach in South Carolina. We came home a day early, chased out by Hurricane Ian. We found out later, in Charleston, there was plenty of street flooding and some wind damage, but nothing catastrophic like there was in Florida.

     The way home for us is straight up I95. It's one of the most heavily traveled roads in America, and we expected heavy traffic, especially since we thought we'd run into people fleeing Florida. In fact, the traffic wasn't that bad -- until we got to Washington, DC, where traffic is always bad. There we had to dodge the speeders and tailgaters who seemed more aggressive the farther north we went. (I'd vote for increasing funds for police to patrol our highways.)

     But despite this build-up, my accident was not on the highway.

     When we go to the beach we rent bicycles. The roads are straight and flat, and as long as you're at least two or three blocks out of town, traffic is minimal. So it's pleasant to ride along looking at the beach houses, the gardens, the quirky lawn displays, the intricately designed rock walls.

     I also like to go down to the beach at low tide and ride along the hard sand. The beaches aren't too crowded -- no worries about running into people, as long as you pay attention -- and the bikes we rent have relatively thick tires, so it's easy going. 

     I like to watch the waves come in, and at low tide I can ride around the seaward end of the rock breakwaters. Or at least I thought I could.

The offending breakwater
     One day I took to the beach. The tide was going out. A few of the breakwaters were still being lapped by the waves, but I saw one that was dry, or almost dry. So I headed down to the water, rolled through two or three inches of water, then ... bam! I was head over heels into the ocean!

     What I didn't realize was that as the tide flows out it makes a depression at the end of the breakwater, creating a little sinkhole. Right there, the water was three feet deep.

     My bike was mostly underwater. I stood up and found myself waist deep. I had on a bicycle helmet -- but I didn't hit my head against the rocks anyway. I did jam my thigh into the bike as I fell. I saw my hat, which had been in the bike basket, floating in the undertow. I grabbed it.

     Several people came and asked if I was alright. I thanked them, saying the only thing hurt was my pride. Then .... wait! Where was my phone? I looked down. Was it churning in the sand three feet below me?

     I felt in my pocket. There it was! Luckily, I'd slipped the phone into the pocket of my shorts instead of throwing it into the basket. But it got pretty wet. Would it survive the mishap?

     After I righted the bike and collected myself, I continued on my ride -- even riding down below a few of the other breakwaters. But then I thought I'd better cut things short, go home, and see about my cellphone.

     I got back to the beach house, went into the kitchen, and dried it off. Then I googled how to save your phone if it's been dunked in salt water. I found several videos. Most of them advised taking apart the phone and cleaning specific elements. I wasn't going to do that. One video suggested placing the phone in rice. The rice would draw out the water. But there was no rice at the beach house.

     So I just wiped off the phone. I tried it out, and it seemed to work. I took off the protective case and washed that in soap and water, then ran a damp cloth over the phone to try to wipe off any salt.

The damage
     Today, almost a week later, my cellphone still works. Kudos to Apple ... and to the protective case that seemingly prevented it from getting too wet. 

     So all that was wounded was my pride. Well, I did lose the bike lock that was in my basket and fell to the bottom of the ocean. The rental place charged me $27 for that. And I did suffer a nasty bruise on my leg. It looks pretty ugly. But really, it never hurt all that much.

     What's the moral of my story? People ... be careful out there. Watch where you're going. Act your age. And don't be stupid!

Friday, September 23, 2022

Close Call at the Beach

      This time of year my wife B and I often take a trip to Cape Cod. We love it there -- the seafood restaurants, the lobsters and clam chowder, the quaint towns along the shore, even the broad New England accents.

      One problem: fall comes early to Massachusetts. The days are brisk; the nights are chilly; the Atlantic waters . . . well, the north Atlantic waters never get very warm. New Englanders think 68-degree water is warm.

     So instead, this year we decided to head to South Carolina. Of course we have grandchildren there. We usually spend February in Charleston for that very reason. But now we decided: let's go when it's still warm out, when we can go to the beach and actually swim in the water. I looked it up. The surf temperature in September hovers around 80 degrees.

     So we booked ten days at the end of September. It was only after we made the booking -- non-refundable of course -- that we realized September is the height of the hurricane season. And thanks at least in part to global warming, hurricanes are getting more and more violent.

     I spent all of August and early September glued to the hurricane forecasts. Thankfully, this season has brought a relatively quiet hurricane season in the Atlantic.

     So we got here and checked into our airbnb one block off the beach. The very first day found us down on the sand, basking in the sun and frolicking in the waves. The water was beautiful!

     Then we heard about Fiona, lashing Puerto Rico and headed . . . our way? No, we were lucky. It was turning east, toward Bermuda, and then up north to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. 

     But we were warned that the hurricane would affect our coastline, sending 6 and 7 foot waves crashing onto the shore and bringing dangerous rip currents to the beaches. 

     By Wednesday the surf seemed rougher than normal. Small craft warnings went up. On Thursday and Friday we had bright sunny skies, temperatures in 70s and 80s, but those big, powerful waves came rolling in. They were big enough that they broke well before they got to shore -- sometimes gathering up again into smaller but still powerful waves and breaking again onto the sand. The undertow was strong enough to knock us off our feet if we weren't prepared.

     The surfers were still out. But we stayed close to shore, not challenging the waves, but content to dip into the swells as they tumbled over us and washed up to the beach.

     I feel bad for the Puerto Ricans, still recovering from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria in 2017, who bore the brunt of this hurricane. Puerto Rico lost power, suffered from devastating floods and significant wind damage. But we here on the East Coast have been spared.

      Now I hear that there's a tropical depression forming in the Caribbean. It could be named a hurricane in a few days and possibly track up through Florida and the East Coast.

     We're scheduled to be in South Carolina until Friday, Sept. 30. I hope we stay lucky.

     Here's what the breakers looked like from our beach on Friday afternoon (taken with my phone) . . . 


Friday, September 16, 2022

The Things They Don't Want

      I have a beautiful old clock sitting in the garage. I bought it for $200 back in 1973. Last time I had it fixed, a few years ago, the guy told me, "This is a museum piece!" He said it was worth thousands. But my wife won't even let it in the house. And leave it to my kids? Hah. There's a joke. They think it's an old piece of junk.

     My wife has an old icebox. It's a beautiful piece of furniture, made of oak, and it weighs a ton. Somebody ought to prize this piece of furniture, too. But no one does, except us. 

My antique clock
      We have a friend who recently downsized from their huge old farmhouse into an 1800-square-foot, one-story house. Their old barn -- now owned by their son -- is full of their discarded furniture. The son doesn't want any of it. He wants the barn cleared out so he can use the space for his equipment. None of their other kids wants it either. So they are agonizing over what to do with the stuff. Sell it? Give it away? A lot of it will undoubtedly end up in the junk yard.

     It's a shame, but there's a lot of stuff our kids don't want.

     And it's not just our old furniture. There was a news item last week in our local paper. Marvin Frederick, 81, has spent a lifetime running his butcher shop in a local farmers market. He wants to retire. He has two grown sons, but neither one wants to take over the shop. And the man can't sell the shop either. He's asking $850,000 for the business, which includes all equipment, recipes, his customer list -- and he's willing to provide one month free training. But so far, no takers. "It's hard work," he admits. "You've got to be someone who isn't afraid to work."

     The kids don't want your business, they don't want your precious antiques, they probably don't even want your property. The house -- especially if it's a second home -- can cause all kinds of headaches, especially if there are a lot of expenses and maintenance issues involved. Arguments and hurt feelings could cause serious divisions if the property is being split among several family members. Time-shares just compound the problem since getting out of a time-share can be difficult and time consuming.

     The only lesson to be learned, I think, is that we should use our things, and not worry about "saving them for the kids." So don't worry if a piece of precious furniture gets scratched, or if you break a cup or saucer and no longer have a full set of dishes. You're enjoying these things, appreciating them for what they are and what pleasure they bring to your life. Then, if the kids don't want those things, at least you've enjoyed them -- which is the reason you acquired them in the first place.

     Leaving our children an inheritance can be a blessing -- something they will continue to cherish in the future as we have in the past. But that's only if they truly want it. Do we really think our kids want our old boat, or an antique car, or the china set we inherited from Aunt Alice? And for goodness sake, do not leave them a storage unit full of old furniture, clothes and sports equipment. 

My coin collection
     Our kids will surely not object to inheriting money. But even an IRA or 401K can cause difficulties. These assets aren't necessarily easy to transfer. The rules are complicated, and there may be emotional issues involved. If it's a substantial amount of money, it's worth the effort; but otherwise it may cause nothing but trouble.

     The best thing to leave our heirs is cash, or financial assets that are as close to cash as possible -- publicly traded stocks or bonds, CDs or bank accounts. Or, go ahead and make an exception for the storage locker . . . but only if that old piece of furniture is stuffed with hundred-dollar bills.

     So, I don't know. Do you think my kids will want my old coin collection that's been shoved into the closet in the guest room? After all, it is cash!

Saturday, September 10, 2022

What Happens After Covid

      My wife B started feeling bad a week ago Wednesday. She decided she'd better test for Covid. And sure enough, she was positive.

     The next day I felt a tickle in my throat, and some sniffles. I figured I'd better test as well. Also positive.

     B is about as healthy as anyone can get. Her mother lived to age 103 -- and B expects to do the same. She has the luxury of not believing in doctors, and rarely darkens the door of a medical office. She gets a checkup about half as often as she should, and when her blood tests come back she clearly qualifies for the honor roll.

     But this disease soon had her lying in bed, sleeping most of the time.

     I am more fragile. So right away I called my doctor's office. They arranged a personal exam by Facetime.

     I was amused when the doctor appeared on screen with a mask on. Was I that contagious, so contagious he could catch it over the airwaves? No, my guess is he just wears a mask all day, doesn't bother to take it off.

     Anyway, given my age and gender, he prescribed an antiviral for me -- "to be on the safe side." I got curbside pickup at CVS and took my first dose:  four capsules of a drug called Milnupiravir. Otherwise, the doctor told me to just take it easy, don't go out in public, and call him if it gets worse.

      Meanwhile, I prevailed upon B to call her doctor, which she finally did. She's younger, and much more female than I am, so her risk profile is lower. The doctor told her only to take some extra vitamins, especially vitamin D and C. So that's what she's been doing.

     B spent two days in bed, sleeping most of the time. I didn't feel that bad (perhaps because of the antiviral?). I had a stuffed up nose, a hacking cough, and did feel kind of tired. I didn't stay in bed all day, but I was taking a nap in the afternoon -- something I don't normally do. So for the past ten days I've spent most of my time lying on the couch, sometimes reading a book, sometimes watching the U. S. Open.

     Now my course of antivirals is over and done with. We're both feeling better; but also, we both still have lingering symptoms. A cough, the sniffles. And as hard as we try, we can't get through the whole day without taking a nap.

     Yesterday a friend of ours dropped off dinner for us. He left it at the door. I went out when he was back to the driveway and said thank you. We talked for a minute, and he mentioned that his daughter got Covid last spring. She had pretty much the same cold-like symptoms that we have. And yes, she'd felt the lingering fatigue. "It dragged on for about a month," he said. "She just kept feeling tired. But then one morning she woke up, and it was gone. Just like that."

     Today, we were feeling pretty good, so we tested again to see if we might be clear. Nope. We still tested positive.

     I trust that one morning we'll wake up, and it'll be gone. I hope it doesn't take a month.

Friday, September 2, 2022

Be Careful Out There

     I was feeling a little funky, but last I night managed to get through writing a new blog post. Then came the kicker. First, here's the post:


     I saw a report last week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that in 2021 life expectancy decreased for the second consecutive year. The decline is the largest two-year drop in nearly a hundred years (think World War I followed by the flu epidemic). It brings U. S. life expectancy at birth to 76.1 years, down from 77.3 in 2020 and 78.8 in 2019. 

     Native Americans suffered the worst fall in life-expectancy, almost two years since 2020 and an alarming six and a half years since 2019. White Americans saw a drop of one year since 2020. African Americans saw a decline of seven months, and Asian Americans a dip of just one month. Men have suffered a one-year drop from 2019, women about a seven-month drop.

     The Covid-19 pandemic is the main cause of the decline. However, increases in the number of people dying from drug overdoses and accidents also proved to be a significant factor.

     By way of background, life expectancy in the U. S. (as in most Western countries) improved considerably in the late 20th century due to a decrease in smoking and associated diseases, advances in medicine, improvements in auto safety and a reduction in violent crime. The progress plateaued around 2010, before turning down in 2020.

     With that in mind, please note that last week a new vaccine designed to combat the latest Omicron subvariant of the Coronavirus was approved by the government. The USDA says updated booster shots could be out to the public "within a few days."

    The new shots will be available to anyone who already had their primary vaccinations at least two months before receiving the booster dose. (See FDA News for the full report). You should be able to get the shot through pharmacies such as CVS and Rite Aid as well as many health-care providers.


     Then, as I was finishing my post, what happened? My wife called out from the bedroom, "I just tested positive for Covid," she said. I went on to take my own test. Also positive.

     It took two and a half years. We've been very careful -- well, maybe not quite as careful this summer as we had been -- but we finally got it.

     My wife and I are both vaccinated and boosted, but obviously haven't gotten the new vaccination. So far it just feels like a bad cold. Wish us luck.

     Be safe. Be well. And have a happy Labor Day weekend!

Saturday, August 27, 2022

It's That Time of Year Again

     I have a friend who watches every single game of the NY Mets. I guess that's one way to spend your retirement.

     But I am not much of a sports fan. I don't watch baseball or hockey or basketball. I never watched much football, either, until we moved to the Philadelphia area the year the Eagles won the Super Bowl. However, since then the Eagles have faded, and so my interest in football has faded as well.

     But one sport I like to watch is tennis -- at least the majors. The U. S. Open starts next week. This past week brought us the qualifying matches, which give 128 young, lower ranked players a chance to get into the tournament. If a player wins three qualifying matches he or she will earn a place in the main draw.

     This is the first year the qualifying rounds have been open to the public since before Covid, in 2019. So I arranged to meet up with my son -- a former college tennis player who lives in Brooklyn -- to catch the action on Thursday. We like to go to the qualifiers, even though we don't see the big names, because it's free (instead of costing hundreds of dollars), and it's not crowded so we can sit right up close to the court (instead of 20 or 30 rows back).

Fans file in and out past banners of past champions

     So I drove over to Hamilton, NJ, took New Jersey transit to Penn Station, then the Long Island railroad to the stadium. I left home at 8 a.m. and arrived just before 11, in time to rendezvous with my son and see the matches start.

     We saw a young American amateur Ethan Quinn (Ranked 506), a freshman at the University of Georgia, lose to a more seasoned player from Argentina. American Zach Svajda (Ranked 306), lost to a Swiss. But American Brandon Holt (Ranked 296) upset a higher-ranked player from Ecuador. And we saw Chris Eubanks (Ranked 147) beat a pro from France.

Holt hammers a serve

     Both Holt and Eubanks went on to win their matches on Friday. So both of these young men will be playing in the main tournament, which starts on Monday and continues to the finals -- the women's final on Sept. 10 and the men's on Sunday, Sept. 11. 

     You probably won't see Holt or Eubanks in the finals. More likely it will be Rafael Nadal, defending champ Daniil Medvedev or possibly the young Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas who we saw play as a 21-year-old qualifier when we went to the Open in 2019.

Banks ready to return

     The women's finals might feature Serena Williams -- she has announced her retirement and this is the last major tournament for her -- or more likely defending champ Emma Raducanu from England or Iga Swiatek from Poland, or possibly American Coco Gauff.

     Just in case you want to know about those other sports . . . current betting gives the Eagles a pretty good chance of getting to the playoffs -- better odds than the Saints or the Seahawks, not as good as defending champs LA Rams or the current favorites the Buffalo Bills.

I also like watching the planes come into LaGuardia airport

     And as for the baseball World Series at the end of October? The LA Dodgers are favored -- with the Yankees, the Houston Astros and the NY Mets (yes, the Mets who are in first place!) given a decent chance. I'll have to put that on my calendar because honestly, otherwise I'd probably forget.  And I promise -- that's all the sports you'll get from me.