"To be too certain of anything is the beginning of bigotry." -- Novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Keeping Up with the ... Kardashians?

      We used to keep up with the Joneses. Oh, we said we didn't. But when we saw a new Mustang in our neighbor's driveway, we started thinking, maybe we could get one too. Or our friends were talking about their trip to Europe, and suddenly we wondered if we owed it to ourselves to make the trip. After all, it wasn't just a vacation, it was a learning experience!

     But nobody keeps up with the Joneses anymore. Now there's Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok and all the other social media. So today people keep up with the Kardashians.

     The result is just the same, or worse. We go into debt, we don't appreciate our purchases, we feel guilty . . . we feel worse for the experience. Or, if we can't afford to do what they're doing, we're jealous, or we resent it.

     Come on. Be honest. Haven't you ever seen a friend's post on Facebook or Instagram and they're sipping a drink on some tropical beach with a fancy hotel in the background? And you thought to yourself: Gee, if she can spend a week in Belize, why can't I?

Good times
     If that's not true, then why do we scroll through social media and see so many of our friends on vacation basking on the beach or sipping exotic cocktails? Why do we see so many people riding on the lake in their new boat? Or there's a picture of their new deck and backyard. Or they're going to a concert, attending a football game, riding their new electric bike.

     There's even a name for it:  revenge tourism, or revenge spending. The term captures the notion that we were deprived by Covid for a year or two, so dammit, we're going to make up for lost time right now, no matter the cost, no matter how it stretches our credit card bill or depletes our IRA account. Who knows what crisis lies beyond the next bend? We'd better grab our experience now while we can. As the saying goes, you only live once . . . or YOLO.

     Everything's gotten more expensive. But we're willing to do it anyway. And we seniors have yet another excuse. We're not getting any younger. Maybe we won't be healthy enough to travel in a few years. So we better do it -- and do it now!

     As for me, I drove through town the other day and noticed that every restaurant was full, people sitting at outdoor tables under the umbrellas. People were waiting for tables, spilling out onto the sidewalk. They all looked like they were having so much fun. I wanted to go out to dinner too!

     So perhaps we're not keeping up with the Joneses, or even the Kardashians. We're keeping up with our friends and acquaintances and people we hardly know.

     Meanwhile, my brother-in-law just posted on Facebook a photo of himself in Paris. A friend posted a picture of her new patio furniture on Instagram. Are they posting because they want me to share their enjoyment of that experience . . . or because they want me to be impressed? As much as I try to resist it, I'm feeling the fear of missing out, or FOMO. It looks to me like I'm sitting at home in front of my computer while they're active and alive and enjoying life to the fullest.

     Social media provides us with a lot of free entertainment. But I wonder if in the end it's costing us a lot.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Relocating in Retirement: A Checklist

     Some friends of ours recently came to visit us from our old hometown in New York. They recently retired (in part because of Covid). He was a lawyer, she worked for a construction company -- and they're now thinking about relocating to live out their retirement years.

     They're considering moving to our part of Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia, for many of the same reasons we moved here:  lower taxes and cost-of-living than New York or New Jersey, but still in the familiar territory of the Northeast, with like-minded people, and close enough to occasionally drive "home" to see old friends. There are also plenty of cultural opportunities, a temperate climate, and we're near highways and a major airport so we can travel when we want to. 

     But our friends have other ideas too. They're considering Florida where one of their neighbors moved a few years ago. They're thinking about the Carolinas because they've heard good things about that part of the world. They're considering Colorado since they have a son living in Denver.

     Anyway, they were looking to us for advice. And so we came up with a kind of checklist for things to consider when scouting out a place to relocate after you retire. This is our checklist. Maybe you have some other items to suggest, items we may have missed.

     Cost of living. This one's obvious, especially if you come from a high-cost state like New York or California. Check the tax situation. Does the state tax Social Security, pensions, IRA or 401K distributions? Check out cost of housing, including real-estate taxes. Take a look at what gas prices are. And consider if there are additional expenses that go along with a new location -- travel, for example, if you'll need money to go see far-flung friends or family.

     Children and grandchildren. Some people move to be near their kids and grandkids. But this is a tricky situation, because your kids might be moving themselves for a new job or some other reason. Our friends don't have grandchildren yet. Still, they're considering Denver. But their son is in his late 20s. How long before he moves for a new job or a new girlfriend?

     Access to medical care. Is there a hospital nearby? A good medical practice that is available to you through your health insurance? Also ask around for a good dentist.

     Know the community. If you're a coastal liberal will you be happy living in the conservative South? If you're used to city living, will you really be happy in the country? Maybe you're thinking, oh, the winters in Maine, or the summers in Florida, I can handle them. But you ought to try it out before you make a permanent move. I know people who moved to Florida, only to move back north because they could not abide the summers. I know one couple that did the opposite. They retired to upstate New York, near Lake Champlain, then moved to Sarasota, Florida, after experiencing one long, cold winter.

     Rent or buy? Do you want the responsibility of homeownership, or the convenience of renting ... but then also the worry about rising rents? No matter where you move, don't neglect to consider how you're going to live there as you get older. Will you be able to handle steps? Are there easily accessible bathrooms, easy-to-open doors, plenty of lighting? Would you consider a 55+ community?

     How will you make friends? There's a reason why many people retire to a place where they have family or friends. You know someone right away; and they often provide an entree into a social circle. But beyond that, are there opportunities to find interesting people and make new friends?

     Extracurricular activities. If you like biking, make sure there are biking trails. If you're a fisherman check out the local waterways. If you're a culture vulture, check to see if there are theaters, museums, music venues, libraries, adult-education classes. Also, scope out volunteer (or part-time employment) opportunities. Even after you've retired you need something to do, something to engage your interest -- some reason to get out of bed in the morning.

     Remember, the grass is not always greener. Just because we can do something doesn't mean we have to. There's no law that says we have to relocate after we retire, and sometimes -- especially if we have family and friends in the area, and we can afford to live there -- staying in our same home is the best thing to do.

     So last we heard . . . our friends just sold their house in New York. They've rented a townhouse outside of Raleigh, NC, for a year. Then they'll see if they want to stay, or move on to Florida, or Denver, or back to Philadelphia.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

True or Not True?

     My brother-in-law was over for dinner the other night, and we for some reason got talking about the differences between men and women. He told us he had read that when women get together they talk about relationships and emotions. When men get together they talk about facts.

     I'm not here to argue the difference between men and women. I just had to laugh when he said that men talk about facts. Because a lot of the "facts" we talk about are not really facts -- they're rumors, misremembered information, statements made by biased sources, or downright myths or old-wives' tales.

     Facts that aren't facts?

     The price of gasoline is way higher than it's ever been. Regular recently crested $5 a gallon in my town. Prices have come back a little, to about $4.59. Still, that's ridiculous! Well, actually, not. According to the New York Times, adjusted for inflation, the price of gasoline is just a few cents higher than it was for most of 2011 through 2014. And gas in the U. S. is considerably cheaper than it is in Canada (about $8 per gallon) or Europe ($6 - 7 per gallon). Arguably, if we're really going to transition to cleaner fuels, the price of petroleum products should be higher, even higher than they are now.

     The political left and political right live in different worlds. They will never agree on anything! Not really true, either. Remember, both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump were against the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership). Presumably Joe Biden is, too, since he's done nothing to resurrect the TPP.  More recently, look who voted against Biden's Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Far-right Republicans Ralph Norman (SC), Matt Gaetz (FL) and Vicky Hartzler (M0). And so did far-left Democrats Jamaal Bowman and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and other members of "The Squad."

     Vaccines cause autism. The only research indicating that vaccines cause autism has been shown to be fraudulent, relying on data that was manipulated. In short, the results were fudged.

     Alcohol kills brain cells. According to Smithsonian, that only happens among severe alcoholics, and even then the damage is likely caused not by alcohol but lack of nutrition from a poor diet. (This is not a recommendation to drink more alcohol. There are plenty of reasons to drink less alcohol even if it doesn't kill brain cells.)

     Black holes. They're not holes. They're actually hugely dense objects with massive gravitational pull.

     Penguins mate for life. Some penguins stay monogamous throughout a mating season, but not many stay monogamous for their entire lives.

   The earth revolves around the sun. Not quite. The earth revolves around the solar system's center of mass, which oscillates somewhere in or around the sun. When it's outside the mass of the sun, as it sometimes is, the Earth is just orbiting around a point in empty space.

     Columbus discovered America in 1492. No, it was the Vikings around the year 1000. No, it was the East Asians who crossed the land bridge to North America during the Ice Age about 12,000 years ago.

     America has turned anti-immigrant. Today, there are 45 million foreign-born people in the United States, or 15% of the population. By comparison, in 1970, there were 10 million foreign-born people, or slightly less than 5% of the population. During the height of the immigration era in the late 1800s, there were 7 million foreign-born people in the U. S. -- but out of a much small population. So those 7 million comprised 15% of the population ... or about the same as today.

     Most current immigrants are illegal aliens, or undocumented workers. No, according to Pew Research, over three quarters of current immigrants are either lawful permanent residents or naturalized citizens. About 11 million, or 23%, are unauthorized immigrants (representing roughly 3% of the total American population.).

     We only use 10% of our brains. We use every part of our brain, and much of the brain is active most of the time, even when we're asleep. The brain represents about 3% of our body weight, but uses 20% of our energy. So ... we're smarter than we think!

     If you're disputing any of these facts ... well, that just proves my point. Don't trust facts that are casually thrown around -- especially by the men in your life -- until you check them out with a reputable source. Or in other words, let's make sure to use more than 10% of our brain power! 

Sunday, July 10, 2022

One of a Kind

     While we were visiting family in Wisconsin we took a side trip to the small town of Spring Green, site of Taliesin, home of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Why is his home out in the middle-of-nowhere Wisconsin? Because that's where he grew up.

     He went off to the University of Wisconsin in Madison for a year or so, then moved to Chicago where he established his architectural practice. In 1911, when he was in his 40s, he purchased land near his mother's home and built the rambling house that epitomized his style of integrating a building into the landscape and promoting harmony between humans and the natural world.

Front entrance to Taliesin

     As we found out on our two-hour tour, Wright led a dramatic and controversial life. He had six children with first wife Kitty, before launching an affair with Mamah, wife of one of his clients. They went off to Europe together, and eventually she moved into Taliesin with her two children. 

     In 1914, while Wright was working in Chicago, a disgruntled worker at Taliesin set the house on fire and murdered seven people, including Mamah and her children. A large part of the house was destroyed and later rebuilt.

Where he worked

     In 1922 wife Kitty granted Wright a divorce, and he married another woman. She was addicted to morphine. The marriage lasted less than a year.

     In 1925 there was another fire at Taliesin, though no one was hurt. Then in 1927, at age 60, Wright married for the third time -- a marriage that lasted until his death in 1959 at age 91.

Low ceiling, large windows

     Through it all, Wright kept working, designing and building more than a thousand structures. One of his most famous is called Fallingwater, built in Mill Run, PA, as a private weekend retreat for a wealthy Pittsburgh department store owner. Wright also built Taliesin West outside of Phoenix, AZ, which is where he spent winters starting in 1937.

     Wright started a school of architecture at Taliesin, with 20 to 30 students per year. He was notoriously difficult to work with, but many thought, as one student said, "a year in his studio would be worth any sacrifice." 

The skyscraper he never built

    He designed a couple of modest skyscrapers, but his proposal for a more ambitious skyscraper in San Francisco was not accepted. He kept a model of the bulding in his office for the rest of his life.

     Perhaps his most famous work is the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, which occupied him in his later years. The museum was just as controversial as the rest of his life, with open architecture featuring a central spiral ramp -- a design unlike any other museum in the world. Apparently, while all of his designs were original, not all were practical from an engineering standpoint. Several aspects of the Guggenheim had to be reworked before it could be built, and while we were on our Taliesin tour we were told that his house now needs some major reconstruction since he insisted on putting a second story above an area that couldn't bear the weight.

Where apprentices learn the trade

     Honestly, after spending some time at Taliesin -- and ducking my head under some of his low ceilings (Wright himself was 5 feet, 7 inches) -- I don't think I would want to live in one of his homes. But what do I know? It was the American Institute of Architects that in 1991 called him, "the greatest American architect of all time."

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Travel -- Too Much Trouble?

      I've been away from home for a little over a week, with a week to go. We've had a good time. But honestly, traveling today is more trouble than it used to be.

     There's the usual trouble of remembering car keys, room keys, iphone, reading glasses, distance glasses, bug spray, suntan lotion, my knee brace -- the list goes on. The reason we carry so much stuff? It's part of modern life (the iphone). And it's part of the aging process (the glasses, the knee brace). 

We're in Wisconsin, the dairy state 
     Then there's the more direct problem of aging. Everything seems to take a little longer, and is a little harder. The other night we went to an outdoor theater. That involved a quarter mile walk from the parking lot to the venue. Uphill. On a barely-improved path. It wasn't too bad. But the point is, when I was younger I would scamper up the hill without giving it a thought. Now I'm trudging up with an aching knee.

     Our habits are also more set in their ways. Where are we going to have breakfast? Will they have the right food? I can't handle heavy foods in the morning. Not anymore. No eggs or sausage. Cereal and orange juice and coffee. I prefer half-caff. I didn't care in the slightest when I was younger. Now I'm more set in my ways.

     Then there are the problems caused by Covid. Our current hotel has two dining areas. One is indoors, And we're not eating indoors. So we can't go to that restaurant. The other option is an outdoor snack bar, with McDonald's quality food. We had breakfast there one day. Ugh. Upset stomach. Not again. So today we're heading into town to try to find something more to our liking.

     When I was growing up? I ate whatever they put in front of me. No questions, no complaints. But my system simply can't handle an unaccustomed diet anymore.

Rockin' in Spring Green, WI
     Is travel still worth it? Well, yesterday we took a tour of a Frank Lloyd Wright house (more on that next post). Then we went for a swim. We got to see our grandchild. We spent a couple of interesting hours at a Wisconsin historical museum. We went for a kayak trip.

     Last night we drove into town, took a walk around. We stumbled on a little park where an eight-piece band was playing a mini-concert. A local crowd. Some great music. We had dinner there -- just some hot dogs and hamburgers off a grill. But it was great local flavor, in more ways than one.

     So, yes, it's worth the trouble. Don't you think?