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

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!