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

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Simple Pleasures

     It seems that most of the retirement advice we get these days is either about money -- when to start taking Social Security, how to invest your 401K -- or else about how to find meaning in life -- you have to volunteer somewhere or maybe find a job.

     Well, that might be true in the early days of retirement, especially if you retire young, in your 50s or early 60s. But the older we get, the more it seems like the simple pleasures become more important.

     Here are a few of my simple pleasures. Maybe you have some others you can suggest.

     Dinner.  I really enjoy sitting down for a hot meal at the end of the day. I'm lucky that I have a companion (my wife) to have dinner with. We go through a little ritual of how we get dinner ready (which includes lighting a candle), and then we talk about the day, gossip about friends, maybe make plans for an outing. Nothing important. But, somehow, it's important.

     Netflix.  Okay, I admit it. I look forward to my TV time after dinner -- sometimes with B, when we find a show we both like, sometimes by myself, if it's something too crude or too violent for her to want to watch.

     Reading.  I read about one book a week. Some are better than others. But I like to start the morning by reading for half an hour or so, with a cup of coffee by my side, just to ease into the day. And I don't know how I would ever fall asleep at night without reading myself into somnolence.

     Gardening.  To be honest, I am not much of a gardener. I haven't done anything in the yard in months. Maybe that's why I'm looking forward to going outside and getting my hands dirty -- breathing the fresh air, smelling the earth, making our little corner of the world look a tiny bit better.

     Breakfast. They say in retirement you need some meaning in life, a reason to get up in the morning. For me, it's breakfast. I love that first cup of coffee. I eat some fruit. Cantaloupe is my favorite. I usually have cereal with 2% milk; every once in a while I cook myself an egg (or three).

     Crossword puzzles.  I started doing them during Covid. Now I can't stop.

     Learning.  I like tackling something a little bit challenging, but not too hard. Right now I'm learning how to do Powerpoint, because I've signed up to make a presentation in the fall for my senior learning group.

     Sports.  I'm about as good at sports as I am at gardening -- meaning, not very good. I used to play Ping Pong. Lately, I've been on the pickleball court. When the weather warms up I'll start playing some golf. Occasionally, I go for a walk. I really do not like to exercise. I find it boring. But if I can get exercise while hitting a ball . . . why, that's what I call interesting!

     So maybe you find your small pleasure in doing your taxes? Or following March Madness? If there's one thing I've learned in my 70 years . . . it takes all kinds.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Whip Inflation Now

     Remember that old line from President Ford? Actually, I think it was subject to a lot of ridicule, because it seemed so ineffective at the time. And of course it is ineffective as a national policy. But there are some practical ideas -- as well as a particular frame of mind -- that can help us save some money and deal with inflation that's currently running at about 6 percent or so.

     For example, Billionaire Warren Buffett knows a thing or two about saving (as well as earning) money. He famously lives in the house he bought for $31,500 in 1958, now worth about $700,000. He equally famously relied on a $20 flip phone for years before he finally gave in and bought an Apple phone in 2020 -- coincidently at about the same time he also bought a chunk of Apple stock.

     Says Buffett: "I do not save what is left after spending. I spend what's left after saving." He also said, "If you buy things you don't need, you will soon sell things you do need."

The Library: It's not just books
     Of course, that's Buffett, who has a way with money that the rest of us don't have. But I saw a good suggestion from a more normal woman on the internet:  Use your library, she says.

     Ask for a tour of your local library and use everything they have to offer. Free books and DVDs. Free access to a computer. Many libraries also offer free classes, book clubs, movie discussion groups, day trips to local museums and concerts.

     A neighbor of mine has been after me now for a couple of years about changing over to a Medical Advantage plan, instead of traditional Medicare plus supplemental plan. He gets prescription coverage as well as dental and vision coverage . . . all for a lower price. The one caveat is that he has to stay within his medical network, but that doesn't seem to bother him at all. Plus, he gets free admission to a local gym -- and he's over there twice a week for a yoga class.

     It's not for everybody, he says. But it's worth thinking about for the next Medicare open enrollment period in the fall.

     Speaking of medical expenses, a friend of ours recently had his knee replaced, and he told us about a medical library run by our Parks & Recreation department. The town loans out all kinds of medical equipment like wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, etc., to town residents for free. If you're going to need some equipment, it might be worth checking out if your town has a similar program.

     I know many people who have "cut the cord" and dispensed with their cable plan, in favor of streaming Netflix and Amazon. It seems like a smart thing to do if you're not the kind of fan that watches live sports on network TV. But even that is changing as some streaming services are starting to carry live sports.

     Others have switched to cheaper cellphone service. We have Verizon. It's a good service, no problems. But it is expensive. So we're beginning to explore some alternatives offered through AARP. There's another service called Cricket. Don't know much about it; but I've got it on my list of services to check out.

      Shop at thrift stores. My brother-in-law reports that he finds lots of gently used name-brand clothes at Goodwill, the Salvation Army and GreenDrop. It takes a bit of picking through the racks, he admits, but he finds some good stuff that looks brand new once he gets it home and puts it through the laundry.

     I'm sure you might have some other ideas. But they all seem to come down to one basic philosophy, as Will Rogers once said: "Too many people spend money they haven't earned, to buy things they don't want, to impress people that they don't like."

     One last tip, since it's getting to be tax time, and you might be puzzled and frustrated with all the different forms and schedules. Various organizations have volunteers who will do your taxes for free, if you make less than a certain amount of money. In my area it's the Bucks County Opportunity Council. In your area . . . well, check at the library, they probably know where to go.

     Meantime, just a word of sympathy from the smartest person in history. It was Albert Einstein who said, "The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax."

Saturday, March 11, 2023

The Odd Oscars

     The Academy Awards are bring held on Sunday night, a time when we find out the best actress, best actor and best picture of 2022. I know you're supposed to be breathlessly amazed at how wonderful these movies are. But, at least for the moment, I take a more jaundiced view.

     I read an article the other day reporting that the "Oscar Bump" has not been as big this year as in years past. The Oscar Bump refers to a sudden increase in ticket sales for the nominated movies, since the nominations pique people's interest.

     The article blamed Netflix for the lack of Oscar Bump, because some of the films have already been available for streaming . . . hence, people can watch at home rather than go buy tickets at the theater. There were a few other reasons cited for the lack of interest. Conspicuously absent was the fact that Oscar movies these days are obscure, often confusing, and geared toward the critics not the popular audience.

     It wasn't always so. Titanic was best picture in 1997. The English Patient in 1996. Braveheart in 1995. Forrest Gump in 1994. Schindler's List in 1993.

     But more recently the Oscar people have ignored the popular will, and gone for more artistic Indy films. Last year's winner, Coda, was not a box office winner (although I saw it and liked it). But other nominees like The Power of the Dog, starring the overrated Benedict Cumberbatch, was way, er,  overrated. And Licorice Pizza, which features two not-very-good-looking kids, was way too inside-Hollywood . . . although I must admit, I absolutely fell in love with Alana Haim.

     Anyway, with that in mind -- and tongue firmly planted in cheek -- here are my own personal Award winners for 2023:

     All Quiet on the Western Front. I saw this movie. I love war movies. But for the life of me I couldn't figure out why they made this. Award:  Most Irrelevant.

     Avatar: the Way of Water. Didn't see this movie. But . . . James Cameron? Award:  Most Commercial.

     Banshees of Inisherin. Saw it. I thought it was intriguing, even though I didn't understand it. Award:  Most Pretentious.

     Elvis. Why would I want to see this? Award:  The Retro Award.

     Everything Everywhere All at Once. Didn't see it. But I heard you can't possibly figure out what's going on. Award:  Most Confusing.

     The Fabelmans. I like Steven Spielberg, but not so much that I want to know all about his childhood. Award: The Throwback Award.

     Tar. I saw it. Cate Blanchett is supposed to be a great actress. Okay, so . . . .  Award:  Most Self-Indulgent.

     Top Gun: Maverick. My wife wanted to see this one. I don't know why . . .  Award:  The Fading Sex Symbol Award.

     Triangle of Sadness. I saw this. I do not like throw-up scenes. Award:  Most Disgusting.

     Women Talking. Didn't see it. Award in absentia:  Most Talkative.

     You can see the full list of nominations here. But now it's your turn. You want to nominate your favorite movie for a special award?

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Sea and Sand Festival

      We just got home from our Snowbird trip to Florida and South Carolina. Our last weekend in Charleston -- or at the beach outside of Charleston -- the town held its annual Sand and Sea Festival, which includes a street fair, live music, a sidewalk sale, lots of eating and drinking . . . and among the younger set, more drinking.

     The highlight of the weekend is the sand castle building contest, which started on Sunday surprisingly early in the morning. We sauntered out to the beach a little before noon, thinking we had plenty of time to watch the festivities, only to find that the show was almost over.

     Nevertheless, we got to see a few of the highlights. A several-foot-tall sandcastle.

     A mermaid lying on the beach.

     A hippo and an alligator.

     A sea creature. . . . maybe a giant squid?

     And this one crafted by a person with a macabre sense of humor . . . a man being chased by a shark.

     Then we saw the finale of the show, signaled by an invitation to the kids to jump all over the sand sculptures and kick them apart . . . thus restoring the beach to its natural state.

     Speaking of the macabre . . . well, shiver me timbers, a pirate washed ashore with his wench.

     And then, a couple of days later, as the landlubbers we are, we were forced to lower our Jolly Roger, abandon ship, and walk the plank right back to our regular boring life in the Pennsylvania suburbs, where . . . hey, that's not sand!