Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A Dimming of the Light

     I don't know where you were during the eclipse. I was out on the golf course, in New York, where the moon covered 70 percent of the sun. But, honestly, the effect was minimal. We had some high whispy clouds, but nothing really covering the sun. The sky got slightly darker; the light turned brilliant like late afternoon; and then it was over.

     I was on my way home from attending a memorial service for my friend Joe. His ashes were buried at sea . . . or really, about a mile off the Rhode Island shore, near the Point Judith lighthouse. A lovely ceremony, with family and close friends. Then a larger gathering later on, with a few more people.

On a South Carolina golf course, circa 2009.
     Of course, it makes us think about how we ourselves would want to go, where we would want our remains. Both my parents were cremated, and their ashes are buried at their retirement home in Florida.

     My sister and I went down there once, a few years later, to view the site. But it didn't do much for me. It just didn't feel like my parents were there. It might be different if we had a family burial place. But we don't.

     The ship captain gave the family the exact coordinates of the burial spot. I don't know if they'll ever go back out to see it again . . . or if he'll still be there.

     But it was nice to get together with three old friends, the day after the service, to play a round of golf in honor of our departed colleague. He was a golfing friend, but also a work friend, a poker friend, a lunch companion. He held great Fourth of July parties -- he had a swimming pool and risked life and limb to light up a fireworks show every year. We vacationed together in South Carolina; our kids didn't know one another, but they were the same age, so we followed them growing up, going to college, getting married. And now his older daughter is pregnant.

     To tell the truth, he was a lousy golfer. But my world will be a little darker without him. He was a great guy, and would have made a wonderful grandfather.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

8 Questions About Retirement

     I'm asking these questions mostly as a way to remind myself to check up on these issues, before it's too late.

     Many of us believe that retirement promises a life of ease, free of responsibility. And in a way that's true . . . at least in my opinion. We no longer have to show up for work, deal with uncooperative colleagues, manage self-absorbed employees or report to narcissistic bosses. We no longer have to bear the weight of important projects, demanding clients or needy patients.

     But there is one area where we do take on more responsibility: In retirement, we are in charge of our own lives and our own futures. We no longer have a boss who tells us what to do . . . or a paycheck automatically deposited into our bank account. With the demise of the traditional pension (meaning, I don't have one), we shoulder more responsibility for our financial lives. And with increasing lifespans, we need to plan for longer and hopefully more rewarding futures.

     Whether you're a younger person planning for retirement, or like me already there, here are some questions we should ask ourselves to prepare for the rest of our lives. 

     1. Do we have a reasonably accurate estimate of our retirement income? Most of us begin with Social Security, which pays out $1,360 per month for the average retiree, but can offer better than $3,000 a month for high earners who wait past full retirement age to start collecting benefits. But Social Security is only a start. Most of us add to that income with a pension, or else IRA withdrawals, or possibly income from a rental property or the proceeds from a retirement job. Whatever our situation, we need to know how we're going to replace our paycheck – or at least most of it – after we stop working. 

     2. How will taxes impact our income? I should have known this -- but of course I hadn't paid much attention. Withdrawals from traditional IRAs and 401(k) plans are subject to federal income tax and possibly state tax as well. Social Security is partially taxable above certain income thresholds. Retirement income is similar to earned income in that our take-home pay is usually much less than our gross income.

     3. Should I hire a financial adviser? Some people are do-it-yourselfers, which is fine if you're organized and comfortable with numbers. But our financial lives can sometimes be complicated, and so we shouldn't be afraid to admit that we might not have the best answers and could use some professional help. (I have an appointment with a financial adviser scheduled for the end of August.) 

     4. Have you calculated your life expectancy? This may not be a pleasant task, but it makes a big difference whether you're planning for 10 years of retirement or 30 years. And our life expectancy may be longer than we think -- as B keeps reminding me. Her mother just turned 101 years old; so B is planning to live to at least 100. In fact, even us more average 65-year-olds can expect to live into our 80s, while over 20 percent of men and 30 percent of women will live into their 90s. And the longer we live, of course, the more money we need. 

     5. Do we have health insurance? Most of us qualify for Medicare at age 65. (Don't forget to apply!) If you retire early, you need to make sure you are covered at least for a catastrophic event. And Medicare alone is not enough coverage. Do your homework and make sure you have an appropriate supplemental plan for your health needs, which may cost more or less than the old plan from work. (For me, Medicare is less than what I used to pay; for B it is more, since she used to enjoy a heavily-subsidized medical plan through her town employment.) Our needs may also change as we get older. So we shouldn't pick a plan when we're 65 and forget about it. We need to review periodically and make changes as needed. 

     6. Have you prepared health directives and estate documents? It's difficult to think about this unpleasant task. (B and I have thought about it; so far we haven't done anything except we both have wills written 15 years ago, before we met.) But we want to have our papers in place, not just for our own comfort, but also to put our loved ones at ease, and so they know what to do. I have to admit . . . this one is still on our to-do list. 

     7. Where are we going to live? B and I have just been through the wringer on this. But whether we're retiring in place, or moving halfway across the country, we should remember that moving is not irrevocable, so we shouldn't freeze up at the prospect of making a decision. But we also have to be realistic. It's a lot of work to move, so we should think things through so we don't have to do it more than once or twice. 

     8. Do we have a plan? Retirement is an opportunity to choose where and how we want to live. Instead of drifting along, we should take advantage of all the options retirement provides. But remember, a plan is only wishful thinking, until we put it on paper. There are no right or wrong answers. The plan can change. It doesn't have to be long or complicated. But write it down . . . to make it real.

     Did I say that retirement promises a life of ease? Who was I kidding?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Why Do We Blog?

     Whenever people find out I have a blog, they look at me as though I'm a little weird, then ask incredulously, "Why do you blog?"

     Now that I've moved and am meeting all sorts of new people, the question comes up more and more often. And I can hear them thinking -- What kind of strange person is this? Where does he come from? What's his problem?

     So I've decided it's time to revisit an article I wrote a couple of years ago, prompted by the coordinator at the community college writing center where I volunteered as a tutor. She actually thought it was interesting that I write a blog. It's a form of writing that's relatively new and different, especially for an academic setting, and maybe she thought I was setting a good example for the students -- someone who was writing for no other purpose other than it was rewarding in itself, someone who might show students that just maybe writing could be fun!

     One day she asked me if I could convey the bogging experience in 300 or 400 words for their newsletter. I decided I could, but didn't I think I had to take the assignment too seriously.

The Writing Center is in the WCC library
     I introduced myself as a volunteer in the Writing Center, but admitted that in my secret life I write a blog. It’s called Sightings Over Sixty, and it covers baby boomers, retirement, health, finance, grownup children and . . . how time flies. My pen name – my nom de Internet, if you will -- is Tom Sightings. And I’m over 60 years old. Get it?

     So why do I make the time and effort to jot down thoughts in cyberspace, a place where . . . actually, does anybody really read this stuff?

     First of all, I am not alone. A lot of people write blogs. (And I wonder -- why do you write a blog?) There are scores of blogs about retirement and baby boomers. There are blogs about stamp collecting, knitting, golden retrievers and a thousand other topics.

     But if you really want to know, here are . . . well, here are the Top Ten reasons why I blog.  To:

     10. Get something off my chest – I have a few opinions on things like health care and how people drive (in my opinion, unlike Lake Wobegon, most people are worse than average drivers!), and so I can spout off whenever I want.

     9. Make friends – I have a couple of hundred followers of my blog. Some of them I consider friends. Last winter, when I vacationed in Florida, I played golf with one of my blogging friends.

     8. Join a community – You don’t just get people to read your blog. They talk back, make comments, and usually you end up following their blog as well. It’s a party!

     7. Make people laugh – I admit it, in my younger days I was a class clown. My teachers didn't think I was very funny, but some of my classmates did. If you don't believe me, check out the Humor section of my blog, and you be the judge. But hey, gimme a break. It’s not easy to be funny!

     6. Make money – Yes, you can sign up for advertising programs though Google and Amazon, and earn money from your blog. Why, sometimes I make as much as . . . get this, $3 in one single day!

     5. Practice my writing skills – As you can see . . . I need the practice.

     4. Annoy my spouse – Since I write my blog under a different name, and I don’t identify my spouse by name, I can say anything I want!

     3. Stay out of trouble – I’m retired. Well, to be more accurate, I’m unemployed. But when you get to be a certain age, you can call yourself retired instead. Blogging gives me something to do while my long-suffering spouse goes off to work. (Okay, to be honest, B has now retired as well. But that doesn't mean I can't still annoy her!)

     2. Make a name for myself – Wait a second, I write the blog under a different name, so how am I making a name for myself? Er, I guess I’d better rethink that one.

     And the Number 1 reason why I blog? I blog, therefore I am – It’s a little known fact, but all the great philosophers had their own blogs. The first blog? "In the beginning . . . .”

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Retiring Mind

     The mind does not slow down in retirement. It just focuses on different things -- some of them are simply fun, while others run to deeper issues regarding health, retirement, and the course of our lives.

     One thing we know for sure is that time passes quickly -- and seems to speed up the older we get. Sometimes a milestone will emphasize the passage of time, especially anniversaries of births and deaths, war and peace, cultural milestones and . . . TV shows.

     This week Meryl Baer of Six Decades and Counting notes one especially influential TV show that premiered 60 years ago, on August 5, 1957. The program starred Dick Clark and ran on the air for more than 30 years. So swing over to The Music Lives On to read more about the show that not only appealed to baby boomers but put baby boomers in a starring role as well.

This is the city?
     Meanwhile, life has slowed down for the Carter family in southern Colorado -- or at least it has for the past week. So they decided to travel to the big city and do some shopping. If you want to find out the real story behind their excursion, drive on over to A Mid-Summer Trip to Pueblo and see how a couple of wild westerners handled the big city lights.

     Carol Cassara gets more serious as she notes that many people try to push down their fears and feelings about being sick. But medical researchers are beginning to see the health benefits of expressing those fears. Cassara points to a study showing that breast cancer patients who wrote about their deepest fears, including dying, had one-third fewer symptoms and doctor visits. Since her new business involves harnessing the power of the mind/body connection, in her post Feeling Is Healing she explores how expressing fears and feelings can support healing of all kinds.

     On another health front, Rita R. Robison on the Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide notes that according to Consumer Reports Americans Are Taking Too Many Prescription Medications. She identifies 12 situations where people might try lifestyle changes to address their symptoms without risking the sometimes dangerous side effects of drugs.

     Robison also reports on a poll showing that Consumers Support Financial Watchdog Agency. A significant majority of Americans favors the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's efforts to rein in the excesses on Wall Street and the practices of bad mortage and other predatory lenders. So at last . . . it seems that Democrats and Republicans agree on at least one thing!

     Finally, after watching the documentary "Coming of Age in Aging America," Kathy Gottberg offers a different perspective on the current aging model that most of us unconsciously believe in.

     People are living longer, and they are having fewer babies, not just in America but all around the developed world. "Although most of us baby boomers think big transitions like this are all about us as a generation," she notes, "we are just the introduction to a permanent shift. Gen X and Millennials will also have longer lives indicating a permanent shift in the human life course as we know it."

     We all have to start thinking of the aging process in a different way, because it changes the way we work and the way we live; it affects how we arrange our familes, how we receive health care, even how we think about politics.

     But don't rely on me to explain it. Head over to Designing a Fulfilling Life Matters Long Before Retirement and get the full story of how . . . you're not living your parents' retirement anymore.

Friday, August 4, 2017

On Marriage

     So as I mentioned, my daughter is getting married in the fall. And even though she's 34 years old and knows her own mind, I feel as if I should be giving her some advice . . . the benefit of my experience and perhaps my vision of the hopes I hold for her.

     Her mother and I are divorced. Her fiance's parents are divorced as well. (Maybe that's why it's taking so long for my daughter to get married?) But I want her to understand that even though our marriage fell apart at the end -- the marriage failed as some people put it -- in my mind the marriage was a solid success. After all, my wife and I were together for 30 years (who keeps a job that long these days?). We owned a home, raised a family; we were contributing members of our community. And we produced two wonderful children.

     We offered them happy childhoods, making sure to live in a good school system, ferrying them to baseball, tennis and swimming practices, loving them the best way we could. And now that they are adults we support their choices (even though, to us, they sometimes seem like questionable ones); and as their parents we do not argue or fight; in fact, we get along reasonably well and might even be considered friends.

     B wants to tell my daughter that the clock is ticking if she wants to have a baby. My daughter was pretty good at math, though, so I think she knows the numbers. However . . . I hope she's marrying this man because she loves hm and gets along with him, and not just because at age 34 she thinks it's "time" she got married. But I don't know if I could raise the subject without sounding like I was cross-examining her, without immediately putting her on the defensive and shutting down any true communication.

     Who has any experience with this? Do you have any advice for me?

     Perhaps the person I want to talk to is not my daughter at all, but her husband-to-be. We have a saying in golf. You hit the ball up toward the hole. You think you have a good shot, certainly on the green and maybe even near the cup, but you're too far away, or behind some trees, and so you can't see where the ball actually came to rest. You walk up to the hole expecting to see the ball sitting on the green -- instead, it's off to the side, maybe in the rough or in a sand trap. This shot is jokingly called a "son-in-law" . . . meaning, it's not what you expected.

     My daughter's fiance is not someone I would have expected. He has his positive points -- a good job; he doesn't party or run around . . . he instead spends his spare time fixing up old cars or old bikes or else tinkering with technology (which means he has old cars in the driveway and old bikes in their living room). But he can be a little . . . I'm not quite sure, but he doesn't always sit quite right. With me anyway. Maybe the problem is just that he's in his 30s. But anyway, what I think doesn't matter. What matters is what my daughter thinks of him, what she sees in him that isn't apparent to the elders in the family.

     I guess I just want to make sure this young man treats my daughter well -- that he thinks of her before he thinks of himself. That he supports her emotionally, builds up her self-confidence, encourages her ambitions, and doesn't (like many men do) tear someone down in order to build himself up.

     I also wonder: I have a son, and our relationship is pretty well defined. What will it be like to have another male in the family? I do not want to have to compete with him for my daughter's affections.

     Marriage. It doesn't seem like a big thing when someone else is doing it. But now I know it's a scary proposition, and seems even scarier when you're going through it with your daughter than when you go through it yourself.