July 6, 2020

Self-Induced Isolation

All of a sudden, America has become persona non grata to parts of the world. The slogan of Making America Great now must include a second phrase: Making America Great but do it alone.

A brief recap: One of the first moves by the current administration was to close America off from parts of the world. The travel ban, which was ordered just seven days into the new presidency, barred citizens from seven predominately Muslim countries from entering the United States for 90 days. After several years of court cases and revisions to the original order, the Supreme Court has allowed a modified version of the ban to remain in effect.

Likewise, the president's desire to erect a wall between Mexico and The United States has seen a similarly tortured development. Where do we stand today? Well, a few hundred miles of replacement and new barricades have been erected. Texas landowners along the Rio Grande are reporting visits from federal officials who are preparing to seize private land to build more miles of the project. Occasionally, judges say stop, while others allow some progress. And, just in case you forgot, Mexico is not paying for any of this, parts of the Pentagon budget are.

Tariffs? Yep. They seem to come and go, stronger or weaker, depending on a tweet. Hundreds of millions of tax dollars go to farmers, while significant disruption in trade has not produced a flood of jobs coming back from overseas, just higher expenses for most of us.

OK, so now, in a perfect example of karma, Americans are finding we are not welcome in certain parts of the world. Planning on a trip to Europe? Not so fast. At least for now, you can't go to any of the EU countries, which includes the ones most of us would want to visit. OK, how about we head north? Nope. Canada is a no-go for Americans. 

The reasons are not political or tariff-related. Instead, it is that the U.S. has become the world's hot spot for Covid-19. We are #1 in the world in deaths from the disease. New cases are occurring at more than 50,000 a day. Someone from our balmy shores who enters another country has been determined to be a serious risk to life and limb.

But, wait, we are not done with this unusual twist. Three northeast states have told citizens of sixteen other locales they are not welcome unless the visitors are willing to submit to a 14-day quarantine. New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut bore the brunt of the initial outbreak of coronavirus. With over 50,000 deaths in just those three states, their government officials are not willing to put citizens through another round of infection and death. For those from states that believe this is all much to do about nothing, they are not permitted easy access. 

Update: As of July 7th New York State has expanded its list of states whose residents are not welcomed without a 2 week quarantine: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

Hawaii actually started the policy of required quarantines back in late March. Arrive on one of the islands after that date and spend 14 days in your hotel room or condo...no beach time, no shopping (even for food). Did it work? With less than 1,000 cases and only 18 fatalities, yes, it did.

As I was writing this post comes word that Chicago is taking the same steps: those inbound from states with rising infection rates must quarantine for 2 weeks if the Windy City is where you want to be.

Maybe my mind is a little fried from four months of all this, but a distressing thought occurred to me. What if the restriction on travel between states is seen as an excellent tool for all sorts of reasons. Could Republican-led states tell those from liberal, Democratic-controlled ones to stay away....and vice versa?

What if a state that relies on highly educated workers closed its borders to people with only a high school diploma? Or, if you don't have a particular net worth, stay away, so that state doesn't risk you needing welfare or housing help. Yes, these scenarios are far-fetched. But, much of the last few years would fit that definition.

Consider what these ad hoc decisions by states, and now cities, will do to our struggling economy. Business travel will become impossible if you happen to live in the wrong state. Airlines won't fly from the U.S. to Europe; the only people allowed on board are EU residents, or those willing to be quarantined for 14 days...longer than most vacations. 

Lest we forget our high school history, there is the 14th Amendment. It protects the freedom of interstate travel. However, in one rather important detail, the Federal Government cannot enforce this right. The Supreme Court has left that to the states to worry about. So, I assume that means the three states that are telling my fellow Arizonans and me to stay home or spend two weeks in a hotel room, have every right to do so.

Frankly, I support their choice. That part of the country has paid a very steep price to get a handle on the situation. Those from states that view mask-wearing or social distancing as an affront to their personal liberties are not welcome just now.

Likewise, parts of Europe have been severely harmed. While we went our merry way pretending it was a hoax, or would magically disappear, they did the hard work of getting the initial spread of coronavirus under control. Since the first reports of outbreaks, Canada has taken the steps necessary to keep the infection and death rates down.

In terms of travel, national isolation is something that I usually think of from a historical context: Eastern Europe during the Communist era, China during the Cultural Revolution, North Korea anytime, and Cuba.

At least for me, though, this is a first for our country, a first because we are close to last...in recognizing and diligently dealing with this pandemic. Will these isolation orders be lifted? Yes, in time. And, for now, I don't mind not traveling to some far off place.

But, I find it more than a little disturbing and embarrassing that this country's citizens are seen as a life-threatening risk to others because of an entirely preventable outcome. 

July 2, 2020

The Wave Theory of Retirement

"I just passed nineteen years of being away from the world of work. If there is one overriding lesson in the nearly two decades since June 2001, it is that this time of life is a series of waves, with both crests and troughs.

There are joyous periods when you feel so fully alive you wish for longer days. Your creativity is flowing, relationships feed your soul, and your health is not causing any problems worth mentioning, Your mind is full of good thoughts and new challenges.

Then, there are troughs. 2020 qualifies. Your world is rattled by things out of your control. You feel stagnant and unfulfilled, stale, and stuck in a rut. You are at a loss to see the best way forward. 
Then, just like the ocean, you are thrust upward onto the next crest of retirement. The bad stuff is behind you, and life is full.

My view of where we now, with all the problems we face, remains optimistic because I have seen enough crests to believe the next one isn't all that far away.

Sadly, there is no way to live with only the tops of the waves. But, I promise that the ocean is still moving, and you, along with a fresh perspective, are riding it."

This is a comment I left on Carie Risover's blog a few weeks ago in response to her post about retirement perspectives. It seems like a reasonable basis for a fresh look at retirement over time. 

A point that I have made many times is that retirement isn't all that different from life when you were receiving a paycheck. Many of the same responsibilities follow you into this stage of life. There are good days and bad. There are (occasionally) things like pandemics, economic reversals, relationship struggles, a leaking roof or broken furnace. The car needs new tires and then to be replaced. TV shows keep getting crasser, social media is out of control.....whatever the part of daily life you look at, there are similarities.

And, to use the simile of the waves (or is it a metaphor?), there are times when your life during retirement is a series of highs. Everything is going well, economically, creatively, relationally, health-wise. For now, you are on the crest of the wave. 

Which is a place you also found yourself while employed. For any number of reasons, you were hitting on all cylinders. You might not have been the king of the world, but you had no serious complaints. Life was good.

The big difference, the one that makes most of us look forward to the retired time of life, is the increase in freedom...freedom to decide how to spend your time, what activities or passions, volunteer work or business venture you are going to invest yourself. 

Personally, as I noted in the comment for Carie, it took me a while to figure out this "wave" thing. Even now, I must remind myself of its reality every so often, particularly in times like now.

It is distressingly easy to assume we are all stuck in a trough, a deep, deep, endless down cycle. Disease, protests, crappy economic conditions for tens of millions, racism, a country like a house divided.....I cannot see the crest. It is too far away. All I see is a wall of water looming up ahead of me.

Then, I metaphorically slap myself on the head and, in very forceful terms, remind myself of the endless cycle of the waves and life.

June 28, 2020

On the Wrong Side of History

Some ideas belong in the trash

Staying on the Titanic but determined to create as many bubbles as possible, all the way down.

Sometimes this is the feeling I get as I read the newspaper, check online sources, or just listen to some people talk. It is as if there are a bunch of folks, crowded together on the upper deck of that failed ship, denying reality as long as possible and then shouting defiance as the waves close over their heads, sending a last blast of bubbles as the only reminder of their presence.

Being on the wrong side of history is not difficult. Most of us have been so at one time or another. We thought Beta tapes were the way to go. Apple will never compete with Windows. No one needs a phone small enough for a pocket. The Beatles won't sell many records. 

Those are the normal human guesses about the direction of history or at least the small parts that intrude into our life. But, I have been thinking about a much more consequential misreading of history. This is the one that attempts to take society back, back to what we misremember as a gentler, more predictable time. This is the history that wraps itself in a gauzy sheen of forgetfulness, of never really noticing what was wrong. The real problem comes when this warped recall of the way things were is used to justify some horrible behavior now.

I suggest we are seeing the consequences of this attempt to rewrite, or "clean up" parts of our history. Take the controversies over various statues or flags, for example. The Confederacy was an attempt to not only break apart the union of states but to enshrine slavery as a permanent part of the culture. One must be pretty obtuse to not understand the Confederate symbols, flags, and statues are symbols of a hateful system built on the misery of other humans. To claim it is part of someone's heritage isn't something to be celebrated or perpetuated, it is something to discard in the trash heap of bad ideas. 

In a hard-to-miss insult, U.S. military installations are named after Confederate Generals, men whose purpose was to defeat the U.S. military. What possible sense does it make to name a place after someone who wanted everyone wearing that uniform to die? Why would the current president fight so hard to keep these names? The answer is politically obvious.

There is a statue (just removed) of Teddy Roosevelt in the lobby of a New York City museum. Our 26th president is astride a horse, while a black man and native American (Indian at that time) are walking alongside the horse. The message of white superiority, of the horror of Manifest Destinty upon those who were here well before us,  of the conquering hero, is unmistakable. 

Of course, the protests and focus on racism continue. After 155 years, we continue to find ourselves confronting those who hate, oppress, denigrate, or simply ignore the concept that the Constitution makes rather clear: all men are created equal. And, yes, I haven't overlooked the irony of the "all men" phrasing that was a product of a male-dominated culture that kept women from full rights until almost 100 years ago. Equal pay? Sexism? Still a fight that continues today.

As I have mentioned in an earlier post, as an older white male I can't possibly understand the fear and intimidation that those with different skin color than mine endure every single day. Black children must be taught how to react when stopped by a policeman, react in ways that would never be part of a similar set of instructions for white kids. Being ignored, attacked, or otherwise made to feel less than human? Part of their life.

Yet, I do believe that this time, the obliviousness of too many of us is changing. In a nation that claims to be Christian, why has it taken this long to understand that Jesus was a dark-skinned man, likely Arab, and not a white man? That he meant it when he said to love your neighbor, all your neighbors, not just the ones that look and think like you. If that wasn't his message, then he is not speaking to contemporary white America.

God demands the poor and marginalized people of any society deserve our full support, love, and help. Proclaiming oneself to be Christian yet treating blacks as inferior, is pretty damning evidence that you have missed the point.

Those who continue to insist it is their "right" to wave a flag of hate, to want to hold down a race of human beings who are a different color and to insist that things were better in the "good old days"  are on the wrong side of history. If you want us to go back to when everyone knew the rules, stayed in their place, and accepted things the way they were, your days are past.

But, apparently, you are not going down without a last blast of bubbles.

June 24, 2020

Play It Again, Sam

Do you like movies? Is your idea of a great night at home a favorite flick and a bowl of popcorn? Considering our stay-at-home status for the past three months, I hope that has been part of it. Word is movie theaters will start to open next month, but I won't be one of the first in line. Streaming or even a well-played DVD is the safest choice for Betty and me.

Are there movies you can watch again and again? I have dozens, but here is my shortlist to get you thinking about some of your favorites. 

Casablanca. I am immediately transported to a time of mystery, romance, and elegance. I want to find a club with a piano and the last plane leaving soon. Humphrey and Ingrid are the perfect couple in the perfect movie. And, who doesn't love the French Captain, playing both sides against each other. This is one of those movies I love in its original black and white. Truthfully, I just watched this again last week and fell in love all over again. And, yes, I know the blog title's words are not spoken in the movie, but the phrase has come to represent the film.

French Kiss. Paris and love. A scoundrel with a heart of gold. A man, a woman, and a dream. No matter how many times I see this, I get misty when Kevin Kline sits next to Meg Ryan on the plane in the last scene.

Singing in the Rain. I'm still not sure how Donald O'Connor can pull off the dance moves he does, especially knowing he smoked four packs of cigarettes a day. Gene Kelly and Debby Reynolds are actually believable as a couple, even though there is a 20-year difference in their ages. Gene makes rain and getting wet the height of romance. 

Wizard of Oz. The transition from black and white to color when Dorothy arrives in Oz is still stunning after all these years of technological advances. The Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, and Tin Man are simply lovable. If you have been separated from your family over the past few months, the story must touch you. After all, don't we all want to go home again?

Mary Poppins  (the original). This brings back powerful memories of family nights when the kids were growing up. Singing all the songs, watching Dick Van Dyke do a chalk drawing and a bad English accent, or the proper English Dad getting so frustrated over his kids while loving them to death. This was the perfect family film at our house. The newer version is also a keeper, but I will need many more viewings to have it make this list.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. After seeing this, I grew a mustache and have never shaved it off. The first of the successful "buddy films" made Robert Redford a star. The shootout in Bolivia still brings chills, as does Katharine Ross, but for entirely different reasons.

The Quiet Man. I have been to the tiny Irish village of Kong where much of this movie was filmed. It is every bit as quaint and beautiful as it looks on film. Seeing it takes me back to a simpler (and definitely not PC)  time when "men were men and women were glad of it." I always refer to a hike as just a "good stretch of the legs." This is proof John Wayne could do much more than ride a horse.

Avatar. The story has been told many times before. The characters aren't very memorable. But, seeing this in 4K changed the way I will look at movies forever. The colors, the absolute breathtaking visuals, and the majesty of a magical world take me away. The picture leaps off a 2-dimensional screen like no other movie I have seen. The underlying narrative of the slaughter of native people for economic reasons seems very relevant today and every bit as disturbing.

Frozen. This must make my list because of the number of times I have seen it with the grandkids. Beautifully animated with a strong story. And, I am a lover of anything Olaf: several stuffed dolls, a face cloth, and an Olaf coffee cup. When the character sings about the joys of summer, I always join in.

Mamma Mia. My son-in-law rolls his eyes every time I mention this one. Sorry, I love the music and the scenery. I could live without Pierce Brosnan's singing, but sets are gorgeous, and everyone is so energetic. It doesn't hurt that Betty and I saw the stage show in London's West End 17 years ago. 

Those are 10 movies I can watch again and again. Now it is your turn. What movies are on your list, and why? Leave your comment, and maybe I'll just discover a flick I need to re-watch. Go ahead and give my choices a thumbs up or down. I can take it. 

Go ahead...Make my day.

June 20, 2020

When Is The Right Time To Move Into a CCRC?

Friendship Village, Tempe, AZ

OK, let's start with an important definition: what is a CCRC? This is the abbreviation for a Continuing Care Retirement Community, a type of retirement environment that provides living and health care through three stages of aging needs: independent living, assisted living, and nursing home care. If you'd like an excellent overview of how this type of community operates, costs, and what types of questions to ask of those you may be considering, click this link.

While all three styles of living arrangements can be found separately, a CCRC makes the transition from one stage to the next easier and prearranged. All sorts of places offer independent and assisted living. But, finding space in a well-run nursing home is not an easy task. There could be a lengthy waiting list or other limitations. The costs are quite substantial and few insurance options exist.

A reader has decided this three-stage community is best for him and his wife. One of the toughest decisions to make is when to move into a CCRC. Knowing that Betty and I plan on such a move at some point,  he asked me to provide a few guidelines and the factors I will be considering when we decide it is the time to proceed.

Like many of the important decisions in life, deciding when to move into a CCRC is not a simple one to make. There are several factors to consider. Let's see if I can identify the ones that might be giving you pause.

* I want to stay in my own home. Moving to any type of retirement community is not in the cards. This is common for many of us. Home is often where we raised a family, made memories, or have a space that welcomes and comforts us. Unfortunately, it can also be dangerous if the house isn't altered to be made safer as we age. And, at some point, our needs for nursing or daily health needs cannot be safely met in our own home. 

* Those places are expensive. I can't afford such a choice. There is no argument: CCRCs are expensive. Most require a "buying" fee, an amount of money that allows you to move into the community. That charge guarantees your space in all levels of care when appropriate for you and helps pay to maintain the facilities. Usually in the range of $200-400,000, this initial charge is either refundable to your estate upon death, or a one time fee that you cannot recover.  If you choose the returnable option, this one time charge will be higher. 
Also, expect to pay a monthly rental fee of $2,500-$4,500. This fee normally does not change as you move from independent to assisted to nursing center living. It covers maintenance and repair of where you live, meals, and facility use. Think of it as what you would pay for an upscale apartment.

* I'm too young. Most CCRC's require at least one member of a couple to be over 55. Adult or grandchildren are not allowed to live with you permanently. If you are younger than 55 and aren't ready to live with only older folks, you are probably too young (either physically or mentally) for such a choice. Of course, if you have just turned 55. 

* I'm too old. This is the risk you might face if you wait too long to move to a CCRC. Most have requirements that you must be able to perform at least a few of the basic functions of daily care on your own. You can move directly into an assisted living environment, but not directly to a nursing care facility. Wait too long and you may be denied entry. For Betty and me, when I turn 80 is probably the time when such a move is best.

* What happens if it goes bankrupt or out of business after I move in? This risk is one that is faced by all of us who must depend on someone or some service. An insurance company can decide it can't continue to pay your monthly annuity. A nursing home may default on a loan or the owners decide to close the business. A CCRC can fail. It is up to you to perform basic due diligence before agreeing to sign on the dotted line. How many years have they been in business? Has ownership changed often, or recently? Why? Tour the facility, all of it, and ask questions of residents.

* What are CCRC's like? I don't want a warehouse for old people or something with constant activities and meetings. I can only speak with some authority about the one I know best: my parents lived in one for ten years, until their deaths. I visited them often, ate in the restaurants, buffets, and cafes, saw the facilities, and was able to experience, firsthand, the hands-on, caring quality of care from the nurses.

There was a mix of those who were active and those who preferred a quiet lifestyle. There were plenty of clubs and groups if one was so inclined. A nearby University held classes at the community center for lifetime learners. A well-stocked library, bank branch, space for a weekly church service, pool, fitness center, an on-site small grocery store, beauty salon, and barbershop were available.

Frequent shuttles to doctors' offices, pharmacies, or off-site restaurants and shopping made life easy for those without a car or family nearby. A full-service hospital was next door. Located in the suburb of a major city, the ability to go to concerts, museums, plays, and sporting events was there for those who wanted to partake.

OK, now to answer the reader's specific question about knowing when it is time to move into a CCRC, the answer depends:

  • On finding a place you can spend the rest of your life,
  • that you can afford, 
  • that includes the services and amenities that are important to you and,
  • that is financially stable and has a solid history

Do your homework, decide what will make you feel happy, safe, and taken care of, and then go for it.