Monthly Archives: January 2018

Retirement Options

My financial advisor always talks about “65-year-old Nancy,” and how we have to consider her when making financial decisions today.  65-year-old Nancy is the reason I need to keep working at a job that I find spiritually unsatisfying, because not only do 58-year-old Nancy and her 22-year-old kid need to live TODAY, 65-year-old Nancy needs to be able to live comfortably a mere seven years from now (it used to be more years but, man, do they zip by quickly, which makes 65-year-old Nancy’s plight that much more urgent).

When my mother passed away, she was able to leave my sister and me a small nest egg, mostly derived from my deceased father’s assets but also wisely invested, and my cheapo mother never needed to dig into the pot to cover unanticipated expenses, like both her daughters have done with some frequency.  (My mother also never paid full price for anything; it was always coupons and store brands, even though, in my mind, we were reasonably well off and didn’t have to scrimp.)  Over the past seven years since her death, I have slowly but surely whittled down a $350,000 inheritance to little over $100,000.  (And don’t even get me started on the $35,000 she left for my daughter, who, as soon as she turned 18 and was entitled to access the funds, spent it all – every damn penny – despite my entreaties to set some aside in a CD or money market account so she might have some left over for college or a car or something substantial.)

The bulk of my mother’s money went to into my house.  Insurance didn’t pay enough to cover the renovations after the storm, and then the elevation, despite the generous grant from New York State’s New York Rising program, was more costly than anticipated when, in the course of lifting, the entire rear of the house practically fell off and ultimately had to be demolished and rebuilt.  Of course, this resulted in my having two-thirds of a brand new abode, but it also meant that my assets were no longer in the form of (easily liquidatable) stocks and bonds and REITs but in real estate instead, which will only be realized once I sell the house.

This raises all sorts of questions about my future.  My daughter has stated in no uncertain terms that she wants to keep the house, which creates a small problem:  If I don’t sell the property, I don’t get the benefit of my investment.  So that’s one hurdle to overcome.  The other is actually selling the house for what it’s worth, given that it will need new floors throughout thanks to my pet pee situation.  And it’s also dependent on the economic environment, which I think right now is a buyer’s market given the glut of distressed lots and rebuilt homes since Sandy.  Sky-high property taxes will be a further consideration for anyone contemplating buying a home in Long Beach (that is, if there even IS a Long Beach if another one of those “100 year storms” rolls around).

The key may be to sell sooner rather than later, my daughter’s wishes notwithstanding.  She’s presumably going to be traveling the world working with endangered animals anyway; why would she want to come back to lovely but boring old Long Beach?  So her future factors into this, too, not just 65-year-old Nan’s.

Let’s say I sell within the next 3-5 years.  Would I go on to buy another place, or maybe just rent?  There are benefits and drawbacks to both.  I enjoy having SOMETHING to show for the money I pay every month, even if I do share it with a bank.  With rent, it’s basically just throwing money away for the privilege of living in someone else’s investment.  But as I’ve discovered over the years, home ownership is a royal pain in the ass when it comes to maintenance and repairs.  It was a pleasure, when I lived in the apartment last year, to have someone take out the garbage and shovel the walk (even if I never actually took advantage of my on-site super to fix things like the leak in my kitchen sink because I didn’t want to him to know I had a bunch of cats in the apartment!)

But the biggest question is, WHERE DO I GO??  One thing that’s quite clear is that I want to be somewhere much warmer than here, without the snow.  I’d also like to avoid major storms and weather events like tornadoes and wildfires and natural disasters like earthquakes and floods, which kind of limits my choices since nearly everywhere in the world has its own local destructions.

Plus, it’s got to be a lot less expensive than living in New York, because the taxes and cost of living here are probably higher than they are nearly anywhere else in the country, let alone the world.  If I’m going to be depending on Social Security and whatever remains of 65-year-old Nan’s paltry investments (including my meager 401(k)), there’s going to be a lot less money coming in (although I can probably come up with some online work – or, dare I say it, freelance writing? –to make ends meet).  And because I’ll be older, I’ll need someplace with dependable health care, which pretty much puts me out of the United States since our health care system here is an obscene embarrassment compared to the rest of the civilized world.

And what happens with my animals?  I’m up to eight permanent members of my furry family – five cats and three dogs – although realistically not all of them will be living three to five years from now.  If I move out of the country, will I have to quarantine them?  Can I ship them by boat or airplane?  The logistics are kind of daunting.  And if I do decide to rent, not everywhere is pet-friendly (especially with SO MANY creatures).

Clearly, I need to do more research, but two places keep popping into my head – one domestic and the other international.  On the domestic side, I’ve heard good things about Delaware.  I could live in one of the many lovely beach towns, so I’d be able to continue enjoying coastal life with less of a hurricane threat than Florida (or even Long Beach) and a slightly more temperate climate than New York (although with global warming, the mid-Atlantic states are seeing more snow than ever – ugh!).  Perhaps best of all, I’ve heard that Delaware is one of the most tax-friendly states for retirees and seniors, featuring no sales tax, low state income tax, and no tax on Social Security benefits.  As an added bonus, I’d still be close to friends and family who live in the New York area, and even closer to family and friends on the Delmarva Peninsula and North Carolina.

On the international front, though, there’s Costa Rica.  I’ve never been, but my daughter has, and she always raves about how much it appealed to her.  (“Costa Rica has a piece of my heart,” she says.)  Conceivably, if I moved there, she could come with me and pursue her career in wildlife conservation in an amazingly rich ecosystem.  It would also be a great place for the aforementioned friends and family to visit.  From what I’ve read and seen (Darian posted a great video on Facebook the other day that I keep revisiting [https://www.facebook.com/worldeconomicforum/videos/10155046651386479]), Costa Rica is a thoroughly modern tropical paradise:  low crime and cost of living, high regard for the environment and sustainability.  The more I think about it, the more I want to move there.

Who knows?  There are other places to consider – Sedona, Arizona; Portland, Oregon; Vancouver, Canada; Spain (where my friends Erika and Curtiss are planning to retire) or even Portugal.  But at the moment, Delaware and Costa Rica are the two front runners.

So now it just becomes a matter of getting 58-year-old Nan to be wise enough with her money so that 65-year-old Nan (or maybe even a younger version, if I win the lottery!) can think about the next phase of her life with excitement and anticipation rather than dread and worry.

2017:  The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I blame the New Yorker.  I kept getting emails in my inbox from them, teasing me with a few of their intelligent, well-written articles and glimpses of the on-point cartoons (“Love them New Yorker cartoons!” frequently writes a Facebook friend.)  So, in the spirit of supporting definitely-not-FAKE NEWS (which also accounts for a subscription to the Washington Post that I can’t really afford right now), I ordered a trial subscription.  (I also, by dint of some clerical error that I won’t be calling to anyone’s attention, received not one but two fantastic New Yorker totes as a thank-you gift.)  The subscription has caused a bit of a problem in that I don’t have enough “free reading” time – I pretty much only ready on the train going into the city once a week, and really only coming home because I tend to nod off on the morning ride – and the New Yorker articles are so dense and just, let’s face it, LONG, so the magazines were just piling up.  I’m only now getting finished with the November 9 issue.  So I discontinued the subscription when it came time to renew at the regular rate (which, needless to say, I can’t afford).

Apart from overloading my limited reading time, the more egregious thing that my New Yorker subscription did was expose me to all that quality writing, which had the effect of shifting my confidence decidedly back into the “I will never write as well as these people” sphere.  So I blame the New Yorker, but that’s only one of many reasons why I seem to have abandoned my blog just short of three years from its inception in March 3, 2015.  It causes me indescribable psychic pain that I wasn’t capable (for whatever reason) of keeping up with my weekly blog posts, and since November I haven’t posted anything at all.  And yet that discomfort hasn’t been painful enough, evidently, because I haven’t done anything to stop it.

Is it mere writer’s block?  True, I haven’t been writing much in my journal either.  In fact, I have to force myself, most nights in bed before I fall asleep, to even manage to pen a few quick paragraphs to recount my day and beat myself up over how miserably I’ve failed at keeping up with my writing.  (On the positive side, I’m at least somewhat proud of that meager diligence, and also that I manage to write SOMETHING in my joy book every day, even if it’s “No joy today”.)  It’s also the case that my brain hasn’t been particularly brimming with creative ideas or juicy thoughts ripe for squeezing out on paper.  I’ve basically been BLANK for months.  The things that occupy my gray matter lately fall into three categories:  the good (not much – mostly my kid, my pets and volunteering at the shelter – oh, and actually having a parking spot every time I leave the house); the bad (my money woes, hating a job that I desperately need, lacking an overriding “purpose” to my life and continuing to be somewhat of a hermit); and the supremely ugly (TRUMP and the travesty our government has become in the hands of the Republicans).

The fact that it’s winter doesn’t help.  I’m pretty sure I may have mentioned it once or twice in this blog, but I HATE WINTER.  I especially hate when it snows, as it did this past week (nearly two feet in drifty spots), and digging out the carport was no picnic.  Thank goodness Darian had to free her car right away for a trip to Boston to catch a flight to the Cayman Islands (SO JEALOUS!) with her college friend’s family, and then a lovely man with a snowblower and three pre-teen “assistants” with shovels came by the following day to liberate my car.  To add to the snow, the temperatures were well below freezing for nearly two weeks and my front-of-the-house pipes froze, halting the flow of water in my kitchen and main bathroom.  Fortunately, we still had heat and hot water in the small master bath at the back of the house (tiny shower and tinier sink) throughout the frigid snap.  But only on Tuesday morning, as the temps hit 40, did all my water come back.  The short, dark days, the cold, the mess – all of that contributes to my seasonal depression.  Plus the Rangers – usually the only bright spot in the winter months – aren’t playing particularly well (and they’re actually in their “bye week” right now, so there’s been no hockey AT ALL for nearly a week), so that’s become more of a downer than an upper on the mood scale.

Underlying it all is this feeling of futurelessness.  Like, when I try to envision my life in twenty years, ten years, even five, I don’t see anything different than what I see right now, and that is ultimately kind of paralyzing.  Realistically, I know things won’t stay the same – in fact, I can almost guarantee that I won’t be doing this job much longer, which will create a whole different trauma.  I had my worst year, billable-hourly speaking, since I started working there over fifteen years ago.  And (by design) I don’t participate at all on any of our “big client” deals that the younger partners in our group spearhead.  When the senior partner in my office, who has enabled me to finagle my current plum working situation, was removed as practice group leader (“moved up” to global practice group leader, they said, but he and I both knew what it really was) last year, I was sure I would get my walking papers.  Fortunately, the new practice group leader knows me a little bit (although he works on the West Coast) and appreciates my work (at least so far), so he kept me on.  After this past year, though, there’s not really much justification for my retention unless I expand my scope and I am too lazy and unengaged to do that, I’m afraid.

So let’s say they cut me loose – then what??  I won’t get a severance package because I’m a contract attorney, not an employee.  I guess I could try to collect unemployment, but I have no idea how to do that.  It might force me to start another career, even if I have to begin at the bottom of the ladder.  At least I could explore areas that are more fulfilling to me – ACLU, civil rights work, even some kind of animal law, or perhaps not even practicing law anymore and getting back into the publishing sphere – but that would probably involve having to LEAVE MY HOUSE to work a regular 9-to-6 shift somewhere (to which I would also have to commute).  It’s been so long since I’ve had that experience, I don’t think I even remember how to do it (and I’m pretty sure I don’t WANT to do it).  That is, if I can even get through an application-and-interview process that sounds like the worst kind of hell right about now, given my lack of self-confidence.  I’m way too lazy for my own good.  And don’t even mention the inevitable reduction of income.

So, as you can see, there’s enough “bad” there to choke a horse.  I don’t even want to get into the “ugly” because it fills me with such impotence and gloom and an overriding fear that it’s only going to get worse, somehow, if all the controls come off completely.  I remember when Trump first (inexplicably, shockingly) won the election, the thing that most upset me was that there would be no checks on him, given that the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and he would take advantage of the Supreme Court nomination stolen from Obama (by those same dastardly Republicans) and create a conservative majority (please the gods, no one else dies or leaves while he’s still in office!).  (Alarmingly, it’s largely gone under the radar what a travesty Trump’s judicial lifetime appointments to the lower courts will turn out to be.)  He’s stacking the deck with hand-picked federal prosecutors and even trying to get the Justice Department and FBI, both of which are sworn to uphold the law wholly independent of any president, to swear fealty.  It’s an “American Horror Story,” all right.  And it’s brought out all this ugliness in so-called publicly elected (and supposedly publicly accountable) government officials.  Whatever happened to “You work for US”??  November 2018 can’t come soon enough, and there needs to be waves of volunteers helping everyone who wants to vote, because the Republicans are going to do their damndest to shut out (and shut up) the Democrats.

I’ve never in my life been so obsessed (and not in a good way) with the workings of our government, but it’s probably a civically responsible thing that I am.  In fact, every week I receive an email about the local neighborhood association meeting, and I note it but I never actually go.  (That’s not precisely true – I went once, when they were talking about hiring a “parking consultant” to sort out the parking situation in the West End, which turned out to be a colossal waste of taxpayer money with no apparent results.)  This year I am committed to going to the meetings regularly and maybe even getting involved on a committee or something.  The last president of the West End Neighbors Association went on to win his first election as city councilmember this past November, so who knows?  Maybe I would make a good politician!  There’s a woman I met at one of my Organize Plan Act (OPA) meetings named Elaine DiMasi who is running for House representative in Suffolk County to unseat the terrible Lee Zeldin.  She is a scientist and is operating a really intelligent campaign, getting out to meet her potential constituents and LISTENING TO THEM, which is something that I think this happy flood of women candidates nationwide will do much better, as a bloc, than their male counterparts.  (There are always exceptions – I’m looking at YOU, Susan Collins.)

One of the pundits I follow regularly since Trump came along is Robert Reich, formerly the Labor Secretary under Bill Clinton and an incredibly smart man (who also draws well!).  I saw on Facebook the other day his “GUIDELINES FOR 2018”, which I found encouraging and uplifting and entirely do-able:

  1. Don’t use the president’s surname. [Well, I do call him “Trump” but I never use the word “president” when I refer to him or, like Charlie Pierce of Esquire does, use an asterisk! One of my OPA colleagues always uses a lower-case “t”.]
  2. Remember this is a regime and he’s not acting alone. [And they’re the truly frightening ones – Trump is an ignorant puppet who can be easily manipulated.]
  3. Do not argue with those who support him—it doesn’t work. [I’ve lost so much respect for people I know who support him that I wouldn’t waste my time.]
  4. Focus on his policies, not his orange-ness and mental state. [Again, they’re not necessarily “his” policies since he only parrots what he hears – see #2 above.]
  5. Keep your message positive; they want the country to be angry and fearful because this is the soil from which their darkest policies grow.
  6. No more helpless/hopeless talk. [These two might be tough, but I’ll try my best.]
  7. Support artists and the arts. [YES! ALWAYS!!]
  8. Be careful not to spread fake news—check it out first.
  9. Take care of yourselves.
  10. RESIST.

To end on a positive note, let’s look at the good – and there IS definitely some, and I do my best to remember that.  My daughter is home, at least for a little while, till she figures out her next career steps.  January finds her, first, in the Cayman Islands for a rainy but warm vacation, and then she’s off to Thailand for five days (almost longer in the air than on the ground) to pick up some pups from the Soi Dog Foundation, an affiliate of Posh Pets Rescue who saves dogs from the meat trade and other cruelties in Southeast Asia.  Generous Soi Dog donors periodically offer to pay the round-trip airfare for volunteers to come to Thailand and then accompany a few doggies back to the States to find their forever homes.  It was an ideal opportunity for travel (which she loves to do), so she jumped at it.  She’s never actually been to Asia (apart from a wedding on the Asia side of the Bosphorus in Turkey), so that will be yet another continent represented on her “world travels” map.  I’ll finally get to see her again at the end of the month!

But in the meantime, I have furry children to keep me company.  We’re above maximum capacity at the moment, on the canine AND feline side.  The Posh Pets cat director, Vanessa Vetrano Vaccaro, had a horrible fire at her house just before Thanksgiving and actually lost five of her favorite cats, which was heartbreaking, although the many fosters living with her were saved and shuffled off to various locations in Westchester and Long Island.  In the chaos after the fire, I of course offered to take in one of her foster cats.  As this happened a couple of weeks before Darian’s graduation (on December 15, a day that will live in Lucas Family history!), I had a whole room in which to host him.  Turns out the cat I took home wasn’t one of Vanessa’s cats at all:  He was just a stray that lived in a foreclosed house down the block from her.  But he’s never going to live outside again, as he has become House Cat Supreme, lazing all day on the bed and getting cuddles and pets, non-stop purring and making biscuits.  He’s a big, beautiful strawberry blonde boy we first called Fred, which we had to change when another “Fred” was surrendered to the shelter the same day.  So then we were calling him “Big Red,” but once Darian got home, she decided she didn’t like that name because it reminded her of a girl she didn’t like, so now we’re calling him “Greg”, which seems to fit just fine.  Greg is still officially a foster cat but we are going to have a hard time giving him up.  My daughter is very fond of him as well, and shares her bed with him nightly.  They haven’t even posted him on the Posh Pets website yet as none of us can manage to get a good photo of him (as the below can attest – it does NOT do him justice).

Greg (fka Fred, Big Red)

Greg (fka Fred, Big Red)

And earlier this week I took home a little 7-month old Teddy Bear (bichon-shih tzu mix) named, appropriately, Teddy.  Teddy was one of fifty (!) dogs that Posh Pets saved from a puppy mill auction where they sell these beautiful creatures off like so much merchandise after having lived their lives as breeding machines, stuck in a metal cage with bars under their feet so the poop and pee can fall through, never feeling a human touch or love.  It was harrowing for the Posh folks that actually went there and for those of us here at home, too, as we heard the horror stories.  What a cruel business!  And what’s even worse is that so many of those puppy mill puppies will end up in shelters when the unthinking folks who preferred to buy from pet stores rather than adopt inevitably unthink their way into surrendering an animal whose family membership they didn’t fully consider. (More ugliness, I’m afraid.)  We can’t change people but we can save some lives, including little Teddy’s.  I didn’t have him for long.  He was adopted today by a lovely family in New Jersey and he’s going to have the best life ever.  Housebreaking and separation anxiety will need to be worked on (although he was a pretty quick study with the weewee pads), but he’s so cute and cuddly and playful, he’ll make a wonderful companion.  So now I’ll probably end up taking another one of the 50.  So many dogs!!!  Watch this space.

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Teddy has a forever home!

Finally, the ultimate “good” is this:  I have a roof over my head (and now I even have running water from all my faucets!); reasonably good health (although my medical insurance situation is a whole other nightmare that I’ll tackle in another blog post); a house full of love and barking (and yes, plenty of poop and pee – my garbage men must find me disgusting); good friends and family (even though I don’t see them often enough); and a college graduate daughter whose future stretches out before her like a sparkling (if maybe a little daunting) yellow brick road.  And maybe, just maybe, I can re-start my blog in earnest and resurrect it as the pleasurable pursuit it was intended to be.

The Graduate

The graduate and her siblings

Happy 2018!

A sad post-script:  My cousin George has officially retired “The George and Tony Entertainment Show,” which makes me very sad, especially as his foray into the podcasting arena was a catalyst for me to start my blog.  RIP, GATES.  You will be missed.  I am encouraged, though, by inklings that his podcast days are not entirely over and that there’s some new project in the works.  I certainly hope so!  Cousin George has shown himself to be an intrepid interviewer and a charming and funny host.  Can’t wait to catch up on some of the podisodes I missed in the last year or so and look forward to his future endeavors.

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