Panic, continued

March 23, 2020

So things have progressed at a blinding pace.  When I last wrote 2 weeks ago there were, I think, 4000 people infected in the US.  Now there are more than 40,000, and over 400 dead.  Everything is on lock down, the market has gone even further in the hole, and thousands of people have died in Italy and elsewhere.  The epicenter of the virus now seems to be New York City.

It’s very hard to get a handle on this.  We have a virus that is a) very contagious;  b) potentially deadly, but mostly for elderly people or those with preexisting conditions; and c) incurable.  Our response has been to stop the economies of the West and throw the world into a massive financial downturn.   This can only continue for so long.

So we are staying home, mostly.  We can swim (without benefit of changing facilities) and walk.   We play with Maxine, socialize at a distance with neighbors, and I work.  I think the bookstore is open, but I don’t think I’m supposed to go.  Ditto the library.  No church, no choir, no piano lessons, no French classes for W.

We take online bridge lessons from an Australian lady named Joan Butts.  I have work to do, mercifully.  We are going to need the money if we are going to avoid selling stocks at low, low prices.

It’s not horrible.  It’s just sort of…there.  You can’t do anything about it.  You can survive it, but it’s not enjoyable.

More to come.


March 9, 2020

It’s a beautiful pre-spring day in Virginia.  About 70 degrees outside, blue skies, clear, fresh air.  And yet, the air is filled with fear and trembling because of Covid-19.

The market dropped by close to eight percent today.  In percentage terms, it was far from the biggest one-day drop, but in terms of sheer number of points it set a record.  People are cancelling flights, staying home from church, being sent home from school.

I have to say I don’t get it.  About 150,000 people die every day from something, usually old age.  After six weeks, Covid-19 has killed about 4,000.  That’s tragic, and we mourn for every soul.  But it is a reason to shut down the world?  To destroy our collective wealth?  To stop learning, working, traveling?

Of course everyone should wash his or her hands.  Of course everyone should take other reasonable precautions.  And there is probably no reason to fly in a metal tube full of strangers if it’s not absolutely essential.  But the current levels of hysteria – in the media, in government, in the markets — seem, well, hysterical.

I will check back in on this subject in about six weeks.  Maybe I will be horribly, tragically wrong.  Maybe I will be flat broke.  But in the meantime I’m going outside to play with Maxine, the new puppy.

Just a PS – this seems like a reasonable take on what is now being called “social distancing.”  The idea is not to prevent the spread (that’s impossible) but to slow it down so that health care facilities don’t get overtaxed.

A Good Weekend

March 2, 2020

To a true retiree, the concept of the “weekend” may seem immaterial.  When every day is a day off, what is the difference whether it is Tuesday or Saturday?

Of course, weekends continue whether you are working or not.  Saturdays and Sundays have a different rhythm than other days.

This was a good weekend.  Friday night, we hosted the Polar Bears for an informal cocktail party at our house.  These are the early morning swimmers who brave cold air and warm water year round.  They are fit folks, many of them slightly type A but all very pleasant.  Light drinkers but avid eaters.

Saturday, we drove an hour and a half into the countryside to pick up our new puppy.  She is an eight week old Cavapoo (half Cavalier King Charles, half moyenne poodle) named Maxine.

We got Maxine home mid-afternoon and had fun fussing and playing with her.  She sat on my lap while we watched UVA beat Duke, 52-50.

Sunday W. stayed home with Maxine while I sang in the choir.  Then a dear friend came over with children and grandchildren to see Maxine.  They clucked over the puppy while we clucked over the grandchildren.

With Maxine in a “puppy sling” we took a long walk with our neighbor’s dog.  I did some paid work in the afternoon.  The money will be needed as various vet’s bills and other dog-related expenses pile up.

That was it.  The puppy needs to go out every hour during the day so it’s hard to get much continuity.  There is a 130 wake up call at night.  And there is crate training, which involves a fair amount of crying and whining.  But sitting with the little creature on your lap makes up for it.

So here is little Maxine:






February 21, 2019

Sorry for not posting recently.  I’m on a self-imposed hiatus.

A few things are going on:

  1. Paid work is back, with a vengeance;
  2. I’m taking piano lessons and practicing every day, which takes up a surprising amount of time; and
  3. I’m re-thinking the meaning and purpose of this blog.

So my plan is this.  I’m going to continue the hiatus for a while.  I will be back on or about March 1 with a new look, new ideas, new posts.

Keep well.



Three Good Things

February 4, 2020

More or less at random, one interesting film, one good book, one very good Netflix mini-series:

FilmParasite.  This is a South Korean film, and I’m at a loss as to how to describe it.  It’s part black comedy, part psychological thriller, part sociological study.  It involves two Korean families, one very rich and one more or less on the bottom rung of society.  Alternately creepy, funny, and violent.

Book – The Rise and Fall of American Growth, by Robert J. Gordon.  This book came out in 2016.  It is a detailed history of the American standard of living from 1870 to 2015.  It’s largely a story of how technology (in the form of railroads, electric lights, antibiotics, telephones, indoor plumbing and other advances) changed life and made all Americans vastly richer in ways that do not always show up in GDP figures.  It is absolutely amazing how much life has changed in just 150 years.

Mini-Series – Inside Bill’s Brain.  This is a three part mini-series on Netflix.  It’s done by Davis Guggenheim, who directed the excellent Waiting for Superman.  We track Bill Gates’ early life and career, but we also see him applying his analytical and managerial skills to major problems such as global health and climate change.

That’s it, keeping it short today.


Grace Church, Manhattan

January 28, 2020

I haven’t posted in a while, partly because I was away for a week.  We went to see my sister in Greenwich, Connecticut and then to see my son and daughter-in-law in Manhattan.

I had not been in New York since last summer and conditions in the city took me by surprise.  First, there seems to be much more litter and garbage on the streets than anytime since the 1970s.  I don’t know what sort of metrics the NYC sanitation department uses, but they are not doing well.

Then there are the homeless, or, more properly, the people living on the street.  New York supposedly has about 70,000 homeless people, with about 4000 living on the street. They are highly visible, encamped in church doorways and under scaffolding.  A stretch of Madison Avenue between 35th and 34th Streets — where B. Altman used to be — is now occupied by the homeless.

Then there are the rats.  They are everywhere, scuttling through Union Square, zipping along subway platforms, ducking into construction sites.  I lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn for 13 years — from 1975 to 1988 — during which time I saw exactly one rat.  I saw three on this trip alone.   It’s incredible, to me, that New Yorkers put up with this.  But I know that Paris, London, LA, San Francisco and many other cities are confronting the same problems.

New York is still a lot of fun.  We saw Hamilton for “just” $300 per ticket and it was great.  We ate in wonderful restaurants, including Monte’s on McDougal Street and Paul and Jimmy’s on 19th Street.  We shopped in SoHo and saw two good indie films, JoJo Rabbit and Pain and Glory.  But I found myself wondering how long it would be before the high prices, the trash, the rats and the homeless start keeping people from coming back.

And the city is still full of pleasant surprises.  We ducked into Grace Church at 11th Street and were amazed by the architecture and the stained glass — right up there with many of the churches we saw in France.

We spent a pleasant half hour in a SoHo luggage boutique talking with the proprietor, who had an interesting story about every piece we looked at.  (No, I did not get away unscathed).

It was a good trip.  We spent time with people we love and did a lot of fun things.  One of the best parts of going to New York these days, however, is that it confirms for us the wisdom of having decamped from the Northeast for Richmond.  It was great when we did it, but we don’t really have any desire to live in the New York area anymore.

Below, a cell phone shot of one of the stained glass windows in Grace Church:


IMG_0429 (2)


Why I Live Where I Live

January 18, 2020

This internet thing really is remarkable.  With a few clicks I was recently able to bring up an old series of essays by various writers (people like Walker Percy, one of my all time favorites) that appeared in Esquire magazine in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  The essays were entitled “Why I Live Where I Live” and featured the writers ruminating about why they had chosen to live in the particular places they lived at the moment.

That got me thinking about why I live where I live, which is Richmond, Virginia.

I wasn’t born in Richmond and never spent much time here until the late 1980s.  That is when I met and married W., who is a Richmond native.

I won’t go into the whole social demographic of Richmond.  Suffice it to say that the city was once ruled by a clique of “old” families with names like Cabell, Montague, Antrim, Rawls, and Claiborne.  Many of these names adorn the dormitories and academic buildings of the University of Virginia, where I went to school (or “skew” as it is pronounced here).

Richmond, however, was never a typical Southern city.  For one thing, it is absolutely abuzz with commercial activity.  I-64 meets I-95 here and the city – two hours from the Hampton Roads shipping hub — is a major distribution center.  It was the home of Big Tobacco and is headquarters to many large corporations.  Virginia Commonwealth University is the biggest employer in town.  There is a lot of corporate money available to fund museums, concert spaces and lecture series.  It’s not exactly cosmopolitan, but it is relatively sophisticated, and people are always ready to try new things.

Then there’s the Fan.  In the middle of the city, “fanning” out from the State Capitol building, is an amazing collection of  row houses, apartment buildings and post-Civil War mansions, stretching for miles.  To my view, it is the best (and best-preserved) historic district in the country — bigger than Brooklyn Heights or Beacon Hill, less touristy than Charleston.

The James River runs through the city.  It is clean and beautiful, thronged in the summertime with kayaks and small boats.  Walking trails wind for miles on both sides of the James.  There is a lot of golf, and there are interesting birds in profusion.  There is bicycle trail that extends from downtown Richmond all the way to Williamsburg, about 55 miles away.  There are beaches two hours away and mountains about an hour and a half in the other direction.  And Washington, DC is about 100 miles up the road.

Richmond also has an active tattooed hipster scene, good local bands, many fine restaurants, more than two dozen local breweries, a great art museum in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and a thriving theater community.

Of course, there are downsides.  It’s hot and muggy all summer.  There is crime (much less than there used to be) and the city school system is terrible, which deters peoples’ children (and grandchildren) from moving here.  The suburban schools are excellent, though, and there are good private schools for those who can afford them.

We moved here almost ten years ago and we both agree it was a very smart thing to do.  We miss certain aspects of New York — good pizza, good independent films — but we travel there often enough to satisfy our cravings.  Other than that, Richmond has what we need.


Dry January

January 15, 2020

Here we are, roughly halfway through our first (and perhaps last) Dry January.

As you may have read elsewhere, Dry January started about seven years ago. According to the Christian Science Monitor:

The “Dry January” movement began in Britain seven years ago. The idea was to make the first month of the year a time to experiment with a life without alcohol. Another anti-drinking meme called Sober Curious extends the concept to any time of year. 

I haven’t looked into Sober Curious, but W. and I agreed on Dry January during the last week of December.  There was no particular reason for it;  we drank a fair amount of wine in France from September to November, but we weren’t feeling any ill effects.

Our alcohol consumption has edged up over the years, though.  When our children were young I don’t think we drank wine with dinner (I don’t remember many details from those days) and when we went out, I usually drank beer and W. had a vodka and tonic.

After we started going to France in 2007 we took an interest in wine and began trying different wines with dinner.   We typically would ration ourselves to about two-thirds of a bottle — about eight ounces each, or a glass and a half — each night.  We didn’t drink every night, but we did indulge in wine more and more frequently.

There is a lot of literature on alcohol and its effects on human health, but, overall, the consensus seems to be that alcohol isn’t good for you and the less you drink the better.

Then there are the calories:  About 200 per night, multiplied by four or five times a week, is about four thousand calories a month or close to 50,000 calories a year.  At about 3500 calories to the pound that’s more than 15 pounds that has to be accounted for, either through exercise or by not eating or drinking something else.

Then there’s the cost:  About $25 per week, or $1200 per year.  I don’t know if we will notice the savings but, like the calories, the money has to go somewhere.

So we took a Dry January pledge and, surprise, so far, so good.  I can’t say that I really miss it, although I do get tired of explaining why I’m drinking club soda with a splash of cranberry juice instead of something more interesting.

Will we extend this into Dry February?  No, I don’t think so.  But I can see some sort of compromise whereby we only drink wine on weekends.

At the end of the day, none of this probably matters too much to our health and fitness.  I do think it’s good, however, to test yourself a bit, especially as you get older.  I’m glad we tried this experiment and I’m hoping to report a successful outcome in two weeks.





Five Pounds

January 9, 2020

I joke that I make the same resolution — to lose five pounds — every year.

This year, I really mean it.  Really.   The problem is, it’s not so easy.

I have motivation.  My blood pressure has gone up quite a bit in the last couple of years.  I haven’t gained weight, but I think if I can lose five pounds (about three percent of my body weight) it will help with the hypertension.

Losing as little as five pounds as many other benefits, ranging from healthier joints to a lowered risk of cancer.  Your “good” cholesterol levels go up and the bad levels go down, and there’s more.

But how to do it?

I thought I would kill two birds with one stone by participating in “Dry January.”  After all, if I average one 150 calorie drink a day, that’s well over a thousand calories a week.  At about 3500 calories to the pound, cutting out alcohol should be good for at least a pound or two.

So far, mixed results.  I haven’t been tempted to drink at all (I’m actually surprised how little I miss it) but I have a strong craving for sweet and/or salty foods.  So I’ve actually gained a pound in the first nine days of January.

I’ve tried to reduce portion sizes and cut out any between meal eating, but these steps are not as easy as they sound.

Exercise?  Well, I try to swim a mile every other day and hit the gym on alternate days.  But I do sit around a lot, working at the computer or watching TV at night.  So I can add some more activity, such as walking or pickle ball (went to a beginner clinic this week).  I’m even thinking about taking up tennis again, although I haven’t played in years.

My experience has been, however, that caloric intake rather than caloric “burn” is the real key to weight loss.

And, of course, losing the five pounds is the easy part.  Keeping it off is the real challenge.

I’m going to keep experimenting, trying to see what works and doesn’t work for me.  Now, however, it is lunchtime.



Seven Resolutions

January 2, 2020

I take New Year’s resolutions somewhat seriously.

That doesn’t mean I stick to my resolutions.  If I did that, I would be superhuman.  Most people (including me) who make resolutions don’t get through January.

It does mean, however, that I a) think about resolutions;  b) try to pick things that are at least somewhat meaningful; and c) try to pick things that are realistic.  I also try as hard as I can to keep the resolutions I make.  Once in a while, I’m successful.

For example, I want to try playing pickle ball.  But “start playing pickle ball in 2020” is not a resolution, it’s just a statement of intent.  There is nothing stopping me from taking it up.  A resolution should call for some degree of difficulty.

With all that said, I have seven resolutions that I am willing to make public:

  1. Break 100 for 18 holes of golf.  I’ve broken 50 for nine holes a few times but not for 18.  This is the year.
  2. Swim 150 miles.  That’s about 13-15 times a month with allowances for vacations and other road trips.
  3. Lower blood pressure.  It’s too high. I want to get it down to the old levels (120/70 or thereabouts).  This will mean taking the prescribed medications and cutting down on sodium.  I’m trying other things, including a dry January, and losing a few pounds as well.
  4. Get better at the piano.  Realistically, this means taking lessons and practicing at least an hour a day.  I’ve been on the same plateau forever and am thoroughly bored with it.
  5. Find a worthwhile volunteer activity.  I have it narrowed down to working for Habitat, teaching ESL or tutoring in English/reading/writing.
  6. Socialize more.  I’m going to try to take someone to lunch every month in addition to pursuing other continuing activities such as bridge.
  7. Bill 80 hours a month.  This would be more than I did in 2019 and will mean pursuing some new business.

I have a couple of other things I don’t want to disclose, but this is basically the list.  We’ll see.

A happy and prosperous 2020 to all!