Preparing for Another of Life’s Milestones

May 14, 2013

In a few months, my bride will retire from her job and I will change my status from “semi-retired” to “fully retired.” In the past I’ve written about “Rites of Passage” and this is one for which we’ve been preparing for many years, but it’s a bit more frightening than all the previous stages of my life.

In the first place, there are the retirement savings accounts. My oldest account was started more than thirty years ago. It saw me though a long period of unemployment when I had to borrow from it to pay my bills. I’ve managed to repay those loans and add to it. But in a few months, I will stop adding to it and, (GASP!) begin withdrawing from it.

At the same time, we will transfer my bride’s 401K to a dividend paying mutual fund and virtually end the growth of that account. Hopefully, the dividends we collect from our retirement accounts will supplement our Social Security payments so we won’t have to move in with our kids… for at least a little while.

Many people who retire, do little more than sit in front of the TV and wait for the final curtain. I doubt if my bride could ever do such a thing, which means she won’t let me do it either. That’s one of the reasons we bought our new toys.

Our new travel trailer.

Our new travel trailer.

Our new tow vehicle

Our new tow vehicle

Some retirees go out and buy a two seater sports car and drive off into the sunset – stopping at fancy hotels along the way. Lu and I prefer to travel more frugally, and also hope to be able to take a few grandkids along with us to some of our as-yet-to-be-planned destinations.

To give those grandkids and their parents something to think about… our potential destinations include Tybee Island, Georgia, various parts of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Yellowstone National Park, Illinois, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, New Jersey, Texas, and a number of Canadian provinces.

In 1984, I dragged my first wife and our four children on a cross-country camping trip. That was done with a pop-up camping trailer and an 8-passenger van. We saved a lot of money by staying at camp grounds, but strained a lot of relationships by having to deal with a daily allotment of chores, dirt, flat tires, dead batteries, lost pieces of the trailer, and spartan meals. I think I’m the only one who absolutely loved the adventure, but, then again, it was my idea. I had to love it!

That 1984 trip was carefully planned almost down to the number of miles to be driven each day.

Now, we’re looking at a trip that has no definite destination and no detailed advanced planning. However, technology has advanced significantly over the last 29 years. We now have cell phones, GPS navigators, Wi-Fi computers, and 29 years of experience in the art of living. We also have a better financial picture and hope to keep that improved picture by keeping our travel expenses as low as possible.

Some of my readers may take that last statement to mean “We’re coming to visit you and expect you to house and feed us for some period of time.” I promise you that we won’t stay long. So don’t worry.

In 1984, I had to estimate how many bills would be delivered in our absence, and how much we would owe. I paid most of the bills in advance and wound up with credit balances on most of them. Today I can review my bills on line and pay most of them by simply making a few keystrokes on the computer. Hopefully, our bank account will not run out on us.

Needless to say, even with all the advancements in technology, our additional knowledge and wisdom that comes with age, and all the other assets in our possession, our future remains a vast unknown and leaving home is a somewhat scary proposition.

Fortunately, we have family, friends, and neighbors who we can count on to drive by the homestead from time to time to let us know that things are OK, but I’d hate to be in Timbuktu when we learn that a tree has fallen on the house. Perhaps that is why many RVers sell their homes and take to the road on a permanent basis.

Perhaps that will be our next significant rite of passage.


Who You Gonna Call?

December 7, 2012

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This is the house in Northfield, New Jersey my grandmother lived in until her death in 1943. As of two days ago, it is still standing and appears to be in good shape. It appears to be unscathed by Hurricane Sandy.

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This home was not as lucky. It is no more than twenty miles from my grandmother’s house. That’s the way hurricanes do their thing. Some places appear virtually untouched while others look like a fleet of bombers came through.

The news media had a field day with Hurricane Katrina and the victims in New Orleans. They ignored the victims in southern Mississippi (especially Waveland) where the people took the brunt of Katrina – because people stranded on bridges and stuck in an overly crowded superdome were far more newsworthy. Beside, they could quickly illustrate that FEMA and the President were failing to do their jobs.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the President and FEMA are once again falling short.

We recently took a trailer load of food and other supplies to King of Kings Community Church in Manahawkin, New Jersey. There we learned that a group of Amish men from Lancaster, Pennsylvania were volunteering to travel to New Jersey to help in the rebuilding process. The men wanted to build their own temporary housing to maintain their religious beliefs, but the local government insisted they needed a building permit that would require weeks to go through the bureaucratic process. When the state was asked to intervene to speed up the process, they declined… as did FEMA.

The Red Cross? They had already left the area.

I did not stop at Grandma’s house to inquire about the damages. But I did learn from people living nearby that many homes that look like they made it through the storm without damage had considerable damage caused by the wind and rain.

Many homes had flooded basements. In some cases, the flood waters reached the first floor. The fact that it was salt water added to the problem. While a home may look good from the outside, the wallboard had to be ripped out and replaced. In addition, many homes had to be treated for mold. (Many are still waiting for those steps to be taken.)

Another problem was caused by the sand blowing underneath homes that did not have basements.

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A home such as this had the heating ducts and, in some cases, electrical and plumbing lines destroyed. In order to repair the damage, the sand must be removed. This is not an easy task.

Yet, because the home is still in reasonable condition, the owners are moving back in. There are not a lot of shelters and the people feel more comfortable in their own homes. However, without light and heat, they are at risk from the elements as the temperature drops. A propane area heater (and carbon monoxide) can be deadly… more so than freezing temperatures.

Our church out-reach committee sent a number of labor parties to the Gulf states to help in the rebuilding effort following Katrina. We hope to do the same for the victims of Sandy.

The recovery work in New Jersey has already begun.

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People are emptying their homes and businesses of the useless furniture and building materials destroyed by the hurricane. That is Step One. The next step is to see what the insurance companies, FEMA, and other groups can provide in the way of money to repair or rebuild the structure.

In the not too distant future, these communities will welcome volunteer laborers to help restore and rebuild what was lost. In the meantime, they need help in the way of food and shelter. Cash donations are more than welcome. When people learn they cannot count on FEMA or the insurance companies to finance their rebuilding efforts, they will desperately need the help of generous fellow Americans. (One would think our government that sends billions of dollars to foreign countries to be used to purchase military weapons could stop those payments long enough to help out American taxpayers in need, but perhaps that is expecting too much.)

I recently heard one person say he was more than willing to help the poor, but the millionaires who own the ocean-front properties should fend for themselves. On the surface, that is a reasonable statement. However, a closer examination should shed new light on that thought.

Let’s assume that the million dollar home on the shore is jointly owned by two or three families who combined their resources to buy it. They share the rent it brings in to supplement their social security payments. They are now looking at a need of thousands of dollars to repair it so it can be rented out again. They may not have that money.

In the meantime, there is that “rich guy” who owns the restaurant a block away from the beach. His business was badly damaged by the storm and he needs thousands of dollars to repair the structure before he can reopen. Of course, when he does reopen, if the million dollar beach houses are not available to rent, he will have very few customers. So, he needs the tourist trade to remain in business.

Finally, we have the working class citizens who live several blocks away from the beach or on the mainland. Without the beach front rental properties and the tourist eateries and gift shops, there is no employment.

In plain words, South Jersey relies heavily on tourists. All areas of the coast must be rebuilt or the entire economy of the state is toast.

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I included this picture because it seemed so ironic. Our church annually has an Angel Tree and we encourage our members to buy Christmas gifts for underprivileged children. This year we asked for a number of bicycles. Here are at least three bicycles that will never be ridden by children again.

The two groups we encountered in New Jersey that are making a difference and honestly providing for those who truly need the help are: King of Kings Community church in Manahawkin and the Ocean City, New Jersey C.A.R.E. project.

I encourage you to make a monetary donation to either one of these groups, or send your donation to Christ the King Lutheran Church in Cumming, Georgia and we’ll see that it goes to the people who are in the most need.

Let me warn you that the scam artists are already at work in the area. One family was taken for $2,000.00 by a guy who claimed he could remove the water under their home by setting up two fans to blow the water out. Obviously, he was a blowhard who stole their money!


Take the Time

June 17, 2012

Sixteen family members vacationing in Hilton Head, South Carolina

My bride and I have been to many places over the last decade, but our most enjoyable vacations have been the ones we’ve shared with family and friends. Unfortunately, I had come to take those “shared times” for granted. Then, a woman I worked with at IBM sent me the following:

A young man learns what’s most important in life from the guy next door. 

Over the phone, his mother told him, “Mr. Belser died last night. The funeral is Wednesday.” Memories flashed through his mind like an old newsreel as he sat quietly remembering his childhood days. 

“Jack, did you hear me?” 

“Oh, sorry, Mom. Yes, I heard you. It’s been so long since I thought of him. I’m sorry, but I honestly thought he died years ago,” Jack said… 

“Well, he didn’t forget you. Every time I saw him he’d ask how you were doing. He’d reminisce about the many days you spent over ‘his side of the fence’ as he put it,” Mom told him. 

“I loved that old house he lived in,” Jack said. 

“You know, Jack, after your father died, Mr. Belser stepped in to make sure you had a man’s influence in your life,” she said. 

“He’s the one who taught me carpentry,” he said. “I wouldn’t be in this business if it weren’t for him. He spent a lot of time teaching me things he thought were important. Mom, I’ll be there for the funeral,” Jack said. 

As busy as he was, he kept his word. Jack caught the next flight to his hometown. Mr. Belser’s funeral was small and uneventful. He had no children of his own, and most of his relatives had passed away. 

The night before he had to return home, Jack and his Mom stopped by to see the old house next door one more time. 

Standing in the doorway, Jack paused for a moment. It was like crossing over into another dimension, a leap through space and time The house was exactly as he remembered. Every step held memories. Every picture, every piece of furniture. Jack stopped suddenly… 

“What’s wrong, Jack?” his Mom asked. 

“The box is gone,” he said 

“What box?” Mom asked. 

“There was a small gold box that he kept locked on top of his desk. I must have asked him a thousand times what was inside. All he’d ever tell me was ‘the thing I value most,'” Jack said. 

It was gone. Everything about the house was exactly how Jack remembered it, except for the box. He figured someone from the Belser family had taken it. 

“Now I’ll never know what was so valuable to him,” Jack said. “I better get some sleep. I have an early flight home, Mom.” 

It had been about two weeks since Mr. Belser died. Returning home from work one day Jack discovered a note in his mailbox. “Signature required on a package. No one at home. Please stop by the main post office within the next three days,” the note read. Early the next day Jack retrieved the package. The small box was old and looked like it had been mailed a hundred years ago. The handwriting was difficult to read, but the return address caught his attention. “Mr. Harold Belser” it read. Jack took the box out to his car and ripped open the package. There inside was the gold box and an envelope. Jack’s hands shook as he read the note inside. 

“Upon my death, please forward this box and its contents to Jack Bennett. It’s the thing I valued most in my life.” A small key was taped to the letter. His heart racing, as tears filling his eyes, Jack carefully unlocked the box. There inside he found a beautiful gold pocket watch. 

Running his fingers slowly over the finely etched casing, he unlatched the cover. Inside he found these words engraved: 

“Jack, Thanks for your time! -Harold Belser.” 

“The thing he valued most was… my time” 

Jack held the watch for a few minutes, then called his office and cleared his appointments for the next two days. “Why?” Janet, his assistant asked. 

“I need some time to spend with my son,” he said. 

“Oh, by the way, Janet, thanks for your time!” 

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Sadly, I have no idea who wrote those words. Likewise I have no idea if it’s a true story or not. What I do know is that they are words of wisdom. We all need to devote more time to those we love, and to recognize and appreciate the time they spend with us.

A smaller, but just as important, group at Edisto Beach.

The other day I had lunch with a man who is planning his fiftieth wedding anniversary. He has already told his children that he and his wife do not want a big fancy dinner or any other “surprise” party their children might think of planning. What he and his bride want is to repeat a vacation they took several years ago. Their entire family rented a large house near the beach and spent a week together. They took turns preparing meals and cleaning up and thoroughly enjoyed their time together.

I think he and his wife have already recognized and appreciate the value of time spent with loved ones.

New Jersey 2006. A great time with great nieces and nephews!

Whoever came up with the “quality time” phrase needs to spend “quantity” time with loved ones. They are much more important than the job or anything else.

So, get started in planning that big family vacation. You’ll be glad you did!


Hilton Head 2010

August 3, 2010

Paul, Dominic, and Anna

Last week, my bride and I traveled to Hilton Head, South Carolina and spent a week with her sister and brother-in-law, and various children and grandchildren.

I’m not a big fan of Hilton Head for a number of reasons, but the thing I dislike the most is all the private property between the public roads and the public beach and waterways. Unless you rent a place with beach access, there are very few easy paths to the sand and surf. We were fortunate in that the house we rented was next to Bradley Beach Park.  However, had we not rented a house in that area, we would’ve had difficulty recognizing that there was a parking lot and walkway to the beach at the end of the road. There is a sign, but one that can easily be missed.

The beach was nice – everyone else in our party was fine with that – but I wanted more. I love crab and crabbing. Crabs do not spend time in the surf; they dwell in the marshes and streams away from the waves. Trying to gain access to those back-water salt marshes is next to impossible; they are surrounded by private property.

The only place I was able to find was a large bay between Hilton Head Island and the mainland. It wasn’t the optimal place to catch crabs, but it was better than nothing.

The first day I tried, a family had already laid claim to the best spot and I had to go to the end of a dock where the water was much deeper.

A side story: In many states, the use of crab traps is perfectly legal and that’s how we caught them during my childhood on our annual vacations to New Jersey. However, in Maryland (and this may no longer be true) traps were only permitted for the commercial crabbers. Everyone else had to tie the bait to a line and slowly draw the crabs close to shore where they could be captured in a net. Thus, when I go crabbing I’m prepared to catch crabs using both methods. Using the baited line is less boring than simply checking the trap every five to ten minutes.

So, as I’m walking to the end of the dock, a small boy of five or six asks me if I’m going crab fishing with my net. When I told him that was my plan, he said, “You’re never going to catch a crab with that net.”

Out of the mouths of babes! On that first day, he was absolutely correct. As a matter of fact, he could’ve said the same about my trap and would’ve been almost correct. I caught nothing with the baited lines. As for the trap, I caught one small crab – too small to keep – and one medium sized fish. That was a first. I’ve caught turtles in a trap, but never a fish.

The next day I arrived earlier and claimed the better spot, but the tide was wrong. Nonetheless, I caught one crab in the trap and two using the baited line and net method.

It can be done!

Unfortunately, only one of the three crabs I caught was big enough to keep. Eventually I gave up and released my sole captive. My feasting on fresh crab meat will have to wait.

When we first arrived at our rental house, we all made fun of the swimming pool.

Most of the pool is in this picture.

Our group consisted of nine adults and five children. There is no way we could’ve all fit into that pool at the same time. Yet it was perfect for the children. They were always close to a side that they could grab on to if they encountered any difficulties.

The shallow end was a series of steps down to about three feet. The deep end was perhaps four or five feet deep… just deep enough for a rotund grandfather to do a cannon ball without hitting the bottom of the pool too hard.

Most of the time, I simply borrowed my granddaughter’s flotation device and enjoyed the coolness of the water.

Chilling in the pool

The most difficult part of the vacation was trying to get the children out of the water. They all loved the ocean and the pool. By the end of the week, they looked like a bunch of prunes, but we did manage to get them to sit still for about 30 seconds for a group photo.

Dominic, Anna, Emma, Zack, and Ty

It’s plain to see the children enjoyed the trip to the beach, and I assure you that at least one adult also had a wonderful time. I’m sure my bride and the others also had a good time.

We definitely have to do it again… real soon!


Jeremiah Was Kinfolk

March 29, 2010

Jeremiah Leeds, the first white settler on Absecon Island (now Atlantic City, New Jersey) was a great-great-great uncle of mine. I may have omitted a “great” or two or three, but that doesn’t matter. I’m more interested in the bullfrog today.

Actually, the thought that is stuck on my craw is the idea of being “King of the World.” Have you ever given that any thought? If you were “King of the World” for even a day, what would you do?

After careful thought, here is what I, as a hard-working American, would do.

Number one: Cut off all foreign aid.

We are paying Egypt the same as we are paying Israel for only one reason. Egypt will leave Israel alone as long as we continue to pay them. This is thanks to Jimmy Carter.

And what is Egypt doing with the money? They’re supporting schools that teach the children to hate Americans. And what is Israel doing with their payola? Besides paying spies to spy on the U.S., they’re using the money to kill Palestinians, which give the Arab nations a good reason to hate Americans.

I’m not sure where else American tax dollars are going, but my guess is they are having a similar effect regardless of where they are going. We pay people to do things the way we want them to do them. Ask yourself, if the government was paying you to do things a certain way, would you? Even when the government isn’t looking?

Consider all the cash we sent to Saddam Hussein when he was fighting Iran (to our benefit) and how he used it to build palaces for himself – ignoring the Iraqi people and encouraging them to hate Americans. Are other recipient nations doing less? I doubt it. The leaders are taking the money and feathering their own nests and the poor people of their countries are left wondering why the United States of American has abandoned them.

So, my solution is simple. Let’s eliminate the middle-men. If someone in Iraq needs help paying the rent, they can fill out an application and we will consider each applicant on an individual basis. Deserving people will be helped. Undeserving people will be encouraged to go pound salt.

While we’re at it, we’ll use the same approach for welfare in America. People who have physical or mental problems that keep them from earning a livable wage will be helped. The rest will be told to go suck eggs.

As for health care, the same rules will apply. If you are unable to afford health insurance – for a legitimate reason – we’ll use tax dollars. If you are too lazy to work, or consider yourself immortal, you will be left to prove it.

As for companies, the adage “Too big to allow to fail” will be erased from the American psyche. If your management screws up, your company becomes part of American History. It’s that simple.

Pre-existing conditions will mean nothing. If you have insurance when you are struck with a chronic or terminal illness, your insurance company will be required, by law, to pay your bills. They gambled on you and lost.

On the other hand, if you saw no need for health insurance until you were struck with the chronic or terminal illness, you gambled, and you lost.

For the sake of your family, I’ll encourage the tax payers to pick up your tab. But I won’t force an insurance company to go bankrupt due to your stupidity.

There is one other major area that I, as King of the World, would look into. We may have the best equipped and trained military in the world, but I believe we could attain the same results with a lot less money. Therefore, I’d force every high ranking military official to justify every penny that is spent. I’ll bet we could achieve the same results on half the cost.

As for other government run entities, I’d sell off AMTRAK, the Postal Service, the V.A. Hospitals, and a number of other programs to the private sector. There is no doubt in my mind that people trying to earn a profit could do a much better job.

To me, the major problems with government involvement are two-fold. For those living on the dole, the government has removed the shame that would encourage them to get off the dole as soon as possible.

As for government run entities, there is no incentive to make a profit. In fact, there is no incentive to break even. Thus, the tax payers are stuck with the annual bail-out programs that aren’t even reported by the mainstream media. Either the media are trying to protect the politicians who are bringing our country to ruin, or simply see no reason to report old news.

I don’t have a telephone like Glenn Beck to encourage people to point out the flaws in my assessments, but I do encourage your feedback. If I’m wrong, tell me where! But don’t deal in generalities. Give me specifics!


Is there a Family Resemblance?

February 17, 2010

An ancestor of mine was the first Mayor of Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Cousin Chalkley Steelman Leeds

At the same time, his brother was that city’s first Post Master.

Cousin Robert Barclay Leeds

And then there is me.

Do I look as serious as my ancestors?

I have yet to be elected to any city or county office and I let my brother do the Post Master thing. But you’ve got to admit it. We could pass as triplets!


Life’s a Beach

February 16, 2010

Edisto Island Beach

I’ve been going to the beach ever since I was a toddler. Because my father was raised in South Jersey and we had relatives living in Linwood and Somers Point, my family vacationed near the beach every year.

We never stayed at the beach; that would’ve been too expensive. We would rent a small apartment or stay on my uncle’s cabin cruiser (also small) a few miles in from the shore. Most of our time was spent fishing and crabbing in the inland bays and marshes. Once or twice during our stay we’d go into Atlantic City or Ocean City to spend some time on the beach or stroll along the boardwalk.

Fishing and crabbing with nephews and nieces

I recall one vacation when my parents did something different. I believe it was 1955 or 1956. Instead of going to South Jersey, we went to Cambridge, Maryland and rented a cottage along the Choptank River. We arrived shortly after a hurricane had passed through. Not only was the river running fast and deep, many of the surrounding fields were still draining. We saw a number of people holding chicken wire at the end of irrigation ditches. They were catching some very large fish that had been driven inland by the storm surge.

On that particular trip, the beach wasn’t quite as convenient. But on one of our days in Maryland, we drove over to Ocean City, Maryland and enjoyed their beach and boardwalk.

I have been to beaches all up and down the East Coast, Mississippi, Texas, California, and Oregon. I’ve also visited Brighton Beach in England and some beaches in Puerto Rico and Mexico. They all speak the same language as they invite us to either walk along the water’s edge or sit down and watch the waves rolling in.

Without even closing my eyes, I can hear the sound of the surf, the wind, and the sea gulls.

I’ve often thought about living closer to a beach. I wouldn’t want to own a home on the beach. Hurricanes might not hit a particular beach that often, but once would be more than enough for me. I’d like to live about twenty miles inland so it would be an easy trip to get close to the ocean.

However, with most of our children and grandchildren living within thirty miles of us, I’d find it difficult to move anywhere.

Perhaps we could win the lottery. Then we could move the entire extended family.

My bride and I on Tybee Island

I have been to the beach so many times in my life that I consider it a God given blessing and wish everyone – especially children – could visit a beach on a regular basis.

Twice we were able to stay at rental properties right on the beach. Once was in Ocean City, New Jersey and the other was on Edisto Island. My bride and I rented the place in New Jersey at the end of the summer season (reduced rates) and my nephews and nieces chipped in. On Edisto Island, we were fortunate to be the guests of John and Debbe Mize. That was in November a couple of years back.

Based on those two experiences, I’d say the best time to go to the beach is after Labor Day and before June. The temperatures are much milder and there are no crowds.

We’re hoping to get to at least one beach in 2010, but I think I’m already there mentally.