Joy of Zero Income

We are living the story. Freedom from work! Work we sometimes despised. We put in the time, collected our checks, waited until the day retirement arrived so we could focus on work we really loved. For me that’s writing, although it pays way below the cost of living, and dream vacations to Greece cost so much.

We can move to where the weather suits us. If we can afford a house. That’s what all the saving was for when we worked those soul crushing jobs. Al and I did better at saving than most, but when we thought about it, we realized we’d have a hard time buying a home in this crazy market unless we paid cash. Because we’re retired. No income. Well, very little income. This adds all sorts of complications.

We could dip into our savings, but higher income means higher tax bracket. Thus more taxes. Taking money out of 401K also means paying even more taxes as 401Ks (unless they are Roth) are not taxed until you take them out of the market. We thought that was great when we were saving.

Social Security is giving seniors a COLA raise for the first time in forever, but Medicare is raising costs equal to that and they take it right out of your check. If you’re not collecting SS yet, you still have to write Medicare a check.

Last week consisted of crunching numbers with our banker, who is lovely and kind. It was soooo boring. She and Al loved talking finance strategies, me not so much. Now we just have to figure out what we want to do. Which taxes to pay when or if there’s a way people who are not rich can avoid them. (There isn’t.) I learned a lot about money and what it can and cannot do for you in retirement, but I still don’t understand how it is legal for billionaires to have billions of ways to avoid paying taxes. While we in the middle have exactly zero legal means unless we spend zero.

Money is a strange thing. Now this crypto-currency is weirder yet, although I do like the IDEA of minting a trillion dollar coin to pay off our country’s debt. Or is it debt ceiling? Or are we just calling off that whole thing? Sure I’ve learned a lot, but I have way more to figure out. Lucky for me, Al’s hobby is finance. And he’s really good at it.

The Storyteller

I am reading Dave Grohl’s autobiography and it is good. I asked myself in my journal this morning why I would read it. I’m not a Foo Fighters fan. But he was in another band before that…My very first connection to writing came through song lyrics, that’s why I read songwriter’s stories. And while I was getting on in rock years by the time Nirvana came along, I still found new bands, mostly by watching endless MTV. I’d moved on from writing poetry (and song lyrics) by this time but I never forget those early dreams, the first word stories that captivated me. Also, STORYTELLER. What a great title for a rock star to claim.

I finished up my Jane pages for the week and sent them to the critique group. I have no idea how this chapter fits into the scheme of things but I’ll figure it out. I got a new phone and it doesn’t save my photos to JPG anymore but HEIC. Word Press does not upload HEIC yet. I messed around with that for awhile but of course could not convert it so then just used an old picture. Julia is a lot bigger now! The pic I took today was of our living room in the little condo. I wanted to show the two rocking chairs side by side facing the television. I only just realized we are literally in our rocking chairs much of the time. Not necessarily watching TV.

We finally checked off the last of our to-do list before we hire a real estate agent. This is not a good time to buy a house. You might know this. Houses are in short supply and they are super expensive. But the thing is they are not getting cheaper anytime soon. And interest rates are low, so that’s good. We have been here a few months and I really believed I could stay a year if I needed to…but it’s hard. No washer, dryer, dishwasher. Second floor. Small space. I’m a spoiled brat but I’m old and I have been saving my entire adult life for this perfect Florida retirement in my dream ranch house and damn it, we’re going to do it. Also I always believe I can do things that in reality are much more difficult. Like living with my husband in a 1200 sq ft condo with no garage for a year. No! It’s too hard!

Every day something goes wrong. My dad lost his wallet so I ferried him around replacing all his paperwork instead of doing my own. I was glad to be here to help him, even though a car dealer told us it’s legal to drive without a license in Florida. The DMV said it ain’t so. Dad’s squared away now and I’m living on faith. I cannot imagine why WP does not accept HEIC. Soon, maybe. Like everything else in my life right now.

Three’s Company

Al, me and Dad

My dad is only 18 years older than I am and we are the only two of our family who live in Florida. Dad just got home from an extended visit to my mom and brothers in Michigan; Al and I are glad to have him back. It seems natural that I start to think, when I notice he’s not moving so fast these days, “this is me in 18 years.” I’ve always been interested to see how it feels to become older. It is mostly full of surprises, both good and not so great. Dad’s still got his health and his mind is sharp. He drives a cool sports car, lives in a condo a few blocks away that’s a step up from ours. We all love the weather here. My dad’s mother was born here and so was her mother, Mama Q, who lived in Leesburg her whole life. She died at 99, but not before she’d met my sons, her great-great grandsons.

It’s official now: Al and I are Florida residents. We recently received our new driver’s licenses and registered to vote. Dad has been a Florida resident for many years. He’s still married to Mom, they love each other, but they prefer things as they are. She loves the cold; he doesn’t. They are in their 80s but still visit back and forth. I got a text from my brother yesterday Don’t worry about Ma, we’ll take care of her. I knew that. And he knows I’ll help Dad if he needs me. In a way, we all grew up together.

Remember the “sandwich generation”? Caught between their children and their aging parents? Trying to raise kids and take care of Mom and Dad? I could never relate to that. It’s only lately my folks have been slowing down (a little bit) and my boys are both married with little ones of their own. My boys don’t need my help and my folks don’t either. But there is another guy I turn to all the time now that he’s retired…Al.

Since Al retired not quite two years ago, I notice I have become more dependent on him. Not life or death, just open the pickle jar. Watch the finances. Handle the real estate. Even sometimes…wash the dishes. Al is easy to lean on, but I probably do too much of it. He doesn’t complain.

Al and Dad usually golf together but they have not started yet. It’s a bit warm for Al still and Dad’s hip has been bothering him. We did take Dad to his favorite place for a waterside lunch on the Intracoastal after picking him up at the airport. It was getting cold in Michigan. 60 degrees some days! We knew he’d appreciate the heat and the band. It reminds him of better times, when his friends were all alive and they’d party the afternoons away.

I got a tiny sun blush. We all ate local-catch fish. My sandwich-free life may seem odd, our family might look strange, but we are a family and we’re all doing good.

Two Anniversaries

36 years!

September is a very happy month for me. Both my boys were born in September. I married Al in September. And I started my blog in September 2002. It seems like time flew, but if I stop and think about all the memories, well, I’ve lived a wonderful life so far. My boys turned into amazing men, dads themselves now. My husband has mellowed…he loved a party back in the day. Well, he still does, but he doesn’t stay up until 2 a.m. and then get up at 5 a.m. for work anymore. He never stopped loving people and action and still wants to be the last to leave any party. Not that we’ve had many opportunities to party since Covid came along. Al is used to being much busier, even in retirement. Golf, gym, long walks, tickets to concerts and sports events…all that stopped with the virus. He has been to a few baseball games and now that the heat is not so intense he’s back to walking. And I’m back to blogging and my book. Also yoga but it is so much better in a class.

I have been thinking about when to end the blog and next year, at 20 years, sounds like a good stopping point. I’ll keep my website and continue to post, but maybe do a “best of” or maybe a quarterly newsletter — I’ve got a year to figure it out. As much as I’ve adored this blog, I’ve dropped every pearl of wisdom I’ve learned along the way, probably twice. Stats say I’ve published 2,715 posts! Maybe after I read through the many years of blog posts and choose the “best of” I’ll have another non-fiction book. I always wanted to do that, too. A writer’s memoir. I love reading them, and they say to write the book you want to read.

Right now I really want to read Jane 2. Working title: Death on the Bayou. It feels so good to be writing daily again. Yes, even on my wedding anniversary. ❤

Reading Friends’ Work

Detroit Firefighter Frank English

When you’re a writer, especially a published writer, you will be asked questions like “How do I get published?” or “Will you read my manuscript?” all the time. If you don’t know the person well, it’s best to say “no” because down the line (I’ve heard this story often, although it has never happened to me) someone may try to sue you because you stole their idea. But if you have a good friend, and you are like me, of course you’ll say yes. Well, if you’re not really busy at a crucial editing stage of your own book.

I met with my critique group on Saturday for the first time in months and joining a group is a good way to get your work read and receive feedback. This particular group are all mystery novelists, from the Michigan chapter of Sisters in Crime. We’ve been on Zoom since the start of Covid, so that means I can still get together with them to share our work even though I’m in Florida. There is a local chapter here in Florida, but you get used to your peeps. In a writing group, we all know the drill. Praise good things and point out (gently) what does not work for you. Maybe suggest changes if you have an idea of something that might work better.

I have some friends in Florida, also moved from Michigan–and since we are “couple” friends, as well as Lisa and I being close friends for 50 years!–we saw them last night for dinner and lots of talk. A year or two ago, Frank asked me to read some stories he’s written. Since he worked for the Detroit Fire Department for 35 years, and since he is a great storyteller, I said sure. I didn’t know what to expect, but I do know how to let someone down easy. Except…Frank’s book was great. His storytelling voice, the one he uses to entertain us around the dinner table, was in every word. He has a voice, essential but often elusive for a writer.

I told him it was great (he also had tons of photos). There was a natural arrangement to the book, from the first chapter when his buddy came over and said “Hey I hear they’re hiring firemen, wanna apply with me?” to the different squads he worked on through the years, and these were harrowing years when every “Devil’s Night” Detroit would burn, to his later years in upper management. Detroit no longer has a problem with Devil’s Night, in fact they call it “Angel’s Night” as citizens and officials join together to patrol the streets. Yes, Frank knows how to finish with a happy ending. Even for Detroit, which those of us who lived there know is happening, but most people from other states still think of it as “The Murder City” a play on our original name “The Motor City.”

I didn’t know if Frank would ever finish his book. He had a lot of stories to tell. I told him about Wayne State University Press, who have an interest in publishing all things Detroit. I told him his writing was smooth, tinged with humor amid the terrorizing smoke. And all told in his unique style and voice. Whew. I didn’t have to let him down easy! I was telling him the truth when I said he had a great book going and he could really write.

Fast forward to last night. Frank said, “Oh Cindy I want to show you something,” and he left the room only to re-enter with the book shown above. I started reading it again this morning. It’s a beautiful book; he found a good publisher. The photos are gorgeous. Well, not that actual fires where people die are gorgeous, but the details captured by Frank’s friend and fellow firefighter, they catch the dramatic moments so well.

Good luck to Frank as he goes into the marketing phase. And to everybody else out there, yes I am VERY busy right now finishing my second Jane in St Pete book. That’s not even a joke. Covid messed me up and then there was moving and my husband retiring and the two of sharing a tiny condo and him not golfing or going to the gym because it is too hot. My routine of years and years of being alone to write has been disrupted. So really. I need to work if I ever want to get this series rolling.