STEPS / Main Page / Index / previous / next
February, 2000: 4 6 9 18 27


(1999-2002: Pre-Retirement Years)

2/4/00-Fri.-Slept fitfully last night, up about three or four times.

My flu/cold/cedar fever/asthma, or whatever it is, is slowly improving, though not in a smooth progression. Some days are still bad, others good. Lately, however, there have been a few more relatively benign than obnoxious ones. A couple of the doctors at work have called into question the diagnosis of "asthma" that I received last month from my HMO's fill-in physician, my regular doctor being too booked-up to see me for another month or so. The job medical consultants think what I have had is either asthmatic bronchitis, not unreasonable since I'd been diagnosed with several bad bouts of bronchitis as a small child, or reactive airway disease, a more temporary condition than asthma.

Still having occasional dreams involving my brother, Ralph. Do not remember much at all of them. While getting through the worst of my illness in the last few weeks, I became rather morbid. It's possible my subconscious saw a connection with Ralph, who has already "crossed over," with whom I might regain a missed brotherhood "on the other side."

My current supervisor tends to give "happy face" stamp kudos, along with brief appreciative comments, when he wants to let us know we have done something right. Paternalistic. Consistent with a patronizing attitude. Still, better than getting chewed out at every turn. I have received several over the course of my time in his unit. They are certainly an improvement over "write-backs," which are case deficiency notices, usually requiring a lot of extra expense, time, and headaches spent on a particular claim. Fortunately, lately there have been more happy faces than write-backs. I received one of the former today.

Several of my old colleagues from my original unit (in which I worked about seventeen years, the greater part of my time with the state) and I got together at a local Mexican food restaurant for lunch today. It was pleasant. For the most part, I miss these folks. A similar relationship of camaraderie and humor has not developed in my present group. Things change. Best not to compare.

After various discussions with Frances and a lot of thinking on the subject, I reluctantly composed and sent yesterday to Mary and Jim a rather long e-mail indicating that, due to changed circumstances and a need to be flexible for the sake of my marriage, I have decided that, unless Mary and Jim feel they cannot afford his choice of college, starting next fall, without major income supplements from us, I shall put off the first installments of gift checks to him, preferably until 8/2003, by which time we could better assure a fairly comfortable retirement for ourselves. This assumes I'll keep working till age sixty, and possibly later, till my Social Security benefits might start, at age sixty-two. Further, I explained that the intention now was to provide nephews and nieces with such installments, to a total of $30,000 each, starting with Jim, but at a more reasonable level, generally .75% of our net current assets, up to $10,000 per individual, per year.

This same level would be used until all nephews/nieces had received $30,000, or until my death or one of us endures major disability. Under the originally offered arrangement, I would have started in August of this year, at $625/month, or $7500/year; and such payments would never increase until, if I lived long enough, all had received their promised allocation.

Thus, while the gifts would represent about 1.5% of our present net current assets, eventually, assuming those average net assets keep increasing, the payments to nephews/nieces could have fallen to as little as .15% of that net value or even less. Now, while they'll likely begin later, they'll also remain at a higher percentage level than for the average the other way, until, as a result, all potentially get their payments completed sooner, despite our slow start, always assuming, of course, that we are successful in getting our assets to increase!

2/6/00-Sun.-Up today about 7:30 AM. Frances went shopping. I got ready for the day for a few minutes and then went over to Jim's for breakfast. There, I composed an e-mail letter to Mary, further explaining the above, to which Frances had previously agreed, having indicated relief that it seemed more realistic and put less pressure on our finances than the original plan for gifts to nieces/nephews.

However, we do not keep secrets and, after Frances had gotten back from an early pizza buffet lunch on her own, and read the e-mail to Mary, she gave vent to a lot of sarcastic comments, just as if she had never consented to the revision. In view of our prior discussion, to me her reaction did not seem reasonable. It seemed she was going back on what had been previously agreed. She was unrelenting, however, saying that this just delayed the beginning of the "stupidity" and that she would never see gifts to some of my relatives as anything but ridiculous and stupid.

I became quite angry and told her I thought I had done what I could to accommodate her, that I had also been rather generous toward her, but that if she could not accept things under the new plan, without still feeling bitchy and repeatedly carping about it for the rest of my life, then I thought we needed counseling, and maybe we need a divorce.

After she'd at first gone to bed for a nap, I also wrote her an angry letter to this effect, suggesting her attitude could be a lot improved on the matter, but that, if she could not deal with it better, I was definitely leaning toward wanting to have us divorce, after which I'd take my half of the assets, do exactly what I wanted and intended with them, and never have to listen to her criticism about it again. She got up before long, read the note, and said maybe divorce was not such a bad idea. I agreed with her.

There followed a long period of our not speaking to each other at all. This is the most tense things have been in our relationship in quite awhile. It would be a shame if the marriage ends over this, though it is probably just indicative of a variety of difficulties we have had. There have been major differences of values and understanding, like her never once going down to Houston with me to visit with Ralph, during the nine months after we learned he was dying of cancer, or her not liking children, at least not ones of our own, though I had really wished us to have them, and so on. Not sure if this will blow over or not.

Later. Frances finally did take a nap, beginning it while I was out with Pepper, going over to Randall's, where I picked out a videotape, "The Full Monty," to serve as background this afternoon for a massage it was my turn to give Fran, if we managed to resume civility long enough for a regular Sunday afternoon routine.

Meanwhile, I had a couple emotional hours to think about things. I really am not ready to end our marriage, but would feel forced into it if she persists with her abrasive manner about this overall issue. Once she rose from sleeping, Fran was doing her best to be pleasant. I responded in kind. Neither of us mentioned the earlier fight.

It was a good massage, that she appreciated. We both very much enjoyed "The Full Monty."

This evening, I went out for a treat and brought back a KFC family dinner pack, which we also liked a great deal.

I am too emotionally drained, however, and still somewhat resentful, to make love tonight, as I had actually thought we might, before today's surprise angry scene. Perhaps the fresh wounds for both of us will heal in a few days or weeks. This is the first time we have both vehemently expressed a possible interest in divorce. I think it may have scared and subdued each of us some.

2/9/00-Wed.-Some powerful dreaming lately, including one segment in which I am below a bluff and powerful, heavy machines are arrayed above me near the edge. Someone else, perhaps my sister or Frances (?), is above and around or even on these huge appliances, which resemble deep freezes. One, and then several more, topple over the edge and hurtle toward me. Though I am not hurt in the immediate cascade of the massive coolers, several are near misses. I awaken before I can find out what else might happen.

Frances and I have both become enthused about the prospect, in something like two to four years, of seriously looking for a new place to live, at the beginning of our retirement years. Last night, over dinner at Black-Eyed Pea, we were discussing the adventure of getting a not too nice, and thus not so expensive, place near one of the Oregon or Washington beaches. Despite the likelihood that I or we will be bummed out by all the rain in that area, not to mention the flood of former California folks, bringing their real estate-inflationary money and yuppie values into "our" great place there, we both feel we would like to check out the Pacific Northwest and see if it is at all feasible for us to live there, that the downside is not likely to offset the fantastic beauty and good overall climate.

Indeed, it was the dream of living there that helped motivate us in the early years of our marriage to begin saving and investing as much as we could, toward an eventual move to that general area. It is just too bad that, in the interim, many hundreds of thousands or millions of others, most with much more money than we have been able to accumulate, have already acted on the same idea. The adverse consequences of this may turn out to make it now not so great a place to go. But we shall probably need to see for ourselves before accepting that conclusion.

2/18/00-Fri.-This past week, Frances asked for a "talk time." I had initiated these communication sessions early in our marriage. They served us well at a time when we were both still adjusting to having given up our independent, single lives and to beginning our dyad time of marital bliss. But after awhile we let them lapse. Fran thought we no longer had enough reason for them. I thought we were probably sweeping some real issues "under the carpet." But I lacked the objectivity to move us ahead on some matters that had us "stuck," particularly in the face of Fran's resistance to continuing. A trained counselor may not be very good at interacting at home! Certainly that has been true for me.

When I would try to use "professional" methods of encouraging better dialogue between us on issues really meaningful for us, like whether or not to have or adopt children, either my underlying emotion would still come through or Frances would complain that the session was too artificial in its reliance on methods to keep negativity at bay. To demonstrate good active listening, for instance, we were to paraphrase what the other person had just said, without including any sarcastic or other prejudicial editorializing in that repetition. This would drive Frances up the wall. She said we knew what the other person had said. Now let's just get on with it!

Anyway, for whatever reasons, that more consciously communicative phase in our marriage ended. Fran was now motivated to try it again by our big fight of several days ago.

So, this past Wednesday evening we sat down in the front room and, for nearly an hour, talked about some of the issues most remarkably causing us problems lately. In particular, mainly, we talked about my plans to give large amounts of money to my nephews and nieces, beginning with Jim in a little over three years.

This time, Frances was calm. I kept my cool as well. Our discussion was in great contrast to the altercation of about ten days earlier. And she was persuasive. Hard as it was for me to admit, even my change in plan indicated recently to Mary and Jim still would put a severe strain on our family budget, at the same time that we'll need to be very frugal, as we would be just getting started with our retirement, including hopefully moving to a new area, buying another house, and adapting to a reduced income level.

Meanwhile, my success in managing our assets has been good but less than brilliant. I don't feel ashamed of my record. To have the limited incomes we do (averaging a combined, pre-tax annual income of only about $47,500 since we got married) and still have raised our savings and investments in about 15 years from barely $5000 to over $500,000 is no mean feat! However, with the high cost of living today, that is still a relatively small amount, when potential retirement is but two years away and one spouse is considering giving away several thousands of dollars a year, especially considering that a large chunk of that is in equities. The equity market is notoriously overvalued now and could take a huge plunge at any time.

With such considerations in mind, then, the next evening, I reluctantly bit the bullet and sent an e-mail to all who have had any direct knowledge of the original plan for such gifts to our nieces and nephews, explaining that we were going to have to put off the time when such payments would begin, until after we had first assured ourselves a modestly comfortable retirement. The e-mail responses we have received from folks to this necessary adjustment have been very generous and gracious. I was touched by their kind reactions!

Tonight, after Fran and Sam practiced "Baltic Buzzards" music at our house, Frances and I went for a walk with Pepper in the area behind the Barnes and Noble shopping center where we've sometimes seen a lot of deer. It was pleasantly cool and windy. We had another, but much more brief, "talk time" while engaged in our constitutional. We agreed we'd be comfortable with (or, in Fran's case at least accepting of) contributions of $7500 a year going to nieces and nephews if, in addition to my retirement annuity, our current assets stood at close to $1,000,000 ($950,000 minimum).

When we got back home, we listened to "Film Score Focus."

2/27/00-Sun.-I had a good visit with Ron, Esther, Jane, Mom, and all of Horace and Leila's family - except Chris, who was working - last weekend. Frances and Pepper stayed home. It was a three-day holiday (President's Day) weekend.

This is Frances's birthday weekend. She is 42, as of yesterday. We have had a low-key time of it so far, given that she has several gift certificates since Christmas that she still has not used and she's not "into" cakes and flowers. She also feels living plants are better than cut ones, but has little if any room left in our yard for new ones. She still has lots of cookies and candies already, so that added sweets are also out. We plan to go for a special restaurant dinner, probably at Landry's, a seafood restaurant on Town Lake, after Frances gets through with her current Austin Lyric Opera gig ("Aida"). Frances appears to really enjoy opening small, inexpensive, silly nick-knack gifts from her folks. So, in the future I'll probably try to remember this and get her a few things she can open as real presents, even if they are almost worthless except as tokens for the gift-opening occasion.

In the last few weeks, there has been a flurry of interest in and confusion about helping to celebrate my nephew, Jim's, high school graduation, in Houston, over Memorial Day Weekend. Mom had given the impression that Pete and I were to be going there then, that Jim had chosen us to attend as his guests. Unfortunately, months later, neither Mary nor Jim had confirmed this or made any mention of it at all.

It now turns out that Jim does not even care whether he goes to the graduation ceremony itself (as I did not care about such things either when younger) and will probably be too busy with activities and last chance visiting with all his school and other chums, whom he likely won't see again or not for a long time, after graduation, or at least after leaving for college (in OK) to spend any time with his mom, much less his closest uncles, that weekend. He suggests we might go to help his mom get through that time or just because we, on our own, might want to attend the ceremony, but not attend for his sake or to spend time with him. I've told Mary I shall await her thoughts on the matter, with comments expected from her not anticipated until after she is able, in a relaxed way, past doing their taxes, etc., to consider things and get back with me (and Pete).

Meanwhile, Tess has already finished her high school credits and has passed the "TAAS Test," that is a standardized instrument used in Texas to assure students have mastered the knowledge they should have gleaned from the high school experience. She is, this spring semester, taking community college courses. So, both Jim and Tess are to be celebrated in at least a brief, small way later that same weekend, in conjunction with our annual family reunion, to take place in Waco.

In the last few days, Frances has seen our first gecko of the new "spring" season (in quotes because, despite the evidence of our warming temperatures, budding trees, flowering shrubs, and increasing insect population, spring does not officially start for about another three weeks or so), and I've seen our first anole. We are also already hearing the first cheeps from many tiny birds in their nests around our yard.

STEPS / Main Page / Index / previous / next