Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

Happy Thanksgiving from cool and clear Prescott, Arizona! We got up early this morning – Ron to prep the turkey, and me to make the bread stuffing. It’s just not Thanksgiving until you smell celery and onions sautéing in butter! We’re actually going to the restaurant at Talking Rock Ranch for the Thanksgiving buffet, but couldn’t let go of some of our at-home traditions. That means roasting a small turkey, so we can have leftovers. Over the next few days, we’ll add a few of our favorite side dishes. Ron’s already making cranberry sauce. And we can’t do without the oyster casserole!

Yesterday, I re-read my blog from last Thanksgiving. I smiled as I reviewed the list of things for which I was thankful a year ago. All of those blessings still apply. Looking back, I couldn’t have imagined how much more could be added to my already charmed runaway life.

The addition of our Prescott home and all our new Talking Rock friends has been unexpected and so amazing. For now, we have the ridiculous luxury of enjoying the best of Chicago and the best of the high desert of Arizona at our whim. (By spring 2012, we’ll either sell or rent the condo and move to AZ full time.)

On December 1, we head back to Illinois to spend Christmas in Chicago. I’m looking forward to visiting friends, seeing a play, attending the Chicago Symphony’s holiday concert, and finishing my shopping in a snowy, urban setting, along the decorated city streets. Then, we’ll sidestep the worst of winter by coming back to Prescott for January and February. I’m so spoiled.

Happy Thanksgiving! Ours could only be better if we were with family. I hope you are surrounded by family and friends, and have an opportunity to give thanks for all the blessings of life – big and small.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cash Flow Considerations

We had our quarterly call with our financial advisor this week, and the main topic of discussion was cash flow planning.  Obviously, the stock market has had its issues the last two years, so our earnings from investments have not been as good as hoped.  Some of our future retirement income will come from my Hilton pension and Social Security – but we are too young to draw from either of those yet.  Our immediately available cash is running low, and we need a strategy for replenishment.
American dollars,financial transactions,bribes,black money,payments,rewards,bundles,Veer ImagesThis is an interesting planning challenge. Where will your retirement income come from, and will the source change over time? Since we stopped working before the normal retirement age, our income sources will definitely change at several stages and age points. Some sources will run dry, and others will kick in.

For the first two and a half years, we have used cash for our living expenses. Ron had the foresight not to tie up all our cash in long-term investments. Until now, any profit from investments has been reinvested and absolutely no principle has been converted to cash. Our financial advisor’s goal is for us not to touch principle until we are in our 70’s. For our needs in 2011, we are going to take some earnings from our tax-free municipal bond fund, and we’ll suspend reinvesting profit in that fund for now (starting in January).

One thing we discussed with our advisor was the optimum age for us to start claiming my Hilton pension and our Social Security. The earlier you start, the lower your monthly payout. But the longer you wait, the greater the risk that you won’t live long enough to collect what you paid into the system all those working years! Guessing your own life expectancy (based on your personal health, your lifestyle, and family history) is a weird exercise, but necessary for planning purposes.

There are tax implications to decisions about investing and retirement income. If you are not a scholar of the tax code, consider consulting with a tax planning professional. In some cases, the wrong decision can have big impact on your tax liability (e.g. cashing in an IRA before you are 59 and ½). You will also want to keep track of what changes politicians are considering, as they could adversely affect the health of your retirement fund. When/if the rules change, you may need to make adjustments in your money management plan.

Are you working on your retirement strategy? Planning for your retirement involves a lot more than building up your savings account. Lay the groundwork now with some solid analysis and decision-making to support your needs at all of the later stages of your life.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Today we mourn the untimely death of the Hilton Worldwide Information Technology organization. Less than five short years ago, Hilton IT was in its prime – widely recognized in the press as an innovative, value-enhancing asset to its parent company. Strong leadership, and experienced, talented, and dedicated team members consistently delivered game-changing enterprise technology called OnQ, raising the bar on guest expectations and challenging the competition. Our people were respected within and outside of Hilton Worldwide for working hand-in-hand with business people to achieve strategic goals.

The first inkling of danger came not long after The Blackstone Group purchased Hilton Hotels Corporation in 2007. The company was taken private, and CEO Steve Bollenbach (a friend and champion of the IT group and its achievements) was replaced by Chris Nassetta - new blood chosen by Blackstone to implement their plans to boost profitability in preparation for taking the company public again in the future. Tim Harvey, IT’s visionary leader, sensed impending doom and resigned in 2009.

A “Corporate Transformation” resulted in the reorganization of most departments, and the closure of the iconic corporate headquarters in Beverly Hills, CA. Elite team members (Directors and above) were offered a move across the country to McLean, VA. Most were not. Plans to dismantle and outsource IT functions previously seen as competitive differentiators began to be systematically executed, eliminating numerous job functions.

Death approached over time in many guises. The OnQ brand was carelessly diminished by unimaginative executives woefully ignorant of the value to the brands and to the IT team. Layoffs terminated the careers of scores of IT professionals and delivered mortal wounds. Talent saw the writing on the wall and avoided tragedy by obtaining new jobs outside Hilton. Some chose to retire early to salvage their pride. Those who still had their jobs feel the threat of change yet to be, and the loss of friends and colleagues. A heavy malaise has fallen over the constantly threatened department.

The final murderous blow was struck last week, as a hundred and one additional Hilton employees received their termination letters, with dates effective the first week of January 2011. The news was not unexpected, but the impact of reality took the collective breath away. Shell-shocked professionals walk the halls, depressed, angry and scared – but the organization is dead, and it’s time to bury it. We can almost hear the cruel cheers of our competitors, who have lived to see the empire collapse in oddly silent flames. This was not a death from natural causes.

Memories of the good times of success and accomplishment cannot be taken from us. We gained valuable experience and knowledge. We hope that those abandoned at sea with dime store life preservers will soon be rescued and able to restart foundering careers. There are better years ahead.

History will show that we accomplished great things. May Hilton IT Rest In Peace.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

There's a Certain Spirit Here

Sunday night we went to a party in our neighborhood of Cottages at Talking Rock Ranch in Prescott. Ours are the smallest homes in the community, so some were laughingly referring to the gathering as a “Party in the ‘Hood”. It was a lovely, mild evening, and we and the other guests spilled out onto the back patio. As at other social events here, everyone was warm and welcoming, and we enjoyed meeting neighbors we hadn’t previously encountered. (We also got to see the neighborhood javelina who near-sightedly trotted within a few yards of the well-lit, noisy patio – much to our delight.)

Our hosts threw the party to welcome several newcomers. We were all asked to explain how we came to live at Talking Rock. Some stories were funny; some surprising. We laughed a lot, a few happy tears were shed, and one tragic story of loss resulted in a group hug. Although there had been some initial resistance to the exercise, everyone gave in and participated, contributing our part. I’m really glad we all did.

Days later, I’m still thinking about the party and the common denominators among the residents here. Everyone commented, in one way or another, about how special it is here at Talking Rock. Many have chosen this place to start a new life that is more laid back and, at the same time, very socially active. There is a notable lack of posturing and pretense, and a relaxed and gracious spirit of inclusion. You get the feeling that people that have chosen to live here are at the point in their lives where their priorities are clear and in order. Care and humanity are high on the list.

The stunning beauty and clarity of the desert environment adds a feeling of well-being. The air is fresh and sweet, and the stars in the night sky glow like countless gems. It’s incredibly quiet and peaceful. More than ever, we are convinced that we stumbled into a place that is right for us. Along with our neighbors, we are proud to be part of this community.