Thursday, May 26, 2011

Lost Anchor

Yesterday morning, I found out from a Facebook posting by CNBC that their lead anchor, Mark Haines, passed away unexpectedly Tuesday night. He was 65. Tuesday morning I watched him on live TV. Tuesday night he was dead. Mark’s show – financial news, analysis, and interviews – has been part of our weekday morning routine for the past 3 years. His voice was a regular side dish to coffee and breakfast.

Several weeks ago, Mark Haines said a heartfelt and tearful farewell to his co-anchor, Erin Burnett, who accepted a new job with CNN. I was sad to see her go, as she and Mark worked well together and obviously liked each other. I was worried about the show, and who would be chosen as Mark’s new co-anchor. That was not decided before his untimely passing.

The network we look to for financial insight and market updates has now been rocked to its core. Me too, and I’m trying to figure out why, exactly…

The market tanked very soon after we retired; a disconcerting turn of events to say the least. There was a point at which we thought we might have to go find gainful employment again. We saw the bottom of the abyss with Mark Haines and Erin Burnett, and slowly climbed back out again with them. I think we forged a connection during that stressful time.

Mark Haines was a fearless journalist. He would pointedly question CEO’s and politicians, not allowing them to get away with inaccuracies or double-speak. I learned a lot about economics and finance by watching. Mark had a way of explaining things that even a layman could understand. He initiated a lot of interesting conversations about investments between me and Ron, and gave us ideas about questions to ask our financial advisor.

As his co-workers talked about Mark yesterday, they all said that he made them better at their jobs, because he set his own standards so high. They knew if they shared the stage with Mark that they had to be over-prepared, because they had no script and never knew where Mark would want to take the conversation. Even Jim Cramer said he was always a little nervous about being prepared enough for Mark. Who will be our advocate now?

Mark Haines was regular guy, with a wife and two kids. He liked junk food, and loved gardening. But he was larger than life in the world of financial reporting. The floor of the NYSE paused for a moment of silence yesterday. CNBC lost not only an anchor, but their rudder. They can’t replace him – they can only adapt to his loss.

Finally, there is the obvious tendency to draw a personal parallel. Mark Haines died unexpectedly at the fairly young age of 65. If I were to die at 65, that means I only have 10 years left. Not enough! Perhaps it’s time for a little renewed introspection.  Thanks for everything, Mark.  May you rest in peace.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

3 Years into Retirement

I realized the other day that we had passed our 3 year anniversary of retirement from Hilton. It’s amazing how quickly the time has passed, and how much we have done. Time to look briefly look back and share some thoughts.

Immediately after our last day at work, it felt like a huge load had been lifted from our shoulders. It was a very hectic time, with the Memphis house already sold and our preparations to vacate it and move to Chicago (just 2 weeks after our last workday). But we had already achieved a new sense of peace and calm.

As new Chicago residents, we settled into an urban lifestyle in downsized living space – from a 3200 sq ft home to a 1500 sq ft condo (+ a 500 sq ft Man Cave in the basement). Our one remaining car was used infrequently, as we walked everywhere we could, or used public transportation for more distant jaunts. We started losing weight gained over time from stress and being sedentary. Working out is part of our routine, and golf is a new passion.

Of course, just as we began to enjoy our life of leisure, disaster struck the stock market. Our plan was conservative and rock solid, but the recession shook the foundation we had laid. We saw our net worth (temporarily) plummet. Fortunately, we had some cash and some guaranteed income from deferred compensation and an annuity we had purchased at the urging of our financial advisor. We got through the recession OK, and are now back on plan. It was a bit scary for a while.

The other unexpected development was finding our next home in Prescott, Arizona last year. We hadn’t planned to buy until 2012 or 2013, but… Talking Rock Ranch is the perfect community for us, and we love the ranch cottage we found there, and are enjoying new friendships with our neighbors. Due to the real estate disaster in Arizona, we bought our beautiful home from a bank, at a ridiculous discount. We hope to make our full time transition to Arizona next spring. (Anyone in the market for a condo in Chicago?)

We’ve learned a few things as retirement newbies, and had some surprises:

• Our long-tended corporate identities were easily shed. They were unceremoniously left on the floor like discarded snake skins.
• As well as you plan, some bumps in the road will catch you by surprise. Build as much flexibility into your plans as possible.
• After planning for many years, the transition to execution of the plan (living off your savings and investments) is a scary phase and requires a leap of faith.
• Your health is your most precious asset. In order to enjoy retirement, you must be fit and able. It takes a lot of energy to keep up with our retired friends.

Retiring early is the best thing we could ever have done. We enjoy every day, and are looking forward to what the future holds.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Worst Travel Day Ever

I don’t remember how I tolerated frequent business travel when I worked for Hilton. Maybe I just got used to it being the norm – all the time wasted, the aggravation, the irritation and noise. These days I travel much more rarely, and make arrangements for our own convenience. Yesterday we just needed to get from Prescott to Chicago. It took all day, and we only made it to Dallas.

It started at 3:45 AM yesterday, when we got up to get ready and close up the Prescott house for our planned two month absence. By 5:15 AM we were ready for our good neighbor to give us a ride into downtown Prescott to catch the shuttle to Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport.

We arrived at the airport a little after 8:00 AM. AAdvantage Miles from American Airlines provided us with free flights to Chicago, although we had to change planes in Dallas. That didn’t seem like a big deal when I made the arrangements. But as we approached Dallas, first the pilot announced that we would have to change our approach into Dallas due to weather. A little later, he announced that we would have to divert to San Antonio and land there to wait out the violent weather passing through Dallas.

Our wait on the tarmac in San Antonio lasted four hours. By the time we reached Dallas at about 7:00 PM, DFW Airport was a madhouse. Our connecting flight to Chicago had either left earlier or was cancelled – that was never really clear. After waiting in line at the gate for two hours, we received a discount voucher for a room at the Sheraton in downtown Dallas. We were told there was a shuttle that would take us there, but discovered the shuttle was unavailable at that time of night. A $50 taxi ride later, we checked into the Sheraton at 10:00 PM. At that point, we had been travelling for 15 hours. After dinner in a very noisy sports bar (the only thing open after 10), we collapsed into bed.

Here it is, Thursday morning, and I am still 950 miles from Chicago. We travelled only with a backpack with minimal supplies – so I will wear home the jeans I wore yesterday, underthings washed out in the sink last night, and a T shirt borrowed from Ron. Once I pull myself together, I’ll be checking with the front desk to see if they have any toiletries for distressed passengers. Sigh. We’ll be on the 12:35 PM shuttle for a flight that departs for Chicago (hopefully) just before 3:00 PM. We should arrive at our home in Chicago by about 7:00 tonight.

I’m thankful that American Airlines kept us safe, but pretty disappointed with their ability to serve their passengers effectively at the airport last night. Fortunately, we can afford an unexpected diversion like this (which will amount to over $300) – but feel empathy for those who probably spent the night at the airport last night because they couldn’t.

Next stop, the internet lounge in the lobby to post my blog. I’m not paying another $12.95 for access from my guest room.

I wanna go home.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

For Our New Graduates

My niece and eldest nephews are in what I consider to be the truly formative years of their lives. One graduates high school next week, one graduated high school last year, and another graduates college later this year. Although the world has changed in many ways since I navigated the same passages, there are many lessons I learned in my youth that I am convinced are still applicable today....

Savor every moment of this time of life which is remarkably carefree. Things get much more complicated later.

Some high school and college friends will be friends for life. Other friendships will naturally fade away as you grow further apart. Cherish the few that remain close for the long haul. They will be welcome touchstones in your life.

In the years to come, you will face difficulty and sadness. It can’t be escaped. Keep your family close. Choose your friends and your life partner wisely. We all need help getting through hard times.

Mistakes made can change your life forever, in an instant. May your mistakes be few and minor. You can avoid a lot of regret by making good choices.

Your education will serve you well for your entire life. Take advantage of every opportunity to learn and grow, and become a well-rounded person.

Consider traveling a little before starting your career. Once you get entrenched in the working world, it’s hard to take more than a week off at a time to do anything.

Never compromise your personal values and principles. Beware of people (or employers) who try to persuade you to do so.

Show your parents that you love them all the time. They won’t be around forever.

Live in the moment, but plan ahead.

P.S. To our nieces and nephews: Aunt Laurel and Uncle Ron love you and are here for you. XOXO