Monday, February 25, 2019

My Bucket List—well, until retirement officially kicks in

bucket list

It never fails.  At least once a week, I’ll run into someone—at the drugstore, the market, the barbershop—one of the other residents in my building—and they’ll ask me what I do for a living. 

If I say I’m sort of retired, I usually get “For real?” and then told I’m very lucky.

For a long time that bugged the you-know-what out of me; what’s so lucky about it?  I spent my entire IT career living below my means and worked hard to stick to a monthly budget & savings plan.

Looking back, do I wish I’d spent more money?   I don’t know.. I’ve always felt pretty comfortable living frugally.  What do I know.  But looking at my personal assets when I left my job at the start of 2015 and what they are now… I suppose you can say I have been fortunate. 

In January 2015, I had $178,000 in my personal (non-retirement) stock portfolio and $34,000 in my checking account.  A grand total of $212,000.  I told myself that first year, “I’m not touching those stocks in 2015, I’m living solely from cash.”

“Then In one year, any remaining cash will be moved to an online savings account and labeled ‘Emergency savings’.  I’ll do my first stock sale, make sure it’s enough to live on for a year.”

And at the start of 2016, that’s what I did—made my first sale of stocks, put it in checking after socking away the remaining $10,000 from 2015 in Emergency Savings.  

Then in mid-2016 I developed my jaw disorder and proceeded to dip into that Emergency savings to pay for uninsured oral specialists, moving expenses to move back home, new furniture, paying off my lease so I could move back to Pittsburgh, more furniture, more moving expenses… and by 2017 my Emergency Savings was gone. 

I panicked and thought “I’ve gotta go back to work & rebuild that emergency savings!”  And thanks to UPMC making me a job offer, did just that.  But then 2 weeks later, 2 things occurred to me:   

  1. The stock market was chugging along pretty nicely this whole time
  2. I really, REALLY did not enjoy being back at work

So I apologized profusely to my new boss, hung my head in shame & quietly exited the building—then came home, looked at my personal stock portfolio and began doing a little rearranging.

Non-Retirement 4 Bucket Portfolio as of February 2019

blog portfolio

Like I said at the top, I’ve been fortunate.  I’ve been living off this portfolio for 3 years and it’s still a healthy bit more than what I started out with.  Still, I didn’t want to be forced to sell $20-25,000 worth of stocks every year to live on, what if we get another market crash like 2001?  Or 2008?  Or 2011?   Not if, when.  It’s going to happen.  

So I opened a Money Market mutual fund in my portfolio (pretty much the safest fund there is, it maintains a constant $1.00 per share and currently pays 2.5% monthly dividends).  I then sold enough stocks from my other mutual funds to load it with 2-3 years worth of spending, then set it up to deposit $1850.00 into my bank’s checking account every month.   You know… like a monthly paycheck.  

That (and the dividends paid from my other funds) give me around $25,000 a year.  Come January, if the stock market is doing well, I’ll sell from stock-buckets 1,3 & 4 and refill my money market bucket.  If the market takes a downturn, I won’t sell.  And I won’t have to.  (Well, for a couple years at least.)

Just because this is my non-retirement portfolio doesn’t mean I get to spend it all before I’m “officially retired”.  I’ve got 3 years before I can touch my IRA, 5-6 years before I can begin collecting early social security, 8 years before I’m eligible for Medicare...  

So I hope this lasts as long as possible, and until I’ve got other means to keep me going, I’m going to say I’m not working but still not officially retired!teepee_dribbble_1x

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

How soon they forget—anyway, let the waterworks begin

jugsA couple hours ago, I’m sitting here watching last night’s Late Show with Stephen Colbert (thanks Youtube!) when I get buzzed from downstairs.  


“UPS—package for Doug Morris.”

It’s always fun to get surprise packages in the mail, isn’t it… but as I ran into the bedroom to change my sleepy t-shirt to a clean t-shirt and pat my hair down (geez I haven’t even taken a shower yet) I wondered who was sending me something—probably Amazon.  But I haven’t ordered anything from Amazon in a couple of weeks…

Then as I’m flip-flopping to the elevator it hits me—this is Criminal Doug’s doing!

Last Monday, Chase Card Services contacted me & said “Mr. Morris, we think we’ve detected some fraudulent charges on your credit card—did you order $490.00 of shoes from and $275.00 of coffee from in the last 15 minutes?”   I said “I have ordered zero dot zero of anything from them EVER.”   They said “Someone got your credit card number and attempted to make these online purchases; they were flagged so we had to call you to authorize or deny the charges.   Destroy your card, we’ll send you a new one.”  

I said “Gosh how did that happen?  My card is right here, it wasn’t lost or stolen.  In fact, I just used it up the street from my place an hour ago.”  He said “Yes we know.  Lincoln Bakery.  You purchased two donuts.”  I said “No.  They were fruit danish and for the record—“  

“Thanks for confirming the charges were fraudulent Mr. Morris, we’ll get your new card out today.”  

Anyway, I get down to the lobby and I see the UPS guy holding a large square box.  I say “Is that from Zappos or Keurig?  ‘Cuz I swear to God—“   He says “Nope!  Sign here.”  I bring it upstairs, it’s pretty lightweight.   I tear open the flaps, there’s two empty orange jugs inside--and a small box containing a couple vials of chemicals, plastic test tubes & a letter from my “friends” at UPMC Mercy Dept of Urology.   “Here’s your collection kit—call us for details.”

I make the call, the receptionist says “Hang on Douglas, okay I have your chart right here… let me put Dr.Turner’s nurse on the line.”  “Hi Douglas, this is Stephanie, remember me?”  Nope!  “Sure you do!  I came to talk to you right after your lithoropsy when you were in recovery and lying on your bed in a fetal position with your hands tucked between your legs, I told you we were going to give you 2 months recovery then send a collection kit so the lab can study your urine.  So after you’ve filled both jugs—“  

I said “Waitaminute—these jugs are—8 liters each??  Isn’t that like 4 gallons of pee?”  She said “No, 16 LITERS.   So pick a day to start, the sooner the better, and when you get the urge to pee, you’re going to do it in these jugs instead of in the toilet.  It should take you a couple of days.”

I said “And what am I supposed to do with them, put ‘em in my fridge?  Because I swear to God, I’m going to need a new refriger—“  She says “No, that’s not necessary! They can be stored at room temperature.”  

I said “This is getting grosser by the minute.”  She said “It’s not, Douglas.  People do it all the time.”  I said “Really?  Because the only person I know who saved his urine wore Kleenex boxes on his feet and grew his fingernails crazy long.”  She said “Who was that?”  I said “Er..  Howard Hughes.”  She said “I don’t know this person.  Anyway, after you’ve filled both jugs, you’re going to shake them REALLY HARD—make sure you have the caps screwed on tight!  Then you’ll fill the enclosed set of test tubes and use the included overnight shipping label to have everything picked up by FedEx and sent to Chicago. Then on March 8, you’ll come into the office where we’ll review your lab results and determine the best course of action on preventing stone reoccurence in your left kidney and treatment of the stones present in your right kidney.  Do you have any questions?”

I said “You really don’t know who Howard Hughes is?”   Anyway… I’ll sure be glad when Thursday gets here.

yellow pool

Friday, February 8, 2019

Hey, this tastes just like fried chicken—but it’s not, and I like it even more

gold chicken

Did I really just make this chicken?  Yes and I’ll be darned, it tastes as good as it looks.  I love chicken, I love drumsticks & thighs—but I’m not a good cook, so I keep a giant bottle of Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce in my fridge door to slather on the chicken I USUALLY cook (which always seems to come out of the oven a little too chewy and me feeling it’s not fully cooked).

But you can’t beat the price—I’m sure chicken parts are cheap everywhere, but this 4-pack of drumsticks & thighs only cost $2.04 at Kuhn’s Market. 

When I came home from the store earlier, I’m in my lobby collecting my mail and one of the older ladies who sit down there (she’s wearing a sweatshirt covered in kittens today) sees the chicken in my bag and says “looks like chicken for dinner”.  I smile and nod yes.  She says “you know the best way to cook that.”   Now I speak up—“No.  I don’t.”   So she told me—and she was right!  

Seriously, it’s the best chicken I ever ate and it’s the only way I’ll cook drumsticks & thighs again. 

Lobby Lady’s Gold Chicken (4 to 6 pieces)

  • Preheat oven to 425F.
  • Line baking pan with aluminum foil; spray foil with Pam cooking spray.
  • In empty bread bag, dump in 3/4 cup flour, 1 teaspoon dried parsley, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon paprika.  Add pinch of salt & pepper.  Shake things up.
  • Drop in one chicken piece.  Shake.  Remove chicken piece, shaking off excess flour.  Lay in foil-lined baking pan.  Repeat with remaining pieces.
  • Bake 30 minutes.   Flip chicken over.  Bake another 30 minutes.



Saturday, February 2, 2019

How a rainbow a day keeps the crazies away


Y’know, between having this godawful TMJ and--

Doug, everyone has TMJ.  That’s short for temporomandibular joint.  I wish you would refer to it as TMD, or temporomandibular joint disorder. There’s a difference.

Shawn do you NOT see this photo of Joan Crawford from ‘Strait-Jacket’ wielding a hatchet?? 

Oh brother!  Go on, then!

As I was saying—between this infernal TMD and McDonald Trump in the White House, I think I’d go ABSOLUTELY BONKERS if it wasn’t for people like Rachel Maddow & Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC, Don Lemon on CNN, Stephen Colbert (who’s hilarious late-night monologues consist primarily of reading aloud Trump’s DUMBASS tweets from earlier in the day)…

And YouTube sensation  Randy Rainbow! 

For the one or two heterosexuals out there who haven’t heard of him, Randy is a gay comedian who lives in Queens, NY—and with the help of a few props, a green screen and his home computer, cranks out viral videos which are truly works of art.  They usually begin with him interviewing a GOP politician (inserting himself into real clips from one of those “fake news channels”) and then breaking into song—always a satire of a show-tune.

The Sound of Music, Fiddler on the Roof, The Wizard of Oz, West Side Story, Chicago—he’s done ‘em all, each one hilarious and leaving me crying happy tears with his talent & genius.

One of his latest, based on South Pacific’s “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame”—omigod, just watch it

Anyway, if you have a sense of humor and an appreciation for real talent, you would click over to YouTube and check them all out.  Every time I watch one, I want to kick myself— Randy’s been on a “small club tour” across the country, and a month or so ago was right here in Pittsburgh and I didn’t make an effort to go see him in person.

Doug, I--unbelievable!  Cough!  Snort!

I know Shawn, I know… calm down, I can feel the spittle from here!  (My sister’s a Randy Rainbow fan now too, and once suggested we get tickets—I kinda shot the idea down & said it’s easier to watch on Youtube, what was I thinking?)

Alright, where was I—oh yeah, I have this friend… let’s call her Tina.  I’ve known Tina since the late ‘80s, for years I considered her my “sister in the city”.  Her entire life has been about the theater—she volunteered or performed in community theater musicals, makes annual pilgrimmages to New York City to see the latest Broadway shows—her whole family’s in the act.  (Her cousin Linda’s an amateur producer, her brother does the lghting for local stage shows, and guess what her son is studying in college?  Theater Arts!) 

So very recently after seeing Rainbow’s latest, I asked Tina what she thought of him.  Had she seen any of his videos?  She said she’d never heard of the man. 

“WHAT??”  I sputtered.  I told her about his musical spoofs and sent her a link—oh boy, she was in for a real treat.  A couple minutes later she wrote back.  “I can’t watch this.”   I asked why not.  Wasn’t she near a computer?  Didn’t she have a Youtube app on her phone? 

She said “No, I mean I watched him for a couple seconds but turned it off.  It’s pretty clear he’s a homosexual.”

“WHAT AGAIN!??” I sputtered.  I said “Tina, I don’t mean to stereotype anyone, but with your theater background, surely you know more than your share of gays…”   She said “Oh I do, I’m friends with a few of them.  I don’t have anything against them personally, but I am a Christian and the Bible clearly says their lifestyle is a sin.”

My head was spinning.  I said “It’s not like they have a choice… “  I couldn’t believe we were having this conversation, I felt like Glenn Scarpelli defending the new gay kid in school in a 1982 Afterschool special.  She said “Now now Mister Morris!  I never said it was or wasn’t a choice, I am only telling you what the Bible says and I’d be happy to show you the reference.” 

I told her that wasn’t necessary, I believed her.  What I WANTED to say was that Superman’s homeworld Krypton once orbited a giant red sun before it blew to smithereens and I’d be happy to show her the reference, ‘cuz that’s been told over the years to millions of people too. 


(Seriously, even if you do consider the Bible holy, do you know how many times it’s been edited over the centuries to meet the social mores or ideals of various clergy and persnickety royalty??  Having a gold-flocked “Holy” on the front doesn’t make it righteous.)

Anyway, this was just another reminder of why I feel the way I do about religion in general.  In my twenties I envied Christians for their beliefs.  In my thirties I looked at people of faith with scorn, in my forties with humor.  And now in my fifties, with real fatigue.   I’ve seen quite enough hypocrisy in Jesus’ name, let alone judgment & condemnation of good people who’s only crime has been is not living a lie.

So for the time being, I’m going to continue to laugh my ass off at Randy Rainbow’s latest, and wait for the news story where VP Mike Pence has been caught feeling up a Senate Page in the men’s room.  He’ll probably claim his “laying on of hands” was just a more direct approach of that lamebrain gay conversion therapy he claims to believe in.  And I’m sure a lot of Christians will believe him too.