Lunch With The Lemurs

One of the benefits of turning your whole world upside down is that you have the opportunity to try new entertainment experiences.  One of the most unique and entrancing new entertainment opportunities we’ve explored is the Giraffe Ranch in Dade City, Florida.

As odd as it sounds, before we moved, I goggle-searched to see if there was any place in central Florida where one could feed giraffes.  I was moving from a location close enough to visit the world famous San Diego Zoo often.   I’ve fed giraffes in a number of zoos and parks all over the country.  I’ve always felt feeding giraffes was kind of high on the “coolness factor” scale.  Don’t judge.  We all take our endorphins where we can get them.

The Giraffe Ranch is a little different.  It isn’t really a zoo or a theme park.  It is more like a sanctuary for exotic animals, operated by spouses Lex Salsibury and Elena Sheppa.  Lex is the former director of the Lowery Park Zoo in Tampa.  The grounds are on an abandoned cattle farm, adapted to create a home for dozens of species of animals.  Lex and Elena run tours of their facilities for no more than 20 people at a time.  They use their experience with African safaris as a model for their operation.

There are a number of options for touring the ranch, all of which include the opportunity to feed their giraffes.  The tour is a bit expensive, although not as costly as a day at an Orlando theme park.  It isn’t a whole day activity, but I think it is still worth every cent because of the uniqueness and exclusivity of the experience.  No crowds, no noise, no lines…. Just you and about 19 other people hanging out with the animals and discussing them.  And feeding them.  I’ve been there twice now.  It is way, way cool.

In addition to the basic giraffe tour, there are a number of optional extras that you can add for additional charges.  One of those extras is feeding lemurs.  Those of you who have seen the Madagascar movies may remember King Julien the lemur.  For those of you who don’t know what a lemur is, it may help if I tell you that they are about the size of a housecat and sort of resemble what might happen if a monkey and a raccoon could have a baby.  A baby with REALLY big eyes. There are many varieties of lemurs, all of which are endangered.  There are a couple of different types at the giraffe ranch.  I elected to participate in the lemur feeding, which involved interacting with ring-tailed lemurs.

There were basically four parts to the experience at the ranch.  The first part was a briefing when Elena told us about the history of the ranch and shared some basic information about the animals we would see.  The briefing came with visual aids- in the form of giraffe and zebra bones.  Next, we took a walk around the habitats close to the office.  We saw animals like gibbons and servals and kangaroos and pigs.  The third part was the feeding extras.  Finally, the fourth part was the safari tour in a 20-seat jeep type vehicle.

I really enjoyed everything the experience had to offer, but I was most excited about the lemur feeding.  After all, as much as I love feeding giraffes (and I love it a lot), I have done that often before coming to the Giraffe Ranch.  The lemurs were new to my animal-feeding repertoire.

When we got to the lemur enclosure, it was clear that those critters knew the drill.  It obviously wasn’t their first rodeo.   The lemurs attached themselves to the inner enclosure like peanut butter on bread.  They stared at us as we congregated in the little caged vestibule area that served as an anteroom to keep the lemurs from escaping as we entered their digs.  Elena gave us grapes (which seem to be the catnip of the lemur world, given their response) and instructions.  One of the most important things she told us was that we were not supposed to feed the lemurs near the door to the enclosure.  We were supposed to go over to a shelter at the center of the enclosure and only then offer the grapes.  This procedure was supposed to teach the lemurs not to congregate at the door. The idea was that, if the lemurs learned they only got the grapes well within the enclosure, they would not gather at the front door where they could tumble out into freedom (and, probably, certain death if the giraffe ranchers were not able to wrangle them pretty quickly.) It didn’t work.  I think there might have been one of three different reasons for its failure:

1)    There were sufficient people as impatient to feed the lemurs as the lemurs were impatient to be fed so the lesson was not consistently taught.

2)    Lemurs just aren’t that smart.

3)    Even in the lemur world, hope springs eternal and, hey, to a lemur, it’s worth a shot.

As the lemurs hung off the inside of the enclosure, they stared at us with their goo-goo-googly eyes, begging us to ignore the nice giraffe lady and hand over the grapes.  I’m sure those pitiful looks can be pretty effective motivation for early grape-feeding.  I, however, used to have a dog that employed the same technique, so it didn’t bother me.

Given the obvious enthusiasm the lemurs seemed to have for the possibility of grapes, you would have thought that we would have been trampled by dozens of tiny feet when we entered the inner enclosure.  I’ve been to petting zoos and have the goat hoof prints on my chest to prove it.  These lemurs were the politest creatures I have ever met, however.  Despite the emotional blackmail they employed unsuccessfully to get us to give up the grapes at the door, they amiably trotted behind us to the feeding shelter with no hard feelings.

I made my way into the shelter with the grapes hidden behind my back- another of Elena’s tips to make sure that the lemurs concentrated on one grape at a time.  These creatures are seriously charming.  Again, they produced the same pleading looks.  They exuded sweetness.  I was completely smitten.  In fact, I was momentarily enchanted into paralysis by the sheer cuteness of the animals.  That enchantment was detracting from valuable grape-gobbling time, in the lemurs’ humble opinions.  It wasn’t that they screeched or jumped or did anything obnoxious to jolt me out of cuteness overload and convince me to offer the grapes.  Just as I was struggling to come out of my adorableness-induced fog to offer a grape, one of the lemurs, with extreme courtesy, reached out with his soft little hand and patted me on the wrist!  Just a soft, sweet, momentary pat to remind me that he was there and waiting as patiently as his little lemur heart could wait for me to share a grape.  It felt just like a little human baby grasping your finger or patting your cheek.  And it happened over and over again.  With their pathetic looks and pleading pats, it felt like the lemurs were a bunch of furry Oliver Twists asking, “please ma’am, can I have some more?”

I offered grape after grape throughout this lemur happy hour.  When I found myself grapeless, Elena gave me more.  I could not stop smiling and cooing over the little creatures who took the grapes so daintily and licked my hands to make sure they consumed every drop of juice.  Adorbs.  Just adorbs.

When we finished the lemur feeding, we moved on to the vehicle safari.  As we bounded over the abandoned cattle ranch, Elena and Lex shared fascinating and entertaining animal information with us.  Among other critters, we viewed ostriches, rhinos, and zebras.  And, of course, the main headliner- the giraffes.

As much fun as feeding the lemurs had been, I was also really looking forward to feeding the giraffes.  It was awesome.  As I looked up into those huge dark, gentle eyes, I felt like those giraffes could feel me thinking.  And what I was thinking was, “you are just the most beautiful thing in the world.”  I am pretty sure the giraffes didn’t care what I was thinking as long as I kept the cabbage coming, but it made me feel good to think the giraffes and I were sharing a telepathic lovefest.  I was delighted by their warm smiles, lazy eyes the color of chocolate kisses, and the dexterity of the long tongues they employed to tangle my cabbage into their mouths.  I was lucky to be sitting in a front seat and Elena offered me a slice of juicy mango to feed one of the giraffes.    I’m not sure what is slimier- mushy mango or giraffe spit.  It doesn’t really matter.  They both wash off easily.

It was a great day.  After about three hours, I left proudly bearing my newly-purchased “I Fed The Lemurs” t-shirt.  On the way home, I thought about how lucky I am.  There aren’t many people in this world that get to lunch with the lemurs.

For more information about the Giraffe Ranch, you can visit www.girafferanch.com

So what are your thoughts?  What activities have you done that rank pretty high on the “coolness factor” scale?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can send me an email at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a wonderful day!  Lemurs rock!

Terri 🙂

Misfitting In

In some ways, retirement represents a return to the “real me.” 

In my childhood and young adulthood, I was naturally inclined to shyness, quiet, and observation.  Rather than joining groups of people or chiming in on conversations, I tended to stay on my own and listen covertly.  I avoided attending social activities and putting myself in situations where interaction was necessary.  I would “parallel play” my way through daily life- perfectly content to work side-by-side with others, but preferring to not collaborate.

At one point, I considered that I might actually be agoraphobic since there were some days when I literally could not leave the house to go to school and other times when I drove to a party or event, but could not make myself go inside.  Then, I realized that agoraphobia was not my problem.  It wasn’t open spaces of which I was afraid.  It was people.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t communicate with people or even that I did it badly.  In fact, I have always been good at putting my thoughts into words, both in speaking and in writing.  I also have decent empathy with others, good intuition about what the other person is thinking or feeling (must be all that listening over the years!) and a nimble ability to choose communication strategies likely to appeal to and engage the other person.  I just always kind of chose not to do so, except with people with whom I had long term positive relationships.   I used to say I have a slow emotional transmission.  It takes me a long time to get into a relationship gear and then I find it almost impossible to let go of that gear when it is time to part.

Once I started working, my natural sense of duty kicked in.  It struck me that it was my responsibility to take the lead when communicating with customers and employees.  I worked for a federal agency from which most people would be happy to never hear.  Customers were often frightened, upset, and irate, often for good reason.  It was my job to help them feel better and more comfortable dealing with their issues.  As I advanced in the leadership ranks, I recognized that it was my job to communicate well and to create an environment where my employees could feel safe and thrive.  I once heard that my job was basically to hold conversations and I think that was probably correct.

 As time went on, I made conscious efforts to use the communication skills and personal qualities I possessed in all my interactions.  I tried to “pretend until I was” outgoing.  While it got easier to pretend and sometimes I even thought I might be achieving outgoingness, I don’t think I ever actually got there.   I often enjoyed who I was when I pretended to be outgoing, but it took a lot out of me.   I was successful in doing the things that would make me appear warm, outgoing, approachable, trustworthy, and confident in my communication. It was my job.  I did it.  I did it well.  I was exhausted.

Now that I am no longer working, I have reverted to my natural preferences.  As much as I looked forward to joining the book club in my new community, I have somehow not found the time to attend any meetings.  When trying to arrange for vendors or contractors to take care of things around the house, I try very hard to find a way to accomplish my task by email.  When our new next door neighbors invited us to a Christmas party at their home, we went out to dinner first and “stopped by” for only half an hour or so.  I only managed that because I thought it would be rude to decline the invitation. When I go to the water aerobics class, I don’t fold into the little groups of two or three that form in the pool. 

I am finding this opportunity to slide back into observation mode to be very restful.  I am enjoying the blissful silence of my own thoughts, the absence of my frenzied mind spinning around trying to succeed in my charge of advancing the flag of conversation.  I listen and horde the little nuggets I hear inside my brain, turning them over and admiring them in the safety of my quietness. 

Still, this welcome isolation does have its downside.  I feel a bit removed and apart from my surroundings and community.  I have no sense of “belonging.” I initially thought this might be the age difference between me and most of the people around me, but I think it might be more my retirement from forced extroversion. 

The other day, Max asked me if I missed work at all.  I replied that I didn’t miss work, but that I didn’t feel like I “fit in” anymore.  He asked a very insightful question, “Do you want to?” Obviously, after over 30 years of basically communicating and forging relationships for a living, I know what to do to create those connections for myself.  I suppose when I want to fit in badly enough, I will find my niche in the relationship networks in my new life.  I recently offered a piece of advice to one of the women in the pool who I heard talking about her upcoming trip to the Grand Canyon.  I volunteered to help with the photography for the community’s new directory. I will probably go to the book club when it starts again in the fall. I have started to make friends.

In the meantime, I will enjoy the quiet and the nourishment I get from the enduring friendships that had their genesis in my working years.   These “forever friendships” were not dependent on the very intentional strategies and techniques I practiced to push myself into appearing outgoing.  Those friendships teach me that my natural self, with all its introversion, is enough.  I’m enough to fit into the hearts of those people I love. 

So what do you think?  How do you forge new relationships in a new life?  How do you balance friendship and introversion?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative,  you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Thanks for letting me fit in with you!

Terri 🙂

 

God’s Waiting Room

I think I may be too young to live in a retirement community.  When I was still living in the working world in my old state, even though I had stopped working, my brain sort of defined my retirement as “I’m being rewarded for working so hard and doing such a good job.”  When I moved to my new state, to a community where the average resident is probably a generation older than I am, my brain quickly started defining my retirement as “I’m too old to work.” 

It is a little odd.  I have almost always been the youngest in whatever circle I have orbited… at the workplace, amongst my friends, in my extended family.  As a result, I’ve usually felt even younger than I actually was.  I had just started feeling a bit wizened when I retired and moved to my over 55 community, which I lovingly refer to as “God’s waiting room.”  I thought that this return to being the youngest kid on the block might bolster up that youthful feeling, but no such luck.  I am actually feeling older.  I’m not sure why, because the folks in this community are incredibly active, involved, and energetic.  They play tennis, power through exercise classes, volunteer, run countless activities and events at the community clubhouse, and always seem to be popping out somewhere in their souped up golf carts. 

The friends I left in my old state are starting to refer to themselves as my “young friends,” even though they are older than I am.

The truth about my retirement is probably somewhere in between.  The good people of the United States are paying me a lifetime pension as part of my long term employment contract, not as a special reward for doing a really good job.  While I don’t believe I (or most anyone else, for that matter) is incapable of work after age 55, I do believe that we are each born with some finite quantity of patience, mental endurance, and tolerance for frustration and obstacles.  I think mine was just about depleted.  I could feel my “bounce back” mechanism getting a little less bouncy over the past couple of years, but I don’t think I realized how low the tank was really getting.  I shudder to think how that paucity of patience must have manifested itself under the daily schedule of frustrations that simply just exist on any job.  When I moved and began dealing with the myriad of issues related to a major life change, it became clear to me that the slightest little setback caused me to react with disproportionate frustration.  Any little thing that didn’t go exactly as I planned might start me crying and plummeting down the road to despair. 

I’ve had numerous opportunities to observe this reaction, as there have been so many setbacks in dealing with the house, the lawn, moving my mother to her new home, getting a new washer and dryer, etc., etc., etc.  It isn’t pretty and I’ve noticed my mother is starting to be afraid to open the mail or take a phone call because she is sure the communication will mean some new setback that will cause me to disintegrate before her very eyes. 

I’ve taken to purposefully maintaining a calm, albeit artificial, exterior over everything I can now.  I’m no idiot and I could see that my freak outs were not doing any good and just feeding into the frenzy of everyone around me, like my mother and Max.  I am embracing the mantra, “pretend until you are” and acting like I’m mildly amused rather than completely freaked out when something isn’t happening the way I think it should.  It is hard work and I’m not sure I’m succeeding, but maybe I’ll improve with practice. 

And maybe that finite quantity of patience, mental endurance, and tolerance of frustration and obstacles will regenerate itself when I finally stop drawing from it on an hourly basis, as I did while I was working.  Keep your fingers crossed!

So what do you think?  Is it possible to regenerate stresshardiness?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a wonderful day!

Terri 🙂

Finding My Way

I finally made it to the beach.

One of my critical deciding factors for where I would move in retirement was that I must be able to comfortably drive to the beach.  I grew up within a frisbee’s throw from Surf City, USA.  I spent a lot of time in my childhood playing on the beaches of Southern California.  As an adult, I lived about 10 miles from the beach.  Life got in the way and I never was the type to spend hours and hours sunbathing on a regular basis.  My father used to say I was whiter than a nun’s belly.  Still, the beach always held an allure for me.  I would usually spend a few hours there at least a couple of times a year.  It was the place I felt most relaxed.  It was the place I did my clearest thinking.  There is absolutely nothing in this world like walking on the beach, feeling the sun on my shoulders, wet sand under my feet, and ocean breeze against my bare legs.  Next to the ocean, I was always somehow lighter, freer, and happier.  I even felt closer to God.

Before I bought the house in Florida, I evaluated the distance to the beach.  Once I got over the whole “the ocean is to the east” instead of “the ocean is to the west” thing, I realized that it was, theoretically, about a 90-minute drive to the Atlantic coast and a 90-minute drive to the Gulf of Mexico coast.  That was acceptable to me.  The beach criterion was met and so I was contented.

I moved to Florida seventeen months ago.  With beaches in two different directions, you would have thought I would have made it there before now, wouldn’t you?

When I first began making “I want to go to the beach” noises, it was too rainy.  Then, it was too cold.  Then, it was spring break.  Then, there was a confluence of motorcycle aficionado clubs from all over the country scheduled to be zooming around the beach communities when I finally made a specific plan to go to the beach.  Then, there was a total eclipse of the sun.  Well, maybe not that one.  Still, it began to feel like there was ALWAYS something in the way between me and the sea.  I was sure I was never going to get to the shore.

I began to wonder what was really stopping me from just getting in the car and driving the 80 miles or so to the beach.  In thinking it through, it seemed to me that the big obstacle was fear of getting lost.  As I have crafted my new life in my new state, I have had to find my way across new geography many given times.  After a lifetime of living in the same general vicinity and visiting the same places time and time again, it is kind of stressful to face the fact that every time I get into the car, I am running the very real risk of getting lost.  Even with MapQuest, GPS, and local signage pointing the way to popular tourist destinations (like, say, THE BEACH!), I feel the juices in my stomach start to churn in a rather unpleasant way when I embark on a new journey. 

I guess the same can be said for just about everything I have done in the past year and a half. I have had to find my way in all kinds of contexts- dealing with house and yard issues, taking care of my mother, living far away from the friends who are dear to me, and learning how to be active and satisfied without a job telling me I am.  I guess I could deduce that my internal compass is a bit over-used and worn from all this “way-finding” and that is the reason that going to the beach seemed more like a burden than an adventure.  On the other hand, I think the truth is actually that my internal compass is more sound and more finely-tuned from all the practice I have had.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine from my old state was visiting her father who winters in a small beach town about 100 miles from where I live.  When she contacted me about meeting her for a visit somewhere halfway between her father’s beach home and my place, the planets seemed to be aligned.  I decided to carpe diem and told her I would meet her at her father’s condominium… which just happens to be situated on a beautiful stretch of beach.

I found the beach with zero trouble.  I loved seeing my friend.  I also loved walking along the beach, sliding my bare feet through the tide, and gobbling salt air.  All the reasons I love the beach came flooding back to me in an instant.  I found myself wondering why on earth I denied myself this pure pleasure just because of the fear of not finding my way. 

It was a lesson learned.  I think it is likely that, as I continue to go through life, I am often going to face situations where I need to find my way.  I can go with life’s adventure and be content with where I go.  I am likely to find my way.  If I don’t, that’s okay, too.  I’m sure to end up someplace.  Yes, something truly bad could happen if I get lost trying to find my way, but the odds are against it.  Realistically, the worst thing that is likely to happen is that I’ll just waste some time and energy getting back on track.  In those wanderings, I may even encounter some of life’s mini-miracles… beautiful places to see, fun things to do, and lovely people to know.  Who knows, I may just find a way that is better than the way I thought I wanted.

They say God draws straight, but with crooked lines.  I don’t know why I worry so much about finding my way.  I have a feeling that, no matter what crooked paths I take, I am going straight to wherever He wants me to be.

How are you finding your way?  Are you enjoying the journey?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a wonderful, wandering day!

Terri 🙂

The White, White Rose of Home

There was a white rosebush outside the house where I grew up.  It grew in a stony, rocky area between the house and garage where we kept our trash cans.  Nobody paid much attention to it.  I can’t imagine that the soil was particularly nourishing.  We didn’t water it.  It was shaded by the buildings, so it didn’t get much sun.  Still, that rosebush thrived and, year after year, it yielded beautiful white blossoms at Christmas.  White roses were more of a Christmas tradition at our house than poinsettias and holly. 

After we moved out of the house, I made sure my mother had white roses at Christmas every year.  Sometimes, it was a table arrangement.  Sometimes, it was a corsage.  Sometimes, the roses were artificial.  Sometimes they were real.  Sometimes, when I was particularly poor, it was just a Christmas card with white roses on it.  No matter what, there was some form of white rose for my mother at Christmas.

In November this year, my mother announced that she did not want me to buy her white roses.  She felt they were too costly, especially for something that didn’t last very long.  Instead, she said, she wanted me to wait until spring when the stores were selling those sad looking dormant rosebushes (or maybe “rose sticks” might be an appropriate name) with the roots in a bag and plant her one of those.

“Oh crap, something else I have to figure out how to do,” I said.  On the inside.  On the outside, I smiled and said, “okay.”  At least I figured I had a few months before spring to read up on rose resuscitation techniques.  Who knows, maybe she would forget the whole idea.

A couple of weeks later, we were at Big Lots and a group of cub scouts were selling small plants for a couple of bucks.  You guessed it.  They had one small white rosebush, with a few little buds on it.  My mother thought it was a sign from God that we should take it home and I should transplant it.

We took it home and I googled “how to transplant a rosebush.”  There was a pretty explicit, lengthy set of instructions.  Instead of trying to integrate the whole magilla, I focused on the first step, which was to wait until spring in order to prevent frost from killing the newly transplanted rose. Google-sanctioned procrastination!  Right up my alley. I explained this to my mother, who seemed good with waiting until spring.  On the outside.  I started working up to my new project by moving the potted rosebush from outside to inside. 

A couple of weeks went by and the rosebush was looking pretty rough.  The term “scraggly” comes to mind.  I put it back outside, hoping some sun would help.  No luck.  Every time my mother mentioned transplanting it, I brought up the Google instructions.  Finally, though, the rosebush seemed terminal and extraordinary measures were warranted.  My mother pointed out that it was unlikely that we would have frost in central Florida.  Back I went to Google to refresh myself on the rest of the long list of directions.  Armed with a print of the page, I went to the local home store and tried to purchase mulch, potting soil, and peat moss.  When I came face-to-face with the bags of these items, I discovered that I couldn’t even pick up the smallest bag of each of them without the aid of a chiropractor.  Not to mention that the cost and quantity seemed to be pretty much overkill for one tiny rose plant.  As I tried to figure out how I was going to explain to my mother that transplanting this rosebush was not cost-effective and was possibly hazardous to my health, I noticed a small bag of something called “potting mix” a few shelves over from the gargantuan bags of mulch, potting soil, and peat moss.  Sensing a conspiracy, I checked out the label and discovered that the $5 bag of “potting mix” contained…. mulch, potting soil, and peat moss!  What a bonanza! I purchased the potting mix, feeling very accomplished.  I was starting to get the hang of this gardening stuff. 

Since I was on a roll, I went over to my mother’s mobile home and starting digging the hole.  I followed the directions from Google and stuck that little rosebush right into the ground.  Filling the hole back up, I just said a prayer and hoped for the best. 

Two nights later, there were record low temperatures.  And frost.

God must have sent angels to blanket that rosebush, though.  Against all odds and despite my complete ineptitude, it flourished.  Within a couple of weeks, new buds started to blossom.  The bush is growing and roses keep on blooming! 

It strikes me that this rosebush might be a microcosm of all the caretaking tasks I have taken on for my mother. 

I won’t say that there are not real challenges and difficulties associated with caring for my aging parent.  Cleaning and medicating her feet and legs took some getting used to.  Doing her taxes wasn’t high up on my wish list of things to do. Fighting with the wheelchair to get it in and out of the trunk of the car everywhere we go wears me down some days.  Navigating around crowded theme parks and stores can be very frustrating.  Opening doors to restaurants using my backside is an acrobatic skill I never really aspired to learn.  Cleaning her bathroom is not a pleasant task.  Coordinating and attending doctors’ appointments can suck up a day like thirsty kindergarteners suck down juice boxes.  Even the thought of comparing insurance companies can cause my eyes to cross.  Dealing with the various contractors I’ve arranged to do work at her house at least doubles the burden involved with dealing with the various contractors at my own house. 

These are all very real challenges and I wish it wasn’t necessary to deal with these challenges.  I wish my mother was healthy and hearty enough to do all these things herself.  Still, I love that I can do these things for her.  If I can add to the happiness and freedom in her life, I want to do it.  My mother has always put me before herself.  Now, it is a gift to give.   The time I spend with her while helping her is also a gift.  We have a lot of fun together.  I am learning things about her and her past that I never knew. My mom and I have always been close, but there is now a new dimension and richness in my understanding of her and of our relationship.  We are playing a different kind of music together now, my mother and I, and I am enjoying the new song.  Yes, there are days when I may get a little overwhelmed, but, for the most part, it is great.  The real challenges involved with the help I provide are actually no big deal. 

The biggest difficulty and stressor, though, is much less tangible.  The biggest difficulty and stressor is my fear of doing something wrong.  It feels like a big responsibility to be such a strong influence on the way someone else lives, spends money, and gets medical care.  I want my mother to make her own decisions about her own life on her own terms as much as possible.  I always want to do what I can to relieve her of any undue burden. I try very hard to find the right balance to preserve her independence and autonomy while also doing things to reduce any difficulties in her life.  Still, I know that, more and more, she is relying on me to present her with the best options, give her good advice, and implement the decisions.  The idea that I might do the wrong thing is really where the burden of caretaking comes in for me.  It kind of haunts my thoughts.  What if I lead her to a decision that costs her more money than she can afford?  What if I recommend a doctor or insurance plan that means she gets inferior health care?  What if my complete lack of mechanical ability and visual reasoning means her home isn’t as safe or as comfortable as it could be for her? 

What if I can’t make her roses grow?

Yes, I think I should take a lesson from my adventure with transplanting the rosebush.  Maybe all I need to do is just the best I can with all the decisions and projects that my mother needs.  Continue trying, with whatever ability I can muster, to help her lead the happiest, most comfortable, and most independent life she can.  Then, all I can do is trust God to take my efforts and make them blossom into roses!

Most of us believe that every day is a great time to build our relationships and demonstrate our love to those who are important to us.  This weekend we have an extra special opportunity to honor our moms and those people who have been mother figures in our lives.  Happy Mothers’ Day, all you  moms! 

So what are your thoughts?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at www.terriretirement.com.

Have a wonderful day and stop and smell the roses!

Terri 🙂 

Lions and Tigers and Lizards…. OH MY!

When the realtor first showed us the house I ended up buying, she pointed towards the beautiful green conservation zone behind the house.  She explained that it meant there would be no more houses built behind us and waxed poetic about the gorgeous view.  Then she said,

“Terri, you’ll have WILDLIFE!”

Almost as soon as the words passed her lips, she changed the subject, as if she immediately realized that the existence of wildlife in the backyard would not be everyone’s cup of tea. She needn’t have worried. I immediately conjured up visions of Bambi and Thumper shyly inching their way to my back door, as I coaxed them ever forward with carrots.  Maybe I’d even build a saltlick.  I saw them giving me their trust and nuzzling against me.  In my imagination, the wildlife might even have broken into song.

Well, no.

Instead of Bambi and Thumper, the wildlife consists of birds and lizards.  Lots of lizards.  The birds are pretty innocuous, although kind of noisy at times.  We have what must be wonderful windows and insulation because it can be quiet as can be inside until I open a door in the evening.  Then, the volume and variety of bird sounds is quiet amazing.  The cacophony they create outside at night is comparable to a middle school orchestra tuning up.  The birds are kind of cool to watch during the day and I can’t hear them at night with the doors and windows closed up, so the bird wildlife is not a problem.

The lizards didn’t really bother me, either.  Most people will tell you that lizards are good to have around because they eat insects.  I don’t want them in my house, but I’m perfectly happy to live and let live as long as they do their living outside the structure where I do my living.  Max, on the other hand, became the great white hunter of lizards.  He was completely convinced that, if we did not do something to banish the lizards from our property, they would take over the garage and house.  He fretted that, once in the house, we would not be able to get them out because they are such fast little buggers.  He worried that they would raise a whole colony of baby lizards and I would rue the day I ever said, “they don’t bother me.”  I think he pictured them taking over the television remote control and fiddling with the air conditioner settings.

My research into lizard control told me that nothing can reliably reduce lizard population.  The most common suggestion was to get a cat, which I thought might be a good answer until I realized that the cat would not necessarily get rid of lizards, just kill them and bring them to me as love offerings.  While I don’t want live lizards in my house, I really don’t want dead ones either.  Especially dead ones gift-wrapped in cat spit.

Another big suggestion was to use insecticides to kill the bugs the lizards eat, thereby discouraging the lizards from showing up for the buffet at our house each day.  After trying several different insecticides and putting out mothballs to minimize the bugs, there might have been a slight decrease in the lizard sightings.  Or there might not have been.

Max followed the lizard abatement school of thought that we should minimize (read eliminate) the foliage around the house, thus destroying the lizard hiding places. He thought we should have more rock and stone instead of dirt and shrubbery.   He thought we should cut all the shrubbery down to the stumps and maybe put out some potted artificial plants. Besides being a lot of work and expensive to have someone do this, I didn’t want to do it.  First, I didn’t think the homeowners’ association that objected to a small patch of discolored lawn would be too keen on landscaping that consisted of bare stumps topped with potted plastic petunias.  The rules for landscaping are pretty restrictive.  Second, I didn’t want an ugly yard and I have to say that stumps sounded pretty ugly to me.  Third, I didn’t think anything we did was going to get rid of the lizards so I objected to taking extraordinary measures to try to do so.

While our disagreement on lizard abatement strategy waged on, Max took to looking for lizards in the front and back yard and dousing them with glasses of cold water.  He’d go outside, see a lizard, come in grumbling, “fucking lizards,” get a glass of water, and throw the water on said lizard.  I’m sure the neighbors were referring to him as the “crazy lizard guy.”  He really believed he was going to train the entire lizard population to stay away from our house because those who were foolish enough to venture near would spread the word to the rest of them about the icy showers that awaited them.

Finally, after weeks of Max “convincing” (in other words, nagging) me to do something about the landscaping, I capitulated.  I just couldn’t bear to hear another word about the “fucking lizards.”  I did insist, though, that we were not just going to lop off shrubs and leave stumps in the ground.  I called a landscaper and explained our goal of mitigating the lizard population.  I basically let Max make all the decisions about what the landscaper should do so he could be satisfied that all possible means were being employed to eliminate the lizards. I just kept veto power to ensure that the yard did not end up looking like a bomb site. The landscaper told us he could not eliminate the lizards, but could do some things to minimize them, like taking out a couple of bushes and replacing them with a certain kind of tree that would be less hospitable to lizards.  He also suggested covering some of our bare dirt with stones and ornamental rocks. Of course, none of this was cheap, but I thought it would look nice when it was done.  Whether it would have any impact on the lizard population, I wasn’t too sure. Personally, I would have thought that decorating the yard with large ornamental rocks would be somewhat akin to building a habitrail for reptiles, but what do I know?

Now that the work has been done, it does indeed look nice.  I’m very proud of it.  Did it get rid of the lizards?  The dirty little secret is that I don’t think it did.  Max says it did, but I’m sure he doesn’t want me to realize that I paid a lot of money, at his insistence, to fix a problem that still exists.  I still see him going out of the house with tumblers of water to throw on the invaders.  The thing is, now he does it very surreptitiously and without a word about the “fucking lizards.”

So I got what I paid for.

What are your thoughts?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Have a wonderful day!

Terri 🙂

Moving on Up?

My mother says we have moved to a “stupid state.”  She bases this assessment on the following:

  1. The highway and traffic systems are wild, wooly, and weird.
  2. There are more counties, with infrastructures supported by the taxpayers, than seems strictly necessary for sound governance.
  3. The news broadcasts consist almost exclusively of predictions about when the rain will hit each particular city block.

I am aware that my mother is having some difficulty with the transition to her new living situation.  She tries not to complain, but I can tell based on her frequent mentions of the “stupid state” and her abject despair whenever she is faced with any reminder that she has moved (like getting a piece of mail that has been forwarded from her old address).  I suppose it is natural for anyone, much less an 84-year-old woman with chronic kidney disease, to grapple with the trauma involved with a change of this magnitude.  I know I have my moments, as well.  Still, I do wonder if I did the right thing in moving her to our new state.

The original plan was that Max and I were going to remain in the old state while my mother was still alive.  She had a very active, happy life there.  Despite her significant physical infirmities and limitations, she still worked full time during the summer.  She was the queen bee of the volunteer docents at the local reservoir.  She knows more about water than anyone not employed by some water district has any right knowing.   She had lots of friends and acquaintances there. She was driving, something she stopped doing before moving (see “stupid state” reason number 1).    My brother, who has physical and financial issues of his own, lived close by.  She had access to excellent health care basically for free because of the wonderful insurance plan she has been patronizing for the past 50 years.  Still, when I bought the house in our new state, there were a few things in her life that were starting to disintegrate.  I thought she might want to move and it didn’t make sense to postpone our move for her sake if she truly would just as soon go, too.  She surprised me by saying she thought she would like to move.

Although my mother talks about the “stupid state,” I think there are really three main reasons she has some regrets about moving.

  • Her health insurance plan does not operate in our new locale.  This has been a constant refrain since she contemplated moving.  After nearly 50 years with the same company, it is a jolt, especially since the old plan operated completely differently from any traditional health plan.  Basically, it was run sort of like a privatized socialized medicine system.  The insurance company actually employed doctors, ran hospitals, and staffed pharmacies and labs within their own facilities.  A patient makes an appointment, goes to the facility, pays her $5 copayment, and all needs are addressed in one location.  While inexpensive and very efficient, the health plan was also pretty paternalistic.  Patients didn’t have to worry about finding a doctor or lab or paying much of anything.  However, if a patient isn’t happy with the doctors or facilities provided by the insurance plan, she is pretty much out of luck.  My mother loved her care providers and the ease of the experience, so “having to go to their doctors” was a blessing, not a problem.  I’ve got her signed up for a Medicare supplement policy now, which should mean that she should not have any significant costs.  Still, she is worried about a myriad of scenarios, most of which are extremely unlikely… that she will have to pay the doctors and file claims for reimbursement, that she will somehow end up paying the maximum out-of-pocket costs every year, that she won’t be able to find a doctor who will give her an appointment, that she won’t know where to go to get lab tests.  I’ve got her scheduled for her first doctor’s visit next week.  Hopefully, she will like the doctor and everything will go smoothly.  If so, I think that some of “health insurance” objection to moving will fade.  If not, the upside is that she CAN go to another doctor.
  • If she was still in her old home, she would have been working in the accounting department of a school district food service department during the summer.  Although my mother officially retired from her job at the food service department almost 20 years ago, she has been going back as a temporary employee during the summer every year since.  She loves it.  She has always been a social butterfly.  At the school district, she visits with her old friends.  People make a big fuss over her.  She does an important job processing applications for free and reduced price lunches.  Everyone aids her and makes allowances for her physical limitations because they love her and she really is very good at what she does.  Now, she chokes up when she talks about how she would be working at the school district if she was still in her old home.  The sad truth is, though, I am not sure how much longer she could have kept up with the job.  When I bring up the possibility of volunteering now, she puts me off.  Since she has moved here and I am with her more, I am seeing that she is much frailer and more tentative, both physically and in making decisions, than I ever thought she was.  I’m sure she would have gone to work this summer, if she had not moved, but I’m not sure it would have ended well.  Maybe it was better that she “go out on top” and stop because she was moving rather than because she became incapable.
  • My brother remains in the old town. It is hard for any parent to leave a child.  My brother’s health and, with it, his reliability to assist my mother, has been diminishing for the past five years.  I know she worries about him and it was probably doubly hard to leave a child who “needs” her.  On the other hand, there really isn’t anything my mother could do for him ten miles away than she cannot do 3000 miles away.

On the plus side, my mother says she feels better physically than she has in years since she has moved across country.  I think she is secretly happy to have left her volunteer empire, as she expressed that it felt good to not have the stress of the timesheets and all the phone calls.  The mobile home where she was living (which she bought for $6000 in 1996) was falling apart around her.  It was filthy and decrepit.  She always said the mobile home bothered me way more than it bothered her, but the fact remains.  Now, she says she loves the new mobile home here in the great southeast and that she feels her living conditions have improved considerably.  I am at her place at least four times a week and take her out often, to run errands and to go fun places. I think she likes that, even though I can’t really compete with all the activities and interactions she had in her old environment.

There are arguments on both sides of the move issue. I truly don’t know if we made the right decision.  I am sure that, as Robert Frost pointed out, there is always the “road less traveled” phenomenon.  Whichever decision we made, there would always be “woulda, coulda, shouldas.” If my mother had not moved, my brother might not have been able to take care of her needs because of his own medical conditions.  The wiring in the old mobile home might have failed and caused a fire.  She might have gone to her volunteer job one day and been unable to get back in the car.

A friend of mine once said, when I was obsessing ad infinitum about some decision or action, “stop shoulding all over yourself.”  I guess that is the problem.  I want an answer that is guaranteed to be the right one, with no questions or regrets.  I don’t get to have that.  Also, people do get to feel the way they feel.  Ultimately, my mother was the one who made the decision and if she has wistful moments, that’s okay.  It doesn’t mean that she thinks it was necessarily the wrong decision to move.  I will do what I can to help her be comfortable and happy in her new home.  And if she ends up deciding to change her mind and move back west, she knows I have her back on that, as well.

So what are your thoughts?  Do you struggle with making the “right” decisions, too?  Have you discovered any successful strategies for living peacefully with the paths you take?  Share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can send me an email at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a beautiful day, no matter which road you don’t take!

Terri 🙂

A Sod, Sod Story

Shortly before we moved to our new home, I received a notice from the homeowners’ association telling me that I had a brown spot on my lawn and needed to remedy the situation.  The community manager suggested resodding the area.  When I spoke to the property manager who was renting the house for me, she said she would tell the tenants (who were soon to be vacating) that they needed to fix the problem since they were responsible for the lawn.  Apparently, that did not go well.  The property manager later told me that she thought the brown spot had been there over 2 years ago when I first bought the property and, therefore, we should not attach the tenants’ security deposit to pay for the sod.  I agreed, but asked that she make sure the problem got fixed so the HOA would leave me alone.

When we arrived to move into the home a month or so later, I saw what the HOA meant. There was a small area of grass that seemed a little bit stressed.  It wasn’t super noticeable to me, but I could definitely see that there was a problem.  I asked the property manager about it.  She told me that she didn’t recommend resodding because it was the wrong time of year and water use restrictions would impede new sod’s growth.  When I shared this theory with the community manager, he was less than impressed and told me that I needed to get something done immediately or be fined. 

Thus began the “sod, sod story.”

We had a fellow who was trimming a tree for us that also did sod.  We asked him about resodding for us and he agreed, but said that we probably needed to get some sort of lawn treatment service or protocol in place, as he thought the dead area was likely caused by some underlying problem like bugs or lack of soil nutrients.  He advised that we would want to fix that problem so that new sod would thrive. 

I called the lawn treatment guy, who agreed (of course) that we needed lawn treatment.  According to him, it was the evil cinch bug that was causing the lawn disaster.  He also said that the sprinkler system was in really good shape, but we might want to think about upgrading in the next year or so.  When he was testing it, I noticed that none of the sprinklers seemed to be hitting the brown spot.  I’m surely no lawn expert (never having had a lawn before), but it seemed to me that without water, it wasn’t any surprise that the grass was dying.  I pointed this out to the lawn treatment guy. He insisted it was the evil cinch bug, not the lack of water, that was the problem.   

I signed a contract for lawn treatment every other month.  The lawn treatment guy said to wait a couple of months after the first treatment before resodding.  While I was wondering how the HOA was going to feel about that, he uttered the words I have come to know and fear….

“It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

Now, what is that supposed to mean?  What does worse look like?  And how will we know if it is the “worse before it gets better” or if it is the “worse because this crap isn’t working?”

True to our new friend’s word, it did get worse.  And worse.   The lawn treatment technicians left us with cryptic notes and multiple flyers about every possible thing that could be wrong with our lawn, from frost to the German measles.  The flyers seemed to suggest contradictory courses of action.  When I read that spraying with Round-Up was the remedy for one of the possible lawn maladies, I became alarmed.  Did you ever look at the label of Round-Up?  It is called “GRASS and Weed Killer.”  It seems kind of counter-intuitive to spray grass killer on an area of lawn where you are trying to grow… well, grass.  Applying Round-Up doesn’t seem like the best thing to do when you are trying to bring a lawn back to life, does it?  Still, I tried doing everything suggested in the flyers, and, also, several strategies I discovered on the internet.  Nothing seemed to make a difference.  At least not a POSITIVE difference. 

I called the lawn treatment company and, also, the guy who mows the lawn.  Both of them said…. You guessed it…. “It will get worse before it gets better.”

After the second lawn treatment, with the area of brown expanding at a rather startling rate, we started trying to get our tree trimmer/sod guy back to do the resodding.  Let’s just say that he wasn’t the most responsive of creatures.  Max pursued him with the tenacity of a male musk ox trying to attract a mate.  After no less than four no shows and reschedules, the sod guy finally showed up.  I guess he figured it was either show up or take out a restraining order. 

Never having seen sod before, we didn’t think anything of the pathetic collection of mud squares with some sparse grass blades sticking out of them that our sod guy delivered.  He apparently did whatever one is supposed to do to prepare the ground and then laid the “sod.”  Before he went away, he told us “It will get worse before it gets better.” 

Max religiously watered the resodded area every day with a garden hose because the sprinkler wasn’t hitting that area.   Some of the new sod seemed to start growing, but, for the most part, the lawn just got worse.   Having been advised that it would “get worse before it gets better,” I wasn’t immediately alarmed, but when the dead areas started spreading and multiplying geometrically, I decided it was time for action. 

I called the lawn treatment guy again, who finally agreed to come over and check the technician’s work.  When he arrived, he was shocked and appalled by the state of the lawn.  Duh.  Initially, he thought the problem with the sod was that we had not kept to the heavy watering protocol for new sod.  This pronouncement didn’t make us very happy since Max invested hours upon hours hand-watering what was presumably dead or dying grass.  We explained what we did but the lawn treatment guy still eyed us suspiciously, assuming we were negligent, non-watering sod-killers.

Eventually, after much discussion, the lawn treatment guy could see I was about at the end of my rope, so he called in a sprinkler guy, a sod guy that their company used when needed, and the lawn treatment technicians. They all decided, of course, that I needed a new $2000 sprinkler system because (wait for it) …. THE SPRINKLERS WERE NOT HITTING THE PART OF THE LAWN THAT WAS DYING!!!  After I stopped reeling from a severe case of déjà vu, I started bargaining.  Noting that some of my problem was that I was dealing with too many components of the same issue (sprinklers, lawn treatment, sod) and wasn’t lawn-savvy enough to know which component was the problem (or even if there was a problem because, you know, “it gets worse before it gets better”), I demanded that this lawn treatment company take complete ownership of the problem and arrange for all the moving parts to do what needed to be done and monitor the success.  When they agreed to that, I figured buying the sprinkler system for $2000 (which did seem kinda necessary since even I could tell lo those many months ago that the sprinklers were not hitting the dying lawn areas) was a bargain.

But wait…. There’s more.  The sprinkler installation went pretty smoothly, except for the hit to my pocketbook.  Then, the sod guy showed up immediately to take measurements and quote me a very low price to install the sod to replace the first sod guy’s mud.  For, when the second sod guy finally showed up with the sod (it took several reschedules, but what else is new?), it was clear that the first sod guy provided something that truly didn’t even resemble real sod.  It was no wonder it didn’t grow.

Our lawn is beautiful now.  It only took six months.  And, just for the record, after the second sodding, it never did “get worse before it gets better.”

Do you have a sod, sod story of your own?  Who knew that acquiring a lawn that meets the minimum standards of the HOA would be such a trauma?  Or at least a drama?  At any rate, the grass is greener on the other side of the lawn now.  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement.com.

Have a sodding good day!

Terri 🙂

Life is a Highway

Driving in my new home state is a bit of a challenge. 

I learned to drive in a place where the structure of the road and highway network is pretty simple.  Odd numbered roads go primarily north and south.  Even numbered highways, east and west.  While some highways have “honorary names,” being called after a political figure or public hero, numbered highways are almost always referred to in common vernacular by their numbers. All ten digits of the usual numbering system are used, so each highway is fairly distinctive. If the roads have actual names, those names, with few exceptions for long roads that meander through numerous cities, stay the same.   Someone might give you directions by saying something like, “Take the 203 freeway north to the Snickerdoodle Road exit, turn right on Snickerdoodle Road, drive about 3 miles to Hooligan Avenue, turn left and continue on Hooligan Avenue until you get to the second house on the right, 123 Hooligan Avenue.”

Not so much in my new state.  To begin with, whoever it is that decides on the highway titles is pitifully lacking in imagination.  It appears mandatory that each numbered highway must include the number “2” at least once in its title.  This makes it harder to remember which highway you are supposed to be on because they all kind of sound of like.  If that wasn’t bad enough, the highway system actually includes all kinds of offshoots and iterations of the same highway number.  For instance, there may be an Interstate 221, County Road 221, State Route 221, and random other roads labeled “221” with various suffixes like 221A, 221B, and 221C.  Roads often merge together, muddying the waters still more.  Then, certain communities rail against the lack of creativity and give these numbered road(s) their own names.  There is one such stretch of road that I travel rather frequently. At some points, it is Interstate 221, State Route 25, County Road 21, and Lemon Tree Trail- all at the same time.  Even my GPS gets confused.  The other day, I was trying to find an optometrist in a town about 40 miles south of my home.  I finally gave up when I realized my GPS had led me about 60 miles towards the state line…. The state line to the NORTH.

In my old state, driving is a well-regulated, tidy business.  There are helmet laws for motorcycles.  All passengers must wear seat belts.  All but the tiniest of intersections have traffic lights.  U-turns are frowned upon.  If U-turns are actually allowed at the intersection, there are usually signals to govern when drivers in a given lane can make a U-turn or left turn unimpeded by cross traffic. 

In my new state, traffic lights are for sissies. Turning left from a stop sign across a major highway without traffic lights is an adventure.  At first, I would sometimes drive literally miles out of my way to find a place I could turn around with the aid of a signal.  Now, I just take a deep breath, say a prayer, and tool across six lanes of traffic like a madwoman.   The citizenry also considers regulating U-turns to be some sort of infringement of personal liberty.  I have yet to see a sign prohibiting a U-turn, no matter how narrow or wide the road.  On roads that are so wide each side has its own zip code, people will make U-turns from anywhere on the highway.  It doesn’t matter if there is a light or a left hand turn lane or anything.  Sometimes, they will come to a stop in the fast lane and just wait until there is a break in oncoming traffic to make their U-turn. 

Motorcyclists wear helmets at their own discretion.  I think the wearing of helmets is considered more a fashion statement than a safety measure.  A lot of people around here have bumper stickers and decals on their cars that proclaim proudly, “I watch for motorcycles.”  I’m glad they do.  A mind is a terrible thing to waste by splattering it all over the highway. 

Adult passengers in the back seat are not required to wear seat belts.  When I first heard about the adult passengers in the back seat not having to wear seatbelts, I was kind of amazed.  Then, it made sense.  If you don’t wear a seat belt, it is way easier to reach the gun that is also legal to carry around in your car. 

They say life is a highway. In this state, however, I’m never sure which one I’m on or which direction I’m going.  I think I have to get used to the idea that life’s highway is all about the journey, not the destination!

What are your thoughts?  Don’t let life’s highway pass you by!  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  Have an awesome day!

Terri 🙂