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 🙂

Do Storks Really Bring Babies?

The “country-ish” place where we moved when I retired is a resort community for water fowl- herons, egrets, storks, and the like. 

 I was never really a bird person.  In fact, at the zoo, I have been heard to remark “birds aren’t real animals.”  For all the bird lovers out there, please do not take offense.  I am sure birds are perfectly lovely creatures.  They are, doubtlessly, imperative to the ecosystem.  Just personally, I could never get too revved up about them.  Maybe it is because my mother is afraid of birds, having been traumatized by an avian-related incident as a child.  Maybe it is because my ex-husband insisted upon bringing a loud, dirty, irritable canure parrot (appropriately named Manure), into our tiny living space.  For whatever reason, birds just never held the same appeal to me as furry mammals (to clarify, furry mammals like lions and tigers and bears- not furry mammals like mice and rats and possums). 

When we moved here, though, I have to say that seeing Sandhill cranes roam free around the community was pretty high on the “cool factor.”  There was one pair that we saw frequently when we took afternoon walks.  At least, I think it was the same pair.  Sandhill cranes all sorta look alike.  The two in question seemed to hang out around the same street corner every day.  They were always together.  They claimed their places in the universe with assertive tranquility.  They were not nasty when we approached them on our walks, but did not cede their ground to us either.  We walked around them and everyone was happy.

One day, though, we noted that one of the cranes was missing from their normal territory on the street corner.  It did not reappear over the next couple of weeks.  I was unaccountably worried about those birds.  What had happened to the other crane?  Was it sick?  Did it die?  Did they have a fight and break up?  Was one crane cheating on the other?  Was the remaining crane lonely?  Was it sad?  It just really bothered me that the pair seemed to have been separated.  My concern was pretty irrational, given the relative insignificance of two Sandhill cranes in my life, but there I was.  Anxiety-riddled over the disappearance of a bird. 

The other day, I was driving by my crane friends’ usual stomping grounds. I would say I screeched to a halt, except that you can’t really screech when you are driving at the community’s maximum speed limit of 10 miles per hour.  Both cranes were back.  And, with them, was the reason that the pair had not appeared together in some time.  A little baby Sandhill crane, cute as it could be.  It looked like a baby duckling strapped to the top of two pencils.  Apparently, spring is when a young crane’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.

 I can sleep again.

So, do storks really bring babies?  Maybe, but Sandhill cranes certainly do!

So what are your thoughts?    Spring brings change to the whole world!  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Terri 🙂

I’ve Got That Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart

Easter reminds me that my race is not yet run.

 When I started working, I did not select my career with my Christianity in mind. To be honest, I’m not sure I selected it at all. I had just finished college with a fresh out of the oven degree in English. I was working at my minimum wage college job. I had a brand new husband, who was a full time graduate student.  He needed brand new food every brand new day. When the chance for federal employment was offered, I took the job for purely temporal reasons.

That doesn’t mean that, for the 33 plus years I worked, I left my faith at the door. While my job description wasn’t particularly missionary, I believed that God expected me to live a mission. I spent my career purposely, consciously, and genuinely trying to make each decision from a place of goodness and to be a light in the world to the people I encountered. The fuel for that light was Jesus. I often fell short. I was not always a good example or a beacon of Christ’s light. I simply trusted that, when I did succeed in my mission through the wisdom and grace God granted me, the Lord would use that work to let others see Him and His love.

 When I retired, I was tired and worn down in my very soul. I looked forward to my retirement as a period of rest and relaxation, my years of work being done. I did rest and it has taken a very long time for my spirit to relax. Now, I realize my work is not done. My workplace is different and the conditions are unfamiliar, but I am sure God still has a mission for me.

 I believe I am called, like St. Therese of Lisieux, to live an ordinary life with extraordinary love. There is still some life left for me to fill, using God’s grace, with extraordinary love.

 I am writing about reinventing myself in retirement. This Easter season, I have been journeying towards a spiritual reinvention, or, at least, a spiritual reinvigoration. I’ve been participating in a Best Lent Ever program.  It is a series of daily email video reflections. It is offered through www.dynamiccatholic.com.  You might want to check it out. Even non Catholics might be interested.  Really, anyone with a spiritual orientation that includes Jesus, even tangentially, might find it useful.

 In working on my spiritual reinvention this Lent, www.dynamiccatholic has helped me remember some valuable lessons.

 When I give in to shyness and avoid people, I put my Jesus light under a bushel and miss potential opportunities to provide comfort and extraordinary love.

When I get impatient and rushed, I miss the opportunity to be absolutely present in the moment, to cherish the joy that God gives that moment.

When my heart flashes with irritation and anger, I miss the opportunity to gain understanding and closeness. 

 Moving forward, I know that I will forget these lessons and will fall short. I also know that God has more lessons for me.  I will try to keep an open heart and be available to His teaching, as I strive to be a carrier of extraordinary love.

The real lesson of Easter, though, is that, no matter how many times I fail, I am forgiven. Jesus saw to that.

Happy Resurrection!  I know that not everyone believes as I do, but Easter seems like a great time to remind ourselves that reinvention can be sacred as well as secular.

What do you think?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  Have a happy and blessed Easter!

Terri 🙂

Domestic Deity

I really rock at cleaning floors.

 To understand the full impact of this statement, you need to understand that I grew up in a home where cleaning house meant company was coming.  My mother has many, many wonderful traits, but she was a homemaker and not a housekeeper. My childhood memory of “home” is warm and loving and fun, but not clean, neat, or tidy.  I don’t think anyone would ever describe my mom as a “domestic goddess.”

 It wasn’t that we were too lazy to clean house.  It was just that there were way too many more interesting things to do than dust, wash, polish, or sweep anything that needed dusting, washing, polishing, or sweeping. We didn’t live in squalor or anything, but having clean floors wasn’t ever a dream that seemed worth pursuing.  Dog hair tended to be part of the décor.  If there were too many dirty dishes in the sink, we could always use the oven to whisk them out of sight.   We also were the kind of people who formed sentimental attachments to just about everything we touched, so there was always souvenirs of vacations, questionably adorable figurines, crumbling old furniture, children’s art projects, clothes worn for momentous occasions (like my first day of second grade or something), etc. hanging around creating clutter and dust bunnies. 

My mother was a working mother before it was fashionable. Before that, she volunteered with the Parent Teacher Association for more hours a week than most people spend at a real job.   While I think she enjoyed working outside the home, I have a sneaking suspicion that part of her motivation for getting a job was to have a socially acceptable excuse to not do something as boring as housework. 

 When I began living on my own, I intended to replicate the housekeeping habits of the women I saw on reruns of 1950s television shows.  Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that I was failing miserably.  I either missed the housekeeping gene or just never learned how to do housework in a way that would efficiently and effectively result in a clean, tidy house.  Who knows if it was nature or nurture, but I began storing dirty dishes in the oven within an embarrassingly short time.  I spent most of my adult life trying to do better, with almost no success.

 When I retired and was getting ready to move, I was a little worried.  I was going from a tiny one-bedroom, one-bathroom 600 square foot condominium to a 1500 square foot, 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom house.  Since I was never very successful in keeping 600 square feet clean, how would I cope with so much more space?

 As it turns out, the answer is pretty darn well.  I have found that having the extra space is actually helpful.  There are more places to put things.  Our clothes actually fit in the closets and bureaus and don’t end up on the floor.  The garage can not only house two cars, but has shelving for items such as Christmas decorations.   Being retired also means that taking half an hour to clean a bathroom or an hour to dust isn’t anywhere near as onerous as when I was working for a living and really resented housework for eating up my few moments of unscheduled time. 

 And the floors.  In my little condo, I had carpet through most of the rooms.   There is very little satisfaction in vacuuming carpeting.  Pretty much, the floors look the same after you vacuum as they did before.  You never really know if the carpets are clean.  My new home has hardwood in most of the rooms.  When we first moved in, I was a little intimidated by those floors and put off doing anything other than sweeping them.  Finally, I decided to just throw caution to the wind and try to do a deeper cleaning.  I swept, dust-mopped, applied hardwood floor cleaner, and, ultimately, hardwood floor restorer and polisher.  Those floors absolutely glowed when I was done.  I felt soooo accomplished.  I was taking pictures of the newly cleaned floors and sending them to everyone who knew me.  I faced my fear of housework and prevailed. 

 The really big lesson in my journey to becoming a domestic goddess is something I learned in the workplace years ago.  Quality is “fit for use.”  In other words, if my home is reasonably sanitary and the air is breathable and the occupants feel comfy and happy, whatever level of housework that has been done is quality.   I am the queen of my own domesticity and, if I can look out over my realm and be happy, that is the triumph.

 Maybe my mother was a domestic goddess after all.

What are your thoughts?  I’d love to hear your perspective.  Please leave a comment and share your perspective.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  Have a terrific day!

Terri 🙂

Should Shoulder Rolls Be Audible?

One of my goals in retirement was to get more exercise.  Despite the fact that I am a middle aged, mostly sedentary, overweight diabetic, whose preferred form of exercise is pushing buttons on the TV remote control, I decided that retirement was going to be my motivation to become the picture of health- eating right, moving my body, soaking in the sunshine, and fairly glowing with righteous wholesomeness.  Well, not so much.  Still, I thought it was time to exercise more than just my imagination. 

I joined a water aerobics class when I moved to my new home in the sticks.  For some bizarre reason, I decided to begin in January.  The morning temperature when I scurried from the car to the pool was about 45 degrees.  The pool is indoors and heated (I’m not completely crackers), but there was still the commute from car to pool and pool to car with which to contend.  The commute from the pool to the car was infinitely more difficult because, even though the temperature was an hour warmer, I was an hour wetter. The class consisted of about 6 die-hards that participated as long as the temperature was over 40 degrees at the time the class began.  There is one attendee, who I have dubbed “The Woman Who Never Shuts Up,” who barely moves any part of her body except her mouth during the hour long class.  Two or three other attendees sway a little bit, but are obviously there to listen with rapt attention to every story and pearl of wisdom she spews forth while the instructor soldiers on, trying to make her directions heard over the din.  

For a little while, I sort of alternated between the water aerobics and a “dry land” walking aerobics class the community also offered.  In the minds of most sane people, I’m sure walking around a climate controlled auditorium to music seems the more reasonable option when the temperature is 45 degrees.  However, one main factor settled me finally on the water aerobics class.  You don’t sweat in the water.

The class is offered three times a week.  I average once a week, despite my best intentions.  Still, as time marches on and the class expands (now that the temperature has warmed up, there are about 15-20 attendees), I can feel some results.  The Woman Who Never Shuts Up still, well, never shuts up. It just doesn’t bother me as much.    I understand now that the time goes quicker when people chat during the class.  Also, now that there are more people actually exercising, I have more people to watch to learn the movements.  I think I’m probably exercising more efficiently and flaying about less.  I do feel a modicum of strength and endurance that I haven’t felt for some time.  I feel muscles stretching and expanding as I do the exercises.  When I finish a session, I feel more relaxed and healthy. 

This is not to say that I am the well-oiled machine I visualized.  There is one stretching exercise that involves bending a knee back behind me and holding my ankle with my hand to keep my foot firmly against my butt.  This seems physiologically impossible for me.  I am pretty sure I am not meant to grow a bigger butt to reach the foot and I think my days of growing longer legs to reach my butt are- you should excuse the expression- behind me.

 Then there is the series of “bottle exercises.”  The idea is to use an empty half-gallon milk bottle in each hand and do some exercises while floating on the water.  I have a sneaking suspicion that, if one has any level of firmness in the core muscles, one will remain in pretty much the same location while doing these “bottle exercises.”  After maneuvering around the whole pool numerous times while attempting to do the movements without drowning, I capitulated and started hanging on to the side of the pool behind me while doing the exercises.

And then there are the shoulder rolls.  Among the stretches we do at the beginning and end of class are shoulder rolls.  As I roll my shoulders in little circles to the front and to the back, I am first struck by how good it feels.  Then, to my horror, I realize I CAN HEAR THEM!  Click, click, click.  I am pretty certain you aren’t supposed to be able to hear your muscles move.  When did this happen?  Maybe it is Morse code for something.  Maybe something like…. This is what happens when your preferred form of exercise for 30 some years is pushing buttons on the TV remote control!

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

Terri 🙂

Shangri-la-dee-da

Realtors never show you the local Walmarts.

When I was searching for a house in 2012, the real estate agent took us along a picturesque road that actually drove over a lake.  She avoided the main commercial drag through town. She pointed out the quaint fairy tale German bakery in the woods. She didn’t mention the dozens of boarded up failed restaurants in town.  She steered us to the lush green spaces that lined the residential roads. She did not tarry over the broken expanses of cracked asphalt on the aging strip malls.  She proudly identified the huge modern hospital.  She spent no time at all on the rather suspect-looking corner “pharmacies.” All in all, the real estate agent presented us with a vision of charming Smalltown, USA.

One of our main reasons for moving from our old state was to escape a declining neighborhood. Now that we have actually moved to this Shangri-la-dee-da, I’m not certain that we have taken that much of a step up.

Our new neighbors quickly identified one of the three Walmarts in easy driving distance (which probably tells you something right there), as “the bad Walmart.” Apparently, people who wish to avoid everyday low prices on muggings and carjackings steer clear of this one.

I can’t say that I love the town. I’m not saying for sure, but Shangri-la-dee-da may just be the thrift store capital of the world.  Oh, sure, they have cute little names with pretentions of charm, like Gift Shoppe and Treasure Trove. They still sell other people’s junk.  We have our share of homeless people and seedy motels. There are many empty storefronts in tired old strip malls that seem to actually be decaying before the very eye.  It is also pretty common to see signs wistfully announcing “closed temporarily for refurbishment” on obviously abandoned restaurants.    We have an extra collection at church periodically to pay for the off-duty sheriff deputies who guard the parking lot while we worship.  Websites that report crime statistics advise that the crime rate in the town of Shangri-la-dee-da is pretty high for a city of its size (note to self: if I ever get a notion to move again, check the crime statistics BEFORE purchasing a house instead of after).

About fifteen years ago, a developer created a mega senior citizen community about ten miles from my town. It spans over parts of three different cities in three different counties. The community includes nearly every kind of housing, service, dining, and entertainment option known to man. Everything in the community is brand spanking new, shiny, and clean. Some of the shopertainment areas are even themed. And almost everything in the community is accessible by golf cart. It is one of the fastest growing towns in the country. All the cool senior citizens live there.   I believe the growth of this Disney World for oldsters put something of a damper on the vitality of other towns in the area, including my new town of Shangri-la-dee-da. In addition, there was a freakishly bad hurricane season about ten years ago. I don’t think businesses had a chance to bounce back from that before the economic collapse in 2007.

So, in general, Shangri-la-dee-da feels sort of fragile and shell-shocked. I’m afraid I can’t find that vision of Smalltown, USA that I had in 2012 when I bought the house.

On the other hand, the crime statistics also report that my neighborhood is the safest in the city and is known for peace and quiet. We don’t really live right in the midst of Shangri-la-dee-da.  We actually live kind of out in the country, just barely within the town. In fact, if you sneezed in my community, someone right outside the city limits might yell gesundheit. I love my little house and I love the development where I live.  Driving into the development, you pass through a natural arched canopy of huge heritage trees.  Those trees absolutely drip with streaming Spanish moss, like tinsel on Christmas trees decorated by enthusiastic, ham-handed toddlers. It looks like the entryway to Twelve Oaks in Gone With the Wind.  The planned landscaping is lovely and serene, but there is space for God’s landscaping as well.   There are conservation zones throughout the community, filled with wild foliage and waterways. Herons and egrets nestle on the shores. Sandhill cranes yodel to each other. The neighbors are wonderful.  People look out for each other.  People walk and ride bikes and enjoy the fresh air.  We are about a mile away from grocery stores, pharmacies, and gas stations that seem safe and clean. Perhaps I should focus my search for Smalltown, USA on that area rather than trying to paint a city of 14,000 with the same brush.  That focus can widen in time.  I am finding, as time goes by, that places that initially seemed a bit scary to me now feel a lot more comfortable.

But that realization is true of a lot more than just geography. Living through transition is showing me that the unfamiliar can take on a somewhat sinister quality simply because it is unfamiliar, but that sense diminishes with time until what once seemed scary seems second nature.

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

Terri 🙂

Be Careful What You Wish For

One of my dreams about retirement was that I would never again have to deal with anyone with whom I didn’t want to deal. This was a comforting thought all those years when I was working trying to appease unhappy customers, motivate recalcitrant employees, and calm agitated executives. 

Unfortunately, the reality is significantly different from my dreams.  Since retiring and moving, I have had to deal with multiple people with whom I would rather not deal.  Here is a partial list of them:

The junk guy I hired to haul away the leftover boxes from moving

The electric company guy

The gas company guy

The cable guy

The internet guy

The tree trimmer guy

The first sod guy

The second sod guy (once the first guy’s sod died rather immediately and spectacularly)

The lawn treatment guy

The electrician guy

The second electrician guy (after the first electrician guy inherited a bunch of money and called in rich before completing my job)

The sprinkler guy

The first handyman guy who replaced the large steps at my mother’s mobile home with tiny little steps she could manage

The second handyman guy I hired to take away the rubble left by said first handyman guy who replaced the mobile home stairs

The home warranty guy

The air conditioner guy

And the list goes on.

 

It isn’t that any of these are bad people.  In fact, most of them are very nice.  Or at least, they say “yes ma’am” a lot which is not, I realize, strictly speaking, the same thing.  Still, I would rather people say “yes ma’am” and at least appear sympathetic than snarl in my face.  Also, I did genuinely like most of these folks. The problem is that I’d rather not spend my time, money, and energy fixing the problems these people represent.

 

Also, these vendors in this new community don’t exactly have a sense of urgency in responding to their customers’ requests (or at least this customer’s requests). They are also pretty optimistic, which is a euphemism for “living in a fantasy world,” when they tell you how long it will take to complete jobs.  I think making an appointment to show up at any given time is always contingent upon how the fishing is that day.

 

Another of my dreams of retirement was moving to a place where the pace of life was a bit slower and I didn’t have to do everything in the most efficient way humanly possible.  That dream has come true.  It is nice not doing everything in the most efficient way humanly possible.  The thing is- no one else does, either. 

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

Terri 🙂

 

Moving Day

About three years before I planned to retire from my job in the southwest part of the country, I purchased a house in the southeast part of the country.

 To fully grasp the significance of that statement, you probably need to know something about my general disposition.  I am probably the most risk averse person on the face of the planet.  I took an extremely responsible federal job in 1981 that paid the paltry sum of $10,900 per year solely because I figured I would never have to worry about getting laid off or eating cat food when I was old.  Any extra money I ever had went into a plain old savings account.  I own one share of stock, in the Disney Corporation, not because it was financially sound, but because I thought the ornamentation on the stock certificate was appealing.  When employees all over the federal government were converting their old, tired defined benefit retirement plans to more aggressive investment plans, I stuck with the original plan.  The last time I moved anywhere was in 1991 when I purchased a tiny condominium located less than five miles from the rental property where I was living at the time.  I never turned that condo over for a detached home when the real estate boomed or busted. 

 This fiscal conservatism served me well.  Through inflation, gradual progression and promotion, and, frankly, simple longevity, I ended my career making about 17 times the annual salary I made when I started.  The savings accounts, while not resulting in huge wealth, are liquid and secure.  The tiny little condo ultimately increased in value by about $80,000 in the time I owned it.  And the Tinker Bell graphic on the Disney stock certificate graces the wall in my new home very nicely.  As to the tired old defined benefit plan, it enabled me to retire right on schedule.  Many of the people who changed plans to take advantage of the nineties stock bubble are postponing their retirement now because the bubble burst.

All this goes to show that purchasing a house 3000 miles away to rent out while I was awaiting my retirement was completely out of character for me.  However, real estate prices and interest rates were way down and I happened upon a real estate agent in the new location whose main line of business was managing rental properties.  She also had a history of living near our home in the old location.  If I was ever going to take a chance, this seemed to be a good one to take.   Since I had saved a nice chunk of change to put down on the house as a result of “practicing” paying another mortgage, I was confident that I could afford the house even if I did not get tenants.  I wasn’t thrilled to have the house sitting vacant, so I did have a few anxious months until the property manager found tenants.  After that point, everything was easy.  The rent, minus the property management fees, went into an account every month and the mortgage payment magically deducted itself from the same account every month, as did the HOA fees.  Once in a great while, I wrote a check for some insurance or some minor repairs.  I even had positive cash flow.  The only pain was doing my income tax return to show the rental income and expenses.

 In fact, things went along so swimmingly, I  sort of forgot that, one day, I would be turning my life upside down, moving 3000 miles from my little one bedroom condo in the west, and taking up residence in that rental property. 

 The neighborhood where Max, my longtime boyfriend and POSSLQ (Person of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters), and I were living in my tiny little condo had been declining over the past several years.  The real estate bubble burst rather messily, leaving quite the aftermath in our quiet little community. Many of the owners, wanting to move on to detached houses but unable to sell their condos for what they thought appropriate, rented their small units.  They were not too particular about who paid the rent, as long as someone did.  Noise, crime, and general shadiness increased.   The police visited as frequently as the UPS truck.  Sometimes, we were the ones inviting them to stop by, when the neighbors’ “disagreements” seemed to cross the line to “potentially dangerous domestic disputes.”  People also often hosted parties on their patios, during which the entertainment seemed to involve the guests regaling each other with tales of their various criminal activities. Since drunkenness doesn’t exactly come with a volume control, we heard it all… at any hour of the day or night.  The people below us, who seemed to be away from home at least 13-14 hours a day, had two yappy yorkies.  The people insisted the yorkies did not bark, or, if they did, they barked no more than average dogs.  Technically, they might have been right.  It wasn’t so much barking as ear-piercing screeching that went on for literally hours some days.  However, in my mind, the real issue was HOW WOULD THEY HAVE KNOWN IF THEIR DOGS WERE BARKING, SINCE THEY WERE NEVER HOME?!

In short, the neighborhood transformed.  It changed from a quiet community of young married couples and older retired people into something resembling a compound of frat houses.  During that iteration, we tried to ignore the irritants, but ignoring things became more difficult when Max retired and was exposed to the issues all day long.  Ultimately, the transformation took a more sinister turn and the frat house occupants started talking about guns and drugs and beating each other to a pulp.

 With all this being said, one would think I would have been anxious to go.  Max certainly was.  In the year before my retirement, he kept counting down the days until we could move.  He researched television cable and satellite companies near the new home.  He studied possible internet companies.  He made decisions about these items like A YEAR before the planned move.    He made frequent suggestions that maybe it was time to check out realtors, contract moving companies, and put the condo on the market.  I really wasn’t ready.  The condo still felt like it was home to me. I didn’t feel any need to begin the moving process months and months before it was actually going to happen. Plus, remember that my rental property in the southeast was doing just fine and I had kind of forgotten that I was one day actually going to live there. 

Still, I agreed that it wouldn’t hurt anything for Max to begin working on the moving issues, which he did with great aplomb.  Finally, I yielded to pressure and interviewed a couple of realtors… six months before our expected move date. I agreed to put the condo on the market because the realtors all said it was a good idea to have the house for sale during the summer, but I didn’t believe it would actually sell any time soon because I couldn’t see anyone buying the condo and waiting for six months to occupy.  I had no intention of vacating the premises before our ultimate move across the country.

Silly me.  The condo actually sold within a week of listing.  The buyer was purchasing the condo with an occupant mortgage but said he was fine with waiting until December to move in.  It soon became clear that he had no intention of ever residing there.  He was buying it to rent and was perfectly happy to have built-in tenants for six months.  So, I would be paying rent on my own house for months before moving!  Okay, I know that it was no longer my house after I received the very healthy purchase price from the escrow.  That transaction not only paid off the remaining mortgage on the condo, but also allowed me to pay off the mortgage on the house on the other side of the country.  A rational person could not argue that the condo was “mine” any longer.  It still felt very, very odd to write that rent check every month… and that probably also helped me let go of the “home” place the condo had in my heart.

There were other factors in the last several months in the condo that helped ease the blow of actually leaving.  Because we had packed away much of my “stuff” when we put the condo on the market, most of my personal thumbprint was buried in storage and a safety deposit box.  For several months, when I looked around the condo, I no longer saw my history.  Those four walls became a place to sleep, watch TV, and make millions of arrangements for the big move.  That space was no longer where my life happened.  In the last few weeks, there were so many things happening, between my retirement celebration and the impending move, I didn’t really have time to think about what it would be like to be gone.  In short, the emphasis of our lives was on the process of leaving, not the result.

Still, when the day actually came for us to begin our great adventure and the movers finally removed everything left in the condo, it wasn’t easy.  Max and I stood in the empty condo and I looked around a last time.  I remembered how it felt when I first moved in, some 23 years before.  I was so proud and so happy and so excited.  I bought the condo all by myself and I pleased only myself.  When Max moved in about a dozen years ago, it was because his presence increased my joy.  Many of the people I loved who have since passed from this life spent time with me in this condo.  My father, who died in 1996,  spent a couple of weeks with me when I first moved in, doing odd jobs and helping make the place home for me.  I raised my little welsh corgi mutant here and she went to doggy heaven as I sat on this floor and held her in my arms. My work life morphed from a job to a career during the time I lived here.    I met the love of my life while living here.  In this condo, I first learned how to be truly happy with myself and evolved into the person I am today. 

The moment of nostalgia was intense, but it passed as suddenly as it had come.  I shed a tear or two, but never felt the hurt I expected to feel.  It was a little disorienting to walk out the door, but not particularly painful.  I think, as I looked at the empty condo, I realized that the history I made there was not in the space, but in my heart.  And I am taking my heart with me, wherever I go.

So what are your thoughts?  Please leave a comment to share your perspective.  In the alternative,  you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Terri 🙂

The Elephant in the Room

Most of the people I know struggle with one major obstacle in deciding when/if to retire.  Can they afford it?  We might as well face it.  Money is a big deal.   Few companies offer retirement benefits any more.  If the recession/depression of a few years ago proved nothing, it proved that our own sense of our economic stability can be fleeting.  People are living longer and their money must go further.  Medical costs are rising.  Social Security benefits on their own aren’t usually enough to provide the lifestyle most people want.  Additionally, many people look forward to having the time in retirement to do things they don’t have time to do while they are working.  Typically, those things cost money.

 

I may not be the best person to comment on the economics of deciding when to retire because I am one of the few people still blessed with an employer-sponsored defined benefit pension.  While nothing is completely guaranteed in this life, my government pension is about as secure as it gets.  Also, I am far from a financial expert.  I would not presume to give anyone advice on how to evaluate all the economic ramifications in making the very personal and complex decision about when to retire.

 

What I am an expert on, however, is worrying.

 

When I was thinking about retirement and trying to decide if I could make it work economically, I did the computations every which way to Sunday.  In every scenario, it seemed clear that I would be fine.  Still, I could not get over the feeling that I was somehow missing a key consideration and would end up destitute, eating cat food for Thanksgiving dinner.  As worriers tend to do, I came up with some strategies to try to control the thing which I feared.  While my strategy did not completely end my anxiety, it helped a lot.  I thought I’d share what I did, in case any of you world class worriers out there might find them helpful.

 

I call it my “Three Ps” plan to financially confident retirement.  Note that none of these “three ps” actually involve amassing any wealth, changing the amount of money you have, or saving on expenses.  Smarter, more financially savvy people than I can probably tell you how to save and grow your retirement funds.  I am going strictly from the point of view that “it is what it is.”

 

Plan

Create a tentative budget for living expenses, based on what you currently spend. Make sure to include regular savings to build an emergency fund.  You may not need to save as much as you do while working, since you are no longer “saving for retirement,” but you can’t just start spending willy-nilly without saving anything for a rainy day (remember, I’ve moved to the southeast where there are many, many rainy days!) Then consider what is it that you really want to do in retirement and how much money will it take to live the way you want?  Be realistic.  Many people say they want to travel in retirement.  But do you really think you will or is it just something you say because you don’t know what else to do?  If you do want to travel, what would that look like?  A lavish beach vacation once a year?  A six-month tour around the world that will likely never be repeated?  A constant caravanning hither, thither, and yon to visit friends and family?  And will those friends and family members feel obliged to put you up when you are there hithering and thithering and yonning, thus saving you the cost of a hotel?  If there is a hobby you want to pursue, will there be ongoing expenses associated with it or is the cost mostly to obtain equipment, which you may already have?  Whatever you decide is important, make sure you include funding your retirement dreams in your living expense budget.  If it turns out that your retirement income will not stretch far enough to cover those dreams, you can determine how much longer you need to work to fund them.  Then, you decide if your dream to travel or take up polo is a bigger dream than your dream to stop working right now.  Only you can decide that.

 

Pay off your mortgage

Admittedly, this may not be a strategy that everyone can employ.  It might not even be the smartest use of money (remember my caveat on not being a financial expert), but there is a huge intangible benefit.  No longer paying that mortgage, usually the largest of all the bills we pay, is incredibly liberating.  You suddenly have all of this money every month.  If nothing else, you are assured of being able to afford shelter, a basic human need.  After all, once the mortgage is paid, that roof over your head is all yours.  Of course, sometimes that roof needs to be repaired and you need to account for those maintenance and carrying costs, but mortgage is the real killer expense.

 

Practice

For several years before I actually retired, I “practiced” living on the amount of money I calculated to be my retirement income and saved the rest of my salary and other work-related funds.  The benefits of this practice were twofold.  First, I built up a nice little nest egg that I used, in part, to put the down payment on the home I bought for retirement (which I paid off when I sold the home I had in my old state).  Because of this savings, I also knew I had a nice little cushion built up to tide me over any delays in actually getting my correct pension.  Secondly, living on only the money I expected to have in retirement proved to me that I could live and live reasonably well on the pension I expected.  This was a terrific confidence-builder and security blanket as I “took the plunge” into retirement.  Now, many people might not be able to live on what they expect to have in retirement while they are still working because they are still paying expenses that they do not expect to have in retirement- like a mortgage if you are going to be paying it off before or when you stop working or college tuition if you are waiting for that last child to graduate before you retire.  You can still employ this “practice” strategy.  Figure out how much you are paying for those expenses that will be retiring from your budget when you retire from your job and add that amount to the amount you expect to have in retirement income.  Then, live on that total and bank any employment-related funds above that “expected pension plus expenses that will get to stop paying at retirement” amount.   Even if there is nothing left over to bank, this exercise will give you the opportunity to really analyze whether the income you will have in retirement will be sufficient to fund the life you want to live.

 

At the end of the day, it is a scary and exhilarating decision to leave employment income.  While we dream of the day we can retire and enjoy the life we worked hard to attain throughout our careers, that elephant in the room trumpets financial doubts pretty loudly to those of us who tend to worry.  On the other hand, maybe it isn’t an elephant at all.  Maybe it is just our own insecure, self-doubting selves causing a ruckus over nothing.  I think the best strategy is just to think things through, analyze your finances realistically, and then…. Just Trust…. Yourself.

Terri 🙂

 

So what are your thoughts?  Please leave a comment to share your perspective.   In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.