A (Weird And Strange) Sentimental Journey

When Max and I travel, our destinations usually have a wholly “vacation” vibe.  We are always visitors, not residents.  There is no overlay of “real life” on our trips.  There isn’t any consideration of work, chores, obligations, or normal day-to-day routine.  As a result, our usual emotional experience of vacations is fairly one-dimensional- pleasure, relaxation, excitement, fun.

Our recent trip to California was a whole different beast.  Some of what we did on the trip did constitute “vacation vibe.”  We stayed in a hotel with a jacuzzi, took a side trip to Nevada to go to the casinos, and didn’t worry about responsibilities.  On the other hand, we did a lot of things that recalled the time when California was our home- went to favorite restaurants, took a trip to the San Diego Zoo, visited friends.  Being in a place where we spent most of our lives made it impossible to escape the impact of the remnants of our past. Things were pretty much as we remembered, but not quite as we remembered.  Everything seemed too familiar to truly feel like “vacation.”  The rub, though, was that everything also seemed a little too stylized to feel like “home.”  California probably didn’t change.  It is more likely that the different lenses through which we now look- ground by our new lives- are the reason for the differences we sensed. Reconciling those feelings of “home” and how they have changed was a huge theme of this trip.

This nostalgia created by a vacation tangled and snarled up with the memories and associations of “home” produced a much more complex series of emotions.  It was fun and wonderful, but also complicated.  Yes, we originally decided to vacation in California precisely to experience some of our old favorite haunts and activities that we have missed since moving to Florida.  I was just unprepared to still feel so connected and, yet, so ephemerally connected to California.  It was almost as if my old life in California was covered in cobwebs and I had managed to get tangled in some of those silken threads.  I was always aware of the sense of being attached and always equally aware of how easy it would be to pull away from the thread.  Still, I was not sure that I wanted to completely disengage… either from my California connections or the Florida connections that are just starting to form.

It was a very weird sensation that overwhelmed me several times during the trip.  Everywhere I looked, I remembered the best of my times and the worst of my times. I remembered who I was and how I perceived the world during the nearly fifty years I lived in California. I remembered the experiences I had with people who are either gone from my life or who have changed radically. I remembered how satisfying it was to regularly and routinely see my friends in California.   I think I felt more nostalgic and mournful about moving from California during this trip than I did when we actually moved. On the other hand, being in California didn’t feel quite real… or quite right.

The last time I went to California was a little less than a year after we moved.  At that point, I was still somewhat of a stranger in a strange land in Florida.  The brief trip back to California was a welcome, comforting dose of familiarity.  It was really too soon for California to not seem like home any more.  At that time, I had sketched in the outline of a life in Florida, but there was still a lot of blank spaces.  Since then, I’ve grown and expanded my Florida life.   I’ve colored in the blank spaces and the Florida life is more dimensional now.  As familiar as California felt to me on this trip, it also felt weirdly unreal.  It was hard recognizing that I am losing my attachment to my old home, especially when it still all felt so familiar.  Familiar… yet more faded, kind of like the way a copy of a copy of a copy used to look in the days before we had digital images.  Maybe it isn’t really that I am losing the attachment to California, but just redefining that attachment.  California may represent my past life, but it is still my life. Surely that means there is still some kind of attachment.  Besides, people I love are still part of the California life that is unfurling each day.  I think that means that California life is still a present part of my life, too.

When I went to church the Sunday after returning to Florida, a friend asked me how my trip was.  I replied, “It was wonderful, but I am glad to be home.” She looked at me and said, “so, here’s home now for you, is it?”

As soon as she asked the question, I realized it was true.  I had said “home” referring to Florida without thinking, but I knew I meant it.  California still houses a lot of the artifacts of my life- the memories and experiences that brought me to where I am now in my journey.  We revisited many of those memories and experiences during our trip, sort of like the way you might go to a living history museum to discover how people used to live in the “olden days.”  Then, after soaking up a dose of yesteryear, you go home and go on with your own present and future.  That’s what I did. After our trip to California, I went home to my present day real life.

Have you ever gone “home” after moving away?  What was that experience like for you?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a great day!

Terri 🙂

Does God Have A URL?

The other day I googled God, but couldn’t find an email address. I wanted to keep in touch, so I thought I’d write Him a letter and post it on the blog… just in case God happens to be trawling the internet.

Dear God,

I thought I’d write a quick note today to tell You I was thinking about You.  How are You?  No, wait, don’t answer that.  You are Great.  Of course You are Great.  You are God, after all.  At any rate, I hope You are in Your Heaven and all’s right with the world… at least from your perspective.  I suppose Yours is the only perspective that is completely accurate.  Please forgive me if, down here in the weeds, I sometimes question the “all’s right with the world” part. 

A frog fell on my head today.  Yes, really.  I pushed open the screen door on the garage and apparently dislodged the little guy.  He must have been perching on top of the screen. I had no idea that frogs even had perches.  Maybe this frog suffered from species confusion.  Maybe he was a bird in a prior life.  If he was, he forgot he no longer had wings and couldn’t fly.  Instead of soaring into the air when I jostled his nestling place, he came crashing down on what would have been the hard cement driveway if my head had not gotten in the way. My head is also pretty hard, for that matter.   

I mean no disrespect, God, but was that absolutely necessary?  Haven’t things been challenging enough lately without lime green amphibians hopping around in my hair?  Did You think You really need to up the degree of difficulty? Or were You just bored and in need of a laugh? 

If it is the latter, I hope I provided you with a real gut-buster.  I am sure I looked insanely amusing while chasing the little guy around with a broom.  Once he bounced off of my head and onto the ground, I regained my senses enough to know that I wanted to make sure he didn’t hop into the house.  He was cute, but not THAT cute.  I stared down at him, trying to figure out how to get him away from the garage door without turning my back on him.  I’m not really sure why turning my back on him seemed like such a bad idea.  I’m not a border collie. It wasn’t like my staring at him was going to make him stay put.  In point of fact, I have no frog-herding skills.  Maybe the already defective visual reasoning part of my brain was still stunned into silence.   

At any rate, I ran backwards into the garage to grab a broom, never taking my eyes off the little bugger.  He was wedged into the track of the sliding screen garage door, but I was pretty sure he was just waiting for his chance to make a break for it.  Amazingly, he was still hanging out there when I returned with the broom. He soon became MUCH more active when I tried to sweep him onto the lawn and away from the garage. 

Unfortunately, he wasn’t a very bright frog and didn’t seem to understand that it was in his own best interest to hop in the direction I was sweeping.  Instead, he kept jumping up and spinning around in mid-air trying to propel himself closer to the garage.  I’m not sure what he found so compelling about my garage.  I can’t imagine entering this vehicular inner sanctum was actually the hill he wanted to die on, so to speak.  Unfortunately, though, I think he did die for his cause.  I must have looked pretty ridiculous dancing around the driveway, broom in hand, maniacally sweeping a moving object.  No matter what I did or how hard I tried to redirect it, that critter kept resuscitating and moving towards the door.  At a few points, he actually breached the perimeter, but I persevered.  I didn’t intentionally kill the frog, but I’m pretty sure he perished in the fight.  Maybe not, though.  He was a very resilient creature.   

So, what have I been doing when not killing frogs?  Not much. Certainly nothing as jaw-dropping as my close encounter of the amphibian kind. I am spending a lot of time with my mother exploring different techniques to keep her alert and engaged. I am only marginally successful with any of these strategies. I’ve decided to grade myself on a curve and declare victory based on the smallest achievements.  I gave myself an “A” the other day when she laughed and nodded while watching me discuss the day’s activities on a home video of my trip to Williamsburg a few years ago.  I am atoning for any unnecessary administrative burden I placed on clients during my career by trudging my way through Medicaid paperwork purgatory. Just a reminder, dear Lord… purgatory is supposed to be temporary, isn’t it?  In my spare time, I’ve been sightseeing, literally and figuratively, around various Christian churches.  I walk at least six and a half miles to nowhere every day. I go to water aerobics classes and am proud to report that I have become much more proficient at not drowning.   

So, God, I hope You are doing well. Thanks for giving me all the people who love me. I’m sure You are busy, so it is great that You’ve sent some emissaries to bring a little of Your grace into my life. If You get a moment between crises in running the Universe, could you please spare a second to bless them all with peace and joy?  I’d really appreciate it!   

Love, Terri 

P.S. One more thing, Lord, if it isn’t too pushy to be asking…. Do you think you could keep the frogs out of my hair in the future?  As long as I’m at it, the same goes for any other animals.  Thanks! 

I think God will get my letter even without an email account. I think God is everywhere- even the worldwide web!

Now it is your turn.  Have you ever experienced anything so ridiculous that you thought it had to be God’s joke?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative,  you can send me an email at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Have a hoppy day!

Terri 🙂


If Money Can’t Buy Happiness, Why Does It Cost So Much To Go To Disneyland?- And Other Ironies Of Everyday Life

We learn early on in life that money can’t buy happiness.  But it costs $97.50 to get into the Happiness Place on Earth.  Does anyone else see the irony in that?

A friend of mine once commented that I did not have a sense of humor- just a finely tuned sense of the absurd.  I’m not sure what she meant by not having a sense of humor, but I do think I understand what she meant by the sense of the absurd.  I am easily amused by life’s odd, random moments.  Especially the ones that are not intended to be funny.  I think I might tend to be one of those people who are too busy watching life to actually participate in it.  You know- one of those creepy people who just sit by the window and stare, observing life from a safe distance.  It is much easier to watch, giggle, and analyze than it is to actually live. I have to make a conscious effort to come away from the window and go outside to play.

When I retired and moved across the country, the view out my metaphorical window changed considerably.  It was an unexpected bonus- I have a whole new vision of the world’s ironies, inconsistencies, and absurdities to observe!

For instance, the other day I was driving down the turnpike and noticed one of those big electronic signs that usually either tell you how many minutes it will take to get to the next highway or advise you to look for a missing child. That day, I noticed it said “Distracted Driving Awareness Week.  Keep Your Eyes On the Road.”  Does anyone besides me think that it is sort of counter-productive to have a sign that tells you to keep your eyes on the road?  Isn’t a “Distracted Driving Awareness Week” sign, well…. a distraction?  This thought started me down a metaphysical discussion with myself.  If I am reading the sign, am I not already distracted from the road?  If I don’t read the sign, how am I to be aware that I shouldn’t drive distracted?  Is having this mental dialogue another form of distracted driving?  AAAARGHH!!  Must stop thinking about it before my brain explodes. The worst part was I kind of had a perverse desire to text someone… anyone… to point out the logical conundrum of the situation.

Another example of one of life’s little ironies that I find so amusing are the names of towns around here.  I think the people who name towns in central Florida might have delusions of grandeur.  Florida is the flattest state in the union.  The highest elevation in the state is 345 feet above sea level.  To put this elevation in some perspective, local radio and television stations in Los Angeles, CA use towers on Mount Wilson to relay broadcast signals.  Mount Wilson is in urban Los Angeles and is 5,712 feet above sea level.   A couple of towns over from us here in Florida is a town called Mount Dora.  Mount Dora is one of those quaint little historic towns that seem to manufacture bed and breakfasts as its principle industry.  I know, from personal experience, that pushing a wheelchair around Mount Dora can maybe make it feel like a mountain.  However, at an elevation of 184 feet above sea level, I don’t think Mount Dora qualifies as Mount anything.  I am apparently not the only one who sees the humor in the situation. A number of touristy gift shops on the main street sell t-shirts that proudly proclaim “I Climbed Mount Dora.”  Another nearby town is called Howey-in-the-Hills.  I have been to Howey-in-the-Hills and, let me tell you, there is nary a hill in sight.  I think you have to have a steeper grade than a parking garage ramp to call yourself a hill.  I refer to the place as “Howey-in-the-Bumps.”

Another new absurdity I have found is the “town square” system in a nearby 55+ planned community.  There are three of these little mixed use areas that serve the community.  They have live entertainment, restaurants, bars, movies, shopping, and professional services.  One common denominator for all three town squares is that drivers can access them only through a complex network of multiple roundabouts.  Color me crazy.  Does anyone else think it is a terrible idea to purposely build a transportation system based on what are essentially obstacle courses?  Especially when you have a population of over 100,000 senior citizens navigating them? I don’t mean to malign older drivers (especially since I am one), but traffic circles just seem to be asking for trouble. After all, our peripheral vision is often one of the first things to deteriorate as we age.  Do we really need to have a bunch of older drivers dodging incoming golf carts ever few feet?

The town squares are all elaborately themed.  One of them looks like an eastern seaport resort community.  I’m not sure, but they might even bus in the seagulls.  Another showcases an old west motif, including life-sized bronze statues of a cattle drive.  You really haven’t lived until you maneuver your way between giant bronze steers and cowpokes when you turn into a movie theater parking lot.  It is a bit disturbing until you get used to it.  The third town square’s theme emulates an old Mexican mission.  It is called “Historic Spanish Springs.”  It was built in 1994.  I am pretty sure I have at least one pair of shoes that is more “historic” than that.

My latest adventure into the absurd happened today at Starbuck’s.  I saw the local newspaper and happened to notice the headline- Sisters Dress Alike- Purely By Chance.  Really?  That’s news?  What’s next?  Grocery Stores Sell Tomatoes?  The real irony is that I contacted the editor of this same newspaper a couple of months ago to ask if she would read and, perhaps, promote my blog.  She never returned my call.  Perhaps my sense of the absurd is not as sharp as I thought it was!

Have you encountered any amusing ironies of everyday life?  I’m sure we’d all love to hear them!  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at www.terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a great day!

Terri 🙂

News Flash- We Interrupt our Regular Programming to Report….

Fall finally fell.

 It took its own sweet time about doing so, I have to say.  It was such a momentous occasion, I took note of the date.  Fall fell on December 9th. Until then, Fall had not so much as stumbled.  Temperatures still hovered around the 90-degree mark.  The air was still humid enough to drink.

I was starting to take it as a personal affront.  Around the time the calendar said that Fall was beginning, Max bought me a beautiful autumnal sweatshirt.  It was a gorgeous shade of rust, richly embroidered with multi-colored leaves.  When I was looking at it in the store, I sighed sadly and said, “I love this, but it is much too hot to even think about putting it on.  If I wore this, it would literally become a SWEATshirt inside of ten seconds.  It will never be cool enough to wear it.”  Max replied, “Someday it will be” and purchased the garment for me.

Since that time, lo those many weeks ago, it has hung in my closet, silently chiding me for wasting his money.  When I look for something to wear in the mornings, my eyes immediately light on its beautiful color, but, almost as immediately, I remember that it is once again a hot, humid summer day IN NOVEMBER. I have really, really wanted to wear that shirt, but the season just wouldn’t cooperate.   I wanted to stick my leg out and trip Fall.

On December 9th, however, Fall not only fell, but tumbled down so hard and fast, I’m surprised it did not break a hip.  I got up to go to water aerobics class and got halfway there before I remembered that they don’t have class when the temperature goes below 50 degrees.  It was easy to forget that fact because I seem to remember the class being called on account of cold only once all last winter.  Besides, the day before, it was in the eighties.  Can you blame me for being confused?  You might ask whether it was really necessary for there to be an actual policy cancelling class in sub-50-degree weather for me to realize that submerging myself in water when the air temperature is 46 degrees is not a great idea.  You have a valid point.  Maybe I was just a bureaucrat for way too many years.  Or maybe I’ve just forgotten what “cold” is.

The temperature was all anyone was talking about on December 9th.  Everywhere I went, I heard people remarking on what they were doing when they realized the morning started with temperatures in the forties and that the day’s high temperature was about 25 degrees less than the day before.  I half expected to turn on the news and have the anchor announce, “It is not hot.  I repeat, it is NOT hot.  Film at eleven.” 

As the day progressed, however, the “not hot” front dissipated.  Fall sort of peeped its head out of summer, but retreated just as quickly.  The temperature rose and people discarded the sweaters that were seeing the light of day for the first time since last February.   Four days later, the temperatures approached 90 degrees once more. The “Fall” seemed to have been like those falls that world class figure skaters have when attempting difficult jumps- if there is a stumble towards the beginning, the skater has the opportunity to pick herself back up quickly and gracefully and resume the routine so that, by the time the program is over, the audience is wondering if there had ever truly been a fall at all.  At any rate, my sweatshirt is still hanging in my closet in pristine condition. 

How many degrees does it take to change the season?  Only a few, but the season has to really want to change.

Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it!  Does the weather seem wacky to you?  Have you had to adjust to a new climate when you’ve moved?  What has that been like for you?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a sunny day… both weather-wise and in every other way!

Terri 🙂

The Hoppiest Place on Earth

When I moved to Florida,

There was no one to caution

That I’d find plagues

Of Biblical proportion….


It wasn’t an eclipse of the sun.  Water didn’t turn to blood.  I don’t have boils.  It is frogs.

The other day, I opened the garage door.  Max came out to open the garage screening so I could go to my water aerobics class.  He took one look at what lurked outside on the driveway and, without moving the screens, he fled to retrieve a broom.

Frogs.  Hundreds and hundreds of them.

Yes, there were literally hundreds of baby frogs lethargically hopping around outside our garage door.  They were each about the size of a watch battery and the color of raisins.  I’ve never seen a raisin-colored watch battery move before, though.  These critters were definitely moving, although pretty laconically.  I guess baby frogs don’t really have a sense of urgency.

I dealt with the lizards.  I dealt with the snakes.  I guess I can deal with the frogs.  But what’s up with them, anyway?

I hopped (with considerably more energy than the baby frogs, I might add) onto the internet to google “invasion of baby frogs.”  As an aside, doesn’t “google” just sound like something relating to frogs?  At any rate, I learned that it is actually quite common to encounter zillions of baby frogs hanging out around your property in central Florida.  Apparently, mother frogs lay sufficient eggs to result in up to a thousand baby frogs at a time. Then, the moms just hop off to greener pastures.  Our driveway was the froggy equivalent of a doorstep on which to leave a baby…. excuse me…. vast quantities of babies.  There are no baby froglet Mommy and Me classes. Apparently, there is no nurturing or rearing of any kind.  According to the Internet, few of the thousand or so baby frogs survive beyond their first week.  Go figure.  I’m sorry to say that the baby frogs born in our driveway amphibian maternity ward probably have a shorter life expectancy than most.

I didn’t really have anything against them per se.  They didn’t annoy Max as much as the lizards did.  They didn’t creep me out the way the snakes did.  They were actually kind of cute little buggers.  It was just the sheer number of them that was kind of disturbing.  There were so dang many of them; it was almost like there was an entire layer of frogginess on top of our driveway. I’d say there were more frogs in my front yard than there are people in my entire community during the summer.  We were definitely outnumbered.  It was kind of alarming.  We sprayed some stuff across the entry to the driveway and swept away as many of them as we could.  I’m sure I probably ran a few of them over as I backed my car onto the street.

As we looked around the perimeter of the house, we saw that we were kind of surrounded.  Everywhere we looked, more baby frogs.  We kept spraying and sweeping so that the baby frogs stayed “around the house” as opposed to “inside the house.”  This operation continued every time we wanted to go in or out any door to our house for the next several days.  Knowing it was a self-limiting condition made it easier.  Sure enough, after about four days, we no longer had layers of visible frogs surrounding the house.

It has been a couple of weeks now since the frog plague.  We still see the odd toddler frog around the yard.  They aren’t bothering me, so I don’t bother them.  After all, if we have to have a plague of Egypt descend upon us in central Florida, frogs aren’t the worst of the bunch.

Of course, I still have a few niggling doubts.  How do we know that the frogs are the only plague in the offing?  What bothers me most is that both Max and I are first borns…

Of all the situations I’ve encountered since moving, I think the frog invasion is the oddest!  What about you?  What is the weirdest thing that you’ve experienced in moving to a new place?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  Have a great day and hop to it!

Terri 🙂

Trapped Inside My Own Mind

The other day, I left the house exclaiming, “I hate this house.  I just want to sell it and move.”

After the saga of the sod and related lawn issues, the demise of the clothes washer, and the snake incident which also prompted spending a lot of money getting the garage door refurbished and rebalanced, I was about at the end of my tether.  I was on my way out to go pick up a prescription and eat a well-deserved bagel.  I pushed my garage door opener button to close the garage as I pulled out of the driveway and the garage door started to do the hokey-pokey.  It was spontaneously closing partway and then reopening, over and over again.  In retrospect, it may have been user error.  Perhaps my blood sugar was low or my finger was just stuttering.  At any rate, I was done in by this garage door malfunction.  I yelled for Max and he was not able to get the door to work properly either.  There was either something wrong with the door opener or I had just given it a case of terminal confusion with my manic button-pushing. This was early afternoon on Friday. I called the garage door company, thinking they could maybe give us a hint of what to do, since they had just been out THE DAY BEFORE to finish the $1500 refurbishing job to protect us from garter snakes.  The “assistor” told me he could not give me any advice and scheduled a technician to come out on Monday morning…. Approximately 70 hours later. 

I explained that I was not happy about it, but would certainly like to see the technician as early as possible on Monday.  I also left pretty explicit feedback when I received the rather ill-timed email asking me to take a customer satisfaction survey immediately after I hung up with my oh-so-unassisting assistor. 

We closed the garage door manually to prevent unwanted reptilian callers (or should I say “crawlers?”)  Max could tell I was getting unhinged, so he sent me off to get my drugs and bagel.  As I left, in my moment of despair and defeat, I exclaimed, “I hate this house.  I just want to sell it and move.”

To be clear, I don’t really hate my house.  In fact, I love my little house and I quite enjoy living in it.  So, what prompted this temper tantrum?

I think the problem is really that the past year has been filled with so much change, both positive and negative, that the cumulative stress has been building up inside me, whispering, “Feeling this discombobulated can’t be good…. Moving was a huge mistake.”  Verbalizing the sentiment was actually a relief.

The concept has been lurking around in my brain for a few months now, but I have been pushing the whisper away whenever it got too close to the top of my brain. I was terrified that, if I allowed myself to entertain the notion that moving was a mistake, I would have to do something about it.  Now that I had actually uttered the words, “I just want to sell it and move,” the cat was out of the bag.  When nothing tragic happened when I said the words, it somehow felt safer to let myself analyze the possibility of changing course.

As I munched my bagel, I felt the carbohydrates surge through my bloodstream.  I began researching costs for buying a condo in a smaller town in my old state or in another town in the new state.  I also researched renting.  No matter how I looked at it, the economics of moving were horrible.  Even considering all the unexpected money I was spending, moving would be a bad financial decision.  At the conclusion of my analysis, I muttered, “great, I’m trapped.” 

Then, another thought struck me.  Maybe the research wasn’t telling me that I was trapped in a bad decision.  Maybe it was actually supporting the fact that the initial move across country was a good financial decision.  Maybe if I felt trapped, I was simply trapped inside my own mind.  Yes, my new living situation has not been perfect. I do miss elements of my old home.  My psyche is fairly scrambled by the amount of stress and change I’ve experienced in the last year.   That’s all okay, though. It doesn’t mean that the decision to move was a mistake.  I did not expect all the costs and annoyances associated with my new home, but that is pretty typical of new homeowners.  Also, I have been able to afford them and my financial situation is still much better than if I had remained in my old state.  As to the other elements of my old home that I miss, distance does lend some enchantment to the view.  There are things I miss, but there were also things I hated that I just don’t think about any more. Planes do fly both east and west.  I can take one of those planes west to see the friends I miss and eat a decent pizza.   As to my scrambled psyche, maybe I just need to cut myself some slack and acknowledge that it needs some tender loving care.

When I arrived back home, Max was triumphant.  He had the garage door working.  I was skeptical, but everything operated properly throughout the whole weekend.  When the technician called on Sunday night, I explained what happened and we agreed he did not need to come out the next day. 

Things won’t be perfect, no matter where you live, but you can usually create a pretty happy life.  Especially if you maintain some perspective, let the people who love you help overcome the challenges, and eat a bagel now and again. 

So what do you think?  Have you ever struggled with whether a decision you made was the right choice?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a great day!

Terri 🙂



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 🙂

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.”



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.



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.