Monday, April 11, 2016

When I'm Not Obsessing...

One of the greatest joys of retirement is being able to choose how to spend my time.  My first choice was eating but I've discovered that too much "together time" with the 'fridge has consequences.

My second favorite activity is reading, but I'm conflicted.  My mom was a reader and used to sneak me batteries so I could read in bed with a flashlight.  My dad wasn't a reader and used to yell "Don't just sit there - do something!" every time he saw me with a book.  As much as I love to read it always felt like a guilty pleasure.
One of my favorite reading spots.
When I was working I used downtime to read.  You'll never catch me on a plane without a book.  I read while I blow dry my hair (which results in either strained muscles, weird hair or both.)  I whip out a book while waiting in line.  And since I was a kid, I've read at least an hour before I fall asleep each night.

Now, with my time my own, I'm able to indulge myself.  And I have.  Thanks to the Seminole County Library and Amazon, I can download books for free onto Mr. Kindle.

At first I read whenever and as much as I cared to.  But then I realized my dad might have been right - at least a little bit.  When someone stops by at 1:00 p.m. and I'm still in my pj's on the couch, spending quality time with Mr. Kindle, it's a bit embarrassing.   Another habit had become having a quickie with Mr. Kindle in the middle of the night.  You know how it goes.  It's 2:30 a.m. and I have to pee.  As I crawl back into bed I hear Mr. Kindle whispering to me.  "Take off my cover, sweetheart.  Let me share my stories with you."  Damn that Mr. Kindle!  He lured me in every time and there I'd be at 6:30 a.m., still reading and sleep deprived.

Now, I'm on more of a schedule.    Usually an hour of reading in the morning.  An hour or two in the afternoon and 2-3 hours before bed.  Mostly it works.  But if you drop by at noon and I'm in my jammies, you'll know Mr. Kindle is the boss of me.
You can often find Mr. Kindle and me snuggled up on the couch.
Here are a few of the books I've read recently:

Devil in the Grove - a true story of the "Groveland Four" and Thurgood Marshall - a tough read on many levels.  This took place in Lake County, adjacent to Seminole County, where I live.
Out of My Mind -a powerful novel about a young women with cerebral palsy.  Because of physical limitations, medical professionals assume she is retarded.  She's not - in fact she is brilliant and has so much to communicate.  Hard to put down.
Absolute Power - a fun to read story of a politician gone bad.  Obviously fiction since that would never happen in reality.
Still Foolin' 'Em - Where I've Been, Where I'm Going and Where the Hell Are My Keys?  - an autobiography of Billy Crystal.  It starts off strong with humorous stories of what it's like to be middle-aged (assuming you'll live to 130).  Then becomes more of a "I'm talented, rich and hang with famous people" book.
The All Girls Filling Stations Last Reunion  - If you loved Fried Green Tomatoes, you'll love this story by Fannie Flagg.  Family, romance and the first women fliers to serve the United States.
I'm a Stranger Here Myself - Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away - Great short essays by Bill Bryson when he returned to the United States after living/working in England for much of his life.  Seemed appropriate since I was returning to America after 5 years away.
Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls - If you like David Sedaris, you'll love this.  If you haven't read him yet, you're in for a treat.  You might want to start with "Me Talk Pretty One Day".

I've read literally (pun intended) dozens more books since I've been home.  Most were novels which slid like junket across my tongue, leaving little taste behind.  That's paraphrasing Betty McDonald from "The Egg and I", one of my all time favorite books.   I'd list more but frankly, Mr. Kindle is demanding my attention and I have to the couch.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Step One - The Nesting Continues

After getting the outside of my house whipped into shape, I moved indoors.  Before I tell you what I've been doing there, let me make a confession.  The biggest changes I need to make are in myself.  If only it was as easy to whip my butt into shape as it is my lawn.  Yes, I need to work on a lifestyle change - healthy eating, regular exercise, etc. and I've been using home improvements as an excuse not to get busy.  But for now, I'm still focused on upgrading my nest.  Excuse me, I need to grab some M&Ms before I continue...

Ok, back and ready to describe how I'm blowing through my retirement funds.  For years I've wanted to update my kitchen and bathrooms.  Since I bought my house in 1994 I've done some improvements but the kitchen and bathrooms were in desperate need of being brought into this century.

After getting a number of quotes, I was ready to get moving on the kitchen.  Have I mentioned that taking on household improvements is a great way to meet men?  I've been visiting Home Depot and Lowes regularly - who knew that's where guys hang out?  I've had more guys than I can list press their phone numbers into my hand.  Yeah, they just wanted to give me a quote but you never know.

A photo of the look I'm going for.  No, it won't look just like this, but hopefully will be similar.

Back to home improvements.  I was happy with the way my kitchen functioned.  I like the layout.  I'm way too cheap to replace perfectly good appliances with new ones, just to change their color.  So, the big changes are new counters, cabinets and backsplash.

I did a lot of research about what's involved in a kitchen renovation.  I spent hours on the internet obsessing over photos of kitchens.  I had big dreams.  But then there's reality.  Stuff is expensive!  And there are so many choices.  You wonder what retirees do all day?  This one spent hours in tile stores, looking at granite, cabinets, and photos of completed kitchens.  Obsessing over kitchen organizing tools.  Colors, shapes, textures.  Obsessing.  Really, every time I walked into a friend's house I examined the edging of their counters.  They'd open a cabinet and I was peeking in to see how they'd organized it.  I needed to obsess less and do more.

This is how the kitchen looked when the reno started on March 28.

The 1983 kitchen!
The cabinets were removed and new ones hung in just three days.  A few days later, they did the template for the granite counter top.  In another week to 10 days, the new counter will be in.  Then back splash and finishing the crown molding, etc. on the cabinets.  It  should be done by the end of April.

I'll post photos as soon as I have a functional kitchen.  In the meantime, I'm obsessing over bathrooms.  On May 2, my contractor will arrive with a jack hammer to start work on the master bathroom.  Yup, this is how this new retiree nests.

Step One - Nesting

Most of us spend a lifetime thinking about retirement.  The magical golden years when we can do as we please.  I officially became a retiree on Oct. 1.  I spent the next six weeks or so traveling in Thailand and Vietnam.  I confess, at that point it was less about the travel and more about killing time to let my house sitters in Florida find a new place to live.

Once I was home, it felt like my annual once a year vacation at home.  Seeing friends, eating foods I'd craved and just hanging out.

Next came the nesting stage.  It's been a very long time since I've been home for long periods.  Since moving to Florida in 1994 I spent the majority of my time traveling.  Mostly for work but when not working I felt obliged to keep in touch with my friends at Delta.  Now that I was home "for good" I wanted to get things fixed up just the way I liked them.  Or the way my budget allowed.

Step one was landscaping.  Where my house stands used to be an orange grove.  Before that, it was a jungle.  Things grow quickly and it doesn't take long to get out of control.   People living in my house in my absence didn't want to spend the time or money to get it under control and when given a choice of spending money on landscaping that I saw 2 weeks a year or on a new trip, the travel won every time. 

Trimming palm trees and hacking back shrubs was easy for me.  It just involve writing a check. Since it was a small check, no problem.   Not so easy for the kid on the very tall ladder, chain saw in hand, when a rat jumped out of the palm tree and onto his face.  He didn't drop the chain saw or fall.  He was annoyed that his partners and I were laughing so hard.  The rat escaped without harm.

The next step involved sweat equity on my part.  My backyard is very small and is mostly filled with a pool and small deck.  Three feet behind the pool enclosure (to keep out insects) is a wall that borders the entire subdivision.  Mine used to be covered in a beautiful Jasmine vine.  It looked lush and gorgeous and smelled amazing in bloom.  It also was the home of a turf war between birds and snakes.  The birds nested there and laid eggs.  The snakes came and ate the eggs.  The birds attacked the snakes.  The snakes found a way to get into the pool enclosure.  Because they were either clumsy or suicidal, they fell in the pool.  I had no desire to keep finding six foot long snakes in my pool.  I didn't care if people swore they were harmless.  I was not willing to share my pool with them.  So I had the vines ripped out.

The vines had done a job on the wall, though and it needed to be fixed up.  I borrowed a friend's power washer, bought paint and the necessary tools and started cleaning and sweating.  The result was worth it.
The wall behind the pool before being power washed and repainted.
The wall after it was painted.
The good news about Florida lawns is that even if you don't actually have a lawn, you have weeds.  If you mow them, it kinda looks like a green lawn.  From a distance.  But since I now was living here,  I wanted the yard back the way it looked when I was regularly awarded the "Yard of the Month" sign by my Homeowners' Association.

Getting new sod and mulch didn't involve sweat on my part but was a bit painful when I had to write the check. 
The front yard before the new sod.
And after...

Sod, mulch and landscape blocks.
That was phase one of nesting.  Once the outside was done, I moved on to the inside.  Check that out in the next post.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

First Things First

Relocating from one country to another is a bit of a challenge.  The good news is that I traveled light.  After 2 1/2 years in Myanmar I was able to bring home all my belongings in 2 suitcases.  That was the easy part.

Stepping back into my old life in Florida involved a bit more.  The first thing I wanted and needed to do was to buy a new car.  I'd sold my old one when I moved to Myanmar and needed to get a new one.  As someone raised in the suburbs and used to having a car, I'd become obsessed with transportation over the past five years without one.

In Samoa, I walked in the village and took the bus to get to the market.  It was cheap and convenient, in the sense that the bus would stop wherever I happened to be standing by the road.  Of course the buses didn't really run on a schedule which meant that I could spend all day standing by the road, waiting.  One thing that could be depended on was that they operated based on the driver's needs.  If he didn't feel like driving, no bus.  If he had a chance to make extra money by taking a busload of family members to a funeral, no bus. 

When the bus did pick me up I never knew what to expect.  Sometimes it would be almost empty and I could lean back against the wood seat, let the breeze blow the sweat off and enjoy the views of the lagoon.  More frequently, the bus was already packed before I got on.  Usually, as a nod to my age and status as a foreign teacher, someone near the front got up so I could have their seat.  I also inherited whoever was sitting on their lap.  I was always grateful when it was just a few young children.  It was less fun when it was a 200 lb. woman.  In any case, the bus got me where I was going.

In Mandalay my transportation was either the school bus or a taxi.  The school bus was free.  It also got me a lot of attention when the giant bus rolled up on the narrow street in front of my doctor's office.  I never had to sign in for treatment since the bus announced that there was a sick foreign teacher coming in.  Usually, I took a taxi.  I'll save the many stories of my adventures with Myanmar taxi drivers for another post but usually they were reliable, although expensive, by Myanmar standards.

The one consistent thing about my transportation over the last five years was that I was at the mercy of someone else.  When they wanted to go and sometimes where they wanted to go.  I was very excited about regaining the freedom that comes with having my own car.

Before flying back to Orlando I did a lot of research on which car to buy.  I might as well admit that while most tourists return from two months of traveling around Thailand and Vietnam with stories about temples, festivals and beaches, I can regale you with stories of iced coffee and hour upon hour perusing

The obsession I seemed to have developed about which car to buy (or lease?  Perhaps I should research that!) made me realize that decision-making doesn't get faster or easier as I age.  Hmm, perhaps I should do some research on that.

As I flew to Orlando from Bangkok, I spent much of the 33 hours thinking of what awaited me.  Including a car.  I planned to rent a car at the airport and then start car shopping in earnest the next day.  There was a slight glitch in that plan, though.  When I arrived at the off-site car rental location where I'd reserved a reasonably priced rental, I learned that things had changed a bit in my absence.  I knew I had to have a credit card.  No problem, I had two!  Unfortunately, neither was acceptable because they had "debit" on them.  After taking a deep breath, I hauled my luggage (I was feeling like I hadn't really packed that lightly by this point) back on the shuttle van and headed back to the airport.

An hour later I drove off in a shiny new, tiny rental car, which I'd rented for an exorbitant amount.  At that point I was physically exhausted but on an adrenaline high.  It was only 1:00 p.m. and I was going to pass a car dealer on my way home so why not check out a car on my way home?   I'd done my research, been in touch with the dealer via internet and I'd only been awake for 40 hours or so.  Really, what could go wrong?

I discovered another change since I'd last lived in the U.S. and bought a car.  It is not a fast process.  Even though I'd talked to the dealer about the specific vehicle I wanted to buy, it took six hours to seal the deal.  By then my adrenaline had worn off and I just wanted a shower and sleep.  You'd think my smell along would have encouraged them to speed up the process.

I drove my new car home in the dark, having never seen it in sunlight.  By the time I signed the deal I wasn't even sure anymore what features I was getting or what color it was.  I didn't care at that point.

After a good night's sleep, I raced to the garage.  There was a car!  My car!  Full of gas and ready to take me on adventures!  I'll miss the company I always had when I traveled in Samoa and Myanmar but I'll get by.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

I'm Home!

Sorry for the long hiatus between posts.  I take full responsibility for the days you've missed work, as you sat in your pajamas, laptop on your lap, hardly breathing as you waited for my words of brilliance upon which you've based all your life decisions.  Ok, so maybe you didn't notice.  But I have.  And I've missed writing.

You may have noticed a new title for my blog.  That's a hint that I'm changing directions, both in my life and in this blog. 

If you have a life and haven't read every post on this blog, let me give you a Reader's Digest update. (If you don't understand the reference to Reader's Digest, congratulations on your youth.  Google it.) In 2010, I left Florida and my life as an independent management consultant to become a Peace Corps Volunteer, teaching in the beautiful village of Faga on the island of Savaii in Samoa.  That's independent Samoa rather than American Samoa.

After a roller coaster two years in Samoa I returned to Florida, planning to also return to my life as a consultant.  I spent a couple of months at home with my mouth hanging open in amazement as I considered what had changed in my absence.  Then, as a way to ease back into the consulting world I took a several month assignment as a Senior Consultant in Malawi, Africa.  I loved Malawi, I loved the people I worked with and I realized that I preferred first graders to CEOs.  So after another couple of months at home I headed to Mandalay, Myanmar where I taught first grade at an international school for more than two years.  I decided it was time to head home and I did, after six weeks traveling in Thailand and Vietnam.  If you'd like a few more details on those years on my life and there's nothing good on TV, check out my previous posts.

Now I'm home and officially retired.  I'm also in what I call the hallway.  You know how they say when one door closes, another one opens?  In my experience that is true.  But, they don't always happen immediately.  I call that time between the door closing and the next opening the hallway.  The hallway can be scary, relaxing, annoying, perplexing and a whole bunch of other adjectives.

So, dear readers, the next posts will be my thoughts about coming home, life in the hallway and what might come next.  Hopefully, there will be humor, photos and who knows, maybe a bit of travel tossed in.  I promise to regale you with a description of my new hobby - being on hold with Social Security Administration and other fun stuff.  Tell your friends, it's gonna be fun.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

More Hoi An Photos

I enjoyed spending a quiet relaxed couple of weeks in Hoi An.  I just wandered around, talked to people, drank gallons of delicious iced coffee and enjoyed the beautiful views.
The worst meal I had, by far, in Vietnam was this pizza.  It had been frozen and still had parts that were cold.  Ah well, serves me right for trying to eat Italian food in Vietnam.

The following photos were taken during early morning and evening walks around town.  I won't bore you with descriptions.

The ramp is not for wheelchairs.  It is to get your motorbike into your house.

One of the vendors gave me a piece of cinnamon bark.


In the center are banana flowers.  Samoan friends:  I wasn't kidding.  They're not only edible they're tasty.

Coming to work on the ferry.

Creative solution for a missing bench leg.

Engagement photos.

Preparing candles to be lit and placed in the river.