Friday, July 29, 2016

Why I Travel

It's been eight months since I came home from SE Asia.  I realized this morning that this is the  longest stretch of being home since I moved here 22 years ago.  The job I moved here for required weekly travel.  Then, after I went out on my own as a consultant, I traveled for work about 95% of the time.  When I wasn't traveling for work, I used my frequent flyer miles to travel internationally for fun.

My wanderlust started when I was young.  My mom's brother - Uncle Jim, to me - sent us the same gifts every Christmas.  A subscription to the National Geographic magazine and a ten pound box of Russell Stover chocolates.

My mom, brother and I would spend hours looking at the photographs, turning pages with chocolaty sticky fingers.  We'd pull out the maps and talk about the places whose names we couldn't pronounce.  We'd talk about family vacations to exotic places.  Those didn't happen because as hard as my dad worked and as successful as he was, the budget didn't stretch that far.  But imagination and learning are free.

I'll always be grateful to my parents for teaching me to dream.  To plan adventures and believe I could make them happen.  Our family vacations were frequently to Baja, California.  That might seem exotic if you're from Boston or Florida but since we lived in southern Arizona the trips were drive-able and relatively inexpensive. 
Back in 1959 we didn't have cell phone photos or drones or even colored photos.  But this is horseback riding on the beach in Baja.

I ate my first street food in Mexico with my dad.  Actually, it was "beach food".  My dad and I went for a horseback ride on the beach at sunrise while my mom and brother slept in.  On our way back to the hotel, a man was just setting up his stand to sell fresh raw oysters.  My dad asked for one.  It was served in a small dixie cup with a squeeze of lime and shot of hot sauce.  Since I was definitely a daddy's girl, I had one too.  And loved it.

I still love street food and poring over maps.  Now the internet makes planning the next adventure even easier.  When I came home last November I wasn't interested in travel.  I was done exploring.  For the first time in my life I wasn't thinking about the next place.  It was a bit disconcerting but I turned my attention to being home and getting my nest in shape.

Lately, I've found myself thinking about where I want to travel next.  What I might see and experience.  I've been looking at maps again.  I'm starting to yearn for the smell of jet fuel.  Thanks, Uncle Jim.

Friday, June 3, 2016

The New Master Bathroom

The remodel of the masterbath was, by far, the messiest, dirtiest and most aggravating of the three rooms.  As I planned what I wanted, I considered that I'm currently planning to live in this house until I croak.  So, I wanted to replace the oversized garden tub and a walk-in shower so as I get less mobile it would be easy to get in and out.  Removing the tub and relocating the drain involved removing two foot deep concrete.  Do you have any idea how much dust is generated when you use a jackhammer to do that in your house?  I'll be continuing to clean up that dust for months to come.  But it was so worth it.

I also wanted to take advantage of the giant 4' X 5' glass block window in the shower to really make a bright, clean looking bathroom.  I am extremely pleased with the results.  I was so excited for the work to get started that I only took a couple of "before" photos.  Just think back to 1988 builder grade bathrooms and you have the picture.

In the '90's I replace the vanity top with marble and put travertine on the floors.  The mirror covers the entire wall.

The garden tub had the old fashioned glass sliders.
While the remodeling is done, the decorating is not.  I plan to frame four of my travel photos and then match the towels to a blue in the photos.   Here's the 99% done master bath:

I ordered the vanity from Amazon.  I changed out the pulls that came with it for "crystal" knobs.  All the hardware is brushed nickel.  The paint color is "Gentle Rain" aka grey.  The light fixture came from  The counter top is carrara marble.
The floor is also carrara marble, unpolished in a herringbone pattern.  It is the same in the shower and on the floor.  My goal was to have something that was easy to clean, looked good and wouldn't be slippery.  I'm not sure about easy to clean the rest worked out.

I LOVE this shower.  Floor to ceiling beveled white subway tiles.  An accent stripe of glass tile.  A semi-framed shower door from Home Depot.  It gets so much natural light it was hard to get a photo.  And, the pool is on the other side of the window so in the evening when I have the pool light on, the shower has a lovely blue glow.

You can't see it from here but there's a double shower head.  Good water pressure, plenty of room and light.  The perfect shower for me.

Clean looking and bright.  I'm absolutely thrilled with the results.

The Remodel Hassle Was Worth It - Kitchen Photos

  • I'm very, very close to being finished with the remodel of my kitchen and two bathrooms.  As I indicated in my last post, it was not without it's challenges but it was worth it.  Here are some photos of the before and after in my kitchen.

The kitchen as it was before, circa 1988.  The brackets on the right used to hold glass shelves and colored glassware.  I'd taken them down to pack before I started taking photos.

Notice the trash can?  Now I have a double bin trash holder in a cabinet.  I love it.

This sink served me well for 22 years.

The kitchen wasn't awful.  It was functional but it needed to be brought into this century.  And I really wanted to get rid of the laminate counters.

I went with white cabinets, brushed nickel knobs, more cabinets and granite counters.  The black appliances will be replaced with stainless as they die.  I'm way too cheap to replace them just because of the color.  By the way - there are the colored martini glasses, over the sink.  They used to be on shelves next to the doorway - that's now a new cabinet.

The remodeled kitchen has a cabinet over the microwave which gives it a more finished look.  I also added crown molding.

I love this sink!  Undermount made of granite composite.  I could easily bathe three fat babies in this sink. 

The counters are "Thunder White" granite.  I chose beveled white subway tiles for the backsplash.
I love it every time I walk into my new kitchen.  I have lots of cabinet space, it is bright and airy with plenty of light to cook by.  Worth

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The End Is Near!

The end of the my house renovations is near, I mean.  The actual end of the world may also be near based on Trump possibly being our next President but that's a whole different topic.  During the last couple of months I got new kitchen cabinets and counters; gutted the master bath replacing an oversize tub with a walk-in shower as well as a complete renovation of the guest bath.

Based on my experience over the last couple of months, I have some suggestions if you're thinking about renovating multiple rooms in your house.

First, get the names of a good realtor and moving company.  Seriously, avoid the mess and inconvenience and just buy a new house. There were moments I really considered just packing my clothes and leaving.  That was when they were using the jackhammer in my bathroom.

Last night I greeted a guest at the front door by explaining "I don't usually keep shower doors and a bathroom vanity in my living room but they're being installed tomorrow and we ran out of room in the garage."

Do you like what I've done with my living room?  This is after they installed the new shower doors and vanity, before they had time to clean up the trash.
If your masochistic streak is wide enough that you decide not to move, the most important decision you can make is selecting the right contractor.  I recommend using your best friend's son.  That way, if things go south she can always threaten to cut him out of her will.    Luckily, my guy happens to be very good at what he does, in addition to being my best friend's son.  As far as I know, he's still in the will.

The choice of contractors is key.  I recommend you not only interview the contractor but also his employees.   These guys will be spending more time with you than your family.   Sure, I wanted reliable, competent staff doing the job but would young, good-looking guys be too much to ask for?  

Next, be thoughtful when deciding which room to do first.  We started with the kitchen and I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the demo and install of the new cabinets went.  If we had started with jack hammering up two feet of concrete in my bathroom first I might have thrown in the bath towel in week one.

Another critical step as you prepare to start your remodel is to visit your physician.  Actually, you may want to visit several in adjoining communities since it is unlikely your family doctor will be willing to subscribe all the drugs you'll need to take to get you through the millions of decisions you'll be making.  And, if you personal morals allow, you might want to consider selling any extra drugs to help you fund the budget overruns that are unavoidable.  I chose not to go the drug route but am questioning that decision.

Back to the decisions.  I'm a well-educated woman with a lot of life experience.  I thought I had this.  Apparently not.  I did make all the decisions, though, and so far am very happy with the results.  And the first person who comments on the fact that my toilet paper holder is actually a towel holder will be asked to leave. 

Honestly the two photos below show a "brushed nickel towel ring" and a "brushed nickel toilet paper holder".  The styles are different but can you tell which one is the "towel ring"?

This is falsely advertised as a "towel ring".  I have a towel ring.  It is round, like, you know, a ring.
This is the toilet paper holder.  I am using a towel ring because the style matches my other stuff.

Next, I suggest you buy a dictionary.  Better yet, have a dictionary app installed on your phone.  You'll need it when your contractor or the less-than-helpful Home Depot associate asks about your preference in astragals.  Or which kind of base shoe you'd like.  I discovered that instead of standing there feeling like an idiot until they explained it to me in terms a five year old could understand I just stared them straight in the eye and said "Isn't it obvious?"  Generally that got me off the hook as they showed me the most common option.  Luckily my contractor is a bright guy and realized pretty quickly that I'm an idiot so he quit asking.

Ok, seriously, this post feels like it's dragging on as long as my remodel did.  Let's get down to the serious recommendations.

1.  Your contractor needs to be someone with a strong track record, reasonable prices and a staff big enough that if one flakes out there's someone else who can step in.  I've got a great guy and he's got a good team but this isn't my first rodeo.  Guys who book too much business may not think it's a big deal that you don't have a kitchen sink for an extra week or two but you will.
2.  Get it in writing.  Make sure you clarify exactly what you will be buying and what they will supply.  In detail.  Cost overruns happen.  In my case because I kept seeing things I wanted to upgrade or add.  Even if you love surprises, when you have them in a remodel it's not usually a good thing.
3.  Look at photos.  Thousands of photos. is a great site for that.  Then, visit as many showrooms as you can.  Stroll around, see what catches your eye.  Then go home.  A week or two later, go back and see if the same color schemes, styles, etc. are still the ones that grab you.  This is a major investment and no time to rush into a decision.
4.  Work with your contractor to create a project plan that includes stuff like possible delays in item delivery.  For example, your contractor can't control the company that fabricates the granite for counter tops and those guys seem to be very busy.  Can you create a work-around if that happens?    One of the biggest surprises for me was how many items had to be special ordered.  And I swear Home Depot used the pony express for the three week trip my shower doors took from Seattle to Orlando.
5.  Prepare for no kitchen.  I stocked up on paper plates, plastic utensils and recipes for stuff I could grill.  I also prepared a lot of casseroles, soups and stews and stocked the freezer.  You don't need to do that if, like me, you have a neighbor who insists on bringing you homemade Indian food every single day your kitchen is out of order.  She also offered coffee every morning but I kindly let her off the hook for that.  Really - can you imagine a neighbor who feeds you for a month, won't take money and got a little offended when I gave her a gift?  I did set up a mini-kitchen on a table with a cutting board, knife, etc.  It worked fine but I can't tell you how many times I walked over to the hole that was once a sink to wash my hands.  I'm a slow learner.
6.  Prepare for dust.  Lots and lots and lots of dust.  Tiny little particles that get into everything.  I've read online where contractors have posted that you shouldn't have any dust, no clean up at all.  Bull pucky.  I don't care how careful the workers are.  How much they seal off the room.  How much they clean as they go.  Drywall and cement dust are still covering everything in my house.  Here are my suggestions for avoiding that:
   A.  Wrap/box stuff.  The walk-in closet next to my bathroom was covered in dust.  In retrospect, I should have packed up all my seasonal clothes, luggage, etc. and moved it away from ground zero.  Same for knick knacks.  My house is filled with treasures (or crap, depending upon your perspective) from my travels around the world.  Now, I get to enjoy my travel memories as I carefully dust all the stuff.  It would have been easier to box it up.
   B.  Use tarps and plastic.  My guys did a great job of putting down tarps to protect carpet and hardwood along with plastic to cover furnishings.  They still got dusty but it wasn't so bad.
   C.  Change the filter in your furnace/air con unit.  I changed mine weekly and every week it was clogged with dust.  If possible, schedule the work for a time when you don't need either heat or air con.
7.  Be prepared.  If you agree to a 4 week time frame, mentally assume it will be six weeks.  When you get done at 5 weeks it will be sweet. 
8.  Have a sense of humor.  If you (or the contractor) freak out over every possible thing that goes wrong you are in for a bad experience.  For me, if I focus on the negative, that's what I'll think of in the finished room.  Instead, look for the humor when things go wrong.  Like today.  They were installing the bathroom vanity in the guestroom.  The faucet I ordered requires 2 holes.  The vanity has one.  I had an extra faucet that came with the master bath vanity that I didn't use.  It required 3 holes.  We went out and bought another faucet.  I'm planning to sell faucets to support my retirement.

Ok, this has been a lot of talk.  Next post - photos!

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.