Saturday, October 8, 2016

What a Difference a Day Makes

My kitchen at 9:25 a.m. on Saturday, October 8, 2016.
I think this photo of my kitchen says it all.  Hurricane Matthew is gone and the sun is back.  I love seeing rainbows in my kitchen and am grateful they're back.  It's a stark contrast to the weather we've had for the last few days.

I've hauled all the patio furniture, etc. back where they belong.  The sun is helping to dry out the saturated ground.  It feels so good and is a reminder not to take my life for granted.  It feels wonderful to be able to breathe deeply, not worrying if the next minute will bring life-threatening winds or devastating rains.

It's not all sunshine and rainbows, though.  There are a few things in the aftermath of the storm that aren't so great.  Since it appears my roof is going to stay where it is, I was forced to finally clean the house.  While I was cleaning I heard a loud, constant sound from outside.  I stepped outdoors and realized it was the sound of weeds growing.  Apparently, now that I have the house clean, I'm going to have to spend a few hours soon pulling weeds before my house starts to look like Angkor Wat.
I took this photo in Angkor Watt in July, 2014.  I saw a weed today that looks a lot like these tree roots.
I'm joking, of course, about the downside of the storm being over.  Now I'm focused on what I need to get done in the week to come and planning to head to Ormond Beach (just north of Daytona Beach) a week from today.  That's assuming the resort will be open for business.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Buh Bye, Matthew!

Matthew has not completely left the building but he has packed his bags and is certainly on his way.  I've stopped listening to the news since there are too many widely divergent forecasts.  I know that while it is still stormy, the sky is brighter than it has been in more than 24 hours.

I lost power for a total of less than five minutes.  Thank you Duke Energy for the underground lines and good infrastructure.  Most of my friends lost power for hours.  One still has no power and based on previous experience, likely won't have it back in the near future.  I don't think she has such nice things to say about Duke Energy.

There is minor damage in my yard.  One panel in the fence is hanging by a thread but a couple of nails will fix that.  A few palm fronds are down which is no big deal.  I have a 10-12 foot Bird of Paradise that took a beating.  I think it will make it but I may have to trim it back by half.  My pool is looking decidedly pond-like but that will just take some chemicals.  Hopefully the large frog from the front yard won't take up residence before I get the chemicals in.

My county is still under a mandatory curfew until 7 a.m. tomorrow morning.  People are chomping at the bit but officials warn that after an early assessment there are downed trees blocking entire streets, traffic signals out and construction debris blocking roads.  I'd like to get out for a bit but have everything I need (and more) and am happy being home.

All in all, I'm feeling like the worst is over and it's time to get back to regular life.  Tomorrow I'll be hauling all my pool stuff back out and heading out to check things out.  I'll post photos of the aftermath of Matthew in the area.  Thanks for weathering the storm with me.

Horror in Haiti and Florida Update

I'm listening to the radio and watching the squalls of wind and rain that come and go.  They just announced that the death toll is at 478 now.  And more than 50,000 people are in immediate need of water, food and shelter.  Having lived on a small island in the South Pacific, my heart goes out to these people.  Even if help is on the way, logistically it takes time.  The news about Haiti puts our situation in Florida into perspective.  Thank God it was not as devastating here.

My "weather gauge leg" is back under water.  And the water is starting to look more like a pond than a pool.  I believe that takes my rain estimate to 9 inches from 7:00 p.m. Thursday to 10:00 a.m. Friday.

This is some of the standing water by the pool pump.  Only about an inch now.  At times its been over my ankles.
 I just came back in from fooling with the pump to lower the pool for the fourth time.  My "rain gauge" was under water again.  Since we're anticipating even heavier rains as the storm moves away from us, it looks like this will be an on-going process today.  In case you're worried about my attire, given that the sun is up now, I wore clothes.  Nothing fancy but I now have a designated "pool lowering, who cares if I get soaked" outfit.  It's a little number I had custom made in Myanmar.

The radio also reported the first fatality in Florida related to Matthew has been reported.  It seems a 58 year old woman in Port St. Lucie refused to evacuate.  During the storm she had a heart attack and 911 was called.  They refused to come out.  Government leaders in the state had announced repeatedly that if you ignored the evacuation and called for help they would not respond so as not to put first responders in unnecessary danger.

There seems to be a logistical problem now for Duke energy.  They've brought in extra crews/trucks in from outside the area.  Now that they're here they can't find anyplace to feed these guys.  I wish I could help but just don't have enough to feed over 30 guys.

And, you owe me a million dollars.  Just heard Marco Rubio who'd called in to get a little press time and defend himself.  "You can't overhype any storm."  He's doing an admirable job of defending his position prior to the storm.  Better safe than sorry.

And, as the bands roll through, the wind is getting worse and the rain is back.  I'm so grateful to be safe and comfortable in my house.

BTW, according to the radio, people are getting very antsy to get out of the house but the curfew is still on.  They said it might be lifted in a couple of hours since the worst of the wind was expected to pass within an hour.  15 minutes later they reported that as the far wall of the storm passes us tonight around midnight we'll have the worst wind and rain yet, expecting 100 MPH winds and 8-12 inches of rain. 

Hurricane Matthew - What Comes Next?

Still windy and rainy but the worst is hopefully past.
As I go through what appears to be the worst of the storm, I'm contemplating what comes next.  The good news is that I still have power and internet and unless there's a major change, should continue to have them.  The bad news is I fear what comes next.

Rain.  I assume I'll be heading out into the storm to lower the pool at least once more today, probably twice.  And, even though my pool guy dumped in a lot more chemicals this week, the pool is dealing with a lot of water and likely won't be quite clear for a few days.

Weeds.  I've let the weeds go a bit lately.  Cooler, dryer weather is coming and I'd rather be out yanking weeds then.  But with all this rain?  Those suckers are going to look like Sequoias in a heartbeat.

Ice Cream.  As everyone knows, during a hurricane calories do not count.  The storm is over, the diet is back on.  And, since I didn't lose power I have zero excuse to go after the ice cream.

Cleaning.  Because I have power, I can vacuum.  No excuse for just watching Netflix all day.  Damn.

Monday Morning Quarter-backing.  Governor Scott and other politicians urged 1 1/2 million people to evacuate.  I believe they were right.  All indicators were that the storm would be devastating.  In my opinion, better safe than sorry.  But I will bet you a million dollars that this will be fodder for the political campaigns.  I can already imagine Murphy's ads claiming Marco Rubio was a fear monger.  My county should be fun.  We're under a mandatory 25 hour curfew.  Yes, it is still stormy but other than the amount of rain, this isn't much worse than the kinds of storms we have on a regular basis.  Let the second-guessing begin.

When we were hit by a trifecta of strong hurricanes in 2004, we had little warning for the first and strongest, Charley.  People were unprepared and damage was in the billions.  I lost the roofs on two rental properties.  My own house was one of the only ones in my neighborhood that didn't lose the roof.  There was huge criticism of the media for not warning the area.  This year, the pendulum swung so far the other way it was frightening.

I think it is important for people to be prepared, and to do have time to do it.  But when a newscaster like Shepard Smith says things like "Your kids will die." that is irresponsible and reprehensible.  I believe it is far worse than yelling  "Fire!" in crowded theatre and should be not just criticized but prosecuted.

As I type this, every station in the Orlando area is doing team coverage.  Scrambling to show damage from the storm.  Photos from viewers showing minor damage but portraying it as something worse.  And, even as the storm passes, seemingly trying to amplify the danger we still face from the storm.

Instead, I think they should focus on the dangers of the aftermath of the storm.  Safe use of generators, not barbecuing in a closed area, care around downed wires, etc. 

But the thing I fear most after the storm?  The non-stop storm coverage will be replaced by constant Donald and Hillary.  Let the nastiness resume.

Matthew Has Arrived

I have stellar news - Matthew's bark was much worse than his bite, at least so far.  Thankfully, he stayed a bit further to the east than anticipated and also, the winds decreased a bit.  The main problem I have now is that I didn't get much sleep since I was up in the middle of the night to lower the pool.  If a bit of sleep is all I lose from this storm I will be a very happy camper.

Conditions at 8:30 a.m. on Friday, October 7, 2016.

At 7:00 a.m., we have light rain continuing and winds of 49 MPH.  The wind is strong but not scary and not anticipated to get much worse throughout the day.  By 8:00 p.m. the bulk of the storm will be gone.  The biggest issue has been the rain.  According to the newscasters who are solely focusing on the storm, we've had about 3 inches of rain since the storm began.

My rain gauge is how far above or under water the leg of my lounge chair is.  According to this highly scientific tool, we've had about 7 inches of rain in the last 12 hours.

I beg to differ.  I have my own personal rain gauge - how far the legs of the chair I threw in the pool stick out of the water.  When it started, the right leg had 3 inches over water.  It was 2 inches under water when I lowered it at 1:15 a.m.  By my reckoning, that's 5 inches by 1:15.  At 7:00 a.m., the leg is 1 inch exposed.  That makes a total of 7 inches of rain during a 12 hour period.  Newscasters are forecasting another 5-8 inches during the day today.  That means I'll be out lowering the pool again.  I simply can't describe the fun of going outside, in ankle deep water, with rain being blasted at me by strong winds.  Ah well, beats shoveling 2 feet of snow.

More good news - I have power and internet!  Netflix, so I can avoid the newscasters who are searching for any downed palm fronds to demonstrate the "violence" of the storm.  That's unlike my friend who lives about five miles from me.  She woke up to no power.  Then again, for no discernible reason, her power goes out every time someone in her neighborhood sneezes.

The "damage" in my front yard.  Ooh, a palm frond.  I am so, so grateful.  I'm hoping that my rental properties fared as well.  In 2004, two of them lost roofs to hurricane Charlie.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Matthew - Go Away!

I woke up at 1:17 a.m. on Friday, October 7, 2016 to the sound of my ceiling fan.  Not to the sound of wind and rain that I was expecting.  Ah, wouldn't it be wonderful if Fox news and others had been absolutely wrong and there was no hurricane barreling our way.  I decided to get up and check the pool level and I was glad I did since it was only an inch or two from overflowing. 

I grabbed my trusty new flashlight and headed out to start the process of pumping water out of the pool.  Happily, while the water level in the pool had risen by several inches, the water level on my patio had diminished by as many.  Last night when I stepped outside my screened pool enclosure it was into ankle deep water.  In the wee hours, it was barely an inch deep.  A testament to the efficiency of the sandy Florida soil that it can absorb so much water so quickly.  I suspect there are giant sink holes forming as I type.  Hurricanes and sink holes.  Just two reasons why there are still people living in Iowa.

You're probably asking yourself the burning question "What was she wearing as she strolled into the backyard to fiddle with the pool pump?"  Nothing, fashion mavens, nothing.  It was still raining lightly and I just couldn't be bothered.  It was the middle of the night, I have a privacy fence around my yard and at almost 66 I've had enough pelvic exams and mammograms to inure me from worry about strangers seeing me "bare pickle" as an old friend would say.  Actually, she was elderly and rather eccentric when I knew her in the 1960's and I suspect she would have cheered me on as I dashed through the yard in my birthday suit. 

After 30 minutes, the pool was low enough to change the pump again.  On this trip into the yard the wind was noticeably stronger.  Back inside, I checked the trusty internet for an update on my friend Matthew.  I checked the Orlando Sentinel website, which took me to a link to Fox News -  clearly the most reliable news source on the planet.

Before I tell what what the live-streaming meteorologist was saying I want to give the caveat that the poor guy has been broadcasting for hours.  All day and night, really.  So we have to cut him some slack.  But really, even my Myanmar Grade One Yellow Sunflowers could tell him that when we look at a map and describe motion, we wouldn't say "Matthew is moving to the right."  No, we would say "Matthew is moving to the east."

Geography aside, it is wonderful news.  While still a very strong storm, they are now predicting when Matthew comes closest to the Florida shore near Cape Kennedy at 8:00 a.m., the winds will be around 100 MPH rather than the expected  150 MPH.  All because he is "moving right".

The rain is still falling, but lightly.  The winds are strong, but gusting.  Not yet the powerful straight line winds which are still heading our way.

For now, I'm going back to bed. 

I Want to Break Up With You, Matthew

I usually love purple.  I wasn't so happy to see I live in the purple zone, though.

I live in Central Florida, so theoretically, hurricanes aren't a big threat.  I've experienced four major hurricanes but this is the first since 2005.  And according to the news media, this will be the biggest, by far.

To let you share in the fun, I thought I'd document the process as I experience it.

The Build Up - preparations and media

On Monday, there was mention in the media that a hurricane was heading our way.  Early on Tuesday morning I checked several national news sources as well as the Orlando Sentinel.  I found no mention of the hurricane.  A few hours later it was front page news.  Media coverage quickly ratcheted up to nonstop coverage of the coming mayhem.

At 7:00 a.m. on Wednesday, I headed to Walmart to get bottled water, a new flashlight and a few grocery items.  At that point, the media was projecting the hurricane hitting on Friday.  When I arrived, the parking lot at Walmart was jammed.  When I walked in there was a man wheeling a pallet of water toward the back of the store.  I asked for a case.  As I was dumping it in my cart, several other people also took cases from the pallet.  He never made it five feet before the water was gone.  By the time I walked to the "water aisle" at the back of the store, the shelves looked like Mrs. Hubbard's cupboard.
No water at Walmart.

More empty shelves that used to hold water.  Note that there is still plenty of wine on the shelf behind.  That changed by Thursday.
In addition to the water shortage, the shelf which once contained flashlights was almost empty.  Luckily for me, I snagged a beauty.  Then I meandered over to the food aisles.  Most of the canned meats were gone, but there was a plethora of tuna.  Luckily I prefer tuna to cold, canned mystery meat.

The snack aisle was also hit hard.  I can't say this with scientific certainty, but based on my observations at this particular Walmart, Central Floridian's favorite hurricane snack is pork rinds.  Clearly, I'm not a typical Central Floridan.
We say yes to pork rinds and no to salsa.
After shopping, I cruised by Sam's, since I decided I should have gotten another case of water.  Like Walmart, it was packed.  Luckily, I got one of the last cases of water.  I should now be set with water for at least a week.  Food is covered for about a month.  The experts suggest having enough food on hand for 3 days.  I have 3 days of food with me when I walk to the mailbox, just in case.

After Sam's I filled up the car with gas and got cash from an ATM.  I didn't have any problems getting gas or cash but today noticed several gas stations were either out of gas or had long lines.

Back home, I brought all the outside furniture and "stuff" into the house.  The lightweight plastic furniture I just tossed in the pool.  I also lowered to pool about four inches in anticipation of lots of rain.  I started to vacuum and then realized that if my roof is going to blow off tomorrow, do I really need a clean floor?  On the other hand, I'm very optimistic that my roof will remain where it is and I'll be stuck with dirty floors for the week or so until power comes back.  I can almost guarantee that the power will go out.  In every other hurricane it's been out for at least five days.

I did not prepare bags of ice as many friends were doing.  After two years without ice in Peace Corps, a week of room temperature beverages is no big deal.  I also did not set up my washer as a makeshift bar, full of ice, beer and wine.  I did use my washer to wash one last load of clothes.  

The media rhetoric is increasing.  The local Fox station has been almost exclusively covering only hurricane Matthew.  That must really piss off The Donald.

And It Begins - the rain

Thursday night

The rain started in earnest about 6:00 p.m.  By 8:00 p.m., I headed out in a torrential downpour to lower the pool again.  In previous hurricanes this has also happened.  In those, I started going out fully clothed (every 3 hours, all night).  After the second time, I decided that was ridiculous and just went out naked (my backyard is fenced).  I figured if peeping Toms were out in that weather, they deserved the view.   So far, I'm staying clothed but I make no promises about what I'll do at 2:00 a.m.

I'm estimating we've had 4-5 inches of rain in the last couple of hours.  That's just from the "feeder bands".  The eye of the storm isn't expected to hit the coast for another 12 hours.  The ground is already saturated and my fear is that the pool will overflow and flood my house.  Tomorrow morning, I'll probably be more concerned about the roof blowing off or windows blowing in.  It's always nice to have a variety of things to worry about.

While I was looking out to monitor the water level on the pool deck, my porch light went out.  At the very beginning of the storm.  It has worked faithfully for 22 years.  Happily, my new flashlight is working well.  The front porch light, which I don't really need right now, is working fine.  I know because I could see the large frog lounging on my front porch, watching the rain.

I've been watching the pool level as water is pumped out.  It's taking forever to get lower.  But I'm keeping entertained watching an old season of Survivor.  I'm building up my knowledge of how to make fire, just in case.

I'm home alone and a bit nervous, to be honest.  Friends were kind enough to invite me to stay with them but I prefer to freak out in private.  Oops, I meant keep an eye on the house. I've got Mr. Kindle charged and ready, along with a couple of paperbacks for daytime hours so I can save on Mr. Kindle's battery after the power goes off.

The news reports don't help. Shepard Smith, a weather person for the fine Fox Network, announced that if the storm came even 20 miles inland, we would all die.  Our kids would die.  No one could survive.  Well thanks for your encouragement, Shepard.  At least you could have stopped grinning while announcing that I was going to die tomorrow.  His announcement made me glad I had Mexican food for dinner.  If I'm dying, I want cheese enchiladas in my belly, not kale and tofu.  Yes, I've been dieting but I believe it is a law of nature that calories do not count during a hurricane.

It's 9:00 p.m. now and the rain has slowed.  The lightening and thunder have gone away and according to the satellite map, we should get a break from the rain for a couple of hours.  The wind hasn't started yet. 

9:30 p.m. and the wind and rain are both picking up.  Luckily, the short break gave my patio drain a chance to catch up from the earlier downpour.  And, the porch light came back on.  Then went out again.  Just adds to the excitement.

I love the way companies are responding to the hurricane.  Geico sent me an email yesterday saying they have my back and giving the number to call if I need to file a claim for damage to my car from the storm.  I just got an email from Duke Energy offering helpful advice...they're suggesting I plan an evacuation route and purchase supplies.  Good advice but a wee bit late, given that the storm is underway, businesses have been closed for hours and a 25 hour mandatory curfew starts at 5:00 a.m. tomorrow morning.

It's 10:30 p.m. and Mr. Kindle and I are headed to bed.  After a lull in the wind and rain, they're back.  The wind is definitely stronger.  It should provide comforting white noise to help me sleep.  I plan to dream of sunshine and white beaches with very tiny waves.

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.

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.