Forever Home – Far Away From Home

House for sale

Knowing retirement was coming up and fearing I wouldn’t be able to live on Social Security in the U.S., I started several years early and visited both Panama and Costa Rica as possible long-term locations. Even though I was looking at locations with mountains (since my dream included a babbling brook or quiet creek nearby), and a garden so I could fill my days with beautiful, aromatic flowers and herbs right at my fingertips – greenery that wasn’t readily available in Las Vegas, I had a friend in Florida who kept nudging me to come check out the state. He was not put off by my constant gripes that Florida had no mountains, I wasn’t really interested in sand in my shoes on a daily basis and they had hurricanes – not on my to-do list. Nevertheless, he persisted and so I visited a couple of times, with house-hunting at the top of the list. And what do you know? I liked the craftsman homes in the area, the greenery and the old-fashioned neighborhood feel.

I had it stuck in my mind that the thing to do was to cash out my 401K, use it to buy something outright so I’d have no rent or mortgage and then I could afford to live off my Social Security. And so I spent countless hours scouring Zillow and Realtor.com and a couple of others for something that I liked that I could afford. Not an easy task. I discovered that my meager 401K wasn’t going to get me much. I had found lots of places I could afford in Costa Rica but I had no way to check out the areas they were in or even see if the photos matched the reality. That scared me into going back again and again to look at properties in Florida.

I was constantly disappointed at my lack of affordability. The houses I could afford didn’t remotely match my dream and the amount of repairs that would be needed would require even more. I finally decided to stop attempting to make things happen and turn my attention elsewhere. I was sure that if it was meant to happen, it would.

And then one day, I got an email from my friend in Florida that one of his friends had come across a cute little place in her own search and had told him she was not going to buy it but that I should have a look at it online because it had the garden I said I wanted and it wasn’t terribly expensive. spring time gardens

I gasped when I saw the photos. There was a lovely garden and deck in the back and French doors leading from the master bedroom to a screened-in porch. Are you kidding? I wanted that house from the moment I saw the photos. My friend convinced me to fill out the online Quicken Loan information to see how much I could qualify for.

I’m not really sure what happened from there. One minute I was dreaming of a house with a garden and the next minute I had qualified for one, the lender had contacted me for more information and I was suddenly buying a house and would close on it in 6 weeks. Panic set in.

My goal of a stress-free, relaxed retirement turned into anxiety and sleepless nights as I downloaded document after document and started paying for all kinds of not-disclosed-up-front and unexpected expenses like an HOA application fee, an inspection fee, a property surveyPaperwork vortex fee, a title insurance fee, etc. I was running out of money and I’d been instructed not to borrow from the 401K until it was time for the down payment. I was drowning in paperwork (most of which reads like a foreign language and is exhausting to plow through) and my emotions vacillated all over the map – exhilaration, anxiety, despair, fright and excitement.

In the end, I drove across the United States to Florida and although I’m still adjusting to all the changes from my 42 years in Las Vegas, I think I’m going to be happy here. I love the back garden and have plans to transform it into a peaceful haven full of beautiful flowers. I already have the butterflies, birds and squirrels and I love them. But guess what? Gardening is expensive – just one more thing I didn’t anticipate.

The Obligatory Farewell Party

The funny thing about the last few weeks of employment is that people suddenly come out of the woodwork to make suggestions that are now clearly too late to implement and could’ve been made any time at all within the last thirteen years. I know they mean for them to be helpful hints for me to use while training my replacement but I find myself wondering if a lot of what I’ve accomplished in my career is viewed as very-nice-but-could’ve-been-better. Okay, yes, I’m probably overly sensitive in my last few weeks but I can’t possibly be the only one who’s left a career wondering if anything they did for their length of time in the organization made any difference.

I’m also aware that just as there are many people I’ve been cordial to but won’t particularly miss, I’m quite sure the feeling is mutual. So if they’re not going to miss me, I’d rather not have a party where they feel like they have to show up because someone (whether me or the CEO) might notice their absence.

Retirement cake blunderI found this photo of someone’s cake to be hilarious but it also aptly sums up my aversion to the obligatory retirement party and, presented with a date for my own staff farewell party, I politely declined and said I’d just as soon leave quietly (that in itself will be novel to most of my co-workers).

Every retirement party I’ve attended in the last thirteen years has had the same format and it goes something like this:

  1. An email invitation is sent to most of the company’s employees inviting them to attend the going-away party.
  2. A lot of people who’d rather finish their work, take the time to saunter over.
  3. A conference room is set up with soft drinks, cake and maybe cookies or fruit.
  4. Everyone sits around the conference table and waits for someone to say something.
  5. The retiree is eventually asked about a favorite work story. Everyone listens politely and nods approvingly but really has no connection to the memory.
  6. Another awkward silence ensues until someone asks if anyone has a good story about the retiree.
  7. Having finally run out of pithy comments and stories, the retiree is given a gift. In our case, it has often been a crystal vase with the company logo on it – nice, but I probably won’t want to spend my meager Social Security funds on bouquets of flowers.
  8. A final thank-you-for-your-service is voiced and then a few people grab refreshments and the rest head back to their work stations, having fulfilled their duty.

I think this tradition needs to go. Too many people feel like they have to show up because they know the retiree knows it was sent out to most of the departments and they think they have to attend because she will notice if they’re not there. I believe the people who actually give a damn will stop by and say goodbye. And that’s enough.

Revising the Dreams

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They say getting older is not for the faint of heart. It’s true. You discover that the things you dreamed about doing when you were young, things that you’ve carried over decade to decade, are suddenly no longer within your reach. So now what? Do you persist in going after them, do you give up on the dream entirely, or do you try to find a compromise so you’re still getting some of the experience even if it’s not all it was meant to be?

I find that I have a stubborn streak that holds on to the dream for months and months, reworking it in my mind a dozen times with tiny little concessions each time, so I can still pursue the basic dream. But somewhere along the line, I realize it’s time to let it go and then I start looking at ways to make some of it happen.

One of my dreams was to have a house with enough land to create a garden retreat, a place replete with trees, flowers, vines, grass, and at least one little nook where I could hang out with a good book and enjoy the view and the quiet – sort of like the picture I chose for this post.

Getting close to retirement, I refused to give up this dream and looked only at houses with spacious back yards. But little realities kept creeping in and I must say, they really annoyed me. I have a friend who pointed out that the cost alone of all the foliage would kill me. Then I’d probably have to initially employ a landscaper to till the soil and prepare the beds. Not being much of a horticulturist, I’d probably have to get professional advice on designing my perfect retreat. All of these costs are difficult, if not impossible, when living on social security.

That was my first reality. Then there’s the annoyance of old age. At 65, I’m in relatively good health but my aches and pains have increased and I notice that they do so at an accelerated pace. Perhaps that’s the problem and everyone faces it: You go for decades being in tip-top form and think it will stay that way indefinitely and then one day you discover you need back surgery for the increasing difficulty you’ve been having with what you thought were pulled muscles that were just taking longer and longer to heal, or you have a strange bout of symptoms that mimic heart problems and find you need a medication for GERD, or bounding up the stairs two at a time becomes a slower progression on a daily basis, etc. To top it off, these new issues are not things that are going to return to that 20s physique; they are permanent and likely to get worse.

I didn’t bargain for that when I was younger and, stupidly, didn’t anticipate it, either. Although aware of the possibility, when I was younger I sort of figured they always happened to someone else or that I’d see them coming and make appropriate adjustments (although what those adjustments might have been is anybody’s guess). And now, it’s too late to back up and tackle that garden with the stamina and non-creaky joints of my 20 or 30-year-old self.

So, reluctantly, I’ve realized I would never be able to keep up with the daily maintenance of a garden of that size. That acceptance, oddly, happened almost overnight. I registered the growing list of problems I might encounter but stubbornly stuck to my original plan for months. Then one day, I woke up and instead of talking about buying a house, began talking about renting a condo or townhouse with a small space off a back patio or a balcony where I could put a few potted plants. Just like that, I’d come to terms with a new reality.

And just so you know, the hardest part of this whole thing is moving forward without looking back at the things I could have done, and should have done, when I had the time, the resources and the stamina. People tell you it’s never too late, but sometimes it is, and I hate that.