Thursday, December 30, 2010

From Home to Home

Today we're recovering from a long travel day - Chicago to Prescott.  This sojourn actually does include "trains, planes, and automobiles", peppered with an overabundance of holiday travelers and unwelcome delays.  Now safely back in Prescott, we are enjoying our morning coffee along with these snowy desert views out the back of our home at Talking Rock Ranch.

Hope you are having a great day, and are looking forward to a happy and prosperous 2011.



P.S.  Wow, these photos are already outdated.  A new snow squall has started, and we almost have a white out.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

This Christmas is a little different for me. I am enjoying the lights, the music, the snow, and the sociable bustle of the city. But I had trouble telling my husband what I might like for gifts. This is an odd state of affairs, as I usually covet this and that and get excited as wrapped presents appear under the tree. Unfortunately, this blasé-ness has insidiously infiltrated my feelings in regard to purchases I have made for others. I put thought into our gift-giving, but I’m not sure I did anything very special. I’m just not excited this year about the exchange of "stuff".  (No offense, Santa, I know that's kinda your thing.)

My focus has changed to an avid interest in gathering experiences and examining feelings. The best things I can give my husband are love and comfort. With my friends I want to share time and create warm memories. I ache to find a way to express the grateful feelings I have for my wonderful friends – you all help fill my life.

The answer for me is in remembering and pondering the origin of Christmas. We’ll forge through the snow on Christmas Eve to be reminded of the glory Christmas morning brought, a few thousand years ago. We’ll pray for peace and good will around the world. Merry Christmas!

"Today Christ is born in Bethlehem of the Virgin.
Today He who is without a beginning begins,
And the Word is made flesh.
The powers of Heaven rejoice,
The earth and her people are jubilant;
The Wise Men bring gifts to the Lord,
The shepherds marvel at the One who is born;
And we sing without ceasing:
"Glory to God in the Highest,
And on earth peace, good will toward men".

Thursday, December 16, 2010

S'NOT FAIR!!

We left Prescott to come back to Chicago for some holiday cheer; all the things that happen in the city that really help you get in the Christmas spirit. I was excited to experience the sparkling lights on Michigan Avenue, the window displays at Macy’s on State Street, the wreaths on the Art Institute lions, ice skaters in Millenium Park, the Chicago Symphony’s “Welcome Yule” concert, the German-style Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza, and so many other joys of the season. But a major wrinkle appeared in my nice little plan – an old-fashioned nasty cold!

There are no signs that we have anything more serious than a common cold. We are an unfortunate duo of stuffy and runny noses, sinus drainage, and mucous-rich coughing rampages. We’ve gone through 3 boxes of Kleenex, and we’re into our second bottles of DayQuil and NyQuil. My Vicks Nasal Spray is almost empty, and we had to buy another bag of cough drops Tuesday. Vicks VapoRub keeps me comfortable at night, because Ron is sleeping in the guest bedroom wrapped in his own intermittent, snurfy slumber.

The past week has been spent mostly indoors, except when we need food or over-the-counter remedies. Ron’s birthday on the 14th passed quietly and with little fanfare. (I owe him, big time.) There hasn’t been much holly-jolly around the house…although we already had decked the halls and put the Christmas tree up. It’s unseasonably cold for this time in Chicago; in the teens and twenties. But the condo is warm and snug, and the fireplace is doing its duty.

Like a little kid, I am stamping my foot to complain, “S’NOT FAIR!” I should be happily shopping amid sparkling snow flurries, sipping spiked eggnog, and otherwise making merry.

P.S. We are feeling noticeably better, and hope to get into the swing of the season very soon! Thanks for all the well wishes.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Betwixt and Between

Here we are, wedged halfway between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Gourds and turkeys are passé. Lighted trees, snowmen, and gift wrap set the stage for the next big event. (How did my Jewish friends manage? You really didn’t have a time buffer this year before Hanukkah started on December 1! )

I started Christmas preparations early. The plan was to have most shopping for family and friends completed before we left Prescott on December 1. The goal was achieved via the internet and some targeted purchases in Arizona. All that remains is for Ron and me to shop for each other. We need to show a little creative restraint, considering all the unanticipated expenses associated with our home in Prescott this year.

Our Christmas tree is up and decorated, lights sparkle at the front room windows, stockings are hung on the mantel, and wreaths are on the doors. We aren’t kids anymore ourselves, and don’t have any children with whom to celebrate – but we do have our own traditions and ways to capture the spirit of the season.

We mark December’s passing days with an Advent calendar made for Ron by his parents many years ago. (Each of his siblings has one too.) We take turns hanging the ornaments, with Ron assigned the even-numbered days, so that he has his birthday December 14th.

On the 23rd, we’ll go to an afternoon holiday concert by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It features music, dance, and a few skits. They also always have sing-along caroling. Our favorite song is “Christmas in Chicago”; so sentimental it brings tears to our eyes.

Christmas Eve is spent quietly at home together. We’ll have a dinner of special treats, like caviar, paté, and cheeses. Champagne will flow freely, and we’ll help Santa finish any wrapping.

On Christmas morning, we will hear the bells at the cathedral over on Sheridan Road tolling out Christmas carols that wash over the neighborhood. Ron will make pancakes for breakfast (a treat for me on special holidays). Then we’ll play Christmas music and settle down by the tree to open presents. Welcome interruptions will come via from phone calls from family, and we’ll share good wishes and love long distance.

Some important details are yet to be determined… Christmas afternoon will likely be spent with our sister-in-law’s gracious family in Evanston. And we need to decide when to go to church. But can you tell I am looking forward to this blessed season? Savor these happy holidays, everyone!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Hither and Yon

Steel and Concrete
Broad-Shouldered
Smart and Determined.
Glittering Lake and
Manmade Canyons.

Planks and Stone
Cowboy Spirit
Tough and Friendly.
Desert Scrub and
Granite Mountains.

Hither and Yon
Loving Life
Calm and Energetic.
Hard-Earned and
Well-Played.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

Happy Thanksgiving from cool and clear Prescott, Arizona! We got up early this morning – Ron to prep the turkey, and me to make the bread stuffing. It’s just not Thanksgiving until you smell celery and onions sautéing in butter! We’re actually going to the restaurant at Talking Rock Ranch for the Thanksgiving buffet, but couldn’t let go of some of our at-home traditions. That means roasting a small turkey, so we can have leftovers. Over the next few days, we’ll add a few of our favorite side dishes. Ron’s already making cranberry sauce. And we can’t do without the oyster casserole!

Yesterday, I re-read my blog from last Thanksgiving. I smiled as I reviewed the list of things for which I was thankful a year ago. All of those blessings still apply. Looking back, I couldn’t have imagined how much more could be added to my already charmed runaway life.

The addition of our Prescott home and all our new Talking Rock friends has been unexpected and so amazing. For now, we have the ridiculous luxury of enjoying the best of Chicago and the best of the high desert of Arizona at our whim. (By spring 2012, we’ll either sell or rent the condo and move to AZ full time.)

On December 1, we head back to Illinois to spend Christmas in Chicago. I’m looking forward to visiting friends, seeing a play, attending the Chicago Symphony’s holiday concert, and finishing my shopping in a snowy, urban setting, along the decorated city streets. Then, we’ll sidestep the worst of winter by coming back to Prescott for January and February. I’m so spoiled.

Happy Thanksgiving! Ours could only be better if we were with family. I hope you are surrounded by family and friends, and have an opportunity to give thanks for all the blessings of life – big and small.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cash Flow Considerations

We had our quarterly call with our financial advisor this week, and the main topic of discussion was cash flow planning.  Obviously, the stock market has had its issues the last two years, so our earnings from investments have not been as good as hoped.  Some of our future retirement income will come from my Hilton pension and Social Security – but we are too young to draw from either of those yet.  Our immediately available cash is running low, and we need a strategy for replenishment.
American dollars,financial transactions,bribes,black money,payments,rewards,bundles,Veer ImagesThis is an interesting planning challenge. Where will your retirement income come from, and will the source change over time? Since we stopped working before the normal retirement age, our income sources will definitely change at several stages and age points. Some sources will run dry, and others will kick in.

For the first two and a half years, we have used cash for our living expenses. Ron had the foresight not to tie up all our cash in long-term investments. Until now, any profit from investments has been reinvested and absolutely no principle has been converted to cash. Our financial advisor’s goal is for us not to touch principle until we are in our 70’s. For our needs in 2011, we are going to take some earnings from our tax-free municipal bond fund, and we’ll suspend reinvesting profit in that fund for now (starting in January).

One thing we discussed with our advisor was the optimum age for us to start claiming my Hilton pension and our Social Security. The earlier you start, the lower your monthly payout. But the longer you wait, the greater the risk that you won’t live long enough to collect what you paid into the system all those working years! Guessing your own life expectancy (based on your personal health, your lifestyle, and family history) is a weird exercise, but necessary for planning purposes.

There are tax implications to decisions about investing and retirement income. If you are not a scholar of the tax code, consider consulting with a tax planning professional. In some cases, the wrong decision can have big impact on your tax liability (e.g. cashing in an IRA before you are 59 and ½). You will also want to keep track of what changes politicians are considering, as they could adversely affect the health of your retirement fund. When/if the rules change, you may need to make adjustments in your money management plan.

Are you working on your retirement strategy? Planning for your retirement involves a lot more than building up your savings account. Lay the groundwork now with some solid analysis and decision-making to support your needs at all of the later stages of your life.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Eulogy

Today we mourn the untimely death of the Hilton Worldwide Information Technology organization. Less than five short years ago, Hilton IT was in its prime – widely recognized in the press as an innovative, value-enhancing asset to its parent company. Strong leadership, and experienced, talented, and dedicated team members consistently delivered game-changing enterprise technology called OnQ, raising the bar on guest expectations and challenging the competition. Our people were respected within and outside of Hilton Worldwide for working hand-in-hand with business people to achieve strategic goals.

The first inkling of danger came not long after The Blackstone Group purchased Hilton Hotels Corporation in 2007. The company was taken private, and CEO Steve Bollenbach (a friend and champion of the IT group and its achievements) was replaced by Chris Nassetta - new blood chosen by Blackstone to implement their plans to boost profitability in preparation for taking the company public again in the future. Tim Harvey, IT’s visionary leader, sensed impending doom and resigned in 2009.

A “Corporate Transformation” resulted in the reorganization of most departments, and the closure of the iconic corporate headquarters in Beverly Hills, CA. Elite team members (Directors and above) were offered a move across the country to McLean, VA. Most were not. Plans to dismantle and outsource IT functions previously seen as competitive differentiators began to be systematically executed, eliminating numerous job functions.

Death approached over time in many guises. The OnQ brand was carelessly diminished by unimaginative executives woefully ignorant of the value to the brands and to the IT team. Layoffs terminated the careers of scores of IT professionals and delivered mortal wounds. Talent saw the writing on the wall and avoided tragedy by obtaining new jobs outside Hilton. Some chose to retire early to salvage their pride. Those who still had their jobs feel the threat of change yet to be, and the loss of friends and colleagues. A heavy malaise has fallen over the constantly threatened department.

The final murderous blow was struck last week, as a hundred and one additional Hilton employees received their termination letters, with dates effective the first week of January 2011. The news was not unexpected, but the impact of reality took the collective breath away. Shell-shocked professionals walk the halls, depressed, angry and scared – but the organization is dead, and it’s time to bury it. We can almost hear the cruel cheers of our competitors, who have lived to see the empire collapse in oddly silent flames. This was not a death from natural causes.

Memories of the good times of success and accomplishment cannot be taken from us. We gained valuable experience and knowledge. We hope that those abandoned at sea with dime store life preservers will soon be rescued and able to restart foundering careers. There are better years ahead.

History will show that we accomplished great things. May Hilton IT Rest In Peace.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

There's a Certain Spirit Here

Sunday night we went to a party in our neighborhood of Cottages at Talking Rock Ranch in Prescott. Ours are the smallest homes in the community, so some were laughingly referring to the gathering as a “Party in the ‘Hood”. It was a lovely, mild evening, and we and the other guests spilled out onto the back patio. As at other social events here, everyone was warm and welcoming, and we enjoyed meeting neighbors we hadn’t previously encountered. (We also got to see the neighborhood javelina who near-sightedly trotted within a few yards of the well-lit, noisy patio – much to our delight.)

Our hosts threw the party to welcome several newcomers. We were all asked to explain how we came to live at Talking Rock. Some stories were funny; some surprising. We laughed a lot, a few happy tears were shed, and one tragic story of loss resulted in a group hug. Although there had been some initial resistance to the exercise, everyone gave in and participated, contributing our part. I’m really glad we all did.

Days later, I’m still thinking about the party and the common denominators among the residents here. Everyone commented, in one way or another, about how special it is here at Talking Rock. Many have chosen this place to start a new life that is more laid back and, at the same time, very socially active. There is a notable lack of posturing and pretense, and a relaxed and gracious spirit of inclusion. You get the feeling that people that have chosen to live here are at the point in their lives where their priorities are clear and in order. Care and humanity are high on the list.

The stunning beauty and clarity of the desert environment adds a feeling of well-being. The air is fresh and sweet, and the stars in the night sky glow like countless gems. It’s incredibly quiet and peaceful. More than ever, we are convinced that we stumbled into a place that is right for us. Along with our neighbors, we are proud to be part of this community.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Double Nickels

Yesterday, I turned 55 years old. I was born in 1955. Interesting coincidence. Kind of like one of those 10-10-10 things.

I don’t know anything about numerology, but 55 seems like a solid, responsible number. As a speed limit, it’s safe and reserved (compared to high speeds of 65 or 75). As an age, I have crossed into a different, older demographic. I was smugly in the 45-54 range, now I will have to choose the 55-64 group when responding to surveys. Did I just become statistically less relevant? Pfooey.

According to some Christians, the number 5 has Biblical meaning. It is associated with grace and redemption. Then 55 should be doubly good, right? I also read that the rosary of the Virgin Mary was made up of 55 grains.

To me, age is just a number. But having a birthday does make you take stock of where you are in your life. I am more than satisfied. Last night, Ron and I talked about how fortunate we have been. Twenty years ago we couldn’t even have visualized our lives today. Some things work out as planned, and for other developments you must go with the flow – even just survive.

It’s hard to believe that we have been retired for two and a half years. Cancer and corporate stress are behind me. I look ahead to a life of fellowship and grace. Maybe 55 is the gateway to a new chapter for me.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Family Gathering

My entire immediate family gathered for the first time in five years for Mom’s 80th birthday last week. We were joined by Mom’s brother, Jerry and his wife, Elaine. It’s been almost a week since the main event, and I am still thinking about all the fun, talk, laughter, and even a few tears shared while we were together. I’m so thankful to everyone who was there: Mom, Jerry, Elaine, Xandy, Tony, Althea, Shawn, Jason and Ron. Dad would have loved it. I believe he was present in his own way.

What determines how families stay connected as they age? Mom and Dad raised four independent and headstrong individuals who (with emotional and financial help) went our own ways to pursue education, build careers, gain experience, and (in Jason’s case) serve our country. Through trial and error, we each defined the pattern of our adult lives, creating new traditions, finding personal comfort, extending our circle of loved ones through friendships and marriage - all greatly influenced by our upbringing. We are still the same in so many important ways… and yet so, so different now.

For Mom, having the whole family descend on her home in New Hampshire was a happy event; emotional and even a little overwhelming. She lives a pretty quiet life these days, and isn’t used to all the excitement a full house generates. I know that Mom loved having us all there and will be replaying last week’s gathering and celebration in her mind’s eye for a long time. So will I.

As the years pass, each time I say goodbye to Mom is more wrenching. This time, though, we expect to see each other in just three months. Mom and my little sister, Althea, will be visiting me and Ron in Prescott. We’ll look forward to that time, when we can make more memories to cherish.

Hold your loved ones closer to your heart with every passing year. Time is precious, and none of us hang around forever..

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mom!

All four of us “kids” will be in New Hampshire this weekend to celebrate Mom’s birthday. Dolores Barbara Roberts Haropulos will be 80 years old. Mom was born in 1930, early in the Great Depression, to Barbara and Frank Roberts. She remembers rationing of butter and sugar, and as a child, longed for a birthday cake with butter icing an inch thick!

Mom met John Haropulos in 1948. He was a WWII veteran, completing his electrical engineering degree at the University of New Hampshire. They married in December 1950. Alexandra Susan was born in 1952, me (Laurel Anne) in 1955, Althea Alene in 1959, and Jason John in 1963. We grew up in Rockville, Maryland. All of us were educated in good public schools, and went to college on our parents’ middle-class incomes, with a little help from academic scholarships and government loans. Our wonderful Dad passed away at the age of 74 in 1999. Mom and Althea share a home in Manchester, NH.

Deciding on a gift for Mom’s birthday was a little challenging. At an age where she has no interest in having more “stuff”, Mom has asked us not to buy her presents. My older sister had a great suggestion – for each of us to write down enough childhood/family memories for Mom to have one for every day of the coming year. We’ll type them up, print them on small pieces of a lightweight card stock, fold them like fortunes, and present them to Mom in some sort of attractive container. Great idea!

Dolores Haropulos 2009
The reality of encouraging my siblings to actually produce their “Memories for Mom” has been a little stressful, given that we are all hopeless procrastinators and the immovable deadline is looming. Speaking for myself, however, the process of recalling the memories has been really pleasant. I have been daydreaming, mentally meandering through my happy childhood, making notes, and smiling or wiping tears. What I’ve received from my sisters and brothers so far has been fun to read, reminding me of things I hadn’t thought of in years, and providing an interesting perspective on what snippets of life have shaped each of us as individuals. I hope the end result of this project is something that will touch our mother…a gift of cherished memories from her children.

Thanks for everything, Mom. We love you.






Thursday, October 7, 2010

Fun is Not Overrated

When I was working, I craved time to enjoy more fun. Now that I have more leisure time, I can tell you definitively that fun is not overrated. It replaces frowns with laugh lines, banishes bags from under your eyes, and is conducive to better health and a sound night’s sleep.

Fun makes life feel fuller. It lingers in the mind through pleasant memories. You can replay the best of life via mental snapshots (the way a loved one smiled and laughed with you that beautiful afternoon), or audio you can rewind time after time (of that cool, new rock band jamming at the street fair). Happy memories are stored in your own personal database, where you can take them out and review them whenever you want.

Everyone has their own idea of fun. For me, it could be any one of a number of things, like an afternoon absorbed in a good book, a hot dog and a baseball game, a visit with a dear friend, a gallery opening, or wiggling my toes in warm sand. I think if it generates smiles, warms your heart, or rocks you happily to sleep at night – it’s a keeper.  I'm into pursuing as many of those happy experiences as possible.

Fun also helps put life into perspective. I prefer to have less day-to-day drama now. Life deals us poor humans plenty of real drama, in the form of illness, accident, and misfortune. When people generate their own mini-tragedies, I find it sad. I don’t want to be an enabler of that type of destructive behavior.

Life is complicated and sometimes really serious and difficult. Fun can help make it a lot easier. Make time for it and feed your spirit.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tired of Political Bi-Polarity

I am disgusted by American politics today. (I probably don’t like any politics – but I am not a historian or an international scholar, so I’ll stick to what I see here on TV and online.)

The blind bi-polarity of our two major parties gets in the way of really constructive discussion, and decisions that actually meet the needs of a majority of the taxed and voting population. Issues are portrayed as black or white, right or wrong, intelligent or stupid, well-intentioned or mean-spirited. How did we become so aggressively divided? It feels like a Civil War.

It’s the rare politician that works effectively with others from the opposite side of the aisle. Shouldn’t that scenario be the norm? Politics shouldn’t be about scoring points, zingy sound bites, and “winning”. They should be about caring public servants working together with the best of intentions to make our country better.

I am not holier than thou. I am passionate about issues, and sometimes get frustrated when other people see things differently. But if there’s one thing I learned from a career in business – that’s when you do your homework so you’re sure you know what you’re talking about, bite your tongue to hush hard words so you don’t ruin relationships, negotiate a middle ground, make a decision for the greater good, and move ahead. Anything else is akin to being stuck in a car in a busy intersection with everyone honking their horns, getting a headache, and going nowhere.

It makes me heartsick to see political attacks ads. I would prefer for a candidate to tell me why they should be elected; not why the other person shouldn’t. Get your digs in (if you must) during a debate, when the opportunity presents itself – in a controlled, factual way.

On Facebook, I sigh when I see people “Like” mean-spirited pages related to politics. Truly, I don’t care whether you Like Sarah Palin or would “Rather Have a Root Canal Procedure” than hear her speak. (And by the way, do you have any idea to whom you have provided your personal Facebook information by Liking that page?) If can’t stand her, turn off the TV when she comes on. When/if she runs for office – don’t vote for her.

I feel a little like the woman who spoke so eloquently at Obama’s recent Town Hall – EXHAUSTED. All the nastiness and bi-polarity are getting in the way of progress for our nation. Let’s try to understand each other’s perspectives and support decisions that are in the best interest of our country and our people. Get involved in civilized conversations without sarcasm about opposing views. Be active in causes about which you care. Get out to vote. And tell your representatives how you expect them to behave.

Now let’s all sing Kumbaya.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Adieu Arnold's

The bad economy has claimed another hapless victim. I’ve been plunged into a cranky funk this week with the news that our local diner, Arnold’s, is closing its doors this weekend after decades of serving the neighborhood.

What will happen to the long time servers, busboys, and line cooks? Where will I have my hangover breakfasts? Arnold’s is only a block away. Almost every day I will have to walk by the empty storefront they leave behind. That’s just cruel.

It may be a little hard to understand why this is such a gut-level blow to me. Arnold’s has been a constant and personal landmark since the last time I lived in this same neighborhood 28 years ago. They are an old-fashioned gem; a greasy spoon where you can get inexpensive, tasty comfort food. Their waitresses recognize us and know our ordering quirks (my sliced tomatoes in place of hash browns and Ron’s extra-hot chorizo and green salsa omelet). I have grudgingly accepted that they don’t have Splenda for my coffee (too expensive for them), so I bring my own. Arnold’s is like grimy old sneakers that really should be tossed out – but they are just too darn comfortable to give up. Now they’re being forcibly taken away from me, and I’m pissed off.

I’ll miss their spinach & feta omelet, corned beef hash with poached eggs, and their simply excellent egg salad sandwich. I’ll miss the smiling and efficient Hispanic waitresses. I’ll miss seeing our bill rung up on a giant old mechanical cash register. I’ll miss overhearing the morning-after conversations of the delightfully diverse clientele. I’ll miss hustling quickly over to Arnold’s on a cold winter day for a stomach-warming breakfast and pot of coffee. Dammit, I'll even miss the cracked green vinyl bench seats repaired with duct tape.  Man, oh man.

The demise of our neighborhood’s favorite diner seems like our first step toward preparing to leave Chicago. Take away the things we enjoy and add new disappointments, and little by little we will begin preparing ourselves to say goodbye to the city we love.

I’m sad. :’(

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I Don't

We went to the doctor for our annual physical exams earlier this week. We dread it, but do it religiously. After all, what good is it to be retired if you don’t take care of your health? All is well, other than that we both require meds for high cholesterol. Even with that, I naturally have VERY high “good cholesterol”, so my ratio is well within a normal range. I continue to have to manage my carb intake in order to keep Type 2 Diabetes at bay without medication – that will likely be a lifetime challenge.

Sometimes I judge myself harshly (I would like to lose another 15-20 pounds). But I need to remember that I have made a lot of positive changes to my diet and lifestyle over the past 2 years, and give myself credit for those. Here are some of the things “I Don’t” do anymore…

I don’t keep bread in the house.
I don’t eat rice, potatoes, or pasta (except for the occasional spoonful or two when eating out).
I don’t eat sugar, and have replaced it at home with Splenda.
I don’t have potato chips anymore.
I don’t have (my favorite) pancakes for breakfast, except on my birthday and our anniversary.
I don’t regularly use butter – substituting olive oil or Pam instead.
I don’t have sugary desserts.
I don’t eat fruits or veggies that are high in carbs, banning some favorites – like apples and corn.
I don’t snack on popcorn or raisins – both were favorites, but are way too high in carbs.
I don’t eat cereals. Breakfast is usually eggs or an Atkins shake.
I don’t drive anywhere (in Chicago), we walk - or walk to public transportation.
I don’t take my health for granted. I have to make sacrifices to keep it!

I guess this blog today is part bragging and part complaining. But occasionally I need to remind myself about why I made these changes and how important it is to stay on track. I always read labels at the grocery store. You wouldn’t believe how many carbs are lurking in many “healthy” products! We avoid most processed foods, and know exactly what we are eating. I want to keep enjoying my life.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Long Term Outlook

(Please be aware that the following information is part professional opinion of our financial advisor, and part decisions based on our personal financial situation. In no way should this be considered expert advice on which to base your own financial decisions.)

We just had a quarterly call with our financial advisor (I’ll refer to him as J.S.). As always, we look at our current situation, the performance of our investments, our future needs, and the outlook of the economy. I have to say that this session wasn’t as upbeat as some we have had, although we still have confidence in our plan.

Many indicators have bounced around in 2010, but J.S. anticipates that we may have a little positive “pop” at the end of the year. Expected tax increases (or the lapsing of the Bush tax break) will likely cause tax-free municipal bonds to become more popular. Investing in municipal bonds carries some risk – municipalities could conceivably default on their bonds. But the yield from our municipal bond investments is running at about 6%, compared to about 1% for safer U.S. Treasury Bonds. It’s a calculated risk.

One possibility is that the U.S. economy is in a prolonged “sideways” situation that could cause the market to be flat for from 5 to 10 years. J.S. compared the stall in the U.S. economy to what happened to Japan’s economy after their boom years in the 70’s and 80’s. We are about 10 years behind (remember our boom in the 80’s and 90’s?). There is still money to be made, if investments are targeted into growth areas. The silver lining is that this climate is keeping inflation rates low (between 1-2%, when we projected 3-3.5% in our model). We have to hope we don’t slip into a deflationary period, resulting in a double-dip recession, which would be bad for the economy.

When we retired, we rolled over our 401K’s into an annuity, back when their guaranteed return rates were really good. ING doesn’t even offer the plan we have any more, and it’s producing well for us. We have to thank J.S. for that investment. We can’t tap into that fund until I am at least 59 and ½ (about 5 years from now).

After buying the house in Prescott, we will be dual home owners for from one and a half to two years, with increased expenses. We’ve asked J.S. to help us look at our cash flow (income) needs between 2011 and when Social Security kicks in. We sent him our Social Security Statements and the payout info from my Hilton Pension. He’s hoping to find a way to keep our investment principle intact until we are in our 70’s. (As an aside, read your Social Security Statement. This is in black and white, “In 2016 we will begin paying more in benefits than we collect in taxes. Without changes, by 2037 the Social Security Trust Fund will be exhausted and there will be enough money to pay only about 76 cents for each dollar of scheduled benefits.” Depending on your age, you may need to consider this looming issue in your financial plans.)

It’s still really important to plan for your financial future, and we believe it helps if you have a knowledgeable and trusted financial advisor. Ours has come up with some ideas and plans that we might not have unearthed ourselves.

What have you done on your plan lately?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Holiday Without TV

We spent 5 weeks visiting our new home in Prescott, AZ – without television. That probably makes some of you gasp, and others shrug. What’s the big deal? Good question.

I’m a Baby Boomer, you know. We remember when TV was a sometimes privilege – not a constant in the fabric of our daily lives. In the summer we hardly watched TV at all, as we were anxious to burst past the screen door to play in the yard, the suburban streets, and the neighborhood. By evening, we were so worn out from kickball, roller skating, bike riding, hopscotch, and general childish mayhem, that we ravenously replenished spent calories, bathed and went to bed. Special TV shows, like Disney’s Wide World of Color (which we watched in black & white), were a family event. It was a different time.

The TV is too much of a familiar companion now. When we are home, it’s often tuned into CNBC during the day. Most evenings we watch one or two shows, while dinner is often consumed in front of the TV. So it was with some trepidation that we faced over a month in our new home without the luxury of cable TV.

It turned out to be easier than we thought. We devoured a stack of books, re-reading some classic Travis McGee novels by John MacDonald and others by the recently departed Dick Francis. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo kept Ron glued to the sofa for a few rainy days. We had brought some books with us, but bought more, and also borrowed a few paperbacks from the honor library in the club house at Talking Rock Ranch.

We ate our meals at the dining table, accompanied by music instead of what my father sometimes called the “idiot box”. Our days were filled with organizing, cleaning and enhancing our place, shopping, exploring Prescott, fixing meals, and working out. Golf fully occupied us from 2 to 4 times a week. We went to the pool a few times. I gave myself a manicure and took a jewelry-making class. Some special events enhanced our stay, including the Prescott Farmers Market, the Cowboy Poets Gathering, a trip to the horse races, and a Culinary Class taught by our club’s chef. We dined at least once a week at the club and made new friends, and attended a party at our neighbor’s home. Almost every evening we watched the sunset from our back porch, entertained by the birds, lizards, and cottontail rabbits. We weren’t bored.

We arrived back in Chicago late Tuesday night after a long day of travel via plane, trains, and automobile (literally). We unlocked our dusty, stuffy house and dropped our luggage on the floor, thinking we might wind down for bed by watching a little TV. Guess what? Our cable, phone, and internet were dead! Our favorite shows had not been recorded to the DVR.  It would be morning before I would call Comcast for a repair appointment.

As it turns out, one more quiet evening of reading was the perfect way to end our holiday.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Arizona Animals Alliteration (with Adjectives)

Hovering Hummingbirds
Agile Antelope
Scary Scorpions
Calm Cattle
High-Flying Hawks
Joyous Jackrabbits
Voracious Vultures
Flittering Finches
Rapacious Roadrunners
Carnivorous Cougars
Raucous Ravens
Capricious Cottontails
Quaint Quail
Restless Rattlesnakes
Crafty Coyotes
Blitzing Bats
Languorous Lizards
Mangy Mules
Disarming Doves
Docile Deer
Harried Javelinas

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Evolution of a Community

When Ron and I purchased our home and membership at Talking Rock Ranch in Prescott, AZ a few months ago, we recognized the down side of investing in real estate in Arizona right now. But we were so attracted to the community and appreciated the design and value of the houses available, that we dug deeper to assess the level of risk. The developer, Harvard Investments of Scottsdale, AZ, is a U.S. subsidiary of The Hill Companies, a 100+ year old family-owned and operated company out of Canada. The Hill Companies are highly diversified, in real estate, manufacturing, broadcasting, bonds, insurance, and oil and gas.

Once we realized the financial breadth and depth of the developer's parent company and added our own observations about the quality of Talking Rock and it's member services, we decided to take the leap. (We were afraid that once the real estate market rebounded, we might not be able to afford to buy here!)

With time, we are happier and happier with our decision. Last night we attended an event at Talking Rock that gave us even greater confidence in the future of the community. It was an Open House for members, hosted by senior representatives from Harvard Investments (the developer) and Swaback Parters (architectural and community planning).

Among the things we learned...
  • The architectural company developed its roots from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.
  • There is a deep and passionate commitment to continuing to enhance the appeal of the community, with a view spanning not just years - but decades.
  • The architectural committee researches trends in communities and housing, and is adjusting design and building standards appropriately (and creatively) over time.
  • Swaback Partners is the same company that does the planning for Kohler, Wisconsin (a community I much admire).
  • In 2008, Talking Rock Ranch won a prestigious Gold Nugget Award for Best Detached Residential Project.
We appreciated the time and effort put into the event (and the hors d'oeuvres and wine-tasting), and left with an even greater confidence and pride in our purchase decision. A real community has to be more than just a collection of homes on common real estate... and Talking Rock Ranch is evolving with a long term view in mind.

Photo used with permission from Talking Rock Ranch Marketing.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Top 10 Facts that Prove I'm Hooked on Golf

#1: I have a golfer's tan
#2: You know, I really don't care when my golf cap gives me hat hair...
#3: Two pair of golf shoes isn't enough 
#4: I now consider televised golf tournaments exciting entertainment
#5: I have a painful regret that I never played golf with my dad
#6: The only pencils I have in my house are little stubby golf pencils
#7: Golf tees fall out of my pockets when I'm searching for other things
#8: My next car is going to be a golf cart
#9: I react exactly like Pavlov's dog when I hear someone hit a drive off the tee behind our house
#10: There is a new man in my life - my golf pro

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Milky Way

I saw the Milky Way last night
Clouds of stars strewn like diamonds
Across a grand black velvet cape
Wrapped all around us

I saw the Milky Way last night
While holding hands in the dark
We saw a shooting star
And gasped like kids

I saw the Milky Way last night
Space, Captain Kirk's frontier
Bright and deep
It felt like mine

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Nature in the 'Burbs

I love nature, but I must admit that I am not the "roughing it" type. It's more enjoyable to me if I can appreciate nature up close, but with minimal personal discomfort. For example, you won't find me hiking down the Grand Canyon, when I can see the view perfectly well from the Rim. That's a little embarrassing to admit, and I know I will miss seeing some amazing things this way. But there are many things I can enjoy with this approach of staying within my comfort zone. Our life here at Talking Rock Ranch in Prescott, Arizona is evidence.

We live in the outer suburbs of Prescott, on land that was once cattle ranch. The developer has done a great job of retaining a natural feel, while using builders that work within strict design standards. Our homes and the common buildings have rustic-looking exteriors, compatible with the history of the area. A low-light policy allows us to see a full pallette of stars at night. The best thing about Talking Rock Ranch is how the community has been nestled into the land in a "natural" way.

The beautifully-groomed golf course has natural desert rough. It's common to see roadrunners, lizards, and rabbits. If you choose to pursue a wayward golf ball, you must be alert for snakes. In the evenings, residents have reported the occasional antelope bounding through the fairways.

From the comfort of our back yard, we have enjoyed watching desert flowers seemingly bloom before our eyes after a monsoon rainshower - much to the delight of bees and hummingbirds. Roadrunners are common, and we usually see them with a small lizard wiggling fruitlessly in a sharp beak. Hummingbirds in pairs strafe past us with a whirring of their little wings. Rabbits chase each other playfully, engrossed in mating games. Last night, we were surprised to see two coyotes on the 1st green, within 100 yards of our house.

Hiking trails in the community have provided other glimpses of nature. We haven't encountered any javelina yet, but have learned to identify their scat, which is full of nuts and berries. (This is probably not a tracking skill that will come in handy in Chicago.) Large granite outcroppings and chunks of quartz define parts of the trails. We have a lot of exploring left to do, still on Talking Rock Ranch property.

I promise to expand my territory soon. There's so much to see in the immediate area. Ron is itching to attack some local hiking trails. I want to try kayaking on Watson Lake. And Sedona is only a little over an hour away. For the moment, I am reveling in what these suburbs have to offer.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tour of I-55, I-44, and I-40

We just arrived in Prescott, AZ after a road trip of almost 2000 miles.  Our Subaru Forester (which we love) faithfully hummed from Chicago to St Louis to Oklahoma City to Albuquerque to Prescott.  Along the way we had side trips to Santa Fe and through the Petrified Forest National Park and Painted Desert in eastern Arizona.  It was a really good trip.

In St Louis, we visited Ron's brother Tim, his wife Emily, and their son Kyle.  (Sorry we missed Logan, who is hard at work in a summer program at the University of Minnesota, sandwiched in between his internship at the University of Wisconsin.)  It was lovely to catch up with the "St Louis Baileys", see the newly renovated kitchen, play cornhole in the back yard, and share a yummy dinner.  Thanks for being such great hosts!

Next was an overnight in Oklahoma City, which we had never visited before.  We stayed at the Skirvin Hilton, a renovated historic hotel - and it was fabulous!  The hotel was beautiful, perfectly located downtown, and the staff was very friendly and helpful.  For dinner, we took a recommendation from the bellman, and walked over to Graham Elliot's "Red Prime".  The restaurant itself was unexpectedly contemporary in design, and the food (particularly my steak) was perfect.  Not cheap - but a great meal and experience.  We also made time to visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial, at the site of the bombing of the Murrow Building.  The memorial is well conceived, beautiful, and very moving.  (Photo of one of the gates and the reflecting pool at left.) 

Monday morning, we were off to Albuquerque - a city with which we are fairly familiar, and do enjoy.  There we stayed (2 nights) at the Hampton Inn & Suites Coors Road, near I-40.  Ron and I decided that the room we had wins the prize as the noisiest room ever!  The air conditioning roared, some weird sound from the ceiling above our top floor rumbled loudly, and the shower emitted a high-pitched whine.  The hotel was full, so they couldn't move us.  We had to put on headphones and listen to music to go to sleep.  Nonetheless, we enjoyed our visit which included dinner in Old Town (Church St Cafe) and lunch the next day in Santa Fe (La Casa Sena).

Fairly rested after two nights in the same place, we took off for Prescott.  Along the way, we saw signs for Petrified Forest National Park and decided, "Why not?"  The park has a 28-mile road, along which there are numerous stopping points to enjoy the views and short walks on paved trails.  We were wowed by the Painted Desert (at right), and the large sections of petrified wood from prehistoric fallen logs (in the foreground in the photo below).  The broken logs, now stone and crystal, reminded us of the ruins of pillars at the Forum in Rome. Interesting that one is the remains of what nature created, and the other is from a creation by man.  Both are magnificent. 

Now we're in Prescott, ready to work on our home and enjoy some summer fun at Talking Rock Ranch!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Carless in Chicago

The time has come…to move our Subaru Forester to Prescott and become carless in Chicago. We’ve thought about this for a long time, and it makes sense.

• We only use the car once every 4 to 6 weeks, to run errands in the suburbs.
• Parking costs us $225 per month, which can better be applied to the monthly assessment in Prescott.
• We constantly worry about security where we rent an uncovered, unassigned space on Chicago School District property.
• Public transportation in Chicago is great and can get us pretty much wherever we need to go.
• On occasions when really need to drive we can try out ZipCars or iGo, or rent a car.

It all seems very reasonable, but it still makes me a little uncomfortable to think about not having the freedom to hop in the car and go. Silly, this concern.

If our plan doesn’t work out, we can always drive the car back to Chicago. C’mon Zippy, you’ve had an expensive check-up and have been gussied up with new platinum spark plugs, so let’s head out to your new home in Arizona. You’ll have a nice, clean and warm garage to live in there. When we visit, we’ll drive you in the sunshine through where the deer and the antelope play.

Folks, we’ll let you know how this turns out. To be continued at a later date.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Fear of Cancer

Wouldn’t you think that a (colon) cancer survivor, like me, would be the first one in line for future cancer screenings? Not so much. I religiously have them done, but the trip to the clinic always feels like a death march. Tests and screenings scare the crap out of me.

You see, I think people that have beaten cancer once should have earned a free pass for the rest of their natural lives. I’m fully aware that is a ridiculous statement, and that many people have to fight the battle multiple times. Survivor doesn’t even seem a strong enough appellation. Maybe “gladiator”? Some eventually lose their brave battle, and that’s what many of us fear. Will cancer find us again and claim us? The fear never really goes away.

Oddly enough, I don’t actually think it’s death I fear. I fear surgery, disfigurement, chemotherapy, and feeling like a victim. When faced with the reality of cancer, I let them cut on me, I vomited through attacks of debilitating nausea, slept through drug-induced fatigue, comforted my husband, and came to terms with the possibility of dying. I beat cancer once, eight years ago. I hope to God I don’t have to do it again.

Yesterday I went for my annual mammogram. I have fibroids that make doctors nervous, although I do not have a family history of breast cancer. So I go, sweating all the way, for my diagnostic procedure. Good news – all is well yet again. The next cancer screening planned (other than my annual mammogram) will be a colonoscopy, early in 2012.

I guess we all fear something. This fear of cancer is my bugaboo, and I know I am not alone. If the fight comes around to me again, I’ll do whatever I have to do to beat it once more. But I can’t guarantee I won’t be muttering, “But I thought I had a pass...”

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Adjusting My Expectations

When I quit my corporate job I thought I would have more time for everything. More time to read, to connect in a meaningful way with my friends, to exercise regularly, to take care of my home, and to travel. In short – I expected to be able to do everything I didn’t have time to do when I was working. I always felt a sense of loss because there were so many things I yearned to do, for which I couldn’t make time. Retirement, I was sure, would take care of all that.

Au contraire, mes amis! You wouldn’t believe how time gets away from you. How did I ever get anything done when I was working? The truth is that if you aren’t at least a little disciplined with your time, it gets frittered away. In the morning, I dawdle over coffee and the morning news. By the time I make the bed, have breakfast, shower, and get dressed, a good chunk of the morning is - gone. A few errands, and we’re into the afternoon. Lunch, laundry and other housekeeping chores eat up the afternoon and push us right into Wheel of Fortune. (Oh, yes we do!) Then dinner and a little TV, and the day is over. Where did it go?

I’m not complaining – I wouldn’t dare. What I’ve discovered is that with our new lifestyle we still the need to purposefully plan the special things we want to do in life, or we’ll feel that time is just passing us by. We go out of our way to put leisure activities like golf, concerts, and museum visits on our calendar. We pursue opportunities to see friends as often as possible, because some of our best recent memories are created that way. We are working the Chicago “Bucket List” since we will move to Prescott in 2012, and there are still so many things to do here.

There are always distractions on the periphery of life that consume your time (and money, for that matter). Sometimes we are too quick to succumb, and allow less important things to monopolize precious moments and energy. For me, it’s time to adjust expectations of myself, and focus on exactly who I want to be in this stage of my life.

Some self-exploratory reading may be in order. Any recommendations for good books from my friends?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

To Hell in a Handbasket

It’s official – I am becoming a 21st century version of my parents; looking at popular culture and today’s youth and rolling my eyes, tsk-tsk’ing, and muttering in disgust. The imperatives I was given as a youth have apparently been bypassed as trivial. Maybe they have been replaced by cautions required by more modern and sinister issues, but couldn’t there have been an “and all of the above” clause that covered some of these sensible, old-fashioned, and more genteel lessons?

FLIP FLOPS were meant to wear around the house and to the pool or beach – not everywhere. They aren’t proper protection, they don’t provide healthy support, and they lead to dirty feet. We are raising a generation of young people who are developing hammer toes. (Honest; I read an article about the problem.) Suggest to your college-bound children that they consider podiatry…they’ll make a great living.

I saw a feature on a TV morning show about “What to say when your child wants PLASTIC SURGERY.” Hell no! That’s what you say. As a teenager, you haven’t even grown into your face or body yet. Whatever happened to counseling your children to be confident and appreciative of their uniqueness? You don’t need your nose to look like everyone else’s, or your boobs to look like Pamela Anderson’s. Never mind that that money needs to go into your college fund, kid.

GUM CHEWING should be done discreetly and mostly in the privacy of your own home. Why should I be subjected to the disgusting bovine-like cud-chewing I see every day – everywhere? Vacant stares, open mouths, and snapping sounds that make me want to demand (as my parents did of us), “Chew with your mouth closed”. This is more a female issue than male. Don’t women and girls know it makes them look cheap and mindless? It’s also rude to those in the vicinity. Might as well clip your fingernails in public and pick your nose. Seriously.

BAD GRAMMAR is now consistently making it into popular culture. Your vs. you’re, I vs. me, irregardless (not a word, folks) vs. regardless, their vs. there, then vs. than, and on and on… The fundamental issue is now complicated by the rampant use of texting slang. I understand the appeal of slang; it’s clever and generational. But how will young people effectively switch back and forth when it counts, like for a job with a paycheck. I fully expect to land more and more consulting jobs that involve written communication, since fewer and fewer people can write an educated letter, memo, or report today.

I know that I am becoming a curmudgeon, but I think it came with my AARP membership. I’m entitled to my opinion that we’re going to Hell in a handbasket, one rude, stupid, crass, self-centered step at a time.

What's your curmudgeonly complaint?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Parceled Reality

It’s been over a month since we closed on the house in Prescott, and more than three weeks since we returned to Chicago. The fact that we own a home in Arizona has now become somewhat unreal, which feels weird. Unlike a traditional vacation home, we can’t just drive a couple of hours to spend the weekend. Our goal is to get there every six to eight weeks, and to stay at least two weeks each time. The next visit is still weeks away.

Chicago will continue to be our primary residence for approximately the next two years, and we have cautioned ourselves to avoid short-changing our urban experience by focusing too much on Prescott. For example, we do not intend to move furniture that we use and enjoy from the condo, until we relocate permanently. We can, however, move some clothing, a few kitchen items, and some artwork that will make the ranch cottage more functional and homey.

Our approach is to parcel our reality and live in the moment. When we are in Chicago, we should enjoy it fully, and make sure we consciously work the Chicago “Bucket List”. It’s hard to ignore the fact that the clock is now ticking on our residency here. Time moves quickly these days. When we go to Prescott we will take full advantage of all it has to offer. We do need to take care that we enjoy Prescott as residents - not vacationers. There is a difference in the mindset that has potential impact on our ongoing budget. (You know how it is…on vacation you eat out every day!)

This summer in Chicago, we will enjoy golf, lunch at sidewalk cafes, street festivals, evenings on the back porch, and walks by the Lake. Summer in Prescott offers gatherings at the club, outdoor cookouts, hanging by the pool, hiking, concerts on the courthouse square, and golf (the common denominator). We’ll have the best of both worlds. It’s all good!

I was thinking that Prescott is a virtual reality, but it’s more like a parceled reality. It’s every bit as real as Chicago; I just have to store it in an emotional cubbyhole when we are not physically there. I love both of our homes.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Be Kind To Yourself

One thing I have discovered since quitting my job is that I have more time to be kind to myself. This is so important; yet when we are running from here to there and always thinking about what we SHOULD be doing, it often seems we don’t have time to take care of ourselves. With this thinking, we open the door to more stress, feelings of frustration and anger, and even poor health.

The first thing we need to learn is to forgive ourselves for not being able to do everything we think we should do. Enough with the self-flagellation for ignoring a dirty kitchen floor, running behind on the laundry, having to send a belated birthday card, etc. (And this doesn’t even address all the stresses of a job!) Sometimes you can only manage the things high on your list of priorities and scrabble intact from one day to the next. But you must occasionally put yourself at the top of the list.

Give yourself a break, and do something that makes you feel pampered. Be kinder to yourself. It will help you feel more like you are living than just surviving. Everyone has their own outlets. Here are some of mine:

  • Taking an afternoon nap
  • Treating myself to some flowers
  • Having a manicure/pedicure or facial
  • Playing! (golf, going to a museum, dominos, Wii)
  • Indulging a passion (playing my ukulele, making jewelry)
  • Enjoying a favorite food and drink
  • Connecting with a friend
  • Buying myself a present
  • Sinking into a bubble bath
  • Curling up with a good book
You have your own list of things you wish you had more time to do. I know you do! Carve out some time and be kind to yourself. It’s good for you, and you need it.

 

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Big Expenses-Small Satisfaction

Sometimes you have to spend big money to protect investments you have already made in your home, automobile, or household durable goods. I accept that. But writing those big checks does not give me the same happy buzz that I get when I buy something more glamorous or fun!

Today we are having six replacement windows installed in the front room, for over $3800. Ouch. Granted, we will get a $1500 tax break that I will appreciate come next April. And I know they are better insulated, which will deliver improved comfort in the winter. Still, I just can’t get that excited about new windows. Oh well.

Tires are another big ticket purchase that leaves me cold. Yes, the car handles nicely with new tires, and I get slightly better gas mileage. Yes, I know I am less likely to be stranded somewhere with a flat tire. I appreciate all that. But they don’t make the car look better. They are just a necessity. Meh.

And what about taxes? I know that taxes are inevitable. When we cashed out and left Hilton, we paid a horrifying tax bill. It seems the IRS always knows how to hit us hardest, regardless of what phase of our financial lives we are in. We worked for more than 30 years, paying taxes all the way along, and have never been on the dole. Now that we are retired, we would like to see some government programs that actually benefit us instead of taking more from what we worked so hard to earn. Boo, hiss capital gains tax increases! C’mon, health care reform! We are not the “evil rich”; just a couple middle class kids who took advantage of a good education, worked hard, made sacrifices, and saved so we could enjoy the last third of our lives. Mess up my plans and I’m going to have to become politically active to try to protect myself. Don’t make me go there.

I’m sucking it up, and writing those checks. Phooey.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

My Dream

I had a dream.
In it there were warm, starry nights, blue mountains, and rolling green hills.
Birds flitted and sang, and native beasts boldly hopped and prowled.
The sun painted gold streaks with a broad brush.
When I breathed, the air was sharp and fragrant.  It sated my soul.
I was wildly exhilarated and at peace.
I wanted it to last, but I awoke.
I’m chasing the dream, and I’m gaining on it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Setting Up Household (Again)

In our married life, Ron and I have moved 3 times – Dallas to Vegas, Vegas to Memphis, and Memphis to Chicago. We are pretty familiar with the complex process of closing one household down and setting up the next. When we transitioned from Memphis to Chicago, we had some overlap when we were enjoying both homes. We’re doing that again for this move to Prescott (#4). Chicago will continue to be our primary residence for the next year or two, so we won’t be stripping the house to set up the new place in Prescott. This makes things a little complicated…expensive too.

Our approach is to consider the items we know will make the move, and try not to make purchases that duplicate them. However, to spend quality time in Prescott we needed some basic things like dishes, cookware, and silverware. We’ll decide later what things are keepers, and what will be donated, repurposed, or sold.

So far, the biggest challenge is furniture shopping. Choices are somewhat limited. And if you go outside Prescott, as we did to Phoenix on Tuesday, delivery becomes problematic. There’s a sectional sofa I want at La-Z-Boy, but they only deliver to Prescott once a month. Timing of our next visit will have to be coordinated with that in mind. Delivery charges are also high, since we are 2 hours from Phoenix and an hour from Flagstaff. That just has to be taken into account as part of the price of living here.  And it's so beautiful here that the cost is worth it.

A fun aspect of this process is that we have learned a lot over the years about what works for us and the essentials of making a household a home. The discussions Ron and I have over furnishings and decorating decisions are lively and interesting. Ron isn’t one to leave all the design decisions to me, so if I have something specific in mind I must use all my feminine wiles and negotiating skills. And I have to be flexible and keep an open mind; because Ron has really good ideas (and mine are sometimes a bit “out there”).

By the time we head back to Chicago, we can feel good about a number of accomplishments: All utilities activated; leak in propane tank discovered and repaired (whew); repaired leak and wall in laundry room; kitchen ready for action; rug & chairs for living room delivered; washer & dryer delivered and installed; new air filters throughout; new vacuum cleaner put into service; table & chairs for outdoor patio; lighted makeup mirror on bathroom wall; windows washed; kitchen & bathrooms scrubbed; introduction to (fully tricked out and awesome) fitness center; 9 holes of golf and meeting new friends.

We are fully cognizant that we are setting the foundation for the next phase of our runaway life, and it’s really, really exciting. For us, a dream is once again becoming reality. We wish the same for you.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Euphoria in the Desert

We closed on our new home in Prescott, AZ yesterday. It’s hard to believe that we have taken this big step into the next phase of our “runaway” life. We didn’t expect to find our home in the Southwest this soon, but the situation was too perfect to pass by. From the first moment after stepping into this "Ranch Cottage", I could see us living here. May sound weird to some, but I mean I felt that we were meant to be here.

We have 2070 square feet, with 2 bedrooms, a den, and 2 baths. There are lots of windows with views out to the golf course, the desert, and the mountains. The floorplan is very open, enhanced by high ceilings with beams and other wood touches. Most of the flooring is ceramic tile that looks like slate. Three patios provide plenty of outdoor space to enjoy, even though the lot is the smallest we have ever had (.2 acres). The lawn is a desert landscape or xeriscape (from the Greek word “xero”, meaning dry), and is maintained by the homeowners association.

Our first few days in the house will be filled with cleaning and a few minor repairs (the side effect of buying a foreclosure “as is”). Truly, there are few issues, and we are getting to know our place through this welcome work. The weather is great and we had the windows open yesterday. At one point I smelled something marvelous, and when I looked up I realized that it was raining outside. What I smelled was the desert plants soaking up the rain. It’s a sweet, fresh, energizing scent. Birds were twittering in excitement and flying around snatching up worms. It was lovely.

Another busy day ahead of us today… We’ll spend our first night in the house tonight, after I shop for some bedding and towels. We hope to cook up something on the grill for dinner tonight. (Ah, that would mean I need some dishes and silverware too, wouldn’t it?) Bed Bath & Beyond, here we come!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Home Place & Family History

This past weekend, Ron and I spent several days in Melvin, IL at his family’s farm. Along with two of his brothers, Tim and Ken, and Ken’s wife Joy, we began the process of cleaning out some old belongings from the “home place”. No one lives in the farm house now, and it is suffering from inattention and disrepair. A weekend of dusty work made a dent in what needs to be done, but the hard part is still ahead of us – deciding what to do with the house and the farm land for the long term. Sharecroppers still plant and harvest corn and soybeans on the acreage. There are no longer any farmers in the immediate family, and the sensible thing to do is to sell it all. But the history is long (back to the early/mid 1800’s) and complex emotions run deep, swirling around family memories. It’s not a decision to be made lightly.

Joy and I spent a good deal of time working our way through boxes and boxes of family photos, spanning generations back to Civil War times. The images are with me still, and I am intrigued by the people long gone. Now that I know their faces from so many photos – baby pictures, class photos, wedding portraits, and on into old age - I want to know their stories. Many were not marked with names or dates, so are part of a genealogical puzzle to be slowly pieced together. When we opened a box that included old newspaper clippings with obituaries, it was a jackpot of names, dates, and lists of relations. The experience made me want to go home, write on the back of all my old photos, and better organize and tag my digital images.

There is lingering feeling of sadness after this weekend of work. So much of what we saw, handled, and in some cases threw into a dumpster, were belongings that were important to people that were dear to us. We have the memories, but parting with the evidence of the details of their lives is painful. The photos make it a little easier, I think. In the photos is proof of love, happiness, vitality, and loads of personality across generations. In the Buchholz lineage (Ron’s mother’s family) you see serious and hearty German stock that settled farmland in Illinois, Minnesota, and Nebraska. Here, the Buchholz men consistently married the prettiest girls in town, as evidenced by class photos from Melvin high school. There was also sadness in lives cut short by accident or illness. It’s all part of the texture of rich and complex lives.

This walk through history somehow makes the present more precious. We inhabit just brief blips in time, and we all should relish every moment we have to enjoy life.

Photo is circa 1890, of Dr Charles Buchholz and his father August Buchholz (Ron’s great-great grandfather) at Balanced Rock, Gateway Garden of the Gods, in Manitou, Colorado.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

See My Cow

Many years ago in New England, an acquaintance of my grandmother had a way of showing off a new purchase. One day she pointed dramatically at a grazing cow, making sure everyone got an eyeful of her latest jewelry. Since then, in our family, "See My Cow" has been a way to laughingly call attention to something hard to miss!
When I decided to start making jewelry, “See My Cow” seemed the obvious name for my cottage business. I’ve always loved color, semi-precious stones, and jewelry. Designing one-of-a-kind handcrafted necklaces, bracelets, and earrings is a new creative outlet for me. I am collecting way too many strings of beads to be able to wear everything myself…so items are available for sale. Let’s spread the love around!

If you have a woman or girl in your life who loves jewelry and who should be adorned with something special, made specifically with her in mind, let me know. My designs are classically simple, and all made with beautiful components of colorful semi-precious stones (natural, smooth, or faceted) and crystal, glass, or metal beads carefully chosen to enhance the impact of the natural materials.

Inquire anytime, by emailing me at seemycow@comcast.net, or by calling 312-513-9797.  (No website yet.)