Thursday, March 29, 2012

Seven Years Ago?

Seven years ago, we launched the first chapter of our retirement dream by buying a condo in Chicago.  It was such an exciting step!  I remember our first night here after the closing.  We had two folding chairs, a picnic table and a bottle of champagne.  Sitting in the front room, we talked about how much we would enjoy Chicago and all it has to offer.  We slept on an inflatable mattress on the floor and felt like a couple of kids in their first apartment.

In 2005 we were still working in Memphis.  So for two years we rented the condo to a nice young couple from San Diego.  When they bought their own place and moved on, we decided to start furnishing the condo for our own use - vacations and long weekends.

Then Hilton was sold to The Blackstone Group in 2007 and we planned our early escape for Spring of 2008.  We sold our home in Memphis and, less than two weeks after our last day at work, Chicago became home.  The plan was always to stay here for from three to five years, and then move to somewhere in the Southwest.

Lord, I don't know how seven years passed so fast!  A chapter that was developed from a whim became reality.  And this enchanting chapter is almost over.  We are packing our belongings and readying ourselves for our new life in Prescott, Arizona. 

We have a few more weeks in Chicago, and hope to mix a little fun in with the tasks at hand.  But soon this beautiful city by the lake will become a place to visit instead of home.  We are renting our condo to someone we hope loves living here as much as we have.

I cannot express the satisfaction we have enjoyed from successfully following our hearts.  We dreamed, saved, and planned, and were fortunate to navigate the bumps in the road along the way.  The speed with which the years unwind is breathtaking.  Please take advantage of each and every day. 

Life is good.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Healing at Home - Chapter 4 of My Cancer Story

This post is the 4th in a series describing my journey with Colon Cancer 10 years ago. If you haven’t read the previous installments, see the Blog Archive listing in the column on the right for the hyperlinks.

It’s been a week since my surgery, and I am going home. Ron helps me from the wheelchair by the curb at the hospital entrance into our own car for the five minute drive to our house. I’m shuffling around slowly like an old lady, but at least I am ambulatory.

Wow, how marvelous it is to be home! My job now is to get stronger and continue the healing from the surgery. I still have staples in my stomach, which makes me feel very vulnerable – as though my guts could tumble on the floor if I make a wrong move. Sounds melodramatic, I know, but I am a little afraid. Try sitting up from a prone position without using your stomach muscles. It’s an exercise in creativity. I either need assistance, or I have to roll over into a position where I can push myself up with my arm muscles.

There are some challenges we have to overcome with being home for recovery. Our house has two stories, but I’m not authorized to take the stairs more than once a day for now. That means I spend my days on the sofa in the family room, where I can watch TV and get to the kitchen. Ron must go to work, but isn’t comfortable leaving me at home alone yet. We call my family for help, and they respond. The first week, my older sister Xandy (Alexandra) comes to stay with us, to keep me company and help with meals while Ron is at work. The next week, Xandy passes the baton to Mom and my little sister Althea. This takes a huge load off Ron’s mind.

My cat, Beezum, missed me and wants to laze with me on the sofa. One problem…She wants to stretch out on my stomach. I snooze with a pillow on my abdomen to make sure I don’t get an unexpected 11 pound weight pouncing directly on my incision. Who doesn’t sleep better with a purring cat on their lap? I get healing energy from her.

The news is out about my return home, and I am stunned by the influx of phone calls, cards, flowers and plants, and casseroles! These gestures are very, very moving. I will always remember what I learned from being on the receiving end of those kindnesses.

As the days pass, I feel progressively stronger, and can move around more easily. The staples have been removed from my stomach, and my guts didn't fall out.  I revel in taking real showers.  Pajamas are traded in for real clothes. One day I decide to attempt a walk around the block with Ron. But I run out of energy at the end of the block and have to sit down and rest before I can even retrace my steps to retreat home. By later in the week, I can make it all the way.

What’s ahead? It’s almost time to meet my Oncologist and prepare for chemotherapy treatments. The first part of this journey is behind me. Now I need to gather my strength for battle with the unseen enemy.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Workin' the Plan

The only way to escape becoming chronically overwhelmed while we are preparing to move is to Work the Plan. We haven’t gone as far as employing Microsoft Project, but I do have an Excel spreadsheet. In it, I have listed all the Tasks I can think of that face us before the move. Some are broken into Sub-Tasks. They are weighted by duration/difficulty, color-coded by status, and assigned to Laurel, Ron, or L & R. All needed contact names and phone numbers are consolidated here, where I can easily find them.

Every morning, and throughout the day, I peruse the list and make updates. I’m still adding tasks as nagging thoughts arise. It’s better to get it all on the spreadsheet than to have worrisome thoughts rattling around in my head when I’m trying to go to sleep.

The list is long. But each time I change a task status to ‘DONE’ and color it Green, a small sigh of relief escapes my lips. It keeps me focused, and helps me direct Ron to his next assignment. He’s a dedicated soldier when I give him a plan to work.

When panic creeps in, I pull up the plan and find something to do that gets us a step or two closer to our goals. Progress is the only antidote for this special variety of panic. That is… progress and a glass of wine at the end of the day.

I find comfort in the fact that there are a finite number of things to be accomplished, within a specified period of time. It will all be over soon. Every Task will be Green, and all the Statuses will be “DONE”, and we will make the move.

Fellow List-Makers out there understand. We are a special breed. Our tools may be spreadsheets, or paper with colored markers, but we are always “Workin’ the Plan”.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Chicago Condo for Rent

NOTE: This condo is no longer available for rent at this time.

$2000/month. Available May 1. Buena Park neighborhood, just a block away from East Lakeview. Near Lincoln Park & Lake Michigan, and only 1/2 mile from Wrigley Field. 3 Bedroom (or 2 Bedroom + Office), 2 Bath. Hardwood floors throughout. Large Living Room, Laundry Closet w/full-sized LG Washer & Dryer), Dining Area off Kitchen. Granite Countertops, Breakfast Bar, Maple Cabinets, Stainless Appliances. Gas Fireplace. Bright southern exposure. Large back porch. 1st Floor (1/2 flight up from street). Storage space in basement. Near multiple bus lines (several with express service downtown), and a few short blocks from the Red Line (Sheridan el stop). Leased parking available, or free parking on street.

The advertisement above states the facts, but there’s so much more it can’t express. ..

“Near Lincoln Park & Lake Michigan” means you can walk under Lake Shore Drive and through the park to sit on a sandy beach, overlooking a lake that seems more like an ocean. We spent many fine, sparkling mornings on the 9-hole golf course at Waveland, while commuters were waiting at the bus stop.

“Only ½ mile from Wrigley Field” allows you to walk to a Cubs game on a sunny afternoon or a balmy summer evening. When the game is over, you can stroll away from the traffic among your fellow fans (who are still on a high from singing “Go Cubs Go” after a win over the Brewers or Cards). I recommend stopping at Fornello for dinner on the way home. Ask for Alfredo.

“Big back porch” conjures up summer evenings sitting outside, sharing a bottle of wine with our neighbor and friend, Steve, and grilling up a Mexican-spiced skirt steak.

“Laundry Closet” does not do justice to the home of my candy apple red LG washer and dryer. Laundry became so much less of a chore when we replaced the apartment-sized abominations that came with the condo with these beauties.  When the laundry is done, they don't buzz annoyingly - they play a little tune.  It's so civilized.

“Gas Fireplace” adds much needed warmth and comfort on cold, snowy nights. Here, we cuddled up to watch football on brisk Sundays in the fall, hung our Christmas stockings and toasted each other with champagne.

We have so many special times to cherish from our experiences in Chicago over the past four years.

I hope we can find someone who will love our condo, take care of it, and enjoy making their own memories here.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Long Goodbye

It’s time to begin packing up our Chicago home in preparation for our permanent move to Prescott, Arizona. Our little urban oasis has been a fantastic first stop in our retirement; allowing us to enjoy all that this great city has to offer for almost four years. We’ve explored restaurants, shopped local, frequented theaters, established favorites among our neighborhood haunts, and navigated public transportation to get where we want to go. We became accustomed to walking a lot - for fun along the shore of Lake Michigan, with backpacks to pick up groceries, with tickets in hand to Wrigley Field, to the golf course with our clubs, or a few blocks to the neighborhood coffee house or tavern.
Our neighborhood coffee house.

This is where we discovered the joys of post-working life. Lazy mornings in our pajamas could lead to a long, leisurely lunch out, followed by an afternoon nap. It took a while to recover from the years of two demanding careers, but before long we adjusted just fine to being masters of our own lives. Decades of stress finally melted away. We starting sleeping better, eating better, and making time to work out. We not only lost weight, but I swear that we shed a few years.

Our retirement plan always featured Chicago as a temporary home. It’s expensive to live here, and the winters are too harsh. It’s now the beginning of the end of this lovely chapter. (Where did four years go?) By mid-April a moving van will haul our things away, and we will drive to Arizona. Hopefully we will find renters for the condo, beginning May 1st.

It’s difficult to describe the sense of loss this move will cause. We love this city, and the home we created here. Of course we can visit, but it won’t be the same. We’ll miss our friends, our favorite restaurants, summer evenings on the back porch, the cool breezes off the Lake, the excitement of an evening downtown… and so many other things.

As we get the bubble wrap and packing tape out, I’m starting the long goodbye.