Should You Downsize?


Fifteen years ago my husband and I looked for land to build a second home with the idea it would become our retirement home in the future.  Instead, we found the perfect piece of land not far from our work and activities.  We decided to build our retirement home right away and sell our then-current home.  We downsized.  With aging in mind we chose an open floor plan with wide doorways.  Hard surface flooring, energy efficiency and quality materials also topped the list.

Whether you are thinking of retiring or already retired, the question of downsizing may have crossed your mind.  There are many reasons to downsize in retirement.  Living in a home that fits your new or envisioned lifestyle is not the least among them.  

A smaller home may not feed your ego the way a large home signals success to friends and family.  You’re retired, right?  You’re forging a new identity where you can leave all the outward signs of a large, expensive lifestyle behind along with your work self.  That doesn’t mean you don’t live well.  You live life on your terms however you want.  Think about who you are underneath all the material objects including the big house.  Think about who you want to be and what you want to do in retirement.  Maintaining a large house usually doesn’t top anyone’s list.

A smaller home comes with lower utility bills and a smaller property tax bite allowing more money for travel or hobbies.  Speaking of travel and hobbies, fewer rooms to clean with less stuff to maintain, a smaller home affords time for doing the activities you want to do in retirement.  If you opt for a condominium home, you will pay a regime fee, but enjoy someone else performing the maintenance for the common areas and outer part of the structure.  When you jet off to an exotic destination on your bucket list, no worries about the lawn getting overgrown in your absence.

You may be thinking you need to keep your large home because you anticipate children and grandchildren visiting often.  Be realistic about how frequently they might visit.  How far away from you do they live?  What are their commitments to a spouse’s parents?  What are their work schedules?  Their school schedules?  When our oldest daughter’s large family visits, it is bedlam.  Air mattresses arrive with them, bodies and clothes are strewn everywhere.  That’s now reduced to once yearly as the ability for visits is dictated by school, college and work schedules along with various athletic endeavors like volleyball, baseball and football.  My son-in-law is self-employed and can’t take time off during the height of business.  Do you really need to maintain a three, four, five or six thousand square foot house for a once or twice yearly visit?  You’re retired, right?  Why don’t you go visit them?

I never was one for lots of knick-knacks.  My thinking always was, “Someone has to dust that.”  As a working mother I found ways to limit the amount of time spent cleaning.  I carry that philosophy with me today.  Even with that view, over the last few years I’ve handed plenty of items to my daughters and charities.  By choice my retirement life is more casual.  Gone are the entertainment-type parties and dinners, designer clothes and formal furniture.  Downsizing means decluttering.  In a smaller home there is no room for useless stuff.  In retirement, why would you want it?

Should you downsize?  I don’t know.  As always, that’s a question only you can answer.  I know it works for me.  Consequently, I do think you should consider it.

Getting Old Does Not Suck!

Enjoying my age!

The woman looked at me with what I can only describe as pity as she said, “Getting old sucks.” I started to counter her assumption.  I found it condescending.  Then I closed my mouth. I was already in the middle of a disagreement with her; I didn’t want to add fuel to the fire.

Getting old does not suck. What sucks is the view our society holds about getting old.

We all knew people who didn’t make it this far in life — relatives, friends, classmates, co-workers and neighbors who passed away at a younger age, perhaps even as children. People who didn’t get to fall in love, have a career, reach their full potential, buy a house, the first car, go to college, have children or see children grow or enjoy grandchildren.

No, getting old does not suck. It’s a privilege, a gift.

Yet, people still young, as well as some our age, look at aging as if it’s a disease, at the very least a time of decline, both physically and mentally. I have my share of infirmities, but most are not the result of old age. I had polio at three, which surfaces years later as post-polio syndrome. I also have occasional pain in my lower back, the result of lifting something too heavy for me when I was a mere nineteen. We all have health issues, some worsening from aging. Eventually, the parts will wear out. However, when I see a YouTube of an 89 year-old gymnast vaulting and landing on her feet, I realize the old adage of use it or lose it certainly applies.

Cognitive decline is not inevitable. Recent research and studies at most major universities around the world have shown the adult mind can continue to grow. The brain has plasticity meaning it can form new synaptic connections. We often think of children and young adults as the ones with growing minds. But adults at any age can continue to grow mentally if they exhibit the same curiosity, sense of adventure and learn new things just as they did earlier in life.  These discoveries are changing the view of aging, albeit slowly.

Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, is at the forefront of changing the stereotypes of what it means to get old. We all age. My grandchildren are aging. With kids, we refer to them as ‘growing up’; with over 60’s, we refer to them as aging. We suddenly become seniors, the elderly, the aged, old codgers. We also begin to be talked to as if we were the children, condescending talk.  Talk as if we are incompetent.  Or worse yet, we are ignored. Since I stopped coloring my hair, letting it go to its natural gray, I’m suddenly dear, sweetie, young lady and on and on or I’m invisible altogether.

I took Applewhite’s cue and used a situation as a teaching moment for an early twenties server at a restaurant. I noticed the couple at the next table who appeared to be in their late thirties were called ‘ma’am’ and ‘sir’. I’d finally had enough of being called ‘dear’ so I told the server not to call me that. She looked at me puzzled and said, “Why?” My reply, “Because my name is Kathy, not dear. If I were your age, would you call me dear?” She didn’t know what to say. Maybe I raised her consciousness; maybe she thought I was just a crabby old lady. I don’t know. But if we are to change the way old age is viewed, the change starts with us.

Our society views aging as something to be cured or fought as in anti-aging creams and makeups, botox injections, plastic surgery and medications to combat normal body changes that come with maturity. One woman, upon seeing my graying hair, told me, “If I stopped coloring my hair, my husband would divorce me.” I have no idea if their relationship is that superficial, but in our youth obsessed culture, not dying has apparently been known to spark a divorce. Fortunately, we are seeing more and more gray haired models like Cindy Joseph, defying the idea that old is washed up, has been and not beautiful.

Getting old does not suck. Attitudes suck. Do not pity me, feel sorry for me or patronize me. I’m having a good time being old and retired.  You, too will be here someday. And, when you are, stay engaged with the world, realize that your brain still works and can grow, endeavor to try new activities, learn something. Realize you are still beautiful and vibrant. Stay physically active. Recognize ageism and use teachable moments to change attitudes. You are one of the lucky ones. Getting old is a gift. Do not squander it by believing in stereotypes.




The Joys Of Not Working

A 'work' day of hiking

A ‘work’ day of hiking

Last weekend was a long weekend for workers in the United States as our country celebrated its birth on the 4th of July, Independence Day. Sacrosanct among holidays, it is one of those dates modern day Congress has not fooled with to deliberately make it into a three-day weekend. It happens only by the rotation of the calendar as was the case this year. Before I retired I looked forward to such a weekend. Oh goody, the 4th is on a Monday this year! No longer do I think that way.

After all the fireworks, parades and barbecues were over, Tuesday morning America’s workers returned to the grind, while I slept in, lazed around the garden after breakfast with my cup of coffee, picked blueberries and finally headed into the woods to do some real work. Ahhhh, the joys of not working, the pleasures of real freedom.

As a child older members of my family often told me the story of The Ant and the Grasshopper. The Ant and the Grasshopper is one of Aesop’s fables, which trumpets the strong work ethic of the ant while denigrating the grasshopper’s laziness as he fritters away summer only to starve during the winter months. Raised on a strong work ethic highlighted with stories such as this, I always found it difficult to be anything but productive.

Wasting away my hours at any time of the year in the manner of the grasshopper is never happening for me. It is not in my make up. Neither, however, am I the previous corporate ant, who dutifully put in a long productive work day week after week, month after month, year after year. It took a couple of years to re-program myself to enjoy days of simply browsing, from reading a good book to strolling through my garden to leisurely watching the sun go down. I also enjoy my more ant-like productive days of writing, working in the garden or hiking one of the trails in the local state parks. Eventually, I developed a new mindset mid-way between the ant and the grasshopper.

Among the joys of not working is not having to ask a superior’s permission to take time off to partake in the activities you love doing. You can do them every day. Even if they are work, they don’t seem like work because you are doing what is pleasurable to you. Another of the joys of not working — work is not work. And, another joy — you have no superiors.

With freedom also comes responsibility. That, too, can be a joy. Though it may seem daunting at first to fill your previous work hours with activities of your own making, savor the luxury. Few people on Earth get to experience the joys of not working. Revel in your accomplishment. Luxuriate in the ability to choose or not choose, to do or not do, to bore yourself silly today or find something to do heretofore unknown to your senses. You are no longer a worker looking forward to a three-day weekend and perhaps loathing the return on Tuesday. You are free! Enjoy the joys of not working.

Will Decluttering Make You Happier?



Last week a friend sent me an email with a message about days gone by when, instead of throwing something away when it broke down, our parents generation fixed the item. That’s how I grew up. We repaired shoes, lawn mowers, televisions and washers. My friend’s email also reminded me how every spring we took part in the ritual of spring cleaning, opening windows after a long winter and clearing away the season’s accumulation of dust and grime. Today, in our material driven economies, we tend to hang onto all kinds of things, broken or not, which may not add anything purposeful to our lives, but take up plenty of space in both our homes and our minds.

It must be all the years I spent as a real estate broker, looking at garages crammed so full the family cars wouldn’t begin to fit in them. While I no longer take part in a spring cleaning ritual, each January I have my own ritual of decluttering. Since retirement, that is one habit I have not changed. Why? There are lots of reasons to declutter.

1. Decluttering helps me start the year off fresh, clear and focused. Without excess stuff in my desk, closets, art work space and garage, I can focus on what matters most to me. Activities like writing, drawing and gardening can take precedence without having to sort through clutter to find what I need. Everything has a place and is in the place it should be. Whew! I can relax and not only enjoy these activities but have time for my spouse, family and friends.

2. Since I donate what I no longer need or want, it also helps those less fortunate in my community. Clothing, sports equipment, home furnishings, eyeglasses, cell phones and other electronics can be put to good use. Some people hold a garage or yard sale and make a few extra bucks. I’d rather give it away and use my time for activities that hold more meaning to me.

3. Clearing unnecessary items also clears out places for the dust and dust mites to accumulate. That’s right. Dust mites _ ick. As someone suffering from allergies, including an allergy to dust mites, I’m all for reducing places for the little darlings to accumulate. So, allergic or not, decluttering may also help you breathe easier.

4. While you’re decluttering, take a clue from our parents’ generation.  Take the time to fix the fixable. I learned years ago how decluttering removed a lot of life’s little annoyances. Fixing things has the same effect. Even a broken shoe lace can nip at the edges of your subconscious mind clouding your thoughts. Replacing burnt out light bulbs, smoke alarm batteries, weed whacker string, filters or anything else you have waiting for attention clears your mind for more important thoughts, like what are you going to do today to change the world?

5. Once you declutter and make a habit of decluttering yearly, you’ll find that you actually accumulate less clutter during the year. Why? Because you start looking at the accumulation of stuff differently. You start asking yourself, “Is this an item I really need or will I end up donating it next year?” I find myself living a more minimalist lifestyle. I am decidedly knick-knack adverse. Every time I look at something pretty or cute in a store, I think to myself, “Who’s going to dust that?” My answer is always, “Not me.” Then, I put it back down and walk away. Decluttering changes your mindset.

While I can honestly say decluttering probably hasn’t made me happier, it has made me saner. Every time you buy more stuff, you bring home a thing, which needs cleaning, maintenance, storage and, potentially, fixing. The more things you have, the more things you have to suck up your time with busy work. Is that what you want in retirement? Busy work? Or do you want your remaining years filled with work that really matters to you?

A decluttered life is a less harried life. Instead of feeling like Alice chasing the White Rabbit down one hole after another, I feel relaxed when I know exactly where to go to lay my hands on the scissors or the battery charger or my drawing pencils or whatever. I feel good knowing my time is spent on more productive activities that enrich my life. And, I love it, absolutely LOVE it, when the smoke alarm batteries are changed before the darn things start beeping at me, always, ALWAYS some time around midnight. Now that I think of it, avoiding that annoyance is cause for happiness!


During a horse-drawn wagon tour of Charleston last year, our entertaining driver told us a story to highlight the slower paced living of the city. As the story goes, sometime in the first half of the twentieth century, a New Yorker moved to Charleston and, stuck in late afternoon traffic one day, he began to beep his car horn in an apparent effort to move the traffic along. Elizabeth O’Neill Verner, well-known artist and Charleston native, was passing by on the sidewalk. Verner stopped to ask him what all the fuss was about. Finding the man had no place in particular he was required to be and admitting he enjoyed living in Charleston, she responded in true laid back Southern form, “Well, if you’re where you want to be, what’s your rush?” Upon hearing this quote, I whipped out a little note pad I carry with me, wrote down the words, which I typed up when I got home and taped to my bathroom mirror as a reminder to slow my life’s pace.

When I say slow my life’s pace, I’m talking about taking the opportunity to savor life. I’m talking about finding a meaningful life. For those of us with the good fortune to leave the traditional workforce behind, this time in our lives is a gift. Even if we choose to use this time to continue working, whether it’s starting a business we always dreamed of or working part-time at something entirely new to us or working as a volunteer supporting a cause we care about, it is a time when we are living by terms we create. It is a time when we have the space to focus on what really matters to us. The trick is to avoid filling up the space with sheer busyness simply because that’s what we are used to doing. Part of the transition from work life is realizing the frenetic pace, which often accompanies working is unnecessary. And, it probably always was.

Many people live busy, busy lives accomplishing all kinds of things but those lives are often unfulfilled. Their lives appear satisfying on the surface. I have met many people who moved at light speed from one appointment or meeting to the next, often read emails or opened snail mail while “listening” to other people, proud of their multi-tasking abilities. They dashed from work to their kid’s ball game or a community commitment, gobbling dinner on the run. There were public accolades added to their resumes. But, sitting down with them, for a rare moment of introspection, often revealed they were largely unhappy as their success propelled them to just chase after more, leaving them with an empty feeling at the end of the day. One of the challenges when you retire, as in all of life, is stopping this busyness long enough to listen your own heart and head. This is a time for inner focus. So, I made a conscious effort in the last year to slow the pace and think about what I really found important in life. The result has been a much richer, rewarding life.

Firstly, I realized not everything is important. I can let a lot of things go, which in the past would have been a source of annoyance. When I worked, I was highly organized. Everything would be done, every item had a place and was in its place both at home and work. My car was spic and span, my hair always “done” and my outfits put together. I scheduled appointments for everything for the entire year. My life today is much more relaxed, less focused on things, more focused on people, pets and activities I enjoy doing.

Secondly, speaking of people, I realized there are certain people who are the most important people to me. While I was never in the habit of letting someone into my life just because they happened to show up at my door, I did have relationships with people who were no longer in synch with me. Conversely, I also realized I had relationships with people who were not that keen on me. In the last year, I think I’ve had the good grace to let both go. The most important person in my life is my husband, Martin, and that is the relationship I pay the most attention to. It has not always been the case. And, transitioning to being together 24/7 was its own challenge but our relationship has never been better.

Thirdly, I realized I was still acting a bit like I did when I worked, wanting to accomplish as much as I could and try everything on my bucket list all at once. But, at the end of 2013 I looked at my list and said, “What do I want to do this year?” I decided to try something new each year for as long as I can and focus on that one thing. This year is the Year of Drawing, which I first did fall 2013. Yes, I will most likely continue doing art for the rest of my life but this year I’m not muddying the waters by adding this and that on top of it. As a result, I feel more centered, less scattered than ever before. And, I’ve accomplished more than I ever dreamed possible with this one activity. I still garden and write, two other activities I enjoy, volunteer with the Master Gardeners Program, hike, walk and do the usual, but by not adding anything else new, I have found balance.

After all, I am where I want to be…retired. So, what is the rush?


Most adults have one or have access to one. They come in various colors, sizes, shapes and, of course, horsepower. I call mine The Beast. It’s really a very zippy little reddish bronze 2006 Mazda 3 approaching 90,000 miles. But, it can suck money out of my bank account faster than it can zoom zoom down the highway. It constantly needs to be fed, maintained, insured and taxed as expensive personal property. And, now, it also needs repairs. As I zipped down the highway a few weeks ago, suddenly…thud, jerk, AT and engine lights on…ugh. After arriving at my destination, a ride fraught with anguished looks at my dash and praying there would be no more thuds or jerks, I called Martin for reassurance.

And, then, one dealership appointment later the diagnosis was “reading no codes”. You know, everything’s electronic these days. So, if a machine tells the mechanic it can’t find anything in this machine, The Beast, we all believe the diagnostic machine. Independent thinking and the good ol’ days of a person ferreting out what’s ailing The Beast are gone. But, fear not, I left with a list of things the machine did find wrong with The Beast along with an estimated cost to repair of $775.

My dealer, wanting to give me the best possible customer service, followed up with two automated phone calls affording me the chance to hit a button, speak with a live person and make an appointment for said repairs. And, just in case I hadn’t gotten the phone calls, they sent me a couple of emails as further reminder. Best of all, the sales manager sent me a letter via the ever reliable old fashioned US Postal Service, telling me how the dealership was short on premium inventory like The Beast and if I traded it in, I could count on them to give me a good deal on a new beast or one of their premium used beasts. Premium used beasts? Hmmm…wait just a minute. You just told me you’re short on inventory, which is why you desperately need The Beast so, my choices on premium used beasts must be non-existent. And, besides, if I’m going to trade for another premium used beast, why don’t I just keep the premium used beast I have? And, one other thing, how is The Beast premium anything when it needs repairs?

Oh, I see, you’d have a chance to sell me a shiny new beast. Whoaaaa Nelly. A shiny new beast would not only need to be fed and maintained, my insurance and beast taxes would increase. Oh, sure, it would be a while before it needed any repairs but how would I pay for it? I’d have to rob my retirement nest egg or worse yet, have a beast payment. A loan!?! I’m adverse to loans. They cost even more money. What with interest and all. While I ruminated on all the ins and outs of new beast versus old premium beast needing repairs, suddenly, thud, jerk, stuck in third gear, AT and engine lights on and me praying I’m not about to be sitting on the side of the road with The Beast broken down. Luckily, as I came to a complete stop at a red light, The Beast calmed down and once again I made it to my destination.

I don’t usually procrastinate but it took me a week and two more experiences including thud, jerk, stuck in third gear before I called the dealership and said, “O.K. I’m coming in.” This time, the machine found “codes” in The Beast saying the electronics weren’t sending the automatic transmission the proper signals. So, now, a well-trained human could actually go to work on The Beast, costing me just another $525.79 to get rid of the thud, jerk, stuck in third gear along with the annoying engine and AT lights. Yes, I had the other repairs done, too. You see, by procrastinating, I hung out long enough for the dealership to send me a Halloween Spooktacular Savings email taking 10% off any recommended service through year-end. And, big picture, I only had to rob my retirement nest egg for a fraction of the cost of a new beast or about 3 beast payments. I’m still debt-free. And, with only 88,000 miles on it, at only 7,000 miles per year and periodic repairs, The Beast should last me another 10 years. That’s right. I plan on being an old lady driving a junker beast. But, the really, really, really good news…I’m retired.


It was sitting in a restaurant watching a large group of retirees when I decided to stop dying my hair. The group was so large a half-dozen tables had been strung end on end so they could all sit together. I guessed the ages to range from early 60’s to late eighties. Quite a stretch. A bus outside told me they were on some type of tour and all seemed to be having a great time. They were laughing, talking and very loud, so boisterous they were hard to miss. As I watched them I noticed all the men and most of the women had some variance of salt and pepper. It was the women without gray who stood out. And, not in a good way. As my eyes searched the table, they rested on a woman who looked to be about 80. She had blond hair, the new gray. I’m not getting older; I’m just getting blonder. But, there was a disconnect. The deep lines of her face and her softly wrinkled neck and arms didn’t mesh with the blond hair. Looking at her gray-haired counterparts, I realized she looked like a caricature while the women in gray actually looked more fresh, more real, more attractive. As they departed, one woman sporting brown hair was helped from the table to a walker. Late eighties, at least. Big disconnect. My mind was screaming. As I sat there, I decided gray. I want to be authentic as I age, not a weird shadow of my youth.

That was more than two years ago and I’m still happy with my choice. Even before the restaurant encounter, there were a couple of things moving me in that direction. First, my hair was not color friendly. I’d gone from coloring every six weeks to every 5 weeks to every 4 weeks and finally, my stylist suggested every 3 weeks. Every 3 weeks!?! Why don’t I just move in with you and you can touch it up every day? Secondly, I loathed the process and the way I looked for the next couple of days until dye stuck to my hairline faded away. With every stylist I’d ever gone to, nothing irritated more than their telling me to put a little more foundation around my hairline before leaving the salon. Pancake anyone? Foundation is not hiding this stuff! The idea of spending yet more money to keep up appearances while going through an experience I didn’t find pleasurable in the least was, in my mind, just plain nuts. A friend suggested I color my own hair. Been there, done that, I told her. It was cheaper but even more unpleasant than having someone else color it and the color faded quicker than a New York minute, revealing shimmering strands all over my head within the first week.

My decision, however, affected others in ways I didn’t anticipate. I didn’t expect the reactions a gray-haired woman can invoke in our youth obsessed culture. Take, for example, the women I hardly know who continue to insist after two years, I am “too young to be gray”. Aside from the minor annoyance I feel along with biting tongue to refrain from telling them it’s really none of their blankety-blank business, I think their constant objections reveal more about them than it does about me. Does my decision threaten them as in does my gray head remind them of their own fading youth? After all, they are also gray. They’re just pretending not to be and thinking covering it up makes them look younger. Well, for a while it does.

Or, take the day I sat at a major intersection in the right lane which, while it went straight across, disappeared on the other side. As the first and only in line, I was betting my Mazda-3 could out accelerate the delivery truck to my left before the driver, whose lane didn’t disappear, even crossed the intersection. The lane on my right was a turn lane only. As I sat there, I noticed a BMW pull into it but not take the opportunity to turn right on red. You can imagine my surprise when, as the light turned green and I shot out of the gate in my little zoom zoom, from the corner of my eye, I caught sight of the BMW crossing the intersection next to me! What? And, just imagine as I zipped forward and into the left lane, how shocked and amused I was to look in my rear view mirror at the two young men in that car, trailing me, waving fists in the air and giving me the finger. Well, guys, I’m the one with the right of way. Then, I thought, did they think my gray hair meant I was slow? Did they think they could beat me across the intersection because I was old? Ha!

Conversely, I’ve also received lots of compliments on how good I look with gray hair. A little off-handed but, hey, a compliment none-the-less. I also receive more “yes, ma’am’s”, doors held for me by both men and women and carry out help. I shop a big box store where help lifting 40 pound bags of compost used to be hard to come by. Sporting a gray head gets me plenty of muscle these days. I do get some double takes and questions when someone checks my license against my new look. But, at least I know they’re really paying attention. There are also the complete strangers who ask me about my gray hair as they wonder out loud to me about how gray their own head is. With lots of brown still to be seen on my head, I’m not totally gray. I can tell by the look in their eyes and the wistful sound of their voices, they’d like to be free of the color continuum, too.

So, going gray has revealed some interesting moments. I could almost do a study about the social impact of aging with a gray head. Nahhhh. But, seriously, ditching the dye was a very personal decision. I decided the time was right for me at age 59. The right age for someone else may be 65 or 70 or 80 or never. Or maybe you’re one of the women who decided to never spend a dime on color right from the appearance of that first strand of gray hair. Lucky woman. You’ll never have to look in the mirror and wonder if it’s time.


Spring is in the air. A warm front is finally blowing in. After weeks of below normal temperatures, today promises to be a sixty degree day. Daffodils bob about in the breeze. The azaleas are heavy with swelling buds. And the rosemary’s deep blue blooms against their pine green stems call to the honey bees venturing from their winter hive. As life reaches for the warming sun after a long winter’s nap, I make my to do list for the garden. The one chore I don’t have to think about is feeding and eventually mowing a lawn. By design, there’s no greening lawn here.

Wherever we lived, whatever the climate, new home, old home, I created a garden. Where there was grass lawn, I dug it up, making berms and beds in which to plant all kinds of greenery and flowering plants, leaving enough lawn to provide paths and play areas. Where I had a clean palette of bare earth, I made pathways of stone to meander among the trees and shrubs, flowers, herbs and vegetables. Gardens awakened my senses and soothed my work weary soul making a house a home and an otherwise plain landscape an oasis after a hard day’s work. While most people plant a grass lawn, I opted for less of the most expensive landscape. Sometimes, there was a front lawn; sometimes there was no lawn. That’s the case with our current home. Oh, we have a meadow, part of which now supports grape vines, blueberry bushes and blackberry canes. There’s some soysia grass planted between huge expanses of flagstone to form our patio. But the green lawn is not to be found.

Nine raised beds, three of them fenced against marauding deer and rabbits, make up the vegetable garden. There’s plenty of room to grow enough for a family of four. So with just two of us in this household, the overflow goes to my in-laws and daughter’s family. My youngest grandson at three years old loves to seed and water, pick and fill a bag with carrots and cabbage, tomatoes and basil, onions and garlic. Whatever the bounty, he proudly takes it to his Mom along with sweet bouquets of roses or huge armloads of sunflowers and his pants pockets full of herbs. His favorite is Rosemary. In winter, his bag may also include treasured rocks, pinecones and leaves but the impact is clear. He has connected with the Earth and all the gifts it provides. Gardens will do that.

Although we have plenty of room for a large garden now, even when we lived in an apartment, there were pots of tomatoes and herbs on the patio luring buzzing bees to happily pollinate our small crop. And the pleasure of pulling a sun ripened tomato from the vine for a dinner salad cannot be matched with buying a greenhouse grown, tasteless specimen from the store. Whether you have a big yard or a small space, this spring make room for a few food plants or some fresh herbs or flowers or all the above. Forget the lawn. Make a real connection with the Earth this summer even if it’s only for one juicy tomato plucked from your own vine.


There has come a time in my life when I have looked around my house and asked myself, “What am I doing with all this stuff?” That moment was about two years ago. And, like any good epiphany, I handled it by getting into my closets, taking inventory, giving away what I thought I didn’t use anymore and organizing the rest. Outside the closets I took down, picked up and boxed up and gave a few things away to my daughters or charity. But, everything else got squirreled away in, where else, but, the closets. That made me feel good for a while. I’d gotten a lifetime of clutter under control or at least it looked like it was under control. I had less stuff sitting around on tables to dust, wash or place in an attractive way. I liked my new clean look.

Much of our knickknack stuff has come in the form of gifts from family and friends or hand-me-downs, including some heirlooms, from my or Martin’s parents. Even some of our furniture has come to us in the same way. It’s been accumulated over many years. We occasionally do the clean out, give away routine and Martin has even sold some of his used motorcycle, bicycle paraphernalia on eBay. Then, there are the shelves of art we’ve produced, mostly in the form of gourd art, where we’ve carved, dyed, braided, papered and otherwise decorated gourds. There are also a couple of paintings I’ve produced recently. So, even though we haven’t purchased a lot of knickknacks, paintings and prints, we still have a house full of stuff.

Long before retirement I reached the point where I didn’t want to spend my time dusting and cleaning stuff that served no other purpose than to sit around on shelves and tables looking pretty. We also had pieces of furniture, which just didn’t fit with the overall theme and scheme of the other pieces. Our willy-nilly eclectic style sometimes annoyed me. I knew someone a few years ago who, as she and her husband prepared to downsize and retire, had held an auction to sell off their stuff, all of it. They wanted a fresh start for their new life so, like New Year’s, out with the old, in with the new. They made out really well on the money end and went on a shopping spree for the new stuff. So, as I looked around my house, I thought about what I would dump. Certainly, not all of it but I was so tired of the stuff, I thought, surely a lot of it. And, I wouldn’t be replacing any of it.

But, as I started going from room to room and thinking about what I would discard, I thought, “Well, certainly not those two old office chairs in the great room.” They are 1950’s or ’60’s and don’t go with the Italian style of the house or other furniture we have. But they are solid maple and after I picked them out of the trash (yes, that’s right, scavenger that I am, I raided somebody’s dumpster), we had them recovered and voilà!, they look fabulous. Not my grandmother’s chocolate pot or Martin’s grandmother’s carnival glass wine pitcher. Those would go to our daughters someday. Not the dish on the table given to me by a former assistant my last day on the job. Wait. What was I doing? As I looked around at all the stuff, I had another epiphany. It is the stuff with all the crazy stories or old memories evoked or the item touched by a loved one long past or the gift given from the heart, which creates the warmth of our home, the richness of our lives. The stuff isn’t just stuff after all, but symbols, artifacts of who we have been as well as who we are. Suddenly, eclectic seemed less annoying.

So, what am I doing today? Opening some boxes, unwrapping some stuff and putting it back on shelves and tables. I guess I’ll be dusting a while longer.


New Year. Clean slate, fresh start, new beginnings. Whatever the start of a new year means to you, it also means saying goodbye to the year now past. The old adage “out with the old, in with the new” applies as always. Although 2012 was a watershed year for me, in retirement I find myself saying goodbye to 2012 in the same way I have said goodbye to many years. Retirement hasn’t changed much where this is concerned. There’s comfort in certain routines, routines which have been followed for so many years, they become tradition. But, there’s also value in following certain steps, not the least of which is the feeling of the just mentioned comfort they offer. There’s also value in the practicality of sticking with that which works for you.

So, the Christmas tree, ornaments and all the holiday decorations have already been taken down, dusted off, boxed up and put away in the attic for another year. You see, I like starting the New Year off by spending New Year’s Day in a de-cluttered house, making an Italian dinner, relaxing with Martin and, on occasion, other family or friends. After a full month or so of enjoying the Christmas spirit, I’m so-o-o-o ready for that clean slate that it just feels natural to me to put my house back in order, so to speak. To this end, yesterday I put my home back to the way it looks 11 months out of the year. Now I feel ready to tackle the other projects I traditionally attend to at year end.

Today I’ll review our 2013 budget. In past years this meant reviewing income and expenses of the past year and projecting what those would look like for the next year. I’d also try to anticipate any large expenditures, bonuses and raises based on old figures and wants and needs. This year is a little different. We’ve been living on our retirement budget for the last 4 months. It works for us. We met with our financial planner in mid-December and reviewed our portfolio so we have a pretty good idea what income that will generate. Our expenses won’t change much. The big unknown is the cost of our health insurance, which will change in March. We made some large purchases prior to retiring, such as a new car for Martin, a necessary purchase since he had a company car while working. We also bought a new mattress to replace our eight year old set. We tried to anticipate and make those types of purchases while still working so our first year in retirement would be without large cash outlays. So, our 2013 budget is really pretty much in place already.

Over the next couple of days I’ll go through our paper files and shred anything which is no longer needed. I keep an income tax file year in and year out, every year, so that’s already underway. But, I’ll also look at what is in that file to be sure I have it as complete as possible. This way, when I receive the missing pieces, I’m ready to turn it over to our CPA. I don’t like surprises. I like having the taxes done way before April 15. That way, if there is something unexpected, and we’ve had somethings in the past, I have time to re-group. I’ve learned over the years that having something unexpected arise at the eleventh hour only adds to the stress. Time affords the luxury of thinking it through and choosing the optimal outcome for your situation.

So, that’s my year end. We don’t go out for New Year’s Eve anymore. We’ve spent many a New Year’s Eve partying to all hours with friends. We’ve even gone the route of spending the night in a hotel, dancing to a live band, toasting way too many toasts and having a late morning brunch on January 1st before going home. The last few years we realized we’d rather hang out at home just the two of us and the cats, of course, watching a rented movie and going to bed at our usual hour. I know…BORING. But, as I mentioned, some routines become traditions, which offer a comfort, a value, a practicality in knowing they are what works for you.