Monday, July 15, 2019

On Retirement

My husband retired a couple of months ago after selling his portion of a design firm that he and his business partner had developed 20+ years ago. While he will remain on in an advisory role for 12 months, for all intents and purposes he is done working.  I have not worked in corporate America since 1997, though I did contribute to our organics company until we sold that several years ago. Since then I have been writing and doing photography, so I have been working out of our home for many years.

We knew that we would not want to stay in our 2 1/2 story Queen Ann-style home for much longer, so last year we began to talk about where we would want to move. We could stay in St. Louis, of course. But a lot of the work involved in moving would take place whether we moved a mile or thousands of miles away. That thought process opened up all kinds of opportunities to us.

When we moved to St. Louis in 1978 with our fresh college diplomas in hand, we thought we would be here for a couple of years and then would move on. Yet here we are, 42 years later. St. Louis has been very good to us, and was a wonderful place to raise our children. But they don't live here any more. We have got one on each coast of this vast country.

As we started discussing where we might like to live, several things became clear. First of all, the benefit of being with the same person for over four decades is that you do tend to think alike. We both wanted a location that has all four seasons - just a little less of the winter season. That automatically ruled out a number of retirement spots such as Arizona and Florida. We have zero interest in owning and maintaining two separate residences. Neither of us wants to live any further north than where we are, or to spend way too much of our retirement savings in expensive cities like Washington, DC (where our son and daughter-in-law live) or Los Angeles (where our daughter lives.) Being adverse to worrying about our house being demolished in a hurricane, the coastal United States was off the consideration table as well. That still left a lot of options to examine.

view from the community center
North Carolina made the top of our list due to its natural beauty. We had visited the state and loved it. It also seemed that anytime we wanted to fly somewhere out of St. Louis we had to go through Charlotte to get where we were going.

We thought we found the perfect place in a community called The Coves. Located in northwestern North Carolina equal distance between Charlotte and Asheville, the development would allow us to buy as many acres as we would like and to build a custom home. With 3,600 acres of land, it offered a community center, hiking trails, a riding stable, a vineyard and community garden, rivers, waterfalls and miles of hiking trails. On paper it looked perfect. For a number of reasons, it was not right for us once we visited in June of 2018 even though the mountain views were quite pretty. On that trip we looked at a several places in central North Carolina as well as the Charlotte area and didn't fall in love with any of them. We were back to square one.

After talking with a number of my pickleball friends who either travel extensively or own second residences, we began to think for the first time about 55+ active adult communities. In a million years, we never thought we would even consider such a concept. But the more we read about them, the more intrigued we became. People are drawn to them because they want to make new friends, have a variety of activities available, have their yard maintained, and be able to "lock and leave", knowing their home will be safe and looked after when they travel.

I decided to give the Charlotte area another shot due to its great international airport and good health care reports. Did you know that Charlotte has 38 of these kind of communities? Holy smokes! That says something about the area to me. I could eliminate a lot of them because they were too large or too small, or they focused on an amenity (like golf) that was not important to us. I was left with a list of 6 or 7. Through my search I found Roger Holloway, the YouTube star of 55+ communities in the Charlotte area. I reached out to Roger, who is a buyers agent, and we set up a time to go to Charlotte and see some of the communities. That happened in February of 2019, prior to our Southern Caribbean cruise out of Fort Lauderdale (because yes, we had to fly though Charlotte to get there from St. Louis.)

We were very impressed with the design and amenities of the Trilogy development, which is about 50% built out. All the people we met were friendly and gracious, and the community center and gathering spaces were incredible. The only problem was that the most desirable (in our opinion) lots were already taken. We were not interested in a lot that backs to a retaining wall, or the neighbors screened in porch.

Imagery by Lennar
Then we went to see Imagery by Lennar. It is the only community that is built on a lake - Mountain Island Lake, to be specific. So new that there were not even models built that we could take a look at, this 320 acre development is being constructed on land once owned by the Bechtler family, for whom the art museum in Charlotte is named. They had a home on the land as well as 6 or so large cabins, where visiting artists could live in residence while creating their art. When the Bechtler's sold the land, a commitment was made by Lennar to keep the "artistic" feel of the property, including the house and cabins which will become activity centers for the new community. While it is a little hard for some people, me included, to visualize what the community will become, fortunately Lennar has a similar community nearby that we could visit. Tree Tops is not located in a lake, but it gave us a good sense of what Lennar is going for in the new development.

As it is so new, lake view lots are available. Well, once you see that you cannot unsee it. We knew we would not be happy in a home that did not offer us a view of the lake from our own property. We just were not sure that we wanted to live through the pains (and noise) of a construction zone for quite some time. We headed off to our cruise, enjoyed going over all the pros and cons with our friends on the trip, and came back to St. Louis to think some more.

proud owners of Lot 33
After a couple of weeks we decided to make an offer on a lot and one of the house plans that was available to go on it. Following a little back and forth, we came to a mutually acceptable price. And just like that we were landowners - in a new land. With these communities, you must have them begin construction pretty much right away. While that pushed us some, we like the fact that people aren't buying lots and then just letting them sit, which is pretty much what is going on at The Coves. With a construction timetable of 5 months, we selected a closing date of October 31. Happy Halloween!

We quickly kicked into purging mode here on the home front. It has been a dirty, challenging, frustrating, and somewhat freeing process. The unusable has gone in the trash or recycling bins, but three truckloads have been picked up by the Salvation Army and a couple of other loads delivered by us in our pickup to their store. We will have at least one more load before it is all said and done.

The toys and games of our children were boxed up separately for them to review. They both came home recently and went through the boxes. Andy took what he wanted back to DC in his pickup, and Katie has 2 plastic bins that we will take with us and store for her. Her apartment in Los Angeles has no storage space, and she couldn't have taken them on the plane anyway. The remaining toys were taken to a charity.

I've also had some fun with a Facebook group called Webster Groves Buys Nothing. Local residents are always putting out a call for something they are looking for, such as the original "Home Alone" on VHS which I gladly re-gifted. On the opposite end, people like me are getting rid of things, so a simple photo on the site usually results in multiple people vying for the free item. It is fun to see that others will enjoy things that we no longer want.

Less fun has been getting the house ready to go on the market. More on that in my next post.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Photography Challenge Week 27

For this week we were to show gratitude in our photo. I'm grateful to live in a community that still embraces a hometown parade, and for the men and women who make it possible for us to celebrate America's freedom. It was an added bonus that our son was visiting from the D.C. area and wanted to attend the parade with us. It was been many years since the kids have been here to enjoy the 4th of July festivities.

Dogwood Photography Challenge Week 27

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Photography Challenge Week 26

For Week 26 we were to use geometry in our photo. I really dislike math, so I was not excited about this challenge. However, I spied this bell tower at the Salvation Army when I arrived to play pickleball this morning, and it seemed to fit the bill.

Dogwood Photography Challenge Week 26

Monday, July 1, 2019

Photography Challenge Week 25

Week 25 was Story Telling: Freedom, and we were to tell a story of what freedom means to us. I cannot think of freedom without envisioning the men and women who have fought and are fighting so that I may enjoy freedom. This photo was taken in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, the final resting place of so many of our brave soldiers. It is also a place where the deer roam free, keeping watch over the graves.

Dogwood Photography Challenge Week 25

Monday, June 17, 2019

Photography Challenge Week 24

For Week 24 the theme was inspiration. We were to take a photo that would tell the viewers the story of who inspires us. I came across this woman while taking photographs at a park last week. I don't know her, but I am inspired by people who are not afraid to wear their beliefs for all to see. It was an added bonus that it appears she was in the park to take photos as well, judging by the camera by her side.

Dogwood Photography Challenge Week 24

Monday, June 10, 2019

Road Trippin'

Old Route 66
Last weekend I went on a road trip with one of my nieces, which was my present to her in celebration of a milestone birthday. In looking at where we might be able to drive on a three day weekend, I realized that if we went to Tulsa, I could possibly have one of my other nieces drive over from Dallas as a surprise. So I proposed to Julie that we drive parts of old Route 66 to Tulsa as there are lots of photo ops along the way. I was afraid she might say "Why Tulsa?", but she accepted my suggestion with no comment, trusting in my judgment. My other niece Sara readily accepted the offer to join us, and I found an AirBNB with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths that could accommodate us for two nights.

Devil's Elbow Bridge

The drive to Tulsa would take about 6 hours if you drove straight there down I-44. But with hopping on and off the interstate to drive the old Mother Road and taking tons of pictures, it took us 11 hours to arrive. Part of that was due to the fact that my car GPS failed in certain areas, as did both my cell service as well as Julie's. Luckily I brought a paper map along to help us navigate! We also ran into flooding in Miami, Oklahoma while on Route 66. It took awhile to find someone who could offer advice on avoiding other flooded roads so we could get to the Turnpike to continue on to Tulsa. But as they say, it's about the journey not the destination. We have stories to tell!

Sara and Julie
Once in Tulsa we pulled into the driveway of our rental house, and Julie was more than surprised to find Sara there. It was a moment! We took off for a late dinner, then returned to enjoy margaritas and rousing games of Yahtzee.

Tulsa icons
The Gathering Place

Saturday we spent the day exploring Tulsa, and of course hitting the local Route 66 icons. Tulsa, while suffering some of the flooding much of the US is experiencing, is a vibrant, fun city that offered lots of things for us to do and see. We got rained on a bit after lunch, but that didn't dampen our enthusiasm for the day together. Following dinner, we again retuned to our Yahtzee game.

Sunday we had a leisurely breakfast at the house since checkout time was not until 11. Then we made our way to the Blue Whale, reportedly one of the most photographed spots in the area. We were fortunate enough to meet the custodian of the property, a man whose parents had established the tourist spot. He was fascinating to talk to. Spying a sign for the Nut House in the parking lot as we were leaving, we had to check that out. The store has a fun gift shop in addition to offering fudge, coffees, teas, and other goodies. For sure we had to try (and buy!) some fudge, and as they also had a delicatessen, we decided to just order sandwiches and have a last meal together before we took off for home.

the Blue Whale
the Nut House and Grand Falls

Sara headed west to Dallas, and Julie and I went northeast. We were bound and determined to find the spot where you can stand in three states at the same time. We couldn't locate it on the way down, but this time we were armed with directions from a Route 66 enthusiast. We easily drove right to it this time.

laying on Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma

We also stopped at Grand Falls by Joplin, Missouri. What a wonderful spot! There were many people taking advantage of the cold water on a hot summer day. After that we stuck to I-44 as we still had a long drive ahead of us. We grabbed a quick dinner in Rolla, but it was still 10:20 by the time we reached my house.

stopped to capture this beautiful sunset
I am blessed to have be able to call these two wonderful, fun-loving women my nieces, and I am grateful that it worked out for the three of us to spend the weekend together. I just wish we had been able to make the trip longer than three days.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Photography Challenge Weeks 22 and 23

Last week's challenge was to tell the story of a stranger. As I was on a road trip with my niece over the weekend, I had many opportunities to photograph people that I didn't know. This one spoke the most to me, so I chose it. Taken at Grand Falls in Joplin, Missouri, I got a kick out of this guy wearing a jacket with the hood up as he sat in the cold water on a hot summer day.

Dogwood Photography Challenge Week 22

For Week 23 we were to use strong leading lines, but it had to be in food photography. Sometimes it is fun to play with your food! I decided to use the jar of jam in the shot, as that was to be the ultimate fate of the strawberries.

Dogwood Photography Challenge Week 23

Monday, June 3, 2019

Photography Challenge Week 21

I must confess that I did not participate in the Week 20 challenge, which was to create a powerful landscape using negative space. I just couldn't find anything to shoot that seemed to fit the bill. I may come back to it at some point this year.

Week 21 was to use Serenity as our inspiration. What does serenity mean to you? For me, my home is the place where I feel the most calm and peaceful. The garden makes the house shine even more in the spring, so that was my inspiration for the challenge in week 21.

Dogwood Photography Challenge Week 21

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Photography Challenge Week 19

This week's challenge was to tell a story of aging using just one photograph. Rather than going the more traditional route of photographing an elderly person or their hand, I chose to represent aging in a different manner. This was taken on a rural road in Iowa while visiting my in-laws over Mother's Day weekend.

Dogwood Photography Challenge Week 19

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Photography Challenge Week 18

The challenge for this week was Inspiration: Weight or Mass; heavy as a stone, light as a feather. My husband and I had a road trip to Des Moines this past weekend, and we stopped in Pella, Iowa on the way home. It happened to be the Tulip Time festival, though it was mostly over by the time we arrived on Sunday. I found my inspiration in a tulip petal floating in the fountain located on the town square. The blowing wind caused the water to make the circular patterns on the surface.

Dogwood Challenge Week 18

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Photography Challenge Week 17

This week's photography prompt certainly put the challenge in photography challenge! It started simply enough by asking us to shoot a balanced image. The twist was to do so in a way that it would represent the "Accidental Renaissance" style. What the heck is that? I spent some quality time with Google to try to understand this photo movement. It all began, supposedly, when someone posted a photograph online in 2014 of a brawl in the Ukranian Parliament.  The photo was shared on Twitter, and the comment was that it looked like a Renaissance painting. The photo went viral, and the term "Accidental Renaissance" was coined.

The renaissance period was from the 14th-17th centuries, so I looked at a lot of paintings from that time period. It struck me that lighting was key for getting the shot. Obviously, if I was going to stage the subject matter, it takes the "accidental" out of the equation. I selected items I had here at the house - my mom's hymnal, my husband's grandfather's glasses, my pearls, my husband's pocket watch, my parent's original wedding bands, and an old skeleton key. My husband held the light source so I could experiment with light angles. I'm pretty happy with the end result.

Dogwood Photography Challenge Week 17

Monday, April 22, 2019

Photography Challenge Weeks 15 and 16

The Week 15 Challenge called for us to take a photo with the inspiration being Anonymous, which we could interpret however we liked. While taking photos at Tower Grove Park, I saw this couple enjoying the sunshine on a bench, and photographed them through the daffodils.

Dogwood Photography Challenge Week 15
For Week 16, we were to tell a story while only using shadow. This caused some lively discussion amongst the Dogwood Photography Facebook group members as folks discussed whether a silhouette was a shadow, or how about a reflection in the water? And could other items appear in the photo besides the shadow? But it all comes back to the fact that this challenge is whatever you make it to be. Below is what I came up with on Saturday - shadows of tulips at the Missouri Botanical Garden. I don't know how compelling the story is, but I feel it stays true to the prompt given for the weekly challenge.

Dogwood Photography Challenge Week 16

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Photography Challenge Week 14

Composition: Center Frame Portrait was the charge for this week. You can isolate your subject by centering them in the photo. But the added caveat was to create a portrait that exhibits loneliness. I recently flew into the Charlotte airport, and the mood of this photo seemed right to me.

Dogwood Photography Challenge Week 14

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Photography Challenge Weeks 12 and 13

The Dogwood Photography Challenge for Week 12 was Inspiration: Trash. Since my husband and I owned a commercial composting company for many years, talking trash is something near and dear to my heart. Over the years we have acquired many yard decorations that have been made from scrap metal. Broken items that would have gone into the landfill became repurposed into something fun for the house or garden. Here is one of ours.

Dogwood Photography Challenge Week 12

Week 13 inspired us to tell a story of a new beginning. With the raining pouring down yesterday, I took a photo of the droplets lined up on our Japanese Maple tree, which is just beginning to put out its new buds.

Dogwood Photography Challenge Week 13

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Photography Challenge

I'm going to do a little catching up here. The Dogwood Photography Challenge for Week 9 was Inspiration: Mood. We were to shoot a photo representing our mood at the time the picture was taken. Because it was a crummy day and I am so done with winter, this was my shot.

Dogwood Photography Challenge Week 9

Week 10's challenge was to tell the story of our hometown. This brought up a lot of discussion on the challenge Facebook page. Is hometown where you live? Where you were born? The town you most identify with? Since it is up to our interpretation, it really doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. I tried taking some shots around the town where I live, but didn't come up with anything I feel accurately represents Webster Groves. Instead I decided to use a photograph of the Arch, as that pretty much lets anyone know I am from the St. Louis area.

Dogwood Photography Challenge Week 10

For Week 11 we were to fill the frame with the subject of our photo. A further challenge was to do that using only one color. Shooting a flower is an obvious choice, but I don't have any blooming around the house yet. I decided to photograph a tree stump in the front yard instead.

Dogwood Photography Challenge Week 11

Monday, March 18, 2019

Sailing Away - 8

Saturday and Sunday were both sea days, and we wondered if we would be bored. As it ended up, there was plenty to keep us busy - and not just eating. We played a lot of trivia games, listened to different music and entertainment, went swimming (yay for the adults only pool!) and got in some pickleball games. It was fun to meet other players from around the United States, and the waves and winds added an additional degree of difficulty to the game. It was quite fun, and made for some good laughs.

Princess Pickleball
Sunday morning we ordered room service and enjoyed donning our Princess robes and sitting on the balcony to eat. That night the four of us had dinner at the Princess Grille in celebration of Jim's upcoming birthday and our friend's 40th wedding anniversary which is coming up this summer.

miscellaneous ship pictures
Then it was back to the stateroom to pack and put out our large suitcases in preparation for disembarkation the next morning. When we were done, Jim and I went to a few venues listening to music, and had one final fru fru drink to toast another wonderful vacation.

We arrived back in Port Everglades at 7:00 a.m. on Monday, February 25th. Disembarkation and customs went very smoothly, and before we knew it we were back at the airport to come home. I highly recommend this cruise!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Sailing Away - 7

sunrise in Curacao
Friday, February 22nd found us cruising into our last port of call, Willemstad, Curacao. I had never heard of this island until one of the HGTV international house hunting shows aired. Pronounced cure-a-sow, it is the "C" of the ABC islands. This independent country has a population of 160,000 and is 38 miles long and 9 miles wide. It, too, is a fairly flat island.

We had heard much about the town of Willemstad, and how its Dutch heritage as illustrated in its architecture has been infused with the colors of the Caribbean. The four of us decided to do our own walking tour of the area so we could drink it all in. We had arrived in port at 7:00 a.m., so the day was still pretty young when we got off the ship.

The boardwalk along the sea is very nicely done, and it is for sure a walkable community. We enjoyed all the little bridges, and the fact that they had taken the old fort and retrofitted it for commercial and residential use instead of just letting it fall into disrepair.

Rif Fort

The vegetable and fruit market was interesting in that boats bring the produce to market as opposed to trucks. The boats are tied up behind the tents.

produce market
The colors did not disappoint, and we very much enjoyed our day in Willemstad. It was great to be able to spend the day walking around, as we knew the next two would be spent at sea as we made our way back north. We left Curacao at 4:30 p.m.

leaving Curacao 

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Sailing Away - 6

Thursday, February 21st we arrived at Kralendijk, Bonaire at 12:00 p.m. As usual, Jim and I were awake early and were able to take in the sun rising over the horizon. The "B" of the ABC islands, Bonaire is a Dutch island that is 24 miles long and 9 miles wide, with a population of 19,400.

Kralendijk, Bonaire
The first thing we noticed was how flat the island was compared to the other ones we had visited so far. The second thing was how pretty the water in the harbor looked. The colorful tents along the walkway added to the festiveness of our arrival.

Bonaire is an island that prides itself on nature preservation, and has been active in preserving its reefs. They don't want to sacrifice their environment for the sake of tourism, which is commendable. About 60% of the island is a national park or protected area. For that, and other reasons, Jim and I decided to do the Mangrove Eco-Cruise by kayak.

Because our excursion did not begin until the afternoon, we had time for a leisurely lunch before making our way to the dock where our group was meeting. We boarded a van for a 20 minute drive to the eco-center, pausing to admire a cactus fence as well as a group of flamingos, which is called a "pat".

flamingos on Bonaire

They gave a short presentation about the mangroves before we headed out to our two-person kayaks. Mangroves are trees or shrubs that grow in coastal intertidal zones. They have tangled roots above ground and form dense thickets. Lac Bay Mangrove forest is about 850 years old and is one of the best preserved groupings of mangroves in the Caribbean. Three different species of mangroves exist here - red mangrove, black mangrove, and white mangrove.

Jim and I have always been in single kayaks in the past, but this was great as I could feel free to snap away with my waterproof camera.We paddled narrow channels through the trees as well as open water. It was a beautiful experience, and our guide was excellent.

mangrove kayak tour
We had time to catch a quick beer at a bar that offered free Wifi before we needed to walk back to the ship. We got a kick out of the flamingo made of recycled items pulled from the ocean.

Our ship sailed off into the sunset at 6:30 p.m.


Friday, March 15, 2019

Sailing Away - 5

St. George's Grenada
Grenada was the next port of call, and we arrived at St. George's at 7:00 a.m. on Wednesday, February 20th. Located in the southeastern Caribbean sea, Grenada has a population of 110,000. It is 21 miles long and 12 miles wide. On this island all four of us agreed on a snorkeling excursion to an underwater sculpture park on the ocean floor of Molinere Bay. There are 68 sculptures in this park, but we only saw a handful of them.

underwater sculpture park
From there we got back on the catamaran and motored to Grand Anse Beach, where we could swim in the most beautiful-colored water I have ever seen. The rum punch added to the party atmosphere for sure.

Grand Anse Beach
Our visit to this island was short, and we sailed out of St. George's at 1:30 p.m. I was pleased to capture yet another pretty sunset off of our balcony.


Thursday, March 14, 2019

Sailing Away - 4

February 19th's stop was at the island of Dominica (pronounced doe-min-ee-ka, and not to be confused with the Dominican Republic). Founded by Christopher Columbus in November 3, 1493, the island was and still is inhabited by the Caribe tribe. Its land mass is 29 miles long and 16 miles wide.

We arrived at the port of Roseau at 9:00 a.m. A full rainbow greeted us when we woke up, and the pretty morning sky highlighted the hills of the island.

Roseau, Dominica
Our friends went scuba diving and we elected to do the Champagne Reef Snorkel. The snorkel site was located at Soufriere-Scott's Head Marina Reserve. Located on the edge of a submerged volcano, you can actually feel the hot water venting from the earth's core. We swam through tiny, crystal-like bubbles which escape from the volcanic fissures on the seabed. It was rather like being inside a glass of champagne.

Champagne snorkel trip
We bid Dominica adieu as the Crown Princess left port at 5:30.

leaving Roseau