Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Two Hour Project and a LIttle Light Reading-A Lazy Saturday In Retirement!

Sorry folks, I think we are live again!!

I spend a fair amount of weekend time at home now that I am retired. Not because I have a boring life, but because one of the advantages of retirement life tends to be the "off-peak" life. Much of my retirement activity is done during the week (and usually the day light hours.  Be it grocery shopping, taking a college class, or even going to the movies, whenever possible I prefer to do these things when others are working, and avoid weekend crowds and traffic.

Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of things I do on the weekend. Many of my family and friends still work, and that is the only together time. Most concerts and festivals are on the weekend......well, you get my drift. Tomorrow, I'll be going to church, out to dinner, and maybe even to a weekend movie (I am willing to brave the crowds for the new Russel Crowe Gallipoli movie).  

Today however, as with many Saturdays, I've enjoyed a day away from crowds. I've slept late, played on the patio with the dogs, walked, and read some mindless drivel on my kindle. I also spent a little over two hours sewing a lined tote bag to hold my yarn when I am traveling or meeting friends to sit and knit.  A little cutting, a little pressing and sewing, and my bag is finished (and lined with the dark blue fabric)! 

Next on my list is this dino quilt for my nephew.  For whatever reason, I get many more requests for girly quilts than I do boy quilts. Now that I know my three year old nephew is a dinosaur fiend, this will be my next afternoon or weekend fun.

As for that supposedly light reading, well, my other reading assignment is this little academic gem of 95 pages, which I need to evaluate before my theology class on Tuesday night.  Somehow, I think this one will keep me busy well past the weekend.  Happy weekend all!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Revisiting The Road Trip-Day One Denver to Moab

For those who have not figured it out yet, I am one of those people who can turn a four day visit to see family into a ten day or more road trip.  What can I say, that's just the way I roll.  I hate to fly (there are no words) and probably will only fly again if I go back to Germany or to Grand Cayman or have an emergency). One of the advantages of being retired is time, and plenty of it.

When plotting my drive to Seattle, I was looking both to make it as scenic as possible, as well as to be not repetitive (remember, I'm the girl who can find ten ways to drive to see my daughter in Dallas). Although I am not a huge planner as such, my sister rarely gets to go on road trips.  Add to that the fact that she has live in Denver since college and never been to Moab or Canyonlands parks, and a unique trip was born. Unfortunately I am still looking through my photos and she has not sent me her pictures (me being the driver and she being the photographer and all).

Day one involved a shorter drive, from Denver on I70, through the Rockies into Utah.  This drive is more scenic every time I take it, especially the second half of the drive which goes through Glenwood Canyon.  I'll say here that I70 in Utah is the most desolate drive, with a scene that looks like a mountain crater. 
a side drive well worth the time
Fortunately we took the scenic road to Moab, taking Utah scenic byway 128 to Moab. This is certainly longer than taking the highway route, but worth every extra minute.  This road is very unique, with large sandstone walls, the Colorado river and move.  It's also "open range" which means you may have to slow down for beef on the hoof. In our case it was just past calving season, and one baby cow actually started chasing us!

After checking into our motel the Sleep Inn (our least favorite stay on our road trip, the room was VERY warm and we could not control it, seemingly), we had a relaxing dinner while watching Wisconsin lose to Duke, and prepare ourselves for the next day.
beautiful downtown Moab
you really have to climb to this one-literally
Even though this was not my first trip to Arches National Park, it was still breathtaking! Eventually I will get the many pictures I took, good and bad, sorted out and share more.  It's enough to say that half a day spent in the park was not enough. Had my sister been alone, she would probably have hiked the second half of the day. As most of our trip, the day was warm, sunny, and made up for the not very pretty drive that followed in the afternoon, through northern Utah and the Sat Lake Corridor.

The cost for day one of our trip (not including gas which I'll total at the end), was $112 for the motel, $20 for a very nice dinner (breakfast and lunch were packed) and ten dollars for the car at the Arches.  All and all well worth the money!

Next time, let me tell you about those Idaho survivalists!!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Why I'm Renting In Retirement-and Loving It!

Although we've had many seventy to eighty degree days already in Denver, April is in fact the snowiest month.  Friday, I woke up to the end of a very wet overnight snow, and a very huge tree branch on the ground (not quite as big as this accident from last year)!  Being me, I stood at my window, took a picture of the ground, and promptly sent it to my landlord!

That's because my sister and I are renters rather than buyers. Readers who have been stopping by for awhile know that when I first moved to Denver, I was looking to be a renter, and downsized to that level, looking to take a bedroom and den or two bedroom apartment at the apartments pictured below. 

At that point, my sister was also looking to get out from under her too old, too large home and suggested we look for a house together (promising that she would take full responsibility for any yard!).  We were offered a unique situation in that my brother and sister wanted to buy a home for investment and we wanted deep in our hearts to rent and not buy. Together we looked for a house that fit the bill for all four of us and found this one.  

Admittedly on one level, our situation is unique in that we had some input into the purchase process and the buyers considered our (actually mine, since I am the one with handicaps) needs when purchasing this house.  Still, in every way this beyond that, this is a typical rental agreement. Our lease looks like any lease might, with many stipulations, fees for late rent and other requirements. When we have moved out of the house, they will rent it again, and in fact have been looking at ways to remodel to increase the value (the Colorado market is booming, and as of today that have halved again their investment at least). This was not meant as a long term solution for anyone. We've improved the house, and they've had renters who have worked with them to make a good investment property. Both of us expect to leave after our three year commitment.

Unlike some folks, I have had fairly good experiences both with owning and with renting (except for the landlord portion of owning). Being a one income family when my husband started a new career, during my married years we rented a townhouse, owned a brownstone duplex, and rented a huge four story home in Germany.  Longtime readers know that I previously owned a home in Texas (of 2600 square feet), before my downsizing.

While I loved that home, it was difficult on so many levels. Texas may have no income tax but they have exorbitant property taxes. I am not a yard person (although my husband often was "one with the lawn"). I am also no longer a do it yourself person as such (I once owned a 1940s brownstone, but that was then, when sanding floors was an adventure).

There was a period of time where the common wisdom was that "your house is your retirement". IF you can enter retirement with a paid off house, IF you are willing to stay in the same general area for a long period of time, IF you are willing to do the work (or pay to have it all done), then for some people that may be still true. In my case I have chosen not to take that step, and the rewards of doing it the opposite way have been more than enough. And in fact, more and more people are choosing to rent when they downsize rather than buy.

First,  first the obvious. Yes, I do pay rent, and yes in theory it also includes those taxes (which are much less in Colorado). So I do have a monthly payment. Folks who have their homes paid in full, will only have the monthly property tax.

That said, for me, there are many other advantages to renting. While others may have a different perspective, this is why renting works for me.  Some of these advantages can probably be found equally well in a condo ownership situation, while others are pure rental advantages:
  • I don't do any real maintenance. Oh, we garden and I mow the lawn, however many rental options cover lawn car (as do condo agreements).  I get to leave those things (along with cleaning the gutters annually, checking the sewer line, and maintaining the heating and air conditioning units) to someone else.
  • I don't do any repairs.  This is of course, the biggie when it comes to renting vs owning.  I suppose I should qualify that by saying sure, I may put Drano down a drain on occasion, or buy a new smoke detector when I realize just a battery is not the solution. But basic and serious repairs-from fixing a broken fence piece, roof repairs after a storm, or even replacing a new appliance-are in the purvey of the homeowners. It may well be that my college student cuts up some of the branch that fell into firewood. But the homeowner will have the tree trimmed, mess hauled away, and the broken branches that did not fall out of the tree removed.
  • Although I did not make a great deal when I sold my home, that money was put into my nest egg. The housing market is up and that profit could be invested.
  • While I am not handicapped as such I do have a disability. When looking at apartments and condos to rent I had absolutely no problem finding places with all the amenities I would need, as opposed to building a ramp in a new house or installing bars in my bathroom.
  • My costs have lowered. Some might get this by downsizing to a smaller home or condo, but mine are much lower, and many rentals including the original condo I was looking at include utilities. In Denver it is only slightly cheaper to rent than own size for size, but in many areas renting is cheaper than owning.  Finally, as to the "tax deduction" in my case, at my income level I still come out well ahead.
  • The general wisdom is buying a home without living there at least five years and hopefully seven years does not make as much home ownership sense as such. Both Trulia and Zillow have studies showing that having to spread out points and closing costs over a shorter period of time often may not make the best sense. I am unwilling to commit to seven years in one location.
  • I'm unwilling to commit myself to one area, much less one home. I may want to snowbird part of the year. I have a son in Colorado who does not know where he will end up, a daughter in Texas and relatives in a variety of places. I could even see myself traveling for up to a year, living out of my car and paying no monthly expenses. I committed myself to three years maximum in this living situation, and even that is flexible.
Certainly there can be some disadvantages to renting in retirement. If you are a serious gardener. for example, you may want more space than a rental home or condo allows.  As a dog owner, I am well aware that renting with a dog can be difficult, depending on your location. And if you are a retiree who likes puttering around the house with a hammer, nails and a level, then home ownership is probably the best for you.  Obviously just as when buying a home, certain research must be done. In my case, my landlord is happy for us to paint and plant, and even hang quilts and curtains, as he believes in the end those are improvements to the house (although he would prefer bright colors be in smaller doses, as do we).

In my case renting has made sense on every single level. Your experience may be different, but it's worth looking at all the options in retirement!!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

I'm Back!!

 I apologize for the posting break folks. Usually I share my experiences on my vacations, at least ever few days. In this case, however, I was technology free with the exception of my phone for the time we were gone. It's a good thing to do every so often, and while I am happy to be hooked up again, I did not miss it on the road.

One of the dilemmas when it comes to retirement travel is how much time (if any) to travel or vacation, and how much time to be at home.  This particular trip was exactly ten days, and I had a mainly wonderful time. I was also very happy to be home. Ten days is certainly not my travel limit, although I do prefer to limit being gone for a couple weeks, with the exception of my once a year longer road trip/vacation.

In this case, I was racing to be ahead of the storm on my way home so instead of exploring my last day and a half, I hit the proverbial gas, and headed straight down from Montana to Denver. Wyoming, for those unaware, have winds up to fifty miles an hour with their snowstorms and literally close down the freeways (with gates that force you to turn off to the town you are in). The thought of being in a hotel for three days did not appeal, so I skipped Little Bighorn and Devils Rock and hied my way home.

While I'll post more about this trip later, this was a destination vacation (to see family in Seattle) combined with a bit of a road trip.  Day one took us from Denver to Moab via Glenwood Springs and the Colorado River Scenic route.  Day two was divided between Arches National Park and driving to Idaho. Day three, I drove through Oregon, Washington (the Yakima Valley and the Cascades), and arrived in Seattle. The next four days were spent exploring Seattle a bit (in the morning), and spending the afternoons and evenings with my brother (a professional fisherman) and his family.  Needless to say, much seafood was eaten (both cooked by my sibling and in restaurants). My return home was through Western Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

While all of these locations are worthy of their own blog post, for now I leave you with just a couple quick phone pictures and some general thoughts on this trip:
  • People often ask me the downside of traveling alone (I drove home from Seattle on my own).  In order to be honest with the readers I have to tell you about the most difficult part of driving cross country alone:  When you see something beautiful and there is no turn off, you can no longer rely on sister, husband or friend to lean out and get the picture for you. Hence my photos on the first part of he trip are many more than the second (I promise I'll address other issues on traveling alone, soon)
  • When you are driving across country, especially in a car, you can see the weather changes with clarity.  This is more true in the wide open plains of say, Texas, but it is true anywhere.  You don't need a weather man, you can see what is coming.
  • If I were not a spontaneous person to begin with, cross country driving would have made me one. I cannot imagine seeing an intriguing sign (such as one that shows a historic Catholic mission in Idaho) and not pulling over and stopping. Even if the park itself is closed, and even if it means you are finishing your trip in the almost dark.
  • I'm reminded of how much variance there is in weather and climate within small areas. In Washington, one goes from the lush green to what is almost desert scrub in just a few miles.
I'll have more pictures soon, as well as a financial analysis of my first road trip, and why I'm happy to be home for awhile. Meanwhile, enjoy my paltry attempts to use my phone as a camera

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Preparing to Hit The Road-a Checklist. Also, a small grumbling, and a huge relief

I apologize folks, I normally am back to at least two entries on this blog per week, but in this case preparing to hit the road and helping my son had me sidetracked there. When I return, the other blog SHOULD be ready to go, who knows!!

I am now in the last planning stages for hitting the proverbial road.  Even though this particular trip only will last two and a half weeks, there are still steps that need to be taken. Admittedly these steps are much fewer than those my RVing friends must take-what car driving loses in certain areas it gains in spontaneity. In theory I can be ready to go in a day.  In this case, between leaving the day after the Easter holiday and being behind on my car maintenance, a few more steps have had to be followed. For those who are wondering what I consider the absolute requirements for road trip prepping, here you go!
  • I don't have to prepare my house as I have a college student who lives here and can care for the dogs. If that were not true, I would hire someone to do a daily or every other day house check and gather the mail. The dogs would go to a family member. Other people, I am sure, have different requirements.
  • Because I travel a great deal in my car, I use what the dealers call the heavy maintenance schedule.  I also service my car at the dealer rather than at grease monkey. My dealer, at least, does a fourteen point check of the entire car (beyond fluids and tires), from brakes to batteries to gears. In this case I was overdue for this and had this done last week. Normally, this is not a separate act as such, just part of my regular life schedule.
  • I double, triple check to make sure that my roadside service is current and the information I have is available. In doing so I learned that GEICO has a smart phone app that allows me to both show my insurance info to a police officer and access emergency services by the app.
  • Even though I rely primarily on my smart phone, I do plan a rough route on Mapquest, and purchase folding maps (the plastic laminated ones). I am never sure exactly how far I will travel on a strange route. While I don't make reservations, I do make notes of which towns have real hotels and motels as opposed to the "sleep here motel".  On this particular trip, the first day especially is questionable as we will leave at one in the afternoon. Note that I have never had any real problems finding sleeping arrangements on the road at times that were not holiday travel times. I may have had to make more than one rest stop call, but I have never had to choose sleeping in my car as an option.
  • I prepare the cooler. In addition to purchasing food, this means putting the ice packs in the freezer, making sure the plastic dishes and silverware are packed and cleaned, and everything is ready so in the morning I just need to pack the thing. 
  • I make a simple packing list. One of the huge advantages of car road tripping is that space is generally not an issue. I can take as many clothes as I want, as well as pillows. My packing list is a simple reminder and generally includes specific personal items, medicine, technology and cords, sunglasses, camera and the like. My list allows me to have my car loaded in less than a half an hour.
  • I pack my bag and my overnight bag. When I am destination traveling (as in this case), I have a small bag for the items I will use in the road hotels along the way, and everything else is in the big suitcase that I pull out at relatives or at the main hotel. When I do traditional road tripping (part of my trip home, and my gulf coast road trip for example), this one gets thrown aside.  I also have a special "travel purse". My purses are normally just my wallet with wrist strap or a small purse. For the road I have a large bag for the front seat that holds my tablet, money and maps, and things I may need to reach while I am driving or at a stop.
There you have it, my minimal road trip preparation. I do realize that others may not have the same ease leaving their house as I do, with family members close, and for them step one may be more difficult.  People who are less seat of the pants travelers may make specific destinations for each day. I drive when I feel like it and stop when the spirit moves.

And just to show you that frugality has it's own rewards, I have upgraded my hotel in Seattle-to a price well beyond frugal or $125 a night. One of the advantages of being frugal most of the time is so that you do not have do so all the time. I am now sleeping at the W Seattle for five nights.  This hotel describes itself as hip and contemporary, and rooms are listed as wonderful, spectacular, cool corner, and wow.  Sometimes you just have to do this!!

In other news:

It seems I've downsized another holiday-with ease and happiness. My nephew's birthday is the day before Easter. With a large  family dinner that night, Easter itself will be a calm at home day. At this point we are looking at church, possibly brunch and the rest of the day to relax and pack.  Not only does this work for me, I've done no more decorating than an Easter egg tree and a few stuffed animals!

My small grumbling has to do with the fact that I am finding getting paid twice irritating rather than helpful. I know many people like this and prefer it to the once a month paycheck-not me. I prefer to sit down, do everything at once and have it behind me. I'll work it out eventually, but meanwhile allow me to grumble just a tad for a few days.

As to my huge relief, well, let me tell you about Bob.  You see, my son has gotten a nice inheritance.  While one never looks such a thing in the face, especially an unemployed college student, the original wisdom was that this would arrive a few days after Christmas.  Since said son's Ford Explorer shook above 30 mph, he sold it, thinking we might share a car for a couple weeks. That couple weeks has now been 4 months. The cash is finally here, and with me playing taxi driver and riding passenger during more than a few test drives, we now have Bob. Bob is a white Chevy Silverado truck with four doors. Bob will allow my son to do landscaping and other jobs as well as hauling and house clean outs. More importantly, Bob allow me to do what I want when I want.  I'm freeee!!!!!!!

And so it goes this Thursday in retirement!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Netflix and Amazon, My College Basketball Bracket Disaster and Other Retirement Mumblings

I  have cable TV.  Let me rephrase that one. I consider myself a frugal, tightwad, intelligent, adventurous retiree and I have cable-and I plan to keep it.

Why, you may ask?  Unfortunately, one cannot stream football, or college football, or NCAA basketball, or worldwide football (soccer to the rest of you), or the Olympics.  Put simply, those of us who are true sports fans have a different perspective on the "get rid of cable" discussion.  The alternative would be to spend most of my weekends at certain times of the year at Buffalo Wild Wings. I figure it's much better for me to have the TV on while I am cooking or sewing, or beating everyone I know at scrabble rather than sitting at the bar with drinks and munchies-both from a health and a financial perspective.  So cable stays in the budget, getting much more face time in fall and winter, with minimal visits from April through the fall.

Of course into every sporting life rain must fall. Sometimes more than others.  Like now. To those basketball fans who are reading this, let me say that I did fill out a bracket.  Thank heavens above that it was just for fun, however, because even for fun I am still crying in my proverbial beer-and my bracket is already confetti. Baylor, Villanova, Virginia, and more-they are dropping like flies.  My only hopes now are Gonzaga and Michigan State.  I needed five days before this tournament continued to re-fortify myself.

Meanwhile, while when it comes to regular television watching, it seems I've re-discovered Amazon and Netflix and their proprietary television series.  While everyone seems to know about House of Cards, that is only one small part of what is currently offered and what is coming.

Amazon especially is luring me in. It seems that they have a policy of showing a group of premier episodes, and then having viewers vote on them.  Amazon then chooses about half to become series.  Recently I watched the Harry Bosh series (actually produced and directed by Michael Connolly).  The classic novel The Man In the High Castle has been made into a series and will appear soon.  I also watched a one hour preview last night and I can't decide if I love it or hate it. Netflix has not let me down either.  Tonight after everyone is in bed, I plan on watching some the TV series Bloodline, which is supposedly better than House of Cards. Oh the joys of being a night owl!

Life is, at the moment, at an activity crossroads.  While spring is beginning to arrive, with a two week trip planned beginning April 6, there is no point planting and digging until I return. My evening class is on a three week hiatus, we are finished painting the house, and I have ended one online course and the other has not yet begun. This has given me some down time to catch up on drawing, painting, knitting, and reading-all but one of which can be done during the nighttime TV watching hours.

I'm now off to my last class before the break, and looking forward to some serious knitting time, some late night snacking and my flat screen.  And please, don't wake me before 10 am!