Thursday, August 25, 2016

When Parents Move Back Home

This blog has covered many topics over the years. Those topics include independence and activity, even in late retirement. My mother and father in- law have been the topic of those discussions on more than one occasion.

During their retirement, husband's parents were generally active, his father especially so. They traveled (including a  cruise all the way down the Amazon), they entertained, they were involved. My father in-law volunteered and mentored homeless and abused children. He was taking Zumba and walking the track at the rec center well past eighty. Also after eighty, he was completely rebuilding a Triumph Spitfire. I've shared more than once about the Christmas that he brought me into the garage to see his car and told me that he planned to change out the engine the next day.

They had paid off their home and planned to retire in place after doing some renovations, thinking that if they had to  have someone come in, that would not be a problem. Unfortunately the best laid plans and all that. A few years ago, my mother in-law had a stroke. This meant that John's father had to care for her. It soon became to difficult and at the (admittedly mildly aggressive) urging of their children, they sold their house and moved into independent living.

Two years ago, my mother in-law passed away in August. In the beginning, my father in-law seemed to be doing well. When I traveled to Texas the Christmas afterward, I took him to church (he was going on his own), on Christmas eve. He was going out and about on trips, exercising in the facility and more. I suspect now that he was putting on a good show. His daughter  lived two hours away and is still working in a position that requires long hours. Another daughter lives three hours away, and his son lived five hours away and also holds an executive job. They traveled to see him, they took him to his medical appointments and they visited as much as it could, but unfortunately it was not enough. While I was not there, I suspect depression had set in as well.

One year ago, my sister in-law's husband suggested that Jim move in with them, in their house, three hours away. That is what happened, and it has been a blessing all around (from what I see and hear as an occasional visitor). While I traveled last Christmas, I saw my Jim in Dallas as he had taken the train up for the holiday. This time, I managed to travel to Killeen with my daughter, and spend some quality time with all three member of the family down there.

I am happy to say that it works and it works well. Admittedly my father in-law has deteriorated. He's been in the hospital with sepsis a couple times, and his balance and energy have gone downhill a bit. He has chronic low grade diarrhea which limits his ability to go out much these days (although I was there when his nurse came and he is still very strong). His goal is to get his strength and balance back so he is able to walk his bulldog puppy. He has been diagnosed with some dementia (he told me three times in a morning that he still does the hard crossword puzzle every day, and yet he remembered every single street he lived on as a boy).

 In short, he is very, very happy. As are my sister in-law and her husband. Admittedly, they have unique circumstances. He is retired military and going to school part time. She is retired and enjoys being at home, even though for now he is close to a full time job. They still go out, in fact they went on a cruise and had a provider in to care for him during that time. Mainly they are homebody's in retirement who decided to build a pool so that all their friends could come and visit them. They have a routine, and it works for them. We all went out for dinner while I was there, and dad being dad, paid for it all.

Every situation with an elderly parent is different, as is every family. This particular parent is financially secure enough to contribute (and his daughter is a tiger when dealing with insurance and other issues). He and my sister in-law and her husband have always had a close relationship. Their house is laid out in such a manner that he has his own bedroom and bathroom. They live in a neighborhood where friends drop by often, and he has become part of their group and welcomed by all the adults and children that visit. He's an intelligent guy who can self entertain for the most part.

We all have to do what's right for us and our parent. In my case, looking at my in laws, I suspect were my parents living, that I would need to make the same choice. 

There is no right or wrong though, when it comes to caring for our parents and other family members.

Would you have a parent live with you at this point in your life?

Monday, August 8, 2016

Less Travel and Much more Vacation-Dealing With the Texas Heat

My apologies folks, typing on my portable device and because of auto spell have had to fix this more than once. Hopefully three times is a charm.

As a person who loves summer, there's heat, and then there's HEAT. Which is another way of saying that one of the advantages of road tripping, especially spontaneous, single  road tripping is that you get to change your mind. And your itinerary.

Colorado heat is dry. Phoenix heat is dry. Texas heat, even in the north, even in Hill Country is humid, like a blanket, and makes you sweat buckets before you are even out the door.

All of which is to say that I have come to a convention in Houston the first three days in November. And since October fest and antique markets are one of the highlights of fall in texas Hill Country, I'll simply head down a full week or more early and enjoy some slightly cooler travel weather.

Meanwhile, I had a special drive on the way down through New Mexico, and am planing multiple side routes on the way home by way of Palo Duro Canyon. My daughter and I are pampering ourselves, eating out and more. And that trip to see my father in law that's far overdue? Will be a more extended stay, with mimosas and more as I sit next to (or even in) my sister in law's beautiful, in ground pool.

And so it goes this week in retirement. In Texas. In August.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Single Retirement-Going Solo On The Open Road (Again)

It's a new month, and that mean's it's time for a road trip. Time to go explore New Mexico and Texas Hill Country, check out Magnolia Farms in Waco, Texas, visit my father in law-and of course spending some quality time with my daughter and husband. That's right, I'm going from hot and dry to hotter and more humid.

As normally happens every time I take a road trip, I get lots and lots of questions. Aren't I afraid to travel by myself?  What do I do about going out to eat?  How do I stay awake when I drive?  Do people treat me differently? And why don't I just fly? Apparently, a lot of folks are uncomfortable road tripping, as well as traveling alone.

When people ask how I feel safe when driving, my first answer is always that I have a smart phone with wonderful 4G reception. Yea, I know there are a bunch of readers and other folks who think that a smart phone is an abomination, but modern technology has allowed me to feel safe on some pretty deserted roads at some pretty odd hours. And, while not trying to sound like the latest commercial, I have never, ever been without 4G service no matter the road conditions. Thank you, Verizon Wireless!! Actually, my smart phone is my best travel companion on every level, from finding the cheapest gas to providing GPS, to making reservations by pushing a button, to having a digital picture of my insurance card. But more on all that later.

For everything other than  broken on the side of the road safety (stay in the car, lock the door and call the insurance company), I figure staying safe on the road is simply common sense. When I get to the hotel I text quickly and let someone know where I stopped the night. When I stop for food and or gas, I aim to hit mainly truck stops. I don't roll down my window for strangers at get the idea.

As far as doing things alone, this is something I have never had a great issue with. I try to go out to dinner earlier than later, but that's more because of the crowds than discomfort. I take a book with me-and if they have windows near the front, I ask to be seated there so that I can people watch. 

Whenever it works, I stay somewhere with a common room, or common eating area of some such. These are often more business oriented or more hostel-like or bed and breakfast-like. At the Hilton Garden Inn in Carlsbad, California there was a small happy hour daily for the guests. Every afternoon after exploring San Diego or going to the beach, most guests would gather there before doing their evening thing. I've been at a large bed and breakfasts where there were group meals, and most hostels have common areas where people sit and talk.

If I'm not traveling to or with family and friends, I make sure to try and find something going on that will give me a chance to seriously converse with like minded people. It's not necessarily, but when such a thing exists it's always fun, be it a crafting convention, a near by church with a coffee hour, or even taking the hop on hop off bus or boat tour the first day I am in a new place. On this particular trip, I am visiting every quilt shop along my way, and may sit in on a class or so, so I am sure to be busy. I'm especially looking forward to my favorite shop, Quilt country, and I have an envelope put aside specifically for that store. I'm coming, fabric!!!  

Having said all of that, in solo travel as in anything else, you need to be comfortable with your own company, at least for a few days. As my son would put it, I self-entertain very well, be it in the car while driving (streaming Audio books and Pandora and even a Great Course class if it doesn't require visuals), or in the city, on the beach, or in a small town. Give me a journal, sketch book, tablet with Kindle app and fairly interesting surroundings, and I am rarely bored. 

And now, I'm off to get packing! Postings for the next two weeks will probably be shorter, sweeter, and more about the photos, if you know what I mean!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Exploring The Local: Big Thompson Canyon and Estes Park

The elk at Estes Park walk at will and have been known to shut down the main drag

 So some of you may remember that I talked about a beach trip later this summer, and called it a vacation. That vacation has since been delayed until October. It's so beautiful in Colorado and hot in Texas that I figured I would save the road tripping for when I would appreciate it most.

As I've been planning the rest of my summer and fall, I realized something though.  Travel can be almost anything. It doesn't have to be international, nor does it need to be for weeks on end. Travel is exploring and experiencing what is (mainly) new. I expect that if I went to this new cabin at the beach every summer, then it would be a vacation in it truest sense, but the fact that I am mainly sitting and relaxing as opposed to climbing mountains or ruins does not make it any less valuable in terms of experience.

Don't get me wrong, I've done some serious travel with the proverbial capital T in my life. I've also taken many, many trips close to home (wherever that was at the time) and enjoyed those trips just as much.

Summer in Colorado is dry and hot, and there is much to see and do, even if you are a less than athletic type as I am. In fact, one of the things I've been doing is making a list of day trips, two day trips and three day trips, with a plan to take one every week whenever possible. Trips to Jackson Hole and Montana require three days.

This past weekend, we took a quick one day trip to Estes Park. I know that some of my blogging friends and readers have experienced Estes Park, and enjoyed it. However, when most people visit this resort town, they enter head on, seeing the view below (which is beautiful, to be sure). 

the traditional, post card entrance to Estes, courtesy of the town website.
The better drive though, is to travel further north going towards Wyoming and drive through the Big Thompson Canyon. This road takes about an hour, and winds through the canyons and cliffs along the river. Along the drive there are elk and other wildlife, tons of folks knee high in the river fishing (at this time of year), and small cabins and tour sites all along both sides of the canyon. Unfortunately, no one else had a camera and I was the driver, so the canyon pictures are not mine.

driving along the river

The back side of these cabins sit back from the road. I could imagine sitting here for a week just enjoying that balcony.

Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

We especially wanted to take this drive since the canyon will close from October to summer of 2017- the canyon was damaged in the floods of 2013, while it has mainly returned to normal, there is some work to be done.   Beautiful as the canyon is now, with not to be missed views, it was not always so. Exactly forty years ago today (which was also Colorado's centennial), 12 inches of rain fell in about three and a half hours in the upper canyon. The dam (small as it was) was breached. Later that evening, a wall of twenty feet of water came down the canyon to where folks were in cabins and camping. 143 people died, and bodies were never found. It was a long recovery, homes were completely destroyed. These days thankfully, the canyon is safe and back to it's normal beauty.

As well as Estes park, the canyon also leads to Rocky Mountain National park-and hiking, camping, horseback riding, picnicking, rafting and more!  On this trip though (and after our two hour scenic drive) we spent the next few ours in beautiful downtown Estes Park. As did lots of other people. Surprisingly, there was nothing "going on" on this particular weekend (Estes has parks and fairs and festivals at least every other weekend for half a year). Since we had brought a canine family member with us, it worked out well.

The river winding through town, lots of big dogs running in the water
A quick stop to look at the yard art, I love the dog with flopping ear on left

When you leave the big dog at home, and allow the little princess to eat on the patio

Being as it's a very dog friendly town, we had lunch out on the patio on the river-walk. We then explored art galleries, various craft and other unique stores (with more than one tourist shop in between), checked out the yard art and listened to street musicians. I somehow managed not to buy any Colorado Taffy or fudge, thank heavens.  Hours later, we were all exhausted and ready to come down the hill to home (taking another route that goes along the front range and Boulder).

Today, I'm back relaxing and enjoying the patio and a slow day in the heat of the summer. Next week, Ill be heading to Dallas and Hill Country for a week or so, but I'm looking forward to another day trip or so when I come back-perhaps a long weekend in Jackson Hole?

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Lifelong Learning in Retirement - So Many Choices...............

For the past year and a half, I have been been doing "senior college" as I take course through our local Olli program at DU. For the most part I have really enjoyed these courses and found them to be challenging and fun, especially the Great Decisions courses. This fall though, I am probably not going to be able to take a course through Olli, so I am asking my fellow bloggers and readers their thoughts.

I tend to not be a person who likes to over schedule-I keep my mornings for at home time, exercise class, and nesting. In the afternoon and occasional evenings is when I have meetings and volunteer and do other things. Even so this fall has led to a situation where I will probably not be able to take any in person classes, at least through Olli. This is mainly because the classes that interest me conflict with knitting and volunteering this year and the classes on my free days are really not inspiring me, if you will. While Olli is very, very reasonable ($130 a semester for as many classes and seminars as you choose), I don't want to spend on classes that are not truly holding my interest.

In order to keep myself challenged, I do want to take a course-at least one. The question of course, is where and how. I could take a "real" college course-but these can be expensive and I get plenty of socialization, so maybe I should look at taking courses at home? I can take them whenever I want, spend as much time a s I want in a single day on a topic, and not have to leave the house.

So far I have looked at MIT open courseware, Open Culture, and Coursera.  All of these options are free, and there are more courses to choose from than I can say. I am sure these are not the only free options.

I've also looked at the Great Courses-which are not free. If you have not checked them out, Great Courses has literally thousands of courses to choose from. Classes range from fifteen lectures (most are thirty minutes) to as many as 48 (History of European Art). A class on the world's greatest paintings has 24 lectures. In the same way, price varies from as low as $60 a course (the Greatest Paintings above, on sale), to $400, depending. In other words, not free.

Free is not always necessary though, and there seems to be some very good classes in this mix, although I have not tried them out yet. More importantly, there is now a subscription service, Great Courses Plus. For a monthly fee (which seems to be $14.99), you can access as many courses as you would like in their library.

Now admittedly the subscription service does not have as many course options as the full Great Course program. It also does not have the DVD option vs streaming that I can see that the regular Great Course website does. But there are A LOT of choices, and more being added regularly. More importantly, it will let me to check out the quality of the programs for a low monthly amount, and allow me to consider if the high fee courses would be worth the money . Actually, it looks like they have a free trial right now. I believe I will begin with How To Draw, and move on to perhaps Genealogy!!

Meanwhile, fellow bloggers, readers and passers by............what was your favorite non-required course, in retirement or anytime. Would you rather take and in person class, an online class, both, or does it matter??

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Day the Frugal Retiree Gave Up Cooking (Sort Of)

I have a confession to make. Well, I suppose it's not a real confession as many long time readers know this fact already:  I don't like to cook.  More important than that, I am not a very good cook at all. Baking now, that's a separate area.  I lived for almost thirty years with a guy who was a true chef, and have other family members (most of them male) who cook and cook really well. I do not cook well. I do not necessarily love to cook. What can I say? I an not one of those many retirees who finds cooking a hobby or relaxing.

On the other hand, I do like to eat.  I don't want to eat fast food or take out as such all the time, and I am never gonna be that popcorn, veggies and dip for dinner person. So what's a girl to do, especially a frugal girl?

As part of this frugal blog, I've shared before about shopping for three people and two dogs on less than $300 a month (sometimes much less), while eating very, very well. Our diet includes all kinds of meat including lamb, wine and beer and more. The only problem is, in addition to cooking many things from scratch, there was a certain amount of organization involved-and I've apparently lost or given up many of my organizational skills in retirement. I have better things to do than cook and shop at this point in my life. I especially have no patience for the planning of what to eat every night. Family cooks who have planned a weeks worth of meals for five or seven days a week since kids were small will understand, I am sure. The deciding is at least as difficult as the preparation itself.

As of last week, we are eating and shopping a little differently around here, experimenting if you will. I am purchasing many "fend for yourself" type foods such as good quality cold cuts and salads, a quiche, precooked chicken and burgers. We now have cut up fruits and one of those big veggie trays with the dip.

I am blessed to have good take out in my area, so we will probably do that a couple times a week. By takeout I mean places like Downtown dinners, that has ready made meals for three or six. I mean my local Rav House that has pasta and ready to go meals (fresh and frozen) that feed three people each. I also am taking advantage of my grocery deli to get things like a roasted chicken, three large crab cakes and more. Yes, I know many of you think that homemade crab cakes are really easy to make and that taking advantage of the seafood section is a cheat-so did my late husband. Only he's no longer here to cook for me.

Last but not least, I am actually cooking-one or two days a week. Easy meals that require the slow cooker or the oven. Meals that I can double and freeze. Meals that hopefully, I cannot ruin. Meals that can be doubled or tripled and frozen saving me from cooking another time. Meals that can be cooked on my super sized grill and then cut up into salads and the like. This week those meals include buffalo style regular sized drumsticks, and grilling three pork tenderloins at the same time.

I'm still the queen of the coupons, and I still stock up even though we are just two (two and a half, I suppose). After all, buying and stocking up means I don't have to cook as much, just as cooking and freezing does as well. I still only buy the loss leaders when I shop for regular food-I just plan on using them differently.

What will happen to my retirement grocery budget?  Who knows?  What will happen to this plan in cooler weather?  It waits to be seen. I am letting go of something in retirement, and saving my limited cooking skills for when I have time and energy. 

And as for that grocery bill?  What will be will be. Within reason.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

$100 Face Cream and Kmart Shirts-Balancing Spending in Retirement

I have dry skin. Not Oil of Olay dry skin (not to pick on that specific brand). The kind of dry skin that makes me want to moisturize not only in the morning, but again during the day-making minimal makeup a requirement. Anytime I talk about frugal or streamlined fashion/grooming in retirement, I get many comments on the evils of the cosmetics industry. I also get all kinds of shares on how basic grocery store personal products are all you need.

Only.......none of those products work for me. Now before you all jump in to comment, remember where I live. Folks that live almost anywhere on the eastern seaboard, Northern pacific Coast, Gulf Coast and part of the Midwest have a differing understanding of dry that those of us in the western Plains and mountain states. No humidity means that warm and cold feel entirely different than the bone chill of the East coast.  But there are two sides to every coin....

I have finally given up trying to find grocery store or pharmacy products, and moved on to Macy's. After allowing the lovely sales person you show and explain and show some more, I left the store with a jar of $50 night cream and one the same price for the daytime that has sunscreen in it. I also bought other items like cleanser. 

A couple weeks later I am thrilled. No double moisturizing, I don't need a lot off the stuff. Happy camper here. Fear not, I have not drunk the proverbial kool-aid. I still use mid-range hair products and store brand body wash, as well as coloring my own hair. But we all have areas of spending versus no spend and I guess these are mine.

On the other hand-or at the other extreme some might say- are my Kmart and thrift store clothing purchases. After going down a size and a half in the past year, my warm weather wearable inventory included one pair of shorts, one pair of crop pants and two skirts (tops and dresses all still wearable). Since I am thinking that I will be wearing a different size next year and because my days are more casual as more messy, I've kept my replacement purchases at the extreme cheapskate end of the spectrum. Bright tops and solid bottoms in the fifteen dollar range to 25 dollar range, and that's the very rare maximum purchase. As someone who usually buys quality to last, buying this way has been an experience on so many levels.  But this is only for one year, and it works for me.

I don't know about anyone else,  but for me frugal retirement is about these two extremes when it comes to both money and time allocations, rather than everything in the middle. I keep as tight as grocery budget as I can for someone who hates to cook, but I'm willing to go to a five star restaurant one to three times a year and eat well. I now stay only in midrange hotels on the road, no motels of any kind. But I have a gourmet picnic  backpack and  am happy to eat sandwiches, fruit and homemade snacks on eighty percent of any trip.

Even on so called spend as I want days I  purchase good quality clothing only at end of season sales. However, as many readers may recall, spending  $100 on really good shoes last year was something I did without a second thought. And of course, I purchase fabric and  craft items the way a normal shopaholic buys clothes, and I have two sewing machines and a serrger, and use them all.

Of course, I can be as big an impulse shopper as anyone else, and the evidence is my brand new Samsung tablet. It's almost twice the size of my previous kindle sized mini tablet and I love it. Verizon has gone to monthly payments and this was my first upgrade. I'm still learning the photo gallery, as well as being new to typing and editing on this instead of my laptop. So please bear with me. Oh, and I stick with Verizon because they have 4g everywhere.  Even the backwoods of Montana. I am never without a signal.

Meanwhile, today will be spent putzing around the house, anying to force myself to walk, hot as it is. Tomorrow? Time to throw the dogs in the car, hit the road and explore the local (as the saying goes).