Friday, March 17, 2017

Busy, Busy, Busy



I am still working at finding my new rhythm in retirement.  The end of work was pure craziness – but that was expected, given that it was the beginning of a new academic year, which is always a race to the finish line. My last day was exactly as I wanted it to be, with a wonderful party attended by most of my favorite people at Fordham.  I didn’t have time to fully process that, given that the following morning I was headed south to the Outer Banks for a week of vacation – a wonderful retirement gift from my sister and brother-in-law. A week later, I was racing back to Long Island to my daughter’s to gather my “stuff” before heading west to my new life in Batavia.

There was so much to do. Although we had moved my furniture and dozens of boxes in during August, I hadn’t had time to unpack. So every day was filled, unpacking, arranging and rearranging, getting my art on the walls, doing homeowner activities like having the furnace serviced, the house exterior painted, having my front patio repointed, some dead trees cut down in the back yard…. I was on a mission to get things done before winter, but more importantly, to get the house ready for a housewarming party before the weather turned too cold to allow guests access to the outside.

I had dozens of thank you notes to write in the aftermath of my farewell party at work.  I wanted to spend time during the week with David to “prove” that having me here was a value added for him. I had the housewarming party to plan. We also organized a Halloween party at my brother’s house. I was very, very busy. And that’s kind of very, very me.  I fail miserably at doing nothing.

I did make some strides in creating a new life. My friends here had formed a knitting group a year before, and were patiently awaiting my arrival to join.  So within a week or so of my arrival, I was initiated into the Knit Wits. I went to yoga every week with my friend, Mary. I bought a piano and found a teacher with the help of my friend, Margy. 

But, I also made the trip to New York City in September, October, November,  and twice in December.  Even though I was retired, and ever so much more rested and relaxed, I still didn’t feel like I had reclaimed my life.  My friend Anthony would send me texts on the 2nd of each month – You’ve been retired for one month. For two months. For three months.  I began to feel a little panicked. I wasn’t reading. I wasn’t exercising or dancing. Wasn’t making jewelry.  I wasn’t even thinking about writing a dissertation. I wasn’t blogging. My time was filled. I was not bored or discontent or unhappy in any way. But I didn’t exactly feel in control either.  I was carried along by my life, just as I always had been. 

I totally enjoyed the holiday season.  I decorated inside completely and outside too. I baked a zillion cookies and gave them away. I shopped and wrapped. Had my girlfriends from high school over. Participated in a progressive wine/appetizer party with my knitting friends. Went back to Fordham for their holiday party. Virginia for Christmas. NYC for the New Year. And then it was January.

A year ago, I had made plans with my sister and brother-in-law to rent a condo for January in Cape Coral, FL. A year ago, it had seemed like a really good idea. I would have the freedom to disappear for the whole month. No work obligations. Escape the northern cold. Why not? Well, when it was time to go, what I really wanted to do was just stay home. Stay put. Figure out what the rhythm of my days was without goals like housewarming parties and holidays. But since it was already planned and paid for, I headed south that first week in January, not to return until the end of the month.

On some levels, it was a very nice interlude. The weather was terrific. I was teaching a course at Fordham that started the second week of the month, so I had students to attend to. I was reading applications for the Admissions Department. I had taken a keyboard with me so I could practice piano every day. We did some sightseeing and enjoyed a couple of lunches with cousins who live and/or winter there. I knitted, planned another party at my brother's house, took him down for the final week of our stay. But it felt very temporary and I was eager to pick up my new life and find a routine that fit.... that wasn't frenetic....but kept me interested and content.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Stupid House!



My offer on my new home had been accepted before I told very many people about my plans to retire and relocate back to Batavia.  As I brought more and more people in my life up to date, almost everyone got around to saying something along the lines of, “I bet David is so excited.” 

Ya think? Well, David was definitely not excited. I wasn’t particularly surprised by this, considering how well I know my little brother. Since our mom passed away 10 years ago, David had gotten used to the practice of going to NYC for his birthday at Thanksgiving and at Christmas, and sometimes around our summer vacation. This was a big deal. Driving across the Tappan Zee Bridge. Pulling onto the ramp into my garage. Taking Metro North to the city. The subway. Eating spinach pie at The Flame diner. Going to my office and being greeted warmly by my friends and colleagues there. Radio City and the Rockettes. The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center and all the decorations in midtown. Seeing Broadway plays. Walking around Time Square and taking photos.   Meeting my daughter, Julie, who often took him out and about if I had to teach a class. This was great fun and something he looked very much forward to. I knew that he would see my leaving NYC as a negative because he would think it would mean the end of that fun. So I was prepared for his denial when I told him that the house on River Street was mine.

It didn’t really compute at first. It wasn’t real for him because I was still living and working in New York City. But he “got” enough for me to broach the subject that my moving didn’t mean that he wouldn’t ever get to go to NY again. “Of course, we’ll go to New York City,” I told him more than once. I reminded him that  Julie, still lived there and we could still go visit her. I explained that I wouldn’t be moving until September. 

He adopted an attitude not unlike a teenager when you tell him/her to clean their room. Every time I took him to River St or talked about the house, he would smile like he was humoring me and say, “Maybe soon,” but in a way that conveyed, “In your dreams,”  or “Not now, not ever.” 

The months ticked by.  Pretty soon it was a matter of a few weeks before my life would change completely. My apartment went on the market, was sold very quickly, and closing set for mid-August. I hired a truck and a couple of movers on the NYC end. My sister and brother-in-law were on board to go to NYC to help. I lined up a few friends on the Batavia end for the unload. My brother’s jaw would harden as I kept him in the loop, reminding him that pretty soon, I would be there all the time. “You work!” he told me one day. “I am retiring from my job, David,” I patiently said. “I told you before that I won’t be working at school any more.” He sputtered, “You make money!” Translate: How are you going to take me on trips and out to eat and bowling and to the movies if you aren’t making money??

I explained that I had saved my money, and maybe I would work a little but I was very tired and I was old enough to not work all the time. Again, as I had so many times, I told him that we would have more time to have fun together. We could go do something on a Tuesday. We could still go to New York City. 

He wasn’t having it. My sister told me that when she called him a few days before they were coming to move me, he had vehemently told her, “Stupid house.” 

I had been very patient with his denial. Gently reminding him that it was going to happen. Bringing him over to the house during the renovations which went on all spring/summer. But now that my moving was imminent and he was being so negative, I had to admit that his attitude was starting to get to me. For 10 years I had risked life and limb driving 700+ miles at minimum twice a month to see him. Dodging deer, driving in all kinds of weather, sleep deprived.  Putting my life on hold. Had made sure he had what he needed and wanted in terms of clothes, food, fun, magazines, sewed his buttons back on, changed his blown light bulbs, helped him decorate his room every holiday, made sure he had gifts to give to family and friends at Christmas and birthdays – the list was endless, and I wasn’t one to ponder it ever. But his pushing back on this hurt. A lot. 

Despite his feelings about the matter, I moved in. I brought him over for meals. Had picnics on the back patio. Picked him up on Tuesdays for lunch. Took him to concerts. Got him back into ceramics. Made cookies together.  DVR’d his wrestling shows so he could catch what he missed when he fell asleep during them at home. I kept my promise and took him to  New York City for his birthday in November that included a visit to Fordham, lunch at the Flame, spending time with Julie, and going to the train show at the Bronx Botanical Garden.  

Now, six months into it, when people comment that “David must be happy about your move,” I can finally say, “Yes, I think he is.” I missed a call from him tonight when I didn’t hear my cell phone in time. He left a message. “Um, Dee,” (that’s what he calls me, don’t ask), “I call you. You pick me up Friday night. 5:30 fish fry. I out of yogurt and snacks for my workshop. You buy for me? That stuff for my foot? You have more for me? Please. You call me. 345-xxxx.”  My heart melts.  I'm crazy about this dude. I think he’s adjusted. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Searching for the "Right" Home



I tend toward obsessiveness. Mostly it serves me well, as long as I retain the ability to turn it off when other demands intervene.

I was obsessive about house hunting.  I went on realtor.com several times a day, looking for new posts. I quickly learned that Batavia is full of very old, large homes with multiple bedrooms and only one bathroom.  These are generally inexpensive and often in need of a great deal of “work”.  After cruising past several of them, I determined that, though affordable, these were “too much house” for me.  I could not imagine cleaning them or heating them.  I would need a smaller ranch or perhaps a Cape Cod.

I expanded my search to neighboring towns… Byron, Bergen, Oakfield, Elba, LeRoy, though I soon took these off the table. Besides wanting to be close to my brother’s house, I didn’t want a run to Walmart or Home Depot to be a major undertaking. Every weekend I was in town, my friend, Mary and I met my realtor and saw a few properties. We were often disappointed by our visits. Outdated kitchens. No dining room. Oddly designed bathrooms. Cobbled together storage in cobbled together bedrooms.  No garage. Detached garage.  Ill-conceived additions.   Animal smells.

There were a couple I anguished over before rejecting. One of them was on the same road I grew up on and was sandwiched between the former homes of two of my best girlfriends from school. Wouldn’t that be kind of a ‘meant to be’ situation?? The downstairs was really cute and modern with some nice touches, including a fire place. But it was floor to ceiling windows in both dining and living rooms and try as I might, I could not imagine where any of my furniture would go as there were no walls that were usable.  And the upstairs bedrooms had very odd storage arrangements, including windows that had been blocked out to accommodate closets.

I made lists:
Pros                                          Cons
Location                                    No usable walls
Big yard                                     Detached garage
Modern kitchen                         Upstairs bedrooms a mess
Lots of windows                        No entryway
Hardwood floors                       Over my budget

Ultimately, I had to admit that the emotional draw to a home on Clinton Street was the primary reason that this house was in contention. Any other location and I would have rejected it for all of the cons instantly. I moved on.

We usually took my brother David with us on these adventures. He didn’t understand why we were looking at houses, but he always brought his camera along to take pictures. I thought this might be useful until I realized that the aspects he focused on and photographed were not in line with what I would want to recall.   As Mary and I were developing my list of “must-haves” – attached garage, hardwood floors, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, dining room, fireplace, usable and big enough yard, dry and usable basement, close to town – his requirements included an American flag and a large flat screen television. 

When I saw my River Street home on realtor.com, I emailed my agent immediately. She knew the home. It has belonged to a former colleague of hers who had relocated to Florida in retirement. We immediately scheduled a time for me to see it on the coming weekend. It was love at first sight. Everything about this house was right.  Not too big, but not too small. Without repeating myself, it had every single item on my must-have list. Even the price felt within the range of fair. My agent said, “I knew you would like this.” I started to feel anxious – was anyone else looking at the house? Were they interested? Had an offer been made? What did she think? She was honest – she advised me not to wait too long.

Back at home in Hartsdale, I couldn’t get the house out of my head. I was afraid to let it go, afraid to assume I would find something else equally as good. But I wanted the opinions of other people who had more experience with home-owning than I. I arranged to return just a few days later and asked my friends, Tom and Jim, to come see it and render their assessment. They both gave it the ‘thumbs up.’  I put in an offer on Nov 12 at 10 a.m. By 1 p.m., we had a counter-offer, and five short weeks later, the magic words – ‘cleared to close.’  

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Facing the "What Ifs'



I looked at my first property before I actually moved the date of my retirement up a year.  It was Labor Day weekend and I was staying with my friends, Tom & Mary, in their old farmhouse that happened to be almost across the street from my brother’s group home. It was kind of a lark. Mary had mentioned that the house next door to them –which really WAS across the street from my brother’s home – was having an open house that Sunday, and suggested that we just walk over and take a look. Why not? I was game so we ambled over cross lots at the appointed hour and saw the house. My fantasies began. Wouldn’t it be cool to live next door to them and across the street from my brother?? Would it be foolish to buy that house even though I wasn’t planning to retire for another year and nine months? The house had some very positive aspects – mostly its location – but several negative ones. It was way overpriced, it needed a lot of work, and it smelled like a litter box.   I ended up going back two more times before I reluctantly moved my attention to other properties.

Meanwhile, Mary was playing devil’s advocate. Although excited at the possibility of my relocation to Batavia, she cautioned against impulsivity and wondered where I saw myself in five or ten years. Could I really see myself leaving New York City? And what about my daughter? How would I feel about moving away from her?

I rarely do anything without thinking about every possible angle and examining what my gut and brain are feeling and thinking. Usually when contemplating any big change, I start by spending a few days living as if I have made up my mind already and see how that feels. Does it “fit” or does it feel “not quite right”? That approach has worked for me again and again. I responded to her queries.

The five and ten year plans were primarily about retirement. I had met with a representative from my retirement plan at work during the previous winter. She had asked me what I wanted out of retirement. As I listed for her the things I wanted  – to dance, write, play my guitar, make jewelry, read, see movies – I realized that it all came down to time. What I wanted from retirement was time to do the things that made me happy.  I had already thought about the possibility of moving away from NYC due to the expense involved in living there.  Although I loved the city and had taken advantage of its cultural opportunities, I knew that if there was something I really wanted to do or see there, I could always visit. Although I had met a great many people over my 30 years there, there were relatively few with whom I was very close. Those people would always be in my life, wherever I ended up. The rest were acquaintances. I am philosophical about the nature of relationships, having long embraced a piece by Jean Dominique Martin which talks about people coming into one’s life for a ‘reason, a season, or a lifetime.’
  
I also don’t believe that any change of lifestyle has to be forever. The best you can do is make decisions based on here and now and the foreseeable future (which isn’t that far ahead)  – and know that down the road, for whatever reason – there might be a different here and now that necessitates further change.

My daughter was (and is) busy leading her own life, working crazy hours, with lots of weekends. Recently married, when she did have free time, which wasn’t often, naturally she wanted to spend it with her new husband. We often go weeks without seeing each other, although we text each other most days. I suspected that having a grandchild was not in my future so there would be no reason to stay close by to help with a baby. 

The plus side to relocating was being closer to my brother and better able to monitor his living situation in addition to already knowing many people in the area.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a yard and a garden? Wouldn’t it be nice to not worry about making noise that bothered upstairs, downstairs, or sideways neighbors? Wouldn’t it be nice to be free of co-op rules that prohibited grills on balconies, wreaths on doors, or doing anything to attract birds? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a second or third bedroom for house guests? 

Were there negatives? A few. Chief among them were snow and super long winters, filled with gloomy days. I was very aware of how depressed my mom used to get from day after day of cold and gray.  But there were options there too – like leaving town for the worst of it. Florida. Arizona. Or there were lamps that simulate daylight. I could stock up on them. 

What if something happened to my brother? Would I regret having moved under that circumstance? The reality is that someday, something WILL happen to my brother. I just hope that he doesn’t outlive me. If I were unable to reimagine my life here without him, well, there are other places I could relocate. I did not see that eventuality as a deterrent.  Life is fluid.

I also recognized that it was a very real possibility that my own health could suffer as I got older. I determined that were I to get to the point health-wise where my daughter was stressed by having me across the state, I would willingly go wherever it made her life easier. I would not want her to feel tortured by my needs, made worse by a distance of almost 400 miles. 

As Mary and I talked all of these considerations over, the “rightness” of the relocation plan emerged, along with a commitment to make it happen on an accelerated schedule.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Retirement Journey

Life got in my way. I look at my blog and cannot believe that my last entry was in January of 2015. My entries had been sporadic at best for a couple of years. That was because I had landed in a place where the thoughts that were front and center were such that, I knew if I wrote about them -- wrote my truth, that I risked alienating people in ways I sensed I would regret. A writing coach might have egged me on but I wasn't ready to go there.

There was also a lot going on in my life with elderly relatives who needed my time and attention. That's a subject for another entry. 

In May of that year, I turned 62. Although I had not anticipated that this particular birthday would have any impact on my internal state, it did in a very big way. Suddenly, I had options relative to the workplace. 

I. could. retire. 

The recognition of that was riveting.  My job in a university, as director of a department that was integral to the functioning of that school, was very, very stressful. While there were elements of the job that I very much enjoyed and many people with whom I worked that I valued, increasingly I felt just plain worn out.
There were many external factors at play -- the withering of needed resources as a result of the economic climate, increased competition from at least a dozen other schools vying for those limited resources, the constant demand to produce more with less and years of walking on eggshells with someone at the top that had demoralized me in ways were not healing. 

I felt in a constant state of agitation. I had stopped answering my office phone because I desperately needed to insert time and space between myself and those on the other end who were always demanding something from me. I had begun to look at everyone who walked into my office with a battle-ready wariness, expecting to be accosted and dumped on. A particularly horrifying painting from junior high art class kept coming to mind – The Flaying of Marsyas by Titan.  I felt like I was being flayed… that people were picking away at me a little at a time.    

Previous to turning 62, I had planned, kinda, sorta, to retire in the summer of 2017. My second-in-command, who had been by my side for 15 years there, and for 6 years in a previous job, and I dreamed about exiting at the same time -- neither of us wanted to imagine life there without the other. I soldiered on. Two years to go and we would jump ship together.

A series of life-altering events transpired during that summer with the afore-mentioned elderly relatives. And summer is traditionally a very, very busy and stressful time in my workplace. Preparation for the upcoming academic year typically requires very long days and nights (not to mention weekends) and generates significant anxiety and sudden deluges of tears. There is too much to do and too little time in which to do it, even when one is efficient and competent.  The calendar is a relentless task-master. September is coming. Students are returning. We must be ready.  

One particular week, returning from a weekend of attending to my relatives’ needs, feeling like the air was being squeezed out of me by invisible hands circling my throat, I had a realization. It was:

I don’t have it “in me” to do this more than one more time. 

Could I possibly engineer an earlier exit? My mind spun in its characteristic way with a new idea. Money would be the biggest issue. I had quite a bit saved for retirement, but I also had a co-op with 13 more years of a hefty mortgage and monthly maintenance fees that were about to be higher than the mortgage. And like many co-ops, the board was threatening a series of capital improvements that would require extra assessments for owners. On a fixed income, that could be catastrophic.

So for the first time since I had moved there in 1984, I contemplated leaving my beloved NYC.  After considering and rejecting several options, my swirling brain landed on moving back home to the small town where I grew up. Previously, going back had been less likely than, oh – say, my becoming a brain surgeon or rock star. But my perspective about the place had slowly been undergoing a change. “Home” was no longer the stifling prison without possibilities I had fled. Now, I could imagine living there and being content. 

Moving home would also eliminate another huge stressor by rendering unnecessary the twice-monthly trips I was making to care for my brother, David. For ten years, since our mother died, I had been on the road at 2:30 a.m. on alternate Saturdays, arriving in Batavia in time to pick up my brother for breakfast. And then, without skipping a beat (or taking a nap), we would go on about our day -- running errands, going bowling, seeing movies, eating out, doing things for our aunt/uncle. I would collapse late that night, sleep like the dead, and get up on Sunday to take him out for breakfast again and another round of activities, before driving back to New York City late in the afternoon. I was exhausted. I had so many close calls drifting off on the road that I am convinced I am alive today only because my mother in heaven whispered WAKE UP in my ear a dozen times every trip.

I started stalking realtor.com. 

Stay tuned for more of the journey.