Friday, September 21, 2007

Reply to David's Comments

See comments for David Walker at the end of the previous blog entry for reference!

I like the imagery of the turtle-shell house... mine is not as easy to carry around since I am the family historian, record keeper, and genealogist. I have mountains of materials that belong in a library for those who may one day find it useful in defining their lives, their stories, their connections. Old letters, old photos, old secrets, old clothes, jewelry, memorabilia - these are as much a burden as a gift. Perhaps they are more of a burden as I continue to age...

You are blessed to have your home for 35 years in a neighborhood shared with others over time. Your stories mesh and dance in parallel harmony as you age. This is our 8th home in our 41+ years of marriage - we've had and lost many friends and neighbors over time and distance. We currently live in a townhouse community where nearly all couples work full time. While there is a diversity of ages and ethnicity's, the only thing we share are the streets as we drive in and out of the development. There is no community center, therefore little or no community. I work at home and see very few people in the course of a day - even when I walk a mile or so each day. Dog walkers come to walk the neighbor dogs, school buses bus the children away in the morning and back in the evening. Rarely do the children play outdoors - either no parent is at home or there is too much fear for the children's' safety. It's rather pathetic, or so it feels to me.

So nothing really holds us in NJ, plus the taxes and cost of living both are quite high. Eventually, we will need a one-story home and I'd like to move while we are as young as possible since the very process is intimidating at our age!

Living backwards might not be such a great idea - our friends at the end of life are our friends because of shared life's experiences. So if we were to live backwards, we'd end up losing all the meaning that comes from those connections, wouldn't we?

By the way, I've been following Melody's adventures this year, too. She writes well and has great photos to fully illustrate her text!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

House Hunting in PA - 3 and Aging...

Well, we took another quick trip to PA last weekend - I'm still recovering. One shouldn't be so exhausted from such a short trip, but there you have it. I am. We picked up Granddaughter #! from Philly U last Friday afternoon and took off for State College, PA - despite it being a Penn State football weekend. Mind you, we ALWAYS avoid major traffic snafu's whenever possible. And football traffic on two lane mountain roads is something one really should avoid, unless football fever is involved. But this was the only weekend before Thanksgiving that our daughter and son-in-law were going to both be home and available. And we did want to visit the new retirement community in Boalsburg...

We've learned that each retirement community seems to have it's own personality - which is somewhat (but not entirely) dependent upon the amenities offered. The Boalsburg site will be what is commonly known as a "resort community." That should have been our first big clue that it's not for us - we simply are not resort folks. For us, it's more about location: the proximity to family, the rural mountain scenery, the opportunities provided by Penn State which includes various forms of entertainment and the arts as well as free tuition for seniors. We do love the mountains of Pennsylvania, we lived in a mountain valley in upstate PA for 16 years prior to moving to NJ. The scenery never fails to lift my spirits and call to my heart.

But the community, which has not a single house built in it as yet, will clearly be a Penn State Alum haven. While our daughter and son-in-law are both alums of different grad programs there, and our daughter is now a full professor there, we are NOT alums. We were told by the sales counselor that we'd better become fans... which is as good as telling us to get lost! It's not that we don't like football. Not really. We're just not all that interested in it to build our lives around it, nor our free time, nor our home decor! The community will have a movie room - how fascinating - along with the pool, tennis courts, yada yada. We might actually enjoy the pool on those few hazy, hot and humid days in PA, but somehow we came away in unanimous agreement NOT to move there. Actually, some of our reasoning is financial, but not all.

So. We learned we don't want to live in a "resort" community; maybe we don't even want to be in a 55+ community... More and more, while we love some of the ranch style floorplans that are available (and not available much of anywhere else), we just cannot imaging fitting into such a place.

I wondered why I had a strong (not so positive) a reaction to a small group of seniors at one of the places we visited last month. There were six or seven folks walking - no wandering - in a loosely contained group across the street. They were a group, but not together, together, but not really together. All had gray or no hair. And I felt myself resist the image. Odd, that. I'm generally not so prejudiced about things - or maybe, more likely, I'm not so aware of my prejudices! I simply knew then and there that I couldn't live in a senior community, not now, not yet. I'm not that old, after all (yes, I really am, but I don't feel that old)! Our daughter laughed heartily at my reaction... and Frank and I recalled the many times his mom used to refer to someone in her group of friends as "old." We'd ask how old the woman was, and Mom would reply, "Oh, she's 69!" and Mom was 68... We tried not to laugh at her, but it seemed so silly, funny, and totally absurd. Well, here I am at 64 feeling much as she must have felt back then: I'm not that old, I don't feel that old so I couldn't possibly BE that old. Period. That one over there, now SHE seems old...

I now admit that age is more of an attitude than a number or an age. But something I noticed (after being shocked by my own reactions to the elderly walkers) is that nearly all of our friends are younger than us - some by as much as 20 years. Perhaps, because the peers I spend my time with are younger than I, I've not noticed that I've aged.

But, yes, I'm "old" in some ways. My body certainly thinks so on some days more than others. Different parts of my body seem older than other parts... Arthritis is taking a toll on my hands, shoulders, and knees. But does that make me "old?" I hope not. Does it restrict my activities? Yes, sad to say, my body now calls some of the shots in my life on certain days in certain circumstances. I now make some choices based upon what the choice will "cost" me in the terms of energy, stamina, and/or pain. I never used to think that way, but now it's becoming far more conscious than ever before.

So now what? Well, financially, we've decided to wait until 2009 to retire to enhance the kitty for our future. However, that could change if Frank's job becomes too stressful without enough positive fulfillment to balance it out. But we're stopping the search. We've learned a lot about ourselves, our feelings, our desires, and what we don't want and that has been worth every bit of the investment of time and energy. It also won't be wasted! We'll have that much done for when we need it.

So, it's back to the drawing board, the studio, the fabrics and paints. And maybe, in between things, researching Medicare and Medigap insurances... O what fun that will be. Ugh. But art - art and creativity are my joy. So it's off to art I go!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Pennsylvania Househunting - 2

We've just returned from our second recon mission exploring retirement options in central Pennsylvania. We had a great hotel (with great rates via in Wyomissing, PA - west of Reading. A good hotel and decent food are vital for this kind of work, trust me on that! This is amazingly hard work - which neither of us had anticipated before we began. Our last trip was exhausting because we tried to do and see too much - we also had lousy accommodations, lousy meals, and we got locked out of our room, etc. We learned out lessons and picked a good hotel, simplified this trip to viewing only two communities: community A was 1/2 hour East of Reading; community B was 1/2 hour West of town.

Our first impressions, Friday afternoon during rush hour going West towards community B:
1.) Egads, what dreadful traffic - not much better than New Jersey! (it was 4:30 pm and there had been an accident on the 3 lane road that caused a major backup)
2.) What lovely old stone barns and houses they have out here!
3.) What an old town this is... do we really want to live HERE?
4.) Oh, but isn't the community wonderful??? Look at these views!
More on Community B later.

Saturday morning we had an 11 am appointment to view the homes at Community A - Meadowview Farms, in Oley, PA. Our morning drive was FAR superior to our Friday afternoon experience; the traffic was light, the scenery gorgeous, and the entire area comfortable. We loved the quaint village of Oley, which actually is much larger than first appearances. We did get quite lost using the Mapquest directions - just why I failed to read the brochure for directions is a mute subject - but the driving gave us a thorough view of the town. We found the 4-5 star Oley Valley Inn, a B+B and Restaurant, which we understand is excellent. I wish we had had time to photograph the inn because it was quite beautiful - made of stone, of course, in the Pennsylvania Dutch style.

We did manage to arrive on time to meet Barbara, a gracious hostess, who offered us coffee and cookies along with lots of local information.

Touring the homes was an adventure not to be missed. Alas, Meadowview Farms is a brand new community and there are only two models homes to tour - the sales office transformed one of them a bit, so only one really that looked totally home-like. Both, of course, were filled with upgrades of every kind - bringing the base home price upwards by approximately $75-100,000.00! There were four or five actual homes being built (which we could not tour), and they are scattered throughout the development. This is a small community of 100 or so homes with a small clubhouse. What we found uncomfortable about the development had to do with the basic design - it was a rectangle layout with one street circling the outer edge and two streets that intersected that ring - two smaller rectangles inside one larger one. No curving streets, no empty land between the backs of the homes, no scenic spot within the development itself. It is, however, in a very scenic location - the outer homes will have a view of preserved farmland - or, on one side, of the local school and playing field. The homes will have a mere 15' between them, something we'd like to avoid, if at all possible. I really don't want to see my neighbors eating breakfast... Nor do I want solid curtains at every window to maintain privacy.

So, plus factors include: gorgeous area, marvelous views, lovely townland, a couple of great local restaurants, honest/friendly townsfolk, little traffic, high speed internet available, trash pickup included in maintenance fee along with lawn care and snow removal. On the opposite side of the coin: houses very, very close together, little opportunity for variance of property, very small community and clubhouse facility. Never did find a grocery or drug store - although there was a 7-11 type store within a mile or two, no nearby library, and longer more trying trip to PA turnpike. Doctors and major mall shopping are probably in Reading, about 1/2 hour away - not a dreadful thing, but could be inconvenient especially at holiday time due to traffic & weather, of course. It is in the mountains of PA, after all - which is what we want... or think we want!
Community B:

Sunday, we had an 11am appointment with Pat at Stonecroft Village in Womelsdorf, PA. Pat was extremely informative, but is quite talkative, as well. It was a tad overwhelming to be given too much information for every question or comment. But we learned a lot - some of which we are still recalling and processing!

As mentioned in the beginning, the drive was less attractive than our drive out to Oley, but today it was Sunday morning - not rush hour - so it was far more pleasant a trip. We really like this development because of the layout and the spaciousness of the lots. All lots are quite deep, many have open spaces between their land and the land of the neighbors behind them. Because there are curving roads, the lots all vary in one degree or another - many require basements (with some walk-out or daylight basements are required) due to the nature of the rolling hillside. The views of the mountains are magnificent and because of the varied levels on the site, nearly every home has a lovely view in at least one direction, if not more.

Of course, this community is not all dug up as is Meadowview Farms, and many of the trees on the outer edge of the development will be lost once all the homes are built. But those homes will have views of the farmland as well as the mountains, and the fields have their own beauty - as well as deer in the winter.

So, the pros for Stonecroft Village are: gorgeous views, good sized lots, more space between homes, more opportunity to vary the floor plans, better building materials, nearby grocery & drug stores, new town library, about 13 miles to large mall (on nasty road), lovely 21 mile trip to PA turnpike, larger community (214 homes when completed). Cons include: smaller, less attractive downtown, no great restaurants nearby(from what we presently know, anyway), nasty drive to Reading, unknown where doctors, etc. would be located, long trip to Lancaster or Harrisburg if docs are there and nasty drive to Reading, if docs are that way.

So... our first impressions were dramatically altered about each community after visiting both. The pros and cons are fairly obvious, but we're both sure we don't know all we need to know prior to selecting any community. A second visit will be required closer to the time we're actually ready to make more definitive plans. Since Frank's retirement could be either March of 2008 or March 2009, we have too large a time span for us to be able to make any commitment at this time. He's now about 60% in favor of remaining on the job for the extra year with 40% leaning toward the earlier retirement. Of course, on bad days, it's more like 90% in favor of the early retirement! There really are next to no good days, so things don't ever fluctuate in the opposite direction...

Here are some of the reasons why we want to return to the mountains of PA, to an area similar to one where we spent 16 wonderful years from the mid-1970's to 1990:
Traffic (as compared to Rt. 9, Monmouth Co., NJ or the NJ Turnpike or Garden State Pkwy)

Insofar as traffic jams go, aren't these reasons (below) much better than horrific auto accidents or busy weekend traffic???
The occasional Amish buggy...

and/or the rare traffic light (maybe one per town or so - most of the small towns don't even have a stop sign for the major road traffic through town)...

Scenery (despite the Pennsylvania "haze:"

The architecture and history:

We also love the slower pace of living, the focus on practical living, the conservation of farmland and resources, the friendly people, the honesty of most folks - which was amply demonstrated today in Womelsdorf at the McDonald's (yes, they had a Mickey D's!). When we sat down at our table, there was an empty table behind us with an open laptop computer, obviously in use, along with various work items. The owner was no where to be seen - well, actually, he was outside the restaurant having a smoke - for a good 10 minutes or more. Never once did he look inside the restaurant or check on his computer - I could see him and figured he was with the woman in the next booth to us. But when he came in, he sat down at his computer and went back to work! That says something about the integrity of the local population AND about the internet services in rural PA. High Speed internet is available via Comcast - we checked!

That's it for tonight. Time to read the Sunday paper.