April 29, 2013

It's Good To Be Home


After 20 days and 2350 miles we are home. Betty, Bailey, and I arrived back on Friday after a tremendously enriching RV trip. Regular blog readers know we ventured from our home base of Scottsdale, through southern Arizona, across southern New Mexico, and ended as far east as central Texas. Our return took us through Big Spring and Amarillo, Texas, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Flagstaff, Arizona before returning to the Valley of the Sun. 

We spent $1,100 on gas, or about 45% of the total cost of the trip. We rented a car for a week in Fredericksburg, Texas and one day in Santa Fe. That $256 was some of the best money spent. It allowed us to explore without having to maneuver a 30 foot monster in and out of small parking spaces and on narrow mountain roads. Enterprise picked us up at the RV parks and returned us after each rental.....loved it!

Along the way we battled almost continuous winds. Most days, gusts as high as 45 miles per hour were not uncommon. The shorts and T-shirts rarely made it out of the suitcase. Temperatures stayed in the 50s or 60s during most days and in the 30s overnight.

As I noted in RV Travel and Lessons Learned I am spoiled by Scottsdale's warm weather and mostly calm winds. For many parts of the country April is a month of violent contrasts and weather extremes. Frankly, when we picked the dates for this trip we had no expectations that the weather would be the way it was. Live and learn.


We began this trip with high expectations but a realistic understanding that our ideas would be tested. Living in such a confined space, with a nervous dog that tended to bark at any distraction, and having to adjust to a rather substantial change in how we normally live, might work..... and it might not. There was a chance the money we spent on the RV might turn out to be a huge mistake. Even the vehicle itself was going to be put to the test. Previously we had never traveled more than 90 miles from home.

With a great sense of relief I can honestly report this was a positive adventure Betty and I won't soon forget. We have proven to ourselves that we truly enjoy the freedom RV travel provides. The simplification of life and the changes in daily routine are very attractive. The ability to be self-contained and to go where and when we want is a joy.

Betty was able to take thousands of photos which she will turn into a tremendous memory of this trip for us to enjoy for years to come. We both were able to read several books each. I wrote posts and had time to think about the blog's future direction. I even came up with a business idea that will allow us to write off many future trips. Even Bailey began to learn that the world isn't as scary as she thought and maybe every other person and dog isn't something to be afraid of.

We have just barely unpacked and started to scrub the RV inside and out and are already thinking of our 7 day trip to Payson and Show Low, Arizona in June and our three week trip through California in October. Add to that a non-RV month in Portland in August and 2013 is shaping up to be a very good year. We have discussed spending at least two months next summer in Flagstaff. Betty and I seem quite committed to avoiding as much of a Phoenix summer as we can from this point forward. 28 summers is enough. 

Over the last week of the trip I began to put together a list of what I had learned about RV travel. Three weeks on the road should produce something more lasting than good memories and 3,000 pictures. Here is what I have come up with:

...It is just as easy to over pack on an RV trip as for any type of vacation. Lots of heavy canned goods and too many clothes complicates things.

...A good Internet connection is important to a blogger, e-mailer, and Netflix watcher! WiFi is widely available but varies in quality tremendously. I am going to spend the extra money to turn my cell phone into a WiFi hot spot.

...It is important to have at least one goal a day. Otherwise, it is too easy to spend hours just reading and napping. Of course, that "goal" could be something as simple as working with Bailey for 30 minutes on her social skills, or rearranging the storage bins underneath R.T. It could be visiting a nearby park for a picnic and hike. The point is, something should be on the agenda.

...RV parks rarely look like the pictures on the web site. Even so, most are quite acceptable. During this trip we stayed at 12 different parks. Only two were really substandard. Both were rated well by Good Sam Club which makes me question their standards.

...It is very important to put things away after use. An RV is too small to allow any clutter. What you can get away with at home won't work in 200 square feet.

...It is too easy to slip up on personal hygiene and basic health maintenance, like washing often enough, flossing and vitamin-taking. I have discovered, though, that in cooler climates it is OK to not shower every day and still be allowed in polite society. 

...Once a week, we need to perform a major cleaning of the inside of the RV. Wash the sheets, wipe every surface down, sweep out every corner, disinfect the kitchen, and spend extra time cleaning the bathroom.

...Betty and I need private time, even on an RV trip. It could be a long walk alone, or one of us in the back bedroom while the other stays in the living area. In Fredericksburg, Betty had a tremendous time alone one afternoon after I dropped her off downtown. She went into virtually every store, took all sorts of photos, and spent time on a bench just people-watching. When I picked her back up later that day she was completely refreshed.

...Don't plan a trip that involves changing location every day. At least once every 3 days, it is important to stay put for two or three nights. Setting up camp, tearing it down the next morning, driving five hours, and setting up again can become exhausting and cause unnecessary tensions.

...Some of our future trips will be best taken without the dog. Bailey can spend 3-4 hours alone in the RV without a problem. But, if we have a full day planned away from camp, having a dog along limits what can be done.

...Three weeks on the road is not too long...quite the opposite. I don't think we fully relaxed and started to completely enjoy the change of pace until the start of the second week. Betty and I are giving serious thought to least two months in the RV next summer and a two month trip to the upper Midwest at some point down the road (pun intended).


 




Even so, Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz had it right: there is no place like home.

For lots of pretty pictures be sure to click on the link at the top of this page that says: Some Recent Photos From Betty's Camera: Wildseed Farm in Fredericksburg, Texas


   

April 26, 2013

Where is the Motivation?


Note: this post was written before we left on our RV trip. We return home today, Friday. I'll have some thoughts and a recap ready by Monday.
 



A few years ago I started to teach myself guitar after realizing I missed making music. I've been surrounded by music my whole life but had stopped playing an instrument when I was 17. With college around the corner and my radio career already beginning I just put that part of my life away. Except for listening to music, my satisfying retirement was lacking something.

After several false starts and stops with the guitar I started taking lessons about nine months ago. Teaching myself would only take me so far. Then, I'd reach a plateau or get to a point where I couldn't figure something out on my own (like finger picking) and stop. So I found a teacher I liked and showed up weekly for his guidance.

Not unlike my personal attempts, after the first two months I started inventing excuses to miss a lesson. I found I was getting very nervous and tense the day or two before each session. I understood that was silly. After all, I was paying him so he wasn't about to yell at me. I did practice 30-45 minutes six days a week but I seemed to be picking up the techniques more slowly than I thought I should. We seemed to be going over the same problem areas week after week.

Finally, I decided to stop the weekly lessons and go back to playing for myself. The last thing the teacher told me was to stop worrying so much about exactness and where my thumb was on the guitar neck and just have fun playing music.

That helped. I had picked up enough in those three months to be able to move forward in my ability. I could play both melody and the most common chords without much of a problem. I enjoyed hearing the songs coming from my efforts.

But, then for reasons I really don't understand I began playing less and less: from daily, to every other day, to twice a week, to finally once a week. Anyone who plays an instrument knows playing just once a week isn't going to work. That isn't enough practice for muscle memory or even to remember the chord progressions.

The part I don't understand is that when I finally do pick up the guitar I like making music. I enjoy hearing recognizable tunes coming from the instrument. But, the motivation to put in the work just isn't there. I look for every excuse in the world to put off playing.....but I like it when I do play.

That makes no sense to me. Something I enjoy I shy away from. Something I have invested time and energy in has become something to avoid in my mind. Yes, I have lots to keep me occupied. Sometimes I feel over-scheduled and look forward to the next RV trip because then I am away from the calendar. But, that still doesn't explain why I have this battle over the guitar.

Oh well, if this is my biggest problem, I guess my satisfying retirement is still playing the right notes.


April 19, 2013

Enough Already!


These are just a few of the headlines I’ve seen in the last few weeks.

The Greatest Retirement Crisis In American History
Retirement confidence at record low
Retirement getting further away
Survey: More Americans Unprepared for Retirement
Retirement worry is highest in 23 years

I've written before about the apparent love affair the media has for this subject. The end of all retirement, not just a satisfying retirement, is inevitable.  Aren't we getting a little tired of this drumbeat of disaster? Hasn't this doomsday message been sent enough? Is there any benefit from making things appear so bleak?

I am not Pollyanna. The last several years have been rough – very rough – for a lot of folks. Too many have lost their savings, their livelihood, their homes, and their future. Their retirement will not be what they thought it would be. Their pain is real and their plight must not be ignored.

But, to continually read that none of us will escape the tough times is simply not true. To assume that we will all have to work until we are 80, choose between meals or medicine, and live out our “golden years” as a ward of the state or in a relative’s spare room does a disservice to us all.

For almost three years I have been writing about retirement in all its various forms. Personally, I have undergone several changes in what I thought my retirement would look like. I have downsized and cut expenses. I have discovered new interests and passions that I didn’t know existed until I retired. I have found satisfaction in simple pleasures and the joy of experiences and friends instead of things.

Over 8,000 comments from you has convinced me that I am not alone. We retirees (and soon-to-be retirees) are a rather resilient bunch. If the plans we made don’t work we make new plans. If a lifestyle we thought we would live for the rest of our days no longer satisfies us or is not doable due to circumstances, we adjust.

What we don’t do is grouse about the unfairness of things. We don’t play the victim. We don’t talk about all the things we can’t do or can’t afford. We don’t give up and accept defeat (whatever that means to each of us).

Attitude is a force that can move mountains. Attitude is a force that can reshape problems into opportunities. Attitude is completely under our control.

I can promise you that Satisfying Retirement blog will not have posts with any of the headlines above. I can promise you that retirement today is alive and well, waiting for you to define it your way, live it under your terms, and spend this part of your life fully engaged and full of passion.

To accept the alternative is simply not an option.

What do you think?

April 17, 2013

A Love Affair: Fredericksburg and Texas Hill Country RV Vacation





Our home at the Oakwood RV Resort

Tomorrow morning Betty, Bailey, and I leave Fredericksburg and the Texas Hill Country after six fabulous days. If the area wasn't 1,000 miles from family we might consider a move here for at least part of the year. The town and area have captured our affections  and fit our satisfying retirement lifestyle very well.

Founded in 1846 by German immigrants, Fredericksburg is charming, welcoming, and pretty. While I imagine summer weekends are swarming with tourists, this time of year is quiet and unhurried. The main street is lined with almost 4 miles of restaurants, historic buildings, museums, art galleries, antiques stores, public gardens, and an unhurried lifestyle. The Chamber of Commerce folks claim there 350 places to stay, 70 restaurants, and hundreds of stores are here to keep you entertained. Literally dozens of wineries and wine testing rooms call the area home, too.


Pioneer Museum grounds
We spent a very pleasant 90 minutes touring the 10 buildings that make up the Pioneer Museum in the heart of town. They are filled with period artifacts and beautifully restored.

The town library, churches, and most important buildings are beautiful stone structures, many made from white granite. 



Quite surprisingly, the National Museum of the Pacific War, a huge block long structure is located just steps north of Main Street. Why a Pacific War museum in the middle of Texas? Admiral Chester Nimitz, one of the major players in the Pacific Theater during World War ll,  is a Fredericksburg native.


Just 10 minutes down the road is the town of Luckenbach, if you can call a general store, barn, and out buildings a town. Made famous in the 1977 hit song by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, something is always happening in Luckenbach. 

Concerts by known country artists happened almost every weekend, while every day of the week finds a local musician performing for free inside the eclectic general store.


LBJ's Texas White House
Since it is only 30 minutes east of town we also took the opportunity to go through the LBJ Texas White House grounds, the place our 36th president was born and is buried. 

A free, CD-guided tour around the stunning grounds made it quite obvious why President Johnson loved his ranch and hill country so much. He actually spent 25% of his presidency at the ranch.

A tiny corner of Wildseed Farm


On the way back into town we stumbled on an absolute gem: Wildseed Farms. Hundreds of acres of wild flowers, buildings and grounds with every conceivable yard and garden ornaments, waterfalls, and lily pads bask in the sun. 

Even on a weekday afternoon hundreds of folks wandered around, snapping photos and dreaming of backyard improvements. As you might imagine Betty felt like she had died and gone to heaven. After an hour I think I saw smoke coming from the back of her camera. We bought a few unique pieces for our back yard that will travel home somewhere in the RV.

An hour or so north of town are lakes and state parks galore. Betty, Bailey, and I spent an afternoon at the beautiful Inks Lake State Park. Tent sites, RV spots nestled in the woods overlooking the water, and a section of mini cabins were mostly full of families enjoying themselves. Swimming, kayaking, fishing, miles of hiking trails, and photo opportunities galore made for a perfect time for us.


I could go on for several hundred more words about this fascinating part of Texas, but instead here are a few more of Betty's photos. 

Part of the display outside the Pacific War Museum

Typical Fredericksburg storefront






More of the Pioneer Museum




More of Inks Lake State Park

Two old chairs destined for our back yard
Entrance to fascinating store
Inside The Luckenbach General Store



How many towns  still have a working 5 and dime?

Fredericksburg Library

Kayaking at Inks Lake

Fields of wildflowers all in full bloom

Where should be go next?

April 15, 2013

Discover Your Passion: Know Who You Are


What follows is a guest post from author Boyd Lemon. I'm pleased to share some of his thoughts on an important topic: discovering your passion by discovering who you are.


Key to a fulfilling life


A key to living a fulfilling life in retirement is having or discovering a passion (or passions), something that truly drive you, that you feel you are here on earth to do.

I have known a few people, one quite well, who discovered in their early twenties what was important to them, what their passions were, what they felt they were here on earth to do, and pursued those passions. They knew themselves and didn’t let their parents, friends or society dictate how they would live or what their life’s purpose was. I envy them. Most of us are not as perceptive of ourselves at such a young age.

I had to discover a passion for retirement because I had worked all my life at something that I was not passionate about. I understood that in order to discover a passion I had to understand who I am. Figuring out who I am was not complicated, but it required time and effort. It took a lot of mental work, the hardest kind of work. It took a lot of experimenting and trial and error, the scariest kind of work. But almost anyone can do it. You don’t have to be a monk, priest, philosopher or psychologist. You don’t have to have a college degree.


What does it mean to ask who am I? 


It sounds like some new age gobbledygook, but it is really not as mysterious as it sounds. Who I am, the authentic me, consists of what fulfills me; what, to me, is important and unimportant; what I like and dislike; what interests me and what does not; what I want out of life; what makes me feel that I am doing something worthwhile; what makes me feel happy, fulfilled, competent and esteemed. What makes me feel sad, frustrated, angry, afraid and inadequate was instructive. When I grasped what caused those feelings, I was close to discovering what I was passionate about.

Knowing yourself makes it more likely that you will find something that you are or become passionate about. Although there is such a thing as an epiphany, when all of a sudden something important just comes to you, the discovery of a passion did not come to me in that way. Usually some experience with something is required before it becomes a passion.

Finding out who I am not was also helpful. I am not my job. Although I didn’t realize it for years, I was not a lawyer. I practiced law, but a lawyer was not who I was or who I am. I was not wholly a husband or a father; they were only part of what I was. Just as one never really knows another person, he never totally knows himself. Knowing yourself is a lifelong process that never ends.


Questions Asked


During the process of finding out who I am and am not I found a passion. Some of the things I asked myself and did that helped me understand who I am and to discover my passion were:

• I thought long and hard about what during the course of my life I had enjoyed doing. I also thought about what I didn’t enjoy. I considered what made my heart sing, what excited me, what I wished I could do more of, what were some general characteristics of what I enjoyed. Were they usually done outdoors? Did they involve something creative—music, dance, painting, writing, building or designing things? Did they involve doing things with my hands?

• What part of my job or jobs did I enjoy?

• I thought about what other people that I admired were doing.

• I even made lists of possibilities.

• I understood that I liked to learn new things and considered what type of things I would enjoy learning.

• I asked myself whether I am a planner, or am I more spontaneous? Some activities need more planning than others. Some of the creative arts are relatively spontaneous. Organizing a political campaign requires a lot of planning.

• Many people are passionate about creating. I thought about whether there was anything I would like to create. Men especially often bury the creative side of themselves. Once guys reach adolescence they are not encouraged to pursue anything creative. That doesn’t mean it isn’t buried down there somewhere. I tried digging it up.

• I always knew that history, art and culture interested me. There are a lot of activities that involve history, art and culture, including travel and writing.

•I realized I am not really a people person. I am more the solitary type, an introvert. This is important because a people person probably shouldn’t try to pursue something that involves a lot of alone time—writing, for example; a solitary person should not try something that keeps him around people most of the time, such as fundraising for charities.

• Do I enjoy physical effort or mental effort more, I asked?

• Do I need to keep busy doing a lot of different tasks, or am I happy focusing on one thing for a long time?

• Do I enjoy dealing with detail, or am I more a big picture person?
• Am I a perfectionist?

• Does helping other people make me feel fulfilled?

• Do I like sports, reading, writing, listening to music, hiking, taking photos?

• I looked through the catalogue of local night schools and extension schools to find classes that interested me, not necessarily to take the classes, but to clarify what types of subject matter interested me.

• I thought about what the meaning or purpose of my life could be? What would fulfill me or might leave my mark here on earth?

• I tried to keep an open mind and do and see things I normally wouldn’t. I read about things I hadn’t read about before, realizing that I might discover something that I had buried, so I might not readily see or feel it. I examined every possibility I could think of.

• I thought about my values. Why am I here? Why is anybody here? What is most important to me? I read books about what other people have had to say about those questions.

Eventually, I discovered that my passions were writing and travel, and that is what I have focused during my retirement, which has been the most fulfilling time in my life.



Boyd Lemon-Author of Retirement: A Memoir and Guide; Eat, Walk, Write: An American Senior’s Year of Adventure in Paris and Tuscany; Digging Deep: A Writer Uncovers His Marriages; and 4 other books. Information, reviews and excerpts: http://www.BoydLemon-Writer.com.  Amazon Author Page: http://www.Amazon.com/author/boydlemon.






Satisfying Retirement received no compensation for this guest post or its promotional value.

April 12, 2013

Report From The Road

A satisfying retirement greeting from Fort Stockton, Texas. Our first extended RV trip is well underway and we are still alive, speaking to each other, seeing new sights, and meeting new friends. Bailey has made the transition to RV dog without a hitch, except for early morning potty needs and an occasional barking fit for no particular reason.

We left home a day early because we could and the forecast was for very high winds along our route. Our first two nights were spent at the Butterfield RV Park in Benson, AZ.

In addition to the normal pool, spa, fitness room, laundry and shower facilities, computer room, and library, there is working observatory, the only one in the world that is part of an RV park. 

Betty and I thoroughly enjoyed an hour long program presented by a local astronomer. Using the resort's 16" telescope we had the unique opportunity of seeing other galaxies, blue novas, and dust clouds millions of light years away. Butterfield also has a working ham radio station that allowed me to talk to fellow amateurs as far away as Atlanta. For some reason I never take the time to do this at home. Silly, I know.

Between wind gusts in Benson

The next night was spent in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Again we fought very high winds all day, with gusts approaching 60 mph, causing dangerous driving conditions and low visibility from blowing dust. Luckily, that evening the winds finally died down though overnight lows were in the upper 30's...much colder than we had planned for. 


Hacienda RV Resort was not really much more than a typical RV park. Since a pool, spa, WiFi, and clean showers are becoming quite standard I didn't see anything that would put it in the "resort" category.
There was a long dog run area for Bailey, so she might feel differently. It was clean and just fine for the night.


I know there's a singal out there somewhere

 
The last two nights have been spent in Fort Stockton, 300 miles east of El Paso on I-10. The park is about 4 miles east of town but has its own café that serves breakfast and dinner. As a special treat Betty and I took a break from what is in the frig in the RV and enjoyed two meals where someone else did the cleanup and cooking.

As this trip is teaching us, ask about a park's WiFi service before committing to a reservation. The Fort Stockton park had workable service only in the dining room which was only open a few hours a day. Service at our site, less than 75 feet from the office was non-existent.

As you read this we have packed up and are heading for Fredericksburg, in the heart of Texas hill country. We are looking forward to exploring countless lakes, rivers, canyons, and parks. Because we will be here for six nights I have rented a car so we can leave R.T. hooked up and really explore the area. Betty would really like to revisit the River Walk in San Antonio so we'll clear one day for that. It is a beautiful site and only an hour away, so why not.

As promised here are a few pictures Betty took by our site in Fort Stockton.







This trip is turning into everything I hoped it would be. We are learning some of the things to do, and importantly not to do that I'll share in future posts. Have a great weekend - I know Betty, Bailey, and I are planning to!



April 7, 2013

We're Off

The check off list is complete. The mail is on hold and the sprinklers have been checked. The windows are locked, the AC set at 88 degrees and the water heater turned off. Our youngest daughter will come by occasionally to water the house plants and make sure everything looks good.

As I finish writing this Betty is loading the last of the supplies, clothes, and reading material, and Bailey into the RV. The GPS unit has been programmed for our first stop tonight in Benson, AZ. It isn't all that far away but we have decided that a 3 hour drive is the ideal maximum in any one day. After all, this is about the journey and not the destination.

After Benson we are on to Las Cruces, New Mexico, then Fort Stockton, Texas. When we arrive in Texas hill country around Austin we will spend at least 6 days exploring the area and relaxing in a part of the state we haven't visited before.

Then, a quick trip to San Antonio with the River Walk and Alamo, back to El Paso and north to Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Finally we'll drive back to Flagstaff, spend a few days, and then down I-17 to home. We have built flexibility into the trip so the end date of April 26th is not firm. We could extend three or four days with no problem, as long as we are back for an important dinner on May 2nd. I will be posting about the trip with photos and commentary, though not every post in the next three weeks will have an RV slant.

One change might occur: my posts may not be as regular as normal for the next several weeks. Fresh material three times a week may become twice a week, though if I'm feeling inspired then Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays will continue as the posting schedule. I just want to be sure I have a bit more time to slip into RV/relaxed mode and not feel quite so much pressure to spend so many hours at the keyboard.

Betty says we are ready, the dog is getting antsy to feel movement, the refrigerator is switched to propane and cooling nicely, and the house is buttoned up. It is time to hit "publish," shut the computer down, turn off the power strip and go.

Since this is our first extended trip I am sure we have packed too much and over-prepared. Oh well, the next time we will be more aware of what is really needed.

If you are looking for an indication of what makes a satisfying retirement look no closer than the date on this post. We were planning to leave Monday, April 8th. But, by Saturday afternoon we were completely packed and ready to get going. So I called the RV park in Benson and told them we'd be arriving a day early.

The flexibility to leave 24 hours early is one of the joys of retirement. We are ready to go..... and so we go!


Next stop Benson, AZ.  Wish us well.

April 5, 2013

A Major Change After 3 Decades

The desert is beautiful in its own way and I have come to appreciate it. The colors and smells after a rain are like no place else. For a few weeks the normally brown hillsides turn as green as a slope in Ireland after the winter rains. The ultra low humidity means few flying insects, huge, cloudless skies, and the ability to see the mountain tops up to 50 miles away.

Even so, for the last 30+ years I have maintained a flower and plant-filled backyard pretty much year-round. There are times when all of us desert-dwellers need a break from the look of a desert, and my backyard has been that respite. Dozens of pots, overflowing with geraniums, petunias, pansies...whatever is in season, define the back patio, porch, Ramada, and the edges of the yard. Flowering bushes, bougainvilleas, Texas Rangers, lantanas, bottle brushes...anything with color and texture soften the look of the block wall that surrounds the yard.

As you might imagine there is a fair amount of time, effort, and money in maintaining that oasis. Even though all of the bushes and plants are low water use, low maintenance, desert-approved plants, they grow and therefore must be trimmed. They also die after several years and must be replaced. I replant most of the pots two or three times a year. During the summer each one must be watered every single day.

For the last few years I have begun to grow tired of this cycle. I find myself spending less time in the backyard due to interests and activities that are better done inside or away from home. Instead of looking forward to all the replanting every few months, I find myself coming up with reasons to push the work back from week to week.

Well, I finally found the excuse to end this madness: RV travel. We leave soon on a 3 week trip. While the lawn, bushes, and trees are on a sprinkler and drip system, putting two dozen pots on the same system would be a lot of work. More importantly, the yard stuff gets watered much less often than the pots would require. In August we will be in Oregon for even longer making the watering chores that much more involved. Then, in October is another three week trip to California.

Betty has no objection since she spends even less time in the yard than I do. We both agree that our changing priorities, desire to simplify, and the need to put limited financial resources where they give give us the most joy means the end, for now, of all those flowers. We also agree that our next home will have a much smaller yard to maintain and decorate....just enough for the dog and some planting.

In the meantime I have given Betty a challenge that she seems excited to take on: figure out things other than live plants to go in the colorful pots, and other ways to enliven the backyard that avoids watering or maintenance. I am quite sure she will have a burst of creative thoughts that make the space just as pretty as the flowers did. Hopefully, it won't be nearly as expensive as the flowers!

When she does you can be sure I'll write about it and include pictures. In the meantime, I still have half a dozen pots to empty and store away for another day.

Back to the backyard.......


April 3, 2013

A Permanent Attitude Adjustment


Blogging friend, Sonia Marsh, has written a book about her family's experiences in exchanging a southern California lifestyle for a seriously more rustic locale on an island off the coast of Belize. For one year she, her husband, and three sons managed to not only survive the abrupt lifestyle change, but learn some valuable life lessons and grow together as a family.That adventure, detailed in Freeways to Flip-Flops, is her story.

Recently I asked Sonia to reflect on what changes in her outlook have survived for the eight years she and her family have been back in Orange County. I was interested in whether the lifestyle adjustments made upon their return have become permanent. Here are her answers:
1) Your book, Freeways to Flip-Flops, details a year in your family’s life when you abandoned Orange County, California for Belize. What prompted that radical change?

Our decision to move to Belize, Central America, was a two-year process based on several things going on in our lives:

*My husband, Duke, was fed up with his stressful job and commuting through the Los Angeles gridlocked freeways. He wanted to live a simple life with more time to spend with his family, and to experience adventure in his life.

*Duke’s father passed away a year after retiring, and my mother passed away at 57, so this made us realize we did not want to postpone our dreams until retirement.

*Our oldest son was getting in trouble in high school, and we had two choices: either to ship him off to a behavior modification school, or to move as a family.

*We did not like the entitlement attitude of young people in Orange County, California, and wanted our kids to experience life in a less developed part of the world.

*I was looking for “my paradise.”

2) Upon your return to Southern California how different was your life from the one you had left just one year earlier?


 Life wasn’t different when we returned to California, it was still just as hectic, but my family had changed. I think the biggest change for all of us was how people in OC, California seemed in a hurry, not really having time for others, except themselves. No one made eye contact, and only a few people had time to chat and enjoy “life.” It took me a good six months to start driving at the speed that everyone else was driving.



We learned that we didn’t need all the “stuff” people accumulate. We had become frugal and didn’t care if our plates and glasses didn’t match, and we slept on mattresses on the floor for a month. We had nothing when we came back, so we had to start over, and we knew we didn’t want to collect“clutter.” Nothing seemed to impress us the way it had before. Expensive cars and homes that so many wanted to flaunt didn’t mean a thing. My teenage sons no longer cared about brand name items like their peers.
In Belize, locals were happy as long as they had enough money in their pocket to eat, and they enjoyed living in the moment. This was the first time in my life that I understood what “living in the moment” truly meant. They didn’t seem pre-occupied with making lots of money. If things didn’t get done right away, no one worried. We learned acceptance, and to go with the flow and to say, “Maybe there’s a reason it’s not getting fixed today.” Belize taught me to become more patient and to give up trying to control everything in my life. In a way, it made me feel free.
3). You have been back in Southern California for almost 8 years. What life changes after Belize are still part of you and your family’s everyday life? What are some of the lasting changes or did you find yourself slipping back into the old ways?

There are certain things that the stress of living and working in Orange County, CA have brought back. The gridlocked freeways are worse than ever, and my husband is still working in a law firm and wants to quit and move to Naples, Florida. We’ve decided that it’s not worth sacrificing your health and happiness for a stressful job. Belize taught us there are always options in life. You can move to a cheaper area; southern California is not cheap. We also want to travel, but since money will be tight, I know we can teach English abroad, and get room and board while renting our house in the U.S.
 
Once you’ve sold everything you own, it’s liberating and addictive, and the second time around, it’s so much easier. My husband and I crave change, and get bored with predictable routines.

We are careful not to waste water and electricity. We try not to use the A/C in the summer, and [instead] use fans, like we did in Belize. The gulf coast of Florida offers a compromise: the Caribbean laid-back lifestyle that we miss, and a Home Depot for hurricane supplies. In Belize we had hurricanes, but no Home Depots. 
4) For someone interested in exploring life in another country, either full or part time, what advice can you share from your experiences?

The best piece of advice is: Don’t try to start a business as an expat in a foreign country. Stay low-key and if you need to work, do something over the Internet that doesn’t interfere with the locals or the expat community. If you want to work, find something that doesn’t compete with the locals.
Remember to slow down and take it easy. Life is slow in so many beautiful Caribbean locations. Don’t expect repairs to take place on the same day or week. People take their time so you need to adapt to their way of life.
Research the location or country ahead of time and go on a scouting trip to figure out where you might want to live.
If you move to an island, or an expat community, get used to gossip. It seems that people like to go back to “high school” and gossip about others. I don’t care how old you are, everyone does it.
Relax, don’t try to be controlling or to impose your ways in a foreign country. You need to adapt to them, not the other way.
Relax, take your time and you’ll learn whom you can trust. Just enjoy life and stay in the moment. That’s what nature teaches you.



Thanks, Sonia. The permanent changes in mindset that occurred from your time in Belize are fascinating. I always come back from an overseas trip with great plans to eat more slowly, use kerosene lamps in the evening, or go for long walks everyday at sunset, or..... Then, a few weeks later I'm back to my normal routine. Of course, I've never been on a year-long cultural change. It probably takes such a complete break from our version of normal to accomplish lasting change. Your experience shows it is possible and positive.