Saturday, December 31, 2011

A New Year's Goal

It’s December 31, which means five months to go!  Paul and I reviewed our 2011 income and expenses this morning over coffee, and everything still looks good.  Santa Claus must have heard we’d be spending next summer as camp hosts, because he brought us a round outdoor table, an iPod, and a rechargeable iPod speaker system.  I find it interesting that as family and friends have heard or read our news, they are far more interested in how we will spend our first summer in retirement than in the fact that we are really and truly retiring.

It’s also New Year’s Eve.  As I put the finishing touches on the table for tonight’s annual New Year’s Eve dinner, I thought about New Year’s resolutions.  I usually don’t make resolutions.  I think they’re like Mary Poppins’ pie crust promises – easily made, easily broken.  So this year I am setting a goal.  In 2012 I will write my first novel.
I should have plenty of time to work on it this summer in the quiet of the mountains.  I have an idea that is rehearsing in the back of my mind, waiting for its chance for center stage.  I’ve even named my main character.  Next steps including outlining the story, researching times and places, and of course, researching publication options.  Lots to do!

Here’s wishing you a happy and prosperous New Year!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Reflecting on Christmas

This morning Paul made aebleskiver for breakfast.  Aebleskiver is a Danish round ball “pancake” that is made in a pan explicitly created for this – and in my understanding serves no other purpose.  It was our traditional Christmas morning breakfast when I was growing up.

I love Christmas.  I’ve always loved Christmas.  I love to decorate for Christmas, to shop for Christmas, to write my annual Christmas letter and to send cards.  I love Christmas music. I love Christmas parties.        I love Christmas lights.  I love baking Christmas goodies and giving them away.  I get teary-eyed at the season’s Hallmark card commercials, and still cry over that old Folgers coffee commercial they bring back every year.

And I truly love Christmas traditions - those I’ve grown up with and continue to keep, and those my own family has created through the years.  The traditions I grew up with came from the Danish – my maternal grandfather’s tradition.  We celebrate on Christmas Eve.  I have the Nissa Men – mischievous Danish elves who are Santa’s eyes and ears – scattered throughout the house.  We make kliner – a Danish Christmas cookie that is rolled, twisted and deep fried to make beautiful and delicious little knots.

On Christmas morning we make and serve Eggs Benedict to family and friends.  Our tradition for over 20 years now, this started when two of our neighbors had just gone through divorce and were alone on Christmas morning.  Since then both have remarried, but they keep coming to our home on Christmas morning.

Here’s the good news – the way that we have traditionally spent Christmas will likely not change as we retire.  We’ve never been extravagant spenders, so we won’t need to transition to a more frugal Christmas.  And the traditions of my childhood – and that of my children – will live on.  Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Cash Balance Plan

I don’t have a traditional pension.  No surprise there.  According to a July, 2011 article in US News (http://money.usnews.com/money/retirement/articles/2011/07/22/21-workplace-benefits-that-are-rapidly-disappearing), only 22% of firms provide access to a retirement plan that guarantees payments for life.

I do have a cash balance Plan.  According to the Department of Labor, a cash balance plan is defined as “a type of defined benefit [pension] plan that defines the benefit in terms that are more characteristic of a defined contribution plan. In other words, a cash balance plan defines the promised benefit in terms of a stated account balance.” (http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/FAQs/faq_consumer_cashbalanceplans.html )
So basically, when I retire, what I have in the cash balance plan is what I get.  My cash balance continues to earn interest; however, three years ago my company made the decision to discontinue making contributions to employee accounts.  No surprise there, either.  Many companies now offer only the 401K plan for employee retirement savings. 

Thankfully, my company still offers a generous match to my 401K contributions.  I don’t expect to need to draw on my 401K for many years – and of course, I can’t until I’m 59 ½ anyway.  But I’ll need to make a decision on what to do with the cash balance plan funds.
The Department of Labor site indicates that my options are to take the entire amount in a lump sum, or to annuitize the amount over my lifetime.  My company’s retirement planning guide goes into greater detail, and also indicates that leaving my benefit in the Cash Balance Plan is an option.  It would continue to earn interest until I made the decision to start distribution – until I turn 70 ½ at which time I would be required to begin distribution.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Christmas Letter

Ah, yes, the annual Christmas letter – the one where I capture the highlights of this year and condense them to a one page “newsletter” with a current photo and send it to family and friends.  I love to receive these, and like many things in life, you have to give if you want to get.

Our retirement plans are definitely on the “highlight” list for this year, so this will be our opportunity to make our announcement to a larger audience.  Here’s what I wrote:

Wow – I just realized that I’ve been writing this Christmas letter for twenty years.  Of course you all know I started this when I was 12.   Seriously – although I don’t feel like a senior citizen, I’m now eligible for senior discounts.  And I’m now eligible to retire.

We’ve been planning early retirement since our twenties, and although there have been a few glitches in the plan, we are ready now. 

I will be interested to see how our friends and extended family respond to our pending retirement.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Telling the Family

My immediate family – my parents, three brothers and their families, and an aunt and uncle – got together a couple of weeks ago.  We had already bought the fifth wheel and had been hired for the camp host job, so we told them about it.  The response was mostly positive, with tones of “why haven’t you told us this before?”  They seemed to understand when I told them that I hadn’t announced this at work yet and was keeping it kind of quiet.

My father, who has been retired for a number of years, seemed to be happy for us.  My mother, who will never retire, is still skeptical.  I don’t blame her – she watched her own father’s health fail shortly after he retired and is convinced that he should have kept working.  In my mind, the difference is that we are not retiring to stop working, but to change when, where and how we work.

My brothers all committed to coming up to the Hoop Lake next summer while we are there.  We all have fond memories of family camping at Hoop Lake, and my niece can’t wait to walk around the lake again. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Six Months to Go

Today is November 30, and by my calendar that means we have six months until I officially retire.
In the months since we made the decision to retire, we’ve
       1.       Remodeled my “room.”  (Go to Your Room, June 17, 2011) The room has been painted; furniture bought and moved in, curtains and some decorations done. 
       2.       Investigated Health Insurance – both before and after the company’s shift to account-based health care.  (Health Insurance 101, June 10, 2011, and Health Insurance 102, September 30, 2011)
       3.       Bought a fifth wheel (November 20, 2011) and got our first camp hosting job (November 16, 2011).
What’s left to do?
1.            Finish my room.  I hate it when a project stalls, but this particular project has indeed stalled.  I need to move the sewing machine into my room (and Paul’s exercise bike out), and make the valence for the window.  I need to frame the scrapbook pages I made for the walls. 
2.            Look – again – at health insurance options.  My mother told me that she and Dad have a Medicare supplement that cost much less than the $350+ per month my retiree insurance plan quoted.  She gave me the name and contact information for her insurance agent.  And since – no surprise here – the cost of the medical plan for me actually increased, even with the transition to an account based approach, I may want to ask Dan the insurance man if I can do better on the open market.

3.            Buy a laptop.  Once a nerd, always a nerd.  I can’t be too far away from technology. 
4.            This is the biggie – I still need to tell my manager and my co-workers and begin the transition of fourteen years of work to the younger (and hopefully smarter) generation that will follow.  According to the retirement team, I have to officially announce no later than March 3, 2012. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Proud Owner of a Fifth Wheel

Paul bought a fifth wheel the first week of November.  He wasn’t planning on buying one this soon, but he found this one searching Craigslist – “just to see what’s out there” – and it intrigued him.  The price was right.  The fifth wheel was a little longer than we had planned, but not unreasonably longer.  So he made the phone call.

The current owners, Ray and Patsy, live in a small town called Hinckley.  They had lovingly used “the Coach” for ten years, but for health reasons they decided it was time to sell.  When Paul visited Ray and Patsy the first time, he felt an instant connection with them – like this was both a sale and a relationship that was meant to be.  He arranged to pay half now and half next spring when we pick it up.  Ray and Patsy had already winterized it and were happy to store it for the winter – free of charge.
Yesterday Paul and I drove to Hinckley to have the hitch installed in the truck bed, and I got a change to tour my fifth-wheel.  It’s a 2000 Avion Savanna by Fleetwood. It is really MY fifth-wheel – the model I’ve always wanted, with the big picture window in the back. 

While we waited for the hitch to be installed by a country mechanic in a large garage that Paul lusted over, we visited with Ray and Patsy.  They opened their home to us and even took us out to lunch.  I took a photo of their dog, Bandito – the only Chihuahua I have ever met that actually liked me. 
Paul had been right; I too felt an instant connection with these wonderful people.  I’ve added them to my Christmas card list and look forward to seeing them again next spring.  The sale – and the relationship – was meant to be.  They call it "The Coach."  So will we.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

We're Hired!

This morning, over coffee, Paul and I filled in the online application to work for American Land and Leisure as camp hosts.  

I have to admit I was somewhat unnerved by the prospect of a job application.  I haven’t applied for a job in over 14 years – and Paul’s gone even longer than that.  And of course, all the paragraphs and buzzwords, certificates and certifications I’ve collected over the years had absolutely no relevance to the job of camp host.  Can I paint? Yes.  Can I clean?  Yes.  Can I work with people?  Yes. 
The most difficult part of filling out the application was deciding on our top three choices of campground.  We had already decided that for the first year we’d like to stay within 3 hours of home – just to make sure that the arrangements we make for the care and feeding of a house and yard go as planned.  So we picked three lakeside campgrounds that we both liked.

I went to work.  I arrived home to the smell of dinner cooking and to a husband that couldn’t stop smiling.  He had gotten a call from Gary at AL&L, and pending background check, we’re hired!  AND – we got our first choice of campground.  How cool is this!
Wow – this is really going to happen!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Lyric Goes to the Casino

I wrote several weeks ago about my husband’s purchase of a Lyric Personal Transportation Vehicle to help him get around places where lots of walking is involved.  He has Multiple Sclerosis, and while he can walk, walking long distances is difficult.  But his balance is still quite good.  He ordered his Lyric with a seat, but after about a week he removed the seat because it was “in the way.”  He stands to ride the Lyric.

We celebrated my father’s 80th birthday last weekend at a casino just across the border.  All my brothers were there – along with many friends and even a few of the grandchildren. My parents rented a suite for the celebration.  Unfortunately, the hotel was quite full last weekend, and our rooms were on the other side of the casino.  This was about a quarter-mile walk.  Enter the Lyric – literally.  Paul decided to take his chances riding the Lyric inside the hotel and casino. 
Of course, Security was on it immediately.  Lots of cameras in casinos – imagine that.  We were stopped by no less than five security employees.  After asking him everything except, “can I take a test ride,” they told him to be careful and he wasn’t stopped again - at least, not by Security.  Several casino patrons commented on how cool the Lyric was – both parked and in motion. 

I am encouraged by the acceptance of this not-handicapped-looking device in venues where traditional scooters and wheelchairs have been accepted.  But we’ll wait until after the holidays to take it to a shopping mall.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sing a new Song

A very close friend asked me to sing “Amazing Grace” at her mother’s memorial service.  Of course, I was honored to have been asked and wanted to do my very best.  I searched my music library (I use the term loosely – it’s pretty much a large pile in the cupboard near the piano) until I found a version that was in a low enough key.  News flash – I’m not a soprano any more.

I’d like to believe that the loss of the high notes is more due to lack of practice than advanced age.  I’ve seen anecdotal evidence both ways – an 80-year old member of the church choir I used to sing in still has all her top notes, yet a much younger woman from the same choir has shifted to alto.  In my own case, I’m finding that my range really hasn’t decreased – it’s just shifted lower.
I miss singing.  From the time I was in Jr. High School I’ve been in some form of choral performance group – school choirs, madrigal groups, community choirs, church choirs - up until about five years ago.  The church we currently attend does not have a choir, and as much as I say I miss singing, I haven’t given up anything of my other activities to make room for singing. 

In my retired life I’m hoping this will change.  I’ve been researching local opportunities for being a member of a choir – for when I have more free time to practice and to perform.  The downside, of course, is that many of these choirs rehearse and perform year-round, so they might not take kindly to my requesting every summer off.  Perhaps I can find a choir performing Handel’s Messiah in December 2012 – one needing a good alto.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Baseball

I am a baseball nerd.  It’s true – I love baseball.  Not as a player – I was terrible.  That hand-eye coordination thing again.  But I love to watch baseball.

I love the skills of batter vs. pitcher.  I love the strategies of the managers.  I love the complexity of the rules.  And I love to keep score while I watch the game.  Several years ago Paul bought me a set of official score books.  I take one with me to every game and record every pitch, every swing, every walk, every hit, and every out.  It’s a great conversation-starter at the ball park, and it seems to earn me a certain amount of respect as a true baseball fan.
About eight years ago I discovered Spring Training – a series of exhibition games intended as practice for the current players and an opportunity for new players to try out for roster spots.  We’ve attended Spring Training games four times now – three times in Arizona and once in Florida.
Every Spring Training ballpark has a crew of uniformed, mostly grey-haired volunteers taking tickets, selling concessions, ushering and the like.  They have cool names like the Surprise Sundancers and the Tempe Diablos.  They volunteer their time from mid-February to mid-April.  Sounds like a wonderful way to spend a couple of months in a warmer climate surrounded by everything about my favorite spectator sport.
eHow.com had a set of instructions on how to volunteer for Spring Training:
  1.  Pick a spring training camp. The Grapefruit League in Florida hosts about half of the major league baseball teams and the Cactus League in Arizona hosts the rest.
  2. Create a baseball resume. Mention your current and previous occupations, focusing on any people skills you have and where you developed them. Most volunteer jobs will entail dealing with the public, such usher, ticket taker or grounds crew helper. Highlight any direct baseball experience.
Read more: How to Volunteer at Spring Training | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/how_2096315_volunteer-spring-training.html#ixzz1bbt5lQH8
I guess I’d best get started on my Baseball Resume.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Golf

All retirees play golf – right?  Paul has an uncle and aunt who can’t wait for us to retire so we can play golf with them.  I’ve told them many times that I get more strokes for my money than anybody I know.  They probably think I’m joking.  I assure you – I’m not.

I learned the game of golf in my late 20’s.  I learned the formal rules as well as the informal rules:
1.       Let faster groups play through.

2.       Never step on someone’s line on the putting green.

3.       Always drink a beer after 9 holes.
I own a nice set of clubs.  Yet it doesn’t matter which club I use, I can’t hit the ball any further than 90 yards.  I guess that’s good in a way – no one has ever had to get out of the way of an errant golf ball that I’ve hit.

It’s taken me years to figure out why I play so poorly.  I have very poor hand-eye coordination.  It doesn’t matter how beautiful your swing is if you keep missing the ball!

Maybe I need to buy one of those “big bubba” drivers with a head the size of a small melon – invented; I’m sure, by an aging baby boomer who hated missing the ball.  Or maybe I just need to practice more – something that retirement should afford me the time to do.

Fore!!!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Chess

Most of the health-focused articles and web sites I read strongly encourage us to keep our brains active in retirement.  As we’ve discussed what we might want to do during those lazy evenings at the campsite, Paul suggested we buy a chess board and re-learn the game.
Paul and I have never played chess together. We did play backgammon a few times while we were dating, but it seemed I could never win and I hated that – so I quit playing.  OK, bad attitude, but it has unfortunately been the prevailing attitude.  We still own the backgammon board, but we’ve never bought a chess board.

The last time I played chess I was 22.  It was at a new boyfriend’s cabin, and even though I hadn’t played in 10 years I beat him quite soundly.  I went on to beat him, his brother and his father at poker.  Let’s say some male feathers were ruffled that evening…but that’s another story.

So, 30 + years later, I hope that my attitude toward losing to my husband will have mellowed and we will spend many an enjoyable evening playing this time-honored game of strategy.

Benjamin Franklin once said, "The Game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement; several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired and strengthened by it, so as to become habits ready on all occasions; for life is a kind of Chess, in which we have often points to gain, and competitors or adversaries to contend with, and in which there is a vast variety of good and ill events, that are, in some degree, the effect of prudence, or the want of it. By playing at Chess then, we may learn: 1st, Foresight, which looks a little into futurity, and considers the consequences that may attend an action ... 2nd, Circumspection, which surveys the whole Chess-board, or scene of action: - the relation of the several Pieces, and their situations; ... 3rd, Caution, not to make our moves too hastily...."

I promise not to throw the chess board off the table if I lose. 

Friday, September 30, 2011

Health Insurance 102

Like many companies, my employer is moving to strictly account-based health insurance for 2012.  I now have a choice between a high deductible plan with a Health Reimbursement Account (HRA) and an even higher deductible plan with a Health Savings Account (HSA).  This change is of concern even if I weren’t planning to retire, but planning to retire puts a different spin on the plans.

As I see it, account-based plans provide the ability to take care of the everyday medical expenses through the use of money in the accounts while providing true insurance against the expense of catastrophic care.  Both options provide preventive care at 100% with no deductible.  And both options pay for “preventive” prescriptions as though deductible had been met – just at different rates.
This is important, as Paul and I each take one prescription.  Mine retails for $154 a month.  His retails for $3,510.60 a month.   According to https://www.unitedhrdirect.com/hrdirect/benefits2011/docs/rx_pdl_expanded.pdf, both of our prescriptions are considered “preventive.” 

A significant change in these plans appears to be the lack of an individual out-of-pocket maximum.  In our previous coverage, the cost of Paul’s prescription put us over the out-of-pocket max m id-year.  This assumes that the HRA plan treats his prescription as major medical.
So let’s do the math.  Plans to retire actually puts a third option on the table – have Paul go on Medicare now. 


HRA
HSA
Medicare + HSA
Annual Premium
$3312
$1584
$2358+
Coinsurance for prescriptions
$6000
$4397
?
Total:
$9312
$5981
Unknown




Annual Deductible
$3000
$4500
$2000
Annual Out of Pocket Maximum
$6000
$7500
$5000




Corporate funds to account
$1800
$1600
$800
Personal funding to account
$0
$4650
$2300

$1800
$6250
$3100


So far the math looks like the HSA option will be best for us.  We still have a number of questions to be answered before we make this decision.  The significant ones are:
·         Is there an individual out of pocket maximum?
·         How does the HRA plan treat injectable drugs?
·         If I drop Paul from coverage this year, will I be able to get the retiree Medicare supplement when I retire?
·         What happens to the (assumed joint) Health Savings Account once we retire?  Will there be any penalty because Paul goes on Medicare and is no longer eligible, or do I just keep the funds as my own?

Answers to come…


Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Joy of Learning

My retirement plans have always included continuing education.  A while ago I read about the “Osher Lifelong Learning Institute” – a program which provides university based, non-credit educational programs specifically developed for seasoned adults who are aged 50 and older.  Here’s what I found out at http://www.osherfoundation.org:
“The Bernard Osher Foundation, headquartered in San Francisco, was founded in 1977 by Bernard Osher, a respected businessman and community leader. The Foundation seeks to improve quality of life through support for higher education and the arts. The Foundation provides post-secondary scholarship funding to colleges and universities across the nation, with special attention to reentry students.
In the fall of 2000, the Foundation began to consider programs targeted toward more mature students, not necessarily well served by the standard continuing education curriculum. Courses in such programs attract students of all ages eager to accumulate units to complete degrees or to acquire career upgrade skills. By contrast, the interest of more senior students, many of whom are at retirement age, is in learning for the joy of learning – without homework or examinations.
At present, the Foundation supports 117 lifelong learning programs on university and college campuses across the country, with at least one grantee in each of the 50 states (plus the District of Columbia). “
Turns out there is an Osher Institute at my local university - which happens to be both my husband’s and my son’s alma mater.  Membership in the institute is $30 per year.  This fall’s class list includes 36 classes in subjects including history, literature, languages, economics, astronomy, and of course, writing.  Wow!  Tuition and fees are minimal, and if I choose to register as a University Student, I could even sit in the Student Section at the football games.  I’m in!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Staying Connected

My first portable computer was a Compaq we bought in 1984.  It weighed about 40 pounds, but it had a handle, making it portable. It also had two floppy disk drives and 256K of memory – more memory than you would ever in your lifetime need.  But because it was “portable” I brought it to work with me.  I like to take credit for bringing the small company I worked for at the time into the computer age – but since that company is long gone I suspect I’ll never be recognized for that technological feat.

Shortly thereafter I started working for a company that made computers.  By then computers in offices were pretty much mainstream – even for companies that didn’t manufacture them.  I received my first company laptop was in 1997; my first remote access in 2003.  I was connected no matter where I was.  I still am.  I can – and do – connect from pretty much anywhere.  Yet another aspect of my life that working for corporate America has so easily enabled.
The point of all this?  I’m not giving up this connectivity when we retire.  Well before the day I turn in the company laptop and wireless cards, I’ll buy a laptop.  And I’ll buy a USB modem. 

I had been researching connectivity options when I happened to be in a Verizon store for a warranty replacement for my Android phone (another connectivity option I’m keeping).  I received great customer service from Verizon throughout the warranty process, by the way.  Kudos to Joseph and Blake in Taylorsville!
Verizon Wireless has a great option – a 4G USB modem that can be plugged into our home computer, where up to five computers can connect via the built-in wireless router – or on the road in my laptop.  And the cost of $50 per month is quite reasonable.  

When you read this blog ten months from now, you’ll know who’s keeping me connected.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Mobility and the Lyric PTV

My husband has multiple sclerosis.  Over the years he has experienced increasing difficulty walking long distances.  Last week he bought a Lyric PTV (personal transportation vehicle) model XOV3R – aka a three-wheel electric scooter.  Lyric manufactures these in Tempe, Arizona, and markets them more to urban customers wanting a more efficient and environmentally friendly way to get around town than to the disabled population.  The Lyric PTV is, well, cool.

But will its coolness hamper its acceptance as a mobility option for the disabled?  Here’s our experience so far:
The Restaurant:  We took the Lyric to the Village Inn around the corner for pie and coffee.  We parked it in the waiting area in front of the restaurant.  The manager was very accommodating, and the Lyric was admired by several customers waiting to be seated.  The waiting area was not crowded.  Had it been, we may have been asked to park the Lyric outside.

The Zoo:  This was our first attempt to put the Lyric in the back seat of a sedan.  With the seat on the Lyric, it doesn’t fold up nicely and didn’t fit in my mid-sized Buick.  No problem – we’ll take the truck.
When we came through the gate, the gate attendant wasn’t sure that the Lyric was allowed in the zoo.  She referred us to Guest Services, who in turn referred us to Security.  The Security guy showed up on a bicycle, looked at the Lyric, went back to chat with Guest Services, and then gave us the go-ahead to take the Lyric in.

The Lyric was great to get between exhibits.  It doesn’t do slower speeds well, however, and was somewhat a challenge to maneuver through crowds – particularly all the young children.  There were a few exhibits where strollers and wagons were not allowed, so we assumed the Lyric would also not be allowed.  It doesn’t have the tight turning radius that a wheelchair or “disability” scooter has. 
The Casino:  After our experience at the zoo, Paul decided that he would not take the Lyric on our upcoming bus trip to the casino.   He doesn’t feel comfortable taking it indoors.  Turns out, all of the information available on the Lyric indicates it was never designed to be used indoors.  It’s street legal; riders must abide by the same laws as bicycle riders

The Lyric still has great possibilities for the outdoor lifestyle we plan to have in retirement.  We’ll have to see how it does on dirt roads.  We’ll also have to investigate whether or not it will be allowed in National Parks and State Parks.  More to come….

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Visit to Gold's Gym

Last Tuesday I built up my courage and walked through the front door of Gold’s Gym.  Since I own lifetime memberships to not one but two gyms that have gone out of business, I was a little bit leery of commercial fitness facilities.

I was pleasantly surprised.  As my “tour guide”, Antonio, walked me through the facility, I saw people of all ages, weights, and fitness levels.  I was definitely NOT the oldest person in the room.  I asked Antonio, “while I understand that the baby boomers are not your target market, do you have special activities or classes?” His reply – “All ages are our target market.  Fitness is for everyone.”  Perhaps a cliché in the commercial fitness world, but I appreciated his response.  He went on to say that every new member works with a certified personal trainer to establish fitness goals and to learn to use the equipment. 
The facility was impressive.  There were over 40 treadmills, 30 elliptical machines, stationary bikes, various weight machines that I could not begin to name, much less know how to use.  They offer an extensive class schedule including yoga, Pilates, step aerobics, Zumba and kick-boxing.  They offer a lap pool and water aerobics.  They offer “Cardio Cinema” – where you run on the treadmill while you watch a movie.

They did not offer me a lifetime membership.  Whew!  Their main membership plan is $26 a month with a 24 month commitment.  Unfortunately, they do not offer the ability to take a break in the contract for, say three months every summer while we’re camp hosting.  They do, however, offer travel benefits to other Gold’s Gyms throughout the world.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Discipline - Exercise

One of the things I give up when I leave Corporate America is the fitness center in my building.  Yes – I am fortunate enough to work for a progressive company that understands the value of a fit employee.  While the gym in my office building is small, it features weight machines, free weights, treadmills, elliptical machines and stationary bikes – all facing a flat screen TV for the times I forget to bring my iPod.

I am a runner.  OK – I am a fair-weather runner.  I love to run outside when it’s not too hot and not too cold.  Where I live I can usually run outside between April and October, leaving November, December, January and February needing an indoor exercise facility.  Of course, if we choose to winter in a warm climate, this issue goes away.

But if we winter here, I’ll need a way to get regular exercise in the winter months.  I could join a gym or one of the community recreation centers.  The senior center may have exercise options.  And what about days in the fifth wheel where I’m in rugged country and nowhere near a gym?  Maybe it’s time to buy a copy of “Wii-Fit” and try it out.  Or purchase an exercise DVD with hand weights – one of my co-workers swears by it.

I made arrangements to tour Gold’s Gym next week.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Change is in the Air

Paul and I went camping last weekend.  We’ve owned a Springbar tent for almost twenty years, camped with the kids many times, and still enjoy getting away for a long weekend in the mountains.  There’s something about the clear, crisp mountain air that allows the kind of relaxation that rejuvenates.  Not to mention, of course, the total lack of distraction from technology. J

As we were packing up Tuesday morning to come home, it occurred to me that this may have been my last time tent-camping.  This summer is almost over, and next summer, when we plan to make camping (at least, camp-hosting) our career, the tent will stay in the basement storage - along with the camping box and kitchen box that we have lovingly kept over the years.  Instead, we’ll be pulling a home behind us.
I will miss tent camping.  I will miss waking to an outdoor kitchen and watching the sun rise while the coffee perks merrily on a camp stove.  I will miss bringing that first cup of coffee down to the lake to fish.  I will miss Paul’s gourmet Dutch oven meals.   I will miss the card and dice games inside the tent while the rain which is inevitable in our local mountains splashes in loud dollops on the canvas – but stays outside. 

OK – I can still pour a cup of coffee from the Mr. Coffee in the fifth-wheel and take it fishing.  And no, Paul will not stop cooking in the Dutch oven – I’m sure we can find a fire pit somewhere in camp.  But it won’t be the same.  Some of the changes in retirement will be more difficult to manage than others.
The camping equipment has all been cleaned and prepared for the next trip – just in case.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Home Sweet Home Base

Paul always told me he would be perfectly happy to sell the house and live in the 5th Wheel year-round.  Not having a permanent place to call home, he said, doesn’t bother him. 

It bothers me.  When we started planning for retirement years ago we compromised on selling our current home and buying a condo.  That way, we could lock the doors and leave without worrying about who’s going to mow the lawn or pull the weeds.  That was a great plan – five years ago.
But a slow housing market and the realities of condo life have conspired to cause us to rethink this plan.  The rental units – a significant source of our retirement income – still take day to day maintenance, which Paul does himself.  That means he needs tools.  That means he needs a garage.  Not sure we want the HOA police knocking at our door if Paul leaves the lawnmower on the front lawn.

The day may come when the housing market turns around and we can sell our high-maintenance rentals for lower maintenance rentals.  Until that day, we’ve decided to keep our current home as “home base.” 
Add another line item to the retirement costs:  we’ll need to pay someone to take care of our home and maintain the rentals while we’re off camp-hosting.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Fifth Wheel

One of the requirements of camp hosting is, of course, a recreational vehicle.  Most of the camp host web sites strongly recommend that the more self-contained your RV, the better your selection of camp hosting opportunities.

In 2004 we bought a ¾ ton truck with the intention that when we retired it would pull our fifth-wheel trailer to all these exotic spots where we’ll work and play.  We went to a Recreational Vehicle Show and toured dozens of models.
My favorite at the time was the one with the large picture windows out the back, and twin recliners that would face outside.  Paul thought this was terribly impractical.  He liked the model with extra sleeping and storage room at the back.  That way, he reasoned, we could have the grandkids come stay with us.  (Note to my readers – as of this writing we still have no grandkids.)

Another option that has been added to our list of considerations is a "toy hauler."  This fifth-wheel has a tailgate that comes all the way down, allowing you to drive your toys (we’re considering purchasing an ATV and a scooter) into the trailer.  The living space is at the front.  This may be a necessary compromise to ensure we’re able to get around within the campground, but as my friend Diane told me, “with the tailgate down you still have the picture window.”

Friday, July 29, 2011

All about Camp Hosting

Don’t you just love the Internet?  When I searched for “camp host jobs”, www.camphost.org gave a little history about camp hosting.

For many years, work camping was dominated by volunteer host programs in the National Parks and National Forests. Hosts, often retired couples, would manage a campground for the summer camping season in exchange for a free site for their RV or travel trailer.
Today, while volunteer host jobs are still available, many public campgrounds are run by private companies under special concession contracts. Unlike the government, private for-profit companies cannot legally accept volunteer labor.  Most of these private companies now pay their work campers by the hour. Typically, camp hosts will work a certain number of hours (10-20) a week for their site, after which they are paid an hourly wage. The net result is that work campers will typically get their site plus $500-$800 a month in wages.

Camp host jobs vary greatly from campground to campground, but almost all require taking fees from campers, cleaning bathrooms, and light grounds maintenance (such as raking fire pits, blowing leaves, etc.) Hosts with maintenance skills are always in demand.
Several companies offer employment as camp hosts, including Aramark, Recreation Resource Management, and American Land and Leisure.  Aramark manages the seasonal employees at Lake Powell, which is one of the destinations we hope to work in the near future.  Recreation Resource Management manages a number of parks, but none in our home state.  For our first summer we plan to stay somewhat close to home, so we’ll first investigate American Land and Leisure.  Not only do they manage several mountain and lake campgrounds, their headquarters is about 40 minutes south of us. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Vanity – thy name is Cheryl

With apologies to the Bard, just because I plan on retiring does not mean I plan to look old.  Unfortunately, the older I get, the more not looking old is costing me!  I’ve always been a believer in good skin care, and I wear sunscreen every day, so the “fine lines and wrinkles” have been somewhat kept at bay.  But – as I was looking at my reflection in my smart phone the other day I saw – horror of horrors – that sagging skin at the chin line.  Yikes!  Better find something to get rid of it (the sagging, not the smart phone).  Unfortunately, short of a facelift, which is not going to happen, my options are limited:
·         Chin exercises – most of which involve looking up and moving your mouth like a fish.  So if you catch me doing this, please be assured I have not completely lost my mind – just trying to prevent a double chin.

·         Double Chin Firming Serum.  Yes, they really do make this.  Does it work?  Reviews are mixed.  I am a devoted user of Mary Kay cosmetics, and they make a serum.  I’ll give it a try.
And then there are the grey hairs.  Why is it that grey hair makes men look distinguished, but makes women look old?  Totally unfair.  But again, remediation is possible with a little time, a little money, and a gifted hairdresser.
And while we’re not looking old, we can’t be feeling old, either.  Remediation for this is often a good thing – eating right, exercise, and of course, the “silver” variety of vitamin supplements.
So let’s add this up.  My approximate annual spend:  Cosmetics, $460.00; Hair color, $400.00;  Vitamin and herbal supplements, $780.00.  None of these expenses go away after retirement.  Yet another line item for the budget.