Settled In … and Loving It!

Reading through the morning newspaper, a headline in the real estate section caught my eye: Homebuilder Woos Apartment Tenants with 12-Month Rent Rebate Offer Toward a House.  The article went on to explain that a developer who builds both individual houses and multi-family complexes, has developed this innovative scheme in hopes of luring families away from apartments toward home ownership.  

Thinking about this unusual offer, my immediate reaction was … why would anyone do such a thing?  What would make someone leave an apartment to buy a house?

Just kidding, of course, for home ownership has, historically, been a major part of the “American Dream” with young families, in particular, seeking their own plot of land upon which to raise a family.  But, that said, my wife, Bonnie, and I are in a very different place when it comes to our choice of domicile and lifestyle; just over two years ago, we sold our home and moved into a superb 55+ Active Adult apartment community … and we love it.

Recently, while sorting through some old financial records, I came across a list of the recurring bills we paid when we owned our last house.  Frankly, I had forgotten how many there were and, when compared to those we now pay in our apartment, the remarkable difference is just one reminder of why we celebrate our decision to live where we do: 

What We Paid in Our House                           What We Pay in Our Apartment

Mortgage                                                                 Rent

TV/Internet/Phone                                               TV/Internet

Real Estate Taxes

City Services (water,sewer,trash)

Heat/AC Service Contract

Alarm System

Yard Maintenance

HOA Fees

Pest Control

In the midst of writing this blog post, the doorbell rang.  Stepping away from my desk, I went to the door where I found our maintenance man stopping by for routine BookCoverPreview.doreplacement of the air filter in the heating and AC unit in our apartment.  This was perfect timing, for it reminded me of one more very important reason why apartment living is exactly right at this stage of our lives … on the few occasions when we have had to submit a maintenance request, the work has been done quickly, professionally and at no cost to us.  And here’s the best part … it is always done by someone else!

It will be interesting to learn whether the new “Rent Rebate” idea works out for this builder, and we certainly wish him well.  And though I am sure we are outside the “target demographic” for this offer, we would not consider anyway … even for a moment … buying a house.  We owned homes for more than fifty years and, without question, doing so enabled us to raise our children in comfortable surroundings and good communities.  But now that it is just the two of us … well, this is our “me time,” and we are really making the most of it!

We just passed the two-year mark in our apartment home, which likely qualifies Bonnie and me as “settled in.”  Even so, barely a day goes by without one of us turning to the other and asking: “Why didn’t we do this sooner?” 

Woodstock Plans Up in “Smoke”

As the countdown continues toward the 50th Anniversary of Woodstock later this year, I am reminded of an old joke that still elicits chuckles and knowing smiles:

Q:  Why has it taken so long to legalize marijuana?

A:  The hippies kept forgetting where they left the petitions!

The point, of course, is that one well known side effect of marijuana use is forgetfulness … at least that is what they say.  If this is true, then impaired memory may be one of the reasons why the planning process for this shindig has been so disjointed … perhaps the organizers simply forgot.  After all, with only fifty years to pull the arrangements together, it is easy to lose track of time.

This is not to suggest that those putting together this gala are dabbling in weed, Mallomars and cheap wine, but this is starting to look a lot like the way plans were made for the original event in 1969 … and we all remember how that turned out!  With the recent departure of a major event organizer, the folks at Bethel Woods are now advertising a “scaled down” gathering which is probably just as well; few of the original bands are performing any more and, those that are, don’t seem up to taking part.  Roger Daltrey of The Who, for instance, let it be known that he won’t be performing in August because, well, it is just too darned hot.

So what are we veterans of “Woodstock Nation” to do?  Should we gather up our tie-dyed outfits and huarache sandals, fill our backpacks with yogurt and granola and head toward Bethel in our VW minibuses?  Or should we just stay home and listen to some classic 78s on the Victrola while sipping Boone’s Farm at room temperature?  Talk about a tough choice!

Speaking just for us, we will be making the long trek back to Yasgur’s Farm in August and, much like wildebeest migrating across the Serengeti, we are not exactly sure why.  Along the way we expect to see other Bethel-bound vehicles with “Woodstock or Bust” signs in the rear window, as we all harbor hopes that an anniversary event will actually await us when we get there.

As plans for our journey come together, I am reminded of the movie “Vacation,” and the way the Griswold family’s torturous cross country trip to Wally World ended.  Having finally made it to their destination, the Griswold’s excitement was short-lived when they found that the place was closed for renovations … and things deteriorated quickly from that point.

Candidly, the “Wally World” scenario is the one I fear most … tired from our long drive … our car dusty from the road … laden with hippie paraphernalia … we make the right turn from Route 17B onto Hurd Road … and pulling up to the gate we see ………..

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Woodstock Redux

Does the name Sri Swami Satchidananda ring a bell?  

On August 15, 1969, he was the Yogi who opened the Woodstock Festival with remarks about the “sacred art of music,” after which he led the assembled masses in several chants.  And while many factors combined to keep this event relatively calm, there are those who believe the Yogi’s words … “Hari OM” and “Rama” … were symbolic of the peaceful nature of this iconic gathering.

With the 50th Anniversary of Woodstock just over the horizon, there is another well-known Yogi who comes to mind … Yogi Berra.  And though he has been gone since 2015, one of his immortal malapropisms seems an especially accurate capture of the chaotic planning for this event: “It’s like deja vu all over again.”  

Thinking back to the woefully inept preparations for the original Woodstock, a number of memorable fits and starts come to mind … several communities rejected the festival before Max Yasgur stepped in at the very last minute … food and water supplies ran out almost immediately … medical care was inadequate … police were vastly outnumbered … and traffic control was non-existent.  

Considering the near-catastrophe in 1969, one might have expected a cooperative and competent planning effort this time around.  Recent reports, though, indicate otherwise … in one press release, the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts emphasized that their planned anniversary is not affiliated with the organizers of the 1969 Festival, going on to underscore that they are not associated in any way with Michael Lang (the key promoter of the 1969 festival).

Meanwhile, Michael Lang has announced that he has plans for the anniversary as well, though details of who will be performing, and when and where the show will be held are not yet available.  Lang says further information will be coming soon.

In other words … when it comes to planning Woodstock Festivals, it is business as usual.

Although I have been retired from policing for a number of years, I always celebrated my good fortune at having been assigned as a young officer to work at Woodstock.  I learned much from that experience, but there is no denying that those days and nights in August, 1969, were long and busy.  All of us … cops and hippies alike … were wet, tired, and hungry, but when it was over, we knew we had been part of something remarkable.

My wife, Bonnie, and I will be heading to New York for the 50th Anniversary, but this trip will be different in a number of ways.  First and foremost, I will not be working, so the  miles-long traffic jams on Route 17-B (now known as “The Woodstock Way”) will be somebody else’s problem.  Instead, during this visit we will be engaging in some of the activities I witnessed but could not participate in last time.

No, we will not be sleeping in pup tents, using illegal drugs, or eating brown rice from a hand-thrown pottery jar.  Instead, as we set out for Bethel, New York, this summer, we will be guided by the words of Don McLean in his 70’s anthem American Pie: “We all got up to dance.  Oh, but we never got the chance!”

In 1969, we did not have the chance … but this time we will ……….

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The Guys at Breakfast

In Fort Worth, Texas, the “go to” place for good food and great service is the West Side Cafe.  If you stop there on a Tuesday morning, don’t be surprised at the mob of guys sitting in the back room talking, laughing and enjoying breakfast together.  The restaurant knows to expect this crew and, though doctor’s appointments and other alibis can cause the numbers to fluctuate, a solid ten to twenty guys make it a point to show up every week.

I am proud to count myself a member of this merry band.  All of us are neighbors at Overture Ridgmar, a 55+ Active Retirement Community where, on Tuesday mornings, we form up and car pool to our weekly gathering.  

A casual diner walking into the West Side Cafe and seeing this crew, might be inclined to write us off as simply a rag tag collection of “old guys” with grey hair (or, in some cases, no hair).  But that would be a mistake.  Having had the good fortune to spend time with these fellows and get to know a little bit about them, I can testify to the fact that the experiences, depth of knowledge and record of accomplishments around that table are, in a word, remarkable.

Many of my breakfast colleagues have founded and managed businesses, others have performed design work in aeronautics, there are medical professionals, men with legal backgrounds, advanced teaching credentials, two preachers, a musician, and a banker.  A common theme among most of the fellows around the table, though, is military service.  You would never know it, however, from listening to the Tuesday conversations … nobody aggrandizes their time in the armed forces.  You have to ask … and ask again … to learn what they have done in service to our country.

As a police officer, I learned early in my career that, from time to time, people would decide to resist arrest.  Occasionally, somebody would raise their fists and declare loudly: “I’m going to kick your *** … I’m not going to jail!”  Caution was always important, of course, but in most cases I found those bold declarations to be little more than bombast.  On the other hand, the people who always impressed me were those who quietly assumed a bladed and balanced stance, kept their hands free, made direct eye contact and didn’t say a word.  It was clear that those folks knew how to handle a physical confrontation … they didn’t have to broadcast how tough they believed themselves to be.

In my experience, what I just described is much the same with military veterans.  Maybe it is just me, but when someone repeatedly (and unsolicited) tells everyone around him of the heroic things he did while in the military, I tend to be suspicious of their declared credentials.  It is the quiet one, though … the one who has to be prodded to talk about his experiences … he is the one that usually has the most impressive story.  

For example, among the men at Tuesday breakfast are a number of retired Viet Nam veterans including a KC-135 pilot, a member of a B-52 crew, a Helicopter pilot, a Swift Boat crewman, a West Point graduate who commanded an artillery battalion, and a number of enlisted “ground pounders.”  Our group also includes a veteran of the Korean conflict who, at age 19, parachuted into North Korea.  None of the men around our table talk about their military experiences unless prompted, but each is rightly proud of what he has done in service to our country.

When someone walks into the West Side Cafe on a Tuesday morning, he may find himself seated near a large group of older guys who seem to be talking about things like the Texas Rangers current losing streak or a new medication for aches and pains.  In truth, though, there is a lot more going on at that table, and I have been privileged to sit, listen and learn from some really remarkable men.

Having sold our home and moved to Overture Ridgmar less than two years ago, my wife and I remind ourselves, on a daily basis, how much we enjoy our new living arrangement.  There is much to celebrate in our new digs but, for me, one of the most rewarding benefits of our move has been the opportunity to meet and interact with this remarkable group of guys with whom I go to breakfast each Tuesday.

No Room at The Inn

Whenever we plan a vacation, it has always been my practice to make all the arrangements well in advance.  Since my wife and I like to travel by car, I always plan our route, list the sights we will be visiting, calculate where we will be stopping each night and, of course, make hotel reservations.  We are both excited about the upcoming 50th Anniversary of the Woodstock Festival only one scant year away, so with twelve full months to prepare, I decided to look into hotel accommodations in the area.

With most hotel chains allowing rooms to be booked one year in advance, I thought I had a pretty good chance of scoring a room relatively close to Bethel, New York.  I was wrong.  It appears that many of the original 400,000 attendees are still around, and that they were all ahead of me in line to book a room.  The closest place I could find was eighty miles away, with the hotel site calculating the drive time to Bethel as one and a half hours.  TRAVEL ADVISORY: If Route 17B looks anything like it did in 1969, it would be smart to plan for an additional ten hours of drive time each way.

The apparent level of interest in making the trek back to Yazgur’s Farm is amazing, especially since plans for the anniversary celebration have not yet been formalized.  I had the good fortune to have worked at Woodstock as a police officer, and my wife and I have been back to visit that place on two occasions.  This time around, though, we are looking forward to being in the company of so many others who were there in August, 1969, as well … or, at least, who claim they were there.

With hotel rooms in such short supply, one can only guess at the arrangements people will be making.  VW buses have been replaced by Winnebago RVs, of course, and those who relished the charm of sleeping in a pup tent with a dirt floor now prefer “glamping” with king sized beds and gourmet meals.  The living and sleeping accommodations in 1969 were grim, a fact illustrated perfectly by one “Woodstock Veteran” who posted this memory in an online discussion:  “I went to Woodstock with $350 in new camping equipment, and came home wearing somebody else’s shoes.”

We will be trekking back to Woodstock next year, and making the best of the hotel arrangement.  Note to self: make sure the room has a suitable TV, and a refrigerator for refreshments.  That way, if the weather, the crowding and the traffic turn out to be anything close to the original, we can simply stay in air-conditioned surroundings, a “cold one” in hand, watching the festivities on every channel.  And even though we will be sitting eighty miles from the stage, we can comfort ourselves that we made it closer than many of the folks who tried to get there in 1969 and couldn’t get past Poughkeepsie.

And we will be going home with our own shoes.

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Where Has That Half-Century Gone?

Hard to believe, but the 50th Anniversary of the Woodstock Festival is only one year away.  Many of us have, no doubt, begun to make arrangements to return to Bethel for the jubilee but, for those unable to join us, do not be concerned … this celebration is certain to be thoroughly recorded and reported upon; at least six film and documentary production groups from the United States and Europe have projects under way, with a number of print media series’ in development as well.

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The Psychedelic Bus on display at the Museum at Bethel Woods

Given the certainty of wall-to-wall coverage, it might not be a bad choice to simply remain home and watch all the hoopla from the comfort of a recliner.  If you intend to show up in person, though, you will likely notice a few differences from the last time we got together in that soggy meadow in rural upstate New York:

 

Clothing  Tie-dyed fashions seem never to have gone out of style, but I suspect that some of us now purchase our jeans with expandable waistbands.  And while huarache sandals will surely be in evidence, many of us may opt, instead, for comfortable walking shoes.

Alcohol and Drugs  Yes, we will be drinking some wine but, given the passage of time, we will probably be consuming a goodly amount of Metamucil as well.  And when it comes to drugs, any substances we consume this time will be less “recreational” and more “therapeutic” (think cholesterol, blood pressure and arthritis).

Traffic Jams  Unlike the region-wide gridlock we all endured in 1969, this time the roads will not be clogged with Volkswagen Beetles and dad’s station wagon.  Any traffic tie ups during this gathering will result from tour buses stopping to drop us off where Yasgur’s Farm used to be.

Mud   During our last get together, it was cool to get a running start and then slide in the ever-present mire.  That won’t happen this time; many of us have learned how hard it is to get back up once we have fallen and, besides, somebody could break a hip.

Public Nudity  Many of us have gained a few pounds and are less sure-footed than we were during those glorious days in 1969, so skinny dipping may be more challenging.  Be sure to take extra care climbing in and out of those local bodies of water.

So, with those cautions and nuggets of advice in mind, it is time to start some serious planning.  Somebody should call Wavy Gravy and ask him to make sure the Hog Farm bus is tuned up and ready to roll.  And for a culinary trip down “memory lane,” ask him to bring along the granola recipe he prepared as his iconic “breakfast in bed for 400,000” in 1969.

Finally, it will be important to have adequate medical services on hand this time.  Dr. Bill Abruzzi (the “Rock Doc”) achieved stardom for his treatment of “bad trips” at Woodstock and other rock concerts, but his talents (if he can even be located) may be less in demand this time.  For next year’s anniversary, organizers should line up medical staff with skills appropriate to the needs of those most likely to be in attendance … in other words, doctors with experience in geriatric medicine … who accept Medicare.

Rightsizing … One Year Out

Wow, that year certainly went by quickly! It is hard to believe that we just passed the one-year anniversary of our effort to “rightsize” our lives but, that being so, we got to wondering how we might measure the results of our endeavor. We had high hopes, of course, that the move from a house to an apartment would be a good one but, now that we are settled in, what is our level of satisfaction?

In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey suggests that each of us “start with the end in mind,” and that is exactly what we did before starting down this road. In preparing for this transition, Bonnie and I discussed and settled upon who we are, what we wanted from life, and how we wanted to live now and into the future. With that established – and using that vision as our goal – we made a “leap of faith” … we sold our house, got rid of a lot of “stuff,” and moved into an Over 55 Active Retirement Community.

And the result has been better than we had any right to expect.

For example, one of our goals was to live in a comfortable and maintenance-free environment. Our apartment home surpasses all of these criteria … it is quiet, comfortable, roomy, and well-appointed. Further, on the very few occasions when a maintenance issue arose over the past year, it was handled quickly, professionally, at no cost and … here’s the best part … the work was done by someone else!

Moving to a new community always presents a range of potential social concerns: How will we connect with people? Will our new neighbors compare favorably with those we left behind? For us, any worries were erased immediately by the warm and welcoming reception we received from everyone we met. We now find ourselves among folks from a demographic niche much like ours and, to our delight, many of our new neighbors have interests and life experiences very similar to our own.

Individually, Bonnie and I have joined groups that bring us enjoyment and growth. For instance, once each week I go to breakfast with a band of ten-to-fourteen men whose backgrounds and accomplishments are amazing, while Bonnie has connected with a group of women who enjoy a variety of activities and interests. Together, we have befriended several couples with whom we enjoy going to lunch, dinner or area entertainment venues on a regular basis.

If asked to complete a satisfaction survey evaluating the way we “rightsized” our lives over the past year, we would have to rate the experience as “exceeded expectations” in every way. And while we celebrate having made this transition and what it has done for us, we continue to struggle with one nagging question:

Why didn’t we do this sooner?

Dying to Downsize

I have to admit … the book title really caught my attention: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Make Your Loved Ones’ Lives Easier and Your Own Life More Pleasant.”

“Death Cleaning” … what was that all about, and what could it possibly mean to me?

Turns out the author, Margareta Magnusson, is really on to something. A resident of Stockholm, she makes the argument that “death cleaning” is not just about sorting through a deceased person’s belongings after they have passed on. Instead, she suggests this process as a permanent form of organization that can make each of our everyday lives run more smoothly.

Rightsizing … downsizing … getting rid of “stuff.” Whatever one decides to call it, the process of minimizing possessions can be liberating. And as Magnusson makes clear, undertaking this process earlier rather than later can also be a favor for those who survive us. None of us, after all, is immortal, so taking on this important task while we are still able makes perfect sense.

When Bonnie and I decided in early, 2017, to sell our house and move to a 55+ apartment community, we knew we had to get serious about winnowing through the mountain of baggage accumulated during our more than fifty years of marriage. Very quickly we determined that the most expedient way of handling this task would be to divide our possessions into four categories … take with … give away … donate … and discard.

Once we had decided upon what we would bring to our apartment, we offered the remainder to our children. We were pleased that they accepted a number of pieces of furniture, wall hangings and assorted other decorations and household items and, needless to say, we are thrilled that many of the things we have collected and loved over the years now rest in the homes of those who mean so much to us.

Magnusson’s book makes perfect good sense, and it is a delightful coincidence that Bonnie and I only recently did exactly what she suggests. Getting rid of a vast collection of unneeded items was cathartic, and is something we should have done years ago. We are pleased to report that we love life in our new apartment and community and, most especially, the reduced stress and increased personal contentment that come with living a less-encumbered lifestyle.

Getting “Rightsized” at Last

After more than fifty years of marriage, we took a “leap of faith” and made a series of major changes in our lives.  We also wrote a book about the process titled “Home Sweet Apartment … Getting Rightsized in Our Seventies.”  For senior citizens, making the willing choice to “Rightsize” their lives can be a challenge. Done smartly, though, the outcome can be deeply rewarding. As this book suggests, the journey begins with a clear vision of what an ideal lifestyle looks like and then, while keeping that goal in focus, taking intelligent steps forward. Using our personal experience, we describe how – while both in our seventies – we sold our home, moved to an “Over-55” apartment community, got rid of a lot of accumulated “stuff,” and fashioned a lifestyle of reduced stress and increased personal contentment. This book outlines steps for a comfortable relocation, strategies for letting go of “stuff,” managing the stress of a major lifestyle change, and making wise choices about what is important in life. This new book is now available on Amazon in both Paperback and Kindle versions.

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