Sunday, January 27, 2013

Celebrating a Zero Birthday in Southwest Colorado

I believe that milestones like birthdays that end in zero, especially after the age of 50, need to be celebrated in grand style. Once you get to the age of 60, you begin to wonder just how many more zero birthdays you may see in the future.  The vigor of youthfulness with it's dreams and expectations and sense of endless tomorrows has begun to fade, if not completely stunted by what life has dealt to you in the previous half century or so.  So it was that I decided to throw a big party for myself and friends when I turned 60 in 2010.  My friend and neighbor, Cathy, was looking forward to her 60th birthday last week.  She dreamed of something special and, as things turned out, it was looking like it wouldn't happen.  I invited her to accompany me on a vacation to southwest Colorado to ski and soak.  She did and we had a wonderful time celebrating her Zero Birthday in Pagosa Springs last week.

Wyndham Pagosa Springs Resort

Our Condo
On January 18th, we arrived at our timeshare condo and my daughter, Amanda, and her friend, Terry, from Albuquerque showed up a couple of hours later. Everyone went to Wolf Creek Ski Resort the next morning.The weather was terrific and the base had 55 inches of snow. 

Cathy on the shuttle bus from the parking area

My daughter, Amanda, and I
Cathy, who is a life-long skier and a member of the Ski Patrol at our local New Mexico ski resort, was ready to help me (a novice) become a better skier.  She patiently accompanied me on the beginners slope for two trial runs, then off we went  up the Raven Chair Lift so I could take a longer (but still an easy) run down the mountain. 

Cathy did get to ski some Black Diamond runs that I could never do, when she joined Terry later in the day.  She was a happy skier in her Angry Birds hat.

On Cathy's birthday, January 20th, we enjoyed a massage and a soak in the tubs at the Overlook Hot Springs Spa in Pagosa Springs. The hot springs baths were wonderful and it was cheaper than the Pagosa Springs Spa. Cathy received a wonderful massgae from Lynis, a retired school teacher turned massage therapist. Cathy gave her tips on building a straw bale vegetable garden.  You can make friends easily in this small town.
Lynis was Cathy's massage therapist
I took Cathy for dinner at the Alley House.  It was a great place to enjoy a wonderful meal.  We had the fried calamari as an appetizer and then ordered mesquite grilled pork chops and brined lamb chops and wine, followed by a delicious Creme Brulee for dessert. Definitely do dinner at the Alley House if you go to Pagosa Springs.  They are open for dinner only (5PM-9PM)  and require reservations.

We went home to the condo to enjoy a bottle of New Mexican Gruet Demi Sec sparkling wine and watched a DVD movie while we waited for Cathy's friend, Emmett, and his friends to arrive from Albuquerque. Finally, they arrived after midnight and off to bed we went.

Gruet Demi Sec from Albuquerque, New Mexico
(New Mexico has some great wineries)

"Here's to my Zero Birthday"

The next day, being a holiday (Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Birthday), we declined to go to crowded ski slopes although Emmett and friends did. Instead of skiing, we headed for the hot springs in downtown Pagosa Springs next to the San Juan River.

We did more skiing on Tuesday and Thursday.  I loved it.  The weather was sunny and in the 30's and 40's. 

As far as dining out, we enjoyed a really nice seafood restaurant in Pagosa Springs called A Chivalrous Shark. Charlie and Cathy Berry are the owners and they came to Pagosa Springs via places like South Dakota, Maine, and Florida. It's tough economically in towns like this for a small business and business was slow. Their food was delicious and quite diverse from Red Curry Mussels to Mexican and Cajun-styled dishes. They have a full bar and I had a martini with a thirsty friend.
 I highly recommend A Chivalrous Shark to anyone passing through Pagosa Springs. 
We also did a tour of the brewing company at the Pagosa Brewing and Grill and enjoyed several meals there along with a good sampling of their current beers on tap. I recommend the Wild-caught Salmon Fish and Chips and their Salmon Ceasar Salad and Kathy liked the Cheddar Cheese Beer Soup and Whitefish and Chips.  The service is excellent and it's a casual place where you can meet other friendly visitors and locals alike.

We enjoyed a stop at Kip's Grill and Cantina, a tiny but friendly place for local color, music and good food.  A friendly bar and grill with spicy dishes of pub food including tacos, burgers, soups, sandwiches and salads. Try their home-made salsas and pepper-based sauces.

We headed down to Durango Wednesday for a little shopping and dinner with my son-in-law, Matt.  He lives only 40 minutes away and he had a service call in Durango while we were there. Unfortunately, his wife (my daughter, Mary) was still in Grand Junction, Colorado (5 hours away)doing her last week of training to be a Starbuck's Coffee manager.  She came home Thursday night so we missed her.  We had dinner at Ken and Sue's Restaurant in downtown historic Durango.  We drove back to Pagosa Springs via US Hwy 160,  keeping a sharp eye out for elk and deer crossing the road.  There were hundreds of wildlife tracks everywhere in the snow, but we only saw one elk grazing by the highway and many, many wild turkeys.  We headed back to New Mexico on Friday, January 25th, stopping in Chama at a blacksmith's craft store, cruising through beautiful Tierra Amarilla and Abiquiu (Georgia O'Keeffe Country) and stopping for lunch at one of our favorite places to eat just west of Santa Fe - Tesuque Village Market Cafe.

 Life is good, not just on Zero Birthdays, but everyday. Keep active, open up your heart and all your senses. Experience the joy of friendship.  No friend closeby?  Make a new friend today.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Boomer Retirement - What "a long strange trip it's been..."

Fishing on the Blue River (Colorado)

OK, I did it.  I "retired" officially.  I will get my first Social Security check next month.  I worked  a lot of hours last year and, frankly, I'm tired of working so much.  So I applied for reduced Social Security benefits early (I know, I was going to wait until I was 65 or 66, but then I came to my senses).  After helping my daughter with her wedding costs and continuing to pay for both of my kids' educational loans last year, I decided that this year I would work less.  My husband and I would like to take more time to travel to see our family and interesting places in the world. My daughters are 28 and 30 so they are independent.  My husband will turn 73 this year.  I will still work a few hours a month as I continue to pay off loans, but I will cut back my hours as an on-line rater for ETS to about 60 hours a month.  We will have enough income to pay our bills, save a little, and still travel a bit, so why wait?
Camping at Navajo Lake (New Mexico)
So I join the great tide of "Baby Boomers" calling it quits in the past decade, letting the next generation take over our places in the workforce .  It has been a strange and drawn out retirement for me who,  like so many other "Boomers",  continued to work after "retirement".  My path to retirement began early. I worked 27 years for a Fortune 500 company in California when they booted me out at age 54.  After participating in so many joyful retirement celebrations over the years at my company, I received none.  I and seven other 50+ year old employees with long service records were laid off on December 31, 2004 (one day short for me to get a full pension).  It was strange to be in a nebulous world of being "terminated" employees but not voluntarily retired as we were like walking dead people in the plant.  People looked past us as if we weren't there. They didn't give any of us a "retirement" party ( although they did have doughnuts one day in our department to "celebrate" our departure). I received a severance payment of several thousand dollars and applied for my unemployment benefits.   The reality for me was that I was 54 years old and could not see myself handing out resumes to prospective new employers in my previous field of procurement and contracts.   I wanted to start a new career as an English language teacher overseas. I had been preparing for my post-retirement new career for three years. I received my TESOL certification after two years of evening classes at UCSD while I worked days as a procurement professional.  I had completed my Teaching Practicum and two years of unpaid volunteer service as an ESL tutor.

My decision to begin a new career required me to "downsize" and economize after my lay-off.  I elected to continue my health insurance for myself and my dependent college-age children via the protection of the federal COBRA law.  I used my severance to pay the $495 monthly premium.  I decided to put my house on the market (which was in a ridiculous "bubble" at the time).  Timing is everything.  I was able to sell my modest 45 year old ranch-style home in just two months for what was an obscene amount of money. 

Leaving San Diego in home since 1969.
After paying off all my debts and giving my children  thousands of dollars for college, I followed my heart to retire in New Mexico, purchasing a modest double-wide as my retirement cottage on an acre of land in the mountains east of Albuquerque for less than $100K.  I thought I now had it made and began looking into overseas language schools to teach at (being paid to travel seemed like a great new gig for my retirement years).

My little Shangri-la at 7,500 ft. elevation

I even had a hammock for those lazy summer days...

...and lots of wildflowers and wild birds to enjoy...

...and  a hot tub to enjoy the clear starry nights

In the summer of 2005, I was negotiating with an English language school in Chile to work as an English Teacher when I met my future husband.  I ended up turning the Chilean job down.  I received unemployment benefits for six months, then found a $7.50 an hour job as a grocery store cashier. It was a "union job" so I was looking forward to benefits like health care and job protections. Unfortunately, in recent contract negotiations, the union had given up benefits for new hires for the first year of employment and I never did meet a shop steward on the job.  I was treated badly by management, so I quit after a month.   Life took a turn for me again. In 2006, I rented out my home in the mountains and got married to Ron  and began work as a K-12 Substitute Teacher in Rio Rancho.  I also volunteered as an English  teacher for adults working at an Albuquerque workplace. In late 2006, I was hired by Educational Testing Service  to score their on-line tests for non-native English language speakers. And that is where I've been working for the past 6 years.  No benefits, but with a good hourly rate and great flexibility in scheduling my work, all done in the convenience of my home on-line.

My office at home.

By 2006, I had to convert my COBRA medical insurance plan to an individual plan.  I was shocked to find that insurance companies rejected my application for coverage due to "pre-existing conditions".  I hadn't planned on having no medical insurance in my pre-Medicare years.  Fortunately, in the 1980's, the New Mexican legislature set up a public-private partnership to cover those of us without employer-provided insurance who cannot get individual insurance due to "pre-existing conditions" and/or exhaustion of COBRA coverage.  I got medical insurance for myself (no dependents) at age 55 for about $424 a month.  Unfortunately, this monthly premium grew each year to ultimately consume 25% of my income by 2010.  I applied for an early retirement pension (with reduced benefits) just to pay for my medical insurance.   I will not be eligible for Medicare until January, 2016.  And now, I have "retired" again by starting my Social Security benefits.

I feel lucky because many "boomers" my age have not been as fortunate in their "retirement" years. For so many, Social Security will be their only source of retirement income and so they will work well into their seventies to supplement their Social Security. The odd fate of being laid-off too early ended up with my selling my house at the "top" of the market rather than after its collapse.  I am very aware that so many people my age were not so fortunate and were heavily indebted when the market collapsed and they lost their homes, equity and assets.  I am thankful that government "safety nets" have been there to help me navigate the rough road of pre-retirement in the past decade.  I had six months of unemployment benefits after my layoff, a 16 month extension of eligibility for my employer-provided medical insurance because of the COBRA law, and I was able to get individual insurance because of state law and will be eligible for less expensive medical insurance in 2014 because of the Afforable Care Act  (Obamacare).  I am thankful to the Machinists' Union that I was eligible for an early retirement pension.  And now I am thankful for Social Security that I have paid into since 1968.
I want to concentrate on creating art in 2013.  With more time off and with the completion of my art studio (remodeling the garage), I'm hoping on spending more time on my creative self. That and visiting the kids and grandkids, seeing old friends, reading more, gardening, some camping and fishing, and a little travel....

Spending time with family and grandchildren...
...growing flowers
and vegetables...

...and travel...maybe even a cruise this year.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Happy New Year and New Stuff I've Discovered

Happy New Year to you. My lack of posts for more than a month is because I've been busy with holidays, family, and new stuff I've discovered during my leisure time.  Now, to my discoveries:

First off, I discovered a $29 device to convert VHS and cassette tapes to digital media, downloads to the computer,  CDs and DVDs.

I ordered  the Media Saver and Converter on-line and used it to convert an audio cassette recording of my mother's autobiography she created in 1998 and put it on a CD along with pictures of her from long ago.  I found the previously unknown recording early last year when I was going to throw out  my cassette tapes. This one had no identification and luckily,  I listened to each tape before discarding them when I was shocked to hear my mother's voice.  She began the tape on January16, 1998, the 18th birthday of her "favorite grandson" and she told the story of her teenage years living in depression-era Kansas and her migration to California.
My mother, Hellyn (c. 1946)
She got up to WW II when she enlisted and served in the Women Marines and the tape ended. She passed away in January, 1999.  I wanted to preserve her audio for her grandchildren and my sister, so this device did the trick. I will now do the same for old VHS tapes of my family.

Second, I discovered Windows Live Movie Maker. OK, for all you younger bloggers who are totally tech saavy, maybe you make movies from your Smart Phone all the time.  But for us older folks, this is a miracle.  So easy and user friendly to put your photos, videos, audio,and  music together.  It's available on your newer PC with Windows Essentials and you can select the application when you are in your media files opening photos or runnig a slide show.  Otherwise, you can get a free download here. I put my mother's audio with pictures of her and family from the 1940's to the present, then I added music and titles, captions, and credits.  It was a lot of fun.  I sent these CD's off to my family as Christmas presents. 

Third, I discovered a website that has unlocked the mystery of my husband's origins.  My husband was adopted when he was a baby and although he had a birth certificate which identified his birth mother and father and their parents names, he really didn't have a means to explore historical documents to find out more abut his birth family.  In 2008, we stopped in Salt Lake City and visited the Mormon Library with all their records of family history. We found some census data from 1930 that helped us identify some information about his father and grandparents and an aunt. Ron was born in 1940 and the US Census personal data for 1940 (they do a census every ten years) had not been released to the public.  And there it remained until the 1940 Census data was released in 2012 and I happened onto for several hours of browsing January 3rd.  The user friendly tools on provide "hints" that linked me to other Family trees and documents and I was able to built a Family Tree going back to the 18th century in just a few hours. Then I was able to connect with the owner of one of the Family Trees with Ron's father and mother and siblings (yes, he had two sisters and a brother he had never known about!)  She is married to Ron's nephew and she has photos and documents about his family that she is giving us.  She will also connect us to his last surviving sister.  Ron's father had passed away at 29 years old and before Ron was born.  We did not know why he died nor why Ron was given up for adoption.  Now all the pieces of the puzzle were being revealed for the first time.  Ron also found that his lineage is Austrian and Slovakian and Catholic (he had thought he might be a Ukranian Jew).  I 've spent hours on building all the various branches of my family tree and connecting with other relatives. 

We had a very nice family holiday with my daughters, Amanda and Mary, over for Christmas with their men, Matt and Malcolm. 

Ron opening his presents

Matt and Mary came over from Bloomfield, NM

Amanda and Malcolm

Ron and I

On December 27th, Ron's youngest daughter, Anne,  from Minnesota arrived with grandchildren, Will (9) and Milla (4) .  We visited friends on the Santo Domingo Pueblo Dec. 28th and watched the dances celebrating Christmas.  We enjoyed their hospitality and lunch with red chile stew, home-made tortillas and tamales.  What an experience for everyone.  Next day, we took Ron's daughter and the kids to Sandia Ski Resort for an all-day ski lesson.  They did great and are ready to go to the next level when they get back to Minnesota. 
Anne learning to ski

Will skiing downhill on the "bunny" slope


Milla was a natural

I skied, too, and it was great fun on a perfect sunny and windless cold day. That evening, we enjoyed a great meal at the new Vinaigrette restaurant in Old Town Albuquerque and toured the River of Lights at the Albuquerque BioPark botancial gardens. 

The next day, Dec. 30th, we had Amanda and Malcolm join us for a Holiday Dinner of Prime Rib at our house.  December 31st brought fresh snow and the children played and sledded on the powder.

We visited the Museum of Natural History and Science (a favorite for Will) where a wonderful exhibit on the history of computer science and the development of the personal computer in Albuquerque had opened.  We also saw the 3-D Dynamax film, Flying Monsters, about prehistoric flying dinosaurs.

On New Year's Eve, we celebrated with family and friends at home, but everyone was in bed by 9:30 PM (except Will who tried to stay up until midnight).  On New Year's Day, we watched the classic  "A Christmas Story" on DVD together as a family before we had to take Anne and the kids to the airport for their return flight to Minnesota. 

Happy Holidays from New Mexico

I hope you had a wonderful New Year celebration where you were.  May 2013 bring us more peace and understanding to the world!