Retirement Life

If you had told me a few years ago, before I retired myself, that retirement life could be so busy that you don’t have enough time, I would have scoffed and mumbled under my breath, “right, you just don’t manage your time well.” Now that I am retired, I realize that the beauty of it is… I don’t have to manage my time well. Such as it has been these past couple weeks. When I started this blog, I committed to publish a post every week. I love to write. It helps me breathe. However, these past couple weeks have left me with little extra time to write a blog post. What could keep this retired person so busy? Well, quite a lot really.

Spring cleaning and decorating

The sunshine shows all of the dust and smudge prints that have accumulated over the long, dark winter, so it was time to do a little spring cleaning. Chores do not go away once you are retired, unless you hire out to have them done, which I have a hard time doing because, well…I am retired after all. Besides, it always feels good to take down the winter decorations and freshen the house up a bit for spring.


It is wonderful to have relaxed time to be a grandparent. When we were raising our own kids, it felt like I was always rushing or multitasking. Now I can enjoy uninterrupted time with my grands. I have been watching our new grandbaby for a few hours every week while my DIL returns to work. Precious time where I just focus on her.

My other granddaughter turned eight last week. We celebrated with a grandma nana date. I took her out for a high tea. We both dressed up and enjoyed tea with cream and sugar, little tea sandwiches and scones with clotted cream and jam. We learned a little bit about the history of high tea. Precious uninterrupted time together.

We have been able to attend several of my grandson’s wrestling matches, which can be all-day events. I am glad we have the time to do this – we missed too many when we spent the month of February in Florida. It is so fun to watch him enjoy and compete at the same sport his dad excelled at.


The weather has been sketchy at home and Scottsdale promised to be sunny and in the 80’s last week. We are retired, so why not make a quick trip down there to enjoy the sunshine? On a last-minute whim we packed up and made the short 2 1/2-hour flight. So glad we did. We have been hiking, riding bikes, enjoying the sunshine and pool all week. I spent a few hours in a bookstore, just nosing around the stacks without an agenda. This is a pretty cheap trip for us because we stayed at my son’s condo, since it was available for the week, and we used our free fly miles to travel back and forth. Our biggest expense was a car rental, which we got for a surprising $18.00/day.

“Once she stopped rushing through life, she was amazed how much more life she had time for.”

Filling the Jars

So, there you have it. Life has been too chock full of fun stuff to write a real blog post this week. I had to settle for this quick recap of the last few weeks in the life of a retiree. I hope that you are able to NOT manage some of your time this week as well. It opens doors for the fun stuff.

Why I Won’t be a Snowbird Any Time Soon

Sunshine. Palm trees. White silk beaches. What is not to love? These things are particularly tempting when you live in a colder climate that is mostly cloudy and gray for three months of the year. The snow is beautiful, especially on those rare days when the sun bounces off of it and lights up the sky. And nothing beats a white Christmas. A new puffy coat, boots and mittens are fun to wrap up in at the beginning of the winter season. Then the holidays are over, and the days are long and cold without any punctuation marks in them. This is the time of year that it takes an extra ten minutes to get dressed to go outside and then I can hardly move after I get all of the layers of clothes piled on. It is the time of year that I am ready to run away from shoveling snow, driving in slush and sleet and walking gingerly on icy parking lots so I don’t break a hip. All under gray skies.

So, this winter we dipped our toes in the water. Both literally and figuratively. We boarded a plane in heavy coats and got off in short sleeve shirts in sunny Sarasota, Florida. We were testing the snowbird lifestyle for a full month. It was a wonderful, sunny, refreshing reset. Yet, after about three weeks, we began to miss our life. Our real life. Most of the snowbirds we talked to spend 3-6 months in a sunnier climate and then go back to their northern home for the rest of the year. We have seriously considered buying a condo in Arizona or Florida, to the point that we did some condo tours with a realtor in Scottsdale. But after “practicing” the snowbird life for just one month, we have decided that lifestyle does not fit us at this point in our lives. This decision boils down to four main factors.


Some people move to get away from family and some people move to be closer to family. We are the latter. When Mr. U and I first got married we moved away for several years. He got his first job in another city, and we wanted to experience this new city life together as a married couple. But, about 24 years ago, we moved back to my hometown. My town. A small city where I was born and raised in the same house. My town, where my 96-year-old dad has lived his entire life and five of my six siblings and most of their families still live. Our kids grew up here for the majority of their lives and now three of them still live in the area. There is comfort in knowing you have people that will be there in a minute for you if you really need them.

We did not need to move to follow our grandchildren because all three of them live in the area. I do not take this for granted. Why would I want to leave this for half of the year? And while my dad still lives independently, we help him with some meals, getting to Dr. appointments and just spending time together. Snow birding would be much more tempting if we did not have family near our permanent home. We want to be part of their lives for as long as possible.

And this little pumpkin was carefully instructed not to crawl until we got back home. So, what did she do? Take her first crawling steps while we were gone…of course.


We have visited with some lovely people in Florida. People that we could become good friends with, but friendship takes time. Deep friendship takes years of shared experiences. Trust develops through shared confidences that withstand the test of time. It takes years of sitting with each other through tears of joy and sadness. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it is hard to nurture these new friendships when you are only together a few months of the year. You will make friends, but they are not the deep-rooted friendships that have the mortar of history to hold them together. The kind that you can call in the middle of the night to help you bury the body. I count myself blessed to have my sister as a best friend and another bestie that I have known for over 35 years that both live in my hometown. I miss them, as well as some casual friends that I don’t necessarily see every week.

“Good friends help you bury a body…Great friends bring their own shovel and don’t ask any questions.”

Home & hobbies

Some hobbies are portable, like reading, knitting, blog writing and walking. Others require heavier equipment and space. When I retired, I bought a Cricut and have enjoyed learning to use it. It can etch glass, cut out letters and designs on vinyl for signs, cards, or even to iron on material. And while you could pack it up and take it in a car somewhere, it would be difficult. My heavy Bernina sewing machine is not easy to move. Mr. U has an entire wood shop that is definitely not portable. These are home hobbies, and we would miss not doing them for large parts of the year.

The financials

We always assumed that it would be much less expensive to buy a second home to snowbird in than travel to different sunnier places during the bleak winter months. I am not a financial expert by any means, but when we considered the options, we found it wasn’t as big of difference as we expected.

For the sake of discussion, let’s say you had $300,000 cash that you saved aside to purchase a second home in a sunny place that you could escape to during the cold winter months. You could purchase this home, or you could take that same $300,000 and put it into a CD or money market and make 4% interest per year. That interest would add up to approximately $12,000 extra cash per year that you could use for snowbird travel to go anywhere you wanted. And at the end of all of that travel, you would still have $300,000 tucked away.

Of course, this scenario assumes you will continue to get a minimum of 4% interest a year, which we all know can vary. This scenario also does not take into account the amount that the second home will appreciate over the time you own it. Most likely, you will sell it for more than you paid for it. But neither does it take into account the amount you will pay out every year in taxes, insurance and HOA fees. You could rent the second home out for the months you are not there, to help offset these fees, but that comes with its own set of responsibilities and challenges.

The argument could be made either way on the financials. Saving the money aside and using the interest to travel makes much more sense if you decide you do not want to be gone for long stretches at a time. It also provides the opportunity to travel to a lot of different places, while you are still able to do so comfortably. It could be a different adventure every time. Of course these are just very rough estimates, but you get the idea. What would you do?


I know of several people that snowbird and totally love it. That is partly what makes it so tempting to me. I know that when you snowbird, your small place becomes your second home, but this trip has confirmed that we are just not ready to make that leap.

This is not a forever decision. If one of our kids move to a warmer winter climate, we may end up snow birding there a few months of the year. Or, as we get older and travel becomes more difficult, we may choose to go to the same place for sunnier weather every year. For now, we have decided to experience different places by taking a couple trips to warmer weather for two or three weeks at a time during the winter. It is a little slower type of travel than we have done in the past. That will be enough to get us through the harsh winter months at home, while not being gone for too long of stretches at a time. That is our decision…for now. Because, if there is one thing we have learned about retirement, it is full of the unexpected.

“There’s no place like home.”

Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz

We got home from Florida the first week of March. The feature picture at the top of the post is of the marina we stayed at while we were there. And this (below) is what was waiting for us the next morning when we got home. Hum…I might have to rethink this whole snowbird thing again.

Eating Our Way Through Sarasota

Being a foodie, I always look forward to eating out at new places.  But besides being a foodie, I am also an aesthetic person.  It is important to me that I have a delicious meal, but it is equally important to me that it be in a fun, interesting or beautiful environment.  My sister and I are probably a restaurant hostess’s worst nightmare.  We inevitably want a different table than the one the hostess guided us to.  We want the one by the window, a booth instead of a table, the one next to the fire, or the table closest to the rail overlooking the water.  Our husbands just roll their eyes and mumble under their breath.  But we both want to enjoy our meal in a pleasant aesthetic.   I call it the “cute factor.” It makes a difference in my enjoyment of the dining out experience.  Non-foodies beware, this post contains food pictures.

One of my goals during our month in Sarasota was to try several local restaurants with excellent seafood and fun atmospheres.  Mr. U and I are not particularly interested in eating at high end restaurants with tiny morsels of food served over starched white tablecloths that we inevitably spill on and feel bad.  These places are a nice treat once in a while, but we prefer finding the tucked away places. 

I don’t know about you, but I have found Yelp to be less reliable lately.   Instead, we have found the best way to find a good place to eat is to ask the locals.  The locals always know the best places.  They know the quirky unique places with the best food, and they know the best deal for your money.   If a few different people recommend the same restaurant, we know it is a winner.  The other option is Mr. U’s favorite – when driving around, notice which places are packed and return to them. That being said, I will still check the Yelp star rating to ensure we aren’t walking into a disaster. Our rule is, “four or forget it.”

Cortez Fishing Village

One afternoon we bought some stone crabs from a fisherman that sells his daily catch at a parking lot near the marina where we are staying.  Since he is a fisherman, he seemed like a reliable source to ask where the best seafood restaurants are.  He, as well as several other people, recommended going to Cortez Fishing Village, an iconic little village just off of Anna Maria Island. The casual restaurants at the village cook up seafood fresh off of the fishing boats while you sit out on the decks overlooking the bay. No white tablecloths here. Just excellent seafood, eaten while you watch the fishing boats come in with the day’s catch.   

Probably the most eclectic place we went to at Cortez Village (recommended by a couple different locals) was Annie’s Bait and Tackle.  It is mostly a bait shop with a little bit restaurant.  It is located in a crusty building with a few tables scattered inside and picnic tables on the dock.  The owner is a grumpy old salt that appears mad that you came in.  It did not even rank on the “cute factor” scale.  It also failed the “four or forget it rule.” However, sometimes the best atmospheres are quirky dives.  As long as I know this going in, I can enjoy the uniqueness of it, but I would not have picked it out as a place to go if it had not been so recommended. Mr. U had a huge bowl of peel and eat shrimp that were so fresh, flavorful and meaty.

The outside of Annie’s Bait and Tackle is, well…very quirky.

Downtown Sarasota

On this trip, we typically eat breakfast at our place and then go out to dinner.  But one sunny morning we ventured downtown early to stroll through the Saturday Farmer’s Market and have breakfast. Using Mr. U’s technique, we stopped at C’est la Vie, just because it was busy the previous day, and it met the “cute factor” for me. Like the name sounds, C’est la Vie is an authentic French bakery and cafe in the heart of downtown Sarasota that specializes in authentic French food and pastries.  The croissants were so fresh and flaky.  You can sip stout coffee and enjoy the sunshine at one of their sidewalk tables and feel like you are in Paris or New Orleans.   

St. Armands Circle is a charming, historic destination located on Lido Key.  I would recommend that you work up an appetite poking in all of the shops at the circle and then stop in to eat at the Columbia. It is the oldest operating restaurant in Sarasota and is known for its Spanish/Cuban cuisine.  It was recommended to us by several people and lived up the hype.  Either make reservations or plan to get there early to get a table for lunch or dinner. We both had Columbia’s Original “1905” salad which is tossed at your table. Get the Cuban bread to go with it.  Fortunately, an older gentleman that we met on the trolley told us to get a pitcher of their sangria. They mix it up at your table with fresh squeezed citrus. It was the perfect way to end a hot day.

I enjoyed all the al fresco dining while there, especially since it is hovering around 30 degrees at home.

By far and away, the most frequently recommended place to eat was Owen’s Fish Camp.  It has delicious food in a fish camp atmosphere.  It is very popular so you may have to wait a good hour or two during peak times.  You will never be happier that a place does not take reservations because waiting for your table is the best part!  They have an outdoor patio with picnic tables and music.  You can order drinks and an appetizer to hold you over.  It is a festive, fun experience and you will feel like you just went to fish camp, without all of the work.

During our month stay, we stopped by a few different tiki hut restaurants/bars.  While the food is usually not anything special, you can’t beat sitting at a table in the sand, watching the waves roll in.   A cold drink at a tiki hut tastes the best after a day playing at the beach.   One evening we stopped by O’Leary’s Tiki Bar & Grill. which is located at the bayfront in Sarasota.  We enjoyed some live music and the view of the bay as they city lights came on. 

Weighing In

Despite the fact that we have been very physically active this trip, I suspect I have gained weight. I don’t have a scale (thank goodness) to confirm this, but the pants are definitely getting tighter. It is pretty difficult to eat out almost every day and not consume too many calories, even with seafood. Because…where there is southern seafood, there are cheesy grits and hush puppies and ice-cold margaritas. Enough said. It is time to go home, for no other reason than I can’t continue to eat out and not gain weight. Thanks for joining me on our travels through Florida. Now it is time to go back to the snow.

Salt Life

The taste of sea salt on my lips. The squawk of seagulls as they swoop over the beach. Waves crashing on the shore, washing up taupe and white seashells. These are the sights and sounds of the salt life. Life rights itself strolling along the salty shoreline searching for the perfect shell. Time stands still. It heals the broken parts of me and centers my soul.

Humans that are attracted to water are referred to as “blue mind” people. This term was first coined by Dr. Wallace Nichols, a marine biologist and writer. People with a blue mind feel a sense of peace around the water. Roaring waves lapping up on the beach, the trickle of a creak flowing over pebbles, or the gentle ripples on a quiet lake; it doesn’t matter as long as it is near water. Being by the water gives us the opportunity to escape our busy, hyper-connected lives and revel in solitude. It provides our brains with a sense of rest from over simulation. People that are drawn to water seek knowledge and understanding. When we are near this blue space, we close down the extraneous stimuli and give way to a meditative state of mind.

I am in my happy place when I am outdoors. I love the mountains, trees, and desert, but nothing heals my soul quite like being by the water. I suspect there are a lot of us “blue minded” people out there.

” When you see water, when you hear water, it triggers a response in your brain that you’re in the right place.”

Dr. Wallace Nichols

Salt water sea life

We live in the chilly Pacific Northwest. We get deer, turkey, and even the occasional moose roaming through our yard on a regular basis. That is our normal. The salt water provides a whole different type of animal life here in Florida. One of my goals on this trip was to see a manatee, so we made a point to visit a couple manatee observation areas.

The first was the Manatee Observation & Education Center in Fort Pierce, Florida. There were only about four manatees hanging out there, but we got to look over the edge and see them up close. Such prehistoric looking creatures, these gentle giants of the ocean. According to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission, one of the biggest dangers to manatees are watercrafts. One in every four adult manatees have evidence of 10 or more watercraft strikes. Sadly, 20-25% of manatees are killed by boats every year.

The other place to view manatees is at Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center at Apollo Beach. The water coming off of the electric company warms the salt water near it and the manatees come there to hang out in the warmer water in the winter. There were probably fifty of them just floating along, relaxing in the warm water. Smart animals.

I would really like to see the large tortoises that crawl up on the beach to lay their eggs at night. Unfortunately, it is the wrong time of year for that, so I had to settle for a smaller version. Honeymoon Island State Park is home to over 200 gopher tortoises, so we headed up there to walk the park. We were fortunate to see one lumbering along and then slide into his burrow. Gopher tortoises dig burrows that are 10-30 feet deep and have a large turn around spot at the end of them. They kindly share their burrows (both current and abandoned) with up to 250 other animal species. The snakes that share burrows with some of the tortoises actually help to protect them.

Salt water play

As I mentioned in my previous post, Living Like the Locals, we are staying at a marina while we are visiting Florida for a month. The marina has several kayaks available for residents to use and they invited us to use them during our stay… for free. I jumped at the opportunity. Kayaking through the estuaries was on my list of things I wanted to do while we were here. When you quietly paddle through the salt water, you get to see the mangroves and water life up close and personal.

One of my favorite ocean water activities is, what I have dubbed, “wave bobbing.” I jump into the waves and let the buoyant saltwater bob me around. It probably looks pretty funny for a lady in her 60’s out there bobbing in the waves like a ten-year-old, but fortunately, not worrying so much about what others think is a side benefit of aging. Joy overrides concern for other people’s opinions of us. I just hope they don’t mistake me for a manatee!

Some people can walk, or even jog along the beach unencumbered. And then there are those of us that are shell seekers. We can’t stop ourselves. I tell myself that I have enough shells, my pockets are full and yet… I can’t stop from looking down and gathering just a few more. Caspersen Beach in Venice, Florida is an exceptionally good beach for finding seashells and sharks’ teeth. As a matter of fact, this beach is considered the shark tooth capital of the world. Yep, hunting for shark’s teeth is a hobby here. The converging currents at this particular beach bring in sediment that have a lot of fossilized shark teeth in them. You just have to dig through the sand and shells to find them. People purchase fancy metal sand sifting tools to hunt for shark’s teeth. You wade into the water, scoop up a bucket of sand and let it wash through the sieve. Then you are left with larger shells and hopefully, a shark’s tooth. These fossilized teeth are typically black and have three points.

Mr. U was captivated by it. However, he was too cheap did not want to purchase an expensive tool to use for only a couple of days. Instead, he bought a white plastic colander at the dollar store. The thing actually worked. We found over 45 small shark’s teeth with it. I am sure that we were quite a sight, me bobbing in the waves and Mr. U hunting for shark’s teeth with his dollar store reading glasses and colander. Oh well, what do we care – we are retired and on vacation.

After a full day at the beach gathering shells and shark’s teeth, we “rewarded” ourselves with a cold drink and some grouper bites at Sharkey’s beach restaurant by the pier. Retirement life is good.

The Tipping Point

To tip or not to tip?  How much do I tip?  Has the tip already been built into my tab?  If so, is that even a tip then?  Am I expected to leave a tip for the person that cleans my hotel room?  Do I tip my hairdresser even though she is the owner of the salon?  How long do you stand and listen to a street busker before you leave a tip in his instrument case?  When did tipping for good service become so confusing?   I don’t know about you, but I am unclear on the tipping rules.  And the old-fashioned side of me wonders why there should even be rules around tipping.  Isn’t a tip supposed to be a thank you for excellent customer service that goes above and beyond and not an expectation?  Now the owner expects customers to tip their employees to help cover the cost of their wages. 

Like most things, tipping has evolved over the years.  Now it is expected to help subsidize many service workers’ wages.  The standard federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.  However, employers of tipped workers can pay a minimum wage of $2.13 per hour to employees provided their tips make up the difference.   The main service sector that this affects are food service workers.  It is up to the state if they utilize this federal tip credit pay structure, but only a few states opt out of it and pay their tipped employees at least the standard $7.25 per hour, regardless of how much they make in tips.  So, the burden of ensuring that servers make a living wage rests on those of us paying their tips.   

We have been on a trip this week (more about that in a later post) and so we have been eating out a lot and using Uber and Lyft.  It has prompted me to consider the whole tipping situation.  The worst part of any bill is not the cost of the bill itself because I know what that is ahead of time based on what I ordered.  The worst part is the last-minute decision on how much to tip.  I want to be fair, but not taken advantage of.  And the new electronic payment systems with preprogramed tips of !8%, 20% or even 30% make me feel that way.  You can put in a custom tip, but of course this has to be done while the server waits over your shoulder.  And for someone such as myself that does not do air math, it takes me longer to determine a custom tip.  God forbid, I might even need to use my phone calculator while the server continues to wait for me. Tipping etiquette recommends that you base your tip on the bill prior to the taxes being added.

It seems that the amount you tip often depends on the era you were raised in.  My dad, who was alive during the great depression, is not a big tipper.  Not because he is being stingy, but because he was raised in an era when tipping 5% was considered a lot.  I remember my mom slipping a few extra dollars under the tab right before they left because she did not think he gave a big enough tip.  I notice that young people, who typically have less discretionary income than I do, tend to tip more.  The tip also depends on where you live. In Europe, tips are appreciated, but not expected.   Some places even consider it rude to tip.  Apparently, the U.S. went in the opposite direction.

I have been on the receiving end of tips.  My very first real job was working at a fast-food joint.  I waited on tables and worked in the front pouring sodas and making shakes with real ice cream, but my title was “car hop.”  You knew you had made it to the upper echelon of car hops when you could swirl a large soft serve ice cream cone so that it came to a perfect peak.   Customers could come inside to eat, but more often, people would pull up under the awning and order from their cars. There was a retractable table with a speaker attached to it where they could make their order. The car hops wore belts with change machines that would jangle when you walked (no roller skates though.)  We would deliver the customer’s food to their car and make change for them right there.   The occasional tip, which was typically the leftover change from the order, was a pleasant, and appreciated surprise.   

Below is a photo of the menu at Topper Too around the time I worked there. Back when a jumbo burger was .89 cents and a tip of left over change was an exception and not the rule. The Double Wammy was everyone’s favorite burger, but it was a splurge at $1.49. We also made a delicious secret fry sauce there (if you know, you know). Employees were strictly warned not to share the recipe with anyone. Topper Too has long since closed down so I can probably tell you that the secret ingredient is a little sugar.

The menu at Topper Too.
This is a picture of Topper Too from the outside. It was taken several years before I started working there but the covered parking where you pulled up to the retracting tables with menus and speakers on them had not changed.

Several of my sons delivered pizza when they were in high school.  I remember them being so excited to come home and tell me how much they made in tips.   So, I understand the importance of tipping.  But I want it to be for great customer service and not an expectation.

Tipping would be less complicated if it was just the food service industry.  But now it feels like we are expected to tip for every service we utilize.   So, for right or wrong, I have developed a few generalized rules around tipping so that I don’t have to make so many last-minute decisions.

  • I give a general standard tip for service of 15% on the total bill (not the pre-taxed amount).  More if it is exceptional or I know the server and less if it is really poor service.
  • I have decided that, if I need to go to the counter to order and pick up my own food or drink, I will not generally tip.  The exception would be if they took the time to give you samples to taste, or they were really nice and helpful. 
  • If I am just ordering drinks but sit at the table and the server takes our order and brings them to us, I tip $1.00/drink. 
  • If a street busker is good enough that they cause me to stop and listen, then I will leave a few dollars in his/her case. 
  • I do not tip the maid that cleans our hotel room.  Heck, does that even exist anymore?

I still haven’t figured out a standard tip for haircuts, pedicures or valets, so I am constantly making last minute decisions.   Agh!   Let me know if you have any tipping advice.   Or should I ask, do you have any tips on tipping? (Bad dad joke, I know.)

Mini jukeboxes, just like the one above, were at each of the indoor booths at Topper Too.

Photo credits:  Old school Coeur d’Alene Facebook page.