State of Mind

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My favorite way to avoid reality is reading. I’ve been doing more of it than ever since Covid came into our lives. Some days, most days, it’s the only thing I do. I should be writing my novel, but I’m…not. Ten pages a month is not a cheery output for me. My head is too cluttered right now and I wonder if it’s my age (66) or the move from the northern part of the country to the southern. During Covid. Which makes a difference.

I miss my friends. It’s hard to make new ones during a pandemic with your head stuck in a book. We had a lot to do when we first got here. Despite the crazy rising costs of houses, our plan was always to move to a house and we are stubbornly sticking to it. Also we are keeping our little St. Pete condo as an investment property because housing costs are not going down any time soon but the stock market just might crash. Another reason to buy a house. We finally got the okay for a pre-approved mortgage, our final piece of business, and called a realtor here in St. Pete. He says he has lots to show us in our $ range with our specific wants/needs.

Then this morning Al showed me a place on the Florida map north of us with newer, nicer houses for half the cost of those we’ve seen in St Pete. (Just to give you an idea, in St. Pete, a condo in a new development with the type of floor plan we want is a million dollars.) We had planned to move about an hour south if we didn’t find something affordable in St. Pete. This is an hour north. On a golf course. Not as close to the beaches, but still on the Gulf side of the state. I said okay, we can go an hour north or an hour south.

There are several reasons to go south instead of north. We have many Michigan friends who winter an hour south of us. We even have a few friends who live year round thereabouts. Then there are our boys. They have more family dotted south of us all the way to Naples, so when they come visit it is convenient. One positive thing about moving north is that it’s cooler in summer. The heat in St Pete did not please Al, and he has yet to golf. He only started walking a few weeks ago. Also, the golf courses seem plentiful in those northern ‘burbs.

My head knows I’ll get the house I want north of here and a happy husband. My heart says “stay put or go south.” Logic says Al is usually right about big moves and we’ll be content to live out our days a bit north, where there are nights when it actually freezes in winter. Freezing temps, or even a slight chance of them, make the news as it doesn’t happen every year. Most days I keep my mind occupied with Regency, England in 1815. I wouldn’t want to live then, but if it’s just in my head, I can pretend they have toilets and running water.

Joy of Zero Income

We are living the story. Freedom from work! Work we sometimes despised. We put in the time, collected our checks, waited until the day retirement arrived so we could focus on work we really loved. For me that’s writing, although it pays way below the cost of living, and dream vacations to Greece cost so much.

We can move to where the weather suits us. If we can afford a house. That’s what all the saving was for when we worked those soul crushing jobs. Al and I did better at saving than most, but when we thought about it, we realized we’d have a hard time buying a home in this crazy market unless we paid cash. Because we’re retired. No income. Well, very little income. This adds all sorts of complications.

We could dip into our savings, but higher income means higher tax bracket. Thus more taxes. Taking money out of 401K also means paying even more taxes as 401Ks (unless they are Roth) are not taxed until you take them out of the market. We thought that was great when we were saving.

Social Security is giving seniors a COLA raise for the first time in forever, but Medicare is raising costs equal to that and they take it right out of your check. If you’re not collecting SS yet, you still have to write Medicare a check.

Last week consisted of crunching numbers with our banker, who is lovely and kind. It was soooo boring. She and Al loved talking finance strategies, me not so much. Now we just have to figure out what we want to do. Which taxes to pay when or if there’s a way people who are not rich can avoid them. (There isn’t.) I learned a lot about money and what it can and cannot do for you in retirement, but I still don’t understand how it is legal for billionaires to have billions of ways to avoid paying taxes. While we in the middle have exactly zero legal means unless we spend zero.

Money is a strange thing. Now this crypto-currency is weirder yet, although I do like the IDEA of minting a trillion dollar coin to pay off our country’s debt. Or is it debt ceiling? Or are we just calling off that whole thing? Sure I’ve learned a lot, but I have way more to figure out. Lucky for me, Al’s hobby is finance. And he’s really good at it.

The Storyteller

I am reading Dave Grohl’s autobiography and it is good. I asked myself in my journal this morning why I would read it. I’m not a Foo Fighters fan. But he was in another band before that…My very first connection to writing came through song lyrics, that’s why I read songwriter’s stories. And while I was getting on in rock years by the time Nirvana came along, I still found new bands, mostly by watching endless MTV. I’d moved on from writing poetry (and song lyrics) by this time but I never forget those early dreams, the first word stories that captivated me. Also, STORYTELLER. What a great title for a rock star to claim.

I finished up my Jane pages for the week and sent them to the critique group. I have no idea how this chapter fits into the scheme of things but I’ll figure it out. I got a new phone and it doesn’t save my photos to JPG anymore but HEIC. Word Press does not upload HEIC yet. I messed around with that for awhile but of course could not convert it so then just used an old picture. Julia is a lot bigger now! The pic I took today was of our living room in the little condo. I wanted to show the two rocking chairs side by side facing the television. I only just realized we are literally in our rocking chairs much of the time. Not necessarily watching TV.

We finally checked off the last of our to-do list before we hire a real estate agent. This is not a good time to buy a house. You might know this. Houses are in short supply and they are super expensive. But the thing is they are not getting cheaper anytime soon. And interest rates are low, so that’s good. We have been here a few months and I really believed I could stay a year if I needed to…but it’s hard. No washer, dryer, dishwasher. Second floor. Small space. I’m a spoiled brat but I’m old and I have been saving my entire adult life for this perfect Florida retirement in my dream ranch house and damn it, we’re going to do it. Also I always believe I can do things that in reality are much more difficult. Like living with my husband in a 1200 sq ft condo with no garage for a year. No! It’s too hard!

Every day something goes wrong. My dad lost his wallet so I ferried him around replacing all his paperwork instead of doing my own. I was glad to be here to help him, even though a car dealer told us it’s legal to drive without a license in Florida. The DMV said it ain’t so. Dad’s squared away now and I’m living on faith. I cannot imagine why WP does not accept HEIC. Soon, maybe. Like everything else in my life right now.

Three’s Company

Al, me and Dad

My dad is only 18 years older than I am and we are the only two of our family who live in Florida. Dad just got home from an extended visit to my mom and brothers in Michigan; Al and I are glad to have him back. It seems natural that I start to think, when I notice he’s not moving so fast these days, “this is me in 18 years.” I’ve always been interested to see how it feels to become older. It is mostly full of surprises, both good and not so great. Dad’s still got his health and his mind is sharp. He drives a cool sports car, lives in a condo a few blocks away that’s a step up from ours. We all love the weather here. My dad’s mother was born here and so was her mother, Mama Q, who lived in Leesburg her whole life. She died at 99, but not before she’d met my sons, her great-great grandsons.

It’s official now: Al and I are Florida residents. We recently received our new driver’s licenses and registered to vote. Dad has been a Florida resident for many years. He’s still married to Mom, they love each other, but they prefer things as they are. She loves the cold; he doesn’t. They are in their 80s but still visit back and forth. I got a text from my brother yesterday Don’t worry about Ma, we’ll take care of her. I knew that. And he knows I’ll help Dad if he needs me. In a way, we all grew up together.

Remember the “sandwich generation”? Caught between their children and their aging parents? Trying to raise kids and take care of Mom and Dad? I could never relate to that. It’s only lately my folks have been slowing down (a little bit) and my boys are both married with little ones of their own. My boys don’t need my help and my folks don’t either. But there is another guy I turn to all the time now that he’s retired…Al.

Since Al retired not quite two years ago, I notice I have become more dependent on him. Not life or death, just open the pickle jar. Watch the finances. Handle the real estate. Even sometimes…wash the dishes. Al is easy to lean on, but I probably do too much of it. He doesn’t complain.

Al and Dad usually golf together but they have not started yet. It’s a bit warm for Al still and Dad’s hip has been bothering him. We did take Dad to his favorite place for a waterside lunch on the Intracoastal after picking him up at the airport. It was getting cold in Michigan. 60 degrees some days! We knew he’d appreciate the heat and the band. It reminds him of better times, when his friends were all alive and they’d party the afternoons away.

I got a tiny sun blush. We all ate local-catch fish. My sandwich-free life may seem odd, our family might look strange, but we are a family and we’re all doing good.

Moving On

Heading to Bainbridge Island, Seattle

We did not move to Seattle; we had a family vacation there. Right after we moved to our little winter condo in St. Pete. We filled our car (down to one car for now) with boxes, dropped them off in Florida and hopped a plane to Seattle. We hadn’t been on a plane since Covid and we had not seen our Seattle children (or grandchildren!) since before Covid. We planned the trip back in that wonderful short window when it seemed that the pandemic would soon be over. Of course we still wore masks in airport and on plane. We wore them in Seattle, except in the house. Our grandkids are not yet vaccinated, so we did it for them. We had a great time. Little Julia is just 4 years old, but not shy. She touched my fingernail and said “Pink is my favorite color.” I said “Mine, too!”

The next day, she introduced me to all her stuffed animals. Owen is in second grade now, and he loves playing video games, just like his dad did when he was 7. Mike is still working from home. Jessica is working harder than she thought she’d be at this time. Not only is Owen home, but Mike is too. We got a tour of his office and Owen learned how to operate the copy machine. One day we all tried, by howling, to get Murphy to howl. Murphy is the dog. He did not howl but looked at us like we were nuts. It was a fun relaxing vacation. And lovely to see my son, his wife and our grandkids again after such a long time. They have plans to come here to Florida this fall. I hope it works out. You just don’t know. I’ve a nagging worry about the mu variant.

Jane.2 languishes. I am ready for it to return to life. My plan is to read Jane.1 and take notes. Then read the 100+ pages of Jane.2 plus post-it notes. Then write to the finish. I would love to have a complete draft by the end of 2021. Found a desk on Wayfair, a big one, and even though this tiny condo is crammed, there’s a spot for it here. I checked and it doesn’t SEEM to come from China, as I need it ASAP. I am longing to get back to work. I have been longing to get back to Monday Blogs and yes, it seems I’ve done it! My laptop finally has WiFi and all is set for take off into this new life.