Friday, March 29, 2013

Retirement Reflections

Yesterday I went to a retirement party for a UD co-worker.  Retirement parties here are like reunions--the University is kind of like a little city where people move around from one department to another but stay in touch with the people they meet along the way.

As people came into the party, they hugged the guest of honor, and everyone said just about the same thing--"Congratulations, I'm jealous."

Me too.

Retirement parties seem to inspire celebration in the person who is leaving and reflection in the rest of us.

A generation ago, most people retired at 65 and often lived only another 10 years.  They were truly retired. They got the token gold watch and went home to watch TV and putter in the garden.

Now, a lot of us are retiring earlier and living longer, which opens the door for another life after retirement...for second chances.

My friend who retired yesterday is only 55.  She's already thinking about what she might do after she takes the summer off to regroup and relax. Like me, she loves animals and the beach.

Who knows what kind of part-time job she might come up with now that she's not worried about benefits and mortgage payments?

My husband, Doug, retired two years ago when he was only 57.  He had spent 30 years working at UD as a machinist, a career that he never really chose.  He turned out to be very good at it, but it wasn't like he work up one morning in his early 20s and said, "I think I'd like to be a machinist."

So when his 30 years were up and he was tired of the academic skirmishes he witnessed almost daily, he retired.  Now he's doing something he loves--he's a part-time photographer. He's had photos published in the local newspaper, he entertains his Facebook friends with new albums every few days, and he even gets paid by UD to take pictures at events and in classrooms and laboratories.  Doug is living his second life, taking advantage of his second chance.

This is why so many of us told our friend yesterday that we're jealous.  We're still young enough to want to live an active life, but we're old enough to know that we have to take advantage of every minute.

I'm lucky that I get paid to write, which is something I love to do. What I'm straining against now is that harness of schedules and obligations that loosens when we retire.

I'd like to have the luxury to lie in bed for just a few extra minutes and listen to the first birds of spring singing outside our window.

I want to volunteer at an animal shelter but not have to get there in rush-hour traffic--after I've already worked a full day at my regular job.

I want to walk on the beach and just sit there when I'm done, gazing out at the bay:

I want to sit on the porch at our beach house and look out at the wetlands.

I want to see more sunsets and spend more time with our friends:

I want to paint more furniture:

I want to take our soon-to-be-adopted Lab, Jodie, to classes to be a therapy dog so we can visit people who need soft fur to pet and a sloppy kiss from a sweet girl who wants to be everyone's friend:

I want to see what kinds of writing ideas come to me when I'm not being paid by someone else to write about something they want me to write about.

But we're not financially ready for me to retire yet, so in the meantime, I have to be grateful that I am paid to do something I love and that I have a husband who picks up the slack at home so that I can relax after work.

And this summer, instead of taking a week or two of vacation in chunks, I'm going to spread the wealth and take a day off every week so that I can pretend I'm semi-retired.

I'm going to spend time with my daughter and our friends in Rehoboth, with my husband and our pets at our little cottage by the bay, and by myself doing whatever I feel like doing.

Because that's why we're jealous of our friends who retire--we know that, for the most part, they're now free to do whatever they feel like doing.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Pax and Jodie

Doug and I got some very exciting news last week--we've been approved to adopt a 2-1/2-year-old yellow Lab from a local rescue group!  Her name is Judy, but we're going to change it to Jodie.

We think she's beautiful, although all we have so far are pictures, as we've never met her:

We'll be picking her up in Wilmington, Del., just about a half hour from where we live, but first she has to get here.

From Taiwan....

Jodie was found running loose in the streets of Taiwan with a metal collar embedded in her neck and a chain hanging down her chest.  A rescue group there takes in dogs like her, gets them medical care--including vaccinations, spaying/neutering, and microchipping--and then sends them to the U.S. once the local group here, Hopeful Hearts Dog Rescue, matches them with families.

We originally had put our names on a list with a breeder in Baltimore County, Md., where Alex and Ashleigh got their Lab Honey, who is now almost a year old:

We love Honey, but we weren't sure we wanted to go through the whole puppy thing. I also liked the idea of rescuing a young adult dog.  I started looking on Petfinder and almost immediately found Jodie.  I was instantly drawn to her picture, and her story just made me want her even more.

So we were thrilled to find out that we had been approved.  On Saturday, Christine and I went shopping for dog supplies--it's almost like getting ready for a baby....

We bought a collar and leash (color coordinated, of course), food, bowls, toys, biscuits, an ID tag, and a bed.  Oh yeah, and poop bags....

After we put the dog biscuits in a glass jar, I put the box on the floor, and of course Pax had to jump in:

I'm pretty sure he isn't going to be thrilled when his new housemate arrives on April 7th--his perfect little world is about to be turned upside down.  Oddly enough, the rescue representative here in the states took this picture of him when she did our home visit.  He seems to be flirting with her, and she isn't a "cat person."

He and Honey have already had a few sessions under the table as well:

I just hope that Pax and Jodie get to be best friends like this pair that someone posted on Facebook:

And that they include their "cousin" Honey in their little group....

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tabling a Decision

Blogland is a lot like a spider web--everything connects to everything else, and you can really get caught up in it.

A couple of days ago, I stumbled on a blog called This Sorta Old Life, co-written by a couple named Cane and Rita who live in a 1970s split-level house.

They share a lot of their DIY projects, liberally sprinkled with their life philosophy, which is to live authentically and to honor the house you live in rather than wishing you had something else.  They spend a lot of time scouring thrift stores and junk shops to find light fixtures, artwork, blankets, furniture, dishes, and other items that fit the era of their home.

Living in a 1939 cottage, we have tried to do much the same thing, and we've learned one of the same lessons that Cane and Rita have--a house evolves as you live in it, and you have to keep making adjustments so that it not only looks like it belongs in the era in which it was built, but also functions for the people living in it now--us....

Although we (well, mostly me) are always tweaking our house, for the most part, we've gotten the big things, like furniture, right.

Except for the kitchen table....

We're now on our fifth kitchen table, and I'm pretty sure we finally got it right, but it took four false starts to get there...

I'll apologize in advance for the lack of legitimate pictures in this post--this is going back five years in our history, long before I thought about blogging.

When we bought the house, the previous owner was downsizing and moving to San Francisco, so she was selling a lot of things.  She had an antique dark oak round table in the kitchen that she was using with some vintage office chairs.  It looked kind of like this:

We liked the look and bought the table from her, but she didn't want to sell the chairs. We quickly discovered that the table really didn't work for us and we couldn't find chairs we liked that looked good with it.  So we got rid of that table and while we searched for something else, we used a blonde one from Ikea that I had bought for my daughter to use as a desk in the townhouse we lived in when she was in high school.  It was similar to this:
Then one day shortly after we moved into the house, we were shopping at the now-closed Linens N Things when we found a square, stone-tile-topped table on clearance on the sidewalk.  With our 20% coupon, it came to $79.99.  We loved the color of the wood, as it matched the wood trim in our kitchen, and the stone tile top was very similar to the top of a hutch we had recently bought for the kitchen.

We then bought four chairs at Target that matched the wood (they will show up again later in this post).

I really liked the stone table not only for how it looked but also because the tile top was really practical--no worries about rings from wet glasses or burns from hot pots.

But the square shape wasn't great--the table was tight width-wise and not long enough, especially when we had a larger group of people like at Thanksgiving. So we gave that table to Christine to use in the house that she rents with three other girls.  They could use some chairs--they have one wood chair and filled in the rest with blue "bag chairs":

Our next table was from Target--it actually was a set with the chairs we had already bought there but could be purchased separately:

This worked, and we were able to lengthen the table even further by adding a small folding table for our big holiday meal:

But unlike the stone-topped table, this wood table was not practical. The finish on it was thin, and we like to cook and bake a lot. I was always worried about covering it up so that we wouldn't damage it. I love distressed things, but new tables don't look so good distressed--they just look banged up.

Plus, and this was the real issue, I hated having a matched set from Target in our house--it just didn't feel right.  I knew that we would eventually change it, but we weren't actively looking for anything else.

Then, about two months ago, we stopped at one of our favorite antique shops, Brandywine View in Chadds Ford, PA, just to browse.  As soon as we got out of the car, we spotted a small pine farmhouse style table.  It spoke to me.  I could envision it covered with racks of cooling cookies.

We bought it and gave the Target table to Alex and Ashleigh.  We kept the chairs because they're sturdy and we like the shape and style.  But I hated the way the wood of the chairs looked with the pine table, so that's when Annie Sloan chalk paint came into the picture.  Here is what we have now, and I absolutely love it:

The pine table is even narrower than the Target table (which was narrower than the square one), giving us some much-needed space between the hutch on one side and the butcher block on the other. Our solution to the holiday dilemma this year will be to get a piece of plywood 8 feet long, with the width cut to 3 feet, and just place the whole thing over this table with a tablecloth on it when everyone comes to our post-Thanksgiving dinner.

This probably all sounds crazy, but we're really trying to strike a balance between what works for us from day to day while also allowing us to accommodate our friends and family in a very small space on special occasions.  And we want to do all of that while honoring the spirit of our house.

Did we waste some money?  Well, that depends on how you look at it.  We traded the round oak table for a brand-new door, which we then donated to the ReStore--nothing bad about that.  We gave a table to each of my kids, so that feels good and fair, too. I sold the Ikea table to a young woman who was getting her first apartment--she was thrilled to get it for $50.

There is one more table in our life--the Craigslist leftover that we bought because we wanted the chairs for another project.  We stained it to look like a Union Jack after seeing a similar one done by Ashley at Domestic Imperfection.  

I absolutely love it, but so far it has resisted fitting in anywhere.  It didn't work at all in our kitchen here, and it was too big for the dining room at our beach cottage.

But I'm confident it will find a home somewhere....

Monday, March 18, 2013

Cats and Quilts

Every cat I've ever had thought that sewing was a lot of fun.  When I was in high school, I had an orange tabby named OJ who would sneak up on me and then dive across my patterns.  Tissue paper and cat talons aren't a good mix.

Casey, our grey tabby who died at the age of 19 last summer, just thought the quilts I was making were a new place for her to take a nap.

But Pax tops them all.  Yesterday, while I was working on a denim quilt for my stepson Jesse's birthday, Pax thought it was a good idea to take out the pins holding the layers together. As fast as I could put them in, he was grabbing the yellow plastic tops with his teeth, pulling them out, and tossing them in the air.

Pax is really cute, and he kind of knows how adorable he is sitting in this trash basket, which I set down in the kitchen until my next trip upstairs:

But he's also really ornery, as you can tell from his expression in this picture:

Here he's watching me work on the quilt and waiting for me to turn my back so he can grab another pin:

I got rid of him by giving him his dinner.  I could just envision an emergency visit to the vet with a pin in my 10-month-old cat's stomach.....

Anyway, I did get the quilt done with no cat emergencies:

The sashing and back are made from an L.L. Bean buffalo plaid flannel sheet.  I bought a king size flat sheet because that gives the most fabric for the money.  I cut it in half right up the middle and was able to get the whole thing done with just half, so I have enough left for another quilt similar in size and design to this one.

Jesse will be 29 in April, and he lives in a condo in a converted mill in Manyunk, a funky neighborhood in Philadelphia. I was going for a manly look with this quilt--to fit a young single guy.

Now I just have to stop using the word "cute" to describe it.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Bush Whacked

As we were renovating the inside of our Kitts Hummock beach cottage last summer, Doug and I found ourselves saying the same thing over and over:  "How did we think we could salvage that?" We would then pick ourselves up and redo whatever it was that we thought we could save but couldn't. 

History has a way of repeating itself.

This past weekend, we went down thinking we were going to "trim" the bushes.  Luckily Doug brought along not only an assortment of pruners and shears but also a chain saw--because those bushes demanded nothing but total destruction. They completely overpowered the little place, even blocking out the view of the beautiful wetlands and marsh pools beyond our living room windows.

Now, of course, the poor little place is naked in all its mustardy glory:

I know it must be embarrassed, but I'm hoping that the sad outside can draw inspiration from the finished inside, which once looked equally bad.  (Click here if you haven't seen the post where I show before-and-afters of the interior renovation.)

Right now, the vision for the outside is all in my head (and Doug's capable hands), but I hope that by June, I'm posting photos of a proud little cottage, painted grey-blue with white trim and dark red shutters, geraniums planted out front, white wicker furniture on the porch....

And Doug lounging with a cold drink and a bowl of nuts on a little tray.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Recycled Tennis Racquet Presses

Does anyone use wooden tennis racquets any more?

Well, probably not for playing tennis...but when I saw an idea for little trays made out of wooden tennis racquet presses in Flea Market Style several months ago, Doug and I started hunting for them on our junking trips.

Here's a picture from the page of the magazine showing the idea:

We struck gold at the Beebe Hospital Thrift Store in Rehoboth and snapped up four presses--complete with racquets--for $11.

Doug had to fight the weather to get these cut, glued, and painted, but he finally finished the project as a belated birthday gift for me:

He used tongue and groove paneling that we found in the shed at our beach cottage (and almost burned before we realized it would be perfect for these).

This is the underside:

And this is what they look like from the edge.  The paint colors were all left over from our cottage chair project:

He covered the screws with little plastic caps so they wouldn't scratch the table (or us):

They'll be just perfect to hold drinks and snacks on our screened porch this summer:

Doug finished them off with a clear coat so they won't get damaged from sweating drinks.

Ah, just one more reason I can't wait for summer....

Monday, March 4, 2013

1950s Ranch House Makeover

Last week's post was about the great memories I have from working on a house rehab with my two kids and my son's girlfriend.  I don't have any "before" pictures, but yesterday Doug, who is a professional photographer, took pictures for the realtor to use in marketing the house, so I thought I'd share our handiwork here.  We staged the house with minimal furniture--beds that were already there, lamps and accessories that we pulled together from the house itself and our own stuff, and living room furniture that we borrowed from our friends.  But we left the walls bare and the windows dressed with just simple mini-blinds.

It's truly amazing what a difference it makes just painting the walls and tearing out old carpet. Alex also replaced all of the interior doors with 6-panel doors, installed new hardware on the kitchen cabinets, replaced the blue sink and toilet with white ones, painted the tub upstairs and the shower downstairs, and replaced all of the light switches, outlets, and switch and outlet covers. With some donated supplies, he spent just about $3500.

The living room:

The kitchen:

The master bedroom:

The guest room:

The den:

The main floor bathroom:

The bonus room downstairs:

The downstairs bathroom:

The project has inspired Alex to think about buying a shell to rehab in Baltimore, where he and Ashleigh are currently renting a house.

Wish I lived a little closer so I could help out more....