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Opening the Door to Many Possibilities

Ed Johnson is making the most of his retirement by opening up to many opportunities.

For Ed Johnson, 79 and a half, retirement has never been about relaxing and taking it easy. It’s been all about helping others. In fact, his wife of 56 years, Pat, even calls him “Saint Edward.”

But Ed was helping people long before he retired. He spent his career in education as a teacher and principal. Then in 1995, at the age of 52, Ed decided to retire after 30 years of service.

His father had died at the age of 52 of heart disease and Ed wasn’t quite sure how much time he had. “I didn’t have any plans after 52 and I thought I might not be around to make any plans,” Ed said.

But that quickly changed.

He took a part-time job at the University of Maryland College Park working with student teachers as a field-based instructor. Working 2 to 3 days a week gave him more time to pursue his many interests and spend more time with his family.

“It was like opening a door to many possibilities,” Ed said.

He stayed there for another 20 years and was proud to have the opportunity to mentor so many teachers. The last 10 years he worked with masters-level students. “Working with them was a breeze,” said Ed.

Then, at the age of 72, he retired, retired. “My supervisor asked me, “why are you retiring, don’t you like teachers or the principals or something?'” Ed said. “I said, no they’re great. I just need a change.”

That change was to do more of what he was already doing.

His Passion for Patapsco Park

Ed has always had an interest in nature and the environment. Twenty-five years ago, after his initial retirement, he began working as a volunteer at Patapsco Valley State Park. He would help clear trails and do general work in the park. “I wanted to follow up with my interest in environmental education,” Ed said.

He then became a volunteer ranger for 16 years “As a volunteer ranger, you wear a uniform and are the eyes and ears of the park rangers,” he said. His work included monitoring various areas of the park, staffing the entrance areas and conducting history walks.

He recently went back to being a volunteer. “I still do a lot of what I was doing as a volunteer ranger — monitoring area of the park, doing history walks, art programs. whatever needs to be done,” Ed said.

COVID created even more of a need for Ed’s time. “The park used to average a million visitors a year, ” Ed said, “but during COVID they averaged 2.6 million visitors a year. It was crowded in there.”

On Saturdays, Ed sets up a table in the Orange Grove section of the park near the Swinging Bridge. He brings a large binder with pictures and fun facts to teach kids and adults about the history of the park. “I like to show the kids, particularly the girls, how they would have had to dress if they were here in 1911,” Ed said.

In fact, Ed had become such as expert on the history of the park that he was asked to collaborate with Betsy McMillion to write a book about the park’s history.

After 3 and a half years of research, the book was published by Arcadia Publishing in the Spring of 2019. “Images of America: Patapsco Valley State Park” recounts the history of Patapsco from the 1600s to present day. All of the money from the sale of the book goes to support the Friends of Patapsco Valley State Park who support the maintenance of the park. He and Betsy don’t make any money from the sale of the book.

Ed and co-author Betsy McMillion

Ed recounts a story about when the book was first released. He and his co-author had a book signing at Barnes & Noble in Ellicott City. He said, “They called to say that they had 60 copies and asked if that would be enough,” Ed said. “There had been a great deal of publicity and I thought they should order more.” That day Barnes & Noble had 105 copies on hand and sold 104. The book is still on sale at Barnes & Noble as well as through other vendors.

“People are fascinated with many aspects of the park including the Swinging Bridge and floods. They know a little bit about (Tropical Storm) Agnes in 1972,” Ed said. He also talks about the firsts of the park including the B&O railroad, the Thomas Viaduct and the first female ranger in Maryland who worked at Patapsco.

For those interested he is also doing a history powerpoint with the Arbutus library on October 8th at 2 p.m. He has done similar talks at libraries and senior centers throughout the area.

Exploring His Creativity Through Painting

But working at the park is not the only activity that keeps Ed busy. He is also an accomplished artist who has won numerous awards. However, Ed got into painting accidentally in 1976.

“The elementary school where I was principal had a large Hispanic population. I decided to brush up on his Spanish,” Ed said. He went to sign up for a night course, but found that it had been cancelled. He needed to do something besides work so he started taking a night school art class taught by a local high school teacher, Keith Lauer. “That’s when I got started with painting,” Ed said.

Ed found he had a real talent for painting and continued taking courses through other local studios.

Once he was retired, he was able to spend more time painting and even began teaching. “I replicated his (Keith Lauer’s) style when I started with a class at our senior center,” Ed said. Each class started with a 15 minute lecture on composition or color. “Each week you would get a little bit more information and after a while you would learn a lot,” Ed said.

He began teaching a class at his local senior center which then morphed into an art group that still meets every Friday. He has also taught classes at the local men’s shelter to give the men an outlet for their feelings. “Some of them aren’t that interested, but others are,” Ed said.

Ed also combines his volunteer activities at the park with his love of art. He sets up painting sessions at the park where he provides all the supplies. The sessions are for people 8-years-old and older.

As part of this activity, Ed provides a folder with 200 nature-related pictures that people can choose from to paint. All the pictures are for 16×20 canvasses. There is a grid on the picture and the canvas so students can replicate the shape of the animal and be pretty accurate. Because of COVID, Ed was not able to have sessions with the public this year, but he was able to have a class with a group of seniors who do a lot with the park.

Personally, Ed has painted numerous painting through the years. Many of his paintings are of nature, birds, flowers and people. These painting have been displayed in art exhibits and have won many awards throughout the state of Maryland.

Serving Through Mission Trips

Ed has another passion project besides painting and working in the park. Since 2004, he has gone to the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota for 15 times (except when the trip was cancelled due to COVID). He was able to go back again this year in June.

Ed and a small group of volunteers from Catonsville United Methodist Church began going to the reservation to make repairs on homes and help in any way they could. Before COVID, they also had a food program preparing over 250 hot breakfasts and hot lunches for those in need. Now, most of the work centers around making repairs around the reservation. This year they spent their time at the reservation building a handicap ramp.

Ed working on the Rosebud Reservation

Ed has many stories about the amazing people he met on the reservation including Lakota chef Seth Larvie who created tasty meals for the residents. Ed also developed a long-term friendship with Roy Spotted War Bonnet. Ed was looking forward to seeing his friend on this trip, but found out that he had passed away during the pandemic.

Ed has been struck by the difficult lives of the people on the reservation and feels it’s important to spend both his time and money making their lives better. He recently recorded his stories about his experiences and the people he met during his trips in a personal memoir.

The Best Part of Retirement

For Ed, one of the greatest pleasures retirement brought him has been time with his family. His granddaughter was born the year he retired and he was able to take care of her one day a week. As she grew, he took her to her riding lessons and she became an accomplished equestrian.

Ed and his wife Pat

He was also able to spend more time with his two sons. He and his son Adam took a canoe trip on the Potomac from Point of Rocks, MD. His other son enjoyed playing baseball and Ed was able to attend the games.

And he and Pat made a point to travel. They traveled quite a bit including throughout the United States, Europe and Canada. He also went with a group to the Galapagos Islands.

His Advice to Others

What Ed likes most about retirement is the flexibility. “I was working in a job where I was in the school at 7 a.m. and didn’t leave until 5:30 or so,” Ed said. “I couldn’t take off to run errands. I had no flexibility.” When he retired all that changed. “So when I retired I had flexibility to pursue hobbies like painting and the outdoor stuff and I had time to do things with my family.”

But Ed knows everyone is not ready to retire at 52. “Retire when you’re ready. You know better than anyone else when the time is right,” Ed said. However, he warns, “Don’t retire to nothing. Retire to something you are really interested in.”

He recommends working as a volunteer. “You can help somebody and you can make a difference.” He also says it’s a great way to try things and see what you enjoy.

“Certain things will work out. Certain things won’t So then, you move on and try something different. Look for new opportunities and try them out,” Ed said.

However, he warns that it’s important to not be too structured. He was able to take care of unexpected opportunities such as writing the book and going to the reservation because he kept his schedule flexible.

This summer Ed has had to spend time doing something he is not used to doing — sitting down. He came home from the reservation with a bad cough and then had a leg injury and shoulder surgery. Now, he is happy to be getting back to his regular busy schedule.

He and Pat are going to the gym together five mornings a week at 6 a.m. and they also volunteer to serve lunch to the community on Wednesdays at Catonsville United Methodist Church.

For Ed, retirement has opened up a world of opportunities that he never would have time for if he was still working full-time. He said he never regrets making the decision to retire.

If you know someone who would make a good subject for this blog, email me at ksparis15@gmail.com.

Birds of a Feather

Kelly and Mike Strzelecki think that retirement is for the birds. Find out how they are enjoying their passion for nature after retirement.

Mike (59) and Kelly (58) Strzelecki retired from the federal government on March 31, 2021. It was the culmination of a plan that began more than 30 years ago when they met on the MARC train commuting to Washington D.C.

Mike worked for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Kelly worked for the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service. By working for the federal government, they knew could retire with a pension and health insurance when they turned 56 years old and had 30 years of service. So, they decided to leave when they were both eligible.

Mike and Kelly had long been outside enthusiasts, but the long commute between Baltimore and Washington made it challenging to find time to pursue all their varied interests. “In D.C., I think retirement is more dictated by the commute than the job. People get tired of the commute,” Mike said.

In addition to the commute, Mike had personal experience about missed opportunities in retirement. His father passed away when he was 56. “My dad had big plans in retirement and then he passed away and he couldn’t do them,” Mike said. “We thought, we can’t do that.”

With their plan in place, Mike and Kelly knew they could retire early and spend even more time doing what they love—being out in nature.

“Every morning I get up a pack a backpack,” Mike said. What’s in the backpack depends on the plans for the day. Plans might include a simple walk, a hike, kayaking or fly-fishing. They have also recently taken up disc golf, which they play at McKeldin Park as well as other local areas.

However, their favorite outside activity is birding.

Birding is different from birdwatching in the “birders” actually go out looking for specific birds. They do their research and observe the bird’s behaviors and migratory patterns. “It’s about immersing yourself in the lifestyle of the bird,” Mike said.

“There’s more intention to it than birdwatching,” Kelly said.

Extensive travelers, many of their trips revolve around birding. Their next trip is to Bombay Hook in Delaware. “It’s a good birding spot,” Mike said. There are all different types of raptors, hawks and eagles, avocets and shorebirds.

Closer to home, Patapsco State Park, Mike and Kelly found a nest with two baby owls. They were able to find the nest because of their familiarity with bird calls.  “We could hear the babies crying for their mom,” Kelly said.

Being retired, Mike and Kelly were able to visit the site and record the owls’ progression every day over the course of 10 days. “Part of the beauty of retirement is the owl thing. It gives us time during the week when no one is around to actually observed them,” Mike said. “We can take our time to focus on things,” Mike said. “If we were still working, we never would have been able to do that,” Mike said.

As part of their passion for birding, Mike has started taking pictures. He purchased a new camera, NIKON Cool Pic, as part of his retirement gift. He takes close up, detailed shots of the birds they see. He captured pictures of the baby owls as well as pictures of puffins they saw during their recent trip to Iceland.

Enjoying Everyday Life

Mike and Kelly are enjoying their new lifestyle. “Every day I got up at 4:40. Not getting up at 4:40 is heavenly,” Mike said. Although for Mike, sleeping in is 6:30 or 7:00 a.m.

Kelly also loves sleeping in, but wakes up about 9:00 a.m. now that she’s retired. They enjoy leisurely time in the morning and have even trained their dog Trek to go get the newspaper so they can relax.

“You have time to enjoy things rather than just trying to fit them in,” Mike said. “I’m getting back to doing things I had a passion for, but I haven’t had the time for.” For Mike that includes fly-fishing and writing.

For Kelly, formerly an agricultural economist, she has picked up an additional hobby of raising monarch butterflies.

Kelly has been raising butterflies with mixed success. “You raise them by finding them as caterpillars and putting them in box with fresh milkweed,” Kelly said. It can be particularly challenging because you have to keep changing the milkweed in the box. She said that although she has had some success, she is afraid some of the milkweed had become contaminated with pesticides causing some of her monarchs to die. Still, she is enjoying the process and has even convinced some of her friends to raise their own monarchs.

“In October, 10s of thousands of monarch butterflies congregate in Cape May, New Jersey and then they migrate en mass,” Mike said. Mike and Kelly have a trip planned to watch the migration.   

Kelly has also been busy in moving her mother from New Mexico to a local Senior Living Community. She said she isn’t sure how she would have handled the move if she had been working full-time.

Kelly is also involved with volunteer work through the Catonsville Women’s Giving Circle and says she plans to get involved with other groups and pursue additional volunteer opportunities.

Putting Their Financial House in Order

Before retiring, Mike and Kelly made sure they had finances in place. In addition to ensuring that they were both eligible to receive a pension, they paid off their mortgage and put their two children through college. “We’d done the major financial things, so we thought we should be ok,” Kelly said.

They had also spent their married life putting money away in investments and watching their spending. “We’ve lived a very modest lifestyle,” Mike said.

He told a story about an experiment people do with children, where they tell children they can have one marshmallow now, but if they wait, they can have two marshmallows. “We are two marshmallow people, “Mike said.

He added they have deferred some of their enjoyment so they can have more fun now. “It’s the life decisions you make along the way,” Mike said.

Advice to Others

“The transition to retirement is going to be harder for someone who is defined by their job,” Mike said. He was not defined by his job, but he knows others who are. His advice is that if you’re thinking about retiring, start getting involved with activities and other social groups before you retire.

Kelly’s advice, “Start young and make a plan. That makes it possible. Otherwise, you’re just playing catch up the whole time.” They have already given their children this same advice.

Future Plans

For now, Mike and Kelly are looking forward to enjoying the Fall and Winter months.

“It’s so nice that the kids have gone back to school so we don’t have to share the park with them,” Kelly says with a laugh. “Now it’s ours again.”

January through March is a great time to go birding and they spend more time doing that as other options such as kayaking are less available.

They also have so trips planned. They are headed to the Outer Banks, the Finger Lakes and even New York. Plus, they have birding trips planned as well.

“We call our house base camp. Living here is so convenient. We’re 3-hours from cities, beaches mountains that we can do as a day trip,” Mike said.

Kelly and Mike love having time to slow down and spend time doing things together even if it’s as simple as having a cup of tea or reading a book.

”I love getting back to things I have a passion for, but didn’t have time for. A lot of people have a lot of things they could enjoy in retirement, if they could just relax and slow down,” Mike said.

If you know someone who would make a great subject for my blog, email me at ksparis15@gmail.com.

Managing the Move to Myrtle Beach

Carol used her project management skills to plan the perfect retirement for herself and her husband Mike.

“Retirement is the best decision I ever made!” said Carol Opalski Hewitt.

In April of this year, Carol retired from her job as a Project Manager at T. Rowe Price and she and her husband Mike Hewitt moved down to the Del Webb community in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Carol was only 59 and four months when she retired from T. Rowe Price but she knew it was the perfect time to leave. In March, she finished up 2 ½ year project.  “I knew it was my swan song. I just couldn’t continue work 60 hours a week anymore,” Carol said. 

But Carol and Mike had been thinking about retirement for a while. Seven years ago, while vacationing in Myrtle Beach, they decided that it was the perfect place for their forever home. It had everything they wanted. Sun. Beaches. The ocean. Warm weather. Low taxes. Close proximity to an airport.

Since Carol’s children and mother still live in Baltimore, it was important that there was a quick and convenient way for them to get back home.  Super convenient, economical flights from Myrtle Beach to Baltimore made it the perfect location.

About three years ago, it was time to figure out how to make early retirement possible. Mike had left the workforce in 2001 to take care of their children, so many of the decisions were based on Carol’s income.

They met with a financial adviser at T. Rowe Price who helped guide them through the planning process. “The homework came back to me. How much do we need to retire?” Carol said. Carol emphasizes need rather than want. They needed to consider insurance, health insurance, long-term care insurance and other necessities. But they also considered their wants such as travel, new furniture, a golf cart and other entertainment. The fun stuff. Luckily, Carol and Mike were on the same page when it came to retirement goals.

“You work all your life. You want to enjoy your quality of life while you can,” Carol said.

Finding the Right Community

Then they had to decide where in Myrtle Beach they wanted to live. They looked at three different communities long before they were going to retire. In addition to Del Webb, they considered Waterford Plantation and Berkshire Forest. But ultimately, they decided on Del Webb because it was an active over 55 adult community. “You can be as busy as you want to,” Carol said.

At Del Webb, there are two different builders you can chose from to construct your home. Carol and Mike were able to choose from five different models. “From down payment to settlement was six months,” Carol said. The community has an active calendar of events, pool, concerts and many different groups and activities.

Since moving there, Carol, always an avid tennis player, has taken up pickle ball and plays 5 mornings a week. Her days are now busier than they when she was working.

They have developed a group of about 12 couples who they spend time with going to concerts, hanging out at the pool and going to dinner together.

In addition, Carol does volunteer work like helping out at community concerts.

When her sister said she was worried about Carol staying busy, her response was, “Don’t worry, I am.”

Getting Ready for the Move

After deciding where they were going to move, it was time to make a plan. “Plan the work and work the plan,” Carol said.

As a project manager, Carol backed into her dates. She knew when they were moving and then decided when each step needed to happen.

The first step was to start to cleaning out. It took about eight months. “We were fairly aggressive,” Carol said.

“You need to decide what do you will need in your new life.” Things like her china and vintage martini glasses were some of the things that weren’t going to make the move.

Instead, they sold or donated many of the items. “Catonsville Marketplace and Catonsville Yard Sale are great,” Carol said.

Her advice. “Down size. Down size. Down size.”

In addition, Carol and Mike have two children and their stuff was in their house. Their daughter had already moved out and bought a house, but didn’t take everything with her. Carol and Mike drove her things over to her house and left them there!

Their son was still unsure as to whether or not to make the move with them, but after deciding to stay in Baltimore, he moved out in about three days and took all of his stuff with him. Phase one completed.

Selling Their Home

Next, they needed to sell their home. Because of the hot real estate market earlier this year, Carol and Mike decided put their house on the market on December 26th  and sell it themselves.  It sold within 4 days. Then they negotiated with the buyers so that they could stay in the house until they were ready to move to South Carolina.  “I put the plan in motion and everything fell in line,” Carol said.

Before listing the house, Carol researched other listings and picked and chose key words to get their listing noticed.

They made the decision to not make a lot of upgrades or repaint their home because the next buyer would probably want to make their own design decision. It worked out for them.

Selling their house quickly and for a good profit was key to their retirement plan. “It helped that our house had appreciated so much,” Carol said.

Deciding What to Move

Next, they decided on what they wanted to move. Even though Carol was committed to getting rid of the clutter, there were some things that she decided were worth moving. “It’s important to look at things with a different eye,” Carol said. For example, they decided to move their brown bedroom furniture.

However, once they moved down south, Carol used her newly acquired chalk painting skills to paint it grey and white so it looks beachier. In fact, she has become so good at chalk painting that she has been helping some her friends with their projects as well.

Life In South Carolina

“The best part about being retired is doing what I want to do, when I want to do it,” Carol said.

She doesn’t miss routine of work because she has a new routine. She is on the pickle ball court bright and early at 8 a.m. 5 days a week.

In addition, each week, they review the calendar of events and decide what they are going to do. Of course, errands still need to be done. Wednesday is food shopping day because seniors get 5 percent off. “I take Mike with me because I’m not a senior yet,” Carol said.

They’ve had no problem adjusting to spending more time together. “I think COVID helped with the transition,” Carol said. But they are not spending that much additional time together. Mike doesn’t play pickle ball, instead he walks the dog. At the pool, she hangs out with the girls and he hangs out with the guys.

Carol said she likes having friends around who are of similar age and similar interests. The only bad part about their new friends is that many of them are Steelers fans. Go Ravens!

Finances and Paperwork

Even now that they are retired, Carol and Mike still consider expenses and do paperwork.

“Your expenses will be higher your first few months after retirement,” Carol said. For them, they wanted to buy new things for the house and try new restaurants. However, after a few months of being retired, she sees those expenses are starting to normalize.

Except health insurance. Health insurance is their biggest expense.

At this point Carol is on COBRA and will stay on that for the next 18 months. “It’s very expensive because our son is still on our plan,” Carol said. After the 18 months, she will have to go on the open market or pick up the insurance through T. Rowe. Still, they knew health insurance would continue to be a big expense and they planned for it.

The one down side to retirement so far has been paperwork. Carol has been inundated with paperwork. The biggest challenge was working with the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration to get their car registrations changed.

But there is also quite a bit of insurance paperwork. It’s not only the paperwork that is a challenge, it’s also finding new doctors. “It’s difficult to find doctors down here that are accepting new patients,” Carol said. Right now, she and Mike are flying back to Baltimore for their doctor’s appointments while they wait to get doctor’s appointments booked out in the future in South Carolina.

But with round trip ticket to Baltimore under a $100, it’s working for now. However, Carol doesn’t want to go back to Baltimore too often. “There’s so much going on here, I don’t want to miss anything,” she said.

Final Advice

Carol and Mike are loving their new life in South Carolina. They are meeting new people, starting new hobbies and keeping busy. Still, sometimes Carol likes some down time.

“This morning I was getting ready to head out to pickle ball at 8 when it starts raining and the texts start flying. ‘Are we going? Are we not going?’” The decision was no pickle ball that day. “So, it was nice to have a second cup of coffee and get some things done around the house,” Carol said. Retirement is everything they thought it would be…and more.

If you know someone who would make a good interview for this blog, email me at ksparis15@gmail.com.

Living Her Best Life

Tara Ebersole has been making the most of her retirement. She believes learning and growing is the key to growing older gracefully.

If you look up Renaissance Women in a dictionary, Tara Ebersole’s picture should be there. She had a successful career as a biology professor and STEM director at the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC). She is also a musician, artist, wife, mother and grandmother, and is now adding author to her resume.

One of the reasons that Tara is so active is she realizes just how lucky she is to be here. At the age of 47, Tara was exercising on her mini-trampoline when she felt extreme pain in her head. “If you had told me I had been shot in the head, I would have believed it,” Tara said. “The pain was so severe that I collapsed.”

Her 11-year-old son found her and with the help of his sisters, called 911. Tara was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with a ruptured aneurism. At first, the doctors couldn’t find the location of the bleed. She remembered the doctor telling her, “We can make you comfortable, but we can’t guarantee you’re going to wake up in the morning.

But she did wake up the next day and made it through a slow and difficult recovery.  “I came out with the idea that I had to prove that my brain is ok,” Tara said.

Life After Her Illness

She approached life with a renewed enthusiasm. In addition to continuing her role teaching at CCBC, she began working on her PhD and added the duties of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) director to her already busy schedule.

As part of her STEM work, she started a non-profit to increase the number of women and minorities in STEM. The non-profit was so successful that after five years, she disbanded it. Together with a team from BCPS, multiple professors and local colleges, the number of minorities in CCBC STEM classes increased by 50 percent and the number of women by 50 percent. This was all while continuing in her role as wife to Eric and mother to her three children.

It was during this time that she and her sister also began to discuss creating a children’s book series, Little Honey’s Little Adventures. Her sister, Rachel Louise Eisenhauer would write the adventures, based on their own childhood adventures, and Tara would illustrate them.

Although Tara had started in college as an arts major, she had not created much art work in a very long time. In addition, Tara was classically trained in oils and her art was very realistic, she knew that wasn’t the right style for the series.

But Tara was up for the challenge. She refreshed her skills and began creating watercolor illustrations based on her sister’s writing. They now have a series of eight books which they sell through their website and at craft fairs. “It has been an amazing joy,” Tara said of working on this series with her sister.

Retirement from CCBC

In 2016, at the age of 61, Tara retired from her position at the CCBC after 35 years.  “I was just ready for a change,” she said. But Tara was not content to relax in retirement. Instead, she took on the role as the Chair of the Baltimore County Democratic Party. Tara said she has always believed in public service and wanted to help facilitate change and make a difference. It became a full-time job. Her husband Eric Ebersole is also very involved in politics and serves in the Maryland House of Delegates.

Tara worked as the Chair for four years while still continuing to collaborate with her sister on the “Little Honey’s Little Adventure series.” She also continued with her other passion, music. Tara has played the drums in a number of bands through the years and is currently with Blues State, a band that plays at local events about six times a year.

Those who have seen Tara play know that she has a unique technique, she plays barefoot. “It’s easier for me to feel the rhythm of the music if I’m barefoot,” she explained.

However, Tara knew she was doing too much. After a minor car accident on the way to a gig, Tara realized that something had to give. She was working 40 hours a week as the Chair and practicing with the band every other week. “I was over the top with stress,” Tara said. Needing a change, she left her role as the Chair and took a hiatus from the band.

During this time, two things happened, COVID and grandchildren. Being quarantined at home, Tara learned the benefits of a slower lifestyle. She was meditating and taking the time in the morning to relax and have a cup of tea.

She also began helping take care of her grandchildren. When her daughters went back to work, they weren’t comfortable putting the kids in daycare, so Tara stepped in.

In 2021, with life beginning to return to normal, Tara started thinking about what she wanted to do next. She had learned the value of leading a less stressful life and wanted to continue her meditation and practicing yoga twice a week.

“I feel like I have just retired this year,” Tara said. “I’m beginning to find things that I want to do. It took me six years to realize this is my time. I have time to focus on me a little more”

Beginning a New Chapter

Tara had always thought about writing her own novel. She wanted to try her hand at adult fiction. Previously, all of Tara’s writing had been academic articles and her dissertation. That writing relied on fact, no emotion and no adjectives.

So, she began the process by taking an online writing class through CCBC and began reading books on writing. Her class, which she highly recommends, introduced her to an online community and helped inspire her to begin writing.

“Now it’s my turn to do some writing. I’m loving the process,” Tara said. Tara already knew the subject she wanted to tackle, corporal punishment. She had worked in the East Tennessee school system when she was first out of college where paddling was allowed. “I had some paddling stories to begin with and at no point did any of the paddling stories lead to better discipline,” Tara said. Although the book is fiction, she draws from some of her own experiences at that time. She says that writing the book has been cathartic as she deals with her role administering corporal punishment in the school system.

The working title of the book is, “A Broken Bit of Spirit.” Her goal is to bring a social issue to the discussion level. Corporal punishment is still allowed in 19 states. “I want readers to end the book thinking,” Tara said.

Tara has also started teaching classes for the CCBC SAIL (Senior Adventures in Learning) program. Tara started a class called Drums Alive. It is a program that uses large exercise balls and drumming techniques as a fitness class for people over 60. “I think that teaching drums to Seniors is the best thing for them because it is so low impact and yet it’s aerobic and it’s fun,” Tara said.

But Tara is only going to teach two sections of the class. At 67, she has learned the importance of life balance. “This is a brand new me and I’m experimenting,” Tara said.

Her Role Model

Tara was fortunate to have a role model for growing older gracefully. Her brother’s mother-in-law, Dominque, lives in Paris. At 92, she was still teaching gymnastics to seniors two days a week. “The seniors she taught became her friends. It really improved her social life,” Tara said. Dominque just retired at 94.

Tara said Dominque helped her realize how important it is to maintain and develop relationships as we age. That’s another reason Tara wants to teach the drumming classes, to make new social connections. “Interaction keeps you young. Exercise keeps you young. Independence keeps you young. Creativity keeps you young,” Tara said.

Growing Older

“Aging is a process we are not prepared for,” Tara said. “There’s a lot of loss along the way and there’s not a lot of preparation.”

“In fourth or fifth grade, we see a film to prepare us for becoming women. There’s not even a film to prepare us for getting older,” Tara said. Creating a class to help people with the aging process is next on her agenda.

“It’s a tough transition,” Tara said. She thinks there should be a greater acknowledgement about how difficult it can be. “It’s a massive transition in status from the phone beeping non-stop to that not happening anymore.” 

“It’s not easy to make the transition and that’s ok.”

Life Is Great

Her advice to retirees, “The key to aging is just to continue to grow.”

Tara and her husband Eric

Although she is dealing with some health issues including thyroid issues and metabolic syndrome, she has been able to control these issues through diet, exercise and medication. “My health is better today than it was in 2016,” Tara said.

She takes time every day to de-stress and meditate and appreciate her life. “Whenever I go into my yoga position of gratitude, I am always thankful for my family. We have four wonderful grandchildren and three wonderful children.”

Tara’s favorite part of the day? “One of my very favorite things about being retired is that I can get up and fix myself a cup of tea, sit in a chair and drink it as slowly as I want to. I never grow tired of that.”

For more information about the Little Honey Adventure series, go to: https://www.littlehoneyslittleadventures.com/

If you know someone who you think would make a great subject for my blog, email me at ksparis15@gmail.com.

Cycling Towards The Future

Dave was ready for a change. He made a decision to change his career which changed his life.

Even before the pandemic hit, Dave Stock knew it was time to change professions. He had been in the printing industry for almost 40 years and everything seemed routine. “It was like playing the same record over and over and over again,” Dave said.

Dave had seen a decline in the printing business over the past five years. More and more people were relying on digital rather than print. Then COVID hit. For a business that relied heavily on printed invitations, programs and other items for in-person events, COVID was devastating. “Printing is never going to go away, but it’s certainly not where it used to be,” Dave said.

“I felt like I was banging my head against the wall. I just didn’t have the same happiness,” Dave said.

However, printing was not Dave’s only job. Six years ago, Dave had taken on a part-time job at his neighborhood bike store, Race Pace. He and his wife, Madeline, had made cycling part of their daily life preferring to run their errands around Baltimore City on their bikes. He spent time at the store getting his bike serviced and buying accessories. When he saw they were hiring, he put in an application and was hired. At first, there wasn’t a position at Race Pace in Federal Hill, so he worked at the one in Ellicott City until a position closer to his home became available. That was about six months later.

While COVID hit the printing business hard, cycling experienced a resurgence. More people wanted to get outside and get exercise while confined during COVID. The bike store saw a huge increase in business and Dave was offered more hours.

In January 2022, Race Pace was bought out by Trek. During this transition, some executives from Trek visited the store and asked Dave if he would be interested in a full-time position “They said, have you ever thought about coming on board full-time. Let’s have a conversation,” Dave said. “We had the conversation and they gave me an opportunity.”

“I was on a sinking ship and saw a life raft and I took it,” Dave said.

But his decision wasn’t final until he discussed it with Madeline. They went away on vacation to discuss the move. “She said, ‘just do it. If it doesn’t work out. it doesn’t work out. I don’t want you to have any regrets,'” Dave said.

So, in April, Dave decided to retire from printing. “I don’t like to call it retiring,” Dave said. “I call it my next chapter.”

“I think of retirement as moving to Florida and doing water aerobics,” Dave said. At 58, he’s not ready for that.

So now, he is the Sales Manager for Trek Bicycle Federal Hill. His responsibilities include selling bikes and accessories, making sure goals are met and training new employees. “I answer to the Store Manager,” Dave said.

His typical day starts with having a cup of coffee with Madeline in their backyard. “I trying to get used to retail hours,” Dave said. He used to have to be to work at 9:00 in the morning and worked 5 days a week. Now, he goes to work around 10:30 a.m. and has off Tuesdays and Saturdays. The store is about half a mile from his house.

So he spends his morning going to the local coffee shop, meeting friends or going for a bike ride.

“The biggest change is the mindset,” Dave said. It’s been a total change in routine.

His work day starts with a “team huddle” where they go over what needs to be accomplished that day.

Dave says there is no typical customer. “We have everyone from advanced cyclists to people who haven’t ridden a bike since they were a kid.” Dave said. “It’s never the same.”

His favorite part of the job is helping customers. “There’s nothing like sending someone on a test drive and they come back with a smile they haven’t had since they were a kid. There’s such a sense of joy.” Dave said.

He feels that his job is guiding customers to the right bike. “Trek has a guide sales process. You are the guide and the customer is the hero.” Dave said. The sales person wants to help the customer have a safe enjoyable experience on a bike.

Ride bikes. Be happy. Have fun. is Trek’s motto.

The most challenging part of his new life is learning a whole new industry. He has always been in sales, but bikes are a whole different product.

The bike business has changed now that people are getting out more. Customers are now looking to upgrade their bikes, service their bikes and buy accessories. He said they don’t see as many people coming in for their first bikes.

However, there is a growing interest in e-bikes, electric bikes. Dave said e-bikes are really making a big surge. “Trek is coming out with some more affordable models,” Dave said. He adds that that Trek is also coming out with a commuter e-bike.

Riding in Baltimore City

Dave says it’s a misconception that the city is a difficult place to ride a bike. “There are many bike friendly roads and bike lanes,” Dave said.”The city is quite easy to navigate on a bike.” In addition, Baltimore City is working on a biking infrastructure, according to Dave.

“I love the freedom of riding my bike,” Dave said. “You see a heck of a lot more from a bike than you do from a car.”

Part of Dave’s job is to lead a Sunday bike ride at 9:00 a.m. through Baltimore City. It’s called the “Causal Shop Ride”. “It’s slow pace. It’s causal. We stop along the way if someone wants to stop,” Dave said. Right now there are only half a dozen people, but he is hoping to grow that number.

Changes in His Relationship

Dave said his relationship with Madeline has changed “exponentially”. “We were both going through some big changes and I wasn’t happy,” Dave said. She would say “Where is the man that I married?”

Now she says, “You’re happy. I have my husband back.”

They have been married for almost 12 years. “She always has my back,” Dave said.

Financially Speaking

Although Dave’s job may sound like all fun and games, he had to consider whether or not this job made sense financially. “I looked at my finances and knew how much I needed to make,” Dave said. He has been able to meet those goals and is even doing better than he did working in printing.

“My wife and I had a big conversation before I left, but it was about so much more than money, it was about happiness,” Dave said.

“We know what we can afford. We don’t live with extravagances. We live a very simple life.”

They have paid off their home in Baltimore and have an investment property in Florida. Due to COVID, they have not been able to rent it out, but now they are hoping to rent it to traveling nurses.

Health Care

For Dave, his health care situation has actually improved. “TREK provides tremendous health care,” Dave said. In his previous job, he carried he and Madeline on his health care plan, since she is a solopreneur, so good health care was important. “TREK health care is very similar to what I had before.”

In addition, he and Madeline make sure to lead a healthy lifestyle. In fact, since his career change, he has lost 15 pounds. He has more time to eat healthy rather than picking up fast food. “I used to be on the road and it was just easier to pick up a cheeseburger,” Dave said. Now he’s moving more and eating regularly. He has even seen a reduction in his blood pressure.

Future Plans

Dave is not sure what his future holds. “I’ll probably always work doing something. I need that interaction with other people,” Dave said. “I thrive off of that.”

Because TREK is a large organization with stores all over the United States, there is the ability to move to another state and stay with the organization. He keeping all his options open.

Final Words of Advice

Dave’s advice. “Just do it. Don’t be afraid. Fear can be crippling,” However, he also recommends doing your research to make sure it’s the right decision for you.

Dave’s Sunday Morning Ride

Even though Dave is no longer involved with printing, he stays on top of what is going on and is proud of the contribution he made. “I feel like a did something good in the industry. Sometimes I thought I didn’t make that much of a difference, but based on the response on Facebook, I obviously did,” Dave said. Dave was flooded with well wishes when he announced his “next chapter.”

“I saw my father work himself to death. I don’t want to just work for the sake of working. I want to work doing something I’m enjoying,” Dave said.

“I enjoy learning something new every day,” Dave said.

If you need a new bike, make sure to stop by and see Dave at the Trek Bicycle Federal Hill store. You’ll make his day.

If you know someone who would make a good subject for this blog, please email me at ksparis15@gmail.com.

I’m Retired! What’s Next?

Now that I am officially retired, it’s time to figure out what I want to do when I grow up.

My husband and I started talking about my retirement over two years ago. He left his job and we began to envision what the rest of our lives would look like. Now, we have the freedom to find out.

I never thought I would feel comfortable with the word retirement. Retirement bring about images of water aerobics and 5:00 dinners. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s not me. So I decided to embrace the word and give it a refreshed image. I’m in marketing, we’re all about re-imagining.

Two years ago, my husband and I started to prepare for my retirement and the next phase of our lives.

The first thing we did was sell my little Volkswagon Beetle convertible. I had it for over seven years and I loved it, but it was not a car we could travel around the country in. I was surprised how many people were sad when I sold my car. I admit, it was a hoot to drive, but an SUV was more practical. So, we bought a Mazda CX-5 and paid it off before I left.

The added benefit was that since it looks like every other car on the road, I had to learn my license plate.

Then we made sure to max out my 401K contributions. Sure the car payments and 401K contributions significantly cut down our monthly cash flow, but it was worth it. We knew it would help us create the life we wanted in the future.

I started noticing what other people were doing in retirement. That’s when I started my blog. I wanted to find out the path people took and why they made the decisions they made.

I’ve been so much fun telling people’s stories. Each one is so unique and each one helps me to put a piece in my own retirement puzzle. I’m not even sure what the end picture will be.

When people ask me what I was going to do in retirement, I say I going to drink lemonade and read books in the backyard. And I am. But I am also looking at all the opportunities available to me.

For example, I have been creating videos for people and businesses. These have been fun projects. I not only love helping people celebrate special events, but I also love the creative process of combining video, pictures and music.

I also have a podcasting gig. More about that later.

And finally, I am doing all the projects that I have been thinking about doing for years. My husband is already threatening to take away my coffee if I don’t settle down.

And I’m sure I will. It’s strange to think that I don’t have to fit everything I want to do into a weekend or an occasional day off. That I don’t have to sit in traffic worrying that I will be late to work or a meeting. I have time.

The most important thing I have learned from all my interviewees is that to have a successful retirement you have to find your passion. I’m working on that too.

For now, I will continue to find people who are working on their next chapter whether it be through love, work, moving or volunteering. I hope you will continue to join me.

As always, if you know someone who would make a good subject for me blog, email me at ksparis15@gmail.com.

Checking in With A Few Friends

I’ve met so many interesting people while writing my blog. I just wanted to catch up with a few of them. Here’s a quick update.

When I first started my blog, I spent a great deal of time coaxing and cajoling my friends to be part of my “project”. Now that I have published over 18 blogs, I thought it was a great time to check in with some of my earlier blog participants. I’m happy to say, they are doing great!

A New Start After Walmart

You might remember that Bert decided that staying home during the pandemic was not working for him. He was spending too much time in his basement eating and drinking too much and wasting a lot of time. After a year at Walmart, Bert decided it was time to move on and started a Human Service Counseling Certificate Program at CCBC last fall. With this certificate from the state, Bert can work as a drug and alcohol counselor.

Being over 60, Bert was able to take advantage of the free tuition at CCBC. “I only pay about $200 a class,” Bert said.

So far, Bert has completed 15 credits which allows him to work as a drug and alcohol counselor trainee and is enrolled during the summer session. He proudly states that he has 4.0 GPA.

Through CCBC, he was able to get an interview at Hope’s Horizon in Parkville. After the interview, he was hired on the spot and will be working there part-time while continuing to go to school.

Hope’s Horizon is a treatment facility offering rehab and intensive outpatient therapy. He will be working with groups of men, approximately 80-100 men in all. He will be responsible for creating treatment programs and mediating group sessions. “I’m excited to get started,” Bert said. “Three years ago, I couldn’t imagine being here.”

Now, Bert feels he is on the right track and is looking forward to finishing up his certificate program in about 2 years.

To read Bert’s post: A New Start After Walmart.

To find out more about his program: Human Services Counseling

Staying Positive While Facing Changes

When Janet Streit entered her supervisor’s office in March 2022, she was told she was being let go. Although it was somewhat unexpected, Janet faced this setback with the same positive attitude she faced everything. After determining she would be ok financially, she started on a plan for her new life.

Janet knew that her new life would include helping others live their best life. During the pandemic, she accomplished her goal of losing 70 pounds with Weight Watchers and wanted to help others.

After being retired for a few months, Janet put in her application to become a coach leading meetings.  Now, she’s happy to announce, she got the job and is ready to help others on their weight loss journey with her amazing talent to take any recipe and make it “points friendly”.

Janet also shared during her blog post that she wanted to take a trip to the Adirondacks with her brother. Well, as you can see by the pictures, she made it. Being 70 pounds less, Janet is finding it easier to walk and hike the trails, but at the end of the day, it’s still exhausting.

To read Janet’s blog

A Picture Perfect Retirement

Geoff and his daughter in Alaska

Geoff Prior was one of my very first blogs.  After a long career in IT, Geoff decided to take to the open road and started traveling around the United States in his van. While traveling, he started taking pictures. His pictures have now won awards and he is getting better every day using his natural talent with new equipment and new techniques.

This summer Geoff wanted to cross something off his bucket list. He is driving to Alaska from Maryland. Along the way, he has had company. His daughter has been his companion for part of the trip. They have been exploring Alaska together since June 17th.

Geoff’s pictures are amazing and his eye for capturing the perfect moment gets better and better. If you want to see more of his pictures go to GRPImagery.com

To read Geoff’s blog, go to: Picture Perfect Retirement

If you know someone that would make a great subject for my blog, please email me at ksparis15@gmail.com.

Traveling Solo in Italy: A Personal Journey

Donna found herself through her solo travels. Find our more about her journey.

Donna Keel Armer considers herself a late bloomer. She enrolled as a college freshman at 33, took her first solo trip to Italy at 67 and published her first book, Solo in Salento: A Memoir, at 75. “I had to make up for lost time,” she said during our recent interview.

Donna Keel Armer

Donna grew up in a traditional family where the one goal in life was to marry and have children. “I made a mess of that,” she said.

Her first marriage at 19 was a disaster, and she was divorced within two years. “I had such a sense of failure, yet I still retained the antiquated notion of marriage as my only option.”

The second marriage to a much older man, who was an alcoholic, turned abusive. But with one divorce under her belt, she felt compelled to make it work.

“I hung in that dreadful environment for eleven years,” Donna said. “I was raised in a fundamentalist household, divorce was not an option, and I now had two strikes against me. My family wasn’t exactly understanding.”

After her second divorce, she changed her focus and entered college as a thirty-three year old freshman with a double major in Psychology and Social Sciences. “I thought maybe I could sort myself out with a degree in Psychology, but it took a lot more work than a degree to do that.”

After graduating, Donna went to work first in the insurance industry and then the airline industry and rose through the ranks to become a Senior Director. At the same time, she began to repair her personal life and decided third time’s a charm when she met and  married Ray. They will celebrate forty years in 2023. “He’s just a gem and we have so much in common.”

Donna and Ray in Murano, Italy May 2022.

After retiring from corporate America, Ray and Donna opened a restaurant and catering service. “It was the hardest work I’ve ever done,” Donna said. But she loved the business, particularly the catering part. “I loved the intimate nature of catering and the pleasure it gave me to create celebratory events for people  Even catering a funeral offered us a chance to take care of people so they didn’t have to worry.” Donna said. “It was rewarding.”

Not only did catering feed Donna’s passion for food and cooking, but she also learned a lot about herself. “One of the unexpected ministries we encountered came about when the first big hurricane hit the East Coast. Because we were on the evacuation route, we housed and fed people who were fleeing the storm. There were many unique experiences like this that helped me as a person. It taught me to listen to other people’s stories and be compassionate.”

In 2006, after 10 years, Donna and Ray sold the business and moved closer to family. But after leaving home when she was nineteen, Donna didn’t experience the relationship with her family that she had hoped for. In fact, issues from the past surfaced which created more pain and angst and much of the personal repair work she’d completed, fell into disrepair.

During this time, Donna made progress in one area of her life. She had wanted to pursue writing since she was seven but allowed the influence of others to direct her life’s choices. At sixty, she began to write articles for local magazines.

Making the Decision to Travel Solo

In 2012, Donna again felt that sense of desperation about her life. She knew that she truly hadn’t put aside much of her previous garbage and she had taken on more. She told Ray she wanted to to go away alone and sort through the bits and pieces of her life that were unraveling. “He was very understanding,” Donna said. “We have always been respectful of one another’s choices.”

Donna choose a small town in the region of Puglia in Italy for her solo trip. She and Ray had visited the town in 2010 and Donna had been drawn to the ancient walled village and the warrior woman overlooking the harbor.

Statute of warrior woman guarding the harbor.

Ray’s only request was they spend time together in Italy. And he wanted to check out the apartment she’d rented before he left her on her own. They flew over together to visit friends in Umbria. Then they drove Puglia. “He said he wanted to be able to picture in his mind where I was and that I was safe,” Donna said. “That’s what I love about him.”

When Ray left, Donna had mixed emotions. “As I watched him drive away I was sobbing.” But the sun was shining and the children were playing in piazza. She grabbed a gelato and headed to her new home for the next five weeks. “I put that key in the door and thought yeah. I felt so empowered,” Donna said.

This was the beginning of major healing for Donna. “Just as I learned to create a work of art from broken pieces in a week-long mosaics class I took, I began to put the fragments of my fractured life into a whole,” Donna said. This trip was the impetuous for her book, Solo in Salento: A Memoir. “In this tiny village full of mystery, martyrs, and music, I found my voice,” Donna said.

Mosaic Donna created during her class.

Life After Italy

She returned to the United States feeling renewed. But it was a crash-landing as shortly after her return, her sister was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Donna assumed the role of caretaker until her sister’s death eight months later.

After her sister’s death, Donna and Ray moved to the small town of Beaufort, South Carolina. “Beaufort is a haven for writers and artists. I blossomed as a writer, and I found a niche for myself when I began to volunteer at the Pat Conroy Literary Center,” she said.

She also joined a writing group. “That’s where I met my writing mentor,” Donna said. Each member is required to share something they had written for critique. Donna presented an essay called “The Last Supper.” (Now chapter 45 in her book.) It was about the last meal she had during her solo journey to Otranto. “That trip changed my life, and I needed to share that story of healing.”

The group told her that she needed to write her whole story about her solo trip. Prior to that Donna hadn’t considered writing a book, but encouraged by the group, she began to write her memoir.

A Personal Memoir

Although her book details the beauty of Italy, generosity of the Italian people, and delicious cuisine, it is more than a travel guide. It is about one woman’s journey to find her voice. She talks about her life, her marriages, and how traveling alone gave her the gift of healing.

“I took time to recycle my own trash and to piece the fragmented parts of my life together,” Donna said. Both mosaics and recycling trash figure metaphorically in the memoir.

“Prior to my trip, I’d always done things that I thought other people imagined I should be doing. I learned I didn’t have to do that. I could be whomever I wanted to be. Now I’m a writer. It’s a dream come true,” Donna said. “I hope it’s an inspiration to others. It’s important to sweep away the parts of your life that incumber you and to seek a joyful way of living your life fully and completely.”

When the book was published, Donna was surprised to hear from many woman who had also been married numerous times. They shared their stories of shame and pain and thanked her for the possibility of taking a different path.”

In September at age 77, Donna is marking a new milestone. Her book is being translated into Italian. Un’Americana in Salento and her Italian book launch is scheduled for September 3, 2022 in the village of Otranto.

Donna and her husband Ray continue to travel. This year they spent a month in Italy and a month in Slovenia. She had planned to celebrate a solo trip for her 75th birthday, but then COVID hit. However, when her book is launched in September, she will be going solo. “It’s such a freeing experience. I wish everyone had the opportunity,” Donna said.

Advice About Traveling Alone

Donna knows that some women are reluctant to travel alone. Although she had traveled alone in her corporate career, her personal solo traveling is very different. She is always aware of her safety no matter where she is. “I just think it’s smart to be prepared. Before I go, I research the location of the police station and the hospital. I always have emergency numbers in my purse as well as the number for the American Embassy,” Donna said.

She’s also learned it’s important to strike up a friendship with a local person. This gesture establishes a link with someone who can help her with the language or other problems that might arise.

“I think you have to have a brave heart to travel alone. But I think just living you have to have a brave heart,” Donna said.

Food and Wine

You can’t talk about Italy without talking about food. “I’m partial to the Southern part of Italy because I prefer tomato sauces over cream sauces. And the seafood on the Adriatic is superb.”

Donna not only enjoys eating in Italy, but she loves cooking as well. “Everywhere I go I ask a local person to teach me how to make a local dish,” Donna said.

Arancini

Last time she learned to make arancini, a rice ball stuffed with a meat ragú, green peas and mozzarella cheese, rolled in egg and bread crumbs and then fried. “They are so delicious with the gooey cheese melting in your mouth when you take a bite.”

She now wants to learn to make a tiramisu she had in Sicily. Donna described her favorite as a unique round-shaped cake shell. “When you cut into it, a thick chocolate sauce, thick caramel sauce and thick pastry cream oozed out. I’m a real sweet lover,” Donna said.

“But then, there’s hardly anything in the food category that I don’t love,” Donna laughed.

And the wine! Donna and her husband are mostly red wine drinkers. “The reds in the Southern region are so gorgeous and intense. There is a really distinct flavor to the grape that has almost a raisiny after taste. They’re delicious.”

Finding Time to Heal

Donna knows that her solo trip to Otranto helped make her the person she is today. “You don’t have to go to Italy to start the process. Start small. Carve out the time for yourself to be alone with your thoughts,” Donna said. “Learn to like yourself as a person. It’s so critical. In Italian they use the word essere which means to be. Americans are such busy people, always doing instead of being. Learn to be.”

What’s next for Donna? She’s writing a mystery series that is currently in the submission process. The series features Cat Gabbiano a Lowcountry caterer who embarks on a trip to Italy when her best friend goes missing from a small town in Puglia. Donna continues to submit travel essays and writes a travel blog when she’s on the road.

Find out more about Donna Keel Armer and her book Solo in Salento: A memoir or you can follow her on Facebook.

If you know someone who would make a good subject for my blog, email me at ksparis15@gmail.com.

Janice Goes to Hendersonville

In 2019, after almost 19 years working for the Baltimore County Public School (BCPS) System, Janice Seville-Schwartz was ready to retire from her job as Paraeducator working with autistic students. She knew the time was right.

Janice, Don and Tob

Her husband. Don, had previously retired from BCPS as an elementary school teacher and was working as a school crossing guard while Janice finished out her career.

They had planned retire in 2020, but an inheritance allowed them to retire a year early.

They actually started talking about retirement in 2014. Although they considered many options, North Carolina seemed like a good fit because Don’s brother and several of their friends lived there.

A friend recommended that they look at Asheville, North Carolina. So, Janice and Don planned a trip down south to look around. Halfway through the trip Janice’s step-son called to ask how things were going. “It’s a nice place to visit, but it was too busy, I was looking for a small town,” Janice said.

He suggested they go 20 miles down the road to Hendersonville, North Carolina. Janice said, “We got to main street and I thought ‘this is where I want to be.'”

It was a smaller town, but still close to Asheville. “It was Ellicott City and Catonsville rolled into one,” Janice said. (Janice and Don had been living in Catonsville, MD which is just up the road from Ellicott City.)

I wanted shops, restaurants, things to do but in a small town atmosphere. “It was as though some course was guiding us here,” Janice said.

Of course, that was only one day, but they knew they wanted to return. A year later they returned and spent a week there participating in town activities and attending a local festival. Then they started driving around and looking at different neighborhoods.

As part of their adventures, they followed a sign that read, “Bat Cave” and decided to explore. There actually was a bat cave that was closed. Instead, they discovered a development being built in the middle of farm lands and apple orchards. It was an idyllic spot.

They weren’t quite ready to purchase, but a year later in 2016, they bought a lot and began dreaming about their new life in Hendersonville.

Each year, they kept visiting and every time they returned home Janice thought. “I wish we didn’t have to leave.”

Preparing for Retirement

In 2018, they spoke to their financial advisors. Don was ready to leave the school system. But when Janice and Don first spoke to their financial advisors. they recommended that they not retire. “They didn’t think we had enough to live off in retirement,” Janice said. “But we just didn’t listen to them. Life is too short.” Janice had learned that lesson when her sister passed away at 58.

So, Don retired in 2018 and Janice had planned to continue working for two more years. However, in 2019, Janice inherited money from relatives. That’s when she knew it was time to leave. She finished out the school year, they sold their home and the day after school let out, they moved down to North Carolina to oversee the building of their new home.

Building Their New Home

Once they were in North Carolina, work started on the house in October 2019. They lived in a 700-foot apartment during construction. They knew they could handle that small space for a short period of time, but then COVID hit.

Their new home in Hendersonviille.

They got an email from the builder who wasn’t sure they were going to be able to continue work on the house. It was a question of getting workers and supplies.

“That was an interesting time,” Janice said. “We were just starting to meet people and then suddenly it was just Don and myself in a 700 square foot apartment. On the good side, we started exploring the area. We had to get out of the apartment every day, it was like an adventure.”

Luckily, the work was able to continue. The workers wanted to work so building began, but there were restrictions. One restriction was that Janice and Don couldn’t be at the house while the workers were there.

So, they would go over after the workers were gone. Because this was a total build, they wanted to closely monitor the progress. “We picked out everything,” Janice said. She even found the floor plan for the house online.

Because this was their forever home, the builder made sure it ADA (American Disabilities Act) complaint. The whole house is accessible. The hallways are wide enough for a wheelchair, its all one level and the shower has no doors and is curb-less.

Life In Hendersonville

“Our kids say to us ‘Why do you do so much,” Janice said. “‘What do you want us to do, sit around doing nothing,'” she responds.

“There’s so much to do here.” Janice said they go hiking, frequent the local breweries and wineries, and take our visitors to visit places like the Biltmore and she is even working at the visitors center.

In addition, they have joined a local church down in Hendersonville and have found it was a great way to meet people and make friends. One day, Janice and Don showed up for an open meeting and everyone was wondering who they were. “They smelled young blood,” Janice chuckled.

Don is now very involved volunteering with the church. He also volunteers with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, which does a wide variety of agricultural projects including growing experimental apples. Henderson County is the Apple Capital of North Carolina. Don goes there once a week to volunteer and has even learned how to drive a tractor. Don also volunteers at a local historic site helping with school field trips. He helps the Henderson theater by building sets and running lights. “He’s gone every day,” Janice said.

Starting a New Job

Janice started volunteering at the local visitors center in 2020. The Center closed down from March to August due to COVID, but then she returned to work under strict COVID protocols.

Special visitors (her grandkids) surprising her at the visitors center.

Janice said working there has been a real learning experience. “There were a lot of things I didn’t know,” said Janice, “like how to give directions.” But slowly she began to learn and started working more hours. In October 2021, the director asked her if she would be willing to work part-time. Janice agreed, but only if she could continue attending her monthly Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) meetings and have flexibility to take off to travel. They agreed.

Now, Janice and Don use the extra money to go out to dinner and it even helped pay for a Girls Trip to Puerto Rico.

Retirement Life

The hardest part is being away from family and friends. Ironically, many people from their home town of Catonsville are moving to Hendersonville. A total of seven so far.

The best part of retirement according to Janice is the freedom. “I feel relaxed and I feel empowered. I don’t care what people think of me,” Janice said. She finds herself being more assertive in her new life. “I do things for myself.”

janice having fun at work learning about the llama farm.

Another benefit is Janice said she and Don have never been closer. Although, there is someone else who is competing for her attention these days.

They have adopted Toby, a mini Bernedoodle puppy. Janice said they bought their dog from an ethical breeder who requires documentation that they will have him neutered and that they will never put him in a shelter. She felt good about adopting him because the money the breeder makes goes to a charity for enslaved children.

Finances and Health Care

One of the reasons they have had such a good retirement was planning. Both Janice and Don receive a pension through Baltimore County. In addition, now that Don is 65, he is taking is social security and is covered by Medicare.

She used the money she inherited from her mother to pay down debt and the money she inherited from her uncle helped pay for the house. “I really think you need to be debt free to retire,” Janice said.

Janice is still covered through Don’s Baltimore County health insurance. Good health insurance was particularly important to Janice because in 2015 she was diagnosed with MGUS (monoclonal gammopathy of unknown significance), a non-cancerous condition where the body makes an abnormal protein, called a paraprotein. It can be a pre-cursor to blood cancer and Janice is being monitored by a hematologist. The healthcare here is really wonderful here,” Janice said. There are two hospitals right near by.

Final Advice

Janice and Don had been planning for their retirement since 2014. “Make a plan, but be flexible. Things can change.”

She also recommends getting a clear idea of where you want to live. Janice knew exactly what she wanted in the place they were going to retire to, even if at first she didn’t know exactly where that place was. “Decide what environment you want to live in,” Janice said. “Some people I have spoken to who have retired to the beach are now ready to leave,”

“Life is an adventure. Keep busy,” Janice said. Words Janice and Don seem to live by.

If you know someone who you think would be a good subject for this blog, email me: ksparis15gmail.com.

Cindy & Matt: Finding Love After 60

Cindy wasn’t looking for love, but it found her in the small town of Milton, PA.

When Cindy DeGroat moved to the small town of Milton, Pennsylvania, falling in love was the last thing on her mind.

After 25 years as a Baltimore County Public School teacher, Cindy turned 62, submitted her retirement papers on February 1, 2019 and moved two weeks later. Having divorced her husband, she left Baltimore to be closer to her sister. Cindy was fairly familiar with the area and had friends that lived nearby. It seemed like the perfect choice.

Cindy started her new life by puppy-sitting and then welcoming her first grandchild in May. Following the birth, she applied for background clearances and began substitute teaching. 

Cindy split her time between Milton and Springfield, Massachusetts where her daughter lived.

She and her sister were anticipating a trip to Italy in 2021. 

Retirement was going just as Cindy had planned.

The Meet Cute

Matt Farrand first noticed Cindy when they were swimming laps together at the Milton YMCA.  He knew right away there was something special about her.

Matt started talking to Cindy in the pool but just as they were beginning to move from small talk, life got in the way. Matt’s dad passed and Cindy’s second grandchild was born so neither one was able to spend much time at the Y the summer of 2021.

“I thought ‘C’est la vie,’” Matt said. “It was nice chatting with you, if only for a little bit.”

But not long afterwards, Saturday, August 21 Matt saw Cindy at a 5K race at Milton State Park. She was wearing a hat that read Guanajuato, Mexico. Matt’s family had spent six months there while his dad, a college professor, was on sabbatical in the 1960s. Matt went over and struck up a conversation. They consider that their anniversary date. 

Getting Acquainted

What Cindy remembered most from their previous time in the pool was that they both wore orange swim caps. What Matt remembered were her flip turns.

“I was very aware of Miss Cindy,” he said with a smile. “Her flip turns are a thing of beauty.”

Now on dry land, they decided to get to know each other better. As the race was getting ready to start, Matt said he had pictures of Guanajuato to show her. Cindy gave him her phone and told him to put in his contact information and she would call him.

Cindy called him later that night and they set up a time to meet that Sunday. 

“I told him I was a Christian and I was going to church and we could meet after church,” Cindy said. 

Matt asked, “What can I bring?” That impressed Cindy right off the bat. She said she wasn’t used to someone taking her needs into consideration.

Long out of the dating scene, Cindy was cautious about the meeting. She set up the meeting at the park, in public and drove her own vehicle. 

The first date was during the height of the pandemic and Matt took the time to wipe down the old wooden bench before they sat down on it. “I was guffawing,” Cindy said. “Who takes the time to wipe down an old wooden bench?”

“It had bird poop on it,” Matt said. 

The romantic atmosphere was subdued by the bug spray she wore and the drizzling rain that chased them into his car, according to Cindy. However, she left feeling hopeful.

After that first date, they spent a lot of time talking on the phone.

“I dumped all my dirty laundry on him,” Cindy said. She told him about her life, her marriage and her time in Maryland.” 

Matt said he opened up too.

“I just knew, this girl’s really something,” Matt said. “I can’t let this one get away.”

Navigating Life

Matt was still working full-time. During the week he is a reporter for a local newspaper and on Saturdays he sells athletic shoes and apparel. Sunday was the only day they could spend together.

Cindy is enjoying retirement life while Matt is rethinking his future plans. He sees himself entering a new work phase in 2023.

Love and Marriage?

Matt has never been married and has no children although he has been in other long-term relationships. 

“I am facing new horizons with as open a mind as I can,” Matt said. “Cindy has introduced me to things I wanted to happen 25 years ago, but I didn’t have the courage or the circumstances to make those changes.”

“He’s talking good food and church activities,” Cindy piped in.

They have joined Christ Wesleyan Church, which is considerably bigger than the town of Milton where they live. They have been taking relationship classes with the church to help them develop as a couple.  

“We have also joined “Best Years Fellowship”, a 55+ group, that has monthly activities,” Cindy said.

How is dating different after 60? Neither of them were big daters in high school, but they said now they feel like they’re 14 again.

“We laugh a lot,” Cindy said. 

“We have a lot of PG fun. ‘Cindy and Matt go to the malt shop’,” Matt added.

“He treats me exceptionally well,” said Cindy, which is different from her previous relationships.

“I have never been happier,” Matt said. 

“Back in the day, it was one date, a cup of coffee and back in the sack you go,” Matt quipped. Now he says he is being true to himself and focused on building a strong relationship. “My awareness at 65 is so much better as is what I value”.

“We both know ourselves and what we like and don’t like,” Cindy said. After taking a relationship test, the counselor told them they were a “vitalized couple.”

Everyone is asking when they are getting married. “People are sensing and seeing something,” Cindy said. Their mentor couple said they just love being around them.

Matt says he does have a timeline in mind. Although never married he said, “I know I have it in me.”

In addition to their commitment to each other, they are committed to fitness. They work out 6 to 7 days a week. They both walk and swim. Matt is also a runner and a cyclist. 

Cindy says, “He has titanium legs and he loves my titanium arms.” Cindy says that the wedding ring might be titanium.

Family Concerns

Like many people with grown children, Cindy’s children were apprehensive about mom’s new relationship. 

Cindy waited before telling her kids. In addition to the usual concerns, Cindy has mixed race children so it was important to her that her significant other be fully accepting of them.

“I knew I wanted someone who was not just going to pretend to be OK with it,” she explained.

 Cindy checked out his LP collection and saw he had many black artists including Hip Hop and Soul artists from his many years as a DJ. In fact, they had many of the same albums. In addition, Matt was well acquainted with civil rights and black history. “He’s not just someone who merely co-exists with minorities,” Cindy said.

In fact, one of  the first questions both kids asked was, “Is he Caucasian?” When Cindy said he was, Matt asked, “Is that a good thing or not?”.  It must have been because they approved.

Advice for Those Looking for Love

“Be happy with yourself first,” Cindy said. Matt sensed what could for once in his life work out. 

“I kind of conjured up Cindy,” he said. He wanted someone who was about his age, fit, ‘wearing the same color tie on election day’, a non-smoker and cute. ”Five out of five,” he said. “I won the lottery.”

She’s also a good cook, as is Matt.  “That’s a bonus,” Cindy said.

If you know someone who you think would make a good subject for my blog, send me an email at ksparis15@gmail.com.

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