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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.

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.

Saying Adios to Work and Hola to Retirement

Ken Fellman knew he wanted to retire early. Now, he is living “The Summer of Ken” and loving it!

Ken Fellman always knew he wanted to retire early. Watching his father pass away at 62 from cancer deeply affected him. “I don’t know how many years God has for me here,” Ken said.

So, after nearly 40 years in banking, he left his position as Senior Vice President of Consumer Banking, turned in his retirement papers and began “The Summer of Ken,” he said with a broad smile.

He considers it a “redeployment rather than a retirement” because he knows there is more for him to do. But for now, he’s spending time with his family, pursuing his hobbies (hiking, biking, and camping) and learning Spanish.

Ken has a deep commitment to learning Spanish and spends 2-3 hours a day practicing. He even has a tutor 3 times a week. He isn’t sure what is driving his passion to learn Spanish, but it began when he was traveling. “My whole family speaks Spanish and I got tried of being the one saying ‘ask them this’ when traveling,” Ken said. “I didn’t want to be that guy any more.” So he began lessons.

His sons learned it in middle school and his wife Kathy began learning at that time to both help the boys, but also to cross it off her Bucket List. She enjoyed it so much that she earned a Bachelors Degree in Spanish. Ken and Kathy even did a trip to Guatemala for a 5 day immersion program a few years ago. After he retired, they returned for a three- week immersion program

“Guatemala is a great place to learn Spanish,” Ken said. “They speak more slowly down there and the people are phenomenal.” Their program was in Quetzaltenango, the second largest city in Guatemala located nearly 5 hour bus ride from Guatemalea City. where there are very few Gringos (English-speaking Anglo-American). “You’re forced to speak Spanish all the time,” Ken said.

He and Kathy were drawn to Guatemala and its people ever since their first visit there. Ken knows that his future involves a life of service, maybe in Guatemala. “I felt as though I served people in my role at the bank, but now it will be something different.” Ken said. “Something about mission service.”

For now, Ken is enjoying every day. As an avid outdoorsmen he is cycling on his retirement present. Ken, not one to spend money on himself, he made an exception and splurged on a new road bike — a custom-built Salsa Warroad, complete with a Shimano D12 groupset and carbon wheels (Whiskey No. 9 30d).

He is also going backpacking both by himself as well as with his sons. He is also putting all his outdoor knowledge to work with others with his blog fourbrothersgear.com. He named this site after his four sons who also share his love of adventure. On his blog, Ken gives detailed descriptions of hikes and camping trips he has taken and gives insider tips for people who may be interested in taking these trips as well.

Ken also does in depth reviews of hiking and camping gear. He creates YouTube videos where he gives descriptions and demonstrations of various types of gear. (Writers note: These are awesome. I don’t even like hiking and camping, but thoroughly enjoyed the videos.)

Next on his list is taking a trip to Spain to walk The Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James with Kathy. This is an ancient pilgrimage trail in Europe made up of a vast network of roads and paths, leading to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

How Did He Get Here?

When Ken announced that he was retiring, many colleagues lamented that they were not in a position to retire before age 65. As a banker, Ken understood the financial constraints many people are under.

However, Ken and his wife Kathy had been preparing for retirement for “many, many, many, many years.” Ken worked in banking while Kathy worked raising their four sons. Ken is careful to say that Kathy didn’t work outside the home because he knew how hard she worked raising their sons.

“The choices we make in life about our finances and spending habits influence the ability to do what I’m doing, retiring at 60,” Ken said.

They worked together putting money into Ken’s 401K and their savings. They also made sure not to live beyond their means. Even though they had four boys with only 3 and a half years separating them, the boys did not have their own car. Part of it was financial, the other part was “car conversations”. Those times when your kids will talk about what’s going on in their lives.

“When you have young men, to have them talk, you have to have food, an activity or have them in the car,” Ken said. Kathy learned a lot about her boys during these times in the car. “It served our family well,” Ken said.

Ken’s whole family including his new daughter.-in-law.

Ken and Kathy also put all four sons through College. They planned early with 529 plans for each of them and a promise to put them through the University of Wisconsin- Madison (their home state).

“You can spend $60,000 at Purdue or $25,000 a year at the University of Wisconsin on an engineering degree. The outcome is the same,” Ken said. If his sons had wanted a different option, they could pay the difference.

“We have been pretty intentional about how we spent our money,” Ken said. They also made sure that before they retired they did not have any debt. No car or house payments.

Health Care Costs

Health care is definitely a concern for Ken and Kathy. They did not have health care benefits through his job and are currently in the insurance open market. He is on COBRA.

The cost of insurance is very expensive, but it was another item that Ken and Kathy made sure to take into account before he left his job.

Three of his sons are on his insurance; however, they are cost sharing. His sons are paying their portion of the insurance and so far the arrangement is working out. Still Ken knows this will be a significant expense until he and Kathy reach 65.

The Future Looks Bright

At this point, Ken is not sure what the future holds. He knows that in some way it will involve service and will leverage his love of Spanish language.

Ken, Kathy and the boys.

For now he is enjoying his time with family and friends, although he and Kathy are not spending that much more time together. “You know what they say ‘For better or for worse, but not for lunch,” Ken said. His wife is very busy with her life so after they share a coffee in the morning, they often don’t see each other again until dinner time.

And Ken is the one doing the cooking! At least some of the time. “I’m a passionate cook. I love cooking.” Ken said. His specialties include making smoked meat, homemade pizza and sourdough bread.

Ken’s life is also full of kids in transition, “One is moving to Ann Arbor. I’m helping another one buy a car. Another is applying to Med School,” Ken said. He is enjoying having the time to help them.

After the summer, he is also entertaining many ideas. He may apply for a job at REI just for “grins and giggles.” As an avid customer, he knows so much about many of the products at REI. They even have opportunities to guide trips which Ken said he would enjoy doing.

“I’m so excited about my life. I don’t know where it’s going, but I know it’s going to be good,” Ken said. “I feel there is something more in my life that I’m meant to use the skills I’ve been blessed with to serve others.”

His Advice Moving Forward

“I tell my boys, “I retired March 4th and on March 5th I began dispensing advice to solve all the world’s problems,” Ken said with a laugh.

But really, he said he has the same advice he had heard from so many others, “You have to retire to something.”

“You have to understand what motivates you. That will help you determine where and how you want to invest your time,” Ken said.

“Dream big. People can do this, but you have to have some foresight.”

If you want more information about Ken’s travels, go to Fourbrothersgear.com.

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

What I’ve Learned… So Far

Interviewing others about making major life transitions after 50 has been the best research I ever could have done as I reimagine my own future.

Last year, with the help of my friends Bill and Bunny, I came up with the idea for this blog. I have been amazed, and continue to be amazed, that this couple made the decision to sell everything and move to Bonaire. Their bravery or craziness, inspired me to think about other friends who had major like changes after 50. I told their story in my first post.

Starting this blog has been one of the most fun and exciting adventures I have pursued in a very long time. I find that I love talking to people and telling their stories. Each one is so unique and almost everyone has told me that they didn’t think they are special and weren’t sure they had a story to share.

However, I have found that each person has something to teach me as I prepare for my own re-imagination into the world of retirement.

It’s challenging leaving behind a place I have worked for the past 15 years. As I prepare to leave, I reflect on all I have accomplished and all the people I have helped and those who have helped me along the way. I am trying to let go of the frustrations and failures and focus on the good so I can move on into the next phase of my life.

I tell people that from 1 to 30 years old, we are forming into the people we are going to be. From 30 to 60 years old, we concentrate on working, taking care of of spouses, children and/or parents. Now, from 60 to 90 years old, at least for me, is going to be about me and what I want to do.

So, my blog is research project as I graduate from a traditional work environment into whatever the rest of my life will be. As I interview people, I have discovered a few key tips to make the transition go more smoothly.

  1. Review Your Finances — Look at how much revenue you will have coming in after you transition. Talk to an expert if possible. Determine what expenses are necessary and what you can do without.
  2. Pay Down Your Debt — As one interviewee said, “Debt is like being a slave to the bank.” Every day you are working to pay that money back, plus interest. Be as debt-free as possible when you leave your full-time gig.
  3. Plan For Fun — If you put yourself on a restrictive budget, you will feel deprived. If you can’t manage fun on your retirement income, figure out a part-time gig that will help generate income. For Bridget in Curacao, that gig was opening up an Italian ice stand to serve tourist coming off the cruise ships.
  4. Plan for the Unexpected — Each one of my interviewees have had a setback. Many of them related to COVID. But they made it through, even though it wasn’t easy.
  5. Find Your Passion — What do you love? For Steve Blechschmidt, it was the guitar. Every day he practices for hours perfecting his unique finger style guitar playing.
  6. Never Stop Learning — Some people are practicing their passion every day, some are taking classes or reading books, for me I am researching by meeting people and hearing their stories.

I’ve never had the luxury of figuring out what I want to do. I have been more focused on what I could do to make money to support my family. Now, I have been given this gift of time.

I invite you to come along on my journey or better yet, become a part of it. I am always looking for new people to be a part of my blog. If you have made a major life change after 50, or you know someone who has, email me at ksparis15@gmail.com. I want to tell your story.

Thanks for supporting my blog so far and as my mother-in-law used to say, “The best is yet to come!”

Taking Center Stage

When Joya Fields needed a new career, she used her life long passion for design to begin a staging business.

At an age when many people are thinking of retirement, Joya Fields decided to begin a new career as a stager.

Stagers are the people that go into a house before it is put on the market and make it more appealing to buyers. Even in this hot real estate market, stagers are in high demand because in a 2021 RESA survey of 4600 properties, 73% of staged properties sold over list price and staged houses sold approximately 9 days faster than unstaged.

Joya always had an eye for design. As a child, she would use the stairs of her home to create an apartment building for Barbie and her friends. Each apartment was unique.

But it wasn’t until her brother-in-law, who is a real estate agent, asked for her help in staging a home that sat on the market too long that Joya thought she could make a living with those same designing skills. After Joya worked her magic, there were multiple offers in a week.

With a few more successes and encouragement from her family, Joya decided to make a career change.

Early Career as a Writer

For many years, Joya worked as a published author and freelance writer. In fact, she has over 35 books to her credit, most of which are romantic suspense novels. She has has written over 50 articles for various magazines including Maryland Family, True Confessions and True Romance. However, when her husband retired 10 years earlier than they had originally planned, Joya knew she needed a career that paid more money. “I knew it was this, work full-time or start waitressing,” Joya said with a chuckle.

Becoming a Professional Stager

But before she could begin as a serious stager, Joya knew it was important to get certified. Being certified to stage houses is not required in Maryland, but Joya thought it would make her more marketable. So, she signed up for a Home Staging Class at the Home Staging Resource www.homestagingresource.com

Before and After Professional Staging

She credits that class as the reason she is so successful. “The teacher was so good,” Joya said. As a lifelong learner, she saw it as a great way to learn the basics. “You need to know the rules in order to break the rules,” she said.

With her natural eye towards design and the knowledge from her course, Joya started working with several area real estate agents staging homes. She invested money from her savings and began purchasing in items that could be used to stage homes.

Although successful, Joya decided to join forces with one of the other students from her online staging class. She merged her business with Shamrock Hill Design.

Joining a Team

Shamrock Hill consists of four women responsible for design and staging and a stay-at-home dad that works as their mover. He’s responsible for moving everything they need for staging from the warehouse. The company stages homes in Baltimore County, Howard County, Carroll County and Anne Arundel County.

“The difference between being an interior designer and a stager is that one creates a home for you to live in, the other helps buyers see themselves living in a home,” Joya said.

One of the benefits of working with a company is that she has a whole warehouse at her disposal to stage homes. There are pillows, rugs, pictures, etc., everything she needs for staging a home. Many of the items come from Costco. Home Goods and At Home, but sometimes they find a treasure at Goodwill. If they need books for staging, they get them from the local library.

The other benefit of working with a company is that there are other people to do the paperwork and marketing, two tasks that Joya does not enjoy. “Now, I get to do what I really like,” Joya said.

There are many levels of service available. Many times she will work with the furniture the home owner already has and just move it around or add to it. However, Joya can also come in and refurnish a vacant home to sell. “Each house is different and each one tells a story,” she said.

Recently, Joya decided to expand her business by becoming a certified Residential Transition Specialist. With this training Joya will be able to help older individuals with “right-sizing” or “down-sizing”. This training focuses on helping people declutter and get their homes ready for the market.

Joya loves working with older people and often finds herself spending hours talking to them about their lives when she goes in for a consultant.

Joya stages about 10 houses a month and “I fall in love with every one of them,” Joya said. The process begins when the real estate agent engages her as a consultant. Joya prepares a 15- page report detailing what needs to be done in each room. Then, it is up to the home owner to decide whether or not to hire her to implement the report.

There are multiple levels of service and Joya works with the homeowner to determine what they need. Even though she charges a set fee, rather than a percentage she says, “We love it when people make more money.”

Her Other “Full-Time” Job

But Joya doesn’t spend all her time staging homes. Joya and her husband Joey moved in with their son to help take care of their grandson. They live on a large piece of land in Randallstown. Joya said when she comes home from her appointments she puts on her jeans and goes to work. She’ll spend the rest of the day working on the farm feeding chickens, gathering eggs and working in the garden.

Her other responsibilities involve being “Gigi” to her grandson. She loves the flexibility of her job which allows her to attend his t-ball games, school events and just spend time with him. “I didn’t want a 9 to 5 job. I wanted something with flexibility.”

Joya was a little nervous starting her new career. She had to take money out of her family’s saving with no guarantee that she would be successful. However, she credits her teacher with setting her up for success. Although at times she doubted herself, her instructor said, “Fake it till you make it.”

Joya continues to be supported by her co-workers as well as fellow stagers in the staging Facebook group. “When I had a problem recently and couldn’t figure out, I put it out to the group,” she said. They had great ideas that help her resolve her issue.

“It’s a great community of women helping women,” Joya said.

Joya is also still finding some time to write. She is responsible for the company blog and has also submitted a proposal for her farm story. “It’s really been bugging me. I need to get back to writing.”

Whatever the challenge, Joya meets it with a smile and a desire to learn.  “I love learning,” Joya said.

If you are interested in finding out more about being a stager, you can find out more information at the Real Estate Staging Association.

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

Staying Positive While Facing Challenges

Whether it’s losing her job or losing 70 pounds, Janet faces her challenges with a smile and a positive attitude.

When Janet Streit was called into her supervisor’s office on March 21, 2022 in the middle of the day, she had an idea what was going to happen. When she saw the HR person sitting there, she was sure of it. 

But when they told her that her job had been eliminated, Janet had a different reaction from most. She said, “Thank you. I’ve been looking for a sign that it was that it was time to retire.” In fact, the Saturday before, she had put something in her journal about it. She now had that sign.

At 68, Janet had considered retiring even before this happened. She had even contacted the retirement specialist, but there was a problem. “I loved my job,” said Janet.

She had worked as a volunteer manager at a hospital in Florida for 9 years managing approximately 200 volunteers. Then COVID hit and volunteers were no longer allowed in the hospital. But Janet, never one to sit around, offered to work screening individuals coming into the hospital. Then she took over the scheduling of staff to screen people entering the hospital. When screening was outsourced, she helped the transition with the new company. After 18 months, volunteers began returning once again to the hospital and Janet was able to get back to her “real” job.

However, COVID hit hospitals hard. Many hospitals actually lost revenue due to the fact that auxiliary services were limited and individuals didn’t want to go to hospitals for fear of catching COVID. Janet knew that the loss of her job was a financial decision and she wasn’t bitter at all.

But Janet is never bitter. She faces life with an enthusiasm that overflows into every aspect of her life. She fills her day with journal writing, meditative walks, recording gratitudes and setting her intentions.

She began her spiritual approach to life as she took her her role as caretaker with her mother. That spiritual part of life intensified while living and working on a biodynamic organic farm in 2010 after the death of her mother.  Janet had been working as the volunteer director at Greater Baltimore Medical Center when her mother passed after struggling with Alzheimer’s for nine-years. Janet needed a fresh start. She moved to the White Rose Farm in Taneytown, MD as the business associate and started doing their marketing to promote it. 

On the farm, Janet was exposed to many new spiritual practices that the owner encouraged on the farm. She credits her personal practices with not only her positive attitude towards life, but also her good health.

For example, Janet is one of the few people who lost weight during COVID. A long time WW (Weight Watchers) member, Janet applied those practices to her life during COVID and actually completed her journey to her lifetime goal losing over 70 pounds. She has now applied to be a WW coach after being encouraged by her own WW coach to do so.

Navigating the Transition

Just because Janet took the news of her job elimination well, did not mean that she was without fear. The hospital had a retirement transition specialist that Janet was able to work with. Before the meeting, they asked Janet to get together all of her financial records, expenses and investment records. She said it took two weeks to get everything together. After careful examination of everything, she was told, she could maintain her current lifestyle until she was 97.

Two things helped Janet be so financially secure. The first was the pension she received from working with the Girl Scouts of the USA. “They are all about helping women, so they offered a strong pension,” Janet said. In addition, Janet is debt-free. She has no house payment, no car payment and no credit card debt. When she asked the advisor what to do about possible unexpected expenses like replacing her 7-year-old car he said, “That’s what your investments are for.” 

Her advisor was also impressed because when Janet created her expenses for the month, she included things like travel, hobbies, going out and having fun. He said, many people don’t remember to include those items, but Janet is all about having enjoying life. “I’m not talking about being frivolous, just about having fun,” she likes to clarify. 

Janet may have needed more reassurance than most because she is single. “A few years ago I said ‘You just got you babe,” Janet said.

Taking Chances

But that has never prevented her from taking on new challenges and making big changes. After two years at the farm, Janet knew she needed to make money because “I didn’t have any,” she said. While visiting her brother in Florida, Janet got a job offer from the zoo and they paid for her to move down there. She was then able to get other jobs helping form a farm cooperative and working with the local Food Bank before securing her position at the hospital. 

What’s Next?

Now, Janet has different goals for her next job, “I need something that feeds my soul. Something that gives me joy,” Janet said. That was one of the reasons she applied at WW. Not only has it helped her lost 70 pounds, but she has also learned to transform any recipe into something points-friendly. (See the end of the blog for her borscht recipe.) She wants to share her knowledge and experience and commitment to the program  with others.

She loves the fact that at this point in her life she is not worried about making money, “There’s such freedom in not having to make a specific dollar amount,” Janet said.

Although her plans are somewhat unclear and she describes her life as “chaotic”, Janet is sure everything will work out. She believes in putting out her intentions to create the life she wants. Recently, she returned from a walk and drew a mandala, a kind of drawing meditation. She said she has drawn several of these at pivotal points in her life. This one she titled, “Keep moving towards abundance.” 

Her friend on the farm always said, “Assume you have enough.” Janet said she has a different philosophy, “Live in abundance.” To her abundance is not simply about money. It is more about enjoying a joyful and meaningful life.

She fills her day connecting with friends and her brother, doing 3-5 mile meditative walks, cooking low point meals and piddling in her patio garden. 

She is currently planning a trip to the Adirondacks with her brother and seeing what happens next. Janet is not sure that volunteering will be part of her plan because it would “feel too much like work” after working for years as a volunteer coordinator.

Her advice to others is “Figure out what you want in life and go for it. All anyone wants is there for them if we open to it and notice it unfolding. Life is good!”

If you know someone you think would make a good subject for this blog, email: ksparis15@gmail.com.

We All Scream for Italian Ice!

Bridget and her husband Dave moved to Curacao they new they couldn’t retire, but they wanted to do something fun. An Italian Ice cart was the perfect answer.

When Bridget Merker and her husband Dave first visited Curaçao in 2012, they immediately felt at home. “I could live here,” Dave said. So, in 2017, when a job became available at the desalination plant in Curaçao, it was not surprising that Dave, an industrial engineer, decided to apply. After extensive negotiations, the job seemed like a reality.

They were so sure Dave was going to get the job that they prepared their Virginia home to be put on the market. Then the company sold the division and the job disappeared.

However, they already scheduled a vacation to Curaçao and decided to go anyway. During their time on the island, they looked into the practical aspects of moving there. They rented a car explored the island, looked at real estate options and determined what it would take to live there.

After “crunching the numbers” they knew completely retiring was not an option. Bridget was only 48 at this time. However, a semi-retirement was definitely feasible. “We always wanted to retire early, but not as early as we did,” she said. “It was doable.” But they had to think of what they could do part-time.

Bridget, who had always been in the hospitality business, thought about getting a job at a hotel, but that would have required her to be fluent in both Dutch and Papiamentu, a Spanish and Portuguese-based creole language spoken in the Dutch Caribbean.

Then, they remembered that during their previous visits, the island had almost everything except Italian Ice. There were no cool,  refreshing,  dairy free treats for tourists to enjoy like the treats from their childhood summers.  They knew they had a winner of an idea. The only issue was whether to call it Italian ice like they did in Bridget’s native New Jersey or water ice like they did in Dave’s home town of Philly. They decided on “Caribbean Breeze Italian Ice.”

Moving to Curaçao

Although it was terrible time to sell a house in 2017 in Charlottesville, VA, they got an offer on their house. So, they packed up their stuff and moved to Curaçao to develop their Italian ice business.

First, they contacted a service to help them with the immigration paperwork. They decided to use an immigration attorney to help them navigate the process. Bridget said it was worth it to use the service. “They were so thorough,” Bridget said.  Her permanent residency status was approved in 8 days and her husband’s was approved in 20.

However, since they weren’t buying property, Bridget and Dave had to show a specific amount of money in the bank.

Overall, it was easy. ”It’s very simple. Americans are treated like Dutch who want to move to the island,” Bridget said.

Finding a New Home

Bridget and Dave were open to many options as long as it was within their price range. Sometimes, convincing realtors that they weren’t   Americans where price was no object was a challenge.

Initially, they ended up moving to a residential area on the East side of the island. They had a king size bed, couches, dresser, etc. in a shipping container headed to Curaçao and needed a place to fit it all.

“If I had to do any thing different,” Bridget said. “I wouldn’t have brought my stuff. I would have  rented a furnished apartment here.”

Although the house was nice and affordable, it had no view of the water and there was too much traffic on their way to work. “After almost 2 years of living here and having dreamt about living here for years, I wanted to have a nicer view ,” Bridget said. They ended up moving to a much smaller condo closer to downtown that had a view of the Caribbean Sea and ended up selling much of their furniture. Now they have a beautiful view and have a 10 minute drive to work.

Caribbean Breeze Italian Ice

Bridget and Dave began Caribbean Breeze Italian Ice with a stand that Dave build himself. “At first, it was challenging because people didn’t know the product,” Bridget said.  But that didn’t deter them.

They moved from the stand to a cart in order to be more mobile. They decided against a store front because they didn’t want to work all the time. Also, since their target audience is mostly tourists, they worked when the cruise ships were in port.

They take their cart into Punda, Curaçao’s historic downtown, near the Queen Emma floating bridge. “I work in a UNESCO World Heritage site,” Bridget said. (The whole downtown area of Curaçao is a UNESCO World Heritage site.)

They operate their cart when the cruise ships are in port. There are six flavors of this cool tasty treat: Piña Colada, Blue Raspberry, Watermelon, Mango, Cherry and Lemon. Piña Colada is the most popular flavor. It’s a bargain at $3 American dollars apiece or $5  Guilders (the local currency in Curaçao).

Free Time on Curaçao

When not working, Bridget loves exploring the island, visiting with friends and running typical errands like grocery shopping. Every Sunday, they go to the beach with friends. There are over 45 beaches on Curacao and they have been to most of them. But they have a special local beach they like the best. ”It is not the most photographed beach, but we love it there,” Bridget said.

Bridget also likes spending time at the 28 museums on the island. “If there is one thing, I miss about the United States it’s the museums,” Bridget said.  However, in addition to the museums, there is amazing street art that is popping up all over town.

The biggest change for Bridget is that she was a type A person and still is, but she has now dialed it back. She feels healthier being outside all the time and is enjoying the warm weather. She always imagined herself on an island when she was working in the corporate world, saving for that seven-day vacation. “But now I never want to go back to working for someone else,” Bridget said. “We’re outside so much. It’s a healthier lifestyle.” They also spend a lot of their time in the sea, snorkeling and swimming. “I’d rather be in the sea than the pool and I hate the gym,” Bridget said.

Another big change since moving to the island is that they now don’t hang out at touristy places. “When we first moved here, we went where the tourist went. Then a friend showed us a little hole in the wall with great food. We loved it,” Bridget said. Bridget and Dave have met locals who have shown them all the best local places: shopping, restaurants, bars and beaches.

Challenges in Paradise

When COVID hit in March 2020, their business was shut down for about 16 months. They had to spend a lot of time together in their little apartment. Bridget said she reached out to other ex-pats on the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao). That’s where she connected with Bill Horton from my first blog.

It was challenging, but luckily they had money in the bank. She was glad they had emergency fund saved before moving down to Curaçao because “you never know when something like a pandemic might happen.”

Eventually, they got back to business and then got hit again. In late December 2021, Curaçao got hit with COVID again, but they didn’t stress, they just decided to take a month off.

The other challenge besides COVID was leaving family and friends back in the states.

The Best Part of Making a Big Move

Bridget and Dave are happy with their decision in spite of the fact that there have been some challenges.  “We love working for ourselves,” Bridget said.

The best part of semi-retirement on Curacao? “Freedom,” Bridget and Dave said together. “If we want to go somewhere we go. If we want to sleep in we do,” Bridget said.

However, Bridget said their life might not be for everyone. If you’re thinking about a big move Bridget said, “Go for it, but do the research,” she said.

If you want to find out more about Caribbean Breeze Italian ice, follow them on Facebook, Instagram and TripAdvisor.

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

Making Music in the Mountains of Colorado

Steve Blechschmidt traded in his corporate life for a place in the mountains and he couldn’t be happier.

Steve Blechschmidt traded in his seat at the corporate table for a home in the Colorado mountains and he couldn’t be happier.

When Steve was offered a promotion during a company reorganization, he knew it wasn’t the right move for him. “I knew deep down inside that I didn’t want to put in the effort it would take to do one those big jobs properly,” Steve said. “Those jobs are hard, hard, hard.” Instead, he suggested a compromise that helped him transition into retirement.

In 2015, Steve offered to work remotely as a contractor, performing a critical function for the company. It was less money, but it was also less stress. The company management team agreed to his terms and he worked in that capacity for four years until he was laid off.

“I never decided here we go. Now’s the time (to retire),” Steve said. If he hadn’t been laid off, he would have kept on working.

However during his transition time, he and his wife, Carol, took steps to make retirement possible. They moved from Denver, Colorado to the mountain town of Pagosa Springs, Colorado where he has lived for the past six years.

They also became debt-free. To him that meant no house payment and no car payment. “Debt is slavery. You are a slave to the bank,” Steve said. “I don’t need a lot of money to live. Being debt free is very freeing, a game changing place to be.”

Being debt-free also allowed him to not worry about bringing in additional income and he was free to pursue his real passion full-time: playing the guitar.

Becoming a Full-Time Musician

“I’m a musician now,” Steve said. He plays finger style guitar. “It’s the way Chet Atkins plays the guitar.” He said he feels a passion for guitar that he never felt when working in IT.

Steve practices between one and four hours every day. “I play ambient music in beautiful settings,” Steve said. You’ll find him playing his guitar at wine tastings, very nice restaurants and world’s deepest hot springs that are right there in Pagosa Springs. ”I love giving someone a moment of peace visa via a guitar,” Steve said.

He started playing the guitar at 38 as a promise to his daughter. When she was ready to give up on her piano lessons, he made a deal with her. “If you keep up with your piano lessons, I’ll learn to play the guitar,” Steve said. She did and as a result, he learned to play the guitar.

Something happened when he picked up that guitar, “A tremendous passion came over me.  Some people even think I’m a bit of a nut in how hard I work at playing the guitar,” Steve said with a chuckle. “It’s not an easy way to play a guitar.” He loves playing the guitar and practices between 1 – 4 hours a day.

Making Retirement Work

In addition to playing the guitar, Steve spends quite a bit of time preparing wood for the winter. He has a permit to chop down wood to help heat his cabin and of course has household chores and a honey do list to keep him busy.

“Still, I have those retiree days where I say ‘What day is it today? Wednesday? Thursday?’” Steve said. The only thing on his calendar are gigs.

“I like being completely in control of my days and schedule,” Steve said However, he understands the importance of having some type of focus in his life. “It’s important to have something to latch onto and for me, that’s music.”

He has a word of warning to people contemplating retirement. “It’s important to not let yourself dissolve into nothingness,” He said, “it’s easy to drink too much, eat too much, watch too much TV and not do a damn thing in retirement.”

He encourages people to find their passion and start working on it even before they retire. “Begin now to understand your passion and begin working on it,” Steve said.

Planning Out Finances in Retirement

In addition to his plan to become debt free, Steve also credits his and Carol’s attitude towards money as a contributing factor to their retirement success.

“My wife and I have always been down to earth people. I like old pickup trucks rather than BMWs,” Steve said. “This lifestyle of not wanting fancy glitzy things has served us well.”

In addition, Steve said he and his wife have never been big travelers so that was never really part of their retirement financial plan. “We chose live in the Colorado Rockies. Every day is a vacation. People come to where we live for their vacations.” Steve said.

But Steve never really had a true plan for retirement. Instead, he decided to figure it out as he went along.

He said he was lucky enough to do well in some real estate transactions. That money helped him until he was able to collect social security at 62. “I took it as soon as I could,” Steve said. Carol’s retirement and Steve’s social security take care of their monthly expenses.

In addition, Steve uses his guitar playing to supplement his retirement income. “It’s very hard to make a lot of money being a musician,” Steve said. However, he said, “In a good month I can make about $1,000.”

They have savings and a stock portfolio that they can leverage for any unexpected expenses.

Handling Health Insurance

Steve is fortunate enough to be covered under his wife’s medical plan. As a retired school teacher she had a medical plan that continued even after she retired. Even though she is now on Medicare, her insurance will continue to cover him until he turns 65 in three years.

However, Steve said he has not really needed much health care so far. He describes himself as a “dietary nut” who has been blessed with good health. He doesn’t eat processed sugar and eats completely organic food. He does still like to indulge in a beer occasionally. After all, he lives in Colorado where good craft beer is everywhere.

Steve stays fit walking in 7,500 foot altitude and preparing the wood pile for the long Colorado winters. He also loves preparing wood for winter including chopping down trees (with his permit) and stacking wood.

Advice for Others

Steve said he believes what is most important in life is contribution. “I think you need to contribute and I contribute through music,” Steve said. “You need to find your passion. Grow your skill set at your passion. There is no magic, secret sauce, you have to work your ass off.”

If you would like to know more about Steve or hear him play the guitar, go to his website: SEBguitar.com.

If you know someone who has made a big life change after 50, please email me at: ksparis15@gmail.com

Making Dream Vacations Come True

When Chris met her new husband, she also found herself starting on a new career as well. It’s been a perfect combination.

When Christiane Schmitz Beavis married her second husband, David, on the island of Tortola in 2014, she got more than a life partner, she also got a new career.

David, is part owner in VOYAGE charters reservations, specializing in luxury charter yacht vacations in the British Virgin Islands, (BVI). His venture started when he began working as crew on catamarans in the Caribbean. David met Robin and his wife, Jo Ann in the BVI as they were starting up a small charter company with another couple. Twenty five years later, the business has grown into a family owned, boutique charter business on Tortola. After working as crew, David and his first wife participated in the start up of the Annapolis reservation office in 2000, working exclusively with VOYAGE charters BVI, booking charters on VOYAGE yachts in the BVI.

In 2016, Chris joined the company. After a lifelong career in the lab industry, she was ready for a change. “It was a world I was completely unfamiliar with prior to meeting David,” Chris said. But over the years she had developed strong customer service and management skills that she was able to bring to VOYAGE charters. “It was scary (leaving corporate America), but it was also very freeing,” Chris said.

Although perhaps lesser known then the U.S. Virgin Islands, they are no less beautiful with white sand beaches, clear ocean waters and amazing snorkeling and scuba diving.  The BVI also have rock formations called the Baths that people come from all over to see.

Chris spends most of her time at the reservation office in Annapolis or working from a home office. She and David work together with their team answering people’s questions about charters, doing computer work and brainstorming ways to promote and grow their business.

Their days start by “walking” their 14-year-old dog and then taking another walk “to get the blood flowing.” During this second walk, they discuss the day ahead and form strategies on how to grow the business and address issues that come up. “I never thought I’d want to live and work with my husband,” Chris said. They are partners in life and in business. After their morning walk, David and sometimes Chris, ride their bikes to work. “I love working with and traveling with my husband.”

“It’s a very different pace than working for corporate America,” Chris said. “Now I work for a small family-owned company where my work is my life. It is a seven-day a-week job.” However, Chris doesn’t mind. “I’m working harder, especially the last couple of years. But it’s wonderful because I have my partner with me.”

A side benefit of her new career is that Chris has been able to experience these luxury vacations, sometimes complete with a captain and chef. She has also had more time to travel. She and her husband head down to the BVI a couple times a year to meet with their business partners and to see how everything is going.

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“It’s very beautiful, but it has its challenges living in paradise. It’s very different from our life here.” Chris said. However, Chris is grateful to have the opportunity for frequent visits. “Even though I’m not a sailor, I find it incredibly relaxing to be on the water in such a beautiful part of the world. There’s no better way to see the islands.”

Hitting Rough Waters

But not everything has been a fantasy. In 2017, the BVI was decimated by Hurricane Irma. “It took out our entire fleet and our base down in the BVI,” Chris said. At first, she and her husband didn’t even know if anyone at VOYAGE charters had survived. A second storm soon followed. “David flew to Puerto Rico and made his way to Tortola to drop off some cash, a satellite phone and medicines before the second storm was predicted to hit,” Chris said. “It was very scary for us.”

“I was so new to the business I thought ‘What does this mean’?” Chris said. She knew it wasn’t good. “It took us a few years to dig out from that.” At first, Chris was wondering if she would need to go back to her job in corporate America. But it worked out that she was able to stay on and help rebuild the business.

That didn’t mean that they didn’t have to do a lot of belt tightening, but “we had a nest egg if we needed to tap into it.” They did.

Chris had already been through some challenges in her life including the settlement of her home’s foundation shortly after leaving her job to be a full-time mom and then a divorce from her first husband. However, she feels that those experiences gave her “strength and resilience for the future,” she said.

“We were just coming around the corner from after the hurricanes when COVID hit,” Chris said. The BVI shut down from March 2020 to December 2020 and no tourists were allowed into the territory. According to Chris, even once it opened there was quarantining and multiple testing for tourists visiting the BVI. The BVI lost much of its business to the U.S. Virgin Island, which had fewer restrictions.

“When the BVI was locked down, most of the people there (in the BVI) had no source of income. It’s amazing they were able to get by,” Chris said. It was a struggle for VOYAGEcharters as well. “As a company, we were very fortunate to have boat owners and customers who were supportive of us,” Chris said.

One of their customers, The Cathy Family, owners of Chick-Fil-A, who organizes retreats with VOYAGEcharters, was one of the first ones to call and ask what they could do to help after Irma and the pandemic.

“Through the grace of God and perseverance of the family that owns the charter company, we got through it,” Chris said.

“I have such admiration for what they went through and the positivity that they carried with them throughout it.”

Coming Out of the Storm

Now in 2022, Chris said it finally feels as though things are getting back to normal. “Things are busy, busy, busy.” They are back up to 21 yachts in the fleet and have a new model which will have added 9 new yachts to the fleet by 2024.

“They’ve had a really lush spring down there. The remnants of the hurricane are all but gone,” Chris said, having just visited recently. “You do see some abandoned boats and damage that was done by the storm, but all the greenery has come back.”

Managing Health Care

Working for a small business, Chris relies on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for health insurance. “That was very eye opening for me. In corporate America, I always had great insurance, but now I’m on the open market.”

At first, she went to a private company that said she would have to have a $30,000 rider, per year for her lifetime, in case she hurt her knee. She had previously had ACL surgery and as a pre-existing condition, it wasn’t covered.

“Obamacare did me a huge favor because I had ACL surgery and I have high blood pressure,” Chris said. Both are considered previous existing conditions and weren’t covered under private insurance. The ACA covered both her high blood pressure and any injuries she might have to her knee leaving her free to resume a more active lifestyle.

In addition to walking and biking, Chris has taken up paddle boarding that she loves doing on the Severn River as well as in the Caribbean.

However, Chris said she’s found some downsides to getting her own insurance. “It is an incredible expense, and you still have copays,” Chris said. She has also had difficulty finding doctors she in her plan.

Advice For Those Looking to Make a Change

Chris said she encourages her peers, those 50+, to explore options and figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives.

“By the time you’re our age, you should be able to trust your gut. There are so many resources to research what you want to do and explore,” Chris said. She encourages people to find out more about different life options. “People are so willing to talk and share their experiences.” She credits Facebook as one way to reach out to people and find out what they’re doing and what might be right for you.

Her final words of advice. “Don’t be afraid. Don’t settle for unhappiness. You are in charge of your own destiny and happiness. There are so many things that we can’t do anything about but there are things we can do something about and the biggest thing is our attitude.”

Smooth sailings Chris.

To find out more about VOYAGEcharters, go to their website VOYAGEcharters.com.

If you know someone who would be an interesting subject for my blog, email me at ksparis15@gmail.com.

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