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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.

The Wheels on the Bus

Brian is rolling down the highway in retirement, but he’s doing it in a school bus filled with children. Find out why he’s loving his new career.

When Brian Carr retired at 64 from Bloomberg Bureau of National Affairs (now Bloomberg Industry Group) in Washington D.C., he had no plans to drive a school bus. Originally, Brian wanted to concentrate on his music. An accomplished guitarist, Brian planned to focus on playing, singing and writing music, but he missed a daily routine and decided it was time to go back to work. “I got antsy and missed structure in my life,” Brian said.

But driving a bus was not his first job after retirement. Instead, he took a sales job at Bill’s Music in Catonsville, MD. Brian was able to talk to other musicians, help them find what they needed and still find time to play the guitar. “After years of playing in bands, I knew a lot about sound systems, microphones and other musical things,” Brian said.

It was a very different job than his one in Washington D.C. where he spent his days writing and editing legal publications, but it was a perfect fit for his retirement. He loved demonstrating the different guitars and working with the customers and the Bill’s team.

Brian worked there for four and a half years until COVID hit. Then, Bill’s music, like many other businesses, shut down and Brian and his wife Dottie, who also worked at Bill’s scheduling lessons, were laid off. When Bill’s began opening again with limited hours, Brian was not one of the employees brought back and he knew he had to find something different. “I didn’t like being unemployed, it was like being retired again,” Brian said.

He started looking at the Woodlawn Motor Coach because it was close to his house and they were always advertising for drivers. He put in an application and was hired.

So why bus driving? “I don’t know. I like to drive. I just thought it was something I would like to try,” Brian said. “For a post retirement part-time job, it pays $22.50 and hour and is going up in September to $25.”

The bus company put Brian through a four-week training program. Before he finished his training, he had to take and pass the permit test at the Department of Motor Vehicles. It was a three-part test. Brian passed and was ready to hit the road.

Brian had a choice between school bus driving and charter driving. He decided to take the school bus driving because it was more consistent, but he will still sometimes pick up charter work such as taking high school athletic teams to events.

Brian begins his day at 5:30 a.m. when he arrives at the bus yard. He isn’t expected until 5:45 a.m., but he likes to get there early to get a jump on the day and to make sure no kids are left standing outside too long.

However, when he first started, he arrived early because he was concerned about getting lost.

“The first time I went to Lansdowne I drove right by the high school,” Brian said. “Then to find a place to turn around you have to go a couple miles. It’s not like driving a car.”

His bus is 35 feet long and weighs over 12 tons. “It’s a very nice bus, with good equipment,” Brian said. There’s power steering, cruise control and a powerful braking system “There are seven very large mirrors so you can not only see behind the bus, in front of the bus, the sides of the bus as well the full interior,” Brian said.

There’s also a PA system. “So, you can tell your passengers to quiet down or not eat on the bus,” Brian said.

He starts the day on the beltway going up to a local high school and transports those students to a magnet school. Then he picks up another group there and transports them to a technical high school.

After the initial “shuttle bus” runs, he begins transporting kids from their neighborhood stops to a middle school and then he delivers children to two separate elementary schools. “Those little kids are so adorable,” Brian said.

He’s back home by 9:30 a.m. and then starts afternoon pick up by reporting back to the bus lot at 1:45 p.m. for his first pick up at 2:20 p.m. Then he’s back at the lot at 4:30 p.m., cleans the bus, completes some paperwork and heads home.

In between his morning and afternoon runs, Brian runs errands and takes care of doctor’s appointments. He also makes sure to walk his dog. “He needs it and so do I,” Brian said.

“I was pleased with my assignment because I know this area very well,” Brian said.

Now that he’s finished his first year, he’s ready to go back for a second year. This summer he volunteered to drive for a local summer camp. He said it’s much different than driving during the school year. One big difference is that during the summer there are counselors on the bus that help with bus management. During the school year, Brian is not only responsible for driving, but also for maintaining discipline on the bus.

Health Care

At 71, Brian has no issues with health care. He is not only covered by Medicare, but also has great supplemental insurance from his previous employer, Bloomberg.

But that doesn’t mean that Brian has been taking his health for granted. Driving the bus has made Brian much more aware of his health. Commercial drivers must pass a Department of Transportation annual physical. There are rigorous standards that drivers have to meet.

For example, if a driver’s neck measurement is more than 17 inches, he/she must be tested for possible sleep apnea. If you have sleep apnea then you have to get on a CPAP machine.

Knowing that his neck was larger than that, Brian decided it was time to lose weight and get in better shape. He has lost approximately 50 pounds through intermittent fasting and maintaining a low carb diet. He’s also become more active and is riding his bike to work. “My A1C went down from 7.3 to 5.4,” Brian said.

His bike riding has the added benefit of saving on gas and allowing he and his wife to become a one car family.

Outside work

Brian and his wife Dottie are enjoying spending time together and she has even started working at the bus company as well. She isn’t a driver, but instead works in the front office doing contract work. However, they have always worked at the same company Dottie worked for Bloomberg as well as Bill’s music.

Brian has not given up on his music. Brian practices at least an hour a day. He plays with the band Blues State who has local gigs and also performs at the Catonsville Sunday Farmer’s Market with Marcus Austin.

Future

Brian has found that he really likes driving. “I love it. I wish I had started doing it sooner.”

“I’ll probably drive for the next ten years,” Brian said. However, he may not keep up his current rigorous schedule for that long. The bus company also has options for drivers to choose daily charter trips to offer more flexibility.  “Working just makes me feel better,” Brian said.

If you know someone you think would make a good subject for my 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.

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.

A Few Quick Thoughts on Memorial Day

Today we celebrate Memorial Day for those who lost their lives in battle. Like many of you, I will be spending this day with friends. I am lucky enough to have the day off work.

I have many family members who have served in the military. Fortunately, none of them lost their lives in battle. Still, it’s important to just take a moment out of this day to say thank you to those who did. Not only to the service men and women who gave their lives, but also to their families who lost a part of themselves on the battlefield.

Photo by Sawyer Sutton on Pexels.com

So today, raise a glass to all the brave men and women of the past. Thank them for their sacrifice and make sure to live a life every day that is worthy of that sacrifice.

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!”

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