Last Easter with the family for awhile…

Family life is often filled with traditions, the traditions we created for our children when they were young, that we adapted as they matured and those that we’ve rekindled for their children, our six grandchildren, years later. 

The comfort and familiarity of reenacting holiday traditions, each year filled Tom and me with guarded anticipation. Over these past years, we have come to accept, although at times painfully so, that our adult children have the right to build their own traditions that may at times, not include us.  

We recall the struggle and oftentimes, the guilt we felt when the first Christmas morning came when we chose to stay home as opposed to going to our parents’ homes. We wanted to savor Santa’s bounty with our own children, their eyes wide with delight as they anxiously ripped open package after package, them in their cartoon character pajamas, us with big coffee mugs warming our hands, all with the ease and comfort of spending this special time cozy at home.

And now, as their families have grown, their own traditions firmly rooted in their lives, in their own homes, we especially find ourselves reeling with the anticipation of all of them breaking away to spend special time with us once again, this Easter Sunday.

Practically dancing on my tiptoes, around our ten-foot-long dining room table, my arms were laden with gifts of every variety, candies carefully selected for special diets and preferences, I gleefully fill the 17 Easter baskets (including four pet baskets). I swap out one Thomas toy train for a Transformer truck from one basket to another, stepping back, visualizing the correctness of my decision, and smile. Each year, we always say, “this is the best year yet.” And it is.

Oh, good grief! I’d better improve my photo taking skills before we leave!

The meaning of Easter is not lost on our abundance of baskets, the colored eggs, the homemade bunny rabbit cake, the carefully planned and executed brunch, and of course, the painstakingly thought out game and Easter egg hunt. No, it’s not lost. It’s for forgiveness. It’s for thankfulness and, most of all, it’s for love.

This year is no different, the traditions are all here, the pile of fuzzy bunny rabbit ears everyone will place on their heads when they enter the door, the laughter over the rambunctious silly games, the glee in the voices of the little ones when they discover yet another plastic egg filled with candy, a small toy or a dollar bill.  It’s all the same. It’s all predictable. Laughter fills the air. It’s all heartwarming.

Tom and I will look at each other from across the room, our faces hurting from too much smiling, our eyes glistening with too many tears, as we enjoyed this last Easter tradition, knowing full well that we and they, will be building new traditions in the time to come.

 

Missing…

Last Saturday as I was getting ready to head out the door to a family member’s baby shower, Tom said, “Move slowly and look out the window to your right.”

As usual and to our delight, there was one of Mother Nature’s delectable morsels in our yard. I moved gingerly toward the window to my right. 

A wild turkey lumbered around the stone patio with eyes darting fervently for a possible intruder. As I moved to grab my phone’s camera, which proved to be too quickly, he spotted me and scurried away. A wave of sadness came over me, not over missing the shot, but after missing the frequent sightings of God’s precious creatures, abundant here in Minnesota, abundant here on the lake.
I will miss the coyotes, their grace, their piercing eyes, their hunger for the little dogs here at the point, along with the caution we’ve exercised all these years to avert their consumption of own little wonders. I will miss the eagle that swooped into our yard to settle high up on a favorite tree, the glaring stance, the perfectly poised talons, easily able to grab a fifteen-pound unsuspecting furry pet in seconds.
Early spring this year, the loons appeared. With their pointy beaks, banded throats, and musical calls they flirt with one another primping for the prospect of little chicks yet to come, who will somehow know that shyness is quite appropriate in this land of predators and humans. I will miss that sound.

We will miss the adventure of the one-day event of baby wood ducks being mercilessly tossed from the wood duck house by their parents, hoping they’ll survive the long fluttery jump to the ground, the short trek to the water.
They scurry about the yard frantically, unsure of which way to go, a few wanderers ending near the house, only to be coached along with us humans, careful not to touch and leave our scent. The cheep, cheep, cheep of the fluffy little puff balls will be hard to forget in the days to come.  

The heron, so playfully referred to as “Big Bird” by my husband, to our long lost WorldWideWillie who enthusiastically ran to the end of the dock to chase this leggy character, unfazed by its disgruntled roar as it flew away. With the utmost curiosity, he’d sniff its remains. I will miss “Big Bird.”  

Of course, I will continue to miss Willie. No longer will we be able to stand by his little grave marker in the yard. Willie inspired me to write my first blog, a blog that will end on April 9, 2012, the one year anniversary of the day he died. Each night after writing that blog, I’d read aloud the day’s writings to Tom holding back the tears. 

It’s sad and ironic that when losing a beloved pet, we not only cry for the loss of their companionship, we cry for the loss of their peculiar habits, their tricks, their ticks, their characteristics, and their rituals all of which bring us humor, familiarity, and comfort.  

And sometimes, when we cry for the loss of our pet, we cry for all the losses of our lives at the same time; the loss of people, the loss of relationships, the loss of meaningful work, the loss of success, the loss of hope, the loss of health and the loss of a dream, whatever that dream may be.

Yes, we will miss Mother Nature’s gifts here in Minnesota, but the nice thing about her is, she goes wherever we go, even if we only stop for only a moment to we breathe in the fresh air, to look and to listen. She will be there. 

Ouch!…Plunge, twist and release…

After two hours of being terrified at the prospect of contracting one of many horrifying diseases throughout the world, I left the Park Nicollet Travel Immunization Clinic with my head swimming. WHAT ARE WE DOING????

If we don’t die from the side effects of the Yellow Fever or Typhoid shots, we might die from one of the many diseases for which there is no immunization or treatment! Why tell me, overly efficient, profoundly knowledgeable, delightfully warm Travel Nurse Marcia, who hugged me when I left, that we could die?  

On information overload and losing my competency to make reasonable decisions, I agreed to our taking $10 a day malaria pills (fewer side effects) that we’ll need to take for eight-plus months, $700 rabies shots, $80 for tuberculosis tests, and also, an array of 10 or more other vaccines that will total in the $1000’s. We sure hope the insurance company will pay for these. I hadn’t budgeted $300 a month for malaria pills!

I felt as if I were buying a car from a persuasive, albeit highly competent “salesperson” who was trying to sell me safety features that invoked so much guilt that I couldn’t resist buying. I signed up for everything. Oh, I did hesitate on one thing, flu shots. Why would we need flu shots that are derived from viruses only prevalent in the US? Go figure! What if we went out to dinner with an American couple we meet on a cruise ship who currently has the flu? We signed up for that too!  

The dreaded Yellow Fever shot will be on May 1. I am terrified. Four people died from the vaccine alone (OK, four deaths of out one million, not quite a high risk). I said to Travel Nurse Marcia, trying to reassure myself, “Those four people could have died that day anyway, right?” She reassuringly nodded her head. On May 1, please pray for me. Later, for Tom.

Tom has yet to go to his two-hour appointment. I suggested that Travel Nurse Marcia not tell Tom everything she told me for three reasons: 1. He gets bored listening to medical stuff. 2. He’ll pretend to be listening when he isn’t. 3. He’ll refuse the shots and tell her to take a hike.   

Oh good grief, I can picture my dear husband, sick with some dreadful disease, ensconced inside a mosquito net, with me at his side, frantically trying to nurse him back to health. Sounds like a scene in a movie! No, thank you. PLEASE my dear handsome, charming, funny, adorable, “best husband in-the-world,” agree to get your shots, take your $5 pills with food and SHUT UP about it!

So, lovely Travel Nurse Marcia left the room after handing me my stack of 100 CDC documents to read, moments later returning with a tray loaded up with four, that’s right four, giant syringes on a sterilized stainless steel tray. She gently set the tray down on the counter, leaving the room again. I stared at the tray, my heart pounding so hard, I could hear it in my head. Minutes later, she returned instructing me to get up on the exam table.  

The rest is a blur, rolling up my sleeves, taking a deep breath, feeling the brutal violation of my pale winter skin while each of four syringes plunges deep into the tender flesh of my upper arms. OUCH!!! It felt as if she “plunged, twisted, and released” those horse-sized syringes. Then,  it was over, for now at least. I waited for something to happen. Nothing happened.

After sleeping fitfully all night, unable to lay on either side. My arms hurt as anticipated from the warning by Travel Nurse Marcia. After two huge cups of coffee this morning I’m back to my “old” self, dressed in workout clothes, off to the gym and then to the bank to transfer the 25% deposit in 1481 francs (today’s going rate, which is about $300 US dollars) to the owner of the charming “Stone House” in Cajarc, France for one month beginning April 18, 2014 (yes, 2 years from now). Nothing like planning ahead!

BTW, the itinerary will follow later today. 

 

 

The final criteria, lots more to follow…

Here we go! We’re wrapping up the all-important criteria today, allowing us to proceed to the equally important itinerary in the next post. As I mentioned earlier, listing these vital “rules” again and again is certainly tedious. 

Seeing them over and over, reading them aloud to Tom each time I write, is exactly what we’ve needed to be reminded of the importance of following these guidelines. Without them, the temptation to book expensive vacation rentals, overpriced cruises, and the occasional exorbitant hotel rooms would throw our financial plan out of whack.  

The goal of avoiding the necessity of tapping into our savings or investments is a huge motivator. Fear, the infinite motivator. Fear, being forced to stop this adventure due to financial constraints. Fear, canceling future travel due to health issues. Fear, the caves with the bats, the guano. Fear, the zip line.

Friends and family have asked, “What happens if you get bored?” We didn’t get bored living in our home together for the past 21 years, in the comfy chairs, enjoying lounging in a lawn chair in the summer, eating homemade meals, watching episodes of our favorite TV shows, chatting, laughing, and socializing.  

They also ask, “What if you get tired of traveling?” We’ll stop. We’ll cancel future plans, maybe lose a deposit or two but we’ll stop. We’ve agreed that if one of us wants to stop, the other will agree. Knowing this, comforts us. Knowing this, removes the fear. 

So, the remaining criteria:

Criteria #7:  Never stay in a vacation rental for less than one month. The rationale behind this rule is simple. Staying in one location not only reduces transportation expenses, but provides us with the opportunity to negotiate better rates when staying a month or more.  

Many of the property owners allow a stay of as little as three or four days, requiring added paperwork, liability, and cleaning. Their piece of mind is a substantial motivator for them to accept a lower rent for their property. As each month’s stay is extended in the negotiations, the price goes down proportionately. This will be illustrated by the rental amounts we will post with the itinerary.

Criteria #8:  No trinkets!  As tempting as “bargains,” “souvenirs” and local “handicrafts” appeal to us during our travels, we will resist the temptation. The cost of excess baggage along with the horror of hauling some heavy wooden objects all over the world is preposterous!

We will make a list of the items we encounter that tempt us. Once we settle someday, we will easily be able to find similar items online or in some cases, purchase them from the actual vendor’s web site. Often these tempting artifacts can be found for half the price on eBay, from sellers who found they were tempted during their travels. Most often, when we look back at such a wish list at a later date, we’ll find that we have lost interest anyway.

Criteria #9:  The availability of Internet/cellphone access with us at all times. This was a tough one. I’ve spent no less than an entire week researching various options. We now have discovered solutions (of course, subject to technology changes over the next several months). For Internet access, 24/7, in our rental, on the road, and part-time on cruises, we’ll use MiFi Rental with XCom Global. In a future post, I will write about the cost and how this works.  

As for cellphone service, we will be buying an Unlocked International cell phone into which we can purchase and install a local SIM card using the available local network (which is what most cell phone users in many countries use for service). SIM cards result in considerably lower rates, all without the use of a contract. Here again, I will write an entire post on this subject.

Criteria #10:  Cook and eat in! Due to health concerns we live a low carb, wheat-free, starch-free, grain-free, sugar-free, and gluten-free lifestyle. Occasionally Tom will indulge along the way! He won’t be able to resist pasta in Italy or a baguette in France. But, for me, my ongoing health from this way of eating it a huge motivator. Cooking and eating in the kitchen of our vacation rental will save us $1000’s along the way.  

We currently spend about $800 a month on food (all organic produce with grass-fed meat, free-range poultry, and eggs, organic dairy). This may sound like a huge sum for two people, but that totals only $26.67 a day. After considerable research, we feel confident that we’ll be able to maintain this budget and our food requirements. I currently pack 3 meals a day for Tom’s long 12 hour workdays.

We could never eat two to three meals a day in a restaurant in any of the countries we are visiting for a mere $26.67 for both of us! We have budgeted the cost of enjoying a dinner out in a nice restaurant, once or twice a week depending upon local prices.  

That one dinner a week may cost $25 in Belize including tax and tip, but could be $125 in Tuscany, resulting in an expenditure of $6500 a year, enough to pay for a vacation rental for 4.3 months or 8.6 months, if eating out twice a week. It’s a matter of trade-offs.  

I don’t think we’ll mind grilling a steak on the veranda in Majorca, Spain while overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

In review, here is a complete list of all the criteria:

Criteria #1: Do not have a permanent home!
Criteria #2: Do not own cars!
Criteria #3: Do not stay in hotels unless absolutely necessary!
Criteria #4: Do not pay more than that which we were willing to pay for rent in our chosen retirement community!
Criteria #5: Use the cruise!
Criteria #6: Bag the excess baggage!
Criteria #7: Never stay in a vacation rental for less than one month!
Criteria #8: No trinkets!
Criteria #9: The availability of Internet/cellphone access with us, at all times!
Criteria#10: Cook and eat in!

Sure, all of the above is subject to change. We don’t know what we don’t know. It’s a work in progress. By the time we are ready to leave in seven months and ten days, we may laugh or even cringe at what we “thought” we knew and posted here, this early in the process. In any case, we learn as we go, on a perpetual mission of gaining knowledge, reducing fear, and ultimately, having the time of our lives.  

Our strict critera…

At the end of my last entry, I promised to explain the strict criteria we have established to ensure the financial goal of our world travel: Our total travel expenses would not exceed the expenses we would have incurred to live in a $1500 a month condo in Arizona or any tax-free state such as Florida or Nevada.  Using an Excel spreadsheet we listed the normal expenses we would experience in our new retirement lifestyle, entitled “Basic Living Expenses”  

  1. Rent or mortgage payment: include association dues, if applicable
  2. Taxes: federal, state and property, if applicable
  3. Groceries: to include specialty items for our restrictive organic, gluten-free, low carbohydrate, sugar-free, wheat, and grain-free way of eating. All meals are homemade (no processed foods) utilizing grass-fed meat with organic produce, dairy, and eggs.
  4. Auto expenses: payment for a newer vehicle still under warranty, gas, maintenance, insurance
  5. Health: insurance premiums, co-pays, prescriptions, dental, vision, health club dues, alternative therapies, and supplements
  6. Other insurance
  7. Cable and Internet: including a few premium channels (we love Dexter, Homeland, Boardwalk Empire and Shameless)
  8. Cellphones: a smartphone with unlimited data
  9. Utilities: gas, electric, water, trash 
  10. Entertainment and dining out (carefully limited)
  11. Clothing, personal effects, toiletries, and grooming (all items discounted and purchased at the best possible price)
  12. Gifts: for family members/friends for birthdays/holidays, greeting cards, postage
  13. Publications: magazines, newspapers, online subscriptions
  14. Miscellaneous: occasional purchase or replacement of household goods, donations, cash for incidentals
  15. Pet care: food, treats, toys, groomer and vet (no pet now since we lost our WorldWideWillie last April) but we would have a new dog if we settled into a retirement lifestyle
  16. Banking fees; interest on credit cards, if applicable; 
  17. Savings
Upon keeping our costs as low as possible, in an effort to live a relatively conservative retirement lifestyle we had a total. Thus…

Criteria #1:  Do not have a permanent home!
With these numbers in mind, we created the next worksheet in our Excel workbook, entitled “Fixed Living Expenses” which were those we’d incur if we traveled but didn’t have a permanent home. Although we are not accountants nor possess a degree as such, we labeled the tabs that we felt best represented the analysis we chose to perform. These were expenses we’d have whether we were on a cruise, temporarily living in Spain, or on a safari in Africa that didn’t include travel expenses.
  1. Taxes: federal, state and property, if applicable
  2. Groceries: to include specialty items for our restrictive organic, gluten-free, low carbohydrate, sugar-free, wheat, and grain-free way of eating. All meals are homemade (no processed foods) utilizing grass-fed meat and poultry with organic produce, dairy, and eggs.
  3. Health: insurance premiums, co-pays, prescriptions, dental, vision, supplements 
  4. Other insurance 
  5. A cellphone (one between us):
  6. Clothing, personal effects, toiletries, and grooming (all items discounted and purchased at the best possible price)
  7. Gifts: for family members/friends for birthdays/holidays, postage
  8. Banking fees: interest on credit cards, if applicable
  9. Savings
Criteria #2:   Do not own cars!  (And resulting payments, depreciation, storage, insurance, gas and maintenance)

We will sell both of our cars before we step foot out of this country, instead of renting a car if necessary. While calculating our auto expense, considering the two payments, insurance, gas and maintenance, the total was $1523 per month, which more than covers all of our upcoming flights, trains, ferries, taxis and rental cars (three of our credit cards provide free rental car insurance when the card is used for the rental car charges)!
Then we took the “Fixed Living Expenses” and created an “Average Daily Expense” which, no matter our travel expenses or living arrangements, would always be relevant numbers in our financial planning.

Criteria #3:   Do not stay in hotels other than the short term! How is it possible to travel without staying in hotels? Sleep in a tent? Hardly! Rent an RV? Too expensive! Mooch off people you may know that live in exotic places? Never! Staying in a hotel requires the expense of meals in restaurants, tips, city, county, state and local taxes, outrageously priced cocktails and beverages, and of course, and the tempting “tourist trap” shops and services. 

Simple answer: Only stay in houses, condos, townhouses, villas, apartments, and other such property owned, but not currently occupied, by private parties. Property owners are often anxious to rent their own homes and rental properties at reasonable rates knowing full well that the distraught economy and worldwide strife has tempered world travel. We have found that we prefer to rent houses and villas as opposed to apartments, which are often noisy and offer fewer amenities.
Criteria #4:  Do not pay more than what we were willing to pay for rent in our chosen retirement community!   The above described $1500 month was the magic number that fit into our predetermined budget. How is this possible? Only $1500 a month for a house? Yes, the gorgeous 17th century, totally renovated villa in Tuscany, Italy is $1400 month! Yes, the amazing little beach house in Placencia, Belize is $1250 a month! Yes, the charming house in the Kruger National Park in South Africa, surrounded by the free-roaming wildlife is $1387 a month! We will share more about these astounding rentals as we continue here.
There is so much more to share, including the remaining Criteria, how to calculate total expenses, why we have booked five cruises thus far with two more waiting to be posted. How and why we have booked ahead 571 days from this coming Halloween, Tom’s retirement date. How we will experience the first 10 months of our adventure without ever stepping foot onto an airplane? 

Certainly, we have a “to-do” list that is daunting. Certainly, there is a degree of risk. Certainly, there is some blind faith that we are going to enjoy our new lives, free from all the familiar comforts that we have reveled in all these years. And most certainly, our love and devotion to one another will see us through all the challenges we encounter along the way.  

We have mutually agreed that if at any time, one of us is tired, bored, or tired of being on the move, we will stop and find “home’ wherever that we may be.