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So what do you do all day?

April 3rd, 2012 at 02:43 am

Yikes! Has it really been 3 months since I last posted? I am alive and well living happily ever after in retirement. 2012 is the first year we've had only one house to deal with, so our life has gotten simpler (and cheaper). It was a good financial move to sell the CA condo last fall. A question that sometimes comes up from family and friends who work: What do you do all day? Well, we manage to keep busy, and at times busier than when we worked.

My volunteer time with the American Red Cross has been a rewarding experience so far. In between travel, I am on-call as a member of the Disaster Assessment Team. Dh is also a volunteer and sometimes goes with me on calls. In the last month I've had 7 calls, all of them in response to house fires in my city and some neighboring cities. I'm getting to know other volunteers and making new friends, another benefit of belonging to this group.

More and more, we're adapting to the colder climate and enjoying spending more time in this beautiful part of the country. But now when the weather gets TOO cold, since we can no longer escape to CA, we plan getaway trips to warmer areas. We're still not ready to be snowbirds in one particular place so we've been migrating all over the globe. January and February took us to Florida and Caribbean for about a month, an experience that was mostly good.

Our trip included a two-week cruise on the Crown Princess, the ship that made the news because over 500 passengers and crew got sick with norovirus. We thought we'd escaped the epidemic but dh and I both got sick the day we disembarked. We were sick enough to visit the ER and we spent the good part of a week recuperating at our timeshare condo. So the last week was not so good, but the other weeks were wonderful. We've taken many cruises and this was the first bad experience, so we're taking a break from cruising for a while but not for good.

The weather at home has been nice enough that I've worked in the garden a few days. I won't plant my annuals until mid-May, but the perennials are starting to sprout and in need of thinning and pruning. We're having the exterior of our house painted and it will happen this week if the weather cooperates. It's been a fairly mild winter but with some strange weather. One day it's in the 70s... the next day it may snow. If the painting doesn't happen this week, it will have to wait until mid-May when we return from our next trip.

Next week we'll leave for Guatemala, where we'll spend about a month. We'll start with a ten-day Caravan.com tour that begins in Guatemala City but we are going a few days in advance. We think Caravan's prices are reasonable and we enjoyed the Costa Rica tour we took with them last year. After the tour we'll be in Antigua with friends and end with a week at a hotel/resort, also in Antigua. We will visit the schools where we used to train our SJSU student teachers and spend time with students we are sponsoring. We have planned a side trip to the Mayan ruins in Copan, Honduras, during the latter part of the trip.

The only thing I can share related to saving money is I got a very good deal on our tickets to Guatemala. We are flying first class for about $100 less than the price of an economy class ticket. I did it by using award miles combined with purchased miles to complete the transaction. Also, we are staying at a lovely resort in Antigua for only $159 a week by booking it through our timeshare exchange program.

I do have one financial goal for 2012 that supports my philosophy of giving. This year I would like to make my contributions through a donor-advised charitable fund. So far, I am leaning toward the Schwab Charitable Fund. My plan is to use appreciated stock to establish the fund and use future contributions to support my non-profits of choice. I want to proceed in the most-cost effective and tax-friendly manner. A charitable fund seems simpler than establishing a foundation that involves lots of paperwork and requires management.

Well, I haven't been blogging much because our financial life is really pretty boring these days. I guess it's better than having drama related to money (or lack of). The years of focused planning and saving have paid off in terms of providing a comfortable and secure retirement, and for that I am grateful. We planned for the future and now we are living it. Life is good.

Happy Easter to all! I took this picture of lilies at our hotel last time we were in Guatemala.

For kids who have it all...

December 25th, 2011 at 02:07 am

...and even for those who do not, a donation to a non-profit organization may be the perfect gift. This year I gave my grandniece and two grandnephews a symbolic adoption of an endangered animal. World Wildlife Fund offers adoptions of 100 different species. The recipient gets an adoption certificate and a 12" plush animal in a gift box. I like this idea because the kids are young enough to still enjoy a tangible gift to open but old enough to understand that they are helping a cause.

For the grownups in the family, I will make donations in their name as we have done for the past few years. Favorite charities are American Red Cross, Kiva, Heifer International, Habitat for Humanity, the Idaho Humane Society, Second Harvest Food Bank, and Idaho Horse Rescue. Family members are on board with this plan, it makes Christmas shopping easier, plus I get a tax deduction... so it's win-win.

Wishing everyone at SA a very Merry Christmas! May you make memories with those you love.

Thinking About Disasters

August 21st, 2011 at 01:55 pm

When dh and I moved to ID in May 2010 we applied and were accepted as Red Cross volunteers. We completed the required training and are now members of the Disaster Action Team (DAT). We are on call several weeks during year, with the dates aligned to fit our travel schedule. This week, even though we are not on call, we were asked to assist with emergency services in two local communities after house fires. It seems the people "on call" were not available but fortunately we were able to step in.

After an emergency, such as a fire or flood, the Red Cross typically provides 3 nights in a hotel for the displaced family, plus money for clothes/shoes and food allowance for a week. It's not a huge sum, but for families that have lost everything, it makes a difference and is much appreciated. The Red Cross also helps procure medication lost in the fire and puts families in touch with community-based resources to help them rebuild their lives (e.g., counseling, housing, etc.). The Red Cross aid must be requested within three days of the incident.

The cause of one fire was electrical and the other was accidentally started while filling a gas generator in the garage. In both cases, the homes were destroyed and 11 people were left homeless. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured but the experience made me think about the importance of having:

~ an emergency evacuation plan for the family;
~ a plan for temporary/emergency shelter for family pets (one family had two 100 lb. dogs and no hotel was willing to take them);
~ a list of medications for everyone in the household;
~ a list of important phone numbers such as insurance, credit cards, etc. (I periodically email my list to myself so I can access it from anywhere).

"30 in 30" Update

January 15th, 2010 at 06:50 pm

Thanks to Fern, I joined the January "Purge 30 in 30" challenge. I am pleased to report I have exceeded my goal, but decided not to keep track of the points because there are already many far ahead of me. But nonetheless, the "contest" motivated me and has been very productive.

At our Idaho home:
~ Sold 7 books to Hastings for store credit ($32. 47);
~ Donated 31 books to the library.

At our CA home:
~ Donated two blankets and a jacket to a drive at a local school;
~ Donated a box of household items to Goodwill (mugs, vases, frames, and 2 small throw rugs);
~ "Donated" a wool pantsuit, 2 sweaters, vest, and 3 blouses to a friend (good work clothes);
~ Donated a box of office supplies, a printer, and two file cabinets to some of dh's former colleagues (he just retired and these were items in his work office not supplied by the university);
~ Donated at least 88 professional books to dh's colleagues and his niece.

Yay for us!

Great, Easy Christmas Gifts

December 1st, 2009 at 02:44 pm

This is probably one of the easiest years for my Christmas shopping. By mutual agreement, adult family that we exchange with wanted an honorary donation to their favorite charity in lieu of a gift. So, early this morning I made donations to:

~ Habitat for Humanity
~ Second Harvest Food Bank
~ Heifer International
~ Susan Koman for the Cure

Not only are we helping others, we can deduct these donations on our taxes. And because I used my CC, it will generate miles. These charges will be paid in full when the bill comes, so we are not creating debt.

The only exceptions are my grandniece (10) and grandnephews (6 and 11 months). I completed their shopping a few weeks ago, but it was easy to buy just for three. I do give gifts to the lady who cleans our house and my pet sitter, but their gifts are easy, too: a large box of Sees candy and money (a nice tip). So, yipee... I am done and it is only December 1!!

Fashion for a Good Cause

November 14th, 2009 at 11:07 pm

Today I enjoyed going to the American Girl Fashion Show, a benefit for the Lucille Packard Children's Hospital. This is the third year I've attended this special event, always as the guest of my niece who is one of the volunteers.

My 10 year-old grandniece also participated as a model... this year her costume was Felicity, a girl who grew up during the American Revolution. It's refreshing to see these adorable little girls modeling the attire of various historical periods. They looked very happy and wholesome, the way little girls should, and it was a good experience for them to learn about the daily lives of girls during different eras of American history.

My grandniece is the cutie on the right.

Countdown to Guatemala

May 20th, 2009 at 03:20 pm

The day after tomorrow, Friday, we leave with our 18 students who will be student teaching in Antigua. I am going as a volunteer instructor. And there is still much to be done:

~ TC will be living with a friend who has taken care of her before, so I have to pack her things: big tub of kibble, her Fancy Feast, new litter pan and scoop, litter, and her favorite toys... it brings back memories of the days when I used to cart around my babies and all their gear.

~ Put mail and newspaper on hold (can be done online), deep water all my house and patio plants, go to bank, return books to library, pay or schedule any bills that will be due while we're gone.

~ Take the new printer we are donating (to a Guatemalan school) to the kind student who agreed to haul it as his second "suitcase" since he's traveling light.

~ Figure out the best way to pack supplies we bought for our students and still stay within weight limits: printer ink, white board markers, tape, children's books, paper, Purell hand sanitizer, first aid kit, and OTC meds for common ailments (e.g., Pepto Bismol, Imodium, Tylenol, NyQuil, etc.).

~ Buy and pack the food and snacks we are taking: Trio bars, raw almonds, dried blueberries for cereal, and canned chicken.

~ Clean out the refrigerator... eat leftovers or give away any good stuff that won't last three weeks.

~ Oh yeah, finish packing my clothes and personal belongings!

Some students changed their flight plans to avoid stopovers in Mexico but most are still proceeding with the original itinerary to fly through Mexico City. The original flight was cheaper ($415 vs $595), but some felt it was worth paying extra to not have that additional worry. Dh and I are in that group.

Since dh and I canceled our original flight with Mexicana, we will have to pay a $100 change fee to use the ticket within a year. The university will reimburse us for our flight to Guatemala, but we are out the cost of the first ticket plus the change fee. So now we are motivated to use it to fly somewhere we've never been before the "use it or lose it" deadline. Well, I've much to do, so I'd best get to it... but I'll stay in touch, time and technology permitting.

An Adventure on the Horizon

March 9th, 2009 at 04:00 pm

Well, it's finalized... when the semester ends in May, dh will take 16 graduate students to teach in Guatemala for about a month. He has done this for the last five years, and now that I'm retired, I'll be going as a volunteer instructor. This will be a special trip because it's dh's last one in this capacity. He will retire in June and pass the baton to another faculty member. I'll help supervise student teachers in exchange for the experience working and living in a foreign country, even though it's just for a short while. Although I won't be paid a salary, my airfare and housing will be covered through the project.

Our university students will have the opportunity of teaching in diverse bilingual schools and Guatemalan students will benefit from lessons taught by native speakers of English. The program continues to be very popular with our university students, despite the economic chaos that's deeply hurt higher education. Students must pay their tuition, airfare, housing, transportation, and meals. So, dh strives to make the trip as affordable as possible by negotiating group rates with the posada (hotel) and the transport company we contract with.

For example, housing will be $20 per night per person for a double occupancy room with a bath. The posada is clean, secure, but very Spartan. The rooms do not have phones or TV, but happily, we will have wireless Internet. The transportation fee of $250 per person includes airport transfers to and from Guatemala City to Antigua, two weekend sightseeing trips (to Lake Atitlan and Copan), and daily transportation to and from the schools. And, for less then $2, one can take a tuk-tuk to anywhere in Antigua.

Most of us will prepare at least some meals in one of the posada's two kitchens so this will save money. A great variety of fresh produce is available at the outdoor market and there is a supermarket for other items. However, if I don't feel like cooking after a long workday, dh knows several good, inexpensive restaurants that serve typical dishes for under $5. So that might be the plan for some of our dinners.

While I hope this will be a memorable and exciting experience, dh has been reminding me it is NOT a vacation. We will be working daily from 8:00 to 4:00 and then hold some evening meetings with our university students. Yet, I look forward to the adventure although I may need a vacation when it is over!

This is a street scene in Antigua, the former capital of Guatemala. In 1979 Antigua was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Kiva Translations

February 8th, 2009 at 05:49 am

Today I completed four more translations for Kiva, and this makes 11 that I've done since the start of the year. I'm finding that I really love doing this work... It helps keep my Spanish skills fresh, but more importantly, I am touched and inspired by the stories of people who want to improve their lives through hard work.

Through Kiva, we can lend money to the working poor throughout the world and promote their economic independence. I've decided to add a line item on my monthly budget for Kiva, instead of just lending or donating from time to time. It's not a lot, maybe the cost of a lunch out, but it will make a difference for someone who just needs a chance.

Network for Good

January 12th, 2009 at 03:20 pm

For Christmas dh and I asked our family to donate to our favorite local food bank in lieu of getting us a gift. My DDs, nephew, and my niece donated to the food bank via Network for Good rather than through the food bank's own website. I found out about NFG when I received emails about donations made in our honor.

I've had a chance to explore the NFG website and I am so impressed that I decided to share. Network for Good allows donors to access THOUSANDS of non-profit organizations/charities across the USA or to explore volunteer opportunities. It provides research and profiles about the charities, tax tips and resources, and much more. I even found Kiva Microfunds, one of my favorite non-profits that I support as a donor/lender and a volunteer.

A Special Kind of Christmas Gift

December 6th, 2008 at 07:04 pm

When I worked, my school sponsored an annual holiday food drive and we filled many barrels with food for the needy. My students and their families donated generously, even though most had financial struggles of their own. Our efforts were recognized with awards and accolades, but to me the best reward was seeing the kindness and caring that this effort generated. Now that I'm retired, I do miss this event.

The local paper has been reporting that more than in past years, there is a severe shortage of food being donated to the local food banks. Understandably, the recession is a factor. Many people are challenged to put food on their own table and donating food, no matter how good the cause, is not an option for them right now.

So, this year DH and I agreed we would tell our close family, the ones we exchange gifts with (children, my sister and BIL, niece, nephew), that what we want for Christmas is for them to make a donation in our name to one of our favorite charities, the local food bank. We do not want to know the amount of the donation, just that one has been made.

Well, we've communicated our wishes, and everyone is on board... a few reluctantly because they wanted to get us "something." But I think everyone will follow-through. I love the idea for several reasons. First of all, we are helping others who are less fortunate. Secondly, no one will have to worry about what to get us. And last of all, DH and I are still working on simplifying our lives and really don't need any more "stuff" cluttering our small home.

It's Official

December 1st, 2008 at 03:59 pm

Kiva contacted me to confirm I have been accepted as a member of their translating team. I applied a few months ago, had to submit my resume and take a translating test (I passed). So, it's official... I am now part of the Kiva translating team, and I will work about 3-5 hours a week on the batches they send me. This is very doable and I have the option to decline an assignment if I am unable to meet the deadline (e.g., due to travel).

Before retiring, I spoke Spanish daily... 75% of my students and their families were Spanish-speakers, so it was a necessity. I also frequently translated newsletters and notices that were sent home with my students. Now, I only occasionally speak Spanish. By translating I will continue to use my skills and perhaps even expand them. Use it or lose it. Plus, it's great to be able to do volunteer work without leaving home, especially for a cause I believe in. Volunteering for Kiva is one of my 2009 goals, so I'm off to a good start.

The Week in Retrospect

November 7th, 2008 at 07:30 pm

What a week it's been, especially on the historical front. The election is finally over, and the promise of change for a better America lingers. My wish for President Obama is that he will have the wisdom and the support necessary to lead our nation with distinction in the coming years. Obama's been called a transformational leader, and as such he has the power to make fundamental changes for the better. No one can argue he has inherited a clean up job of unprecedented proportion.

The stock market is back on its erratic track and most of us do not even want to check our accounts... it's too ugly. But life goes on, and the economy will recover, although not likely any time soon. To better monitor my 403b, IRA, and 457 retirement accounts, this week I set up a new spreadsheet that I'm very happy with. It projects growth based on guaranteed values until age 70 1/2, when I have to begin RMD. My 457 Plan administrator came to my house yesterday and we discussed the terms of the account. It's keyed to the S&P and guarantees a whopping 1.95% on 90% of the balance. This is better than the 0% I thought I was getting. We will make some changes in January after the annual interest is posted.

The week has been mostly very quiet and relaxing... I feel as if I'm on vacation. On Monday afternoon, I taught my seminar which I conduct every other Monday. It focuses on topics relevant to the student teachers I supervise and who are required to attend. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday (and possibly today) were NSDs and NDDs that I thoroughly enjoyed. One of the delights of being retired is having the freedom to enjoy leisurely days without a set agenda.

The weather has been getting colder and the leaves on most of the deciduous trees in the neighborhood have turned beautiful shades of gold and orange. I've been able to go on daily walks that have been good for my health and just plain fun. So far, DH and I have not turned on the heat but it's cold enough that we need to bundle up with sweaters in the morning. It has gotten as cold as 49 degrees at night, but our home is well-insulated and cozy. Our goal is to hold off turning on the heat until Thanksgiving.

I've had a chance to catch up on some projects I put on the back burner this summer. I pulled out my sewing machine and finished several "dish towel" aprons that I will use as hostess gifts over the holidays. These are easy to make and very inexpensive: Pre-wash two new dishtowels and iron. One is placed horizontally, the other vertically with a fold about 12 inches from the top that serves as a pocket. Stitch together and finish with twill tape. These can be made in about 30 minutes. The cost for one apron:
Dishtowels $2.49
Twill Tape $1.19
D-rings $ .39
Total $4.07 + tax


I also made several other aprons as "just because" gifts for my DDs, DS, and some DFs. These require a pattern and 1 5/8 yard of fabric, but are still easy to make and inexpensive at around $7-$12, depending on the fabric. Needless to say, I buy fabric only when it's on sale. Fabrics are chosen based on the interests of the recipients. For example, DD1 is an equestrian, so she gets a pattern with horses. DD2 is a wildlife biologist who works with fish populations, so she will get a fish pattern. The best part is that these projects are fun to make and are always appreciated by those who receive them.


And finally, a few weeks ago I signed up as a volunteer translator for Kiva (Spanish to English). Yesterday they sent me their "translating test" which I completed in about 40 minutes (they said it should take about an hour). It was an easy piece and is supposed to be representative of future assignments. This will be a terrific way to volunteer without leaving the house. I also sent Kiva another $25 to invest in a Peruvian retail coop.

How Can You Be Retired if You Have a Job?

September 11th, 2008 at 08:14 pm

This was a question from someone I've known for years. He tends to be very negative and is not someone I'd frequently associate with if it were not for a circumstance of fate: he is the significant other of a good friend but I don't hold that against her. (Have you ever noticed how negative people suck the life out of you?) Well, I explained, yes, I do have a job but it is because I choose to do it. I do not HAVE TO work. So I leave it at that since I know it is useless to try to explain myself to someone who just doesn't "get it."

I choose to work because I've found job that feeds a passion, not my pocketbook. That, to me, is the big difference. In my previous job, if I did not feel like going to work, I could not easily call in sick. There is not such thing as a substitute principal, although we have individuals assigned to carry on while we are off campus. It's just not the same. Our presence is required 99% of the time.

Now, I get to choose the days and times I work. I have tremendous flexibility, with the exception of having to meet seven times between September and December 1st for a two-hour seminar. But then, I was the one who decided on the dates/times, so it's not that bad. On some weeks, I have no scheduled workdays'these are my "free" days. On other weeks, I may work a day or two.

And a bonus: I get paid! I plan to use this extra money to expand our travel plans and increase my contributions to Heiffer International and Second Harvest Food Bank, two organizations I regularly support. Here's what my job commitment looks like for September:

~ 21 possible workdays (not counting Labor Day)
~ Of these, 11 days are completely free
~ My longest work day: 1 day @ 6 hours
~ On 7 work days, I have scheduled ~3 hours
~ 2 days will require working ~ 2 hours
~ My net pay estimate: ~ $34 an hour (after 33% withheld)

While the money is nice to have, it is not my reason working. My part-time work is a self-imposed experiment because, to confess, I was afraid of having way too much time in retirement. Back in May, when I decided to take the final step into retirement, I had some doubts... about having too much time on my hands, not enough to do, and well...I guess I just needed to be needed somewhere for something. And so, I applied for my PT job at a local university and also accepted a consulting contract with my former employer. When the academic year is over, I may choose to continue working... but then, maybe I won't. Gotta love having choices!

Sent 1099 Income to Kiva

July 1st, 2008 at 11:40 pm

Today when I checked my bank account I saw that I'd received the $125 payment for a ˝ day consulting job I did about a month ago on a Saturday. I’d forgotten about it, so it was a pleasant surprise. I decided to send the entire amount to Kiva, www.kiva.org/ to help a women’s weaving cooperative in Guatemala. Once I am officially retired (August 2008), I will add any subsequent 1099 income to my $20 Challenge.

I love the intricate detail and beauty of Guatemalan weavings. Here is an example of a table runner I have on the dining table in Idaho.