Friday, August 16, 2019

Should This Couple Downsize?

     We were at a wedding reception recently and sat down with another couple from our old hometown. We know them, but not too well. They are a few years younger than we are, and they live in a big house in one of the pricier neighborhoods in the area.

     Of course, they wanted to know why we moved to Pennsylvania, and so we filled them in on our recent move to downsize to a smaller home, in a place where the cost of living, and especially the tax burden, is considerably less. They were interested in our experience and eager for advice.

     They had raised their three children in a New York suburb. Now they were rattling around in their big house and thinking about downsizing. They had vacationed on Cape Cod a number of times, and were thinking about moving to the area. In fact, they had been on the Cape for a couple of weeks this summer, and had seen a cottage one block from the water that they liked.

     "It's a really nice little place," said the wife, "with two bedrooms upstairs and a bedroom downstairs with a bathroom. We'd take the downstairs bedroom, so we wouldn't have to do stairs, and then the kids could stay upstairs when they came to visit."

     "It's smaller than your house in Westchester?" I asked.

     "Oh yeah," said the husband. "We'd be going from 3500 square feet to 1500 square feet. But what do we need more room for, at this point?" he asked rhetorically.

     "But I don't suppose things are much less expensive in Cape Cod," I ventured.

     "Oh, you'd be surprised. Not income tax. But the real-estate tax on the Cape Cod house is less than $5,000, compared to over $15,000 for our current New York house."

     "But what about our friends?" the wife wanted to know. turning to B. "Do you keep up with your old friends in Westchester? And were you able to make new friends?"

     So we explained how we'd considered moving into a planned community, with a clubhouse and a pool and built-in social groups, where we would almost automatically make new friends. But in the end we decided we wanted to be in a real town, with sidewalks, where we could walk to the restaurants, movie theater and library.

     How did that work out for you? they wanted to know.

     It was probably a little harder than moving to a place where your social life is already set up for you, we explained. But B has met plenty of people through church and the local women's group. And I joined a golf league and found a place where they play ping pong once a week. And we both have become involved in our senior learning center where we've met some like-minded people.

     Then we told them we get back to Westchester three or four times a year and meet up with old friends for dinner or some other occasion. A few friends have come to visit us in our new digs. It's a 2 1/2 hour drive, so they can do it in one day if they don't mind a five-hour round trip. Or several have come down and stayed overnight, either with us or at an airbnb.

     They brightened up when they heard about that, since they figured they'd have no problem attracting their old friends to come visit them on Cape Cod, even though it is a little farther away from home -- about 4 hours. And they liked the idea of  settling in a town. The house they were interested in was one block off the main street, near a church they could join.

     So, thinking about Cape Cod, I asked them if they liked to sail or go fishing. No, they said. They liked being near the water. But they were not big on boating or fishing. But the husband already had his eye on a golf course -- he'd played it once, and saw that there were several leagues. He felt he could find a group of guys to play with. He even thought he might get a part-time job at one of the golf clubs, in the golf shop or working on the course.

     Still and all, they were having second -- and third -- thoughts about moving from the home where they'd lived for 25 years, where they raised their kids and where their kids stored all their old toys, stuffed animals, high-school reports -- and the athletic gear they hadn't used in years but assured their parents they would use again, just as soon as they got a chance.

     But, like us, they have kids who have left home -- one in Virginia, one in New Jersey, and one on the West Coast. And they didn't have any grandchildren yet, so they didn't feel the urge to move to be near any one of the kids. Besides, they said, you never know when the kids are going to move again for a new job. None of them had bought a house yet; and they'd all moved at least twice since leaving college. They figured if they moved near any of the children, the kids would only up and move away again.

Our garage after we moved
     But still, the wife thought maybe they should wait to make their move, until they did start to have grandchildren. That way they could move near the new family that would be more likely to stay put.

     And the kids themselves were resisting the idea of their parents moving to Massachusetts. They wanted to have a home base when they came back to see their friends, several of whom were still around, or if they wanted to take a trip to New York City.

     And this couple also found the prospect of downsizing rather daunting. They had a four-bedroom house with a finished and furnished basement -- and probably very little of it would fit into a smaller New England home. And they had shelves and shelves of their kids' books and trophies and toys and equipment. Were they ready to deal with all that, or insist their kids come home and deal with it?

     When the reception was over, after the speeches and the cake and the dancing, we said goodbye to our friends and wished them well. On the way home, B and I talked about them, wondering if they were really ready to make the big move, or if they were just dreaming.

     We know that, despite all the people we know who move to the Sunbelt, or the articles we've read about downsizing, that in the end most people choose to stay where they are after they retire. A Freddie Mac study from a couple of years ago showed that over 60% of older homeowners said they would prefer to age in place, rather than move to new quarters. It's the easiest option. You don't have to say goodbye to your friends. You don't have to find a new place to live. You don't have to clean out your basement or garage or attic, and confront your kids about leaving behind their childhood home.

Downsizing? It's never over. -- my closet today.
     I remember when my first wife and I sold our family home, soon after our daughter went away to college. My daughter was devastated. "What do you care?" I asked her. "You've moved away, and you're in college now."

     "I know," she said sadly. "But I've lived in that house my whole life. It's my home."

     That certainly gave us pause. But in the end we had to do the right thing for us, which was to move to smaller, cheaper quarters because it was a turbulent time, in the post-9/11 political and economic atmosphere. Or, to put it bluntly, I was losing my job, and we had to consolidate our finances.

     Anyway . . . we thought that this couple was serious about moving. They seemed to have things figured out, as much as possible, and I also noted that the woman got a gleam in her eye when she talked about that house they were interested in. That's usually a telling sign.

     We'll be interested to find out, next time we're back home in New York, if these people made the move, or decided to stay where they are, at home in their familiar community.
 

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Song Is Over

     We know from raising children that the days are long, but the years are short. So it is with vacation. The days are long and languid. But suddenly, before you know it, the time is gone and we have to go home.

Just thought this was cool: License plate map posted in Cape Cod restaurant

     Then we must say goodbye to that interlude in life when we leave behind our day-to-day concerns to float on a tide of fun and friends and family and . . . way too much food.

In the sand at Harwichport beach

     So it is with us. Our time on Cape Cod has come to an end. We are spending a couple of days around Boston with family, and then the long car ride home.

Evening sky over Nantucket Sound

     But we have some memories. We have some photos. It's been a good vacation, so we go home refreshed and renewed, ready to settle back to our usual routine.

The day is over

     And, really, aren't we glad to land back home to resume our real, normal lives? There's always next year. But, for now, the song is over . . .




   

Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Perfect Food

     So we finally made it to our favorite ice-cream stand, called Sundae School, located in Harwichport, Mass., with two other Cape Cod locations, one in Dennisport, the other in Orleans.

     Sundae School ice cream is advertised as home made. I don't know exactly what that means. But it's rich and creamy, without being overly thick or solid (like Haagen Daz or Ben & Jerry's which in my opinion are so thick they leave you gagging). And the flavors are true and authentic. The coconut tastes like real coconut, not artificial. The mint tastes like real mint, without the toothpasty overtone that some mint ice cream has.

The front door

     In other words, Sundae School has the perfect ice cream. Which in my book means it has the perfect food.

     The first night I had a cup of mint chocolate chip. That's my favorite flavor of the moment. B had a strawberry sundae with hot fudge, whipped cream and a cherry. B is my wife, and she loves me. But she loves me more when I buy her some ice cream draped in spoonfuls of hot fudge. (But she wants everyone to know, she it was a small sundae, not the large . . . "It's not even a real sundae," she told me daintily, "it's just one scoop with hot fudge.")

Where the fun begins

     The second night I decided to really indulge myself. Because we're on vacation. Because I'm worth it. Because we only do this once a year. I ordered a butterscotch sundae with marshmallow topping. A real one, not just one scoop. And I ate the whole thing, with no regrets (minus the obligatory bite that my wife always takes).

     B just had a small cup of strawberry ice cream. So I guess you can tell, her favorite flavor is strawberry. Mine is, as I said, mint chocolate chip, followed by vanilla (usually with rainbow sprinkles), and then regular chocolate chip. I also like peach ice cream, when they have it, but peach ice cream is hard to find.

The piece de resistance

     I'm sure we all have our own favorite flavors, and our own favorite local ice-cream stands. But in case you think I'm just bragging, on its website Sundae School points out that it was named one of the "Best Ice Cream Spots in the U. S." by Food and Wine magazine. And it was ranked #5 in the country by USA Today.

     Which begs the question: What was rated #1? A place called Moomers Homemade Ice Cream, in Traverse City, Mich.

     Hmmmm.  Maybe next summer we should plan a trip to Michigan . . . unless you have a better idea.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Our Favorite Restaurant

     I recently ran across an article online asking "Do You Spend More Time Planning for Vacation than Planning Your Finances?"

     I used to spend more time on my finances, back when I was working and supporting a family and saving to send my kids to college and hopefully put aside a little for retirement as well. But today, now that I'm retired, I must admit I spend more time planning our vacations.

     Most of my income now is automatic. I won't ever get any more raises or promotions. I'll just receive my Social Security, and an automatic withdrawal from my IRA. (Sorry, Tom . . . no pension for you.)

     Since there's nothing I can do about my finances, why spend a lot of time on them? But there's plenty to do about vacation . . . in part because I have more time to actually go on vacation. And even though we often go back to the same spots, we still have to figure out where we're going to stay, what we're going to do, where we're going to eat.

We pull into the parking lot ... anticipation!

     But when we arrive on Cape Cod, where we go for a week or two every summer, there's no question. The first night, we head straight to Kream N' Kone in Chatham, Mass.

Bellying up to the counter

     Now maybe your dream restaurant involves tablecloths and dimmed lighting and waiters and fancy embossed menus. Ours features picnic tables out in the parking lot, counter service, and a menu in large type displayed up on the wall.

Wide selection of refreshing drinks

     Maybe your dream restaurant features various steaks and chops, grilled salmon or swordfish, or gourmet variations on risotto or artichokes or asperges blanche.

Clam chowder ... or "chowdah" as they say here on Cape Cod

     Our favorite restaurant offers clam chowder, fried clams on a hot dog bun, piles of greasy onion rings, vats of creamy cole slaw. And for dessert . . . well, they have pretty good soft-serve ice cream at Kream N' Kone. But instead we plan to stop of at Sundae School on the way home, for the best ice cream cone you can ever find in New England . . . actually, on the whole East Coast . . . actually, probably in the whole United States.

Yes, there's a hot dog bun under there somewhere

     And the total cost? Well, let me tell you, the most I ever spent for a restaurant dinner was $328.00 for four of us. I got a gift certificate to this fancy restaurant for $100 and thought, B and I will never spend $100, even though the restaurant had tablecloths and dimmed lighting and waiters and fancy embossed menus. So we invited another couple to come along. "On us," we told them boldly.

     But the restaurant was a lot more expensive than we anticipated. And we didn't count on them having two glasses of wine. But we . . . well, we invited them out to dinner. So what could we do? At least we were out of pocket only $228 because of the gift certificate.

     But dinner at Kream N' Cone was $27.00.

     I have had cheaper dinners. But never a better one. Only problem: we were so full we couldn't even stop for ice cream. So we'll leave Sundae School for tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Taste of the Big Apple

     B and I were invited to a wedding party held at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, NJ. We could drive there and back in one day. But we decided to go a day early, stay overnight, and see a few sights.

     Actually, my mother grew up in Jersey City, back in the 1920s when it was a decent, middle-class suburb across the river from New York City. But by the time I was growing up in the 1960s, Jersey City had become a slum.

     No more. Jersey City is now a thriving metropolis with soaring office buildings, luxury apartments, and easy access to downtown Manhattan.

Jersey City skyline

     But still, it's less expensive than Manhattan, which is why, when we decided to come a day early, we booked into a hotel at Harborside, a development on the New Jersey shore of the Hudson River. But we thought, as modern and upscale as it is, why hang out in Jersey City when we could take the Path train and be in New York in a few minutes.

     Well, the Path train is closed on weekends, we found out. They are still working on repairs left over from 2012's Hurricane Sandy. But there's a ferry, we were told, right down at the end on the block.

     So we hopped the ferry and for $6 took a ten minute trip to downtown Manhattan.

The New York skyline

     We got off and walked into Brookfield Place overlooking Rockefeller Park, which hugs the Hudson River. From Brookfield Place you can see the Oculus, the $4 billion structure that replaced the Path station that was destroyed on 9/11. Oculus, derived from the Latin word for "eye," refers to a circular opening in a dome or wall.

The Oculus, as seen from inside Brookfield Place

     Built by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the Oculus design was inspired by a child releasing a dove.

Looking up from just outside the Oculus

     We came out at the World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial. Even today, it's a remarkable site. Flowers and small American flags are stuck into the cracks of the wall. People are visibly moved, even 18 years later.

9/11 Memorial, South Tower

     From the World Trade Center we walked north on West Broadway, and realized once again that in New York, you can find almost anything . . .

In New York City ... really?

     . . . including a poster store that sounded interesting, not that we could afford any of the posters. They're for collectors only.

Philip Williams Posters

     Then we poked our way into the Mysterious Bookshop, which is more our speed -- an entire bookstore chock-a-block with nothing but mystery books. B bought a copy of Murder in the Marais by Cara Black. Don't know much about it, except apparently Parisian investigator Aimee Leduc finds herself in a "dangerous web of ancient secrets" after finding a woman strangled in her home.

The Mysterious Bookshop

     We spent some time in the park, watching the river flowing by, and the people relaxing along the waterfront. Then we went to the Brandy Library for dinner.

Girls exercising on the shoreline

      Lest you think we have a literary bent . . . the Brandy Library does not have any books. Instead it features bookcases packed with bottles of wine and spirits. The menu consisted of one page of food selections, and 20-some pages of alcoholic opportunities.

Brandy and more brandy

     B and I are not drinkers. But we enjoyed the atmosphere, and listened in as the group of young guys at the table next to us ordered a flight of rare brandys and got a ten-minute lesson in spiritology from the young, French-accented waiter.

The sun sets over New Jersey

     Most of the locals, it seemed, went to the Brandy Library for drinks and appetizers, and then they were going off to dinner.

     But for us, when 8 p.m. rolls around, we are ready for the end of the day. So we walked back to the ferry and cruised back west across the Hudson.

The New York skyline, on the way home

     Then the next day we went to the wedding reception in Liberty State Park. And we left early, not because we had a long drive back home (about an hour and a half) but because . . .  no matter where we go, we usually leave early.
 
View of Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty and Verrazano Bridge, from Liberty State Park, NJ