Walking around in Mexico

Yesterday afternoon, which was a Saturday, Fred and Pinky and I went out to run a few errands. Going out on the weekend in San Miguel de Allende is like going to a carnival. The town is packed with tourists, mostly Mexican, and the general feeling is one of holiday. The weekend brings a lot of young people into town, and I always enjoy seeing them. I like to see how they are “styling.”

So, as we walked across the Jardin, we were just enjoying the people watching. Then, an unfortunate thing crossed my awareness. There is a little sidewalk cafe, quite popular with the tourists, right on the square. It was filled with Mexican families on a weekend get away, young Mexican couples, and a few locals. At one end there were a couple of tables pushed together with about 6 American 30-somethings. They were being loud, really loud. And the things they were saying (in jest) were quite inappropriate to be shouting, anywhere. It seemed as though they thought they were on the beach in Cancun. San Miguel is not a beach town. It is one of the most sophisticated and genteel cities in Mexico. Even if the people at the table around them didn’t speak English, their very behavior brought the phrase, “Ugly American” to my mind. It is beyond me that people come to Mexico and have no regard for the culture.

Well, that was just a passing moment yesterday, and I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought one way or the other at the time. Later on in the day I went out for an errand about two blocks from our house.  Even though we live in Historic Centro, which is where the tourists tend to be, we are right on the northwestern edge of it. Our immediate neighborhood still has that kind of wonderful funkiness that I love about Mexico. If you walk up to the corner and take a left you are heading to San Juan de Dios Market. You are now totally away from Gringolandia, and in the Mexico of your dreams. Every day you will see something on the street that will amaze you.

As I said, yesterday I went on an errand. As I walked down the sidewalk, I saw a middle-aged Mexican man approaching me on a bicycle. He pulled up to the curb (I’m still about a half a block away) and pulled a hard-boiled egg out of his shirt pocket. He cracked the egg on the handlebars of his bike, and started to peel it. There was no one around but this man and me. It was sort of an intimate moment in a strange sort of way. He looked up and seemed a little unsettled that I was about to walk by and he was eating the egg. I looked at him and said, “Huevo.” He laughed and said, “Huevo.”

A bit later on my walk I saw that a Mexican woman was approaching me on the sidewalk. Some of the sidewalks here are extremely narrow and someone has to give. The appropriate thing is for the person who is walking facing traffic to step off the sidewalk. I have noticed that some Gringos are not hip to this custom. I stepped down from the sidewalk and said, “Buenas Tardes.” She gave me the biggest smile.

Theses are just some things that happened yesterday while I was walking around in San Miguel. Very sorry I didn’t get a picture of the guy with the egg.

How We Figured Out How to Retire…..(it’s all in the planning)

To fully appreciate this post you need to understand that I have always been totally clueless about money. As a child, money was truly a sore spot in our home and the basis of most arguments between my parents. When I went out on my own, I lived from paycheck to paycheck, and my money situation was one day at a time. I never thought ahead, never had any savings, and was usually late paying bills. I couldn’t manage my checking account and more than once I just closed one and opened another because things had gotten so screwed up they seemed hopeless. I don’t know if any of you can relate to this, but I suspect someone out there can.

When I met Fred I was attracted to the fact that he was a responsible adult. By that time (I was 35) I was ready for some sort of order in my life. After a few years of marriage we found ourselves running our small jewelry business together. Fred’s job was running the business, mine was creating the jewelry. It was not an overnight success, and many times we were both overwhelmed by how hard it was to make the whole thing work. But Fred was remarkably supportive and he always encouraged me not to give up. Somehow we always managed to meet payroll, and keep it in the road. One thing Fred did early on was start IRAs for us. We just put in a little, but it was consistent. Of course, we both paid Social Security and I had worked for Metro Schools long enough to have a small pension coming in my future. I remained pretty clueless about money. Money always scared me. I didn’t want to know the dollars and cents part of the business, and left all that up to Fred. Thank goodness for Fred. We had a good life with our business, but we also had some times when things were tight.

We reached a point where Fred knew we needed to sit down with someone who could help us understand our financial picture, and have some sort of vision for the future. A friend had recommended Kay Quinn. Fred insisted that I go to the meeting with him. I protested, as I really had an aversion to talking about money. I think my vision for the future was that I would work until I absolutely couldn’t and then live in a cardboard box. I always expected to hear the worst where money was involved. So, I went metaphorically kicking and screaming to the meeting. And, was I in for a surprise when I met Kay Quinn. For the first time in my life someone was talking about money in a way that held my attention. I listened and I understood. She had us make a general budget of what we needed to spend on a yearly basis. She figured out what was going on with all our sources of retirement income. She asked us how long we expected to live. (We both said to 100). She entered our financial picture into a computer program and showed us how we could make it work. I was completely amazed. I never complained about going to a meeting with Kay again. I also like John Stauffer, who works with Kay for us, and her handsome son, Andrew Quinn, who is the third advisor on the team of three. They are a small business, which means each client gets excellent attention. While I think John and Andrew are great at what they do, I have to admit that dealing one on one with another female was probably the hook for me. At other times of my life when I had had to talk about finances with a man in a suit my eyes would usually just glaze over. Kay always makes me feel like she gets me, and I feel I can express myself to her in the same way I would to a really close friend.

The plan was in place and I was going to work until I was 70. That was fine until I decided a year early that I had had enough. This took some re-doing of the plan, but Kay made it all work. I was really ready to quit, but the quitting process took about a year. It was not an easy year, but we were happy to sell our business and move on. We have been throwing Kay curve balls right and left, and she always makes it work with our plan. Selling the house a few years ahead of our downsizing plan, moving to Mexico—-changes, changes, changes. Not only has Kay been supportive, she has cheered us on to follow our dreams. She has helped us with every stage of every process since we have been her clients. She helped us price our business. She helps us deal with the whats and wheres and whys of each question we have. She even helped us figure out what we could comfortably spend for our next house in Mexico. And she does it with patience and a sense of humor, and with absolutely no judgment.  Just my kind of woman, that’s all I can say. She is incredibly smart, very plugged in, and understands how investments work. But, most of all, she is a voice of plain common sense and she speaks in ways that I can understand. And, if I don’t understand, she helps me out until I do.

Kay and her partners are not stock brokers. They are certified financial planners. They do manage investments, and they carefully assess the risks that clients are willing to take. They keep an eye on the market and make sure that their clients are not exposed when risk outweighs opportunity.

Many of the friends that Fred and I have are quite a bit younger than we are. I suspect that for some of them, the idea of retiring is a bit of the great unknown. In fact, when I was 65, retirement was the last thing on my mind. Then I started to realize that work was becoming more like work and less like fun to me. In a moment of time, I knew that I wanted to quit with the same amount of passion I had had when I wanted to begin. I had no doubt, and honestly it frustrated me when I realized I was going to have to work one more year so that things would end properly. I wanted to spend more time in Mexico, and I was tired of selling, tired of dealing with problems, and tired of meeting payroll. So, I say to my friends who seem unable to wrap their heads around retirement–don’t worry. When you are ready, you’ll know. And, if you are enjoying your work, keep at it. But, my motto about life certainly applies to work, too. Always quit while you’re still having fun.

In the meantime, you are never too young to start your financial plan. I am very thankful that I partnered with a man who has a good head for keeping things together. I am also very thankful that he insisted I go to that first meeting with Kay. She has not only opened my eyes to seeing the big picture, she has assured me that I won’t be living in a cardboard box.

Quinn Financial Partners   (615)297-3434
2726 Larmon Drive | Nashville, TN 37204   http://www.quinnfinancialpartners.com

Turn the Page

Our wonderful real estate agents Keith Merrill and Jonny Gleaton put this sign in the yard this morning. This house has been like a friend to me. I have lived here since 1980, and we have devoted so much energy into working on this house while we have been here. The changes have been gradual, mainly happening between 1995 and 2003. The result of each phase has pleased us, and this house has really been our home. But, even though all those things are very true, we are ready to begin a new chapter of our lives in a different place. When we came back to Nashville in April we started to seriously think in a deliberate way about how we wanted to go forward with our future. We both realized that we are ready to live full-time in Mexico, and that is the plan that makes the most sense. Since we are so ready to do this, the sacrifices that have to happen do not feel like a hardship. Of course, we will miss not only this lovely house, but many friends here that we really enjoy,  but the need for this adventure has overshadowed any feelings of nostalgia.

Fred and Pinky and I are really up for it. Once we decided that selling the house as soon as possible was a key to making the rest of the plan work, we spent most of the late spring and summer getting the house in tip-top shape. It took lots of work to clear out decades of stuff that we really don’t want. Everyday was a challenge –bring things down from the attic and go through them, rent a PODS, and have workers in the house constantly. Every drawer, every cabinet, every closet had to be dealt with. Every bookcase and hidey-hole had to give up its secrets. We either gave things away, packed what we wanted to take, or decided it needed to be sold. The criteria for what we will take is simple–do we love it? We had a housing inspector come over when we first started talking with Keith about how to do the sale. We worked down his list and got everything as right as we could get it. That part of the move became an obsession with me. I really have loved this house and I wanted to leave it feeling that it had been cherished. Fred shared these feelings. Once things were as perfect as possible, we put the house on the market.

There was never any doubt that Keith Merrill would be our agent when (and if) we were ready to sell. Keith has been a good friend for years, and he has always loved this house. He proved to be extremely good at what he does. Living in a house that is on the market is an unsettling experience. Things have to be kept in spotless condition, with everything in its place, and you have to be ready to clear out whenever the house is to be shown. We were very grateful to our friend, Arnold Myint, for opening his home to us—it became our “hide-out” when the house was being shown.

And then, this Tuesday, it happened. We got a contract. And, the good news is, they seem to love the house in the same way that we do. (We got this report from Keith. We haven’t actually met them.) But, they did ask if they could keep the porch furniture, which made me quite happy. That porch has been a special place for us, and I love to know that the next people are going to use and enjoy it. Fred and I are both pleased with the way this has all gone down, although I have to confess the time factor was a bit hairy. Everything had taken longer than it should have this summer as far as getting things ready. The plan had been to put it on the market July 15, and it actually went on the market August 25. Fred and I had to schedule the movers to come the week of October 5, so we didn’t have much breathing room. There is still so much to do. Now that the house is sold and the showings have stopped, there is more packing to do. When you move to Mexico you can take one truck load of personal things without paying duty. We have to get our Mexican Residency started. We are selling our Mini-Coopers. (That is one of the sacrifices I was talking about.) There will be an estate sale October 15-17 by a professional, so please don’t ask for early viewings, just come early. The miracle of the estate sale is that I don’t have to do anything. They do it all, from pricing to clean-up. I had really, really dreaded that sale.

So, now this busy summer seems ready itself to shift a gear into early fall. The light that is coming through the front window is different than it was in June. I can feel change in the air. I am ready for it—just as soon as I finish this packing.

Life is a Journey…come along for the ride.

S M 2 la gordadonexxI recently met a guy who I have gotten to be friends with on FaceBook. He told me that he was so excited to meet me because he loved all my posts. My husband, Fred, and I had just gotten back from a 6-month driving tour of Mexico. I posted some of this on my blog, and lots of it on FaceBook. He told me that he was “getting older and not too happy with that” but that I made him realize that it might not be so bad. (He is in his early 50’s, I am almost 72.) It hit me that there aren’t that many role models for successfully adding the years to life and life to the years. While I write about all sorts of things in my blog, my first and foremost mission on both my blog and in my life is to enjoy myself and other people, keep on learning, do what I can to look and feel good, and just have fun. So, yes, that YOUNG man’s comment really made my day. And, it also made me realize that I can, in fact, not only enjoy this journey but bring others along with me. So, here is 71, going on 72, and it just gets better. Come along for the ride.


The Secret of Life
Is Enjoying the Passing of Time. James Taylor

Fred and I are porch sitters from way back. In San Miguel, the porches become rooftop terrazzos, giving you a perfect view of this charming little city. This is our third summer to come here, and each time we choose to stay a little bit longer. At this moment we are cozied up on a big lounge on the rooftop of the house we have rented, listening to the church bells proclaim high noon. We had breakfast in the courtyard of an old hacienda, now converted to a hotel. The food was wonderful, there were a couple of men playing classical guitars, and I felt I would be happy to just sit there all day, passing time.

We will both enjoy passing our time here. Fred brought a guitar and he is looking forward to having lots of undistracted time to practice. We are both studying Spanish and I am determined to speak it while I’m here and not revert to English when I realize the person I am talking to also speaks English. They’ll just have to put up with me. “Hablar mas despacio, por favor.” I also plan to do yoga every day, probably up here on the roof, and to write this little blog about life around the house in San Miguel. Glad to have you with me.

A State of Mind

Sometimes it’s just time to shift a gear and move on to the next thing. People who know me seem surprised that Fred and I have sold our business and retired. Not that it’s so unusual for a woman approaching 70 to be ready for a change. It was great to get in touch with what I really wanted to do-design jewelry-and then to somehow manage to do it, and do it with a fair degree of success, for 30 years. It was a wonderful life for Fred and me to both quit our day jobs and do something that seemed so risky and adventurous. And we did have an adventure. We went places we otherwise would not have gone, and met some very interesting people along the way, but when it was time to move on, it was time to move on. Personally, I had reached a point where I wasn’t enjoying my work as much. My motto for the past few decades has been, “Always leave while you’re still having fun.” I wasn’t having much fun and I was completely tired of selling things to people.

I had jokingly said for about the past five years that I liked photographing the jewelry more than any other part of my job. I really only had time to do one portrait a month which was the ad for my jewelry. I needed to spend more time on photography in order to see my photos become art. I wanted to spend more time studying Spanish, and to turn our 3 week vacations in Mexico into much longer stretches of time. I also wanted to have time to cook more and develop wheat-free, vegan recipes. I felt I needed more time every day for physical workouts. As I was approaching 70, I realized more every day how fleeting time really is.

Fortunately, my husband and partner, Fred, is a good planner and he had starting to thing about the economics of our retirement. That is huge, and you are never to young to start thinking about this. We found a great financial advisor, and realized that we actually could retire without living in a cardboard box.

It took a year from the day we knew we were both ready until we actually left. In the midst of that time we sold our business to Mclaine Richardson, a very talented young woman who had worked for us for about three years. She is young, doing an excellent job, and I believe she is having fun in the same way I did so many years ago. I was so happy this happened; for many reasons. Obviously, it’s great to sell your business. It is also a very good feeling to know that your loyal employees will still have jobs, and to see the name of something you have worked hard to develop for a long time be continued.

I’m sure everyone who has ever retired has had their own process to go through. For Fred and me there was some stress to get here, but for now, it’s absolutely the best life I’ve had so far. I don’t really think of myself as “retired,” just as someone who has changed her state of mind.
This blog will be about how this journey unfolds. I will focus a lot on cooking, and try to be helpful to people who want to eat healthier. I will explore issues that relate to gender identity, as this is currently the subject matter I am most interested in photographing. When we travel I will share those destinations. Next trip up is to San Miguel in the mountains in Mexico. The photo for this piece was taken there last summer. I don’t want to define and confine this writing on the front end. Who knows where it will go? Who knows where the journey will take me? I’d love to have you go along for the ride.