Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Nester Without A Nest!

Last time I wrote about being a nester, of wanting my own home, but also about the importance of who I share my nest with.  Now, as I continue to pack and to plan, I've realized that once the movers arrive and we leave our house, we'll be homeless for the next several months.  We'll be living out of a suitcase for a full week before we leave for Europe...then homeless once we arrive back in Louisville five weeks later.....then still homeless as we wrap up loose ends in Louisville for another week....and basically homeless once we arrive in Florida...although we do plan/hope to have a furnished place waiting for us once we get there.

After having lived out of a suitcase for the previous seven weeks (yikes! - what will I forget???), living in a furnished rental will be nicer, yes, but still not home. I'm hoping that I won't be desperate and ready to buy the first property I see - but on the other hand I hope that we see properties that are not only affordable but also desirable.  Searching for the perfect nest is not a task for the faint-hearted, but I know we're up for the challenge!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Confessions Of A Serial Nester

I'd never thought about it before, but while we were living in Italy there was a discussion about renting versus buying.  To be honest, we never considered renting, and although in hindsight it might have been better, at least from a financial point of view, I've just always been an owner, not a renter. Others pointed out to me that this was because I'm a nester, and I guess it's true.  As we prepare for yet another move - a move that took both of us completely by surprise - I've thought about what being a nester means, and how it's not exactly what  I expected.

I always loved our house in New Albany, Indiana.  I lived there from the first grade through the seventh grade, and for years I dreamed of buying that house.  When my kids were little we bought a house in Crescent Hill, in Louisville, and I thought that would be my forever house, the one my kids would bring their kids back to for Christmas and Easter, but that didn't work out quite as I had planned. Once Art and I got married he was really the one to push for a house, and of course if it made him happy it made me happy, so we bought the cutest little house, and I thought we'd live there forever. And then we went to a new home show, and decided to build. Although I poured a lot of myself into that home I don't think either of us thought we'd be there forever - the lot was large, and hilly, so eventually the maintenance would be an issue, but we just enjoyed the house until it was time to move....

When we did move, it was into a patio home - one we loved, one we thought was perfect, and one we thought we'd live in forever.  And then we went to Italy.  As we'd said so many times before, we didn't choose to move to Italy;  it was really beyond our control - it was just what we were supposed to do, and sometimes you just have to follow the path life sets out before you.  We hadn't expected our path to turn towards Italy, but when it did we embraced it completely, sold everything and took the plunge without ever considering whether or not this would be our forever home.  At that point we realized that life would take us where we were supposed to be, when we were supposed to be there, and that all we had to do was pay attention.  I also realized that it really didn't matter where we lived as long as we were together, so the 'where' was much less important.

Eventually the decline and continued weakness of the dollar forced us to re-evalute.  We'd moved to Italy as much to enjoy Italy as to travel throughout Europe, and our travel funds were being eaten by the disastrous exchange rate.  Once the house in Italy sold we talked about where we'd move to in the United States.  We eventually decided to move back to Louisville for several reasons.  Cost of living was a big factor, as was the climate.   Further norther would mean more severe winters, further south would mean hotter, more humid summers.  We didn't want to go west of the Mississippi because we didn't want our transatlantic flights to be any longer that they already were, and although I would love to live on the East Coast it just wasn't financially practical.  The fact that we had family and friends in Louisville, as well as the fact that we knew our way around made Louisville feel like a comfortable fit, like we were really coming 'home'.  We bought a patio home and both of us said we were never moving again.  Although it wasn't my dream home, it suited us in many ways and I didn't mind the compromises.

Maybe I watch too much HGTV, but last fall, for reasons unknown, I announced to Art that I thought I had one more home renovation in me.  He got excited, and was ready to start house-hunting - he'd always wanted a single-family home with a yard, and thought the time was finally right.  But I really didn't want the hassle of packing and moving, I just wanted a project - but not enough to go through the pain of moving.  In the end Art really didn't want to leave our neighborhood - mostly because of our proximity to Tom Sawyer Park - and the idea just sort of faded away.

And then a friend called from Florida and invited us to visit her in her new digs - a 55+ retirement community in central Florida, where she'd bought an adorable 3 bedroom, 2 bath manufactured home for $55,000.  Something clicked in my brain.  I'd never liked the idea that we had equity in our house that wasn't serving us.  Sure we had an equity line, but you have to pay yourself back every month, and what I wanted was fewer monthly obligations, not more.  It seemed to me that if we could buy something for $55,000 free and clear we'd have extra cash in hand PLUS we'd have more cash available every month for fun things like travel.

Of course things are never as simple as they first appear.  We discovered that although we loved our friend's house, and even her subdivision, living in the middle of the state was not where we wanted to be.  We knew that proximity to a large airport was important to us:  we want to travel as much as we can for as long as we can.  Eventually we won't want to endure those long transatlantic flights, so being somewhere with lots to do would be important, both for the short term and the long term.  We'd always been attracted to the area around Tampa, so we began to search the internet.

As you might imagine, living in or near a large metropolitan area is more costly than living in a smaller, more remote community.  I was afraid that we might not be able to afford what we wanted in the Tampa area, and I worried about the lot rental fees.  Our friend pays $700 per month, with an expected 3% increase every year, and most of the communities we looked at were about the same.  If we had to pay more for the house itself, plus $700 in fees, our monthly savings would be minimal. Even if we were in Florida avoiding the snow and ice, we might end up like we were in Italy - loving our home and our community, but unable to travel, so only half our wish list would be fulfilled.

Knowing the questions to ask is always the biggest challenge.  Initially we had no idea that moving to another state could be as complicated as moving to another country.  We discovered that there are different types of 55+ communities:  in some communities you own the home but rent the lot, while in others you lease the lot.  Lot fees vary, as do the Home Owner Association fees, based on location, amenities, and who knows what other factors.  In some communities you lease the lot and have the option of owning a share of the community, which gives you voting rights.

Eventually we discovered that there are resident owned communities - basically condominium associations where you own a percentage of the entire community, much like our current home.  This dramatically reduces the chance that the subdivision will be sold and razed to make way for another Super WalMart.  Anyway, the point is we're learning a lot, trying to educate ourselves and trying not to move too fast.  We're hoping this home will be our last home purchase, and realize we've said that many times before. This time we're trying to consider what we need to make this home for a long, long, time.  As always we'll try to learn as much as possible so that we can make the best decision for now and for later - and hope for the best, since life always has a way of changing the best laid plans.  Yes, I'm still a nester.  I still want to own a home rather than rent, but where we nest isn't nearly as important as who I share the nest with, so as long as I have Art I know wherever we settle will be home.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015


I have to admit my head is spinning, and right now I'm trying to take a breath and make a long list of priorities.

We've sold our house.  We really didn't mean to sell it this soon, or this quickly, but the whole thing just sort of assumed a life of its own.  When a cash buyer makes you a reasonable offer and  agrees to postpone closing to suit your schedule it would be foolish to refuse, but now I have about a million questions running through my head.  The packing itself is an overwhelming task - I know from experience.  Every time you think you're almost finished, and that another 5 or 6 boxes should do it, you pack TEN more boxes and still need more.  And more. And then a few more after that.

And our situation is just a little more complicated because just days after closing we'll leave for five weeks in Europe, meaning that we'll need to separate our vacation supplies and clothes from everything that's being packed away.  And then we we get back from vacation we won't actually have a home to return to...and I'm not sure how much 'stuff' we're going to need to keep accessible.  Sure, we'll need more clothes that we're taking for vacation, but also we'll need 'stuff'.  Stuff like computers, laundry stuff, cooking supplies, toiletries.  What else?  With no place to call home in Louisville it's a safe bet that just a few short days after we return from vacation we'll head south fro Florida, where we won't have a home either.  

We are making an exploratory trip to week because you can only learn so much from the internet.  What we've learned so far is that yes, we can afford to buy a home in our desired area around Tampa, but we need to figure out what towns and areas we like, and why.  I'm hopeful we can also arrange for a furnished apartment for a few months so we can take some time to find the perfect home.  Due to the flurry of activity surrounding our decision to sell - eight days from the sign in the yard to a signed contract - I haven't even thought about this trip since initially booking flights, a rental car and a motel.  At least I had all that taken care of before the craziness started.

The good news/bad news about our upcoming vacation is that all the reservations were made long ago.  So long ago, in fact, that I really don't remember the details.  Normally I can tell you what time we fly out, and where we're staying, and what the rental car company is, but this year I'm going to have to hope that I did a thorough job and kept all the email confirmations.  Oh, except that I haven't made any reservations for our time in Umbria.  I know we'll stay with friends, but I'm just not sure which friends and what nights.  For me, returning to Umbria doesn't require a whole lot of planning - it's like when we lived in Italy and came back to Louisville for a visit, it was just coming home.   Except that when we're in Umbria I want to maximize every waking moment, and that does require a little thought.

Now lest you think I'm complaining, let me assure you I am NOT.  Who could complain about selling their house in eight days, going to Florida for a week, vacationing in Europe or moving to Florida?  No, I feel very fortunate, and very blessed to have so many wonderful things going on in my life, and I feel very grateful for the many wonderful friends who've helped make all these things possible.  But of course, me being me, I do feel overwhelmed, and stressed, and worried, it's just my nature.  I hate to say it's just too much of a good thing, but I won't because too much of a good thing is definitely better than not enough, right?  In the back of my mind I've been wondering what our next adventure would be, and this is it!  But I really do need to start making some lists, and maybe pack another box or two.

Saturday, March 21, 2015


There would have been a time when retiring to Florida would have seemed rather boring, but we've decided it will be our next adventure!  In addition to freeing up the money that's now tied up in the equity of our home so that we can travel more, we'll also be returning to the state where Art grew up.  When we first married, over 25 years ago, we talked about when and where we'd retire, and naturally Florida was part of that conversation.  And then life happened, and we fell in love with Italy....and you know the rest of that story!  Once we moved back to the states we thought long and hard about where to settle, and because of central location, reasonable cost of living, family in the area AND knowing our way around, we finally decided on Louisville,  Florida just wasn't quite right for us then, but now, after two brutal winters in a row Art is ready to head south and I'm happy to oblige!

We put the "For Sale" sign in our yard this afternoon and although we're in no rush, we don't expect it'll take long to sell.  Here's the link to the photos on FLICKR .

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Dollar Is Strong - NOW Might Be The Time To Buy In Italy!

As many of you know, when the euro cost us $1.60 in 2008, that's when we just had to say "uncle" and put our house on the market.  Since we moved back to the states in 2010 housing sales - never as strong as in the U.S., because people just hand the houses down from one generation to the next! - have been increasingly weaker, and the strong euro has probably kept a lot of people from buying.  For those of us living in U.S. dollars, the euro is down to $1.13 today - a rate we haven't seen since late 2003 or maybe early 2004.  For this reason, NOW may be the perfect time to make that fantasy a reality!

And -  I have a suggestion for you.  Several years ago we helped our friends scout locations for a second home in Italy and were very pleased when they found a fixer-upper in Panicale.  They did a wonderful job with the restoration, as the pictures clearly show.  The village is charming, the location is not just panoramic, but also easy to get to, and there are always English speakers around, just in case!

Here's the link to a beautifully restored house in Panicale, and I have to tell you, that roof-top terrace is amazing!  Take a look, tell your friends - YOU could be living the dream too!


Monday, December 15, 2014

I've Fallen In Love With Another - Country!

That's something I never thought I'd say, but honestly, I've fallen in love with the Dordogne region of France after watching Rudy Maxa's "Smart Travels", and can't wait to visit!  After finding the show on YouTube I noticed that Rick Steves also has a show on the Dordogne, so I checked that out too.  After the first few minutes of the RS show I knew we'd seen it before, and I was puzzled why I hadn't fallen in love after watching his show.  There were plenty of the same shots, many of the same cutesy villages, but I'm guessing the RS show featured a little too much information on foie gras and the geese who supply this delicacy. That and the fact that "Smart Travels" had shots so gorgeous, so timeless and so evocative that I was practically in tears.  Really.

I'm a sucker for English quaint, or medieval stonework.  Half-timbered house and thatched roofs make me sigh, and looking out at an endless view across row after row of tile or slate roofs is simply a magical experience.  And I've found all that and more in the southwest of France, not far from Bordeaux.

Cruising down, or driving along the Moselle River, gazing up at row after row of grapevines, peering up at pointy towers on hilltop castles and winding through half-timbered villages was other-wordly.  Driving the Romantic Road went from the drama of the Alps to the charm of medieval villages still fortified with town walls and covered ramparts.  And yet this area of France, along and between the Dordogne and Lot rivers, not far from the Atlantic coast, seems to channel everything I love about Umbrian hilltowns and Tuscan beauty with the romance of medieval Germany and a healthy dose of English quaint - in stone and half-timbered houses and villages, into one convenient location.

To sweeten the pot even further the famous caves of Lascaux, with their prehistoric paintings are not far away, and I absolutely LOVE caves!  And, amazingly, a walled city long on my bucket list, and one I'd given up hope of ever seeing, Carcassonne, is about 3 hours away.

.I'm so amazed and excited about discovering a new area that seems tailor made for me that my complete and utter lack of French isn't even dampening my enthusiasm.  And altho I usually don't have much praise for French food (altho I do confess to loving any French bread or pastry), preferring the simplicity of Italian cuisine to the fussiness of French cuisine, I'm absolutely sure that I'll come home more than happy with the food!  I'm sure it won't be necessary, but I could survive on pain au chocolat with no problem at all.  Now all I have to do is wait until 2016....or win the lottery!   And now I finally understand why some of my friends love France the way I love Italy and England - and we're ALL right!!!

Watch the "Smart Travels" show and let me know if you agree with my new crush on France!

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Del Frisco's Restaurant Review

For years Del Frisco’s has been our go-to steak house.  The steaks were thick, and juicy, and tender....and so flavorful that I rarely made steak at home because I could never recreate the Del Frisco’s magic. Seriously. Combine one of those steaks with the decadently rich, creamy and cheesy Green Phunque (that I could justify because it contains spinach), and I was satiated in a way that could only be improved upon by chocolate, and the Silk Pie made the evening complete.  Just thinking about it makes my mouth water, but perhaps I need to reconsider.  Del Frisco's may be past its prime, and I don't know if it's a gradual slide. or simply a loss of passion in the kitchen.

I'll admit that it's been a few years since our last visit, but I remember that our last visit was as delicious as ever, and altho we commented (even then!) about the tired, dated decor, the food and excellent service made the surroundings less important.  Now, years on, tired, dated decor has become almost tacky.  When we were seated and I saw the thin, cheap cutlery (I started to call it 'silverware', but I don't think that would be accurate) I wondered if people stealing the 'real' silverware over the years had forced management to eventually use only the cheapest of cutlery.  Maybe the expense of replacing the silverware is what kept them from remodeling - maybe they just couldn't afford it.

The service that night, a Friday, was wonderful, but the restaurant, at least the room we were in, was probably only half full. Our waiter brought a beautiful, warm loaf of bread, along with whipped butter.  We rarely indulge in bread these days, but in anticipation of a wonderful meal, warm bread with butter sounded like an additional treat.  It's hard to describe how disappointed I was when I bit into my thick slice of fluffy white bread.  I don't have to have 9-grain bread or something non-traditional, I LOVE a great yeasty, white bread, especially warm.  This was NOT that bread.  This bread was just airy and tasteless, and the whipped butter didn't even make it worth the trouble.  Okay, at least I've have more room (and less carb-guilt) about that Green Phunque, and the dessert.

We all ordered the rib-eye steak - it's my favorite cut, and I ordered the smaller 12-14 oz steak.  I was rather surprised when the steak arrived.  It was sizzling hot, as always, but it much much thinner than I would have liked.  I will say that despite the thinner cut it was still cooked to perfection.  Altho my steak had what I considered to be an very acceptable amount of fat, others thought their steak was way too fatty.  The flavor was incredible as ever, and I savored every bite.

The Green Phunque was another story.  It was bland - I don't think salt and pepper were used when the dish was prepared, nor any other seasonings.  All in all the dish just didn't seem as satisfying as in the past, and I wished I'd ordered something else, or had a salad.  My cousins, who had been to Del Frisco's just one night before us, said that their salads were drowned in so much dressing they were barely edible.

As I mentioned earlier, the Silk Pie was nice, but the chocolate cake was nothing special.

So, that was our experience, and our (four) cousins, who had dined at Del Frisco's on Thursday night agreed with us on every point.  My cousins all felt their steaks were much too fatty.  I hope this isn't the beginning of the end for a (once) great restaurant, buy I'll probably won't take a chance the next time I'm craving a steak.