Category Archives: Journey of Retirement

August 5, 2016

Timeshare Exchange in the Caribbean

By Phyllis Bonfield

Last spring we had a fun and relaxing vacation to the Caribbean island of Antigua in the West Indies.

Antigua in the West Indies*

Antigua in the West Indies*

While we have vacationed on other islands in the Caribbean, we had not visited Antigua. It was a very pleasant experience on many count including the fact we could get direct flights from Newark, NJ.

We didn’t chose Antigua as a destination so much as it choose us. We have a timeshare and used the week we “banked” last year for a “vacation exchange.” This is timeshare talk meaning for a low fee we could use our week to go someplace other than to our timeshare. For the exchange to work, we put our name on a list of Caribbean resorts that might be available. We then waited for the exchange company to call us with an offer from a resort available at the time we wanted to go.

A word about timeshares: if you decide to buy one, it is best to buy it in a place you like to visit regularly. Alternatively, if you like to travel and know when and where you want to go, you can play the exchange game. Research timeshares carefully before you go to the “one-hour” presentation. If all these things don’t line up, think twice before buying. Here’s the catch: once you buy, it is yours forever, there is no getting rid of it.

Fun lunch at Jolly Beach bar

Fun lunch at Jolly Beach bar

We went to Antigua in April when it is less crowded than the middle of winter and easier to do an exchange. The resort was more efficiency apartments than resort, but it was clean and comfortable. By going in April, the water is warmer and in the afternoon, the air and the water are the same temperature — a lovely 80 degrees. We loved splashing in the turquoise blue water and having a mile of beautiful white sand beach. Antigua boosts 365 sand beaches, but we were happy with Jolly Beach on the island’s leeward side with its calm protected water.

The Jolly Harbor area, where we stayed, has several resorts, many privately-owned condos, marinas, a golf course and restaurants ranging from beach shacks and pizza parlors to high end eateries with water views. There is a gourmet grocery with bakery, banks, ATMs, pharmacy, shopping area, art gallery, car and motorbike rental agencies. To get around, we were advised to rent a golf cart – good advice.
Among our activities while visiting was a catamaran trip with about 50 other guests in which we circumnavigated the island. It was an all-day excursion with lunch, snorkeling, swimming and sightseeing to places only the rich and famous live. As with so many places we have visited, the contrast between rich and poor was evident throughout the island whether seeing it by boat or driving in a car.

Bobalicious and my partner

Bobalicious and my partner

To see more of Antigua, we decided to rent a car – no small feat as the island has kept to its “English” roots with driving on the left-hand side of the road. Since 1981 Antigua has been fully independent, but it is still a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as Queen of Antigua. That might account for the number of Canadians who were visiting.
In addition to its many beautiful beaches, Antigua has something else in common with other places we have visited – friendly, helpful people. The first day we were there, we met Bobalicious, a grandmother who sells curios, jewelry and island clothing at her stand on Jolly Beach. She makes beautiful island jewelry using shells and semiprecious stones. She even altered a shirt for my partner and went out of her way to get me some special island souvenirs: a muscle tee shirt with skull and crossbones for my oldest grandson and a frog beach towel for my younger guy.

Archer making palm basket

Archer making palm basket

Another person we met on Jolly Beach was Archer, a talented fellow plying his craft using palm fronds to weave hats and bowls. It was excited to see his handiwork which I first saw long ago on Waikiki Beach while visiting Hawaii. I didn’t meet Archer until the day we were leaving. By then I’d spent my discretionary cash, but he saw my enthusiasm and made me a bowl as I watched. He trusted I’d get him his money. His comment when I did, “I knew you’d be back.”

Nice place to dock your boat

Nice place to dock your boat

We were at the resort for our “exchange week,” but had decided before we went we would stay for a second week in a condo on Jolly Harbor. Of the two, we enjoyed the condo most. We rented the condo from a British Columbian couple who consider Antigua their second home. The condos all have boat docks off the back patios where owners moor their boats which range from sailfish to yachts.

If you enjoy beautiful white sand beaches, gorgeous flora, warm turquoise water and food for every taste with resorts ranging from family-friendly to romantic getaways, add Antigua to your vacation list.

Sunset over Jolly Harbor with island of St. Kitts in distance

Sunset over Jolly Harbor with island of St. Kitts in distance

Oh, and did I mention the glorious sunsets. Adieu or as they say in Antigua, “lay-taa.”

 

 

 

 

*Photos by Marcia Seifert
The Takeaway: Some take vacations to relieve stress or get away from the grind of everyday life. One is fortunate when a vacation is strictly for pleasure, especially when you find yourself in an idyllic place with sun, sea, surf, beautiful vistas and warm, gracious people. Have you been privileged to have such a travel experience? Share it and let’s start a conversation. Please include your name and email address or phone number so I may contact you if I have a question. I will not publish your name. Contact me at [email protected]

July 25, 2016

Exploring Turkey – Part Two

By Phyllis Bonfield

President Erdogan

Since I last wrote about Turkey in an earlier blog, on Friday, July 15, a failed military coup tried to take over the country. It was not well organized and the coup was quickly put down. Elected to office three times, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is popular with his constituents as shown when he went on social media and called for citizens to take to the streets to stop militia involved in the coup. The failed coup, however, has had major repercussions for those considered disloyal to Erdogan.

Since the coup, the government has rounded up thousands of suspected military and judiciary officials including generals and other high-ranking officers. This week, Erdogan cracked down on numerous educators and media outlets, an upsetting turn for people who view these actions as extreme. Some feel Erdogan is taking the coup as an opportunity to purge those viewed as disloyal to the government.Turkey

With all that has happened, Turkey may appear to be just another unstable country in the powder keg area known as the Middle East. At the same time, it is important to note, since 1925 Turkey has had a secular government. While Erdogan’s government has a record of tight controls over the media, Turkey has had strong political parties. Also, Turkey has a thriving middle class blending Eastern and Western cultures just as the Bosphorus blends the European and Asian sides of Istanbul.

As I wrote in my earlier blog on Turkey, we visited the country in May 2011. The Arab Spring had begun in the Middle East in 2010 with positive, social media buzz and high hopes for greater democracy throughout the region.  Al Qaeda’s role had been reduced in Iraq and Afghanistan and we had not yet learned of the terrorist group known as the Islamic State.

When we visited, we had no idea of the tragic events about to explode in that part of the Middle East. Two significant events occurred while we were in Turkey: the U.S. took out Osama bin Laden and civil war in neighboring Syria was heating up.

Iman prayed in our honor*

Iman prayed in our honor*

When we awoke on May 2, 2011, we found out bin Laden had been killed at his Pakistani compound by U.S. Navy Seals. I was concerned about the reaction Turks would have to us as Americans. When I asked our guide, Ersin, about this, he said people feared bin Laden and wanted the terrorist dead. That afternoon, while visiting a small mosque, Ersin introduced us to the Iman who asked if he could recite a prayer of peace in our honor.  As the Iman’s tenor voice soared through the mosque we stood with tears in our eyes.

We took photo with master ceramicist, Galip and our new single-fired piece of colorful tulips.

We took photo with master ceramicist, Galip and our new single-fired piece of colorful tulips.

Less dramatic, was a visit to a ceramic shop in Cappadocia owned by Galip, a master ceramicist. Galip sat at his potter’s wheel with a lump of clay and as we watched, molded it into a delicate tea pot. We then toured his shop and saw how his staff hand painted pottery pieces.  We couldn’t resist. We took home one of Galip’s beautiful art pieces, a single-fired, double-sized tile decorated with multiple small blue tulips and one large red tulip.

Women at looms weaving rugs

Women at looms weaving rugs

Another interesting stop was at a rug factory where we saw young women at looms weaving beautiful rugs. After being trained in the art of rug weaving, these women can go home to continue weaving and selling hand-made rugs. We also toured the rug factory and saw how silk worm cocoons are spun into thread, then dipped into colorful dyes and dried before being used to make colorful rugs.

One of our most fascinating experiences in Turkey was seeing the Whirling Dervishes perform their religious dance honoring God.

The Whirling Dervishes

The Whirling Dervishes

It is performed by men wearing long white skirts and tall colorful hats. First, musicians begin playing slow, somber tones as the Dervishes start whirling slowly in a circle with their arms wide open. As the music grows faster and more enthusiastic, the whirling increases with the men dancing trance-like and turning ever faster with right hands reaching toward the sky and left turned down to the earth.

This ancient ritual dates back to the 13th century when a Persian poet, Rumi, founded the Mevlevi Order of Dervishes. It was practiced continually until 1925 when Turkey’s new Republic banned the order as it worked to secularize the nation.

The ban was partially lifted in 1953 and the Dervishes now are allowed to perform their ritualist dance. We saw the Dervishes perform in Konya at the Saruhan Caravanserai, meaning caravan palaces. Constructed in 1249, the building was a popular stop on the Silk Road and has been restored as the Mevlana Museum.

Our next stop was two-nights in Antalya, a coastal Mediterranean resort town. With time off in this lovely walking city, our group was happy not to have formal tours scheduled. We were all operating on information overload. We’d had full days touring Istanbul, three busy days in Cappadocia and an overnight stay at the home of a conservative Sunni family on our drive to the coast. We were ready to slow down, poke in and out of shops, have lazy lunches and delicious dinners and relax pool side at our hotel.

Sailing on two-masted wooden gulet up the coast

Sailing on two-masted wooden gulet up the coast

While in Turkey, we toured by plane, bus, van, taxi, ship and powerboat. We decided not to take the hot air balloon tour over the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia. Too expensive.

We set sail from the port in Antalya on a beautiful gulet, a two-masted wooden sailing vessel. For three days we sailed up the Mediterranean coast to the Aegean Sea in a beautiful mahogany schooner. The gulet had eight staterooms and the captain’s quarters to house a three-man crew, our group of twelve and Ersin. It meant the crew had to bunk in the galley.

Our first port of call was Dalyan, a coastal town that includes a famous breeding ground, Iztuzu Beach, for the internationally endangered loggerhead sea turtles.  A guide took us by powerboat to the beach and we learned more about what is being done to protect the turtles.

The guide then took us up the River Dalyan to see the Lycian tombs carved in the river’s sheer cliffs.

 Lycian tombs carved in cliffs circa 400 BC

Lycian tombs carved in cliffs circa 400 BC

The weathered façades were cut from rock dating back to 400 BC. The ancient Lycians believed the dead were carried to the afterlife by magical-winged creatures. The Lycians carved tombs in the cliff’s face to place their honored dead in geographically high places and assist them on their journey.

That evening we dropped anchor in clear blue water known as Cleopatra’s Bath Cove containing Roman ruins supposedly used by Cleopatra in an area given to her as a wedding gift by Marc Anthony.

Cleopatra's Bath

Cleopatra’s Bath

I’ve read her bath was warmed with hot water drawn from a nearby crater lake. So with the bay’s interesting background, we couldn’t resist taking a quick swim even though the water was quite cold.

Our gulet sail ended at a resort town, the Port of Kuşadası, on Turkey’s Aegean coast.  From there we took a van for the one hour drive inland to Ephesus, an important port city in days of old, reported to have had a population in the hundreds of thousands.

Massive Amphitheater in Ephesus

Massive Amphitheater in Ephesus

Entering Ephesus, we saw terra cotta pipes of varying sizes carefully stacked on the ground. We learned the pipes were part of the Roman aqueducts used to bring fresh water to the city.  Our first stop in the ancient city was at the amphitheater built in the first century AD.  With a one-time capacity of 25,000, we imagined events and performances staged there so many centuries ago and still used today in a festival held each May.

We walked the ancient cobble stone pathways and marble roadways of this Greco-Roman ruin. We stopped by the two agoras or public squares: one for commerce and the other for official business. Ephesus is one of the world’s best-preserved sites and continues as an active archeological site.

Library of Celsus’ restored façade

Library of Celsus’ restored façade

One of the best known buildings in Ephesus is the Library of Celsus, an ancient Roman building completed in 135 AD honoring a Roman Senator, Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus. Built by Celsus’ son, the library stored 12,000 scrolls and served as Celsus’ mausoleum with his burial in a crypt beneath the library.

An earthquake in 262 AD destroyed the library’s interior with only the library’s outer façade left standing. It, too, was destroyed by an earthquake in the tenth or eleventh century AD. The library remained in ruins until the 1970s when archaeologists re-erected the outer façade shown in photo.

As I conclude this blog, I think back on our trip to Turkey with its well-preserved past dating back 12,000 years in a land formerly known as Asia Minor. It was interesting and awe-inspiring to bear witness to this ancient past. It is unfortunate people no longer feel safe to visit this exciting and enjoyable country. Also, after visiting neighboring Turkey, it makes me both angry and sad to know ISIS has intentionally destroyed so many of ancient Persia’s historical sites, today known as Syria.

*Photos by Phyllis Bonfield

The Takeaway: Our tour of Turkey had everything. We saw beautiful structures that amazed in Istanbul and magical sites in Cappadocia. We experienced man’s kind humanity when an Iman said a prayer of peace in our honor and we had exciting adventures sailing on a gulet. We experienced man’s ingenuity in Ephesus and its highly-developed civilization thousands of years old. What interesting experiences have you had while traveling in foreign lands that may be pertinent to events occurring today? Share and let’s learn from each other. Include your name and email address or phone number so I may contact you if I have a question. I will not publish your name. Contact me at [email protected]

July 11, 2016

Exploring Turkey – Part One

By Phyllis Bonfield

We were sickened to learn of yet another mass terrorist attack – this time at Turkey’s Ataturk Airport in Istanbul. It took us back five years to when we visited Turkey, the land where East met West at the Straits of Bosphorus on the Silk Road.

We were in Turkey in May 2011 when the U.S. took out Osama bin Laden. (More about that experience in my next blog.) It was also the month civil war broke out in neighboring Syria. The Turks, who since 1923 have had a secular parliamentary government, felt the unrest in Syria, under the rule of the Ba’ath Party with the al-Assad regime, would be quickly crushed.

TurkeyThe Arab Spring began in 2010 with joy and social media buzz – the year before we went to Turkey. Shortly after our trip, those early joyous calls for greater democracy in Arab League countries turned to dismay. By 2014, upheaval had led to bloodshed as the Islamic State gained control over territory in Syria and Iraq. Today refugees by the millions flee war-torn countries and the world grapples with forced migration.

When we visited Turkey, this tragic scenario was unforeseen. We spend three days in Istanbul, then traveled to an enchanting area known as Cappadocia before driving south to the beautiful coastal resort town of Antalya. Our trip took us on a two-masted wooden sailing ship called a gulet for three nights.  It was most appropriate for visiting Turkey’s Turquoise Coast, a wedding present to Cleopatra from Mark Anthony. Our final destination was the ancient town of Ephesus on the Aegean Sea.

We went to Turkey on a small group tour organized by Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT). The trip began at the same airport where the recent tragedy occurred. Turkey and was our first experience in a country where Islam is the major religion with the call to prayer ringing out five times a day.

IstanbulWe stayed at a small hotel on the edge Istanbul’ Old City, a walled area basically Constantinople in days of old. While we took buses to major tourist sites, we could have walked to many of them.  One outing was by boat, a cruise on the Bosphorus, the world’s narrowest, natural strait. This busy passage is used for international navigation that divides Istanbul into two sides: one is European and the other Asian. As the continental border between Europe and Asia, the Bosphorus connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara — and by extension via the Dardanelles, to the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean.

A must see is Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar Market, truly grand in scale and a place one could easily get lost, as I did, several times.

The Spice Bazaar Market

The Spice Bazaar Market*

It’s one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world with 61 covered streets and over 4,000 shops.  Personally, I found the Spice Bazaar more to my liking with only 85 shops selling mounds of spices in every color and description, Turkish delights, other sweets, dried fruits and nuts, plus a smattering of jewelry and souvenir shops sprinkled in.

Tulips were in their full radiant bloom

Tulips were in their full radiant bloom

 

A surprise on our arrival was the many gorgeous tulips.  We were told tulips are Turkey’s national flower.

Native to Turkey, tulips were exported to Holland!

Must on any tourists’ itinerary is Istanbul’s big three sites: the Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace, all located in the Old City.

Completed in 537 AD, the Hagia Sofia is a structural marvel with its massive dome. Modern engineers continue to study this dome to learn how it has survived earthquakes and the ravages of time.

Huge Dome of the Hagia Sofia

Huge Dome of the Hagia Sofia

Built as a Greek Orthodox cathedral, the Hagia Sofia was the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople. During the Fourth Crusades in the early 13th century, Constantinople was overran and the Hagia Sofia became a Roman Catholic cathedral. When the Turks conquered the city in 1453, the Hagia Sofia was converted to a mosque which it remained until 1935. The founder of the Republic of Turkey and its first president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, transformed the Hagia Sofia into a museum.

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or Blue Mosque as it is better known, was built in the early 1600’s. The magnificent primarily hand-painted blue tiles adorn the mosque’s interior walls, thus the name Blue Mosque.

Blue Mosque is beautifully lit at night

Blue Mosque is beautifully lit at night

At night the mosque is bathed in lights framing the five main domes, six minarets and eight secondary domes.  When we visited, men were coming in for mid-day prayer. As we watched, they quietly walked to the front of the massive prayer hall, kneeled on the lush red carpet and prayed.

The Topkapi Palace was the home of Ottoman Empire sultans from the 15th century to the 19th century. Overlooking the Bosphorus, the palace is safely cloistered behind high thick walls with watch towers. It is a vast complex with spectacular Islamic art and intricate hand-painted tilework linking courtyards with beautiful decorative rooms.

Topkapi Palace grounds

Topkapi Palace grounds

The palace included the Imperial Council Chamber with adjacent private rooms and special one-way viewing for the sultan’s private use as well as rooms for the sultan’s large harem. It also housed the Imperial Treasury with its dazzling gold objects and many precious jewels.

Upon leaving Istanbul, we flew to Kayseri in central Anatolia and were met by a chartered van for the rest of trip to Turkey’s coast. Our first stop in Cappadocia was Goreme National Park, a World Heritage site, well known for its unique geological landscape. Called fairy chimneys, they are large cone-shaped rocks formed when ancient volcanoes left thick ash which hardened into soft rock. Over time, wind and rain eroded these massive rocks leaving fairy tale vistas of cones, pillars, mushrooms and chimneys.

Ancient cultures living in Cappadocia left their mark as well. Digging into the soft rocks, these ancient people built dwellings, castles, worship areas, storehouses and even stables for animals.  

Cappadocia - a land of fairy chimneys

Cappadocia – a land of fairy chimneys

This large area is now a vast network of tunnels built in honeycombs forming entire towns, some with as many as eight levels going underground.

With erosion once again threatening Cappadocia, preservation efforts were underway when we were there in 2011. The increased tourism meant more modern development including hotels and restaurants built into the rock.

With the current unrest in the Middle East, I fear what has become of the growing tourist trade, the thriving pottery and rug- making cottage industries and the enjoyable people we met while visiting Cappadocia.

In my next blog, I will discuss watching a master potter at work, visiting a rug-making factory, seeing the famous Whirling Dervishes, meeting a sensitive Iman on the day bin Laden was killed, visiting Turkey’s beautiful coastal resort and touring the Turquoise Coast on a lovely wooden boat, a gulet.

*Photos by Marcia Seifert

The Takeaway: Going to Turkey was an amazing adventure from visiting a land of the Islamic faith as it is intended to be, one that preaches peace and kindness, to ancient sites that bear witness to a highly-developed civilization thousands of years old. What interesting adventures have you had while traveling to a foreign land? Share and let’s learn from each other. Include your name and email address or phone number so I may contact you if I have a question. I will not publish your name. Contact me at [email protected]

June 27, 2016

An African Safari Part Three: Meet the People

By Phyllis Bonfield

Shortly after we came back from a safari in Africa, a wise person told me, “You go for the animals, you go back for the people.” In 2010, we went to Tanzania on a 10-day safari and it was our first time on the African continent. Prior to our trip, we knew little about the country.


We learned Tanzania has more than 120 different tribes, each with its own customs, language and religion. In the late 1700s, the Zanzibar archipelago, off Tanzania’s eastern coast, came under the control of the
Sultanate of Oman Africa2and brought with them their Islamic beliefs. Europeans colonized the mainland in the late 1800s and brought Christianity with them. Today, Tanzania’s population is one third tribal, one third Christian and one third Muslim. Tanzania and the archipelago of Zanzibar gained full independence in the mid-1990s. Tanzanian leaders are proud their country earned its independence peacefully, unlike so many other countries in Africa.

With a Gross Domestic Product below $2000 per capita, however, Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in Africa. Nearly half the country’s GDP is based on agriculture and industry with tourism contributing another ten percent.

Life in Tanzania is difficult and physically challenging. Most homes, especially rural, do not have running water or electricity. The land is subject to drought or conversely, epic flooding. At a young age, children start helping with chores such as walking long distances to collect water in large buckets.

Shanga's motto

Shanga’s motto

In a previous blog, I discussed the amazing people with disabilities who reside at Shanga, a community near Arusha built on a coffee plantation.  With life so difficult in Tanzania, it helps explain why people who are unable to carry their share have been set aside in Tanzanian society. With high infant mortality rates, babies traditionally are not even given a name until they are three months of age. Fortunately, there is a place like Shanga for people with disabilities to live and contribute to the best of their ability.

During our visit to Tanzania, we found people were kind, caring and accepting of others. Of our three guides, one was Christian, one Muslim and the other tribal.  They worked together cooperatively and treated us, the tourists in their charge, with kindness and good humor, even though some of us were a bit trying at times.

People outside Tanzania know little about the 120 different tribes who live in this African country. Only the Maasai tribe – small in number by tribal standards – stand out.

Maasai women show visitor how mud hut is repaired using elephant dung and water.

Maasai women show visitor how mud hut is repaired using elephant dung and water.

The Maasai continue with their semi-nomadic lifestyle, distinctive customs and brightly-colored dress. The Maasai men are able to freely cross the border between Tanzania and Kenya as they take their cattle and goats to find better grazing grounds.

Today, many Maasai live in more permanent villages as shown in the photo taken at a Maasai village. The women, many married to the same man, especially the tribal chief, are responsible for child care and cooking as well as building and maintaining mud-walled, thatch-roofed huts. Young men and boys take care of the cattle and goat herds, which are most highly valued by the tribe.  

In the past, Maasai people subsisted on only what the herd provided. Today many Maasai raise crops, also the responsibility of the women. While most of the Maasai’s culture and customs continue, the killing of a lion as a rite of passage for young men has been outlawed by the governments of both Tanzania and Kenya.

Children learn how to draw and paint at village art school.

Children learn how to draw and paint at village art school.

Another interesting experience we had was in a small village we visited near the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. We stopped by a small outdoor art school run by a 36-year-old bachelor. In addition to teaching children how to draw and paint, he provided the children with lunch. The village children have a safe place to go during the day and it helps them learn a trade that helps their families.

Village art school painting

Village art school painting

 

 

The school is on the teacher’s property. In fact, he prefers to sleep in the old thatch-roofed hut where he was born, rather than the brick house he built for his mother.

Justin Basso is an elementary school principal in Tanzania

Justin Basso is an elementary school principal in Tanzania

Another remarkable man we met is Justin Basso, an elementary school principal who is a kind, but strict taskmaster.  His school has no electricity or running water, only a water well. The children arrive at school at 7:30 a.m. Their first job is to clean the school’s classrooms and then take care of the school’s garden.

Elementary school’s garden is beautifully cared for by the students.

Elementary school’s garden is beautifully cared for by the students.

 

 

With Mr. Basso’s oversight, the children built and tend the garden with its rock-edged paths.  The children sell the garden’s produce at a local market. This money helps buy school supplies as well as teaching the children important math and life skills.

 

 

*Safari Photos by Marcia Seifert

The Takeaway: Going to Tanzania on an African safari was a life changing experience, especially for the people we met while we were there. How have people you met on your travels, affected your life?  Share and let’s learn from each other. Include your name and email address or phone number so I may contact you if I have a question. I will not publish your name. Contact me at [email protected]

June 24, 2016

African Safari Part 2: Visiting the Serengeti

By Phyllis Bonfield

My partner and I went on an African safari in Tanzania in 2010.  We started out in the northern part of the country in the city of Arusha, considered the gateway to safari territory. It is strategically located near Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti, a world heritage site that was recently proclaimed a seventh wonder of the world.

The Great Migration*

The Great Migration*

The Serengeti, which means endless plain, is famous for its annual migration of millions of wildebeests and hundreds of thousands of zebras and Thomson’s gazelles. Referred to as The Great Migration, these animals go north leaving Tanzania for the Kenyan border and an area known as the Maasai Mara. Dictated by rainfall and food sources, the animals migrate north in the summer and return to Tanzania in the fall in time for wildebeests’ calving season in February.

The African Baobab trees are alive and used by animals for food and water.

The African Baobab trees are alive and used by animals for food and water.

While the animals were not migrating during our visit, game viewing in the Serengeti was none the less spectacular. We saw herds of buffalo as well as elephants, giraffes and the many different African antelopes including eland, topi, kongoni, impala and Grant’s gazelle. In addition to mammals, the Serengeti is famous for its reptiles, birds and plant life.

Gold-maned African lion*

Gold-maned African lion*

Before leaving Arusha to visit four national parks,our guides cautioned us we were entering the animals’ territory. All animals are wild. Being careful means never getting out of the vehicle on game drives. The tops of the vehicles, however, were open for better viewing during the drives.

One may be inclined to think of lions when considering the most vicious animals, but on safaris, guides know it’s elephants that are the most dangerous.  A gun is attached to the back of vehicles in case an elephant goes rogue. Thus, when an elephant walks in front of a vehicle, it’s the vehicle that stops and waits for the elephant to pass. And about those lions, the ones we saw were more interested in their morning nap.  We drove within 50 feet of male lions without our guides being concerned or the lions showing any interest.

Animals peacefully co-exist as they graze

Animals peacefully co-exist as they graze

When we visited Tarangire National Park on our first day out, we saw elephants, giraffes, zebras, wildebeest and antelope grazing — some side by each. My initial impression was one of amazement. Seeing these animals peacefully grazing was one of the most civilized scenes I have ever witnessed. This same scene was duplicated time and again throughout our safari.

Our guide told us only hyenas kill for pleasure. Other animals — with the exception of humans – kill only when hungry or seeking food for their young.  Most kills take place at night.  We did not see or hear a kill which was fine with me. While staying at the Serengeti tent camp, our drives started early in the morning – the best time to see animals. After the drive, we returned for a delicious brunch and a few hours rest before heading out for a late afternoon drive.

3 Cougars created a safari mob scene

3 Cougars created a safari mob scene

While on game drives, when an unusual animal was spotted the guides from various tours contacted one another. Then many vehicles converged on the same area. This happened when we spotted three cougars. It’s unusual to see one cougar let alone three.  Another time we spotted a bat-eared fox and our guide got excited. He said it is one of the few times he’s ever seen one.

Zebra herd splashing at water hole

Zebra herd splashing at water hole

Several safari experiences were especially significant. One was at a watering hole when zebra stallions used barking and yipping sounds to organize a large herd of zebras. With their loud barking sounds, these stallions limited the number of zebras going to and from the water.  As we were watching the zebras, a herd of wildebeests came into view slowly walking in a long line toward the same watering hole.  Several stallions galloped toward the wildebeests and stopped them until their herd had finished drinking and enjoying their time in the water.

Come along baby, time to join the family

Come along baby, time to join the family

An especially endearing scene was when a large mother elephant tried to get her very young baby elephant to leave a small stream.  The baby elephant had not yet learned to drink with its trunk and kept trying to drink with its mouth. About this time, two young elephants started to leave the stream and join the big bull elephant male who had already moved away.

Using her trunk and large front legs, the mother tried to gently nudge her baby out of the stream. One of the young elephants–we named the big sister–went back to help, but it still took another ten minutes to convince the baby to leave. We all quietly cheered as the baby walked safely out of the water under its mother’s belly.

"Look!" - There's a cougar!

“Look!” – There’s a cougar!

The third incident occurred at the end of a drive as we were heading back to camp.  “Stop,” a fellow traveler stage whispered, “there is a leopard in the tree over there.” And indeed, there was — a rare sighting.  About a fourth of a mile away, the leopard was lying on a large branch high up in a tree.  As we watched, the leopard casually lifted its head, yawned and changed position.  Not much for the leopard, but it was heart stopping for us.

Before I close my series on our African safari, I will share our impression of the interesting and diverse people we met, saw and heard about on our trip. Of our three guides, one was Christian, one Muslim and the other tribal, representing Tanzania’s three major religions. While English and Swahili are Tanzania’s two recognized languages, it is home to 120 different tribes and each has its own language and customs. In my concluding blog on our safari, I will discuss the people we met on our trip to Tanzania.

Goodnight Serengeti...sleep well

 Goodnight Serengeti…sleep well

*Safari Photos by Marcia Seifert

The Takeaway: Going to Tanzania on an African safari was a life changing experience for many reasons.  I had the opportunity to see animals, large and small, in the wild as they grazed, splashed, ambled, lazed, slept and watched us as we watched them. It was one of the most exciting and awe-inspiring experiences I have ever had. What travel experiences stand out in your life?  Share and let’s learn from each other. Include your name and email address or phone number so I may contact you if I have a question. I will not publish your name. Contact me at [email protected]

June 8, 2016

Our African Safari: Part One

By Phyllis Bonfield

When my grandson was visiting on a recent weekend, we took him to see The Jungle Book movie. He loved it and so did we. As the film opened…antelopes, gazelles, wildebeests, giraffes, monkeys, wolves, hyenas, jackals, rhinos, elephant, ostriches and other animals were running as if their lives depended on it.

The Jungle Book, set in India, has a tiger as a major character. I read recently Rudyard Kipling’s book has shined a light on the plight of tigers in the wild. It’s widely known tigers are prized by poachers, as are the ivory tusks of elephants and rhinos – now legally banned. JungleBook

Seeing those magnificent animals in the movie transported me back to 2010 when my partner and I went on an African safari. Tigers are not found in Africa, but the other animals in the film are there. We went to Tanzania on Africa’s eastern coast on a small group tour with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT). Our group of 15 tourists had three guides, each with his own specialty ranging from birds to large animals to vegetation.

My appreciation for all these animals increased exponentially after the safari. Now it is difficult for me to see animals in a zoo even though many of today’s zoos are all about conservation, education and research. Still, I have no interest in going to a zoo after seeing animals roaming free in the wild.

Canal Boat in Amsterdam: Hop on & off

Canal Boat in Amsterdam: Hop on & off

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. The trip from Philadelphia to Africa is a long one as you can imagine. We wisely decided to take an optional overnight in Amsterdam — a good way to break up a long plane ride.

We arrived in Amsterdam, checked into an airport hotel, had breakfast and took a train into central city. We bought canal ride tickets, got on a canal boat and toured Amsterdam the easiest way to take in the city — from the water. Afterward, we visited the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum before enjoying an early dinner and taking the train back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.

Touring Amsterdam by boat

Touring Amsterdam by boat

We arrived the next day at Kilimanjaro International Airport in Tanzania and were met by our head tour guide. We spent our first two nights in Arusha, the capital of northern Tanzania widely known as the gateway for safaris. The first day, as we were getting over jet lag, we visited an amazing place near Arusha called Shanga, a residential home for people with disabilities, located on 10 acres within a coffee plantation.

Shanga's Motto

Shanga’s Motto

Some years ago, the plantation owner’s daughter started Shanga when she saw area people with disabilities didn’t have a proper place in Africa’s social/work structure. Some people at Shanga are blind, others deaf and still others are physically disabled. Residential dormitories were built and braille and sign language classes were started with all residents and teachers participating.

Cottage industries were began at Shanga including small bead work to make such gift items as coasters and holiday ornaments. There is a sewing area with sewing machines to make clothing and necklaces.

Shanga resident fires glass beads

Shanga resident fires glass beads

The necklaces consist of glass beads made from old wine bottles that are broken down and melted then fired into beads by residents. The beads are feed into colorful cloth sleeves and tied to accentuate the beaded areas. All these gift items are sold in Shanga’s gift shop and there is also a restaurant on the premises. Arusha-area residents and tourists contribute to Shanga’s operating costs. While it is not self-supporting, its residents are fully functioning within their ability in a beautiful, accepting community.

Shanga residents call her Grandma, a Maasai woman who is deaf.

Shanga residents call her Grandma, a Maasai woman who is deaf.

Our hotel in Arusha as well as the other places we stayed were beautiful, comfortable and served delicious meals. Our favorite lodge was the three-night stay at the Ngorongoro Farm House, a former coffee plantation.

It has lovely, individual garden cottages with shared roofs surrounded by beautiful flora. Not exactly what one would expect when on safari. Even our three nights in the Serengeti tent camp were comfortable.

Beautiful Dining Lodge at Ngorongoro Farm House

Beautiful Dining Lodge at Ngorongoro Farm House

The Farm Houses’ grounds are beautiful and include a swimming pool, organic vegetable garden, large variety of banana plants and exotic flowers. The Lodge is located just outside the Ngorongoro Conservation Area which includes a deep, volcanic crater that is the largest unflooded and unbroken caldera in the world.

The 25,000 large animals living within the crater area do not migrate as they have all the water and food needed to survive. It was here we got excited when we saw our first lions and black rhinos.

tentOur “tent camp” was in a designated Serengeti camping area used by OAT during their five-month “safari season.” Our tent was large and well-equipped for two people. It included a table, two chairs and cots that were more like real beds than cots.

Eric with warm water for shower

Eric with warm water for shower

The tent had an overhead solar-powered light, flush toilet and a warm-water shower. The shower was compliments of Eric, the friendly “shower boy,” who carefully tended a giant outdoor boiler. At the designated hour, Eric called out to us as he filled our tent’s 5-gallon bucket placed outside so it emptied into our shower inside the tent.

5-minute shower

5-minute shower

We had delicious meals with fresh vegetables delivered daily.

Chef bakes with outdoor oven

Chef bakes with outdoor oven

The camp’s superb chef cooked our meals in an improvised outdoor kitchen. While bread and other items were baked in “ovens” using firewood gathered by camp helpers, the kitchen kept food fresh in refrigeration cooled by large generators. The dining tent included a long colorful, clothed table with cloth napkins.

In my next blog, I will discuss the animals we saw in four of Tanzania’s national parks including the Serengeti.

*Safari photos by Marcia Seifert

The Takeaway: Travel can be a life changing experiences. I did not know what to expect before I went on a safari, but this trip stands out as one of the most exciting and awe-inspiring experiences I ever had. What travel experiences stand out in your mind? Share with us and let’s start a discussion. Please include your name and email address or phone number so I may contact you for clarification if I have a question. I will not publish your name. Contact me at [email protected]

May 31, 2016

Memories of Mim

By Phyllis Bonfield

Are there people in your life who make you feel good just to be around them? A person who lights up a room just by walking in. A person you admire because he or she is able to take whatever comes their way in stride.

I am fortunate to have had such a person in my life.  Her name is Mim. I had planned to write about my current topic, travel, but Mim kept coming into my thoughts. Join me as I take a detour from travel experiences.

Mim symbolized joie de vie. She had a way of attracting people with her warm smile and quick wit. But she wasn’t a Pollyanna. Her life was not easy as I found out when I got to know her better.

Marilyn was her given name, but friends in Texas called her Mim. She would laugh and say “My name has two syllables to you Texans – Mee  um

Great Depression hit in 1929

Great Depression hit in 1929

Born in Philadelphia in the 1920s, when the Great Depression struck in 1929 Mim’s family fortunes took a downward turn.  Her father lost his jewelry business to the Depression and committed suicide. Mim, her mother and sister had to go live with her grandmother. Whenever Mim spoke of her childhood she would say, “I was fortunate to be raised by strong women.” And she meant it.

When Mim graduated from high school, she went straight to work. I had the feeling her greatest regret was not going to college. She loved art, music, theater, was an avid reader and took an interest in world affairs. In her twenties, Mim married a talented, charismatic man and they had two daughters. In the 1950s, she and her family moved to San Antonio where her husband became manager of the local Bernhard Altmann factory, a famous maker of cashmere coats and sweaters.

The Alamo in San Antonio

The Alamo in San Antonio

I was a teenager in Texas when I met Mim and one experience stands out. She was at the house and I walked in the kitchen with a new black velvet scoop-neck dress. Mom said the dress was “too old” for me, but Mim piped up, “Bea, don’t be silly, Phyllis looks beautiful in it.”  Mom gave in and I felt terrific every time I wore that dress!

Philadelphia's Liberty Bell

Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell

Now fast forward to July of 1976. I had married in the mid-60s, and in ‘76 we moved to Philadelphia from Alabama. We had two young sons and I was pregnant with my daughter. While Mim had returned to Philadelphia in the 1960s, she and my mother kept in touch.

After we moved, Mim came over to the house while my parents were visiting. Her visit kindled a friendship I cherish. We didn’t have family close to us in the Northeast and Mim became my children’s “Philadelphia grandmother.” As I learned more about her life, my respect and admiration for her grew.

Mim and her husband declared bankruptcy after they moved back to the East Coast and in the 1970s financial difficulties led to divorce. She was grateful to her sister for providing her family a place to live. Mim worked a variety of administrative and sales jobs and didn’t let hard luck dent her bubbly personality or her joy of life. She would always say she was blessed with wonderful friends.

shadowMim would babysit with my children who adored her. She always acted like we were doing her a favor. She would walk in with funny kid gifts and get down on the floor to play Yahtzee and other games with the children. She was part of our family at family events including our daughter’s naming ceremony, the children’s bar and bat mitzvahs and my oldest son’s wedding.

Twenty years ago when my husband and I divorced, I complained to Mim that my ex took the china because I wanted the silver flatware, a present from my grandparents. “Don’t worry about it,” Mim wisely advised, “Go to IKEA and get a new set of dishes.” She was right.

Ceramic ware from Umbria

Ceramic ware from Umbria

Life can have a way of changing one’s outlook. In the early 2000’s, my partner and I were in Italy after we bought our house on the Chesapeake Bay. While in Umbria, we bought colorful ceramic dinnerware. It is fun and fits our casual lifestyle. By the way, the silver flatware that was so important to me is now with my daughter and it is seldom, if ever, used.

In January 2015, my daughter gave birth to a baby boy. I called Mim to share the happy news and was upset to learn she died at the end of December. She had been living at an independent housing community in Philadelphia. It hurts that I didn’t get to tell Mim goodbye. I think she knew how much my family and I cared for and admired her, but I wish I had told her.

The Takeaway: Have you had a special person who has enriched your life? Share your experience and let’s start a conversation. Please include your name, email or phone number. I may need to contact you for clarification or with a question. I won’t publish your name. Contact me at [email protected].

May 19, 2016

The Joy of Gardening with a Bonus

By Phyllis Bonfield

My most recent topic has been travel, but with today’s blog I am taking a detour.  I have several areas of special interest and one of them is a lifelong love of gardening learned at my mother’s side while I was growing up.

happy-gardner

Happy Gardener

In January, I heard of a volunteer project in my area involving a garden nursery suffering from much deferred maintenance. The owners, an elderly couple, had been in business for fifty years. The husband was bedridden and his wife spent most of her time taking care of him. Money was in short supply. They needed help to get the nursery ready for the 2016 season.

The idea of helping at a nursery was appealing to me and it was the middle of winter. Along with other volunteers, we decided to see how much could be accomplished by the end of March.  On the appointed day, I packed up my garden gloves and tools and headed out.

Fortunately, we had a warmish winter because our first activities were outside and had nothing to do with growing plants.  Invasive vines and sumacs were growing in and outside the four greenhouses and had to be cut down and/or dug up. The greenhouses’ frames were covered with heavy-gauge plastic in need mending. And, the watering and heating systems in three greenhouses needed repair and/or replacement.

potting-soil

Potting soil is ready for planting little “plugs” and other young plants

Rusting and broken equipment littered the nursery’s two acres. Brambles, sumacs and invasive black walnut trees were growing in the nursery’s summer garden. A glasshouse, formerly a floral gift shop, was filled with debris and had missing glass panes. To become a welcoming tea house, it had to be thoroughly cleaned and glass replaced.

In February, the husband died and his wife used working in the greenhouse to help ease the pain of her loss. Soon, I started working in the greenhouse with her and got my hands in the warm potting soil, plus learning more about how to tend young plants.

Little plants grow strong in the heat-controlled greenhouse

Little plants grow strong in the heat-controlled greenhouse

Many plants, especially the vegetables, are grown in a greenhouse from seed. Other plants are supplied by commercial growers. The growers send their nursery clients plastic flats filled with thimble-sized plants called plugs. Before planting, flats are put in a shallow “water bath” to loosen the plug’s roots. Then they are carefully removed and transplanted in plastic pots to grow for sale in the spring. One’s maternal instincts kick caring for these little plants and watching them grow.

Along with several other volunteers, I am continuing to help at the nursery. I enjoy watching the plants grow stronger as more leaves appear and the blooms appear.  I get to put beautiful plants in hanging baskets and other planters. When the flowers, herbs and vegetables are ready for sale, I help take them out to an outdoor greenhouse that is partially covered. I enjoy talking to customers and giving suggestions as they select plants for their own garden.

The Takeaway: Digging in dirt, especially soft, warm potting soil in the waning days of winter felt like a little bit of heaven. Helping the nursery’s owner at a critical time in her life has reinforced for me the value of volunteering one’s time and talent.  My bonus is learning more about plants from an expert and doing something I love.

What have you done, especially if it involves volunteering, that has been especially meaningful for you? Share and let’s start a conversation. Please include your name and email address or phone number so I may contact you for clarification or if I have a question. I will not publish your name. Contact me at [email protected]

May 2, 2016

A Special Vacation

By Phyllis Bonfield

Travel has always been an important part of my life. While growing up, family vacations included road trips throughout the United States and parts of Canada. As an adult, I expanded my horizons traveling for work. While I saw my share of airport and convention hotels, when time permitted, I visited special places such as Washington State’s San Juan Island and California’s Napa Valley.

These experiences helped whet my appetite for further travel, especially when work took me to the British Isles. I was in Scotland for a week with several days in Edinburgh and then three days in London. It was my first time in Europe and I knew it would not be my last.

In addition to travel, I have always been drawn to the visual arts. I have a special soft spot for the Impressionists. Over the years, when traveling, I visited many art museums and galleries. For years, my dream vacation was to visit Provence, combining my love of travel and art. That dream became a reality in the 1990s with my first trip to the Continent.

rodin

Rodin’s Burghers of Calais

We flew to Paris and stayed at a small hotel with a lovely patisserie next door. We did the usual sightseeing: a barge trip on the River Seine, went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, visited Notre Nome and enjoyed delicious crepes on tiny Isle Saint-Louis. Special highlights included visiting Musée Rodin and seeing his magnificent indoor and outdoor sculptures plus going to the Musée d’Orsay with its exquisite Impressionist collection.

Monet painted the bridge over his lily pond in 1899

Monet painted the bridge over his lily pond in 1899

We took the train to Claude Monet’s home, Giverny. I got goosebumps as we walked the grounds where the artist painted and gardened for nearly forty years. His house and gardens have been restored to their original beauty complete with Monet’s famous water lily ponds and rowboat.

Flassan in Provence

Flassan in Provence

Next, we boarded France’s high-speed train, the TGV, at Paris’ Gare de Lyon station and were off to Provence. We arrived in Avignon, rented a car and drove to the small village of Flassan in the shadow of Mt. Ventoux, of Tour de France fame. We stayed at an apartment we found online complete with small wood-burning fireplace to take the chill off in the evening and an outdoor patio for sunny morning breakfasts. Our hostess told us the building had once housed livestock before being transformed into an apartment.

Flassan’s only grocery, not much more than a produce stand, is open three mornings a week and the post office is open two days. If we needed to make a call, there was a phone booth near the village fountain. Those were the days before cell phones. Many villages we passed through had markets to pick up fresh veggies, meat, chicken, eggs, bread and cheese so groceries were not an issue.

Sunday Market in L'Isle sur la Sorgue

Sunday Market in L’Isle sur la Sorgue

While traveling in Europe, I enjoy stopping at village markets. It’s a time to visit with locals and learn more about the area. Our first day, we drove to L’Isle sur la Sorgue, formerly a fishing village, but now famous for its antique shops and Sunday antique market. Fortunately for us, it was Sunday. We nearly blew our whole “gift budget” that day and still smile when we pull out our colorful Provence tablecloth.

Provence Sunset

Provence Sunset

It is easy to see why artists are drawn to Provence. The color — morning, noon and evening — is spectacular. It’s a wonder in the mountain village of Roussillon, famous for its red cliffs and ochre quarries. And the hilltop villages like Gordes with its stone houses and terracotta roofs. Then there’s the turquoise blue of the Mediterranean at Cassis, a coastal village carved out of steep white limestone cliffs. Most memorable is Provence’s sunsets. The sky blazes with wide swaths of purple, blue, salmon, orange and gold.

The Takeaway: Travel provides me with many special experiences. What experiences have you had that have enriched your life? Share with us and let’s start a conversation. Please include your name and email address or phone number so I may contact you for clarification or if I have a question. I will not publish your name. Contact me at [email protected]

April 4, 2016

Travel Makes Lasting Memories

By Phyllis Bonfield

Trip planner provided by oil companies

Trip planner provided by oil companies

Vacations are a wonderful way to make lifelong memories and more.  As a child our family took summer vacations throughout the U.S. I remember geography and history lessons in grade school as boring. What was not boring was actually visiting historic places.

Our first driving vacation to the East Coast was to Washington D.C. My folks mapped out our trips using something called Triptiks. They were given out by the various oil companies – ours from Mobil Oil. Think AAA, but free. While helpful, it didn’t ensure we stayed of the designated route.
gatlinburgOne day while driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we took a wrong turn. My folks didn’t know it until we ended up in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. That was long before it was “discovered” and a tourist trap. What a fun stop.

Our destination that day was Williamsburg, Virginia. That wrong turn meant we arrived too late to get the room my family had reserved at the Williamsburg Inn. Instead, the Inn put us up in one of Williamsburg’s original houses, “the Quarter House,” owned by the hotel.

The Quarter House, Williamsburg, Va.

The Quarter House, Williamsburg, Va.

I have vivid memories of carefully winding my way up the narrow staircase to the third floor bedroom. My brother and I slept on narrow twin beds with the eaves barely allowing us to sit up without hitting our heads on the ceiling. Staying there is one of my favorite childhood memories.

Back in the 1950s, you didn’t pay an admission fee to visit “Colonial Williamsburg” — as if it is an extension of Disney World or Williamsburg’s own Busch Gardens. Tourists parked on the main street and walked around mingling and visiting with re-actors in period costume. For an eight-year-old, it was easy to imagine living there in the 1700s.

1950s -- The Mayflower Hotel, Washington, DC

1950s — The Mayflower Hotel, Washington, DC

I remember Washington D.C. as interesting, but really as an historic blur. I probably expected too much because my parents were so excited. We took the Capitol tour, visited the National Archives Building to see the original Declaration of Independence, plus spent time at the Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington monuments. What I remember best was our stay at the Mayflower Hotel. I thought it was the prettiest place I’d ever seen.

My funniest memory of our visit was the many circles in the middle D.C’.s streets. Dad got so frustrated as he tried to figure out where we were supposed to go. My favorite place in Washington was the Natural History Museum. It is probably why I was excited to take my own children there when we moved in the East Coast in the 1970s. I hope they weren’t disappointed!

It is special to see, feel and learn about a place when visiting that makes a lasting impression, especially for a child.

Some vacations are strictly for the pleasure of being there. That is why I will be away for the next few weeks. My blog will return when I get back from vacation.

The Takeaway: Life is full of vivid memories, some good and some we’d rather forget. What memories do you have from childhood – especially ones from travel experiences – to share with us? Let’s remember together. Please include your name and email address or phone number so I may contact you for clarification or if I have a question. I will not publish your name. Contact me at [email protected]

March 25, 2016

Travel Makes Happy Memories

By Phyllis Bonfield

Vacations are a wonderful way to make lifelong memories. When I was a child our family took summer vacations visiting states throughout our country. I am awed I think how our forefathers headed west in covered wagons. Three-thousand miles is just a number until you consider it is nearly that far from New York City to San Francisco.

1948 Buick Sedan

1948 Buick Sedan

It took my family days to drive from San Antonio where I grew up to such destinations as Colorado, New Nevada or California. The first vacation I went on, one I barely remember, was to Colorado. I was six at the time. We packed up the Buick and off we went: the goal was to drive up Pike’s Peak — which we did. It was the first time I saw snow. I don’t remember if that was so or just something my folks talked about after the trip. I think it might have been the first time they saw snow too.

While we were in Colorado, we stopped overnight in Golden to visit friends of my parents. This I do remember – as if it were yesterday. I was outdoors with their son – who was my age – when suddenly he whispered, “STOP! Stand Still!”

Pike's Peak - America's Mountain

Pike’s Peak – America’s Mountain

I followed his eyes to the ground. There, coiled up, was a rattlesnake with its rattle rattling. After what seemed like hours, the snake uncoiled and slivered off.

We probably scared the snake as much as it scared me. My friend was unfazed. I don’t remember Pike’s Peak, but I remember standing there in my jeans and boots with a rattlesnake coiled at our feet.

On another vacation, I remember visiting Yosemite National Park where we saw the beautiful fire fall. It no longer takes place, but in the evening in the 1950s, a giant fireball was dropped down the side of Glazier Point.

Firefall in Yosemite National Park

Firefall in Yosemite National Park

The fireball drop began in mid-1800s and continued until it was stopped by the National Park Service in 1968. In the summer, as the sun set, the employees of the Glazier Point Hotel would build a huge fire atop Glacier Point. As the fire burned down to embers, someone yelled, “Let the fire fall!” Originally, that someone was the hotel’s owner. With long rakes, the hotel employees would push glowing coals over the 3,200-foot cliff.

I don’t remember anyone singing The Indian Love Song or someone yelling, “let the fire fall,” all part of the show, or so I have since read. But I vividly remember seeing that magnificent fireball heading down the mountain.

The Takeaway: Life is full of vivid memories, some good and some we’d rather forget. What memories do you have from childhood – especially ones from travel experiences – to share with us? Let’s remember together. Please include your name and email address or phone number so I may contact you for clarification or if I have a question. I will not publish your name. Contact me at [email protected]

March 18, 2016

The Love of Travel

By Phyllis Bonfield

My love of travel began at an early age. In the summer, my family took driving vacations, or road trips, of two to three weeks. We visited states from the East to West Coasts and the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes. It was the boom days after World War II. Gas rationing was lifted and new cars began rolling off the assembly line. I expect my parents had pent up travel bug.

As an adult, my travel adventures have expanded to other Continents, but I am getting ahead of myself. In this next segment of Retirement is a Journey, I will blog about travel and how it has expanded my horizons and enriched my retirement. First, I will begin with how travel got in my DNA.

While I was growing up, it was in the summer months I learned about our country, both geographically and historically. While I didn’t think of it that way, travel was my best social and history lessons. Seeing where Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address had its impact. It probably means I’m an experiential learner.

mapIt was the early 1950s, before Interstate highways crisscrossed the country and gave all major roadways the look of “sameness.” There were no McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts or Holiday Inns. It was the heyday of Route 66s and California’s beautiful Pacific Coast Highway 101.

Each stop was an adventure. We were easily identified as tourists with our Texas twang. Ordering a hamburger for lunch was an experience. We’d ask for lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions, mustard and mayonnaise on the burger. The waitresses, always a girl or woman in those days, would stop what they were doing and watch us “put salad on our burgers.” We found out burgers in most places consisted of a thin meat pattie, ketchup, onion and pickles.

signIf we hadn’t reached a specific destination, we would drive until late afternoon. Around 5 p.m., we’d start looking for a motor inn, usually located on the highway. Back then, motor inns were not called motels. Most inns were one story buildings built in an L or wide U shape with parking in front of the rooms.

My brother and I would ask to stay where there was a swimming pool – easy to identify as we were driving. Pools were on grassy areas in the middle of the motor inn.

Mom always asked Dad to check the room to make sure it was clean. Once the room passed muster, we would unpack and change into bathing suits for a swim. Motor inns did not have restaurants in those days, so after a swim, we would dress and look for a restaurant that looked nice, but not too nice!

After dinner, it was time for bed…no television in those days. Plus, after a full day of driving with stops for whatever there was to see along the way, we were tired. And, my parents wanted to get an early start the next morning.

desertIn the 1950s, cars were not air-conditioned. When we vacationed in California or other states in the West, we would drive over 500 miles the first day. We’d stay overnight in Las Cruz, New Mexico, just over the Texas border from El Paso.

I have groggy memories of being awoken the next morning while it was dark outside. We wanted to drive across the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona before it got too hot. My parents feared our car would overheat. Others must have had similar fears as we often saw cars with water bags hanging from the hood ornaments.

wolfWhile driving was not as safe as it is today, those were more innocent days. Driving in the 1950s was a very freeing experience. No seat belts or safety carseats for kids, let alone laws requiring them.

There were no video games, iPods or other portable devices to amuse the kids. We had something called car games. These games were a group effort with the likes of I Spy, 20 Questions and license plate games. Remember those funny little red and white Burma shave signs that dotted the roadways.

In the 50s, for better or worse, many states allowed youngsters to get a driver’s license as a young teenager. In Texas, I got my license at age 14 — after taking a safe driving course and passing a written and driving test.

I was legal to drive, but not yet five feet tall. My parents had an Oldsmobile 98 and I could barely see over the stirring wheel. That year we vacationed in Florida. My parents gave me a turn at driving on the highway when a Florida state trooper started following us. He finally pulled me over. He couldn’t believe I was old enough to drive legally. I probably should not have been, but, those were more innocent days.

The Takeaway: What lesson or remembrances do you have from childhood – good, bad or indifferent? Share it and let’s start a conversation. Please include your name, email or phone number. I may need to contact you for clarification or with a question. I won’t publish your name. Contact me at [email protected].

March 9, 2016

Taking Chesapeake to New Home

By Phyllis Bonfield

Bayside yard at the Chesapeake

Bayside yard at the Chesapeake

Our home at the Chesapeake was situated on a hill that contributed to issues with stormwater runoff and cliff erosion. Once we settled fulltime at the Bay, we worked to keep water away from the top of the cliff. We built a berm in the front yard with underground pipes taking water to a culvert beside our property. We also planted trees, bushes, groundcover and perennials in the front and bayside yard to help absorb ground water.

When FEMA offered us a buyout in 2012, it meant the house would be demolished and the property returned to its natural state. It also meant all the landscaping features we had installed would be destroyed.

Moving to Elkton, Maryland

Moving to Elkton, Maryland

After months of house hunting, we found a home in Elkton, Maryland. I was pleased the 15-year-old house lacked real landscaping. It had only basic foundation plants. It gave us a clean slate to plan how the outside of the house would look. We fenced the backyard to protect our dogs and got to work on a landscaping design.

When we moved from the Chesapeake in July 2012 what we wanted most was to bring the bay with us. Since that was not possible, we took as much of the outdoors as we could.  We brought our hardscape including a small wooden bridge, fountains, decorative rocks and benches. We also brought plants from the yard.

It was a rainy Saturday when a friend came over and helped us dig up many of our trees and bushes. The same ones he had planted for us over a span of eight years. The rain that day mirrored the sadness the three of us were feeling.

We had rented a truck and filled it to overflowing with those bushes, trees, groundcover and perennials. After a full day’s work, my partner climbed in the truck’s cab and drove our plants up Interstate 95 as I followed in the car.

Our new shade garden in Elkton

Our new shade garden in Elkton

A friend from New Jersey who is in the landscape business helped us developed a design for our new yard in Elkton. The plan incorporated plants from the Chesapeake we hoped would survive transplant shock. Fortunately, most are going strong after three years!  We were sad when a Japanese maple and Korean dogwood didn’t make it and had to be replaced.

For two years after we moved, I spent many hours working in the yard. Now when we go outside, we smile as we see so many of our Chesapeake transplants thriving in our new yard. We take special joy in our two fringe trees, native to Maryland, with their lovely white blossoms in the spring. Other Chesapeake transplants doing well are the many perennials blooming in our shade garden, a blue-flowering chaste tree and nandina in the front, variegated willow bushes, burning bushes and variety of groundcovers in the backyard. We found new homes for our wooden bridge and benches. And this past summer, we installed our large pottery fountain in the backyard.

The Takeaway: Through no fault of our own, we might have to move on. It might be moving on from a special someone or a special something or somewhere. We all know, moving on can be very difficult. What we keep when we move on is our memories and these memories can last a lifetime. I smile when I think about our time at the Chesapeake. So many happy times shared with loved ones and good friends.  So many happy memories.

Let’s start a conversation about a situation or time you had to move and how you handled it. Send me an email. Please provide your name and contact information so I may get in touch for clarification or with a question. I will not print your name. Contact me at [email protected]

March 2, 2016

Time to Move On

By Phyllis Bonfield

storm

Storm clouds over the Chesapeake Bay

During the twelve years we had our Chesapeake Bay home, we learned much about the power of nature. We watched strong weather systems sweep up the Bay and when the sun broke through the clouds after a storm, we saw colorful, double rainbows stretch across the sky.

We also learned, firsthand, the downside of nature’s power. In previous blogs, I’ve detailed efforts to save our home when erosion claimed ever more of our cliff. Shoreline erosion and the effects of sea-level rise on our shores were a constant reminder of these powerful forces.

In a way, I’m glad the decision to leave the Chesapeake was not entirely our own.  We would have wanted to stay longer than we should, either because of cliff erosion or our own age.  We worked for years to save our home and were relieved when we got a permit in December 2006 to build a stone breakwater. We knew a lot of damage had been done by that time.

Even so, we were caught off guard when Calvert County wrote us in February 2012 saying we were one of ten homeowners eligible for a FEMA buyout. We were not aware FEMA had conducted a study along the Calvert Cliffs to determine if it was better to try and stabilize the cliffs or buy properties in imminent danger of erosion.

Buyout

Buyout

The formula for a FEMA buyout is straightforward: the federal government pays homeowners 75 percent of the fair market value of their property before the disaster occurred.  While buyouts generally occur as a result of flooding, our “disaster” was a tornado that came through the county in June 2010.

With a buyout, states or counties often provide the remaining 25 percent to homeowners.  In our case, state and local officials agreed to administer the buyout, but refused to provide any money. It meant we, as homeowners, had to pay 25 percent of the cost of buying our home, plus 25 percent for demolition, engineering and closing costs. Calvert County now owns ten vacant lots that must be kept in their natural state ad infinitum.

deskThe buyout was a comedy of errors from how FEMA and the state did their part of the project to how the county managed it. While we were losing our homes, we got double talk from the government. The buyout was not completed until May 2013 – fifteen months after we were first informed. As for one, we had to pay two mortgages for nearly a year.

Since nothing would ever be built on our property, we had agreed to sell our breakwater stone to a friend who lived nearby. Then a strange thing happened just before the buyout was completed. The county attorney called and said if we sold our stone, we would not be eligible for the buyout. Needless to say, selling the stone was off the table.

From previous blogs, you might remember U.S. Fish & Wildlife and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources tried to stop us or anyone else on the Calvert Cliffs from constructing shoreline erosion controls. Their reasoning: it would disturb habitat used by the Puritan tiger beetle, put on the threatened/endangered species list in the early 1990s. While neither the state nor federal government spent funds to rehabilitate the species, they did pay a biologist to count the beetles during their mating season in the summer.

It was difficult to leave the Chesapeake Bay. We knew our house was unsaleable and we knew we were fortunate to get money for it. We had previously made the decision to be closer to our family in the Philadelphia area when we moved. After numerous house hunting trips up Interstate-95, we moved to Elkton, Maryland, in July 2012.

Sunrise on the Chesapeake Bay

Sunrise on the Chesapeake Bay

Leaving the Bay meant saying goodbye to a wonderful way of life. Goodbye to friends and our well-established social and religious connections.

It meant saying goodbye to sunrises over the Bay, to watermen pulling up their crab pots and watching the many ships go up and down the Bay from the Port of Baltimore.

It was particularly hurtful to know our wonderful home would no longer exist. According to FEMA rules, the house had to be demolished within 90 days of the buyout’s closing and the property returned to its “natural state.”  We did ask if that meant taking out the stormwater management systems we had installed. We got no response.

While we were living on the Bay, my first grandson was born. Moving closer to Philadelphia meant being with him more often. It meant being a more active part of his life. We would also see family and old friends more often. There is always an upside to most every situation.  Thank goodness.

The Takeaway: We are stronger than we think we are when tested with difficult situations.  Age has taught us something and that is good.

Would you like to share a situation in which you were tested? If so, write me. Please provide your name so I may reach you if I have a question. I will not print your name. Contact me at [email protected]

February 23, 2016

Our Own Bed & Breakfast

By Phyllis Bonfield

Granite revetment using 500-2000 lb. stone

Granite revetment using 500-2000 lb. stone

A two year effort finally paid off and we were able to build revetment for shoreline erosion control at our home on the Chesapeake Bay. But after so many years of erosion, there was damage we could not undo.  Another hurricane, like Isabel in September 2003, would be disastrous.

At some point, we knew we would have to leave our beloved home. Until that happened, we decided to get back to our original goal for moving to the Bay: an enjoyable retirement. We joked we ran a wonderful B&B, only we didn’t get paid for it.

Friends and family started coming in May for “the season.” They continued visiting through September as well as December for the Holiday season.  During the first year, having so much company was exhausting.  We had to learn “how to do it right” so we enjoyed our family and friends, but did not get overly tired.  We learned breakfast could be self-serve.  And often, the same was true for lunch.

Crabs are steamed! Get crackin'!

Crabs are steamed! Get crackin’!

The outdoor gas grill was a simple way to cook a fun, delicious meal with little time in the kitchen.  A crab feast included steamed crabs, beer, corn-on-the-cob, coleslaw and ice cream for desert. We’d spread out brown butcher paper on the outdoor table and voila, an easy feast — dinner and the evening’s entertainment all in one.

We learned to establish a few house rules. Guests were asked to strip their beds before they left and take sheets and towels (only ones they used) to the washing machine.  Often guests would get sheets from the linen closet and make their own beds.

Fun in the Sun

Fun in the Sun

Think having so much company could be expensive? You’re right. But, choose your company carefully and they pitch in. They bring delicious treats with them, go to the grocery store or treat us to a meal out.

We didn’t have to plan activities for visitors to have a good time at the Chesapeake. We had a beautiful white sand beach five minute away ready for swimming, fishing, picnicking or just relaxing in the sun.

view-from-the-water

Taking in the views from the water

We also had “little boat,” an 18-foot bowrider with a 140-horsepower engine, large enough to handle the strong tides on the Bay. Guests enjoyed breakfast, lunch and/or sunset cruises. Going out on the water to see the beautiful homes on the Bay or head up the Bay to the local seafood house on Broomes Island.

While we lived at the Chesapeake, I always said I’d learn to drive the boat. I never did. It was my partner who had “captain” duties. As a teenager, she learned to drive powerboats at her grandfather’s lake house with his mahogany Chris Craft boat.

Sharing our Chesapeake Dream with family and friends was a pleasure and a very important part of our retirement on the Bay.  In fact, it’s the people who visited us at the Chesapeake that I remember most about our time there.

The Takeaway: Trial and error taught us having a day or two between guests was a necessity. Time to be just us and relax was an important component to enjoying our guests.  No matter how close we were with the people who visited, whether they be our children, siblings or best friends, we needed time to be alone.

What unexpected lesson(s) have you learned after you retired?  Let’s start a dialogue that benefits all of us as we prepare or continue on this journey called retirement. Please provide your name and contact information, either email or phone. I will not print your name, but may need clarification or have a question. Contact me at [email protected]

 

February 17, 2016

Battling a Beetle

By Phyllis Bonfield

As I have discussed in previous blogs, retirement is not without adversities, but the skills learned during our professional life can be used to our advantage. Our particular problem was to try and save our home from shoreline erosion. Our home was built in 1995 on a 70-foot cliff overlooking the Chesapeake Bay.

The Calvert Cliff's clay level sloughed off from the high tides after Hurricane Isabel in Sept. 2003

The Calvert Cliff’s clay level sloughed off from the high tides after Hurricane Isabel in Sept. 2003

In September 2003, Hurricane Isabel came up the Bay causing major property damage in Maryland. We didn’t realize it at the time, but our home would be severely impacted by Isabel’s effects.  It happened over time — months and even years before the full impact became clear to us.

We did know after Isabel hit, we needed to apply to the State of Maryland for a wetland’s permit for shoreline erosion control. We applied for a “continuous nearshore breakwater.”  Other names for this type of erosion control include jetty, riprap and revetment.

We worked with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ coastal engineer to design a breakwater that would most effectively control shoreline erosion at the base of the cliffs.  It would be constructed using 500 to 2000 lb. granite stone carefully placed to a height of five feet. In total, the breakwater would be 165-feet long and 20-feet wide.

After submitting our application, officials with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and biologists with the state’s Natural Resources Dept. expressed their opposition to our permit. They were against homeowners on the Calvert Cliffs receiving any type of permit that would disturb the cliffs. Their reason: a “threatened” species, the Puritan Tiger beetle, had habitat on the cliffs and liked eroding sand.  This particular tiger beetle is one of more than 100 species found in North America.

According to biologists, this beetle is only found along the Connecticut River in Massachusetts and on the Calvert Cliffs in Maryland. These two states have placed the P. tiger beetle on their endangered species list.  Other Mid-Atlantic States have not done so and are not involved in efforts to save this tiger beetle.

The Washington Post featured our effort to work with county, state and federal officials to get a permit for shoreline erosion control.

The Washington Post featured our effort to work with county, state and federal officials to get a permit for shoreline erosion control.

Our application for a wetland’s permit began an odyssey that lasted two years. We joined with other homeowners on the Calvert Cliffs, but knew we were up against difficult odds. Homeowners had tried for years but the permitting process meant working through 17 county, state and federal agencies. We appeared before state legislative committees and wrote, talked and worked with local, state and federally elected officials.

To draw attention to our “endangered homes,” we contacted our local as well as Baltimore and Washington D.C. media.  Our efforts yielded television, radio and print coverage, mostly sympathetic, including a major article in The Washington Post.

As we worked to get a permit, major slides continued to take vital land from our cliff. I have always considered myself to be an environmentalist and have even worked for an environmental organization. But I do not believe a beetle should take precedent over the safety of homeowners and their property.

Coastal contractors used heavy road equipment to build the nearshore breakwater with 500 to 2000 lb. granite stone.

Coastal contractors used heavy road equipment to build the nearshore breakwater with 500 to 2000 lb. granite stone.

As you can imagine, I learned more about the Puritan tiger beetle than I had ever expected or wanted to know. I learned its numbers are so low, long-term survival is suspect and between 2000 and 2007 Maryland provided no funding to rehabilitate the species.

Our permit went all the way to the U.S. Attorney General’s office before it was finally issued in December 2006. We were the first on Maryland’s western shores to secure a permit for a nearshore breakwater.  Between January and March 2007, our coastal contractor hauled granite stones to the base of our cliff to build the breakwater.

Our nearshore breakwater completed in March 2007.

Our nearshore breakwater completed in March 2007.

The finished breakwater is 165 feet long by 20 feet wide and five feet high.  My sister’s comment, “that’s a lot of counter tops!”

Even before the breakwater was built, we knew the amount of erosion caused by Hurricane Isabel had severely weakened our cliff. We knew we might not be able to stay in our home as long as we wished, but the fight was worth it. Not only for our property, but for other homeowners on the Calvert Cliffs. After the breakwater was completed, often we would see fisherman sitting on the rocks casting their line into the water.  Over the years as algae grew on the stone, we would imagine all the aquatic life feeding in the area.

Since we built our breakwater, five more homeowners secured permits and are able to help save their homes.  The Bay provides a lifestyle unlike anything we have ever experienced.  We are grateful for every day we lived at the Chesapeake Dream.

The Takeaway: They say adversity makes you stronger, but most of us don’t appreciate such test.  I know, I don’t. What unexpected experiences have you had in retirement or preparing for retirement? What is your takeaway from these experiences?  Let me know at [email protected]

February 10, 2016

Trouble in River City

By Phyllis Bonfield

Not really “River City,” but we did find trouble before we moved to our Chesapeake Dream. We learned there was erosion along the shoreline on the Chesapeake Bay before we brought our retirement house. We thought we had done our due diligence when we contacted the county’s environmental specialist to discuss the problem.

We were told the Bay’s shoreline erodes an average of 12-18 inches annually. That was a relief as our property had nearly 60 feet on the bay side. We figured we had at least 20 years before real problems occurred.

The Chesapeake Dream in December 2000

The Chesapeake Dream in December 2000

We planned to put in some form of shoreline erosion control when we moved. We were not told an endangered species, the Puritan tiger beetle, lived on the cliff and nothing could be done on the cliffs that would harm beetle habitat.

As mentioned in previous blogs, our house was used as a vacation rental for four years before we moved to Southern Maryland. We bought gently used furniture and new bedding for the three bedrooms and a sofa bed for the family room. The rentals paid the mortgage and for improvements. We felt good about our decision to buy before retiring. When the house was not rented, we enjoyed it with family and friends.

The year before we moved, in September 2003, Hurricane Isabel hit Maryland especially hard as it came up the Bay. It caused serious flooding in Baltimore, Annapolis and throughout the Bay’s coastal areas. Damage ran into millions of dollars. It taught us a hard lesson about shoreline erosion. While the average loss is 12-18 inches annually, when erosion occurs, it takes feet not inches. Trees have big roots and big trees have even bigger roots. When they go down it causes serious damage.

Chesapeake Bay shoreline after Hurricane Isabel hit in Sept. 2004

Chesapeake Bay shoreline after Hurricane Isabel hit in Sept. 2004

Our house was built in 1995 on a 70-feet cliff. Marvelous for viewing the Bay. Not so good when shore erosion occurs. Hurricane Isabel’s storm surge was eight feet high. That meant water rose eight feet above mean high water and flooded as it moved inland. After a hurricane or a superstorm, it’s the storm surge that usually causes the most damage. We were reminded of the high tides this past January with superstorm Jonas. We kept reminding ourselves we would have had to evacuate if were still at the Chesapeake.

Since we were not living at the Chesapeake, we drove down to our house the day after Hurricane Isabel to check on the house. We were relieved to find the house intact, but we found the shoreline looking very different. The beach was washed clean of previous slides and the many trees that had fallen over the years. The cliff’s base was solid dark clay for twenty to thirty feet up rather than huge mounds of sand that had been sliding down the cliff’s face over many years.

The cliff in front of our house did not show immediate evidence of weakness. Problems arose from loss of “buffer” slides at the cliff’s base. They had built up for so long they looked like a permanent part of the cliff. As high tides hit the cliff’s base, they undercut the exposed clay level and large chunks of clay began to break off. This process weakened the cliff all the way up to the top. Some months later, trees on the cliff’s side and at the top began to lean and slowly tilt downward.*

For the first two years after I retired and moved to the Chesapeake, I had a new job. It was a personal assignment. My job was to try and save our home. We waged a major public relations campaign with the help of fellow cliff homeowners. Our task was to get a permit to build revetment along our shoreline for erosion control.

The Takeaway: Have you had unexpected issues arise when you retired? Share them with this blog and let’s start a conversation. We can learn from each other and your input will help all of us as we face unexpected adversity. Please include your name and email or phone number so I may contact you if there are questions. I will not publish your name. Contact me at [email protected]dia.com

*A short geological discussion may provide a better understanding of issues with the Bay’s shoreline erosion. Maryland’s Calvert Cliffs are composed of sand and clay without hard surface like rock with their origin from the Miocene Age — about 12 million years ago.

The Chesapeake Bay was formed as a result of the last Ice Age — about 18,000 years ago. When mile-thick glaciers began melting they carved rivers and streams that flowed toward the Atlantic Ocean forming the Susquehanna River Valley. As water flowed southward, more land was submerged and eventually became the Chesapeake Bay.

Another event contributing to the Bay’s formation was an asteroid that hit Earth about 35 million years ago. About eight miles in diameter, the asteroid hit in the area now Virginia’s eastern edge. Its impact helped form the Bay’s mouth where it meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Many years ago the Bay had a much higher saline content and its aquatic life included scallops, sharks and whales. Now when chunks of clay slough off the cliff’s clay level, scallop shells, shark’s teeth and occasionally whale bones are prized finds by visitors and scientists alike.

February 2, 2016

Finding Our Chesapeake Dream

By Phyllis Bonfield

For nearly 30 years, I held various positions at nonprofit associations in the Philadelphia area. I spent many hours working at large hotel chains doing workshops and assisting with conferences. When thinking about a vacation, the thought of staying at a hotel, no matter how beautiful, held little appeal.

To relax and get away, my partner and I headed down to our favorite bed & breakfast. The Wades Point Inn in McDaniel, Maryland, is located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, a few hours south of Philadelphia. The Inn was beautifully situated on a small peninsula on the Miles River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. Dating back to the 1800’s, the Inn truly lives up to its claim as an historic place “where the stress of the world washes away.”Picture1

As the years went by, we began planning for our retirement and the Bay kept drawing us home. We looked for a home on the Eastern Shore, but houses on the water were out of our price range. Maryland’s Eastern Shore, especially St. Michaels, was a pricey place even before a former U.S. vice president and a defense secretary called it home.

In February 1998, we planned a weekend getaway even though Wades Point Inn was closed in the winter. Searching the Internet for a place to stay, we found a B&B in Solomons Island, on Maryland’s western shore. Our experience in that charming boating community helped us shift our housing search westward. We would still have spectacular Bay views, but with a lower price tag.

On a sunny fall day in 2000, we went house hunting in the Solomons area. As we told the realtor, “we are serious buyers, but not now.” That afternoon, we drove up to a two-story home overlooking the Bay. Even before I walked in, I knew this house was the one. I stood in the driveway looking through the dining room window and I could see the Bay! When we walked out on the deck, a bald eagle flew overhead. That was it. My partner agreed.

Picture2When we went back to Philadelphia, we owned a home on the Bay. We used it as a vacation rental for the four years from 2000 to 2004.

We bought new bedding for the three bedrooms along with gently used furniture, inexpensive dishes, glasses, pots and pans and TV. In no time, we were set with our Chesapeake Dream.com website one of our sons set up. I wrote the copy, another son took the photos and my partner qualified prospective renters. Over the next four years, rentals paid the mortgage. It also paid for improvements including a new roof, water heater and fencing for backyard to keep our dogs safe from our 70-foot cliff.

outside view lower deck 014

Chesapeake Dream living room overlooking Bay
Love at First Sight! This is the one.

The Takeaway: This is the beginning of my retirement story and life on the Bay at the Chesapeake Dream. Share your story about getting ready for retirement. Did you look for a new home — downsize and move to smaller quarters? Or did you decide to chuck it all and see the world while you are young and healthy enough to do so? Share your story at [email protected]

January 25, 2016

Retirement is a Journey

By Phyllis Bonfield

Welcome to my new blog on the subject of retirement. Some come to retirement well prepared for what lies ahead. Others, I dare say, most, are more like me — not as well prepared for what life has in store. I knew approximately when I would retire some years before the actual date – November 15, 2004.

As things go, I thought I was prepared. I knew where I was going to live. I had happily anticipated “the move” for four years. I was moving to a home on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. I bought the house with my long-time partner in December 2000 with retirement in mind.

“Chesapeake Dream” on Chesapeake Bay in Southern Maryland

“Chesapeake Dream” on Chesapeake Bay in Southern Maryland

I have two grandchildren in New Jersey whom I adore. But, my oldest grandson is only four and his brother recently turned one. So when I retired, grandchildren were not part of the equation.

In 1998, I was downsized after 12 years as an executive with a not for profit association serving the financial services industry. The 18 months between full-time employment was tough. I didn’t have the means to retire at age 56. And I feared I couldn’t find another job in my field.

I did consulting and part-time jobs while looking for full-time employment. Through trial and error, my computer skills did improve over those many months. I even learned how to be my own techie.

Eeks! What do I do now!?!!

Eeks! What do I do now!?!!

If something I was trying to do, didn’t work, I had to figure it out myself. I learned how to price consulting jobs, develop Excel worksheets, PowerPoint presentations and more.

My improved technical skills helped me get a new job. But I had to take pay and title cut.

For the four years before I retired, I worked for a regional library network based in Philadelphia. I was grateful to have a job in my field — marketing and communications.

When I retired, I had recouped some, but not all of my lost wages. Thanks to my partner, I did not have to go into my retirement savings while out of work. By 2004, I felt financially secure enough to retire.

Just after Thanksgiving near the end of 2004, we moved to Southern Maryland, relocating near Solomons Island, Maryland, a well-known boating community on the Chesapeake Bay. Our home, on Maryland’s the Calvert Cliffs, was located on a 70-foot cliff with a breathtaking 22-mile view of the Bay.

The takeaway: I had not anticipated retirement would have so many challenges. While many retirement experiences have been fulfilling, this journey is not without peril. My blog will explore the past 12 years as I continue on this journey called retirement.

As I blog on a topic affecting so many of us, I would like to hear from you. I want to learn about your experience/s on your own retirement journey. My hope is to start a dialogue that’s helpful to all who participate – whether as a reader or more fully as a blogging companion. Please provide your name and how I may contact you, either by email or phone. I will not print your name, but may need clarification or have a question. Blog with me at [email protected]