Monthly Archives: February 2016

Our Own Bed & Breakfast

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.


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]


Battling a Beetle

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]

Trouble in River City

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]

*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.

Finding Our Chesapeake Dream

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 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]