Thursday, February 22, 2024

Housing Adventures

Note: This blog post is mainly for me: to clarify my thinking. Not for your entertainment or education.


            Our quest for geezer housing continues. We’ve been looking for almost a year, and a brief self-analysis suggests several reasons for our lack of success.


            I previously wrote about criteria when choosing a new place to live.

·      Location 

·      Affordability 

·      Livability

·      Coolness

I stand by these criteria, though I recognize how easy it is to be seduced by coolness.


            We came close to buying a condo in the 1906 Stone School in Suttons Bay, just outside of Traverse City, and we even found a way to stretch our budget to pay the price when an escalator clause (bidding war) took us $50,000 above asking price. But then the whole operation got snagged because the conversion to condos had not been approved, plus the whole building was for sale at the same time as our condo, and if we bought a condo, we would be the only residents until more were sold – and they were not selling – so would we be the entire Homeowners Association. There were also some issues about the lack of storage, laundry room and garage, so we declined. But it was really cool . . ..


            We also came close to buying a condo in a loft in Ann Arbor – on the fourth floor of an old auto parts factory. It was small – about 1,100 square feet with one bedroom and a utility room – but charming in the industrial chic way. We loved the downtown Ann Arbor vibe, and we could stretch our budget to buy it, but we learned that the property taxes were about $1,500 a month, with HOA dues about $500. No way . . . though it was really cool.


            Another cool close call was a co-op in a 1926 building in Ann Arbor that had a lot of the charm we were looking for. Before driving down to see it, we studied the listing online and noticed how many stairs we would have to deal with and the lack of room for a small office and art room. Our realtor said there would be lots of interest in the unit, which meant a likely bidding war. So, despite the charm and the appeal of Ann Arbor, we declined. It wasn’t really livable, though It had a really cool fireplace.


            One problem is that we both are looking for several different things. We want place where we can go in the winter, or sometimes in the summer, to escape isolation, though it can’t require the long drive to Florida. This means we buy it without selling our Bark House, which puts a significant limit on our budget. It would be a condo so we don’t have to look after it when we aren’t there. But we are fussy. We want something old, with the quality of carpentry and design that was put into houses 100 years ago. This is hard to find in a condo. The new ones, in Kim’s words, “look like the inside of a refrigerator” – sterile and cold. When we try our computer search using the word “vintage,” we mainly get 1950’s ranches in need of a major remodeling. But that is better than ones that have been re-done poorly. Truth is, after living for five years in our wonderful Bark House, nothing else really measures up. We are willing to settle for less, but not much less. 


            But more and more lately, we are also looking for our next full-time place to live. It would also be a geezer-friendly condo that would serve us when maintaining the Bark House, and our acre of woods and our beach, becomes too much for our aging bodies. Live in both for a couple of years, maybe, and then sell the Bark House and transition to the condo. If it’s really great, we sell the Bark House to buy it in the first place. The latter is unlikely, given how much we love where we live now. Maybe it’s best just to stay here and get help, as needed.


            Another factor: One of us will likely die first, so it should be a place where the survivor can live – if not happily, then, at least, successfully.


            We are also uncertain about location. We are looking in the Traverse City area, with its natural beauty, along with our familiar stores and friends, our doctors and lawyers, etc. But we also want a location near family, which means either Southeast Michigan or Gainesville, Florida. We are also convinced that if we find just the right house, it could be just about anywhere, and so we have looked (online) in North Carolina, Georgia and Arizona. We are, as they say, all over the map. Some days we want somewhere warm. Some days we want to be with more people, and some days the isolation is very appealing. Wherever we look, we check out the distance from a cancer center.


            We also consider building a house. We’ve built three, plus a major remodel, and we are good at it and enjoy the process. And Kim enjoys using her insomnia to design and decorate houses. Of course, we know the clock is ticking, and it would probably take at least two years, at best, for the whole planning-building process, and who knows what kind of shape we’d be in at the end. No, we are supposed to be simplifying our lives as we rock through our 80s . . ..


THIS JUST IN: We are going to see a condo in Novi, not far from Scott, my stepson. Not cool the way the Stone School was cool, but great location, affordable, and livable . . .. And we looked at a very cool 1874 home in Traverse City – exposed bricks, beams, etc. – but too expensive.


UPDATE: Novi condo did not work out – too much work needed.







Thursday, February 15, 2024

Paynes Prairie

Paynes Prairie


This post is dedicated to all our friends in Florida. We miss you!


            When we lived in Florida, we volunteered as guides at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, on 21,000 acres just outside of Gainesville. Our duties were rather limited: answering questions as well as we could, and cautioning people not to pose their children near the alligators that lined La Chua Trail, the main path through the wetland to the observation tower (currently, I believe, under water). My favorite answer to a question came when someone asked me to identify a snake, something I could not do at all well.


            “What color is it?”




            “Then it’s a Green Snake.” I thought I was just being clever, but it turned out that I was correct.

Me, in Volunteer Mode

Paynes Prairie is most well known for its gators. Hundreds of them sometimes line La Chua Trail.

We tell people that when you are on Paynes Prairie, you are not at the top of the food chain.

Horses roam Paynes Prairie. They are descended from the Spanish horses brought by settlers. They are not fed or tended to by anyone. Doing fine on their own, thank you.

Bison also roam. These have been re-introduced, but they are authentic inhabitants.

Mainly, however, we went to Paynes Prairie to photograph the abundant birds.

Great Egret in Bur Marigolds

American Bittern

Turtle Surfing

Great Blue Heron, with Lunch

Black Vultures Holding a Meeting

Double-Crested Cormorant, Looking Cool

Wood Stork (not delivering a baby)

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red-Winged Blackbird

Snowy Egret

White-Faced Ibis
Colorful enough for you?

Eastern Palm Warbler

Wilson's Snipe
We hunted for Wilson but could not find him.

Green Anole
Not a bird, but beautiful.

Luna Moth

Happy trails to you, until we meet again . . ..

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Valentine Snowman


            Kim and I have discussed how difficult it is to say what the word “love” means. A verbal definition usually falls short. But in the winter of 2014, I found a way to define it.


            We were living in Saline, where Kim was recuperating from one of her cancer surgeries. She was home from the hospital and pretty much stuck in the house because of the enormous pain and fatigue. She enjoyed sitting in the little nook we had built because it looked out to the back yard, where we could watch the squirrels and birds entertain us. We did not have a lot of birds, but the snow on the ground made the scene beautiful. With Valentine’s Day approaching, I decided to make it even more beautiful. The snow was good packing, so I made a snowman and adorned it with bird seed for the squirrels and birds. It worked! We were entertained.


            I had found a way to express my love in a Valentine made of snow.



            One ingredient of love, I think, is commitment, and I really committed myself to this task. I felt helpless in the face of Kim’s grueling and dispiriting slow recovery from her surgery. I could not help with that beyond fetching stuff for her, or sitting with her. But here was a project, for Kim, that I could throw myself into, body and soul. I loved that she was watching me do it, cheering me on and suggesting improvements. This frosty Valentine was, I believe, better than a poem.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

The Sign


Kim photographed this sign several years ago when we were driving along the Texas coast:




When you get old, sometimes a road sign sends a clear message. We kept going.


Thursday, January 25, 2024



            I heard this joke somewhere:


            Do you know how the same word can mean something entirely different to different people? Take, for example, the word “fine.” When a woman says the word, as in “Go ahead, watch your stupid football game! Fine!” the word means something like “Fuck you.” But when you ask a man to describe how he feels about something, and he says, “I feel fine,” the word means “I don’t understand the question.” (OK, ha-ha – we men are not in touch with our feelings.)


            But a bit more seriously, how is the word “fine” used these days?


            Ask your kid how school went today, the answer is usually, “Fine,” which means “I don’t want to talk about it, especially with you.”


            Or, when you ask your spouse how his or her day went, and the answer is “Fine.” What is that supposed to mean? “I have plenty to complain about, especially concerning you, but there is no point bringing it up.”


            Similarly, when one of Kim’s friends or family members asks her how she is feeling, she usually says, “Fine,” because she does not want to impose complaints about her pain and fatigue on people who can’t do anything about it. And she does not want to see herself as a “pain and fatigue person,” but rather as an artist, as Mama Kim, as my caretaker, as a seeker of our next adventure. Her answering “fine” allows her to move into those other roles.


            There are, of course, other meanings of the word “fine.” We’ve heard of “fine wines,” which to me means one that costs more than $25 a bottle. I’m not sure what “fine wine” means to other people. Is it a simple measure of quality, or is it something more descriptive, something to do with the complexity of the experience? Something that only refined people can appreciate?


            I suppose the same questions surround “fine art.” Does the term simply mean “good art,” or “art that I happen to like”? Does it refer to subtlety or complexity, as it does, I think, with wine? Is “fine,” in this context, a way of saying “refined?” And what’s the opposite of “fine art” – commercial art? But fine art can sell for more than commercial art . . ..


            The word “fine,” on the other hand, may simply mean “Just O.K.” as in:

            “How was your flight?”

            “Fine.” This means the plane didn’t crash.


            So, when you ask someone how they like the wine you served, and they say, “It’s fine,” they probably aren’t saying it’s a “fine wine.”


            On the other hand, when you see something that deserves high praise, you might say, “That’s really fine!” and if your tone of voice is right, it’s high praise. Or maybe: “That’s fi-i-i-ine!” after seeing a beautiful car (or woman).


            Then there is the fine line and the fine-toothed comb. I suppose artists use fine lines to create more expressive and sophisticated fine art. Not sure about the comb, unless it allows more expressive and sophisticated hair styles.


            As an experiment, you may want to notice when you hear the word “fine” in conversation or in a movie. See how much I missed here.


            And we are not even getting to noun and verb uses of “fine,” which, at this point, is probably fine with you.




Thursday, January 18, 2024

My Spark Bird

           Michigan Audubon set up a contest where people were asked to write about their spark bird, “a term used by the birding community for the bird that hooks someone into their passion for birding.” I worked with Kim on her entry, only to learn that we had let our membership lapse, and the piece we had written has twice as long as was allowed. So, we are posting it here:


*     *     *     *     *


My Spark Bird

--Kim Stringer


            I’ve always loved birds, ever since my father used to walk with me in his woods in the Upper Peninsula. But my spark bird, years later, was a Spotted Sandpiper, which I saw at the Saline Fisheries Research Station, just south of Saline, where I had permission to photograph with my new digital camera.


            Using a camera helped me learn to see. Peering through a viewfinder isolated and framed the individual bird, a Spotted Sandpiper, that was posing for me.



            What I realized is that the birds will often pose for me, if I am patient and quiet, and use my eyes, and really look. I go to a favorite place, sometimes a place I discovered, sometimes a place my birding buddies have told me about, and I wait for a bird to find me and pose, as this Spotted Sandpiper did. It was not walking on the beach, where I’d seen them before, but posed here on a milkweed plant.


            This bird, framed in my viewfinder and then in the photo itself, fueled my “Look at what I see!” excitement. I realized that the art of birding is, first, for me, the art of seeing. It starts, of course, with curiosity, which leads to looking, and then seeing. Seeing, fueled by delight, sparked my asking: What is it doing here? What is it eating? How does it fit into the environment? Others, I know, are sparked by the sounds of birds, but for me it’s mainly visual. Whatever the spark, once you get caught, the passion never ends.


            Learning to see, as happened with my Spotted Sandpiper, sparked my passion for birds, as well as my passion for butterflies and, recently, mushrooms. Birds, like much in nature, are posing for us all the time, if only we stop and open our eyes. 


*    *     *     *      


            Kim has been teaching me to see – or trying to. I’m not yet great at seeing what needs to be done around the house and yard, but I’m doing better with birds, butterflies and mushrooms. Not like Kim – there is nobody like Kim – but better than I was.


            Some people have the gift. Genne´ can go to a beach and find shark’s teeth (Florida), or Petoskey stones (here in Northern Michigan), or shells, geodes, or heart-shaped stones (anywhere). She knows how to see, and, like her mother, she combines this gift with determination and commitment. They are my Spark Birds.


Thursday, January 11, 2024

My Blog

 My Blog


            Last Thursday’s blog publication was an experiment. I didn’t post one – on purpose!


            The experiment had two aspects to it. For one, I wanted to see if a Thursday without an email notification of my blog would provoke a response. To date I’ve gotten two. Jim and Angie phoned Thursday evening to see if we were OK. That made us laugh because a) they noticed, and b) they cared. The call gave Kim and me a chuckle of appreciation, and we told them, “You won!” The other response came a couple of weeks ago from Tony, a high school friend. He also wondered if we were OK, as he did not get a notification. No, I told him, I did send him a notification. He checked and saw that he had received it on time, but he had just missed seeing it. I figured that when I skipped a blog notification to 100+ people, I might hear from a few. Nope – just one. Oh, well . . ..


            The other goal of the experiment was to see how I would feel when I missed a week. I checked into my archives and saw that I’ve been doing this blog since 2010. It started when the publisher of my ebook about my brother suggested that I should have a website to help with marketing. So, I got, hooked it up on Blogger, and I was underway. I never did much marketing there (or anywhere else), but I saw that it was a good outlet for the crap floating about in my brain. I named it “How to Discuss Paint Colors with my Wife,” the title of one of my early posts, one that got a few reader compliments. Posting blog entries soon became pretty much a weekly event, and soon I decided to publish on Thursdays. No particular reason I chose Thursdays, except it seem to be a bit of a neglected day. I haven’t missed a Thursday for about ten years.


            Missing one was difficult. I did not want to break my streak, for some probably perverse reason. Few people seemed to have noticed, fewer still to have cared – and why should they? My Thursday post gave some structure to my week – absent since I retired. I can remember what day it is by thinking about how long do I have until publication, which means I need something for Kim to read it by Tuesday or Wednesday, so I can make revisions. (Contrary to the opinion of some, I do sometimes make revisions.) But mainly, I’m a creature of habit. I need my morning cup of re-heated leftover coffee (which for some reason we call “sudu”). I need to check the news on my phone and play Wordle in the morning, usually while drinking sudu (current win streak: 126). Increasingly, I “need” to have an evening cocktail while watching television – though I have managed to skip a couple of nights each week. I usually post my blog in the morning, and then send email notifications. The process is completed when Gene does his meticulous copyediting for me, catching typos and awkward or careless wording. Thanks, Gene.


            Why do I write the blog at all? The main reason, I suppose, is to establish some sort of contact with other people. It’s kind of isolated here in Northern Michigan, and I’m not good at telephoning, so I think of my readers as my imaginary friends, some of whom send me responses from time to time, which I welcome. Equally important is that knowing that I need to come up with something every Thursday forces me to keep my curiosity alert for something worth writing about. My friend, Keith Taylor, once said that the best way to come up with ideas for poems is “to keep a line in the water.” When I get a nibble, I turn to my writing technique: “Ready-Fire-Aim.” I try to keep my line (and hook) in the ready state.


            My next blog project is to pull them, or some of them, together into a book. Several people have encouraged this, but I need to come up with an organizational scheme, as I have about 500 entries. How Kim and I live? Appreciation of the small things? Dealing with illness? Or, maybe not – maybe just cut the weak ones and put the rest together in the same haphazard way I write, maybe just chronologically. Let my readers come up with the themes.


            Suggestions? Any imaginary friends there?