Miracles Do Happen

My mother is an introverted dynamo. By that I mean she has managed to hide how shy she is in order to make a name for herself in business, and money for her family. She reminds me of the Donna Reed character, Mary, in “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Without her ‘George’ (really named Roger) she may have ended up a skittish single librarian. Roger, my father, with all his charms and pedigree, was not a good breadwinner. Mom, called OJ, eventually tired of the shoestring approach to raising 5 children, and headed off into NYC to start a successful business career that put a kitchen addition on our old Victorian, and took us all to Bermuda two times, just for starters. It turned out, not only did she join the ‘old boy network’ seamlessly, but she liked it – a lot. As the years passed, she and Dad moved hither and yon for her new business opportunities, finally settling and retiring in Maine in their seventies. Roger never begrudged OJ the role she had taken on, but sometimes I’d hear her wish for a break in the decision-making. Wouldn’t it be nice, she’d often wonder, to have him choose the restaurant? Oh well…
Four years ago, when OJ was 83, Roger died from a lung disorder that snuck up on us all. He was sweet and docile until the end, and we miss him very much. OJ was, and is still, so vibrant, embracing all life has to offer.  Eventually, she moved near us in suburban RI to be close to her youngest grandkids. We saw her often, but much of her time was spent reading in her wingback chair alone in her apartment. OJ loves to be around youth and vitality, but her apartment building was seniors only. It was increasingly clear that loneliness was setting in, so, being the sensitive and meddling daughter I am, I suggested she join the website: www.seniorpeoplemeet.com, and set up a page. She was game, but not too savvy on the ‘how-to’s’, so I happily obliged. It doesn’t hurt that my mom is one of the most youthful octogenarians I’ve ever seen (I deeply hope that I carry those genes!), so I was certain she would be quite sought after. I posted a photo, see above, of her sitting with my then 6-year-old daughter, Olivia (named for OJ which stands for Olive Jean, but Mom never liked the Olive, so Olivia was chosen instead), and then we browsed through the five gentlemen listed in little Rhody. The only one Mom liked was a white-haired man who I thought resembled an older Spencer Tracy. He had a wonderful profile message describing a symbiotic life to my parents’ overseas in Asia during post WWII. He had also been a Dean of Students at a college, walked with a cane as OJ does, spoke of a love of travel, and generally seemed a great fit for Mom. So, we wrote to him…and wrote again. Nothing came back. Hmm, was he not interested? Away? Taken? Um, or worse…OJ waited from March through April for a response, then in a moment of exasperated inspiration, she figured out how to navigate the site solo and wrote one last entreaty: “Meet me for coffee at Felicia’s in East Greenwich.” Little did we know that the fellow we were writing had his own dutiful daughter monitoring on the other end. Mom’s missive reached her immediately, and she responded swiftly herself with the name and phone number of her dad who’d been away in the Grenadines for a few months.
I must digress here to fill in a few facts. My parents were ‘inexperienced’ when they married in college, and they were together for 62 years before Dad died. In those months after his death, my sister sent the first season of “Sex and the City” to entertain my mom, knowing full well that Dad would have hated the series and the f-bombs throughout. Mom ate it up. Marg, my sister, then sent all 6 seasons, and in May of 2008, we both took her to the movie on opening night. OJ was filling in major gaps in her knowledge of modern day sexuality through this franchise – and loving every minute of it!
So, back to getting the phone number of the man she so wanted to meet…OJ said, if not for “SATC”, she would never have had the nerve to call up a stranger and drive to his house for lunch – alone! Boy, is she glad she did. She and now 93-year old Bill have been inseparable since they met in May 2009. I know this because when she moved in with him that November, and I cleaned out her refrigerator, I could see it had not been opened once in all that time. The lovebirds have made many trips in these two years including a boat ride up the Rhine and Danube Rivers from Budapest to Amsterdam, and one through the Panama Canal. They lovingly care for one another, read books together, entertain often, and have a great time watching football over a bottle of wine. Bill was a Colonel in the US Army, and as a result, is very decisive. Mom loves that. She is all aglow and sparkly around him, and is thoroughly delighted to go to the restaurant of his choice. As she said in her holiday card the year she met Bill: “miracles do happen”.




OJ & Bill

Being old doesn’t mean you’re done. Do you have a story of finding love late in life?

(This article was previous published in part on More.com)


Downsizing….The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly!

Some people choose to downsize their home based on family circumstances, life changes, or they just want a smaller space to maintain.  Our latest move to Rhode Island forced us to downsize based on economic factors.  For one, we were moving from Peoria, Illinois where housing prices are much cheaper than in Rhode Island.  Also, we were dealing with a quickly changing housing market.  We had previously bought and sold houses in California with no problem at all, but now with the declining market, we were having many issues trying to sell in Illinois.  It ended up taking us about a year to sell.  I was holding on to the value I thought our house should be, and in retrospect I should have listened to my husband who wanted to drop the price significantly much earlier than we did.  All I did was give us more heartache, separation from each other, and stress.  We ended up selling our house for less than we bought it for, and we spent five months apart (as he had to come to RI to work at URI with me staying in IL to try and sell the house with a 3-year old and 1-year old at my side).  So, for the difference in housing prices, the loss on our house, and the new PMI we were having to pay in our monthly mortgage, we were forced to downsize from 2,710 square feet to 1,974 square feet.  It has been quite an adjustment, as well as the adjustment of having a brand new home on a golf course to a 1960’s fixer-upper.  The only thing that made the adjustment a bit easier was being able to live in a lovely rental home in Warwick in between houses (which was close to 2,500 square feet).  Sadly, the rental ended up being too expensive for us to buy in the end as well.  Here is what I’ve learned in the past two years:

Downsizing:  The Good

*  Less area to clean!

*  More environmentally friendly (use less resources and heating/air bills much cheaper)

*  Taxes are cheaper

*  More money to spend on traveling and other things for the family (going to Ireland in June for our 10-year!)

*  Forced cleaning and getting rid of unnecessary items (constantly)

*  Have just what we need, and are happy with what we have

*  It’s cozy and keeps the family close together!!!

*  The ability to make the choice to stay-at-home with the kids

Downsizing:  The Bad

*  As the kids are getting bigger, the space seems to be getting even smaller

*  Not enough space to host parties/playgroups

*  Not enough space for an office or workout area (my husband uses the dining table for his work)

*  Hard to host out-of-town family and friends (we are from D.C.)

*  Not enough space when the kids are playing loudly and you are craving some quiet time

Downsizing:  The Ugly

*  To add more space (an addition) is very expensive

*  For older homes, maintenance and fixing-up can be costly (yes, even for large homes as well)

*  Your house may not be the house of your dreams

*  You may feel like you’ve taken a step back in your life instead of forward

Overall, downsizing can be a good thing to do both for the environment and your wallet.  I like that the bills are less, and that we are not strapped to a mortgage that is difficult to afford.  However, it is a difficult adjustment after previously having much more space, but if our perspective was coming from a 1,200 square foot house then this place would seem larger than it currently does for us.  The most difficult thing for me with downsizing is losing the space to host parties, playgroups, and family get-togethers.  I really LOVE being a hostess, but if you don’t have the space then you don’t have the space.  I always have to sign-up to host playgroup when it’s warm out so I can do it at the park.  You can always find some way to work things out.  If we can fix up our yard and deck area, then that would be helpful with entertaining space too.  We are slowly working on our “things to do” list for the house, so we will eventually get to the place where we feel comfortable with the space we are in.

2,710 square foot (plus, 1,500 sq. ft. basement) house in Peoria, Illinois:

1,974 square foot house in East Greenwich, Rhode Island:

I have also learned in the past two years that there is more to life than the house you live in and the possessions you have.  Family and health are even greater things to cherish.  I am blessed and happy with my family and my two beautiful kids!

Have you been forced to downsize, or made the choice to downsize?  I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

Kristin Wheeler

How I Got Suckered into a House Full of Pets

Well, I definitely MUST be a sucker for baby animals.  It’s very hard for me go into Rumford’s Pet Store in Warwick, RI and hold the puppies without wanting to take one home, but that’s the ritual I have with the kids after shopping at Trader Joe’s.  I always give in and say, “Ok, we can just take a quick look!”  Holding the puppies is where you really get yourself into trouble though.  They look at you with those sad eyes, and you just want to take them home.  Luckily though, I have been thinking about all the vet bills and such that come with pet ownership (we already have a dog and a cat), so that helps me to put them back in their cages.  I do need to add as well, that we have owned many fish in the last year in addition to owning a dog and a cat.  Having kids = having more pets (they always want one).  At Clowntown last year we won two fish (Lizzie and Fish).  Fish died (my son’s fish), so then he got Lana (that died), Fish #2 (that died), Goldie (that died), Blubber (that died), and finally Sweetie Pie (that died).  Lizzie lasted OVER a year and unfortunately passed away this morning (she caught Ick from Sweetie Pie).  All the others had their “burial at sea” in the bathroom, but since Lizzie was special we took her to Goddard Park and actually DID give her a “burial at sea” this morning.  My daughter was of course devastated for a little while, until we went to May Fair at the Swift Gym about an hour later and she got to ride ponies and hold bunnies.  I’ll have to admit, the bunnies were really cute.  My daughter stayed in the bunny cage for over an hour, and then the lady announced that you could take one home for only $15!  I looked at my daughter smile from ear-to-ear, and then I held the bunny and looked into its little eyes (huge mistake) and gave in!  Fish gone in the morning, and rabbit added to the family by the afternoon.  I think I may regret this, but the kids (and even my husband) were sure excited about our new family member, Skrubby the Bunny.  At least I’m hoping that there are no huge vet bills for a rabbit (although the $15 bunny has already cost us an extra $100 at the pet store for its essentials).  I’m a sucker for baby animals!!!  What can I say?



Fish #2 and Goldie (The picture of “Fish” was too dramatic to post)


Lizzie (Our big one year old goldfish)


Lizzie’s “Burial at Sea”


Meet the Newest Member of our Family:  Skrubby the Bunny


Valentino, Our Dog (Coton de Tulear)


Jasper, Our Cat (Siamese)


Skrubby, Our Bunny Rabbit (Mini Lop)


* Anyone else get suckered into pets?  Please share your pet stories!  I would love to hear them!!!

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Kristin Wheeler