Friday, February 27, 2015

Our Vancouver Weekends, Family-Style -- More Steps to Retirement


On the cusp of retirement, we've begun thinking about where we might be living five years from now. I suspect many of us must be mulling over possible changes -- Duchesse at Passage des Perles addresses the issue in a useful post about the possibility of uneven aging in a couple's senior years and the wealth of responses suggests this is a widespread concern. Duchesse's specific reference to hanging on to the family home in anticipation of grandchildren's visits resonated particularly loudly -- it certainly touched a chord with me.

I have long dreamed of having the grandchildren playing together here on our beach and cycling the dirt roads of the island, enjoying considerably more roaming latitude than they have access to in the city. As I've shared in numerous posts over the past few years, we've already made many happy memories here with Nola, and Harriet is now at the age when we hope she and Nola might be able to visit Nana and Granddad's together, sans parents. This summer, I'm planning to nudge a treehouse project into reality and we're also hoping Nola will be back for sailing lessons again.

But keeping up two places may become too much over the next few years: island life can be logistically challenging, the travel back and forth can be costly, and servicing two homes isn't cheap -- my pension will be very modest, given my late entry to the plan. Much as it will hurt to leave this place, if we have to choose, a downtown condo in the city that hosts some of our kids and grandkids makes more sense. Our current apartment, bought years ago when Pater worked in the city while I worked over here, is satisfactory but small -- about 500 square feet. It lacks some of the amenities we appreciate (no in-suite laundry, for example); the location is convenient but north-facing and without a particularly attractive view; there's no extra bedroom for grandkid sleepovers or visiting guests. Should/once we move, we'll be looking for something more suitable.

While we settle into my retirement, though, I'd like to sit with both possibilities. I don't want us to rush into the financial constraints that would come with buying a bigger condo now (Vancouver's housing market is absolutely nuts -- the income--average house ratio is one of the toughest anywhere). Still, we enjoy that parental/grandparental role of bringing the family together, regularly. And we find that it's surprisingly possible to manage, even in such a small space.

This past weekend, for example, we offered (begged?) to baby-sit Frankie -- her dad dropped her off on his way to climb some mountains (really!) while her mom headed off to yoga. We waited anxiously for the Sleeping Baby to wake and wonder where she was and who she was with . . . in fact, it took her about five very solemn minutes, looking, blinking, looking, thinking. . . and finally a careful smile that gradually dissolved into a more relaxed demeanour. By the end of the morning, she was quite happy to sit with a dapper uncle (see above photo) and keep track of all the goings-on.

After Frankie settled in, the rest of the family began to arrive. Nana plays a silly little game whereby I head down the hallway to the elevator as soon as I've buzzed the visitors in. I was crouched there with Frankie when Hattie exited the elevator -- huge grin! Baby Frankie! big hugs. . . .I'd love to think that might someday be a memory (Perhaps they'll tell their own little ones: "Nana used to wait for us at the elevator -- we always pretended to be surprised").

Hattie and I did the same elevator surprise for Nola who, I think, rather expects it by now but still looks delighted to see us.

Once inside the apartment, things are a bit crowded. Shoes pile up in our little hallway, coats get piled on Nana and Granddad's bed. But there are seats for all, and plenty of food and, very quickly, a happy din as we catch up on each other's news. The little girls seem to approve of the menu: Pater bought an electric grill, which simplifies the cooking considerably, and he stuck with a classic menu -- bacon, sausages, eggs, pancakes, and his superlative baking powder biscuits. (I questioned why he'd double the starch -- pancakes and biscuits? -- his reasonable answer: everyone likes his biscuits and they like pancakes as well)
I'd love to have more space so that the kids could really sprawl with their toys, the baby crawl without the risk of being stepped on. . . The little girls wanted to play with Nola's Playmobil dollhouse  (best Christmas present I've ever bought, I'd say, for hours of entertainment value, but the proviso has been that it stays at Nana's; Harriet got the Playmobil Noah's Ark, same proviso). Nola was hesitant, at first, to expose its many small pieces -- the teeny dishes, the toilet brush (!) -- to Hattie's curiosity, but her natural generosity reigned. And although the apartment is tiny, they made themselves a cozy little nest on our bed, pushing the coats to one end. Granted, this might not work with all kids, but for now, it's surprising how much fun this limited space can offer.

And when the quieter play gives way to a need to move more energetically, we do as we did later on Sunday afternoon, when all the brunch guests but Nola had left. For the first hour, she was very happy to have her doll family and their house all to herself, and we could hear her happily chattering them through a number of grand narratives. But when she started looking for something new to do, we all got our coats and shoes on and headed to the beach -- a five-minute walk from the apartment! From the beach, we strolled to the grocery store, again only minutes away, and then back home to roast chicken and pasta -- both high on Little Girl's approved menus.

It's funny how wedded we are to the notion of sprawling interiors, given how many people in how many cities around the world make do -- and live rich lives -- in much less square footage. Although I'm occasionally disappointed that we can't have all our kids gather in our larger island home more often, I'm glad we're pushed to see how much hospitality can be fitted into 500 square feet. What about you? Have you lived in a small city space? Or a small space anywhere? Got any tricks to share? (and on that note, Ikea's pretty clever, no?) Would the cramped area drive you nuts? Are you contemplating a move once retired? Looking forward to it or dreading it? Do tell -- I've been keen to follow the conversation Duchesse started and interested in hearing more about this particular aspect of it.

Of course, the city also offers many simple, easily accessible pleasures for Granddad and Nana as a couple -- more on that in my next post. . . .


18 comments:

  1. Oh this post made me so happy! My mom had 4 children, and when we would get together as adults, in her house, it was so wonderful. When we visit my dad's - where we don't need to stay the night - it's just as great. Is there anything so heart-sustaining as a family that weathers the ages?

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    1. I LOVE that you're the first commenter here, and you ignore the tiny space of our apartment to equate the good family times we have there with ones your family has enjoyed in much roomier, better-appointed spaces. You get my point exactly! (as I might have known. . . )

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  2. I really enjoyed Duchesse's post, and this one too. We talk a lot about retirement - and we actually chose this house based on downsizing a bit. It's a bungalow, open-plan and spacious but only (!) 3 bedrooms, one of which is kitted out as my husband's 'den', with guitars and other music equipment. I would like a city condo down the road, but he likes to have a lawn and somewhere to make music, so we won't be living the apartment life for a very long time yet.

    I think you are living the dream right now, with 2 such different spaces where you can bring the family together. Those grandkids will have so many wonderful memories!

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    1. You're at least a decade younger and I can see why you wouldn't feel ready for a smaller space yet. Pater spends so much time in our yard working that I wonder how he'll do once we leave the island and I know I'll miss my garden. But I know there will be urban compensations...and meanwhile, as you say, we live the dream...

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  3. Timely. My husband works away on the East coast of England in the week whilst I live in the family house in Yorkshire. Both kids are living abroad at the moment and we therefore have a house that is empty most of the time. When I leave teaching in the summer should we re-locate? Rent? Stay put? It is something that has been rearing its head for a while. Downsizing is very much a hot topic in this country at present and I can see why. Half of me is ready to move, use the money, go somewhere new. The other half is not so sure. Yep, it's a first world problem but real, nonetheless. Comforting not to be alone in my night-time ponderings.

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    1. It's lovely to have these options, isn't it? But still, I'd like to get it right without too much trial and error! I want at least a year to enjoy our island from a retirement perspective, and then we shall see. . . You'll probably want to give yourself a similar period

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  4. My husband and I downsized rather quickly last summer when we received an offer too good not to accept on our custom-built home of 23 years. Within six months, we found a small rental condo and moved in with a fraction of our former possessions. Everything that didn't fit into our new space was donated or sold--mostly to families who had recently come to Canada with very few of their former possessions. Drastic for us, maybe, but gratifying to see the happiness those families felt at having "nice" things to start building new lives here.

    I think the true luxury of retirement is the opportunity it gives us to pare down commitments and responsibilities so we can concentrate on what matters most in our lives--the people we love and cherish. At this stage of my existence, I want a big life filled with laughter and adventure, not a big house filled with things.

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    1. What a great story! Thanks for sharing it. And I really love this perception of retirement as an opportunity to pare down. Yes!

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  5. I'd love to downsize to a condo where we could lock up and go but my husband is still working and plans to for quite a few more years so we will stay put in our small but cozy bungalow...about 900 square feet on the main with two bedrooms down and a bathroom a workshop and a laundry room. We have entertained large crowds with stand up wine and cheese affairs and pot luck suppers where people mill about and sit wherever they can find a spot...we once had 32 people here for a potluck and it was tight!
    I'm not convinced that a bigger space is necessary...and yikes the real estate is so expensive in Vancouver, not as high here in Victoria but still not cheap. There are so many beautiful parts of Vancouver that you could opt for KIts or False Creek or perhaps the North Shore...it must be exciting just thinking about your options and retirement will give you ample time to mull it over and decide what you both want.
    Surrounded by a large family I can see the value of having an area in which to serve family meals and possibly an extra bedroom for those adorables that you have been blessed with!
    Good gracious and when are you going to share that top secret news?
    I am on pins and needles!

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    1. Your city home is the perfect size, I think! I can see why you'd want to hang on to it, especially with all the work you've put into it.
      As for the top secret news, I should be able to reveal soon. ... Changes, changes....

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  6. We bought our suburban apartment 19 years ago when my husband made a career change. It is certainly large (980 square feet) in comparison to the apartments that I have rented in Paris. We have too much stuff. Your little girls look as though they are having fun in the apartment. Being close to the beach is a bonus as is proximity to groceries. Good times can certainly be had just about anywhere!

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    1. That sounds a good, livable size to me. Our island home is 1700, so some culling will have to happen eventually--we all have too much stuff, don't we?,

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  7. Yes, downsizing is definitely a topic that goes with retirement. When I stop working in two years' time I'll probably leave this spacious (althoug old and decrepit) apratment I've been linving in for more than twenty years - in spite of its charms and in spite of all the battles it cost me these last to years to stay put no matter how much the landlord tried to get rid of me. (BTW I got my garden back, at least in theory!) So in praparation of that moment I've started to put books and other stuff on the second hand market. It feels good to shed dead weight that way.
    On the other hand I could never face giving up the little cottage by the lake which I share with my sister and her family (and which also serves as a meeting place for family gatherings occasionally). So I understand that the thought of leaving your island must have its painfuls aspects, too.

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    1. So glad you got your garden back, if only in theory! And good for you for standing your ground.
      It will be emotionally wrenching to let go of our island home, but I think Letting Go can be good, and I'll be working towards that. Imagining compensations for the loss, but meanwhile, wringing as much pleasure as possible from it while it's still ours.

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  8. Housing and transportation are the two largest expense categories for seniors, so taking time to think is important. We figured out the cost of additional space in a condo (and tying up our investments that way) versus the occasional need to accommodate overnight guests. (Thanks to AirBnB, guests can stay a 2 minute walk away.) Decided not to take on more space than we need 90% of the time- and everyone's preferences will vary.

    Little kids can squeeze into small spaces and in fact enjoy it. What a great time they are having at your place!

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    1. Yes! We're definitely on the same page. I'm keen to sit with the status quo for a while, try out increasingly longer stays in our small apartment before we commit to a bigger one which will probably result in letting the island home go. Again, I feel so very fortunate having options.

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  9. We are still arranging ourselves in this new/old house. By apartment standards it is big, with 1900 sq ft all in. We are still at the stage of having children and grandchildren that will come to stay for long holidays, and I am much attached to the privacy that a little bit of extra space gives. We spent three years in Germany living in a smallish apartment, and it was the lack of privacy - even from my nearest and dearest (husband!) - that I found to be most difficult. I would be happy to have the place heaving with kids - I'd say 'bring it on'! - if I knew that everyone could go home, lived in town or could bunk with siblings at the end of the day. Some of my happiest memories are of gatherings of my husband's family in Denmark - always in a tiny apartment. Everyone lived in the city and could go home after the party!
    This move and relative down-sizing was all about location. Like you in your apartment, we can be at the beach or in the shops in minutes on foot.

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    1. I'd love to have a house the size of yours in a city neighbourhood like yours. . .And I hear you re the privacy even from the nearest and dearest. It's why we'll be looking very carefully before we choose our next city apartment, at least two bedrooms or some kind of flex space to give us each a "room of one's own" -- meanwhile, though, I'll be trying to figure out ways to get privacy even in the limitations of our current space, and part of that will probably involve clever use of the surrounding urban offerings, beaches, coffee shops, etc. (I could just keep sending him to Artigiano's, right?!)

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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