Category: retirement

Oriental, North Carolina…I have time, I can travel

Although we are home from our winter in Thailand, I am still retired.  Being open and available to opportunities that present themselves is key to a successful retirement.


I met Jeanne in Thailand when she moved into our building for a month.  I admired her nerve and her interest in the world.  She had already been travelling alone for 2 months throughout SE Asia, as a single at times, as part of a booked group at other times.  Being 67 did not deter her from walking 5 or 6 km every day or tasting all the street food.

She was quick to join into a group of regulars who had happy hour every afternoon in our yard.  She talked to everyone and listened for the best places to tour, to eat and shop for fresh fruit.  Her energy was infectious. I got to know her when her phone was so full of pictures that the red bar couldn’t be ignored for another day.  I helped her download them to her computer and set up a Google Photo album.  Her blog site needed a little help too.

Oriental, North Carolina

Before she left for Malaysia, her last stop before returning home to North Carolina, she told me about her “girl’s retreat”.  Every year she has access to a large guesthouse in her hometown of Oriental.  She invites people that she connected with in her travels abroad and her life at home, women that made a positive impression on her.  When I received my email invitation in March, I was ecstatic!

I decided that I had time and AirMiles so booked a flight from Calgary, through Toronto to Raleigh, North Carolina.  A rental car and 3 hours got me to Oriental on Sunday evening, May 7.

Stallings House

The Stallings House, where we stayed, was built in 1890 and sits on a large lot facing the 3 mile wide Neuce River.  It has 5 bedrooms on 2 levels and an open third level with several beds.  A sitting room, large dining room, kitchen and several bathrooms fill the rest of the house.  There are 2 wrap-around verandas overlooking the river.  This old home is often rented for weddings or large family gatherings.  Jeanne did quite a lot of work on the house and bartered the use of this great accommodation for a week every year.


The Retreat May 8-11

There were 16 people stayed in the house.  I was from the farthest away.  There were 2 women from New York State that Jeanne had met in Viet Nam this winter.  There were 4 women from western NC who had travelled with her to China in 1982.  Another woman from Atlanta met her in Australia on another trip.  Jeanne’s cousin and a friend arrived from northern NC and another woman arrived from Florida. There were more but too many stories to keep straight.

There were about 25-30 local women who came and went through the week.

Things to Do

We spent the week doing a variety of activities that were mainly planned by the people who attended.

  • The town mayor/bank manager, Sally, used to visit the house as a girl and shared her stories with us from a book she is writing about her life in Oriental.

Sally’s stories

  • Flora, a 70 year old who won the over 60 North Carolina beauty contest demonstrated her incredible skills as a belly dancer

  • pedicures, facials and massages were also done on the lawn by the river

  • boat trips along the rivers and creeks in the area provided beautiful views and more history on the area and its connection to fishing and sailing
  • Miss Faye, who is a 94 years old, teaches several exercise classes a week.  She spoke on why the same streets have different names in Oriental.  She allowed us to visit her yard where she feeds about 40 turtles dog food every night in a creek behind her house.  They come when she calls.  She is also a Senior Olympian and Humanacare Game Changer. Check out the link about her and her daughter.
  • Pat brought driftwood, paint and wine to spend the afternoon deciding what we saw in our wood and bring it to life with colour.  Most women got right after it with excitement, even before they had their wine.  It surprised me the number who were very uncomfortable with this creative activity.  Their elementary art teachers must not have been very supportive.  Now that I’m in my 50’s I don’t really care anymore what others think of my creative projects.
  • Cheryl took a small group of us who live outside the state on a boat trip to Cape Lookout.  We travelled through the inland waterway, past Shakleford Banks to the lighthouse at Cape Lookout.  There were wild horses, dolphins and an enormous sea turtle along the way.  Many fishermen were fishing in small boats and there were several shrimp boats with the large booms holding the nets out to the side. We were gone all day.

Things to Eat

  • Finola and her husband, originally from Ireland served us high tea on proper china with cucumber sandwiches and scones with cream and jam.
  • Miss Lilly, who was on a cooking show, “Chef and the Farmer” spent the day with us teaching us how to make proper biscuits.  She used lard, buttermilk and self-rising flour.  The lard and buttermilk went into a well inside the flour and was squished together until it was “silky”.  Then it was swirled in the bowl until it incorporated enough flour to make a ball.  The biscuits were squeezed off the ball, flattened in the hand and the edges rolled under.  The baking sheet was filled and then baked.  I’ve never seen any technique like that before.  The results were delicious, especially with some local honey brought by a woman in the group.
  • We visited Georgie’s crab shedding operation.  When crabs get too big for their shells, they molt their shell and purge all their digestive tract and lungs.  Within 2 hours they start to grow new shells and organs.  If they are taken out of the water and put into the fridge, they can’t grow a new shell.  The upper skin is removed with scissors and you are left with a crab that is only meat.  Georgie came to the house one evening and dredged the crabs in flour seasoned with salt and pepper and deep fried them.  Eating outside on the lawn by the river at long tables made the food taste great.  The crabs, though, would be delicious no matter where you ate them.
  • Carol made chef salad for everyone’s lunch one day. This is Laura eating the salad.  Carol is enjoying the pedicure.

Food of North Carolina

Other things I ate for the first time

  • pimento cheese dip and sandwiches.  Everyone in North Carolina seemed to have their own special recipe, but the general ingredients are grated cheddar/monterey jack cheese, pimento, mayonnaise/Miracle Whip and maybe a little grated onion.

  • Grits mixed with chopped ham and bacon, butter and eggs then baked as muffins.  It also reappeared another morning baked in a casserole dish.  Laura arranged for Kentucky bacon and sausage to be sent to the house for this event.
  • low country boil.  After the Girl’s Retreat, Jeanne invited some old high school classmates from the class of ’67 for a “Big Chill” weekend.  Pat cooked up a boil for me before I left at the end of the week.  It consisted of new potatoes, corn on the cob chunks, kielbasa and beautiful shrimp caught the day before.  They are all boiled together with Old Bay Seasoning.  The food is drained then dumped onto a table covered with newspaper and you just pick out a little of each, and a little more, and a little more…  There were several cocktail sauces made with differing amounts of hotness available and lots of paper towels.  What a feast!
  • Not new but a catfish sandwich for lunch the first day.  Crispy fish topped with coleslaw and served between 2 slices of white bread.
  • North Carolina IPA and wheat beer
  • And I caught a fish…

Pin fish used for bait.

Lots of relaxing and story sharing

I had the best time with new people in a new place and I can’t wait to get back to this part of the world again.

Full moon over the river

Finally packed and to the airport in San Francisco

Car lights on the bridge at twilight

Car lights on the bridge at twilight

This blog describes our last day on our road trip to the airport. My next one will share what I thought I knew about sleeping on a plane, and the truth.

Roadtrip map


I thought that packing everything a couple of weeks ago, then driving to California would make the day of leaving simple and stress free.  While I felt less anxious on the days leading up to our departure, the day of our flight was another matter.

We had each packed a large, wheeled duffel bag.  They are a great size for holding the clothes, shoes and extras we thought we wanted for 5 months of living…things like umbrellas, cards, extra camera supplies and a roll of toilet paper, which did in fact need on our first night in our hotel.  The downside of these bags is that they are heavy due to the hardware of the handle and wheels.  We were close for weight at home but had added and deleted a few things on our way.  Without a scale, it was difficult to come with an exact measure for the airport weight.

We also had Pete’s golf clubs in their hard case.  His shoulder and knee have been feeling much better and he found a golf course and driving range near to our location in Chiang Mai.  He was looking forward to a winter of practice.  He was also looking forward to a winter of playing his guitar while I was learning to better photo edit.  We had checked on line, and the airline stated that both the golf clubs and the guitar would count as checked luggage.  Since Air China allowed 2 free checked bags per person, that was a possibility, as long as we weren’t overweight on our other bags.

Guitar on a Plane

I also looked at stories online about how other musicians manage their guitars on flights.  Sandwiched on a luggage cart is not really how you want it to travel.  Most said that they took it as a carry on, kept the guitar in a soft case, then spoke nicely to someone on the plane about storing it in a coat closet or overhead bin. At the very least, it could be gate checked with the strollers and car seats.  If that was possible, then we had space for the extra weight in another checked bag.  If it wasn’t then we needed a carry on size bag for the things that might make our bags overweight.

Who would think so much energy could go into solving such a minor problem?  In the end, we took along a carry-on size bag that was needed for the 3 kg we were over in our other bags.  We checked it with the duffel bags and the golf clubs in the cargo and took our day packs and the guitar onto the plane.  For both flights, the stewardesses were more than happy to find a safe place for the instrument to travel in the passenger part of the plane.  The only preparation needed was to loosen the strings and Peter wrapped a yoga mat around it inside the bag for extra protection.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Once everything was loaded we began our final drive to the airport.  Our flight was at 1:30 am but we wanted to spend a few hour in San Francisco first.  Melissa took us on a quieter back road to the Bay area.  We joined the 101 and turned west toward the Point Bonita lighthouse.

Pt. Bonita lighthouse

Pt. Bonita lighthouse

The first few viewpoints were packed with people late on this Saturday afternoon but it didn’t matter as the views from just above the lighthouse were spectacular.  You could see back to the bridge and the city, the coastline south and west of the city, as well as the lighthouse.  The light is functioning and it is still used by ships to find their way into the harbor through the fog.


City view from the lighthouse

City view from the lighthouse


The fog was rolling in along the horizon as we watched the sun begin to set into the clouds.  We returned on another road back to the Golden Gate Bridge and drove over it.  Knowing the engineering that went into its construction and the number of men who died building it , I am always in awe whenever I get close to it.  We found Melissa’s top secret parking place and walked under the bridge for a few more photos of the area at twilight.  The fog made the far side disappear at times. There were surfers in the waves that curl around the rocks and the bridge. It had cooled from 25 degrees in Stockton to 16 degrees in SFO, but the wind didn’t feel as cold as usual there.  It was a perfect end to our road trip to the airport.

And it's foggy again

And it’s foggy again

Why Thailand? How to choose one place from so many.

How did we end up going to Thailand? Once we decided to start living our life now, and not waiting for it to happen to us, we started looking for a place to go.  After watching The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel we could see the appeal of spending time living and learning in a new country.

We heard of a magazine called International Living  that also had regular email notices.  It is a “dream of retirement” publication that is mostly aimed at Americans, but describes how you can live somewhere else for less money in retirement.  It has testimonials from people who have done it and good guidelines on how to start thinking about this possibility.  Panama came up several times as a place to go, due to its low cost of living and discounts given to retirees.  You can live in the city, near the beach or in a smaller town in the mountains

We read some of these testimonials and looked up the names of the places on Google Maps.  We then used Google Earth and zoomed in to get a closer look.  With streetview, we could check out the feel of the place and see the kind of shops and parks or the general upkeep of the homes along the streets.  This was such an easy way to check out a town so far away.  We thought that we could learn a little Spanish and had some sense of the culture from our trips to Mexico and Arizona.  I realize that is a pretty naive understanding, but it’s all we had to go on.

Peter also found a website that compared the cost of living in cities around the world.  Calgary was about $5400 a month for most of what you would need to live well.  Panama City only required $3600 for the same living expenses.  He used this site to start checking out other places in the world from Spain to Thailand, Costa Rica to Australia . We began narrowing down the list to places that were economical based on my pension and investments.  Health care availability was something else we wanted to know more about.

As we were in the midst of this conversation, I received a call from my friend Bernice, who has been a much braver traveller than I for her whole life.  She has worked and travelled in Asia for the last 5 years and spent the last 2 winters in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  She skyped me around her apartment and talked about the benefits of living in Thailand, as compared to Central or South America.  Bernice felt very safe there.  The cost of living was very low for rent and food.  The area that they lived in had excellent transportation to the places we would want to go.  The winters were like our summers only more so.  She also added that Chiang Mai was a city with a large number of ex-pats, many from Canada.  That made it possible to learn about a new culture, while still being able to pursue many of the same interests we would have at home.

I asked her about the Eastern Culture.  We have never been to Asia and didn’t know much at all about the people and their way of life.  Her reply was that everyone in the world is on the Internet these days.  They share the same Facebook posts and wear the same clothes.  Globalization is a real life thing, not just something you hear about on the news.

That was all I needed to hear.  It was a place that met our needs as new retirees, and, it had the seal of approval from someone who had gone there and done it.  That last part was really the tipping point for us.  We booked ourselves into the same building I had seen on her computer camera for a 5 month stay.  (Smith Suites ) We decided that if we were going to learn about a new place, we needed to be there long enough to feel like part of the community, and not just tourists passing through.  Next we started in with the practical issues of moving for 5 months to another country halfway around the world.

Cost of living comparison Calgary vs. Chiang Mai  chart  $5400 vs $2600

map of Thailand

Life prepares you for retirement. Pay attention!


I spent most of my life doing what was expected of me.  I worked hard at school, did my chores at home and had a part time job during high school.  I took piano lessons, played in the band, learned to swim and hung out with my friends.  It was a pretty typical life in a small town in the 70’s.  I went on to University, got my teaching degree and a music diploma, married my soulmate and had 2 children and a dog-he arrived in a slightly different way than the children.

Everything was going according to plan. That’s when the adventure really began.  Teaching jobs were scarce in the early 80’s and we ended up living and teaching on a First Nations reserve west of Rocky Mountain House.  What an interesting place to start a career!  Although we ended up with teaching jobs in Rocky Mountain House it was a taste of living within another culture.

We live next to the Rocky Mountains so we camped, hiked and backpacked in the national parks.  Much of our summers were spent travelling around the western United States and Canada in our tent trailer.  We have pictures of the kids straddling the Canada/US border, exploring the formations at Bryce Canyon and being in awe of the bubbling ponds at Yellowstone.


We took them to the UK and Paris when they were 9 and 11 to meet their Welsh relatives.  Cathedrals and ruined castles were added to our list of discoveries.  As they got older we flew to Mexico and Hawaii to enjoy more tropical climates and ocean life.

Finally they were ready to head out on their own.  Both were athletes as well as capable students.  Melissa went off to California, Pennsylvania to study sports administration while playing on the golf team.  Owen traveled to Cleveland, Mississippi to get a business degree while  playing soccer.  We wished them well and told them what a great adventure they were embarking upon.  How lucky they were to get to live in a new place.  It would make them appreciate their home and also get to learn about a new culture.  If you’ve never been to Mississippi, it really is different than anywhere else, but in a good way.

We traveled by car to visit them or take them to school and saw most the the United States.  When we would stop in a new place for the night, we would ask ourselves, “Could we live here when we retire?”  Most of the time the answer was yes.  Almost everywhere had some good quality of life.  Although we didn’t spend much time in either place, El Paso, Texas and Bakersfield, California did not make our top 20 list.

As I got into my 50’s, I began to think more about retirement.  I had a pension I could begin collecting at 55.  I had been teaching in the same school since I was 26 years old.  My children were settled in jobs in Stockton, California, and Houston, Texas.  My husband, Peter, was already retired and ready to start the next phase of our life.

I initially pictured myself subbing at the school a few days a month, volunteering in the community, golfing and gardening in the summer and learning to take better photographs and edit them with software that seems to have a steep learning curve.  I thought I might do some presenting at conferences or even teach a few children’s music workshops here and there.  The church choir would have a director that had more time to prepare and the group we sing with in Red Deer would have a rested alto who knew her music well in advance of the performances.  It sounded like a pretty good life.

Then last year my brother died of liver disease at the age of 52.  My dad passed away from lung cancer just before Christmas.  His brother and wife were gone by the summer and I suddenly realized that life can completely change in a very short time.  Your health is worth so much and I decided that I needed to take advantage of it now.  I turned 55 in May, 2016 and retired in June.

But, what to do?  That’s the topic of a new blog.