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Back Home -- So, How did it go?

December 12-16
Written December 16-19

Dear Diary,
First impressions on return
Now (Sunday, December 16) we are back home and adjusting to time zones and our foreign environment.  (Or, was it America that is now foreign?)  When we left, the trees had colorful leaves, but on return, everything was white and dirty gray.  We had watched pieces of a giant windmill go by in front and now there are four additions to our view over the backyard.  We have spent two months surrounded, mostly, by native-English speakers, but now we need to struggle with German again.  This is particularly hard for me (John).

We left a warm house, and today it is warm again, but it has taken three full days of our heating system working full-time to heat the walls and floors enough to be comfortable.  Now I need to order a gas delivery, always a financially-painful prospect.  Speaking of energy, we also need more electricity, since it is dark from 4:00 pm to almost 8:00 am.  That's the real measure of local winter: too much darkness.

The house itself seems to have managed the long absence OK enough.  The coldest walls had condensation on them, as did Marianne's closet since it hugs a cold wall.  Otherwise, everything restarted without extra effort.  The eight-year-old Audi, which had been sitting outside all this time, also started up with no fuss.  The ten-year-old Boxster did not, despite garage residence.  On Monday we will try to get it started and will move it up to the Porsche service shop in any event, since we still have some post-Italian-roads repairs to make.

Finally, it is back to worrying about all the business we could set aside while away.  The mail had a few bills to pay; a few, not many, because most regular bills were in automatic while we were gone.  Euros for phone, electric, water, and car and house insurance bills just disappear from our Sparkasse account as does the mortgage money.  We still are not settled on health insurance for 2013 and beyond, so we needed to re-start a series of emails and phone calls.  This had been a stress I did not look forward to.  Now there are German and American taxes to worry about again, especially the change necessary in 2013, when we no longer will have Areva-sponsored tax preparers.  I also need to get busy doing the formalities necessary for me to work part-time while in Germany.  It is not obvious that work is necessary, but the option would be useful.

It is nice being back in our own home.  We know where everything is and we can revert to normal daily routines.  The bed is warm, comfortable, and familiar.  Chairs, desks, and tables fit.  Marianne-cooked meals are just right.  We have the winter-bonus of no yard work, except for a small amount of snow removal. And there is just two of us to coordinate.  Certainly no offense to family, but it is easier being in a house with just Marianne and John.  Maybe that's a sign of aging.

Overview of US trip

The highlight of the trip would be, of course, the family visits.  From meeting new, little Sean in Maryland to trying to keep up with Ava and Sam in California, it was all good.  Sean's big brother Ryan was as cute and informative as ever.  And Rich, oldest at ten, could give all his cousins lessons in trains, science, and eating veggies.  They are each wonderful, and that's the most objective assessment Opa can give.

Of course the adults all seemed OK too.  Geoff and Suzanne are busy, especially since she is doing both graduate school and full-time work, in addition to "managing" the two kids.  Gabby and Mamal are equally busy, with a new house, two kids, and Mamal's dental practice that is both his own work and a small business employing several other staff.  Jen and Brian may be the most settled in the family.  It must be the Colorado weather or that they have gone a few years without buying a new house or having a new baby.

The tourist highlights for our trip included three national parks, Great Falls of the Potomac, Yosemite, and Grand Canyon, and we  fit in a Temple, a desert or two, a space port, and the end of the Santa Fe trail.  For me, Grand Canyon was the winner.

The travel details for our US worked out far better than we could have hoped for.  All the planes were on time and as comfortable as economy class gets nowadays.  All our luggage made it with us, start to finish. 

The four rental cars worked out well, but the cost difference between one-day, one-way, German rentals and our long-term rentals in America was significant.  Maybe that was the autobahn penalty.  Driving generally in America, particularly in the West, was easy, but a bit boring.  I must say that I appreciated boring when it came to the absence of snow, except for a single morning.  Our late-fall, early winter schedule could have been severely interrupted by snow storms.

Hotels, and other places we stayed, worked out OK too.  Our family homes were the best, because we generally have little kids to play with.  Hard to beat that.  Of the commercial places, the Best Western in Rock Springs was a pleasant surprise and the Inn of the Governors in Santa Fe was a good ending.  Of course Bright Angel Lodge in Grand Canyon had the best back yard.

And, last but not least, we are glad we have the 40+ pages of diaries and 500+pictures in them.  This is our most thoroughly documented trip and we know the record will remain when, later, our memories start to get ... fuzzy.  Not that that is happening yet, of course. (Not that I remember, anyway.)
Links to individual pages:
-- Maryland
-- Virginia
-- Colorado
-- Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada
-- California, first part (Los Gatos, East Bay Blue Grass, Yosemite, Fresno)
-- California, second part (Los Gatos, Monterey, Fresno)
-- Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico (Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon, Santa Fe) and return

Overview of first half-year of retirement
This also marks the end of my first half-year of retirement, so I thought I'd record these impressions as well.  First, I do not miss my work.  The nuclear power business is back out of favor in many places, so "the business" would be discouraging.  I do miss the work colleagues, however. I have had very little contact with "work types", but I will try now to re-establish contacts, social ones at least.  And if anyone has a limited bit of work in an interesting place, it would be considered.

This first six months has been heavy on travel, with four of six months on the road. France, Italy and the US were all fun, but I doubt we will keep up such a hectic traveling pace.  The travel has prevented us from determining just what I WILL do, day-to-day, in retirement.  Our home time has been filled with chores, catching up with friends, and preparing for another trip.  It will be in 2013 when I will set more stable patterns.  Maybe.

One goal of our intensive travel was to determine if, financially, a high level of travel was sustainable.  Marianne tracked our costs-while-traveling very carefully and we can now say that driving in Europe is a bit more expensive than driving in the US for average daily costs.  All the daily cost were within our planned budget, but barely.  Our retirement savings would not sustain this same spending rate forever, but neither would our bodies, so it's all OK.

Prognosis for 2013 (in progress)
So far, 2013 looks pretty open.  We have a January trip to Hamburg to see Cirque du Soleil and Marianne will visit California in March.  We expect she will need a few trips back to see family this year, and I will join her only on some of them.  Marianne's cousin may also visit in late January, although we've found visitors' plans are not sure things until they get off a plane in Frankfurt or Munich.  Gabby and Ava and Sam should visit in early summer and Brian, Jen, and Rich have also talked about a trip over here.  We look forward to any and all visitors.

We have not decided on other travel for us.  Winter is not the best time to drive in Europe, so maybe we'll try a flight somewhere warmer.  That's very German, by the way: trips south in winter.  With required US trips, it is possible we would extend them a bit, but probably not the two-month extended-travel we just completed.  We'll leave long US trips for when we have returned.

Speaking of returning, we are seriously thinking about starting to take steps for our return to America.  That could be a multi-year program, primarily paced by selling the house here and deciding on where to have a home in the States.  Selling real estate in Germany seems like a lengthy process, especially if one wants a good price for a unique home.  Our registered national landmark will be one of those cases. 

As for a target destination, that is very much under discussion.  Coastal California prices did not sink enough for us to afford several places we might like, and California taxes are relatively high too.  The combination may not be doable, but it depends on the house sale in Pommersfelden, on the euro-dollar exchange rate at the time of closing, and on the price of US real estate (sale or rental) at the time.  As frustrating as it seems, the answer is just not yet knowable.

So, that's the December 16 summary of our situation.  We'll keep you informed of any real decisions.


John and Marianne


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