Not in my wildest nightmare had I imagined myself living in a 55-Plus Active Lifestyle community. Nada, no way, are you crazy?
My whole life I rejected suburban living, selecting instead a city life with neighborhoods that reflected interesting architecture, entertainment and services, walking distance access to shops and neighbors who varied in ages and stages.
And then I accidentally discovered Del Webb Lake Providence, just outside of Nashville, Tennessee, where we live. An advertisement for the soon-to-be-constructed retirement community popped up on my monitor nearly five years ago on a normal Thursday afternoon when I was working in my home office.
"Hmmm," I thought. "What's this all about?"
Suffice to say, my husband and I now find ourselves celebrating nearly four years in our Del Webb Lake Providence home in a lifestyle that often makes me dizzy.
Like all living arrangements, lifestyle living has its ups and downs. Here's my take on the ying-yang of it all, and how to be happy in these communities:
1. The yin: We get to know our neighbors very well. Living in a close community allows us to create wonderful new friendships with peers who come from all over the country to live and retire. That means nearly everyone wants to make new friends. Social events and neighborhood camaraderie makes it easy to get started. If you're lonely in this community, you just aren't trying.
The yang? If absence makes the heart grow fonder, intimacy can be a booger. The survival technique to Post 50 Lifestyle happiness: Forgive and forget quickly and deeply. Let it go.
2. The yin: We learn so much from others who have been experts and high-level achievers in their fields and careers. Community leadership positions, clubs, hobbies, sports, social activities and intensely interesting conversations are everywhere as we get to know each other. This keeps our minds and bodies sharp and our interests expanding.
The yang? Experts know what they know. It's hard to change their minds at this stage of the game. The survival technique to 50-Plus Lifestyle happiness: Embrace the ideas you hear and know that even if they aren't true for you, they're true for someone. Let it go.
3. The yin: We can do it all, right here in our community. With more than 80 clubs and groups to join, everything from water bugs to Zumba, from writing to gardening, philosophy to pickle ball, and genealogy to tap dancing, the choices are rich and seemingly endless. If you can't find a club that meets your interests, you start one. If you want to be on the go day and night, you can do it. If you say, "No thanks, I just can't fit in another thing," everyone understands. We're all in the same boat.
The yang? Your children may bemoan the fact that it's nearly impossible to get in touch with you. Wait a minute. Maybe that's just another yin. (Only kidding, kids). The survival technique to Post 50 Lifestyle happiness: Say no when you need to, and yes to all the things you've always wanted to do. Feel like sleeping in? Do it and let it go.
4. The yin: We have maintenance-free living so we may lock the door and take off, or stay home and watch the terrific landscaping crew do its job. Nearly all lifestyle communities have common areas that are beautifully landscaped and maintained. We are able to enjoy the beauty every day in our long walks around the lake. If we want to travel or winter/summer in another part of the country, we can lock our doors, ask our neighbors to keep an eye out for our home, and go in relative peace. Most of all, our individual properties look great, and we didn't have to do the work.
The yang? Community rules and regulations strictly outline what types of plant, trees and objects can be placed in our gardens, on our porches and in our back yards. If you have highly creative ideas about plants, trees, and garden designs (pink flamingos, six big planters on the porch and bird feeders in the front garden) you may be disappointed. Homeowner Association communities have committees which approve additions and subtractions to the rules and regulations, so be prepared to be in step. The survival technique to Post 50 Lifestyle happiness: Read all of the community rules and regulations the sales agent gives you before you agree to build/purchase a home. If you can't live with the rules, don't buy into the community. If you are denied something that you wanted to do by a committee, accept the decision. Let it go.
5. The yin: It's all about us. No shame in that, I say. We've earned the time to be ourselves as we decide to sky-dive, swim in the sun, write our memoirs, entertain our grandchildren, paddle around the lake, careen around in golf carts, fish, sing, dance and have it all. We just might be the first generation to say that out loud. Boomers are famous for being self-centered, although we are a generous lot. We give to charities and volunteer to help others. Being in community, we are able to do it as a group so that our individual gifts become corporate-sized help. It's all good.
The yang? We realize that time and our bodies are catching up with us. For the first time in our lives, perhaps, we have to say no to tennis (bad knees), or close needlework (bad eyes) or long trips (bad kidneys). We know we are singing our swansong. The big yang of living with our peers is that we know every single one of our new and dear friends will die, including us. It's just a matter of time. Not easy to face. The survival technique to Post 50 Lifestyle happiness: Sing your song right up until the end. If you feel sad or frightened about what's ahead, have faith. If you can't have faith, just let it go.
I had never dreamed of living in a Del Webb community. And now, I can't imagine living anywhere else. It's a lifestyle of immense pleasures and healthy challenges. We cherish the people and friendships we've discovered. And we're having so much fun.
I'll be the first to admit, I'll have a hard time letting it go.
Martha Nelson is an award-winning journalist and a former educator, nonprofit executive, chef and musician. Her first novel, "Black Chokeberry," was published in April 2012 and is available everywhere including from her website, www.blackchokeberrythebook.com.
EARLIER ON HUFF/POST 50:
We found two hot-weather hotties in Palm Desert, California, which offers activities such as golf and tennis; performances at the McCallum Theater; and more than 150 works of art in its <a href="http://www.palm-desert.org/arts-culture/public-art" target="_hplink">Art In Public Places Program</a>, along with shopping and dining. Both of these homes have pools (a necessity in the desert), were built in the mid-1990s and have two bedrooms. The first, <a href="http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/78614-Blooming-Ct_Palm-Desert_CA_92211_M23439-49113" target="_hplink">on Blooming Court</a>, is located at the end of a cul de sac, around the corner from the community clubhouse.
The Blooming Court home has a gated front courtyard, double door entry and architectural foyer. It offers 1,800 square feet of living space. The pebble tech pool seen here has a cascading waterfall.
The patio is trimmed in flagstone and surrounded by desert landscaping.
Floor-to-ceiling windows flood the living room with light, and ten-foot ceilings enhance the spacious feel.
The second home, <a href="http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/78723-Platinum-Dr_Palm-Desert_CA_92211_M14822-70399" target="_hplink">on Platinum Drive</a>, offers 1,600 square feet of living space including an office/den area.
We like the private spa of this slightly smaller unit.
Bright and open kitchen in the Platinum Drive home.
South Carolina has been the "in" place to retire for a number of years. You can't beat the pretty, wide beaches there -- although friends tell us the summers can be steamy and there are those pesky hurricanes. But homes are more affordable and the complexes newer. Two for your consideration: First, this one-level charmer with three bedrooms and two baths <a href="http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/8-Fudora-Cir_Simpsonville_SC_29681_M58256-86605?source=web" target="_hplink">on Fudora Circle,</a> located in a 55+ community. Built in 2008, the home was recently reduced by $30,000. The development offers a heated pool, fitness facility, and clubhouse with pool table and fireplace -- even a small putting green to entertain friends and family.
Open floor plans and high ceilings offer a spacious feel.
We love the palladian window and fireplace.
While it has a little less curb appeal, this brick home <a href="http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/204-Sandpiper-Way_Greenville_SC_29605_M59378-70758" target="_hplink">on Sandpiper Way in nearby Greenville</a> features a large entrance foyer, open living/dining room with fireplace and sunroom with lots of windows. The listing makes note of the proximity to the general hospital. (P.S. to marketing department: Maybe emphasize the pool instead?)
The home has an open living/dining room and wood flooring throughout.
Sunny sitting area
Of course if you are moving to South Carolina, the place to be is Sun City Hilton Head, described by one resident as "a playground for people in their 60s." Yes, still affordable -- if you don't insist on being on the golf course. This <a href="http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/146-Argent-Way_Bluffton_SC_29909_M65279-93220?mlslid=313169" target="_hplink">two-bed, two-bath home</a>, on a private wooded lot, was built in 1998.
This expanded 2,042-square-foot home has a windowed Carolina room.
The home offers an unusually large, 220-square-foot den.
Dining room has high ceilings and charming wainscoting.
The kitchen includes a breakfast nook surrounded by large windows.
Split bedrooms and baths provide added privacy for guests.
The outdoor patio in rear looks out onto woods.
Florida invented retirement, didn't it? Snowbirds from the northeast, especially New York, long ago began migrating there in the winter. Eventually, they bought condos which tumbled in the housing market crash. Today, it's a bargain-hunter's paradise, although sales volume and prices are ticking up, so you might want to hustle on down there if Florida is in your future plans. The mother lode is of course Boca Raton (pronounced "tone" for those of you living west of the Hudson), where the median home price is now $409,000. We did find this unit <a href="http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/17031-Boca-Club-Blvd-Apt-81b_Boca-Raton_FL_33487_M54620-26034?mlslid=R3216507" target="_hplink">on Boca Club Boulevard</a> for sale at $309,000 </a>and regardless of whether the complex is exclusively for retirees, you can't walk down a Boca street without hitting one.
Lobby of the six-story condominium; the property is on a golf course and has water views.
This 2,047-square-foot condominium has two bedrooms and three baths; the kitchen measures 18 x 9.
The living room is an ample 25 x 15 and the dining room is 15 x 13.
Sitting area off the living room
The community recreation facility
If you prefer something a little less glamorous than Boca, there's Port Charlotte, located along Florida's Southwest Gulf Coast, between Sarasota and Naples, in an area known as Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands. Here retirees can explore one of the world's largest protected marine estuaries; stroll miles of beaches; visit more than 70 parks and preserves; and enjoy fishing, paddling and sailing. The area is home to 16 golf courses and numerous annual sporting events and recreational facilities, as well as theater, dance, music and spas, according to charlotteharbortravel.com. This home <a href="http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/13308-Golf-Pointe-Dr_Port-Charlotte_FL_33953_M61785-53047" target="_hplink">on Golf Pointe Drive</a> is nearly 2,100 square feet with three bedrooms and two baths.
The kitchen and breakfast nook include wood cabinets, stone counter tops, tile back splash and built-in desk.
The home has a private heated pool and spa.
This gated community has a golf course, club house, tennis courts and fitness area.
The funny thing about Arizona politics is that they make you either want to move there tomorrow or forever stay away. Little middle ground when it comes to Arizona. But regardless of your view on the state's attitude toward gays, immigrants or guns, for retirees, there is great bang to be had in the retirement dollar buck. A <a href="http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/13746-W-Summerstar-Dr_Sun-City-West_AZ_85375_M10993-81274" target="_hplink">2,500-square-foot home on a golf course</a> location with an asking price of $260,000? The Phoenix area may be Boca Raton West.
The home, built in 1985, has tile floors throughout and vaulted ceilings in the great room.
The kitchen measures 11 x 11.
The unit overlooks one of the seven golf courses in the Sun City West, a master-planned community designed for people 55+.
Relax in the evening on the exterior back patio.
Upon getting their first whiff of aloha spirit, many people have to be dragged to their returning flights home. It's not pretty, trust me. And the reality is, for many, Hawaii is a great vacation spot but a harder retirement location. You are a plane ride away from friends and family and the medical care on some smaller islands isn't what you would find near a major medical teaching hospital. That said, there's <a href="http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/951050-Makaikai-St-Unit-16e_Mililani_HI_96789_M80658-53743" target="_hplink">this charming little condo in our price range</a> and we're feeling the tropical breezes already.
This two-bed, 1.5 bath condo is a compact 872 square feet.
The common space includes a community garden.
The condo includes a small patio/deck and space for an outdoor grill.
The grand poobah of retirement communities is of course LeisureWorld. There are LeisureWorlds in many locations, but we are partial to the one in Seal Beach, California, where the rules are reportedly iron-fisted, but the property highly regarded. There's a <a href="http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/13220-Nassau-Dr-209a_Seal-Beach_CA_90740_M14235-39578?mlslid=P779729" target="_hplink">tidy corner home with greenbelt views</a> and 1,100 square feet for $259,000.
Walls are freshly painted in neutral tones with white trim.
One of two bedrooms