We realize being grateful for ordinary things and events in life contributes in a profound way to happiness. And I try regularly to feel — and express — gratitude. At this time of year, it’s easy for Glen and me to feel grateful for our second home in Arizona. Just when grey skies and near daily precipitation envelop Vancouver, we go south to Scottsdale for five months.
It’s not ordinary to be a snowbird, although increasingly boomers (by some estimates, more than one million Canadians) spend winter months in warm climes. According to a survey by the Canadian Snowbird Association, the vast majority visits the US: Florida (48%), Arizona (28%), California (8%) and Texas (4%). 49% are between 60 and 70 years of age; 42% are older. 54% spend five or six months at their destination. 61% own a house or condo.
We remain forever grateful to two close friends, lamentably no longer a couple, who sent us on this annual ritual of seasons in the sun. While attending a conference in Scottsdale, they fell in love with the city, the landscape, the blue sky, the heat. On their return to Lennoxville we poured together over brochures, maps, real estate listings. They persuaded us to buy a condo in Scottsdale, even though we neither knew the City nor had yet retired. In June 2008, Glen, Brandon and I (plus our friend Lynne for a few days) flew to Phoenix.
We entrusted a rather flaky realtor to find us an appropriate condo given the parameters of budget, size and dog-friendliness. She toured us around the geographically large (477 sq km/184 sq mi) City of Scottsdale, showing us many units, none of which proved suitable. I actually found the winning one online and, shortly after, we took possession of a lovely condo in North Scottsdale. The better acquainted we became with our new City, the more we valued our right location — chosen largely by luck.
With the benefit of hindsight, I identify clearer parameters to set when looking, at this stage of life, to occupy a new home — in any area.
- Choose a locale to satisfy current pastimes but bear in mind these may change in later years. For instance, I played tennis up to seven days a week but am less inclined to play that often now. Similarly, I used to enjoy golf but no longer want to turn a beautiful game ugly. In retirement I allow time for other diversions, some yet to be discovered.
- Pay attention to the walkability score of the neighbourhood. Although we assume we’ll always drive, living longer means we may eventually face vision problems, physical ailments or cognitive impairments that prevent us from getting behind the wheel. Ideally most everything of daily need lies within walking, or cycling, distance. Besides, walking enhances our well-being at any age!
- Find a place where you can develop, maintain or reestablish social relationships. Look for community centres, volunteer possibilities, activities involving like-minded people. One researcher on the subject of aging says, “social isolation is quite literally deadly.”
- Check into life-long learning opportunities at universities, colleges, arts centres, libraries to augment leisure pursuits. While online learning provides necessary mental stimulation, it doesn’t get us out of our homes into educational and social settings.
- Ensure accessibility to adequate health and social services.
Soon to depart for our eighth season, Glen and I know our arrival in the south will be greeted warmly, not just by merchants eager for our CDN dollars but also by friends. Among other advantages, living in (rather than visiting) two different places throughout the year opens the door to more social encounters and puts us in a privileged position of claiming two sets of friends, three when we include our Quebec set.
Given our immersive experience in Arizona, I reject the label of “snowbird” or even “sunbird.” Call us “winter residents” instead. •