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August 30, 2023 Retirement

Home Is Where the Heart Is

Joan M. Bondareff

This popular title is a quote attributed to the Roman naval commander, Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79), but the song with this title was written by Hal David and Sherman Edwards and made popular by Elvis Presley. Who knew?

It’s also what I have practiced and believed in for most of my adult life. My heart is in my home in Alexandria, Virginia, and I have kept it close in good and bad times. Here are some of my personal tips for making this work.

While friends and neighbors are retiring and moving to The Villages in Florida or Asheville or someplace with a milder climate, I have remained in my home in Old Town Alexandria, near the Potomac River, and have no foreseeable plans of moving.

The home I own is my security blanket. When I got divorced in 1995, I stayed put. Or as I say, I got the house and he got the boat. It seemed like a fair deal to me. A few years later, I was able to pay off the mortgage thus making it almost rent-free to live in my house –aside from property taxes and the usual maintenance, that is.  Tip 1:  Pay off your mortgage before you retire.

When you go through a major life change, like a divorce or a death in the family, it is not the time to undertake any other major changes, like selling your home, so stay put and make the old house work for you.  Tip 2:  Keep the appliances and HVAC systems updated and regularly maintained.  Invest in a walk-in shower; avoid falls. 

At the time of my divorce, I had just gotten a new job with the Clinton Administration as Chief Counsel of the United States Maritime Administration overseeing several new maritime programs and supervising 30 or more attorneys and staff.  This position was demanding, so it kept me very busy for more than four years.  Tip 3: Focus on work, and don’t make a career move and home move at the same time if you can avoid it.    

After my divorce, I met a lovely, kind gentleman from Philadelphia on the internet. We met on a travel companion website (sorry it went out of business), and he found my profile. After he sold his house, he moved into my home in Virginia. We had plenty of room to live in the same house and he could run or walk on the bike path by the river every day while I kept working.  Again, why move? The house became his home, too, and the stage from which we undertook many trips around the world, e.g., to England, France, Turkey, Denmark, Greece, Argentina, Canada, and Mexico, among other countries.  When we came back from the trips, we returned to the lovely home by the river and kept on enjoying our life together. Tip 4: Travel while you can.  Make memories while you can.  Don’t let other obligations stand in the way.

My lovely, kind gentleman partner passed away last year, so the house is again my security blanket and full of sweet memories of our life together.  Seems like no reason to move away and lose all the happy memories. Time for an upgrade?  Tip 5: Invest in green energy improvements like new windows and doors and energy-star appliances.  Keep receipts for tax purposes.

I have continued to work –now with a private law and consulting firm in Washington, DC, in reasonable commuting distance from Alexandria, again, there’s no reason to move. Tip 6: Don’t have long commutes if possible.  They waste a lot of precious time.

Have I mentioned that I live in an area with a great neighborhood association and many friends? There’s no HOA but there is a community association whose mission is to maintain a charming park by the river.   Once a month, you can find the association members in the park cleaning up trash.  The city pays us to keep the park green and clean and full of lovely plants, trees, and flowers.  The park is open to the public every day of the week, and we help maintain its passive mission of enjoyment and serenity.   Tip 7: Help your neighbors and they will help you.  Enjoy the green spaces in your town.  Create one if there isn’t one.  It’s good for the soul.

Where else can I find a great neighborhood with many amenities and walking distance to town and a short commute to the big city?  Nowhere else, so here I stay until my heart can’t walk up the stairs any more…but wait. I can get a stairlift or elevator installed!  For now, my home is staying put and my heart is here.  Home is where my heart is.  I recommend it for a retirement plan.  Stay put and smell the flowers in your own backyard.  

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Joan M. Bondareff

Blank Rome

Joan M. Bondareff, Of Counsel at Blank Rome, focuses her practice on marine transportation, environmental, regulatory, renewable energy and legislative issues. Joan represents clients in many industries and state and local governments in matters related to: Maritime regulations and public policy; Environmental law; Government relations; Renewable energy; Federal grants; and Maritime security for shipyards and ports. Before joining Blank Rome, Joan was chief counsel and acting deputy administrator of the Maritime Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation. She was also former majority counsel for the House Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries. Joan served on the Obama Transition Team for the Department of Transportation handling maritime related issues. 


Joan is also General Counsel and Secretary, North American Marine Environmental Protection Association (NAMEPA), a nonprofit that promotes sustainable practices for the shipping industry. She is a former member of Women in Government Relations (WGR) and served on the Homeland Security and Environment and Energy Task Forces. In May 2018, Joan was appointed by the U.S. Department of State as an expert on coastal zone management and planning for the United Nation’s second World Ocean Assessment, and she was a member and then chair of the Virginia Offshore Wind Development Authority, an  advisory committee to the Governor of Virginia.  Most recently, in August 2022, Joan was reappointed as At Large Vice Chair of the Marine Resources Committee of the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Environment, Energy and Resources for the 2022–2023 term.