Her office is in a closet, down the hall from two porcelain creatures named Tiffany and Titania. Without expecting it or seeking it, Carolyn Craske is in the doll business.
Since March, she has worked as a consultant and organizer for Rustie's Unique Designs, a doll-manufacturing business that operates out of a private home in Dunedin, Fla.
Carolyn works the hours she wants and the days she wants. If she wants to finish her newspaper and her decaf coffee before driving the 13 miles to Dunedin, she can.
But taking a part-time job just 15 months after retiring was "not in the master plan -- not at all," she said last Wednesday, as she sat in the kitchen of her home in Largo.
Asked if the job has meant less time for her to putt, putter and ponder, she smiled and gestured toward her kitchen window.
"See my back yard?" she asked. The weeds haven't overwhelmed the lawn, but they are trying.
Carolyn Craske, 63, retired in December 1997 from her job as a budget officer for the Department of Health and Human Services and moved from Fairfax County to Largo. She is one of 80,719 members of the federal service who retired in 1997.
She has agreed to let me visit her occasionally during her first two years "out." The idea is to provide a close look at the life of a recent federal retiree.
Carolyn did not retire without a meticulous and sensible financial plan. But her purchase of a new Buick several months ago "threw everything off."
It's a classic retiree's story. Her former Buick wasn't sounding or acting healthy. So she bought a new one, with a home-equity loan.
But the payments on that loan were straining her budget. So when her daughter-in-law suggested that she visit Rustie Siewak to discuss employment, Carolyn agreed.
"I feel like I'm helping somebody over the hump," she said, as she filed bills and sorted through records in the cluttered closet office.
"I'm exposing them to an easier way of doing things with computers. It works for me."
It also works for Rustie. She doesn't care if Carolyn shows up in shorts (which she usually does). She doesn't care if Carolyn leaves to get her hair done on Thursday afternoons (which she always does).
"She's fantastic. She's great," said Rustie. "She's got the patience of I-don't-know-what."
To walk into Rustie's house on Glen Hollow Lane is to walk into Dollville. Every room is filled with finished dolls, half-finished dolls, body parts of dolls, clothing for dolls. Every doll has a name. And every doll has an individual look.
The business is growing hugely, mostly because it has recently been featured on the Home Shopping Network on cable TV. So Carolyn is doing what she spent a decade doing at HHS -- keeping the engines running, out of the limelight, with quiet efficiency.
Yet the rest of her retirement life continues full bore.
She still serves as an actively involved grandmother for her son's three children, who live just a few blocks away. She is a loyal member of her church choir. She is the designated driver when relatives arrive at the airport. When her sister, Judy, suffered a freak head injury two months ago, it was Carolyn who made sure all was well in the emergency room.
Is there more swirl and clutter in her life than there was a year ago? Carolyn nods. But does she wish she were back in the Washington area, putting in 50-hour weeks for Uncle Sam? Carolyn frowns.
Unfinished business around her home seems to bother Carolyn the most. Retirees are supposed to have all the time in the world to fix up and settle in. Yet Carolyn still has barely touched the paint that was going to brighten the walls of the house she has occupied for more than 18 months.
She points with regret across her living room.
"See that bookcase?" she asks. "It's just the way it was when it was unloaded" from the moving van.
Carolyn's new job is not a purely positive financial experience. She cannot earn more than $9,600 a year in the doll business without forfeiting some of her Social Security income. So, to cover the Social Security offset, she might be tempted to work more than the 25 hours a week she now puts in.
That would mean that she wouldn't be retired at all. "I still take the girls [her granddaughters, 6 and 4] to ballet," Carolyn said. And that would become much more difficult if 25 hours a week became 40.
Still, if you're going to work, "this is a wonderful place. It doesn't feel like I'm really working," Carolyn said.
Little wonder. Rustie's house is filled with soft rock on the radio, seamstresses making dresses and shoes for 42-inch-high dolls, a cockatiel named the Commodore watching it all from the kitchen with a wry smile.
It's a bit disconcerting to start sitting on a couch, only to discover that a box of doll arms is sitting on the cushion. But working -- again -- seems to suit Carolyn in an important way.
"I'm still on my little thing that God puts the right thing in the right place at the right time," she said.