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October 4, 2016 /

GratiTuesday: It’s the little things (and some big things too)

One step at a time.

One step at a time.

Gardening, making meals, climbing stairs, grocery shopping… just getting from Point A to Point B without assistance. It’s the little things that we don’t think much about until we lose our ability to do them.

It’s been almost exactly two months since I executed a rather inelegant dismount from a ladder and fractured my hip on our concrete patio. Some of you have asked how I am doing and I’m please to say that I’m doing much, much better. About three weeks after my surgery, I graduated from a walker to a cane and for the last two weeks or so I have been walking completely under my own power. Although I still have a bit of a limp, it gets better every day. I’m not back power-walking or dancing yet, but I’m confident that it’s only a matter of time.

Today, I am grateful for many things, including modern surgical procedures and the remarkable healing ability of the human body. It amazes me that two months after having my broken bone screwed back together, I am almost completely mobile and pain-free.

I am grateful for patient people: those who were behind me as I limped forward with my cane and didn’t angrily push their way around me. My balance wasn’t always great and I found myself close to being tripped several times as some people brushed by me to get ahead. I appreciated those who understood my limitations and didn’t try to shave off a few seconds by zipping around and risk toppling me over. I hope that lesson stays with me when I’m the one who needs to be patient.

I am grateful that I can again putter in the yard, drive myself where I want, walk up and down stairs, and pretty much do all the little things I took for granted before my accident. My accident gave me a brief glimpse of what it could be like when I’m much older. Maintaining my health and taking good care of my body is even more important to me now.

Finally, I am grateful to my husband for taking such good care of me, encouraging my progress, and keeping my spirits up when I was struggling. “For better” is the easy part, “For worse” is what matters.

October 2, 2016 /

The tyranny of stuff

When my husband and I retired, getting rid of excess stuff was one of our primary goals. Although our home wouldn’t qualify for hoarder status, it carried the baggage of stuff collecting that had taken place over the years. Because we both had acquired stuff before we met, a good amount of that stuff was transferred from our individual homes into our shared home. And, of course, stuff continued to enter our home after we got married. Then, after my parents died, some of their stuff also found its way into our growing collection.

Now, several years into retirement, we still have too much stuff. Although we’ve done a pretty good job of curtailing the in-flow of more stuff, the out-flow hasn’t gone as easily as we had hoped it would. We don’t have too much of a problem identifying stuff to be tossed or stuff to be donated; it’s the stuff we no longer want but has value – real or sentimental – that is more difficult to manage.

We had high hopes that eBay would be the perfect way to get rid of lots of stuff and bring in some money in the process. Although we’ve used it to sell several dozen items and we intend to sell more, we have found that the process takes a lot of time. When we started out, we put just about anything up for auction, regardless of its hoped for selling price. We once sold some used cycling cleat covers (yes, someone wanted them) for $8.00, plus shipping. But, after we figured the time it took to research an asking price (yes, there were similar cleat covers being sold), write copy,  take pictures, post the ad, then package and mail them when they sold, we were lucky if we made $3 an hour. Other items, of course, have sold for much more, which made the process worth it. As a result, we have become more discriminating about what is worth selling and what we should donate or post for free on Craig’s List.

Stuff headed for the Discovery Shop.

Stuff headed for the Discovery Shop.

Our push to get rid of stuff has ramped up lately. We are enjoying living a less-cluttered life and a better functioning home. We like having a few cabinets that are actually empty. The closet in our guest room has space for guests’ clothes. I no longer seldom am embarrassed when friends or neighbors stop by unexpectedly. As long as they stay out of our offices and the catch-all room upstairs, the illusion of having a well-curated home is maintained.

But, just living with less clutter day-to-day isn’t the only reason we want to get rid of more stuff. We are also looking at a few long-term advantages. Having a home that we could temporarily swap for, say, one in the south of France would extend our travel budget. Renting our house while we take off for extended adventures could provide income and security. Either possibility would be easier to accomplish if our home had less stuff and more space.

When I was younger, I loved acquiring stuff. Now, I view most stuff as unnecessary, restricting and complicating. Slowly, I’m winnowing down my wardrobe to have fewer, but more versatile clothes. Our shelves are being freed of clutter, leaving only a few, carefully selected items. The tabletop piles of paper are being swept away and replaced with… nothing.

Very gradually, we are freeing our home of the tyranny of stuff and welcoming the liberation of having space.

September 20, 2016 /

GratiTuesday: My Public Broadcasting Stations


The annual membership renewal notice for our local public broadcasting station came in the mail the other day. My husband and I have discussed our current contribution level and I think this will be the year we increase it substantially.

We usually begin our day listening to our local National Public Radio (NPR) station and, in the evening, we often watch the Public Broadcasting Station’s (PBS) NewsHour to catch up on the day’s news. When I’m driving around in my car, my radio might as well be permanently fixed on NPR because I rarely listen to anything else. In addition, we watch many of the quality shows our local PBS station broadcasts in the evening such as Downton Abbey, Sherlock, Masterpiece Theater, and anything Ken Burns produces.

Yesterday, while I was in my car running a few errands, I listened to an in-depth report on climate change, a security technologist discussing the growing threat that hacking poses, and a fascinating story about the three months Leon Trotsky spent in New York City in late 1916, early 1917. I didn’t have to put up with inane chatter or people yelling at each other, vapid commercials weren’t assaulting my ears, and I didn’t hear the same few songs played over and over again.

When I listen to NPR or watch PBS, I am always entertained and I usually learn something new; sometimes the topics are already of great interest to me and sometimes the subjects weren’t even on my radar. Either way, I always get something out of the time I spend watching or listening to this most valuable public resource.

I am so grateful for public television and radio and the diverse programs and services that are available to inform, educate, enlighten, and enrich us all. Public broadcasting stations are operated as private not-for-profit corporations and partially rely on contributions by their listeners.

I am also grateful for those who support public broadcasting.

If you haven’t given your local public broadcasting station a try, tune in sometime and see if what they offer is of value to you.

If you do watch or listen – or both – but are not yet a member, consider joining. Your support will help ensure the continued success of smart, thoughtful programming.

If you are already a member: fabulous! If you can, think about upping your level of support. Also, please consider including your local station in your estate planning so that future generations can enjoy this valuable resource too.

September 13, 2016 /

GratiTuesday: Lucky Thirteen


My husband and I were married thirteen years ago, on the thirteenth of September, after being together for thirteen years.

We didn’t plan it that way; it was just how everything happened to align.

One of my husband’s favorite anecdotes about our getting married is that he never really asked me to marry him.

It’s true, at least in the formal, romantic proposal, actually asking me sense…

A little over a year before we were married, we attended his high school reunion in northern California. I didn’t grow up in the same community so most of the people there were strangers to me. During the event, introductions were uncomfortable since most people assumed that I was his wife. Referring to me as his “date” wasn’t at all correct, “partner” sounded stiff and business-like, and I was certainly more than a “girlfriend” (by that time we owned a home together).

On our drive home, I told him how awkward I felt because we didn’t have a simple way to define our relationship to others. That’s when he very innocently said, “Well, maybe we should think about getting married.” Silly man… I was thinking that it was about time too and, before he knew what hit him, we had a date set and wedding plans beginning to form.


I am so very grateful for my husband and the life we have built together. Although it took us thirteen years to make it official, we’ve been together for twenty-six years and I’d happily marry him again today (whether he asked me or not). God knows we can drive each other crazy at times, but the inscription on our wedding invitation thirteen years ago is still true today:

This day I will marry my friend…

The one I laugh with, dream with,

live for and love.

September 9, 2016 /

Oh, Ottawa!

Oh Canada you're looking good for 149 and with Justin on the Hill it's only getting better, keep it Trudeau Canada!

Oh Canada you’re looking good for 149 and with Justin on the Hill it’s only getting better, keep it Trudeau Canada!

We had mixed feelings as we left Toronto and made our way to Ottawa, the penultimate stop on our road trip (the last stop would be an overnight stay close to the airport in Montreal). We had been traveling for almost a month and were a bit homesick, but we also were having a great time and didn’t want the trip to end.

Our Airbnb apartment in Ottawa was definitely the nicest one we experienced on our trip. The host, a young, self-described “day-trader” who owned several apartments in the building, was helpful and very welcoming. The apartment was clean, quiet, nicely decorated, and well-located. Once we parked our rental (free parking was included – bonus!), we were able to walk everywhere we wanted to.

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Parliament Hill is the political and cultural heart of Ottawa. The Gothic-style government buildings overlooking the Ottawa River are open for free guided tours (the tickets are first-come, first-served, so get them early). Our tour of the Centre Block building ended with an elevator ride to the top of the Peace Tower which provided sweeping views of the city and the river.

Another tourist favorite during the summer months is the Changing of the Guard ceremony, which takes place each morning on the front lawn of Parliament Hill.

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The Rideau Canal is the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America. There are 45 locks along the 125 mile (202 kilometer) length of the canal. It was completed in 1832 as a precaution in case of war with the United States and remains in use today primarily for pleasure boating (and ice skating in the winter). The canal begins (or ends, depending on the direction of travel) in Ottawa where the large wooden lock doors are opened and closed using hand cranks. The park surrounding the locks was beautiful and we spent a relaxing few hours just watching the process of the boats making their way up through the gates.

Standing on very spindly legs next to the world-class National Gallery of Canada is the Maman sculpture by Louise Bourgeois – a 30-foot bronze cast of a spider.  The title is the French word for Mother, which explains the sac on her belly containing 26 marble eggs. Similar Maman sculptures can also be found at art museums in the UK, Spain, Japan, South Korea, and the US.

We also enjoyed exploring the historic and trendy ByWard Market, one of Canada’s oldest and largest public markets. It was just a few blocks from our apartment and the four-block area was full of shops, cafes, pubs, and galleries.

As we left Ottawa after only a few days, we once again felt that our too-short stay only allowed us to scratch the surface of this beautiful city. I’d love to return some day and explore all that we missed this time around.

September 6, 2016 /

GratiTuesday: Our summer has just begun!

Most people mark the beginning of summer in June on the Solstice, or when the kids get out of school, or when the weather turns reliably warm. But, for many people who live in my city – especially those of us who are retired or have flexible schedules – our summer begins after Labor Day.

After months of sharing our city with visitors and putting up with roving packs of teens and pre-teens, all of a sudden a kind of quiet descends over us. Most of the tourists have gone back home, the kids are starting back to school, and we look forward to what is often our best weather in September and into October. We rejoice that our beaches are far less crowded, restaurants are quieter, and we no longer have to share our favorite hang outs with the masses.

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And, it gets even better: even though we will celebrate the Fall Equinox on September 22 this year, Daylight Savings mercifully doesn’t end until November 6. Then, it’s just over a month until the Winter Solstice, after which the sun begins to make its way north again and daylight hours start to get longer and longer.

Even though we continue to struggle with the drought here in Southern California, I am so grateful that I live in an area where winter doesn’t mean months of snow, spring feels right around the corner even in September, and the delights of summer can often be enjoyed well after those living in colder climates have traded their flip flips for boots.

I’d also be very grateful for a good dose of rain, though.

September 4, 2016 /

Vibrant Toronto


Toronto is Canada’s biggest and busiest city, and its most diverse. Over 140 languages are spoken there and it is estimated that over half of its residents were born outside of Canada. The most populous city in Canada, it is the fourth largest city in North America (behind Mexico City, New York City, and Los Angeles).

Even knowing all of this, I found myself a little overwhelmed at first by the size and vibrancy of Toronto.

Our Airbnb was located on a side street in the downtown area, between two busy boulevards. It appeared that most of the residents of the tall apartment building were students, possibly attending the nearby Ryerson University. The flat itself was quiet and nicely appointed and, because it was up on the 21st floor, we had a nice view of the downtown.

Although we didn't sit around much, our Airbnb flat was very comfortable.

Although we didn’t sit around much, our Airbnb flat was very comfortable.

As we did during most of the other stops along our recent road trip, once we parked our car (free, off-street parking was included – a huge plus in this busy city), it remained unused for the three days we were there. We were able to get everywhere we wanted to go either on foot or using public transportation.

Dancers enjoying the Salsa Festival.

Dancers enjoying the Salsa Festival.

In addition to a high-quality outdoor art show (top picture), we were delighted to discover that there was also a food festival and a Salsa music festival taking place on the days we were in town.

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All within walking distance from our flat was Toronto’s Chinatown, the funky Kensington Market neighborhood, Old Town Toronto’s famous St. Lawrence Market, the Entertainment District, the busy Waterfront, and lots of tempting places to eat.

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Like other Canadian cities we visited, street art seemed to be everywhere in Toronto. Much of it was big and gorgeous, but there were also plenty of unauthorized contributions.

After just a three-day stay in Toronto, we felt that we hadn’t even scratched to surface of this amazing city. It’s loud and messy and crowded, but the vitality and energy is infectious. Although our travel schedule didn’t allow us to stay any longer, we agreed that a return trip – one that included much more time to explore other neighborhoods and indulge in additional culinary delights – could quite possibly be in our future.