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March 24, 2017 / Retirementallychallenged.com

U.S. National Parks on Sale!

I first posted this last year in February. If you are 62 or older and haven’t already taken advantage of this wonderful offer, the time to do it is now! The National Park Service has announced that the price for its Senior Pass will be raised from $10 to $80 sometime later this year. Here, with a few updates, is information about obtaining your pass.

So little, yet so mighty!

 There are a lot of opportunities to save a few dollars here and there when we pass certain age milestones. Some businesses offer deals for customers as young as 50, but most of these “senior discounts” don’t kick in until we reach age 55, 60, or older. Many restaurants, hotels, airlines, rental car agencies, and retail shops try to attract our money by offering a dollar amount or percentage off… but often only if you ask (so, ask). Some of the deals are good, but many require the customer to purchase something they may not have wanted in the first place.

The very best senior discount opportunity I know of is the one offered by the National Park Service. For just $10 (plus a $10 processing fee, if by mail or online), any U.S. citizen or permanent resident age 62 or over can purchase this lifetime pass to over 2,000 recreation sites. Senior Passes can be purchased online, by mail, or in person and will admit up to four adults (any age) in one non-commercial vehicle for free. How flipping great is that??!!

As soon as my husband turned 62, we drove to our local National Monument for a hike and to get his Senior Pass. We’ve already used the pass several times, and look forward to using it more in the future.

Even if you, like me, won’t be 62 until after the price increase, $80 is still a great bargain, and the increase will help the Park Service address its estimated $12 billion maintenance backlog. If $80 is too steep, another option for seniors is a $20 annual pass. Either way, The National Park System is an amazing resource and, especially with federal funding a bit shaky right now, well worth the investment.

Other discount passes are available, including one for current members of the military, people with disabilities, and 4th graders (I assume I don’t have any 4th graders reading my blog but some of you may have children or grandchildren who qualify). An $80 Annual Pass is available to anyone of any age and is a great deal if you plan to visit more than one or two participating parks during a calendar year.

To learn more about the National Park Service and their discount passes, visit their website (nps.gov), or go straight to: nps.gov/findapark/passes.htm.

Then, get out and explore!

March 21, 2017 / Retirementallychallenged.com

GratiTuesday: The signs of spring

The arrival of spring in Southern California can be very subtle. Those of you who have been (or still are) buried under piles of snow probably scoff at what we consider winter (I know it’s true… I can hear you scoffing). Yes, we had some rain. Yes, we even had some flooding in some areas. But, A) we were whining about being in a drought just last year, B) we don’t have to shovel rain, and C) having to replace our wiper blades is not the same as changing to snow tires.

Some people claim that we don’t have “real” seasons here, but those of us who have lived here for a while know that isn’t true. You just need to look a little closer for the signs. I wrote about the desert wild flower super bloom last week, but there are plenty of indications of spring closer to home.

Photo credit: my talented friend, Mitch Mitchell

The local surfers have traded their full-length wetsuits for short-sleeved wetsuits.

Target has started to display their outdoor merchandise.

Yes, they really are that white.

Horrified that I will soon have to expose my ghost-white legs in public, I purchased my first-of-the-season tube of self-tanning lotion.

The brightly colored hooded orioles have started to arrive from their winter home in Mexico. They nest in our neighborhood palm trees and fill the air with their noisy chatter.

My blueberry bushes are showing their first buds, promising a bountiful summer crop.

 

As you can see, even in Southern California, the signs of spring are beginning to appear all around us, and I am so grateful that it is here.

March 14, 2017 / Retirementallychallenged.com

GratiTuesday: The Desert’s Super Bloom

The rain came in abundance to California this year. The sheer volume caused problems in some areas, but most of us have reveled in the frequent downpours. Our gardens look lush, lawns (those that still exist) are green, and weeds are sprouting up everywhere.

March is the month that deserts traditionally experience their blooming season, but our five-year drought has negatively affected the annual spectacle. Fortunately, this year’s rains have not only benefitted homeowners and gardeners in coastal and inland areas, it has created a “super bloom” in our local desert – the likes of which we haven’t seen in many years.

After reading about the large wildflower-seeking crowds ascending on Anza-Borrego State Park during the weekends, my husband and I decided to make our trek there on a weekday. This was supposed to be a prime week and we knew the flowers could fade quickly under harsh winds, rising temperatures, and the ravenous caterpillars that can eat through the flowering plants at an amazing rate.

We got an early start Monday morning (made more difficult because we just sprang forward, and 6 a.m. felt like it came an hour too soon) so we could beat the heat and the traffic as much as possible. When we both worked, a 6 a.m. wake-up alarm was not unusual. Now that we are retired, we’ve learned to appreciate sleeping until we decide to get up. This day, though, the flowers beckoned,  so we dragged ourselves out of bed and into the shower.

The two-hour drive to the state park takes us east, winding through ranch country and along fields planted with citrus, nuts and grapes. Starting at close to sea level where we live, we climbed over 3,000 feet into the hills before heading back down the windy pass to the desert floor.

We started to spot flowers here and there as we approached Borrego Springs, the small town just outside the park, but it wasn’t until we drove into the park that we saw the blooms carpeting the desert sand, colorful against the backdrop of the mountains and blue, clear skies.

I’m so grateful for this year’s spectacular desert wildflowers. Some people think of the desert as being dull and colorless, or hot and full of plants that have painful thorns. I grew up in Southern California so I am familiar with its often subtle beauty. But, after the ample winter rains, this spring’s super bloom isn’t subtle at all; it is showy and colorful, and exploding with life.

March 12, 2017 / Retirementallychallenged.com

Gizmos and Gadgets

I’ve written several posts about my efforts to clear out the clutter and reduce the number of things in my life – and I really have made decent progress. But, as good as I’ve been about curtailing the purchase of clothes, shoes, and random household stuff, I find my willpower grows weak in the face of the latest electronic gizmo designed to make my life better (or so they say).  

Up to this point, my husband and I have been pretty even on our electronic gadget count; we each have a desktop computer, a smartphone, and a tablet. Our desktops are approximately the same vintage, my iPhone is newer, but his iPad is much newer, faster, and more reliable.

I have been considering getting a new iPad for a while now. The storage – huge I thought when I first purchased it – is getting used up at an alarming rate. I worry each time Apple sends out an update because I’m not sure my ancient iPad had the required space to accept it.

In addition to needing wanting a new tablet, I also thought I might want a laptop. Tablets are great for what they are designed to do, but they aren’t a true computer. They run apps, not programs, and as great as some apps are, they aren’t as robust as computer programs (for instance, Lightroom – a terrific photo editing program – offers an app version, but it lacks much of the capabilities of the full-fledged program). I also like the portability of a laptop – I wouldn’t have to disappear into my office to use my computer. Additionally, I want to be able to write while traveling, something that I find inconvenient to do on my iPad. Purchasing both a new iPad and a laptop didn’t make sense financially; I needed to choose between the two platforms, but was having a hard time doing that.

My new little buddy

Then I discovered Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4, which appeared to give me everything I was looking for in a nice little package. It’s a small laptop with a robust operating system and it can morph into a tablet, providing the convenience I love about the iPad.

I’ve had my Surface Pro for about a week now and, so far, I’m pleased. I’m typing this post sitting at our dining room table, enjoying being in the same room as my husband, not sequestered in another area of the house. I can choose to use the keypad, or scroll up and down the screen using my finger. I can also take a picture with either the front- or back-facing camera. Later this evening, if I want to take a quick look at my emails or read a few blogs, I can use it as a tablet by easily detaching the keyboard (the screen is a bit larger but it weighs less than my old iPad, which is nice).

Test picture I took with my laptop to insert into this post… so far, so good.

I am optimistic that I have made the right decision for my needs but my search made me wonder about what others have chosen that works for them.

With so many options out there – none of which are very cheap – what types of electronic gadgetry do you use? What can’t you live without? If you travel, which devices do you take with you? What, if anything, have you purchased that didn’t live up to its hype and sits there gathering dust?

February 28, 2017 / Retirementallychallenged.com

GratiTuesday: Sheltering animals waiting for their forever homes

Anytime I replace our towels or sheets, the old ones get laundered, folded, and taken to our local Humane Society, where they are used as bedding or to clean the enclosures. The staff is always so happy to receive the items, and I get an excuse to spend time hanging out with the beautiful cats and dogs (and guinea pigs and rabbits) waiting to be adopted.

This past Sunday, after I delivered a pile of towels, I decided to sit down in the brightly lit lobby and watch the human animals for a while. Since it was the weekend, there were a lot of visitors searching for a new friend to bring home with them. The staff, made up mostly by volunteers, was busy caring for the animals, interacting with the visitors, and doing the work necessary to keep the place humming along. Everyone seemed cheerful – and who wouldn’t be, surrounded by all that unconditional love.

Although all the animals I saw on Sunday were happy and healthy, that is not always the case. Just recently, 123 Yorkshire terriers were discovered living in horrific conditions in a hoarding situation. The good news is that after evaluation, treatment, and behavioral care, most of the Yorkies were made available for adoption, and all of those have found a home. This incident was especially challenging, but, unfortunately, not terribly rare.

I am so grateful for our local Humane Society for the compassionate work they do. They provide vital services by sheltering and adopting animals, providing positive reinforcement training classes, investigating animal cruelty and neglect, and presenting education programs. It is a private, nonprofit organization that receives no government funding and is supported solely by contributions, and the fees they charge for services. Best of all, once a healthy or treatable animal becomes available for adoption, it will remain available for as long as is necessary to find them a home.

Donor's names areengraved on each tag

Donors’ names are engraved on each tag

Even if you aren’t in a position to adopt a furry friend from your local Humane Society or animal shelter, they are probably looking for volunteers or donations. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money to make a difference and you’ll probably get much more in return that what you are able to give.

February 21, 2017 / Retirementallychallenged.com

GratiTuesday: Here Comes the Rain Again

California’s drought has lasted over five years. Many of us have learned to take shorter showers, capture running tap water while it is being heated so it isn’t wasted down the drain, and not be so fussy about… um… flushing. Some of us have changed out our landscaping to reflect the desert climate we live in and others have installed water barrels to better manage the rain they get. What at first may have seemed a hassle is now just second nature to most of us. It’s the right thing to do.

In the summer of 2015, we started to read about the warming waters of the Pacific Ocean and how the resulting El Niño weather phenomenon would give Southern California the best chance for above-average rains. I even wrote a post about being grateful that we had a roof over our heads because of the anticipated storms. At the same time, Northern California was predicted to get much less precipitation.

In fact, just the opposite happened.

Last season, Northern California did much better both in the rain they received and the snow levels they experienced. On the other hand, except for a few days of torrential downpours, Southern California’s El Niño was mostly El Disappoint-o.

When El Niño finally vacated the area, and its drier flipside, La Niña started to show herself, we were told to expect little rain this winter. An article in the Los Angeles Times stated, “If the weather phenomenon behaves as expected, the Pacific Northwest and far Northern California will enjoy a wetter than normal winter, while the southern swath of the state will remain dry.”

Well, that didn’t happen either.

rain

Although the prediction was correct regarding the above average rain in Northern California, Southern California has been experiencing a wetter than normal rainy season this year too. In fact, we are now well above average in our seasonal rainfall totals. Even though we hear a few grumbles (including that we don’t know how to drive in the rain – which is true), most of us are willing to put up with any inconvenience for the sake of the overall health of our water supplies.

There has been some discussion about whether or not California’s drought is over. Some say “Yes,” and advocate for the removal of water conservation restrictions. Others argue “No,” and caution against prematurely declaring that all is well. I certainly don’t know the answer, but given our desert climate and how weather patterns have become less-and-less predictable worldwide, I’m willing to take the pragmatic approach and do what I can to help preserve this precious resource into the future.

In the meantime, I am so grateful for the rain we have received so far this season and, hopefully, will continue to enjoy over the next few months.

February 18, 2017 / Retirementallychallenged.com

The changing face of retail

One of my fondest memories as a little girl was accompanying my mother downtown to go shopping. Going downtown often meant getting started early and catching several busses, but I considered it a great adventure. I loved getting dressed up and, best of all, having my mother all to myself for a day spent doing “girl stuff.”

There were several department stores to choose from, including Montgomery Wards, Sears, and Walker Scott’s. But, the locally-owned Marston’s was always our last stop because, when we finished shopping, we took the elevator up to the sixth floor to have lunch at the very elegant (at least to my young eyes) Tea Room.

Marston's Department Store

Marston’s Department Store

This was before 1961, the year our city got its first shopping mall. After Mission Valley Center opened, there was no longer a need to go downtown to shop. The Center not only had two large anchor stores, it also had lots of specialty shops and a food court that offered a myriad of dining choices (but, sadly for me, none nearly as stylish as my beloved Tea Room). Ease and convenience won out over elegance. Soon after the shopping mall opened, the downtown department stores closed due to a lack of business.

Mission Valley Center

Mission Valley Center

Over the years, shopping malls have morphed as tastes and shopping habits have changed. Anchor stores have been swapped out as former retail giants have merged or have gone out of business. Names of stores that I grew up with are gone completely, replaced by new and different ones. Even with these changes, most malls remained busy and vibrant.

But, something different is happening to today’s malls that can’t be fixed by tweaking their tenants. With the rise of online shopping and the hit that retail stores took during the recession, brick and mortar shopping centers have experienced major declines in sales. Just as the lure of the mall siphoned customers away from downtown department stores, the internet is making it unnecessary to enter a store at all. Traditional retailers are suffering and malls are dying.

One of the former giants that is feeling the effects of the new normal is Macy’s. What began in 1843 as a retail dry goods store in Massachusetts, Macy’s changed, grew, and acquired other retailers to become the well-known brand it is today. But, now it’s in trouble. After a 2016 holiday season marked by disappointing sales, Macy’s announced the closing of 68 of its stores nationwide, resulting in the loss of 10,000 jobs. I recently visited a location that is closing, and it was a bit eerie. It was like going to an estate sale after someone very old had died. Oh, and they were a hoarder.

 

This modern phenomenon of ghost boxes and dead malls that were once retail meccas is probably only going to get worse. As customers seek out new retail experiences and become more and more comfortable shopping online, the idea of driving to the mall, finding parking, then foraging through racks of stuff you don’t want to find something you do, will seem anachronistic.

Most of us have seen those lists of items familiar to older generations, but that younger generations don’t recognize; things like rotary phones, film canisters, and library card catalogs. It wouldn’t be too surprising if, some day, shopping malls could be added to those lists for generations to come.