Don’t put off using the good stuff

Recently, as I was placing squares of blueberry cake on salad plates from our everyday dishes, I realized the proportions were off. We aren’t big dessert eaters and the small portions that I had cut looked tiny and sad surrounded by the empty white of the plates. I made a mental note to search online for some smaller options.

As you can probably imagine, the googles were full of opportunities for me to spend my money. There were solid-color plates, plates with flowers and stripes, round plates, square plates, and even triangular-shaped plates. I was trying to decide between several options when it occurred to me that I may already own just what I was looking for.

In addition to her everyday dishes, my mother had a set of Russel Wright American Modern dishes. They were what we now call mid-century modern: sleek and non-fussy, and the most luscious shade of teal blue called “seafoam.” They were brought out for holidays and celebratory occasions and occupied a special place in the heart of our family. Because I am the only daughter, it was always understood that I would inherit the set when she passed away (sorry, dear brothers, but they are mine).

I have dinner plates, salad plates, cups, saucers, salt and pepper shakers, serving platters, soup bowls, and bread plates. These dishes are beautiful, functional, warm reminders of my childhood… and I seldom use them.

It turns out that the bread plates are the perfect size for desserts.

All this got me thinking: why do we squirrel away the good stuff—dishes, silverware, jewelry, clothes—waiting for a special opportunity in the future to enjoy them? If we love these things shouldn’t we use them more often?

I understand why some items are put aside for special occasions; we think that if we use them regularly, they’d lose their specialness. On the other hand, if there are things that we love and give us pleasure, doesn’t it make sense to enjoy them more frequently?

Set your table with your favorite dishes more often. Wear that necklace you love even if you’re only running errands. Those plush towels you provide your houseguests? Use them (or better yet, buy a set for yourself). Break out that good bottle of wine you’ve been storing before it turns to vinegar.

Don’t put off using the good stuff because, at some point, it will be too late. 

Do you still think you need a special occasion to indulge yourself? Don’t forget that tomorrow is National Dogs in Politics Day. If that doesn’t work for you, certainly National No Excuses Day this Sunday is the perfect day to celebrate with your good stuff. 

Lost and Found (part 5)

(This is the final part of Lost and Found, a short story posted in five parts over five days. You can find Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 by clicking on the Short Stories and Poems tab in the menu bar.)

—–

The next morning, Eleanor attached the dog’s leash to his collar and grabbed her tote bag, mask, some tape, and the flyers she had made the night before. Originally, she planned to drive over to the housing tract but decided at the last minute to walk. “The exercise and fresh air will do us good, huh, boy?” Judging from his delighted yelps and dance around her legs, he agreed.

Eleanor knew there were just two ways in and out of the neighborhood. She planned to enter on the road nearest to her, follow the streets as they looped around through the neighborhood, and finish at the other end. She would post the flyers wherever she could and ask anyone she ran into if they knew who owned the dog.

After about a half hour of walking the neighborhood, Eleanor was almost done. She had managed to post most of her flyers and talk to several of the residents, none of whom recognized the dog. Approaching the final block, she saw a group of boys walking her way (all wearing masks, she was relieved to see). Before she could ask them if they knew the dog, they enthusiastically gathered around him and showered him with nuzzles and hugs, which he just as enthusiastically returned. Eleanor was sure this was it; they knew the dog and his owner and Eleanor would have to give him up. “Do you know the dog?” she asked quietly, already feeling an almost unbearable sense of loss.

“No, ma’am,” said one of the boys. “We see your dog sometimes when we play in the field, but we didn’t know who he belongs to. I’m glad to know that he has an owner and a home.”

Eleanor felt giddy with relief. She assured the boys that he had a good home and was well-loved. As she walked away, one of the boys called out to her, “I like how it looks like he’s wearing a mask like the rest of us. What is his name?”

“Ranger; like the Lone Ranger,” she replied over her shoulder. Then, she looked down at the little dog happily walking beside her and said, “Except you aren’t so lone, are you? You have me, and I have you.”  

A week later, just before the scheduled Zoom meeting with her son, Eleanor prepared herself and Ranger for the call. They had taken walks in the woods just about every day and, yesterday, she gathered more flowers. The vases competed with her books for table space. Her hair was loose and fluffed up like she had been wearing it lately, and Ranger was newly brushed after having had a bath that morning. She wanted everything to be perfect. “You are going to meet my son today,” she murmured as she held Ranger’s face between her palms and nuzzled her nose against his. “I’m sure he’ll love you as much as I do.”

Douglas Jr. had also been looking forward to the call. He had some news that he was anxious to share with his mother.

“Hi, Mom!” As upbeat as he tried to sound, Douglas Jr. couldn’t help feeling worried as he took in what he saw on his screen. Her living room still looked unorganized, her hair and clothes were much too casual, and her general demeanor was, well, a little erratic. “I have some good news for you!”

“Me too!” she exclaimed. “But why don’t you go first.”

Douglas Jr. took a deep breath. “My company is letting me work from home. Now that Max isn’t in school and Wendy is home full-time, we have all agreed that you should come to stay with us.” Not getting the reaction he expected, Douglas Jr. continued a bit more cautiously, “You must be getting pretty lonely in the big house all by yourself. It’s probably hard to keep up with the housework and cooking for just yourself must be boring. You won’t need to shop for your groceries and Wendy could also help you with your clothes and hair. She’s good at that type of thing.”

Rather than the enthusiastic response he hoped his announcement would receive, Douglas Jr. saw that his mother’s earlier smile had faded. “Before you tell me what you think, why don’t you share your news?”

Eleanor hesitated, taking a breath deep into her lungs and blowing it out slowly. She knew what she was going to say would surprise and, probably, disappoint her son, but she had to say it.

“I want you to meet someone special,” she began. “His name is Ranger. I was lost, and he helped to find me.”

The End

Copyright © 2020 retirementallychallenged.com – All rights reserved.

Lost and Found (part 4)

(This is part 4 of Lost and Found, a short story that will be posted in five parts over five days. You can find Parts 1, 2 and 3 by clicking on the Short Stories and Poems tab in the menu bar.)

—–

After a fitful night’s sleep, Eleanor woke up tired, but with a plan: she’d go back to where she saw the dog the day before and see if it was still there. If it was, she’d bring it home and give it food and water, then take it to the local vet to see if it was chipped. If no chip was found, then she’d have to figure out what to do next.

She rummaged around the garage for a length of rope and an old blanket to cover her back seat. As much as she wanted the dog to be from a loving home, she couldn’t help hoping that the little pup was still where she left it. “The last thing you need is to worry about a dog that doesn’t even belong to you,” she admonished herself (or was that her husband’s voice?) as she got in her car.

When Eleanor reached the spot, she slowed down and scanned the fields on both sides of the road. Seeing nothing, she parked her car and got out. “Here, doggie,” she called tentatively. “Are you out there?” she asked a little louder. She was ready to give up when she heard a slight rustle and saw the tall grass on her left move a little. Thinking the dog could be scared or shy, she decided to sit down and wait to see if it came to her. “Come here, honey,” she cooed softly, “I won’t hurt you.” The small brown dog slowly emerged from the grass and, standing a few feet away, cautiously looked at Eleanor. “It’s ok. I won’t hurt you,” she tried reassuring the pup. Then she tried flattery: “Aren’t you a handsome fellow?” Finally, a bribe, “I have lots of food and water at home just for you.” That seemed to do the trick; the dog crept close enough to sniff Eleanor’s outstretched hand.

After a few moments of hand sniffing and having his ears scratched, the dog suddenly gave Eleanor a very wet swipe of its tongue across her face. She pulled back instinctively but then quickly reconsidered and reached forward to gather the dog into her arms for more enthusiastic kisses.

When Eleanor finally got up and walked over to her car, the dog followed right along. There was no need for the rope at all. She opened the back door and the dog jumped in liked it belonged there.

Back home, Eleanor spooned some of the leftover chicken curry into one bowl and filled another with water. Moments after putting them on the floor, the bowls were eagerly emptied. Another serving of leftovers and water disappeared almost as quickly. It was obvious that the dog hadn’t eaten for a while.

On her way to the vet’s office, Eleanor made a quick stop at the pet store to pick up a collar, leash, and a couple of cans of dog food. “Just in case he is with me for a few days,” she told herself. As she made her purchases, the clerk looked back and forth at Eleanor then the dog. “Your dog has a mask just like yours,” she laughed. Eleanor looked at the dog’s face and realized that the clerk was right. The white mark that started just under his eyes and extended partway down his throat did kind of look like a mask.

At the vet, she explained the situation to the receptionist who assured her that she’d be able to get right in. “We are always happy to help reunite lost pets with their families,” she smiled. Eleanor didn’t find the words comforting, but she knew that she was doing the right thing. The vet echoed the same assurances as she began to run the scanner over the dog’s shoulder blades.

A few moments later, the vet put down her scanner and gave Eleanor a look of disappointment. “Sorry, I wasn’t able to find anything,” she sighed. “If you don’t mind keeping him for a few days, you could put up some signs in the area where you found him. Although he is a bit thin and scruffy, someone could be missing him. Look at his cute little face; did you notice that his white fur around his nose and mouth looks a little like a mask?”

Back home, Eleanor didn’t quite know what to do. Although she realized that she had to look for the dog’s owner, she was becoming attached and knew that she’d be heartbroken to give him up. Before she could talk herself out of it, she put together a simple “Found Dog” flier with a slightly out of focus picture and her contact information and printed out multiple copies. “We’ll go out tomorrow and find your home,” she assured the dog, who didn’t appear to be the least bit concerned. In fact, he was comfortably stretched out on the sofa, looking as if he was already at home.

Dinner that evening—ramen noodle stir fry for her and Purina chicken and rice for him—was the most enjoyable meal Eleanor had eaten for years. Not only was the food delicious, she also discovered that the dog was a delightful dinner companion. He seemed to listen to her every word, and his occasional yips, snorts, and hand licks gave her the impression he understood what she was saying. It was ridiculous, of course, but his rapt attention made her feel special and interesting. She couldn’t remember the last time she had felt that way.

—–

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Copyright © 2020 retirementallychallenged.com – All rights reserved.

Lost and Found (part 3)

(This is part 3 of Lost and Found, a short story that will be posted in five parts over five days. You can find Parts 1 and 2 by clicking on the Short Stories and Poems tab in the menu bar.)

—-

As Eleanor entered the grocery store, she could feel her anticipation grow. She had shopped in the store hundreds of times, but she never looked forward to the experience. The items she bought were always the same and the meals they made were bland and predictable. This time, although her mask hid her smile, her eyes sparkled with excitement.

Her shopping trip took much longer than usual because she had to search out many of the items on her list. For the first time she could remember, she found herself in the International Foods aisle, picking up several cans and packages. Standing in front of the shelves, she made notes of the many exotic ingredients she had never heard of, vowing to learn more about them.

As she was checking out, Eleanor was surprised when the clerk recognized her despite her mask. Even though she had shopped there for years, she had never really taken the time to remember employees’ faces or learn anyone’s name. She had always focused on getting in and out as quickly as possible. No time for small talk. This time, though, the clerk’s eyes smiled at her above his mask. “Wow, you really have some different items this time. Not your usual at all,” he exclaimed.

Eleanor didn’t know whether to be irritated or pleased. Apparently, her former shopping habits had attracted attention and, now that she was exploring other recipes and ingredients, he had noticed.

“Young man,” Eleanor began to scold, but then she stopped and reconsidered. Smiling behind her mask, she simply replied, “I’m very excited to try some new recipes.”

Back in her car and anxious to get home and start cooking, Eleanor applied a little extra pressure on her gas pedal. She was almost home when she saw a spot of brown out of the corner of her eye. Quickly stepping on her breaks, she prayed that she hadn’t hit whatever it was.

Eleanor got out of her car and looked around. While she was relieved that she hadn’t hit anything, she wondered what it was she saw. “Hello? Is anyone out there?” Eleanor tentatively asked. She was answered with a rustle in the tall grass alongside the road. “Hello?” Eleanor asked again. This time, she heard a little whimper. After some more rustling, a small, scruffy, brown and white dog emerged.

“Oh, hello,” Eleanor said. “Aren’t you sweet?” The dog reminded her of a pet she had when she was young. Maybe a bit of terrier, some shepherd, and a whole lot of who knows. Sadie had been a joyful part of her childhood. Her mother had complained about the dog hair everywhere, and her father was always cleaning the dirt and mud Sadie traipsed in, but they all loved her and were heartbroken when she died. Early in her marriage, Eleanor had suggested they get a dog, but her husband had vetoed the idea. “Too much work and mess,” he stated, ending all hope of a discussion.

After Eleanor assured herself that the dog was ok and, seeing children playing behind the tract of homes just beyond the field, she got back in her car, confident that the dog belonged to a family who lived in the neighborhood. “Bye, little one,” she said as she pulled into the lane and started to drive—a little slower now—back home.

Eleanor was eager to try her first new recipe, Coconut Chicken Curry. Although she knew the flavors would be quite different from what she usually ate, the directions seemed straight-forward. As soon as she got home, she removed her mask, put her groceries away, washed her hands, and got busy. The chicken needed to marinate in a sauce for an hour, which would give her just enough time for her scheduled Zoom catch-up with her son.

**

“Hi, Mom. How are you getting along?” Douglas Jr. asked cautiously. He tried not to show his growing alarm at the untidy appearance of both her living room and her hair. In the background, he could see that books were scattered here and there, and vases stuffed with flowers filled every flat surface. Even more worrying were her clothes and hair. As long as he could remember, his mother wore simple housedresses and always had her hair pinned neatly in back. He couldn’t be sure, but was his mother wearing jeans? And her hair was starting to look as disheveled as her house. Wiry waves of gray-blond cascaded around her face and fell to her shoulders. His once sensible and restrained mother was turning into a hippie right before his eyes.

“I’m making a pot of coconut chicken curry for dinner tonight,” Eleanor answered, her eyes dancing with excitement. “The chicken is marinating in a sauce that smells heavenly. I’ll simmer it later in a mixture of coconut milk and more curry. I can’t wait to try it”.

Douglas Jr. was now convinced that something was wrong with his mom. He couldn’t recall a time growing up that his mother cooked with curry, let alone coconut milk. His mother and father were sensible people who ate sensible food, just as they all liked it.

When the call ended, Douglas Jr. had an uneasy feeling. His mother seemed almost joyful (a word, he realized with a start, that he wouldn’t normally use to describe her), and she appeared healthy and engaged, so he wasn’t worried about her safety. It was just that the woman he had spent 20 minutes talking to bore little resemblance to the mother who raised him.

**

Eleanor, on the other hand, thought the call went great. She wanted her son to see that she was doing well—terrific, in fact—and that he had no reason to worry about her. Her happiness with the call carried her through the rest of her meal preparation and into devouring one of the best meals she ever had. Who knew that curry, cilantro, and coconut milk (all ingredients she had never cooked with before) could make chicken taste so amazing?

As Eleanor washed her dishes at the sink, her thoughts drifted to the little dog she saw earlier that day. Other than the bit of white on its face, it had looked so much like her beloved Sadie. What if the pup didn’t belong to one of the children she saw playing? Perhaps it was all alone and needed help. Maybe she should have taken it home with her.

—-

(Thanks for reading! Comments have been disabled until the last part has been posted.)

Copyright © 2020 retirementallychallenged.com – All rights reserved.

Lost and Found (part 2)

(This is part 2 of Lost and Found, a short story that will be posted in five parts over five days. You can find Part 1 by clicking on the Short Stories and Poems tab in the menu bar.)

——-

Once she reached the supermarket, Eleanor parked, retrieved her reusable bags from her trunk, and entered the store. Looking around, she noticed that everyone, including the checkers, were wearing masks. She didn’t recognize anyone, and she was confident no one would know who she was either. Perfect. Quick in, quick out, with no idle chit-chat.

She was pleasantly surprised to find the market to be relatively well-stocked, and she found what she needed in short order. She was also surprised at how much she enjoyed shopping wearing a mask. Not usually one to have a vivid imagination, Eleanor couldn’t help but pretend she was working undercover; that she was incognito and kind of daring. Even though she had everything on her list, she decided to stay a little longer and enjoy her fantasy. She surreptitiously watched what others were putting in their baskets and tried to imagine what meals they were planning. Was the young man who picked up a bottle of chutney making an Indian dish? Why did that woman possibly need three jars of hot sauce? In the produce section, Eleanor watched in wonderment as shoppers reached for fennel, bok choy, and something exotic-looking called dragon fruit.

Back in her car, Eleanor was exhilarated. As she looked around, she noticed other shoppers removing their masks before they drove away, but she decided to keep hers on. She didn’t want to lose the sense of freedom her face covering gave her.

Exiting the parking lot, she noticed that the usually busy street was almost deserted. “There must be a lot of people working from home, or not at all,” she thought. After looking to the right and left, then checking her rearview mirror for any sign of a police car, Eleanor put a little extra pressure on her gas pedal. As she accelerated five, then ten, then fifteen miles per hour over the speed limit, a smile started to spread under Eleanor’s mask. “This is why people love to go fast,” she thought.

Back home—in record time, she noticed—and her groceries cleaned and put away, Eleanor sat in her favorite chair and looked around her living room. The room that she had always been proud of because it was clean and ordered, suddenly looked lifeless and boring. There wasn’t a spot of dust on the shelves or a book out of place. Everything was neat and tidy. And dull. The daring, new Eleanor she discovered earlier that day felt oddly out of place among old Eleanor’s neutral decor.

Eager to recapture that energy, Eleanor changed out of her housedress, put on the jeans and top she normally wore gardening, slipped on her mask, and walked out her front door. Although she didn’t have an exact plan, she immediately headed for the wooded area just behind her house. She was confident that whatever she was looking for was there; she just had to open her eyes and look for it.

After about an hour of foraging, Eleanor’s arms were full of treasures. Her hands clutched bunches of wildflowers and she carried as many fallen twigs and pieces of moss as she could manage to hold in her arms. She even tucked bits of fern into the elastic on both sides of her mask.

When she returned home, Eleanor spread out her bounty on the kitchen counter. She retrieved vases from her cabinets, filled them with water, and distributed the wildflowers among them. Placing the vases around her living room, she added bits and pieces of the branches and moss to create little vignettes. When finished, she looked around with great satisfaction. The once dull and lifeless room now was filled with bright colors and interesting shapes. It also was a bit whimsical; just as she was starting to like it.

During the Zoom session the following week, Douglas Jr. noticed that his mom’s living room looked different. Almost messy. He also noticed that her hair was a bit disheveled. Always neat and tied back in a low chignon, it was starting to look unkempt. Because he knew that his mother was sensitive about her home and her appearance, he decided not to say anything. He did make a mental note, though, that he might need to arrange for a housekeeper and an in-home haircut appointment.

Eleanor had noticed her hair too. After the Zoom session, she went into her bathroom and looked at herself in the mirror. Reaching around to the back of her neck, she pulled out the elastic tie and, giving her hair a shake, she let it fall free. Gray roots were beginning to mix with her blond, and her straightened hair was starting to regain its wave. A look that once would have sent her running to her hairdresser was now a better fit for the new Eleanor beginning to emerge.

The following week, Eleanor sat down to make out her shopping list. Almost by rote, she started to write down her usual items:

chicken breasts

ground beef

iceberg lettuce

… then she remembered seeing the groceries that other shoppers had been buying the previous week.  Curious, she entered “hot sauce,” then “chutney,” then “bok choy” into Google and lost herself in delicious-sounding recipes and intriguing cooking methods. An hour later, she crossed out her original grocery list and started over.

—–

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Copyright © 2020 retirementallychallenged.com – All rights reserved.

Lost and Found (part 1)

(My short story, Lost and Found, is being posted in five parts over five days. This is part 1)

Eleanor was a rule follower. She kept both her house and herself neat as a pin; everything in its proper place. Her late husband preferred a quiet and ordered home, so she did too. After Douglas passed away three years ago, Eleanor found that her day to day life hadn’t change very much. Sure, she missed him, but her routines remained the same and she was satisfied with her own company. One day was pretty much like the other. Quiet and ordered; just as she liked it.

Soon after the funeral, Douglas Jr. suggested that Eleanor might be happier moving in with his family. He worried that she would become lonely and that the house would be a burden. Over the following three years, his suggestion had turned into prodding, and, lately, into pressure. Eleanor didn’t want to leave her home but had started to think that maybe he was right. She wanted to feel useful again so perhaps moving in and helping her son and daughter-in-law take care of her grandson, Max, was the right thing to do.

Eleanor had finally decided to tell her son that she would move in when, suddenly, the country went into lockdown. Although she prided herself on following through once she made up her mind, she found herself secretly relieved. Despite the coronavirus pandemic turning the world topsy-turvy, her life could go on as it was. Douglas Jr.’s position with his company was deemed “essential,” but his wife, Wendy, was able to stay home with little Max. Given Eleanor’s age, they decided that she’d be safer sheltering in her home.

Because Douglas Jr. wasn’t sure how long his mom would be on her own, he made sure she was well-stocked with groceries and gave her a lesson on using Zoom so he could check in and see how she was doing. Eleanor thought this was completely unnecessary since she was perfectly capable of shopping for her own food and had no need to be checked in on. In fact, during the first several Zoom sessions they had, Eleanor found herself quite irritated. Not only did Douglas, Jr. keep asking how she was doing (perfectly fine, thank you very much), but she found herself losing the thread of the conversation because she was distracted by her image on the screen. Did her face really look that tired and wrinkly? Was her hair, usually well-coiffed and tidy, beginning to unravel? As Douglas Jr. prattled on about how she needed to remain safe in her home, she started to calculate how long she could go before getting her hair cut and styled.

After obediently remaining at home for three weeks, Eleanor noticed that she was starting to run low on groceries. She knew that Douglas Jr. would shop for her if asked, but she didn’t want to impose. Her list had all the usual items on it, so it would be easy for her to get in and out quickly. Her late husband hadn’t appreciated spicy foods, “foreign” ingredients, or complicated recipes. He preferred a simple weekly menu (chicken on Mondays, beef on Tuesdays, pasta on Wednesdays, etc.), and she didn’t see a need to change it now that he was gone. Uncomplicated and familiar; Her grocery list would almost write itself.

Before she could venture out, though, she needed to make a mask, so she set up her sewing machine, found some unused fabric and elastic, and got to work. After a few attempts, she managed to stitch one up and tried it on.

“Humph,” she thought, “if not for the purple and pink flowers on the fabric, I’d look like a bandit. No one will recognize me, and that’s just fine.”

Eleanor wasn’t sure what the rules were for mask-wearing. Was she supposed to wear it in the car, or just when she entered the store? Since she didn’t want to get into trouble, she decided to put it on before leaving the house. If—God forbid—she got into an accident, she didn’t want to risk being cited for not wearing a mask at the scene. Best to be careful.

With her shopping list in her purse and her new mask on her face, Eleanor started to drive the four miles to the nearest grocery store. Her husband had always driven during their marriage and, even after three years on her own, Eleanor still wasn’t completely comfortable behind the wheel. She carefully checked, and double-checked her rearview mirrors, and paid strict attention to the posted speed limit. She didn’t care if another car tailgated her or tried to get around; her biggest concern was driving in a safe and lawful manner.

(Thanks for reading! Comments have been disabled until the last part has been posted.)

Copyright © 2020 retirementallychallenged.com – All rights reserved.

Gulp Fiction

WordPress tells me that I have written well over 300 posts since I started my blog seven years ago (on September 5, 2013, to be exact). Over my working career, I must have written thousands of marketing briefs, business plans, status reports, press releases, and many, many other business-related documents. What I haven’t written a lot of—or really any since graduating from college—is fiction. 

I enjoy reading fiction and have always admired those who can rummage around in their imagination and find a story. I know several writers of fiction who say their heads are full of characters and plots and they are only limited by the time they have to write it all down. As much as I would have liked, my brain never worked that way, so I figured I’d stick to non-fiction.

Then, late one night, when I should have been sleeping, an idea for a story came to me. It started as just a foggy outline of a character, but I couldn’t get her out of my head. Realizing that she wouldn’t leave me in peace, I powered up my iPad and started to write.

Over the next several weeks, I worked on my story; flushing it out, noodling every word, trying to bring my main character—someone who I was becoming quite fond of—to life.

Almost 4,500 words later my short story is complete, and I thought it would be fun (and a bit unnerving, hence the “gulp”) to share it on my blog. Because my posts rarely exceed 500 – 600 words each, I will break it up into several chunks: five parts posted over the next five days. After posting, each part will be archived in my new Short Stories and Poems tab on my menu bar (yes, I’m expecting more creative inspiration as time goes on). If you’d rather not read a post from me five—actually six, counting this one—days in a row, you can wait until Saturday to read them all together.

I look forward to introducing you to my good friend, Eleanor, and her story, Lost and Found.  

Adjusting Our Comfort Levels

My husband and I were very strict about our personal isolation when Covid-19 started to be a thing. We planned our meals carefully and took advantage of shopping services when we needed groceries. We limited our interactions with friends and family to phone calls, emails, texts, and this new thing we’ve all learned about called Zoom. When we ventured out back then—for a walk or a drive—it was eerie how few people we encountered.

As time has progressed and more has been learned, we have adjusted our behaviors somewhat. We are still very careful about our interactions; we avoid crowds and don’t go anywhere we can’t control our physical distance from others. Anyone who thinks this whole thing is overblown or even a hoax, isn’t someone we choose to be around.

Although we still prepare most of our meals at home—same as pre-virus—we do get take-out from a few favorite restaurants now-and-then. We’ve enjoyed several driveway happy hours with small groups of friends, and I’ve attended a couple of book club meetings held in a member’s large backyard. We now go early-morning grocery shopping a couple of times a month at a small, local store and have ventured into Home Depot once or twice for needed supplies. We still take advantage of curbside pick-up when we can but, occasionally, we need to actually enter a store (we are the ones wearing both masks and gloves).

Happy hour with neighborhood friends.

What we hadn’t done up until a couple of weeks ago, is to travel more than a few miles from home—and certainly not overnight.

Then, some good friends of ours (Kathy, of SMART Living 365, and her husband, Thom) invited us to visit them during their stay at a mountain cabin. The cabin—one they have rented every summer for many years—is located in a small community a little over two hours from our home. It is nestled among the pine trees, features a large deck and, best of all, has a guest cabin on the same piece of land—just perfect for a two-night stay.

Physically distanced, socially together.

After six months of restricted movement and limited social interactions, we decided that spending a couple of days in the mountains with—physically, but not socially distanced—friends was worth the extremely small risk. We knew that they were as careful as we are, and their generous offer came with the understanding that we’d all do what was safe and comfortable.

Kloe (can you see her?) leads the way up the hill.
Between a rock and… another rock.
The red branches and green foliage of a Manzanita tree contrasts against the clear blue sky.

After so much time staying close to home, our short mountain get-away was rejuvenating . The vistas were gorgeous, the company warm and welcoming, and the conversations lively and thought-provoking. Although these last six months haven’t been the challenge for us that so many others have faced, we found that a change of scenery, new paths to explore and, most of all, spending time with good friends, was just the balm we needed to help sooth our souls.   

happy to get away.

Desktop Travel

A few weeks ago, I wrote that my computer had died and needed to be replaced. Although I wasn’t happy about the inconvenience or expense, I have discovered a silver lining (and, don’t we all need a few extra silver linings these days).

Sometime early last year, I took on the challenge of culling and organizing my digital photos. It took me several weeks to go through them all, delete duplicates and disappointments, and finally create eight distinct topic folders under which my images could be filed. Full disclosure that one of the eight folders was titled “Miscellaneous” but… whatever. I was awfully proud of myself when I finished and have been careful to keep everything mostly organized since then.

Until…

When setting up my new computer, old files were transferred from my two back-up hard drives to my desktop. Although this was done by a “professional,” the way the transfer was made pretty much set me back to square one. Suddenly, my new computer was full of all the duplicates and disappointments I had previously gotten rid of and there were multiples of everything, including several copies of the eight organized folders.

Someone less anal and terrified of losing anything probably would have just kept one complete set of the eight folders and deleted everything else. Not me. I had to go through everything once again to be sure what I was keeping and deleting was what I wanted to keep and delete.

I have finally finished the job and the images in my Pictures folder are all organized in their correct folders. No duplicates and very few disappointments (not every photo is a winner but some of the less-than-perfect ones can still be quite loveable).

I knew the task would be time-consuming; what I didn’t expect was how uplifting it would be. I got to travel again to Cuba, Canada, and Mexico, enjoy a cross-country road trip with my girlfriend, visit the Pacific Northwest and Atlantic Northeast, tour San Francisco and Key West, and get my kicks on Route 66.  

I also was able to travel back in time and enjoy dinner parties with friends and family, summer gatherings on our deck, and celebrations – large and small – with absolutely no social distancing, masks, or BYOEverything.

It was glorious.

If you are like me and have a lot of pictures filed away on your computer, I encourage you to do some time travel of your own. Just because flights have been canceled, travel delayed, and planned get-togethers put on hold, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a trip down memory lane.

It might be a good time to organize your photos and make sure everything is backed up, too.

Purple Reign

In many areas of the world, changing foliage colors signal seasonal transitions. Even if we don’t experience it where we live, we’ve all seen pictures of maples, oaks, and dogwoods showing off their gorgeous autumn leaves. Although I’m happy enough not to have to deal with ice and snow, I do envy those who get to enjoy the glorious reds, oranges, and yellows that signal the coming of winter.

Here in Southern California, our autumn foliage doesn’t look that different from our summer or winter foliage, but we do get a magical burst of color this time of year. As spring transitions into early summer, the purple blossoms of the jacaranda tree begins to appear on the skyline and light up our streets. At first, just a few bell-shaped flowers dot the bare branches but, seemingly overnight, the tree’s canopy is covered in a vibrant violet-blue cloud.

Although the jacaranda is our city’s official urban tree, it is not native to our area.  Originally from South America, they are said to have been introduced here in the early 20th century by the locally renowned horticulturist, Kate Sessions.  Fortunately for us, our climate proved ideal for the jacaranda and it has flourished here ever since.

Jacarandas can be found all over San Diego, including downtown, La Jolla, and in Balboa Park. We are lucky to have several beautiful jacarandas on our block and, not too far away, a whole neighborhood is lined with the trees. I don’t know the history behind the mass planting, but it appears that every house on the street has at least one of the trees in its yard.

As spring warms into summer, the tree’s ephemeral blossoms start to fall, creating a lavender carpet on the lawns and sidewalks below. Pretty soon, green fern-like leaves begin to appear on the branches, and the once vibrant tree starts to blend into its surroundings again. If we are lucky, we may get a smaller bloom in the fall but, most likely, we will have to wait until the following spring, when the magic of the jacaranda tree reigns again.