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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.

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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.

February 14, 2017 / Retirementallychallenged.com

GratiTuesday: My Funny Valentine

My husband cracks me up. He doesn’t tell a lot of jokes, not in the conventional sense anyway (“Did you hear the one about…”), but his silliness quotient is pretty high. In fact, he can be a total dork… and I love it.

Having a good sense of humor is one of the most important traits I looked for in anyone I’m going to spend time with, let alone live with. If someone can laugh at themselves and find the humor in less-than-humorous situations, it is a sign of self-confidence and flexibility. Who wants to hang out with anyone who needs to maintain a polished image or present their best self at all times?  People who generally feel good about themselves and aren’t too self-conscious are usually confident enough to be silly. And being silly is when life gets fun.

I love our inside jokes… some that date back to the first days of our relationship. I love how just one word or look can instantly recall a funny story that resides in both of our memories. I love how we riff off of each other when one of us starts a silly streak, and the other picks it up, adds to it, and then sends it back for more. I love how we can laugh at ourselves and – gently – laugh at each other, confident that we are safe in each other’s heart.

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We don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day in traditional “Hallmark Holiday” ways; we don’t go out to dinner nor do we give each other gifts of flowers or chocolates. In fact, we spend Valentine’s Day pretty much like any other day… but that’s OK. As long as our day contains a fair amount of fun and a good dose of silliness, I have all the hearts and romance I need.

 

I am so grateful to my husband for bringing his special brand of joy and laughter into our marriage. I wouldn’t trade my funny valentine for any other.

February 2, 2017 / Retirementallychallenged.com

Thursday Doors: Tears for Quebec

I had quite a different Thursday Doors planned for today… until I read Norm’s on his blog Norm 2.0. His post was a departure from his usual intriguing but lighthearted #ThursdayDoors posts. What he wrote today was thoughtful, emotionally powerful, and it hit me in the gut.

Go ahead, read it now if you haven’t already. I’ll be here when you get back.

My husband and visited Quebec City this past June, just days after the horrible massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. That shooter killed 49 people and wounded 53 others before being shot and killed by the police. His reason for the rampage: Hate.

U.S. Consulate General office in Old Quebec, 2016.

U.S. Consulate General office in Old Quebec, 2016.

As we were touring Old Quebec, we came upon the United States Consulate General office located along one of the many lovely streets in this incredibly beautiful city. As awful as the news had been just a few days before, seeing a large rainbow flag flying at half-mast next to the U.S. Consulate door, made us proud of our country and our (then) government. The flag was a clear display of deep sorrow and a show of solidarity with a community that often finds itself maligned.

Now, we read about the massacre that happened in beautiful Quebec City. The gunman used a different religion to justify his action, his skin was of a different color, and his targets were a different “other.” But, his motivation was the same: Hate.

Evil feeds on evil. Rather than speaking words that lift us up and encourage our better selves, people in power – and those who seek power – are speaking words of hate and suspicion. They do it because it works, they do it because some people need to feel “better than” to feel good about themselves.

I’m not sure when this evil will stop, or if it ever will, but I know we need to speak out against it when we can. We need to defend the “others” who are victims of the hate and let them know that they are us and we are them; we are all in this together.

I wonder what flag is flying outside the United States Consulate General office today. I hope very much that it is one displaying deep sorrow and solidarity with a community that often finds itself maligned.

January 21, 2017 / Retirementallychallenged.com

We are the Storm

The concept for the Women’s March in Washington D.C. started as germ of an idea a grandmother in Hawaii had who was devastated by Trump’s presidential victory. Because she felt compelled to do something, she created a Facebook event page calling for a march on our nation’s capital. She expected a handful of people to sign up; a day after her post, she had more than 10,000 responses.

From that initial idea, a movement was started. Soon, in addition to the Women’s March in Washington D.C., solidarity marches were being planned all over the United States and around the world in opposition to President Trump’s agenda, and support of women’s rights and human rights in general.

Artist Brian Andreas created a poster just for the Women's March

Artist Brian Andreas created a poster just for the Women’s March

Today, my husband and I joined an estimated 30,000 – 40,000 of our fellow citizens to walk in the Women’s March in San Diego.

The crowds were large, loud, friendly, and optimistic. Some carried children and some carried signs, but all carried a determination to make their voices heard. As we stood in the on-and-off sprinkling of rain listening to a group of speakers, there was a palpable feeling that the crowd was anxious to start their march and show their numbers.

Travelers on a docked cruise ship watched and (some) cheered as we walked by.

Travelers on a docked cruise ship watched and (some) cheered as we walked by.

And march we did: from the Civic Center Plaza, down Broadway towards the Embarcadero, and finally culminating at San Diego’s Administration Building, one mile away. The crowds were so large that by the time the first of the marchers reached their destination, there were still those who were just leaving the staging area.

As I was walking with the other participants, I couldn’t help feeling that my mother and father were there right beside me. Many years ago, I joined them as they protested and marched against another very unpopular president and a war that exacted a huge human cost. If they were still alive, I am confident that they would have joined us today.

Media reports are indicating that the “sister marches” in all fifty states have shattered participation expectations. In addition, large crowds attended marches around the world, including, London, Paris, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, and Sydney, Australia. A friend of mine currently visiting Oaxaca, Mexico joined about 500 marches there. Global estimates indicate that over 3 million individuals participated in the marches, up from the 1.3 million initially anticipated.

I am confident that this won’t be the last time we are asked to raise our voices in solidarity. And, it won’t be the last time I answer “Yes.” As was written on one of the signs held by a fellow marcher:

The devil whispered in my ear,

“You’re not strong enough to withstand the storm.”

Today I whispered in the Devil’s ear,

“I am the storm.”

January 10, 2017 / Retirementallychallenged.com

GratiTuesday: A Most Perfect Day

My husband and I stopped buying each other special occasion gifts a long ago. Not only would we rather purchase items as they are needed, but, like so many people our age, we are more interested in getting rid of things than acquiring them.

What I can’t buy for myself – but certainly need more of – is quality time spent hanging out with my best friend. So, when my birthday rolled around a few days ago, I asked my husband for a day doing exactly what I wanted: a day spent with him, exploring one of our area’s most beautiful cities – Coronado.

We’ve been having an unusual amount of rain in Southern California this winter. It has come in waves… a few rainy days interspersed with cloudy days, then rain again. Because of our persistent drought none of us are complaining, but every so often, in between the rainstorms, we get a day that just sparkles. And, two days after my birthday, they were predicting one of those days – a perfect day.

It wasn't exactly on my birthday... but it was Elvis's birthday so it rocked.

It wasn’t exactly on my birthday… but it was Elvis’s birthday so it rocked.

Coronado Island, a small beach community just west of San Diego’s downtown, is home to the North Island Naval Air Station and the headquarters of the U.S. Navy Seals, but is probably best known for the historic Hotel del Coronado. You might recognize it if you’ve ever see the 1958 movie “Some Like It Hot” (starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon), which was filmed on its grounds.

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Marilyn.

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Surrounded by San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean, Coronado’s beaches go on for miles and the views are breathtaking.

Looking towards Point Loma.

Looking towards Point Loma.

The view of downtown across San Diego Bay.

The view of downtown across San Diego Bay.

After spending the day strolling on the beach, enjoying lunch in a lovely outdoor courtyard, admiring the gorgeous views, and exploring the grand Hotel del, we headed home… where the Caramelized Orange Birthday Cheesecake my husband made for me was waiting.

cheesecake

Worth every calorie.

I am so grateful for being able to spend this most perfect day in the most perfect way.

January 3, 2017 / Retirementallychallenged.com

GratiTuesday: A Blank Slate for a New Year

After my husband and I retired several years ago, we looked around a bit to find a good system for keeping track of our day-to-day lives. When we worked, we took advantage of our Outlook calendars on our office computers. Along with scheduling our business-related meetings, travel, and deadlines, we also noted doctor appointments, get-togethers with friends, and other non-work life events. Since we were on our work computers all day and they were linked up with our cellphone calendars, it was easy to keep everything straight.

Once we both were retired, we found ourselves missing a few important dates, including a quarterly tax payment due date (oops). That expensive mistake made us realize that we needed a system to help us manage our schedules. After several unsuccessful attempts at using fancy apps and digital assistants that others had recommended, we found that nothing had the same ease and appeal for us than just a simple desk calendar.

calendars

Now, after three years, we still swear by our yearly date books. We have found that not only do they help us manage our schedules in the current year, but the calendars from prior years can be a valuable tool to help us remember past events that our grey matter has lost. When did we take that trip? How long has it been since I’ve seen the dentist, where were we last February? – it’s all there for us in writing.

Now, it’s time to file away our 2016 calendar and start a new one for 2017. I’ve already jotted down a few appointments, important due dates (including quarterly taxes), and upcoming trips, but most of the 365 squares are blank and waiting to be filled.

I am so grateful to have this blank slate in front of me: empty of words but full of possibilities. Although it looks pretty bare now, I’m looking forward to all the special occasions, interesting classes, and exciting adventures that will soon start appear on its pages.