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April 18, 2017 / Retirementallychallenged.com

GratiTuesday: A Reunion of Friends

There is something very comforting about spending time with friends that we’ve had for a long time. They know much of our history, and we know theirs. And, even though we’ve… um… matured over the years, they still have our younger selves planted firmly in their memory banks. Additionally, a simple “remember when…?” can bring back a flood of shared experiences that often generates a laugh, a grimace, or the retelling of a beloved story.

In the 1980s I worked as a graphic designer for a subsidiary of a large publishing company. This was one of my first “real” jobs and I loved it. Most of the employees (except, of course, management) were woman – very talented and vastly underpaid women. Many of us felt that we were doing something important, whether it was designing a textbook, writing and editing copy, or providing support for the creation and distribution of our products. The culture of the company, and probably our shared youthful naiveté and enthusiasm, helped to create the sense that we were all in it together.

Over thirty years later, several of the friendships we formed back then are ongoing. Some are of the “Facebook” variety, but others are permanent and active. I count a couple of my dearest friends among this group of women – one of them was even the officiant of my wedding.

Seven years ago, several of us decided to put together a reunion of small group of these former work friends. Some of those we invited had maintained contact over the years, and others – lost in the passage of years – had to be found using social media. We weren’t sure how it would turn out, but we were excited to see everyone and reestablish a few connections. That reunion was such a success we decided to make it an annual event.

This past Saturday, we had our latest reunion/lunch/get-together/gab-fest and it was as enjoyable as ever. After catching up on the latest news in each of our lives (travels, family, work – yes, a few still work at least part-time), we spent the rest of the afternoon telling stories, laughing, and sharing information about others we knew way back when. As always, the time together passed way too quickly and, when we parted, we were already looking forward to next year’s event.

Our hostess not only put together an amazing lunch, she also managed to get us all in her selfie.

I am so grateful to have this marvelous group of women in my life. They are smart, interesting, funny, well-informed, and actively engaged in life. Even though I see several of them only once a year, all of them added richness to my life 30 years ago, and their friendship adds depth to who I am today.

March 28, 2017 / Retirementallychallenged.com

GratiTuesday: Public Broadcasting and Its Supporters

I first wrote about my love for my local public broadcasting stations last year. At the time, I had no idea that, just a few months later, their federal funding could be in jeopardy. Some of this post is a repeat, but I’ve updated it and added information about important ways you can lend your support (including a link to a petition you can sign).

My husband and I 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 (sadly over now), Sherlock, Masterpiece Theater, and anything Ken Burns produces.

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. They are a bright light shining above the fray of polarized and often questionable news sources. 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.
  • And finally, please lend your voice to the public outcry about the president’s budget that proposes to eliminate public media funding. The federal investment in public media is relatively small – roughly $1.35 per American taxpayer annually – less than 1/100th of one percent of the federal budget, yet PBS is watched by 82 percent of U.S. households.

If you feel that public media is an essential part of the fabric of our culture, please make your voice heard. Visit www.ProtectMyPublicMedia.org to sign this petition urging Congress to continue the essential funding for public media and your local stations. Call your representatives to let them know how important it is to you.

Thank you!

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.