What’s so challenging about retirement?

You’ll find my answer in my guest post appearing on Donna Connolly’s terrific blog Retirement Reflections as part of her Sunday Series. Please hop on over and check it out (and, if you could leave a comment there, it would be greatly appreciated).

While you are visiting her site, treat yourself to some of Donna’s great articles, including those about her recent trek on the Camino Trail. I’m sure you’ll love her blog as much as I do.

I hope to see you there!

GratiTuesday: International Markets

I’ve written before about how much my husband and I enjoy visiting the local marketplaces when we are traveling. The colors, tastes, and smells provide a treat for the senses and the energy is exhilarating. I love to discover produce and prepared food items that I have never heard of. Even if I’m not always brave enough to indulge, it’s a fascinating window into another culture.

We are fortunate that, here at home, we can enjoy a similar experience by visiting the many ethnic markets that dot our various neighborhoods. Within easy driving distance from our house, we have at least one Mexican market, two Middle Eastern markets, and two Asian markets. Drive a little further and the choices expand considerably.

Sometimes I like to visit these markets just to look around because the inventory is so different from what is available at a plain vanilla supermarket. Where our Ralphs or Vons might have a few feet of shelf space devoted to spices, the ethnic markets will often have a whole aisle. And, not only do they offer spices that I recognize, they stock even more that I don’t. The jams and jellies are made of fruits I’ve never heard of and the meat departments often offer cuts not displayed in most “regular” grocery stores.

While visiting Oaxaca, Mexico this past spring, my husband and I became quite fond of an iced tea made with dried hibiscus flowers or jamaica (pronounced hah-MY-kah). When we returned, we missed the taste and wanted to be able to make it ourselves. After some searching, we were able to find small packages of the dried flowers at one of the local Middle Eastern markets (the Mexican market – which is much smaller – didn’t carry it). Just today, I discovered the other local Middle Eastern market carries the flowers in bulk. Yipee!

This package contains two cups of dried hibiscus flowers

If you are interested in trying jamaica tea, here’s the recipe. If you don’t have an ethnic market, you might be able to find the dried flowers online.

Jamaica Tea

1             cup of dried hibiscus flowers

0 – 1      cup sugar (depending on how sweet you like your tea)

4              cups of water

Add sugar and water to a pan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the flowers, turn off the heat and steep approximately one hour or until cool.

Strain the tea into a bowl with a lip. Press the blossoms to extract as much water into the bowl as possible, then toss (the tea should be a lovely, deep red).

Pour the tea into a pitcher and add 4 additional cups of water. Stir and refrigerate.

When my husband and I pour ourselves a glass of jamaica tea, we often cut it further with bubbly water from our SodaStream (about 3 parts tea to 1 part bubbly). That way, if we’ve used the full cup of sugar when making the tea, the final product is much less sweet.

The taste of Oaxaca in a pitcher

I am grateful for the interesting and diverse food shopping choices we have in our city. I’m also grateful that I can instantly transport myself back to Oaxaca just by sipping a tall glass of chilled, ruby-red, jamaica tea.

GratiTuesday: September’s Serenade

It’s nice to live in an area that tourists want to visit. We can enjoy year-round what many of them pay big bucks to enjoy for a few days or a few weeks. A trip to the beach, the zoo, or a popular entertainment venue doesn’t require a big effort any time of the year – we just get in the car and go.

The thing is, we very seldom visit these destinations in the summer… there are just too many people. Between the tourists and the local kids being out of school, most of the places that I’d love to go to are crowded. Parking is at a premium and the people per square foot is way over my comfort level.

So, we wait for September when everything starts to calm down. Hotels begin to empty of families and fill with business people. Getting a table at a popular restaurant no longer requires an extended wait. The beaches are much less crowded and parking is available. (And, here’s a little secret: we get some of our best weather in September and, often, even into early October.)

I was certainly aware of this seasonal switch when I was working full time, but I had many fewer opportunities to take advantage of it. I still had to be at work Monday through Friday and my weekends were shared with all the other 9-5ers and students. Now that I am retired, I can take mid-week walks on nearly empty beaches and visit the parks at a time when there is much less competition for space. In addition, the stores aren’t as crowded and some restaurants offer inducements to dine.

Sometimes it feels like my summer has just started.

I am grateful for the tourists (as long as they go home eventually) and I’m happy to see the kids out for summer vacation (I do remember being young, after all). But, when I start to notice the Back to School sales being advertised, I can hear the beginnings of September’s serenade. Now that it’s here, I am so grateful for the opportunity I have to fully enjoy its song.

New Year, New Look

Well, I’ve done it… I hope. After four years of blogging (I published my first post on September 5, 2013) and hundreds of posts, I’ve finally changed the look and feel of my blog… somewhat. I was pretty happy with the simplicity of my old theme so I wasn’t interested in making any radical changes, but I wanted to make a few updates and add a feature or two. If you are reading this, I guess that means the transition worked. Yay!

I read somewhere that most blogs last an average of 18 months before withering on the vine. Maintaining a blog is harder and more time-consuming than most people realize. A few of my favorite bloggers have taken a “break” never to return, and I can’t say that I blame them. That I have been at this – albeit with varying intensity – long enough to celebrate my four-year blogoversary is amazing to me.

What keeps me motivated, besides that I enjoy writing and sharing stories and photographs, is the blogging community. Like most bloggers, I like the “Likes,” but I love the comments. The fun begins when a dialog is started, especially when conversing with a group as generous, smart, and supportive as you all are.

And, speaking of being “generous, smart, and supportive,” if you see anything wonky with my new blog design, please let me know. I’m sure it will be a work in progress for a while.

GratiTuesday: Brick Walls

brick-wall.jpg

Sometimes it takes hitting a brick wall for me to finally make a change that I have been putting off. That final, immovable force which prevents continuing on a comfortable, but unsatisfactory, forward projection. The wall that tells me that I can no longer ignore the problem and hope it goes away on its own.

I’ve reached that point. It’s time to change my blog theme.

I’m embarrassed to admit that the first time I had a problem with my theme was four years ago, soon after I began my blog. I didn’t like the small size of my blog’s font but I couldn’t figure out how to change it. So, I didn’t… and I remained frustrated… but I decided to live with it and move on.

I encountered the second challenge when I found myself admiring features and cool widgets on various blogs I follow. When I tried to add the same functions to my pages, I found that many of the options weren’t available to me. Unfortunately, my fear of blowing up my site by making a mistake while changing the theme was greater than my desire to spruce things up.

Then, a few months ago, the title of one of my blog posts, Oaxaca’s Street Markets, suddenly appeared – complete with a link – on my menu bar. When I went into my dashboard to fix it, there was no indication that anything was wrong. I tried to add a new menu item hoping that the unwanted item and link would disappear when I clicked on Save and Update. Nope, it was still there. I began to consider that my problem might be greater than just my lack of website experience.

I finally came face-to-face with a big brick wall – one I could not ignore no matter how hard I tried – when my blog suddenly stopped behaving itself when viewed on a tablet. It was small. It was scrunched. It was unreadable.

That wall finally prompted me to seek help. Because these last two problems spontaneously occurred without my making any changes, I had no idea how to fix them. I know that I’m not exactly a techno-wiz but, as far as I could tell, the logical fixes weren’t fixing anything.

Turns out that I have an “expired theme.” Who knew themes expired?

Within the next week or so, I hope to have a shiny new theme up and running. One that has a larger body font, a few extra features and widgets, a menu bar without a mind of its own, and posts that can be read without a magnifying glass no matter what device is being used.

As I make the transition, I will probably be tweaking things here and there, moving stuff around, and adding features that catch my fancy. If anything goes awry or something looks wonky on your side of the screen, I’d love it if you could give me a heads up. Hopefully everything will go perfectly smooth… right.

I am grateful for the brick wall that smacked me in the head and has prompted me to make a few needed changes. Hitting a brick wall is not very pleasant but, sometimes, that’s just what I need.

Thursday Doors – Port Townsend, Washington

Port Townsend sits at the northeast tip of the Olympic Peninsula. Because of its prime location near the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the site of a safe harbor, it became an important shipping port in the late 1800s. The town grew rapidly on speculation as investors banked on Port Townsend becoming the largest port north of San Francisco. Although that dream never came to fruition, many beautiful Victorian homes and historical buildings still stand as a reminder of its heyday.

Boating and maritime life are still central elements, but now Port Townsend is also well-known as an artists’ community. The tree-lined streets of the waterfront downtown area features multiple galleries, artists’ collectives, unique shops, and tempting restaurants.

And doors. Port Townsend has so many beautiful doors, it was hard to capture them all… which I didn’t… which is why I’m sure that I will return.

Thursday Doors is usually run by Norm 2.0, but is guest-hosted by Joey this week. Please visit her blog to find links to more doors.

GratiTuesday: Routine Comforts

That giant sigh of relief you may have heard this morning was my husband and me waking up to an empty home. After a week and a half of houseguests (first from his side of the family, then mine), we can now return to what is familiar and comfortable. We enjoyed having visitors, but we also love our day-to-day (some might describe them as boring) routines. Ahhhhhh.

I’ve spent my morning blissfully doing laundry, cleaning the guest bathroom, remaking the guest bed, straightening up and cleaning the kitchen and living room, and going through piles of neglected mail. These types of chores are not usually the highlights of my day but, today, I’m in my happy place.

I may venture out in the next few days (we will start to run out of leftovers eventually) but, for now, I am content to nestle in my calm, quiet, and stress-free nest.

I am grateful for our guests. They were enthusiastic, engaging, and having them encouraged us to be creative in coming up with things to do in our city. It was fun. Now that they are gone, I’m so grateful to be able to completely relax and enjoy our own company. As my husband and I settle back into our comfortable routines, I am reminded of how much I love my home, sweet, home.

The bed in the guestroom is made up and ready for visitors, just not too soon…