Thursday Doors: Vancouver Island

I’m not sure the full blame rests on Norm’s* shoulders, but it has become extremely difficult to travel to a new area and not look for interesting doors to photograph. On our recent trip to Vancouver Island, Canada, I was concerned at first that I may not have any doors to show for our efforts. Afterall, is a vacation without any pictures of eye-catching doors really a success? I think not.

Fortunately, the dearth of interesting doors that we first experienced was remedied when we drove to the northeastern end of the Island. The small communities of Port Hardy and Port Rupert are infused with the rich history and proud traditions of the Kwakiuti First Nation. There, we found beautiful art, traditional crafts, intricately carved totem poles, and yes, doors worthy of a Thursday Doors post.

Big House door in Fort Rupert.

I think this building was a school. 

A very different array of doors were waiting for us at the southern tip of the Island in Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia. We have visited Victoria before and – being July – the main waterfront area was overrun by tourists. So, we decided to head in the opposite direction to see what we could find

Our first stop was Fisherman’s Wharf where we found a flotilla of color and whimsy. Although still touristy (but less crowded), Fisherman’s Wharf is an eclectic collection of shops and restaurants, and floating private residences. Although we were careful to respect the privacy of the people living there, who could resist admiring the brightly painted homes and, of course, taking door pictures? Not me.

Floating homes on Fisherman’s Wharf.
I love this color… sort of a pinky-red.
Lovely door… but the sign in the window (under the plant) caught my eye… beware!
Someone had some extra wood.
Wouldn’t this be a great door to come home to?
Aren’t these water taxis adorable? And, look! They have doors!
If you pass this sign, you’ve gone too far.

The rest of our walk included admiring the World’s Tallest Totem Pole (127 feet, 7 inches), discovering Mile ‘0’ of the Trans-Canada Highway (which spans the entire length of Canada – over 8,000 km), and visiting an old cemetery (which, I’ll admit, was the whole reason I suggested the walk in the first place). No doors, but indulge me in a few tourist pictures:

One very tall totem pole (that’s me at the base).
The beginning (or end, if you start in Newfoundland) of a very long highway.
I understand that cemeteries are not considered “must sees” for most tourists, but that just means they aren’t crowded… by the living, anyway.

And finally, I have to share this last door that we saw just around the corner from the Parliament Building.

It is a terribly boring door, I’ll admit… but look who works inside: The Conflict of Interest Commissioner! According to a Canadian government website, the “Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is an independent officer of the House of Commons responsible for helping appointed and elected officials prevent and avoid conflicts between their public duties and private interests.” Imagine that! A government that believes so strongly that conflicts of interest should be avoided, they have created a dedicated office to help prevent them.

I think I just fell in love with Canada a little bit more.

* Thursday Doors is a weekly celebration of doors hosted by Norm Frampton (Norm 2.0). Head on over to see his beautiful collection of doors from Kingston, Ontario and to see what others have shared from around the world.

Making Lasting Connections

It started off innocently enough. A little back and forth messaging between two bloggers. I don’t remember which one of us suggested it, but we agreed to meet for coffee at a location half-way between. You know… to talk about blogging.

Including that initial rendezvous in 2016, Donna (Retirement Reflections) and I have now managed a meet-up four years in a row. Not bad, considering we live in different countries. The first three visits were made possible because she and her husband, Richard, had an annual home exchange just a few hours from where I live in Southern California. Kathy (SMART Living 365), who also lives in the area, soon joined our little group.

Since Donna and Richard decided not to travel to Southern California this year, we changed the venue to Vancouver Island, where they live. Kathy and her husband were planning a road trip to Canada anyway, and my husband and I had a block of days on our calendar that needed filing, so plans were made.

Spending time with Donna and Kathy no longer feels like “just” a blogger meet-up. While we often discuss blogging, we have become good friends who simply enjoy each other’s company. Best of all, our husbands have happily fit right into this special friendship.

Thom, Kathy, Donna, Richard, me, and Paul.

For our recent get together in mid-July, three other bloggers joined us. Erica (Behind the Scenery), Jude (Dr. Sock Writes Here), and Ann (The Unretired Life), all of whom live on – or near – Vancouver Island, enthusiastically accepted Donna’s invitation. It was a treat to meet these interesting and accomplished women and they added unique perspectives to the discussion.

Enjoying a beautiful day talking about blogging.

Although one whole day was set aside to discuss this crazy obsession of ours, the rest of the time we enjoyed chatting, hiking, eating, chatting, seeing the sights, eating, and chatting. There may or may not have been some wine involved too.

Jude, Ann, Erica, Donna, and Kathy.

From the start, I knew the six of us women would get along just fine and have plenty to talk about. The happy surprise was how much our husbands also enjoyed themselves. That first day, while the women talked blogging, Richard kept the men busy seeing local sights and visiting a favorite lunch spot (where beer was definitely involved).

Fortunately, Paul and Richard continued to solve the world’s problems as we hiked.

Many thanks to Donna and Richard for their generous and warm hospitality. They did everything imaginable to make us feel welcome. Thanks also to Jude and her husband for hosting a delicious luncheon at their home. We also appreciated meeting a group of Donna’s women friends, who invited us to join their afternoon gathering.

I imagine some (non-bloggers) view blogging as an isolating pursuit. After all, we sit behind our screens, write for an unseen audience, and send our posts out to the interwebs, hoping someone will read them and comment. In reality, many of us have developed connections all over the world through our blogs. When those connections develop into friendships, we realize that – far from isolation – our blogs have exposed us to people and experiences we may not have otherwise known.

Sunday Stills: The Sanctuary of Stillness

As my blog has been still for longer than I anticipated, I figured this would be a good time to join Terri’s Sunday Stills photography challenge. Her theme this week, Stillness, has a special appeal to me. I have always been more comfortable in quiet than in noise, prefer writing to talking, and, although I enjoy social interactions, I need a certain amount of solitude to recharge my batteries.

Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington.

All but one image that I’m sharing this week are from my husband’s and my travels. Although it can be a challenge to find quiet and stillness when traveling nowadays, it is possible. Sometimes you just have to get up earlier than normal.

Early morning glass on the Spokane River in Washington
San Miguel de Allende’s iconic Parroquia at 5:30 am. In a few hours, the central square will be full of people.

Other times, we get lucky and manage to find a spot that feels as if it was set aside just for us.

Desert view along the Palms to Pines Highway in Southern California.
Arches National Park… all to ourselves (for a brief moment).

I found the (not so) little gal below hanging out on a Sticks on Fire succulent plant in my yard. After weaving her beautiful web, she remains very still until some unfortunate prey blunders into her trap.

As scary as she may look, she is harmless to humans. Unfortunately, this isn’t true for the male spider. They are much smaller than the females and up to 80% are cannibalized after traversing the web to mate. That doesn’t seem very nice, but I guess she prefers to enjoy her stillness alone.

………….

Sunday Stills is a photography challenge hosted by Terri Webster Schrandt on her blog Second Wind Leisure Perspectives. Please visit her site to see how other bloggers have interpreted the weekly challenge or add one of your own.

Mini Me

I have always thought of myself as medium-tall(ish). At 5’6,” that’s almost 2 ½” taller than the average woman who was born in the U.S. Although I have a lot of female friends who are taller than I am, I have enough friends of shorter stature to make me feel relatively vertically endowed. I’m always pleased to help when someone asks me to pluck an item from a top store shelf for them.

My drivers license says that I am 5’6,” medical documents say I’m 5’6,” my passport and global entry records say I’m 5’6.” Anywhere I’ve been asked to indicate my height information, I’ve written 5’6.”

Apparently, I am no longer 5’6.”

At a recent doctor appointment, a nurse not only asked me to stand on a scale (they never take our word for it, do they?), but to take off my shoes and have my height measured with a stadiometer. No problem… until I asked her how tall I was.

Big surprise.

I am aware that people generally shrink as they get older. Research indicates that women lose an average of 2 inches between the ages of 30 and 70 (and just over 3 inches by age 80). Men don’t lose quite as much on average – 1 inch by 70, and 2 inches by age 80. There is a huge variability in the amount lost and at what age, but just about all of us will shrink.

I just wasn’t aware that it had happened to me.

Normal age-related shrinkage is often due to the dehydration and compression of the discs between the vertebrae in the spine. In addition, our aging spines can become more curved and we lose bone density. Even the flattening of our arches can cause us to be shorter.

Shrinkage can also indicate other health issues, including an increased risk of bone fractures. Several studies have found that people over 65 who lost at least 2 inches in the past 15 to 20 years were at significantly higher risk for hip fracture than those who shrank less. That’s why it’s important to get measured at least once a year (don’t just fill in a box with how tall you think you are).

Most of the causes of shrinkage – including genetics – are out of our control, but we can take steps to protect our bones and muscles now. Weight-bearing exercise, ensuring adequate levels of calcium, vitamin D, and other bone-healthy nutrients, not drinking alcohol to excess, and not smoking, can all help mitigate the downward progression.

So now I am trying to come to terms with not being 5’6” and I’m not very happy about it. I am no longer tall(ish)… I’m closer to average. And, if I don’t want to become an even mini-er me, I’d better do what I can to stop the shrinkage now.

April Fools

Even though we don’t experience winter snow and frigid temperatures where we live in Southern California, I still get excited when the calendar flips over from March to April. I know that spring officially started a couple of weeks ago, but April has always felt like the true beginning of the season. The weather noticeably warms, the exuberant, bright-yellow orioles return from their winter sojourn in Mexico, and the rich, heady fragrance of budding citrus trees perfumes the air.

Where we live, citrus trees are ubiquitous, and they often bear fruit year-round. So many people have them growing in their yards that, if an unexpected need arises for a lemon or an orange, a quick call to a neighbor will often result in an offer to pick one from their tree.

So, we really didn’t need to plant citrus trees of our own. If we couldn’t get what we needed from a neighbor, our local grocery stores always have a good supply… and they are usually fairly inexpensive. Unlike some other homegrown crops, like tomatoes or corn, a store-bought lemon doesn’t taste all that different than one freshly picked from a tree.

But here we are, two April Fools. We purchased dwarf Meyer Lemon and Bearss Lime tree(lets), bought a couple of large pots, and loaded up several bags of the perfect combination of potting and cactus mix. Then, we spent most of the day preparing the trees’ new home. Going forward, of course, we will provide lots of water and fertilize them regularly.

All told, I can imagine a per-fruit cost of about $5.25.

Yes, we are April Fools… now. But maybe we won’t feel so foolish one future summer day, when we are sitting on our deck enjoying the fruits of our labors… perhaps in the form of freshly-baked lemon bars and a pitcher of mojitos.

I guess I had better plant some mint.

Navigating the Medicare Maze

Those of you who live in a country that believes ensuring adequate healthcare for all of its citizens is the right thing to do, may find this post puzzling. Feel free to gloat.

Recently, my husband became eligible for Medicare. After 64 years of being either covered by his parents’ healthcare plan or the one provided by his employer, his upcoming 65th birthday presented him with a dizzying array of healthcare plans and options – often with similar descriptions and letter designations – that he needed to choose from. Adding to his stress was the knowledge that he had a limited time window, a wrong decision now could be costly in the future, and, since my healthcare coverage is tied to his through his work until I turn 65, his choice directly affected me.

Even though my husband had officially retired from his company over six years ago, he continued to receive our healthcare coverage through them. With his impending birthday, he had to decide whether to switch to the company’s over 65 retiree medical plan or opt-out and dive into the Medicare pool on his own. There were pluses and minuses with both options, but, once we realized that leaving his company’s plan would force me to find coverage on the costly open market, we decided to stay.

Despite remaining under his company’s program, he still had to decide which plan they offered was best for us. I won’t go into all the details but, again, each option carried with it a set of consequences, and it wasn’t always apparent what those might be. We found ourselves trying to predict the future, including aliments, health challenges, and even if and where we might move at some point. This is one of many instances when navigating the Medicare maze, a crystal ball would have come in handy.

And, we are among the lucky ones.

We have healthcare coverage that we can afford and that is fairly robust. We are currently in good health, and we have the mental acuity – with a lot of research and careful reading – to understand the options offered and the possible ramifications of each choice.

We also know that can change.

The company or the government can – and most likely will over time – tweak the plans, and probably not to our benefit. We will most likely face health challenges as we age and our capacity to read and understand complex subjects and make sound decisions will probably fade over time. All of these likely progressions will impact our experience accessing Medicare.

It has been a month since he officially became a card-carrying member of Medicare. We are confident hopeful that we have made the right decisions for our situation. The financial penalties for non- or delayed-decisions (and there are a few so be careful) have been avoided. And, we have set things up so that we can make desired adjustments once I reach 65.

If you, or a loved one, turns 65 soon, I encourage you to start doing your homework now. There are many decisions to make and missing certain deadlines can be costly. If you haven’t already, soon you will find yourself flooded with mailings from various insurance companies and organizations that offer guidance (some better than others). You might feel overwhelmed and/or confused enough to want to just ignore it all together. Don’t.

Attend a few seminars if you can. Talk to your friends, family members, and colleagues. Ask how they made their decision and if they’ve found any helpful resources. One company you might want to check out is Boomer Benefits. They have a great website that contains a lot of information, answers to common questions, videos, and webinars. Most areas also have local Medicare insurance advisers who might be able to help you sort through the various options (at no cost to you).

Good luck and stay as healthy as you can. The best healthcare plan is the one you don’t have to use.

A Moving Question

We have had a decent amount of rain in our corner of Southern California over the last several weeks. Our succulents are happy, and the weeds are ecstatic.

The other day, as my husband and I were enjoying spending the afternoon in guilt-free, rainy-day lazing about, we became aware of a drip, drip, drip sound coming from the downstairs guest bathroom. That couldn’t be good… and it wasn’t. Upon inspection, we discovered water dripping through the ceiling vent onto the bathroom floor. Not a lot of water but no amount of precipitation traveling from the outside to the inside can be considered acceptable. So, when we had a short break in the rain, we climbed on our roof and laid out a tarp, then we called a roofing company to schedule an inspection.

Of all the things that can go wrong with a house (structural, plumbing, electrical, etc.) this certainly wasn’t the worse, but it restarted the conversation we have now and then about where and how we want to live at this time of our lives. Has our house become too much of a burden when what we really want to do is spend our time enjoying our retirement while we are healthy and able?

We love our house and our neighborhood so if we made the choice to relocate, it would be a very difficult decision. We’d give up a lot but living in a home that is virtually maintenance-free (for us, anyway) is tempting. A condo or a townhome, for instance, could mean that our repair responsibilities would end at the interior walls. When we left for a trip, all we’d have to do is lock the door and go. Yes, we’d have to off-load a lot of our stuff, but we’ve been doing that over the last few years anyway. Yes, we’d probably have to give up some luxuries (like having two separate offices), but I’m sure we could work things out.

As with most major decisions there is give and take, and both positive and negative outcomes. When we’ve discussed this in the past, we decided that what we’d lose outweighed what we’d gain. Lately, though, we’ve begun to realize that our priorities are changing. Do we want to spend a large amount of time doing yardwork and house projects, or would we rather let go of house-related stress, have more time to explore our interests, and travel without concerns?

Obviously, there are financial impacts that weigh in a decision like this but, right now, we are thinking about emotional and lifestyle considerations – both short- and long-term. If we move, would we soon regret what we gave up? Or, if we stay, would we look back and realize that we spent too much time caring for our house and not enough time enjoying our retirement?

So, I’m curious. Have any of you thought about moving – or, maybe you have moved – for similar reasons? What were some of your considerations in making your decision? What did you decide? Are you happy with the decision you made? Do you have any regrets? And, those of you who decided to sell your house and buy a low-maintenance alternative, are you now spending your free time in ways that you thought you would?

I know we aren’t the first – and won’t be the last – to think about this. Maybe we can learn from each other.