GratiTuesday: Spring has sprung!

Even though most of us in Southern California hoped the predictions of a wet El Nino would come true (and we still have our fingers crossed), the rainfall we’ve experienced has been underwhelming. Except for two memorable days of torrential rain in early January, our winter – overall – has been pretty mild.

On Sunday, when it officially became spring, we were enjoying the same blue skies and mild temperatures we’d had been experiencing for a long time. Regardless, seeing “First Day of Spring” on my calendar made me almost as happy as someone enduring a winter of freezing temperatures and snow would feel.

We’ve been seeing evidence of spring all around us for several weeks. Flowering plants are announcing the new season with cheerful colors and gentle fragrances and trees are starting to burst into clouds of blooms. The bees and hummingbirds are buzzing frantically from one flower to the next as if they are worried it could all suddenly disappear under a pile of snow.

Our Grevillea Long John’s whimsical pink blossoms are a favorite of bees and hummers
Our Grevillea Long John’s whimsical pink blossoms are a favorite of bees and hummers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It looks like we’ll have another bumper crop of blueberries this summer
It looks like we’ll have another bumper crop of blueberries this summer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even Tiki Mon is displaying spring flowers in his hair
Even Tiki Mon is wearing spring flowers in his hair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am so very grateful for spring’s arrival. It is a magical season bursting with promise, inspiration, and optimism.

 

 

GratiTuesday: Daylight Savings Time

This past Sunday, I preformed one of my favorite rites of spring; I adjusted all of our clocks forward one hour. As I made the change, I didn’t mind in the least that I instantly lost one hour of my day. For me, it was a very small price to pay for the extra hour of light I’ll enjoy each evening until November 6, when I have to turn the clocks back.

Daylight savings sunrise
Daylight savings sunrise

When I was working, I remember that at first it was a little hard to adjust to getting up in the dark. But, slowly, the summer sun would work its way toward the equator and, in a few weeks, my 6:30 am wake-up time would again be bathed in light. What made those dark mornings well worth it was knowing that it would be light out when I left the office and that I’d still have a few hours of daylight when I got home.

Now that I am retired you might think the time change wouldn’t be as exciting for me as it was before. After all, I can get up whenever I desire, spend whatever time I want to outdoors, and then go to bed when the spirit moves me. While that is true for the most part, I still live in a world of appointments and schedules, and sunset at 7:00 or 8:00 pm feels very different from sunset at 5:00 or 6:00 pm.

I realize that not everyone is enamored with daylight savings time. Some people don’t like the hassle of changing their clocks twice a year. Others have schedules that benefit more from having the extra daylight in the morning. Those people might be happier living in one of the several states or territories that have opted out of observing daylight savings time, including Hawaii, most of Arizona, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

I was horrified recently to learn that one of our state senators has introduced a bill that would affectively end daylight savings time in California. Noooooooooooooooooooo! I’m not sure whether there is any threat of having the bill pass, but I would be happy to buy the senator a oneway ticket to Arizona so he can enjoy standard time year-round and leave the rest of us alone.

Switching to daylight savings time makes me happy. It signals that spring is just around the corner, and summer is not too far off. It means baseball and barbecues and drinks out on the deck. I am so very grateful for the extra sunshine at the end of my day, where it belongs.

GratiTuesday: The beauty of succulents

Several years ago, my husband and I decided to ditch our traditional lawn and the water-thirsty plants that surrounded our house. Southern California has a dry, Mediterranean climate, and it didn’t make sense to maintain landscaping that really didn’t belong. At the time, we were just at the beginning of our multiple-year drought but we could read the writing on the wall: watering restrictions were coming.

So, out went the turf, agapanthus, and day lilies, and in went the succulents and other plants more suited for our climate. No more regular mowing and fertilizing; no more brown spots dotting our green lawn as a result of neighborhood dogs doing what dogs do.

Agave 'Blue Glow' have watercolor-like striations and red-orange margins
Agave ‘Blue Glow’ have watercolor-like striations and red-orange margins
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It’s easy to see how ‘Sticks on Fire” got its name

What we now have in our yard is a rich tapestry of colors, shapes, and textures. The bright reds, pinks, and oranges of the appropriately named ‘Sticks on Fire’ (Euphorbia tirucalli) contrast with the deep burgundy of the ‘Zwartkop’ (Aeonium  arboreum) and the silver-blue Senecio mandraliscae. The fat, jelly bean shape of the sediums play nicely with spiked-leaved Agaves and Aloes.

And, just when I think my succulents are quietly behaving themselves, one will suddenly produce a flower so garish and spectacular it can take my breath away.

Dark burgundy 'Zwartkop' produces a bright yellow and chartreuse flower
Dark burgundy ‘Zwartkop’ produces a bright yellow and chartreuse flower

Because succulents don’t require regular watering and they are amazingly easy to care for, they are the perfect plants for our lifestyle in retirement. I can putter in the garden… or not, and we can travel for weeks at a time and not have to worry about arranging for their care.

As I walk around our neighborhood and see front yards landscaped with the standard plantings and boring grass (often which has turned brown due to our drought), I am so grateful when I return to the lush growth and dazzling pallet of my succulents.

GratiTuesday: No more vacations

Vacation \ vāˈkāSH(ə)n \ n1: a period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually used for rest, recreation, or travel; recess or holiday  2: freedom or release from duty, business, or activity

 

I remember what taking a vacation meant when I was working full time: I’d decide on a destination, figure out how much time I needed to take off work, consult my schedule and my boss to make sure the dates were OK, fill out any necessary H.R. paperwork, work extra hours before my vacation so that I didn’t leave any loose ends while I was gone, then put in even more hours when I returned so I could catch up on all the work that wasn’t done while away.

After one or two days back in the office, it hardly felt like I had been away at all. In fact, I was often twice as busy and felt more stressed than before I left.

relaxing

Now that my husband and I are retired, we no longer take vacations. Packing our bags and leaving our home for a few days, a few weeks, or a few months, isn’t a “release from duty or business.” We might need to stop our newspaper and mail deliveries, have a neighbor watch the house and water a few plants, or arrange for friends or family to stay in our home while we are gone, but, our time away is no longer “a period of suspension of work or study” nor does it require prior approval. Instead, it is a continuation and enhancement of our retired life.

Rather than take vacations, what we do now is travel. We take road trips. We visit. We tour. We go on great adventures. Sometimes we aren’t 100% percent sure of our itinerary or when we’ll return home. If we decide to stay a little while longer somewhere, no problem. If we see a road less traveled and decide to take it, fine and dandy.

I am so grateful that our retirement has given us the freedom to stop taking vacations from something and instead be able to say “yes, we’d love to,” “yes, we’ll go,” “yes, we will be there.”

GratiTuesday: Home, sweet home

My husband and I just returned home from a trip to La Paz, Mexico. We enjoyed a week of lovely weather, beautiful vistas, wonderful food, and pampered relaxation. On most of our trips we tend more towards the Best Western or Hampton Inn-type accommodations. We are much more inclined to spend our money on our daylight adventures and less on where we lay our heads. This trip was different; some friends invited us to take advantage of a deal they found through Expedia and join them at a lovely beach resort near the tip of Baja.

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Our trip couldn’t have gone any smoother or our travel companions been any more compatible. The resort was lovely and, although it was off-season, we enjoyed picture-perfect weather and warm ocean water.

Tomorrow I will finish unpacking and doing the laundry. I will start having to plan meals and making lists of errands that need to be run. I will miss having fresh towels provided and our room cleaned every day. I will especially miss the pool that was just outside our door, and a nearly deserted white sand beach that was just a few steps further.

But, right now, I’m so grateful to be back in my home. I am always sad when a trip is over, but I love to return to my comfortable and familiar surroundings. No matter how interesting and beautiful the world outside my little bubble is, there really, truly, is no place like home.

GratiTuesday: Great neighbors, great friends

I had a different GratiTuesday written and ready to go this week, but then I read the posts of several bloggers I follow and decided to change it. These posts explored different types of friendships, and, more specifically, the varying strengths of friendships, how they change over the years, and how it can be difficult to meet new friends as we get older.

Reading those posts reminded me of how grateful I am that I have dear friends who are also neighbors.

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When my husband and I moved into our neighborhood over 20 years ago, we already had good friends who lived just a few doors away. In fact, they were the ones who alerted us to the possible availability of our house before it went on the market.

Then, these original friends introduced us to several neighbors who also became our friends and, over the years, we’ve been lucky to acquire even more friends as they have moved into our hood. Although we have a core group of four couples who socialize regularly, we often get together for celebrations, barbeques, and holiday parties with many of our other neighbors too. Several of us are retired couples, but there are also a few singles, retired and not, and younger couples, with and without children.

Over the years, we’ve watched neighborhood children grow up and get successfully launched, helped each other with household projects, celebrated milestones, mourned losses, watched each other’s houses when traveling, and always knew we could rely on each other when any help was needed.

Our neighborhood feels very much like the one I grew up in during the 60s. It’s the type of neighborhood I hoped for when my husband and I were looking for a home to purchase, and I feel so fortunate to be a part of it. Unfortunately, neighborhoods like ours have become increasingly rare in our modern world, especially in larger cities. I’m sure there are many reasons why things have changed, but I believe, whatever the explanations, the loss to our sense of community is profound.

I am so grateful for all most (our neighborhood is great, but not perfect) of my neighbors, but primarily for our core group of eight. I am confident that any of them would jump to lend a hand if we needed it, and I hope they know the same about us. I’m also grateful that, after all these years, we still have fun together and have never gotten tired of celebrating our friendship.

GratiTuesday: Public Libraries

I spent a lot of time in my neighborhood library as I was growing up. I remember going with my mother at least once a week to check out books; usually borrowing two or three at a time. When I got older, I’d meet my friends there and we’d often do our homework sitting at the wooden desks they had scattered around. It was always kind of a magical place: not only did they have what seemed to be a never-ending supply of FREE books, but the building felt safe and familiar and the librarians were always a helpful source of information.

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For some reason, I stopped going to public libraries in my young adulthood. I never stopped reading, but my books mostly came from bookstores, yard sales, or were passed on to me by friends. Later, of course, I also started purchasing books from online sources.

After my husband retired two years before I did, he became a library devotee. Each time he visited our local branch, he’d came home with four or five books. Then about a week later, he’d return to drop off what he had read and get a new supply.

When I retired one of the first acts of my new-found freedom was to get my very own library card. That day I learned that a lot had changed during the many years of my absence (not that I was surprised, it had been a long time). The only downside is that I had to come up with YET ANOTHER username and password because so much can be done online now. I can research books, order them, and renew them all on my computer. How great is that?

I am now happily rediscovering the magic of the public library. We have a beautiful, brand new, main library downtown, but there is something so special about the local neighborhood branches. Familiar faces can usually be found staffing the front desk and they are always pleased to recommend a title or two based on our individual tastes.

Some people have questioned the need for public libraries in our modern world. Just about everything can be found online, they argue. Maintaining brick and mortar buildings housing books made from paper is an expensive anachronism. I wish those people would visit my local library sometime. I think they’d be amazed at what they’d see and would understand the need for this great resource.

Our latest finds, including a book by my newest favorite author, Barbara Kingsolver.
Our latest finds, including a book by my newest favorite author, Barbara Kingsolver.

Budget shortfalls often hit our public libraries hard. Hours are curtailed, staffing is reduced, and services are cut. Even though the public often gives their libraries higher ratings for effectiveness than other local services such as parks and police, they are mostly unaware of financial difficulties facing them.

I am so grateful for those who ensure funding through taxes, local support, private philanthropy, and library “friends” efforts, so that our public libraries can be kept open and operating. They understand the value and the magic that books hold for all of us.