GratiTuesday: Post Labor Days

My husband and I went to a neighbor’s Labor Day party yesterday. There were about 25 people in attendance and, by my count, over half of us were no longer working at a regular, full-time job. Some of us are officially retired (as in no longer receiving a regular paycheck) and some are involved in a few part-time, money-making ventures out of want, not need (which still qualifies as “retired” in my book).

I remember when Labor Day felt like a final hurrah before summer bid adieu. Even though the weather might still say “summer,” school and work told us different. The Labor Day parties were always fun but bitter sweet. We enjoyed the company of our friends, but we also knew that it was probably the end of outdoor gatherings for a while.

Now that we are retired, Labor Day feels more like a beginning than an end. From now on, the roads will be a little less crowded, the beaches more accessible, and businesses less busy. Just like before, the weather will still say “summer” but there will be fewer people competing for space to enjoy it.

In addition to the joy of dwindling crowds where we live, we can also take advantage of fewer crowds when we travel. What are called “shoulder seasons” – typically spring and fall – are prime travel times for those of us who no longer live by someone else’s schedule. The weather is often still nice, but the crowds are lighter and the prices cheaper.

We still have a lot of summer left and the time to enjoy every moment.

Last night at the party, the conversations we had with our neighbors and fellow retirees were full of stories of how we spent our summer and how we were planning to embrace the months ahead. We talked excitedly about travel plans we’ve made and interests we wanted to pursue, about projects we planned to work on and events we hoped to attend. What there wasn’t was any talk about school schedules, work piling up, or the end of another summer… and I think we were all grateful for that.

GratiTuesday: Delightful Discoveries

When planning a trip, especially one where we will spend a decent amount of time in one location, I often do a search on Instagram. Although guidebooks and general internet sources are fine, Instagram can be a great tool to scout unique and interesting locations. That is how I discovered Casa de las Ranas and the Chapel of Jimmy Ray, and decided we had to go.

Located a few miles outside of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, the house and gallery (which is really the entire property) is a fanciful, whimsical, and joyful celebration of color and creativity. The house, outbuildings, and grounds provide a canvas on which the fantastic mosaic and sculptural creations of owner/artist Anado McLauchlin are assembled and displayed.

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To call Anado’s and his husband Richard’s home merely colorful doesn’t do it justice. It really was more of an explosion of creativity, artistic talent, celebratory color, and love. From the moment Anado greeted us just inside his gate to when the tour ended inside their home (where we had the pleasure of meeting Richard, an art historian and professor) we were embraced by their kindness, welcoming spirit, and their joy of sharing this magical place.

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The property wasn’t easy to get to, but the trip was well worth the effort. Tours are by appointment only (anado@madebyanado.com) and not all cab drivers were aware of its existence. Once there, we arranged for the driver to come back after the tour (which lasted about two hours) since it would have been impossible to find another cab where they lived.

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During are stay in San Miguel we visited many of the locations that our Moon guidebook recommended and we very much enjoyed all that the beautiful colonial town has to offer. Sometimes, though, it was nice to get off the beaten path and be delighted by the unusual and unexpected. Casa de las Ranas and the Chapel of Jimmy Ray were a highlight of our trip and I am grateful to Anado and Richard for fully embracing their playful natures and for allowing us to explore their fantastical home.

Casa de las Ranas (House of the Frogs).
Richard welcoming us into his home.

GratiTuesday: Sharing the Joy

One of the many things my husband and I love about Mexico are the public celebrations. Religious celebrations, wedding celebrations, birthday celebrations, and who-the-heck-knows-why celebrations are often at least partially held where onlookers are welcome to share in the festivities.

Every weekend during our stay in San Miguel de Allende, a wedding (or three, or four) was held in the stunning Parroquia church. Once the wedding mass was over, the bridal party and guests would spill out into the courtyard and onto the street in front of the church. A fancy car or horse and carriage would often be waiting to take the newlyweds to their reception, but not before the invited guests – and anyone in the area at the time – were swept up in the joyful celebration.

The bride and groom waving goodbye before leaving for their reception.

On our way to dinner one evening, we stopped to watch an expat’s 70th birthday celebration. Along with her and her partner’s guests, lucky onlookers enjoyed the revelry, which included a mariachi band, dancing in the street, and the antics of the giant mojigangas (pronounced mo-he-gan-gas) that were decorated to look a bit like the couple.

Betty, celebrating her 70th birthday.
Dancing in the street with the giant mojigangas to the music of the mariachi band.

One event that is unique to San Miguel is Dia de Los Locos (day of the crazies), which is an annual celebration that takes place in June. Los Locos has deep religious roots but much of the festivities appear to be completely secular. Although the day begins with a mass at the San Antonio church (which was just a few blocks from our housesit), once the participants head out to the streets where the crowds are waiting, all vestiges of religion fall away.

As the flamboyant procession moves along the main avenue, onlookers are treated to wild (and often delightfully politically incorrect) costumes, loud music, dancing, and hard candy projectiles being tossed their way. Over 10,000 participants join in the parade costumed as cartoon characters, politicians, clowns (both friendly and scary), and fantasy figures, while an even larger crowd watches from the sidewalks that line the route.

Celebrations and festivals are an integral part of Mexican life. In San Miguel, barely a day goes by that does not commemorate a patron saint, a beloved chapel, or a revolutionary hero. And then, of course, are the personal celebrations like weddings, anniversaries, or birthdays. We were very grateful to not only be there when many of these celebrations occurred, but also grateful to be able to join in and share the joy.

GratiTuesday: Translation tools for lazy bones

Although my husband and I made attempts to improve our Spanish language skills on our recent trip to San Miguel de Allende, we fell pretty short of the mark. Fortunately and unfortunately, many of the Mexicans we met spoke at least some English. It was fortunate for obvious reasons, but unfortunate because, rather than practice our Spanish (and hopefully learn more), it was often easier to revert to English for expediency sake.

We came home a little disappointed in ourselves, and we wondered if our struggle to learn Spanish was worth it. First of all, we are old… and lazy… but also, with so many great translation tools available, is it really necessary? Beyond the basic words and phrases everyone should know when they visit a foreign country (please, thank you, how much is this, where is the bathroom, etc.), more complicated translations are now only as far away as your smartphone. A quick search on the googles will get you a list of the best translation apps available and Siri is always ready, willing, and able to come to the rescue in a pinch (she even has a pretty good accent).

Some things don’t require a literal translation to understand the message.
Another message that was pretty easy to translate without a tool (El Grito means “The Scream,” “The Shout,” or “The Cry”… any of which works).

Most apps support multiple languages, and many allow you to either speak the words or type the text you want to translate. Interested in having a conversation but neither party speaks the other’s language? When each person talks into the phone, their words are translated (more-or-less) perfectly. Having trouble reading a sign? Just type in the text and it will be translated at least well enough to get the general idea.

Of course, any translation tool is useless if you can’t read the words you want to translate… I got as far as “‘Life is like a cup of coffee’ It’s all in how…” I have no idea what those last two words are.

One of the easiest – and free – apps we used is Google Translate. In addition to translating multiple languages (multiple meaning over 100) by spoken word or by typing, we used our phones’ camera to “read” text. It isn’t perfect, but it helped us read menus, labels, and signs without having to type the unfamiliar words on the smartphone keypad.

Label on plate in Spanish.
Using Google Translate, my phone’s camera did a pretty good job translating the label.

I imagine that sometime in the future, we could have a chip installed in our brain which would instantly translate all the languages of the world. While that would certainly be convenient, I think much would be lost. Instead of hearing the beauty of different languages, all we would hear are the words in our own language instantly translated as the other person is speaking.

Even though I still believe it is best to at least try to speak the language of the country where you are traveling, I know that is not always possible. For those of us who struggle (and maybe are a little lazy), I am pleased that there are tools available. Although not perfect, if translation apps can help bridge the divides and help us better understand each other, I’m grateful for the assistance.

GratiTuesday: Walkable San Miguel de Allende

Tell someone that you are going to Mexico and often the first things they’ll picture are beautiful sandy beaches, warm ocean water, and sipping margaritas in a cantina. While I have nothing against any of these pursuits – and have happily done all three on past trips – that “Mexican experience” never felt very authentic to me.

Our five-week trip to the city of Oaxaca last year was the first time we visited an area of the country that wasn’t next to a large body of water… and we loved it. After that experience, we were anxious to explore other parts of Mexico’s interior, and San Miguel de Allende was high on our list of possibilities.

San Miguel de Allende is a small colonial town located in Mexico’s semi-arid central highlands. It is known for its charming atmosphere, historical architecture, vibrant culture, and artsy expatriate community. The region is also known as the cradle of the Mexican independence movement and San Miguel was the birthplace of many of its heroes, including the city’s namesake, Ignacio Allende.

According to local history, the self-taught draftsman who designed the facade based his design on a postcard depicting a French Gothic cathedral.

The most famous landmark in San Miguel is La Parroquia (which simply means parish church), a neo-gothic church whose pink sandstone facade, towering spires, and pointed arches preside over the lively town square.

One benefit of slow travel (staying in one place for an extended period) is being able to explore with a relaxed schedule. Many mornings, we just picked a direction and walked. We could hardly turn a corner without finding an interesting scene: a beautiful old church, an intriguingly narrow walkway, richly painted facades, or a street vendor selling everything from colorful trinkets and toys to straw hats and flowered hair pieces.

I bought a hat from him on the condition that I could take his picture.
Women in traditional dress sell their wares to tourists.
Templo de la Inmaculada Concepcion
A horse-drawn carriage transporting newlyweds to their reception.
Dos amigos enjoying a rest.
The Bellas Artes courtyard is the perfect spot to relax and cool off. 

It was hard not to be constantly looking around as we walked San Miguel’s streets, but it was also important to be aware of where we were stepping… the narrow sidewalks and cobblestone streets made turning an ankle or tripping a very real possibility.

It was important to watch where we were walking.

Much of what there is to do, see, eat, and experience in San Miguel can be accessed by foot. For anything outside of walking range, there are plenty of options such as the ubiquitous green taxis, Uber, and hired drivers. We enjoyed being car-free for the seven weeks we were there and, although I didn’t bring my Fitbit, I am confident that I easily met my daily goal of 10,000 steps… and then some.

We learned the importance of taking it slow and staying hydrated.
More stairs!
The evening’s golden hour paints a picture with light.
You can see the spires of the Parroquia peeking out from behind the dome.
An early morning balloon flight.
The Parroquia could be seen from all over the city.

My husband and I love to walk, and I am very grateful that we are fit enough to navigate the sometimes hilly terrain. San Miguel is a city best enjoyed by foot.

GratiTuesday: Focusing on Fun

While husband and I travel, I very seldom write posts for my blog. I’ll often jot down a few ideas for future posts, but we’ve agreed that writing full posts, uploading pictures, and dealing with the WordPress platform takes too much time away from our travel experience.

I’ve experimented with several alternatives, including re-running earlier posts, writing a few posts before I leave and scheduling them to run while I’m away, and, for short trips, just not posting at all (surprisingly, the world didn’t end).

For our recent 7-week trip to Mexico (more on that soon), I decided to try something different: inviting other bloggers to write a post each week. Although it took some planning and coordination on my part, all of the heavy lifting was done by my guest writers… and I am so grateful.

Even though they have their own blogs to manage, they each generously provided an insightful and interesting post for my GratiTuesday series. In addition, on the day their post ran, they linked from their site to mine (which brought some new followers my way), and they actively interacted with everyone who left a comment.

My deepest gratitude goes out to the following blogging friends who, through time and effort on their part, allowed me to relax and enjoy my time away:

Donna, Retirement Reflections; Pat, Retirement Transition; MartySnakes in the Grass; Christie, So What? Now What?; Liesbet, Roaming About; Laura, Crafting My Retirement; and, Lynn, An Encore Voyage.

Another, unexpected bonus to featuring guest posts, was that I have been contacted by several other bloggers asking me if they could participate. Although this guest post series is complete, I invite anyone who is interested in writing GratiTuesday guest post to please send me a note through my Contact Me link. I’d love to feature a guest post now and then and I am grateful for the interest.

GratiTuesday Guest Post: Gratitude for the Young Ones

GratiTuesday guest post by Lynn, An Encore Voyage

Recently I wrote a blog post about retiring without having had children.  It’s rather easy these days to speak disparagingly of many of today’s young people.  There are those who seem unable to string two sentences together without benefit of fishing line…

But in keeping with Janis’s GratiTuesday theme, I’d like to share with you my

Gratitude for the Young Ones

Just recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Seattle to witness the thesis defense and presentation of a doctoral degree to my dear friend’s son.  From the time he was born, I have watched this young man develop into an extraordinarily gifted shining star.  Now, he and the brilliant young minds he works with are engaged in world-altering research.  They are the ones who are curing AIDS, cancers, and illnesses which have plagued the world for our lifetimes.  Such accomplishment in one so young!

I can remember getting a bit freaked out when I first went to a doctor who was younger than I was.  How could he possibly be old enough to have completed medical school?  Then, as my doc used his iPad to flip through my medical records, and swiftly and easily breeze through the technology to show me the most recent of treatment options, I realized I really don’t want to go to a doctor who still uses a flip phone!

For the past two seasons, hubs and I have been enjoying the Broadway productions that come to our city.  We recently dined with a gifted young woman who is just beginning her career in the theatre industry.  Her passion and enthusiasm for her craft made something abundantly clear…It isn’t us crusty retirees who are bringing these beautiful productions to life.  It is daring, talented young people who are bravely and energetically sharing themselves through Broadway, Shakespeare, Contemporary Theatre, music, and dance.  I am grateful to them for creating magical opportunities for all our benefit!

So, here’s to the Millennials and Gen Z-ers who will be such a changing force in this world.  While many may poke fun at your man-buns and essential oils, I am grateful for your many contributions that will alter the landscape of this country!

And now, I’m headed off to my dentist.  He’s a brilliant Millennial – He’ll be using a laser to fix my cavities!

From Janis:

Thank you, Lynn, for sharing your GratiTuesday guest post with us! Thank you for your reminder of the positive contributions the younger generations are already making to our world.

For those of you who haven’t yet discovered Lynn’s blog, please check it out. Follow her journey after she and her husband gave up their lifelong careers and reinvented their lifestyle.

I will be back with my own GratiTuesday post which I’m pretty sure will include my profound gratitude for all my guest posters.