Don’t put off using the good stuff

Recently, as I was placing squares of blueberry cake on salad plates from our everyday dishes, I realized the proportions were off. We aren’t big dessert eaters and the small portions that I had cut looked tiny and sad surrounded by the empty white of the plates. I made a mental note to search online for some smaller options.

As you can probably imagine, the googles were full of opportunities for me to spend my money. There were solid-color plates, plates with flowers and stripes, round plates, square plates, and even triangular-shaped plates. I was trying to decide between several options when it occurred to me that I may already own just what I was looking for.

In addition to her everyday dishes, my mother had a set of Russel Wright American Modern dishes. They were what we now call mid-century modern: sleek and non-fussy, and the most luscious shade of teal blue called “seafoam.” They were brought out for holidays and celebratory occasions and occupied a special place in the heart of our family. Because I am the only daughter, it was always understood that I would inherit the set when she passed away (sorry, dear brothers, but they are mine).

I have dinner plates, salad plates, cups, saucers, salt and pepper shakers, serving platters, soup bowls, and bread plates. These dishes are beautiful, functional, warm reminders of my childhood… and I seldom use them.

It turns out that the bread plates are the perfect size for desserts.

All this got me thinking: why do we squirrel away the good stuff—dishes, silverware, jewelry, clothes—waiting for a special opportunity in the future to enjoy them? If we love these things shouldn’t we use them more often?

I understand why some items are put aside for special occasions; we think that if we use them regularly, they’d lose their specialness. On the other hand, if there are things that we love and give us pleasure, doesn’t it make sense to enjoy them more frequently?

Set your table with your favorite dishes more often. Wear that necklace you love even if you’re only running errands. Those plush towels you provide your houseguests? Use them (or better yet, buy a set for yourself). Break out that good bottle of wine you’ve been storing before it turns to vinegar.

Don’t put off using the good stuff because, at some point, it will be too late. 

Do you still think you need a special occasion to indulge yourself? Don’t forget that tomorrow is National Dogs in Politics Day. If that doesn’t work for you, certainly National No Excuses Day this Sunday is the perfect day to celebrate with your good stuff. 

Purple Reign

In many areas of the world, changing foliage colors signal seasonal transitions. Even if we don’t experience it where we live, we’ve all seen pictures of maples, oaks, and dogwoods showing off their gorgeous autumn leaves. Although I’m happy enough not to have to deal with ice and snow, I do envy those who get to enjoy the glorious reds, oranges, and yellows that signal the coming of winter.

Here in Southern California, our autumn foliage doesn’t look that different from our summer or winter foliage, but we do get a magical burst of color this time of year. As spring transitions into early summer, the purple blossoms of the jacaranda tree begins to appear on the skyline and light up our streets. At first, just a few bell-shaped flowers dot the bare branches but, seemingly overnight, the tree’s canopy is covered in a vibrant violet-blue cloud.

Although the jacaranda is our city’s official urban tree, it is not native to our area.  Originally from South America, they are said to have been introduced here in the early 20th century by the locally renowned horticulturist, Kate Sessions.  Fortunately for us, our climate proved ideal for the jacaranda and it has flourished here ever since.

Jacarandas can be found all over San Diego, including downtown, La Jolla, and in Balboa Park. We are lucky to have several beautiful jacarandas on our block and, not too far away, a whole neighborhood is lined with the trees. I don’t know the history behind the mass planting, but it appears that every house on the street has at least one of the trees in its yard.

As spring warms into summer, the tree’s ephemeral blossoms start to fall, creating a lavender carpet on the lawns and sidewalks below. Pretty soon, green fern-like leaves begin to appear on the branches, and the once vibrant tree starts to blend into its surroundings again. If we are lucky, we may get a smaller bloom in the fall but, most likely, we will have to wait until the following spring, when the magic of the jacaranda tree reigns again.

GratiTuesday: A Chance to Reassess

I just paid our latest credit card balance online. Nothing unusual about that. The balance was a little less than normal, but then it normally fluctuates throughout the year, depending on travel, annual payment due dates, and household purchases. What caught my eye was the line-by-line list of credits and expenses.

First, the credits. In addition to last month’s payment, there were two credits for events that we had signed-up for but were cancelled.  Both were annual gatherings we had been looking forward to, but each fell victim to the virus. Although I am grateful that we received full refunds, I feel sorry for all the people who had put so much time, effort, and money planning the events only to have them cancelled.

Please don’t judge us by the relative size of the boxes.

Now, the purchases. Almost every one of them were for items that were delivered to our home – either electronically (like Netflix and our digital subscription to the New York Times), or were brought by truck. Amazon made the bulk of the deliveries, but food items were a close second. There also may have been a few deliveries of wine.

Our credit card statements from just a few months prior look completely different. I guess I had never really examined the statements before; once I verified all charges, I paid the balanced and moved on. Now, looking closer, I can see some interesting patterns.

As expected, most of our purchases from before were made in person. I was surprised, though, how often we went to various grocery and big box stores. Missing a specific ingredient for a meal or need an item for a project? No problem. Because most of these stores are just a few miles away, it was easy to get in the car and pop over. And, if these errands happened to occur around lunchtime (which they often did for some incomprehensible reason) why not stop for a bite to eat?

Although I don’t consider myself a big clothes shopper – especially since I retired – I apparently liked to visit those types of stores now and then ( 🙂 ). Not a lot – and the purchases were fairly moderate – but enough that it made me wonder what exactly I was buying things for. It’s not like my closet is in danger of emptying out anytime soon.

There has been a lot of discussion about possible positive changes our society might make after all this is over. Although I don’t hold out a lot of hope for world peace and the end of greed and corruption, I am grateful that our credit card bill has revealed a few personal changes I’d like to make.

I don’t miss all the running around doing errands, but I do miss the lunches out. But, rather than grabbing a quick bite in between, I’d like to make that time together the focus. And with better food. Too many of the lunches involved ordering at a counter.

I’m a little surprised that I don’t miss shopping for clothes. With the weather warming up, I would have visited the mall at least once over the last two months. The fact that I haven’t missed that particular indulgence makes me think maybe it wasn’t the clothes. Maybe it was getting out for a few hours to be alone with my thoughts. Going to a park or visiting a museum or gallery would provide the same “me time” without the price tag.

Everything being cancelled this year has brought home the importance of taking advantage of opportunities when I can. There were more than a few things I meant to do but had put off… until it was too late. I don’t want to feel those regrets again.

How about you? Do you anticipate any personal long-term changes based on your experience over the last few months? Is there anything you hope to do more of – or less of – in the future?

In this time…

I confess that I haven’t read Gabriel García Márquez’s Nobel Prize winning novel, Love in the Time of Cholera. The synopsis I found online said that it is about love, longing, heartbreak, redemption… and cholera. For some reason, the title of this book popped into my head as my husband and I prepare to spend a lot more time at home together.

The good news is that we like each other’s company. Since we both retired several years ago, we’ve balanced time spent together and time spent on our own or with others. While we enjoy many of the same interests and activities, we also are comfortable doing our own thing: reading, gardening, house projects, hobbies, etc. Having separate home offices and respecting each other’s need for “me time” has gone a long way to create a happy, healthy post-work relationship.

Unfortunately, in this time of the coronavirus, several events that we looked forward to attending have been cancelled. Museums and parks have been closed. Going out to lunch together – something we both enjoy – has become worrisome. Plans to get together with friends are being reconsidered. As the medical community and local governments ramp up their warnings, we find ourselves ramping down our interactions with others.

In this time of the coronavirus, we will need to depend on each other more. Lots of people will need support. Small business owners will struggle. Not everyone has the privilege of staying home from work with no negative financial impact. Many don’t have health insurance. Those who live alone will need someone to check in on them. Neighbors, especially those who are high risk, may need someone to get groceries for them.

In this time of the coronavirus, even as we hear more negative news, it’s important to savor the positive. Outside my office window, a gentle rain is falling. The trees are starting to bud and, just yesterday, I saw a bright yellow oriole – my first sighting of our seasonal visitor – perched on a branch. If I must stay home for a while, I have a stack of books that I look forward to reading and there are a few unfinished projects that I might actually get to.

In this time of the coronavirus, while we limit exposure, we can still affirm our love, welcome spring, plant some vegetables, watch a sunset, go for a walk, read a good book, listen to music, write a letter, call a friend, organize a closet, bake cookies, and enjoy the beauty around us.  We may have to practice social distancing, but we don’t have to distance ourselves from much that nourishes us.

Hoping for the best…

… but preparing for the worst.

I’ve lived in Southern California just about my whole life. Although the threat of earthquakes has always been “out there,” I doubt if many Californians have bothered to put together even a basic earthquake preparedness kit. Even though natural disasters occur in all parts of the world, they are easy to ignore in our day-to-day lives. We don’t deny the reality of earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, tsunamis, or giant wildfires, we just would rather not think about them.

Now, with the latest threat to our health and safety – the Coronavirus – all over the news, a lot of people are starting to pay attention. Maybe it does makes sense to collect some important items just in case we find ourselves quarantined in our homes for several weeks. Californians have long been encouraged to make personal preparations for “The Big One,” but this virus has prompted many people to finally act.

There are already reports of shortages of canned food, disinfecting products, toilet paper, and water storage containers as more and more people realize that, in fact, it can happen here. As the news reports more people being infected – and dying – even greater panic buying will ensue. Those who wait until the last minute could face empty shelves, back orders and, sadly, price gouging.

Looking for hand wipes? Sorry, many stores are already out.

Recently, on the front page of our local newspaper, among articles about election results and the latest CONVID-19 reports, was another earthquake warning. A large fault, which is located very close to where we live, could produce a quake of 6.9 or greater. An earthquake that large could not only damage or destroy thousands of structures, but also cut gas and water service and cause widespread road and bridge failures.

We are not worriers by nature, and we don’t consume media that peddle wall-to-wall, end-of-days, scary “news,” but we also think that taking some precautions is warranted. We have taken seriously the admonitions to wash our hands frequently, avoid touching our faces, and dodge crowds and anyone who shows signs of a cold. Fortunately, since we are retired, we don’t have to worry about ill co-workers. We think our chances of avoiding the virus are pretty good. That being said, we’ve purchased a few things “just in case” and I feel that we are better prepared than we were.

Sometimes it takes something actual – as opposed to just possible – to prompt action. After many years of “meaning to” put together a disaster preparedness kit, we finally have.

Taking a Few Leaps

Meeting someone new often takes a leap of faith; Will they like me? Will I like them? Will we find enough in common, so there aren’t long stretches of uncomfortable silence? Because I am a bit of an introvert, small talk doesn’t come easy to me. I’m much better one-on-one than I am in large groups, but one-on-one means that I have to carry an equal load of the conversation.

Over the six plus years that I’ve been blogging, I have met eight fellow bloggers in real life. Prior to each initial get together, I wondered how the meeting would go. Every time, I took the leap of faith, and I have been please that I did. What I’ve learned about meeting each of these bloggers is that it feels more like catching up with an old friend than meeting someone new.

When I learned that Tracey Stubbs, whose blog, Artistic Pension, I follow, was going to be visiting my city, I leaped at the chance to get together. After some schedule coordination, we managed to arrange a coffee date earlier this afternoon. Just like my other blogger meet-ups, the conversation was comfortable and easy. She is just as nice in person as she is on her blog.

Photo taken by Tracey’s new husband, Mark.

Tracey and I both have been a bit off our blogs lately. Travel, Tracey’s new marriage and a possible relocation, an illness (mine: bad cold, nothing serious), and life in general has taken precedence. We agreed that our blogs are important to us and we missed posting. Yes, we enjoy writing and sharing our stories but, most of all, we love how our blogs link us with others. Writing makes us happy; the connections bring us joy.

Today, Leap Day, seems like the perfect opportunity for me to jump into writing again. Time to finish the posts that are half-completed and come up with new ideas for others. It’s time to leap back in.

Thursday Doors: Woodie Doors

Although the calendar tells us that fall began on September 22, here in coastal Southern California many of us feel that our summer has just begun. With the kids back in school, most of the tourists gone home, and the weather still sunny and warm, the locals come out to play.

One of my favorite events that signals this change in seasons is the Wavecrest Woodie Meet, which features the longest running and largest gathering of woodies in the world. Wavecrest is quintessentially Southern Californian with almost 200 woodies of every shape, size, and description on display at a beautiful location overlooking the ocean.

Woodie passenger wagons were produced from the 1910s through the early 1950s. Surfers loved them because they were relatively inexpensive to buy as used vehicles in the 1950s and 1960s. Even better, they could carry a longboard inside or on the roof. Now these beauties – especially when fully restored – are no longer cheap, so any surfboards on top are probably just for show.

As I wandered around the show this weekend, it was difficult to get the Beach Boys’ Surfin’ Safari earworm out of my head, especially the first verse:

Early in the morning we’ll be starting out

Some honeys will be coming along

We’re loading up our woodie

With our boards inside

And heading out singing our song

The woodies were buffed and polished to perfection and their doors beckoned me to get inside, start up the engine, and cruise the coastline with my honey.

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature hosted by Norm Frampton. Visit his blog to see this week’s collection, and maybe to add a few of your own.

Useful Travel Hacks

Hack: A strategy or technique adopted in order to manage one’s time and activities in a more efficient way. Any method of doing something that either simplifies or makes your life easier.

Our retirement has allowed us to do a fair amount of traveling, for which we are very grateful. Although we enjoy being home and the day-to-day familiarity of our city, neighborhood, and friends, we are always looking forward to our next adventure. In fact, before we put away our luggage after a trip, we make sure that, zipped inside, are items we don’t want to forget when we hit the road again.

Our list of travel hacks has developed over time. As we identify items that are handy to have or we wish we had packed, we add them to the list. Nothing is expensive or unusual (in fact, you probably have most of them already) but they may not be what most people think to pack.

Nightlight
Hotel rooms and other lodging can be very dark at night, especially if they have blackout curtains. Pitch darkness and an unfamiliar room layout can lead to bumped shins, stubbed toes, and maybe even finding yourself in the closet rather than the bathroom. We bring along a nightlight just in case our room is too dark to safely get around.

Binder Clips
If the problem instead is light leakage because the curtains don’t close properly, large binder clips are great for pulling the edges of the curtains together.

Electrical Tape
Have you ever turned off the lights in a hotel room only to find a bunch of bright lights lighting up the room? Not only can clock radios and microwave displays light up a room, TVs and smoke detectors have teeny LED lights that can drill into your eyes, especially if you are light-sensitive. A piece of electrical tape can cover these lights and let you sleep.

Flip Flops
Maybe it’s just us, but we don’t like to walk around barefoot in hotel rooms, so each of us keeps a cheap pair of flip flops by our bedside. We also wear them in the shower. They don’t take up much room in our luggage and they make us more comfortable.

Long Charging Cord
Electrical outlets found on the road are often inconveniently located. Having a long charging cord (ours are 10 feet long) makes it easier to plug in wherever you are.

Pouch of Useful Stuff
On our earlier travels, when we needed items like rubber bands, paper clips, small binder clips, highlighters, scissors, or post-it notes, we would have to take the time to find a store. In addition, we often had to buy a lot more than we wanted (a box of rubber bands instead of the two or three that we needed). Finally, I got smart and put together a small travel-size supply of these items. When we get home, I resupply my yellow pouch of useful stuff and put it back in my suitcase for our next trip.

Personal Business Cards
Soon after we retired, we had personal business cards printed. Now when we meet people we want to keep in touch with, we hand them one of our cards. This avoids the need to scramble for a pen and a piece of paper to write down our contact info (our cards have our names, email addresses, and phone numbers). A card has less chance of getting lost than a scrap of paper and it’s easier to read. There are a lot of companies that print business cards (we used Vistaprint) and most offer a ton of design choices. We picked a two-sided design so we could print a travel quote on the back.

There are many other items to consider as well (an empty envelope to keep receipts in, a thin plastic bag for dirty laundry, tiny flashlight, etc.), all while balancing weight and bulk versus convenience.

So, how about you? Do you have any items that you wouldn’t leave home without? Along with clothing, toiletries, camera, maps, and journals, is there something – or things – you make sure to pack? I’d love for you to share your favorite travel hacks that have helped you enjoy your time away.

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.

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.