It’s almost as if Terri (Second Wind Leisure) knew that my husband and I would be spending a few days up in the mountains when she came up with The Great Outdoors as this week’s Sunday Stills photo topic. Although I often have to search my files for images when I join in on one of her photo challenges, this time all I did was walk out the door of our little cabin and there it was… the great outdoors!
We were delighted when our friends, Kathy (Smart Living 365) and Thom, invited us to join them for a few days at their mountain retreat in nearby Idyllwild. The cabin they have rented for a number of years has a mini-cabin situated just a few steps away. It’s perfect for the hosts and the guests – lots of opportunities to connect, but enough separation so that everyone can have some privacy and alone time.
We hugged trees (and each other):
We moved boulders:
We watched the sunset… :
… just before the full strawberry moon rose:
We enjoyed great conversations:
And, we marveled at nature’s artistry:
The few days that we were able to enjoy the clear mountain air and expansive vistas were just what we needed. There is nothing quite like spending time in the great outdoors to reduce stress, encourage reflection, and help us appreciate the gifts of Mother Nature.
First, let me apologize to my friends, Donna and Deb, the co-hosts of the monthly What’s On Your Plate? virtual potluck party. I am going to misappropriate their gathering shamelessly and use it as a way to generate meal ideas – specifically lunch ideas – for myself.
Breakfast is easy around our house… and usually not overly imaginative. My husband and I often fend for ourselves – pancakes, French toast, or cereal for him; oatmeal, a poached egg, or toast for me (and coffee… always coffee). Dinner is more involved and requires longer prep time, but we almost never seem to run out of inspiration (and, when we do, there is always pizza).
Ever since we retired, lunch has been a conundrum. Coming up with meals that are tasty, healthy, and relatively quick – the meal trifecta, as far as I’m concerned – hasn’t been easy. Too many times, we look at what is available in the fridge and/or pantry, find nothing inspiring, and decide to go out for lunch. As much as I enjoy a change of scenery with my meals, eating out can get expensive, and most menu choices tend to be calorie dense.
So, before the What’s On Your Plate? co-hosts notice that I’ve hijacked their topic, can you help me out? What do you typically make for lunch in your home? Do you put together a different lunch every day? Do you make a big bowl of something yummy and eat it throughout the week? Are there lunches that are tasty, healthy, and quick that you love to eat? Are there ingredients that you always have on hand so that lunch is never an issue? I would be very grateful if you shared some favorites.
And, to avoid Donna and Deb kicking me out when my ruse is discovered, here is a recipe for a lunch we have now and then when we are desperate:
Please check out Deb’s (The Widow Badass) and Donna’s (Retirement Reflections) blogs for their What’s On Your Plate? monthly dinner – or breakfast, lunch, or midnight snack – party. Get inspired by the various dishes they and other bloggers feature and share one of your own (a lunch dish would be nice 😊).
Last year, when my husband and I realized that life as usual wasn’t going to be usual for a while, we started looking for alternatives to our normal foodie ways. Pre-pandemic, we made most of our meals at home but, soon, even simple trips to the grocery store became troublesome due to empty shelves and unwanted crowding. To help keep the trips infrequent, we signed up for a boxed meal delivery service.
Several years ago, we subscribed to Blue Apron’s meal kit service (read my impressions here). This time, based on online reviews, we went with Hello Fresh. We started with their Veggie meal plan (they offer several different plans) to introduce more plant-based meals into our repertoire and expand our cooking experiences. After a few months, we switched to their Meat & Veggies plan for greater meal variety.
Our chosen two-recipe plan provided enough ingredients to make four meals a week, two for each recipe option. Every recipe comes with its own large, four-color instruction card and perfectly portioned ingredients. Most recipes require a few common pantry items that are not included; like cooking oils, butter, and salt and pepper. We received our first box last September and continued the weekly service until recently.
What we liked
We were able to select meals in advance from a large variety of options. Our selections arrived on our porch in an insulated box every Monday. Each box contained food for two night’s worth of meals. This took a huge load off menu planning and shopping.
Meal prep was something we did together. There were always several components to the meals (protein, starch, vegetable), and a fair amount of prep, so we divided the duties to best assure everything was done on time.
The meals were, for the most part, interesting and varied, and not overly complicated. The flavors were good and the portions were reasonable. Hello Fresh provided some unfamiliar spice and sauce blends, which were fun to try.
Because the ingredients came in pre-measured portions, we weren’t left with partially-used jars of things that go to waste.
Several of the recipes were “keepers” that we will make again on our own. The recipe cards list the ingredients, amounts, and step-by-step instructions so they are easy to replicate. Hello Fresh even provides the ingredients for their special spice and sauce blends on their website.
What we didn’t like
Most of the recipes called for oven roasting. We don’t like heating the oven – and the house – unnecessarily. When we could – which was often – we used an alternative cooking method (e.g., rather than bake string beans for 15 minutes in a 450 degree oven, we just pan-roasted them).
Some of the recipes called for ingredients that we didn’t deem necessary. This is a personal preference but I, for example, chose not to add a tablespoon of butter – and the calories – to rice that will be covered with a sauce.
A few times, the supplied produce wasn’t very fresh and so we substituted our own.
Although Hello Fresh tries to be eco-friendly, it’s challenging when sending out thousands of boxes of individually packaged items. One scallion wrapped in plastic or two tablespoons of sour cream in a pouch seems wasteful.
We are big fans of leftovers and we didn’t like doing a lot of work for one night’s meal. Fortunately, we found that by supplementing the provided produce with some of our own, we could stretch many of the meals to cover two nights (or at least one dinner and a lunch).
Boxed meal services are becoming more and more popular and there are a lot of options to pick from. There are a host of websites that compare the different offerings to help you pick the right one, based on your budget and eating preferences. Because of the competition, most (all?) run promotional pricing on your initial order(s) to help entice you. Pro tip: if you know someone who subscribes to one of these services, ask them if it offers free boxes to friends they refer. I was able to pass on this offer to a few of my friends.
Although we have paused Hello Fresh for a while, we are likely to start it up again in the future, or maybe try another service for comparison. It’s a convenient – although not cheap – way to add more variety to your meals.
Please click over to Deb’s (The Widow Badass) and Donna’s (Retirement Reflections) blogs for their new What’s on Your Plate? monthly dinner (or breakfast, lunch, or midnight snack) party. Check out the various meal inspirations found there and share one of your own.
I, of course, had no idea that the hair and nail appointments I made one year ago would be the last ones for a long, long time. I imagine that, as I left each of these establishments, my parting words were something along the lines of “I’ll see you in six weeks” (or two, in the case of my nail tech). I was newly highlighted (hair) and gelled (nails) and had little reason to think that I was about to enter the twilight zone of…
I started lightening my hair in the 1970s, almost as soon as my naturally light blond tresses began to turn the dreaded “dirty blond.”
At first, I used Sun-In lightening spray that worked with the sun to produce dry, hay-like light golden locks. After several weeks of baking my skin and hair, I achieved the natural, surfer girl looks I was going for. Fortunately, my hair survived this assault but, unfortunately, my skin is still paying the price for my vanity.
As I got older and had more discretionary income, professional haircuts and highlights became part of my routine upkeep. At about the same time, I determined that my thin, perpetually-chipped nails didn’t support the professional look I was going for, so regular manicure appointments were added.
Before Covid, I hadn’t given serious thought to letting nature take its course. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I continued to think of myself as a blond. The highlights I was getting were merely augmenting my natural color (sure they were). My nails were a different story. I knew that, under the polish and gel coating, lurked a peeling, splitting mess. I had no desire to let my natural nails go free.
I remember canceling my first standing appointments after our state started to close things down. Like many, I assumed that this would be a short, temporary situation. I could certainly go a month – maybe even two – without my usual upkeep. After all, we’ve traveled out of the country for close to two months and somehow I survived—knowing, of course, that my appointments were set and waiting for me on my return.
Then a funny thing happened. Four weeks turned to eight. Eight to twelve. Twelve to twenty. At week 21, I called my stylist and asked her if she made house calls. Since then she’s made three more, but only for trims.
My last color was one year ago and I’m okay with that. I don’t have a lot of gray in my mostly light brown hair but, what’s there looks amazingly like the highlights I used to pay the big bucks for.
My nails have also been a pleasant surprise. Once what had been damaged by the gel grew out, I have discovered that my natural nails aren’t bad at all. As long as I keep them fairly short, they look just fine.
I don’t know if my new natural look is here to stay or not. I doubt that I will go back to regular manicures, but I reserve my right to become an ash blond again if I decide that I prefer that look. Right now, though, I’m happy to embrace the real me. Oh, and my stylist no longer needs to make house calls… my husband and I have learned to cut each other’s hair.
The flood of mail started around September and hasn’t let up yet. I will turn 65 – the magical age for Medicare – in January and I’ve received at least two… or three… or more letters, brochures, and flyers a day begging me to sign up for this Medicare plan or the other.
Those of you who live in a country that considers healthcare a right for every citizen no matter what age, feel free to shake your head in pity and not read the rest of this post.
As I was perusing the various plans—and the options within each—I thought about how my upcoming birthday changes my appeal to the insurance companies. At 64, healthcare coverage on the open market is somewhat limited and very expensive. Even in good health, someone that age is viewed as a potential drain on their bottom line. But, as soon as my odometer clicks over to 65, I’m desirable again.
As far as I know, I will continue to get older and, as far as I know, the natural aging process can will eventually bring health challenges. Yet, they all want me to sign up for their plan.
I’m pretty sure the insurance companies aren’t offering me reasonably priced healthcare coverage out of the kindness of their hearts. Whatever agreement they’ve worked out with the government must benefit them financially.
Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for Medicare and the comfort having good coverage brings. I just have a sneaky suspicion that it isn’t as cost-effective as it could be. Insurance companies rarely lose when negotiating with our government.
Anyway, after looking through all the options—and wondering why the heck this needs to be so complicated—we’ve made the decision that we think is best for us now. Next year, and every year going forward, we will have to reevaluate, based on our current circumstances. As we get older, I imagine this annual reevaluation will become more difficult. Call me crazy but it seems that having one plan that covers everyone would be easier to manage and less expensive.
If you, or a loved one, will turn 65 in 2021, I encourage you to start doing your homework now. There are many decisions to make and missing certain deadlines can be costly. 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. In addition, most areas 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.
Recently, the New York Times ran an article, Find Your Place in the Line, where you could, by entering a few bits of information, find out when you might expect to get the Covid-19 vaccine in the United States. After indicating my age, general health, and the county I live in, I discovered that I probably should tamp down my enthusiasm a bit.
There are 118.5 million people ahead of me.
Although a final sequence hasn’t been determined yet, whatever it turns out to be, I know that I will have a wait. Healthcare workers, people in nursing homes, first responders, the elderly, and those with health risks will undoubtedly be vaccinated before me.
And that’s how it should be.
But, also according to the chart, standing behind me in this virtual line are essential workers, teachers, homeless, and prisoners. It seems that at least some of these folks should be able to cut in line.
Don’t get me wrong, I really, really want this thing to be over. I want to see my friends without distancing or masks, I want to travel, eat in restaurants, attend events, and go about my life without masks or fear. If everyone could magically get the vaccine tomorrow, I’d do it. (OK, I’m lying… I’d probably wait a month or so just to make sure there weren’t any crazy side effects).
One of the drug companies, Pfizer, expects to have about 50 million doses available by the end of 2020. Since the vaccine is administered in two doses, 28 days apart, that’s enough for 25 million people.
Did I mention that there are 118.5 million people in front of me?
So, I won’t be putting my masks away any time soon nor will we book any non-refundable travel. But just knowing that there is light at the end of the tunnel makes any inconvenience or sacrifice easier to bear. We’ve been at this for almost nine months now. A few—or more—additional months of playing it safe will help us all find our normal again.
OK, I admit that I am the jealous type. Every autumn, pictures of brightly colored foliage flood my blog and Instagram feeds and my internal green-eyed monster comes out in force. Although I enjoy living in a warm climate, those of you who live in areas with enough chill to bring out the fall colors, are showing off and I’m envious. Other than a few liquid ambers here and there, most of our trees are green year-round.
So, in the spirit of “what about me?” I thought I’d share a few pictures of what’s happening in our front yard right now. It may not match the picturesque pigments some of you are currently enjoying, but I think it’s pretty sensational anyway.
Our yard’s landscape is made up of mostly low-water, low-maintenance succulents and agaves. Those who may not be familiar with these plants might be picturing:
But actually, succulents and agaves come in a dazzling array of colors, sizes, shapes, and textures. Often their foliage is multi-hued, and some have blooms that blaze even brighter than their leaves.
One of my favorites is the Blue Glow Agave. It has chalky blue-green leaves that are trimmed with a ribbon of red along its sharp margins and is especially stunning when backlit by the sun.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and one of our Blue Glows is, sadly, reaching the final chapter of its life… but what an exciting chapter it is. After sitting quietly in our yard for several years, it has suddenly begun its spectacular Danse Macabre.
At first, we noticed what looked like a greenish-blue muskrat with its head buried in the center of the plant.
As that center growth started to emerge, it began to resemble the head of an exotic bird.
Pretty soon, the spike was just a little taller than me.
After reaching what appears to be its final height, a little over 11 feet tall…
…it began to flower along its stalk. These blossoms have become a pollination party bar for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
I don’t know how long the death bloom will last—maybe a month?—but since agaves are monocarpic, eventually the plant will die and will have to be removed.
But look! Just when you might think all is lost, nestled among the plant’s leaves are a whole litter of pups waiting to be removed and replanted.
It’s the whole circle of life playing out over a few months. The best part is that, pretty soon, I’ll have the perfect spot to plant one of the new baby Blue Glow Agaves.
Let’s see your maples, hawthorns, and aspens do that!
When I started my blog, my husband was the only one outside of the blogosphere to know. I wasn’t sure where this new adventure would take me, so I decided to keep it to myself. As time went on I started to tell a few good friends, unsure of their reaction or interest. Most were receptive and asked for the URL, a few said the equivalent of “oh, that’s nice… let’s talk about something else.” Now, after seven years, no more than ten non-blogging friends read my blog, or are even aware of it.
And that’s just fine.
I became curious about what others do when I noticed that many of my blogging friends link to their posts on Facebook. Some had blog-specific Facebook accounts, but most just linked from their personal page. I imagine many do the same thing from other social media accounts.
Most of the friends I have on Facebook are people I’ve known from my childhood or from my work life. Although many of them are actual friends – even close friends – not all are. Many are really just friendly acquaintances in practical terms.
I have made the choice not to link my posts. In fact, just the idea of it makes me very uncomfortable.
So, what gives? Why are some people happy to let anyone and everyone know about their blog, and others are happier keeping the worlds separate?
On a recent Zoom meeting, I asked this question of five blogger friends, and got a variety of answers. Although most of them didn’t share their blogs on social media initially, they now link their posts without hesitation. A few mentioned that their blog helps them keep in touch with friends and family, but all said that they write what they want (with some minor self-censorship if, for example, their mother reads their blog) and share freely.
This discussion made me wonder how other non-monetized, “lifestyle” bloggers feel about sharing with friends and family. Do most keep their worlds separate or are they comfortable sharing their blog… or maybe a little of both?
So, how about you?
Do you freely tell your friends and family about your blog? If you do, what has been the general response?
Have you ever censored or altered what you have written in a post knowing a specific person reads your blog?
Do you link your posts to social media? If so, do you use your personal account, or do you have a blog-specific account? What social media platforms do you use?
If you do share on social media, what has been your experience?
Has your sharing philosophy changed over the life of your blog?
Obviously, these are decisions that everyone gets to make for themselves, but I find the different approaches so interesting. I hope you’ll join the discussion and share your experiences – good or bad.
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.
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.