Like a Natural Woman

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.”

Proof that I come by my blond (and fine) hair naturally… also, apparently, my taste for cookies.

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.

Day 141.

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.

Day 367.

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.

Hitting the Medicare Milestone

Just some of my fan mail.

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.

I won’t be queuing up just yet

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.    

A Dazzling Danse Macabre

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:

Common, and ubiquitous, crassula ovata, or jade plant.

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.

It’s easy to see how this agave got its name.

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.

September 6. What is this in the center of our agave?

As that center growth started to emerge, it began to resemble the head of an exotic bird.

September 10.

Pretty soon, the spike was just a little taller than me. 

September 21.

After reaching what appears to be its final height, a little over 11 feet tall… 

October 17.

…it began to flower along its stalk. These blossoms have become a pollination party bar for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.  

October 22.

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.

Each of these pups are waiting to be harvested and begin the cycle again.

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!

Do your friends know that you blog?

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.

Who is the woman behind this blog?

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.

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.