GratiTuesday: Flexgiving

I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that I miss my family’s traditional Thanksgiving celebrations. Unlike Hollywood’s version of dysfunctional families gathering for the annual angst-fest, our small family didn’t do drama or have arguments about grievances from long-ago. We all got along and enjoyed each other’s company.

My grandfather carving the turkey in 1964.

My mother and father hosted our family’s Thanksgiving dinners until it became too much of a burden for age-related reasons. At that point, my brother and his wife, who live locally, took over the duties and then raised the meal up a notch by introducing smoked turkey and prime rib to the menu. They also introduced a few of their friends to the mix and Thanksgiving became a bit livelier but still enjoyable and drama-free. My other brother and his family usually were able to make it down from northern California to join in the festivities.

Things started to change after my parents passed away. Like many families, they were the glue that held everything together and, once they were gone, my brothers and I slowly started to develop separate holiday traditions of our own. There were no discussions or explanations, we just began to move in different directions. I think we all understood that, even though we loved each other, our lives had diverged, and we had different paths we wanted to take around the holidays. The local brother and his wife have gotten very involved with their church and spend Thanksgiving with friends they have met there. My other brother and his wife usually spend the long weekend at a seaside hotel not too far from where they live.

Over the past several years, my husband and I have explored different ways to celebrate Thanksgiving. We’ve been invited to the homes of friends and we’ve invited friends to ours. We’ve traveled to be with relatives and we’ve stayed home and dined quietly on our own. Each version of a Thanksgiving celebration – big, small, home, away – has pluses and minuses but we’ve enjoyed them all.

This year, we have invited a couple of friends to join us for Thanksgiving dinner at our home. We’ll have the traditional offerings and are looking forward to a pleasant evening of good food and great conversation. Maybe next year we will find ourselves out of town – or even out of the country. But, no matter how we decide to spend the holiday each year, I am grateful for my warm memories of past celebrations, and for the flexibility to build new ones in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Desert Meet-Up

Sometimes the universe lines everything up just right. Calendars coincide, schedules align, and the weather gods exhale balmy temperatures and paint picture-perfect skies. That’s what happened last week when four bloggers got together in Palm Desert, California to enjoy each other’s company, break bread, and talk about blogging.

Donna, Janis, Kathy, Terri

Donna (Retirement Reflections) and her husband were in Palm Desert for a month-long home exchange. Kathy (SMART Living 365) didn’t have to drive too far as she lives in a community just a few miles away. Terri (Second Wind Leisure) had traveled from Sacramento to San Diego to visit friends and family over the long Veterans Day weekend. I live in San Diego and, along with Terri, was more than happy to make the 2 1/2 hour trip to the desert to participate in a meet-up with blogger friends.

When the idea for the meet-up started to form several months ago, I was enthusiastically all-in. I have had the pleasure of meeting all three women individually over the last several years so having the opportunity to interact with them at the same time was something I couldn’t pass up. I was confident that our gathering would be full of stimulating conversation, a rich source of insightful information… and a whole lot of fun.

With Donna acting as the host, we came together to learn from each other and share our love of blogging. From each of our unique experiences, opinions, concerns, and outlooks, we shared openly and honestly about a wide range of blogging-related topics, such as:

  • How do we attract active followers and encourage more comments?
  • The role social media does – or doesn’t – play in the promotion of our blogs.
  • How do we stay motivated and find new and interesting topics to write about?
  • What are our individual niches, and is it important to always stay within them?
  • How do we manage our schedules – are we spending too much screen time?

Our time together was uplifting, encouraging, inspiring… and it ended too soon. Before we parted ways, we talked about arranging a similar meet-up next year when Donna and her husband return for another home exchange. We also discussed the possibility of opening it up to other interested bloggers.

All four of us have published posts today about the meet-up from our unique perspectives. I encourage you to check each of them out and leave a comment (we all agreed that the interaction with our readers was one of the best parts of blogging).

Retirement Reflections

SMART Living 365

Second Wind Leisure

A fifth blog, Roaming About, is worth checking out too.  Although Liesbet couldn’t join this gathering, she had the opportunity to meet with Donna and Kathy a few weeks prior and she has written about her experience. (Lucky for me, Liesbet is currently house and pet sitting in San Diego, so I will get to have multiple meet-ups with her over the next few months.)

Look for more posts about the ideas and inspirations that came out of the meet-up. It was truly a special experience and one that I hope we can repeat – and build on – into the future.

GratiTuesday: Leftovers Friends

It was my turn to host my book club last week and, as the host, it was up to me to provide the dinner and drinks. Since it’s hard to estimate how many will ultimately attend (most members still work and, unfortunately, things come up), I like to plan a main dish that can feed from 8 – 12. Casseroles fill the bill nicely, so I made baked ziti – and since I was making one, why not make two and freeze the second one?

After all the planning, shopping and meal prep, it turned out that there were only five of us that evening… and one was on a diet. As a result, not only did I have a planned-for second casserole, half of the first casserole was also uneaten. Fortunately, leftovers are welcomed in our house. Unfortunately, our freezer isn’t overly large, and it was already close to full.

It may not have been pretty… but it was yummy!

Like most people, my husband and I have a variety of types of friends. Some friendships go back a long time, others are relatively new. Some we see regularly, others are mainly Facebook or Christmas card friends. Some are occasion-specific friends, other are willing and able to participate in spontaneous adventures.

Some are friends with whom plans are made in advance, while others are happy to join us when invited over for leftovers.

These are my Leftovers Friends.

This doesn’t mean that Leftovers Friends aren’t also Facebook or Christmas card friends. They could be theater friends as well. They could be friendships from way back, or friendships made recently. What makes Leftovers Friends special is the easy comfort and acceptance they bring to the relationship.

To be sure, Leftovers Friends get invited to pre-planned get-togethers too. But, there is something about them – and the friendship – that looks beyond a less-than-pristine house, doesn’t notice a make-up free face, and doesn’t care that they are eating a meal originally meant for another occasion. The important thing is that they enjoy your company and you enjoy theirs. Throw in a decent meal and a bottle of wine (also left over from the book club meeting) and it’s even better.

I am grateful for all of my friends, but Leftovers Friends are the first I think of when I want company with whom I can relax and be myself completely. They are the ones that don’t always require advanced plans and don’t feel any less loved when invited over to enjoy a reheated meal.

I am grateful when others consider me a Leftovers Friend too.

GratiTuesday: Routine Comforts

That giant sigh of relief you may have heard this morning was my husband and me waking up to an empty home. After a week and a half of houseguests (first from his side of the family, then mine), we can now return to what is familiar and comfortable. We enjoyed having visitors, but we also love our day-to-day (some might describe them as boring) routines. Ahhhhhh.

I’ve spent my morning blissfully doing laundry, cleaning the guest bathroom, remaking the guest bed, straightening up and cleaning the kitchen and living room, and going through piles of neglected mail. These types of chores are not usually the highlights of my day but, today, I’m in my happy place.

I may venture out in the next few days (we will start to run out of leftovers eventually) but, for now, I am content to nestle in my calm, quiet, and stress-free nest.

I am grateful for our guests. They were enthusiastic, engaging, and having them encouraged us to be creative in coming up with things to do in our city. It was fun. Now that they are gone, I’m so grateful to be able to completely relax and enjoy our own company. As my husband and I settle back into our comfortable routines, I am reminded of how much I love my home, sweet, home.

The bed in the guestroom is made up and ready for visitors, just not too soon…

Life’s a Beech

This post, with a few tweaks and updates, first appeared on my blog in 2014.

Like many people our age have done, my husband and I drafted our living trust, wills, durable powers of attorney, and advance health care directives. Over the last few years, we have witnessed the rapid deterioration in the health of some family members and friends, so we wanted to get this done while we are both in good physical and mental health. We do what we can to stay healthy but we don’t fool ourselves into thinking it can’t happen to us. Even if we live to 90 or beyond, these documents will be necessary to assure that our wishes are carried out.

Creating these documents was serious and time-consuming. There were a lot of details to think about and financial decisions to be made. I found the most enjoyable part of the process was determining where our assets will go once we were both gone. Since we have no children, we happily specified a few charities that are near and dear to our hearts. One decision that I had difficulty with was deciding what I want done with my remains. Although cremation is a given, where do I want my ashes to go?

When my mother passed away in 2000, I was relieved to discover that she and my father had made funeral arrangements many years previously. Because of this, my brothers and I weren’t faced with the burden of trying to guess what she would have wanted. It was a generous and loving act that we appreciated again when my father died several years later. Their ashes now lay side-by-side in a columbarium overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

After doing some research, I found the answer to my dilemma: tree urns. Planting commemorative trees is a practice that has been around for a while, but I discovered that there is a way I can actually become part of a tree once I am gone.

There are several companies that sell these urns, which contain all the items necessary for the process (“just add ashes!”): Bios Urns, EterniTrees, Spirit Trees, Peotrees, are a few that I found. The prices vary, but the concept is pretty much the same: one’s ashes are mixed with planting soil, nutrients, and a tree seed. Since ashes contain phosphorous, they contribute to the healthy growth of the tree. How great is that?! I have always considered myself a tree-hugger, but now I can actually nourish the tree. Rather than becoming post-consumer (as in me, the consumer) waste, I can contribute healthy Co2 to the atmosphere for many years to come.

Most of the companies that sell tree urns offer a choice of seeds. Beech, maple, and oak are a few of the options listed on one website. Living – and most likely dying – in Southern California, I’d probably choose a tree that’s drought resistant. Or, maybe a citrus. A lime tree, perhaps, so my tree’s fruit could be blended into pitchers of margaritas or muddled to make a mojito.

Since we are pretty sure we can’t take it with us, my husband and I intend to spend most of our assets having fun in our retirement (sorry, designated charities), leaving just enough for a heck of a Celebration of Life party for our friends. Although I’d like to think we will leave the world a better place, most likely our names won’t be remembered by generations far into the future, nor will they be engraved on a plaque or noted in a text.

Maybe my ashes could be used to propagate a tree planted in our back yard. Becoming a tree – a symbol of eternal life in many cultures – will allow me to live on, providing some beauty, a little shade, and perhaps adding a refreshing zest to the drinks of future homeowners. I hope they will raise a toast to my memory.

GratiTuesday: Making Connections

A couple of years ago, when my husband and I had a vague idea of traveling to Oaxaca one day, we happened to meet a charming couple at a charity luncheon who told us about…

… a friend of theirs who was an expat living in Oaxaca.  They offered to ask him if he’d be willing to be a contact for us and answer any questions we might have. Their friend, David, very generously said “yes,” and he and I emailed back and forth over the next year. He was a great resource and always promptly and patiently answered our many questions. He also got us connected to…

 

Oaxaca Lending Library… Bienvenidos!

…The Oaxaca Lending Library (OLL), which is the social hub for the expat community in Oaxaca. In addition to an extensive collection of books, they offer resources, programs, events, lectures, and other valuable services. English-speaking travelers visiting Oaxaca for any length of time should make OLL one of their first stops. My husband and I enjoyed meeting several members of this welcoming, interesting, and vibrant community, including…

Marga: 91 years old and full of energy

… Marga, a 91-year-old expat who is full of energy and enthusiasm. She has traveled around the world, but loves coming back to her home in Oaxaca.

When we asked David for a recommendation of a guide/driver to hire, he told us about…

The dashing duo… Jose and Robert

… Robert and Jose, who drove us to beautiful villages and spectacular archeological sites and made our experience very personal and special. Not only did we visit some fascinating locations but, after we were finished touring, they invited us into their home.

A big part of the joy of travel is the people we meet along the way. We have been fortunate to add many new friends to our contact lists, and we’ve received – and extended – plenty of, “if you’re ever in…” invitations over the years.

I am so grateful for the connections we make and the friendships we develop as we travel about. I am also very much looking forward to connecting with friends we have yet to meet.

Hearts and Crafts of Oaxaca

Oaxaca is known for the variety and beauty of its handicrafts. Exquisite pottery, woodcarving, weaving, basketry, embroidery, and many other crafts attract collectors from all over the world. Many of the small towns and villages surrounding Oaxaca City specialize in one particular type of craft. The skills have been passed down through the generations and often the whole family takes part in the various stages of producing the art, each adding their unique creative touch.

My husband and I visited several of the artists’ villages and, in some cases, even their private homes. We found that by hiring a private driver to take us around, we were able to tailor our experience to our interests and benefit from the guide’s personal knowledge. The “one-size-fits-all” packaged tours only visit the more touristy shops (never the private homes), often spend just a short time at each stop, and (we were told) steer purchases to locations that offered the tour operators a commission.

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In addition to viewing the displays of finished products ready for sale, several of the studios we visited demonstrated how the items were made, including how dyes were created from natural sources. When we visited a shop in the village of Teotitlan del Valle, famous for their hand-woven rugs and tapestries, we were shown how a tiny insect gathered from the prickly pear cactus created the intense reds used to dye wool for weaving. Other dye sources include the indigo plant, wild marigold, pecan leaves and shells, pomegranates, and tree moss.

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Another fascinating visit was to the village of San Martín Tilcajete, which is famous for the fantastical carved wooden animals called alebrijes (al-ah-bree-hays) created there. San Martin’s – and Oaxaca’s – most famous alebrijes artists are the husband and wife team, Jacobo and Maria Angeles. Not only do they produce bright and exquisitely detailed artwork themselves, they have converted their studio into a model of community development. They employ many talented artists from their village and offer tours and demonstrations. Although the alebrijes made by Jacobo and Marie were out of our price range, they also featured beautiful – and much more affordable – carvings made by their apprentices.

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Making our tours to the outside villages even more special was having the opportunity to visit the private homes of a few of the artists. We met Conception Aguilar, whose family helps her create beautifully crafted and whimsically painted clay sculptures in their small home, and Jose Garcia Antonio, also known as “The Blind Potter,” whose large and wonderfully messy compound is a jumble of his primitive – but exquisite – ceramic art.

My husband and I aren’t big souvenir purchasers, but we did come home with a few items we fell in love with. Not only are they mementos of our travels, but we feel that buying pieces directly from those who make them is the best way to support the artisans and their families, and helps them to keep their heritage alive.