I Blame Pinterest

Well, not really, but…

When did the holiday season – and especially Christmas – get so over-the-top stressful? My childhood memories of pre-Christmas preparations include buying and trimming a tree, placing decorations around the living room, and stringing lights in front of our house. Granted, most of these tasks fell to my parents, but I don’t recall a heightened sense of stress related to any of these activities.

The tree wasn’t decorated in an overall theme, nor were the trimmings color-coordinated. The ornaments were a mixture of well-loved heirlooms handed down through the generations, holiday crafts that my brothers and I made at school, and decorations that my mother bought over the years at after-Christmas sales.

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Our living room shelves and the credenza beneath it had various Santas, reindeer, and snowman decorations placed among the books and next to the TV. As Christmas cards arrived in the mail, they filled up any remaining spaces.

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The outdoor lights – the large, tear-drop shaped, multi-colored bulbs that everyone had – were strung in a straight(ish) line from the far corner of our garage, across the front of our house, then down to a couple of the bushes below.

It was pretty much the same thing every year… and we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Fast forward to the age of social media.

Friends on Facebook post pictures of perfectly decorated homes (inside and out) and lavishly prepared meals, Houzz offers a myriad of ways to accessorize our rooms for the holidays – in prices ranging from a lot to are you kidding me?, and Pinterest is bursting with photos of just the item, product, display, project, recipe, etc. that we need to purchase or create to assure our holiday is perfect.

Now, don’t misunderstand: I am not immune to the eye candy that is everywhere this season. I love to see what others have done to decorate or which appetizers, cocktails, or meals they have planned for their holiday celebrations. But, even as I admire their decorating talents (to say nothing about the off-season storage space they must have) or their creativity in the kitchen, I prefer the low-key way my husband and I choose to celebrate the holidays.

I realize that decorating every nook and cranny with just the right seasonal accessory or wowing family and guests by baking and serving a Chocolate Espresso Bûche de Noël fills some with joy. We’re just happier to eschew the tree (there really isn’t room for one anyway) and put out fewer, but well-loved, decorations. And, while we enjoy attending holiday parties given by friends who love to entertain lavishly, our get-togethers tend to be small and pretty casual.

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If I find myself grumbling about being stressed out or feeling like I don’t have enough time to do the things I “need” to do, I stop and consider how much unnecessary burden I’ve willingly put on my own shoulders. Am I doing what pleases me, or am I trying to emulate someone else’s version of the holiday? What works for one person, or one family, may not be a good fit for another.

And that’s OK.  This season isn’t about an exquisitely decorated home or perfectly prepared food, it’s about the people in our homes and those who share our food.

That’s where the memories are made.

GratiTuesday: Giving Tuesday

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Thank goodness we’ve all survived Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, (what, nothing for Sunday?), and Cyber Monday.  Today, as you may or may not know, is Giving Tuesday.

Since its launch in 2012, Giving Tuesday has been designated as a day when we can make up for the excesses of the past few days (and those coming up) by putting “our money where our hearts are.” It focuses on shifting the emphasis of the holiday season from receiving gifts to giving them to charity. In just a few years, Giving Tuesday has turned into a global movement which unites communities around the world. Last year, more than 700,000 people across 70 countries raised more than $116 million, more than double from the year before.

Although Giving Tuesday is about encouraging giving in general, the movement harnesses the power of social media (it even has its own hashtag, #GivingTuesday), to provide a platform for those interested in donating time, resources, and talent to address local challenges. Givers are encouraged to use the #GivingTuesday hashtag to share their efforts and spread the word about the day on their social media accounts.

The Giving Tuesday website provides more information about the movement and a directory to guide people to organizations, charities, events, and more in their own community. Through the website, Giving Tuesday “brings together the collective power of a unique blend of partners— nonprofits, civic organizations, businesses and corporations, as well as families and individuals—to encourage and amplify small acts of kindness.”

Whether you go through the website or give on your own, there are lots of ways to join in on this day of giving:

Donate to charity. If you have some extra money in your budget, make a donation to a charity of your choice. Or, think about rearranging your budget a bit: instead of buying that one extra Christmas present, devote those funds to a wider cause. You can stay local by giving to your community’s homeless shelter or food bank, or go national by contributing to well-known organizations, such as the American Diabetes Assn. or the Red Cross. (Be sure to check if your employer offers matching funds.)

Give a nonmonetary gift. If you don’t have room in your budget, you can give in other ways. Donate your time by volunteering at a nearby animal shelter or food kitchen. Sign up to become an organ donor. Give blood. The possibilities for good deeds are endless.

Go beyond charities. Remember that giving doesn’t have to be limited to charitable organizations. Give extra care and attention to your friends, family members and neighbors. Spend time reading to a younger relative. Volunteer to finish off a project around the house.

Most important of all, let this day of philanthropy inspire more days of giving back.

I am so grateful for individuals and organizations that offer support to those who are struggling or who need resources to serve others. Giving Tuesday is a great way to find opportunities to give locally and/or globally. And, once you’ve given whatever money, time or talent you can, don’t forget to use the #GivingTuesday hashtag and help spread the word!

Friendships beyond the bond of work

There are a few very special people I’ve met through work with whom I’ve maintained contact over the years. Some I met multiple jobs ago, and others I met at my last place of employment before I retired. Although it’s not unusual to have a variety of work friends while being employed under the same roof, continuing the relationships after the commonality of work is over can be difficult. Often you discover that work was the glue. Once the glue is gone, it is easy for the bonds to separate and disappear.

The workplace friends who are still in my life are there because work was the catalyst, not the glue.

One of these friends and I had been trying to arrange a get together for a while. She still works so doesn’t have the same flexibility as I do. Finally, we were able to arrange a time and date that worked for us both. It wasn’t until we met that day that she mentioned that it was her birthday.

This is a woman with lots of friends. She also has family close by. But, she chose to spend part of her birthday with me. How nice is that?

Overlooking Balboa Park, from the top of the California Tower
Overlooking Balboa Park, from the top of the California Tower

We chose to meet in one of our city’s most beautiful parks, on what turned out to be a gorgeous fall day. A perfect place and perfect weather in which to stroll, chat, laugh, observe, confide, and just be.

We rendezvoused at about 9 a.m. and we didn’t say good-bye until around 2 p.m. We spent the day enjoying each other’s company as we wondered around the park, visited a few museums, and had a lovely lunch on an outdoor patio. Our conversation easily flowed from one subject to another and we both mentioned how nice it was to spend the day without a schedule or an agenda. Other than encouraging her to retire at the first opportunity, very little of our conversation was about work.  It was a perfect day with a dear friend.

Happy birthday, my friend!
Happy birthday, my friend!

I am lucky that I still live in the community where I grew up and spent a majority of my working life because, like many people, I find it harder to make new friends as I get older. Children naturally gravitate to each other, school often brings kindred spirits together, and most working environments encourage engagement among colleagues. Now that I am retired, it can be difficult to build a new connection beyond superficial interactions. My blogger friend, Liesbet, recently wrote about the difficulties of making friends while living a less anchored lifestyle. If I were to move and start all over, I’m not sure how well I would do.

Fortunately, at least for now, I don’t need to worry.  I just need to get more of my friends to retire so we can get together during the middle of the week.

And not talk about work.

I scream for Halloween!

Most people when asked what holiday is their favorite will pick Christmas, Hanukkah, or Thanksgiving. I have always put Halloween at the top of my list.

My brother displaying his loot.
My brother displaying his loot.

As a child, it was all about the costumes, candy, and the annual Halloween carnival held at my elementary school. A whole gang of us ghosts and goblins would trick or treat up one side of the ¾ mile route to the school, enjoy the carnival, then trick or treat on the other side of the street as we made our way home. Then, the mass ingestion of candy would begin. I’m sure our parents confiscated some of it so my brothers and I didn’t go into total sugar-comas, but for the most part what we extorted from our neighbors was all ours.

Now, as an adult, Halloween has taken on a different significance for me. I still love the costumes – on others, I rarely dress up – and I do admit buying trick or treat candy that I like so that any left overs won’t go to waist waste. My favorite part, though, are the decorations – and the scarier, the better. I can’t get enough of the skeletons, ghouls, and severed heads. One neighbor turns their front lawn into a haunted cemetery. Another, using spooky lighting, tattered draping, and eerie sounds, makes their porch appear to be the entrance to a haunted house. I don’t remember such elaborate house decorations when I was a child and, I admit, I’m a bit envious of today’s trick or treaters.

We don’t get many trick or treaters on our block anymore as most of the kids have grown up and moved on. A recent surge of babies being born in the neighborhood will hopefully change that in the future, but for now they are too young. Usually, by 6:30 or so, we have seen our last Harry Potter, witch, and Minion, and there are no more knocks at our door.

All is not lost, though because a neighbor’s house has become the spot for the adults in the hood to gather and celebrate all things Halloween. After we determine that most, if not all, of the trick or treaters are gone, we turn off our porch lights, lock our door and walk down the hill to join our neighbors. Some dress in costumes, some bring Halloween-themed edible offerings, and we all enjoy celebrating the holiday with a little Zombie Zin.

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GratiTuesday: Another blogger meet-up

As I wrote about in an earlier post, I have had the special privilege of meeting several of my favorite bloggers face-to-face. Virtual friendships can form in the blogging community as we get to know each other by reading the bits and pieces we share over time. When the opportunity presents itself to actually meet, it is a real treat.

From the moment I “met” Donna via her blog, Retirement Reflections, I knew I liked her. In addition to having several things in common (we are about the same age, retired a few years ago, are active and enjoy traveling, and tend to view life through an optimistic lens), our differences were also interesting to me. For instance, she’s Canadian, a grandmother, and has lived overseas (I’m not, not, and haven’t).

When I learned that Donna, her husband, and dog, Cody would be staying for a month in a desert community not too far from where I live, I jumped at the chance to arrange a meet-up. Fortunately for me she was also interested and, after some back and forth picking a date, we finally managed to meet yesterday for a nice, long lunch.

So, what did we talk about? Blogging, of course!

We both agreed how nice it was to be able to talk about all the ins and outs and ups and downs of blogging with someone who was actually interested. We shared ideas, tips, frustrations, suggestions, and stories. We talked about the many bloggers we follow (were your ears burning yesterday?) and how much we appreciated everyone’s varied focus and writing styles.

We also gave each other encouragement. When I mentioned that I hadn’t been posting as often lately, Donna said that she had noticed and had been missing me (wow!). She is newer to the blogosphere than I am and is still brimming over with ideas. I, on the other hand, sometimes feel that my writing well can get a little dry. Donna helped me realize that I may have a few more things to say before Retirementally Challenged is tossed on the ever-expanding ash heap of long-forgotten blogs.

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If you don’t already follow Donna’s blog, I hope you will check it out… and follow… and comment (we both agreed that we love comments and interacting with our readers). It’s well-written, openhearted, and always interesting. After meeting her, I can say that her blog reflects her personality perfectly.

I am so grateful that I, once again, had the opportunity to meet a fellow blogger face-to-face. It is so gratifying to be able to transform a two-dimensional writer of a blog I follow into a three-dimensional friend.

GratiTuesday: My Public Broadcasting Stations

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The annual membership renewal notice for our local public broadcasting station came in the mail the other day. My husband and I have discussed our current contribution level and I think this will be the year we increase it substantially.

We usually begin our day listening to our local National Public Radio (NPR) station and, in the evening, we often watch the Public Broadcasting Station’s (PBS) NewsHour to catch up on the day’s news. When I’m driving around in my car, my radio might as well be permanently fixed on NPR because I rarely listen to anything else. In addition, we watch many of the quality shows our local PBS station broadcasts in the evening such as Downton Abbey, Sherlock, Masterpiece Theater, and anything Ken Burns produces.

Yesterday, while I was in my car running a few errands, I listened to an in-depth report on climate change, a security technologist discussing the growing threat that hacking poses, and a fascinating story about the three months Leon Trotsky spent in New York City in late 1916, early 1917. I didn’t have to put up with inane chatter or people yelling at each other, vapid commercials weren’t assaulting my ears, and I didn’t hear the same few songs played over and over again.

When I listen to NPR or watch PBS, I am always entertained and I usually learn something new; sometimes the topics are already of great interest to me and sometimes the subjects weren’t even on my radar. Either way, I always get something out of the time I spend watching or listening to this most valuable public resource.

I am so grateful for public television and radio and the diverse programs and services that are available to inform, educate, enlighten, and enrich us all. Public broadcasting stations are operated as private not-for-profit corporations and partially rely on contributions by their listeners.

I am also grateful for those who support public broadcasting.

If you haven’t given your local public broadcasting station a try, tune in sometime and see if what they offer is of value to you.

If you do watch or listen – or both – but are not yet a member, consider joining. Your support will help ensure the continued success of smart, thoughtful programming.

If you are already a member: fabulous! If you can, think about upping your level of support. Also, please consider including your local station in your estate planning so that future generations can enjoy this valuable resource too.

Vibrant Toronto

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Toronto is Canada’s biggest and busiest city, and its most diverse. Over 140 languages are spoken there and it is estimated that over half of its residents were born outside of Canada. The most populous city in Canada, it is the fourth largest city in North America (behind Mexico City, New York City, and Los Angeles).

Even knowing all of this, I found myself a little overwhelmed at first by the size and vibrancy of Toronto.

Our Airbnb was located on a side street in the downtown area, between two busy boulevards. It appeared that most of the residents of the tall apartment building were students, possibly attending the nearby Ryerson University. The flat itself was quiet and nicely appointed and, because it was up on the 21st floor, we had a nice view of the downtown.

Although we didn't sit around much, our Airbnb flat was very comfortable.
Although we didn’t sit around much, our Airbnb flat was very comfortable.

As we did during most of the other stops along our recent road trip, once we parked our car (free, off-street parking was included – a huge plus in this busy city), it remained unused for the three days we were there. We were able to get everywhere we wanted to go either on foot or using public transportation.

Dancers enjoying the Salsa Festival.
Dancers enjoying the Salsa Festival.

In addition to a high-quality outdoor art show (top picture), we were delighted to discover that there was also a food festival and a Salsa music festival taking place on the days we were in town.

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All within walking distance from our flat was Toronto’s Chinatown, the funky Kensington Market neighborhood, Old Town Toronto’s famous St. Lawrence Market, the Entertainment District, the busy Waterfront, and lots of tempting places to eat.

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Like other Canadian cities we visited, street art seemed to be everywhere in Toronto. Much of it was big and gorgeous, but there were also plenty of unauthorized contributions.

After just a three-day stay in Toronto, we felt that we hadn’t even scratched to surface of this amazing city. It’s loud and messy and crowded, but the vitality and energy is infectious. Although our travel schedule didn’t allow us to stay any longer, we agreed that a return trip – one that included much more time to explore other neighborhoods and indulge in additional culinary delights – could quite possibly be in our future.

Little me traveling in this big, beautiful world

ChairMy husband and I recently returned from an extended road trip through southeastern Canada and the northeastern U.S.  A week-long car club gathering in Vermont was the inspiration for the trip, but we decided to add some time before and after so we could visit friends and family and explore that part of the world.

The beauty of traveling in retirement is that we can enjoy being away from home for multiple weeks without worrying asking for extra time off, missing work deadlines, or even being concerned that our being gone could jeopardize our very employment. When we return, we don’t have to hit the ground running to get back up to speed; we can ease into our comfortable routine and let our bodies readjust naturally to our native time zone.

Traveling for more than a week or two also encourages a more relaxed pace. Since we aren’t racing from one destination to another, we can take more time to experience where we currently are. This allows for more spontaneous side trips, unstructured explorations, and guiltless relaxation.

I also find that a more leisurely pace helps me to be a better observer of the world around me. Because of my blog, I often find myself filtering unique experiences, interesting sights, and general observations through my internal “I wonder if this would be an interesting post?” lens.

This trip was no exception.

The initial planning, our varied accommodations, multiple opportunities to meet with friends old and new, several “ah ha” moments, and observations about the world outside my bubble, all were noted in my travel journal and I plan to write about them over the next few weeks, beginning with my GratiTuesday post tomorrow.

Another plug for a future post: this one as part of the upcoming Cherished Blogfest which runs Friday, July 29 through Sunday, July 31. Bloggers are invited to join in and share their memories, emotions, and stories of a much-cherished object. Last year, I chose my U.S. Passport. This year’s post will be about another cherished travel-related object. If you are interested in participating in the blogfest, click on this link for more information. Even if you don’t join in, you might want to visit the various blogs and read about the much-cherished objects participants have chosen to share.

Party nuts for hire

I am rerunning a few of my earlier posts over the next few weeks. This one, about missing out on fun corporate events now that we are retired, was from July, 2014.

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My husband and I worked for the same company before we retired. It is not only one of the largest employers in our city; it is also a major sponsor of a number of charitable and civic organizations.

Over the years, we have been invited to attend numerous events as company representatives. Neither one of us was high up on the corporate food chain, but when the company “bought” a table at an event and needed to fill seats, they could always rely on us to say “YES!” Not only were we enthusiastic, we didn’t need much advanced notice; he owns a tux, I have a few fancy dresses of various lengths, and we didn’t need to hire a baby sitter.

As surrogate “important people,” we’ve been fortunate to attend some really fun parties; most involved good food and wine and, if we were lucky, a band and a big dance floor. I thought it surprising that the company had a difficult time finding attendees but I realized not everyone had our flexibility or the same idea of fun. We, on the other hand, were usually ready, willing and able to fill in when asked.

One of my favorite events is a major fundraiser in support of a local hospice program.  The annual gala is held at a local resort hotel and consists of a silent auction/reception, sit-down dinner, and dancing. The following day, attendees are treated to a regatta on the bay aboard a number of personal yachts donated for the day. We’ve been invited to attend six or seven times and have always enjoyed ourselves immensely.

The fundraiser is in mid-August… for the first time in many years we have not been invited.

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I’m not terribly surprised that these invitations will disappear now that we no longer work for the company, but I admit a sense of loss and regret. Yes, of course we could actually pay for our tickets, but most of these benefits have quite a high per-person price-tag, a cost that isn’t in our retirement budget.

Because we’d still like to enjoy the good life without actually paying for it, I am exploring the idea of starting second careers as professional event attendees. We’ve got a lot to offer and we won’t ask for anything in compensation beyond the cost of admission and, of course, the food, wine and festivities that go with it.

  • Last minute need to fill seats? Our closets contain a selection of clothes for a variety of occasions. With little notice we can dress up for a formal occasion, dress down for a barbeque, or anything in between.
  • Worried that some guests might be shy and feel left out? We can make pleasant conversation with anyone. We know a little about a wide range of subjects, and we will strictly avoid the topics of religion and politics.
  • Want to assure the band isn’t playing to an empty dance floor? We can “break the ice” by being the first ones out. We are decent dancers but not so good that we’d discourage other couples from joining us on the floor.
  • Need someone to start the bidding at an auction or to deliver the first “impromptu” tribute for a guest of honor? Just tell us what needs to be done and we can start the ball rolling.
  • Party over, need people to leave? We can subtly yet firmly encourage guests to pack up and go home. We can do it seamlessly and without anyone catching on.

My husband and I can dress well enough to blend in, but not so well that we stand out. We can guarantee that our pictures won’t appear in the society columns.

No worries about us eating or drinking too much. We won’t crowd the buffet table or embarrass our hosts employers by heaping mounds of food on our plates. We also won’t run up the bar bill excessively and make fools of ourselves by over-imbibing.

We are, after all, professionals.

Although my husband and I donate regularly to a number of favorite non-profits and charities, usually the most we get in return is a sheet of pre-printed address labels or maybe a tote bag. Being professional attendees will give us the opportunity to enjoy the same events as do those who give big and who regularly eat and drink better than we do.

I think it could work. I’m going to contact our former company’s corporate giving department to let them know we are available for hire. Maybe there’s still time to get tickets to the August fundraiser.

Don’t be a Ricky

I am rerunning a few of my earlier posts over the next few weeks. This one, about loosening up and having more fun, was from April, 2014.

Several years ago, I cut out and thumbtacked to the bulletin board in my office a section of an article about relationships. The article must have contained a list of “dos” and “don’ts” because this one was labeled “No. 16.” I have no memory of numbers 1 through 15, nor any that followed Number 16, but this one stopped me mid-read, and prompted me to get up and grab my scissors.

No. 16 Don’t Be the Ricky

On the 1950’s sit-com I Love Lucy, Ricky and Lucy Ricardo had very different ways of approaching life. Lucy was always doing crazy stuff and getting into trouble. Ricky was always there to bail her out of whatever disaster she got herself into. The premise of Number 16 was that people tend to either be Rickys or Lucys.

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Rickys are practical, responsible, and live life relatively conservatively. In a relationship, they are the caretakers; the ones who make sure the bills get paid, the finances are in good shape, and plans are made and followed.

Lucys, on the other hand, are crazy, fun-loving, and charmingly irresponsible. They have a “live for today” attitude. They are the ones who are out having fun and not paying too much attention to the consequences.

Number 16 warned about being a Ricky (who is stuck being responsible) while your partner is being a Lucy (forever starry-eyed, wacky, and impractical). One person is Homer, and the other Marge. One is Hans Solo, the other Princess Leia. The message was that one was having way more fun than the other.

I have a dominant Ricky gene. My husband also is a Ricky. We know how to have fun, we enjoy being silly, we even can be pretty creative (after all, Ricky Ricardo was an accomplished singer and bandleader) but, for the most part, we have a vision of what we want to accomplish and we take the steps necessary to get there. Most likely, being Rickys throughout our working lives has helped us get where we are today: being able to retire relatively young.

That’s not to say that Lucys are all screw-ups who have great fun but are ultimately destined to be financially unsound or be dependent on Rickys to save them. Some people I love and admire are Lucys. I imagine that many brilliant multi-gazillionaires are shoot-for-the-stars Lucys. Who knows, when I decided to cut out and keep that article, if I had been more of a Lucy I may have had the crazy idea to create some sort of an online bulletin board that people could, I don’t know… maybe “pin” interesting items to. And, throwing caution to the wind, I may have sold everything and taken out ill-advised loans to fund that insanity… that I might have cleverly named Pinterest.

Ricky and Lucy5

My husband and I got where we are today by saving more than spending, economizing more than splurging. That’s not to say we haven’t had great adventures or wonderful experiences, but we have said “no” to opportunities more than we would have liked, and probably more than we needed to.

Suddenly becoming total Lucys is probably not possible or desirable. Rickyness is in our DNA, and that’s not a bad thing; it will most likely keep us out of trouble as we get older. But I think we have reached a point in our lives when we should start channeling our inner Lucys regularly. We need to say “yes” more often, seek out some crazy adventures, and do a few marvelously impractical things that may leave the Rickys out there scratching their heads.