Adjusting Our Comfort Levels

My husband and I were very strict about our personal isolation when Covid-19 started to be a thing. We planned our meals carefully and took advantage of shopping services when we needed groceries. We limited our interactions with friends and family to phone calls, emails, texts, and this new thing we’ve all learned about called Zoom. When we ventured out back then—for a walk or a drive—it was eerie how few people we encountered.

As time has progressed and more has been learned, we have adjusted our behaviors somewhat. We are still very careful about our interactions; we avoid crowds and don’t go anywhere we can’t control our physical distance from others. Anyone who thinks this whole thing is overblown or even a hoax, isn’t someone we choose to be around.

Although we still prepare most of our meals at home—same as pre-virus—we do get take-out from a few favorite restaurants now-and-then. We’ve enjoyed several driveway happy hours with small groups of friends, and I’ve attended a couple of book club meetings held in a member’s large backyard. We now go early-morning grocery shopping a couple of times a month at a small, local store and have ventured into Home Depot once or twice for needed supplies. We still take advantage of curbside pick-up when we can but, occasionally, we need to actually enter a store (we are the ones wearing both masks and gloves).

Happy hour with neighborhood friends.

What we hadn’t done up until a couple of weeks ago, is to travel more than a few miles from home—and certainly not overnight.

Then, some good friends of ours (Kathy, of SMART Living 365, and her husband, Thom) invited us to visit them during their stay at a mountain cabin. The cabin—one they have rented every summer for many years—is located in a small community a little over two hours from our home. It is nestled among the pine trees, features a large deck and, best of all, has a guest cabin on the same piece of land—just perfect for a two-night stay.

Physically distanced, socially together.

After six months of restricted movement and limited social interactions, we decided that spending a couple of days in the mountains with—physically, but not socially distanced—friends was worth the extremely small risk. We knew that they were as careful as we are, and their generous offer came with the understanding that we’d all do what was safe and comfortable.

Kloe (can you see her?) leads the way up the hill.
Between a rock and… another rock.
The red branches and green foliage of a Manzanita tree contrasts against the clear blue sky.

After so much time staying close to home, our short mountain get-away was rejuvenating . The vistas were gorgeous, the company warm and welcoming, and the conversations lively and thought-provoking. Although these last six months haven’t been the challenge for us that so many others have faced, we found that a change of scenery, new paths to explore and, most of all, spending time with good friends, was just the balm we needed to help sooth our souls.   

happy to get away.

Desktop Travel

A few weeks ago, I wrote that my computer had died and needed to be replaced. Although I wasn’t happy about the inconvenience or expense, I have discovered a silver lining (and, don’t we all need a few extra silver linings these days).

Sometime early last year, I took on the challenge of culling and organizing my digital photos. It took me several weeks to go through them all, delete duplicates and disappointments, and finally create eight distinct topic folders under which my images could be filed. Full disclosure that one of the eight folders was titled “Miscellaneous” but… whatever. I was awfully proud of myself when I finished and have been careful to keep everything mostly organized since then.

Until…

When setting up my new computer, old files were transferred from my two back-up hard drives to my desktop. Although this was done by a “professional,” the way the transfer was made pretty much set me back to square one. Suddenly, my new computer was full of all the duplicates and disappointments I had previously gotten rid of and there were multiples of everything, including several copies of the eight organized folders.

Someone less anal and terrified of losing anything probably would have just kept one complete set of the eight folders and deleted everything else. Not me. I had to go through everything once again to be sure what I was keeping and deleting was what I wanted to keep and delete.

I have finally finished the job and the images in my Pictures folder are all organized in their correct folders. No duplicates and very few disappointments (not every photo is a winner but some of the less-than-perfect ones can still be quite loveable).

I knew the task would be time-consuming; what I didn’t expect was how uplifting it would be. I got to travel again to Cuba, Canada, and Mexico, enjoy a cross-country road trip with my girlfriend, visit the Pacific Northwest and Atlantic Northeast, tour San Francisco and Key West, and get my kicks on Route 66.  

I also was able to travel back in time and enjoy dinner parties with friends and family, summer gatherings on our deck, and celebrations – large and small – with absolutely no social distancing, masks, or BYOEverything.

It was glorious.

If you are like me and have a lot of pictures filed away on your computer, I encourage you to do some time travel of your own. Just because flights have been canceled, travel delayed, and planned get-togethers put on hold, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a trip down memory lane.

It might be a good time to organize your photos and make sure everything is backed up, too.

Thursday Doors: Grand Doors

The colonial era of Mexico, when it was known as La Nueva España or New Spain, stretched on for 300 years, from the 16th century into the 19th. During this period, the Spanish destroyed many of the original sacred temples and religious sites, replacing them with buildings that reflected the style of architecture found in Spain.

Examples of its colonial past can be found all over the city of Oaxaca. Many of these buildings have been restored and are still in use today, the churches providing daily services, and monasteries and mansions repurposed as museums, galleries, shops, and hotels. Sadly, other colonial buildings are crumbling, victims of time and neglect (not to mention several substantial earthquakes that have rattled the city over the years).

Grand buildings often have grand entrances. This week’s Thursday Doors post features some of the doors leading to Oaxaca’s colonial history.

Behind the doors of Iglesia de Santo Domingo, a wedding ceremony is just about to conclude. The performers are waiting for the doors to open so the celebration – often lasting well into the night, and even into the next day – can begin.

The Basilica de la Senora de Soledad  – built between 1682 and 1690 – featured grand doors leading to other grand doors.

A side door of the Templo de San Matías Jalatlaco. I was tempted to remove the little white sign before I took this picture, but was afraid I’d be struck by lightning.

This church was rather simple compared to many of the huge stone churches in Oaxaca, but that’s probably why I liked it so much… that and its lovely iron gate.

The magnificent Teatro Macadonio Alcala hosts performances ranginging from operas to plays and classical concerts. My husband and I attended a performance of Madama Butterfly, which is set in Japan, live-streamed from the Met in New York, sung in Italian with Spanish subtitles. What a world.

Thursday Doors is a link-up of fellow door aficionados generously hosted by Norm Frampton. Head over to his blog to view all the amazing doors he and others have posted.

Thursday Doors: Aging Doors

Last week, I shared photos from our recent trip to Oaxaca, Mexico of doors that were bright and colorful. Although I am drawn to vibrant colors and bold contrasts, I also appreciate doors that aren’t quite so pristine. Some are fashioned from a hodgepodge of materials, some show the natural patina of time and weather, and some have been sealed off, no longer used for their original purpose. (I’m pretty sure an analogy can be made to our human aging process, but I won’t go there.)

Like so many gates and doors we saw in Oaxaca, I really wanted to see what was on the other side of these:

This next one is for Dan, who likes his Coronas served with a wedge of lime:

Although the actual door isn’t visible, I love the aging art that surrounds it:

Doors that no longer open:

Thursday Doors is a link-up of fellow door aficionados generously hosted by Norm Frampton. Head over to his blog to view all the amazing doors he and others have posted.

Thursday Doors: Vibrant Oaxaca

Just as it was two years ago when we first traveled to Oaxaca, a good number of the pictures I took on our recent trip were of the beautiful and varied doors we saw. Colorful doors that hint at equally artistic interiors; grand doors of churches and historic buildings; decaying doors that wear the patina of time; iron gates and open portals that invite you to step inside. The doors found in Mexico are rich in color, diversity, and history – just like the country itself.

The first set of doors were among the most colorful ones in my collection. Either the door itself was painted a vibrant hue, or it was surrounded by colorful frames and walls.

A close-up of the door knocker

Thursday Doors is a link-up of fellow door aficionados generously hosted by Norm Frampton. Head over to his blog to view all the amazing doors he and others have posted.

Adios Mexico, Hello Home

Santo Domingo at sunset

After six weeks in Oaxaca, Mexico, my husband and I arrived home yesterday. We always have mixed feelings when we end a trip; sad to leave the people, sights, and sounds we’ve enjoyed on our travels; happy to get back to our home, friends, and our familiar routines.

Once I’ve had some time to organize my pictures and re-read my travel journal, I’m sure I’ll have a few more blog posts about our experience. But first, while the trip is fresh in my mind, here is what I already miss about Oaxaca, and a few things that I’m happy to enjoy now that we’re home, sweet, home.

What I’ll Miss

Friendly Faces. The people in Oaxaca – both the native population and the expats – are warm and welcoming. Most people smile as they pass, often saying Buenos Dias, Buenas Tardes, or Buenas Noches, depending on the time of day.

Wonderful Food. Oaxaca is known internationally for its delicious cuisine, and most of it is very affordable.

Chili Relleno served with squash blossoms… yum!

Walkability. We didn’t have a car and didn’t miss it in the least. Just about everywhere we wanted to go, we could walk. Bonus: despite the copious amounts of food we consumed, we both lost a few pounds.

Free, Live Music. It was a rare day that we didn’t encounter music on the streets or in the parks. A well-known singer performing for a large crowd in an outdoor auditorium, a symphony orchestra playing in the central square, a band playing dance music, a guitar and maracas trio, students practicing their drum and bugle music; music is everywhere in Oaxaca.

Celebrations. Weddings, quinceaneras, birthdays, anniversaries, who-knows-what saint’s day; they are all joyously celebrated. And, often, everyone is invited – maybe not to the actual service, but once the celebration spills onto the streets, the more, the merrier.

Art. It’s everywhere. The churches and historical buildings are gorgeous, museums and galleries are abundant, homes and business are brightly painted, murals adorn many of the walls, and local artisans display their creativity in shops and on the streets.

Wouldn’t you love to come home to this mural every day?

Colorful Money. Pesos put our boring greenbacks to shame.

Pretty pesos

Exchange Rate. Right now, the dollar is very strong, and our money went far.

Weather. Mid-seventies to low eighties during the day, cool – but not cold – in the evening

Laundry Service. Our apartment didn’t have a washer/dryer so we took everything to one of the many lavanderias around town. For 20 pesos (about a dollar) per kilogram, they washed, dried, and folded our clothes. They even folded our underwear… I never fold our underwear.

What I Love About Being Home

What’s Familiar. Our house, our neighborhood, our friends, our food, our routine.

What’s Easier.  Being fluent in the native language, drinking water out of the tap, being able to put toilet paper in the toilet.

Wherever we travel – whether around the United States or to another country – we love to embrace all that is delightful and unique about the places we visit. And, whether we are gone a few days, a few weeks, or longer, as sorry as we are to say good-bye, we always appreciate returning to that special place we call home.

Sunday Stills: Pets in this life… and the next

In addition to the human skeletons that are ubiquitous during Oaxaca’s Day of the Dead celebrations, dogs and other animals are also represented in the colorful murals and sculptures found all over town.

Xoloitzcuintli (pronounced show-low-eats-queen-tlee), also known as Xolos or Mexican hairless dogs, are believed to play a special role in the afterlife. They are revered as spirit guides that help us journey from this world to the next. If you’ve seen the movie Coco, you might remember Dante as the Xolo who accompanied the little boy to the land of the dead.

Here are a few of the creative representations of the animals we’ve seen on our Oaxaca wanderings.

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Hop on over to Second Wind Leisure Perspectives to read about the joys of adopting older animals and to see pictures of Terri’s beloved dogs. You can also click on links to other blog posts on this week’s photo prompt, All About Pets. Feel free to join the paw-ty with your own post about the animals in your life.

Useful Travel Hacks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday Doors: Vancouver Island

I’m not sure the full blame rests on Norm’s* shoulders, but it has become extremely difficult to travel to a new area and not look for interesting doors to photograph. On our recent trip to Vancouver Island, Canada, I was concerned at first that I may not have any doors to show for our efforts. Afterall, is a vacation without any pictures of eye-catching doors really a success? I think not.

Fortunately, the dearth of interesting doors that we first experienced was remedied when we drove to the northeastern end of the Island. The small communities of Port Hardy and Port Rupert are infused with the rich history and proud traditions of the Kwakiuti First Nation. There, we found beautiful art, traditional crafts, intricately carved totem poles, and yes, doors worthy of a Thursday Doors post.

Big House door in Fort Rupert.

I think this building was a school. 

A very different array of doors were waiting for us at the southern tip of the Island in Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia. We have visited Victoria before and – being July – the main waterfront area was overrun by tourists. So, we decided to head in the opposite direction to see what we could find

Our first stop was Fisherman’s Wharf where we found a flotilla of color and whimsy. Although still touristy (but less crowded), Fisherman’s Wharf is an eclectic collection of shops and restaurants, and floating private residences. Although we were careful to respect the privacy of the people living there, who could resist admiring the brightly painted homes and, of course, taking door pictures? Not me.

Floating homes on Fisherman’s Wharf.

I love this color… sort of a pinky-red.

Lovely door… but the sign in the window (under the plant) caught my eye… beware!

Someone had some extra wood.

Wouldn’t this be a great door to come home to?

Aren’t these water taxis adorable? And, look! They have doors!

If you pass this sign, you’ve gone too far.

The rest of our walk included admiring the World’s Tallest Totem Pole (127 feet, 7 inches), discovering Mile ‘0’ of the Trans-Canada Highway (which spans the entire length of Canada – over 8,000 km), and visiting an old cemetery (which, I’ll admit, was the whole reason I suggested the walk in the first place). No doors, but indulge me in a few tourist pictures:

One very tall totem pole (that’s me at the base).

The beginning (or end, if you start in Newfoundland) of a very long highway.

I understand that cemeteries are not considered “must sees” for most tourists, but that just means they aren’t crowded… by the living, anyway.

And finally, I have to share this last door that we saw just around the corner from the Parliament Building.

It is a terribly boring door, I’ll admit… but look who works inside: The Conflict of Interest Commissioner! According to a Canadian government website, the “Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is an independent officer of the House of Commons responsible for helping appointed and elected officials prevent and avoid conflicts between their public duties and private interests.” Imagine that! A government that believes so strongly that conflicts of interest should be avoided, they have created a dedicated office to help prevent them.

I think I just fell in love with Canada a little bit more.

* Thursday Doors is a weekly celebration of doors hosted by Norm Frampton (Norm 2.0). Head on over to see his beautiful collection of doors from Kingston, Ontario and to see what others have shared from around the world.

Making Lasting Connections

It started off innocently enough. A little back and forth messaging between two bloggers. I don’t remember which one of us suggested it, but we agreed to meet for coffee at a location half-way between. You know… to talk about blogging.

Including that initial rendezvous in 2016, Donna (Retirement Reflections) and I have now managed a meet-up four years in a row. Not bad, considering we live in different countries. The first three visits were made possible because she and her husband, Richard, had an annual home exchange just a few hours from where I live in Southern California. Kathy (SMART Living 365), who also lives in the area, soon joined our little group.

Since Donna and Richard decided not to travel to Southern California this year, we changed the venue to Vancouver Island, where they live. Kathy and her husband were planning a road trip to Canada anyway, and my husband and I had a block of days on our calendar that needed filing, so plans were made.

Spending time with Donna and Kathy no longer feels like “just” a blogger meet-up. While we often discuss blogging, we have become good friends who simply enjoy each other’s company. Best of all, our husbands have happily fit right into this special friendship.

Thom, Kathy, Donna, Richard, me, and Paul.

For our recent get together in mid-July, three other bloggers joined us. Erica (Behind the Scenery), Jude (Dr. Sock Writes Here), and Ann (The Unretired Life), all of whom live on – or near – Vancouver Island, enthusiastically accepted Donna’s invitation. It was a treat to meet these interesting and accomplished women and they added unique perspectives to the discussion.

Enjoying a beautiful day talking about blogging.

Although one whole day was set aside to discuss this crazy obsession of ours, the rest of the time we enjoyed chatting, hiking, eating, chatting, seeing the sights, eating, and chatting. There may or may not have been some wine involved too.

Jude, Ann, Erica, Donna, and Kathy.

From the start, I knew the six of us women would get along just fine and have plenty to talk about. The happy surprise was how much our husbands also enjoyed themselves. That first day, while the women talked blogging, Richard kept the men busy seeing local sights and visiting a favorite lunch spot (where beer was definitely involved).

Fortunately, Paul and Richard continued to solve the world’s problems as we hiked.

Many thanks to Donna and Richard for their generous and warm hospitality. They did everything imaginable to make us feel welcome. Thanks also to Jude and her husband for hosting a delicious luncheon at their home. We also appreciated meeting a group of Donna’s women friends, who invited us to join their afternoon gathering.

I imagine some (non-bloggers) view blogging as an isolating pursuit. After all, we sit behind our screens, write for an unseen audience, and send our posts out to the interwebs, hoping someone will read them and comment. In reality, many of us have developed connections all over the world through our blogs. When those connections develop into friendships, we realize that – far from isolation – our blogs have exposed us to people and experiences we may not have otherwise known.