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.

Sunday Stills: The Sanctuary of Stillness

As my blog has been still for longer than I anticipated, I figured this would be a good time to join Terri’s Sunday Stills photography challenge. Her theme this week, Stillness, has a special appeal to me. I have always been more comfortable in quiet than in noise, prefer writing to talking, and, although I enjoy social interactions, I need a certain amount of solitude to recharge my batteries.

Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington.

All but one image that I’m sharing this week are from my husband’s and my travels. Although it can be a challenge to find quiet and stillness when traveling nowadays, it is possible. Sometimes you just have to get up earlier than normal.

Early morning glass on the Spokane River in Washington
San Miguel de Allende’s iconic Parroquia at 5:30 am. In a few hours, the central square will be full of people.

Other times, we get lucky and manage to find a spot that feels as if it was set aside just for us.

Desert view along the Palms to Pines Highway in Southern California.
Arches National Park… all to ourselves (for a brief moment).

I found the (not so) little gal below hanging out on a Sticks on Fire succulent plant in my yard. After weaving her beautiful web, she remains very still until some unfortunate prey blunders into her trap.

As scary as she may look, she is harmless to humans. Unfortunately, this isn’t true for the male spider. They are much smaller than the females and up to 80% are cannibalized after traversing the web to mate. That doesn’t seem very nice, but I guess she prefers to enjoy her stillness alone.

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Sunday Stills is a photography challenge hosted by Terri Webster Schrandt on her blog Second Wind Leisure Perspectives. Please visit her site to see how other bloggers have interpreted the weekly challenge or add one of your own.

Sunday Stills: Texture

When I saw this week’s Sunday Stills photo prompt topic, I knew that I wanted to participate. My first thought was to share a photo – or two, or three – of the wonderful texture found on the buildings, doors, and objects that we’ve encountered on our travels. I find old much more interesting than new, textured more intriguing than smooth. I love the peeling paint, the patina of age and weather, and the character that is created – layer upon layer – with the march of time.

Then, I remembered a woman I photographed last year in the central square in Oaxaca, Mexico and knew that would be my picture. Her clothes were typical of the older indigenous women we saw in Oaxaca: flat black shoes, a simple, long-skirted dress, and an apron… always an apron. She was quite small and stooped, and her hair – thick and wiry, mostly free of gray despite her obvious age – was worn long and braided. It was her face that intrigued me the most. Her strong features told of her Zapotec ancestry and the lines on her weathered skin was a roadmap of her life.

 

Sunday Stills is a weekly photography link-up co-hosted by my blogging friend Terri Webster Schrandt. Each week there is a new word prompt to inspire a shared photo (or photos). Follow this link to learn more about it, see other submissions, and to share your own.

Thursday Doors: Not Doors

When is a door not a door? When it is ajar.

Many of us learned this little riddle as children, right? Well, there’s another time when a door is not a door: when Norm, the host of Thursday Doors, is away on vacation.

Over that last several Thursdays, I’ve been sharing doors from my recent stay in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. San Miguel is rich in unique and beautiful doors, but it also has lovely windows, intricate iron gates, and exquisite stonework. With Norm safely off the continent (and, hopefully taking lots of pictures of the doors he finds in Italy), I thought that I would take advantage of his absence and share a few openings I found in San Miguel that aren’t really doors.

This sounds so much better in Spanish… basically it says Gated Community of the Sun.
We saw ribbons tied above windows all over San Miguel.
More ribbons… and a wooden bicycle.
Rusted iron gate.
Not the most beautiful window, but how cute is that dog?

Now, head on over to Manja’s blog to see her beautiful collection of doors. Since she is guest hosting Thursday Doors in Norm’s absence this week, you will find that cute little blue frog at the end of her post that will take you to links to see other doors… and maybe even share a few of your own.