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June 13, 2017 / Retirementallychallenged.com

GratiTuesday: Building bridges, not walls

We had several choices of airlines and flights when we booked our travel to Oaxaca. Several of the major U.S. airlines offer flights, but all of them required stops in between and planes changes along the way. Fortunately for us, we were able to book our flight on a Mexican airline that offered a non-stop flight from the Tijuana International Airport to Oaxaca. By flying out of Tijuana rather than our city’s airport, our flight was quicker, cheaper, and only required a 5-minute walk across the border over a 390-foot-long bridge to reach the airport.

The picture is a little blurry, but so were we as we set off to board our 1:10 am flight to Oaxaca.

The Cross Border Xpress (CBX) terminal and bridge was financed by private U.S. and Mexican investors. Since its opening in 2015, an average of 4,800 passengers walk over the enclosed pedestrian skywalk each day to catch flights originating in Tijuana or return from trips to Mexico. It is believed to be to only such cross-border facility in the world.

This was the second time we have taken advantage of the CBX Bridge to fly domestically from Tijuana to another city in Mexico. Our first experience, when we flew to La Paz a year ago, went so smoothly – even with our limited Spanish language skills – that we did not hesitate to travel that way again.

I am so grateful to those with the vision – and the finances – to imagine bridges across borders rather than envision walls. Although I understand that countries have to protect their borders, by working together and extending a hand of friendship and support, mutually beneficial outcomes can be realized. The CBX Bridge is an example of collaborative thinking and long-term planning. Just what we need more of these days.

June 11, 2017 / Retirementallychallenged.com

Oaxaca’s Street Markets

The tianguis, or open-air street market, is much more than a place to buy and sell merchandise. Throughout Mexico – and maybe especially in Oaxaca – markets are a fundamental element of the cultural structure. They are where people meet and catch up on news and gossip, new babies are shown off, and young romances are kindled. Market day is a ritual that has been celebrated every week – virtually unchanged – for thousands of years. These markets are not set up for the tourists (although tourists certainly can be found there – often with their cameras, like me), they are an important component in the day-to-day lives of many of the citizens.

We were able to enjoy amazing fruit every day.

The city of Oaxaca has several tianguis that are open each day. Mercado Sanchez Pasqua, located very close to our house, was our go-to source for fruits and vegetables, as well as freshly made tamales. Just about every day, we stopped by on our way home to purchase delicious, just-picked avocados, mangos, and bananas.

Oaxaca’s original and best known market, Mercado Juarez, is housed in a huge, warehouse-like building. The energy and chaotic mix of sounds, colors, smells, textures, and shapes is an experience not to be missed. Among the multitude of stalls selling merchandise, one can find fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers, mezcal, sauces, beef, chicken, and seafood. Other stalls tempt buyers with displays of brightly colored clothing, crafts, woven bags, shoes, and blankets.

 

In addition to the markets in the city center, the Valley of Oaxaca is famous for the tianguis that each of the surrounding villages set up one day a week (each village has its designated day). These local markets not only sell the usual food, flowers, and clothing, but they also feature items that their particular village is known for, such as weavings, cheese, or wooden furniture.

Don’t forget to pick up your Chapulines (fried grasshoppers). And, yes, I tried them.

As unique and exciting as these markets are, there is some worry that they might eventually become a victim of our global society. Oaxaca now has two Walmarts and several large grocery/department stores called Chedraui (all, mercifully, outside the city center). Amazon deliveries are also available. While I understand the ease and time-savings of going to a single location for all ones needs, I fear this convenience will someday lead to the demise of the traditional street markets. A ritual that has been around for thousands of years could be made irrelevant in a few years by big box stores and the internet. That would be an unimaginatively sad and irretrievable loss.

June 8, 2017 / Retirementallychallenged.com

Slow Travel

Since we both retired, my husband and I have done quite a bit of traveling. Sometimes we take a quick drive somewhere close, other times we are away for several weeks or even a month.

Two years ago, a month-long road trip took us through several western and midwestern states, and included a journey along a good portion of Route 66. Last year, we flew to Montreal, rented a car, and traveled through parts of south eastern Canada, and the north eastern United States.

Although we thoroughly enjoyed these trips and relished visiting a lot of different places, each time we moved on we regretted not being able to stay longer and experience all that a specific location had to offer.

This time, we decided to travel in a different way, one that allowed us to slow down, breathe, and relax into life in a foreign country. For a little over five weeks, we rented a private home in Oaxaca, Mexico and enjoyed the luxury of unpacking our bags just once. The house was within walking distance to the central area: close to activity, shops, and restaurants, but far enough away to provide us with a place to enjoy our own company and recharge our batteries.

Our oasis came with a private garden.

By staying in one location for an extended period, we found that our pace slowed and our appreciation for this beautiful city and its culture was allowed to deepen and grow.  Because we weren’t on a tight schedule, we started to match – at least somewhat – our rhythm to that of the city around us.

Santa Domingo at twilight.

This isn’t to say that we didn’t take a few tours or enjoy other “touristy” pursuits – we did. But, because we knew that we had a lot of time to engage and explore, we also could make discoveries that most short-term visitors would probably miss.

What type of travel do we enjoy more? Our answer is that it really depends: it depends on the location, it depends on our curiosity level, and it depends on the time we have to devote to a particular trip.

We just returned home yesterday and I have already found my pace quickening. I have hundreds of photos to go through and pages of notes to organize. Although I promise to not share everything, I do have enough post ideas, along with pictures of doors, murals, churches, architecture, archaeological sites, celebrations, and many other delights we found in this UNESCO World Heritage city, to keep me busy for a while.

May 4, 2017 / Retirementallychallenged.com

Rockabilly Style Comes to Las Vegas

There aren’t many things that would prompt my husband and me to drive 320 miles – through boring scenery and across the desert – with the final destination being a town built on gambling, excessive partying, and staying out late (none of which we are fond of). But, the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend event, the largest rockabilly festival in the world, is well worth the trip.

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People from all over the world gather for this annual event. Some come to the Rockabilly Weekend for the cars, others come for the tattoos, many come to see and be seen, or for the vintage and kitschy merchandise, or maybe the tiki pool parties, pin-up, and burlesque, but almost all come for the music.

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The car show was great (Over 1,000, pre-1963 vehicles were on display), tattoos were both colorful and plentiful (and you could add even more ink at the event), the people-watching was stellar, you could buy just about anything from parasols to pomades, and rockabilly style ranged from sweet to sexy, but it was the music and dancing that enticed my husband and me to return to Las Vegas for this year’s event.

Although this was only our second year, Viva Las Vegas was celebrating its 20th anniversary, and they – and the attendees – really put on a show. Over 60 bands played on six stages over the 3-day weekend and when they weren’t playing, the DJs kept everyone entertained. Typically, the music started around 3:00 pm and ended well after midnight (or so the schedule said, we were long asleep by then).

 

We enjoy swing dancing and, for the most part, the music gave us a lot of opportunities to get out on the dance floor. When we weren’t dancing, we were watching others far more talented than us. Although some of the dancers were older, most were young(ish) and it was nice to see the classic dance styles being preserved. Jive, Jitterbug, Balboa, Lindy, Cha-Cha, West Coast Swing, and even some Texas Two-Step and Polka: whatever dance the music inspired.

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Besides the great music and dancing opportunities, we enjoyed watching the young men and women who love the rockabilly style and dressed to impress. Many of them wore classic 1940s clothes and had their hair styled to match (although the colors were often not those found in nature). Some dressed that way just for the weekend, but others had clearly committed themselves to that look.

Whether we go next year or not, we haven’t decided. We have decided, though, to sign up for Lindy classes. It was a dance style that looked like a lot of fun and we want to be ready when the music moves us to get up and out on the floor.

May 2, 2017 / Retirementallychallenged.com

GratiTuesday: Unexpected delights

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I traveled to Las Vegas to attend the annual Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend event (more on that in another post). We don’t gamble and we don’t drink a lot (especially when we are dancing) so what Las Vegas is famous for doesn’t hold a great amount of appeal for us.

The weekend event is held at a hotel off The Strip so it’s easy for us to ignore the glitz and “glamor” (but, unfortunately not the cigarette smoke), and at least attempt to eat a fairly normal diet. We were happy to find a local supermarket to buy fruit, snacks, and other items we could keep in our room.

On our first visit to the market, while we were in the produce section, I was surprised and delighted to see Elvis checking out the apples. I’m not sure I would have recognized him had he not been wearing his white jumpsuit, but I’m sure that he was the real deal.

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I wish I could have gotten a better shot, but I was too shy to ask him to pose. Unfortunately, on subsequent visits, Elvis had left the building and was nowhere to be found.

Then, on our drive back to the hotel, I came across a curious scene on the center island of the street we were on.

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I’m not sure what the back story is, but a golden lion with red eyes, surrounded by 5 pink crocodiles (or, whatever they were) has to have one… don’t you think?

Some people are wowed by the noisy crowds and flashing slot machines, others by the glitzy shows and other extravaganzas Las Vegas has to offer. Us, not so much. But I am grateful for the unexpected, silly, puzzling, delightful little encounters we often find when we travel and find ourselves off the well-beaten path.

April 25, 2017 / Retirementallychallenged.com

GratiTuesday: I can hear clearly now

About twenty years ago, I started to notice that the hearing in my right ear was “off.” Sometimes I heard a crackling static and sometimes it sounded like I had water in my ear. As irritating as those symptoms were, it wasn’t until I began to experience hearing loss that I decided to see a doctor.

Long story short, I was given the diagnosis of otosclerosis (a disease of the bone surrounding the inner ear) and had a surgical procedure which removed the teeny little stapes bone and replaced it with a micro prosthesis.

All was great until about five years later, when something “slipped” and I again experienced hearing loss – this time with the added bonus of constant tinnitus.

With one fully-functioning ear and one functioning at about 40%, I have learned to adapt pretty well. I always try to position myself at a table so my good ear is facing the conversation; I am comfortable telling someone sitting on my right that I might not hear them clearly (or at all); and, I am able to ignore the constant ringing in my ear (for the most part) so it doesn’t drive me nuts. One positive outcome is that, when I sleep with my left ear on my pillow, I don’t hear such things as barking dogs, car alarms, and my husband’s snoring.

One challenge I continued to struggle with was the television. Too soft and I couldn’t hear the dialog, too loud and my husband felt that the TV was yelling at him (and, even at higher volumes, I could hear the dialog but I often still had a hard time understanding it). Add to that the way characters tend to talk over each other and the British accents on many of the shows we watch, and we often found ourselves resorting to close captioning.

Not anymore. I now have wireless headphones that allow me to hear the dialog clearly while maintaining the TV volume at a reasonable level. The brand we have is Sennheiser, but Sony and others make them too. I can adjust my own volume level separate from the television and even up and down between the right and left side. My husband is relieved that I can hear without blasting the volume or having to turn on captioning. I’m pleased that I can hear the dialog clearly. In fact, I can hear so well that I often have to repeat dialog back to him.

I am grateful that my headphones have allowed me to clearly hear the dialog on television again. Although my hearing loss started in my forties, lots of others experience it as a part of aging. There are a variety of tools available to help, and one of these days I may try a hearing aid, but right now I’m happy. I’m even thinking about re-watching the whole six seasons of Downton Abbey to hear what I missed.

April 18, 2017 / Retirementallychallenged.com

GratiTuesday: A Reunion of Friends

There is something very comforting about spending time with friends that we’ve had for a long time. They know much of our history, and we know theirs. And, even though we’ve… um… matured over the years, they still have our younger selves planted firmly in their memory banks. Additionally, a simple “remember when…?” can bring back a flood of shared experiences that often generates a laugh, a grimace, or the retelling of a beloved story.

In the 1980s I worked as a graphic designer for a subsidiary of a large publishing company. This was one of my first “real” jobs and I loved it. Most of the employees (except, of course, management) were woman – very talented and vastly underpaid women. Many of us felt that we were doing something important, whether it was designing a textbook, writing and editing copy, or providing support for the creation and distribution of our products. The culture of the company, and probably our shared youthful naiveté and enthusiasm, helped to create the sense that we were all in it together.

Over thirty years later, several of the friendships we formed back then are ongoing. Some are of the “Facebook” variety, but others are permanent and active. I count a couple of my dearest friends among this group of women – one of them was even the officiant of my wedding.

Seven years ago, several of us decided to put together a reunion of small group of these former work friends. Some of those we invited had maintained contact over the years, and others – lost in the passage of years – had to be found using social media. We weren’t sure how it would turn out, but we were excited to see everyone and reestablish a few connections. That reunion was such a success we decided to make it an annual event.

This past Saturday, we had our latest reunion/lunch/get-together/gab-fest and it was as enjoyable as ever. After catching up on the latest news in each of our lives (travels, family, work – yes, a few still work at least part-time), we spent the rest of the afternoon telling stories, laughing, and sharing information about others we knew way back when. As always, the time together passed way too quickly and, when we parted, we were already looking forward to next year’s event.

Our hostess not only put together an amazing lunch, she also managed to get us all in her selfie.

I am so grateful to have this marvelous group of women in my life. They are smart, interesting, funny, well-informed, and actively engaged in life. Even though I see several of them only once a year, all of them added richness to my life 30 years ago, and their friendship adds depth to who I am today.