Sunday Stills: The Silver Lining of Clouds

When I was young, my favorite summer days were those when cloudless Southern California skies promised idle afternoons baking my body at our local beaches. It wasn’t until I was older—after inflicting untold damage to my skin—that I started to truly appreciate clouds. Not only do they provide a respite from the heat and help block harmful UV rays, but they can make the sky so much more interesting to photograph.

Although one of my favorite things to photograph is the contrast of colors and shapes against a bright blue – and cloudless – sky…

… I am more often drawn to the interesting shapes and colors that clouds add to the image. Below is the same image with clouds (the original) and without (edited). I think the clouds add interest to the image, but you may prefer a clear sky. Many photo editing tools allow the original sky to be swapped for another so, even if Mother Nature offers one sky, you can choose something else.  

Looking towards San Miguel de Allende from the botanical gardens.

Sometimes cloud formations are so beautiful, they are the focus and there is little need to include much else in the image.

Have you ever seen clouds that are so perfectly situated in the sky, it’s almost if they were painted in that way?  

Ring around the sun in San Miguel de Allende.
Ring around the top spire of the Parroquia in San Miguel de Allende.

Clouds can also add interest to black and white landscape photographs. Without the puffy white clouds, the sky in both of these photos would have been dark gray and black and, I think, less interesting.

Big Island, Hawaii
Big Island, Hawaii

And, as any connoisseur of sunsets will agree, clouds – or the lack thereof – can make or break a spectacular display. After some practice, you can start to guess whether you should have your camera ready or not before the sun drops below the horizon.   

Key West, Florida
Southern California.

This week’s theme for Terri Webster Schrandt’s Sunday Stills photo challenge is Clouds and Fog. See Terri’s photographs on her blog, Second Wind Leisure.

History has its eyes on us

This is part of the poem, The Hill We Climb, by Amanda Gorman. Gorman will read this poem today at the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Gorman, 22, is continuing a tradition that includes poets such as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou, and is the youngest poet in recent memory to deliver a poem at a presidential inauguration. She is a force.

Be the Change

Here’s my latest short story to start the new year. I hope you enjoy it!

Be the Change

Crystal burrowed down into her comforter and peeked out, scanning her room. She wasn’t sure what she hoped to see, but clearly nothing had changed. The same mess of papers were scattered on the top of her dresser and yesterday’s clothes—and maybe clothes from the day before—littered her floor. Sighing her disappointment, she closed her eyes and rolled over.

At midnight, the whole world had collectively kicked 2020 to the curb. Leading up to the last day of a dreadful year, Crystal’s Facebook feed had been full of words of hope and clever memes heralding the dawn of a healthier, happier, kinder year. Crystal had her doubts, but she was willing to play along.

As she debated the merits of staying in bed where it was warm and cozy versus getting up and starting her day, Crystal’s mind drifted to her best friend, Annie, and the huge argument they had two weeks before. The force and ugliness of the words that were exchanged still stung but Crystal felt a satisfying comfort as she basked in her righteousness. A friendship that began in college was most likely finished.

When the need for coffee won over the warmth of her bed, Crystal threw back her covers and shook her head, trying to clear it of the unpleasant memory. If Annie was so pigheaded that she adamantly dismissed the facts and figures of Crystal’s argument, then she wasn’t worth thinking about. Annie could continue on her stupid path, and Crystal would continue on hers. Screw her.

Later, as Crystal worked on her first mug of coffee, she opened her laptop to begin her morning ritual of perusing her favorite news sites. Even though she knew better, she hoped that—somehow magically—the world really had turned over a new leaf at midnight. What if, suddenly, the political discord stopped, Black lives really did start to matter, and people chose to listen to scientists over talk show hosts? Yeah, right. Her news feed looked very similar to the one from the day before. The only difference was the pictures of large, boisterous crowds ringing in the new year; unmasked and close together. Idiots.

As much as she tried not too, Crystal thought once again about her blow-up with Annie. The harsh words they said to each other couldn’t be taken back or forgotten. It was clear that Annie wasn’t the person Crystal thought she was, so maybe it was best to part ways. How could she continue to be friends with someone so obstinate?

They both had kept pretty close to home since the original lockdown in March. Each had made occasional trips to the grocery store and pharmacy, but their interactions with friends and family were only by phone, text, or Zoom. Crystal had missed seeing her friend in person, but they agreed that it was for the best—not only for their safety but, the sooner this thing was over, the sooner they could resume their lives. Crystal knew this was especially hard on Annie because she had a granddaughter that she ached to be with.

Their blow-up happened mid-December when Annie let it slip that she was planning to spend Christmas with her son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter.

“How could you do something so stupid?” Crystal asked incredulously. “You’ve sacrificed for so long and now you want to throw it all away?”

“But I need to see them,” Annie replied. “All three of them have been isolated for a week so we are pretty sure everyone is safe.”

“PRETTY SURE? What if they aren’t? What if one of them is asymptomatic? What if you get sick and end up in a hospital, alone and on a ventilator? Are you pretty sure you’ll survive?”

That was the most civil part of their argument. From there, it devolved into heated accusations, personal insults and, finally, tears. When Crystal and Annie ended their phone call, their parting words held no hope of reconciliation. Crystal spent the next two weeks nursing her anger and disappointment. How could she have been so wrong about someone she thought she knew so well?

Stop thinking about it! Crystal admonished herself. Her ex-friend was stupid, selfish, and definitely not worth her time. She had plenty of other friends to hang with when this was over.

Crystal forced herself to re-focus on the New Year news. Among the stories of continuing virus surges, political fighting, and vaccine distribution challenges, a local story caught her eye. A young boy was in the hospital clinging to life. Covid, of course, Crystal thought. But, as she continued to read, she realized it wasn’t the virus, at least not directly. The boy had attempted suicide. According to his grief-stricken parents, the months of isolation, during which he wasn’t able to be with his friends or extended family, had made him depressed. Although he was expected to survive, his parents were distraught, knowing they had to continue to keep him away from others because of underlying health conditions.

Crystal was surprised at the sudden, overwhelming sadness she felt for this family she didn’t even know. She also thought about her own solitude, that of her parents’ who lived two states away, and Annie’s desire to see her granddaughter. On this first day of a new year, at the beginning of a new decade, Crystal thought about the kindness and empathy everyone was hoping for and realized that it could start with her.

After two rings, her friend answered, “Hello?”

“Annie, this is Crystal. I am so, so sorry. Please forgive me.”

Hitting the Medicare Milestone

Just some of my fan mail.

The flood of mail started around September and hasn’t let up yet. I will turn 65 – the magical age for Medicare – in January and I’ve received at least two… or three… or more letters, brochures, and flyers a day begging me to sign up for this Medicare plan or the other.

Those of you who live in a country that considers healthcare a right for every citizen no matter what age, feel free to shake your head in pity and not read the rest of this post.

As I was perusing the various plans—and the options within each—I thought about how my upcoming birthday changes my appeal to the insurance companies. At 64, healthcare coverage on the open market is somewhat limited and very expensive. Even in good health, someone that age is viewed as a potential drain on their bottom line. But, as soon as my odometer clicks over to 65, I’m desirable again.

As far as I know, I will continue to get older and, as far as I know, the natural aging process can will eventually bring health challenges. Yet, they all want me to sign up for their plan.

I’m pretty sure the insurance companies aren’t offering me reasonably priced healthcare coverage out of the kindness of their hearts. Whatever agreement they’ve worked out with the government must benefit them financially.

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for Medicare and the comfort having good coverage brings. I just have a sneaky suspicion that it isn’t as cost-effective as it could be. Insurance companies rarely lose when negotiating with our government.

Anyway, after looking through all the options—and wondering why the heck this needs to be so complicated—we’ve made the decision that we think is best for us now. Next year, and every year going forward, we will have to reevaluate, based on our current circumstances. As we get older, I imagine this annual reevaluation will become more difficult. Call me crazy but it seems that having one plan that covers everyone would be easier to manage and less expensive.

If you, or a loved one, will turn 65 in 2021, I encourage you to start doing your homework now. There are many decisions to make and missing certain deadlines can be costly. You might feel overwhelmed and/or confused enough to want to just ignore it all together. Don’t.

Attend a few seminars if you can. Talk to your friends, family members, and colleagues. Ask how they made their decision and if they’ve found any helpful resources. One company you might want to check out is Boomer Benefits. They have a great website that contains a lot of information, answers to common questions, videos, and webinars. In addition, most areas have local Medicare insurance advisers who might be able to help you sort through the various options (at no cost to you).

Good luck and stay as healthy as you can. The best healthcare plan is the one you don’t have to use.

Thursday Doors – Christmas in San Francisco

Back in the day, when we could travel without worry, my husband and I spent part of our Christmas holiday in the beautiful city by the bay: San Francisco. One of our favorite things to do in San Francisco is to walk and, if you’ve been there you already know, that means hills… lots of hills. In fact, I read that San Francisco is considered the second hilliest city in the world, next to La Paz, Bolivia.

The wonderful thing about hills, besides the great cardio workout you get, are the views they often provide when you arrive at the top:

At the top of Lombard Street (the “crookedest street in the world”) looking towards Coit Tower.
At the summit of Telegraph Hill looking out towards Alcatraz Island.

With its sweeping views, vibrant downtown, bustling waterfront, historical neighborhoods, and eclectic architecture, as long as you are in decent shape, the city is best observed on your feet (preferably shod in sturdy walking shoes). By walking rather than driving, you will also be better able to appreciate the Victorian beauties, especially when their doors are dressed up for the holidays. No blow-up plastic Santas here; the decorations are elegant and understated. It just takes a bit of bling to make a grand impression.

It has been a couple of years since we’ve been to San Francisco, but it’s a city that will always call us back. Even though we’ve been there many times, there is always more to see.

Thursday Doors is a weekly celebration of doors hosted by Dan Antion at No Facilities. Head on over to see his collection and to see what others have shared from around the world.

Wishing you and your family a safe and happy holiday and a wonderful year ahead!

I won’t be queuing up just yet

Recently, the New York Times ran an article, Find Your Place in the Line, where you could, by entering a few bits of information, find out when you might expect to get the Covid-19 vaccine in the United States. After indicating my age, general health, and the county I live in, I discovered that I probably should tamp down my enthusiasm a bit.

There are 118.5 million people ahead of me.

Although a final sequence hasn’t been determined yet, whatever it turns out to be, I know that I will have a wait. Healthcare workers, people in nursing homes, first responders, the elderly, and those with health risks will undoubtedly be vaccinated before me.

And that’s how it should be.

But, also according to the chart, standing behind me in this virtual line are essential workers, teachers, homeless, and prisoners. It seems that at least some of these folks should be able to cut in line.  

Don’t get me wrong, I really, really want this thing to be over. I want to see my friends without distancing or masks, I want to travel, eat in restaurants, attend events, and go about my life without masks or fear. If everyone could magically get the vaccine tomorrow, I’d do it. (OK, I’m lying… I’d probably wait a month or so just to make sure there weren’t any crazy side effects).

One of the drug companies, Pfizer, expects to have about 50 million doses available by the end of 2020. Since the vaccine is administered in two doses, 28 days apart, that’s enough for 25 million people.

Did I mention that there are 118.5 million people in front of me? 

So, I won’t be putting my masks away any time soon nor will we book any non-refundable travel. But just knowing that there is light at the end of the tunnel makes any inconvenience or sacrifice easier to bear. We’ve been at this for almost nine months now. A few—or more—additional months of playing it safe will help us all find our normal again.    

A Dazzling Danse Macabre

OK, I admit that I am the jealous type. Every autumn, pictures of brightly colored foliage flood my blog and Instagram feeds and my internal green-eyed monster comes out in force. Although I enjoy living in a warm climate, those of you who live in areas with enough chill to bring out the fall colors, are showing off and I’m envious. Other than a few liquid ambers here and there, most of our trees are green year-round.  

So, in the spirit of “what about me?” I thought I’d share a few pictures of what’s happening in our front yard right now. It may not match the picturesque pigments some of you are currently enjoying, but I think it’s pretty sensational anyway.  

Our yard’s landscape is made up of mostly low-water, low-maintenance succulents and agaves. Those who may not be familiar with these plants might be picturing:

Common, and ubiquitous, crassula ovata, or jade plant.

But actually, succulents and agaves come in a dazzling array of colors, sizes, shapes, and textures. Often their foliage is multi-hued, and some have blooms that blaze even brighter than their leaves.

One of my favorites is the Blue Glow Agave. It has chalky blue-green leaves that are trimmed with a ribbon of red along its sharp margins and is especially stunning when backlit by the sun.

It’s easy to see how this agave got its name.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and one of our Blue Glows is, sadly, reaching the final chapter of its life… but what an exciting chapter it is. After sitting quietly in our yard for several years, it has suddenly begun its spectacular Danse Macabre.

At first, we noticed what looked like a greenish-blue muskrat with its head buried in the center of the plant.

September 6. What is this in the center of our agave?

As that center growth started to emerge, it began to resemble the head of an exotic bird.

September 10.

Pretty soon, the spike was just a little taller than me. 

September 21.

After reaching what appears to be its final height, a little over 11 feet tall… 

October 17.

…it began to flower along its stalk. These blossoms have become a pollination party bar for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.  

October 22.

I don’t know how long the death bloom will last—maybe a month?—but since agaves are monocarpic, eventually the plant will die and will have to be removed.

But look! Just when you might think all is lost, nestled among the plant’s leaves are a whole litter of pups waiting to be removed and replanted.

Each of these pups are waiting to be harvested and begin the cycle again.

It’s the whole circle of life playing out over a few months. The best part is that, pretty soon, I’ll have the perfect spot to plant one of the new baby Blue Glow Agaves.

Let’s see your maples, hawthorns, and aspens do that!

Do your friends know that you blog?

When I started my blog, my husband was the only one outside of the blogosphere to know. I wasn’t sure where this new adventure would take me, so I decided to keep it to myself. As time went on I started to tell a few good friends, unsure of their reaction or interest. Most were receptive and asked for the URL, a few said the equivalent of “oh, that’s nice… let’s talk about something else.” Now, after seven years, no more than ten non-blogging friends read my blog, or are even aware of it.

And that’s just fine.

Who is the woman behind this blog?

I became curious about what others do when I noticed that many of my blogging friends link to their posts on Facebook. Some had blog-specific Facebook accounts, but most just linked from their personal page. I imagine many do the same thing from other social media accounts.  

Most of the friends I have on Facebook are people I’ve known from my childhood or from my work life. Although many of them are actual friends – even close friends – not all are. Many are really just friendly acquaintances in practical terms.

I have made the choice not to link my posts. In fact, just the idea of it makes me very uncomfortable.

So, what gives? Why are some people happy to let anyone and everyone know about their blog, and others are happier keeping the worlds separate?

On a recent Zoom meeting, I asked this question of five blogger friends, and got a variety of answers. Although most of them didn’t share their blogs on social media initially, they now link their posts without hesitation. A few mentioned that their blog helps them keep in touch with friends and family, but all said that they write what they want (with some minor self-censorship if, for example, their mother reads their blog) and share freely.

This discussion made me wonder how other non-monetized, “lifestyle” bloggers feel about sharing with friends and family. Do most keep their worlds separate or are they comfortable sharing their blog… or maybe a little of both?

So, how about you?

  • Do you freely tell your friends and family about your blog? If you do, what has been the general response?
  • Have you ever censored or altered what you have written in a post knowing a specific person reads your blog?
  • Do you link your posts to social media? If so, do you use your personal account, or do you have a blog-specific account? What social media platforms do you use?
  • If you do share on social media, what has been your experience?
  • Has your sharing philosophy changed over the life of your blog?

Obviously, these are decisions that everyone gets to make for themselves, but I find the different approaches so interesting. I hope you’ll join the discussion and share your experiences – good or bad.

Don’t put off using the good stuff

Recently, as I was placing squares of blueberry cake on salad plates from our everyday dishes, I realized the proportions were off. We aren’t big dessert eaters and the small portions that I had cut looked tiny and sad surrounded by the empty white of the plates. I made a mental note to search online for some smaller options.

As you can probably imagine, the googles were full of opportunities for me to spend my money. There were solid-color plates, plates with flowers and stripes, round plates, square plates, and even triangular-shaped plates. I was trying to decide between several options when it occurred to me that I may already own just what I was looking for.

In addition to her everyday dishes, my mother had a set of Russel Wright American Modern dishes. They were what we now call mid-century modern: sleek and non-fussy, and the most luscious shade of teal blue called “seafoam.” They were brought out for holidays and celebratory occasions and occupied a special place in the heart of our family. Because I am the only daughter, it was always understood that I would inherit the set when she passed away (sorry, dear brothers, but they are mine).

I have dinner plates, salad plates, cups, saucers, salt and pepper shakers, serving platters, soup bowls, and bread plates. These dishes are beautiful, functional, warm reminders of my childhood… and I seldom use them.

It turns out that the bread plates are the perfect size for desserts.

All this got me thinking: why do we squirrel away the good stuff—dishes, silverware, jewelry, clothes—waiting for a special opportunity in the future to enjoy them? If we love these things shouldn’t we use them more often?

I understand why some items are put aside for special occasions; we think that if we use them regularly, they’d lose their specialness. On the other hand, if there are things that we love and give us pleasure, doesn’t it make sense to enjoy them more frequently?

Set your table with your favorite dishes more often. Wear that necklace you love even if you’re only running errands. Those plush towels you provide your houseguests? Use them (or better yet, buy a set for yourself). Break out that good bottle of wine you’ve been storing before it turns to vinegar.

Don’t put off using the good stuff because, at some point, it will be too late. 

Do you still think you need a special occasion to indulge yourself? Don’t forget that tomorrow is National Dogs in Politics Day. If that doesn’t work for you, certainly National No Excuses Day this Sunday is the perfect day to celebrate with your good stuff. 

Lost and Found (part 5)

(This is the final part of Lost and Found, a short story posted in five parts over five days. You can find Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 by clicking on the Short Stories and Poems tab in the menu bar.)

—–

The next morning, Eleanor attached the dog’s leash to his collar and grabbed her tote bag, mask, some tape, and the flyers she had made the night before. Originally, she planned to drive over to the housing tract but decided at the last minute to walk. “The exercise and fresh air will do us good, huh, boy?” Judging from his delighted yelps and dance around her legs, he agreed.

Eleanor knew there were just two ways in and out of the neighborhood. She planned to enter on the road nearest to her, follow the streets as they looped around through the neighborhood, and finish at the other end. She would post the flyers wherever she could and ask anyone she ran into if they knew who owned the dog.

After about a half hour of walking the neighborhood, Eleanor was almost done. She had managed to post most of her flyers and talk to several of the residents, none of whom recognized the dog. Approaching the final block, she saw a group of boys walking her way (all wearing masks, she was relieved to see). Before she could ask them if they knew the dog, they enthusiastically gathered around him and showered him with nuzzles and hugs, which he just as enthusiastically returned. Eleanor was sure this was it; they knew the dog and his owner and Eleanor would have to give him up. “Do you know the dog?” she asked quietly, already feeling an almost unbearable sense of loss.

“No, ma’am,” said one of the boys. “We see your dog sometimes when we play in the field, but we didn’t know who he belongs to. I’m glad to know that he has an owner and a home.”

Eleanor felt giddy with relief. She assured the boys that he had a good home and was well-loved. As she walked away, one of the boys called out to her, “I like how it looks like he’s wearing a mask like the rest of us. What is his name?”

“Ranger; like the Lone Ranger,” she replied over her shoulder. Then, she looked down at the little dog happily walking beside her and said, “Except you aren’t so lone, are you? You have me, and I have you.”  

A week later, just before the scheduled Zoom meeting with her son, Eleanor prepared herself and Ranger for the call. They had taken walks in the woods just about every day and, yesterday, she gathered more flowers. The vases competed with her books for table space. Her hair was loose and fluffed up like she had been wearing it lately, and Ranger was newly brushed after having had a bath that morning. She wanted everything to be perfect. “You are going to meet my son today,” she murmured as she held Ranger’s face between her palms and nuzzled her nose against his. “I’m sure he’ll love you as much as I do.”

Douglas Jr. had also been looking forward to the call. He had some news that he was anxious to share with his mother.

“Hi, Mom!” As upbeat as he tried to sound, Douglas Jr. couldn’t help feeling worried as he took in what he saw on his screen. Her living room still looked unorganized, her hair and clothes were much too casual, and her general demeanor was, well, a little erratic. “I have some good news for you!”

“Me too!” she exclaimed. “But why don’t you go first.”

Douglas Jr. took a deep breath. “My company is letting me work from home. Now that Max isn’t in school and Wendy is home full-time, we have all agreed that you should come to stay with us.” Not getting the reaction he expected, Douglas Jr. continued a bit more cautiously, “You must be getting pretty lonely in the big house all by yourself. It’s probably hard to keep up with the housework and cooking for just yourself must be boring. You won’t need to shop for your groceries and Wendy could also help you with your clothes and hair. She’s good at that type of thing.”

Rather than the enthusiastic response he hoped his announcement would receive, Douglas Jr. saw that his mother’s earlier smile had faded. “Before you tell me what you think, why don’t you share your news?”

Eleanor hesitated, taking a breath deep into her lungs and blowing it out slowly. She knew what she was going to say would surprise and, probably, disappoint her son, but she had to say it.

“I want you to meet someone special,” she began. “His name is Ranger. I was lost, and he helped to find me.”

The End

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