Photo101 Blogging U Challenge

I am very excited to participate in the WordPress Blogging U Photography 101 photo challenge. During the month of November (beginning tomorrow, November 3) I will be posting a photo every day on my blog; the image to be inspired by a different theme provided each day and will be tagged “Photo101.”

This dovetails nicely with my desire to work on becoming a better photographer. With focused practice and learning tips and tricks from other participants, my fingers are crossed for good results.

If you want to follow the challenge on WordPress, you can see all the participants’ submissions by tagging “Photo101” in your reader.

Greetings From the Top of the World

Mauna Kea, one of the five volcanos that form the island of Hawaii, stands 13,796 feet above sea level. From its base, which in 17,000 feet below sea level, to its peak, Mauna Kea rises over 30,000 feet – more than twice the height of Mount Everest.

The volcano’s last eruption occurred over 4600 years ago. It is currently dormant but scientists expect there is another eruption in its future. Although all of us will be long gone when this happens (it could be tens of thousands of years from now) it should be quite a show!

Because of Mauna Kea’s high altitude, dry climate, and stable airflow, its summit is home to over a dozen telescopes. It is considered one of the best locations in the world for astronomical observation.

Other than from an airplane, we don’t usually get to observe clouds from above. The view from the summit of Mauna Kea is incredible – the vista, the clouds, the sunset, and then the amazing night sky filled with stars – and I will always be grateful to have had the opportunity to see it for myself.

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Gratitude: Bloggers and Their Blogs

One of the items on my retirement “To-Do” list is to become a better photographer. I purchased a nice DSLR that I hope will help me take my photos to a level beyond the images I get from my point-and-shoot camera or my cell phone.

Despite—or, maybe because of—all the bells and whistles available to me on my new camera, I still find myself reaching for my cell phone when I want to take a picture. It is so easy to grab it and shoot. I don’t need to think about the correct aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings. The results, while not great, are usually at least acceptable. When I pick up my DSLR camera, I feel overwhelmed with all of the possible setting combinations. If I take a photo and I’m unhappy with the result, I have no idea what went wrong. If it comes out well, I am equally perplexed as to how to recreate it.

Me and Camera

Because of some upcoming trips, I feel that I can no longer ignore my “grown up” camera. I really need to learn about its features and capabilities, and what all the mysterious dials and buttons do. I must finally wrap my head around the concept that a larger f-stop number indicates a smaller aperture opening. That a bigger aperture shortens the depth of field, while a smaller aperture will bring the background and foreground equally in focus. That the shutter speed and aperture settings work together to stop or blur motion, or allow photos to be taken in very low light or in extremely bright settings. Yikes!

Where do I go to educate myself? Blogs, of course.

Just as I have favorite blogs with cooking and entertaining information, travel tips, book reviews, opinions on politics and world events, and ones that make me laugh, make me think, or just make me feel as if I’m reading a letter from a friend, I am now reading blogs to help me learn more about my camera and how to take better pictures.

I continue to be amazed at the level of information available in the blogosphere. I am in awe of the generous souls who are passionate about what they do and have worked hard to become proficient, who now take the time to share their wisdom and talent with an unseen universe of strangers. Even if they have been able to monetize their blog, or hope to do so in the future, the information is still free and available to anyone who searches for it. Granted, the content on some blogs is questionable or just plain wrong, but I have found plenty of blogs that are well-written, beautifully designed, and full of information and inspiration.

I don’t know what it is that makes someone want to share so much of their knowledge with others, but I’m very grateful that they do. Because they blog, I have become a better cook and entertainer, I have read books that otherwise I might have missed, I have learned about different parts of the world, and I have had my mind opened to various points of view. I have also “met” quite a few interesting people that I wouldn’t have if not for their blogs.

I know that whether or not I become a better photographer is up to me but I am thankful to those who have helped me gain the tools I need to improve. I consider each post a gift and I am grateful that they placed it on their blog for me to open.

Words Escape Me

Literarily.

I can be having a perfectly normal conversation with a friend when suddenly the next word I want to say will just vanish. Gone. When this happens, I flail around for a moment (hoping my friend won’t see the look of panic on my face) and then usually come up with another word or two that will more or less substitute for the one I’ve lost.

Or, I might be writing a letter, email, text, or blog post (or a report, back when I was working). Things are going great. I know what I want to say and I’m putting together a string of words that convey my intent and that are clear and coherent. Everything is flowing along. Until it stops.

Damn, what is that word I’m looking for?

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Often what I have lost isn’t an especially completed word. It could be something like “inclusive,” or “detail,” or “standards.” It’s often a word that I’ve used hundreds or even thousands of times with no problem. A word I’ve been familiar with since grade school. A word that just seconds earlier I could have effortlessly found floating among my brain cells. But, now, at the moment I need the word, it’s not coming to me.

If this happens when I’m writing, I’ll just type a big red X in its spot so I can come back to it. Usually, a few minutes later when I revisit what I’ve written, I can easily retrieve (OK, I momentarily lost that one) the elusive word, replace the X, and move on. No one is the wiser. Unfortunately, when I’m speaking, my transitory vocabulary lapses aren’t as easy to cover up.

I’m not too concerned that this affliction indicates an early-onset of dementia or other age-related brain deterioration. Although it has gotten a bit worse over the years, I’ve had this problem for as long as I can remember. I’m sure it’s one reason I’ve always preferred writing to speaking. It’s much more comfortable to deal with a big red X than it is to experience the embarrassment of becoming suddenly mute as my brain goes searching for the word I’ve lost, or, failing that, to find a reasonable substitute.

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Possibly related, but not quite the same, is my tendency to get “right” and “left” mixed up (best not to ask me for directions) or, sometimes, “yellow” and “pink.” I am fully aware of what each word means, I just say one when I mean the other. Or, I routinely forget the name for something. When I was working I had a brain stall every time I tried to find the words “case study.”  It’s a term used often in my profession but one that, for some reason, I had trouble with.

Now that I have retired and no longer need to make public presentations or utter the words “case study,” I have found that this personal peccadillo has become less of an issue for me. Fortunately, many of my friends are retired too and are less of a hurry to get anywhere. They are perfectly content to pause the conversation while I go rummaging around my cranial attic for a word that has escaped my grasp.

I, in turn, smile and nod when they go on to tell me the same story they told me last week.

The Klondike Big Inch Land Company: A Tale of Puffed Rice and Deflated Dreams

My two brothers and I are very lucky to have been raised by loving, involved parents who made sure we were well equipped to become successful adults. They made sure we studied hard in school, ate right, and we were encouraged to get plenty of exercise by playing outdoors with our friends.

But, they realized that all this may not be enough. Just having a good education, eating a healthy diet, and rocking at Kick-the-Can and Hide-and-Seek would only get us so far in the world. We needed something else, something that could give us the financial wherewithal to fund our dreams. Some parents might have purchased savings bonds for their children; others might have invested in Disney stock.

Our parents bought us land.

Well, they didn’t exactly buy us land. What they bought were boxes of Quaker Oats brand Puffed Rice. This wasn’t just any old cereal, mind you: nestled inside each box was a Deed of Land granted by the Klondike Big Inch Land Co. Inc.; specifically a deed for one square inch of land in the Yukon Territory.

Yep, I became a land baron before I was out of diapers.

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When I was old enough to truly appreciate the significance of my Deed of Land – not only for its tremendous future dollar value, but also for its ability to make my best friend jealous – I put the document in a protective plastic sleeve and placed it among my other valuable possessions. I occasionally brought it out when I wanted to dream of my future wealth or I needed to up my cred among my friends, but, for the most part, it remained tucked safely away until the day I would lay claim to my land and the prosperity it represented.

Given the significance of the document, I’m not sure how it managed to lay forgotten for many years until it was discovered when I was going through a box of childhood stuff.  There, along with my grade school class photos, Troop 202 Girl Scout sash, and Presidential Physical Fitness Award patch, was my Deed of Land.

Holding the slightly yellowed document in my hands, the dreams began again.

Maybe, over the years, someone discovered oil under my inch. Or, miners had unearthed a lucrative vein of gold running through it. Or, perhaps a developer had mistakenly built a shopping mall on my land and now I could claim a percentage of the total value (including back interest, of course). If land size inflated in the same way currency does, that square inch would now equal a whopping 8.7 square inches. Certainly that Deed of Land extracted from a cereal box many years ago would be worth a sizable sum today. Oh yeah: my ship had just come in!

Before contacting an attorney or hiring a wealth manager, I decided to do a quick Google search to get some idea of the volume of money that would soon be flowing my way. I also wasn’t quite sure where the Yukon Territory was or the location of the closest airport since I knew I’d have to venture up to the Great North to assert ownership of the square inch that was rightfully mine.

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Only it wasn’t… mine, I mean.

It was all a gimmick. What has been called one of the most successful ad campaigns in advertising history was a gimmick designed to encourage kids to pester their parents into purchasing Quaker Oats brand Puffed Rice cereal.

Back in the early 50’s, a brilliant advertising executive, Bruce Baker, developed a promotion tied to a popular Quaker Oats-sponsored radio show about Sergeant Preston of the Yukon and his trusty dog, King. Mr. Baker convinced Quaker Oats to purchase 19.11 acres on the west bank of the Yukon River for $1,000. The company divided the land into 119,870,000 square inch parcels and printed over 21 million Deeds of Land. Each one was individually stamped with a unique lot number – mine was L-595729 – and placed in boxes of cereal.

The promotion’s success went way beyond the company’s wildest dreams.  Pretty soon boxes of the bland, unexciting cereal were flying off the shelves.

Unfortunately for the millions of us now-graying kids who once dreamed of one day laying claim to our square inch of rugged paradise, the Quaker Oats never formally registered the land. The company determined that it would be a logistical nightmare to register the deeds to millions of children. Even if it could be done, it would have cost the company a fortune.

Not only do we not own our square inches now, apparently we never owned them.

To add even more insult to injury, the Klondike Big Inch Land Co., Inc. was dissolved in the 60’s and the Canadian government repossessed all the land for nonpayment of $37.20 in property taxes.

Years ago, a Quaker Oats spokesperson explained that “the deeds were not meant to have any intrinsic value, but rather to give the consumer the romantic appeal of being the owner of a square inch of land in the Yukon.”

Yeah, tell that to my lawyer.

What Is Wrong with these People?

During this past week, I witnessed four drivers run red lights. A semi, the size of a large moving van, barreled through a red light seconds before my friend and I would have entered the intersection. I observed two sedans, on two separate occasions, roll through red lights as if they were green in their direction… they were not. The fourth, a truck, actually sped up to enter the intersection on a red light. The light turned green in his direction when he was about half-way through.

I can’t say one way or another if cell phones or alcohol were involved, but all four instances happened in broad daylight. Since I don’t put a lot of miles on my car, I’m not sure if this was just a terrible week of driver inattention, or if running red lights is now so common that I witnessed only a fraction of what is regularly occurring on the roads.

A little over a year ago, I was hit by a van whose driver ran a red light and entered an intersection as I was about to make a left turn. The good news is that he “only” destroyed the front third of my car. I was shaken up but not hurt. The bad news (besides being hit in the first place), was that I was driving an electric car. Because the charging port is on the front of the car, my beloved LEAF had to be totaled since fixing it proved to be too costly.

My crunched LEAF.
My crunched LEAF.

As I was sitting in my car in the middle of the intersection, wondering what just happened, the other driver pulled to the curb and got out of his car. He was on his cell phone. I’m not proud of the words that came out of my mouth, but I was angry and my adrenaline was running on high. I realized that I could have very easily been further out into the intersection (I was the first car to enter it) which would have resulted in my injury, or worse. I was also incensed that he was on his phone since I know that they are a factor in many collisions.

He claimed that he wasn’t on the phone while he was driving, that he called his wife just after the collision happened to let her know. (Yeah, right, the very first thing I’d do if I hit someone would be to call my husband.) He told me that some pizza boxes he had stacked on his passenger seat had started to slip and, when he reached down to steady them, he missed the fact that the light had turned red. Uh-huh. Fortunately, he took full responsibility (I had several witnesses if he hadn’t) and was fully insured.   

Even though I wasn’t physically harmed in the collision (I don’t think these types of car crashes should be called “accidents”), I can tell—more than a year later—that I’ve been affected by it psychologically. I am more nervous and hyper-alert (some may call it paranoid) when I am in a car, as the driver or not. I hesitate just a little longer before entering an intersection, especially when I am the first car there. Even when all cars are stopped, clearing the way for me to go through, I scan both ways constantly as I proceed just to make sure someone (on the phone or steadying pizza boxes) doesn’t barrel through at the last minute. I don’t like the feeling of not being in control of the unknowns and “what ifs” of other drivers.

This past week, when I saw those drivers running through red as if it was green, I realize that I’m not overly paranoid at all. Because drivers feel perfectly comfortable talking on the phone, texting, watching movies, reading emails, applying makeup, and eating lunch while piloting several thousand pounds of steel down the road, we all need to be more vigilant. You can’t shield yourself 100% from gross negligence, but you can take precautions to protect yourself as much as possible.

Please be careful out there. 

Just Another Day in Paradise

I was bitten by the tiki bug at a young age.
I was bitten by the tiki bug at a young age.

I have lived in the beach culture all my life. My current home is not far from where I grew up and, even when I went away to college, I have never lived more than a few miles from the ocean. Although I haven’t sunbathed in many years, I’m sure I owe at least a few of my wrinkles—and certainly the scar on my back where they removed a cancerous spot—to the many hours I spent baking in the sun. Even now, when getting a suntan is no longer a major goal in my life—or something I desire to have at all—I still love the sand, the salt water, and – most of all – the relaxed, happy vibe of warm summer breezes and swaying palm trees.

In this spirit, my husband and I spent last Saturday afternoon enjoying all things tiki at Tiki Oasis 2014. There are many tiki-themed events in the US, but the Tiki Oasis is one of the “Big Three.” The other two are the Ohana on the Lake in Lake George, New York, and the Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I have only attended the one in San Diego, but I imagine the others are similar. 

Most of the attendees were there for the full 3-day immersion into the tiki culture which includes workshops, music, demonstrations, cocktail parties, and tours of local tiki architecture. We, on the other hand, just went for the one afternoon and enjoyed the free stuff — a great vintage car display, interesting vendor booths, an art show, and, of course, people watching.

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Who wouldn't be happy driving this van?
Who wouldn’t be happy driving this van?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For many, these events are a great excuse to put on a Hawaiian shirt and sip rum-based drinks from a coconut, but others have embraced the tiki culture completely. I find these hard core “Tikiphiles” (as they refer to themselves) both fascinating and charming. The women wore their hair in elaborate pin curls, 40’s-style make-up, and dressed in vintage Hawaiian frocks (and I’m not talking muumuus; these dresses are gorgeous and form-fitting). The men donned Hawaiian shirts, pork pie hats, and typically sported some type of facial hair. Most of the men and the women had tattoos – lots of them.

Tiki events are part kitsch, part retro, part dress-up, and all fun. Just like seeing plastic pink flamingos on someone’s front lawn, the tiki culture makes me smile. The colors are vivid, the music upbeat, and the imagery is positive. Best of all, those who embrace it don’t take themselves too seriously. They are enjoying life and harkening back to a less complicated time (whether or not it was really less complicated is immaterial, that’s how they choose to reflect it).

Part kitsch, part retro, part dress-up, all fun... in sensible shoes.
Part kitsch, part retro, part dress-up, all fun… in sensible shoes.

I imagine that a majority of the attendees have regular jobs, and the commitments and stress that go along with them. Attending tiki events allows them to step back momentarily, dress up in colorful clothes, and enjoy the company of others who love the culture as much as they do. On Monday morning, I’m sure it was back to reality for most.

After several hours of wondering around, chatting with a few attendees, and having lunch poolside, it was time to rejoin the real world. As we headed back to our car for the short drive home, we couldn’t help but be in a good mood. With all the turmoil going on in the world, it was kind of nice to “get away” for awhile and enjoy a little island fantasy.

On our way to the parking lot, we passed a car with a window sticker which read simply “Live Aloha.” Those words made me reflect on how I’m so grateful that my husband and I have been able to retire from the work-world and its related time-commitments and stress. Although we don’t have pink flamingos in our front yard or a carved tiki on the patio, we are focused on smiling often, staying healthy, and trying to live aloha every day.

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Party Nuts for Hire

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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.  

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

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.

Planning for Spontaneity

My husband and I just returned from our first post-retirement road trip. Even though we mostly stuck to our planned schedule, it was very freeing to know that, because neither of us have a job to dictate our return date, we could stay away as long as we wanted… or at least until the money ran out.

We had a terrific several weeks in northern California; in Monterey at a car club “convention,” visiting my brother and sister-in-law in the Bay Area, and spending time in Santa Cruz with my husband’s family. In fact, we had such a good time we started to plan our next trip as we drove home. Yep, I think we could get used to this!

Monterey coastline
Monterey coastline
Tasting champagne in Napa
Tasting champagne in Napa

In addition to planning our next escape, we’ve been talking about what we can do to make it easier for us to just pack and go. We want to put a few things in place now so that, when the spontaneity spark hits us or a can’t-miss-it opportunity arises, we can take off at a moment’s notice.

We’ve already made the conscious decision not to have pets because of travel. Although I miss having a dog or a cat, the freedom has been a positive tradeoff.

Our landscaping is – by design – fairly low maintenance, so we don’t need to arrange for upkeep while we were gone as long as our plants don’t have to go more than a couple of weeks without water.

Seasoned travelers have told us that it’s best not to put a vacation stop on mail and newspaper delivery because it is an alert that we will be out of town. Because of this, we have a neighbor pick up our mail and paper while we are gone. Since we provide the same service to her when she’s on vacation, it doesn’t seem like an imposition. To make things simpler and to avoid overlapping vacations, we are considering cancelling the paper completely. Our mailbox is attached to the garage wall so we want to create an opening that will allow the mail to drop directly from the box into a container inside the garage.

Ideally, we’d like to have someone stay at our house for absences lasting longer than a week or so. Not much would be required beyond simple watering and generally keeping an eye on things, but having a presence in the home would make us more comfortable while away. Although we live in a pretty safe neighborhood, this is a big city and we’d be naive to think nothing could happen.

When I was younger, single, and living in a condo with my cat, I had plenty of friends who were happy to stay in my home while I was out of town. They either lived with their parents or with roommates and welcomed the opportunity to have their own space for awhile. They enjoyed the quiet and privacy and I received cat feeding, plant watering, and house watching services. Win-win.

Fast forward a few decades and circumstances have changed. Married or not, our friends tend to be happy with their living situations so are not available to house-sit.

House swapping is something we might explore in the future, especially for longer stays, but for now—and for shorter stays—we are looking for that perfect match; someone who is pet-free, trustworthy, responsible, and who would welcome the opportunity “get way” for awhile in our home.

Hopefully we can find someone before we take off again.

So Far, So Good!

I really didn’t know what to expect of the first week my retirement. I had hoped to check several things off my to-do list as well as explore a few activities I thought I’d enjoy, but I also gave myself permission—at least during the initial few weeks—to just kind of see what happened. Ease into it slowly. No pressure.

So much to do...
So much to do…

I hadn’t envisioned that I would jam my little toe into an unmovable object hard enough that it’s been too painful to wear anything but flip-flops. It also never occurred to me that I (who NEVER gets sick) would come down with a cold bad enough that I would have stayed home from work for a couple of days, had I a job to stay home from. Neither ailment is a big deal, but they have impacted my plans enough that I am anxious to be rid of both.

I know there will be many discoveries—both good and bad—along my retirement path, but two that stand out after just over one week are:

The retirees’ mantra, “I’ve never been so busy” is true. I always figured that it was a conspiracy among retired people to say this to their still-working friends just to annoy them. But, it’s a fact! It’s not that I’m running around (actually, hobbling around) all the time – but it’s so easy to fill up the day with… stuff.

Because it’s easy to forget exactly what all that stuff was, I’ve started to write a few lines in a journal before I go to sleep so I will be able to remember the highlights a week, a month, or even years from now. I may never look at the journal entries again, but I have a feeling my future self will want to look back to see what the heck I was doing to fill up my time. Better yet, if I maintain the journal into our retirement journey, it could help me recall the name of a restaurant where we shared an amazing meal, a hotel where our room featured a breath-taking view, or the details of a once-in-a-lifetime experience we were lucky enough to have.

It’s so easy to get distracted. There are so many things I want to do; so many projects that I’d like to start or finish. Without the hard deadlines that work provides or the confines of a weekend to accomplish a task, it’s easy to start something then get distracted and move on to something else. I find myself starting something, let’s say, a blog post… then I realize that I need to water the plants… when I’m outside, I notice that our 20-year-old patio furniture needs cleaning… but, why clean it when we really should take advantage of the sales and purchase a new set… hmmm, I wonder if Costco has what we are looking for… I should check online to see… oh, there’s my half-written post… I really should finish that. (Yes, this really happened.)

Several friends have asked me how I am enjoying retirement so far. Although I try to be gentle (they are still working, after all), I have to say that I LOVE IT! I understand that it’s only been a little over a week and I’m in the honeymoon phase, but so far, I’m settling in just fine and anxious to fill my journal with tales of adventures—both big and small.

Now… which plants did I finishing watering before I got distracted?