Desert Meet-Up

Sometimes the universe lines everything up just right. Calendars coincide, schedules align, and the weather gods exhale balmy temperatures and paint picture-perfect skies. That’s what happened last week when four bloggers got together in Palm Desert, California to enjoy each other’s company, break bread, and talk about blogging.

Donna, Janis, Kathy, Terri

Donna (Retirement Reflections) and her husband were in Palm Desert for a month-long home exchange. Kathy (SMART Living 365) didn’t have to drive too far as she lives in a community just a few miles away. Terri (Second Wind Leisure) had traveled from Sacramento to San Diego to visit friends and family over the long Veterans Day weekend. I live in San Diego and, along with Terri, was more than happy to make the 2 1/2 hour trip to the desert to participate in a meet-up with blogger friends.

When the idea for the meet-up started to form several months ago, I was enthusiastically all-in. I have had the pleasure of meeting all three women individually over the last several years so having the opportunity to interact with them at the same time was something I couldn’t pass up. I was confident that our gathering would be full of stimulating conversation, a rich source of insightful information… and a whole lot of fun.

With Donna acting as the host, we came together to learn from each other and share our love of blogging. From each of our unique experiences, opinions, concerns, and outlooks, we shared openly and honestly about a wide range of blogging-related topics, such as:

  • How do we attract active followers and encourage more comments?
  • The role social media does – or doesn’t – play in the promotion of our blogs.
  • How do we stay motivated and find new and interesting topics to write about?
  • What are our individual niches, and is it important to always stay within them?
  • How do we manage our schedules – are we spending too much screen time?

Our time together was uplifting, encouraging, inspiring… and it ended too soon. Before we parted ways, we talked about arranging a similar meet-up next year when Donna and her husband return for another home exchange. We also discussed the possibility of opening it up to other interested bloggers.

All four of us have published posts today about the meet-up from our unique perspectives. I encourage you to check each of them out and leave a comment (we all agreed that the interaction with our readers was one of the best parts of blogging).

Retirement Reflections

SMART Living 365

Second Wind Leisure

A fifth blog, Roaming About, is worth checking out too.  Although Liesbet couldn’t join this gathering, she had the opportunity to meet with Donna and Kathy a few weeks prior and she has written about her experience. (Lucky for me, Liesbet is currently house and pet sitting in San Diego, so I will get to have multiple meet-ups with her over the next few months.)

Look for more posts about the ideas and inspirations that came out of the meet-up. It was truly a special experience and one that I hope we can repeat – and build on – into the future.

GratiTuesday: Making Connections

A couple of years ago, when my husband and I had a vague idea of traveling to Oaxaca one day, we happened to meet a charming couple at a charity luncheon who told us about…

… a friend of theirs who was an expat living in Oaxaca.  They offered to ask him if he’d be willing to be a contact for us and answer any questions we might have. Their friend, David, very generously said “yes,” and he and I emailed back and forth over the next year. He was a great resource and always promptly and patiently answered our many questions. He also got us connected to…

 

Oaxaca Lending Library… Bienvenidos!

…The Oaxaca Lending Library (OLL), which is the social hub for the expat community in Oaxaca. In addition to an extensive collection of books, they offer resources, programs, events, lectures, and other valuable services. English-speaking travelers visiting Oaxaca for any length of time should make OLL one of their first stops. My husband and I enjoyed meeting several members of this welcoming, interesting, and vibrant community, including…

Marga: 91 years old and full of energy

… Marga, a 91-year-old expat who is full of energy and enthusiasm. She has traveled around the world, but loves coming back to her home in Oaxaca.

When we asked David for a recommendation of a guide/driver to hire, he told us about…

The dashing duo… Jose and Robert

… Robert and Jose, who drove us to beautiful villages and spectacular archeological sites and made our experience very personal and special. Not only did we visit some fascinating locations but, after we were finished touring, they invited us into their home.

A big part of the joy of travel is the people we meet along the way. We have been fortunate to add many new friends to our contact lists, and we’ve received – and extended – plenty of, “if you’re ever in…” invitations over the years.

I am so grateful for the connections we make and the friendships we develop as we travel about. I am also very much looking forward to connecting with friends we have yet to meet.

Friendships beyond the bond of work

There are a few very special people I’ve met through work with whom I’ve maintained contact over the years. Some I met multiple jobs ago, and others I met at my last place of employment before I retired. Although it’s not unusual to have a variety of work friends while being employed under the same roof, continuing the relationships after the commonality of work is over can be difficult. Often you discover that work was the glue. Once the glue is gone, it is easy for the bonds to separate and disappear.

The workplace friends who are still in my life are there because work was the catalyst, not the glue.

One of these friends and I had been trying to arrange a get together for a while. She still works so doesn’t have the same flexibility as I do. Finally, we were able to arrange a time and date that worked for us both. It wasn’t until we met that day that she mentioned that it was her birthday.

This is a woman with lots of friends. She also has family close by. But, she chose to spend part of her birthday with me. How nice is that?

Overlooking Balboa Park, from the top of the California Tower
Overlooking Balboa Park, from the top of the California Tower

We chose to meet in one of our city’s most beautiful parks, on what turned out to be a gorgeous fall day. A perfect place and perfect weather in which to stroll, chat, laugh, observe, confide, and just be.

We rendezvoused at about 9 a.m. and we didn’t say good-bye until around 2 p.m. We spent the day enjoying each other’s company as we wondered around the park, visited a few museums, and had a lovely lunch on an outdoor patio. Our conversation easily flowed from one subject to another and we both mentioned how nice it was to spend the day without a schedule or an agenda. Other than encouraging her to retire at the first opportunity, very little of our conversation was about work.  It was a perfect day with a dear friend.

Happy birthday, my friend!
Happy birthday, my friend!

I am lucky that I still live in the community where I grew up and spent a majority of my working life because, like many people, I find it harder to make new friends as I get older. Children naturally gravitate to each other, school often brings kindred spirits together, and most working environments encourage engagement among colleagues. Now that I am retired, it can be difficult to build a new connection beyond superficial interactions. My blogger friend, Liesbet, recently wrote about the difficulties of making friends while living a less anchored lifestyle. If I were to move and start all over, I’m not sure how well I would do.

Fortunately, at least for now, I don’t need to worry.  I just need to get more of my friends to retire so we can get together during the middle of the week.

And not talk about work.

I scream for Halloween!

Most people when asked what holiday is their favorite will pick Christmas, Hanukkah, or Thanksgiving. I have always put Halloween at the top of my list.

My brother displaying his loot.
My brother displaying his loot.

As a child, it was all about the costumes, candy, and the annual Halloween carnival held at my elementary school. A whole gang of us ghosts and goblins would trick or treat up one side of the ¾ mile route to the school, enjoy the carnival, then trick or treat on the other side of the street as we made our way home. Then, the mass ingestion of candy would begin. I’m sure our parents confiscated some of it so my brothers and I didn’t go into total sugar-comas, but for the most part what we extorted from our neighbors was all ours.

Now, as an adult, Halloween has taken on a different significance for me. I still love the costumes – on others, I rarely dress up – and I do admit buying trick or treat candy that I like so that any left overs won’t go to waist waste. My favorite part, though, are the decorations – and the scarier, the better. I can’t get enough of the skeletons, ghouls, and severed heads. One neighbor turns their front lawn into a haunted cemetery. Another, using spooky lighting, tattered draping, and eerie sounds, makes their porch appear to be the entrance to a haunted house. I don’t remember such elaborate house decorations when I was a child and, I admit, I’m a bit envious of today’s trick or treaters.

We don’t get many trick or treaters on our block anymore as most of the kids have grown up and moved on. A recent surge of babies being born in the neighborhood will hopefully change that in the future, but for now they are too young. Usually, by 6:30 or so, we have seen our last Harry Potter, witch, and Minion, and there are no more knocks at our door.

All is not lost, though because a neighbor’s house has become the spot for the adults in the hood to gather and celebrate all things Halloween. After we determine that most, if not all, of the trick or treaters are gone, we turn off our porch lights, lock our door and walk down the hill to join our neighbors. Some dress in costumes, some bring Halloween-themed edible offerings, and we all enjoy celebrating the holiday with a little Zombie Zin.

zombie-zin

GratiTuesday: The blogging community

When I first started my blog almost three years ago, I wasn’t sure what to expect beyond having an excuse to write now and then. At the time, I was approaching my retirement and I thought blogging would be a good way to work through the uncertainties I was feeling.

What I didn’t expect was that my blog would become an entrée into a community of interesting, generous, and inspiring fellow bloggers. As I got more and more comfortable with the care and feeding of my blog, I started to meet other bloggers who were on similar journeys. That led me to find still others who, although they might have been on different paths, had interesting stories to tell.

In many ways, I feel as if I can call many of the bloggers I follow – and who follow me – friends. Through our posts and our comments, we celebrate positive events, support each other through challenges, and share simple bits and pieces of our lives. If a blogger I’ve been following stops posting – either unexpectedly or with prior notice – I often feel as if I’ve lost a friend.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet face-to-face with several bloggers I follow. Each time, the transition from blog persona to actual person was easy and the conversation comfortable. The get-togethers have felt like meet ups with friends… because that’s what they were.

My most recent face-to-face meeting was with Joanne of My Life Lived Full. Several months ago, when my husband and I started to plan our road trip back east, I reached out to her to see if she’d be interested in getting together while we were in Toronto. Fortunately, she was and she generously arranged her day so we could meet for lunch.

Joanne meetup

Just as I expected, Joanne was as nice (she is Canadian, after all) and interesting in person as she is on her blog. We talked about her family (which I already felt like I had met), our travels, and a whole host of other topics. After a couple of hours of easy conversation, I was sorry when it was time to go.

I am so grateful for the community of bloggers that I have become a part of. I had no idea when I started my blog that it would provide me not only an opportunity to write, but also the chance to meet new friends from all over the world.

GratiTuesday: “As long as we are going…” travel

One of a zillion beautiful covered bridges in Vermont
One of a zillion beautiful covered bridges in Vermont

Our latest road trip adventure started with the desire to attend the yearly car club gathering. We had traveled to several of the week-long events in the past, but never further east than Colorado. If we were still working, we probably would have opted not to attend this year, given that we would only have so much vacation time available and it would be hard to justify the expense based on that.

Now that we are retired, we have started to look at trips like this in a different light. Instead of having a limited amount of time to visit just one or two destinations, we find ourselves saying, “As long as we are going…” and looking for ways to expand our trip to include more: more time for travel, more places to see.

Vermont chairs
Vermont chairs
Look... a car patty!
Look… a car patty!
Lots of opportunities to purchase maple syrup at roadside stands
Lots of opportunities to purchase maple syrup at roadside stands

 

Unfortunately our rental Hyundai didn't qualify for this drive
Unfortunately our rental Hyundai didn’t qualify for this drive

This year’s event was being held at a ski resort in upstate Vermont. My husband and I agreed that driving across the country in our car wouldn’t be the most comfortable way to go (not to mention the very limited luggage space available for a multi-week trip) so flying and renting a car seemed to make the most sense. Once this decision was made, we started to think about what else we could do and see while we were in that area of the country.

Let’s see…

  • I had never been to the eastern part Canada before, except for a day trip to the Niagara Falls when I was five.
  • My cousin lives in a small town in Vermont. He and his wife visited us about ten years ago but now they have two daughters who we had never met.
  • A childhood friend now lives with her husband on several acres in the Finger Lakes area of New York. She had been encouraging me to visit and I was curious to see why she loved living there so much.
  • We thought it would be fun to see Niagara Falls again. It had been awhile for my husband too.

After identifying all the places we wanted to see, we worked out a possible travel route and plugged in some preliminary dates. In order to do everything we wanted to do, we figured that we would need about a month – an amount of time that would have been problematic if one or both of us still worked. In fact, we would have started our planning process with the number of vacation days we had available, then figured out what we could see in that limited time.

I am so grateful that where we want to travel and what we want to do are now more important factors in our travel planning than how much time we can be gone.

As long as we are going… we might as well see as much as we can!

Little me traveling in this big, beautiful world

ChairMy husband and I recently returned from an extended road trip through southeastern Canada and the northeastern U.S.  A week-long car club gathering in Vermont was the inspiration for the trip, but we decided to add some time before and after so we could visit friends and family and explore that part of the world.

The beauty of traveling in retirement is that we can enjoy being away from home for multiple weeks without worrying asking for extra time off, missing work deadlines, or even being concerned that our being gone could jeopardize our very employment. When we return, we don’t have to hit the ground running to get back up to speed; we can ease into our comfortable routine and let our bodies readjust naturally to our native time zone.

Traveling for more than a week or two also encourages a more relaxed pace. Since we aren’t racing from one destination to another, we can take more time to experience where we currently are. This allows for more spontaneous side trips, unstructured explorations, and guiltless relaxation.

I also find that a more leisurely pace helps me to be a better observer of the world around me. Because of my blog, I often find myself filtering unique experiences, interesting sights, and general observations through my internal “I wonder if this would be an interesting post?” lens.

This trip was no exception.

The initial planning, our varied accommodations, multiple opportunities to meet with friends old and new, several “ah ha” moments, and observations about the world outside my bubble, all were noted in my travel journal and I plan to write about them over the next few weeks, beginning with my GratiTuesday post tomorrow.

Another plug for a future post: this one as part of the upcoming Cherished Blogfest which runs Friday, July 29 through Sunday, July 31. Bloggers are invited to join in and share their memories, emotions, and stories of a much-cherished object. Last year, I chose my U.S. Passport. This year’s post will be about another cherished travel-related object. If you are interested in participating in the blogfest, click on this link for more information. Even if you don’t join in, you might want to visit the various blogs and read about the much-cherished objects participants have chosen to share.