GratiTuesday: A Gathering of Friends

Last Saturday, I attended a mini-reunion for my high school class. Since it wasn’t one of the big ones (those that end with a “0”), the event was low-key and casual. I almost didn’t go because the high school friends I maintain regular contact with (real contact, not occasional Facebook posts) were either out of town or had other plans for the evening. Since I’m not one of those who can walk into a crowd and instantly feel at ease, I questioned whether I’d enjoy myself. Our graduating class was large – around 600 – so (I told myself) the chances were pretty good that I wouldn’t remember many of the people.

After spending some time trying to talk myself out of going, I decided – with my husband’s encouragement – that I’d at least make an appearance. If after a short amount of time I wasn’t enjoying myself, I could leave. That’s one of the nice things about being an adult that I sometimes forget… I’m the boss of me.

When I entered the venue, my first reaction was that there were a bunch of old people there. Lots of grey hair and a few extra pounds padding quite a few mid-sections. Yikes! where were my classmates? Had I walked into the wrong event? After a moment’s hesitation, I convinced myself to take one lap around the room. If I didn’t see anyone I knew, I would keep on walking out the door and back to my car.

Fortunately, before I made a complete loop, I saw a familiar face… then another … then another. Those old people I saw at first? The years started to melt away and I began to see my high school friends. Sometimes I needed to glance several times at their name tags to be sure, but they were there.

Unlike past reunions, where there were a lot of “what do you do?” questions, followed by “how many kids do you have?” most of the conversations the other night centered around hobbies, travel, and day-to-day interests. Many of us had retired or were close and, for the most part, kids had grown and flown. The people I talked to were in relatively good health, they were active and engaged, and they were focused on enjoying life.

Not a great picture but the only one I have of the evening.

I heard the word grateful spoken many times that evening. Grateful for friendships that have lasted over many years, grateful for our families, grateful for our health, grateful for the experiences we’ve enjoyed since high school, and grateful that we decided to attend this gathering of our friends.

As is often done at reunions, a list of names of classmates no longer with us was read. Each time, the list grows longer, and, in this case, two names had been added very recently. It was a sobering reminder of how precious life is and how important it is to hold our friends and our loved ones close. After the names were read, the mood shifted just a bit. I think many of us found ourselves listening a little closer to our friends’ stories, hugging them a little harder, and, most of all, hoping that we will see everyone again at our next reunion.

A New Year’s Resolution for EVERYONE

I wrote this post a couple of years ago but apparently, not everyone was paying attention because we still have issues… big issues. Here it is again with a few updates… I hope it works this time.

I gave up writing New Year’s resolutions for myself years ago. As a kid, it was kind of fun to put together a list every year but, as I got older, I came to realize that they really never amounted to much. In the end, and despite my good intentions, there were few pounds lost and no better habits gained. Yep, I was pretty much the same old me after a month or two into the new year.

So, rather than come up with resolutions just for myself, I have decided to make one big resolution for EVERYONE to share. I figure that, with us all working together, supporting each other, and gently nudging those that falter back on track, maybe, just maybe, we can succeed.

My resolution for the masses:

Don’t be Stupid

The best thing about this resolution for you is, like me, you aren’t stupid at all, so your part will be easy. Just make sure that everyone else doesn’t mess up.

Here is a list of 10 ways your fellow humans can avoid being stupid. It’s far from complete.

  1. Don’t text or talk on the phone while driving. Competent multi-tasking is a myth. Even if it wasn’t, the task of piloting a vehicle that weighs over 3,000 pounds requires complete attention. This level of stupid could end up killing someone.
  2. Same goes for drinking and driving.
  3. Don’t believe everything you read, hear, or see on the Internet – check things out. Develop a healthy skepticism. Believing that a secret child-trafficking ring operated out of a Washington pizza parlor was stupid. Thinking that there are random people following you on Facebook and that you can block them one-by-one from your search bar is stupid. Reposting these fake stories (even with the caveat “this could be a hoax, but I’m posting it just in case”) makes the poster’s stupidity evident to all 1,000 of their closest friends. Snopes.com and Factcheck.com are your friends. So are critical thinking skills.
  4. Don’t equate the accumulation of things with the building of happiness. We all like a certain amount of stuff, but chances are the good feeling we get from acquiring something new will not last. Think about acquiring experiences and accumulating memories instead. Travel, spend time with family and friends, learn a new skill.
  5. Don’t over-inflate. I’m not talking about weight here (although, it could be argued that not properly nourishing and caring for the only body we have is kind of stupid); I mean the tendency to take a small incident and inflate it into something much greater. The controversy over whatever color or design is on the seasonal Starbucks cup comes to mind, as do many stories reported on cable news. Over-inflating creates cultural distortion and promotes misinformation.
  6. Don’t miss out on glorious vistas or the witnessing of actual events because it seemed more important to take and post selfies. The magnificence of the Grand Canyon isn’t improved with duck-lipped faces in front of it.
  7. Don’t compare yourself physically to models and celebrities. Chances are that they don’t even really look like that. Photoshop and good lighting can do wonders.
  8. Don’t dig your own grave. You’ll get there soon enough as it is. Stop maintaining habits that are self-destructive, staying in relationships that are toxic, and dwelling on negative thoughts. If you like digging around in the dirt, better to plant a garden.
  9. Don’t ever pass up an opportunity to pay a sincere compliment or tell someone that you love them.
  10. Don’t forget to live your best life. Always. It’s the only one you’ll get.

Have a wonderful, safe New Year’s celebration! And, please watch out for stupid people (especially those mentioned in #1 and #2).

GratiTuesday: My Friends and Family

On each of the four Tuesdays in December, I am highlighting what I am most grateful for in 2017.

Maintaining meaningful connections with others can be a challenge once we retire. Missing are the easy social networks that work provides. Gone are the spontaneous lunches and happy hours with co-workers, and the smiles and quick conversations in the hallways. Suddenly, it is up to us to proactively manage our social lives.

Those of us who are more introverted may not be as comfortable taking the lead arranging get-togethers so it can be tempting to just stay home and read or work alone on our creative pursuits. But study after study indicates how important it is to have strong social connections as we age. Humans are not naturally solitary creatures and becoming socially isolated can be detrimental to our overall health.

I am grateful to still have a lot of childhood friends in my life. Since I live near to the community where I grew up, getting together with friends that I’ve known since grade school is not uncommon. I also have dear friends I’ve met over-the-years while working at various jobs. I am grateful that the bonds that formed while we worked together still are strong.

I am grateful for my two brothers, who I also consider my friends. I am lucky that they also gifted me two fantastic sisters-in-law, the sisters I didn’t have while growing up. I am also grateful for my extended family, including the family I gained when I married my husband. Although everyone is spread out far and wide, just knowing that we are family makes me happy.

I am also grateful for my new friends. Like many bloggers, I have discovered the unexpected bonus of acquiring blogging buddies all over the world. Although I have been lucky to meet a few face-to-face, most I have not. Regardless, I still consider many of these amazing women and men my friends, and I hope they consider me theirs.

Time spent with friends and family over this past year has enriched my life immeasurably. I am grateful to have people in my life – whether I see them often or not – who make my life richer by being my friends. I look forward to a new year with new opportunities to enjoy my friends, including those I have yet to meet.

Neighborhood Watch

I started to notice the changes about a year ago when I talked to her at neighborhood get-togethers or chatted with her when she was out walking her dog. Because I have a partial hearing loss, I first thought it was me. I must have misunderstood her words, or maybe they were muffled so I lost the context of what she was saying.

After a while, though, I started to realize that it wasn’t me. I may not have heard every word she said, but I knew that her sentences often didn’t make sense. She’d start talking about one subject and end up on another one altogether. She would forget a word and substitute another with a similar – but not equal – meaning (“big” for expensive, “little” for cheap). Every now and then she forgot the names of neighbors she had known for a long time.

Lately, other neighbors have started to talk about the changes they’ve observed. At first, we approached each other carefully because we didn’t want to set off any false alarms: “Have you noticed…?” “I’m not sure it means anything, but….” She is a well-loved neighbor; smart, funny, generous in spirit, and it breaks our hearts to see her struggling. Although an official diagnosis has yet to be made, we are pretty sure she isn’t going to get better.

Before Nancy retired, she had a high-powered job running the Special Ed program for a local school district. Although she loved her job, it was stressful, so she retired as soon as she was eligible for a pension. Not one to sit around, she filled her days with family, friends, and volunteer work. When her son and his wife had their daughter, Nancy embraced her new role as a grandmother. She happily looks after the baby several days each week and tells anyone within earshot how much she loves her granddaughter and relishes being her part-time caregiver.

Her son and daughter-in-law live fairly close and have witnessed the changes too. Although she doesn’t want to discuss it when her son tries to broach the subject, she apparently has willingly given up control of paying her bills. Her good friend and across-the-street-neighbor looks in on her regularly and helps her with once simple tasks that confuse her, like sending emails with attachments.

Her son wants her to be able to stay in her home for as long as she can. She is happy and, so far, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for a change. Fortunately, she lives in a neighborhood where everyone knows – and looks out for – each other.

So, we, the neighbors, worry and we watch. Worry for her and for her family; watch as someone we care for goes through a decline… one we are terrified to see in ourselves.

GratiTuesday: Flexgiving

I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that I miss my family’s traditional Thanksgiving celebrations. Unlike Hollywood’s version of dysfunctional families gathering for the annual angst-fest, our small family didn’t do drama or have arguments about grievances from long-ago. We all got along and enjoyed each other’s company.

My grandfather carving the turkey in 1964.

My mother and father hosted our family’s Thanksgiving dinners until it became too much of a burden for age-related reasons. At that point, my brother and his wife, who live locally, took over the duties and then raised the meal up a notch by introducing smoked turkey and prime rib to the menu. They also introduced a few of their friends to the mix and Thanksgiving became a bit livelier but still enjoyable and drama-free. My other brother and his family usually were able to make it down from northern California to join in the festivities.

Things started to change after my parents passed away. Like many families, they were the glue that held everything together and, once they were gone, my brothers and I slowly started to develop separate holiday traditions of our own. There were no discussions or explanations, we just began to move in different directions. I think we all understood that, even though we loved each other, our lives had diverged, and we had different paths we wanted to take around the holidays. The local brother and his wife have gotten very involved with their church and spend Thanksgiving with friends they have met there. My other brother and his wife usually spend the long weekend at a seaside hotel not too far from where they live.

Over the past several years, my husband and I have explored different ways to celebrate Thanksgiving. We’ve been invited to the homes of friends and we’ve invited friends to ours. We’ve traveled to be with relatives and we’ve stayed home and dined quietly on our own. Each version of a Thanksgiving celebration – big, small, home, away – has pluses and minuses but we’ve enjoyed them all.

This year, we have invited a couple of friends to join us for Thanksgiving dinner at our home. We’ll have the traditional offerings and are looking forward to a pleasant evening of good food and great conversation. Maybe next year we will find ourselves out of town – or even out of the country. But, no matter how we decide to spend the holiday each year, I am grateful for my warm memories of past celebrations, and for the flexibility to build new ones in a variety of shapes and sizes.

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: Leftovers Friends

It was my turn to host my book club last week and, as the host, it was up to me to provide the dinner and drinks. Since it’s hard to estimate how many will ultimately attend (most members still work and, unfortunately, things come up), I like to plan a main dish that can feed from 8 – 12. Casseroles fill the bill nicely, so I made baked ziti – and since I was making one, why not make two and freeze the second one?

After all the planning, shopping and meal prep, it turned out that there were only five of us that evening… and one was on a diet. As a result, not only did I have a planned-for second casserole, half of the first casserole was also uneaten. Fortunately, leftovers are welcomed in our house. Unfortunately, our freezer isn’t overly large, and it was already close to full.

It may not have been pretty… but it was yummy!

Like most people, my husband and I have a variety of types of friends. Some friendships go back a long time, others are relatively new. Some we see regularly, others are mainly Facebook or Christmas card friends. Some are occasion-specific friends, other are willing and able to participate in spontaneous adventures.

Some are friends with whom plans are made in advance, while others are happy to join us when invited over for leftovers.

These are my Leftovers Friends.

This doesn’t mean that Leftovers Friends aren’t also Facebook or Christmas card friends. They could be theater friends as well. They could be friendships from way back, or friendships made recently. What makes Leftovers Friends special is the easy comfort and acceptance they bring to the relationship.

To be sure, Leftovers Friends get invited to pre-planned get-togethers too. But, there is something about them – and the friendship – that looks beyond a less-than-pristine house, doesn’t notice a make-up free face, and doesn’t care that they are eating a meal originally meant for another occasion. The important thing is that they enjoy your company and you enjoy theirs. Throw in a decent meal and a bottle of wine (also left over from the book club meeting) and it’s even better.

I am grateful for all of my friends, but Leftovers Friends are the first I think of when I want company with whom I can relax and be myself completely. They are the ones that don’t always require advanced plans and don’t feel any less loved when invited over to enjoy a reheated meal.

I am grateful when others consider me a Leftovers Friend too.