GratiTuesday: Showing Up

As most of you know, the U.S. midterm elections take place next Tuesday, November 6. I have voted in every election since I first became eligible in 1974, and I’m shocked at the number of people who don’t even bother. Of all the excuses given for sitting out an election, only one is valid: … oh, wait, none of them are valid.

Marty, who writes the terrific blog, Snakes in the Grass, recently related his experience taking part in a get-out-the-vote phone bank. Although his post mostly dealt with the humorous side of making calls in an often phone-adverse world, it reminded me that, as important as our vote is, we can all do more to encourage others to vote as well.

In addition to being grateful for all those who make the effort to understand the issues and cast their vote, volunteers who walk precincts, make phone calls, and send text messages to boost voter participation get a special dose of my gratitude.

And, if you can, please encourage a young person to vote. If they don’t think their vote matters, remind them their non-vote hands their power to someone else… and that person may not have their best interests at heart.

We all need to show up and be counted.

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As I wrote in my last post, Realigning My Retirement, my blog will be going into hibernation during the months of November and December. While on my blogging break, I won’t be visiting or commenting on the blogs that I follow and, beginning with this post, comments will be closed on my blog. It will be a challenge to stay away but I look forward to spending time on other areas of my life.

I’m truly grateful for all the kind words my post generated. I’m not surprised that many others said they are feeling a bit overwhelmed and are considering taking a break too. Blogging is a passion, but it is also time-consuming.

Enjoy the holiday season with your friends and families. I look forward to connecting back again in the new year.

GratiTuesday: Couple Friends

Enjoying the friendship of other couples is a delightful part of our marriage. I have female friends that I do gal things with and my husband has male friends he does guy things with. Although we like each other’s friends, sometimes when we’ve introduced a friend’s spouse to the mix, things haven’t clicked as well as we’d like. The spouse may be a delightful person on his or her own, but, for whatever reason, the group dynamic just doesn’t work.

When my husband and I discover a couple whose company we enjoy equally, we feel as if we’ve won the lottery. We know that when we get together as a foursome, the conversation will flow, and the time we spend together will be fun and engaging.

This past weekend, two blogging friends and I met up to discuss – what else? – blogging. This was not the first time I have gotten together with Donna from Retirement Reflections and Kathy from Smart Living 365, and I consider them good friends as well as fellow bloggers. I knew that the three of us would have plenty to talk about and I had been looking forward to our gathering for quite a while.

Kathy and her husband live in the community where we met, and Donna and her husband were staying close by in a home exchange. My husband and I drove a few hours from our home to join them for the weekend.

Knowing what wonderful husbands my friends have and knowing that my husband is pretty terrific too, I had no doubt that we’d enjoy each other’s company. What I didn’t anticipate – and was thrilled to discover – is how well all six of us meshed together. Even though blogging brought the three of us women together, I was delighted that our husbands enjoyed commonalities and mutual interests too.

Kathy and Thom, Donna and Richard, me and Paul enjoying a warm desert evening… oh, and wine.

I came away from our weekend together with much to be grateful for. I am grateful that Donna, Kathy and I were able to meet and talk about a subject that means a lot to us (more about that later). I am grateful for the generous hospitality that my husband and I were shown. Most of all, I am grateful that the six of us – husbands and wives – were able to break bread together, share our stories, and enjoy the bond of friendship.

GratiTuesday: Flu Vaccinations

The last time I had the flu was over 15 years ago. I experienced a combination of feeling like I was going to die… and thinking that dying might be a better alternative to how horrible I felt. After going through that pain and misery, I swore that I would never miss getting my flu shot again… and I haven’t.

I was shocked to read recently the over 80,000 Americans died of flu last winter… and that was a “normal” – although severe – flu season. A vast majority of those deaths – over 90 percent – were people over 65.

According to a 2015 NPR-Truven Health Analytics Health Poll, 62 percent of people either had been or intended to be vaccinated for the flu that year. Those who didn’t plan to be immunized cited a variety of reasons, including:

• 48 percent believed that a flu shot was unnecessary for them
• 16 percent were concerned about side effects or risks
• 14 percent worried that the vaccine could infect them with the flu
• 8 percent believed that the vaccination was ineffective

Each February, vaccine manufacturers make their best guess about what strains of flu will be most prevalent the following winter. Because of this, the vaccines that are shipped out in September aren’t perfect. They have ranged from a high of 60 percent effective (in 2010-11) to a low of 19 percent (2014-15). But even imperfect vaccines are better than none at all. The strains identified back in February may not be 100 percent accurate but getting vaccinated could still lessen the impact of the influenza that infects you or a loved one.

Last year, flu-related complications sent about 200,000 people to the hospital. I’m not sure how many of these people had been vaccinated but my guess is the percentage is low. Studies have shown that flu vaccinations reduce children’s risk of pediatric intensive care unit admission by 74 percent, and adults of all ages by 71 percent.

It didn’t hurt a bit!

If you or your loved one is among the almost 40 percent of those who are reluctant to get vaccinated, I hope you will reconsider. Even if the flu has never made you particularly ill, it is possible to pass it on to someone who could experience much more severe symptoms. I’ve had those symptoms. I would be most grateful never to have them again.

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.

GratiTuesday: I’d Do It Again

After thirteen years of “dating” (which included buying and remodeling a house together), my husband and I officially tied the knot in 2003. In a few days, we will celebrate our fifteenth wedding anniversary.

When we made our wedding plans, we both agreed that we didn’t want anything too formal. Neither of us are religious so a church wedding wasn’t even considered. We wanted our wedding to be a joyful gathering of friends… kind of a party during which two people happen to get married. When a neighbor offered his big, flat backyard, we knew that it would be the perfect venue.

When I look at our wedding photos, I am reminded of how much our wedding reflected our personalities… then and now. Our guests were encouraged to wear “casual, tropical attire” and our flowers, linens, and decorations were bright and colorful. Dancing began with a conga line recessional and continued into the evening to the tunes of the rocking blues band we hired.

Conga line recessional.

Many of our guests remarked that, if they were ever to get married again, this was how they would want their wedding to be. They shared that their weddings were as much (or more) about what their parents wanted as what they desired.

Me and my best friend.

Looking back on our wedding day, I am filled with gratitude. Most of all, I am grateful for the man I married. Our invitations read, “This day I will marry my friend… the one I laugh with, dream with, live for, and love.” That is just as true today as it was then. I am grateful for my memories of that glorious September day, filled with love, laughter, and dear friends. I am also grateful that, when I look back at that day, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’d do it all again, just the same.

GratiTuesday: Post Labor Days

My husband and I went to a neighbor’s Labor Day party yesterday. There were about 25 people in attendance and, by my count, over half of us were no longer working at a regular, full-time job. Some of us are officially retired (as in no longer receiving a regular paycheck) and some are involved in a few part-time, money-making ventures out of want, not need (which still qualifies as “retired” in my book).

I remember when Labor Day felt like a final hurrah before summer bid adieu. Even though the weather might still say “summer,” school and work told us different. The Labor Day parties were always fun but bitter sweet. We enjoyed the company of our friends, but we also knew that it was probably the end of outdoor gatherings for a while.

Now that we are retired, Labor Day feels more like a beginning than an end. From now on, the roads will be a little less crowded, the beaches more accessible, and businesses less busy. Just like before, the weather will still say “summer” but there will be fewer people competing for space to enjoy it.

In addition to the joy of dwindling crowds where we live, we can also take advantage of fewer crowds when we travel. What are called “shoulder seasons” – typically spring and fall – are prime travel times for those of us who no longer live by someone else’s schedule. The weather is often still nice, but the crowds are lighter and the prices cheaper.

We still have a lot of summer left and the time to enjoy every moment.

Last night at the party, the conversations we had with our neighbors and fellow retirees were full of stories of how we spent our summer and how we were planning to embrace the months ahead. We talked excitedly about travel plans we’ve made and interests we wanted to pursue, about projects we planned to work on and events we hoped to attend. What there wasn’t was any talk about school schedules, work piling up, or the end of another summer… and I think we were all grateful for that.

GratiTuesday: Delightful Discoveries

When planning a trip, especially one where we will spend a decent amount of time in one location, I often do a search on Instagram. Although guidebooks and general internet sources are fine, Instagram can be a great tool to scout unique and interesting locations. That is how I discovered Casa de las Ranas and the Chapel of Jimmy Ray, and decided we had to go.

Located a few miles outside of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, the house and gallery (which is really the entire property) is a fanciful, whimsical, and joyful celebration of color and creativity. The house, outbuildings, and grounds provide a canvas on which the fantastic mosaic and sculptural creations of owner/artist Anado McLauchlin are assembled and displayed.

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To call Anado’s and his husband Richard’s home merely colorful doesn’t do it justice. It really was more of an explosion of creativity, artistic talent, celebratory color, and love. From the moment Anado greeted us just inside his gate to when the tour ended inside their home (where we had the pleasure of meeting Richard, an art historian and professor) we were embraced by their kindness, welcoming spirit, and their joy of sharing this magical place.

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The property wasn’t easy to get to, but the trip was well worth the effort. Tours are by appointment only (anado@madebyanado.com) and not all cab drivers were aware of its existence. Once there, we arranged for the driver to come back after the tour (which lasted about two hours) since it would have been impossible to find another cab where they lived.

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During are stay in San Miguel we visited many of the locations that our Moon guidebook recommended and we very much enjoyed all that the beautiful colonial town has to offer. Sometimes, though, it was nice to get off the beaten path and be delighted by the unusual and unexpected. Casa de las Ranas and the Chapel of Jimmy Ray were a highlight of our trip and I am grateful to Anado and Richard for fully embracing their playful natures and for allowing us to explore their fantastical home.

Casa de las Ranas (House of the Frogs).
Richard welcoming us into his home.