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.

GratiTuesday: My health

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

As I look back on 2017, I am very grateful to have enjoyed good health throughout the year. I may have had a cold or two, but no health challenges and nothing that slowed me down significantly.

Before I left the work-world, I read a lot of books, articles, and blogs about making the most of retirement. Emphasized over and over was the importance of maintaining one’s health. Eat a healthy diet and maintain a good weight. Get plenty of exercise and avoid being too sedentary. Minimize stress and negativity. I think I have been able to do these things for the most part, but I know I can do better.

I am lucky to be a generally healthy person. Over the years, I have experienced a few bumps in the road, but they are now in my rear-view mirror. I don’t have any chronic conditions or ongoing issues that require regular medical attention. I know that isn’t true for everyone, especially as we get older and our natural defenses are reduced. So far, anyway, I’ve reaped the benefits of inheriting healthy DNA.

Now, I look in the mirror and see the gray hairs starting to appear, wrinkles lining my face, and I notice that my body is shifting and softening, and settling in different areas. What I can’t see is what is happening inside, but I know things are changing there too. No matter how much I’d like to deny the inevitable, the inevitable is just that… inevitable. I want to ensure that I’m giving my body the tools that it needs to stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible.

As I focus on maintaining – and improving – my health so I can continue to age well, I am grateful that I have access to healthy food and safe places to exercise. I am grateful that I am healthy now and look forward to an even healthier 2018.

GratiTuesday: Giving Tuesday

This is a slightly updated reblog of last year’s post about Giving Tuesday. I hope you can participate in this global initiative.

Thank goodness we’ve all survived Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, (what, nothing for Sunday?), and Cyber Monday.  Today, as you may or may not know, is Giving Tuesday.

Since its launch in 2012, Giving Tuesday has been designated as a day when we can make up for the excesses of the past few days (and those coming up) by putting “our money where our hearts are.” It focuses on shifting the emphasis of the holiday season from receiving gifts to giving them to charity. In just a few years, Giving Tuesday has turned into a global movement which unites communities around the world. Last year, participants from more than 98 countries raised close to $200 million, and this year promises to be even better.

Although Giving Tuesday is about encouraging giving in general, the movement harnesses the power of social media (it even has its own hashtag, #GivingTuesday), to provide a platform for those interested in donating time, resources, and talent to address local challenges. Givers are encouraged to use the #GivingTuesday hashtag to share their efforts and spread the word about the day on their social media accounts.

The Giving Tuesday website provides more information about the movement and a directory to guide people to organizations, charities, events, and more in their own community. Through the website, Giving Tuesday “brings together the collective power of a unique blend of partners— nonprofits, civic organizations, businesses and corporations, as well as families and individuals—to encourage and amplify small acts of kindness.”

Whether you give through the website or give on your own, there are lots of ways to join in on this day of giving:

Donate to charity. If you have some extra money in your budget, make a donation to a charity of your choice. Or, think about rearranging your budget a bit: instead of buying that one extra Christmas present, devote those funds to a wider cause. You can stay local by giving to your community’s homeless shelter or food bank, or go national by contributing to well-known organizations, such as the American Diabetes Assn. or the Red Cross. (Be sure to check if your employer offers matching funds.)

Give a non-monetary gift. If you don’t have room in your budget, you can give in other ways. Donate your time by volunteering at a nearby animal shelter or soup kitchen. Sign up to become an organ donor. Give blood. The possibilities for good deeds are endless.

Go beyond charities. Remember that giving doesn’t have to be limited to charitable organizations. Give extra care and attention to your friends, family members, and neighbors. Spend time reading to a younger relative. Volunteer to finish off a project around the house.

Most important of all, let this day of philanthropy inspire more days of giving back.

I am so grateful for individuals and organizations that offer support to those who are struggling or who need resources to serve others. Giving Tuesday is a great way to find opportunities to give locally and/or globally. And, once you’ve given whatever money, time, or talent you can, don’t forget to use the #GivingTuesday hashtag and help spread the word!

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.

GratiTuesday: The Colors of Fall

I have been enjoying the photos many bloggers have posted of their gorgeous autumn foliage. The rich reds, oranges, and yellows are truly spectacular and make me wish we had the same seasonal brilliance where we live. Except for a few liquid ambers dotting our neighborhood, our temperatures don’t get cold enough for most of the trees that produce the glorious fall displays.

Fortunately for us, even though we don’t have the blazing foliage colors enjoyed in colder climates, nature paints her brilliant fall hues on a different canvas. Rather than the reds, oranges, and yellows appearing in the trees, these colors are splashed across the sky.

Sunrise

There is, of course, a scientific reason why fall and winter sunrises and sunsets are so spectacular. As the days grow shorter, the angle of the sun is lower which means that the sunlight takes a longer path through the atmosphere. Since blue light has a shorter wavelength, it gets scattered by air molecules. Colors with longer wavelengths, such as reds and oranges, become more pronounced as they pass through the atmosphere.

Sunset

Clouds also add to the beauty of sunrises and sunsets because they catch the red-orange rays of the sun and help reflect the colors. Cirrus and altocumulus clouds are especially conducive to spectacular displays because they are high enough not to be impacted by the dust and haze in the atmosphere.

But, enough science…

Fall’s colors are magnificent no matter how they are made or what canvas they appear on. Each time I am treated to the beauty of a dazzling sunrise or a vivid sunset, I am so grateful to be a witness to nature’s artistry. Because, to quote the great Dr. Seuss, “when you stop and look around, this life is pretty amazing”.

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.

GratiTuesday: Those who rush towards

I don’t know if we’ve had more disasters – both natural and made-made – this year or not, but it certainly feels like it. Wildfires have eaten up acres of beauty and hundreds of homes and businesses, hurricanes and storm surges have created destructive winds and deadly floods, and the sudden shifting of the Earth’s tectonic plates have toppled buildings and collapsed bridges. Then, there are the disasters created by the mentally ill, the morally repugnant, and the fanatically delusional.

It can be difficult to feel gratitude in the face of all of this. I don’t live in a hurricane zone, I haven’t been touched by a catastrophic wildfire, the earthquakes I’ve experienced have been mild and caused little damage, and I haven’t had a loved one’s life cut short by a bullet or a bomb, but I certainly don’t feel immune. Neither planning nor luck – and certainly not “thoughts and prayers” – will ensure my safety. Those who have recently been impacted likely once felt sorrow and empathy for past victims, and maybe some relief that they, and their families, were untouched.

As I’ve witnessed these disasters from afar and have worried about the fate of those affected, I see something over and over again that fills me with awe and appreciation: not just the first responders, but the everyday people who put themselves in harm’s way to help others.

x-school-collapse
Aftermath of the earthquake in Mexico City. Picture credit: Joe, Month at a Time Travel blog

 

I’m so very grateful for those who fight the flames and rescue others from the path of a wildfire. I am grateful for those who brave floodwaters to carry trapped homeowners to safety. I am grateful for those who climb on top of precarious rubble in a desperate attempt to locate and save those buried below. I am grateful for all who keep the peace, attend to the wounded, and comfort the frightened. I am grateful for those who rush towards danger while others are running away.