GratiTuesday: Making travel plans in the digital age

My parents were great travelers and encourage us kids to follow in their footsteps. Although I’ve visited many of the places they traveled to—and several they didn’t—I feel as if I’ve just dipped my toe into the deep well of possibilities.

Because they traveled so much, my parents had a close, personal relationship with their travel agent. Helen knew my folks’ likes and dislikes, preferred way to travel, destinations of interest, and budget considerations. Although they seldom encountered any problems while traveling, they knew that they could call Helen if they needed help and she’d work things out.

Despite all online resources, I still love paper maps.
Despite all online resources, I still love paper maps.

I am currently firming up travel itineraries for two upcoming trips, and making some preliminary plans for a few more that are on our radar. Like most people in today’s digital age, I am not using a travel agent to help me plan and book our trips. The resources available to me online are vast, powerful, accessible, and, sometimes, a little scary.

I can research our destinations using multiple travel websites and helpful blogs. I have reached out to blogging buddies who live in the areas we are visiting for first-hand recommendations (and, hopefully some meet-ups). Using mapping apps, I am able to chart our route and look for points of interest along the way.

Once we know where we will stop on our journey, I can book our hotel rooms (after reading extensive reviews) online. For the first time, we are also going to try Airbnb, whose website is robust and pretty easy to navigate. Tickets for attractions can be purchased in advance and I can often load them to my smartphone so I don’t need to worry about misplacing pieces of paper.

And, of course, any airplane and rental car reservations are completed with a few keystrokes and a credit card.

There are pluses and minuses to planning travel this way, of course. Using a travel agent provided my parents with valuable peace-of-mind and allowed them to tap into Helen’s professional knowledge and years of experience. Since she did most of the work (and, as I remember, the service was provided for no, or very little, cost), my folks didn’t have to spend hours doing research. Helen’s agency was a one (or two)-stop-shop for planning, finalized itinerary, and tickets.

By making our travel plans online, I have a lot of control over our itinerary. I don’t need to rely on someone else’s preferences or affiliations. I can spend time looking at different options and search-out deals and off-the-beaten-path opportunities. Once on the road, we can take advantage of apps that will help us to find places to eat and points of interest to visit. I can read about the history of an area, check out the weather, and even avoid road construction and accidents up ahead.

Although we may not have someone like Helen to provide travel assistance and hand-holding, I am so grateful that the internet has given us the power to design our individual journeys and create our unique adventures.

GratiTuesday: Flexibility

This past Sunday, I wrote a post about feeling a bit of ennui in my retirement. In general, things are going pretty great but I had started to feel that something was missing or incomplete, and I wondered if I needed to… I don’t know… do more.

I was heartened by the response my post received. It was nice to know that what I was feeling wasn’t unusual, in fact several commenters who are also retired shared that they had similar feelings, either now or in the past. I received lots of encouragement, advice, and some good suggestions.

One element that flowed through many of the comments was flexibility: to be open to opportunities that might present themselves, and to be willing to try out different things (and walk away if it isn’t a good fit). But, in addition, to appreciate the flexibility and free time that retirement provides.

Our 7 bridge hike began in beautiful Balboa Park.
Our 7 bridge hike began in beautiful Balboa Park.

Today, I had one of those days that reminded me of the how lucky I am that I my life affords me great flexibility and how important it will be to protect that luxury no matter what else I might choose to do.

When my husband and I woke up this morning and looked outside, we saw that the day had presented us with the perfect weather to go on an urban hike we had read about. There was a little bit of fog that would probably burn off as the day went on, but there was also some cloud cover that promised to keep the temperature from rising too high.

So, out went any plans we had made for the day and we started to get ready for our big adventure. At no time did we have to worry about schedules, obligations, or deadlines. No one was expecting us to show up anywhere or complete a promised project. We were free to do what we wanted.

I still want to look for opportunities to bring more balance into my retired life because I believe that it’s important to contribute and to challenge myself. But, I am very grateful that I have the freedom and flexibility that allows me to take advantage of a beautiful spring day and go for a walk.

GratiTuesday: Choosing kindness

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A few days ago, I was driving my car to a familiar destination. Because I had driven the route many, many times, my mind was on autopilot. My husband and I were chatting about this and that and I was thinking about that and this. In other words, I wasn’t paying attention.

All of a sudden, I realized that I had taken the wrong route. I was generally headed the right direction, but the street I was on wouldn’t get me to where I wanted to go. I needed to make a right turn, then a left to get back on track. No problem, except there was a line of cars in the right-hand turn lane and, in order to move into it, I needed someone to let me in.

Now, I have to admit that I usually get irritated with people in that situation: those jerks who don’t think they should have to wait their turn like the rest of us so they drive alongside the line of cars, then try to sneak in towards the front. When I see this happening, I’ll be damned if I will let them into the line and I get perturbed when someone rewards their jerky behavior by allowing them to merge.

Except, that wasn’t what had happened. I was just trying to recover from a momentary brain lapse and get back on the correct route. The road I was on wasn’t very busy (which, had I been paying adequate attention, should have been a clue that I was on the wrong street) and there wasn’t anyone in my rearview mirror so I slowed down and switched my signal on so I could move over into the turn lane.

Then, two things happened: a driver come up quickly behind me, honked his horn in irritation, and swerved around me so he could continue going straight, and another driver in the right turn line made room for me so I could merge in ahead of her. One chose to vent his frustrations at me by honking, whereas the other chose to be sympathetic and let me in ahead of her. One probably felt a moment of anger towards me for being in his way and causing him a two second delay. The other reacted with compassion and a smile.

I was a bonehead and the first driver was completely justified for honking at me. The second driver was by no means obligated to let me in. But, she chose to help me out; she chose kindness.

That little bitty, almost inconsequential interaction got me to thinking about the choices I make every day. Do I act with irritation, or do I act with understanding? Do I notice and respond when someone could use a hand, or do I remain unaware and go about my business? Do I attempt to ease someone’s path, or do I put up barriers? Do I choose indifference or do I choose caring?

I hope I make the right choice more often than not.

I am grateful for acts of kindness – both big and small, and whether it is directed at me or not. Kindness makes me hopeful and optimistic. It’s so easy to focus on the negative and painful but it’s important to remember that if I want more kindness in the world, I need to put it there.

GratiTuesday: Spring has sprung!

Even though most of us in Southern California hoped the predictions of a wet El Nino would come true (and we still have our fingers crossed), the rainfall we’ve experienced has been underwhelming. Except for two memorable days of torrential rain in early January, our winter – overall – has been pretty mild.

On Sunday, when it officially became spring, we were enjoying the same blue skies and mild temperatures we’d had been experiencing for a long time. Regardless, seeing “First Day of Spring” on my calendar made me almost as happy as someone enduring a winter of freezing temperatures and snow would feel.

We’ve been seeing evidence of spring all around us for several weeks. Flowering plants are announcing the new season with cheerful colors and gentle fragrances and trees are starting to burst into clouds of blooms. The bees and hummingbirds are buzzing frantically from one flower to the next as if they are worried it could all suddenly disappear under a pile of snow.

Our Grevillea Long John’s whimsical pink blossoms are a favorite of bees and hummers
Our Grevillea Long John’s whimsical pink blossoms are a favorite of bees and hummers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It looks like we’ll have another bumper crop of blueberries this summer
It looks like we’ll have another bumper crop of blueberries this summer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even Tiki Mon is displaying spring flowers in his hair
Even Tiki Mon is wearing spring flowers in his hair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am so very grateful for spring’s arrival. It is a magical season bursting with promise, inspiration, and optimism.

 

 

GratiTuesday: Daylight Savings Time

This past Sunday, I preformed one of my favorite rites of spring; I adjusted all of our clocks forward one hour. As I made the change, I didn’t mind in the least that I instantly lost one hour of my day. For me, it was a very small price to pay for the extra hour of light I’ll enjoy each evening until November 6, when I have to turn the clocks back.

Daylight savings sunrise
Daylight savings sunrise

When I was working, I remember that at first it was a little hard to adjust to getting up in the dark. But, slowly, the summer sun would work its way toward the equator and, in a few weeks, my 6:30 am wake-up time would again be bathed in light. What made those dark mornings well worth it was knowing that it would be light out when I left the office and that I’d still have a few hours of daylight when I got home.

Now that I am retired you might think the time change wouldn’t be as exciting for me as it was before. After all, I can get up whenever I desire, spend whatever time I want to outdoors, and then go to bed when the spirit moves me. While that is true for the most part, I still live in a world of appointments and schedules, and sunset at 7:00 or 8:00 pm feels very different from sunset at 5:00 or 6:00 pm.

I realize that not everyone is enamored with daylight savings time. Some people don’t like the hassle of changing their clocks twice a year. Others have schedules that benefit more from having the extra daylight in the morning. Those people might be happier living in one of the several states or territories that have opted out of observing daylight savings time, including Hawaii, most of Arizona, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

I was horrified recently to learn that one of our state senators has introduced a bill that would affectively end daylight savings time in California. Noooooooooooooooooooo! I’m not sure whether there is any threat of having the bill pass, but I would be happy to buy the senator a oneway ticket to Arizona so he can enjoy standard time year-round and leave the rest of us alone.

Switching to daylight savings time makes me happy. It signals that spring is just around the corner, and summer is not too far off. It means baseball and barbecues and drinks out on the deck. I am so very grateful for the extra sunshine at the end of my day, where it belongs.

GratiTuesday: The beauty of succulents

Several years ago, my husband and I decided to ditch our traditional lawn and the water-thirsty plants that surrounded our house. Southern California has a dry, Mediterranean climate, and it didn’t make sense to maintain landscaping that really didn’t belong. At the time, we were just at the beginning of our multiple-year drought but we could read the writing on the wall: watering restrictions were coming.

So, out went the turf, agapanthus, and day lilies, and in went the succulents and other plants more suited for our climate. No more regular mowing and fertilizing; no more brown spots dotting our green lawn as a result of neighborhood dogs doing what dogs do.

Agave 'Blue Glow' have watercolor-like striations and red-orange margins
Agave ‘Blue Glow’ have watercolor-like striations and red-orange margins
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It’s easy to see how ‘Sticks on Fire” got its name

What we now have in our yard is a rich tapestry of colors, shapes, and textures. The bright reds, pinks, and oranges of the appropriately named ‘Sticks on Fire’ (Euphorbia tirucalli) contrast with the deep burgundy of the ‘Zwartkop’ (Aeonium  arboreum) and the silver-blue Senecio mandraliscae. The fat, jelly bean shape of the sediums play nicely with spiked-leaved Agaves and Aloes.

And, just when I think my succulents are quietly behaving themselves, one will suddenly produce a flower so garish and spectacular it can take my breath away.

Dark burgundy 'Zwartkop' produces a bright yellow and chartreuse flower
Dark burgundy ‘Zwartkop’ produces a bright yellow and chartreuse flower

Because succulents don’t require regular watering and they are amazingly easy to care for, they are the perfect plants for our lifestyle in retirement. I can putter in the garden… or not, and we can travel for weeks at a time and not have to worry about arranging for their care.

As I walk around our neighborhood and see front yards landscaped with the standard plantings and boring grass (often which has turned brown due to our drought), I am so grateful when I return to the lush growth and dazzling pallet of my succulents.