Making Lasting Connections

It started off innocently enough. A little back and forth messaging between two bloggers. I don’t remember which one of us suggested it, but we agreed to meet for coffee at a location half-way between. You know… to talk about blogging.

Including that initial rendezvous in 2016, Donna (Retirement Reflections) and I have now managed a meet-up four years in a row. Not bad, considering we live in different countries. The first three visits were made possible because she and her husband, Richard, had an annual home exchange just a few hours from where I live in Southern California. Kathy (SMART Living 365), who also lives in the area, soon joined our little group.

Since Donna and Richard decided not to travel to Southern California this year, we changed the venue to Vancouver Island, where they live. Kathy and her husband were planning a road trip to Canada anyway, and my husband and I had a block of days on our calendar that needed filing, so plans were made.

Spending time with Donna and Kathy no longer feels like “just” a blogger meet-up. While we often discuss blogging, we have become good friends who simply enjoy each other’s company. Best of all, our husbands have happily fit right into this special friendship.

Thom, Kathy, Donna, Richard, me, and Paul.

For our recent get together in mid-July, three other bloggers joined us. Erica (Behind the Scenery), Jude (Dr. Sock Writes Here), and Ann (The Unretired Life), all of whom live on – or near – Vancouver Island, enthusiastically accepted Donna’s invitation. It was a treat to meet these interesting and accomplished women and they added unique perspectives to the discussion.

Enjoying a beautiful day talking about blogging.

Although one whole day was set aside to discuss this crazy obsession of ours, the rest of the time we enjoyed chatting, hiking, eating, chatting, seeing the sights, eating, and chatting. There may or may not have been some wine involved too.

Jude, Ann, Erica, Donna, and Kathy.

From the start, I knew the six of us women would get along just fine and have plenty to talk about. The happy surprise was how much our husbands also enjoyed themselves. That first day, while the women talked blogging, Richard kept the men busy seeing local sights and visiting a favorite lunch spot (where beer was definitely involved).

Fortunately, Paul and Richard continued to solve the world’s problems as we hiked.

Many thanks to Donna and Richard for their generous and warm hospitality. They did everything imaginable to make us feel welcome. Thanks also to Jude and her husband for hosting a delicious luncheon at their home. We also appreciated meeting a group of Donna’s women friends, who invited us to join their afternoon gathering.

I imagine some (non-bloggers) view blogging as an isolating pursuit. After all, we sit behind our screens, write for an unseen audience, and send our posts out to the interwebs, hoping someone will read them and comment. In reality, many of us have developed connections all over the world through our blogs. When those connections develop into friendships, we realize that – far from isolation – our blogs have exposed us to people and experiences we may not have otherwise known.

Sunday Stills: The Sanctuary of Stillness

As my blog has been still for longer than I anticipated, I figured this would be a good time to join Terri’s Sunday Stills photography challenge. Her theme this week, Stillness, has a special appeal to me. I have always been more comfortable in quiet than in noise, prefer writing to talking, and, although I enjoy social interactions, I need a certain amount of solitude to recharge my batteries.

Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington.

All but one image that I’m sharing this week are from my husband’s and my travels. Although it can be a challenge to find quiet and stillness when traveling nowadays, it is possible. Sometimes you just have to get up earlier than normal.

Early morning glass on the Spokane River in Washington
San Miguel de Allende’s iconic Parroquia at 5:30 am. In a few hours, the central square will be full of people.

Other times, we get lucky and manage to find a spot that feels as if it was set aside just for us.

Desert view along the Palms to Pines Highway in Southern California.
Arches National Park… all to ourselves (for a brief moment).

I found the (not so) little gal below hanging out on a Sticks on Fire succulent plant in my yard. After weaving her beautiful web, she remains very still until some unfortunate prey blunders into her trap.

As scary as she may look, she is harmless to humans. Unfortunately, this isn’t true for the male spider. They are much smaller than the females and up to 80% are cannibalized after traversing the web to mate. That doesn’t seem very nice, but I guess she prefers to enjoy her stillness alone.

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Sunday Stills is a photography challenge hosted by Terri Webster Schrandt on her blog Second Wind Leisure Perspectives. Please visit her site to see how other bloggers have interpreted the weekly challenge or add one of your own.

April Fools

Even though we don’t experience winter snow and frigid temperatures where we live in Southern California, I still get excited when the calendar flips over from March to April. I know that spring officially started a couple of weeks ago, but April has always felt like the true beginning of the season. The weather noticeably warms, the exuberant, bright-yellow orioles return from their winter sojourn in Mexico, and the rich, heady fragrance of budding citrus trees perfumes the air.

Where we live, citrus trees are ubiquitous, and they often bear fruit year-round. So many people have them growing in their yards that, if an unexpected need arises for a lemon or an orange, a quick call to a neighbor will often result in an offer to pick one from their tree.

So, we really didn’t need to plant citrus trees of our own. If we couldn’t get what we needed from a neighbor, our local grocery stores always have a good supply… and they are usually fairly inexpensive. Unlike some other homegrown crops, like tomatoes or corn, a store-bought lemon doesn’t taste all that different than one freshly picked from a tree.

But here we are, two April Fools. We purchased dwarf Meyer Lemon and Bearss Lime tree(lets), bought a couple of large pots, and loaded up several bags of the perfect combination of potting and cactus mix. Then, we spent most of the day preparing the trees’ new home. Going forward, of course, we will provide lots of water and fertilize them regularly.

All told, I can imagine a per-fruit cost of about $5.25.

Yes, we are April Fools… now. But maybe we won’t feel so foolish one future summer day, when we are sitting on our deck enjoying the fruits of our labors… perhaps in the form of freshly-baked lemon bars and a pitcher of mojitos.

I guess I had better plant some mint.

Renewed, Refreshed, and Realigned

Wow, has it been two months already?

Last October, I decided to give myself a blogging vacation over November and December. During those months, I wouldn’t write any posts (mission accomplished) and I wouldn’t read any of the many blogs I follow (mostly accomplished… although I cheated now-and-then).

I had great plans for all the free time my blogging break would give me. In addition to going on a two-week road trip up to northern California around the holidays, I looked forward to having more time to get organized, reduce clutter (mostly on my computer), enjoy neglected hobbies, work on house projects, and think about things other than my next blog topic.

Wine tasting in Napa Valley

Isn’t it amazing how quickly freed up time can get filled? Any of you who are retired have probably wondered how you were able to get anything done while you were working. The vast amounts of free time we envisioned having are nowhere to be found. Instead, we find ourselves just as busy – if not more – than we ever were.

At least that’s my excuse.

I did manage to accomplish many of the items on my to-do list, but I fell short in a few areas… and, you know what? That’s OK.

As much as I missed my friends in the blogosphere, I also enjoyed a feeling of freedom. Yes, I felt guilty about deleting unread posts; yes, I missed the connections made commenting and replying; and, yes, I still jotted down some ideas and took a few pictures that I thought would work for my blog. But I reminded myself that blogging was completely voluntary, and, at that moment, I chose to focus on other pursuits.

Several bloggers I follow also took time off over the holidays and are returning in the new year. Interestingly, a few have written about changes they will be making to their blogs going forward. Whether it’s because of an illness, the desire to pursue other interests, or the realization that blogging – as much as we may love it – takes an amazing amount of time, they are pulling back. Some a little, some a lot.

Although I don’t have any formal plans, I will be less active in the blogosphere too… at least for a while. I never had an actual blogging schedule, but the timing of my posts will probably become even more haphazard. Topics too. I will, of course, share my thoughts and write about my retirement journey, but only when I really have something to say. I enjoy my GratiTuesday theme… but I won’t be posting one every Tuesday. As I explore my interest in photography, I imagine there will be more, simple, image-centric posts.

However my blog may change over time, what will remain constant is the enjoyment I get from interacting with the people who read, like, and comment on my posts. But, in retirement – and life in general – realigning ourselves now-and-then keeps things interesting and allows us to discover new paths to happiness and fulfillment.

GratiTuesday: May Day

I don’t know if it’s still done, but I have happy elementary school memories of making construction paper May Day baskets and dancing around the maypole on the school playground. Even though spring officially begins in March, it didn’t feel like it had really arrived until the first of May, when we all dressed up, performed the folk dances we learned, and wound the brightly colored ribbons around the maypole.

This winter has been especially challenging for many of you, and spring never really made an appearance until just recently. Many have written about the relief they are feeling to say goodbye to April’s snow and sleet, and welcome to May’s warmer temperatures.

In our corner of the U.S., we’ve experienced quite the opposite. Both winter and spring temperatures have been warmer than average and the little rainfall we received has been especially disappointing. In fact, it looks like we may be in the middle of the driest rainy season on record. Ironically, local meteorologists are predicting a 50% chance of rain starting this evening and into tomorrow. After that, zilch for the foreseeable future.

Despite the unusual weather we’ve been experiencing just about everywhere (or, maybe it’s the new normal we all need to get used to), I love the promise of May. Maypoles may be a relic of the past in most places but the warming weather, longer daylight hours, and emerging flora and fauna still make me want to do a little dance of gratitude to Mother Nature.

Retirement Hours

Once again, I have the honor of having my guest post featured on my friend Donna’s blog, Retirement Reflections. Many of you are probably familiar with her uplifting and well-written blog, but those of you who aren’t please take some time to read a few of her past posts… I’m sure that you’ll be hooked like I am.

Please click on over to Retirement Reflections and read about the very stringent Hours of Operation I keep in retirement. If you could leave a comment on Donna’s site, we would both greatly appreciate it.

I hope to see you there!

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).