Oh, Ottawa!

Oh Canada you're looking good for 149 and with Justin on the Hill it's only getting better, keep it Trudeau Canada!
Oh Canada you’re looking good for 149 and with Justin on the Hill it’s only getting better, keep it Trudeau Canada!

We had mixed feelings as we left Toronto and made our way to Ottawa, the penultimate stop on our road trip (the last stop would be an overnight stay close to the airport in Montreal). We had been traveling for almost a month and were a bit homesick, but we also were having a great time and didn’t want the trip to end.

Our Airbnb apartment in Ottawa was definitely the nicest one we experienced on our trip. The host, a young, self-described “day-trader” who owned several apartments in the building, was helpful and very welcoming. The apartment was clean, quiet, nicely decorated, and well-located. Once we parked our rental (free parking was included – bonus!), we were able to walk everywhere we wanted to.

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Parliament Hill is the political and cultural heart of Ottawa. The Gothic-style government buildings overlooking the Ottawa River are open for free guided tours (the tickets are first-come, first-served, so get them early). Our tour of the Centre Block building ended with an elevator ride to the top of the Peace Tower which provided sweeping views of the city and the river.

Another tourist favorite during the summer months is the Changing of the Guard ceremony, which takes place each morning on the front lawn of Parliament Hill.

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The Rideau Canal is the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America. There are 45 locks along the 125 mile (202 kilometer) length of the canal. It was completed in 1832 as a precaution in case of war with the United States and remains in use today primarily for pleasure boating (and ice skating in the winter). The canal begins (or ends, depending on the direction of travel) in Ottawa where the large wooden lock doors are opened and closed using hand cranks. The park surrounding the locks was beautiful and we spent a relaxing few hours just watching the process of the boats making their way up through the gates.

Standing on very spindly legs next to the world-class National Gallery of Canada is the Maman sculpture by Louise Bourgeois – a 30-foot bronze cast of a spider.  The title is the French word for Mother, which explains the sac on her belly containing 26 marble eggs. Similar Maman sculptures can also be found at art museums in the UK, Spain, Japan, South Korea, and the US.

We also enjoyed exploring the historic and trendy ByWard Market, one of Canada’s oldest and largest public markets. It was just a few blocks from our apartment and the four-block area was full of shops, cafes, pubs, and galleries.

As we left Ottawa after only a few days, we once again felt that our too-short stay only allowed us to scratch the surface of this beautiful city. I’d love to return some day and explore all that we missed this time around.

GratiTuesday: Our summer has just begun!

Most people mark the beginning of summer in June on the Solstice, or when the kids get out of school, or when the weather turns reliably warm. But, for many people who live in my city – especially those of us who are retired or have flexible schedules – our summer begins after Labor Day.

After months of sharing our city with visitors and putting up with roving packs of teens and pre-teens, all of a sudden a kind of quiet descends over us. Most of the tourists have gone back home, the kids are starting back to school, and we look forward to what is often our best weather in September and into October. We rejoice that our beaches are far less crowded, restaurants are quieter, and we no longer have to share our favorite hang outs with the masses.

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And, it gets even better: even though we will celebrate the Fall Equinox on September 22 this year, Daylight Savings mercifully doesn’t end until November 6. Then, it’s just over a month until the Winter Solstice, after which the sun begins to make its way north again and daylight hours start to get longer and longer.

Even though we continue to struggle with the drought here in Southern California, I am so grateful that I live in an area where winter doesn’t mean months of snow, spring feels right around the corner even in September, and the delights of summer can often be enjoyed well after those living in colder climates have traded their flip flips for boots.

I’d also be very grateful for a good dose of rain, though.

Vibrant Toronto

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Toronto is Canada’s biggest and busiest city, and its most diverse. Over 140 languages are spoken there and it is estimated that over half of its residents were born outside of Canada. The most populous city in Canada, it is the fourth largest city in North America (behind Mexico City, New York City, and Los Angeles).

Even knowing all of this, I found myself a little overwhelmed at first by the size and vibrancy of Toronto.

Our Airbnb was located on a side street in the downtown area, between two busy boulevards. It appeared that most of the residents of the tall apartment building were students, possibly attending the nearby Ryerson University. The flat itself was quiet and nicely appointed and, because it was up on the 21st floor, we had a nice view of the downtown.

Although we didn't sit around much, our Airbnb flat was very comfortable.
Although we didn’t sit around much, our Airbnb flat was very comfortable.

As we did during most of the other stops along our recent road trip, once we parked our car (free, off-street parking was included – a huge plus in this busy city), it remained unused for the three days we were there. We were able to get everywhere we wanted to go either on foot or using public transportation.

Dancers enjoying the Salsa Festival.
Dancers enjoying the Salsa Festival.

In addition to a high-quality outdoor art show (top picture), we were delighted to discover that there was also a food festival and a Salsa music festival taking place on the days we were in town.

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All within walking distance from our flat was Toronto’s Chinatown, the funky Kensington Market neighborhood, Old Town Toronto’s famous St. Lawrence Market, the Entertainment District, the busy Waterfront, and lots of tempting places to eat.

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Like other Canadian cities we visited, street art seemed to be everywhere in Toronto. Much of it was big and gorgeous, but there were also plenty of unauthorized contributions.

After just a three-day stay in Toronto, we felt that we hadn’t even scratched to surface of this amazing city. It’s loud and messy and crowded, but the vitality and energy is infectious. Although our travel schedule didn’t allow us to stay any longer, we agreed that a return trip – one that included much more time to explore other neighborhoods and indulge in additional culinary delights – could quite possibly be in our future.

Little me traveling in this big, beautiful world

ChairMy husband and I recently returned from an extended road trip through southeastern Canada and the northeastern U.S.  A week-long car club gathering in Vermont was the inspiration for the trip, but we decided to add some time before and after so we could visit friends and family and explore that part of the world.

The beauty of traveling in retirement is that we can enjoy being away from home for multiple weeks without worrying asking for extra time off, missing work deadlines, or even being concerned that our being gone could jeopardize our very employment. When we return, we don’t have to hit the ground running to get back up to speed; we can ease into our comfortable routine and let our bodies readjust naturally to our native time zone.

Traveling for more than a week or two also encourages a more relaxed pace. Since we aren’t racing from one destination to another, we can take more time to experience where we currently are. This allows for more spontaneous side trips, unstructured explorations, and guiltless relaxation.

I also find that a more leisurely pace helps me to be a better observer of the world around me. Because of my blog, I often find myself filtering unique experiences, interesting sights, and general observations through my internal “I wonder if this would be an interesting post?” lens.

This trip was no exception.

The initial planning, our varied accommodations, multiple opportunities to meet with friends old and new, several “ah ha” moments, and observations about the world outside my bubble, all were noted in my travel journal and I plan to write about them over the next few weeks, beginning with my GratiTuesday post tomorrow.

Another plug for a future post: this one as part of the upcoming Cherished Blogfest which runs Friday, July 29 through Sunday, July 31. Bloggers are invited to join in and share their memories, emotions, and stories of a much-cherished object. Last year, I chose my U.S. Passport. This year’s post will be about another cherished travel-related object. If you are interested in participating in the blogfest, click on this link for more information. Even if you don’t join in, you might want to visit the various blogs and read about the much-cherished objects participants have chosen to share.

Don’t be a Ricky

I am rerunning a few of my earlier posts over the next few weeks. This one, about loosening up and having more fun, was from April, 2014.

Several years ago, I cut out and thumbtacked to the bulletin board in my office a section of an article about relationships. The article must have contained a list of “dos” and “don’ts” because this one was labeled “No. 16.” I have no memory of numbers 1 through 15, nor any that followed Number 16, but this one stopped me mid-read, and prompted me to get up and grab my scissors.

No. 16 Don’t Be the Ricky

On the 1950’s sit-com I Love Lucy, Ricky and Lucy Ricardo had very different ways of approaching life. Lucy was always doing crazy stuff and getting into trouble. Ricky was always there to bail her out of whatever disaster she got herself into. The premise of Number 16 was that people tend to either be Rickys or Lucys.

Ricky and Lucy4

Rickys are practical, responsible, and live life relatively conservatively. In a relationship, they are the caretakers; the ones who make sure the bills get paid, the finances are in good shape, and plans are made and followed.

Lucys, on the other hand, are crazy, fun-loving, and charmingly irresponsible. They have a “live for today” attitude. They are the ones who are out having fun and not paying too much attention to the consequences.

Number 16 warned about being a Ricky (who is stuck being responsible) while your partner is being a Lucy (forever starry-eyed, wacky, and impractical). One person is Homer, and the other Marge. One is Hans Solo, the other Princess Leia. The message was that one was having way more fun than the other.

I have a dominant Ricky gene. My husband also is a Ricky. We know how to have fun, we enjoy being silly, we even can be pretty creative (after all, Ricky Ricardo was an accomplished singer and bandleader) but, for the most part, we have a vision of what we want to accomplish and we take the steps necessary to get there. Most likely, being Rickys throughout our working lives has helped us get where we are today: being able to retire relatively young.

That’s not to say that Lucys are all screw-ups who have great fun but are ultimately destined to be financially unsound or be dependent on Rickys to save them. Some people I love and admire are Lucys. I imagine that many brilliant multi-gazillionaires are shoot-for-the-stars Lucys. Who knows, when I decided to cut out and keep that article, if I had been more of a Lucy I may have had the crazy idea to create some sort of an online bulletin board that people could, I don’t know… maybe “pin” interesting items to. And, throwing caution to the wind, I may have sold everything and taken out ill-advised loans to fund that insanity… that I might have cleverly named Pinterest.

Ricky and Lucy5

My husband and I got where we are today by saving more than spending, economizing more than splurging. That’s not to say we haven’t had great adventures or wonderful experiences, but we have said “no” to opportunities more than we would have liked, and probably more than we needed to.

Suddenly becoming total Lucys is probably not possible or desirable. Rickyness is in our DNA, and that’s not a bad thing; it will most likely keep us out of trouble as we get older. But I think we have reached a point in our lives when we should start channeling our inner Lucys regularly. We need to say “yes” more often, seek out some crazy adventures, and do a few marvelously impractical things that may leave the Rickys out there scratching their heads.

GratiTuesday: Moving beyond retirement into jubilación

Yesterday, as we were out running errands, I mentioned to my husband that it was the 2-year anniversary of my retirement. His response was, “Wow, really? Time has gone so fast, hasn’t it?”

Yes and no.

Although he was right that the two years went by rather swiftly, I also feel as if I’ve been living my retired life for a long time… and I’m getting pretty good at it. In fact, I don’t really feel “retired,” as if that word defines a specific post-work chapter of my life. I’m not just moving through a phase; I am fully engaged in my life. The Spanish word for retirement is jubilación, which I think is much more fitting.

Jubilacion, La Paz style
Jubilacion, La Paz style

A few days ago, I was at an event where I didn’t know many people. I thought it would be interesting to do a little experiment if when anyone asked employment-related questions. I wanted to avoid describing myself as “retired” because I’ve found that often that word can be a dead-end to a conversation. I was interested to see if a different response could generate more engaging dialog.

It didn’t take too long to find myself in the familiar, polite back-and-forth that often occurs with a stranger in a social situation.

Polite Stranger (PS): What do you do?

Me: I dabble in photography, write a bit, read, and travel whenever possible.

PS: I mean, what work do you do?

Me: Some housework, although not as much as I should, perhaps. Also, yard work.

PS: No, full-time. I mean, what do you do full-time?

Me: Oh. I guess I don’t do anything full-time. There is so many great options that it would be impossible to pick something to do full-time.

PS: Really? Tell me about some of the things you are doing.

And, then the conversation really got interesting. I don’t think it came up that I was retired until quite a bit into the discussion. I also don’t remember if PS told me what kind of work she did… it wasn’t important. I learned some interesting things about her that had nothing to do with how she spent 8-9 hours of her day. Who we are is so much more than our chosen career. And, when we are no longer wrapped up in that career, being retired is just a single data point, not a description of who we are.

I am so grateful that two years ago I had the good fortune to be able to leave the work-world behind and embrace jubilación. The word may mean the same thing, but it sure sounds more like how I feel.

Searching for balance in retirement

Sometimes it seems like it’s been much less than two years since I was wrapping up my final weeks of employment and looking forward to the day I retire. At other times, it’s as if I’ve been living this leisurely lifestyle for many years and I can hardly remember having full-time work obligations.

I had a lot of plans for my retirement: I wanted to take classes, travel, socialize with friends, complete household projects, and explore my creative side. I also wanted to allow enough leisure time in my non-existent schedule to relax, read books, and daydream.

Mission accomplished… sort of.

Is it possible to have too much leisure? Maybe so.
Is it possible to have too much leisure? Maybe so.

Since retiring, my husband and I have gone on some amazing trips (and more are planned), I’ve taken advantage of free—and nearly free—educational opportunities, I’ve joined a wonderful book club, we’ve completed multiple house projects (and have more in the works), and I’ve spent time writing and improving my photography skills. Life is good.

But, just recently, I’ve started to struggle with the feeling that I would like to do more, that I want to have more to show for my time. This doesn’t mean that I desire to go back to full-time work, or even that I want to find part-time employment. What I want is more balance in my life.

Besides receiving a regular paycheck and subsidized healthcare insurance, going to work every day provided a lot of intangible benefits. Daily interactions with colleagues wove a social network that helped to make work a pleasurable experience. Because I worked for a large company, my network web included people from a variety of backgrounds and with diverse interests and skills.

I miss that.

I also miss the feeling of working together towards a common goal. We took on projects and supported each other as we met our objectives. In addition, work gave me opportunities to challenge myself and to enjoy the feeling of satisfaction when I successfully expanded my comfort zone.

I’m not sure where this sense that something is missing will lead me. Exploring volunteer opportunities might be a good start. Perhaps I need to get involved with a cause that I believe in. Maybe some type of part-time employment will supply the diverse community I miss. Perhaps it’s a combination of all three possibilities, or maybe something else.

I fully realize how lucky I am that I actually have a choice about how I spend my time. If I make no changes at all, I have a pretty good life. But if I can find something that allows me to make a positive contribution, I think my retirement could be more purposeful and satisfying. It also might help me re-discover some or all of those missing elements: enjoying an expanded and more diverse social network, being inspired by a vision shared with others, and embracing the opportunity to help others and to challenge myself.

The key will be to find something that also allows me to travel when I want and to enjoy the retirement I envisioned when I said good-bye to full-time employment.