Adios Mexico, Hello Home

Santo Domingo at sunset

After six weeks in Oaxaca, Mexico, my husband and I arrived home yesterday. We always have mixed feelings when we end a trip; sad to leave the people, sights, and sounds we’ve enjoyed on our travels; happy to get back to our home, friends, and our familiar routines.

Once I’ve had some time to organize my pictures and re-read my travel journal, I’m sure I’ll have a few more blog posts about our experience. But first, while the trip is fresh in my mind, here is what I already miss about Oaxaca, and a few things that I’m happy to enjoy now that we’re home, sweet, home.

What I’ll Miss

Friendly Faces. The people in Oaxaca – both the native population and the expats – are warm and welcoming. Most people smile as they pass, often saying Buenos Dias, Buenas Tardes, or Buenas Noches, depending on the time of day.

Wonderful Food. Oaxaca is known internationally for its delicious cuisine, and most of it is very affordable.

Chili Relleno served with squash blossoms… yum!

Walkability. We didn’t have a car and didn’t miss it in the least. Just about everywhere we wanted to go, we could walk. Bonus: despite the copious amounts of food we consumed, we both lost a few pounds.

Free, Live Music. It was a rare day that we didn’t encounter music on the streets or in the parks. A well-known singer performing for a large crowd in an outdoor auditorium, a symphony orchestra playing in the central square, a band playing dance music, a guitar and maracas trio, students practicing their drum and bugle music; music is everywhere in Oaxaca.

Celebrations. Weddings, quinceaneras, birthdays, anniversaries, who-knows-what saint’s day; they are all joyously celebrated. And, often, everyone is invited – maybe not to the actual service, but once the celebration spills onto the streets, the more, the merrier.

Art. It’s everywhere. The churches and historical buildings are gorgeous, museums and galleries are abundant, homes and business are brightly painted, murals adorn many of the walls, and local artisans display their creativity in shops and on the streets.

Wouldn’t you love to come home to this mural every day?

Colorful Money. Pesos put our boring greenbacks to shame.

Pretty pesos

Exchange Rate. Right now, the dollar is very strong, and our money went far.

Weather. Mid-seventies to low eighties during the day, cool – but not cold – in the evening

Laundry Service. Our apartment didn’t have a washer/dryer so we took everything to one of the many lavanderias around town. For 20 pesos (about a dollar) per kilogram, they washed, dried, and folded our clothes. They even folded our underwear… I never fold our underwear.

What I Love About Being Home

What’s Familiar. Our house, our neighborhood, our friends, our food, our routine.

What’s Easier.  Being fluent in the native language, drinking water out of the tap, being able to put toilet paper in the toilet.

Wherever we travel – whether around the United States or to another country – we love to embrace all that is delightful and unique about the places we visit. And, whether we are gone a few days, a few weeks, or longer, as sorry as we are to say good-bye, we always appreciate returning to that special place we call home.

Thursday Doors: Woodie Doors

Although the calendar tells us that fall began on September 22, here in coastal Southern California many of us feel that our summer has just begun. With the kids back in school, most of the tourists gone home, and the weather still sunny and warm, the locals come out to play.

One of my favorite events that signals this change in seasons is the Wavecrest Woodie Meet, which features the longest running and largest gathering of woodies in the world. Wavecrest is quintessentially Southern Californian with almost 200 woodies of every shape, size, and description on display at a beautiful location overlooking the ocean.

Woodie passenger wagons were produced from the 1910s through the early 1950s. Surfers loved them because they were relatively inexpensive to buy as used vehicles in the 1950s and 1960s. Even better, they could carry a longboard inside or on the roof. Now these beauties – especially when fully restored – are no longer cheap, so any surfboards on top are probably just for show.

As I wandered around the show this weekend, it was difficult to get the Beach Boys’ Surfin’ Safari earworm out of my head, especially the first verse:

Early in the morning we’ll be starting out

Some honeys will be coming along

We’re loading up our woodie

With our boards inside

And heading out singing our song

The woodies were buffed and polished to perfection and their doors beckoned me to get inside, start up the engine, and cruise the coastline with my honey.

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature hosted by Norm Frampton. Visit his blog to see this week’s collection, and maybe to add a few of your own.

Thursday Doors: Vancouver Island

I’m not sure the full blame rests on Norm’s* shoulders, but it has become extremely difficult to travel to a new area and not look for interesting doors to photograph. On our recent trip to Vancouver Island, Canada, I was concerned at first that I may not have any doors to show for our efforts. Afterall, is a vacation without any pictures of eye-catching doors really a success? I think not.

Fortunately, the dearth of interesting doors that we first experienced was remedied when we drove to the northeastern end of the Island. The small communities of Port Hardy and Port Rupert are infused with the rich history and proud traditions of the Kwakiuti First Nation. There, we found beautiful art, traditional crafts, intricately carved totem poles, and yes, doors worthy of a Thursday Doors post.

Big House door in Fort Rupert.

I think this building was a school. 

A very different array of doors were waiting for us at the southern tip of the Island in Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia. We have visited Victoria before and – being July – the main waterfront area was overrun by tourists. So, we decided to head in the opposite direction to see what we could find

Our first stop was Fisherman’s Wharf where we found a flotilla of color and whimsy. Although still touristy (but less crowded), Fisherman’s Wharf is an eclectic collection of shops and restaurants, and floating private residences. Although we were careful to respect the privacy of the people living there, who could resist admiring the brightly painted homes and, of course, taking door pictures? Not me.

Floating homes on Fisherman’s Wharf.
I love this color… sort of a pinky-red.
Lovely door… but the sign in the window (under the plant) caught my eye… beware!
Someone had some extra wood.
Wouldn’t this be a great door to come home to?
Aren’t these water taxis adorable? And, look! They have doors!
If you pass this sign, you’ve gone too far.

The rest of our walk included admiring the World’s Tallest Totem Pole (127 feet, 7 inches), discovering Mile ‘0’ of the Trans-Canada Highway (which spans the entire length of Canada – over 8,000 km), and visiting an old cemetery (which, I’ll admit, was the whole reason I suggested the walk in the first place). No doors, but indulge me in a few tourist pictures:

One very tall totem pole (that’s me at the base).
The beginning (or end, if you start in Newfoundland) of a very long highway.
I understand that cemeteries are not considered “must sees” for most tourists, but that just means they aren’t crowded… by the living, anyway.

And finally, I have to share this last door that we saw just around the corner from the Parliament Building.

It is a terribly boring door, I’ll admit… but look who works inside: The Conflict of Interest Commissioner! According to a Canadian government website, the “Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is an independent officer of the House of Commons responsible for helping appointed and elected officials prevent and avoid conflicts between their public duties and private interests.” Imagine that! A government that believes so strongly that conflicts of interest should be avoided, they have created a dedicated office to help prevent them.

I think I just fell in love with Canada a little bit more.

* Thursday Doors is a weekly celebration of doors hosted by Norm Frampton (Norm 2.0). Head on over to see his beautiful collection of doors from Kingston, Ontario and to see what others have shared from around the world.

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.

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.

Realigning My Retirement

When Donna (Retirement Reflections), Kathy (Smart Living 365), and I started to plan last weekend’s blogger meet-up in Palm Desert, we asked each other to think of topics we wanted to discuss as a group. It didn’t take me long to pinpoint my #1 concern: “How can I better manage my time as a blogger?”

I know that I’m not alone in this struggle; I read posts regularly with the same basic topic: “I love to blog but it’s taking so much time out of my life.” Expanding the number of hours in a day doesn’t appear to be a viable option, so how do we find a better balance?

Before I retired, I thought about all the things I would do with my new freedom. Besides traveling and generally enjoying time with my husband and friends, I looked forward to activities like exploring my artistic side, focusing on healthy living, getting organized, cutting clutter, and joining a book club (or two). In addition to these plans and to give me an avenue to continue writing once I retired, I started this blog… just for fun.

During my four years in retirement, I’ve managed to keep very busy, but I realize that I’m currently devoting an inordinate amount of time to my “just for fun” blog to the detriment of my other desired pursuits.
When I started blogging, I searched for and eagerly followed other (mostly) retirement bloggers that I found compelling. As time went on, I expanded my follow list as I discovered even more interesting blogs. I loved the connections I was making and enjoyed the engagement and the interaction that comes with commenting and replying.

At our meet-up, I started to list the blogs I currently follow. When I got to 80 (and was still writing), I knew I was in trouble. Granted, I don’t write comments on all 80+ blogs, but I do on most of them. It was easy for me to see why I was feeling overwhelmed and overextended, and that something had to change.

Hibernating My Blog

Several bloggers I follow have taken a blogging break at different times for various reasons: some to travel, some to take care of loved ones, and some to allow time to pursue other interests. Donna took a complete break from all her electronic devices for seven weeks this past summer to better enjoy time with her family.

I have now decided to take a break too. My blog will go into hibernation during the months of November and December and, hopefully, wake up in the new year refreshed and renewed. During my time off, I won’t be posting or commenting on my blog nor will I read or comment on other blogs.

More of this, this, and this:

Less of this:


While realigning my retirement to focus on other pursuits, I will also be:

Corralling My Email Inbox

My inbox would make a sane person cry. I don’t know exactly how many emails are in there, but with all the blog post notices and other emails I get it must be approaching 1,000. I just about fell off my chair when Donna told me that she maintains a zero inbox (“Read, Act, Delete, or File”) I don’t know how she does it, but she is my hero. I want to get there.

Culling My Blog List

80+ blogs are just too many to read and comment on. To help me maintain a better life-balance, I need to determine which ones I especially love to read and best align with my interests. This will be a big challenge with so many great blogs out there but isn’t that a great problem to have?

Rethinking My Blog

Who knows what changes I will make to my blog, but I expect there will be some. After two months of hibernation it’s bound to awake a little leaner but also hungry to rejoin the blogging world.

November 1st is several days away (and I have one more post before then), but I am missing the blogging world already. The good news is that it’s in great hands and I’m comfortable that it will be here when I get back.

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.

Thursday Doors: Chapel Doors

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about an amazing experience we had while visiting San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. In that post, I shared photos of the riotous colors and fantastic mosaics we found all over Casa de las Ranas and the Chapel of Jimmy Ray, the property owned by artist Anado McLauchlin and his husband Richard Schultz.

As anyone who read that post can imagine, Anado’s creativity didn’t end with his fantastical wall mosaics and fanciful art assemblages; the doors, gates, and portals on their property were just as enchanting, playful, and full of whimsy.

Although these may not look like doors normally found on chapels, they are rich with a joyful spirit and offer a salvation from boring.

The front gate leading to their courtyard and Casa de las Ranas.
The interior side of the gate.
Anado and Richard’s art studio door.
One of the colorful gates on the walls surrounding their property.
Gate assembled from reclaimed wood.
Whimsical collection of weathered wood and whatever.
This colorful archway led into a small meditation room.
There were a lot of symbols from eastern religions incorporated in Anado’s art.
Yikes… not sure what’s behind this door.
A happy skeleton wearing a skull necklace.
Anado was as colorful as his doors.

Don’t forget to head on over to Norm’s blog to view more of his beautiful collection of doors from Nova Scotia, then click on the blue frog at the end of his post to see what others have shared.

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.