Traveling in the Time of COVID

When my husband mentioned to a friend that we were traveling to Canada this summer, his friend said, “Wow, that’s brave” (and, by “brave,” I think he meant “crazy”). While any amount of traveling – whether to a foreign country, another state, or another county – could be considered brave (or crazy) during a pandemic, this trip felt like a pretty safe bet for us.

As this chart from the New York Times indicates, our journey would take us from a country with relatively high infection rates to a country that, for the most part, appeared to be taking the pandemic seriously. When we learned in July that the Canadian border would open August 9th to fully vaccinated U.S. tourists, we started to finalize plans for our trip north.

In normal times, a road trip up the length of California, then through Oregon and Washington, would be a wonderful opportunity to visit friends and favorite spots along the way. But because we knew that we would have to get COVID tests within 72 hours of crossing the border, we decided to play it safe and take the most direct route with the fewest number of stops. Long days of driving and eating mostly at fast food establishments (where it is possible to get fresh salads) isn’t our favorite way to travel but we didn’t want to get within miles of our destination and find out that we had contracted COVID somewhere along the way.

Even with hours and hours of driving, we found that arriving at our carefully selected overnight stops in the late afternoon gave us great opportunities to stroll around their historic districts and discover lower risk outdoor dining opportunities. That turned out to be more fun than expected.

We had arranged to have our COVID tests two days before we were to cross the border at a facility that guaranteed results in 24 hours. The following day, we had our (negative!) test results and just one more overnight stay before queueing up early to be among the first American tourists to cross the border.

Because of other blogs you follow, some of you already know a main focus of our trip to Vancouver Island was to meet up with a group of bloggers who have become dear friends. We are all fully vaccinated and we knew that most of our activities would be outdoors enjoying the island’s amazing natural beauty. We hiked through forests, explored beaches, ate in some lovely outdoor restaurants (including some excellent food trucks), and partied on the patios of our friends’ homes.

During our almost month-long stay, we managed to pack in a ton of fun, miles of hiking, lots of laughter and maybe a little too much eating, all while staying safe and COVID-free. Since several of the bloggers have already written about the fabulous time we had (Donna, Retirement Reflections and another post; Erica, Behind the Scenery; Kathy, SMART Living 365), I will let their posts tell that part of the story.

In order to cross the border into Canada, my husband and I were required to present our passports, proof of vaccination, and documented negative COVID test results. To cross the border back into the United States, all we had to do is show the border guard our passports and assure him that we didn’t have any fruit in our car.

Crossing back into the U.S. felt a lot braver – and perhaps crazier – then traveling to Canada.  

Sunday Stills: A Change of Altitude

It’s almost as if Terri (Second Wind Leisure) knew that my husband and I would be spending a few days up in the mountains when she came up with The Great Outdoors as this week’s Sunday Stills photo topic. Although I often have to search my files for images when I join in on one of her photo challenges, this time all I did was walk out the door of our little cabin and there it was… the great outdoors!

We were delighted when our friends, Kathy (Smart Living 365) and Thom, invited us to join them for a few days at their mountain retreat in nearby Idyllwild. The cabin they have rented for a number of years has a mini-cabin situated just a few steps away. It’s perfect for the hosts and the guests – lots of opportunities to connect, but enough separation so that everyone can have some privacy and alone time.

We hiked:

We hugged trees (and each other):

Kathy and Thom showing a tree some love.

We moved boulders:

Full disclosure: it didn’t budge (thank goodness!).

We watched the sunset… :

A fire a couple of years ago left these trees bare, but still beautiful.

… just before the full strawberry moon rose:

We enjoyed great conversations:

There may have been some adult beverages involved.

And, we marveled at nature’s artistry:

I loved how the bark’s texture changed closer to the soil.

The red bark of the Manzanita starts to peel, reveling the new growth below.
I think I saw a mountain gorilla on the trail… or not.

The few days that we were able to enjoy the clear mountain air and expansive vistas were just what we needed. There is nothing quite like spending time in the great outdoors to reduce stress, encourage reflection, and help us appreciate the gifts of Mother Nature.

Sunday Stills: Winter(ish) White

Most often, to find images for Terri’s weekly photo prompt, I look in my files for existing pictures that match the theme. This time, I decided to use the week’s prompt, “Things that are White” as the inspiration for a scavenger hunt.

My husband and I woke up one day last week to glorious blue skies and temperatures that were predicted to reach the low 70s. Although it seldom gets too cold in Southern California, a winter day like this – especially one in the middle of the week – begs to be enjoyed outside. We decided to take a quick drive up the coast to the beachside community of La Jolla, to search for things that are white.

Kayak tour to explore the sea caves.

Right away, we saw a whole flotilla of kayakers. There are several local kayak rental companies that offer tours, and each has their own hull color for easy identification. This group, on this day, happened to be in white kayaks. I felt that we were off to a great start on our hunt.

The white cliffs of guano

A little bit further on our walk, we came across cliffs covered with white bird… ummmm… poop. The pelicans and sea lions are fun to watch, but the smell made us move along quickly.

The ocean was relatively calm that day, but we still saw a lot of waves with whitewater foam. If you look closely at the first picture, some of those “rocks” in the foreground are actually sea lions basking in the sun.  

A black and white gull is more interested in treats someone might throw to him than he is in the view.

A white rescue surfboard is at the ready just in case someone gets into trouble out in the water.

White shells embedded in cement.

More white sea spray in the distance. It was an especially low tide this day so there were a lot of tidal pools to explore.

Back up on the main street, we passed by the historical La Valencia Hotel, which was built in 1926. Black and white umbrellas and window awnings are set off against the hotel’s iconic rosy exterior. (Oh, and look: a white SUV!)

And, finally, the white and red hat made famous in the book, The Cat in the Hat, by Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss (a.k.a. Theodor Geisel) was a long-time resident of La Jolla and several local galleries carry his work.

Do you have pictures of things that are white? Join Terri’s Sunday Stills photo prompt to show us your images and see what others have shared.

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.