Playing with Fire

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you probably know that I’m all about having experiences instead of acquiring stuff. At this point in my life, I certainly don’t need many more things to make me happy. Of course, if an experience happens to result in a beautiful item I can brag about  show off  display, that would be OK too.

Over the Christmas holidays, my husband and I were treated to a glassblowing session given by an artist whose studio is in the beautiful Northern California town of Benicia. My brother and sister-in-law – the givers of the gifts – joined us for this extraordinary opportunity to play with fire that was raging inside a furnace operating at temperatures around 2,000 °F (1,090 °C).

I’ve always admired art glass and have acquired a few small pieces over the years, but I never thought I could actually be part of the creative process. Although David, the studio owner and master glassblower, was with me every step of the way, I came away feeling that the glass ornament was truly my creation. I got to pick and apply the colors, I manipulated the molten glass, and I blew into the pipe to expand the bulb to the correct diameter.

The four of us had such a great time. Our individual lessons not only resulted in four beautiful ornaments but gave us a deeper appreciation of the art of glassblowing. I don’t think any of us is destined to become a professional glassblower, but who knows? Retirement is supposed to be a time of discovery and we all had fun discovering a new way to express our creative selves.

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. and 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).

GratiTuesday: Our Adventures

On each of the four Tuesdays in December, I am highlighting what I have been most grateful for in 2017.

2017 has been an adventurous year for us and I am grateful for the many opportunities we had to get out and about. Some of the highlights (with links to previous posts) include:

Doing Rockabilly right!

Viva Las Vegas is an annual Rockabilly celebration that we have attended for the last few years. Some people go for the music, Some for the dancing, some for the fashion, and some for the vintage collections, including cars. Most go for a little bit of everything. I am grateful to the young people for keeping this genre alive… and making it their own.

In the spring, we spent five weeks in Oaxaca, Mexico. By staying in a single setting the entire time, we were able to better immerse ourselves in the culture (although, in many ways, we felt that we just scratched the surface). I am grateful for all the friendly, interesting people we met and the incredible sights we visited, and we look forward to returning to this remarkable city.

Quite different from the slow travel we experienced in Oaxaca, our travels to the Pacific Northwest and Alaska were jam-packed with activity. We enjoyed scheduled events, explored national parks, visited friends and family, and experienced the grandeur of glaciers. I am grateful for the freedom that retirement has given us so we can expand our time away to fit in everything we want to see and do.

And now we have just returned from our latest adventure in Northern California. We had a wonderful time exploring San Francisco, visiting family, hiking, and sampling delicious wines and champagnes in Napa Valley. I am grateful for the hospitality we enjoyed and grateful for our dear friends who took such good care of our home while we were gone.

It will be hard to top the adventures we had in 2017, but I am grateful for the opportunity to try.

GratiTuesday: My Husband

On each of the four Tuesdays in December, I am highlighting what I have been most grateful for in 2017.

When we got married almost 15 years ago – my first, his second – we had already been together for 13 years. There were many reasons why we waited but when we made the decision to make things legal, I knew that marrying my best friend was what I wanted to do.

Now I’m learning that not only does marriage provide a lot of emotional and practical benefits, but a happy marriage can help ensure a more enjoyable retirement and a longer, healthier life. Although we are still adjusting to being together 24/7 since retiring – and are still working out “we time” vs. “me time” – I am happy to say that my husband is still my best friend.

My husband is smart, funny, talented, a great dancer, and he’s a really nice guy. He also gets things done. I have always been a procrastinator, but that trait has gotten stronger since I’ve retired and face fewer hard deadlines. Because of him, to-dos get done and projects get accomplished. I may whine a bit lot, but I always feel better when we are finished and can check things off our list.

Around this time of year, I like to look at our 12-month desk calendar (yes, we still use a paper calendar) and remember all the things we did together throughout the year. Not only did we go on some fun adventures, other entries bring back fond memories too: The Woman’s March in January, interesting classes we took together, get-togethers we hosted or attended… even business appointments. It is usually more fun when we do things together.

I now have a new desk calendar waiting to be filled in with all the travel, activities, and appointments that 2018 has in store for us. I love that it is empty of notations, yet so full of possibilities. I’m sure, just like every year, there will be ups and downs, achievements and disappointments. But, wherever life takes us in the new year, I am so grateful to know that we will be on the journey together.

GratiTuesday: Leftovers Friends

It was my turn to host my book club last week and, as the host, it was up to me to provide the dinner and drinks. Since it’s hard to estimate how many will ultimately attend (most members still work and, unfortunately, things come up), I like to plan a main dish that can feed from 8 – 12. Casseroles fill the bill nicely, so I made baked ziti – and since I was making one, why not make two and freeze the second one?

After all the planning, shopping and meal prep, it turned out that there were only five of us that evening… and one was on a diet. As a result, not only did I have a planned-for second casserole, half of the first casserole was also uneaten. Fortunately, leftovers are welcomed in our house. Unfortunately, our freezer isn’t overly large, and it was already close to full.

It may not have been pretty… but it was yummy!

Like most people, my husband and I have a variety of types of friends. Some friendships go back a long time, others are relatively new. Some we see regularly, others are mainly Facebook or Christmas card friends. Some are occasion-specific friends, other are willing and able to participate in spontaneous adventures.

Some are friends with whom plans are made in advance, while others are happy to join us when invited over for leftovers.

These are my Leftovers Friends.

This doesn’t mean that Leftovers Friends aren’t also Facebook or Christmas card friends. They could be theater friends as well. They could be friendships from way back, or friendships made recently. What makes Leftovers Friends special is the easy comfort and acceptance they bring to the relationship.

To be sure, Leftovers Friends get invited to pre-planned get-togethers too. But, there is something about them – and the friendship – that looks beyond a less-than-pristine house, doesn’t notice a make-up free face, and doesn’t care that they are eating a meal originally meant for another occasion. The important thing is that they enjoy your company and you enjoy theirs. Throw in a decent meal and a bottle of wine (also left over from the book club meeting) and it’s even better.

I am grateful for all of my friends, but Leftovers Friends are the first I think of when I want company with whom I can relax and be myself completely. They are the ones that don’t always require advanced plans and don’t feel any less loved when invited over to enjoy a reheated meal.

I am grateful when others consider me a Leftovers Friend too.

GratiTuesday: Funky Town

I live in a pretty big city. But like most cities it’s made up of small communities, each with its own distinct personality. The demographics of each community often define its personality, but sometimes it is hard to know if the personality came first or the demographics.

There is a beach community that is several miles from where we currently live but is less than a mile from my childhood home. I spent much of my summers hanging around the beach and strolling along the main shopping district with my friends. It was funky when I was young and it is doing its best to maintain that funk even as investors salivate at its potential for development. That independent, counter-culture vibe is apparent on signs in shop windows and on bumper stickers that read: “U.S. Out of O.B.”

Starbucks managed to get a toehold, but not before receiving a huge community pushback. I’m not sure how it’s doing (long-time residents still refuse to patronize it), but they have smartly downplayed the corporate look at this particular outlet. Now, a Target Express wants to take over what was once a five-and-dime store and is now an antiques mall. If Target manages to break through the strong local opposition, I will be one of those mourning the loss of another locally-owned business.

Last Saturday, my husband and I attended the town council’s annual Pancake Breakfast. The proceeds help fund projects like the annual Food and Toy Drive and pay for the gigantic lighted Christmas tree “planted” on the beach each December. Although the food is OK, a big draw is that the breakfast is held on the fishing pier. After several days of chillier-than normal weather and constant overcast, we were favored with bright blue skies and warm sun. It was a glorious morning.

So many of our communities are being taken over by generic chain stores and cookie-cutter fast food outlets. It has become rare to find a truly locally-owned business and, when I do, I try to patronize it as much as possible. If I have to spend a little bit more to keep a family’s business in business, I am willing to do so. And, if paying $10 for two pancakes, a scoop of scrambled eggs, and a couple of charred sausage links helps support a community’s desire to maintain its unique character, I’m all in. That it includes dining at a table which offers a view of the coastline and surfers playing in the waves below, all the better.

I am so grateful for the personality of the small community I grew up in. It’s a little bohemian, a little quirky, and a lot funky. It’s been a long time since I’ve sunned myself on the beach and most of the businesses have changed since my younger days. But the smell of the salty air is unmistakable and, in many ways, it will always feel like home.

GratiTuesday: September’s Serenade

It’s nice to live in an area that tourists want to visit. We can enjoy year-round what many of them pay big bucks to enjoy for a few days or a few weeks. A trip to the beach, the zoo, or a popular entertainment venue doesn’t require a big effort any time of the year – we just get in the car and go.

The thing is, we very seldom visit these destinations in the summer… there are just too many people. Between the tourists and the local kids being out of school, most of the places that I’d love to go to are crowded. Parking is at a premium and the people per square foot is way over my comfort level.

So, we wait for September when everything starts to calm down. Hotels begin to empty of families and fill with business people. Getting a table at a popular restaurant no longer requires an extended wait. The beaches are much less crowded and parking is available. (And, here’s a little secret: we get some of our best weather in September and, often, even into early October.)

I was certainly aware of this seasonal switch when I was working full time, but I had many fewer opportunities to take advantage of it. I still had to be at work Monday through Friday and my weekends were shared with all the other 9-5ers and students. Now that I am retired, I can take mid-week walks on nearly empty beaches and visit the parks at a time when there is much less competition for space. In addition, the stores aren’t as crowded and some restaurants offer inducements to dine.

Sometimes it feels like my summer has just started.

I am grateful for the tourists (as long as they go home eventually) and I’m happy to see the kids out for summer vacation (I do remember being young, after all). But, when I start to notice the Back to School sales being advertised, I can hear the beginnings of September’s serenade. Now that it’s here, I am so grateful for the opportunity I have to fully enjoy its song.