A Letter to Nancy ~

You have no idea the treasures you find when you are clearing out stuff – hidden high up on a shelf, stuffed in the back of the closet or crumpled in the bottom of a drawer.  Things long forgotten, once held so dear.  Since we’ve been clearing out quite a bit at our house these days, I’ve had more than a few surprise finds and lovely moments spent reliving old memories.  There is nothing like a walk down memory lane to help steer you into the future.    So, last week I’m sorting and tossing when I came across a faded Travel Section from the Los Angeles Times dated October 12, 1986.  That was the year my sister moved to Hawaii and I was getting itchy feet to try something different myself.  Not an easy decision for a single mom with two kids.  I was (sort of like now) deeply immersed in the “what if” and “how the heck” of searching for the next chapter in my life. While reading through the LA Times, I opened the travel section to a beautiful full page photo of an ocean sunset in Bali entitled “a letter to Nancy”.   I am not kidding!  It gave me goose bumps.   Yes, that letter spoke directly to my 38 year old self and just touched my wanderlust-full 63 year old soul all over again.   I hadn’t seen it in years, but there it was ~ right when I needed to read it.   The whole story was over a page long, but I’d like to share the “sweet spot” with you.

“You are right, Nancy, there are no safe roads, no guarantees.  Only the joy of discovering the unknown.  Each day is a new adventure, a new experience, so there are no promises.  It comes to all of us that life itself is a risk.

Each moment begins as a mystery with joys hopes and fears in a pattern that changes constantly.  Otherwise there would be no peaks, no valleys.  Only boredom.

The second hand sweeps ahead while calendar pages fall like the leaves of an autumn afternoon.  Impatiently, life goes on and the tragedy of this adventure is failing to live each precious moment to its fullest.  To do otherwise is merely to exist.  You’d be surprised how swiftly youth is lost on advancing years, so spend those moments wisely, Nancy, without unnecessary fear.  This isn’t to say that one should be foolhardy; rather it means there is no road that guarantees a safe arrival.  Life offers no guarantees — only the joy of discovering the unknown.  So spend your precious moments wisely, Nancy.”

And so, 26 years later, I think I’m finally “getting” the message as we set off on this new journey.   That paper is back resting on the shelf.  Lesson learned and re-learned.  With any luck, 20 odd years from now, those same words will be encouraging me to live to the fullest whatever that might mean to my 80-something self.  Maybe I’ll be reading it on the beach at sunset in Bali.  That would really bring it full circle.

Creating a community

Around our house these days there’s a lot of talk about places we’d like to visit.  Right now, we’re just armchair traveling but we’re getting ideas.  Last night Croatia soared to number one on my hubby’s must see list.  Next week it will be somewhere else.  We’re having a great time travel dreaming.  The list grows and it’s my job to figure out how to make it happen.  I LOVE this part.  It’s where my creative spirit soars and my laptop and Google are getting a workout.  I thank Al Gore every day for inventing the internet.

Number one on my travel bucket list is living in a place (or hopefully several different places) for months at a time.  I want to settle in, get to know the local people.  Break bread and drink wine with them, maybe sing and dance in the street with them if the opportunity arises.  (We did this in San Miguel when we crashed a wedding parade but that’s a different post entirely.)       I want to become part of their community.  Which got me thinking about what really makes a community and how it kinda feels like we have lost that special connection, at least in this country.   We’ve moved away from family and old friends and scattered across the country and around the world.  Many of us are yearning for the warm fuzzy feeling that being part of a community used to mean so we create unique “families” and go about trying to bloom where we are planted.

I’ve found my own little community at the local Starbucks.  Yes, that purveyor of entry level coffee and high fat, high priced sweet treats, big business chain, Starbucks.  But, in my humble opinion, there is one thing Starbucks founder, Howard Schultz, got right from the beginning.  It’s not about the coffee, it’s about the community.  And Starbucks has created one, big time.  I’m sitting in a comfy chair with my Awake tea writing this post.  I work from home and walk over here pretty much every day so I can be around real people.  Over the years, I have become part of a community within the Starbucks community.  Depending on the time of day, I see different people.  We vie for one of the four the comfy chairs on the rug in the middle of the shop.  We call it the “island” and we vote people off or on.  No kidding!  We think we’re clever – go figure.  Here’s how it works.  If I come between 7:00am and 8:30am, there’s a group I call “the boys”.  It took a while but they finally warmed up to me and let the old lady on the island.  They started including me in the conversation and saving a chair for me.  I know about their kids, their jobs, their cars and their pets.  Sometimes, I even know their names.  If I come a little later, there is a different crowd – these are the retired crew.  Usually just the husbands during the week but they bring their wives with them on the weekends.  They are fun and funny always brighten my day.  There is a lovely woman who comes every day to sit for hours writing her novel.   We’ve talked about walking together but haven’t yet.  In the late afternoon, there is a group of us who bring our books or kindles and read.  Recently, there’s been an older gentleman who’s obviously had a stroke and lost his language ability who comes in the afternoon to read the paper and have a coffee.  I caught his eye and smiled at him every day for a week and then, the other day he lifted his hand and smiled and waved.  We connected!  I had a moment.   Once, I had been out of town for a week and Mary, my first Starbucks friend, called me to make sure I was OK.  If this isn’t just like a real community, I don’t know what is.

Starbucks is my Cheers – everybody knows my name.  The staff is friendly, fun and you feel like part of the family.  I bring them treats at Christmas and cheer their accomplishments.

So, I guess I’ve been practicing community building all along and when we finally start to travel and live in new places, I’ll use my Starbucks experience – Be the first to smile.  Always say hello. Never miss an opportunity to talk to a stranger – you’ll hear the most interesting stories.  Take the comfy chair and sit awhile.  Relax and enjoy.

And, Howard, if you’re reading this…I was only kidding about the coffee.  Millions of people enjoy it every day.  For me – it’s the Tazo Awake tea in a mug (not paper) and the mini double fudge donut.  Good stuff!

Gone to Bermuda

Ok, I admit it, I have been known to zone out right in the middle of a conversation.  The lights are on, but sometimes I’m not home.  I’ve gone to Bermuda.   You see, way, way back in the day, a bunch of us were out at the Universal Amphitheater watching two great acts – The Blues Brothers (as the opening act) and Steve Martin, wearing his trademark white suite and head arrow, doing his brilliant stand up routine.  Every now and then, Steve would stop in the middle of his monologue and stare off into space then snap back saying “Oops, I just went to Bermuda”.  I have no idea why that idea left such an indelible impression on me, but that phrase has been well used in our family ever since and frankly, I find myself going there more and more often.

Talk about cheap travel!  I can leave any time, no back pack or rollie required and the shortest visit leaves me renewed, refreshed and ready to carry on.  No dis-respect to my hubby or my neighbors, or the guy who sits next to me at Starbucks on Saturday morning and wants to CHAT,  but, really, I’ve heard your stories before – more than once – and they aren’t getting any better.  Never wanting to appear rude or disinterested, I’ve found that if I just smile and nod, nobody knows I’m trippin’, but my mind has taken off for higher ground.   Surely, I’m not alone here.  I’m thinking some days Bermuda might be a very crowded little island.  I know my husband is doing to the same thing, only maybe he’s on Barbados.

Just may be “going to Bermuda” is the secret to a happy marriage.   Just sayin’…

Lusting for a Land Yacht

I’m starting to think that more than half the fun of retirement planning is discovering all of the amazing options that I had absolutely no idea about.  Every time I talk to someone and mention our backpack and rollie plan, they tell me about some interesting place to visit, new ways to travel and the best yet, how to get paid while you are on the road aka workamping, in short, how to vivir la buena vida con poco dinera.   Just the other day, I had lunch with a friend who, last summer for her 60th birthday, visited 12 national parks in two weeks.  Camping with a girlfriend.  They loved it!   Another friend is hitting the road pulling a 10′ (that’s tiny) trailer so she and her dog and kitty can wander wherever the spirit of adventure takes them for the next year.  Or so.  These gals are blazing trails for me that I didn’t even know were there.

I’ve discovered that there are literally thousands of people, couples and singles, who chuck the house and the stuff and the stress and take to the joys of the open road.  All over the world.   The options are endless.  Who knew?  Really, it turns out that if you’ve got your health and an adventurous spirit, money isn’t as important as I feared.  Obviously money makes life easier, but travel and having grand adventures are still on the table.  Big time.  It just requires a slight mind-set adjustment.

So, with a new respect for those people I once thought to be just this side of the Beverly Hillbillies, I’ve become strangely drawn to what were originally known as land yachts.  If we’re going down this road (still an IF but I’m warming to the idea), then let’s go in style.  Which I would not necessarily confuse with luxury.  Fun, cute, unusual – something with flair that would make me swoon, like the little red number at the top of this post.  Definitely fun to think about.

Here’s a short pictorial history of some of my favorite land yachts.  I had a great time finding them ~

Family fun in a vintage 1909 motor home.

It was called The Jungle Yacht.  This was BEFORE Ike created the highway system so driving one of these babies over the mountains must have taken nerves of steel.

Now, this could do it.   It’s a 1956 model but I think it’s pretty cool.

Cutest.  Trailer.  Ever.And Ricky the cat could have his own trailer to match.  I love that it’s an Airstream which might just be the totally coolest trailers ever built.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Here’s to reinvention on a budget, or, as I like to call it… adventures in living la vida cheapo in retirement.

There is a new movie coming out that sounds right up my alley on this particular topic.  It’s about a group of British retiree expats who buy into a  luxury retirement development in a former Indian palace.  (A place so wonderful that old people will refuse to die!)  This group hope to reinvent themselves by creating a new life in sumptuous surroundings and live substantially cheaper than what they would back home.  Sounds good to me!   In the film, their adventures are chronicled in blog entries kept by Evelyn, a newly widowed housewife played by Judi Dench.  In one particularly poignant entry Evelyn writes “the challenge, is to cope with it, and not just to cope, but to thrive.”   That struck a chord for sure.

I wanted to post about this movie not just because I love the premise, but because there is a very interesting and I think brilliant idea attached to it.  Fox Searchlight, the movie producer has teamed up with both Civic Ventures (a boomer think tank where I heard about this idea) and Road Scholar (formerly known as Elderhostel and a great org for mid-life learning adventures) to offer $150,000 in grants to people over 50 who are reinventing themselves by creating organizations that improve eduction, health care and social services in their community.    It’s called the Marigold Ideas for Good.      So if you’ve got an idea (or know someone who does) about how you can make the world a better place for future generations, throw your hat in the ring and enter.  They’ve got cool prizes too.

Check out the movie trailer – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  I think it opens May 4th.

Three (or is it Thirteen) Bags Full

Friday we cleaned out closets and took an SUV full of black plastic bags loaded with clothes, treasures we thought we couldn’t possibly live without and other assorted things we didn’t even remember we owned to the Goodwill.  How the hell did we acquire all this stuff?  A lot of it was old clothes that were taking up valuable real estate in the closet. Hubby seems to have a strong attachment to his old clothes…he still talking about the outfit with the matching white belt and white shoes and I can tell he’s picturing himself as Mr. Cool Dude, too.  Needless to say, I pick out his clothes for any kind of trip or social outing that I’m involved in.  If he goes out alone…he’s on his own.

So, off we went to the Goodwill drop off station in Lake O.  Here’s an interesting observation –  including us, the cars that were dropping stuff off included two Mercedes, a Volvo, two BMW’s and a Lexus.  People with a wee bit too much money perhaps, who bought a bunch of stuff they really, truly didn’t need and now are off-loading it to make room for more stuff they probably don’t need.  Not, us – we’re REDUCING the inventory.

To bring this adventure full circle, my son and his lovely girlfriend do most of their shopping at the Goodwill.  They live fully the values of reduce, reuse and recycle.  Wouldn’t it be truly perfect if the new bedspread or lamp they scored at the Goodwill came from our guest room!  Circle of stuff instead of the circle of Life!  I love it.

With all of the downsizing going on at our house, I’ve been following a very interesting blog by a guy named Dave Bruno called the 100 thing challenge.   A few years back he took on the challenge of reducing his personal “stuff” to 100 items.  I’m not sure I’m ready for that but it is a very interesting idea.  He talks about his own efforts to reduce our American style consumerism and promotes the concept of reduce, refuse, rejigger.  Re-jigger, what a great word.  This is what our grandparents did.  When something broke, they actually fixed it instead of throwing it in the trash because it was cheaper to buy a new one.  It feels like maybe we’re coming full circle here.  I find more and more that I don’t need stuff “just because”.  Oh, I like it.  I still love to check it all out in the shops, but to tell you the truth, I have less and less desire to buy it and that feels good.  Really good.

Right now a couple of dear friends are going through variations on this theme.  One friend is downsizing to a ten foot trailer so she can travel the US for her 60th year.  Go girl!  Another is helping her aging parents move to assisted living and clearing out 60+ years of accumulated treasure.  At least if we keep hauling our stuff off to the Goodwill or selling on Ebay, our kids won’t have to deal with it.  They can thank me now or they can thank me later.

Disclaimer –  That is NOT our house!  The photo came from Max Patton’s Tips for Decluttering on A&E.