When Fear Slithers in ~

Ok, I admit it, there’s a reason why my retirement dreaming has been more in the direction of Alsace Lorraine than some place in the Amazon.  One word – SNAKES.  Oh yes. I have a big time, full on, beyond all reason, fear of snakes.  Any kind, and size is not a factor.  I know it makes no sense.  I’m an educated and generally intelligent woman but this is one of those totally irrational things and, let me just say, this kind of REALLY BIG FEAR is not what you want to take with you when you become a citizen of the world.

Snake Charmers

As a kid in Canada, I grew up spending summers at our cottage on Balsam Lake and there were snakes but I don’t remember worrying about them.  We did all the crazy kid stuff and sometimes we’d see one.  No big deal.  But, sometime between those carefree summers at the lake and high school in Southern California, this crazy fear slithered into my mind and has grown into a green eyed monster.  In high school, I  paper clipped the pages of my biology book together so I wouldn’t touch the snake pictures.  True story.  But wait, it gets worse.  In 1996 I took a trip to Belize and Guatemala.  I was fearful of the jungle and what was lurking there, but I thought the best way to overcome my fear was to face it head on.  Right!  We were in Tikal hiking through the jungle to climb the Mayan pyramids.   It was dense and humid and we could hear the howler monkeys and parrots up in the trees.  I was pretty sure there was a big ole snake up there too, but we didn’t see any.   When we met a local guide/professor, I mentioned my fear of snakes.  He said “Don’t worry about snakes, they’re more afraid of you than you are of them”.  Ha!  Wrong-o!  And, then he said “Besides, you can smell them.  They have a very distinct and not pleasant smell.”  Really?  I did not know this.  I made it through the day and enjoyed every minute of this truly amazing experience.

Yoo Whoo! Any snakes down there?

But, the next morning, my friend Don and I decided to take an early walk.  We followed a dirt road just outside of the park.  We walked for a couple of miles and every now and then we would see a large sign, in Spanish, that said “Danger Venomous Reptiles”.  Okay, a little concern started to creep in.  My friend said it was just to keep tourists out.  Hmmm.  Wouldn’t it be in English too?  We kept on going, but then without warning – a really bad smell.  I lost all reason and control.  I screamed SNAKE! then turned around and ran as fast as I could in the other direction leaving my walking companion standing there shaking with laughter.  I was terrified obviously, since I still remember it like it was yesterday.   It’s embarrassing to say the least, but truth be told, snakes represent all the ways that I let fear stop me from living life full out.  And there are plenty of them.  I won’t bore you with the list.

How do you suddenly become brave at 63 1/2?  I’m not sure really, but I’d like to figure it out.  Actually, I’d settle for braver.   I’ll probably never jump out of an airplane and I’m OK with that.  But, there are a whole bunch of places in this world that are really worth experiencing and I’m not sure I can go because there might be snakes?   Am I really saying that?  It sounds crazy even to me, but it’s kinda true.  For now.

All I know is that life is short and I want to live every minute with all the gusto I can manage and so, somehow, the fear has to go.  You can’t pack it in the rollie.  It takes up way too much space and it definitely weighs you down.

Oh, and by the way.  Snakes don’t smell.  He was just messing with me.

The Retired Gentleman ~ in photos

Apparently there is a whole other persona that many men take on at a certain age/stage in life… I’ll just call it becoming the Retired Gentleman.   Life is once again full of possibility and new beginnings.   Since I’ve now got an RG of my very own, it has been fun watching this metamorphosis.   It’s only been a couple of months, but all of a sudden I’m seeing these men of a certain age everywhere I go.   Here are a few of my recent observations on what  a Retired Gentleman does now that he has time on his hands.

They take up sailing

The finally learn to operate heavy machinery.

They start a band and get some gigs.

They audition for the next Food Network Star.

They wear gold jackets and hang out at cat shows.

They get their groove on.

They realize their life long dream to become an astronaut.

What do retired women do?  Haven’t a clue.

Mon Dieu, nous sommes soignants maison ~

“It is my second week in Escamps, a cluster of medieval farms and impossibly narrow roads in southwest France, a region known as The Lot, in the Midi-Pyrénées. There are no shops in this hamlet, only a church, an ancient cemetery, and a tiny bibliothèque whose librarian, Monsieur Dubillion, I nearly ran over in my tiny rented Renault. Still, word of my housesitting at Sophie Dumont’s farm, Piepalat, has preceded me, and on my daily walks residents often invite me for a cup of espresso or a slice of their goat cheese. In the language I learned from my French mother, I chat with farmers and masons whose ancestors have lived here for centuries.”

So wrote Judith Reitman, an American from North Carolina, in an article I stumbled on several years ago in AARP Magazine.  Judith wasn’t retired but she was looking for adventure on the cheap.  She found it big time, through an ad in HouseCarers.com.  In return for taking care of Sophie’s four cats – Lulu, Bijoux, Chouchou and Mia (which involved fresh cooked fish twice a day), feeding the chickens, and a little garden work, Judith got to stay practically free in a 17the century limestone farmhouse.  From that first experience, Judith was hooked.   I was hooked too.  And I’ve circled back to this idea time and again.  Finally, the time is right to give it a go ourselves and I am very excited.

First, the good news.   Especially where our beloved pets are concerned, there are more people than ever looking for someone to stay in their home while they are away.  This can be from one week to as long as a year or two.   You can find house sits world-wide – from farms to city apartments to luxury vacation homes and even on yachts!  Then, the bad news.  The word is out on house sitting and the competition can be fierce for the prime locations.  Flexibility is key, and you might be staying in your dream location in the off season.  Still…

Here’s an opportunity I found on TrustedHousesitters.com.  Two years in Castello Branco, Portugal.  Two cats, 11 chickens, vegetable garden.  Oh, baby!   

It helps to have house sitting experience and references, SO – if you or anyone you know is looking for someone to take care of the homestead, walk the dog, pet the kitties and water the plants while you’re out of town – let me know.  I am eager to dive in and get our feet wet.

The three most popular sites I’ve seen are HouseCarers.com, TrustedHousesitters.com and Housesittersinternational.com.   To get the ball rolling, I’ve decided to sign up with with a couple of agencies.  Trusted House Sitters and HouseSitMexico.   For less than $60/year to join, I think it’s a great way to test the water before we go half way around the world.  So, I’m working up our perfect profile and giving it a whirl.  We can do this!  In fact, a quick check this week on the HouseCarers.com for house sit openings in Washington State and bingo – I wanted to vacation on Bainbridge Island and here it is.  Click on the link and tell me, who would not be happy to spend two weeks in this gorgeous place and snuggle up with these two beautiful kitties.  One for Les and one for me.  Purrrfect!  (sorry).

If you are as intrigued by this idea as I was, here are a couple more links to check out :

Caretaker Gazette – Yep, a Newsletter for and about house sitting.

This UK couple have taken the house-sitter lifestyle to a new level – They have their own website and provide a lot of good info on avoiding the inevitable pitfalls.

Got Stuff? ~

I see so many signs like this when I’m walking or driving around town.  Extra Storage – it’s a booming business.  It got me wondering ~ When did we begin acquiring so much stuff that we can no longer contain it all within the walls of our own home?  What do we do then?  Apparently, we go out and rent our stuff it’s OWN STUFF CONDO.  Really, think about this – and I have lately with all of the attention on reality TV shows like Storage Wars (which was so successful that it has a spin-off Storage Wars: Texas).  In fact, I just checked the local TV Guide Listings and on Tuesday, May 22nd, the A&E channel ran nothing but Storage Wars from 6pm until Midnight.  That’s 12 half hour episodes of people trying to out bid each other so they can become the proud owner of someone else’s unwanted stuff.  Not even their good stuff – no, this is the stuff they crammed into a 6’x6′ cement room, rolled down the metal door and apparently walked away and forgot about!

Here’s a photo (courtesy of the website) of the players on Storage Wars.  These people are now huge stars and everybody and their uncle is running out to storage auctions trying to strike it rich.   The land of the free and the home of the brave has become the land of the super-sized and over-stuffed.  Come on people.  Really?  No wonder the rest of the world thinks of us as “those crazy Americans”.  When did we become so stuff addicted?  If one is good, why is 3 or 4 or more better?  Maybe I can get a government grant to study this.  In the meantime, it is something else to think about in our quest to radically downsize our life and take it on the road.

Ok, soapbox packed up and put away for today.

Night Driving ~

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you.”  E.L. Doctorow    I came across this quote about the writing process the other day, but I think it is right up there as some of the best advice on Life, I’ve heard in a while.

This really hit me right between the eyes yesterday when I drove to a friend’s house for dinner.  She lives on Parrott Mountain.  It’s really not much of a mountain, but for this city girl driving an SUV that still feels just a tad too big to handle + some steep curves + narrow (sometimes gravel) roads, + a lack of decent night vision = the whole drive kinda spooked me.  I arrived at her place already worrying about the drive back down and wanting to make sure I did that drive while it was still light.  It was in the back of my mind all evening and was obvious to the three dear women who were my dinner companions.  I was very cautious about my wine intake (not a bad thing that) and I was keeping one eye on the clock.  I let fear of some future unknown possibility lurk around and try to push out my enjoyment of the moment.  I pushed it aside.  It pushed back.  Fear does that if you let it.

We had a lovely time talking, laughing, eating a delicious dinner and finally playing a game called Mexican Train.  This game has many different rules, so we played by whatever rule worked in the moment.   I was playing by whatever rule would end the game quicker.  This didn’t work. The “ladies” (and after several glasses of vino, I’m using that term very loosely) called me out on my obvious worry.   Here’s the comment that hit the nail squarely on the head “You are planning to be a world traveler with a backpack and you are afraid to drive in the dark?  How’s that gonna work?”  Well, yes I am.  So, I probably won’t be doing any night driving in any other country either.  But, I got the point… clearly, I’ve got some work to do here.

And, because I’m sure you want to know, here’s how the evening ended.  Despite all my worry and planning, it got late and I was doomed to driving down the mountain in the DARK.  So, I followed a friend who knew the road, took an easier way and drove a little slower than she normally would have to lead me to the highway in about five minutes.  Piece of cake.  Why did I get all up in my head over nothing?  How many times do I let myself do this?  Way too many.  I think most people do in some way – maybe just not about driving in the dark.

Oh, and I did a little checking and it turns out I’m not the only one who has a problem driving in the dark.

Captain of my Own Cruise Ship ~

Retirement is when you stop living at work and begin to work at living…

I don’t know where this quote came from, but I could not have said it better.  I am so ready to be there.

And, let me add – “Thank God there is cocktail service on this cruise!”

Enough said.

What’s in a Gift?

Here’s an interesting thought.  If you are in the process of getting rid of most of your worldly goods, what the heck should people give you as a gift – say for Mother’s Day, or Christmas or your Birthday?   On Saturday, my son and his lovely girlfriend invited us over to celebrate Mother’s Day with a little tea and scone brunch in their back yard and a trip to the St. John’s Parade.   My son said something like, “We thought about getting you a gift, but couldn’t think of what you would need that fit in the backpack and rollie.”   They gave me this precious little bouquet of flowers from their garden – perfect!

I was intrigued by the question.   Really, what is the point in giving gifts to someone who’s in the middle of down-sizing and, at this stage in life, what could I possibly need?  Short answer – Nothing.  (Well, I still WANT a pair of UGG boots, but I don’t honestly NEED them).  There is nothing I need and what a great feeling that is.  I do not need more stuff, but I still want more experiences and adventures and good times with friends and family.  Makes gift giving very simple, doesn’t it?   Moments.  Memories.  I’ll always need those.  I think that’s why I carry my little camera everywhere.  I want to remember and savor the moments, the sights, the colors, the unusual in the every day, and I am one who tends to forget.  Just ask my sister…she remembers more of my early life than I do.  But I digress… that’s another post entirely.  The truth is I spent the better part of of the last 50 years in pursuit of stuff and now it holds little or no value beyond the practical.

I took a picture of my “kids” at the St. John’s Parade so I can remember this moment.  The sun was out.  The streets were crowded.  The air was warm – a perfect memory of a Mother’s Day well celebrated.  Oh, and the absolutely delicious home made hazelnut chocolate scones.  That is truly all I needed for a perfectly lovely Mother’s Day.  Life is sweet.  Thanks guys.