Home Exchange ~ Making the Connection

Some day my Prince will come.  But what’s taking so long?

It feels like I joined an online dating site and nobody thinks I’m cute enough or interesting enough or even worse, maybe I’m GU (geographically undesirable) as we used to say back in the day.  I signed us up for home exchange three months ago with high hopes.  I’ve talked to people who have had many interesting and successful exchanges over the years, so I was picturing myself spending a month in Mexico or a week in France, making a new friend or two and expanding our travel horizons on the cheap.  Just that easy!  That has been my motivation since last spring when the hubs retired and announced we were going to become world travelers.  He’s not big on the “how” portion of the plan…those little details fall to me and I have eagerly and happily taken up the task.  Part of the challenge is that I am still a full time desk jockey who isn’t ready to cash in my last corporate chip yet.  Well, unless I win PowerBall and then see how fast I say “So long, it’s been nice to know ya”.

So, back to home exchange and my enthusiastic start.  Oh yes, within days of posting information touting our great city of Portland as the mecca of all things foodie, hipster and green, posting photos of our home in the suburbs but close to downtown, wine and farm country, and only a couple of hours from the beach or the mountains, we got a flurry of interest.  Unfortunately we weren’t interested in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Nowhere, Iowa or even the year long offer in Century City, CA.  Well, I was interested in the possibility of a sunny winter near LA friends, but hubs was definitely cool on the idea and Mr. Ricky (the cat) was a deal breaker.  We have since had a few inquiries, the most interesting was from a guy who wanted to exchange his home in the jungle (as in 10 miles down a dirt road from anything that resembles a town) in Costa Rica.  That one I did consider for a moment, but couldn’t work it out.  For starters.  Jungle = Snakes.  I’m not ready to go there yet.  But that was a few weeks ago.  Since then?  Nothing.  Nada.  Complete silence

I’m dreaming of an exchange home that looks a little like this.

So, what’s up?  Why no love match yet?  And the biggest question of all – How can I change this situation?   It is apparent that sitting on the bench waiting for Prince Charming to come and ask me to dance isn’t going to work.  Wallflower?  Not me.  Time for action!

New Plan

1.  Check out the local competition.  I see a LOT of Portland offerings.  What’s their appeal and how can I improve my odds?  Revamp as needed.

2.  Get smarter.   Get involved in the home exchange community.  Follow bloggers like Shelley Miller Home Exchange Expert and join community boards to find out how others are making it work.

3.  Be realistic about the stumbling blocks – ie.  What the hell do we really do with the cat?  Will hubs go along with making him part of the exchange?  This is turning out to be a bigger problem than I originally anticipated for some reason.  What was I thinking?  Or was I just not thinking…

4.  Get really clear about what locations and housing situations will work for us, right now, while I’m still working.  There are restrictions on length of stay and time zones if I want to work while on the road.  When we are both officially retired – totally new ball game but my plan is to have experience on our side by then.

5.  And this is the biggie.  Put it out there.  Be assertive.  Go after what we want.  ASK someone if they want to exchange with us.  Tell them we have a cat and we’d exchange pet care.  Hope the hubs will buy into this idea for “his boy”.   Then, Ask.  Ask. Ask.  My new motto: “You don’t know if you don’t ask.”  What century am I from that I’ve been sitting around waiting to be asked?  That was Junior High and I thought I was over it.

6.  Do. Not. Quit.   Keep an open mind – maybe an offer could work with a little flexibility and some creative thinking.

I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.  I WILL make this work!

Mr. Ricky Says Hi. He’s keeping the pizza warm for you.

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Booked it Danno!

I am so excited I can hardly contain myself!   If I’m dreaming, please do not pinch me.

I have been thinking about walking the Camino de Santiago for a while now.  But, in my heart, I knew I was way past that stage in my life where I wanted to walk all day and then sleep on the ground or in a hostel with the smelly, partying masses of young folk. Not to mention carrying all my belongings on my back. Don’t get me wrong – I love young people.  I used to be one.  Truly, some of my best friends are young.  And, I still like a good party!   I do not think of myself as old and crotchety, no matter what my kids might tell you.  But, when it comes to SLEEP.  Now that’s a different matter entirely.  Let it be known here that I am not nice (and might even be considered cranky if not downright crotchety) when I don’t get my full eight hours – preferably in comfort and relative silence.  So, I wasn’t sure how to make this particular dream a reality.  It was definitely a conundrum.

I firmly believe that there is always a way and a brilliant solution came to me in the form of an article written by a woman who had completed what I like to call the “relatively civilized, not too hard but still challenging, with support if and when you need it” version of walking the Camino.   Marly Tours was our answer!  This discovery made it all seem do-able.  All we needed was a little time, a moderate amount of money and good walking shoes.  As it turned out, I mentioned our idea to a few friends and now we are a party of six.  Hubs, me, my sis and three women friends.  It’s a big year too – my 65th birthday, my sister’s “something that ends in a zero” birthday, hubs and my 10th anniversary.  Definitely a year worth marking in a big way.  We’ll  walk about 10-12 miles a day at our own pace  and meet up along the way. Then we’ll gather together every evening for wine, dinner and story-telling before bed.  We’ll be a small group of no more than 14 Pilgrims + our Marly “wranglers” who will make sure we don’t get lost, carry our luggage, provide snacks, first aid and sag wagon support if needed.

So… we’re off.  Well not until next September.  Exactly twelve months from this week.    Call me a light weight, call me soft, call me old, but do not call me between September 17 and 24, because I won’t be home.  I’ll be in Spain, crossing one more item off my bucket list – walking at least a small portion of the Camino de Santiago.

Staying in small hotels like this…Sleeping in a comfy bed like this…Walking along roads and paths like this…Now, I just need to find a home exchange so we can stay an extra week to explore the rest of Spain.  I’m working on that too.

Oysters and Pearls ~

Want to hear a secret?  I love to rock out in my car.  CD blasting, hands drumming, head bopping and lips moving in an all out sing-along.  And I know all the words too.  Tune?  Well let’s just say people prefer that I sing alone.  Yep, I’m that crazy old lady singing to herself in her SUV.  You know the one.  Oh, I know what they’re thinking when they pull up beside me at a stoplight and I do not care.  I’m in my own little sound booth on wheels and laissez le bon temps rouler.

Today it’s warm and sunny.  The sky is a brilliant blue and when I went out at lunch it just felt like a Jimmy Buffet kind of day.   I slipped Beach House on the Moon into the CD player, turned the sound waaay up and we were rocking it all the way to the post office.  Its been a while since Jimmy and I shared a song and I had forgotten that the old guy really is a poet – with his crazy lyrics that speak right your heart.  Just when you need to hear them.   The song Oysters and Pearls is one of my all time favorites. Thanks Jimmy for reminding me to get out there and go for all the gusto this Life has to offer.  “Some make the world go round.  Others watch it turn.”  Guess which one I’d rather be.  You too, I’m thinking.

* * * * *

Some people love to lead
Some refuse to dance
Some people play it safe
Others take a chance

It’s something more than DNA
That tells us who we are
Its method and magic
We are of the stars

Some never fade away
Some crash and burn
Some make the world go round
Others watch it turn

Still, it’s all a mystery,
This place we call the world
Most are fine as oysters
While some become pearls

I chopped the song up a bit to shorten it for this post. (sorry Jimmy) But, here’s the music and all the lyrics if you want to pour yourself a margarita and sing along. 

Juicy Tomatoes ~

It’s September and everyone around here is knee high in ripe tomatoes.  My friend and I got a jumpstart a few weeks ago and already canned 40 pounds of Early Girls.  Lovely little jars of sweet/tart red juicy goodness.  I’m planning on picking a bunch more now that the local heirlooms are down to 85 cents a pound.  One night this week I’ll be steaming up my glasses and cooking up a big batch of spicy salsa!

All kinds of ripe deliciousness is happening, and for some reason that reminded me of a book I read a couple of years ago called “Juicy Tomatoes – Ripe Living after 50”.  Since I’m well past 50 and it is my plan to live juicy well into ripe old age, this book called to me from the shelves of Barnes and Noble.  It’s filled with stories of women in their 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and beyond who have discovered their own juice later in life and are changing the landscape for the rest of us.

Sometime in my mid-50’s I started asking myself “What’s Next?”  Not so long ago most women my age would have been putting on their support hose and sturdy shoes and settling in to retirement.  Shrinking into a smaller life.  Instead, like so many other women I know, I’m enthusiastically searching for new adventures.  I’ve been auditioning Second Acts for the past ten years.  I read a great blog post a couple of weeks ago about the joy of being a “flitter”.   That’s exactly what I’ve been doing, but I’ve decided to see myself more like a pollinator.  I’m learning from each endeavor and sprinkling my new-found knowledge as I go.  For many of us, somewhere around 50, our lives begin to transition.  We become restless and some of us feel a deep yearning.  (I’m talking to the women here.  Men, you’ll have to speak for yourselves.)  We know that there is something more; we’re just not sure what that looks like for us.  We need time to explore, to learn, to look closer, to test the waters, and of this can be a wee bit scary.  Treading into uncharted territory doesn’t feel safe and let’s be honest, most of us (me for sure) spent our lives building safety and security for ourselves and our loved ones.  Why rock the boat now?  I’ll tell you why. Because we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Because Life is short.  Because there is still so much left that we want to try, to do and to become.   We’re not done yet, dammit!   As for my own flitting –  some of you know that at 57 I decided to become a certified personal fitness trainer.  This, after years of being a certified professional couch potato.  I joined a gym, was inspired, and wanted to share what I learned with other women.  From there I moved on to creating an organization for mid-life women to connect and learn and share in a fun social environment – in short to flourish.  Flourish grew into a great network enjoyed by hundreds of women each month.  I loved every minute of that time and all the amazing women I connected with.  Then one day I woke up and I was done. Time to flit on.  Lately, I’ve been researching retirement and travel on a limited income and I’m trying my hand at blogging.  Who knows what’s next?  I don’t.  And I’ve stopped worrying about it.  With each new endeavor, I’m discovering “juice” I didn’t know I had.  I’m keeping my mind active.  I’m feeding my creative spirit.  I’m becoming the ME I always wanted to be but didn’t know it when I was so busy being what I thought I needed to be or who everyone else wanted me to be.

Tomatoes are hardy.  They don’t require a lot of pampering.  Give them a little water and encouragement and they always deliver, even in bad dirt.  If you add a dash of salt and a pinch of pepper, they really come alive.  The longer they’re on the vine – the sweeter, saucier and tastier they become.  All the green tomatoes want to become them.  That’s my definition of a Juicy Tomato.  I ought to know.   I’ve spent enough time on the vine.

Senior Moments ~

Old folks.  Now that my husband has joined the ranks of the “officially old as recognized by the United States government” and I am so close I can breathe in the smell of must and mothballs…I’m seeing old people everywhere.  They touch my heart.  To be honest – with a bit of fear, but also with a whole lot more compassion that I ever had before.

It’s almost wordless Wednesday, so I thought I would share these photos of seniors “having a moment”

May we all age with this much grace.

On Foot and Close to Home ~

In all my travels, I have one no fail rule.  When the rest of the country is taking to the highways for a three day holiday – that’s the perfect time for me to stay at home.  I’m not a lover of crowds, or traffic for that matter, so joining millions of people fighting for a camping space or a hotel room at the beach, or sitting bumper to bumper on the interstate…not my cup of tea.   I’m probably missing out on something, but so be it.

What I really wanted to do this weekend was take advantage of these last few gorgeous late summer days.   I know that any week now, it will start raining in Portland and it won’t stop until sometime in 2013 – say around June.  So, when Saturday morning brought us a beautiful sunny day, cloudless blue skies, and the masses out of town, we had the perfect opportunity for an in town adventure.  Hubs and I headed over the bridge and across the river into Washington State to explore the City of Vancouver (The ‘Couve) on foot.   Urban walking is my new thing since I bought the book “Walk There! 50 treks in and around Portland and Vancouver”.  My goal is to do all 50 at least once.  I’m up to four, but I only bought the book a few weeks ago so I’m feeling pretty good.

Today’s route had lots of historical points of interest.  Our walk was a 6+ mile loop that started  at Fort Vancouver.  We walked by the beautifully restored homes on Officer’s Row where Hubs stopped to read every one of the historical markers.  I bounced around trying to keep my heart rate up. 

Following the map, we wound our way over the Interstate and on into downtown Vancouver to Esther Short Park where the Saturday Farmers’ Market was in full swing.  We’d worked up an appetite and homemade tamales were calling us, so we stopped for lunch.   That’s when we stumbled into the middle of a Kumoricon convention.   Thousands of young people in the streets and the park, each dressed as the character they have created for online fantasy role-playing games.  (the simplified explanation that someone gave me).  We had stumbled into the world of Animé and Mange, and  it was absolutely one of those fabulous serendipitous moments that I love!   We reluctantly left the revels in the park and headed down to the shores of the mighty Columbia River where our path followed the shoreline for a couple more miles before turning inland and back up the hill towards the barracks of Ft. Vancouver.   We stopped to watch several small planes take off and land on a tiny air strip.  That’s when we discovered the best surprise of the day.  The Pearson Air Museum – two airplane hangers filled to the rafters (literally) with vintage planes, flight simulators, amazing old photographs, assorted gear… and Gordon, aviation buff extraordinaire.   Gordon knew everything about these beauties and had stories to share.  I chatted him up a bit and then went in with the big question (and a big smile to match).  “Uh, Gordon, do you think my husband and I could sit up in that plane and you could take a quick picture of us?”   “Sure, not a problem,”  said my new best friend.  He showed us how to climb into the plane and explained that this baby was a WWII era training plane.   I put on the headphones and learned how to move the rudder and the flaps and all kinds of cool stuff. Thank you Gordon! 

We spent an hour at the museum, and a return visit is definitely in order so hubs can play on those flight simulators.  Next, a short hike up the hill from the original Fort Vancouver.  It was a Hudson Bay Trading Post in the early 1800’s.  It’s now a National Monument filled with living history.   We crossed the expansive parade grounds, stopping to look at each of the old wooden barrack buildings – home to thousands of troops until the 1950’s.   If you stood still and closed your eyes, you could almost hear the footsteps of all those young men as they marched across the grass so many years ago.

Sometimes you don’t have to travel to the other side of the globe or even the country for adventure.  We had the backpack, but no rollies were required on our close to home sightseeing trek.  Four hours on foot + $15.00 for lunch and a donation to the museum + warm sun on my face + time spent outdoors with my walking buddy and partner in crime = a perfect Labor Day Weekend getaway.  And, we managed to get home in time for hubs to watch his favorite Saturday afternoon show, Trout TV.

Life IS Good.