Forty Two Really Fun Things to Do This Year ~

Forty Two Really Fun Things to Do This Year ~.

via Forty Two Really Fun Things to Do This Year ~.

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Forty Two Really Fun Things to Do This Year ~

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming – “WOW – What a Ride!” -Anon.

Singing with Tony and the boys at Melvin's piano bar in Palm Springs.

Singing with Tony and the boys at Melvin’s piano bar in Palm Springs.

Apparently I am a very late bloomer.  Sometime around my 60th birthday I finally got an inkling that grabbing the gusto was what Life was really all about and I’d better get on with it.   I found my bravery gene and my adventurous soul finally began to emerge.  Oh, I’d had my share of adventures, but the last few years have taught me to look for the joy and the adventure in every experience.    Savor the moments, step out of your comfort rut and try new things when the opportunity comes your way.    I’m pretty sure adventure is the juice that keep us young.   You don’t have to ride a camel across the desert to find fun and adventure.  Adventure is what you make it.  Close to home or across the globe, there are so many fun ways to enjoy an afternoon, a day, or a long weekend.  The list is endless, but here are my current favorites…

1.  Start a regular date night practice.  It can be with the hubby, significant other or fun friends.  Hubs and I started this a few years ago on Friday nights.  We take turns coming up with a plan.  It’s fun to see who can be the most creative on a budget!  I also have regular date nights with “the girls”.

2.  Rent a canoe or kayak and go for a paddle.  No experience or equipment required.

3.  Unleash your inner Beyoncé.   Go to a piano bar or sing karaoke.

4.  Try Laughter Yoga.  It’s good for the body and the soul.  Laughter really is the best medicine.

5.  Learn a new language.   “Hola, mi nombre es Nancy. ¿Atienden vino aquí?”

6.  Start a twalking group.  My friend Judy came up with the word twalk and I thought it was a perfect!  Walking + talking = twalking.

7.  Listen to TED Talks and sign up for TEDx if your area has one.

8.  Become more tech-savvy.  Learn how to use all the features on your iphone or Droid.

9.  Take more photos.  Carrying your camera helps you slow down and see the beauty is in the details. I recently took a great online class with Tammy Strobel of Rowdy Kittens.  Awesome!

10.  Go dancing.  When is the last time you kicked up your heels on the dance floor?  Don’t have a partner?  Try line dancing or Zumba.IMG_1920

11.  Explore every one of your local museums.  Even the button museum can be interesting.

12.  Pick up a brochure at your local Visitors Center and spend the day like a tourist visiting the attractions you’ve never seen but always wanted to.

13.  Rekindle a lost love.   I’m talking about hobbies, sports, and other activities that you loved to do but somehow Life got in the way and you let them go.  Why not pick up those skates, the knitting needles or the swim goggles and fall in love again?

14.  Sign up for Groupon, LivingSocial or other online discount offers and try out the two for one at the symphony, the theater, or a new restaurant.  A two-for-one took us to The Portland Corn Maize.

15.  Spend some time exploring the opportunities on HomeExchange.com.

16.  If you are 55+ or better yet 62+ start taking advantage of the senior discounts.  Last weekend we went to the Rose City Dog Show for FREE.   We might not have gone it we had to pay $20 or $30 to get in.  It was raining.  It was indoors.  It was free.  It was a really fun experience.  Who knew?

17.  Pack up your dinner and take yourselves on a picnic.

18.  Miniature Golf.  Fun, fun, fun.  We keep our putters in the car because you never know when you might see a new miniature golf course.IMG_3338

19.  Seek out and shop at your local Farmer’s Market.  You feel healthier just being there.

20.  Go geocaching.  I can’t wait to try this when the weather warms up.

21.  Volunteer at a senior center.  Calling bingo is calling to me.  I’m going to give it a try this year.

22.  Connect with long lost friends.  Facebook is a great place to start.

24.  Check out local theater, high school plays, roller derby, bourbon & bingo, music in the park, parades, festivals art shows.  They’re free or cheap and way more fun than you might think.IMG_2256

25.  Sign up for a creative class.  Not everyone is an artist but stepping out of your comfort zone in an easy supportive three-hour class is a great way to dip your toe.  Clay, watercolor painting, photography, drawing, card making, lettering…the list of options is endless and its a great way to get out and meet other people.  Look up classes through your local college or community center/parks and rec.

26.  Spend the night (or the weekend) in an unusual lodging.   How about a yurt at the beach, glamping, a vintage trailer, a treehouse, a rustic cabin, a historic hotel or B&B complete with breakfast and a resident ghost?  Wherever you live, they are easy to find via the internet.

27.  Try out your local vegan restaurant.  Vegan food has changed since the 70’s.  It’s gourmet good and good for you.

28.  Take yourself on a walking tour in your town.  This is one of my favorite activities on a warm summer day.

29.  Glow in the dark bowling.  Yah, baby!

30.  Sign up to walk or run a 5K.

31.  Throw yourself a birthday bash.  Mine’s a biggie this year and I plan to celebrate all month.

32.  Wear your tiara.  Trust me on this.

33.  Meet your neighbors.  Invite them to dinner or throw a community party.

34.  Not up for traveling across the globe this year?  Explore the amazing ethnic communities in your area.  Great shops, great food and lovely people.  Take your camera!

35.  Do something that scares the hell out of you but that you have always wanted to do.

36.  If they are old enough, take a mini vacation with your grandkids – one at a time.  Give them a list of places and let them choose.  Take your camera!

37.  Take a cooking class, a cheese making class, a beer making class.  It’s one of our favorite things to do.  We take classes at home and when we’re on vacation.IMG_4052

38.  Sell something on eBay.   Hubs could give a class on this.  It’s fun, you make a few bucks and you start clearing out the stuff.

39.  Start writing your memoir.  Really!  There are easy online guides to get you started.   You will be amazed at all of the adventures you can recall when you take time and look back.  Savor them and share them.  The wee ones will think you’re cool when you tell them about that time you rode on the back of a Harley up the California coast.

40.  Take a helicopter ride over your city.  Or a boat.  Or the tram.  It’ll give you a whole new perspective.

41.  Buy coffee for the person in line behind you.  You’ll feel good all day and so will they.

42.  Start planning your own really big adventure!  Make a list, cruise the internet, send for brochures, explore the options, start saving.  Set a date!

What new adventures have you had lately?  We’re always looking for a good time!

Riding the Rails – Adventures in American Train Travel

Someday the hubs and I will buy a Eurail Pass and travel wherever the trains take us.  Someday, we’ll enjoy the comfortable, efficient, reliable train service that travelers in many countries take foregranted.   Someday can’t come soon enough.   My train travel experience has been limited to riding Amtrak on both the east and west coasts and I have to admit that it’s been a mixed bag on service and efficiency and it’s always a lesson in the fine art of patience.  Obviously this is a lesson I still need to learn as it keeps repeating itself – I’m writing this post on the train as we sit in the station…waiting, waiting, waiting to depart.  Breathe.  Relax.  Ha!   So, since I’ve got about three hours to kill, I thought it might be fun to share a few of my Amtrak experiences and apply my own very unscientific rating system.

Portland Union Station - photo from the Amtrak Website

Portland Union Station – photo from the Amtrak Website

Way back in the day, I lived in Los Angeles and we took the train for fun – a day at the San Diego zoo or brunch in Santa Barbara.  In those days riding the train usually included a group of friends and copious amounts of alcohol.  We were not worried about arrival times because it meant more time to party en-route.   Rating ~ I’ll give it a B with a twist. (lemon of course)

In 1987 I moved my family from Los Angeles to Portland.  We loaded our car into the moving van with all our other worldly goods and the kids and I headed toward our new life on the Coast Starlight.  I envisioned an overnight adventure.   Reality?  We slept in a postage stamp size room with pull down bunks and spent many hours eating bad food in the club car while I pointed out passing forests, fields and cows to my less-than-thrilled children.  They were more interested in hanging out in that space between cars trying to freak mom out.   Where are your drinking buddies when you really need them?  Rating ~ Only a C+.   Two adults traveling alone and it might have gotten an A.  Sorry kids!

I’ve also taken the Amtrak commuter between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. – on time and no frills, molded plastic seats and a snack bar, but it got us where we needed to go with no delays with no fuss.  This was definitely a B.  Boring, but it worked.  The station in D.C. is stunning and worth a visit if you have a chance.

My experience on the Empire Builder was another story entirely.   This route is supposed to be one of the “crown jewels” in the Amtrak system.  You can board in Seattle or Portland and travel all the way to Chicago.  Our plan was to get on in Portland and get off in Whitefish, Montana for a five-day mini-vacation fishing on the Flathead River and sightseeing in Glacier National Park.  Ever thrifty, I convinced myself and the hubs that we didn’t need to spend the additional money for a sleeping compartment.  It was summer, we could board at 5:30pm, enjoy a leisurely dinner, drink a little wine and watch the world go by until it got so dark we could no longer see out the window.  A short sleep in the comfy recliner seats and we’d wake up in Montana.Empire Builder - Spectacular Scenery Oh yes, I had a very romantic vision of how it would  play out.  Amtrak wanted no part of my romantic dreaming.  We arrived at Union Station in downtown Portland to find a paper sign at the check-in counter – No Train Today.  No train.   No warning.  Nothing anyone could do about it.  And, frankly, no one at Amtrak who seemed to care.  “Would we like to cancel or would we like to return the next day at Noon, take the train to Seattle and pick up the Empire Builder there?”  Pick one or get out of the line.  Out of options, we chose the latter and showed up at Noon ready to try again on Day 2.  We lined up with the herd to get our seat assignments and board the train.  Off at last!   Not so fast, Nancy.   We sat on that train for almost an hour, knees to knees with two strangers, in seats that faced each other.  Nothing moved, including the air in our compartment.  I don’t sit well so I decided to explore the train and find the club car.   After what seemed like an endless wait, we were advised there were mechanical problems with our train.  We all gathered our belongings and moved like lemmings to train number two.  We finally pulled out of the Portland station about 90 minutes late, but at least we were moving.  I wasn’t into all the knee touching and since I now knew where we could relax with a frosty beverage, I grabbed the hubs and we claimed a table in the dining car for the duration of our trip.  A bag of chips and a Bloody Mary and we were MUCH happier.  Which was a very good thing because there was trouble on the tracks.  A derailment the previous day caused serious stoppage and delays along the way and our 3 hour trip turned into over 5 hours on the train.   We pulled into IMG_0981Seattle after 6pm.  The Empire Builder had been waiting for us for over two hours.  We scrambled aboard, found our seats, and had a  moment of silent gratitude that these seats had leg room and reclined.  A blanket and a pillow and we’d be set for sleeping.  But wait, we’re on Amtrak, so of course “there’s more”.  The conductor (a young woman) and the steward (a rather rotund gentleman who shall remain in my brain forever as Mr. Crankypants) stood conversing across the aisle.  I thought that perhaps like the airlines, they might have a blanket and pillow so I asked “Excuse me, I was wondering if you had blankets?”  Apparently I was interrupting a very important conversation as Ms. Conductor turned, glared at me, hand on hip and replied:  “We’re a little busy here.” and turned back to her conversation with Crankypants.  You cannot make this kind of bad customer service up folks.  She silenced me…not usually an easy feat.

Before the train was even out of the station, I went to inquire about dinner.  Naturally, we ended up eating very late.  The dining car looked quite elegant – white linen and all.  The food left everything to be desired and when your half-bottle of wine comes dressed in its own little satin tuxedo, you can be pretty sure it’s Swill’s Second Cousin.  Our table companions were part of a large group of Japanese tourists.  We nodded and smiled, but witty dinner conversation was not on the agenda that evening.   Our server, quite possibly a Denny’s retiree, wore her tuxedo vest over a white shirt and sported a large band of jangling keys around her left bicep.  That this woman was over-worked and over-whelmed was obvious.  But worse, this woman was rude to the Japanese group who had an obvious challenge with our language – to the point of making faces behind their back.   If there were a three strikes law on travel, Amtrak was already over the limit on this trip.

Let’s just say it was very, very long and sleepless night for Nancy who sat freezing in her Artic air-conditioned recliner seat, because it turned out there were no blankets, noisy passengers walked the train all night long and Mr. Crankypants patrolled the aisles yelling at people who were not sitting in their assigned seats.  Of course, hubby slept like a baby.  When the train finally pulled into the tiny Whitefish station and I stumbled, blurry-eyed and exhausted onto the platform, I felt like I had survived some sort of horror movie.  And, because we were now officially more than 24 hours behind our scheduled arrival time, we had less than one hour to find our rental car, drive to our B&B, splash a little cold water on our faces, meet our fishing guide and spend the next 5 hours on the Flathead River in an inflatable raft in 100 degree heat. Hubby (well rested from his long nap on the train) was perched high up in the front, fly rod in hand, master of all he surveyed, while I bounced around in the back nodding off and trying to keep from falling asleep and falling overboard.   Amtrak, I have waited a long time to share this story publicly.  You almost ruined my vacation and you killed my romantic fantasy of train travel.  For this, I’m giving you a D- Amtrak.  Consider yourself lucky.

IMG_0947My most recent excursions have been simple jaunts from Portland to Tacoma or Portland to Seattle.  Mostly pleasant, often inexpensive (last weekend I paid $58 round trip) and usually on time.   The scenery is beautiful and the conversation in the Bistro Car is always lively and interesting.  When you get bored, you can just plug in and tune out. On a trip this summer, the train was packed with hundreds of riders (mostly men) and their bicycles who were heading from Portland for the STP (Seattle to Portland) bike ride.  The celebrating began before we left the station.  That was a very fun trip!  Just like the old days in L.A.  Rating ~  Not too bad Amtrak. I’ll give you a B. I love the fact that you have wi-fi and I can bring my laptop and work.  I always get a Bloody Mary and a bag of chips.  It’s a tradition now.

So – Amtrak.  It’s definitely a love/hate relationship with most folks and a long way from the trains that criss-cross Europe, the bullet trains in Japan or the glory trains like the Orient Express or the Royal Scotsman.  I’m holding on to my romantic train fantasy a while longer – just not with Amtrak.

From the Travel Confessions File ~

Lifestyles of the Not So Rich or Famous… but the Really Lucky

Although I’m relatively new to the blogging world, I have noticed that sometimes bloggers entertain their creative spirit and each other with a variety of writing prompts, tagging games and blogging awards.  I haven’t won any awards as yet, but last week I was tagged to participate in a “travel confessions” game.  Someone tags you, you write a post and tag other blogs.  It sounded like fun and my friend Lois who blogs at Playing a New Game tagged me, so I thought I would play along.

Way back in 1987 I became a corporate meeting planner.  It was a job marriage made in heaven.  I love people, entertaining, creative design, good food, and travel.  We planned large (1,000+) international sales meetings, press junkets, customer events, and sales award trips.  Hotel site inspections were part of the job and they wined, dined and rolled out the red carpet for me on more than one occasion.   I’m afraid I became a bit of a hotel snob.  I know it’s how the 1% live all the time, but when another meeting planner and I stepped off the elevator on the 14th floor of a San Francisco hotel to find two very large suites – and one was ours, I have to admit we were rendered speechless.  And, yes I know that’s hard to believe.   And yes, we had our own butler.  It was simply spectacular.  Unfortunately we were working 10+ hour days and too busy to enjoy all of the luxuries provided.  We did the best we could.

As any single mom who travels for her job knows, the issue of who stays with the kids is always in your mind. I was very lucky.  My company often allowed my son to travel with me.  Let me just say that he adapted to la dolce vita very quickly.   When my work scheduled site inspections for an achievement trip in Hawaii over his 14th birthday, I planned the ultimate surprise.  “Wake up! It’s your birthday and hurry up because we’re going to Hawaii.”  That 14 year old boy, who is now a young man about to build and live in his own “tiny” home of 130 sq. ft., had absolutely no problem settling into the Presidential Suite at the Hilton Waikaloa.  It was larger than our entire home and included a baby grand piano, a dining room with seating for twelve, a kitchen for the catering chef and a balcony that overlooked  the Pacific ocean.  The sunsets were breathtaking.   Our three day working trip included horse back riding, a sunset cocktail cruise on a catamaran, swimming with the dolphins, daily massage, a birthday cake made in the hotel kitchen, and other adventures.  Rich and famous?  No.  Lucky?  Oh my, yes we were!

I must “confess” that my glory travel days are long gone…along with the in-room gifts, limo drivers and luxury linens.   My travel experience has at times made it challenging to stay in the Shady Inn Motel – even if they do leave the light on for you.  I am very grateful I had the chance to taste that kind of luxury.  I can truly say,  “Been there.  Done that.”

These days we’re traveling on a rather small budget.  I’m happy to trade five star for unique and interesting and charming.  I love the challenge of digging up the hidden gems.  And they’re out there.  You just have to look a little harder to find them.  Really who needs a butler?  Not me, but I am always tickled with the little extra touches when we find them.That’s my travel confession.

I’m tagging two bloggers who I read regularly and always enjoy.  Please play along only if you wish.  Have fun!  I’d love to hear one of your travel confessions.  Suzanne at Boomeresque who writes a great travel blog sharing her adventures and point of view as she travels with her working husband.  Astra, a Canadian blogger at The Dust Bunny Chronicles and self-described “zamboni fumes inhaling soccer mom” isn’t exactly a travel blogger, but I’m betting she has a few very interesting travel stories as the mom of three boys.

Five Fun Things to do before I Die ~

Or twenty or one hundred …whatever.  What I’m really talking about and what I have been thinking about for quite a while is creating a bucket list.  Maybe part of the reason I haven’t taken any action on what I believe is a really good idea is because I don’t like the name.  Bucket List just doesn’t do it for me.  Nor does the the expression “kick the bucket”. I’ve tried thinking of other names – Life List, To Do List, Before I Die, It’s Now or Never.  Ok, I’m not doing any better.  So I realized I need to just get past the name and get on with the pondering, dreaming, and creating of my very own list of things I’ve always wants to do while I still can.

For some people (me), that’s not as easy as it sounds.  It’s easier to say, “Oh, I don’t know.”  or pull out a few standard issue ideas like “I want to travel.”   So, how do you get started on something like this.?  How about with a quiet place, a comfy chair, a glass of wine, a notepad and a nice pen.  And then?  Well, according to the wikihow-Make Your Bucket List, you just start asking questions and see what comes up.  If you keep asking long enough, I’m sure lots of interesting and long buried “I’ve always wanted to” ideas will begin to pop into your mind.  Write them down.  No judgement allowed here.  It’s not too big, too expensive, too crazy or even too small.  It’s just an idea that tickles your fancy.  A glimmer.  But that’s often how things start.  Then they have to bubble.  It’s amazing, but you start to see these places or things everywhere you look.  Then one day, you think. OK.  I’m going to make this happen.  And you do.  That’s how so many things have happened for me.   So far it’s always been random.  One day an idea pops into my head – I want to start an organization for women, or wouldn’t it be fun to live in San Miguel this winter, or most recently, I want to challenge myself and walk the Camino de Santiago.  Once the idea has lodged, look out because something’s gonna happen!  But, I’ve never had a plan or made a list and had the visual satisfaction of taking a big marker and crossing things OFF the list.  Been there!  Done that!  Now that I have more free time, I also know time is running out.  I want to make sure I have all the adventures and experiences my mind can conjure up and I think the Bucket List is one way to make that happen.

Walking the Great Wall of China – on the List

Geocache? On the list!

Fortunately, when I turned to the internet for insight and a little guidance, I found no less than six bucket-list websites where you can compile your own bucket list and share it with all your friends, family and the rest of the world.  Bucketlist.org users have posted nearly 16,000 lists containing over 300,000 items, ranging from climbing a volcano to learning to play the oboe.  For more inspiration you might check out Lifed.com’s list of 225 Things.  The other fun thing to do on these sites is make a mental list of ALL the amazing things that others hope to do that you have already done.    Watch out.  It can be addicting.

So, what are my Five Things?  They will probably change as I keep honing my Bucket List but so far ~  1.  Live in small town in France (or Italy) for six months.  2.  Learn to play golf well enough to play for fun with my hubby and join a ladies team (hit and giggle golf is ok).  3.  Attend a TED talk.  4.  Visit every National Park in the United States.  5.  Win the Lottery and start the Nancy M Thompson Charitable Foundation.

“Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming… “WOW – What a Ride!”  (anonymous)

What’s on your Bucket List?

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.

Hicksville Here We Come ~

I’ve been taking a couple of mini vacation trips with my backpack, my rollie and my lovely family.  I love summer!

Until I’m back to regular posts, here’s another fun and unique travel option that was sent to me recently from my very LA hipster niece.  She knows all the cute and quirky places to stay in California and this is certainly one to add to the travel list.  If you’re traveling in Southern California, you might want to spend a night (or two) in Hicksville.Hicksville is a  “motel” resort with lodging comprised of themed trailers with names like The Fifi, The Pioneer, The Integratrailor, and The Sweet.  It’s located in Joshua Tree, but you won’t see an address on their website.  That’s because you can’t drive by…you only get the address after your reservation has been confirmed.  It’s the ultimate secret getaway.  But wait, it gets better – the whole place, including the swimming pool, runs on solar power.  Their amenities include the pool, a Tipi with a firepit, horseshoes, darts, table tennis, archery and of course a bar.  All the comforts of home.  Well, that probably depends on where you call home, but it would definitely be a great stay for a night or two of fun in the outdoors and under the stars in the California desert. These folks really “circled the wagons” in style.

Thanks Melissa!