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!

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I Hope You Dance ~

I’m kicking up my heels and drying out my webbed feet in sunny Palm Springs this week.  There is nothing better than hanging with a flock of silver haired snowbirds to make you feel young.   Last night we met Betty and her two girlfriends at the front desk.  She’s my kind of gal.  Sporting a bejewelled pink jean jacket, a crown of silver hair and a hearty laugh, this lovely lady is a role model for living and loving life.  Betty is looking for fun and I’ll bet she even turns a couple of old foxes’ heads and gets called out for a whirl or two around the dance floor when they bring out the Tommy Dorsey cover band.

Click on the photo below to watch an awesome dance number.  I think it’s time to dust off my dancing shoes.  How about you?

Life is really about grabbing the gusto no matter your age or the color of your hair.  To quote the lyrics of a favorite country song  ~ “And when you have the chance to sit it out or dance… I hope you dance.”

Making Mandalas for the New Year

It was mid December when this intriguing invitation appeared in my inbox ~

What new intentions do you have for this coming year?  Rather than make a list of resolutions meant to broken, create a powerful visual reminder that 2013 offers four seasons and twelve months of hope, healing and joy in the form of a mandala or sacred circle. This mixed media project will include watercolor and permanent markers, with lots of creative options to make your mandala express your life’s journey this coming year.

No artistic background required. All materials included.

To be honest, I wasn’t completely sure what I was signing up for, but I was drawn by the idea of this new use of an ancient tradition for creating a visual road map of the year ahead.  No artistic background required.  All materials included.   I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

We met at 10 o’clock on a very cold, cloudy and windy first Saturday in January.  Eight women and one brilliant facilitator.  The class was held at Via Artistica, a light, bright and very inviting space dedicated to supporting creative expression for people at all levels of artistic experience.  Kristen Carpentier, who created and facilitated this workshop has helped hundreds of women (and a few brave men) use art as a way to explore and promote personal growth. This woman has a gift and I for one am very glad she has chosen to share it with the world! IMG_1063

We had a real Artists in the group which I always find intimidating, but I got over myself pretty quickly and on to the business of quieting my judgmental monkey mind and letting whatever bubbled up work its way onto my watercolor paper.    We drew cards for direction – I randomly chose Risk and Passion and Willpower  Right on target!IMG_1062

Mandala is a sanskrit word for circle and creating mandalas is a Buddhist form of meditation that is hundreds of years old.   If you are interested in learning more about the Mandala, its history in Buddhism and other ancient traditions, here’s what Wikipedia has to say .   For this workshop, the guidelines were simple, the supplies plentiful and the paints sparkly and colorful.  We started with a big square of paper, a dinner plate to trace the mandala circle and then played for the next two hours and watched as magic happened around the table.   I had no idea where I was going when I sat down at the table, but I have to say I absolutely love what I created.  IMG_1094

Creating the space for reflection, setting intention and then sharing in a supportive group is a great way to start a new year, or a new month, or a new plan of any kind.  There will be more mandalas hanging on my wall in the year ahead.

Thanks Kirsten and Via Artistica.

Hanging with Oprah ~

RISK ~ That’s my word for 2013 and as I said, I’m going for it. Damn the torpedoes and all that.

I decided to jump right in and sign up for not one but two creative classes.  They are online and they are both fabulous.  Great inspiration, ideas I can put to use immediately and daily and weekly projects that are already moving me out of my comfort zone.   I’m loving every minute.  Old dog + new tricks = grand new adventures!

One of my goals for 2013 is to step into the blogging world in a whole new way.  I’ve got some big plans to hatch and lots of work to do.  I am excited to go down this path wherever it leads.

Everyday Magic is a photography class led by blogger, photographer and creative living inspiration, Tammy Strobel.  Tammy and my classmates from all over the world are helping me see the magic in so many of the everyday moments I have overlooked or taken for granted as I rushed through my days.  It is just so darned cool.

The second class is called Juicy Blogging with writer, editor and blogging pro, Britt Bravo.  I just started a couple of days ago and I have already learned and tried so many new ideas I am about to burst with enthusiasm.  I know I will be much better blogger as I begin to share our Just a Backpack adventures with a larger audience.

Both classes have daily lessons.  Today at Everyday Magic our theme was  “A Day in the Life”.   Britt’s writing assignment was to do a blog post that contained mostly photos.  Sounded like the makings of a fun blog post to me.

Here’s how it played out…

Oprah was waiting for me when I opened the mailbox

Oprah was waiting for me when I opened the mailbox so we decided to go on an adventure together.  (well I decided)

Driving Ms. Oprah

Driving Ms. Oprah.

Lunch?  Of course.  We both had the apple/goat cheese salad

Lunch?  Why yes.   We both had the apple/goat cheese salad. 

Quick trip downtown to Union Station for a pickup.  Oprah was dash-surfing for a better look

A quick trip downtown to Union Station to pick up a friend.  Oprah rode on the dash to catch a better view.

Even Oprah loves a good sale.  Me too!

Oprah loves a good sale.  Me too!

See's chocolate?  Why yes, let's get a 1 pound box and eat it on the drive home

See’s chocolate? Of course!  Let’s get a one pound box and eat it on the drive home.

Perfect ending to a perfect day.  Starbucks, tea, chocolate and a little bit of Oprah wisdom.  It was my Oprah Aha Moment.

Perfect ending to a perfect day. Starbucks, tea, chocolate and a little bit of Oprah wisdom. It was my very own Oprah Ahhh! Moment.

These classes are gifts I gave to myself.  They fit me perfectly and have already brought me hours of joy.   New sweater?   Don’t really need one.  Meeting new people and making a few synapses fly in my brain?  Now that’s a gift that will last a lifetime.

What gifts have you given yourself lately?  If not…what are you waiting for?   You deserve it.  Just like me.

Lost Our Virginity ~

Yup, as of this past weekend, the hubs and I are no longer home exchange virgins!  Finally… we found a match… and it was so good.  And so easy.  We are completely hooked.  Mr. Just-a-Backpack is already asking me to do it again.  In fact, he wants to do it any time, any place.  Oh, Baby!

I always get a buzz of excitement when an Inquiry from Home Exchange pops up in my email.   My first thought – Wow, somebody chose us!  What can I say, I have a strong need for people to like me.   That’s quickly followed by the thrill of opening the email to discover what new adventure awaits. And finally, there’s the reality of can we make this one work.  Or in some cases, do we even want to.  Sorry, but the week in Minneapolis didn’t seem worth the cost of two plane tickets.

Anyhow, back to this particular exchange.  A few weeks ago we received an inquiry from Dawn and Ram, a lovely couple who live in Toledo, Oregon (a few miles inland from the Port of Newport).  They were interested in snuggling Mr. Ricky in exchange for our feeding “the girls” – their 12 chickens, and gathering eggs.  Could we work out an exchange weekend?  We could and YES we would!  So, a match was hatched.  We emailed back and forth, exchanged information, made a plan and Voila! at 9:30 on Saturday morning we were off on an adventure.  We left flowers on the table, snacks in the refrigerator, wine on the counter and Mr. Ricky waiting to meet some new friends.  We found a beautiful custom-built, art-filled home on seven acres owned by an artist and a wildlife ranger.

A notebook on the counter gave us detailed instructions for everything we needed to know about their home, right down to the names and descriptions of the chickens “Ginny – Big and brown with white speckles”.  We settled in to enjoy one of the most relaxing and peaceful mini-getaways in a very long time.   That first evening, as we were sipping wine on the big, comfy couches overlooking the pond, hubs looks over and says “Do you hear that?”  I said, “Yes.  Nothing!  What a lovely sound.”

The next day (after feeding the girls and gathering the eggs) we explored the tiny mill town of Toledo, strolled the streets of Newport, barked back at the noisy sea lions, walked out to the fishing docks, ducked into shops, crossed the big bridge to escape the rain for a few hours in the Oregon Coast Aquarium and stuffed ourselves at one of the best seafood restaurants on the Oregon coast – Local Ocean Seafood.

By early evening we were completely tuckered out and headed back to our Toledo retreat to enjoy all the comforts of “home”.  So much nicer than watching TV sitting on the bed in a hotel room.  We put our feet up, pulled out a blanket, turned on the fireplace and snuggled on the couch with a glass of Pinot and a wee bit of chocolate.  We also discovered Netflix and the guilty pleasure of watching How I Met Your Mother.  All-in-all, it was a perfectly wonderful experience and we cannot wait to do it again.

Parked my rollie in this lovely bedroom.

Thank you Ram and Dawn for making our first home exchange such a wonderful experience.  We hope you enjoyed your stay in our home as much as we loved staying in yours.  Mr. Ricky says “hi” and please come back to visit any time.

If you’ve been considering home exchange for future travels, I suggest you go for it.

Now, I’m off to find home exchange number two…

New Old Ways ~

The hubs and I have been talking quite a bit lately about eating healthy on a budget.   We live in a country with an abundance of cheap, manufactured food of questionable quality and nutritional value.  If you like your veggies fresh, not pesticide laden or genetically modified – sorry, but that will hit your pocket big time.  Maybe you are lucky enough to have a plot of soil and the willingness to put in the time and effort to exercise your green thumbs.  Unfortunately we’re condo dwellers.  And that’s why we love living in the Pacific Northwest where we take advantage of the farm fresh bounty.  Yes, we pay more.  We call it health insurance.  But what do you do when you retire and live on a (much) smaller  budget and still want to eat well?  We’ve been exploring the new/old ways.  You know, how people prepared food in the old days before they worked 10 hours a day and drove through McDonald’s on the way home because they had to be somewhere at 7pm.  These days it has a hip, trendy name – Slow Food.  It’s a movement and apparently we’ve become part of it.  

We’re suddenly cool because we are doing the things our mothers and grandmothers did every day until General Electric decided that they were wasting time and started creating gadgets to take over their work.  Women who spent all of their time working at home were suddenly free!  What did they do with all that free time?  They went outside of the home to work.  This work brought in more money so they could buy more time saving gadgets and because now they didn’t have time to cook an actual meal, they stopped for a pizza.  Many of us know how to “heat” or “nuke” but have forgotten how to cook.  I had.  Of course I married a guy who cooks, but even that was slowly being replaced by eating out or take-out eaten in front of the TV.  Slap me silly, but it’s the truth.

Watch out what you wish for, because you might just get it.  As a child of the 50’s and 60’s and a young woman of the 1970’s I am all for equal rights and equal opportunity and I believe women (and men) should be able to work any darn place they like.  But, in our typical American way, if a little is good – a LOT must be better.   We’ve worked ourselves into a groove so deep, it’s hard to get out.   And not always for the satisfaction of a job well done, but because we needed a bigger house or another TV or (it was always something).   And so on and son on, until…something happens and you lose your job or you are forced to retire or you graduate with your fancy degrees and you can’t find a job that pays enough to cover your student loans.   You’re in deep doo doo Donald!  Like the Broadway play Stop the World I Want to Get Off, it’s all been kinda spinning beyond our control.  What seemed like such a good idea at the time has somehow morphed into Dante’s Inferno.  Ok, I’m exaggerating, but as we’ve been looking at the reality of living the rest of our lives with a lot less, I’m just starting to realize that I sacrificed so much in the name of stuff.   Stuff that is now being given to the Goodwill or sold on ebay or piled into the weekly trash bin.

As far as I know, nobody get’s a do-over on their life.   I’m just glad that we have been given this opportunity to explore the other side – not just the slow food movement but the slower life movement.  We’re working less and making less, but we’re savoring it more.  We have time to cook and share food – home grown, home canned, and home-made with friends and family.   Some of you figured this out a long time ago.  We’re late bloomers.   My husband’s fondest memories are from the 1970’s when he lived in a small beach town in Massachusetts.  Life was simple – focused on family, friends and community.  Entertainment was free – a pickup baseball game or board games and they traded their homegrown harvest for fresh caught lobster.  Did we really give that up for a 45″ HD TV and think we traded up?

As I sat here writing this post, my favorite chef was downstairs making up meal sized batches of lasagna with ingredients left over from our cooking marathon, pasta making, cheese making, birthday celebration yesterday evening.  Does it get any better?  Not much!  We’re grateful for our bounty.

To be continued…

Don’t you just love it? ~

It really tickles me when a lovely moment of serendipity strikes. You never know when you go out the door for a bite of lunch who you might meet.  Well, that moment of serendipity struck today when I slipped down to Nordstrom Cafe for a quick mid-day break from the office.  It was noon and the place was packed.  I ordered my half salad – chicken/apple/walnut/feta – yum! and had to squeeze myself into a tiny table along the wall between two other tables.  I settled in, put on my reading glasses and pulled out my current lunch time companion – 65 Things to do When You Retire. It’s a compilation of essays from people like Jimmy Carter and Gloria Steinem and many lesser known but still very interesting and inspiring folks.  They are true stories of people in retirement who found meaningful new opportunities.  It’s sort of a user’s manual for making the most of your retirement.   A few moments later, the lovely woman on my left (I believe her name was Carol) tapped my arm and asked “May I take a look at your book?  I’ve just retired.”   “Of course” I said and I passed the book over to her table.  I then took the opportunity to introduce myself and share my newly acquired knowledge about retirement and traveling on the cheap. Carol was interested, excited and open to all of the possibilities and adventures ahead.  I told her about the backpack and rollie plan and how I had come to be a blogger.  I learned about her career as a teacher and her recent trip through Spain, Italy and France with her daughter who was sitting across the table.  We chatted for quite a while about home exchange, house sitting opportunities and even WWOOFing.   She was a sponge for information and I was thrilled that I had lots of ideas to share!

It was a lovely exchange with a truly lovely woman who, like so many of us, is excited and eager to get on with her new life.  Carol, it was a true pleasure to have met you.  I’m glad fate guided me to that tiny table in the middle.  You brought a spark of joy to my afternoon.  I hope we meet again somewhere out on the road.  I’ll be the one with the backpack and the rollie.