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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Those Magic Moments

photoThe mad march through the month of December is winding down at last.  We tried to keep Christmas low-key this year and I think we succeeded pretty well.  This blog is in part about re-evaluating our lifestyle as we approach our next adventure – retirement.    We’re pondering the deep questions like how all the “stuff” we’ve acquired over the years will fit (or not) into our upcoming new lifestyle.   We’re a couple of geezers on a new path and we’re loving the challenge and the change.  This year we began the process releasing our attachment to things and instead looking for the magic in the moments of our lives rather than the next shiny thing.  The most frequently asked question around our house these days is “Do we really need it?  Will it fit in the backpack and rollie?”  It’s a very interesting exercise and I highly recommend it, but it isn’t always easy.

This Christmas, after years of piling the presents high around the tree, it feels good to say that all we really need is family, friends, our health, and a few bucks to sustain us in our old age and keep us traveling.  It’s been a year of exploring “the new/old ways” and the re-discovering the value of moments and memories vs. stuff.   Taking photos with my little digital pocket camera helps me stop and pay closer attention to the tiny details that make our lives richer.  You catch the hope in someone’s eyes, the playful smile in the joke, the hundreds of shades of grey in a Portland winter sky.  Magical everyday moments I would likely take fore-granted and quickly forget.  I’m hoping that in the year ahead both my skill and my camera will improve and my snapshots of our experiences will enrich these posts.

For now, I’m just grateful for the memories.  Here are a few of my favorites from the past year.   Taking a little quiet time this afternoon, I sat with a cup of tea and my laptop and experienced the magic of these moments all over again.  Now that’s a real gift!IMG_3390IMG_0489IMG_0452IMG_0137IMG_3570IMG_3365 May your moments be filled with great joy and grand adventures.

Happy New Year!

Cheers ~  Nancy

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…

Mama Mia and Luigi the Linguine Maker

Luigi

In times past birthday celebrations always involved expensive restaurants.  We enjoyed the luxury of a good meal while someone else cooked, cleaned and served.  I loved it then and when the time is right I still do.  But, as we pare down to the essentials of what makes us happy, we’re circling back to the old joys of coming together in the new/old ways I mentioned in my previous post.

Last week we celebrated our special birthday girl’s 29th year in grand style.  Not in a 4 star restaurant, but gathered around the kitchen island – laughing, sharing, cooking, sipping, eating, eating, eating and talking about important issues.  Wow!  If we’d had time to throw in a board game, it would have been perfect.

How great is it when you go to the mailbox and mixed in with the bills, political ads and offers for credit cards you find THE KEY.  The key means you have a box waiting.  In this case, the box held a bright shiny new pasta maker.  I can’t begin to say how tickled I was – still am actually, by this lovely little guy.  We call him Luigi the Linguine Maker and this guy is good.   Ok, I have to admit that if you are simplifying and reducing, a pasta maker is not going to fit in the backpack and rollie.  I know that and still, I wanted him.  What could be better than making pasta from scratch to go with the luscious tomato sauce my friend and I spent so many hours canning over the summer and the fresh parsley/walnut pesto I made from the dark green Italian parsley the hubs grew in pots on our back deck.

Hand pressing the raviolis – not as easy as your Italian grandma makes it look.

I wanted to test this baby out right away, so I invited our son and the birthday girl over to make their own birthday dinner.  I’m thinking home-made spaghetti with tomato sauce.  They say “Okay, let’s make ravioli”.  Oh to be 29 and fearless in the kitchen.  So, of course, we made it all.   We started at 3 o’clock, stopped to taste a bowl of our fresh fettucine at around 5 o’clock and finally sat down to our birthday feast at 7:30.

The final menu?  Fresh garden salad, freshly baked foccacia bread, cheese ravioli, delicata squash ravioli, mushroom ravioli with a mushroom cream sauce, tomato sauce, parsley pesto sauce and an olive oil/walnut/fresh parm sauce.  “This is the best pasta I have ever eaten!” said my husband, his cheeks bright red from the warm kitchen and two hours cranking the pasta maker.  I couldn’t agree more.  Four cooks in the kitchen was a crazy dance.   Two dogs snoozed just far enough away to keep an eye out for anything tasty that might hit the floor.  I was pooped beyond belief.  I think we used every pot, pan and dish we owned, but we mastered the art of pasta rolling, sort of mastered ravioli and created a birthday dinner we will always remember.

The birthday girl finally sits down to enjoy her favorite – Mushroom ravioli in a mushroom cream sauce and she made it all herself. Yum-o!

So, who’s up next for Pasta Night at Casa Sims?

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…

Just a Couple of Crazy Kids ~ another on foot adventure

Since we are now fully committed to the Camino de Santiago trek next September, the hubs and I have upped our walking game significantly.  Every weekend we’re out exploring the city streets and country roads in and around Portland.  It is amazing what you miss when you are whizzing along at 55 mph.  Of course, the beautiful Fall weather hasn’t hurt.  I don’t know how motivated we’ll be when it’s cold, gray and soggy, but we’ll cross that bridge (on foot) when we come to it.

I’m in charge of mapping our routes and coming up with interesting locations and access to restrooms and good food along the way.  So far, so good.  Last week a friend of mine who is always off on one adventure or another, mentioned she had gone to the Portlandia Corn Maize out on Sauvie Island.  When I asked how much actual walking was involved, she indicated it could be A LOT depending on how many dead ends you took in the maize.

Well, thanks to Lois, I thought this would be a great way to try something new and get our walk on at the same time.  What a hoot!  Yes, it is mostly for families with kids and somehow that brought out the kid in us too.   We walked, we laughed, and we got lost over and over again.  But, we enjoyed the fresh air, acres of corn stocks at least ten feet tall, answered silly questions that helped us find our way through the maize, and of course, I sang a chorus or two of “I’m as Corny as Kansas in August”.

Honey, I think we’ve been down this row before.

And, the best part…because we aren’t kids (only kids at heart), we finished the afternoon with a couple of adult beverages on the dock and watched the boats go by.

No Frills Airline ~

Over here at Just a Back Pack, I’m always looking for ways to travel on the cheap.  I’ve been reading up on accruing frequent flyer miles, comphopping, couch surfing and more.  These days there are so many unique ways to travel and save a buck or two.  With a lot of leg work and a little luck, I’m betting two adventuring geezers on a limited retirement budget can still put a lot of miles on our rollies.

Back in the day, when air travel was seen as glamorous and pretty much the private domain of the well-heeled, low budget (Greyhound in the Sky) air travel lived only in the dreams of most would-be travelers and apparently in the creative minds of a few comedians as well.   This No Frills Arline skit from the very old days of the Carol Burnett show is absolutely hysterical.

What’s your no frills adventure horror story?