Monday, February 27, 2017

Weekend Wrap Up 2/24-2/26

As I work to live each day more consciously, I much enjoy crafting fun weekends for my spouse and I. Even in retirement weekends are still weekends!

As I was reading the latest post from the always-wonderful Nina Fussing of Wheeling It, listed in my blog roll on the right, I realized that I was experiencing the very syndrome she was describing; that of having been in one place just a little. too. long.

In her case, they'd been in one location in their RV for three months, and realized that the process of gearing up to return to their more normal pace of being constantly on the go felt a bit foreign. In my case, we've been home for two straight months as of today, and have one more month to go before we return to our more normal pattern of 50% travel/50% at home. I'm getting increasingly antsy to get going, even with the numerous projects occurring here at the house, and the many fun things we've been doing.

Speaking of which, we had a busy weekend full of lots of events and activities. And yes, even in retirement weekends still feel like weekends. There is a different energy on the weekend then during the week, and it still feels festive.

On Friday night we joined our foreign food dining group at a Basque restaurant, Centro Basco in Chino. It was a bit of a traffic-miserable drive to get there, and a great reminder of how lovely it is to no longer be commuting, but the evening was fun and very memorable, with lots of interesting conversation and food.

All but the entrees come family style - big passing bowls and platters of soup, beans, veggies, potatoes, plus bread and cheese.
The plate on the right, in the middle, is their famous beef tongue. I took a pass, but my spouse much enjoyed it.

On Saturday morning my spouse and I did a four mile race walk, then I worked in the yard weeding and reorganizing our storage shed for a few hours. I love being outside, and I particularly enjoy organizing, so cleaning out a shed is right up my alley. After that, we both got cleaned up and left to meet friends at a new-to-us wine bar in Yorba Linda, called OC Wine Mart. It took a few tries to get the gist of the set up, which involved deciding which of the 32 wines on auto-pour that we wanted to sample in 2 oz increments while enjoying music and some tasty small bites.

The musician for the night was a classical guitarist, and when he broke out into a Led Zepplin tune late in the evening, after having played nothing but romantic Spanish ballads prior to that, three of us at the table got very, very excited. Turns out the couple we were with loved 70's rock as much as I did, and that led to learning about a concert series called Classic Albums Live that perform at small venues in our area multiple times a year. Sold! And my classic-al music loving spouse agreed to join in on the fun given that I've been the oh-so-supportive spouse during the attendance of many, many classical music concerts over the years. (Don't get me wrong - I nuch enjoy classical music. It's just that I enjoy popular music a whole lot more. :-)

Sunday started with services at our UU congregation, then another hour of socializing with everyone afterward. We've been attending for about two months now, and in that time we've attended quite a few social functions/groups, plus gotten involved in the small group Chalice Circle, so we're really getting to know people. Today I was asked if I'd be interested in joining the small choir. In that so far they've sung songs from Adele, Styx, John Lennon, Les Miserable, Bill Withers, and Peter, Paul and Mary, I said 'Absolutely!'

We headed to Los Angeles afterward, a quick 30 mile/30 minute drive in that there was no traffic whatsoever until the very last mile, which is where the 101 and 110 freeways come together into pretty much the heart of downtown L.A. This is the area where the Music Center, Disney Concert Hall, Union Station, City Hall, Broad Museum and Grand Central Market are all located. It's a fabulous part of the city, and we were happy to see the sidewalks full of tourists even on a chilly February day. Our destination was the Disney Concert Hall, where we needed to exchange a voucher we'd purchased at our UU auction for two seats to an upcoming LA Philharmonic performance. My spouse waited in the car in a red zone while I ran in to do the exchange so as to avoid the $3.50 for every 15 minutes (!) parking fee the areas immediately adjacent to the concert hall charged.

That done, we drove one short mile to Phillipe's for a late lunch. Phillipe's, famous for its French dipped sandwiches, is positively an icon in Los Angeles at over 100 years old. It first opened in 1908, and moved to it's current location in 1951. Their French dipped sandwiches are absolutely freaking fantastic, hence why the restaurant continues to serve over 3,000 people per day. And considering it's in the heart of LA, the prices are incredibly reasonable at about $7 for a French Dip regardless of whether you want it dipped once, dipped twice, or immersed fully in the delicious au jou.

Beef French Dip with Blue Cheese. Insanely delicious!

The drive home was quick and traffic free as well. Oh that we could get to LA this easily all the time! What a fabulous thing that would be, with so much to do and so many fantastic restaurants to enjoy. But, the reality is that on a normal traffic filled day the drive in would take anywhere from one hour to an hour and a half each way. The ying and yang if you will - the great thing about living somewhere heavily populated is that there is a whole lot of things to do on any given day, but the not so great thing is that you are out there trying to do them with a whole lot of other people.

When we got home we streamed a Great Courses lecture on The History of Opera in preparation for our first full opera in a few weeks. The opera we are seeing, Mozart's Idomeneo  will be performed by The Metropolitan Opera in New York City, and then broadcast live to over 2,000 theaters in 70 countries though a program called Live in HD. I'm looking forward to this, and I think it's fantastic that we'll be watching it live along with so many other people. The tickets run $25 a piece, with the opera running a full four hours. A bargain for the price I think.

And no need to cook dinner, because we were both stuffed from lunch, so yeah for that in that I'm still the cook and chief dishwasher for another few weeks.

Goals and Plans for Today
Watch artificial turf begin to go down - yes, this is finally happening!
60 minutes of Spanish study
25 pages of Book Club read
Six mile hike
Lunch out at a poke bowl joint post-hike
Stream the Academy Awards the remainder of the afternoon via Hulu (Being cable free means we have to wait one day for a show to be available on Hulu before we can watch it.)
Make eggplant parmesan for dinner

Friday, February 24, 2017

On Having Good Energy

I had such a good day yesterday, energy wise. I made conscientious choices throughout the day, and it worked beautifully in keeping my energy high.

I had an acai bowl before my workout, rather than afterward, plus a tall glass of water and a couple of fish oil pills. My workout was terrific, and because I wasn't starving afterward, I unhurriedly did the grocery shopping before returning home, getting my biggest To Do of the day off my list.

I had a high protein, low sugar lunch just before noon, then my spouse and I left for a full afternoon of activities - an appointment with our new tax preparer, a lecture on Civil War art broadcast live from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and an at-the-movies showing of the Oscar nominated film Lion.

The tax appointment was fairly uneventful other than learning that we were eligible to open a Roth due to one of our 2016 deferred compensation payments not being marked as a retirement payout. That was great news, though it would have been better to have learned this in time for our 2013 tax filing, the first full year we were jointly retired, rather than three years later, as we were working on our 2016 filings! It did confirm our decision, however, to move our tax preparations away from our former tax guy, and over to this one instead.

The Civil War art broadcast, arranged through our Lifelong Learning program, was outstanding. It was broadcast in real time, and therefore the class was able to ask questions and interact live with the docent leading the lecture from the American Art Museum in Washington, DC. What a wonderful thing technology is!

Here are a just few of the art pieces we discussed during our lecture:

By Winslow Homer, The Sharpshooter on the left, and A Visit From The Old Mistress on the right.

By Eastman Johnson, The Girl I Left Behind Me on the left, and The Lord Is My Shepard on the right.

 I came to art somewhat late, in my late-30's, having studied music, not art in college. I've worked hard to make up for lost time, however, and am enjoying the process of learning more about it so very much. And I feel extremely fortunate to have visited many, if not most, of the world's great art museums - The Metropolitan Art Museum in New York City, The Louvre and Orsay in Paris, The Rijksmuseum and Von Gogh in Amsterdam, The Prado in Madrid, The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, and so very many more, both large and small. Like last week's visit to the Norton Simon in nearby Pasadena, a rather modest museum compared to these others, but still full of some amazing art, including impressionist works by Von Gogh, Renoir and Degas, and contemporary works by Picasso and Diego Rivera

The movie that we ended our day with, Lion, is the next movie to be discussed at our monthly movie and dinner discussion group. I went in with just a little information about the movie, but I was instantly drawn in and captivated by both the acting and the loud, noisy, messy-yet-exquisitely-beautiful Indian scenery. The movie had me in tears by the end, similar to how I felt at the end of La La Land last week, though the reason for the emotional tears was different. I'll leave it at that in the event either movie is on anyone's watch list.

India is definitely on my list of places to visit, but I confess I'm also a bit apprehensive about visiting it, in that I fear it will break my heart into about a million pieces. Still, we will get there as I feel like it's someplace I have to visit, no matter what.

A great day on deck today . . .

Plans and Goals for Today
Six mile race walk
Art lecture on surrealism artist Andre Breton at our Lifelong Learning Program
Adjunct professor music concert, also at our Lifelong Learning Program
Dinner at a Basque restaurant with our 'Foreign foods' dining group

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Backyard Slope Completed

So, so nice to have one element of our backyard completed. I'm so happy with how it turned out, and aside from being very pleasant to look at, it is uber-low maintenance. The slope was first covered with felt to assist with weed control, then a wave pattern of river rock was placed to cover about 50% of the slope, then groupings of slow growing, heat loving plants were positioned across the remaining area. After that, the drip system was put into place to ensure that even while on a sloping hill, water will be delivered directly to each plant's root system.

The barely visible small plants along the slope rock border are ground spreading lantana. They look somewhat colorless now, but will slowly grow into lovely purple and white color spots similar to what has occurred in my front yard over the six months since being planted there:

Pretty much all that is left is to finish the half circle planter you can see roughly laid out in the top photo, plus the laying down of artificial turf. We have another storm rolling through this weekend, and since the ground may not have time to dry out quickly enough from last weekend's storms to permit installation of the turf this week, it may have to be pushed off into early March in order to have time to dry out from the upcoming storm. Assuming, that is, that there isn't another storm lined up behind the upcoming one - that darn atmospheric river of rain we keep hearing about. So, for now it's terrific to have one big element in the backyard done.

Today is all about housecleaning, Spanish homework, and vacation planning. We have five more weeks at home to oversee completion of our remaining home improvement projects - the backyard, and a custom office build. Once we get to the end of March, we're back to our usual travel-heavy schedule, starting with our 30 day trip to the East Coast.

I needed this time at home after last year's amazing array of trips. For most of January, in fact, I didn't even want to see a travel ad, much less contemplate booking a trip. Come February, however, I did find myself getting excited by the idea of traveling once again, and over the course of the month we've actually gone ahead and put the 'big rocks' in place for 2018. I put down a deposit on a three week hiking adventure in New Zealand for early 2018, which we'll turn into a six  week trip by adding in a few more on-our-own travel weeks. I also bumped our previously scheduled two week cruise up New England and into Canada from Fall 2017 to Fall 2018. And our summer plans for 2018 are to RV through Utah and Colorado.

Since this year is going to be scaled back travel wise, primarily consisting of visiting our family and granddaughter on the East Coast, plus lots of repeat California coastal and wine country RV'ing, the planning was easy, hence why I got a jump start on 2018. There will be a lot of detail planning for our New Zealand add-on weeks, and a similar amount for our summer RV trip to Utah and Colorado, and it's my experience that a year ahead of time is not too soon to get started. It takes time to identify the truly exceptional, and I thoroughly enjoy the research involved in coming up with detailed day-to-day travel itineraries. Our self-directed trips have all been outstanding. Exhausting at times, yes, but always unforgettable.

Plans and Goals for Today
Cross Fit class
Do Art Alliance newsletter write up of last week's trip to Norton Simon museum
Clean remaining shutters
Spray paint outside light fixtures black (currently white - photos if project turns out nice)
Sweep and dry mop wood floors
Complete Spanish homework before tonight's Skype session

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sunday Update

A flurry of social and entertaining events have us on the run this weekend. What's been keeping us busy:

- Breakfast meeting with a speaker yesterday. Topic was tips on maintaining a loving marriage. One can never get too much of this I think, no matter how long or solid one's marriage or primary relationship might be.
- Dinner and auction event with our UC community. The auction was so much fun! Most of the items involved entertainment events put on by the congregation. Things like themed dinners, themed dance parties, henna parties, photography parties, lecture parties. We purchased tickets to a Middle Eastern themed dinner, a Broadway sing-along buffet, a bourbon and scotch tasting party, a meditation session, and tickets to see the LA Philharmonic perform at the Disney Concert Hall. A pretty diverse group of events!
- UC Sunday services this morning, followed by lunch at a new restaurant in downtown Santa Ana, then a showing of the much-buzzed-about movie LaLa Land.

All good, but the house is beginning to look a bit haphazard, so Monday will be tagged as a 'work day' in order to get things back into shape. I do love that we can play all weekend in retirement, and push the more mundane parts of life to mid week.


What I'm . . . 

Reading: The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck. Big Steinbeck fan here, however so far this book isn't doing it for me, but because it's a Book Club read, I'm committed to finishing it. I'm only about 15% in, so hoping it will get better as I move further along.

Listening To: Sia, because my granddaughter loves, loves, loves dancing to her music, and dancing with my granddaughter, even via Skype, is something I love.

Doing Currently: Gearing up energy to go straighten my kitchen before leaving for Sunday services. I miss my husband being able to do the dishes more than I can say! He has four weeks left to go of his arm being in a sling and it can't get here soon enough. (Our normal routine is that I do all the cooking, he does all the cleanup.)

What I'm Looking Forward To Next Week: Possible completion of my backyard. Can't wait to share photos!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Acai Bowls at Home

A friend introduced me to acai bowls about a year ago, after we'd completed a long hike and were looking for some sustenance. I had no idea what actually went into an acai bowl, but I'd been hearing about their health benefits for some time, and so was open to giving one a try. When we got to the place that sold them, I admit I was a bit shocked at the price, about $8.00 per bowl. I'd been thinking they were kind of like a thick smoothie up to that point, and $8.00 for a smoothie seemed like A LOT. Particularly in that I make smoothies all the time at home for under a dollar.

Once they were brought out to us, however, and I had my first spoonful, I fell head over in love. For me, they were the perfect food - they looked and tasted a bit like frozen yogurt, were high in protein, and low in sugar. The last being most unlike frozen yogurt(!).

At $8.00 per, however, it wasn't something I was interested in adding to my list of life norms. So, I came home and did a little research, and then a little testing, and came up with an easy at-home recipe to make them for about $1.10 per bowl. And at that price, I could justify making them a regular part of my diet. Which I now happily do on an almost daily basis.

The most expensive element of an acai bowl is the acai. This bag runs $18.99 at Sprouts normally, though I've been fortunate on occasion to find them on sale for less. A single bag will make approximately 30 acai bowls, which averages out to about 63 cents a bowl.

Other than the acai powder, however, everything else that goes in to the bowl is very inexpensive.

Here's the recipe I devised after trying several I felt were too complicated:

My Daily Acai Bowl

1 1/2 teaspoons of acai powder
1/2 cup of unsweetened almond milk
1/4 cup of unsweetened Greek yogurt
1 whole frozen banana, cut into chunks
5-6 frozen strawberries

I blend the above in my blender, first on my ice cube setting, then on my high setting for 30 or so seconds after that. It is thick in my blender at that point, but smooth.

I scoop it out into a bowl, then top it with 1/4 cup of granola. It tastes so, so good, and takes a bit of time to eat/enjoy, which is another terrific attribute of acai bowls. And of course, they are oh-so healthy to boot.

In calculating calories, I came up with about 325 calories per bowl, and one will carry me all the way up to lunch without problem.

Busy day today!

Plans and Goals for Today
Four mile run
Trip to Norton Simon Art Museum with my Art Alliance Group
Dinner at home
Evening meeting with my UUCF Chalice Circle

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Rocks, Rocks and More Rocks

We had a large load of grey river rock dropped off early yesterday morning, exciting in that it meant more backyard landscaping progress is being made even as we prepare for another storm to roll through beginning Friday. The crew has been steadily hauling the rocks into our backyard and onto our slope, where they will eventually make a wave pattern all across the bottom half of our 100 foot long, 15 foot wide slope. The portion of the slope not covered with rock will then be planted with heat-loving plants hooked up to a drip system. I'm so excited to see the end result in that my front yard slope has been positively thriving since being re-landscaped and put onto a drip system by the same landscaper last year.

Once completed, our slope should look something like these:

Otherwise, today should be a good mix of productivity and fun. Menu planning from the list below has already been done, with this showing up on our plates for the next week:
    Wednesday - Dinner out (Discussion group)
    Thursday - Lemon arugula tortillini, Italian chop salad, garlic bread
    Friday - Pork loin with rosemary rub, roasted winter root vegetables, sauteed broccoli
    Saturday - Dinner out at a UUCF event
    Sunday - Eggplant Parmesan, Caesar salad, garlic bread
    Monday - Slow cooker Italian sausage, peppers and wild rice, plus a green salad and fresh mango slices.
    Tuesday - Sunday night leftovers

Plans and Goals for Today
Gym for 60 minutes of cardio plus upper body strength training.
Menu planning and grocery shopping
Dusting of all wood shutters to remove dust generated from recent floor replacements. Once these are done, I should have just a few more walls left to vacuum, and then we'll finally be done and all cleaned up.
Home Depot to purchase a storage container for our front yard patio big enough to hold patio furniture cushions when not in use.
Target to purchase a TV for our guest bedroom prior to arrival of a series of family members.
Line dancing class.
UUCF gathering at a nearby restaurant to have dinner and discuss the movie Hidden Figures.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Family Room Updating Complete

With the installation of our new Hunter Douglas shades last week, our latest Family Room update is now complete. I say 'latest' because I change something in my home - furniture, accessories, cabinetry and/or flooring - on a fairly regular basis. I'm pretty confident this tendency was inherited from my maternal grandmother. It was very common to walk into her home and discover she'd added, replaced or rearranged something since the last time I'd visited.

The biggest change out this time around was the flooring. Additionally, we decided to add window coverings to our previously unadorned French sliding doors.

 Here is our family room before, with light maple floors and uncovered sliding doors.

 And here is the after with the new, darker flooring, and our newly installed Hunter Douglas shades fully extended.

Flooring tone is now mid-range between light and dark, leaning slightly more toward the darker side of the spectrum:

The new window coverings fully retract, which I'm so pleased about. My sliding French doors have a lovely bevel design, which you can see a bit of in the photo below, and with these fully retractable shades, they can continue to remain on display. I'm also really pleased with the fabric I chose. It has both gold and tan tonalities that  blend very well with the other elements in the room.

When we first moved into our home back in the 80's, there was a large wet bar in the far left corner where the game table now resides. Once we pulled it out, the family room seemed to double in size.

I love my leather Ottoman coffee table in the photo above, a splurge from Davenport Furniture some years back. It's one of those pieces I feel will be with me forever.

The hammered gold metal side table below, conversely, was a $69 bargain find at TJ Maxx.

The corduroy sofa with built in chaise was one of my first purchases after my girls left home for college. Sort of a welcome-to-empty-nesting gift to myself. I purchased it at a little boutique design store, and I love it as much today as I did when I first bought it some eight or so years ago. This was also the first piece of nicer furniture I'd ever bought, and I continue to be impressed with how well it is wearing over time.

I'm clearly no designer, but I do love how this room has come together over time. Lots of different textures, mixed with some fun pops of red (pillows, rugs and wall hangings) and leopard print (pillows and rugs) has culminated in a room I really enjoy spending time in.

Goals and Plans for Today
Finish touch up painting from recent remodeling work
Clean shutters (all covered in a fine layer of dust from recent floor remodeling)
Five mile racewalk
Home Depot to purchase two black light fixtures for front of the house
Schedule electrician to install above, plus the two last LED light switches (over a dozen changed out already/previously)
Schedule painter for office remodeling project
Attend Book Club dinner/discussion meeting on The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Rain . . . Again!

And yet another rainy day, which though it holds up completion of my backyard landscaping project, bodes so, so well for the end of California's multi year drought. So yeah for that, for sure.

My poor landscaper is clearly looking for some way to keep his projects moving forward in spite of the wet conditions. This morning he sent two of his crew over to clear and level our slope in preparation for rock and plant placement. They are working in mud boots, and traversing my yard via long wooden boards to avoid the worst of the mud. It's quite the scene out there!

In that the mud (formerly known as my lawn) is completely contained within concrete and block retaining walls, and in that my actually home is completely protected/surrounded by concrete sidewalks and a patio, I'm finding myself more and more amused at the vast sea of mud. The last time we experienced rain like this was twenty years ago in 1997. And we are actually faring quite well, much better than some of our neighbors. During the massive deluge (massive for us at least!) that occurred two weeks ago, all of our yard drains and rain gutters performed admirably. We experienced virtually no standing water, and as I did a property walk during the worst of the storm, I was pleased/amazed to see the impressive volume of water gushing out of our curbside drain exits and into the street gutters, testament to how well our systems were performing. Several of our neighbors, however, apparently didn't have adequate drains or rain gutters installed, and had to make mid-storm dashes to the hardware store in order to secure water pumps. No one experienced any actual water seepage into their homes to the best of my knowledge, but several said it was close.

So even as this storm is leaving the area, another is set to arrive by the end of next week. Nicely, thankfully, we'll have several days of sun and warm temps in between the two systems to assist in drying things out. It's unlikely my yard will be dried and prepped in time for artificial turf to go in before the next storm arrives, but I may get my rocks in place, and any progress is much appreciated at this point.

On paper it was really such a simple job - some rocks, some plants, some artificial turf. Who would have figured on this becoming the year of the never ending rains?

But all the more sweeter once it's finally complete. And, really, may all my problems be this insignificant.

Plans and Goals for Today
Clean kitchen.
Do touch up painting in the bedrooms that had carpet laid.
Do touch up painting along the stairway.
Finish Book Club read of The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien.
Dinner out somewhere fast casual before attending Pacific Symphony pops concert featuring Michael Bolton. So excited for this . . . I heart Michael Bolton!

Friday, February 10, 2017

On Achieving Balance

One of the things I most enjoy about being retired is the ability to wake up very slowly each morning over a mug of coffee. I tend to gravitate toward our living room, with it's southeast facing windows that allow me to watch the sky change color as the sun comes up. It's also where I most enjoy writing a blog post, particularly if I have the windows open and can hear the sounds of birds calling such as I do right now.

We have blue skies at the moment, but more rain is heading our way tonight. This looks to be the last for a while, and selfishly I'm very pleased about that because until my now-soggy backyard dries out, my landscaping project can not move forward.

In the meantime, other elements are coming together. Yesterday my floor installer came by to trim the door for our upstairs guest bath, which no longer shut once a transition piece was laid down between the new wood floored hallway, and existing bathroom tile. And today my new window treatments for the family room are going in, which I'm quite excited about. The new window treatments are such that we can continue to have an unobstructed view through our sliding doors when we wish, or partially or fully drop them for glare removal when watching something on our family room TV, and to obtain privacy when we have workmen in the backyard.

Because of all the improvements we are making to the house, we have blocked off most of January, February, and March to remain at home. I realized yesterday while talking with a friend that that makes this the longest single stretch we have ever been home since retiring. And it has not been without struggle. In talking with my friend in detail, I expressed the struggles I was having finding serenity while remaining in place. Since retiring, our lives have been in a state of almost constant stimulation as we travel, briefly return home, then travel again, or conversely, spend large blocks of time in training for significant endurance events like long distance hikes, bike rides, and some lengthy backpacking. Because of the home improvements of course, but also my husband having a shoulder tear that has kept him in a sling for some weeks, neither of these are currently occurring, and I am struggling to remain balanced without them.

The friend who I was speaking to about all this has a background in homeopathic remedies. She suggested my struggle to remain in balance might be caused to a degree by anxiety. In our 'normal' retired life, the constant exertion and stimulation had likely been keeping anxiety at bay, but without those as distractions, I now had to learn to deal with them on my own. She knows I'm an avid hiker, biker, etc., but suggested to add another 20-25 minutes of rapid walking in the PM, in addition to my morning workouts. The reason would be to initiate another download of endorphins as my morning endorphins subsided (their shelf life being about 5 -- 7 hours on average). She said it would likely help my sleep as well, in that while I might find myself falling asleep a bit later due to the late day dosage of endorphins, it would be a higher quality sleep overall.

She also suggested I start practicing mini-sessions of meditation, rather than a longer, single session such as I strive to do now. The mini-sessions will generate small doses of feel good chemicals to counter those times when I'm feeling out of balance, likely the result of small doses of anxiety coming to the surface.

Both of  these seemed like common sense salves to me, and I initiated the first last night, when my husband and I did a quick 25 minute brisk walk before dinner. It felt great, and gave me a much needed, late day little boost of energy. And even as we're both headed to the gym this morning, we'll do the same mini-but-brisk walk before dressing for dinner out tonight, and continue to do so going forward. And though I've already completed my AM meditation, I will work to stay mindful about doing short ones again throughout the day as necessary.

She also advised that I drink much, much more water than I'm currently drinking.

I had never, ever considered anxiety as being the cause of my struggle to remain balanced, presuming anxiety to be of the oh-my-God-we're-going-to-die variety I sometimes encounter during periods of turbulence when flying. And if was/is anxiety, could it really be that simple to counter? My friend advised me not to be surprised if doing all three of these turn out to be life changing. I'm looking forward to her being correct.

Plans and Goals for Today
60 minute cardio workout at the gym, plus ab work.
Read Book Club selection, The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien during workout.
Be home in time for window installation appointment.
Book a multi week hiking trip to New Zealand next spring with Road Scholar, plus a little on-our-own time thrown in at the end, before returning home.
Attend Art lecture on Salvador Dali at our Lifelong Learning program.
Be home again in time for office project meeting with our designer.
Late afternoon Mini-Brisk Walk
Attend a wine and dinner event with our wine society group this evening.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A Rainy Day in California

Another series of rain coming through here this week, something I would normally relish in that we so rarely have it here in sunny S. California. However, in that my backyard grass was recently removed in preparation for artificial turf, it's a now a bit of a mudpit back there. Sigh. Patience, patience, I'm working to remind myself, eventually it will all be complete and beautiful.

It also helps to look out to the front of our home, still so pretty after last summer's re-landscaping. And our new front yard patio has been my happy place from the moment it went in. So I'm looking out there instead, pretending the backyard simply doesn't exist for the time being.

I spent almost all the rainy day yesterday working on our 2017 vacations. The first occurs at the end of March, and I've been procrastinating something awful. We'll be gone for a month, traveling to a variety of locations, so it was a bit of a struggle to figure out if flying lots and car renting little, or doing the exact opposite made the most sense. In the end, I decided that being able to fly one time, non stop to the east coast, with an airline that did NOT charge extra for luggage was the easiest way to go. I'm talking to you Southwest . . . thank you for being an airline I still enjoy flying with.

I ended up deciding to fly us both in and out of Baltimore, MD. We'll pick up a one month rental car from the airport, and head first to our daughter and son-in-law's to see them and our precious granddaughter. Who, while hearing my voice on the phone to her mama last night, burst out with a spontaneous 'I love you Nana!,' the first time she's done so without prompting.

But I degress - a Nana thing.

Once there, we'll enjoy our family, do as much cooking and cleaning and babysitting and entertaining of the granddaughter as we can, and day trip during the week when everyone is either at preschool or work. On the list of day trips is the new African American museum in D.C., plus Baltimore, Dover, Annapolis, and Arlington. Hoping also that the son-in-law will be able to wrangle a behind the scenes tour of the Pentagon for us, where he currently works.

From there, we'll head to Wilmington, NC, where I reserved an apartment alongside the harbor. We'll next head to Kiawah Island, SC, where the family will join us for a week of coastal vacationing in a rental home within the grounds of a resort, affording multiple pools, restaurants, golf courses and spas to visit and enjoy, in addition to the nearby ocean. Once the week is over, our family heads out, and my husband and I make the short drive to Charleston, where we have a little carriage house reserved in the heart of the historic district. From there, we continue on to Richmond, VA, where we have a small historic brick apartment reserved near The Fan. As we head back to the D.C. metro area from Richmond, our last stop will be the colonial town of Fredericksburg, VA. A few more days of granddaughter time back in Alexandria, VA, then we'll finally head for home.

All the places we're staying are VRBO's, and I was pleased to get quick confirmations back on all. So, with air, rental car and lodging in place, I can now start working on our daily itinerary, something I enjoy doing tremendously.

I also made reservations for a fall RV trip we're doing with friends up along the N. California coastline. We now have a one week reservation near Pt. Reyes National Seashore, located north of San Francisco. During our stay there we'll be doing some backpacking, plus sightseeing and cheese tasting. They make great cheeses up there. At the end of week one, we'll head next to Sonoma County for a few days of wine tasting and dining, then south to Santa Cruz for hiking and beach walking. Our friends head back home from there, but my husband and I will stay on another few days, then make one final stop along the Central California coastline before meandering back home.

The majority of our plans for 2017 are now booked, with the exception of a late Fall trip back east, and our usual Thanksgiving and Christmas jaunts. The first will be somewhat complicated in that we'll be traveling around, but it will be out of high season, so the bookings should be fairly easy to nail down. The other two are simple in that they just involve flights. So, for now I'm done. Yeah! February is looking to be a very busy month, with an unusually large amount of social, dining and entertainment events going on, so it's good that I nailed all this down while I had the opportunity.

I was pretty tired once I finally stepped away from my office and laptop, but the dinner I had planned to make looked pretty simple in my cookbook - a BLT salad. Turned out to be not only simple, but delicious! I halved the recipe, substituted chickpeas for the chicken, adding them in straight from the can rather than the complicated chicken prep listed in the recipe, and I used just four strips of bacon.

Photo from America's Test Kitchen. 
Click here for recipe: BLT Salad with Chicken or Chickpeas

My calendar is listing a full day of classes at our Lifelong Learning program - a Current Events discussion class, a lecture on the Cold War, a piano performance by a graduate student, a photography class, and then a Spanish discussion group. Busy day, so for dinner tonight it's homemade tamales from the freezer, plus already made brown rice and fresh veggies.

But first I have Cross Fit Boot Camp class, the beginning of my third week. I can't say I love the thought of going, but I do love how it feels when we're done. And I am getting stronger, already I can tell, so I'm very happy about that. There's a gal in our class that is 70, and she's awesome, so anytime I even think of whining or not going to class, I just think of her.

Make it a memorable day!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

On Being Flexible

I finished up week two of Cross Fit this morning, meaning four weeks and 12 classes to go. Not that I'm counting, but really I am because these classes are hard! There was one element, called body crossovers, that I simply could not do this morning. I wanted to do them, and my mind was there, but my body would simply. not. cooperate. I gave them everything I had, but when I realized it wasn't going to happen, period, I switched over to a similar move I could do, and marked them off as something to grow into in future classes. We did a series of high intensity intervals, which I both loved and hated it at the same time, if that makes sense. These classes are showing both my strengths (primarily my cardio capacity) and my weaknesses (pretty much everything else!), but I am definitely seeing growth in my areas of weakness already. And although I'm depleted upon leaving class, I'm not wasted, which is definitely how I felt after the first class I attended. So, forward momentum being accomplished even while mastery is far off in the future.

Next up on my Renew (of body) list is Yoga, with Monday being the day I attend my first class. I'm excited in that flexibility was the other element I wanted to focus on in addition to strength training.

A bit of chaos around here again this morning in that my landscaper, who did eventually show up on Thursday, neglected to let me know an enormous trash bin would be dropped off at our house this morning. It caused some excitement as I returned from Cross Fit and realized the truck was backing the trash bin onto our driveway, which was supposed to be kept clear for a whole lot of rocks that were being delivered on Monday.

I know it sounds like my landscaper is a flake, but he's really not, he's really more of a magician in what he can do with a yard, and his customers, many of them repeats, just learn to be flexible. 'Being flexible' has never really my thing, hence why it's something I continue to work at.

The photo below is somewhat similar to what we're hoping our long, shallow backyard slope will look like when the rocks and plants all go down, though reversed with the rocks along the top of the slope, and the plantings along the bottom. I pulled this from, which along with Pinterest, is a great place to find remodeling and re-landscaping inspiration photos.

We're also replacing our lawn with artificial turf, and putting everything else onto a drip system. Once done, we should see a permanent drop in our water bill, which we're looking forward too. But of greater significance is being able to easily maintain our backyard versus now, where even with a gardening service I find myself overwhelmed by the amount of upkeep. With the new backyard layout, it should become another outside space we can enjoy, rather than seeing it as an unending chore.

My thought is that we'll enjoy the new backyard for as long as we remain in this home, while making it appealing for new buyers in that it will be drought friendly, low maintenance, and attractive to look at. I know that my spouse is secretly hoping all of our recent upgrades will keep me satisfied to remain where we currently are, but I'm still very much focused on moving to within a couple of miles of the ocean in the next couple of years. In my mind's eye I see us taking daily walks to the beach and back, and I'm nowhere near close to being ready to give that up. Plus, just the other day I was speaking to a gal that lives near the areas I'm/we're interested in, and she said that both UCIrvine and Saddleback College have outstanding Lifelong Learning programs, which is one of the key elements keeping us in our current community. So, that was great to hear.

Plans and Goals for Today
Attend Cross Fit class.
Eat mindfully.
Finalize plans for our S. Carolina trip.
Clean/vacuum all the floors.
Do 60 minutes of Spanish work.
Read 10% of Book Club read, The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
Complete ironing.
Make dessert for Super Bowl Sunday gathering.
Clean out last remaining drawer in my office. Woot!
Enjoy dinner out tonight, then attend a Stage Talk and Pacific Symphony performance program titled Scottish Fantasy.  

Thursday, February 2, 2017

A Romantic Night Out in I Heart Newport Beach

Newport Beach is the city I'd happily live out my dying days in were money no object. Fashion Island, Balboa Island, the Back Bay, Crystal Cove State Beach, miles of canyon and coastal hiking, Rogers Gardens, gorgeous homes, people and cars - I seriously have such a love affair with this city. So just for giggles when we went house hunting a few months ago, I spent some time researching housing prices there, and found that even on the fringes of the city, inland from the ocean, a million will only get you an under-2000 sq. foot condo with no views or outside space. Sigh. So as we continue to ponder a move closer to the ocean in the next few years, I've officially given up on ever living in Newport Beach, instead focusing on more reasonably priced, adjacent cities, like Laguna Niguel and Aliso Viejo. We're eyeing 2020 to make this change, which is when the first of us turns 65 and begins to collect additional revenue flows via pensions, Social Security and the lowering of our health care premiums via Medicare. Because, even if we pay cash for a new home our tax base will likely triple, so waiting until our income flow bumps up permanently seems prudent to me. The I'll-sleep-better-at-night thing if you will.

In the meantime, we content ourselves with visiting on a fairly frequent basis. It's about a 25 minute drive to Newport Beach from where we currently live, making it an easy getaway for things like hiking, kayaking, running, shopping, and eating out.

I'm a big, big fan of TravelZoo dining deals, and one recently came my way for Pelican Grill, one of three restaurants at Pelican Hill Resort in Newport Beach. Pelican Hill Resort is on a gorgeous stretch of hills overlooking the ocean, plus it's the home of Andrea, one of the top 10 OC restaurants on the Guyot list we are slowly working through, so I was immediately intrigued. The dining deal was priced at $50, and was good for $80 worth of menu items plus a bottle of wine, easily a $100 value being offered at half off. So I bought one, and we used it the other night.

The restaurant was lovely inside, with gorgeous ocean views. While we didn't get the terrace seating shown in the photo above, we did get placed in front of a window looking out at the ocean, plus it was warmer inside than out, so we were more than good with that. Our waiter was attentive, and our meal was absolutely delicious. We started with a trio of different bruschettas, moved on to Caesar salads, then finished with seafood: pan seared Chilean sea bass over a bed of black rice and orange coconut milk for me, and pan roasted salmon and tomatoes over carrot risotto for my husband. No dessert though - polishing off an entire bottle of Chardonnay over our two+ hour dinner was dessert aplenty. And the total out-of-pocket, including the price of the TravelZoo deal and tip, was just $70, so that was nice too. (They didn't charge sales tax for some odd, but nice, reason.)

We were both a little sad to depart in that we'd had such a nice time talking and laughing over dinner. So I was happy to wake up this morning to find a new TravelZoo deal for another of Pelican Hill Resort's restaurants, the Coliseum Pool & Grill. I found a photo of the restaurant's pool adjacent location below, and we're looking forward to to a return visit in March or April, when the days are a little longer and warmer and we can sit outside in comfort.

Both deals were good for just Sunday - Thursday, but that works just fine for us. Traffic makes getting to Newport Beach during the week a bit difficult, but going on a Sunday in retirement works out perfectly. In a 180 switch from our working years, we now prefer to stay stay out of popular restaurants on Saturdays, preferring Sunday nights when it's less crowded. Funny how normal that now feels, after six years of being retired.


What I'm . . . 

Watching:  The Good Wife on Hulu. It's always fun to find a new series years late, then watch at your own leisure until you catch up or finish.

Thinking About: A new group I'm joining tonight, an offshoot of our attendance at the Unitarian Congregation. This group, called a Chalice Circle, is made up of a small community of members, so we can cover discussion topics in depth. There are multiple groups starting up simultaneously in that each one is limited to about a dozen attendees. I'm intrigued about how it will all work, but eager to experience the personal growth I think it will afford.

Thankful For: My granddaughter, whom I love more than the sun and the moon. We'll be Skype'ing with her tomorrow morning, and the plan is to talk, read, sing and dance for as long as her little 27 month attention span allows. She's learning Spanish, and I can't wait to hear her new words. Last week it was 'Rojo,' one of her favorite colors, her numbers from uno to diez, and 'moquea' the Spanish word for a runny nose, which seems to be a constant with her this winter. It made me laugh every time she yelled out 'Mommy, moquea!' in her toddler-demanding request for a tissue. I have no doubt that soon she'll be way ahead of me in the learning-a-second language department.

Looking Forward To: A luncheon later today with my Art Alliance group at The White House in Anaheim. I joined this group last year, and am so enjoying it. Many of the members come from art backgrounds, or if not, seem to be very knowledgeable about it. The group is the philanthropic arm of our university's art program, and thus offers ongoing educational, museum and dining programs as a way of raising scholarship funds. The fees for each event are doubled to accomplish this, a much more enjoyable way of donating funds than simply writing a check.

Frustrated About: That it's approaching 9:00 AM and my landscaper is not yet here on what is supposed to be our project start day. Grrr . . .

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Hello February, and 2017 Word Update

Many successes in January, and yet, much heartbreak as well. To get the heartbreak out of the way first, I'll only say that who I thought we were as a nation is very clearly wrong. In actuality, I first was confronted with this in the summer of 2014, when my spouse and I spent a total of four months traveling the USA in our RV. We embarked on this trip with rose colored glasses, and returned without them, troubled to our core by the hatred and intolerance toward 'those' people we'd bumped up against over and over again during our travels throughout a total of 12 western states. Perhaps because we were white and drove a Jeep, it was presumed we felt the same and would understand, but the more we heard the less we did. So, as deeply depressed as I am about what has occurred since the new president took office earlier this month, I cannot say that I am surprised even while being utterly dismayed that it took the form of the Republican candidate for president that it did. Financial, yes, we'll likely be considerably better off with this president in that our portfolio will go up and our non-subsidized health premiums go down, but that is not the issue for either one of us. The issue is our humanity as a nation, or rather, our lack of humanity, in turning away already-vetted refugees. We hold onto hope that the executive order turns out be deemed non-constitutional, and is overturned. In the meantime, we are doing what we can to direct funding to organizations that are attempting to help these people.

But to return to the successes - I did have a good January, implementing many things that live up to my word for the year, Renew.

We continue to attend services at the Unitarian Congregation, where I continue to be spiritually uplifted. My experience to date has been that this organization strives to uphold human rights of every flavor, color and size, and it's consistent message of love is a salve to my much troubled soul. The people of this congregation appear to walk their talk, but I am still at a point of taking baby steps. Forward progression all the same, and I understand I need to go at my own pace if I wish to continue obtaining momentum.

I also signed up for a six week boot camp that meets each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Already, at four sessions in, I've experienced much renewal. The first session was so tough it almost whooped me, and in fact my spouse said my face was white when I got home, But by the third session my fighting spirit began to kick in, and I went from being dead last to being solidly in the middle. (I think my pretty solid cardio conditioning helped as well). Yesterday, my fourth session, I was in the top third, completion and time wise, and I had an absolute ball with it all. So even as my quads and thighs are yelling at me for what I did to them yesterday, I'm loving it, and feeling much closer to my 'old' self than I have in years.

And finally, our house is looking great! All the new flooring is now in, excepting my husband's office, which is on hold for a few more weeks pending the installation of new office cabinetry before being refloored in hardwood. Our new front yard patio furniture arrived, and we love it, particularly the new propane firepit table. It's so cozy to light up at night, and being that this is S. California, there's rarely a night too cold to sit outside for a bit. I finally found a vendor that can make coverings for our family room sliding glass patio door that are right for the room, both style and price wise, and my backyard soft scaping redesign begins tomorrow, finally, after many, many months of waiting for our landscaper to fit us into his schedule.

Here are some photos of what's been completed thus far:

Newly re-tiled raised marble entry to the right, newly re-floored living room to the left.
Newly re-floored dining room. I already had the rug. :-)

Newly re-floored kitchen, including the newly re-finished kitchen island, which
now matches my new cream cabinets. Love!

Our beautifully bricked new front yard patio, with it's new Ballard Design
patio furniture. The propane firepit table is from TK Classics, and it works great!

Plans and Goals for Today
Menu planning and grocery shopping.
Sixty minutes of cardio at the gym while also reading this month's book club selection, The Things They Carried.
Sixty minutes of Spanish study.
Airfare, car rental and VRBO reservations for our upcoming S. Carolina trip.
Attend Line Dancing class at our Lifelong Learning program.
Enter text from one our our 2016 vacations into our private family blog.