The Gathering Place

Every house and yard has them. Sometimes by design and sometimes by default. Friends and family drift to it; most likely because it is comfortable and where life is happening. In a house it is often the kitchen. Through the years I have noticed that it is never our formal dining room. I have to coax people to come eat a meal in the formal dining room, even when the table is set and the food is ready. People are drawn to relaxed, comfortable living, particularly where the pot is simmering, the dough is rising, or the fire is burning. I think that is why open living spaces are so popular. My next home will not have a formal dining room and it will have a big ole open kitchen/living area.

Several years ago we were invited to dinner at the home of a colleague of Mr. U. They had just built a pizza oven and wanted to invite people over to try it. It was a lovely evening on the back patio with soft music, bistro lights and the embers of the pizza oven glowing. We each made our own pizza and shared them with the group. That is what sparked the idea for us. Why not make a pizza oven? How hard can it be? In my defense, I did suggest we could buy one readymade, but Mr. U was confident we could make one that would be more unique and less expensive. He was right on one count.

Mr. U immediately got busy drawing up plans and googling everything he could find on building a pizza oven. The following summer, he got his tractor fired up and started moving dirt around in an area off to the side of the yard that was pretty plain and ugly. How big are you going to make it I asked innocently. He grunted something and just kept moving dirt and bringing in cinder blocks. This did not look like a pizza oven to me.

I suspiciously noticed that our kids were not stopping by as much as they used to. Hum. I wonder if it had anything to do with the fact that Mr. U would suggest they give him a hand with just a few things on the pizza oven every time they would pull up the driveway. You know, pouring cement or lifting cinder blocks. Nothing much.

To his credit, Mr. U stuck with it and worked diligently with a dream in mind. Two summers later, the pizza oven was complete. That evening I made up some pizza dough and Mr. U gingerly put a fire in it. We sipped a glass of wine while we waited for the oven to heat up. And the thing actually worked! Loooveleee!

Since the first night we made pizzas I have tried several pizza sauce recipes. I finally found my absolute favorite. Unfortunately, I do not remember where I found it so I cannot credit the author. This sauce is so quick, easy and delicious. It also freezes well so I can make a huge batch and freeze it in smaller containers for later, impromptu gatherings. I think that my favorite pizza is the simple margherita pizza with the below sauce, fresh mozzarella and a sprinkling of dried Italian herbs. When it comes out of the oven, layer fresh basil on top….delish! (Do not put fresh basil on prior to cooking or it turns black and loses some of the flavor.) While you have the basil out, you might want to make some pesto. Here is a great recipe for it. I am still on the lookout for the perfect dough recipe. I have tried several and while they were O.K., they are not exactly what I want. Please let me know if you have a great dough recipe, as I would love to find one that can be my go-to pizza dough.


  • 3 cloves finely chopped garlic
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 – 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 Tbs. dried basil
  • 1 Tbs. dried oregano
  • 2 Tbs. sugar (white or brown)
  • salt & pepper to taste

Sauté garlic in olive oil. Add the rest and summer uncovered for 20 minutes. (I prefer to simmer it for about an hour.) Best to let sit for 24 hours. Freezes well.

Of course, it is not all fun and games. As with anything worthwhile, it comes with some extra work. The most difficult thing about making pizza, aside from building the oven (duh), is chopping all of the ingredients. Think onion, olives, tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, etc. If people offer to bring something, I usually ask for help with the ingredients that need to be diced. There are also a lot of dirty dishes, pizza paddles, etc. to clean up afterwards. Worthwhile tradeoffs, but just keeping it real.

One of the things I particularly like about the pizza oven is that it is a wonderful way to entertain and enjoy a casual meal. And everyone is able to participate, from my grandkids to my dad. We usually have everyone make a pizza or two and we set them all out to share, buffet style. It is fun to see what unique pizzas people come up with. No need to worry about food preferences or allergies, because people can make it the way they want. We try to save some dough at the end to make dessert pizza. To do this, make a sauce of melted butter and cinnamon and spread that over the pizza dough. Then add a thin layer of homemade huckleberry sauce. Once that comes out of the oven, let it sit for a few minutes, then spray some canned whip cream on the top. So yummy!

Fire up the pizza oven, put the corn hole game out in the yard and it is a perfect, casual way to get together with family and friends. It has turned into our outdoor gathering spot. Now if I could just get people to come eat as easily in my formal dining room!

Heading to the Hills

We are in a busy flurry over here as we prepare to have son #3’s wedding at our house in less than two weeks. You don’t realize how slowly things deteriorate in your home until you look at it through someone else’s eyes. Like when you are going to have over 100 people at your house for a wedding. Gulp. Well, technically, hopefully, God willing, it will be in the yard. Maybe it is just me, but when I live in a house for a while, I seem to quit seeing it objectively and do not notice that the trim around the doors is starting to peel, or the front door mat needs to be replaced. So, we have been busy pressure washing the house, painting door trim, laying new bark dust, resurfacing the front walk, putting a fresh coat of paint on the front door, etc. But amidst the preparations, life still goes on and my dad hit his 96th birthday. Now that is something to take time out to celebrate! So, my wonderful sister and I decided to whisk him away for a night to one of my favorite places on earth.

Just a two-hour drive north from us is a rustic resort, nestled in the pine trees at Priest Lake. Close enough to go for a night, but far enough that you feel like you get away. Hill’s Resort has a long stretch of beach with calming views of the water and Selkirk mountains. Exhale. We rented one of their rustic cabins for the night. The above feature photo was taken outside our cabin door just after the sun came up. (Photo credit to my brother-in-law, Craig.) The smoke hanging over the mountains was from a wildfire up north in Canada. Below is a picture of our cozy cabin and the beach in front of it. The water is still pretty high from the springtime mountain run off.

George William Hill grew up in the 1920’s and 1930’s and spent his summers at a family cabin on Priest Lake. He loved the area and eventually returned with his wife in the 1950’s and began building their dream of a rustic summer resort on the edge of the lake. The resort is now open year-round and is still owned and operated by the Hill family. All of the cabins are equipped with a small kitchen, or you can have a more formal dinner at their award-winning restaurant with stunning lake views. There are several stacks of chopped firewood on the property ready for use inside your cabin’s fireplace or down at the beach in the evening. We have made a lot of memories at this old resort. We have celebrated anniversaries and birthdays and my dear friend and I come up every year for a girl’s trip.

When you decide you need more exercise than watching the waves lap up on shore and the tall pines sway, you can go out on the dock and cast a fishing pole, take a walk along the well-maintained path next to the water, or rent a kayak or canoe for a few hours out on the lake.

No trip up north to the resort is complete without a stop at The Falls Inn, which isn’t really an inn at all. It is a quirky little sandwich & pizza place. This old watering hole is known for a couple of things. First, they serve HUGE sandwiches that are packed with meat. The guys love them. Secondly, the restaurant/bar is built over a waterfall, which is a little unnerving. It has been uncharacteristically warm in our neck of the woods, so we stopped there to have a cold brew outside.

If you are ever in the PNW, I would highly recommend you take the time for a night or two at Hill’s Resort. It is difficult to get in during their busy season, but you can usually get a reservation, at a much cheaper rate, during the off season.

Well, writing this blog post has been a nice reprieve from house maintenance chores, but I had better get back at it. Wish me luck that we get everything done in time. Happy 96th birthday dad!

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the mom’s out there! To all of the mothers that sacrificed, gave when the well was dry and shed worried tears of blood. It made a difference, and the world is better because you are a mother that cares.

“Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn’t know you had, and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed.”

Linda Wooten

Then, at some unexpected point in life, it all comes to fruition, and you realize that you are blessed beyond what you ever gave.

So grateful to call these four amazing guys my sons.

I am sending virtual hugs to all of those that have lost their mom and cannot hug her today.

Happy Mother’s Day to my mom in heaven. I miss you every day.

“All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”

Abraham Lincoln

My Top 10 Retirement books + one

Spring has finally sprung in the PNW! With everyone anxious to get outside, it is probably not the best time to write a post on books, but it has been a super busy week and I already had part of it written. Consider taking one of these books outside for a read in the lounge chair instead of inside by the fire.

There are so many excellent books out there about the financial side of retirement.  Planning how you are going to fund your retirement is a given.  A must.  It is the backbone of a secure and enjoyable retirement.  You should not even think about retiring until you have this nailed down.  So, I am assuming that you have that nasty detail taken care of so that you can now focus on the fun stuff.  How are you going to make the most of your retirement years? 

Prior to retiring I read numerous books about retirement.  Not the financial side because we already had that planned out, but books on living a retirement lifestyle that is fun, healthy, and fulfilling.  Besides, reading books about finances makes my eyes glaze over.  Much too boring and dry.  I want the meaty stuff about living well! 

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Benjamin Franklin

There are a lot less books written about the non-financial side of retirement.  However, it is just as vital that you plan ahead for how you want to live out this new phase of life.  I don’t think any of us want to just tread water in retirement, killing time until we are on the other side of the dirt.  But, if you do not plan and then take action steps, the days can slop into each other and before you know it, your life has passed you by.    These books will inspire you and help prevent you from falling into a boring, soul sucking retirement lifestyle. 

I am embarrassed to admit it, but I have read over 60 retirement lifestyle books (seriously, I counted them on my kindle.)  I have also read countless articles and blogs.  Does this make me an expert…or just a nerd?   Either way, I would like to share with you my top ten retirement lifestyle books in hopes that you will find as much wisdom and inspiration from them, as I have.  

Nerd life in retirement – note that worn cover on my Kindle. (Do not note the double chin.)

Top 10 Revealed!

It was very hard to decide on my top 10 and I certainly cannot pick a favorite because each offers a different voice and ideas.  So, here are my top 10 revealed in alphabetical order.  Drum role please…

  • The Artist’s Way for Retirement:  It’s never too late to discover creativity and meaning by Julia Cameron

I have read several of Cameron’s books, but this is one of my favorites because it is written specifically for living a more creative life in retirement.  She addresses why retirees, who have more time than ever in their lives, still struggle with being creative.  If you are trying to figure out how to reinvent yourself in retirement, then this book will provide you with the tools to explore that.  As with most of her books on creativity, Cameron recommends some basic exercises that you can incorporate into your life immediately to inspire you and help you define the life you want to live:  Morning Pages, Memoir Writing, Artist Dates and Solo Walks.  If you are looking for ways to live a life filled with more wonder, awe, and creativity, then this book will inspire you to do just that.   

  • How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free by Ernie J. Zelinski

This is probably the first book I ever read on retirement.  However, do no let this older publication deter you because it is just as relevant today.  Ernie, a professional engineer, started his retirement much earlier than planned due to a poor professional decision that got him fired (do not recommend).  After struggling for a few years, he started to embrace his new freedom.  This entertaining and inspiring book has great insights on how and why to enjoy your newfound leisure.  He proposes that to fully enjoy retirement you must stay active and develop interesting leisure activities, creative pursuits, a social network and physical and mental well-being.  This book makes you look forward to retirement!

  • Keys to a Successful Retirement by Fritz Gilbert

In this book, Gilbert uses the analogy that retirement is “like baking a cake.”  (You will have to read the book to find out why.)  The author identifies some of the inevitable “curves” you will hit as you embark on this major life transition.  While he addresses the financial end of planning for retirement, what I love most about this book is that Fritz fully recognizes it is the life you build after the curves and beyond the finances that secures your true happiness in retirement.  This includes the importance of our relationships, choosing your attitude and embracing your passion. This book is an enjoyable read and offers some great retirement tips along the way so you can put it into practice to make this next chapter of life the best it can be.  Check out Fritz’s excellent retirement blog:   The Retirement Manifesto Blog

  • Life Reimagined by Richard Leider and Alan Webber

While not technically a retirement book, many of the principles can be applied to creating an enjoyable and satisfying retirement.  This quote from the book captures the essence of it very well, “At the heart of Life Reimagined is a manifesto that calls upon each of us to live our lives with choice, curiosity and courage.”  The authors encourage readers to live a life of self-discovery.  Leider also wrote an excellent book with David Shapiro that I would recommend.  (Tricky of me to sneak in another book and not have to include it in the top ten list, isn’t it?).  The book is titled Repacking Your Bags:  Lighten the Load For the Rest of Your Life, and is worth a read as well, particularly for those still trying to balance work with living a good life.  (Lucky us that we are retired and don’t have to do that anymore.) 

  • Living a Satisfying Retirement:  Real life insights from those already living and planning their own satisfying retirement by Bob Lowry

I have been a faithful reader of Lowry’s retirement blog, which he has been writing for over 12 years.  This is Lowry’s second book on retirement.  He is obviously an experienced voice on the topic of retirement.  His first book, Building a Satisfying Retirement addresses how to structure a meaningful retirement life that is enjoyable and satisfying. (I had a hard time identifying which of the two books to add to my top ten list, so this is another way to sneak in a book recommendation without going over my limit of 10.)  This second book expands to include insights from over 50 people who are either retired or planning to. The respondents share their thoughts on some of the most important retirement questions that people are curious about.  This includes what people miss about their career, what their favorite parts of retirement are, and what advice they have for those planning to retire.  For more great information on retirement, stop over at Bob’s blog:  My Satisfying Retirement

  • The New Retirementality:  Planning your life and living your dreams…at any age you want by Mitch Anthony.   

Years ago, this author claimed that everything we knew and thought about retirement was wrong and what we needed was a “new retirementality.”  This book is in its 5th edition.  Enough said.

  • Retirement Heaven or Hell:  Which will you choose by Mike Drak, Susan Williams and Robert Morrison

Even though two of the authors worked in the financial planning industry, this book takes you beyond the numbers to help you design your ideal retirement lifestyle. It clearly identifies nine retirement principles that are the foundation to a happy, healthy retirement. The authors explain that you can live your your golden years in retirement heaven or retirement hell, based on the attitudes and actions you choose.  Retirement hell is a result of bad choices and poor planning.  It is boring and will “kill your soul.”  On the other hand, you can live in retirement heaven by being a retirement rebel.  You will have to read the book to learn more about what a retirement rebel is.

  • Rightsizing: A SMART Living 365 Guide to Reinventing Retirement by Kathy Gottberg

Gottberg is a very established author with several books under her belt.  Kathy bases several of her books and her excellent blog on the concept of “rightsizing.”  She identifies “rightsizing” as a conscious choice to design a lifestyle that fits your unique interests and needs, no matter what stage of life you are in.  “Rightsizing” is about shedding all the extraneous and unsustainable parts of life and trimming it down to what has meaning and purpose for you.  It is an excellent solution to our stressful, overloaded lives.  This book is a compilation of several of the author’s blog posts and provides some great suggestions on how to “rightsize” your retirement to make it happy and fulfilling.  I would also highly encourage you to visit her blog at:  SMART Living

  • What the Happiest Retirees Know:  10 habits for a healthy secure, and joyful life by Wes Moss

Moss is a Certified Financial Planner, so he was curious how much of an impact money had on happiness in retirement.   To find out, he conducted 2,000 surveys of retirees.   When he analyzed these surveys, he noted ten habits that consistently showed up among the happiest retirees.   He refers to them as the Happiest Retirees on the Block (HROBs).   You will have to read the book to discover what the ten habits are.  Hint:  Once you reach the point of financial security, more money does not make you a happier retiree.  He also identifies some characteristics of the Unhappiest Retiree on the Block (UROB).   An inspiring book that reminds you where to focus your time and attention to ensure you are in the camp as one of the HROBs.

  • Win the Retirement Game:  How to outsmart the 9 forces trying to steal your joy by Joe Casey

The title of this book might sound a little depressing, however it is anything but.  The author provides a realistic view of some of the challenges that retirees face, but he does not leave you there. He follows that with the tools you need to have a great retirement, such as a sense of curiosity, staying connected, embracing change, exploring your creativity, and discovering your new direction.  This book will inspire you to take your talent, experience and interests and repurpose them to create a meaningful and engaging retirement lifestyle.

And now the + one

And last, but not least, a shameless plug for my favorite author, Ashton Underdahl!  Yes, she is my daughter-in-law and yes, she is a newly published author.  Her book, Leader Most Loved is already a national best seller.    Her book is not about retirement but rather, it addresses the other end of the employment spectrum.   Her book offers a wholistic approach to leadership and developing teams in the challenging new work world.  So, if you know of someone interested in becoming a strong leader without sacrificing their personal life, like many of us baby boomers did, then I would highly recommend this book to them (even if she weren’t my DIL).

Visit Ashton’s website at Cadre Coeur Consulting

These books, and many others, have encouraged and inspired me to make the retirement years, my best ever.  I am grateful to the authors that took the time to pen their thoughts and experiences. 

Do you have a favorite retirement book?  Please let me know, as I am always on the lookout for fresh reading material.  Nerd that I am. 

Happy reading! 


We just returned from a sunny week in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.  We had this trip planned for several months so it was just coincidence that it landed the week after we returned from our last trip to help son#1 and DIL move.  Life is full of unexpected turns.  So glad we are retired and can take those turn and see where they lead us. We got home from our Texas to Omaha trip early last Friday afternoon and turned around to leave for Cabo the following day.  Just enough time to do a few loads of wash, connect briefly with family members and water the plants.   It was a quick turnaround. 

We had been to Cabo several years ago for a brief six hour stop on a cruise ship, so this was basically new territory.   Fortunately, we had friends and family that had been there quite a few times and made some great recommendations.  We did not plan a lot of activities for this trip.  We just wanted to relax, enjoy the beaches, sunshine, and some really good street tacos.  We booked a condo through Airbnb at the Marina Cabo Plaza, where everything is within walking distance or taxi (water or ground).   We decided we did not want to rent a car.  Think relaxation, not stress over traffic, parking and trying to figure out directions in a different country.  (Even with a GPS, this is really hard on a marriage.) The Airbnb was small but had everything we needed.  I particularly enjoyed the patio overlooking the harbor.  We spent mornings having coffee and watching the fishing boats roll out.  Like I said, not a big agenda.  Happy sigh. 

Here are a few of my favorite recommendations if you stay right down in the heart of Cabo. 

Taco Mania

I looove a good street taco and Cabo obviously has no shortage of them.  Our first night we were tired and just picked a place close by that overlooked the marina.  I believe that a good restaurant should have great atmosphere and great food.  Surprisingly, this did not disappoint.  With every meal, they make salsa at your table, seasoned to your preferance.  I appreciated the roasted tomatoes and fresh ingredients.  When my “make your own taco” meal came, it was in a bubbling bowl of sauce with steak and green peppers dripping out of a bowl and slabs of fresh mozzarella on top.  Excellent with an ice cold margarita. 

For lunches, we researched the best street tacos.  “Cabo Mike,” the owner of our condo kindly made some recommendations, one of which was a hole in the wall taco joint called Guss Tacos.  Not a lot for atmosphere but the tacos were excellent, and they served a salsa bar and fresh condiment tray with them.  I also had a great fish taco at Tacos Gardenias.   I would have liked to try this little taco stand off the beaten path that several locals were lined up at, but we were reluctant to try it as we were not sure about the water used, so we went with the side of caution.  Boring, but safer. 

We usually had a little breakfast in our room, but one morning we stepped out to a place just below our condo that “Cabo Mike” recommended. The view of the marina was lovely, the food was fresh and delicious, and the presentation was a pleasant surprise.

Things To Do Without a Car

“Cabo Mike” had beach chairs, an umbrella and beach towels for guest use, so one afternoon we loaded up and walked around the corner to Medano Beach.  Medano Beach is a sandy stretch with beach bars and dining.  One of my favorite activities is “wave bobbing.”  That is my name for floating along in the waves.  However, the surf was a little rough for wave bobbing that day and it threw me up on shore a couple times.  I am still trying to remove sand from my swimsuit.  Speaking of swimsuits, I have seen more women’s butt cheeks than I ever care to.  Whoever decided a thong was appropriate to wear in public?   (Do I sound old or what?)   

Medano Beach toward evening.

One day we took the water taxi over to see the famous Arch, a beautiful rock formation.  It was a great deal at just $15.00/person round trip.   It included a pause at Pelican Rock to watch the fish through a glass bottom viewing spot in the center of the boat.  He had to chum for the fish to show up.  A little cheesy, but there were some colorful tropical fish.  You can also snorkel there, but we decided not to this trip.  Then they motor you over to see the beautiful rock Arch.  Next stop was Lovers beach, which you can only get to by water. The surf is a little rough there, so they pull the small motorboat up as close as they can to the shore and throw down the ladder.  You wait for the wave to be slack and quickly climb down the ladder as the assistant yells, “hurry, hurry.”  Then you hope you hit the next wave just right so you can wade onto shore.  We observed several people fall into the water and one lady lost her shoe in the process.  I really doubt you could legally do this in the states.  I am relieved to say that we made it both off and back on the boat without incident. 

There seem to be a few stories on how Lovers Beach got its unique name.  The most plausible is that it is located where the Gulf and Pacific seas meet.  You can walk a short distance on Lovers Beach between rock formations and arrive at Divorce Beach.  Divorce Beach is on the rougher Pacific Ocean side.  Divorce beach has much more turbulent water and surf than Lovers Beach, hence the name. 

If you want an evening of dinner and entertainment, I recommend booking a table to “The Office.”  It is right on Medano Beach with tables in the sand.  As evening envelopes the sky they light the candles and torches, which creates a lovely atmosphere as you watch the waves roll in.  On Thursday night, they also put on a fun Mexican music show.  The food was just average, but the experience was worth it. 

Our last night we booked a Sunset Dinner Cruise.  Our friends recommended going on the Rissalena.  It is family owned and is a more relaxed, chill cruise than some of the party boats.  One of the crew members’ mother even makes the delicious dinner for it, every single night.   

We tried making a reservation for the Rissalena online one morning via email, then headed out for the day.  When we were by the dock gate for the dinner cruise boats, we thought we would just ask where it was and make sure our reservation came through.  The Rissalena staff were not there but vendors from other cruises were all over it and offered to call them for us.  The two men talked in Spanish (your first clue) and then made a phone call in Spanish.  When he got off the phone he told us the Rissalena was already booked tonight.  We said that was O.K. because we wanted to go on Friday night, to which he promptly replied they were booked…10 days out.  However, he had another great boat we could reserve. We were disappointed but decided to wait and do a little online research.  As we walked away, I told Mr. U that I thought they made that all up.  He laughed with me.  Lo and behold, we got back to our room and an email was waiting from the Rissalena letting us know they had availability for several nights this week.  Hummm…apparently the guys at the dock thought we looked like stupid American tourists.  Out fooled them, barely. 

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Traveling to a different county, even Mexico where most people that work in the tourist industry speak English, is not without its challenges.  Here are a few of my observations while we there:

  • You always have to be a little cautious and aware, even for something as simple as booking a sunset dinner cruise.
  • The poverty and disparity in wealth is painful to witness.  You see the beautiful private ships with helicopters on them anchored in the bay and then you walk the street and see the old lady swathed in cloths, perched on the curb selling bracelets or little children begging you to buy Chiclets.  How do you buy from one and not all of them?   How do you reconcile the disparity?
  • The number of street vendors that approach you as you walk down the sidewalk is overwhelming.  After the 10th approach within one block, you start to sound rude.  I DO NOT want to be a rude American tourist. We found the best response was a firm, “no, gracias” with a smile and keep moving. 

It is an odd conundrum, this travel thing.  I love to see new sights, experience different cultures, and taste all of the unique flavors of food, but I also find great comfort in being home, tucked in close to family and friends.  I am torn.  

“Maybe that is the best part of going away for a vacation – coming home again.”

Madeleine L’Engle

Speaking of home, we will be very busy for the month of May as we prepare to have son #3’s wedding at our place.  There is lots to do before June 3rd so posts will be more sporadic and minimal, at best, for the month of May. 

Adios for now amigo!