Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween to each of you! Last week we had our annual soup & pumpkin carving party. It is a byop (bring your own pumpkin) gathering. We have two or three different soups and people bring side dishes to share. I make my traditional hot cider, which fills the house with the aroma of cinnamon and apples when people arrive. It tasted especially good this year since the temperatures dropped quickly and we got our first snow of the season that day. Fair warning… it is another picture overload post. I may just give this type of post the acronym “POP.”

We enjoy a casual meal together and then bring out the stencils, knives, candles and pumpkins to create a little Halloween magic. It is fun to see what different designs everyone comes up with. The great thing is that the young, old and in between can participate. My 96-year-old dad even got in on the action. Since he wasn’t up for carving, he decided to draw a smiling face on his pumpkin. (I remember that my mom always wanted him to carve happy pumpkins instead of scary ones.)

What holiday isn’t more fun with kids?

This is where grandkids, or any other children you can find, come in very handy. You get to experience their excitement and imagination, ramp them up on candy and then send them home with their parents. Life is good being a grandparent. We live out in the country, so we don’t get any trick-or-treaters unless they are Harry Potter and a Zombie Cheerleader.

Aside from our darling new granddaughter, we have another new addition to our family. Son #4 got a new puppy, and he is adorable. I love dogs, but we just don’t feel like we want the responsibility for one at this point in our retirement since we still want to do some traveling. So, it works perfectly that our kids have pets; we get our dog fix and then send them home. Kinda like being a grandparent… all of the fun without all of the work and responsibility.

The hit of the evening is when Mr. U, aka “Bops” to the grandkids, pulls out the black cauldron and adds ants’ blood (root beer extract) to stir up a batch of witch’s brew. It is another recipe from our old tried and true recipe book we received when we got married. We used to make it for the boys’ birthday parties when they were little and then when we had grandkids, it evolved into a Halloween tradition. The magic ingredient is the dry ice. Pour the “witch’s brew” over a couple scoops of vanilla ice cream to make root beer floats for dessert afterwards.

This year I found a couple of cute plastic recycle bins at the Dollar Tree. Which, I might add, is a lie because it is now $1.25 for everything. I guess inflation has even hit the dollar store. I had some left-over orange almond bark, so I decided to make a small batch of ghost garbage to fill them and give to the grandkids. The recipe is from a colleague of mine years ago. One Christmas she filled clear bags with it and added a colorful ribbon and tag that said reindeer fodder and gave them out as office gifts.

The actual night of Halloween is pretty uneventful around here, particularly compared to the soup & pumpkin carving party. As I mentioned, we don’t get any trick-or-treaters. However, Mr. U always has to buy a little candy “just in case.” So, on Halloween we usually pop up some popcorn, pull out the trick or treat candy that we did not give out and settle in for a movie. Life is good.

Some of the carvers holding their creations.

The Harvest of Our Lives

Harvest is the season of gathering.  It is the season that we reap the rewards of all the hard work, time, sweat, heart, and soul that was put into something we care about.  It is a time to gather what grew from our labors and enjoy the abundance.  In the spring we prepare the soil and tenderly pat the seeds into the soft brown earth.  Summer is the season of commitment, making sure we consistently water, weed and nurture those seeds so they thrive under the hot, relentless sun.  Harvest cannot happen unless the preparation and work have been put in prior to it.  The fall and winter of life are the times to slow down and enjoy the results of all of our previous years. It is the time to reap the harvest of our lives.  

Retirement: The great harvest

Harvest comes after we have lived through the spring and summer of our life.  It is the reward for all those years of waking up to an early alarm clock, staying committed when we wanted to quit and move to Tahiti, and sacrificing small pleasures and larger worldly goods in order to save for later; the ambiguous someday that we may never live to see.   We steadfastly prepared for a time in the smoky future that is never guaranteed.  But now, in retirement, we are harvesting the rewards of a life well lived.   

Like the rewards from our fall garden harvest, the rewards from harvesting a life well lived are plentiful, deep rooted, colorful, and succulent.  The retirement harvest replenishes our souls and makes all of our previous life work worth it.   What are some of the rewards we are now reaping from all those years with our nose to the grindstone; those years of more giving than taking? What is included in the harvest of our retirement? Let’s take a look at five of them:

  • Health.  By the time we reach our 60’s or 70’s we start to reap the rewards, or live with the consequences, of the health choices we made earlier in our lives.  If we spent too many years eating a diet full of sugar or high carb foods, we may develop type II diabetes, or all the many complications associated with obesity.  If we spent too many years eating pizza and fast-food burgers (guilty) we may reap the “rewards” of high cholesterol, a potential heart attack, and subsequent hear failure.  If we did not exercise enough, we may reap the “rewards” of osteoporosis or obesity and resulting immobility later in life.  We can abuse our health for years and still function.  And while there is never a guarantee with our health, no matter how careful we have been, it is smart to hedge our bets. Because there comes a time when we will garner the results of our health choices.  Hopefully, in retirement, we will harvest the rewards of our previous healthy choices and be able to live an active life.
  • Finances.  According to the Federal Reserve, the average 2023 savings at retirement is $255,200.  This is consistent with the 2022 Vanguard study, How America Saves, that found the average retirement savings, for those 65 and older, to be $279, 997.  Not a huge amount to live on for the next 20-30 years of our lives. Of course, there are many variables in this, such as whether retirees still have a mortgage or other outstanding debt, or whether they have planned for other sources of income for the retirement years.  Once we retire, we will reap the rewards of all the scrimping, saving and doing without.  We will be grateful that we invested a little more into that employer sponsored 401(k) or stayed with the company that provided a generous pension.  In retirement, we harvest the rewards of preparing and saving during our working years.  It allows us to live comfortably and gives us choices and opportunities during our retirement years. I am not suggesting that we live an austere life just to save for someday. We need to enjoy life along the way. But as with most of life, there is that tender balance.
  • Relationships.    I think it is important to determine early on what are our most important relationships and then spend time nurturing them.  Who are we going to be most committed to in our lives?  Who are we going to invest our precious limited resources of time and energy into?  If you make wise choices in this area, it can come back a hundred-fold.  In retirement, we reap the rewards of investing in our most important relationships even when it was hard, uncomfortable, and required forgiveness and compromise beyond what we felt like we had in us.  If it is a relationship worth investing in, it will pay off in our retirement years.  We will harvest the joy of spending time with family and friends.
  • Skills. We have spent a lifetime learning. We worked hard in school or honed a trade that would bring us an income we could live on. Most of us have dabbled in hobbies that interested us, and then sunk further into those that really resonated. We have learned how to navigate travel. We have learned how to survive physically and emotionally in a complex world. Many have put the effort in to work through past emotional issues. Once we are no longer working, we lean into these skills and interests to create a satisfying retirement lifestyle. It might include working part-time, starting a small business, enjoying a hobby, writing a book, or traveling the world. Retirement is the perfect time to reap the rewards of all of the growth and learning we did in our previous years.
  • Our soul. It takes years to figure out who we really are. If we put in the soul work during our younger years, we will reap the rewards of a secure assurance of who we are and why we are in this world. We gained a sense of our purpose and now we rest in that knowledge. We have determined what we believe in and how we will honor that belief. We have learned how to feed our souls to help them flourish. When we were on our trip, I had a brief encounter with a lovely old soul. We were both headed down to the hotel breakfast. I heard the steady click of her cane, before I saw her weathered face. We spoke briefly, and I could feel the essence of peace and kindness radiating from her smile. I was warmed by her presence. This was a woman who was reaping the benefits of a soul that had been well tended over the years.

I am not suggesting that, once we retire, we stay stagnant. We need to continue to grow and learn and nurture in order to flourish. But retirement is the well-earned time to take our foot off of the gas pedal a little and enjoy the scenery. Enjoy the harvest of a life well lived.

Gathering the last of the garden produce before putting it to bed for the winter.

On the home front – the garden harvest

Speaking of harvests, we have been busy around here getting the last of the garden harvested. I spent a lovely autumn afternoon gathering corn stalks, pumpkins and gourds from the garden to decorate the front porch. Just before our trip, we picked a huge basket full of jalapenos, and colorful green, purple and red bell peppers to make pepper jelly. It makes for a tasty, quick and easy appetizer that always goes over well at any gathering. Just scoop some jelly over a brick of cream cheese and serve with crackers. This is an especially festive appetizer at Christmas with all of the red and green peppers. A little jar of it also makes a nice hostess gift. Just wrap the rim of the jar with jute, tie it off and add a simple thank you tag.

We also canned a couple batches of jalapenos to add to tacos, nachos or sandwiches in the months ahead. It is a wonderful way to spend a fall afternoon. I am not a fan of too much heat on my food, but the rest of my family believes the more heat, the better, so bring on the jalapenos!

I hope you are taking the time this season to enjoy the abundance from the harvest of your life!

Autumn People

Some people are fall people and some people are autumn people.  Fall people go through the motions of living with the change of weather.  They rake the leaves, dutifully put a few pumpkins on the porch and then go inside to stay warm.  While autumn people intentionally walk through the leaves and kick them up just to hear their crackle and reminisce about being a kid and walking to the bus stop through the leaves.  Autumn people smile as they gather pumpkins, lumpy gourds, baskets, mums, and unruly corn stocks to decorate inside and out.  Then they wrap up in a favorite sweater, light an apple scented candle and sit quietly to soak it all in.  Autumn people will go out of their way to see a forest of deciduous trees perform the miracle of changing from their green cloak to golden yellow, and blazing orange and red.  I am an autumn person.

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

L.M. Montgomery

I took a hiatus from my blog and social media to spend a couple weeks immersing myself in autumn.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I needed to try and slow life down a little bit.  I needed to reignite my creativity and feed my soul.  I have always wanted to see the Great Smoky Mountains, particularly in the fall.  Mr. U was a willing partner as we booked a trip to drop into Nashville and then drive through the Smokies. 

As seems to be our MO, we were a little too early to see the full-on change of colors.  This appears to be a trend with us.  The first year I retired we took a trip to Massachusetts and drove up through Vermont to do a little leaf peeping.  That trip we were a little too late to see the most robust change of colors.  When you live clear across the US, it is difficult to get over there and see it at the perfect time.  Even though we were a little early this time, it was still gorgeous, and my soul is refreshed.   

We spent a couple nights in Nashville and then headed east.   I think that every girl getting married in the next six months had her bachelorette party in Nashville on that Saturday night.  It was quite a dichotomy to go from the music venues and night life of Nashville to the serene mountain trails.  The lights, throngs of people and music scene in downtown Nashville was stimulating, but I wilted from it after 24 hours.  I needed the mountains to heal my fractured brain. 

First, we drove north through the backroads to see Cumberland Gap, with a detour for a night in Dale Hollow.  Doesn’t that name just whisper southern backroads?   Once in Cumberland Gap we booked a night at the Historic Old Mill Inn; a delightful little B & B that maintained much of the history of the area.  After a day hiking through the Cumberland Gap, we stopped at the Nineteen 19 Grill.  While it wasn’t much for atmosphere, the food was great, and the bartender created his own apple beverage that was like drinking apple pie.   So good.  

After that we took the backroads towards the Smoky Mountains to stay at Pigeon Forge as our base.  When we planned the trip, we were debating between staying there or Gatlinburg.  So glad we chose Pigeon Forge because Gatlinburg was way too commercialized.  And while I love Dolly (who doesn’t) we opted not to go to Dollywood.  We were out to see autumn in all its glory.  Our hotel had a balcony overlooking the river and we enjoyed sitting out there having our morning coffee and watching the wildlife.  The electric fireplace was cozy to come back to after a day out hiking, sightseeing, shopping and test tasting a little moonshine. 

Our next destination was Charleston, South Carolina to, ironically, see a country music concert.   There weren’t any big names playing in Nashville while we were there, but Charleston had the Riverfront Revival Festival the weekend we were in town, so we booked tickets.  I am a big Lainey Wilson fan and Mr. U really likes Darius Rucker.  Both were playing at the concert.  Apparently, Darius is from Charleston, so he had a big fan base there to see him play.  Both artists, as well as Niko Moon, did not disappoint. We have been to Charleston before and loved the architecture, trees, and seafood.   Really, what is not to love about this beautiful area packed with history? When we were there previously, we did the obligatory horse drawn carriage historical tour, walked the market and went on a tour of a southern plantation, so this trip was more about relishing in the sunshine and going to the concert. 

After a couple days in Charleston, we headed west back towards Nashville.  I would recommend a stop in Helen, Georgia.  It is a bustling alpine village set in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The entire village has a German theme, similar to Leavenworth in Washington state.  It was a fun place to spend the night, listen to music and eat some German food.  The drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains the next day was gorgeous with lots of lakes, streams, and charming country stores to poke around in. 

After 12 days of living out of suitcases, we were ready to catch our flight in Nashville and head back to our little corner of the world where most of our peeps live and we can tuck in and enjoy the change of colors that occurs in between the tall green pines. 

A few things always strike me when I travel:

  • We are just one very small, minuscule speck in a vast world
  • The United States has an amazing amount of diversity and culture within the 50 states
  • We do not have the only corner of natural beauty where we live
  • You can count on travel to open your mind and stimulate your creative side
  • There are nice people and mean people everywhere
  • There is no place like home

Today we are just reveling in being home again. I am decorating for fall, making a big pot of soup and trying our hand at baking a loaf of bread in the pizza oven. We will see how that goes. I hope you had a good couple of weeks and are taking time to breathe in the color and scents of autumn!