Let the Christmas Season Begin

It is hard not to get swept up in the Christmas hype too early. It seems like the stores, social media content creators, and anxious people are playing Christmas music and putting out decorations prior to Halloween. As I get older, I am really trying to enjoy and appreciate each season, each holiday, even each and every single day, like it was my last. Because, well… we never know. So, soak it all in. That is why I impatiently patiently wait until after Thanksgiving to delve into the Christmas spirit. In full transparency, I do try to do my Christmas shopping early. (Fair warning, photo blast ahead.)

Thanksgiving recap

Thanksgiving is the period at the end of the sentence before we jump into Christmas. It is the calm before the storm of activities, baking and wrapping. I thought I would share a brief follow-up to my previous post, Thanksgiving Traditions & Change. We had a wonderful dinner at our son #2 and DIL’s lovely, welcoming home. Of course, the best part was that we were able to have almost all of our family together. (Unfortunately, Son #1 and his wife, who live halfway across the U.S., were not able to make the trip for the short weekend.)

Son #2 (aka, “king of the Traeger”) cooked the best ham and smoked turkey I have ever had. Sooo good!

Everyone chipped in and brought dishes to share. The hosts thoughtfully had “to go” containers and encouraged everyone to take home leftovers. Of course, leftovers are one of the best parts of the Thanksgiving meal. And yes, I am one of those people that takes pictures of food. Matter of fact, I took so many pictures of the food and table that I hardly got any of the people. Hum… I wonder if this says anything about my priorities?

On to Christmas

The day after Thanksgiving, our little city kicks off the Christmas season with a parade and fireworks. The day was crisp and sunny, so Mr. U and I decided to brave the crowds and drive into town to enjoy the festivities. One of the advantages of being retired is that we were able to go early, before things got too busy and every available parking spot was gone. We started the evening off with a glass of wine at the Coeur d’Alene Resort. We snagged a perfect table overlooking the water and watched the sunset.

The view from our table.

It was hard to tear ourselves away from the view to head down to main street for the parade. Not to mention, “baby it’s cold outside.” By the time we got down there the crowds were gathering. Our small city is flooded with people for the event. Below are a few pictures from the parade.

The Grinch seems to be quite popular this year. Dr. Suess has always been one of my favorite authors. When I was a kid, our neighbor gifted us with a whole pile of Dr. Suess books that she no longer used. It was probably the best hand-me-down that I ever received. It opened the world of Dr. Suess to me. I read those books to my younger brother over and over again. It got to the point that he was tired of listening long before I was tired of reading. Fast forward a generation and I was reading them to my own kids. Move forward another generation and I am reading them to my grandkids. So, thank you to Dr. Suess for being such a fun, creative author. And…leaving us with The Grinch.

After the parade the loudspeaker comes on and they say the obligatory thankyous. Then the crowd swarms over towards the lake to watch the fireworks display.

The grand finale of the evening is the lighting ceremony. The announcer leads the crowd in singing Silent Night together. It is powerful to hear that many people honoring the reason we celebrate Christmas. Then there is a countdown until all of the lights come on. Workers have been hanging lights on the trees and surrounding area for weeks preparing for this moment when they all come on at once and everyone claps. We clap for the lights. We clap for the fireworks. And we clap just because we are thankful to bear witness to all the people gathering together to celebrate everything that is wonderful about this season. With all of the sadness and turmoil in the world, it is a blessing to know that most people are good, and that we share a common love in our humanity. Let the Christmas season begin!

Thanksgiving Traditions & Change

What will be on your Thanksgiving table this year? Do you have the typical turkey dinner, or do you break away from the expected for your own unique traditional meal? I know a family that does not care for turkey, so they have seafood on Thanksgiving, or a young family that gets a special pizza for Thanksgiving dinner every year. Sometimes “easy ” is a great choice so that you can just enjoy relaxed time together. As a matter of fact, that is one of the things I love about Thanksgiving. It is a much less stressful holiday than most, just gathering family and friends over a groaning table and giving thanks for each other and our lives. And, well… football.

Whether it is seafood or turkey, I think most family gatherings include a few of their own traditional “must haves.” Things like Aunt Janie’s sweet potato casserole, mom’s fruit salad or Kara’s flaky pies. Traditions bind us together, but they also need to flex as families grow and change. We are breaking away from some old extended family traditions this year to build some new ones with our immediate family. Our big extended family has always had Thanksgiving dinner at my brother and SIL’s lovely, welcoming home. But as all of our kid’s grew up and have kids of their own, it has become a bit unwieldy to have that many people for a sit-down dinner in one home. We are talking up to 30 people. It is a lot of crazy fun, but it is, well…. alot. It was time to flex with the changes.

Another reason that we are changing up the holiday traditions is that my mom passed away almost two years ago and with her went some of the steam out of our extended family dinners. What is it about the matriarch of the family that is the glue that holds it together? I still miss her every day, but I am so thankful for having had her in my life for so many years. She loved holidays and created so many of the family traditions that we still carry with us. But as our family grows, with loved ones departing and new babies joining, we morph our lives. The next generation is ready to begin traditions of their own, so we pass the tradition baton, gratefully, on to them.

This year our immediate family is gathering to build on old traditions and create some new ones. My DIL and son #2 have generously offered to host Thanksgiving dinner at their lovely home. (You know your kids are adults when they host a holiday dinner.) There is something cozy and inclusive about traditions. About the term, “we always…” So, this year, as we gather at my son and DIL’s home for Thanksgiving dinner, we will be carrying over some of our “always” side dishes, but we are also blending in some other foods and ways of celebrating that will become the new traditions for our children and grandchildren. One thing is for sure, as you can see by the below menu, there will be no shortage of food! And there will be football.

The invitation just makes me hungry reading it.
(Sorry for the blub in the middle but I thought I better block out their address.)

Any traditional “must haves” that will be weighing down your Thanksgiving table this year? Or maybe you have something very special that you are thankful for this year. One of the things I am especially grateful for this Thanksgiving are those of you that take your precious time to read this blog. So, wherever you are or how you celebrate, thank YOU and may you have a blessed, relaxing Thanksgiving with those you love.

Pizza Oven Bread & Cheap Sunshine

I don’t know about you, but the colder days prompt me to hunker down at home to nest and create things by hand.  Mr. U and I have always talked about trying to make a loaf of bread in our pizza oven. So, one cool autumn afternoon a few weeks ago, we decided it was the perfect day to give it a try.  We did a little google research to learn how hot to have the oven, where to place the bread and how long to let it bake. (How did we ever try our hand at anything new prior to google and YouTube?)   I threw together a vegetable beef stew to simmer in the crockpot for the day and then pulled out my old stained and tattered cookbook that we got as a wedding gift and found the french bread recipe.  There is something deep and soul satisfying about making bread, waiting for it to rise, punching it down, shaping it and letting it rise once again before baking. 

It turned out pretty darn good for our first try, other than the cuts on the top were not as aesthetic as I would have liked.  The research we did warned us that the biggest rookie mistake in baking bread in a pizza oven is not getting it fully cooked in the middle, so Mr. U was careful to cook it slowly and turn it frequently. Our loaf cooked through, but next time we will let it bake a little longer to crisp the outside more.   It tasted so good with garlic butter slathered on top.  A perfect complement to a bowl of soup on a crisp fall day.

Cheap sunshine

I absolutely love that, in retirement, our weeks can be as diverse as we want them to be. The day we made bread in the pizza oven was one of the last beautiful fall days we had. So glad we got outside and enjoyed it. Now the pizza oven is put to bed for the winter, and I am lighting candles and ordering Christmas presents online (before things are no longer available). We are already dreaming of warmer weather, so Mr. U and I made a quick cheap inexpensive get-a-way to enjoy some sunshine before the dark gray days of winter set in.

Some travels are the big macro trips that you save up for and plan months in advance. And others are wonderful, little last-minute delights that you do on a shoestring. Since we are retired, we can quickly throw our bags together on a weekday and make a run for the airport. No having to request time off weeks in advance. Son #4 has a condo in Scottsdale, and he had an opening last week, so we leveraged our parental rights and spent a week basking in the sunshine, laying by the pool, eating al fresco and riding cruiser bikes around. I have to admit that it was a little hard to come back to cloudy 30-degree weather. Still considering the snowbird thing…hum.

Cheers to the Diamondbacks.

It just so happened that the World Series game was in Phoenix while we were there. We did not want to dish out the money for tickets. After all, this was supposed to be our low-cost trip. So, we decided just to head down to the stadium and enjoy the festivities and fans. The funny thing about sports is that it gives you a common bond with complete strangers. Well….that is, if you are rooting for the same team. We enjoyed watching the game outside the stadium with a couple we met that afternoon.

Travel doesn’t always have to be a big expense, if you are willing to look at your options. Over a year ago we decided to switch to the Southwest credit card and use it for almost all of our purchases. I am not a big fan of using credit and it was hard for me to see the credit card bill rack up over the month. But, as long as you pay it off on time, there really is no reason not to take advantage of the benefits. After using the card almost exclusively for a few months, we were eligible for the SW companion pass. If you time it right, for a year and a half you can travel anywhere Southwest flys and only pay for one person. Your designated companion travels for free. (Lucky for Mr. U that I chose him as my travel companion.) This has saved us a lot of money on flights. So, between the companion pass and staying at our son’s place, this was a pretty inexpensive trip.

And last, but most definitely not least, thank you to all of our veterans. We enjoy the privilege of living here because of what they gave.

Land of the free because of the brave.


Is there anything more satisfying than making something with your own hands?  Why yes, as a matter of fact there is.  And that is making something with upcycled materials.  Taking old, discarded items and transforming them into something beautiful or useful brings a sense of delight and gratification that you don’t get from purchasing materials off of the store shelf.  How many times have I bought expensive supplies for a craft project, only to find it would have been cheaper to buy it readymade?   Of course, there is always the satisfaction of making it yourself, and it adds a unique stamp on the finished piece, but more often than not, it is equally or more expensive.  Particularly if you include your time.  I know.  I know.  I am retired, but my time is still valuable.

My good friend is the queen of upcycling.  She makes gorgeous bags out of discarded sweaters, leather jackets and wool skirts.  So, I was all in when she suggested that we make stuffed pumpkins for fall out of upcycled materials.  My friend googled some directions, and we gathered our materials:

  • Old, worn fall-colored sweaters that we thrifted.
  • A half bag of stuffing I had in my closet, as well as stuffing from some pillow forms that I was no longer using.
  • Brown, gold, tan, green and cream colored jute and thread that I had on hand.
  • Thin copper, green and gray wire that I dug out of the bottom of my craft box.
  • I took a walk out on our property and collected some sticks.  Mr. U helped me to cut them into various short lengths for the stems.   
  • I found some cinnamon sticks in the back of my cupboard that were left over from making cider last winter that would be perfect fragrant stems for the smaller pumpkins.

My friend came over and I poured us each a hot cup of coffee, lit a pumpkin scented candle, put on some Michael Buble music and we spent a lovely afternoon transforming sweaters into a pumpkin patch.  I have to admit that it felt a little odd cutting up the worn sweaters, but I reminded myself that they would be given new life.  Our little pumpkins were fun to make and turned out full of puffy character. They came to life when I displayed them next to a small dish of acorns that I picked up via Roadsidea. While everyone on social media is showing Christmas decorations, I prefer to completely indulge in fall until Thanksgiving. But the day after Thanksgiving, it is full on Christmas for me.

The transformation begins.

Meet Simon, the 1st

Probably the very first fall decoration I ever made was Simon the scarecrow. His cloths were made from old materials I had on hand from previous projects, long before upcycled was trendy. He is well over 25 years old and not in too bad of shape. Most likely, that is due to the fact that he spends most of the year in the fall decoration box. Looking back, I can’t believe that I took the time between raising young children, work and caring for a home to sew a scarecrow that is set out for 2 months of the year. Not only that, but my mom loved him so much that I made her one…and my sister…and my friend. Hense, Simon the 2nd, 3rd and 4th. What can I say, the need to create is strong. I still smile every September when I pull him out. He adorns the entry table until Thanksgiving and then he returns to his coffin box for the rest of the year. He will definitely make the move when we downsize.


As I mentioned, my friend puts her creativity, thrift and imagination into motion to transform old forgotten and discarded items into something beautiful and useful again. I have been with her on a few of her thrifting jaunts and her eye for seeing beauty in the ugly and worn is never ending. I see an ugly, outdated leather coat or wool skirt and she sees a trendy new bag. When possible, she uses belts or straps from worn out bags as the handles. Each item is unique and has a tag that explains what the material was in its previous life. Below is a sampling of some of her upcycled bags.

This bag was a men’s wool shirt.
These charming little bucket bags were a women’s wool skirt in their previous life.

An upcyled life

Retirement is the perfect opportunity to upcycle our lives. The Oxford Dictionary defines the term upcycle as the “reuse of discarded objects or material in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original.” Now that we are retired, we have the time, freedom and opportunity to transform our lives. We can sit in front of the TV and let our retirement years slip away unnoticed or we can upcycle our lives. We are discarding our careers in order to have more free time for the things we love. It might be upcycling our health by getting out and walking every day or eating more fresh, real food. It might be taking old interests and upcycling them into something fun and useful again. Below are a few examples of people I know of that have upcycled their lives in retirement.

  • A retired schoolteacher/coach and his wife upcycle items to sell at a local vintage marketplace.
  • A retired physician now creates beautiful watercolor paintings and glass art that he sells in an art gallery in their coastal town.
  • A retired college professor takes treks out in nature equipped with his large lens camera and captures risky action shots of bears, moose, elk, and bald eagles in their natural habitat. He sells these astounding pictures online.
  • A retired graphic designer became a home interior content creator and Instagram influencer.
  • I know of several retirees that have started blogs and written books.
  • A recently retired nurse starts selling her upcycled LoLo bags online.

The opportunities to upcycle and recreate our lives in retirement are endless and it sure beats letting our days slop into each other unnoticed. I hope you take time in the colder months ahead to enjoy nesting, creating and maybe upcycling something… even if it is ourselves.  I would love to hear what others are making from scratch or how you have upcycled your life in retirement. Creativity breeds creativity.