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!

What Were We Thinking?

It all started with too much time on Pinterest and Instagram.  If it weren’t for the Internet, I probably would not have known that my oak kitchen cabinets were very “dated.”  They were beautiful cabinets and very well made when we built our home 23 years ago.  But apparently, they became old fashioned while we were busy working and raising a family.  I guess retirement gave me time to look at them objectively and see the dings and scratches and…that they were outdated. 

We plan to sell our home and downsize next summer, so we have been looking at it more objectively to determine what we need to do to help it be more appealing for the market.  That is when I realized….horror of horrors, that we were the shameful owners of the dreadful, dated oak cabinets!  We investigated getting them professionally painted.  Too expensive.  Then Mr. U, also known as renaissance man, suggested we paint them ourselves.  How hard can it be?  I should explain that Mr. U grew up on a farm.  Give him some duct tape and bailing wire and he can fix anything.  He is never afraid to jump in and try a new challenge.  Me, not so much.  But we are retired and have the time, and it would save quite a bit of money.  So, Mr. U did the research and we headed to the paint store to stock up on painter’s tape, sandpaper, drop cloths and paint.  What were we thinking?

A work in progress.

We spent the last three weeks cleaning, sanding, cleaning, taping, numbering doors and drawers, cleaning, and finally, painting. I stick to my belief that the hardest part of painting anything is the prep work.  Our kitchen has been torn up this entire time.  That means we have been going out to eat a lot.  Too much.  As a matter of fact, by the time you deduct the cost of meals out, we may not have saved any money at all.   

Mr. U and I are in our 60’s and are getting a little too old to be going up and down ladders, crouching on our knees and standing on our heads to get to those odd spots to paint.  But slowly, painstakingly, we got it done.  And I really, really like them.  It lightens our kitchen up considerably.  Painting kitchen cabinets is not for the faint of heart and I definitely would not have tackled this project while working fulltime.  But heck, we are retired.  And there is the satisfaction of doing something yourself.  So, I am glad we did it…now that it is done. The verdict is still out on whether I would do it again. I will decide after my paint speckled arms and sore legs recover.

Finally finished. Sunflowers compliments of Mr. U’s garden.

I always find before and after pictures interesting, so here are a few.

About trends

The whole ordeal got me thinking about trends.  It surprises me that, even at my age, I am susceptible to styles and the ever-fickle marketers.  I don’t want to be swayed by the trend winds that blow in and out quickly. Then again, I do not want to be one of those retired people that is stuck in a favorite era and never changes her hairstyle, wardrobe, or household decorating style.  I want to keep things new and fresh.  Change is fun and keeps us from becoming stale.  If we do not change things up occasionally, we quit noticing or appreciating our surroundings.  We become dullened to the every day. I don’t want my home to become a museum that is tired and faded.  And I certainly don’t want to dress that way. However, I have been accused of that…

When I was teaching at our local community college, I would lecture for 2-4 hours at a time. That is a long time to be standing in front of an auditorium full of students, trying to keep them engaged on topics such as nephrology, cardiac care, the nursing process, or worse yet, pharmacology. It gives them a lot of time to evaluate stare at you. I get it because I always noticed a speaker’s appearance when I took a class or attended a conference.

At the end of each semester, the students complete an evaluation of the course and instructor. Instructors open these anonymous evaluations with trepidation, expecting comments regarding their teaching style, homework assignments, power points and test questions. Always comments on test questions. Sigh. So, it was with surprise that I opened one evaluation that suggested I dress more modern, for my age. She (I am quite sure it was she) added the back handed compliment that I “was attractive and should show off a bit.” Seriously?!? I shared this evaluation with my colleagues, and we got many good laughs over it for several years. The laughs were well worth the shot to my wardrobe. However, it certainly got me to thinking. I realized that I was wearing some cloths that really were several (too many) years old. I specifically remember a lovely red wool jacket, that was a hand me down from my mom. (That should have been my first clue.) It was high quality, but the cut and collar were definitely out of style. It went to Goodwill immediately. Apparently, my wardrobe also became old fashioned while I was busy working and raising a family.

While I do not need to jump on every trend… obviously, the experience made me realize that it is important to stay relevant and dress well for our age. When we are retired, it can be especially easy to forget about staying up to date, but our style speaks to the world about us. Older women, in particular, can become invisible. While that is sometimes convenient, I also want to be acknowledged and a vibrant part of life. Let’s kick ageism out the door!

As with most of life, the trick is to find the balance.   Stay abreast of new styles, look at them objectively and decide for ourselves what would be a fresh, fun change that we would truly enjoy.  I won’t be wearing hip hugger bell bottoms ever again, but I did just buy some wide leg pants for fall. Choose what speaks to us and expresses our own unique, but updated, style.  Because, ultimately, we need to please ourselves. 

The most exciting news on the home front!

Part of the reason we decided to paint the cabinets when we did was that we wanted to be close to home for a few weeks while we waited for grandbaby #3 to arrive. She finally made it into the world last Tuesday and she is absolutely adorable! Eight pounds of love, joy and happiness. It warms a mother’s heart to see her parents so happy and in love.

Being a grandparent is the best! We took a much-needed painting break and took grandchildren #1 & #2 to the lake for a sleepover last week. It made my heart sing to see them laughing and playing in the water.

Happy blogiversary

It is hard to believe that I have been writing my blog for one year now. I have written a post every week for 12 months. (Except this past week… on account of painting and the new grandbaby’s arrival.) Ironically, retirement life is really busy and sometimes it is hard to carve out several hours to write. I squeeze in time because I really enjoy the writing process; it has been a fun, creative outlet. But the best part is the connection with people. Other retirement bloggers have been so encouraging and kind. Of course, family and friends have as well, but they sort of have to. Smile. Thank you to the readers who have taken the time to read my posts, comment and follow along with me on this retirement journey. I am looking forward to what the next year has in store. Hopefully AI will not take over the entire writing world.

Cheers to the retirement years!

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.

PIZZA SAUCE RECIPE

  • 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, a little sugar 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!

Roadsidea Gone Wild

It does not matter if it is a drive down a country road or a leisurely walk through the woods, I always have my eye out for Roadsidea.  We can be enjoying a lovely, quiet drive, watching the countryside roll by, when I spot it.  Mr. U has become resigned to my urgent call to “stop the car!”  Matter of fact, he is now able to stop on a dime, knowing it will require backing up or turning around if we don’t stop quickly.   It can be an unexpected, spur of the moment find, or a trip with the intent purpose of getting Roadsidea.  It has become such a common activity for my wonderful sister and I that my niece, who has been an innocent witness to several of our stealth excursions, dubbed the term Roadsidea

Roadsidea – The collection of free items from nature for the express purpose of decorating.

Décor-free Dictionary

The hunt for Roadsidea

While Roadsidea is a beautiful, free decorating style, I think the best part is the discovery of it…and sometimes the getting it home. I have been accused of taking it to extremes when I find something on a trip that I HAVE to bring home.  The gathering of Roadsidea, has provided a lot of fun, humorous experiences…although I may have a warped idea of fun.  For example, there was the time that my mom, wonderful sister, and I went on one of our many girl trips together. 

We stayed at a beautiful Bed & Breakfast in Leavenworth, Washington.  The B & B had a long, winding birch tree lined driveway leading to the gorgeous estate.  My sister and I immediately spied the white birch bark and thought the same thing; it would be great to decorate with or use on our homemade cards.  Great minds Roadsidea minds think alike.  The next day, on our way back from shopping and eating, my sister pulled the car over in the B & B driveway and we gathered up the bark that had fallen off the trees.  Amazing white bark with streaks of black and brown.  My mom was appalled and worried we were going to get sent to jail for stealing.  We felt like we were helping with roadside cleanup.

At least Leavenworth was close to home, unlike the cotton I found on a trip to Scottsdale, Arizona.  Mr. U and I were in our rental car driving out to a trailhead for a hike when I spotted the fluffy white cotton growing on the edge of the road.  I am embarrassed to admit it, but being from the chilly north, I had never seen cotton bushes still in the ground before.  They were gorgeous and since they were left on the edge of the field after the harvest, I felt like they were free game.  I gathered a large bouquet of them.  Mr. U kindly asked how I was going to get them home on the plane.  I tied them up and stuffed them into a large garbage bag as a carry on.  We got a couple curious questions from TSA and more than a few strange looks from other passengers, but most of the branches made it home undamaged.  I used the pods that fell off in transport to scatter below the vase of cotton.  Loveleeee! (I just checked on Amazon and they charge $13.00 for 12 pods.)

Then there was the trip down the west coast where I found some tall, wispy sea grass on the side of the road.  I could just see it in a vase decorating the mantel.  We stopped so I could pick several to take home.  Mr. U kindly asked how I planned to pack these fragile stems in a cramped, two-seater convertible with over 700 miles to travel.  We made it work by carefully arranging them around the suitcases in the small trunk.  We just had to gently rearrange the trunk every time we got our suitcases in or out.  Mr. U really is a saint.

Last week my wonderful sister, dad and I headed out to gather pussy willows that grow along the road past my dad’s homestead.  It was an uncharacteristic sunny March day that gave hope that spring is coming.  The pussy willows hang over a creek, so one person has to pull the branches down with a long hook while the other person clips them off, without falling in.  Good thing my wonderful sister is a willing accomplice.  My dad enjoys being out in nature, so we brought a camp chair for him to sit in and observe while my sister and I reached, fell down, got our feet wet, and laughed as we cut the pussy willows. After this same excursion a few years ago, I made the mistake of leaving the pussy willows in the car overnight.  My car smelled like a swamp for a week.  Only made that mistake once. Did I mention that Mr. U is a saint? Now I leave them out in the garage for a few days to dry out.

Decorating with Roadsidea

Please tell me that my wonderful sister and I are not the only ones who find nature so beautiful and fascinating that we feel compelled to bring it indoors to decorate.  The fact that it is a temporary decoration makes it even more precious.  Bonus that it is free.  And…it makes my heart smile when I look at it.  Here are my top ten favorite ways to decorate with Roadsidea:

  • Collect rocks from a stream to place in the base of a hurricane candle holder.
  • Arrange cattails in a large floor vase.
  • Place a vase of wispy sea grass on the table. Gather shells and sand from an ocean beach to scatter around it for a summer tablescape with a blue and tan color scheme.
  • Gather colorful autumn leaves, acorns and water chestnuts to enhance a fall table.
  • Break off branches of soft white cotton and place in a pottery vase with a few pods scattered around the base of it.
  • Pick up pinecones to fill a big wooden basket by the fire.  Spray them with a little fake snow at Christmas time, or dip in scented wax to use as fire starters.
  • Cut long stems of pussy willows to fill a pitcher for a side table.
  • Trim fir tree branches to grace a mantel or make Christmas wreaths.
  • Pull up intricate, lacy green moss to lay in the bottom of a clear vase.
  • Gather fluffy, golden stems of wheat to make a fall bouquet.

My mom worried that it was stealing.  My sister and I call it roadside cleanup with the intent of thrifty decorating.  You decide.