Salt Life

The taste of sea salt on my lips. The squawk of seagulls as they swoop over the beach. Waves crashing on the shore, washing up taupe and white seashells. These are the sights and sounds of the salt life. Life rights itself strolling along the salty shoreline searching for the perfect shell. Time stands still. It heals the broken parts of me and centers my soul.

Humans that are attracted to water are referred to as “blue mind” people. This term was first coined by Dr. Wallace Nichols, a marine biologist and writer. People with a blue mind feel a sense of peace around the water. Roaring waves lapping up on the beach, the trickle of a creak flowing over pebbles, or the gentle ripples on a quiet lake; it doesn’t matter as long as it is near water. Being by the water gives us the opportunity to escape our busy, hyper-connected lives and revel in solitude. It provides our brains with a sense of rest from over simulation. People that are drawn to water seek knowledge and understanding. When we are near this blue space, we close down the extraneous stimuli and give way to a meditative state of mind.

I am in my happy place when I am outdoors. I love the mountains, trees, and desert, but nothing heals my soul quite like being by the water. I suspect there are a lot of us “blue minded” people out there.

” When you see water, when you hear water, it triggers a response in your brain that you’re in the right place.”

Dr. Wallace Nichols

Salt water sea life

We live in the chilly Pacific Northwest. We get deer, turkey, and even the occasional moose roaming through our yard on a regular basis. That is our normal. The salt water provides a whole different type of animal life here in Florida. One of my goals on this trip was to see a manatee, so we made a point to visit a couple manatee observation areas.

The first was the Manatee Observation & Education Center in Fort Pierce, Florida. There were only about four manatees hanging out there, but we got to look over the edge and see them up close. Such prehistoric looking creatures, these gentle giants of the ocean. According to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission, one of the biggest dangers to manatees are watercrafts. One in every four adult manatees have evidence of 10 or more watercraft strikes. Sadly, 20-25% of manatees are killed by boats every year.

The other place to view manatees is at Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center at Apollo Beach. The water coming off of the electric company warms the salt water near it and the manatees come there to hang out in the warmer water in the winter. There were probably fifty of them just floating along, relaxing in the warm water. Smart animals.

I would really like to see the large tortoises that crawl up on the beach to lay their eggs at night. Unfortunately, it is the wrong time of year for that, so I had to settle for a smaller version. Honeymoon Island State Park is home to over 200 gopher tortoises, so we headed up there to walk the park. We were fortunate to see one lumbering along and then slide into his burrow. Gopher tortoises dig burrows that are 10-30 feet deep and have a large turn around spot at the end of them. They kindly share their burrows (both current and abandoned) with up to 250 other animal species. The snakes that share burrows with some of the tortoises actually help to protect them.

Salt water play

As I mentioned in my previous post, Living Like the Locals, we are staying at a marina while we are visiting Florida for a month. The marina has several kayaks available for residents to use and they invited us to use them during our stay… for free. I jumped at the opportunity. Kayaking through the estuaries was on my list of things I wanted to do while we were here. When you quietly paddle through the salt water, you get to see the mangroves and water life up close and personal.

One of my favorite ocean water activities is, what I have dubbed, “wave bobbing.” I jump into the waves and let the buoyant saltwater bob me around. It probably looks pretty funny for a lady in her 60’s out there bobbing in the waves like a ten-year-old, but fortunately, not worrying so much about what others think is a side benefit of aging. Joy overrides concern for other people’s opinions of us. I just hope they don’t mistake me for a manatee!

Some people can walk, or even jog along the beach unencumbered. And then there are those of us that are shell seekers. We can’t stop ourselves. I tell myself that I have enough shells, my pockets are full and yet… I can’t stop from looking down and gathering just a few more. Caspersen Beach in Venice, Florida is an exceptionally good beach for finding seashells and sharks’ teeth. As a matter of fact, this beach is considered the shark tooth capital of the world. Yep, hunting for shark’s teeth is a hobby here. The converging currents at this particular beach bring in sediment that have a lot of fossilized shark teeth in them. You just have to dig through the sand and shells to find them. People purchase fancy metal sand sifting tools to hunt for shark’s teeth. You wade into the water, scoop up a bucket of sand and let it wash through the sieve. Then you are left with larger shells and hopefully, a shark’s tooth. These fossilized teeth are typically black and have three points.

Mr. U was captivated by it. However, he was too cheap did not want to purchase an expensive tool to use for only a couple of days. Instead, he bought a white plastic colander at the dollar store. The thing actually worked. We found over 45 small shark’s teeth with it. I am sure that we were quite a sight, me bobbing in the waves and Mr. U hunting for shark’s teeth with his dollar store reading glasses and colander. Oh well, what do we care – we are retired and on vacation.

After a full day at the beach gathering shells and shark’s teeth, we “rewarded” ourselves with a cold drink and some grouper bites at Sharkey’s beach restaurant by the pier. Retirement life is good.

The Tipping Point

To tip or not to tip?  How much do I tip?  Has the tip already been built into my tab?  If so, is that even a tip then?  Am I expected to leave a tip for the person that cleans my hotel room?  Do I tip my hairdresser even though she is the owner of the salon?  How long do you stand and listen to a street busker before you leave a tip in his instrument case?  When did tipping for good service become so confusing?   I don’t know about you, but I am unclear on the tipping rules.  And the old-fashioned side of me wonders why there should even be rules around tipping.  Isn’t a tip supposed to be a thank you for excellent customer service that goes above and beyond and not an expectation?  Now the owner expects customers to tip their employees to help cover the cost of their wages. 

Like most things, tipping has evolved over the years.  Now it is expected to help subsidize many service workers’ wages.  The standard federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.  However, employers of tipped workers can pay a minimum wage of $2.13 per hour to employees provided their tips make up the difference.   The main service sector that this affects are food service workers.  It is up to the state if they utilize this federal tip credit pay structure, but only a few states opt out of it and pay their tipped employees at least the standard $7.25 per hour, regardless of how much they make in tips.  So, the burden of ensuring that servers make a living wage rests on those of us paying their tips.   

We have been on a trip this week (more about that in a later post) and so we have been eating out a lot and using Uber and Lyft.  It has prompted me to consider the whole tipping situation.  The worst part of any bill is not the cost of the bill itself because I know what that is ahead of time based on what I ordered.  The worst part is the last-minute decision on how much to tip.  I want to be fair, but not taken advantage of.  And the new electronic payment systems with preprogramed tips of !8%, 20% or even 30% make me feel that way.  You can put in a custom tip, but of course this has to be done while the server waits over your shoulder.  And for someone such as myself that does not do air math, it takes me longer to determine a custom tip.  God forbid, I might even need to use my phone calculator while the server continues to wait for me. Tipping etiquette recommends that you base your tip on the bill prior to the taxes being added.

It seems that the amount you tip often depends on the era you were raised in.  My dad, who was alive during the great depression, is not a big tipper.  Not because he is being stingy, but because he was raised in an era when tipping 5% was considered a lot.  I remember my mom slipping a few extra dollars under the tab right before they left because she did not think he gave a big enough tip.  I notice that young people, who typically have less discretionary income than I do, tend to tip more.  The tip also depends on where you live. In Europe, tips are appreciated, but not expected.   Some places even consider it rude to tip.  Apparently, the U.S. went in the opposite direction.

I have been on the receiving end of tips.  My very first real job was working at a fast-food joint.  I waited on tables and worked in the front pouring sodas and making shakes with real ice cream, but my title was “car hop.”  You knew you had made it to the upper echelon of car hops when you could swirl a large soft serve ice cream cone so that it came to a perfect peak.   Customers could come inside to eat, but more often, people would pull up under the awning and order from their cars. There was a retractable table with a speaker attached to it where they could make their order. The car hops wore belts with change machines that would jangle when you walked (no roller skates though.)  We would deliver the customer’s food to their car and make change for them right there.   The occasional tip, which was typically the leftover change from the order, was a pleasant, and appreciated surprise.   

Below is a photo of the menu at Topper Too around the time I worked there. Back when a jumbo burger was .89 cents and a tip of left over change was an exception and not the rule. The Double Wammy was everyone’s favorite burger, but it was a splurge at $1.49. We also made a delicious secret fry sauce there (if you know, you know). Employees were strictly warned not to share the recipe with anyone. Topper Too has long since closed down so I can probably tell you that the secret ingredient is a little sugar.

The menu at Topper Too.
This is a picture of Topper Too from the outside. It was taken several years before I started working there but the covered parking where you pulled up to the retracting tables with menus and speakers on them had not changed.

Several of my sons delivered pizza when they were in high school.  I remember them being so excited to come home and tell me how much they made in tips.   So, I understand the importance of tipping.  But I want it to be for great customer service and not an expectation.

Tipping would be less complicated if it was just the food service industry.  But now it feels like we are expected to tip for every service we utilize.   So, for right or wrong, I have developed a few generalized rules around tipping so that I don’t have to make so many last-minute decisions.

  • I give a general standard tip for service of 15% on the total bill (not the pre-taxed amount).  More if it is exceptional or I know the server and less if it is really poor service.
  • I have decided that, if I need to go to the counter to order and pick up my own food or drink, I will not generally tip.  The exception would be if they took the time to give you samples to taste, or they were really nice and helpful. 
  • If I am just ordering drinks but sit at the table and the server takes our order and brings them to us, I tip $1.00/drink. 
  • If a street busker is good enough that they cause me to stop and listen, then I will leave a few dollars in his/her case. 
  • I do not tip the maid that cleans our hotel room.  Heck, does that even exist anymore?

I still haven’t figured out a standard tip for haircuts, pedicures or valets, so I am constantly making last minute decisions.   Agh!   Let me know if you have any tipping advice.   Or should I ask, do you have any tips on tipping? (Bad dad joke, I know.)

Mini jukeboxes, just like the one above, were at each of the indoor booths at Topper Too.

Photo credits:  Old school Coeur d’Alene Facebook page.

Why the World Needs More Wisdom

Wisdom.  Such a calm, steady word. In this fractured world full of strife and confusion, wisdom brings a sense of calm and peace.  Wisdom speaks with a sure voice that tells us it will all work out.  You will survive this.  You are stronger than you think.  It will be O.K. 

No one is born with wisdom and you certainly don’t gain it overnight.  Wisdom builds on itself over time.  You often need to go through the fire, learn from it and come out on the other side… wiser.   So, why is wisdom often linked with age?   I know many wise, younger people, but there is nothing like time and experience to file off our rough edges, leaving us with the smooth patina of wisdom. With age comes a confidence and wisdom that can only be achieved through trial and error.

When I worked at the college, several of my colleagues and I would look at these young, hopeful students graduating to become registered nurses and we would cringe. These were intelligent, committed young women and men who were excited to start their careers. We were proud to have been a small part of their journey to achieving their dreams. Most of them would be heading out into the battlefield of healthcare, having to make life threatening decisions in a split second. They would be expected to go to work every day giving their best, but prepared for the worst that can happen.

As instructors, we shared all our knowledge and stories that we could to help prepare them, and yet, you can never fully prepare someone for the first time they lose a patient and question whether they could have done something, anything, to prevent it from happening. As my colleague would remind us, you cannot teach the “wisdom of practice.” It can only come through, well… practice. The “wisdom of practice” comes with experience. And while some people gain this wisdom quicker than others, you can’t rush it. It comes from reflecting on experiences and learning how you could improve and how you would react differently next time. So it is with life.

“A wise old owl sat on an oak. The more he saw, the less he spoke. The less he spoke the more he heard. Why aren’t we like that wise old bird?”

Edward Richards

Once we have lived in this world long enough, we have gained a perspective and a new appreciation for life.  Maybe it is the stark awareness that we have more years behind us than ahead of us that brings this new appreciation.   It gives us perspective.  And with that perspective comes a deep joy for life.  At the very point that our bodies are aging, our soul is filling.  And quietly, unexpectedly, with this soul filled life, wisdom shows up.    

I pray for wisdom…a lot.  Preferably without going through the fire to get it.  We need more wise people in the world.  While ageism is prevalent in our society, there is an underlying need for timeless wisdom.  Our younger generation is relying on us to be the ones that don’t panic.  The ones that step back and look at the situation with perspective.  The ones that say, it will all work out.  It will be O.K. 

A lack of wisdom

A few weeks ago, we had over several days when the temperature hovered around zero degrees. It was cold enough for our little lake to freeze over. As kids, we were thrilled when this happened. We would pull on our ice-skates and glide over the frozen water without a care in the world. If the conditions were right, you could skate over the entire lake.

A fear of falling on the hard ice and breaking a hip has prevented me from lacing up my skates anymore (probably wise). But I do enjoy seeing the ice fishermen out there. They take their sleds loaded with a fish huts, chairs, fishing poles and bait and they find a spot to drill a hole into the ice. I have no idea how they decide where to drill the hole. How would you know where the fish are under the ice? Anyway, it is cozy to see their huts scattered over the ice-covered lake. The picture below is a little blurry because I took it from shore, but it shows fisherman with a fish hut on a frozen solid lake.

The red fish hut is on the left. It is really just a pop-up tent that is taken out on the ice.

Since then, the weather has warmed up a lot and the ice is starting to melt, particularly around the shore. When I went for my walk alongside the lake a couple days ago, I saw a fish hut and three guys with poles hanging over holes in the ice. The very thin ice. Not wise. There is a reason we say, when a person is taking a risk, that they are skating on thin ice. The picture below was taken on my recent walk by the water, just a few weeks later than the above picture of the same lake. That is fresh water along the shoreline, and it goes three or four feet out until the ice starts. It is a little hard to see since the clouds are reflecting off of the water around the edge of the lake.

The rocky shoreline as the ice starts to melt away.

Aside from the ice fishermen, there are a few other things come to mind when I think of a lack of wisdom in older people. Things like wearing a string bikini or speedo at the beach. Or drinking too much and being “that guy” at a gathering. And let’s not even talk about the lack of wisdom in politics. So, my fellow retirees, please stay off the ice when it is melting and instead let’s be the pillars of wisdom that our young people need to see in this world.

Sensory Living

Have you ever thought how dull our world would be without our five senses? Just ask anyone who has lost one of them. Our five senses remind us to live with awareness and a sense of wonder. I am trying to notice and appreciate my world more. Every. Single. Day. And one of the best ways to do that is to stay attune to your five senses. I want to be fully present to the aroma of bread baking and indulge my sense of taste with that first bite, fresh out of the oven… with butter slathered on top. I want to embrace that warm, comforting feeling that all is right with the world, when hugging a grandchild. I want to get lost in the beauty of a sunset and allow it to melt my worries away. I want to stop everything and listen to the crackling fire on a cold night. Our senses are a gift. A reminder to be fully present in the moment and take it all in. However, we often get dullened to them. We forget to notice. To appreciate. To live with a sense of awe.

Mid-January through March is arguably the dreariest time of year here in the PNW. The sky is often gray and cloudy, the earth is dull brown and either frozen solid or muddy. There is no new growth on the branches yet to give us a glimpse of brighter days ahead. It is the time of hibernation. It is also a perfect time to remind myself to appreciate living life through my five senses because beauty can be found everywhere, in any season, if we just pay attention. It is the simple things that can take our breath away if we are aware enough to notice them. We choose how we want to live. To notice…. or not.

An article by Jessica Monet in the May 2021 issue of Bella Grace Magazine captures this sentiment of living in our five senses. Monet created a list of the beautiful little things she wants to “live in.” Her list reminds me to live in the moment and to do more of what we love. It inspired me to consider my own list of what I want to “live in:”

  • I want to live in the smell of my fresh herb garden
  • I want to live in the laughter of family around the table
  • I want to live in the quiet parting of the water as my kayak glides through it
  • I want to live in the wind on my face as I whiz along on my bike
  • I want to live in the smell of the barbeque cooking while I sip wine on the patio
  • I want to live in quiet conversation by candlelight
  • I want to live in crisp fall days collecting acorns and pinecones to bring in and decorate with
  • I want to live in a really good book
  • I want to live in the weightlessness of bobbing in salty waves
  • I want to live in a sultry summer afternoon on my back imaging shapes in the clouds
  • I want to live in morning snuggles with my grandchildren while their bodies are still limp from sleep
  • I want to live in the quiet magic of the first snow fall
  • I want to live in colorful fresh picked flowers from the garden
  • I want to live in the discovery of a quirky new store
  • I want to live in the satisfaction of finishing a creative project that turned out better than planned
  • I want to live in the aroma of fresh baked bread
  • I want to live in soup simmering on the stove all afternoon
  • I want to live in a walking in the rain
  • I want to live in the sand, letting it sift through my hand

It is interesting that these little things I want to live in have nothing to do with working, building a career or job success and everything to do with living a life.   They have everything to do with feeding our senses and being aware of the stuff that truly satisfies.  What do you want to “live in” this year?

On the home front

A couple of weeks ago we were fortunate to be the guests at my nephew’s wedding. The couple chose an intimate ceremony on a cruise boat the first part of January. It sounded chilly to me, but we love this couple, and Mr. U was honored to be asked to officiate. (There is a reason I call him Renaissance Man.) So, we wrapped up and joined the party. It turned out beautiful! The boat cruised slowly down the lake while the guests chatted inside, sipped drinks and had some mouthwatering appetizers. When it was time for the ceremony, the boat tucked into a calm bay with a beautiful backdrop of snow-covered mountains. The ceremony was held on the top deck outside. Loveleee. It just reminded me that life is beautiful, any time of the year, if we are just ready and willing to “live in” the moment.

The happy couple!

I challenge you to stop and notice something delightful with each of your five senses every day this week. Better yet, write them down and use them to start your own list of what you want to “live in” during your one precious life. Have a great week!

Pondering…

Years ago, I worked with an older nurse who was the quintessential wonder woman that balanced all of her roles with beauty and grace.  We younger girls adored her.  She was our role model and mentor.  She was creative, gracious, and had a lovely home and family.  And she taught several of us to quilt. We would often hear her remark, “I will have to ponder that.”  What a lovely word, ponder.  It speaks of reflection, deep thinking, and mulling things over in our brains.  It allows ideas to simmer until an answer emerges.  It is wisdom. 

And so it is with every new year.  I ponder my life.  I review the highs and lows of the previous year and then I ponder how I want to shape the upcoming year ahead.  How do I want to show up at this point in my life?  I reflect on what I want less of and what I want more of in the next twelve months.  I find that I am constantly seeking balance.  My wonderful, busy DIL chose “balance” for her WOTY.  She is in those crazy busy years of balancing a career with a family and home.  I remember those years well.  When I look back on my journals, I notice that the word balance keeps resurfacing.  (Yes, I was journaling long before journaling was cool.)

Since I have been seeking it most of my adult life, you would think I would have this balance thing down by now, but it is a moving target.  It changes with each phase of our lives.  Like my DIL, there were the years of trying to balance all my various roles while raising a family.  Now I am finding I don’t need to, and frankly I simply can’t, juggle as many balls. So, balance looks a little different now.  It is more about taking enough time to ponder.   I need to take time to “ponder” for my mental/emotional health.  It centers me.  However, pondering requires balance as well.  It can become a slippery slope. Too much of it evolves into overthinking or worrying.  Not enough and I feel clogged up.

I also find that I need to take more time for my physical health. We used to be able to ignore our bodies and still look and feel fine.   Now I notice immediately if I eat too much sugar, consume one too many cups of coffee or eat a whole bag of salty popcorn at the movies.  I need physical exercise just to keep my joints limber, my balance intact, and not run out of breath going upstairs.  I am finding that I need to carve out more time for myself.  I probably should have done that all along, but like most working moms, I put everyone and everything else first.  You can get away with that for years but now I am finding I can’t do that anymore.  Fortunately, I no longer need to either.  So, this year I am committing to caring for myself more: physically, mentally and emotionally. 

“As you get older, it takes twice as long to look and feel half as good.”

The Retired Alchemist

Looking back, it has been a super busy year.  Sometimes I just need time to stop and process it all.  I need time to reflect and appreciate the blessings, wonders and gifts of 2023 and forgive myself for failures.  And I need time to consider how I want to move forward into 2024.  So, now that things have quieted down around here and we are semi-snowed in, I am pondering the year ahead, just like women have been doing for centuries.   And I continue to seek that elusive balance.   

Taking a snowy day to ponder.

“But Mary treasured up these things and pondered them in her heart.”

Luke 2:19

On the home front

Like much of the country, we experienced extremely cold temperatures and a huge snowstorm last week.  Mr. U spent a lot of time worrying about checking and rechecking heat lamps, making sure faucets were dripping all night, supervising that the garage door remained closed, and keeping wood on the fire.  One great thing about retirement is that you don’t have to brave the cold and snowy roads to go to work in this weather.  Instead, we choose when/if we want to go out. When we have been inside too long and need to be aired out, we can bundle up to go play outside and then come inside to hunker down by the fire.

We always have a late second Christmas with our immediate family in January when son #4 and his lovely wife can come visit.  Even though it was extremely cold and snowy, we had a wonderful time playing games, exchanging gifts, working on a puzzle, watching football, and eating way too much food.  Last year we started doing the Saran Wrap Ball Game. I make the ball ahead of time. You start with a good prize in the middle (I did money) and then you wrap small gifts around it as you continue to roll the Saran Wrap around to create a ball. Be sure to cut and restart the Saran Wrap frequently so it is more challenging. I used candy, small Slim Jim’s, fun socks, cash, gum, mints, movie tickets, scratch off tickets, etc. It is about the size of a basketball when you are done. When you are ready to play, you sit in a circle and the first person tries to unwrap the ball with oven mitts on while the person on their left tries to roll doubles with two dice. Once they hit doubles, the ball is passed grabbed by the next person to try. You keep the gifts that you unwrap during your turns. It is a great game for a group. Catch Phrase is another fun, humorous game that works well for a large group. Monopoly Deal is a good game if you have a smaller group of 5 or 6 people. It is a much quicker version of Monopoly but played with cards.

My “boys” do not like posing for pictures.  So much that, a couple years ago, they all shaved their facial hair in ugly odd shapes so that I would not want to take photos of them.  (See last year’s crazy facial hair pic here.) I knew it was going to happen again this year when they all started growing out their facial hair about a month ago.

This is what happens when you have a family full of boys!

Fortunately, they were willing to shave their faces for a family photo.  I tried desperately to get a good picture, but with nine adults, three grandkids and two rambunctious dogs, it was nearly impossible.  I threatened to get a professional photographer to do it next time, which resulted in one photo where at least everyone is looking forward. Well, except the dogs.

Take #179.

 Precious family time.  My mother heart is full. And exhausted. And now it is time to go ponder…