Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Glorious Sprinter in Colorado

It’s glorious sprinter in Colorado. That’s one of our season combos, spring + winter = sprinter. Grass is brown, the shrubs have been chainsawed within a foot of the ground, and nothing is budding. Even though March is our snowiest month we have days in the high 60’s that make us forget that old man winter is hiding around the corner ready to pounce. 

Trader Joe's sold me daffodils with buds so tight they looked like they'd been picked that morning. Overnight they opened fully and their yellow splash is bringing life to the apartment. The flowers, plus the sun's creeping a little closer to our lanai every day make me crave spring. 

Friday, bright and balmy, I slid open the patio door and enjoyed fresh air. 
It must have been at least 65 degrees.

I jumped in the car headed for Nick’s Garden Center. The pansies were calling to me from the entrance. The highest shelf on the rack boasted bright purple blooms, then a shelf of my favorite apricot color, then yellow, burgundy, and the mixed packs. They were stacked like a layer cake.  

I grabbed a basket and choose a dozen healthy plants that will fill the pot on the slab outside our door that will get a couple hours of sun in another month. In the meantime, I will push the pot around to follow the light. The pansies will hold their own if I bring them in on cold nights. 

An aside, a we-need-hearing-aids conversation:   
Bill: Do you want me to bring in your pansies?  
Me: Bring in my panties
Bill: Pansies! It's gonna be cold tonight.
Me: Oh.

Back to the pansies. The squirrels have already dug up one plant out of the pot so it will have to be protected by bird mesh. But I’m thrilled! There is life and color outside my door. 

I’m grateful I don’t live in a place like Minnesota where winter is unrelenting until May. Nope, here we know March, April and May will sprint by! 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Age Restricted Community like Living in a Dorm

Any visitor would know I live in an age restricted community before they even rang my doorbell.

There are likely to be firetrucks and paramedics askew in the road with lights flashing. We have lots of folks in their 90's who really should be in assisted living. 

The buildings were built in the 1960's and all of the apartment doors open onto a two hundred foot long, dark, institutional hall that looks unchanged since it opened. 

Thank goodness our building doesn't have a lobby full of artificial plants and a questionable chair. (Too easy for bedbugs to be incubating there.) And some buildings have recessed doors that allow residents to "decorate" with tiny tables and seasonal kitsch. We're spared that too.

What our building does have is a narrow give-away shelf on the way to the laundry room. When people clean or move out they share household extras like trash cans and flower pots, and unopened food items. Once it was candy. I took the bag of Hershey miniature chocolates. Last week it was five packets of dry turkey gravy. There have been cookies and potato chips.  

Last night there were half a dozen packages of water-soluble fiber, oh so telling of a senior population. Bill and I joked about it on our way by. This morning he happened by again and told me there were only two left. For some reason we thought was really funny--probably because we didn't need it. 

Now I wonder, did one person take the other four, or were there several people who benefitted? Sometimes living here leads me down mental roads I really don't want to travel. 

It often feels like living in a dorm. I see the socks and underwear that got stuck in the washer and slung over a rack to be claimed. Sometimes I hear the man upstairs groaning. (I hope it's groaning.) I hear the feet of the dogs running past my door before they're leashed for their 5:30 am walk. 

On the upside I have found fellow music makers in the development.   Although the community center building has rooms that sit empty much of each day, they require a contract and rental fees.  So the banjo player, guitarist and I opted to jam in the living room. 

I sure hope no neighbor calls in a complaint to the community response office, since I'm already on record with them for another disagreement. 

This all reminds me of Jerry Seinfeld's parents' condo at Del Boca Vista.  Be sure to click on the link for a chuckle at homeowner association antics. 


Sunday, February 4, 2018

International Fun at Home

We took our grandchildren on an international field trip without leaving town.

We visited the huge Asian Pacific grocery store in town for a scavenger hunt.  I texted them the list of items they were to find. Once we were at the 40,000 square foot market, we paired off to explore. Then they took photos of each item from the list:

1. The biggest vegetable or fruit
2. Something you wouldn't eat
3. Items produced in foreign countries
4. A strange-to-you candy or pastry
5. An unusual drink
6. Some personal product - shampoo, soap, etc.
7. A fruit you've never seen
8. Some food you would like to try

We headed back to the fish department with live fish to buy and take home to eat. It prompted discussion about buying live things just to kill and eat them, in this case lobster or crabs. You can tell they don't have farm or hunting backgrounds.

The produce department was the most amazing. We saw things we'd just read just read about, like sugar cane and the durian fruit, the world's smelliest fruit. We found something that looked like a three pound grapefruit, and another that was so heavy I could barely lift it. 

Addie's drink of choice was a Japanese orange soda.

prepare the coconut
Our granddaughter decided to buy a fresh coconut, and got lots of free advice from the store clerks and other shoppers on how to open it.

An entire double sided aisle of tea attests to its popularity, and the immense variety. I brought home a box of cinnamon green tea which I've enjoyed.

Within the store was a sub-section for other international foods. We barely scraped the surface there.

We glimpsed different cultures in the goods and the shoppers. Our timing was right to be introduced to the upcoming celebration of Chinese New Year February 16th, the Year of the Dog. They had a huge display of coconut candies and fresh plants suitable for gifts for the holiday.

At stop number two, the middle eastern market, we found a flier for Persian New Year, which coincides with the beginning of spring.
One of their customs is to buy, or grow a small tray of sprouted wheatgrass.

I'm ready for some green already. I may try it!

By Anthon01 at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53601927

So grab the kids and head to the nearest foreign-to-you market. Introduce them to a taste of the rest of the world. It may be as small as the local Mexican grocery, or a large as the Ocean Pacific Marketplace.  We need to be intentional about cultivating a sense of adventure and acceptance of new things in our kids. 

And if you come to visit, I promise to take you to one of these fascinating markets. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Cold weather but hot airfare sales!

Friends and travelers, the weather's cold (here), but the airline fares are hot!

In early December I flew Denver to North Carolina for $56.00 RT. 

And just this week I was able to fly Denver to Portland, Oregon for $90.00 RT. Of course, I don’t pay for checked luggage and only carry on what’s free. So what if I wear the same two outfits for five days? 

I also booked a one-way trip to a wedding coming up in May, even paying for one bag each. For the two of us it was $88.00–TOTAL. The return will be more, of course, but I've already saved so much I’m okay with full price later.

The trick? Sign up for travel alerts on websites like airfarewatchdog and GoLastMinute.
And always sign up for emails from airlines that fly your favorite destinations. They’ll send you the latest sales information. Be ready to book quickly because the window of opportunity is usually short.

Here's the formula:

Stay informed + Be decisive + Pack light = SAVE MONEY.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Are Your New Year's Resolutions Reactionary or Proactive?

Are your resolutions for 2018 proactive or reactionary?

My number one resolution is proactive: 
Submit some writing to Chicken Soup for the Soul. I should have started on that one earlier, their deadlines are all in January. So I now have a reactionary amendment to get that submission done in another week.

Today's haircut resulted in reactionary resolutions.

#2  Only go to hair stylists that speak English.

#3 Don't get cheap haircuts. 

My neighborhood is multilingual.  Within a short walk from my apartment is a salon and it fits my tight budget.

My last haircut at the Mambo Salon de Belleza was good. Friends complimented it. Even my kids and grandkids liked it. 

Today I had my second appointment. Using my best Spanish, and English, I explained what I liked about the first cut, and minor adjustments I’d like Isabel to make for today. 

Apparently my Spanish was lacking, because Isabel double checked with the owner to make sure she understood what I wanted. I should have double checked with the owner to make sure she understood my English. 

Some devilish imp must have whispered distortions into Isabel’s ear. The parts I wanted longer were all less than before. The top that I wanted slightly shorter got trimmed on one side of the part and cut to nothing on the other.  When the owner asked if I wanted layers, I said yes, not knowing that meant razoring to within micrometers of my scalp. The grey under-layer is exposed, and the fading brown on top makes me look like an undercooked muffin.

I should have insisted I face the mirror while she worked.  Then I could have called for help while there was still something to salvage. 

As it was, my husband snickered when I came in the door. Without a trace of sympathy he said I got scalped. He said he didn’t expect me to go to church on Sunday where everyone knows me because they'll either have to lie about my shorn head or lie and pretend they don’t see any change. Still chuckling, he said he loved me no matter what. 

He asked if I’d go back. I don’t know if it’s worse to go back or face the embarrassment of getting it fixed in an upscale salon. I won't need to make that decision for a long time. 

It can’t grow fast enough to make me happy. In the meantime, I grabbed my new beret out of the closet and pulled it down like the cap on a mushroom. If I leave the scanty forelock hanging out I don't look bald. 

I remember when my five year old sister cut her bangs to a ragged fraction of an inch. She wore a cowboy hat for hours before we asked what she was hiding. If the weather stays chilly no one will question my constant hat.

My daughter laughed because her mother-in-law did exactly the same thing. She said we both need to stick to English speaking stylists. And that cutting costs on haircuts just leaves you with a mistake everyone can see. 

So far my resolutions are reactionary rather than proactive. I hope this isn’t a pattern. 

How about yours?

Monday, December 18, 2017

Deck the Halls - Old Salem, Minions and Winterthur

I've already had a wonderful Christmas season, and we have a week to go!

It kicked off with a visit to the Old Salem Candle Tea in Winston-Salem, NC.  We never attended while we lived there, but this year I accompanied a friend for the tour.  Guides in period costumes led Christmas carols, made candles, explained the miniature replica of the village in the late eighteenth century and shared sugar bread and coffee. It was all beautiful and reverent. The best was last--a manger scene set which spotlighted the particular characters as they were mentioned in the Biblical account.

Later that week I celebrated the annual Christmas dinner of my North Carolina book club.  Our hostess's house is decorated so beautifully I always come home and chuckle about our mismatched ornaments and the lack of elegance on our dining table.

And last night, we walked Bo through the local bright lights and the minions! 

New experiences and old traditions add so much to the joy and wonder I find in this season. 

If you're a Christmas fanatic, this one's good enough for your bucket list. If you're within a few hours of driving time--go. 

In Wilmington, Delaware is the home of Henry Frances DuPont. It's called Winterthur. I love how grand old homes had names. It's not quite an American Downton Abbey, but it displays how one family in the top 1% lived in most of the last century. 

At Christmas time the home is lushly decorated. They use greenery and other materials from the estate. The more rustic barrel at right is filled with common eastern plants. 

This tree was my favorite, decorated with dried flowers from the summer gardens. 

cozy tree in an informal dining room

splendor in the conservatory

I wouldn't want to live in a mansion, but I  love the razzle-dazzle. 

What special Christmas traditions add to your holiday mood? 

I encourage you to share. It will enrich all of us. 

As Bo would say "Tell it!"

Monday, December 11, 2017

Stocks for Kids

I pledge to reduce Christmas gift disappointment among our family's tweens/teens by 100 % this year. No more sweaters they peel off as soon as Grandma walks out the door. No more books doomed to a shelf. Not even the gizmo that enthralls them for two whole days. 

I've got a great idea for this Christmas. But hang with me while I give you the backstory. 

I first met an investor when we were both working for Continental Airlines for a whopping $7.50 an hour. My divorced friend challenged me.  "As a woman you need to know about money."  It didn't seem either of us had money to spare. But she encouraged me, "At least invest in the 401K, and the company adds a percentage to what you put in." 

That made sense, an instant raise. I followed her advice, had a small amount deducted automatically every month. When I quit I had a hummingbird-sized nest egg I invested in a mutual fund as a retirement account. 

In the next job as a teacher, a colleague invited me to join their women's investment group. We chipped in $50 a month and learned how to read stock reports. Back then they were only available at the library.  We bought well-known boring stocks like Johnson and Johnson. We avoided "sexy" stocks like Amazon. We passed on Microsoft because it was more expensive than Apple.  

When I moved again I rolled over my school district's vested retirement account in with the mutual funds. Those two have grown 720%. I'm sure Warren Buffet could have done better, but this took NO work on my part.

The investment club eventually sold the Apple stock. As my buy-out I said, "send me shares instead of cash." I got a few shares of Disney and Microsoft. But like the big fish that got away, I've lamented that Apple stock every time it's had spectacular rises in share prices. 

I put those stock shares in a file folder hoping they'd grow to help fund the grandkids' college tuition. Well that's not gonna happen. The stocks may eventually have to be cashed in for my fun money. 

Had those women never started the financial literacy ball rolling I wouldn't even be able to fund my little trips and fiddle lessons without getting another job. Or I'd have to sell the family silver set, as one friend's husband threatens. 

Back to Christmas for the grandkids.

  Mulling all of this over, I realized I can help my grandchildren learn to handle money. I read about an app named Stockpile which trades partial shares of stock to engage young investors. You can buy Stockpile gift certificates for as little as $5.00, and the kids buy* whole or fractional shares. The website has easy buttons for categories of companies which appeal to kids such as restaurants they like, or sports equipment and toy manufacturers. It may be the perfect gift for my teens with no silver-spoon in sight.

I think this grandma's going to offer an investing-for-beginners class after New Year's so they can decide what to do with the gift cards they get in their Christmas stockings. The company has even invented a board game available on Amazon to teach the basics of investment.

Eventually I hope they'll thank me. Maybe they'll choose the next high-performer and earn their own fun money. And even if they don't, my money's not wasted on another iTunes gift card. 

When did you start to learn about handling money? What are the most valuable lessons you want to pass along? 

*Some adult does have to serve as custodian for kids under 18.