Go Go Gadget ~ Great gifts for your favorite traveler

It’s hard to think about buying anything when you are in the midst of paring down all of your worldly possessions.  I’ll tell you, downsizing takes the shine off shopping in a big way.

All this downsizing creates a challenge for those wonderful folks in your life who want to shower you with lovely gifties at Christmas or on your birthday, too.  Suddenly, they’re unsure.  To buy or not to buy?  That is the new question.

So, Little Miss Helpful (that’s me) has started a list of travel must-haves that would make brilliant gifts for any traveler or retirement gypsy.

Here are my current favs:

1.  Travel Clothesline.   Don’t think you need one?  Either did I, until I washed a pair of my expensive moisture-wicking socks in the sink of our hotel room in Santiago and having no place to dry said socks, I ever so carefully laid them out on the sill of the open window in our room.  Hubs and I went out to lunch and upon our return, one lonely sock was there to greet me.  The other had apparently flown away.  I scanned the rooftops and ledges of nearby buildings.  No sock.  So I dashed down the stairs and along the cobblestone streets to the alleyway below our window.  Two trips up and down the alley (chased by a crazy old woman who thought she knew me) and still no sock. Never found it.  Maybe a bird took it to puff up its nest.   A travel clothesline will be in my pack on the next trip.

2.  Kindle Paperwhite – It’s small, lightweight, holds a charge for a long time (unlike your iphone or ipad), it’s easy on the eyes and works well in low/no light or with bright sun streaming through your window.  Add an Amazon gift card and life is good.

3.  Noise Cancelling Headphones –  Crying babies, loud talkers, the annoying squawk of Angry Birds all fade away when you put on a really good set of headphones.  Bliss on an overnight flight.

4.  External Battery Pack –  This can be a life saver if you can’t find a place to plug in.  It can also be used as a flashlight.  How cool is that?

5.  Cocoon – I spend way too much time digging through my purse or may bag looking for something I had only minutes earlier and now has suddenly disappeared into the cosmic vortex.  Organization like this could save my sanity.  Or my marriage, because hubs always has a helpful comment or two. 215_xlarge

6.  Nap Anywhere –  Hubs can nap anywhere and in any situation.  I’ve tried the blow up pillows, the tiny silica ball pillows, rolled up blanket pillows.  Nothing holds my head in anything remotely resembling a natural position.   This handy-dandy device might be worth a try.  It was launched through a Kickstarter campaign and who doesn’t want to support start-up innovators.

7.  SCOTTEVEST –  With a variety of styles including shirts, vest and jackets there’s a pocket for every device, your money, your passport – you name it – there’s a pocket for it.  And, although it’s not much in the fashionista department, the Scottevest does not make you look like the Michellin Man (or woman).  Trust me, nobody’s going to pick your pocket. category_tile_chloe_hoodie_normal category_tile_tvm_normal

Travelers, what’s on your must have list?  Let us know in the comments.

See you on the road.  I’ll be plugged in wearing my stylin’ Scottevest fleece hoodie.


What’s in a Word? Sometimes more than you thought.

This fun post is courtesy of my friends over at International Living

It made me smile because I could really relate.  I’ve been struggling to become conversant in Spanish for the past six months.  If you want to know about mi gato o mi familia o mi casa, you’re in luck, but try for anything more meaningful and tenemos un problema grande.

These Spanish Words Are Not Your Friends…
By Tara Lowry

The first time I went to a Spanish speaking country I figured that needing to know the language was over-rated. I jumped on a plane bound for Spain with an exaggerated sense of confidence, and a tiny phrase book that I assumed would cover everything I needed.

After landing in Madrid, I found my way to the train that would take me to my destination: the beautiful city of Seville in Andalusia.

Despite the jet lag, I was feeling pretty chipper until someone came to tell me that I was in the wrong seat. The number I had on the ticket matched where I was sitting so I couldn’t understand the problem or where I was supposed to be, if not there. It turns out I was in the wrong car and it took them half the trip to communicate it to me, much to their frustration and my bewilderment.

When the taxi that I took from the train station stopped outside of my new home in Seville, the driver said something to me and pointed at the door. I assumed he was in a hurry and wanted me to get out. After nearly being run over by a motorbike and being yelled at by both drivers, I realized that he was telling me to wait to open the door: “No abras la puerta.”

I enrolled in a Spanish language school the next day.

As soon as I started taking classes, I fell in love with El Español. I was delighted to realize how many Spanish words sounded similar to the English versions. My teacher called them cognates: artist—artista; tourist—turista; university—universidad; family—familia. It was so easy! (Or so I thought…) Whenever I didn’t know the Spanish word for something I just said it in English but made small adaptations to make it sound more Spanish.

That was until a couple of months later when I unintentionally made a big announcement at a dinner party hosted by my new Spanish beau’s parents. After accidentally spilling wine all over his mother, I attempted to apologize and convey my embarrassment. I told her (in front of everyone) that I was “embarazada.” I found out the hard way about false cognates and how to say the word “pregnant” in Spanish. It turns out that even though a word sounds similar in English and Spanish, the meanings can be very, very different.

This would not be my only encounter with false cognates or “false friends” as they are also known. I also discovered (to the great amusement of my Spanish friends) that:

Preservativos are not preservatives but rather condoms!

If someone asks you if you are “constipada,” they are asking if you have a cold or a stuffy nose.

If you want to say you are excited about something, say “emocionado/a” and not “excitado/a,” which means aroused.

“Molestar” is to bother or annoy. I learned this after a very confusing conversation where someone was telling me about his dislike of clowns…

“Ropa” is not rope. “Ropa” means “clothing”. I found this out when I attempted to ask a storekeeper to cut off a piece of string from a package I had just purchased. Not knowing the word for string I figured that “ropa” would be close enough. It wasn’t. I ended up asking him to cut off his clothes.

While it’s not necessary to be fluent when you live in a Spanish-speaking country, having a base sure helps. That little bit of grammar and vocabulary you learn will come in handy in unimaginable situations. Plus the more you learn, the richer your new life will become. Just remember: making a bit of a fool out of yourself is all part of the process (and, as I prove, can lead to some very funny stories). And watch out for those false friends! madridrestaurant I totally agree with Tara’s comment that the ability to converse makes your travel experience so much richer.  It’s scary to stumble through a conversation and nobody (me) enjoys playing the fool, but Tara’s experience inspires me.   Who knows, you might make a new friend and get to sample the delicious ceviche.

¡ Salud! Nos vemos en el camino


Gracias International Living for allowing me to share this post.

5 Tips for Becoming Successful House Sitters

Perhaps you’ve noticed…

I’ve become more than a wee bit obsessed with the idea of becoming traveling house sitters.  I saw this one yesterday.

4 year dog, Marzipan and 30’s era house need sitting Jan 24 to Feb 3

We are retired couple who like travel but our sweet 26 pound Corgi, Marzi, would rather stay home. She is well trained and very friendly.  Marzi needs walk in the park facing house housesit2 every day. Longer walks are appreciated every few days. Keep the house secure when you are gone. Water a few house plants. Keep the fur off the rugs with a Roomba.

House has high-speed wireless. We are walking distance to DC metro and surrounded by premier shopping, restaurants and services. Our house sits in civil war era neighborhood,very safe,facing community park and 45 mile paved trail for walking and bicycling. Ideal site for outdoor types, you can drive to countryside in 30 minutes to mountain trails and rivers. Ideal for city types, 15 minutes on metro to theaters, free museums like Smithsonian and city festivals, ethnic neighborhoods.


At this point, hubs is quietly humoring me, but experience says he’ll climb enthusiastically on board, once I’ve done the homework and put a plan in place.   I’m working on it.  Here’s the plan so far.

How to Become a Successful House Sitter in 5 Easy (or not) Steps ~

1.  Do Your Research.  –   Hang out on the online sites like Trusted Housesitters, HouseCarers and Caretaker Gazette.  Read the House Sitter blogs.   A fellow-essayist in Mark Chimsky’s book 65 Things To Do When You Retire: Travel, is a house-sitting expert.  Teresa Roberts wrote a very informative book, Finding the Gypsy in Me – Tales of an International House Sitter.  I’ve read it twice and learned a great deal.

2.  Set Your Parameters. –  What are your must haves for a great house sitting destination?   France, England, Portugal, Italy, Ecuador, Argentina, Spain and Uruguay are at the top of my list.  I would be interested in both big cities and rural small towns as long as there is something fun, unique and interesting going on.  When we travel, hubs and I are looking for cultural events and activities, friendly people, good food, history and places to take great log walks.  Conveniently located to public transportation and airport/train station is a plus.  Weather?  Well, if life were perfect, I would always find house sits in warm destinations with brilliant blue skies and temps in the high 70’s, but I’ll flex on that one.

3.  Know Your Limitations. –  Everyone is different in their skills, experience and willingness to get their hands dirty.  Maybe a horse or two would be your dream, but you are allergic to cats.  Are you handy or do you need a written diagram to work the lights?  Hubs and I fall somewhere in the middle.  We’d be comfortable with cats and a dog or two.  Yes, even chickens.  Horses, cows, pigs, goats?  Not so much.  So the postings I’ve seen for “small holdings” probably aren’t for us.  And, trust me, nobody in this duo is going to be climbing on the roof or under the house if things go wrong.  We need homeowners who provide phone numbers and a who to call list.  Water the garden?  No problem!  Trim the trees or mow the back 40?  No way!

3.  Polish Your Profile. –  Once you have signed up with one (or more) of the house sitting sights, the first order of business is creating a killer profile.

Your online profile is your ticket to house sitting success.  There are lots of energetic, experienced 60-something retirees out there who want your perfect house sitting job too. Spend the time to create a profile that jumps off the screen, highlights your skills, experience, trustworthiness, and  Once again, it all comes down to marketing.  Check out the competition.  How are others selling themselves?  Check all the boxes – get the police clearance, provide lots of references, make the video, use your personal experience as a homeowner, successful business person, pet lover, parent and community activist.  They all count.   If you are serious, set up your own house sitting business website and link it to your profile.  That’s what Teresa did.  Check out her website housesit-pro for ideas.

4.  Be persistent.  Be Honest.  Be Flexible. –  Respond quickly.  It is a numbers game and it pays to be at the front of the line.  Sell yourself, your skills and why you are the best choice to walk Charley the Bulldog or Suzy the Smoodle.  People want to know (honestly) that you will love and care for their beloved pet almost as much as they do.  Anybody can bring in the mail.  And finally, be as flexible as possible.  You’ve always wanted to see Paris in the Springtime, but why not consider a two week house sit over Christmas?   The house sitting veterans will tell you that usually finding the first sit is the hardest, but hang in there.

What about you?  Does house sitting sound interesting?  Have you done any house sitting and have experiences to share?  Are you looking for a house sitter?  If so, I’d love to connect and share ideas.

See you on the road!  I just might be the one walking to two Great Danes with the big smile on my face.



Lookin’ for a Quickie? ~ as in quick overnight escape


Wheeler Oregon

Wheeler Oregon

A great adventure can be found anywhere.  

One of my favorite things to do is throw our PJ’s and toothbrushes into a bag, jump in the car and head out to see what we can find no further than two hours and a tank of gas away from home.  We’ll head out early on a Saturday morning and be back in time for dinner on Sunday night.  Easy, (relatively) cheap and always entertaining. My new goal is to plan at least one of these little “quickie getaways” every month.

Gas prices in Oregon have dropped 40 cents/gallon.  It’s time to hit the road again!

A while back, on one of our quickie escapes, Hubs and I explored the quaint and charming village of Wheeler, Oregon.   Wheeler is tiny (pop. 414).  It’s an easy 1 1/2 hour drive from Portland and sits at the edge of the Pacific Ocean on Nehalem Bay.   In the early 1900’s Wheeler was a bustling railroad depot.  Trains delivered lumber and seafood from the bay into Portland.  Today tourism is the main industry.  Bustling?  Not so much.  It’s not much more than a dot on the map along US Highway 101, but whether you stop for lunch, some serious antiquing, or an overnight stay like we did, Wheeler is definitely worth your time.

Old Wheeler Hotel

Old Wheeler Hotel

We checked into the Old Wheeler Hotel – an eight room beauty with stunning views of the bay.

Lovely historical details like an old bellhop uniform display

Lovely historical details like an old bellhop uniform display

Like the town itself, the Old Wheeler Hotel is a tiny gem.  Full of charm, it’s complete with creaky wooden floors, well appointed rooms, lots of light, comfortable beds, quality linens and interesting antiques.  Many rooms have private baths, but a few have a bath “down the hall”.  Not to worry, they provide fluffy robes and the bathroom is “all yours” while you are there.   These folks are all about service and special touches. WheelerHotelDoorsign

At the end of the hall on the second floor is a common room with comfy couches, a small kitchen area,  a spectacular view, lots of board games and a large library of DVD’s.  If you hang out for a while, you are sure to meet some very interesting people.  We brought our own wine and cocktail snacks and enjoyed a sunset happy hour in the lounge.  That’s where we met the “ghost chasers”.  Adventure?  You betcha!

the "lounge" perfect for cocktail hour, breakfast or board games.

the “lounge” perfect for cocktail hour, breakfast or board games.

When we checked in, we were advised that the room I had originally reserved was not available and we were upgraded to another room.  Same spectacular view, but larger and with a spa tub.  We also noticed a lot of unusual activity for such a tiny hotel, but didn’t think much of it until we starting chatting with some folks over cocktails in the common room.  Turns out we had decided to spend the night at the Wheeler on the same weekend as a well-known paranormal investigation team was filming.  Yes, they had earlier tested the rooms for “activity” and our original room seemed a likely candidate for spirits.  We were spending the night in what had once been the Rinehart Hospital and, of course, not everyone left through the front door.  According to the investigation crew, the building was humming with interesting paranormal energy.   Nothing visited us during the night.  Perhaps the snoring from one particular side of the bed kept them at bay.

the spa room

the spa room

Twenty-Four Hours in Wheeler ~

This is a sleepy little place.  You park your car and walk.  Less than 10 minutes in any direction and you’ve covered it.  We still found plenty to entertain ourselves.  We wandered through two large antique stores and ogled beautiful art and handmade craft treasures at lovely little stories like Trillium.  Across the street from the hotel is a small marina offering boat and kayak rentals.  What a great way to explore Nahalem Bay.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have time on this trip.

the "main drag" in Wheeler

the “main drag” in Wheeler

There were so many great photo ops. Thank goodness I had my camera.   Across the bay is a wildlife viewing area where, if you are lucky, you will spot blue heron, eagles and herds of elks that routinely inhabit the landscape.  We just missed a herd of elk!  Or…maybe they say that to all the visitors.

morning view from our room

morning view from our room

I’m not always a fan of small town food, but we discovered an absolutely delightful and delicious restaurant called the Rising Star Cafe where we managed to slide into the last available table for a gourmet dinner.   Great food. great people. Great wine. Great fun!  There is also a fun pub and a quaint cafe within a half block of the hotel.

Wheeler is well located for exploring the North Oregon Coast.  It is a gorgeous 30 mile drive from the Tillamook Cheese Factory to the art galleries of Cannon Beach   Wheeler lies right in the middle.

We loved our overnight in Wheeler.  Sometimes great things really do come in small packages.

See you on the road!




Going with the Group ~ Yes, it’s still adventure travel!

I never tired of views like this.

I never tired of views like this.

First things first.  I am not now, and probably never will be, a tour bus kind of traveler.  I’m way too independent and not really a very good group participant. I am not one of those lucky people who meets up with a bunch of strangers and leaves a few hours later with five new BFF’s.  I’m more of a go-it-aloner.  And I’m really good with that.

I am pretty sure, however, that if I had not stumbled on the website for Marly Tours last year, there’s a 99% chance that my boots would not have gathered all that dust walking the Camino de Santiago.

So, why the change of heart?   In my opinion, Marly provided just the level of support to give us the confidence we needed to step a tiny bit beyond our comfort zone.   And, for the most part, we weren’t part of the “If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium” mentality of a larger tour.  We had a lot of freedom and a little more piece of mind.  We were able to dip our toes into the water of adventure travel without fear of falling off the bank.

If you are newly-minted adventurers like hubs and I, a first-time-single traveler, or even well-seasoned world travelers who are ready to take it a little easier, the Marly approach might be just what you are looking for.  As the designated family travel agent and tour guide, I can honestly say that once I had the basics in place – air reservations, hotels in Madrid, post-Camino itinerary, I didn’t have to worry about anything.  I actually got to relax and enjoy the entire trip.  Since this was the first two week vacation I have taken in 20 years, it was a gift to sit back, settle in, and enjoy the journey.  Marly had my back.

There are a variety of ways people choose to experience the Camino. caminomarlywalkers Some load up their backpacks and head out from St. Jean Pied de Port in France, hike over the Pyrenees and walk across Spain stopping at a variety of albergues that are set up just for Pilgrims to eat, sleep, shower and sometimes do laundry.  Albergues come in all sizes and with varying levels of comfort.  All require the ability to exist in close quarters with strangers and most require the ability to sleep nose to nose with people you’ve never met, many of whom snore.  Not my cup of tea!  So, while I had the Camino on my bucket list, if that was the only way to walk The Way, it probably wasn’t going to happen.   A lot of folks go the Albergue route and love it.  I am in awe of those folks and still believe that they get a much richer experience and the true understanding of the spirit of the Camino.

Typical albergue on the camino

Typical albergue on the camino

Some people do the Camino as vacation allows.  Walking a few weeks each year.  A few  even choose to do the Camino on horseback.  This can make for very interesting walking along some of the narrow dirt paths.  Between the cows and the horses, we called it poop camino on more than one occasion.  Some people bike the Camino.  This is becoming more popular and almost dangerous at times as flocks of bright yellow spandex sneek up from behind and whizz by on narrow roads and paths causing walkers to jump back into the unknown of the tall grass and bushes.   Some walkers choose to make their own route, stay in either small B&B’s or Albergues and have their backpacks/bags transported from place to place.

By deciding to go with Marly Tours for our first long walking experience, here’s what we chose:

1.  A small group of no more than fourteen.  Usually with a mix of ages and nationalities, Ours was all over 45 and from North America.  Side note:  There was a lovely Canadian couple, Ange and Laura, in our group.  When we introduced ourselves, Laura and I found out that we had gone to the same elementary school (Ionview) and high school (Winston Churchill) at the same time.  It is a very small world.

2.  A small but comfortable support van with a driver and a tour guide/spiritual guide/cheerleader/medic who were there when we needed them but gave us plenty of space if we didn’t.

A friendly smile, a high five, a hug and a bottle of cold water.  Support just when we needed it.  Perfecto!

A friendly smile, a high five, a hug and a bottle of cold water. Support just when we needed it. Perfecto!

3.  Lots of first hand and interesting information about the Camino, the history of the churches and buildings we passed each day and points of interest along the route.  Much of this information we would probably not have learned if we were on our own, weighed down by packs, worrying about where we were going to sleep that night.

4.  The knowledge that if we needed them, Victor and Jose Luis were only a phone call away and it was OK to ride in the bus if you had to.  We didn’t.  But it was good to know that if one of us fell or fell ill, we didn’t have to limp for miles and miles to get to civilization.

Calling Dr. Jose Luis!

Calling Dr. Jose Luis!

We passed many people with problems, but one young woman truly touched my heart. Hubs and I were in the last half of a very long, very hot, uphill walk to Monte de Gozo and I spotted her up ahead.  She was shuffling so slowly, using her walking stick, bent over from the weight of her pack, that she was barely moving.  When we came alongside, I could see the pain on her face and in her eyes.  I stopped to ask if I could help her in any way.  She was French but spoke some English.  Tendonitis she said.  She asked how far to the next stop and we talked a bit.  She thanked me for stopping and said she didn’t need help.  I wanted to call Victor to come and give her a short ride on the bus, but it was her Camino, not mine, and she had to walk it – every painful, shuffling step.

5.  We had charming private rooms in absolutely stunning old homes (with lots of history of their own) that have been converted into posadas.  Warm showers, free flowing wine, tasty traditional food, a good night’s sleep and breakfast were waiting for us at every stop.  The evening ritual included getting to know our fellow Pilgrims, swapping tales of the road and Jose Luis tenderly taking care of blisters.  Our bags were waiting for us when we arrived.  A couple of us enjoyed a massage.  Two of our posadas had pools and one even did our laundry.  Washed and line dried. caminomarlytourshotel caminomarlyhotel1 Looking back, I’m glad we went this route.  I know we’ll do it again.

I also know that I’m already looking for our next walking adventure and while we still can do it physically, I think we’ll push ourselves a little bit more next time.   I’m thinking maybe we’ll try the pre-planned but unsupported route.   Where?  Who knows, but the options are endless…

Finesterre - Once considered the end of the world by the Romans.

Finesterre – Once considered the end of the world by the Romans.

It truly is about the journey.  And for us, this one was just about perfect.

See you on the road.


It wasn’t all just fun and games…

But some of it was…

There were amazing performers on every corner and in every plaza ~

Feats of magic

Levitation magic

Which one is the statue?

Which one is the statue?

Ghandi statue in Santiago de Compostella

Early morning chat with Gandhi

There were bulls ~


That’s a lot of bull!


Yes. They were heading straight for me.

There were mouthwatering displays ~ (or not!)

Madridfoodpollo caminopigshead Madridfoodpulpo There was the Mueso de Jamon ~ MadridTapasCrawlJamon And, there was a saxophone playing Santa Smurf! caminosmurf

And this was BEFORE the vino blanco started flowing freely!





Vino, Tapas y Camas ~ Wisdom from the Camino de Santiago


Our time in Spain was absolutely magical and beyond everything I imagined when I conjured up the crazy plan twelve months ago to walk 65 miles on the Camino de Santiago for my 65th birthday.

I had originally planned to post photos from the Camino but the internet availability was spotty and slow and to be completely honest we started walking around 8:30 each morning and finished around 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon.  I was pooped! I didn’t have the energy.  Instead I chose to shower, slather my aching feet with the magic “freeze” medicine, wander the grounds of our lovely accommodations and meet up with my compadres to sip a few glasses of vino tinto and share stories of our day’s adventures.  Eight o’clock brought a delicious dinner, more vino tinto and then I fell into bed so I could get up and do it all again the next day.  Life couldn’t get any simpler… or fuller.

I took this photo in the village of O’Cebrerio on the very first day of our Camino.  It was my mantra for the week.  Really, if you have these three things, you don’t need much more.  Even a good internet connection.

Wine Food & a Bed ~

Wine Food & a Bed ~

I’m busy editing my photos and will be sharing more of our adventures soon.

It truly was a Buen Camino and I am grateful for the experience.







Walking the Camino de Santiago ~ unexpected challenges

caminodesantiagoMarlyTours2 “Few people know how to take a walk.  The qualifications are endurance, plain clothes, old shoes, and eye for nature, good humor, vast curiosity, good speech, good silence and nothing too much…”     Ralph Waldo Emerson

My heel hurts!

It started a week ago.  Of course it did.  Because, in exactly one week, hubs and I will be starting the first day of our Camino de Santiago walk.  We’ve been walking pretty much every day since last May.  Some days only a couple of miles (3 times around the mall if its raining) and on weekends longer, hillier, harder walks that topped out at 12.5 miles.  Hubs overcame a toe problem and a back problem and he’s fine.  Me.  I had nothing – until now. 

Really though, we both feel great!  Strong, healthy and ready to go.

Except for the heel.  What the heck?!  I’ve been resting it this week and doing a lot of stretching because I’ve self diagnosed it (I do have some experience here) as  plantar fascitis.  Beyond that, there is really nothing I can do at this point.  It’s out of my control.

Except to trust.   And do the best I can.  And…wait for it… know that it’s okay if I have to ride in the sag wagon.  But I won’t.  I’ll make hubs carry me.

One of the priorities of the Camino is finding your own rhythm.  It’s been said that “We don’t do the Camino we want to do, we do the Camino we are able to do.”  A lot like Life.

I don’t know how my heel’s going to react to the long daily walks, but here’s what I do know for sure.  This walk is not about how I do it or how long it takes or how fast I finish.  It is all about marking a milestone moment in my life and I intend to savor every minute, including the pain if there is any.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that the twinges in my heel are reminding me to slow down.  Pay attention.  Be fully present on this journey.  And trust that it will be perfect and just the way it was meant to be.

One step at a time, I’m ready to walk my Camino.

If you are a walker or runner, here’s some great information about the care and feeding of feet I found on the WOW (Wonders of Walking) website.

See you on the road.




Home Exchange ~ the art of settling in

Where’s the light switch?  I’m not sure.  Here?  No.  This it?  Nope, not that either.  #$#%&*!!

There is an art to settling into the home of a complete stranger.  Something as simple as finding the light switches can take on a whole new meaning if they aren’t the straightforward switches you’re used to, located in the places you would normally expect to find them.  It’s funny at first…and then…not so much.

Actually, it IS fun.  It’s just different.  And it takes at least a day to settle in and make it home.  Sleeping in a stranger’s bed, cooking with their spices and watching their TV.   Hanging your clothes in the closet right next to theirs.  It can all feel a little bit strange and uncomfortable at first.

This week hubs and I are swapping houses with Tom and Dana from Vancouver Island, British Columbia.  I’m writing this post in their cozy den looking out on the back garden.  I’ve set up my office here and I’m working, but I have to admit that I am often distracted by the backyard antics.  There are several bird feeders outside the windows and each one is a fly-up restaurant.  Traffic jam on feeder #2 as they push each other out of the way.   Back and forth, each getting their turn somehow.  To my friends who are “birders” – I totally get it now.  I could watch this action for hours. Sydneybirdsatfeeder

Birds Eye View

Birds Eye View

We’re staying out on the Saanich Penninsula in the middle of farm country and very close to the lovely little harbor town of Sydney.  We came on the car ferry through Victoria.  We spent the first day in Victoria, but were glad to leave the bustle, the traffic and the tourists behind and head out to find our home and explore this beautiful island.

We’re here for a week so we have plenty of time to settle in.  And we are doing just that.  The first evening we had a few moments of frustration.  After we finally figured out how to turn on some of the lights, we poured a glass of wine and sat down to watch TV.  There were five remotes and one Apple TV controller.  They left instructions for us, but we were definitely out of our limited range of ability.  We might have to watch TV all week with close captioning because we could not figure out how to make it go away.  Netflix?  Don’t even go there.

Not for the technology challenged!

Not for the technology challenged!

We needed Geek Squad, so I did the next best thing and emailed Tom for assistance.  He emailed back with just the right info.  And, he also informed me that he saw the second cable we had not yet installed for our DVD player/Apple TV and hooked it up for us.  Yea Tom!  By the next night, we were relaxing on the couch enjoying Diane Sawyer on the news without the aid of close captioning.

Keeping some sort of routine is helpful.   We found the local rec centre and set hubs up for his regular morning workout.  Day pass only $5.50.  I’m trying to stay on my Camino training schedule so I’m walking morning and evening on the steep hills right outside our door.  My glutes will thank me later.

It’s day three and we’re feeling like a couple of locals.  We know where the market is, the wine store, the shortcut into Sydney for my daily Starbucks fix and we’ve walked the Lochside Trail into town.  Hubs cooked up a delicious salmon dinner on the barbeque last night and I’ve re-kindled my childhood love of meat pies, sausage rolls and butter tarts.

BBQ salmon + veggies picked from the garden.  Doesn't get any better.

BBQ salmon + veggies picked from the garden. Doesn’t get any better.

It’s beginning to feel a lot like home…only different.  And once you get used to it, that can be a very good thing.

And the wee bunny who visited this morning was the frosting on the top of this home exchange adventure.

And the wee bunny who visited this morning was the frosting on the top of this home exchange adventure.

I am determined to master the art of photographing birds while I have this opportunity.  It’s a whole new world I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of enjoying if we hadn’t said Yes! when the note came from Dana through HomeExchange.com.

Life is good eh?




Becoming a Backpack and Rollie Retiree ~ Spanish Lessons

¡Vamos a hablar en español!

Call me crazy but I’m not particularly fond of making a fool of myself in public.  I did it a lot in my twenties and thirties and yes, there was usually some amount of alcohol involved.  But, even so, it’s one thing to wear silly hats or put straws up your nose and another thing entirely to trot yourself out with four whole weeks of Spanish learning under your belt and walk into a room with a dozen fluent speakers so that you can engage in conversation.

That’s exactly what I did last night.  What the hell was I thinking?  And, no, there was no alcohol involved, but in this case it would probably have helped.  A lot!

We’re traveling to Spain next month.  We’ve spent time in Mexico and hope to spend lots more time in that lovely country.  And I’m exploring a whole bunch of South American cities for future travels and possible retirement living.  So it seems like at least one member of the Backpack and Rollie Team should attempt to learn the language. spanish now

Before our last San Miguel stay a few years ago, both hubs and I signed up for beginning Spanish at our local community college.  If you’ve never heard Spanish with a strong Boston accent, you’ve missed something quite special.  Hubs lasted a few weeks and quietly became too busy.  I hung in there a little longer but found it boring and not at all applicable to two adults trying to carry on normal life.  I didn’t need to learn my way around a classroom, I needed to be able to converse with the shopkeepers, the bus driver and the woman sitting next to me in the Starbucks (You know there was one and I found it.)

I quit the class, but held on to the dream.  I have a very clear vision of myself chatting away en español.  Time to give it another go.

Lecciones de español segunda ronda.  Enter the lovely and talented Clara Grabel who comes from Argentina and gives Spanish lessons to eager gringos like me.  Clara makes learning easy and fun.  I love that in a teacher.  So, in early July Clara and I had our first lesson.  It was great!   I was on my way.  Then came week two and it was like a scene from the movie Groundhog Day.  I was starting from square one all over again.  Week three, pretty much the same.  Oh, I have few words I can usually remember.  I’ve mastered some of the basic verb and grammar concepts, and I can get the general idea and answer questions when I’m reading, but let me just say that learning a new language with an aging brain feels a bit like I’m pouring flour through a sieve.  Not much seems to be sticking.

Of course, everyone knows that you will never learn to speak a language if you aren’t actually speaking it.  A lot!  I knew that, but I didn’t really want to do that.  The thought thoroughly terrified me.  I knew my brain would freeze and none of the 25 simple words I actually knew would pop up when I needed them.   And, as I said at the beginning – I am not fond of making a fool of myself in public.

But, this time I felt the fear and went anyway.  And I did make a fool of myself.  And I did have a moment of sheer terror when one of the young men from Mexico turned to me and asked me several questions and I had absolutely no idea what he said.  Not one word.  All eyes were on me.  It was a deer in the headlights moment.  I froze.  I turned 50 shades of red and then I mumbled “No comprendo.  Yo estudio español por quatro semanas solamente.”  I’m sure the grammar wasn’t correct, but he smiled and nodded and then another person came to my rescue asking me “¿Donde vive? (where do I live?) “Yo vive en Beaverton.”  “¿Tiene Familia?”  (do you have family?)  “Si, tengo un esposo y dos higos.”  “¿Tiene animales?”  “Tengo un gato.” (I have a cat) Como se llama?  “Se llama Mr. Ricardo y es gordo.” (his name is Mr. Ricky and he is fat).

Okay, this is not a conversation that is going to take me very far in Spain or Ecuador, but I did it.  I had a (very strange) conversation with a complete stranger that didn’t involve asking for a beer, the bathroom or the check.

And, everyone in the room agreed that I did quite well with only a month of lessons.  I’ll take it!  I was humbled but also rather proud of myself for going so far outside of my comfort zone.  And next week when I go back, I’ll see if I can’t come up with something a little more interesting to talk about.  I listened, I learned, I shared and I had a great time.

And it gets better.   I found another conversation group that includes margaritas and chips and salsa.  I think I’ll check that one out as well.

¡Con mucho gusto!