Road Trip to Monument Valley

Recently we went on a road trip to Monument Valley located on the Arizona Utah border. We’ve lived in Arizona for over thirty years but this was our first time to to Monument Valley, considered one of the most photographed places on earth.

From Phoenix it’s about a five hour drive to Monument Valley. Monument Valley is located in the heart of the Navajo Nation Reservation. This rugged, remote landscape was both beautiful and familiar since Monument Valley is the backdrop of so many iconic Hollywood Westerns. Driving along we spy giant red sandstone buttes towering over the valley floor below. Just before the entrance to Valley Drive is the Visitor Center which offers handicrafts, souvenirs, rest rooms, a restaurant and a hotel.

We chose to drive the seventeen mile dirt road to enter this sacred land. We didn’t take a tour but instead paid the $20 to complete a self tour on the dusty but adequate 17 mile Valley Drive in a Toyota Corolla. The bumpy roads are open only to cars and trucks but closed to RVs and buses. I felt sorry for the bus riders who’s only choice to see more of the sights were open air Jeep tours. Temperatures were reaching nearly 100* and the path was extremely dusty for the captive tourists, sweating and choking on the dust in their attempt to see the iconic sights.

We took our time and Greg managed the road easily. There were plenty of opportunities to stop and take pictures and even purchase some handicrafts along the way. We took about two hours to visit. Bring plenty of water with you. Since it was in the height of the summer season hiking trails were closed.

This land is both spectacular and awe inspiring. It is an amazing place to visit and one I would like to return to again. It would be truly spectacular to see this landscape covered with snow.

A familiar backdrop of Hollywood Westerns

I’m unsure of the name of this rock formation but it does appear to smile at me

This unrelenting environment offers stark contrasts in the view of the sandstone buttes
The North Window

Three Sisters

Save a Horse, Find Your Heart

Aristotle said it over two thousand years ago.

“What is the essence of life? To serve others and do good.”

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I have been lucky enough to find a beautiful place to volunteer. Kachina’s Place is a therapeutic riding center for individuals with special needs. They provide a variety of equestrian experiences to those facing life challenges. But Kachina’s Place is so much more than that. I call it my happy place.

Here I receive as much benefit as I provide. Regardless of wether I am scooping manure and feeding horses or helping a special needs client with a lesson, my life is enriched. Calm and peacefulness is everywhere at the ranch. Clients come to Kachina’s Place to practice yoga, perform barn chores, learn teamwork, balance and responsibility. They learn horsemanship skills, and perhaps most importantly, they learn to give back to others.

I believe if live well you must give well. Since I retired from teaching I’ve missed the daily contact with children and adults with special needs. Here At Kachina’s Place I am refueled. My soul is satisfied and I feel a sense of purpose.

I love each of the beautiful horses and minis at the ranch and they each have a unique story of how they came to Kachina’s Place to live a life of happiness and service to others. There is Ruby, the reluctant racehorse who didn’t like running but really loves to be brushed and is as sweet as she is beautiful.

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Then there is Kiko, the abandoned Appaloosa who is now specially trained to be ridden by very inexperienced riders. Kiko, which means Happiness in Japanese has a gift of gentleness around young children.

Because horses are animals of prey, they are keenly aware of their surroundings and can act as a mirror of human emotions. When you consider the enormous size of a horse and their heightened sensitivity and empathy for those around them and you have the perfect therapy animal.

National Save A Horse Day is April 26. If you are interested in helping a worthwhile charity that helps those that can not always help themselves please consider a donation to Kachina’s Place.

Kachina’s Place

Singapore Surprise

Discover a different side of Singapore during the Christmas season.

We spent three days in Singapore walking, tasting and exploring more of the city we visited earlier this year.  We are here in Singapore because we will be leaving in a few days for an Azamara Club Cruise to Thailand, Vietnam and ending in Hong Kong.

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Shopping the tourist stalls in Chinatown

 

Singapore can be a very expensive city, but there are so many inexpensive options to explore the city.  We walked and took the MRT (subway) all around town for only a few dollars.  We avoided Raffles, the iconic hotel and home of the Singapore Sling because we don’t feel a need to spend over thirty bucks for a drink.  We enjoyed shopping (of course) and eating at inexpensive hawker stands with locals in Chinatown.  We tried a ramen bar, tasting the most delicious noodles and soup that don’t remotely resemble the Top Ramen I enjoyed during my college years.

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Delicious ramen, a very tasty treat

On our final night in Singapore we visited Orchard Road, home to gorgeous high end retail and hotels and restaurants.  We were so surprised to see the opulent Christmas decorations.  As we walked past Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Tiffany we were delighted with the sights of Christmas everywhere.  At a Christmas village set up outside a mall we were treated to a Christmas violin concert by school children.  Singers were eveywhere singing Christmas songs and top hits.  The lights and sounds with the magnificent backdrop of the architecture  were such a treat to us and a true Singapore Surprise.

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High end stores on Orchard Road decorated for the Christmas holiday
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The holiday lights along Orchard Road

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Seven Secrets To A Perfect Cruise

Discover the secrets to a perfect cruise

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I have cruised a variety of ships from the intimate, boutique river cruises to budget friendly cruise ships with many thousands of passengers.  We have enjoyed beautiful state rooms with gorgeous balconies and cabins crammed with my husband, me and our three children.  On all of the cruises, we had a good time. We laugh now when we think about my youngest “accidentally” stepping on his brother’s face while climbing back into his bunk after a midnight pizza run.  But for all of the cruises we have taken, the one constant that seems to hold the key to having a good time is meeting interesting people.

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We have been fortunate enough to meet people from around the world.  I value the friendships we have made because of these encounters. After meeting several people who had business cards made up just for the purpose of exchanging information with new people, I ordered some. It may seem a bit odd at first, but since it includes information like our email, contact information and blog address it has helped us keep in touch with new friends.
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We have just completed our fifteenth cruise and although we’ve made mistakes in the past, we have learned and grown from them.
On our most recent cruise we took a back to back cruise onboard the Celebrity Equinox in the Western and Eastern Caribbean.

Cruising offer some conveniences and benefits over other vacations:

Unpack Once.                                                                                                                               You settle yourself in your stateroom and you are done for the duration of the cruise.

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Visit Beautiful Locations.                                                                                                            On port days take a tour and see locals attractions, or stay on board and enjoy the amenities of a relatively empty ship.

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Daily Maid Service.                                                                                                   Miraculously, when you are away from your room a Room Steward Ninja comes in and tidies everything up. Amazing.

Exceptional Dining.                                                                                                                  Choices on our cruise ranged from burgers on deck to buffet, and sit down fine dining. By the second day our waiter knew our name and the bread and wine we preferred.

Entertainment.                                                                                                                           This cruise offered production style shows, jazz ensembles, party bands and “Quiet Disco” where each participants listen to a variety of music genres on color coded headsets and danced to their own beat. This was a real advantage to those of us who are dance impaired.

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Pools.                                                                                                                                            Our ship had large family pools, complete with party games and dancing and The Solarium, which was an adult only quiet enclosed pool and jacuzzi

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Gyms.                                                                                                                                           The gym offered fitness classes, and a large variety of machines and weights. Now why didn’t I go more?

Spa Services.                                                                                                                   Everything was offered from massages to Botox.

Casinos.                                                                                                                                     Table games, as well as slot machines were popular. Lottery cards and Bingo were also offered on the ship.

Bars.                                                                                                                                             The Equinox had outside bars at the back of the ship, inside bars for quiet conversation as well as an ice martini bar, complete with flair bartenders. If you choose to drink, it may be a good idea to to check into an all inclusive alcohol packages before you book your cruise.
Otherwise, the cost of your bar bill may overtake the cost of your cruise.

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SEVEN SECRETS TO A PERFECT CRUISE 

1. Budget Ahead of Time For Your Cruise. Cruising can be a relatively inexpensive way to visit a variety of ports.  Look for deals, pick a cruise line and ship that you are comfortable with.    Some cruise lines’ loyalty programs offer perks such as early boarding, free laundry, drinks etc. Whenever possible, try to be flexible with your travel dates.

2. Smile and Relax. The entire point of a cruise is to have a good time. When you smile, other people reciprocate. Relax.

3. Participate in Activities That You Might Not Otherwise Engage In. Try something new, take a dance lesson, kiss a stingray, meet the locals, eat something you’ve never tried before.
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4. Disconnect From The Outside World. As much as possible try to unplug and not think about your responsibilities outside of the ship. Life will still be there when you get home.

5. Talk To The Person Sitting Next To You. Regardless of whether you are sitting at a bar, a show or the pool ask questions and learn about someone else’s life. You will definitely learn something new, and maybe make a friend.

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6. Look Out At The Ocean. It is calming, relaxing and beautiful.
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7. Enjoy The Journey. Because that is exactly what this life is, a journey.

A Day Well Spent

How finding a place to volunteer helped me find myself.

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There is a certain type of satisfaction that for me, has been misssing for much of the past year of my retirement. As a teacher, a mother and a wife I have always believed in service to others.  My career was so satisfying because every day I felt like I was making a difference in the life of my students.

I started looking for a place to volunteer where I could contribute and feel like I was doing good work in the service to others.  Recently, I started spending time with some new friends of mine.  Today I hung out with Joey, Jasmine, Kula, Ruby, Chocolate, Adam, Adriana and Candy .  These are the amazing rescued and trained horses, mini horses and pony at Kachina’s Place in Cave Creek, Arizona.

Kachina’s Place provides therapeutic equestrian activities for children and adults with physical, cognitive, and emotional limitations.  I started volunteering at Kachina’s Place about a month ago and immediately I knew it was going to be a great fit.  These are my people, I belong here.

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Sweet Joey nosing around

I love horses and have always been aware of the keen sensitivity that horses demonstrate.  They are great readers of body language and can be very empathetic, not to mention the fact that they are beautiful, graceful animals that are lovely to watch.

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Ruby, the former racehorse is a sweetie

Volunteering at Kachina’s Place felt right from the beginning.  The stables and setting is beautiful and the horses are sweet, calm, gentle and very endearing.  Franky Greaves the trainer is patient, kind and has set up a perfect environment for the therapeutic riding and equestrian activities.

Kachina’s Place is a special horse ranch with four horses, three mini horses and a pony.  The ranch is in a picturesque location complete with mountain views, a garden, a grassy area for yoga and eight very well cared for horses.  Special needs students taking lesssons may also be asked to groom, feed, clean up after as well as ride the horses.  They may complete a yoga class in the grass, groom a horse with help or help clean up stalls and the field as well as learning to trust and ride the horses.

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Trainer Franky with a student practicing balance.

Recently several clients came and together we groomed some horses, did some yoga on the grass, cleaned stalls, took turns riding  and painted (with non-toxic paint) one of the mini horses, Adriana, who loves to be pampered and brushed.  We practiced teamwork, turn taking, responsibility and had such a wonderful time.  Everybody enjoyed themselves, especially me.

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Cleaning up after the horses with my buddy.

I love volunteering at Kachina’s Place and at the end of the day I know it has been a day well spent.

Kachina’s Place is a non-profit organization, if you would like to donate or learn more about this wonderful organization I encourage you to go to: https://kachinasplace.org

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The Often Bumpy Road To Retirement

The road to retirement often has detours and bumps ahead.

About a year ago I retired from nearly twenty five years of teaching.  I loved the job and the kids but I believe every good teacher knows when it’s time to leave.  I was lucky enough to be able to retire financially, but mentally I was still a teacher, longing for my kids and the joy that I felt from teaching.

I am spontaneous and a fly by the seat of my pants kind of person, but that was not working for me as a retired woman.  My husband had an eighteen month head start on his retirement.  He had a routine, a schedule, a cool hobby and his day planned out.  At first I felt like I was floundering.  Lack of planning was not really working for me.  Where did my day go?  At the end of each day I felt like I accomplished nothing, nada.

I needed to expand my world.  I started by substitute teaching for some other teachers.  I enjoyed it, but I always needed to remember that I was the visitor.  This was NOT my classroom.  I enjoyed spending time with the kids but it was not enough.

Slowly, things have changed.  My days no longer feel wasted and unproductive. I have come to a place of contentment and satisfaction. Retirement, to me feels like a great pair of jeans you have picked out long ago, saved for and finally just went out and bought. Initially, they were uncomfortable and foreign, maybe a bit too tight and restrictive, they did not feel “comfortable.”  After “wearing” my retirement for a while (nearly a year)  I now feel more at home with it.  It’s a much better fit than it was initially, and I like the way I feel at the end of my day. I have settled into my retirement.

When I first retired we traveled so much I really didn’t get a chance to manage my time at home.  I value every day and I realize that we may never know when it is our last day on this earth, so I need to make all my days count.

Slowly, I began to build my week. At the recommendation of a friend, I started with an outdoor fitness class three times a week.  I had always enjoyed working out and had recently left my long time workout group.  I don’t like change, who does?  But I was exhilarated with the new group.  I was modifying my workouts and felt great afterwards.  Unfortunately I hit a detour.  My doctor said no more working out while my foot fracture was still healing.  I was wearing the ortho boot but apparently my foot was not ready for the extra stress.

I was instantly deflated. I NEEDED to workout.  Swimming came immediately to mind and I signed up for water aerobics at a local community center.  I arrived early to the large facility, complete with a gym, rock climbing wall and multiple swimming pools.  Very quickly I was greeted by “the ladies”.  These nine ladies have been part of the morning water aerobics class for years.  They ranged in age from sixties to eighties.   I was the young one in the group.  I was also the third Nancie, so they referred to me as “Nancie number 3.”   I removed my boot and stepped intrepidly into the warm water.  After sixty minutes I was beat!  This was going to be fun!

In addition, I started a watercolor class.  For several hours each week I would learn some new techniques and meet new people.  Most of the people in my class were obviously very talented.  I don’t consider myself talented necessary, but I am motivated and driven.  I set up my casita with painting supplies and most days I will spend several hours painting and enjoying the solitude.  I have not yet completed a painting that I’m going to frame, but I’m getting closer.

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My hummingbird, a work in progress
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Free form tulips
I make time to see my family and friends.  My schedule is flexible so I love it when I can enjoy a leisurely lunch or activity with a good friend.  My photography interest have expanded and I do try to find opportunities to take interesting photographs.  I now control the hours in my days, and that is a very good feeling.  I am now back at my outdoor fitness class and water aerobics, it feels great.  I have also located a charity that I may volunteer at, my dance card is filling up.

We continue to plan more travel and I have been researching some of the places that we plan on visiting this year.  They include:  Chicago, Annapolis, Miami, Key West, the Caribbean, Barcelona, Gibraltar, Madeira , and San Juan, Puerto Rico.  That will keep us kind of busy, and I really do enjoy having the freedom to be as busy as I want.

This blog began about a year ago.  I love reading other blogs and hearing from people that take the time to read my blog.  Thank you for reading my thoughts.  I would love to hear from some readers about their retirement journeys.