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Getting Ready for 2017:

An Impromptu Band at Jackson Square, New Orleans

But Wait! Where the Heck Did 2016 Go?

Sometimes I think we’ve lost our minds. No, I’m not talking about the recent election campaign and subsequent results. That took insanity to an entirely new level. What I’m talking about is us, Simon and me. We’re a stable couple in our mid-sixties, living in a lovely waterfront house in a quiet community. But by the time you read this, we will have embarked upon nearly five consecutive months of travel, and won’t be sleeping in our own bed again until the third week in May.

Meanwhile, since January of this year, we’ve visited seven countries and several states, and that was just the traveling. My mother turned 99, Kevin, our eldest bought his first house and our niece, Emily got married. When we were at home, we volunteered, and hung out with our friends. Simon was active in his Rotary Club, worked on household projects and did photography related things. I was active on the board of a local women’s networking group, crocheted lap robes for the hospital auxiliary, and doubled the amount of writing I did the previous year.

Otto was with us every step of the way, and distinguished himself as both an amazing guide and mischief magnet. He helped me navigate the tricky terrain of Pompeii, and climb to the top of the Greek amphitheater in Taormina. He stood quietly by my side on the sands of Omaha Beach, and joined us in getting soaked to the skin at Stone Henge. We may be crazy, but Otto is as solid as they come.

Have I forgotten something? Probably. The point is the 40-hours plus working part of our lives seems like a slow train in comparison to the high-speed version called retirement we boarded nearly four years ago. There are reasons, and if you haven’t already written us off as raving lunatics, I’ll explain.

Currently, we have our health. Because we’re sensible with money, we can afford our lifestyle. That should be enough, but there’s much, much more.

Inspiration

Over the last few years, we have seen friends and family members die unexpectedly, and far too young. We also know people who say they would love to do what we’re doing, but, for some reason, can’t. I’m not judging them. My concern is that they will end up regretting not following their dreams and passions at least to some degree. It’s not the one who dies with the most toys who wins. It’s the one who dies with the fewest regrets.

Floyd at the wheel (courtesy of Joan)
Floyd at the wheel (courtesy of Joan)

We are fortunate to have had role models showing us the way to avoid those regrets. Our long-time Atlanta friends, Joan and Floyd, retired, bought three consecutive RVs and spent several months a year on the road. They became actively involved in an RV community, as well as keeping busy when they were at home. Floyd lost his battle with cancer three years ago. Although we miss him terribly – no one more than Joan – They spent 20 years enjoying the fruits of all their hard work by living life to the fullest.

Joan with motorhome (picture courtesy of Joan)
Joan with motorhome (picture courtesy of Joan)

“We met some of the most wonderful people we are still friends with today,” Joan told me in her email accompanying the photos. “Two of our dogs went with us and also had their own motorhome buddies whenever we met up with friends who also had dogs. It was a lifestyle we felt so lucky to be able to do.” Bringing home her point, Joan concluded by asking me to, “Encourage your readers to go while they can.” So, that’s what I’m doing.

Another inspiration was our Panama friend, Ralph. He was a Danish born expat from the U.S., living in Boquete. We met him during our first visit to Panama in 2014. When we said good-bye to Ralph last year, it never occurred to us that we wouldn’t see him again. Ralph died this spring due to complications following a car accident.

Enjoying a glass of wine with Ralph
Enjoying a glass of wine with Ralph

Ralph’s story is long, complicated and – in recent years – tragic. His wife of fifty years, Carmen, was lost in the darkest depths of Alzheimer’s, and Ralph told us that this was his one regret. He lived in a tiny apartment, drove an old car and was one of the most content and joy-filled people we had ever met. He volunteered for projects that benefitted the poorest area residents, loved birds, good food and wine and made a friend of almost everyone he met. Ralph’s last project was the construction of a butterfly house, which is now complete. It bears his name, and we will visit it shortly after we arrive back in Panama to pay tribute to our dear friend.

Unexpected Joys and Opportunities

“Look for the surprises.” I’ve said this time and time again on this blog, and I’m not done. Our flexibility in dealing with the occasional travel lemon, and our openness to embracing new people and situations have enabled us to make 2016 our best travel year ever.

Marc and Jacquie:

While volunteering in the green room at the Boquete Jazz and Blues Festival in February, Simon noticed a couple wearing Rotary pins. Their names were Marc and Jacquie, friends of harmonica great, Lee Oscar from way back. Lee’s request to let them spend some time with him in the green room before his performance was granted, and seeing the pins, Simon couldn’t help starting up a conversation.

The four of us clicked, and in March, we visited them for a couple of days in Coronado Beach.

When we returned to Boquete, we had a wheelchair in our car. The chair was one of several left over from a Coronado Rotary Club project in which Marc and Jacquie had been heavily involved. Our chance meeting with this delightful couple ended with new friends in our lives, and a young boy in Boquete receiving a life-changing piece of equipment.

Nitya:

Over the last three years, Simon, Otto and I have volunteered as English language facilitators for Diverbo in Spain and Germany. Diverbo is a language immersion program geared primarily to professionals requiring a working command of English. The Diverbo staff and volunteers spend a week working on helping the students improve their skills. Everyone in every session has been a joy to know, But some stand out.

This year, during our Diverbo session at La Alberca in Spain, we met Nitya, a charming and fascinating volunteer from India. Considering most of our fellow volunteers have been British, Canadian and American, Nitya added a new and welcome ingredient to the international stew.

India has always fascinated me from historical, cultural and geographical perspectives, and Nitya was a wealth of information and insight. When we parted company, she invited us to visit her in Bangalour. We couldn’t do it this year, but a visit to India has become even more desirable for the future.

Jane and Duncan:

We met Jane and Duncan in Stockholm at TBEX Europe, an international travel bloggers conference. To be exact, we actually met this Australian couple during a pre-conference overnight fam (familiarization) trip to several of the islands in the Stockholm Archipelago.

Jane and Duncan - the ToTravelToo Team (photograph provided by Jane)
Jane and Duncan – the ToTravelToo Team (photograph provided by Jane)

If you think we’re crazy, these two have spent the last three years traveling the world as house sitters. They are personable, practical and smart, which is part of why their chosen passion works so well for them.

Jane and Duncan have been housesitting in Panama for the last few weeks, and are a few short miles away from where we’re staying in Boquete. We arrived today, and getting together with them is at the top of our list.

Fah:

She was on the prowl. And why not? Fah was a producer and host of The Passion Thailand, a popular magazine-style program on Thai TV. Her mission at TBEX in Stockholm was to find new stories. She had a local videographer with her, and when she cast her net, Simon, Otto and I found ourselves ensnared in it.

Fah from The Passion Thailand (photograph courtesy of Fah)
Fah from The Passion Thailand (photograph courtesy of Fah)

During an hour of down time at the conference, Fah interviewed us on our travels with Otto, and why we, at our time of life, have chosen to take to the skies and roads to discover, learn and savor.

Fah interviewing us in Stockholm (photograph provided by Fah)
Fah interviewing us in Stockholm (photograph provided by Fah)

Fah sent us the link when the show was aired, and she had done an excellent job interviewing and editing. If you decide to check it out, don’t miss the rest of the program. It’s definitely worth the time.

Sara:

During what turned out to be our last year in Atlanta, we were one of three Rotary host families for a student from Sweden. Her name was Sara, and while she was with us, our lives were enriched by her presence. This was not only an opportunity for Sara to attend college for a year in Atlanta, it was a tremendous learning experience for us.

As soon as we knew we would be in Sweden for TBEX, we contacted Sara via Skype, and arranged to meet her after the conference.

Lunch with Sara (photograph provided by Sara)
Lunch with Sara (photograph provided by Sara)

We spent a delightful day with Sara in an unpronounceable town halfway between Stockholm and the unpronounceable town in which she lives. It was impressive to see how she had matured without having lost her gentle nature and positive outlook.

My Parting Shot of 2016

One of my fondest memories of Ralph was the sincerity in his voice when he would tell us how thankful he was for the privilege of living the life he had. And this is what we are all about in our so-called retirement. We want to live like Floyd and Ralph, and all the people we’ve know who embrace life and live it to the fullest. We plan to be among the winners when we die. Until then, we will travel, volunteer, love our children, family and friends, welcome new friends into our lives and do our best to make vodka lemonade out of every lemon life hands us.

Wishing all of you a happy and prosperous New Year. May 2017 be your best year ever!


What rings your chimes, and makes your little heart go pitter-patter? And what are you doing to make that passion a reality? Let us know in the comments.

16 Comments

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    Heather

    Jan 02, 2017

    Reply

    Happy New Year to you all! Loved reading about your travels! Xo

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      Penny

      Jan 02, 2017

      Reply

      Glad you enjoyed the post. Hope you are well, and that you'll have a kick-ass 2017! We'll be in Montreal in May, so shoot me an email if you want to get together and/or see my mother.

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    Elizabeth

    Jan 01, 2017

    Reply

    Loved reading this Penny - sort of brought together what we already knew plus quite a few surprises. What an amazing pair you are. Looking forward to seeing you in 3 weeks and sharing a bit of your life in Boquete - hopefully we'll have a few adventures to share with you by then too. On our way to Ecuador now!

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      penny

      Jan 01, 2017

      Reply

      So glad you enjoyed the post. Writing really put the year in perspective for me. We can't wait until you get here later this month! We're really looking forward to showing you around the Panama we have come to know over the last three years, and to hearing about your adventures in Ecuador!

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    Evelyne Novello

    Dec 31, 2016

    Reply

    Beautiful, inspiring article!!! Love the pix and insights into some of the folks you have met along the way. Wishing you a wonderful journey through 2017!!

    • avatar image

      Penny

      Dec 31, 2016

      Reply

      Thank you, friend, and back at you! Hope 2017 will be the year we have our long-overdue reunion outside cyberspace!

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    Stella Bouldin

    Dec 31, 2016

    Reply

    Great post Penny. It is amazing how time seems to flight when we are doing something we enjoy! Happy and safe travels into 2017 as you continue to explore the world :)

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      Penny

      Dec 31, 2016

      Reply

      Thank you, Stella. So true. Time does fly when you're busy, and twice as fast when you're happy, too. Hope you have a wonderful 2017!

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    Susan Schongalla

    Dec 31, 2016

    Reply

    Thank you Penny for capturing your 2016 in such a wonderful way and reminding us all that our years can, and should be, as rewarding as yours if we just put our minds to it. Thank you too, for all of your support and encouragement as I muddle my way through the travel writing process. I will follow up once we return to the US to let you know how the winter of '17 turned out for us. Happy New Year to you and Simon (and a hug to Otto!) from Chaing Mai, Thailand!

    • avatar image

      Penny

      Dec 31, 2016

      Reply

      Thank you, Sue. Hope 2017 will be your best ever, and that you'll have lots to write about when you get back. Can't wait to hear about all your adventures!

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    Dawn Engler

    Dec 30, 2016

    Reply

    Wow, Penny. Great thoughts. Loved reading these bits! My parents traveled the US in a motorhome for a good 10 years until my Dad passed. My Mom still reads off "my" list of places I need to visit. I can't wait. Enjoy your travels, I love reading about them.

    • avatar image

      Penny

      Dec 30, 2016

      Reply

      Thank you, Dawn. I love reading your writing, too! Looks like your parents set a good example for you, and you're living it. Hoping 2017 will be your best year ever!

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    Karen Padilla

    Dec 30, 2016

    Reply

    Beautiful stories of friendship around the world. I personally know how true it is that things can quickly change in life no matter how well-laid your plans are. While we don't travel by air any more, we can still travel by car, boat, bus or train. We have discovered things we never knew existed just by taking a road less traveled. We have met wonderful people (you, Simon and Otto included) along the way. Looking forward to traveling to Arizona in April to welcome our daughter and her fiance home from their 2 years of travel. Hope to see you some where in 2017. Safe travels.

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      Penny

      Dec 30, 2016

      Reply

      I knew this post would touch a chord in you. After all, you are making lots of vodka lemon-aid these days. What's so impressive is that you are finding many ways to make the most of what you still have, instead of whining about the challenges ahead of you. I know people like that, and although I sympathize with them, it's hard to be around them. Both Simon and I have so much admiration and respect for you, and hope the four of us will meet up again some time soon. Wishing you and all the family much love and opportunity in 2017!

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    To Travel Too

    Dec 30, 2016

    Reply

    What a year you guys have had! Looking forward to catching up with you.

    • avatar image

      Penny

      Dec 30, 2016

      Reply

      What a year indeed. And 2017 promises to be even more beautifully insane. Can't wait to get together with you here in Boquete, and hear about all your adventures, past, present and future.

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