Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks

Since my blog day falls on Thanksgiving, I thought I would keep it short and sweet. I am thankful for so much these days, it's good to ponder my good fortune.

I am thankful for my wonderful husband, Ron; for his love, companionship, care, and friendship. I am also amazed by his tolerance of all my foibles. It ain't easy being married to a Haropulos woman.

I love and appreciate my immediate family - Mom, Xandy, Althea, and Jason, and every one of my extended family members. We share many treasured memories, and I look forward to creating more. I miss my Dad, but appreciate all he did to love and provide for us and help us grow into worthwhile adults.

My friends are a constant source of joy, comfort, and amusement. It has been a real pleasure to reconnect with so many via Facebook this year. Sometimes technology really can be a blessing.

This new life Ron and I have built in Chicago is so perfect for us at this point in our lives. We love our urban home, and all the stimuli that comes with living in the city.

Thank God for our health, and the ability to be mobile and enjoy walking, exercising, golf, and the other activities that help keep us feeling young.

And I give thanks for the opportunity to life a more simple life now, as a result of hard work and planning for many years. I need and want fewer "things", I have time to savor our blessings, and I am hopeful about our prospects for continuing to live an active life of comfort and joy for many years to come.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, with love from the Baileys.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

These Feet!

One of the things I will always remember about our recent trip to Europe was how much we walked! In four days in Rome, we figure we logged about 30 miles on foot – between our hotel and the Colloseum, through the Domus Aurea, to the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Vatican, the Pantheon, Palatine Hill, the Piazza Navona, the Forum Palatine Hill, the Piazza del Popolo, along the Tiber River, up the Via del Corso, across the Corso Vittorio Emanuele, and back and forth on the Via dei Fiori Imperiali. In Athens, we climbed the almost 500 feet to the Acropolis. In Santorini, we passed up the tram and took the 600+ steps up 890 feet to the top of the volcanic cliffs above the sea. Oh, these feet!

I loved every minute of our walking explorations. Fortunately, I was smart when selecting footwear to pack. My fabulous little silver gladiator sandals with heels were reserved for a dinner reached by taxi. For all other city excursions, I had my Skecher tennies, Privo boots, or Privo flats. On one eight mile day, I admit I had to stop at a pharmacy for an emergency purchase of a gel toe sleeve, which saved me from what could have been a painful blister. My feet performed admirably, pampered with afternoon naps, hot baths, and foot crème before bed. Not bad for 54 years old, huh?

Walking in an unfamiliar place really gives you time and the perspective to soak up the local atmosphere – the sights and smells, the overheard conversations, and window-shopping. I have happily dodged scooters in Rome, mad taxi drivers on Sicily, and a stampede of donkeys on Santorini. We didn’t always know where we were going, or even where we were, but we enjoyed each day’s journey immensely.

The point of all this is that I am thinking about health, energy, and mobility – three things I am fortunate to have and to be able to enjoy as an early retiree. Traveling on a cruise ship, I saw many people with obvious physical problems requiring walkers and wheelchairs, and some with no more issues apparent than I myself had two or three years ago (unwanted extra weight and a lack of energy).

Let’s all get up off the sofa and move for our futures! Walk, stretch, eat wisely, keep moving, and participate in life’s little daily adventures. You will be investing in your future health and happiness.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Buona Sera, Roma!

After months of anticipation and planning, weeks of pouring over the Italian phrase book, and the long, long flight to Rome, our Mediterranean adventure began on October 26th. It’s hard to describe the excitement with which we looked forward to exploring Rome for four days on our own. We arrived with no rigid schedule, no pre-determined must-do list, not even a map. Somehow the last few days of preparation had gotten by us and we found ourselves in Rome and on our way into the city in a car hired for us by our hotel – Hotel Capo D’Africa (www.hotelcapodafrica.com).

Hotel Capo D’Africa is a gem; a small, sophisticated property a few small blocks southeast of the Colosseum. The surrounding neighborhood is fairly quiet; a mixture of residential buildings, restaurants, a school, and a few small businesses. The hotel itself has 65 rooms, a small lobby and bar, a sun-filled rooftop terrace and breakfast dining area, and modern, well-equipped guest rooms. The helpful staff speaks multiple languages, including English. Once checked into our comfortable room, we succumbed to a long nap in preparation for going out that evening.

Later, awake and refreshed, we decided to head out on foot right away to get to know Rome. The Colosseum drew us toward it insistently. As twilight approached and lights added drama to the behemoth structure, we walked past, snapping photos and being completely mind-boggled by the sight. But the Trevi Fountain was our primary goal for the evening, so we walked on, and I hoped we would find somewhere good to eat in that area.

The plaza around the Trevi Fountain was packed with tourists, which tends to be a repellent to me and Ron. Neither of us likes crowds - one of the many reasons we didn’t choose to go on this trip during the summer months. But the fountain itself… Magnifico! The huge scale, the sculptures, the force of the water, and the lighting all make it a true sight to see, and particularly spectacular at night.

Walking around the area, we began to despair of finding a restaurant that wasn’t overly touristy, and that offered an interesting menu. It was a beautiful and mild evening, so we hoped to sit outside and soak in the atmosphere of the bustling city. We stumbled upon the answer on the Via S. Andrea Delle Fratte; the ristorante Sant’Andrea. White tablecloths and candles and wait-service on the sidewalk. Just what the doctor ordered. Well, that and a bottle of Italian wine. I mostly ordered in Italian, liberally sprinkling in per favore(s) and grazie(s), and it just made me feel good. I chose Spaghetti Carbonara (yeah, to heck with the low-carb thing in Italy), and Ron had their Veal Osso Bucco. Fabulous! Roman commuters buzzing home on scooters and various street performers provided the entertainment. Check out the video below for a brief sample of the accordionist who made me laugh and earned a tip for his cheesy performance in front of our restaurant.

video
A perfect evening, and a perfect beginning to our dream vacation. Buona sera, Roma.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Downside of City Living

I know that I gush about how great it is to live in an exciting city like Chicago. But I decided that, to be fair, I should also enumerate the negative aspects of urban living. Most days I revel in everything the city has to offer, and in many ways it’s more palatable because we are retired and can navigate the environment on our own flexible schedule. We avoid public transportation during rush hours, we shop and run errands on weekdays instead of weekends, and have the luxury of staying home when the weather is bad. So I still love living here, but the following is a reality checklist for anyone who may romanticize the idea of living in a big city:

HIGH COST: Everything costs more in the city. Property taxes are high, parking is outrageous, and insurance is higher (auto, home, and health), and groceries are expensive. The city of Chicago has the highest sales tax in the country right now – 10.25%. For major purchases, we sometimes venture outside the city and county. With condominium living you have a monthly assessment, and not infrequent special assessments (new roof, new water heater, drainage work, etc.). The higher cost often seems worth it, but it will also be a reason we don’t settle here for the long term.

CRITTERS: Rats. They aren’t unique to cities, but they are a fact of life. We have to be very careful about garbage storage by making sure everything disposed of is well wrapped and can lids are completely closed. In a year and a half here, I have only seen one rat behind our building – but I don’t look too hard. Our building has Orkin come every month. When downtown after dark, you’ll occasionally see something furtive, dark, and furry scuttle into or out of a sewer. Gross.

MASSES OF HUMANITY: You can’t always escape being shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of other people. We avoid the lakefront on the weekends, because there are thousands of people clogging the bike and walking paths and green areas. Sure, there’s room for everyone – but it’s just not as enjoyable with so many people around. We make plans to enjoy most public places when the majority of people are working. It works for us.

THE THREAT OF CRIME: It’s a city – there’s crime. It’s just something of which you need to be aware. We have a security system in our condo, and always arm it when we are away and when we go to bed at night. I don’t go walking by myself after dark. I often don’t carry a purse. My good jewelry is put away and secured, and not usually worn if I am walking or taking public transportation. I’m not afraid, but I am careful. And I check the crime report for our neighborhood every week.

Those are the biggies. For me, the positives far outweigh the negatives.