Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Lights and Flowers

     On Christmas Eve we drove over to Kennett Square, Pa., to visit Longwood Gardens. The day was warm and overcast, in the 50s -- more like Oregon than Pennsylvania. We arrived around 3 in the afternoon, and as the skies darkened we walked up past the house, stopping to view the fountain display.

The du Pont summer house, through the trees

     Longwood lies in the valley of the Brandywine river, which flows into the Christina river near Wilmington, Delaware. It was created by Pierre S. du Pont (1870 - 1954) as his summer home, just ten miles from his main residence in Wilmington.

A Longwood fountain

     After watching the fountain display we headed up to the Conservatory, a huge greenhouse full of literally thousands of different plants and trees. 

A pond inside the Conservatory

     Du Pont was president of the DuPont chemical company. He later served as president of General Motors, while still sitting on the board of directors of DuPont.

Christmas tree made entirely of orchids

    He had an abiding interest in horticulture and like many captains of industry at the time he donated a significant portion of his fortune to charitable causes of one sort or another.

Orchid close-up

     He bought an old farm in 1906 -- to save the trees, he said -- and began to indulge his interest in horticulture, creating gardens, fountains, paths and pools.

Floating apples and cranberries

     He entertained his friends there in the summer, and eventually transformed the farm into one of the country's leading horticultural display gardens.

Not sure ... a mistletoe?

     Today the botanical gardens range over 1000 acres. The facility boasts the main house, the conservatory -- and woods and fields and fountains and gardens.

Red Hot Poker

     We were told that the staff starts decorating for Christmas in September, and altogether they put up a half million lights throughout the property. Longwood plays host to over a million visitors a year.

Christmas tree made of succulents

     By the time we went through the Conservatory and started down the lighted paths it had started to rain. But the rain did not dampen our enthusiasm.

Blue tree on the garden path

    Clearly, no one else was held back by the rain either. We heard German and French being spoken as we walked the grounds. People in wheelchairs. Families with kids. Elderly couples. Groups of teenagers.

Another lighted tree

     All to walk the grounds, gaze at the flowers, enjoy the incredible light display. All to enjoy the Christmas season.

And a merry Christmas to all!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Working on Social Security

     I am finally applying for my Social Security benefit. I say "finally" because I am already past my so-called full retirement age. I filled out the form online, earlier today, and found that it is remarkably simple and easy (as long as you know when and where you you born, when and where you were married (and divorced if that applies) and all your other other basic information). I'd recommend the online route to pretty much anyone.

    However, I did have a couple of questions, about when my payment will actually appear at my bank, and how my Medicare premiums will now get paid. So I called the 800 number:  1-800-772-1213. Mistake. After navigating through the multilevel phone tree, I was asked if  I want to speak to a representative.

     "Yes," I said.

     Click, click . . . then the mechanical voice informed me, "The wait is one hour and eighteen minutes."

     No kidding. An hour and eighteen minutes. So I guess my questions will remain unanswered. I'll find out when I start receiving benefits . . . whenever that is, however much it is, and whether or not my Medicare premium will be deducted.

     Social Security and Medicare are wonderful programs, but . . . .

     Anyway, speaking of retirement income, I have started writing a column for the U. S. News Retirement website, for a little extra money. I thought some people might be interested, and since I'm guessing not everyone follows the U. S. News Retirement website, I figured I'd give you a link to go check it out. (I can't reproduce the whole article here because, you know, I wrote it for U. S. News, not for Sightings Over Sixty. But I can give you the lead-in, and then if you're interested you can click over to the site.)

     Regardless, the U. S. News Retirement site does offer some good basic retirement advice, and I recommend perusing it now and then. Anyway, here's what I have to offer:

     "There are many reasons to keep working in retirement. Of course there's the money. But beyond that, it's something that gets you out of bed in the morning – a place to go, a schedule to keep and a routine to anchor your life. You may also want the social interaction you find at work, and perhaps the sense of accomplishment for a job well done.

     "Nearly three quarters of employed Americans plan to keep working after normal retirement age, according to a 2017 Gallup poll. But most people (63%) don't want a full-time job. They don't want the stress, and they sure don't want to spend all day in a workplace with a poisonous atmosphere. And that's one great aspect of a retirement job: You have can quit if you don't like it, because you're not dependent on the job to support your family . . ."

     And so, if you want some ideas for part-time work in retirement, click over to my story on U. S. News Retirement. I believe you can leave a comment there if you want; but better to come back here to leave a comment so people will see it.

     I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season. B and I are going to see a public garden and a lights display over the weekend. And then it's family, which is what the holidays are all about, aren't they?

Friday, December 15, 2017

From Bored . . . to The Front Bottoms

     A well-known pitfall of retirement is boredom. We have no children to take care of. No job to go to. In some ways we lead parallel lives to the rest of the community, as we go about our business and they go about theirs. B and I went to the annual meeting of the Center for Learning in Retirement the other day -- our business -- then yesterday B attended lunch at the Encore club, for women over age 60. Meanwhile, they are taking their kids to school, going to visit Santa at the mall, putting lots of presents under the tree.

Our new wallpaper
     Actually, I have not been bored so much as I feel as though I've been leading a boring life. There's a difference. I've been keeping busy, so I'm not bored. But I haven't been doing anything the slightest bit interesting -- running errands, buying presents, making trips to UPS and the post office, arranging travel plans for after the new year. In other words, I've either been sitting at my desk or driving around in my car.

     We are renovating our downstairs powder room. We spent way too much time in the past two weeks picking out a new tile for the floor, and even more time selecting just the right vanity and sinktop and faucet. Yesterday we went shopping for wallpaper, because we think wallpaper will give our tiny otherwise-unremarkable bathroom a bit of a . . . as B puts it, "wow" factor.

     Just so you know, while B seems to have some interest in wallpaper -- as well as a new window shade for our bedroom (I didn't even know we needed a new shade) -- I consider shopping for wallpaper a boring activity. I try mightily to show some engagement in the process, but it didn't take long for B to catch me pouting in the corner of the shop.

Poster for Champagne Jam
     I do have one piece of useful advice that I discovered this week. I took several packages to the UPS store to send to our children. It turns out that UPS is good for sending big packages short or medium distances. But I had a package going to the West Coast. It wasn't very big, wasn't very heavy. UPS charged me $16.80. It will arrive on Thursday. Later, I found out I could have mailed it at the U. S. Post Office, priority mail, for just $13.60, or $3.20 cheaper . . . and it would have arrived on Monday or Tuesday, two or three days faster!

     So those of you still to send out your presents . . . take heed.

     Otherwise, B and I are going over to Asbury Park, NJ, this weekend to take in a show at Convention Hall. The venue is on the boardwalk, on the beach. That alone should be fun.

     We're going to see Champagne Jam, a holiday party for a lineup of Indie Rock bands. The show is headlined by The Front Bottoms. If you don't like this sample, below, don't bother trying to look up another song, because -- again, according to B -- all their songs sound alike.

     I like them. But whether you like them or not, you might identify with their one lyric: "I miss the way things used to be."


Saturday, December 9, 2017

Two-Day Trip

     My sister and her husband, who live in Phoenix, visited New York City for a few days this past week. "Why don't you come up and join us?" she suggested. "You can stay with us."

     So B and I drove over to Hamilton, NJ, and took New Jersey Transit to Penn Station ($14.70 round trip with our senior discount), and then the subway (two trips for the price of one with senior discount) to the upper East Side where they were renting an airbnb (free for us, with the sister discount).

These two fellows were keeping watch at the house next door to our airbnb

     That evening we met my son and his girlfriend for a thoroughly immoderate steak dinner at Smith & Wollensky (senior discount, hah ... no way!). The next day we walked over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art ($17 with senior discount). On the way we noticed that 87th Street was closed off -- apparently there's a school on that street, and for recess they just close off the block.
 
Kids playing on a Manhattan street

     We were going to the Met to view the Michelangelo (1475 - 1564) exhibit. There were many drawings and a few sculptures. My favorite was Michelangelo's bust of Brutus.

Brutus looking powerful

     There was also a controversial portrait of the youth Andrea Quaratesi, 37 years younger than the great artist himself. Apparently Michelangelo was smitten with the young man, and, well . . . Michelangelo by that point was a very celebrated and powerful man. (Remember, those were different times -- they would even castrate some young male singers to keep their voices from changing.)

Andrea with hooded eyes

     A portrait of the great artist himself, painted by one of his students.

Michelangelo as painted by a protege

     After Michelangelo we had a little extra time, and so I ducked into the David Hockney (b. 1937) exhibit, over in the next wing. Hockney is an Englishman but lived for a number of years in California and is famous for painting scenes of mid-20th century swimming pools.

The splash is ill-defined, but it's kinda cool isn't it?

     Here's another one, painted from two separate photographs in 1972.

Two photos merged together in a painting

     This is a more recent (2006) landscape of the British countryside. "Trees are never more alive than in winter," Hockney said. "You can virtually see the life force, thinned but straining, pulsing, the branches stretch palpably, achingly toward the light."

A winterscape near Hockney's studio in Yorkshire

     After that B and I headed back to Penn Station for our trip home, while my sister and brother-in-law were staying on for a few more days. It was my sister who took this photograph, as the two of them walked across Central Park at dusk, looking across the lake to midtown Manhattan.

New York skyline from Central Park

     A memorable little mini-trip. Isn't it wonderful that we're retired and can do these things!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

What Makes Us Happy?

     There is no doubt we have some issues to face when we retire. We may have money problems or health problems. We may face episodes of boredom and loneliness, or fear that we'll become irrelevant as our careers fade into the distance and our children increasingly develop their own lives. But do these issues stand in the way of our happiness -- any more than any of the other problems we faced along the way?

     Psychologists have demonstrated that each of us has our own individual set point of happiness. As events unfold in our lives we may temporarily become more or less happy, but then as time goes on we revert to our own mean level of happiness. However, those same experts also tell us that as we get older, our happiness set point gradually goes up. In other words, most people get happier as they get older.

     Then retirement gives us a bonus. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, retirement by itself often produces a positive impact on people's sense of well-being, a feeling that lasts for a considerable length of time. Why? Because there are fewer demands on our time, and we have more control over our lives. We experience less pressure, less stress; and we enjoy a less-hectic lifestyle.

     So what can we do to bolster our happiness levels as we retire and get older? You may have your own ideas -- and I'd love to hear them -- but here are five ideas I have as they apply to my own life. 

     Don't worry about money. Easier said than done. But multiple studies have shown that after a certain basic level of income that covers housing, health care and other necessities, there is no relationship between how much money we have and how happy we are. What matters is what we focus on. So there is no reason to envy those who have more than us, for they are not happier than we are. But there is plenty of reason to focus on the blessings we enjoy in life, whether it's close family ties, a supportive group of friends or an opportunity to spend time pursuing an activity we love.

     Use money to purchase experiences, not possessions. Many of us have recently downsized and spent countless hours disposing of carloads of material possessions. Some of those things are valuable -- but almost always for the memories they evoke, not for their intrinsic market value. B is always reminding me that it's not important to drive a fancy car, or watch a bigger TV. We should use our money to create positive and lasting memories with our friends and children, or just for ourselves. So we don't live in the most exclusive neighborhood, we don't shop at Nordstrom's. Instead, we  go on vacation, invite friends for dinner, organize a family get-togethers -- and B has been known to pay for those who can't afford to come.

     Make time for friends and family. You can see a theme developing here. We all know that shared experiences bring more happiness than those experienced alone. Why else do people go on Facebook or Instagram? Just think of the last time you ate alone in a restaurant with your nose stuck in a book or magazine. It probably wasn't much fun. But when you go to the same restaurant with friends, you almost always have a good time talking and laughing and sharing your stories.

     Take care of yourself. People in poor health almost always report lower levels of happiness than people who are in good shape. It works the other way around, too. People who eat better, get more exercise and suffer less stress tend to lead healthier and happier lives than the sedentary couch potatoes. So while we want to be connected to other people, we also want to make time to treat ourselves right. Surprisingly, some surveys have even shown that cosmetic surgery makes people happier, both in the short term and over longer periods of time. Why? Because nothing makes people feel better than knowing they look their best.

     Engage in an interesting activity. Not necessarily an activity that is interesting by some objective measure -- surfing in Hawaii, say, or acting in a play, or walking El Camino de Santiago -- but something that's interesting to you. It doesn't matter whether you're perfecting your golf game (by the way, did I tell everyone that I got a hole-in-one this past summer?!?), babysitting your grandchildren, doing arts and crafts or . . . or writing on your blog. The important thing is that we get involved in something that bounds us out of bed in the morning and gives us a sense of purpose. The happiest people view retirement not as an endless vacation, but as a chance to pursue new opportunities and take on new challenges.

     I've found that what makes us truly happy in retirement is that there are no more expectations. We don't have to please our parents, or bear responsibility for our kids. We can move to the city, or the country. We can do something, or do nothing. No matter how well-financed we may or may not be, we can live the lifestyle of the truly wealthy – that is, we can do what we want and answer to nobody.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Catch Up with These Blogs

     N. C. State beat North Carolina. And Stanford overpowered Notre Dame. I'm a happy man. Not that I watch a lot of football. I don't. But what else is there to do over Thanksgiving weekend?

     Well, you can catch up on your blogs . . .

     First of all, I just heard -- Kathy Gottberg has a new book out called Positive Aging. It has a long subtitle, but to see that -- and get your own copy of the book -- you'll have click on the link and go to amazon.

     Also, if you want to lower your holiday stress levels and avoid all the angst, check out her latest post 10 Ways to Rightsize Your Christmas. I like her advice, especially numbers 5, 9 and 10. But I have to admit, I'll never go for number 4.

     Meanwhile, Six Decades and Counting’s Meryl Baer spent Thanksgiving day with family, enjoying traditional fare and political discussions, but no yelling and screaming. Everyone in her family (that was at dinner!) is on the same political page. Travels to her holiday destination were bookended by hours of driving, summarized in On the Move Again.

Oops, I gave away the subtitle!
     Rita Robison of the Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide offers a list of What Not to Buy during the post-Thanksgiving sales. But her main focus is on Australia -- because  that's where she is right now.

     We're having a great time, she writes. It's too bad it's so far away and expensive to visit. Sydney has grown so much. Lots of cranes everywhere. The economy is good. Australia now has 24 million people. It had 11 million when I lived here in the late 1960s. A good part of the growth comes from Asians, who have discovered that Australia is in their backyard. And not just for tourists. Eastwood, one of the neighborhoods where I lived, is now 90 percent Asian, with homes costing upward of $1 million Australian (or about $760,000 American). On the front of the library, there is a mural with an Indian child, a white child, and an Asian child. It's a different place . . . and thriving . . . and so far away.

     For her part, Laura Lee Carter has been lost in gratitude this week, a very nice place to be. She says she has found a simple way to focus completely on Feeling Daily Gratitude -- which isn't hard to do when you wake up to a sky bursting with bright colors, as in A New Sunrise in Southern Colorado.

     Jennifer Koshak, of Unfold And Begin, notes that practice is important to creativity. But at times we need some inspiration, some help, and some guidance. So whether for your own needs, or as holiday gifts for those artists, crafters, writers and bloggers in your life, she shares 6 Unique Gifts To Inspire Creativity

     And finally, Carol Cassara offers a guest post from Gayle Kirk who has a website called A Healing Spirit. In her post The Bond of Love Is Never Broken she recognizes that many of us, especially during the holidays, find ourselves missing loved ones who have crossed over. So this piece on grieving might give us some comfort, because as Kirk points out, they are still with us, just in another form.

     Happy holidays to all, and may your upcoming Christmas season be cheerful and bright.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

There's a Generation Z -- Who Knew?

     We all know about the Greatest Generation and the Silent Generation and the Baby Boom Generation. And then there's Generation X, the people who followed on the heels of the baby boomers.

     And of course we've all heard about the millennials -- ad nauseum -- who are also known as Generation Y. By and large, these are the children of the baby boomers, born in the 1980s and 1990s. This cohort is some 80 million strong, and believe it or not, they now outnumber the baby boomers.

     And we thought we were the biggest kids on the block!

     Just f.y.i., there were some 76 million births in the United States from 1946 to 1964, the baby boom era. Of those original 76 million, about 13 million have died. But there are some 11 million immigrants who are now in their 50s and 60s. So if you count these "replacements" there are still some 74 million people who make up baby boomers in the U. S.

     But now I've come to find out there's a new generation. Generation Z. Jeez, doesn't that make you feel old?!?

     Generation Z consists of people born in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The oldest Generation Zers are beginning to graduate from college. And according to some reports, they have their own distinct view of the world.

     Gen Z is the first generation that grew up with the Internet and smartphones. These kids only know about things like landlines and AOL through history books and movies. They also grew up in a time of economic and political uncertainty -- think recession of 2002 and the bigger one in 2008-9 -- and have watched their millennial predecessors struggle to find jobs and become financially independent. Gen Zers are well-versed in technology. The brass ring in terms of jobs hangs in Silicon Valley, or other technology hubs, or else in the technology divisions of major companies.

     They grew up with social media, and so they want to work in collaborative teams and learn from their peers. They are less likely than millennials to want to be entrepreneurs. They would rather work for a big company that offers benefits and flexible work hours.

     Many of Gen Zers studied abroad in college and so they are interested in traveling for work and even exploring opportunities to work in another country. They are also used to real-time responses, and so are pushing for more frequent feedback at work. The annual performance appraisal is giving way to regular, ongoing feedback programs.

      On the other side of the equation, a survey of corporate managers found they are worried that Generation Zers will be hard to communicate with and hard to train. Older managers fear that Gen Zers feel entitled, and lack a purposeful work ethic. And they believe this younger generation may have difficulty making personal connections and working with others .

     But I remember when we baby boomers were entering the workforce, back in the 1970s. People thought we were lazy. They thought we only liked to sit around with our friends and get high. They thought we had it easy. We'd never experiencing the Depression, or a World War, and we were supposedly handed everything on a silver platter by our post-war parents. We felt entitled to a good job and respect from our bosses, simply because we were young and thought we were so wonderful.

     So . . . have things changed all that much? Well, one thing has changed. It turns out that the millennials and Generation Z are not really official generations, after all. They are merely convenient constructs developed by demographers and marketers. In fact, the baby boomers are the only demographically significant "generation" officially recognized by the U. S. Census Bureau. The baby boomers changed the world, like no other generation.

     Besides, there's another issue. What comes after Z? They've run out of letters!

     B and I had a grandchild born earlier this year. What are they going to call him and his friends? How will they get categorized? Right now he's just a baby, no different from my kids when they were babies, probably not much different from us when we were babies. But what is he going to be like -- what's the world going to be like -- in 20 or 25 years when he enters the workforce?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Pick Your Favorites

     As I mentioned in my November 4 post, I'm taking a photography course at home. While I'm here in South Carolina, as part of the course, I'm putting together a portfolio about the beach in November. The idea is to show the beach in its more natural state, after all the crowds have gone home.

     Most of the photos feature shots of sand and water and jetties. But I want to include a few photos of town as well. After all, when you think of the beach, don't you also call up the image of the dive bar, or the souvenir shop, the ice-cream stand or the restaurant with fishnets hanging from the ceiling? Here's a photo of a restaurant, taken through the front window.


     Ultimately I'll probably include two or three town shots in my portfolio. So, if you would do me the favor, could you tell me in the comment section below, which of these rank as your favorites. Here we have a souvenir shop, looking in the front door.


     Or . . . maybe this photo of a display which I found along the side of a building.


     Or, of this dog trying to look cool . . .
   

     But like I said, it's the people who count the most. Here's a fisherman out on the pier.


     And a woman lying on the beach . . .


     Or, do you prefer the long shot of the couple on the beach?


     Then we have a bird's eye view.


     And a seagull who ... she looks cold, doesn't she?


     Finally, a more abstract look at a fence.

   
     That's all I have for now. Again, I'd value your opinion on which are your favorites, hoping that at least a couple of them are interesting enough to catch and hold your eye.


     When I get home, and after I present my portfolio to the class, I'll be sure to bring you the results -- meaning, what the teacher and my classmates said about them. Thanks again!

Friday, November 10, 2017

What's a Snowbird?

     B and I are spending the first three weeks of November in the Carolinas. We came here to enjoy the warmer weather, to be sure, but the main reason we drove down here is because we stopped to see my daughter, who lives in Raleigh, NC, and then we're visiting with B's son (and now a grandson!) who lives in Charleston, SC. (We don't stay with her son . . . no way. We rent our own place out at the beach.)

     We will go home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Then I will depart for three weeks in Florida, before meeting up with B to spend the month of February back in Charleston.

     I invite B every year to go with me to Florida but she only went once . . . and won't go back. She doesn't like Florida. It might be interesting to interview her and do a post on all the things that are, in her mind, wrong with Florida.

     So anyway, we had this same schedule last year. It seems to be our developing pattern, now that B is retired. Three weeks in November, then for a month in February, with me taking a side trip to Florida. So . . . does that make us Snowbirds?

     I don't think so. The Carolinas are a place where many Northerners go to retire. But they're not visiting; they live here. It's a compromise. The winter can be chilly, but there's no snow like in the north. The summers are hot and muggy, but not as bad as Florida, and the brutal heat of summer doesn't last as long either.

     Not too many people come to the Carolinas just for the winter. The true Snowbirds go farther south, usually to Florida. From my experience you have to get south of Orlando before you can rely on a balmy January or February.

     Of course the West Coast has its own version of Snowbirds. They go from Oregon or Washington, usually to Arizona. If you live in California -- like the Carolinas -- you don't need to go anywhere else.

     But I don't think the Carolinas qualify us for Snowbird status. And three weeks in Florida is not enough time. Besides, doesn't Snowbird have a slightly negative connotation?

     Snowbirds are kind of a cliche. They are old and retired and wear funny-looking clothes. They are kind of selfish, only concerned with their own comfort level, people who abandon friends and family at the first sign of cold weather. They are, literally, fair-weather friends. Or maybe they're the much-hated one-percenters who can afford two homes and are gaming the tax system by claiming residence in a low-tax state, while they really continue to live and enjoy the amenities of the North.

     Okay, now I'm going too far. I don't mean to insult anybody. After all, my parents were full-fledged Snowbirds and they weren't one-percenters -- although they did wear funny-looking clothes. My dad favored a checked sport jacket, turquoise pants and he sometimes wore a hat and a tie that were at least 30 years old. (He never got a pair of white shoes, though . . . gotta give him that!)

     Besides, if I had my druthers, I'd probably be a Snowbird myself. Personally, I like Florida. I was even there once in the summer, watching July 4th fireworks, and I didn't find the heat and humidity all that oppressive. I already play golf, which seems to be a prerequisite for retiring to Florida (and Arizona too?). And according to B anyway, I already wear the funny-looking clothes. So, uh, I guess credit goes to B . . . for keeping me from becoming a cliche.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Which Do You Like Better?

     I am taking a photography course with an organization called the Center for Learning in Retirement, held at our local university in Pennsylvania. For our final project we have to put together a portfolio based on a certain theme.

     B and I just arrived at the beach in South Carolina. We'll be here for two weeks, seeing B's son and grandson, who live nearby in Charleston . . .  and, well, enjoying the sand and the surf and the little beach town and, hopefully, some warm weather.

     So I picked for my photography theme: November at the Beach.

     Ultimately, I have to put together a portfolio of about a dozen photos that encapsulate the feel of the beach at this time of year -- the Carolina beach after the season is over, after the crowds go home.

     So I'm asking for your help. I have a few photos here. Can you tell me in the comment section which of the two photos you like better? Or, please let me know if you don't like either of them -- be honest because I'll have to show these photos to my teacher and the rest of the class ... and, you know, I don't want to embarrass myself by presenting lousy photos. One problem with beach pictures is that they tend toward the cliche -- the setting sun, the breaking waves, the pretty flowers. Of course, a lot of what makes a good picture is not the subject matter, but how you look at it, the point of view.

     So anyway, if you'd do me the favor, please let me know which you like better . . .  Number 1:

No. 1

     Or Number 2:

No. 2

     I know, the photos are similar. But which captures the mood better? Or, again please be honest, are they both boring or too familiar?

     How about Number 3:

No. 3

     Or Number 4? They cover the same subject, but they are somewhat different, aren't they? Which one speaks to you better, No. 3 or No. 4?

No. 4

     How about this look at a beach road, with the shadows . . . You like Number 5 better:

No. 5

     Or this one, Number 6, which is a road of a different kind  . . .

No. 6

     And then I've got a closeup of a shell. Number 7 shows the shell through the water.

No. 7

     But does Number 8, with the shadow, seem better than No. 7 -- or are they both kinda boring?

No. 8

     And finally, which of these three do you like best . . . all playing with the late-in-the-day shadows. Number 9:

No. 9

     Or Number 10:

No. 10

     Or Number 11:

No. 11

     I appreciate your "votes" and thank you for your help. If you think this is fun, I'll show more photos later in the week. If it's not fun . . . well then, I'll just bug B with my photos. She's stuck here with me for two weeks and can't get away!