Monday, November 23, 2020

The Cost of Responsibility

Many years ago, early in my career, I had the opportunity to travel to Quebec City to give a presentation at a conference. I was terrifically excited. I'd never travelled to Quebec City, nor, for that matter, had I visited any parts of Canada east of Saskatchewan. 

The conference was in an area of rehabilitation in which I was developing some unique expertise. I applied to my employer for funding, and they agreed to pay for the the plane ticket, hotel room, registration, and my meals during the weekend of the conference. It was a very good career opportunity. The icing on the cake was that one of my best friends had also had a paper accepted at the same conference, and was planning to attend too. Fun!

I was a new mom at the time, and our baby was about eight months old. The dilemma I faced was how to attend the conference and also look after my daughter. My husband and I decided that we'd go to Quebec City as a family. That way, he could care for her while I was in the conference sessions. 

We also decided we'd both take some vacation time off and stay for a few extra days after the conference. My husband, of course, paid for his own plane ticket and expenses, and the baby flew for free. We rented a B&B for the extra days after the conference. 

The morning that we were to leave to fly to Quebec, my daughter woke up with a red rash on her face. She'd never had anything similar. However, she seemed happy and her behaviour was normal, and she did not have a fever. The spots seemed to be fading a bit, so we made our way to the airport for our flight. 

But I was consumed with anxiety. What if she had something contagious, like measles? Perhaps we'd be putting others on the flight at risk, crammed together in a row of seats for the hours it would take to fly from Vancouver to Quebec City. 

So, after being cleared for our flight when we went through inspection, I pointed out the rash and asked whether they could change our seating assignment so we weren't seated right next to anyone else.

Well, you've never seen airline officials move so fast. They whisked us out of the inspection area and put us into a holding room while they contacted their supervisor. The verdict was that we couldn't board the flight, or any flight, until we had medical clearance to fly. 

As we made our way back home, I felt like a fool. Why had I opened my big mouth? The airport personnel hadn't even noticed the rash until I'd pointed it out. The baby was clearly fine. She was gurgling happily in her car seat.  

It felt like a crisis. At that point in my career, it was inconceivable to not show up to deliver a presentation that I'd promised to give, that was already printed in the program, and that I'd spent many hours preparing. My employer had paid for the conference and flight. Would they have to forfeit the money? Would I have to pay them back? Would we forfeit the cost of my husband's flight and the deposit for the B&B? My husband had cancelled his clients' appointments for the week. We would "waste" precious vacation days. 

After some frantic phone calls, we were able to get in to see a physician that same day. The physician examined my daughter and declared that the rash was nothing serious, perhaps heat rash or a mild food sensitivity. She filled out a medical authorization form and the airline put us on a flight the next morning, by which time the rash had totally disappeared. 

With friend & daughter; Chateau Frontenac
 We arrived in time for me to attend the opening reception of the conference. The entire conference was excellent, and we had a wonderful time in Quebec City. We happened to be there at the time of lobster fest so we ate a great deal of yummy lobster. 

Strolling Around Quebec City
 For a long time, I thought the lessons that I had learned from this experience were:

  • Don't create problems for yourself by pointing out minor issues that the authorities otherwise wouldn't notice
  • Something that seems like a huge crisis in the moment often turns out to be a minor bump in the road
  • Always leave some extra time before and after a scheduled event when travelling, in case of unexpected delays.

But through our collective experiences during this worldwide epidemic that has been dragging on and on, I suddenly remembered this long-ago experience and realized that I learned something else, too. 

Because what if my daughter's rash had NOT been a temporary, minor occurrence? What if it had been been measles or chickenpox or some other very contagious disease, and by going on the flight we exposed someone else -- perhaps an expectant mother or an elderly person -- to an illness that could cause disability or death? My desire to attend a conference and to tour Quebec City would have seemed like trivial reasons to have put others at such grievous risk. 

There can be costs for making the responsible choice. 

But sometimes the costs of making an irresponsible choice can be ever so much higher. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Procrastination Kickstart

 

The Beauty of Nature Inspires Me
Have you ever had a big project that you keep putting off, day after day, week after week? 

No matter how much you mentally flog yourself, you can't get started. You find an endless number of other things that suddenly need to be done instead, and manage to put off starting the big project this morning, and this afternoon, and this week. The stress builds, and the lack of progress starts to feel like a crisis. You don't feel good about yourself.

Procrastination is something that I struggled with during my career. I was fortunate to have work that was very self-directed. I had a lot of choice in what projects I chose to take on, and the freedom to structure my work-time as I chose, as long as the work got done. For the most part, I thrived with this much independence. But the downside of all that freedom was that procrastination could strike, and there was no one to tell me what to do and make sure I did it. I remember some projects that "fell off the side of the desk," and I regret to this day that I procrastinated and never finished them (or sometimes, never even started them).

Of course, now that I'm retired, there's way less stress. But I still find there are certain things in life that I procrastinate on. One of the good things about my lifelong struggle with procrastination is that I've learned some strategies to address it. Here are some of them.

Am I procrastinating?

The first thing to do is to notice that I am procrastinating in the first place. 

I am a master of convincing myself that the reason I am not doing the project is because I am too busy, or because something else urgent has to be done first. I have to go out to get my daily exercise, or I have to clean the kitchen, or today is a perfect day to re-pot all the houseplants, or, etc., etc. If I keep myself in a whirl of busyness, I can justify to myself why I can't possibly start the project right now.

A variation on this is, I am so tired or overworked (because I've been so busy!) that I need to rest or do something fun and rejuvenating first. And the days go by. 

I Distract Myself by Going for Walks
And then something will pull me up short -- perhaps someone else has completed something similar to my project -- and I suddenly ask myself: "Wait! Why haven't I done MY project yet?" Or I start feeling really grumpy and annoyed with myself and I don't know why. 

If I stop and think about it, I realize I've been procrastinating.

What is the nature of the project?

Once I notice I've been procrastinating, it's time to figure out why. It turns out that I procrastinate on different things for different reasons.

There are things I have to do and things I want to do. There are things that are important, and things that are not very important.  

For example, I belong to a lot of different community groups. Often, in the excitement of the moment, I volunteer to do something, and then later find myself procrastinating and not wanting to do the thing I said I'd do. I feel as though I "have" to do it because I said I would. 

Strategies: Sometimes, the task is ill-defined or not super important, and just by having a conversation with someone, we decide to go a different route, and I'm off the hook. Sometimes it can be delegated. Sometimes, I simply buckle down and do it while making a promise to myself to not say "yes" so quickly next time when a volunteer is needed for that type of task. Externally imposed deadlines can be really helpful (e.g., it needs to be done by the next meeting). Often, once I make myself do it the first time, it becomes much easier subsequently. Little regular tasks are more likely to get done if I put them into a routine.

There are some things that are unpleasant but very important. These are things you HAVE to do, but really don't want to. An example is having a medical procedure that is necessary for quality of life. Helpful friends who have had a similar procedure can take some of the uncertainty away by talking you through it, making it easier to take action. Support groups or websites or fellow bloggers can be great resources, providing information and encouragement. 

When I discover myself procrastinating about things that I WANT to do, figuring out why I am procrastinating can be a lot more perplexing. 

Do I know how to do it?

Sometimes, I procrastinate because I don't know how to do something. The project can feel too big and overwhelming. The two most helpful strategies for me, in this case, are to research the topic area and to make a plan. Once I gather information about what needs to be done, and ways other people have done it, the project becomes less intimidating. With the information about what needs to be done, I can then sit down and make a plan. 

For a big project, I like to write my plan out. I break it down into specific goals and sub-goals, and list a number of very small, easy steps under each goal. Once I've broken it down into extremely small steps, it is much easier to begin. The whole project might be big, but I know I can figure out how to do each tiny step, one by one. 

What is the fear that keeps me from starting?

Very often, the root of procrastination is psychological. There is a deep-seated fear that your intended project, for some reason, triggers. Perhaps you're terrified of public speaking, and you know that once you've completed your project, you'll have to present it to others. So you don't even start, as a way of avoiding that scary future situation. 

In my case, very often my fears are related to perfectionism and fear of failure. Maybe my project won't be successful. Maybe what I produce won't be "good enough." It will fall short of perfect and reveal that I am a flawed human being.

When I finally zero in on the underlying fear, I can take some of the power out of that fear. Recognizing the nature of the fear helps to get me unstuck.

I can give myself a pep talk, reminding myself of other things I accomplished in spite of being afraid.

I can remind myself that no one really cares about my project but me, or how "perfect" it is. I can remind myself that it's not either/or: fail vs. perfect. There are a lot of gradations in-between. It is the journey that counts, not only the product at the end

Nature's Glory puts Fears in Perspective
The value of examining procrastination

Ultimately, personal projects and goals we set for ourselves (as opposed to those things we say we'll do to please others) are deeply important to who we are as people and what's important in our lives. If we wiggle out of doing things that are essential to our core values or stepping stones toward our life purpose(s), it is a sad personal loss, and sad for others, too, who'll never benefit from our gifts.  

Examining the causes of procrastination can get us unstuck and help us learn about ourselves. The things that seem hardest are often our best learning opportunities, and procrastination can be a signal that we are approaching one of those moments of transformation. 

So, what kind of project is it, you ask, that leads me to reflect on procrastination? I have needed a procrastination kickstart because I am seeking to publish my novel, and am starting to embark on that publication process.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Pumpkin Season

Autumn is my favourite season. (Although, I have to admit, I also love Winter, Spring, and Summer.) But yesterday when I woke up, the rain was pounding down and the wind was howling. There was fresh snow on the mountain tops. I thought twice about loving Fall. 

 But then I put on my rain clothes and went out for a nice long walk, which included a stop at the Little Free Library in my neighbourhood. I picked up new Kate Quinn novel, and tucked it inside my raincoat to keep it dry. I admired the Halloween decorations at various houses. And I was back to loving Fall.

Today the sun shone gloriously all day long. The leaves are multi-coloured, a perfect Fall day. Our back garden is a vision to behold on a day like this.

I went to a local pumpkin patch with my daughter, son-in-law, and two grandsons.

We each chose a pumpkin to take home.  Later, I went for a walk on the forest trails near my home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tree frogs are very noisy along the trails at this time of year. I paused to look for a frog that was croaking right beside my toe. But they are very good at camouflage. Although I stood there for several minutes looking for it, I could not spot it.

A couple of days ago, I climbed up Notch Hill, and the views were spectacular. The arbutus trees were covered with red berries, which made them look very festive.

Yes, it's settled. I love sunny Autumn days. Rainy ones are fine, too. They're great for rain walks, reading in front of the fireplace, writing, and baking pies. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the last couple of weeks, I've baked two pies -- a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, and an apple pie this week. Rob is happy. Isn't retirement grand?

Sunday, September 20, 2020

A Retirement Gift to Myself

Livin' the Dream
Last weekend I bought a present for myself -- a retirement gift. I retired three years ago, so this gift has been a little slow in coming. In fact, I have waited far longer than I can believe for this.

I bought an ocean kayak!

I am now the happy owner of a beautiful Seaward Costa Grande. She's named "Sunny Side Up."

Sunny Side Up

First Launch










There it is, loaded into the back of Rob's pickup truck on the day we brought it home. It's a fibreglass kayak, gently used: 16.2 feet long and 52 pounds. I was looking for a kayak suitable for a smaller paddler, and lightweight enough that I will be able to manage loading and unloading it.

Seaward is a local Vancouver Island company. Today I took her out for her maiden voyage.  

Heading out into the Bay
 

Rob helped me launch at a favourite beach not far from where we live. I spent about an hour paddling along the shore and around some little islands. I cruised past a sea lion up on a rock, who watched me with a wary eye. Porpoises were swimming at a distance. It was really fun.

When I say that this purchase has been a along time in coming, I am not exaggerating. I first tried kayaking 35+ years ago in the early 1980s when I lived in Vancouver. I instantly fell in love with the sport. Two of my close friends bought themselves kayaks around that time and began going on expeditions to remote locations along the west coast of BC. 

My Friend W out for an Evening Paddle

 As much as I wanted to join them, I did not because year after year, there was always something that stopped me. I had no money. I moved to the prairies to accept my first career job. I moved back to the BC coast and had a baby, and then two more. I moved up north to the interior of the province. I became a single parent. I worked long hours at my job -- 60 or more hours a week. I became an empty-nester and almost immediately moved to the prairies again. Because of these various circumstances, it never seemed to be the right time to invest in a kayak. 

Bowron Trip: First Portage

But whenever I had a chance, over the years, I rented or borrowed a kayak and went out on the water. 

My friend W, one of the two friends that bought a kayak in the early '80s, has lent me her kayak many times over the years. I rented a kayak and went on a overnight expedition with W and some other friends in those early years. 

In 2009, Rob, my son, and I paddled the eight-day Bowron Lakes loop with friends B & V and two other people. In fact, Rob and I were in an 18-foot freighter canoe set up with oarlocks, and we rowed the Bowron.


Bowron Trip: Enjoying the Sunshine

Three of our party were in kayaks and the two others were in a canoe as well. My son used a kayak borrowed from my friend B, the red kayak in the header photo for this blog post. Sometimes my son and I switched for a while and I kayaked while he rowed the canoe with Rob. 

In the photos to the left, top to bottom, you see our group beginning the first portage. In the middle photo, we've stopped at a sandy beach for lunch and to bask in the sun. Our freighter canoe is in the foreground. In the bottom photo, my son is paddling down the Cariboo river.


Bowron Trip: Son Paddling Down the River
This was a five-mile stretch of river that connected two of the lakes. For this part of the trip, Rob and I paddled rather than rowed the canoe. It was a very special trip, and it reinforced my desire to get a kayak. But then I moved to the prairies, again.

 In 2015, Rob and I went on another fabulous trip -- an eight-day sailing trip on a 75-foot schooner in the ocean waters around Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands). We travelled from Moresby Camp down the east side of Moresby Island through the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve to SGang Gwaay Llanagaay (Ninstints) and back. Ninstints is a Haida village site that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

Burnaby Narrows: Sea Life

I had always intended to write about this amazing experience here on my blog, but still have not done so. The schooner had two kayaks on board, so I had several chances to paddle around.

I spent a lovely afternoon paddling through Burnaby Narrows on Haida Gwaii. It is an area with incredibly rich sea life. I took these photos with my phone looking down through the clear plastic viewing window on the kayak. The photo below is of a moon snail egg casing -- it looked like a rubber tire.

Burnaby Narrows: Moon Snail


Morning Paddle


While I was paddling around in Burnaby narrows, a group of kayakers came through. I chatted with them and found out they were members of the Nanaimo Paddlers. I said to them, some day I will move to Vancouver Island and join a paddling group!

In the photo to the right, I was out for an early morning paddle. I saw a commotion onshore and paddled in to see a raccoon in its natural habitat. Haida Gwaii is a very special part of the world and I feel very lucky to have spent time there. 

Since retiring to Vancouver Island, I have made a couple of friends here who are kayakers.  I have joined a small kayaking group.

This is a story of delayed gratification -- 35 years of waiting.  And now I finally have my own kayak!

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Entertaining in the Age of COVID-19

As the pandemic drags on and on, many of us are trying to find ways to live our lives again, while still following COVID safety guidelines. I'd like to share some of my strategies for hosting friends and family during these very strange times. 

Sunset at Parksville Community Beach

 Following Public Health Guidelines

Before I write about some of my strategies, I'd like to emphasize that I always look at our provincial public health website (BCCDC) first, and follow the guidelines there. In British Columbia, we have been successful at flattening the curve and reducing the infection rate, although during the last three weeks the number of new cases per day has begun to rise alarmingly. Lately, we've had upwards of 100 new cases per day identified, whereas a couple of months ago we were down to as few as 4 new cases a day across the whole province. On Vancouver Island itself, as of today, we've had a cumulative total of 190 COVID cases since the pandemic began.

During the flattest part of the curve, and in congruence with the advice of Dr. Bonnie Henry, our Provincial Health Officer, Rob and I felt comfortable gradually increasing the frequency of our outdoor socializing, and have hosted a number of outdoor get-togethers.

Knowing our Risks and Risk Tolerance

How we have evaluated our personal risk and the risk we pose to others has changed gradually as more scientific knowledge about the virus has become available. So our practices have slowly changed, and might change again should we need to adapt to an upsurge in infection rates. 

We have educated ourselves about what we need to do to stay safe and keep others safe. (See BCCDC  website linked above.) We are fortunate that we live in a semi-rural area and we're both retired. Therefore, we're not subject to possible exposure in a workplace. As well, neither of us has a pre-existing medical condition that puts us more at risk. Our biggest personal risk factors are our ages (64 for me, and 71 for Rob), and the fact that Rob is male. Neither of us is a caregiver for someone with fragile health.

Of course, other people have different risk factors to consider, depending on where they live, their personal health situation, work status, and their household members' circumstances. So consider nothing that I write here as a recommendation; it might not apply to you. Follow your local public health advice instead!

 Where to Meet

Mothers' Day 2020

The short answer to this is -- outdoors! We live in a climatic zone where May through September weather is usually quite lovely, and fine for gathering outdoors. 



One of our first get-togethers was with our daughter and her family for Mothers' Day in May. We met at a local beach. We brought separate food for ourselves and they brought their own picnic. We made sure to maintain two meters (six feet) of distance. 

Over time, we formed a bubble with our daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren, so we now share food, sometimes meet indoors, and are more relaxed about the the two-meter distancing.



As well as meeting at parks, we have hosted people for gatherings on our deck. We have a large outdoor deck, where it is possible to have 10 or more people and still maintain appropriate social distancing.

Service Group Meeting Outdoors
For example, we hosted a meeting of our service club on our deck. I forgot to take a photo of any gatherings on our deck, but have included one here of our service club meeting outdoors at our local community centre, where physical distancing was possible. (Note that members of the same household were able to be seated close to each other.)

We've also continued to make good use of local parks. For example, my son and girlfriend met us at a popular picnic site at a lake. They drove separately and I brought my grandsons in my car. Although other families were at the park, we had no difficulty maintaining a two meter distance from them.

Picnic at a Park

We shared the same picnic, but used hand-sanitizer liberally. 

Finally, in our jurisdiction, public gatherings are legally limited to 50 people. However, for us, practically, we have limited gatherings we've hosted to a handful of people, and never more than a number that can easily keep a 2 meter distance on our deck.   

Cleaning and Sanitizing

People who know me well know that housecleaning is not my favourite activity. Nevertheless, I have done a lot of cleaning during the pandemic. 

When people come over to our deck, we clean the table and chairs with disinfectant. If no-one has used the deck for a number of days, we leave it at that (because the virus cannot survive for long outside in the UV light). But if it has been used recently, we also clean and sanitize the railings and any other surface that might be touched. When guests come, they select a chair cushion from the storage box, so that they are the only person who has touched their cushion.

We are fortunate to have more than one bathroom. So if we are expecting anyone to come over, we designate the main bathroom as the guest bathroom and do not use it. I clean and sanitize the entire bathroom, paying particular attention to high-touch surfaces such as light switches, faucets, door knobs, and the flusher handle. I provide single use towels, soap, and a spray bottle of disinfectant. I leave the lights on, toilet over up, and door open. After the gathering, I leave the bathroom to rest for a couple of days, then clean it again. 

We provide bottles of hand-santizer placed within easy reach of the guests. When cleaning up afterwards, I wash my hands with soap or sanitize them after handling anything someone might have touched.

In the cases when a family member has come to stay with us (my son or middle daugh

Wearing a Mask my Friend Made Me

ter), I cleaned the spare bedroom and then left it to rest for 2-3 days before they came. They had the main bathroom for their own separate use. Although they were inside the house,we practiced physical distancing during their visit (mostly). 

Food and Drink

As I mentioned above, early in the pandemic, we did not share food. Everyone brought their own. But as we've decided to once again offer guests food and drink, I have developed the following methods to reduce risks. I don't use all of these suggestions at the same time. It depends on who is present and their comfort level, as well.

  • no potlucks. I am the only person preparing food
  • drinks in cans and prepackaged items (although too much packaging is poor environmental practice, and the virus seems to be able to live longer on plastic packaging than on food)
  • only the host pours drinks
  • separate serving bowls and serving implements for the other couple
  • separate condiments for the non-household members
  • pre-plated desserts rather than self-serve, or only the host serves
  • provide hand-sanitizer and explicitly ask everyone to sanitize their hands before and after serving themselves
  • only one person or couple goes to the food table at a time
  • maintain 2 meter distance between people
  • compostable paper plates and compostable disposable cups
  • mask wearing except when eating
  • as the person preparing the food and setting out the dishes, I wash my hands before and after touching anything
  • guests not allowed to help with clean-up

Another thing we keep in mind is being prepared to cancel on short notice if either Rob or I don't feel well, or if the weather doesn't permit gathering outdoors. And, similarly, it's necessary to be understanding when a guest cancels, or doesn't feel comfortable gathering with others. I think it is good practice to explicitly remind people not to attend if they are not feeling well.

I will be interested to hear what others are doing in terms of hosting gatherings in places where the health standards permit some degree of social gathering.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Summer Fun With the Grandkids

One of the great joys of being retired and living back in BC again is that we have ample opportunity to spend time with our four grandchildren. Two live near us on Vancouver Island, and two live in Northern BC. 

Exploring Qualicum Estuary
 In the first half of the summer, we did several excursions with the two who live nearby. They are 5 and 8 years old.

E Claims his Private Island
Let's Build a Castle


 

 

 

 






 

The favourite destination on "Grandma Days" is the big playground at the Parksville Community Park. 

We Love to Climb
"Climb on, Grandma. We're taking off."












Ice Cream Cones, then a Walk on the Boardwalk at Parksville



Testing the Adult Gym Equipment

A Swim and a Picnic at Spider Lake











Bike Ride

Because our other set of grandchildren live in the northern part of the province, we don't get to see them as often. However, we were very fortunate to travel to Maui with them in late January, before the corona virus restrictions began. And we also were able to visit them this summer. 



They are 7 and 5, and love to ride their bikes. The first rainy morning, they rode their bikes and we walked through the new subdivision nearby that is under development. 

The dog enjoyed the walk too.

 

Grandpa and Granddaughter

We explored the Railway and Forestry museum, which was fascinating.



 

"Hurry up, Grandma!"











For Rob, a retired locomotive engineer, it was a walk down memory lane. The kids liked it because there was lots of interesting equipment to climb on. 

"Cool, I can reach the pedals."
"I'll race you!"












 

A highlight of our trip was a hike through The Ancient Forest. There were huge trees, the oldest perhaps 2,000 years old. 

Fallen Giant
On the Boardwalk












Admiring the Waterfall
Bat Girl












Another day, and another excursion on bikes. This on included a playground, a water park, and some time spent beside the river skipping stones.

"Let's shoot some leaves up the jets of water."
"That one skipped three times!"

Our grandchildren bring such joy into our lives.