Saturday, February 9, 2019

About Commitment

Two Virtues

Last month, I attended a weekend yoga workshop taught by one of my excellent yoga instructors. Each time she does one of these workshops, she designs it around a theme taken from the list of 100 virtues. This particular workshop focused on commitment and self-discipline. 

As it happens, commitment and discipline are two areas in which I believe I am quite strong. Now, if the focus had been patience, tolerance, or confidence, it would be a different story!

In general, I don’t really struggle with making a commitment to something. And, once I have agreed to do something, I follow through and do it. Not necessarily quickly. The opposite of procrastination (promptness?) also is a virtue that I could use some work on. 

Similarly, with self-discipline. I am quite capable of being a stern taskmaster for myself. In fact, I remember certain times during my work life when I spent 14 solid hours at my desk to complete a necessary project, at a high standard, and met the deadline.


In the yoga workshop, I found myself re-thinking commitment and discipline to take it to a deeper level than my initial smug response, which was, “Oh, I’m pretty good at those virtues.” And I have continued to ruminate on commitment and self-discipline in the weeks since.

Having strong self-discipline means sometimes pushing yourself to complete something for a deadline, or persevering with doing a task or activity even when you would rather be doing something else. With good self-discipline, a person can master new skills, develop behaviours that help achieve their goals, and follow through on commitments they have made. 

But doing that too much, day after day, is not a good thing. Head down, flogging oneself to keep going, ignoring the need for rest; that is when self-discipline can become excessive and unhealthy. I am sorry to say, that kind of single mindedness describes much of my past work behaviour.

Similarly, a problem that I have with commitment is not lack of commitment or failure to follow through on a commitment. Rather, it is over-commitment. I have a history of committing to more than I can possibly do. It’s not because I can’t say “no” to people, but rather because I have strong sense of duty, and a vastly over-extended sense of what I can accomplish. Pair this with a slight tendency towards perfectionism, and voila! A recipe for stress and burnout. 

So, my take-away from the workshop was, a virtue, taken to excess, becomes a problem.

Application To Environmentalism

As I continued to think about commitment, I considered one area in which I have been struggling to make a commitment. 

Like so many of us, I am very worried about global sustainability: climate change, loss of species diversity, environmental degradation, and extreme weather events. I have been struggling to figure out what to do about it. The problem is urgent, and also so massive. Although it might be the most important thing I could devote my time to now that I am retired, I feel paralyzed by helplessness. I can’t figure out what to do, and therefore, what actions to commit to.


I’m not. Stated this way, it appears ludicrous. I am one little person. I am not going to solve climate change. I am not going to save the world (or, at least, the human inhabitants of the world).

So, another lightbulb moment in the workshop had to do suddenly understanding why I was having such a hard time deciding the best way to commit myself to supporting global sustainability. I was setting an impossible expectation for myself.

And when the problem of saving the whole world slid off my shoulders, I felt much more at peace, and also I was able to think more clearly about what positive steps I actually could do. I can continue to add one thing, and another thing, and another thing to what I am currently doing to be more environmentally aware.

So, here is a list of some new things I have already started to do:

- buy nothing in January (except consumables)
- cook a vegetarian dinner once a week
- limit cooking beef for dinner to no more than once a week
- discontinue using chemical fabric softeners for laundry (use dryer balls instead)
- read several articles per week that summarize current research on environmental issue and response strategies
- order the book “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming” by Paul Hawken, from the Library
- write a blog post this month on global sustainability (this is it)
- spend time in nature every week, thinking about and valuing the natural world

Island Winter

We have had a little touch of winter on Vancouver Island this month. Although it has not been very cold compared to the frigid temperatures across the rest of the country, we have had a bit of snow, and the ponds froze. So, I’ll end this blog post with some photos of our Island winter.

(I am writing this on a tablet, which limits editing, so please pardon any errors.)

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Fat But Fit?

Stock Fitness Photo From Here
January is a month when many people make resolutions at the first of the month and, unhappily, have already broken them by the end of the month. Oftentimes those New Year's resolutions pertain to fitness. So, although I do not make New Year's resolutions, I believe that today's post on fitness and health is timely.

I have had a longtime interest in fitness, health, nutrition, food, wellness, quality of life, and longevity factors. I am the sort of person who actually reads the health bulletins handed out at pharmacies, and the health columns in newspapers, and every new update on whether dietary fat got a bad rap in the Canada Food Guide of 30 years ago, and why we should eat colourful fruits and vegetables. And wine. Is that one glass a day actually good for you, and what are the risks, and is a glass of beer just as beneficial? Kathy Gottberg, on her SMART Living blog, has written a lot on these topics, for example, here, here, and here

Red Wine Stock Photo From Here
 As well, I am an outdoorsy person who enjoys athletic pursuits. But, as I have written here before, until I retired 18 months ago, I worked long hours at a sedentary desk job that left little time for anything else. Some of the things that were lacking in my life back then included: enough sleep, a satisfying social life, enough time to spend with Rob and other family members, sufficient exercise, and time for personal passions like writing, art, gardening, cooking, and travel.

Although I have always enjoyed cooking, and in the past I grew some of my own fruits and vegetables, during the final five years of my career it became very difficult to maintain a healthy approach to eating. On a typical day, I'd eat a light breakfast, throw together a bag lunch, and race out the door to be at work by 8:30.

The morning was filled with meetings, preparation of agendas and updates for meetings, phone calls, and answering emails. At noon, I would eat lunch at my desk, preparing for the afternoon slate of meetings or answering emails. The afternoon consisted of more meetings, and some were highly political, or involved stressful personnel issues. Finally, at 4:30 when the staff went home, I would sigh and dig into the work that required real concentration and uninterrupted time: writing reports, working on the budget, or planning. I'd also make a cup of tea and dig into the remains of my bag lunch, often high energy foods like granola bars, or crackers and cheese, or puddings. Finally, at 7:30 or 8:00, I'd head home, starving. I'd cook dinner and we'd eat at 8:30 or 9:00.

The lifestyle was a prescription for high stress, lack of activity, and poor eating habits. You can see how it left little time to lead a well-rounded life. Although most of my life I have been short and slender, in the final five years of my career, I packed on 20 pounds and moved into the "overweight" category. One reason that I retired when I did was that I began to have worrisome health indicators that made it obvious to me that I could not sustain that kind of a lifestyle and remain healthy.

So, since retiring, it has been very important to me to reestablish healthy habits and live a well-rounded life. I get enough sleep every night, and refuse to participate in activities that require me to set an alarm clock. I eat three well balanced meals a day, and make sure that I drink enough fluids, especially water. I have an active social life that includes new and old friends, and I spend lots of time with Rob, my kids, and my grandkids. I make time for writing, art, reading, and other personal pursuits.

Alpine Skiing
 And I have increased my activity level. I do at least 30 minutes a day of at least moderate exercise five days a week, as well as yoga twice a week.These photos show two examples of activities that I have done in the past week: A day of skiing, and a hike with Rob up the steep hill to the viewpoint near where we live.

For Christmas, I was gifted with a wearable fitness device. This is something that I had not imagined wanting, but it has delighted the data nerd inside my head. The small screen on my wrist tells me how many steps I have taken that day, how many hours of the day I have been physically active, my pulse rate, the distance I have walked in kilometers, estimated calorie burn, how many flights of stairs I have climbed, how many minutes I have spent in sustained exercise (such as brisk walking), how many hours of sleep I got, and whether I have met my goal of 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week. If I wanted to, I could also track weight and fluid intake.

It is synchronized with my phone, so at the end of every day, I can look at a report on my phone, and I get detailed stats on all of those categories, with appealing multi-coloured graphs, and stars for the goals I have achieved.

This is the Graph Generated to Show My Sleep Patterns Last Night
 Well, who can resist stars? Not me! Gold stars and graphs motivate the heck out of me.

This is not all. The device also sends me a weekly report. I can see how I did this week in each category, as well as cumulative kilometers walked, etc. Since I put the device on my wrist on December 25, I have been going strong, trying to beat my own stats.

Using the heart rate data combined with age, height, weight, and activity records, the device has estimated my general fitness level. It tells me that my cardio fitness level is excellent for a woman my age. 

I am fat but fit, and I'm happy with that.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Beach Compositions

Last week, Rob and I took Kate and went to one of the local beaches a couple of hours before low tide. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, and we had a lovely time rambling across the sand and circumnavigating tide pools. As it was on the weekend, lots of other people were at the beach too, but it's a big beach.

I was particularly interested in how the waves had left patterns in the sand. They looked dramatic in the late afternoon light.

I took quite a few photos, all with my phone, and share some of them below.

The Water Retreats

The Dog and Me

Rob and Kate Go Around Tide Pools





Stone Circle

Tide Pool

The Beach

Every day I feel grateful to live in such a beautiful place.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Happy Holidays

This Christmas season, our focus has been on spending time with friends and family. So tonight I will offer a photo collage of some holiday moments.

New Forms Festival

Rob and I went to Vancouver to enjoy a show in the alternative art scene. The show, Nicolas Sassoon + False Witness, was co-directed by my daughter, who is a co-director of the New Forms Festival.

Wendy and Erica
Erica and Me

Eating, Drinking, and Making Merry

While in Vancouver, we had a great time visiting with old friends, as well as with my daughter and son.


Skating With My Grandson

We have discovered that one of my grandsons loves to skate. He is three years old and a total speed demon on the ice.

Hiking in a Wind Storm

What do you do when a powerful wind and rain storm knocks out the power? Why, go hiking, of course. Our power was out for a night and most of two days. As well as going hiking, we spent those precious daylight hours packing for our trip up north. The windstorm happened right at the winter solstice,  therefore coinciding with the longest night of the year. Nights seem extra long and dark when you have no electricity!

Christmas in the Snow

We have had a wonderful time visiting with our northern grandchildren. Who knew that collecting and stockpiling chunks of ice could be so entertaining!

Christmas Giddiness
My New Friend

Sleeping Angel

A Couple of Hours on the Nordic Ski Trails

Going Sledding

Dressed for Dinner

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Not My Usual Christmas Rant

Every year around this time, I write a blog post about Christmas. Often it is not a happy piece. It would be an understatement to say that I am ambivalent about Christmas.

I love being with family at Christmas. I enjoy cooking and eating the traditional turkey dinner. I like choosing special gifts for people I love. I like the pretty lights, and the woodsy smell of a Douglas fir tree in the house.

But every year, at some point I return home from the mall, after hours of being jostled by hoards of frantic hollow-eyed shoppers clawing through bins of useless consumer garbage looking for something for those hard-to-buy-for friends or family who already have everything. And I say, “This is it! I am not doing Christmas this year! No presents, no Christmas cards, no tree, no turkey! I resign!”

I reflect on the fact that in the hyper-capitalistic society that we live in, corporations will do anything to get my money, from tracking and stealing my digital data, to constantly flashing ads in my face, to building obsolescence into material goods so that it will be easier to compel me to purchase the same thing again and again, to insinuating that I am not a worthy person if I do not own X, Y, or Z. Christmas has become the ultimate consumer event, and every year I swear that I will not get duped into doing a consumer Christmas again. And then I do. Again. Because I want my dear ones to be happy. Because they might think that I do not love them if I don't give them stuff. Because it is easier to pretend that everything is just A-Okay -- if I don't notice or think about our global crisis, it isn't happening. La, la, la, la, la.

I feel despair that the human race seems to be unable to take the necessary steps to adapt in order to save itself and other living things on earth in the face of mounting evidence that global warming is leading us along a trajectory toward a peak extinction event. Some scientific models predict that it will happen around about the time that my future great grandchildren reach adulthood. That is not a very long time from now. Yet, despite knowing that we need to keep mean temperature gain to no more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, we actually *increased* our fossil fuel usage by 3% last year.

(Note: that is not a gain of 1.5 degrees from now that we are permitted. Mean global temperature already has risen 1 degree from pre-industrial times. So we have only half a degree left to go, or maybe 1 degree if we can accept the devastation that a looser goal of 2 degrees gain would entail.)

I am part of the problem. The one gift that I would most like to be able to give to my children, grandchildren, and future great grandchildren is the possibility of surviving and thriving on this beautiful planet Earth. A long and happy life. But every time I buy another piece of plastic, I am subtracting from their chances.


I didn't mean to rant about how Christmas has become a corporate money-making event with the sole aim of making a tiny elite even more powerful and extremely rich, at the expense of all future life on this planet. I was just going to write a couple of sentences about why I rant at Christmastime in order to get it off my chest, and then move on to happy thoughts.

Deep breaths. Happy thoughts.

We are travelling north this holiday season to spend time with our northern (adult) children, grandchildren, family and friends. Yay! Also, before beginning our travels, we had some really special moments with our southern BC kids, grandkids, and local friends.

Going North for Christmas

This year, Rob and I chopped our Christmas consumption down. With some dear friends and family, we have mutually decided that we will no longer exchange gifts. What we are doing instead is making time to spend more time with them doing fun things together -- which Rob and I can do now that we are both retired!

For those with whom we do exchange gifts, I have mostly chosen things that are artist-made, or edible/drinkable, or items of practical necessity, or educational, or gifts of experience, or donations to the most needy people on earth. So, I have still been able to have fun choosing special things for people, but have spent very little on consumer crap that imperils our future. Instead, gifts like these serve a double duty. (Confession: however, a couple of toys for the grandchildren do not fit these parameters.)

This week, we spent 29 hours camped in our dark house without power. A massive windstorm knocked out power to many parts of Vancouver Island and the lower mainland in southwestern BC. We were lucky as we have both a wood stove and a natural gas fireplace, so we weren't cold. Also, we are well equipped for camping, so we had a way to cook and MAKE COFFEE. Our power came back on, eventually. But, as of this afternoon, 70,000 people were in their 3rd day still without power.

Eating Dinner with Candles and a Headlamp

This is storm has been called unprecedented. It is the second extreme weather event that I personally have been impacted by in the last 6 months. The previous one was in August, during which Vancouver Island experienced a record drought, and huge areas of the province were engulfed by wild fires. Our home was not threatened, but for six weeks we breathed thick choking smoke.

Whoops. I'm heading back into rant mode. I need to find a way to start making a real difference to support global sustainability, beyond personally cutting back on shopping. That is one of my goals for 2019.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Art Show Update and Novel Newsflash

Since returning from our European trip (here, here, here, and here), I have had the chance to relax at home, socialize with friends, and spend some great moments with the grandkids.

Relaxing on the Couch, with Coffee

Sleep over at Grandma's

And, we had some great visits with friends and our northern family members throughout August, September, and October too, including a visit from blogging buddy Liesbet and her husband  Mark. I just haven't had time to write about everything that has been happening!

But, that is not what this post is about.

Art Update

This Saturday and Sunday, I will participating in another Studio Tour. As with last time, I will open my art studio and gallery, Notch Hill Art, to the public. I hope to see lots of new and previous visitors! I have blogged about it here
Art Show This Weekend!
 So, I have been busy preparing my studio. I have hung several paintings that I have not shown at previous Nanoose Bay Studio Tour events before. It should be a fun weekend!

Long Shadows

 Novel Update

Newsflash! I have just completed a first draft of my novel.  

It clocks in at 30 chapters and more than 100,000 words. I can’t tell you exactly how many words it is because I have written it using an older version of WORD that stops counting at 100,000. It is a somewhat lighthearted post-apocalyptic tale (if you can imagine that) crossed with a coming of age story.

I am excited about having completed the first draft! I have been working on this novel for about three years, although I actually had the original idea for it nearly 30 years ago when my second child was a baby.

My next step with the novel is to read the whole thing through, making small revisions to do with flow and consistency. Then I am going to give it to my beta readers. I am so happy that four people have offered to read it and give me feedback. They are all people who will present perspectives that I know will be very helpful.

During this past year, my writers’ group has been such a great support and source of feedback. I think that knowing that we will be meeting each month helps to motivate me to keep on working on the manuscript. Every month, I want to have something new to read at our meeting.

The other great thing about our writers’ group (besides the fact that they are wonderful people and good writers) is that we have started to go out to writing related events together, like readings and storytelling evenings. I love being connected with a bunch of likeminded writers.

Next month, I will be reading through the manuscript of one of my writer friends, and I am looking forward to that very much (AFTER the art show).

So, in summary, although I have been actively involved in a lot of things this past year, I have still managed to find some time for writing and art. Writing and making art were two priorities that I set for myself when I retired, and it makes me happy that I have persisted toward these goals.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Food, Beautiful Food

I love food. One of the best things about travelling is having the opportunity to sample new restaurants and different cuisines.

As you know, Rob and I have just returned from travelling in Portugal. We started in Lisbon, made our way north to Porto via Sintra, did a driving loop to visit three northern pousadas, and then returned to Lisbon.

While we were in Lisbon, we we went down to the Bairro Alto, the old downtown core of Lisbon, for dinner the first few nights. This is a picturesque area of narrow cobblestone streets, traditional architecture, clubs, Portuguese restaurants, and fado singers. The area is filled with tourists.

The restaurants here feature traditional Portuguese cooking, which I love. Rather than elaborately plated fine dining, the food is hearty in a "farm food" or "fisherman's food" kind of way, and menu items may be served "family style." This means that you order à la carte, and share with the table (the servings are large!). The photo below shows a rabbit pie that I ordered one night. It was fabulous!

Rabbit Pie
As a sea-faring nation, Portuguese restaurants offer many kinds of fish and other seafood on their menus, which made me happy. I ordered fish more often than not, whereas Rob indulged in all manner of meaty dishes. One of the most delicious dishes we shared while in Lisbon was an octopus salad (which I forgot to take a picture of, I was so intent on eating it).

I can't write about traditional Portuguese dinners without mentioning the appetizers that are laid out in front of you when you first sit down. They always set out olives, bread, and soft cheese, along with a variety of other tasty items. They only charge you for the ones you choose to eat, and you can ask them to take the rest away. Our Portuguese friends tell us that experienced diners wave away the couvers (I am not sure about the spelling of that), but Rob and I discovered so many interesting dishes that we didn't always send them away. We ALWAYS  kept the olives, as Portuguese olives are so much better than the ones you can get in North America. And so is the wine, but I am not going to write about the wine here, although we sampled quite a lot of it.

On this visit, we also spent quite a lot of time exploring the newer part of the city around the Parque das Nações area. This is the huge area where the 1998 Expo was held. It has all been developed into an area of public parks and public buildings, restaurants, museums, and so on, and also there is a huge shopping mall there. It was interesting to experience modern Lisbon culture and more contemporary cuisine in this area.

Although our hotel was near the airport, it was easy to get anywhere in the city via the Metro. Each day, we bought a daily Metro pass for 6,30 Euros, and with that we could ride anywhere on the Metro trains, and transfer to buses as well.

All of the pousadas and other hotels that we stayed in (except the little pension in Sintra) came with a full breakfast buffet. The three pousadas all offered spectacularly good breakfasts, and so did the Lisbon Marriott hotel, where we stayed on our last night in Portugal.

The pastries in Portugal are divine, and there were always many freshly baked pastries on offer for breakfast, as well as in every coffee shop. There are many regional specialties (which we did our best to sample), but I think my favourite is Pastel de Nata, an egg tart pastry that is considered to be the national pastry.

The photo below shows the breakfast table at the Pousada Viana do Castelo. Not only was the breakfast really good, but also it was a very beautiful dining room. The views out the windows over the city and ocean also were great, as this hotel is located on top of a mountain.

A Beautiful Breakfast Buffet in a Beautiful Room
The food was also good at the Pousada de Canicada-Geres. In particular, I enjoyed a really tasty gazpacho as my first course. Rob ate a cabbage and sausage soup, which he liked.

Possibly the Best Gazpacho Ever
Our dinner in the Pousada Mosteiro de Guimaraes was perhaps the most "haute cuisine" meal that we enjoyed. The first photo below shows us sitting at our table, and the next one zooms in on my chicken dish, which was as delicious as it was beautiful.

Dinner in the Historic Monastery in Guimaraes 
Beautifully Presented and It Tasted Delicious
I haven't mentioned the dessert buffet yet. Each pousada also offered a table groaning with the dessert selections, many being specialties of the area. How could we have room for dessert after appetizers, soup, and an entrée? Somehow, we managed.

If you are thinking of going to Portugal, one thing you should be aware of is that people dine late there (by North American standards). Most restaurants do not open for dinner until 7 pm, and more fashionable diners tend to eat even later than that. If you get hungry in the late afternoon or early evening, it can be hard to find any place open even for a snack.

On our first trip to Lisbon in 2011, we stayed at the Lisbon Marriott. We both remembered the breakfast buffets there fondly, and when we returned there on this trip, it did not disappoint us.

Kitchen at the Lisbon Marriott
We also had good dining experiences in Sintra and Porto. And I confess that I have dozens more photos of food that I have not included here. It is not only millennials who like to take pictures of their food ;-)

In Porto, we dined at outdoor restaurants along the quay each night. It was lovely to look out across the river at the twinkling lights, sipping wine and enjoying our dinners. I will leave you with a final photo of a dessert we shared in Porto. It looked even prettier before we started to eat it!

Orange Cake With Tangerine Ice Cream