Friday, January 13, 2017

January's Rhythm

Since returning home from our month on the west coast, we have been experiencing cold January weather. It took us a couple of days to unpack and to recover from our sometimes scary two-day drive along icy highways and over snowy mountains. Our two pets travelling with us in the truck (our dog and cat) were very well behaved. I think they didn't want to get left behind anywhere!

The past week, the temperatures have ranged from -15 to -28 degrees Celsius, although today it finally was a bit warmer (high of -7). Although we had a great holiday, it feels good to be home.

Despite the cold weather, we have managed to be pretty active outdoors most days. Rob has shovelled snow. We have gone cross-country skiing three times around a local golf course, where there is a nice five kilometre loop. We also have been out for some walks. Yesterday, Kate (dog) and I tramped more than 5 km. over hill and dale in the river valley park that we can access just two blocks from our home. It was hard work walking through the windblown snow, especially seeing as I had to break trail much of the way. We came across a herd of 17 deer sheltering in the coulee. Kate must have been as tired as me because she didn't even attempt to chase them (not that she would have had any chance of catching up to them). It was quite spectacular to watch two large bucks that we surprised bound up the hillside right in front of us.

The big outdoor highlight of the week happened today. We drove to the nearest ski hill and skied for the afternoon. It was a brilliant sunny day, although about -12 degrees and windy. It feels great to be on skis again after last year's enforced absence. I have skied all my life, and recently I have taken up telemark skiing. It is a lot of fun to learn something new. We took it easy today, as neither of us really has our ski legs yet. This is only our second time skiing this year.

We have been out to a movie (Rogue One) and out to dinner to two of our favourite ethnic restaurants. I have worked on writing the first draft of my novel a bit more, and it's now up to more than 47,000 words. I've also done some baking -- just what we need after all those Christmas treats! I have spent some time at my office. We also have spent lots of lazy time on the couch in front of the fire.

I did one new thing that I am feeling quite excited about. A few years ago, our city built a new community arts building. It has studios for visual arts, pottery, sculpture, and woodworking, as well as music and dance studios, an art gallery, and a multipurpose room for performances. Yesterday evening, I went down to the arts building and met up with some new friends there who are also painters. A member of the staff, a lovely young man named Andrew, gave me an orientation to the 2D studio, and showed me how to sign in. Now that I have registered, I can drop in and use the studio anytime. The building is open from 9 am to 10 pm, and for $5, the daily drop in fee, I can stay as along as I want. Or I can purchase a monthly or annual membership at a reasonable rate. I stayed the whole evening, and began work on a new painting. Although I have room in my home where I can paint, I like being part of a studio where I can interact with other painters. I made a mental note to myself that if I were retired, this would be the kind of thing that I would have the time to do as often as I wished.

The new year also has brought creative inspiration to Rob. He has begun to work on designing the next pair of speakers that he is planning to build. All in all, I would have to say that we are off to a good start in this happy new year.

Friday, January 6, 2017

A Place to Call Home

Now as I approach the age to begin considering retirement, I have discovered that I am stumped about where to settle for our retirement years. Where will home be? What makes a home?

Although I grew up in a small town, the same town where my father grew up and where my mom and some siblings still live and I spent all of my early years there, I have moved a great deal since first leaving home to attend university. I have lived in three Canadian provinces and in nine different communities. I have returned repeatedly to certain communities, such as Vancouver, to live there at different stages of my life. I have also lived in various other places on a short term basis of a month or two. I have owned five houses and have lived in rental accommodations, including apartments, a shared house, and university dorms, and I have lived with family and with friends' families.

As I think about where to settle in retirement, I have the feeling that I belong nowhere. That is the consequence of moving so often. Just as I began to set down roots in each place, I was off again to somewhere else.  The moves were all related to work opportunities, schooling, or to follow a partner's job. Now, with the most recent job move, we have ended up somewhere far away from family and friends. Although we love our house and have begun to grow comfortable here, we know that this is not where we want to settle for the rest of our lives.

At the same time as feeling as though I do not have one single home, I could be comfortable living in many different places. I have moved before, and I can move again. It will be just fine.

What makes it hard is that we want this to be our last major move. We want it to be a place that we can settle into and make it our home. We want to be closer to our kids and grandkids, and our friends and other family. We want the place to have a small town feel; we don't want to live in a city.

We have just returned from a month in a rental holiday home on Vancouver Island. We had a wonderful time spending Christmas with my daughter and her family, and my two other grown children who presently live in that area or nearby were also with us for Christmas. It was so good to be close together for the holidays.

           Vancouver Island beach

In a sense, we were also trying out what it would be like to live there. Neither of us have ever lived on Vancouver Island for more than a short stint. The climate and lifestyle shares many similarities with the part of BC where Rob spent most of his life, but the winters are not as harsh and there are better health services nearby. On the other hand, the climate is damp, which seems to exacerbate our arthritis.

However, many of our friends and family live in more northerly parts of British Columbia. So although living on Vancouver Island would bring us much closer to my grandkids and a little closer to those in the north, there is no perfect solution that would allow us to be close to all of our loved ones.

We were also a bit horrified to discover how quickly the cost of real estate is going up on the Island. We would not be able to afford the type of home that we currently enjoy without taking out a substantial mortgage. We are mortgage free, and do not want to commit to paying a mortgage in retirement. A home in northern BC would be more affordable.

Ultimately, we do not know where our kids will end up as they continue to build their careers and their families. Moving to the Island will provide more time with some of our grandchildren in the short term. But in the end, we have to choose a place where we will be happy to settle, regardless of where our kids go and how their lives unfold. It's the "for the rest of our lives" part that is making this decision such a hard one.

I know that this is a wonderful problem to have, and I am grateful to have this choice to make. Having wide open choices is much better than having fewer options. We are lucky to have dear family and friends, and wherever we finally end up, we plan to travel often to visit them.

Perhaps the reason that I am stumped is that I am trying to make a "perfect" decision instead of a "good-enough" decision. If I reframe it and say, this is where we will move for now, and keep open the option that we might move again when things change, it wouldn't seem like such an impossible choice.

Rob's point of view is that we should just pick a place and go for it, instead of researching it so much. Sooner rather than later is also what he would say. Like me, he believes that he could adapt to living in whatever place we end up. I'm the one who keeps searching for a place to call home.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Family Time

As is true for many others, Christmas is an important family time for us. This will be the fifth Christmas since we moved to the prairies, far away from friends and family. Our kids and other family are spread around, but none of them live near us. So every year we have travelled a long way to spend Christmas with some of the family, or they have travelled to our city to spend Christmas with us. Last year we spent Christmas with Rob's daughter and family in the north, and had a wonderful time seeing our two young grandchildren there experience Christmas. We also managed to fit in a visit with my extended family in the north and saw some dear friends.

This year, my daughter invited us to spend Christmas with her family on the southwest coast of BC. I was thrilled! My two grandsons are four years old and one and a half years old -- perfect ages to experience the magic of Christmas. We rented a little house in a resort community not far from my daughter's place and spent two days driving here though nasty snowstorms. 

 Horrible blizzards on the way.

We brought both pets along, a dog (Kate) and a cat (Oliver). We have travelled with the dog before, mostly in the truck and camper, but bringing Oliver has been a bit of an experiment. So far it has worked out really well. They are both happy to have come along on the trip, and have settled in well and behaved themselves. I guess they know that the alternative would have been to stay in a kennel, not their favourite place.

 Oliver making himself at home.

I am really looking forward to Christmas, as not only will I get to spend time with my daughter, son-in-law, and grandsons, but also my son is living here and attending university at present, and my middle daughter who lives in a nearby city will come stay with us for a few days at Christmas. It will be the first time in a few years that I will spend Christmas with all three of my (now adult) children, AND the first time ever to spend Christmas with both of my grandsons.

 Younger grandson.

 Older grandson.

Rob's two kids and my three all have been adults for quite some time. They have busy lives and we are so proud of all of them. Of course, those busy lives and my career have meant that we have all ended up living in different places, for the most part far away from each other. We don't have the chance to see each other on a week-to-week basis, but usually just for short, intense visits. I love seeing my kids and sometimes feel sorry for myself that I don't have much time with them. One never really stops being a parent.

I remember when my first a child, my oldest daughter was born. Those wise eyes, rosebud lips, chubby cheeks, and black hair -- it was love at first sight! Although I had little experience with babies and had never played with dolls, suddenly I was the proudest, most possessive parent on earth. When my second daughter was born, it was love all over again. She was the most cuddly, happy baby ever, with thick blond hair that stood up straight and an old soul's blue eyes. And then my dear son was born, calm, long, and skinny (in contrast to my first two chubby babes). He was very observant and content. He was a boy who bum-scooted around the kitchen, and figured out how to open the cupboard and help himself to cheerios (breakfast cereal). He was a kindhearted boy and now is a fair minded, kindhearted man.

When I look at my adult children today, I see their day-to-day lives and dilemmas superimposed over my memories of them at each developmental stage of their early lives. That is an annoying thing about parents -- they persist in thinking about the past. I know that when I was a young adult, and even a middle-aged adult, my attention was focused on the present and the future. It is only now as I am on the threshold of my senior years that I have become more nostalgic and interested in the past.

Becoming a grandma is reminiscent of that first experience of becoming a mom. Those tiny little humans are born into the world with their whole futures ahead of them. I love them with the same intense passion that I loved my own babies. I am very lucky, because I get to be grandma to my children's children, and also to Rob's children's children.

Yet being a grandma is different than being a mom. I am not the parent, and it is not up to me to make parenting decisions. I am only around from time to time, not every day, and each visit is a chance to build my relationship with my grandchildren a little more. At the same time I try to offer whatever help I can to their parents who are busy and enmeshed in complicated lives. Sometimes it is not an easy balance to be present, to spend time with the grandchildren, to help out, and to also spend some one-to-one time with my adult kids, without being intrusive, neglectful of my spouse's needs, or ignoring my own needs and boundaries. I sure have noticed that I no longer have the same energy level that I used to -- being with small children can be exhausting.

A walk on the beach with Kate.

So, we feel very fortunate to be staying for a whole month and to have a rented house during this Christmas visit. We will be able to experience some great family time, and stretch it out over a period of weeks, rather than trying to cram it all into one short intense period. It also gives Rob and me some quiet time to spend just with each other, walking on the beach, sitting in front of the fire, or going out for a romantic dinner. It gives my daughter's family some breathing space, without feeling the pressure of having guests in their home for an extended period. And, as it is a vacation for us, we would like to make a few little excursions while we are here, visit some friends, and possibly go skiing. But, the highlight will be spending Christmas with my kids and grand-kids!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Novel in Progress

 In my last post, I mentioned that I was busy writing a novel. I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this November. The objective of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word novel in one month.

Sadly, I must report that I was not successful at completing 50,000 words of my novel. However, I did mange to write 35,493 words. That adds up to 134 pages, double-spaced, or ten and a half chapters. I have started on Part Two of the three-part novel. I think that the first draft was about one third complete by the end of November.

I had great fun starting a new novel, and am continuing to chip away at it now that November is over. The novel is titled "The Age of Grandchildren" (working title). At the request of readers, I am posting a brief synopsis, as well as an excerpt from one of the early chapters.



Becca and Honor live with a collective of women in an underground shelter in the wreckage of a former university. They were born in the shelter and know no other life. Their mothers and grandmothers formed the collective as a survival strategy when North American society disintegrated in the early 21st century. Becca and Honor are just reaching womanhood, and their collective is facing a crisis as the group has nearly used up the supplies stored two decades ago. Systems in the shelter are beginning to fail, and memories of life on the outside are being lost as the older members of the group become elderly and die. The lives of the women are about to change, and both Becca and Honor have important roles to play in trying to ensure the survival of the members of their little community.


Excerpt from novel:

Watch Station One

Becca stood at Watch Station 1 looking west over a jumble of tangled bushes and concrete rubble. She felt a puff of wind touch the hair on her forehead and the sensation lifted her heart. Then guiltily, she pulled her hood further down, low over her eyebrows, as in her mind she heard Mother Mary intone, “When outside, you must guard vigilantly against contamination.”

The intense red of the sunset had faded and the sky was darkening into night. Her anxiety growing, Becca peered out into the distance toward Outpost 1.4. Where was Honor? It was becoming too dark, and Pattern 1.4 through the ruins of the shattered buildings was one of the most difficult to run. Was that her? Yes, Honor was coming, bobbing and weaving as she ran the pattern through the rubble. Becca tracked her approach. Hop, hop, hop, zigzag to the left, right, two feet, hop, hop, leap, and she’s safe on the platform!

“We welcome you in,” Becca nodded as she gave the formal greeting. “We worried this time. Look how dark it is!”

“Yes, we felt the fear too.” Honor caught her breath. The whites of her eyes showed bright against her brown eyes and skin in the last of the light. “This runner turned an ankle and almost misstepped a third of the way through the pattern. But this one is here now. We must go inside quickly.”

Honor shrugged her knapsack off. The two young women turned to descend into the shelter, but not before Becca noticed her friend cast a surreptitious last look out over the desolation.

Once inside, Becca sealed the door electronically and set the mechanical deadbolt. Honor pushed the package she carried through a slot for the Mothers. The two women stripped off their contaminated sweat suits, put them into a covered bucket, and stepped into the anteroom shower.


For one glorious minute the lukewarm water fell, and Becca concentrated on rinsing those parts that had been exposed – her hands, her face, and today, the front of her hair. When the trickle of water stopped, they completed their bathing the usual way, with soap, a cloth, and a basin of water. Becca mused about her good fortune in having been chosen as a watcher two months ago. She had discovered that she loved the experience of being on the outside at twilight each duty day, despite the risks. Although her first shower had been the best, she continued to look forward to that minute as a highlight of each duty day.

“Hey, Honor!” Honor was staring fixedly at her towel, and she startled when Becca spoke. “Honor, tell us, what do you feel out there without us, solitary?

“We concentrate on running the pattern, and running it perfectly.”

“Yes, understood, but how does it feel?”

“We don’t understand your meaning.” Honor gave Becca a dismissive look and frowned in the direction of the Mothers’ slot. “Come, let us go and report.”

They walked naked through the inner door, sealed it, and donned robes. Becca trailed behind Honor barefoot on the cold polished tiles, fastening the ties of her robe. What was wrong with asking Honor how she felt out there? That seemed like an important question for a novice watcher to ask a runner. Becca had been trained that all members of the collective must be attuned to emotional states, and to be transparent in sharing the inner consciousness.

Becca reflected that although Honor had been generous in guiding Becca on the correct performance of the watching duty, her friend often seemed reticent about expressing internal states, especially at group sharings. Many would consider that a mark against her, but Honor had proven herself extremely capable at learning the patterns. She was able to run all eight of the main patterns consistently and flawlessly, and she was studying the difficult second level patterns now. Honor had been awarded her position as a runner very young; in fact, she was only two years older than Becca but already had been running for more than a year.

Ah, the Mothers were ready to see them now. It was Mother Beulah and, oh no, Mother Mary. Becca groaned inwardly.

“Honor, Becca.” The Mothers came forward and embraced them.

Mother Beulah was thin as a wisp with a cap of steel grey hair, white at the temples. She wore a silver and emerald nose stud, and multiple earrings on each ear. Mother Mary, in contrast, was a large, square-jawed woman, who pushed back the sleeves of her robe impatiently and strode forward, glowering. Her hug felt like a wrestling hold.

“You are late tonight,” said Mother Beulah. Her tone was mild, but as she gazed into Becca’s eyes before turning to Honor, Becca felt Mother Beulah’s bright blue eyes send a shock down her spine. She imagined that Honor must feel something similar, although Honor’s facial expression remained unchanged.

“Yes, the transfer was not prompt,” Honor explained.

“You know the rule. Never wait by the fence on the outside rim. If the transfer is not ready . . . ?” Mother Beulah said, raising her eyebrows at Honor.

“. . . Turn back and run the return pattern,” Honor finished off the rule. “But the transfer was not made the two previous days either, so we thought . . .”

Mother Mary moved forward making chopping motions with her hands. “Thinking out there could get you into trouble young woman.”

Her high-pitched nasal voice grated on Becca’s ears.

“But the transfer was concluded successfully,” Honor mumbled, looking at Mother Mary’s feet.

“Yes,” Mother Beulah smiled, and her gold tooth glinted.

“Listen, Honor. You nearly had to run that pattern in the dark,” Mother Mary pointed out. She sniffed, and Becca watched as the nostrils of her broad nose distended forming perfect black circles, and then pinched in again. “The life of every member of the collective is precious. The two most basic runner’s rules are?”

“Concentrate on the pattern, and follow the rules. Understood, Mother Mary. This one begs pardon.” Honor’s face was as smooth as a plaster mask. She said nothing about turning her ankle while running the pattern.

Becca opened her mouth to report the misstep in the run. According to regulations such discrepancies must be recorded, and it was her responsibility as a watcher to report it to the Mothers. Mother Mary swiveled to face her, her little eyes invisible behind the glare of her eyeglasses, her jaw jutting up. The words died in Becca’s throat. She closed her mouth and swallowed.

“Peace -- peace for the collective,” she stammered.

The Mothers nodded, Beulah closing her heavy eyelids, and Mary with a jerk of the chin. Both Mothers stepped forward and embraced them again.

“Peace for the collective,” the two Mothers intoned.

“And peace for the Mothers and Grandmothers,” Becca and Honor said in unison as they took their leave.


Anyways, it is greatly enjoyable inventing a world and setting some characters loose in it. I have been amazed that as long as I can get myself seated in front of the keyboard, the story just spools out onto the screen. I guess that is the whole point of National Novel Writing Month -- to give ourselves an excuse to sit down and write.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Too Much Writing?

Is there such a thing as a writer doing too much writing? If such a thing is possible, that is the situation I am in at present.

I mentioned in a previous post that I was in the middle of a big work-related writing project. It is going quite slowly, because in order to write I find myself having to do a huge amount of research and background reading. Of course, as well, I am not putting in full work days on the project, but just half days four or five times a week. I had intended to be finished that project by the end of October. But I am still labouring away on it. (It's close to completion though!)

Then there is this blog. Unlike some bloggers, I have not set myself the expectation of generating two posts a week, or even one post a week. I just kind of write a post when something interesting comes to mind and I feel like sharing it. That said, it is two weeks since I have last posted here. I have just been way too busy writing, somewhere else.

It is November, National Novel Writing Month, and I am writing a novel! During NaNoWriMo, millions of people around the world commit to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. In order to accomplish this goal, one has to write an average of 1,667 words a day on the novel. I am already behind on the average, as I have only managed to to squeeze out an average of a little over 1,300 words a day.

I am having immense fun writing this novel. It is a speculative fiction novel about a dystopian future with a little bit of a coming of age story, some romance, and some social critique thrown in. Speculative fiction/science fiction is a new genre for me. In my previous two attempts at writing a novel, both were of the literary/mainstream fiction genre. One of those two novels, Memories of a White Girl, was written during previous NaNoWriMos over three consecutive Novembers, and it is now a mammoth 125,000 page first draft, still awaiting the revision process. The first draft of the other novel, still lacking a title, is about 3/4 finished, and I began that one years ago, before I had ever heard of NaNoWriMo.

This year during Nano, I have decided to turn a deaf ear to the advice commonly given to participants. Participants are encouraged to just write down whatever flows through their mind, not stopping to edit or rethink it. The idea is that by not giving in to the internal editor, who can be rather harsh and critical, the wells of creativity will flow. As well, people who struggle to find ideas and who procrastinate for that reason will overcome their inhibitions because they tell themselves that they just have to write something, anything, and it doesn't have to be good.

Well, I don't write that way. I am the kind of writer who never lacks for ideas, for one thing. When I write, I like to craft each sentence and paragraph perfectly. (Aha! The perfectionist rears its ugly head!) Each time I sit down to write, I read over the recent section that I have written and carefully revise and edit it, changing word choices, adding more vivid description, and refining the dialogue. Then I go onto the next part in a fairly linear way. With that approach to writing, when the first draft is done, it is a much more polished first draft that requires less revision than if I had just thrown any old words onto the page. I love to craft a story, and I am not at all fond of revising, especially if the manuscript is a big mess. I really think that my first NaNoWriMo novel would have gotten beyond a first draft if I have written it my way rather than following Nano advice.

I am nearing the end of the fourth chapter of the novel and have introduced the central characters and portrayed their society as it functions in some future time. Now I am beginning to introduce some big troubles for the main character and her significant other. If you are involved in NaNoWriMo, you can read a synopsis and brief excerpt of my novel in progress under my profile. My pen name is AnnaHarvey.

So, one thing that I have discovered while being on leave is that I am pretty busy. My secret dread about retirement is that I will find myself sitting around twiddling my thumbs and contemplating the awful nothingness of being. Or some such thing. Rob is fond of saying that he has never been as busy as he has been since retiring. I always heard that statement with a certain degree of skepticism (I mean, what could be busier than 14 hour work days?). But if my leave period is any indication of what retirement will be like, I'm discovering that Rob just might be right. Phew! Saved from contemplating my navel!

So as well as all of the writing that I have described, I have been fitting in daily exercise most days - yoga, a walk, or some cycling. Last weekend, we spent a lovely afternoon riding mountain bike trails in the river valley. On Sunday, we made an all-day excursion to some hoodoo formations, and hiked through them and viewed petroglyphs that are said to have been created in the late 1800's. I am working on a large landscape painting, and also on preparing two of my plein air paintings for an exhibition coming up in early December. I have arranged to rent a house on Vancouver Island for a month at Christmas time. Christmas with our kids and grandchildren - yay! I have been to a concert, lunching with a friend, and on the phone to far-away friends and family. And I baked cookies, which our waistlines have not needed, especially with all of the Halloween candy around that also needed to be eaten up.

I have to add one brief whine. The Blogger app for my iPad is broken, and there is no update in sight. My favourite way to write on my blog is on my iPad - it makes it so easy to access my photos, and it can be done while lying on the couch. The Blogger website, unfortunately, is a nightmare to use on the iPad. So, I am apologizing in advance for any typos in my posts. Now, my only way to write on Blogger and access adequate editing capabilities is to go and fire up the laptop. I wish Google and Apple would just get over their rivalry and produce some decent Blogger functionality for the iPad. So if anyone knows of a great Blogger app that works well on an iPad, please let me know.

The photos in this post are of the hoodoos that we visited. Life is good.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Exercise and Healthy Living

Photo taken on a recent bike ride

I want to begin by apologizing for not posting very frequently lately. I am in the middle of a big work-related writing project, so that has left me less time for writing blog posts.

"Wait a minute!" you say. "You are on leave, so what's with doing a work project?"

Yes, I am on leave. However, when I arranged the leave, I committed to doing some projects. They are projects of my own choice, with a relaxed timeline. I am greatly enjoying my current project, and rarely spend more than half a day on it. (By that I mean five or six hours. Yes, I do have a workaholic's definition of the length of a workday.) So after staring at books and the computer screen for that many hours, I am less inclined to write a post.

However, tonight I have been inspired to write something on health and exercise by a blog that I have been reading. That blog is Retired but Certainly not Retiring, written by John, and here is his recent blog post on the topic. A goal John set for himself when he recently retired was to begin living a more healthy lifestyle, and in particular to lose some weight. He has written some rather hilarious posts on the topic, but the goal is serious.

John's discussion reminded me of a series of posts I wrote a few years ago on the theme of heart healthy choices. My focus on this came about because I went to the doctor for a physical exam, and she informed me that my LDL cholesterol (the bad type) was borderline high. She encouraged me to start a low cholesterol diet. The handout she gave me had none of my favourite foods on it! So I promptly ignored it. But I did set about taking a look at my eating and other health habits. I talk about this in Heart Healthy Habits.

After taking stock of my healthy attitudes and behaviours, such as eating lots of fruits and vegetables every day, I took a hard look at my not so healthy behaviours. Oops!

So I set about changing some of those unhealthy habits. My first action was to research and read about lifestyles that support heart health. I looked at trustworthy health and medical websites, and also went right to the source and read some research articles in journals. So that gave me some background on what to look for in my own health-related behaviours.

As well, from my knowledge about making behavioural changes, I know that one of the first steps is to notice and track the habits. Habits are routine behaviours that usually fly under the radar. They are actions that are so routinized that we may fail to recognize that we are doing them, or to what extent. We humans also are amazingly good at minimizing the impact of or excusing our own undesirable behaviours. This is reasoning like, "food eaten while standing at the fridge doesn't count," or, "I'll go for a long bike ride tomorrow to make up for having spent the whole day on the couch today."

As it turned out, I had a number of eating, exercise, and other lifestyle habits that were sabotaging my generally healthy lifestyle. I discovered from scrutinizing my diet that I love salt, sugar, and dairy fats a little too much. It was beginning to show in my body mass index, my waistline, my LDL cholesterol level, and it was having an impact on my joints and my overall feelings of well-being. On the diet side, I explored how food, emotions, and social life are intertwined, and how that can make it hard to change habits. (By diet, I mean the food I eat daily. I am not using the word in the sense of weight loss diet. I do not believe in dieting because I believe it usually sets up or reinforces unhealthy attitudes and patterns.)

Once I had identified some habits I wanted to change, I developed a system for changing them. (I also wrote a bit about my views on dieting in that post.) I believe that when people fail at changing habitual behaviours, as happens to many in the month of January, there are a few reasons. They are:

1. Defining the overall objective in terms of a vague general outcome: "I want to exercise more." It is more effective to define the goal in a specific, concrete way: "I will exercise at least 150 minutes a week, and this will include at least 5 days of exercising, at a minimum of 20 minutes each day."

2. Trying to make a big change all at once: "I will drink 8 glasses of water a day." Well, if you currently don't drink any water, but only coffee, tea and beer, this would be a very big change to make. You would be more likely to be successful if you break it down into little steps: "I will drink one eight ounce glass of water just before I open my first beer of the day." Once you have successfully achieved this goal to the point that it is a habit, then you can incrementally increase the aim to two glasses of water a day: "I will drink an 8 oz. glass of water when I brush my teeth in the morning." And so forth. Little changes are less daunting and much easier to make and sustain.

3. Trying to change several habits at once: "I'll only drink water from now on, and I'll eliminate all wheat from my diet." Well, not only does this objective try to add a water-drinking habit, but it also aims to eliminate a coffee habit, a tea habit, and a beer habit at the same time. And that doesn't include all the complications of the wheat part. Some very determined people might be able to accomplish big complicated goals like this, but more often than not, my guess is that they don't sustain them.

4. Not tracking the behaviour. If you really want to change something, whether it is adding a new behaviour or eliminating an unwanted habit, you have to keep it right in front of you within conscious awareness for awhile. For me, I have found that the best way to be mindful about it is to use good old behaviour modification principles and track it/ count it/ tally it, then give myself some little reward for success (and I am embarrassed to admit that stickers actually work for me, but it could be whatever works for you -- a bubble bath, an announcement of success on your facebook page, buy yourself a new water bottle, or whatever.)

5. Not keeping focused on the goal long enough to make the new behaviour habitual. It takes 3-6 weeks to establish a new habit or to eliminate an old one. For me, I set the bar at 3 consecutive weeks of success with each goal before I stopped formally tracking it.

So, four years later, looking back at the lifestyle goals I set for heart healthy living, I am happy to report that I have maintained 7 of the 10 new habits with no effort whatsoever. The new habits have truly become part of my everyday living.

Although I have not been following such a formal lifestyle plan recently, I have incorporated the 150 minutes of exercise a week into my life consistently since I have been on leave (which is possible now that my foot is rehabilitated). On Saturdays and Sundays, Rob and I make a point of getting out for longer bike rides or hikes. Today we cycled 12 kilometers. Typically we cycle 8-16 km. (5-10 miles) or hike/walk 5-10 km. each weekend day. I have been tracking my exercise activities on an app on my phone. It tells me I have walked or cycled 108 km. so far in October. Once the snow falls, we will get out the cross country skis and ski around the golf course or the park. Or we will travel to the mountains for downhill skiing. During the weekdays, I walk most evenings, usually 2-5 km. I also have started an introductory yoga class, which I attend once a week. I love it!

In terms of meals, my current goal is to reduce the number of red meat dinners a week to 2. A good balance would be red meat X2, fish X2, vegetarian X1, and poultry X2. I would happily eat vegetarian more frequently, but Rob is very fond of meat and not that fond of vegetarian cooking. I am also aiming to cook more low meat meals (e.g., homemade turkey soup). I have added a fiber supplement to my daily diet, and am working on increasing my daily water intake by an additional eight oz. glass per day.

I am on leave, so I have turned the alarm clock off. Yay! I have been getting 7 1/2 to 9 hours of sleep every night. I am making up for years of sleep deficit due to my previously hectic work schedule. I am learning to be more mellow in how I spend my days. The biggest factor of all in my more healthy lifestyle is that I am no longer working 11 hours a day in an extremely stressful job.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Possible Lives

Road to One-Eye Lake. Plein air painting completed this summer.

Sometimes in life we reach a turning point, and turning sixty is one of those times for me.

I have always seen life as full of possibilities, and have had a constantly evolving list of things I want to do some day (as contrasted with a list of things I have to do, which is a different story). To be fair, I have accomplished a great many things on that list. I am very good at focusing, figuring out a step by step plan, and buckling down to do the actual work. What I have not been so good at is committing to a particular line of inquiry, career plan, or workplace over the long term. Or to a particular vision of who I am and the life I want to lead.

I have taken to heart the adage, "follow your passions," although with considerable introspection at each major zig or zag of my life and career. While at each major turning point I knew with certainty it was time to make a change, the direction of the change was less clear. I have an eclectic set of passions and interests that have pulled me in various directions. A partial list includes the following: language, writing, art, outdoors, wilderness, skiing, family, food, environment, health, design/development, teaching, problem solving, organic food gardening, stories, reading, travel, parenting, leadership, ideas, communication, human relationships....

My decisions also have been shaped by a healthy dose of pragmatism. For example, from the time I was in my teens, I have always known that I wanted to have skills that would allow me to independently support myself throughout my life. So, for example, when I was seventeen, trying to decide between whether to go to art school or university, I chose university. And when I graduated with a BA in Linguistics, I then went on to further education that allowed entree into a profession where there were lots of jobs. This choice was practical, but also followed my passions for language, teaching, and communication (but backgrounded my passion for art).

There are trade-offs in every decision. For every path followed, there are many paths not followed. You can never go back in time to take those other paths. Take my possible life as an artist. What would my life have looked like if I had followed that path instead? Now I will never know.

At this point, you, the reader might be saying, "Oh, come on! There's nothing to stop you from throwing yourself into your art now, if that's what you really want to do. After all, that is the beauty of retirement. You are not required to work for a living once you retire, using up all your time and energy in the employ of someone else. So it is a golden opportunity to pursue those deferred passions. Or even to let go of all that anxious striving and just be."

And you, dear reader, would be right. I am standing on the threshold of this period of open possibilities, looking out toward the future. After a zig into senior administration, I am now about to zag to...something else. The trouble is, I don't know what. There are so many possibilities.

It is much easier to look backwards. When I look back, I can see that aside from the life changing events that fate dealt me, every major decision about a change in direction in my life or career was preceded by a period of reflection, weighing of factors, and goal setting. For better or worse, I have ended up here, author of a good life, but struggling to write the next chapter.

There are so many choices! In the past, the way I responded to having to choose one direction over another was to console myself that it was only temporary -- somehow I would find a way to do it all. Maybe I wouldn't be able to do it all simultaneously, but surely I could do it all consecutively.

As I have considered the possibility of leaving my career altogether and fully retiring, I have suddenly come up with a plethora of new projects that I would like to do within my career before I step away, enough exciting ideas to keep me going until I am 90! But if I go down that path, I will never find out what it is like to devote myself to my art. I will never finish writing those novels.

The thing is, now that I am sixty, I realize that my time horizon is getting shorter. Choosing one thing over another has consequences, because I don't have all the time in the world. (Of course, I never did, but that was easier to ignore when my own mortality wasn't staring me in the face quite so obviously.) If I buckle down and use my remaining time to do those work projects that I am inventing for myself, Rob and I will just keep getting older and at some point we will be too old to ski that powder or hike in the Alps.

I think that some day I might get to a point where I'll say, okay, enough with all these goals and this striving. This is it with trying to achieve in this area or that. This is as far as I get. And guess what -- because of never committing to any one thing but trying to do it all, I will see that I didn't do any of those things as well as I might have if I had been more focused. I hope that I will judge myself with compassion. My old self will know that life really isn't about what you do and accomplish at all.

But I'm not there yet. I still have so much I want to do. However, time is getting shorter, so I have to choose wisely where to put my efforts. I have come face to face with the realization that I can't do it all, after all. That realization is having a paralyzing effect on my decision making about what comes next. Whatever choice I make feels too much like choosing to put all my eggs in one basket, too much like closing down possibilities, too much like giving up.

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