Saturday, June 17, 2017

Finding my Housework Muscles

The living room, ready to show.

I have never been known as a crackerjack housekeeper. I mean, I keep all the fundamentals clean, but our place generally is a little untidy, in a cozy sort of way. And anything above my eye level doesn't get dusted very often. Seeing as I am short, quite a lot of dust escapes my notice.

Anyways, that was the old me. The new me, required to keep the house sparkling because it is on the market, has become rather obsessively perfectionistic about cleaning. Actually, both Rob and I have become cleaning demons, racing around before every showing or open house, scrubbing, polishing, mowing, and weeding until the house is gleaming like a Mr Clean ad, and the yard looks like Better Home and Gardens. (Full disclosure: Rob actually has become the primary housekeeper the last few years, wonderful person that he is.)

So one thing that I have discovered with all this cleaning is that vigorous housecleaning takes a fair bit of physical effort. Not that I am going to drop my regular exercise, consisting of walks, hikes, cycling, and yoga, but on days when we have put in a few hours of housecleaning, I don't feel especially interested in going for a walk afterwards.

So I was complaining on the phone to my Mom about how tiring housework is. She just laughed. My Mom always has kept a lovely house. I remember as children, we used to ask my Mom to show us her muscles. She would flex her biceps, and even though she weighed only 98 pounds, a tiny little woman, her biceps were as big as grapefruits. Or so it seemed to my child's eyes. We all wanted to grow up to be as strong as Mom. Maybe if I had realized that those muscles came from housework, I would not have grown up to be such a lackadaisical housekeeper.

But, I came of age in the seventies. I read Betty Friedan, Nancy Friday, Kate Millett, Marilyn French, Alice Walker, Ms. Magazine, and Virginia Woolf, and joined the women's centre at my university. I was proud to describe myself as a feminist (and I am disappointed but not surprised that forty years later, feminism is still considered an f-word by some people). To my twenty year-old self, housework was a trap for women, a pointless endeavour that distracted us from more important and useful occupations. Housework, throughout my adult life, was an unpleasant necessity relegated to the corners of life: after the kids were in bed, or Saturday mornings, when the whole family would do chores and then forget about it for another week.

So lately, as well as discovering that it can be a bit of a workout, I also have discovered the meditative aspects of housework. It is a relaxation for the mind to just focus on the mopping or window washing. It pushes all the other frantic squirrel-mind thoughts away for a little while. It is satisfying to make things nice and clean.

The kitchen, all shined up.

I guess I have to rethink my previous negative attitude toward housecleaning. It does have its worth. It turns out that Mom knew best.

Although, I need to note that Mom was more than a housekeeper; she was a trailblazer in her own time, the repressive 50's. She was the first person in her family to pursue post-secondary education, and when she was in her early twenties, she moved with a girlfriend to take a teaching position in the Canadian north. The highways were unpaved. The teacherage was a tar-paper shack. And during my childhood, when all the women in the neighbourhood wore house-dresses, my Mom wore jeans. She was adamant that I would have the opportunity to attend university. So, my Mom has been a great role model all round.

Now, if the house would only sell so we can get back to our more relaxed approach to housekeeping!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Being Lost

A blogger that I follow, Karen Hume, recently wrote an interesting post on the behaviours of people who are lost. She explains that Lost Person Behaviour is the science of predicting how different kinds of people behave within the context of the activity they are engaged in, in order to develop effective strategies to find them when they are lost. This post and many other interesting topics can be found on her blog, Profound Journey.

The topic got me thinking about times in my life when I have been lost, as well as times that I have lost others.

Kids Lost on a Mountain

I had a somewhat unusual childhood. I grew up in a village in a remote northern area of Canada, and my parents gave us a great deal of freedom to roam. When we were very young, we had specific boundaries within the neighbourhood. For example, when I was five, I was allowed to go as far up the street as Billy's house, and as far down the street as Dorothy's house, and into the bush behind our house as far as the first field. I could cross the street in front of our house only if I came and asked first and had a suitable destination.

But by the time we were in our middle childhood, we ranged far and wide, and often did long excursions on our bicycles. It is hard to believe now, given the way children's movements today are restricted and always supervised, that my two younger brothers were allowed to go down to the river together to fish, without adult supervision, when they were nine and six respectively, and that they often brought fish home for supper.

The summer just before I turned fourteen, my parents bought a small, primitive ski cabin at a ski hill on a mountain. We spent many happy weekends that summer working together as a family fixing up the cabin. We insulated it and put in walls and flooring. I remember going up a ladder propped against the A-Frame to nail shingles on the roof. Our cabin was located on the farthest edge of the ski hill development, beside a steep gully. We had great fun climbing down into the gully to explore it. Usually each weekend, we four kids also would go for a hike.

The Prairie

On one such occasion, we took a picnic lunch and did a more lengthy hike than usual. (The four of us included myself as the oldest at thirteen, and my three younger siblings, the youngest of whom was eight.) We decided to hike up to Crater Lake, which was probably six or seven kilometers round trip. It was not tricky to find the way there. We walked over to the ski runs, hiked up them to the top into alpine meadows, and then set off across the so-called "Prairie." Although there was no clear trail, we just hiked toward a peak where the lake was clearly visible at its base.

Once at the lake, we ate our picnic, played at the edge of the water, and hiked around on the huge boulders. On the way back, instead of staying high in the alpine until we reached the top of the ski hill, we dropped too low and found ourselves in scrubby growth at the edge of a gully. One of my brothers said that it was the gully that went beside our cabin, and that we could take a shortcut by going down into the gully and up the other side. He said that he had explored this very section of the gully previously and he recognized where we were.

Crater Lake

It seemed like a good idea. It would be a long way to go all the way over to the ski hill, hike down the runs, then double back to our cabin. It was late in the afternoon and we all were getting tired. So I agreed, and we went down into the gully and began to follow it down, looking for a way up the other side.

The walls of the gully were becoming steep cliffs. We did not recognize any of the landmarks of "our" gully, and moreover it seemed to be twisting away in the wrong direction, away from the ski hill area. I realized that we must be in a different gully.

After an argument, my younger siblings agreed to turn around with me. We all doubled back, followed the creek back uphill, and climbed back out of the gully where we had first entered it. We climbed back up into the alpine meadows and went the long way, via the ski hill runs. When we finally returned to the cabin, it was twilight, and my parents were very anxious and also relieved that their lost children had found their way back!

Lost on Another Mountain

Many years later, when I was in my forties, I was visiting friends who lived in a northern town. Their house was on the side of a mountain, which is not really a mountain at all, but more of a large, rocky, forested hill. This mountain is criss-crossed with trails, and it is a popular hiking and mountain-biking area for the locals. I had hiked there from time to time when I had visited my friends in the past.

My friends were busy with prior obligations one afternoon, so I took their dog and headed up the mountain trail beside their house. The dog and I had a lovely ramble along the trails, but eventually I decided that it was time to turn around and head back. About halfway back, beside a road, there was a place where multiple trails crossed, and went off in different directions. None of them were signposted. Somehow, I made the wrong choice and went quite a long way down a trail before I realized that it definitely was not the one that would take me back to my friends' house. At about this time, the dog took off, and would not come back, though I called and called.

So, I turned around and doubled back to the place where the road was visible. I still could not recognize which of the many trails was the correct one. So I went out to the road and started walking along it. I had a rough mental map of the area and I believed that the road would take me down the mountain to the base of it, and from there I could eventually pick my way back on connecting roads. However, it would be a walk of many kilometers, halfway around the mountain. A further problem was that I was recovering from a knee injury, and my knee was telling me that I had already walked far enough that day.

So, in the end, I went to a house along the road and used their phone to call my friends. (I had no cell phone then.) One of them came in his truck and picked me up. He said he had been worried when the dog had arrived home without me. I was thoroughly embarrassed that I got lost. I should have just followed the dog!

Lost Toddler

Even more scary than getting lost myself was losing a child. I lost my daughter “K” many years ago when she was a toddler, TWICE! The first time, we were in the women’s clothing section of a department store, and she was about two. She was right beside me, holding the handle of the stroller while I looked at clothes on a big circular rack. One second she was there, and then she wasn’t. Without stepping away from the stroller, I called her name and looked frantically in every direction. The many clothing racks were big and close together, blocking my lines of sight. Then I heard a little giggle. K had crawled inside the circular rack in front of me. She had gone along the floor below the clothes into the middle of the rack and was hiding on me. Even though the whole episode probably lasted less than a minute, the sense of panic just about stopped my heart.

The second time I lost her was about a year later, and it was even scarier. K and I, and her newborn baby sister were at a food court in a mall. We had finished our snack and I was putting the baby back into the stroller and loading the diaper bag. I was distracted for about a minute. Then I looked up and K was nowhere in sight. I called her name. There were not many people around and no-one had seen her leave. After concluding that she was not in the food court, I began running down the hallway of the mall pushing the baby in the stroller and shouting name. I was running in the direction of the mall administration office so that I could report her as missing. Around a corner and way down the hallway, I found her. K was grinning and hugging the giant furry mascot of the mall (which was really a human in a costume). It turned out that K had noticed big green footprints in the mall hallway and had followed them to the mascot; she loved big fuzzy creatures. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life, but K was not frightened at all. Quite the opposite -- she was delighted to have tracked down the mall mascot.

Lost Friends

Some years, I am actually organized enough to send out Christmas cards. (I'm kind of old fashioned about Christmas cards.) Many years, I am so busy that I never quite finish sending out all the cards, even though I have managed to make a start on it. So I alternate, starting with the beginning of the alphabet one year and the end of it the next, just in case I don't get finished. The addresses are written into a little black address book that I have had for more than thirty years, although these days I also keep electronic contact lists.

Every year, addressing the Christmas cards makes me sad. It's because I look at all the names in my address book of friends that I have lost touch with, and former neighbours and colleagues in towns where I used to live. Who knows where they are now? Why did I do such a bad job of keeping in touch? It is the one thing that I really love about social media: through Facebook I have managed to find or have been found by people who had previously been lost to me.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Anxiety Attack

Trees at the front of our new house. 

I couldn't sleep last night. Okay, maybe it wasn't a full-fledged anxiety attack according to the clinical definition, but I laid in my bed awake, bombarded by one worry after another.

The date of my last paycheque is quickly approaching. I have worked my entire life since age sixteen, mostly full time, but always at at least part-time. During my university years, I worked in the summers to support myself over the school year, and generally also worked part-time during the school year as well. Many of those early jobs were minimum wage ones, and supported only the most meagre of lifestyles. But the point is, I always had a paycheque.

A wave of panic came over me. No more paycheques! No money! What am I going to do? And on top of that, our property tax is due July 1, the day after I retire. Rob's car insurance is due. I've run up a big credit card bill for work-related travel, which has not yet been reimbursed. And I have been financially helping out my two younger (adult) children as they pursue post-degree programs this year, which has made a dent in my savings. Once I retire, I'll have to pay for medical costs such as extended care, dental, and medical travel coverage, which previously have been provided by my workplace as benefits.

What if our house doesn't sell? It is a lovely house that should be attractive to buyers, but we are selling in a slow market. We have already bought another house, and we get possession June 30, the same day I retire. We will be responsible for the mortgage and closing costs, whether or not our current house has sold. Hyperventilating!

Not only will we be paying those costs, but also home insurance, moving costs, and utilities. (I had forgotten about utilities!)

We have decided that we will stay where we are in our current home, and not move until we have an accepted offer. This thought brings two additional worries flooding in. We haven't got quotes or made any moving arrangements yet because we don't have a moving date. What if the movers are all booked up and we can't arrange to move when we need to? Or if we only can do so by paying an exorbitant amount?

The other worry is about my office at work. As I will remain affiliated with my workplace after I retire, I have requested temporary office space after June 30. But what if I have to move offices, again, after just moving last year, to a dark windowless room in the basement? That would be unpleasant. But, digging a little deeper, it is not the possibility of having to move offices that is bothering me. The real thing I am worried about is that I am not 100% ready to leave. My career has been more than a job; it has been an avocation and a big part of my identity. Loss of an office symbolizes more than losing space at the workplace. It means that I am really and truly stepping away from the life I have been living for more than 30 years.

Well, good grief, what did I think retirement was, if not leaving the workplace and leaving my career???

Deep breath. By now, I have gotten up and gone out to the kitchen and made a mug of hot chocolate.

Of course I won't have a paycheque. Why would an employer pay me if I am not doing any work? I don't want to work so hard for pay anymore. That is why I am retiring. Just because I won't have a regular paycheque doesn't mean I will have no money. I will have a small amount of pension income plus the retirement savings that I have spent my whole life saving and investing so that someday I would be able to retire. I just have to wrap my head around the fact that I will no longer be putting money into those savings. Instead, I will begin drawing it out.

It is obvious. I know it intellectually. I have planned for it, and have run the numbers over and over again, just to make sure that I can afford to retire. But somehow, now that the moment has come, it is still hard to accept that there will be no more paycheques.

We have a new house! It is beautiful, and I am so excited about moving into it and making a new life for ourselves on Vancouver Island. It has space in it for me to have an office at home, and space to paint, and a beautiful workshop for Rob. It has lovely gardens, and best of all, it is near my kids, grandkids, and southern BC friends.

We have done the math. We wouldn't have made an offer on the house if we couldn't afford it. We have made financial arrangements and can cover the carrying costs while we wait for our house to sell. 

The backyard has a pond!

I am going to love being retired. I can write. I can paint. I will have time to garden and have outdoor adventures. I will not miss working my face off, and all the tiresome politicking of the workplace. If I really miss work, well then, I can take on a short term contract with my current employer, or one with a similar organization nearer to our new home. I have marketable skills that will continue to be in demand for some years.

Worry, worry, worry. Why do I do it? It serves no useful purpose. It just keeps me up at night, and distracts me from all the joys of finally truly having time to do what I choose.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Seffascopes and Bomb Fires


Yesterday, my grandson came rushing out from under the decorative bush at the end of the driveway - his fort. He had an armload of sticks which he tossed back under the bush.

"Grandma, I'm making a bomb fire!" he explained with great excitement. Then he picked some red and pink leaves from the bush and threw them onto his pile of bonfire sticks.

"Here's the flames of the bomb fire."

Next, he began dragging some bungee cords that he had hooked together, and pretended that it was a fire hose. He squirted imaginary water on the bonfire, talking about the bad guys who made the fire and how he had to rescue the people in the building.

My younger grandson, aged two, observed his older brother, aged four, and picked up a stick.

"No, no! That stick is on the fire!" said "E", snatching the stick away.

Then we negotiated finding "C" a different stick to play with, one that was not part of the fire drama taking place under the bush. Still watching his older brother, C began plucking red leaves from the bush and delivering them one by one to me to hold for him.


Honestly, I don't know why we even bother with making plastic toys, when sticks, rocks, leaves, and dirt (and bungee cords) provide so much scope for the imagination and hours of fun.

As you might have guessed, I am presently on grandma duty. I am staying with my two grandsons for a week while their parents are out of town. I live far away in a different province. Although I have visited quite often, this is the first time that I have looked after them for multiple days.

I had forgotten how exhausting a day with two preschoolers is! And how early the morning starts! Poopy diapers, two-year-old contrariness, wheedling for sugar, eating toothpaste, sibling disagreements, disappearing socks, and the many places where food can be smeared.

On the other hand, there is nothing quite as sweet as a cuddle and kiss from a toddler. Or the seriousness of a four-year-old explaining about a seffascope for looking at the sky, or asking concerned questions about Snow White's evil step mother. I was grateful that E was able to help me figure out how to remove the diapers from the complicated odour-free diaper disposal system when it became full. Both boys love to be helpful!

We have been to an outdoor preschool program, swimming lessons, soccer, a science centre, gym drop-in, and the playground. Every day we read many, many stories. E enjoys long books and has amazing knowledge about the natural world, and about how things work. C is very interested in animals, music, buses, and construction machines.

I am so lucky to have this opportunity to spend intensive time with my dear grandchildren. They are growing up so fast! I will recover from a week of being tired at the end of each day, and I know that the long grind of full-time childcare is in my past, not my future. But if I didn't have the chance to spend time like this with them now and from time to time, I would miss out on truly knowing them as young children.

I expect that being a grandma will be one of the best things about being retired.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Tulips With a Mind of Their Own


The tulips are blooming. They are late this year. Most years they bloom in the latter part of April.

They are Appledorn tulips and they look gorgeous -- all red and yellow. I purchased the bulbs from a garden club the first year that we lived here and planted them in the front perennial bed. Every year I look forward to their cheery welcome of springtime.

But, as I said, they are late this year, and I think they are doing it on purpose. You see, we have listed our house on the market. We are planning to sell and move to the coast. Since returning from our Easter travels, we have worked hard to clean every inch of the house and trim the yard. We have decluttered, and reorganized, and given many boxes of things away.

Ten days ago, we met with a realtor to discuss the marketing plan and complete the listing contract. We have had a consultation with a home stager (Every surface must be bare! No clutter!), and a photographer came through the house, and then another photographer who has created a 3-D virtual media tour of the house. Tomorrow the listing is supposed to appear on the MLS website.

For weeks, the weather has been unseasonably cold. The tulips grew green and healthy, and developed big fat buds. But they refused to open for the photographers trouping around the property taking photos (although fortunately we had sunny weather for both photo days).

The day after the last photographer came, the weather turned hot and summery. The tulips bloomed and looked glorious. It is almost certain that they will have finished blooming and dropped their petals before the first viewer comes through the house. So you see why I say that they have a mind of their own!

In the meantime, we continue to clean, clean, clean. We have repainted the front door and vacuumed the patio. We have washed the windows and planted pots of petunias. 



We move through our gleaming house as though we are staying in a stranger's home. I have become obsessive about picking up every crumb that drops, and putting away each item out of sight as soon as we have used it. I have made a list of last minute things to do before a showing (Put away the pets' beds and dishes! Turn on all the lights!)

Although we have always kept our place clean, we are not model housekeepers. We like a certain amount of clutter; it creates a homey, comfortable feeling. But now all the family photos have been put away. Books and magazines are no longer strewn over the coffee table, but are neatly on shelves or in the magazine basket. No socks are on the floor. No shoes are piled beside the door. Every faucet and mirror sparkles. Even as I pause from my tidying to write this post, Rob is chugging from room to room with the vacuum cleaner.

Well, it looks like the rain has stopped. I'm heading outside to do some gardening.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Cute Shoes and a Shopping Ban

When we returned home in January after a month of holiday travels, I decided to implement a shopping ban. This was a secret ban that only applied to myself. I decided that I would not buy any "stuff" for the month of January. I was allowed to buy experiences (e.g., concert tickets) or consumables (e.g., groceries, wine, restaurant meals), but no material objects (e.g., books, clothing, household items).

One might think that this month of restraint was inspired by the materialistic excesses of Christmas. It is true that there have been many Christmases when I have gone overboard in celebrating the spirit of consumption. But more typically at Christmas, I have been unhappy about the materialism that has come to characterize the holiday. This year, there was an agreement among many of our friends and family members to cut back on shopping and gift giving, and the holiday was was much less consumeristic. So if Christmas influenced my decision to implement a shopping ban, it was more in the spirit of carrying on with a good thing than trying to to atone for a shopping overdose.

Recently, I have been reading some blogs and other materials on frugality and minimalism. So this was another factor that influenced the January decision. I always have been a frugal person by nature and also by upbringing. I have more or less supported myself since I was eighteen, including paying my own way through university. Later in life, I ended up as a single parent. So there have been some slim years during which I learned to live well on not much money.

I only really began to loosen the purse strings when my three children were teenagers. By that time, I was earning a good salary and had no debts, not even a mortgage. I suddenly realized that soon my children would grow up and begin to move out, yet, aside from camping trips, I had never travelled anywhere much with my kids. Although I had paid for sports, lessons, and activities (skiing, soccer, gymnastics, music lessons, summer camp, art classes, etc.), I had avoided certain "expensive" one-time experiences. So in their teen years, we did things like a trip to Mexico, a cross-Canada trip in a motorhome (admittedly an antique one), a seaplane flight on Haida Gwaii, days at theme parks, and helicopter flights.

It became easier to spend money. I could afford these things. Then, when I started working as an administrator, with long hours and an even higher salary, I fell into the habit of going to restaurants a lot, and sometimes shopping as a pastime rather than because I actually needed something. I was too exhausted to do anything in my leisure time that required any effort, and I had very little leisure time in any case.

So as I read about frugal, less consumer-oriented lifestyles, I suddenly realized how far I had shifted from my frugal habits. The world does not need so much stuff. Our consumer lifestyle squanders the earth's resources and contaminates the environment. Having more stuff is not the route to happiness. I realized that I was shopping for things that I did not want or need, and also buying stuff for others that they did not need. I decided that not buying anything for the month of January might help me to become more aware of my mindless buying, and also help me think about what I valued each time I considered making a purchase.

Well how did I do with respect to my "buy-nothing" goals? It turns out that I found it to be as easy as pie. There was one moment in late January when I looked at my toothbrush and decided that I needed to buy a new one. It is necessary for healthy brushing, I told myself. But then I argued with myself that I could surely wait one week until February to purchase the new toothbrush. So I didn't buy it.

I would have had a perfect January except for one thing. On the same day that I denied myself a toothbrush, I mindlessly tossed a magazine into the grocery cart when I was standing at the checkout counter. It was a National Geographic special edition on gender. I didn't even realize what I had done until I got home and started unpacking the groceries. Books and reading materials have always been my special indulgence!

However, on the whole, the "buy-nothing January" was so easy that I continued on with it through February and March as well. In February, I would have been purchase-free except that I had to pick up a few art supplies for a water colour painting class. I already had most of what I needed, except for a few items on the supply list. I went the whole month of March without buying a thing until the last week. Then my old bad habit of shopping just for something to do briefly re-emerged and I went and bought a pair of jeans and a T-shirt on sale, neither of which I actually needed. I felt annoyed with myself.

I think one reason it was easy to not shop was that I did not limit purchase of consumables. We still went out for dinner, and we made a trip to the nearby city to attend a concert, and stayed overnight in a hotel. I also have not counted the cost of the home renovations in the shopping ban. We were spending so much money on reno's that we both felt little desire to spend money on other stuff. Also, I began my decluttering efforts during this period. There is nothing like sorting through boxes and boxes of stuff to reduce the desire to purchase more stuff.


The newly renovated bathroom

Here is where the cute shoes come into the story. As I have mentioned before, I broke a bone in my foot 18 months ago. After I got the cast off, I had to learn to walk again. I could not wear most of my shoes. I was limited to wearing sturdy flat walking shoes, athletic shoes, athletic sandals, and hiking boots. My cute dressy shoes with heels languished in my closet. A couple of weeks ago, during my cleaning and decluttering activity, I discovered several very nice pairs of shoes in the bottom of my closet, covered with dust. I had completely forgotten that I owned them. I dusted a pair off and wore them to work. They were not comfortable to walk in. As I will have little use for dressy shoes when I retire, I have decided to give away several pairs of cute, barely worn shoes.

The shoes that I actually wear

As for the new toothbrush that I did not buy -- don't worry, my health is not suffering due to using a worn out toothbrush. A couple of days after the internal toothbrush purchasing debate, I found five brand new toothbrushes in the bathroom drawers as I was decluttering and getting ready for the bathroom renovation.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Sentimental Journey


As we prepare to put our house on the market and get ready for an eventual move, I have begun a serious effort to de-clutter. I have read that getting rid of one's materialistic mountain of stuff and living a more minimalist life is a freeing experience.

And perhaps it is... for other people. But I am finding it very difficult.

I am not by nature a big consumer. I don't finding shopping to be an enjoyable pastime. I keep things and use them until they don't work anymore, and when possible, repair them. I have a 5-year-old cell phone, a 35-year-old blender, and a 50-year-old camp stove.

When we went on our 8-week camper trip last summer, I didn't miss any of the stuff left behind in our house. We have a storeroom full of boxes that haven't been opened since we moved here five years ago, and some of those boxes are from the move before that, 13 years ago.

Someone said to me, "If you haven't felt a need for anything in those boxes for years and can't even remember what is in them, why don't you just throw them out?" Why can't I do that, and why am I finding it so hard to throw things away?

Well, the answer is simple and complicated at the same time. Opening up those boxes and finding the items inside takes me on a sentimental journey. As I pick up and hold each item, I am immediately transported back to an earlier time in my life. The item, whatever it is, stimulates memories of people and experiences that, without the artifact, I would be unlikely to retrieve. And then I relive that memory.

In one box, I found a painting of the Battle of Salamis that I did when I was in Grade 4. Looking at that painting, I remembered my Grade 4 teacher, a wonderful woman who wanted to ensure that her students had their eyes opened to the wider world through music and art. Her art class was not an afterthought. Each student in the class was required to bring to school a two-foot by two-foot piece of plywood. To one side of it, we stapled a piece of vinyl cloth, with the fabric side out. Propped up on the chalk ledge of the blackboard, that board served as a painting easel as we stood to paint. Fifty-one years later, I still love to paint, and I still stand at an easel when I paint.

The teacher often tuned into CBC for a weekly radio program on art for children. The program began with a story of a historical event, such as Xerxes and the Battle of Salamis. At the end of the story, the narrator would instruct the students to paint a picture stimulated by the events in the story, and provide some tips. We would sit in our desks and listen to the program, and then stand at our easels and paint. For the Battle of Salamis, which was a naval battle between the Persians and Greek city-states, the narrator suggested creating the illusion of froth on the ocean waves by colouring on our papers with a white wax crayon before painting over it with our water colours. Looking at my childhood painting brought these memories flooding back.

 In another box, I came across the language diary that I kept for my middle daughter. I wrote down her first words by date, both phonetically and in standard orthography, and made note of the context in which they occurred. She began talking very early, and her first two words were "Mom" and "num-num" (she liked to eat). Her first two-word utterance, just as she turned one, was "Kate bye-bye." And I laughed to remember that one of her first fifty words was "beer." If we drank beer, we had to be careful to not to leave the bottles within reach or my baby would help herself to the dregs.

I also discovered some of the handmade literacy books that I made for my children. I used to staple blank pages together to make a book, then write simple stories for them, and illustrate each page. When they were just learning to read, they could read aloud from their own personalized books that were about themselves, their pets, and their adventures. My children loved the books, and as they became older, they also made and illustrated their own books.

One of the photos below is of a book that my middle daughter made and illustrated for her little brother. It is "The Adventures of Super Sumo!" The other is of a book my son made when he was just learning to write. The word says "Chaucer," which was the name of one of our cats.




My children also had several experiences of making or decorating pottery when they were growing up. Our city had a community arts day each spring when the public was welcomed for free into various art studios and could participate in art activities. One activity that we all loved was that of the Pottery Club. They would set up their raku pottery kiln outside on the lawn, and sell pieces of pottery that had been fired but not yet glazed. My kids and I would paint the pieces with glazes and then stand and watch as the potters fired the pieces for us. Once they cooled, we would proudly bring them home and display them in our house.

Both my daughters participated in various art camps and courses. The photo below shows some details of a beautiful planter that my older daughter made for me.


Although going through the boxes and trying to decide what to throw away has been emotionally exhausting, it also has been a wonderful, joyful experience. If I hadn't opened up those boxes to attempt to de-clutter, I would not have had the chance to take this sentimental journey. It is true that the things in the boxes are just objects, and to many people some of the items look like junk, but to me, they are saturated with meaning. My past life now has become memories, and those memories are springing back to life as I look at artifacts from my past.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Re-imagining a Life

Dog and Tree Shadows

During the past two years, I have been on a journey of change. Unlike the kind of change emphasized throughout my career, when I facilitated external changes such as institutional change, theoretical advancement, system innovations, and learner change and development, now I am undergoing a transition that involves self-change. Of course, within my career, I experienced self-change through personal reflection, learning, and growth; however, I see in hindsight that those changes were in a narrow sphere. It was the sphere shaped by work requirements. I grew in areas that helped me to do my job better.

Now as I prepare to leave my career, those matters and daily concerns that so engaged me have fallen away. My mind is no longer buzzing with job-related worries all of my waking hours. And what "me" is left after work goes away? Or, to put it another way, what kind of person will I grow into and become once my career has been subtracted as the dominant element of every day?

Recognition: The First Step

I suppose the first step of self-change began well before I left my administrative role or made the decision to retire. The first step was recognizing that something was missing in my life. Although I had a vibrant successful career, and was so very, very busy, that busyness was simply papering over a yawning emptiness that I did not have time to examine. The harder I worked, the less fulfilled I felt. The busier I became, the more I felt my self dwindling and disappearing. And as I became less present, my job became less satisfying and meaningful. But, conscientious person that I am, I flogged myself to work harder, even as I felt less and less happy in the job.

Gradually, I realized that I had to make a change. Bit by bit, I admitted to myself that the job was no longer right for me. I analyzed what the issues were, exploring factors such as the long hours, relationships at work, value mismatches, which aspects of work fed my soul and which crushed it, and so on. I had critical moments of insight, such as in one particular meeting where my hands were tied on a budgeting matter that would have a negative and serious impact on a number of staff; and another when I broke a bone in my foot and it failed to heal, in part due to my extremely long hours of work.

I am not one who gives up on anything easily. I came to an awareness over a period of a couple of years that I needed to leave that administrator position. It took another year to decide to retire and leave my career altogether. Although, at this point, I believe that there still are some aspects of my work that I will continue to engage in after retirement out of interest rather than for pay.

The Open Space

Presently, I am on a sabbatical leave from work. Initially, the leave was to serve as a period of time to make the transition from one work role to another. However, now that I have given notice of my upcoming retirement, it is serving as a transition to retirement. While on leave, I am still involved in some work-related projects; however, my time requirement for them is moderate and flexible.

What this has meant is that I have gone from long exhausting days crowded with obligations to wide open uncommitted days. There is a lot of open space in my calendar, and few external requirements to structure my days.

Always in the past, when I had flexible periods of time, I set goals and objectives and held myself to them. I created a structure to shape my time. I governed myself by the law of productivity.

But in this voyage of discovery that I'm currently on, I am letting myself become comfortable with the wide open space. I am letting time be, rather than dicing it up into "to do" lists. But this does not mean that I am doing nothing. Rather, I am doing things that invite the lost and battered aspects of my self to re-emerge, and that allow me to re-engage with non-work (e.g., creative, social, and health) aspects of life. With Rob, I'm also doing the planning and practical things necessary for us to move away and move on.

Health

The first step as I started my leave was to rest and recover from a state of burnout. I was exhausted. I slept 9-10 hours a night. I had no energy for mental tasks and no physical stamina. For example, I struggled to make even simple decisions, like which restaurant to go out to for dinner, and to form logical arguments, and with word-finding. Recently, I was thinking back on that time, and an image came into my mind. It was a small stick figure of myself, crouched down in an angular pose, made of burnt matchsticks. Literally burnt out, expended, nothing but a blackened carbon skeleton of myself.

Gradually I have added physical exercise into every day. I walk, ski, hike, bike, or do yoga almost daily. I have time now to focus on healthier eating, and take more pleasure in planning and preparing nutritious meals. I have taken the time to follow up on medical concerns. Yoga is new for me, and I enjoy it very much. Recently, I have begun to explore meditation as a practice.

Social

During my leave, we have done some travelling within western Canada, and have been able to spend large chunks of time with our kids and grandkids, other family, and friends. We also keep in touch by phone and through social media. It has become clear to us that living closer to family and friends is a high priority for both of us. We have keenly felt the absence of a strong social network in our current location.

Creative

I have spent time writing. I have started a new novel and written about half of the first draft of it. I have begun writing poetry again. And I have written more regular posts on this blog.

As well, I have continued with my oil painting, and currently am taking a watercolour class.

Intellectual

I have done a great deal of reading in areas related to my career and those work projects. I spend quite a few hours every week on the projects. I also have had more time to attend local talks and workshops in areas of interest.

Practical Steps

The practical steps leading to a new life have revolved around discussing, planning, and taking actions to move back to our home province. As I wrote last week, we are in the middle of a renovation project and after that is done, we plan to put our house on the market. This process also involves decluttering, winding up things here, renewing my financial plan, and setting meetings with realtors and so on.

A New Life

I think that I am just at the beginning of re-imaging a new life. I don't know what shape that life will take. Rather than making a bunch of plans and implementing them, instead I am looking at it as a discovery. I am preparing the soil, throwing out a few seeds, and waiting to nurture whatever pops up.







Friday, March 3, 2017

Dust is Us

We are living in the land of dust. Dust in the air, dust settled on every flat surface -- kitchen counters, appliances, window sills. Dust in the nose; dust in the mouth. We try to wipe it up, and there it is again the next day.

We are having the main bathroom in our house renovated. We have hired a contractor who did some work for the neighbour next door. It turns out that he is also the brother of the neighbour across the street. We are surrounded by neighbours in our own age demographic who grew up on this street, and now have moved back into their childhood homes, either with their aged parents, or after their parents have passed away.

The previous owners of our house had done some significant renovations before we bought the place: in particular, the kitchen and the ensuite bathroom, and repainting throughout. The house has a huge  contemporary kitchen with stainless steel appliances, island, and breakfast bar. It is a joy to work in, and certainly caught our eye when we were house hunting. The four-piece ensuite also is very attractive, with a huge shower, and also a soaker tub (great for apr├Ęs ski).

But the main bathroom was very dated and rather grotty. The shower tile was chipped and cracked, and looked like it was from the 1970's. The bathtub and faucets might have been an original installation from when the house was built in 1959.
A Very Dated Bathroom

So we took the plunge a couple of weeks ago. Our timing was perfect, as this is a slow time for trades in our area. We have had a steady parade of tradesmen traipsing through the house, knocking out the walls and removing the fixtures from the old bathroom, and doing electrical work and plumbing.

Whenever you do reno's on an older house, you can expect some surprises. It turned out that the walls in our bathroom were lath and plaster -- much harder to remove than the gyp-rock of today's houses. The plumber replaced a sink drain pipe of galvanized steel that was 80% plugged (which involved some reconstruction in the basement). And the bathtub faucet had been leaking into a pony wall, which required replacement of a two-by-four. We decided to put in a second light above the tub. Today the drywallers are here, putting in the walls.
Demolition Underway

Everything has gone along very well. While we are having this work done, we decided to have top end dual flush toilets installed in all the bathrooms. As well, we asked the painter to do some repainting of some of the other rooms. So we now have a freshly painted master bedroom, my son's bedroom, and kitchen. I have never hired a painter before, but rather have always taken the do it yourself route. He is so fast and proficient! He completes in two or three hours what would have taken me two or three days. And it's all done with far less angst and no splatters.
A Pile of Construction Garbage in the Carport

Yesterday, we went and chose the tile for the new bathroom. That was a fun part. So far, I am very happy with this renovation experience. Although I had forgotten about renovation dust, at least it is going to be for just a short period. I think sometimes it is worth spending the money to get skilled tradespeople to do the work.

Monday, February 20, 2017

In the Studio

I think I am beginning to get a little glimpse of what retirement is (or could be) like. In this, Rob has been a model and an inspiration for me.

Up until now, I have been preoccupied with planning for retirement, and taking the actual practical steps to make it happen. In my case, the practical steps have included making sure that my financial situation is secure, deciding on the date, negotiating exit conditions, telling people, and beginning to prepare to put our house on the market and then to move.

I also have been caught up in the emotional work of determining whether and accepting that I am ready to leave the paid workforce. I have enjoyed my career, and I have a satisfying and well-paying job. For so many years I have been striving upwards on the career ladder, and so deciding to retire has meant coming to terms with the idea that this is as far as I am going in this career. It has meant, to a certain extent, grieving what I will lose by stepping away from my job and career, and knowing that I will have to address the big chasm of empty time in front of me once I no longer have the excuse of a busy schedule to distract me from the question of who I am apart from work.

I have been letting it be, letting that question gradually form, and making empty time for the gestation of the self that I will become in retirement. It goes beyond the question of how I will fill my time. Sometimes I get a fleeting sense of a possible future. For a great read, look at Karen Hume's post on this topic.

Last Friday morning, I puttered about doing little tasks around home. I said to Rob, "I am thinking of doing either X or Y this afternoon," with X being a tedious and time-consuming household task and Y being a trip to the art studio.

"Oh, go to the studio!" he said. And after diddling around a little longer (my typical creativity avoidance procrastination*), I did.

I signed myself into the 2D studio of the amazing community arts building that recently opened in our city. I was the only artist in the studio space that afternoon. I set up an easel and laid out my oil paints on a table with the big north-facing windows behind me. Then I went to the storage area and retrieved my current painting. I had not worked on it for a month.

I started the way I always start -- by setting it up on the easel and contemplating it for ten or fifteen minutes. And then I set to work.

It was a wonderful couple of hours. I was totally focused on the work at hand. The studio was quiet. From time to time, I would wander over to the windows and look out over the cityscape, and then turn back to my painting. At the end of my painting session, I felt a sense of deep peace.

Throughout most of my life, I have had to struggle to make time for painting or any other creative work. These last four years, I have participated in a Thursday night painting class. To get there, I had to leave work by 5:30, much earlier than usual, race home, gobble down supper, change, grab my gear, then drive downtown. I was typically half an hour late, stressed, and exhausted from the week at work. Often I was unable to attend because of evening work events or work-related travel.

How different Friday's painting session was! I wandered in at a time of my own choosing and had full access to the beautiful space. I stayed as long as I wanted. I felt like a kid in a candy shop!

I am working on a composition that involves figures. This is a departure for me; I usually paint landscapes. For me, the human body presents a great challenge.

This is my painting in progress. On Friday, I laid in the background.

I also have challenged myself creatively in another way. I recently started taking an art class in something new to me. I am taking a line and wash class. It involves working with watercolour and ink. It is something that I have come to with great trepidation. You see, one of the other consequences of having little personal time for creative pursuits throughout my adult life is that I have devoted the tiny bits of art time that I have to a genre and medium that I already feel fairly comfortable with -- landscapes and oil paints. So this has been another aspect of the shutting down of my creative life; I have not had the courage or the energy to explore and branch out.

After frowning my way through my first line and wash class ("Why is she spending so much time talking about basics like the colour wheel? Why are we just making marks instead of producing something?"), I have settled into the class and am greatly enjoying it. It turns out that it is tremendously liberating to just explore the new materials and techniques without the expectation that I should instantly be able to produce a credible painting. It's fun!

So, back to Rob. What kind of amazing person encourages his wife to go to the studio instead of doing the tedious overdue household task? Well, a creative person who is comfortable with himself and retirement.

Rob's creativity manifests itself in a completely different realm than mine. He is an audiophile who designs and builds audio speakers. He currently is working on building a tall narrow set out of bamboo plywood.

Here he is working in his shop, sanding.

In his previous project before this one, he designed and built a pair of speakers that he calls "The Octopi." They currently are in our living room and they produce beautiful sound.

An Octopus

So you can see why Rob is an inspiration to me. Seeing him full of enthusiasm about a new project and working down in his shop putting in many hours to realize his vision reminds me that retirement is going to be okay. And also, by the way, it is time for me to get down to the studio, or to sit down at my computer and write.
________
*If you have ever struggled with procrastination (and most artists and writers do), I highly recommend reading Tim Urban's Wait But Why blog. His posts on procrastination are funny, insightful, and actually kind of painful. But don't read it right now if you are doing so to procrastinate from your creative project; just bookmark it for later.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Taking Steps

Source: ShapeSense.com

Taking Steps

working hard at megacorp
so I can buy some shiny things
step tracker, fitness wear

duped again, focused inward
eager to believe
it’s all about me
a seductive topic
nothing closer to home than me

me, me, me
I hum it in the shower
I’ve just completed a walk
5.4 kilometers
post a status update
such discipline

tracking my steps
for big brother
big data la la la
not thinking about that

aerobic workout five days a week
my health is up to me
I have the moral edge
inside the bubble
echoing the echo

they know where I am
my route, time of day
how long it took
if I met the goal
whoever they are

docile me
oblivious me
my head is full of me
I deserve it

too focused to think about
climate change
child brides
poverty
potable water
sexual violence
genital mutilation
bitumen
living wage
equity
social determinants of health

I’m busy with my body project
managing my risk
I walked 10,000 steps today
gold star for me

Source: Getty Images

About this Poem

I recently had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Dr. Mary Louise Adams from Queen's University. Adams spoke about risk discourse, and how the individual pursuit of health has become a central cultural theme in our society. In particular, she spoke about the current craze for step counting, and how fitness trackers redirect one's attention to oneself, and to one's body as an object.

Although I do not own a fitness tracker such as a fit bit, I do have a couple of fitness tracker apps on my phone. I confess that there have been times that I have become rather obsessed about tracking and keeping stats on distance, time, speed, and calories burned when I go out for a walk, bike ride, or cross-country ski. Adams' talk made me think more deeply about fitness tracking and inspired me to write this poem.



Thursday, February 2, 2017

Bye Bye Books



The day after I submitted my letter stating my retirement date, I made a list. Actually, it was two lists in one. The first column listed small renovations and repairs that we might consider doing before putting the house on the market. We have already done a number of things that add value to the house in the five years that we have been here, such as replace the roof, adding a range hood and fan in the kitchen, and so on. (Shout out to Rob!) The house had been newly renovated when we bought it, and the inspection showed that it was a solid house with no issues. So this list is mostly focused on "spit and polish" items that will help it show well.

The other column listed things that we could do to declutter and tidy things up. There are just two of us rattling around in a great big house, but we have a lot of stuff. This is in spite of giving away heaps of stuff (furniture, wood stove, tools, canoe), and throwing away lots of other stuff (old ski equipment, broken toys) when we moved last time. While neither of us is a hoarder, we are very fond of our stuff. Although we have not set a date to put the house on the market or to start looking to buy, we want to give ourselves lots of time for the transition process.

So far, Rob has been the true hero in this endeavour. He already has gone off to the recycling depot with five boxes of old computer parts and cords. He also has climbed into the attic of the storage shed and begun rooting through the old sports equipment (I'd thought we had already gotten rid of that stuff???) and has begun throwing things out (e.g., ancient tents with broken zippers). He also moved a pile of his totes out of the basement storage room, revealing the awful truth that most of the boxes in that room are mine. My stuff that needs sorting comes in four categories: things that belong to my kids that I have been storing for them; boxes from previous moves that I never unpacked; boxes of career related materials (about 25 bankers' boxes in our basement), and books.

I decided to start with the books. Specifically, there was a stack of twelve boxes of books in the spare bedroom, still never unpacked since we moved here. I began unpacking them and sorting through the books, all the while muttering that it seemed ridiculous to be unpacking boxes, knowing that soon enough the books would just have to be packed up again when we move.

It is very hard for me to get rid of books. I have always viewed my books as precious. In the seven frugal years when I lived the life of a poverty-stricken student, books were one of the few luxuries that I allowed myself to purchase. Although I am happy to give books to my kids, or to friends who love to read, or to students, I abhor the thought of books going to the landfill. So, I have a lot of books.

As I unpacked each book, I held it in my hands and thought about who had given me the book, or who had owned it before me, or how that book had shaped my thinking decades ago. And then I asked myself whether I would ever read it again, or if I really needed a book of lists from the 1990's, or a book from the 1980's about pregnancy. I considered whether anyone close to me might want the book. And then, ruthlessly, I sorted many of them into good-bye piles. I have taken two boxes of books to the university to put on the "free books" table for students. I have stuffed the Little Free Library with novels. I have taken four boxes of books to the secondhand bookstore. The bookstore owner took about half of them and said he would give the rest to charities. He tried to pay me for them, but I talked him into letting me take two books from his shelves in exchange. (Uhoh! I'm supposed to be getting rid of books, not acquiring more books!) And, sadly, four boxes of books are going to recycling.

The rest of the books, old friends, have found space on my bookshelves. I have finally found my art books, my poetry books, my gardening books, and my outdoor books! I still have way too many books. I now have three shelves of books, mostly fiction, in my den. There are books in the bedroom, the living room, the kitchen, and the basement. At least fifty of them are books that I have bought or been given but have not yet read. There are about twenty boxes of children's books in the storage room, and I am not throwing out any of those. I have been transporting them, a few each time, to my grandchildren when I go for visits. And then there are three floor-to-ceiling shelves full of books in my office at my workplace. My heroic book decluttering has eliminated just a small fraction of our collection.

The other day, I opened and sorted a box from the basement storage room. It contained, not surprisingly, books, and also a lot of my children's art. For example, I found calendars from twenty years ago that my kids had made me for Mother's Day, and stories they had written. I found the travel diary we had kept when we took a six week trip down the west coast of Canada and the USA in 2001. It took me two hours to sort through one little box because I had to read the diary and every one of their stories, and look at every picture. It sure is a good thing that I move every once in a awhile because I get to rediscover these treasures and take a sentimental walk down memory lane! 



Friday, January 27, 2017

Wrote the Letter; Set the Date


Here's my news of a lifetime. I have decided to retire!

Not only have I made the decision but I have met with my supervisor, set the date, and submitted my letter of retirement/resignation. My retirement date is June 30, 2017, and now that I have put it into writing, it is irrevocable according to the human resources rules at my workplace.

Drum roll.

You know how sometimes you don't know if you have made the right choice until after the thing has happened? Like when I left my leadership role in June 2016 after many months of agonizing over whether I should; it wasn't until after I stepped out the door and began my leave from work that I truly knew I had made the right decision. I wrote about it here.

So how do I feel about retiring now that the irrevocable decision has been made?

Well, the first and most overwhelming emotion was relief. I felt tremendous relief that my decision was finally made. The process of making this decision has been grueling and it has taken a long time. The uncertainty was hard to live with.

I also felt a huge sense of relief that I wouldn't have to go back to work. As I would have been starting in quite a different role, it would have required a lot of hard work and a significant time commitment to do the new job well. (And it is my nature that I must throw myself into every job and excel at it. I have never learned moderation.) I finally realized that I do not have the energy and passion for it anymore. I just don't want to have to work that hard. (In my mind, I can hear everyone who knows me laughing their heads off at this statement!)

I felt light, as though my head and shoulders were floating way above the ground. A huge weight has been taken off my shoulders.

My supervisor, lovely man that he is, made the whole process so much easier. I will have an honorary title and be able to maintain an affiliation with my institution after I retire. There is the potential for me to take on short-term contracts. He even suggested that I could request keeping my office and some professional development funds for a time-limited period after retirement. These things go a long way toward addressing the identity issue that has been such a big factor in my anxiety about retiring. I might never take on a contract, and if we move I will not need to keep my office, but just having these possibilities in the background in case, you know, it turns out that I can't figure out what to do with myself in retirement, puts my mind at ease.

I felt that time suddenly sped up. There are other decisions that hinge on this one, so making the decision to retire has created a domino effect initiating other decisions and actions. Now we will begin getting the house ready to put on the market, selling it, deciding where and when to move, buying a house somewhere else, and moving.

I felt released to act again. While I was in the purgatory of indecision, it was hard to focus on things or to take any steps because I couldn't see my way forward. I was wandering in circles. Since submitting my letter, I have suddenly thrown myself into a couple of projects that I committed to do during my leave.

I felt surprised that once the decision was made, it seemed so obvious. Why had I been fretting about it for so long?

I felt tremendous gratitude toward Rob for being so patient with me and letting the process play out without pressuring me.

In terms of the responses of others close to me, Rob is so happy that I have made the decision, finally, to retire. In fact, I feel a certain degree of guilt for having been so focused on MY decision all this time. This decision will have a huge impact on both of our lives, not just on me.

Our kids responded with a range of responses. To one, it was no surprise at all. It was obvious that I had been moving in this direction for a long time. Another was completely thrilled and joyful. Another was pleased that I had made a choice that would enhance my own well-being, finally stepping away from the workaholic choices that have characterized my past. And another was cautiously optimistic, knowing how much my work identity has always been so important to me. One hasn't heard the news yet.

However, it was no surprise to anyone. To them, it was obvious that I was moving toward retirement and they all clearly thought that it was a good idea. Even my supervisor at work said he was kind of anticipating it. In a sense, I was the last to know that I was ready to retire!

I still haven't had a chance to phone my friends and family to discuss my exciting news. But I sure am grateful for all their support, and the many long conversations over the past year helping to talk me through the decision.

As a funny postscript, I submitted the letter late last Friday afternoon. That way, I had the whole weekend to "test" the decision. Knowing that my supervisor would be unlikely look in his mail slot until Monday, I had a whole weekend to contemplate the possibility of racing to my workplace and removing the irrevocable letter before he saw it. I didn't do it, of course, but I sure do like to torture myself!

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.
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