Monday, November 13, 2017

Why I Enjoy Writing Fiction

Image used courtesy of National Novel Writing Month
November is National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. This year, hundreds of thousands of people from around the world are toiling at their computers trying to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. That works out to writing an average of 1,667 words a day every day for thirty days.

I am one of them. Last year I participated in NaNoWriMo as well. I started a new novel, a post-apocalyptic tale about a group of women who have survived in an underground shelter for eighteen years after the global collapse of society. I continued working on it throughout last December and January. Then I set it aside, and did some other things, like renovations, selling a house, buying a house, retiring, and moving. This November, I decided to pick up on writing the novel from where I left off, 50,000 words and 13 chapters into it.

I have been spending hours on it every day. (That is why I have been neglecting my blog.) I am a slow writer. I do not write the way the NaNo website suggests — just flinging words onto the page without worrying about sentence structure, cohesion, or flow. I write carefully, rereading and editing as I go. I build the story brick by brick. That way, when it comes time to go back and revise the first draft, I will have something solid to work with, rather than a mess that seems overwhelming.

I am really enjoying writing this novel. I spend my days in a fog, preoccupied by thinking about my characters and their trials and tribulations. Then when I sit down at the computer, the story just spools out of me.

Why do I love writing fiction so much? It is a good question in this era of the self-narrative, when autobiographical writing, or memoir, or autoethnography is so popular. After all, in memoir, the plot has already happened; you don’t have to make anything up. You have a ready-made story. “This is what happened to me.”

Well, autobiographical writing has a couple of big challenges. Although autobiographical writing, such as memoir, is about the self, every person is embedded in a social context. Therefore, when you write about yourself, you are also writing about people close to you. It is easy to offend, or to disrespect others' privacy. That can be hard, especially when you are in an ongoing relationship with those others that you would like to maintain, or when the things you are saying are negative.

If you write innocuous things about other people, perhaps this issue of privacy is less of a problem, but bland accounts of past experiences do not tend to make very interesting reading. People like to read about conflicts, where there is a villain and a hero, and challenges are faced and overcome. There can be a real temptation to spice up the truth a bit, to add a bit of drama. But in memoir, as Mary Karr says, writing the truth is the fundamental rule that you must not break.

So this is one of the reasons that I love to write fiction. I can make my fictional characters as nasty or as foolish as can be, without the risk of alienating someone in my real life. In fiction, I don’t have to leave out the embarrassing bits to spare someone’s feelings. Really, those juicy details are what make the story.

Another thing about fiction is that you can make the plot do whatever you want. You are not constrained by the history of events as they actually happened, and therein is the true joy of fiction. You get to use your imagination to invent whatever strange world your creative self can envision. You can work out the complexities of your protagonist’s personality, and toss one crazy challenge after another at them, just to see how they behave.

When you write fiction, you pose the question “What if?” What if a group of women lived in a shelter in tunnels and basement rooms under the ruins of a shattered university while lawless gangs roamed through the destroyed city scavenging for material goods? How would this character behave if she was spurned by her lover? What ethical choices would that character face when torn between following the rules of the collective or helping an outsider?

Ultimately, that is the great value of fiction. You can put yourself into someone's circumstances and try to understand how they might think, feel, and act in that situation. Through fiction, you can acquire a deeper empathy for someone unlike yourself. Through fiction, you might just get a little closer to uncovering a truth of human experience. And, most of all, writing fiction is fun!

Where I Write

By the way, if you are a NaNoWriMo participant and you would like to find me, I write under the pen name AnnaHarvey, and my current novel is called The Age of Grandchildren.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Family, Small Towns, and Fall Fairs

I grew up in a small Canadian town. As a child, I loved that little town and fully intended to live there forever. But my story turned out differently.

I had aspirations to go to university. Looking around, as an adolescent, it was clear to see that there were not many career opportunities in my small town, especially for women. Going to university meant leaving my town to move to a big city far away.

After leaving to go to university, I came back to my home town for a few summers, but I never lived there full-time again. I became qualified in a profession that did not require living in a large city to obtain employment, but by that time, there also was my my husband's career to consider. Finding satisfying work for both of us ultimately meant choosing to live in larger centers.

Later, I made a career switch and was fortunate to find a great position in my new field. I relocated to a mid-sized city within driving distance of my home town. A decade later, I moved even closer, and lived in a small city only 200 kilometers away.

During all these years, several of my family members have continued to live in the little town. So I have returned again and again to visit, celebrate Christmas, go skiing, go hiking, and attend the Fall Fair.

The Fall Fair is an annual highlight that takes place in the late summer. Although I have attended similar fairs in other places, there is no Fall Fair quite like the one in my town. Recently, I attended the Fall Fair again.

Fall Fair Parade
The Fall Fair starts with a parade. The weather always seems to be terrible during Fall Fair week. This year we went early to get good seats on the curb to watch the parade, and found ourselves shivering in a cold wind. Someone made a run back to the house to get blankets and warm sweaters, and even so, we were thoroughly chilled off before the last tractor and dancing cow had meandered up the main street of town.

The next day, my young nieces were exhibiting some of their animals in the 4-H events. The whole family got involved in leading the sheep to their stalls in the sheep barn.

Preparing for the 4-H Sheep Event
There were two large buildings hosting the agricultural and handicraft exhibits. My mom and I strolled up and down the long tables examining the tomatoes and zucchinis; the homemade bread, biscuits, pies, and brownies; the homemade wines and jams; and the flower arrangements. When my dad was still alive, he always entered his homemade wines and usually came away with several ribbons. This is one of the first years that my mom, now in her eighties, has not entered her homemade jams and jellies.

We also spent a long time admiring the art categories. One of my brothers and my sister in law won ribbons for their photography, and my brother and both nieces won several ribbons for their art. I recalled entering my own paintings and drawings in the Fall Fair when I was a child. I also used to enter flowers from my own little garden during my teen years.

We ate perogies and sauerkraut, and corn on the cob and fries. We spent time hanging out at the barns enjoying a brief period of sunshine. Rob said that sitting around in the hay barn was his favourite part of the fair!

Robby Hayseed

Uncle Hayseed
Later on, there was a rodeo, and we cheered for my sister in law's younger brother as he rode the bucking bronc. And of course, the kids were thrilled about going on the circus rides and eating cotton candy.

I am grateful that I have family who still live there. I can go back year after year, and feel as if I still have a foot in my hometown. There is a wonderful sense of continuity of the generations that I sometimes miss, having chosen instead to lead a more transient life.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

One Small Action

Spawning Sockeye*

Underwater Photography

As we get to know our new community, we have gradually begun to participate in activities and events here. Recently I attended a talk by a noted local underwater and landscape photographer, Eiko Jones. I was not familiar with Jones' work and had no idea what to expect.

As it turned out, I was completely blown away by his fabulous photos. Eiko Jones takes many of his underwater photos in local rivers and swamps on Vancouver Island, as well as in the ocean. His story of how he obtains his amazing underwater or split screen shots is almost as fascinating as the photos themselves. Essentially, he dives down and lies on the bottom of the riverbed, sometimes for more than two hours, taking hundreds of shots to get those one or two perfect images.

British Columbia (BC) and Alaska have one of the world's last great salmon habitats. Many of Eiko's photos showed the five species of returning and spawning salmon, and young salmon fry. Lately, in order to not disturb salmon in spawning beds with the bubbles from his scuba gear, he has taken to free diving.

I have lived in the watersheds of two of BC's major salmon bearing rivers most of my life, and am well aware of the importance of salmon to the ecology as well as to people, especially the First Nations peoples whose livelihoods depend on salmon. Eiko's photos of salmon who had fought their way back to their native stream to spawn and then die, along with his accounts of successful salmon stream rehabilitation, almost brought me to tears. Please click on the links to see examples of his photography.

Elder College Public Lecture

I have just discovered that there is an active Elder College program in my area. They are hosting a series of three public lectures in a nearby community centre. The topic for the speaker series is: Achieving Global Sustainability: A Decent Life For All. Unfortunately I missed the first talk, but I went to the second one in the series, which focused on global climate change and sustainable development.

I am deeply concerned about climate change. An obligation that rests heavily on my shoulders, now that I have retired, is to find ways to contribute meaningfully to society, and, in some small way, to help work toward solutions to the overwhelming and urgent problems that face humanity on a global scale. Climate change is one of many huge, interrelated problems, along with poverty, overpopulation, food insecurity, violence, gender inequity, and so on. It can seem overwhelming and hopeless. How does one even know where to start? How can one person's actions make any difference in the face of such urgent and difficult problems?

But thinking about it that way is defeatist. Trying to put pressing world issues out of mind and doing nothing does not alleviate my worrying about them because I still know the problems are there, like a monster in the closet. Having been present in Eiko Jones' talk, it was fresh in my mind how one person, through his exceptional photography, was gently educating people about ways to rejuvenate salmon streams, and why it is important.

As I listened to the sustainability speaker, I realized a couple of things. One is that almost nothing that he said about the causes and solutions to climate change and global sustainability was new information for me. Over the years, I have been reading and educating myself about these issues.

Another thing I realized is that many people from all countries of the world have been working for years to establish and implement global sustainability goals. In 2015, countries around the world adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This global agenda identifies 17 sustainability goals, readily available on the United Nations website. Also in 2015, signatories to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change agreed to take action to limit temperature change to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius.

So, in contributing my part, I am not alone. I am joining people around the world working toward a shared vision. One plus one plus one is how we get there.

A third thing that I realized is that I have been making choices for decades now to live in ways that are more environmentally conscious. In many little ways, I already have been doing things that align with the UN's 17 sustainability goals. Of course, there are many more changes that I could make. Just as people can join in one by one to work toward a shared goal, an individual can make personal changes one by one, and it all adds up. Here is a list of easy things to do: The Lazy Person's Guide to Saving the World. It is a great starting point.

One Small Act: #globalgoals

Upon coming home from the sustainability talk, I went online and read the UN's 17 sustainability goals. In doing so, I almost plunged into helplessness and hopelessness again. The problems are so big. The goals are so idealistic. 2030 is only 13 short years away!

But then, I decided that although I couldn't solve the problems of the world today, I could do one small thing today.

Goal 2 is to end hunger and increase food security, globally. This is one area in which we have made significant strides over the last 30 years. Although the world population has continued to rise, the absolute number of people in extreme poverty without access to adequate food has decreased. However, poor nutrition remains the biggest single cause of child mortality for children under five. For decades, we have known that the best way to improve the nutrition and health of babies and young children is for mothers to breastfeed. Yet Nestle corporation continues to market baby formula and powdered milk to the poorest countries of the world, making false claims that it is a more healthy choice.

So today, I joined the boycott of Nestle products. This link is to the most up-to-date list I could find for Canada. It includes links to the boycott lists for the USA, UK, and Australia. I printed the list and put it on my fridge. Then I sent it to three other people. That was my one small act for today.

*This is a free public domain photo by an unknown photographer. Follow the links to see Eiko Jones' photographs.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

What Really Matters

There was a time, not so long ago, that I thought I was doing pretty important stuff. Every day, Monday to Friday, I went to my office at 8:30 am and worked very hard. I went to meetings, figured out budgets, prepared agendas, mentored staff, and developed programs. Emails about important issues dropped into my email box all day long, some requiring immediate decisions and action, and others were from colleagues outlining their concerns about initiatives, or sending project updates, or communicating about personnel situations.

I worked so hard that I didn’t have time for lunch. I ate at my desk while reading through an eighty-five page agenda with attachments for the 1:00 pm meeting. I worked so hard that when most of the staff left for the day at 4:30, I would sigh with relief that the texts and phone calls had stopped coming in, and finally sit down to respond to the day’s worth of e-mails, or read a draft proposal, or write a report, or put together an agenda for a meeting of one of the many committees I chaired.

I worked so hard that I didn’t have time for supper. I would eat a snack at my desk and keep on working, finally heading home around 7:30 or 8:00 pm. On my nights to cook, we didn’t sit down to dinner until 8:30 or 9:00. As I hadn’t had time to exercise during the day, aside from rushing between buildings for meetings, I tried to go for a walk each night after dinner. But often I was just too tired. I missed my friends and family, all living so far away, so sometimes in the evening I would phone them, or they would phone me.

It was such important work. I had to give all my time to it. But, even working so hard, and even with a wonderful team who worked just as hard as me, I could never keep up with everything.

The weekends were for catching up on life. There were chores to do, exercise (because I hadn’t had time during the week), excursions with Rob, and gardening. And of course, sometimes there were work events on the weekends too. Even when I wasn’t at work, thoughts and emotions about work issues tended to predominate.

The work was so important.

Except it wasn’t. Now that I have retired, I look back at the life I was living, and I realize that it was crazy. As I wrote the description above, I just kept thinking, “Really???? Did I really believe that working such long hours was my only option, or that it was a good choice?” The new me wishes I could go back in time and shake some sense into the old me.

Stepping out of the workplace into my new retired life has been an experience of major perspectival shift. Not only do my old points of view seem foreign to me and somewhat bizarre, but I am seeing the other nonwork pieces of my life in a new way. No longer bits in the margins of my all-consuming worklife, it turns out that those parts of life are, in fact, what really matters.

I knew that I loved being a grandma. Visiting from afar every three months supplemented by occasional FaceTime was not enough. I could not do spontaneous things with the kids, like I can now that I have retired and moved closer to family members. For example Rob and I recently visited a Naval Base open house with my daughter’s family, as pictured below. My two little grandsons were very impressed with the helicopter, navy ships, and zodiacs at the base.

Captain of the Navy Vessel

Being physically closer to my grandkids, I can sometimes do grandma duty, giving their parents a chance to get away to do something together. Even though our move did not bring us physically closer to our other set of grandkids, we now have more time to travel to their community for visits, or to welcome visitors to our place.

One of the big surprises is how much I love being closer to my adult kids. Now it is possible to go to weekly yoga classes with one daughter, schedule a weekend in Vancouver to attend another daughter’s art show, and go for a hike on the local trails with my son. Yes, we did get together in the past too, but it always involved an airplane flight, and I was always in a state of exhaustion from work. It put a damper on spontaneity.

Fun with Auntie

I have realized that, just as when they were younger, having time to spend with my kids is one of the things that really matters. It doesn’t always have to be a special event. It can be having a cup of tea together, playing together with the grandkids, or walking on the beach. Of course, now that my adult kids are in the stage of life where they are very busy with little time off, my greater time flexibility as a retiree is helpful for making those moments possible.

Digging into Chocolate Cheesecake

My family and friends are at the top of the list of what really matters. This realization does not negate the value of my work contributions over the past decades. In the future I will continue to pursue intellectual, creative, and physical/health interests and activities. In the present moment, I am grateful that I have transitioned to this new and satisfying stage of life.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Why the Angst About Retirement, Dr Sock?

Hiking in the Landscape We Left Behind

Back at the end of May, one of my blogger pals, Donna Connelly, wrote to me and invited me to write a guest post on her blog, Retirement Reflections. It would be part of her Summer Series on Favourite Retirement/Lifestyle Bloggers that she planned to host.

I was thrilled to be invited! Donna's blog is excellent, and I read every one of her posts. The quality of her blog is noticed by others too. Retirement Reflections recently was listed as one of the Top International Retirement Blogs in 2017

Another really cool thing is that I have actually met Donna in person. Last winter, we spent a month on Vancouver Island checking it out as a possible place to retire (and as you now know, we did end up buying a house and moving to the Island). It was fun to meet face to face after first getting to know each other via our blogs. However, I unintentionally created an awkward moment for Donna, due to the fact that I blog under an alias and until recently have not posted any pictures of myself. Donna arrived at our meeting place a few minutes before me, and told the server that she was meeting a friend. The server asked her what her friend looked like, and Donna had to respond: "I don't know!"

Well, I am a person who is motivated by deadlines. So I sent Donna my guest post at the end of June, one day before her requested deadline. (What does it say about me that I was actually proud of myself for sending it one day BEFORE the deadline?)

Donna had suggested that I write about the experience of retiring, as I was just about to retire on June 30. So I did, pouring out my state of mind at the time. I titled it: Over the Threshold into Retirement.

I was filled with angst about retirement as the official date approached. I was focused on what I was leaving behind, and how hard it was to let it go. I decided to use this guest post to reveal some things about my work and identity that I had not blogged about before. Are you a little bit curious? Here is what I had to say:

After months – no, years -- of planning, I finally have walked through the door to retirement. I have received my last paycheque. In a couple of weeks, I will pack up my office at work.  I have bought a house in a different province, in a community closer to our kids and grandkids. And I have booked a moving date.  

Rethinking my Identity 

It has been an emotional roller-coaster. Regular readers will know that I have struggled mightily with the challenge of stepping away from my work identity. What you might not know, as I have not shared it until now, is why I have found it so hard to leave work.     Continue Reading...
An Island Hike
Now as I look back on my state of mind leading up to the decision to retire and the experience of crossing the threshold from work to retirement a few months ago, I kind of chuckle about the angst I felt.  As it turns out, I love being retired! It is an experience of more, not less.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A Day in the Life of a Retiree

So, we have arrived back "home" from our road trip to visit friends and family.

I know I had promised a post on the last half of the trip, but that will have to wait for a bit. I found it difficult to post while travelling because we had no wifi on the road, and whenever we arrived somewhere that had wifi, well, of course we were busy visiting and I had no time to look at my devices. In addition, Blogger does not seem to work well with Apple mobile devices; it could not seem to "see" photos on my new iPhone. So writing a post, and especially adding photos, required frustrating work-arounds. Does anyone else have this problem using Blogger with an iPhone or iPad? I would love some technical hints about what works for you.

But that is not my topic for this post.

I put quotation marks around the word home because, after having spent only 12 days here moving in, our new house didn't really feel like home when we returned to it a few days ago. It looked beautiful, and my son who was house-sitting had left it as neat as a pin. There were our furniture, dishes, clothes, and lots of boxes. The pets were delighted to see us. But we still felt as though we were unlocking the door to someone else's place. I guess it is time to settle in and actually start living here.

During the last few days, along with necessary chores, we have begun to explore the neighbourhood where we live. We have met some of the nearby neighbours, who seem very welcoming and friendly. We have gone to the local coffee house for coffee and snacks. We attended the Farmer's Market. We stopped in at a nearby farm that sells organic and locally produced meats and produce. My daughter's family came for dinner one evening.

Yesterday, we went for a short hike. There is trail access only a block from our house. Five to ten minutes of a steep rocky climb brought us to a viewpoint that overlooks a nearby lake and the ocean beyond.

View From the Lookout

Pausing for a Breather

The trail passed through a grassy open area where there were a number of Garry Oaks. Garry Oaks are the only oak tree native to western Canada, and their ecosystem is endangered. I was thrilled to discover that we have a couple of Garry Oaks on our property.

Standing among the Garry Oaks

There were also many Arbutus trees. These trees are the only broad leaf evergreen native to Canada, and they thrive on Vancouver Island. They are beautiful trees.

Standing by an Arbutus Tree

Arbutus Trees

The summit of our climb was the top of a high rocky bluff with magnificent views of the bay and mountains to the south. In this area as well, we found Garry Oaks and many Arbutus trees.

Hiking Across the Top

There has been almost no rain here all summer, and conditions are very dry. We later found out that the trails we were walking on have been temporarily closed to hikers because of the fire danger. We didn't realize it because the access trail we used had nothing posted about a closure. I guess we won't be hiking there again until we get some rain. Fortunately, rain is in the forecast for later this week.

I think I am starting to get into this retirement groove. Although really, it feels more like a lovely holiday in someone else's house in a beautiful oceanside location.

Here is what I did today:
  • I woke up at a reasonable (late) time, and sipped coffee while doing my online French lesson
  • I cooked a big breakfast, which included fresh blackberries we had picked ourselves
  • After breakfast, I read articles on the Internet about how to look after a goldfish pond. Yes, we have a goldfish pond!
  • Rob and I went for our first bike ride here. It is hilly. I am out of shape.
  • I had a shower and got changed, then walked down the street to a yoga studio in someone's home. My first yoga class here!
  • I walked home in the blazing sun and had a short nap.
  • We cleaned algae out of the fishpond, or rather, Rob did while I looked on.
  • We had a light lunch
  • I caught up on reading some blog posts
  • I did some laundry
  • I watered the garden
  • I unpacked my computer and set it up
  • I cooked a nice dinner -- lamb meatballs (with meat from the organic farm), rice, broccoli, and marinated bean and tomato salad
  • I did some more laundry
  • I wrote this blog post.
Our Bike Ride this Morning

The day that I described above is so very different from my typical day during the last 40 years. Right now, I find it blissful, and am so happy to have retired and made this move.

I am sure that soon enough, a little voice in my head will start to demand that I "accomplish something" each day. But for now, I am going to enjoy every lovely unstructured day, and learn how to just be. Of course, I'll spend some time unpacking boxes too. Tomorrow.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

A Retirement Bonus

When I decided to retire, one of the big motivating factors was that I wanted to get my life back. Working sixty plus hours a week left little time for creative pursuits and other other interests. As an administrator, I spent 11-12 hours a day sitting in meetings or hunched over a computer, and did not have enough time for regular exercise, healthy meals, and enough sleep. I especially missed having time to spend with family and friends, a problem that was exacerbated by living far away from the people that we loved.

Since stepping down from my administrator position a year ago, and officially retiring in June, I have loved being able to travel to BC to visit friends and family. Now that we have moved, we are closer to many family members and friends and will have the time to travel to visit those who are not as close by.

Just a week and a half after moving into our new house, we set off on a camper trip to central and northern BC. We attended the beautiful wedding of the daughter of our dear friends. I have known the bride since she was a newborn baby, and fortunately had the forethought to bring kleenexes with me to the ceremony!

The Happy Couple

Rob Shares a Moment With the Father of the Bride

Travel to the wedding was not without incident. This summer, BC has been ravaged by wildfires. When we left Vancouver Island, it was shrouded in smoke from fires in the interior of the province. Many communities had been evacuated as the fires encroached on their borders. The highway that normally we would have taken was closed because of wildfire danger. So we took a much longer route, and everywhere that we travelled, the air was full of thick smoke obscuring the sky and the landscape.

The worst of the smoke occurred in Prince George on the night of August 12th. We were at an event and even with all the doors and windows of the building closed, we could smell the choking smoke. When we came out of the building at midnight, apocalyptic ash was raining down from the sky like snow, and all of the vehicles in the parking lot were covered with a layer of black grit. Under the streetlights, the sky was a brown fog, swirling with falling ash. We later found out the the measures of particulate in the air had been off the chart, sixty times the recommended daily average.

On this trip, we visited with our other set of grandchildren. In fact, we were grandparents in charge for a week as their daycare was closed for a summer break. We had fun with the kids, and also with our daughter and son in law, who had just moved into a beautiful new home. We also had a birthday celebration with another son who came for a visit for a few days.

Granddaughter Going for a Walk

Backyard Soccer

Grandson has a Nap

Playground Fun

One of the highlights was taking the kids for a ride on the miniature train, which was followed, of course, by ice cream. Bubblegum was the flavour of choice.
A Train Ride With the Grandchildren

Enjoying some Ice Cream

Some Ice Cream Went into the Mouth

We have gone farther down the highway now, and are still travelling. I hope to do another blog post soon about the second half of the trip.

I feel fortunate to now have the time to travel and spend time with friends and family. Having time to spend with people I care about is my retirement bonus.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Moving to a New House

We have made the big move!

Sunday, July 23 was our last day to pack before the movers arrived. We had left the kitchen until last, along with the bed and bedding. That weekend, Canada had a record heat wave. of course, it had to be the day that I packed up the kitchen! I packed the kitchen in 35 degree Celsius heat (95 Fahrenheit) with the sun beating in. Our house, which does not have air conditioning, was usually reasonably cool because of a long overhanging roof. But not on that day.

On Monday morning, the packers from the moving company arrived. They spent the day packing all the fragile items: dishes, art, and electronics. Meanwhile, we finished packing the last of the bedroom and outdoor items, and packed the camper for our trip west.

On Tuesday, the truck and driver arrived at 8:30 a.m. Four men loaded the truck all day, and they were finally finished at 8 p.m. at night. After they weighed the truck, we found that we had 16,000 pounds of stuff! By late in the afternoon, the house was empty enough that we were able to start cleaning. I began wiping down kitchen cabinets, while Rob vacuumed the basement. After the movers left, we went out for dinner, then slept in our camper in the driveway.

The next day, we cleaned and scrubbed all day, and left the house shining. We finally set out on our journey west at 6 p.m. in the evening. We drove for a couple of hours, then camped near the BC-Alberta border. Another day of driving brought us into south central BC. Rob was driving the truck and had the dog with him, and I was driving the car, and had the cat with me. Because it was so warm, we couldn't stop for more than a few minutes during the daytime, as the vehicles became too hot for the pets as soon as the air conditioning stopped. We timed our lunch breaks to occur in high mountain passes where the air was cooler.

We expected the third day of driving to be a short one. But we had not taken into account the the Friday bumper-to-bumper traffic that choked all the highways in the Vancouver area. It took hours to crawl through the lower mainland, and we finally reached the Horseshoe Bay ferry at 6:00 p.m. At the ferry, we were directed into separate lanes, as the truck is considered an oversized vehicle. Rob had a one-sailing wait, and I had a two-sailing wait. I finally arrived at my destination, our new home, Friday at midnight.

We had a two-day break before the movers arrived on Monday to unload. It gave us time to deal with things like banking, see the kids and grandkids, and buy more hoses for watering the parched garden.

On Sunday, before the movers arrived, I washed the floors throughout the house.

Freshly Washed Living Room Floor

Moving Boxes in Our New House

On Monday morning, the moving truck arrived. They had a hard time backing from the street uphill into our driveway. The driver drove over some of the landscaping rocks, and scattered them down the hill.

Four men unloaded for the whole day. They needed to come back again a couple of days later to finish putting the furniture together.

We now have set up the most critical living areas, but still have many boxes to unpack. The first weekend, I took time out to go to the Parksville Sand Carving competition.

With My Daughter

Grandsons Enjoying the Playground

We are so excited to to have finally made the move! We love our new house, and are thrilled to be closer to some of our friends and family.

And now, after only twelve days in our new house, we have left the house in the care of of my son, and have headed off on another adventure in the truck and camper!

Friday, July 21, 2017

One Last Pie

Suddenly, the days are going by so quickly. In only two more days, the movers will be here. We have been labouring at packing up all of our belongings. The movers will pack the fragile items, art, and electronics. We are packing all the rest. It is physically exhausting.

Yesterday, I finished packing up my office at my workplace and walked away from it for the last time. Rob came with the pickup truck and handcart and loaded up 21 extremely heavy boxes of books and papers. They are banker's boxes, much smaller than the boxes I used when I moved into this office one year ago. I figure that with all the books that I have given away, and all the files full of paper that have gone to recycling, I am keeping only about one third of what was in my office. Still, 21 full boxes -- that's a lot to move.

This month we have experienced many "lasts." The last sushi meal at our favourite Japanese restaurant. The last haircut with my wonderful stylist. The last painting session with my painting buddies at the community art studio. The last pie.

A Raspberry Pie -- It Was Delicious!

A few years ago, I tore out one of the decorative garden beds in our backyard, and planted some raspberry canes, strawberries, and rhubarb. It took them awhile to get established, and this year the raspberry canes are heavy with fruit. So earlier this week, I picked raspberries and baked a raspberry pie. It seems I have finally figured out how to adjust my pie crust recipe for this dry climate; the pie was really good. But now we are off to the coast to move to our new home which has lovely gardens but no raspberry canes or vegetable beds. So we had to have one last pie!

Rather than moving all of our furniture, we donated some of it to a local charitable organization. On Tuesday, two fellows came by with a truck and took away our couch, loveseat, a table, some bookshelves, and so on. However, they took one look at my old oak office desk and declined to take it. They said that no one wants big old oak desks anymore, even for free.

I bought the desk from an office surplus store for next to nothing, and have had it for more than 20 years. However, I had decided that it would not be coming with me to Vancouver Island. The desk was too heavy for Rob and me to move out of the den. So Rob dismantled it, and I am sad to say, cut it up with his circular saw and took it to the dump. He was kind enough to wait until I left the house, because he knew how upset I was about it. The photo below shows my last glimpse of my desk.

Rob Dismantles the Desk

Something we have really liked about living here are all the wonderful hikes and walks in the area. I already have written about our last hike at Waterton Lakes National Park. We have discovered many camping and hiking areas on the eastern slope of the Rockies. Police Outpost Provincial Park is another favourite. Our last day of skiing at West Castle Mountain in March was the best powder ski day we have experienced at that ski hill in all our years skiing there. We were having so much fun skiing that we forgot to take pictures!

One of the things we have loved about our home is that is located right on the edge of the river valley. There are a number of trails nearby that we can access into the coulees and they go for miles.

One of my Last Coulee Rambles with Kate

Last Walk Down to the River with Rob

It has been interesting exploring the small towns scattered across the prairies. The autumn that I had a broken foot, we did a lot of touring by car. Some of the towns are quaint, some shabby or desolate, and some are insular and smug. One little town that we like a lot is Nanton, and also the Coutts Centre near it.

Last Visit to Coutts Centre

It has been an interesting five years. We won't miss some things about the place, such as the terrible drivers, the overt racism, and the extreme conservatism. We are eager to move back to BC, and we love our new house, and its location by the ocean. Now we just have to make it through the move itself.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Big Changes are Happening!

Well, we are right back into the groove of our messy old ways of housekeeping. But this time, we have a good excuse. Our house has sold, and we are packing! Yep, it has finally happened.

We have a confirmed move date. The movers will be here two weeks from today. As we are packing everything except the fragile items, art, and electronics, we have a lot of packing to do.

The Moving Dates

Rob already has started on the packing. Since the conditions came off on the sale of the house a few days ago, he has packed the entire family room (aka the man cave). He has brought home boxes and made a dump run. Meanwhile, I have been going off to the office frantically trying to wrap up a project before the move. Then I will pack my office.

Mountain of Boxes

Although I haven't packed much yet, I haven't been completely uninvolved with the moving plans. I have been doing the coordinating and arranging. I have arranged the move dates, and a pickup of furniture that we will be donating rather than taking with us. I have been working through the checklists of moving tasks, and stripped beds not in use and washed all the bedding in preparation for packing. I have begun going through our home filing cabinet sorting and throwing away papers - so much paper! How did we ever accumulate so many files of useless junk?

Recently, my son made a final visit here to sort through all his stuff and decide what to keep and what to donate or toss. He packed up his room. Now he has gone back to BC and is house-sitting our new house for us.

While he was here, we took some time out for a day hike on the eastern slope of the Rockies. We did one of our favourite hikes, one to Sofa Mountain. It is a hike up into a cirque, mostly through alpine meadows. The scenery is spectacular, and includes three waterfalls. At this time of year there are so many wild flowers. Of course, we picked a really hot day for our hike, and we're glad that we had brought a water filtering pump so that we could replenish our water bottles in the creek.

Jude, Rob, & Kate in the Lower Meadows

Wandering Through the Cirque

Hikes to Sofa Mountain and elsewhere in Waterton Lakes National Park will be one of the fond memories that we will take with us when we leave this area.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Painting Canada's Landscapes

     Prairie Landscape

I began painting several decades ago. I started taking community workshops in oil painting when I was a highschool student in a small northern Canadian town.

I was part of the baby boom generation that created a bulge in the school system. There were more students than classrooms or teachers. During my elementary school years, it was typical to be placed in classes of 40-42 students. We pushed our desks together to make double rows so that we could all fit into a standard-sized classroom. By the time that I reached junior and senior high school, the demographic bulge was putting pressure on the availability of elective courses. For example, in Grade 8, there were not enough spaces in Home Economics classes, so a few girls were allowed to opt to take shop classes instead, for the first time ever.

One of the ways that the bulge affected me is that my highschool discontinued offering Art 11 and 12, and the teacher was reassigned to teach other courses. I always had loved doing art, and was disappointed that I would not be able to take Art as an elective in highschool. So, I signed up for evening adult art classes.

My parents bought me a portable easel, and I used my babysitting money to invest in a starter set of paints, brushes, and canvas boards. Our instructor, Quentin Robbins, taught us the basics of oil painting. On wintery nights, we painted a series of still life scenes that he set up for us, or scenes from photos. However, Quentin's real passion was painting landscapes. He especially like to paint rural scenes of old tumbledown barns.

I discovered that I too loved to paint landscapes. I continued to sign up for painting workshops as a teenager. However, after I left my hometown, I rarely had opportunities to paint. Sometimes a decade would go by between periods of painting. But this last five years, I have made it a priority to find time to paint. I haven't painted as much as I would like -- maybe 2-3 hours a week or every two weeks.

      Plein Air Painting at Coutts' Centre

One of my new discoveries has been en plein air painting. I love to stand outside in a field or near the mountains, painting. One truly gets a sense of a place by painting on location. Sure, there are bugs, wind, changing light, and weather to contend with. But it is such an intense experience.

A couple of weekends ago, I attended a plein air paintout at the Coutt's Centre for Western Heritage in southern Alberta. It is a family homestead that Jim Coutts donated to create a heritage centre. It is a spectacular location for painting outdoors, with a number of heritage houses and barns on the homestead, gardens, fruit trees, wooded areas, and a pond. The mountains are visible in the distance, and there are many sculpture pieces tucked away along the various pathways.

I set my easel up at the edge of a lawn dotted with large boulders. They were arranged similarly to a sundial, but one of the other guests told me that he believed that they represented a teepee ring. Beyond the circle was an area of tall grass, then bushes, and behind that a barn, trees, and sky.

Because I wanted to finish my painting during the day, I used a small canvas, 11x14 inches. Although I prefer to paint larger, I have found through experience that that I cannot a finish a painting in one session if I start with a larger canvas.

My position behind a large cluster of bushes was perfect; it protected me from the wind which otherwise might have blown my easel over. The only problem was that there was no shade there, so I was standing in full sun all day. However, I slathered myself with sunscreen and went to work.

It was a magical day. Although I find that my plein air landscapes have a rougher, less finished look, there is nothing like the experience of being immersed in the landscape and really looking closely at it.

      Blocking in the Willow

I also have started a small studio painting recently. It is from a photo that I took in Grand Forks, BC, in the springtime. A couple of large weeping willow trees near the river were just coming into leaf. The evening sun illuminated them, creating a brilliant yellow flow of colour. I haven't gotten far with that one yet. My painting time has been limited with all the of business of buying and selling houses and preparing to move.

Painting is a wonderful mental holiday from everyday tasks and worries. Landscapes, to me, represent something important about Canada. This is why I am writing about landscape painting on Canada's 150th birthday.

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.
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