Sunday, January 19, 2020

Why It's Worth It

A Beautiful World and I'm Grateful to be Here
I think everyone asks themselves this question from time to time. "Why is it worth it?"

The question can take on a different shape depending on circumstances. It can mean: why is it worth persisting with this hard thing I'm trying to do when at the moment it seems so unrewarding and difficult or even hopeless, and nobody seems to appreciate it? This version of the question is about taking on challenges that help us grow, help others, and help make the earth a better place. It takes commitment to persist with an intention or goal when we find ourselves seemingly inadequate for the task, the way forward isn't clear, or when others obstruct our efforts or fail to acknowledge us.

Or it can mean: Why is life worth it? Am I really here on this earth just to shop, pick up dog poop, fill out this form, and drink beer in front of the TV? In this incarnation, the question really is about the deep inner sense of one's existential purpose. Depression, illness, or discouragement sometimes might be a cue to examine inner needs that have been ignored and repressed. Existential purpose is hard to nail down and it seems to easily get derailed. We find ourselves using our time up instead on trivial matters, comfortable routines, or self-gratification. Or, perhaps some of us fill our time up with busyness and daily obligations as a way of running from an examination of the inner self and life purpose.

Or "why is it worth it" can mean: What's in it for me? On the surface, this appears to be a selfish concern, a desire to put oneself first, rather than thinking about others or broader life goals. Often, a person's answer to this question never goes beyond the level of personal material reward -- the paycheque, the ego stroke, the better fitness score, or the tit for tat exchange.  But, underneath, everything starts right here, right now, with the person you are inside. All important work a person does has to start internally, by recognizing and accepting the person you are, and checking in to make sure that your external efforts align with your core values. I'm coming to learn that when I run away from my inner self, then my commitments, efforts, and daily pursuits may become unsatisfying or even harmful.  

Lately I have been writing quite a bit about the climate crisis, and how it has motivated me to take various actions.

Although I cannot put into words what my core life purpose is, one part of it is the desire to make a positive difference in the world. Putting personal effort into educating myself about climate change, communicating about it to increase others' awareness, and taking personal actions to reduce my carbon footprint, all help, in a small way, to make a positive difference in the world.

It's worth if because of my beautiful children and grandchildren, and the future generations who will inherit the earth. I've written about this here, and here.

It's also worth it because the earth, its systems, and the living plants and animals are beautiful, amazing, and inherently worth preserving. Here are a few photos of the area where I live that I've taken over the last three months. They show the beauty of our world.

An October Afternoon in My Neighbourhood
Sunshine on the Pond
Snow Encrusted Trees at Mount Washington
Mount Washington at Four O'clock

Rock on the Forest Floor
Tiny Mushrooms in the Moss

The Backyard With a Foot of Snow
We live in an amazing world, and I'm grateful to be a part of it. It's worth it.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Six Months Later

A Shopping Moratorium

Regular readers will remember that a little over six months ago, I wrote a post declaring that I was going to embark on a six month moratorium on buying any clothing, shoes, or jewellery for myself.

The reason I am concerned about shopping is that our North American materialistic lifestyle is not sustainable for the Earth. Every item of consumer goods that we purchase has a high carbon cost, which comes from obtaining the raw materials for the item (mining, logging, growing cotton, etc.), deforestation that ensues from activities like mining, logging, or growing cotton, the manufacturing process which uses energy and often environmentally toxic chemicals, the non-reusable packaging of the goods (often in plastic), and the transportation of the item to the end user, often from the far side of the world (burning fossil fuels).

When people buy things, they're often replacing items that are still serviceable (if no longer fashionable), or repairable (but who knows how to darn socks anymore? And what about the built-in obsolescence of iPhone batteries which can't be replaced?). The unwanted items typically end up in landfills. The carbon footprint from unnecessary consumption contributes to climate change.

So how did I do in these past six months?

Well, I'm not a really big shopper in general. But I do have a lot of clothes, which are mostly office wear left over from my work life before I retired. So I thought I wouldn't have much difficulty cutting myself off from shopping for clothes, shoes, and jewellery.

I announced my shopping moratorium on June 28, which meant it would be in effect until the end of December, 2019. In fact, I posted the blog article in the airport, as my daughter and I were waiting to board a flight to Crete. We were heading off together to a yoga retreat!

And wouldn't you know it -- the airline lost our luggage. We were going to spend a week-long retreat at a remote location on the edge of the Libyan Sea and we had nothing to wear but what we wore on the plane. So, only two days after stating my intention to not shop for six months, I was running around Heraklion buying clothes. You can read about it here

 It was a truly wonderful holiday. More pictures here.

And so, I thought I would just shift the end date of my moratorium from December 29 to December 31 to complete six months of no shopping. (Note: I still allowed myself to buy clothes for others -- e.g., souvenir T-shirts for the grandkids).

But on the second-last day of our Cretan holiday, after we finished the yoga retreat, the whole group did a shopping trip to Rethymno. Then, my daughter and I spent one more day in the city of Heraklion on our own. Sad to say, in Rethymno, my will power wavered, and I bought myself a slender handmade silver bracelet as a memento of the trip.

Exploring Rethymno With My Daughter
Tempting Wares

Street Art in Rethymno
All the Retreat Group (Except Theo)
Restaurant Where We had our Last Dinner Together
So, you guessed it, I shifted the starting and end dates of the shopping ban again. It started on July 7, 2019 and ended on January 8, 2020. I am happy to report that I did not buy any clothing, shoes, or jewellery during those six months (in fact, I haven't gone shopping even yet). I wore out three pairs of shoes, and several clothing items. And, next time before I impose a shopping ban on myself, I will make sure that I have a good supply of non-ragged underwear before I start.

Carbon Offsets

All my life, I have wanted to travel to see other parts of the world. Yet, throughout most of my adulthood, my travel has been quite limited. Although I did travel for work, it was rarely to places that I would have chosen as a destination, and my time in each place was mostly spent working, not sight-seeing. Finances, parenting, and the time demands of full-time work limited my opportunities to travel.

So one of the top goals I had for retirement was to travel.

But, since I have begun learning more about the climate crisis, I have realized that flying causes a lot of CO2 to be released into the air.

It is important to reduce material consumption, shift from a high meat diet to a more plant-based diet, avoid wasting food, divest one's portfolio of petroleum stocks, burn less fossil fuel (in cars and in home heating/cooling), waste less water, garden organically, use less toxic household products, vote for environmentally focused political parties, speak out about climate concerns, and refuse plastic packaging. These are all lifestyle changes that I am trying hard to incorporate into my life.

But I undermine my own efforts to be a good climate steward when I do a lot of air travel. One solution is to fly less.

As much as I can,  I have eliminated taking domestic flights. For example, I live on an island. There are two main ways to get off the island -- by air, or by ferry. So I have been choosing the ferry. I was excited to read that a local small airline hopes to put an electric airplane into service within the next two years for short trips from the Island to the mainland.

This summer, Rob and I vacationed close to home, camping nearby on Vancouver Island. That way, we didn't have to fly anywhere, or burn a lot of gas on a long road trip.

But I haven't yet eliminated all air travel from my life. Although I feel guilty about flying, I also am not ready to give up my lifelong goal of travelling to other parts of the world.

So along with flying less, my solution is to purchase carbon offsets for every flight that I do take. Although there are a number of organizations one can use to do this, I use Gold Standard. A video from their website explains the concept of joint action on climate change, and how purchasing carbon offsets makes a difference.

The first step is to calculate your emissions. Gold Standard provides a way to calculate your annual emissions.  However, for calculating flight emissions, I prefer to use the calculator provided by myclimate.

As an example, I calculated that my return flight to Crete created 3.4 tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions, and an upcoming trip will create 1.6 tonnes of emissions, so 5 tonnes in total for the two trips. I purchased carbon credits equivalent to my flight emissions, and chose to apply those credits to a project that provides clean water to Cambodian communities. It cost me $81 CAD.

Maybe some day I will go that extra step and stop all air travel. But, not yet. 

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

A Family Christmas

Our Beautiful Tree
Okay, I know you're expecting my usual Christmas rant. But instead, I'm going to write about the joys of our Christmas celebration, and share a few photos.

We had a really fun Christmas this year. We were very happy that two of my brothers and my son travelled to our Island home to spend Christmas with us. We also had the chance to spend lots of time with my two grandsons, their mom (my daughter) and our son-in-law. We got together with friends, and participated in several holiday community activities (one of which involved cooking a community dinner for 60 people!).

I did a lot of cooking (and eating) this Christmas. Somehow, I forgot to take pictures of the food -- how did that happen? We balanced all the time around the dinner table by going hiking several times, skiing twice, and skating once. There were also some very competitive games of cribbage, jenga, otrio, and battleships. We saw the new Star Wars movie together, as well as a new Christmas movie, and some of us watched quite a few hockey games.

The first ski day, we had beautiful sunshine, but hardly any snow. We scratched our the bases of our skis badly on rocks that were poking through. But Rob and my brother Tony are talented ski techies and they fixed up our skis the next day. 
Rob and My Son
Look How My Little Boy has Grown Up

One afternoon, we went to a community skating party -- my daughter, son-in-law, son, two grandsons, and me.
Grandson with Hockey Moose
My Son, Older Grandson, and Me

On Christmas Eve, we managed to fit in a pub dinner.
Brother, Brother, and Son at English Style Pub
And then on the big day, there was much merriment. We cut back quite a bit on the consumeristic aspects of Christmas this year. But there was still joyful giving of gifts, along with sipping of wine, board games, walks, visiting, and cooking and eating a traditional Christmas dinner. (Where's my photo of the turkey? I thought I took one...)

Of course, one of the best parts is watching the kids get excited about giving and opening their gifts.
The Bag Of Gifts
Harry Potter Lego!
My Own Camera!

The adults had fun too.
The Velvet Devil??
Awesome Album!

Rob installed a new cartridge on his turntable so Tony could listen to his new album. A few nights later, we had friends over and spent half the evening in the basement man cave listening to LPs from 50 years ago (re-mastered ones).

And, yes, we had to sample quite a few of those yummy wines, craft beers, and a few of us got into the scotch (not me). 

Gallivanting Around Europe
"We interrupt this important moment of putting the hot food on the table to take a Christmas dinner photo..." My seven year old grandson took this dinner photo! The younger one, age four, also took a few hundred photos with his new camera, which were then deleted so he could take more photos.

Of course, one of the sad things about Christmas is missing the family members who are celebrating elsewhere. We phoned my other daughter and her significant other who are spending Christmas in Europe. She's sent lots of cool photos of her trip.

We also talked with Rob's daughter's family, and shared photos. We're excited to see that set of grandkids soon, because we're going on a trip together in January.

We had dinner at my daughter's house on Boxing Day. It was a chance to learn a really cool new board game called Otrio, which is a bit like tic-tac-toe but more complex and strategic.
A Serious Game of Otrio
The best thing about Christmas this year was spending time with each other. When the holiday is less about "stuff" and impossible decorating standards, there seems to be more time to just hang out and do thing things together. I feel so grateful to have these wonderful people in my life. Relationships are the true meaning of Christmas, I believe.

But even a wonderful Christmas like this wasn't all rosy. There are always little negative things, like moments when the kids get over-tired and full of sugar, or me having insomnia Christmas Eve and being really tired all day on Christmas, or the fact that the kids' new skis and bindings weren't set up properly and we didn't discover it until we got to the ski hill. The usual worries (like about a loved one's health or financial woes) don't go away just because it's Christmas. And Christmas is also a time when we especially miss people we have lost, like my dear Mom who passed away more than a year ago.

The joys of Christmas seem all the more poignant set against the bittersweet aspects. As we transition to the new year, I want to remember the lessons of Christmas -- being together is what matters; we're doing our best and that's good enough; let everyone contribute in their own way.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

A Month of Writing

Down by the Oyster Farm in November

About November

November is National Novel Writing Month. This year, even though I haven't yet completed the revisions on my novel, The Age of Grandchildren, I decided to commit to signing up for NaNoWriMo this November.

The objective of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. Of course, no novel of mine is ever likely to be as short as 50,000 words. The Age of Grandchildren, in its current state of revision, is 116,000 words. But, nevertheless, 50,000 words is a good start on a novel.

Hitting the goal of 50,000 words meant writing, on average, 1,667 words every single day of November. 

A Few Words About My Writing Process

One thing to keep in mind is that writing is time-consuming. And I am a very slow writer. Although some writers like to pour the words out onto the page to generate a first draft without worrying much about vocabulary, sentence structure, sequence, and so on and then go back and revise later, I like to compose carefully and revise and edit as I go along. Therefore, in order to get 1,667 words down on the page, I needed to spend five or six hours at my computer each day in November.

I didn't achieve the goal of writing 50,000 words in one month. But I did write 43,700 words, and I am very pleased with that. Since the end of November, I have continued to write (despite the distractions of Christmas in all its glory), and my novel is now 46,583 words long. That is eleven and a half chapters, and 172 manuscript pages.

Before sitting down to write on November 1st, I had written some notes, including a plot overview, some character sketches, and some notes on subplots. I had also written a couple of pages setting the opening scene. But that was all. Those 172 pages came out of my head during November.

Five to six hours hunching over the keyboard every day has left me with a sore back and tennis elbow (from the mouse). I didn't keep up my usual level of exercise. It reminds me of my pre-retirement life!

My New Novel

The working title of this novel is The Time Before Time Zero. It is a prequel to The Age of Grandchildren, and there will eventually be a third novel in the sequence. It is set in the greater Vancouver area in the near future. It tells the story of how twenty women ended up hiding underground in a shelter beneath a university. It is told from the perspective of four different characters. Time Zero is the moment in time when everything changes for the characters.

Excerpt From the Novel

The Woman on the Platform
“Breeder! Breeder!”
Beulah was hurrying along the sidewalk, her eyes on her feet and her mind turning over a problem they’d discussed at the meeting, but now she looked up and saw a knot of protestors clustered around the transit entrance. There were twenty-five or thirty of them, several waving placards.
“Shame, shame, you’re to blame!” They started up a chant, waving signs to punctuate their message.
“End-of-Timers,” Beulah muttered to herself and began elbowing her way through the crowd toward the gate. A fat man with a shaved head blocked her way forward with his hand-written sign scrawled on corrugated cardboard: The End is Nie! Reppent Before You Die!
Beulah pushed past the misspelled sign. At the front of the group, two teens wearing rainbow clothes, their faces painted with teardrops and down-turned clown mouths, held a banner printed with you have destroyed our future. Around the border of their banner, they’d drawn pictures of an oil refinery, a ship, a transport truck, and an airplane, all spewing clouds of black smoke. Their eyes rimmed with black eyeliner were as tragic as their mouths.
 As Beulah placed her forearm under the scanner at the gate, she looked into the entrance lobby to see who the protestors’ target was. Ah, there she was, a pregnant woman just stepping onto the escalator. It was getting so it was no longer safe to travel the streets anymore. Every day there was another riot, mugging, or car bombing by one faction or another -- the Climate Warriors, Heteros for God, Queer Love, or the End-of-Timers.
Beulah ran up the escalator and arrived on the platform at the same time as the woman. Now that she was beside her, Beulah could see she was probably in her early thirties, with a slim athletic build, coffee and cream skin, and close-cropped tight curls.
“You okay?” Beulah asked.
“Yes. Thanks.” The woman lowered her eyes.
Then she looked up, right at Beulah, and burst out, “It’s my own damn fault! I should have worn a loose jacket or something to cover it.” She waved her hand at her stomach, the bulge visible under a clingy top.
“Not at all,” said Beulah. “There’s nothing wrong with bearing a child. Don’t let those idiots get to you.”
On the street below, they could still hear the chanting. “Shame, shame, you’re to blame!”
“How far along are you?” Beulah asked. “Sorry, I shouldn’t be so nosy.”
“It’s okay. Just three months. But unluckily for me, I’ve shown almost since day one.”
“I’m Beulah, by the way,” Beulah said, sticking out her hand.
“Olivia.” They clasped hands briefly. There was an awkward silence, as if they’d both suddenly recognized how odd it was to be shaking hands with a stranger on the jelly platform.
“Pardon me, I have to go.”
Olivia turned away and tapped her forearm against the control panel of a MePod. The door slid open silently and Olivia got in. There was a sucking sound as the pod moved into the valve chamber, and a swoosh as the pod entered the plastic vacuum tube and sped away.


Saturday, November 2, 2019

Where Were You a Year Ago?

I can remember exactly where I was a year ago. Can you?

Last October, Rob and I spent a few lovely weeks in Portugal. I wrote about it here, here, and here. But what I never wrote about on the blog was where we went after we left Portugal.

This is where we were last Halloween. Can you guess where it is?

A Fabulous Way to Spend Halloween
 Yes, we went to London, England! This photo shows us in front of the Palace Theatre in London. The day we arrived in London, the cab driver drove us right past this theatre on our way to our hotel.

Now, I am a huge Harry Potter fan. I read them aloud to my children as the books came out one by one. As they became independent readers, I confess we used to squabble over who got to read each new book first. I saved the set of books, and now my daughter is reading the series with my oldest grandson.

Of course, we also raced out see each movie as it was released. My teenage son and I went to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in Kindersley, Saskatchewan, as we travelled across Canada in our antique RV in 2007.

So when I saw that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was playing in London while we were there, I became obsessed with attending the play. I went online and found out the tickets had been sold out for months. But I also read that it was sometimes possible to purchase tickets that someone else had returned the morning of the play.

So we walked over to the Palace Theatre on the morning of October 31, arriving at the ticket wicket a little after it opened. No one had returned any tickets yet, but the salesperson directed us to stand on the sidewalk and wait. We were second in line! We waited for over an hour. The person in front of us got tickets. Finally we were called over to the wicket and offered a pair of very expensive tickets just a couple of rows back from the stage. We bought them! They were the most expensive event tickets I've ever purchased.

Inside the Palace Theatre
Watching the play was an all-day affair. Part 1 started at 2:00 PM and lasted over 3 hours. We had a break for dinner, then had to be back at the theatre at 7 PM for Part 2, which lasted about 3 1/2 hours. It was fabulous!

Altogether, we stayed five days in London before flying home.  Both Rob and I had been there decades previously, so we spent a lot of time walking around to the famous sights to see what had changed. One of the highlights for me was visiting the National Gallery, especially the Turner paintings and the Impressionist Show.

Detail of Floor Mosaic in the National Gallery
Vincent Van Gogh

We also loved the Museum of London, one which neither of us had ever been to. It was recommended to us by someone we met on the port cellar tour in Porto.

A Section of the Original City Wall, Close to the Museum of London

Detail of Trafalgar Square
London Phone Booth
I leave you with a few photos from our visit. I have so many, it's hard to choose. To conclude, here's a photo from Halloween, this year. I went our Trick or Treating with my grandsons, their parents, and their friends.
Halloween 2019
One final note: I've signed up for NaNoWriMo this November. If you're curious about what it is, I've written about it before here and here. So, I'm going to be spending a lot of time at my keyboard this month, but you'll probably not be hearing very much from me in the blogging world for a bit.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

A Tour of Vancouver Island

I am finally writing a long-promised post about our beautiful summer vacation. We have now lived on Vancouver Island for more than two years. We decided that this summer, it was time to get to know our new home a little better.

We live along the east coast of the Island in an area that is considered to be the central part of the Island (even though it's quite close to the southern end). In late July, we set off in our truck and camper rig to explore the less-travelled roads of southern Vancouver Island.

Cowichan Valley

Our first destination was the Cowichan Valley. We camped for three nights along the south shore of beautiful Lake Cowichan.

View of Lake Cowichan from our Back Door
Rob's Waders
There were two small islands in the lake not far from where we camped. We went out in our belly boats and spent several hours fishing around and between the two islands. We didn't get a single bite. The people camping next to us caught some fish, though. They said the fish were out in the middle of the lake and very deep.

Most of the time we were at Lake Cowichan, it was quite windy. So we did some short hikes and read books on the beach and enjoyed camper cuisine.

Hiking a Section of the Trans Canada Trail

On our last day, we drove into the community of Cowichan Lake, and explored some of the rail trails -- old railway lines that have been turned into hiking trails -- that wind through the area. We hiked a section of the Trans Canada Trail.

The Trans Canada Trail is a network of trails that stretches all across Canada, with many parts still under development. Over the years, I have hiked or cycled on several segments of this trail, especially in the Greater Vancouver area, Nanaimo, and in the Kettle Valley.

The section we were on runs between Cowichan Lake and Shawnigan Lake, about 20 kilometers. (We only went about 5 km, then doubled back).

Lizard Lake

Old Growth Stump
 Leaving Cowichan Lake, we followed the Pacific Marine Highway southwest toward Port Renfrew on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Along the way, we stopped and camped at a beautiful little campground at Lizard Lake. The lake got its name because of the salamanders that live in the lake. I sat quietly beside the water peering in and was rewarded by seeing a couple of the salamanders swimming in the lake water.

There is a nice hiking trail all around the lake. We saw evidence of past logging activity in the form of giant stumps. The lake is stocked with rainbow trout, and we enjoyed fishing in our belly boats. As well, there is a swimming beach.

Lush Vegetation Along the Trail
Port Renfrew, Botanical Beach, and Botany Bay

Our next stop was Port Refrew. This campground brought on nostalgia, as we camped beside the Gordon River, exactly where I camped nearly 40 years ago when I was setting off to hike the West Coast Trail. The West Coast Trail is a 5-7 day backpacking route through the Pacific Rim Park on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Is is famous as a world destination for backpacking.

Rob and I spent an afternoon hiking a section of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail starting at Botanical Beach, which is its most westerly trail head. This was a real highlight of the holiday for me. I loved the rock formations, the tidal pools, and the wild beaches. Botanical Beach is reported to be one of the richest areas of marine tide pool life on the west coast of the Island.


Botanical Beach
Kelp Tangles

Here are two pictures of Rob.
He is hiking over the layers of rock to the tide pools. In the other photo, if you look past the pile of kelp, you will see him sitting on the rocks.

We enjoyed our lunch sitting on the rocks, basking in the sun, and absorbing the sounds and sights of the shore.
Rock Formations

Exploring the Beach
Rock Stack, Log, and Tidal Pools
This was an excellent afternoon. It was the first time that I have hiked any part of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. I would like to hike the whole 47 kilometers of the trail someday, maybe section by section.

We finished our hike by doubling back to where we started, and then hiking the Botanical Beach to Botany Bay 2.8 km loop.

After that, it was time for some refreshments. So off we went to the Port Refrew Hotel for a pint and some delicious west coast seafood.

 Jordan River and Mystic Beach

We spent the last few days of the trip at Jordan River, camped right along the beach looking south over the Juan de Fuca Strait at the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. Jordan River is a surfer's paradise in the fall and winter when the waves are big. But at the beginning of August, there were no surfers to be seen -- just a lot of seagulls.

We spent an afternoon hiking into Mystic Beach, another famous destination along the Juan de Fuca Strait.
Mystic Beach
The Trail is Badly Eroded

Unfortunately, the hike has become too popular. The trail has been severely eroded, and there were a lot of people along the trail and at the beach. It is a beautiful beach, however. Also, we got to cross a suspension bridge along the trail.

We really loved our beach campsite at Jordan River. There was a quaint coffee shop up the road, and a Little Free Library. That was a good thing because I had read all the books I brought and was in need of more reading material!

Last Night at Jordan River
After more than a week on the road, we headed for home. We bypassed Victoria, not in the mood for an urban experience after the peacefulness of the wilderness. But, our holiday wasn't finished yet! We spent a few days at home gardening and doing laundry, then we headed off on another adventure. So, dare I say, there's more to come?