Expanding My Comfort Zone–Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks

 When our youngest son came home for Christmas, he was displeased that our ten-year-old Husky only knew how to do two small tricks–sit and shake paw–the same two tricks that he himself had taught our dog over nine years ago. With the exuberance of youth, our son was determined to teach Cody a new trick– lie down…on command. It seemed easy enough, but not for Cody (he just could not connect the words to the action). Watching these training sessions, I empathized with Cody and thought about how I was currently expanding my own comfort zone.

Flying, public speaking, heights…. even spiders are all fine with me. Running a school with 300 – 800 middle schoolers…. no problem. But figuring out the current BC recycling rules, how to throw a rock in curling, or how to properly set up my downward facing dog in yoga have all felt like major mind-boggling feats. Due to the significant change in my current surroundings, I now need to be “bear and cougar aware,” as our local hiking trails are shared with these majestic creatures (freaks me out every single time). Other seemingly commonplace undertakings, such as single-handedly making a Christmas turkey dinner from scratch (I had never taken this task on solo before) have frankly scared the wits out of me (insert belated thanks to my mom, mother-in-law and Liz Harrison here)!

Please do not think I am exaggerating about what some may dismiss as mundane tasks. Consider recycling for example. You no longer just toss all recyclables in your blue bin as we did before we left for China–no, no, no! Now all paper goes in the yellow bag (a recent recycling addition) unless the paper is shredded, and then it goes in a clear plastic bag beside your blue box. All cardboard boxes must be flattened and placed in your yellow bag, unless they are large pieces of cardboard, then they must be cut down and placed beside your blue box. All paper cups and milk cartons go in the yellow bag, unless they contain food waste, then they go in the green composting bin. All glass bottles and jars must be taken with your returnables to the bottle deposit station, unless they are non-returnable, then they actually go in the garbage. All returnable beverage containers must be capless, cleaned and crushed–unless they are glass bottles (which thankfully should not be crushed) and must have their lids on…except for glass wine bottles that must have their lids off and labels on. Other recycling contradictions include soft and hard cover books that you must take to the used bookstore (unless the book has been mangled by your dog, and then you must tear all pages away from the spine in order to recycle…or stash the tome in your garbage bin when no one is looking). And then there is wrapping paper, which according to the Regional District of Nanaimo’s recycling poster goes in your yellow bag, unless said wrapping paper contains foil…but according to our local recycling transfer station, all wrapping paper should be put in the trash. Finally, garbage containers for collection day can only be three-quarters full if you have a plus-sized can–but if you have a regular sized can feel free to go ahead and fill the whole thing completely. Seriously, on garbage day, our whole community gyrates with the fear of being tasered lest they mess up on any of the recycling rules. In actual fact, the penalty for faulty recycling is far worse… your stuff simply will not be picked up and you will need to wait another two weeks to try again.

Unfortunately, recycling is not just one isolated example. Take yoga’s famous downward facing dog. Cody makes it look so easy! Hands should be shoulder width apart (no problem). Feet should be sit-bone distance apart (again okay). You slightly rotate your forearms as if your thumbs are magnetically drawn to each other (huh?). Then you externally rotate your upper arms while activating and elongating your shoulders (definitely losing me). Your neck and head form one long line with your spine while you draw in your navel towards your back (yup, definitely lost). And if somehow you survived all that, don’t rejoice just yet because you are then reminded that your heels should strive to be flat on the ground! But even if you get your heels anywhere near the floor, then comes the ultimate morale buster, downward facing dog is considered a resting pose–you read it correctly—a resting pose!

The media continues to bombard us with two secrets of aging well: 1) Live an active lifestyle and avoid prolonged periods of sitting, viz. if you don’t use you will definitely you lose it. 2) Continue to learn new things in order to grow additional brain connections and strengthen existing ones (the focus here is on learning brand new things as opposed to playing it safe and sticking solely to what we already know).

Following this advice, I prepare myself for a stroll on one of the trails outside of my home. Then I remember–bears, cougars, and other scary things. I try to calm myself by reading the bear aware literature. The Get Bear Smart Society advises me to “Stand tall and look the bear directly in the eye. Yell at the bear and firmly tell it to leave: ‘Get out of here, bear!’” But that recommendation is only for black bears (and apparently, ones who understand English). If it is a grizzly, that has somehow managed to make its way onto Vancouver Island, the advice is “never try to move a grizzly bear” (seriously, I could not make this stuff up). (http://www.bearsmart.com/play/bear-encounters)

So here I am, just like Cody, learning new tricks in my retirement years. There’s a lot more to learn…especially since I have signed up for another month of yoga, and as my husband is suggesting that we hike the West Coast Trail this summer. Looks like I will need to continue to practice my downward dog…and review the Get Bear Smart literature one more time!

A Love Letter

“In life it is not where you go—it’s who you travel with.” Charles M. Schultz

Today is my sixteenth wedding anniversary. As the number of years does not adequately speak to my depth of emotion, or the lifetime of adventures that my husband and I have already shared, I almost didn’t include it. The main reason that I retired relatively early (or at least prior to being eligible for a full pension) was this man. I’m going to do my best not to sound corny in this post.

For some inconceivable reason, I have been blessed to meet and marry the most incredible person that I have ever known. A devoted father, a loving son and sibling, a cherished friend, a gifted athlete, a talented lawyer and an unbelievably amazing husband–Richard is all of these things. (I hesitate to mention this, but…he is also incredibly hot!) Thoughtful, kind, and generous in every fibre of his being, Richard is the steady arrow to my many ups and downs. He is someone with whom I can equally laugh and cry. I trust him more than I trust myself. Although he knows the true secrets of my inner geekdom, somehow, quite miraculously, he says this makes him love me even more. Not that his life has always been easy, but If there is a next life, and I was given the chance to be anyone whom I have ever met, read about or heard of, and profoundly admire, I would unquestionably choose to be Richard (wait a minute, does mean I would be married to myself? Yikes!!).

The research that I have read on happiness often highlights the gift of gratitude and not taking things for granted. I loved my job…and there was a lot to love, which combined with my driven personality, meant days, evenings and weekends diligently on task, focussed on work. I did not want to risk, for one more day, how long Richard and I would have this time together. So, with an eleven-year age difference between us, when Richard was ready to retire, I wanted to be right there beside him.

Remember the dreaded retirement research that I mentioned in my last post? It was actually the research based on the effects of retirement on marriages that frightened me the most. What I read recounted horror story after horror story of seemingly strong marriages that fell irreparably apart in retirement. The top cited causes included too much sudden togetherness, too many mismatched expectations and one too many chiefs (especially when both partners had previously held leadership roles in their careers). In article after article, the writers drove home the point that the glossy coloured vision of happy couples in retirement golfing together on exotic, lush greens rarely matches the retirement reality.

Is there an anecdote or preventative medicine to help counter the above? Ironically, although I am the educator, it is Richard who has become my teacher. He has taught me about unconditional mutual respect, accommodating one another’s feelings and honouring each others’ emotional, physical, intellectual, and spiritual needs. We chose to retire at the same time so that together we could create a lifestyle that suited both of us equally, openly discussing areas of compromise with which each of us believed we could live. We balance the activities that we do together, and the activities that we do alone, or with other friends, consciously discussing and adjusting as we go. For us, this has worked so far (knock on wooden desk here). I truly could not be happier, or more grateful.

So Richard, I write this post as a gift to you commemorating our sixteenth wedding anniversary. You have profoundly enhanced my life rendering the written language an inadequate tool to express the full expanse of my love and gratitude. Please know that these words, no matter how imperfect, are from the bottom of my heart.


Hope for the Driven Personality

In the time leading up to my retirement, if I had been given a dollar every time someone expressed disbelief that I would actually be content not working, I could have retired much earlier.

“But WHAT will you do?” and “Aren’t you afraid of being bored?” were common questions.

Focussed, organized, passionate and diligent, the words “relaxed” or “laid-back” were seldom used to describe me. Early on, I had begun to read much retirement research and had other research quoted to me. In short, it wasn’t good. With everything from failing health (due to the sudden decrease in activity and pace) to struggling marriages (due to the dramatically increased togetherness…and misplaced bossiness) it appeared the more driven one was in their work-life, the more dismal the predicted retirement outcome. I eventually gave myself a break from reading the research, stood with my husband on the retirement bridge and we leapt.

So far, on the other side of the bridge, the same “A-Type” features of my personality have actually become my savoir. Being cognizant of the research that I had read, I knew enough not to slow down abruptly. So I did in my retirement life what I did in my work life – I immersed myself. Housing, and then house set up took on a life on its own and included numerous intricate details which proved to be a fantastic transition from the world of work. I then did what every sixth grader who first starts Middle School knows to do, I got a copy of the activities sign-up book and I joined, and joined, and joined! Not all of the activities stuck (e.g. cake decorating…. I was a disaster)! But through the good and the bad, I was involved, present, met great people and continued learning about myself. And some of the activities did stick. I recently attended my 60th yoga class after joining only three months ago. Yoga has provided multiple benefits – physical fitness, mental relaxation, and meeting really cool and interesting people. As there are a variety of different classes nearby and a pay-one-price monthly pass, there is no excuse for me not to attend.

My husband recently commented on how at ease I seemed in retirement, and how well I have adapted. He has found his retirement transition to be a bit less seamless. Although he is happy to be retired, he misses the excitement of an international legal practice, the camaraderie with his colleagues and the daily challenges and responsibilities that his work provided. We both greatly enjoyed our jobs, appreciated our colleagues and, to a large extent, defined ourselves through our work.

What helps some people transition more smoothly into retirement than others? It is likely a myriad of factors, perspective playing a significant role. For me, I have felt a similar awe and wonder to my initial retirement as I did when I first began working internationally, and the first time that I stood in front my own classroom, 35 years ago, and began to teach. Viewing retirement as an exit or as an entry, as a new chapter, or a separate book closed, underscores everything else that follows.

With the combination of this perspective, and my driven personality, I have fully immersed myself into my retirement. I continue to wake up early with a burning sense of purpose – there are meals to be made, daily routines to address, yoga classes to dash off to, emails to answer, company to prepare for, reading that I want to do, blog posts to write, trips to plan, children and grandchildren to visit, new passions to explore… the list never runs dry – and it changes regularly. Yes the tasks are different from when I worked – which helps to makes even the mundane new and exciting. Also, after many years living overseas, I am immensely grateful to have regular, uninterrupted time with family, friends and self.

Although I am relatively new to retirement, I haven’t grown a third limb…at least not yet! My biggest take away from all of this? There is definitely cause for hope and optimism for driven personalities in retirement. Be true to yourself and play to your strengths. Go forth with a healthy mixture of pre-planning, openness and wonder. Talk to others about their retirement but know that the retirement experience cannot be forced and no two retirement experiences are the same. And on the flipside, don’t believe everything that everyone tells you. Your footprints into retirement will be unique to you–be thoughtful in preparing to shape what they will look like.

Location! Location! Location!

I am currently watching the snow steadily stream down outside the window of my home on Vancouver Island. Although snow is not a common sight in this particular area, nothing surprises me here, which makes me love this small town (population 12,300) even more.

Shortly after we moved here we noticed that so many other people, usually retirees, were new arrivals as well. (Seriously, is anyone left in Calgary?) The common question asked at these meet-and-greets was “why did you choose HERE?” This question was often especially directed at us since we had moved from Beijing and had never lived on the Island previously.   Invariably the most common answers included:

  • Mild temperatures and Mediterranean-like dryness which have given this region the nickname of “Canada’s Riviera” (today is definitely not a good example)
  • Reasonable cost of living
  • Minimal traffic and less hectic pace
  • Endless outdoor sports and activities, including numerous golf courses nearby
  • Uncrowded and unspoiled sandy beaches
  • Miles of pristine hiking trails–shared with black bears, cougars and other wildlife
  • The ability to live close to family, usually in Vancouver, while still giving everyone their space
  • Can golf in town and then ski at nearby Mt. Washington on the same day (although today you would have to be a true die-hard golfer, and a bit of a kook, to even dream about it).

Our personal answer to the “why here” question definitely includes all of the above. We had done quite a bit of exploring and research. From our initial visit, Parksville-Qualicum instantly felt like home.

As it is the emotional side of retirement that most interests me, I am keenly aware of what a huge role location plays in quality of life. In our global world people no longer need to live where they always did, and this is especially true in post-work life.

My husband, who was born in a very, very small town, likes to joke about living in a small town once again. The pace can be very slow, the person in front of you at the grocery store checkout always seems to have a (long) story to share, it is difficult to find a restaurant open after 7:30 p.m., nightlife is virtually non-existent, finding a doctor who will accept new patients is like winning the lottery and if the ferry doesn’t run… well, you simply do not go.   Also, as the average age in Parksville and neighbouring Qualicum Beach is 58.2 and 63.9 respectively, my husband also often refers to local gatherings and events as “the sea of grey” — um honey, have you looked at our own birth certificates or driver’s licenses recently?

Comparing the list of island advantages to the list of complaints about small town living, the decision to live here was a good one for us. Stay tuned for the post on bad decisions; we’ve definitely made a few!

My best retirement advice? Take your time, look around, think outside of the box, and then carefully choose where you would like to live –not where you, or others, think you should. Consider all of the quality of life factors no matter how mundane they may seem at the time. It is the smartest investment that I can suggest.



Retirement Reflections…and Beyond

Happiness Revisited: Donna Connolly

Somehow I am feeling behind on this blog even before I begin. I retired in June 2015 and had optimistically believed that I would have begun blogging that same month excitedly documenting my transition into retirement, and our lives back in Canada after 14 years living in Beijing, China. Two years ahead of time we had purchased a retirement home on Vancouver Island that we had earnestly planned to renovate before unpacking our stuff and moving in ourselves.

June was a whirlwind with catch-up with friends and family, visitors and settling into our vacation rental. July was filled with intensive pre-renovation work. August our youngest son competed in the 50K race-walk in the Pan Am games taking us to Toronto. August also saw the birth of our first grandchild … that started its own flurry of activity. Somewhere in the end of August we came to the stark realization that although we loved the home we had purchased, it wasn’t the right home for us at this time, nor did we really want to do the amount of renovation work required at this point in our retirement. September was the month of trying new things… canoeing, curling, bird watching, yoga and newcomers club. October we did the housing switch and purchased, and moved into, a renovation-free home (at least so far). November was the unpacking of over 100 boxes, some of which had been in storage for 14 years (honestly, the boxes were way over-packaged, but still, it was a lot of stuff). December was getting ready for Christmas…where we creatively housed our four sons, their partners and our grandson…totaling 10 people asleep on Christmas Eve in our 1700 square foot home (some of them sleeping more comfortably than others). This brings us to January 1, 2016. New year, fresh resolutions… a perfect time to take the leap and actually start this blog.

One of the delays in starting to blog was fear of lack of content. Although each day was filled with new adventures, what would I actually write about? And for those of you who are already retired, when would I actually find the time to write (trust me, I would never have understood this sentence pre-retirement). If I had actually taken the time to write during the June – December initial retirement whirlwind, here, in random order, are a few blog post titles that had briefly flashed through my mind, and what you may have been able to read about (or duly ignore).

And We’re Off!

Books and Coffee

Travels with a Siberian Husky

Housing, Housing and more Housing

Discovering Kijiji

Good Deals, Bad Deals and Bad Deals Disguised as Good Ones

Is there a Doctor in the House?

Rain Boots

Bringing Out My Inner Foodie

Starting to Relax

The Ever-Elusive Downward-Facing Dog

How I Murdered My Food Processor

Island Newbie

Busy! Busy! Busy!

So, if you think you might have liked some of those posts, feel free to leave a comment or suggestion. Now that I have this blog started, my New Year’s resolution is to write weekly and see where 2016, and this new adventure, take me.