Why You Should Attend Your High School Reunion…And Take Your Spouse!

Yesterday, my husband and I attended his 50th high school reunion. It was a great evening, and a wonderful weekend back in the area where he grew up. Richard enjoyed catching up with old friends and classmates. I loved getting extra snippets of his life before we met (way before we met)! It really was that simple.

Then, when preparing to write this post, and playing around with potential titles, I begin to type “should you go….” into my search engine. Instantly the words “to your high school reunion” appeared on my screen to complete the sentence.  How weird! I had never previously made any similar searches on my computer. Besides, I could think of several sentences that start with “Should I attend…” – most of them having nothing at all to do with school reunions.

Since I had attended my husband’s reunion, not my own, I then made my search more specific. And, you guessed it, there were also numerous posts about attending (or not attending) your spouse’s high school reunion.

Scanning through these articles, I was struck with one big takeaway: DRAMA! The articles about attending your own reunion tended to focus on anxiety, insecurity, apathy and comparing yourself to others.  The articles dealing with spousal attendance invariably centered on boredom (and one spouse fearing they would need to ‘babysit’ the other all evening).

Good thing I hadn’t done this search before attending the reunion. Subconsciously, the results may have caused me to overthink my attendance and dampen a truly wonderful night.

Respectively, in defense of high school reunions, here are my top twelve reasons for attending yours (or your spouse’s):

Reason #12: Sometimes it’s nice to visit the past (as long as you don’t get stuck there).

Reason #11: You can reconnect with old friends and classmates that were a significant part of your formative years. In 1966 (or 1976 or 1986 for that matter) the World Wide Web and social media were not yet invented, and the first major commercial Internet Service Providers were not yet in existence. Contact with former classmates was much more difficult to maintain.

Reason #10: For those connections that did survive into the age of social media, not everything (and/or everyone) is on Facebook. Seriously! Who knew?

Reason #9: Experience your own, real-life version of “Where Are They Now?” This not only satisfies curiosity but more often than not, makes some classmates more ‘real’ and ‘relatable’ than they seemed in high school (aka the clear-skinned prom queen or star quarterback went on to face life’s up and downs, just like you and me).

Reason #8: Individuals and teams took the initiative, and the time, to make this event happen. If you can attend, why not support their efforts–and pay some good karma forward?

Reason #7: If there is something holding you back (other than timing, distance or plane tickets), there is no better way to let go of those imprisoning teenage voices than to let them know that they no longer define you.

Reason #6: Camera phones (and the like) were not yet invented…so there is much less evidence of awkward times (green one-piece gym strip anyone?) Although I hate to admit it, such pics may have been fun for the spouses to see!

Reason #5: There is no better excuse for forgetting a name–or conveniently forgetting a cringe-worthy antidote–than a 50-year reunion (or being the spouse).

Reason #4: Two words: ‘new shoes’. Why turn down a great excuse to buy yourself a new pair.  And if new shoes aren’t your thing, why miss the chance to mix things up, get out of your yoga pants and have a guilt-free glass of wine (or two, or three…).

Reason #3: Remember how earth-shatteringly important everything seemed in high school? Well some things, especially perspective, often do improve with age. There is nothing like a high school reunion to help us realize this.

Reason #2: If attending your spouse’s reunion, you can play ‘Where’s Waldo?’, or in this case, ‘Where’s Richard?’ with the old photos. Use the clue below to spot Richard in the picture featured above.

Reason #1: As comedian/actress/producer Lucille Ball mused: I’d rather regret the things I have done than the things that I haven’t.

P.S. Don’t feel that you need to lose twenty pounds, embellish your CV…or update your partner in order to attend your reunion. Chances are you’ll have a great time simply by showing up with the confidence of being just who you are. If your experience is similar to ours, you’ll find everyone to be very down to earth (and very welcoming to spouses)!

Someone may be hoping to see you there!

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Reflections on Retirement – One Year In

This past week, I hit the one-year mark both of being officially retired and of living back in Canada. With a full year behind me, has it been all that I anticipated? Yes and no–in equal measures.

I remember a conversation that I had with one of my daughter-in-laws the day that we arrived back home. It went something like this:

DIL: So…what are you going to do now that you are retired?
Me: Nothing.
DIL: You will probably want to do some consulting.
Me: No.
DIL: Or some other kind of work, or volunteer work.
Me: Nope.
DIL: Take a class, join a ladies’ golf team, learn a craft.
Me: Not really.

I recognize that this was probably a very frustrating conversation for my daughter in law–who is truly one of the nicest young women you will ever meet.

Having retired 24-hours earlier from a rewarding, full-on and intense career, I wanted to relish in the thought that I could now do nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

I wanted to unplug, unwind, and begin to calm my driven personality. I also wanted to go as “blank slate” as possible so that I could be genuinely open to accept or decline new paths as they appeared. Most of all, I wanted to be present for my family and make up for lost time.

When I first announced my retirement, a long-time friend gave me this advice:

“Many opportunities (especially for volunteer/part-time work) will come your way. Don’t jump into any one of them too quickly. Be selective and make sure that it is something that you feel passionate about before you take on a big commitment. Give yourself time.”

I have taken this advice literally.

I did have a half-formed thought to start a blog—which I did six months into my retirement. Fifteen years earlier, when I first moved to Beijing, I started a personal log that I emailed to friends and family. I never maintained that log for long but wished that I had. I now had the opportunity to record my thoughts, as I (once again) transitioned into a new world. I didn’t want to miss this second chance.

I also had a vague, but persistent notion, that whatever passions I did commit to, I wanted to contribute to world peace.

I know, I know!

It sounds so very ‘beauty-pageant-contestant-ish’. It also sounds bigger than Ben Hur. But what I had in mind was more of a series of small, intentional actions that, when done repeatedly, became habit over time. Okay, so I may not have had this piece all worked out. I did know that I wanted to nurture peace within myself, practice understanding and non-judgment, focus on the positive, commit to acts of kindness and be confident that even the simplest steps can tilt our world towards peace. I also knew that I wanted to read more on this topic, and surround myself with people for whom genuine compassion is an instinct.

Before leaving work, we didn’t have many set notions about how our retirement would look, nor what we would spend our time doing. We did believe that we had found our retirement house and that we would now spend time on its renovation. Ironically, that is the one significant piece that did change, as the renovations were a larger commitment, both of time and of cash, than we had originally understood. Also, despite our advance research, we didn’t adequately factor in the full extent of “winter rain” in Oceanside. We’ve been told that it was an unusually wet winter…fingers crossed that this past year was a one-off!

On the flip side, some things that I believed I would never be interested in (like curling, or daily yoga, for example) turned out to be extremely enjoyable, and I will definitely continue with further.

So, in a nutshell, what have I learned about my own retirement so far, and what have been my biggest takeaways?

I believe that the key to retirement is being prepared (obviously financially) but also mentally, emotionally and socially (at least in terms of your support group). The other key is being flexible, and being willing to accept that something you thought was a given for your retirement may not turn out as planned. Allow yourself time to chill and do nothing and also to deepen/renew/discover your passion(s). Also, allow yourself to walk away from something that is going to drain your energy…. or your cash.

As for passions, this blog has helped me to reflect more deeply on my experiences, structure my thoughts, maintain my writing and technological skills, keep in touch with friends/family around the globe and meet new people. It has also sharpened my eye to the beauty around me and has given me cause to stop and enjoy the splendor of the moment, no matter how mundane that moment may have originally appeared.

As for my world peace ambition—how’s that going? I believe that world peace is a lifelong quest, with individual steps and collaborative teamwork being equally important. The essential thing is the commitment, the intentionally of the goal and the gratitude for all that we have. For me, the intentionally and gratitude are definitely present…. I now seek meaningful endeavors to which I can commit.

So, that’s my reflection on my first year of retirement. I am both excited and hopeful as I begin my second year. Once again, time with family is at the top of my agenda.

 

*The feature image was taken on June 15, 2015, at Horseshoe Bay Ferry in Vancouver, as we waited to board…and begin our new life. Hope and optimism abound!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Packing For The Camino: Three ‘B-Words’ and One ‘C-Word’

It has been a quiet week at home, so I have been trying to check off some of the key pieces for our upcoming Camino walk. As I mentioned in my last post, we plan to carry our full packs. Hence, we want to travel as light as possible without getting caught short.  In my original romanticized notion of this trek, our needs were simple, and our packs were weightless. Then I began to read some on-line Camino packing lists and to review key trip details (without over planning of course). The vision of that featherlight pack began to fade as harsh reality took over.

A couple of t-shirts, a pair of shorts, some yoga pants, a fleece, socks and hiking boots….as well as my multipurpose iphone, and I’m good to go….right?  Not quite.

As we will be traveling in July, we have decided not to take our sleeping bags and go with just our sleeping bag liners. I checked the weather forecast. The temperatures for the dates/places we will be traveling range from 11 to 29 degrees Celsius with potential rain showers/thunderstorms on three out of our ten days. Insert a light weight rain jacket here. I then read that the hostel in Roncesvalles offers no bedding or coverings. Add a thin wool blanket to the pile.

I made the mistake of watching you-tube videos of people who had filmed themselves on the trek, starting Day One from St. Jean. Even many of the fittest looking hikers were panting and groaning, in obvious pain, much earlier than I had expected. Despite the incredible scenery, it frankly scared me out of my wits. Better bring the trekking poles after all (if not an oxygen mask)!

The videos also revealed the three terrible B-words of the Camino Trail —blisters, bowel issues, and bedbugs!! The blisters I could deal with (she says confidently while adding vaseline and compeed to her stash). As for the bowel issues, I’ll prepare myself with water-purification tablets, travelers’ probiotics, Imodium, hand sanitizer…and toilet paper! The bedbugs, however, are another matter completely! After a little research, I was at our local hardware store quicker than you could say “permethrin”….which I then used to pretreat our clothing and gear. Permethrin, an anti-bed bug/insecticide treatment, is odorless and binds to the fabric to which it is applied. It is touted to last several weeks and several washings. When used as directed, it is safe for humans (and dogs) as it it poorly absorbed by the skin. Bedbugs be gone! And–just to be safe–I will slip in a pretreated anti-bedbug underlayer with my stuff (adding 3.5 ounces). Many forums have mentioned that it can be difficult to find Permethrin in Canada, so I have added some useful links at the bottom of this post.

And now for the ‘C-word’: Cotton. Traditionally,  when selecting clothing options, the mantra of many hikers has been ‘ABC’: “Anything But Cotton“.  Regular cotton is typically heavier than other fabrics, absorbs sweat and rain like a sponge, traps moisture against skin, drains body heat and thus can cause people to get cold, or in extreme cases, hypothermia (including when it is warm outside). Is all cotton rotten?  There are now many treated cottons and cotton-blends like TransDry Cotton, UA Charged Cotton, Niki Drifit  and polycotton that alleviate some of the above concerns. However, as a general rule when hiking, many sources, including The Mayo Clinic, caution against wearing cotton as”wool, silk or polypropylene inner layers hold body heat better than cotton does.”

Moving on from cotton, polyesters are used by many as they tend to dry quickly. However, they can also retain odor–thus not always creating the most pleasant hiking experience–at least not for those around you! Merino wool has become many hikers’ hero.  It is soft and comfy like cotton, non-irritating, prevents bacterial growth (thus reducing smell), dries quickly and most importantly, wicks away moisture from skin. As there is a huge variety of Merino outdoor clothing available,  that is what I have chosen to go with for me two rotating hiking outfits. (Two outfits. Ten days. So unlike me!)

There’s more to add to my pack, such as a water-bottle, flip-flops, flashlight, eye-mask, sunglasses, wide-brimmed hat, earplugs…the packing continues!

Being the nerdy-list girl that I am, I will compare what we bring, against what we actually use, don’t use….and have to stop and buy. Look out for this post at the end of July.

Buen Camino.

(PS – If you haven’t yet watched it,  The Way gives a good “Hollywood” introduction to the Camino and is available on Netflix.)

 

Canadian Tire sells Green Earth Travel Bed Bug Spray ($8.49  Cdn for 100g spray can). Does not contain permethrin but does contain DD-Phenothrin (0.20%) and Tetramethrin (0.20%) which are all from the pyrethroid family. Pyrethroids are the man-made versions of pyrethrins, natural insecticides from chrysanthemum flowers.

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Walmart (Canada and USA) sells Great Value Bed Bug Insect Killer ($5.00 Cdn for 400g).

Sawyer, and other Permethrin products are available at amazon.com ($10.55 USD for 12oz).

Lifesystems lightweight bed bug barrier undersheet is available at amazon.com ($14.17 USD).

 

 

The Camino Trail in Ten Days (or Less)–The Plan

I’ve been trying to plan our upcoming Camino Trail walking trip—without over-planning. If you’ve met me before, or even just read a few of my posts, you probably know that I LOVE to plan and to GEEK OUT on details! I really can’t stop myself. It’s like that Geico commercial …”It’s what I do.”

My husband and I have done a Camino walk once before (8 days from Tui, Portugal to Santiago de Compostela, Spain). No surprises – I planned, and I planned. I booked our accommodations (at bed and breakfasts) in advance and even had our larger backpack transported to where we would be staying each evening. We loved that walk, and we vowed for our next Camino “we” (read here: “I”) would not over plan. We would have no set agenda for how far we would walk each day. We would carry our full packs and, in the evenings, we would stay in auberges (multi-bed dorms) without the constraints of booking in advance. Idealistic visions ran through our heads. Then the actual trip date drew nearer, and I began to plan…and to freak out…just a bit (okay, a lot)!

We have nine walking days for this trip, and will be coming from Manchester (leaving the day after our youngest son’s doctoral graduation). St. Jean Pied de Port, in the French Pyrenees, is the traditional starting point. BUT there is that initial steep climb from 200 meters above sea level to just above 1,400 meters AND the sharp descent back down. My mind suffocated with images of me on hands, knees, and shins–clinging to the trail for dear life! I kept researching. We could fly directly into Bilbao and do the northern route to Unquera instead. That particular section of the Camino is rated as an easier walk than the Pyrenees route, and it would be much easier for us to fly there from Manchester.  Knowing what I am like at times like this, my husband said he was happy with either itinerary and left the room (wise man)! I kept trying to book the northern trip – I honestly did —  but something kept calling me back to the Basque province in France.

There is a common saying,  “the Camino will provide.”  So with that as my mantra, the Camino Frances it is! We now have our flights booked from London to Biarritz, and from Bilbao to London ten days later.  Not that we have any naïve intention of walking all of the way to Bilbao–we do figure that we could likely make it as far as Logonoro or Najera. That would mean walking 18 – 21K each day, which we think is quite doable (she says with confidence). Since we are not walking for a certificate, we are also open to skipping sections, by bus or train, if there is another section we really would like to see.

Any “Camino Angels” out there who have thoughts or recommendations to share, I’d LOVE to hear from you.

Below are a few pics from our first Camino (2010)

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Reflections from a Half-Marathon

We spent this past weekend in Victoria, BC, watching our youngest son, Creighton, compete in a half marathon. A priority for our retirement years is to attend family events as often as we can.

It was a beautiful weekend—with our dog in tow. While waiting for Creighton to pass by the 16 K loop, we spotted an ocean view bench with a bouquet of flowers. That type of sight always saddens me.  This time, it hit me even harder. The bench was dedicated to Taylor, who was born in 1988 – the exact same year that Creighton was born. She died in 2004. That would mean she was just sixteen years old. I shuddered. How much in my own sons’ lives have I taken for granted that Taylor and her family have missed?

I became lost in a mixture of emotions — sadness and joy, fear and gratitude. My husband called my name, jolting me from my introspection. Our son was running past.

Creighton finished the race in second place (21 K in just 1 hour and 18 minutes). Without him knowing anything about the memorial that we had seen, he thanked us for being at the race for him.

My major realizations in retirement include: Life is short; family is everything; gratitude makes us truly alive.  I never want to lose this perspective.