BLOGFEST: MY MOST CHERISHED POSSESSION

I LOVE the idea of taking part in a blogfest (even if I only found out about it twenty-four hours in advance). I also LOVE writing about a wide range of topics. But writing about an object–and a most cherished one at that–well at first, that just seemed wrong.

I have previously written about some of the people in my life whom I deeply cherish (A Love Letter, Dear Son and Thanks, Mom). I have even written about our adored dog, Cody. How could any material object that I own inspire such passion?

To help with this endeavour, I imagined our house burning. What would I run to save? Most items that we own are replaceable. What wasn’t?

By engaging in this basic exercise, the task was now so simple. I instantly knew what I would rush to save: the guardians of my memories.

Memories become our life stories and our legacy. They define us and give our lives meaning and purpose (source). My memories remind me of my roots, ground me and inspire hope. They are not simply nostalgia or longing for the past – they are, as scientists have now discovered, a bridge to the future. The same brain processes that we use to remember the past are also the same processes that we use to imagine the future. When our ability to remember the past is compromised, so is our ability to envision different outcomes (source).

Through my material object (in this case, a collection of objects), I am quickly transported back to beloved people and places.  Sadly, many of these people and places I can no longer access in any other way.

This most treasured possession, that is so priceless to me, is of little value to others outside of my immediate family. It will not be recognized as having artistic merit. What is this magic portal that is both old and new, faded and glossy?

My collection of personal photographs.

Thank you to the initiators of Cherished Blogfest for providing the platform, and the inspiration, for this post. Thank you also to my family for taking an abundance of photographs, and for passing on this trait (as well as family photo albums) to me!

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Dear Son: Reflections on your Graduation

Twenty-four years ago, as you stood to receive your kindergarten graduation diploma, I wept. Everything was new. All hopes and dreams were possible. You were forging out into the world with your own unique set of passions and talents. My heart burst with love, admiration and pride.

Since that time, I have witnessed you in millions upon millions of snapshots in time.  As a student, you often had an alternative answer, a different method, a creative solution. As an aspiring athlete, countless times you shouted “watch me” or “time me again” as you raced around our complex at your fastest speed.

I have watched in awe as you have grown to embody kindness, compassion, non-judgement, patience, balance, determination and resilience.

Nothing has made me feel more helpless than seeing the bumps you hit along the road. And nothing, absolutely nothing has made my spirits soar more than witnessing your joy for life and your successes.

You are a now a geographer focused on urban, cultural and environmental issues. You are passionate about our world environment, democracy, internationalism, fairness and human rights.

You are not only a researcher and an academic, you are an athlete who competed for Canada in the Men’s 50K Racewalk in the Pan Am Games last summer. You have now turned that talent and passion into long distance running. You speak two languages and are an extensive traveler. You are also a die-hard fan of alternative music that I do not understand.

Readers that don’t know you will dismiss the above as simply a mother’s rose-coloured perspective. Those that do know you will be aware that these mere words have not done you justice.

Today, as you stand to receive your Doctor of Philosophy diploma, I weep. Everything is new. All hopes and dreams are possible. You are forging out into the world with your own unique set of passions and talents. My heart bursts with love, admiration and pride.

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Retirement: Everyday Is Saturday–Or Is It?

My husband started it! Early in our retirement, he threw down the gauntlet and wanted us to preserve defined weekends. I pouted…just a little bit…okay, a lot! For years I had been totally sold on the concept that during retirement every day would be Saturday (or Sunday). To me, it was now like saying there should be no Santa or no Tooth Fairy! Why wouldn’t we want every day to be Saturday?

During the first two months of our retirement, we were fully immersed in intense house renovations (insane, I know – but it was cathartic and served as a great transition from work). At Richard’s lead, we did the renovations on Monday to Friday and took the weekends ‘off’.

With the renovations behind us, we have continued that schedule. As best as we can, we now try to make the weekends special and confine more mundane tasks and our ‘to do lists’ to the weekdays. In this way, we not only have defined weekends, we also have a weekly escape from household chores and other drudgery.

My husband just may have been on to something. In a study on ‘the weekend effect’, led by Richard Ryan at The University of Rochester, (January 2010) researchers tracked the mental moods and physical symptoms of working adults during both weekdays and weekends. Not surprisingly, participants indicated being happier during the weekend with less physical complaints.  “Weekends were associated with elevated feelings of freedom and closeness — participants said they were more often involved in activities of their own choosing and spending time with close friends and family members. People also felt more competent during the weekend than they did at work” (source). Even those who worked on weekends reported feeling happier on Saturday and Sunday. For this latter group, researchers suggested that it was probably because “cool events tend to happen on the weekend.” They also proposed that there was a likely social contagion effect, i.e. when other people are happy around you, you become happier yourself (source).

Live Science (February 2008) reported on another interesting study that found that weekdays often bring heavier rain than weekends. “Summertime storms in the southeastern United States shed more rainfall midweek than on weekends….The cause could be the air pollution created by the daily grind—traffic and business operations….The clearest day of the week was Saturday, with nearly twice the rainfall on the wettest day, Tuesday afternoon (source).

Could the ‘weekend effect’ also apply to retirees? Ryan’s study did not look at non-working adults, or at adults over the age of 62. However, it makes sense that special Saturday/Sunday events, weekend visits with working friends/family members, social-contagion, less rain, as well as old habits dying hard, could have a positive impact on a retiree’s weekend.

I began this post at the beginning of May (when weekend farmers’ markets/special events were beginning to step up in our area), and I once again experienced the “twin blog phenomenon”. To get more details for my post, I increased my on-line search for “retirement-everyday-weekend” and came across a blog post, Every day is Weekend In Early Retirement? by Mr.Firestation. That post was written just one day before my search. Seriously, how does this happen? I had never previously come across this blog, or this blogger. Regardless, Mr. Firestation and I had both been working on the same blog topic at the same time (and I discovered that many bloggers that I follow, follow his blog). I put my draft away for a while and wrote on other matters. Then, after a particularly fun and rejuvenating long weekend, I pulled out this draft once again.

It is true. Even in retirement weekends are significant. They cause an increase in special events, outdoor community activities, and a mixture of age groups out and about (or, in respect for our recent Canada Day, “oot and aboot”).  Used wisely, weekends can also provide a break from tasks and chores (which sadly do not disappear in retirement).

In response to the question “is every day the weekend in retirement”? Mr. Firestation sat firmly on the fence and concluded both “yes and no.” His reasoning was that for most retirees, weekdays are more relaxed than when they were working. Conversely, he also argued that weekends are even more special as retirees can avoid scheduling chores during that time, giving them even more time to take part in special events with friends and family. (source)

I totally agree with Mr. Firestation’s conclusion, and in the process, I have found a great new blog to follow.

Once again the weekend is near…bring it on!

Feature Photo: Cedar Sunday Market, Vancouver Island, BC.

Why I’m Proud to be a (Retired) Canadian

A few weeks ago, I read a post criticizing Canada for not adequately providing for its retirees, and depicting Canadians as not willing to speak out for themselves. As these comments were not made by a Canadian, and only referenced a single news report, I could intellectually dismiss them as not being the whole story. Still, it surprised me just how much this judgment bothered me.

Was it national pride? Perhaps. I am very proud to be Canadian and am immensely grateful for all that we have in our country. Was there more to it? Absolutely.

As a country widely recognized for respecting diversity, we have met with the following criticism, “Accommodating a new culture is the national pastime, while intolerance is the national sin.” (Botha, 2016).

Okay, so the terminology is a little extreme, but the premise does hit home. The assumptive judgment regarding Canadian retirees, by a non-Canadian (without showing evidence of exploring all sides of the argument) is what really got to me.

Setting the record straight, what is it like to be a retired Canadian?  The retirement experience is as diverse as our country itself.

The average age that Canadians retire is currently 63 (Statistics Canada, 2015). And although figures vary depending on the source, Statistics Canada reports that in 2014/15 just under 13% of Canadians who were 65 years and older remained in the workforce (Government of Canada) (CBC, 2016). All Canadians in this age group are qualified to receive Old Age Security Pension (the starting age will be raised to 67 in 2029). In addition,  Canadians who have worked as an employee in Canada receive Canada Pension, which they and their employer contributed to during their work life (it’s the law) (CBC, 2013). On top of this, our health care system ensures coverage for ALL Canadian citizens (UBC, 2013).

The good news behind these statistics is that improvements in life expectancy (currently 81.5 years), health status and education for older citizens are factors that are cited as heavily contributing to our steadily rising age for retirement.  Does this mean that everything is rosy for all Canadian retirees? Absolutely not. Retirement is a definite struggle for many (Canadians and otherwise) (Geoba.se, 2016) (Statistics Canada, 2013).

According to the Financial Post article “Whose Retirement Grass is Greener” (February 2015), “While the U.S. is a better place to become truly wealthy, Canada is superior for those who will have limited financial prospects or encounter costly health issues.”. This is encouraging news for many Canadian retirees.

In addition, Canada repeatedly receives high ranking on studies evaluating ‘best countries’ and ‘overall quality of life’. For example, in January 2016, the US News Best Countries Ranking (which evaluated 16000 global citizens) placed Canada second overall and first for ‘Quality of Life’. Contributing to Canada’s top score on Quality of Life were the following factors:

•    Strong job market
•    Well-developed public education system
•    Safety
•    Political stability
•    Economic stability
•    Well-developed public health system

Our strengths in stability and safety lead to a form of predictability which is an important factor for retirees. Before yawning here, this stability is sharply contrasted with Canada’s multifarious and vibrant culture. Throughout Canada, ethnic diversity, arts, culture, sports and humour abound. Throw in plentiful natural resources (including  60% of the world’s lakes) and you have an incredible place to call home, especially in retirement.

Ironically, when reviewing statistics on Canadian retirement, and Canadian pride, “freedom of expression” was one of the attributes of which Canadians are most proud (Globe and Mail, 2014). This was underscored by a comment in the Huffington Post stating, “Known globally as a polite, apologetic people, Canadians shouldn’t be perceived as meek — in fact, quite the opposite. Their strong values and wide borders encompass a population that is willing to stand up for what it believes in.”

Does the above give Canadians a sense of superiority? Shudder here. As a ‘country of immigrants’ with over 200 countries represented (and celebrated) within Canada, we recognize ourselves in others and others in ourselves.

There is indeed much to be proud of for all Canadians, including our retirees.  Being able to retire in a country recognized as having genuine respect for all human dignity, and that considers diversity an asset (Huffington Post, 2015)–well, nothing could make me more proud!

Thank you, Canada and Happy Birthday!

Feature Photo: Victoria, BC