Canada 150 Mosaic: My (Brief) Stint as a Painter

You’d think that I would have gotten the hint at Paint Night (or long before that, actually).  I seriously cannot paint! But when two friends mentioned that they planned to take part in a mosaic painting activity that was taking place in our town, I immediately signed up!

In celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday (July 1, 2017), Lewis Lavoie, Paul Lavoie and Phil Alain initiated a very ambitious endeavour, entitled “Canada 150 Mosaic”. Through this project, the team members work with 150 different communities across Canada. In each selected town or city, people of all ages, and of all artistic abilities, gather together to paint images on 10 cm X 10 cm ceramic tiles. The individual pictures can be of anything that represents the participants’ local area. When completed, over 80,000  tiles will create 150 separate, but connected murals. The murals will reside in the communities where they were made. If they were all joined together, the unified artwork would measure the size of four football fields! (Source)

It was an incredible vision. Still, two days before our town’s ‘paint-in’, I panicked. What could I paint? More specifically, what could I produce that I wouldn’t be mortified to see every time I passed by its prominent display in our City Hall?

Gathering all artistic supplies that I owned (a couple of highlighters, a few old crayons, and some white computer paper), I set out to draft a simple mountain and water scene that I thought that I could handle…one that wouldn’t embarrass me too much.  When I was finished, Richard walked by, and I asked him what he thought. “Could you get a friend to help you?” was his earnest reply. Ouch!

To make matters worse, one of my friends suggested that I look at the Cochrane, Alberta Mural website, where you can see each individual tile, as well as the whole mural put together. My advice to anyone who is just about to paint their tile for this mural project is “Don’t look”! There was no way that I could have painted any of those tiles…not even the ones that were done by primary school students. I was seriously doomed.

I am nothing if not tenacious. After watching several YouTube beginner’s painting tutorials, as well as running out to our local craft store, I had a simple plan that I believed that I could follow.

Our community’s paint session happened over a lovely weekend on our town’s beautiful beach front. The organizers were friendly, easy-going and encouraging. Like the nerd that I am, I lined up my paint supplies, and my practice painting that I had prepared, and I began. My completed tile will never provoke any genuine “oohs” or “ahhs”, but I was proud of myself for trying…and for not embarrassing myself too badly!

This is one of the great joys of retirement. In my work life, I mostly stuck to what I knew…what I was confident in and what I believed that people expected me to do. In my thirteen months of retirement, I have already experimented with countless activities in which I have very little background. I no longer feel that I need to stay confined to what I believe I do best. The sky is the limit!

Special thanks to the Canada 150 Mosaic Team for envisioning, and actualizing, such a cool commemorative for Canada’s 150th birthday!


Feature Photo: The beginnings of the Parksville Mural

IMG_8647Paint Day







My Tile






-1More of Parksville’s Initial Mural

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) (, 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


On the Road Again: Traveling Through Canada’s Western Provinces

We have now completed our 4,900++ kilometer road trip from Parksville, British Columbia to Winnipeg, Manitoba and back. The primary purpose of our trip was to visit my niece and attend the interior design exhibition that was part of her master’s program. The time spent with my niece, as well as the exhibition, were both totally amazing.

Also during our travels, we were able to watch our eldest son join 42,000 others in the 10K Vancouver Sun Run, catch up with Richard’s best friend from 7th grade, in Cranbrook, BC, and visit relatives both in Edmonton, Alberta and Kelowna, British Columbia.   This trip has helped me to check off all Canadian provinces and territories, except for Nunavut, from my ‘been there’ list. I feel bad about Nunavut, but somehow Richard wasn’t game for us to add an extra 2,382 kilometers to our trip  just to complete my punctilious checklist…harsh, I know!

An unexpected takeaway from our travels was an even deeper appreciation for the sheer breadth and beauty of Canada than my husband and I already had. When planning this trip, we were constantly met by choruses of “Why Winnipeg?” and “Prepare for the most boring drive of your life!”  To the contrary, we were never once bored on our drive. Rather, we were greeted by scenic views of rolling farmlands, statuesque granaries, quaint towns, cool cities and brilliant flocks of Snow Geese en route to nest on the Arctic tundra. We passed two people wearing large signs saying that they were walking across Canada (one of whom was carrying a canoe on his back). We visited Canadian places with funky names that I was totally jealous of when I was in Primary School (Thus, we now have photo ops from Medicine Hat, Moose Jaw, Indian Head and Cut Knife…to name only a few.) We frequently diverged from our main path, whether it was to drive through the curious arches of Russell, Manitoba or to explore a bit of Lloydminster which sprawls across both Saskatchewan and Alberta. Llyodminister is Canada’s only border city incorporated by two provinces that share a single municipal administration (very cool!). And in Winnipeg, The Canadian Museum for Human Rights, along with its current exhibit by blind photographers, was simply incredible…. definitely do not visit Winnipeg without stopping by!

The other bonus of these travels was that we were able to refine our road trip skills even further. During our last long car trip, we struggled to include everything that we would need, and eliminate all that was unnecessary. This time, we more successfully refined our packing, while still preparing all of our own meals (except for when eating with family, or during included motel breakfasts). And before you start imaging horror dinners of Fritos and granola bars…we ate very well with most fare including chicken/turkey, rice, dairy, veggies, bread/pita and fruit/nuts for dessert. These road trip meals were definitely healthier for us, with less time spent trying to find appropriate restaurants or waiting for our orders at the end of a long day, and it was a huge cost saving for our three weeks away.

Our next planned road trip is a much shorter one from Parksville, BC to Seattle, Washington this coming June. Our youngest son will be traveling with us to compete in the Rock N Roll full marathon. As our dog will also be in tow, we will need to reduce and refine our road trip skills even further. All creative car-packing suggestions will be greatly appreciated!


Learning to be Canadian Again

Since I have recently posted a ‘love letter’ for my husband on this blog, in honour of February 14, this ‘valentine’ (of sorts) deals with the love and appreciation of country.

I am no longer confident in my Canadian spellings. Is it analyse or analyze, amoeba or ameba (please don’t ask why I was trying to use that word)? Is focussed the Canadian version of focused…. or is it simply a less-used alternative…. or did I make it up entirely? Living overseas, I began to stray from Canadian spellings and I had plenty of excuses to cover for me. Now that I am back home, I really should spell (consistently) like a Canadian, shouldn’t I? With a sweet little invention called spell-checker this should be no problem, except that if there is a Canadian spell-checker on my Gmail account, I honestly cannot find it. Being a girl-scout-problem-solver, I decided to go with the next best thing and select “British English” as my Gmail default language (which seemed like a great idea until I spent a full hour looking for my trash…. which had magically been transformed into a bin)!

My sometimes mixed-up spellings are not the only telltale sign of my life abroad. At the airport, I attempted to enter into a crowded elevator that easily could have squeezed three (or four) more people inside. “Excuse me honey, can’t you see that this elevator is full?” said one apologetically sounding woman in the back. Ah, the Canadian complacency with space. Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Asia anymore!

I love being reunited with Canadian comfort food. Maple syrup, Nanaimo bars, butter tarts, zucchini bread, Timbits with my double-double and Holy Crap cereal…how I’ve missed you. While admittedly not a fan of poutine quite yet, I will keep on trying.

I do not like to spend much time talking politics, or religion or getting into “my dog is bigger than your dog” conversations. Suffice it to say, watching the world news (on most days) makes me feel even more grateful to be Canadian than I already am. What makes me love my country? It’s a long list, but here are a few highlights. Personally, to me, Canada means: Family, loved ones, heritage, memories, home and comfort. On a larger scale, I am immensely proud of Canada’s diversity, friendly (and overly polite) people, wilderness, open spaces, clean air, amazing landscapes, safety, our value on education, our stance on gun control, our abundance of natural resources…and having a hip and modern Prime Minister. And, according to a recent worldwide study by the Legatum Prosperity Index 2015, Canada ranks number one worldwide for personal freedom of its citizens (!/ranking). If that alone does not convince you, we even have small towns that, on a major snow day, close a section of their main highways to allow their children to go sledding. How cool is that?

Yes, there are downsides to life back in Canada. Housing costs, especially in Vancouver and Toronto (seriously!), not enough family doctors to go around, traffic can be unpredictable (my husband actually preferred driving in Beijing because the drivers there were more defensive… and the faint of heart were not behind the wheel), and the value of our dollar has lost substantial value against the US dollar, and some other currencies. But compared to the pros, it’s hard to complain about life back in Canada.

If you are Canadian, what have I missed? If you’re not, what makes you most proud of your country? Always looking for different points of view, and new places to explore, I’m interested in hearing your commentsbut remember, it is Valentine’s Day!