#WordlessWednesday: Three Days with Charlie

When our grandson, Charlie, called (his voice sounding a lot like his mother’s) my husband and I gladly offered to fill in the three-day gap in his daycare arrangements. And what better way to share this adventure than through #WordlessWednesday (or in my case #AlmostWordlessWednesday)? Enjoy!

It is never boring hanging out with a 19-month old boy. There were beaches to explore.
And old boats to restore.
As well as the sights and smells of Grandville Island Market!
Charlie made it his full-time job to ensure that his grandparents were entertained.
He also scored big points for being a fan of Grandma’s cooking.

Which was a good thing because I had made several extra containers full for his daycare lunches. You can find the recipes here, here and here. And if you have Microsoft Word, you can easily make the freezer tags by using the ‘Shipping Labels Template’ found under ‘New Documents.’
And the most precious reward of all? Charlie’s choice of location for his peaceful afternoon nap!
It’s comforting to know that we are only ever a ferry ride away!
Until next time….

“Hi, Honey, I’m Home…Forever!”

There are endless quips regarding marriage and retirement.

“When you retire you switch bosses – from the one who hired you, to the one that married you.” (Gene Perret)

“When a man retires, his wife gets twice the husband and half the salary.” (William Mitchell)

“A married husband is often a wife’s full-time job.” (Ella Harris)

“Warning: Retired person on premises. Knows everything and has plenty of time to tell it.” (Annonymous)

And the title quote (also from Gene Perret).

I’m sure that you can add others….

A year before I retired, I diligently began to read all that I could on the emotional side of retiring. The work that I read on marriage and retirement stopped me in my tracks. Much of this research hammered out the frequently mismatched perceptions of couples once retiring (ranging from different opinions on money, time together/apart, chores, daily activities, travel, family commitments, etc., etc.). According to this research, this misalignment can lead to marital breakdown where, as several studies found, a quarter of American divorces take place with couples who are fifty-years or older. (Yogev, 2012) It can also apparently lead to such strange phenomena as
“Shujin Zaitaku Sutoresu Shoukougun,” literally “One’s Husband Being at Home Stress Syndrome.” (BBC News, 2006-11-29) The more I read, the bleaker the news. I quickly quit reading.

After nineteen months of being officially retired, what is my personal experience with marriage and retirement? Without being too much of a schmoopie, I couldn’t be happier. So much so that I went back to the research with fresh (but slightly more experienced) eyes. What did I find?

• Sixty percent of couples report that there is (ultimately) an improvement in their marriage after retirement. (Forbes, 2007)
• Compared with a matched sample of working men, male retirees
reported higher levels of marital satisfaction. (Kulik, 1999)
•Both wives and husbands tend to indicate greater marital satisfaction if they retired at the same time. (Forbes, 2007) Although, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, fewer than twenty percent of American couples retire in the same year.
• Married couples are twice as likely to save for retirement, often giving them more financial security in their retirement years. (Social Security Administration)
•Retirement reinforces the pre-existing quality of individual marriages, e.g. retirement tends to have a positive effect on marriages that were previously strong and happy, and a negative effect on marriages that were previously shaky. (Missouri Families)

I also went back to Yogev’s research. If I hadn’t quit reading her work so early, I would have realized that it was filled with practical tips and just plain good advice for starting retirement as a couple on a positive note. e.g. :

•Take time and think about what each of you would like to do during retirement
•Communicate openly
•Be specific by what you mean
•Be willing to compromise
•Set boundaries
•Find shared interests
•Ensure individual personal space
•Designate household tasks
•Allow yourself to take baby steps on new endeavors – you seldom need to rush
(Yogev, 2012).

As I perused these strategies, I shuddered with gratitude. I am realistic about my shortcomings and am thankful to have someone who balances out areas where I am not naturally inclined. As in dancing, the moves are more effortless, and enjoyable, with a strong, steady partner. Someone who can both seamlessly lead, and follow, allowing you to find your own unique steps as an individual while maintaining harmony as a team. For this, I am eternally grateful.

Happy 17th Anniversary, Richard. There are no words to express my deepest love and appreciation.

January 21, 2000
Back to the scene of the crime!

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Yogev, Sara. A Couple’s Guide to Happy Retirement: For Better or Worse …But Not for Lunch, Familius, Second Edition, 2012.

For those who have not seen Seinfeld’s take on schmoopies recently, you really should watch it now!
And if you missed my (slightly ‘schmoopied’) anniversary post last year, you can catch it here.

Reflections on Christmas 2016

I was hesitant to fully engage in this holiday season. There were noticeable absences in our recent family photos. I forced myself to decorate. I forgot to download my Christmas music. I let Costco do my baking. The festivities that I had always embraced so naturally didn’t feel the same as they had before.

I continued putting one foot in front of the other. Faking it until I could make it. I knew that Richard noticed. Of course he did. He was doing the same.

And then it snuck up on us. In small increments at first. It began with friends and neighbours. Some came to call. Others invited us out. Understanding, empathy, and connection are deeply seeded needs of the human experience.

It then continued with our children. Spending time with our sons and their wives/partners brings pure contentment to my soul. Adding in grandchildren is a joy that I can never adequately describe. Reunited, we told familiar stories. We laughed at tales that had been retold a hundred times. We slipped into the comfort of not having to pretend. We luxuriated in the warmth of family. Our shared experiences continued to bind us more tightly than ever.

We hung our stockings near the fire. This year we hung not only our current ones…but also the stockings of loved ones who are no longer here.

During one family gathering, Richard and I looked at each other, simultaneously overcome by emotion. We both deeply felt the presence of those who could not be seen. The feeling was unmistakable. We now recognize that day as a turning point toward healing the pieces that have been taken from our hearts.

It is said that at the end of our lives it is not our careers, our money, or our possessions that we reach for. Instead, it is the gift of family that we yearn for and hold most dear. That gift, Richard and I have received in abundance. For this, we are most deeply grateful.


This post has been written in memory of our loved ones who have so immeasurably enhanced our lives. It is especially dedicated to our first granddaughter, Baylee Jade Kailuweit-Wageman who was born October 28, 2016, and sorrowfully passed away two days later. Rest in peace beautiful Baylee. You have enriched our hearts profoundly, as only an angel could.

A Christmas Card For You

I’ve been rethinking my Christmas traditions this year. A bit like closet cleaning, I want to ensure that I thoughtfully keep what is meaningful, retire what no longer fits, and make room for new traditions that will add value and substance.

When thinking about Christmas cards, I researched the history of Christmas card sending. (Why? Because I’m me!) The first printed Christmas card, 1843 (shown above) depicted the importance of generations of family celebrating together, service to others, as well as symbols of eternity (sprigs of holly ) and of faithfulness/God’s path (ivy). Source I love the timelessness of this message. After all, isn’t this what the core of this holiday season is all about? Okay, okay…you looked closely! So, the card also depicts a child being served wine (while the other children dig into their plum pudding). Maybe this just means that we should never take ourselves too seriously. Or maybe the controversy caused helped to sell more cards! Either way, the timelessness of the message remains.

For many, many years I sent out handwritten cards with personalized greetings. Despite my best efforts, there were always people that I missed…and despite me sending early, there were often mail delays. For a few years, I tried e-cards. They did allow me to reach more people (and on-time), but every year several cards were left unopened. (With all of the confidence that I can muster, I am hoping that this is a statement of e-cards themselves and not of my friendship with those individuals!) Short of smoke signals, carrier pigeons or an insanely large banner in the sky, I tried to find a creative and heartfelt way to get my message out to you. You, who are so generously keeping in touch.

I wanted the perfect message. A message that would fully express how much I appreciate you. A heartfelt thank you for your extra efforts to keep in touch (and for following this blog!). And finally, a message that sends positive thoughts across the miles. I also wanted to send along some goofy Christmas photos…Yup, I dragged Richard out for another Christmas photo shoot….this time with a twist!

It was a tall order. My search through the internet at first trapped me in the ‘terrible toos’. The sample verses that I found were too general, too corny, too mushy or too artificial. Unlike many Christmas messages or letters, I don’t need to fill you in on key events in my life for this past year. By virtue of scrolling down, you have this information at your fingertips!

I then came across the following writing by Oren Arnold, novelist and journalist (b. 1900 – d.1980).

Christmas gift ideas / suggestions:
To your enemy, forgiveness.
To an opponent, tolerance.
To a friend, your heart.
To a customer, service.
To all, charity.
To every child, a good example.
To yourself, respect.

Arnold’s words completely resonated with me. They so eloquently stated the core of what I wish to express in this post.

And so, I have wrapped up Oren Arnold’s powerful message in my own heartfelt words. I send them with sincere wishes of peace, love, and gratitude across the miles. May we all be more like the Whos down in Whoville — loving life, rejoicing in what we have, overlooking insult and joyfully celebrating community. Our vision becomes filled with what we put in our focus. If we all keep our visions fixed on these values, we CAN tilt our world towards peace. Undeniably.

Thank you for following along with me during 2016. I greatly look forward to remaining in touch in 2017! And now for those photos…

Sources:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1336459/Worlds-Christmas-cards-London-1843-arrive-auction-NY.html
https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/tag/first-christmas-card
http://mentalfloss.com/article/26650/first-christmas-card-was-sent-1843
http://www.signology.org/religious-symbols/xmas-symbols.htm
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/history-christmas-card-180957487
http://www.thefactsite.com/2009/12/why-do-we-send-christmas-card.html
http://www.victoriana.com/christmas/card1st-99.htm
http://www.whychristmas.com/customs/cards.shtml

Featured Photo – Image of the Firstchristmascard. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Remaining photos are from Donna & Richard’s 2016 Christmas Card Photo Shoot!

Not Ready to Say Goodbye

His photos have been featured on numerous of my previous blog posts. His presence can be felt between the lines of most things that I have written. For so long, he has been intricately woven into my husband’s and my lives, and the lives of our family. Less than six weeks ago, when I could not possibly foresee the dark shadows heading our way, I became lost in nostalgia looking at his baby photos. That nostalgia inspired a post where I mentioned how much he has added to our lives. Countless adventures, endless stories, and unparalleled laughter topped the list. I quoted research on how he, and his kin, can “heal our pain, help us cope and improve our well-being.” Source: Bjerklie, David (Ed.). (July 2016). Animals & Your Health.

For my husband and me, he has long been our sage counselor, among other roles. He’s been there through so much and has provided calm when we have needed it the most. Last week, in Ties that Bind, I spoke around a devastating tragedy that recently took place in our family. I have not been able to give details publicly on social media in respect of the privacy of my loved ones. Just over a week has gone by since that painful loss, and we are now back at our home on Vancouver Island. Normally he would be snuggled up beside us easing our pain, but sorrowfully, he is not here.

Unexpectedly, barely a week before our family tragedy struck, our beloved Husky, Cody, became ill. We were at the vet’s instantly. Despite test after test, nothing was conclusive. We tried everything. The vets tried everything. But Cody became weaker. Something was malignantly growing in his lungs and just would not be stopped.

My husband and I have spent the past few days taking Cody to his favorite places, trying to feed him some of his favorite foods and desperately wanting to return the love that he has given to us so freely. When his lungs simply could not take any more, and I was saying goodbye, all that I could manage to say was ‘thank you,’ over and over again. I wanted him to know how immensely grateful I am for how deeply he has enriched our lives. I wanted to thank him for his unconditional love and for always being there. Selfishly I wanted to tell him that we still needed him, that our home would not be the same without him, that we weren’t ready to say goodbye and that now was not the right time. But thank you was all that came out.

Rest in peace beloved Cody. We love and miss you more than mere words can express.

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Ties that Bind

There are things that I am afraid to put into writing for fear of making them too real.

For this week’s post, I had planned to write a lighthearted self-reflection on something or other. Then the past few days happened. Without going into specifics, these days have been tough beyond measure. All lightheartedness instantly evaporated. The importance of strong family relationships took over my field of vision and was reinforced more than ever.

I am part of a large extended family. The dynamics are sometimes messy, sometimes complicated and seldom quiet. Despite occasional squabbles, our family pack is a good place to be. Our bonds are strong.

In the past few days, these ties have been tested. Despite the size of our brood, every single individual has risen above their own pain to help one another. The cohesiveness of our fold has been commented upon by many.

In a previous post, I highlighted current research that has shown that nurturing and supportive family relationships can decrease stress levels. I looked specifically at expanding research that argues that family relationships can provide stimulation, purpose, a sense of connection and validation, especially when we are no longer in the workplace.

This past week, I was repeatedly struck by family members, at all stages of life, supporting each other. They each demonstrated incredible acts of selflessness, at the most difficult of times. I looked again at studies on families with this lens. The research was abundant.

Below is a small highlight of a smattering of takeaways that I discovered when barely scratching the surface of available sources.

Your Mom CAN Make It Better – In a 2010 study, conducted at The University of Wisconsin-Madison, researchers found that children who spoke with their mothers following a stressful situation, showed increased levels of oxytocin (believed to decrease our stress response). Source. This phenomenon has caused some researchers to comment that “Mothers know without being instructed how to soothe a child.” Source I was fortunate to be with my own mother at the start of this terrible week. In my case, I totally agree with this research.

Being a Parent May Increase Your Life Expectancy –

A study of 21,276 couples from Denmark, revealed that parents (both mothers and fathers) were four times less likely to die early from accidents, cancer, or other specific diseases. Although these results contradict the findings of many earlier studies, this does seem like a nice reward for all of those sleepless nights! Source

Caring for Others Helps Us Take Better Care of Ourselves-
Various bodies of research now suggest that taking care of people that we love may help us to take better care of ourselves. Included in this research is evidence that our immune function and stress regulation is improved when we are around our family and close friends. Source As you may have already suspected, according to researchers, family and friends are very influential in terms of our lifestyle.Source In one study, “36 percent of people say their nutrition is affected by influence from their friends and family. And 46 percent of people in the survey said that their loved ones make a difference in their overall healthy lifestyles.” Source

Siblings Decrease Loneliness and Increase Happiness –
Although much of this research was conducted on sisters, studies have shown that having a sibling is good for your mental health, and can help people (especially preteens) feel less lonely/less self-conscious and happier. Having a sibling was also linked with greater family communication as well as more inclination to do good deeds. Source

Blood Just May Be Thicker Than Water –
New studies from the University of Toronto reveal that, for seniors, having close relationships with family members is more important than friendships, especially in terms of life expectancy. According to this study, retirees who were very close with family members had lower mortality rates than those who relied solely on close friendships. (11th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association). Source

The pain of this past week will remain in the hearts of my family forever. But the selfless acts of family members that we witnessed again and again will equally never fade. I am immensely proud and grateful to be part of such an incredible family pack.

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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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.

 

 

Thanks, Mom!

Out of all of the gifts for which I am most grateful, being blessed with a kind, caring, and generous mother stands out among the best. This single good-fortune has helped prepare me for so much that followed.

I grew up with the confidence that comes from having a central person in your life always believe in you, always be there for you, and tirelessly support your dreams—even when they seem to be impossible. Countless times my mother has eased my mind from what, at the time, felt insurmountable. Consistently, she has modeled determination, courage, and gumption. She has taught me not to confine myself to anyone else’s mold or expectations for me.

Also an incredible grandmother, a successful business woman (now retired), an awesome cook, and an eloquent dancer (to highlight just a few of her talents), my mother has instilled in me the belief that you can accomplish anything that you set your mind to do. And, as the attached recent photos reveal, she is also gorgeous (sorry to embarrass you here, Mom)!

How can you adequately thank someone who has endlessly shown you infinite love and unconditional grace? Although I am not sure that this can ever be fully achieved—I vow to give it my best try!

Geek alert: According to recent surveys, more phone calls are made on Mother’s Day than on any other day of the year —37% more in fact! Other surveys have shown that Mother’s Day has the third highest attendance at Church, coming only behind Christmas and Easter (ironically Father’s Day does not have this effect on Church attendance – and even ranks behind attendance for Homecoming Day).

The North American version of Mother’s Day was initiated by Anna Jarvis, in 1908, as a time to honor the sacrifices that our mothers have made for us (source). (source). Ironically, Anna, who was never a mother herself, became disillusioned by the commercialism that resulted–something that she had never envisioned or intended.

Being a lover of holidays and special occasions, I am grateful that today has been set aside to reflect on all that our mothers have done for us, and to thank them in our individual ways. As for me, I will start with this blog (my mom is kindly a devoted reader)! And to Anna’s chagrin, today will also include cards, and presents (as well as phone calls and Mass). But mostly, for me, today is a day of reflection and the deepest possible gratitude for all that my mother has done. I will be eternally grateful for being born and raised by such an incredible woman.

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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.