Taking ‘Vacation’ from ‘Vacation’: Can you Actually do that?

We have recently returned from our three-week driving trip. During our time away, others often referred to our excursion as ‘vacation.’ This small, innocuous-seeming word began to grate away at me. Once people retire, can their travel justly be called ‘vacation’? This word no longer seemed appropriate to describe our trips away (especially this one, which included many of the same tasks and activities that we did at home….only with different scenery and very different weather).

I turned to the Cambridge dictionary.

“Retirement: the act of leaving your job and stopping working.”


“Vacation:  a time when someone does not go to work or school but is free to do what they want, such as travel or relax.”

You can nitpick these definitions for donkey’s years, but if defined as above, both words center on “stopping working” and the “freedom to do what you want” (at least for a period of time). So in that regard, retirement itself can be seen as a ‘vacating’ of sorts. Hmmm, that means I would be taking ‘vacation’ from ‘vacation.’ This is not to imply that retirement is not a very busy, active and meaningful time (I find it incredibly so).  I couldn’t put my finger on it, but ‘vacation’ from ‘retirement’ just seemed wrong.

I placed the dictionary aside and turned to Google where I was sure I would find a quick answer. After typing the words ‘retirement’ and ‘vacation’ in the search bar, using both narrow and broad phrases to go with my topic, and then scrolling through pages and pages of posts… the closest entries that I found were “retirement destinations,” “cheap ways to travel” and “Elderhostel.” Google totally failed me here (or my research skills have quickly atrophied in my post-work life)! Still I persevered. Several pages in, I was directed to blog posts asking if vacations were important in retirement. I mean absolutely no disrespect here when I say “duh”! My question was not whether one should take trips during retirement, but rather what these trips should be called.

I was about to give up on the whole topic and once again vow not to be so picky (yeah, right), when I saw a freshly posted blog entry entitled “No More Vacations.” In this post, the author argued that retirement brings the “freedom to stop taking vacations from something and instead be able to say “yes, we’d love to,” “yes, we’ll go,” “yes, we will be there.” Eureka!! I totally agree! My trips away are no longer a separation from my regular life, more appropriately they are an extension of my current freedom and exploring. Thanks to Janis my query has an answer to which I am quite satisfied.

As an aside, an amazing bonus of blogging on retirement is reading different retirement blogs and sharing that connection with others who are experiencing similar journeys!

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your point of view.


Top Photo: A snapshot from our recent road trip                                    Bottom Photo: A snapshot from our daily life

What is your ‘Retirement Personality Type’?

Don’t you just love on-line personality quizzes? You know, the ones where you answer a few innocuous-seeming multiple-choice questions—press enter—and voila—you are assigned a set-in-stone personality type (that may or may not remotely resemble the you that you know). The retirement versions of these quizzes claim to be able to determine your ‘retirement personality type’, ‘retirement happy place’ and ‘retirement investment type’. I just took two of these on-line tests, as honestly as I could, and discovered that my retirement happy place is Boulder, CO (someplace that I’ve never been) because I am (apparently) “a cross between Georgia O’Keeffe with Henry David Thoreau…. an artsy-creative soul who understands the value of alone time and the freedom of the American West”. (Insert dramatic eye roll here!) Survey 1

I also discovered that I am “a seeker” apparently because “friends describe (me) as reserved, thoughtful, and as having a rich intellectual inner world.” Survey 2 (Feel free to replace these descriptions with adjectives of your own…but remember…I control the comment key!)

During our recent three-week road trip, we had the chance to visit with many great friends and family, all of whom are retired. Since I knew many of these people long before they left their jobs, it was interesting to see similarities and differences in their pre-retirement and post-work personalities. One of these friends, who now spends as much time dancing as she can, shared that other than at the occasional wedding, prior to retirement she had last danced when she was a teen. This past summer she danced at her High School Reunion and thought to herself, “why haven’t I been dancing all along. I LOVE this!” She immediately signed up for jive lessons, and has continued with a variety of dance lessons/local dances ever since. For me, it was creative writing. I did stacks of academic writing during my career (Language Policy anyone?) but it wasn’t really until retirement that I started creative writing again and discovered (thirty-five years later) how deeply I missed it.

This got me thinking about how our personalities can transform themselves in retirement – and what control we have over this (barring unpreventable circumstances). Retirement is the perfect time to refine, reinvent and let the real you come out and play. You no longer need to act a certain way because it is expected of your profession, or to do something (or not do something) just because you always did. It is a perfect time to break old habits, try new things and rekindle old passions!

A post from Starts At Sixty has been making its way around the Internet recently. You may have seen it.


I am a Seenager (Senior Teenager)

I have everything that I wanted as a teenager, only 50 years later.

I don’t have to go to school or work.

I get an allowance every month.

I have my own place.

I don’t have a curfew.

I have a driver’s license and my own car. The people that I hang around with are not scared of getting pregnant, and they do not use drugs, and they do not have acne. Life is great!

Okay, so maybe our skin may not be clear and smooth, not all of us should be driving cars, and many of us have a whole new version of medicinal drugs…but you get the point. There is no time to wait to be the you that you always wanted to be. What are you waiting for?

Packing Checklists, Kettle Grills…and Our Big Road Trip!

I LOVE packing checklists – the planning, the organizing, the reassurance – and especially the checklist part. (Geek! Yes, I’m aware.) For our current road trip, we wanted to pack enough to be comfortable, but not so much that we felt weighed down. We would likely be driving for eight days in total and would be gone for three or four weeks. We were not yet sure where we would be staying along the way–motel? camping? car? — but we wanted to be open to a variety of different roadside opportunities. Adding to our dilemma, our apartment in Las Vegas, where we would be staying for eight nights, only contained basic furniture and appliances and nothing else. Richard definitely wanted to golf, and I wanted to continue to workout and practice yoga. Already the image of necessary pillows blankets sleeping bags, portable tent, towels, golf clubs, yoga mat, clothes, toiletries, cooler, and basic food supplies was growing completely out of control.

We could not be the first ones ever to take such a trip, so… we consulted the Internet for expert advice. For a two-week-plus (car-camping-style) road trip, some sites suggested that we include a kettle grill, high heels, and a pocket dictionary. Nope, I’m not kidding! (Sources) In order to travel a bit lighter, other sites suggested that we leave behind aspirin, nail polish remover, extra razors and extra reading material. Now, I’m sure that these sites were less camping-based and went with the rationale that you could easily buy these things along the way. However, the authors obviously have not seen me without reading material or with a pounding headache and no convenience store or pharmacy in sight (not to mention that needing to buy too many extra items, with the current US-Canadian dollar exchange rate, would undoubtedly make me need those aspirins). The absolute irony here is kettle grill vs. a bottle of aspirin…words simply fail me!

Other sites, more realistic about the size of the average car or SUV, suggested that we avoid the need for a grill and consider cooking our food on our car engine, or baking cookies on the dashboard. (Again, I’m not making this up.) The Internet even has loads of directions on how to do both things. (Examples: here and here.)

As Richard and I both have definite limits to our sense of adventure, we left the kettle grill behind and opted against using our car as a cooking device. When we finished packing the necessities listed above, and then added our dog, dog food, feeding bowls, grooming stuff, pet blanket, etc., etc. (so that we could drop off Cody in Vancouver on our way) we would not have wanted to squeeze in one extra item. Without exaggeration, we have seen whole families move abroad with less.

After surviving full two weeks on the road, it is time to reflect, and write this blog. What would we definitely take on our next big road trip? What would we leave behind?

We never regretted our decision not to bring a kettle grill and I never once had the desire to wear high heels or to study a pocket dictionary (although I did use my on-line thesaurus more than once). We did definitely use our extra reading material, razors and aspirin (as well as vitamin C and cold medicine). I haven’t yet used the nail polish remover…but there’s still time.

As I predominantly had the role of passenger, navigator, meal arranger and organizer, I found it invaluable to have my smartphone, laptop and phone charger (that plugs into the car cigarette lighter) within handy reach. Our smartphone not only served as a multi-faceted communication device, but it also served as our GPS, accommodation locator, fact finder, mirror, flashlight, extra music source, extra reading material…and emergency gas station finder (please don’t ask!). Also, did you know that with your smartphone you can start your car remotely, measure your heart rate, identify a song on the radio and mail a postcard? As a bonus, I also used my smartphone as a hotspot so that I could grab my computer and stay ahead on my blog posts. (NB, check your data plan first and adjust your usage accordingly to avoid extra data fees.) I also used my smartphone to snap the following “car windshield photography”.




The other item that was a lifesaver for us was an extra large, good quality thermos (that stayed hot and fit perfectly in our car cup holder). As we traveled many LONG stretches of road with surprisingly no Starbucks (or coffee shop of any kind) in sight, the stay-hot-all-day thermos of coffee was well worth the small space that it required. Each morning, we took the time to re-shuffle our vehicle so that the cooler (with ice packs as opposed to melting ice cubes) and snack bag were within easy reach of the passenger (who doubled as host and server). Wet Ones (lots of them) and grocery store sized plastic bags for recycling/trash also made the trip easier.

Other than the nail polish remover, we have actually used most of the items that we brought with us (we did a final culling just before we pulled out from home). For our next big road trip, we will add a roof-rack storage unit in order to help ease in-vehicle congestion. A roof rack will also be essential for when we have our dog join us for a longer portion of the trip. (Note to PETA: our dog will be in the car, not on the rack!)

Ultimately, my best advice goes back to the packing checklist itself. If you have never used one, definitely consider it for your next trip. If you prepare and store it on your computer, you won’t need to worry about losing the printed copy and you can use/modify it again and again for future trips. Sample templates to get your started can be found here and here .

A good packing checklist just may revolutionize your whole approach to packing, save you frustration and cash for forgotten items along the way, and help make your entire trip go much more smoothly. Go ahead, you don’t have to be a Geek to try it (although it definitely won’t hurt if you are).

Have you taken a big road trip recently and have advice to add? I’d appreciate hearing your feedback and suggestions.

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 (http://prosperity.com/#!/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!

On Leaving Fido


So, you know the carefree, happy-go-lucky, come-and-go-as-you-please image that the word ‘retirement’ often conjures up? Enter Fido (or Spot, or Fluffy…or in this case, Cody) and that rose-coloured vision is instantly smashed to bits!

Living in the land of retirees, we are completely surrounded by snowbirds, and other vacationers, heading off to California, Arizona, Hawaii, Mexico, Panama, and other cheerful, sunny destinations, seemingly at whim. Trying to fit in, and be ‘good retirees’ we started dreaming of our own trip. Perhaps a leisurely drive to Nevada, followed by a rendezvous or two with friends in California, then with family in Arizona. We could take our time, try out some of our new camping gear along the way, and come back when we pleased.

Wait! What were we thinking?? Temporary insanity must have made us  forget that we had a dog–a very large one! Now, before you begin rhyming off some simple solutions, here are some of the hurdles:

Hurdle #1: Cody has never stayed in a kennel before. His only experience being in a crate was his eleven-hour flight from Beijing to Vancouver…and it took him literally weeks (and a couple of vet visits) to recover. Did we really want to put him anywhere near a crate, or even a small penned in area, again?

Hurdle # 2: Being new to Vancouver Island, we do not know anyone close by well enough, at least not anyone who is not already away themselves, for such a big imposition.

Hurdle #3: Have I mentioned that Cody is a Siberian husky and a cat-hater? Actually, he thinks he quite likes cats…with salt and pepper perhaps! Cody is a hunter (and we have many long stories as to why we know this). Suffice it to say that it is best to keep him away from anything feline. Strike off all potential caregivers who have cats.

Hurdle #4: As for immediate family members (i.e. our four grown sons): one has a new baby (and dog allergies), one owns cats, one lives in England, and when I suggested our remaining son, my husband was quick to remind me that this son and his girlfriend worked long hours and lived in a small apartment so Cody would be alone for a very long time each day.

Hurdle #5: My husband has heard horror stories about dogs being held at border crossings and not being allowed to return home. And did I mention that we were driving to the desert…a very long drive to the desert?

Reviewing our list, we have now struck off kennels, neigbours, friends, family, anyone with cats and bringing Cody with us. What was left?

We went through many (many) stages in our decision-making. At first, we believed that we would hire a local caregiver to come into our home. We even met a really nice lady willing to do this. But then when we slept on it–three whole weeks seemed way too long to have a stranger in our home (regardless of how kindly she seemed). Wouldn’t it be better to trial this on a much shorter trip?

We then decided that we would modify our trip slightly. Our original vision of driving blissfully into the sunshine, golf clubs in tow, sadly morphed into one-week away via a budget airline–sans golf clubs (and sans check-in luggage of any kind). We were sure that we could trial a local (albeit, unfamiliar) live-in pet-sitter for a week. But then the rumour mill struck again.  Other (quite random) pet-owners shared some of their worst experiences.  Some even suggested that a pet-sitter would probably be fine for us…. but that they would never leave their dog with anyone but family. Insert guilt and separations anxiety here…and strike off local pet-sitter.

Next we did what we usually do when we cannot solve a problem on our own. We called in the experts! Fortunately, my walking group is made up not only of people who like a good hike, but they are also experienced pet owners and extreme dog lovers. I laid out the problems and challenges and then listened to their experiences and expert advice. “Take Cody with you”, they unanimously declared. They each had gone back and forth across the Canada/US border several times with their dogs happily by their sides. One of them even goes to an annual Golden Retriever picnic in Portland, Oregon!

Right then and there we decided to take Cody with us. We had already pictured him–car top down and his brightly coloured ascot billowing in the breeze (well actually, we don’t have a convertible, and Cody does not have an ascot…but you have to admit, it struck a nice image)!

Then the reality of driving three days there and three days back, with a large dog, set in. We really did want this to be a carefree adventure, for us…. and for Cody too. Nothing about a very long, hot drive with a dog spelled c-a-r-e-f-r-e-e…absolutely nothing!

So, weeks later, with countless hours spent worrying, planning, revising our plans, and planning some more…here we are packed and ready to make the drive. The car’s air conditioning has been double checked, and our passports, medical cards, and updated vaccination booklets are in our bags. Cody is sitting smugly in the back seat looking very pleased…. he is not going to Vegas but to Uncle Shaun’s (the son who we had not wanted to impose upon due to his long work hours and small space). When we finally broached the topic with Shaun, he and his girlfriend were thrilled to take Cody and had solutions to all of the barriers which had prevented us from asking them in the first place. They also reminded us of their fenced- in patio that Cody loves. Shaun immediately posted Cody’s photo on his Facebook page and instantly got offers from all around Vancouver (and even the Okanagan) to have Cody over for a play date! Also, at the last minute, we had friends (with dog allergies) ask to stay in our home while we were away, as they were in the process of moving. Dog and home were now accounted for!

Moral of the story: Don’t overlook the obvious, don’t be afraid to ask…. and pet-owner guilt can be a very powerful thing!

In a future post, I will let you know how the travels, both for us, and for Cody, turned out!

Retirement Guilt: The Art of Not ‘Shoulding’ Upon Yourself

My husband and I took a mid-week, overnight trip, about a two-hour drive away from our home. It was a last minute decision to explore another part of Vancouver Island. We had a great two days away and really enjoyed ourselves. During the drive home, my husband mentioned that he just couldn’t shake the feeling of guilt in being able to simply drive off into the sunshine…on a weekday. He felt there was something else that he should be doing (reality check: there really wasn’t).

Good old guilt! It can become so ingrained in us that it continues to whisper “you should, you should, you should” or “you shouldn’t, you shouldn’t, you shouldn’t” even when those messages are not pertinent.

I began to think about guilt and how it has manifested itself in my own life over different periods of time. What is “retirement guilt” and just how big of a phenomenon is it? I Googled the words and found pages and pages (and pages) of entries. This potential aspect of retirement was definitely not mentioned in the glossy Freedom 55 brochures!

Guilt can be defined simply as: “A feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime or wrongdoing, …whether real or imagined” (http://dictionary.reference.com) Or as one definition, offered by the Urban Dictionary states, “An unfortunate side effect that results from being overly exposed to morality” (http://www.urbandictionary.com)…definitely an interesting point of view!

With real or imagined wrongdoings ranging from: shirking responsibilities, not doing something meaningful, leaving the workforce too early, not earning a paycheque, spending too much money, not measuring up, missing something, saying ‘no’ (when others believe you now have all of the time in the world to say ‘yes’)…a retiree could totally drive him/herself insane.

But is guilt also a gift? In the right dosages, does it help propel us forward, get unsexy tasks done, reflect more deeply, get off of the couch and be better people? Without guilt would our houses be messier, our emails unanswered, our chequebooks unbalanced, our dogs all have much shorter walks and would we simply eat all of the Boston Cream donuts that we desire?

Being no stranger to guilt (I’m Catholic), I am surprised that I haven’t yet been overcome by guilt since retiring (really, it’s so unlike me). Perhaps it is my retirement honeymoon phase, and a tsunami wave of guilt is lurking around the corner waiting to catch me unaware.

I believe, at least partly, that yoga has been a contributing factor to easing initial retirement guilt for me. I can hear the many mantras of my yoga teachers now:

  • Practice mindfulness
  • Put yourself in the present moment
  • Leave the past behind
  • Practice non-judgment
  • …And….don’t forget to breathe!

Certainly, there are more detailed, complex strategies in which to deal with guilt, but the above seems like a good start and not a bad list to live by.

Thinking back to Richard at the steering wheel, I wonder if the guilt that he was feeling, wasn’t actually gratitude. As retirement is a privilege denied to so many, humbly accepting the gift of retirement can be surprisingly overwhelming.

It is the above mindset of turning guilt into gratitude that was my biggest take-away in reading through the pages of Google entries on retirement guilt. Other frequently mentioned suggestions (all heavily paraphrased or ad-libbed below) include:

  • Acknowledge your shoulds–check them against reality–then let them pass
  • Know your fears and deal with them head-on (e.g. if money is a big fear zone, set and regularly review a realistic budget, track expenses and make adjustments where necessary)
  • Take stalk of what you can control and what you can’t
  • Readjust your expectations
  • Practice forgiveness (of yourself and others)
  • Make amends (again with yourself and others)…and move on!

Got guilt? What are your strategies for letting go?


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.