Tote-ally awesome!

When I read “Crashing the Cancer Club“, Jenny Charlesworth’s story of surviving cervical cancer, in the March 2015 issue of Chatelaine magazine, I immediately responded with a letter to the editor via email. I’d completely forgotten about that until I flipped open the May issue and saw my letter in print! A bright pink tag announced that it was “This Month’s Winner”!

I vaguely remembered seeing a tiny note at the bottom corner of previous Letters pages announcing the chance to win a prize for writing a winning letter, but I didn’t give it much thought. I was just happy to see my letter in print! Sometime later, I looked back at the March issue and saw that the prize that was being offered was a blender. I already had a perfectly good blender and no real need for another one, so I wasn’t even concerned about the fact that I hadn’t included my mailing address with my letter.

Almost exactly a month ago, in the middle of June, I received a surprise email from Dominique at Chatelaine telling me that I’d won a leather tote from The Sak and asking for my address and phone number!

Leather tote or blender? Which would I rather have? I looked up The Sak website and checked out the many tote bags on offer. I love my blender, especially the fruit smoothies that I often make in it, but it was no contest. There were lots of bags that I could visualize myself carrying and I began to wonder which one would soon be mine!

Today, it arrived by courier… the Palisades soft leather tote in the shitake tassel design. I love it’s casual, slightly bohemian look. With it’s spacious fully lined interior, zippered inside pocket and magnetic closure, it has plenty of room for essentials like my wallet, cell phone, sunscreen and camera. In fact, I have a feeling that it’s going to be an ideal travel companion! I wonder where we’ll go together?

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Born To Be Wild


I saw the painting Born To Be Wild by Norwegian artist, Sylvia Sotuyo, for the first time the day before yesterday on the NET Cancer Day Facebook page and it immediately spoke to me in a way that art seldom does. I looked at it over and over again, each time asking myself what it is about that figure that inspires me so. I even posted it as my Facebook profile picture. Why? Because I see it as a picture of me! I may not look like this to you and it isn’t what I see in the mirror, but I know it’s me!

I contacted the artist and she graciously gave me permission to share her painting here and to try to explain what it means to me, but first, let me share her description of it:

The dynamic human tree represents the strength and stamina of the tree, combined with the power and intelligence of the human being. The human tree stands proudly, well grounded to earth, and reaches towards the sky to achieve all it`s hopes and dreams…

I, too, see it as a symbol of strength and hope, but I see other things that the artist may not have had in mind. First of all, the zebra is the symbol of neuroendocrine tumours (NETS), the incurable cancer that I was diagnosed with almost two years ago. Neuroendocrine tumours are difficult to diagnose. The symptoms are usually vague and similar to more common health problems. Many family doctors have never encountered a NETS patient. When presented with symptoms like stomach pain and diarrhea, they naturally think of things like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s Disease or lactose intolerance. Medical students are taught “when hearing hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras.” Neuroendocrine tumours are very rare and therefore they are considered to be zebras.

Since my diagnosis, I’ve noticed zebra stripes everywhere! In recent years, the fashion world has been inundated with animal prints and the zebra is definitely a popular motif. I’ve seen zebra t-shirts, zebra leggings, zebra pjs and even zebra bras. I’ve tried on zebra jeans and a sexy looking zebra dress, but I didn’t buy either one. I’ve also seen zebra handbags and zebra luggage. One of the ladies I occasionally play golf with has a zebra golf bag. Obviously, it was the zebra stripes on the figure in Sotuya’s painting that prompted the NET Cancer Day organization to post it on their Facebook page and that initially caught my eye, but there’s more than that to my fascination with it.

Like the tree, I’m more firmly rooted to one place than I was before my diagnosis. I receive a monthly injection to alleviate the symptoms mentioned above that has to be administered by a specially trained nurse. Fortunately, I can arrange to have the injection given anywhere in Canada. In fact, plans are already in place for me to have my next one in Vancouver, but arranging to have it given outside the country would be much more complicated. There likely won’t be any more long term stints teaching English or doing missionary work overseas in my future.

I’m also firmly rooted in my faith, however. It’s my absolute confidence that my life is in God’s hands that gives me the freedom and joy that I see represented by the outstretched arms or branches of the figure in the painting. I see strength and purpose in those arms as well as exuberance.

The figure is also graceful, possessing an elegance that I would like to think is true of me. I often pray that I might be a woman of grace, one who doesn’t allow the circumstances of life to define who I am. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I fervently prayed that God would enable me to endure whatever lay ahead with grace.

As the title of the painting implies, there’s also a wildness in her. I, too, am a little bit wild at heart. It’s not a loud or out of control sort of wildness, but I believe in living life to the fullest and I’m always ready to try something new. I don’t like to follow the crowd and I don’t always see eye to eye with the people who love me. I speak my mind, but I don’t fly off the handle. I love nothing more than a hike in the wilderness or a walk on a beach and just because I’m in my 60s doesn’t mean I can’t climb a tree! Yes, I’m a little bit wild; a little bit unconventional and I think this is a picture of me!


You can see other examples of Sylvia Sotuyo’s work and even purchase prints here.

Donalda day trip

Every time we travel Highway 53 on our way to Red Deer, Calgary or other points to the south, we dip down into Meeting Creek Coulee, the northern most point of the Canadian Badlands. As we climb back out, we pass the access road to the tiny village of Donalda. With its population of about 260 people, it perches on a bluff overlooking the vast valley below. Over the years, we’ve often thought that this would be a great area to go hiking and apparently, we weren’t the only ones. A few years back, the community developed and advertised a hiking trail. When we discovered that geocachers had hidden some caches both in town and along the trail, our interest grew and finally, yesterday was the day. We packed a picnic lunch and off we went! IMG_5318Donalda’s greatest claim to fame is the world’s largest lamp, a replica of the oil lamps that once lit the homes of early settlers across this land. Standing 42 feet tall at the end of the town’s quaint main street and just across the corner from a museum that houses the world’s largest collection of oil lamps, it was lit for the first time on July 1, 2000. All night, every night, its light shines out over the valley below. Inside its base, visitors enjoy a series of paintings depicting the town in its earlier days. Our first cache was hidden just outside. IMG_5327 IMG_5323  IMG_5322 IMG_5321 IMG_5316 After picnicking close to the lamp and the restored railway station nearby, we searched out the other two caches that are hidden in town and then set off along the hiking trail. We expected to find ourselves walking along the rim of the coulee, but instead, we followed a woodland trail that eventually led us out onto an open bluff overlooking the valley below. Seldom ones to stay on the beaten track, after stopping to rest at a picnic table with a spectacular view, we set off to follow an animal trail down into the valley. IMG_5351 I hiked down to the flat valley floor while Richard explored the interesting formations on another close by bluff. IMG_5344 IMG_5345 IMG_5346 The valley is far vaster than we ever realized from the highway and my photos hardly do it justice, but it was great to finally trek through a very small part of it. There are so many interesting places close to home if one but takes the time to explore them! IMG_5334 IMG_5335 IMG_5336

What does retirement look like?

What does retirement look like to you?

One of my favourite blogs is Over 50 Feeling 40 by San Antonio, Texas blogger, Pamela Lutrell. While essentially a fashion blog, it’s much more than that. In Pam’s own words, it’s “a style blog about strength, confidence and joy.” She encourages midlife women to not only look their best and feel their best, but to be the very best that they can be. The one topic that Pam and I seem to disagree on is retirement.

At 62, I have been retired for eight years. At 61, Pam doesn’t see retirement in her future. She recently left her position as a high school journalism teacher and is presently searching for a new career. Why? “Many think we are suppose to retire to the golf course and put hard work behind us. I ponder how long I will work hard a lot lately… I think it is healthy and want to continue doing it as long as possible,” she wrote in a recent post.

Though I may be putting words in her mouth, I get the impression that Pam sees retirement as similar to being put out to pasture; no longer being able to accomplish anything of value. Not me! That’s definitely not what my retirement looks like.

So what has it looked like so far?

Retirement has included fulfilling long held dreams like teaching English in Japan and later, China. One might argue that that wasn’t retirement. After all, we worked hard and we earned a paycheque. It wasn’t really about the work or the money, however. Those were simply what allowed us to be there. It was all about adventure; about living shoulder to shoulder with the people of another land and learning about their culture. It was about traveling to other locations in Asia during our holiday breaks. You can read about those and other retirement adventures by clicking on the appropriate country names in the sidebar.

Retirement brought some unexpected surprises. Learning to operate a tractor and a combine definitely wasn’t part of this city bred girl’s retirement plan, but several years of helping a friend at seeding time and harvest gave me more joy than I could ever have imagined and instilled within me a love for the land that I never thought possible.

Retirement has included volunteering; everything from driving elderly friends to medical appointments to spending a summer doing pastoral supply on the tiny Pacific island of Saipan. Over the past two years, my health has curtailed our ability to spend extended periods of time overseas, but how thankful I am that we retired early enough to do those things while we could! These days, volunteering includes online mentoring, helping younger women deal with some of the issues that made my life most difficult during my younger years.

We’ve always believed in lifelong learning, so retirement has also included further education. Thanks to the internet, over the past year, I was able to audit two university level courses through Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas from the comfort of my own living room.

Retirement has also given me more time to pursue my passion for writing, mostly through the blog, but I presently have another article awaiting publication as well. In addition to my own writing, I’ve edited university papers and a masters thesis for friends and family and I was even contacted by a university professor in Portugal who sometimes publishes research papers in English. He was looking for someone to do editorial work for him and found my name online. Every now and then, I receive an email from Jose with another research proposal or paper for me to edit.

Retirement has meant time on the golf course, but believe it or not, we’ve golfed much less since we retired than we did before! We simply haven’t had time. Life has been too full, too busy, too exciting.

My husband’s favourite definition of retirement is being able to do what you want to do when you want to do it. For me, that meant purposely lying awake for about a hour at 4:30 this morning listening to the music of the rain outside my window (we’ve been experiencing a severe drought here in central Alberta) and then sleeping in until 9:00. Other days, it means an alarm clock ringing early in the morning so we can set off on another adventure.

I realize that we were fortunate to be able to retire as early as we did and that not everyone has that luxury, but we lived carefully throughout our working years with that goal in mind. My pension doesn’t come close to being enough to live on, but fortunately, my husband’s is adequate to meet our needs.

Do we ever regret retiring as early as we did? Never! Would we do it again? In a heartbeat! We loved our careers, but they didn’t define us. Unlike Pam, I don’t need a job to go to to give my life a sense of purpose or to make me feel fulfilled.

What about you? Are you retired yet? Do you want to be? What do you think is the perfect age to retire?

What does retirement look like to you?

Magical Mystery Tour

Several weeks ago, an insert appeared in our Sunday Morning church bulletin advertising the SCCN (Sedgewick Community Church of the Nazarene) Magical Mystery Tour. “Come ride the bus to our unannounced destination for a fantastic fun filled day of fellowship and food” it proclaimed. Today’s date was given, but very few other details.

I checked the calendar and the day was open. What fun! Those of you who know me well or who’ve been following my blog for very long know that I like nothing better than packing up and going somewhere. Anywhere, whether it be a day trip or a year in Japan, I’m game to go! It’s the gypsy in my blood!

At 10:30 this morning approximately 30 of us gathered in front of the church. “Where do you think we’re going?” some asked while others tried to guess. The 32 passenger County of Flagstaff community bus pulled up and we knew we’d be traveling in style. With temperatures of over 30ºC forecast, we’d definitely appreciate the air conditioning!

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I’ve always been the travel planner in our family. For me, part of the fun of traveling is the planning that usually goes into it, but today I felt like a kid climbing aboard the bus with absolutely no idea where it was going to take me! Soon we were headed north, passing vast fields of bright yellow canola in bloom. Perhaps we were going to Viking, hometown of the Sutters, one of the most famous families in NHL history. Six of the seven Sutter brothers made it to the National Hockey League in the 1970s and 80s and four of them went on to become coaches and general managers. Half an hour north of Sedgewick, Viking is also hometown to our Mystery Tour organizer. Perhaps she knew of something interesting for us to do in the small town of just over 1000 people. But no, the bus continued onward.

When we turned west on Highway 16, we began to speculate that our destination might be Vegreville, home of the world’s largest pysanka (Ukrainian Easter egg). Sure enough, though we passed by the giant egg, the bus pulled into town and stopped at the historic train station. Built in 1930, it now houses the Station Cafe where a delicious buffet of authentic Ukrainian food awaited us. After relaxing around the tables, we were given a tour of the building. Many of us decided that we’d happily move into the beautifully renovated upper story that once housed the station master’s family.

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Our second stop was, in fact, the park with the 9.4 metre high pysanka that reflects the traditional art of the many Ukrainian settlers who made this part of Alberta their home.


A stop for ice cream in Viking on the way home rounded out our day. Though the results of my most recent glucose tests were pretty good, I am pre diabetic and I’d already indulged in a small dessert back at the train station so I knew I’d better forgo another sweet treat. Besides, after filling up on cabbage rolls, perogies and other Ukrainian delights, I wasn’t the least bit hungry!

The Magical Mystery Tour was definitely all that it promised to be; a day filled with fun, fellowship and fantastic food. In fact, some of us are hoping that a new SCCN tradition has been born!

20150711_143001photo: Doris Johnson

The sky is falling!

After writing a couple of somewhat controversial posts over the past few days, it’s time for a more lighthearted one.

chicken little

Richard was recently accused of name calling when he used a common English idiom in a comment on Facebook. In response to a doom and gloom posting expressing a friend’s fear about what the newly elected NDP government would do to our province’s economy, he wrote “I just checked again. The sky is still safely in place, it did not fall.” He was, of course, making reference to The sky is falling!, an idiom which had it’s origins in the ancient folk tale, Henny Penny, or as it’s sometimes known, Chicken Little, about a chicken who believes the world is coming to an end. The phrase features prominently in the story, and has passed into the English language as a common idiom indicating a hysterical or mistaken belief that disaster is imminent.

I don’t know if our friend truly believed that Richard was calling her Chicken Little or if she was just very upset. The idiom is one that has been used frequently in discussions and articles in Alberta since the May 5th election. In fact, it appeared twice in one article that we read today. In any case, the misunderstanding reminded me again what a challenging language English is and how much fun we had teaching it in both China and Japan.

Some of our adult students in Japan were particularly intrigued by idioms. Kyoko was a librarian who was already quite conversant in English and who wanted to study nothing else! In my opinion, she was an adult student paying good money for private lessons and should have been able to choose what she wanted to study, but the school had a different philosophy and I couldn’t get away with that. We agreed to compromise. She would study the prescribed curriculum if I would include one or two idioms at the end of each lesson.

So what is an idiom? It can be defined as an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words, but that has a separate meaning of its own. The origin of many have been lost in antiquity, but our language is littered with them. Some people, Richard included, use them frequently in everyday conversation. I use them much less often, but I thought it would be fun to do a bit of research and share the stories behind a few of the more common ones here.

raining c & dIt’s raining cats and dogs! simply means that it’s pouring rain. There are many theories about the origin of this one, but the most probable is that it had it’s beginning in 17th century England. Public sanitation wasn’t what it is today and during deluges, rainwater coursing down the streets would often carry dead animals with it. As a result, even though cats and dogs never literally showered down from above, they became associated with severe rainstorms.

pintMind your Ps and Qs means to watch your manners or be on your best behaviour. It dates back to a time when local taverns, pubs and bars served their patrons drinks by the quart and the pint. Bar maids had to keep an eye on the customers and keep the drinks coming paying special attention to who was drinking pints, and who was drinking quarts.

 horse's mouthWhen someone uses the phrase, straight from the horse’s mouth, we know that they have heard something directly from the source. They are, therefore, to be believed. Horses have been a prized commodity down through the ages. In the past, a dishonest seller might lie about a horse’s age, but a potential buyer who knew anything about horses knew that you could tell the age by examining the size and shape of its teeth, literally getting the truth straight from the horse’s mouth.

side of bedDo you ever get up on the wrong side of the bed? If so, you start the day in a less than pleasant mood. In Roman times, it was considered bad luck to get out of bed on the left side. Hence if you got up on that side, your day was destined to be a bad one.

redWhen you paint the town red, you go out and celebrate in a somewhat wild and flamboyant way that likely includes imbibing in alcohol. There are several suggestions as to the origin of this one, but the most common dates back to 1837 and a well-documented story about the Marquis of Waterford and a group of his friends running riot in the Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray, painting the town’s toll-bar and several other buildings a bright red.

stagecoach11Do your kids like riding shotgun; running to jump in the front seat of the vehicle with you whenever you go out? If so, they are replicating a historically important role. In the days when stagecoaches were the primary mode of transport, the seat immediately next to the driver was reserved for an individual with a shotgun whose job it was to ward off any bandits attempting to loot passengers.

axeDo you ever fly off the handle? In pioneer days, handmade axes weren’t always the best examples of craftsmanship. Occasionally, a particularly poor design would result in the head unexpectedly flying off its handle. This became an apt metaphor for passionate bursts of rage or losing one’s temper.bite bullet

If our friend’s predictions about Alberta’s NDP government come true, we may have to bite the bullet, accepting the impending hardship and enduring the resulting pain. This idiom has a straightforward history. In days gone by, when doctors were short on anesthesia, they would ask the patient to bite down on stick of wood or a bullet during a medical procedure to distract them from the pain.

tighten-belt-100x100Or perhaps we’ll have to tighten our belts, lowering our standard of living because we’ll have less money than we had before. This saying comes from the depression era when there was little money for anything including food so people had to tighten their belts in order to keep their pants from falling down.

I could go on and on. There are estimated to be more than 25 000 idioms in the English language!

Do you have a favourite?

Slippery slope?

My granddaughter is five. She still sleeps with her favourite purple blanket and believes that she’s going to grow up to be a unicorn, but in some countries her parents might already be looking for a husband for her. Every day, more than 25000 girls under the age of 18 are married worldwide. One in 9 girls in developing countries are married before the age of 15; many by age 8 or 9.

We, in North America, think we’re enlightened. It will never happen here, we tell ourselves. Really? A few decades ago, did any of us expect to see same sex marriage legalized? In 1974, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) removed homosexuality from its catalogue of illnesses. Instead, it became a sexual orientation. Today, there are those who want to see pedophilia treated in the same manner. Until recently, it has been widely viewed as a psychological disorder triggered by early childhood trauma, but no more. Now, many experts see it as a biologically rooted condition that does not change; a sexual orientation. In fact, in the fall of 2013, the latest edition of the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders referred to pedophilia as a sexual orientation for the first time. After inquiries from news organizations, the APA issued a “correction” stating “sexual orientation” is not a term “used in the diagnostic criteria for pedophilic disorder,” but do you see where this is going?

“It should be clear to anyone with any grey matter that pedophilia is just another oppressed sexual orientation or interest, and age doesn’t somehow magically make consensual sex between two people into something evil,” writes one user of a website for self-identified individuals who are sexually attracted to children. So can a 5 year old give consent? What about an 8 or 9 year old? If a man she trusted asked my granddaughter if she wanted to “play” with him, what might she say? Would that be consent? I know this sounds horrifying or perhaps even ridiculous to most, but is it any more abhorrent or ridiculous than the concept of same sex marriage would have been to our grandparents?

Sadly, it isn’t only pedophiles themselves who think that sex with children is okay. A National Council for Civil Liberties (UK) report, written for the Criminal Law Revision Committee in 1976, included the following:

“Childhood sexual experiences, willingly engaged in, with an adult result in no identifiable damage. The Criminal Law Commission should be prepared to accept the evidence from follow-up research on child ‘victims’ which show there is little subsequent effect after a child has been ‘molested’. The real need is a change in the attitude which assumes that all cases of pedophilia result in lasting damage.”

With ideas like that floating around, is it really so outlandish to think that we might someday see marriage between children and adults become legal in the western world? Not in my lifetime, I hope, and not in my granddaughter’s!

Personally, I think that polygamy, which is actually already practiced in our country, will likely come first, but that’s a different topic.

What do you think? Once again, I invite all opinions as long as they are presented in a non confrontational manner. You can even tell me that you think I’m crazy, as long as you do it politely!

Girls Not Brides

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