Ten years!

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At the end of this week, it will be ten years since Richard and I walked out of our Alberta classrooms for the last time and entered a brand new phase called retirement! Where did the time go? It amazes me to think that we’ve been retired for an entire decade already! Over the past few days, I’ve been looking back and marvelling at all the things we’ve done during that time.

I often say once a teacher, always a teacher. We knew that even though we were retiring, our teaching days weren’t entirely behind us. We’d long had a dream of teaching English overseas after we retired and we accomplished that by spending one year in Japan and a semester at a university in China. Those were amazing experiences and we treasure the memories and the friendships that we made! I’ve also spent some time doing online mentoring and we both volunteer with our local literacy program. I meet once a week with two young women, both members of the Old Colony Mennonite community that moved into our area over the past few years. They are fluent in English, but neither of them ever had the opportunity to learn to read or write, even in their own language, so I’ve been teaching them. Richard tutors one of their husbands.

We’ve discovered that there are no end of things to do in retirement, even in a small community like ours. Richard has been serving as the Deputy Director of Emergency Management for our town for the past few years, a volunteer position that involved quite a bit of training. He also serves on our Community Hall board. Because we come and go a lot, we hesitate to commit to too many activities that require us to be present on a regular basis, but we give our local food bank a thorough cleaning once a month and occasionally work a shift at the thrift store that’s operated by three local churches. In addition, we hold positions in our own church and participate in many activities there. Lately I’ve even had to say no to some opportunities because I felt that I was becoming too busy!

Two of our grown children were already married when we retired, but our family has grown over the past decade to include another daughter-in-law and five grandchildren! Though none of them live very close to us, being grandparents is one of the best things about this stage of life and we spend as much time as we can manage with our little ones.

The past decade has brought some surprises, some good and some not so good. We certainly didn’t anticipate becoming seasonal farm labourers, but I believe in living life to the fullest and I’m always ready to try something new. As a result, this city bred girl learned to operate some pretty big machinery and loved it! For several years, I drove tractor in the spring and combine in the fall as we helped a farmer friend with seeding and harvest.

Travel was always part of our retirement plan. During the first few years, we visited nine Canadian provinces and fifteen American states plus Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Macau, Saipan and Costa Rica. In 2013, I was diagnosed with a little-known incurable cancer which slowed us down a bit and keeps us from being out of the country for extended periods of time, but since that time, we’ve managed to tour Israel and visit Mexico twice. I’ve also been on a girlfriend trip to Las Vegas and we travel to Vancouver regularly to spend time with family. Last fall, we spent two weeks in Nova Scotia and celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary while we were there.

We continue to stay physically active. Golfing is a summer passion for both of us. We also love to hike and we recently purchased a tandem kayak. During the winter we keep active lifting weights, bowling in the local seniors league, and going to dances.

Writing was always something I always knew I’d return to in retirement. Though I’ve had one magazine article published and I’ve done some freelance editing, it’s blogging that I’m most passionate about these days. I love the opportunity it gives me to interact with my readers. Even my blog has changed over the past decade though. I originally started it to share our Asian experiences with friends and family back home, but I loved writing it and I’ve kept it going ever since. Though I still share travel stories whenever I can, it has morphed into more of a lifestyle blog that includes a weekly fashion post reflecting another interest of mine that grew and developed in my retirement years.

Perhaps that’s been the key to a successful and happy retirement… we’re still learning, growing, and exploring new interests. I am extremely grateful that we were able to retire as early as we did. I’m just now approaching 65, traditionally thought of as retirement age, and Richard is 67, but we’ve already been blessed with ten wonderful years of retirement. We loved our teaching careers, but as we watch our younger colleagues wrap up another school year and see their weary, stress filled faces, we don’t for one moment regret retiring when we did!

What will the next ten years hold, I wonder? Much will depend on my health, but at this point, I’m doing well. With a few restrictions, I’m able to lead a normal and active life. I don’t think we’ll be leaning back in our rocking chairs and putting our feet up anytime soon! There’s still a lot of world to see and new adventures await us!

Paddling the Battle

Our new kayak’s maiden voyage on Sedgewick Lake yesterday afternoon just whetted our appetite for a longer paddle today. The Battle River, a tributary of the North Saskatchewan, meanders its way across central Alberta and western Saskatchewan. We headed for Burma Park, a small campground on the river about a 40 minute drive from here. The park itself is located on the south side of the river where the bank is too steep and unstable to access the water, but we found a perfect spot just across the river on the north side.

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We spent an hour paddling upstream enjoying the beautiful sunshine and the breeze which kept the mosquitos away. The only sound was our paddles in the water and an occasional bird call. Paddling steadily against the river’s flow, I was very thankful for the weights I lifted all winter!

When we decided it was time to turn back, we lifted our paddles out of the water, leaned back and let the river carry us for ten minutes while we enjoyed a snack and simply enjoyed the solitude. After that it was only fifteen minutes of easy paddling before the vehicle came into sight again.

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Though much of our kayaking will probably be done further from home when we’re on holiday, I also foresee many more hours paddling the Battle in our future.

Maiden voyage!

Well there she is; our brand new toy!

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After debating whether to buy two individual kayaks or a tandem, we decided on the two person variety for a couple of important reasons. The first one is ease of transport. It’s much simpler to strap one kayak to a roof rack than two and easier to carry one boat to water than two. Secondly, with a tandem kayak, one of us can take a grandchild out and introduce them to the sport. It also doesn’t hurt my feelings any to have the stronger paddler of the two of us in the boat with me instead of in a separate one!

Once we’d made that important decision, it was time to go shopping. The field was instantly narrowed significantly as tandem kayaks are much less common than single seaters. We first considered the Pelican Alliance 136T, available at Canadian Tire, but I wasn’t overly impressed. It was the plastic molded seats that concerned me the most. I didn’t think my bony butt would find that very comfortable especially on longer trips. We took a quick look at a sleek, shiny model at MEC, but it looked like the Lamborghini of the kayak world and was way beyond our price range. Then we saw the Pelican Unison 136T at Atmosphere and it was exactly what we wanted!

It’s made of RAM-X Premium, a multi-layer polyethylene and is built to provide a high level of stability and great manoeuvrability and tracking. It’s an excellent recreational kayak that is also built for comfort. In addition to padded seats and seat backs, it also has adjustable footrests. For longer outings, it has plenty of space for gear including a quick lock hatch with a 60 L storage bag, a cockpit table with a 4 inch day hatch (perfect for carrying cell phones and other small items), bottle holders, and a bungee cord on the bow to carry extra belongings. At 67.4 lb, Richard and I can carry it and load it onto the vehicle quite easily.

We brought it home yesterday and took it for it’s maiden voyage this afternoon, a spin around the perimeter of Sedgewick Lake. It handled beautifully.

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Now the only question on beautiful days like today will be do we go golfing or kayaking? Today, we managed to do both!

On Sedgewick pond

Weather-wise, this might have been the nicest May long weekend in almost forever. The weekend, a Canadian holiday in honour of Queen Victoria’s birthday, is the unofficial start of camping season. It’s often cold and rainy, but not this year. After playing a round of golf this afternoon, Richard and I headed out to Sedgewick Lake to try out the little kayak that we’re borrowing from our youngest son.

We used to own a canoe; a big, cumbersome and heavy canoe. A canoe that was perfect for a growing young family, but not for an older retired couple. It went to Vancouver with us last September when we took the Beatrice home and it now resides with our older son and his family. We want to replace it with a kayak, or maybe two. That’s why we’ve borrowed Nate’s little Escapade, to help us decide what we want before we go shopping.

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Sedgewick Lake, just 2 km north of our wee Alberta town, isn’t much more than a big pond, but it was an easy spot to get out on the water and take the kayak for a spin. The immediate and obvious advantage over our old canoe was the ease with which we could load it onto our SUV. In fact, Richard could easily do it by himself. Carrying the kayak from the parking lot down to the water was also simple. Again, Richard could have carried it by himself and, in fact, I might also be able to, but it was much easier for the two of us to simply grab the toggles on each end and carry it between us.

Since Nate’s is a single person kayak, we had to take turns today, but we love being out on the water together so our big decision is whether to buy two small kayaks or a tandem one that will carry both of us.

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We are not, and will never be, whitewater kayakers. I love peacefully gliding over quiet waters. Today, I as I paddled through the reeds near the water’s edge I watched red-winged blackbirds and stirred up a pair of Canada geese who seemed to think that they owned the lake. Protesting my presence, they flew out to the middle of the lake where they continued to honk their displeasure at being disturbed. They didn’t let me get anywhere near them, but I was able to paddle closer to the loons before they dipped below the water and came up somewhere else. Unfortunately, I haven’t perfected the art of keeping the kayak still enough to take good photos with the zoom lens. My bird photos all turned out blurry, but that’s okay. If the good weather holds, we’re probably going to go out again tomorrow! Maybe I’ll have better luck then.

All weather packing

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logoThe geese are back, the gophers have come out of hibernation and tulip sprouts are peeking through the soil in my flower beds. It must be spring, right? Then why is there snow in the forecast? Because I live in Canada, of course!

I’m envious of those who live in warmer climes, the lucky ones who have already done their seasonal wardrobe switch, putting away winter wear and bringing out shorts and sandals. I had to laugh when I saw this on Facebook the other day because it’s all too true!

Spring in Canada

My dilemma right now is how to pack for our upcoming trip to Vancouver. The coast can be beautiful at this time of year with sunshine, daffodils and a profusion of cherry blossoms OR it can be chilly and damp. The forecast seems to indicate a bit of both.

The answer, of course, is layers. There will be at least 3 camisoles in my suitcase; black, white and khaki. They take up almost no room and make a good base layer providing extra warmth when days are cool. They can be worn under almost anything. I’ll pack tops that can be worn alone or layered with one of the camis and/or a light sweater.

Pants are trickier. I don’t go anywhere without jeans, but I’ll definitely throw in a couple of pairs of capris in case the weather is warm enough. Since we’ll be spending most of our time visiting family, I won’t need anything too dressy, but I’ll take a basic pair of black dress pants that could be worn to church or out to dinner.

When it comes to outerwear, layers are once again the key. I’ll take a light waterproof, windproof jacket and a fleece hoodie that can be worn individually or doubled up on colder days. A tiny pair of knit gloves tucked into a pocket, a scarf and a compact foldable umbrella will take me on outdoor adventures with my grandsons on even the rainiest days.

As far as footwear is concerned, I’m glad that we’re driving not flying. Since I can’t decide if I’ll need sandals, sneakers, casual flats, dress shoes or rubber boots, I may just take them all!

He made the thorns

Now that we’re into the holiest week of the Christian calendar, we’re surrounded by the popular images of the season, coloured eggs, bunnies and chicks, but the events of that first Easter week were anything but pretty and pastel.

On Sunday, our pastor used Maker of the Universe by master guitarist, Phil Keaggy, as part of his morning message. Do take a moment to click on the link and watch the video. I can’t get its haunting message out of my mind.

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His holy fingers made the bough, 
Which grew the thorns that crowned His brow.

Not only did God create the thorn bush with its razor-sharp barbs, but He made and even yearned for a relationship with the soldier who thought to shape it into a cruel crown and ram it onto the head of our Lord.

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The nails that pierced His hands were mined
In secret places He designed.

On the third day of creation, God created the land and the metals hidden within knowing  all the good and evil ways that man would put them to use; knowing that someday His body would be pierced with spikes formed from those very metals.

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He made the forest whence there sprung
The tree on which His body hung.

He didn’t have to do it! He didn’t have to let them nail Him to the cross. He could have walked away, just like He did three years earlier when an angry crowd in his hometown of Nazareth threatened to throw him off a cliff. (Luke 4:16-30)

This time He didn’t walk away. He let them crown Him with a crown of thorns and hammer nails through His wrists and His feet and He did it for me! He did it to take the punishment that should have been mine. He knew that I would let Him down, but He did it anyway.  He let them lay His body in a cold, dark tomb, and there He lay for three long days. Thankfully, though, that wasn’t the end of the story. As the old hymn says

Up from the grave he arose; 
with a mighty triumph o’er his foes; 
he arose a victor from the dark domain, 
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign. 
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose! 

And that is the wonder of Easter! Hallelujah!

Facebook blessing

I’ve been known to rant about Facebook, but sometimes it’s a wonderful blessing! Yesterday was such a day.

I was sitting in the vehicle at a gas station while Richard filled the tank when I decided to check Facebook on my cell phone. I immediately noticed that I had a friend request. I’ve recently received (and deleted) a few of those from creepy men I’ve never met, so I assumed that this was just another one of those. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’m sure my heart skipped a beat when I saw the name of one of our sponsored children in Haiti!

We have been sponsoring Marie through an organization called New Missions since she was nine years old. Today, she is a lovely young woman of 22 with one year of high school left to complete and a dream of pursuing nurse’s training. Over the years, we’ve enjoyed exchanging letters with her, but never in my wildest dreams did it cross my mind that we might become Facebook friends!

I immediately accepted her request and we began a conversation that continued on and off throughout the rest of the day and again this morning. Her English, learned at school, is weak and my Haitian Creole is non-existent, so communication is slow and sometimes confusing, but we’re talking without the aid of a translator! What joy!

Marie, who lost her own mother shortly before we started sponsoring her and her father a few years later, has been calling me ‘mother’ in our conversation. That and her Facebook profile picture of the latest letter and photo that she received from us melt my heart.

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For the past few years, we’ve been hoping that when Marie finishes high school and begins her nurses training through the New Missions program, we’ll be able to continue sponsoring her, but even if we can’t, now that we’re Facebook friends we won’t lose touch with her. What a blessing!

For just $33 a month, child sponsorship through New Missions provides a child in Haiti or the Dominican Republic with quality education, a daily hot lunch which for some is their primary meal of the day, and medical care. New Missions also provides a number of community development initiatives including clean water, vocational training and local employment, all vital in this poorest part of the western hemisphere.

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