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!

Aging beauty

I had no intention of starting a series when I posted “What makes a woman beautiful?” a few days ago, but Michelle’s comment really spoke to me and I feel I must respond. She said

The most beautiful female face I’ve ever seen was the National Silver Cross mother about 25 years ago. It was before Afghanistan, and finding a mother of a person who had died in armed conflict was becoming difficult. I do not recall her name, but she had the most beautiful, kind eyes that sparkled. Even with tears in her eyes as she placed the wreath on the National Cenotaph, all her 95-year-old wrinkles made her look like she was still smiling. She was just stunning.

I had to ask myself why women in our society value youthful appearance so highly.

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The ads that appear in the first few pages of my latest Chatelaine magazine scream the message loud and clear, but do young women really have a monopoly on physical beauty? Let’s use my Mom as an example. There’s no question that she was lovely in her younger days

young Mom

but is she really any less beautiful here at the age of 88 with her great grandson in her arms?

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Though I’m not crazy about my marionette lines and the little wrinkles appearing above my upper lip, I think that a young face, as pretty as it might be, is a bit like an empty canvas waiting for an artist’s brush. In my opinion, believing that beauty belongs only to the young is like thinking that a blank journal is more interesting to read than an autobiography!

That brings me to one of my favourite photos from our time in China. I thought she was beautiful when I first saw her and I still do. I wish I could have spoken to her but language was a barrier. I have no doubt, however, that the lines on her face tell a story… a story of hardship, a story of survival, but hopefully also a story with some happiness in it.

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Do you think she’s beautiful?

Caught in the club sandwich squeeze!

“Club sandwich generation” is a relatively new term used to describe the “squeezed” generation, usually between the ages of 55 and 64, who typically find themselves caring for elderly parents while at the same time providing support for adult children and helping care for grandchildren. As more and more people live into their 80s and 90s, the number of four generation families is increasing rapidly and it’s usually the second generation in these families who have the time and resources to deal with unexpected events and crises in the lives of the other three.

My sister and I presently find ourselves smack dab in the middle of this kind of family sandwich. Along with our brother, who is not yet a grandparent, we’re dealing with the escalating needs of our increasingly frail and vulnerable parents. The fact that they don’t live in the same province as the three of us adds to the difficulty.

I’m very grateful that our three children are self-sufficient and require very little help from us. The two that have children of their own don’t depend on us for childcare as we live four hours away from the closest one. When we do visit, we consider it a privilege to babysit the grandchildren so that their parents can enjoy an evening out.

The club sandwich squeeze has been much tighter than usual lately though. As I mentioned in a previous post, my 91-year-old diabetic mother, who suffers from severe dementia, was hospitalized about a month ago suffering from a gangrenous toe. As a family, we made the agonizing decision not to put her through surgery. Due to lack of circulation in her leg, it would have required amputation above the knee. There was no guarantee that she’d survive the operation and if she did, there was every likelihood that the other leg would soon be in the same condition. Instead, as hard as it was, we chose palliative care and when we came to Calgary for the birth of our newest grandson, I packed knowing that we might have to fly to Vancouver for a funeral. Fortunately, Mom is doing much better than expected and was even able to move back to her care facility at the beginning of last week. My sister, who’d been in Vancouver for most of the past month, flew home on Wednesday and we breathed a sigh of relief. That lasted about 24 hours!

The next afternoon when I phoned Dad to share the exciting news of Simon’s birth, he sounded terrible. What had been a fairly minor cold had moved into his chest. Within hours, he was rushed to hospital by ambulance. Arriving in respiratory failure, he was immediately put on a ventilator and our oldest son, who lives in Vancouver, rushed over to the hospital to be with him. In club sandwich families like ours, it’s Matt’s generation that provides the other layer of filling. We are so fortunate that Matt is willing and able to jump in in a crisis situation when none of us is close by. In this case, we didn’t know if Dad would make it through the night. Again, I wondered if we’d be flying out for a funeral.

Thankfully, Dad seems to be rallying and if all goes well, he could be home from the hospital sometime next week. This time, it will probably be my brother who flies out to be with him for a little while. I would go but I have to plan around my treatment schedule and until we get the results of the biopsy that I had last week, it’s difficult to do even that. It’s hard enough being part of the club sandwich generation but having cancer has complicated the situation and added to our present squeeze!

Gambei!

Who knew that I would have my very first taste of Canadian ice wine while living in China? Life is full of the unexpected!

I didn’t expect to meet Richard Guo, founder and president of EIE (Education in English), the company that employs us to teach English at Liaoning Normal University while I was here in Dalian either. After all, he makes his home in Mississauga, Ontario.

The day before yesterday, however, while we were relaxing at home the phone rang and we were informed that Mr. Guo was at the school and wanted to meet us. We were asked if we could come right away and, of course, we did. He started by telling us that he wished we weren’t leaving at the end of this term and that we are welcome to return to China and to EIE at any time in the future. We’d been told that already but we didn’t expect to hear it directly from the top dog! He went on to explain that the company is expanding and that he was actually in China to sign an agreement to begin offering English instruction to nurses in training at Dalian Medical University. If plans proceed as expected, nursing students who study English with EIE will be able to take their first three years of training here and then transfer to an affiliated college in Ontario to complete their degree. After explaining all of this, Mr. Guo invited me to join him at the official signing ceremony which was to be held this morning! That was certainly unexpected!

At 8:30 this morning, Mr. Guo (pictured on the left below), our supervising teacher Cliff, and I met at our school gate where we were picked up by a very comfortable van from the medical university and taken to the new campus overlooking the ocean at Lushun which is about an hour from here at the tip of Liaoning Peninsula. It was a bright sunny morning and the drive reminded me of travelling through parts of British Columbia.

When we arrived at our destination, we were greeted by an English speaking staff member who took us on a short tour of the campus before accompanying us to the very formal boardroom where the ceremony would take place. Cliff and I didn’t really know what to expect but we felt a bit like visiting dignitaries as we were ushered about with great decorum. In reality, I think I was only there as the token Canadian and because I had no classes scheduled until late this afternoon!

Cliff and I had no active role in the actual signing ceremony but we were each provided with a translator to explain the key points of the speeches and discussion that took place before the documents were signed and sealed. Our delegation sat across the long boardroom table from the president of the medical university, the director its school of nursing, the head of its foreign languages department, the director of teaching, the president of a separate but affiliated school of nursing and one or two other important individuals. As soon as the ceremony was over, most of them rushed away to other meetings related to the fact that it’s graduation week at the university. We relaxed over tea until most of us reconvened for lunch in a private dining room with an ocean view.

Lunch was a most interesting affair. It was by far the fanciest and most beautifully presented meal that I’ve enjoyed in China. Though there were a wide variety of dishes, seafood was featured prominently. I’m not overly fond of jellyfish but I took a bit to be polite and it was better than any I’ve had before. The abalone soup, scallops on the half shell and sweet and sour prawns were heavenly. Lunch really wasn’t about the food though. Between delicious morsels, we toasted everyone and everything that had anything at all to do with the new agreement! That’s where the ice wine came in. Richard Guo brought it all the way from Canada for the toast that he proposed! We used a lovely red wine for all the others. We were constantly out of our chairs clinking glasses and declaring Gambei! (cheers!) Even Cliff and I got into the action. When my turn came, I congratulated both sides of today’s agreement telling them that in addition to benefiting them, it will also help alleviate Canada’s nursing shortage which is expected to worsen in the next few years as more and more nurses reach retirement age. I told them that, as part of Canada’s aging population, I appreciate the fact that they plan to send well trained young nurses to help take care of me in my old age!

Gambei!

Tangled knots of tension

This has been an eventful week.

On Monday, I learned that my Dad had finally made the decision to seek permanent care for my Mom. She’s 90 years old and suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, she’s virtually blind, incontinent and confined to a wheelchair. Dad has been burning himself out trying to be her primary caregiver and most of the time she doesn’t even know who he is.

I was relieved! I would be able to leave the country knowing that Mom was being well cared for and that Dad could finally relax and possibly regain his flagging health and strength. Then came Wednesday and a phone call from my sister. Dad was suffering from chest pains and she was catching a plane that afternoon to fly out to Vancouver to be with them!

I was already feeling stressed over the delay in getting our visas. This news was almost more than I could handle! Questions and doubts flooded my mind. What was I thinking of? Was going to China at this point sheer insanity? We’d already signed our contracts! What choice did I have now?

I don’t handle stress well. Apparently, neither does my father! His chest pains were not an indication of an impending heart attack as we feared but, as far as we can tell, the result of stressing about the decision he’d made and all its implications. He had lain awake for long hours Tuesday night worrying about where Mom would end up, how he’d get her there, what he should pack for her, whether or not she’d adjust well to her new surroundings and so on and so on until the pain began.

We knew that initially, at least, Mom would go into the first appropriate long term care bed in their area. We prayed that it would be easily accessible by bus so that Dad, who no longer drives due to failing eyesight, could visit her regularly. God did even better than that! Tomorrow morning she’s moving into a care facility just down the street from the apartment building where my parents have lived for over 20 years! It’s literally about 500 metres away, close enough for Dad to walk over anytime he wants!

After more than 64 years of marriage, tonight will be the last night that my parents will spend together. It’s sad, but Alzheimer’s is sadder. In a sense, Mom has already been gone for quite a long time. I’m just glad that Dad will still be able to spend time with her each day and that my sister is there to help them with the transition.

Now, if only the results of our blood tests come back soon so that we can head to Calgary to apply for our visas. Then maybe the knots in my stomach will begin to untangle!

Operation Parent Care

When I wondered at the end of a recent post what October would hold, I had no idea that we’d be spending much of it back in Vancouver!

We’ve lived for a long time with the knowledge that we might have to make a quick trip to the coast at any time if something happened to either of my elderly parents. That moment came when my father’s alarmingly large prostate caused a complete urinary blockage about three weeks ago. He also had a urinary infection. My sister, the doctor in the family, flew out first to provide immediate care but she wasn’t able to stay long term. We drove out arriving just a few hours before she had to leave for the airport to return to her family. Having the vehicle here has made it possible for us to ferry Dad to numerous medical appointments and procedures, some related to the prostate problem and some not.

It was with some trepidation that I took over from my sister knowing that in addition to cooking, grocery shopping, laundry and becoming primary caregiver for Mom, who’s in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease, I’d also be responsible for caring for Dad’s medical needs. Before leaving home, we asked our church family and friends to pray and I have absolutely no doubt that they’ve been doing so. I’m absolutely certain that without those prayers, I would be completely unable to do all that I’ve had to do with any degree of patience or grace. Nothing in life really prepares you for having to clean your father’s catheter twice a day or help your mother change her soiled pants!

By Day 9 of Operation Parent Care, when Mom appeared to have developed a touch of diarrhea, I thought I might have reached the end of my rope. I didn’t know if I could handle another thing. That’s when something in the back of the toilet broke and we had a sudden flood! Water poured from the top of the tank like a mini Niagara. In minutes the bathroom was full of water and it was flowing out the door! Richard waded in, Dad ran (hobbled) off to find a pipe wrench and I called the apartment emergency number. Within minutes a maintenance man arrived at the door like a rescuing angel and in no time at all a powerful shop vac had sucked up most of the water and the toilet’s inner workings had been completely replaced. What could I do but laugh? The tension of the day had definitely been broken and on we went, tiptoeing over dampened carpet for the next 24 hours or so.

Today is Day 12. At this point, we have no idea how long we’ll be here. We do know that Dad requires surgery and that he’ll be catheterized until that takes place. It wasn’t at all comforting to have the specialist assure us that surgery could probably be booked for sometime before Christmas!

Fortunately, Dad’s infection has cleared and he has regained much of his strength. I’m teaching him to care for his own catheter and he’s beginning help with Mom’s care again. Sadly, her condition has deteriorated significantly since we were here just three months ago. My siblings and I are of the opinion that she needs a level of care that can’t really be provided at home, especially by a frail 89-year-old, but I’m not sure how much success we’ll have trying to convince him of that. I hate the idea of leaving them on their own again but what choice do we have. We’ll definitely ensure that someone is here to help when he undergoes surgery but I can’t stay here forever.

Blessed to be 60!

Well, the big day came and went and I don’t feel any different! I’m learning to say “I’m 60” and, just one day into the year, I’m already liking it better than being 59. The whole time I was 59, I dreaded turning 60 but now I realize that it’s just another decade and another new beginning.

Besides, being 60 gives me something to joke about. As friends gathered last evening for what I dubbed my “coming of age girlfriend party” I told them that now that I’m a little old lady, they’d have to  humour me and humour me they did. When I invited them, I told them that if the weather cooperated we’d be celebrating around the fire pit in my back yard. Hearty Albertans that they are, even though the temperature was only 4°C (37°F), they all arrived bundled up and ready for an outdoor party!

Apparently, there are lots of benefits to being 60. I’ve already been able to take advantage of a few discounts available to the over 55 crowd but just think of all the senior discounts I’ll qualify for now!

One of the cards that I received last night says “What kind of gifts does God give for a 60th birthday?” and goes on to list them… Grace, purpose, generations, perspective, contentment, relationships, values, memories. To some, like grace and purpose, I say I hope so and to others, like generations and memories, I say AMEN!

One of the best things about being older is grandchildren and the wonderful memories we make together. I was delighted to receive video messages via email from both sets of grandchildren yesterday and I also enjoyed a wonderful Skype visit with two of our Japanese “grandchildren” and their parents. I am truly blessed!

I also learned that 60 is definitely not too old to try something new. When I stopped by the liquor store a couple of days ago to pick up some wine for the party, I couldn’t resist this. Adult Chocolate Milk made with Premium Red Wine, boasts the label. Turning the bottle over, I read “This ultimate chocolate lover’s wine is a marriage of rich velvety chocolate, the freshest of milk, and premium red wine. This masterfully crafted artisanal concoction can be served on the rocks, like a traditional wine, or used as a mixer in many cocktails. Uptown Girl, a unique blend truly like no other.” It practically followed me home! Sipped on the rocks beside a roaring fire, it was definitely a winner.

My girlfriends obviously know me well. One wrote in her card “One thing I know for sure ~ you like tea ~ you love to read ~ and I’m positive… you love chocolate!” Though the invitation said no gifts, she brought me tea bags, a beautiful bookmark and chocolate covered almonds. Another friend brought me this, a chocolate bouquet made of 60 little chocolate treats! Did I mention how blessed I am?

Titus 2:3-5 says “Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.” When I received my Bible as a Christmas gift in 1982, I was just 30 years old, a young wife and mother. I highlighted the latter portion of that passage. As years went by, however, the time came when I began to realize that it was the beginning portion that now applied to me. Eventually, I somewhat reluctantly highlighted that part of the passage with a different colour.

As we sat around the fire last night, I gave my girlfriends (all younger than I am) one piece of advice. Don’t do as I did and spend your 59th year worrying about turning 60, I told them. I am blessed to have the privilege and responsibility of going before them and I hope that I am setting a godly example but I also want to show them that aging isn’t such a bad thing.

Thinking about age all the time is the biggest prison women can make for themselves.”  Miuccia Prada

Birthday roses from my hubby!

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