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!

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Retirement dressing

logoIt’s hard to believe that it’s been almost ten years since Richard and I walked out of our respective classrooms and entered a new phase of life called retirement! That meant I no longer needed a working wardrobe. I spent most of my career teaching elementary school, so my workwear wasn’t as formal as some women’s, but I was a professional and it was important to dress like one. Now I no longer needed to, so what should I wear?

To me, retirement meant a new and exciting life was opening up in front of me. I didn’t feel old and I certainly didn’t want to look frumpy! I didn’t need a working wardrobe, but I wasn’t happy to spend the rest of my life wearing the shapeless t-shirts and sweatshirts that I’d once worn during my out of school hours. I began to take a greater interest in fashion and now I would call my retirement style dressy casual.

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Yesterday, we were reminded that age is creeping up on us. We’ve been fortunate to be able to stay on the excellent Alberta teacher’s benefit plan for the first ten years of our retirement, but next fall I turn 65, the magic age at which we must transfer to the retired teacher’s plan. That’s why we were in Edmonton yesterday to meet with a representative of the retired teacher’s association. Here’s what I chose to wear:

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It was the first day this spring that it was warm enough to be out and about without a jacket. A light sweater in pink, one of this season’s most popular colours, was a perfect topper for the Cleo Top from cabi’s last season. Worn with dark wash jeans from Old Navy, this is what retirement wear looks like to me.

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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?

Top six

This is Following Augustine’s 600th post written over a period of slightly more than six years! I think that the secret to the blog’s longevity is its eclectic nature.

Originally started as a way to share our year in Japan (2008-2009) with friends and family, it has become much more than a travel blog. Family often shows up but it isn’t a mommy blog and while I occasionally focus on clothing, shoes or accessories, it definitely isn’t a fashion blog. In recent months, I’ve been using the blog to share my cancer journey but, just as my life continues to be about more than just my health, so does the blog. My faith permeates every part of my life, including what I write, but this isn’t a religion blog either. For lack of a better description, I refer to it as a travel and lifestyle blog but I also like to think of it as an active retirement blog.

One of the things that I like about blogging with WordPress is the stats page where I can see how many readers view the blog, where they’re from and which posts are most popular. I’m often surprised by which ones generate the most interest. In fact, some of the most popular posts are ones that I wondered if anyone would find interesting!

Today, in honour of 600 posts in 6 years, I’m going to profile my top 6 posts of all time. Since several of them are older posts, I’ll include a link to each one in case newer readers are interested in looking back with me. Just click on the titles below to check them out.

Following Augustine’s Top Six Posts of All Time

 

#6  What influences your sense of self-worth?   Oct. 29, 2011

The idea for this post came from Charles F. Stanley’s Bible study, How to Reach Your Full Potential for God, and was the result of some serious self examination. It was one of the most difficult posts I’ve written because it involved baring my soul and owning up to an attitude that I knew needed to change.

#5   Tatami   Aug. 28, 2008

I find it quite funny that the most popular post from our entire year in Japan was about the traditional floor covering known as tatami! Tatami has many advantages and I loved it but I didn’t love the insects that crawled out of the tightly woven mat at night to bite me! Eww! Fortunately, we learned how to get rid of them and it’s obviously this information that people are looking for when they Google “insects in tatami” or other similar phrases and find their way to this post.

#4   A new journey…   Aug. 30, 2013

The newest post on my Top Six list, this is the one that shared my cancer diagnosis. I was walking this trail beside a peaceful lake in southern Alberta when the cell phone in my pocket rang and I first heard that dreaded C word.

Where will this journey take us?

Now that a second cancer has been diagnosed, we are no closer to knowing where this journey is going to take us.

#3   Alex’s yellow lizard   May 28, 2012

IMG_9629_2Richard and I are avid geocachers. Geocaching is a grown up, high-tech game of hide and seek. Participants use GPS units to hide and find containers called geocaches and then log their activity online. One of the aspects of geocaching that I like best is trackables; geocaching game pieces that are moved from cache to cache by geocachers like ourselves. Alex’s Yellow Lizard was a trackable that we picked up from a roadside cache in Manitoba on our way home from Winnipeg a couple of years ago. When it started its journey in Minnesota, its owner asked that pictures be taken and posted along the way so that his seven-year-old son could watch his little yellow lizard as it traveled around the world. We placed it in a geocache at a native ceremonial site on a high point of land about 24 km north of our home. When I posted this information on the geocaching website, I included a link to my blog.

#2   Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout   Jan. 21, 2011

pig-nose-ringI have no idea why so many people enter things like “gold ring in pig’s snout” and “pig nose ring” in search engines! I thought this was a pretty obscure thing to write about! The phrase comes from Proverbs 11:22 and refers to a beautiful woman who has no discretion.

 

And now, drumroll please!

#1   Bridges of Madison County   July 21, 2010

My most read blog post of all time is also one of my shortest. On a road trip to Kansas City for a missions conference during the summer of 2010, we purposely went out of our way to visit Winterset, Iowa, the setting of my favourite novel, The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller. Like Robert Kincaid, one of Waller’s main characters, we drove the back roads of Madison County photographing the covered bridges that were made famous by the novel and the movie that followed. I crossed another dream off my unwritten bucket list when I stood on Roseman Bridge and touched the spot where farmer’s wife, Francesca (Meryl Streep), pinned a note inviting Robert (Clint Eastwood) to come for dinner “anytime the white moths fly”.

And here it is, the most viewed photo to appear on my blog thus far!

Roseman Bridge

Roseman Bridge

Always a teacher!

As much as Richard and I have been enjoying retirement for the past few years, we’re definitely having fun being back in the classroom this term. The job isn’t exactly what we expected but in some ways, I think its even better than what we anticipated.

We were hired to teach at the School of Continuing Education at Liaoning Normal University where all of the students are required to take one year of English. They have the option of taking it from a Chinese professor during their regular school day or they can pay extra to take it from us. We teach our university level classes during the evenings and on Saturday mornings.

I have two university classes with 27 to 30 students in each one. Teaching a foreign language to that many students at once is difficult but student motivation is probably a bigger factor in whether or not they succeed. Since attendance accounts for 50% of their final mark, working hard in class isn’t a high priority for many of them. Add to that the fact that, on most days, they come to a two hour class at 6:30 p.m. after having been in school since 8:00 a.m. I can hardly blame them for not being overly enthusiastic!

My university classes are very different from one another. One is made up entirely of students who are art, music and phys ed majors. In spite of the fact that they started learning English in third grade, their knowledge of the language is weak and prying spoken English out of them is like pulling teeth. The other class is made up of academic students who have a much higher level of English. The majority of them are somewhat fluent and they participate well in class discussions.

There are only twelve students in Richard’s university class but their level of English is more varied which presents different challenges in teaching them. Instead of a second university class, Richard spends two evenings a week teaching a class that has become fondly known as the Munchkins. This is a new course made up of 11 and 12 year olds who participated in an English camp put on by our school last summer. The camp was such a success that the parents, who are obviously very keen on having their children learn English, asked for a continuing class for them. Thus the Munchkin class came into being last fall. As a well seasoned grade 5 teacher, Richard was the obvious choice to teach them this term.

We also have two small classes of high school graduates who are spending a year in English immersion in preparation for going to college in Canada or the US. In order to qualify to do that, they must achieve a high score on the very rigourous IELTS (International English Language Testing System) test which is made up of four components; reading, writing, listening and speaking. Richard teaches Reading and a course known as Pronunciation and Idioms to the 7 students in Class B while I teach Reading and North American Geography to the 5 students who make up Class A.

Class A is without a doubt my favourite part of the job. These kids, who range in age from 17 to 23, are absolutely delightful. They are the ones who are eagerly taking advantage of every opportunity to spend time with us outside class soaking up the language and trying to learn as much as they can about our lifestyle and culture. In addition to being our students, they are quickly becoming our friends.

Though it may sound as if we’re very busy and though we do have classes at various times between 8:00 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. five days a week, our actual time in the classroom is equal to approximately a half-time teaching assignment in Canada. There’s preparation and some evaluation on top of that, of course, but all in all it’s a pretty sweet retirement project!

(Pictured below: our first meal with some of my A students. Known as hot pot, we cooked various meats, tofu and greens in the steaming broth in the centre of the table. It was delicious! The young Caucasian gal is Courtney, the only young teacher on our staff of six. The rest are golden oldies like us.)

Our next big adventure!

ENGLISH TEACHING IN CHINA. Just retired and seeking adventure and or change? Five cities to choose from: Beijing, Nanchang, Yantai, Dalian and Chongqing. Accommodation is provided. Half year and full year contracts (airfare paid). University students. Curriculum provided and full staff support. Chance to travel. Short teaching hours. Contact…

The ad appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of News and Views, the quarterly publication of the Alberta Retired Teachers’ Association. It caught my eye as I flipped through the magazine at breakfast one September morning. I pondered it for a bit before bringing it to Richard’s attention and asking if he was interested. He was and so a new journey began!

Everything was put on hold for awhile when Dad became ill and we headed off to Vancouver to put Operation Parent Care into motion. Now that he’s had his surgery and is recovering well, we’re moving on. We signed the contracts this morning!

We’re going to spend one semester (February 25 to June 30, 2013) teaching English at Liaoning Normal University, a teacher training university in Dalian, a coastal city in northeastern China! We’ll have our own fully furnished apartment right on campus and will have the option of preparing our own meals there or eating in the university cafeteria.

I know, college cafeterias aren’t known for quality food but I’m thinking that not having to grocery shop, cook and clean up  and having the opportunity to sample local foods while mingling with students and fellow staff members doesn’t sound like such a bad idea. We’ll definitely try it out.

In case you’re wondering, no this is not a mission trip. The People’s Republic of China is a communist country that has traditionally been quite closed to Christianity. In fact, our teaching contracts contain a clause that says The Teacher shall respect China’s religious policy, and shall not conduct or engage in religious activities incompatible with the status of a foreign teacher/expert. What does that mean? Upon inquiry, we’ve been told that we’re welcome to bring our Bibles with us and to read and study them in the privacy of our own apartment. We also know that there are Christian churches in Dalian and have been assured that we can attend one if we want to. While this isn’t a mission trip per se, I firmly believe that our mission field is wherever we happen to be; that God can use us anytime, anywhere. He’s done it before and I’m sure he’ll do it again.

Censorship is also an issue that we’ll have to learn to live with. According to Wikipedia, internet repression is considered more extensive and more advanced there than in any other country in the world. The government not only blocks website content but also monitors individual internet use. Facebook is blocked but we’ll be able to use email as well as Skype to keep in touch with family and friends. China has also been known to block WordPress blogs but I’m already looking at ways to get around that if it happens. I can’t imagine not being able to share our experiences with all of you this way! After all, that’s how Following Augustine started in the first place.

The next step and one that I hope goes quickly and smoothly is getting our visas. We’ve submitted the many documents that were required so that the recruitment staff in China can apply for visa invitation letters for us. Once received, we’ll take them to the closest Chinese consulate, which is located in Calgary, to arrange for the visas. Then there are travel arrangements to make and packing lists to be made!

I’m excited and just a wee bit overwhelmed but first comes Christmas! By the time the fun and family time is over my feet will be back on the ground and I’ll be able to begin seriously preparing for our next big adventure.

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Definitely a word nerd!

Imagine being able to exercise your brain and your butt at the same time. That’s exactly what I’m going to be doing over the next few months!

I like a lot of things about living in a small prairie town but sometimes I wish we lived closer to a bigger centre. One thing I’d really like to be able to do in my retirement is take a few college courses just for fun but distance makes that impractical.

Then my sister told me that she was enjoying university lectures on DVD while walking on her treadmill! For more than 20 years, The Great Courses have been producing college level courses taught by the best professors that major American universities like Harvard and Stanford have to offer. Their lectures are available on CD and DVD as well as either audio or video download.

The Great Courses offers something for everyone; everything from science and mathematics to business and economics, from gourmet cooking to world history. I could have borrowed DVDs from my sister but our interests are very different. Her lectures on statistics and probability would have put me to sleep and I would have ended up a broken heap on the basement floor behind the treadmill! Knowing that, she suggested something entirely different for me, a course entitled The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins. I was intrigued!

There’s absolutely no question about it; I’m a word nerd! I even got excited reading the introduction to the course guidebook.

We’ll travel back in time to the invasions by Vikings and the Normans to explore words from sky to story, which are so familiar they hardly seem borrowed at all. Then, we’ll immerse ourselves in the classical revival of the Renaissance, which gave English related sets of Latinate words, including omnivorous, carnivorous, piscivorous, and voracious. 

I know, if you’re not a word lover like me, you’re probably falling asleep already. I hope you’re not on a treadmill! I, on the other hand, could hardly wait for my DVDs to arrive in the mail. I watched the first lecture this evening and wasn’t disappointed. My professor is Anne Curzan PhD, Professor of English at the University of Michigan. She’s an excellent speaker; clear, easy to follow and obviously in love with her subject matter. I could hardly believe it when the 30 minute lecture was over. I’d walked almost two miles and hardly noticed!

I’ll continue to use my walking videos from time to time. In fact, I’ve been walking on the Isle of Capri lately but I can hardly wait to spend more time in the “classroom”. In this evening’s lecture, Professor Curzan introduced four main themes that will be covered by the course.

  • English is a mixed linguistic bag with many borrowed words giving it a rich, multi-layered vocabulary.
  • Words are powerful.
  • English is a living, ever-changing language.
  • Studying English asks us to rethink some very common notions about language.

Oops! There I go putting some of you to sleep again!  I hope you’ll bear with me though if I share a few tidbits from the course over the next few months. I probably won’t be able to help myself!