Ten years!


image source

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!


Take that, Miss Chen!

My first memory of phys ed was Miss Chen yelling at me for not being able to serve a volleyball over the net. It was grade 6, my first year in a new school, and I don’t think I’d ever held a volleyball before. In fact, I don’t recall having physical education classes at all prior to that year. The small town elementary school that I’d come from was overcrowded. When I was in grade 1, the gym had served as our classroom and after that, I only remember going there for school-wide assemblies.

Miss Chen also taught us health. She was an odd and intimidating person. I remember her standing at the front of the classroom doing callisthenics while she taught. Her explosion on the volleyball court did nothing to persuade this uncoordinated, timid child that physical education was a good thing.

In high school, I was the gawky kid who hated phys ed, all except gymnastics. I remember the year that each student had to plan, practice and perform her own gymnastics routine to music. I chose the 1967 hit, Love is Blue. Though I wasn’t able to manage some of the more difficult gymnastics moves like walkovers and handsprings, I remember that my routine started with an arabesque and incorporated other ballet poses and moves that I’d learned in the dance classes that my mother had insisted I take when I was younger. My teacher loved it. It was my shining moment in phys ed! She even wanted me to enter my routine in the high school talent show that year, but I was too shy.

Over the years as a teacher in a small rural school, I taught almost every subject at one time or another, but never phys ed. How remarkable then that one evening this week, I found myself in my basement teaching a couple of friends the exercises that I begin my days with as well as the weight lifting routine that I follow three times a week! Me, teaching anyone phys ed? Wow! Take that Miss Chen!


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?

School dreams and stress

For many years, in spite of the fact that I enjoyed my teaching career, I had what I called my “school dreams” in the days leading up to each new school year.  These were dreams in which everything went wrong.  All a teacher’s worst nightmares would visit me as the end of August approached! One of the things that I’ve really enjoyed about retirement has been the absence of these dreams; until recently that is.

Why in the world would I be having school dreams again more than seven years after retiring from the classroom? It happened again last night. This time, I was trying to teach a high school English lesson to a large class of students in a crowded area at the back of a busy hairdressing salon! Yes, my school dreams are like that; a curious mixture of realistic and just plain weird. Midway through the lesson, all but two of the students got up and went upstairs to some sort of student lounge. In spite of my pleading and threatening (definitely not effective teaching strategies), they refused to come down again. Over the years students leaving class and refusing to come back has been a fairly common theme in these dreams.

Teaching is a stressful occupation and during my career, though I anticipated the beginning of each new school year with excitement, I recognized that my strange dreams were a symptom of that stress.

Over the past 14 months, my life has been a series of one stressful event after another. I thought I was coping well but little by little, with each ensuing event, the stress built up until now it’s beginning to bubble over. According to the Holmes and Rahe Life Events Stress Test, which is supposed to give a rough estimate of how stress affects health, events including death of a close family member (Mom), major personal illness (cancer) and major change in health of a family member (Dad) have given me a 50-50 chance of succumbing to stress-related illness. I’m doing my best to combat that by continuing to eat well, exercise regularly and by ensuring that I get enough sleep but it’s absolutely amazing what’s stored away in the deep recesses of our brains. Apparently, mine still connects stress to teaching and  is reacting to my current stress level with school dreams! How weird is that!

Now the challenge is to find ways to reduce the build up of stress and manage it better in the future.

Any suggestions?


Fort Edmonton, a walk through time

Richard and I have been to Fort Edmonton numerous times in the past, but always with a class of students, usually 5th graders, in tow. Yesterday, we thoroughly enjoyed taking a more leisurely stroll through time without having to constantly count heads and make sure we hadn’t left anyone behind!

When we were teaching, a visit to Fort Edmonton fit perfectly with the grade 5 Social Studies curriculum which was largely a study of Canadian history. We liked to prepare our students for the field trip by reading Alberta author, Brenda Bellingham’s novel, Storm Child, to them. The story of Isobel, daughter of a Scottish fur trading father and a Peigan First Nations mother living in Fort Edmonton in the 1830s, the book never failed to capture their imaginations and bring the history alive for them.

The best way to see Fort Edmonton, Canada’s largest living-history museum, is to begin your visit by climbing aboard the steam train and riding it back to 1846 and The Fort, an exact replica of the original fur trading fort which once stood on a bluff on the opposite side of the North Saskatchewan River close to where the Alberta Legislature Buildings stand today. The Hudson Bay Company fort, where natives brought their furs to trade for a wide variety of goods from Europe and other far away places, is presided over by enormous Rowand House. Built to house Chief Factor John Rowand, his wife and their seven children, it was often referred to as Rowand’s Folly due to it’s sheer size; a mansion in the middle of nowhere!



Rowand's Folly

Rowand’s Folly


After touring the fort and the Cree encampment outside it’s walls, we left the fur trading era behind and wandered down 1885 street visiting homes, school, church and businesses of those hardy souls who made Edmonton home during it’s early settlement days.



1885 Street

Rounding the corner onto 1905 Street, we stopped for lunch and dined on bison burgers in bannock, the traditional biscuit-like bread that sustained hungry voyageurs, settlers, and First Nations people in the early days of our country. Then it was time to take a jump forward in time and head for the Cross Cancer Institute for my radiation treatment. Our plan was to catch the streetcar in front of our eating establishment and ride it back to the park entrance but unbeknownst to us, the streetcar driver had also stopped for lunch! A brisk walk got us back to the vehicle just in time to make it to my appointment without a moment to spare!

1905 Street Where was that streetcar when we needed it?

1905 Street
Where was that streetcar when we needed it?

Within an hour, we were back at Fort Edmonton. This time, we caught the streetcar back to our stopping point and resumed our walk through time where costumed interpreters help bring history alive for visitors. We enjoyed sipping iced tea with Alexander Rutherford, Alberta’s first premier, on the front porch of his large and comfortable home that even boasted hot and cold running water! Not everyone lived in such comfort, however. In the early years of the twentieth century, Edmonton was growing at such a rapid pace that some families lived in tents for up to two years waiting for houses to be built. Not too bad in the summer perhaps, but much more challenging when the winter temperatures dipped to -40º!

No, I didn't apply for the job!

No, I didn’t apply for the job!

By the time we reached 1920 Street, we were ready to stop at Bill’s Confectionery for ice-cream cones. After all, it was the hottest day that Edmonton has seen so far this summer! Crossing the street to the Capitol Theatre, we took in an excellent 15 minute interactive movie about the early history of the area and the city. A walk through the beautiful peony garden, which is in full bloom at this time of year, and a visit to the Motordome, where we were able to indulge our love of antique cars, brought our day to a close.

1920 Street with the peony garden in the foreground

1920 Street with the peony garden in the foreground

The only part of the park that we didn’t take in was the 1920s Midway, a fairly recent addition with games and rides that would likely be a hit if you visited Fort Edmonton with some of the younger set.

I’ve been told that fatigue is one of the most common and expected side effects of radiation. After spending a total of six hours walking through time in the hot sun, I was tired but I saw a lot of others dragging their feet back to the parking lot looking no more done in than I was and after a good night’s sleep, I feel fine!


Back in the 1980s, during my days as a stay-at-home mom, I tried my hand at freelance writing. I sold a few articles and gathered a substantial collection of rejection slips. When I went back to teaching school, there wasn’t enough time in my busy schedule for writing but I found that sharing my love for the written word with my students gave me the same sense of fulfillment.

I always knew that I would return to writing when I retired. Originally, I visualized myself once again sending out manuscripts and query letters by mail and waiting with bated breath for editors to respond. Then came blogging! Though there’s a certain thrill involved in receiving a cheque for a published article, for me, writing was never about the money. I simply love to write and I love the interactive aspect of blogging. Knowing that people around the world are reading my posts, receiving comments from some of them and even developing long distance friendships with a few readers gives me great satisfaction.

Once I became an established blogger, I didn’t foresee myself seeking publication elsewhere again. While we were in China, however, it crossed my mind that I ought to consider writing an article about our experience for news and views, the quarterly magazine of the Alberta Retired Teachers’ Association, where I had first seen the ad that led to us being there. When we returned to Canada, I emailed the editor to ask if he’d be interested. He responded the very next day saying that he’d be delighted to run my article (with photos) in the Spring 2014 issue!

“We tend to get 600 to 800 words to the page with our new format, but fewer than that with pictures. So, if you could keep the text of the article to 1200 words or so, with the photographs, it would give us about three pages.” he went on to say. That was the tricky part! Condensing almost five months in China into 1200 words was definitely a challenge but I did my best to give the readers a taste of what we experienced living and teaching there.

Today, when we arrived home from Calgary, we found several copies of the magazine and a cheque stuffed into our overcrowded mailbox! Though the publication is a small one, I am nevertheless, a published writer once more. The question now is, will this whet my appetite to try my hand at writing for publication again or will blogging continue to satisfy?

One thing is certain. Regardless of what I decide, Following Augustine isn’t going anywhere. I intend to keep it going indefinitely.


The job that never ends!

We loved our jobs in China! By far the most fun was the time we spent with the students who were preparing to come to North America to study but this is definitely the first time we’ve brought a student home with us!

Three of my former students are now in Ontario enrolled in ESL programs at their colleges of choice and preparing to enter regular studies there in January. Since they arrived in Canada, I’ve spent lots of time communicating with them via email, Facebook and Skype, consoling and encouraging the one who is having a very difficult time adjusting, cheering on the other two, answering questions and helping them find information on everything from yoga classes to how to make healthy bagged lunches!

Sheila is my fourth student to arrive in Canada and she’s presently sound asleep in our guest bedroom! We picked her up at the Edmonton airport last night after her long flight from China and she’ll be with us for just over five weeks. On January 2, she’ll fly to Windsor, Ontario to begin her studies at St. Clair College.

We encouraged all of our students to spend their first month or two in Canada in a home stay setting to help them adjust to Canadian life and to allow them to practice their English in a home where they would be immersed in the language. Sadly, both girls who chose that option found themselves in homes that didn’t meet our expectations; homes where they were left to fend for themselves and not incorporated into a family atmosphere. They probably would have done just as well or better living in a dorm. That’s not the sort of experience we want to give Sheila!

I’ve waited to start decorating the house and doing my Christmas baking until Sheila’s arrival so that she can join in all the fun. After all, this will be her very first Christmas! The whole family is coming home this year so she’ll experience all the noise and fun of a family celebration.

In the meantime, there are lots of other things we want to show her; simple things like a typical Canadian grocery store and things we take for granted such as how to use the myriad of small appliances on my kitchen counter. There are places we want to take her like West Edmonton Mall and sights we want her to see like the spectacular Rocky Mountains. We’ve also arranged for her to be able to visit our local high school to see and experience how different it is from schools in China.

Before we embark on a whirlwind of activity, however, we’d better let her sleep awhile longer and give her a chance to start getting over her jet lag!

with Sheila in China

with Sheila in China