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!

One year!

logoTomorrow it will be exactly one year since I introduced Fashion Friday to my blog! One year of writing a weekly fashion post, something I would not have imagined myself doing just a few years earlier. I thought today would be a good day to reflect on that first year and do a bit of self-evaluation.

I stated a number of goals in that first post:

“I want this to be much more than just a “look what I’m wearing today” feature. I hope that together we can explore the topic of personal appearance and how what we wear affects our daily lives.”

One of my early posts, F is for Fashion, is one of my favourite examples of this. Though it does include one photo of me, it focuses on six F words to consider when shopping for clothes.

“You can expect posts on everything from fabulous footwear to dressing on a budget, and packing a suitcase to purging your closet.” 

Before I wrote my first Fashion Friday post I brainstormed a fairly long list of ideas, enough to keep me going for quite awhile. The topics mentioned in that first post were on that list and I’ve written about all four of them. Dressing on a budget has definitely been a popular theme. I’m a frugal fashionista who loves thrift store shopping and over the past year I’ve written several posts featuring some of my favourite finds. You can find the first of a three week series here.

“I also intend to do a bit of investigating and share what I learn about some of my favourite clothing retailers.”

I haven’t been as successful with this part of my original plan. Early on, I emailed several retailers expressing my interest in featuring them on my blog and asking a few pertinent questions. Disappointingly, none of them responded! I have, however, written unsolicited posts about Cabi and Uniqlo and both of them responded favourably. I was also approached by American eyeglass brand, Warby Parker, and asked to write my very first collaborative post featuring their newest collection. Perhaps with these successes under my belt I should consider contacting a few of those retailers again.

“I want this to be an interactive feature, so I will be encouraging you, my readers, to participate by sharing your insights, ideas and questions in the comment section.”

This is where you come in! While several of you have liked or commented on posts, I would love to encourage more of this. Some readers leave comments on my Facebook page, which is fine, but I would rather you left them here on the blog where they remain permanently and can be seen by other readers. I’m not looking only for accolades. If you don’t like something I’m wearing or disagree with my point of view, please feel free to say so and tell me why. All I ask is that you do it politely. Over the past year, I’ve received some great fashion tips from readers and I especially love it when you ask questions and I’m able to help you with your own fashion concerns. I’ve made it my habit to respond to every comment left on the blog and I will continue to do so.

As part of today’s evaluation and to help me choose future topics,  I also took a look at my stats to see which Fashion Friday posts were most popular. My most read fashion post so far was Ideas and inspiration with Favourite fashion blogs for women of a certain age taking second place.

So, what has writing a regular fashion feature done for me? In addition to exploring a topic of growing interest, it has ensured that I keep writing and posting on a regular basis even during those times when we aren’t traveling or doing anything else that’s interesting enough to write about. It’s also caused me to take an even greater interest in fashion, reading the work of and sharing ideas with other fashion bloggers. It has inspired me to take more care with my own appearance and has led me to experiment with new and different looks that I might not have tried in the past. Here’s just one example of that. Most of all, it’s been fun, so unless the well of ideas runs dry Fashion Friday will continue to be a regular weekly feature here on Following Augustine.

It would be remiss of me not to take this opportunity to thank my husband, Richard, for the time he’s spent being my fashion photographer. For a man who had rarely used a camera in the past, I think he’s done a pretty good job! Here are a few of my favourites from the past year.

Happy Birthday, Fashion Friday!

 

Happy Birthday, Following Augustine!

Eight years ago today, I wrote my very first blog post. It was just three sentences long and simply announced:

Richard and I have just accepted positions teaching conversational English in Japan. This is a one year commitment and we’ll be leaving in mid March. The main purpose of this blog is to share our adventure with friends, family and anyone else who’s interested.

What a lot has happened since that time and how the blog has grown! Prior to today, I’ve written 688 posts on a wide variety of topics and the blog has been viewed more than 66 000 times. It’s traveled the world with me, chronicling my adventures in each of the countries listed to the right, and early in the new year we’ll be adding yet another one to the list! For the past 27 months, it has also helped me process and share my ongoing cancer journey.

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Though I originally thought the blog would only last for the one year that we lived in Japan, it has become such a part of me that I can’t imagine it ever coming to an end! It’s given me a voice I never knew I had and causes me to live life with my eyes wide open. It connects me with interesting people around the world and fulfills my lifelong passion for writing.

I look forward to many more fine adventures to share, but recently it’s been my opinion pieces that have garnered the greatest readership, so I will continue to write those too. I pledge to do so with as much wisdom as God allows me, with integrity and with respect for those whose opinions differ from mine.

And today, in closing, I raise my glass to you, my readers! Without you, Following Augustine would be nothing more than a lot of empty words floating about in cyberspace!

Tote-ally awesome!

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

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

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

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

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

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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?

Milestone!

I reached a medical milestone today!

Yesterday, I completed my initial round of four radioisotope treatments and this morning’s scans showed that my primary neuroendocrine tumour (located in my colon) is shrinking! The other four tumours appear not to have grown and there are no new ones. As a result, my cancer treatment will now go into a maintenance phase. I will continue to be treated with Lutetium-Octreotate, but instead of a treatment every nine to twelve weeks, I will now have one every six months!

While I was sitting on my hospital bed yesterday afternoon while the Lutetium was being administered via IV drip, I flipped open my new issue of Chatelaine magazine and was in for a surprise. When I read “Crashing the Cancer Club”, Jenny Charlesworth’s story of surviving cervical cancer, in the March 2015 issue, I immediately responded with a letter to the editor via email. I’d completely forgotten about that until I saw my letter in print yesterday! Here’s what it said:

Thank you for pointing out, in “Crashing the Cancer Club,” that every cancer story is different and that each of us who has cancer, or who has had it in the past, is a survivor in our own right. Since August 2013 (a misprint in the magazine says 2014), I have been diagnosed with two different cancers. One was removed by surgery followed by radiation; but the other is a rare, slow-growing cancer for which there is no cure. People have a hard time grasping the idea of a chronic cancer. The usual assumption is that patients either die of their disease or are cured, thereby becoming cancer survivors. I’ve learned to look at my situation differently. I may die of my cancer or I may die with it, but either way, I am a survivor.

It may sound silly, but I was encouraged by my own words. Written two months ago, they reminded me that though mine is an incurable disease and, barring a miracle of God, I will have it for the rest of my life, I am indeed a survivor!

Reaching today’s milestone was a great reminder of that!

 

Blogging is good for my health!

Seven years ago, when I started blogging, my husband and I were preparing to spend a year teaching English in Japan. Following Augustine was born to share that experience with friends and family back home in Canada. I’ve always enjoyed writing so it was no surprise to me that when the year came to an end, I’d fallen in love with blogging and I wasn’t ready to let it go.

Over the years that followed, my blog became an eclectic collection of posts on a wide variety of topics including faith, family, and travel with a bit of food, fashion, fitness and even history thrown in. In essence, it chronicled our life and interests as an active retired couple.

Then came cancer!

When my first cancer was diagnosed a year and a half ago, the blog became an avenue for sharing vital information about my health with concerned friends and family around the world. I soon learned that it had an added benefit. As I dealt with the diagnosis of a second unrelated cancer, surgery, radiation, multiple tests and scans, new treatments, a clinical trial, and the emotional ups and downs that accompanied them all, I found that writing about the journey helped me process what was going on. It seemed that blogging was good for my mental health.

Now I’ve discovered that there’s actually scientific evidence to support that! Studies have shown that expressive writing leads to physical and mental health benefits such as long-term improvement in mood, stress levels and depressive symptoms. People with asthma who write have been shown to have fewer attacks than those who don’t and cancer patients who write tend to have more optimistic perspectives and improved quality of life.

So what is it about writing that makes it so good for us?

Apparently, the act of expressive writing allows people to take a step back and evaluate their lives. It can help them find meaning in a stressful event, manage their emotions better, talk to other people about the situation more easily and reach out for support more willingly. Instead of brooding or obsessing over a diagnosis or a catastrophic event, they are able to focus on moving forward. By doing so, stress levels go down and health goes up.

Remarkably, researchers found that just 15 to 20 minutes of writing three to five times over the course of a four-month study was enough to make a difference. That was good news to me. Though I try to blog more often than that, I’ve never had any desire to post every day. I’ve seen too many daily bloggers burn brightly for a short period of time then flicker and burn out. I try to post at least once a week but I’ve even fallen short of that lately.

Cancer is only one of the topics that I continue to write about. Blogging will never be a cure but it’s nice to know that really is good for my health!

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