August 30, 2011 · 7:52 am
It may seem ironic that in a blog titled What Next? in which I am trying to journal my attempts to live my first year of retirement more spontaneously, I am going to write this post about the importance of planning ahead. In the meditation I gave in church yesterday about being a pilgrim rather than a tourist in life, I talked about how planning ahead can enhance our life journeys and make them occasions for personal growth and learning.
It took a great deal of planning and cutting through endless red tape to arrange a one day visit to a Palestinian refugee camp when I took twenty-four of my Hong Kong high school students to Israel. It was thanks to the helpful MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) workers in Bethlehem that we were able to make the arrangements. When I read the students’ reflections after visiting the camp I knew that every minute spent planning the experience had been worth it.
Learning about our families’ histories before we went to Ukraine made our trip there so much more meaningful. Here is Dave trying to read the German script on my great, great-grandfather Daniel Peters’ tombstone in the former Mennonite colony of Nikolaipol. I would never have even known that Daniel had lived there if I hadn’t prepared for our trip by reading the transcripts of the interviews one of my aunts did with my grandparents.
A few years ago I had to help chaperone a school trip to Spain. The art teacher who was leading the trip gave the students quite a number of pre-trip assignments. I decided to do the assignments too. I learned all about Picasso’s painting Guernica before I saw it at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. Knowing why Picasso had painted this masterpiece and the message he was seeking to convey, made viewing the painting a powerful and moving experience for me.
Phoning Shayli Patrick and arranging to meet her when we visited Australia added a delightful evening to our Sydney sojourn. Shayli was a former student of both Dave’s and mine, who had left her Manitoba home to work for a year as a nanny in Sydney. We were so glad we had contacted her ahead of time to arrange to get together.
Reading the book Eat Pray Love before we went to Bali, allowed my friend Kathy and I to meet Wayan one of the characters in the book and have her make lunch for us at her restaurant. We simply followed the directions in the book and they led us down the right streets in Ubud.
Before I, and two of my colleagues took 24 students to Cambodia in May, we met with the kids at least a half-dozen times. We played get to know you games, ate food together, planned for the service work we would do, talked about rules and the behavior we expected and learned about the history and culture of Cambodia. The relationships established during those pre-trip planning meetings helped make the trip more fun and a breeze to chaperone.
The planning for our trip to Fiji with our friends Alan and Simone and my sister Kaaren and her husband Ken began seven months ahead of time. Making arrangements so far in advance was the only way we could have coordinated all six of our schedules.
Since we knew retirement was looming on our horizon we deliberately booked into bed and breakfasts in New Zealand that were run by retired people. My husband Dave made all the arrangements and his careful planning resulted in us gleaning lots of great advice about how to approach our retirement years.
Before we went on our trip to India we consulted with a number of our teaching colleagues who had traveled to India before. Through them we found Mustaq, the travel agent who arranged our private tour of northern India. He did a great job adding in all the ‘extras’ we wanted like a tiger safari and a tour with street kids in Delhi.
In his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces Joseph Campbell says when on the threshold of a new adventure, we should consult allies like maps, music, artwork, books or people who point us in the right direction. Planning ahead for a trip or for any experience in life can often make that experience richer and more meaningful.
August 29, 2011 · 6:41 am
Everyone is talking about their parents. Lately it seems the main topic of conversation when we get together to socialize with people is “their parents.” Here are excerpts from a few recent conversations.
“I went to Alberta so I could be with my Mom during her geriatric assessment. They told me she has Alzheimer’s. When I shared the news with her she said cheerfully, “Well everyone has something wrong with them.”
“My Mom says a handy thing about growing old is you don’t need to buy new books. You can just read the same ones over and over, because right after you finish a book you forget what it’s about.”
” We are busy planning my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday party. She is very excited about it and really looking forward to it. She keeps asking how many people she can invite and she doesn’t believe us when we say, “As many as you want.”
“I know my Dad needs to give up his driver’s licence. His driving is downright dangerous. But how do we tell him? “
“I haven’t been to Saskatchewan for a long time to see Mom. She has dementia and she hasn’t recognized me for a couple of years.”
“My mom still swims for an hour everyday—six days a week. She’d swim on Sunday too but my Dad put his foot down about that.”
“Mom should be in an assisted living place, but she won’t go; so we end up driving the hundred kilometers to her home every week to help her with housework and yard work.”
“This week I have to take both my mother and my mother-in-law to appointments. I take my mom grocery shopping every week. ”
“My mother-in-law admits this last stage of her life is the hardest. ‘Growing old is not for cowards’, she says honestly.”
I notice not only do all my friends seem to be talking about their parents, but when I talk to my sister and brothers we usually include something about our parents in our conversation as well—how we think they are doing health wise—what we need to do to support them, or what family activities we should plan for them to enjoy.
A decade or so ago conversations with our friends revolved around our children, now they revolve around our parents.
I don’t really mind talking about aging parents. It is helpful to know how other people are supporting their elderly mothers and fathers; but it is interesting to note the way the subject can at times completely monopolize the conversation of the fifty-something crowd.
August 27, 2011 · 8:34 pm
Two other new experiences during our family weekend at the cottage were preparing a Burger Bar meal and playing Blokus for the first time. Our family was in charge of cooking for the extended family on Saturday night and it was Joel and Karen’s idea that we create a Burger Bar.
Joel put himself in charge of making the burgers. He mixed lots of garlic and some eggs with the meat and then shaped healthy-sized burgers.
Joel took orders from everyone about how they wanted their burgers done and what kind of cheese they wanted melted on their burger. He had a pen and paper out so he could keep track of all sixteen orders.
While Joel was busy barbecuing, Karen was preparing the bar of toppings for people to choose from. She had lots of things to chop. The burger topping bar included mushrooms, sun-dried and fresh tomatoes, green peppers, red peppers, regular mustard, honey-spiced mustard, bacon, ketchup, relish, olives, jalapenos, lettuce, three kinds of cheese, pickles, avocados, regular onions, red onions………… It took Karen a long time to get everything ready—although her father-in-law Dave did help by frying all the bacon. Dave was also in charge of baking the sweet potato fries and I made a salad and baked angel food cakes for dessert.
After singing Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow a tradition I love because our family has lots of good singers and the harmonies and sound we produce are great —I really think we could have a family choir—it was time to dig into the burger bar. It received rave reviews!
Then it was time for Blokus. It is a strategy game I had never played before this weekend. Karen, our daughter-in-law is very good at it, as is my niece Amanda. They even beat Bryan, my nephew, a recent pharmacy graduate, who since childhood, has been notorious for his dominance in all the board games we play at the lake. I played abysmally my first round but quickly learned some strategies to improve my performance. Blokus is a great game and one I think Dave and I should add to our collection.
August 27, 2011 · 12:05 am
I have been thinking lately about experiences Dave and I have had, that have stretched us or helped us grow spiritually, intellectually, physically or emotionally—things that perhaps were a little out of our comfort zone such as……………….
sleeping in a hammock in the Borneo rainforest
Kayaking with orca whales in British Columbia’s Johnstone Strait
Praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem
Building a house for Habitat for Humanity in Lampang Thailand
A homestay with a Muslim family in a rural village in Malaysia
Partnering with a Cambodian principal and her staff to teach with my Hong Kong students at Goldstone School in Phnom Penh.
Living and working with families on a coffee plantation in Laos
Biking back roads in Yangshuo China with our friendly guide Rong
Having a shave on the street in Hanoi
Interviewing a Buddist monk in Chiang Mai Thailand.
Visiting a Maori Meeting House in New Zealand
Thomas Merton once said that it is necessary for each of us to have some experiences in life which ‘jerk us clean out of the habitual. It is something I need to remember to continue planning for very deliberately as I move forward in this first year of retirement.
August 24, 2011 · 7:08 pm
We spent last weekend at my brother’s cottage at Moose Lake. Almost everyone in our extended family was there and even my parents who hadn’t been out to the cottage for almost two years were able to come. I was seven years old when my grandfather built the cottage and over the years it has changed a great deal. My father inherited the cottage eventually, and now it has passed down to my brother Mark, which is great, because Mark and his wife Kathy are very generous people and have continued to make all of us feel welcome at the cottage. My brother has initiated many improvements and one is the addition of all kinds of ways to have fun on the water. There is a kayak, and a sort of floating island you can relax on out in the lake,a new speed boat, a sail boat, different kinds of water skis, a surfboard and huge tubes for individual or couples tubing behind the boat.
My son Joel and his wife Karen tried the ‘tube for two’ first. They said it was so much fun!
Joel and Karen encouraged Dave and me to try. I’d been in the boat taking pictures during their ride and it looked a little too wild, but my brother Mark told me he’d drive carefully and not make our ride too daring.
So we were off! Mark kept his word about conservative driving although he added just a few sharp turns to make things exciting and I was glad he did. Dave made me promise not to scream and for the most part I kept my promise.
Cutting our first wave was a little bit scary but the subsequent cuts were great. I used to do lots of water skiing, but figured my old bones might not be able to take that kind of stress, so this was an excellent alternative.
Dave did a little clowning around trying to tip the tube. The whole thing was fun for us and a FIRST as well to add to our list of firsts in this year of trying new things.
What next? Well my Dad who will be 83 in October decided he’d give tubing a try too and out he went with my older brother Ken.
What next? My 86 year old mom decided she’d get in on the water activities too and so her grandsons and my brother-in-law Ken carried her in her wheelchair down to the dock.
Soon Mom was safely ensconsed in the boat and off on her ride. Mom became wheel-chair bound this last year and I was so glad she got to shed her chair for at least a little while and have her own adventure on the water.
August 23, 2011 · 10:59 am
I let people know I had started this new blog What Next on July 31st and so far it has been read over a thousand times. Although some people record their responses to my writing in the comments section at the end of each post, many have also e-mailed, made remarks on facebook, or spoken to me about their feelings concerning my blog.
My most popular post so far was the one I did about our marriage on August 17th, our anniversary. One reader said it made her cry while another said he couldn’t help humming Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” when he saw the engagement photo of us taken way back in 1973. He thought Sonny/Dave should try growing his hair long again. Another reader looking at the same photo said “You and Dave were smoking hot back then-but of course nothing has changed.” My brother-in-law said I looked like an intense folk singer in that engagement photo, while another relative said he thought the reason Dave and I hadn’t become bored with each other in 38 years was because we are both pretty interesting people. I was a little surprised that both a niece and nephew of mine took me to task for the comment I made that marriage is basically ‘a roll of the die’. They told me they believe marriage is more a matter of fate—that certain people are meant for each other and when they meet it is magical. They told me they found my marriage post to be just a little too pessemistic/realistic. I think they were looking for their aunt and uncle to have had more of a fairy tale love story. I was of course thrilled that my nieces and nephews are reading my blog and was only too happy to debate the topic of marriage with them.
One friend, trying to be funny said “I could hardly bear to read this”, after my most recent post about encountering four bears on an early morning walk in the Moose Lake Provincial Park. One of my aunts wrote to admonish me for taking such a risk—she didn’t think I should have gone for a walk when I knew there were bears at large in the park.
Margaret, a regular reader of my blog added a connection I hadn’t thought of to the personal connections I had made for The Help in my blog post about the movie. Margaret remembered an article I had written about young Mennonite women who worked as “the help” in the homes of rich Winnipeg families.
Another reader applauded my post called So Polite. She said, “I hope lots of youth read it and know they have a fan and an advocate. Knowing someone believes in you and notices your efforts can be remarkably motivating to young people. Bravo to your commitment as a writer to letting your readers know about interesting youth you meet. I think you shouild send this story to each of their employers!”
Then there have als0 been general responses to the blog as a whole. One reader says she’s interested in What Next because she too has recently retired and is looking for direction in her new life. Another reader said she had become addicted to my former blog Hong Kong Journal and was glad I had started a new blog so she could continue reading about my life. Another reader said she learned something new everytime she read one of my blog posts.
It has been great to hear from so many people. I was worried that since I was no longer living abroad and traveling to exotic places my readers might not find my blog exciting enough to read. My cousin Kirsten told me not to worry about that. “I love reading your Canadian posts and I’m sure many of your readers feel the same way”.
August 22, 2011 · 11:34 am
This last weekend we were at my brother’s cottage at Moose Lake with my extended family. When we drove into the Moose Lake Provincial Park on Friday night the natural resource officer at the front gate warned us a black bear and her two cubs had been spotted on the side of the lake where my grandfather built our family cottage in 1960. Shortly after we’d unpacked our car, a neighbor from a nearby cabin came to tell us the mother bear and her babies were up in the apple tree on his yard having a feast of his apples. He figured the trio might be heading our way next. We kept a sharp look out but didn’t see any bears that evening.
I got up early Saturday morning, before anyone else in the cabin was awake, and decided to go for a walk. My brother Mark strolled into the kitchen to make coffee just as I was heading out the door, and I asked if he’d like to go with me on my walk. He agreed, but made me wait while he found a bracelet of bells and went out to his shed to get a sharp stick he had stored there. “Just in case we meet a bear”, he said. I thought he was being a bit over cautious but I was glad he was coming along. I had only seen him once since coming home from Hong Kong and was looking forward to a nice morning visit.
And we did have a great chat for about 45 minutes as we walked down the gravel road to the south end of the lake. At the community boat dock we turned around to head back to the cabin to make breakfast for our kids, who we figured might be waking up soon. Shortly after we passed by the rental cabins owned by the Silver Birch Resort my brother put his hand on my arm and started ringing his bells. There just a few meters ahead of us on the left hand side of the road was a huge black bear! Mark figured he weighed about 400 pounds.
I was petrified but my brother remained calm. We just stood there watching the bear, who had clearly spotted us. Mark talked to me in a low voice telling me not to move. Unlike grizzly bears who it is best to ‘play dead’ for, if they come toward you, with black bears you need to defend yourself. My brother had his stick at the ready but reassured me he was sure if we remained completely still the bear would eventually move away. After awhile the bear crossed the road and was sniffing around looking for food in the clumps of birch trees lining the lake. Mark told me there have been many more sightings of bears this year than is usually the case, since the berries are sparse in the forest this summer, and the bears have been forced to move into inhabited areas to find food. After about six or seven minutes the bear crossed the road and headed back into the forest. We waited a little longer and then walked by the spot where the bear had re-entered the bush—giving him as wide a berth as we could, my brother ringing his bells all the while and insisting I walk right beside him so he was between me and the location where the bear had gone into the forest.
A minute or so later a natural resource officer came by in his truck. Mark stopped him and told him we’d spotted the bear. The officer pointed out the bear trap he’d set up to try to catch the large male. So far he’d had no luck. Apparently in a few places in Manitoba they’ve had to shoot bears this year because they haven’t been able to trap them and transport them away from populated areas.
Mark and I kept walking and about ten minutes later when we approached the roadside cage where the cottagers deposit their garbage, Mark once again came to a quick halt. There in front of us was another bear, smaller than the first one we’d seen. Mark figured it was a female because when she spotted us she began to paw the air. Mark said she must be protecting cubs and we’d better put a little more distance between us and her. We slowly backed up and watched as she lumbered further down the road, went into the ditch on the opposite side, and then began bringing down tree branches with her paws and eating something from the branches. It wasn’t long before first one little bear cub, and then another, trundled across the road to join her. The mother stood on her hind legs to bring down more branches and the little bears stood up to eat berries from the branches she held carefully at their height. After about ten minutes the three of them moved slowly into the forest and Mark and I could finally head back to the cottage.
We had quite a story to tell at the breakfast table about our bear encounters. Mark said I’d better get the remainder of my weekend exercise by kayaking or swimming. He wasn’t going on any more walks with me. We heard the following morning that Saturday night the bears had visited the public campground and caused considerable damage to five campsites where the campers had been careless enough to leave food or garbage outside when they went to bed.
Two years ago on an early morning walk in Australia’s Hunter Valley I saw thirty-two kangaroos and I was pretty excited. I have to admit however that seeing four black bears on an early morning walk in Manitoba, Canada was every bit as exciting. I only wished I’d had my camera along to get some pictures of the bears.
August 19, 2011 · 8:53 pm
“That didn’t really happen did it, Mom?” I heard a young woman ask as she and her mother exited the Grant Park movie theatre after seeing the film The Help. There was a note of incredulity in the girl’s voice that I found reassuring. As I listened in inadvertently on their conversation, it was clear the daughter found it almost impossible to believe people could be as racist as some of the characters in the film were, or that someone would be discriminated against just because they were black. I was glad a young person found such a situation hard to believe. It means society has come a long way since the 1960s.
Our family went to see the movie The Help this week. The three women were all in tears and although the men claimed they were ‘crying inside’ they didn’t seem as visibly moved by the film.
The movie was moving for me because of my personal connections to the story. The film makes it clear that upper-middle-class children growing up in the American South in the 1950s and 1960s were basically raised by their black maids. I have just returned to Winnipeg after living in Hong Kong for six years and the very same thing has been happening there for several decades. Basically, all the upper-middle-class children in Hong Kong are being raised by their family’s Filipino maids—referred to by everyone as ‘helpers.’ I wrote about that situation in The Winnipeg Free Press in an article headlined Filipina Helpers Know Meaning of Faith. The maids in Hong Kong have often been treated just as unfairly as those in the film The Help.
The movie also reminded me of the novel To Kill A Mockingbird which I taught to my tenth-grade students at an international school in Hong Kong last year. Calpurnia, the black housekeeper in the Harper Lee classic, is raising white children Scout and Jem just the way the women in the film The Help are raising their employers’ children. Skeeter Phelan, who champions the maids’ cause in the film is hardly Atticus Finch, but she does take a position very different than that of her friends and family and despite the risk and danger involved, continues to pursue her groundbreaking journalistic story, just as Atticus persists in his defence of Tom Robinson. In the film The Help ironically the very women who behave in such a discriminatory way toward their black maids hold a fundraiser for needy black children in Africa. It reminded me of the scene in To Kill A Mockingbird when Aunt Alexandra’s missionary circle come to tea to have a meeting to discuss raising funds for the Mrunas tribe in Africa. Ironically at that same tea party, they gossip and complain about their black servants.
Recently I re-read the novel Gone With the Wind. Like the young woman, I overheard chatting with her mother as she left the theatre after watching The Help, the stereotypical portrayal of black people in the novel disturbed me in a way it hadn’t back in the 1960s when I read the book for the first time. That’s a good thing.
I recommend you go and see the movie The Help but read the book first. The novel was discussed by my Hong Kong book club when it first came out, and I was glad I had read the book before seeing the movie. I’d love to hear comments about your own personal connections with either the book or the movie.
August 19, 2011 · 4:15 am
“I recognize that man behind us”, I whisper to my husband as we slip into our seats on the sunny patio of the Winnipeg Free Press News Cafe on Mc Dermot Avenue. “It’s columnist Dan Lett“, my husband Dave tells me. It’s clear Mr. Lett is using the news cafe as a site for a lunch hour interview. “Should I know that person with him? Is he someone famous?” I ask before we head to the restaurant counter to order our meals.The cafe is obviously a popular spot.There is hardly a chair free inside and we scan the crowd for other people we might know. A journalist appears to be writing news copy at a table near the stage and I spot internationally recognized graphic artist, writer and design consultant Robert L. Peters at one of the tables.
Half the fun of eating at Canada’s first official news cafe is looking for media people who may be dining or working there. Wait a minute—I’m a media person myself. Although it has been eight years since I gave up my column in the Winnipeg Free Press to move to Hong Kong I’ve continued writing weekly for The Carillon, a southeastern Manitoba newspaper and today I’m having lunch with a fellow Carillon staffer—Terry Frey, the paper’s award-winning sports writer. Terry and his wife Audrey, also happen to be good friends of ours, and we haven’t seen them since last year when we made our annual visit to Manitoba from Hong Kong. They suggest we meet at the news cafe, within walking distance of our new home in the Exchange District. One of the things we chat about is the change in ownership of The Carillon in February, when FP Canadian newspapers, the same company that owns the Free Press, bought Derksen Printers in Steinbach which publishes The Carillon.
The news cafe offers free copies of several Winnipeg publications and as you can see from Dave’s full arms he’s taken advantage of the opportunity to avail himself of the print material provided on the racks at the front of the restaurant.
This isn’t the first time the historic Albert or Alexandra Block has held a restaurant. According to a Winnipeg Historical Buildings report a Mr. Frank Mariaggi from Corsica opened a restaurant in the same spot in 1902, serving fine Italian food. He had a farm just outside of Winnipeg where he grew the vegetables for his eating establishment. He also kept chickens and Jersey cows to supply the necessary dairy and poultry. The restaurant became very popular because it featured a Grotto in the basement with four cave-like dining rooms and a bar. In 1908 Mr. Mariaggi sold the restaurant and the luxury hotel he had also opened in the building, and moved back to Corsica.
Apparently the building has almost the same appearance today as it did in 1901 when it was built by investors James and William Tupper, two Winnipeg corporate lawyers, who just happened to be the sons of Charles Tupper, Father of Confederation and a Canadian Prime Minister. William became Manitoba’s Lieutenant Governor in 1934. The building featured the same salmon colored brick in 1901. It came from Kettle River in northeastern Manitoba.
But exciting as it may be to see your favorite Free Press columnist at a restaurant, and interesting as it may be to know you are dining in one of Winnipeg’s oldest buildings, the reason you go to a cafe is to eat and the Free Press News Cafe does not disappoint in this regard. I had the vegetable tostado mentioned in Marion Warhaft’s recent review and a creamy, spicy broccoli-curry soup.
My fellow diners, who each ordered one of the sandwiches featured on the menu agreed Marion had not been off the mark when she awarded the restaurant four stars.
We live just a five minute walk away from the News Cafe and I know we will be back. What next? I’d like to try the breakfast menu and I notice tonight the cafe is hosting a poetry slam. Sounds like fun!
August 17, 2011 · 11:00 am
You may not recognize the couple in this photo—but it’s our engagement picture taken in 1973 just a few months before Dave and I were married. Today, August 17th is our 38th anniversary. We look awfully young in this photo—and we were young, just nineteen and twenty, way too young and immature to get married, but somehow we managed to grow up together and have made a meaningful life together, even though we started our marriage before we had money, or university degrees, or jobs or a home of our own.
Not every couple makes it to their 38th anniversary—40% of Canadian marriages end in divorce— and I’ve been thinking this past week about why we have stayed together. It is certainly not because we were ‘made for each other.’ In fact people who get to know either Dave or me first, and then meet our spouse, often remark on how very different we are and even say they are surprised to find out we are married. But perhaps that is one of the reasons we have stayed together, because we are so different. Maybe because of that we compliment each other and balance one another with our different temperaments and interests.
I know without a doubt that one of the reasons our marriage has lasted is because of our supportive families. Our parents have been such good role models when it comes to demonstrating the kind of love, sacrifice and loyalty that is required to keep a marriage and a family together. Our parents have supported us in so many different ways during our married life with babysitting help, financial gifts, wise advice, a listening ear, their prayers, their interest and their affirmation. We have also been blessed to have good relationships with our brothers and sisters and they have supported us in many ways as well. Going through some old memorabilia from our wedding I found this note my brother Mark wrote to me after our engagement was announced. He was nine years old.
I am so happy that you are going to get married to that handsome boy David. I hope that you are glad that I am candle-lighter, because I am glad. Hope your weddings a smash.
I think another reason our marriage has lasted is because of our two terrific sons. Our children inspired us to work hard at our marriage, because we wanted them to have a secure and happy home. Our sons drew us together as a family and they have each in their own way enriched our lives immeasurably as has our daughter-in-law.
I can honestly say our marriage has gotten better every year. Living far away from our families in Hong Kong for the last six years we have had to depend on one another much more than we ever did before, and this has been very good for our relationship. What’s next? We will see how retirement effects our life together. I know for some couples it is a very traumatic time as they adjust to a life that is not as focused around their careers. Since Dave has already been semi-retired for the last two years perhaps our transistion will be a little easier. The longer I’m married the more I realize what a ‘roll of the dice’ it is when we choose our life partner. You really don’t ‘know’ your spouse when you marry. Throughout your life together you continually learn new things about one another, some good and some hard. You certainly have no idea when you get married what kind of difficulties and challenges life may call upon you to face as a couple. I know how fortunate I have been to have landed up with a partner who has a sense of humor, is intelligent, wins friends easily, is active and interested in so many different things, relishes new experiences and has made my life anything but boring.
Other anniversary posts…….
Forty One Years
A Controversial Wedding Photo