Monthly Archives: August 2011

Planning Ahead Pays Dividends

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.  

bullet holesIt 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. 


dave at daniel peters tombstone nikolaipolLearning 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. 

dave and shayliPhoning 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. 


wayan eat pray loveReading 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. 

with jack and jon cambodiaBefore 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. 
friends in fiji 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.

dave retired golfer new zealandSince 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. 
dave and marylou with mustaqBefore 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. 

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Lets Talk About Our Parents

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. 

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Burgers and Blokus

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 makes burgersJoel 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 takes ordersJoel 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.joel barbeques

While Joel was busy barbecuing, karen prepares toppingshis wife 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. 

supper at moose lakeAfter 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!  

playing bloksu
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. 

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Stretching Experiences

I have been busy preparing a sermon for this Sunday.  I am speaking at our home church in Steinbach—Grace Mennonite— on a topic I have written about before called Will You Be A Pilgrim or a Tourist? This time however I am using photos and stories from our travels to illustrate my sermon points.  One section of my sermon is 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……………….


hammock borneo sleeping in a hammock in the Borneo rainforest

hopi grade one classTeaching on the Hopi Indian Reservation in Arizonawhale-johnstone

Kayaking with orca whales in British Columbia’s Johnstone Straitpraying at the wailing wall


Praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalemhabitat house thailand


Building a house for Habitat for Humanity in Lampang Thailand

girl on my lap borneoA homestay with a Muslim family in a rural village in  Malaysia

with school principal in cambodiaPartnering with a Cambodian principal and her staff to teach with my Hong Kong students at Goldstone School in Phnom Penh.  

dave on coffee plantationLiving and working with families on a coffee plantation in Laos

dave biking in yangshou Biking back roads  in Yangshuo China with our friendly guide Rong

dave in hanoiHaving a shave on the street in Hanoi

monk chatInterviewing a Buddist monk in Chiang Mai Thailand. maori meeting house new zealand

 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. 

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What Next? Tubing!

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. 

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What are People Saying?

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”.  

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Meeting not One— But Four Black Bears

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. 

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