Thursday, October 28, 2010


Anyone who knows me well will remember my rants a few years ago when my sister and I undertook my parents’ ‘downsizing’.  My parents moved from a large home in the country to a much smaller condo in town.  The move meant reducing 50+ years of accumulated ‘stuff’ down to about 20% of the original amount.

Don’t get me wrong…my parents still have a very sizable stash of belongings.  That we had to reduce by 80% is only indication of how much they had to be rid off to fit into what most people would think very adequate.

Now, extrapolating to the not too distant future, this 20% will again have to be further culled another 80%.  What will be left is roughly what would fit into a 500 sq ft apartment, which doesn’t have a kitchen.

How depressing!  Not only because I am already preparing myself for a ‘goundhog day’ experience (finding boxes, rummage sales, and generally clearing out a whole house which isn’t my own!), but in general, the thought that we work our whole lives to accumulate ‘stuff’, just to then turn around and get rid of it.

What a cycle!  I suppose if we were too efficient in recycling or finding those who really needed ‘stuff’, our economy might be in jeopardy.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Next Phase

My mother hasn’t been sleeping.  She admits this is from a combination of my father’s snoring and her worry.  She knows that the current situation isn’t sustainable, but is unable to see past next week.

My father’s mental state is worsening, as is expected with someone with Alzheimer’s.  His mobility is limited and, in fact, lessening quickly as occurs with diabetes. 

All this is overwhelming for a 78-year-old woman whose experience is limited to the goings on of a farm and its household. To have to proactively plan and decide the future for her husband and herself is more than she can bear…hence the headaches.

In my usual ‘bull in a china shop’ way, I asked my mother very directly what the options in this town might be for potential ‘next phase’ living.  There are few:  there is independent living in a lodge and assisted living in a nursing home.  Nothing in-between.

My approach must be non-emotional or else I risk doing as everyone else has done:  nothing.  I make appointments, get on waitlists, and hope that whatever happens occurs in a manner that doesn’t require any real choices.  The variables are 1) the progression of illnesses, 2) my parents’ openness to change, and 3) time.  All these variables will determine ‘the next phase’.

For now, I’m hoping that having a few potential options will alleviate my mother’s headaches and some of my guilt.  I definitely have the better end of this deal.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Going Home

As with many of us ‘middle agers’, our aging parents’ wellbeing and care becomes a bigger part of our lives.  In my newfound unemployed state, I do hope to spend more time with and for my parents.  I am currently with my parents back in my hometown in northern Alberta.

Going home to visit my parents is always an introspective experience. 

Where I grew up will always be ‘home’, even though I’ve been away for 29 years.  The connotations of ‘childhood home’, whether this is the town or house, mean that I’m going back in time and age.

Parents are always parents, but mine haven’t quite figured out that, at 46 years of age, I don’t need parenting anymore.  Advice is always free flowing and concerns voiced.  I wonder if there will ever be a time when I will be thought to be capable.

Going home always stirs up a mixture of anticipation, nostalgia, and sadness.  Anticipation because, after the long trek, I’m looking forward to seeing my parents to confirm if, what they say over the phone, is really how things are.  Nostalgia because this is where the memories of the first 17 years of my life remain.  Sadness because, although not discussed, my aging parents are living the last of their years as independently as possible before they progress to that ‘next phase’.  We never discuss this ‘next phase’ because to do so means acknowledging that we’ve actually thought of it.

My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s two years ago.  The diagnosis, however, was only confirmation of what I knew 8 years before, when the first signs appeared.  I’ll never forget those first times when I witnessed my father’s always-so-sharp mind’s deception. 

My mother, who was always the less healthy of the two, is now the full time mother again.  Always the doting wife, she is now caregiver, chauffeur, cook, and everything else.  She rarely complains, but her exhaustion is obvious.

Leaving is difficult.  The guilt of abandoning my mother with such responsibility is overwhelming.  Driving away, back to my easy, uncomplicated and seemingly selfish life is nearly unbearable. 

Oddly enough, my parents are happy.  They have worked hard their whole lives, so for them, their current challenges are relatively small.

Perhaps I would have the same perspective…  Perhaps….not likely.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What Colour Are Your Glasses?

So much of how we feel is based on how we perceive and receive signals.  And conversely, how we interpret signals depends on how we feel.  If the filter through which we’re seeing is tinted, either by anger, insecurities, or other  in-the-moment feelings, we likely aren’t interpreting those signals accurately.  Unless we explicitly ask questions that will help us see more clearly, we will internalize our feelings…incorrectly.

I’ve been reading a lot about ‘mindfulness’.  This refers to, in this moment, scanning my body, breathing, and mindset, to understand how I’m feeling…which will ultimately determine how I interpret information.  Although I’m doing this ‘on the fly’ (i.e. Not laying down on the yoga mat all day to figure myself out), I’m finding that this actually does help to slow down reactions and anxieties overall.

Being mindful means ‘being present in the moment’.  I must admit, I thought I was quite mindful…until recently. I’ve noticed that, unless I take the time to do the full-body-scan exercise, I’m really only scanning from the neck up.  This tells me about what I’m thinking, not how I’m feeling.  

Glasses provide protection from flying articles…but they also allow us to see things more clearly.  The tint we apply is ultimately our choice.

OK.. enough of this deep thinking stuff for today!!  :)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Stepping Outside Of My Comfort Zone - BIG TIME

Ok, I’m a closet ‘wanna-be-rock-star’.  There, I wrote it. 

I’ve known it for a while, but haven’t wanted to admit it.  I love singing and I’m not too bad at it.  I play the piano – poorly at best.  So now I’m trying my fingers at guitar playing.

It’s very humbling to start something from ground zero at 46 years old.  Mary Had A Little Lamb and Ode To Joy are the extent of my repertoire to date.  I had my first lesson with a new instructor last week and I think this one has promise.  The last one was easily half my age and a hundred times my talent.  The real problem was that his ego barely fit through the door.  I felt like the lessons were more about him showing off his riffs (for those non-music folks, this has nothing to do with his body!!) than me knowing how to play a scale.

So, I’ve had to cut my nails to the quick, shut all the windows in the house, and now pluck at the guitar for at least 30 minutes each day.

I’ll let you know when my first album comes out…make sure to look in the nursery rhyme section!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Strengths Alignment

About 5 years ago, I made a conscious decision to assess if my personal strengths were aligned with what I do in my job.  Although at the time I wasn’t in love with my job, I knew that I enjoyed about 50% of my job and that the other 50% was drudgery.

I went through an exercise of identifying my strengths (defined as “what I’m good at and enjoy”…need both of these!), then identifying roles/jobs that might satisfy those strengths.  That led me to change the direction of my career trajectory.  Fortuitously, my next role was a great fit and I truly loved my job.

When things changed at my workplace, having this knowledge helped me assess as much what I didn’t want to do, as those things that I did want to do.  This was the first step in knowing that, ultimately, I’d have to make a step change in my life. 

Marcus Buckingham’s “Trombone Player Wanted” video is one that I strongly recommend to anyone who is searching about how to identify your strengths and then align them with what you do everyday.  Only 2 of 10 people have this alignment in their jobs.  The rest basically tolerate.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Reality Sets In - So Now What?

So I am really and truly unemployed. I’m on Day 8 of this new adventure.  It really does feel, however, like I’ve just taken a few days off from work and am only catching up on ‘stuff’.  I’m getting a lot done, but this really isn’t what I envision as ‘unemployment’.   

I’m having the odd nap, setting up some coffee dates, making travel plans for a trip to Malaysia in December (had already determined this before the end of work), procrastinating about doing some yard work, and had the winter tires put on the car.  I’m on top of the birthday cards, grocery shopping, and laundry.  Hmmmm.. now what?

I’m conscious of needing to balance the retirement ‘essentials’:  intellectual, social, fitness, creativity, and philanthropy. 

Social:  I’ve scheduled some coffee dates – Check
Fitness:  Ok.. I’ve missed a few runs since I pulled a calf muscle last week…but I went this morning – Check
Creativity:  Re-started guitar lessons (took a break through the summer) and started my Creative Writing course – Check
Philanthropy:  Doing a few small projects at the YMCA and planning on taking a bigger Corporate Volunteer Fundraising role – Check
Intellectual:  TBD (not a lot of stimulation at this point!)

So, how can I increase this intellectual bit, without doing ‘work’ in my field of expertise?  I suppose the philanthropy is sort of using my skills, but to date hasn’t been strenuous.

Open to suggestions…

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Emotional Age

I really am not 46 years old.  I know the difference between today’s date and my birth date tells me so, but I truly don’t feel like a 46 year old.  Somewhere along the way, the number changed but I didn’t.

I think back to when I was young and remember what 46 year olds were like back then.  At least where I grew up, those adults who had toiled the farmland and raised a gazillion kids seemed a lot older than I am today.  Their bodies were already tired and their minds told them they couldn’t and shouldn’t do certain things.

I know that I am younger today than I was 10 years ago.  How, you ask, can this be?  Well, I believe the people that surround me shape my ‘emotional age’.  Today, I surround myself with people who don’t see age as a constraint, but as a license to do what they’ve always wanted to do.  This ranges from undertaking activities they’ve longed to do but didn’t (skiing, singing, painting), without the fear of failure or criticism, to finally delving into passions that have long been suppressed. 

As a result, I have undertaken activities I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing 10 years ago.  Whether it’s getting to a level of physical fitness I’d only fantasized about or letting go of the traditional ‘career path’, I know that stepping out of my comfort zone makes me feel great.  It gives me a comparison to what I felt like before and reminds me how exhilarating it is to not follow the crowd.

It’s great to feel younger every year!

Saturday, October 2, 2010


As we were driving through Kananaskis Country last weekend, one of Alberta’s many treasures, I was in awe of the brilliant colors surrounding me.

I realize this will sound outrageously corny, but I became conscious that I’m going through one of the greatest changes in my life at a time when my surroundings are changing from lush green (thanks to a lot of rain recently) to brilliant autumn colors (thanks to the near-freezing evening temperatures).  I know this happens every year, but this year I seem overly sensitized to this transformation.  (Perhaps this just means I’m getting old and getting in touch with my mortality??  Yikes..)

With these changes comes the preparation for the next season, be it fortifying our vehicles with winter tires, cleaning the yard of leaves and dying plants, or emptying our gardens of our summer harvest.  The analogies are plentiful. (Or…am I just conscious of what’s on my ‘to do list’ as soon as I stop going to the office…  another Yikes!)

Normally I would be sad by the loss of summer to the chilly and cold winter weather (yes, in Canada we often jump from summer directly to winter!).  This year, I’m actually enjoying the transition period because it’s giving me time to adapt and adjust from one state to another. 

All I ask is that we don’t get snow before I get winter tires on my car!