Wednesday, 19 November 2014

#375 The Cataract Chronicles

Currently I seem to much more focussed on being retired that blogging about it.  Then something happens and I think that might be interesting. 

Like my recent cataract surgery...

I think my doctor assumed I knew all the details, but I was, in fact, cataract-clueless.  Friends were of no use.   Those who had the operation are so delighted with the outcome they revealed nothing of the process. They were like new mothers who forget about the delivery the moment the baby arrives. They had cataract amnesia,

I will probably slip into that forgetful state too, eventually, but before that happens here are 10 things I wish someone had told me:

1.  For the patient (doctors may feel differently) having a cataract removed is quick and easy.  The actual procedure (the replacement of a cloudy lens with a clear, artificial lens) takes about 20 minutes.  It is completely painless.

2.  It is not exactly quick and easy, however.  It may be “day” surgery, but it takes a month to go from cloudy (cataract-impaired) to clear vision.  It all depends on a post-cataract visit to the optometrist. I can hardly wait.  With my current glasses, I cannot see properly from my new eye.  Without them, my other eye is useless.  My eye is perfect, but my vision is still lousy.

3.  Much of that post-surgery month involves the self-administration of eye drops several times daily. The drops regime begins 3 days before the surgery-- perhaps as a hand-eye coordination training exercise in preparation for the eye-drop marathon that is to follow.

4. Cataract surgery is real surgery.  All the accouterments are there: a backless nightie, a gurney, an operating room and an anesthetist. I hadn't reckoned on sedation, but in retrospect, given that my eye was to be excavated, it was probably a good idea.

5.  It takes two hours to prepare a cataract patient. Two hours of various eye drops (of course), and two hours of “verification”.   Every eye-drop nurse asked the same questions:  "what is your name, do you have any allergies, and which eye has the cataract."  I repeated the same answers again and again and again  The left eye.  The left eye. The left eye.  When the nurse with gel (to freeze the eye open) came along, I knew the drill.  My name is Nancy, I have no allergies and it is my left eye. But I couldn't help thinking that if they did get it wrong, it wouldn't be such a bad thing.  My right eye has a cataract too.

When the anesthetist arrived, he queried me again.  Then he put a magic marker dot over my left eye.  I wondered why didn't that happen when I was first admitted.  It might have saved everyone a lot of time -- unless of course, the admitting nurse mislabelled me.  What if she sometimes mixed up left and right the way I do?  Then staff would have to verify (again and again and again) if the dot was over the right (make that correct) eye.

6.  The cataract accessory du jour is an eye shield of aluminum and rubber held on with tape.  The whole contraption looks like something a one-eyed fly might covet.  It is too large to accommodate glasses, so until I could remove it at the end of the first day, I stumbled about in a haze.  I developed a new appreciation for binocular vision.  One eye is not enough especially if it is uncorrected.  The patch, by the way, is worn to bed for a week.  It is intended to prevent eye rubbing.  (I sympathize with dogs that have to wear a cone-collar after surgery.)

Smiling hopefully...

7.  Every cataract patient seems to experience a different rate of eye-improvement. A friend has since told me that her vision cleared almost immediately.  I had three days of gradually lifting fog, until *VOILA* I could read road signs from the car without having to park right under them.  A miracle!

8.  I was NOT driving that car; driving is forbidden for one week after cataract surgery. It is not because driving might affect the surgery, however.  The surgery (and the possible fuzzy vision) might affect driving.

9.  No bending or lifting for one week!  I am having trouble with that one.  Don’t tell the doctor.

10.  Cataract surgery improves vision, but not appearance.  It is sad but true:  mirrors don't lie.  I look older than I did last week and my friends look older too.  Never mind.   I love my new eye and I want another just like it.   - 

Friday, 25 July 2014

#374: Forever Dorothy

I am about to start downloading some holiday pictures and adding some text to the Swiss/French edition of The Reluctant Retiree Abroad.  But before I do, and before I forget, I want to acknowledge that my dearly- departed mother-in-law Dorothy has a clone who lives in Switzerland and goes hiking with her sister.

Bruce and I were on the bus from Lenk winding up up up a mountain road to the alpine meadow where we would begin a hike, and opposite us sat two white haired grandmotherly women who looked like sisters. I stared and stared at the older of the two.  I swear that it was my beautiful mother in law, Dorothy, on a Swiss hiking holiday.  A little plumper, a little taller, but  Swiss Dorothy (Dotty Swiss) had the same lovely complexion, great smile, and beautiful, expressive eyes.  I surreptiously poked Bruce --"your mother, your mother" I mouthed.

Fortunately, the French-speaking Swiss sisters seemed not to notice my extreme interest in the two of them. And it wasn't just that they looked like my in-laws.  They had both worked a cool, outdoorsy "look" with panache. I admired the white, spiked hair on Dot' s sister, but Dotty, with the amazing Ryan hair,  had coordinated her entire outfit.

Even at 85, my mother-in law had been a fashion plate.  Dorothy knew how to dress!  She would not have taken the same liberties with her appearance, but she would have admired her Swiss doppelganger, as did I.  Dotty wore hiking pants, and the necessary boots, but she also sported a smart blue t-shirt, red camisole, tiny red necklace and red earrings...... and she had two judiciously placed streaks of cherry red in her curly white hair.  

My hair is not white, not yet anyway, and it is not something I have ever aspired to.  But these ladies could make me reconsider.   Dotty and her sister were clearly embracing their age and their appearance, and having fun too.  Dorothy would have approved.

It is just as well that at the early stages of our holiday, I had no confidence in my ability to express myself in French.  Because I was twitching with the impulse to lean across to Dotty and her sister and say " J'adore vos cheveux!  Tres chic!" And if they didn't look at me in horror, I would have followed this up with "Avez-vous un tatouage?"  I could just imagine Dotty rolling down her red hiking sock to reveal the butterfly on her ankle.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

#373; En Vacances

Our bags are clunking down the stairs as I write. We are off to the airport!

I'll be back-to-the-blog with travel notes:  Switzerland and France.

Spoiler alert:  there will be ugly clothes and mountains.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

#372: Growing Older, Reading Bolder

If you are of a certain age and on Facebook, you will recognize the logo and the content that identify Growing Bolder, a media enterprise out of Florida that pitches to us old folks.  Old by GB's definition begins at 45, by the way.  Just in case you are wondering at what point you need to make a real effort to start aging positively.

I've never seen or heard Growing Bolder on TV or radio in Canada, but those relentlessly heartwarming and positive Facebook SHAREs from GB are everywhere.  So I get the idea.  Age is something you can defy: You just need to have the right attitude.

Like Growing Bolder on Facebook!
Everyday, an uplifting affirmation!
And it is not that I don't buy into the concept of Bolder, not Older.  It sure beats the heck out of Dying, not Trying.

But let's get real. As we age, there comes a point where running a half marathon after two life-threatening cancers is just not possible.  The best attitude in the world will not get us up Kilimanjaro if our knees are shot.  No wonder the GB people are giving 45 year-olds a shove.  The kids need to work on that bucket list while they have the energy.

Becoming "bolder", however, isn't just about overcoming physical challenges or even aspiring to emulate elderly athletes, phenoms like 91 year-old Canadian Olga Kotelko.  Olga is undoubtedly inspirational, but she is also atypical; my 91-year old friends at the retirement home where I am a "library volunteer" are not like Olga!  They use canes and walkers and wheel-chairs. They are tethered to oxygen tanks.  But Boldness is still within their reach.  Their bodies may look old but their brains are just as sharp as Olga's.  Their minds are young and fit, and their attitudes are positive.

Within limitation, they all attempt some sort of exercise.  Even Kay, who is on oxygen and wheelchair-bound, does seated exercises with weights.  But mostly, they read.  They turn pages and they listen to books on CD.    

And they do not necessarily read what you imagine! 

As a librarian, I am not a book snob. Reading anything is acceptable, at any age.  Nurse and Doctor Romances? Fine.  A diet of Westerns, one after the other after the other?  Better than looking out the window, I say.  But some older readers are willing to push the envelope a little bit.  They take reading risks. They Read Bold. Sometimes they have no choice -- they are dependent on me for their books, and I am willing to take chances on their behalf.  I have been known to hand over a book with the warning that this is "a bit of an experiment, but give it a try.  If you don't like it, don't finish it."  After all, a book will not break a bone, cause a fall, or make anyone ill.  It will only shake up a bunch of neurons, and that is a very good thing.

Fortunately, my edgy book-choices are rarely rejected.  Even doubtful readers usually tell me, "I wasn't sure about the story, but after I got into it, I enjoyed it.  It was really interesting and it made me think". Sometimes the enthusiasm it is effusive. "That was the best book I have read this year!  I am going to get my daughter to read it!"  

So what Bold Books have my library clients been enjoying, and what brain-boosting challenges have these stories presented?  Here is a tiny recent sample:

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden. This story is violent.  In 17 century Canada, Iroquois + Huron + Jesuits = Massacre.

Annabel by Kathleen Winter.   A hermaphrodite as protagonist?  Wayne, who identifies as female, comes of age in a (macho) rural Labrador village .

Ragged Company by Richard Wagamese.  Drunks and drug addicts all -- four homeless people get together, watch movies and make friends. They also swear. A lot.

Middlemarch by George Eliot.  The language is archaic, the plot is complex, and this book is looong. 880 pages long.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.   Mantel gives a sympathetic portrayal of Thomas Cromwell's early years. Now if only all the men in her story were not called Thomas.....

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty.  Three intertwined, somewhat chick-litty plots hinge on sex, infidelity and murder.  And not to forget... there are two Australian settings, Melbourne and Sydney.

I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I have not read all of these books myself.  But on the strength of feedback from my Bold Readers, I will confidently make recommendations to my own book group. And if my long-time friends, who are in their 60s and 70s, question the violence in The Orenda, for example, I will repeat what Jessie told me.  I'll explain that in the context of the time and culture, such bloodthirsty behaviour is completely understandable.

And I will add, of course, that Jessie is 92.        



Wednesday, 21 May 2014

#371: Millenial Mums Vs. Boomer Grannies

Before I leave ooey-gooey grand-mothering alone for awhile, I need to give some time to the other side.

Yes, the other side-- the Grudging Grandmas. 

As one of the converted, it had not actually occurred to me that there was another side when it came to grandchildren.  But apparently not every grandma is quite as willing to be involved as I am.  At least that is what Globe and Mail columnist Leah Mclaren says about Boomer Grandmas.  She observes that they are simply too busy to do the right thing by their grandchildren. They have packed schedules. They love their grandkids, but they are unwilling to be constantly on call.  Her own mother, Cecily Ross, is a prime example. Cecily, consumed by travel, writing and other commitments, is rarely available to visit England and help with child care.

But aside from her mother's failure to act like a proper grandma, what prompted Leah's lament was a news item: the announcement of a very public pregnancy.  Chelsea Clinton is expecting.

Yikes!  Consider the implications.

Hillary and Bill. Grandparents.

Leah feels very sorry for Chelsea because Hillary will definitely NOT be dropping everything to look after the baby. With any luck she will be completely absorbed by her Presidential campaign.  Though in truth, I can't imagine that Chelsea and child will ever be too desperate.  And if they were, I think Bill would ride to the rescue. 

Admittedly, a sample of two (even if one is a potential President) is really not much of a sample, but Leah does have a point. Boomers are certainly busy people, and some are much busier than others.  And the kids don't make it easy.  Grandchildren do not necessarily live in the same town. Or the same country. Grand parenting in 2014 is complicated even if you are not running for public office.

So you do what you can, when you can.  And if you are not at your children's (and grand children's) beck and call, you bring other gifts to the party.  Chelsea's child will know the love, if not the constant presence, of an extraordinary grandma.  And lest you feel too sorry for Leah,  a  recent G & M column reveals Cecily as a perfectly satisfactory, even doting, mother and loving grandma.  Just not willing jump on a plane at a moment's notice.

Of course, the "perfectly satisfactory" compromise will register as unsatisfactory with Millennial Mums like Leah if what they want is The Full Grandma.

But there is a solution.  There is something they can do before a grandchild arrives that will guarantee increased grandmother buy-in.  

Shortly after reading Leah's "boomers-make-grudging-grannies" column, I had a conversation about grand-mothering with a former colleague.  Still working and in her 60's, my friend is a boomer if there ever was one.  But she has thirty-ish daughters, daughters who are giving no thought to child-bearing. None.  And she is getting concerned.  She confessed that on Mother's Day she actually exhorted her girls to get cracking!  The longer they abstain, the more desperate she becomes.  She is ready to be a grandma.  But she needs their cooperation. 

And suddenly it came to me: the perfect strategy for young parents and parents-to-be who want to ensure Grandma's hands-on support.   Don't be too quick to reproduce.  Make your mother wait and wait and wait some more until she thinks she will never, ever get to join the Grandmother Club. Then when you finally have a child, she will be so ecstatic you won't be able to keep her away. 

Just don't wait too long.

Friday, 25 April 2014

#370: Granny Nan and Great-Aunt Toni

It must be admitted that I was not completely on my own with Erik while in Saskatoon.  I was sooo very lucky that my sister-in-law Toni came from Edmonton for several days.  She stayed in a nearby B and B and became a member of the Erik Appreciation Society.

And the feeling was mutual.  Erik loved Toni!  She is a natural with babies.  She has no anxiety about them whatsoever, unlike her sister-in-law.

Toni is also very patient and practical.  I would have spent much longer in the dark with a fridge full of melting food if she had not pried open the breaker box, the one that refused to budge for me after the bulb-changing fiasco.

She was also quick to figure out the stroller, and was responsible for my only successful entry into Christie's Bakery.    

And together we had some problem-solving adventures that involved her rental car and our visits to the Roxy Theatre. Who knew that a theatre so close to Jenny's would be so darned hard to find in the dark?  Toni and I are pretty sure that if we had gone to a third movie, we would have nailed the to-ing and fro-ing without cursing unreadable Saskatoon street signs (definitely smaller than in Edmonton or Guelph!), or confusing all those Avenues that go both North and South. At least we know that our brains are now much improved after the challenge of being lost.

I am counting on her to join me and Bruce in Saskatoon in July.  This time we will drive straight to the Roxy.  And the three of us will certainly be able to wrestle the stroller into Christie's!

#369: Toddler Time

This April I was in Saskatoon being Grandma.

Actually, I was more than Grandma.  I was the substitute caregiver for Erik my 16 month-old grandson, the same child who would have called Children's Aid in Guelph last November if only he had known the telephone number.  And they would have come, too, had they heard him screaming. The entire neighbourhood knew I was giving him a bath.

So I was a bit worried. Terrified actually.  His 36-year-old mother had been my last toddler.

Trudy, the usual caregiver, was in Singapore.  His parents were at work.  So it was just Grandma and Erik for good or ill:  breakfast, naps, Raffi, snacks, playtime, diaper changes, walks, lunches.....two weeks worth of toddler busyness. I even got to give him a bath and put him to bed for the night, a very big deal.

And I was, amazingly, OK.  I was even competent.  It was a miracle.  It was especially miraculous because, in addition to toddler wrangling I somehow managed to buy groceries, prepare meals, and keep the house tidy. 

At the end of the first week, talking to Bruce (Grandpa), I recounted the million things I had been up to. Then I asked him to tell me what he had been doing.  Reading. Getting groceries. Putting out the garbage. Reading.  Dining with friends. Watching movies. And not all on the same day either.  He said he was fine, but I felt sorry for him. I was clearly having way more fun.

It was then I realized that by stepping temporarily into the role of caregiver/housekeeper I was fulfilling some of the requirements I consider essential for a stimulating retirement.  No wonder I felt so good.  I had unintentionally taken on activities that were intellectually, physically, and socially challenging.  And all I had to do was spend 2 weeks in Saskatoon in an old house with a busy baby. 

So...... how stimulating was the visit?

How much intellectual challenge, for example, could I really claim?   I was not, after all, taking a two week Spanish Immersion course.  But I was definitely learning a new language.  Arm flapping and head bobbing = "This is delicious.  Is there more?"  "Ooof!, Ooof!" meant "By all means let's go for a walk and find dogs!"  And though I was not engaged in Sudoku puzzling or Bridge playing, I was certainly solving plenty of new problems.  Some had to do with the baby.  How, for example, to lure Erik from his bath (which he now loves) without protest?  Answer: Let's put all the coloured duckies to bed, one by one.  Thank goodness toddlers are so delightfully distractable.

The house proved a bigger problem. On the last day I was still figuring out the fancy gas stove when, while making lunch, I overheated the frying pan. The outside temperature was near freezing, but I put Erik in an extra sweater, opened the doors, and prayed that when the grown-ups returned no-one would notice the oily, burnt smell of my failed pancakes or ask why the house was so cold.  At least I hadn't overloaded the electrical panel. Again. That happened the first day when I changed a light bulb and lost power to the living room, dining room and kitchen.

Although I had not foreseen the numerous ways in which the Saskatoon house would outfox me, I did at least anticipate that my time with Erik would require a degree of physicality.  Mostly, I saw myself pushing the stroller on dry Westmount sidewalks.  I did not reckon on forcing said stroller through snowy slush and puddles the size of small lakes, or having to heave the bulky contraption over curbs and up and down steps. And some steps defeated me: I never did successfully navigate the way into Christie's Mayfair Bakery without help.

Then there was the lifting, carrying and kneeling.  Little boys (even the light ones) are heavy. Imagine (for comparison purposes) hefting around a 25 pound turkey several times a day, and jollying it into a stroller or highchair or bathtub.  Or soothing a miserable, teething toddler by dancing him back and forth through the kitchen to the living room again and again and again.  Or, realizing on Day One that you are sprawled on the carpet making the first of several hundred daily block towers,  and you will eventually have to get up.  Then down. And up. And down......

And the social advantages of hanging out with a grandchild?  It was the reason I made the trip in the first place -- so I could get to know dear little Erik who is so sweet, cheerful and funny.  In other words, pretty much like every other grandchild in the history of the universe.

But I hadn't quite appreciated that Two Weeks With a Toddler would have such a profound, wondrous impact.  A 16-month-old greets the day ready to embrace every aspect of life with such unbridled enthusiasm.  It is a golden time.  What grandparent wouldn't want to immerse themselves in all that joy?  I now completely understand why my friend Margaret makes frequent trips to her daughter's house in order to help with her two grandsons. I haven't asked her, but I suspect that regular contact with these delightful little guys is probably as necessary as a cup of breakfast coffee.  A grandchild endorphin fix.

One hour of Erik in the morning would certainly set me up for the day.

So as the two weeks in Saskatoon came to an end, I began to worry about toddler withdrawal. How would I manage without my sunny little Erik?  Then Jenny uttered the magic words:  "Trudy takes a week off in July, Mum.  Maybe you could come back?"

Oh boy, could I!  Erik will be almost 20 months by then. So busy! So much fun!

But next time in Saskatoon, some help would be nice.  It would be good to have someone to assist with the stroller.  Someone with block-tower experience, and good knees.  Someone who needs to rev up his retirement.

It is time to hook Bruce on Toddler Time. 



Wednesday, 26 March 2014

#368: Knit Wits

For three years my mother lived in the Dementia Unit of the very retirement home where I volunteer. That floor is now known as Memory Care, but I am not fooled by the softer overtones of this more benign term.  Memory loss, whatever you call it, terrifies me.  I started to read Still Alice and couldn't finish it; I will probably never see the movie Away From Her.

But that doesn't mean that I wasn't interested yesterday when 84-year old Hetty, one of my dear, spunky retirement home readers, told me that she had been tested for Alzheimer's.


I asked her about it and she proceeded to describe the battery of tasks and questions used to detect the disease:  draw a clock face that shows 10 minutes to 11; give today's date, month and year; give your age and birth date; count back from 100 by 7s; recall the three items named earlier....

Surely someone who can itemize the details of a test for Alzheimer's passed it.  I wondered why they bothered to test Hetty in the first place.  We speculated that every resident was being tested.  I had just come from another part of the building where everyone who used a scooter was being given a driver's test.  Perhaps it is the "screening season".

However, thanks to Hetty, if I ever get screened I will know what to expect and I will be prepared. I can start right now practicing subtraction by 7's.  Math was never my best subject.

But it might be more to the point if I just kept on with a new knitting project. 

It appears that knitting  (or any kind of crafting or creative pursuit) is faaabulous for the brain. A recent item from CNN Health  enthuses about its extraordinary benefits. It is relaxing, it stimulates neural activity, and releases dopamine. The zen state that accompanies a period of intense concentration while we figure out a tricky pattern is as good as meditation.  Don't knock us knitting grannies.  We are doing more than making mittens. We are engaged in dementia prevention and enjoying a perfectly legal knitter's high.

Hetty has always been a knitter.  Last winter she made so many frilly scarves that she got sick of them. 

Lacy Layered Fashion Scarf, Knitted Lacy Scarf, Frilly Knitted Fashion Scarf
One frilly scarf = lots of new neurons + great satisfaction

She passed the Alzheimer's test, of course. "With flying colours!" she assured me.

I never doubted it.  I'm sure all that knitting gave her an edge.


Sunday, 2 March 2014

#367: Stepping Out with Fitbit

10,000 is a number to be reckoned with -- the steps we should all be walking every day in order to stay fit and stave off slug-dom.   And now, from the fitness front comes the urgent message that sitting is very, very bad for our health.  Sit less and move more!  Walk those 10,000 steps throughout the day or risk early death.   

But I am here to tell you that it is easier said than done, especially in the middle of a long, super-cold winter when the winds howl and the sidewalks are like poorly maintained skating rinks.  Besides, Canadians just know it is counter-intuitive to go walking in a blizzard unless you have roped yourself to the front door.

Nevertheless, back in January the combined onslaught of the Worst-Winter-Since-Dear-Knows-When and my 70th Birthday made me think long and hard about the importance of exercise.  Because even though I would much prefer to sit out the storm in front of the fire with a cup of tea and a book ( and the older I get, the more appealing it seems), I know that is The Way of the Slug.

I needed help. Enter Fitbit.

I first heard about this item of wearable technology when my friend Judy gushed enthusiastically about hers.   According to Judy her Fitbit kept track of everything she did, counted calories, and monitored sleep patterns. It encouraged her.  It rewarded effort. It was like a new BFF who understood her perfectly. She would never ever break it off.  It was love at first bit.

I was enchanted. I wanted to feel the love too, so with that birthday looming, I made my wishes known.  I wanted a Fitbit of my very own.

Bruce, the gift-giver, was less enthusiastic  "It is just a fancy pedometer", he argued.  Do you really need it? You can tell when you've had enough exercise."

He had a point  But I was sure the Fitbit would be much more.  It would be a fitness buddy,  tracking more activity than a mere pedometer, and it would report on calories and sleep.  (How many times did I wake at night, anyway?)  It would constantly update my performance online, estimating the intensity of my activity -- all the while counting steps.  I had already decided to set my goal at the magic number, 10,000.  But best of all, my Fitbit would be my personal cheerleader, exhorting to me to greater effort if I needed a push, and sending congratulations when my target was reached or exceeded.

Then my birthday arrived...


Oh joy, a Fitbit!!! Just what I wanted! How did you know?


That was six weeks ago, and since then my Fitbit Flex and I have been joined at the wrist.  As I get to know my new pal, however,  I feel like phoning Judy and asking her if she is still on her Fitbit honeymoon. Because as the days go by,  I am no longer quite so infatuated. I have never explored the world of online dating, but I suspect that what I am now experiencing with Flex Fitbit is not unlike what other women discover when it turns out that "loves music" actually means "loves heavy metal".  It takes time to really know a new suitor, and they may not be exactly as advertised.

As I learn the truth about Fitbit, I realize that it offers both more (and less) than I require.  The calorie counting and sleep tracking functions that seemed so seductive?   I don't really need them.

And Fitbit is not quite as good-looking as I had hoped.  The rubbery wrist-band has all the appeal of a throwaway watch strap, and it is almost impossible to fasten.  First I blamed my 70-year old fingers until I checked online and discovered lots of other whiners.  No wonder we never take the Flex off. We know what a misery it is to put back on.  

But my biggest complaint is that Fitbit and I do not quite agree on the interpretation of "activity".  Activity, for me, casts a very wide net and includes energy-expending tasks such as cooking, dusting and ironing, whereas housework appears not to register much at all for Fitbit unless it involves walking or at least moving the lower extremities.  Walking over to the oven?  Good.  Chopping and peeling 4 carrots?  Not good.  Cleaning toilets?  Don't ask. If it were summertime, I know I would get credit for cutting the grass but not for weeding.  It is possible to add specific "activities" to one's profile each day, so I had hoped to find a place for miscellaneous chores like folding laundry or preparing dinner, but the only permitted activities are swimming, cycling, walking and running. In fact, all Fitbit's preferences seem somehow very masculine.  No wonder I think of him as Mr. Fitbit.

I appear to be in a relationship with a fitness freak and he is not too happy with me unless I play the game his way.

But when I do, he gets very excited.  HOORAY! he exclaims from a big lime-green happy face on the Fitbit Dashboard when I hit the 10,000 step mark. (I can't help but feel extraodinarily pleased at this outcome, and if it occurs early in the evening, I celebrate by plunking down in front of the TV for the duration.)  Fitbit encourages in other ways, too.  If I am close to the target, he sends reminders to my Google tablet: Nancy -- only 2,245 steps to reach your goal!  Bruce interprets this exhortation as harassment. He tells me to change my goal.  "It would stop doing that, you know, if you had a target of 7,000 steps".   What I am more likely to do is head for the treadmill or the exercise bike in the basement.  2,000 steps is not really so much.

And some days, it actually isn't too hard to keep moving in a Fitbit-approved way.  A morning of grocery shopping, combined with an afternoon delivering books to my 15 retirement home readers is a 10,000-step day for sure.   I think I am also acquiring better 10,000-step habits. When the phone rings now, I do not automatically grab a cup of tea and head for the couch.  I walk and talk.  I can log 1,000 steps easily that way.  And I no longer chafe if life gets in the way of completing a task efficiently.  No place to park the car near the retirement home?   I'll have to walk further!  Yeah!  Did I discover at the checkout that I forget the milk?  Well thank goodness it is several aisles away because there and back to the dairy case is at least 250 steps.

And so on.

We are finding our way, Fitbit and I.  I haven't given him his walking papers yet, but I still wish he were more responsive.  Doesn't he know that schlepping the heavy vacuum up and down the stairs requires more than light effort? That knitting expends energy?  There is so much I'd like to teach him, but I'm not sure he'd get it. As in so many relationships, I may have to be one to compromise.  Perhaps I can learn to walk and peel carrots at the same time...  



Friday, 7 February 2014

#366: Slopestyle, Double Slalom and Extreme Driveway

The Winter Olympics begin today, and Canada has golden hopes.

Why are are we soooo confident?  Because We Are Winter.  At least that is what our Olympic promos promise.

And this winter, one of the coldest and snowiest in years, I feel very winterized indeed.  I am Winter,  I told myself this week as I pumped myself up to shovel yet another driveway. I am Canadian, I live to shovel snow!
6 ft of snow -- Our own little hill, big enough to slide down.   

In fact, as I cleared a path to the garage again, I briefly considered shovelling as a new Olympic event. Surely those 12 cool and exciting new categories with their extreme snowy gymnastics (designed to attract younger viewers) should be balanced by a more sedate sport, one that would appeal to an older demographic: Olympic Shovelling. Think of the possibilities:  Solo Sidewalk, Team Driveway, Moguls (or whatever you call that snowpile at the bottom of the driveway after the plow goes down the street).  Synchro Shovelling!  The challenges are endless.

And how to judge a gold medal performance?  Easy. It is all about technique -- the art of propelling one shovelful after another onto a growing mound.  Speed and distance count.  Neatness counts. A tidy, cleared driveway is a thing of beauty.

The students across the street know nothing about shovelling.  We have helped them dig out this truck. 

Canada could totally dominate this new sport because We Know Snow.  We know the variety of snow that lands on driveways and paths, and the shovelling techniques required:  feathery, fluffy snow that is a snap to shovel;  gritty, sandy snow that packs down in 5 minutes unless you remove it immediately; heavy wet snow, one step removed from slush. And wet snow that freezes hard?  Wise shovellers get to work before the cold snap.  But whatever sort of snow awaits, it is all made so much worse by the arrival of the dreaded plow,  Every man, woman and child with a house and driveway knows the sinking feeling that accompanies the announcement:  "Here comes the snowplow!"  Gaaaagh.   Out come the array of shovelling tools -- pushers, scoopers and choppers. No-one is going anywhere by car until that heaped-up ridge is removed.    

But would Canadians embrace Olympic Snow Shovelling?  Of course!  Snow removal is a trending topic in February when its challenges are always top-of-mind.  Arrive at any winter gathering where there are two or more adults and you will be subjected to at least 10 minutes conversation about snow clearance. Everyone has a snow removal story.  Since we have all been shovelling since November here in Southern Ontario, the current theme is a reflection on space: Where do we put the @%&* snow??  We are running out of room and everyone is contemplating the implications of sneaking surplus snow onto a neighbour's property. Would they notice?  Would we be caught?

As far as I can see, there is only one problem that might stand in the way of introducing this new snow sport, and it could be a deal-breaker.  It would be hard to put together a team.  We may know all about shovelling, but we do not practice the way we used to.  Kids no longer trawl the neighbourhood packing shovels looking for work.  And their dads are whizzing up and down driveways and sidewalks with new-fangled snow blowers. The best and most experienced snow shovellers are retirees--like me.  But when we start a job, we are in no hurry to finish.  We shovel, we chip away at the mogul, we wander across the street to talk to our shovelling (retired) neighbour.  We take a tea break. Unless there is a pressing appointment, this task doesn't really need to get done until supper time.  Watching a team of shovelling retirees would be like watching cricket. Spectators could have to plant their lawn chairs in a nearby snow bank and sip hot cocoa for 10 hours.

But most importantly, it must be accepted (reluctantly), that the greatest impediment to Olympic  Snow Removal is this: Canadians do not actually enjoy snow shovelling.  A trip to Sochi to shovel for the nation?  Forget it. Yes, we have the skills and the experience.  But the best that can be said for shovelling is that it is good exercise -- if you like to work out at 30 below.

We hate to shovel. And by mid- February after a Polar Vortex Winter?  Who am I trying to kid?  We LOATHE shovelling.  And that's the truth.

But we do love to talk about it.        


Sunday, 26 January 2014

#365: Learning from Loss

Last week was hard.

This past Wednesday, we lost Bruce's colleague Gerald Adams to pancreatic cancer.  We had been blindsided when we learned of his illness because, of course, we knew the outcome.  Such a diagnosis was not one that could be argued with or negotiated. Gerald did have wonderful hospice care and an amazing, supportive, loving family so in that sense, I suppose, he died a "good" if inevitable death.  But it is all so sad. He was such a lovely man.

Then on Friday we attended the funeral of Janet Wardlaw -- Bruce's former dean (and, incidentally, the first female dean at the U of G).   For the last 15 years she was also our regular companion at the Kitchener Waterloo Symphony.

When I learned that Janet was in the hospital as the result of a fall at Christmas, I was aghast. I did argue. Janet couldn't possibly fall!  How could that happen? (I have to admit that I felt somewhat betrayed.  Janet, how could you?  And I am not alone-- others have sheepishly confessed to having the same initial reaction.)

Because Janet really did seem invincible. She was a role model for her younger friends; we all wanted to be just like her, perpetually youthful and active.   She went swimming several times a week.  She walked downtown. She was so fit that I never once thought to suggest that we take the elevator to our second-balcony symphony seats!  She kept her brain fit playing Bridge and Scrabble and serving on many committees where her intelligence and administrative skills were highly valued.  An international traveller, she always seemed to be going to the States to see former students and colleagues, or to Europe with tour groups from her church.  Even last September as the symphony season recommenced, we asked the usual question, "Janet where did you go this summer?" She told us that she hadn't intended to go away, but that friends or family had talked her into this or that adventure. Friends were always asking her to go along on trips because she was the best possible company -- agreeable, upbeat, curious, and energetic. She was also very sensible, even pragmatic.  Perhaps she developed this habit as a single woman, although I prefer to think that decisiveness was in her nature.  Nevertheless, it was a lesson to us all when, at 80, she sold her beautiful two-storey stone house with its lovely garden and moved into a nearby condo.  Physically she had no need to move and she admitted it.  But she had decided that it was time.  "Less bother eventually for my nieces and nephews" is how she explained it."

When I read Janet's obituary I learned even more about this remarkable woman, including her actual age. I came across the phrase, "Janet Wardlaw in her 90th year..."  . 


A few months ago I had a conversation about death and age with "Hetty" one of my retirement home readers.   Hetty has had a bad year -- two bouts of cancer along with the usual surgeries and radiation. Just as she was between procedures, I visited her and remarked on a bouquet of her favourite yellow roses.  The blooms looked a little droopy, but they had been very pretty when fresh. "Well, Nancy", she observed, "that is the way of the world.  Flowers die.  Old ladies die."  She wasn't being gloomy -- she was telling it like it is because she wasn't really sure I had it all figured out. Hetty knows me so well.

 Janet, how could you?    

But I think I now understand my astonished reaction to Janet's death.  I just never thought of her as OLD.

Of course, Hetty was right.  "Old ladies" of 89 do die, but if they are like Janet they will be well and healthy right up to the finish line.

Janet, forgive me. In your 90th year, you betrayed no-one.  Ever the educator, you were still teaching us about life--and death--even as you left us.  And we won't forget.