Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Reflections for a Retiring Friend






Where will the road lead?

One of my close friends is not returning to school this September. After years of teaching young children, she is beginning her retirement. My friend raised three children mostly on her own, attended university, earned her degree and maintained very high standards of caring and of instruction in her classroom. My friend ran, swam, gardened and quilted as well. For the last year, she has been providing almost daily care and companionship to her father.




reading visit to school library in Mexico (reading journals)
This September, it is 6 years since I retired as a teacher-librarian. I enjoyed my job with its opportunities to share books with young people and to participate in a learning environment.
Since retirement, I have discovered which aspects of my profession were an important part of me.
I am a learner even more than a teacher. I love to read about and discuss new ideas. Study at home and in France and Mexico has given me chances to learn in different cultural environments.


Coupeville with Mum


Both of my parents were able to attend my retirement in June 2011. My father's heart condition worsened and by November of that year, my dad was in our local hospital. My mum and I took turns
most days helping to feed dad. My sibling were able to visit but they were still employed. Dad went into Extended Care in December of that year. My mother had never lived alone and was now facing a half hour drive to the hospital most days. I accompanied her often and we began the custom of lunching in restaurants. My mother and I have never eaten so many lunches together. Now that my father is gone, my mother and I visit at least once a week. We go to church together and then to a local golf course for lunch. I treasure our time (mostly) since all things and all people pass.



A new aspect to my life is church attendance. I'm not certain what I believe but I am interested in theology and I enjoy the reflections (used to be sermons), music and fellowship. As I grow older


and think more about impermanence, I start to question attachments (to possessions, people, experiences or ideas).  Aspiration and striving are less important. Monsieur Là-Bas has been practising the Turn, Turn, Turn song and I have been considering the message. There is a time for everything and then that time is over.

I do enjoy literary activities.

Today my friend spoke to young grandchildren returning to school, discussed a New York Times editorial with me, will register to attend the Writers' Festival in October and will walk with another retired friend. Other years, she would be meeting new children and their parents, preparing a classroom and attending a staff meeting. I welcome her to the next chapter!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Summer Garden Stories

a theme for summer reading
This summer, I have been working to create small gardens around the parking lots in our apartment complex. Our complex is comprised of several acres with many large fir trees, rhododendrons, and hydrangea bushes. The landscapers are busy cutting lawns, trimming bushes and replacing retaining walls so much of the smaller areas have been neglected.


early garden picture
I am trying to create different garden vignettes in my areas using mostly perennials and
inexpensive annuals. Our complex used to win prizes for the gardens but so many of older people 
are unable to carry on gardening and structural repairs to the buildings have curtailed the budget for the gardeners. I have been buying my own plants and hope to be able to divide them in the spring. We have a green house on the property so seeds are another possibility.

It is amazing how the simple activity of gardening has created a greater sense of community in the
complex. Strangers stop to speak to me as I work. After the disappearance of some plants that I had purchased, an anonymous neighbour left some money under my door. He/she wanted to help to replace the missing plants.

When I worked as a teacher-librarian, my favourite story was Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. I even did a presentation on "the library as a garden" for one of my Library Education classes. Think of the library as a place where there is a book to be "picked" by everyone or a quiet place to be enjoyed by all.

The days are getting noticeably shorter now and the hollyhock flowers have mostly dropped but the sedums are turning red and I planted some hardy chrysanthemums to welcome the cooler weather.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

On the Road with Husband and Hound

Tilde and trophies in the doggy yard
At least once a year, my husband and I travel to the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. For the last two years, we have travelled with our mini-dachshund Tilde. We have taken Tilde to Dachshunds on Parade in Ellensburg, Washington.

Dachshunds on Parade is a  sports day for dogs. Not a serious dog show but a chance to meet other dachshunds and their owners. There are costume parades, dog trick contests and fun races. Tilde loves to play soccer and she is a very fast runner. This year, she won a first place trophy for soccer and a second in the running race.
The Paws a While Pet Suites
I have been researching dog-friendly travel. I found Paws a While Pet Suites on a website called bringfido.com. The suites include a unit with a doggie door and a fenced yard, dog treats, a dog wash and a special dog sofa.


wild flowers
We like to stop every hour and a half when we travel with Tilde. Monsieur plays ball and I wander about looking at the various wild flowers blooming at these high altitudes.
taking time
It seems important to take time on a road trip. To notice the flowers, to play with the dog....
Often when Monsieur and I are together, we are busy with our separate interests but our little dog seems to be an interest that we share.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Ageless Pursuits, Pollinators and a Visit

a sunny day on campus
For the last few years, in the month of June, Monsieur and I go back to school. For me, I really have hardly left because I was a student, a parent, a teacher and then a retired student of French, Spanish...
The University of British Columbia, which we both attended many years ago, offers a programme called Ageless Pursuits.

The programme is comprised of short non-credit courses on many different topics. The instructors
are members of different faculties and the offerings are diverse. This week, Monsieur and I learned
about the history of rock music and about tyranny, Trump and Plato's Republic. 

The Department of Continuing Studies is facing financial cutbacks this year. I hope that these programmes are not affected. Adults over 65 can often audit university courses at no cost throughout the year but these classes are especially designed to be of interest to older adults.

salvia with bees
I really enjoy the live photo function of my iPhone. You're not able to see all the buzzing bees in this
salvia but it is alive with pollinators. I've been taking bee pictures because Monsieur and I have now
adopted three parking lot gardens in the hope of creating perennial gardens to attract bees and butterflies. Many of the residents of our complex are too old to dig gardens so M. has become the 
"go to man" for that and I like to play with colour so planting and tending are my preferences. 
The gardens at the University are being left more wild so I had plenty of opportunities to see bees and butterflies.
a musical visit
My husband and his friend of many years sing for the residents of the Purdy Extended Care facility at the University. My father lived here for the last year of his life. Dad enjoyed the Friday pub afternoon when Brian (Monsieur) and his friend entertained. Yesterday, I dropped in. The residents have changed but the songs and the smiles are the same. Some of the staff remembered my dad. It is near
Father's Day and his early July birthday that I miss him the most.


my dad
Going back to university, visiting Purdy Pavilion, gardening plans...There are other fun things to do during our Ageless Pursuit time:eating lunch in restaurants and browsing my favourite 10th Avenue shops. That's for another blog!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Home Again, Again....

Lupines are blooming.
I've been home two weeks now. Fortunately, the weather has been bright and sunny. After three months of vivid blue skies and brilliant trees and bushes, I'm enjoying our West Coast late spring.
May flowers are my favourites. I love the blues and purples of lupines and lilacs. The extravagant blooms of the peonies...
one of our peonies
Reading groups are still in session. I just finished Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, whose family left a mining community in Kentucky to work in the factories of Ohio. The family migrated with the "hillbilly" values and family structure of their Appalachian home. Vance describes the struggles and disappointments experienced by many of his family:broken relationships, alcoholism and drug addiction while stressing that there were other family members who made different life choices and made a successful transition to a more prosperous middle class life.

I've just started a novel, The Midwife of Hope River by Patricia Harman. Coincidentally, it is also set in Appalachia. It was recommended by Leslie at The Hostess of the Humble Bungalow whose taste in books is similar to mine. I'm sure that I will enjoy it.

Monsieur and I have been volunteer gardeners in our apartment complex. Our apartment is situated
on acres of grounds which are mostly maintained by a professional gardening service but individual areas can be adapted. We buy our own plants and try to create bright and original spaces. As I work in the parking lot, unfamiliar neighbours stop and speak to me. Parking lot gardening may be a way of building neighbourhood connections.

I miss Oaxaca. I miss walking outside my gate and seeing such colour and diversity. We are quite car dependent in my neighbourhood but I have been walking and visiting with friends at our local coffee shop. Our nights are quiet without fireworks, dogs, music and....  At home,we leave the neighbourhood for our entertainment so our evenings are silent.  I miss the sound of the accordion beggar lady with her niños. I always gave her a few pesos. As I have few travel plans for a while, I shall continue to search for and appreciate colour in my local neighbourhood.




I miss the colours of the huipiles sold just down the street.




Friday, May 12, 2017

A Visit to the Livestock Market

oxen for sale
Today, I visited the Zachila livestock market with my Spanish teacher, Luis. We took an early bus to the zocalo and travelled about 30 minutes to a more rural town. Chickens, goats, pigs and oxen were for sale.
a Pair of Oaxacan tractors
The farmers of the Oaxaca valleys do not have modern equipment. The land is dry and poor for feeding animals. It costs thousands of pesos to buy a pair of oxen.


wooden farm equipment

It was interesting for me to visit the mercado. I had not realized that to own an animal was a source of relative prosperity to a Oaxacan family. A few years ago, a teacher with whom I was working introduced me to Heifer International. A lucky niece received a card for Christmas saying that she had given a goat to some lucky girl.

Heifer International supplies chickens, pigs and oxen to Oaxaqueño recipients. Until I did a bit of research, I did not know that Heifer International has a office just a couple of blocks from where I am living. It's too late now for me to visit them but maybe next year.
a few pigs
I'm almost ready to leave Oaxaca. It's been a different sort of a vacation. A doctor visit with Janet,
cucarachas, meeting many fascinating people, wearing fewer than 33 items of clothing in almost 3 months, Spanish lessons and library work....I have learned about life challenges, politics and education from Luis and I have taught him a little about Canada and Shetland. More than Spanish lessons, I have had an opportunity to discuss in Spanish. I still may have a problem with the imperfect and past perfect subjunctive but I've learned a lot. Luis had me watch some short films on Youtube. Guan Jondred Dolars tells the story well.



Friday, May 5, 2017

Week Nine

el estudio rosa

For eight weeks, I have been living in the pink studio in Oaxaca. My living quarters are slightly smaller than my bedroom at home. My kitchen, at the other end of the courtyard, consists of a hotplate, a microwave and a refrigerator. We are at the end of four months of dry weather and water is scarce. In just over a week, I will be back to the West Coast of Canada where hopefully the May sun will be shining.
This work is done by men with mallets and shovels.
There is no significant rainfall in Oaxaca from October until May. There are two ways to obtain household water: by truck delivery or by the city water system which is very old. There used to an aqueduct system but it has fallen into disrepair. The water sources have been contaminated long ago due to lack of environmental protection and climate change has meant longer dry periods with occasional flash floods. I buy bottled drinking water but there is no recycling program for the plastic.
In Oaxaca, drinking water, sewage and garbage services have been neglected while the city's population continues to grow.

my last resort
Eight weeks ago, when I arrived with my long-departed friend, Janet, the plan was for Janet to sleep on a cot or inflatable mattress because I had booked solo accommodation a year earlier. Not to be! The first night, Janet discovered cucarachas under the desk and in the bathroom. Janet moved up into the bed for the rest of her visit.

I have not been bothered too much by my insect room-mates except for one night last week when I was sure that someone had broken into my studio and was rustling through my papers. What to do? A friend had told me of a home invasion where one of the library volunteers was tied up in a closet...Okay, don't let your mind....I turned on my bedside light to see that a cucaracha  fiesta was going on under the desk. I grabbed the  spray bottle of soapy water that Janet concocted and started to spray. You have to be careful because the soap makes the tile floor slippery. They scurried.

In my travels, I visited a store of natural Oaxacan products. Featured near the entrance of the store, was a display of natural cockroach killer. I really don't even like the name in English. I talked to the ladies in the store about my needs and I purchased the product. Home I went and sprayed behind the toilet, around the shower drain and under the desk. The concoction smells of rancid chicken fat. I've tried to locate the ingredients online but the webpage just says that it is made of all biological ingredients.  Fortunately, I have seen no cockroaches either dead or alive.

Sometimes, I feel lonely in Oaxaca. I have a schedule of library (Monday-Wednesday-Friday ) volunteer days and Tuesday-Thursday Spanish classes. I always find books to read, Netlix or iTunes
movies and friendly restaurant servers. There are two other American women living full-time in my compound. They work online but we share a glass of wine or a hello from time to time. I don't know them well but I wonder what it would be like living here year-round.

I have lived 9 weeks with a very small wardrobe. I launder t-shirts and underwear and take my linen
pants and tunics to the lavandería. The laundress is very friendly and my clothes are clean and pressed.

Am I glad to go home? I miss family and friends but What's App makes communication easy. The weather in Vancouver has been relentlessly grey since I left home (a bit brighter this week) and in Oaxaca, almost all of my time is spent outside. I am eager to cook a meal, plant a spring garden and to go to book club and to church.




Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Looking Around

the palm sellers
On Sundays, in Oaxaca, there's lots of activity. It's not a window-shopping city like Paris but it  is interesting to visit the Zocalo. This Sunday was Palm Sunday (Ramos) so the people were creating all sorts of palm decorations to be sold for Semana Santa (Holy Week).

busy fingers
There will be many processions and decorations this week. Tonight, the reliquaries from seven
churches will be paraded through the streets. There are a lot of free organ concerts as well.
I'm not accustomed to this kind of pageantry but it does make the city colourful.
Big Boy
If religious parades are not your thing, the art scene in Oaxaca is vibrant and free. There used to be flying tortillas in this  open space gallery and now there is a giant sculpture. Each day, I see something new.

This cactus blooms for only one day.
One morning, I came out to my patio to see a giant blossom on a very small nondescript cactus
The next day, it was gone.
Disappeared!
Life in Oaxaca is rich in art, music and food! The shortage of water is troubling and the smell of the tap water (sulphurous) is sometimes off putting in my little studio. I love the blue skies and pleasant temperatures but I am not crazy about Carlos the Cockroach or the spiderwebs full of mosquitoes that hang from the ceiling.

Garbage is a real problem here because I am personally responsible for getting rid of any garbage that I create. Toilet paper can't be flushed and must be bagged. All garbage is picked up ( if you put a sign out ) by men with push carts and brooms. You give the men a few pesos and they take the garbage somewhere!!!
Our garbage man's name is Pepe and we hang a sign over the gate. He rings the bell to come in and takes away the garbage.
If you can't wait in for the passing-by of Pepe, you are obliged to carry your bag of garbage with you and to approach another garbage man on the street. I would not like to carry a double-bagged bag of
personal garbage too far.

I'm getting a bit tired of my blue/beige wardrobe but it is practical and I might try to  keep up the routine when I get home I have two pair of sand-coloured linen pants with linen tops, two pair of khaki capris, a beige tencel skirt and blue and white t-shirts. I have a blue cardigan and a blue pullover. Even without a washer or ironing board, I manage by taking clothing to the lavandería
(laundry) infrequently. It's not humid here and I change out of my street clothes as early as possible.
The streets are treacherous with high curbs and uneven sidewalks so I have been wearing my blue
SAS mary-jane shoes almost every day. I'll probably need to replace them when I get home. I brought another pair of blue/silver loafers but they just are not as comfortable as the SAS shoes.

Today, as my Spanish class was cancelled, I am planning to read, write, sketch (perhaps) and go out a
bit later for comida.  I only eat two meals a day and I alternate salad with chicken or seafood with a Mexican style meal.


grilled white fish with spinach and pureed yam

As I enter my seventh week, I get a  little homesick. The bulbs that I planted in the fall are blooming at home. My husband sends me pictures of our little dog. But as I look at the blue sky above me as I sit outside writing, I really don't miss the Vancouver weather.



Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Book for International Women's Day

Whenever I travel to  a different country, I enjoy reading about the culture and the issues of that area.
In Oaxaca, I have especially rich resources as there is a wonderful English-language bookstore and the Oaxaca Lending Library. Each year, I buy at couple of books at Amate and then I donate them to the library or leave them for  other tenants of my apartments.

I just finished Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement, a Mexico City author who won a humanitarian award for the novel.


my favourite bookstore

Ladydi, a young Guerrero girl lives in a village of women. The men have all left for the North and the young girls are stolen to be trafficked by the drug cartels. Once a girl reaches 11 years of age, she must be "made ugly" or hidden to avoid kidnapping.

In Mexico, as in many countries of the world, women are stolen and forced to work in factories or brothels. They are moved across international boundaries and make up a "hidden world of women".
The girls in Ladydi's village are hidden in holes dug in the cornfields.

Certainly, on International Women's Day, as I sit on my patio in this beautiful city, I am reminded that there are so many women in the world who are not as fortunate as I am.

women weaving
How appropriate! I hear the loudspeaker from the square. A woman speaking about what it means to be a woman in the state of Oaxaca.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Art is Free for All!

on the way to the kitchen
Art is available to all in the city of Oaxaca. Janet and I are staying in the Tierra del Sol Apartments, a gated compound of pretty pink stucco buildings. We have a central walkway and each of the units has its own private patio. The residents, from Washington, Oregon, Massachusetts, and California, live here either for the the winter months or year round. They rent their large apartments on a yearly basis and are able to decorate them and to upgrade them as they wish. They have security and they are able to leave belongings in the unit. As a new monthly renter, I have a small studio apartment. Our landlady is a potter so we have art throughout our complex.
outside our gate
When we walk outside our gate, there is an interesting carved tree. Yesterday, we had a short outing
and I captured an art installation of "flying tortilla faces" with the "live" feature on my iPhone.
an international collaboration
tortilla faces 
Every Sunday, I like to visit the ex-convent of San Pablo to listen to music or to take in a free exhibition. This week there was a photography exhibition of typical chocolate drinks of Oaxaca State.
chocolate drinks in Oaxaca
The San Pablo complex provides a serene spot in the city with children's reading centre, a cloister with a restored altar, coffee house, music and a Lebanese restaurant. Next door is the Textile Museum where the present exhibition features representation of human form in weaving.
all of the dyes are from natural sources

Sunday is an especially quiet day in Oaxaca de Juarez. There are few cars and stores don't open in the morning. Church bells ring and the State Band plays in the square. Music, art and sunshine...free for all! Who could ask for more?



Saturday, March 4, 2017

Back to Mexico!

the eagle and the snake
It's now a week since my friend, Janet and I left Vancouver for Mexico City.  We've been hearing from friends and family about snow at home so we are feeling fortunate indeed. This is the first time
that Janet has visited Mexico so it has been quite an adventure.

We arrived in Mexico City early Saturday morning and after passing the night at the Marriott Hotel at the airport, we took a taxi to our hotel on the Zocalo of Mexico City. The square is the third largest in the world after Tianamen Square and Red Square. Travelling in Mexico is a wonderful experience because every person in the hospitality industry that we have met has helped us enormously. The bellmen rolled our suitcases for two or three blocks to get us a taxi. It is very difficult for cabs or
town cars to stop on the Zocalo.
view from our hotel
One night, when we were staying in Mexico City, we heard a lot of activity in the square. When we looked in the morning, a fería (fair) of local products had appeared. We thoroughly enjoyed tasting local foods and Janet had an opportunity to see native handicrafts. We did not buy anything because Oaxaca is the state of artisans.

our new studio apartment
Tuesday, we flew to Oaxaca. Once again, I have a studio apartment which is a little cozy with a visitor. The landlady, who is an American married to a Mexican, kindly provided an inflatable mattress for Janet. However, as Janet was making her bed up (on the floor), she noticed Carlos the Cockroach. Assured by me, who was sleeping in a bed, that "it was all part of the adventure" and "we're in the tropics after all", Janet bravely slept on her new bed. The next evening, a cockroach scurried from behind the mattress. We decided to share the queen bed and concocted a dish soap
and water insecticide. 



the Ethnobotanic Garden

We are living in central Oaxaca de Juarez, this year. The Ethnobotanic Garden is located nearby. 
I have visited this garden many times. The guide, Carol, a retired anthropology professor has been leading the tour for 16 years and is knowledgeable about the endemic plants of Oaxaca. 

pottery in the courtyard

Our compound is inhabited by a number of snowbirds and ex-pat people who have provided us with lots of practical information. Our landlady is a potter so our common areas are decorated with her works and with a selection of cacti. Tomorrow, we are going to have a get-together. 

This is the first time that my friend has visited Oaxaca so we are spending our time visiting some of the churches, markets and galleries of the city.





Friday, February 3, 2017

Women Talk

book club selection for this month

I facilitate a Seniors' Book Club in a local community centre. The members are women aged 65 to 90+ years of age. We are single, widowed and married; Welsh, English, Indian, Iranian and Canadian born. I started as a volunteer group leader about a year ago. I am amazed at how these women have bonded and how they so openly share their experiences and feelings. They meet outside of the group, share meals and visit other members who are ill.

The members do not always enjoy the books that they have chosen from the available bookclub sets at the library. But they always talk...

This month, we discussed  Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala, a memoir written by a survivor of the 2004 Sri Lanka tsunami. Deraniyagala lost her parents, husband and children in the disaster.  Wave dealt with her emotional state for the 11 years after the tsunami.  My group members found the book "too negative" and upsetting to finish reading but it did inspire an interesting discussion of women's roles.

One of my older Indian widows shared that she was much "freer" now that her husband was gone. She enjoys swimming, fitness classes and the seniors' centre in a way that she could not imagine when she was a wife. We talked about mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relations in different cultures. We talked about single adult children, long-distance parent/adult child relationships and the absence of grandchildren.

The book club is an example of women from a variety of cultural backgrounds having an opportunity
to talk about books but, more importantly, to feel empowered to speak openly about their own experiences and feelings. When we speak with others, we develop the understanding and compassion
needed to survive in troubled times.