Leaving Paradise: Life challenges made easier

We’re off island as they say in Cayman. We’ve fled the Christmas and high season madness for six weeks to spend Christmas, not in the deep freeze of Canada, but in sunny Southern California. It’s not Cayman hot here, but we’re getting some very nice weather.

The thing about being here is that it’s so easy to go for a walk or even a hike. It’s not too hot and we won’t be hit by a car or attacked by dogs. There is also a pool. It’s quite a long pool, so swimming laps is that much easier. I can do 20-25 laps and get the same distance with fewer turns than I do at home doing 50-60 laps.

Unfortunately, it is the Christmas season, and I’m in full treat-making mode. We are also in close proximity to the best Mexican food outside of Mexico. In fact we are only about an hour away from Mexico, so we have Mexican food everywhere. Have I mentioned how difficult weight loss is when consuming Mexican food regularly, not to mention shortbread and tarts?

We also find alcohol much cheaper here, but fortunately that hasn’t yet affected our consumption. We’ve limited ourselves to wine with dinner and the occasional cocktail while the sun is going down.

My shoulder is much better and I feel energetic enough to do both a swim and a walk now. I think I can fit in some yoga and a strength circuit. I attempted push ups again for the first time in weeks, but I’m not there yet. Don’t pull your trapezoids  if you can help it! It’s painful and affects so much of your day to day life.

Yes, the challenge to eat healthy and lose weight is actually a much greater challenge here. The exercise part should be easy.

One thing we do have going for us is the abundance of fruits and vegetables. Everything is so fresh when it’s grown just a few miles away. We enjoy the local Farmers’ Market and stocking up on beans and greens and oranges and grapefruits picked yesterday. The market also has tamales. As I said, it’s a challenge!

Life challenge update: now what?

My father said to me the other day, when I finally remembered to call in the morning before his lunch, “This getting old is not for the faint of heart.” He is 26 years older than I am, but I know exactly what he’s talking about.

I felt great on Saturday morning, did a few extra lengths in my swim, did a 10 minute strength circuit later, and felt fine. We went out for the afternoon to check out the last of Pirate Week. It was really windy so it felt lovely to be out and about downtown. We stopped for food, talked to some tourists, and checked out the pirate ship. By the time we walked back to the car, my feet were sore. I didn’t think much of it, but later on at home, I really needed to put my feet up.

Later, in the evening, I was overcome by fatigue. I waited for the fireworks, which we were able to see from our place, but after that I was done. Even the lovely neighbourhood bonfire couldn’t tempt me.

I was in bed, sleeping, shortly after 9:30. For me that is unheard of! I am a night owl! Midnight has nothing on me! I slept for at least 10 hours.

You would think I’d wake up feeling refreshed, but no. I woke up feeling tired and sore. My shoulder was sore. Days later, my shoulder is still sore. Swimming seems to help, or maybe it’s just that the water numbs everything a little.

Here’s the thing: I’m afraid to get this checked out. Maybe I pulled something and this is only something temporary. At this stage of life, I’ve been discovering that the little aches and pains are a sign of something bigger. Apart from the fact that our insurance coverage for doctor visits has run out for the year, I’m just not ready to go for another x-ray and find out that yet another joint is defective. I’m afraid to find out that swimming is actually bad for it. What forms of exercise do I have left?

No, getting old is not for the faint of heart, but I’ll figure this out. My aches and pains are nothing compared to what my own parents have gone through and what many people live with every day. I still have so much left to do and to offer.

There’s just one thing bothering me and that’s the fact that too long at a keyboard also seems to bother my shoulder. I’ll have to find a way to improvise on the writing.


What it’s like to retire in paradise: part 2

Many people come to live and work here, but they generally have a short term plan. They are on a work permit. They are young and have other aspirations. Some of them stay here. They meet people and sometimes fall in love. Sometimes they leave together. Sometimes they have families, keep working and after a few years, have to leave for their rollover.

When you come here to retire, as we did, there is no work place to meet people. We have no intention of moving on, at least until our residency certificate runs out. We meet people; people our age who came here years ago and decided to stay, but who are still working, and young people who are here for a few years.

Some of the people we’ve met have become good friends. We enjoy socializing together and make a point of trying to see each other. Others I’ve become fond of, but we really only talk and socialize because of proximity. They are not here for a long time and I know we’ll miss them when they leave.  That’s the downside of life here. People leave. If people stay it’s because they already have an established social circle and community. Our building is a small community itself, so that anyone moving in or out changes the dynamic drastically.

I’ve become attached to some of the young people here, and they’ve made me appreciate my family even more than I already do. I worry about them sometimes. The lifestyle here can be very extreme for a young expat; long work hours and lots of drinking and partying outside of work. Some of our friends have found a more moderate path, some have not. The work doesn’t change. There are busy seasons in almost any field of work whether it’s accounting, the financial business, tourism or health care.

I’m happy to have met the people that I’ve met here. They are from England, Canada, the United States, Cayman, Bermuda and Costa Rica. People we meet in passing are from Jamaica, Honduras, South Africa and the Philippines.

The downside of retiring here is obviously the distance from family and old friends. Sure, we can visit them or they can visit us, but it’s not that easy. We make it to Canada a couple of times per year and it’s honestly a whirlwind. It can be a little stressful trying to see everyone. It’s expensive to fly here and it’s not convenient from Western Canada.

I miss our kids. Between their visits here and our visits there, we only see them every few months. We seldom have our whole family together. I can’t be there to give them hugs when they need it.

We would love to host Christmas, but our parents are beyond their travelling days and the trip here is a killer. I feel sad that they’ll never see where we live.

All that said, living here is very serene. Amid the turmoil of the political events in the world, we can sit on our deck and look out at the sea and it soothes the soul.



The dreaded day is near: caution, some gross stuff is mentioned

When you’re over 50, there are lots of things to be happy about. Being alive and healthy is one of them, but there are so many more, such as feeling confident in your own skin, having life experience and knowing what you want in life, having a sense of the bigger picture when things go wrong. There are some things that aren’t so great.

Last week, we were sitting on our deck, enjoying our breakfast. I was thinking about the week ahead and how much I was looking forward to it. Everything seemed to be falling into place. The kids are doing well. I’m on the last week of a medication I’ve been taking and I’ll be able to enjoy my wine again when it’s done. We’ve got tickets to a Broadway medley at the drama society on Thursday. I’m expecting a couple of good friends to visit while on their cruise next month.

The phone rang and  I was reminded of one of those things after 50 that isn’t so pleasant. You’re supposed to have a colonoscopy. I never thought about this until about a year before we left Canada. I went to see the doctor and got my referral, did my F.I.T (fecal immunochemical test) and waited. At that time in Calgary, people were waiting 3 years for their appointments. There was a queue jumping scandal, with whistle blowers and everything! I didn’t really expect to get in that soon.

My FIT was fine. I waited and over the course of a very stressful year which I may already have described, we packed up and/or gave away the contents of our twenty-one year life in our home, sold our house and moved out of the country. Not long after, I received the forwarded mail from Alberta Health telling me the date of my colonoscopy, which was months away. I had to cancel. I was no longer living in Alberta or covered by Alberta Health Care.

I saw my doctor here and she made another referral to the clinic in Cayman. The gastroenterologist comes to the island once a month. I waited. I made some trips. I had foot surgery. Several months had gone by. I finally called the clinic and they didn’t have my referral. Perhaps it was lost. I saw my doctor again and she submitted the referral again.

When the phone rang last week, it was the clinic calling with an appointment for me, this Thursday. Thursday! By the time I finish my medication, I’ll be on the preparation for the colonoscopy. I’ll have to miss the show at the drama society.

Right now, I’m doing something I’ve never done, follow a low fibre diet! Then I’m going to take something that will make me poop out everything. I’ll be “cleaned out” for the scope. Yuck! To me it’s ironic that I have to stop eating fibre, then take something to help me get “cleaned out”. The other irony is that a high fibre diet is preventive for colon cancer.

I can’t take Advil or aspirin or anything related. Since I’m still on medication, I also can’t take acetaminophen. This has been a challenge. Not only has my neck been sore lately, likely from the break from swimming during my recent cold, but my foot is sore. My foot which recently underwent surgery isn’t sore. It’s doing quite well, as it should 3 months post op. My other foot is sore.

So these are the things, the aches and pains and unpleasant procedures that come with being over 50. The sudden deaths of friends rather sucks, too, but that puts it all in perspective. I’m happy to be alive and relatively healthy.

Tomorrow, I’ll have breakfast then I’ll be on a clear fluid diet until after the colonoscopy. I’ve stocked up on Jello, ginger-ale, iced tea and coconut water. How fortunate for me that I’m doing my procedure here, so I can drink fresh coconut water.

The other benefit of having the procedure here is the preparation. I only have to drink a 5 ounce solution of Pico-Salax twice rather than the copious amounts of Colyte that is used in Canada. The hours spent in the bathroom are probably about the same. It makes me look forward to my next foot surgery.

Oh, and I’ll also have to wait a few more days before I can enjoy a glass of wine. I’ve only been on the low fibre diet for 2 days and I’m already craving a salad with nuts and seeds and fresh fruit, or a nice vegetable stir fry. This might cure me of my addiction to the baguettes that I have to buy just because they’re hot and fresh.

No matter how unpleasant this all is, most of my friends and family over 50 have gone through it. It could be worse. I could be forced to watch another presidential debate.






Challenge update: It’s a real challenge now!

Not only have I not been writing about my life challenge every week, but I’ve had more setbacks than I care to count.

At first I was doing great. I was getting toned and fit and I lost a few pounds. I could fit into some of my old clothes again. The first setback was being sick with the flu in the spring, then going to Canada for two weeks. I didn’t gain weight, but I had a set back in my fitness regime.

I was back into my regular activity, adding new challenges regularly, until my foot surgery. Major setback number two.

The recovery from surgery seemed endless. Even now I have twinges in my foot and it seems swollen at the end of the day. I can’t do all the exercises I had added to my routine.

Next came another trip to Canada. That one wasn’t too bad, because by then I could go for long walks and I could do a little exercise circuit in a small space, like in my parents tiny guest room or in a hotel room. I returned home feeling like I had made some progress since surgery, but it was time to get serious again. I had gained a couple of pounds back.

I started swimming again regularly, trying to increase my laps every day as my tolerance grew. I tried to add a workout or yoga every day. Things were going moderately well. Our daughter came to visit. She’s all about fitness, so I was able to mostly keep up with the swimming and yoga.

Now, I’m fighting a cold. This isn’t the every day “permacold” that I put down to allergies. That daily congestion that is actually relieved by a good swim. This is a wake up feeling fatigued, stuffed up and my throat feels tight kind of cold. This is a sinus headache, “I just want to read while lying outside on the anti-gravity lounger” kind of cold.

It’s a challenge, but that’s life. If you let every setback stop you, your goals will always seem unattainable. The thing is, I don’t have an end goal. My goal is to be fit and healthy and to find a routine that works towards that, and that I can live with. I think I’ve found it, but sometimes the challenge is to keep it going, even with the setbacks.

What’s it really like to retire in Paradise?

I originally started this blog to describe life in Paradise, the empty nest and retirement. I’ve tried to indirectly talk about our life here, but I’ve never really got down to the nitty gritty of what is really different. If we retired in Canada and spent our winters here and elsewhere, what would be the difference?

The most obvious thing that comes to mind is the people we’ve met because we live here full time. We have a sort of community, Caymanians, expats on work permits and expats with Caymanian status. We have our little “family” in our complex. If we lived in a condo in Canada we might meet our neighbours and hang out in a recreation room, but most likely we’d spend our social time with our friends and family. We might meet people in passing and know them by name, but it’s unlikely we’d have a regular weekend gathering, or get to know our neighbours as well as we do here. It’s not likely we’d all be adding each other on Facebook.

Here, we can almost guarantee that on the weekend our neighbours will be out by the pool. We can be as sociable as we want to be. We can join them for drinks or to cool off in the pool or just sit poolside and chat. We’ve come to know their drink preferences, their food preferences and whether or not they are having issues with immigration. We’ve met their visitors, sometimes even had more time to visit with them than their hosts. We know their friends, at least the ones who spend lots of time at our pool!

Another difference is that we’ve had to find all the professional services we would have continued to use in Canada, and we pay for them. We have on island, an optometrist, a dentist, a family doctor, a podiatrist, a physiotherapist and a hair stylist. We’ve shared drinks and meals with our optometrist. If we had maintained our Canadian residency, we would likely continue to see our former doctor, dentist, hair stylists (which I admit I still do in a pinch), physiotherapist and podiatrist.

We don’t eat out nearly as much as we did when we were visiting for shorter periods of time. We have a routine now, much like in Canada, where we have pizza every Friday. We have a well stocked pantry, a hurricane kit and our refrigerator is almost always full of beverages, condiments and produce, as well as assorted leftovers. We spend a lot of time shopping for food, preparing the food and cleaning up after eating the food.

We have had to become more patient about certain things. We don’t expect to run a dozen errands in a day if even one of them involves the government or a bank or anything that includes paperwork. We can accomplish a lot of grocery and wine shopping in a day, but paperwork moves on island time.  Long waits in immigration offices, banks and hospital admissions and/or billing areas are commonplace. Even doctors offices are much like those in Canada, and it’s a good idea to bring something to read while you wait.

Even beverage shopping takes a little longer, because we  like to chat with the people we’ve gotten to know over the past few years. We know about their families and if they are planning a trip somewhere soon.  We can tell if they are having an off day. It’s like a small town that way.

Power outages are not unusual. They aren’t common and they are more of an inconvenience than a disaster, but they do occur more regularly than they do in Canada. At those times it’s best to relax and try to stay cool and hope you’ve already had your coffee.

We feel less urgency to do things like snorkel or go for walks on the beach. The sea is always there, beckoning. We spend more time doing household chores because there is no one coming in to clean after we leave. I don’t have a helper or a kitchen fairy, so it’s all on us. We look forward to doing all those fun things when we have visitors. Oh, and we get resident rates!

We haven’t yet found a place to shop for clothing. We use our time off island to shop at vastly reduced prices compared to what is available here. I know there are clothing and shoe stores for the general population, located in small strip malls in random locations, but we haven’t been in to any of those.

The grocery stores all have their own advantages and disadvantages. It’s possible to buy almost anything here, except for Alberta extra aged Gouda from Sylvan star, but you have to know where to shop. Italian special cookies and crackers, imported cheeses at great prices, Kirk Market; fresh fish, Hurley’s or Foster’s in The Strand; bulk products, Cost U Less or Foster’s in West Bay. We know where the most convenient recycling depots are for the errands we have planned that day. If we’re going to a movie, we drop off our recycling in Camana Bay. If we’re getting groceries, we take the recycling to the bins outside the store. We’re still trying to remember which days the bins are not so full!

We know that if we want to see movies in the theatre, we need to see them within a week or two. Yes, we get first run movies, but they don’t stay long.  If we lived in Canada, we’d probably see the movies there or wait until they came out on dvd. No, we don’t watch stuff online if we can help it. The connections aren’t reliable enough and the power could cut out mid-movie, which would be frustrating. We still appreciate a big screen!

The biggest difference is the seasons. By the end of October we are looking forward to the end of hurricane season, while we watch friends posting photos of snow in Canada. It’s never cold here and it never snows. If I need long sleeves or long pants, it’s more for mosquito protection than for warmth. It is never too cold to go for a swim, no matter how cloudy or windy the weather. If we miss the cold or snow, we can simply plan a trip to Canada.


I’m Back! The joy of the rhythm of routines

My foot surgery and healing, as well as the Summer Olympics were the dominant themes of the summer for me. Hurricane season got a little attention, but fortunately our little island has been spared so far this season. Routines went by the wayside as I focused completely on healing.

Fast forward to the end of August and it was time for a trip off island. Once in Canada with sidewalks and slightly cooler weather, I imagined taking long walks to get back in shape. Surprise! The walk from the plane to the customs area of the airport almost did me in! Swimming is good exercise, but it wasn’t really doing the rehab my foot needed, simple walking.

After a bit of time my foot did start to improve. I went for those long walks, initially with my foot wrapped in an elastic bandage, but later just wearing socks and sneakers. By the time I returned home I thought my foot was fully recovered. Not so much. I still feel some twinges of pain at night. I still see swelling sometimes.

I can do most things now; swim, walk, yoga, balance, core and strength exercises. I realize my foot will still swell and feel sore for another month or so. I’m not an Olympic athlete, but I am gradually getting back to full fitness.

My only problem now is finding time to finish those projects I started! You think of retirement as kind of a long holiday where you can do what you want. Fortunately, because I don’t think that’s necessarily what I want, that’s not the case. There are family obligations and celebrations and reunions. There are friends to catch up with and reunions of every conceivable group with whom I’ve ever associated. There are home obligations and maintenance. I don’t have a maid or a cook or a “helper” as we call them on the island. I am still a parent and my children are still finding their way in the world. I like to be available to help out and give advice when needed.

This is a good life. It’s an extension of the life I left behind in Canada. The climate is more pleasant year round, but the logistics of keeping up with everything are much more complicated.

I don’t understand the need for people to leave the island every 3 months. I have no such need, but I often have the obligation. I would very much prefer to stay here and have everyone come to me!

Right now, I’m happy to be back and trying to establish a healthy and productive routine. One thing I’m looking forward to, however, is getting back into my sandals and flip-flops.



Life challenge: a minor setback but what fun to watch Olympic athletes reach their goals!

My foot is not healing as quickly as I think it should. I had my stitches out, but the incision was not fully healed and I have to wait at least a few more days to get the okay for “bathing”. In other words, don’t get it wet!

In view of this, I’ve continued to limit my activity and keep my foot elevated as much as possible. I’ve tried to boost my protein intake. I’ve found endless ways to entertain myself while sitting with my foot up.

I’ve also tried to gradually do more, while letting my  foot “be my guide” as to how much I can tolerate.Who knew a little bump on the foot could cause so many problems?

I alternate between extreme fatigue and nine hour sleeps, and being unable to sleep longer than seven hours. I have low days and I have days where I am generally upbeat.  Today I’m feeling upbeat. I’m looking forward to having more time with a good excuse to work on my projects.

As for my fitness, I was exhausted after walking through the hospital to the doctor’s office. I’m sure my weight loss is muscle. This is a minor setback. Once my foot heals I’ll be back to fitness in no time at all. It just can’t heal fast enough for my liking!

In the meantime, the Summer Olympics is on! I normally become a hermit during the Winter Olympics and watch the Summer Olympics more as a hobby than an obsession. These days, with my foot up and my other projects sitting idle, I’m flipping through the channels, trying to keep track of every sport they cover! Tennis, rugby, football, sailing, swimming; I watch them all!



Hurricane season: a close call but there’s still time

We had our first bona fide Tropical Storm watch this week. We have been in the Caribbean for tropical depressions and even the start of tropical storms, but we haven’t been here to wait one out before.

Our neighbour alerted us to some activity off the coast of Africa. After a couple of days, the projections were putting us right at the heart of its trajectory.

We had replenished our hurricane supplies in June, the start of hurricane season, but immediately went to the checklist to see what needed topping up. I filled up some more water bottles, added some items to the shopping list and on Monday my husband went to the store. I am still not very mobile, limping around on a post op shoe and one good foot.

The word came in that we should close up the shutters and to expect the storm to hit during the night. It was still Invest 97L and looking very disorganized. Most of the neighbours complied with the suggestion to close the shutters. We spent the evening watching weather forecasts and doing the work of closing the shutters. Well, my husband closed them. I ended up cooking a meal for the first time since my surgery.

Elsewhere on the island, word had spread and people started shopping. The grocery stores were a mad scene. A friend posted a photo and it looked like Walmart on the last Saturday before Christmas.

The night came and the storm was moving ever so slowly. We had some thunder and rain, but not much more than usual.

Tuesday morning, we were advised that the storm would reach us later in the morning or in the afternoon. It was likely to be upgraded to a tropical storm, hence the “tropical storm watch” being issued.  We took further precautions. I got the candles and matches out. I did everything I needed to do that required electricity. I settled in to read, do puzzles and wait. I took the occasional video of the sea. I took photos every hour. We waited and waited some more.Tropical storm Earl was on the way.

By late afternoon, the storm watch was lifted. Although Jamaica was hammered with rain, the storm didn’t gain strength until passing through and back over water. The course shifted, slightly to the south of us. The more we watched and waited, the more it shifted and strengthened. We were no longer in the path, but just north, out of harm’s way. The storm was moving very slowly by this time.

What weather did we get here? We had a little rain shower and some rough seas. We left the shutters closed overnight “just in case” and continued to go out through our one unprotected door occasionally to see if there was anything. We at least expected dark skies to the south. The signs of  a storm in the south came after nightfall, so we could see incredible flashes of lightning at very infrequent intervals.

Yesterday we opened our shutters. When we drove to George Town, we noticed standing water near the dump, indicating that they had more rain there than we did at our place.

Right now it’s very windy with rough seas. We’ll probably get a thunder storm and it will probably be scarier than anything Earl threw at us. Earl became a hurricane, but once he hit land in Belize he quickly lost power and was downgraded to a tropical storm again.

As everyone said on the weather reports, that was a practice run for us. I think we feel as prepared as we can if something more ominous comes our way!


Empty nest feelings: More of what makes me thankful

In the past few months I’ve met at least two young men who have lost their parents. I’ve also been reading about a character who had to raise his brothers and sisters at the tender age of 19. I know it’s fiction, but I’m sure it happens.

I am almost twice the age of my young friends, and I still have both parents. My husband still has both parents. We know we are blessed.

What chills me, and when I say “chills” I mean I feel an icicle stabbing my heart and I want to cry, is when I think of the possibility of my own children in that situation. It seems self-serving to feel like they need both parents alive and well, and obviously I’m happy to be alive. It’s not that so much as the thought of not being in their lives any longer.

When our children left home, we sold our empty nest and moved to the tropics. I don’t regret the move, but sometimes I have to compare the lives of my children with their friends’ lives. If we had stayed put, our son could come home and work for the summer and actually save some money, instead of needing help just to pay his rent. He could use my car instead of considering his own with all the expenses, including the insurance cost for a young man under 25. I could easily make a road trip or short flight to visit our daughter. I could send homemade cookies in the mail.

Instead, every visit requires great planning, scoping out flights and rental cars and accommodation. Every phone call comes with worry about running out of minutes.  Skype is our salvation, but that requires planning so we can coordinate schedules, as well as hoping they remember that we’d planned the Skype date. We may be retired, but our kids have busy lives.

With all these thoughts of what could have been, I am still eternally grateful that we made it to their adulthood. Every parent who has ever written up a will and carefully chosen potential guardians must know the feeling. Our children are adults now. We don’t need a designated guardian in our wills.

Still, parenthood doesn’t end there. I hope we’re around as long as our parents have been, not only because I want to live for so much longer and I still have that “bucket list”, but because I want my kids to have us there when they need us. They know their own hearts and minds, but we’ll always be their parents. Their father will always have an opinion and I will always try to offer comfort, advice, their favourite recipes or whatever they ask of me.

No, I can’t imagine being under 30 and having no parents. I will always be grateful for my parents. Now, as a parent of two adults, I am even more grateful to be in their lives.