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.

 

Saying Goodbye:Trying to explain grief

Yesterday I learned of the sudden death of someone I used to know. It came as a shock and brought tears to my eyes. I can’t stop thinking about him and how indescribably sad I feel about the fact that he is no longer on earth with us.

I hadn’t seen Tom in years, but I’d worked with him on several occasions at speed skating competitions, and shared drinks with him and others at the out-of-town competitions we’d both attend. He always had a joke, calling me his “favourite hippie”. I never knew why he called me a hippie, but it didn’t matter. He was my favourite referee. If I’d called him my favourite red-neck he would have laughed, but honestly, I never thought of him that way.

I’m trying to remember the last time I saw Tom, and I really can’t. I had tapered off my speed skating volunteering after our son graduated and left the sport, for that year and a half we were still in Calgary. I’d hardly volunteered at all in the few months before I knew we were moving, so I’m sure I didn’t tell my speed skating buddies that I was leaving. I wish I had. There are so many people to whom I wish I’d said goodbye. I always expected to be working another meet and seeing everyone again. My timing hasn’t worked out that way.

I think of some of my timing buddies, and how I may not see them again. I wish I’d known the last time I saw them that I would be leaving the country. Or do I? Would that have created too much sadness on our last happy meeting of timing soul mates? Had I known the last time I saw Tom that it would be the last time, would we have shared as many laughs? Would I feel better now if I’d at least had a chance to say, “Hey, we’re moving to the Caribbean. It’s been an honour to work with you!”?

Coordinating a speed skating competition involves months of planning and preparation, emails and phone calls and meetings. The weekend of the meet is long and potentially stressful and used to leave me feeling totally wiped out. Yet I loved working those meets with the people I came to think of as the “dream team”. Tom was a key member of the dream team. I don’t coordinate meets anymore. I don’t volunteer at speed skating, because it hasn’t worked out that I’m ever around for a meet. I still think of Tom and smile. He made the day go faster, both literally and figuratively. He was an efficient ref, keeping things moving quickly. He was also a joy to be around, making my day fly by. I hope he knew that.

He wasn’t my husband, father, brother or step dad. I considered him a friend, although he wasn’t someone who would drop by for coffee or call us up for a drink. That may have been different if he’d lived in the same city. We did have many coffees and drinks together when we were in the same place for speed skating. He wasn’t someone with whom we kept in touch.  Yet I still feel the loss, and tears are streaming down my cheeks as I write.

His memorial is next week, and I’m here and can’t attend. If our daughter wasn’t coming to visit I might even consider making the trip to Canada. I know that memorials and funerals give people closure. I can’t be there, so writing about him and what he meant to me gives me closure.

Goodbye Tom. The world will miss you. I feel sorry for the meet coordinators who will never get to work with you. I’m sorry for your wife and daughters and stepson and grandchildren. I’m glad I got to know you a little bit. Tonight at happy hour, instead of the usual cocktail or wine, I’ll have a beer and say goodbye to you once more.

From your favourite hippie.

 

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.

Life Challenge: Surviving surgery

I had surgery on my foot on Wednesday. It was a day surgery, but I was under a general anesthetic and the surgery lasted 2 hours. It ‘s my first surgery since I was a young child and had my tonsils out. I remember some things about that surgery very clearly. I remember getting a needle in my hip. I remember being told to count backwards from 10 and I don’t remember finishing the countdown. I remember having a sore throat when I woke up and a sore bum, from the needle.

This time it was a little different. I remember chatting and joking around with the doctors and nurses in the OR, breathing in oxygen and getting something to make me “woozy” in my IV. I woke up in recovery with a sore throat, this time from having had a tube down my throat. I still felt a little woozy.

My husband had brought me in to the hospital in plenty of time to prepare for the surgery, and I had a very nice nurse from Jamaica  to prepare me. He set up an IV with saline and antibiotics. He washed my foot and put my booties on.  When it was time, he helped me onto the stretcher to take me into the operating room.

By the time I came out of recovery I had new nurses to take care of me. In order to start me on pain medication, my doctor requested some food for me. The nurse brought me some soup, crackers and apple juice. It was very familiar to me as the post op “light meal” we would send patients when I worked as a hospital dietitian. The soup, a chicken broth, was very good!

By 7 pm I was allowed to go home with a huge bandage on my foot and a post op shoe, instructions to rest and keep the foot elevated for 4 days and to take my medication three times per day.

I’ve been managing to follow the instructions, mostly because my husband is a tyrant, the good kind of tyrant, who makes sure I keep my foot elevated and don’t stand or walk too much. He makes meals for me and cleans up. The first 2 days he brought me water, food, my phone, whatever I needed, so I wouldn’t have to get up. He is still cooking and cleaning for me.

The pain has been surprisingly minimal. I credit my doctor who did the surgery and was taught to treat the tissues and bone delicately during surgery. I have also been following directions well. I feel very fortunate. The most pain I’ve had is when I get all cramped up from trying to type with my foot raised up higher than my hip!

Of course, this affects my life challenge. I can’t do anything.  I can’t exercise. I can’t swim. I’m home all day and I have to eat when I take my medication. I’m having a hard time regulating my intake and figuring out how much or how little I should be eating. I want to eat enough to help my healing process, but I don’t want to gain back all the weight I lost. I am also a little worried about losing all the fitness and strength I’ve been working on.

I was told, in the literature I was given about the surgery, that the first day or two would be the most painful. Again, I feel very fortunate at how little pain I experienced. I know I was on 3 kinds of pain killers, but still…

Five days post op and I am finding this is my most difficult time. I haven’t slept well, not because of pain in my foot, but because I can’t get the rest of my body into a comfortable position. I wake up several times each night. Consequently, I am very tired today.

I am also feeling a little queasy today, which is surprising, considering that I am only on ibuprofen, which I am taking with food. I also find myself studying my foot and worrying about the bruising. Is it normal? Is it excessive? Should I ask the doctor?

The projects I had lined up to do are still there. They will take longer than expected. I guess that’s a good thing, because so will my recovery.

I am feeling the loner side of my personality taking over. When I am active and physical, doing things like cooking, swimming, snorkeling and other forms of exercise, I also feel more sociable. I take part in grocery shopping and running errands with my husband.

When I can’t do those physical things, I find myself lost in a book, either reading one or writing one. I lose my desire to socialize and I just want to be alone.

I’m not lost to the world yet. I still have a burning curiosity about what is going on around me.  I’m sure as I become more mobile again my social skills will gradually return.

For now, I’ll use this opportunity to have quiet time and reading and writing time.

Life Challenge update, another plateau and no foreseeable budging!

As a dietitian and nutrition counsellor, I always advised my clients to expect a plateau in their fitness and weight loss progress. The important thing is to continue with your healthy way of eating and to keep up the daily exercise. I now find myself in a position to follow my own advice.

Having lost eight pounds since the beginning of April, I’m now struggling to continue the progress. I was so proud of myself for losing two pounds while we were away, when I usually gain at least that much on holidays, that I thought another few pounds would be a piece of cake. Maybe that’s a bad choice of words when it’s the baking that is my downfall.  I’m keeping a record of my intake and I continue to exercise every day, but maybe my overall activity level has dropped. Either way, I’ve hit the dreaded plateau.

This normally would be something I could work through, but I have a feeling I’ll be happy to hang on to this plateau in the next couple of weeks. I’m about to have elective surgery on my foot and I’ll be off my feet, unable to exercise for four days and unable to swim for 2 weeks!

There is a little ray of hope. I managed to take part in a veritable smorgasbord at our community party this weekend, and ate what amounted to an extra 30 percent of my energy requirement for the day. I still maintained my weight! It’s the leftovers that will be my challenge!

 

Away from the madness

We often read the local news and shake our heads at the decisions made by those in power. I lament the inclinations of some politicians to create an “us and them”mentality between the Caymanians and the expats. I often wish I could vote so my opinion would count for something when local surveys are conducted.

Then I have days where I am happy to sit on my island, under the world radar, far from the madness that has taken hold in many parts of the world. I am grateful for the fact that although we share influences of both, we are not American or British.  We also share influences of Canada, Jamaica, Central America and Italy, as well  as many other countries. Our population, now at 60,000, is a sort of “united nations”, muddling through and trying to find the balance between issues like immigration and employment, tourism and the environment.

When I watch the news on the US networks I want to weep . I see posts on Facebook that have gone viral, often titled “Meanwhile in Canada”  or something similar, showing happy mixing of races and harmony in the streets. I feel momentary pride in my country, until I read about police shootings in Toronto, or hateful tweets from a special interest group. All lives matter.

Our children attended a high school  in Calgary where they were colour blind.  They would come home and talk about friends and classmates by name. They never felt the need to describe them as “my Chinese friend” or “mixed race Irish-Indian classmate”. They simply talked about them as personalities who had been part of their day, perhaps to joke around with in class  or possibly as part of the group working on a project together. I like to think that the products of these high schools represent our future.

Recently we attended a major sporting event in California. I looked around the stadium at the spectators and thought, this is America. The crowd was not white or black or yellow or brown. You could say it was all of those, or you could say it was just a crowd of people, watching their favourite athletes.

Where does the hate come from? I want to believe that we don’t have the race problems in Canada, but I know that’s not quite true. However, we don’t have the problems that seem to be taking over the news in the US lately. Their country seems to be imploding. Britain has their own problems, too. One thing I believe, is that for all our problems in Cayman, race is not one of them.

Last night we heard of the attack on people celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France. More madness, more hate.

So while the world goes mad around us, let’s enjoy our beautiful island and the people we encounter every day; Caymanian, Canadian, British, American, Jamaican, Filipino, European. Let’s set an example for the world.

Summer in Cayman

Yes, I’ve been here before; summer in Cayman. The June rains start to diminish, the temperatures continue to rise and worst of all the humidity level sneaks up so you wish it would rain. School is out, so families leave the island. If one parent has to work, they stay here alone while their spouse, usually the wife, takes the children off island to visit families.

Those of us left behind spend more time at the beach.  If we’re lucky enough to have a pool we gather around, lazily dipping into the water to cool off, then drying off in the shade or sun. It just depends how long we’ve lived here, or whether we’ve been foolish enough to seek the sun before.

Those of us left behind are also on hurricane alert. It’s not that we’re expecting a hurricane, but we check the weather forecasts regularly to see if any are expected. We’re prepared. We have our food supply, our water supply and our flashlights with extra batteries.

We go out to run errands at those times of day we used to avoid at all costs. The traffic isn’t that bad. The young man hired to clean the sidewalks and patios becomes even more soporific, barely managing to get the sidewalks sprayed down between the movies he watches on his phone in the shade.

The mornings are the biggest difference. I have my coffee on the deck, I swim in the pool, but after that, I’m inside with the air conditioning.

The sea is calmer in different places. There might be more diving on the north side. The island settles into a calm, slow rhythm, as if resting for the busy tourist season.

There are tourists. They come with their children, now out of school for the summer, trading places with our island families. They come on the cruise ships, but in smaller numbers. A busy day in high season might see five or six cruise ships, in summer only three.

Our first visits here were at this time of year. As hot and humid and lazy as the island becomes, it’s the island we came to love.  The cooler winter months are a pleasant reprieve, but then we have to share this small space with so many people. This time of year, summer, still invokes that childhood feeling of school holidays, afternoons at the pool and freedom from responsibility. By the time September comes, it will be a love-hate relationship, but right now, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.