Category Archives: 50+

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Garden Weeds

In declaring my independence from the city and moving to the country, I felt a sense of renewed freedom that was truly hard to describe.

Regular readers and my inner circle of friends will recall that in the city, I have had more than my fair share of lousy neighbours. Over the years, I have endured blaring music till all hours of the night, my backyard being used as a dog’s toilet and my driveway being used as a visitor’s parking spot, among other not-so-neighbourly infractions.

Don’t get me wrong, I have had exceptionally lovely neighbours as well and I miss them dearly, but the nuisance ones occupied significantly more of my head space than the delightful ones.

The move to a rural property meant less need to compromise and to accommodate the impingements of self-entitled neighbours in the name of “staying on good terms”. With so few neighbours, I had the distance I needed to breathe and to heal.

But in the country, there is a different impingement that has become an almost daily preoccupation: garden weeds.

When we arranged a first visit to see this property, it was mid-February and the 1.4 acre parcel of land was covered by snow. We knew that the place had a garden, as the listing referred to the patio as an “oasis”, but that was the extent of what we knew about the state of the landscaping.

Fast forward to our closing date and our first visit to the property, we were delighted to see the home surrounded by flower beds and shrubs…. A multitude of flower beds and shrubs…. Endless flower beds and shrubs. It begged the question, how much free time did the previous owners have to maintain all of this?

The glorious array of flowers and greenery was a beautiful sight in itself. But once we got past the first impressions, a closer look revealed overgrown shrubs with no sense of boundaries, dead branches embedded in each tree, and garden weeds growing wildly in every flower bed.

While I looked forward to adding gardening to my hobbies in retirement, I didn’t envision it as a replacement for my full-time job.

Up until that point, my points of reference for weeding gardens were minimal at best. In childhood, the small number of small flower beds we had around our suburban home were what I would consider to be reasonable and manageable, for two working parents and a kid whose main hobby was television. When I was old enough, I mowed the lawn, but that was it. I assume that one of my parents tended to the garden weeds.

If we skip through the decade I lived in apartments and fast forward to my first home, the extent of my exterior maintenance was reserved for a little shade garden in the backyard (referred to as the science project) that was maybe 3 feet by 6 feet. I could weed that little garden in about 5 minutes, maybe 3 or 4 times per season.

In total, this was insufficient training, life experience and mental preparation for a property of this size, with an abundance of overgrown plants. If we took the time and energy to dig them up and divide them, we could supply a garden centre for weeks.

You can imagine my discouragement at first when realizing that an hour of weeding the overgrown gardens was a mere drop in a bucket and barely made a difference.

My discouragement was compounded by my body’s reaction the next morning, and feeling muscle groups that haven’t been used in this way in…. well… ever! The big question at that time was whether or not my body would adjust and get used to it, much like it eventually does, as it did with other activities like running.

If there is anything that running taught me, it was that if I wanted to keep at it, I knew that I had to set time limits for each session and to stick to my exercise and stretching routine daily. Once I was in a routine, then I could build up gradually.

There is an odd satisfaction (appealing to the Type A part of me) when comparing the congested flower beds with no boundaries, to a slightly tidier flower bed with increasing breathing space between plants, where you can see which ones were intended to be there in the first place. There was indeed incentive to keep at it.

There are times when weeding is really a game like Sesame Street’s “One of these things is not like the others.” And then there are other times when it feels like a giant game of “Whack-a-mole” when the weeds grow back within days.

But slowly, with each session, the garden is starting to look better. We’re certainly not approaching any big reveals yet like an HGTV show, but with each improvement and less incidence of regrowth, the encouragement is building, as is my determination to stick with it.

And of course, living in the country, we are keenly interested in trying to keep things as natural as possible. It would be so easy to accelerate the process with an herbicide to kill off the weeds, but the idea of a strong rainfall washing away herbicide residue toward healthy plants (or into the well system) is not really an option. Plus, with the abundance of birds, bees, butterflies and wildlife (including my cat that takes supervised walks daily) we don’t want to risk driving the critters away or getting any of them sick.

I am certain that once we get the garden under better control, ongoing maintenance should be just that, occupying only an hour here and there.

When that time comes, that is when I expect that we won’t cringe each time we drive up our own driveway, and we will actually be better able to enjoy our property to the fullest, leaving leisure time for actual leisure.

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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Filed under 50+, home, Humour

Pandemic Pee Planning

Immediately upon receiving my second Covid-19 vaccination a few days ago, I looked forward to putting this chapter behind us and getting back to a life that is closer to the normal we once knew.

One thing I won’t miss about this lengthy chapter is the “pandemic pee planning”.

During the lockdowns, even though I was following rules to the letter and only leaving the house for essential groceries and necessary appointments, trying to manage my bladder around the limited number of public restrooms that were open to the public during that time added a whole logistical challenge in itself.

After a lifetime of being sold on the merits of proper hydration and drinking eight glasses of water daily, you can see where a potential problem ensues.

In a pre-pandemic world, if I was called to a three hour meeting, if a “health break” wasn’t on the agenda, I knew I would have to excuse myself at least once to make it through to the end or else I’d be wriggling around in my chair, crossing my legs like a pretzel.

As a younger employee, I stressed a lot about it as I did not want to appear disrespectful by walking out in the middle of a meeting. As much as I held great admiration for people who could hold their bladders for three hours, I had to admit and accept that I wasn’t one of them. As I got older and more confident, I worried less about it (which only seemed to make potential urgency worse) and was resigned to the fact that, “when you gotta go, you gotta go.”

But it is amazing how the ability to use a public restroom when you need it (or even a little proactively) was something we took for granted. Continue reading

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Screwed by a Cordless Drill

I’ll never forget how kind and generous my grandfather was after my parents split up. The way I saw it, he didn’t judge and he didn’t take sides. I just remember him offering repeatedly to me and my Mom, “Let me know if you need help setting up the new place and if you need me to bring my drill.”

When I moved out on my own, he made the same offer, including the part about the drill. In some way, even though he couldn’t do anything about big changes going on in one’s life, I think that the offer of bringing his drill was his way of showing support, a way of helping through life’s big transitions.

His drill was a classic, and probably considered vintage by today’s standards. If I remember correctly, it was hefty. It seemed like it needed a bodybuilder to pilot this heavy machine with the stiff cord, needing an extension for home improvements taking place atop a ladder. But it did the job.

When I was given my first Black and Decker drill as a gift, it was a bittersweet moment. I felt a sense of independence in being able to take care of my own minor repair work, but I felt bad at the possibility of chipping away at my grandfather’s sense of purpose. Just the same, it was a giant leap in my own journey of “adulting”, and in developing my capacity to perform minor home repairs, without having to call a professional.

I did get some pretty good mileage with that first cordless drill, and was even able to pay it forward in helping to some of my neighbours in my apartment building with the occasional light duty drilling job. I am certain that my grandfather would have been proud. Continue reading

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The Pre-Retirement Emotions

Over the course of my 33 1/2 year career, retirement always seemed so far off. Even though I took pre-retirement seminars in my 30s and 40s to get a sense of long-range thinking and planning, retirement was really not on my radar… until I turned 50.

It was the awareness of “a half century of existence” that triggered a huge mind shift and a process of reflection on how I wanted to spend the next half century (provided genetics permitted me to follow in the footsteps of my long-living relatives and ancestors).

There were many factors and sleepless nights that went into the decision of when it was time for me to sign off for the last time (… far too many to list in a blog post). However, without really thinking or looking too hard, it was almost like witnessing the parting of the Red Sea. It soon became obvious to me that June 2021 was the right time.

In January, I notified my manager and my colleagues of my plans, and then began the process of completing the stack of forms to formalize the decision. Once the forms were submitted and I received confirmation that everything was in order, that was the moment when I realized I had pulled the metaphoric pin on the metaphoric grenade. The countdown was on!

I don’t know if it was just me, but from there, it wasn’t a gradual trajectory from January to June. Once that decision was carved in stone, a surprising roller coaster of emotions ensued.

I was already prepared for the idea that, much like in the completion of a major project, there is joy, pride and satisfaction in a job well done. Continue reading

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Filed under 50+, Inspiring

What I Know For Sure About Writing

When I attended retirement planning seminars over the course of my career, the psychologists who provided guidance on how to mentally prepare for the transition always seemed to ask the same question: What do you want to do in retirement?

To me, the answer has always been a no-brainer: writing.

My first glimmers of self-awareness about writing came in high school and university. Of all of the assignments in a students’ life, I enjoyed writing essays and compositions the most – and the longer the better – despite the groans from my fellow classmates.

When I stepped into the career world, by some strange stroke of luck, I often ended up in work teams where my colleagues were more than happy to let me raise my hand and volunteer to write lengthy reports, business cases, user manuals and web content while others would probably rather raise their hand and volunteer for root canals.

Writing tasks made me so happy because they presented learning opportunities in an area for which I held a keen interest in becoming better and better.

I enjoyed writing for my managers and executives, as it presented a unique learning opportunity to learn and adapt to their respective writing styles. With the knowledge that I wasn’t writing for me, I was writing for them, I never took personally any comments about what I produced. In fact, after working on a few memos, I truly relished getting to a point where I could receive a request, get a few key points about what is intended in the message, and go back to my desk to draft, edit and return a product that was exactly what they wanted and in their own voice. There was no greater compliment to me than when they said “André, this is like I wrote it myself!” Continue reading

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How Music Can Change One’s Mood in a Split Second

This past week, as I was out for the once-per-week, masked, sanitized, and respectfully socially-distanced grocery store run, I had one of those moments that have become all too familiar.

As I turned my king-sized grocery cart around a corner, I was disappointed to see someone going in the wrong direction, completely contrary to the arrows on the ground. I asked myself, after 13 months of Covid-19, have we not gotten the choreography down yet?

But before the cranky old man within me had a chance to fully surface and irritate me for the rest of the grocery run, the grocery store’s speaker system launched into the first notes of Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up the Sun”.

As I started humming along (hey, if there’s only 25 people allowed in the store at one time, I can softly hum with a smile under my mask) my mood instantly changed and the non-compliant grocery shopper was already deleted from my consciousness.

When you review the lyrics, it’s not like “Soak Up the Sun” is one of the cheeriest songs ever written, but the chorus, the music and its associated music video convey to me a certain lightness and free-spiritedness that have often helped me let go of some of the little irritants in life.

Have you ever noticed how songs seem to have that power over us, to – please forgive the cliché – turn a frown upside down? And have you ever been in a situation where you are driving around, enjoying a string of one good song after another, and actually hoping for red lights to slow down your commute to enjoy the tunes?

Much like with “Soak Up the Sun”, it doesn’t always have to be about uplifting lyrics, sometimes it can be all about the music itself and a skillful arrangement that just strikes the right notes to raise ones spirits or even better, to energize. Continue reading

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Filed under 50+, Inspiring, Lists, music, pop culture

My Mixed Emotions Over a New iPad

You would think that I would have been over the moon with delight about purchasing a new iPad. I wasn’t. In fact, I was annoyed at having to accept defeat.

My previous iPad was purchased in 2012, and throughout its nine years with me, it has been the source of countless hours of information, education and entertainment. It has also been an indispensable work tool in the development and maintenance of the blog that you are reading now.

With my iPad, I’ve sent hundreds of emails, listened to hours of music and read several books. I’ve binge watched shows on it when I wasn’t feeling well. I’ve passed time with it in airports (long before Covid-19 came along).

To me, the iPad was probably one of the best inventions ever, combining so many devices in one, enabling me to travel lighter, especially when I commuted to work by bus. My bad back appreciated this device many times over.

You would think that I could accept that a nine year run with any technological tool is an amazing feat these days, but there is a bit of a stubborn streak within me that just couldn’t bring myself to make that admission. Continue reading

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From the “Look It Up” Generation

It never ceases to amaze me how people use social media, to the profound exasperation of others.

Let’s just use a hypothetical example for illustration purposes: Someone posts on Instagram a picture of a flower from their garden and in the caption they say, “These are the tulips from my garden! #tulips”. Shortly thereafter, someone posts a question “What kind of flower is that?”

While I can certainly forgive an occasional lack of observation, as I have certainly experienced moments in life when I missed a metaphoric flashing neon sign right in front of me. But I usually chalk that up to rare moments of being very rushed or very tired.

It’s when someone asks a question, when the answer is right in front of them (and sometimes even hashtagged) that the cranky old man in me surfaces.

Personally, in the never ending quest of not wanting to look like an idiot, before asking a question, I usually read the caption and previous posts to be sure that my question has not already been asked and answered.

To me, it is also a matter of being considerate to the person who posted it, not demanding time of them (when they could already be super busy) to answer a question that has already been answered.

However, the practice of posting questions that have been answered is not just an occasional thing. I see it ALL THE TIME all over social media.

Similarly, I find it odd that people go to Facebook to ask questions to a wide group like “Does anyone know if Restaurant ABC…?” (insert any number of questions relating to the food they serve, special dietary needs, delivery services, restaurant hours, etc).

Most restaurants offer a variety of communication vehicles like phone number, email address, Facebook page, Instagram page, web site, online menu, etc. If that is the case, why is the question going to a forum of third parties, and not to the restaurant itself through one of the many online resources the restaurant took the time, effort and expense to make available?

I would definitely cut someone some slack, when information is either not online, hard to find or requires clarification or elaboration. I have no issue there whatsoever. But I struggle to imagine a business that does not have an online presence (especially in the post Covid-19 world), or at the very minimum, a telephone number, for such questions.

To me, it makes absolutely no sense. But then again, I was raised in a “look it up!” household.

I learned early on that when asking out loud what a word meant would almost be like casting a spell on the TV show “Bewitched”, as a dictionary would magically appear next to me within a few seconds, accompanied by the advice “look it up”. Or if I had a more elaborate question about how something worked… poof!… a volume of the encyclopedia would appear, accompanied by the same advice.

Of course, there were some questions that my parents lovingly handled themselves that related more to the complexities of human nature that might not be well served by a single book, and for that I am so grateful.

But for everything else, the “look it up” advice seemed to be the gateway to a life skill that I think make me a pretty resourceful individual.

On top of that, in the house I grew up in, there was no shortage of books but yet, I still had library card and a library three blocks away for those times I had a question I couldn’t answer from our own resources. It didn’t take much encouragement to get me to satisfy my natural curiosity with that kind of research material a few blocks away.

But today, it is absolutely astounding what someone can find online at one’s fingertips, not just from encyclopedic knowledge on just about everything, but demonstration videos, historical pieces, and opinion pieces on what seems like every subject in the universe.

We truly are in a fortunate position for the amount of information available to us. Granted, there is sometimes too much information or (not-too-surprisingly) conflicting information, and it takes a bit of research, analysis and deduction to sort all that out.

I can appreciate how for some, this might feel like homework, I truly do. But if someone cannot do this for a simple question, how will they function in the world (in a job, leading a family, or maintaining a household) if their basic research skills suck.

A Google search does not require hopping in the shower, drying your hair, getting dressed, getting your bike out of the shed, hopping on the bike, riding to the library, locking your bike, consulting the “subject” card catalogue and then scavenging the shelves to find the right book to provide the answer you are looking for.

It is so easy, yet for some, it seems like a giant leap of effort.

My friends and readers can rest assured that I am always delighted to receive feedback and questions, and I have not been in a position of repeatedly answering what was already posted.

But it is when I am scrolling through social media and rolling my eyes to the point of feeling dizzy, when the answer to questions is right in front of the readers, that it makes me want to turn it off.

I think it is safe to assume that I am not alone, having seen an April Fools post this past week about the creation of a Facebook group for questions and answers of this nature, to which many fellow readers took great joy and sarcasm in providing examples of other frivolous group pages that should be offered.

It seems to me that in this day and age, with the Internet offering limitless resources of information like never before, accessible more easily than ever before, what happened to the wonderful art of looking it up to answer to one’s natural curiosity?

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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Filed under 50+, books, Humour, pop culture

Pre-Retirement Training: Learning to Relax

I’ll never forget the day when a psychologist came to speak at a pre-retirement seminar I attended and suggested “don’t wait until retirement to start on those big retirement plans”.

She then elaborated by offering examples like people who spend their whole lives talking about sailing around the world only to find out that they get sea sick, or people who talk about spending more time on a given hobby only to realize that they don’t really enjoy it that much.

Fortunately, I don’t think that will happen to me.

Most of my readers know that my #1 aspiration in retirement is to write. Thanks to the blog, I have been able to practice creative writing with (much to my own amazement) pretty consistent frequency over the years, which gave me the opportunity to write content so completely different from corporate briefing notes, issue sheets and instructional bulletins. Whether at home or at the office, I have proven to myself that writing is that one activity that for me, creates its own unmistakable energy and enthusiasm.

But surprisingly, what has actually been more challenging (in preparation for retirement) has been learning how to rest and relax. Who knew that I needed to train myself to do that?

I don’t know about you, dear readers, but have you ever had days thinking to yourself, “Am I ever tired?! … I better lie down” only to find yourself already in a horizontal position on a comfy couch, La-Z-Boy or bed in the comfort of your own home?… or worse yet, in a furniture store?

I’m not talking about tired in the sense of deep burnout, I am just referring to a sense of being pooped out from feeling like a perpetual motion machine.

I have come to learn that my own worst enemy in that regard is myself. I wouldn’t say I’m overly demanding, but after decades of living on my own, I had to develop a routine to stay on top of the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry and the home maintenance, because it wasn’t like the magic toilet scrubbing fairy would descend from the heavens. Someone had to do it, and when living alone, I invariably drew the short straw every time. Continue reading

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Filed under 50+, Health and Wellness, Humour, mental health

The Reluctant Admission that I Enjoy Large Print

Through the year of Covid-19 isolation and our move to the country, punctuated by a never ending to-do list of home improvements, time was in short supply and I felt bad that I hadn’t reached out more often to check in on friends and family.

Last Christmas, I decided to resume my usual habit of sending out Christmas cards, despite a couple of years of tapering, given that the popularity of sending cards seemed to be on the decline overall. I couldn’t think of a better year to send Christmas cards, at least to mitigate my guilt.

But in doing so came the realization of the less-than-organized state of my contacts list. Somehow, different devices had different lists and sometimes had different or outdated information. It was time for a clean-up.

As much as it might be considered prehistoric by today’s standards, I missed the days of having all that in a neat and tidy address book… a paper one.

This is not to say that I think that electronic contacts are bad, I just find them to be more work to keep up to date.

I don’t know why the software seems to want to create a contact every time I send a once-in-a-lifetime email to a company, and then I can never seem to get rid of it. But when I change a friend’s contact info, it doesn’t seem to sync automatically to the other devices. I don’t get it.

But try finding a paper address book today. Where we used to find them pretty much everywhere and at a variety of price points, today it seems to be something reserved for book, stationery and office supply stores. Continue reading

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