Catherine Ford Gets Personal

One year: A challenge for change

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This final chapter has been months in the making, not because I didn’t have anything to say, but maybe I didn’t want this to end.

Writing a personal blog becomes a creature all its own, taking on a life, even after it has served its purpose

When I started this in September 2009, a month before my 65th birthday, the intent was to get fit and healthy enough to be able to walk the 18 holes of a hilly golf course in the height of summer’s heat without being too exhausted at the end to raise a glass at the 19th hole. Okay, so nobody’s that tired, but you get the idea.

There were other considerations, of course. The desire to look good in my clothing without having to hide bits and pieces under strategically folded jackets or overblouses, a dressing strategy employed by my late mother. I never realized how much I had picked up from her subtle clothing cues until the notion hit me that it was not a sin to tuck in a shirt or wear a belt. In my mother’s defense, she had a rather startling embonpoint, as the French say. It was an attempt to hide her curves that cause her to favour untucked clothes.

(I am always reminded of a party I had in Grade 9, at a time when one’s parents were mandatory chaperones. My parents met the guests at the door and when one of my friends came downstairs, eyes wide as only a testosterone-laced 14-year-old boy’s can be, he wanted to know: “Who’s the babe at the front door in the blue dress?” I was affronted by his attraction as he was startled to discover it was my mother. Amazing what conversations one can remember verbatim for more than 50 years.)

Once I realized I could tuck in my shirts, I then, of course, managed to lose my waist. It’s a feeling not unfamiliar to a lot of post-menopausal women, who pull out a perfectly good pair of shorts from the bottom drawer, only to find they fit everywhere except the waist. How did that happen? And don’t even mention strapless dresses and bathing suits.

Just over a year ago, I wrote: “My goals are simple: To spend the next year, until October, 2010, trying to reconcile the 65-year-old body with the 18-year-old who still looks out through my eyes, amazed at what she sees. When did my skin forget where it belonged? Who owns that turkey neck? Where did that cellulite come from? And, most importantly, why on earth does any of this matter?’

Along the way, as this blog became more personal – because just writing about dieting and exercising would have put me into a self-induced coma —so much of myself has sometimes unwittingly been uncovered. But it has had the effect of encouraging a whole let of other women to share their stories with me, and much more introspection than I expected of myself.

That’s not always a good thing — the introspection. People like me, who can blithely ignore self-examination even as we pry into other people and their personal lives, at some point have to stop and take out our own copybook and flip through the pages of memory.

Memoir, as Neil Genzlinger wrote in the New York Times book review section a couple of weeks ago, has been overtaken by “our current age of oversharing.” Just because you believe your life is fascinating, doesn’t make it so. Ever so often, people — who have made an entire career our of chronicling other people’s lives and adventures, who were paid to have an opinion on things from war to feminism (don’t think they aren’t related) — need to stop and, as Genzlinger writes, remember “the lost art of shutting up.”

The flood of pointless and uninteresting memoirs needs to stop, he writes. “We don’t have that many trees left.”

The Internet, free as it is from the need for trees and the physicality of paper, has ushered in a whole new era of vanity self-publishing. It has been culpable in unleashing the tsunami of would-be writers who have never met an editor and never believed the world wasn’t interested in their thoughts and beliefs. Their parents always told them they were special, therefore they must be.

In an earlier time, there were boundaries between the personal and the public. The entire world did not want to be on a television reality show. People understood there were subjects taboo in polite conversation — when there actually was a concept of polite conversation that was not riddled with vulgarities and obscenities. (And I am probably as culpable as the next loudmouth.)

So, like all “books,” this needs to come to an end.

But it also needs resolution.

I also wrote a year ago: “Where to start? What to aim for? Why am I doing this?

“The last is the easiest question to answer: I want my body to reflect how I feel about myself. I want to face my senior years fit and healthy.

“Aging is insidious for women. We are judged more harshly than men on our appearance and our age, the double whammy. Men get ‘distinguished.’ Women get ‘old.’ Yet we are not our grandmothers, even if we are, ourselves, grandmothers.”

On the surface, my plan has been a success. I am considerably healthier — notwithstanding the heart medication I must take — and much more fit, a combination of walking regularly and being weekly attendees at core fitness classes. Joining in the Calgary Herald’s first Health Club certainly helped.

But the best physical result is having kept off the weight I lost a few years ago, a considerable change from every other time in my life that I’ve lost 50 pounds only to put it back on — and then some — within two years. Maybe the psychological reason for dong this blog was to keep me alert to the fact that it has happened more times than I care to remember.

In the bargain, I’ve lost another 10 pounds, but alas, still not found my waist. My solution to this is simple: Give away all the clothes that no longer fit.

For those who have never struggled with their weight and lost a million battles, the idea that someone can wake up one day and be 60 pounds heavier is absurd. How can this possibly happen? How do you not notice that your wardrobe is getting larger and larger?

Trust me, self-delusion is an art unto itself. At least knowing that and paying attention helps considerably, as does the questionable habit of standing on the bathroom scales every morning, an action no weight counselor advises. But I’m a grown-up, capable of making my own rules. If I want to stand on my husband’s “doctor’s office” scales every morning, I will.

And I do. And I will.

And maybe having written thousands upon thousands of words in the past 18 months, having enjoyed the comments of friends and strangers, I’ll take on another blog.

I’m open to suggestions.

Until then, as the title of this final chapter says, and as old-fashioned typesetters and journalists wrote at the end of their copy:



Written by Catherine Ford

February 19, 2011 at 4:07 pm

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Where did the year go? I started this just more than one year ago, determined to get fit enough to golf 18 holes in the heat of summer without being exhausted.

Did I do it? Sort of. The golf improved immeasurably with the help of my brother who — many of his friends and critics would be surprised to discover — can be an enthusiastic and patient coach, albeit one given to shouting. (Not for nothing is our family dubbed the Shout Family.)

Clint’s shouting was mostly centred on my seeming inability to keep my left arm straight in my backswing. As I pointed out to him, let him try it wearing a 38C bra and see how well he can do it. That, of course, is merely an excuse. Other women golf with this, er, impediment. Nonetheless, with Clint’s coaching, his partner’s enthusiastic support, at least once-a-week golf with all sorts of new friends from the Deloitte and Friends golf league, my game has improved.

But the challenge of playing in summer heat didn’t arrive, largely because summer didn’t deign to appear.

And playing a round in the worst of weather with the best of companions I reached a new level, even if I do say so myself. Bobby Wilson, 2010 winner of both the senior and super senior long drive competition, sponsored by ReMax, is as much fun one on one as he is showing a crowd of golfers his extraordinary golf skills. He’s patient, he’s funny and, unlike so many other professional athletes, he’s not full of himself.

Take a 54-year-old good ol’ boy from Waco, Texas, who lives in Little Rock, Arkansas, plunk him down on a soggy, windy hilltop in Calgary in possibly the coldest day of what passed for summer this year and suggest he golf with the sponsors of the Peter Gzowski Invitational tournament, held for the first time at Country Hills Golf Club.

The staff at Country Hills were wonderful to us, the course is great, the reception warm — if not the weather — but nothing can change the geography of its setting, most of which seems to have a direct line to the north and its bitter winds. That Tuesday proved why so many Calgarians go south for the winter. That Tuesday reminded us that it can be bitterly cold without any snow falling. The ambient temperature couldn’t have been above +4C, just warm enough to discourage snow and encourage rain.

We Calgarians know how to dress for the outdoors, so I waddled into the pro shop wearing a long-sleeved turtleneck wool sweater under a V-necked sweater, covered by a thick fleece jacket. Under a pair of lined, winter wool slacks I was wearing a set of pale blue long underwear (my husband’s and don’t ask about the fly) and knee socks. On my head were mink earmuffs which caused one guy to call me Princess Leia, thereby telling me his age and his taste in movies.

I looked and felt like a kid in her new winter snowsuit, but nothing I wore could compare to the getup Bobby Wilson arrived in. Remember the Norwegian curling team (they came fourth) at the Winter Olympics? The argyle white, red and blue pants? Magnify the eye-popping “appeal” over the lanky 6-foot 3-inch Wilson. And those Cherry Bombs were just one pair of the trademarked Loudmouth Pants Wilson owns. He says they help him stand out in a crowd. No kidding.

Wilson charmed all of us, but there’s a special place in my heart for him. With an oh-so-subtle Texas accent, further softened by living in Little Rock, he made a few suggestions and then when my drives improved immeasurably, let me believe it wasn’t him that did it, but my own innate athleticism and talent. Charm? The guy’s got it in spades if, looking at this duffer, he could convince her that she could be a golfer with only a littlie more practice.

I’ve come through this year-long “challenge for change” with a new perspective. I’ve had to admit that my days with a waist are long gone, and unless I want to resort to plastic surgery, I can live with the scrawny chicken neck, but I am most assuredly more fit than when I started.

In our weekly core fitness class, my balance has improved only slightly, but my flexibility and strength is better.

When I started this blog, I wrote that my goals were not outrageous. “I do not expect to be 30 or 40 again. I do not expect to look 30 or 40, merely to be as healthy and fit as possible, as I enter a new phase in my life.” I wrote that just before my 65th birthday. Today, I face 66 with a renewed energy.

I also wrote that I am not alone on this journey. “Men and women my age now expect to remain vigorous and useful long past the traditional retirement age.”

Behind me are many more to come. My generation, born during the Second World War, are the lucky ones who did not have much peer-group competition. My career as a newspaper writer started with nothing more exotic than a letter to my father’s friend, who was the city editor of the Calgary Herald at the time. Dad had called him, asking if Larry O’Hara would “take my older daughter off my hands and give her a job.”

O’Hara did and I have never forgotten his kindness to a friend’s inexperienced daughter. Most of O’Hara’s contemporaries are gone now, as is he, but they live on in the memories of those to whom they passed on the lessons of how to be a newspaper reporter, lessons that can’t be learned from books or in a classroom. Nobody can teach you how to knock on the door of a family whose son or daughter has just been killed and ask for a photograph. That kind of sensitivity comes with heart and experience, and on-the-job teachers.

I had a lot of them.

Behind me is the Baby Boomer generation, including my sister (born in 1950) and my brother (born in 1957.)

While my generation numbered 2.2 million in 1996, the Baby Boomers numbered 9.8 million that same year. They follow me into senior citizen status starting a year from now. I don’t think our society is ready for the aging Boomers, for the demands they will make on everything from home care to hospitals. And let’s not even mention the pension plan.

But all of this is inevitable. As is the end of this blog.

NEXT: What now?

Written by Catherine Ford

October 7, 2010 at 4:57 pm

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In moments of fancy I imagine Plato eating a roast beef sandwich — thick slices of rare roast beef with Miracle Whip and lettuce between two bakery-fresh slices of challah. I also imagine this would horrify any number of people, not the least of whom would be vegetarians or those purist chefs who believe Miracle Whip to be a chemical and thus a lesser spread than proper mayonnaise.

Then there’s a certain husband who believes the only suitable bread for sandwiches is some chewy concoction known as linseed rye, which he buys at a specialty bakery and which has the consistency of carpet underpadding.

But what has Plato got to do with this? As I remember from first-year university philosophy, Plato’s theory simplified meant, for example, that there was one perfect table. Every other table was merely a shadow of the perfect thing. Therefore, there must be one perfect roast beef sandwich existing somewhere in the ethos, because I never got served one. Never, in my many years of taking lunch to school.

I remember few school lunches because rarely was there an occasion to remember them. In high school, there was a small cafeteria in St. Mary’s High, for the approximately 400 Catholic teenagers — boys on one side of the school; girls on the other — living on the south side of Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River. (Catholic students on the north side went to St. Joseph’s.) Whatever was served in the cafeteria other than french fries and gravy has been lost in the mists of time. And maybe my mind was elsewhere, given that the cafeteria was one of the few chances for students to mingle with the opposite sex.

In elementary school, both in Calgary and Edmonton, I walked home for lunch. And yes, everyone’s mother was presumed to be at home during the day.

In junior high, there must have been someplace to eat lunch because going to Our Lady of Mount Carmel meant an Edmonton Transit bus ride to 109th Street and a four-block walk down 76th to the school. Lunch I don’t remember. Presumably, as to this day, we ate lunch in the gym.

Obviously, as far as school lunches are concerned I can’t really remember my mother ever making me lunch. She must have, although by the time I got to high school my mother’s idea of a school lunch usually meant something way too embarrassing for a teenager — something along the lines of a tossed salad, a subtle reminder of how much I weighed.

And my obsession with roast beef? Jackie Carpentier (now Jackie de Bruin – she married Rudy who was one year behind us in high school) used to bring roast beef sandwiches to school every Monday. I though her parents must be really rich, because what late 1950’s housewife would waste a perfectly good leftover roast on her kid’s school lunch?

In our house, roast beef was Sunday dinner and the leftovers appeared for dinner on Monday. By Tuesday, whatever was left became hash. My mother may never have been Julia Child in the kitchen, but none of us went hungry and there was always lots of food on the table. Yet, there was something about school lunches that defeated my mother. When I got old enough to wield a knife without danger of losing a finger, she resigned the job.

As I remember, peanut butter and strawberry jam was the easiest to get together in the morning, seeing that the peanut butter was already out on the counter for the breakfast obligatory slices of toast. But my heart was never in the process of making my own school lunch. Like most teenagers, the lure of French fries smothered in gravy (eew) was far more interesting than homemade stuff, as there was never a chance of getting a roast beef sandwich.

Every year, in September, well-meaning home economists draw up a list of suggestions for making kids’ school lunches more nutritious and more fun. I’ve never been convinced that children want surprises in their school lunches.

After writing a column 25 years ago on school lunches and how kids didn’t want surprises, the Grade 3 students of St. Sylvester School, taught by my one of my university roommates, Carney Wakaryk, invited me to come and have lunch with them. It occurs to me just now that every one of those children is likely now making school lunches for their own children.

I went to the school, they fed me lunch — a peanut butter and jam sandwich on white bread, three cookies, an orange, and some of that flavoured drink in a tetra pack — and they grilled me, including one question concerning my age, which resulted in one nine-year-old saying: “You’re older than my dad.” (Out of the mouth of babes.)

It occurred to me that a smart investor (which I am not, given the fact I didn’t invest in Trivial Pursuit at the beginning, when I was asked, and neither did I buy gold at $35 an ounce) would have cornered the market on some “truly wretched-looking stuff called fruit roll-ups which resembles translucent ironed plasticine, or that sickly sweet, flavoured water marketed in a paper box with a baby straw, I’d be rich,” I wrote.

All of this was occasioned by suggestions, printed in the Calgary Herald just before the first day of a new school year, on what kind of snacks kids should take to school in order to fend off scurvy or starvation. (Okay, so I made that last bit up.)

But mothers are still, all these long years later, at the mercy of well-meaning home economists and dieticians who suggest creative ways to make a mother’s life more complicated. Add in the seeming proliferation of food allergies (no joke) and the challenge of school lunches and snacks are magnified. The suggestion, 25 years ago, that an ideal snack for mid-morning recess break would be to coat a peeled banana in peanut butter thinned with orange juice, rolled in nuts and frozen won’t cut it today. You can’t take nuts or peanut butter in your lunch for fear of triggering an allergic reaction, but maybe that’s a good thing. I can’t imagine a nine-year-old pulling out this “snack” in front of his peers and enduring the snickers all around.

Lest you think I’m anti-good nutrition for children I offer the following: The Heart and Stroke Foundation has oodles of advice in pamphlet form concerned with healthy eating. I know this because I sit on the fund development board and am thrilled that all sorts of information is available if people just look for it (Try for a wealth of information on healthy eating and family recipes.)

Alternatively, log on to the Heart and Stroke Foundation Facebook page and click on the healthy lunches, which includes all sorts of alternatives for my ubiquitous peanut butter and jam sandwich which, given the prevalence of allergies these days, no kid can take to school anyway. (Please note that this blog won’t correctly print an ampersand, so I am forced to use the word “and.”)

And while you’re at it, do what my mother did: let them make their own lunches. That way, they’re never surprised.

NEXT: The final push: three weeks to go.

Written by Catherine Ford

September 17, 2010 at 9:56 am

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Whatever the date on the calendar, every adult knows that real life resumes when school starts. The first day of school is the second New Year’s Day of the year. And it’s likely more welcome for parents than the actual date of January 1.

September brings regular routine back and such routines are necessary when there are children around. There are lunches to pack and dinners to plan and bedtime negotiations to be dealt with. While I’ve managed to escape all of that in my adult life, even childless people move to the rhythm of every school year. Maybe it’s something that’s bred in the bone.

Calgary’s public and separate school students start school tomorrow, on September 2. The year-round schools went back to the books a month ago. Many of Calgary’s private schools started classes last week. But whatever school or program a student attends — and I’m old-fashioned enough to believe school shouldn’t start until the Tuesday after Labour Day — the entire city has a different rhythm come September.

Educational experts have deemed this question moot. Moot as in open to debate or discussion. Really, they don’t care if you’ve planned holidays right through to this coming long weekend, they and not you, decide.

And what administrators have decided in recent years is that schools are no longer “public” places. The latest wrinkle in school-as-prison involves making the kids wear lanyards with photo identification, the better to control who’s in the school and who doesn’t belong there. I’m old enough to shudder at the thought of having to produce “papers” to identify yourself, whether that’s to go to school or to buy something with a credit card at Shopper’s Drug Mart. The latter’s feeble explanation about “security” falls on my uncaring ears.

And no, thank you, I do not want to “buy” a bag if I’ve just spent a couple of hundred dollars on non-essential cosmetics. And spare me the supercilious explanation about how it’s all about the environment; it’s about saving the drug store a bundle in plastic bags while the corporation is allowed to feel smug about it’s “contribution” to the ecology of the planet. Frankly, if the planet is your concern, give me a bio-degradable paper bag for my purchases and spare me the lecture.

Speaking of which, I managed to drop a few hundred dollars at The Bay a couple of weeks ago, and being a good global citizen, this time I remembered to bring a bag because The Bay has also jumped on the “look what we’re doing for the planet” bandwagon. It was a re-useable Safeway bag, but apparently The Bay doesn’t care what kind of a bag, as long as you produce one or buy one.

If you think my nose gets out of joint when the clerk in Shopper’s tries to sell me a bag while willingly taking my money, imagine my reaction when the smarmy Bay clerk asked if I needed a bag while ringing up hundreds of dollars on my account. Need a bag? This snippy women has to stand on her tippy-toes to peer over the pile of bathroom towels (6 bath towels; 3 bath sheets; 8 hand towels; four facecloths; three bath mats and a toilet-seat cover) sitting on the counter and she wants to know if I need a bag? I brandished the one I brought and asked if she thought, in her infinite wisdom, that this pile of stuff — pointing at the towels I had spontaneously bought — would fit in this bag I was waving around? Maybe I was Merlin the Magician and I could wave my wand and everything would magically transport itself to the car?

But, again, I digress. This was supposed to be about schools and school lunches and nutrition and how we all get back into the usual rhythm of life in September, even those of us without school-age children or any reason to follow a schedule.

Instead, this is about some of the irritations in life that vanish during the summer when life is not as regimented. And “regimented” seems to be the best word to describe the parlous state of our schools, desperate to deflect crazies, nutbars, and students with mayhem, mischief or murder on their minds.

Security has become the password of our civilization, whether we are dealing with airlines or schools. When I was working full-time I resisted for as long as possible wearing an electronic card that would open the outside doors and, naturally, tell whoever kept the records what times I entered and what times I left. Exactly what is the difference, I asked nobody in particular, between that and punching a time clock? That is a form of personal humiliation meted out to hourly workers in factories who apparently can’t be trusted to put in a full day.

But those arguments are long lost. At least we have not, as yet, insisted every child be “fitted” with a microchip to identify them, in the same way we insert a microchip into our pets’ bodies.

Oh, that’s right — cell phones with GPS systems do about the same thing, although phones can be easily passed from one teen to another. Still, given the pervasiveness of cell phones these days, what kid needs to borrow one? They all seem to have their own, glued to their ears along with their iPods.

September brings new chances, I believe, and this is partly why I started this blog last September, although the prime reason was my looming “senior” birthday in early October and my seeming inability to walk 18 holes of our golf course without being fatigued. So, while I won’t be hitting the books this month, or teaching any classes, my rhythms change with the school season, too.

For the past couple of weeks our newspapers have been filled with back-to-school stories about everything from physical education to non-boring lunches: How to tempt your kids who take their lunches to school.

This, I have never understood: if there is a single group of people who do not like change, do not want to deal with it and resist it with all their little might, it’s children. Some of us never grow out of that. I’m one. Sometimes my husband asks why, when we go for lunch in Canmore, I insist on eating the same thing — to the point that the Sage Bistro server doesn’t even bother giving me a menu any more, just pours me a Grumpy Bear from the Canmore-based micro-brewery, Grizzly Paw, and waits patiently for Ted to decide which of the menu items he’ll try that day.

It’s not that I’m against change, per se, but when you find something you love, why switch to something else? Isn’t that the reason most of us get married?

And my favourite saying about time and change comes from Marcel Proust, whose taste of a madeleine cake dipped in tea causes him to relive his childhood: “Time, which changes people, does not alter the image we have retained of them.”

So, forgive the rambling and the rant and next time, I’ll talk about school and food.

NEXT: All I ever wanted was a roast-beef sandwich.

Written by Catherine Ford

September 1, 2010 at 3:58 pm

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Spread out in front of us are acres of blooming wildflowers, carpeting the sub-alpine meadow in a riot of colour. Scarlet Indian paintbrush, feathery beige Western anemone, buttercup-yellow cinquefoil, purple heather, blue forget-me-not and white heliotrope are the realistic embodiment of Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny. Only wilder, of course. In the mountain air the colours are more vibrant and a lot less civilized than Monet’s impressionistic garden paintings.

We are spending four days in the pristine wilderness at the foot of Mt. Assiniboine, at Assiniboine Lodge, comfortable in a log cabin. Indeed, comfortable without the basics of “civilized” travel – indoor plumbing. And you know what? We don’t care.

What’s an en suite when compared to the privilege of being able to explore the wilderness all around us that is, in essence, our back yard here in the West?

Mt. Assiniboine Lodge lies at the foot of the mountain nestled into the meadow at the edge of Lake Magog. The lodge and its six guest cabins share the nearly 40,000 hectares of wilderness that is Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park with rustic cabins for hikers, overseen by a B.C. Park Ranger office with the Canadian flag flying in the foreground, and even-more rustic public campgrounds. They are part of an original concept of wilderness tourism first promoted by the CPR. There isn’t a road, a suit, a convenience store, a television or any other modern convenience for miles in any direction.

Access is by helicopter, although the more rugged can hike in (and back out) from Sunshine Village over about 26 kilometers of mountain terrain. Needless to say, we opted for the helicopter which whisks six guests at a time through the mountain valley from Mt. Shark, a spectacular 12-minute ride, hugging the mountainside and swooping over lakes, streams and mountain passes.

We had been here before, many years ago, but when we learned the lodge would be closed for nearly two years for renovations at the end of this year, we were moved to return to experience the magic of the place.

Part of that magic is due to the Renner family who, for the past 28 years, have operated Assiniboine Lodge, loving it and caring for its guests winter and summer. Sepp and Barb Renner and their children, Andre, Sara and Natalie and assorted in-laws in recent years have poured their love of the mountains and their considerable enthusiasm and experience into what they see as a trust for all Canadians and a wilderness experience for tourists.

They lead hikes in the summer — one easy, one more challenging each day — and ski and snowshoe treks in the winter. Breakfast and dinner (they now have a wine and beer license, which obviates the need to haul in wine in your backpack) are provided as part of the package, and lunch is a pack-your-own-for-your-hike deal. I had forgotten how a brisk hike in the mountain air whets one’s appetite, and finding a sunny rock on which to picnic is part of the experience.

One day for lunch we were joined by a cow moose and her yearling calf, wading through Lake Gog and stopping to snack on the lakeside grasses. Ground squirrels and hares are commonplace as is, apparently, a resident grizzly and her cubs that are snuffling around Wonder Pass. She was, said Alex, one of the workers who are preparing the site for renovations, “friendly” and non-aggressive. Should we meet her, “just talk to her,” he said one day. Personally, I’d rather not, I thought, admitting to myself that coming face to face with a grizzly, regardless of her “friendly” status was not my idea of a good time.

But all of that is incidental right now, with Mt. Assiniboine rising before us, 4000 metres into the clouds. On the porch of the lodge, powerful binoculars allow guests to watch the progress of the climbers who, like all of their breed, never met a mountain they didn’t want to clamber up. One day, in the sleeting hail which turned to rain, the consensus was that snuggling down with a book in the sitting room of the lodge made more sense than tackling anything out of doors. This, incidentally, did not deter a group of climbers.

Actually, any whining that might have been occasioned by the weather was immediately quelled the night the staff recognized Margaret’s impending 90th birthday. She was there, with her daughter and son-in-law, Judy and Ken, putting all but the most serious trekkers half her age to shame.

And that’s part of the charm of Assiniboine — the old hands who return every year mix with the first-timers and everyone is on a first-name basis. (The lodge boasts a 100-percent occupancy rate and a 70 percent return rate.)

But one sunny and cloudless day made everything magical again. A seven-kilometre hike through the wildflowers to Sunburst Lake and Cerulean Lake (which is, incidentally, the right colour of sky blue)

The Renners’ stay has not been without rancour or political interference, but that’s my take on the issue, not theirs. They are not critical of the hoops through which the B.C. government (which owns this World Heritage Site), has made them jump over the years. At the most they are frustrated at the typical bureaucracy that perforce surrounds anything any government, likely anywhere in the world, manages to promote.

Even after nearly three decades, the family does not know if the provincial government will find their son’s tender acceptable. Rumour has it that Andre’s proposal is the only one extant.

It is impossible to imagine anyone replacing them and their incredible hospitality.

Getting there from here was an experience in itself. Had we any pre-warning of the state of the gravel Smith-Dorrien/Spray Lakes Highway from Canmore to Mt. Shark, we would have opted for the ride from the Canmore heliport. Whatever provincial department is in charge of such things — presumably the Alberta Ministry of Transportation and the minister in charge, Luke Ouellette — has clearly been playing hooky this summer. The road is pitted with potholes and the parts that aren’t covered in holes that can eat a hubcap, are teeth-jarring, fender-rattling washboard. Nowhere on any provincial government Web site is there a warning about any of Alberta’s highways, let alone this monster. In their colour-coded maps, everything is green all the way, indicating a highway in good condition.

Maybe Minister Ouellette could pry himself loose from Sylvan Lake sometime this summer (he’s the Tory MLA for Sylvan Lake-Innisfail) and take a trip on one of the few highways in Alberta that isn’t paved. Certainly, in the minister’s trips from the Legislature in Edmonton to his constituency office, it’s blacktop all the way. (Although he’s had nothing to do with Highway 11 and 11A, which have been paved since I can remember, so there’s no hint of patronage at work.)

I’m sure some government flunky will patiently explain to anyone who’ll listen that the weather has been iffy all summer and rain has been washing out the gravel roads, but are there no graders available for at least one pass over this highway? Or is it a fact that the Tourism Ministry hold sway over all the tourists areas and nobody wants to tell the tourists to take out extra insurance on their rented car, for fear of frightening away some travelers? Just asking, of course.

How bad is the road? The 42-kilometer ride jarred the battery on the car loose enough to lose the connection. Luckily, there was an SUV at the parking lot, the booster cables were in the trunk, and the profuse swearing at the Minister of Highways in absentia fixed the problem momentarily. The ride back achieved the same end, and the following day a friend gave me a hand and tightened everything back up.

But all that waited for us at the end of our wedding anniversary sojourn

This trip came with a bonus. I still am not an avid hiker, but I realized that the 50 pounds I have shed since our last visit made the rugged outdoors far easier to maneuver. Dare I say it was pleasurable?

Certainly, it was beneficial, and while I already knew that walking was great exercise, it turns out hiking (even without the hiking boots) is even better. Fitness expert Helen Vanderburg says so in The Calgary Herald.

“Hiking can be one of the most comprehensive exercises you can do. Add a backpack and your workout intensity will soar,” she writes. (I admit that Ted hoisted the backpack with our water, lunch, rain gear and the much-used and much-loved book, Wildflowers of the Canadian Rockies by George Scotter and Halle Flygar.)

“Taking a nature hike has added benefits when it comes to training and strengthening the body,” writes Vanderburg.

One of our added benefits? The thrill of running into George Scotter, on one of our walks, as we were consulting his book.

NEXT: “Real” life resumes.

Written by Catherine Ford

August 19, 2010 at 10:47 am

Posted in Uncategorized


with one comment

Half-way through Wednesday’ fitness class, Leslie leaned over and asked when “the” golf game would happen. For a moment, I had forgotten the entire point of this blog – to spend a year getting fit enough to golf 18 holes at the height of summer without being too exhausted at the end to even attempt that final putt.

It’s now August and we’re still waiting for summer. It has been a tease this year, promising hot weather and then delivering a stingy day of it with the rest of the week – and the weekends — characterized by rain and hail, cool temperatures (my basil plants are shivering and cuddling up to each other) and way too much thunder and lightning.

We’re still waiting for some semblance of summer. Instead of garnishing the usual summertime drinks, umbrellas have been needed this year to keep the rain off, although umbrellas and raincoats are not common in our closets. Here on the treeless plains and in the foothills, the climate usually resembles a desert than a rainforest. Few of us who haven’t lived on either coast have the requisite umbrella and raincoat that kind of climate requires.

It’s also not common here in the Alberta foothills, to look out over the landscape this late in the year and see rich fields of green rolling toward the Rockies. By August in a normal year, the unirrigated land would have been burned to an umber shade by now.

But this has not been a normal summer.

Those of you who don’t golf maybe don’t understand that hail, rain and cool temperatures don’t usually deter the committed, but lighting will clear a golf course faster than a bear can clear a campground. . Every golf course is equipped with an ear-splitting early warning system that sends a single message – get off the course and under cover right now. Being the tallest item in the middle of the surrounding landscape and brandishing a metal club is a recipe for disaster.

Six years ago, 19 golfers were stuck by lightning at a makeshift golf course in Colorado. They told the Today show that the bolt arced from man to man as they emerged from their cars — where they had retreated from the storm — thinking the danger had passed. In Canada, about seven people are killed each year by lightning and 60 to 70 injured. As late as last week, a 22-year-old South African working in Southern Alberta was killed by a direct hit.

The most famous golfer to survive a lightning strike is Lee Trevino, the first to win the British Open, U.S. Open and the Canadian Open in the same year (1971). Only Tiger Woods has matched that record. Trevino was hit during a tournament in 1975. He apparently joked that he’d been hit by lightning, had served in the U.S. Marines and he now feared nothing — except his wife. (Insert mandatory feminist groan here.)

In our family, we have a heightened respect for the power of lightning. More than 30 years ago, in the heat of August, my then-20-year-old brother, a university student, survived a direct hit while working on a paving crew for the summer.

That he wasn’t killed is a miracle; that he survived with no scars visible when he’s dressed is astounding. He joked while still in the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton that he stood a greater chance of being hit by lightning again than winning the lottery. It could be one reason why none of us buy lottery tickets on a regular basis, the odds being what they are.

Despite the weather this summer (who still doesn’t believe in climate change?) I do have one of those unmistakable golfer tans on my feet and my left hand (the one that wear the glove) is decidedly paler than the right.

Still, as I told Leslie, my dream of 18 holes without flagging is still in the distance. Of course I’ve golfed more than 18 holes this year, but no game has not required some mechanical help.

My friend Janice , whose knee has been acting up, has needed a cart to golf this year and has willingly given me a ride on the tougher holes, (There are a few at our golf course that seem to require the skill and mentality of a mountain goat.)

Nine holes have become a snap, although the course at which a group of us golf nine holes each Thursday evening demands more walking than seems normal. The day I wore a pedometer, I logged nearly eight kilometers, the average length (five miles) a golfer walks over 18 holes. Of course, some of that distance could be attributed to my crappy golf game which necessitates flailing all over the course.

When Mark Twain described golf as “ good walk spoiled” he likely had no love of he game. I don’t know what ignited my interest in golf, but to this day I regret not agreeing to my father’s invitation to learn to golf. I distinctly remember thinking it was a stupid way to spend a day, but I wish I could take all that back. At the very least, had I learned at a younger age, there would be some muscle memory available to me now. Like bike-riding, one never really forgets. Muscle memory remains long after the finer points of a sport has vanished with age and disuse.

Twain clearly didn’t have the argument that golf is good exercise to counter his ”spoiled” walk attitude. But writer Brent Kelly did, and he quotes a lengthy Associated Press piece outlining a sports scientist’s study that shows walking a golf course contributes to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. So those of us who golf and walk the course can be somewhat smug about the time and expense that playing golf requires

Kelly writes: “The study concludes that golfers who walk 36 holes a week will burn around 2,900 calories per week. The threshold of 2,500 calories burned in a week is an important one; according to the AP article, ‘studies have shown that those who burn 2,500 calories a week improve their overall health by lowering their risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer’.”

The only thing better on the golf course than walking is walking and carrying your own bag. Evidentially, carrying your own golf clubs while walking the course will improve your score, too.

Writes Kelly: “Many golf purists argue that walking the golf course is not only better for your health (no doubt about that), but also better for your score. The thinking is that when walking the course, the golfers sees more: He or she takes in what lies ahead of them on the hole, has time to consider options and to think about club and shot selection.”

Well, the caddying isn’t going to work for me, but I still hold out hope for the good walk.

NEXT: Hiking in the mountains, No, really.

Written by Catherine Ford

August 2, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


with 4 comments

My grandmother, Kate Evans Ford, turned 65 in 1947. She died eight years later, at 73.

I look at those numbers and think how completely different life is for 65-year-old women today. One of those women is me. A few million of us are still wondering how we got to be this old and how we managed not to be our grandmothers. Credit feminism, work, careers, choice, modern education and, probably, good nutrition and better health care. Those of us 65 years old today were born during the Second World War, but we were raised in boom times, albeit always reminded of the Depression and, of course, the war.

Two of the many things that set us apart from our grandmothers is our right to choose to work and our attitude toward retirement. One does follow the other, circuitous though it might be. The concept of retirement was almost a completely male thing for our grandparents. Many were raised at a time when women might take some job — as nurses, teachers or office workers — but that was not their life. That life was husband and family, and the work never stopped. It would lessen, of course, when the children left home, but the “job” of homemaker never ceased. It still doesn’t.

So the concept of retiring from a full-time occupation, from a career chosen freely and without complaint, is a modern construct.

And, I’ve managed to fail at it. When I took early retirement nearly six years ago, it wasn’t the same as downing tools. It’s not as if sitting in an office and having opinions required much heavy lifting. But a combination of factors — one of which was a chronic heart condition — led me to embrace Freedom 55 plus five.

That was then. This is now. Better health; less stress. So, I’ve gone back to “work.” Not that my husband calls it that. But I’m now writing a weekly column for an on-line news service and newspaper called Troy Media. ( It appears every Sunday and has been cheekily titled My Call.

All of this got me thinking about my grandmother, at least the one I knew. My Irish grandmother, Kate Regan Tunney, died in 1950, her husband following her a few years later.

So the only grandparents I knew were my father’s parents. And I remember how old his mother appeared to me. She was an avid sportswoman, but I only know that from slightly out-of-focus photographs of her in a long skirt, standing beside a tent and holding a fishing rod — a willowy young woman in the fresh mountain air. I never knew that woman who loved to fish in the Highwood River and camp in the mountains.

The Kate Ford I and my only first cousin on that side of the family, Paul Perkins — two years older than me — knew was a kindly little old lady who loved bridge, tea, Central United Church, the YMCA and YWCA and playing the piano. We only ever knew the plump grey-haired woman in a housedress or a simple suit and, when she went out, the obligatory hat.

Her generation’s idea of retirement was nothing more exotic than having her children give her grandchildren upon whom she could dote. She had married late, at 30, after teaching school in Ontario. She had waited for her future husband, Clinton James Ford, to set himself up as a lawyer in Calgary and return east to marry her. She had her first child, Helen Margaret, at 31 and her last, Thomas Fullerton, at 42. In between there was William and Robert or, as they were known, Billy and Bobby. Bob was my father.

I mention all this family history because the idea of retirement would have been completely foreign to Grandmother. When she died, her husband was still working, long past 65, yet to be appointed Chief Justice of Alberta and the Northwest Territories. She did not live long enough to see the only grandson to bear her husband’s name and follow his profession as a lawyer, my brother, Clinton William Ford.

It is the arrogance of the young to believe that youth belongs to them. They will eventually learn that the young person they are now will still be there a few decades along. Still there, but hidden under the inevitable signs of age, including the faces earned throughout life. I’m reminded of an incident at a lunch years ago when my friend said, of the elderly hostess who had invited all of us, that she would like to look like her when she was reached that advanced age. Overhearing this exchange, one of the other guests leaned across the table and said: “You have to start out really, really beautiful to look like that at 80.”

True, maybe, but there are women in this world who start out plain and end up beautiful because age strips away the façade to reveal the inner beauty. I don’t expect anyone without wrinkles to appreciate or understand that sentiment.

Mostly, though, we don’t feel old — at least those of us who aren’t stricken with some disease they can’t ignore. I can only conjecture that, at this age, my grandmother didn’t feel old either.

I belong to the first feminist generation to define retirement as quitting full-time work. My grandmother, the teacher, “retired” to be married. My mother, the nurse, “retired” when she was pregnant with me.

As we retire, even those of us who “fail” and go back to work or work even harder at volunteering, aren’t necessarily following any ground rules. There is at least one simple reason for that: Right behind us, snapping at our heels is what Landon Y. Jones called “the pig passing through the python,” also known as the Baby Boomers. (A phrase Jones coined.)

The first of the Baby Boomers turns 65 in 2012 and just as they have all of their lives, they will again change the priorities of the world they inhabit — for the good, the bad, or the horrible.

(It is noted that the Canadian baby boom started a year later than the U.S. boom. The reason, according to demographer David Foot, is that American troops started coming home in 1945 and the U.S. baby boom began in 1946. “Canadian troops came home later, so Canadian births did not leap upwards until 1947,” writes Foot in his and Daniel Stoffman’s demographic study, Boom, Bust and Echo.)

When the boomers retire, they will rewrite the entire notion of retirement. “When they get interested in a particular product or idea, we all have to sit up and take notice,” writes Foot.

I suspect all I am doing in taking on paid work again is anticipating that my sister and brother — and the millions in their cohort — will abolish the notion of retirement as a time of doing nothing.

NEXT: Summer’s treats, temptations and drinks with umbrellas in them

Written by Catherine Ford

July 13, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized