Category Archives: Spirit & Self

Merry Christmas from Robbin and Co.

The tree is decorated, the cookies are made, the gifts are wrapped; now all that’s left is to wish you a Merry Christmas!

I took this photo above in our front room on one of our rare snowy and chilly nights just days ago.  It looks like Christmas perfection, and luckily my head elf / youngest daughter got us moving towards Christmas this year by picking out the perfect tree, decorating, and even doing a lot of the shopping and wrapping for us!

I’ve been reexamining Christmas and what it means to me, in particular as our world changes so rapidly around us. Although I was raised Catholic, on the surface Christmas appears to be a day we work towards, to come together and share gifts we’ve purchased or made, and eat, drink and be merry. The time together is the real gift however, and it’s should be done more often. I am grateful that Christmas gets us all together, but I am becoming more of the mindset to just leave all the present shopping for birthdays!

Photo: Christmas 2015 at Tohni's house... (Jackie, Tohni, Patrick, Brian, Nathen, Lorraine, Loryn, Mom)
Photo: Christmas 2015 at Tohni’s house… (Jackie, Tohni, Patrick, Brian, Nathen, Lorraine, Loryn, Mom)

My children are all young adults now, and it’s been a long time since I’ve written a Christmas Letter.  This year marks over 5 years that I have been back in Canada after life in The Bahamas, and no regrets. I love being home and I love my country.

My mother Corae has been living with us since September 2015 and all is going well. She turns 83 on December 23rd. For those that do not use Facebook, mom’s become quite the star as I share stories about her under the hashtag #ParentingOurParents.  They are tiny little excerpts of my life as I grapple with trying to be a good daughter, while what seems to be, ‘parenting’ my aging parent.

This year The Bahamas took the brunt of Hurricane Matthew, and I took my ex husband Brian into my home! For those not aware, Brian has Parkinsons, and his health spiraled downhill rather rapidly this summer. He’s been back in Canada since October and although glad to be home, and with family, he has a long road ahead. I’ve been helping him transition back to the real world as he awaits his new healthcare assessments. He’s improved a lot just by being here.

My eldest Loryn (26 years) is now a married working woman, and is speeding through life not only on the snowboarding slopes, but she’s progressing very quickly in her career as a banker. Go see her at HSBC if you are looking to invest.  She and Lorraine (a nurse) have purchased their first home, as well as their first car. The girls live conveniently just down the road from us.

Tohni (now 24 yrs) has been enjoying life in the fast lane and lives in East Vancouver. She’s in a great relationship with Patrick and has been co-managing a fun restaurant called The General Public on Main Street in Vancouver. Do stop in to see her, she’ll give you a super discount. This year Tohni worked her butt off so she could take in as many music festivals as she could over the summer, and traveled a couple times to the USA.

Nathen (22-yrs-old) is studying now at Simon Fraser University and is working at Vision Electronics. Go see him, he’ll also give you a good deal!  While taking on a full course load, he managed to move out last month, so his life is full of responsibility.  He lives just up the hill from us. His present goal is to become a chiropractor like his father, but he said he’ll see how things progress.

Jackie (20-yrs) is the last egg in the nest and has been a huge support around the house with helping take care of her grandmother and father. She’s been working at Dynamite women’s clothing at Coquitlam Centre and is still keeping up as the voice of the ‘community calendar’ on 98.7 FM. She can be heard every hour, on the hour at ckpmfm.com.

As for me, life is full on! I’m still working TheBahamasWeekly.com and this year we celebrated our 10th anniversary. I had hoped to get back for a celebration but the hurricane took care of that.  I’ve taken on several other clients that I do writing or social media work for.

Some 2016 highlights
Some 2016 highlights

This  year I was elected president of the Hoy-Scott Watershed Society which manages a salmon enhancement program in the woods near my house. I love my volunteer work there, and have been furthering the HSWS public relations by building and managing a new website, Youtube and social media accounts. Check us out at hoyscottcreeks.org.

I’ve just completed my first year of dragon boating with the 50+ Nothin’ Dragon Masters, and loved every minute of it.  I raced with the team in 4 or 5 festivals this year, which was very exciting. Our oldest teammate is 80. I’ve also been playing soccer with my daughter Loryn on a Div. 3 team once a week, and it’s special time with her and my favourite game. I took my love for the Coquitlam Crunch, a hiking mountain in our city, to new heights by co-chairing the annual event, the Coquitlam Crunch Challenge, and was featured in the city’s promo video. In fall of this year I joined Ultra Throw, a brand new local club of 20+ athletes training and competing in javelin, shot put, discus, hammer, and weight throwing. In 2017 I will start competing. I am excited (and scared) of this, as competing in sport ‘solo’ is brand new to me.

As for my love life, when a girlfriend from the Bahamas asked if I was dating, I said, “I’m open to it, but any group I join, or people I meet, the guys are either gay, already in relationship or married.” Another girlfriend suggested I join the dating group, “Events and Adventures,” to which I chuckled and replied, “My life is already an event and adventure! I don’t need to pay for it, and I don’t have the time in my schedule.”  Another girlfriend suggested I try online dating. I tried that once – went on one date, and although it was fine (meah), I’ve resolved to waiting to see what life doles out. So yes, I am happy and single.

In 2017 I look forward to keeping my life afloat, and also have some long-range writing goals I hope to get started on if I can find the time!

Below is my interview with Tri-Cities Community TV featured on Shaw TV where I talked about #ParentingOurParents, my salmon work, The Bahamas Weekly, and dragon boating. Click the image to view or HERE.

My interview with Cathy Cena on Tri-Cities Community TV
My interview with Cathy Cena on Tri-Cities Community TV

Whether I’ve seen you this year, or not; whether we only communicate now and again, or via social media; thank you for being in my life.  Have a wonderful holiday season!

Parenting Our Parents

I moved back to Canada from the Bahamas in late summer 2011; and before winter 2012, I moved my mother in with me.  She was not thrilled about living in the Vancouver area because she doesn’t like the damp climate.

“I’ve raised seven children; been butchered up by the doctors after being in the hospital sixteen times,” she likes to remind us, even though seven of those times were to deliver babies. “Vancouver weather just makes my bones ache.”

But  mom agreed to move in with me anyway, and we were living in a high rise on the 33rd floor.   “The bird cage,” she quickly dubbed it.  She loved the views, the sunrises, but hated everything else about it.  All that said, mom’s health improved week by week, likely due to the regular and varied meals we made, and the love received by her grandchildren.  She didn’t like going out much, and I’m no sure if it was the high rise life that was foreign to her, but the woman I knew as my mother always had a gypsy adventurous spirit and it killed me to see her be so idle while I worked on the computer during the day.

That Christmas she went to ‘visit’ her sister in Edmonton for two weeks and flew the coop by refusing to return.  I can’t say I was surprised.

On a warm May day in 2015 walking through Hoy Trail in Coquitlam. I took mom on a walk through the woods and she said, "This spot is so beautiful you should take a picture."
On a warm May day in 2015 walking through Hoy Trail in Coquitlam. I took mom on a walk through the woods and she said, “This spot is so beautiful you should take a picture.”

Mom only lasted two weeks with her big sister and then moved in with a girlfriend.  She stayed there in Edmonton, ended up in the interior of BC for a bit with another girlfriend, and went back to Edmonton until 2015. In 2014 she put herself into the hospital at one point, and the doctors found nothing wrong with her. It was hard to deal with as we wanted her in BC, but she refused to come, and refused to live with her friend again.  The doctors suggested they find senior housing for her. The wait was a few months, and I know it was hard on her.

Finally a place came up in downtown Edmonton, and my sister and I went out to set mom up in her new home. We went out and shopped and got it all ready for her, even buying her new clothes. The seniors facility had all the amenities and no cooking was allowed in her room. Thank goodness as she had been starting to leave pots on stoves, etc.

It wasn’t long before mom said she didn’t like their food, and didn’t’ seem to engage in any of the social activities they had on every day. I could tell when I called she was depressed.  All of her children, live in BC except my brother who lives in Edmonton, but has ALS and lives in long-term care.  If anything urgent were to happen with mom’s health, we’d have to fly in. I continued to express my concern about this with her.   Finally mom agreed to move to B.C. but wanted to live in Abbotsford instead of Vancouver, as she assumed it gets less rain.

Made with love! Every morning I put out breakfast for mom. Home made steel cut oats with raisins and flax; some kefir; coconut milk, stewed prunes; and her vitamins. She's only on one medication for her high blood pressure. Mom is always served first at any of our meals.
Made with love! Every morning I put out breakfast for mom. Home made steel cut oats with raisins and flax; some kefir; coconut milk, stewed prunes; and her vitamins. She’s only on one medication for her high blood pressure. Mom is always served first at any of our meals.

We found the best seniors home in our budget and were able to get her in when we wanted.  My brother drove out to get her things and put her on the plane.  This was the spring of 2015.  Within only weeks at her new place in Abbotsford, mom was complaining about the food, and the staff. She was mostly upset that the units had only walk-in showers and no bathtubs. She’s been a bathtub girl her entire life.   Again, I could hear the depression setting in, although I was driving out to visit her one day a week, bringing her home on a weekend overnights, as was my brother who lives in Abbotsford.

Then our roommate moved out of our home, and  in my heart of hearts I knew my mother should be with me.  I talked to my siblings about it first.  We all agreed she had to stick out 3 months at the seniors home first, so she would understand her actions better and have time to assimilate the transition into my home .

When I asked her if she’d move in with me again, she burst into tears. “I thought you’d never ask me again, after living with you the last time,” she said.   She stuck out the 3 months and moved in with me last year in September.

This Friday mom turns 83 and she’s finally calling our place ‘home.’ She stopped answering the phone saying, “Robbin’s place” and now just says, “Good afternoon.”

Mom’s been institutionalized, and expected meals to be on time, at certain times, even though I told her she’s living with family now and we are all busy.  Things will not always be on time, and she’ll have to learn to go with our flow. We still have to remind her of this.

Out for a walk in February 2015. After winter she was not wanting to walk much, so I had to get out with her to get her back in the swing of daily walks.
Out for a walk in February 2015. After winter she was not wanting to walk much, so I had to get out with her to get her back in the swing of daily walks.

She’s eased up a lot, and her health is getting better and better, although her short term memory has not improved much.  She’s begun sharing her stories (over and over as she forgets), and has also begun going through some of her things like photographs, and has starting giving them as gifts.  I truly believe that if we care for and live with (or near) our parents, this is how our family stories get passed from generation to generation.

I started writing about mom under the hashtag #parentingourparents on Facebook, and since we baby boomers are all taking care of, or assisting our parents in their final years, my writing seems to  strike a chord with those either dealing with similar, or those who appreciate the insight of what to expect.  Some of my writing is touched with sadness, but much of it  is laced with irony, laughter, and a lot of love.

Taking care of my mother is the least I can do. I am lucky she is still in great health and has her mobility.  It is now her time to rest, reflect, share her stories and enjoy life, the way she wants to.   I often want for her to enjoy life the way I think would be best for her … and she quickly lets it be known if those ideas are going to work for her, or not.

She’s one stubborn woman, but then so am I…

Mom woke up very late yesterday... and seemed to be in a zombie state. I had breakfast laid out and she told me she was going for a walk. "Before breakfast?" I asked. She went on her way, and I thought she must be mad at me for something...? She came back in and said, "Oh a bear got into the garbage cans last night. I hardly slept." I guess she didn't want to wake me up. I went out and sure enough our bins were knocked over. They are right outside her bedroom window. At least she wasn't mad at me :P Later I took her for a walk by Lafarge Lake and we only got as far as the first park bench and she said she had to stop because she was so tired. I hold mom's hand these days, as it gives her that extra security when we walk. "If you don't slow down, you'll have to carry me," she says every time. I left her watching the ducks and did a fast walk on my own. She slept like a log last night :) #parentingourparents #bearscare
Mom sitting in the park at Town Centre, Coquitlam overlooking LaFarge Lake. She was tired because a bear got into our garbage the night before. I did the lake loop on my own.

Here’s one of my favourite #ParentingOurParents pieces from 2015:

Tucking in my 82 year old mother the other night after putting in her eye drops from her cataract removal, I gave her a little squeeze, and she said, “Oh my that feels good. I don’t get many hugs these day.”
Then she said, “Thanks for taking such good care of me.” I turned out her light and held back some tears on the way to my bedroom. #ParentingourParents

[To find more of my #parentingourparents entries, go to your search bar at the top of Facebook and put that hashtag in and hit ‘Return’ – please note that there are others using this hashtag also.]

Best Intentions

BEST INTENTIONS — So last week I traveled to Grand Bahama riding on a mountain of stress. I had spent close to an entire week at my computer chair following Hurricane Matthew and reporting information to our Bahamas Weekly readers, and group members on the Facebook page “Bahamas News and Events.”   I went to Grand Bahama, not to report on the hurricane aftermath, but to get a friend off the island who was in a very bad way health-wise. During my 24-hr trip en-route to Grand Bahama, I managed to get online only a few very brief times. And it was during this travel to the island that I screwed up on an article I posted regarding a client’s business, and subsequently I lost this 10-year client.

Flying in to Freeport after realizing the upset I had caused had me feeling sicker in the pit of my stomach than seeing the devastation of the island after Matthew. I went in person to apologize, and try and explain that my heart was in the right place the entire time. That my sole intention was to assist my client. I have to face that I screwed up. Some times people are not willing to forgive or work with you to make things right again. I have to accept that. All I can do is move on, and continue as always, with my best intention.

I want to share a lovely note (there have been many) received today from a Grand Bahama resident:

“Robbin,  Thank you so much for having kept everybody informed around the clock during the hurricane. It was a very important source of info for many people on and off island,  We did rely on your posts all through this ordeal. That was real dedicated and professional journalism and you deserve a medal for this work. Heartfelt thanks.”

I have many friends that are my family on Grand Bahama, and the other islands of the Bahamas. I do not deserve a medal… Through my concern and love for them, I was simply assisting the only way I knew how. It was the least I could do…

How to Call Your Parents

celeste-on-the-phone-600x300I know it sounds easy, but why is it so hard for so many of us?

Our parents are aging. They don’t want to be a bother.  You often hear seniors say, “Oh, my kids are very busy with their families, and I don’t want to bug them.”  Sadly many people do not talk to their parents for months or even a year at a time.

What is even more bewildering to me is that some people say, “But if I call, I don’t know what to say.  I don’t know what to tell them.”

Our parents are aging, and their minds and bodies are changing. As we become seniors, we become more childlike.  Our parents need us. It’s payback time.

A child needs is food, touch, warmth and love.  Our parents deserve the same. They gave it to us.

If we can step up for at least the love part, then a phone call is very important, especially if our parents are living alone, as a widow, or widower; and even if they live in a seniors home or care facility.

If you need that nudge, here’s my basics on how to make that call:

  1. Aim to keep it short. Tell them at the start that you can’t talk long, but you called to see how they are doing.  “Hi mom, I can’t talk long, but you’ve been on my mind, and I called to see how you are doing?”
  2. After they answer (they may just say they are ‘ok’), ask them what they’ve been up to. They may not tell you much. Expect that, because for some, they may also not remember.
  3. Have three questions in mind to ask. Write them down if you have to. They may flip it over to discuss you, as not to talk about themselves, but try and get those three questions in during your call.
  4. Have three things to tell them about your life. Write them down if you have to. ie. 1. Your daughter Mary graduated from med school 2. You got a call from an old friend you hadn’t see since childhood  3. Your plans for an upcoming vacation.
  5. Some parents may bring up old grievances. If that should happen and you hear the old record player starting up yet again, then ‘keep it short’  – as you intended. It’s okay to say, “Hey mom, sorry to cut you off, but I have to run now. I’ll call again soon.”  (and yes you will!)
  6. Always tell them you love them before you hang up, no matter how the conversation went. Some people never hear “I love you”  enough, or are often afraid to say it to others, but your parent needs to hear it. So just say it, because it won’t hurt.  The more you say it, the more natural and easy it becomes…”I love you mom.”

Make that call today!

(Check out the hashtag #ParentingOurParents on Facebook to get a peek into my life, living with and caring for my 80+ mother)

Summer Night Sky

Vancouver-VenusThere’s nothing like driving home at 10 pm in the heart of a warm summer night in Vancouver’s lower mainland, and the moon is an amazing sliver, with Venus at its side… Still light, but the horizon is sharp yet soft… so magical against the hills and mountains.

I remember summer night’s past, where I’ve experienced this same beauty. I cherish them – and thankfully each one has been etched into my mind.

The last glow of the blue sky fills me before it fades to dark, and I am home.

Christmas Nostalgia

christmas-3My mother’s smell is the last thing I embrace as I take my excited but weary self off to bed. She’s been in the kitchen all night preparing food for the next day. My home is nothing but Christmas perfection! My mother reigns supreme at creating ambiance. The tree is stunning and the presents at its base come out at least four feet because of our large family of nine persons. Christmas carols play continuously on the stereo. Milk and cookies have been left out for Santa on the dining table.

I’ve just finished watching “Scrooge” on the TV with my older brothers, and although it scares me so, I love it annually. I make my way through the kitchen and into the family room, which is dimly lit to show the tree and lights around the windows. The outside cold is unfelt by me in my cozy home of family memories. I walk past the candy tree – a fantastic favorite each year. Mom chooses just the right branch; sets it into a small pot of soil; sprays it white with paint or artificial snow spray and we get the delight of decorating it with colorful wrapped candies and ribbons.

The coffee table has been covered with red velvet. A huge tray of fruits and nuts looking like a painting from Rembrandt with two pillar candles on either side which light the pages of the bible sitting open to the part that tells of the Virgin Birth.

The organ top is always the place for the nativity scene, but my mother does not just lay our figurines. She creates an entire village on mountains and hills of snow (white tissue).  Lit little homes and the Star of Bethlehem are prominently shining mounted from the wall above. Our stockings are placed on the floor by the tree.

It’s after midnight. I think of “him” as I slip under the heavy quilt and lay my head on my Christmas Dream Pillow – a special pillow slip made with Christmassy motifs for each of us to dream on. As I fall into my sleep I can almost hear those sleigh bells jingling.

The cold wind blows outside, but I am snug in my bed, next to my warm little sister. Then I think about “Him” and say my prayers, and drift off to sleep feeling truly blessed…

(Based on my childhood memories growing up in the prairie province of Alberta, Canada)

Merry Christmas!

(Photo: Robbin Whachell)
(Photo: Robbin Whachell)

Christmas is still a magical time of the year for me, no matter how old I get. It helps that some of my children still live under my roof, as it urges me to continue on with our traditions. I pray I will keep up with that spirit after I have an empty nest…

It also helps when there is snow! I took this photo in November when we happened to have snow for almost 7 days.  This is the trail to Hoy Creek close to where I live.

Merry Christmas everyone!

(fade to rain…)