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Willpower vs. Won’t Power

July 26, 2019

WillpowerHow often have you heard (or been told) that bad habits are “almost always due to laziness and/or a lack of willpower”? Willpower is defined as: control exerted to do something or restrain impulses. Unfortunately, what most of us attempt to exert upon ourselves is more along the lines of “won’t power” than willpower. For example:

  • I won’t eat that donut
  • I won’t have a second helping
  • I won’t drink more than two glasses of wine
  • I won’t buy potato chips
  • I won’t skip my yoga / Pilates / Zumba class
  • I won’t make excuses to avoid exercise
  • I won’t spend money on things I don’t need
  • I won’t criticize / judge people
  • I won’t get angry when someone cuts me off on the road
  • I won’t lose my temper with the surly sales clerk
  • I won’t complain to my co-worker about our boss
  • I won’t spend so much time on Facebook / Instagram / Twitter
  • I won’t complain about how lousy my life is

You get the picture – instead of looking for positive ways to invoke our willpower (or, perhaps more accurately, our self-control), we repeat negative messages that sound more like punishment than reward for “controlling our impulses”. What we should be doing is turning those “won’t” declarations into actual “will(power)” statements. For example:

  • I will eat an apple instead of that donut
  • I will have a glass of fizzy water instead of a second helping
  • I will enjoy two glasses of wine
  • I will buy carrot chips instead of potato chips
  • I will take some “me” time and attend my yoga / Pilates / Zumba class
  • I will find an exercise I like and look forward to engaging in it
  • I will only buy things I need
  • I will accept the people around me as they are
  • I will take a deep breath and ignore anyone who cut me off on the road
  • I will empathize with the surly sales clerk (maybe she’s just having a bad day; don’t we all?)
  • I will find something nice to say to my co-worker about our boss
  • I will turn off my electronics for at least an hour a day and enjoy the peace and quiet
  • I will express gratitude for the things in my life that are good

Is not really all that hard, is it? All you have to do is stop yourself whenever you start to make a (negative) “won’t” proclamation and turn it on its head with a more positive “will” assertion. I guarantee you’ll feel better about whatever “bad habit” you’re trying to overcome, and whatever challenges you’re facing will be easier to manage.

I just wish I’d had this kind of advice before I reached … the other side of 55.



Roy G. Biv

May 14, 2019

Mnemonics* are commonly used to help children (and some adults) remember facts or build vocabulary (e.g., BEDMAS = order of mathematical operations: Brackets, Exponentiation, Division, Multiplication, Addition, Subtraction; “My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine Planets” = the planets [pre-2006] in our solar system: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto). There are probably hundreds in use, but I only stumbled across “Roy G. Biv” a year ago, as (of all things) a decorating tip. ROY G. BIV is the mnemonic for remembering the colours of the rainbow: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.

Rainbow2018I’ve seen a dozen or more rainbows in my lifetime – occasionally out the windows of my own home when the sun would come out immediately after a thunderstorm had passed, and several times while travelling on a rainy day when the sun would burst through the clouds to reward my perseverance in driving in a downpour. Once, on my way to work, I drove nearly 30 minutes “into” a full arch rainbow; I couldn’t help hoping I would eventually drive right under it! This photo was taken last year from the 2nd floor balcony off my bedroom (it was actually a double rainbow for several minutes; if you look closely, you can see the faint second arc in the top right corner). There’s something magical about rainbows, if you ask me!

FireRainbowAn even more exceptional and rare type of rainbow is a “fire rainbow” (more commonly known as a “rainbow cloud” or an “iridescent cloud”). These appear when cumulus clouds (the big fluffy ones we drew as children) boil upwards, pushing layers of air high into the atmosphere, where it expands and cools. If the moisture in the air condenses suddenly, it forms a cap cloud (or “pileus”) with tiny droplets that diffract the sunlight and scatter it. I’ve been lucky enough to see fire rainbows on three different occasions! They are truly special.

This year, as I’ve been watching the springtime activity taking place outside my windows, I’ve come to see another kind of rainbow – one made up of birds! In addition to the browns and greys and blacks of sparrows and nuthatches and chickadees and juncos and wrens (as well as the slightly more colourful red-breasted grosbeaks, robins, red-winged blackbirds, and myriad types of woodpeckers that inhabit my forest), I have:

Red Cardinals (at least two pairs)


Orange Baltimore Orioles (last year I had a single one; this year I have a whole flock)


Yellow Goldfinches (dozens and dozens of them!)


Green (the iridescent backs of) Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (this dominant male spends most of his day sitting on my clothesline, daring any other males to challenge him)


Blue Jays (several families; they are very noisy and often bully the other birds at the feeders)


Indigo Buntings (several pairs)



Violet (well, Purple, actually, but isn’t that the same thing?) Martins (one of our near neighbours has a martin house in their front yard, so we get the occasional visitor looking for a free meal)



VenueOfVultures2019In addition to the never-ending enjoyment of observing these birds visiting my feeders, I also love watching my venue of turkey vultures (there are around 15 – 20 in the group) come and go every day. They arrive “home” around 5:30 every evening, sweeping and soaring overhead until one of them chooses a tree to roost in overnight (there are several on my property that are, apparently, quite suitable – the droppings and feathers at their base attests to their popularity). As they settle in, the noise they make shuffling about with their six foot wingspans flapping sounds like someone whacking a rug with a broom. Between 7:00 and 7:30 each morning, they “head off to work”, one by one. As ugly as they may be up close, I find them magnificent and love that they’ve chosen our property every year as their “home base”.

Life in the country is proving to be filled with an unlimited variety of remarkable experiences and spectacles – there’s literally something new every single day. I can’t wait to see what other natural wonders await me as I enjoy life here on … the other side of 55.


For All Who Live Here

April 28, 2019

Our previous house – that’s about all the sun we got.

Between 2000 and 2016, my husband and I lived in a raised ranch style house nestled into a rare 80 x 150 foot treed lot in the west end of a reasonably-sized city in southern Ontario. My gardening efforts were minimal because only full shade loving plants would grow under the branches of the more than seventy trees on the property; even the hostas refused to bloom (although lily of the valley and English ivy did thrive in the space next to the driveway). The land sloped at the back, so the deck off our living and dining rooms was elevated. From there we could observe (and feed!) the animal life that inhabited our “neck of the woods”. We had a couple of dozen squirrels, a family of skunks, and several raccoons (one female brought her young ones around every spring; one summer she arrived with seven kits. She would sit under a maple tree at the back of the yard where she could catch my eyes as I sat on the deck; it was like she was saying, “Well, here we are, where’s the food?” I tossed stale bread, wrinkly grapes, and other “leftovers” to her and her babies; sometimes I even raided the fridge to make sure they didn’t go hungry!)

Two Young Hawks in My Yard

Young Cooper’s Hawks

We also had a wide variety of birds: robins, sparrows, cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, blue jays, flickers, wrens, cedar waxwings, hummingbirds, and a pair of Cooper’s hawks that nested one summer in the giant oak right over our heads; the adults taught the two chicks how to bathe in our bird bath! There seemed to be no end to the entertainment provided by nature in our little slice of paradise.



Our slice of paradise (in the “black box”)

When it came time to retire and move, we knew we wanted a large property in the country with plenty of trees (albeit with SOME sunny spaces for a “flower garden”) and even more opportunities to observe and engage with wildlife. And we found it (see: When Someday Becomes Today).  And while I have a bundle of papers that states we “own” these four acres, I see us more as stewards of the land and forests around our home. For while the house has been occupied for approximately 30 years, the trees and wildlife (mammals, birds, insects) were here long before people moved in (and will hopefully be here long after we’re gone).


April 2019

Surprisingly (to me at first) we have fewer squirrels here (or maybe we have the same number, but they’re just spread out more and prefer to stick to the forest, rather than come into the yard), and they know nothing of “people food”. The first time I threw out some stale “Tiny Tom” donuts, I watched as a squirrel picked one up, sniffed it and tossed it aside (whereas something like that would have resulted in a ten-squirrel feeding frenzy in the city). Likewise, the raccoons that meander through the property (again, far fewer – or at least less visible – than in the city) pay no attention to such things; they also leave our garbage alone (clearly there is enough “real” food in the forests for them to not need to bother scavenging for our pathetic leftovers).


Twin white-tailed deer (one is in the trees); spring 2018

We’ve seen (or heard), at one time or another over the last three years, the following animals (or evidence thereof, in the way of “scat” and “droppings”) on our property: grey squirrels; red squirrels; raccoons; skunk; white tailed deer; red fox; coyote; cotton tail rabbits; spring peeper frogs; various toads (from ones the size of my thumbnail to some the size of my fist); garter snakes; red-tailed hawks; a bald eagle; turkey vultures (we have a family “venue” of around 15 – 20 that roost in our tall pines every night); pileated, red-bellied, hairy and downy woodpeckers; and all manner of songbirds (robins, blue jays, cardinals, nuthatches, sparrows, wrens, juncos, goldfinches, red-winged blackbirds, hummingbirds, rose crested grosbeaks, indigo buntings, and a single Baltimore oriole).


Wild turkeys in the driveway, summer 2018

Last summer we had a brood of wild turkeys living in the area that entertained me for over an hour one morning strutting up and down my driveway, the three females calling regularly to the chicks (I counted seven of them); we saw and heard them several more times over the following couple of weeks. Because a good deal of the forest surrounding us is protected (held and managed by the Long Point Regional Conservation Authority), we often hear birds we cannot see and, I suspect, have nighttime visitors wandering through that we neither see nor hear. We also have a wide variety of insects – caterpillars that become butterflies and moths of every size, shape and colour; damsel flies and dragon flies; bees and wasps; flies and mosquitoes (worse last year than the years before due to the high volume of snow and rain we received in the late winter and early spring); and fireflies (that put on such a fantastic show in early July that it looks like the forest is twinkling with a million fairy lights).


Peter Rabbit; summer 2018

Each and every one of these creatures is welcome in my yard. I may get somewhat annoyed to find some of my plants “nipped in the bud” (clearly the deer in my area weren’t told they’re not supposed to LIKE lilacs!) or an entire “crop” of sunflower seedlings ravaged overnight by rabbits (one of whom became a favourite last summer; he would visit my wildflower garden every night before dinner and would even lie on the lawn next to the deck beside us. I christened him Peter and started looking forward to watching him nibble away on the fruits of my labours!) but I continually remind myself that they are just animals being animals. Eating plants is what they do, and I am the one who has to “adapt” (which means covering my tiny shrubs over the winter, spraying the new growth with a harmless liquid that apparently tastes horrible, and buying “deer and rabbit resistant” plants whenever possible).

DeforestationIt’s a sad fact that the majority of the planet’s “wild places” have been decimated by a single species that is driven by need and greed. “Forests still cover about 30 percent of the world’s land area, but they are disappearing at an alarming rate. Between 1990 and 2016, the world lost 502,000 square miles (1.3 million square kilometers) of forest, according to the World Bank—an area larger than South Africa. Since humans started cutting down forests, 46% of trees have been felled, according to a 2015 study in the journal Nature. About 17% of the Amazonian rainforest has been destroyed over the past 50 years, and losses recently have been on the rise.”  (Reference:

And when it comes to the extinction of species, the news is just as bad. “The rapid loss of species we are seeing today is estimated by experts to be between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. These experts calculate that between 0.01 and 0.1% of all species will become extinct each year. If the low estimate of the number of species out there is true (i.e. that there are around 2 million different species on our planet) that means between 200 and 2,000 extinctions occur every year. But if the upper estimate of species numbers is true (that there are 100 million different species co-existing with us on our planet), then between 10,000 and 100,000 species are becoming extinct each year.(Reference: NOTE: if you subscribe to Netflix, I strongly recommend watching the series, “Our Planet”; it provides an (at times disturbing) overview of the state of our planet and the flora and fauna that exist on it, as well as information via a website ( on things each of us can do to help save the world we all inhabit. 

For my own part, I’m giving up on my (8,000 square feet) of grassy lawn and planting a more natural environment (grass – which is NOT native to this area but still struggling to exist in clumps here and there – mixed with native “weeds” like speedwell, clover, moss, and creeping thyme), planting more native species in my gardens, foregoing harsh chemicals and fertilizers in favour of organic compounds (and my own compost), and filling the gardens with bird, bee and butterfly friendly plants. I’m planning on adding a pond and two new “victory gardens for bees” next year in the hopes of encouraging even more birds and water-loving creatures to my yard. And of course I’ll also continue to welcome all manner of critters to this space around me, the one where they belong and I am just a visitor passing through on … the other side of 55.

What would the world be, once bereft 
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left, 
O let them be left, wildness and wet; 
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

 ~ Gerard Manley Hopkins ~

The Beginning, Middle, and End

March 31, 2019

A six word story (inspired by “Game Changing Three Word Phrases” )


I love you.

Marry me.



Thanks for the Memories

January 30, 2019

Pay attention. Pay Attention! PAY ATTENTION!!!

The words hammer in my head like the woodpecker furiously drilling holes in the lifeless poplar tree at the edge of the forest: pay attention!

Phases of my life

The many phases of my life.

The majority of my life seems to have rushed past without allowing me the time to properly record and catalogue it. Minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years have disappeared with barely a trace memory of where I was, who I was with, what I was doing at any given moment. When I try to put it all into some sort of perspective, there are far too many holes – too many “blank spaces” – in my memory bank to formulate a full picture. Where did the time go? How did I get here (I turned 65 in November)? Why can’t I remember so much of the past? What have I missed? And is it possible to get any of it back? (And, yes, I know aging has a lot to do with “memory loss”, but I’ve been pondering this question for many, many years!)

According to Catharine Young in the short TED Ed video, “How memories form and how we lose them” (, strong memories are formed when we are paying attention and deeply engaged, and the information is meaningful.

Family Vacation (1991)

One of many annual family vacations (1991)

From that perspective, I can understand why some aspects of my life are completely missing from my memory banks. Years of marriage and motherhood (laundry, cooking, cleaning, shopping, banking, child rearing, arranging family vacations, volunteering at pre-school and primary schools, driving here-there-and-everywhere, keeping everyone organized and on track), combined with part-time and then full-time work (teaching and corporate training for three different educational institutions – mostly evenings and weekends at first, then part-time and finally full day during the day as the boys got older) made it nearly impossible for me to fully pay attention to any one activity, never mind be “deeply engaged” for more than a few minutes (or hours, when teaching) at a time. And while I like to think everything I did during those forty-odd years was meaningful, it was so intertwined (home and work and family obligations) that, in hindsight, I have no idea how I managed it all and maintained my sanity, never mind my memory of what took place when.

CollaborationClearly there was little time for any of those myriad events to coalesce in my short term memory space before being passed along to long term storage (or tossed aside to make way for the next bit of information being taken in). Truth be told, considering my 24/7/365 schedule back then, it’s a wonder any of it made its way into the old storage banks at all.

Now that I’m retired, I have lot of time sit back and “remember and reminisce” about “the good old days”. That’s when I usually sit down with one of my many photo albums (and thank goodness for them, and the fact that I took lots of pictures and kept them organized [at least by date] so I can flip through the pages and study them in detail). Most of the time, I have at least some recall of the people, places or events pictured; however, more times than I care to admit, the details are vague or – even more distressing – I find myself drawing a complete blank.

Me in my Little Black Dress, 1965

Me in my little black dress

Occasionally, I force myself to sit quietly and nudge my aging brain to focus on a specific time in my life or past event. It takes some doing, but I have been able to extract dusty memories from the deepest recesses of my mind and record them for posterity (see: “I Remember” in 4 parts; “The Little Black Dress”). And while the “big picture events” of the last twenty or so years are pretty clear, it’s getting harder and harder to see the details of the more distant past clearly; they’re just slightly out of focus. I sometimes wonder if I’m running out of storage space.

According to a Q & A on Scientific American , “The brain’s exact storage capacity for memories is difficult to calculate. First, we do not know how to measure the size of a memory. Second, certain memories involve more details and thus take up more space; other memories are forgotten and thus free up space. Additionally, some information is just not worth remembering in the first place.”

Who decides what’s worth remembering, what should be forgotten, and how long memories should be kept? Surely it wasn’t me – because there are things I would dearly love to remember, but simple can’t recall at all. Here’s just one example:

Not long before my mother died, she gave me a large brown envelope filled with Mother’s Day cards, birthday wishes, and thank you notes my boys had sent her over the years, together with postcards from business trips I’d almost forgotten I’d taken and family vacations to the Caribbean, Florida, and California. There was also a newspaper article from 1984 about a “mom-to-mom” program at the local YMCA. A program I, apparently, had organized and run. While it certainly seemed like something I would have done, I had (and still have) absolutely no recollection of it whatsoever. I read the article several times, noted the photo of me in my living room that accompanied it (which means the journalist must have visited my house), and drew a blank every time. Not a twinge. Not a glimmer. Nothing. Had I not been paying attention? Not been deeply engaged? Wasn’t it meaningful enough for me to have remembered twenty-five years later? I have no idea.

In any event, in my frustration over not being able to remember it, I destroyed the article. I wish now I’d kept it, as it is one of many “missing” pieces in what is clearly the many faceted and complex jigsaw puzzle of my life.

New Grandmother (Feb 2015)

We live our lives as if it’s a race – rushing through events and activities, days and weeks, actions and interactions as if there’s some fabulous prize waiting for us at the finish line. And in our hurry to get there, we too often neglect to pay attention to the many special moments that would become memories – memories that will sustain and entertain us when we reach … the other side of 55.



Can’t Get Enough …

July 15, 2018

1960s-era cereal box

Every summer I buy myself a box of Post “Sugar Crisp”. It’s one of those cereals with absolutely no nutritional value. The ingredients list reads: “SUGAR, WHEAT, GLUCOSE SYRUP, SALT, HONEY, CANOLA OIL, COLOUR”; a ¾ cup serving has 120 calories and 17 grams of sugar (63% of the recommended daily allowance for an adult). It’s so sweet it makes your teeth ache. It’s clearly not a healthy breakfast choice. So why do I buy it, year after year? Because – together with Ontario strawberries, freshly shelled green peas, corn on the cob, and banana, grape and cream soda flavoured popsicles – Sugar Crisp is, for me, the quintessential taste of summers at the cottage (1959 through 1963).

My family, 1960

The family (except eldest brother) in 1960

For the first ten years of my life (1953 – 1963) our family lived in a house in downtown Oakville, Ontario (Canada) that my father had converted into a triplex. My parents, two brothers, two sisters and I lived on the ground floor, my grandmothers lived in two apartments on the upper levels, and my father ran his own business from a converted single car garage out back. It was a very busy, crowded household to say the least. As the summer of 1959 approached, my mother told my father she needed a break from the demands of looking after two teenagers (17 and 15), two school-aged girls (8 and 5½ ), and a baby (not yet 1), as well as two grandmothers who could pop downstairs (and did), unannounced, at any moment during the day (generally in response to the sound of a crying baby or bickering children). She knew of a cottage for rent on the lakefront (near friends) a mere 5.5K (3.5 miles) away. Dad rented it for the summer (and for four more afterwards).

Considering the cottage was barely outside of town and only steps from fully serviced homes, it was rather primitive. The main room was divided (roughly) into a kitchen with antiquated appliances, an eating area (an old table set below a “flip up” panel that allowed a view, through the screened-in porch, of the lake), and a living space with a musty trundle bed and a worn carpet (we added a fold down couch, a table and a TV to make it more “homey”). The two bedrooms were separated from the living space by six foot partitions (vs. true “walls”); they were “furnished” with double-sized metal bed frames with sagging mattresses on them. The screened in porch ran across the back on the lake side with doors on each end and two single metal bar/spring bed frames against the inner and outer walls (this is where my sister and I slept most nights, in sleeping bags). There was no running water, so we had an outhouse for “doing our business” in; my sister and I regularly collected water for cooking and cleaning in 3 gallon milk jugs filled from spigots in nearby Coronation Park. The yard was large, with lots of trees and space for hammocks and a trapeze; there was a wooded area at the back where I would take my suitcase full of Barbies and their clothes and play happily for hours on end.


My sister and I in the lake by the cottage, 1959



Playing in the yard at the cottage, 1960


Plenty of room for hammocks and playing dress-up (1961)


The only actual photograph I have of the cottage (from the rear); that’s my father sitting on the beach

We were hardly isolated. There was a cottage just beyond the woods on the east side (and houses beyond that) and our friends’ house was right next door (to the west) with several cottages just beyond it. A boat launching ramp sat adjacent to the (Coronation) park, and Hollydean Market was right next to the park. Across Highway 2 (a two-lane road that ran in front of the cottage) was a large wooded area that was surrounded on the other three sides by homes and a school. Still, when we were at the cottage, it was like being in a completely different world – one filled with the freedom to wear our bathing suits all day long, explore the beachfront and paddle in the lake, feed the ducks, or walk to Hollydean for groceries and popsicles (the popsicles being our reward for picking up whatever Mom had asked my sister and I to buy for her).

The teenagers chose to say “in town” (they had part time jobs in the summers) and Dad generally only came out on weekends. The grandmothers visited once or twice but never slept over.  Mom didn’t drive, so she and my sister, brother and I (along with the dog, cat, rabbit – and a chicken one year that my father “rescued” from a trucking accident and brought out thinking my mother would cook it – HA!) were pretty much on our own. Some of our friends had cottages “up north” in Muskoka or other areas of “cottage country” and they laughed at the fact our cottage was only fifteen minutes from our house. I didn’t care. Those were the best five summers of my young life!


Our last summer at the cottage, 1963

In 1963, the owner of the cottage offered to sell it to my father; unfortunately (for me!), a house my mother had coveted for several years came on the market around the same time and my parents couldn’t afford to buy both properties. The house, naturally, won out. 1963 was our last summer in the cottage; we moved into our new house (four blocks up from the house we’d previously lived in) that fall. Summers were never quite the same after that and I have only the vaguest of memories of how I spent them. The summers at the cottage, however, are still sharp in my mind. (The cottage was sold and the building torn down a few years later; a large, lovely house now sits in its place. Hollydean Market has also disappeared and the property where it was located is now a cul-de-sac of ugly McMansions on tiny lots. The park remains, but has been modernized to include a splash pad, an open air theatre, and other amenities we never could have imagined back in the 1960s.)

And so, every summer I relive a few of those summer-time memories by indulging in a bowl or two of Sugar Crisp (the rest ends up in the garbage!), shelling peas on the deck, and wandering about in the woods (sans Barbies!) It’s just one way I’m holding on to the more precious aspects of my childhood as I rack up the years here on … the other side of 55.

Worth Waiting For

March 18, 2018

The snow curls up its toes and retreats,

inch by inch, from the decks and gardens and driveway.

Buds push their way out of reluctant branches,

rebelling against the frigid night-time temperatures.

Turkey vultures soar overhead on invisible thermals –

one, then two, now four, no – six.

Warblers and wrens and a wood thrush

serenade the forest with their lilting song

while the squirrels – black and grey and red –

scurry to and fro, searching for food

and building nests from last autumn’s leftover leaves.

The cottontail rabbits and the fox,

the white tailed deer and the contemptible mole

leave tracks and trails in the melting snow,

and through the mud of my burgeoning garden.

A sky bluer than I’ve ever seen –

with nary a wisp of cloud visible in its broad expanse –

wraps itself around the forest, the fields, the countryside,

its brilliance a testament to Nature’s glory

and the promise of what’s to come.

My patience has finally paid off –

spring is just around the corner.


The Daily Prompt for today (March 18) was patience; poem ©by Margo Karolyi … The Other Side of 55