Oh my gosh! I just found myself leaving myself a note on the computer and putting a box (the kind you make using a word processor – with 1 row and 1 column) with key information in a much larger – and bold – font, right in the centre of the page. A box! A table! A chart! With a yellow background colour! I paused just long enough to feel a huge grin sliding onto my face. Yes, of course; I used to be referred to as “the queen of the chart” because one of my strengths at my job was to take a complex issue/problem and break it down into information embedded in a neat, concise briefing “chart”; rows and columns that made it clear what needed consideration and what needed doing. I really loved being able to do this – in fact I’d say it was one of the most meaningful things that I got to do at work (sigh). That quite frequently the material I submitted was praised and that other parts of the Ministry were then asked to organize their work in similar fashion was a reminder to me that I did this well. I particularly remember the time that I organized the information on the background to the ESL team’s work … major initiatives that were being planned, a 5-year plan for what would be done in each year on each initiative, a risk-management plan, and the key details of the ESL policy that had been developed … all on 2 sides of a folio-sized piece of paper, in chart/table form, and multi-coloured. Wasn’t a moment that made others particularly grateful for my efforts since everyone was then asked to organize their projects this way; in the end – not surprising at all – this one-size-fits-all approach didn’t work so well anyhow. But I digress. The point I want to make is that it’s the organization, analysis and synthesis of information that I love … and miss. I think that this might be Lesson #4: try to do the things you love to do.
Let me back up a bit and tell you the context in which this insight flashed into being. The day started with David and I reading a couple of chapters to each other (I wrote this in early December and we were still preparing for our Antarctica adventure). When he left for work around 7 a.m. I began marking the final musings that were submitted by my grad students the day before. Taking a break from marking I was struck by a sidebar on the news show I had on in the background on TV about a new treatment for plantar fascitis; I’ve been dealing with this pain for over a year off and on and it’s gotten considerably worse recently. That led me to a site online where – presto chango – I purchased access to a tennis pro’s treatment plan which seemed to be well-respected. (An out-of-time note written weeks later: I’ve been following that plan and it does, indeed, seem to be helping. If you have any advice, though, please do share it.)
Back to my morning. At 8 a.m. I was able to follow up with my retirement health-plan folks about changing the name they have on the drug benefits card I received in the mail yesterday. I’m delighted to report that I almost immediately reached an incredibly helpful and competent woman who gave me straight and clear answers and directions. You see, my name was Sylvia Solomon before David and I married 8 1/2 years ago; my decision professionally was to change it to Solomon-Bereskin after we married. I’d acquired the name Solomon through my 1st husband and didn’t feel that it identified me any more than taking on David’s name would; I did think about selecting a name of my own – not one garnered through any male connections in my life – but at the time didn’t follow through although David and I did talk about it and he was supportive of my doing whatever suited me best with my name. I decided to go professionally with Solomon-Bereskin (privately as Sylvia Bereskin) because my professional history resides partly in the name Sylvia Solomon (for example, you’d find the article I wrote about the courage of teachers if you google Sylvia Solomon – that’s my adopted family in Prishtina in the photo, standing outside of their school), but you’d find my article about climbing Kilimanjaro if you google Sylvia Solomon-Bereskin, while this blog and my part in a meeting of the Canadian Coalition for Immigrant Children and Youth would appear if you googled Sylvia Bereskin . Strange world we live in.
So, you might be asking yourself by now, what’s the connection between my love of organizing information and my drug benefits card arriving? The name on the card reads: Solomon SR. I know that’s because their electronic systems use only a certain number of characters from the database when printing out cards and they ran out of space before the hyphen. I wanted to see if they’d now change this to just Bereskin – so that the name on the card is the same as the one that will appear on prescriptions. That meant a lot of information that I had to garner from Great-West Life and then I had to call the Ontario Pension Board and get a lot of information from them. This is the kind of information that I want to keep a record of so that it’s at my fingertips when I need it and I don’t have to make those calls again. Ergo – the chart.
The connection to my life in retirement? I need to start thinking about the skills that I have to offer when I think about what I want to spend my time doing. Where can I put those skills to best use? I’d thought about doing Red Cross Disaster Response Training so that I could volunteer in the event of disasters locally or abroad; here’s a place that my ability to organize and coordinate and think fast can be put to really good use. I managed to at least leave a message with the local Disaster Response coordinator at the Red Cross and he’s (oops) called me back and I have my first interview today; this is something I think I’d really like to be doing this year (new year … new opportunities). I add this now to my thoughts about going to Nicaragua for a couple of weeks during the winter to complete the requirements for my Teaching Engligh as a Second Language (TESL) certification. Ah – starting to have a plan. Perhaps I should start a chart to keep track of all of this? Any advice?
ANTARCTICA JOURNAL EXCERPTS: December 14 – LeMaire Channel and Peterman Island
The day has arrived replete with a foreboding sky. It snowed much of the night – not surprising given where we are. In the middle of the night I’d awoken and had a peek out the window; the deck was covered with several inches of snow. I
laughed, thinking that at least I didn’t have to shovel. The “Good Morning Polar Star” call came at 5:45 today and by 6 we were all gathered on the bridge looking out at the LeMaire Channel. Another ship (the Minerva) had made an attempt to get through the channel but couldn’t work its way through the ice (that’s the Minerva in the photo … just off the bow on the port side) . Our Captain decided we’d give it a try and, with several deep groaning and grinding sounds, we got through. By 8 we’d had breakfast and were being rallied to go ashore. Once again, layer after layer, and today it didn’t seem to bother me so much. I still couldn’t bend over easily but the excitement of the moment entirely overtook my discomfort. We disembarked to be greeted by a seal and a number of Adelie penguins. The advance crew had put out red flags for us, marking two safe trails; one led uphill to the right to a penguin rookery and the other led left to what was called iceberg alley. The trek up the hill was arduous; each step brought another opportunity to sink thigh-deep into the snow. More than once David had to reach out and help me free myself. At the top we had a real treat as we watched a mother penguin pecking at her egg to help her hatching chick find its way into the Antarctic daylight. Look closely at the penguin in the foreground; she’s sitting on an egg! We saw chicks being fed and, of course, a fair amount of stone tossing. By the time we were headed downhill many more of our fellow passengers had made the trek up and the path was at least a little bit tramped down. It was a long walk to iceberg alley but worth every bit of effort required.
As we walked along, stepping into each others’ footprints as much as possible, I was once again struck by how incredible an experience this was. We were truly walking at the ends of the earth. There was a rescue shack near the shore to mark the place where 3 scientists had disappeared into the near-frozen water some years ago. We heard, and saw, several avalanches as glaciers slid down steep hillsides ultimately depositing their extraneous ice into the sea.
We spent over 2 hours exploring this morning, and by the time we returned to the ship felt both sated and exhausted. With enormous effort we stripped off layer after layer of clothing and wearily stood in a hot shower washing away the exertion of the trek.
Nothing about this journey has been a disappointment. As I’d hoped, it’s been an opportunity to “test my mettle”, to challenge myself to go well beyond my comfort zone. Hard work? Absolutely! A little scary? For sure. So, as I sit here quietly writing in the Observation Lounge, I’m virtually ensconsed in joy.
By the way, dinner last night was a BBQ on the deck behind the Observation Lounge. Truly amazing. After dinner it got too noisy in the lounge so with our new friends Donna and Edward we adjourned to the library. We talked about raising children as we shared struggles, triumphs, and the good fortune of finding ourselves here in Antarctica on this voyage. Day 2 on Antarctica has ended. What lies ahead?