Lifestyle

Senior Living: A welcome change of pace


A big move offers even bigger benefits, in enjoying the little things.

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Making a change is a major theme in retirement. Some people explore a long-neglected passion, or take on volunteer work to bring fresh meaning to this stage of their lives.

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Others strike off on a more dramatic path, choosing to move far from home, leaving family, friends and familiar routines to kick-start a new chapter.

Such was the case with Edmonton residents, recent retirees and newlyweds Jon Hall, 69, and Kathy Toogood, 57, who decamped for Nova Scotia this past summer.

(Full disclosure: Jon and Kathy are not strangers to me. Jon’s late wife, Gail Hall, was a friend and colleague in the food community, which I covered as part of my beat for The Edmonton Journal.)

When I learned on Facebook of Jon and Kathy’s East Coast plunge, I was intrigued. But it took me until November to track them down, via video, in their charming heritage home in Windsor, N.S.

Their experience is instructive, and not just because of the distance they have travelled — geographically, culturally, and emotionally. The two (each of whom had lived in Edmonton for at least 30 years) have also crafted a new mindset.

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“If you don’t change anything, nothing changes,” says Kathy.

After retiring from a position with Alberta Education in May of 2020, Kathy knew she needed to hit the reset button. But how? Her so-called new life looked a lot like the old one, with educational consulting, volunteer work and social commitments filling all her time.

“The only difference was that she started work at 9:30 instead of 9 a.m.,” is Jon’s dry comment.

It took a COVID-imposed quarantine to make Kathy realize she could choose to live another way. It happened in November 2020, when Kathy travelled to Halifax to support a cousin dealing with cancer and had to isolate for two weeks. That time was a gift, providing an opportunity to think about change.

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“I got to the Maritimes and life slowed down … the land and the water called to me,” says Kathy.

When she shared those feelings with Jon — an adventurous world traveller who was widowed in 2016 and has no children — he was open to shaking things up.

Close friends and relatives in Alberta had mixed feelings about the move. Kathy’s daughters, 26 and 28, were excited for their adventure, but sad they would be so far away. Kathy and Jon chose Windsor because it’s less than hour from the Halifax airport, facilitating frequent travel to see family.

Another challenge was real estate. The pair wanted to sell their respective Edmonton properties to purchase a home outright, counting on lower East Coast property values. But COVID had affected the market in both locations. While Kathy was able to sell her suburban bi-level, Jon’s rental condos (purchased years ago to fund his eventual retirement) proved less enticing to buyers. He now manages four properties (with occasionally less-than-cooperative tenants) from afar. The two had to take out a mortgage and ended up paying 30 per cent over list in a market that’s been sizzling of late.

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Even their motorhome journey across the country had them at times questioning the decision to move. COVID restrictions meant they couldn’t even stop in some provinces, and though they were homeowners in Nova Scotia, they weren’t officially allowed to live there when they first set out. (Rules changed while they were on the road.)

But during two weeks of quarantine after arriving in Windsor, life began to settle into a new and joyful pattern. Their real estate agent delivered paint ordered online, and the still-ongoing refresh of their five-bedroom, 104-year-old home began. They ate summer suppers on their front porch while admiring the lush, 35-acre park across the street and greeting folks who strolled by.

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If life since then has been slower, and quieter, so far from family and friends, well, that was part of the plan.

“There has been more flexibility in our lifestyles,” says Kathy. “If it’s a beautiful day, we say ‘Let’s go to Peggy’s Cove.’”

The two have embraced a “learner mindset.” They listen to find out how people around them think, have made a few social connections, and are looking for ways to contribute. Jon volunteered in Nova Scotia’s fall election and discovered that the main parties cluster near the centre of the political spectrum. That means politics is less “partisan and polarized” than in Alberta, which is a relief to them both.

It’s early days, and the fresh excitement of it all (not to mention the milder winter weather) still animates their mood and our conversation. But so far, neither has any regrets.

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And here’s a bonus: In Edmonton, the two came together in later life from diverse backgrounds populated by separate connections. Jon, now retired from a career in communications, was a minor celebrity about town, known for a passionate commitment to a vibrant residential community in downtown Edmonton.

But he’s happily given up being in the middle of the action. They enjoy planning their life by the day, and not by the hour. They relish the way the move has knit them together as a couple.

“We both have histories, and we can’t deny that,” says Jon. “But we also have a future and we’re moving on to that together.”

I loved talking to Jon and Kathy about their new life. While I won’t be moving thousands of miles from home any time soon, change feels necessary for me, too.

I’ve always lived at a breakneck pace, forever crafting a new five-year plan for reasons that weren’t completely clear, even to me. In retirement, I want to take a more thoughtful approach, and leave space for transformation.

Role models are key. If you’ve got a story about making a big change in your 60s, feel free to get in touch at liane.rae@gmail.com.

— Liane Faulder writes the Life in the 60s column.

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