Float-home Memories

floathome memories

I have only three distinct memories of the women whose float-home I am house-sitting on the Fraser River this summer while they have gone to their other home on the other coast, the east coast, and Newfoundland.

Not a river there right at their backdoor nor two red Adirondack chairs to sit and watch the tugboats from, but a white two-storey house, I imagine, or perhaps I saw a photo they showed me before they left. It has long grass in front  and a square porch that they look past on cloudy days; grass sloping down toward a white-capped cove they have now claimed as their own, not legally, but in attachment,  and little white rowboats all topsy turvy hopscotching around buoys.

Thinking back to another summer so long ago. 1993. Pat, hunched over her desk, always there, busy, scanning information like a reading machine.  Editor. I worked for her, on-call,  right out of journalism school. Occasionally, her humour would lift off through a comment in response to some letter to the editor, a ridiculous request from the faceless all-knowing, know nothing public. Her sarcasm and amazement sprinkling out over the cubicles that sectioned the dingy room like the marks of a surgeon on a stomach before surgery.

It seems as if the next time I saw them, in person, was after he’d killed himself. We were there, inside his float-home, further south along this same river. That abode, run down and wretched and the silence after a death filled the room, and me not able to contain the emotion I’d been pushing down. “No wonder he killed himself. Look at this place.”  The only words that came. And, Pat, bless her heart, responding, “It’s not so bad,” as if that would help. As if anything could make better what could never be made better.  It seems strange now that they were there, except they’d dropped by the neighbours’ place, his friends, and I’m not sure why we were all inside that tiny living room at all.

And, then, fast-forward to happier times. Salt Spring. They’d come for a weekend get-away and thanks to the connections of Facebook, Pat messaged me to ask if I’d like to have breakfast at the Treehouse on a sunny Sunday morning in spring. It had been years since I’d seen them in person. It was a taffy-coloured morning  and  their surprise visit that went so well made everything that much better.

So, you see, I barely know them at all really and yet here I am, in one of their homes. They are getting married today, or was it yesterday? I’m not even sure and it might seem like just another wedding until you read what Pat  wrote on her Facebook page, after she left the West Coast, to marry Janna, the woman she’s shared her life with for 31 years.

Here’s part of what she shared…

“…For those who know me, I’m a pretty private person, and the thought of exchanging vows – or anything in public – is not my idea of fun. But, I marched in protests in the late ’70s just to get job protection for gay and lesbians – and yes, I was fired from a job for being gay (although, granted, I was also crappy at that job!… not in journalism), and while not a fan of the whole marriage institution (don’t get me going) it seems like the right thing to do at this time for a whole lot of reasons.

I must confess, while marching with my protest sign in my stylish suede blazer and Gloria Steinem glasses, I would never have envisioned a time when we would have the right to marry. Basic equal rights at that time seemed an impossible quest. Even trying to get equal pay as a woman required legal threats and action.

So, lastly, I want to thank all of my (our) friends and allies (and there have been many!) who have stood with us (and I mean that in a personal and much wider sense) as we have fought the hard battles. We couldn’t have done it without you!
And, in a very real way, you’ll all be standing with us on the shores of Blackhead Bay, when we say our vows and do whatever it is we’re supposed to do with those darn rings … rings, oh yah, better remember to bring those!!!…”

Congratulations to you both.  I trust your wedding was completed in a style that only you two could pull off. Tears and cake. And, more cake.

And for me, in your floathome, another distinct and very happy memory.


Aquafit Misfit or Renegade?


I’ve started going to aqua-fit again and last week when I showed up at the pool, the instructor was an Asian man who looked like he could be a math teacher who had just popped over on his lunch break from the high school.  I thought to myself, What’s his problem? Is he one of those super frugal teachers who’d found a  really unique way to moonlight?

He was wearing dark blue walking shorts and he was shirtless on top. His skin seemed a fluorescent white in the reflection off the cool blue pool. He was very wiry, probably a vegan. His hair was a fine, longish fly-away salt and pepper gray, a little bit like Doc Brown, the professor who made the time capsule in that movie, Back to the Future. The large frames on his glasses looked as if he’d had them since 1973.  I guesstimated that he might be around 50 to 55 years of age.  Jesus. Put on a lab coat, I thought.


I spent the entire hour and 15 minutes with a bemused look on my face staring at him, splashing around in the pool trying not to bump into any of the others who were moving slower than patients recovering from hip replacement surgery. Being good at multi-tasking, I began to make up stories about what could have brought this guy to this place, on the side of a pool, in front of a bunch of aging women. What could possibly be the attraction for him to resort to this as a way to make a few bucks?

Had he made the choice out of economic desperation?  Lost at Bingo last night? Just needs the money? Had he surveyed his options and finally cried “Uncle”.  Hand out 24 hour newspapers at Skytrain stations or lead aqua-fit?  Babysit or lead aqua-fit?  Walmart greeter or aqua-fit? And, who am I to judge? Maybe aqua-fit is his true passion?  Maybe he goes home and practices aqua-fit moves in the mirror the way some people practice ballroom dancing. Maybe he spends hours on iTunes hoping to find music that doesn’t exist, the kind that might appeal to women between the ages of 45 and 102. Sometimes, (perhaps you’ve experienced this as well, or maybe it really is just me), I start to have the weirdest thoughts about people when they present themselves in ways that, superficially at least, make no sense to me.


I started to have a really strange thought, just came to me out of the blue,  that this guy had been born as one of those babies – sexually ambiguous – and that unfortunate DNA mishap had prevented him from reaching his full potential and that’s why, instead of the type of job that he looks like he’d be truly suited for, he’d just given up and decided to teach aqua-fit. Where did that weirdest of weird thoughts come from? Should I be worried? Should you? I have no idea except that I had felt a bit shell-shocked, (almost suffered a lesser form of PTSD), after seeing versions of the female human body courtesy of obese, aged, white exhibitionists in the change-room beforehand; a vision I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.  Put on your damn clothes and keep them on until I’m safely out of the room.

Or maybe, I surmised, he’s a genius, a mathematical idiot-savant, and he’s had a nervous breakdown in relation to not being able to crack some new algorithm so he purposely stayed away from any job that would intellectually distract him from his true focus.

I thought to myself, maybe I should teach aqua-fit.  Not because I’m an Idiot-Savant or have sexually ambiguous genitals – far from it –  but because it makes almost as much sense to put a fat lady in a bathing suit on the pool deck for inspiration as it does to have him up there.fish-bicycle

Have you ever been in that situation? Not squeezed into a bathing suit, but the kind of situation that requires you to take a job that is so far removed from who you are that people can’t believe you actually work there? It’s as if the HR consultant was fired the day you were hired and that’s the only reason you’re there at all. It’s like the ridiculous suggestions that  a stranger offered me when, just once, I made the mistake of  telling her that I was looking for work. “My brother-in-law is an accountant,” she said. “He needs an assistant.” Money? Numbers? Keeping track of those? Me? He might as well hire Pamela Wallin or Mike Duffy. “No, I don’t think so,” I said, wanting to drive a spike through my head.

I don’t know what it is about aqua-fit. It just lends itself to opening the flood gates on the usual mental boundaries  (water has always fueled my creativity) and suddenly, just like all around me in the pool, I never know what version of creepy weird I might find myself up against.

Choose a lifestyle, intentionally

DSC_0111This is Ruckle Farm, my touchstone, not Stowel Lake

Two weeks ago I spent time back on Salt Spring visiting the idyllic Stowel Lake Organic Farm, Community and Retreat Centre to write a story for Aqua magazine. Three families make up the core of the residents who have made a conscious decision to live together on a large piece of property (115 acres), to farm organically, and to offer weekly classes and longer retreats related to personal and spiritual development. Twenty-two adults and 10 children, one Au Pair, a lead farmer and undoubtedly others who have roles in what some would call an intentional community, but they would be unlikely to refer to in that way, live there.

The property was originally purchased back in 1973 by a leading lady and mother  to one of the younger generation. In 1996, she received an inheritance which I’m just guessing was relatively substantial. I’m guessing that it’s unlikely that these 12 adults and their children could all live off the profits of growing vegetables or hosting retreats. One of the husband’s runs his own company – Guayaki-brand Yerba Mate, the other works at Vancouver island University. The third works full time on the farm. It’s a safe bet to state that the interpersonal and economic realities of these Thirty-somethings and their children would be significantly leaner without each other and without the elder who decided that sharing her life with this younger generation was a smart idea.

I walked away that day with two main thoughts. The first was that it’s totally within the realm of possibility for every one of us to think a lot more consciously about lifestyle, about how and where we choose to live in an attempt to achieve a lifestyle that is surely going to bring us closer to self actualization. My second thought was Holy Shit, look at how I’m living. I’m single, middle aged, and living in an apartment that  does not provide me with any of the things that typically lead to wellness.  It feels like that movie Groundhog Day. I am back exactly where I was before I left to live on Salt Spring, except this time with the knowledge and experience of a different lifestyle; the one I had there that seemed to suit me better where career and the material were secondary to lifestyle, except even then, income, the ability to generate enough money, always the ultimate dictator of choice it would seem.

One of the things I am desperately missing about Salt Spring is how much I was able to wander, in my own company, with my camera and be intimately connected to the natural world on a daily basis. I had no idea how much that mattered to me.  Now that I don’t have that and don’t do it, I realize what a significant a part of my life that was. It wasn’t just about getting outside into a forest or along a shoreline. It was about what it allowed for me, mentally, emotionally, spiritually; a relationship I got to have with myself that was a direct consequence of my immersion in a place that was green and quiet and where I could go to places that had very few others around.

Now, I’m more likely to be surrounded by concrete, where the view is of other apartments right outside my windows or too much time spent on the Skytrain going back and forth to Vancouver to socialize. Sure, I could drive 20 minutes to some trail for a walk but the thing is, here, that’s always accompanied by so many other people and for me, for some reason, being alone in a natural environment, to be able to wander, to really look at things and take it all in without having other people around was, I’m now realizing, the crux of the experience for me.

When I moved to Salt Spring in 2008, I couldn’t articulate it then but my emotional well being was pushing me towards a lifestyle that my creative self needed.  Now, full circle, I’m wondering how I’m ever going to re-create that for myself in the city with the subtext of another life running interference.

Top Ten Bad Mood Busters

bumperstickerThis bumpersticker can be purchased here: 

I admit it. I’ve been in a pretty bad mood lately. I know this for sure when people who have teeny weeny dogs sitting on the patio at Starbucks, who speak to those mutant things like they are newborns,  make me want to walk over to them and slap them. The person that is, not the dog, although I’m really only saying that as an attempt at being P.C.

When their mommy leaves them for a second to grab her Matcha Latte, and after the mutant has practically turned itself inside out, its nail filing bark getting on my last nerve and making me want to bite my own hand, mommy returns always oblivious and gushing.   I know I probably have some friends like this, in fact, I can think of two without much effort, perfectly nice people, but honestly. Really? You’re not kidding are you? I ask you, Who needs a leash now?

It made me begin to think (based on perusing too many magazines trying to think of how to write a query for an article I wouldn’t even want to write), what tips I might give myself and anyone else for getting out of a bad mood. I mean, women’s magazines seem to thrive on Top 10 lists or Twitter in Print as I like to call them, as if the whole world is a Tony Robbins conspiracy and the adult female attention span hasn’t shifted  since we were all six years old, which in my case, may actually be true. Here’s my list.


  1. Go somewhere you’ve never been before.  That way you’ll trick yourself into believing that you haven’t seen and done everything there is to do in the Lower Mainland even though you believe that you have because you’re in a bad mood and that’s how you think when you’re like this.
  2. Walk into the Vancouver Public Library and take an immediate left to peruse the zines on the main floor. Hone in on the funny ones with really hilarious (read RUDE) commentary.  Here’s one in particular that really cheered me up. Mary Van Note’s Guide to Dating. I especially loved Tip #9.  No, I’m not going to share it.  This is a G-rated Blog. I also took out, I was a Teenage Mormon, Fat is Beautiful, Women Got me Drinking and Coffee shop Crushes.
  3. Remind yourself what your favourite over the top treat was when you were a kid and eat it. Mine was a Peanut Buster Parfait from Dairy Queen. Now, at this point, I need a Peanut Buster Parfait as much as the whole world needs canned tuna but you know what? Screw it. Fat is beautiful. Repeat it out loud. It’s an exercise from the zine above. Acceptance is the fastest route out of anger and denial.
  4.  Have sex. No. Correction. Not just sex but good sex. A critical distinction. Bad sex is worse than no sex which describes my rationale for celibacy ever since oh, I don’t know, the age of 39 or thereabouts. (This may or may not be accurate).  Okay, so have sex with yourself.
  5. Drink. Beer preferably. Not Lucky Lager mind you.  Just sayin. Here’s beer-loving Gwen’s current fav’s: Driftwood (Victoria, BC), New Belgium (Fort Collins, CO), Elysian Brewing (Seattle, WA).
  6. Go for a walk if you must. Wear dark sunglasses to dim the ugly. The problem with returning from Paradise to here, where I am at present, is that my soul’s eyes have been distorted by the overwhelming natural beauty that was Paradise and call me crazy but lines of commuter traffic backed up to get onto two bridges and a really big Toy Wooden Soldier as a failed tourist attraction pale in comparison.
  7. Yarn bomb. Pick a place and give a railing a sweater. If anyone’s game, I have a bunch of really ugly railings right outside my apartment windows and I’d love someone to yarn bomb them, preferably in Sunburst yellow. I’m just not sure how my landlord, the former prison guard, will feel about this. He doesn’t fit the profile of a crafting enthusiast. You’re on your own when it comes to him.
  8. Go find the dorkiest pictures of yourself as a kid. Remind yourself that, no matter how hard this is to believe,  you actually look better now than you did then.  See, you’re improving with age. Sort of. Smile.
  9. Think about all the times you’ve had a really spectacular public wipe-out, the humiliation that resulted, and how much joy in the form of gales of snort-filled laughter this gave you after the fact.
  10. Take a pill.

Hadfield, Bowie and Spin Off Technology

In 1969 when astronauts from Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, took one giant step for man, one giant leap for mankind, I was 8 years old. I played with Barbies, ran through my neighborhood playing tag and on hot afternoons sometimes played the board game, Candyland. Watching television was a minor part of my existence reserved for Ed Sullivan and the Wonderful World of Disney.

On that day, July 20, 1969, and I vaguely recall being glued to the television set like most of the rest of the world, if they even owned a t.v. then because t.v.s weren’t ubiquitous. While I can’t totally trust my memories, I see myself peering intently at a fuzzy black and white screen in our basement rumpus room, watching as the man in a bulky white suit climbed down backwards from the module and took his first stiff and deliberate steps on the moon.  It was hot outside because it was July and although I didn’t know much, I knew that what he and his fellow astronauts were doing was a really big deal. It was the moon, that white/grey orb that was predictable and visible way up there in the sky every night and they were walking on it. It was hard to imagine.  I do remember having some niggling doubts about whether what I was seeing was real or Made for T.V. Cue the Conspiracy theorists. No, please don’t.

Fast forward 44 years and I’m on the couch in my apartment on Monday night. The Toronto Maple Leafs are playing but not being a hockey fan, that’s of no consequence to me. I have the t.v. on and my iPhone in hand and I’m listening to Cmdr. Chris Hadfield belt out his version of an old Bowie song that’s being replayed again and again on every Canadian network. My ability to see him and hear him and watch millions of other people’s fast-moving Twitter feed reactions to his journey amazed me more than all the science that he and his crew conducted up there during the past five months because it was real and it was right here, right in my hand.

I was going back and forth between my t.v. and the two-inch iPhone screen and I watched as the white parachute came careening towards the earth’s surface and then hit it, letting out a huge plume of smoke as the round tin can-like craft plunged hard into Terra firma.  Can’t they find a more sophisticated way to get those guys back onto our home planet?

The fact that I could be sitting on my couch holding a two-inch screen in my hand and watching in full colour and sound as a Canadian astronaut was hurtling through space after a five month stint on the International Space station seemed more mind blowing to me than all the science we’ve been told he outdid himself on up there. For me the technology was real and it’s what allowed me to participate, however superficially.

Spin-off  technology is the real giant leap for humanity. Were you alive in 1969? What do you remember about Apollo 11 and the first moon walk?

Childhood Revisited in New Westminster


This is a photograph of my eldest sister, Heather, when she was in her early twenties. Note the blue Volkswagen in the parking lot behind her.  This was the 1970’s. I don’t know exactly how old she was in this shot but at the time she worked for the New Westminster Public Library where I believe she was the assistant to Alan Woodland, the long time head librarian there.  Oh, how she loved to read. She had a bedroom all to herself back then while the rest of us shared and her light would be on into the wee hours, her nose in a book she couldn’t put down.

In 1991, at 43, she died of breast cancer.

When I first approached the New West Public Library about showing my slides and doing a talk on Georgia O’Keeffe and the Ghost Ranch from a trip I’d taken there in 2006 and 2007, I never mentioned anything about Heather.  Why would I?  That was another lifetime ago. But, in communicating with Debra Nelson, the community librarian, I did finally mention that I had a connection to New West, that I’d grown up here, and my sister had worked at the library back then.

When I presented my talk for the second time last night, Debra gave me this colour photo of Heather that she managed to hunt down from the archives. Seeing it was a bit like ingesting Wasabi. First, a sharp pang of regret and then pleasure at the memories that came flooding in.

Heather loomed so large in my childhood (there was a 13 year age difference between us). This picture catapulted me right back into the big old house I grew up in across from Moody Park in New Westminster. I have such strong memories of her there from my childhood and how she would always talk about the goings on in the library (you can’t imagine what happens in that supposedly quiet place). Sometimes, she’d even bring a few of her co-workers who became her friends home for lunch.  So much has changed since then. Neither Heather nor my mother or father are still alive.

It was a really great little gift to receive. Thank you Debra.

When Ninety looks Seventy-Nine

birthdaycuttingsmallI spent the past weekend on Salt Spring spending part of that acknowledging the 90th birthday of my former landlady and friend, Marjorie.

She first came to Salt Spring when she was 19, to visit her grandparents who had bought property on Walker’s Hook Road, four acres on the corner of Hedger where she has lived full time since 1979. She lives  in a house that her husband built, a little ways in front of the cabin that has been used for decades by friends, relatives and for those in need of a small but decent retreat.  My retreat lasted 15 months, or was it 18? I can’t recall.


I found Marjorie because I put an ad on the Salt Spring Exchange that read something along these lines: Where art thou my housing Robin Hood, one who is house rich and who would like to share that abundance with one who is house poor and doesn’t need much in the way of architectural uniqueness to be thrilled? It wasn’t exactly those words but it was similar and it worked.


No sooner had I put that ad out on the list of all lists than Robin Hood, dressed a little like  Marion, responded to me saying that her next door neighbour was interested in speaking to me.  If you want something, just ask for it. Fling your wishes about like confetti after a wedding, way back, when that sort of thing was allowed, in the old days, the sixties and seventies, when attire was loud and crazy and life was way more fun, although I was only a child so I suppose it’s not really a fair comparison.Marjoriebestonesmall

When I showed up and met Marjorie, no more than 5 feet one inches tall, she was direct and spunky. A smart cookie.   I have a history of older land ladies with chutzpah, foreshadowing, I hope. The chutzpah part, not the landlady part.


It’s not as if they were the late Emily Carr or anything, they weren’t that funky, but they had their strengths and uniqueness about them.sueandmarjoriesmall

Women. Got to love them. We all just get better with age because we come into our own, give a lot fewer hoots about what others think and the sooner we can all get there, get to that point of so what, love me or piss off, waving our freak flags a lot more proudly, right on. I’m working on it, intensely. Yahoooooo! And, really, it’s not even that much work.

Anyway, this is Marjorie. Here she is. She makes 90 look like the new 79. Happy Birthday Madam. Again. The actual illustrious date? April 16th.