Serendipity and Speaking of Mothers

I’m a huge proponent of paying attention to serendipitous events when the little tinker bells get set off. Ding. Ding. Ding.

Much of  Sunday and Monday of this past long weekend saw me deep into a story that I’ve been working on about my mother.  I was re-writing it trying to add more depth, pulling seams that might unravel buried moments in time.

Now pay attention. Here’s where serendipity comes in. A few days ago, I noticed an event that was happening at River Market that had something to do with storytelling and healing. There was a workshop component. It said that it was a fundraiser for the businesses that were lost to the recent Columbia Street fire.

Four women were presenting. First up. The founder of Royal City Writers who is the speechwriter for the president of UBC. Next? A doctor who is an actor and a film maker. Then, an actor/writer/producer and the founder of something called the Mothership Stories Society who happens to be a New Westminster resident. And last, Elee Kraljee Gardiner, host of Thursday’s Writing Collective in the Downtown Eastside, and a woman who must have huge amounts of energy given all that she’s involved in.

When Marilyn Norry, the founder of Mothership Stories Society got up on stage to speak,  I couldn’t believe it. Everything she was speaking about was relevant to what I’d just spent the past three days focused on. I realized that she’s the one who developed the idea that grew into two books and a play that I’d seen in North Vancouver last year at Presentation House; a play that had eight actors performing stories written by women who were telling their mothers’ stories. Serendipity with a capital S!

gordandIasbabies(Of course I’m the redhead on the right)

When it came time for the breakout groups, I sat in on hers. Three other women were in the group. I kept thinking that I had met one of the other women before but couldn’t place where that might be. Don’t ya just hate that?

Turns out she’s a scriptwriter for television. So, okay, there’s no way I would have met her related to that. She was wearing a red Baywatch jacket which she said, they were told, they could wear anywhere they wanted as long as they never wore it to a beach anywhere in L.A.  because someone might mistake them for a real lifeguard.  I thought that was funny.

There’s no way I know this woman and yet she seems so familiar to me. She grew up in New York and has lived and worked in L.A. Now, she lives in New West and in her words, I wouldn’t trade this place for anywhere…”  She’s lived here four years.

We exchanged cards and decided that it was a great idea to get together as a way to keep focused on continuing with the exercise.

So, New West, I’m opening my mind and getting rid of the “attitude” towards you.  Childhood was another lifetime ago. That was then. This is now. You’re not Salt Spring. That’s painfully clear. But, it’s been two years already. Since I’m here, a little acceptance and a little participation is long overdue.

As an aside, here’s something I wrote about my mother after she passed away.

If you’re interested in writing your mother’s story, Marilyn Norry hosts workshops.  You can put your mother’s story right onto the Mothership site. 

Heart Attack False Alarm

I thought I was having a heart attack on Saturday night. There is only one thing worse than thinking that you’re having a heart attack and that’s having a heart attack. Just guessing.

It might have been the fried calamari that I devoured at The Libra Room where I was earlier in the evening. Or the three drinks. Or just general anxiety, but I was woken up out of a sound sleep with a feeling of congestion that moved to full blown pressure and pain right in the middle of my chest. There were no other symptoms. I tossed and turned. Surely it would go away. I was freezing. It was getting stronger. I waited 15 then 20 minutes. I became really alarmed. The clock said 1:49 am. But, that wasn’t right. I’d forgot to rewind an hour in honour of daylight savings. I got into a yoga pose on my bed. Maybe that would help. Why would I think that?

I got up. I paced. I pushed my hands against the middle of my chest. I picked up the phone. Should I? Shouldn’t I? I put the phone down. I picked up the phone again. Female. Over 50. Sedentary. Women’s heart attacks unique. The script was running in my head. Would I rather be dead or proven wrong in my self diagnosis?

I can’t stand going to the doctor, let alone calling an ambulance. I picked up the phone one more time. Do you know how hard it is to call an ambulance for yourself?

Police? Fire? Ambulance?


For which city?

New West!

“Do you have any baby aspirin?” asked the woman on the phone. She sounded a little frightened.

How would I get them to her? I thought.

Nope. Tylenol. Ibruprofen. Will those do?

“No. Stay on the line. Don’t hang up. If something changes, let me know. The fire truck’s coming.”

Holy mother of Mary. Firemen? In my apartment? Would you look at yourself? I have firemen coming into my messy apartment while I’m wearing checkered flannel pajama bottoms. That should have been the first clue that I wasn’t actually having a heart attack. I suspect people who are having a full blown heart attack aren’t especially concerned with fashion.

I managed to buzz them in and answered the door. First words out of my mouth? “I’m sorry.” It didn’t matter that I might be having a heart attack.  I’m still Canadian. We have a reputation to uphold. Let’s get the apology out up front and quickly.

They got right to work. Shortly after arriving, more people came in. It was like a party. I’m not sure I’ve had so many good looking guys in my apartment at one time. No, I’m positive. I haven’t. The advanced care paramedic unit arrived next. Crikey! I knew I should have shaved my legs. A guy is sticking those white tabs on me that hooks me up to a portable EKG machine. I’m beyond humiliation at this point.

Their leader, a woman, is barking questions at me. I don’t know about you but as someone who pretty much exists mainly above the neck, when people ask urgent questions about where you feel it and how it feels, I have to think about it for just a minute. I’m not so in tune with my body that I can answer that definitively and quickly while under stress. It might as well have been calculus.

Finally a third team, the regular paramedics, show up. They’re taking me to the hospital. I ask them if I can get dressed. They cart me off. It’s practically empty in there. I’m seated almost on top of a guy who’s lying on a stretcher in a neck brace. I’m so close to him I’m almost breathing on his forehead. I imagine the warm rush of garlic from the calamari I’d eaten earlier wafting over him. They take me to the waiting area. It’s uncharacteristically empty.

“This shouldn’t take too long,” said the paramedic. Famous last words. Right up there with “I’ll call you.” I wait and I wait. The waiting room was empty. A nurse comes in and takes my blood pressure. Takes my temperature. A woman with incredible skin does another EKG. The nurse comes back and hands me a jar to pee in and two wipes. I look at those packages. What are those for? Are those for me? Have they no toilet paper? Why do they think I’ll know what to do with these? I wipe the jar with them.

“The doctor won’t be too long,” says the nurse.

I wait and I wait. An hour passes.

“I think he’s in trauma,” she says. So am I, I think to myself.

Another hour passes.

“Actually, I just saw him in front of a computer,” she says. Another 20 minutes pass.

Finally, I just get up. “Maybe I’ll just leave,” I say to the nurses. “False alarm,” I say.

“It’s up to you,” says the one with the long black hair. “I can’t tell you exactly how long he’ll be. He’s the only one on right now.” I look again at the empty waiting room.

Another 30 minutes passes. I was torn then. I felt like I was on the phone with Telus or Rogers or maybe Shaw. I was trapped. I didn’t want to hang up. I didn’t want to lose my place in line. Maybe hospitals need that callback feature. I went back to my chair. Pulled on my coat. Leaned against the wall. Closed my eyes.

Where else would this happen? Could you ever go to a restaurant and have them look at you, size you up, and not bother to serve you because, well, look at you, you’re not starving. You can wait. Look at that guy over there. He’s only 110 pounds. He’s emaciated. Nope. That would never happen.

I mean, I have great sympathy for hospital workers but there’s a limit. Where was the doctor? Was he having sex in a supply room? Was he napping? Was he playing that popular video game, Metal Gear?

Yes. I get it. I wasn’t an emergency after all. Sorry to disappoint. I’m not going to heaven or hell tonight. Thankfully, I won’t be forced to witness my entire life flash before my eyes. Still, I’d rather not sit in a grungy waiting room at 3:00 am, especially when it seemed like a slow night. Was there a whole other ward hidden to me that was lined to the rafters with puking, cancerous, heart attack, super bug degenerating Canadians on their deathbeds?

Finally, a guy walks in. I can’t stop staring at his shiny bald head. I wonder if he’s actually just pretending to be a doctor. He asks me a few questions, the kind he could have easily stolen from Grey’s Anatomy. He pushes on my stomach and says something about gall bladder. Ultrasound. Wait here for a piece of paper. He’s gone.

When I finally leave, the nurses say goodbye to me in unison as if I’m a relative leaving on a long trip and they’re WestJet flight attendants. I walk home. A homeless guy approaches me. It’s now about 5:00 am.

“Do you know what time it is?” he asks.

I think it’s about 3:30, I tell him in  my disorientation.

“No way. It can’t be that early,” says the poor guy, thinking he’s can’t possibly have five more hours of aimless wandering before he can grab a coffee.

And you know what I really think? I think he may be right.  I think it may be later than we all think.

Meet Pauline Johnson through City Opera Vancouver

He called her and she said sure she’d do it. That’s what Charles Barber said about asking Margaret Atwood if she would be interested in working on a chamber opera  about Pauline Johnson with Vancouver composer Tobin Stokes. There was no hesitation said Barber, describing Atwood as easy to work with and so incredibly smart, way smarter than you might even imagine.

Well, no, I thought. I think we all think she’s pretty smart.

220px-Tekahionwake_ca_1895image from Wikipedia

The event was part of the  Heart of the City festival in Vancouver’s downtown east side hosted at the Chinese Cultural Centre Museum and Archives (which I didn’t even know existed), just around the corner from the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Gardens. The festival runs to Sunday, November 3.

As we’d discover, each of the four people seated at the front of the room  have been working together on a new chamber opera (that means a smaller, more intimate opera) for City Opera Vancouver about the late great E. Pauline Johnson or Pauline Johnson to most of us. The “E” stands for Emily, which was her mother’s name.

If you’re Canadian, you, at the very least, are familiar with the name. Pauline Johnson. Poet. Performer. Mohawk chief as a father. English immigrant mother. She travelled around Canada, the U.S., and Britain entertaining, reciting her lyric poetry, playing up her half blood ancestry. She was an independent woman, way ahead of her time, travelling on her own when women just didn’t do that and living between 1861 and 1913.

She paddled her canoe in the waters between Coal Harbour and Lost Lagoon. Born in Brantford, Ontario. Lived a comfortable life as a child in a large house on the Grand River called Chiefswood that she spent the rest of her life missing and romanticizing. Never married (rumour has it her heart was broken)  but she had many suitors as they would say back then, and one special one whose photo she kept in a locket that she never removed.

She died penniless in a rooming house on Howe Street, looked after in her last days (when she was suffering the horrors of breast cancer at a time when there was no treatment) by the women of IODE. She is the only person to be officially buried in Stanley Park, with a monument north of the Teahouse or Sequoia Grill. You’ll find it if you really want to.

You can read the definitive biography, Flint & Feather by Charlotte Gray.

We met the opera company’s artistic director, Charles Barber, the director of Pauline, Norman Armour, who is the director of Vancouver’s Push Festival. We heard from the composer, Tobin Stokes, and the young opera singer, Rose Ellen Nichols who is to be Pauline Johnson on stage.

Nichols hails from Sechelt and the Sechelt Band and grew up fishing and hunting with her family. She couldn’t really explain how it is that she went from a simple rural childhood to moving to the city at 17 and then getting involved in Opera at UBC but she did say that like Johnson, she has always felt that she has felt torn between two lives – one back at home and the one she now lives in the city.

It was fascinating to be able to sit and hear Barber talk about what it takes to develop and stage this new opera (budget: $300,000), for five nights in May 2014. The event will take place in the York Theatre,  the newest addition to  The Cultch.

The group had just spent the day workshopping with Margaret Atwood in attendance.

It was interesting that Barber knew so many of the people in attendance on a first name basis; people who live in the downtown east side and who have probably attended other events at Carnegie Community Centre.

The premiere of  Pauline is set for May 15th and run for five days. But here’s the thing. There’s a performance (no costumes) set to run at Carnegie Centre on November 29th from 7-9 pm. It’s open to the public. The goal is to get feedback from an audience.

Are you in?

The craft beer chics and a Thanksgiving outing

pumpkinsorange One of life’s great pleasures is to go somewhere new, somewhere I’ve never been before. For me, if that place is small and country-like, so much the better. I’ve lived in a city most of my life, except for a few forays into small towns but I love rural environments; or at least the romantic notion of them.

My dream is to escape. All my dreams revolve around escape, especially when I am most unable to do so, or so I tell myself.  Inevitably the escape is to somewhere isolated, an island all mine, a cabin all mine, me against the elements. How Canadian of me.  The escape is always about me in nature, me getting closer to the heart of who I am. It’s never about getting closer to another person and that disturbs me. I wonder about that. I wonder where those dreams that we all hold, that define us, where do those come from? Especially, when they are different from the lives we are living.

And of course, having lived in just two small places, I know that romanticizing the rural experience is both completely appropriate and a ridiculous delusion.

I believe that the older one gets, if we are actually growing and changing and pushing ourselves, improving with age, the more comfortable we become in our own skins, and the easier it is to sequester away, to just take off to somewhere small and be perfectly okay, to turn inward and go deeper, to be content. But I digress.

Yesterday, I was invited by Karen and Gwen  to join them on an afternoon outing in search of a brewery they’d heard about earlier in the month. Being the passionate beer connoisseurs that they are, they’d heard about this brewery after downing a few pints at Bitter Tasting Room on E. Hastings.

But first we had to lunch. We headed out to a pub called Big River which had really good food and a good craft beer selection. If they’d just get rid of the TVs, it would be perfect. After lunch, we were in search of Four Winds Brewing.  It’s just a tiny place in one of those nondescript malls off a highway in Delta. We parked the car. It didn’t look like much from the outside. As soon as we opened the door, it was shocking. There was practically a party going on in there at 2 pm.  The place was packed. The young guys that were running the taps couldn’t keep up between the bottling and the taking of money. Karen They had these 2 litre jugs called Growlers. The names of the beer were Dunkelweizen, Saison, Oatmeal Pumpkin and a bunch of others that I’d recall if I too was as enthusiastic about beer as my friends. After that, we headed off to Ladner (or were we still in Delta?) It all looks the same to me. Karen introduced Gwen and I  to a Winery called Wellbrook Winery which makes fruit wines.

Now, fruit wines aren’t high on my list of the kind of wine I like to drink. In the past I’ve found them sickeningly sweet and I pretty much swore off them about 20 years ago after visiting a winery that will remain nameless but exists out in the Fraser Valley, or used to. WellbrookWineryDelta



Gwendrinkingfruitwine The  fun thing about the Wellbrook Winery is that there’s a renovated heritage barn that they’ve turned into their tasting room and store which is full of gourmet oils and chocolate and other specialty foods from around BC. This beautiful heritage structure has the original floor and doors and has been given a lot of attention.   Just  being in the space makes it feel like Thanksgiving. pumpkinsyellow Who’s cooking a big turkey asked the woman behind the bar?  I replied. “None of us.” It’s always fun to have a little fun with other people’s expectations and see the puzzled look on their faces. clock This fabulous clock was in the Wellbrook Winery store. The woman behind the tasting bar didn’t know its origins. She said that the owner just picks up these things and drops them off and they have to find a place for them. I really love this clock. Look at it!

Maybe you’ll  be eating turkey or Tofurkey, enjoying a meal with friends or family, or the love of your life. Maybe you’ll just be sitting by yourself chewing on a piece of salami but in a beautiful natural place with golden leaves and sun rays all around. Regardless of what you’re doing, you have to know that as a North American, it’s impossible not to be thankful.

Be thankful. Be thankful. I say it to myself. I say it to you.

Oh, and got any good tips on craft breweries in BC or, for that matter, in the whole wide world?

Time to Devour the Garden


What better way to enjoy a garden than to eat it, one powerfully tasty vegetable at a time at a themed dinner.

Potatoes. Beets. Beet roots. Butternut squash. Pesto from basil plants. I can’t even recall all that adorned the table thanks to our gracious hostesses Penny (below right) and Gwen and everyone else’s contributions.


The fact is, unless you count the hanging basket of pink fuchsias and the geraniums and the cherry tomato plant on my patio that has generously dropped some organic lusciousness into my expectant palms, I don’t even have a garden.


It’s always the little extra touches that make a dinner party special! I loved the way Penny found these dried flowers, or at least great look a likes, from a dollar store. These and the nasturtiums were perfect on top of the long strips of Kraft paper she substituted for a table cloth.


Just about everyone else around the table has a plot at SFU’s community garden on Burnaby Mountain which, as you can see from one of my earlier blog posts, is a veritable jungle of growth that is not immune, unfortunately, to very hungry deer. Still, there were enough ingredients for this tasty salsa appetizer. Salsa

Penny and Liz, her daughter, had to re-arrange furniture and borrow a bench to accommodate us.




Our token male,  Drew, (Aloha)  is a wonderful cook. He  took cooking classes while travelling in Thailand and Cambodia, and his delicious Thai soup kicked off the first course. It was smooth with just a bite of ginger and lemon grass to wake up the palate.

Drew and his wife Michelle also shared a rich dark slab of an appetizer of hot chili chocolate (they grew the chili’s). Cut through a piece of that luscious mocha and take a swig of red wine and you’re pretty much on your way to an out of body experience. I’m not even sure how these two managed to stay awake since they had already attended three birthday parties earlier in the day with their five-year-old twins.


There were ruby beets from Gwen and Penny’s garden plot. Just add feta.


 Icy pale cucumbers made for a refreshing transitional taste after Drew’s soup and before the main courses.


Shona made pasta with pesto, Arlette made some curried potatoes and I put together a butternut squash and pear casserole, but at this point, you’ll just have to take my word for that. Apparently,  I was too busy eating to keep up with my photography duties.

Annie and Li arrived with sushi. (No photo of that either).

Gwen made her delectable pumpkin cheesecake, Penny added a plum torte, and what’s a harvest dinner without a pie? Frances came through with a peach one.


I was so full, I could only eat the cheesecake.

And when it was all done, we were sent home with packets of seeds for next year.

From Shona


(So apropos for someone who runs a before and after school care program for four kids out of her lane way house, when, that is, she’s not counting air miles after dropping a few thousand on a recent Galapagos Islands trip that she went on with her sister, with the goal of catching up with Mr. Money Mustache.) Her sister is going to start guest blogging for him.

And dill from Penny and Gwen.


I think I left mine on the kitchen table.

So, what delectable morsels have you enjoyed from your own gardens or from all that shopping at farmer’s markets this summer? I love the Ladner Market. That’s where I got most of my fresh food this summer.

Juggling Acts of the Creatives


Lichen on a dock railing (Maybe?)

I revel in my once a month writing group gatherings. We move living room to living room, and I consider my fellow writers the embodiment of possibility; the kind of possibilities that for others – non artistic types – are too often the first casualties of getting through the month, after month, after month.

Writer 1

One of them has just returned, her stories trying to catch up with her telling, from a six-day trip to Wells Gray Park, from a gathering of scientists and Lichen Bums, as she referred to them and as they refer to themselves, joined by major Canadian literary types. They convened for six days in the forest. Robert Bringhurst. Tim Lilburn. Patrick Lane. Lorna Crozier. Name after name recognizable speaking about environment, protection, sustainability and she barely able to believe that she had landed somewhere so aligned with who she is.

Writer 2

Another has been transformed  into a modern day version of Emily Carr on a smaller scale. She’s renting out her second bedroom in a walk up off Commercial Drive that she can’t afford to live in alone. Travellers now traipse in and out as she tries  to figure out how to satisfy the editor of a major New York magazine on a revised version of an article she first got published in The Tyee.

Writer 3

The elder, weary but still committed, in setting up a new type of writer’s working & performance space called Blumin Warehouse. She’s working 16 hour days, recognizing the unhealthiness, and craving time in nature, space to get back to that inner sacredness where creativity blooms. Driving from Jericho, to Iona Spit and outside, quiet, removed, until a chapbook burst forth materializing on the page the way styro-foam washes up on a beach.

Writer  4

Another  proud of her balancing act in the last month between full-time work and writing time and the equation of balancing, space surfacing like the beginning of seeds previously planted; okay, it’s still possible to create, to muse even in between a full time job and fertility treatments.

Writer 5

And me, two months into a job – a job that demands so much writing of a different kind – wondering how to protect that last grip on my own space for creativity that always gets buried by the demands of a five day a week job; juggling my own need for time, time to think, to wander, to be in nature,  and wondering how to make this time different than all the other times that I tried to make work, to balance, and didn’t.

Writer 6

Away in the Ukraine at an artist’s retreat.

Writer 7

The couch surfer, house-sitter on a mission to find a place that’s bunny friendly.

Writer 8

Away in Massachusetts, a place he hasn’t been in 30 years, settling his university-aged daughter into her future.


Hearing about their possibilities, reading the stories they’ve produced, leads to threads of ways of being that all people involved in an artistic focus must juggle daily. Make the time. For writers its imperative to keep our writing going, and meeting and sharing keeps it real, especially to ourselves.

Fraser River Sky at Dawn


awake at 5 ammoonoveralexfraser

on the river where the pink light

complements half crescent moon

guides eagle’s shimmering squeal

slate current pushing

faster today,

pushes transient logs back to where they’ve

already travelled.

There, a fish,

it jumped,

did you see it?

Lights from the bridge shining distortion,

make no difference to

tugs chugging east, ever-steady hum muted

beneath siren

crossing the bridge, farther on.

To the south,

Alex Fraser spires imitate drawbridge

and just behind me,

Norman, your cat, peers out like a prisoner,

or a child, waiting his mother’s return.

Sky mixes pastels,

slivers of pink

alight tips of clouds

hints at heaven’s reality

what’s for breakfast?