Discovering The World of Selfies

It has been months now since my last post.  When we returned from Sicily, I hit the ground running and I haven’t slowed down since.  But that hasn’t stopped me from taking pictures.  I have been playing with the camera on my cell.  It is surprising how good the pictures from an iPhone 4s can be.  And in doing this, I have discovered the world of selfies.  

Selfies are the pictures that people love to hate, yet almost everybody takes them.  I found an article recently that claimed the following:

“For a generation that is overwhelmingly narcissistic, we are pretty ignorant to what we’re really saying with our ”selfies.” Worse yet, we’re not even paying much attention to how selfies are damaging our relationships.

No really, they are.”

“This is because people, other than very close friends and relatives, don’t seem to relate well to those who constantly share photos of themselves,” says Dr. David Houghton.


I would like to suggest that there other reasons for taking selfies than narcissism.  I believe that selfies can be a celebration.

For years I hated having my picture taken.  From my late 20s I started gaining weight.  The heavier I got the more my desire to have my picture taken diminished.  In this picture, I weighed about 273 lbs.  If you look closely in my face, you can see the discomfort that lies just below the surface.  At that weight, there was not a moment that I wasn’t aware of my obesity and how I appeared (or thought I appeared) to other people.




Over the past few years, I have worked hard and lost just over 100 lbs.  But, I didn’t just work on the weight – in fact, the weight was almost incidental.  Instead, I focused my efforts on the issues behind the weight gain… so many issues that had created an eating addiction in me.  Slowly, the cravings to eat passed, my self esteem and self worth rose and, pound by pound the weight began to drop.  

Today, I enjoy having my picture taken and taking my own picture.  This is not vanity, this is gratitude for the new me – in a person who is happy and who is finding joy in her ability to me more active.




For the first time in my life I own hiking boots; I own them and I use them.  My husband, Nick, and I, are planning to walk the Camino Portuges once we retire. We are walking now, and working out at the gym so that when we hit 58 and 60 we will be ready to backpack 350 kilometres from Porto, Portugal to Santiago di Campostella in Spain.


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I had always wanted to wear a little black dress.  For most of my adult life there was nothing “little” in my wardrobe.


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I recently travelled to London and Paris with a group of teenagers.  We walked 12 kilometres a day and I matched those kids, step for step.  I could not have done this even one year ago – maybe not even 6 months ago.  These selfies mark the wonderful time I had travelling with my students.


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So, I have invested some time and joy in selfies – and they will continue to document the life I have happily embraced!

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Just One Of Those Days


This post is dedicated to my husband, Nick.  He is the best man who has ever been in my life.  Nick, happy anniversary.

I think most of us have one.  A day that seems to attract special occurrences – sometimes good, sometimes bad, but always memorable.  July 31st, over the past few years, has become one of those days for me.  Let me explain.

I’m a teacher.  Part of being a teacher is having 2 months holiday in the summers.  Until 3 years ago, July 31st meant I was halfway through my summer vacation.  On July 31st, I was never ready to be on the back-stretch of my holidays.  July 31st also meant I still had 6 weeks left to get by on my savings for the summer.  I (and every other teacher) has heard a comment like,”Gee, it must be nice getting 2 months holiday in the summer every year.” or “Wow, what a cushy job – you only have to work 10 months a year.  Must be nice.”  (Oh dear, enough with the comments, I feel a rant coming on!).  What most people don’t realize is that teachers are not paid in the summer, so that cushy summer holiday often comes with stress over money by the time August rolls around.  So for me, this is what July 31st was all about for years.

Then three years ago, everything changed.  Three years ago my (then) boyfriend and I decided that it was time for us to make a trip to the country of his parent’s birth – Italy.  It was a wonderful, magical journey that took us from Trapani on the far west coast of Sicily, across the island and all the way up the boot to Milan.  We finished off with four days in Paris.  On our third morning there, we got an email that Nick’s father had died.  That was July 31st.  While it wasn’t really a shock, he had been declining for some time, it was still a very difficult day.  It was taken up with phone calls to Ottawa, frantic emails back and forth to our travel agent, all trying to make sure that Nick could be in Ottawa in time for the funeral.  When it was done and we knew that he could be there, Nick asked me if he could have some time alone.  My stoic Nick.  I took Miyuki and we went off to spend a few hours in Paris.

What a roller coaster of a day.  I left the hotel heartsick for my husband.  It doesn’t matter if you know that Death is on the doorstep, he still brings pain and anguish.  But I wasn’t out wandering alone – my daughter and her crazy sense of humour was with me.  We decided to go to the Moulin Rouge.  I talked about this in an earlier post so I won’t go into a lot of detail here.  That evening was, however, one of the best 1/2 days my daughter and I have spent together.  She is a wonderful girl and fills my heart every-time I am with her.

Fast forward one year.  July 31st two years ago.  Picture a white gazebo, hung with burgundy and white ribbons.  Through the ribbons, as they flutter in the breeze, you can see the sun glinting off a pristine lake.  In front of the gazebo stand two people, oblivious to everyone seated around them.  That was Nick and I on our wedding day.  We had chosen that day purposefully as a way of celebrating not just our life together, but also as a way of remembering people passed – Nick’s father and mother, and my father specifically.  It was the best of weddings; beautiful, meaningful, but most of all fun.  That day Nick and I pledged our loyalty and love to each other – to the persons we were meant to be with.  We had already been together almost 6 years, and, while I won’t say everyday had been perfect, we had been perfectly content that we were with the right person.  Since then, our lives have grown in so many ways.


Fast forward another year.  July 31st last year.  Nick and I celebrated our anniversary with a phone call from our realtor, Joe.  The offer we had made on our house in Sicily had been accepted.  We were going to have our house in Italy!

Fast forward to this year.  Today is July 31st.  We have been in Cianciana for almost a month.  Everyday, when I walk to the bakery or the fruit and veggie store or the butcher, I am stopped by this neighbour or that, just wanting to chat or to say hello or to tell me “Il fa caldo!” (it is hot!) to which I reply “Si’, troppo caldo!” (yes, too hot!).  Last night, Nick and I went to our neighbours’ house in the country.  We sat outside on their patio, under a thick canopy of grape vines, surrounded on three sides by olive, almond and fig trees.  We ate pasta and chicken and potatoes, and they poured Nick glass after glass of their homemade red wine made from their own grapes.  We finished the end of the day sipping strong espresso coffee.  So, today Nick and I are celebrating our anniversary volunteering with the local community group that is hosting the annual harvest festa, or festival.  There will be stacks and stacks of food.  It starts after sundown and goes until 3 or 4 in the morning.  I can’t think of a better way to celebrate our second year as a married couple than to do so with our new community around us.


An Unexpected Day


What was your best day?  Of course, there never is just one best day.  There are a myriad of them because there are so many categories that these days can fit into.  When I look back, I think about the birth of my daughter, my wedding day with Nick, the convocations when I got both my B.Ed. and my M.Ed.  But this isn’t what I am talking about.  All of these days were wonderful and come galloping across my thoughts with regularity.  These days were planned for, anticipated, expected and enjoyed.  I, however, am thinking more about the unexpected day.  The one that just crept up on you, the one that just…happened.  My “just happened” day was on July 27, 2010.

Venice, Italy

On our travels through Italy, Nick, Miyuki and I stayed in a house full of students when we were in Padua.  Our main host was a brilliant young math student named Luca Lago.  Luca was a wonderful host.  He cooked for us, toured us around Padua and on our second day he took us to Venice.  Venice is an amazing, magical place.  I have described her before as the dowager Empress of the Adriatic and it is an apt description.  It is a city that should be on everyone’s bucket list and I feel blessed that I have been able to visit her twice.  


The best way to visit anywhere is to go with a local, but in Venice this is profoundly true.  Luca took us up and down side canals and alley ways.  When we crossed the Rialto Bridge, when we stood in Piazza di San Marco, we were surrounded by tourists and Venetians alike.  Luca guided us off the main traffic routes and into alleys and across bridges that were quiet and isolated.  In spite of the bright sun, some of the canals were shadowed and reminded me of watching Donald Sutherland chasing down the alleys in the 1973 film Don’t Look Now.


Around corners we found things to surprise us.  Musicians, people in costumes, masks in storefronts, unexpected bridges, hidden cafes.  


But every time we crossed by a canal with a gondola, Miyuki and I sighed wistfully.  We both wanted more than anything to ride in a gondola but we both knew that, at €100 for half an hour, a gondola ride was not going to happen on this trip.  Luca knew that we wanted the experience and that we figured we couldn’t afford it.  As we wandered into the late afternoon, Luca brought us back out onto the Grand Canal with a huge grin.  In front of us was a gondola tied to the side of the canal.  Luca pointed at the gondola and said, “Get in!”  When I began to protest, he waved my objections away.  “This gondola takes you from one side of the Grand Canal to the other and it costs just €0.50.”  €0.50?  That was less than 75¢!  We climbed into the wobbly gondola.  The gondoliers laughed at me and said in Italian, “No, sit here.” When I moved they responded with, “No, sit here!” gesturing at another seat.  I moved twice before I realized they were having me on, but it didn’t matter, I was sitting in a gondola on the Grand Canal.


Look at the smile on my face.  For me, the trip from one side of the canal to the other is up there in the top five experiences of my life.    The canal water was only inches away from where we sat.  Motor boats sputtered past us, other gondolas crossed our paths, the sun beat down on our heads.  It lasted only ten minutes but it felt like a glorious, joyful lifetime.  

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I will never forget that moment.  And I will never forget that I shared that moment with my husband and my daughter and that our new friend, Luca, had given it to us.

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At The Moulin Rouge





Back in 2001, in the innocent days before 9-11, 20th Century Fox released the film Moulin Rouge!  My daughter and I, always captivated by musicals, went to sit in the dark theatre, waiting for the movie to start.  We weren’t prepared for the pastiche-jukebox musical come MTV video come sensory overload that was the Moulin Rouge!  When the final credits rolled to a close, my daughter and I sat in the theatre with our mouths open, not wanting to believe that the movie was over.  The next day found us back at the theatre to see it again.  And again.  And again.  On our fifth and final theatre viewing, the theatre manager came into speak to the audience and introduce one audience member who was there to see it for the 18th time.  We weren’t the only ones to be enamoured with Moulin Rouge!.  I bought the film on DVD and we continued to watch it.  I can’t say how many times I’ve seen Moulin Rouge! but every time I see it, it still captures me.  That was four years before I met my husband, and Ewan McGregor’s smile and twinkling eyes had me drooling (actually, it still does but let’s just not say anything about that 😉  ).

Nine years later, Nick and my daughter and I were in Paris.  Nick wanted to have an evening to himself, so Miyuki (my daughter) and I made our way to the Moulin Rouge.  Now, granted it was over 100 years after the movie’s story took place, we were still hoping to capture some of the amazing feeling with which the movie left us.





When we came up from the Metro, we saw the line to buy tickets under the windmill was more than two blocks long.  Instead, we wandered up and down the streets in the madness that still surrounds the Moulin Rouge.  The energy was crazy.  People were dancing, and running up and down the streets.  Pockets of singing and shouting were breaking out all around us.  French, English, Italian, German and other languages that I couldn’t place.  We made our way down past the end of the line, around a corner and to our surprise, found an Irish pub.  With part of our family coming from Donegal, it seemed appropriate, if a bit strange, to enter that Irish pub in the middle of Paris.

Miyuki and I sat and chatted and I treated her to her first Guinness while I sipped at my Coke Light.  It was a wonderful evening – one of those common experiences that a mother and daughter sometimes share when all history and power barriers have dropped and only a mutual enjoyment of our time together was important.




Perhaps Moulin Rouge! was only fast moving images on celluloid, songs by other songwriters and a story that was simply fabrication.  But this film created a mutual experience that my daughter and I took with us to the streets of Paris, to create a memory that we both will always hold dear.


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I Hate Mother’s Day

This is a hard post to write and I really struggled with whether I would actually post this or not.  But, I believe in no secrets and in honouring that belief, I will let you all read about something I have never shared online before.

I hate Mother’s Day.  I hate walking through the drugstores with the pastel signs of motherly love.  I hate the cards with the messages of thank you for a mother’s unconditional love, for the guidance and patience, for always being there.  Because that was not my experience.


I have written about my mother before and her descent into dementia.  What I haven’t written about is her younger days.  Specifically, the years she spent raising me.  Or not raising me as the case may be.

My mother is a complex woman with complex issues.  She was raised by parents with an alcohol addiction so extreme that they completely lost the ability to support their family in any way so that my mom and my uncle had to drop out of school and work to simply keep a roof over their heads and some semblance of food on the table.  At age 12 my mother was working full time doing other people’s laundry by hand.


My grandmother was a brutal and controlling woman who felt no compunction at physically abusing my mother.  Once she grabbed my mother by her hair and threw her across the room so hard that a big patch of my mother’s hair was ripped out of her head.  She forced my mother to sleep in the same room as her until my mother got married, just to make sure my mother wasn’t having sex.  And when she did get married, my grandmother refused to attend the wedding and kept my grandfather and aunt from attending too.


So, my mother has good reasons to have complex issues.

When she was 21, my father came on to the scene.  My dad was a bit of a white knight.  He liked to rescue people and my mother was no different.  He saw a need and stepped in to rescue her.  Six months later they were married.  What my father discovered was, that while he could get my mother out of her parents’ home, there was really no rescuing someone with such huge issues.

My mom started drinking and abusing prescription drugs when I was about 6 or 7.  She would spend hours, and sometimes days, locked in her bedroom, claiming to have a migraine.  It took years for me to realize that there really wasn’t anything wrong with her head, something she told me when she was drop dead drunk and made her way out of the bedroom.  For years I believed she had a brain tumour and that no one but me was taking it seriously.  I remember begging her to go to the doctor to get it checked.

When I was 8 or 9, we were hosting a Christmas party at our house for the neighbours.  My mother, of course, started drinking and at some point in the evening, my dad suggested she had had enough to drink.  In her drunken state, she stumbled out onto our back porch.  I followed her.  And before I could do anything, she had climbed up on the porch railing and had jumped to fall the two stories into the rocky creek below.  Unbelievably, she wasn’t hurt other than a few scraps and bruises.  That event was a defining one in my life.

She would hit me with a big wooden spoon or slap me across the face.  Mostly it was the wooden spoon but once she did black my eye.  That was a hard one to explain when I had to go to school the next day.  This continued until I was 17 when, after she slapped me, I hit her back.  She never hit me again.

She did try to commit suicide one other time.  I came home from school one day to find her crawling along the floor.  She had taken a whole bottle of the tranquilizers that had been prescribed to her and had been drinking hard all afternoon along with it.  She had done this in hopes that she would die.  At 16, I was the one who called the doctor who called the ambulance (this was pre 911 days).  I went with her to the hospital.  I had to dig through her purse to find out what pills she had taken when the EMTs asked me.  I was the one to whom the doctors released her, and I was the one who had to go catch her when she ran out of the hospital barefoot and drunkenly tried to escape.  I was the one who took her home in a cab, praying all the way that she had money in her purse to pay for it, and I was the one who had to explain to my dad when he got home, what his wife had done that day.

Eventually she did stop drinking and abusing drugs.  What she really needed was a good counsellor but she would never go to one.  She would never admit the things that had happened to her when she was growing up, and I was expected to never mention the things that happened to me while I was growing up.  Secrets.  This was the watchword of generations of my family.

I moved out as soon as I possibly could and when I had the opportunity, I moved half way around the world to live in Tokyo.

Through all of this, my father found ways to pretend it wasn’t happening.  When the worst of it was going on, my dad spent years building a 26 ft sailboat in our basement.  When he retired and had more time at home he started to study Spanish.  He studied 2 hours every morning literally for 2 1/2 decades and never learned to speak it.  I think the purpose was not to learn Spanish but to have a respite from my mother’s constant conversation and complaining.  She couldn’t (and still can’t) have quiet for more than a few seconds.  I think the constant conversation is to distract herself from her internal anguish.

In spite of all of this, my parents had a great love.  They were married 67 years when my dad passed away.  That was three years ago and still, every day, she wants to die just so she can be with him. This sounds morbid, but for my mother, it is just a statement of fact.

They travelled together, they did Masters swimming together and competed together.  They both painted, both read and both loved British comedies.  They swam in lakes and the ocean together.  They sailed together until my mother’s bad back prevented her from going on the boat.  At 70 and 80, they still walked hand in hand.  They truly loved each other.

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So, the Mother’s Day cards that I see in the stores have little connection to the life that I knew as a child.  Instead I try to find funny cards so that I can avoid the sentimentality.  I wish there were cards that said, “Mom, even though you screwed up a lot, I know you did your best and I love you anyhow.” or “Mom, I forgive you for everything and I still love you.”  Those are the cards that I wish I could give my mother.  But, even before dementia took her memory, my mother denied everything that happened when I was a child.  She couldn’t handle the message in the cards that I would like to give.  So, I go for funny.

There is an upside to all of this.  I have my own daughter.  I made sure that I didn’t follow my mother’s path although I have made my own share of mistakes with her.  I have admitted my mistakes, apologized for them, and even offered to pay for therapy if she wants it.  Now, she and I have a great relationship.  She calls me regularly, asks me for relationship advice, and lets me know when I screw up.  I love her with all my heart and I believe she loves me back – she does tell me so.

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So, I think if I am to give anyone Mother’s Day wishes, it would be for me.  In spite of her spectacular failings, I still love my mother and I am working hard at forgiving her.  I have taken the mistakes she made, learned from them and have done the best possible job with my own daughter.  Maybe it is time to turn Mother’s Day around and make it for myself.


Follow the River Taff


After we found the Kings Head, we drove the few minutes to a town called Abertillery.  Most of my Welsh family grew up there, including my cousin Gill who was driving us around.  Abertillery is a tiny town and one of the few streets is called Princess street.


This is where Gill and her brother, Arthur, and my late cousin Joyce lived as children and where Walter, Gill and Arthur’s stepdad still lived at the time.  Sadly, Walter has since passed away, but I remember him as a warm, generous, quiet man.  He was strong and stubborn and lived in his own house until he died, in spite of Gill’s urging him to move to somewhere that would do his housework and cook his meals for him.



You may have noticed in the picture, that Arthur – second from the left – is a larger than life kind of guy.  He spent his career working for Adidas as their liaison with the Welsh National Rugby team.  He could have taken a promotion, moved to London, and made scads more money.  Adidas certainly offered this to him.  But Arthur loved (and still loves) rugby so much that he chose to stay in what was his dream job.  Rugby is an important sport in Wales.  Every town has at least one team and Abertillery is no different.  My mother, amongst all her junk precious articles, has a book on Rugby in Abertillery.  That is one thing that I know I will keep once she has passed.


Arthur was an amazing host.  This is when he is truly in his element – showing off the country that he loves and making sure the people around him are having a great time.  He took us for a lovely lunch in Cardiff, drove us to Penarth (lovely town right on the water just north of Cardiff), and then we hung out with his friends who announced, that even though my daughter and I were born in Canada, we were still Taffies.  The word Taffy refers to the people of south Wales and derives from the River Taff.  I have since learned that it is a derogatory word.  I apologize for using it but my story would fall flat if I said that we had been called T*****s.  I am quite sure that there was no insult meant when they used the term.  In fact, I could see the Welsh pride on their faces when they all agreed what we were and we took it in the spirit that it was meant.

A story that Arthur told me had to do with a branch of our family with the last name Walbyoff.  Many of them shortened the name to Walby.  According to Arthur, the Walbyoff branch of the family is descended from a Polish prince by the name of Prince Ralph.  I have googled Prince Ralph of Poland and couldn’t find any reference to him at all.  I suspect this is one of Arthur’s wonderful tall tales.  It doesn’t really matter – it’s stories like these that that make Arthur the larger than life guy that he is.

Just a note on my cousin Joyce.  She was the first of my family living in Wales that I met face to face.  Joyce came to British Columbia to meet family.  She stayed with me in Victoria for about a week, and my mother came over to visit with her too.  One of my favourite memories of Joyce was going shopping with her to find some culottes to wear.  I took her to the Bay.  She found a lovely pair of culottes, white with big tan polkadots.  She wore those everyday with such joy and panache.  Sadly, when she was packing her things to return to Wales, she left the culottes out.  When I asked her why, she said matter-of-factly, that she couldn’t be seen in them back in Wales.  Her neighbours would talk and her friends wouldn’t be seen with her.  This was back in 1988.


I am very proud of my Welsh heritage.  My aunt, who was born in Wales, didn’t speak English until she was 13 and then she completely gave up Welsh as she was teased so badly by the other children.  I used to ask her to teach me some Welsh, but she never would.  She passed away when I was 17.  An opportunity and a beloved aunt lost.





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Life Lessons Learned in a Wet Bathing Suit

At English Bay at sunset

At English Bay at sunset

Last Saturday, Nick and I were expecting company for the weekend.  Typically, we don’t have much time to do more than basic housework during the week so the bulk of our cleaning is done on Saturday.  This Saturday was no different except that the previous weekend we had chosen to go through all kinds of stuff that we had been keeping in cupboards and boxes and on bookshelves and in junk drawers which meant our usual amount of cleaning didn’t happen.  You can probably imagine what our house looked like.  Sty would be a kind and generous description.  So, by 9am we had finished breakfast and our coffee and we were well on our way to putting a dent in the long list of what needed to be done.

Stop here.

Before I go any further, for you to understand the situation in its entirety, you need to know that both Nick and I hate housework.  With a passion.  With every fibre of our beings.  And the more housework there is to do, the more we both hate it.  Thus, we started to do our cleaning on opposite ends of the house so that neither of us commit murder with, oh say, a vacuum hose, or a melon baller, or a doily, because…oh yes…given the right circumstances, we could.  So Nick started to work on our bedroom.  Now, to give Nick credit, he does an amazingly thorough job of the bedroom.  It is just shining like a new – wait, it can’t be penny – they stopped making those in Canada – nickel!  Yes, just like a shiny new nickel by the time he is finished.  In the meantime, I began by putting a load in the laundry.  Then I cleaned the dining room, filing and sorting all the considerable mail that had just been tossed on the table, recycled the unread newspapers, wiped down the table, window sills and chair arms and swept the floor.  Then I hung the laundry on the line and started the second load.  Then I unloaded the dishwasher, loaded it with dirty dishes, put everything away that had been left out, scrubbed down the countertop, stovetop, and sink and swept and washed the kitchen floor.  Then I took out some frozen meat to thaw for dinner, hung more laundry on the line and started another load.  Next, I tackled the bathroom.  I cleared everything off the vanity, washed the mirror, wiped down the vanity and cleaned the sink.  I put everything back on the vanity after wiping each item down.  I scrubbed the toilet, wiped down the windowsill and scrubbed around the edge of the tub.  I took the bathmat out to shake it.  Swept the floor.  Collected all the towels for the laundry and replaced them with fresh ones.  Just as I finished the bathroom, Nick chose that moment, having finished cleaning up the bedroom, to have a shower.  I hung more laundry on the line and threw the towels in to the washer.  I started tidying the laundry room.  Just as I finished sweeping the floor, Nick walked in and says, “Do you know it’s raining?”  Shit.  I ran outside and pulled in three loads of laundry off the line and laid it all out in our sunroom to finish drying.  I went back into the main part of the house.  Nick was laying on our bed playing with his iPad.  At this point steam started to come out of my ears. Looking in the fridge, I made a list of what we still needed if I were to feed our guests…oh yes, I almost forgot, I needed to make a lasagna to take to our favoured political party’s campaign office to feed the volunteers.  I threw a frozen lasagna into the oven (I know, I know, but frozen works when you don’t have enough time).  I stomped into the bedroom and announce coldly to my supine husband that I was going to the grocery store.  He looked up from his iPad and smiled and said “Okay.”


Now, going out to the store was probably the best thing that I could have done in that moment because that thing I said about the vacuum hose?  It was about to happen.  But getting away from the house gave me some perspective.   Had I asked him to help me?  No.  Did he even know what I had been doing while he cleaned the bedroom?  No.  Could he read my mind?  Again, no.  I laughed at myself, gave a quick moment of thanks that I hadn’t said anything that would have been hurtful or would have started a fight.

Fast forward to the next afternoon.

Our houseguests had gone out to tour the area and Nick and I decided to go to the pool for a swim.  After a nice swim Nick and I sat in the hot tub for a few minutes – not long and certainly less than the recommended ten minute maximum.  Nick excused himself to make a trip to the washroom and I sat back and enjoyed the heat soaking through my arthritic neck and shoulders.  I closed my eyes and really began to relax when I heard the lifeguard whistle blow.  Now, I spent my university years working as a lifeguard – long enough to know whenever a lifeguard blows her whistle it never means anything good.  I looked over to where the guard was crouched over a supine figure on the floor.  I couldn’t see the face of the person on the deck but I recognized Nick’s signature baggy blue swim trunks.  I rushed out of the hot tub thinking that Nick had slipped and fallen.  Once I got to his side, my anxiety rose when I saw the lifeguards strapping oxygen to his face.

“I’m his wife.”  The head guard pulled me aside to get a history.  That’s when she told me that Nick had lowered himself to the deck and then passed out.  By this point his eyes were open again but he was still dizzy, and the guards had called 911.  My anxiety abated a bit to hear him speak and answer questions coherently.  The guards got him up into a wheelchair and wheeled him to the side of the pool to wait for the EMTs.  I began to relax.  Nick’s colour was coming back.  The guards assured me his pulse was normal and he seemed to be okay.  Then everything turned on a dime.


The lifeguard asked Nick if he felt tired and Nick said yes.  Don’t ask me why, but I thought to myself, ‘Uh-oh.  That’s not good.’  I looked at Nick’s face closely and all the colour that had returned was draining from his face.  “Look, he’s gone white.” I said to the guard.  I stared into his eyes and my stomach dropped.  His pupils had become so large that the hazel of his irises was no longer visible and they looked completely vacant.  I panicked.  “Look at his pupils, look at his pupils!”  Nick’s head lolled to one side.  I grabbed his arm and started yelling, “Nick! Nick! Wake up!!!”  Beside me the guard blew his whistle and then got down on his knees beside me and started yelling at Nick as well.  I was sure he’d had a stroke.  The other guards came running and lifted Nick out of the chair and carefully placed him back on the deck with his feet raised up above his heart.  Slowly, Nick came back.  I was holding his hand tightly.  He looked over to me and said, “I fell asleep.”  “No, sweetheart, you passed out.”  He frowned a little, and then said, “Everything went white.”  I squeezed his hand.   Someone stepped up and started checking him for signs of a stroke, which oddly, I found comforting.  Nick’s colour started to come back again but his skin was still clammy and cold.  I was so relieved when the EMT’s arrived and loaded Nick onto their gurney to take him to emergency.

I followed the ambulance to the hospital and was asked to sit in the waiting room.  It felt like I was waiting half the evening but in fact it was only 20 minutes.  The nurse ushered me in behind a closed curtain.  Nick lay on the bed shivering.  I took his hand, “Are you okay?” “Yeah, I’m fine.”  “But you’re shaking!”  He gave me one of his sardonic looks, “I’m wearing a wet bathing suit.”  “But, you’re really okay?” “Yes, yes, I’m fine.”

And in fact he was.  Two days before, our doctor had changed one of Nick’s medications, which had caused his blood pressure to drop to the point that he lost consciousness.  The EMTs had put in a saline drip IV and so by the time I saw him in the hospital he was perfectly fine.

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This was one of the most terrifying moments in my life.  Just how important Nick is in my life was outlined in stark relief for me in the moment I saw the vacant look in his eyes and I was sure he’d had a stroke.  All my anger at him the day before seemed foolish and I felt ashamed that I was so angry at him over something as unimportant as housework.  As I drove him home, I was giving prayers of gratitude to the health gods that Nick was going home with me perfectly healthy.

There was another prayer of gratitude that went up from me alongside the first one.  I was so grateful, not just for the wonderful lifeguards and EMTs who were amazing, but also for all the other people who stepped forward to help – two level three First Aid workers, a nurse and a family doctor all of whom were just there to swim.  If I ever had any doubt that there is goodness amongst the people of the world, that experience wiped it all away.

So, tonight I am sitting next to my darling husband, watching our favourite talk show – Craig Ferguson, and feeling grateful every single moment.

Beauty, Sorrow and Strangeness at English Bay

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English Bay is a beautiful part of Vancouver.  Anyone who has walked along its shore in the spring or summer sun can attest to that.  For me, English Bay holds lovely memories, but some strange and disturbing ones as well.  I will start with the saddest one.  My aunt and uncle owned a home in Kitsilano which is directly across from the English Bay beach.  When I was little, we would go to their house often and that always meant a walk with one of my cousins to the beach.  I would stick my toes in the water and kick and splash in the direction of English Bay.  I would wonder if it was possible to swim from one side to the other.  Those are good memories.  Sadly, my cousin John, named for my dad, got caught up in the drug scene.  It was the 60s and drugs were ubiquitous. One evening we got a phone call that John had been found dead of an overdose on the beach looking over to English Bay.  It was a long time before we went down to that beach again – years in fact.  And for some reason that I still don’t understand and my dad never explained, we stopped going to my aunt and uncle’s house.

But not all my memories of English Bay are bad ones.  The one and only time I was in a parade was along English Bay.  I was a member of a synchronized swimming team and we were asked to join the parade.  We all sat in our team swim suits in the back of a truck and waved to the people lining the street.  One time, I was invited to join a group of people in a million dollar condo that faced out towards the water.  We spent a very pleasant evening watching the Symphony of Fire – a fireworks competition that the city of Vancouver held every year.

Sometimes strange things would occur too.  Back in 1984, I was getting ready to head off to work in Japan for at least one year (I didn’t know then that it would extend to three).  I was scared to be dropping everything and moving to a country I had never seen before.  I was sad leaving family and friends behind.  And I was overwhelmed trying to pack up my life in the space of 2 weeks before I had to climb on a plane.  My very best friend in the world, Leslie, took me down to English Bay one afternoon, to go for a walk.  As we walked along the shore, I told her how I was feeling – it all came pouring out.  At the end of it, I had a wave of sadness wash over me because Leslie and I had not gone a week without doing something together – hanging out, going for a drive, visiting her family or mine, since we were 19 – four years before.  We were both sad that we wouldn’t see each other for at least a year.  As we walked in silence, I saw something lying on the beach in front of us.  We walked over to it and peered down.  It was a full set of dentures.  For some reason that just struck us as hilariously funny and we both laughed until we couldn’t breath and tears were running down our cheeks.  That broke the mood for both of us, and I was able to shake off the blues and to see the adventure that lay in front of me.

Something I also find strange is the Inukshuk that the city placed there just before the 2010 Olympics.  An Inukshuk is an Inuit sign post.  As far as I know, the Inuit people were never indigenous to Vancouver.  Perhaps the city was tired of totem poles.  I hope not – they are beautiful and indigenous.

I still visit English Bay when I go to Vancouver.  It is still lovely and sometimes still strange…when Nick and I were there a few weeks ago we spotted a sailboat washed up onto the shore.  It had been lovely weather for days – no storms or wind.  Yet there it was.  I took the time to snap a photo, but never knew the story.

Remembering Meekay


Today I read a post by Shay at asizCreatives called By the “Grace” of Cat.  Head over to her blog…she is truly inspiring!  She wrote about the healing that her cat has given her and it got me thinking about my sweet kitty Meekay.  Sadly, Meekay died last May at the age of 19.  She had been with us for 17 years – my daughter never remembered a time without her.  She was a cat that was happy with whatever we gave her.  She was happy to be cuddled, happy to sit with us, pleased with whichever food we brought home from the store.  There were only two times that I saw her unhappy:

1. When we took her to the vet. She would meow like it was the end of the world, and

2. When we left her with a house sitter one summer.  She was so angry at us that she crapped all over our bedroom.

Over the years, my life, like everyone’s, went up and down and I always found that sitting and cuddling Meekay made me feel better, happier, calmer.  Last May, Meekay stopped eating.  She got thinner and thinner but she didn’t seem to be unhappy or comfortable.  I kept saying to my husband, “I think I should take her to the vet.” and he would answer “Oh, she’s fine.  She’ll start eating again.”  I think he didn’t want to admit that she might really be sick.  A few days later my daughter came home from a year away at school and together we took Meekay to see the vet.  She meowed loudly and plaintively just like she always did.  We carried her into the exam room and held her while we waited for the vet.  When the vet arrived she made a great fuss over our cat and then examined her.  She looked at us with a serious face and told us that Meekay had a mass in her stomach and because Meekay was at a pretty advanced age for a cat, she didn’t recommend surgery.  She said that although she didn’t seem to be in pain now, it wouldn’t be long before the pain set in.  She gave my daughter and I a few minutes to decide what to do.  There wasn’t much to discuss.  As much as we loved Meekay, or rather because we loved her, we decided that we would give her a death with dignity and without pain.  My daughter and I cried as we pet her while she fell asleep.  A couple of weeks later, we got her ashes from the vet and we spread them under a tree – a tree that she would sit in the window and watch as the birds would fly in and out of the branches.  I know that the uninitiated to the joys of pet ownership sometimes mock those of us who dote on our animals, but they have not yet learned the sweetness of holding your loving pet in your lap.  I’m glad that I had that experience for the 17 years Meekay was with us.  I still miss her and expect her to come running up when I walk through the door.  So, today, I am sharing with you the sweet face of my little Meekay.

Life Lessons from a Descent into Dementia

Life Lessons from a Descent into Dementia

This is my favourite photograph of my Mom. It was the last time I saw her happy. It was April of last year and it was her 91st birthday. My mother has dementia and as I have watched her descend into confusion and paranoia and anger, it has forced me to examine my own life, emotions and motivations. Her dementia has taught me a few things:

1. No resentment is worth hanging on to.
2. Life actually is pretty good, if I choose to see the good bits.
3. What I used to view as people doing things “to me” was incorrect. People do things, even cruel or unkind things, out of their own motivations, history or pain. I have very little to do with it – I just happen to be in the way.
4. Just because I feel something uncomfortable, I don’t need to act on it. Guilt, anger, sorrow are just feelings that will pass.
5. I don’t need to act on other people’s expectations of me.

It is not easy to be a care-giver of someone with dementia and it has not been easy for me. While I would never wish this disease on anyone, I am grateful for the lessons I have learned. I wish my mother had learned these lessons before she was hit with Alzheimers. I believe it would have made her final journey now, a little easier for her.