Tag Archives: Life

Pandemic Daze

I often find myself dreaming of pre-pandemic days, that three weeks in, already feel so far away. Maybe a part of me knows that nothing will go back to normal. There will be a new normal that we will all quickly adapt to.

I already know so well how to walk amongst others outside- giving way on narrow forest paths so we can maintain the 2 metres of separation. I know to cover my mouth if a jogger passes by too quickly, to not take the elevator, to wash my hands over and over and over again until they’re almost raw.

Photography – Dave Vanderkop

Like Ebenezer Scrooge I take a deep account of the virus that inhabits our invisible world.

This is how I know things have changed.

Every evening at 7:00 o’clock when my neighhourhood erupts into applause, and somewhere I hear drums and a distant saxophone, someone else is beating on a cake pan (maybe Nancy on the 4th floor), and occasionally the boats out front sound their horns in honour of the frontline workers who risk themselves and their families hour after hour, day after day, to help others.

It’s the vulnerability of the new world that strikes me as well. The small businesses collapsing after only weeks of economic shutdown, entire lives, savings and dreams lost. They scramble to offer goods and services in a way that assures the public they are implementing the strictest of social distancing measures and still they struggle. Everyone wants to stay home.

And then there is the gentleman we passed the other day coming out of his beautiful home, an Audi and a Mercedes parked out front. He was clutching his dog as he opened his door and we said hello.

“How are you?” I said too late to notice that he wasn’t fine and he answered, please don’t ask and off he went into the early evening clutching his small dog.

I think about the days just before the pandemic shut down the world and the global economy.

In January we sang together over a thousand strong at an old theater in Vancouver with Choir Choir Choir. The theme was the sound of the eighties, our song was “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey. Our voices were raw at the end of the night but the feeling of community of coming together in song was powerful. When Choir Choir Choir invited their fans to join in a socially distanced sing along, I grabbed my computer and sang alone, together with many thousands from around the world, my voice ringing out loud and hollow inside my home.

I met a colleague at his office just over a month ago, he shook my hand and gave me a hug. “Did you read the news?” he said wide-eyed. “Yes,” I said. “Scary.”

“I won’t be going to China soon.” he answered.

And then we went to a small meeting room and chatted about the project we were working on together. And I think about how foreign that feels now even though it happened just over a month ago.

I remember walking with my sister. I wanted to show her Reub’s swimming hole, the path we walked together with him for years. I knew her new toddler dog Houston would appreciate this walk. So we met, hugged and walked together down the winding forest path, to the quick running river where Reub used to swim.

We hugged afterwards and she thanked me for showing her this great new place. We promised to see each other again soon. We had a date to go to the theatre and dinner at a great Lebanese restaurant.

I remember talking to Dave about doing a trip in the fall to celebrate my birthday. Cuba? I had gotten dancing lessons for Christmas. Now we’re hopefully thinking to go to Ontario to see family again but we won’t hold our breath. Who knows where the world will be in October. It’s a landmark birthday and you have to live every moment as best as you can as the years behind me are greater than the ones in front.

I went “pandemic shopping” just before everything was locked down. I came home with two large bottles of wine, a jug of vodka and French cheeses. “This” I announced to Dave, “Is my pandemic shop.” We both laughed.

I think about the last time we ate dinner with friends, how we talked about how some of their friends were too nervous to meet this way. We laughed and said it can’t be that bad.

But with the dawning realization of people dying, and others risking their lives for those who were sick, and with my own yearly battle to have my lungs survive the annual flu, we have double downed on our own responsibility to ourselves and others.

Now like millions around the world we are practicing social distancing. Dave, the exemplary caretaker in the best of times, has gone into overdrive. I am watched and spritzed with disinfectant regularly . We gather close as a family in the simple rituals of living well together but with a heightened sense of the dangers of the invisible world.

I often think about my 93 year old friend Inge who has been socially distancing from the get go. At 93 she told me over the phone, I’m at the higher risk end of you know what…

Photograph by Dan Toelgoet

But she has quickly put a plan in place to manage her loneliness in these loneliest of times. “I found my phone book and I’ve started phoning every single person in the book. I just spoke with friends I haven’t spoken with in YEARS and they were delighted to hear from me.”

Last when I called she couldn’t chat. She was hosting a socially distanced picnic in her backyard with an old friend and would have to call back. Did I mind? I smiled. Here’s a woman who has lived through the holocaust, lost her parents, was orphaned at a young age and with grace and dignity is now living through the latest in the strangest of times, a global pandemic.

When I think about the wet markets and the distress of those animals gathered in small cages, one on top of the other waiting for an ugly death, having lived unnatural lives, stolen from the wild or raised on farms, when I think about our rapidly heating world, the plastic filling our oceans and the devastation of a mass extinction that will tip the ecological balance of the world that will certainly up-end the global economy, and all of us who are a part of the social systems that sustain it, when I think about all of what we have gotten ourselves into, I can’t help but think that the natural world is sending us a big reminder, a gigantic fuck you, that the eco-systems of the world will prevail and adapt one way or the other. It is more than just the vanishing wildlife and eco-systems that will suffer. The final cost will be one that we human beings will have to bear and it will be the most vulnerable of our species that will bear it.

As I despaired to a friend who works on elephant issues with me he ended the call with something that I’m choosing to continue to think about…there’s opportunity in everything, he said. I’m going to hitch my North Star to that thought. There’s opportunity in everything.

Stay safe.



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Random Musing 2016: My Grateful Life


2016 has not been the best year, not really. Even though I have a theory that the world has always been crazy and always will be crazy…this year felt like a special kind of crazy like we’re all tilting towards a precipice and we’re all going over the edge no matter what.

My sister and I have a theory that 2016 went haywire because for the first time in her life she had no game plan for her birthday. THAT’s the cause of all this mayhem.  The lady who lives life big didn’t plan her annual monumental February birthday bash and now everything is gone to shit. EVERYWHERE. Not just here. EVERYWHERE. Now there’s no bright light, no guiding star to get us through this darkness. People, can we please start over and tilt the world backwards, the right way this time. Come on. Let’s just strike this set.

Still I can’t help but ask myself if everything is lost. I am a person who fights for elephants to have the right to walk on this planet unchained and unviolated. That seems like a pretty hopeless situation to me but somehow I keep going although some days I’m not sure why. I just know that if I stop, and everyone stops then there’s no chance whatsoever. So I guess somewhere in there I must be hopeful. I can thank my mother for that.  It looks like she tossed  her half glass full set of genes over to me. Or maybe I’m like a compulsive craftswoman weaving life’s terrible and breathtaking offerings into a big carpet of life. These are all the things I am going to remember. These are all the things I’m going to feel, these are all the things I will carry with me moving forward into this uncertain future. . This is my grand reduction.

I will not ever forget the extraordinary ordinariness  of a phone call that brought me to a hospital to find out that my sister has brain cancer.

I am in awe of extraordinary courage. Because you never really know how you’ll deal with this kind of thing.  And the girl who lives large, brings her extraordinary gifts to bear in dealing with the issues that confront her.   She lives big no matter what.

I will never forget how beautiful it is to laugh in spite of every fucking blow that is being dealt her way. That we still laugh. Everyday.

I will never forget that it’s okay to say nothing because sometimes there are no words. And the ladies who like to live large can sit in silence, something they never imagined before.

I will never forget trying to climb a big scary wall after being convinced to do Tough Mudder by my sister.  That if you don’t think of the big picture, if you just consider the first small step, and then the next small step, if you trust in the people around you, that you can and will make it over the top. Step by step. That feels like hope to me.

I will never forget the moments in between. Those moments when Dave sits me down and introduces me to music and shows me the extraordinary in the ordinary. Or leading me to John Mavin who led me to myself and my creative mind and desire to build castles with words.

And the moments in between of  doing nothing. The beauty of nothingness. Just being.

2016 feels like a knock down and then get back up and fight kind of year. I’m not sure the road feels clear. Sometimes I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. But I often think of that wall and I know that step by step you can climb enormous walls. Don’t look down, don’t look up. Keep focussed. Be full of hope. Full of joy. And step by step I think we can get there. I’m happy to say my sister has filled the entire month of February with birthday festivities. I think this means the world will be okay.


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Poem of the Week: What If the Hokey Pokey Really Is What It’s All About? by Mark Kraushaar via Poetry Mistress Alison McGhee

What If the Hokey Pokey Really Is What It’s All About?
– Mark Kraushaar

You put your right foot in,
            You put your right foot out … ,
            That’s what it’s all about.

            —The Hokey Pokey, Larry LaPrise, 1948

Of an evening filled with wide-set
bright stars I think of my friends, Ray, Sara,
Father Hay, and Phil and Joe.
I think of them together and I think of them alone:
Friends, what better than to put your right foot in,
and what better than to take it out again?

What better than to leave your jacket
and your drink and join
the circled strangers on the floor?
What better than to put your left foot in
and then to take it out since
who’ll explain this strange life anyway,
the problems with love, the trouble with money?
It must be what is meant, this must be what’s intended.
What better than to leave your silent trying behind
and put your right foot in once more
then shake it all about?
What better than having said too little
or too much you join the farmer with his wife
and daughter, the couple with their
squeaky walkers, the FedEx man,
the florist and the LPN?
It must be what is meant,
this must be what it’s all about:
what better than to join the high-heeled,
high-haired waitress first pausing and laughing,
then leaning to her friend the grinning busboy
who, putting his elbow in then out again,
now shakes it all about.

For more information on Mark Kraushaar, please click here.

For Poetry Mistress’ Facebook page.

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Minutiae #13 Rascals and Angels – When your feet tell you to jump

If my hands and feet had characters, I would say my hands are the diplomats, the breakers of bread, the lovers of love, the do-gooders, my collaborators. My feet on the other hand are unpredictable rascals. Risk takers? Yes. The occasional mad dancers and the devils in my head? Absolutely. They are the ones that make me take mad flying leaps off cliffs.

As an entirely unpractical person it’s fair to say my feet, those devil may care vehicles of madness, frequently win the argument over the more practical hands and head. So when those feet tell me to jump, I jump.

DSC_0060_2The nature of the ‘flying leap’ isn’t an every day occurrence but it can be characterized by a disposition. For example, mail box keys aren’t for me, 1) I wouldn’t be able to find the key in any event, 2) if I could find the key, the mail would remain unopened possibly for years on end.

The thing about my feet though is this. They’ve taken me places. I have never regretted seemingly thoughtless responses to my heart. By that I mean – I never regret not planning, or not over thinking. For me over thinking leads me to inaction. And inaction leads me to never taking risks. And I realize I love the risk not for the risk itself but for what it brings. I love the feeling of unexplored and un-mapped territory – a place in my heart that is waiting to be etched by the newness of it all. I know now for certain that I have nothing to lose except the freshness of life.

My rascally feet brought me as a young girl to Vancouver – halfway across the country from my family; they helped me leave my first husband and move away to a foreign Asian country – the downside perhaps being that I barely knew where Japan was and I packed for tropical weather. They led me to interesting work experiences where I had no experience except the will to do it; it lead me to going on a date on Lavalife and meeting the love of my life; it lead me to a barn one day with a pocket full of money and coming home with a gorgeous sick little pup who changed my life; it led me to waking up one night and saying to Dave – I’m going to do something. I’m going to do something which launched my rage against a world that senselessly and mercilessly slaughters animals into something that echoes a battle cry against the growing horrors of injustice. A small committed group of people can change the world. I believe that. So what is next? Who knows I never know what is next. What is next is as unplanned as the vagaries of the heart. But I have my beautiful husband, adventurous feet and increasingly braver heart. I am open to the world.

So ‘thank you’ feet, you naughty rascals. I have no regrets. I can’t wait to find out what’s next.

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2014 – A Year in Highlights

I am definitely  one of those people…you know the kind who loves airplane food AND drafting New Year’s resolutions AND reviewing my year in highlights. I start thinking about highlights and goals in November, drafting lists, and generally yarning on about them before I start to badger Dave into undertaking same fun activity. While we have different styles of approaching it (mine is somewhat militaristic) we always enjoy an evening with a glass of wine going over our highlights of 2014 and sharing our goals for 2015.

So here are a few highlights and memorable moments:

1. Joining Dave in achieving his bucket list by visiting WW1 war memorials in Northern France and Belgium.

2. Meeting our good friends there, bicycling together, drinking wine and enjoying some good belly laughs.

3. Dave and I laughing our asses off in London looking at our broken feet in our hotel room after walking 18 km a day.

4. Buying an investment property with our good buddies.

5. Enjoying our World Cup Soccer and hiking series with the Westcoast Vanderkop’s and yoga with my sister.

6. Making a decision ‘to do’ something and actually doing it. And by this I mean helping elephants. It proved to me that one person can decide something, do something and meet a world of other doers who come together to make the world a better place.

7. Support from friends and family for the work I do with animals and elephants means the world to me so seeing them there on the day of, and having them pitch in (online) and help with petitions and sharing meant a lot and always will.

8. My sister Petra. I love her and I’m proud of her accomplishments in life and she is one of those people who has been self-less in her support of my cause.

9. Going home. At first I thought I would be traumatized by going back to Toronto because I hadn’t been back since my mom died. But I wasn’t. Going home really meant going home and seeing my sisters, brother and nieces and nephews.

10. My brother Johnny. Sometimes someone in your life touches your heart. He touches mine. Having the luxury of spending Christmas with his beautiful, warm family and my family makes me feel lucky and reminds me that life is short. A big part of home in Ontario is the family my mother helped to create. They are my home now too.

11. Walking with Dave in the mountains near our house watching our dog little Bean kick up her heels in happiness and I felt this beautiful, deep satisfaction with everything in my life. And I realized that I had grown to know my husband better and love him even more than I already do…… and I didn’t think that was actually possible but I guess it is.


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Minutiae #1 – Happiness

I think it’s the small things that matter. Life is less the big strokes than it is the smaller ones sometimes even the tiniest of moments that fill you with inexplicable laughter or happiness. I think of them as minutiae – small, tiny, jewels that reverberate through you for longer than the moment they are uttered.

These were my small things this week:
Minutiae #1
Speed skating practice takes place at dinner hour so I’m always hungry. I arrive early where I usually meet my speed skating compatriot Cristian. He’s hungry too. We talk mostly about cake. Butter creams, mocha, chocolate, we take a dip into pie (apple but lemon meringue trumps all pie) and then we veer back to cake. Beautiful, rich, creamy delicious cake. This week when I arrived he looked at me and screamed “CAKE” and then I screamed “CAKE” and then we killed ourselves laughing. That was it. I love that he is a kid and that our age difference means nothing because in these moments we’re both kids.

Minutiae #2

My sister of Don Quixote fame saves animals too. I haven’t talked to her for a while because she’s been away. But then this week there was an email with the subject line “Hoi” and first sentence – “Bees three days ago elephants today.” That was it. And it made me laugh and laugh and it filled me up with something more – one tiny small step for something I care about. I love that it’s the first thing she communicates to me in weeks. Sisterly morse code.

Minutiae #3
Dave tells me Mount Etna has erupted and we’re both in awe because we have seen Mount Etna and a small piece of her volcanic matter was carried home with us when we visited Sicily this spring. But more importantly, the moment he announced it I jumped up and told him exactly what volcanic eruptions do to the stock and flow of carbon in the atmosphere. I’m not sure who was more shocked me or him. But the shock/awe/weirdness made us both laugh uproariously. What the hell? English/artsy girl can learn science.

Minutiae #4
I had a realization this week that I LOVE my climate change course and I’m forever grateful that I am slowly overcoming my fear of not being able to understand science. And now this whole cool new world has been opened up to me and I see the world in a different way. Thanks world!

Minutiae #5
When people pop into your life out of the blue who are extraordinarily generous. As though they’re popping in to say, keep going, nudging you, reminding you that you are on the right path. And it’s the feeling that you’re seen. Wow, now that feels good. Generosity. It’s as important to receive as it is to give. Dave had this happen to him this week and I had it happen. And it feels good.

Minutiae #6
That Hannavas Nirom my London niece likes me enough to say she hopes we can celebrate our birthdays together some day. And I hope so too.

Minutiae #7

Probably the world knew that Bob Barker was an animal rights activist but I didn’t. And how cool was that, that he donated generously of his time and $1 million of his own money to help three elephants in Toronto’s zoo to go to a better home at the PAWS sanctuary in California.

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The Story of Inge, Our Friendship and Overcoming Quirks

When you meet her you’ll first notice the accent. European certainly, English – not quite, German, a hint. A mix of continental European and then you find out later that her accent is a mix of German until she was eleven and then from eleven on a mixture of British and Irish English. Raised by others in a faraway land. Though we never dwell too much on that. Only in the early days of our friendship did we sometimes talk about the train that took her and her sister away to safety by the people who had, she says, ‘Treated us so poorly’. 

I gravitated towards her because I had left my family when I picked up and moved across the country leaving me constantly in search of a made-up family. Because I am made up of air and not earth, I gravitate upwards, flighty, and people like her give me weight, keep me rooted, still allowing me to fly but not too far away.  I loved her accent first. Then I loved how we would sit in her living room, the large rubber plant that she had rescued dividing the living room and us, until we talked until dark, sharing stories and secrets and silent tears at things lost and never found again. The age difference between us never matters – I have never met a more contemporary contemporary, a more agile mind, someone interested deeply in everything, with a formidable memory, an excellent sense of humour and a great love of books and art.

Before I settled into married life, I used to host open dinners, dinners where everyone who had nowhere to go on a Sunday night was welcome to join in a family dinner. It started small and then upwards of 25 people would arrive with dogs and friends of friends. Everyone cooked and everyone cleaned. When I invited my friend she said “But won’t I be too old?” and I said “Not at all – these dinners are like salons, you’ll fit in perfectly and so she came bringing samples of her artwork. And I remember sitting next to her in my living room where we had dragged tables together so we could sit family style – and she sat next to me – I pushed my fork into the brussel sprout and met with nothing but resistance. It seemed I had forgotten to cook them. She chuckled in that way she chuckles, that makes me chuckle, and then we both chuckled and continued on. And once when she couldn’t make it everyone asked, “Where is she?” because she was missed. But friendships were made at these dinners and she became fast and good friends with my good friend Joanne and the three of us have become our own little family of sorts.

My mother and my friend danced around each other a bit. My mother sad that I had up and left her and planted myself across the country where I grew another family of sorts, my friend being a centrepiece of that arrangement – it hurt her but she never said anything. They were as different as night and day. My mother, the fun-loving woman, silly, given to circular arguments and occasional prejudices, weighed by the disappointments of her own life,  but reaching always reaching for the stars anyways, and my friend, an intellectual, leftwing proponent of human rights and leftwing politics, weighed down by the disappearances of important people in her life and yet somehow they bonded over soap operas – something I am thankful to soap operas for to this day.

So this is just a little story of friendship. As most people who know me are aware, I am telephone adverse. My friend has her ‘quirks’ as well but not talking on the phone isn’t one of them.  My phone ‘quirk’ creates problems, or at least I realize now that it does. A year ago my friend said to me on the phone after we had mixed up a date, that there was no point in her overcoming her quirks, and indicated that somehow it was all too late. But there was time for me and I needed to get over my quirk now. “Fix yourself.”she said.  So I did. Or I am. I’m trying anyways. It has taken some effort (but really, not really, I just had to do it) and now I phone my friend quite regularly.  And proudly, very proudly she says, “You used to phone your mother every day, didn’t you.?” And I say, ” Yes, yes I did.” And now I phone her every week. Because I love her and because I can overcome these things.


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Forced Relaxation: Now that I’m over the terror I love it!

When I was first laid off last year it took awhile for the panic to set in. I had been given a ‘working termination’ so I had 3 months with pay that included the opportunity to work with my employer to find employment at the university. I met with HR, talked to them, took the re-employment workshop, re-worked my resume and avidly applied myself to finding work asap.

I went for quite a few interviews and remained ever hopeful that I would quickly find a new home. Well, as it turns out, this wasn’t quite meant to be and 7 months later I am still looking for work.

There was a period of time, and a fairly long one at that, that I went through a feeling of complete terror at what was happening and not happening in my life. It corresponded at the same time with my mom being diagnosed with terminal cancer. The sicker she got the more desperate I was to find a job. Dave said to me one day, “be careful what you wish for” and he was right. As my mom’s illness progressed I started to let go of my panic realizing that trying to work at a stressful job 3,000 kilometres away from my mom would be devastating for her and for me.

While I continued to keep my eye out for work I started to allow myself to seize the day. And for me that meant spending as much time with my mom and my family as possible.

I am still looking for a good home but in the mean time, the idea of ‘seizing the day’ which I learned during this difficult period is now spilling over into my life without my mom. A friend called the other day and asked how I spent my days. I laughed and said that I had developed wonderful rituals around the many ways I have learned to relax. It’s odd but once you let yourself just be you can unfold into the universe in a very beautiful kind of way. I feel my creative self returning, I have a new appreciation for things like flowers. I bought bulbs in the fall (garlic and tulip) and planted them. Every day I stand outside and look at them and am shocked at how crazy it is that you just drop these things in soil, stand back and do absolutely nothing and then boom, there they are peeking their heads up. Sometimes I find myself rooting around in the dirt, ”Where are you, you little devil? I’m just saying good morning.” As I gear up to enter work life again I’m going to remember this moment, to just take it as it comes. To seize the day, the moment, the hour.

This has been a message from the “glass half full brigade”.

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