Family Lines

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Tag: writing (page 4 of 19)

Laughing at life

Hockey jersey and high heels.

Funny photo: hockey and heels.

“Ha ha ha.”

That’s me laughing. To myself. I constantly crack myself up. But while I think I’m funny, it sometimes doesn’t translate well onto the page. However, I can’t always write about serious life lessons or sweet little moments because life makes us laugh too. We need to inject humour into our memoirs.

Writing humour is tough but it’s a best-seller once it hits the shelves. Writing a poignant, heartwarming story is a lot easier than writing a comedic memoir. Why? Because we all have different senses of humour.

To some writers, being funny on the page comes naturally. Just read this sentence from Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat Pray Love.

Having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face. You really need to be certain it’s what you want before you commit.

That’s so true and hilarious at the same time. She is taking something that’s an incredibly big commitment and making us think about it in a different way. She’s making us look at having a baby in another light. Writers are always looking for ways to describe things in a new way. Gilbert did it here. (No pun intended.)

Life isn’t only a series of ponderous thoughts and events. We have laughter and comedic relief every day. Even in our darkest moments there’s a dot of light. The other day was terrible for me. There were so many things going wrong — and not going right — personally and professionally. I just wanted to get home from the gym and drink the extra-large tea I had just bought and not talk to anyone.

I pulled into the garage and parked in my designated spot. Then I grabbed the tea by the lid and … splash. Hot tea spilled all over the tops of my legs: the burning liquid quickly soaked into my gym tights. I hopped out of the car as fast as I could and wondered what to do. Should I stop, drop and roll? Should I take off my pants in the garage where anyone might drive or walk in? Ouch! That tea was boiling.

A few seconds later, my legs were no longer on fire. The tea was tepid and I was left with an empty cup and feeling more miserable than ever. Oh the tragedy of being upset and being doomed to have nothing ever go right.

Cat in a drawer.

Tomas being funny.

Right. Stop taking yourself so seriously.

“I tea-d myself,” I said aloud to myself. Then I started laughing. It was funny. We’ll all need to laugh once in a while. Why not start with me?


Some people find me funny and others might just find me funny-looking. However, I did win first prize at a joke competition in a Revelstoke bar a few years ago with a laugh I wrote. I won’t repeat the joke here as it’s a bit racy but I do have two others I created and can share with you.

Where does Batman go pee? The batroom.

Where do enzymes go to work out? The digestive tract.

No. 1 skeletons

Emply glass milk bottles.My head is full of different types of memories. Some are good memories, like playing hockey on the pond with my dad or my mom taking me to get my ears pierced. Other memories are sad, like when I had to say goodbye to my friends and move to a new community a couple of hundred kilometres away. I also have memories about things that once didn’t made sense to me but I’ve since clarified them over the years.

In Westville, NS in the mid-70s, there was still a milkman. Carton and jugs of milk were sold in the store but the milkman also delivered milk in glass bottles to homes around town. My family’s house even had a cut-out in the wall of our entryway for the milk. Every morning my parents put out a sign that either said “No” (they didn’t want milk) or “Yes” (they wanted milk). When the milk came, the full bottles were put on the shelf in the entry way. The milk was kept fresh with a cap, a cap that had No. 1 written on it. When six-year-old me read that, I was confused.

Huh? No one is supposed to drink the milk? Why not? I asked my parents about this and they explained to me that the N and the O were short form for the word number. The milk people were declaring their milk as Number One – the best milk to drink. Oh. Sure?

Apartheid was another thing I struggled to understand. Dad and me (I might have been seven) were shopping for a birthday present for mom and we went into a nice store. I found a glorious shiny brass plate and thought I had struck gold. It was perfect.

“No,” said Dad. “This was made in South Africa. We don’t buy anything from there.”

“Why not?”

“Because of apartheid. The government there doesn’t treat black people fairly.”

I’m sure my father gave me a more lengthy history lecture but I couldn’t understand why this South Africa would treat its people terribly. However, the lesson was learned and my world both widened and shrank at the news that not everyone is treated equally.

Red Skelton’s name was a head-scratcher for me as a kid. On a March break trip to Florida, my family was visiting John’s Pass, a touristy fishing village. Red Skelton, the comedian and early TV performer, had an exhibition of his art there and was also there in person.

“I just met Red Skelton!” said my mother.

Red Skelton with artwork,

Red Skelton with artwork, 1948. Macfadden Publications.


I had interpreted the artist’s name as Red Skeleton. Why was mom so excited to see a bloody skeleton? How was this guy even alive?

“He’s a clown who paints clowns.”

That did not make the image in my head any better.

Knowlton Nash is another figure I had a hard time figuring out many years before I became a journalist myself. When my family was in Ottawa staying at the Chateau Laurier, Nash was staying at the same hotel. There was some sort of world conference going on and the CBC anchor was either covering it or part of it. My mom spotted him in the hotel gift shop.

“There’s Knowlton Nash!”

Nolltown Gnash? I looked over the man my mother was (covertly) staring at and saw a blond haired man with huge glasses. He’s an icon in the media world where I’d end up later in life but as a tween girl, I had no idea why this man was worthy of being recognized. And what was up with those mammoth glasses?

Nowadays, I can just google anything that muddles my brain. But back then, when computers took up a lot more space than the palm of my hand, I had to work things out for myself, skeletons and all. Interestingly enough though, my own last name never caused me any nor my playground playmates any confusion.

“Tell me a story, Lea Storry!” they’d shout to me at recess.

Thankfully, my parents didn’t call me Rita.

No Bones about it

Me and a dog,.

Me and my buddy Bones. Photo by Don Aubrey.

A few years ago, I walked the dogs and patted the cats as a volunteer for the Fort Smith Animal Shelter. There were a lot of stray animals in the tiny Northwest Territories town. It’s especially imperative there’s a haven for animals there because of the extreme cold in winter. Once the dogs and cats are in the shelter they get tons of warmth and love from the volunteers.

I went to the shelter on weekends and sometimes during my lunch hour on weekdays. When I first started working at the shelter I got teary eyed every visit thinking about all the abandoned pets. But I kept going because if I wasn’t there, who would take my place?

Most of the cats enjoyed a pat or 30 (I ended up taking one of the kitties home.) They purred and cuddled and played with me in the cosy kitty room. I always had to hurry to shut the cat room door when I was leaving because they’d try to follow me out.

The main room was where the dog pens were housed. There were huskies and Labs and even a mini Pinscher that I wanted to adopt. There were old dogs and middle-aged dogs and puppies. There were adorable dogs and funny-looking mutts and dogs I couldn’t walk because they were too large and too strong and they walked me.

There was one big guy named Bones at the shelter and if you met him in a dark alley you probably would run the other way. He only looked scary. I’m not sure what breed he was but he was definitely a cross between a German Shepherd and a Rottweiler. He had the brown and black colouring of both canines, the ears that stuck straight up in a Shepherd and the snout of a Rottie. He had the strength of a horse and even his tail could pack a mighty thwack if you walked past him. Bones wasn’t meant for fighting though and it showed through in his soft, kind brown eyes and friendly demeanour.


In the cat room.

Bones could have been a bad man but he was the sweetest dog in the world. He enjoyed people and pats and going for walks. I loved him a lot. We used to wander around the snow-covered paths in winter looking for new sights (for me) and new smells (for him). Bones was my best buddy. I’d tell him all kinds of stuff and he never butted in with unwanted opinions or advice. Ever. He just kept silent and let me do the talking.

It took a while before Bones was adopted so we had a pretty long relationship. He even chaperoned a couple of dates I went on with a human. Bones wasn’t the jealous kind and he let my soon-to-be boyfriend tag along with us.

Bones went to live with a local family in Smith and was often seen hanging out at their shop. I went to see him a couple of times and he’d always stand on his hind legs and give me a bear hug. He knocked me over each time as he was almost the same size as me.

Thus year, 2017, marks almost 10 years since I last saw him. He was hit by a vehicle a while after I moved from Fort Smith to B.C. I heard the news through a shelter friend and I cried over the loss of my big, furry friend. I still miss him.

Author Dr. Guy Ekisa and why he writes to help

Dr. Guy Ekisa, Edmonton author and clinical psychiatrist.

Dr. Guy Ekisa, Edmonton author and clinical psychiatrist.

Christmas isn’t always a happy occasion for all. It can be a tough time for some. While everyone is different with different problems, there are some ways to deal with the holiday blues and not spend another year in turmoil. I recently edited and epublished some self-help books with sound advice dealing with bullying, dating, how to be your own boss and dealing with grief.

Dr. Guy Ekisa is the author of the four books above. He doesn’t give pat answers or silly motivational clichés; no, he gives experiences from his own life. As a clinical psychiatrist he has devoted four decades to helping individuals overcome challenges caused by loss of mental or physical health and disruptions in social, spiritual, financial and relationship well-being. I asked the Edmonton professional a few questions on why he’s sharing his wisdom with the world.


For me now, writing is an extension of my clinical work as a psychiatrist except that I’m no longer seated at the opposite side of the desk from my patient. The message that I share is a distillation of the knowledge, the skills, the insights that I have gained from my patients foremost, and the growth that I had the privilege to experience during my life’s journey through Uganda, United Kingdom, Canada and overseas – the insights that have helped many of my patients and contacts. This journey has taught me, among other things, that we are all interconnected and interdependent and do benefit by sharing. We are dependent on so many – the bees that pollinated the plants that fed the cows that produced the milk that sustained the women and men that made the shoes we are wearing. We learn and grow from others and others grow from us; we support one another and we are supported by others.


I wrote STOP MILKING A CHICKEN: Employee or Unemployed Personal Wealth Creation Resource plus a student companion book because most men, women and children are struggling to make ends meet while they continue to work flat out to make others wealthy. When we have more of anything we feel more contented and are able to reach out to socialize, help others and to share. Everyone has inner wealth that can be unleashed to create more personal wealth and improve personal lives and the lives of their loved ones, not to mention humankind and the planet.

I wrote DATE SMART in Five Steps: Don’t Settle For Less Than A Friend because in reciprocal relationships we feel happy, fulfilled and we strive to support one another. Unfulfilling relationships are more prevalent than we care to think. It’s painful to experience or witness an unequal and unbalanced relationship. While it’s natural and common initially for the partner who is at a disadvantage and who experiences emotional, physical or intellectual pain of disappointment to look to his/her partner for solutions to the pain that the partner caused, it’s futile to continue nurturing such an expectation in the absence of corrective actions – this would be like expecting a cactus plant to come and remove the thorn in your fingertips.

A significant amount of time and effort gets devoted to the bully and whatever turned him/her to start the bullying behaviour and I do concur that effort in this direction needs to continue. However, it’s your child who is being targeted and who continues to suffer abuse despite whether the bullying is due to learned behaviours, family or traumatic backgrounds or due to temperament in the person who bullies your child. That’s why I wrote COMFORT YOUR CHILD: Don’t Let A Bully Steal Your Child’s Dream.

This book doesn’t focus on the tormentor nor does it seek to work on or with the bully, his sympathizers, accomplices or unhelpful bystanders. Efforts that aim to create positive change in a bully need to be delegated to those who have the means, skills, opportunities and authority to effectively deal with the bully such as the bully’s parents, professional caregivers, the school and school board administrators, law enforcement authorities, the judiciary, civic leaders, government institutions, religious institutions and self-help groups. Armed with a coordinated and focused action plan, these individuals and agencies are better placed to address a bully’s lack of empathy, injustice, insecurities, aggressiveness and any pertinent traumatic or family issues. As a parent or caregiver, you will, however, need to either be instrumental or have your representatives be involved in prompting school authorities and community agencies to institute such a team as mentioned above to address the bully’s issues and ensure this team receives your feedback.

Loss of expectations is central to the experience of grief. Abuse, trauma and loss through separation, divorce or death only represent the tip of the grief iceberg. Any loss of physical and mental health, our attributes and anything we are attached to, be it human, animal, thing, spiritual or idea that may destabilize our functioning and undermine our wellbeing. FINDING COMFORT: As You Heal from Abuse, Trauma or Loss addresses grief in its widest sense.


I receive and give advice almost on a daily basis and move on, incorporating some while being oblivious to the rest. While the words in my books include advice, they are presented in a form that encourages the reader to delve deeper into specific issues, work out possible solutions to meet their unique needs – thereby helping facilitate personal growth.


In my books I focus on the crucial need for each reader to identify his/her inner strengths/wealth and the wealth around him/her and to then deliberately take ownership of and responsibility for all aspects of his/her life and growth, including recruiting support. Based on my professional and personal growth, I know and believe that each reader, no matter his/her personal circumstances, has a great deal of resilience and inner strength. It’s this inner strength that has allowed him/her to overcome whatever challenge he/she has faced thus far. It’s this inner wealth that I encourage the reader to identify, record, own and tap into for problem solving and growth, while recruiting additional help from his/her network of supporters.


STOP MILKING A CHICKEN: Employee or Unemployed Personal Wealth Creation Resource: Jake takes ownership and responsibility early.

Jake’s parents struggled financially but always sacrificed to provide for his school supplies and tuition fees. He was an average scholar with his eyes set on studying mechanical engineering at university. He had an aptitude for mechanics and was often found tinkering with small engines or anything with a motor. He got his driving license at 16 and soon after that passed his Class One license and was ready to drive trucks. He immediately got himself a part-time job with a good company driving trucks within the city on weekends. He had good work ethics and got along well with his boss and other employees. After graduating from high school the following year, he made a decision that upset his parents. Rather than going to university, he decided to go to work instead. He had just landed a job as a long distance truck driver for another trucking company.  After 18 months, he had accumulated enough money to pay for his university tuition for four years, with a surplus left. His parents were amazed at their son’s resourcefulness. His reply was, “I reckoned it was better to wait for a couple of years to go to university in order to save a lifetime in student loan shackles.”

He subsequently went on to university but continued to work some weekends. By the time he graduated, four years later, he had bought a one-bedroom apartment with a sitting tenant in it. He decided to keep it as a rental property. He also bought two medium size trucks from an auction and had his mother scouting for delivery business and working as the dispatcher for two young drivers he employed. He got a job as an engineer but continued to build his own trucking business.

The above example is ownership and working outside the box at the very best. Jake took charge of his destiny early on and decided to do things differently, against the best advice his parents could give him and against conventional practice. He knew his strengths and sought to learn from different settings. He developed a clear vision and image of what he wanted in life and how he was going to approach it. He had heard of relatives in their fifties and sixties, who were still bearing the burdens of student loans so he made up his mind that his education would involve more than merely going to school. He found another way to supplement school through practical experience. He found a way of sidestepping the stranglehold of student loans.

DATE SMART in Five Steps: Don’t Settle For Less Than a Friend: Misplaced assumptions.

Zolif was a 22 year old medical doctor who lived by himself. At 20, he had broken off a two-year turbulent relationship with his girlfriend due to her uncontrollable anger. It took him three months to work through the grief caused by the break-up. When he felt comfortable enough to start dating again, he chose a woman who was charming, bright, witty, funny and very sociable. The two liked each other and started going steady after a month. The one thing Zolif valued most in a relationship was to “feel heard.” It was not long before he started noticing that his girlfriend was more interested in enjoying herself than sharing time together. She loved being the centre of attention and cracking jokes. She was very opinionated and it was hard for Zolif to have a meaningful conversation without her taking over the talking. He had to repeatedly interrupt her in order to get a word in edgewise. Zolif grew tired of not being listened to and gradually became disillusioned with his girlfriend. After five months, he called off the relationship. His girlfriend was devastated because she had thought their relationship was great.

Zolif needed to feel that he was in a mutually beneficial relationship. He had assumed that this charming and witty woman knew how to make him feel special. It took him several months to realize that she had no clue how to do this.

COMFORT YOUR CHILD: Don’t Let a Bully Steal your Child’s Dream: Kindness heals – working through guilt and shame.

 Vince was eight years old when he was raped by his maternal grandfather who then threatened to shoot him if he ever told his mother. His grandfather showed him the gun that he would use. Vince’s father had arranged for the whole family to go on a camping trip. However, Vince had pleaded with his parents to allow him to go to grandpa’s. Grandpa had promised to take him fishing – his first experience.

Vince’s life was never to be the same again. Out of fear, he kept the secret and suffered in silence. He kept his parents and siblings in the dark. His parents felt that his problems were due to laziness and his tendency to procrastinate. His irritability, anger and argumentativeness were seen as behaviour problems associated with his stubbornness. His declining school grades were seen as due to his unwillingness to work hard.

Although he never went to visit his grandfather again, the rape continued whenever the grandfather visited the family. The grandfather would instruct Vince to stay at home when the family went out and made sure that Vince saw the loaded gun. At 15 years of age, Vince decided to leave home to stay with a friend. This put an end to the cycle of abuse but not to the ongoing emotional pain.

The memories, the recurrent nightmares, the emotional pain triggered by the smell of tobacco, the sight of blood, middle-aged men, toy guns, to name but a few, continued to torment Vince. Worst of all were his feeling of guilt and shame. They were relentless. He would get very depressed. He blamed himself for putting himself in the place where he was raped.

An entry in Vince’s diary written when he was 17 read, “It was me who refused to go camping. It was me who insisted on going fishing. It was my fault. I brought it on myself. I am to blame…” Shortly after this he became so depressed that he talked to his friend about ending his life. The friend responded by driving him to a hospital emergency room where he was admitted into a psychiatric ward. He received ongoing counselling after discharge.

This example highlights the need for you, as a parent or caregiver, to be emotionally connected with your child, to be aware of his/her emotional space and wellbeing, and to respond to the smallest signal that indicates that he/she is beginning to deteriorate.

FINDING COMFORT: As You Heal from Abuse, Trauma or Loss: Confronting the nasty and disagreeable characteristics and behaviours

Wanda lost her baby at birth and addresses the nasties (painful and disagreeable memories relating to her doctor’s actions).

Wanda was a 22 year old married woman who went into hospital to deliver her first baby following a normal pregnancy. After a prolonged trial of labour, a cesarean section was performed – too late to save her well-developed baby boy, who by then, was in serious distress. He died within 10 minutes of delivery. Wanda was devastated.

She was discharged three days later with a follow up appointment in a week’s time. Wanda worked through her grief, with help from her relatives, but remained very angry with the doctor who could have prevented the death of a perfectly developed baby, had he done the pelvic measurements or responded in time. He had failed to live up to his promise to her and that he would make sure that the delivery went as smoothly as her pregnancy had gone. Each time she thought about her son, whom she never even held alive in her arms, she couldn’t stop crying and bargaining or feeling very angry at the midwives.

Two weeks later, Wanda decided that the only way for her to deal with her never-ending anger would be to meet with her doctor. After doing her own preparations for this meeting (i.e. visualisations and trial runs using drawings and after practising releasing exercises for a whole week), she decided she was ready to confront the doctor. She rehearsed what she was going to say and how she was going to say it and armed with her note book, so she would not forget anything. The she made the appointment with her doctor and took her sister with her as a supportive resource who waited for her in the reception room.

Once in the doctor’s office, Wanda took charge of the meeting from the outset. She didn’t ask for reasons or explanations. She had been in the delivery room for 36 hours and knew everything that had gone on, up until she was sedated for her operation. She told the doctor what she wanted to say and upon finishing, thanked him for his time and left. Wanda later reported that the doctor had tried to take charge of the meeting but she stuck to her script. Apology was not her objective, “My baby is in the grave. Nothing can bring him back. His spirit was, is and will always be in me. I need to heal and move on, beyond this pain.”

After she got home, she wept for hours. She did a release exercise and said “goodbye” to the doctor and her experiences in the maternity ward. Her preoccupation with the doctor and what went on in the hospital was no longer a major problem by the end of the week. She continued to reclaim shattered connections and to release the remaining pain – the things that were within her control. She retained the memory but not the severe negative feelings associated with it.


My books are intended for any one searching for betterment and fulfilment in their life’s journey, specifically those:

  • Struggling with the pain of loss, whether this is due to bullying, loss of expectations, ideas, a pet, separation, divorce, trauma of emigration, serious traumatic events or death;
  • Teenagers, and those who need to maximize their dating skills so they can focus on recruiting a friend for a companion, while avoiding human predators;
  • Parents and caregivers of the bullied child (target) and
  • Students, employees and the unemployed of our planet so they can learn to cast their nets wider as they seek financial security in the light of limitations inherent in employment as a means to become financially wealthy.


Stop Milking a Chicken: Employee or Unemployed Personal wealth Creation Resource – plus a Student companionStop Milking A Chicken book cover. book: As the reader works though this book he/she will gain additional insight and personal growth to the extent that he/she will feel more psychologically ‘fitter’ and more ‘adaptable’ enough to say: “I am aware that there are indeed forces that limit personal wealth creation. These forces are amenable to change. I do have necessary tools inside and around me to start creating for myself and increasing my personal wealth. If I can create wealth for my employer, I can create wealth for myself using the same skill set.”

Comfort Your Child: Don’t Let a Bully Steal your Child’s Dream: For a bullied child (target) or person to begin to Comfort your Child book cover.feel that he/she is not alone because parents, caregivers and community supportive network are pooling together their resources to comfort and fortify him/her. This will empower the child to reach out to those who love and care about him/her including medical, mental health, life skills coaching and anti-bullying self-help groups. He/she will then be able to start focusing on day-to-day living, his/her aspirations and dreams, rather than continuing to be preoccupied with the bully’s nasty characteristics and disagreeable behaviour – thus the bullied child will become more “my wellness-focused” as he/she declares the bully unwelcomed and irrelevant to the healing and the journey towards fulfilling his/her dreams.”

Finding Comfort: As you Heal from Abuse, Trauma or Loss: Here my hope is that the reader will become aware Finding Comfort book cover.that experiencing emotional pain (grief) during and after any abuse, trauma or loss is a normal human reaction. The pain comes in waves and lulls – the lulls give us a breather and an opportunity to start reclaiming our hitherto shuttered well-being. We need to hang in there. Grief pain does get better, sometimes with help from our supportive network and resources. When we are in a crisis what we need most is a shoulder to lean and cry on – we are not alone. While many have been there and lived to tell the story, each experience is unique to the individual.


Friends talk, can cover each other’s back and can agree to disagree. Enemies can’t talk and always seek to fight or annihilate one another. Strive therefore to befriend that which is inside you, but which hurts you, makes you ashamed of yourself, beats on you or is disagreeable to you because you are joined at the hip and you live in the same house.


I have three books in draft form and a few more in the incubator.


From or

Check my website for write ups:

Contact Dr. Guy at

Twitter: @Ekisa Guy; Facebook: Guy Ekisa.

Gifts not presents

Woman sitting in Fanas, Switzerland.

My big ugly coat I can’t find. I’m in Fanas, Switzerland here.

Christmas is on the horizon and for many of us, that means lots of cookies and eggnog and family time. My immediate family (and family-in-laws) don’t live close enough to us to hop over for some seasonal cheer but my husband and I consider our friends as extended family.

It’s a gift we have these people in our lives in Calgary. This week though — this cold, cold week — I’ve been thinking about other gifts that I’m grateful for: and not expensive presents.

It’s super-duper freezing outside and I walk everywhere (most everywhere). Somehow, I’ve lost two winter coats. Oh I know they’re packed in boxes but I’m not sure which boxes. I didn’t label them when I loaded them full of housewares and clothing and knickknacks in preparation for a move. Well, that move hasn’t happened yet but winter has. I did know where one special winter coat was put and dug it out.

The special coat was my Nana’s. It’s pink and pure virgin wool (so says the tag) and has a fur-lined hood. Nana lived in northwestern Ontario and it’s cold there. The coat must have worked because she used it for a long time and then handed it to me before I moved from Nova Scotia to the Northwest Territories (N.W.T.) about 10 years ago. I never used the vintage coat in the N.W.T. because I had a black, puffy parka that looked like a sleeping bag on steroids.

Now I can’t find that black coat nor another black parka that looks almost the same. I had to start using my Nana’s coat. I put it on today and walked downtown in the -33 (with wind-chill) weather. It worked! I was warm and cozy in the wool coat and I even got some compliments on it while I was shopping in the mall.

I never saw Nana again after she gave me the coat: she died soon after I went to the N.W.T. Her gift is finally being put to use 10 years later and I’m grateful for its warmth and the reminder of her as a flesh and blood person. She wasn’t always an old woman. She wasn’t always my Nana. She was young and had ideas and dreams and perhaps, in her coat, she lived some of them.

Cold Calgary: view from Nose Hill Park.

Cold Calgary: view from Nose Hill Park.

Another gift is the gift of nature in the city. Like I said and many of you know, it’s freaking cold. But have you seen how beautiful it is outside? The fog rolling off the Bow River in the morning turns everything around it silver. The fresh snow covering the brown leaves on the ground and ugly grey pavement convinces us that the streets are pretty and Christmas is just around the corner. At night, when the festive lights are turned on, they still can’t compete with the stars. The clear cold air only accentuates their brilliance, reminding me that I’m one small person on this large planet.

With the holidays comes goodwill. People hold doors open for me. They stop their vehicles to let me cross the street. They put down their mobiles to engage in conversation with me, a stranger. This is a great gift and I wish it continued all year long because this is an important gift: the gift of time. Taking a couple of seconds to be friendly doesn’t take much and you’ll never know how deeply your kindness was felt.

“A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world. Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!”

~Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Staying ahead of competition

People running a race.Capital Ideas Calgary is a community that links business owners to an important resource: other business owners. Each week, Capital Ideas puts out a question that’s answered by entrepreneurs based on their experiences.

Last week, Capital Ideas Calgary asked businesses: What market research helps you stay ahead of your competition?

Here’s my answer (along with other business owners):

I always answered June’s question: How do you maintain life balance as an entrepreneur?

Here’s my answer published in the Calgary Herald on June 16, 2016:

What would you answer to the questions above?

A banner day

Girl drawing.

A loon scene.

Revelstoke, B.C. has a wonderful tradition: hanging hand-painted banners to deck the streets of the mountain city. The community-based program lets artists (and non-artists) paint their impressions of the town red. Or green, or brown or purple. After some prodding from friends, I put paint to canvas and helped create a flag for one of Revelstoke’s light poles.

The street banner program has been part of Revelstoke for many years. It’s hard to miss the flags hanging around the city. They wave hello and goodbye to people coming and going and brighten up dark November days when the snow has yet to make it all the way to the ground.

Revelstoke is more than a place for tourists to ski or go mountain biking, it’s a community where people have jobs and kids go to school and life is lived. I called Revelstoke home a few years ago and still have friends there, artistic friends. A couple of weeks ago I was visiting one family when it was their turn to create their banners.

Next year is Canada’s 150 birthday and the Revelstoke’s banner program is celebrating the milestone with the theme “Canada’s 150th — Strong, Proud and Free.” On that note, banners this year had to represent Canada and you could only use red, white or black paint. Hmm, in that case I think I’ll paint Canada at night.

Girl drawing.

A squirrel and a fox scene.

As a writer, I rely on words to paint pictures. I cannot draw or paint at all. (Okay. I can draw brown trees without leaves and blue ponds with grass.) Thankfully, my friend Pauline and her two daughters are accomplished artists so I had a lot of help. Pauline put together images of a heron standing in water ripples. She borrowed some elements from First Nations art and designed an extraordinary piece.

Next, I had to trace the design onto a thin sheet of Mylar, (plastic about as big as a piece of paper). Then we took the sheet to the Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre where the Mylar was put on a projector and the image shone onto a white waterproof canvas framed in wood. I traced the outline of the heron with a black marker onto the banner. The canvas was laid down on a table and Pauline and I got to work filling in the heron.

For me, painting was hard work. I didn’t have the patience or the creativity to colour inside the lines. (I was a terrible colourer as a kid. Always straying from the boundaries of the picture.) I took lots of deep breaths and concentrated on not making a mess. Pauline and her daughters gave me tips on how to move the paintbrush.

Outline of a heron.

Hello heron – tracing the outline of the bird onto the banner.

“Use your whole arm, not just your hand.”

“Slow down. You don’t have a deadline.”

No, there was no rush but there was pressure, pressure to make something that people would look at and not wrinkle their noses at. Pressure to have a banner that would represent Revelstoke as well as Canada. Pressure to not screw up.

With words, you have the freedom to move them around and change them. With the click of a button, the flick of a wrist, a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, disappears. Painting is more permanent. Splash some red on the white canvas, like I did, and it’s not easily washed away. The red, diluted by water and detergent, turned pink. It changed the scene on the canvas, and made the heron seem like it was looking at an early sunset. That wouldn’t happen with words. But it’s sometimes good to know you can’t change things. Even if you paint over the sunset, it’ll still be there.

Heron painted in.

You’ll have to go to Revelstoke in the spring to find the finished oeuvre.


Memoirs are written reflections.

The business of art

family_lines_artThe Department of Canadian Heritage is looking to hear from you about Canadian culture. What are your views on our arts scene? What’s important to you about our culture – is there even a Canadian culture? How do we support Canada’s artists, content creators and cultural entrepreneurs in order to create a cultural ecosystem in which they thrive… Here’s my answer:

The Forgotten War

Korean War photos.

Korean War photos. Photo Credit: By All photographs are works of the United States federal government. [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Nicknamed the Forgotten War, the Canadian participation in the Korean War is overshadowed by our efforts in the First and Second World Wars. I barely knew about the Korean War when I was in secondary school. My only connection to it was the names of the men who fought in that conflict being called out at every Remembrance Day ceremony in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. When I moved to South Korea after graduating university in 1997, this all changed.

I was an English teacher for half a year in South Korea. My first post was in Puyo (Bueyo), a rural town about three hours south of Seoul. When I wanted a taste of the big city, I took a bus to Taejon (Daejong), about an hour northeast of my Korean home. In the middle of the trip, the bus passed a war memorial. Huge bronze soldiers hoisted guns into the air on a gravel patch beside the highway. No one on the bus or in Puyo could ever tell me what the monument was for but it brought the Korean War to the forefront of my mind.

Twenty years ago it wasn’t hard to remember a war had been fought all over the peninsula. Sure, South Korea was a bustling place with lots of trade and tourism and great food. But there were signs that it was still on alert, ready for action in case the North decided to attack. There were armed soldiers at train stations, bus stations and sentry points on beaches.

The war between South Korea (Republic of Korea, or ROK) and North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK) started on June, 25 1950 when the DPRK invaded South Korea. In February of the next year, Canada, as part of a United Nations (UN) force, entered the war. Around 26,791 Canadian military personnel took part in combat as well as observer roles after an armistice was signed in July, 27 1953. The two Korean countries have been in an uneasy ceasefire ever since.

During my teaching stint, I hopped on a bus and took it to Inchon (now Incheon) to visit a fellow English teacher, Niki. In 1997 Inchon was a growing city. In 1950, it was an important port for Seoul, South Korea’s capital, and within striking distance of North Korea. It was also the scene of the Inchon Landings in September 1950 where the UN forces recaptured Seoul and delivered a tremendous wallop to the North Korean Peoples Army (KPA). It was a strategic and crucial victory for South Korea. (UN forces began hitting the KPA from the sea. The Royal Canadian Navy was a part of this attack.)

When this Canadian got off the bus in Inchon forty years later, I didn’t have to contend with shells going off or bullets whizzing by me. There were ROK military all over the place, an obvious sign of lingering tension, but I left that all behind once I left the station. I met up with my friend and we went for a hike in the hills of Inchon. It was New Year’s Day and sunny and bright. The temperature hovered just around zero and it was perfect for a jaunt outside. We walked up and up through a patch of fir trees tree and then waded through tall golden grass. We could see the ocean, the blue Yellow Sea, as we ascended higher into the hills. Soon we were walking along a ridge strewn with broken barbed wire. Along the way were worn concrete bunkers and broken down sentry posts. Were these remnants from the Korean War? Had we stumbled upon history? I’ll never know.

That’s the problem with being a traveller sometimes. With no one around to tell us what we were looking at or signs to guide us, we had no idea if these ramparts were from the war or just part of everyday life on the south side of Korea. I later asked my Korean friends about the military ruins but they didn’t have any answers. Neither did the internet, then and today.

Modern-day Incheon (the spelling was changed in 2000) is the site of an international airport. My husband and I landed there when we went to Korea this past May. The city has exploded in size, both population and square footage, and is the third most populated place in South Korea. I wonder if the remnants of what I had seen so many years ago still exist. The war certainly does although you wouldn’t know it. Seoul is a cosmopolitan city and no different from any other city in the world even though it’s just over 56 km (35 miles) from its enemy. There are no longer soldiers patrolling the train and bus stations because technology (CCTV) can be everywhere at once. That all changed when I went to the DMZ.

View of downtown Seoul, May 2016.

View of downtown Seoul, May 2016.

North and South Korea are separated by the demilitarized zone (the DMZ), that’s only about an hour’s drive from Seoul. The DMZ acts as a buffer between South and North Korea and is the most heavily militarized border in the world. My husband Jason and I signed up for a DMZ tour and left on a bus one morning to get a glimpse of the other side.

As we headed out to the demilitarized zone, we began to see the markings of a country on guard. The highway skirting the river leading to the Yellow Sea had barbed wire wrapped around the guardrails and every few metres there were covered platforms with soldiers stationed in them. In some of these little houses, I saw the soldiers hunched over their guns pointed out to the water, ready to fire at any moment.

Guard post.

At the DMZ, the tension is high. We’re told when to take photos and not to make any gestures or faces towards the North Korean side. In one of the buildings on the South Korea side, there’s a plaque honouring the Canadians who fought in the Korean War. The bronze marker is one among 15 other United Nations countries that fought alongside South Korea and Canada. Five hundred and sixteen Canadians died in the Korea War, far less than the First and Second Wars. But they still sacrificed their lives for peace.

Plaque at the DMZ.

Plaque at the DMZ.

It’s only writing this blog piece that I learned that the first Canadian infantry unit to take part in the Korean War, the 2nd Battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), was trained in Calgary. Another connection to the Forgotten War, this one in Canada. Lest we forget, the Forgotten War.

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