Melancholy in Vancouver

Once again on a very short three day spring stop in Vancouver I’m reminded of my dual life — I live in Toronto, I thrive in Vancouver. It remains the one place where I reconnect with what’s important to me, where I get back to me. I usually go home resolved to stay grounded. Then… I lose myself. I’ve never understood why and I won’t begin to this time either.

white cherry blossoms kits

Blooming spring, Kitsilano, April 2016

This visit is a bit different. Last time I was here for a luxurious two weeks. I walked everywhere, I saw everyone important to me. I went home feeling connected to people who have/make time to spend time. What a relief. In Toronto, I hibernate. I’m static. I hide out. I give out my time sparingly… I’m protective because my experience there is people are too busy… spending time isn’t a priority. I try not to take it personally. But, I do.

In Vancouver, I expand.

This time, riddled with a very sore back which makes walking very far a lot more difficult, I stayed close to home in Kits (thank goodness for great Airbnb apartments in familiar neighbourhoods). I had just spent four days in Portland on a work trip and the 50-minute flight to Vancouver flying over the Cascade mountains was gorgeous and left me happy to be on Canadian land.

Home. Second home, first home. They are interchangeable to me. My family and lifelong friends in one place, my heart and soul in the other.

cherry tree lined kits

Blossom-lined street in Kits, April 2016

If this life is about working out unresolved issues from a previous one, I’m sorely behind because I just can’t fully accept having to live somewhere that doesn’t suit me and constantly pine for the one I know does. I may never stop regretting giving up on Vancouver after only six short years. The best thing I can do is try to visit as often as possible the place where 16 years ago I finally came, after years of hoping and planning to live. One that changed me in every way:

  • I learned balance after a lifetime of extremes
  • I learned a completely different and much more suitable lifestyle
  • I finally began to reconcile the shock of losing my mother
  • Which somehow led me to an unexpected, life-altering reconciliation with my father
  • I took great strides in moving forward – something I advocate yet sometimes find hard to do
  • Tested my independence, learned to be alone, discovered I prefer and need great amounts of time on my own
  • Learned to accept my true character, learned how to stay true to it, and the kind of work that jived with it.
  • In a nutshell… living here meant EVERYTHING and everything important – every way that I am now began in Vancouver.

Alas, I leave for Toronto tomorrow – to cold and snow. Where I must wait at least another month for the kind of blooming abundance that is here now. It’s no small thing. It’s part of what suits me vs. what I endure.

It’s why I’ll be crying as he plane takes off over the Pacific Ocean tomorrow afternoon.


Freedom to read

I’m on a reading kick. Does that sound ridiculous coming from a voracious reader? The truth is, I don’t always have time, make time, or sometimes I’m only in the mood for a particular kind of book that hasn’t found me yet. Thankfully, that is not the case now.

Sharing good books is not only something I feel compelled to do, it’s something I’ve been doing to make up a fair part of my living for the last 20 years. So in that spirit, here are some must-reads from me to you. They’re not all literary. Some are purely for entertainment value. I’m not going into major detail here, just a taste.

camilla-gibbThis is Happy, Camilla Gibb – Though I worried the topic would upset me, I knew the writing would get me through. When her partner left her early in her pregnancy, Gibb cobbled together a crew of people who would become confidants, friends and family to her and her newborn. It’s excruciating at times because you don’t often read depictions of raw despair, but is joyful in the end. And the writing is exquisite, as always. You’re right there with her, even when she’s not afraid to show herself at her non-best. The best memoirs don’t white-wash the truth in every single character and situation.

Sixty+Ian+BrownSixty, Ian Brown – Wit, insight and emotional truth are the three elements present in all Ian Brown’s writing. Here he takes all the cliches about getting old and either debunks them or explains why they’re true. A big revelation is that the brain begins to decline after 28. Brown captures his day-to-day obsession with aging, while pining for his younger self but never takes himself too seriously, except when he knows that a certain truth can be universally applied. The bits of the book that are the most revealing are those that involve his children and his feelings about his father’s life and death.

I’ve previously written about the book for and produced a segment with Ian Brown for The Agenda with Steve Paikin: This is what 60 feels like / Ian Brown: Diary of a Sixty-Year-Old

tender-bar The Tender Bar, J.R. Moehringer – A boy grows up knowing nothing much about his dad but he becomes fascinated with Dickens, a local bar in his hometown of Manhassat, New York. The story is of his life in and out of the bar, how the fellas there acted as mentors, sounding boards, friends and sometimes, bad influences. Moehringer is a seasoned journalist and writer and it shows – every word is beautifully, skillfully measured for maximum storytelling, entertainment and emotional lurch. This is by far the best book I’ve read in a very long time. ‘Course I do have a soft spot for men in search of fathers.


Stories I Only Tell My Friends, Rob Lowe – Don’t judge. I’ve been fascinated with him since we were in our 20s. Turns out he can write – not ghost written. The big reveal for anyone interested in his work in The West Wing is that he grew up with the Sheens and Martin Sheen was father-like to him. That knowledge gives his scenes with Sheen a richness that makes sense when you re-watch. I’m thinking especially of when President Bartlett tells him one day he could run for office and to not be afraid to do so. As the NYTs review I’ve linked to above says, Lowe must know that his ridiculous good looks and fame mean he couldn’t take the easy way out if he wanted to be taken seriously as a writer and storyteller. And he doesn’t. It’s full of insights, humour and just plain juicy info about Hollywood of the ’80s and ’90s. He’s candid about his missteps, his alcoholism and his issues on The West Wing. His later life continues in Love Life.

alan cumming

Not My Father’s Son, Alan Cumming – See what I mean about fatherless sons? This follows the actor’s journey to have his roots chronicled for the TV show, Who Do You Think You Are — only it’s what’s going on behind the scenes as his brother and he confront his father with questions about why he abused them. A fascinating look at Cumming’s early life and its threads to his work in front of the camera.

This is his episode of WDYTYA.





All My Puny Sorrows, Miriam Toews – One of those books you must read slowly in order to handle the emotion. It’s relentlessly sad, so thankfully Toews is adept at lightening up just when you need it. One sister is dying, the other is falling apart – their connection is unforgettable, especially as they grapple with how and when to die. A timely read as Canada figures out how to legislate assisted death.

New York – no place like it.

You can’t do everything you want to in New York in three days. I tried. Twice. I came back overwhelmed and exhausted. So, I’m still trying to figure out how to experience that crazy, beautiful, noisy, smelly, exciting city without knocking myself out.

The first time I went in 2011, I was part of a bus tour of women escaping families for a shopping/Broadway/sightseeing trip. I didn’t fit in, nor did I have money to spend on most of those activities. I broke free one day and experienced some moments that stayed with me and kept me hankering to go back. I was blown away by the architecture, the skyscrapers, the sheer number of people on the street at all times and fascinated that, in a city so engulfed by noise, it was still possible to experience quiet.

That solitary day, I started out at the 9/11 museum, where the only sound was muffled crying, me and every single other person. At St. Patrick’s Cathedral I stumbled into a all-black high school graduation ceremony and cried again at the sentiment the young valedictorian expressed while thanking the women in his life for keeping him in school. I lit a candle for my mother because I’d been walking around New York for two days thinking of how much she adored the city when she visited as a still single woman before my dad and five children complicated her life.

I then moved on to the Algonquin Hotel, a must-experience for a writer since it’s the birth-place of the New Yorker and the second home to most of its writers. (also figures prominently in Mad Men) I sat enjoying a beer (cheapest thing on the drinks menu) when the couple beside me, in town from Philadelphia celebrating their anniversary, invited me to join them and generously bought me a couple of drinks. It was magical and, I thought, could only happen in New York – or at least, it was the kind of thing you can experience when travelling alone and feeling free of the everyday stress of home and the shackles of at-home identity.

This trip was a bit different and for some reason I felt myself even more overwhelmed by the city. Perhaps, having been there once, I felt I was more prepared for its offer. Wrong. I doubt it’s a city you can judge in one or two experiences… or a million.

Here, a list of my impressions this time around:

  • I haven’t flown in 3 years and it’s not my fave thing to do. I’m edgy about it, but my excitement to be in NYC trumps the nerves. Plus, my pal is distracting me with chatter, at my request. I barely remember taking off or landing. It’s a short flight – less than an hour in the air. I’m curious about the islands we’re passing over just before landing. Must look them up.
  • We’re in NYC! Though my trip this time is more street level than bus level and less tourist, more traveller, every once in awhile you just have to say, “I’m in New York!”
  • The city is so mythical to me in so many ways – all those films, TV shows and books set in New York that live in the imagination – walking around feels out of this world, at first.
  • Chelsea is a cute area, the best part of which is Cafe Grumpy on 20th, in between 7th and 8th. A good independent shop, great coffee and just about the best almond croissant I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot of them! Our hotel, not so much. Note to self for next time: stay out of the noise, you’ll need it as a nightly refuge.
  • Chelsea art galleries are delightful. We happened upon an art
    Hippies, 2013

    Hippies, 2013

    class while looking at the fascinating Lisa Yuskavage exhibit in the David Zwirner gallery. What luck! The instructor was a wealth of knowledge putting the pieces we were looking at in feminist and artistic context and good thing because I’m not hugely art articulate.

  • The Mad Men exhibit at the Museum of Moving Image is
    1960s secretary's desk

    1960s secretary’s desk

    fabulous – I appreciated the program before, but so much more after seeing the painstaking, intricate detail Matthew Weiner & Co. took to make sure it was as authentic to the time as possible. If you’re a fan of the show, go see it! (it’s on until June 14) I never saw this series as a period piece since all the props, costumes, etc were part of my childhood experience. Walking into Don and Betty’s Ossining, NY kitchen was like stepping into my mother’s kitchen. (No photos allowed, heavily guarded, but I snuck a pic of the secretary’s desk.)

  • Is there anything more NYC than the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, founded by Tony Bennett? It’s across from the Museum of Moving Image in Queens. A prof chatted to us about how students don’t know how to spell or write, but they can sing and play, I guess. Just when I was thinking this, a young man belted out a song on the sidewalk.
  • Getting around on the subway is a challenge for a person from a city with two defined routes and a poor sense of direction. I figure it would take me at least 3-5 years of living in New York before I understood how to get around by transit. Thankfully, New Yorkers are friendly and obliging to two lost souls.
  • The Rockwood Music Hall is a wonderful venue to see music. Small, comfortable and with great sound. A fellow called Andrew Ripp is a talented up and comer, originally from outside Chicago but lives in Nashville.
  • Greenpoint, Brooklyn – the Polish district – feels a lot like home in Roncesvalles. A young stylist named Stephanie gave me a great haircut and told me about  Ovenly – a cute bakery

    Ovenly: Sweet and Salty Recipes from New York’s Most Creative Bakery

    where I bought their recipe book because, unlike so many I have in my collection, this one has some unique baking tips, plus rare but welcome process photos. This only has to do with New York in the sense that the bakery is situated there and the baked goods were delicious – quality ingredients, expertly executed. And the joint was hoppin’.

  • Who knew you could take a NY Ferry from Brooklyn to Manhattan. We did and it was great! (brought Vancouver to mind, a cross between Seabus and Granville Island Ferry). Why can’t Toronto transport some of its commuters by ferry? For that matter, why do we only have two (and a half) subway lines?
  • Central Park is always an oasis, even on a crowded Saturday.
    me and Zach Rance, from BB16

    me and Zach Rance, from BB16

    Down time in New York from our whirlwind New York mini-vacation. The perk for one Big Brother fan like myself is that my fave contestant from last year, Zach Rance, was in town from Florida and hanging out at Strawberry Fields talking to fans. In Toronto, I would never show up at such an event. In New York, why not?

  • My travel companion took me for an authentic Lower East Side experience at Katz’s Deli (which employs security people to make sure you don’t slip out without paying!) – then on to a comedy/music show at Fontana’s (a huge bar with a tiny performance space in the basement). My tiredness got the better of me on Night Two so I went home to the 8th St. hotel and attempted to drown out the relentless noise. (During a restless night before, I noted that people don’t stop partying at 8th and 30th – and probably everywhere else – until at least 4:30 am. Then, the city quiets down for at least a couple of hours, on the weekend at least.)
  • The outdoor 9/11 memorial  was not yet built on my last visit. My pal and I reminisce about the horrific event on the way there, but we know our impressions are nothing compared to what New Yorkers went through that day. The waterfall and pool, with names of those who lost their lives is a fitting and remarkable tribute. After my visit to the museum last time I knew I couldn’t do it again. Too unbearably sad.
  • The only reason to walk into Macy’s is to experience the wooden escalator, a relic from, if not the original store, one of the early incarnations. I put off going to New York for years because I mistakenly thought I had to have a boatload of money to even step one foot on a NYC sidewalk. I’m not much of a shopper anyway, but on both my trips I never felt the need to spend money in stores. There’s seriously too much else to do! Having said that, I did splurge on a pair of coral Birkenstocks – which saved my feet and legs on this trip.
  • Stopped into Grand Central to meet up with my friend and
    Grand Central Terminal, Information Booth and Clock

    Grand Central Terminal, Information Booth and Clock

    didn’t realize until I got home that I can never spend enough time in that great hall of antiquity, a feat of architecture and design (and didn’t that day). If ever there was a time to shout out, “I’m in New York!” it’s surely when standing at the information desk in the middle of the atrium, the scene of so many, many films.

  • Bryant Park is delightful, from it’s food kiosks to its Reading Room, and ping pong tables. Another (needed) respite from busy NYC – truly, I could’ve sat there all day long. But.. place to go, things to see…
  • The Highline – what a great idea that is! Take an unused elevated train track and turn it into a green space with
    The Highline, NYC

    The Highline, NYC

    spectacular city views and an excuse for a simply lovely stroll. Chelsea Market, a spot I wish I’d discovered on day one. A relaxing dinner with two good friends in New York, then off to see Lucy Wainwright Roche, one of myriad number of musical Wainwrights and Roches. First, the Highline Ballroom is a special venue with, again, great sound. Then, talent galore and even more when Loudon Wainwright III got up to sing. Only in New York, where the family hails from and lives.

  • How’s this for a crazy NY moment: walking home from the Highline Ballroom, I ran into an old colleague/friend from Vancouver (who now lives in Toronto) whom I haven’t seen since before I left that city in 2006. Crazy.

Now that I’ve been to New York twice, I’ll probably keep visiting, if only in an attempt to get it right – which for me means balancing all it has to offer with my need to take all things slow and savoury in life and in travel. Still, I think I can sum up the experiences I’ve had there like this:

One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years…  Tom Wolfe

Childlessness does not equal selfishness

spinsterLife-long singledom and childlessness – two still questioned, somewhat feared lifestyles are enjoying a rare media spotlight due to two U.S. publications: Selfish, Shallow and Self Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, edited by Meghan Daum (Picador), and Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick (Crown). When you consider Western population demographics, it’s not surprising that these books would crop up.

The question is will the topics have staying power?

Read whole article at

Emma Watson: The New Face of Feminism?

I’ve been saying for years that a) feminism needs, not a new monicker, but a new leader; and  b) women need to engage men in the movement.

The new UN #HeForShe initiative, and its spokesperson, encapsulate both:

Here are my thoughts on why feminism needs a relate-able leader.

Fall Books Preview, Ottawa Citizen

MacDonald, A-M Col. Pref_c_Gabor Jurina.jpg

Ann-Marie MacDonald has a new novel coming out this fall called Adult Onset. It’s her first in 11 years.

Here’s my annual fall books preview in the Ottawa Citizen.

Happy New Year, 2014


I’m pretty happy to see 2014!

Each New Year`s Eve, I perform a ritual that is so ingrained now that when I think I might not get a chance to do it, I actually begin to panic. It`s just something I need to do in order to face a new year with renewed faith and optimism in myself and my future.

Here`s what I do:

I take out my journal from the previous year, which has a list of goals for the year. I assess each goal with the following criteria: 1) accomplished, 2) still to do, 3) abandoned for good reason. I tally up each list and that gives me an idea of the balance of the year. Did I accomplish more than not? Did I rightly abandon some goals? Is my still-to-do column a repeat of last year’s?

Once I see where I’m at I write out my list of highlights for the year: work, personal life, health, family. This time ’round it helped that I had kept a Joy Jar that held little descriptions of some of the happier moments of 2013. This is the part of the ritual where I count my blessings and remind myself that, no matter the difficulties,  the year was still filled with fun, joy and fulfillment.

Then I create a new list of goals. Some are continuations, some are totally new plans that are built on the progress, or because of a need to change direction.

I start this all at around 11 pm so that by the time midnight rolls around it’s done, and I’m filled with resolve and energy for new opportunities. Some people I know are full of this forward-looking momentum at the beginning of the school year, a throw-back to their years when September marked a fresh start. But since I have an end-of-the-year birthday, it just makes sense for me to do my review then. In fact, it just naturally happens that way.

joy jar

This is my 2013 Joy Jar, more than half full.

I had a difficult work year in 2013, and I know I’m not the only one. What a relief to know that, although that fact took its toll on me, my Joy Jar revealed that my most content moments came through time spent with friends, surrounded by music, with my nose in a book,  or with the two activities that sustain and inspire me: baking and writing.

All was not lost. It never is.