Summer Nostalgia Part II: too late?

Summer nostalgia in a time of falling leaves


In August, Vancouver’s hot sunny days finally came, but I never got around to writing my Summer Nostalgia Part II post. What happened? Well—editing work inconveniently interfered with my play time.

I am happy to be making progress in my mid-life editing career, but the time pressures of the past two months have got me thinking about priorities. In any case, I’m not alone. Many people become acutely aware of time’s passing in midlife and may reassess what they are doing with their careers, relationships, health, and leisure.

I’ve become more accepting of the idea that I can’t possibly do everything I want to do. Every day seems crammed to the brim. And it’s not just a matter of letting go of time-wasting activities like watching TV, browsing online, or shopping. It’s not just a matter of being less of a perfectionist with respect to work, housework, or personal appearance. No, prioritizing is painful because it includes giving up or spending less time on activities and people that are important. The vast majority of us cannot have it all, despite what the inspirational essays and stories would have us believe.

To achieve a work goal you may have to pay less attention to the people you love the most—your spouse, your girlfriend/boyfriend, your children—at least temporarily. Or you may neglect your health. You might seek to finally achieve a dream creative goal, realizing that it’s now or never—in spite of sacrificing your own or even your family’s financial stability.

The cliché says we should seek “balance” in our lives. But everyone’s balance, and everyone’s tipping point into being hopelessly overstressed, is different. You have to be self-aware and self-searching. There are no easy moral answers when it comes to prioritizing. You may have to hurt others or squeeze the lifeblood out of a part of yourself when you dedicate yourself uncompromisingly towards achieving a specific goal.

In 2016, I put my editing career first, while at the same time refusing to miss the workouts and the time outdoors that give me the endorphin buzz I crave. But something had to go. I was frustrated because I couldn’t seem to make time for creative writing or blog posts, even though I had plenty of subjects I wanted to write about. I was also itching to write book reviews for several of the unusual books I’ve read this year. I want to share these incredible writers with other people, and fix in my own mind the crucial kernels of their books—but I haven’t been able to find the time. Writing a book review is challenging. It requires an impressive art of distillation to do justice to a great writer’s skills with narrative, language, and conveyance of complicated ideas.

This year, I wrote a few blog posts that were “stale.” That is, I’d been inspired by something and jotted down a few notes, but didn’t get around to writing the blog post until months later. I realized this doesn’t work well. Blogging is a form of writing that is usually current and personal. Blog posts lose something when written months after the spark that ignited their creation. So much of my inspiration for posts comes from sensory details of a specific day or season. It can be impossible to recapture the vividness of the immediate impression later.

Nevertheless, I’m going to put some of my favourite summer photos in this post. I might even add some of those “sensory detail words,” faded and irrelevant though they may be.


But it’s fall now, so first I’ll write something fresh—from yesterday’s bike ride.

Leaves. That’s what I’m aware of in the first minutes of my ride as I cycle along the bike path. Not just brilliant colours. It’s their smoky musky scent and the sounds they make. Crackling, rustling, a swishing when the air moves. Suddenly I’m no longer clinging to summer. I’m immersed in fall.


How can the smell of dying things be a good smell? It evokes memories: of cross-country season, being part of a high school team, being young when running was so easy and carefree. I remember weekend rambles in the Don Mills ravines with my high school buddies Jon and Gary. The smell of their cigarettes mingled pleasantly with the aroma of fallen leaves. We basked in October’s warmth, knowing that drab, bitter November would come all too soon.


Indian summer


“serene and sparkly…”

As I return to writing this piece, it’s the afternoon of September 28, and I’ve just been for what was probably my last swim of the year (at least without a wetsuit) at Sasamat Lake. Maybe it’s not too late for summer nostalgia after all!

The lake in September offers special rewards for its hardcore visitors. It’s serene and sparkly. Kids are back in school, and the noisy, greedy geese are mysteriously gone. In mid-afternoon the sun is warm on the beach. The water temperature could be called invigorating. I only lasted four minutes in the water; I was too numb to feel much pain while swimming, but when I noticed my arm muscles weren’t working well I decided I’d better come out. I had to get my wet bathing suit off immediately to avoid hypothermia.

Summer 2106 photo blog

It may be Indian summer now, but I’ve decided it’s not too late to post some photos that bring back my best summer memories.

In June I competed in only my second race of 2016, the Longest Day 5K at UBC. This race is fast and competitive. It has a special atmosphere, being an evening race on a date that’s always close to the summer solstice. The weather is unfailingly gorgeous, and the popular barbecue adds to the post-race spirit.

I was quite fit for this race; though my knee, as usual, had severely limited my running, I had done a few fast workouts with the Phoenix club. However, a stressful week and several nights in a row of poor sleep meant I was exhausted before the race even started. It took a huge effort to complete the race in 20:08, almost a minute slower than my 2105 time. Yet as I crossed the finish line, I felt an immense physical and mental release, and I was content with my time.


At Thunderbird Stadium after the Longest Day 5K

Keith took this photo after I’d done a warmdown lap on the grass in the stadium. I had to stop because of a pain in my hip that I’d never felt before. Little did I know that night that this injury would refuse to get better for almost three months. A month of no running, physio, and boring exercises led to little improvement. This was another injury that taught me the value of acceptance and patience. Sometimes an injury’s recovery will follow no timetable but its own. Once my hip started improving in late August, the pain disappeared rapidly, and I was able to get back to my twice weekly 6K runs without a hiccup.

Summer bucket list

This summer I wanted to break away from my regular cycling routes and revisit some of my favourite Vancouver cycling places from the past: Stanley Park and the whole route through Kitsilano and west to UBC, with its long stretches of road that are perfect for fast riding. I also wanted to swim in the Pacific Ocean at Third Beach. I like that beach because it’s relatively isolated and wild, far away from the larger crowds at Second Beach and English Bay.

I drove to Stanley Park one weekday with my bike in the back of my car. I cycled around the ring road a few times for the first time in many years. The hill up to Prospect Point was easier than I remembered; it’s nothing compared to the mountain I ride up from Port Moody to Coquitlam! After some hard riding on the road, I decided to play the sightseeing tourist, and did a loop on the seawall. It was hopeless for riding; there were huge groups of tourists riding at a leisurely pace; so I stopped several times to take photos as if I too were a tourist. The photo below shows an idyllic Third Beach. I couldn’t swim that day as I didn’t have my swimming gear with me.

I didn’t manage to return to Stanley Park later in the summer for a swim. Nor did I go to another location on my bucket list: Wreck Beach. I haven’t been there for many years. Wreck Beach is notorious for being clothing optional, but it’s also an outstandingly beautiful beach, perfect for sunset viewing. Its shallow water extends far out, and becomes especially warm and inviting in August.

But this year, again considering priorities, I had to accept that time was limited and my outdoor activities would have to take place close to home.


Third Beach at Stanley Park

August at Sasamat Lake

I couldn’t do my Sasamat Lake mini-triathlon this summer because I couldn’t run. However, Keith took some good photos of me on a day when I decided to push hard on the bike-swim-bike portion.

I always feel at my best athletically in the summer. Muscles are ready to go almost immediately, and they seem to switch gears to all-out power more easily. Maybe it’s the freedom of wearing less clothing that makes me feel faster. And I like the sheen of sweat that covers all of my skin surface on a hot day.


It’s a short but intense ride uphill to the lake


Time to swim: Photographer Keith captures my playfulness.

DSC_7270 Nancy coming out of water.jpg

Finished the swim section

Most of my summer swims at Sasamat Lake aren’t workouts, though. I drive up there to relax, cool off, and enjoy the ambience and beauty of the lake. My favourite time to swim depends on the temperature of the day, but it’s usually around 5 p.m., when the water is warm but the glaring, dangerous heat of the sun has become more gentle. A quick swim gives me an instant energy boost, and out in the middle of the lake I’m transported to another level of being.

On some days I cycled to the lake early in the morning when there were few cars and people, then returned by car later to swim.

When I was back there to swim at 4:45, the water was warm. I swam steadily for a few minutes, then felt that surge of energy that often happens. Suddenly I sprint-swim, feeling pure joy at the energy that springs out of my body, the strength of my arms pulling, the satisfying depth of my breathing. I’m bursting with health, I’m still feeling good from my morning ride. I love being able to play in the water, alternating sprinting with a relaxed breaststroke that stretches my inner thighs in a satisfying way, sometimes swimming on my back, just kicking, making big splashes to express my exuberance as I look up at the dazzling bowl of the sky.


Amongst the summer crowd I saw a mermaid!

Balcony sunsets

I’ve written about my balcony sunsets before. I’m sure many of my Facebook friends groan when they see another one of my sunset photos, but I have my fans, too. The thing is, the painter in the sky never runs out of new ways to astound me! Below I’ve included a few of my hundreds of balcony photos.







A new fragrant rose this year: “La Grande Dame”

My summer balcony times were often visually stunning, but my sensory memories include much more. Sometimes the exquisite perfume of one of my fragrant roses was there to tantalize me. Always, as I sat on my mat, I was aware of the strong aroma of the rosemary plant beside me. Later in the summer, a surprise crop of mint sprouted up in one of my planters and it, too, became part of my sensory immersion.

The sounds of summer on my balcony were distinctive. Usually there was the soothing background of the fountain near the front door of my building. Sometimes there were happy sounds of kids playing in the courtyard beneath me, or adults on their ground floor patios chatting over dinner or late-night fires. Every now and then I would hear the evocative whistle of a train from the tracks nearby. On breezy evenings, wind chimes added their whimsical notes.

And many times, as we sat there watching, my cat Tux and I would see the blurred whirring wings of a hummingbird. Tux would be spellbound, longing for the unreachable as the hummingbird dip-darted nervously into the feeder, then plunged downward in an impossibly quick departure.


Goodbye summer.

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Cycling on Doug’s mountain: Athletic camaraderie and mad dogs



View of Cultus Lake from the summit of Mt. Thom

My friend and long-time running partner Doug Alward has a sprawling property on Mount Thom above Chilliwack. A couple of weeks ago, he invited me to come and watch the Olympics with him.

(Warning: This is a long post. If you just want to read the “mad dog” story, scroll down to the italics in colour near the bottom.)

No visit with Doug could be complete without a workout. We’ve both been too injured lately to run, and Doug told me he’d been training hard on his $20 garage-sale bike.

I put my bike in my car one hot morning and drove to Chilliwack. Doug and I met in a big mall; the plan was to ride along the Vedder River trails, and then drive up the mountain to his place.

We took the back roads of Chilliwack to get to the Vedder River. Our pace was leisurely, as the route was winding and we occasionally had to stop for street crossings. By the time we reached the perfectly flat gravel trails, I was raring to inject some speed. Doug told me to go ahead. I rode hard for a few kilometres, thinking he couldn’t keep up with me, but he was actually just giving me a false sense of complacency. When the trail became narrower and more winding, he was right behind me.


View from the Heron Trail

We continued on together before deciding on a turnaround point. On the way back, we took a brief detour on the Heron Trail, then chose a scenic spot by the river to stop for a snack. I had forgotten to bring any food, and was grateful to see Doug’s generous provisions. He had what seemed a huge number of watermelon slices, containers of black beans, and about six hard-boiled eggs covered with a spicy pepper mix. No GUs for him! The crisp watermelon was the perfect refreshment for a hot day. I declined the beans but gratefully accepted a couple of eggs—never has a hard-boiled egg tasted so good!


Doug unpacks provisions

We pushed the pace pretty hard (I thought) once we got back to the main wide, straight trail. But Doug gave me a taste of what was to come the next day when he blasted by me in the last kilometre of the trail and my tired legs could give nothing more.



Doug’s “backyard”–grazing was going on indoors and out.

Doug and I spent the hot afternoon just hangin’ out. I discovered right away that he doesn’t eat meals, but grazes more or less continuously on a simple, healthy variety of foods consisting of fresh fruits, vegetables, boiled eggs, steamed rice and fish, beans, nuts, and oatmeal. He uses no condiments or sauces of any kind other than a few spices including pepper, turmeric, and cinnamon. In his kitchen I found no trace of sugar or any sweetened food. (Doug has some health reasons for following this diet.) I was thankful I had brought a loaf of chia fruit bread, but I longed for the butter I usually slather on it.


Another kind of abstinence was a welcome relief; Doug has no internet connection. I couldn’t feed my online addictions any more than I could fulfill my chocolate cravings. I could have done editing work since I had my computer with my Word files, but I decided to take a complete break. I was reminded of cottage vacations over the years; the way the pace of life and the nature of social interactions were different without TVs, computers, or (most of the time) phones.

Of course Doug’s two TVs were welcome now as we could follow the Olympics on two channels simultaneously. We ended up glued to CBC for the whole evening track session. I was finally watching track and field, after seeing nothing of the first five days of competition other than the incredible women’s 10,000m. I had been overwhelmed with work. Now I relished watching every event: the decathlon, the hurdle sprints, the 1500m semis—but most of all, the men’s 200m semifinal.

To me the semifinal with Andre De Grasse and Usain Bolt delivered the single best moment of the Olympics. Bolt “bolted” right from the gun; he was well ahead of everyone coming off the turn. De Grasse was unimpressive. But he made what looked like an impossible come-from-behind run in the second half of the race, pulling up almost even with Bolt as Bolt eased into the line. They turned to look at each other; they grinned; it was wonderful to see the juxtaposition of these men’s speed with their relaxed confidence at the end. Here, in “the picture that tells a thousand words” was the joy of running, the generosity and camaraderie of competition, reflected in the two beaming faces.


By the mystery of serendipity, Doug had been talking about his philosophy of competition just before we watched De Grasse and Bolt run their semifinal. A few years ago Doug participated in a World Masters Championships meet in Kamloops. He described this as one of the highlights of his lifetime of running. He said that one thing he’s learned about competing is that you don’t do it only for yourself. You are also giving your best for your competitors. It may seem contradictory, this idea that you try to help your competitors. But it comes with the recognition that all of us who train so hard, who know the body’s suffering so well, who experience the euphoria and despair of competition, share an athletic intimacy that is incomprehensible to those who don’t give 100%. It is only in competition that we find the deepest reserves within ourselves.

The Rio 2016 Games were exceptional for instances of outstanding sportsmanship. In the women’s 5,000m heats, American Abbey D’Agostino and New Zealander Nikki Hamblin collided and fell to the track. D’Agostino was back on her feet first, and urged Hamblin get up and continue racing. Hamblin responded to D’Agostino’s encouragement, but it turned out that the American had suffered the more serious injuries from the fall (a torn ACL and meniscus). Her knee weakness caused her to fall again. This time Hamblin was the one entreating her competitor to finish the race, which D’Agostino bravely did, though she had to be carried off the track.

In the grueling 50K race walk, Canadian Evan Dunfee was awarded a bronze medal after the third-place finisher, Japan’s Hirooki Arai, was disqualified for bumping Dunfee not long before the finish. After the Japanese coaches appealed the decision, Arai was reinstated in third place. Dunfee took this decision with a grace and good sportsmanship that make us proud to be fellow Canadians. In one interview I heard, Dunfee said that Arai deserved the bronze. Moreover, Dunfee expressed a huge enthusiasm about his Olympic experience and the support he’d received from countless Canadians who heard what happened. He saw the publicity generated by the incident as being a boost for the sport of race walking, because it greatly increased the public’s understanding of its extreme physical demands.


When track was over for the evening it was getting close to sunset, but I wanted to hike to the summit of Mt. Thom as I’d done with Doug on a previous visit. It is 2K to the top from his place—part of the route on the road, and the rest in wooded trails. I noticed he carried a can of bear spray. He said he always carried it on walks or runs around his mountain neighbourhood—and that he’d had to use it once, when an unrestrained dog threatened a vicious attack.


Mt. Thom summit

There was quite a crowd of people at the summit! No wonder—the views of Chilliwack, the surrounding farmland, and nearby Cultus Lake were magical in the twilight.


Chilliwack area from another viewpoint


After a restless night I woke while it was still dark. I could hear muffled sounds of a TV, and realized it must be after 5:30, when the Olympic coverage (triathlon, decathlon) was due to begin. Sure enough, when I got to the living room Doug was eating oatmeal and watching the action. The 10K run of the triathlon was in its early stages.

Doug invited me to finish the still-hot porridge in the pot. It was the best I’ve ever tasted! He had mixed together oatmeal, Red River cereal, lots of ground almonds, and mashed banana. I was thankful for the leftover Starbucks coffee I had saved from the previous day since there was no hope of getting any coffee at Doug’s.

We watched the Brownlee twins, Brits Alistair and Jonny, suffer through the extreme heat of Rio at midday. What a ridiculous time to make people do a triathlon. Alistair broke away from his brother around 3K from the finish; just before the line, with a sizeable lead, he turned around and waited for Jonny to approach the line before they crossed slowly, almost together.

Now, suitably pumped with food, coffee, and inspiration, I was ready (I thought!) for our morning bike ride on the mountain. We had to squeeze it in between 6:20 and 7:20 so we wouldn’t miss any of the track coverage.


Riding with mad dogs

The sun hadn’t yet risen over the mountain peaks as we began our ride, but I could feel the heat from the previous day rising from the pavement. Doug mercifully chose to give me five minutes of downhill riding as a warmup. It wasn’t much of a warmup for the enormous hill climb that followed.

We were a few minutes into the climb. I was in my lowest gear, breathing hard, but Doug was still able to make conversation. “There used to be a mad dog living at this house coming up on the left,” he said. “I was always worried the thing was going to escape from its yard and attack me—but I haven’t seen it for about six months.”

Just then we heard menacing barking. “Maybe it’s back,” said Doug. The barking continued, though we couldn’t see the dog. We were now at the steepest part of the hill; I was struggling. The grade of the hill eased slightly as we passed the driveway of the house on the left. “Sprint past this house now!” ordered Doug, as he quickly gained several metres on me.

“I can’t!” I gasped. I was at my limit already… and the climb wasn’t over yet!

But no dog emerged. I was granted a brief respite because Doug’s chain fell off. I was able to ride slowly to the top of the hill and take a minute-long break while he fixed his bike.

The rest of the ride was a blur of pain, broken up by the ecstatic downhill stretches during which I marvelled in a limited way at the magnificent vistas offered by the mountain scenery. Mostly I had to concentrate on staying in control of my bike at top speed, or grinding it out on yet another uphill. Doug wasn’t waiting for me; he was well ahead, though still in sight. I was desperately trying to stay close while feeling nauseous from the intensity of the effort. Finally, at an intersection he waited for me, and informed me that we had just completed one of his regular hill loops. “My record is 8:47 but today I did it in 9:20. Your time was around 10:00,” he said generously.

After that ten minutes of torture we still had another huge uphill to get back to the house (I remembered, with regret, our fabulous downhill start). Once again Doug got far ahead of me. Once again I heard the barking of mad dogs. This time I could see them. The two of them were barking furiously, running along the inside of their yard’s fence as if desperate to escape and attack the cyclists invading their territory. I wished Doug was closer to me. I opened my mouth to try to yell at him, but all that came out was a pitiful squeaky sound: “DOUG…!”

We made it back safely. It was a short but intense ride. Doug was quite pleased he had got the better of me. We are both born competitors.


A couple of hours later, after our morning dose of Olympics viewing, we stood outside in the sunny driveway as I prepared to leave. The day’s heat was starting to come on, but the light wind was causing gold leaves to rain down all around us, a harbinger of the next season.

I thought about how our coach George, gone now for four years, would have been impressed by  Doug’s Spartan training camp on the mountain. George, who loved to run 400s all-out and then “eat grass” after collapsing in the infield. He would have loved that bike ride. He certainly would have approved of Doug’s super-healthy diet!

As we said goodbye, I realized anew that friendships forged during the repetition of countless hard workouts and races, where each person learns the full mettle of the other, can endure forever. Age diminishes the power of our youthful selves, but our spirits stay the same.


Doug’s driveway







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Book review: Taking the plunge into Jonathan Lee’s High Dive

Today I couldn’t resist reading Jonathan Lee’s High Dive until I’d finished every word, including the Afterword and the Acknowledgements. Seventy pages or so. Yeah, I was completely immersed in that book—didn’t take a look out the window, or a break to put my laundry in the dryer; ignored my computer, my phone, and my rumbling stomach telling me it was dinnertime.


You can see from the photo that I got this book from the library. [Aside: libraries, to me, are the most wonderful institution of civilization—and how else could I afford all the books I read and avoid getting buried in accumulated books?]

But this time it’s too bad it’s a library book. I’m going to have to buy High Dive, because I have to read it again. This time I’ll underline all the phrases and sentences that delighted me—blew me away—made me think, “Jonathan Lee is a genius writer.”

I have this compulsion to write book reviews (see below), but no time. Yet High Dive deserves a book review. Maybe a mini-review will do? Here goes:

What’s it about?

An IRA attempt to assassinate British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher while she’s in a hotel at a convention in Brighton. The book is based on the actual 1984 event, but the three main characters—the explosives expert, the hotel manager, and his daughter, are fictional creations.

Why should you read it?

  • It’s a damn good story, suspenseful, shifting point-of-views. It has a heroic act at the end, though the hero—(cut—no spoilers).
  • The characters seem real—complicated, confused, messed-up yet lovable. Lee shows immense psychological insight.
  • It’s thought-provoking. There are no easy answers about the morality of IRA violence and its causes.
  • Read it, above all, for Jonathan Lee’s genius-level writing. When I mark up my own copy I’ll be able to add ten or a hundred of my favourite sentences to this review. But most can only be fully appreciated in context.

Here’s just one taste—a description of a thoroughly unlikeable Security man.

Peterson’s smile was pure hygiene, the expression of a guy about to floss. The teeth were big. The mouth couldn’t quite hold them. It was a miracle the lips didn’t bleed. There was saliva pooling on his gums and shining on his bottom lip and when he closed his mouth to swallow there was a faint, squeaky sucking sound, like a cloth being used to polish cutlery. (p. 285)

What’s a fun way to find out more about High Dive and Jonathan Lee?

Listen to the peerless Eleanor Wachtel interview Lee on the Writers & Company podcast here.



My book reviews

In my dream world, a world where I miraculously have no need to make money, I would write a book review of every worthy book I read. I love the idea of having a book blog so interactive it’s like an old-fashioned literary salon, but online. I would so enjoy hearing other people’s reactions to books that I think are wonderful, or controversial, or puzzling. The analysis of books is one window into another person’s mind.

In the real world, I seldom have time to write book reviews. Yet still—I have this compulsive longing to write them. Why?

  • It’s because I admire—worship—writers who have the talent to put words together in ways that are clever, or unexpected, or right on. Whose words make music in my head or when I read them out loud.
  • It’s my desire to stay in the book’s imaginary world, with its characters that I’ve come to feel I know intimately.
  • It’s my desire to remember—and hold on to—what I have learned or felt. The discoveries given to me by a great book seem so significant. But despite what I vow to myself while reading, how do I hold on to that book’s impact? How do I make the cliché “It will change your life!” come true?


Quote from:

High Dive. © 2015 by Jonathan Lee. Alfred A. Knopf: New York

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Summer Nostalgia I: Lost Summers

Two or three weeks ago Vancouver was still in the midst of a “non-summer.” There had been very few warm and sunny days. Sasamat Lake was still cold. I felt uneasy, almost as though I was in mourning for everything that summer meant to me. This year it was passing me by.

On July 15 I went for a hard bike ride that took me 2K uphill to Mundy Park and my old Coquitlam neighbourhood. For the first time in years, I rode to Blue Mountain Park, a place I visited many times with my son Abebe when he was a toddler—over 20 years ago!


Blue Mountain Park: Abebe used to love playing around this waterfall.

I also rode a few laps on the 400m gravel track across the street from Blue Mountain Park. When I lived up in Coquitlam, I often injected some speed into my bike rides with 20 or 30 laps on that track. I loved the view to the southeast of far-off Mt. Baker.


The track at Como Lake Middle School. Too stormy a day to see Mt. Baker.

That ride gave me a good workout. It was also a bit of an adventure, especially when a storm seemed imminent just at the place where I was farthest from home. But the ride didn’t feel like a summer ride. It was a trip back in time, bringing back memories that left me aware of what I have lost.

That day I wrote in my journal:

Lately I’ve been feeling nostalgic for past summers.

This year summer is not right. I’m still wearing jeans and light jackets. I’ve hardly been swimming in the lake, and the icy water is not a relief. My hip is injured—I’m unable to run, so maybe I won’t get to do my Sasamat Lake mini-triathlon this year. Also, though I’m happy to have lots of editing work, it means my hours of idleness have to be carefully stolen.

Nostalgia is perfectly described by the adjective “bittersweet”—because you remember good things, but feel a stab of pain at the realization that they are irrevocably in the past.

For me, summer memories are the strongest. They exert a kind of magic that keeps a part of me unchanged through all the years of childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Oh, those sense-laden memories! Toronto… The all-over sheen of sweat after a few minutes of morning running, the softness of nighttime summer air, and in between the relentless heat, the welcome relief of the air-conditioned library or movie theatre, dozing during the torpid afternoons while cicadas droned… Vancouver…the shocking relief of plunging into cold lake water, watching splendid sunsets from my balcony as the cooling air soothed my nearly-naked body.

So many summer memories are about family. My happiest family memories are of summer vacations spent at a cottage we rented near Parry Sound. Then, a generation later, my sister-in-law Pam introduced all of us to her family’s rented cottages near Minden, and my brothers and I went there with our kids and spouses and Pam’s childhood friends’ families. These cottage experiences weren’t so very different from my childhood ones: the main activities always centred around the lake: swimming, canoeing, diving off the raft; windsurfing and sailing for the more sophisticated. But also: blueberry pancakes, morning coffee laced with Bailey’s (adult pleasures!), board games, cribbage, card games, barbecues, campfires, badminton. Bike rides and runs knowing the lake was waiting at the finish line. No TV. No computers. Lazy strolls in the afternoon to the little convenience store for candy or ice cream.


Minden cottage circa 2002: Abebe dives off the raft.


Abebe and girlfriend Chihiro on the same raft, 2011.
















All of these happy cottage memories revolve around families. That got me reflecting about one of my life’s failures—the ending of my marriage about seven years ago. At the same time, my son Abebe left to go to university in Japan. He has stayed there to work and live with his girlfriend, and visits only once every year or two.

This year I noticed that many of my close friends, relatives, and Facebook acquaintances were celebrating long-term marriage anniversaries. Some of them were eloquent and moving in their public tributes to their spouses of 20, 25, or 30 years. I’m filled with admiration for them. They have made it through the many challenges of marriage and parenthood and are now proud of their children, who are launching into their own adult relationships and careers.

These couples have something I don’t have and will never have. They have a shared history of triumphs, struggles, emotional highs and lows, major achievements and milestones, many of which will live on in their children’s (and potentially grandchildren’s) stories too.

I can’t pass on to my son an extensive family network like the one that my parents created for me and my brothers through their long-term marriage.

If my tone sounds sad here, it is in keeping with my mood during those “non-summer” weeks. Sad, yes, but not bitter. I seldom feel any anger or hurt about my marriage breakdown now; I’m on good terms with my ex-husband, who will always be the father of my son.

Moreover, I’ve been in a happy relationship with my partner Keith for almost seven years. Keith has supported me unconditionally through some hard times; we’ve shared the excitement of starting “creative” careers, and he’s shown me that life after running can still be fun!

But Keith, divorced after a 20-year marriage, has no children so we won’t have a future with a blended family.

I don’t want to glorify marriage and family life either; some couples stay together when they shouldn’t, and not all family gatherings are happy ones. The truth is that I’m a person who thrives on being solitary much of the time, and so was my ex-husband. That’s probably part of the reason we didn’t realize until it was too late how shallow our marriage had become. We took independence too far, and didn’t work on strengthening and adding to the bonds that held us together.


My next post will be a more positive one—because a couple of weeks ago summer finally arrived in Vancouver. I realized that in spite of all the changes in my life, I’ll always be a summer girl. I’ll never lose my capacity to savour summer’s delights.


Boshkung Lake 2011: Sarah, Alan, Abebe, Margo




Posted in Personal stories, Relationships, Seasons | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Spiritual peace: December 2015

Why am I posting this article now?

There was a week in early December when I experienced a rare inner peace. I was bursting to write about it, but the season’s general busyness prevented it.

There was no big change in my life that week in December; no move, no new job, no new relationship or break-up. No, sometimes there can be turning points that aren’t triggered by such obvious “real” events. Such turning points might be invisible to others, but we sense them happening through intuition and inner conviction.

A series of coincidences made me sense that I was growing and learning in a spiritual way. You might believe in God or you might not (more on that below), and each of us has to decide whether certain coincidences are meaningful.

The coincidences I mention had to do with conversations I had, and articles I read, that all had a common theme: they were about spirit. They gave me the conviction that peace comes from feeling one’s own spirit; accepting and loving this spirit at the deepest level; and also being able to recognize, accept, and love the spirit in others when they reveal it to us. Much of what I heard and read mentioned two words: awareness and gratitude. Without awareness—which comes from being open-minded and paying full attention—we can’t feel our own spirit or others’ spirits. Awareness—of others’ spirits, and also of the overflowing beauty of the world—can’t help but lead to gratitude, I believe.

Coincidence? Five “spiritual” experiences in one week

In a one-week period I was influenced by five conversations or articles that my mind insisted on connecting. Of course, as human beings we are designed, psychologically, to construct meaning out of the vast chaos of events, people, and other stimuli around us.

I also found meaning in the way these five examples were framed, in time, by two extremely personal conversations (with two different people). Both of them were about the other person’s strong Christian faith. The first conversation took place in October with a close friend of many years. He talked about how the Holy Spirit had intervened in his life at several critical times, and some of the things that happened would qualify as “miracles” by almost anyone’s standards. I don’t have space here for an extended article about whether God exists or not. The important thing is that my friend convinced me of the reality of his faith—his belief that the Holy Spirit is always with him. I can’t say that his conviction caused me to immediately feel the reality of the Holy Spirit myself. But what did happen was that after visiting my friend, I felt a deep peace that I believe was the foundation for what I felt in December.

My other conversation happened in January, with someone who is decades younger than I am. We unexpectedly got into a “deep” conversation.It’s wonderful when people who don’t know each other well make this “leap” into revealing themselves. This friend also talked about his Christian faith, and how his family’s finding Christianity had saved his parents’ marriage, shaped his life’s direction, and enabled him to help friends with drug and relationship problems.

One thing I thought significant about both these conversations is that my friends and I did not judge each other for having different points of view or being unable to fully comprehend the other person’s point of view. We were attentive, open to learning, not only respectful of the other person but grateful for the personal thoughts and vulnerability that were revealed.

So it is within the “framing” context of these two conversations that I will describe the encounters and reading that affected me that crucial week in December.

  1. Practicing mindfulness while running

One evening while I was working at the Running room, I had the privilege of hearing David Westorp give an unusual clinic talk. Most clinic topics are about the practical basics of running, such as nutrition, clothing, and the building blocks of a training program. However, this talk was meant to give new runners a glimpse into how their mental state can affect the physical act of running. To me it was valuable because its essential ideas about how body, mind, and spirit work together can be applied to any endeavor.

I was also struck by Westorp’s definition of spirit:

“A force that gives the body life, energy, and power.”

I’ve shared a version of the diagram he showed us below. The centre area, where the three components of body, mind, and spirit overlap, can be understood as a zone of awareness that encompasses all three components of our being.

interaction of spirit, body, and mind

I think the diagram is also meant to show that all three parts can work to strengthen and support each other.

We run at our full potential not only through physical talent and hard training. We also use our minds—meaning rational thought—to plan scientifically-based training programs and race strategies. But the more elusive contribution of the spirit elevates our running to the highest level. I would explain it this way: the spirit is the force behind motivation, whether conscious or subconscious, and it is also the source of a joy that can be expressed physically.

Another key idea I gained from this talk about mindfulness has to do with how our ongoing thoughts lead ultimately to our destiny, through this chain:


2. Kierkegaard and Camus on being busy

One of my favourite websites, Brainpickings, by Maria Popova ( ) had an article quoting Albert Camus which I read around the same day as I heard the clinic talk at the Running Room.

Popova prefaced Camus’ words by saying he was “echoing Kierkegaard’s unforgettable admonition — ‘Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy.’’”

Here is Camus:

Life is short, and it is sinful to waste one’s time. They say I’m active. But being active is still wasting one’s time if in doing one loses oneself…  Eternity is there and I was hoping for it. What I wish for now is no longer happiness but simply awareness.

I understood Camus and the Running Room speaker to be saying the same thing: eternity is found in the moment, and through being fully aware in that moment.

I began reading Camus in high school, with L’Étranger in French class, but I guess I didn’t read him enough—I didn’t realize how much he loved life until I read Popova’s article (read it here).

3. Connecting with an old friend over decades and thousands of miles

That same week in December, I got an email from a friend from my teenage years, who now lives far away. He had initially contacted me a couple of years ago after finding my blog on the Internet, but I hadn’t heard from him for about a year. Something I had written in one of my most personal blog articles provoked him to write to me, expressing concern and giving me some wise advice.

That led to an exchange of a couple more messages. It’s a curious thing to encounter someone decades after you were close to them, to recognize that person is still the same in many ways—essence?—spirit? Moreover, you can see your “old self” reflected in the way they write to you and about you. I found it miraculous in a sense to know that I could still communicate with my friend across such a vast swathe of time and distance. There was great comfort in recognizing the permanence of our spirits.

4. Connecting with a stranger

Another kind of miracle takes place when you have an unexpectedly profound encounter with a stranger. At a Christmas party for an editors’ association that I belong to, I got into conversation with the husband of one of the editors. What immediately struck me about him was that he gave off an aura of peace, of being “at home” even though he was at his partner’s social event and didn’t know anyone there.

We talked a little bit about running. When I asked him what his profession was, he named a word I can’t remember, but it was something to do with yoga. He soon mentioned the poet Rumi, and that name was familiar to me though I don’t know if I’ve ever read anything by Rumi. He then launched into a long and personal story about his multi-year inner journey into a spiritual kind of yoga. The last part of the story was about his trip to Rumi’s mosque in a large Turkish city. He had cycled from Munich to Turkey; this was how he spent several months last summer. He spoke about Rumi’s writings, and about this mosque and the thousands of pilgrims who visit and pray there.

He spoke in a soft, peaceful, reverential way. I don’t know if he speaks like this, or about this, with everyone he meets, or if he just judged that I was open to hearing it. Does he have a mission to share what he’s learned? I am open to hearing about others’ spiritual experiences and beliefs. I had the same sense of awe in October when my friend spoke about the miraculous coincidences that have happened to him during his life.

I can tell when someone is sincere; I respect their experiences and beliefs. That doesn’t mean I think that they have all the answers for me. Each person has to find their own way—but I am open to receiving ideas and clues.

5. The writer’s spirit

A final contribution to my thoughts about the spirit that week came from an article I found completely by chance while browsing on Facebook. The article, published on the website WriterUnBoxed, is by writing instructor Donald Maass (read it here).

Maass says that what makes readers love a book or story, what draws them in, is the writer’s spirit. As he says, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how a writer transmits his or her spirit. It doesn’t have to be in the characters, the plot, or the setting, even though these are essential to a good story. According to Maass, the critical thing is that somehow the writer offers the reader hope—(the subject matter is irrelevant)—and this may be subtle. Here are Maass’s words:

Heart is a quality inherent not in a manuscript but in its author.  It is not a skill but a spirit.  Spirit may seem mystical but it’s not an accident.  It can be cultivated and practiced.  Every writing day it can seep into the story choices you make.  The spirit you bring is the spirit we’ll feel as we read, and of all the feelings you can excite in your readers the most gripping and beautiful is the spirit of hope.


As I pondered all the experiences of that week in December, I felt a deep peace, and I had more confidence than usual that it wasn’t just an illusion that would evaporate. I wrote:

I feel the spirit. I feel my own spirit. It is a peaceful feeling. It is acceptance. Self-acceptance? It is also related to the increased appreciation and recognition I have for the goodness in others. Maybe I am becoming more aware of their spirits, too.


Has my inner peace from December stayed with me? Well, yes and no. But that’s fodder for other posts.






Posted in Personal stories, Psychology, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Getting older: Crunch time

At first I was going to call this post “Getting Old,” but that was too blunt. I couldn’t accept it.

Soon I will have another birthday and it will be #57. I’m sure that for a long time, I would have said, “A 50-year-old is an old person”—now, of course, I know that isn’t true!

Yet people around my age are dying. Prince. David Bowie. Friends my age are getting treatment for cancer.

Friends just a few years older than me are retiring; they have had busy, lucrative professional careers and will now travel, down-size, and have more time for exercise and creative hobbies. In contrast, I extended youth in a sense by making competitive running my main career focus until an ACL tear in 2009 completely ended serious running for me. Instead of retiring, I went back to school as a 49-year-old. Learning, for me, was not just about acquiring new writing, editing, and design skills; it was about learning to interact with other adults in “normal” business environments (The Vancouver Board of Trade, the Running Room store), in ways that being an elite runner or a one-on-one English tutor had not required.

So my ACL tear in 2009 catapulted me from an artificially extended youth smack into a more “normal” middle age.

Now, only seven years later, I’m starting to acknowledge that I, too (if I’m lucky!) will be old. I know this because a few weeks ago I noticed that I have white (not gray) eyebrow hairs. I’m used to my thick, dark eyebrows—I’m not ready for white!

On a more serious note, though, one of the most difficult reminders of old age for me to witness has been my partner Keith’s suffering from hip pain over the past year and a half. He thought it was only a muscular problem or an inflammation of the bursa, but this week he found out he has advanced arthritis and will likely need to get a hip replacement. It has been heartbreaking to see him have to stop hiking and even cycling except on the easiest, flattest routes. However, he has a fighting attitude (more on that below) and we are both confident that he will be back cycling with me!

Facing old age: physical appearance and performance

This part could be summarized as “getting old sucks,” and some of my readers might want to skip it. The brave can read on.

The ultimate human tragedy is dying, and the process of aging is a tragic trajectory towards that point.

(I know not everyone would agree. Many believe in an afterlife: they may believe the ultimate human tragedy is not having such a belief; in the Christian tradition, not believing Jesus Christ is one’s personal saviour. Or, one could make a case that the ultimate human tragedy is living without loving.)

Our bodies display our biological nature whether we want to acknowledge it or not. Whatever we believe about the finality of death and our spiritual life now and hereafter, our bodies are part of the “Circle of Life,” as The Lion King puts it.

That inevitable march of our bodies towards death can be seen as tragic and ugly—certainly from an artistic point of view. Many bodies, in youth, are fit for the adoration of the sculptor, the painter, the photographer. The artist tries to capture the nobility of the human form, with its beautiful lines, muscles, and curves, its power and gracefulness. We watch athletes in their prime with admiration as they display the ultimate capabilities of the human animal: its awesome strength, speed, power, and agility.

But no matter how beautiful and impressive a body is, if it survives to old age it will change drastically. Old bodies: lumpy, misshapen, corpulent or shriveled, wrinkled, hairless in some places and too hairy in others, shuffling, limping, sometimes valiant in their efforts but never able to recapture the effortless beauty of youth. Our youth-worshipping culture encourages us to fight the physical changes of aging with cosmetics, surgery, diet, and exercise, but ultimately it’s a losing battle.

I remember reading a story a long time ago—it might have even been a novel—I think it was by Aldous Huxley. The gist of the story was that humans had figured out how to put the effects of aging on hold for about 50 years, so that everyone looked 30 until they were 80, and then within the space of a few days they suddenly looked and moved liked 80-year-olds. Shortly before that happened, the authorities rounded them up and euthanized them. But in this story, a couple of these people had escaped their “holding pen” before euthanization. They were still quite spry and capable of walking around. They tried to hide and find a way to exist “in the wild,” but they needed help from other people. The “young” ones they appealed to for help were appalled by their appearance.

That’s all I remember of that book, but it’s stuck in my memory for decades, that picture of how old age had become abnormalized.

Fighting back

Old age is both a tragedy and a comedy. The only way to cope with it is to see the comedy in it. You can’t hide from the limitations, the embarrassments, and the heartbreaks of old age, so you can only try to diminish its power by laughing at it. You share that laughter with others who are old enough to understand (no one else cares).

We fight against the inevitable with laughter, but we also fight with a positive attitude. Our hopes for ourselves and what we can accomplish become smaller, but we always have to stretch what is possible. That is why athletic pursuits are so empowering for older people, as long as we don’t judge ourselves in comparison to our youthful exploits.

A big part of a positive attitude is being thankful for everything you can do. I’m thankful every day for my good health. I still have times when I feel 100% (as long as I have coffee!). I can be swimming or running and feel graceful, powerful, and fast. Of course I’m nowhere near as speedy as I used to be, and a video would immediately show me I’m delusional about being graceful, but it doesn’t matter if I feel good. On the best days, everything is functioning harmoniously and my lungs feel pure and deep.

On the other hand, sometimes things go wrong in my athletic endeavors to remind me of how decrepit I’ve become. That happened this week.

Fat thigh

What could I possibly know about fat thighs? And why the singular “thigh”?

It happened this way. Monday was a holiday. Usually I love getting out on my bike early on holidays, because there are few cars on the roads. But it was drizzling, and I decided I’d go and do the Coquitlam Crunch. It’s not my favourite workout, but I hadn’t done it for a year and I had a sudden yearning to be high up there, looking out over Coquitlam on a day when the stairs and trail wouldn’t be busy.

My plan was to run up and walk down (to save my knee, which hurts badly going downhill). Twice, if possible. All went according to plan. As I expected, the stairs up were very tough.


Steps on the Coquitlam Crunch

The circulation in my left leg isn’t perfect (I had a bypass done 25 years ago), so I felt cramping and pain in that leg on the stairs, but the leg recovered gradually as I continued to run up slowly after completing the 437 steps. I did an easy walk down, then told myself I would push even harder on the second run up. I expected to be faster since I was now well warmed up.

However, my leg still hadn’t recovered from its cramping, and the muscles were even worse the second time up—but once again, they recovered. This time, I pushed right to my limit on the last 500m of the climb, and I was pleased to be almost a minute faster! Going back down, I cheated a bit and mixed walking with a little jogging on the flatter sections.


At the top of the Coquitlam Crunch

It had stopped raining. Feeling ambitious, I refueled with a second breakfast and rode up to Sasamat Lake. I was surprised that my legs felt only a little fatigued, and were able to handle the hill climb without any problem.

The next morning, I woke up with extremely sore muscles around my hip joints. That always happens after I do the Crunch, so I wasn’t worried.

I decided that after the previous day’s intense activity, I would just do an easy gym workout. I was due for some good stretching time after my easy cardio and upper body weights. I noticed that a chronic tightness in my left inner thigh muscle (which had been noticeable for several months, but only when I did certain stretches) was much worse than it had ever been. I did various stretches in an attempt to loosen it up, and that seemed to help a little, but I got a few worrisome twinges of pain.

A couple of hours after going to the gym, I noticed that sitting down was painful. I examined my leg and was horrified to see a huge swelling on the inside of my upper thigh. I had never had a fat thigh before!—and this one hurt!

I sat with a frozen gel pack on my leg for a while, but that didn’t help. Late in the afternoon I decided to see if I could ride my bike. The weather was supposed to be good the following day, and I wanted to be able to go out for a long ride.

As I suspected, sitting on my bicycle seat was pretty uncomfortable. I did a short ride to Rocky Point, standing up to minimize the pain as I went over the bumps on the bike path. It was warm and very humid; it looked and felt as though it was going to pour. As usually happens when I can’t ride or run, I loved being outside and wanted to be able to ride more than anything.

However, I resigned myself to the possibility that I would be swimming the next day. And, being a hypochondriac (could this be a hematoma?), I would try to make an appointment with my GP.

On Wednesday morning, though, my “lump” was significantly less painful (though it was starting to turn blue). The sunshine was so welcome after days of clouds and rain—I didn’t want to resist it! I decided I would try a ride to the lake to “test” my muscle. I could stand up on all the steep hills to avoid pressure against my upper thigh.

As it turned out, I had a wonderful ride. I was all the more grateful to be outside on that sunny day because I had feared it wouldn’t be possible. From the north beach, I rode into the trail and went to The Rock. I sat in the sun, took a few photos, and listened to the gentle lapping of the waves against the shore and the rocks, feeling very peaceful.


Looking towards the west shore of Sasamat Lake from The Rock


Later that day, my GP confirmed that I just had microtears in my muscle—nothing serious; I just needed RICE.

I felt about 80 years old as I walked around with sore hip muscles, a sore inner thigh, and an extremely tender left quadricep—but I didn’t care. I’ll always try to push the envelope.



Posted in Commentary, Injuries and Getting Older, Personal stories | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Little pieces: why write vignettes?

What is a vignette?

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary (2nd. ed.) says:

vignette 1a a brief descriptive account, anecdote, essay, or character sketch.

At times I’ve questioned whether or not I should publish a piece of writing on my blog. I’ve wondered if the stories I have to tell are too trivial, too self-centred, too lacking in meaning for anyone but myself. After all, I’m no longer an elite runner with exciting reports about international competitions.

But as I thought about it, I decided there are many reasons to write vignettes on my blog. I came up with the following:

  1. Blogs are a perfect medium for vignettes. Blog posts are supposed to be brief. (I know, I fail.) Blog posts are immediate and (often) personal, tied to the moment, the circumstances, the season, what’s in the news.
  1. Is there any reason to be ashamed of the “smallness” of what I write about? No—I say it’s good that I can be satisfied with small pleasures and events because they are what I have. I can’t afford to travel. I can’t afford to attend expensive cultural events or concerts regularly. I don’t have a job with earth-shattering consequences and responsibilities. Moreover, in smallness, one can dig deeper. Apparently mundane events, places, and people can grow in complexity in two ways; first, by using a metaphorical microscope to examine them more deeply—there are almost always more layers of significance and detail. Secondly, complexity sometimes reveals itself by accident: someone walks into the running store when I’m working, and a real conversation develops; a potentially perfect photo is revealed to my ready camera; a new song instantly elevates my mood; I learn something new from a movie, a video, or a TED talk that I happen to stumble across. Temporarily, I escape from the smallness of myself and my ego-centred existence in the world. These “accidental” deepenings require only the ability to be receptive, to recognize and welcome them when they come.
  2. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the sense of life’s abundance. Other times I forget. Vignettes try to capture a tiny fraction of those riches, to suggest the abundance that is still untold.
  3. Storytelling can occur in a single paragraph or in a novel of over a thousand pages. It can be simple. Something happens to me or to someone I know, and for some reason I care. Personal stories are powerful if writers reveal themselves in a way that makes others care.
  1. Vignettes are a weapon in the battle against the most common excuse for not writing: “I don’t have enough time!”
  2. And after all—writers are compelled to write.

A good example of a vignette blog (not this one!)

Since I don’t have a new vignette to include here, I wanted to recommend a wonderful example from the blog of a fellow writer who was a classmate of mine in the Print Futures writing program at Douglas College several years ago. Jennifer Markham has mastered the art of writing extremely brief blog posts. Her vignettes are, above all, funny. She exploits her own flaws for comedy, but she also makes me care about her because she is observant, spunky, and unashamed of who she is.  Jenn’s blog, unlike mine, takes almost no time to read. Try her Mother’s Day post for a taste of the vignette world.


Little pieces of my daily life from the past month

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Beauty Behind the Madness: high in the fog

February 2016

I was pumped from the gym. I’d done my whole workout while listening to a new album I’d just downloaded from iTunes: The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind the Madness. The Weeknd is Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, a Canadian-born singer-songwriter of Ethiopian background.

I had downloaded the album because I’d heard a few of the hits from it on hit radio stations, especially “The Hills” and “I Can’t Feel My Face.” Like millions, I’d been seduced by the sweet hypnotic power of Tesfaye’s voice and its juxtaposition with his crude language and stories of dysfunction and addiction.

But that morning while I worked out I listened to “Shameless” for the first time, then again…and again.

I walked out of the rec centre, across the empty soccer field, and down the path to the end of Burrard Inlet. Normally I never listen to music while I’m walking or running outside, preferring to hear the sounds of the natural world. But on this day I wore my iPod, and I started playing “Shameless” just as I reached the place where, usually, the view of the Inlet opens up before me.

That day, the Inlet was still shrouded in a heavy fog.

Instantly I was pierced with intense pleasure. It was the music combined with the eerie, sparse beauty of that foggy place. I was isolated in a surreal world where the music covered all the normal urban sounds, including the heavy traffic from the road nearby. Even the usual honking of geese was silenced. The fog obliterated all of the urban landscape—the nearby road, townhomes, and condo towers. I was alone in a stark gray world reduced to sky and water. Only close objects were visible: ducks and geese near the shore, the trees and bushes with their bare winter branches, and the path with its boardwalk and bridges.

I was elevated to another state of consciousness and suspended there while the song held me in its hypnotic, ecstatic grip.

I don’t wanna hurt you but you live for the pain

I’m not tryin’ to say it but it’s what you became

You want me to fix you but it’s never enough

That’s why you always call me cuz you’re scared to be loved…

I’ll always be there for you…I’ll always be there for you…I’ll always be there for you girl I have no shame…

My every sense awash in pleasure, my mind alert yet dreamlike free to wander wherever it would. My thoughts led by the song’s words but also by its hypnotic rhythm.

The pain of loving someone who hurts you.

The pain of loving someone who doesn’t love you back.

The pain of loving someone you’re not allowed to love.

You wanna be good but you couldn’t keep your composure

You wanna be good but you’re beggin’ me to come over…come over…

Oh, I was lost in the irresistible, dark beauty of minor keys. Minor keys—in music and people—a beauty that makes our most primitive strings vibrate.


A less-foggy November day at the Inlet


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Riding into the hail: another little cycling tale

Last Tuesday was my final day to spend time with my parents in Toronto. I was eager to get out for a bike ride before sitting for five hours on the flight back to Vancouver. Last year my brothers had forced my father to “retire” his 35-year-old Raleigh and accept the gift of a new bike. He had protested, but ended up being happy because the new bike made it possible for his 85-year-old legs to climb hills again!

Now I wanted to find out just how fast the new bike could go—and I would wear my Garmin to record.


At 6:30 in the morning, it looked like it would be a good day for riding.

The dawn that morning had been clear but cold. At noon, when I was ready to start my ride, the sun was bright but it was also windy with lots of clouds moving overhead.

I began my ride from my parents’ apartment building near Don Mills and Lawrence. Finding my way to the paths of Edwards Gardens and Sunnybrook Park without taking any main roads was a bit of an adventure. Going through a maze of residential and industrial streets,  I took “the long way” to Edwards Gardens, my progress slowed by an aggressive cold  wind from the north.

As I rode into Edwards Gardens, the sky looked ominous. It had clouded over completely. I was well-protected with several layers of clothing including a waterproof jacket, but I had forgotten to bring warm gloves and was wearing thin cycling gloves that left my fingers exposed.

Down in the paths of Edwards Gardens and Wilket Creek, I looked at the steep ravines rising sharply on either side of me. Toronto’s ravines, formed by branches of the large Don and Humber rivers that flow into Lake Ontario, are a characteristic feature of the city. They bring back  many memories. As a kid and a teenager, I always had hidden wooded places to play, wander, and tryst.

When I started running as a 16-year-old with my high school cross-country team, the narrow rutted trails along the Don River system were our main training grounds. “Our” trails were just part of the extensive running and cycling network that makes Toronto a green and wonderful place for runners—that is, for seven or eight months of the year. Now, the ravines looked naked, stark, all their secrets revealed by the skeleton trees. I could see the sheer eroded cliffs on the west side of the creek. I wanted to stop and take photos of those dramatic cliffs, but my hands were too cold. If I stopped riding, my whole body would freeze.

I continued south into Taylor Creek Park. I was flying on the bike, the wind pushing me. Suddenly, enclosed within that vast panorama of park and darkened sky, I was seized by the ecstasy of speed as the path unwound effortlessly before me.

Why have I been riding a mountain bike all these years? I have to get a road bike again—I love this lightness and speed!

But the sky looked evil; the wind was becoming stronger and colder. Hail began to fall, lightly at first. My fingers were frozen now. Reluctantly, I decided I had to turn back. I couldn’t get too far away from my parents’ apartment, not when I was inadequately dressed. At least I had my cellphone with me.

When I turned back north into the wind I became aware of its full force. Now I would get a workout! I kept my head down to reduce the stinging of the hail against my face. After a few minutes the hail turned into heavier driving snowflakes.

All I could think of was that I had to get home as quickly as possible because my fingers and toes were frozen and the rest of my body was barely warm enough. I would take the most direct route by riding north along Leslie Street, a busy and hilly main road. I exited Sunnybrook Park just north of Eglinton Ave. and began the perilous ride on the road, with cars whizzing by me. My light bike and light body were buffeted by the wind which seemed to come not only directly against me, from the north, but from the side as well, making me feel unstable. I was worried about losing control of my bike in the traffic, so I moved onto the sidewalk.

At one point, as I rode  downhill, I had to shift to an easier gear because the wind against me was so strong. But my legs were strong too. I was thankful for the many tough climbs I’d done recently back home, on hills that made Toronto’s undulations laughably small.

As I pushed against the relentless wind, I remembered riding along the same street as a teenager, before I became a runner. The hills had seemed so hard then, and a 20 km ride was an epic feat of endurance. Of course, I only had a basic 3-speed bike then, but still—I realized how  becoming a competitive runner has shaped my whole perspective since then. At 15,  I could never have imagined what my body was capable of doing, not only as a teenager but as a 56-year-old!

Luckily, I only had to ride a little over a kilometre on Leslie Street before I could escape to some small residential roads.

Then, suddenly, the storm was over! The sun came out. I recognized a long level bike path my dad had taken me riding on before. Finally I had a chance to test the speed of the bike! I was inhibited somewhat because there were other people using the bike path—walkers, joggers, and other cyclists. At one point I had to be especially careful because a class of  middle school students were doing timed sprints on the path. However, I was happy I was away from cars again, and could challenge myself freely. I would look at my Garmin splits later.

After zooming back-and-forth on the 2K bike path a couple of times, I headed back to my parents’ apartment, finding my way through the residential streets more confidently than I had at the start of my ride. Getting lost is the best way to get to know an area.

By the time I reached their building, the sun was positively benevolent! It was hard to believe this was the same world I had been riding in only 20 minutes earlier. Now, I didn’t want my ride to end. I crossed the road into another residential neighbourhood with its wide, curving, empty crescents and cul-de-sacs; a typical Don Mills neighbourhood where the streets followed the topography of the ravines and many homes backed onto the suburban semi-wilderness.

This was a good way to end my Toronto visit—cruising in the warm sunshine that had finally thawed my fingers and toes. My ride had reminded me of the early springs of my childhood, the Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde nature of Toronto in March and April: Icy winds, snowstorms, but longer days…  The deceptive thaws and deliciously mild days when I could suddenly run in shorts…  The smells released by the melting snow—earthiness, but also the winter’s accumulation of dog deposits…  The delightful scents of flowers and freshly mown grass were still to come.

I rode back to my parents’ building and took the bike back up to their storage room. Exuberantly, I told my mom and dad about my adventure in the hailstorm. They hadn’t even been aware that the sunny day had changed for a while.

I had only an hour or two left to have lunch and chat with my parents. I hoped I could bring some of the day’s freshness, energy, and sunlight in to them. My mother has COPD and is always on oxygen. It has been a long time since she could ride a bike. My father will be riding again when the weather is consistently warm—no fighting against bitter wind and hail for him! And he is in line for knee replacement surgery—as I, too, will probably be some day.


Another cold bike ride from my trip back East. This one was in Waterloo,                                 with my sister-in-law Sarah.


I’m sitting on my balcony as I reread this post that I almost finished writing last week. It was warm in Toronto today, but here in Vancouver it was HOT! I’ve abruptly moved into summer mode, when my favourite time of day is the post-sunset time on my balcony. I feel the gentle, cooling air on my body, listen to the building’s water fountain below me, and watch the changing colours in the sky.

This blog post is now hopelessly out-of-season.

Why do I write posts about my little bike rides, anyway? Well, that will be the subject of another post—coming soon, I hope.



Posted in Cycling, Seasons, Vignettes | 2 Comments

A lucky bike crash

I’ve had lots of luck as a cyclist. Last spring, I had my second flat ever in about 40 years of cycling (and that included years when I had running injuries and was riding a lot!).

My luck is especially astounding considering I combine the fitness and fanaticism of a “serious” cyclist with a complete lack of technical riding expertise, mechanical ability, and proper cycling clothing.

This morning, although it was raining, I hadn’t been on my bike for six days and had a strong urge to get outside. I couldn’t run, because I ran yesterday and my knee needs at least two rest days between runs.

I couldn’t face being a gym rat this morning. Besides, it was only raining lightly

I dressed warmly, with thick tights and several layers of long-sleeved technical tops beneath my waterproof jacket. Unfortunately, my tights, shoes (old beat-up running trail shoes), and gloves aren’t waterproof.

Being outside was as exhilarating as I’d hoped. Yes, it was raining lightly. Yes, there were tons of deep puddles along the bike path that comprises the first part of my ride to Sasamat Lake. But my legs felt great; I pushed hard and that, plus my well-dressed upper body, kept me warm in spite of the rain and puddle water that soon soaked my feet, legs, and butt. It was one of those days when I wanted to ride wildly, and I could—the rain seemed to have discouraged the usual crowd of runners, mothers with baby carriages, and dog walkers from being out, and I had the bike path to myself.

After 5K of riding, I started the 1.5K tough uphill climb towards the lake. My splits so far were fantastic! I attributed this to my fresh legs, riding hard to keep warm, and my spanking new tires.

My exhilaration started to dim when I reached the highest point and began my descent into the park towards the beach. This is normally the most fun part of the ride. After the gruelling climb, it’s wonderful to fly down the road, seeing the awesome views of the mountains and glimpses of the lake through the trees. But now I noticed that it was pouring. There was more water on the road than I’d ever seen before. The splashing was so plentiful I might as well have been in the lake. The waterfalls I passed were roaring with their abundance of water, so different from the moderate trickles of summer.

I couldn’t fly down the final hill to the lake; I had to worry about slipping and crashing. There would be no stopping at the beach, either, to admire the tranquil views, catch my breath, take a drink, or take photos. Because now I was COLD. From now on this would be a 20-minute survival ride home.


This is the lake in November. No stopping for photos today!

Most of the ride back is downhill, so that couldn’t help me stay warm either. Normally I love the speed of riding downhill back to Ioco Road; that is the reward for having to climb! But today I had to be very careful because of the deep puddles. My usual downhill split of about 1:30/km was 1:42 instead. My eyes were closed to slits as the heavy rain drove into my face. I had trouble changing gears for the few small uphill sections as my fingers were frozen inside my inadequate gloves.

But I made it back! Thankfully, I pressed my fob button to open the underground parking lot where my bike storage locker is located. Riding in, I immediately felt relief at the warmth inside the building.

Then, as I turned the corner towards the locker area—CRASH! Suddenly I was lying flat on my stomach on the hard concrete. PAIN. I lay still and took inventory. Left hip. Left elbow. Lie still a few more minutes. No witnesses, no one to help. Fob lying on the ground only inches from a sewer grate—without it, I couldn’t have gotten out of the parking lot, into my bike locker, or up to my apartment.

I’m OK. I can move. I’m still very cold. I get on my bike, ride the short distance to the bike locker, and proceed as normal.

Once back to my apartment, it’s wet clothes off, hot shower, and hot coffee ASAP! I’ve had my morning exercise high.

Posted in Cycling, Personal stories, Vignettes | Tagged , | 2 Comments