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November 27, 2011

Vigil as a Sacred Act

I was lucky enough to find a family doctor on Salt Spring.  I got in on the ground floor of the opening of a new medical clinic called The King's Lane Medical Clinic (which is a great place with a web site that I find completely offensive in its choice of colour and design.)

The office is actually a two-storey dormer style house where 5 G.P.s and several other visiting specialists who come to island on a regular/monthly basis offer their services.

An extremely gentle, small black dog greets you as you arrive. I think there's even a gurgling fountain in one corner at the back. The magazines are really high quality, one that I especially liked related to art in New Mexico. It was very pleasant and my G.P. was approachable, efficient, and a pretty good communicator who seemed really competent. What do I know?

Now, I know it's not fair to compare a sleepy little Gulf Island like Salt Spring Island to Surrey, the fastest growing municipality in B.C., but to put things in perspective, I have never in 50 years been to a doctor's office that looked like the one I saw 2 weeks ago when I was following up on something for my poor 93-year-old father.

First of all, it's a crime that any 93-year-old should be going to a walk in medical clinic but his doctor retired and he should have changed doctors immediately and didn't. If the waiting room at that horrible medical clinic wasn't a big wake up call, I had no idea how much worse it could get until I stepped into Emergency at Surrey Memorial Hospital. It's like a third world country there except they have the supplies and the expertise. Apparently in 2013 (way too far away), they'll have a new emergency as well which will immediately be too small again one assumes but in a more accommodating way.

My dad sat upright in a chair for 8 hours and then got transferred to a bed in the Rapid Assessment Unit which was jam packed with people and the gurneys were a foot apart. At one point I was standing between his bed and the bed that held a tiny little East Indian woman who was sitting up and wouldn't lie down. She didn't speak English. She was blind. She had dementia and her family wasn't there. It was the definition of hell.

He stayed on that gurney for 4 days before being transferred to an ad hoc Emergency overflow on the third floor staffed by Emerg nurses who had never worked up there, didn't have all the supplies, and weren't familiar with the unit. Some were able to hide their frustration and remain professional, a few weren't.

Finally, on the fifth day he was transferred to a two-person room where he has remained for 10 days now and  he is now being given palliative care.

I've watched my mother take her last breath. I've seen my father who was exceptionally healthy until he was about 92 and took a serious fall on one of his Forrest Gump walks, decline very quickly in the past month, and I was the overnight caregiver on Salt Spring for 7 months for an 84-year-old who had a stroke. So, here are a few insights, nothing momentous, just my own.

  • You've got one life. It's yours and nobody else's, even if you're married. So, do whatever your inner voice is telling you to do even if your friends or your partner or your dog think you're crazy and don't agree with you. Stop talking about it. Do something different or put your energy into fixing where you're at. Look in the mirror. It's about you, not anyone else, especially if you're not happy. Stop blaming your wife, your kids, your boss, your parents or anyone but the person staring back.
  • Real wealth exists in your breath, your physical and mental health, your wisdom, your integrity and your consciousness. All that material stuff somebody will have to clear out once you're dead, is just that: replaceable.  Friends. Family. They matter.
  • You will need an advocate when you get old if your family is nowhere to be found or, like me,  you have no children, especially daughters. A lot of people are going to need health advocates when they become incapacitated, temporarily or permanently. It's a whole new area of growth waiting to be mined but requiring individuals with the highest of integrity so as not to take advantage.
  • There is no such thing as "lots of time." But, at the same time, "Don't panic," she laughs as she is panicking.
  • If you have yet to experience a "vigil" at the bedside of a dying person, you have not experienced getting a glimpse into human fragility as a quick route to softening your heart. Unless you die instantly, you will age and become vulnerable and fragile and dependent in some way. It's a given. If you're one of those people saying, Oh god, I hope I never end up like that, you need to get a grip. Having been at the bedside of both parents who were exceedingly healthy individuals, it WILL probably happen to you too if your death isn't sudden. Seeing someone fade away and become dependent changes your approach to your present and your future. I highly recommend it as a reality check. 
  • I'm a slow learner. It has taken me way too long in this lifetime to figure out what really matters - to me - and in general. 
  • Death is a very sacred time.  I would honestly feel like I had missed out on a significant part of LIFE had I not spent any time beside my parents' bedsides and been there for them when they most needed me.

November 20, 2011

Salt Spring's Newest B&B: Thistle Dew Guest Cottage

IT'S A GIVEN. When you live in a beautiful place, people like to come and visit. And, that's a good thing. It's especially good if you happen to own a palatial mansion to put them up in. Or, come to think of it, that could actually be a bad thing because then the hoards would descend and keep on descending throughout the entire Spring, Summer and Fall. I recall meeting one islander who specifically created a guest cottage so tiny and minimalist, not to mention separate from the main house, that only two people at a time could be accommodated. Sorry, love, we're full!
When, however, you live in a small space with no extra bed, then you need to have some really reliable recommendations about where all those visitors might consider staying, unless that is, they don't mind roughing it. Got a tent?
I mentioned a lovely step back in time a couple of blog posts ago called The Cottage Resort. There's also the Wisteria Guest House. which is super comfortable with unparalleled breakfasts and lovely hosts. And,here's another: Thistle Dew Guest Cottage owned by Pauline MacDonald. If cottages could write, this one would be in the running for the Stephen Leacock Humour Award full of contentious stories to tell about what it took for it to get built. But, it's done, finally, and it's brand spanking new. Maybe when Pauline named it, she was actually thinking of the work ethic of too many pseudo carpenters on the island as in "Ack, Blimey, Sweet Jesus, This'll do!"  The name is a double entendre that I really like. Thistle Dew or This'll do?
The week I was packing up to leave the island, Pauline was generous enough to let me spend 4 nights acting as if I owned the place. It was such a wonderful thing for her to do. Pure relief descended as the chaos in my own tiny space ramped up. So, let me just say, having stayed there, I do have some "cred" when it comes to describing the experience, although, it wasn't the full on guest treatment scenario since, can you believe it, she neglected to serve me a home-baked organic breakfast, deliver a glass of Port on a tray at the end of the day, or draw my bubble bath. (I'm kidding, of course!) Just so you know, she won't draw your bubble bath either. 
As the web site says, the location is really perfect. If you like to golf, you can race the deer across the street to the fairway. It's about a 4 minute drive to a liquor store (an important criteria) and the grocery store is right in the same location although drive a bit farther and visit the liquor store on island with the best BC Wine selection and staff/owners who actually know what they're talking about at The Local.  A beach is about a 5 minute drive down Baker Road, totally walkable. The iconic and charming Fritz theater named after a now deceased cat, (just ignore the no personality owner who isn't even friendly when you buy a ticket)  is about a 10 minute walk. Heck, if someone, God forbid, should die there's even a cemetary out back.

Attention to detail is what sets Thistle Dew, and let's face it, every other quality establishment, apart.Thick duvet covers. Soft, smooth sheets. Velvety sumptuous robes and socks to match. Wood furniture with a history. Stained glass windows with leaded glass snug above the doorways between rooms. Dainty, romantic bejeweled handmade curtains. A heated floor in the bathroom and a chandelier above.  A washer/dryer. Ornamental birds perches decoratively on a window sill or a ledge. And, these interesting stairs up to the loft which are awaiting installation of a handmade  iron banister.
Pauline's soothing colour palette brings an instant sigh of relief as soon as you set foot in the little getaway which can accommodate up to six people. Yes, it can do romance. Can you? But, it's also really perfect for a girls' getaway  in the winter where even  a full-on downpour  won't prevent the ability to order in a massage, attend a yoga class, take in a concert at Art Spring or while away the day doing studio tours.If only there was a Limo on island to do the touring with the bubbles in your champagne glass being your main concern.
Above the french doors is a Georgia O'Keeffe styled skull.  
If you've been out all day, maybe you've stopped in at Bruces Kitchen to pick up a casual dinner or spent the afternoon compiling ingredients for your evening meal from the island's three wineries. Add cheese, bread, farm fresh veggies and perhaps some island lamb to take back to the small kitchen if you're keen to showcase your gourmet creativity. That last sentence is directed at a man or whichever partner doesn't normally cook. It's a getaway. She ain't going to want to cook you dinner, silly! Like she hasn't done THAT before. So be discriminating. If you've never cooked in your life, do the smart thing, if you're interested in getting what you want later in the evening, and take her (depending on budget) to Hastings House or Harbour House.
A cute and functional kitchen
I just love this chair and the mirror tucked into a corner of the downstairs bedroom
So, there. When you've packed more into a single day than you normally would in three, it's time to collapse into this bed (photo by Pauline) and have yourself a few sweet, sweet Thistle Dew Dreams. There is this queen bed in private room, a window seat that sleeps one and a pullout trundle under the window seat that sleeps one, two foam chairs that make into two single beds in the loft - and one rollaway bed in the closet that would fit - tightly - in the living room.

PS: On the off season (Oct. 15 - March 15), the nightly rate is up for some negotiation but typically runs around $115.  And, I got it all for nothin! Lucky me. 

November 13, 2011

Salt Spring is Following Me

Bill Henderson entertaining at the Salt Spring Fall Fair 2011

Yesterday was a bit of a strange day of synchronicity related to Salt Spring Island even though I've moved back to the Lower Mainland about a week ago.

It was ugly out there. Rain beating down. Typical November. I went out to get a few groceries and stopped in at a local Thrift store to see what treasures might exist within it. As I was standing there, I heard a familiar voice behind me and turned around to see a Salt Springer. What is the chance of that? I had met her while working at the CARE Employment Centre and she was a gardener who had been having difficulty with her hands and needed to transition into a different type of work. Apparently she has now trained as a Veterinary Assistant. She often comes to New West to bring her daughter to see her ex husband. I thought that was really strange to run into someone from SSI in a tiny Thrift store in New West a mere week after I'd left. I'm sure I was just staring at her strangely as she talked to me.

Then, last night, I went with Gwen to listen to the Vancouver Intercultural Orchestra putting on a performance with the Laudate Singers to honour the 10th anniversary of Orchestra's existence. The orchestra is led by Moshe Denburg, a man I met more than 10 years ago when I was writing a story for the now defunct Shared Vision magazine about the first ever Sacred Music Festival in Vancouver. At that time, I met with him in his townhouse off of Fraser Street and the Intercultural Orchestra was just a dream that was about to come to fruition and hold its first performance.

There is something so fascinating about watching musicians from different cultures playing instruments from those cultures such as India, China and the Middle East  (Dizi, Erhu, Oud, Pipa, Santur, Sitar, Tabla, Tar, Udu, Xiao, Zheng) combined with those, such as violins, the harp, penny whistle, bass clarinet.

Each composition was introduced by the composer and after one of the composers introduced his piece, Drowned Out, Gwen pointed out that he, Edward Henderson, is the brother of Bill Henderson, Chilliwack fame, and of course, Salt Spring resident and active Salt Spring Folk Music Society organizer not to mention occasional Salt Spring Fall Fair volunteer.

Edward Henderson explained how the composition was inspired after he had watched a documentary called Drowned Out, about how the Sardar Sarovar Dam System , just one of 3,600 dams in India, has dislocated about 40 million primarily tribal peoples, most of whom now live in slums at the edge of cities. He also recommended reading an article by Arundhati Roy titled, The Greater Common Good.

The piece was absolutely beautiful and that description is pretty lame I admit. It was the first time it was performed to an audience and it was enthralling, taking us on a journey as the music traveled as fluidly as the images it evoked through the notes.

So, being seated beside the partner of the Hendersons' sister, a nice man whom I'd exchanged pleasantries with as one does when seated beside a stranger at a concert,  I asked him a question. "So," I said, "where does all this talent originate from in the Henderson clan?"
"Well," he said, "they think they've traced it to a female in the family tree who was a concert violinist." And, now, I can't recall whether he said great grandmother or great aunt.

The evening's Program said that a reviewer from The Georgia Straight newspaper described The Vancouver Intercultural Orchestra  as sounding like Vancouver looks. I like that description.

It feels right to be back in an environment where cultural diversity enlivens and enriches every day.

November 10, 2011

10 Things I've Noticed Post-Salt Spring

My little munchkin movers, Lisa and Heather. Why it pays to have cute, young friends~

So, it has been almost a week since I've returned to the Lower Mainland, my stuff crammed into an Econoline  van and my Mazda filled to the fish tank brim so that I  resemble a long lost relative of the Drysdales from the Beverley Hillbillies. There goes the neighborhood. Oh right. It's New West. No biggie.

I felt like my style of move this time (this being my 15th move to date) was a cross between two movies. First up, National Lampoon's Vacation. My bed was strapped to the top of the van replacing the dead granny. It also felt a bit like Little Miss Sunshine although I wasn't suicidal there was  no grandpa or porn to be found and  I definitely wasn't rushing to make the entry deadline of a beauty pageant.

Now that I'm back, can I just say that after spending a good part of three years chopping wood for heat, setting mice and rat traps, being on guard in winter for the incessant scratching of rodents trying to get in from the cold, acting like a paranoid schizophrenic who was hallucinating spiders (except they were real) and even once having maggots from a dead and rotting rat flop from the ceiling through a crack in a pot light onto my kitchen counter, moving into a typical apartment, feels like winning the Set for Life lottery.

And yet, in spite of all that, there's still something charming about a little country cottage. It's just that now, the romantic illusion has been placed by knowing better. If I ever set foot in a cottage in the country in the future, you can be sure it's going to have only the top of the line of everything.  Still, I will never forget Marjorie's little hideaway with a history on Walker's Hook.
Let me just digress and say that I had actually forgotten about the maggot incident until some masochistic friend (who shall remain unnamed) reminded me. I'd just returned from the Lavender festival and I was leaning over my kitchen counter and I thought, very stupidly, how did all those lavender pods fall off the top of my hat. You can only imagine how big my eyes were when I realized that not only were they not purple but they were MOVING!  It definitely took a few days to get over that, not to mention the extra strength cleaning that went into wiping away the remains. Yuk!

In my first 7 days of being back, here are 10 things that I've noticed:

  1. Heather, No. 1 Munchkin Mover, in spite of her petite frame, is a rock solid, hefty strong sheroine!
  2. There are Doppelgangers everywhere. Why is my former landlady, Sharon, working at Starbucks? Why is Palu Rainbow wearing the ultra conservative navy and driving a courier van?
  3. When you return to the city of your birth, you're scanning every face thinking (and fearing), "Did I go to high school with you? 
  4. I'd forgotten how many strange people live in New West. It might just be the weirdo capital of the Lower Mainland and this is coming from someone who lived on a Gulf Island.
  5. When you move from a place that didn't have a single traffic light, you really, really have to pay attention when you're driving to the cornucopia of lights from strip malls and fire engines and street lights. It's so BRIGHT!
  6. I miss the Arbutus trees and I miss getting up in the morning, opening my curtains and doing a lingering scan of the back four acres watching as the bunnies chase each other, the deer feast and the birds peck for worms. Luckily, I still have my mind, hence my memories.
  7. I do not miss that stupid Rooster that someone needs to shoot.
  8. How am I supposed to compost my kitchen scraps?
  9. I miss not knowing anyone in the coffee shop and at the same time, I feel an amazingly huge sense of relief and freedom that I don't know ANYONE in the coffee shop. I don't like that the coffee shop is Starbucks.
  10. I have no idea what the hell I'm doing but I trust that my subconscious does as it always has.  Onward!