Wednesday 1 April 2020

A Salute to John L. (wherever you are)

Twenty years and one week ago today, I went out for dinner at an Italian place on 4th Avenue with my friend Julia, a friend of hers, and a friend of that friend — a friendly guy named John. We spent a congenial (friendly!) evening together, at the end of which John invited all of us to a party he was hosting the following Saturday. I turned to Julia and her friend, and we all said, "Sure!"

The evening of the party — April 1, 2000 — arrived, and, with it, the sad news that my two companions had to bail. So I faced an introvert's dilemma: do I attend this party, where I'll have to make small talk with strangers and will probably have a crappy time ... or do I stay home, watching reruns of Cheers and Thirtysomething?

Kerrisdale Library
My decision to go was based largely on the fact that John, the host, lived a mere half block away from me. If nausea set in the moment I arrived, I could go home, having invested no more than a few minutes. So I went, bracing myself as if for a dose of cod liver oil (something unpleasant but probably good for me).
The Constitution (aka Tormentor of Coal Harbour Rowers!)

I brought along a salad (in my memory, it's some kind of jelly salad, which, if true, is pretty funny), and I stationed myself at the food table, making dreaded small talk and keeping my hands busy with celery sticks and dip.

It wasn't long before I caught a reference to Montreal (my birthplace and early childhood home) in a nearby conversation. Spurring myself to make at least one sincere social attempt before hightailing it back to my television, I went over and said something really witty and sexy, like, "Hi, I heard you guys talking about Montreal ...."
Social Distancing Stick

Chica, the True Carnivores shop dog, trying to explain what's going on
The "guys" in this conversation included another Heather ... and a charming, dashing fellow named Paul. I suppose the three of us talked about Montreal for a bit. We definitely talked about writing and teaching. Or Paul and I did, anyway; I think the other Heather vamoosed at some point, and a random assortment of other people took her place. The conversation migrated to the kitchen, where Paul told a couple of entertaining stories in which he mentioned his last name. Eventually, I retrieved my salad bowl and went home — much later, and in a much better mood, than I'd anticipated.

In the days that followed, I found myself thinking about the charming and dashing Paul with some regularity. Knowing his last name from his stories, I looked him up in the phone book (yes! the PHONE BOOK!!) and started wondering if I should perhaps just call him up and — O, introvert's dilemma! — ask him out.
McDonald Beach

I'm pretty confident I would have done the deed. But he beat me to it. Despite my (clueless, not intentional) failure to mention my own last name the night of the party, Paul employed spectacular sleuthing skills and left a message for me at work (given those skills, it's a really good thing he's not a  creepy stalker!). We went on a date ... then another ... and another ... and now ... 

... two decades later, in this Age of Isolation, I can't think of anyone I'd rather be quarantined with.

Our window

So — John L., wherever you are ... thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for inviting me to your party.

Mt. Gardner, Bowen Island,  March 4/20

Saturday 21 March 2020

Oh, Freddie ... we're not in "Kansas" anymore.

Well, friends, it's been five long years since my last post. I'd been pondering a return to regular(ish) blogging — or at least an update — even before the Plague came to town. But recent world happenings have inspired me to dig up my password for this site (no easy feat) and re-learn how to wrap text around photos.

Ucluelet, BC, May 2015
Like most everyone these days (amazing how unifying COVID-19 has been), I have fears ... questions ... disappointments big and small (no more rowing? seriously??), and I'm sure that if WWF v.2 turns out to be more than a one-off, that stuff will creep into posts. For this entry, however, I'll try to stick mainly to that five-year recap — which will mean, essentially, scanning through my iPhoto library, cherry-picking images and experiences that will risk giving the impression of a more exciting and photogenic life than Paul, Freddie, and I actually lead!

Rooftop of our place in Kerrisdale

Did my last posts cover our move from Kitsilano to Kerrisdale? I don't think so. We're back in an owner co-op — older building, bigger & brighter unit. Kits was fun while it lasted ... though I wouldn't want to be practicing social isolation in our place there!

For about a year, my spacious new office (aka 2nd bedroom) functioned as a sewing studio, and I sewed up a storm (exhibit A: the red jacket I'm wearing here). Then I ran out of steam and tired of the big cutting table taking up so much space ... so I switched to knitting.  

Piazza San Marco, Venice
In January 2016 — to mark my big 5-0 the month before — Paul and I went to Italy (Freddie stayed with his Grandpeople at Château Burt). Rome, Florence, Venice, hiking in Tuscany ... Who knew, back then, what poor Italy would be coping with now (OK, I guess there's no keeping the coronavirus out of this post — containment has failed!).
Tuscan village

Meet Jin and Ray. They took over our small neighbourhood grocery store, West Wood Organics, shortly after we arrived in the 'hood. Their goal was to create a friendly, eco-conscious community store ... and they have succeeded (more on that in this little piece I wrote for the Kerrisdale Insider). We see them several times a week (sometimes more than once a day), and the contrast relative to shopping at, say, Save-On Foods is striking, to say the least. (These days, sadly, I'm not seeing Jin and Ray at all. Since I'm technically in the "at-risk" population, Paul has taken over all shopping duties.)

Icelandic hot spring

I'm foggy on the date (summer 2017?), but Paul and I travelled to Scandinavia to celebrate the nuptials of Mike and Christel (Freddie stayed home with Uncle Dave).

Mike is Paul's sister's partner's son (much easier to call him my nephew!). He met Christel at grad school in Winnipeg, where she was on exchange from Sweden. The ceremony was held by a lake in Iceland, with roughly equal numbers of Swedes and Canadians in attendance. Then Paul and I spent some time in Sweden and Denmark, some of it with Mike and Christel (more on them below!). The Scandinavian cycling scene inspired me to write this piece — the start of my happy relationship with Alive magazine.

Cycling around Malmö with Christel and Mike


Leah and I have been besties/sistas/hermanas for almost 40 years. 💜I'd be a rotten person without her.
A few years ago, my rowing life shifted to Deas Island Slough, where Leah's dad rowed, until he died (too young), nearly 20 years ago. It slays me that I didn't take up rowing until after he was gone. We would have had a blast sharing that enthusiasm.

But I guess I'm picking up where he left off. The DDRC gang is a BIG positive presence in my life. I miss them, and the quasi-religious rituals of rowing practice, big-time.

Me and Abby (since departed to horsey heaven 😞)
Yep, that's me on a horse. It was a longtime ambition — learning to ride. I took lessons for a year, at a few different places. I'm happy I did. And I was happy to stop. City horses, and even suburban horses, don't have great lives, I think — not compared to their ranch-y, grassland-y counterparts. I started feeling sad for the horses ... and bored by riding circles in a smallish ring ... and then there was the (almost prohibitive) cost of lessons.

The one part I do miss a little is the pre- and post-ride grooming. Once I was entrusted to do that solo, I enjoyed the quiet time communing with those impressive creatures (quite different from wrestling with an impatient labradoodle who can be secured in a headlock if necessary!).

Therapeutic mud, Plage de Babin
Winter 2019 ... While Freddie hung out at the Bowen Island Dog Ranch, and then with his beloved Uncle Dave, Paul and I travelled to Guadeloupe. Caribbean France!

A highlight of the trip was our guest row in an ocean-going quad with two very congenial members of a rowing club in Basse-Terre. I say "our" guest row because Paul got to fulfill his lifelong fantasy of coxing — at which he was, of course, a natural.

We crossed a bumpy stretch of open water (pictured below) before tucking into a peaceful mangrove ... thoroughly idyllic.

Heather's hobbies, instalment #23: classical guitar!

I've been taking lessons with Katherine, Paul's über-talented sister, for some time now. I make brutally slow progress, and it's a stretch to call most of what I play "music." But I love the feel of the instrument, the sound of the nylon strings (when I'm not producing some godawful twang) ... and, just often enough, I manage to make my way through a few measures of Easy Mozart or Baroque for Beginners that make it all worthwhile.

The used test strip container I keep on my desk

"There'll be a cure in five to ten years," said the medics when my T1D was first diagnosed.

It's been five years since my last WWF post (I'll cut them some slack and won't count the other 28 years) ... so, YAY ... it's happening really soon, right??


"Elvis," our EV (purchased last year), parked at an AirB&B cottage on Bowen Island
Skating with Sally at Christmas 💜

Our über-groovy niece lives in Toronto. She's scheduled for another visit at the end of April. Will that reunion come to pass?

Love in the time of coronavirus ....

This is Little K, daughter of Christel and Mike. She arrived in December, and Freddie was smitten. Until very recently, Paul and I were taking turns spending Wednesday afternoons with her and Christel while Mike was at work. 

Those Wednesdays are right up there with the things I miss most.

Wishing you all the best of health and hope ... 💚

Saturday 4 April 2015

One more little update ...

I'm pleased to report that Freddie is no longer "In Training" as a service dog. Since my last WWF post, he has passed all his public access tests and received official certification from the BC Ministry of Justice. Here is the card that gives him legal access to any place open to the general public (home address blotted out to ward off the paparazzi 😉) ...

 And here is the Nose That Knows, after his first set of tests ...

Good dog!

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Au revoir ... hasta la próxima!

Autumnal freshness (ie. rain) has returned. A new non-teaching term has begun. My "midlife passage" has (thanks, in part, to the Jungians) become surprisingly enjoyable/interesting. There are books to be read (and at least one to be written), trails to be hiked, wines to be tasted, friends to catch up with, canine public access tests to prepare for ... and Christmas shopping to watch Paul do. Walking With Freddie is approaching its one-year anniversary, and while there is material aplenty to photograph and comment on (picket lines, railway lines, Sunday morning line-ups outside Sophie's Cosmic Café ...), I think this is a good time to write finis, for this particular version of Heather-does-blogging.

It has been a blast (thanks, in huge part, to my faithful WWF readers). WWF2, whenever it might appear, will likely be a different breed of blog. Until then, Freddie and I wish you wonderful adventures on the high seas of life ... and if you're in our neighbourhood, please join us for a walk!

Play bows to all ... :)

Friday 22 August 2014


That letter I sent to Modo the Car Co-op two days ago? It worked! This morning I received a phone call from Nicole, the boss of customer service. She offered a sincere apology (along with a $25 credit for car time) and assured me that they would certainly make an exception to the crate policy in Freddie's case.

When I wrote my letter, I was kicking myself for failing to get the name of the snarky rep I'd spoken to, but now I'm thinking it doesn't really matter. Who knows what was going in her head/life? If all Modo's phone staff get a message informing them about service dog exceptions*, then the important goal will have been achieved.

*While it's true that many service dog handlers don't drive, I suspect there are increasing numbers who do (people with autism, PTSD, T1 diabetes ...).

 Eastern Sky at Sunset

So there we go. I'm now a Modo member.

Thursday 21 August 2014

How to Run a Successful Business

It's people skills, is it not? OK, granted I know next to nothing about the money side of running a business — or about the money side of my own life, for that matter — but I'd still bet big bucks that the ability to interact with people in a positive, respectful manner and to manage conflicts effectively is at least as important as balancing the books, knowing your stuff, and delivering a quality product. I wouldn't be shocked if people skills trump those other things, but I'll leave it to the bonafide entrepreneurs to weigh in on that topic.

And what, you might ask, brings me to this particular topic? Well, this past week, I've had exchanges with representatives from two different Vancouver businesses occupying, respectively, the extreme ends of the people skills continuum. Both experiences have a dog connection. Let's start with the You-really-need-to-find-another-job end: customer "service" at Modo the Car Co-op.

The Bridge at Bridgman Park, North Vancouver

(This is an outing we normally do with Leah & pups, but poor Kali-bear 
cut her paw on a broken beer bottle and is thus out of commission. :-( )

Most of the photos in this post come from a Car2Go outing that I tracked, cost-wise, in order to figure out whether or not it would be more economical to use Modo (whose vehicles, unlike C2G's, need to be returned to their home base at the end of trip) for certain excursions with Freddie. I worked out that a Modo "casual membership" would indeed be cheaper (so I guess my math skills aren't completely hopeless), not to mention more flexible for trips outside of C2G's city limits. I went to their website, where I discovered, among other things, that pets need to be crated while inside Modo vehicles.

 OK, Freddie, stay there 
and we'll pose for a photo.

Now, C2G doesn't allow pets in their cars at all (though I frequently notice fur in the back hatch!), but when I asked them about service dogs, they said No problem. Freddie could ride either in the hatch or in the passenger seat. With this bit of context in mind, I called up Modo, anticipating a similar response — or perhaps some version of "Oh, this is the first time I've had that question; let me check with my supervisor," which would have been fine.

Freddie ... can't you wait to say hi? Paul hasn't taken the picture yet.

What I did get was the snarkiest customer service I've had in a long time ... maybe ever. I don't know if the person I spoke to ever registered the fact that I was asking about a service dog. She just kept repeating the crate policy (reading from a cheat sheet?) and became more and more testy with each repetition.

When she started not-so-subtly implying that I was failing to respect their current members (I pictured her with clenched teeth and bulging eyes at this point), I ended the call and said I'd be taking my concerns to the Modo management.

OK, all three of you come over here and sit pretty ... Good dogs.

And that's what I did. A letter to the CEO is on its way (and, yeah, my own teeth were clenched while I wrote it). In it I gave the details of the exchange and asked for a reply, as well as a statement of Modo's service dog policy. We'll see what happens. It wouldn't take a whole lot to win me back over — maybe that particular rep was having a particularly bad day/week/life — but just now I'm not feeling especially keen to give Modo my business!

Freddie! Paul hasn't taken the picture yet!

And now for the other end of the continuum ...

Remember the bite on the bum that Freddie received and that I wrote about here? Well, after we got home, I thought it might be a good idea — since there had been blood involved — to let the dog-walking company know what had happened. So I sent an email to the folks at Release the Hounds, the business in question. Nothing grouchy or accusatory — just an FYI kind of thing. (And I'm really not a chronic letter writer; two in one week is a record for me!)

Down to the River ...

Very soon after, I received a very gracious reply from RTH President, James. He thanked me for my message, enquired after the state of Freddie's backside, and asked me to please let them know how he was doing. He said the walker who'd been with the dogs was very concerned. Later, I received an equally solicitous follow-up message from their Customer Care guy. In short, Release the Hounds done good with their business communications, and if ever I'm in need of walking assistance for Freddie, I won't hesitate to call them up!

The River

Stick Fetching

Flip-flop Fetching

Riverbank Shrine to Pups Who've Loved This Place
(a little creepy but also kind of groovy)

Textural Camouflage!

Driving Home (in a Car2Go!), Terminal Avenue

I suspect running a successful business is a complex and difficult balancing act. To all the customer/eco/community/pet-friendly ventures out there, especially the little ones ... this chair's for you!

Happy Weekend, Everyone!