Thursday, March 26, 2020



So Bronwyn came up with a great idea and got us all together yesterday—Victoria, Kelowna, Rutland, Ootischenia, Nelson, and the North Shore—for 5 o'clock cocktails and baby-meeting! Gin and tonic proved a popular choice, as well as beer.

We've been getting together for decades now, some of us. Summer wouldn't be complete without visits that include barbecues, swimming, and hiking.

Family Soup

Sparse clouds poised above the mountains,
sun-filled sky courts the unrelenting blue,
someone gets ready to dive in
and we all decide to,
gathering on dock’s edge
in a plump to skinny assortment
of almost seventy down to nine,
someone yells on-your-mark, three-two-one,
someone captures us mid-air with a camera
and we’re all in the water,
bobbing and laughing,
a soup of family afloat in memory-making
while on shore the littlest ones, 
not swimmers yet, look on and plot
how they’re going to do this next year.

So that was a few years ago (2013, as it happens), and now we're all tucked away in our various homes as we all try to curb the spread of this virus.

Kiisa wanted to be part of the festivities, too
We were all excited to meet Fox! That's him, upper left, not quite 3 weeks old!
Rare sighting of the 16-year-old (lower left)

(*back of the neck, a baby body part highly prized by Lees!)
See you all next week!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020



I had forgotten I have tinnitus while I was in Mexico. I was so surprised when I went to bed the first night we were back and there was that familiar ringing again. In Mexico there's always something making noise. Dogs barking, music coming from any number of sources, people calling to each other, the gas truck announcing "Global Gaaaaaaaaaas", the ice cream cart jingling away, loudspeakers pronouncing something all but intelligible in Spanish or English, many of these all at once. Cacophony personified is Mexico. And I'm missing it while at the same time I'm loving the silence. 

Here's my dog poem:

Mexican Dogs

Those Mexican dogs —
sullen, hungry, barking dogs
irksome, skinny, egregious dogs
well-hung, full-titted, fucking dogs
tail-wagging, silly, odoriferous dogs 
yappy, snot-nosed, whimpering dogs
yellow, square-jawed, flea-bitten dogs
short-legged, chained-up, drooling dogs 
nervous, wandering, ankle-nipping dogs 
garbage-eating, skittish, disobedient dogs
moon-howling, bike-chasing, fighting dogs 
runny-eyed, slurpy-jowled, table-begging dogs that never let you sleep

Day #1 of quarantine I didn't even get dressed. I had a bath late in the afternoon. Unpacked. Did a little laundry. While unpacking I watched a bunch of Schitts Creek because one needs humour these days and that bunch sure provides it for me.  

It's not isolation, actually, that we're in. Isolation is what'll happen should I actually get this 'flu. Quarantine is what we all should be doing to keep it from spreading. But "Ootischenia Isolation" has a certain ring to it, don't you think? 

I suspect there's going to be a crack-down soon. People are still not quite getting the finer points of this quarantine business. There seems to be an assumption that when people come home from out-of-country they step off the plane and there they are, home. Not so. 

Today is Day #4 of our 14 day quarantine. I can hardly believe that a week ago Monday I made dinner for Arno and Jane, Dianne and Andy, and Anne. In La Manzanilla, Mexico. 

That night Anne was staying until the end of April and Dianne and Andy were leaving April 6 and Jane and Arno were starting to talk about maybe not us much time in Puerto Vallarta before they went home. Now Dianne and Andy are home in PEI, also in quarantine, Anne got home Saturday night and posted a picture of her toes in the bathtub, quarantine for her, too. Jane and Arno have to go home to New York, a bit of a hot spot. I'm waiting to hear what they're doing.

So, a lot of changes in just five days, and now we're home in Ootischenia, weather is passable, still large patches of snow in the yard but equally large patches of ground. Everything here still has that grey, ugh, après winter look. But I look out the window I can see tiny buds showing on the oak, the sky which looked a bit ominous earlier now has lots of blue opening up behind swiftly moving clouds and hey, it's officially spring now and a few crocuses are showing up here and there! 

This is all so strange. Let me tell you about the trip home. 

Home. Cats. Two-hour old sourdough bread from my sisters. Soup. Comfort. 
I can't put into words how incredibly good it is to be here. We all well stocked with food. We have Cheezies. Thanks to the abundance of communication given us by technology we can easily stay in touch with family and all folk we love. 

The last few days were intense. Think of it; Friday we were in La Manzanilla until just after noon. We arrived at the airport and were given a form to fill out and had our temperatures taken and recorded on said form which was then never collected by anyone but it's on my desk. On the plane, we totally lucked out and had three seats to ourselves! 

I do not recommend watching The Art of Racing in the Rain if you aren't supposed to be touching your face. I was crying 30 seconds in and didn't stop for most of the movie. This meant much eye wiping and nose blowing (quietly!) so I'm sure I'm screwed. When you start to think about it there are just so many places you can potentially get or give this virus it's hard to keep track. Especially when you're in airports and on airplanes and in cabs and at motor inns. 

We landed in Calgary, had about 2 ½ hours there before our flight to Kelowna. We'd requested a wheelchair for Ted. There were five chairs on our flight and four WestJet passenger agents (as we were called when I did that job; then customer service agents) so after I bounded up the ramp to get out of the way you can imagine who got asked if they could push a chair. Which was fine,  until we had to collect our bags and go through customs. I got the three suitcases onto a cart and in a couple of places was pushing the wheelchair with one hand and the luggage cart with the push-down handle that acts as a break with the other. 

I'd emailed the hotel to say we'd be getting there late, but when we arrived it was locked as the man on duty had gone out to get a snack. A note on the door would have been nice. He was ready to not let us stay because we mentioned we'd come in from Mexico. He said they'd been instructed not to accept guests arriving from other countries. I looked him in the eye and said we were from Castlegar. It was a long look. We stayed. I take his point, though. And yet, the virus is also being spread among people with no record of being in contact with anyone who traveled. Improbably, as I hadn't set an alarm or had it on a radio station, I woke up to the sound of my phone playing Air from Hair which was perfect in a weird sort of way. 

The air, the air 
is everywhere
Breathe deep, 
while you sleep,
 breathe deep 
lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado

What to do? 
We stop. We get ourselves to where it makes most sense for us to stop and we stop. We stop going out, no parties, no movies, no plays, no bars, no dinners with friends, no dropping in for coffee, no hugging...hopefully not forever or even for a long time, but right now, we stop. 

I'm glad we can stop now. 

Stay tuned here, though. Judy Dykstra-Brown and I are going to encourage each other to do the poem-a-day for April which is poetry month challenge. We'll be blogging, me here and Judy at


Sunday, March 15, 2020



There is a Poetry Month reading scheduled for Wednesday, April 15 at 7PM at the Kootenay Gallery of Art, across from the airport in Castlegar. I'm reading along with my friends Jane Byers and Susan Andrews Grace. Hope things calm down enough for it to go ahead, and if not, hopefully it can be postponed to a later, safer date. But for now, it's on and you're invited. Hosted by the Federation of BC Writers with funding from the League of Canadian Poets. I'll keep you posted.






And I know, I know, I haven't blogged since I wrote about Martin who would have been one fascinated font of information were he still with us where COVID-19 is concerned. Seems sensible to be concerned. It still feels a little surreal as we're coming to the end of nine weeks in Mexico where it's not really hit the fan yet. Or, it may have, we just don't know. Or. Or. Or. It's one of those pandemics with lots of uncertainties. All I know is, when we get back to Ootischenia next week we will be self-isolating for at least 15 days. And washing our hands a lot. And feeling very fortunate to have a large yard in which we can wander.

Back yard hail storm, end of June 2019 

While the whole world teeters on the twin brinks of deadly panic and batshit craziness, I thought I'd sign up for doing the poem-a-day National Poetry Writing month again. Didn't do it last year. April was the month we were winding down Mom's apartment after she went into the nursing home. Last year was not terribly fruitful, as far as my writing was concerned. But I'm finding my way back and daily prompts is one way to do it. So stay tuned, anyone out there. Who knows what will translate itself into a poem? 

Be safe, be well, and wash your hands!


Monday, November 04, 2019



My friend Martin died in August. I knew the call was going to come, sooner or later. When the phone rang, the digital display announcing his name, I thought it would be him. After all, he'd called only about a week or ten days before. He'd sounded just like Martin at the beginning of that call, but then he ran out of breath and it got harder for him to talk. He had a nasty, nasty disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

You can look it up.

It takes you out.

So the call in August wasn't from him, personally, but from Pam, his wife and best friend for over half a century, because that's where my age group is at. And Pam was calling to say Mart had died.

Martin was one of my earliest poetry friends. We met in Grade 7, were in the same division in school right through to the end of high school, and in the class curiously misnamed "Study" we used to write silly poems and pass them back and forth. I still have some of them on yellowed paper in a scrapbook. It's impossible now for me to say who wrote what; all I remember is we had a lot of fun in that non-class, pretending to study!

From the 1966 Year Book. Mart was in the World Affairs Club.
We graduated in 1966 and went our separate ways. Martin went to university, got a degree in Business Administration and went on to be a hospital administrator. I joined Air Canada and worked in the reservations department for several years in Ottawa, Windsor and Montreal before moving to Toronto in 1976. I was working at the res office there one night when a call came in from a guy wanting to go to Prince George. I did what you do; told him flight times, gave him prices, booked something, then got to the part where I asked for his name.

"Oets," he said, then spelled it. "O-E-T-S."

"Martin?!?!" I exclaimed, and of course it was and we had a great catch-up over the phone.

If you follow(ed) Pam and Martin on Facebook you'll have seen this one. One of my favourites.
After that I saw him at high school reunions in 1986 and 1996. By then I was back living in the Kootenays. One day Martin got ahold of me to say he'd moved back to Nelson and was working for Interior Health. I invited him for dinner and he and my husband ended up becoming great pals. Before too long, Pam got a transfer to Nelson as well and the four of us started to hang out.

In 2010 we spent Christmas together in La Manzanilla
Movie night in La Manz
At Judie's 70th in 2011
With Leanne at Judie's 70th
As any of his friends will attest, hanging around with Martin meant no shortage of adventures. Here, he's coming to collect some of us so we can have a mini-cruise on his houseboat on Kootenay Lake. Too bad there aren't any pictures of it just before it sunk! (Happily, not this particular day.)
With my grandson, Kyran, when he was wee. Martin let him "steer" the boat for a bit which was a huge thrill.
Martin and Ted, both beardless. 
At a reading at the Library in Nelson. Martin and Pam were always up for coming to such events.
At the Capitol Theatre. Martin was on the board there for a few years.
Martin and his son, CJ. We were on our way to Puerto Vallarta for CJ's wedding
Ted and Martin enjoying pool time in Puerto Vallarta
Another tradition: Dinner at Martin and Pam's after one of our big decade high school reunions. Alan Ryall, on the left, came from Ontario. Bruce and Pam Hucal are in this one.
Martin, serving up a burger. Me, excited!
Martin, Ted, Shelley, Sharon and Pam. Martyburgers!

Martyburgers! Just about the best things ever! It was somehow kind of perfect that Ted and I had just finished eating burgers when Pam called with the sad news. 
Doug Walkley and his wife, Diane (not in this one) started having mini-reunions when they came to the Koots in the summer. One year they weren't able to host it at the place they were renting so Martin got ahold of my sisters to see if we could do it at their place. And just like that, a new tradition was born!
With Dena and Phyllis at one of the summer parties
With Maureen and Liz
This one's from the party when we celebrated the Sixties, etc. Martin is second from left.
Group shot, same party. Mart's the one in the wig!
Group shot from another year (photo credit likely Brian Clarkson). Martin's wearing the blue lei. Our classmate, Gail Livingston, in the green top, died shortly after this reunion.
Peter Turner and Martin
With Brian Clarkson, who's usually the one behind the camera

Martin always had a project. When his son was getting into audio/hearing work, Martin took a course on it so he could go and help set up the business. And there are still people looking for the most excellent coffee beans he used to roast. Pam made the apron for him. He was, of course, interested in all things electronic. I miss my computer guru!
In 2013 Martin and Pam brought the first electric Smart car to Nelson. (Photo "borrowed" from online where it appeared in the local paper which no longer exists, so...) Here's a link to an article about EVs in the Koots by Greg Nesteroff and yes, M and P get a mention!
That little smile usually meant he was up to something.
I can't for the life of me remember what this event was about but have to include it because it's such a rare picture of my husband wearing a shirt and tie!
Martin loved animals. Here he is, spoiling a neighbour's dog.
One summer we had a group yard sale at our place. Martin and Pam brought stuff from Six-Mile. Here he is with Leanne.
Dan, Martin, Ted and Robin in Ootischenia. So many good times...
The Breakfast Club, February 2019—For several years this group (Robin and Rebecca were away) met for breakfast, often at Dawn's Early Rising Café in Castlegar. L-R: Me, Pam, Leanne, Ted, Martin, Judie and Dan
At a farewell brunch in Nelson, February 2019
For the cover I used small stones to make a figure. One of the stones (I don't remember which) was one we collected one summer when Ted and I passed through McLeese Lake where the Oets family used to live.

Back to our poetry connection, when Martin found out I had taken up bookbinding he commissioned a book that would contain his favourite poems. They were: Dylan Thomas' Fern Hill, John Masefield's Sea Fever, Wordsworth's The Daffodils, Alfred Noyes' The Highwayman, Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and T.S. Elliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. He was kind enough to request one of mine be in the book as well, so Full Circle is in there feeling absolutely tongue-tied around such august company. 

Downsizing seems to be on a lot of folks' minds these days. It was a privilege to watch as Martin and Pam took it on prior to their move from the Kootenays. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Martin for the basement clean-up at our house he unknowingly just orchestrated! I've been on the hunt for a particular photo of him, from a Sport's Day event when we were in high school. Can't find it anywhere, but seven bags of stuff have been disposed of and you can actually move around down there! I figure if I post this it's bound to show up, at which point I'll add it. Since he died there have been some wonderful words written about him by friends like Doug Walkley and Klaus Offermann. Martin was so loved by so many. To say he'll be missed is a huge understatement. He was truly one of a kind.


Thursday, September 05, 2019



The average sized postcard, 4"x6", hasn't got that big an area on which to write. But every summer for a month, give or take, poets from all over the USA plus some from Canada, Europe, Australia, Singapore, India and more manage to write poems on them and send them off into the world. The annual August Postcard Poem Fest (APPF) is over for another year. I mailed the last of mine September 3rd. I promised at least a couple more bonus cards and will get them done shortly, but right now it's time to gather some thoughts about this year's event. So this is kind of an open letter to Group 2.

Cards received from Group 2 (plus four "bonus" cards) (so far)
APPF13 — August 2019, as of Sept. 4, 2019
Right off the mark I have to admit I cheated as far as the very minimal rules are concerned. Actually, they're not rules per se, more like suggestions from Paul Nelson as to how to write postcard poems. He advocates for the down and dirty approach, that is, to write the poem directly onto the card without editing.

Some years I've been comfortable first-drafting directly to the card, but this wasn't one of them. I've not been writing a lot of late so that muscle was feeling a little rusty when August began. I sketched out poems on paper or in the Word doc where I keep a record of all the ones I send. I just started jotting down little blurts and some of the blurts turned into poems. I did, in the process, change the odd line break and there was maybe just a bit of editing. I've approached the fest this way before, but this year, perhaps because it was a return to my earlier way of getting poems onto cards, felt different. More intentional, somehow, and ultimately more satisfying. But slow. I'd come downstairs to my desk to write and spend two hours with one poem, one card.

The very first year I did this (2007) I wrote and mailed a card a day almost every day. I took blank cards with me when I hiked up to Kokanee Glacier for a couple of days, just so I could stick with the writing part of the plan.

(from Day 13, 2007)


You escape into a corner
pull out some cards
and begin to write.
Then someone wants to know
what on earth you’re doing that for, 
a twitter of disbelief 
flitters round the room
where people come and go
talking of vanishing glaciers
and pink snow.
If the door opened right this moment
and an elephant walked in
it would probably cause less of a fuss.

This year I seemed to work in batches. I had six in the mail at the end of July, then August arrived with distractions both predictable and not; a dear friend died; lots of company showed up to hang with, play with, laugh with, and eat with; my ninety-nine year-old mother keeps three of us hopping. Contrary to how I thought I was going to approach writing to the poets on my list (see last post; I was going to put all the cards, stamped and addressed as they were, into a bag and pull them out randomly) I ended up writing them in order, starting with the name below mine and carrying on from there.

The first nine poems I wrote/sent all incorporate a line of Shakespeare's. After I mailed the first of them I realized I had forgotten to indicate that. Mea culpa. (Most of the lines are pretty familiar, of the "to be or not to be" variety so you probably figured that out!) Three poems fell under "Ice Musings". The last ten ended up being a hodgepodge of little poems that fall under the title of Notes on the Story of Me #1–10. The rest are pretty random. I wrote two poems about snakes, one on Hurricane Dorian, a couple of Mom poems, a response poem written around the word "oubliette", one about the band Rush and an old friend, another about knocking on doors in Toronto for Dan Heap of the NDP in the early eighties, and one about a much-loved pair of jeans. Other than the NDP one and another that referenced Jeffery Epstein that was written before his death, I stayed away from politics. (Everyone on my list is in the States. What can I say?) Oh, except for one I wrote for Rita Wong, a BC poet and activist who was just released from jail after receiving a 28-day sentence for peacefully protesting a pipeline expansion here in British Columbia. Rita and Fred Wah published a gorgeous long poem (well, two poems; they each wrote one) about the Columbia River titled Beholden: a poem as long as the river, and if you care anything about this river our countries share (the treaty of which is in the process of being renewed), you might want to check it out.

Rita and Fred's book, taken in front of the Columbia River
near the confluence of it and the Kootenay River
Anyhow, that gives you an idea of how this year was for me.

I'm a bit of a hoarder, especially when it comes to pieces of paper with writing on them. As a result, I have all the cards I've received since this fest began, and last night I got this great idea that it would be really neat to spread them all out on the floor and get up on a ladder and take a picture, so this morning I  got into the Postcard Poem files and quickly realized the extent of my madness! Like, yes, I could do that but then the years would get all mixed up and I'd probably find myself spending a ridiculous amount of time sorting them again. So this will have to suffice:

Cards received over the 13 years APPF has been happening

But just digging them out and randomly looking through them—oh what gems I found! See that one of the painted tree under 2009? That was one of the late Bridget Nutting's. And remember how I mentioned, above, that a friend of mine died in August? Her poem begins, You died today... and ends 

The sky is empty now.
Even the squirrels are lost.
The birds no longer sing your praise.
Goodbye, dear friend.

I came across so many familiar names. We've been exchanging words for so long now you all feel kind of like family! As I started going through them I thought of how one year I got one from Diane di Prima. What were the odds I'd accidentally find it, in 2008?  

2010 was a light year as far as incoming went—received 21, but there are some beautiful lines to be found in that pile. 

Paul Nelson's 2011 ripe plum moon poem was mailed from Beijing! (I haven't sent you one yet this year, Paul, but I will). 

In 2012 I came across a lovely poem from another long-time postcarder who is no longer with us: Kay Kinghammer. There's another stunning original art one from Bridget with a poem written in her lovely cursive. And a very funny one from my friend Kim Clark. 

Bridget Nutting's 2011 card to me

Poems received in 2013 include a beautiful "late summer haiku" from Laura Pena. We exchanged cards again this year! 

In 2014 I got one from Judy Kleinberg that—wait for it—isn't one of her marvellous found poems like the one you can read here! And another winner from Kay Kinghammer. 

I think 2015 was the first year I got one from Terry Holtzman. Like Laura, we exchanged again this year. And Diane Conces, the same. And there's even one from my friend who died last month! He and his wife were traveling in Holland that year and sent a card. I knew which one was from Paul because I recognized his handwriting.

Going through the 2016 cards I find one from fellow cat-lover, Linda Roller. She's on this year's list, too. 

In 2017 there's one from Alan Kahn, on this year's list as well. More and more original art cards are in the mix every year. A delightful line pulled from a poem sent from Hartford, CT: Can you imagine Donald Trump as a bird watcher? And there's a beautiful poem about sons from Seattle. And one from Charlie Stobert in England, brought to me thanks to the assistance of a couple of wonderful David Bowie stamps. And one from Abhaya Thomas, also in this year's group, that contains the gorgeous line, you only see colours you can name

2018. Last year's bunch. So many familiar names in this batch as well. It's hard to set a lace unicorn free says Annie Stenzel in the haunting poem on her card. I'm so glad she did. 

Annie Stenzel's lace unicorn, APPF12, 2018
While I was going through those files pulling out the cards, I found scads of blank ones (just what I needed!) plus half-a-dozen or so that have poems written on them but were never addressed or sent. Why? I have no idea. 

Finally, I have to single out one postcarder who signed up somewhere around 2012 after hearing about it from me and has been sending me the occasional card ever since. I first remember Judy Wapp at a summer writing workshop with Caroline Woodward we attended back in 1989, I believe it was. In 1991 we both signed up for another writing workshop, this time with Tom Wayman. A guy named Ted Crosfield signed up for that one, too, and the rest, as they say, is history! You can read more about Judy and her collage art on my blog here. Anyway, sorting through the cards today allowed me to see just how many cards she's sent me (42!) and while I know I've send some in return, her output is nothing short of amazing. So thank you, Judy!

Judy's cards
Judy Wapp
And thank you, all of you who sign up for the August Postcard Poem Fest. We began, most of us, as strangers, but somehow the act of getting a few words onto a postcard and sending it off into the world serves to remind us of our similarities instead of focusing on our differences, as it would seem some of our politicians, both sides of the border, would prefer. 

You give me hope. And that's no small thing.