Tag Archives: home

Time to Reflect – in Banff (36/365)

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I spent much of the day today hiking from end to end of Banff (and back), reflecting. Ostensibly, I was figuring out exactly where I need to go when I lead my first ghost walk, planning where to tell which story… But there was lots more going on than just deciding when to mention the various apparitions. Wandering around the streets and alleys, peering into back yards, reading all the plaques (they weren’t there when I lived there, way back when), catching glimpses of the familiar, being shaken by all that has changed… I kept alternating between regret and sadness that we ever left and delight to be back and looking at my old hometown with fresh eyes.

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All day today the world kept shifting between the intense colours of early summer and the black and white filter of powerful childhood memories. 

When I was a kid sometimes the guys (they were mostly men back then) would let me ride my horse at the back of the string of horses when they were brought down from the Banff Springs Hotel to the barn near the rec grounds. I pretended like I was actually important and had a proper job to do, though I was really just following along. I loved the way the tourists would point and say, “Look how small she is!” as I sat astride my much-too-big-for me horse, Ace.

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Ace in front of Cascade Mountain. About 1970. 

As a family, we travelled a lot when I was young and until recently I was hard pressed to say what place I considered to be ‘home.’ Now that I am back in the mountains, though, I feel like I have come home, in geographic terms at least. Walking around in Banff, I think that’s perhaps the closest I will ever come to identifying with a specific place in such a way that I feel that’s where I come from. It’s a very strange feeling because I don’t even live in Banff (and probably never will again) – I live down the road in Canmore. But Canmore feels like the place I live at the moment that’s very similar geologically speaking to a place I once called home. And that is different to actually being back at home.

Oh, it’s confusing. I keep finding myself time-slipping, taken back almost five decades to the first summer we spent in Banff in a cabin not much different to one of these:


Banff Beaver Cabins on Beaver Street

Back in the day, accommodations for visitors were in short supply (actually, that hasn’t changed much). Enterprising locals built cabins behind their homes and rented them out. When we first arrived in 1969, we lived in just such a cabin for the first summer until we moved into a small house on Grizzly Street a couple of blocks over.

My most vivid memory of that first summer was being awakened at dawn by banging noises behind the cabin. No, it wasn’t a ghost… it was a female grizzly and her two cubs raiding our garbage cans. Mom, my brother and I watched through the window until they had taken what they wanted and ambled off.

Those were the days before animal-proof garbage cans and, actually, before feeding the wildlife was strictly verboten. Somewhere, I have photos of us feeding crackers to elk outside the back door of the Grizzly Street house. On my next trip to the coast, I’ll dig through the boxes of old photos and find a few to post…

For now, though, my memories from long ago and the new impressions from today are doing a strange dance, not quite in synch but not quite not in synch either. Do you know what I mean?

I am too tired to think any more about this tonight (and, my jaw still hurts so I just want to go to bed), but I’ll leave you with a question or two: How far away from ‘home’ do you live? In our ever more mobile world, what does home mean?

Y is for a Year (or so) of Travels (AtoZChallenge2018)

Yesterday I started my post with a clip from an old song… I’ll do the same today with this old chestnut, I Was Born Under a Wandering Star.


My mom was the one who used to sing this to me (in not quite as low a register as Lee Marvin does, mind you) every time I said I was yearning to hit the road and go travelling. I don’t know where that need to roam comes from, but for some of us, itchy feet have nothing to do with athlete’s foot.


The past year and a bit have been really good for finding myself in far-flung places. Strangely, though I lived there for many years, Vancouver Island has become a destination. Last year I had the pleasure of taking a couple of sailing trips with my daughter and her husband on their lovely sailboat, Easy Rider. 




It was a little chilly lounging around on the foredeck in February… But that didn’t stop me from trying. That’s what those lovely survival suits are for, right? 



Had a great road trip through the mountains in March and stopped (of course) at Grizzly Book and Serendipity Shop in Revelstoke where, it turned out, they were filming a Christmas movie (hence the Christmas decorations in March…)



After arriving back in Canmore (home, these days) I basically unpacked and re-packed and went off to Paris. But not before a late night ice climbing expedition:




Our neighbourhood. For most of our stay we hung out in the 15th, a five minute stroll from this bridge. 




From Paris, I took a quick trip to Montreal, Toronto and London as one of my books was nominated for a Silver Birch Award in Ontario. 


Then, back to Paris. Where, among other things, I ate frog legs.


Eventually, we returned to the mountains, but only briefly, just long enough to climb a mountain or two.


The weather was good on the coast and I was longing to get back on the water…



I’m fastening on the ‘don’t lose the dog’ netting on the boat before we set off for a few days of puttering around in the Gulf Islands. I have no more photos of this trip because I dropped my brand new phone overboard as we approached Nanaimo Harbour! Note that the weather had improved dramatically so no survival suits were required. 


Once back in the mountains I played about with my replacement phone and enjoyed a bit more climbing



before heading back to Europe.

There was a day in Paris…



quick visit to the Centre Georges Pompidou…


… and then on to Madrid, where I met my daughter and Dad in Madrid…


From there, a train to Sarria where we began a very slow walk 120 kms or so to Santiago de Compostella as part of our Great Camino Project. (If you haven’t already found it, check out @lastlegbook on Instagram for lots of photos of our journey).



Santiago… that way… 


Because we were working on a book about the project, after our time was up in Spain, we jumped on a cruise ship in Barcelona and wrote 65,000 words or so… One of these days we will get the rest of the manuscript done and, with any luck, will eventually see a book. If you’d like to have a look at a few of the posts written along the way, here are a couple of links…

That Way!

The Kindness of Strangers

Once back at home in the mountains, I lost a bet and had to jump down Main Street wearing a pink bunny suit…

(and no… I didn’t… pass wind, that is… I did jump through town while singing the Happy song by William Pharrell… )

When all that was over, it was time to pack our bags again and head back to the coast for Christmas with family.



The gang in Vancouver… 


You might think all that was more than enough packing and unpacking, but what did we get for Christmas? Yes!! Allegra and I received tickets to go on a cruise together! So off we went again to explore the Caribbean… but not before a little ice climbing…



It’s kind of nice you don’t need seventeen layers crampons and ice axes to have fun on the beach… (this one in Jamaica).


And then, home again just in time for spring break and (this is getting a bit ridiculous) another trip to Paris!


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It was a wet spring in Paris – the Seine is threatening to overflow her banks… 

And finally, back home to the mountains for a bit more ice climbing…

IMG_2126.JPGYeah. It’s been quite the year, or so… I couldn’t have imagined all those many miles being logged had I tried to look ahead at the beginning of 2017. Who knows where this next year will take us?





H is for Home



This series of travel-themed blog posts would not be complete without the obligatory out-of-the-plane-window shot…


I’m a good traveller. It doesn’t take long for me to feel at home wherever I find myself. One of the ways I accomplish this settling in is to unpack a few of my favourite things…

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Oh my but I ate well in Paris! This was breakfast at my Air BNB… fresh fruit, Greek yogurt and some fine dark chocolate. Ooooh la-la… Peeking out to the right is the outline for the book about medically-assisted suicide… top left corner some of the many writing/drawing/colouring instruments I took with me… maps, of course, to orient myself, a notebook and my bullet journal to make sure I stayed on track and didn’t miss out on anything essential during my stay.

I like to unpack my bags, even if I’m only staying for a few days. I never travel without taking work with me – last week I took along a book I’m reviewing for the Ormsby Review and the current work in progress (the book for teenagers about medically assisted dying).  This is one of the great advantages and simultaneous disadvantages of working for myself. Home, wherever that may be, is also my office. There is no escaping. So, while it may sound delightful to be able to go to work in pj’s, the reality is that there is no such thing as leaving anything at the office.

These days, my office fits neatly into a small backpack, so at this very moment I’m taking a break from said dying book and working on this blog entry at the local Starbucks in Canmore.


That’s me in my plaid shirt. The tangle of wires around my neck are my wireless (I know… that’s a lot of wires for wireless) headphones. I like to listen to music (of my choice) while I’m working. On the walk (or drive) to and from the coffee shop, I like to listen to audio books. I wish I could listen to audio books or podcasts while I write, but it seems the areas of the brain engaged are too similar. Sadly, I don’t hear a word of what I’m listening to… I’ve tried. It would be so cool to be able to read and write at the same time!

At home, as in my actual more or less regular place of residence, something that makes the place feel homey is having pictures up on the wall. I’ve got these photos up on a shelf in my office (Dani had them made for my 50th birthday) and here and there in the condo


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Family photos… time travel, of a kind. Dani printed a series of photos of me in each decade of my life and displayed them at my surprise birthday party. She also arranged to have people from my past show up for the event. It was quite the celebration, I must say… and one I am transported back to each time I look up from my desk and see the row of photos. 


I also have various of Dad’s paintings up on the walls (most are reproductions… sadly, I can’t afford the real thing!). I’m particularly fond of this one – a print of a painting Dad did of me riding one of my horses on a rare snowy day near Victoria.

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Dad is the same way, actually. When he travels he also takes a bit of home (and his studio) with him.


In Spain last fall when we walked a section of the Camino de Santiago with Dani
he drew and painted most days, setting up in a corner of the hostel common room or pulling out his sketch pad at restaurants and bars we stopped at along the way.



My home office doesn’t look so different to my home away from home office… 


Home is where your work is? Maybe that’s how it’s going to be more and more often as we move into the world of Digital Nomads who choose to live and work wherever the wind blows them…

And, just because today is H day, here’s a link to a short animated video about the search for happiness… From one of my favourite websites, Short of the Week…





Where the Past and Future Meet



Just because it’s an ugly job doesn’t mean I can’t have some scribbly fun in my journal. The journals, btw, are going into storage. You never know when I might need a reminder about all the strange decisions I’ve made so far…

At the moment, my past and present are colliding in a humongous jumble of boxes stacked high in every available space in my Victoria suite. After 20 years at one address (a record!), I am moving. And, downsizing. Drastically. With any luck, I’ll be spending lots of time over the next number of years living in tiny spaces – a sailboat. A tent. During my more luxurious moments, in a condo in the mountains.


Every room looks like this at the moment. Books and boxes everywhere. Total chaos.

With all that in mind and more determined than ever to be mobile and unfettered (as unfettered as someone who is recently engaged can be…), I have been going through ALL my stuff. Yep, even the boxes full of ancient files containing useful things like phone bills from 1984, the dot matrix drafts of papers from university, every draft of every book or article I’ve ever written, random receipts, shopping lists, birthday cards from people I don’t even know… Why, oh why did I feel I needed to keep my copy of meeting minutes from every meeting I’ve attended over the past 30+ years? Phone memos torn from those pink message pads? I can barely remember those jobs, never mind the person or phone number so carefully saved in boxes all these years. The toss (well, recycle) ratio on most of this papery dreck is running at 90% or higher.


Typical of the number of boxes of files and papers in a given corner… Below, the same corner after the excavation. All that reduced to one, small box.


Likewise, the books are being drastically reduced in number. I have been culling for several years now, but this last go round is truly impressive. I probably started with 12,000-15,000 books and will perhaps wind up with 500. Which is pretty incredible (though I’m wondering if I could actually get that number down even lower). I’m either donating to schools, giving them to friends, sending them off to thrift shops, or, for the relatively few that may have some modest value, they are heading off to find new owners via a couple of used book shops. Said shops provide store credit only, so for the little I get from my 50+ years of rabid collecting (hoarding!) of books, I’ll be able to get a few choice Christmas presents or select titles I decide I absolutely need to add to what will be a rather modest collection. It’s thoroughly depressing to think how very little used books are actually worth in our world.


So many manuscript drafts. I kept editorial notes (like these from an early draft of Tarragon Island) and a few sample pages here and there, took some snapshots of random pages and then… tossed the rest away.

Has it been hard to let all that stuff go? At first, it was excruciating. Every book that went into a ‘donate’ box tugged at my heart strings. I may not have read every book on my shelves, but I know where they all came from and why they are there. My bookshelves were a sort of visual archive of my entire life and every time I let one go it was like letting a little piece of my past disappear.

And then, it got easier. I’m not sure what happened, but there was a massive shift in the way I was looking at what suddenly seemed to be an excessive number of books for any one human to possess. Armloads started going into the boxes destined for various schools… most of my equestrian-themed books went off to the Victoria Therapeutic Riding Association. Others, I realized, would find plenty of pleasure in the books I have had around me for so long.


Photos like this one of me feeding a monkey in Singapore, 1967 are keepers. The French homework notebook into which this photo had been tacked has been tossed. This is why it’s taking me so long to go through everything. There are gems hidden away, tucked between the pages of books, folded up and wedged between old phone bills, scribbled on napkins and, yes, recorded on ancient cassette tapes. The audio-visual finds will have to wait to be shared until I can convert them into something the digital world can understand.

The task is, as you can imagine, huge. Though it has become easier to decide what can go and what must be stored away until I’m once again in a place where I can lovingly place my favourite bliblio-babies back on bookshelves, the sheer volume of material I need to work my way through is staggering.

But so worth it.



Home is Where the Travel Books Live (Photo 101)

Way back when I was a regular blogger I took up various ‘one a day’ challenges and found the discipline of coming up with a daily post both fun and useful. This month I am busy with a ton of writing assignments, so I thought it might be cool to participate in the WordPress Photography 101 course as, in theory, it might be faster to let those photos speak a thousand words on my behalf. The challenge today is to capture the idea of “Home” in an image.

Books - the cheapest travel tickets around...

Books – the cheapest travel tickets around…

Of course, the minute I started thinking about this theme I realized the answer wasn’t going to be quite as simple as photographing my front door. I currently call Vancouver Island my home, but for many, many years as I was growing up my family was constantly on the move. At some point when I was in  my early 20s Dad and I sat down to try to count up all the addresses where I had lived and we came up with 53. Our homes ranged from a tiny cabin in Banff where a grizzly sow and her cubs went through our garbage every morning to an apartment above a Chinese restaurant in Ontario (by then I had left home and was working as a dog catcher). From England to Australia, Fort McMurray to Vancouver, Fort Lauderdale to Guelph my homes ranged from simple to fancy, in great neighbourhoods and not so great neighbourhoods, on islands, in cities, or in the countryside.

Though the view outside our front door changed on a regular basis (as an artist and a photographer, Dad and Mom were pretty free to live wherever they fancied), some things remained constant. One was our family (we were a remarkably stable lot, considering our wandering ways) and another was our dedication to schlepping boxes of books all over the world.

Whenever we moved into a new place I would feel somewhat ungrounded until I started to unpack my books. I still have one of the very first books I was ever given, the Daily Mail’s Pictorial Animal Book. 

This one still has pride of place on the shelf, though it shares real estate with several thousand other titles...

This one still has pride of place on the shelf, though it shares real estate with several thousand other titles…


The idea of home and what it is and what it isn’t has long fascinated me and sooner or later, themes like this eventually find their way into my writing. Not long ago my daughter and I wrote a book called Take Shelter about the many different kinds of dwellings people live in all over the world. In the introduction I talk about my books and the way that unpacking them always made me feel at home.

Take Shelter

Ironically, some of my favourite books are those with travel themes because even though a good chunk of my life was somewhat unsettled, I have always loved to be on the move. A well-packed suitcase is a kind of home away from home, the essentials of life neatly organized in a way my life in my actual home rarely is.

These days my suitcase is usually a little lighter than in the past. I no longer have to pack half a dozen books just to be sure I have something on hand to suit my reading mood – the miracle of the modern e-reader means I can travel with a veritable library. But I always pack a paperback of some sort anyway – batteries die, devices get dropped overboard, electronic devices get stolen. Books, in all their clunky, heavy, awkward, prone-to-sogginess-when-read-in-the-bathiness are solid between the fingers. Maybe that’s why I’m so fond of them.

If this post seems a little, um… illogical – that’s perhaps because these two sides of my life and personality are fundamentally incompatible. On the one hand I love, love, love my books – putting them on shelves, reorganizing them, adding to the collection, culling the collection – stacking, dipping, flipping, browsing, reading, delving, devouring those books which are also some of my longtime companions… On the other hand, there are few things I like more than turning my back on my bookshelves, and checking that my passport, my plane ticket, and my comfortable shoes are packed in my bag. And that paperback, of course. Can’t leave home without that…