Monthly Archives: June 2008

canada day: 26 reasons why i’ll never leave

a ravine in oakville, ontarioat the end of july, it’ll be 26 years that i arrived here in canada. it was just supposed to be a visit, but literally within hours, i was smitten. the beautiful town of oakville was what did me in, or rather its hills, little rivers, abandoned orchards and most of all its ravines – the ones made world-famous by the annual PGA tournament at glenn abbey.

tomorrow is canada day. let me sing the praises of this lovely land – 26 random reasons why i’ll never leave:

  1. the colours of the leaves in the fall in ontario; if you’ve never been to that area of north america (the north middle east? is there a name for it?) you won’t believe it; i never did, i thought for sure those photographs were enhanced
  2. the same with the colour of the sky along this stretch of the pacific coast some days – in the fall and winter, when the sun shines just right over the clouds and fog, it’s all silvery-pastel
  3. bannock
  4. the rolling hills of eastern ontario, right around bancroft
  5. speckled trout from some obscure little backcountry lake
  6. the satisfaction of pulling out the morning glories that threaten to take over my garden here in vancouver (a fabulous way of getting rid of aggression)
  7. the terraces of a hidden winery along lake okanagan
  8. canadian writers like michel tremblay, margaret atwood, robertson davies, matt cohen
  9. maple syrup
  10. CBC radio (with a special nod to vicki gabereau and peter gzowski)
  11. oscar peterson
  12. glenn gould
  13. my glenn
  14. pierre trudeau
  15. the hot springs in ainsworth and around whistler
  16. the long long long long long long long wide wide wide wide wide wide stretch of the prairies
  17. and driving along those prairies, thinking of nothing, humming along and BANG, all of a sudden you’re staring at a huge hole in the ground: the alberta badlands where the dinosaurs used to roam
  18. the fantastic, casual, a bit arrogant, rainy and absolute stunning beauty of vancouver
  19. the victoria art gallery
  20. the surf at sombrio beach
  21. the trees in east vancouver island, so high they seem to never end
  22. the overwhelming greenery – ferns, blackberries, blueberries, salal, moss, moss, moss – along the west coast
  23. brown bears everywhere
  24. the memory of the first time i saw a sign that read, “72 kilometres to the next gas station”
  25. its multiculturalism and diversity and relative freedom from racism
  26. the fact that if you’re gay, you can get married here

i have a feeling that i will keep adding to the list …

what about you? what do you like about canada?

(image by lone primate)

frozen pea friday: touched by a tattoo

getting my tattoo was the culmination of a three year dance with breast cancer. the tattoo changed my mastectomy scar into my shield – pam huntley

a friend of mine is considering getting a tattoo after her mastectomy. ah, i thought, that’ll be a fun entry! let’s have a few pretty, colourful pictures of tattoos!

i can be so naïve sometimes.

for some strange reason, the obvious was not immediately obvious to me: that by just gently touching the subject, i would open a spider’s nest of body modification, questions about pornography, stories of sleepless nights over what seemed lost feminity, courageous leaps into unknown sexual territory, feminist thoughts on art, anthropology, books about tattooed people (from holocaust survivors to carnies to respectable ladies to, yes, breast cancer survivors), and, and, and.

and triumph! in 2002, breast cancer survivor june gladney took part in a science fiction conference that featured a masquerade. she appeared as an amazon goddess:

i turned full-face toward the audience… my daughters tell me that the roar erupted as a wave across the auditorium as i turned … and they caught sight of the scar and the dragon tattooed across my left side. … it seemed that the whole audience was on their feet, cheering, applauding, screaming, some in tears. the back-stage crew was applauding; lots of tears and hugs.

i was overwhelmed. i had never expected anything like that!

many people came up to me later during the convention to thank me for my bravery in doing such a daring presentation. some told me they needed to see a real-life scar which wasn’t that bad. most promised to get the necessary tests done. several had been putting it off for years, dreading what they might hear.

(read here for the rest of the story, told by the photographer)

june’s experience must have started with fear, too. i imagine the journey from dread to diagnosis, then the decision to have surgery, the surgery itself and the recovery, all the thinking that must have gone into saying no to reconstruction. pondering over images for the tattoo. getting the tattoo done. flashbacks at that moment perhaps to the surgery.

as i’m imagining this, i, someone who does not have cancer, also wonder, finally aloud for all my readers to hear: why do i keep writing about this? it all started with desiring to contribute to my friends with cancer, and breast cancer in particular, with thinking that it would be fun and useful to be part of the frozen pea friday movement. but it has gotten bigger.

these images of women (and men; they can get breast cancer, too) are not just in your face, dear reader, they’re also in mine and they urge me to admit that i need to look at this. why do i keep writing about this, despite the facts that a) i don’t particularly enjoy “having” to write about a specific topic at the rate of once a week, b) almost every one of these posts presents me with some sort of hurdle, and that, c) judging from the number of comments, it doesn’t seem to be my most widely read topic here. why don’t i just say, okay, that was fun, now on to something else? (and i’m not saying that i won’t do that but so far i’ve stuck with it).

perhaps there is some survivors guilt, or is it confusion? how come these friends of mine were touched (swiped! whacked over the head!) by cancer and i wasn’t? (yet?) perhaps it’s some deep superstition: if i write about it, i won’t get it. perhapstattoo by larissa at frever art by writing about it i can come to grips with the irriversability of cancer. and maybe i am finally admitting to myself that despite my supposed high level of comfort with death and dying, i, too, need to come to understand my own mortality.

there is something atavistic about these tattoos, something that literally goes much, much beyond skin level. and it has touched me and said, “girl, you need to look at this.”

the voice that dares not sing its name

when i was a child in germany, everyone was singing, all the time. you sang while doing the dishes, at church, with others just for fun, everywhere. waiting at the bus stop, i’d while away the time singing.

paraguay wasn’t much different. my singing repertoire was enhanced by beautiful songs in the native language, accompanied by the paraguayan harp, a small, robust version of the celtic harp. with paraguay right beside argentina, i also fell in love with the milongas, tangos and chacareras of the argentinian pampa, sung by amazing artists like atahualpa yupanqui and mercedes sosa.

in chile, my life was enriched by learning songs like gracias a la vida by violeta parra and many others, all of them passionate singer-songwriters, artists and political activists.

and then i came to canada.

for the first time in my life, i was introduced to the idea of singing in the shower. apparently, that was the only place one was allowed to sing unless one was joni mitchell or luciano pavarotti.

someone sings in the car or hums while puttering around and i hear, “keep it down!”

i was and still am shocked at that. one of the songs i grew up with says, “in a house with song, the devil finds no foothold.”

we all have a voice. we can all make sounds: loud sounds, quiet ones, hissy ones, hummy ones, we can pitch our voice high, “peep”, we can go low, “growl”. our voices can do all that.

ergo, we can all sing.

what a way to stifle a life by saying, “no, you’re not allowed to sing. i don’t like your voice. you’re out of tune. you don’t sound like anne murray.”

when that happens, it’s not just our singing voice that is silenced (and that’s bad enough). our other voice, the “this-is-who-i-am-and-i-rejoice-in-it” voice, hears the message as well and starts doubting itself. maybe i shouldn’t say this? maybe i shouldn’t say that?

the voice that dares not sing its name is the same voice that still needs to heed marianne williamson’s famous call:

our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
it is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
we ask ourselves, who am i to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
actually, who are you not to be?
you are a child of god.
your playing small does not serve the world.
there is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
we are all meant to shine, as children do.
we were born to make manifest the glory of god that is within us.
it’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
as we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

(image by kristina mayyy)

carnival of healing #143

a herb gardenit’s been a year since i last hosted a carnival of healing, so it’s great to come back to this. as usual, there were many submissions. so this is a rather long post. i’ve categorized them to make it a bit easier to read.

personal development and spirituality
spiritual healing: 50+ podcasts to find wellness within: what a large connection of podcasts! as you can imagine, i immediately went to the buddhist section but unfortunately couldn’t find anything there that either appealed to me or that worked with my tired old laptop. but then i looked at the other links and went to susan gregg’s podcast and listened to episode 27, and that really spoke to me. technically well done, no long-winded introductions, a pleasant voice – and intelligence! she talks about toltec wisdom there, about domination, right vs. wrong, judgment, resistance – interesting topics! she also mentions one of my favourite stories, the story of the two hungry wolves. which wolf do you want to feed? the one who feeds on desperation and envy or the one who feeds on love and generosity?

shirley from fun spirit offers 10 great ways to do absolutely nothing. yup, that’s the kind of stuff i like, for example:

get rid of your to-do list, your never-ending chores, and say no to today’s social events. dispose of the “have-to’s” and give yourself permission to enjoy the process. take a deep breath and smile.

next, my blogging friend astrid, who also lives in our beautiful city of vancouver asks
is there a latent talent you wish to use, .. some day ?

is there something else that you’d rather do, but you doubt whether you could make any money with it, or even: whether you would be ‘good enough’ for it? today, i want to encourage you to consider letting the world know what you actually do

chris edgar, on his post transcending your boundaries contributes this:

i believe many of our fears stem from a misperception of ourselves as small and weak. we see ourselves as too fragile to deal with possible setbacks in our jobs, confrontations in our relationships, and so on. in my experience, one way to overcome this sense of frailty is to feel, on a physical level, the fact that you are much greater and stronger than you may think you are. in fact, as the exercise i’ll describe helps you see, in your essence you have no boundaries, and no problem arising in your life can truly harm you.

avani-mehta has this take on motivation

can you really afford to leave it to motivation? do you have the luxury to leave what you want to chance? is what you want so trivial for you that you are in a way telling yourself – “let’s see … if i get motivated enough, i will work on this. and hopefully get what i want”.fact is, if you want something, then you simply have to go for it and work for it. like it or not. are motivated or not. nothing really matters. because truth is, you really don’t have a choice. you want something, you have to take actions which lead you to that. we make a mistake of seeing choices when there are none.

finally, praveen gifts us with one of his lovely little tidbits: peanuts zen: linus explains resetting to charlie brown.

holistic health
once more, the nursing people have gathered a huge amount of resources, this time on holistic health, for example an interesting article on therapeutic landscaping

interestingly, a novel, but strong selling points for healing gardens is that they help hospitals attract and keep nurses. there is a serious nursing shortage in north america. roger ulrich has reported on studies showing reduced staff turnover in hospitals with healing gardens.

william peeters informs us about a study that seems to discredit herbal remedies

it is very common that studies done on natural medicine seem to be designed with an end result in mind, which shows herbs and nutrients in a negative light. more often than not you will find a study designed using very low dosages of a nutrient, a synthetic form of a nutrient, using the incorrect part of a herb (e.g. the flowers when the root is the part that contains active ingredients), or as in this study, a completely inactive form of the herb was used.

similarly, on brainblogger, some thoughts on research on the mind-body connection

have you ever tried to find proof that mind-body treatments work? there are far too many articles that end like this: “more trials are needed,” or “future research… must be more rigorous in the design and execution of studies and in the analysis and reporting of results;” is there any real proof at all?

beth at the virtual teahouse talks about … callie ann’s scalp:

callie, while she encounters stressful situations in her life, basically carries none of that stress with her. and is that why she’s so loving? or is the reason that she has no stress because she is so loving? i have no real insight into this…other than that, for the most part, callie takes each day as it comes, looks forward to it and finds reasons to laugh and be mischievous all the time. i like being around her!

more contributions on the topic of stress are

anna from widow’s quest has a lovely little post on the blogging community around us: world’s apart, world’s together

blogging and indeed having all your wonderful comments, really shows me that no matter what culture, how the grief has occurred – the feeling of loss is the same worldwide. blogging has been a great comfort to me to know that i am not alone, that i am not daft because at times i haven’t coped very well.

chandra unplugged’s post about communication talks about a different topic

there is nothing worse than hearing the same old story over and over again, and yet most of us have no trouble repeating our story. for some reason, we think our tale of woe is different and proceed to share the intimate details with all who will listen. we are oblivious to the blank stares and veiled yawns, and talk long after all interest has waned.

and also …
i’d also like to thank the bloggers who submitted these posts:

if you haven’t had a chance yet to read last week’s carnival, it was at libido and health. next week’s carnival will be at chinese medicine notes. if you have an article you’d like to submit, please use this form!

(image of herb garden by by JL2003)

writing about madrid


the following is an experiment in writing … remember i said i wanted to do more creative writing?

madrid …

when i think of madrid, a place i have never been, i think of – seriousness. the seriousness of beautiful women hidden behind black lace hidden behind fans in soft hands that have never worked a plough or stoked a fire, hidden behind windows hidden behind intricately woven grates hidden behind gardens tucked away discreetly in a side-street, away from the noise and sun of the plaza where the men gather and smoke cigars.

madrid? i think of spain. every city in spain is madrid to me. the barcelona in colm toibin’s the south, i thought it was madrid. where katherine proctor hides her melancholy away in one of those cheap madrid hotels (or was it a pension?) until she joins her life to an anarchist painter, to keep her in the south for many years, where she finds pain and more pain. and also finds herself as an artist.

when i hear “madrid” i think of federico garcia lorca, poet, dramatist, painter, pianist, and composer who, like katherine’s anarchist, fought injustice and fascists and who also did not survive the fight. and yet, lorca was not from madrid, he was from granada in the province (or as they call it, the “autonomous community”) of andalusia.

the word “madrid” makes me think of picasso working away feverishly, mistreating all the women who adore him (for some reason i always put the two together). i remember once seeing a picture of him, bald and old, and i drew in my breath, he just looked so damn sexy. madrid, as far as i know, was not picasso’s place either. malaga, barcelona, paris, and other places – yes; but madrid, other than going to school there, was not a significant place for him.

i know i knew of madrid when i was a little girl, at least by the time i was five. perhaps to me back then “madrid” meant “a place, any place, in spain’ it’s where serious people live” – and i was never really able to move beyond that image.

so what’s this experiment? well, this is another paid review post (for hotels in madrid, in this case). while i was looking through my folder at, it occurred to me that i can use the topics as writing prompts; i can turn these reviews into creative writing assigments! (maybe a bit like improgging, what do you think, hayley?) so whether i write about hotels, frogs or pea soup – i can always come up with something!

(image by trebol azul)

(this post was included in the just write blog carnival)

frozen pea friday: “cancer is my kryptonite”

it’s friday and we have a frozen pea friday post to celebrate cancer survivors. today, a guest post by hayley:

hi! i’m hayley and i’m an alcoholic. oh wait, wrong posting day. this is the cancer posting day. let’s try that again!

hi! i’m hayley townley. i’m thrilled to have been asked to be a guest blogger on change therapy. thanks, isabella!

kryptonite, as you may know, was superman’s weakness. cancer in all its forms is my kryptonite. in 1991, i lost my mom to breast cancer. she was 47; i was 25. she had been battling it since she was 37.

in 2002, at age 36, i was diagnosed with stage 3B breast cancer.

it’s now 2008, i am 41 years old, i have a fabulous head of hair, and i am a survivor!

i have always thought of myself as a superhero, minus the cape and the tights. i can handle anything thrown my way. i have always been oblivious to the things that might get other people down.

of course, this could stem from our family motto: “nothing is wrong and we don’t talk about it.”

but when i was diagnosed, it hit me hard”from all angles: mental, physical, emotional. it laid me out and made me realize that, after all, i may be only human.

now that i’ve been free of cancer for over five years, i am stronger and more resilient. i am faster than a speeding bullet. more powerful than a locomotive. able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. but whenever the word cancer comes up, i cringe inside. it’s as if somebody has slipped me a little bit of kryptonite.

i live with the possibility that it will come back. i was never a hypochondriac before the cancer; that tendency is one of the little perks of having had this disease. when i get a headache, i think it’s a brain tumor. when i find a bump on my leg, my heart sinks. before each doctor’s appointment, i lay awake long into the night. i panic inside over each mammogram or blood test. only when the oncology nurse calls to say that i’m good to go, do i relax again. the kryptonite dissipates a little bit more each time i pass a test with flying colors.

a friend recently got a bad diagnosis ” lung cancer, lymphoma, and brain cancer. i visited her in the hospital. kryptonite had reduced this once statuesque, beautifully poised superhero of a woman to lying in a hospital bed with tubes and drains sticking out of her. she was tired but in good spirits, and i know her superhero was still inside of her.

i had a good visit with her. she was on day 13 of her treatment and still had her hair. i had lost my hair on day 13. i brought her two cancer survivor buffs”the superhero headwear of cancer survivors.* i felt powerless in what else i could do for her. i tried to tell her it would be alright.

as i sat there holding her hand, a nurse came in to give her some of the same chemo drugs i had been given. i could sense the metallic taste in my mouth and the hollow place in my gut as i watched her dutifully swallow each horse pill. the kryptonite got stronger and i could feel every nerve ending in my body as i had before, when the situation was reversed.

as i left her bedside, i tried to carry out as much of her kryptonite as i could. i wanted her to be the strong, nothing-ever-fazes-her person i knew. just like me. the cancer tries to chip away at our bodies, but the kryptonite cannot affect our souls.

mary ellen died last month. not i, nor the drugs, nor the doctors could absorb enough kryptonite to return her superhero powers.

it’s crazy that in the 21st century”when we can put a person on the moon, make a computer that weighs only three pounds, and instantly share our thoughts with someone on the other side of the world simply by pressing a button”we still cannot cure cancer. someday, i hope there will be a kryptonite dumpsite where we can dump this disease.

if you or somebody you know is facing cancer, it’s your kryptonite, too. i survived it. superman survived it. you can survive it. let’s all don our superhero capes and tights and change the world together”one kryptonite diagnosis at a time.

this post is dedicated to my friend maryellen and, of course, to my mom. you will always be superheroes in my book.

bio: hayley lives in san luis obispo with her best friend and husband of 18 years, tim; their two dogs, shelby and lucy; and 14-year-old jazmine the cat.

she and her canadian co-author are writing a book about the lives of 100 women after breast cancer. she is also writing a book full of humor, insight, and warmth on her full cancer experience, along with one specifically for people who have a friend with cancer.

she blogs at and at improg. in addition, she owns the website cancer survivor stuff, which sells headwear for survivors and handmade greeting cards. she is working on another website to tie in with the book AFTER . . . there is life after breast cancer, which she will launch by mid-summer.

*cancer survivor buffs are available from cancer survivor stuff or planet buff (type in “hayley” as a referral code).