Look at them now!











Twice a year Malcolm Macartney flies to the beach town of Guayabitos. Does he go to laze in the sun? To sip margaritas?  Nope. He goes to spend long hours bent over makeshift operating tables.

Malcolm and veterinary technicians from McKenzie Veterinary Services and other vet clinics in BC, participate in free spay and neuter clinics in the Jaltemaba Bay area in Nayarit, Mexico.

At the conclusion of every clinic they bring back for adoption in Canada, anywhere from 6 to 14 small to medium sized dogs. Some of these dogs have special veterinary care requirements for medical problems or surgeries that can be better performed at McKenzie Veterinary Services before they are well enough to be adopted. The Mexi-Can Vet Project adoption fees collected for each dog are passed onto JBAR—Jaltemba Bay Animal Rescue—to maintain their animal shelter in that area.

And here the dogs are now, living the good life in Canada—partying at the Mexi-Can Vet Project reunion party in Victoria. A party complete with a piñata containing candy for the kids and milk bones for the dogs.

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Victoria – the Jewel of Canada




We’re here! Living in the city again and what a city it is. Victoria, British Columbia—buzzing with tourists and citizens. Cruise ships, water taxis, and float planes dot the harbor. History and modernity comingle in the downtown core.

An online search will tell you that: Victoria, capital of British Columbia, is known as “The Garden City” due to the abundance of gardens and city parks, Victoria also has an impressive selection of historic sites and heritage architecture. Victoria is one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest, with British settlement beginning in 1843. The city’s Chinatown is the second oldest in North America after San Francisco’s. 

Museums in Victoria cover everything from Aboriginal culture to science and nature. This is also the home of the Royal BC Museum and the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia.

See floral displays year-round or wander through a castle. Take a Victoria whale-watching tour to enjoy the natural surroundings and to look for Orcas, sea lions and more. 

What the descriptions can’t give you is the sense of excitement, the bustle of activity, the air of adventure … everything from the Butchart Gardens to zip lines, from the IMAX to miles of bike trails, from Fishermans’ Wharf to the Bug Zoo.

Go whale watching, take a horse drawn carriage ride, dine in one of the many fine restaurants and bistros, high tea at the Empress Hotel, coffee at Murchies …. Festivals and concerts abound—something for everyone.

Yes, we love it here already.


Peace and Quiet



“We need you to interview a couple who have applied to teach in our province,” said the government voice at the end of the line.

“O-kay,” I said wondering why they couldn’t do it themselves.

“They’re from Lebanon and they only speak Arabic and French.”

Aha, that explained it. We had many immigrants coming into our city from war-torn areas of the world and the Lebanese civil war was on-going at the time.

“We need you to evaluate their French language competency.”

A date and time were set and I met the couple in the appointed government office. I talked to each of them in turn.

The wife was shy and timid, but her French was fine. The husband was more willing to talk about conditions in Lebanon.

“I was a teacher,” he said. “They took my job away and sent me to work at the airport. Every morning I said good-bye to my family not knowing if I would see them again. Every morning a guard pointed a gun in my chest and asked me to produce my identification. The same guard. Every morning. As if he didn’t know who I was. Bombs. Killing. Beirut was once the Paris of the Middle East. No longer. Such destruction.”

He took a deep breath. “We were so lucky to come to Canada. We had to come. I couldn’t risk the lives of my wife, my children.”

He paused for a moment as if gathering himself. “It’s so quiet here. You have peace. It’s so quiet here.”

All these years later, especially as I watch the news of war and strife around the world, one phrase echoes in my head. “It’s so quiet here.”





There is a teacher god

skorIt’s a new school year and the grade 7 students, having left the safety of elementary behind, are intimidated by the size of the building, by the size of the grade nine students, by the new routine of changing classes for each subject.

I love the grade sevens. They’re cute and wide eyed and nervous. I’ll love them when they’re young ladies and gentlemen leaving junior high and headed to high school where they’ll be the little guys again.

The class comes into my room and one little guy at the front of the row whispers, “Mme. Jones, I forgot my cahier.”

“You forgot your cahier,” I whisper back in mock shock. “What are we going to do?”

“I don’t know,” his voice is so quiet, I can hardly hear him.

I squat down to be at eye level. “I know,” I say with a wink. “You’ll have to bring me a chocolate bar and then I proceed to get the class started on the lesson.

Early the next morning, the little guy arrives at my door holding out a Crispy Crunch.

“What’s this for?” I ask.

“You said I had to bring you a chocolate bar.”

“Oh, sweetie, I was joking. Here, let’s share.” I break the bar in half and send him on his way.

A couple of weeks later, it’s meet the teacher night and his parents come in. I’m embarrassed to meet them. They must think I’m a monster, that junior high is terrible after the sheltered world of elementary.

“I’m so sorry,” I say.

My comment is greeted with puzzled looks. “What for?”

“Didn’t your son tell you what happened?”

“He only said he had to bring his French teacher a chocolate bar.”

I relate the story and to my immense relief they laugh. “You’re his favorite teacher,” they tell me. Thank goodness for understanding parents and great kids.


Are there benefits to moving?


We’re moving. As I contemplate the demands and logistics of organizing, packing, and notifying friends, family, agencies of our new address, I wonder if there is an up-side to moving. The answer is, yes.

I haven’t moved often as an adult, but throughout my teaching career, I did change schools and that isn’t a lot different than a house move. Packing up the classroom – files, books, teaching materials necessitates much the same organizing and sorting.

Classroom contents such as textbooks belong to the school, but every teacher has a truck load of their own materials. My own books, posters, manipulatives, pictures, etc. go into boxes. Then, with each move, I face the filing cabinet, go through each file carefully—something I often haven’t had the time to do in years. Many things can be discarded as obsolete. Files I’ve used often and know I’ll use again get packed along with the rest. And often I stumble across gems that elicit an “Oh my, goodness, I’d forgotten all about this.” Ideas for teaching that I’d used with success in the past and somehow let fall by the wayside. They’ll be put to good use again in the new school.

Our last move was from a house to a condo and the process not much different from that described above. Decisions were made regarding which pieces of furniture to take and which to sell. The accumulation of “stuff” in the basement sorted, some of the items to be sold, others to be donated or junked. Cupboards and closets opened and emptied.

“I didn’t know we had this,” I said (more than once) as I sifted through boxes from the bottom of the closet.

“If we didn’t know we had it, do you think we can live without it?” my husband asked.

Settled in our new home, everything unpacked, pictures hung, I’m determined to keep our belongings minimal, to avoid the “acquiring” mode of my younger self.

Now as I prepare for this move, I see that I’ve partially succeeded. We still have too much stuff and much of it will have to go as we sort and pack. Some of the decisions will be harder than others. Do we really need those glass plates that were wedding presents, but never used? Do we really need two sets of dinnerware? We haven’t used the fancy ones more than once a year. What to do with those afghans Nana knit for us? Ah, we’ll give them to the grandchildren.

Where, in all this work, is the up-side of moving? Is it in the flood of memories that come with the finding and handling of items we’ve had for so many years? Is it in the freedom of parting with items we’ve had for so many years?

For me, the process of moving has invariably been positive—a cleansing of sorts. It’s rejuvenating to leave the old behind and move to the new. It’s liberating to divest oneself of material acquisitions. Of course I’ll keep the things I hold dear—family antiques, books, special souvenirs of Mali—but the rest will be downsized once again and I won’t miss any of the things I leave behind. Perhaps this is a piece of the freedom we all aspire to.







One party, two parties …


“Do you think you could cook burgers for 27 kids,” I ask.

“Sure, but why?”

“I’d like to have my grade nine home room class over for a year end barbecue.”

Permission slips signed, parent drivers lined up, date and time set, and the party is on. The kids swarm our house and yard. I find several boys taking turns toting our children around on their shoulders. I cringe when they climb up into the playhouse with our kids. Can it possibly hold all that weight? It does.

A clutch of girls are chatting on our bed, another group on the deck. They eat, talk, laugh, and clean up before their parents come to take them home. On their way out the door they ask if they can do this again in grade 12. My husband says sure.

Three years later, there’s a knock on the door. Four boys from the grade nine class have come to ask about a reunion party. My husband and I look at each other. We’d forgotten all about that request. Sure, we say. A date and time are set.

This go round 30 kids arrive in their own cars, many of which are much nicer than ours. We see heads peeping out of the neighbors’ windows and imagine them saying, “What are the Jones up to now?” This time the kids bring the food and do the barbecuing.

Our children are too old to be toted around on shoulders, but they enjoy the company of the teens who hover over them attentively. We eat, talk, and laugh until the wee hours of the morning knowing that these parties will forever remain fond memories for us all.



Picture taking – virtue or vice

Mali 6


Writers create worlds with their words.  And if the writer is a master at his or her craft, the words allow the reader to “see” a vivid picture of the scene, understand the characters, and thrill with the action. For many readers, creating their own images and impressions from word pictures is what makes reading superior to visual media.

Yet, as I type this, the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words” reverberates in my head.

How do I feel about picture taking?

Very guilty:

Many years ago, I sat on the upper deck of the General Soumare plying its way up the Niger River to Tombouctou. We docked at Goundam and watched, fascinated by the desert life on shore. Without moving from my chair, I reached down into my purse for my little camera. I had it partially out of my purse when someone in the circle of Touraug women spotted it. They began to rise and depart. I dropped my camera back into my purse and they settled into their circle again.

Guilty and angry:

I time travelled to the Dogon area of Mali. I use the words “time travel” deliberately as we were amongst people surviving in Stone Age conditions. What they lived on was hard to fathom. Of course I wanted pictures. I raised my camera to capture a mother and her child. The moment she saw my camera, she picked up her child and posed, then held her hand out for money. I put my camera away. It wasn’t surprising that she would want money—any little bit would help the villagers to survive, but I was angry too, furious that careless camera toting tourists had created this situation. There are many better ways to support the poor.

Angry and insulted:

At one time we lived in a unique river-side community in our city. Cyclists on the trails careened to a stop to talk about our houses. Cars drove by slowly, passengers gawking out their windows. Invariably, cameras appeared—the tourists ready to take pictures of the quaint locals infuriated me. Is that how others felt when I wielded my camera?

Guilty again:

I take pictures for my blog—many of them in Mexico. They’re not very good photos, because I feel that I’m intrusive of people’s lives and homes so I snap quickly and hide the camera. I don’t believe I have a right to invade their lives in this way.


Of course I come home with regrets for the photos not taken.  I would dearly love that picture of the man on the horse waiting at the red light alongside my car or the man walking his cow across the main street of town.

Pictures are important, providing glimpses into the past, evidence of crimes, sights to marvel at, an opportunity to travel from your armchair, but at what cost to the subjects of those pictures?


EMBRACED – on sale now.


Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00038]


CHARACTER: “God, I’m stupid. Whatever made me think Rice Krispies would lead me to an answer?” She sighed. Yet another failed attempt to identify the sounds. She dumped out the cereal, rinsed the bowl, and left it on the counter for morning.

SETTING: The play of clouds and moonlight over the water and mountains beyond calmed her. She licked her lips and tasted salt. From the heavily laden sea air or from tears? A few notes of music echoing across the water caught her attention. A bagpipe of all things.

SCENE ENDING SENTENCE: I don’t know why I think they’re messages from outer space.


“More drawings?” Curtis gestured at the papers she held.

Abby looked down at the pages and willed her hand to stop trembling. The three pages of code drawings seemed to shimmer and shiver with a life of their own. “Yes. Three pages. From Friday, Saturday, and last night. They’re pretty … they’re … pretty well done, I’d say.”

But Curtis was no longer listening.  He waved the papers she’d just handed him and almost shouted with excitement. “These are amazing. Way better than the first drawing you brought us.”

Abby stifled a small grin, but she had to agree. The drawings outclassed her scratches a million times over. “My friend developed instant artistic talent.”

“I’ll say.” Curtis shuffled the pages back and forth. He shook his head slowly and muttered “wow” over and over. Finally he looked up at her. “Miss D, thanks for getting so many. Now we have four to compare. We’ll see if there are any repeated patterns or sequences of symbols. Your friend is great to share these with us.”

“No problem.” Oh God, I’m such a liar. Of course there was a problem, and not just because she was lying to Curtis. My friend. How lame was that? The mere existence of the pages was the real problem. Some nights the clickings chattered incessantly in her fillings, almost driving her crazy. Those were the nights of very little sleep. The weekend had been eerily silent. That was a new phenomenon since Friday, no clickings, instead Coder Guy had begun leaving the pages filled with drawings. Either way—no escaping the code.

A while back, she’d grown tired of sharpening the pencil she used each night and replaced it with a pen, which was now almost out of ink. She’d have to remember to get out a new one tonight. Or maybe not? What would happen if there was no writing utensil?

“What’s so funny?” Curtis asked. Abby hadn’t realized she’d laughed out loud. The lack of pen wouldn’t stop her night visitor. She stifled another burst of laughter she knew bordered on hysteria. Truth was, much as the pages of code scared her, she’d be devastated if no more came. The person—being, alien, Coder Guy—was an integral part of her life now; his existence had established a rhythm that kept her balanced. Or so she thought. Maybe she was completely off her rocker.

Whatever the case, she didn’t want to lose that contact. Coder Guy’s presence warmed her, kept her from feeling alone and lonely.


The Fairies Have Been Hard at Work

Another walk in the woods and we find these:


Ginseng brandy and the guest


“Would you like a shot of brandy?” he asked his guest after dinner.

“Sure. Thanks.”

Drinks poured, settled in the living room, the guest said, “Hm, good stuff. Where did you get it?”

“It was a gift from an old Chinese guy I know.”

The guest straightened. “In Chinatown.”

“Yeah, sure, why?”

“Can I see the bottle?”

After a close inspection, he said, “We’ve been trying to track down these guys for ages.”

Uh, oh. The guest was a liquor inspector. This might not be so good. “Um, why?” he asked.

“This stuff is illegal, smuggled in with the food they import and we’ve never been able to catch them.”

Now he was in a quandary. Would his guest ask for the name of his friend? What would he answer if it came to that? He held his breath.

The guest put the bottle down, took another sip of the brandy and after a long pause, said, “Damn fine stuff.”