Being 69 – Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016: No more Mo’stache

Today I shaved off my Mo’stache after the month of Movember raising awareness and funds for men’s health. You can still donate to my campaign here.

1. Make man time.

Stay connected. Your friends are important and spending time with them is good for you. Catch up regularly, check in and make time.

2. Talk.

You don’t need to be an expert and you don’t have to be the sole solution, but being there for someone, listening and giving your time can be life-saving.

3. Know the numbers.

At 50, talk to your doctor about prostate cancer and whether it’s right for you to have a PSA test. If you are of African or Caribbean descent or have a father or brother with prostate cancer, you should be having this conversation at 45. Know your numbers, know your risk, talk to your doctor.

4. Know thy nuts. Simple.

Get to know what’s normal for your testicles. Give them a check regularly and go to the doctor if something doesn’t feel right.

5. Move, more.

Add more activity to your day. Do more of what makes you feel good.

  • Take a walking meeting
  • Park further away from the station
  • Get off the bus a stop or two earlier
  • Instead of the elevator, take the stairs
  • Cycle to work instead of driving



Monday, Nov. 21, 2016: Refundable Mondays

Every Monday, I go down to the garbage/recycling room at Vancouver Cohousing and haul out refundable bottles and cans plus stretchy plastics and white styrofoam to the nearby Return-It depot.

This is my regular duty as part of the garbage/recycling  committee, one of many teams that help make it possible for us to maintain our 31-unit complex, increase our sense of caring, sharing and sustainability, and keep our condo fees down.

We pay a waste management company to take away garbage, plastic containers, glass, mixed papers and some of our organic waste, while the bulk goes into our compost bins.

Since I sold my house in 2004 I’ve lived mostly in multi-family buildings where the level of awareness about recycling has been very spotty, leading to all kinds of inappropriate junk being thrown into recycling bins.

I’m proud of how much we divert from the landfill, including batteries, small electronics, non-stretchy plastics, ink cartridges and CDs. We also have a share shelf in the common house where we leave things other people could use. And we loan stuff to each other all the time.

Our members are very careful to identify and sort our recyclables. About every two weeks, I take my garbage and recycling down to the room and I can generally hold the amount going into the garbage bin in one hand.

At the Return-It depot, I further sort the refundables into categories like wine bottles, beer and pop bottles, beer and pop cans, juice containers and plastic bottles. And then I take them to a cashier.

This week’s haul was  $17. Since we moved in at the end of February we’ve collected $575 for our general revenue.



Some of the conscientious ways we sort our recyclables.


The refundables in the back of my Honda – they don’t call it a Fit for nothing.


Cashing in refundables at the Return-It depot.

Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016: Sealing Shabbat with a kiss

Celebrating Harreson Sito’s birthday capped an action-packed Shabbat – certainly not a restful sabbath, but very fulfilling.

At the end of the evening, Joan de Verteuil and I gave Harreson a birthday smooch at a party at his family-run restaurant, the Blue Moon Cafe, on West 4th Avenue.

The long day began at 5:30 when I woke up for one of my passions – tennis. Not playing, in this case, but streaming a semi-final match between Canada’s No. 1 player, Milos Raonic, and the world No. 1, Andy Murray, at the ATP World Tour Finals in London, England, where only the top eight players compete.

I set up my laptop on my treadmill desk, plugged it into a larger display, turned on the treadmill and started watching and walking. It was a thriller, lasting three hours and 38 minutes, the longest in the tournament’s 46-year history. While Milos won the first set 7-5, he lost the next two in very tight tiebreaks 5-7 and 9-11. But still he finishes the year as world No.3, his highest ranking yet.

So while my guy lost, I logged more than 24,000 steps toward my Movember Move goal of averaging at least 10,000 steps a day this month. You could donate to my campaign here.

I arrived late for Shabbat morning services at Or Shalom, my spiritual community, and left before the potluck lunch afterwards to attend the demonstration and march against the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline that would triple the amount of oil coming from Alberta to Burnaby, the Vancouver suburb where I grew up, and dramatically increase the number of tankers in Burrard Inlet. The consequences of a spill would be catastrophic.


Demonstrators begin the march against the Kinder Morgan pipeline project.

I really only made a token appearance, arriving at Vancouver City Hall where thousands had gathered to hear speakers, including Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, and then joining the march downtown for a mere half-block before rushing home to Vancouver Cohousing for a three-hour workshop on conflict transformation.


David Hatfield leads a workshop on Conflict Transformation at Vancouver Cohousing.

The workshop was led by David Hatfield, who specializes in the design and delivery of transformative, experiential education. An excellent facilitator, he led about 35 of us through two processes. One is pictured above on the flipchart where we formed dyads to work through past conflict scenarios to shift from polarity where the two people are separate to fluidity where we could take more than just one side.

When we finished at 5, I grabbed an hour’s nap and drove to Harreson’s gathering with my triple-chocolate brownies. It was a beautiful evening of food, song, friendship and sharing. We passed a mic around and spoke of where we find joy in our lives and how we met Harreson. I talked about knowing Harreson from the chant world in Vancouver. When I’ve seen him he’s invariably smiling, and his smile makes me smile.


Birthday boy Harreson with a few of his friends.




Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016: Engaging the heart

This past week, our Chanting & Chocolate Band loved presenting a night of Hebrew chant and niggun for enthusiastic participants as part of a series called “5 Ways of Engaging the Heart: Experiences in Inter-Spiritual Practices.”

It was wonderful to be invited by the Ecumenical & Multifaith Unit of the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster and St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Vancouver’s West End to bring our band to the Labyrinth Hall at St. Paul’s.

All of the audience had signed up for the five-night series that includes Sufi, Hindu, First Nations and Christian practices. Few had any experience of sacred chanting in Hebrew and, while some struggled to pronounce the words, their voices rang out in the acoustically live hall.

And they all seemed to dive into the meditative silence at the end of each chant when we paused to offer the possibility of experiencing a quiet mind and connection with the Divine.

At the beginning of the evening, Rabbi Hannah Dresner, spiritual leader of Or Shalom Synagogue (at left in the photo above), spoke about the tradition of niggun as evocative melodies, usually without words, developed by the Hasidic movement in Eastern Europe in the late 1700s, and Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan, who formerly held that post at Or Shalom (seated next to Hannah), explained the centrality of music in Jewish spirituality. She is currently director of Inter-Religious Studies at the Vancouver School of Theology.

I spoke about Hebrew Chant as a meditative/spiritual practice, and was joined in the band by Martin Gotfrit on guitar, violin and vocals; Eric Brown on bass; Charles Kaplan on guitar, oud and vocals; Charles Cohen, on percussion, synthesizer and vocals, and Wendy Rubin on keyboards, flute and vocals.

I am always so grateful to these marvellous musicians for playing with me. They do it for love, with all of the donations we receive at the door going to support the education of five orphans in Uganda, where I lived 2009-10.

Please join us for our next chant evening at Or Shalom, 710 East 1oth Ave., at 7:30-9 pm and stick around after for tea and my triple-chocolate brownies. Details at

I want to thank Tom Esakin, organizer of the “5 Ways” series and a regular at Chanting & Chocolate, Fernando Esté, people’s warden at St. Paul’s, and Dale Pleven, sexton and building manager who wrangled the sound.


The Chanting & Chocolate Band in the Labyrinth Hall at St. Paul’s Anglican Church.


Participants sinking into the silence at the end of a chant.







Monday, Nov. 14, 2016: Investigative journalism matters

On the weekend I went to hear Walter “Robby” Robinson,  the former head of the investigative team at the Boston Globe who was portrayed in the Oscar-winning 2015 movie Spotlight by Michael Keaton.

The paper’s Spotlight team exposed the coverup of widespread sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, which led to more than 20 priests being convicted and jailed, and a Pulitzer Prize that Robinson accepted for the team in 2003.

Robinson, now the Globe’s editor-at-large, was speaking at the University of B.C. on “Spotlight on the church: How sex abuse went unnoticed for so long, and what it took to expose it.”

While he’s been called a hero, Robinson said the real heroes are the victims who came forward to tell their stories, many of them for the first time, some of them more than 50 years after they were abused.

I fear that with the death of so many newspapers and shrinking news staff of the ones surviving so far, that a scandal like the one in Boston wouldn’t be uncovered now.

The election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency is scandalous in itself. Robinson was asked in the Q&A after his talk about his take on it. He said Trump has such a hunger for attention, he may end up with the most transparent administration ever.

“Reporters are conflicted,” Robinson said. While they are horrified by the results, they realize it’s the most extraordinary story.




Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016: Creativity makes my day

From time to time I visit the Circle Craft Store on Vancouver’s Granville Island, a co-op featuring the creations of B.C. craftspeople, to ignite and delight the senses. Then once a year, the Circle Craft Fair at the sprawling Vancouver Convention Centre presents more than 300 artisans from across the country over five days.

I caught the last day and was overwhelmed by the creativity. On entry, I was drawn to the work of the Stinson Studios from Tamworth, Ontario, as shown in the photo above. Their handcrafted wooden bowls and sculptural burls from red and sugar maples, yellow birch and white oak are really fine art.

I love wood, as reflected in the floors, furniture and masks in my home. I treasure the purple heartwood salad bowl that a close family member brought back from volunteering in Guyana right after high school. Which reminds me to get up from the keyboard now and oil it.

There are too many standouts from the market to mention here but let me picture a few.


From Steidle Woodworking in Vancouver. The canoe, wow, and the exquisite paddles. Even bee hives.


While it rained heavily outside, these colour-drenched glass bowls brightened my day.


More colour! Hand-dyed yarn by Yuriko Ito from Fibre Art Studio on Granville Island.


Beautiful English and Hebrew calligraphy by printmaker Ian Kochberg of Richmond Hill, Ontario.


Finally, a favourite saying by Oscar Wilde, in wooden wall art by Big Bear and the Wolf from Salt Spring Island.




Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016: The one and only Leonard Cohen


On Friday before guests arrived for Shabbat dinner I set up a simple shrine with my 1969 edition of the “Songs of Leonard Cohen” songbook and a candle in the common house lounge. Dan brought his guitar and we sang several of my favourites from Leonard’s earlier days – before his baritone dropped to a bass where my tenor fears to tread.

As the Montreal Gazette reported, “His funeral took place Thursday afternoon in Montreal, at the Shaar Hashomayim Cemetery on the slopes of Mount Royal. As had been his wish, Cohen was laid to rest in a traditional Jewish rite in a family plot, beside his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.”

It was such a double whammy this past week. First the unimaginable shock of the U.S. election Tuesday, then the news on Thursday about Leonard, although he had actually died in Los Angeles on Monday. Thursday evening some of us sang a few Leonard tunes at the piano in the lounge.

I blogged about Leonard when the Nobel Prize for Bob Dylan was announced last month. I was first exposed to Leonard when I was high school age, to his poems in “Love Where the Nights Are Long,” the first anthology of Canadian love poetry. I bought it for $2.50 at Duthie Books with a gift certificate won at a public speaking contest. “Leonard is now 82,” I wrote, “and I hope he lives long enough to be receive such an honour as the Nobel Prize. To me, his books, poetry and songs add up to a body of superb work greater than Dylan’s.”

One of his poems from that 1962 book offers a hint of his future direction toward songwriting and singing, a shift he made to make a better living than from writing prose and poetry.


I almost went to bed
without remembering
the four white violets
I put in the buttonhole
of your green sweater

and how I kissed you then
and you kissed me
shy as though I’d
never been your lover

You can hear the music in those phrases. When I read those words in 1962 I was hooked on Leonard Cohen, especially because I fancied myself a poet too. Here’s one of mine from 1963.

The Pageant

Just remembering when I was Lead Bunny
in the Grade One pageant.
I was loud, my folks were proud,
even louder than the crowd, I was.
Louder than the Third Rock.
I sat on her, she cried.
Sure don’t make rocks like they used to.

My favourite 21st century Leonard song is “A Thousand Kisses Deep” from the 2001 album Ten New Songs. I treasure having seen Leonard perform in 2012 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver with my friend Ellen. He was so generous, seemingly singing forever, frequently dropping to his knees to croon – he absolutely rocked on stage.

But my all-time favourite Leonard song is “Hallelujah,” (the word is Hebrew for “Praise God”). We sang it at Shabbat dinner, and Shabbat morning at services to the Hebrew words of Psalm 150. And then on Saturday Night Live, Kate McKinnon, dressed as her Hillary Clinton character in a cream pantsuit, played piano and sang “Hallelujah.” And when she finished, she said, “I’m not giving up. And neither should you.”


Friday, Nov. 11, 2016: Gratitude to my father

For years, our family joined my father, a Second World War veteran of the Royal Canadian Air Force,  at the Burnaby Cenotaph to mark Remembrance Day. After his passing at 85 in 2004 we’ve continued to attend Nov. 11 services wherever we’re living. Now an East Side Vancouver resident, I went for the first time to the cenotaph at Memorial South Park, off East 41st Avenue just east of Fraser Street.

The photo above shows my dad Hyman with his dad, Louis, in Winnipeg before he shipped out across the Atlantic on the liner Queen Elizabeth, converted to a troop ship, on which he served as a baker.

Many ships were sunk by German submarines, but his made the passage safely. He also survived when German warplanes strafed his base in southern England. Then he was posted for the rest of the war to a joint RAF/RCAF base at Castle Archdale in Northern Ireland.

My dad’s job was to service the carburetors in Sunderland reconnaissance aircraft that patrolled the seas to spot the enemy. In an amazing example of our small world, the grandfather of my cohousing neighbour Jeanie flew Sunderlands from the same base. They must have known each other.


Sunderland reconnaissance aircraft at the base at Castle Archdale in Northern Ireland.

I attend Remembrance Day services out of gratitude for the tens of thousands of Canadians who have lost their lives serving our country, and in particular to my dad, who volunteered twice to enlist. The first time the army turned him down for bad eyesight, and then he joined the RCAF, shortly after marrying my mother, Molly Shuer.

g-mollyhi-iconic-c1940My mother and father, Molly and Hy, circa 1941 in Winnipeg.

The services at Memorial South Park were dignified and moving. They included a bugle blowing the Last Post, singing “O Canada”, hearing a reading of the poem “In Flanders Field”, reverential bagpipe music and a flypast by a wartime-era plane.


The crowd at Memorial South Park in Vancouver on Remembrance Day.

I slipped away while the wreath laying was underway, down a pathway lined with crosses, each with a photo and identification of someone who had died serving Canada. Across a field, I saw one of the park’s weeping willow trees. When I was a child, the branches reached down to the ground, creating a canopy that I imagined as a fort when I played under them. If not for the sacrifices of my dad and countless others, I would never have experienced that joy. I am truly grateful.


Pathway lined with crosses, each with photo and details of someone who died for Canada.


Detail of one of the crosses.


One of the weeping willow trees where I used to play under as a child.


Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016: Getting a move on in Movember

This Movember I’m growing my moustache for 30 days and (because I like a challenge) I’m getting active and taking on a Move challenge. I’m doing it to raise funds for the Movember Foundation, and I need your support.

This is my fifth year but the first year they’ve added a Move challenge. My target is to average at least 10,000 steps a day and so far after 10 days I’m doing it. Some days more than 14,000 steps – mostly on my treadmill desk.

I’m supporting the Movember Foundation because they’re tackling some of the most significant health issues faced by men. Your donations will help them stop men dying too young.

There are two ways you can contribute to my Mo growing effort:

Donate online at

Or, write a cheque to ‘Movember’ referencing my registration ID (2005068) and mail it to: Movember Canada, 119 Spadina Avenue, PO Box 65, Toronto, ON M5T 2T2

Learn about the important work Movember is funding and the impact your donation will have:

There’s a lot riding on this moustache, so thank you. I appreciate your support.

Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016: Compassion for the stranger

In troubling times, like Tuesday’s horrifying election result, I look to my teachers for guidance. “The commandment to love the stranger, repeated in Torah 36 times, must remain central,” wrote Rabbi Shefa Gold in an email today, “especially at this moment when a Trump presidency seems to rest on hatred and fear of the stranger.”

Shefa taught the chant leadership training I took 2004-2005 and often writes to graduates of the nine trainings she has led. There are a few of us here in Canada but most are in the U.S.

I want to reach out to that Pakistani Lyft driver who took me to the ferry yesterday, who, with his whole family had voted for the first time. We shared our hopefulness. And I felt his vulnerability, his uncertainty.

DonnaChava suggested that we all chant “Sham eten et dodai lach” – There I will give you my Love. Perhaps the “stranger” is that THERE. And perhaps so many of us feel like strangers in our land today. Now is the time for reaching out to the stranger within and to each other ….

Let us resist the temptations of laying blame and the temptations of despair and alienation. I’m suggesting first – self-care, and then compassion for the stranger. Let’s lean into our practice, and find the wide, long perspective.

So that chant became part of my self-care today, when I wasn’t  whipping up a stack of pancakes and taking an extended nap. When I woke up, the ugly reality was still there.

Like Shefa, I too felt hopeful on Tuesday. The Real Clear Politics website’s poll data pointed to an advantage for Hillary Clinton. I spent part of the morning with my friend Rabbi David Mivasair logging into the Democracy for America website to be a volunteer making calls to voters in North Carolina urging them to get out to vote.

By mid-afternoon, I set up a laptop link to the TV monitor in the common house lounge and began streaming the coverage that CNN had made free for the day. There was salsa and chips and I was cooking some brown basmati to go with the eggplant bharta that Paddy brought.

Several neighbours here at Vancouver Cohousing joined me for what was supposed to be a party but the mood slowly grew morose. I kept hoping for a miracle and didn’t turn off the coverage until Trump was well into his acceptance speech.

As another teacher of mine, Prahaladan, a classmate in the training 12 years ago, said in an email tonight:

I say – keep your center, your equanimity
Sometimes we win a battle, sometimes we lose; life is like that
Don’t despair, stay clear and strong
(only one day of bemoaning allowed)