Thursday, Jan.28, 2016: The joy of publishing

Tonight I published the latest monthly edition of the Vancouver Cohousing Newsletter for our community, perhaps the last issue before we move in February into our 31-unit complex in East Vancouver on 33rd between Knight and Victoria Drive.

The newsletter is one of my newest babies in a lifetime of birthing publications. The absolute newest is this blog, Being 69, coming to you daily since Dec. 30, 2015. I have always loved every part of the process of publishing – the writing, photography, editing, design and production. Not so much the business side. I even had a comic strip, Wry Lines, for a while.

The cohousing newsletter is digital, created online with the MailChimp app. That’s a mind-blowing technological leap from the hot-lead era of 1964, when I was a 17-year-old first-year student at the University of B.C. editing the freshman newspaper The Odyssey. I was working with the president of the freshman class – Kim Campbell, later to become, briefly, Canada’s first female prime minister.

Hot lead refers to typesetting systems used in letterpress printing. Men known as compositors operated large, clanking devices with keyboards that cast lines of type out of molten metal consisting primarily of lead.

When I launched the first student paper, The Tartan, at the opening of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby in 1965 I went really simple using a mimeograph machine. Within two months there were three student newspapers. The surviving one emerged as The Peak, which embraced the phototypesetting technology called cold type. Machines generated text printed on photographic paper.

My next baby was Discovery Passage, a biweekly newspaper I started in 1970s hippie days on Quadra Island. We began with electronic stencilling, soon upgrading to cold-type paste-ups that we sent by bus to Port Alberni. They came back as printed newspapers.

Most of my working life was in daily newspapers. As well, over the years I’ve produced newsletters on a volunteer basis, most recently for the first two years of Limmud Vancouver, the festival of unexpected Jewish learning. The third edition of LimmudVan is this weekend and tickets are still available.

Earlier this evening, Yossi and Debbie Havusha came over with their son, a fellow fan of Canada’s No. 1 tennis star Milos Raonic, who plays at 12:30 a.m. Vancouver time Friday in the semi-final of the Australian Open against Andy Murray. Yossi produces Yossilinks, Vancouver’s online Jewish community, and Debbie blogs on the website. A recent post highly praised her experience at December’s Chanting & Chocolate. On the last Sunday of every month, the January event is this Sunday at Or Shalom at 7:30 pm. I get the word out with a digital newsletter.


That’s me, lower left, with the staff of my newspaper on Quadra Island in 1972.


Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016: What W.C. Fields and I have in common

The comedian and actor W.C. Fields died at 66 on Christmas Day 1946, five days before I was born. What we share in common is a condition called rhinophyma, a rare skin disorder characterized by an enlarged, red, bumpy nose. Comedians had a field day with his nose. Here’s a line from ventriloquist Edgar Bergen’s dummy Charlie McCarthy:

Is it true, Mr. Fields, that when you stood on the corner of Hollywood and Vine, 43 cars waited for your nose to change to green?

My rhinophyma is nowhere as serious, and it’s neither painful nor life-threatening. It just makes me feel self-conscious and less attractive. I bring it up after some reflection in the wake of David Bowie’s death from liver cancer at 69 on Sunday. It’s been reported that he had suffered six heart attacks related to his cancer. Very few people reach this stage of life without at least some health issues.

I use medicated creams prescribed by dermatologists to treat my condition. I even booked a surgery appointment last year to have a carbon dioxide laser blast the offending tissue off my nose, which would have left my schnozz raw and oozing for a month to heal. Family members said it just wasn’t that noticeable, and I cancelled.

I’ve never wanted to be dependent on medications. However, today I picked up refills for the two I take daily. I was finding my voice getting increasingly thin and wispy and that alarmed me because I sing. I was referred to a laryngologist – a doctor with a special interest in voice disorders and diseases of the larynx. The specialist, who sings in the Bach Choir,  diagnosed GERD or acid reflux, and prescribed a drug that is very helpful.

Earlier in my 60s, I went to see a urologist, who diagnosed BPH – benign prostatic hyperplasia – an enlarged prostate, fairly common among men of my vintage. I take a daily pill that relieves some of the symptoms.

Of course, my infirmities are very minor compared to so many others. All we can do is our very best to stay as healthy as possible. I eat healthy foods, not counting the pancakes I made on impulse for dinner tonight while I watched Vancouver’s Vasek Pospisil get creamed by his doubles tennis partner Jack Sock – they won the Wimbledon doubles crown – in singles action at a tournament in New Zealand. This morning I played racquetball and went to yoga class after day 12 of daily practice. I’m standing on my treadmill desk as I write this.

People often say that aging sucks. I always say it beats the alternative.


Monday, Jan. 11, 2016: David Bowie was 69 too

I woke up this morning to a spectacular sunrise, and the news that David Bowie had died. I was first aware of him when he starred as an alien in “The Man Who Fell to Earth” in 1976. That same year I was lamenting the final concert, The Last Waltz, of my favourite group of musicians, The Band, and never really paid attention to Bowie’s music. My loss.


David Bowie played his first starring role in the 1976 British sci-fi film “The Man Who Fell to Earth”. He played Thomas Jerome Newton, a humanoid alien who comes to Earth from a distant planet on a mission to take water back to his home planet, which is experiencing a catastrophic drought.


This evening, my friend Samadhi came over for dinner and we talked about Bowie, who turned 69 this past Friday. She had been a big fan in her teens in Israel and later saw him perform in Vancouver. Samadhi played YouTube videos for me of some of his hits – “Dance With Me” and “China Girl” – and then a mix of “Under Pressure” with Freddie Mercury, who died in 1991 and also would have been 69 now.

I’ve been googling who else is or would have been my age. Some famous members of Club 69, in no particular order:

Patti Smith, singer (also born on Dec. 30)

Steven Spielberg, screenwriter and director

Dolly Parton, singer

David Lynch, director

Gene Siskel, journalist, died in 1999

Serge Savard, Montreal Canadiens star

Charlotte Rampling, actor

Pete Postlethwaite, actor

Gregory Hines, dancer and actor

Sandy Duncan, actor

J. Geils, guitarist

Alan Rickman, actor

Tyne Daly, actor 

Eugene Levy, actor

Edgar Winter, guitarist

Marianne Faithfull, singer

Bill Lee, baseball player

Diane von Furtsenberg, fashion designer

Bill Clinton, retired politician

George W. Bush, retired politician

Donald Trump, blowhard

Sylvester Stallone, actor

Cher, singer

Tommy Lee Jones, actor

Sally Field, actor

Susan Sarandon, actor

Liza Minnelli, singer

Danny Glover, actor

Candice Bergen, actor

Suzanne Somers, actor

Alan Rickman, actor

Jimmy Buffett, singer

Jayne Eastwood, actor

Howard Shore, composer

Keith Moon, drummer, died 1978

Linda Ronstadt, singer

Barry Gibb, singer

Reggie Jackson, baseball player

Patty Duke, actor

Steve Biko, activist, died 1977

Lesley Gore, singer, died 2015

John Prine, musician

Donovan, musician

Oliver Stone, director

Romeo Delaire, former Canadian general

Ilie Nastase, tennis player

Daryl Hall, musician

Bill Kreutzmann, drummer

Anne Wheeler, director



Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016: Vancouver is so beautiful




With brilliant sunshine and a relatively balmy 7˚C (45˚F), it was a perfect day to stroll at Kitsilano Beach and take in the beauty of Vancouver’s natural setting. People were walking their dogs, shooting hoops, playing volleyball. On a day like today, Vancouverites’ collective amnesia is in full bloom: “Rain? What rain? I don’t remember rain.”

This is my hometown and I am pretty close to a native, having left Winnipeg at nine months old. I’ve lived on several continents, but have always considered Vancouver my home. The mountains, ocean, temperate climate, easy access to recreation, rich diversity, fellow “nuts and flakes” who have gravitated to the coast, and an attitude of “working to live,” rather than “living to work”.

This afternoon, further down the beach, hundreds of people were gathered by the water. I approached and asked what it was about. They were members of local Greek Orthodox churches celebrating the holy day Epiphany that commemorates the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist.

A sacred procession carried a cross to the water’s edge and, after prayers in Greek and English, it was tossed into the sea to symbolize the baptism. Several boys and men then jumped into the chilly water to recover the cross and bring it back to land.

It was a unique experience, enhanced by chancing to meet my old Greek-Canadian neighbours, Jim and Maria, from when we had our house in Point Grey. It was a wonderful opportunity to catch up on our lives, especially our kids. I remember Jim and Maria had a bountiful fig tree with branches that reached over our back deck. Every year we looked forward to the sweet harvest.


The Greek Orthodox procession down the beach to the water’s edge.


Boys and men brave the chilly water to retrieve the cross.

This evening was another prayerful event. Or Shalom member Barry and his family were observing Erev Shloshim, which marks 30 days since Barry’s younger brother Ilan died at 58 in Capetown, South Africa. After an evening service, Barry and his two sisters told moving stories about their dear brother.

This morning I rolled out of bed to do my daily practice, which makes 10 days straight. Then I hopped on the treadmill desk and walked briskly while watching Canada’s No. 1 player Milos Raonic beat tennis legend Roger Federer in straight sets to win the championship of the Brisbane International in Australia. Using my subscription to, it was a video replay of the match that had started at 1 a.m. Vancouver time. Still, I cheered like it was live. A great beginning to 2016 for Milos.



Friday, Jan. 1, 2016: Beginning daily practice

Born in 1946, made it to 2016. So far, so good, I’ve been blessed with excellent health. The maternal line of my family has not been so fortunate. My grandmother died at 52, my mother at 50 – both from cancer – my sister has MS and her daughter has had health scares. I visited my sister today and her spirit is still strong. I pray for a miracle that she can walk away from her wheelchair.

I brought in the new year at a party near my home with old and new friends. I enjoyed meeting Saeed, who came to Canada as a refugee from Iran in the ’80s. His daughter is half-Korean, while mine is half-Japanese. The party greeted 2016 at midnight with hugs and kisses, and formed a circle to chant in Sanskrit while I banged on a drum.

Have you made New Year’s resolutions? Sadly I’ve never sustained a daily spiritual practice. Today I began with five minutes of chanting, five of meditation and five of yoga with the intention of building that to 20 minutes of each over the year. When I took the two-year chant leadership training with Rabbi Shefa Gold in 2004-05, she gave us the assignment to spend 20 minutes a day in the silent presence of the Divine. This morning I chanted along with Shefa on her “Flavors of Gratefulness” app, available at the App Store. It’s 36 different daily melodies to the chant of Modeh Ani Lefanecha, Ruach Chai V’kayam (I gratefully acknowledge Your Face; Spirit lives and endures), our prayer for greeting each day. I was delighted to find that today’s melody was one of the first chants I learned after experiencing Shefa at a Jewish Renewal retreat in 1995.

In the afternoon, I baked triple-chocolate brownies and brought them to Al’s place, where he graciously hosted a drop-in New Year’s Day potluck that flowed into a Shabbat dinner. Shabbat Shalom. Photographer Alan Katowitz snapped the photo with my iPhone. And yay, the Canucks beat the Ducks in a shootout tonight.