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)

Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016: He Named Me Malala

Tonight I hopped on my treadmill desk and watched an outstanding  documentary about a most remarkable young woman, Malala Yousafzai. It was a great hour and a half power walk and a transfixing film experience.

Her 2013 book was called “I Am Malala” while this 2015 film is called “He Named Me Malala,” signalling the key role her father Ziauddin has played in her life. I identified with his unwavering encouragement of his daughter.

Ziauddin, a teacher and advocate for education, named her after Malalai, a warrior woman and poet in Afghanistan who rallied Afghan fighters against the British but died in an 1880 battle.

I think everyone knows Malala’s story. Born in 1997 in the northwest Pakistani region of Swat, she became an activist for girls’ rights even as a young teenager. In 2012, a Taliban gunman entered her school bus and shot her in the forehead. It was touch and go whether Malala would survive, but after treatment at a hospital in Birmingham, England, she emerged from her coma, asking, “Where is my father?”. After many months of surgery and rehabilitation, she regained most of her physical abilities.

At the United Nations in 2013 in her first public speech after the attack, she said :

The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born … I am not against anyone, neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I’m here to speak up for the right of education for every child. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all terrorists and extremists.


Malala has since gone on to win the Nobel Prize for Peace at 17, establish the Malala Fund for girls’ education and speak all over the world. Her father has said:

People ask me, what did I do to make Malala so bold and courageous? I did not clip her wings.


Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016: How Dylan changed my life

On Feb. 9, 1974, I drove to Seattle with a friend to attend a concert of Bob Dylan – who received the Nobel Prize for Literature today – and The Band at the Seattle Center Coliseum. It was a transformative show for me, a spiritual experience that changed my life – without being high on anything but the music and the energy of the crowd.

On the way back to Vancouver, I told my friend I was going to quit my job with the federal government and take a 40-day training with a mystical school called the Arica Institute. That was my first serious step on the path of spiritual growth, which has been an essential part of me ever since.


The photo is from that 1974 tour with Dylan flanked by Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm of The Band – my favourite band of all time – and here’s the tour poster too. The setlist for that concert included (thank you, Google, for all these details) “It Ain’t Me Babe,” “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and “Forever Young.”

“Forever Young” has become a personal anthem that picks me up when I’m down. I like to crank it up in the car and sing it at the top of my lungs. It’s Dylan’s take on the Priestly Blessing from Torah, which the temple priests from whom I am descended used to channel God’s blessings to the people, and is also used by Jewish parents to bless their children at the Sabbath table.

Seth Rogovoy points out in The Forward newspaper that “Forever Young” invokes “the story of Jacob (‘May you build a ladder to the stars /And climb on every rung’) to connect it to his own youngest son, who would grow up to be a rock star.”

I first encountered Dylan’s music when I was still in high school. “Blowin’ in the Wind” was released in 1963, and not long after I was on stage at a Burnaby South High School event plunking out the chords on my guitar while a classmate sang the song.

I was also first exposed to Leonard Cohen when I was high school age, to his poems in “Love Where the Nights Are Long,” the first anthology of Canadian love poetry. Leonard is now 82 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.


Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016: Soup, glorious soup

The 2016 Harvest Soup Contest in Whistler made Canadian Thanksgiving a culinary adventure. My Vancouver Cohousing neighbour Marijean and I stopped in at the event after the weekend at Tyrol Lodge with several households from our community.

A fundraiser for the Whistler Waldorf School, the event enlisted eight restaurants and hotels in a contest to see who made the favourite soup of the hundreds who attended. We all paid $6 to to sample five of the soups and enjoy a full bowl of the one we voted for.

The ones I sampled were all good: Hot & Sour Soup, Chilliwack Summer Corn & 5 Spiced Duck with Saffron, Tapley’s Turkey Pot Pie, Pollo Borracho Tortilla Soup and Roast B.C. Squash with Braised Short Ribs and Crispy Onions.

That last soup, from the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, was the favourite of both of us – so richly flavourful from the first spoonful. And I learned today that it won this year’s Golden Ladle Award.

Marijean is gluten intolerant and carefully asked about the content of each soup. I avoided the ingredients that don’t jibe with my Eco Kosher Lite dietary practice – so none of the Alaskan King Crab & Butternut Squash Bisque and, because I’d already had the short ribs, I didn’t try the Truffled Chanterelle Bisque with Parmesan and Chives because of the dairy content. Not having meat and dairy in the same meal is part of my practice.

But I didn’t ask carefully about ingredients not mentioned in the name of the soup. I later saw the application form for the winning soup and saw the ingredients included cream. An oops, but not a huge deal. The “Lite” part of my practice is about not being crazy-making.


Gorgeous fall colour at Whistler.

Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016: Surprise snow

Greetings from Whistler, the ski destination about an hour and a half north of Vancouver. We experienced a short snowfall this afternoon that was a delight to see, and had me worried about the drive home, but rain washed it away.

The view of Alta Lake in the photo is from the lodge owned by the Tyrol Ski and Mountain Club. Frannie in Vancouver Cohousing is a member of the club and arranged to rent it for the weekend, so a gang of us are up here for the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend.

It’s a large, rustic building with myriad little rooms to stay in and a big living and kitchen area with a fireplace to share. My room is on the quiet side away from the families, with a bunk bed that I’ve fixed up cosily with my down duvet from home.

I got up early to stream Canada’s No. 1 tennis player in the semi-finals of the China Open in Beijing at 6:30 but was dismayed to learn he had sprained an ankle and had to drop out before the match started. I hope Milos heals in time for the tournament in Shanghai next week.

I’ve been having fun here playing table tennis, napping, chatting and chopping yams for tonight’s potluck dinner, the centrepiece of which is a ducken – a chicken stuffed inside a duck that Fabrice brought from Calabria on Victoria Drive.

I whipped up a mango and cherry protein smoothie for breakfast and a juice from Chaser’s Juice and Deli in Vancouver called Tropical Greens – pineapple, mango, coconut water, kale, celery, cucumber, ginger, lemon and apple. Delicious!

It tasted better than any of the juices I’ve made on my own where I’m throwing in whatever I’ve got. Maybe it’s time to follow some proven juice recipes.


Thanksgiving dinner at Tyrol Lodge.









Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016: Zurufa’s success (not a fundraiser)


The “Queen of Katwe” story of impoverished Ugandan kids working hard to succeed has some parallels with my experience forming a spelling team at the poor rural high school where I taught in eastern Uganda. I created spelling tests and chose the top students for a spelling team. Zurufa Nandutu was not one of the top kids but I knew from my English writing classes that she was a hard worker.

Zurufa is not one of the five orphans we support through Chanting & Chocolate. But she comes from a desperately poor family and appealed to me to help her finish high school and then study nursing.

I personally supported her for three more years of school, and then she asked if she could go to university for a degree in social work. Today I sent her money for her graduation from Islamic University on Nov. 15. I’m so proud of Zurufa.

That’s Zurufa in the spelling team standing second from left.


I told the spelling story in a post back in January but I want to bring it back because of “Queen of Katwe.”

Our team practised endless lists of words and then we challenged two prestigious schools in Mbale, the district capital about 5 km (3 miles) away, to what may have been the first spelling bee in the country.

On the day of the Mbale Spelling Challenge, I hosted our team to lunch at the guesthouse where I lived at Nabugoye and then we drove by minivan to Mbale Secondary School, a treat for the students who usually walked to town.

The spelling judges I recruited from the district school board came up with a tough list of words. Our team struggled and came in third. Afterwards, all the contestants drank soft drinks provided by a local distributor and received certificates of participation.

Every student also got a T-shirt from MTN, the top telecom in Uganda. The shirts promoted a service for youth with the slogan “Late chat 4 shizzle.” The irony of spelling students and their teacher to be wearing that didn’t hit me until much later.

Our students sang all the way back to the village. It had been a great day.

Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016: Tears at Queen of Katwe

The excellent new feel-good movie “Queen of Katwe” took me back to my 14 months in Uganda six years ago and had me in tears of joy. It’s based on a true story about a young illiterate girl, Phiona Mutesi, who learns to play chess and rises to become an international champion.

Phiona is played by newcomer Madina Nalwanga, and also stars David Oyelwo (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in “Selma”) as her chess coach, Robert Katende, and Lupita Nyong’o (Patsy in “12 Years a Slave”) as her protective, widowed mother, Harriett Nakku.

It takes place in Katwe, a slum in Kampala. During my six months in the Ugandan capital I often drove through parts of Katwe but never stopped. In the movie, Harriett and her four kids are evicted from a hovel for failure to pay rent of $5.

I lived not so far away in a new, walled apartment complex in a three-bedroom suite for $350 a month on Movit Road, named after the Movit factory on the road that makes skin lightening cream. On Nyong’o’s Wiki page, she tells about getting a letter from a little girl in Africa that said, ” I was just about to buy Dencia’s Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me.”

The movie reminded me of my own short-lived career as a chess champion. When I was in Grade 8 in Burnaby, a suburb of Vancouver, my dad taught me to play chess and within months I won my junior high school championship. Soon after I went to Parksville on Vancouver Island to play in the B.C. Boys’ Chess Championships. I lost every game except one, when I successfully begged my opponent to let me have a draw. Nobody’s bidding for the rights to that movie.


Monday, Oct. 3, 2016: Bringing my worlds together

The cycle of the seasons has come around again to Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Sunday evening’s dinner was a unique opportunity to bring together friends from many of the communities in my life – Vancouver Cohousing, where I live; my spiritual community, Or Shalom; the world of Chanting & Chocolate and my monthly Shabbat dinners, as well as family members.

The dinner in our beautiful common house began with blessings to mark the New Year. Practically all Jewish holidays fit the template of “They tried to wipe us out, we survived, let’s eat!” While there are no historical calamities associated with Rosh Hashanah that I know of, we feast anyway.

The potluck vegetarian and dairy dinner yielded many wonderful taste treats. I contributed Sweet and Spicy Moroccan Eggplant from the bounty I grew in our garden.


Sweet and Spicy Moroccan Eggplant from our garden.

It was my first meal of solid food after 13 days of juice fasting. I woke up this morning feeling a little groggy and kind of hung over, and not from wine. I’m considering going back to full-tilt juicing to add another 14 pounds to the 11.5 I’ve lost already. I began at 200.5 and the goal is 175. I really loved my energy on juicing. Eating normally, I usually nap every day, but on juice I had three in 13 days. Today, I’ve already had two naps.

But back to the dinner. Avril pointed out that a lot of people didn’t know each other, so we introduced ourselves. Many mentioned how they knew me and their gratitude that I created the dinner. I don’t often get invited to people’s homes for these occasions, so I was very grateful that friends and family joined me at my home.

After introducing myself, I introduced Miriam Nankwanga, displaying her photo on my laptop. Miriam is one of the five orphans in Uganda where I lived 2009-10 whose education we support through donations at my events.

She has two more years of high school and has dreams of becoming a teacher. To achieve her dream, this year Miriam switched from the under-resourced village school to a better school in the nearby town, Mbale. I’m not collecting enough donations to cover her needs, which amount to $455 (US$345) for each of three terms a year.

At the dinner, I said I would pledge $50 per term and my cohousing neighbour Brenda said she would match it. Would anyone reading this blog want to be part of this effort to help an African orphan get through high school? Any amount would help. Please be in touch in the comments or at


Ugandan orphan Miriam Nankwanga needs your help.