Archive for the '26 great life experiences' Category

List of 26 Great Life Experiences

Posted by on Jul 29 2016 | 26 great life experiences, Aphasia, Life at home, Speech-Language, Travel

1. Camp Latona

2. Little Flower Academy – high school

3. Solo trip to Europe

4. Purdue University — SLP study, work as a staff resident, trips to Chicago, Toronto, and New Orleans

5. Marshfield Clinic — clinical fellowship in Speech-Language Pathology

6. SLP work at GF Strong Rehab Centre — community outreach service, outpatient program, special, memorable clients

7. Volunteer at Vancouver Writers Festival — picking up writers at the airport, including Rohinton Mistry (his first trip to Vancouver and I showed him around Granville Island on the way to his hotel) and hosting a couple of memorable events, including ones with Alberta Manguel, Michael Moore, Sherman Alexie and many others

8. Went to a Harvard Continuing Education week in Boston on “The Neurology of Behavior” hosted by Antonio Damasio. Also managed to squeeze in a Vancouver Canucks vs Boston Bruins game at the old Boston Garden. Pavel Bure scored the overtime winning goal 4-3. On that same trip, I took the train up to Stamford, Connecticut to see very good old friends (Martha and Phil) and had a personalized tour of the highlights of New York City that included an elevator ride to the top of one of the World Trade Center towers.

9. Travel to visit good friend in Vermont and drive through several states and see the fall colours in Quebec, New Hampshire and Maine as well as Vermont

10. Finding my biological family in 1997 and a new cousin in 2014.

11. Daniel and the summer of 1998

12. Buying my dream house in 1999

13. Many trips to Merville, Vancouver Island and Saturna Island, thanks to generous friends

14. Road trip to Yosemite National Park via Washington, Oregon and California coasts in 2000

15. Trip to Helsinki, St. Petersburg (Russia) and the Baltics (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia) in 2001

16. Trips to Haida Gwaii — first one solo in 1996 and second one with Daniel in 2002

17. Winning media award from national SLP organization and going to St. John’s Newfoundland to receive the award in 2003.

18. Founding of the BC Aphasia Centre (2000) with lengthy article by Daphne Bramham in the Vancouver Sun (2003), Volunteer Vancouver Award nomination and CBC National Radio interview with Shelagh Rogers, June 24, 2004 (see media page)

19. Provincial jobs — great opportunity to learn new skills and learn more about the diversity of British Columbia with two contract positions: Coordinator for “Strengthening Families and Youth” with Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division, and Provincial Consultant for Pediatric Therapists, contract through the Ministry for Children and Youth. The website I started is still there!

20. My dad’s death — I wrote a special letter to my dad on his 75th birthday to make sure that he knew how important he was to me in my life. When he declined suddenly with aggressive cancer two years later, I was glad that I had done that as we had little time for quality conversation. A talented friend help me make a beautiful funeral card for him.

21. Politics – I enjoyed getting involved in federal politics and went to my first national convention in late 2006. Being involved with the election of our local MP last year was also a life highlight.

22. I got involved with the Women’s Campaign School with the Canadian Women Voters Congress. I was president from 2008 to 2011. I met a lot of interesting people and learned a lot in that time.

23. Florida and astronauts. We were invited to the launch of STS-125 by a Purdue colleague, Drew Feustel, in 2009. It was a great and memorable experience. The year before I had a chance to meet Marc Garneau, Canadian astronaut through politics, (I found myself in a foyer alone with him and told him about Drew Feustel whom he referred to as “the half-Canadian”); John Herrington, the first American Indigenous astronaut, through a friend who was working on a children’s show through APTN. And then we got to meet Drew’s crewmate and space walk partner; John Grunsfeld, when he was giving a lecture at UBC about repairing Hubble and his experiences as an astronaut. Drew’s wife Indi let him know that we were attending the lecture so it made it easy to approach and chat with him before the talk.

24. Being present for my mother’s death in 2010 and organizing a funeral with her ahead of time and having it work out so beautifully.

25. Being well enough to travel again with Daniel, with a trip to Washington, DC, Long Island (to see my sister) and NYC.

26. Being well enough to enjoy life — good food, riding my bike, seeing friends again after changing my diet and becoming inspired and a follower of Dr. Terry Wahls and having the chance to meet her!

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26 great life experiences

Posted by on Jul 25 2016 | 26 great life experiences, Facial Pain/Trigeminal Neuralgia, MS

Oysters on Cortes Island 2004

Oysters on Cortes Island 2004

When I first started the idea of writing about great life experiences, I was not feeling well and figured I’d never feel great again as MS is a terrible disease. I wanted to leave some evidence that I was HERE and I LIVED a life. The best I could hope for was not to get worse and that’s why I started the drug treatment. Little did I know that some of the people and ideas I encountered along the way would provide me with much more hope and some actual healing. I got to the point where I thought I might be one of the lucky ones who figured out how to stop attacks.

Now that I am suffering another brain stem attack so similar in many ways to the one in 2011, I realize I was wrong. Did I do something wrong? Exposure to gluten or dairy? Stress? Surgeries? Exposure to toxins? Re-stenosis of my jugular veins? I was tolerating the drug well but the only things that really made a difference to how I felt were the TVAM/CCSVI procedure in California in February 2014, and the change in my diet following the example of Dr. Terry Wahls. After the TVAM/CCSVI, my energy improved, my blood pressure and pulse normalized, my hands and feet got warmer. I tolerated heat better and actually began to sweat.  With changes in my diet, I had quite a remarkable two years, ate food and enjoyed so many things in my life again that I thought were long gone, including exercise, swimming, riding my bike and hosting dinner parties with friends! I even had a glass of wine once or twice on very special occasions. Yet these times were interspersed with episodes of recurring trigeminal neuralgia, pain, stress and trips to Winnipeg for surgery.

Last summer, I recall saying to Daniel that it almost felt like the MS was gone. I was doing a lot of fun and interesting things. I felt mentally sharp. My feet felt normal and the feeling was coming back to my face as the rhizotomy healed. The only thing that persisted was a bit of tingling in my hands from the C5-6 spinal stenosis. But it wasn’t getting worse and actually had shown some signs of improvement with the annual MS MRI scans, plus I was seeing my chiropractor regularly and physiotherapist occasionally.

As I may not have time to go through all of the great experiences and scan photos, I’ll list them in the next post.


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#10 – Daniel and the Summer of 1998

Posted by on Jul 24 2016 | 26 great life experiences


Daniel at my place

In 1998, I was 38 years old, working in a job I enjoyed, and in the process of developing a business. But there was one thing missing and that was somebody to share my life with. A friend in Minneapolis had told me about a book I should read by Harville Hendrix, “Getting the Love You Want.” It helped me think about the significance of a primary relationship and the commitment and honesty required for a successful one.

I decided to take a course called “I’m Ready for a Relationship” at the local community centre. While taking the course, one of the challenges was to get comfortable with rejection as that meant you could move on and focus on other people who might not reject you. And the instructor asked us to write a long list of all the things we were looking for in an ideal mate, shoot for 100% and settle for 90%. Yes, it’s true — nobody is perfect!

My business partner had started corresponding with a man in Germany and it inspired me to try an online matching service. Now bear in mind this was May of 1998, so not many people were doing this. I signed up for one that gave me three weeks for free and sent messages to a few of the men who had similar interests.

One of these men wrote smart and thoughtful emails and during the three weeks of correspondence we moved on to our personal emails and arranged to meet. I learned that he was smart (PhD in Mechanical Engingeering), was an adjunct professor at UBC, was an accomplished researcher who published and had international recognition in his field of mechanical pulping. He had a business trip planned back east and took some vacation while there. And during that time we corresponded a lot. He was well aware of the Harville Hendrix book and was pleased that I mentioned it. So, before we let too much time go by and get lost is the fantasy of perfection, we arranged to meet at a coffee shop right after he returned from his trip.

On June 1, 1998, we met and began the glorious process of falling in love. After we had known each other for a few weeks, I showed him the list of things I was looking for in a mate. He read the loooooong list, handed it back to me, then said, “It sounds like me.” That was what amazed me too. Over the years, I have come to learn that he has many more pluses that I hadn’t even considered — like being a great cook! And an amazing handyman!

The weather that summer was glorious. I can barely remember a rainy day from June through September. And we did so many things that were so much fun.


swimming at Locarno Beach

We swam at the beach. We went to the Vancouver Jazz Festival. We went on a camping trip on Vancouver Island, visited my friends in Courtenay, then went all the way to the tip of Vancouver Island to Cape Scott. We brought back fresh crab to share with a friend of his visiting from Montreal.


Cape Scott, Vancouver Island


Black Tusk

That was also the summer we hiked “Black Tusk“, all in one day. We went with my brother, and it was the hottest day of that summer. We were so hot that we swam in the ice cold glacier fed water of Garibaldi Lake.

We rode our bikes, we enjoyed each others’ company. We went to movies and even met each others’ families. My mom, Maureen, quickly fell in love with him too!

I am forever grateful that I had the experience of falling in love and spending my life with an extraordinary human being.

I love you Daniel.



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#9 Finding my biological family in 1997

Posted by on Jul 21 2016 | 26 great life experiences, Family History


Maureen and Miriam 2010

I have neglected to write the great things in my life, and there are a lot of them. I may just list them in my next post. But for the time being, one of the most important things I did was to go on a search for my biological father. I knew he was from Long Island and born in 1931. I was motivated to attain dual citizenship for financial opportunities while pursuing advanced education in the U.S. And, of course, there was a lot of curiosity and unanswered questions. I knew I had two full sisters that he took with him back to New York when I was an infant in the care of my aunt and uncle, who later adopted me.

My biological father was known here in Vancouver as Jay Fleming, so I did some searching under that name. I knew he had served in the military, but those records led nowhere. I asked my biological mother for as much info as she could give me and she told me that he was born on the 4th of July and lived somewhere near Tarrytown, Long Island. Somewhere in some old family records I found a postcard written to Mr. and Mrs. James Nevins Fleming, and I realized that it might a key piece of information.

Now the internet was not as highly evolved then as it is now, but I did manage to find phone directories online, and found a J.N. Fleming listed in Port Jefferson, a town not far from Tarrytown. So, I sat down to write a letter explaining who I was and what I was looking for. I provided an email address in my letter.

A couple of weeks later, I got an email from my half-sister Dianne. Jim (as he was known there and no longer Jay as he was in Vancouver) had just had a stroke and was returning home from the hospital. And interestingly enough, he had aphasia.

I flew to NY as soon as I could and met my biological father, his second wife and her two sons, plus my half-sister and fraternal twin half-brothers. And the next day I met my full sister, Miriam. (The other full sister, the one who looks more like me, was living in Oklahoma.) I am pleased that I had enough communication skills to get information from Jim in our conversations. And he gave me a copy of his autobiography that he wrote for his Masters thesis when he was in his fifties.

Meeting my father, I realized where I got my hairy eyebrows. And meeting Miriam was truly a wonderful experience as she and I are very much alike in a lot of ways, although she looks more like our biological mother. We hit it off and laughed like little girls.

Over the years, Miriam has come to Vancouver many times. She and my mom, Maureen, hit it off. Biologically, Maureen was our aunt, the youngest sister of our biological mother. And when Maureen was dying in 2010, Miriam came out to see all of us.

The one thing I learned in this reunion was the realization that genetics are a much stronger bond than I had previously thought. After having found my biological family, I understood myself better. I went to Oklahoma to visit the other sister and learned more. She and I resemble each other a lot and even stood the same way with the right hand on the right hip. It was really strange for me to look at her and see myself. However, in temperament, we were quite different, and we have not maintained a relationship.

Miriam came out again when our biological mother was dying in 2013 and was here for her death and funeral. It meant a lot to me to have her support through that time. I had promised Maureen that I would take care of Betty and I was pleased that I could complete that.


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#4 Purdue University – part one

Posted by on Feb 25 2015 | 26 great life experiences


It’s been a while since I focused on this list of 26 great life experiences. I started thinking about it when it seemed that my life was effectively over and I wanted to put something out to the world that said “I was here.” My sister is still waiting for me to write about how we met in 1997 and I assure her that it’s on my list but I’ve decided to do the list chronologically instead of trying to rate them.

In 1988, I applied to several universities across Canada to pursue studies in speech-language pathology, and one university in the US. I decided to apply to the program at Purdue because one of my former classmates had been admitted there. I figured if they took her, there was no reason not to take me. Interestingly enough, the first university to formally accept me was Purdue.


They offered me a trip to visit the campus, so I flew to West Lafayette, Indiana via Chicago, where they put me up in Earhart Hall, named after the famous aviator, Amelia Earhart. She was an instructor at Purdue and the university was instrumental in supporting her remarkable aviation accomplishments.

Purdue Campus_20150225_0001

Purdue Earhart Hall_20150225_0001

When I heard from UBC that I had been accepted in their first round of offers, Purdue had already flown me out to the campus, given me a tour, and offered me a research assistant position that gave me a tuition waiver. Making the decision was easy as I wanted to attend a program that had an on-site clinic. As Purdue was and is consistently ranked as one of the top programs in the US, I started making plans to go right away.

I shipped some things to Indiana, and other things got packed into my brother’s car as we decided to take advantage of the opportunity to drive across the U.S. We drove down to Seattle where he ran a marathon, then proceeded on a long camping trip to Montana, then down to Wyoming, enjoying Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. We went down to Colorado and New Mexico, then drove through Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, to the Mississippi, and then north, stopping in Nashville, Graceland and Mammoth Cave in Kentucky before arriving in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Purdue trip Colorado_20150225_0001

Highway in Colorado

I had a room at the graduate residence in Young Graduate House. And when we had our first orientation meeting to get to know other students, there were four other Canadians in the first year class.

It was the beginning of a new chapter in my life.

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My new cousin

Posted by on Nov 26 2014 | 26 great life experiences, Family History, Life at home

David as a young man

On June 26, I received the e-mail I had been hoping for. I didn’t recognize the name of the sender and thought perhaps it was a spam message as my name was in the subject line. But I took a quick look and saw three photos that were attached. The one I have posted on the top of this blog post struck me as I was looking at a man who bore a strong resemblance to my grandfather, Charles Edward Evans. I knew without a doubt that he was my cousin. Such a fine looking cousin too!

The letter was written by my cousin David and his wife, Joanne, and described the details of his birth and adoption, in Ontario. The adoption had been arranged prior to his birth. He was christened by his adoptive parents 10 days after his birth. His parents were a lawyer and his wife from St. Lucia. David was so fortunate to be welcomed into a loving home right away so he could bond with his parents.

They wrote:

David’s adoption papers include a brief background, which provided his birth mother’s year of birth (but no date), the existence of two sisters, her parent’s nationality and occupation etc. No names were provided on the adoption papers. The medical birth record however, provided a name for his birth mother as Barbara Evans. There is even less information on his birth father. He was an African American, but born in Sweden to a jazz musician and his wife who were residing in Sweden at the time. They moved back to the USA and then he joined the US Air force.

The private investigator told them it would be a difficult task to find a woman with such a common name as Barbara Evans. But they got a break when they found an obituary for a Barbara Mary Evans, who died at 78 years of age in 2005, giving them a birth year to work with of 1927. But if we hadn’t found Barbara’s ashes in Maureen’s closet after Maureen died, I probably wouldn’t have posted much information about Barbara on my blog. Burying Barbara at the same time as Betty gave me the opportunity to have them both memorialized and remembered at Mountain View Cemetery. And that was the key to making the connection.

David and Joanne still live in St. Lucia, that gorgeous island in the Caribbean, where they are raising their children. They were grateful that I had chosen to publish my family history as it might not have been a successful search.

I responded right away and anticipated the contact.

David young

David as a child

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# 3 Little Flower Academy

Posted by on Jul 25 2013 | 26 great life experiences, Events

Last Saturday, we celebrated our 35th high school reunion. A couple of my friends and former classmates did a beautiful job of planning and making the event memorable. Our graduating class was only 40 students, so all of us knew each other to some degree. While it wasn’t a great school academically in the 70s, it offered good athletics and helped me form important friendships. And with all of my medical challenges in recent years, the only friends who have really stood by me are the friends I made at LFA. For me personally, being at a small school was a good thing at that time of my life.

stained-glass windows from the old convent

We started off the day on a tour of the school.They did a beautiful job of incorporating parts of the old buildings with the new school, such as the stained-glass windows and the use of solid Douglas Fir beams as benches.

We were in awe of the new development and facilities. The gymnasium is top-notch and they have labs now, so the students don’t go up to Vancouver College for Physics and Chemistry anymore, like I did. Although, I admit, I enjoyed those classes as it prepared me for university, and helped me make friends with some smart boys!

Me as our Grade 12 homeroom teacher

I wasn’t 100% sure I would be up to it, but I was feeling pretty good last week. So, about 10 days ago, I went shopping at Value Village to find an outfit that would help me look like Sister Pat, our homeroom teacher. And I wrote a little speech and offered a toast to our ‘unique’ class. I enjoyed hearing the laughter as I gave the speech and I received some good feedback afterwards. I left shortly after dinner as I was tired. It was nice to see people again.

Our tour guide Ben Fitch uploaded photos he took of our class at the school on the LFA website.

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Donors — Indi and Drew Feustel

Posted by on Apr 11 2013 | 26 great life experiences, MS Walk

before launch of STS-125, May 2009

In 1989, I arrived in West Lafayette, Indiana to attend grad school at Purdue University. There were five Canadians in my class that year, one of whom was the gorgeous Indira Bhatnagar of Cornwall, Ontario. I remember the first time I met her new boyfriend, Drew Feustel, at a Halloween party. They were both counselors at the undergraduate residence halls and dated right through grad school. I was a staff resident at the graduate residence hall and that position came with a room large enough to entertain guests. I hosted a Pictionary game one night and Indi and Drew came.

Drew in my room at Young Graduate House

My time at Purdue University was exceptional and I met so many interesting and smart people. Even though I knew that many astronauts had studied there (Neil Armstrong, Gus Grissom, Eugene Cernan), it never occurred to me that I might meet somebody who would become an astronaut.

After graduation, we went our different ways. I heard through the grapevine that Indi and Drew got married and moved to Kingston, where Drew did his Ph.D. at Queen’s. Then Indi got in touch with me to introduce me to her younger sister who was studying at UBC and interested in speech-language pathology. It was through that relationship with Indi’s sister that I reconnected to the amazing adventure that was in store for them when Drew was accepted into the astronaut program in 2000.

In 2008, an envelope arrived from the Johnson Space Center in Houston with an autographed photo.

Shortly afterwards, we received a message asking us to let them know if we were interested in attending the launch of Atlantis, on STS-125, the last mission to repair the Hubble Telescope. Of course, we said ‘yes’ — the details of that experience will be in my ’25 great life experiences’ category.

Drew’s second mission was the penultimate space shuttle mission, STS-134 on Endeavour, and went to the International Space Station. It was most exciting to be connected to all the communications from ‘ground control’, i.e., Indi’s internet connections.

Indi is a remarkable fundraiser herself, raising thousands for the American Heart Association in honour of her father. I am so grateful that the Feustels have honoured me with a donation for the upcoming MS Walk.

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#2 Travelling in Europe alone

Posted by on Dec 16 2012 | 26 great life experiences

with Aussie friends, Plakias, Crete, June 1983

In September, 1982, I set out for a planned year-long adventure on my own in Europe. I had my return airfare on British Airways paid and my Eurail and Britrail passes paid for. That left me with $10,000 for the trip of my life, and I flew into Heathrow with my sleeping bag and backpack with Canadian flag patch sewn on.

There are far too many experiences in that one year to write about. There were many adventures and opportunities taken — including some stupid decisions — part of the experience of being young. I went to most countries in Western Europe, and also did a foray into East Germany as I wanted to visit Berlin and see the Berlin Wall.

Among the highlights were time spent in Greece and Spain. My favourite place in Greece was on the south shore of Crete where the photo above was taken. We fell into a nice daily routine of yogurt and honey for breakfast, Greek salad and pita bread with a large bottle of beer for lunch, then a nice Greek dinner, souvlaki or moussaka or roast lamb etc, retsina, then baclava and coffee. Mmmmm. Between meals we would go to the beach or play “500”, an Australian card game similar to Euchre. I spent about 10 nights in Plakias and was tempted to stay longer, but I knew I needed to move on. The Aussies pictured above went to Turkey from Crete, I went to see more of the islands (Santorini, Naxos, Paros), then headed up to Austria. When I caught up with them later in London, I wish I had gone to Turkey with them. It’s one of my small regrets.

The absolute highlight was time spent in Spain with my old high school friend, Joan. She was studying at the University in Granada. I was feeling a bit homesick at Christmas, so I took the train down to Granada to spend it with her. Back then, you had to switch trains at the French/Spanish border as the train track gauge was a different size.

After a post-Christmas trip/car-tour (Toledo, Madrid, Salamanca, Santiago de Compostela, then south through Portugal) I left for a month to see Italy, then returned in February to enrol at the Universidad de Granada for a three-month course, Espanol para Extranjeros, or Spanish for Foreigners. Joan had a group of friends who were locals and it gave me a chance to experience Granada and surrounding areas in a way that I wouldn’t have had as a regular tourist.

As I look at my photos of the Alhambra where there are no people, I realize in hindsight how fortunate I was to be able to go there many times without experiencing tourist hordes. It was a different time, only 7 years post-Franco, and Spain wasn’t fully explored by travellers as it is now.

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#1 Camp Latona

Posted by on Dec 11 2012 | 26 great life experiences

I decided to start with Camp Latona instead of Purdue because it has as profound an effect on me at an important time of my life. As I’ve been developing my list, I realize that going through my top 25 great life experiences more or less chronologically makes a bit more sense than trying to rank them. They were all special to me. So, it will be a bit like writing my life story. A vanity project, for sure — but when you have a major health crisis and no parents or children, you start to realize that if you don’t record your presence, you’ll be forgotten very shortly after you’re gone without any trace. Since I can’t work now, I have the time.

In 1970, I first went to Camp Latona, situated on the north side of Gambier Island in Howe Sound. I was in a cabin named “Haida”, my counsellor was “Miss Kathy”, the camp director was “Sister Theresa”, and we had powdered milk on our cereal. I kept going back every summer in session 1, the first two weeks of July. Session 1 was always the wet session and the girls in Session 2 always got the sunshine. At camp reunions we would identify with our session — those of us from Session 1 liked to talk about how we formed our friendships as we struggled to stay dry in our primitive lean-tos with those old sleeping bags that never dried after they got wet. I grew up at Latona, as a camper until I became a counsellor-in-training, then a counsellor. I also spent time as the “outtrip director” at boys camp in 1977. I returned in the late 80s as a counsellor, then the next year as the Junior Counsellor director and Director of Senior Co-Ed Camp.

Latona was a very special place. It was there that I had the opportunity to see myself in different, positive ways. Growing up unattached in an alcoholic home was very difficult for me, and all of us in my family suffered in our own unique ways. I formed healthy friendships there that helped me get through the challenges of adolescence.

When the camp closed in the mid-90s and was sold, I never thought I would ever see it again. Declan Lawlor, “waterfront director” in the 80s, bought Latona and has re-opened a summer camp. Declan and I have fond memories of pranks and being captains of the “Gumbys” where we painted ourselves green and made carboard heads in the shape of our favourite flexible character. I am so glad that children in Vancouver have a chance to experience Latona again. It was my home away from home.

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