Would you take a wellness workshop from your dentist?

Last I heard of Pemberton’s stalwart dentist, Anne Crowley, she had put on a backpack and was about to solo trek across the country.

I didn’t really expect her to be offering an eight-week wellness course at the Pemberton Community Centre, starting Jan. 18.

“I made it to Lillooet,” she said.

She’d set out with a simple, earnest goal: to connect with the earth and see beautiful places. Her agenda was completely open. Maybe she’d walk for a few weeks, maybe a few years. “I wasn’t doing it to prove anything.”

Pemberton to Lillooet was always going to be one of the more beautiful legs of the entire trip.

“I really enjoyed that walk.”

It took her seven days to hike up and over that mountain range, hauling her 55 pound backpack and leading her companion, a five-month-old rambunctious dog, at which point the nail bed began to peel off her toe, threatening infection and worse, amputation. The heat was ominous. “I had no idea how I was going to carry enough water for my dog through the desert from Lytton.”

And a lot of pavement lay ahead.

Crowley had just returned from locum work in Newfoundland, so, with her license still good, she returned to another gig in Labrador, abandoning the cross-country grind and putting Plan B into effect. “You get to 64, you don’t need to impress anybody. So I flew back east and went trekking all through the Maritimes.”

She walked 3,000 kilometres, pretty much the length and breadth of Newfoundland, eschewing pavement for the most beautiful overland trails. “I can’t even explain how wonderful it was to just walk and walk and feel part of the earth and be outside. It really connects you — you’re up when the sun is up. I had my dog with me, so I was never afraid, and always had some companionship. I just camped and walked.”

Crowley’s never been afraid to plough new ground. She was part of the second dentistry class at the University of British Columbia to ever to admit women. She was Pemberton’s first dentist, arriving in 1978, having been recruited hard by residents to set up a practice here, after serving on the mobile dentistry unit, a four-month program that gave locals a chance to get their teeth cleaned without having to wait the six months it took to get an appointment with the nearest dentist at the time, in Squamish. She started the Pemberton Youth Soccer Association in 1994 and has been coaching kids ever since.

On her return from the east coast this October, the longtime recreation champion called Dan Cindric at the Pemberton and District Community Centre about an idea she’d been kicking around. And they put it on the program.

On Monday nights at 7 p.m., starting Jan. 18, she’ll host “Eight weeks to Better Health,” a workshop with no fixed agenda and nothing to prove, but the chance to dig in on various components of healthy living, harnessing habit, practice, journaling and the almighty power of a group.

“I’m not a big groupie,” admits Crowley. “I’m typically a lone wolf. But when I do get together with a group, against all my natural inclinations, it’s so good.”

She recalls a guest karate sensei who brought the lesson of the power of the group to her dojo once. “It was a powerful lesson. You literally felt the physical strength. It was a black and white experience for me. I’d never been able to marshall that level of strength before.”

Crowley has developed a firm conviction that wellness is a state of mind. “It’s 20 per cent physical and 80 per cent mental and spiritual. There are a lot of things that hold people back.”

The power of a group won’t be one of them.

“I’ve got an idea of what we’ll cover,” she says, “but it will unfold somewhat organically, based on who shows up. The participants will co-create it. It’s that universal time of the year when people want to get some more healthy habits. I think it could be interesting. And at the very least, it could just be an opening for other people to say, ‘hey maybe I could offer a course.’ There’s such a huge amount of talent here.”

Crowley seems to have a knack for tapping it.

Don’t worry. She’s not going to hassle you about flossing. But you might get a free toothbrush.


Meditate on This

When the third person recommended I take up meditation, I started to get worried. Was I so obviously manifesting a strung-out vibe? I know meditation is trending in tech circles, but I was getting the nudge from grounded health practitioners and wellness advisors who threw it out at the end of a visit about something else entirely. As in: Oh and by the way, you might seriously consider taking up meditation.


It occurs to me that perhaps I should give this some consideration, despite past failures at achieving zen-mindspace. (I once cut a weekend-long meditation workshop a day-and-a-half short, after falling asleep in one of the first exercises, and would have ditched out of a Wanderlust meditation session as soon as the facilitator asked us, in irritatingly breathy tones, to find someone we’d never met and stare lovingly into their eyes for 10 excruciating minutes, if I could have done it without making my stranger-partner, who already seemed on the brink of a breakdown, feel utterly rejected.)

But three times? These RMTs and physiotherapists and dental hygienists are not treating my headspace. My mental health is not their jurisdiction. But a bodyworker friend told me recently that she sees the life experiences that are stored in our bodies when the mask and armour is removed. Ater an hour, watching same client reapply mask and armor and head back out into the world, I’m sure quite a few healing-types wish they could say, “yo, a little bit of meditation between now and our next appointment, sweet-pea? As well as the flossing?”

Mental Health Awareness Week is coming up. May 4-10. I’ve never really paid it any attention. I don’t have a chemical imbalance. No one I live with does. So I never figured Mental Health Awareness to be particularly relevant to me.

I do, however, have a mind. And a mental state. And enough apparent twitches to indicate a need for meditation to anyone with half-a-brain. Also, the occasional pseudo-meltdown that typically manifests as a baking session at an inappropriate hour and prompts life-partner to ask, “Given that I am bathing the baby and putting him to bed so you can have some quiet time, why aren’t you working on that article that has been stressing you out so much?” by using the following phrase delivered with equal parts bewilderment, frustration and tentativeness: “What are you doing?”

“Making chocolate brownies.”

“It’s 9pm.”

“They’ll be ready in about 4 minutes.”

“Didn’t you have work to do? Do you bake when you’re stressed or something?”

Screen shot 2015-04-29 at 3.31.19 PM

Long silence, as I contemplate the most appropriate response of:

  1. I guess you don’t want to eat any of them.
  2. Do you want a punch in the throat?
  3. Me? Stressed? What freaking-well makes you think I’m stressed?
  4. Interesting observation, dear life-partner. If I explore that observation, it seems that I bake when I need some TLC. I think it is a self-soothing strategy. Perhaps, not the wisest. But on the spectrum currently available to me, I’m going to give myself a pat on the back, eat a brownie and head upstairs to work on this story. Thank you for bringing my awareness to this pattern. Perhaps, once this deadline is passed, I can give it some attention.


Brownie consumed, I’m now focused on my next mission: The David Suzuki Foundation’s 30 x 30 Challenge this May. Thirty days during which I take 30 minutes outside, in Nature. Being still. Because this is what I learn from nature, from sitting down by the river or at the base of a crag or at the top of a bike climb: That everything changing is just the way of all things. That it’s okay to sit with silence, you don’t always need to fill the spaces. If you stop for long enough to switch the signaler to receive, insights arrive. And a little bit of meditation every day can go a long way.

This post originally appeared in a column I write in the Whistler Question. The photo was taken by my friend Gary Martin for the Winds of Change’s Wellness Almanac, a community-driven blog that celebrates wellness and place,that we both contribute to. 

#50DayWellnessChallenge. Start Now. Fall off the wagon. Begin again.


Turkey hangover, ColdFront and opening day on the mountain got you thinking about starting a new fitness program?

Try this. A 50 Day Wellness Challenge. All you have to do is say yes, and then tell someone.

Yep. I make it sound easy in the columns and blog posts that I’ve been putting out there, as part of a community-wide countdown to the Winds of Change’s 5th annual Wellness Gathering on November 22.

Gym workouts and rainy bike rides, yoga sessions, delicious meals, garden harvests and gratitude journals are just some of the things people are doing. But more than that, they’ve been putting themselves out there to seed a wellness uprising with a little hashtag that delivers a boost of vitality and inspiration when resolve is flagging, and that reminds us that wellness, and the Winds of Change, is essentially just this: each of us looking out for one another.

wellnessgathering-save the date_web

Of course, despite the noble cause and the inspired prose and the profilerating hashtags, I fell off the wagon.

At the outset, I had considered gaming the entire thing by choosing something that offered wellness without too much challenge, like breathing deeply for five minutes every day, or savouring a poem or visiting my favourite dock, or exploring the proven health benefits of chocolate every single day. But I  didn’t want to squander the opportunity to try and be a better version of myself.

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With a 40th birthday around the corner and a friend’s #100daysofswimming challenge (which culminated in a five and a half hour open water swim from Europe to Africa) fresh in my memory, I set the clock on Oct. 3 and began counting down.

Fifty days of wellness, for me, at the chin-up bar.

Start. Stall. Start. Stall.

I guess that’s how these things go.

Fall over. Get back up again. Come up short. Ask for help. Feel bad. Forgive yourself.

Who knew a few chin-ups would be so challenging…?



The fifth annual Wellness Gathering is set for Nov. 22. That’s about 30 days away, which means there’s plenty of time to get a personal #50DayWellnessChallenge underway, and be in peak form for both the Wellness Gathering and opening day. Just tag #50DayWellnessChallenge and feel free to share with the Facebook page @WindsofChange, (or on twitter @Winds4Change and Instagram @wellnessalmanac). – See more at: http://www.whistlerquestion.com/opinion/columnists/the-wellness-almanac-50daywellnesschallenge-start-it-now-1.1424795#sthash.DiZNmApA.dpuf

Saving bees, seeds and sanity, one scrappy garden at a time

On the news this morning: Canadian beekeepers (who tellingly, refer to themselves as a “community” rather than an “industry”) are launching a class action suit against the makers of neonicotinoid pesticides, for the damage (havoc) their products have caused to bee populations.

native bumblebee

It inspired me to repost this column I wrote for the Winds of Change’s Wellness Almanac.

I’ve been thinking about the Doomsday Seed Vault lately. Officially known as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, it was started in 2008 and now contains upwards of 1.5 million distinct seed samples, serving as a kind of safety deposit box of plant diversity.


I wonder who it’s beneficiaries will be. Aliens? The handful of survivors of the next Ice Age who’ll be charged with re-wilding the Earth? Given that the highly-secured bombproof Vault was financed by Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, Monsanto Corporation and the Syngenta Foundation – the latter parties being deeply invested in the patenting and genetic engineering of plant seeds and the sale of chemicals – I suspect the “benefactors” already have their own Master Plan for the seed stockpile. Sigh.


Cindy Filipenko asked me recently to recount how last weekend’s Slow Food Cycle got started. “Every time I say something these days about Slow Food Cycle, it sounds like it had radically political roots,” I replied. It didn’t. I wasn’t politicized about food and farming 10 years ago. I just wanted to deepen my personal relationship with this place, and maybe become a better cook and gardener, less reliant on frozen pizza for sustenance.


But the more I read about the money behind the Seed Vault, provincial farm legislation, the bee crisis, the pesticide-drenching strategy of non-organic BC blueberry farmers to combat the Spotted Winged Drosophila, the more afraid I am of collapsing in a heap of despair. And the more I appreciate living amongst dry-humoured hard-working organic farmers, community gardeners, seed-swappers and Farmers Market supporters.

This May, at the Women’s Institute Plant Sale, I picked up one of Anna Helmer’s marigold starts. I have managed to keep it alive, despite the toddler’s attempts to eat it, deluge-water it, and dig it up, and it is now a monster of blooms and vigour – nothing like the tragic little marigolds one picks up from any major Canadian retailer to protect the lettuce from slugs. (Note: most of those plants have been treated with neonicotinoids, a systemic insecticide that renders them fatal to bees and other pollinators. Resume foetal position.)

The marigold seeds were originally given to Jeanette Helmer at a seed swap she hosted. Jeanette showed Anna how to save the seed and plant it, and now Anna starts a hundred plants to give to friends and the WI Plant Sale.


“I love them,” Anna told me. “They are such a good landscaping solution – with minimal attention they get really big and bushy and block out all kinds of things. At their flowering peak at Slow Food Cycle Sunday, magnificent Taj Mahal Marigold hedges protect broken-down machinery, compost heaps piled high with weeds just pulled in a frenzy of preparation, and maybe my sister who isn’t really a people person.”


Years ago, when I interviewed Lil’wat storyteller Marie Abraham, she said to me, “I’ve listened to stories since I was a child. Our parents didn’t read to us. They told stories. It was our family thing. Both my parents were very good storytellers, as well as my grandmother on my mom’s side. My grandma was our cultural centre. She was a walking talking totem pole!”

That idea, that ordinary people, rather than an edifice or an institution, are the custodians of culture, took deep root in me. And the more I think about the Global Seed Vault, the more I want to pull seeds, untreated unengineered seeds, out of frozen storage and start passing them around, swapping them, saving them, sharing them. PLANTING them. Engineering a different kind of future by growing from swapped seeds, year after year. And this is what keeps me from that curled heap on the floor: a big bushy marigold, some Pemberton potatoes and a dozen tomato plants that were gifted by a friend (thanks Rachel and Derek!) in an experimental garden, that couldn’t feed my family, yet, but that anchors me to this place, this earth, this community, and a future that just might be okay.

Live well in your places

I rediscovered a favourite journalist/writer this week, in the kind of happy happenstance that doesn’t occur for Presidents, when a rain day cut climbing short and led us to the Squamish library for an afternoon at the magazine stacks with the latest issue of Vanity Fair and a profile of Barack Obama.

Obama gives Michael Lewis a crash course on how to be the President.

Prior to snagging the journalistic coup of 6 months access to the President, Michael Lewis wrote about Daniel Kahnenman (Thinking Fast and Slow), Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s in Moneyball. He wrote The Big Short, The Blind Side and a brilliant memoir of fatherhood Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood, that my husband and I still talk about.

Teasing boys! Teasing boys!

He’s a beautiful writer.

I think, he’s my guru. I think, I’d like to be him.

Then I think, I live in Pemberton.

A little tricky to get access to Presidents and Governors from Pemberton.

And I’m not inclined to leave my little patch of Coast Mountains dirt-paradise for the corridors of power and cynicism.

Anyway, what’s significant here isn’t the same as what rates to the editor of Vanity Fair.

But it still matters.

Our small town and our modest lives matter.

As much as Obama and Arnie and Moneyball.

The ripple of our actions might not go as wide, but they are felt as profoundly, sometimes more so, in our little pond. Jess and Graham and their crew of volunteers building a BMX track, or Anna and Niki galvanising farmers and artists and chefs and community leaders to host another Slow Food Cycle, or the crew at the Mt Currie Health Centre looking after all the new babies and new parents, or Jeff and Annika committing to the 10 year incubation of a Skate Park… all have an impact here.

And those stories and people are worth writing about too.

So thanks for your beautiful craftsmanship, Michael Lewis, and your insights into the Oval Office and Wall Street and all those power-bases that I will never go to. And if you ever want to know what’s happening in my ‘hood, give me a call.

You never know. If you find yourself sick and cynical of the traders, the greed, and the hyperpace, you might even find yourself wishing you were me.  (Teehee.)

Patience, grasshopper.

Yesterday, I planted some seeds in the garden. Cold-hardy things that the seed packets promised could be started in April. I just couldn’t wait any longer.

Today, I woke up and ran outside, to see if anything had happened.

All the garden bed had for me (NO signs of life! no sprouts! no little seedlings!) was one word of counsel:

A little reminder from the universe to slow the fuck down, let things happen in their own time, keep logging the hours of tending and nurturing even when it feels like nothing is coming of it, trust momentum, keep showing up. Patience.

Thanks, garden. As you were.

The Pemberton Interview project

It’s not quite as weird as David Lynch (but then, who is?), but Choose Pemberton, which launched 18 months ago, was my own version of The Interview Project.

Officially, it was the content command centre for a summer campaign geared at promoting Pemberton.

Unofficially, it was a chance to ask local people, the ones who don’t sit on the sidelines and rattle their fists, but who roll up their sleeves and jump into the business of growing, making, moving and shaking, what inspires them.

At almost 15,000 hits, 74 posts and more than 30 profiles, the end of the year and the onset of winter seemed a good time to wander back through the archives and revisit the 5 most popular interviews so far.

1. Handcrafted food for the People! Western Promises Food Promises A Revolution of Taste.

Western Promises celebrated its one year anniversary this November as quietly as it opened, but its fans aren’t known to be too shy about shouting their praises for the funky little restaurant. One lunch, a customer left with a shout-out to the kitchen, “Thanks, Michael. My mouth just had an orgasm.”

Michael Guy’s passion for hard-working food shines through in every bite. But I loved his commitment to his adopted home the most:

“Why Pemberton?  There is no place I would rather be…in 50 years I hope to have my last breath somewhere here staring at the mountains and thinking about what a decent life I’ve had.”

2. Laying hands at Kula Wellness Centre.

When Percy Abraham and Corinne Von Dehn set up a home massage studio last summer, named “Kula” for “community” I got a sneak peak into their philosophy on wellness and work-life balance, and got the chance to ask Percy something that had long been on my mind, “How much does it weird people out to have a male massage therapist?”

A reasonably large percentage of female massage recipients are not entirely comfortable being touched by a man and a probably even bigger percentage of male recipients are the same. While respecting everyone’s choices, I try not to let gender interfere with what’s really at stake here : healing.

3. How to become a potter with Sunna Studio’s Amy Hazeldine.

Before Amy Hazeldine was the feature artist in Mountain Life magazine, she was the feature artist on Choose Pemberton, revealing her perfectionist tendencies, her Icelandic inspiration, how much she geeks out on glazes, and how, after plenty of creative trial and error, she’s finally found her path.

I’ve worked as an environmental educator, spent four summers in Nunavut in diamond exploration camps as the cook, worked on the assembly line making tire parts, and I’ve done my Whistler time as a bartender and server. Out of all the hats I’ve worn, the potter’s hat is my favourite fit.

4. Spotlighting Pemberton’s most prolific graphic designer, Sumire Design.

Lisa Komuro Ankeny does so much work behind the scenes to make Pemberton a better-looking place, it was great to spin the karmic wheel back in her direction. Her enthusiasm for Pemberton is inspiring (“Pemberton is amazing,” she told Choose Pemberton, “It seems like this little town is bubbling over with creatives. It’s as if everyone here makes something, has a garden and is an incredible athlete. It’s a beautiful place to be.”) but I most loved her insight on how to juggle life as a graphic designer, a mother, and an artist:

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. I’ve never been able to juggle – not even the scarves back in P.E.

3 days a week of daycare, coffee and some late nights do the trick. I wouldn’t change a thing.

5. Time for a new set of skis? Think Tyfoon.

What do legendary ski mountaineers do when they grow up and have a family? Why, they keep skiing, attend the Youtube School of Artisan Ski-Making and begin handcrafting wood skis from the Coast Mountains’ forests. Is there a top secret formula?

No, no secrecy in the process. Just a crazy old ski bum with his head down in the basement, breathing sawdust and trying to come up with a ski that will suit.

And that’s just a sampling of the amazing growers, makers, movers and shakers of Pemberton.

My passion for the project was fuelled by a conviction that if you want to live somewhere amazing, then you have to support the people who are trying to do amazing things.

But the project also reiterated for me that my favourite writing projects are often pure portraiture, simply letting people tell their stories, in their own words. It helped me to discover that the art of great storytelling really grows out of the art of listening. And it reinforced, without a doubt, that when I landed in Pemberton, I had truly come home.

Locavore’s Dilemma: four bags of salad for dinner? And no tomatoes.

Local honey, a bag of fresh greens and peppery little radishes – that was my haul from the first Pemberton Farmers Market for the season. (Wednesday nights, 4pm-7pm, outside the Pemberton Valley Grocery store.)

So, now we’re fully stocked on salad greens – exposing the joy and the challenge of eating locally, in season – the tomatoes are still weeks away from being ready. But if refraining from eating tomatoes out of season will keep the polar bears alive, I can suck it up. Michael Pollan backs the eat-local-for-climate-change call up with an invitation to also “Eat your View” – to preserve agricultural landscapes by eating from local farms.

As a soft-core locavore, I have been gradually eating myself local for a while now. Which is why it’s so exciting to see Pemberton’s food ecosystem flourishing with local restaurants like Western Promises, Mt Currie Coffee Co, The FoodLovers Bistro, the Pony and Mile One Cafe popping up, sourcing produce from new farmers like Ice Cap Organics, Rootdown Organic Farm, Riverlands Market Garden, Skipping Rooster Organic Farm, the Bathtub Gardens (joining the local stalwarts Helmers, Across the Creek, North Arm Farm, and Pemberton Meadows Natural Beef) and from local food producers like Blackbird Bakery, Bubbees Honey, the Flour Pot and Schramm Vodka. Especially when all of those new growers, makers, movers and shakers are under forty years old.

When Feet Banks, editor for the award-winning Mountain Life magazine, asked me to do a summer write-up of cool local foodstuffs, I was stoked. I love turning the spotlight on these passionate producers. The hardest part was deciding what to leave out. So I focussed on smugglable foodstuffs – the stuff you could take with you if you’re visiting family or friends this summer. The angle was inspired by an old ski client who seriously had smuggled 1kg of English breakfast sausage into Canada, because he did not believe that Canadians could make sausage good enough to fuel his skiing’s caloric requirements.

I’m going to Australia for a visit in the fall, so I began to wonder what will I be stuffing in the pockets and crevices of my pack? I imagine me and the Customs dude at our inevitable encounter: “Ma’am, do you have anything to declare?”

Innocent face: “No.”

“Well, why is your bag clinking?”

Break out the dumb and confused face.

“How about I ask you again? Do you have anything to declare?”

“Actually, I do. I’m a locavore.”

What would you blow off to ride? Confession-time.

The first time I rode A River Runs Through It (fist-pump! Cleared the bridge! Husband pushed his bike across… ), I should really have been somewhere else. I had blown off the second half of the Slow Food Cycle, an event I had organised, to switch the road cruiser for a squishy bike and go charge with some friends. It was a blissful day of riding. But it was kinda naughty.

I think that kind of punkass commitment to mountain biking should make me eligible to win Bike Parks of BC’s Ultimate Summer of Free Ride contest, that was just announced today. Alas, I work for the marketing agency that is helping run the contest, so I am automatically disqualified.

As such, I will redirect my passion to spread the word around. This is the most amazing prize. A summer of downhill bliss. I would enter if I could. You definitely should.

Here’s the low-down, culled from the most awesome press release that has ever landed in my in-tray, courtesy of Reine Communication’s Michelle Leroux, who is the PR lead on the campaign.

Get Hooked Up With Cash, Accommodation And Season Pass At Five B.C. Bike Parks

Bike Parks BC is throwing down a season pass at five of BC’s best lift-accessed bike parks – Whistler Mountain Bike Park, Silver Star Bike Park, Sun Peaks Resort, Fernie Alpine Resort and Mount Washington Bike Park – plus
$1,000 spending money, two nights accommodation at each resort, DH rig rentals, a half-day with a guide for a proper introduction to the mountain and even two lift tickets at each park for the winner’s riding buddy to be used over the 2011 summer season.

“This year we are looking for Bike Parks BC’s most fanatical and obsessed riders,” says Martin Littlejohn, Executive Director of the Mountain Bike Tourism Association. “The big question is what exactly would you blow off to take on British Columbia’s best bike parks this summer? Your grandparent’s fiftieth anniversary, your best friend’s wedding, the birth of your first born?”

So ‘fess up. What would you blow off to ride all summer long?