I Can’t Believe I Have Stage Four Cancer

I can’t believe I have stage four cancer.

I just can’t believe I have stage four cancer.

I really cannot believe I have stage four cancer.

This is a thought that pops into my head on occasion, just when I’m doing something perfectly normal like getting dressed, tying my shoes, making coffee. The thought enters my mind and makes me stop short. It makes me shake my head and feel like I have been transported into another person’s body, someone who would get cancer, not me. I think, Oh yeah, I’m fucked. I let my body become irreparably diseased and now I have to pay the price. My body will never be the same. I will never be cured. The most I can hope for is maintenance. Keeping the cancer tamped down with chemotherapy so I can live more years. It’s my only choice.

Me and my port-a-cath

The reality that I’m in a world of hurt doesn’t obsess me. I try to compartmentalize it as much as possible.

Every two weeks, I dutifully march down three blocks to the BC Cancer Agency to get my dose of Oxliplatin, 5-Fluorouracil, Folinic Acid, and Bevacizumab. The nurses there are lovely and concerned, especially when I start barfing, which I’ve done in three out of the seven treatments I’ve had. I’m convinced the nausea comes because I haven’t taken the fourth anti-nausea pill early enough. When I barf the nurses scurry around, accessing Gravetol IV’s, taking my vitals, calling in a doctor to check me out. I can tell they feel they’ve let me down somehow. I feel like I’ve let them down by succumbing to nausea.

They finish the session by hooking me up to an infuser bottle full of Bevacizumab, and they tape all kinds of tubes and connectors to my chest, next to my port-a-cath, or port. The port is a small cylindrical device implanted under my skin with a catheter connected to a jugular vein next to my heart. It works like an IV, but gets the drugs into my system more quickly. And the nurses don’t have to stick my arm every time. They just puncture the skin over the port and go to it. After the main event is over the port is connected to the infuser bottle, which delivers more of the same drugs for the next 48 hours. Then, I return to BCAA to have it removed, which takes about 10 minutes. 

I then spend the following two weeks absorbing these poisons into my system. This absorbsion comes with a host of symptoms starting with what I call tingle fingers, better known as peripheral neuropathy. My fingers go numb and tingly with the first whiff of cold. Sometimes they act paralyzed and I can’t even button my jeans after peeing. I used a hot pad to pull things from the freezer or to pour from a cold bottle. Then there’s a day of fatigue. My poops stay solid for a few day and then diarrhea sets in. Along the way my system gets unsettled and digestion becomes a concern. There have been times I swear my intestines are like a washing machine on spin cycle. Roiling, churning, flushing and cramping become the norm, making this the part I hate most. I don’t get queasy, per se; I just get a shitty feeling that makes me want to lie down and not get up. 

The second week, prior to the next treatment, is usually much better, and my poops get more solid. When I have good, well-formed poops, Billy is the first to know. For a while he wanted to check them out. And just when I’m feeling somewhat normal, the cycle starts again. Chemo, bottle, feel like shit, feel better, and…repeat.

I ask myself, how long can I do this? How long will I have to endure chemo in order to live longer? And, will chemo ever really end for me?

I can’t believe I have stage four cancer.

One thing chemo really puts a damper on is travel. I can only be away for nine or ten days at a time. So I worry how will I ever be able to spend summers at our farm? How can I go to Europe between treatments? And what about living in Forestville? I don’t have a medical plan in the states. If we were to spend any length of time in DC, will I be able to travel to Ontario to get treated. This is a plan I have to ask my new oncologist, the one taking over for my old oncologist who is now on maternity leave.

Before my diagnosis, Bill and I were planning to be traveling between Oliver BC and Forestville, and to the farm and DC. Occasionally, overseas. But all that is impossible now. We are selling the house in Oliver. Living for any length of time in Forestville is like a dream to me now. The farm and DC are possible only if I get a intra-province clinical allowance, because they are so far away I would not want to limit my stays to ten days. 

So, basically I’m fucked. 

I can’t plan much of anything. My future holds no assurances. I can’t believe I have stage four cancer.

What are the upsides to having cancer? All the love you get from friends and family. Everything you might have done to piss someone off is forgiven. People look at you with knowing expressions and ask how you’re feeling. I have cancer, pity me.

On the downside, nothing else about me is interesting. No one cares to hear about my writing or my web design business. They just want to speak of chemo symptoms and the cannabis oils that are helping me. I’m no long Mari Kane, the moderately talented writer and web designer. Now I’m Mari Kane the colon cancer patient. It’s so depressing.

But this is my life now. 

I can’t believe I have stage four cancer.

Bill and I Get Hitched – Kinda

After four years of dating Bill, and living with him for two, I got the itch to get hitched. I starting talking in vague terms about marriage, but when my sisters told me what a mistake that was, I shut up. Then, after months of not talking about it, we were at Bill’s parents cottage in Gimli, Manitoba, when Bill suddenly said, “Ok, let’s get married.” After feeling his forehead and then kissing it, I started making a guest list. 

Bill Mari wedding kiss cropped

That was in June of 1998. We decided on a wedding at the house that October, during the most beautiful time in Sonoma County. Tara would be off for France to spend her junior year in a foreign exchange program, but would come back for the wedding and be my bridesmaid.

My biggest fear was rain, so we ordered a giant tent to set up on the big lawn with rented tables and chairs underneath. The local Heavies jazz band played under the balcony and we had dancing in the driveway. I can hardly remember the menu, but I do know the chicken went very well with the Rodney Strong Zin as well as the Rabbit Ridge Sauvignon/Semillon. Again, Korbel Brut came through in a pinch. Ironically, the only hemp in our wedding was the jerry-rigged chupah I made with four dowels and a hemp blanket, to be held over us during the service.

After weeks of praying for sun, the day arrived without a cloud in the sky. Five of Bill’s Canadian friends came to the event they’d been waiting forty years to witness. Our two families got along swimmingly.

 Moments before we were to take that big march down the lawn, the judge pulled us aside to ask the whereabouts of our marriage license. We gaped at each other. 

“I completely forgot,” I said to Bill.

“You knew we needed one?” he asked.

“Let’s just go on without it.” 

“It wouldn’t be legal,” advised the judge. 

“Well, would the ceremony be illegal?” My eye caught the sun setting fast behind the gathering crowd. 

“No, not illegal. It’s just not official.” 

“Then, let’s just do it. No one will notice if we don’t sign papers. They’ll be at the bar.”

So we just did it and nobody was the wiser. That’s how Bill and I got married without actually getting married. 

The for-real hitching happened four months later at the Sonoma County Courthouse.

Excerpted from Mouthfeel: Confessions of a Wine Slut

Good Morning, Cancer, Sit Down

“Good morning! You have Stage Four colon cancer. Have a nice day!”

Well, that wasn’t exactly how I was told, but it’s what I heard from the surgical team gathered at the foot of my bed. They woke me up at 7am, and stood at my feet like a hungry gang of ghouls, looking for all the world like everyone’s nightmare.

“It was not what we were expecting,” she said. 

Boy, she took the words right outta my mouth. This was not what I was expecting at all. It’s like everyone’s worst possible diagnosis, Stage Four Cancer. It’s not like I can console myself with, whew, I’m glad it’s not Stage Five! Stage four means spread and this doctor used the word, “aggressive,” to describe my cancer. Ai carumba, my cancer is fighting for agency in my belly, reaching and attaching itself all over the place like a demon octopus. 

Peritoneal disease is what she called it. It develops in the peritoneum that lines the inside wall of my abdomen. Apart from the mass that was choking my colon and not letting food through, there was also spread to my lymph nodes as well as these little tumors sticking to the insides of my belly. At times I think I feel these peritoneum tumors clinging so close to the surface of my skin. It’s not painful, but feels like a twinge, as if saying, we’re here, we’re fear, get used to it.

Good thing it did not spread to my liver! Big whew there. When it gets to your liver, you’re sunk. Even I know that.

mari hospital
I spent a week with a tube up my nose and down into my stomach, emptying out what little was there. This was the grossest thing I endured.

Finally I asked her, am I going to die? And like any good doctor, she demurred. They never want to give you a straight answer on issues they cannot control or predict. If I were a doctor I would have said, “Someday you will die, but it doesn’t have to be from the cancer.” 

Instead, she said. “I don’t want you to have no hope,” before elaborating on the great chemo drugs they have these days and how they can fine-tune the drug cocktails to meet your specific needs. Oh, great, I’m so relieved – not.

Apparently the tumour on my colon and its offspring has be a going concern for a long time, she said. I mentioned how the abdominal paid I’d experienced about eight years before – which led to all kinds of tests like ultrasound, MRI, CT, X-ray, but not a colonoscopy – led them to find a cyst on my pancreas. I’ve had a gastroenterologist perform an endoscopy me every other year to check its expansion, which is not happening fast. How did he miss this?

Finally, her most burning question. “Have you passed any gas yet?” 

Farting, I learned, is their obsession, being the biggest indicator that my system is working again.

“When you fart….”

 “I’ll call the newpapers…

“That’s when we know the operation was successful…”

“So, no fart, no good.”


She asked if I’ve been walking, which she advised is was the best way to get my system flowing. I asked her about massage, like the kind you do on constipated babies. She nodded, saying, “It couldn’t hurt,” being hardly an endorsement. Couldn’t hurt? Damn me if it didn’t help later, a lot more than walking these hallways. My daughter sent links to posts on baby massage which hubby used to rub my tummy the right way, and it did help. I could feel movement. I also self massaged. It was like being pregnant, or that scene in Aliens (you know it). I told the team days later that they should be advising massage to patients like me. That would give visitors something to actually do instead of just sitting and offering comforting words.

Anyway, after the ghoul squad, er, surgical team left, I had myself a cry. Not something I do much anymore so I tried to keep it to myself. A hard call when you are sharing a room with three other surgical patients. I tried to weep softly but I couldn’t help knowing that they could hear me and might be reminded of their own diagnosis, how they responded to their bad news. The day I was admitted, the one lady, Rose, was getting her bad news from the surgeon himself – in the civilized middle of the day – and it sounded very serious, especially in Chinese. Her family was there to discuss it all, but I didn’t hear her crying. 

Then, I had to call my husband, Bill, and when he arrived at 10am we called our daughter, Tara, in Washington, DC. She was upset but has kept positive from that moment on, bless her. Bill admitted that he’d had more of an idea of the seriousness of my condition. While he waited for me outside post-op, he spoke with a doctor who’d been on the surgical team who reviewed my case. He sat with Bill and relayed the details, but didn’t use the words, Stage Four. Yet the meaning was there. So when I was literally the last body out of post-surgery – which was so full when I arrived late to the party, in my haze it sounded like the floor of the stock exchange – he escorted me up to my room, lips zipped big time. I was so out of it so I sent him home, but the poor guy had to deal with this knowledge at home, all alone. Must have been hell.

Another person to call was my mother. She’s 99 and suffering from some dementia, but living in a nursing care home has been good for her. My sister lives nearby and with a smart phone, is the conduit to face time sessions with Mom. This time we just called her land line, cuz seeing me might have been too scary. We talked about the surgery, how well it went and all. The question among us was, what to tell her about the cancer. She’s very old, has cognitive problems, and tends to worry. So if we informed her of the cancer, she would take it hard and descend into a rabbit hole of worry and despair. After all, she already lost one daughter to cancer. This would be the most horrible deja fu for her. Dealing with another cancerous daughter might kill her. On the other hand, if we told her and she forgot, as she often does for recent news, it would make for awkward conversation later when I mention it and she says, “you have cancer? I didn’t know that.” Ultimately, we decided not to tell her at all about the cancer. But the way she keeps living onward and upward, my biggest fear is her outliving me.

mari scar
My big fat scar went right through my belly button. Oh well, one less orifice to keep clean.

The other thing I had to deal with in my own stage of grief was anger towards my doctors. I mean, back when she was sending me for all of those tests to find the source of my abdominal pain, was why didn’t my GP send me for a colonoscopy? Damn, even if they just found polyps I’d have been happy. And then, I go to a gastroenterologist, who does the damned tests, and even he does not suggest a colonoscopy. And I was about 50 at the time! What, what, what, doctors? Why didn’t you see the writing on the wall?

Like I said, Bill had been advocating a colonoscopy for years, but I wasn’t interested in pursuing it. I could have asked for one, but I didn’t. So, as they say, that’s on me. 

I also remembered the rug I bought in 2008 of which the backing dissolved into a fine dust. I didn’t know what was going on and I used to lift the rug and vaccum that stuff up. The Coit guy said it was latex, and he shrugged as if that was ok. Now, I wondered what was contained in that backing material. I spoke to several labs to see if they could test samples of the dust, and the information they gave me sounded grave. That dust could have been rising up through the carpet with every step and stomp, exposing us to these chemicals. Years later, Bill is operated on for, first prostate, then breast cancer. Results being, whew! All good, no spread. We caught it early. Then I come along with this motherfucker of a cancer that made me loose a portion of my intestines and has spread itself like evil fairy dust to float around my belly. But not to the liver! Sometimes I joke to Bill that my colon cancer beats his prostrate and breast cancer, like a full house beats two of a kind.

A little over a year ago I wondered if I would lose him to cancer. Now I wonder if he will lose me.

Given all that, I have to wonder if I was the architect of my own demise.

So, there was all that to kick myself over as I lay in bed, day in day out, recovering from colon surgery.

A Brief History of the Kanes and Watsons

My mom, Mary Virginia (Ginny) Watson and my dad, Robert (Bob) Leo Kane were both raised in Michigan.

Mom and her brother Norb, were born in Detroit, but in classic white flight fashion, my grandfather moved the family to Marine City, to a house near the banks of the St. Clair river. My grandmother Mary (Bess) Dugan was Catholic, my grandfather Arthur Watson was Protestant. It was not a harmonious marriage. His mother treated my grandmother like dirt – typical of the times- and so did he. Marrying him meant leaving her job at Michigan Central Railway (the bosses didn’t want married women to tell the single ones about sex) and he kept her from seeing her friends. Apparently, he was exposed to mustard gas in WWI, so that may have contributed to his cruelty, as well as his early death. 

So when my mom married my dad after they met at college in Ann Arbor, and dad enlisted in the Army Air Corp, their travels gave my grandma a passport to the world. When my family lived in Libya, she and my mom traveled to “the holy land,” which ironically did not include Israel as we know it. Israel was not yet a recognized country and as the wife of an Air Corp Lieutenant, that was a no-go. However, they did tour Bethlehem since it was not yet part of Israel. They also toured Cairo and rode camels and visited the pyramids. In a video interview my grandma said “they were awful… I mean awesome!“

Colonel Kane

My godmother Anne Kennedy also benefitted by my dad’s international travels. She came to visit in Germany and she and my mom took a military bus to Paris, as my mom charmed the enlisted men along the way.

My dad, affectionally known as “the Colonel,” was the youngest of eleven (later, nine) children at the Kane farm based in Carlton, Michigan near Monroe. A child of the Depression, he often said they were largely unaware of the economic desperation surrounding them. Living on a farm, they grew their own food, butchered the chickens they raised. The oldest sister, Helen, was about 20 years older than dad. She married and had a son named Bill at just about the time my grandmother gave birth to my dad. So, my dad grew up being best friends with his nephew.

The Kanes were a working class, Irish bunch. If they didn’t work at the Ford Motor Company, they worked as carpet layers like Oliver did, or secretaries like Julia. The men drank a lot, and one of my uncles was so drunk one night he fell asleep in the snow and died. Aunt Helen tragically lost her husband in a bridge building accident in California and travelled to the West Coast to get answers about it. The Kanes were not a super educated bunch, except for my dad. At an early age, the nuns at his Catholic School alerted my grandparents that he had brains that should be fed and nurtured. It was they who suggested he go to college. This was at a time when college was still a fairly elitist concept.

Good thing he ascended to university because that’s where he met my mom. The first time she invited him home for dinner, he must have arrived early because mom suggested my uncle Norb take him out for a while. They went to a pool hall where they killed so much time, they kept my mom waiting with an increasingly dried-out pot roast. That was a fine howdy-do. Mom was studying to be a teacher and dad had aspirations of chemical science. But he was drawn into the Army Air Corps and they spent their honeymoon on a bus to a training camp in Missoula, Montana.

Bob was first stationed at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Bob and Ginny’s first home was an Airstream trailer, which, in sixty years, has not lost its coolness factor

My mother had a hard time getting pregnant, so much that she endured an annoying amount of taunting from dad’s brothers, especially Oliver, who could be quite inappropriate when he wanted to. Mom wanted to throttle him at times. After about nine years here’s how they had their first baby.

Dad’s sister Julia was divorced and supporting her daughter Patsy. Then, she became pregnant, the horror of any god-fearing Catholic family. How would she escape the stigma of having a child “out of wedlock?” Bob and Ginny to the rescue! 

My aunt Julia with a sun-blinded Patsy, baby Cynthia, Mom in California

At the time, my parents lived in central California in a trailer on the Edwards AF Base. As far from Michigan as could be. I see from home movies that they drove an old “Woodie” station wagon. Before she started showing, Julia traveled from Michigan to California and stayed with my folks. She gave birth to Cynthia in November 1949. Then she went back to Michigan without the baby, but hopefully with a tan, and no one was the wiser about her pregnancy. Or, maybe my folks announced that Ginny was pregnant and Julia construed to come west to help her through it. The upshot was that Bob and Ginny had a new baby, and Julia’s reputation remained intact. I think the only person who knew the truth was maybe Helen, the matriarch. Julia died of “bone cancer” in 19___ but not before many pictures and films were shot of her with both of her daughters.

As children, there was always whispers of Cynthia being “adopted,” but the details were always mysterious. We could see she was different: so much taller and with a pointed chin none of us possessed. But her origins remained a secret until about 1977 when we were living the civilian life in Anaheim, California. Cynthia may have still been in graduate school in Louisville KY and was there for a visit. She might also have been in psychoanalysis at the time and had voiced a desire to know who her parents were. So mom and dad just told her: Julia was your mom and Patsy is your half-sister, they said. It must have hit her like bombshell, of the kind my father dropped from B-52s.

Some time around then, Aunt Helen and Aunt Alice drove out to California to help Alice decide to move into the newly opened Leisure World in the Laguna Hills. Upon their departure, dad told them they had told Cynthia the truth of her ancestry, so now it was ok to relay it to the rest of the family. Cynthia told me later that she received an exuberant letter from Patsy that began with “Hi Sis!” that felt a little bit awkward.

Anne was born in Washington DC in 1953, and my brother John in 1963 at Wurtsmith, MI. Along with Cynthia, Julie and I, that made us a nice five-child family, the minimum requirement of a Catholic household.

Although I thought she was a genius, I heard Cynthia was not the best high school student when we lived on Guam from 1966-68, but as her friends started talking about going to college – much more a thing than in my parent’s day – she decided she too wanted to attend college. But she had to scramble to improve her grades in order to get accepted somewhere. At that time we were prepping to transfer from the South Pacific to the midwest.

Anne, Julie, Cynthia, John, Mom and Me in front of our house on A Street at Scott AFB, Illinois

Cynthia was on her way to Southern Illinois University until she hit a speedbump. Pregnant! She got impregnanted by a General’s son, whose parents, Julie remembers, were invited to our house to discuss the situation. So, while I was blissfully imagining her a college girl studying hard a few hours away, I was shocked to learn – in San Francisco, at the age of 21 and with a new baby of my own – that Cynthia had spent her first year of college at a home in Belleville, a biggish city about 5 miles west. Mom used to visit her every week. She had wanted to keep the baby, but Cynthia did not, not with an alcoholic in the house. So, a family scandal was avoided. The Catholics adopted out her baby boy to a family in Belleville. And to think that all those times we went to Belleville for shopping, we could have been driving past my nephew on the playground! 

This old news apparently slipped from Cynthia’s lips when she was visiting Anne in Santa Cruz in 1981. Anne came to visit my husband Keith and me, and she told us the story. My mind flashed back to the house at Scott when Cynthia was visiting during a break and I saw her sitting on Anne’s bed with not a lot of clothes on. What, I wondered, were those white lines on her stomach? Now I knew. She had stretch marks from having a baby. It all came together for me.

Soon after, Cynthia began looking for her given-up son and she found him, right where she’d left him, in Belleville. Meanwhile, she was dating and marrying a psychotherapist in Los Angeles and eventually, they had a baby girl named for her grandma, Julia. Then, Cynthia located the 20+ year-old Jack and wanted to meet him. Since he lived in Southern Illinois, it was decided that their reunion should take place at the farm.

My uncle Norb, grama, John, mom, Cynthia and me in front of the new garage at our Port Sanilac, MI farm. The sign on the side designates it as a Centennial Farm.

“The Farm,” as it is known to us, is the old Trese-Dugan farm in Port Sanilac, Michigan, two miles east of Lake Huron and about 100 miles north of Detroit. The land was purchased by my mother’s great-great Irish grandparents back in 1858 after they deemed Ontario Canada a bit too British (or Protestant) for their liking. At the time, the plot was huge and stretched to Highway 46, but over the generations, land was sold off and now we have 80 acres of mostly farm land. There is a farming family down the road who has been contract farming it for at least three generations. We never do anything.

The old wooden farm house burned down in 1932, when my great grandfather unwisely chose a windy day to clean the chimney. Embers flew onto the roof and soon the house was engulfed. Legend has it that he was struck by shock and watched helplessly as my grandmother carried out their winter clothes and what pieces of furniture she could manage, but it was a total loss. They rebuilt the house on the old foundation with one less floor, (since all the children were grown and gone) and this time they sided it with reclaimed brick and field stones. The farm is a place we drove to from Oscota or Scott AFB in the summertime. We all learned to drive on the farm’s country roads and how to waterski on Lake Huron. It was our family’s summer place, where relatives on both sides from all over Michigan came to picnic. Only my grandmother and sometimes Father Bob seemed to actually live there. I don’t remember my maternal great grandparents at all.

My grampa and grama Dugan with my aunt Estelle (?) on the front porch of the rebuilt farmhouse.

At some point in the 50s, my Uncle “Father” Bob, the Catholic priest, had made a deal to buy the farm from his parents and pay them as they lived out the rest of their lives there. Apparently, he also had to pay off his surviving brothers and sisters. Father Bob was still an active priest and worked at parishes around Michigan. My grandmother even worked for him as a housekeeper in his rectory in Marquette. He wasn’t planning to retire from the priesthood until sometime in the 1970s, but he still made some changes. When we visited for the first time after moving to California, we saw he had built a garage and breezeway (room) addition, attached to the house from the kitchen door. The farmhouse acre still contained the big barn, the little barn, the granary, and the outhouse, but he had chopped down most of the trees in order to create his own private golf course. That’s how nuts he was about golf.

Undated picture of Uncle Father Bob, his dog and his quarry.

Sadly, Father Bob never got to enjoy the retirement he dreamed of. A lifelong smoker, he contracted lung cancer and died in the late seventies. At the time, I was a teenaged pot smoker and I boldly told my mother she should take him some cannabis because it was good medicine for cancer patients. Well, that never happened and he died.

Then, the farm was ours! My parents had, in a similar fashion to Father Bob with his parents, made a deal with Father Bob to buy/inherit the farm from him. I’m not sure how much they’d paid him before his untimely death, but it didn’t matter. Now the place belonged to my family!

That’s when my folks started spending their summers in Michigan. John and I were still living at the house in Anaheim and their absence gave us opportunities to roam wild. Dad was still hanging back when I was there, but after I left for San Francisco and John was in High School, he was totally on his own and it being California and all, he held epic parties. Or so I heard.

Mom couldn’t wait to get at the farm house and they put two bedrooms and a bathroom in the open attic and expanded the kitchen. Dad had the big, dilapidated barn torn down, against mom’s future regrets, and they used the barn wood as paneling for the renovated attic. They planted trees all over the main acre, including a too-dense pine forest. They put brick facing on the white panelled garage so it somewhat matched the house. By the 80s, we were visiting in droves and with young kids in tow. As the senior granddaughter, Tara became a fixture at the farm and flew alone almost every summer. My mom doted up the wazoo and took her to camps, and fairs, and lessons of all kinds all around Michigan. Up to the age of 12, through five nieces and nephews, Tara was the Farm princess.

So, when Cynthia’s mother and child reunion was set up for August of 1988, my mom, ever the devout Catholic, said, “What are we going to tell Tara?” Like, how to explain to a seven year-old about the sudden appearance of her aunt’s full-grown son whom she herself had never met. How to couch it, how to keep up appearances, that was her concern until I said, “Phhhhhttt! Tara can handle it.” Being an agnostic, feminist earth mama by then, I had no qualms about her learning at a young age the complications of procreation and the ways it shifts and enriches the family dynamic. So, of course she took it in stride, as did her toddling niece when they all met her handsome half-brother, Jack. That began a tradition of inviting Jack and his adopted sister, and later Jack and his wife and children, to the farm as part of the family. When Jack and Malea were dating, they came to a big 50th Anniversary party my folks threw at the Edison Inn in Port Huron. My mom, the good Catholic, tried to arrange a separate rooms situation for them, but Cynthia just said, you kids take this room here. 

Me and dad at Offut AFB, Nebraska

By the early 70’s, my family’s dynamic was like this: Cynthia was on the top of the rung and there was an undercurrent of high expectation toward her. Anne, being the first biological child, was the golden girl, the brown nose who could do no wrong in my parent’s eyes. Anne worshipped Cynthia and always wanted to run with her set, some of whom were young hippies at the time. (40 years later Anne’s daughter said to Cynthia’s daughter, “My mom was your mom’s bitch.”) Juli always wanted to hang out with Anne and her friends, who she viewed as cool. Anything Anne did, Juli demanded as well. Anne was on the swim team, so was Juli. Anne got a horse, so Juli got a pony. It seemed that Anne could not shake Juli. You could say it was a competitive market. As the closest in age, Juli and I should have been close, but we weren’t always. She was often mercurial, and sometimes I feared her.

For my part, I was always the quiet one who could play alone, and who sang to myself as I drew or played with my Barbies. For some reason, I never felt the need to keep up with Anne or Juli. I could go to Camp Ondessonk alone, no friends or sisters, and didn’t think anything of it. I guess this was the start of my sense of going it alone, not needing anyone else, and possibly my difficulty with working with other people. I was actually closer to John than Juli and shared a bedroom with him in our first two houses at Scott. By the time we moved to the third, and nicest house, Dad laid down the law and said I had to share with Juli, “Because John’s a boy!”

Life as an Air Force Brat

I was born in Tripoli. Libya. The Mediterranean port city in North Africa. You know the song, “From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli.” 

This is what I tell people when they ask where I was born. It feels odd to tell them I came from such an exotic place. Odder yet to say I’ve never been back. Under the circumstances of Ghaddafi, that’s understandable. But how many people have never returned to the place they were born?

My birthplace, I think, is the strangest thing about me.

Cynthia, Mom (pregnant with Juli), Dad and Anne on Easter 1958 on the shores of the Mediterannean.

People ask what I remember about Tripoli, circa 1959. Nothing. I was 3 weeks old when my family flew out of Wheelus Air Force Base and on to dad’s new post in Germany. We had to fly commercial because the Air Force would not fly such a small baby. When he learned how old I was, the KLM flight attendant became overly attendant to my mom, as if a 3 week baby was a sick person.

Wheelus AFB in Tripoli

My sister Julie is a year older than me and was also born in Tripoli. She remembers nothing either. Unlike me, she has no desire to return there, especially after learning about the post-overthrow mass beheading on a beach a few blocks from our old house. But I would like to return, under some guise, and take my Arabic-speaking daughter with me, just to reconnect with the land of my birth. 

Back in 1959, one of my father’s jobs was to fly the Queen of Libya to Italy to do her shopping. In return, Fatimah el-Sharif gifted my parents with a christening gown for Julie.

Nowadays, the USAF flight command at the former Wheelus is now the civilian airport, Mitiga International Airport.


We lived in Germany for two years, the standard tour of duty in the Air Force. I look at pictures of Rammstein AFB, but I remember little, just vague foregrounds of red brick Brutalist structures and grey backgrounds of fog and low hanging clouds.

I’m told I was an escape artist. At night I’d wait for my parents to go to bed and once the coast was clear I’d unlatch my crib side, crawl out, exit the front door, and take walks up and down the apartment corridors. Neighbors who found me wandering brought me home to a surprised Bob and Ginny. 

L-R, My cousin and godmother Ann Kennedy Spybrook, Anne Kane, Mom, Julie, and me in front of our apartment block in Germany.

I got my nickname, “Shatzi” in Germany, but that didn’t stop my mother from calling me, “Shotz” from across store aisles well into my teens. How embarrassing! I got the nickname from Helga the maid who called me Shatzi, or sweetheart, because I was so sweet. I don’t remember Helga from that time, but she has re-entered my consciousness since she moved to Texas and began calling my 90+ year old mom, trying to rekindle their friendship.


My memories begin in Michigan, around 1962 or 63. We lived at Wurtsmith Air Force Base, near Lake Huron on the state’s forefinger, up the coast from Bay City. What I remember most is pine forests and lakes. I might have bumped into a young Madonna on the shore of Saginaw Bay.

We lived in a house on the outside of a housing circle with a scary, fenced off lake behind us and a big scary forest across the street. I can see our house on Google Satellite maps. We had a dachshund named Heidi, and were constantly panicked that she’d wiggle under the chain-linked fence and dive into that little lake and be drowned or eaten by alligators. The woods in front were a source of fascination for me although the height of the trees scared me. I think it was here that I came to appreciate forests with pine needle floors and high canopies.

Cynthia, Me at age 5, Julie, Anne, Grama, John at 12 months, Dad, clearly at Christmas dinner. Don’t know why I looked so unhappy. Maybe I got no pudding.

It was in this house that I refused to eat my peas. I didn’t like them and didn’t want to eat them. One (silent) night, my mom went to brush my teeth and found I had a mouth full of peas! I refused to swallow them and just kept them on my tongue. I also remember a small closet off the where we kept our waste can. I remember stuffing my mouth full the last dregs on my plate and going to that closet to scrape my plate, but I’d also eject the food from my mouth when no one was looking. Early on, I was sneaky.

I left my first two-wheeled bicycle too close to the road and the handle bars got run over so badly that only one handle bar remained. I became good at steering with one hand.

I was also good at hosing down the inside of our giant Ford station wagon, to my parents horror, and my Uncle Norb’s amusement!

It was while we lived in Michigan that JFK was assassinated. I don’t remember much about my parents reactions but I do remember watching the funeral procession. All I saw were the horsies!

In 1963, my brother John was born and our family was complete. In order of age we were Cynthia, Anne, Julie, me, and John. Dad finally got a son, so they quit trying (or so I assume.)


In 1964 we moved to Nebraska, to Offutt AFB outside of Omaha. There are lots of mounds on base, but I didn’t realize untilllater that they covered nuclear bombs. Dad arrived as a major and was promoted to Lt. Colonel at Offutt. Dad’s job was as a weather “guesser” in the Military Airlift Command (MAC) but apparently he was “on loan” to Offutt, which is a Strategic Airlift Command (SAC) HQ. My sister Anne recalls that he was at the meeting of Generals when the word came down to commence bombing in Vietnam, suggesting he was on the advising team for the weather related to Southeast Asia.

The name of our street, Fairchild Circle, is emblazoned in my mind. Our house sat on the edge of a hill on which the whole neighborhood sledded in the winter. We had a wooden toboggan and made good use of it.

I started kindergarten at a little school nearby, Belaire Elementary, which abutted the base on the civilian side of a fence that I passed through every day on my way to school. This was when it was safe for kids to walk on alone, on base and off. I got there when kids were playing on the playground, but I found it hard to nab a swing on the swing set. So I waited until the bell rang and all the kids went inside, and I stayed on the playground alone and swung to my hearts content, the whole place to myself. At some point, Mom got a call from the school asking why I was always late for school. She explained to them that I alway left the house in good time, there was no hold up to speak of. That’s when I got busted and had to start following the rules. Ugh.

The scene of my sneakiness: Belaire School, Belleville, NB. The path I walked leads from the base houses on the hill.

Mom said that after a few days of school, I came home and declared that I didn’t need school anymore. I learned my alphabet, I could do some math, what more did I need?

When I think of all the instructions I didn’t read in my life, I think of this moment when I decided I was ready to do things, but couldn’t be bother to actually learn about them first. Early on, I was a doer, not so much a learner. I was never what you’d call a “good student.” I got C’s and D’s in math for my whole educational career. The only thing I was good at was Art. I loved Art class and could always think of something cool to do. I was good at geography for some reason. And English had its high points for me, but math? Blechhhh. You can have it.

The 1964 3rd grade class wearing same the plaid wool uniforms at the old Cardinal Spellman school, near Offutt AFB, NB.

In first grade, I went to the new Catholic school, Cardinal Spellman – now St. Matthews – far off the base and set amid hobby farm country. I got to ride a school bus to get there. It was a super modern school, recently built with the support of the Catholic military families. It had that mid-century style of cinder block construction and cement floors, and the buildings had an interesting hexagonal shape. I felt so grown up. My biggest memory was of going to the basement supply shop to buy myself a new red folder, and how the girl said, “Mmm, pretty red,” when I made my choice, giving me a boost of consumer confidence.

One day, mom took Cynthia to Omaha to go shopping. I wanted to go too. Perhaps I’d been watching too much Lost in Space, but I got the idea to stow away in the way back of our cavernous station wagon. I laid there quietly as they drove past the stinky stock yards and we were deep in the city by the time I sniffled and they discovered me. But they were stuck with me the whole day as I totally bombed their mother-daughter shopping trip. It was great!

One summer, we drove that Ford station wagon on a vacation all around the plains states, dragging a small trailer behind us. From the Badlands of South Dakota to Yellowstone in Wyoming, we stopped at all the ghost towns, camping out or staying at air bases along the way. It was a trip that gave me vivid memories that I still flash back on.

Eventually, dad came home one day and told us we were moving to Guam, a tropical island in the Pacific ocean. We would have to give up our dog Heidi since Guam had exotic creatures and insects and jungles and she could get hurt. We’d leave Heidi with mom’s Aunt Estelle and Uncle Burness, who lived in Marine City, MI, where she’ll be safe and happy. That news made us all cry.

Late one afternoon, dad came home early but kept his uniform jacket on because we were all going to drive down to the hospital to get these things called shots. He assured us it wouldn’t hurt a bit, just a little sharp poke. Yeah, sure. Most of us left in tears after getting shot up and I would never again believe someone who says needles don’t hurt.


Our trip to Guam started with a road trip to San Francisco, where we rode cable cars and ate Chinese food. I left my heart there and would find it again in another fifteen years.

My mother can’t remember if we flew to Guam on a commercial flight or on space available out of Travis AFB, but I think that was the flight when I dumped my tv dinner off my fold-down tray, trying to reach from something I’d dropped. Nobody was happy with me, but I remember the faux-jolly demeaner of the stewardess who said, “whee!” as she knelt to wipe up my stewed chicken, peas and corn off the carpet.

John, Julie, Cynthia, Me, and Anne in front of our house on Anderson AFB, Guam.

At Anderson AFB on Guam, dad commanded the weather wing that did reconnaissance for Southeast Asia. My ex-husband Keith, being ex-Army, had many military conversations with my dad, and he told me that they were engaged in cloud seeding at the time.

For us kids, Guam was a revelation! What an exotically lush place, so dense with life of all the creepy crawly sort I’d seen on TV. It was a real-life Gilligan’s Island, but in color! Our first day out, we were walking across a “lawn” with some other girls, daughters of our folks friends, and I reached down and picked up a shell. I said, “look a seashell!” And this other girl yelled, “Mari Catherine, that’s a snail shell!” And I dropped it, terrified. What’s a snail?

We soon learned all about snails, and the pace they traveled. And about lizards, like the chameleons that changed colors depending on its surroundings. And geckos, that got into our lanai and squeaked annoyingly. Some we cut their tails off when we learned they would just grow back. We knew about ants, but red fire ants were new to us. We found out one day when a 3 year-old screaming John found himself covered in them, and mom took him into the bath tub and doused him with, what, alcohol?

At Tarague Beach, we learned about rock fish that look like rocks, but will bite you if you step on them. So, we were forced to wear tennis shoes in the water. We learned to spot Man-O-Wars – which are like jellyfish only smaller – and how to avoid their stings. We swam out to the reef and crouched on it because we could without cutting our feet since we had our tennis shoes on. All of this was new to us, but it formed a basis of appreciation of the wide world we lived in.

The bamboo jumping game we played and the gingham uniforms we wore at Santa Barbara School, Guam.

Another thing that was new to me was poverty. Of course, I didn’t know what that was and since everything’s relative, I’m not sure the people who lived that way saw themselves as impoverished. We took a school bus to the Santa Barbara Catholic School in tiny Dededo – a few miles off base, now the largest village on Guam – and along the way we saw ramshackle huts made of corrugated steel slumped under palm trees. Some had barnyards with chickens and pigs running around. There were no lawns, only dirt ground. This was the landscape that surrounded our school. Kids came out of these shacks looking as clean in their uniforms as we did, which was a bit of a revelation for me. They had less stuff than us base kids, and yet here they were in a Catholic school, looking just like us, only tanner.

My 2nd grade class was housed in one of the main concrete buildings, but my 3rd grade class met in a quonset hut.

On Guam, summer lasted all year, so we Air Force brats practically lived at the pool. The nearest one was only a block away. I can see on Google Maps, our house on the corner, and block of houses, and then a wide open space that is a golf course spread out from the Officer’s Club. Now, the Officer’s Club is called the Palm Tree Golf Course and appears very commercialized on the website. I can’t see a swimming pool and it seems the whole place is devoted to golf. But when I was seven, the pool was our home. Inside, there were many dining rooms and bars, and my folks spent a lot of time there, partying. They could just drink and walk home. There were family night events in which the kids had their own party room, with a TV set up and our own waiter standing by. It was a glamorous life in my memory. We drank Shirley Temples by the gallon.

Another Guam thing was outdoor movies. The place is so warm, why bother with air conditioning when you can sit in the cooler evening air. The theater was a fenced-in lot backed by a giant screen, so from the outside you could see most of the image, but you couldn’t hear the soundtrack. We sat on long wood benches and spilled our popcorn like crazy, and when a rain storm rolled through we’d cover ourselves with the sheets of clear plastic until it stopped raining.

When It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World came to Guam, it wasn’t playing at our local theater, so we had to pile into our car and drive some distance away, maybe it was to the submarine base. The screening space wasn’t in what you’d call a theater, but more like a multi-purpose room. That didn’t dampen our spirits though as we laughed through the entire farce and later cracked the film’s jokes at the dinner table. Another comedy, The Russians are Coming, became a family favorite. Every time it came to television, my family would watch.

Me and mom on Tarague Beach, Guam. Looks like I was collecting shells.

Our experiences on Guam gave me a warm, sandy feeling for the tropics. I feel special to have lived there. Sometimes Guam comes up on the news, like when North Korean threatens to send missles there. When I meet other people who lived on Guam, I feel like we share a special experience.

32 years later, in Sonoma County, I went on a date with a guy who also lived on Guam in the same years we were there. Not only that, he worked for my dad! The dad told Sven good things about working for my dad. My dad, unfortunately, had no memory of Sven’s father, so that was a bummer. But, what are the chances of meeting another ex-Guam military brat? 

When we got word that we were moving again, it came as a bit of a shock. We loved Guam and heck, our household goods had only arrived the year before. And where were we destined after living in paradise? Illinois. Southern Illinois, not even close to Chicago. But close to St Louis, where there was a giant arch! Worse, we were moving in the winter, which on Guam is like summer, but in Illinois, it’s really winter. We all knew what that was about. 

Our departure seemed interminable. For at least a week we were camping out in our house, then in VOQs, (Visiting Officers Quarters), waiting uncertainly about when we’d be “shipped out.” Every night, my parents went to going-away parties. Pictures were taken. Souveniers were signed. Finally, in the middle of the night, after sleep walking through darkened waiting lounges, we took off for the states. I cried, wondering if I’d ever see any of my friends again.

John, Me, Anne and Dad at Tarague Beach, Guam. Keep off the reef!

I don’t know if I knew we’d be stopping in Hawaii for a bit of a vacation, but next thing I knew we were in Honolulu. So excited to stay a night in a modern glassy hi-rise hotel, Juli and I jumped from one big bed to another. It was a dream to stay in a civilian hotel! We cold see the beach from our sliding glass door.

To our dismay, the next day found us at Fort De Russy, right on the beach in Honolulu in bungalows that were eventually torn down when the property became a city park back in the 70’s. My suspicion was that there was no vacancy when we first arrived in Hawaii, so Dad had to spring for rooms at the Hilton (or similar).

I know we toured Pearl Harbor and drove up to Diamond Head. We were vacationing in Hawaii at the same time as the Tet Offensive in Vietnam and I wondered why my dad got the time off.

The bungalows I think we stayed in at Fort De Russy, Honolulu, HI.

One of my most vivid memories of this time was seeing Star Trek for the first time. We were, as was often the case, visiting Air Force friends in a modern rancher somewhere either in Hawaii or Illinois. I don’t know where Cynthia, Anne, and Juli were, but I was left alone in a family room with my dinner on a TB table and before me sat the most marvellous invention I could imagine: a color TV! And on that color TV played the most mind-boggling science fiction show ever. Star Trek! So visual, so colorful, and the writing was quite understandable to a 9 year old. I was mesmorized. I raved about it to my sisters and felt pretty damned special to be the only one to have experienced Star Trek, in color, and already in its second season.


When we arrived at Scott AFB in Southern Illinois, we moved into what even I could tell was low-rent housing. Long blocks of townhouse-style houses at the edge of the base in a neighborhood called Pegelo. Dad enrolled me, Juli, and Anne at St. John’s Catholic School in nearby Shiloh. Meanwhile, Mom had taken Cynthia to the University of Missouri in Kansas City, having said goodbye to the rest of us at the airport.

Illinois in February is not the best time to start a new school, but there we were, at Scott AFB, 17 miles from St. Louis. We were beamed in from a bright, colorful paradise to a frigid, grey farm country, with our tan skin and our bleached blond hair looking for all the school like an exotic bunch of coconuts just washed up on shore. I was still in grade 3.

Our new school, St John’s, was modern and recently-built, and had one classroom per grade. All grades besides the grades 7 and 8 classrooms opened onto the gym which doubled as cafeteria and auditorium. The kitchen served hot lunches thanks to grants from the Air Force. The student body was made up of Air Force brats, farm kids, town kids, as well as kids who had been dumped into the school’s orphanage, just up the hill.

At first I thought those kids were really orphans, with no family to take them in, but I later learned they came from dysfunctional families or broken marriages and were sitting there in holding patterns, awaiting family outcomes. I became friends with a few of the orphans, including my first “boyfriend,” who gave me a ring.

St. John’s Catholic School, O’Fallon, IL. The orphanage was up that hill past the smokestack.

The two priests at the school were Rev. Albert Jerome 1966-1972, Rev. Ted Baumann 1972-1973. In 1983 the parish closed down my old school and now it’s a HQ for the diocese. Nothing stays the same.

There were two dynamics at play during this time. My dad was deeply frustrated with the Air Force. He had steadily moved up the ranks as an officer and saw himself as a General one day. Back on Guam, when he announced that he’d been promoted to Lt Colonel, I remember Anne jumping up and down, “Are we moving to General’s Hill?” That was a more toney neighborhood on base where the residents were of a higher class. But after many years, commanding the weather wing, his career had stalled. It was thought he was being treated unfairly, and that was why he came home angry and abusive. He drank heavily. At the dinner table I was always sat next to dad and his glass of Scotch, and as dinner wore on he got more loaded and hyper sensitive to anything that came out of our mouths. I was pretty squirrely at the time, trying to be a comedian, and I often cracked jokes that were not appreciated. Sometimes I got “zapped” on the head when I annoyed him.

The neo-classical style housing we lived in on B Street at Scott AFB, Il.

By then, I was packing to move. We had been at Scott for 3 years already, and lived in three different houses. Wasn’t it time to move again? I went through my trinkets and souvenirs and packed them carefully in boxes. Changing my mind, I rearranged the boxes.

I realize now how, 50 years later, the Air Force lifestyle programmed me to be on the move, to always looking for the next place to live, like a vagabond. From Illinois to Southern California, San Francisco, Sonoma, and Vancouver, and now, at 60, I’m mentally prepared to pull up and move to the BC interior for half the year, and back to Sonoma County the other half. My whole adult life I’ve felt an impermanence of place and a desire for transience, like no one else in my family. There was always this allure of a fresh start, a reinvention of self, and a do-over of like that attracted me. I can’t seem to stop.

I was all packed and ready to go, but we didn’t go anywhere, not even to another house on base. We stayed another year and then another. I knew Dad wanted to become a General, but couldn’t he do that somewhere else? When were the movers coming? Instead, Dad was hanging on at SAC (Strategic Airlift Command) still trying to get promoted, which he wasn’t. Other men were promoted because the Air Force changed some kind of protocol about time served vs rank, and those guys had kinda gamed the system by dropping out after Korea and rejoining during Vietnam. Dad had stuck with the Air Force since 1950 and was being left behind. And drinking more out of frustration. 

Then, furtive things started happening. Mom and Dad would close the door to talk on the phone. Mom practiced a sales pitch on the phone, calling herself a Bestway Agent. Boxes of soap started arriving. Dad built a loft in the laneway garage we were allotted, and he stuffed it full of soap boxes. Were we going into the soap business? At some point the momentum stalled and it was clear that selling soap was not in my parent’s future.

What was clear was that they were thinking of life after the Air Force and how to make a living in the civilian world. We knew they had bought a plot of land in Coco Beach, Florida, and sometimes we talked about living there. It would be like Guam, but in the states. Then we caught wind of San Antonio, Texas, and their desire to purchase something there.

Until then, Mom said that Dad had no interest in buying a house. He just didn’t want to be bothered with one. Some military families lived off base in the houses they bought, but not us. All those years Dad didn’t mind base housing at all. Not until he saw the end of base living. The word retirement surfaced and we knew the end was coming.

At last our fate was sealed when Dad returned from a trip to – of all places – California! Dad had gone off to interview for a job teaching ROTC at Anaheim High School, and he’d accepted it. And, while he was there, he bought a house! Just, plain bought it. We were blown away! With Mom’s acquiescence, he made the decision on 1410 Pembroke Lane.

Pack up kids, we’re moving to sunny California, where everything happens! I thought, I could more easily become a movie star in California. I was such a movie buff at the time, I went to the base theatre and saw everything current and G rated, and then bought magazines to read about them. The nuns at St. John, between reprimanding me for acting out, told me I was so dramatic, I should be an actress, and I believed them. I could be a star! I was thrilled at the idea of California. I also wanted to have an orange tree.

A block down from our B Street house, there was a vast, manicured field known as the “parade ground.” It was where the airmen would parade around, marching in lockstep, presenting arms, and generally creating pomp in honour of someone for some occasion. Let’s say an officer was retiring, they’d be giving him a big send-off, thank you for your service, Colonel. We saw these events happen all the time, but mostly the parade ground was our place to run around with our dog, Heidi II, the brown dauchsund, or to fly kites, play softball or volley ball. I don’t know that I ever attended one of those parades as being related to the honouree.

So, it wasn’t until we had settled into our new, civilian life in California that I realized that one of those parades could have honoured my Dad for his service of 29 years. That even though the limit for an officer to serve if he doesn’t become a General is 30 years, Dad could not stick it out one more year. He had to get the hell out of the Air Force, now. He didn’t want to wait for a parade, possibly he could not have stomached a parade thrown by the people who were forcing him out. He just wanted away from it all.

That’s why he packed us into our blue Buick to cross the country without him. He made mom drive we four kids, and a friend of Anne’s going as far as Santa Fe, across the burning desert alone, target sof automotive con men at every gas stop. For us it was quite exciting, but poor mom. It must have been frightening for her.

We stopped along the way, to see retired friends including a big family, the Kastersons, who we’d been tight with on Guam. When we stopped in Las Vegas, we got the idea to go to a dinner show at a big hotel to see Goldie Hawn and Gladys Knight and the Pips. But after we all sat down in one of those big cushy booths and had a look at the menu, Mom decided we were leaving. Apparently, spending $18 per kid in 1973 was over the top. We snuck out and went through a side door and went down to Ceasers Palace and had a perfectly lovely spaghetti dinner at Ceaser’s Palace for, I don’t know, $4 per kid.

As an adult, I often think, with much consternation, that I could have been able to say, “I saw Goldie Hawn and Gladis Knight and the Pips in Las Vegas in 1973”, but for an $18 dinner.

Where did the Air Force life leave me?

Looking back on how this Air Force life affected me, I realize the biggest affect was how I manage relationships with friends. Every few years until age 14 I’d be forced to say goodbye to my friends, knowing I would probably never see them again. I’d move on to a new place and new friends and then say goodbye to them, forever. I think it made me view friendships – and business relationships – as temporary, disposable things, not something to nurture and encourage. I cannot say I have “childhood friends” because there is no one I’m still in touch with from those early years. Living in the Air Force made me always look ahead forward, not backward. Just like I have no birthplace to even go near, I have no friends to tell me how goofy I was as a kid. Sure, I have an expansive worldview, and a wandering heart, but it would have been nice to stay in one place for a while.

A Cat Named Ella Fitzgerald

When a mouse ran across the floor of our new Vancouver apartment we said, we have got to get ourselves a cat. 

I went to the local SPCA and found a female tabby with beautiful tiger stripes and big wide eyes who, unlike the other meowing cats, seemed indifferent to being adopted. I thought that was the perfect attitude for a cat so I chose her.

The minute the cat climbed out of the cardboard carrier, she began to explore her new home. She walked straight to the bathroom and inspected the bathtub as if to say, You have one of these?

We quickly learned about all the things their new kitty liked. Direct sun, fresh flowers, plastic bags, and the sound of Bill’s saxophone when he played. We decided to name her after our favorite jazz singer, Ella Fitzgerald. 

As Ella settled into her new life, she found some favorite places to lay and sleep. She laid on the window sills, on chairs near the windows, on the bed, in an old basket, but her most favorite place was the back of the couch. 

When it was cold she enjoyed laying on the kitchen table next to the radiator, or on the Chinese chest by the big radiator. While Mari or Bill worked at their desk, she would snuggle on or around their computers. She was one heat-seeking kitty.

Ella was such a good sleeper, she often snored. When friends were over, they often heard her gentle snore as she lay on the back of the couch. During the night, she sometimes snored as loud as Bill, confusing Mari about which of them to nudge.

Ella really liked to lick things, especially faces. It you put your nose against hers, she would lick it. Every morning when Bill’s alarm went off, Ella climbed on his chest and licked his face. Sometimes he counted hundreds of licks. 

She also liked to drink out of people cups

After a few years, we bought a property in the Okanagan Valley, a four and a half hour drive from Vancouver. We began to take Ella with them in the car and found that she was an excellent traveler. She enjoyed stopping at the Hope Chevron, Princeton’s Cowboy Coffed and at the No Frills in Oliver. Once we arrived, she loved to explore the house, the cottage, and the yard and especially the swimming pool. She thought the pool was one big water bowl and liked to drink from it!

One day, we brought home a new male cat and the minute he meowed, Ella sat up and stared. Who. Is. That? The new cat, who we named Dizzy Gillespie, was younger and bigger than Ella and he was jealous of Ella’s dominance of the apartment. 

Dizzy wanted to dominate and so he was very mean to Ella. He picked fights with her and attacked her after she visited the litter box. After two years, we gave Dizzy to another couple, and Ella learned to relax again.

Ella was not only pretty but also very good at posing for pictures. Every Christmas and Hannukah Mari took pictures of her to use for holiday greetings. She made a very good model.

Ella always had fragile health, and around the age of 14, she got very sick. The vet said she was dying. We were deeply saddened, and made sure Ella enjoyed her last days. We let her do things she never could before. Like laying on the kitchen counter, sitting in the kitchen sink, drinking milk and eating off our plates. 

We fed her as much and as many different foods as she wanted. And when the time approached to put her to sleep, we gave her a thing she’d always craved: chocolate. She eagerly licked chocolate frosting off our fingers and noses, and her wide eyes showed what a revelation it was for her. Ella loved chocolate.

Mari’s Resume

 Mari Kane – Writer and Web Designer 
#204-2625 Alberta St.   Vancouver, BC V5Y 3L3    604-376-4609  
marikane@nullmarikane.com    marikane.com

I’m a thirsty creative always on the lookout for new projects that feed my soul.


Web Designer, The Studio Web Design, 2013 – Present, Vancouver, BC
Heading a web design group dedicated to building future-proof websites for small businesses.

Blogger, Ebook Author, Blogsite Studio, 2011 – Present, Vancouver, BC
Writing posts offering tips, tricks and tutorials about how to use WordPress and social media. 

Published ebooks: “Create a WordPress Website In Ten Easy Steps”, “Escalate Your WordPress Website”, and “Secure Your WordPress Website,” based on BlogsiteStudio.com posts. 

Spoke at Vancouver WordCamp 2012, 2013, 2019 and Las Vegas WordCamp 2015.

WordPress Tutor, 2011 – Present, Vancouver, BC
Teaching in-person and online sessions that include follow-up consultations by email or phone.

Freelance Writer, 2000 – Present, Vancouver, BC
Published wine stories in: Wine Enthusiast, Edible Vancouver & Wine Country, WinePress NW, Westender, Freedom Leaf, Wines and Vines, Russian River Times, and Northbay Bohemian.
Published travel stories in: Offbeat Travel and TravelThruHistory.
Publishedbusiness stories in: Marijuana Business Report, Buyside, Cannabis Culture, E-The        Environmental Magazine, New Age, and Magical Blend.
Published editorials in: VancouverSun.com, Providence Journal, and Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

Webmaster/Communications Director/Meetup Organizer, BC Association of Travel Writers, 2012 – 2018, Vancouver, BC
Built and maintained the BCATW.org membership website as well as posting the monthly newsletter, The Buzz. Organized and facilitated monthly Meetups sponsored by the BCATW.

Wine Blogger, TastingRoomConfidential.com, 2008 – 2016, Vancouver, BC 
Blogged about wine, beer, spirits, travel, reviews, and food pairings. (On hiatus)

Stand Leader at Rogers Arena, ARAMARK Corp., 2010 – 2014, Vancouver, BC
Managed the Chilli Peppers stand at Gate 122 in Rogers Arena, starting prior to the 2010 Olympics.

Contributing Editor, DealFlow Media, 2010 – 2011, Sonoma, CAlifornia
Wrote feature stories for online newsletter on topics relating to the medical marijuana industry.

Wine Store Blogger, Everything Wine, 2009 – 2010, North Vancouver, BC
Launched a weekly blog for the Everything Wine store website.

Marketing Manager, Bottle Barn, 2004 – 2005, Santa Rosa, California
Wrote and published a quarterly print newsletter, launched their web site and wine club, and performed merchandising and media relations duties.

Editor, Buyside Magazine, 1999 – 2002, Sonoma, California
Wrote and edited the stock market publication’s editorial and advertorial sections and company blog (Full time 1999-2000). Worked as a contributor of feature stories (Freelance 2000-2002).

Publisher, HempWorld, 1994 – 1998, Sonoma County, California
Published the first industrial hemp magazine and hemp directory in the world, before it was cool.

Photographer, Kane-Carlson Studios, 1989 – 1994, San Francisco, California
Partnered in commercial photography studio producing advertising, catalog, and portrait images.


University of San Francisco, Certificate of Internet Marketing, 2010 
Studied online: Integrated Online Strategies, Advanced Interactive Marketing and Measurement, and Master in Internet Marketing programs.

Santa Rosa Junior College, Wine and Wine Marketing, 1994 and 2003
Studied wine and the marketing and promotion of wine.

San Francisco Academy of Art University, BFA in Photography, 1980 – 1983
Studied commercial and journalistic photography.


Vancouver International Jazz Festival, 2006 – Present 
Managed volunteers at the Performance Works theatre.

Surrey International Writers Conference, Oct 2007 – Present
Introduced presenters and moderated workshops.


Pages, MS Word/Pages, Filemaker, Excel/Numbers, Photoshop, Quark Express, InDesign, Pagemaker, Powerpoint/Numbers, Zoom, Skype, Outlook, Acrobat, WordPress, Camtasia, Google Analytics, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and more.

Santa Flies Space Available

One thing I learned as a child was that Santa also travels on airplanes. I found this out when I was seven, after my family spent an hour waiting on a tarmac for the big guy to fly in. It seemed so amazingly modern to her that Santa would ditch the sleigh and catch a plane, but this was during the Cold War and one could never be too careful.

We shivered in the cold, and jumped up and down to get warm while screaming, “Santa, Santa,” along with the mass of kids crushed against the chain-linked fence. We searched the sky for any expanding point of light to focus on, and there were many false alarms. At last, a star became a beam and the 707 came into view, landed safely and taxied toward the jittery throng. 

Santa emerged through the cargo ramp, the one you can drive tank into, looking like General McArthur in red velvet as he trotted down the ramp. His elves dragged camouflage duffel bags as they followed him over to their side of the fence. Out of the duffels came fairly large, brightly wrapped boxes that were handed to Santa, who dispensed the gifts based on whether the kids were girls or boys.

My brother got a Batmobile, like in the TV show. Me and my sisters all got Japanese Geisha dolls, with tiny feet locked into place on lacquer pedestals. Mine was a lady in red with dangly things in her hair. Julie got the orange kimono lady, holding a black scarf over her head. Anne got the yellow kimono doll. Her oldest sister Cynthia, who towered over the others, received the tallest doll, wearing a blue and white kimono. Together on a shelf in her aging parents house, those dolls formed a Japanese-styled tableau of the four sisters as grown, kimonoed women. After Cynthia died, I laid down the tall doll and arranged the other dolls in a circle of mourning, the way their lives actually worked out.

I don’t remember if Santa got back on that plane or not.

Now We Are 60

When I was one,
I was hardly much fun,

When I was ten,
I could barely hold a pen,

When I was twenty
I thought I had plenty,

When I was thirty,
I was still flirty,

When I was forty,
I got quite snorty,

When I was fifty,
I became thrifty,

But now that I’m sixty,
I’m more bitchy than clever,

So I think I’ll be a bitch,
Forever and ever.