Going Home


I often wonder what to say when asked where I am from.

The temptation to say “outer space” passes and I drift to the many places I have called Home.

I have lived in 2 prefectures, 2 states and 2 provinces within 3 countries. If you’ve known me awhile, you know you should always write my address in pencil.


Beautiful Grand Forks, BC

Last week I had the opportunity to travel to the peaceful Canadian town most people would consider my Hometown-Grand Forks, BC.

Its a charming town with clean streets, tidy yards and clotheslines in backyards.

There’s not a lot to the half-Kootenay, half-Okanagan town and what is there hasn’t changed much in the 15 years since I’ve spent any real time there.

My old high school is right where I left it.


Grand Forks Secondary School

I never took notice of the gradually swooping hillsides that formed the backdrop to GFSS when I went to school there. Even when we had PE outside or we were sitting on the grass beneath the big trees out front I just didn’t pay attention.

I was too busy being a teenager.

Too busy talking about what mixed tapes we had made, what we were wearing to the next dance, who was seeing who and how impossibly good looking George Michael was.

The corner store by our old house is still there, too.


West End was a quick bike ride away, where Mom would send us to get lemon lime pop, Big Turk chocolate bars and salt & vinegar chips. They had a freezer full of Freezies which were cherished during the hot, dry summers.

You could drop your bike on the ground or prop it up on its kickstand and not worry about it being stolen.

The ice rink where I spent countless hours learning to spin, trace, check, jump, fall and get back up again with a smile is still on the Trans-Canada that cuts through town.


The Grand Forks ice arena, home of the Border Bruins junior hockey team!

As I buzzed by I saw it was renamed after someone I didn’t recognize. That normally happens if someone from town makes the NHL but Dad said this guy was a former mayor. Who knew?

I probably spent more time in that building than in my own house. I knew that place inside-out. I could flip the breakers so we could skate in the dark (it sounds crazy but it was pretty cool), I knew where the arena guys kept the keys to get into the precariously suspended music box and I knew how to rig the Pac Man video game so you could play for free.


The house my folks built is still there on the corner but it has a different family living in it now.

So many memories of porch swings and snow forts and milkshakes and “meet you at the tracks” came back to me. They didn’t overwhelm me in a flood of emotions and tears. They were just there and the corners of my mouth turned upwards as I sighed to my traveling companions, telling them Mummy grew up here.


Loki and UB came along on our little adventure to Canada and were excellent travel buddies.

It is a fascinating thing, traveling with dogs. I never before experienced the kind of camaraderie you get at rest stops when you have friends attached to you by a leash.

Everyone wants to talk and visit and share stories about their dogs. Everyone wants to pet them and ask questions about silver eyes and what possible breed he could be and gosh, he’s a happy fella and point out their 5 Pomeranians on the dash board of their RV.

Loki and UB soaked it up.

They also soaked up the attention from my Nan, who was one of the main people I came to see.


Nan and Loki

It occurred to me that Nan and Loki have some things in common- they are both adorable, stylish little old ladies who still have a fair bit of spunk in them despite bodies that might not work quite the way they want them to.

They are both a bit on the stubborn side, which is part of their charm.

And they are both reliant on the people they live with.


UB and Nan

Nan lives with my parents now and Loki lives with us. Neither of them can stay on their own for very long, which is probably frustrating for Nan.

Yet she keeps her chin up, plays solitaire (or, patience, as she calls it), likes to dress up and wear her hats and go out and tell stories in her lovely British accent.


Mom, Nan and I outside the Borscht Bowl, downtown Grand Forks

I didn’t spend much time downtown but we did get some good Russian food.

Grand Forks and several towns in the Kootenays were partly settled by the Doukhobors who are a peace-loving, communally-minded, garden-growing group that got booted out of Russia for refusing to bear arms.

My dad’s family were Doukhobors. You can imagine how thrilled the aunties were when my brother chose the Canadian military for his career… “It says Koftinoff on a military uniform. Oh, hospity, hospity…”

Nobody thought anything of roll call with names like Perehudoff, Kazakoff, Podovinikoff, Horkoff, Pereverezoff, Dovedoff, Chursinoff, Semenoff, Strukoff, Popoff, Kalmakov,and Malloff. Throw in a few Lloyds, Wiebes and Gustafsons and there you have GFSS back in the day.


Dad and I enjoying some borscht and voreniki at the Borscht Bowl

Some of my closest friends are back in Grand Forks. I had wonderful visits with 2 of them and was thrilled to see them doing so well and being so happy with their lives, their homes and their partners.


Tan and Anna


Merielle and Tan

They embraced and loved UB and Loki. Porter, the pug shared her toys with them. The 3 dogs became instant BFFs and settled into fun little routines with each other.


UB, Porter and Loki and the ever-popular squeaky squirrel

Friendships are meaning more and more to me as I hurtle through middle age. Even if 40 is the new 30, its important to cultivate and nourish these friendships and relationships that are special and fun. As we have all changed and grown, our friendships have remained.

Driving through town another part of my past came to the forefront of my mind as we passed teachers out on picket lines.

My dad honked his horn in support of their cause.

You don’t see this kind of thing in the US.

I’m not completely familiar with all of the details surrounding the current strike but I know the students are going to be the ones who lose out if the teachers don’t get some backing.

I saw 2 of my former high school teachers (who eventually became parents of talented skaters I coached) on the picket lines and sat with them, catching up on our lives. Even though this wasn’t my battle, I didn’t mind sitting there, watching cars and trucks go by, people waving and honking their support.


Canada is a land of the socially and environmentally aware. You aren’t persecuted for your beliefs or your differences, which is why the Doukhobors came here decades ago.

I’m not saying its perfect or that everyone is as accepted as they’d like but people and politicians seem more willing to have discussions that aren’t all about blaming each other or living in the past; not every argument boils down to the constitution, bibles and guns.

In Canada, when you lock your keys in the truck and you call BCAA via AAA, the guy comes and unlocks your door and then you all sit down and share a beer and you make a new friend.


With my OCD on vacation I locked my keys in the truck. No worries, a new friend to the rescue!

You talk about hockey and golf and recycling and you learn that Quebec is still trying to separate. Who knew?

But you can be Far Too Canadian, as the band, Spirit of the West sings.

Which is why I keep returning Home. To this home, in Montana, which just happens to be my Home du jour.

John Denver’s lovely voice rang through my head as I thought about it- Going home to a place (s)he’d never been before. All of the homes I have lived in will feel like that to me if and when I return to them.

Its because with each year and each new address I become a slightly different person with changing realities and new perspectives.

The 16 year-old who moved to Chilliwack for college is different from the brave 19 year-old who flew to Tokyo to teach English. She’s a heck of a lot different from the 21 year-old who moved to then-sleepy Watford City with her boyfriend of just a few months.


Alistair, Mitch and I, 1994

And the 28 year-old who moved to Saskatchewan for vet school is different from the one who tries to keep her farm in Montana going when Alistair isn’t there despite never-ending snowstorms, hot-water tank woes, and being in the middle of nowhere.


Seeley Lake sunset

Even if Grand Forks stays the same, I see it differently each time I return.

I still don’t know what to say when asked where my Home is. Maybe its where I happen to cuddle up to Loki, UB, Sport, Mulder and Cooper and where my husband comes back to every 2 weeks.

Maybe its just where I am.


The Truth About Small Town Veterinarians… at least, this one


I had some pretty high hopes when I opened Seeley Swan Veterinary in our tiny little town several years ago.

I figured it would be something akin to the lives of James, Siegfried and Tristan, without the cows. I was game.


There are things, though, that weren’t quite the same about the community I lived in and the foggy, rainy one where All Creatures took place.

After our first 2 years here, for example, I was the only doctor of any kind. My husband had tried working here but there wasn’t enough volume to keep him busy.

You would think that would have been a clue but I kept going. Remember, I was game!

I knew I was in for something whenever a client would glance left and right then ask me in a serious voice if I was just like a real doctor… “like, I can ask or tell you anything”….


Had I wanted to listen to human problems I would have applied to med school. I wanted to play with cats and dogs and ponies and ferrets.

And yet…

“I have this lump. Down there,” said a client as he started to unbutton his jeans. Apparently the lump didn’t affect his “performance” (his words).


I had a few people show me their rotten teeth, asking whether or not I thought they should see a dentist.

I think, in general, if you’re asking your veterinarian about your lumps and smelly teeth then, yes, you should see someone who deals with those things regularly.


There are some amazing perks to being the only vet in a close-knit community. Like my buddy, Rocky, who I would see walking on the streets with his folks as well as in my clinic.


And Spike, the happiest pittie in the world, who would bound into the clinic and sit looking up at me like this every single time he came in.

I miss our Dog Days of Summer celebrations that incorporated a walkathon fundraiser for the local shelters, agility trials and dog shows.


Knowing just about everyone allows for some fun events, like puppy parties, holiday open houses, summer celebrations and school or Brownies tours.


I miss those things.

The smiles on kindergarten faces as they rode my hydraulic tilt surgery table.

The looks of astonishment on first or second graders as I showed them roundworms preserved in a little jar of clear fluid.

The wide-eyed Brownies viewing radiographs of a little dog’s bladder that was full of obvious stones.

The joy, relief and love on the faces of grown-ups as they picked up their healthy seniors after another anesthetic procedure went very well.


I miss going to my cute little clinic in Big Red, my ’96 Dodge Ram with the vet box and humungous snow blade on the front, waving at every one, knowing everyone’s story.

I would tell Alistair something about just about every car on the road as he would take me to lunch.

“That’s so-and-so, who has one of the Great Danes.”

“Oh, that’s the couple whose older lab we just had to say goodbye to.”

“Whoop, don’t get too close to that one, he’ll be coming home from his noon bender. He has that nice lab I like so much.”


I miss the cuddles, the kisses, the Easy Cheese fan club and the satisfaction at being able to provide care in a cozy, safe environment when needed.

I even miss the beautiful goodbyes we were able to provide, often on a lovely rug with an angel on it.

Many tears were shed and many wonderful stories were shared during those quiet, tender visits.

For Hunter, Chessie, Snooksie, Tilly, Chase, Kodiak, Cybil, Scooter, Thelma, Koopie and Andi.

And so many more.

I am glad I was there when I was there.


But I’m glad I made the choice to close my little vet clinic last fall. The decision took me 2 years to make because I was proud of what we had built. I wasn’t ready to accept defeat.

Despite the no-pays and no-shows.


But they started to really add up.

Which is one of the things I don’t miss.

“I don’t have any money.”

5 words that I heard way too often, especially after we had gone over the amount individuals would owe after a planned spay or neuter with vaccinations.

I hand over your animal in excellent condition, having had a safe, warm surgery done where you won’t even see the sutures after, where they were taken care of as if they were my own pet, and you say you can’t pay?

And its a very small town where I have to see these people regularly.

“That’s the guy who stiffed me for 2 cat spays and won’t return our phone calls.”

“We can’t eat there- 2 of the servers are in Collections.”

“One of the waitresses there owes me a hundred bucks and has disconnected her phones.”


I had a lot of good folks make payments and I always appreciated their efforts. I know that accidents happen and you aren’t always prepared.

Many people are eager to tell me I was too nice.

Or a soft touch.

Or a sucker.


But then how would you handle it, knowing you were perfectly capable of saving an innocent animal’s life even if the owners were out of work?

Or they were rip-roaring drunk, slurring about their beloved dog they just drove over? (That one was a classic- as I stabilized the big lovable pooch and took radiographs of his beaten-up chest, the ‘dad’ fell down on my waiting room floor as he was making a phone call to get a ride.) The dog survived after a week in the big city. Never saw dollar one from them, myself.


I would hear about almost everything animal-related in our tiny town and it started to tear me apart.

Like the lovely lab puppy who I dropped everything for when the owner brought him in for a ‘dangling leg’. X-rays showed a clean femur fracture. Easy fix, especially on a young, vibrant, healthy pup.

Only I didn’t do orthopedic work here so we sent him off to the big city.

Apparently they could never come to terms on payment plans ahead of time so the guy brought his dog back home and shot it.

I would have taken that dog myself.

Clients who sat here while we fit that emergency in would have taken that dog.

“That’s the guy who shot his puppy.”

“That’s the dad who told me a bullet was a heck of a lot cheaper than a cat spay.”

“That’s the wealthy family who turfed their pup to the shelter because they didn’t want to deal with him anymore and they didn’t even leave a donation.”

I didn’t like where my conversations went and it was eating me up inside.

And I still had to see and mingle with these people in town.

The only answer, for my mental and financial health, was to close.

And yet, I miss bringing Cleo and UB to work as “shop dogs”.


I miss seeing my good friend, Lynn almost every day and sharing our lives and views with each other.

I miss seeing Fireman Frank and sharing our days and war-stories about drop-off kitties and neglected animals who will get their own blog someday.


I miss the great clients and friends who are out there and the summer people who always brought their pets back to me.

Sedona, Kula, Bruiser, Lucy, Ruby, Crosby, Duncan, Malcolm, Mackenzie, Cooper and many more.

But now I get to see these clients on the golf course and when we talk about dogs and cats and horses it is nostalgic and still happy.

I feel healthy in my mind and body and I’m not allowing myself to carry everyone’s burdens.

I’m a better person, wife and friend now and nobody asks me to check their lumps.

Or feel their lymph nodes.

Or look at their fungal infections to see if I think they are healing.

And that is the truth about this small-town veterinarian.