Blonde Again

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

On my last blog, I explained that I was going back to Scotland to celebrate turning 60 because I did the trip to mark my 50th birthday.

For months I’ve also been remembering what and who I was when I turned 40. Funny how big birthdays can get you reminiscing about the past. In 1998 I was just retired from my full time job at the ad agency and making my way with a new career. I was dealing with people and my surroundings in a different way. I was evolving into an adult.

Part of the shift was becoming a personal trainer that would opt to shave her head to support a client going through chemo. Why not? It was only hair and a perfect way to make a mark about how I wanted to support my clients and how I wanted to live my life.

Years later I wrote a story about the experience.



Today I am a forty year old bald woman.

Yesterday I had long black hair down to my shoulders.

Today I notice my ears are too big for my face.

Yesterday I looked like everyone else.

Today the wind on my bare scalp chills me to the bone.

Yesterday I still had all my hair to hide behind.

Today people stare at me.

Yesterday I walked into my hairdressers and had my head shaved.

The first step was to cut the bulk of my long hair with scissors.  I was spellbound sitting there watching my reflection as my cherished locks fell away.  The next step came as he used the electric razor for a close crop.  You could now see the shape of my head.  Thank God I had no strange lumps and bumps.  That would have been too much!  Then finally the razor blade to finish the job. There were no tears, just the reflection of a forty year old bald woman looking back at me.

Today I visited my bald client with breast cancer.  She is bald from the chemo and was excited about my gesture to shave my own head to support her journey.  Today she quietly tells me she can’t stand to look at me because it reminds her how sick she is.  She doesn’t want to look at the face of another bald woman.  I am banished.  She tells me to leave and not come back.

Yesterday I was a person embarking on a symbolic gift for a friend.

Today I am a forty year old bald woman.

This piece not only told the story, but helped me find a way to share my life and experiences.

I became a writer. I found my voice.

If I wanted to say something, I would tell you a little tale.

So there was no better way to explain to you the reason why I look like this today.

It really shouldn’t come as a big surprise to the people that know me best.

And face it, there’s something cathartic to reflect about what it means to turn 60. What I’ve learned, what I care about, and what doesn’t matter at all.

Doing this while being blonde just makes me laugh.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.




They laughed. And not just a little giggle, but a full belly laugh. Then others laughed. I don’t think I’ve ever done something so simple to make so many people laugh.

How could I not do it again and again?

And just like that @VanCityPenguin was born.

It started as a little joke to do on one of my morning walks. Along with all the other pictures I took, I added in a few penguin shots. The technique took a little while to master. I must have looked pretty ridiculous down on the ground attempting to get a good angle to frame his funny little body.

Soon I got better at taking his picture. It was during a sunset at False Creek that I took some photos and showed a few people that were passing by. They immediately looked out to the water to see where the penguin was. When I revealed the little guy, now hidden away in my pocket, they laughed. Too many wanted copies. I discovered the hilarious power of VanCityPenguin. The next day my penguin friend had a Twitter and Instagram account.

Going public meant he could make even more people laugh. And we could do it together on my walks all over Vancouver. A much needed incentive to get me out the door to search for some of the city’s best locations.

The concept seemed perfect.

Since I’ve already proclaimed 2018 the Year of the Penguin this seems like the next logical step.

So far he’s seen some pretty interesting places, met some new friends and attracted some impressive followers.

Who knows where it will lead? As long as people keep laughing, I will keep taking his picture.

at the Olympic torch lighting

snow in Vancouver

watching the sunset

Return to Scotland

Ten years ago I made the decision to walk Scotland’s West Highland Way and Great Glen Way to celebrate my 50th birthday. The half-century celebration was a 297km solo trek through the Highlands. Starting near Glasgow, and ending in Inverness.

overlooking Loch Lomond

The walk took 13 days, then I headed to Aberdeen to meet some very distant relatives. It was a first for me… actual blood relations! A joy few adopted people get to experience.

distant distant distant relatives

My goal in going to Scotland was to dig deeper into my roots. To go and find out more about who I am.

Luckily all that happened and my 50th was a complete success.

This year I turn sixty and plan to once more make the journey.

Even now I still think back to the day before I left Vancouver.

Dad was slipping fast. His mind was faltering. He knew I had opened my adoption papers, had found my birth family and was heading to Scotland to discover more. He wanted to help. He promised to pay for my flight. It’s one of the main reasons I was able to go.

Two things happened on the last day I saw him before I left. Actually three things happened.

I showed him my itinerary and the messages from some of the Third family clan in Aberdeen. I talked to him about my plans and the excitement.

As I talked about meeting these people he got teary eyed and said, “Remember you will always be my daughter. I will always be your father.” Up until that point I hadn’t realized the distraught this trip could carry for him. I told him he was my Dad and that would never change. I hope he believed me.

Then I showed him the bill for the flight and reminded him in the gentlest way of his promise to pay for it. He said of course, and went to his den. I waited. He came back and said his wife wouldn’t give him the money. He handed me his wallet and said I should take all the money inside to help pay for the trip. I opened it and found 23 cents. My heart broke.

I told him I’d already paid for the flight and he needed to keep his money to buy some coffee. Dad laughed, he loved cups of coffee. I lie very well.

As I left his home I told his wife what happened. She offered nothing.

I headed back to work and my last client before the trip.  He was a kind man with a very successful business in West Vancouver. His father had recently passed. We were pretty sure our Dad’s knew each other from years ago. There was a connection.

I told him what had happened. I was relying on Dad’s help and that had now disappeared. I cried. He seemed to understand. He was a very kind man.

As we finished the session, I was packing up my gear and he disappeared into the other room. He came out and handed me a cheque for the full amount of the airfare. He said my Dad wanted me to have financial help with the trip and he was in a position to make it happen.

I cried again. He hugged me and told me to have the best birthday celebration.

I did. And I never forgot how I got there.



The Dance Continues…

This is a re-post of my blog from March last year. (I’ve revised some of the photos.) It seemed the appropriate piece for this day, January 31, 2018, when depression is in the spotlight with the incredible @BellLetsTalk Campaign.

The Depression Dance

I battle depression but it’s not always a fight…

Sometimes it’s a negotiation.

Sometimes even a partnership.

Lately there has been some give and take.

Life changes, the disease changes and I’ve certainly changed.

I believe the trick is to live a life where you can learn what can help.

Luckily it’s 2017 and the concept of depression is becoming widely known. The Bell Let’s Talk campaign is brilliant for getting the word out and rallying the troops. I give credit to each person that suffers and is brave enough to come forward and confront the stigma.

You see, depression is not prejudiced. It doesn’t care what colour you are or what religion you follow. It doesn’t care where you were born or who you like to have sex with. Rich, poor, famous or a no-name; depression can climb inside anyone. It can strike at any time.

I’ve been inspired by a local writer, Owen Laukkanen, and the way he’s transparent about his struggles. I’m guessing Owen has been a beacon of hope for many in his huge fan base.

Owen is one of the reasons I started to put more effort into my photography.

As more people share their stories I embrace the fact that I’m part of a huge community.  Even better? Some of these people are pretty cool. It’s like an elite club with a harsh entry fee. But once you’re in and look around you wonder at the incredible people who share your journey.

Lately, to ease my mind and give the semblance of moving forward, I’ve been walking at least 10k a day. It wasn’t a plan and I wasn’t in distress but the concept seemed right. Having a fitbit has helped to keep me honest. To make the hours I spend out there a little more interesting, I started taking pictures. It’s odd how your mind can be consumed with looking for a perfect shot to post on social media. There’s nothing like that type of one-pointed concentration to positively focus the mind.

And the extra added bonus… When reaction to the picture is positive the endeavour comes full circle. Motivation, meditation, magic. It’s rewarding to share the moment.

So this blog is to thank each and every one that has liked or loved

So this blog is to thank each and every one that has liked or loved or commented on one of my “walking” pictures.

As for my long standing dance with depression…

There’s no guarantee who will be the ultimate winner. A fighting chance is all I can ask for.

Good Should Win

“The more things change the more they stay the same.”

Years ago, OK, decades ago, I was in charge of hiring performers to appear on some of the biggest and most famous advertising campaigns in Western Canada.

I was also in charge of the overall budgets of those campaigns. The client would give us a certain amount of money and we had to produce radio or TV commercials within that budget. There wasn’t much leeway. You had to make it work. And I, along with the creative team and account people at the agency, always made it work.

This is why I’m laughing at the hoopla over the “a man got paid more than a woman for a reshoot on a film” issue. The male actor is being called out. What bullshit.

I’m guessing that both actors didn’t have much to do with the final terms of the contract for the work. Their agents would have been the people conducting the negotiations. Performers rarely deal with the money side of their business and there is a good reason for it.

Number one, business is business and agents can usually get you a better deal as well as knowing the rules of the game. Number two, and maybe the most important aspect… the actor gets to be removed from the debate and blame for anything said or done during the negotiations. They can show up on set all nice and friendly and everyone’s pal. This system works very well.

I don’t know if this was done with the actors for the re-shoots for “All the Money in the World” but I would guess it was. So maybe we should have thrown the agents under the bus instead of the actors. We could have stopped yelling.

Even my fav picture with a celebrity follows that same story. I had trouble locating Mr T’s agent and had phoned every place I could think of to secure Mr. T’s appearance on a commercial. Then I got the call… and please imagine this being said in the iconic Mr T voice… (I do a pretty good imitation)

“Hello Trisha Barka, this is Mr. T talkin’. Everywhere I go people tellin’ me Trisha Barka tryin’ to find me. She been callin’ everyone. So I know I betta call her and tell her I hear her. I preciate the hard work to find me. My agent will call you.”

You get the gist of it. Hey, it’s Mr T!! At no time during our conversation did he say he would work on the campaign. All he said is that his agent would call. Luckily we were able to negotiate a contract and I got to meet the man. Even though I acted as his personal assistant while he was in town, at NO time did he and I discuss the terms of the contract. Never. If there was an issue I would have called his agent. Luckily there were no problems and he was a pleasure to work with.

It was the same with every other celeb we dealt with from Lou Rawls to Howie Mandel. From Leslie Nielsen to Ruth Buzzy (look her up!) We always dealt with the agents.

It was all our safety net.

Something else to note. The actors union that controls most of the productions done in Canada designates an actor as a performer. Not male or female, but a performer.

I’m not saying that women should not make as much as men, but I am saying that maybe we are screaming at the wrong thing.

I loved being in control of the negotiations back at my old job. Here’s a little story on what I felt was important.

Our local voice-over performers working on commercials had set fees and often didn’t use agents. This was long before it became the norm for most people in the business.

A few times a year we recorded radio commercials for the biggest selling beer in BC. It was huge and very iconic. The performers that appeared on the commercials were very well known.

The lead male had a set fee for the year. We paid him lots of money and he was worth every penny. He was the star. There were three others regulars. One was a woman that appeared in only a couple of spots and she was compensated well at her usual pay scale for the minor character on the campaign. Another male played an iconic part and negotiations with him were brutal. He pushed too hard and asked for too much each time. The back and forth went on forever before a fee was agreed to. He had us over a barrel and knew it. The last man was a beloved local TV guy. He never negotiated and always seemed so happy to get the call to come work on the campaign. I always paid him the same as the jerk that caused us grief.

I did this because I felt you should never be penalized for being a nice guy.

It was my own way of balancing the playing field.

Life is not fair but a good person should always win the day.

Back in the day when I thought I ruled the world.


2018 – The Year of the Penguin

We all thought 2016 was a bad year. We were a little delusional that 2017 would be better.

As this year winds down I believe it’s time for a helpful reboot. Just thinking positive thoughts and counting blessings hasn’t been enough.

With this in mind, I am proclaiming 2018 will be the “Year of the Penguin”.

Chinese astrology is calling it an Earth Dog Year… maybe they’re wrong. Or maybe we just need something happier. How about a Space Penguin Lunar year? Now didn’t that thought just make you smile?

Everyone knows I love these little guys. But really, does anyone not like penguins?

Penguins are so cool they had Morgan Freeman narrate a movie about them, March of the Penguins.

Penguins have some sort of super power to make us laugh. They’re cute but ridiculous at the same time. They can’t fly… and have you seen them walk? Maybe if we humans all just walked like a penguin for a couple of minutes every day things would lighten up. At least it would make us giggle.

Look how many movies have been made about penguins, Happy Feet, The Penguins of Madagascar and so many more. We named a hockey team after them… people write book series about them…

Penguins are loved. They make us happy.

I counted my blessings last New Year’s Eve and tried to explore some ways to look forward with a smile. Clearly that didn’t have a lasting effect. But maybe nothing could have curtailed the challenges we all seemed to encounter in 2017. Life seemed to come crashing down on us.

That’s why I think we need a more drastic measure to turn this world around.

Yes, it is convenient for me to opt for 2018 to be the “Year of The Penguin”.

I have all the props and this Christmas I was surrounded…

my desk

I even have the sweaters.

I am ready.

Now if only I could have gotten Morgan Freeman to narrate this blog…

Change Sucks

Why is change so difficult? Even if it’s something we want it can throw your life into chaos. If it’s something we don’t want, well then there’s a mountain of negative frenzy to plow through.

I don’t like change. Negative or positive. But I also know that deciding not to change may be the worst decision to make. In a way, change is easier when it’s forced on you. Deciding to leap is tough.

With all these ideas floating around my head, I resigned my position as Fundraising Coordinator at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference.

Yes, shocking news if you recently read my last blog about SiWC. (read it here)

I’m well known for telling people that it’s all about intent. If you ever have a question about what to do, just remember your original intent and the answer will be clear.

My intent all along has been to get a book written and published. It’s that intent that led me to my first Surrey Writers’ Conference. It’s been a long journey and I feel that time is running out. I need to get this done.

Heading into 2018 was my kick in the butt.

And let’s face it; I’m not the fundraising sort of person. The position was a great way to procrastinate and not write my book.

So I stepped aside.

As much as I hate change it can make me nostalgic. It made me remember all the people I’ve met at SiWC… some of the highest points were not the most public moments.

-That first year, a writer named Ace Baker gave me the courage to sit down with Jack Whyte so he could critique my stories.

-Chats with Anne Perry are always a lesson in living well and getting on with the work.

-Paula, Joe, Helga, Karalee and Silk…. 5 writers on the same journey. We always talk about it in the bar.

-Terry Fallis gave me more inspiration than I thought was possible and it still resonates today.

-One year, Maryam Tajilrou, one of the staff at The Sheraton Guildford, saved my whole conference by stepping up with an act of kindness.

-Sean Cranbury and Jane Porter and DinoPorn

-Thanks to kc dyer for pointing out that I’m a personal trainer and that’s where my story lives.

-Regan Ross showed me what real courage is.

-Jasper Fforde is a very kind man and gave me faith in my words.

-Tyner Gillies has your back during any emergency.

-And most important of all…being friends with Jen Browne is a blessing and privilege.

Yes, there have been lots of other moments… the joy of being around SiWC and attending the conference is that it could change your life.

It changed mine.

Sometimes change is good.


For Dad

Again, this weekend will be for Dad.

My blog from last year, and I do believe I will be re-posting this every year!


There was never any doubt I would be running the Salvation Army Santa Shuffle again this year. I also knew it would be the topic of my blog this week. As I sat down to write the piece I realized there was no way I could top what happened with my story last year. The Salvation Army people posted it on the homepage of their website…

Sal Dad

I’ve never been so proud of anything I’ve ever written and I’m pretty confidant Dad would have been thrilled.

So it is worth repeating…

Blog from December 3, 2014

My twitter feed asked a question that gave me the answer to what I would blog about this week…

santa shuffle blog

Why do I run the Salvation Army’s Santa Shuffle every year?

On December 4th, 2008 I went to visit Dad. He was not well and the dementia was looming large. We somehow managed to chat about my running in the Santa Shuffle to raise money for the Salvation Army. Because of the run and the time I needed to spend with the triplets, I would not see Dad for two days. Unheard of in the midst of our usual daily visits. But Dad thought the run was important and I think he knew I was also doing it for him. The Salvation Army was his favourite charity.

The run was on Saturday, December 6th. After we finished I spent the day with the kids. As I headed home I picked up the phone message. Get to the hospital as fast as I could.

I was too late. When I arrived Dad was gone.

The next year I did the run and cried for the entire 5k. But I did it for Dad. He would have wanted and expected me to carry on.

I have run the race every year since then. I make a donation and know it’s how Dad would want me to remember him.

The last time Dad and I talked he wished me good luck for the race. And then his last words were, “You are a good daughter.”

I will never know if he was referring to my helping the Salvation Army, or if he meant something more.

I choose to think it was more.

This is why I will run the Santa Shuffle this year.

For Dad.


This past week I read a Facebook post by someone I used to consider a dear friend. We don’t see each other anymore. He’s moved on.

I find that often happens when a friend starts to date someone or even more dramatically, when they move in or get married to the love of their life.

It can be a little melancholy.

It got me thinking about what makes friendships last. And even more basic, why do we become friends with someone in the first place? What glue keeps us together? What tears us apart?

We humans are funny.

This week I also talked to a friend about the importance of speaking up and telling your truth. We talked about how that’s important in building relationships; real relationships and not just casual acquaintances.

It all leads to thinking that a good friend would listen to what you have to say and believe you. In a world where we need people to “have our back” I think it should start with a simple trust.

I’m blabbering a bit here… but stay with me.

We need our friends. Real friends. People that know us and love us. The people that you can call at 3am and they will come running. No questions asked.

These are best friends.

Yes, some friends will be around for a while and then slip away. I think that’s natural. It says something about what the relationship was built on and the fact that we are all changing all of the time. Life changes us in ways we could never expect.

I’ve been lucky to have a few really great friends. I understand how rare and precious they are. I would not be here if they weren’t in my life. You would be surprised to know who they are.

I’m also lucky to have many of the other kinds of friends and blessed to be surrounded by some outstanding people. If for some reason we part I will know my life is better for the time we shared.

My Buddhist teacher, Lama Tara, gave the best antidote to heal the pain when I lost that cherished friend that moved on. She explained that I had stopped the story in the wrong place. Instead of continuing the narrative to the sorrow of not spending time together, in my mind, I should end that chapter of our friendship when our time together was filled with laughter and comradery. Stop the story there. It will allow you to move forward and look back with affection and gratitude.

It’s a good plan and has served me well.

Lama Tara also reminds me that nothing lasts forever.

But just maybe a best friend makes you believe they will be around for a very long time.

Surrey International Writers’ Conference

It’s all about the people you’ll meet. That’s the power of the Surrey International Writers’ Conference.

I’ve been attending the event since 2011 and this still holds true.

Yes, in the end it will all be on my shoulders. As much as I don’t like this fact, it’s the truth. If I don’t write the book and put it out into the world then nothing will happen.

All the wishing and hoping and yes, even praying, are for naught unless you step up.

You must write it.  You must finish it.  You must pitch it to get a book published.

SiWC gives you that chance and can make the journey much easier… or at least make it feel possible.

I’ve learned more about my craft and even more about myself at the conference. I’ve begun to appreciate what I know and what I still need to learn. The process can feel relentless.

The weekend can feel magical.

Again this year, I got to have dinner with Anne Perry. We both tend to arrive at the hotel at the same time and sharing a meal and a good chat is a great way to start the weekend. I cherish her words and perspective.

The reason I had a new book to pitch this year is because I volunteered as the conference’s Sponsorship Coordinator. During one of my meetings with SiWC Board Member, kc dyer, she suggested I write something from a fitness professional perspective. That conversation led to an idea that has morphed into a book.

The next step was talking to Donald Maass. Only at a place like SiWC would you have the chance to pitch to someone of his caliber. (Or in my case, the opportunity to request an impromptu meeting.) His encouragement has given me the motivation to keep moving forward with this book. Priceless.

There were so many other moments that cemented my love of SiWC.

One fact still remains the same and the reason I will always return to Surrey each and every year.

Some people I’ve met there have become the best of friends.

And that is almost better than writing a bestseller.