A Global Countdown

A few months ago, I installed a new app on my phone. Time Until, I think it’s called. I downloaded it for one purpose only; to count down the days until I retire. And when I first got it, I wrote down that number on my whiteboard in the studio where I teach guitar, and would gleefully change the number each day. My students didn’t quite understand my joy. The number was well over a thousand days when I started. It’s down to about 800 now. My husband even got into the spirit of it all and sent me flowers on day 1000.

It’s funny how we humans are obsessed with measuring and counting things. From the pencil marks on the bedroom walls of our children as they grow (do people still do that?), to the number of steps we’ve taken in a day using our Fitbits, we never tire of keeping track. Countdowns are especially popular. There’s the countdown every time a rocket launches. That number we quietly count down to our next vacation or weekend off. We even teach our children to count down to their next birthday, measuring in “sleeps”.

Sometimes it’s the end of something we’re actually counting down to. Only six weeks before getting back to normal after that surgery. Ten more minutes on the treadmill. Two hours until my work day ends. Our most stressful times usually happen when we don’t know when something is going to end. There’s no way to measure it, to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The need for answers is in our human DNA. But sometimes we just can’t know.

For instance, in spite of the “models” and all sorts of calculations by the experts, none of us really knows when COVID-19 will end. Or even what the “end” will look like. Because most of us have never experienced anything like this in our lifetime. We can look back to the past when there were world wars and Spanish flu’s, when the stock market collapsed and the Great Depression began. All of those difficult times eventually passed. But only a very, very few souls left on this earth actually lived through them to their end.

The reality is that, just as all good things come to an end, so do bad things. We are in a constant state of impermanence. Lately, my focus has changed from counting down the days to my retirement, to counting other things. Good things, just like 99-year old WWII vet Captain Tom Moore, who counted 100 laps in his garden using his walker, and ended up raising millions for healthcare in the UK. I like counting down to 7pm every evening when I join my neighbours out on our  front steps, banging our pots and blowing our horns for the health care workers coming off their long shifts. And keeping track of the millions of dollars the Rapid Relief Fund has raised for emergency relief here on Vancouver Island. And lately I’ve taken to counting my blessings; I have so much to be grateful for and that becomes even more evident these days. Those are the best things to count.

I try really hard not to count other things. Like the pounds I’ve gained, or how many bottles of wine I have left. Or how many people come too close to me when I’m out on my daily walk. For pete’s sake, every Canadian should know the LENGTH OF A MOOSE!!

Okay, okay. Take a deep breath, Irene, and count to ten.

Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound

Lydia Pinkham’s Medicine

(I will be featuring some articles from my personal blog here from time to time. This is one from March 27, 2020, and it was also published on the CHEK Television website in their “Voices” section. )

My Dad was triumphant. Not only had he managed to find the log cabin that he had spent about 4 years in as a child when my grandparents lived on Wallace Mountain in Beaverdell, but he had found an empty bottle of Lydia Pinkham’s Medicine. I still have the bottle.

You see it up above. It might be of benefit to you. Read on.

Dad had a habit of telling a lot of stories over and over and I used to roll my eyes at them when I was a kid. But as he grew older and his Alzheimer’s became more prominent, those stories became so much more precious to me. This was one he told many times.

My grandfather worked for a short time at a silver mine on Wallace Mountain back in the mid-1920s. My grandparents lived in a log cabin, one of a number of log cabins built by those who worked in the mine. A lot of the occupants of these cabins came from Scandinavia;  my grandparents were Danish immigrants.

Wallace Mountain was covered in snow most of the winter, and my grandmother was stuck inside that log cabin with two (and eventually three) small children for months at a time while my grandfather worked in the mine. She managed to develop what was the very definition of “cabin fever”. Something, I’m sure, many of you are actually feeling yourselves right now.

As my father told it, she found out about a cure for cabin fever. He referred to it as a “spring tonic” in his memoirs. It was called “Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound”. Shall I tell you the ingredients in this apparently amazing elixir? Here they are:

Pleurisy Root (well that sounds dubious)
Life Root (a little more life-affirming)
Unicorn Root
Black Cohosh



Yes, 40% proof alcohol, which, as the recipe suggests “relieves muscular stress, reduces pain, and can affect mood.” Well, yeah. All of the ladies of Wallace Mountain were, as my Dad described it, “happy on the hill in spring.” 

But what my Dad probably didn’t know, was that the tonic was actually prescribed to women for menstrual symptoms. Yep. He thought it was for cabin fever. I’m sure none of the “ladies of the hill” told anybody except each other, what it was actually for. 

So I did a little research, and I found a newspaper ad from much later when the “medicine” came in pill form. Here’s the ad: 

The text is small, so here’s what some of it says: 

“These Hysterical Women. Crying….sobbing…laughing! She has no control of herself…the slightest thing drives her to distraction. Tired all the time…overwrought…nerves strung to the breaking point, she tries to do her work (hmmm..wonder what “work” they’re speaking of…”housework” perhaps?)  

“Constant headache, backache and dizzy spells are robbing this woman of youth, beauty and health. (Youth and beauty come first, no?) How pitiful it is to see her suffering…and how unnecessary. If she would only give Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound a chance to help, how happy she might be.” 

Yes, this is an actual ad.  Aimed at the man of the house, of course. Pitiful.

Well, these are different times. We are, indeed, experiencing our own form of “cabin fever” these days, and regardless of what Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound was actually for, I think it might come in handy right about now.

So my recommendation, especially to you ladies out there, is that we dump the fenugreek (what the heck is that anyway?) and the pleurisy root, and just go with the alcohol. In fact, my friends and I are going to do exactly that this evening. We are meeting on Zoom for a glass of wine. We shall be the new “ladies of the hill.”



What Do I Know?

For any of you who watched “Rapid Relief” on CHEK Television on Friday, April 17th, 2020 and saw me performing “What Do I Know”, here is the video again:

  •     What Do I Know

And this was the original recorded version from 2000!

  •     What Do I Know


Welcome to my updated website! Since 1996, when I first came online, there have been many changes. I remember learning the very basics of HTML back then and trying to understand how to advertise my songwriting and my guitar lessons.

It wasn’t easy.

These days, you don’t need a lot of knowledge to have a pretty professional looking website, but I’m happy to still remember a little bit of what I first learned when I get myself into trouble. That happens a lot. But I’m getting better.

You’ll find links to all aspects of my work in the tabs above. In the meantime, if you feel like it, say hello 🙂