Monday, March 15, 2021

Not a Dog Person

Like pretty much everyone connected to the internet, I’ve been thinking a lot about gender equality lately. You can see it in my last few posts. It’s hard to miss the undercurrent that’s become a torrent of discontent on any social media platform.

Women do not feel safe.

I can’t find the tweet (please do comment if you have the link), but a few weeks ago I read a thread from a university professor who had put two columns on the white board—one for the men and one for the women in her class. Then she (or he?) basically asked her male students this question:

What everyday things do you do to protect yourself from sexual assault?

She was met with silence. They’d never thought of it before.

If you’re a woman, you already know many answers to that particular question… because you’ve been practicing them since you were old enough to know what it meant. As you can guess, so did her female students. The list was long: I pretend I’m calling a friend. I put my keys in between my fingers. I wear modest clothing. I walk toward other people if I’m nervous. I stay in well-lit areas. I avoid going out at night.

The women’s white board column was full, while the men’s side? Empty.


This post hit a chord somewhere deep inside of me, and I started to think about my own experiences in self-protection. I’ve always thought of myself as an independent woman. I don’t mind travelling alone. I push against the boundaries placed on my freedoms. But I’ve also done every single one of those things.

And then, as I thought more, I realized that female military spouses have an even higher level of alertness added to their lives. Our husbands (or wives) go away. A lot. Far away. For extended periods of time. And although there’s a lot said about OpSec (Operational Security—don’t tell people where your husbands are as it might affect the mission), there’s not a whole lot said or done about security for those left at home, and often the units depart to great fanfare and local publicity.

Eleven years ago, this fact came crashing home to me. My husband was deployed to Jamaica, flying relief missions into and out of earthquake-stricken Haiti. I was working at my physiotherapy clinic in sleepy Brighton, Ontario. My kids were at school. And I listened in horror as the news reported that my husband’s boss—the man directly responsible for my husband’s career, and a man I’d had dinner with and spoken about our children with—had been arrested and charged with the rape and murder of two women.

One of these women he had murdered in her own home just a few blocks from where I was working.

I think I’m still figuring out how that has affected my life. Especially as I was unknowingly writing a story at the time (Dependent) that disturbingly described almost the exact occurrences that were happening in real life. And even worse, this villain was someone I knew. Someone who knew where I lived and when I was alone.

Later that same year, my husband was deployed to the Middle East while Mr. Williams’ trial was going on. For the first time in my time as a military pilot's wife, I was uncomfortable being alone. I avoided the news. I triple checked the locks of our country home every night. I slept with a baseball bat under my bed. Although I love a starry night, I stopped going outside at night to admire the view. I left lights on in rooms at night to make it look like I was still awake.

And I thanked the Good Lord Above for our large and very loud dog every time he barked at someone coming too close to our house. I kept him near if I was outside. I paid attention if he looked uneasy.

Before that point in my life if you had asked me, I would have said I was a cat person, not a dog person. But since that point I will admit, I’d rather have a dog than a cat. Why? Because a dog is love and loyalty and snuggles, but a dog is also protection. A dog is an early warning system.

A dog may have prevented that monster from breaking into Cpl Comeau’s house, raping and murdering her.

Who knows, maybe Mr. Williams—who knew all of our family details—also knew we had a large, protective dog, and that fact saved us.

I have had this conversation with many military spouses since then. About why we replaced our beloved Golden Retriever so quickly after he passed from cancer. About why our new rescue dog had to be big enough to be a deterrent.

Why I, as a military spouse and professed cat-lover, will NEVER be without a dog.

There are so many aspects of this that make me angry. I hate being weak. I hate being vulnerable. I hate that I even have to think about being safe in my own home. But there is so much about being a military spouse that puts us in a place of vulnerability. I’m not sure how to even start fixing this, but I feel that the current conversations about gender, equality and the military are a start.

Society has taught us hundreds of ways to prevent ourselves from being raped. But it has failed to teach men the simple opposite: DO NOT RAPE WOMEN.

It’s time to change that.



Sunday, March 7, 2021

For International Women's Day

Graphic from the UN Women Twitter Feed for International Women's Day

A few years ago I was at a evening party with my husband. It was like any military community party--we were at the home of a military couple, surrounded by other military couples. All of the couples at the party were the statistical norm, the man was the military member, and his wife, the female military spouse, was there with him. I'd known everyone there for all of maybe a year. As postings tend to do, we had been thrown together with people who worked with my hubby, and somehow I had built friendships with complete strangers.

I'm an extroverted introvert, and this particular party was just at the point in my life when I was starting to recognize that I can enjoy these events best by finding the people (generally women) I connect with, and not worrying so much about 'working the room'. In a small, loud house party, this is hard...and in this particular party, I found myself stuck, completely sober (as the DD) standing in the kitchen beside an older man who was there without his spouse and was already quite drunk.

With very little preamble he commenced a long and loud monologue, expounding on how good it was that I was there, supporting my husband at this party. And then, slurring his words as he spoke, he told me that every military leader he knows (himself included) has a supportive wife, and that was the secret of their success. The man succeeds because his wife keeps the home fires burning.

He was not wrong. I am one hundred percent sure that military leaders do better with a supportive, loving family beside them.

What rapidly turned the party from one that was enjoyable to one that I was ready to leave was the patronizing man-speak he used--completely oblivious to the fact that I had worn a uniform myself and was a professional in my own right--to let me know that I was in my place and should stay there.

I was the wife. He cared not one whit who I was, but was more than willing, as he swilled back another swig of whatever pompous drink he was swirling in his glass, to congratulate himself for being forward thinking (bravo! military spouse!) while he was, in fact, being just another chauvinistic man in a male-dominated world.

I listened, looking frantically for a way out of the conversation, nodding in the correct places (not that he would have noticed), and basically just taking his offensive tone until the opportunity arose to politely move away.

I was so angry. And so polite.

So politely angry.

And because I truly am a supportive spouse, I made no scene. I attempted to continue on with the party like I was fine. I drank my fancy soda and moved on.

It is time for me to stop being politely angry.

I love my husband. So very much. I've loved ninety percent of my journey as a military spouse. As mentioned in my previous blog, no one forced me to wear my many hats. I chose them. I chose to be a military spouse, and every step of my husband's military journey has been a partnership between us. I have profited in so many ways from the military lifestyle and I own it as part of what has made me who I am today.

But that man at that party is one of hundreds who've come along in my journey. I'm weary of the one-sided conversations at events, where the questions are focused on what my husband does and the conversation is basically mansplaining about the world I live, work and and breathe in...and have done so for most of my life. I'm weary of standing and smiling and listening politely while my insides are boiling with rage.

Thankfully there have also been many male friends at many events that were and are not that drunken jerk. If you are a man and have made it this far in this blog, thank you. On this International Women's Day I salute you for being open minded.

I challenge those few of you here to think about the small talk you make with female military spouses. Ask them about their work. Ask them about their aspirations. Discuss their leadership and their worlds. You'll find that they are fascinating. They are passionate and hard-working and worth your effort.

And for my female readers, military spouses and otherwise, you have every right to be angry--without politeness. It's time to challenge the misogyny. You deserve respect. Your service does help your spouse to succeed but the converse is also true--their support helps you to be successful in your own endeavors.

Being a military spouse does not give anyone the right to treat you without decency.

Be angry.

Demand respect.

And be proud of who you are.


Thursday, February 18, 2021

Baby toe


I am so filled with emotion these days.



Every single pore seems to be seeping something. Like, my guts want to explode outward. My heart and brain are working overtime and there is no room in my ever-softening body for another ounce of emotion. It is coming out all over the place.

I am brimming with joy. I am in the depths of despair. I am anxious about everything. I am absolutely boiling over with rage. Oh, the rage is real.

Anyway, three days ago, I stubbed my baby toe.

Like, SLAMMED that poor sucker into the extremely solid leg of our coffee table. 


In a true feat of timing, I carried out this perfect exposition of awkwardness while ALL of the inhabitants of our household were in the same room. It hurt so bad I felt faint. I laughed—what else could I do? Hahaha, I’m all fine, nothing to see here—and carried on with less spectacular awkwardness.

That toe is so many beautiful colors right now. It’s probably cracked but I’m not heading out into germ-land to get it x-rayed just so that they can tell me that it is, indeed, cracked and… sorry, there’s nothing they can do for a cracked toe. I AM a physiotherapist, remember.

So yeah, the irony? I can walk all over the place in my bare feet with zero pain, but the minute I put on my brand-spanking new Peloton shoes to work that ever-softening body out on said very-expensive Peloton my baby toe shoots agony right up to my diaphragm, settling somewhere just behind my bladder (another peri-menopausal story altogether), bringing tears to my eyes and allowing a little more emotional leakage (thankfully, NOT other leakage).

My multi-coloured toe is taunting my tenuous stopper on my emotional Old-faithful.

(aside…Peloton folks, one can only do so many meditations—gotta keep up that streak—when one is sitting on a fault line.)

Anyhow. My toe will heal. But wow, that tiny stressor adds so much more to the pressure within.

I’m sure I’m not alone. We’re all dealing with a gazillion little stressors right now. Texas is frozen solid. There’s a new strain of COVID each day. In the Canadian Armed Forces family world, posting season is looming. So much to poke at our emotional strongholds.

Did I let that toe open the floodway? You bet I did.

Had a good old melt-down—privately, in the comfort of my own bedroom—and then kept going.

Emotions are there for us to feel them. They are normal reactions to abnormal situations. I firmly believe in letting them out.

If you’re feeling, FEEL.

Feel it ALL. It’s yours to feel, friends. Keeping it inside will not help. And if you need help, talk to someone.

Only once you have felt it, can you strap on those shoes and get moving.



Tuesday, February 9, 2021



Hi, my name is Brenda and I am fifty years old. 

Midlife. Five freaking decades old.

The thing about turning fifty in pandemic is you have a lot of time to think. Maybe too much time. Fifty is a turning point. A reckoning. Not only was this the year I turned fifty, but it was supposed to be the stepping off point for our youngest—the third of three—and the year my husband and I rediscovered our relationship. After twenty-four years of marriage, far too many moves, and a whole lot of chaos and sacrifice, this was going to be the year the roller coaster levelled out. A return to stability. A year of rediscovery and growth.





Yes, the universe had other plans.

What happened instead was a blessing in very questionable clothing.

Not only did we get to spend a bonus year with our youngest, but we got to see our middlest grow into his own skin while studying and working under our roof. We watched our oldest live up to the challenge of living apart from us as an adult. We had family suppers again. We talked on the phone. We Zoomed. Like so many others we stayed home, looked inward and relearned some family boundaries.

But while we were re-exploring our family we, something else was happening.

Fifty year old me was flailing.

If you follow me on any of my social media pages you’ll have figured out that I spent a big chunk of the past year with my daughter(s) looking out over the edge of the earth from our cottage on Prince Edward Island. Before I go any further, I want to say that I know how lucky I am to have had this refuge, and even more lucky to have the ability and the cross-border approval to get there. I truly, truly wish others could have the same option.

Anyway, in March when the world was going to crap, my daughter and I drove the eighteen hours to our cottage, stopping only for gas on the way, and got across the Confederation Bridge just hours before they shut it down for weeks.

March at our little beach cottage on the Island is about as isolated as it gets. It was just me, my youngest, the foxes and the crows, with a quiet (but lovely) neighbor who kept to herself. There was snow, wind, rain and worry. Worry that I’d made the wrong choice to come there. Worry about my husband and son who were far, far away in a different country in a pandemic. Worry for my other daughter and my parents and family and friends. Worry that someone would judge our American license plates and, in their very real fear, act violently against myself or worse—my daughter.

So much worry.

As a Canadian who has given almost two thirds of my life to my country both in my own uniform and in support of my husband and others in uniform, living there on the edge of the world, as I approached the end of my forties brought on huge crisis of identity.

If I’m not from here…where am I from? What do I want to do with my life? Where is home?

Who am I?

Then one of those days, after a long week of working virtually and dealing with the worry, I started reading Brené Brown’s 10th Anniversary Edition of The Gifts of Imperfection. In her Preface, she talks about her own reckoning with mid-life. She says:

People may call what happens at midlife “a crisis”, but it’s not. It’s an unraveling—a time when you feel a desperate pull to live the life you want to live, not the one you’re “supposed” to live. The unraveling is a time when you are challenged by the universe to let go of who you think you are supposed to be and to embrace who you are.

I read that sentence and burst into tears.

Really. I’m not kidding. Full on meltdown.

In the silent, hidden way that a mother cries knowing her seventeen-year-old daughter is upstairs doing virtual schoolwork in a pandemic, I sat there and bawled. Ugly-cried. I wanted to yell out loud like Charlie Brown—“That’s IT!” I wanted to call Brené Brown and tell her thank you for putting it so clearly, and for reading my emotional temperature better than I can myself.

I was unraveling. I AM unraveling.

Oh my god, I’ve been living how I’m supposed to be for sooooo long. My hats are my own but I’ve been wearing them because that was what I thought I was supposed to do. No one forced me to wear them. At any time I could have said, no thank you…I don’t think that’s me. But I’ve been wearing them anyway and they are freaking heavy. My shoulders are weary.

And I’m just…tired.

Sitting there in that quiet cottage overlooking the ocean I realized it’s up to me to examine each and every hat I wear. Some of them will stay on my head. Some of them will be put aside, in case I need them again.

And some of them I will unravel, and build something different.

The hat that I am showing you now is one I’ve dusted off now and again, but I realize, after a year of thinking and reading and doing, that I need this hat.

I am a writer. And I need to write. 

I am a creator. And I need to create.

Sometimes my military spouse hat has meant that I have not been true to that need. For some reason in the past, I thought my opinions would be harmful—for my husband’s career, for my family, for me. I was afraid to show my true self because it might be construed the wrong way.

But the thing is, after more than thirty years of serving my beautiful country in the best way I think I can, there are very few people that have that foundation—that reality. And if I’m going to be true to myself, sometimes my opinions will be different. That’s okay.

As long as I’m authentic, and honest and true, I know now that writing—even difficult, controversial writing—is what I need to do.

Unraveling isn’t easy. I’m a knitter and I hate ‘frogging’ something I worked on. It’s painful. And the past few months have been hard for me, and for everyone. They’re still hard.

But the good thing is now I have a ball of yarn to create something beautiful with. 

I’m starting with this blog. It’s been forgotten. As I lost myself under the weight of my hats and life in general, I’ve found that writing is super hard. Finishing my latest manuscript has been a long slog.

So I’m starting here. Just a few words when I can. A few thoughts as I journey forward.

I hope you'll continue to join me here as I do.


Thursday, March 19, 2020

Month of the Military Child

Celebrating our OUTCAN Military Children

April is the Month of the Military Child.

I had a completely different post written to celebrate our OUTCAN (Posted OUT of CANada) kids. A fun, positive, upbeat piece about how fabulous our OUTCAN children are (and they are!) and how we can celebrate their resiliency.

And then…this.

Coronavirus. COVID-19. Pandemic.

I mean, how do we even begin to fathom what our OUTCAN military children are going through right now, when we can’t even fathom what we are going through ourselves?

It’s mind boggling.

Kids who don’t know what ‘home’ is, living far from the general area they associate as their home, watching almost everything they know and care about evaporate into thin air…invisible, like the virus that is threatening us all.

Friends. School. Practices, games, competitions, extra-curricular activities, proms, spring break plans, school trips,  concerts, birthday parties, playdates, graduation.

All gone.

They are being robbed of the things that make their already chaotic lives livable, and we, as parents and caregivers can only watch while we try to cope with the ever-changing reality of life in lock-down.

As a mom of three, I’m having difficulty even sitting here, writing this.

How can we celebrate military children when the world is in a state of emergency?

I guess the best place to start is at the beginning. Take a few steps into their world.

Talk to them. If you’re a friend or family member back in Canada, acknowledge their hardship in a text, message or call.

They’re scared. If they’re not old enough to understand what’s going on, they understand that you are scared. They know that something is different. Older kids know that the border just closed. They know that this is serious. They know that they or someone they love could get sick. They’re worried about what this means for their grades and their future post-secondary plans. If this is a posting year, they’re worried that they may never see their friends again.

They’re angry. OUTCAN High school seniors quite possibly are in their fourth or fifth school, and have spent the last 12 years preparing for this moment…the moment when they can finally have some control over their lives. They want to celebrate, and there is a very real possibility that every part of their graduation celebrations could be cancelled. They still have school work or classes without the benefit of hanging out with their friends, or the physical outlet of sports and extra-curricular activities. There is no way to control what is happening to them right now.

And they’re sad. They are grieving the loss of all of these things. It’s a lot to take on when you’re already on shaky ground. Their hopes and dreams are on hold, maybe cancelled altogether. Even though life before wasn’t normal, they want to go back to life before. And if they see mom or dad is sad, they are sad too.

To celebrate our kids, we can take these emotions seriously.

Whatever their age, validate their feelings. This is real. Their emotions are real. And make time in the day to appreciate their struggles, even if it’s just talking while supper is cooking.

"Clearly, they are anxious and simplistic assurances rarely work. So that is not the thing to do. It's to take their fears seriously and then address them,” says Dr. Peter Silverstone, a professor of Psychiatry at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. “Never use, ‘Oh don’t worry about that. Everything will be fine.’”*

Help them move forward in these difficult days. Celebrate the simple things. Do your best to maintain a structure to your day.

Because, in the end, OUTCAN military children are resilient.

I’ll admit, I’ve grown to dislike the word resilient. It’s a word often overused to generalize the ability of military children and spouses to uproot their lives over and over and over again, and still be successful. I feel it’s truly inadequate to describe how strong military family coping skills are, and how much they have to put up with.

It isn’t enough.

But it’s less pop culture than ninja warrior, and less cutesy than super-kid or wonderchild. Really, it is the best word.

The Dunnes adventuring in DC over the Christmas holidays.
OUTCAN Military children are so very resilient.

My nest is almost empty, and—even though they are almost all adults—my kids continually amaze me as they cope with whatever life throws at them. This crisis is no exception. They are carrying on, taking it day by day, making the most of their new normal.

Celebrate that. Tell them how proud you are of them. Tell them they have the ability to do this. That you are there for them. Each day is a new day.

If you want, tell them they are ninja warriors, super-kids and wonderchildren.

Celebrate each and every day of this crisis with the applause it deserves. Let them control the few things that they can control—what they wear, what they have for supper, what time they get up.

And lastly, if you reach the point where you are beyond your scope of care, reach out for help. There are so many resources out there. Websites, literature, apps, lists of educational resources, and other people in the same boat.

Help is only a phone call, text or email away. And I am always here as a listening ear.

Stay safe,


Other Resources:
Family Information Line (For Canadian Military Families OUTCAN) 1-800-866-4546
MFS Outreach Social worker Tel: 867-873-0700 ext. 6845

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Words to Live By

Military Spouse Appreciation Month

We’ve all heard the buzz words.

Resilient. Loyal. Hard-Working.  Words used to describe the ‘typical’ military spouse. Military Family Services uses them regularly (check out this video for more) and they most certainly are not wrong. We are ALL of those words.
But the truth is, most military spouses start off just as a person in love with their spouse.  The upcoming hardships are not really important, are they? In fact, they’re kind of exciting. New adventures! Opportunities for travel! It’ll be romantic! Even as an officer in the military with eyes wide open, I had great big stars in my eyes when I married my husband. I didn’t really care what it meant and how it would affect my career, my mental health, my entire existence. I was ready for the roller-coaster ride ahead.

And then, sooner or later in the first five years (more or less), it happens. Maybe more than once.  That moment when the reality sinks in.

Alone in a new location, with an interrupted career (or no career), no family, no friends and a spouse that is AWAY…the washing machine breaks, the basement floods, the car dies and your two-year old (or dog, or cat, or…), throws up all over your last set of clean sheets. The moment when some people (like me) sink down in the midst of the still-unpacked boxes and have a darned good cry.

That’s when the REAL words happen.






Kick-a**, baby-wearing, puke-cleaning, duct-tape slinging SUPER HERO.

The words that don’t often go on a resumé. Words that find us when we are at our lowest, that help us get up and push through the bad times to the many, many good times.

Words that speak truth. 

Military spouse-hood is not all smiling faces at the end of deployments, nor is it weeping faces at the beginning of them.  It’s embracing the difficult, long hours of going it on your own, and coming out okay at the end. It’s molding your personhood around the ups and downs of the military lifestyle, and carving out something that is uniquely you. Words that ADD to the resilience and loyalty and hard-working professionalism that we celebrate this month, Military Spouse Appreciation Month.

And to the almost 35,000 Canadian military spouses, they are the words that count.


Brenda and her spouse of 21 years.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

LFB Reviews: Hope for the Flowers

One of my jobs at the Library Friends Bookshop is to sort donated books onto the appropriate shelves. It's a small task, but I really enjoy it because you never know what you are going to find in the donation bin. We get everything from recent bestsellers to thirty-year old textbooks, mint-condition vintage hardcovers to well-loved picture books.

Hope for the Flowers
Available on Amazon Here
I work with people who have such varied tastes in literature that sometimes someone pulls out a beloved favourite that I've never even heard of. Hope for the Flowers (words and pictures by Trina Paulus) was this sort of book.

It's an unassuming little yellow hardcover that has a very seventies look about it (published in 1972 by Paulist Press), and the back cover heralds it as:

a different sort of book for everyone except those who have given up completely (and even they might secretly enjoy it)

I probably would have shelved it under the children's picture books, as that what it looks like; art and colour and a hand-written font throughout. But my coworker recommended it as something everyone should read, and on the front cover it mentions that it is

a tale—partly about life and partly about revolution and lots about hope for adults and others (including caterpillars who can read)

I'm not a caterpillar who can read, but I gave it a try.

Hope for the Flowers is a very quick read, about a caterpillar named Stripe who sees a giant tower of other caterpillars climbing to some unknown destination, crawling all over one another to get to the top. None of the caterpillars know why they are climbing, none of them know what's at the top, and at some point the climb becomes nasty. The striped caterpillar meets another caterpillar (Yellow) on his way up and they both decide it's not worth it and climb back down. They fall in love, and spend many days just being in love, always in the shadow of the tower of climbing caterpillars.
Stripe and Yellow in the column (page 32)

Stripe becomes restless, still wanting to know what's at the top...and in spite of Yellow's encouragement to stay, he sets off again, leaving Yellow to make her own way in the world.

Obviously this is a book about life...about the rat-race to succeed and the things we give up in order to reach the summit, and even thought it's 45 years old, it's a book that's just as relevant today as it was when it was written. It's so easy to look at someone else, see them running in an unknown direction, and think, "Why are they running that way? Shouldn't I be running that way too?". You see it at theme parks and at businesses, a large group of people hurrying toward an unknown destination is like a magnet. None of us want to miss an opportunity to experience something extraordinary.

But just like Stripe, we have to be aware of our own motivations, and stay true to who we are. Stripe, as a caterpillar, has no idea why he wants to be up in the sky...and his character suffers as a result. Often if we are patient and observant, we can figure out a better way.

This little yellow book was a pleasant surprise in the donations pile. I'm so happy I got to read it. I'll be taking it back, not because I didn't enjoy it, but because this is a book to be shared, and loved and passed along.

Total Keeper (10) to Back to the Library Friends Bookshop Post-Haste (1)?

10/10. You should come to the LFB and buy it.