Sunday, December 30, 2007


Manhattan in March
Thirty minutes after finding out that it will be impossible for us to attend a taping of the David Letterman Show, Ruth, David and I are accosted on Broadway by a man inquiring whether we would join the audience of the David Letterman Show. Tickets are free if we promise to attend, and also if we answer two skill-testing questions. We can’t answer the questions without help, so he helps.

Hamilton, June
After meeting a Saskatchewan peony grower at our B&B, David and I spend a perfect hour sitting shadily under the tall trees amongst the peonies and irises at the botanical gardens. Classical musicians entertain us. Children frolic on the grass. Families eat ice cream.

Edmonton, May
On a warm evening, Mark, David and I stroll along the river with Julian, our British guest, slowly digesting an elegant French meal that thrilled us atop the Chateau Lacombe

Edmonton, July
Acidanthra flowers open and send out their fragrance.

Edmonton, September
Lawrence delights me into laughter when I am fearful of appearing live on stage with Shelagh Rogers.

Edmonton September
Appearing with Shelagh Rogers turns out to be enormous fun.

Edmonton, November
The email brings the news that the city is planning to install an audible traffic signal near my house.

Cancun, November
I frolic in the ocean waves with my husband, my father, and my sisters. It is 10:00 PM. The moon is full.

Edmonton, December
Mark announces his first term grades.

Edmonton, December
After eating double desserts at our staff party, my colleagues and I play carols on the combs.

So many warm days and evenings on the veranda! So many times when people asked how the kids are, and we said they are fine, more than fine really. So many fabulous walks with Pirate! So many times when we said we both enjoy our work!

2007 was a good year.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


10. Carols playing in the stores. Hearing them in November might make me groan, but I’m usually singing along by the time I reach the cashier..

9. Presents, any kind of presents, not too many though. Getting too many presents is like eating too much chocolate. Excess diminishes the goodness.

8. Christmas trees, especially in living rooms. A Christmas tree turns a normal room into a celebration centre

7. Cards and letters. Trudy sends hers in cartoon form. Lilyon tells her story in medieval language. Chasity writes a cheery account of the year. I love them all. It’s the most decent mail we get.

6. Fruit salad. Why don’t we have fruit salad more often?

5. Shortbread! Throw in mince tarts, butter tarts and fruitcake for good measure. Mark’s favourite is Nanaimo bars. I like those also. But we do get them at other times.

4. Turkey. Throw in gravy, moist stuffing, and mashed potatoes. For a perfect meal, leave out Brussels sprouts.

3. Singing! Christmas is the only time of the year when our families will gather and sing together. The Edey family likes to act out the Twelve Days Of Christmas. Six Geese A-Laying seems to be the favourite.

2. Parties! More parties! Even more parties!!!

1. And now, my absolute favourite thing about Christmas! Christmas brings out the best in people. It is the one time of the year when they try extra hard to get along with one another. That, in itself, is worth all the fussing.

Friday, December 21, 2007


Pre-Christmas cleanup
Reckoning accounts receivable
Needing to find the money
Here is an invoice not paid.

Send a short note to the debtor
Quoting the invoice number
Along with the date of the invoice
And the total amount that was promised.

“Oh,” says the slippery debtor
Perhaps you did not notice.
We didn’t pay the invoice
Or quote you the invoice number.

Instead we increased the payment
By 150%
So the payment might not match the record
Oh, the perils of accurate paperwork!

In the darkening days before Christmas
Even at the Hope Foundation
Where amazing things happen often
This one comes from the shadows
To slow our frantic flurry.

Just a little reminder
Sent by an unexplored universe
In case we might not have noticed
That there is good in the world.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


I learned to read and write Braille when I was ten years old. I learned by correspondence from Doris Goetz, the CNIB Home Teacher, who visited me exactly three times, brining a new book each time she came. It took me five months to learn the alphabet and all the contractions. It wouldn’t have taken so long had it not been for the fact that Doris wouldn’t give me the next book in the Braille Series until she came to visit. Nobody in my family learned. None of my teachers learned. Teachers’ assistants hadn’t yet been invented. Learning Braille was one of the easiest things I have ever done.

According to all the current wisdom, it shouldn’t have been easy. It ought to have been nearly impossible for me to learn to punch out the dots with a slate and stylus because you have to write each letter backwards. Blind children today are not expected to learn it. It should have been difficult for me to learn a couple of hundred confusing and inconsistent contractions. People have been arguing for decades about whether the contractions make it too difficult for blind children to learn Braille. When you follow that line of logic, you can only conclude that I must be brilliant. Nice thought, but there is absolutely no other evidence to support that theory. My grades were not the grades that win the scholarships.

So you might then conjecture that I must be very good with my hands. But if that were the case, you would think that I would be able to knit, or crochet, or sew neat hem stitches the way many blind women do. So let me set the record straight. My husband bought a crochet hook, and a crochet book with the idea of teaching me to crochet after he learned the basics. He made several lovely doilies before he conceded that my time could probably be better spent reading. And I take up knitting every fifteen years or so, just to see if time has somehow endowed me with coordination I was unable to demonstrate to Miss Darwood, the junior high dorm supervisor who moved on to easier projects after trying to teach me to knit. And as for neat hem stitches—well—if you use a bandage to secure your skirt hem, and you don’t wash that skirt very often, the bandage will stay in place for the life of the skirt. I probably would know this if I could stitch a decent hem.

So if we rule out brilliance, and we rule out good-with-the-hands, how can we explain such a phenomenon as learning Braille in five months by correspondence at age ten with no supportive adult presence? High motivation maybe? Well, maybe. But if we had kept all my old report cards from elementary school, I know you would read on one of them a grade D Minus in a category named Industriousness. The teacher who assigned that grade would have given me A in Lazy had the format offered her the chance.

It’s a bit of a mystery, why Braille was so easy to learn. I chalk it all up to genetics, to the reading gene in my family, passed on from Great Granddad Renshaw, to Granny Cookson, to Dad and down to me. Of course I don’t actually know if there is a reading gene, being more favorably disposed to psychology than to physiology. But I think there must be such a gene, activated into full and unstoppable motion when environmental conditions fall into place.

My reading gene had already been asserting itself for many years. I was actually literate before I learned Braille. That is to say I knew the words, and could type them on a typewriter. But my eyes would not follow the printed line and I was never able to read my own writing. I was, in fact, an explosive device without a fuse, a literate carrier of the reading gene lacking only a system that would enable me to read. The moment I was presented with the means—sentences to decipher, stories beckoning me toward their endings—braille rushed in to fill a vast emptiness, the way air overtakes a vacuum.

Perhaps this was also true for the young Louis Braille, the inventor of the code that bears his name. He lived in a society that did not expect him to read, did not even have a practical code that would enable him to read, but still he had this longing, this vacuum waiting for the air. So he invented a code, though he died young, and did not live to see it widely used, nor to savour the suspense in Braille books that he himself had not personally transcribed.

Like Louis, I did not notice a huge change at the moment when I finally knew how to read Braille. There were no Braille books in my school, or in my province, and the CNIB Library in Toronto had only a few ten-year-old-girl books to mail to an Alberta farm child. Nobody in my world could read the Braille I wrote. But—like Louis—I was pretty much thrilled to be able to read my own writing, and I did believe there would soon be books for me to savour.

This said, I will admit that things moved faster for me than they had for Louis. It wasn’t long before I got my hands on my all-time favourite book, Harper Lee’s To kill A Mockingbird. Every so often I would go to a restaurant and was presented with a braille menu. I met a man who learned to write braille so that he could write to me. Like Louis, I get to wishing that braille was easier to find, and easier to teach, and easier for some people to accept. But I think I can safely say it saved me a lot of time—just needing to learn the code without having to invent it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


I might as well admit it right now. I felt a bit guilty serving frozen peas at the dinner party. I once heard my daughter say that the food in our house was simple. She was marinating chicken in double mustard sauce at the time. She was more stating a fact than aiming a criticism, observing how I’d picked up my mother’s legacy of meal planning—meat, potatoes and vegetables. Gravy as an accent. My mother was an excellent but simple cook. My father preferred it that way. He praised the simple and discouraged anything fancy. We all liked peas.

The peas seemed a little out of step with the larger plan for our dinner party. Perusing the menu, one might have expected Green Beans almandine, or Something Florentine. But by the time we’d envisioned Mediterranean Chicken and Rice With Garbanzos and Raisins and a huge Greek salad with three kinds of appetizers and a raspberry cream cheese dessert to top it off, one more fancy thing was just too much. And maybe I would have paid double for the top-of-the-line brand instead of choosing the low-budget store brand peas had my head not been bursting and my sinuses not been so plugged as to make it impossible for me to distinguish by tasting between tuna, artichokes and chocolate. So we chose the low-cost peas, partly because they were less than half the price, and partly because we were certain that nobody would really notice them, served amongst these other flavours. .

Fourteen people sat down to dinner, chatting, laughing, telling tales of Christmas shopping. The evening slid past, carols on the stereo, candles burning, a little wine, a little punch. The guests may or may not have noticed that dinner was ten minutes later than it ought to have been because I inadvertently turned off the burner before the rice was done.

And when, on Monday, a thank-you note arrived, this is what it said: Richard and I had a really nice time on Saturday night. The dinner was really lovely. Several times on Sunday I thought back on your peas – everything was really great, and I know you probably worked much harder on everything else -- but few people can cook peas really well.”

Perhaps, I mused, reading the note a second time to be sure I had understood, perhaps I am one of those people who will never be anything but simple. And I really think I ought to introduce my father to the guest who wrote the thank-you note. They’d get along like gangbusters.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


When people you love are having a crisis, they may be looking to you for hope. A crisis is the time for audacious hoping, for unusual measures, for speaking hopeful language, as much for your own health as for theirs. It is the time to skip forward across the rough patch, to use the language of when; when you are feeling better, when things don't look so bleak, when you can see a future for yourself again, when this crisis passes, when you are more like your old self, etc.

A crisis is also an ideal time to remember and tell stories about things that turned out better than you expected, impossible things that became possible, things that turned out okay, even though you didn't think they would. These stories don't have to have anything to do with the present crisis. In fact, they will be easier to hear and tell if
they are totally unrelated in nature. The purpose of telling stories with unexpectedly good results is that it opens a small space for hope, and once you start to feel hope, that feeling can creep into other areas of your life.

Stories with unexpected endings are surprisingly easy to muster. Who would have thought, for example, that the Berlin Wall would be
taken down by the local citizens, or that the slaves of the 19th century would ever have been freed? If these things were possible, then anything might be possible.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Here I sit with my little heater
Blowing on me while the wind blows on the wall
Warming the chill that had silently crept in,
Gentling the air though the wall is cold.

Here I sit while my little heater
Finishes the job the big furnace can’t handle,
Proving again what I keep on forgetting,
That the littlest things can make the most difference.

Monday, December 10, 2007


The hotel where I stayed last weekend made special accommodations. It was quite extraordinary, really! The staff came out from behind the desk to guide me when they noticed my white cane. The waitress took my hand to show me the exact location of my water glass. What’s more, the hotel recently purchased brand new signs that display room numbers in both print and Braille. It seemed that the place was designed with my needs in mind.

My room number was really special. The number on the door said 321, 340 in Braille.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


I’ve been feeling a little blue lately, not quite perky enough to write on THE HOPE LADY Blog. Today I decided to see what would happen if I wrote a poem of complaints. Here goes.

It’s hard to be hopeful in winter
When the wind is cold
And the snow is falling
And the ground is slippery
And you’ve never cared much for winter.

It’s hard to be hopeful when pain strikes
At a time when you just didn’t need it
And you find yourself taking medicine
And sitting since it hurts to stand
When you want to be making shortbread.

It’s hard to have hope when you’re angry
At all the machines in your life
That just aren’t working properly
Taking more from you than they’re giving
But you don’t want to live without them.

It wasn’t my idea to write a poem of complaints. The idea came from Yi Li at yesterday’s staff meeting. Yi Li is a hope scholar whose poetry is so good that one of her poems took a prize in a contest for poetry by new Canadians. She set out to write a letter to her landlord, detailing a list of complaints about the lack of maintenance at here place. But instead of writing your average complaint letter, she wrote a poem about the problems and sent it off to the landlord. She says that as the poem progressed, she began to feel more and more happy, a wondrous thing for a person so utterly annoyed about the intrusion of mice and the lack of refrigerator repair. Not only did it make her feel better, but the poem also got some pleasing results. Her landlord offered to let her break the lease without penalty.

Even on the coldest days, with your painkillers and your laptop giving you grief, it’s hard—maybe impossible--not to be hopeful when you go to the office and find Yi Li there!!!

Monday, December 03, 2007


Hello back there.
It’s my back again
Checking in
Complaining when I stand, or sit, or walk, or lie down flat
Making itself felt, no matter what!

Here are my expectations for a back.
A back should stay in the background,
Being supportive,
Following obediently,
Straightening me out,
Bending when needed,
Extending my Reach.
A back should be seen and not felt, except for backrubs.

Now you might call this whining,
Or feeling sorry for myself,
And you might suspect me of making complaints,
Or complain that I am moaning.

You are right, of course.
I am whining.
I am feeling sorry for myself.
I am complaining.
I am moaning.
I am also working,
Because I expect myself to work.

Hello back there?
It’s me in front,
Apologizing humbly for whatever I did to offend you,
Asking you nicely to stop hurting soon.
It’s my way of being proactive.
They say you never get anywhere until you establish expectations!

Thursday, November 29, 2007


I read a magazine on the plane trip home from Mexico. There was this fascinating article about a man called Birdseye and his fellow pioneers in the world of frozen foods. It seems that they went to Labrador where they noticed that the fish, instantly frozen by Mother Nature after the catch, could be cooked to perfection. I tossed the magazine into the airplane garbage when they brought the cold drinks. . I was hot on that plane, sweating in long pants I hadn’t warn since I left home, infused with the Mexican air that was so warm you could swim in the ocean at 10:00 on any evening and emerge from the water with a stout breeze blowing on you and never even shiver.
It was about 10:00 when the revolving door at Edmonton International Airport spun us out onto the sidewalk where we were to wait for the park-and-ride shuttle van. The temperature was -19 C. An icy gale was pelting snowbanks through the sky. In the short time we waited for the van I froze up tighter than a fish in Labrador.
Back at the office I am thawing scientifically, in very cool conditions, the way you are supposed to thaw your Christmas turkey by putting it in the fridge several days before you need to cook it. My old radiator is managing the project, remaining cool while radiators in other offices blast out hotter than the mid-day Mexican sun.
I’ve been pretty quiet this week, just doing my job and meeting my obligations, moving glacially like a person in shock, or a slowly thawing fish. But I am wondering, based on the expert observations of Birdseye and others, if, when I finally warm up, I will be just about perfect, and if it will be almost Christmas.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


So here’s a story about the rightness of time and place.
David is shopping at Audreys Books, trolling for good books to read on the beach in Mexico, when he overhears the clerk assisting a customer by phone.
Ronna Fey Jevne,”” the clerk says, and the book is called Finding Hope?””
The clerk searches his computer. Yes, he can find the book, but Audreys no longer carries it. They used to have copies, but they don’t now.
Psssst,”” says David to the clerk. I can help that customer.””
The phone is handed to David, who explains to the customer that the Hope Foundation has copies of Finding Hope. He explains that the Hope Foundation is closed today, but will re-open tomorrow. He gives the customer the number to call.

We don’t know who the customer is, or how the customer happens to be looking for that book. We do know that the customer probably doesn’t know about the Hope Foundation. Finding Hope is our best-selling book. People who know us buy their Jevne books here. What we do know is that there are days when the universe simply cooperates, and that’s good to know.

Monday, November 12, 2007


I hope to have more conversations about audible traffic signals, particularly audible traffic signals for the streets I cross. But at the moment the possibility of such conversation is just a little daunting. I’ve been temporarily silenced by a serious attack of Marvelocity Syndrome.
It ain’t easy being marvellous—especially when you’re not—even though you are thought to be! I know this from an insider’s perspective. I am one among millions of Earth’s citizens who suffer from Marvelocity Syndrome, a chronic and all-too-common condition that afflicts people with disabilities.
Like all syndromes, Marvelocity Syndrome is actually a collection of characteristics that tend to occur in groups and follow some predictable patterns. It is characterized by an ongoing tension between myth and reality. Though the condition has likely existed for as long as there have been people with disabilities, it wasn’t officially named until 2007, when Wendy Edey drew together the data gathered in more than fifty years of personal life research. You might call it a longitudinal study with a flexible, environmentally responsive research design. As its discoverer I could have assigned my own name to this syndrome. But I never wanted to be permanently associated with something miserable, the way Alzheimer, Parkinson and Lou Gehrig have been. So I chose a term that describes the process, starting with marvellous and picking up speed, in other words, increasing velocity.
Marvelocity Syndrome is a serious condition, spread by well-meaning but ill-informed observers. It starts out with early admiration. Left unchecked, this early admiration can turn into the belief that the thought-to-be-marvellous person has supernatural powers, extended senses that compensate for the debilitating effects of the disability. This unfounded belief will henceforth be known as the Myth of Marvellousness. Like viruses and other nasty bugs, myths of marvellousness start out tiny and harmless. Then they grow and multiply. They are spread throughout the population by unsuspecting carriers. Given the right conditions, they begin to cause infections by growing where they were never intended to take root. Sometimes they start growing in the minds of people who have authority and resources that could be used to improve the lives of those who are thought to be marvellous. Damage can occur when the myth of marvellousness becomes the basis for decision-making. We people with disabilities suffer the worst effects of Marvelocity Syndrome when our needs are not taken seriously because we are admired so much. Additional complications include loss of temper, vanishing sense of humour, feelings of victimization and just plain demonstration of bad manners. It’s a cruel disease, believe me! You heard it from a patient with a full-blown case.
It took me several years to identify the connection between Marvelocity Syndrome and my quest for audible traffic signals. The signals are, for me, a need. I need the signals to help me cross streets safely, the way sighted people do, by knowing, rather than guessing when the signal tells you to walk. As is the case with many great discoveries, the evidence of the connection has been there for some time, but the moment of recognition came in a blinding flash (no pun intended). It all came together for me in an impromptu conversation with a carrier of the myth of marvellousness.
Like many infectious people, the man who talked to me about audible signals had been completely unaware that he was carrying the myth of marvellousness. Like many potential victims, I also was unaware. Neither of us noticed it until our conversation drew it out. One minute we were chatting amiably, the next minute I was angry enough to throw a brick, and he was running for cover, not taking any further chances, lest there be a brick within my reach. Since he is by nature both a man of generosity and compassion, the intensity of our conversation took us both by surprise. The myth of marvellousness had done an ugly number on us. Here’s how I remember it.
Him: “The audible signal you asked for is not on our list. We install three signals a year. We do the ones that need it most.”
Me: “How do you decide which ones are needed?”
Him: “The CNIB knows. You’re known to the CNIB aren’t you?”
Me: “Yes, but I don’t quite understand how that matters, given that they didn’t get in touch with me to ask any questions. Did they take me off the list without being required to ask me any questions?”
Him: “Well, I don’t know if it’s that specific. There’s a policy that’s followed. What is the problem with your signal crossing anyway?”
Me: “I push the button for the Walk signal, and I wait for the light to change. It’s a short light and you have to step out right when it changes. But there is no good way for me to know when it changes. Sighted people tell by looking at the light.”
Him: “But you listen to the traffic, don’t you?”
Me: “Yes, but you can’t always tell by listening to the traffic. What if there is no traffic for twenty seconds? What if a lawnmower is going? What if there’s construction? What if somebody stops to make a left-hand turn? What if I have a cold and my ears are plugged? What if the wind is making a big noise? What if the cars are new and very quiet?”
Him: “Well, it is true that some intersections don’t have enough traffic so you can tell for sure. But you must be crossing that street somehow.”
Me: “Look, if you want to understand this better, then come down to my neighbourhood and we’ll go to that corner. We’ll put a blindfold on you, and then as soon as you think its safe, you just walk right across that road.”
Him: “Oh no, no no. That’s not how it is. That’s not something I could do. I couldn’t do that. You people have a special ability, an extra sense. You sense when it’s safe. You sense when those cars have stopped. You’ve had the training from the CNIB. I couldn’t do that.”

This conversation illustrates how the myth of marvellousness can seriously impair the judgment of people with decision-making capacity. What it does not show is how Marvelocity Syndrome can lead to dead-end conversations, and ultimate despair. I didn’t throw a brick at this man. There wasn’t a brick within my reach. But I did lose my temper, which scared him away,leaving me talking to a blog about audible signals when I need to be talking to a person in authority.
In future papers I will document my research regarding the conditions that propagate the myth of marvellousness. I will show how we people with disabilities unintentionally contribute to the growth of the myth by working so hard to overcome barriers. I will examine the influence of the positive media messages about independence in the absence of clear statements about need. On a hopeful note, I will continue to document and call attention to the measurable, undeniably enormous improvements in service to people with disabilities that have taken shape over the past thirty years.
And yes, I will try to find a way to restart the conversation about audible signals. The man I almost threw the brick at is, as I said earlier, a generous and compassionate man. At present he only has the resources to install three signals a year, and he feels the pain of putting those in because citizens call him up to complain when new signals are installed. He is working with a policy that keeps my needs low on the list. So he’ll have to be passionate about advocating, and it would really help him move forward if the CNIB could be stirred to passion as well.
Some day more people in positions of power will speak honestly and knowledgeably about the street-crossing challenges faced by those of us who don’t see the lights. When they do, I’ll be there to back them up with sound logic and decades of personal experience. Some day there will be a cure for Marvelocity syndrome. In the meantime, I promise to try to work on my sense of humour, and I also challenge compassionate and generous people everywhere to deepen their understanding of Marvelocity Syndrome, recognizing its causes, symptoms, and consequences.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


The community kitchen is open again
In the centre of town, so near to us
With winter reaching her icy hand
Threatening to cut off the food supplies.

Chickadees and Woodpecker come to the feast
Using their manners, polite in their waiting
While Blue Jay and Magpie shake the feast table
Squawking and dumping the meal on the ground.

Squirrel and Rabbit and Pheasant drop by
To clean up the mess that was spilled on the ground
While Lawrence watches TV wit one eye
His other eye watching the show playing live
A wildlife feature, commercial free
At the birdfeeder just outside the window.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


I’ve always loved variety, diversity. I suppose that helps to explain what led me to do my thesis on humour rather than on the more common topics in counselling, like grief and loss, or childhood trauma. I suppose it also helps to explain why I would choose to specialize in hope and apply this knowledge in a variety of ways, rather than specializing with a particular disorder or client group. Interesting people and projects come to a hope specialist. They just show up because they are searching for something extraordinary that might help them advance a dream they’ve been nurturing. What a gift they are to those of us who love variety and diversity.
Yesterday’s gift to me was Sylvio, a volunteer with the GoodHearts Mentoring Foundation. GoodHearts, based in Edmonton, provides organ recipients, patients on waiting lists, their families and caregivers with encouragement, support and guidance during each stage of the transplant journey. Our aim is that no individual — pre- or post-transplant — be left alone when needing answers, understanding and empathy from someone who has experienced this life-altering journey.”” The GoodHearts mentors are hoping that the hospitals will eventually provide their volunteer mentors with professional support for training and networking. While they wait for this dream to be realized, they are concentrating on doing their own networking and using whatever opportunities they can create for mentor training. Sylvio says, “We started out in the area of heart transplants, but other body parts got involved.” They found a manual in Georgia. They found that the Kidney Foundation had already done some work in mentoring.
Sylvio’s brief visit to Hope House has launched me on a course through uncharted territory that seems uncommonly familiar. This is precisely the kind of visit that started my involvement with teachers on disability, and Alzheimer family caregiver training. A similar conversation led me to join staff and spouses for hope conversations with groups with ALS patients. This one will take me to a small group workshop on a Saturday morning. It is already taking me back in my life, on a little memory journey.
We lived next door to the man who received Edmonton’s first heart transplant. His wife cared for our children while we worked. They called him Uncle. He gave them gifts. He played with them. He loved their golden hair. He helped build the fence between our two yards, a fence made intentionally short to facilitate over-the-fence visiting. The only Muslim weddings we have ever attended were the weddings of his daughters. When he died, his was our first Muslim funeral.
These days we don’t hear about heart transplants, but his, the first in Edmonton, was really big news more than twenty years ago. He and his wife were born in Pakistan. Their names told us they were foreigners. When his name was splashed all over the media, there were anonymous hate calls.
Too bad his name wasn’t published as Uncle.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


I’ve often said that bigger is not necessarily better. I’ve said it about fund-raising events and tomato plants. I’ve said it about the muffins you buy at mall kiosks. So I felt a sense of kinship when the radio show food columnist declared that the biggest pumpkins are not your best choice if your goal is to use them for food. Buy small, she said. There’s not much pulp in a big pumpkin.
Her words came to me just as I was checking the bottom of the pumpkin that sat on our living room lamp table. I tend to check pumpkin bottoms fairly often, having once discovered that a seemingly innocuous pumpkin was secretly storing a disgusting puddle of ooze beneath itself. I check even the healthiest-looking pumpkins, the way you check on the cheeriest babies to prevent a diaper rash.
Our pumpkin bottom was both clean and dry—surprising really. For it was ripe when it arrived, and it had been sitting in the bright sunshine on that lamp table for 25 days. Had it not been such a heavy pumpkin, I might have thought it was mostly empty. But it was heavy, a definite two-handed carrier. It was tall and slightly oval-shaped, with a clean flattish front side for jack-o-lantern carving. It was a great pumpkin for carving, a really great pumpkin. It was also a beautiful pumpkin for display, so, knowing that beauty is sometimes only skin-deep, we promised to forgive it if it started to ooze before Halloween. We just happened to be pushing a really big cart the day we bought it, which made it seem not-quite-so-big, and not-quite-so-heavy.
Halloween came and went without any carving. Priorities for that sort of activity can change without warning. There was a time in our household when pumpkin carving could not possibly be neglected. But the baby of the family, the one who always wanted a pumpkin, doesn’t nag about pumpkins the way he used to, now that he is 24 years old.
So our pumpkin soldiered on. When it’s sojourn on the lamp table extended to 29 days, and still its bottom was dry, I felt we had no choice but to act. This was clearly a pumpkin to be reckoned with. It would not be taken lightly. We would soon need to clear the table space for a poinsettia. So I lugged the great pumpkin over to the kitchen counter, and seized the only thing that could take it on--a great big knife.
Sometimes you can trust the experts, other times—not so much. I’m sure the radio cooking lady thought she was on the right track when she said a big pumpkin doesn’t hold much that is edible. All I can say is, she never saw our pumpkin. The moment the lid came off, we realized that we had been harbouring a monster. Its enormous cavity swarmed with slimy strings strangling clumps of captive seeds. Its peel was thin. Its walls were thick. The lid alone had enough flesh to make a pie.
Realizing that something had to be done, we liberated enough seeds to cover a huge cookie sheet and set them aside to roast. Instinct bade me quit while I was ahead, to make one pie from the lid and send the great pumpkin to the garbage, which is, after all, the place where it would have gone if it had begun to ooze.
Do you ever find that your instinct gets into an arm-wrestling match with your ethics? This is one of those times when it happened to me. Instinct pushed for the garbage. Ethics pushed for preserving the food. “It’s not right to throw away good food,” said Ethics. “This pumpkin is perfectly good. All over the world, even right here in Edmonton, people are hungry. A hungry person wouldn’t throw away a perfectly good pumpkin.”
And so, with Ethics scoring a knock-out, David set about the task of cutting the pumpkin into pieces and putting it on to boil. He used our biggest pot. He used it four times. He took off the peel and mashed the pulp in the food processor. “There are about 20 cups of pulp here,” he said to me. But he was wrong. There were 24, not counting the pulp on my shirt front, the pulp that dripped on the counter, the pulp Pirate ate off the floor, the pulp that clung to the kitchen sink, the pulp that stuck to the pot, or the pulp that filled every crevice on the outer surface of the food processor.
As day wore into night, the monster was gradually subdued. Before ensuring ourselves against a future of pumpkin deprivation by packing up twelve cups of pulp for the freezer, we made three cakes, two pies and a pot of pumpkin soup. We started at 2:00. We were still cleaning up at 10:00.
All my friends said, “What on earth are you going to do with the rest of the pumpkin?” And I will admit to having been a bit concerned at the outset. But things are seldom as hopeless as they first appear to be.
There are options for the pumpkin in our freezer. We could give some away, provided we can find somebody willing to take pumpkin pulp several weeks after Thanksgiving. Or, we can turn to the Internet. The first site that came up in the simple search has 55 recipes. Number 55 is entitled Chunky Cat Barf—For Kids. But the other 54 look promising. That pumpkin will be gong in no time.

1. Teleme, Squash, and Onion Galette
2. Pumpkin Swirl Cake
3. Pumpkin Muffins
4. Tempting Pumpkin Pie
5. Mini Pumpkin Spice Cakes with Orange Glaze
6. Halloween Pumpkin Spice Cookies
7. Pumpkin Pancakes
8. Pumpkin Nut Bread
9. Pumpkin-Spice Muffins
10. Pumpkin Souffle
11. Pumpkin Pie
12. Pumpkin Spice Cake
13. Quick and Easy Pumpkin Pie
14. Pumpkin chocolate chip Muffins
15. Holiday Pumpkin Bread
16. Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars
17. Speedy Squash Soup
18. Butter-Steamed Squash
19. Streusel Topped Pumpkin Pie
20. Hot Mediterranean Squash Dish
21. Pumpkin Bread
22. Pumpkin Cake Roll
23. Pumpkin Cheesecake
24. Pumpkin Pie - sugarfree
25. Pumpkin Cake
26. Pumpkin Bars
27. Rich Chocolate Pumpkin Truffles
28. Light 'n Easy Crustless Pumpkin Pie
29. Spicy Pumpkin Butter
30. Vegetable and Rice Stuffed Pumpkin - vegetarian
36. Pumpkin Pecan Pie Bars
39. Pumpkin Molasses Cake
43. Pumpkin Pies
45. Pumpkin Spice Torte
48. Sweet Potato Pie with a three Nut Topping
52. Pumpkin Creme Brulee
53. Skillet Squash
54. Meetha Kaddoo (Braised Butternut Squash with Jaggery)
55. Chunky Cat Barf - kids

Monday, November 05, 2007

choosing the sunrise

On the train this morning with sleepy-eyed passengers
Carried by routines of Monday’s beginning
The loudspeaker voice came on soothing and rhythmic
As only mechanical voices can be.

We’re delayed,”” the machine was quick to inform us
And indeed our train was standing still.
Please stay onboard,”” the voice entreated
While all of the passengers murmured ascent.

Suspended high over the fast-flowing river
We were watching a beautiful sun as it rose
And the driver had locked all the doors with his switch
So we couldn’t have left no matter what we chose.

Hypnotized by the tone of that oh-so-calm voice
We acted as if we were making the choice.

Friday, November 02, 2007


I was born with the confidence to tell stories on a stage, and the dream of being a writer. I followed my confidence, went where it led me, and kept the sputtering dream alive. My confidence took me to happy places. My dream, well, not so much.
My confidence earned me a reputation for being interesting, to thirty years of standing on stages, telling my personal stories to strangers, to relieve the boredom of the endless content we offer at business presentations.
My dream drove me to writing classes, one-day seminars and weekend retreats, where I read short pieces out loud to my classmates, and later published nothing. One of my teachers said, “Writers write.” But I only wrote in writing classes. All of my teachers said, “Writers read.” And I read every day, which makes me a reader, but not a writer.
My confidence led me to storyteller stages, where stories are told for the pleasure of listeners. Standing at the microphone I told other people’s stories. That was all I had. I was not a writer.
My dream opened up my ears and my wallet. It led me to sit in audience chairs, at events where storytellers tell their stories, laughing and crying and gasping for breath, worshipping weavers of personal stories, fuelled by intention, told without notes, and probably written down somewhere.
I told a story to a business audience, a personal story, told with intention, to help them connect with some difficult content. And when somebody asked me to write it down, instead of ignoring that simple request, I wrote it and shared it, though it wasn’t very good, not as good as it was when I told it.
So I retold that story and then I rewrote it, and then I retold it and then I rewrote it and then I retold it and then I rewrote it. And then I took it to a storyteller’s stage, where a storyteller heard it and said, “You are an amazing writer!” Next day I rewrote it, and sent it to a magazine, where they’ve promised to publish it—with minor revisions.
To my writing teachers I offer my thanks for all the support and encouragement you gave me, and also my promise which I know you would want, that though I will celebrate this long-awaited victory, I’m not going to quit my day job.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


Not too long after we got married, David and I bought a tandem bicycle. Our plan was to cruise the streets and alleys of suburbia. I hopped on behind him and after the first few tense moments of developing the trust that somehow we would both be leaning the same direction at the same time, those wonderful old feelings came back to me. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as the pumping of your calves when the pedals turn the wheels. There’s nothing quite as thrilling as the wind playing your hair on a day that isn’t breezy at all until you get going. I had all of this and I celebrated it. Truly I did. But there was just one more little thing I wanted. I wanted to steer.
Okay! So maybe it seems a little audacious to you. Maybe you are thinking that if you have one blind rider and one sighted rider it would be best to put the sighted rider in front. And basically I agree with that. Truly I do. But the whole experience of riding a bike is just that much more perfect when you are the one steering. I knew this to be true, remembered it from childhood.
Now I have never claimed to be an excellent steerer. If they offered me a straight line to follow as a sobriety test on any given day I would likely be falsely arrested for impaired driving. But I do have a tiny bit of vision, and if a path contrasts in colour with the area at its edge, and if I keep my tiny point of vision directly on the line of contrast without blinking or moving my head, I can follow that path by watching.
The first bicycle I ever steered belonged to my little brother Allan. You can say whatever you like about little brothers. Call them pests or tell stories about how they ruined your childhood by breaking one of the china tea plates your dolls used to eat off. I’ve looked at little brotherhood from many sides, as a big sister, as the wife of a little brother, searching for the truth amid the sibling reminiscences at many a Sunday dinner. The little brothers of the world tell me I really don’t understand what they go through. What I will say on the subject is this: I would never have learned to ride a bicycle if I’d not had a little brother.
My little brother was little indeed, five years littler than me, his next-up sister. By the time he came along, I’d had quite a bit of practice at being the littlest, a position in the family pecking order that brings with it certain advantages. One of the advantages it brought to me was big sisters, seven and eight years older than me, the kind of sisters who can really be useful. It’s like having more mothers and grannies, a great convenience when you need somebody to tie your shoes or button the buttons on the back of your dress. Big sisters can also ride you double on their bikes, which is what sister Sandra used to do for me. Thank Heaven she had a boy’s bike. I could sit sideways on the bar, holding my legs out to keep them away from the wheel. We’d whiz around the block which, on the farm meant, up the trail to Granny’s house, down her driveway, out onto the road, over to our driveway, then up to our house. The block was small, so on a good day we’d continue right on back to Granny’s and make the whole loop another time. It was Sandra who first introduced me to the way the wind plays in your hair on a bike ride. Given the fact that I was getting a little heavier every day, and taking into account her affinity for teaching, I probably would have learned bike riding from her if she’d had permission to teach me. But it doesn’t make a lot of sense to turn a blind child loose on a bike.
The days of riding double had ended by the time I turned ten. Sandra’s old red CCM one-speed with the carrier basket on the handlebars stood lonely in the garage, waiting for Little Brother Allan to grow into it. He paid it no attention, seeing as how he was preoccupied with the challenge of learning to ride his tiny blue-five-year-old-size two-wheeler with the carrier rack on the back. Did I mention that little brothers are known for their tendency to get things their bigger sisters never had? Anyway, he had this little blue bike that was just tall enough so his feet couldn’t touch the ground. But mine could!!!
I don’t know how I discovered this, or why I even tried to sit on the seat of that little blue bike of his. Memory is an imperfect science. Perhaps I was plotting some nefarious compensation for the broken tea plate. I can imagine myself putting my right foot on the right pedal, but I really don’t know why I also put my left foot on the left pedal, given that there were no tricycle wheels at the back, no training wheels to steady me. I am scared of roller coasters. I am scared of going down steep hills. Did I mention that I was nominated for Chicken of the Year fifty-three years in a row?
But Allan’s little blue bike didn’t scare me, possibly because it took so much effort to keep my feet from dragging on the ground. Dad got involved somehow, possibly when Little Brother Allan asked for a turn on his bike. I remember him steadying me from behind, urging me to keep both feet on the pedals. Before long I was cruising slowly along the driveway, tiny wheels spinning beneath me, while my knees rhythmically tapped the handlebars with each revolution. Those were the days when my knees were so often bandaged that a few revolutionary bumps couldn’t do them much harm. So I kept on riding, gathering speed along the entire length of Granny’s driveway. Dad himself used to be a bike rider. He was delighted.
Out of the garage came Sandra’s old red CCM. I was too chicken to push up on to seat with my feet dangling in the air, so Dad took me over to the back step where I could stand a little higher and climb aboard the easy way. “Push off with your left foot,” he said, and the next thing I knew I was cruising on the big wheels, pumping the pedals with feather-like ease, flying along Granny’s driveway with the wind in my hair.
Things might have turned out differently if Dad had put together the whole picture at the beginning of the first lesson. He might have foreseen that Granny’s driveway would not be long enough to contain the cycling passion of a girl pushing big pedals with the wind playing in her hair. He might have anticipated that a girl who could only navigate by focussing her tiny spot of vision directly on the road’s edge without ever looking up for even a millisecond would—more than occasionally—glance up to admire the sunshine and thus find herself smacking into the back of his blue Pontiac, or unceremoniously exploring the ditch bottom beside the road. I followed the tractor paths across the field. I crashed into fences. I fell into mud puddles and hit my face on tree branches. I skinned my ankles as well as my knees. I even rode my little cousin double on the bar, though I doubt if his mother knew it. As for my own little brother, he was now completely free to ride his own little bike whenever he chose.
I lost touch with my bike during high school, or maybe I just got too old for skinned ankles and knees. I never planned to take up riding again. But then David and I got this tandem.
David agreed to let me steer our new bike in our back alley. I’ll admit that I was a bit nervous since I hadn’t steered in a long time, and the bike was too tall to accommodate my feet dragging on the ground. Looking back later, I realized that I probably should have tried to steer at a time when he wasn’t riding on the back. But the tandem was new to us, we liked to do things together, and we never considered riding alone.
David’s backseat pedalling experience proved to be unsatisfactory. I guess he found it a little nerve-wracking, the way I gave the first two pedal pushes and headed straight for the neighbour’s fence. I’d say he didn’t feel entirely comfortable with my weaving from side to side, depending on which boundary happened to come into my line of vision. And it could just be that he’s a little more concerned with having control than some other people have been. Whatever the reason, that particular chapter of my bike-riding saga ended about thirty seconds after it began. Maybe we should have experimented on a smaller bike.
I’ll admit to being a little disappointed with the way things turned out. I knew, when he suggested we change places, that this was probably the last time I’d ever sit on the front seat of a bicycle. I could have held a grudge all these years, but I didn’t. Instead, I chose to forgive him for not having faith in my driving, the way I forgave my little brother for breaking the tea plate to my best set of china doll dishes. And I am glad I forgave him, because we rode that tandem often, chatting and leaning together as the pedals pumped and the wind played in our hair.

Monday, October 29, 2007


A letter was sent by a flattering stranger.
“Hello there, you hope chick,” the letter began.
Don’t tell me that labels are nothing significant.
Don’t say that name-calling has no effect.

Hope chick, I mused in a moment of wonder
Old bird is more like it for someone like me.
Hope chicks would be younger, and fresher, and softer.
And prettier and smarter and a lot more fun.

So I turned from the letter and went back to work.
But it’s hard to get serious when a hope chick is hatching
And growing, and flouncing, and claiming her rights.
Never under-estimate the power of name-calling!

Saturday, October 27, 2007


Other girls dream of candlelight, diamond rings and wine
Me? I dream of tech support coming on the line.
Offered with compassion, in a gentle calming tone
That promises to stay with me until the hurt is gone.

Other girls dream of the boy next door, or Grad Pitt on the big screen
Steamy nights in Paris, being treated like a queen.
I dream of Ryan in Vancouver, Andre in Montreal
Competent and waiting for my desperation call.

And what about the husband who has loved me all these years
Buying new computer parts and mopping up my tears?
When the viruses are feasting and the video stops streaming
It’s tech support instead of me that occupies his dreaming.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Kay Herth is one of my favourite hope scholars. Ever practical and kind, she writes with the wisdom of a scholar who has studied a topic from many angles over many years. So it is not surprising that in 2007, writing about hope-centred leadership she says, “Leadership from a hope paradigm involves three components: strengthening the hoping self, minimizing hope inhibitors, and creating a vision of hope in others. She is right, of course. Who could have said it better?
The tricky part is the first part, strengthening the hoping self. When that hoping self is feeling a little weak it’s an epic struggle to minimize hope inhibitors and show a vision of hope to others. Hoping selves are a bit of a curiosity. They are only partially governed by the reality of what is occurring around them. To this reality we add the viewing lens they use. Add to this mix the influence of the company they keep. Fold in the stories they hear themselves telling, stories that gather an aura of truth as they are told.
Like most recipes, this mixture presents us with quite a few avenues for strengthening our hoping selves. We can add a little of this, a dash of that. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll find the wisdom to minimize a few hope inhibitors, or show a vision of hope to others.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Last Saturday, at the theatre, the curtain went up and the actors came out on stage. The play began. What a surprise to find that we can actually begin a public event without that annoying cell phone announcement. Not only that, but if any cell phones rang during the performance, I didn’t hear them. Just when you think things have changed permanently, somebody successfully takes you back to the good old days.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


And there stand the roses,
Firm on the bushes
Pink bush and yellow
Some fully open
Nested in promising buds.

Suspended in limbo
Of October coolness
Neither changing nor withering.
Simply waiting
To see what will happen next.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

stepping out when the sign says walk!!!

I am about to take on a cause. My goal is to get audible traffic signals installed in my city. This time, I hope to get them installed in the locations where I need them. It’s a big step for me. I really hate taking on causes. It takes up my time and clouds my joy with anger. It sucks up my hope, and that is not a good thing, because I need a lot of hope in order to do my work. This week alone in addition to my clients, I will be expected to be a hopeful inspiration to parents of severely disabled children, Alzheimer Disease family caregivers, agency staff of addictions service providers who are having their funds cut, and a whole auditorium full of health care staff fighting compassion fatigue. If you do much of this work, you guard your hope the way figure skaters guard their ankles.

The move for audible signals is a cause that has long been important to me, and is growing more so as I age. My vision has always been terrible, but the traffic is worse, the intersections are much more complicated, and my hearing, balance and courage are not what they used to be. Walk signals are there for a reason, because sighted people need to know when they are expected to walk. For blindpeople, the only option is to try to guess when the Walk signal comes on by listening to the traffic. But sometimes there is no traffic at the moment when the light changes, and sometimes it is too windy to hear the traffic, and sometimes the traffic is allowed to turn when the walkers are not allowed to go. And so it is definitely not reasonable to maintain that blind people don’t need to know when the Walk signal is shown to sighted people.

This time I intend to take on the cause and be hopeful at the same time. Taking on the cause won’t be too difficult. It’s the being hopeful that’s hard, given that there is some apathy to contend with, and a lot of excuse making about lack of funds. I am really not a fighter by nature. I would far rather laugh, or read a novel, or tend my flowers. I would be much happier if somebody else would take on the cause. I’ll need hope if anything is going to be changed. Here are some of my reasons for believing that I can be hopeful.

1. The City of Edmonton Advisory board on Services For Persons With Disabilities now mentions the promotion of audible signals on its website. This is a recent addition, brought about by one of its newer members.
2. Mayor Mandel held a special forum for disability issues during his campaign for re-election. He was receptive when I raised the issue. In fact, he has a track record of pursuing disability issues. Best of all, he got re-elected.
3. . I have made progress on this issue in the past. There was a time when the CNIB, publicly acclaimed experts on all things related to blindness, opposed audible traffic signals, saying that independent blind people could manage without them. The current president credits me with providing the rationale that officially changed this policy in the early 1990’s.
4. I did persuade the city to install signals I needed in the neighbourhood where I lived for 23 years. Those signals are helping blind people today. Unfortunately, it took many years for them to get to it, and I had already moved away when the signals were installed.
5. There are now enough audible signals around so that many people believe they are at all intersections. On three occasions in the past six months a helpful by-stander has offered me help, and then said that I probably didn’t need help because of the audible signals. All three occurrences happened at intersections where there is no audible signal, and the helpers were surprised to learn this.
6. My sister has moved to Edmonton, and she also wants an audible signal on the corner near her house. I sympathize with her. I waited at that corner for three turns of the light at 3:30 PM last Monday, because I couldn’t tell when it changed to Walk. There must be so many other blind people who want a signal. The problem is that I have no way of getting in touch with them, but I will keep working on it.
7. Though I really want a change of policy on installation of signals, my own personal position is favourable, since I live along a heavily populated route. . It takes only twenty minutes to walk from my house to downtown Edmonton, along busy roads, and there are five intersections without audible signals along this route.
8. Today’s Edmonton Journal has a wonderful article about prominent Alberta activist Martha Kostuch. It reminds me that not all advocates are angry and bitter. Kostuch says she is both a hugger and a tree hugger. She talks about her history of rallying both friends and enemies, her efforts to ensure that the fights remain about the issues, never becoming personal. What’s more, she gives notice to the world about her next cause. She’s dying of a nasty degenerative disease. She has no intention, she says, of dying the way the disease kills you—by strangulation or starvation. "I wasn't an environmental activist when I first came here," she says. But then she began to notice reproductive and immunological problems among cattle.
She traced them to emissions from the sour gas industry. Once you find the problems, you can't just leave them, she says.

This time, as I make yet another run at the cause of getting audible signals where I need them, I hope to learn from Martha’s example. Maybe the fight for a cause doesn’t sap so much of your hope if you are careful not to make it personal. I’m doing my research, getting the facts in order as I go. What’s more, I am stating my intentions early, right here on THE HOPE LADY Blog.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Bill the mailman nominated our yard to get an award for beauty.
Bill the mailman carries a bag of treats to give to Pirate.
Bill the mailman offers to put heavy Braille books in his truck.
“It’s easy for me to take them in my truck,” says Bill the mailman.

Bill the mailman took a holiday, well deserved indeed.
The Braille books lay untaken in the mailbox.
The dog license letter went back where it had come from.
“Dog in yard,” was scrawled upon the undelivered envelope.

When Bill returned he brought the dog license letter.
And he said to Pirate, “Oh, I really missed you!”
He got out the treats and took away the Braille books.

There’s a smile upon my face.
The world’s a better place
Because the human race is graced
With guys like Bill the mailman.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


You can use the Internet to look up information on just about anything. One of the things I recently looked up was the rules for a game my friends and I used to play at recess. It was a quiet sit-on-the-floor game that didn’t get me into any trouble. What’s more, I used to win it occasionally. The game was called Jacks.

Jacks are little pointy metal things that, according to the Internet, should not be left within reach of small children. The average six-year-old can hold ten jacks in one hand, ten jacks plus the small rubber ball that comes with the set of jacks. You throw the jacks on the floor. Then you bounce the ball. You allow the ball to bounce once and you scoop up the right number of jacks, then catch the ball before it bounces again. On the first try you have to scoop up one jack. It’s called Onesies. Then two jacks, all the way to ten. That’s called Tensies. Your reign of success ends when you fail to catch the ball, or when you fail to scoop up the right number of jacks. The winner is the person who gets closest to Tensies without getting it wrong.

I used to win at Jacks, not all the time, but often enough to keep me playing. Winning games of any kind is a real challenge for a blind child attending an elementary school for sighted children. So it’s not surprising the game of Jacks was one of my favourites. I don’t recall who taught me the rules. I just remember playing Jacks on the classroom floor with Lorna and Shirley and Loretta. I was still wearing glasses at the time, but there never was a pair of glasses that could make me see either the ball or the jacks. Since I needed to quickly be able to pick up both ball and jacks, certain adaptations had to be made. I always trailed my hand across the floor to find out where the jacks had placed themselves after I scattered them. That helped me be more efficient at picking up the right number of jacks when I bounced the ball. Then there was the problem of catching the ball. A ball doesn’t make any sound when it’s flying through the air. Somehow I figured out that I had a better chance of catching if I dropped the ball straight down and held my hand directly above it so that it would hit my hand after it bounced. This is what I remember about playing Jacks, the smell of chalk in the classroom where I sat on the floor with my friends, the finding and gathering of the jacks, the catching of the ball, the pleasure of winning.

When I search the Internet I find a set of rules for the game of Jacks. I only half expected to find it there. I wonder what sort of people look up the rules for these games on the Internet. In my day, children taught other children how to play jacks. I suppose a set of instructions might have been included with each set. I don’t recall ever playing with a new set, or being read a set of instructions. The older kids taught the younger kids. Somebody must have taught me, though I cannot remember exactly who it was.

My current theory is that I learned by observation, not being fully aware at the time that there is a difference between learning a game by hearing, and learning a game by seeing. I learned to play Jacks by hearing. I heard the ball bounce. I heard the jacks being collected. I heard the count, Onesies, Twosies, etc. And once I had observed the pattern, I played the game. I won some. I lost some. Eventually I got too old to play the game of Jacks.

It’s never too late to learn. You can keep on learning about a game long after you’ve stopped playing it. Not until my adult years, long after I had ceased to play, did I realize that there were two ways to play Jacks. There was the way played. You bounced the ball with your left hand. You scooped up the jacks with your right. As a kid I thought this was the only way. Only later did I begin to suspect that my friends were playing another way.

I suspect they were playing the way other people played, the way the Internet says to play. You bounce the ball and pick up the jacks with the same hand. That set of rules is more difficult than mine. Combine my general lack of coordination with the difficulty of blindness and I doubt that I would have won using this set of rules.

I owe a lot to the simple game of Jacks. It introduced me to the thrill of winning, a thrill I badly needed when I was a kid. When I was a kid there were parents who wouldn’t let me visit my friends because they said I would fall over things in their house. There were bullies who would wave a hand in front of my face and tell me to count their fingers. These things hurt me, but hurts don’t cut as deep into a kid who can win at Jacks.

Many years have passed since I last played, but the game of Jacks has continued to mean a lot to me as an adult. In a world where we pay a lot of attention to bullying, it delights me to tell true stories about children who show compassion, children with the grace to play a game by two different sets of rules, children who don’t mind letting somebody else win. Childhood compassion doesn’t get much attention. You think it is rarely found until you start looking for it. Once your senses are awakened you see it all the time. Older children help younger ones. Stronger children help weaker ones. They teach. They praise. They don’t get much credit and don’t expect any. They may not grow up to be wealthy. They may not be good at setting and achieving goals. But they will be the hope of a just society in the next generation.

I like to think that children are born with multiple tendencies, a tendency for compassion, a tendency for competition. Many of our systems, starting with our system of grading in schools, focus on the development of our competitive impulse. Natural competitor that I am, there’s nothing I like better than a contest I can win. But when I am walking down the street on a cold winter day, not quite knowing how to get around a huge snow bank, not quite knowing if I am on the right street to find the place I am headed for, freezing my fingers and needing assistance, I tend to become more interested in the cultivation of compassion. People will pass me by. If I wait long enough, somebody will stop to help. The competitors on their way to win a game will pass me by. The ones who won’t mind losing will stop to ask if I need them, knowing there is a chance that helping me will cause them to be late. Perhaps the differences among them were already apparent at the age of six, when they sat down on the classroom floor for a friendly game of Jacks.

Monday, October 15, 2007


Today is Donna James Day. Don’t feel badly that you didn’t know this in advance. I’ve just declared it now. Some say you can’t simply declare a day to be—well—a day of some note. They say somebody has to give permission for that. But I don’t know who gives permission, and I know they would give permission anyway. So I have declared it. And I wish you a happy Donna James Day.

Today is also municipal Election Day here in Edmonton. It happens every third year on the third Monday in October. The media has been pessimistically preparing us for some time, filling the airwaves and pages with the news that there is no serious contender to oppose the current mayor, and voter turnout, as a consequence is expected to be pitifully low. Meanwhile I hear citizens saying that they don’t even know who the candidates for City Council and school boards are, let alone what they stand for.

I have been sitting on the sidelines, howling long and loud at the media. Instead of whining about the lack of competition, I want them to feature the candidates so I will know what they stand for. Instead of predicting a low voter turnout, I want them to give me information so that I will feel compelled, fascinated by the possibility of voting. Instead of leading me to believe that I live in a city where nobody wants to vote, I want them to feature a voter who could set a good example for me, a passionate citizen in whose footsteps I might follow. And since Election Day has now come, and the media coverage is shifting to results only, I have decided to take matters into my own hands, and name the day in honour of Donna James.

Now Donna James is a citizen in the best possible way. She’s the kind of person who meets you at a party, hears that you work for the Hope Foundation, and says she wants to volunteer to help. You pinch yourself because you know she isn’t doing this out of boredom. Her current list of commitments is longer than your arm. Before you know it she’s bringing her friends out to help with your fund-raising events. She’s recruiting staff to fill your vacancies. She’s boosting the morale of your workers. She’s introducing you to media personalities. A few years later she’s chairing your board—which is what she was doing on the day of the last municipal election, October 18, 2004.

It was, you might say, a busy day for Donna. She went to work, then came to our board meeting at 4:00. The meeting ended at 7:00. Instead of rushing home, she stopped to encourage other members with a chat, offered me a ride home, and suggested we leave immediately so that she would make it to the poll before closing time at 8:00.

It was—or should have been—a reasonable plan. But Mother Nature had decided to test the commitment of civic-minded Edmontonians. She had provided a snow storm, dropping several inches of heavy wet snow, which turned slushy on the warm ground, then compacted itself into ice as the temperature dropped. Down in the bottom of the river valley Donna’s truck found itself with only two choices—back down the hills or go up sideways, never reaching the top. She tried the hill. She tried again. The clock was ticking.

Donna wanted to vote. She really wanted to vote. She knew who to vote for and it felt important to her. But now she faced a real dilemma. She also wanted to take me home.

“Drop me at the bus stop,” I said. She protested. People who don’t often take buses tend to have a difficult time with this. They don’t realize that taking a bus is a small thing for those of us who do it every day. She did not want to leave me at the bus stop. There were ‘shady-looking characters’ at the bus stop.

But she did drop me at the bus stop. She did it because she wanted to vote and we could be pretty certain that the poll wouldn’t re-open for her, no matter how valid or self-sacrificing her excuse for being late. Later I would hear her telling the story, trying, in the telling, to figure out how she could possibly have made the decision to leave me at the bus stop. It wasn’t in her nature to do a thing like that. It must have been because I insisted up on it, she would say.

Indeed I had insisted. It was, after all, the very stop where I would have waited had she not offered me the ride. The bus came and I was home in only a few minutes. She rushed in and cast a ballot just before 8:00.

All too often they go unheralded, but I can tell you without any doubt that our city has citizens who will stretch themselves to the limit just to cast a ballot. These are the newsworthy ones. These are the ones setting an example for us to follow. Our job is to follow them. Later we might ask the media to help us be responsible citizens rather than telling us we aren’t. Happy Donna James Day!!! Take time to celebrate. Do what Donna would do. Go to the polls and cast a ballot. The next opportunity to vote for the local politicians—the ones who have the greatest influence on our daily lives will come around on October 18, 2010.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Straggling sweetpeas hanging on
Red geraniums back in flower
Chrysanthemums in autumn colours
Even roses pink and yellow
Refugees from killer frosts.

Leaves are down and everyone’s out
Robins on the river bank
A city basks in Indian summer
Squirrels take stock for wintering over
On these sunny Sundays in October.

Friday, October 12, 2007


The most important things I need to know about my job I learned from the cabin crew. I learned them on early morning business flights and red-eye specials, when all I had to do was sit there with my seatbelt securely fastened, watching them prepare for and cope with unpredictable conditions, unexpected turbulence and circumstances beyond their control.
Who, after all, has more in common than stewardesses and hope specialists? We’re all out there to help others and we’re not always in control of the route or the destination. Though each of us learns the routine procedures and fancy flourishes in our training, what we need to know, must not forget, is that the things we do in the line of duty get much better results when we pay attention to the basics.
I learned that a friendly beginning sets the tone for the whole trip. A smile and a welcome means everything. There are people on board who would rather be elsewhere. . Circumstances forced them to be on your journey. You have the opportunity to be the cheerful and considerate character in the happy adventures they will talk about when they show the slides.
I learned that safety matters. The ones who feel safe embrace the journey. They make the connections and stay with you for the whole trip. They thank you for caring about them.
I learned that you can say the same thing over and over again but you don’t know if you communicated unless you check to see what they heard. There are times when the motor is louder than the public address system. There are times when people are too scared to listen for the details.
I learned that some people need more attention than others and that those people will get noisier as time passes if you try to quiet them by ignoring them.
I learned that people have more confidence in you if you make them laugh.
I learned that people feel a lot better if you are kind to them.
I learned that people on the journey count on you to keep your balance when the going gets rough. They want to hear you say that you know it’s rough and it won’t be rough forever. They want to hear you say you believe they will be all right. They are watching you to see how much hope you have.
Finally, I learned that if you are going to help others, and still be around to help them next week, even if it seems like you ought to help before doing anything else, even if you think you’ll be able to help yourself later, you must—absolutely must—pause before helping. You must put on your own mask first.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Shredded wheat and eggnog
Is a sweet surprising breakfast
For a girl who can’t read labels
From a fridge of milk and eggnog.

And she should start all over
With amore nutritious breakfast
And she would!

Except that shredded wheat and eggnog
Is tasting really good!!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Thirty-two gathered at Father’s house
For a meal that Mother would have prepared
Had she been there.

There were five under five
Seven over seventy.
There were six baby-boomers
Two teens and a dozen in the middle.

The dozen in the middle chased their kids, helped their parents and humoured Granddad.
Two of them were guests, anxious to please on their debut appearance.
Two of them were spouses, more experienced, fitting in.
And eight were later versions of the kids who used to frolic
Running, hiding with their cousins
Eating candy, putting plays on.

So because it was Thanksgiving,
But even if it hadn’t been
It was a time to celebrate
The miracle of a gathered family,
Ever growing, ever changing,
Past and future,
Experience and innovation,
City and Country
Ham and turkey.

Mom’s china and silver
With her everyday dishes.
Pumpkin pies from Safeway
Which would have shocked my Mother
But only for a moment,
And then she would have liked it.

Friday, October 05, 2007


The ground is clicking as I venture out in the crisp morning. Leaves are falling one at a time, tapping the earth, laying themselves atop the other leaves that fell yesterday. How many leaves fall in Edmonton on an average day in early October? There’s a question for you. There are places on the sidewalk where the leaves are ankle deep. I slow down in these spots, swish the leaves with my toes, step back and forward again for one more crunch.

Autumn and I have not always been such good friends. Sure, it is the time of my birthday, but the novelty of getting one year older wore off early, and you can have chocolate cake with thick fudgy icing any month. It’s just as good in June. I didn’t like September. I hated the way it brought a stop to the lazy days when anything was possible. I didn’t like the way routine started up, going to school, finding your classes, putting the kids in activities, the rejuvenation of committees after the summer’s rest. I went into fall pulling back, resisting, refusing to be wooed by flowery verses about crackling afternoons and geese in southward formation. Oh autumn and I tolerated each other. That is about all we did.

Autumn and I are better friends these days. Maybe it’s because my friends are retiring. Only a few years behind them, I can peer ahead to a time when my Septembers may be no busier than my Augusts. Will I long then for busy structured Septembers to get me going? Will I fondly recall the days when I would mention the word retirement and my colleagues would say, “Not yet, please.”

Septembers lead inevitably to Octobers. I have often resented them for that. But Octobers seem to be getting better too. Maybe it’s because I now live and work on old streets, streets laid out early in the twentieth century, streets where wide boulevards grow old shade trees with thousands, maybe millions, maybe billions of leaves. No need to book a day at the park for a crunchy walk. Just leave the house and go to work.

I am glad to be making peace with autumn. It comes, no matter how I feel, so I may as well welcome it. What’s another birthday anyway, but something to celebrate?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


A little bird flew into Miss Edey’s bedroom. Nobody else was there to see it, but that’s the story she told the children in her class one particularly trying morning when it seemed impossible for most of them to sit still, or pay attention, or keep their hands to themselves. That little bird, she said, woke her up by whispering into her ear that there soon was going to be a fire drill practice in her school and she had better warn the children about it. She would need to teach them that it would be a very loud bell, very loud and very scary. When they heard it, they would need to stand up very quietly and, without taking their coats, even if the day was cold, they would leave the room with their teachers. Out they would go, very quietly, in a nice straight line. When they were outside, teachers would check to make sure they had all got out safely. That’s what the little bird told Miss Edey.

The children had quite a few questions. Was it really a little bird, or had somebody else spoken to Miss Edey, possibly the principal or maybe the prime minister? Was she certain that the little bird said all this? In their experience birds didn’t seem to say things quite so clearly. And they kept on having questions, later in the week when they were doing arithmetic and writing in their journals.

I was there when the fire bell rang. We were sitting in a circle, reading poems together. One of the children leaned over to me and said, “Don’t worry Mrs. Edey. It’s only a fire drill practice. We are all going outside.”

The children got up very quietly. They didn’t take their coats. They didn’t push, or poke, or fight over who ought to go first. They just followed Miss Edey right out the door and answered in loud voices when their names were called.

Miss Edey thought it might be a miracle. It was particularly fun that her mother was there to witness it. I say it’s living proof that you should never under-estimate the power of a little bird.

Monday, October 01, 2007


It’s Read-In Week here in Edmonton. All sorts of citizens, famous and not-so-famous, are being invited to read in classrooms at Edmonton schools. My daughter is a teacher. “Will you come and read to my class?” she asks. She already knows the answer. Of course I will!

These days my attention is easily turned to thoughts about reading. We are nearing the 200th birthday of Louis Braille, and I am on a committee trying to figure out how to celebrate it. The now-famous inventor of our beloved reading system probably didn’t celebrate his own achievements very much. He was long dead before his ideas gained much support. He lived in a time when literacy and public education for all were ideas societies did not embrace with much enthusiasm. Nevertheless, he spent some time, proposed an idea, and opened up possibilities.

Now, sorting through my collection of Braille books for children, many of which also contain print and pictures, I wonder if there can be any greater privilege than the honour of reading to children. The only question as I prepare is, what shall I read? There was a time when the Braille books in my children’s collection held a prominent position on our shelves. But these days those treasured books are tucked away in Granny’s old wicker trunk. The air is slightly musty when I turn the ancient key to lift its lid, but the books are as fresh as ever. As I flip through them, searching for just the right book to take to Ruth’s class, the years fall away. I am back on the couch in our 67th Street living room with Ruth and her brothers crowding my sides and my lap. They want to see the pictures inserted among the print and Braille words. Their hair is fragrant from a bath. Their attention is absolute. If I should happen to say a wrong word, one of them will surely correct me. If I leave out a word, they will fill it in. The snuggling of their little bodies takes me back yet another generation, to the days of rocking chairs and afternoon snoozes when Dad, Mom, Granny and my sister Sandra used to read to me. Nobody in my family knew Braille, and I didn’t learn it until I was older, but I wanted to learn it so much. I wanted to read like they did.

I choose, for this morning with Ruth’s class, a book of old poems for children, and Judith Viorst’s wonderful story about Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Ruth’s class is a small class, a modern class, a class set aside for children who, in past generations, would have carried strapping scars on their hands and soon have given up the idea of getting an education. . Its youngest member has not yet turned six. Some of the children are in Grade Three. Each of them has a behaviour disorder preventing them from integrating easily with other children. Some live in comfortable homes, some in group homes, some in foster homes, some in houses unimaginable in their barrenness of spirit. Amid the confusion of their behaviours, it is still too soon to tell which of them have learning disabilities. On certain days, sitting still can be as hard for them as climbing Mount Everest.

Sitting still doesn’t usually seem quite so hard when people read to them. As I begin the story of Alexander, they quickly pick up the rhythm and wait for the parts of the story where they will be able to chime in with me when I say, “Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.“ They get into the words and they get into Alexander’s skin. Their sympathies are entirely with him. They know how it feels to get gum in your hair, to forget that you are not allowed to move the papers on a desk, to get in trouble for punching the person who made fun of you when the adults were out of the room. As we finish with Alexander, they are ready to take on the poems, guessing at the rhyming words when I remember to stop before the end of a line.

It would have been satisfying enough just to come in, read and leave, but I am not in a big hurry to get to work. I can spend half an hour doing something worth doing, so Ruth singles out one of the loneliest from her flock and sends him to my chair with a book about fire fighters. She tells him to read it to me while the others finish up some work at their desks. He is a good reader, and he is done in only a moment. Back he goes to his desk and returns with a heavy book from the library, a hundred-year history of policing in Edmonton. He tells me he got the book because he wants to be a policeman when he grows up. The book is filled with photographs. Finding his way around the inconvenience posed by my blindness, he shows me the pictures by reading the captions to me.

How can you measure the impact of a moment? How do you evaluate the outcome of the time you spend reading with children? Reading time is quality time. It is intimate. It is fun. This child currently lives in a group home. The staff are great. Still it must be lonely to live with people who come and go. Since we won’t be together for a long time, we will make this a good time. Together we polish his dream of being a police officer and bring it to life right here in this book.

Reading opens up so many worlds that would otherwise stay beyond our reach. It is a long time since I learned Braille, but I can still remember how passionate I was. I had dreams for how things would be. I saw it as my future freedom, my ticket for reading to myself instead of relying on others to read to me. Never one to accurately predict the future, I don’t recall imagining that so much joy in adult life would come while reading to others. Later I came to understand how reading serves a purpose that extends well beyond the bounds of simple pleasure and the provision of information. Being read to, reading to myself, reading to others, being read to again. Reading is the key to a privileged sequence in the unfolding of a full life, a benefit of being human.

Sunday, September 30, 2007


Autumn is upon us. Leaves are everywhere. Five summers we have spent in this house and still we have done nothing to improve its ugly north side.

How ugly is it? Well, it’s a weedy, broken-brick covered wasteland about five feet wide that runs about 100 feet in length, a barren stretch where our house and driveway meet the gravelled side alley. The previous owners laid down the broken brick, hoping to make it neat. But then, every summer, ten gazillion maple trees dropped their seeds and a hundred billion dandelions sent their white fluff through the air to join then. And every autumn, an uncounted throng of maple, elm, ash, poplar, linden, apple and who-knows-how-many other trees dropped their leaves into the wind. The leaves made compost among the broken bricks. The maples and dandelions heard about the compost, and rushed over to take a crack at growing.

What should we do about it? That is the question. Should we get new clean rocks, lay down bark chips, plant grass, artificial turf? David bought a super-duper propane weed burner to fry the mess like hot salad. Apparently some seeds do better after exposure to extreme heat. Then he bought containers of vile and disgusting chemicals to do the job. But environmental common sense has now banned the chemicals that kill everything in sight and keep it dead for a hundred years. And so, most of the time, the ugly north side is—well—ugly, at least by the standards of the beflowered south and west sides. Out of our direct line of view, either from our windows, the main yard, or the front street, it makes its own plans, recovering with remarkable ease from the holocausts we foist upon it.

Despite my sympathies for David and his mission, I find it surprising, and a little bit reassuring that—the moment our backs are turned--nature rebels against bending to our will. Alan Weisman, author of The World without Us (St. Martin’s Press, 2007) presents a fascinating picture of how Manhattan would begin to disintegrate in only two days if all humans left town. Without its pumps, the subways would fill with water, the streets would collapse, taking the buildings down with them. Maybe something good could still grow if we lose all control and accidentally destroy our current civilization.

A second example of nature’s tenacity can be found on the east side of our house. In an attempt to accommodate the double garage, the steps to the upper suite, and the narrow area that promised to become the ugly north side of the south fence, the previous owners poured a concrete blanket over the 47-foot width of the yard, stretching from the back alley to the garage. They carved out only one tiny square. It is a space of a few inches around the trunk of a huge old ash tree that probably stood grandly on its own when a tiny old shack occupied the lot. Now it crowds so close to the house that its branches hang over the upper deck. How does it live, I wonder. Do its roots reach all the way down to the water table? Do they extend all the way to the gravelled alleys, or under the lawn next door? Unable to shake the perverse idea that I might influence the fate of a huge tree in a blanket of concrete, I water the ash, put the hose on it several times a year, letting the water drip slowly for hours so it won’t overflow the tiny square and pour down the driveway. Just how the water could possibly find the roots so far down there I have no clue.

The concrete blanket, only ten years old, requires little maintenance other than the scraping of snow and the gathering of leaves. Unlike the broken brick, it is immune to the influence of compost. Still, on our first year in the house, we noted that a sunflower, remarkably similar to the sunflowers in the yard across the alley, had taken root in the gravel at the northeast corner. The following year, a sunflower rooted in the tiny square. Encouraged by my watering, it seeded three children for the next summer. This year the tiny square hosts about a dozen hardy sunflowers, in addition to the giant ash. It just makes you wonder, even though it faces north and never gets watered, if sunflowers couldn’t find a place among the baby maples and dandelions already rooting for next year in the broken brick

Friday, September 28, 2007


Some people are born entrepreneurs. Some are not. I am not, was not, never have been—surprising in a way, considering how much I love putting new ideas in my work.

These days I am responding to mail from large organizations who want to sell the hope-opotamus to raise money for their operations. When I say large, I mean multimillion-dollar budgets, organizations that pay hundreds of doctors and many other well-aid people. They run dozens of buildings. One kind-hearted fund development officer, on hearing from me that she definitely did not have my permission to market hope-opotamuses for her cause, wrote back that, although she would not sell them without my permission, others with inferior ethical standards would certainly sell them and I had better seek legal protection before it is too late.

Oh the lowly hope-opotamus. Whatever shall we do about it now that it has become famous? It came into existence as an evocative object, a souvenir of hope work, a tangible reminder of hope conversations past. Evocative objects, as described by Sherry Turkle of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, carry both ideas and passions. They anchor memories.

It has been eight years since the first hope-opotamus arrived at the Hope Foundation of Alberta. It was brought in by Gary, a man who had received hope-focussed counselling and participated in a humour class for people with depression. One day during the humour class I casually said the word hope-opotamus, and the next day he dropped by with a little purple hippo. He said it was a hope-opotamus. He said it would help me remember all the hope I had given him. Who was I to argue?

Soon other people were bringing in hippos of various colours and sizes, converting them to hope-opotamuses with their gratitude and their love. Sometimes, when the mood felt just right, we would select a hope-opotamus from the herd and give it to somebody who needed hope. Sometimes a person would ask for a hope-opotamus and one would be given. Hope-opotamuses were so special to me that I gave one—the first one ever given to me--to my mother when she was dying. We had so much fun with it that I turned our experience into a story. Then, eight years after the first hope-opotamus came to the Hope Foundation, I told that story to Shelagh Rogers on CBC Sounds Like Canada. Now that it is famous, entrepreneurs of the world are telling me I have only myself to blame.

I don’t suppose I would have allowed the hope-opotamus to appear on radio if I had imagined that people would want to sell it. Hope-opotamuses often appear on stage with me, and this has never happened. When hope-opotamuses make live appearances, people show them great respect. Occasionally a very sad audience member will carry one home. And if you are an entrepreneur, you may simply not be able to understand why a hope-opotamus would simply be a hippo if you bought a thousand and sold them in your store. Hope-opotamuses carry personal meanings and personal memories. People who take them usually want to remember something we said about hope. Somehow they just don’t belong on the shelves among the mugs showing pictures of Canadian National Parks and the saltshakers from coastal cities.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Sometimes you get over things and sometimes you don’t. It’s a counsellor’s bread and butter, these things we don’t get over. And I will admit to having a few of them myself. You’d understand it if you were me. After all, my mother yelled at me for stepping on the combine and swather my brother made out of Tinker Toys. Well, maybe she yelled at me for hitting him over the head when he started to cry because I had stepped on his combine and swather made of tinker Toys which he shouldn’t have left in a place where I could step on it because it really hurts your bare feet to step on Tinker Toys, and it hurts ever worse when your mother cares more about your brother’s head than she does about your feet, even if he is five years younger than you. , And I can tell you for absolute sure that my sister is still bitter about the time when she got in trouble for punching my nose, and making it bleed all over my new white New Year’s blouse just because I went into her room without knocking at a time when she was standing there in her underwear. My mother said you don’t punch people who are eight years younger than you, which my sister considered to be a gross over-generalization, given the nature of the crime that led to the punch. She said if I hadn’t whined and cried like a baby instead of being mature about the punch and the blood and my blouse, and if I had simply taken my fair share of responsibility for what happened, the whole thing would have ended much sooner leaving smaller scars and less permanent damage to fill the wallets of greedy counsellors.

Given that I have this long experience of not getting over things, you can probably understand where I was coming from when yesterday, as I walked down the hill after getting off the bus, I started to wonder if I would ever get over the feeling I had. It was one of those feelings you don’t learn to describe, even if you’ve been having it day after day. It was a little like triumph. It was a little like victory. It was a little bit like the way Mark’s cat feels when he comes for a visit and manages a complete tour of the kitchen counter before somebody notices him and swats him back down to the floor. I knew the feeling would pass, as it does every day, and I just wanted to stop right there in the middle of the sidewalk to write it down. If only I’d had my laptop! And how can you really get it across anyway. You have to be there to feel it. You have to be right inside me. You probably wouldn’t pick it up from simply watching, or hearing about it, even hearing about it from me. But I’ll try to explain it.

Yesterday afternoon, at the end of the work day, when I was oh-so tired from delivering a workshop after not having slept well the previous night, I got off the bus at the right stop. That’s it, the whole story, well, almost the whole story. The bus stopped because I rang the bell, just pulled the cord when the time was right and rang the bell! And the driver stopped the bus at the stop and I got off and said “Good-bye!”

Well, maybe you’d understand it better if I told you what I didn’t do. I didn’t say to the driver, “Can you please tell me when we get to Alex Taylor Road?’ And I didn’t sit down with a sinking heart, realizing that he doesn’t know exactly where Alex Taylor Road is, even though his bus goes past it, because he is a part-time driver on this route for the very first time. And I didn’t wish we were back on the buses of the old days, before wheelchairs, when there were seats right near the driver, seats where he could see you. And I didn’t sit there through the whole trip, trying desperately to stay awake so that I would know approximately where we were, so I could stand up and push my way to the front and ask whether we were near Alex Taylor Road in case the driver had forgotten me in the course of dealing with people who didn’t have the right change, didn’t know what bus to take, and didn’t read the sign that says you aren’t supposed to stand there and talk hockey with the driver when the bus is in motion. Like I said before, I just pulled the bell at the right time and got off at the right stop, and it wasn’t the first time either.

It all started back in early August when I got my new Trekker. It’s a little talking GPs that sits on my shoulder and tells me where I am. It announces the streets before you get to them. It’s like—like being able to look at the street signs! It’s got a button on it that’s called “Where Am I?” When I first got it I pressed the where-am-I button all the time, even when I knew where I was. It was such a comfort just to hear that somebody agreed with me. It was just like looking up at the things around you, which people do all the time without thinking.

I could turn off the trekker after I get off the bus. It would save batteries, and I don’t really need it. But I always leave it running. Just as I get close to my house, this little machine pipes up and says, “Home nearby.” This isn’t information I absolutely need. I know this already, most of the time anyway. But I like to think the Trekker heard me wondering, “Are we there yet?”

If there was a shortage of friends in the world, and I was only allowed to have one friend, I don’t suppose I’d choose the Trekker. It’s only a machine after all, imperfect at times, like family helpers, like friends. But it does surprise me that a machine can feel like such a friend. It feels comforting. It feels like some computer geek I’ve never even met knew how it feels to be me when I’m tired on a crowded bus, and then took the time to make it feel better. It’s the kind of work counsellors usually do. Computer geeks and counsellors have things in common. That’s amazing! I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it.