Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Impossible feats of yesterday that are possible for me today


Typing with two hands

Throwing the dog’s ball with my left hand

Putting my right arm into a sleeve without screaming

Holding a water glass in one hand while adjusting the tap with the other


The process of daily living is an intricate ballet where each limb plays a unique role.  How little do we appreciate its complexity!  Observing the return of physical function is like noticing that the birds are returning after a winter’s southern sojourn.  The arrivals on one day, heralded and left unrecorded, will be taken for granted the next day, forgotten in a blur of normal expectation. 


Impossible feats of last week that are possible this week


Standing upright without nausea

Forgetting to take a painkiller

Sleeping without the sling

Promising to be somewhere and believing that I mean it


Bill is officially retired, but he continues to work part time in the plaster room, casting broken bones.  Today he has dropped by unexpectedly to speed my recovery with the delivery of a loaf of freshly baked bread.  How amazing that he should arrive at the exact moment when I am calling a taxi for my maiden voyage to the office!  Taking on the role of taxi driver, he tells me about the people who shrink from the prospect of using the limbs he has repaired.  Perhaps it hurts too much, or maybe they are not troubled by a few dozen commitments that must either be abandoned or rescheduled.  All of it speaks to the value of seeing yourself as part of someone else’s future, to the value of having commitments. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Ham and scalloped potatoes, chicken with cranberry glaze, hamburger with tomato and macaroni, gingerbread, brownies—because chocolate makes everything better.  Comfort food brought to the door by friends and relations.  Amazing people!  



Monday, January 29, 2007


One second of lying on the ice after a fall is plenty.  At the 10 second mark the situation has been assessed.  Getting up will require a serious negotiation with Pain.  Pain crushes harder than a dump truck and says, “Stay there forever.” 


Wendy says “Over my dead body!”  Then she summons all her living body parts, moans some cryptic directions to David, tells her right shoulder where to go, gathers her skates beneath her, and rises to her feet. 


Round 1 goes to Wendy.


Pain is a foaming ocean with rising waves that pound and thunder.  Four hours later Wendy says, “I should walk out of this Emergency Ward and go home where I could get a pain killer, put ice on the swelling, make a sling for this shoulder, and lie down.”


Pain says, “Stand up and I’ll make you throw up.  Wait here for the doctor, or until Hell freezes as hard as skating ice.”


Emergency doc says “Wear this sling, get some ice, be grateful it is such a clean break, have David load you into the car before returning our wheelchair and take as few drugs as possible.”


Round 2 goes to Pain.


Wendy says, “I will go to work tomorrow.  I’ll give lectures.  I’ll counsel distressed clients.  I will be photographed for glossy publications.  I’ll sing a solo on Sunday.  And I will do it all without those nasty narcotics.”


Pain says, “Take the drugs, lie down, cancel everything and shut up.” she rewards all efforts to prove her wrong with outrageous spasms that resemble terrorist attacks, or labour pains.  Wendy breaks all her promises.


David gets to work late most days, washes hair, cooks, swabs smelly armpits, visits his mother who is having back surgery, sleeps poorly, entertains Wendy’s visitors and probably wishes he could take drugs. 


Round 3 goes to Pain.


Wendy goes to the theatre.  Wingfield’s Inferno is on stage.  She made this commitment long before she and Pain locked horns.  Pain joins her at the theatre, then lays her flat the next day. 


David does not say he told her so. 


Round 4 is a tie.  Wingfield was worth it. 


Orthopaedic specialist says Pain is crafting a nefarious plan to freeze shoulder harder than skating ice.  Take drugs!  Throw caution to the wind.  Remove sling.  Drift hand in tiny circles.  Walk fingers up the wall.  Find a hockey player, borrow his stick, and grab it from behind your back.  Could it be that the specialist is on drugs? 


David is three hours late for work. 


Pain sulks in the muscles.  “I’ll get you tomorrow,” she hisses. 


But that is tomorrow.  Today, round 5 goes to Wendy. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Lefty is growing up.  Fifty-three years after making her grand entrance she is finally getting the chance to show what she might have done if only she had been made to feel important.  “I can be more than just a fancy rack for watch and wedding ring,” she says as she struggles to get painkillers out of the bottle.  “I never was allowed to do these things,” she whimpers as the bottle teeters dangerously toward the counter’s edge.  “Now you expect me to be perfect on the first try.”


I should be more understanding, less demanding.  It is uncharitable to scold her like a naughty child.  But I am grumpy.   Righty has been imprisoned indefinitely for her own protection.  Howling in pain she swells her fingers and never lets us alone for a moment.  It frazzles the nerves. 


What I am developing now, as I summon patience from a pitifully inadequate reservoir, is an immense sense of appreciation for all the people who live happy lives using only one arm.  How do they open cans when the power goes off?  How do they zip zippers, tie shoes, butter toast, open doors while carrying things, change diapers? 


The most generous thing that can be said of Lefty is that she means well.  Life has prepared her poorly for her current responsibilities.  Asking her to capture a pea on a fork is like drafting a Sunday afternoon skater to play centre for the Oilers in the seventh game of the Stanley cup finals.  Put a toothbrush in her hand and she fumbles among the gums, clubbing bicuspids and molars in her path.  The very idea of carrying a full coffee pot sets her to trembling.  Still, she tries to be there for me.  When I want to write she creeps and gropes among the I’s, o’s and j’s where Righty ought to be pressing computer keys.  In the long afternoons of my discontent she does her best to comfort, playing pitiful piano solos, holding ice packs, petting the dog. 


Does she know, even as she tries with all her might that she will never be my favourite?  The sad truth must be plain as day.  The moment Righty is finally released, she will dominate once more.  Lefty’s contributions will be forgotten.  Like the women who ran the country’s factories when their men went off to war, she will be reassigned to lesser duties. 


In the meantime she is showing off a bit.  “I can do more than you ever imagined,” she boasts.  The last word on the subject is hers to say.  She has earned the right to say it. 



Saturday, January 20, 2007


Here we are at the teashop, a modern teashop.  Just like the computer store you need a guide to help you understand the process, a guide under the age of twenty-five.  Here are the shelves of tea, little square cans you can open and sniff.  White tea with antioxidants, green tea with fewer antioxidants, black tea with caffeine.  Decaffeinated teas and teas that never had caffeine to take out.  .  Bedazzled by the choices we decide to share a pot of mango passion, Roibus from South Africa.  John and Grace share a pot of something with a little lavender.  And they call it tea.  What on earth would Granny say?


And here we are, Friday night 9:00 and we are the oldest people in the teashop.  Further down Whyte Avenue the bars are brimming with the young crowd and yet, as if they had spilled over, some of them are here.  Just like us they are chatting at tables for two or four.  On a couch sits a couple on a date, drinking tea and necking between sips.  A modern couple.  Each has a cell phone, she a computer as well. 


And as we sip we are feeling a little young on this fine evening.  Triumphantly we have skated six full rounds at Hawrelak Park.  We have drawn up our sore muscles to spend an hour before bed chatting and warding off insomnia with soothing tea.  What a surprise to find ourselves drinking with the in crowd!

Friday, January 19, 2007


If there is one especially good thing about getting older, it must surely be that older people have more old friends, or rather, older people have more time in which to make friends, lose touch, and reconnect.  You sit round a lunch table with three former colleagues, realizing with a shock that the four of you may not have shared a lunch table since 1986, or was it 1985?  You share a pasta lunch, warmed by glasses of fragrant wine.  And twenty years falls away, just like that.  You don’t really know each other any more, at least not all the facts, the gritty details that fill up the moments and years of our lives.  But you do know each other, at some deeper level.  Being together feels strange yet familiar at the same time. 


A lunch is a very brief thing.  There is insufficient time even for news of the big things, the details of falling in love, the report on where you’ve been lately.  There is no time at all for gossip.  


And you leave the restaurant knowing these dear people are still there for you.  When you have more time, you can call upon them, bring them back from the past.  In the present, a new present with new details, you will still love them, because they are the same people who gave you so much joy in the first place. 

Thursday, January 18, 2007


As I fasten my seatbelt the taxi driver says, “Just let me enter your address into my GPS.”

Okay, I am willing to wait.  There is a moment’s wait, then a female voice says, “Proceed on the highlighted route.” We are on our way. 


Cute, I think.  But then, as we back out of the parking lot she says, “Turn left in 500 meters.”


“That’s Sarah,” the driver says affectionately.  Ï can turn her volume down if you like”.


I will admit that Sarah is a little imposing.  She constantly interrupts, never waiting her turn to speak.  But I don’t want her turned down.  This lady seems to know what she is talking about. 


I want to listen to her.  All the way to my house she guides him.  Every time he turns a corner she tells him how far it is to the next corner.  She gives him a 500-meter warning before every turn.  She tells him which lane to be in to make the turn.  She tells him how to exit the rotaries. 


I am now on full alert.  The ultimate test of her abilities is coming up.  Will she be smarter than ninety percent of the taxi drivers who come to my house?  Will she know you have to turn right at 89 Street, even though logic would tell you to turn left? 


“Turn right in 500 meters,” says Sarah.  Then she tells him my house is on the right. 


As we near the house I feel compelled to help the driver.  For I have information Sarah will surely not have.  “Look for the white picket fence,” I say. 


Ï see it,” he says, but Sarah is interrupting. 


“You have arrived,” she announces. 


As I turn my key in the lock of my own front door it dawns on me that technology has now advanced to the point where Sarah can probably guide me to the door of any house or business in Edmonton. At the moment I would be making the journey on foot, with Sarah telling me the street numbers and letting me know when I have reached the door.  But maybe next year, or the year after, I will get behind the wheel of a car and Sarah will guide me around other cars as we follow the route.  Science fiction meets reality—in a good way.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


I have always admired married couples who can make a living working together.  This, of course, was the common practice on farms.  The division of labour varied from farm to farm.  Some had well-defined roles, some tended more to step in for each other, switching places when the need arose.  In our urban world couples go in different directions to make their contributions.  So when I see couples running consulting businesses, medical practices or stores I always pause to admire their collaborative ability, to wonder what happens at work on the days when they wake up mad from last night’s dispute over who should take the kids to hockey.


We got a little taste of the collaborative experience last weekend.  David was asked to facilitate a board retreat and he asked if I would help.  We didn’t discuss the terms of my helping, but I think he was thinking I might add music.  We planned to sit down and talk about it some time. 


We have done a lot of things together, made children, cooked dinners, taken square dance lessons, planned vacations and the like.  And we have always agreed about work.  Our work is different.  When we talk about work, we know that he would hate my work, and I would hate his.  


Before we got around to working out the details of this project, there came a request for us to circulate some advance material.  David ought to have done this, but he was swamped at work, so I circulated some advance material, stuff I would have proposed if I had been doing it alone.  Now we were in uncertain territory.  Both of us had done planning retreats at work, these separate works. But the processes had been different.  The goals had been different.  We would have to figure out how to plan together, how to bring out the best in both of us.  We would have to figure out what to do if we saw things differently. 


When the retreat was over we agreed that we were pleased with the results.  We did develop a rhythm.  Each of us was able to step in to implement the other person’s ideas.  We were able to switch leadership back and forth.  We could change plans during the process.  Despite our different backgrounds, thirty-three years of collaborating experience had served us well. 



Thursday, January 11, 2007


Here in Edmonton, the nights can be snowy.  Every media outlet might be shouting blizzard warnings.  You would think that everyone would be at home, but the devoted university students who have registered in a hope class show up at 5:00 PM.  Reflecting on hope, one of them observes that a single snowflake isn’t much, but when they band together, they have a huge impact. 


Our journey home is slow and cold, made tedious by the coming together of a thousand zillion snowflakes.  Such a challenge, such a burden to overcome all of this!  And then, as we round the corner to find that our driveway and sidewalks are clear, we see how one determined person working alone, joined by another when the job is well under way, can change the position of a very large group. 

Sunday, January 07, 2007


What fun it is to pick up the newspaper and find something to celebrate with someone you know. 
This week we found Kathy, a fellow storyteller, enthusiastically promoting storytelling.  We found Carolyn, our favourite real estate agent, taking over
the presidency of the Edmonton Real Estate Board.  A hard worker, and a very well organized lady to be sure.  We felt proud, as if we owned a small part
of their success, even though they were already totally successful when we met them.   
When the media shows you somebody you already know in a good way it makes our big city feel like a small town, in the best and friendliest sense.  It brings
people together, reminds them of things they had all but forgotten.   
I also got a large share of media this week and right away I felt that old tug of connectedness.  Friendly media attention brings you a fringe benefit. 
You hear from people outside your current circle: former classmates; out-of-touch friends; leaders who heard your first Toastmasters speech; bosses who
once hired you; relatives; relatives of your friends; even people who disagreed with a position you took at a controversial time in some organization or
another.  And it just makes you wonder, if you counted up all the people who know you well enough to recognize you in the paper or on TV, just how many
would there be? 

Friday, January 05, 2007


At least once a month I will call or write somebody who is not expecting to hear from me. 

Thursday, January 04, 2007


I like to think that Granny Cookson’s Christmas cactus will be blooming later in the 21st century, and on into the 22nd century, and possibly even the 23rd.  This is a reasonable expectation if you think of its descendents as being part of the original cactus that used to hang in Granny’s back porch.  Already there are quite a few known descendents blooming regularly in various houses.  But wouldn’t it be nice if, in the 22nd, or even the 23rd century, there would be somebody who could tell their friends and relatives that the cactus with the lovely orange blooms was a descendent of one that used to hang in granny Cookson’s back porch?  It could happen, but it will present a bit of a challenge.  It will require some storytelling across generations.  If we want to make it happen, we will have to be a little more conscientious about telling stories. 


Granny Cookson (born Elsie Renshaw, Cheshire England, 1898) had a big back porch with windows facing north, south and east.  The porch was cool and bright.  In the 1970’s it was home to a huge hanging Christmas cactus (official name Schlumbergera) that sported hundreds of fancy orange blossoms.  It drew admiration from everyone who saw it.  Their praise made Granny blossom with pride, the way she did when people admired her grandchildren. 


Thirty years ago she visited my house, noticed my plants, and gave me a slip off her cactus that she had rooted in a quart sealer.  Nobody knows how Granny got her cactus and I do not know what happened to it later.  But my cactus will always be Granny’s cactus to me, an instant and constant reminder of a woman who was central in my early life. 


Granny Cookson was 54 years old when I was born.  She and Granddad shared a farmyard with us.  They lived in the two-storey house their parents had helped them build at the start of their marriage.  In 1968 they picked up the house and moved it 17 miles, setting it down on a lot in the town of Sedgewick, keeping all the windows facing the direction they had faced on the farm.   She was short, the shortest adult I knew.  Granny liked to garden, a passion I later acquired, and to knit, a skill that eludes me to this day.  She fed me shortbread and scones, chocolate cake and custard, trifle at Christmas, coffee in the mornings, tea in the afternoons.  She taught me simple songs. 


Go and get the apples

Go and get the apples

Go and get the apples

As you have done before.


I will get the apples

I will get the apples, etc.


She played games with me: Bingo, Sorry, Racko, Crazy Eights, Chinese Checkers, and Whist.  When she was alone she read True Confession, True Story, True Romance.  To me she read letters from Aunty Mabel, articles from the newspaper, toy descriptions from the Eaton’s catalogue, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and a large number of short and long books for children.  It pleased her that I was born on the day after her wedding anniversary, and also that I got married on her birthday.  She had diabetes for a long, long time.  She wore aprons every day.  She started wearing slacks when she was 70 years old.  She loved to buy things, new furniture, shoes, vacuum cleaners, presents.  She grew broad beans and cooked terrible-smelling fish.  She carried hard white mints in her purse and gave them out generously at church.  She kept a stock of candy in the drawer by her bed in the nursing home and offered that candy to my children.


She would be 108 if she were alive today.  I have the wicker trunk she brought from England, some little gold dishes she used to use at Christmas, an old rocker she never sat on in my lifetime (it slopes too far forward), and an enormous cactus rooted from a slip of hers.  Over the years I have rooted slips from my plant for my mother, my sisters, my daughter, and various admirers who asked for cuttings when they saw it in full bloom.


My plant doesn’t flower much any more.  It needs new loose soil, needs a larger pot.  It needs to hang in the middle of a room because it is so broad.  Last night I took a cutting and put it in a glass of water. In a few weeks it will have roots of its own.  I will give it a place of honour, bright light, cool nights.  And I will say good-bye to the old plant, but not to my memories of Granny.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


I will take a cutting from Granny’s Christmas cactus, start a new plant, and get rid of the old one.  Taking the cutting will be easy.  Rooting it will be easy.  Getting rid of the old one—not so easy. 


Tuesday, January 02, 2007


I will make something good out of something not-so-good.   
This is something I can do and would like to do more often.  Just yesterday I heard Lawrence coming up the stairs singing The Dodo Song.  It goes Dodododododo,
and the tune can be any tune.  It translates into something like: "mother, I know you are in the house somewhere and will hear me singing this song, and
I know it will make you smile, and you will probably start singing it too and then we will both be smiling while we sing our private song." 
When he was younger he called me Dodo, meaning "stupid, too stupid to live, graceless."   
I'll admit I didn't care for the name.  things were tough between us.  I wanted to be treated with respect and did not know how to make that happen.   
I wanted to prevent something similar from happening again, but before I had settled on the best punishment, the Edmonton Journal published an article
on the dodo bird.  The paper reported that researchers are changing the widely told story of the dodo.  They now theorize that the dodo was more graceful
than had previously been thought,  had a larger brain than had previously been believed and that the extinction of this bird might have been caused by
climate change rather than awkwardness or stupidity.  I looked at the situation and decided it would be easier to become a dodo than to think up an appropriate
Lawrence was a little surprised when I bowed in gratitude, newspaper in hand.  I thanked him for likening me to this graceful, intelligent, wrongly accused,
misunderstood paragon of nature.  The incident happened about eight years ago.  It should have been forgotten shortly after it occurred.  But Lawrence
tends the memory, keeping it alive  with his commemorative song.    


I will try to eat one food I currently believe I do not like.  If I still don’t like it, I will try one more time, just in case there was something wrong with the first one I tried. Main contenders for the honour presently include fresh tomatoes directly off the vine and cooked liver.  This is a nod to the potential of my ageing taste buds to like new things.  They’ve learned to love olives, and I would have said that was impossible.