Thursday, May 31, 2007


I will not try again,”” I say.
To bring the scent of lilac in.
For twice now I have clipped the blooms and left their fragrant trail behind
Sniffing in the living room
Feeling disappointed.

But as I sit here at my desk the room explodes with lilacness.
Carried on the breeze, wafting from the trees through the open window.
Just one more reason to hope that when you fail to meet a goal
That which you were striving for might still be happening anyway.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Fred and Amy Merrett threw a party, a party to celebrate the winding down of the Bronze Harmony Handbell Choir. As a music teacher fred introduced handbells to Winnipeg schools in 1963, then came to Alberta and promoted them here. When the time came to leave the school system, conducting this choir was Fred’s retirement project. He has been doing it for the past 21 years. If the Edmonton Journal is to be believed, Fred is 83.

What a party it was! Great food, great music; ringers at the mic telling us all how Fred’s influence has probably touched every handbell teacher in western Canada. The music he composed is played by ringers around the world.

Even after this Fred will still be ringing intimate concerts with his wife Amy and writing more music for the bells. Seems to me that Fred has been extremely wise, stepping out of full time employment and carrying forward something he loved, pursuing excellence long after official retirement, bringing the future into view before letting go of the past, celebrating endings with a flourish. His story is the story retirement planners dream about.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


A real Canadian Victoria Day we had
A cousin from Britain to celebrate with us
A morning trip to Barbecue Country to replace a part for a Weber Grill
Not easy to find in Europe”,” he said.

A Chili Combo lunch at Tim Horton’s.
We taught him the language of Double Double, and he drank it black.
A bracing hike in Elk Island National Park.
Red-winged blackbirds, beaver lodges.
“Victoria Day in Edmonton,” we said, “can be cold as an August afternoon at the beach near Cardiff.”

A thirst-quenching root beer at A&W.
“Tastes like toothpaste,” he said, “Really good toothpaste.”

A trip to Rona, that Canadian How-To store for a small Canadian Axe.
“We’ll use it camping, he said.
Ï won’t carry it in my hand luggage.”

Then on to Best Buy and Campers Village.
Alberta beef for dinner, barbecued, though not on a Weber Grill.

A walk by the river and then?”
That holiday spectacular, only in Edmonton!
The High Level Bridge waterfall, pink and misty in the setting sun.
Edmonton’s Niagara.

"How wonderful it is,"says he, "To be in this family that reaches out to touch across the Atlantic."
He is right. It is wonderful.

Next day he is on his way back to Britain, where they don’t celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday.
And the High Level Bridge dryly waits for another holiday.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Several years ago the Grey Nuns Family Medicine Clinic staff began a study of hope. All the staff took part. Doctors, nurses and administrators studied together. As an act of hope, they decided to decorate the clinic with the goal of making it a hopeful place. They turned the waiting room into a living room with a comfortable conversational atmosphere. They created a children’s play area. They transformed the examining rooms into theme rooms featuring photos and stories for patients to enjoy while they waited for the doctor to come in. The Roman Room, for example, featured one doctor’s story about going to Rome, showing pictures and explaining why Rome was a hopeful place for him.

The project received national media coverage at the time. It was also greeted with cynicism. Why were much-needed health care dollars being wasted on decoration? What difference could decorations really make? What reason was there to believe that patients would want to have conversation with each other, or that the doctors would want to be distracted by conversations about Rome in the examining room?

I met with the clinic staff yesterday. Most of them were strangers to me. Only a few of the original hope decorators remained. I asked them to tell me what had happened to their hope project. This is what they told me.

They are now in the process of redecorating. The rooms are being updated with the stories and photos supplied by the present staff. They are pleased that they can now talk to their patients about their own stories. The patients sit out in the living room talking to each other about the examining rooms.

I hope I get the Prairie Room,”” says one. Mom, do you think we can get the Spa Room?””

When the doctor comes in, the patients start talking about the room they waited in. They remark on the atmosphere. They ask about the origin of the project.

All this leads me to reflect on the medical clinic I visit. It is a big clinic with several doctors. The phone rings constantly. The staff hustle patients down the hall to airless identical cubicles. Chairs in the busy waiting area are arranged in rows. Never once have I heard a patient express a hope to another. Nor have I heard the excited voice of a child who is looking forward to being in an examining room. Having heard this kind of talk among the patients, it is not at all surprising that the Grey Nuns Clinic staff wanted to update their decorating! New staff who were not included in the original project could see how the decorating had influenced the relationships between and among staff and patients.

Hope involves the interaction of thinking, feeling, acting and relating. When you come together to decorate using a hope theme, your product reflects all of these. It transcends social class and personal income. Where is hope more needed than in a medical clinic. The line-ups are long, the staff is tired, the patients are ill and the prognosis can be poor. Hope can get lost in the shuffle.

It is hard to ignore hope when you put it in the decorations. It stays visible, works its way into routine conversations among strangers. . What’s more, hope has a much better chance of showing itself when people come together in places where it is okay to look forward to things, and okay to find that the patient has something in common with the doctor.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


In this world there are curious people. And then there are researchers. Though I would like to believe I could be a researcher, all evidence suggests that my rightful place is among the curious.

Curious people wonder about things. The readers among them study books. The gregarious ones ask questions. There is definitely a curious person in me. She wonders how anybody ever dreamed up the idea that words could travel along a wire. She wonders how the dryer manages to eat only one sock in any given pair. She wonders what kind of psychologist she would have been if she had not found the Hope Foundation. And last Sunday, in the half hour it took for the chemical reaction that would bind the Dark Ash Blonde dye to her hair, she wondered if blondes have more fun.

In an act of bravado, with boldness obliterating self-awareness, She announced a plan to spend the day studying the matter. In short, she thought she was a researcher. She had, unfortunately, forgotten something experience has already tried to teach her several times. She had overlooked the defining characteristic that separates the curious people from the researchers. That characteristic is planning, also known as forethought.

The thing I admire most about researchers is the way they channel their curiosity. Like us curious ones, they notice peculiarities all the time. They wonder what is happening, or how things came about, or how they might be different. But they don’t go forward, pell-mell and headlong. They think about it. They ask people about it. They make a plan. They apply for funding. They get paid while they study. If they have theories about the discoveries they plan to make, they keep them to themselves until it comes time to publish in a professional journal. Toasted and lauded by their peers, they leave us curious ones starry-eyed and envious, wondering how they do it.

Fifty-odd hours after the union between the Dark Ash Blonde Dye and my hair was consolidated, I remain curious about whether blondes have more fun. I might have been able to tell you the answer had I not messed up the research design. It was corrupted before I even began my day of study. In my rush to find the truth, I had overlooked the significance of a pattern that has been repeating itself for more than ten years. What I should have recognized, what I should have inferred from the information everyone gave me, was that Sunday was not the first time I had been blonde. It was simply the first time I administered a product with Blonde on the label. I now understand that, over the past dozen years, I unknowingly became a blonde over and over again. That transformation happened gradually, showing itself approximately every ten weeks. Not knowing that I was blonde, I failed to check to see if I was having more fun.

You may be wondering how I came to this conclusion. Well, the answer is both simple and surprising. You see, every time I dyed my hair Light Golden Brown, somebody would say: “You coloured your hair. It looks good.” The difference was apparent to the discerning eye. It happened over and over again. But this time, not one person commented on the difference. What’s more, people admitted they had not noticed a change when I drew their attention to the dying.

Now the optimist in me is considering an interesting theory. Perhaps I was wrong in assuming that I was going grey. Maybe I was simply going blonde. I am curious about that. Maybe I should study it! On the other hand, maybe somebody else should.

Sunday, May 06, 2007


Have you ever awakened to the certain knowledge that this is the day when a question will be answered? Today is such a day for me. By the time it ends, when the sun has fallen below the western horizon, I will know for sure whether blondes have more fun. Even as I sit here, writing at this very moment, a transformation is taking place. A change as subtle as the melting of winter into spring. It is one of those days I knew I would never see, and now it is here.

I was never going to colour my hair. “Grow old gracefully,” I exhorted. “Never be ashamed to be who you really are.” I was picturing a wise, silver-haired maven holding court for a dozen eager listeners. Silver hair meant wisdom.

But now I ask you, have you ever heard of anyone having silver roots? It seems they are grey when they poke their little heads out some time around your fortieth birthday. Silver, apparently comes later, maybe at age eighty.

The moment they appeared I ran to the drugstore. “Give me a colour exactly like the colour of these natural ends,” I gasped. And thus my hair got a name, Light Golden Brown, which everyone said was a little bit red, even more so under the summer sun. That was back in the days when there were only a few grey (excuse me, silvering) roots.

“Just how many silvering roots do you think there are?” I asked the girl who cut my hair last month. She was about twenty, tall, sophisticated, kind to old people like me.

“Oh,” she said diplomatically, “a few.”

“Give me a percentage,” I said. It seemed like this was the time when I could really face the truth, sitting there in a crowd of strangers, brushing severed hairs from my cheek, trying to keep them out of my coffee.

“Well,” she said, taking a long time. I imagine she was counting, “Well, half maybe.”

It shouldn’t have hurt me. I know it shouldn’t. These insidious markers of time’s passage have been there a dozen years, multiplying every week, maybe every day. But it did hurt me. I mean, I have thick hair, and experts say a thick-haired person has as many as 200,000 hairs. Cut that in half and you have 100,000 grey hairs, give or take 10,000. How would you like to have 100,000 grey hairs?

There are stages you go through when half your hairs are grey. First there is the numbness, then denial. Then comes anger, and then bargaining. “How about,” I said thoughtfully to my family one day, “how about I dye my hair grey so the roots won’t show so much!”

They laughed. They thought I was joking. I most certainly was not! “What will you do when the 100,000 brown roots start showing?” they wanted to know. Sometimes they can be maddeningly logical.

I was stumped. I had no words to answer. So I struck a different bargain. “How about I dye my hair blonde, something between the grey roots and the brown?”

They couldn’t think of an answer for that, or maybe they are just worn out from waiting for my silver-haired wisdom to set in. So today, as I write, my hair is losing its claim on Light Golden Brown. In only a few moments it will be Dark Ash Blonde. In a couple of months there will be 100,000 grey roots, and 100,000 brown roots, or maybe only 90,000 brown roots. But today, by the time the sun goes down, I will know if blondes have more fun.

Friday, May 04, 2007


Want to hear something really hopeful, some inspiring and true stories about aboriginal youth in Alberta? Then go to the Internet and find links TO programs broadcast earlier this spring as part of the CBC series known as Soaring Spirits. In a world where our mainstream media spend most of their time reporting the bad news, CBC has taken an alternate path. They have devoted the time to telling stories that exemplify and give hope.

"Soaring Spirits" is a new song by the group Redd-nation. The group wrote the song to go with the series. You can listen to the story of Christina and the hopes she has for her daughter. You can hear an interview with Shawn Bernard, a former offender who has changed his life. You can hear from Kyle who hopes to be Prime Minister some day. You can find out how 13 year old, Bobbi-Jo Beaver became the first person to sing O Canada in Cree at an Oilers home game. And that is only the beginning. There are stories about aboriginal schools, young entrepreneurs, teen-agers who volunteer to teach dance classes and much much more.

The website is a feast for the hopeful palate, a tangible example of how differently we would view our world if we took more time to read and tell hopeful stories. Congratulations CBC! I take my hat off to you.