Tuesday, July 31, 2007


“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” So says Marianne Williamson in her book,
A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles
, Harper Collins, 1992, (Pg. 190).

Banish inadequacy. Forget about fear. I like outrage! It is so exhilarating. I like the rush you get when you blither and blather and bluster and stamp your foot in rebellion against things that are wrong, people who are stupid, circumstances that could change if only somebody would take the initiative to change them.

I like writing outrage! Fiery prose and flashing images, metaphor in exaggeration, honing in and cutting to the chase. Outrage makes for strong writing, bold writing, writing that never doubts its wisdom or its motives.

I like the results I get when I write outrage. Writing outrage gives you power. There have been times in the past when writing outrage has served me well enough, created the spark for policy changes, brought people to their knees by the need to defend the indefensible, opened a space for flexibility that never showed itself before, and might never have made an appearance had I not poured wrath from a poison pen (well, keyboard, to be accurate). But then, when you write your outrage, you can make it a little more interesting if you put some limits on the need to be absolutely accurate.

And so it surprises me a bit that I am cautious about writing outrage. Why, just yesterday I wrote a pretty good blog about an outrageous incident I have been wanting to write about for some time, and I published it, and then, an hour later, I went back and deleted it. They say you should be careful what you publish on the Internet, it could come back to haunt you.

Maybe I am cautious because I know how it feels to be the target of somebody else’s outraged writing. Not very often, thank goodness, but the memory stings, nonetheless. One time when I was young, and vulnerable, and committed to following proper policy, somebody wrote me a letter asking for confidential information. I casually replied, stating the company policy. The request had been written by a doctor, not an M.D., and I had not recognized the author as a doctor. It wasn’t long before my boss received a letter of outrage, a letter where the author had made his point by underlining some rather spectacular comments about my response in red pen, recommending that I be dismissed immediately. Two things gave this letter a terrifying authority, the vividness of the writing, and the professional confidence bolstered by the societal status of the man who wrote it.

I learned, from that experience, how letters of outrage are mediated. My boss, rather than being pleased to find me obeying company policy, was anxious to make change so that no doctor should think our organization incompetent. He taught me how to recognize the initials that tell you you are getting a letter from a doctor. Then my boss explained to the doctor that I was young and had not recognized that a doctor was writing to me. Having flattered the doctor, he then embarked on an exploratory conversation to determine why the confidential information was needed. He resolved the situation by finding a way to give the information without violating our confidentiality policy. The doctor got his information, my boss didn’t have to fire me. A happy-enough ending, you would think, except that it didn’t feel happy to me.

I felt burnt even though I was not fired, even though I might have been fired had I failed to follow the policy that got me into trouble when I followed it. I don’t know which hurt more, the doctor’s brilliantly insulting prose, or the fact that a doctor got more attention from my boss than a client would have had if a client had made the same complaint. It is the burnt feeling, smoldering inside me for thirty years now, that trapped and undefended feeling, the injustice, the humiliation that makes me cautious about writing outrage. It’s a glimmer of compassion for the little people who will be burnt in the fire that opens up the possibility of change.

I like to act with compassion, but it will only take you so far when things need to be changed. And that’s how it gets so confusing, facing the fact that outrage is sometimes more effective as a change agent than compassion will ever be. I said at the beginning that I like writing outrage, but that is not entirely true. My feelings on the subject are mixed. I like that first few moments of outrage, when you know for sure that you are right, and the people you are writing about are stupid. Later, it gets more complicated. I look to the future and find I would prefer not to be remembered as The Outrage Lady, the embodiment of someone else’s unhappy memories. And I prefer not to feel a lot of outrage, which is what I feel when I write outrage. Putting it out there on the page makes the injustice all the more cruel, the offenders more offensive.

I prefer to be The Hope Lady, reputed for offering different perspectives on old hurts, reveries on my favourite topics, pages for playing and pleasing and plunging into the warm depths of fond recollection. Still, I cannot escape the knowledge that outrage sometimes packs more power than hope in the way I have been writing it. And it is hard to resist taking the easier path when something needs to be done. And I can name you several things that ought to be changed, that aren’t being changed, that possibly could be changed if I got the ball rolling with a little of my well-aimed outrage. But I won’t write them on this page, not today, anyway. This is THE HOPE LADY Blog, after all. Outrage seems to be out of place here.

Still, if there is one important thing The Hope Lady persona has taught me, it is that I should never say never. For already, at this moment, The Hope Lady is bidding me to wonder how outrage and hope could be expressed at the same time. Knowing that change is both possible and needed, perhaps we can learn something from asking, “What would The Outrage Lady Do?”

Sunday, July 29, 2007


Last evening, after welcoming us to an air-conditioned apartment and serving us icy drinks and dinner, James suggested we watch a video about the future. It was the sort of thing computer-savvy guys under thirty might suggest. Reluctant techno-peasants of my age are unlikely to suggest such a thing at a party, but I went along with it because the futurist on the video is Ray Kurzweil, the guy who invented the first reading machine for the blind back in 1976. At the time, it was completely revolutionary to think that a blind person could lay a page on a machine and have it read aloud. Today we take this technology totally for granted. Kurzweil is now demonstrating a PDA that will read signs, labels, and full pages to any blind person with a hand to point the camera. It’s a little pricey right now, but then, so was the reading machine when it first came out. When Kurzweil talks, I listen.

Kurzweil was talking about predicting the pace of change. Change, he said, happens exponentially, starting slowly and gathering speed, doubling itself all the time. Each technology, he says, is the tool that builds its successor. Each new technology gets smaller and faster and cheaper until it cannot get any smaller, faster or cheaper, and by that time, it has given us the capacity to build its successor and start the cycle all over again.

I of course, was listening carefully, and also remembering how I once told Lydia that there would never be a time when we could tell clients not to smoke in our offices. I think that was about two years before every office in the city adopted a non-smoking policy and the process of no-smoking by-law making first began. The change was near at hand, but I never saw it coming. I figured that if powerful people had been happily smoking in offices for hundreds of years, they would be doing so for hundreds of years in the future as well. I was using the pace of past change to predict the pace of future change, a fatal error, according to Kurzweil.

If Kurzweil had been in James’s living room, instead of somewhere inside a video, I would have asked him how long it might be until we humans learn to live peacefully together.

Some really good food for thought after dessert. Thanks James!

Saturday, July 28, 2007


When I can fix the world I will tackle mental illness
And vanquish it with some resource we do not now possess.
Who knows how long we’ll have to wait to find the good solution,
Better than Freud’s insight,
Better than cognitive therapy,
Better than adjusting a cocktail of chemicals every week or every month,
Up and down, more an less, new and old
But never really getting it to the point of satisfaction.

And when I accomplish this there will be other things to worry about.
For instance, who will be our greatest artists,
For so many of the greatest artists
Have been those who see the world somewhat differently than we do.

We love it when they teach us through their music or their painting.
So when I can fix the world we’ll still have music, sculpting, drawing.
But not at the cost of so much suffering.
When I can fix the world, our art will spring from hope and joy and kindness.
And a little bit of suffering, though only if we need it,
To help us remember compassion.

Friday, July 27, 2007


Oh where is summer going?
Faster than a downhill cyclist pumping broken brakes
Faster than an executive jet late for a business meeting
Faster than a rocket on its way to the moon.
Where is summer going?

Oh I know this topic is boring,
Worn threadbare through centuries of over-use by cold Canadians
But I still want to know
Where the summer is going.

One day you’re coaxing the first tulip out of the ground
The next you’re pulling up the spent, exhausted pansies.
One day you scream in total ecstasy
Outside in just a sweater and no mittens.
The next you’re searching vainly for that sweater
Under sandals, flip-flops, soaker hose, sunscreen, bug spray.
One day you’re picking out tomato plants
Trying to recall which one Lois Hole recommended
The next you’re steaming in the kitchen,
Up to your ears in fresh tomato casseroles.

Oh how I love the days that fly untethered
On a race track between planting and harvest
I want more barbecues with sizzling meat and vegetables,
More cold salad suppers nobody has to cook,
More evenings out on crowded restaurant patios
More chilled frothy beers, frozen margueritas, dripping Popsicles, leaky ice cream cones.
More going out to festivals, more spending time at home.
More fragrant gentle evenings, sleepy afternoon siestas,
More perfect sunny mornings blogging on the veranda.

I love to complain about summer
Sweaty moments at the office
The Flowerpots drying out too quickly,
Shivery air-conditioned buildings,
Nights with noisy humming fans.
Showers threatening family picnics,
Muddy toes from stepping in puddles
After raging thunderstorms.

And I want to hold on to summer
Celebrating every moment,
Cataloguing every memory,
To keep me warm next winter.
Sometimes I really like winter
But I never try to hold on to it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


I heard the most delightful story. It was a story about how Golf got its name. Apparently the letters G.O.L.F. were an acronym for the words that appeared on a sign, possibly even at St. Andrew’s. The sign read Gentlemen Only, Ladies forbidden. The story conjured up all sorts of images, men sipping whiskey in wood-paneled libraries, fragrant fumes from cigars and pipes bluing the air while women at home adjusted corsets and petticoats, waiting breathless for the men to return and escort them to debutante balls.

But alas, a little bit of Internet research has taken my delightful story from me. It was just an old husbands tale, according to the British Museum of Golf.

Golf, according to them, was originally a 16th century Dutch game called Kolf because of the hook shaped stick, which was more like a narrow plank with a copper hook on the end. The ball was made from rubber (a little larger than the wooden polo ball), from some of the first rubber plantations in Indonesia. When William III of the house of Orange, was king in England it went with him, to Scotland and England, and became golf in the English language

If this version is to be believed, then we must accept that like most modern words, the word "golf" derives from older languages and dialects. In this case, the languages in question are medieval Dutch and old Scots. The medieval Dutch word "kolf" or "kolve" meant "club." It is believed that word passed to the Scots, whose old Scots dialect transformed the word into "golve," "gowl" or "gouf."

It is a bit of a problem, seeking the truth. People who care about the truth ask us to abandon these untrue versions and tell the truth to those who gave us the wrong story in the first place, so that all may be made accurate as time goes on. But I really do hate to give up that delightful story. The act of writing things down has made us so literal, reduced our choices, stifled our imagination. Think of the old tales. Tale, for example, How Coyote Got His Power. According to that tale, Coyote wanted to be called Grizzly Bear but was persuaded to keep his name through a kind of bargaining process that gave him the power to change himself in order to deceive others. If I did a little research, I would be able to find the true origin of the word Coyote. I could tell you that story, and then I would lose the historical thread of native storytelling that attributed to the coyote the sneaky personality we all believe him to have.

In a way, each of these stories about how golf got its name are historical representations. One is factual according to linguistic and historical research. The other is metaphor, depicting a true and factual history of gender segregation. I like both of them. I don’t think I will choose one over the other.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


If this is one of those days when you are thinking that things never change, that real progress never happens, then I wish you had been with me on my morning field trip to the south Edmonton Probus Club. Probus is an organization of retired professionals and businessmen who gather once a month to hear an invited presenter speak on a topic of interest, and also to socialize. A number of wives had accompanied them today. The first woman member was inducted into the club. The main item for discussion at their business meeting was the question of how to recruit more women.

Could I be dreaming, or is it only a generation ago that women were pounding at the doors of such gatherings and being refused entry for reasons said to be perfectly logical? Something basic and fundamental seems to have changed. What’s more, those carrying out the change are wanting to make it happen.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


We went to two evenings of storytelling. Both were held on hot summer nights. Both were at restaurants where every chair was taken long before the performance began. Both were made possible through the efforts of volunteers.

One was sponsored by T.A.L.E.S., The Alberta League Encouraging Storytelling. The other was sponsored by Story Slam. TALES had three tellers telling fifteen minutes each with each teller booking a spot well in advance. Stories could be original or credited and told with permission, but they had to be told and not read. All three tellers were female. Each guest paid $5.00 and the pot was divided among the tellers.

Story Slam allowed eleven tellers to sign up at 7:00 for an 8:00 start. Each read a self-authored five-minute story. Five judges were recruited from the audience and asked to give a numeric rating to each teller without being given any rules for judging. Stories lost points for each ten-second increment over the five-minute limit. Donations were solicited from the audience and the winner received the full donation pot. Eight of eleven tellers were male.

The read stories contained many more words than the told stories. Although the audiences shared a few common members, for the most part they were entirely different.

There are some interesting questions here for anybody studying story. Are males more financially competitive than females? Do females find it easier than males to tell stories without reading? Are males more likely than females to present their self-authored stories for public judgment?

Both TALES and Story Slam sponsor restaurant events on a monthly basis in Edmonton. If you are going to get a seat at these events, you pretty much have to be prepared to arrive early and pay for dinner at the restaurant. Though there are definite differences, a choice in terms of personal preferences, there seems little doubt that storytelling and listening is a form of entertainment that Edmontonians are embracing.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


Listening through my windows
What is there to hear?
The cars of the Grande Prix kilometres away,
Buzzing like a distant swarm of killer bees.
The swish of the breeze as it trembles the aaspens
The squeal of bus brakes at the stops along Jasper Avenue
Do they ever take the squeal out of bus brakes?
The tweeting of the buses as the kneel for the seniors
And the baby strollers
And the wheelchairs.
Who would have thought, forty years ago, that buses would kneel
And wheelchairs would roll on?
The far-off shouts of anger
On the streets where people deal and drink and swelter in the sun
Robins and magpies, blue jays and sparrows, woodpeckers and wax wings, gulls and geese,
Dogs and cats and skateboards and the beating drums of dragon boats
Cars and trucks and sirens and lawn mowers,
Neighbours chatting
And a happy young couple laughing and laughing and laughing.

Friday, July 20, 2007


What is an acidanthra? I’ll forgive you if you don’t know. But I will tell you about my acidanthra. The earliest among them have just emerged from the shelter of their stocks. Give it another couple of days and the pots will be sporting tall white flowers and smelling wonderful!

Acidanthra; the word caught my attention when Ginger first said it. I had to hold myself back, finish listening to what she was telling me before asking her how to spell it. I was supposed to be working. We weren’t talking about gardening when she mentioned it. We were talking about being sick, and being tired of being sick, and wanting to be well enough to go outside, wanting to plant acidanthra.

“They grow from bulbs,” she said, when I asked her to tell me more about acidanthra. “I’m surprised you don’t know about them. You garden don’t you? You can get them anywhere.”

Spring came, and then summer. One warm day the reception desk at Hope House started smelling wonderful. “It’s these tall white flowers Ginger brought in,” they told me. “We can’t remember what they’re called. She said you’d know what they are.”

“Acidanthra,” I said primly. They were impressed. They asked to spell it.

Usually, I find, when you learn about something new, you start noticing references to it everywhere. You wonder how you managed to miss them for so long. Not so with acidanthra. I did a little research. My spell-checker did not recognize the word. I could find references on the Internet, but then, you can find anything on the Internet. At the start of the next season, when the master gardeners were talking about scented flowers on the phone-in shows, and the newspapers were writing about scented gardens, and nobody was mentioning acidanthra, I took that as evidence that acidanthra must be a rare flower obtained from a secret source known only to Ginger. I set out to prove that acidanthra bulbs are hard to get. Just to be safe, I didn’t go to a greenhouse where I knew there would be knowledgeable well-trained salespeople. I lured David over to the bulb rack at the nearest home improvement store. I spelled acidanthra and set him to searching among the irises and gladioli. Like me, he felt certain it would not be there.

The search was not a long one. It took about three seconds to find acidanthra. We bought nine little bulbs in a mesh bag for a bargain price and took them home, planting them according to the package instructions. Well, let’s just say we sort of followed the package instructions. It’s how we usually deal with instructions.

Nine shoots came up. Nine bulbs produced flowers. Everyone who came to visit noticed them. “What are those lovely-smelling white flowers?” they wanted to know.

“Acidanthra,” we said primly.

By mid-September the flowers had gone, leaving tall green shoots turning to brown. The package instructions never mentioned anything about what to do after you planted the bulbs. There was no more advice to ignore. I dug up the bulbs. The original nine had multiplied to fifteen. We stored them in the garage, in a plastic pail beside the pail of gladiola bulbs. . This year I planted them again and delighted when the shoots came up. I added the word to the permanent dictionary in my spellchecker.

All this I proudly reported to Ginger. Ginger said, “I didn’t know you could keep the bulbs over the winter!”

All of it just proves that there are still a lot of things out there we don’t know.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


It is a good day, the kind of good day you have when you can see, beyond any doubt that something has gone well, better than you expected. It is the kind of good day you have when somebody else also noticed that it went well, and your two stories of how it happened are similar enough that you can actually believe it happened.

It’s also a good day for Ron. He’s so thrilled to share the news. He has a new job. If Ron had not got his new job he would never have been able to leave his old job. What’s more, if Ron’s new job hadn’t paid fifty percent more than his old job, then he would never have found out how valuable he actually is, and he would not have discovered that the boss at his old job was willing to offer him more money than he was going to earn at his new job. And if none of this had happened, Ron might never have known the sweet satisfaction of leaving his old job despite the offer, leaving as a proud man, a valued man, the kind of man a business will fight to keep.

The pride is a new thing for Ron, a novelty for both of us. It felt so good to see him proud. He got the new job by using his number 1 strength, curiosity. It really was something to celebrate.

I have to confess that I didn’t pick curiosity out as his top strength when he came to me for counselling. In fact, I didn’t notice curiosity in him at all. I saw what he saw, the man he was able to show me, a shy and lonely man. It’s a funny thing how depression will just blank out the person sitting before you. It hung over him like a heavy oppressing fog, keeping him on the inside and me on the outside, calling to each other as if from a great distance. .

Getting to know a man shrouded in depression is an exploration. Perhaps it is a little like human archaeology; the science of uncovering what is hidden. Shy people are the hardest to get to know. It takes a long time to find their core if you leave it up to normal conversation.

To save some time, I asked him to go on the Internet and complete the VIA Signature StrengthsQuestionnaire. I knew it would name his strengths. The test told us that he was a curious, creative man who loves to learn, a forgiving man who cares about being fair. This was a self-portrait he had not shown me, but when I checked with him, he said it seemed accurate to him. He could even verify its truthfulness. He was able to tell me how curiosity, creativity and love of learning showed itself in the electronics and computer activities that filled his free time.

“Not much of a profile for a salesman,” he said. No wonder I am so unhappy.”” He was working in sales at the time. He got the job because he had some specific knowledge about the products he was selling.

Our exploration had only just begun. With a little more conversational digging, we unearthed another buried truth. He was satisfying his curiosity by wondering things, trying things, and looking up information in books. But as for coming right out and asking a question, this was something he rarely did. What’s more, he really didn’t know much about the mechanics of question asking.

His love of learning began to help us. He could learn to ask better questions. I taught him a few question-asking basics. He called on his curiosity for topics and practiced asking questions of me. Then he went to work and started being curious about the needs of the customers he was serving. His interest flattered the customers. Conversations got going. The information exchange helped them make better purchases.

That is how he got the new job, not by looking for a job, which is what I had hoped he would one day be able to do, but by being chosen for a job through conversation with a customer. It was achieved by learning new skills to augment strengths that were hidden from me by depression. Depression hides so much. It makes people seem so hopeless. I have to keep reminding myself that I have no idea what might be hidden there. As Norman Cousins once said, “We simply know too little not to hope.”

This morning a celebration was in order. Every counsellor needs good days like this one. We need them to keep our hopes up.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


We have this yard that gives us so much pleasure, with a lawn and hedge that Lawrence keeps neatly trimmed; and a side bed created from nothing and brought to beauty by David; and a veranda with a large number of flower baskets; and my front bed of lilies, irises and peonies.” It is a celebration of abundance, not so much a carefully conceived plan. But it has grown. Watching it grow a little each year, Ruth once said, I think you have a bit of a flower problem.”

We have this neighbour named Ed, the best neighbour anybody could want. He’s such a great neighbour that he was one of the selling features listed by the lady who wanted to sell us the house. He keeps a beautiful yard for us to look at. He often comes over to admire our splendour, to say how tough the competition is with us living on his street. We have always told him there is no competition.

But now things are changing. The postman has left a little sign nominating our front yard in recognition of Communities In Bloom. The first thing Lawrence said when he saw it was, “How does Ed feel about this?”

Some time in the next couple of weeks, according to the brochure the postman left, a representative from the horticultural society is going to come out for a look at our yard. It will be rated along with other nominated yards. Like I said, we are not in a competition.

It is not really unusual that I would just go out there and give the pots a little trim up, taking out a few dead things, moving a few of the prettier things from the back to the front. It’s quite common for me to turn the rose bushes so the blooms are visible from the street. So why did I feel just a little bit guilty doing it? I’ve never felt guilty about yard care before.

Is it because of Ed? No, it can’t hurt Ed. He’s away on summer holidays. And anyway, Ruth says we need not fear the competition. We are safe. We can’t possibly win anything with all those dandelions out there.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


What have I learned about hope work?
I have learned to appreciate questions.
And expect unexpectable answers
To go forward on pure speculation
And take time to secure the foundation
I have learned to be bold and audacious
And ask questions when others are suspicious
That hope work can often mean hard work
And hope work is frequently fun.

Why do I bother with hope work?
Because hope, according to the research,
Is definitely positively associated
With success in many achievements
And coping with terrible adversity
And hope work ultimately helps me
Keep from telling them just to be positive
Find a place of shared understanding
With those who are tired from struggling
While I listen pondering and wondering
What I can do to help.

What do I watch for in hope work?
For hope that is quietly implicit
For chances to make it explicit
And give it an on-stage performance
With lights and applause and encores
For ways it can be the foundation
That our counselling can rest upon.

What do I know about hopeful?
That hopeful is a way of being
That I can become more hopeful
If I hang around hopeful people
And ask myself hope-focussed questions
And remember that hope is contagious
And notice the things that are hopeful
Then tell other people about them
So that they can reflect what is hopeful
And send it right back to me.

When do I proudly do hope work?
When people are asking for hope work
Which happens amazingly often
When hope is observably absent
Obscured by the fears of tomorrow
And the lack of a way to address them
When hope work makes sense in the context
Of a credible counselling plan.

What’s in a hope worker’s toolbox?
There are scrapers to gently uncover
The hopes that lie quietly waiting
For something to bring them to life
There are highlighting words to adorn them
And respect for the hopes that seem hopeless
And unbridled curiosity about any of them
From which anything good might grow

There are searchers exploring the history
For things that were better than expected
And impossible things that were possible
And times when things seemed to be terrible
But were better than ever they seemed.

There is string for connecting the senses
To things in the world that are hopeful
To pictures and fragrance and music
And hope heroes beckoning forward
Showing the way to be hopeful.

There are tools to envision the future
A future desired and embracing
As if it really could happen
As if it were already happening
And tools to build the hope up
During the time of waiting
Tools to relieve the burden
And chart the way to go.

What have I learned about hope work?
To respect that it’s always in progress
To forgive it for not being perfect
To honour and learn from its critics
To follow the paths where it leads me
And thank it for showing me so much
Of a world that I might not have noticed
If hope work had stayed in the shadows
Instead of tempting me to try it
On a day when I might have ignored it
And chosen some other career.

Monday, July 16, 2007


Too hot to think.
So hot I thought the roof might blow off Hope House when I opened the Monday morning door.
So hot I thought the LRT tunnels would be cool.
But it has been hot too long for that.

Endlessly hot.
It started to swelter on Thursday, been sweltering ever since.

Remembering other hots.
Midnight in Chicago, 100F.
Strolling in the packed streets, sweat trickling down my back.

Tropical perspective.
Susan visits the Taj Mahal before 9:00 AM while the temperature remains below 40C.
David wears shorts in the Philippines and sleeps alone with air conditioning while the locals sleep eight in a hot room and spend their days in suits and ties.
Ruth wears a sweater at 5:30 AM in Thailand as she rides her bike to work. It is only 24C this early.

Coping with hot.
Wiping up the puddle of sweat where the Marguerita glass stood on the table.
The bathtub is a swimming pool, standing cold water, waiting for occasional dipping.
A bucket of ice sits behind the fan, cooling the air that blows across our bodies all night long.
Leaving bed in a thunderstorm to open all the doors and lower windows.
Guarding the house that stands open and vulnerable, listening to night sounds, petting the dog, willing a breeze to blow.

Visiting Nana.
In her air conditioned room
In the hospital where she is tied to oxygen
And has been for ages
And will be for ages
And hearing her say she’s been told it’s hot
And she’d like to be able to find that out
For herself.
Makes it seem kind of cool
Being hot.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


It’s a year for tall things,
Five-foot peonies
Six-foot lilies.

And also for wondering
How they decide
Which are the years for tall things.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


Strawberries from the market
Bought too many, eat them fast
Watering the raspberries
Small and hard and waiting to burst juicy
Saskatoons on the park path
David’s gone to pick some
Taking his Blackberry with him.

Friday, July 13, 2007


1) That the easiest way to connect with others is through emotions.

2) That our differences are more interesting when we find ways to frame them through our common understandings

3) That being hopeful is different from being a hero

4) That anger is the least likely emotion to find a place on The Hope Lady Blog

5) That my writing wants to change after I read it out loud

6) That my writing changes even more when I read it out loud to an audience

7) That I should probably not attempt to publish a thousand-page novel since there aren’t enough listeners in my life to listen to it as it develops

8) That written humour and spoken humour are not the same.

9) That an experience can be replicable without being understandable. No audience will laugh when I tell them my mom called her hope-opotamus Hopey. Every audience will laugh when I pause, and then say, “She named me Wendy. She wasn’t perfect.”

10) That humour would rather be enjoyed than understood.

11) That I will have to learn at least one more thing before I can write educational materials and please myself at the same time.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


Think of things that go together: kittens and warm milk; freezers and ice cream; strawberries and shortcake; toast and jam; scarecrows and hope. Yes really, I mean it. Scarecrows and hope. Could a better match be found anywhere?

Scarecrows were invented thousands of years ago by creative people who realized that standing in their fields scaring the birds off their crops was perhaps not the best use of their time during the busy harvest season. No wonder they have prevailed through the centuries. Scarecrows exemplify so many of the qualities that can make our world a more hopeful place to live.

The scarecrow is a gentle joker, a bundle of cast-offs pretending to be scary, an early alarm who intends no harm. Needed only in times of great bounty, when there is really enough for everyone, scarecrows stand proudly in the raspberry patches proclaiming their hopes. Ï hope you will find some place else for breakfast,” they say to the birds. “These berries are reserved for my family.”

Humble scarecrows are environmentally friendly, made entirely of recycled material! No expensive new duds for scarecrows. They wear whatever is at hand, whatever will flap in the breeze, whatever won’t mind being out in the wind and rain.

Scarecrows are pacifists. One might be a replica of your grandmother in old clothes shooing bothersome birds away. She is the purveyor of gentle warnings, like the traffic reporter who tells you where the radar traps are located. The intent is to keep you safe by giving you notice that somebody cares about what you are doing.

Scary as they might be, scarecrows have a friendly side. Seat one comfortably in your front porch swing. It will not mind if you come to sit beside it. It will gladly grant permission for a photograph. Or if you aren’t the sitting type, you could learn from my widowed friend Mrs. Smith. Shortly after losing her dance partner husband, she created a scarecrow and called him George. Soon she was taking him to the local seniors’ centre and dancing away the afternoons with his head on her shoulder. Seeing that Mrs. Smith had a constant and reliable dance partner, the single ladies, of whom there were many, grew envious. In no time at all they were cutting in, insisting on having a turn with George.

Humorous, eco-savvy, peace-loving, good company. Scarecrows are all of these. What more could we wish for in a hopeful world?

Sunday, July 08, 2007


Three weeks before my twelfth birthday Air Canada flew me away to the school for the blind in Vancouver. I left behind my family, my friends, Trixie my pony, Lady my dog, our farm 9 miles south of Lougheed Alberta, and everything else that was familiar to me. My folks knew it would be difficult for me to be away from them, given that I had never yet spent more than twelve hours out of sight of a close relative. They packed my luggage. They sent the essentials: cough drops and
pocket money, shortbread and shampoo, chocolate bars and Barbie dolls, raincoat and church hat, figure skates and bedroom slippers, portable typewriter and self-addressed envelopes, red 120-base Hohner accordion and pink
nighties, transistor radio with enough extra batteries to last until Christmas, bathing suit and Aspirin, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in Braille. They packed it all in an enormous trunk with my school clothes, their hopes for my future, their fears for the present and the love that made them send me away.

Both the trunk and I arrived safely in Vancouver, though the timing was off. My flight lasted about an hour. The trunk’s journey lasted about four weeks. Meanwhile I, homesick and bewildered, doing laundry really, really often, moved cautiously forward, assuring myself that this would be the most difficult transition I would ever make. For the most part people left me alone. Possibly they were waiting to see what kind of person I would be when I finally stopped crying, which I did. I look back on that experience with thankfulness. Thank goodness nobody told me how much harder it gets, later in life, when you make a big change and you have to do your own packing!

Thursday, July 05, 2007


She gave me a bright red amaryllis, the really-tall kind, the really-big-bulb kind, the really-broad-and-long-leaves kind, only it had no leaves and its future blossom was only a short stock attached to a fat bulb when I first unwrapped it. She was very surprised a year later when I told her it was blooming again. She thought I would have tossed it out after the flowering, which is the thing people often do with amaryllis. She knew I liked flowers, but she didn’t know I was an amaryllis keeper.

Now she is gone and I still have the amaryllis. . This year the flower was a little smaller than it has been, telling me that either the bulb is getting too old, or its big pot is too small, or maybe it is telling me something else that I just don’t understand. It is not all that easy to understand precise details given to you by an amaryllis.

I am glad I did not tell her the flower was getting smaller. It was huge and opulent the last time she heard about it. And I will just keep on doing the best I can, as I did when she was here, comforting myself by remembering that everything has its season, and even the really-beautiful, even the really-exceptional cannot stay with us forever.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


Experience may be a great teacher, but after ten months of blogging, logging 107 blog entries, I still have quite a few questions about blogs.

What makes it possible for a failed journaller like me to be a blogger? I mean really—107 entries is quite a few. Think of the journal history I would have if I had jotted down 10.7 entries per month from the time I could write!

Who reads my blog? I know my family members occasionally read it, and sometimes they send out links to their friends. I know some people read it when they are considering me as a keynote speaker or workshop leader. But total strangers read it too, and it makes me want to ensure I don’t say anything I wouldn’t want a total stranger to know.

What has caused my entry from May 29 to come up in a Google search of my name when no other entries come up? This is indeed a puzzler. Somebody out there has an answer to this question. I wonder who.

Just a few of the myriad mysteries that may, or may not be solved in my lifetime.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


I have many fond memories of Alice Winkel. I was always inspired by her absolute determination to be in charge of her life. Sometimes she included me in her efforts. She would ask me to give her the gift of laughter, and then she would give the same gift to me.

One day last summer she called to say that she needed to be cheered up. She wondered if I would be available to spit cherry pits from my office balcony. I gathered a small crowd of Hope House staff. It was our first day of orientation with a visiting scholar from Australia. She joined us. Alice brought her mother, and a huge bag of cherries. Out onto the balcony we filed and the spitting began.

Some of us were better spitters than others. The best spitters of all were the professors in the crowd. They taught us to shape our tongues like a canal and blow the stones forcefully along the trench. Alice, in her truly considerate fashion, had brought some washed pits so we wouldn’t have to make ourselves sick eating too many cherries. But we didn’t use them. We all ate too many cherries.

Monday, July 02, 2007


The shirts and shorts and pants are warm from the clothesline. I like clotheslines.
I didn’t get the clothesline to help the environment, though that would have been an excellent reason to get a clothesline. I got it because I could remember the way the sheets smelled on my childhood bed, fresh and clean like life beginning all over again. I wanted to smell that smell as a grownup. I wanted my kids to know that comforting fragrance.
Even though I had a clothesline I kept the electric dryer. I remembered gathering the clothes in on rainy days, wetter than they had been before the storm. I recalled brushing past them where they dripped from the line in the kitchen, on the route between the stove and the table. I remembered blowing on freezing fingers, unpegging frosted towels as stiff as boards, and Mother saying, “Careful not to break them.”
The streets of San Jose Del Cabo, when we were there, wound their way past tiny Mexican huts with roosters crowing among the electric washing machines and fridges in their backyards. The breeze rustled bright Mexican shirts on the clotheslines. San Hose Del Cabo, according to the brochures, has 360 days of annual sunshine.
Just down the road, along the golf course, along the oceanfront, are the shiny new condos own by Canadians. We stayed in a lovely one, two bedrooms, two baths, cool floors of ceramic, in suite laundry, balconies to die for, pools and hot tubs. In a good Canadian condo there will inevitably be rules and there were rules at ours. Just a few rules out of consideration for your neighbours. Please use the electric dryer provided in your suite. Never hang towels or any other laundry on your balconies.
Back here at home, even on this fine day, I timble the socks and underwear in the dryer. It takes only a hsort time to dry them, with all the big things hanging outside. I am not sure how pleased my neighbours would be to see them, and yes, I am a little too lazy to hang them out. Bringing in the shirts, so effortlessly dried on this magnificent July day, I reflect on our half-hearted Canadian attempts to assist the environment, and I wonder when we will come to our senses and help the Mexicans by letting people hang towels on the balcony.