Friday, October 31, 2008


My specialty is hope tools. How funny is that, given my usual relationship with tools in general? Show me a bread knife and I’ll serve you a lopsided slice. Hand me a pair of knitting needles and you’ll doom yourself to the thankless task of picking up dropped stitches until I finally give up and hand you back the needles for good. Offer me a corkscrew and then plan to wait while I learn to use it—for the hundredth time. Did I say it was funny that my specialty would be tools? I understated it. It’s hilarious!

Wondering how such a thing could have happened to a klutz like me, I chalk it up to one main factor, something that sets my history with hope tools apart from previous ambivalent encounters with knitting needles, corkscrews and bread knives. I’ve been curious about hope tools, how they work, when they work, what difference they make. And because I have been curious about them, when it comes to hope tools, I’ve been willing to practice, falter, learn, refine, practice more, falter often, learn more, refine more and keep on practising.

I’ve practiced on sick people, suicidal people, dying people, confused people, angry people and teachers on disability leave. I’ve practiced on nurses and social workers and secretaries and therapists and journalists and occasionally even with doctors. I’ve practiced on wives of ALS patients and husbands of Alzheimer patients and children of diabetics and parents of children who reported sexual abuse. I’ve practiced at conferences and support group meetings and board retreats and management training events. I’ve twinkled in the laughter of smart people with brain injury and trembled under the critical scrutiny of classes in educational psychology.

The more I practiced, the more I noticed how much I was enjoying those hope tools. The more I enjoyed them, the more tools I got. I got so many I couldn’t fit them into an hour, or a day, or a week. Still I find myself preparing to practice, falter, learn and practice again. It’s that old curiosity coming to call. Had I worked so hard with corkscrews, I might be winning awards for tending bar!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Today I am making a hope kit, a collection of objects associated with my hope. It’s the first hope kit I have ever made, which is rather surprising, given that people were making hope kits before I started working at the Hope Foundation, and I have been working here for 13.5 years. Hope kits are like first-aid kits, or picnic baskets. You put stuff into them and then later you get the stuff out. You open your hope kit when you are hungry for hope, or when your hope needs to be repaired. Like I said, I’ve never made a hope kit.

But tonight I will be asking a group to make hope kits, and they might not understand how to make one, and they might think it’s a stupid idea. So I am making a hope kit to show them. As I gather stuff together I am thinking about past, present and future. I am thinking about people, places and things. I am avoiding anything I hate, like decorating special containers, which is one of the things hope kit experts suggest is meaningful to people when they make hope kits. It’s not that I think you shouldn’t decorate a container and call it your hope kit. It’s just that I hate decorating containers. So I have chosen to use a bag I was given at a dinner a few years ago. It’s so hard to know what to do with all those extra bags people give you. Now I’ve found a good use for one. I’d tell you what’s on the bag, but to tell you the truth, I once asked somebody to tell me, and they told me, but I can’t remember. It’s something Hopey, I know. The dinner where I got the bag was a hope dinner.

Here’s what’s in my bag—my hope kit.

A small pine cone. Just last week I sent a group of care-givers out on a walk to look for hope. One of the walkers picked up this cone and handed it to me, along with $15 to pay for a book called It All Begins with hope. I would have been pleased even if it wasn’t so easy to see the hope in a pine cone. I was out of town and I would have had to carry home all the books that didn’t sell that day. A pine cone isn’t nearly as heavy as a book.

Key Elements of Hope-Focussed Counselling. the first and only book I ever wrote. Some day I might write another. But if I don’t, it won’t be so bad, knowing I wrote one.

Finding Hope, Ways To See Life In A Brighter Light. the book I most often sell. It’s just a little book of pictures and short essays about hope. I saw it in draft form and to be honest, I thought it was a bit fluffy. But after it was published, so compact, so real, I suddenly realized that it was a little book I could give to anybody, knowing that they could read any page and start a conversation with me about hope.

This Little Light of Mine. That’s a book with a story of mine published in it.

A little wooden flute Lawrence bought me in Jasper. Lawrence rarely buys gifts, and he was thinking of me.

A shiny oriental flute David bought me in the Philippines. He said it sounded so beautiful when the man played it in the store that he knew I had to have it. Every time I try to play it, I think of how beautiful it must have sounded.

A laughing cup mark gave me. I can just imagine him in the store saying, I have to get this for my mom. Every time I turn it on it makes me laugh. Where there’s laughter, there’s hope.

A picture of Ruth that Ruth gave me. I was never gorgeous, but I do have a gorgeous daughter, and she’s even smart and generous as well.

A harmonica I bought for $4.95. I bought it at a gift shop in Nashville. Tennessee is a hotbed for two of my passions, music and storytelling.

Hopey, my first-ever hope-opotamus. Gary gave him to me as a gift of thanks, and I later gave him to my mom. He stayed with her in the hospital and she told me stories of the adventures they shared. When she died I got Hopey back, and I have the stories to go with him.

This is the seven-minute version of a hope kit, things I could pick up without wondering why. There are a million other things that could go in. I’d have a story for each of them. But you don’t have to put stories in a carrying bag. You carry them with you always, and I like stories, which helps to explain how I’ve worked at the Hope Foundation for 13.5 years and never made a hope kit—until today. .

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

NURTURING HOPEFUL SOULS: Practices and Activities For Working With Children and Youth

The Hope Foundation of Alberta has published a new and exciting resource for teachers and youth workers who want to use hope strategies with children. Nurturing Hopeful souls is the creation of hope specialist Lenora M. LeMay. Grounded in her long experience as a teacher, this book invites adults to engage children in activities that put hope front and centre. It describes ten sample learning activities and leaves the door open to those who would want to create activities of their own. Though I love the idea of creating hope trees and taking hope photos, I must confess that Coping with Hope Suckers is my favourite sample activity from the ten she has highlighted.

It would be enough if Lenora’s book were simply an activity book, for we surely lack such a resource. But it is much more than that. Pulling together some of her favourite concepts from hope research, Lenora presents a broad perspective on hope that embraces resilience and goal-setting. There is something in this book for thinkers, and something else for emotional types.

Nurturing Hopeful Souls acknowledges the need to help teachers be hopeful. Lenora writes:”Not long after I became the HOPE KIDS Manager, I responded to a call from a principal asking if I could speak to two of her staff who were worried about their students’ futures. I listened to the teachers describe the students’ sadness and lack of hope and how these students needed a safe and trusting environment where they could connect with others willing to listen and comfort them. I felt that these teachers were, literally, the students’ hope. They were experiencing what many teachers experience-a deep concern for children who appeared to be without hope. And, as hopeful individuals, these teachers did what hopeful people often do-they reached out for support.”

Lenora LeMay is likely the world’s most experienced youth hope facilitator. She has been nurturing youth hope programs in classrooms and community centres for the past eight years. Always insistent upon crediting a team of colleagues for her accomplishments, she prefers the role of learner to the role of expert. She sees her book as a beginning, a door opened to people who will teach her more about the craft she knows best.

Nurturing Hopeful Souls costs $34.00 plus shipping. To order a copy call the Hope Foundation at 780-492-1222.

Check out Lenora's blog

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Eight airplanes picked me up in October
And eight airplanes set me down safe and sound.
Seven of the eight set me down a bit early
And the eighth would have done so had it not arrived late.

So why did I expect them all to be late?

Thursday, October 23, 2008


I have been noticing lately how the most popular academic speakers open the ears of professionals with PowerPoint, and then retreat, as quickly as possible, to the language and stories that touch the human heart. I have been noticing how impatient are professional audiences are with the highly professional presentations they appear to demand. Isn’t it funny how we rarely get the opportunity to touch the hearts of professionals unless we begin with professional language and possibly display it on PowerPoint?
Last week I sat among an audience comprised mainly of people who work in vocational and residential facilities for people with disabilities. We were listening to Al Condeluci Ph.D., supported by PowerPoint, an expert in the field. How extraordinary it seems that I have now told many others the essence of what I heard him say. I heard him say that all people want a job—something meaningful to occupy our time, a house—a place that is ours to inhabit, a car—a way to get somewhere, and friends. I heard him say that any of us who do not belong in a community need a gatekeeper—an accepted member of that community to bring us in and find us a place.
This is what I did not hear. I did not hear anybody saying he was wasting their time because they already knew the information he was giving them. I did not say it either, though the information was not new to me.
If he had presented the research from his PowerPoint, I would have had to look it up in order to present it again. But since he presented it to the heart through the door of story and the simplest possible language, I did not need to look it up in order to remember it.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Doug Roche Speaks Hope

Former Canadian Senator Douglas Roche is a board member of the Hope Foundation. His memoir, Creative Dissent: A Politician's Struggle for Peace, published by Novalis, is being launched in Edmonton this week. Doug is a man who understands hope at the deepest level and knows how to bring it out in language. .

“I want a world that is human-centred and genuinely democratic, a world that builds and protects peace, equality, justice and development. I want a world
in which human security, as envisioned in the principles of the UN Charter, replaces armaments, violent conflict and wars. I want a world in which everyone
lives in a clean environment with a fair distribution of the Earth's resources and international law protects human rights.

To my critics, who say that this is just Doug Roche dreaming again, I say, have you got better policies for the future? The policies of the past have brought
us untold wars and suffering, massive poverty, environmental destruction and repression of human beings, and have taken us, with the invention of weapons
of mass destruction, to the edge of human annihilation. Isn't it time to try something better? Isn't it time to bring our heads and hearts together to
produce true human security? Isn't it time to raise the standards of civilization for the sake of survival? Spare me the charge that this is mere idealism.
The agenda for survival is no longer a dream but a demand of the human race.

Let my critics write a book and state why 25,000 nuclear weapons are good for the people of the world, why it is good for the global economy that a quarter
of humanity lives in destitution while the profits of arms merchants soar, why it is good for the planet that the glaciers are melting and the seas rising.
I want my critics to explain to me why it is coherent for governments to pledge to help the children of the world but then fail to provide the necessary
money because they have diverted it to war. I need to hear from my critics a rational argument why the United States and Russia keeping nuclear weapons
on high-alert status--meaning they can be fired on fifteen minutes' notice--makes the world a safer place. I want to hear why it is not possible to put
a plan into motion to rid the world of nuclear weapons by 2020."

Friday, October 17, 2008


When the kids were little, and Daddy would rake the leaves into a huge pile, I would say: “leave them for a day, so the kids can jump in them.”

And last week, when Mark raked the leaves into huge piles, and his dad said, “Think you for raking up those leaves. I’ll get some bags”, I said, “Remember when you kids used to jump in the leaves?” Mark said he remembered, but he didn’t say, “Let’s jump in the leaves, Mom.”

But I am getting wiser as I am getting older. A plan is surely taking shape. The next time there’s a kid in the yard at leaf-raking time, no matter who has raked the leaves into huge piles, I will say, “Could you leave the leaves for a day so we can jump in them?”

Monday, October 13, 2008


I have always been one to scoff at the idea of the supernatural. The notion of past lives has been, for me, a literary device and nothing more. So it surprises me to say that, if, by some unimaginable chance I did have a past life, that life was almost certainly lived in Tennessee. I have been there twice in this life. I recognized this inexplicable affinity on the first visit, but was certain I would get over it as soon as I got home.
Everything in Tennessee seemed so familiar to me. I told myself it was just because I grew up with country music. I could sing you songs about Knoxville, about Gatlinburg, about Nashville. I could take you on a wild musical ride outrunning revenuers with a tank of moonshine in the back. Give me just a few opening chords and I could smell the air of Dolly Parton’s Tennessee Mountain Home. I told myself it was the long-remembered country music imagery that made me think I’d been there, made everything so coherent, so familiar.

I told myself it was the storytelling that made me feel I knew the people there. It was my love of the southern drawl, my admiration for those with such a superior grasp on my hobby. I assured myself that I most certainly could never have lived a past life in a state where they didn’t know we were having an election in Canada, a place where the notion of public transit has gone the way of the dodo.

But then a total stranger mentioned that East Tennessee University is offering a degree in storytelling with a minor in bluegrass music. And though I neither resigned my job at home, nor called the kids in Alberta with instructions to sell the house, both those ideas made a certain amount of sense. So here I am in Edmonton, a safe distance from ETSU, my Airmiles rewards reduced to nothing, generating great guffaws at the suggestion of a degree in storytelling with a minor in bluegrass, wondering when I might next visit Tennessee.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


I am just back from another hero worshipping expedition. It’s a funny thing, really, to write this down, given that until I reached the age of fifty I took holidays, and educational trips, but never, ever hero worshipping pilgrimages. It was back in the days before I heard Tim tingle tell the story of the Trail of Tears in Bellingham Washington. It was before I heard Elizabeth Ellis tell the story of her mother’s death in Jonesborough Tennessee. It was before I heard Carmen Deedy tell stories of her father in Denton Texas.

Last week I made a second pilgrimage to Jonesborough, the home of the mother of all storytelling festivals. Ten thousand people go to that event. It lasts three days. On the Saturday they simultaneously operate six tents, each capable of holding 1,800 listeners, and you have to get to your tent half an hour early to guaranty a seat.

When you make your plans for Jonesborough you think, “Oh I will surely get bored. I’ll take some time away from the festival. I won’t be able to hear stories for three days solid.” But when you get to Jonesborough, you can’t bear to miss an hour, even if your back is killing you, even if you are freezing, which is what makes it more like a pilgrimage than an educational event—or a vacation. .