Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Bev went out and bought me a huge bag of almonds. She has heard they are good for people who have arthritis and—face it—I’ve been whining quite a bit lately. Her suggestion made sense to me, given my history. When my mother was about my age, she went on a vitamin diet which appeared to help her arthritis. Unfortunately, none of us can remember the name of the diet or the name of anyone associated with it. We only recall the success of it, plus the story she used to tell, a story about how hard it is to find an address in Sherwood Park, where so many of the streets are named for trees.
So I decided to go for almonds. It was a heady prospect, following a prescription to eat something I already love. Unlike every other treatment known to humankind, it would be gentle, pleasurable, even a little classy. I imagined myself saying, I eat almonds. They are very nutritious, you know.
I recall my mother telling me that her doctor prescribed eleven almonds a day. In that memory I remember exactly where she was sitting when she counted them out. She was sitting at the kitchen table. Bev, in contrast, recommended a serving of fifteen which, O took seriously, knowing Bev to be a woman who can be counted upon for wisdom, balance and moderation.
I decided that I would eat thirteen almonds. It was a compromise, a safe compromise. I’ve been working with numbers lately. Last week I gave up coffee because one doctor and one bone density equipment operator told me that excessive caffeine can be hard on the bones. But I didn’t actually give up coffee in the pure sense. I get a headache when I do that. I cut down to two cups a day, sometimes two at home and one at work. I figure that the coffee doesn’t add up so much if you drink it in different places.
I opened Bev’s big bag and counted out thirteen almonds. It was like clicking of the kilometers on a long road trip. I counted and counted and when I got to thirteen ... Do you have any idea what a puny pile you get when you count out thirteen almonds? I could store them in my right ear (don’t worry, I wouldn’t do that unless it was raining.) I could inhale them in a single swallow!
I ate thirteen almonds. I listened to my body, which is what we always suggest to people who are trying to set limits with regard to pain. My body said, “Eat more almonds.” I don’t exactly know how many. It takes a long time to count almonds.
Instead of wasting the time I’d saved by not counting the almonds, I looked up the calorie content of almonds. It looks to me like a cup of almonds contains about 543 calories. The kind of cup they usually mean in these lists isn’t very big, not nearly as big as a cup of coffee, good thing I didn’t start with chocolate-coated almonds. That was my plan, changed at the last moment by Bev’s quick intervention.
All this happened yesterday. This morning I was up bright and early, excited to see if the pain was gone. I listened to my body. It said, “Not quite gone. Maybe you ate too many almonds.”
It was hard to argue with that theory. How often do I tell people, “You have to take your prescriptions according to directions?” Today at lunch I counted out thirteen almonds. I tried to remember the calories, but I wanted one right away. So I didn’t put them in a pile. I ate one, then took the other twelve down to the lunch table and arranged them neatly, with spaces between. My buddies agreed with me that it looked like a reasonable serving of almonds. But I didn’t stop there. I put other psychological measures in place. Instead of considering the almonds as one whole group, I asked each almond to stand proudly on its own. I had a pattern, two bites of lunch, one almond. Sometimes I took three bites, or even four. And it worked! At the end of lunch, I still had two almonds to eat. And when I got back to my office, I only had five more. Maybe six. And I don’t feel too terribly guilty. After all, authorities don’t agree on the exact number.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


When it comes to human chemistry, I think of my mother and her sisters. Any gathering that combined them would inevitably give off a high voltage energy. It was the mixing that did it.
I wouldn’t say they were close. In reality they might go for months, maybe even years without making contact. I can’t say they were similar in characteristics beyond appearance, though each was most likely the bookkeeper in her own world. It is certain that their choice of husbands emphasized what must have been genuine differences between them. I don’t even know if the sisters had much in common. There were five of them originally. One of them I did not know because she died when I was a child. Of the remaining four, two of them were farmers, one ran a thriving hardware business. The other was a justice of the peace. I never knew about it if they ever sought one another in search of advice.
So what was it that generated the chemistry? It wasn’t the past that brought them together. They rarely, if ever, reminisced about the old days. It probably wasn’t mutual agreement on current issues. Stubborn, strong-willed and boisterous by nature, it would have been plausible for them to burst into raucous argument.
We know, through observation, that chemistry happens. But we don’t usually know what actually causes it. The nature of elements remains a secret of the universe. Different and determined though the sisters were, they did not argue when they got together. Their gatherings were invariably loud and hilarious. They would pass the time in lengthy description of whatever was interesting to them at present, wich might be anything at all, what you could get at $1.49 day, or the process by which a prospective bride chose the style of her wedding cake. Smart women without much formal education, they shared an affinity for detail in any project that captured their attention. The longer they were together, the funnier they got. As a child, as an adult with children of my own, I was drawn to accept invitations to any event that would bring them together. There were weddings and funerals and birthday parties and baptisms. There was a family reunion with dogs and grandchildren and fireworks and enough food for an army.
One other characteristic they definitely shared. Their health was fragile, an odd thing for women so robust in other ways. Of five who grew to adulthood, to motherhood, not one made it to the average lifespan of Canadian women. Oldest of the pack, my mother was the last to go, and though my sides still ache recalling how their gatherings convulsed me into laughter, my heart breaks with the memory of hearing my mother sob, “All my sisters are gone!”
It is this confusion of joy and sadness, the intimate experience of a unique and irreplaceable chemistry that comes to my mind when strangers call to inquire if I do grief counselling. And though I still hear myself asking, “Were you close to the one you lost?” I hesitate to interpret too much from the answer, knowing how the chemistry can be more complicated than that.

Monday, July 28, 2008


And the old joke asks, “”How many counsellors does it take to change a light bulb?
And the answer is, “”Only one, but it has to want to change.
And the million-dollar question, if you happen to be a counsellor is, “”What in the world do I have to do to make that light bulb want to change?
And the wise leader replies, “”Ask not what you have to do to make the light bulb want to change but rather ask what makes that light bulb stay the same when everybody else in the room can see how much brighter things would be if only it would change.
And the counsellor says, “”You have to really know a light bulb in order to understand what gives it that unique perspective on the room.
And the hope theorist asks, “”Is it possible that the difference between that light bulb and everybody else in the room is somehow related to hope?
And the wise leader says, “”I think I’ll get on with other work while you all sort this out.
And I, a counsellor prone to wondering impatiently why I have yet to devise, after more than thirteen years of mind-blowing concentration, a universally effective one-size-fits-all hope-focussed light-bulb-changing technique, have only one thing to say: “”A counsellor’s work would be a whole lot easier to describe in a training manual if there weren’t so many different kinds of light bulbs.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Trudy and Andy left Calgary at 6:00 on a Saturday morning in search of Edmonton. It was an emergency. Our lilies were at their peak and they simply had to be viewed in person—I being technologically incapable of emailing a photo.
Though we had no particular plans, we could tell right away that this would be an exceptional day, because they had stopped on the road for ice cream some time around 8:30. Now that’s a special day! Even at the all-inclusive in Mexico we never had ice cream before lunch!
We spent the morning testing the ripeness of peas and comparing red cherries to yellow at the outdoor market. We spent the afternoon in a fierce dice-throwing competition on the veranda. Andy showed us how his new camera could zoom in on a person at the top of the hill (so much for the theory that we don’t need to close our bedroom curtains). At the end of it all there could be absolutely no doubt about two things: cousins ought to get together more often; and also, Andy and Trudy know exactly what to do in an emergency.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


From Joan: I can't believe how rude the people on the buses are these days. They're talking so loud on their chokecherries and you hear everything they're saying!

From Trudy: I've lost the same four pounds ten times this summer.

From Pirate: You know i wouldn't dream of asking to get into bed withyou if it wasn't for that scary thunder!

From the City of Edmonton: We're planning to install an audible traffic signal at the 89 street crosswalk because it has been requested by a visually impaired resident.

From a grade four student who had been studying hope: Where you go, hope follows. You can find that one and many other great slogans from grade 4 students on Lenora's blog

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


An electronic keyboard can give you the power and the inspiration to do things you never, ever could do before. Placed in the hands of a musical dreamer, it is a dangerous thing.
You can lay down a piano track, solid and steady, a fitting foundation for that which will be built—track 1. You can smooth the surface with soft strings—track 2. You can embellish the bridge with a flute accent—track 3. You can fancy up the transition between the bridge and the final verse with a few bells—track 4. You can give the last verse a grand finale with a dash of piano and strings—track 5. You can bring in a trumpet—track 6, and then take out the trumpet because it really does not belong there.
That sense of building something spectacular from the ground up can be intoxicating. Over and over you can listen to your creation, awed by its beauty, proud as your mother used to be when she stood back to admire the elaborate wedding cakes she had created. Nobody ever really understood how Mom could put so much time, artisstry and effort into something she knew would presently be eaten. Keyboard music , to be sure, is not like wedding cake. It can be captured. The following day it will be there for you—OR so you think.
But the next day, puelled by a fire of pleasant anticipation, you can press the ON switch to discover that the previous day’s creation has vanished without a trace. or maybe only part of your creation has vanished, likely the foundational piano accompaniment on track 1. Perhaps you will never know how it happened. Maybe there was some warning on the screen that a blind musician cannot read, or maybe there is a clue buried somewhere in the multilingual instruction manual, Or maybe there are gremlins in the house. And you know you will never hear that song again, which makes its memory all the sweeter as the days pass by.
Common sense tells you to put that keyboard up for sale. It has disappointed you, diverted your attention from important things, wounded you deeply. You bought it secdon-hand and some other sucker will buy it from you. You lived without it before and you can live without it again. Don’t be sad. Get angry! It has no right to treat you this way!
I have known the pain of losing the beautiful music. Common sense bids me to get over my keyboard And yet, to my surprise, I persist. It would be one thing if I had never heard that music, but it is quite another to have heard it and lost it. You can’t just walk away pretending it never happened. Surely the options are not entirely exhausted. If the whole song has disappeared, then I can start from scratch. If only the foundation is gone, perhaps a new foundation can be wedged in somehow.
Today, as I prepare for my daily routine of summoning common sense while listening to others talk about the hurts and longings of past and current relationships, it occurs to me that I have been fooled into thinking I had bought a keyboard. I bought more than a keyboard. I bought a relationship with a keyboard, a relationship founded on hope, trust and the expectation of a future fruitful joy.
So maybe that explains why I just can’t wait to start the whole song-building process all over again, a little wiser, though not much wiser. Any counsellor worth her salt surely knows that Relationships which begin with hope, trust and the expectation of a future fruitful joy tend to be governed more by emotion and longing than by common sense. You see it over and over again. The people who have those thrilling-yet-disappointing relationships are willing to try a lot of things and not too ready to give up.

Monday, July 21, 2008


Back pain! I didn’t want it. I didn’t need it. But there it was anyway, disturbing my sleep, demanding that I sit when there are no chairs, lie down when I would rather sit. The psychologist in me had a question. It’s a question I have asked of people who are in pain. Are you controlling the pain, or is it controlling you? But somehow that question was not quite enough to make a difference. Funny, it sounded like such a good question when the pain belonged to somebody else. But what are you to do when you acknowledge that the pain is controlling you?
I tried to explain my pain to others, walking that tight rope between being a whiner and giving enough information. My listeners were sympathetic. ”Oh yes,” they’d say, ”that can be bad. I know a woman named Laura and sometimes Laura has such bad pain that she has to take a week off work.”
And there we’d be, talking about Laura. Now how did the conversation turn to Laura? Could they not see that my pain wasn’t the kind of pain other people get? It was really, really big, and I’d be off work too if I didn’t have so much to do.
I kept going back to the doctor. The doctor had a question. On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the most pain imaginable, what number would I give my pain?
”Ten,” I wanted to shout. But then I remembered the time when I woke up from surgery feeling like a truck was parked on my chest, and the hours in the Emergency ward waiting for somebody to look at my broken arm. Maybe this pain was only a nine. That confused me.
The doctor said, ”Please, just pick a number.” I didn’t want to pick a number, but I clearly remembered asking others to pick a number. So I picked seven, just in case I was over-estimating. Nobody likes a whiner.
But I was still hurting. My husband said he’d join me at the doctor’s office. Maybe he’d read the articles about taking a loved-one for support. He reminded me that our poodle once had back pain. That suffering dog screamed all the way to the vet’s, then stopped screaming the moment we laid him on the vet’s table.
“Don’t worry,” said the vet. It was all in a day’s work for him. “The stress of getting here has likely given him an adrenaline rush that temporarily killed the pain.”
Just to prove he knew what he was talking about, he knew how to get the screaming started again. We were grateful for that. We left the vet’s office with painkillers and vitamins. I don’t recall our poodle thanking us for any of it.
We were huddling in the cramped little examining room, remembering all of this, when the doctor came in asking, “How are you today?”
“Fine,” I said bravely, and then, sensing this might not be enough, I added, “I’m still having more pain than I’d like.”
Here is the point where my husband took over. Maybe he read the articles that tell you to give your doctor a functional description of the limitations your pain imposes. “I want to say,” he said, “that she has a lot of pain. In fact, she has so much pain that I have to wash and dry the dishes myself because she can’t stand up long enough to do either, let alone both.”
It might have been my imagination, given that I was not at my best. But I sensed a real bond forming between these two. And it might have been coincidence, or possibly the X-ray results, but that was the same day I got the prescription for a painkiller that really worked. And I’m still wondering if or how I might be helped by vitamins.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


I wanted an electronic keyboard, so I trolled the Internet for prospects. To my surprise I found one, just the one I wanted. And yes, I will admit that I was a little bit defensive when David said, “Really, it’s just a toy for you.” And yes, I’ll confess to temporarily forgetting a few guilty memories when he sighed and said, “Looks like we won’t have to plan anything for your two weeks summer vacation.” And yes, I did silently blame him for making these comments while aiding and abetting, which is to say that he drove me in the pouring rain all the way to the outskirts of the city to buy it, and said it didn’t matter to him how much money it cost. All he wanted was my happiness. Marriage, after all, is a complicated institution.
Okay, so maybe I can see why he called it a toy rather than an essential item. I really didn’t need a keyboard, given that I have a piano, and a guitar, and an accordion, and two little flutes from foreign countries and three drums and a rainstick and a tiny harmonica bearing a metal plate that says Grand Old Opry, Nashville Tennessee. It’s not as if there wouldn’t be any music in the house if I didn’t buy an electronic keyboard. And okay, so maybe I did get some new electronic device several times at Christmas, and maybe I was a little reclusive for a week or two every time this happened. But it couldn’t have been all that bad. Otherwise, why would he have been so accommodating about getting this new (second-hand) keyboard?
Still, marriage is a complicated institution, a dance of give and take. So I have been talking about using the keyboard at church after I get really good at operating it, which makes it seem like something a little more useful than a toy, and I try not to get so carried away with its 600 tones and five-song six-track memory that I forget to make supper. I’ve done pretty well at this too. In two weeks I’ve only forgotten supper a couple of times, and stayed up until 2:00 one time. And I’ve tried not to bother him when he’s on the toilet with questions about what the screen says and I‘ve tried not to ask him to read the instruction manual to me during the few minutes of free time that he generally devotes to the newspaper.
But it’s hard to do these things because I am having a lot of fun with that keyboard, even though my back is hurting so much these days that it’s hard to have fun at anything, , which is probably why he mistakenly thought it was a toy.

Friday, July 18, 2008


It’s happened again. Our front yard has been noticed by the people who celebrate Edmonton’s Front Yards In Bloom. The note they delivered says that somebody will soon be over to take photographs.
All I can say is it’s a good thing the camera can’t take in the entire picture in one fine shot, because that shot would have to include the hole Pirate has dug, front and centre in the lawn. That hole has been bothering me lately. I felt it was time for me and Pirate to have a talk about this matter. I document that conversation here. Note; I have taken some liberties with interpretation of Pirate’s comments.
Me: “Pirate, why do dig holes in the lawn?”
Pirate: “To bury my toys so I’ll know where to find them when I need them.”
Me: “Well, that’s very conscientious of you. But there are other options for toy storage. Would you rather we built you a little toy cupboard on the veranda?”
Pirate: “No thank you. I prefer to bury them. They’re my treasures, you know. After all, my name is pirate.”
Me: “pirate, is there any particular reason why you have chosen the lawn as the place to dig holes?”
Pirate: “Yes of course. You always yell at me when I dig in the flowerbed.”
Today’s Edmonton Journal contains a quote from Kim Poznanski, a master gardener and pet lover from St. Clair Shores, Mich. The keys to successfully gardening with a pet around are, she says: "consistence, training and compromise on my part,"
With Pirate’s voice ringing in my ears I read the article over and over again, looking for some advice, looking for some comfort. Finally I found it. Looks to me like we’re doing everything right.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


I was searching for connections between my work—counselling psychology, and my hobby-storytelling when I came upon the Healing Story Alliance. I was pleasantly surprised to find that its website has a lot of story resources and that its members actively reach out to professions beyond storytelling circles. The Healing Story alliance—HSA—is a special interest group of the National Storytelling Network. It brings together people who can see the value of stories in the context of healing.
There are differing views on the value and place of storytelling in the work that counsellors do. Professional counsellors usually look at storytelling through the lens of narrative therapy. This model presents clients as people who tell problem stories. A narrative therapist is a skilful listener with tools. The therapist guides a process of restructuring clients’ stories so they can gain power over their lives. In a successful therapy, the restructured stories would be healing stories, I.e. stories that create healing. In a grounded theory study of people who found healing in their own stories, Swaton and o’callaghan identified three healing story characteristics: a struggle, a healing process that revealed options, and the enduring ability to inspire.
Healing Story Alliance members envision a larger role for storytelling than narrative therapy would suggest. They imagine scenarios in which a doctor, a nurse, a pastor or a psychologist might purposefully select a story for telling to patients or clients. Their website offers a selection of stories and some instruction on how to conduct a post-story discussion. It also has a list-serve where people regularly ask for story suggestions. Many users of the list-serve have comprehensive story repertoires backed up by storytelling experience in a variety of circumstances. When you ask for suggestions, you usually get a lot of them. I have sought advice on the list-serve a number of times and occasionally offered advice to others.
Any story can be a healing story. The final assessment of its healing value is always determined by the listener response. That said, a story’s healing prospects improve when the teller finds the right voice for the story and the right story for the occasion.
Finding the right story can be a bit of a challenge. My first question to the list-serve members was propelled by desperation. I was booked to facilitate a discussion attended by a group of men in a last-chance addictions program. All things considered, it was an invitation I would rather have declined. I had been recruited because I am a hope specialist, but with my limitations, being neither male nor addicted, I was pretty certain I would feel out of place and uncomfortable in this group. I needed to find a way to be comfortable.
I asked the people on the HSA list-serve for a story that could help me connect with these guys, a story I could tell to set a tone of understanding and empathy. Somebody suggested a King Arthur story, sometimes known as the Half Man story, the story of King Arthur’s wrestling match with Hanner Dyn.
I’ll admit that I was skeptical about that suggestion. Up to that point I had never liked King Arthur stories, or wrestling matches either. But Arthur was a man, and men like wrestling, and I really needed a story, so I searched the Internet for the story. I gave it a feeble practice and took it with me, predicting that I would not tell it.
But accurate prediction was not my long suit. I was even more uncomfortable than I had imagined. The men were agitated. Their skin was dry and itchy. Listening in on their conversation I gathered that some of them would rather have been elsewhere. Lacking a better alternative, I decided to tell that story—tell it very slowly—make it last as long as possible so there would be less time for other things.
I started the story. Right from the beginning I could feel that the presence of the audience was giving the story more power than I thought it had. It really was the perfect story. It’s a guy story, through and through, wrestling all the way, each match more challenging than the last. King Arthur wins the last match, but just barely. He wants to try again but he stops when he is told that there will be no more victories for him. He will never again be able to win. His worthy opponent—growing more powerful in every match--is Hanner Dyn. The name Hanner Dyn means habit.
So goes the story, and by the time the story had ended those guys and I were connected. We were comfortable. Inspiration was in the air. Hardly anybody was scratching. The remaining hour passed quickly enough. The Healing story alliance had proven its worth.
I made a little curtsy—to HSA and also to that wise King Arthur.

Swaton, S. & O’callaghan, J. (1999). The experience of 'healing stories' in the life narrative: A grounded theory
Counselling psychology quarterly 12(4), pp. 413-429

You can find the Healing Story Alliance on the Internet at

Monday, July 14, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Big Trouble

And here’s to back pain with all its power
To rule my life
To show me the middle of the night in real time

And here’s to Dave Barry, that funny man
Who wrote a novel
About a nuclear bomb and called it Big Trouble!

And here’s to humour so utterly compelling
That I, the 3:00 AM sleepless sufferer
Must cover my mouth to hold in the laughter that would surely awaken David.

It takes a lot of laughter to steal the spotlight
From stabbing pain at 3:00 AM
Nice job, Dave Barry!


Thursday, July 10, 2008


I wasn’t looking for a mentor when I first met Ronna Jevne. I was looking for a thesis supervisor, somebody who could get me through a process so I could come out of academia with a degree. In fact, I had already asked several potential supervisors. My rate of rejection was 100%.
The problem, at least on the surface, seemed to be my choice of thesis topic. I wanted to study humour. All the professors I approached denied any knowledge of the academic material relating to humour and therefore declined my request. It’s a cruel process, looking for a supervisor. Chalk it up to lack of preparation on my part, but I had never supposed that professors, once you had been admitted to the program, would cherish the right to refuse you. Even if I had imagined it, I would never have dreamed that they would not want to supervise a study of humour. Of all the potential topics I could pursue, it was far and away the one for me. I thought everyone would be equally fascinated.
By the time I got to Ronna, late in the game because she was just returning from a sabbatical, I was getting desperate. I’d never been good at sales, but it seemed that I either had to convince Ronna to supervise my thesis, or change my topic and restart the pleading process. Nothing could be taken for granted so I did a little research. The findings were inconclusive. My knowledge of Ronna was limited. I knew of her work from reading newspaper articles. I attended the event launching her book, the Voice of Hope. The student Rumour mill offered mixed reviews.
Gathering the shreds of my confidence, I made an appointment to meet at her office. It was clear at the outset that she hadn’t been sitting there idle, hoping a student would come by with a thesis idea. So I leapt into unfamiliar territory and put forth the theory that humour is related to hope. Not missing a beat she asked me how they were related. If I had an answer, I don’t know what it was. At that point I went into shock. My memory of the next few minutes has been distilled to a single point—she said she’d do it.
If this meeting had taken place a year earlier I would have greatly relieved Ronna by rejecting her. I would have said that I did not want to study with someone who was not completely enthusiastic about studying with me. After all, I was nearly forty, and I had left a good job to come into the Master’s program. But the very real possibility of being forced to abandon my dream of studying humour had humbled me. In return for her grudging agreement to take me on, I promised to make the process as painless as possible.
With a tentative foot in the door, I pursued my interest in humour, and later whole-heartedly joined Ronna’s quest to develop the finer strategies that could be employed in a search for hope. Many concrete ideas developed a reliable stability as we practiced using them. We now call them hope tools. One of the ideas, originally worded by Denise Larsen, was to ask people to recall a time when things were going their way, only they didn’t know it.
The day I met Ronna Jevne was definitely one of those times. If I had known the person behind the agreement, I would have been more hopeful. I never guessed that I had just gained the support of somebody who would stick with me through thick and thin, a teacher who would look beyond my faults with a curious gaze on my potential. I did not know that I had found someone who would call me up to ask if I needed encouragement, someone who would cover for me if I missed a deadline, compensate for my ineptitude at logical academic writing, nurture me when I was overwhelmed, stand boldly beside me when I made errors and ultimately turn me into a hope specialist. But I did not know her at all, so I thought I was making a compromise, forfeiting my ideals, settling, out of desperation, for something less than I had hoped to receive.
Hope tools help us search the past for experiences that might support our hope in times of uncertainty and pessimism. There are days when things look bleak. I rail against injustice. I predict the worst outcomes. When I am clear-headed enough to remember the hope tools in my kit, I take a moment to ask myself if there was ever a time when I was okay, only I didn’t know it. Searching my memory I find indisputable evidence of times when I was unknowingly okay, even more than okay. Then I have to open the door to the possibility that this bleak moment might be another of those times.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


I hope to find a mentor who can teach me what I need to know in order to make my knowledge relevant and interesting in the business world. I express it as a hope rather than a goal because I don’t really know if you can set the goal of finding a mentor. Mentors in my experience have always surprised and delighted me by their presence. Sometimes it has taken me years to realize that they were mentors. What’s more, it’s hard to look for people who can teach you what you need to know when you don’t know exactly what you need to know. So my search for a mentor is a hope, more like a pleasing vision than a plan.
Even though it’s not really a goal, I am hoping to find a mentor. It’s a little difficult because I don’t exactly know where to look. Hopes aren’t quite so pressing as goals. So, rather than do nothing at all, I am filling my time with other things while I try to figure out where to look for a mentor.
One of my projects is to develop a hope presentation that would be interesting and relevant to people in the business world. It’s a bit of a stretch, since my experience lies in the area of developing topics of interest to people in health care and social services. But you have to start somewhere, so I made a start. I started with my specialty, the language of hope. I drafted the following promotional paragraph with a broader audience in mind. I didn’t have a business mentor yet, so I emailed it to my husband. .
Those who speak the language of hope have the power to engage others and change the direction of any conversation. The language of hope has impact. Obama used it to gain political strength. Charities use it to inspire donors. Successful companies give it a prominent place in their advertising. The language of hope extends far beyond positive thinking and pointing out the good things. It makes room for honesty and realistic assessment. This presentation offers tools you can use to enhance your oral and written communication with the language of hope.
We were sitting at the supper table when he acknowledged receiving my emailed paragraph. His response was lukewarm. I had the feeling he wouldn’t be shelling out thousands of dollars for this presentation any time soon. He asked me why he would be interested in learning a language of hope. I could give him no response. I was tired. I was frustrated. I was too busy controlling the impulse to throw a glass of milk at him. If I had been able to answer that question, I wouldn’t have asked for his help.
I didn’t have an answer. The silence dragged. Disappointment clouded my eyes. Tears threatened to fall. Finally he came up with an answer. It was a good answer—good enough to make me want to drink the milk in the glass, the kind of quality answer a mentor would give you, though I admit that it took me a day-and-a-half to appreciate it.
He said he would want to speak the language of hope on a day when he had one promotion to offer and two worthy employees who would be disappointed because they didn’t get it.

Monday, July 07, 2008


I think I have made some significant progress toward atonement for a past wrong. It’s a little too soon to tell for certain, but the very real possibility of at last being able to make amends has got me singing from the peak of optimism. It’s a heavy burden indeed, the burden of guilt. It’s weight increases with the passage of time.
The crime I committed was not entirely unintentional. There were days, long ago, when time hung heavy on my hands. I was in the middle of a life transition, too tall to stand erect underneath the kitchen table, too short to be employed at the sink for the washing and drying of dishes. Back behind the kitchen table I would wander. Kneeling backwards on a kitchen chair, knees digging into the red leatherette upholstery, I would rest my chin on the cool metal studs that secured the covering to the chair back. And then, while Mother and Sisters busied themselves at the sink, I would lift my chin and sink my upper teeth into the soft leatherette just in front of the metal studs. Raising my chin yet again, I would hover in deep contemplation, admiring the craggy imprint of my own personal signature.
I was an inexperienced criminal in those days, realizing too late that the evidence would speak for itself. When the long arm of the law reached out to capture me, it extracted a promise that I would never again attack an innocent chair. It is a promise I have kept to this day. Red leatherette upholstery, I assure you, has been safe with me. My atonement came off without a hitch. Not so easily were other reparations made.
Behind that same chrome and arberite table, behind the backs of the red leatherette chairs stood a pair of south-facing windows, their wide sills bathed in the winter sun and shaded from the summer blast by the shadow from the veranda roof. On the sills stood old kitchen saucers to catch the water dripping from the bottoms of the clay pots that held geraniums and fuchsias. The hardy pungent geraniums were safe in my presence, the delicate fuchsias—not so much.
The fuchsia itself was of little interest to me. But the blossoms were another matter entirely. A healthy fuchsia dangles fancy blossoms. They will wave on the slightest breeze like crystals on a chandelier. They’ll sway if you blow on them. They’ll swing like little children at a playground if you push on the branches. But if you push hard on the branches, they fall off. In those cases, if you are under six and already have a criminal record of upholstery damage, it is best to crush the fallen blooms and cram them down heat register in the hope that the evidence will be permanently incinerated in the furnace below.
One or two blossoms off a healthy fuchsia are apparently not missed by adults. But a fuchsia also holds other possibilities. The delicate fuchsia flower begins its life as a tiny bud, shaped at first like the bean from a can of pork and beans. If you check its progress several times a day, you’ll find that as it grows longer, it also grows fatter. And if you are the kind of person who has always wanted to squish a pork and bean between finger and thumb to find out what would happen, and if your pork and bean squishing urge has been thwarted by the presence of adults at the table, you might find it extremely difficult to resist the temptation to squish a fuchsia bud when the adults are at the sink. This is what happened to me.
I can report that a fuchsia bud handled in this manner makes a satisfying pop, like a midget balloon, not quite loud enough to be heard from the sink. A fuchsia, I have learned, is not quite so able as chair upholstery to report an assault and bring the aggressor to justice. The long arm of the law did not accost me. But I was not completely absolved. In fact, my punishment did not begin until several years later when, as an adult, I began to realize that I had inherited a deep and enduring desire to nurture plants. Thus began my crusade to assuage my guilt by enhancing the life of a fuchsia.
“Let’s get a fuchsia,” I said to David. “Mom used to grow fuchsias in the south window when I was a kid.”
We got a beautiful fuchsia and hung it in the living room over the stair rail. Within a week it had dropped all its flowers and most of its new buds. Before a second week had passed we were vacuuming up the leaves. So we took it down and hung a Swedish ivy instead, but we did not give up on fuchsias.
We hung a beautiful fuchsia on the awning support outside the front door. It was warm there, and a bit sheltered. Within a week the summer sun had toasted it to a crispy golden brown. We took it down. But we didn’t give up on fuchsias.
Not quite defeated, we accepted a stem cutting as a gift from a friend who said her fuchsia had been in the family for years. The cutting rooted easily enough. When the future of the plant looked most promising, we gave it a berth among the healthy crowd that flourished in the greenhouse window. There it set a record for shortness of life in our greenhouse window. Still, we did not give up on fuchsia.
We hung a healthy fuchsia from the eves trough of the garage. Not wanting it to be alone, we placed it securely beside a healthy hanging begonia. It hadn’t been there more than a week when a summer storm with more wind than the big bad wolf blew it down and smashed it on the ground. Begonias also hate wind. Nevertheless, the begonia remained smugly in its place, sporting new blooms the following week. From that day forward, whenever David gazed longingly at a healthy fuchsia, I became the fuchsia’s advocate and persuaded him not to put it in my care. Still working on that earliest guilt, with so many additional assaults piled on top, I declared that I had done enough damage to the species.
But then, last Saturday, my resolve again crumbled. There is so much wonderful stuff at the outdoor market! We bought peas. We bought carrots. We bought new potatoes and the last of the asparagus. We got cherries. We hoisted a basket of freshly picked strawberries. Bill The Baker sold us some homemade bread. And then--we bought a healthy fuchsia. We’ve changed houses since the last time we tried.
The fuchsia was a beauty, hanging resplendent with ornate flowers and pregnant with swelling buds. It was just the kind of plant that tends to look a lot worse after the journey home. And yet--it was hardly damaged at all when the grower stuffed it I into a market bag. It didn’t tip over or slide around during the car trip home. Nobody dropped it or fell over it when we got it out of the car. I began to hope.
With the same level of gentle care we gave on the day we escorted our first baby home from the hospital, We gingerly positioned the fuchsia pot in a pedestal crystal bowl on a cocktail table between two lawn chairs. The chairs stand away from the house, visible from our bedroom window, on the brick patio at the bottom of the front yard. Sheltered by hedges to the north and west, protected from aloft by the spreading branches of an ancient elm, it was perfectly situated to catch the gentle rays of morning sun.
“There,” I said, when the pot was placed. “This could be the perfect spot for a fuchsia.” Fate, apparently, decided to waste no time before planning a test of my theory.
From out of nowhere there blew a summer storm, black and ferocious and terrifying. Like a locomotive without brakes it seized the yard, west winds driving torrential rain across the eight-foot veranda and into the house via the front door. Leaves flew. Branches snapped. Overwhelmed by water pouring off the roof the luscious geranium flowers hung their heads. My optimism appeared to have been premature. But amid the tempest the fuchsia stood its ground, lofty and unassaulted on its pedestal as water pooled on the table beneath. And then, as if one was not enough, there were more storms.
Our fuchsia stood the test. Of course, we are not out of the woods yet. Who knows how it might end? There still could be hungry insects, or hail the size of baseballs. We might forget to water, or perhaps a visiting child will spend an unsupervised moment reaching out for the buds from one of the temptingly placed lawn chairs. Still, given the force of that storm, and the other storms that followed it in rapid succession, I do dare to hope that the spell has been broken, that I will earn the reputation of one who helped prolong the life and foster the beauty of a fuchsia.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


Hudson H. & Perry, B., (2006). Putting hope to work: Five principles to activate your organization’s most powerful resource. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


And when I reflect on how hard I have worked
To be informed
To be credible
To present important content
To accurately convey the results of research …

Then what choice have I but to be amazed
That the feature people most often remember
From the training I have given them
And mention when they see me years later
And ask to have repeated
Is a verse my children brought me from a week at summer camp?

And why do they respect it so fully?
Is it the humour?
Or the repetition?
Or the body movement?
Or the message it delivers?

Or is it simply the touch of amazement
That the Ultimate burn-out prevention Tool
The pride of any management guru
Could wear the disguise of a simple verse
Brought home by kids from summer camp?