Thursday, April 30, 2009


Last night we went to a blood donor party. Sponsored by Canadian Blood Services, it celebrated all those in the region who have reached an important milestone in blood donation. David has reached the 100 times milestone. I thought this was pretty impressive, worthy of a party.
Many of the celebrants were not present, still the room was a large one, and it was full of donors and their guests. First, they celebrated the 50-times givers. Fifty times is quite a few, when you think of it. Then they celebrated the 75’s, even more remarkable. Now they had reached One hundred, a highly praise-worthy number.
Impressive as it may seem, 100 donations is a mere beginning for some. There are people who have given blood 150 times, 200 times, 300 times, 400 times, 500 times, 600 times, 700 times, and yes, 800 times. 800 times! Before last night I did not know that such a thing was possible. What I did not fully appreciate is that there are different ways to give blood. You can give whole blood once every 56 days. You can give plasma once a week.
I attended the party as a guest, not as a donor. It felt good to be there, appropriate for me to enjoy the refreshments, at least for the first hour. After all, David was entitled to bring a guest, and it’s not as if I never gave or tried to give. I used to be a blood donor. I believe it is still in my nature to give, though I have enjoyed several years as a comfortable non-giver.
My comfort in not giving lies in my experience of the past. My memories of past donations are not particularly happy ones. I’d show up at the clinic with enthusiasm. But sometimes I would be too anemic, and sometimes the conscientious volunteers would fail to identify my lack of eye focus as being connected with blindness. Worried that I might be feeling unwell, they would rush to my side. It was off-putting. And then, in the 1980’s I was released from the obligation because I had a blood transfusion I had not planned to give again.
Some time in the middle of the party, I can’t say exactly when, it became clear that this was more than just a party. It was a hope event, designed to create a climate where the level of donations might actually increase. I was surprised. I hadn’t expected that, given that they were celebrating those already converted to the cause. But they had laid out a very engaging process.
It all started innocently enough. They had staff and board members there to thank the donors. Then they featured a thank-you speech by a blood recipient, a dashing young doctor who would have died 11 years ago at age 14 but for blood. They could have ended the evening at this point, but then they did even more. They spoke of the on-going need for blood, the fact that only one in thirty eligible donors is a blood donor. They asked the donors to raise awareness by speaking proudly about their donation record, maybe even bringing a friend or relative along as a companion donor.
At that point I was still quite happy, thinking fondly of David who trudges off at 7:45 every 8th Saturday morning. But I couldn’t go with him. I didn’t know it yet, but I was enjoying my last few seconds as a comfortable non-giver.
The evening was nearly over when they called Jim up to receive an honour. A generous giver, Jim was named last year as one of Alberta’s two official Caring Canadians. How did he earn the honour? Well, a few years ago Jim turned 71. He was the picture of good health. On that day he became, by legislation, a retired blood donor, a most legitimately comfortable non-giver. But Jim refused to be comfortable. He appealed to boards and lobbied doctors. He wrote to three successive prime ministers. He shouted and worked until the age limit was at last removed. Since then he has made 145 additional donations. Given the number of baby boomers about to turn 71, and our relative good health, the number of potential donations Jim’s discomfort has secured is almost uncountable.
David will some day turn 71. His health will likely be good. He’ll have plenty of time to donate, and he’ll most likely continue to be one of those one in thirty eligible donors. As for me, so long comfortable knowing that I am not one of the 29 out of 30 who could give but don’t, well, Jim has also had an impact.
Could it be that there are other possibilities? Suppose the rules had changed in the past 25 years and I was now eligible to give.! It really is possible. A lot of other things have changed. I also will turn 71 some day. And, given that it is 25 years since I last considered giving blood, I am beginning to wonder if I should check to see if I am an eligible donor. Like I said, it was more than just a party.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


What’s in a name? How much power does a name have to inspire us, to chart a direction?
Here’s a perspective from Yorkton Saskatchewan, a city of about 1,600 people. Yorkton has a community agency of considerable size. It’s called SIGN, Society for the Involvement of Good Neighbours. SIGN was formed back in the 1960’s by four clergymen of different faiths who thought their faiths could do more if they worked together. They used their combined resources to launch and support services that met local needs. Among other things, they began the city’s first home care service. Over the past forty years they have facilitated many projects.
On a recent trip to Yorkton I had lunch with SIGN’s retiring executive director, Tom Seeley. He told me he had recently been quite busy. You see, a businessman had donated to SIGN a full service hotel. That’s right, a hotel, travel Lodge.
”Really?” I marveled in true amazement. ”What did you do with a full service hotel?”
Well, it took eight months of careful study to determine whether the gift could be accepted. But somehow SIGN was able to convince the RCMP that they should use part of it—bedrooms, dining room, conference facilities and all--for a permanent in-service cross-Canada training facility. Saskatchewan Health stepped up to use some of the space for a comprehensive addictions program. That left some space for community groups like the Boys and Girls Club.
Ever since I heard that story I’ve been wondering something. Is it more surprising that a community group could find use for a full-service hotel, or more surprising that an organization would be so well respected that somebody would donate one? If you name an organization the Society for the Involvement of Good Neighbours, does that help people act like good neighbours?

Monday, April 27, 2009


City centre naturescapes.
Coyotes scouting the footpaths at midday,
Magpies sassing in the front yard,
Vegetation poking up through the concrete,
Pigeons in the office windows.

When we planned a city
Of driveways, curbs and elms for shade
And paths for walking little dogs
Did we think it would be only us and the robins?

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Last weekend--when the weather was hot and sunny, and we had to open two windows just to cool off the kitchen when we cooked the Easter turkey—last weekend I had two pink geraniums. They were nice geraniums too, possibly a bit spindly after a winter’s rest, but nice anyhow, two different shades of pink, healthy green leaves—a few dead leaves maybe. Last weekend, when it was hot and sunny, and the dog wanted to be outside, and the sweet pea seeds begged us to plant them, and the pansies hitched a ride home from Home Depot to see if they could get themselves planted out on the warm veranda, and the wild flower seeds Lenora gave me as a present just for being on her side insisted that I get them into a pot so they could get going—last weekend I had two pink geraniums.
Well, last weekend those two pink geraniums saw what was happening all around them, the hustle and bustle of everybody getting out into the sun, and they got to nagging and pestering, the way only geraniums can. So what else could I do but put them out on the veranda? And then, last Tuesday when it snowed, what else could I do but move them up under the covered part of the veranda to protect them from the snow?
Last Wednesday, when it was colder than we wanted, though definitely not cold enough to keep snow on the ground—last Wednesday David said, “Those geraniums look a little sick.” So I took their pulse and found them still breathing.
“Just a little set back by the cold,” I crooned. I pride myself on being an optimist.
Well now, this weekend, when it’s still just about as sunny and just a little cooler, I’ve got two dead geraniums that used to be pink. But are they really dead, I mean, completely dead?
Perhaps next week, or maybe the week after, a client will sit in my office, a little bit afraid to try something a little bit risky. “Don’t be afraid to take a few risks,” I’ll say. “Think of life as a series of experiments. Some of them work out better than others. Some of them fail, and we just have to try something else.”
And I’ll mean it when I say it, though somewhere in the back of my head, my mind’s ear will hear a little chorus calling, “Yeah, right! That’s easy for you to say!”
It’s hard to silence geraniums, even when they appear to be dead.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


The note in my inbox has a simple ending.

I look forward to seeing you there.



It’s such a friendly ending. And even though I know she sent this letter to several thousand people, and even though I know she wouldn’t know me if we met on the street, and even though this note is coming from the University of Alberta and the line below her name says
Indira V. Samarasekera
President and Vice-Chancellor …

I can’t seem to shake the feeling that she sent that letter directly to me. It’s the personal style that does it, the warmth that comes with the simple use of her first name. If ever I meet her on the street, it will be all I can do not to call her Indira.
I’ve come to believe that naming is an important part of human relationships, that in my case especially, it carries a hefty emotional impact. Take, as an example, this little grudge I’ve carried for thirty years or so. My colleagues and I had been gathered in a board room to meet our new CEO. He’d come all the way from Ontario just to lead us. The room was tingling with anticipation. Things got started on a friendly enough note, a little formal perhaps, but friendly. He invited us to come to him any time we had concerns or ideas, and then he said, “I’m asking you to call me Mr. Evans. It’s a mark of respect for the position.”
The impact of this one short sentence was far greater than he had envisioned. Fifteen minutes later that speech was taking on a life of its own, repeated and savoured by employees in the bathrooms of the office. It even got an official title. We came to know it as the Just-Call-Me-Pete speech. If anybody did a little bit extra, say refilling an empty toilet paper dispenser, or mopping up a bit of spilled coffee, that job was said to be done out of respect for the position.
Mr. Evans turned out to be a good boss. He didn’t even waste much time becoming it. It was only a few hours before he began to show his genuine caring, his empathetic nature, his eagerness to fit into an Alberta office landscape. But it was too late to make a clean start. With a simple sentence he had brushed a stroke of tarnish on our shining hope, and the humour generated at his expense was too disrespectful to be shared for his enjoyment.
The whole naming thing has been an issue with me this winter. Once again the icy winds of January found me taking up a place at the front of a classroom, an accidental professor, an expert of sorts who can safely say that she never once aspired to a career in academia. The desks were occupied by a broad range of students, some maybe as young as 20, others pushing 50. Before I could say”Good evening class,” somebody had already called me Dr. Edey.
“I’m not a doctor,” I said, already aware of the misunderstanding that lurked on the threshold. They assumed I was being humble. Actually, I was being factual, and more than that, judicious. The College of Alberta Psychologists has decreed that no psychologist licensed in Alberta may misrepresent her credentials, which she will be deemed to have done if she cannot show evidence that she has taken direct steps to correct descriptive errors made by others.
“Please call me Wendy,” I begged. I’ve had to ask newspapers to print official retractions. I didn’t want to put any of these students through that! I knew as I said it that this was not humility talking, not even truly factuality or judiciousness. Even if I had a Ph.D. I wouldn’t want to be called Dr. Edey every Tuesday night for thirteen weeks. It doesn’t suit me.
Soon things took on the familiarity that comes with a Tuesday night routine. I learned to call them by name. The classroom atmosphere was friendly. Most of them called me Wendy. Some of them didn’t call me anything at all.
Still, this experience wasn’t exactly like my previous flirtations with accidental professorhood. There was one among them who called me “Teacher.” Factually accurate by any standard, it sounded funny in a university class. I wanted to say, “No no. That’s not me. That’s my daughter.” My daughter teaches elementary school. Lots of kids call her Teacher.
To my surprise, I didn’t say it. I might have said it the first night, but the impulse passed quickly. He’s a new Canadian, and something warned me that he wouldn’t feel right if he tried to use my first name. In the final analysis, Teacher isn’t such a bad thing to be called, even for an accidental professor.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009


Iris evans brings down a budget
Saying “There is no appetite for tax increases”
A statement undoubtedly truer than true
Because it always is.

And I sometimes long for a different message
Given that we have organized a system
Where people who have money pay taxes
And People with no money then get to take some.

People with money want safe cities
With beautiful parks and culture
With health care available for everyone
And education available for everyone

And how are we to have any of it
Until the day when we get some leaders
Who speak boldly of the value of taxes
And fondly of the people who pay them.

What would make us want to pay taxes
Instead of trying to avoid them?
Who could help us take true pride
In the projects supported by taxes?

Friday, April 03, 2009


It’s April.
Snow’s melting.
River’s crackling,
Geese are searching
For open water.

And I am remembering
Miss Cade the principal
Who wouldn’t let us eat outside
Until the first buffalo bean
Was found blooming brightly in the schoolyard.

She feared we would get piles
From sitting to eat on cold cement
And never unveiled the mystery
Of what piles were anyway.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


To say that Welsh Cakes are the cookie of Edey family pride is the truth, but not the whole story. While thousands, possibly millions have been consumed by family members over the years, they were introduced to the family by Iris Lewis, a woman from the coal-mining village of TreHarris in the south of Wales. Iris married a Canadian soldier and came to this country at the end of World War II. She is the beloved grandmother of my children. When Lawrence was a child, and I was telling him that some day I would be the grandmother of his children, he said I couldn’t be a Gramma unless I could bake Welsh Cakes.
When Gramma was a child, her mother baked Welsh cakes in the fire place on a cast iron bake stone. Later she used the bake stone on a gas stove. Our family cakes are not exactly the ones Cassie Lewis baked. Gramma says, “”My mother didn’t use nutmeg.””
It would be tempting to think that Gramma settled right down to Welsh caking immediately after arriving in this foreign land of ours, but that is not the case. She started baking them fifteen years later, when she met Mrs. Shaw, a fellow Edmontonian of Welsh descent. It was Mrs. Shaw who provided the recipe. Cassie Lewis never used one.
”You can get out the recipe book,” says Gramma to Ruth. It is Sunday afternoon and we have gathered at Gramma’s for a session of Welsh Cake baking.
“Will we be using the recipe?” asks Ruth.
“No,” says Gramma. ”Even if we were using it we’d be doubling it.”
Ruth leaves the book on the shelf. “Gramma,” she says, turning to the counter where all the ingredients and utensils have been carefully laid, “this looks just like a cooking show.”
Normally Gramma would simply bake a batch of Welsh Cakes and give them to us. But these days she is tired after a bout of pneumonia and her back and legs ache if she stands for long. Undeterred from her mission, she tried to make it easier by using the recipe instead of doubling it, but that seemed so pointless to her. These days she tends to put the ingredients together one day, then do the cooking the next day. Our mission on this day is to bake Welsh Cakes with and for her, to do it the way she’s been doing it for so many years. There’s no room in the kitchen for me so I sit in the livingroom with Gramma. Ruth has taken up the challenge. Her dad is there to help.
We had expected to start from scratch, but Gramma has started ahead of us. “What’s in the bowl? asks Ruth.
“Five cups of flour and a pound of Marge,” says Gramma. “The recipe says six cups of flour, but it’s better to start with five and add more later if it’s too wet. The pastry blender is right beside the bowl. Work the marge in until you get crumbs.”
Ruth brings the bowl to Gramma for a certified approval of her crumbs. “Now add a cup of sugar,” says Gramma. “The recipe says to use more than that, but that’s not how we do it. Mrs. Mitchell next door rolls them in sugar after they’re made, but we don’t do that either.”
Ruth adds the sugar, then 4 teaspoons baking powder, two teaspoons nutmeg and a teaspoon of salt. Now she mixes in a cup of currants and makes a well in the middle. In a separate bowl Gramma has measured out a quarter cup of milk to which Ruth adds four eggs, then beats before pouring the wet stuff into the hole in the middle of the dry stuff.
Now Gramma is on her feet. She has set the temperature on the electric griddle somewhere above 300 but not quite 350. Meanwhile, Ruth is adding extra flour, putting more flour on a board, and rolling the dough just a little thinner than she wants the Welsh Cakes to be. A Welsh Cake really shouldn’t end up being more than half an inch thick, a centimeter is maybe better, but too thin isn’t so good either. She uses Gramma’s cutter to make disks about 2 inches across. Gramma places 4 of the disks along the centre at the griddle and sets the timer for 5 minutes. “Satisfied with their brownness after four minutes, she flips them for slightly less cooking on the opposite side and goes back to the living room. “Set the timer for four minutes for the next batch,” she says.
Ruth continues cutting. Her dad takes over the grilling. The griddle can hold twenty cakes at a time. You have to leave a bit of space between them so you can peek under and flip them.
The house now smells exactly like Welsh cakes. David, Ruth and I are disciplining ourselves to wait until the cakes are cool enough not to burn our tongues. Gramma requires no such discipline. She prefers them cold. Seventy-two delicious Welsh Cakes are cooling while Ruth and David clean the kitchen, returning all items according to Gramma’s instructions.
“Do you think you can do it on your own now?” says Gramma to Ruth.
”Oh, I don’t know Gramma,” says Ruth with a twinkle in her eye. Ruth is a capable cook in her own right. But why would anybody pass up the chance to do this together again?
“Maybe we’ll have to make them at your house,” says Gramma. ”Your dad will have to take me there.”
The batch is divided up and bagged. Ruth takes some. We take some. Gramma keeps some. Gramma will likely give most of hers away. Ruth will eat hers slowly. Ours will be lucky to make it to the end of the day. And all of us will have something to treasure, something far more valuable than Welsh cakes.