Friday, August 31, 2012


Kitty: My life is a mess. Me: Oh, I am sorry to hear that. What seems to be the trouble? Kitty: the couple I live with got married. Me: And I’ll bet that caused all kinds of stress. Getting married, you know, is one of the key stressors on the lists they give to us psychologists. Did it make them grumpy? Kitty: Not really. They seemed unusually happy. Me: Well that’s nice then. But you were telling me about your messed up life. Kitty: They went away on a long trip. I think they called it a honeymoon. Me: Oh, I see how that was stressful. You likely felt mistreated by the people who cared for you. Kitty: Not really. They fed me on time and let me out whenever I wanted to go. I know the people well. Our apartment is in their house. They let me walk on the furniture and they were friendly when I put my nose on the computer keyboard. They didn’t say anything when I threw up on the rug. They petted me and I rubbed their legs. I could sleep in my own bed. Me: Well, that’s good. But kitty-sitters never rreally replace your own people. you must have thought your people were gone forever. Kitty: Not exactly. They called up on FaceTime most days. I could hear their voices and see their pictures. They talked to me. Me: Oh, that’s good. But I understand they are back now. Were you glad to see them? Kitty: Oh yes. Me: Well, that’s good. I’ll bet you celebrated. Kitty: Absolutely. For the first couple of days I asked to go out every second minute. Then I ran away, and I did a bit of hissing and arm scratching when they caught me. Then I ran away again and I stayed away until it got dark and I hardly hissed and scratched at all when they found me. Me: How are things now? Kitty: My people are just impossible to live with. I’m grounded. I’m not speaking to them. Like I said, my life is a mess, and it’s all their fault. Just another day in the life of a counselling psychologist!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


The accident that took the life of Zaidee Jensen has impacted my life. I know I am not alone in this. I expect it has affected the lives of all blind and visually impaired Edmontonians who take the LRT. We are a small group. We might not know each other, but a well-publicized accident that happens to one of us happens to all of us. Last week we were noticeable. This week we are more noticeable. Zaidee’s visual impairment focuses attention on specific threats to those of us with limited vision. I notice the difference in the people around me. It could be that my imagination is working overtime, but I don’t think so. I detect the anxiety that rises in strangers. They see me on the platform with a white cane and they fear that they will witness something terrible. It has never been unusual for people to offer me help, though it does not happen on most days. But on 2 out of the past 3 days, people have asked if I need help. Offering help seems to have increased. And something else has changed. Refusing help has become problematic. The would-be helpers have hovered apologetically close at hand when I replied that I did not need help. This morning’s volunteer helper made a declaration. “I’ll just stay here with you anyway,” she said. I notice changes in myself. With or without help, I am trying to be a little more attentive on the platform. I am taking a moment to think where I am, to orient myself in reference to things around me. Prevention being an immeasurable concept, I’ll never know how many accidents I didn’t have. But attentiveness can’t do me any harm. It is easy enough to let your mind wander and make a mistake. Every year, at least one person falls on the LRT tracks in Edmonton. They probably fall for a variety of reasons. Most of these people are not visually impaired. Fortunately, most are not seriously injured, let alone killed by a head injury. Because of all the attention paid to this particular accident, life is a little different for me this week than it was last week. Last week I liked to think of myself as a safely independent visually impaired LRT traveller. I liked to think that people didn’t notice me. It’s an illusion you can enjoy when your vision is poor. You don’t see people staring. You can convince yourself that they are not. This week I still want to be independent, but I like to think that I am a little safer. Strangers are watching over me. I am more careful, and there is a promising move afoot to ensure that LRT platforms are as safe as they can be. Every time I take the train my sympathies go out to the family and friends who are mourning the loss of Zaidee Jensen, a visually impaired person who suffered a terrible accident. . Accidents have a ripple effect that reaches well beyond the circles of people who know each other. To be human is to be a participant in a world where the experiences of strangers draw them nearer to each other. To excavate hope from the rubble of tragedy is to do what Zaidee’s family has done in a very public way—to express the belief that something good can come from it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

It was one of those instances where too much information causes a problem. I was trying to prepare a workshop proposal on hope and motivation, so I searched for an appropriate quote. I found one that delighted me, not for the workshop, but for this blog . It was a quote to US president Rutherford Hayes. Now I don’t claim to know much about US presidents, but there was something that bothered me. This quote was dated 1876. Only a few months ago I read a novel by Gore Vidal called 1876. If Vidal had it right, President Ulysses Grant was in power. So I did a little more investigating and found that I was not the first person to smell a rat. Current wisdom has it that this quote first appeared in print in 1939, attributed to Grant. From then on, it continued to appear with slight modifications, until its attribution was changed entirely. it wasn't a flattering quote, but Grant was long dead by 1939, and there seems to have been no evidence that he or Hayes said it. All of this leaves me disappointed because I wanted to blog about that quote, and now I have nothing to blog about.

Monday, August 27, 2012


BELIEVE METhe doctor said, “I believe you.” I know he said it, because I heard it. I heard it at least twice. And hearing it made me think how often I hear patients tell me that doctors don’t believe them. It’s one thing to believe a person, and quite another to have the power to fix whatever is wrong. Of this doctor, the patient later said, “That’s a good doctor. I didn’t think he had a solution, but I did think he cared.” I concurred with the patient in thinking that the doctor did not have a solution, and I noted that he could still be thought to be a good doctor without a solution. It is impossible for me to break the habit of being as interested in the process that goes on during the development of a helping relationship as I am in the outcome. I believe that many doctors are falsely accused when patients say, “The doctor didn’t believe me.” I also believe it is difficult to express genuine caring in a language that others understand. Always curious about the conversational anomalies that make or break doctor/patient relationships, I wonder if patients feel more cared about when doctors explicitly say, “I believe you.”

Sunday, August 26, 2012


The halcyon days of the new car smell The mystery of buttons and features unknown Before the pop spills and the mud tracks in When the paint glows unblemished along the flanks And any factory defects keep their secrets for another time. After the halcyon days.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


One spring day I stood before a roomful of 20-somethings and shared, with what I hoped was eloquence, a thought that inspired me. “To have hope,” I said, “is to see the evidence that one thing can be more than one thing, depending on how you treat it. Think,” I waxed, “of the simple egg. One day it’s an egg. You take it into the house, you add a little heat, and it’s a boiled egg. You can eat it for breakfast. Or,” I gushed, “you can leave the egg in the nest, let a bird provide a little warmth, and in only three weeks that egg will be a new baby bird.” I stood silent, a pregnant pause. This was the moment when the audience would flower under the dome of inspiration. This was the moment when they would see how every object that appears to be something can also be something else. But this was the moment when they refused to be inspired. “Ugh,” they said. “That is gross! Eggs you buy at the store have been specially treated. They would never be baby birds.” This, it turned out, was the moment when I inadvertently took the joy away from the eating of eggs. There was nothing left to do but change the subject and get on with the workshop which, until that moment of confusion, was focused on the topic of hope. I tell this story today because it helps to explain the thing I will be doing tomorrow—spending three hours on a bus tour of market gardens—learning where our local food comes from. It’s not that I don’t know where food comes from. I am a farm girl. I have dined on the finest 4H calves that, only a few weeks earlier, were led in the show rings by my school friends. I have helped prepare Sunday dinners by holding fat roosters so Mom could chop off their heads with an axe. I have scrubbed bushels of cucumbers for dill pickles, shelled pots of peas collected from the garden in milk pails, dropped seed potatoes into planting holes and retrieved from the plants the bounty they created. But I am also a city girl, and it’s several decades since I plucked a chicken or planted a potato. My city is growing, now placing buildings on some of our finest land which, many years ago was annexed to accommodate future growth. Tomorrow many of us will be taking an educational tour, supporting market gardeners in the view that a city is not only a place to eat food, but also a place to grow food. The people in my spring workshop who were not inspired by my egg eloquence may, or may not be on the tour. But I had gone wrong when I assumed that they understood and embraced the basic concepts of food production. This, it turns out, was not a valid assumption. Clearly we city dwellers, we who cast the deciding votes that determine how our cities will be structured, need also to be connected to the sources of the food we eat. Tomorrow I’ll learn something.

Friday, August 24, 2012


What I did not know yesterday, while I sniffed the fragrances of my garden and pondered a blogging sequence in which to rank them, what I did not know, because I was not paying attention to it, was that the atmosphere had busied itself mixing hot and cold in just the right formula to produce magnificent ice balls that would have served nicely to cool a summer beverage. What I did not know, because I was attending to other things, was that the atmosphere was preparing to shower the garden with ice balls, pummelling, pounding, bombarding, propelling them with such force that they found their way to the floor of the covered veranda. What would I have done differently if I had imagined the ferocity of the gathering storm? What would I not have done at all? If you don’t count the time you spent comforting a trembling lapdog, or hunkering down with your family, or trolling the house for open windows that ought to be closed, there is not a lot you can do in a hail storm. If I had been aware a moment earlier, I would have protected the patio pot of Tiny Tim tomatoes that later disconnected from the mother plant to roll among the hailstones. And beyond that, I would have lamented the coming worry, not having the heart for celebrating the olfactory delights of the moment. Rising today, slithering down the sidewalk among the shredded foliage, I would not have written the fragrant salutations that came so easily yesterday. . But I did write them, because I was not paying attention to the whole picture, and because of that they are written where I can read them tomorrow and next month and later on in January. So, with apology to the Tiny Tims, I find no regret to utter. I will recall with awe and humility those few moments when the world around us banged and roared, that interval of chaos when Nature reminded us that, regardless of the direction where our attentions focus, she may choose at any instant to take charge.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


In a flaring celebration for all the world’s noses, and, and a bow of apology to those whose summers have been smellimited by rogue colds, I present to you OLFACTION WITH SATISFACTION: THE TOP TEN snifty SMELLS FROM our 2012 GARDEN 10 Freshly mowed grass. Who can catch the whiff without being transported to the days when your mom said, “How did you get those grass stains?” 9 Green onion. We step on it as we reach to pull the sheets from the clothesline. There’s a combination for you—tangy green onion and the laundry after the breeze. 8 Tulips. It’s never quite warm enough to stay outside in the early days of spring, so it may be that the fragrance gives us the first inkling that a blossom has decided to open. 7 Peonies. The white ones, lovely! The pink ones, fabulous! The red ones—the faint reminder of toilet water. Without their pink and white cousins, they’d never make it to this list. 6 Geranium. Some people say the pungent geranium reminds them of the school days when their teacher would pinch the leaves that grew lanky in the classroom. Geranium reminds me of Mom’s kitchen window, right behind the chair where I sat to eat fried chicken, or roast beef, or rice pudding laced with cinnamon. 5 Dill. Our dill leans over the sidewalk. It beckons when you bump it as you pass. It rewards you when you pick a sprig. The kitchen fills with delight when you boil it with the new potatoes, or the beets, or the beans. 4 Tomato vine. The tomato vine treats you to a promise every time you water it. 3 Rose. This year the yellow ones smell best. Today there are 17 on a single bush. Oh why does it have to be so near the end of August? 2Calendula. Rub the leaves and your nose could almost convince you to believe you were touching a lemon. 1.6 Marigold. They say bugs hate that smell, but I don’t. 1.5 Stocks. 1.4 Heliotrope. 1.3 Peas in the shell. 1.2 Carrots. Rub them before you sniff. 1.1 PANSIES. And the #1 smell in our garden for 2012 just came out today. 1 ACIDANTHRA!!!!!!! Acidanthra flowers call me out to play. “Don’t worry,” they say. “It only feels like fall. Feeling like fall is not the same as actually being fall. There are still a few summer days left.”


This morning I am working on the gardening 2012 file. Changes will need to be made next year and so we need a record of things we know now but will have forgotten by 2013. Yes, the garden was lovely, but changes will need to be made. Sigh! Face it, Ihave a love/hate relationship with change. This garden is the tenth we’ve grown since moving here. You’d think we’d have it figured out by now. You’d think we’d have found the ultimate combination of beauty and fragrance, the perfect balance among herbs and flowers, a place for tomatoes where the slugs can’t get them. You’d think we’d get it right and keep it there. So why don’t we? Things happen. The elm that was huge when we arrived, grew bigger and a sunny spot got shady. Nature takes a stand. The long planting troughs rotted and had to be replaced. Only short planters were available. . Things grow differently in short planters. C.S. Lewis said: “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.” There is, it seems, no point in hoping to settle on a garden. Gardens, like all living things, unfailingly resist all nudgings toward settledness. I suppose, if I am to be perfectly honest, the garden could be more stable then it is. I go to a greenhouse, thinking I’ll stick with trusted plants and then I am assailed by a temptation to try something new. And it doesn’t stop there. So many wonders grow in other people’s gardens. Each year we see a new flower somewhere, and somehow we find room for it. That is how we got the pots of ageratum. The ageratum plants should have been blue and fluffy. They should have been healthy. There was so much potential for them when they arrived. Why, we lament, did they die so young, leaving sorrowfully empty pots where beauty ought to have been? Gardens evolve. You can spend a whole winter planning them, and take infinite pains to carry out your intentions, but you never know how they will evolve, only how they did. That’s what makes them so frustrating, and so fascinating. Like I said, we’ll be changing a few things in 2013. Some of the changes will be improvements. At this point there is no way of telling which ones those will be. The gardening file is an attempt to learn from the past. This year, among other things, I write: don’t buy agaretum!

Monday, August 13, 2012


I tasted hope today. It was the plop plop of a bright blueberry falling into my breakfast bowl, one among a thousand. Could there be enough bright blueberries to feed the world? I smelled hope today. It was the tang of freshly sawed wood that called to me as I passed. Will this construction be a home for someone? I heard hope today. It blue air on my face when it screeched to a halt and opened its door to beckon me on board. Could I actually be looking forward to starting the work week? Hope touched me. When my key ground in the lock it shouted, “Start working. You’re back from holidays. Will you be a better hope lady now that you are refreshed?” I saw hope today, and squinted in the glowing flash of an unquestioningly heart-felt hello. Your senses can boost your creativity when you ask them to. They can broaden your experience of your daily routine. Invite your senses to step outside their comfort zone. To read the short article by Monica Davis that inspired this little piece, go to SEND YOUR SENSES SOARING

Thursday, August 09, 2012


Gore Vidal Dies at 86; Prolific, Elegant, Acerbic Writer --New York Times, 01/08/2012 Gore Vidal was an unexpected teacher of mine. From the New York Times: “He published some 25 novels, two memoirs and several volumes of stylish, magisterial essays. He also wrote plays, television dramas and screenplays. For a while he was even a contract writer at MGM. And he could always be counted on for a spur-of-the-moment aphorism, put-down or sharply worded critique of American foreign policy. Mr. Vidal took great pleasure in being a public figure. He twice ran for office — in 1960, when he was the Democratic Congressional candidate for the 29th District in upstate New York, and in 1982, when he campaigned in California for a seat in the Senate — and though he lost both times, he often conducted himself as a sort of unelected shadow president. He once said, “There is not one human problem that could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.”” That last quote made me chuckle. I remember a time when I also believed that the world would be a better place if people would only listen to me. I think I was fifteen years old. I got over the feeling, but I still remember it. I would not likely have noticed Vidal’s death if he had not died at the time when I had just begun to read one of his books, and I would not have continued to read that book if I hadn’t heard of his death at the moment when I was deciding to return it to the CNIB Library—having read only the first couple of chapters. At the moment before I heard the news I would have told you that I had begun a rather dull book called 1876 by an author I’d never heard of. The moment after I heard about his death, I decided to find out a little more about Gore Vidal. Though I am certain that I would not have liked this pompous and opinionated man, the Times reported other things that endeared Vidal to me. He was an activist who tried to change things. Vidal was gay, and he courageously wrote about that at a time when it was unacceptable to write about it. He created a wider awareness by addressing “sexual deviation” in novels. He as a forerunner of societal shift in attitude and his career paid a price for this prescience. This alone would have impressed me, but might not have kept me reading, for the recording of 1876 was difficult to follow. It was dubbed onto CD from a worn studio recording made for cassette tape. The combination of Vidal’s descriptive prose with the muffled reading was an apt substitute for sleeping pills when I listened from a horizontal position. The decision to stay the course was clinched by another revelation: “He loved to read to his grandfather, who was blind, and sometimes accompanied him onto the Senate floor.” And so it was that I resolved to stay awake through every muffled chapter of 1876. I am glad that I persevered, for Vidal’s extensive research, coupled with his ability to create story, introduced me to a time that can teach us something today. 1876 was a year when Americans lost sight of the importance of their democracy. Fearful of restarting the civil war that had so recently ended, they allowed an un-elected president to push aside the man his country had chosen for the job. They attributed his election to the voting power of the Negroes, who had recently been given the vote. To reverse this unexpected change, they permitted several southern states to produce two sets of election results, one on election night, and a later set of results with different counts. By this means the election was decided. People stepped back when they ought to have stepped forward. I have learned many interesting things from unexpected teachers. Gore Vidal is one of them.

Saturday, August 04, 2012


If I could turn the clock back six weeks or so, I would write the highlights of the family wedding that occupied so much of my attention, the wedding of Mark and Tracey. I would write about the surprising pleasure of spending 10 days in the close company of the bride’s family. Her parents, Al and Jane, came here from New Brunswick, moved into our spare bedroom, and cooked dinner for us almost every night. We’d have enjoyed their company even if they hadn’t, given what nice people they are. I’d write about all the fun we had—the dance that went on until the groom finally sent the DJ home. I’d write about the laughter that started at the rehearsal and continued right through the morning-after good-bye brunch. I’d write about the food—chosen for different occasions by different people--all of it excellent. I’d write about the pleasure of bringing families together, the moment of stressful waiting for the grass in the table centre pieces to grow to the desired height, the joyful applause at the church, the way everything ran on schedule, the quiet time of gift opening when the crowds had left us. Let’s take turns opening, said the couple. So ten of us took turns. Kitty-sitting for the honeymooners on this bright Saturday, with the wedding two weeks behind us, and my heart still overflowing with what the officiating minister later referred to as “all that marvellous energy”, I mostly recall the almost-unflappable graciousness of Mark and Tracey at the peak of emotional overload. Herein lies the greatest hope. For surely this is what we most often need in the winding and crossing of a long marriage—almost-unflappable graciousness.