Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A brief fantasy for a winters day

If I had a choice I would take all the snow and put it on the ski hills where people really want it. And I would leave the sidewalks bear and an slippery for the rest of us to walk on. So far no one has offered me the choice. But it could still happen. Couldn't it?

Monday, November 18, 2013


I got down the Christmas dishes this morning, put them on the lower shelves where they can be easily reached, put the every-day dishes up on the high shelves you can’t reach without a ladder. Yesterday I played a new Christmas CD. The day before I practiced some of the Christmas songs that never become listenable unless I practice them for several weeks—the songs I didn’t practice at all last year. Christmas, in my world it seems, is arriving early. Last year I didn’t prepare for Christmas. Well, I suppose I prepared, in the way a sleep-walker or a robot might prepare. I didn’t anticipate. I didn’t feel Christmas. Christmas came last year. It came without my help though I did whatever it was that I had to do. One day, very close to Christmas, I got a ladder and brought the dishes down. One day, I think it was boxing Day, I played a few Christmas CD’s. Baby Ben made his grand entry into the world on new Year’s eve and, as he pulled us forward into the future, I observed with relief that the whole business of holidays was finally over. I hated last November. Last November we were closing down my beloved programs at Hope foundation. I was saying good-bye to clients. I was mourning the loss of my colleagues. We were making adjustments to accommodate david’s changing health. We were paying daily hospital visits to our frail and cherished Gramma. Last November was a lousy month. December was just as bad. Last November I didn’t want to do the things I like to do. If something came up that might be fun, I did it reluctantly. I caught myself hoping I wouldn’t get any Christmas presents. It was a very strange time. But I guess I learned something a long the way, something practical and useful. A good thing it is too, for this November finds me doing painful work--hope work with groups of people who have recently lost a colleague to suicide. “what do we do,” they ask, “after we accept that it is normal to feel guilt and anger?” The answer to this question is not clear to me. I suppose there really are no rules to govern it. But I have, with the memory of last November fixed firmly in mind, approached these workshops with the conviction that there is no moral reason why we can’t consider the possibility of seeking out positive emotions like joy, awe, interest, inspiration, amusement, contentment, pride, gratitude, love and hope. There is no moral reason not to pursue things that delight us, things that fascinate us, things that refresh us, work that really matters. Circumstances may rob us of the desire for these things, but there is no moral reason why we must deny them to ourselves. Perhaps this conviction is helpful to others as well. My email contains a thank-you note: “Thank you so much for your wisdom, encouragement and hope on Friday. They meant a lot to us and to me personally. I had not realized that I had started to give up some of the things that I love to do until you brought it to my attention. I now know that I need to once again do the things that refresh and delight me.” When I read that note, it occurred to me that I had already started looking forward to Christmas this year. But it was the note that woke me to the realization that I hadn’t noticed the change.

Friday, November 15, 2013


Ben’s world is filled with music. The grown-ups who love him want it that way. In the future he may play an instrument, and he will undoubtedly download the songs of his choice from the Internet, or play those old-fashioned compact disks the grown-ups used to buy. He will go to concerts. That is in the future. Ben’s world is filled with music. He appears to like it that way. At this point, people sing to him every day. He sings to himself in the moment before sleep. He plays music when he plays with his toys. There is music in his house, waiting for him to choose it. There is an electric piano, books that play music, rattles that play music, a swing that plays music, a jumping mat that plays music, an exercise saucer that plays music and a music table. Granny’s house, though not so blessed with musical toys, has plenty to recommend itself. If he searches for instruments at Granny’s house he will find--with apologies to anything I might have forgotten to mention—a piano, an electronic keyboard, a guitar, an accordion, a rain stick, a box drum, a skin drum, an ocean drum, two tambourines, a kazoo, three small flutes, two harmonicas, approximately one-hundred-and-twenty combs, plus assorted spoons, and sticks. Ben may love all of these. For now, though, Ben makes his own music. The variety is not as great as it could be, but is it likely that anything will ever compare—either at home, at Granny’s, or in the finest concert venue—with the present daily joy he finds while inventorying—on hands and knees--the doorstops? Where will there ever be a more delightful sound than the daily concert played as a twangy, bouncy tune on each?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


There are times when things simply will not go as planned. Take this morning, for example. I awoke to the news that it might rain. That was bad. Rain in November is never a good idea. The weather lady said it had stopped raining. That was good, because I was planning to walk all the way up the hill to get a bus. A walk up the hill is the exsercise I need in the morning of a busy day. But when I got outside, the front sidewalk was so slippery that I had to keep one foot in the snow to steady myself on the slippery slope. So much for the planned walk up the hill. But the city sidewalk wasn’t slippery. The up-the-hill plan was back in motion. But in order to climb the hill I had to pass a bus stop. A bus was coming,. Fortunately, I had not quite reached the stop. But the bus made a sudden stop, right beside me. The driver jumped out. “did you want my bus?” What could I say? I got on the bus. “The bus is full,” said the driver. “that’s fine,” said I. “I will stand at the front since I am not going far.” But the crowd had already parted and someone had jumped up pushing people back to make a seat for me. So I sat down out of respect for all the people who had been inconvenienced. What else could I do? Some days things simply will not proceed according to plan. I would not have planned to write this on THE HOPE LADY Blog, had it not been for a thing that happened yesterday. It was a beautiful evening and I had decided to walk four blocks along Jasper avenue to catch a bus. I had to pass two bus stops along the way. At the first, a slurry-voiced man with unpleasant breath jumped to his feet to ask: “Ma’am, would you like to sit on this bench?”. I declined. Another man approached the first and asked “should I throw you in the traffic?” He declined. Then the second man asked the first: “should I throw her into the traffic?” He meant me. Just to prove it, he began to follow me. Then he passed. He was waiting for me at the next bus stop. He shouted, but did not throw me into the traffic. So I wrote about my failed attempt to get exercise by climbing the possibly-icy hill in the rain. It’s a better story than yesterday’s.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Ben: Granny, pardon me, but I couldn’t help overhearing your talking book—the one by the space guy. Granny: Oh, you mean Chris Hadfield’s Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth? It’s very exciting, isn’t it—the idea of flying through space? Ben: Yes, I guess so. But actually, what interested me was his writing about teamwork. Granny: (Isn’t that cute, not even a year old yet and he’s already thinking teamwork.) Teamwork, Ben is a lovely thing. Ben: Could we be a team, granny? Granny: Why, of course we could. Let’s make a tower out of these blocks. Ben: Sure Granny. But first I’d like to discuss the possibility of us forming a partnership that would allow me to access the cereal cupboard next to the fridge. I know that door opens all the way, but for me, it only opens a few centimetres. I feel certain that, by working together, we could solve this problem. Granny: (Your mom will kill me if I let you into that cupboard.) Come on up here, Ben Darling, and Granny will tell you a story. Once upon a time there was a little rabbit who wanted to open the barnyard gate. He pulled and he pulled, but each time he pulled on the gate, it bonked him in the nose. Then one day, a wise owl flew over and the rabbit asked him for advice. “Move to the side of the gate before you pull on it,” said the owl. “Then it won’t hit you in the nose when you open it.” Ben: Granny, what’s a barnyard gate? Granny: (You see, there’s no need for harsh discipline. All you have to do is distract them when you suspect they’re on the verge of getting into trouble.)

Thursday, November 07, 2013


The first sentence of a paragraph, as my grammar teachers used to say, prepares us for the content that will follow. These wise voices come to me across the years as I sit down to type, with my HOPE LADY fingers, a reflection on the happenings of the past week. I have been saying—no, face it I’ve been WHINING—about the terrible week we’ve had. Pity the person who casually asks: “How is your week so far?” That person is going to hear a tale of woe. Have I got a tale of woe to tell! It’s been a lousy week. Here is the evidence. There is a cold so attached to me that I fear we are permanent partners. The ground is covered with ice that makes crawling the safest way to avoid a fall. There’s a son who needs his mother’s love because he slipped on that ice and ended up with five stitches in his head. There’s a program that needs more of my time because a colleague is on stress leave. There’s a friend whose tea date had to be changed so that I could help a principal whose staff are devastated by the suicide of one of their own. There’s a plumber who has practically lived at our house lately because our heating system has decided to take a vacation. (Have you ever noticed how well heating systems tend to work in the summer?) There’s a whole night’s sleep gone forever while I kept a watch on the fireplace to ensure that the fire kept going. (How did they ever sleep in pioneer days?) All of this as we prepare for a trip that would truly be inconvenient not to mention expensive to cancel. All of this and even more has sprung to the tip of my tongue when people ask “How’s your week so far?” Why is it, I wonder, that in a bad week, the story of the badness so often steals the show? I’ve been thinking, I guess, that this has been a bad week, and that has been the first sentence of the paragraph. There are, of course, many perspectives on any given story. Here is another story about that same week, a story with a different opening sentence. Our children have chosen top-notch partners—people you’d be thrilled to welcome into your family. For evidence of this, I need only turn to my recent electronic communications. There is, for example a message on my iPhone. My daughter-in-law is out doing a few errands. If it is convenient for me, she could stop by and pick up Pirate. This will give us a couple of free hours that would have been spent taking Pirate to her house (his second home and first choice for a good time whenever we are out of town.) It is, of course, extremely convenient for me, and she knows it, but doesn’t say it. The email contains a message from our son-in-law—a man preparing to collect us at the airport some time around midnight. His refrigerator, he tells us, has been stocked with items selected to delight us: bacon, gluten free beer, chocolate milk. He hopes we are looking forward to our time with them. What he doesn’t say is that he is collecting us around midnight and will likely be up at 2:00 AM even though he is expected to be wakeful for work the next day. Now I wouldn’t want to leave things unsaid that should be said. It should be said that the electronic communications show a history of loving phone calls made by these wise children who chose top-notch partners. They called to chat, to update us on their news, to confirm plans, to ask if there is anything we need them to do. From among all the evidence, one indisputable conclusion emerges. A bad week is not such a bad week when you can count on a loving connection with children and their top-notch partners. Perhaps that should have been the first sentence of this story, but sometimes, when you sit down to reflect in writing, you don’t know what you really wanted to say until you get to the end.

Monday, November 04, 2013


Ben: Granny, would you tell me one more story about the olden days. Granny: All right Ben. The year was 2012 and the time was mid-November. Ben: Wow! How old was I?? Granny: You weren’t born yet. Ben: Prehistoric! Granny: Yes, well, you were going to be born in another six weeks or so. Ben: How did you know I was going to be born? Granny: Let’s not get into that right now. Back to the story. It was mid-November, and Granny was thinking of getting an iPhone. Ben: Mona, you mean? Granny: Yes, well, Mona. I was thinking of getting an iPhone. I didn’t know her name would be Mona. Just like we didn’t know your name would be Ben. Ben: Why didn’t you call her Ben? Granny: Because she talks to me in a woman’s voice. Did you ever hear of a woman named Ben? Ben: I guess not. Get back to the story, Granny. You mean you didn’t have an iPhone? Granny: No, not then. Ben: Then, how did you read the newspaper in the bathroom? Granny: Well, I didn’t. I had to sit at the computer to listen to the newspaper. Ben: And how did you do your email at the bus stop? Granny: Well, I didn’t. I had to wait for my email until I got to work. Ben: And how did you download music from iTunes? Granny: I didn’t. Ben: And how did you get podcasts of CBC radio programs to listen to while you waited in the doctor’s office? Granny: I didn’t. Ben: And how did you get Kindle books? Granny: I didn’t. Ben: And what kind of stopwatch did you use when you timed Grandad’s speech therapy practice? Granny: I didn’t have a stopwatch. Ben: And how did you borrow audio books from the Edmonton Public Library? Granny: On CD. Ben: Oh my! How primitive! If Mommy phoned you on a weekend, and it had just snowed, how did you show her the snow? Granny: I didn’t. Ben: What kind of pocket calendar did you have? Granny: I didn’t have a pocket calendar. I kept the calendar on my computer. Ben: Where did you keep the pictures and videos of me? Granny: I didn’t have any pictures of you. You weren’t born yet, remember? Ben: Oh yes. But wait a minute. The year was 2012. It was so long ago, so long ago that I wasn’t even born yet. You couldn’t read the newspaper in the bathroom. You couldn’t Facetime us to show us pictures of the snow in Edmonton. You didn’t have a stopwatch. You only did your email at a desk. And, just imagine! You couldn’t even make a phone call! Granny: What are you talking about? Of course I could make a phone call? Ben: Oh boy. I don’t think I’ll ever really understand history.

Sunday, November 03, 2013


Pirate: I want to go for a walk. Me: Okay. But it snowed, you know, and it’s cold out there, you know. Pirate: I want to go anyway. Me: Okay. Pirate: (1 minute out) I don’t like the snow. Me: Me either. Pirate: (1.5 minutes out) I want to go home now. Me: Me too. And the lady on the radio said: To increase your stamina, just increase your exercise time by ten percent perday. 180 seconds round trip today 198 seconds tomorrow 217.8 the next day 239.5 seconds the next day 263.4 the next day Wow!!! We’ll be upto a 5-minute walk in no time!!!

Saturday, November 02, 2013


In the world I would like to see, people in responsible positions would be able to distinguish between those who have adjusted to disabilities, and those whose disabilities have been cured. If they could make this distinction, they would see the need for accommodations, and they would act differently. Of those who have adjusted they would ask: “What more can I do to make your life easier?” To those who have been cured, they could say: “Well, I guess you don’t need me any more.” Over the years, as disabilities have presented themselves to us, our family has become the poster child for adjusting to disabilities. We have made pleading phone calls, devised work-arounds, researched possibilities. Take it from me, a disability that has been adjusted to has not been cured. It is present morning, noon and night, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. I find that professionals and experts tend to think of adjusting to disability as something that is done once. But actually, it is done every day, a constant process of making small and large modifications to compensate for the privileges the disability takes away, the privilege of easy movement, of using services, of casually deciding to take a walk and taking it. A person who can manage steps with difficulty is better off going out than staying at home. But he faces an organizational challenge every time he approaches a front step that has no railing. A driver whose reading skills are not sophisticated is judged competent to drive and may make a living doing so. But he must search for alternate parking when simple meters are replaced with “smart meters” that require the ability to read a screen and respond to detailed commands. A competent blind traveller would be foolish to stay home and not participate in the community. But she must take the chance of walking on a red light when the signal is designed for sighted people only. An adjustment made one day is made again on the next, and the next, and the next. In the world I would like to see, the simple parking meter which operated on change would not have been thoughtlessly replaced by the complex SMART meter that can only be operated by people with sophisticated reading skills. Every new home would be build with railings on its front steps. Every crosswalk that has a changing light would have an audible signal. These modifications are all completely possible in our society, but it would take a lot of energy to advocate for them. People who have adjusted to disability spend a lot of effort adjusting on a daily basis, leaving them with limited energy to devote to advocacy. In the world I would like to see, people in responsible positions would take up the challenge of making changes without the force of advocacy to propel them. Would they be more inclined to do so if they appreciated how much energy it takes to adjust to disability? Would they be more inclined if they understood the difference between the daily lives of those who have adjusted to disabilities and those whose disabilities have been cured? So tell me that history has proven that the changes which have benefited people with disabilities have come about only when people with disabilities have put aside the time and energy to fight for them. Tell me there is no way that is going to change. Tell me this, and I’ll admit that you are probably right. But I am THE HOPE LADY after all, so I continue to hope that things can be better. Most improvements start there—with the hope that things can be better. In the meantime, we’ll adjust. Practice makes perfect. We sure do spend a lot of time in our family these days understanding the impact of, and adjusting to disabilities.

Friday, November 01, 2013


Sometimes the universe will cooperate in the most surprising ways. Sometimes it will even do this for me! Because of this, I am currently reading, and fully enjoying a book: Miller, W.R. & Rollnick, S. (2012) Motivational Interviewing, Third Edition: Helping People Change published by The Guilford Press The cooperation of the universe began in early October when one of the participants at a hope workshop I facilitated for the BC Therapeutic Recreation Association came forward at the break to ask me if I was familiar with motivational interviewing. I tucked the question away, knowing I might never get around to checking it out. Nearing the probable end of my paid working life, I find myself a little less motivated to keep up with current literature than I once was. Then, in mid-October, my sister mentioned that patrons of the CNIB Library could get free memberships in Book Share. I tucked that idea away also, knowing I might never get around to checking it out. For the first time in my life, due to amazing technical advances, I actually have ready access to more books than I can read given the limitations of a 168-hour week. But it came to pass that I did investigate Book Share, and they had the first book I searched for, Motivational Interviewing. Motivational interviewing is “A collaborative conversation style for strengthening a person’s own motivation and commitment to change.” It is a person-centred approach, one that suits my way of doing things. Noting the fruitless hours we spend trying to convince others to do the thing that seems most obviously right to us, the authors wisely observe that “People are more likely to be persuaded by what they hear themselves saying.” The book is a guide for people who want to conduct better conversations, conversations that help people affirm for themselves what they want to do without making them feel as if they’ve been cut adrift by a counsellor who has no ideas. People are more likely to be persuaded by what they hear themselves saying. I know a lot about the truth of this statement. In counselling, clients do much better on those lucky days when you can guide them to chart their own path for change. And in my life, I have had the unfortunate experience of saying the same thing over and over in attempt to convince others, only to find that I have fully convinced myself of it. A long time ago, my good friend and Mentor, Ronna Jevne asked me to consider an idea that stopped me in my tracks. “Have you ever noticed,” she asked curiously, “that when something isn’t working, we tend to do more of it?” Of course the idea was, in itself, ridiculous. When something isn’t working, don’t we give up and try something else? Apparently not if we believe that the thing we are doing ought to work. In the months following my conversation with Ronna, I watched myself closely to see if I ever did more of something that wasn’t working. The truth refused to hide. It was in my house. A child would leave his socks on the floor. “Pick up your socks,” I would say. The socks might remain on the floor. “Pick up your socks,” I would say, louder this time, in case he had not heard. “In a minute,” he would say, and the socks would remain on the floor. “I told you to pick up your socks,” I would say in a very loud voice, as if the child’s hearing and memory might both have inexplicably been impaired. The truth followed me into meetings. “I think we should abandon the idea of celebrity hosts for our fund-raising,” I would say. “We could use our own board members and it would mean more.” The meeting would continue, with participants suggesting more and more celebs. ‘I think we should consider using our own board members,” I would say, a little louder, in case there might be a hearing problem, or possibly some difficulty understanding the language I had used the first time. And, thus I would go through life utterly convinced that the socks ought to be picked up and the board members ought to host. Funny how the world didn’t see things the way I did. Many years have passed since Ronna Jevne observed my work, or shared time at a meeting with me. Still, at least once a week, at home, in meetings, while I am supervising students, while I am counselling, she pops up on my shoulder and whispers in my ear: “Have you ever noticed that when something isn’t working, you tend to do more of it?” She said this to me just recently when I was feeling a little bit tired of it all, a little bit bored, resting on the theory that it is not worth my time to follow the latest book trends in professional practice. Funny how I never get tired of hearing it, never get tired on wondering what I ought to change. So now, I have access to audio copies of many professional titles in Book Share, and this fine, wise and practical book on motivational interviewing to enjoy. Sometimes the universe cooperates, and sometimes it takes a mentor, present or remembered, to get it going.