Wednesday, December 31, 2014


“Though cynicism tranquilizes hope, progress is often made because outraged people demand it. Correct evaluations of a much-improved world shouldn’t undercut the knowledge that the world desperately needs improving. Wherever optimistic evaluations about the current state of affairs trump ambitious goals for political progress, we can fairly say that positivity is the worst.” --Shannon Gormley, IN DEFENCE OF OUTRAGE, Ottawa Citizen, Dec. 29, 2014 Well spoken, Shannon! Indeed, as my friend Ronna Jevne once said to me: “It wasn’t the smokers who got us the smoke-free environments.” We need the outrage to ge things started. But somewhere in the process of making the change, the smokers got on board with the non-smokers, and that made all the difference. If outrage had prevailed alone, we’d still be coughing in smoky elevators and dodging cigarettes in department store line-ups. So I ask: What good can come of outrage, no matter how justified, without a firm grounding in the hope that the world, in fact, can and will improve? And what do we need to do to ensure that hope flourishes alongside the outrage?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


“It’s not crossing the finish line that matters, but making it to the starting line” –Martin Parnell This I will keep in mind as I contemplate expectations for the new year.

Monday, September 01, 2014


Pirate: I heard you talking about your calendar. Me: Oh really? Pirate: I know you said this September would be very different from other Septembers because you’d be retired. Me: It will be different. Pirate: Yes. And I have a few questions. Me: Ask away. Pirate: Is it true that you are facilitating hope discussions at the Alzheimer Society and the Artspace Housing Co-op? Me: Yes, that’s true. Pirate: And is it true that you are planning a keynote webinar for the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, and a hope workshop for the ATA substitute teachers, and a trip to Yellowknife to work for the CNIB? Me: That’s right. Pirate: And do you really plan to see some clients on Thursday mornings before your regular counselling gig at the Walk-In Counselling Society? Me: Yes, you’ve got it. But not very many clients, and I’ll be limiting my work to people who have care-giver stress, and people adjusting to illness or disability. Pirate: And will you be doing some storytelling gigs in September? Me: Yes indeed. Pirate: All this sounds very interesting. Me: Yes, I believe it will be. In fact, I’m rather looking forward to it all. Pirate: Hmmmmm … Me: Is something troubling you Pirate? Pirate: I’m wondering if I have somehow misunderstood the concept of retirement.

Friday, August 01, 2014


On a good day,when Mother Nature was formulating innovative strategies for child protection, she came up with a particularly enlightened idea, installing at the center of each and every child, a personal scab maker, skilled in the rapid repair of skinned knees, scraped elbows, and the tender tips of tiny noses. She did not neglect me in this regard, and in my elementary school days, my personal scab maker worked overtime. In fact, her best repairs were made while I was sleeping. I used to marvel at the way she worked, from the outside in, constructing first the hardshell of protection then smoothing the tender new skin underneath with the precision that would be the envy of the best tdrywall taper. She did her work quietly, asking no assistance, supported only by an occasional kiss, or a bandage on the very first day. It is possible that she worked harder than the personal scab makers possessed by my classmates. I do not know if this was true. But the adults in my life believed it to be true and it concerned them deeply. The source of their concern appeared to be my glasses, large spectacles with hard plastic frames that tended to shatter on impact. I dutifully put them on every morning and took them off at bedtime. It was something I had been doing for years, never once questioning the reason for them. School was the place where the glasses all seemed to break. . A clean break would be mended with glue. A jagged break might be fixed with tape. Any fracture more complicated than that required the services of an optician, a mysterious man in the city whose services could only be procured after the exchange of money. My parents, I was assured, we're not made of money. The adults in my life approached the problem with differing solutions. The teachers instructed me not to run on the school grounds. Applied to a different person, this idea might have protected my glasses. But these teachers were dealing with a tiny extrovert who had almost no vision and only sighted classmates to play with. I was, by nature, an obedient child. But even the most compliant children have their limits. My parents dealt with the situation in a different way. 'You will have to do without glasses for a while,' they gravely declared. And so I went without. Today I toast my scab maker, as much for her successes as for her failing. For if she had been willing to repair my glasses, her perfect labors performed at no cost, I would probably still be paying for the repair of useless spectacles.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Slow motion

There are so many things which can slow time down, anticipation of something you want, boredom, and the ultimate slower of time, and I'm preventable accident about to happen.
I have, in the past few weeks, become acutely aware of this slowing effect. In the mornings I make coffee. Does the machine take five minutes or 50? It's all the same to me. In June we missed our connecting flight and spent some extra time in the Munich airport. Were we there eight hours or eight days? It must have been eight hours. We only ate one lunch.
And then there was the day when I was hit by a car, yes, hit it's a funny thing how you can know something without knowing you know it. I knew, I discovered, in the time that slowed down to a crawl and then almost to nothing, that being hit by a car is at two stage process. First you are hit and then you are runover. 
I am going to be run over, I thought as the bumper hit my legs. I am going to be run over, I thought as I flew through the air. I am going to be run over I thought as I lay on the pavement. I waited, and I waited, and I waited. 
And I will never know if I waited 20 seconds, or 20 hours, or 20 years. I will never know because I was not run over. I was only hit by a car. Thank heavens for that! by a car.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Laughter is a tranquilizer without side affects

Ask a toddler with a scab on his knee
And he will tell you in action rather than word
How a belly laugh can eat race the hurts of the world

Friday, May 09, 2014

Smelling good!

The Miltonia orchid in my kitchen window. When the sun shines on it there is no fragrance more beautiful.

Saturday, May 03, 2014


Spring came on Tuesday so I went for a walk. Summer came on Wednesday so I planted pansies.Autumn Came on Thursday so I tried to ignore it. Today is winter. Is time passing more quickly than it used to?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


If you were to say That the first day of spring Is the day of the equinox Twelve hours each for day and for night, I would not argue. How could I? But the day when I sit Eating dinner outdoors Hair in a ponytail Bare feet on veranda boards With the breeze on my arm and no wish for a sweater, Then that would unquestionably Undoubtedly, unarguably Be my personal first day of spring. And that was today!

Monday, April 28, 2014


From time to time we would travel to Spirit River and stay with Aunty Adaline. We would bunk in her basement—a roomy place with comfortable furniture and a generous bathroom that was private for guests. But on one occasion we called her to say that we would be camping nearby at Saskatoon Lake. We would visit her for an afternoon. If her objection was only half-hearted, we did not notice. “It can be cold out there,” she said. “The weatherman is predicting cold weather.” “On July 31 we are certain it will be fine,” we said. We had not planned for snow. Saskatoon Lake is named for its bounty. The bushes hung heavy with purple deliciousness. But nobody likes to pick saskatoons while wearing mittens, so we did not pick a bucket for Aunty Adaline as we had planned. Instead, we called to say that we had changed our minds about staying over at her house. We had not been fully aware up to that point that Aunty Adaline’s health was changing. Where once we would have arrived to a warm welcome and the irresistible aroma of cake in the oven, we found her flustered, preoccupied with the combined effort of a search for her lost Life-Line Alert button and the remaking of her bed so that we could sleep under clean sheets. Her basement was messy, she reported, due to a recent flood. Though fully cleaned, it remained disorderly. She would not entertain the idea of our going there. We would share the big bedroom in her room. She would sleep in a single bed elsewhere. When bedtime came, we climbed guiltily between her sheets. The curtain of sleep descended. I was dreaming deeply when the wall spoke her name. “Adaline,” said the wall. I was not particularly surprised. Walls will speak to those who feel guilty. Deeper into the dream went I. “Adaline,” said the wall, more urgently this time. “Adaline, are you all right? Shall I send an ambulance?” Here is my best advice for those considering possible life-mates: Look for someone who will know what to do if the wall begins to speak in the middle of the night! For while I pulled the covers over my head in a hopeful attempt to silence the thing, David informed the wall that we were Adaline’s niece and nephew, spending the night in her bed. “Her Life-Line Button has been pushed,” the wall replied, and David, with characteristic practicality, dug in the space under the mattress until he found the lost button, and removed it from its hiding place so that it would no longer be activated by the process of rolling over in bed. . “Good night,” said the wall. “Good night,” said we. So the wall did not send an ambulance, and David was soon breathing the deep inhalations of a peaceful sleep restored. But I lay awake, wondering how long it might be until the RCMP would pound upon the door, sent to investigate the possibility that two sleepy robbers had somehow disposed of Aunty Adaline/

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Bill collector at the dentist's office: Now I ahve processed this work through your plan and the remaining balance is $6.12. Me: (shaking out my purse for spare change) that's ridiculous? bill collector: What's ridiculous? Me: To be scrambling for pennies on a payment of hundreds of dollars. bill collector: Oh, let me drop the pennies. That will be $6.10. Me: (to THE HOPE LADY AS WE BOARD THE ELEVATOR) Oh dear, I think I might have forgotten to thank her for the generosity. And THE HOPE LADY says: Some day I am sure this will make me laugh! Just one more example of the power of hope!

Tuesday, April 08, 2014


Fate—as fate so often will—has thrust me into a place where I never expected to be—Saturday morning dance classes sponsored by the Edmonton chapter of Parkinson Alberta.. Never mind that I don’t have Parkinson’s—a good thing to be sure. Never mind that I have four left feet, a stiff right shoulder, a sieve-like memory for consecutive sequences of step patterns, and insufficient vision to imitate the instructor by following visual cues. I’m there anyway, fighting off performance anxiety at the very mention of Charleston, Tango, Plie and Paradiddle. All over the world, people who have Parkinson’s are attending dance and sining classes. They are stretching their muscles, fine-tuning their balance, experiencing the liveliness that complex musical and movement functions bring to the brain. People with symptoms resembling Parkinson’s attend as singles or couples. The messages are clear: Do what you can. Try to do more than you think you can. Have fun. Never have I been more aware that a person who is blind from birth has no idea how people dance. How high do they lift their legs? How quickly do they raise their arms? Never have I been more aware that, in this class, where participation of any kind trumps all else, it really does not matter. For those of us who have spent our lives trying to achieve, it’s a difficult idea to fully integrate—this concept that participation is everything and fun is the ultimate reward. There’s so much to worry about, so much to remember. What is supposed to follow the eight heel taps of each foot? How can I have forgotten the Grapevine again? Why did I just bop my neighbour in the nose with the up-and-over? But every once in a while, near the end of the gruelling two-hours, we turn to partners. I look forward to this time. I am more comfortable dancing with a partner—my partner. The instructor says: “Do the Tango.” We laugh. Neither of us can remember the Tango, even though we learned it last week, and possibly again the week before. The instructor says: “Move towards the door.” David and I move in opposite directions. The conventions of marriage set in. I am outraged that he has moved the wrong way. Now we’ve missed the next instruction. “Not the door we came in,” he whispers. “That’s the door she means when she says to move towards the window.” Then we get the giggles. The instructor starts to laugh. Other people start to laugh. There is, I think, a certain liveliness in the brain.

Friday, April 04, 2014


Ben’s mother sent me an email. The email came from Ontario. “Ben can now say five words,” she announced. “He can say Eyra—the name of his girlfriend at the babysitter’s, mama, dada, hi and amen.” Just to prove it she sent along a little video. Mama said: “Aaaaamen!” Ben said: “”Aaaaamen!”SThere it was, plain for all to hear. The proof was in the video. Now I was as proud as any respectable grqandperson could be. But I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing. So I did what any self-respecting soul might do. I bought a ticket, jumped on a plane, and headed for Ontario to come to the aid of that baby who needed somebody to teach him how to say: “Granny.” Even as I gave the travel agent number on my MasterCard I knew the job might not be easy. It is true that I am a granny, which means I am also a mother. And it is also true that my three children grew up to be perfectly competent talkers. But I am too old to remember just how they learned certain words. Fortunately, I am old enough to remember how my little brother learned to talk, way back when I was six or seven years old. At the time I figured he was beyond hope. Little brother grew up to be a capable talker, despite some rough beginnings. He made more than a few mistakes in his time. Mom always took his side when I pointed out how dumb he was. I specifically recall one day when he was farming on the kitchen floor, loading grain into a transport vehicle, naming that vehicle over and over again. Perhaps he would have attracted less attention if he had been saying, “Luck, luck, luck; or muck muck muck.” “The f sound,” Mother explained, “is easier for babies than the tr sound.” Like the tr sound, the gr sound is not an easy learn for a pint-size baby-talker. And I only had three days in which to teach the “gr” word to Ben. So wepractised hard right from the beginning, teaching the way any good teacher would teach. I started with the five words he already knew, asking him to repeat each after me. Granny said: “Mama!” Ben said: “Mama!” Granny said: “Dada!” Ben said: “Dada!” Granny said: “Hi!” Ben said: “Hi!” Granny said: “Eyra!” Ben said: “Eyra!” Granny said: “Aaaaaamen!” Ben said: “Aaaaamen!” I am pleased to report that we made tremendous progress in only one long weekend. By the time I left for Alberta, Ben could say “Granny.” It was as plain as day to anybody with a little imagination. Sometimes it sounded like mama, and sometimes like Eyra. Sometimes it sounded like Dada, and every so often, it sounded just a bit like Aaaaaamen!”

Thursday, April 03, 2014


This week we lost Aunty Adaline, the last of the generation that precedes us in David's family. We are now the elders. It's a worrying proposition really. What do the best elders do, anyway? We tend to say that elders in our society are not respected. And yet, I think they are, which is the very thing that makes elderhood such a challenge. The best elders are wise, but not too quick to share their wisdom. They are stable, but flexible. They bring the experience of the past, and a childlike wonder when viewing the present. Elders teach us to laugh at things we wouldn't know how to laugh at. They show us how to part with vanity. They love us. They want to see us. These are the things we lose when the last elders of a generation are gone. This is the responsibility that, by birth, is transfered to us.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Can it really be that the ultimate hope challenge is the act of switching to a new computer?

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

The joke

A chickadee is singing,
Springs here! Spring is here!
He is only joking of course.
The thermometer says -20.
But everyone loves a joker!  

Friday, February 28, 2014

Ghost town

The bar was deserted when we arrived. The owner welcomed us in for a lunch of fish and chips.
He told us about the town. "There used to be more streets, "he said."There used to be more houses on the streets. There used to be five bars in this town."
The bar is for sale. It makes me wonder: what is there for the inhabitants of ghost towns to hope for?

Tuesday, January 07, 2014


Wow!! The world of books for people with print disabilities is opening up as never before. What better place to notice the change than in the search for the books on the short list for CBC’s Canada Reads 2014? For the first time ever, and with the help of three libraries, I will have the opportunity to read all the 5 books on the finalists list for the Canada Reads contest. There is a chance, in fact, that I will have the opportunity to read all five books before the contest airs on CBC Radio. I have already read Annabel by Kathleen Winter. It came to me in DAISY format on CD from the CNIB Library. I read it in bed, an hour or so of reading pleasure each night before sleep—and a little extra, because the book was so compelling. Next I will read Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan. I have borrowed a copy on commercial audio CD from the Edmonton Public Library. I searched for it on the Internet and placed it on hold. Now that it has found its way to me, I will read it as quickly as I can and return it for the next person on the holds list. On my next vacation, I will read Cockroach by Rawi Hage. I have downloaded it on a tiny card in DAISY format from the CNIB Library and it now rests on my pocket reader. On that same vacation I will also read The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood. Unlike the others, this book will be read to me in an electronic voice. I downloaded it onto my pocket reader from BookShare, a source where publishers can place electronic copies of their books for the use of people with print disabilities. I downloaded the book in audio format, but I could have chosen to get it in braille. The one book I do not yet have is The Orenda by Joseph Boyden. It was published in 2013 and is currently being recorded by volunteers at the CNIB Library. I will download it when it is available. The process of finding and getting books that blind people can read has undergone a revolution in the past few years. Public library collections have been greatly enhanced by the popularity of commercially available audio books. The Internet has made it possible to search for books and get them on demand. Recent changes in international copyright law have torn down the walls that used to limit cross-border access. The effect of the changes has been summed up by my friend Jim, a man who can read circles around me. Reflecting on how things were in the recent past he says: “Other people would be talking about information management and I would sit there wishing I had information to manage.” Reflecting on the future, I worry a little. Three of the five Canada reads books are provided by the CNIB Library, a reliable source of braille and audio books with a history stretching back more than 100 years. That library has been my rock. It is moving down a path toward integration with public libraries. Canadian books are not generally made available on commercial audio. As integration progresses, we have to hope that Canadian readers will continue to be supported in reading Canadian books to us in a timely fashion. Beyond the act of hoping, we will need to advocate for this. You can listen to an electronic book, but a human reader is far superior. For now, it is enough to be grateful that our book supply is better than it has ever been, to celebrate this elegant abundance. It is a giddy feeling to be able to get so many of the books I want after so many years of settling for whatever books I could get.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014


“When you see a good person, think of becoming like her/him. When you see someone not so good, reflect on your own weak points.” –Confucius Not long ago we celebrated our fortieth wedding anniversary. It is a notable accomplishment, I would say, to live with a person for forty years and still find that person interesting. But that is how it is, even though he changed a bit, and there were times when he missed the opportunities for self-improvement I so generously presented to him. Take, for example, the modern addiction to electronic games. I was unaltered by it. I was above it. So you can understand how I might have been just a little jealous when hours and hours of time we might have spent reading side by side were transferred to his total engagement of punching keys and flicking fingers. It set me to longing for the olden days when we used to sit in front of the 13-inch portable TV watching WKRP in Cincinnati. Sometimes I would wander into the office where, he said, he was going to update the bank records. But I was on to his deceptions. Bank records don’t cheer and boo you over the computer speakers. I would sit beside him, muttering to myself. “You have wronged me, wronged me,” I would say. Just try to talk to a person playing an electronic game! Just try to get him out of the house for an important visit! “Just a minute,” he would say. “I am almost done.” But any fool could see that he wasn’t. Denial is a common side-effect of addiction. How I wished that he were more like me, more focused, immune to such frivolous addictions. Never a quitter, I tried to change him. I shamed him. I made fun of him. I read more books in an effort to be more interesting than the game of Hearts on the computer. And when all of that failed, I recalled an old saying from my Granny’s stock of wisdom: “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” It was, I convinced myself, a challenge of self-improvement. I was not perfect. I could afford to improve myself a little. I downloaded a card game on my computer and played it for an hour. The game was hard for a blind person to play, not only difficult, but downright boring. So I didn’t copy it over to the new computer we bought five years later. In fact, I didn’t ever play it again after that first day. But in the background, a small and sinister voice whispered to me. “The rest of the world,” it hissed in a threatening tone, “is addicted to electronic games. What is wrong with you?” The road to self-improvement, like so many other roads, is confounded by potholes. Ten years passed, maybe thirteen. We were close, my love and I, yet different. I noticed that he was spending less time playing games on the computer. This would have been good news, except that the extra time was now spent playing games on the iPad with occasional breaks to play on the computer. I was still reading my books. By and by, I acquired an iPhone. I used it for email, and phoning, and even to read books. It is a handy little device. He said—a little unfairly I thought—that I was addicted to the iPhone. But what would he know. He may be a senior manager in a large corporation, but he is not a psychologist. Being a psychologist, I performed a trick of self-evaluation just to prove that I was not addicted. I tested myself to see if I was jealous of the iPad game time. Concluding that I was, I knew the iPhone had not truly caught me in a nefarious web. Just to double prove it, I invested $5.00 to download an audio game. Then I set out to play it. The game is called The Night Jar. Here’s how it works. You put on the earphone and the game tells you are trapped in a ship from which you must escape. Dark matter drips on you. Monsters noisily eat your former shipmates as you pass. You have to find your footing and head for escape doors. You search and you search. You fall a lot. You start over many times. I confess that I wasn’t very good at finding the doors. It wasn’t long until I grew tired of creeping past dark matter. There was good news though. I was a winner even though I never got off the ship. Once again I had proved that I was immune to electronic games addiction. Then came Christmas, season and nostalgia, season of wishes. You have time to remember things at Christmas. I remembered that I had often harboured a secret wish that somebody would give me a game for Christmas. In sixty-one Christmases it has hardly ever happened. It occurred to me that, as a special gift, I could get my own game and prove myself right about electronic games yet again. It would only be $5.00, but then, the last $5.00 was wasted. I decided not to bother, then changed my mind. This time I would look for a free game. Why waste money proving yourself right? I chose a game called Audio Archery. Never having, for one moment, been interested in shooting arrows, I knew I wouldn’t like it. I told my friend Jim about the game, and he said the very idea of a blind person shooting arrows from an electronic bow made him quiver. Still, the energy of downloading it would have been wasted if I did not try. When you play Audio archery, audio targets fly across the path between your left earphone and your right earphone. When the target reaches the centre, you fire your arrow by raising your finger off the screen. If you lift your finger at the right instant, you get a bull’s eye. In order to reach the end of the game, you need a lot of bull’s eyes. You have no control over the targets. They come at you one after the other in rapid succession, 70 in all if you hit enough of them, fewer if you don’t hit enough of them. There’s no way to stop the targets once they start. You have to keep hitting them. You really have to!!! The faster they come, the faster your heart races. It’s a matter of skill, a beautiful dance of concentration. In a perfect world, you would demonstrate perfect concentration. But this is not a perfect world. All too often, your concentration will be broken, jolted by somebody who speaks to you, or expects you to leave the house just when you are almost getting the highest score you ever got. Sometimes your concentration will be so complete, so perfect, that it will not be jolted by such a person until all the targets have crossed your range. Sometimes, between games, I would hear a small voice whispering. “You are addicted,” it would hiss. It was wrong. I knew it was wrong and I could prove it. Just to prove it, I downloaded a game called Seven words. It’s a thinker’s game, the kind of game that improves your vocabulary and enhances your reading. In future, when I have more time, I will demonstrate that my reading has been enhanced. Sometimes I take a break from Seven Words to shoot a few hundred arrows. And even though I still haven’t managed to reach Level 10 in Audio Archery, I feel the adrenalin rush that heralds the approach of true self-improvement. This is how Olympians feel! Things do change when you work hard enough, when you wait long enough. A week has passed since Christmas. I notice a man standing patiently waiting for me when we have a dinner engagement, or a plan to walk the dog. We have a lot in common. Forty years of marriage have drawn us closer.