Tuesday, May 31, 2016


Conscience: Why don't you write on this blog more often? Me: I have so many good reasons for that, it's hard to count them all. Conscience: List them. Me: Do I have to? Oh fine. I will. 1. I don't have time. Conscience: Rubbish. You are retired, you know, albeit unsuccessfully. Of course I know that you volunteer half a day a week at Momentum Walk-In Counselling, and you still do sessions for the Alzheimer Society, and you are planning hope groups for Parkinson's patients, and you occasionally give hope presentations, and you play Bridge Wednesday mornings, and you go to music classes with Carys and Tracey on Saturday mornings, and you take exercise classes with David at the YMCA, and you go to church most Sundays, and help if David asks you to, and spend time watching TV with him, and your friends come over to keep you company, and you tend your flowers, but if you would be honest, you would have to admit that each of these things is a little thing, and you still have plenty of time to write. 2. This is a hope blog, and I'm not always as hopeful as I want to be. I have a responsibility to myself and the hope community to write hope on a hope blog. conscience: Garbage! You're hopeful enough, given all that's going on in your life, perhaps more hopeful than most, since you have made an art form of intentionally noticing hope. 3. Nobody wants to read my silly writing. I have only six followers. Conscience: Nonsense! Two out of those six have taken the time to comment since you started writing again. I'm sure you wouldn't want them to think they are unimportant. By the way, why did you start writing again? 1. Because I was going to a writing retreat and I knew I'd better warm up for that. 2. Because I still give hope talks and I have to write in order to prepare for them. I was getting rusty. 3. Because when I started writing again, I remembered that writing for an audience always help me think more clearly and more positively. 4. Because two people noticed, and they said nice things, and I'm really a sucker for attention, especially attention laced with flattery. Sometimes I just wish I didn't have a conscience.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


It took me seventeen years to get three thousand hits in baseball. I did it in one afternoon on the golf course. Hank Aaron Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/golf.html Lawrence and Mark organized a family golf game. The goal, it seemed, was to seize the day, to have as much fun as possible. Each of them did their part. Lawrence had the idea. Mark booked the tee time. Lawrence arranged the weather. The day was perfect, sunny with a slight ruffling breeze, not too hot, not too cold, no mosquitoes. Mark arranged the golf carts. “Could we have two golf carts?” he asked at the Pro shop. The clerk was polite, but curious. “For two golfers?” he asked. “Yes,” said Mark, making no apology. “We can manage with one.” We left the shop with the key to one cart. Any conversation that might have occurred between clerks went unheard by us. Then, just at the moment when Mark was leading his blind mother by the arm, and Lawrence was helping his dad board the cart from his wheelchair, the clerk appeared with the key for a second cart. No additional charge. We all climbed aboard. I rode with Mark. Sibling rivalry bubbled just below the surface. With a wave to his brother, Mark cranked our speed to maximum. We must have been going one or two kilometers per hour. “You can’t scare me,” I said, looking as fearless as possible while holding tightly to the side arm. Mark takes wicked corners, wickeder when his brother is watching. By and by Tracey joined us at the fifth hole tee box with a full load, baby Carys in the baby carrier and a picnic supper alongside the diaper bag. I surrendered my seat to most of Tracey’s cargo to trail after the carts with Tracey and Carys, chattering all the way. We know you’re supposed to whisper on a golf course. We just forgot. Dad spotted the balls as they landed. Birds chirped. Ducks watched unmolested. Nobody knows who won, because nobody bothered to pick up a score card. After the picnic we all went home. If the goal is happiness, there are probably a thousand ways to play family golf.

Saturday, May 14, 2016


Picture a balcony bearing ten pots of flowers. Find impatiens, geranium, Martha Washington, evening scented stocks, pansies, heliotrope, roses, begonia, petunias, alyssum, ornamental grass and a few adornments that didn’t come with names. Picture all of this in mid May in a province known for occasional snow in June, and there you see it—evidence of a FLOWER PROBLEM. Warning: don’t bother organizing an intervention to get my attention. Don’t assemble a delegation of caring family supported by flower problem treatment professionals! I know about the problem. I know that only I can beat it. Some day I’ll beat it. I swear I will! It was daughter Ruth who first named the illness. She had failed to notice the introduction of the lily patch and a few hanging pots to the already flowered house on 67th Street. She had celebrated the planters and peonies at the house on 89th Street. But when the number of front yard pots exceeded twenty, she felt she had to say something. “You, Mother,” she announced, “have a flower problem.” How could I deny it? Time I used to spend with the kids on the soccer field was now spent trimming the coleus. Television watching time was pre-empted smelling the roses. But how could I quit, or even cut back? What would our friends say? How could I explain it to any of the neighbours who passed our house on walks just to see the profusion Then, out of the blue, an opportunity presented itself. We were moving to an apartment. It would be difficult to have a flower problem on an apartment balcony. Where would I store the potting soil? How would I deal with the mess of water and fallen leaves? Who would haul away the debris? We moved in late August. “No flowers,” I said to my surprised family. “The flowers stay with the house.” Just to show how serious I was, I only took a few empty pots, and a few plant stands, and one pail of potting soil. And I only bought one chrysanthemum when the need arose to warm the autumn chill. Perhaps if I had been a little more vigilant at the first signs of spring, things might have turned out differently. But it seemed right to thank Mark for bringing the first pansy pot in early April, an affirmation that winter was truly gone. And would it not have been impolite not to rejoice when Grace brought my favourite yellow pansies and removed the remains of last year’s chrysanthemum? And how could I have rejected the rose bush in full bloom that Mark presented as a gift for early Mother’s Day, or the free pot of geranium and petunias that came free from Superstore with a grocery order over $250.00? Would it have been right not to support our church by purchasing $100.00 worth of summer joy from the annual plant sale? After all, the house did not sell as we had planned. And there sat the remaining plants stands, lonely on the veranda. Had they, after so many years of faithful service, not earned a position of honour outside our new livingroom window? “I like to look out the window at all those flowers,” said David. Next door to us stands a high rise with suites that look directly on to our balcony. “These people probably think I have a flower problem,” I said to David, as I stowed the last of the potting soil. “Don’t worry,” said he. “The neighbours have always loved our flowers.. If I were to be truly honest and not simply hopeful, I suppose I would have to admit that I may never be cured. The root of the flower problem, it is now obvious, lies in the act of enablement. Yes, there is an enabler living under my very own roof? How can you expect to cure yourself of a problem like that with an enabler in the family?

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


A few weeks ago I received an email from my friend and mentor, Ronna Jevne. She was offering an overnight writing retreat at a lodge in the country, and even though common sense told me that the very same email was sent to dozens, maybe hundreds of people in her network, I couldn’t seem to rid myself of the conviction that she was aiming that retreat directly at me. “Ridiculous!” said Common Sense. But I was not listening. “Look,” I said to Common Sense, “there is a ton of evidence pointing to my conviction that this retreat is being offered especially for me. The title of that workshop is Grit, grace and Gratitude, three things I could use right now. And the lodge is only a little way out of the city, so I can take a cab if I can’t get a ride. I’d only need to be away for about thirty hours, which is certainly within the realm of possibility. And you know, Common Sense, I haven’t been writing much lately. In fact, I haven‘t put a word on The Hope Lady blog since some time back in 2015. Yes, when I put it all together, it seems pretty clear that this retreat was designed specifically for me.” “Ridiculous!” said Common sense. I didn’t listen. Life can be pretty dull if you spend too much time listening to Common sense. “You haven’t been writing on your blog,” said Ronna, when I emailed her the news of my pending registration. Her tone was more affirmation than accusation. “See,” I said to Common sense. “I knew it. She’s been checking up on me!” “Just send the money when it’s convenient,” said Ronna, “and I’ll get you a ride.” Ronna and writing and I have a long and storied relationship. Our first encounter happened back in 1993 when I asked her to be my thesis supervisor. “Can you write?” she demanded. Truth was, she needed a Master’s student about as badly as she needed chicken pox. “Yes I can,” I declared with conviction. I needed a thesis supervisor as badly as I needed food for the rest of my life, and Ronna was the only desirable person in the department who hadn’t yet turned me down. “I don’t want to be nagging you,” she said. And I had a supervisor. At the time, I really intended to be self-managing. “I don’t want to hear you whining about how you can’t write,” she said. “The sign on my wall says NO WHINING!” Apparently she’d already had enough whining students to last her a lifetime. “I won’t whine,” I promised. But she did have to nag me, after the fog descended on all my good ideas and the only way out was to disappear and pretend I’d never started a Master’s. And she did help me, even though I whined. “Is there something I can do to move you forward?” said her voice on the phone on a day when I had accidentally answered a call from her. I couldn’t think of anything she could do to help me, so she had to do her own thinking. She praised me when I wrote a little, and laughed when I was funny, and bragged about me when I wrote more. And she published hope work with me, and hoped I would be a writer, which I’ve never turned out to be—though I do love writing when it calls to me. So I’m blogging again, out of gratitude to Ronna for keeping my name on her email list, even though the retreat is still sixteen days away. And Ronna has shown the grace not to utter a word of complaint, or let on that she might be groaning under the weight of responsibility for the good mental health of former students who require more attention than they have earned. I am promising, as you might expect, to write at the retreat without uttering a single whining noise. At this point, it is not clear to me where the grit comes in, but if there’s grit to be uncovered, well, I guess that’s what we’ll find out in sixteen days.

Sunday, May 08, 2016


On Mother’s Day weekend in the future Feasting in cozy cafes and restaurants of rich renoun Will I fail to recall the day I spent beneath an umbrella in a song-bird serenade As the vegetable seeds pierced the surface with their tiny stems and the dandelions grew a foot or more in a single moment? Will I neglect to remember the frosty marguerite in my hand, The fresh blueberries and left-over pizza served with a cheery “there you go, Mother!” My feet cooling in a shallow pool with sand on the bottom for the beach effect? Will I disremember the rosy lips of Baby Carys exploring the pool’s rounded edge As her eyes peered into the sandy water and her hand sought the thrill of a possibly forbidden dip? Will my mind fail to review that tender moment, when after slurping a long and luxurious drink, Bentley launched 88 solid German Shepherd pounds into the cool pool, Ignoring entreaties to come quick for the capture of the mouse who surveyed the scene from beneath the mountain ash? Will I forget the Mother’s Day weekend of 2016? It’s possible, I suppose. For any thing is possible. But I doubt it!

Tuesday, May 03, 2016


This morning I made peanut butter cookies for Bridge Club. “You don’t even like peanut butter cookies much,” said a little voice inside me. But I made them anyway, partly because they are so easy to make. “They are so easy to make!” That’s what Doris said when she brought them to Bridge Club a while ago, maybe a year or ago, back before the cancer and the downhill slide that followed too closely on its heels. “You use a cup of peanut butter, half a cup of sugar and an egg,” she said. “Then you mix them together and make a couple of dozen little balls. 20 minutes at 325 and they’re done. Doesn’t seem like it should work, but it does.” So I made them myself this morning, maybe because I wanted something simple to serve to Bridge Club, maybe because Doris’s 75th birthday would have been next Sunday, maybe just so I could hear the sound of her voice in my mind’s ear—and grieve a little. By the time you get to my age, death is not as unfamiliar as it once was. You’d have to have been a hermit not to have mourned the loss of beloved relatives, work colleagues and people you had intended to get to know better when you had time. But somehow I made it to the age of 62 without ever having lost a close friend. I would rather have made it to 82, or 102, or maybe never. Fifty-two years is a long time to bump through the ups and downs of life with a close friend. Doris Goetz was my braille teacher when I was 10 and she was 23, or maybe I was 9 and she was 22. I wish I’d thought to ask her if she knows exactly which year it was. At any rate, our first meeting was a time of great hope for both of us. She, a smiling, joyful, pretty young woman, was just beginning a long and inspiring career teaching braille, cooking, personal grooming and crafts to thousand of blind people, young and old. I, in contrast, was a fish out of water, a literate child who could not see well enough to read print, the only blind kid in Lougheed School. A CNIB driver drove her 100 miles to bring a book from which I was expected to teach myself, there being no braille readers within 100 miles. And the miracle is that I did teach myself, the alphabet, the punctuations, the complex system of contractions that most people claim as the reason why so many people never really learn braille. I taught myself to write with a slate and stylus, a system for writing which requires you to write each letter as in a mirror, poking out holes on one side that will be dots when you turn over the page. Miracle, I say, because I’m not the smartest kid on the block, and I can’t recall ever winning an award for perseverance. Maybe it was because I so badly wanted to read. More likely it was because Doris found for me that sweet spot, the time when other kids get into street gangs and experiment with smoking, the time when a kid will do just about anything to impress a mentor and a role model. To impress Doris I put everything I had into the task of learning braille. I gave up watching the Flintstones after school. I gave up visiting the hens in the yard so I could spend more time on braille. I worked as fast as Doris would allow, clogging the post box with envelopes documenting my progress, urging her to come quickly each time I finished a volume of the three-volume training book. Doris always dropped off a new book in person. A hundred miles was not, evidently, so far after all. After the first book, she gave up telling me to slow down. I was already an adult, albeit only in the legal sense, when next I met Doris. I had changed so much, no wonder I was surprised to find her exactly as I remembered, joyful, smiling, encouraging, fun to be with. We were work colleagues, we were former colleagues, we were lunchers, we were mutual admirers. I admired the way she made such a good life for herself as a single person who devoted all her efforts to one career. She admired how I made such a good life for myself as a married person adapting to several career changes along the way. I was amazed at how quickly she could leave me eating her dust after she got her guide dog. She admired how I took the LRT without a guide. We were fellow retirees, we were Bridge partners, and always we were friends. If she were here she’d be asking about my life—my kids, my grandkids, my hope projects, our new apartment, David’s health. Did I like the last symphony concert? Had I made it to Calgary to visit Pirate in his new home? If she were here she’d be remembering things I told her years ago and had forgotten until she reminded me. If she were here she’d be asking for computer help, and tips on downloading e-books. She’d be playing Bridge with us, and bringing the peanut butter cookies. Come to think of it, I miss Doris. I haven’t talked to her since February, or was it early March? Anyway, it’s already been too long, and if things were different I’d be making arrangements for us to get together instead of grieving on the Internet. But things are the way they are. So I am learning to like peanut butter cookies. I think she’d want it that way.