Thursday, December 30, 2010


This morning I introduced myself to the new coffee maker on the counter. “Hello,” I said coolly. “You look familiar. If it weren’t for that swanky little clock near your base, I’d say you were identical to the last two coffee pots that sat in your place.”
“And who are you?” she asked hotly, burbling out the last few drops. I suppose she had a right to be a bit huffy, given my tactless reference to her predecessors. What she doesn’t know is that there have been at least a dozen others I didn’t mention.
“I’m Microwave,” I answered loftily from my perch on the shelf beside the fridge. And then a little sorry for my rudeness, I added in what I hoped was a friendlier tone, “If you need to know anything, just ask. I’ve been with the family since 1978.”
“1978!” she gasped. “Thirty-two years ago? Well, I guess that explains why you don’t look much like a microwave.”
That set me back a bit. I guess I’d been expecting a reaction that was a bit more respectful. I’m a bit sensitive about my appearance.
I’ve been meeting a lot of new appliances lately. Yesterday I introduced myself to the latest vacuum while it waited for David to clear a corner so it could be stowed in the broom closet. It’s one of those sleek models on wheels with a retractable cord and a host of convenient on-board tools and accessories. “I’ve heard you have an extra motor attachment for stairs,” I said, in a more or less sincere attempt at flattery. “I hope you’ll like the broom closet. I’ve never been in there. I don’t expect the view’s too great. That’s one advantage we microwaves have. They usually offer us a view. I followed this family into three kitchens and the view got better each time. In this house I face a window lined with orchids.”
“Three houses,” said the vacuum. “You must be really old then. That probably explains why you don’t look much like a microwave. Where’s your Popcorn setting anyway? And how did you get so big? Are you on steroids?” That’s the last I heard before David shut the door. Not soon enough, I’d say.
You’ll understand if I’m a bit testy these days. December’s been a bad month for appliances. Coffee Pot was the latest casualty—gave up with most of the water still in the reservoir and one cup dripped through—worst cup of coffee ever, according to the unfortunate Mark who came bleary-eyed to the kitchen hoping for a rich dark roast. The vacuum went up in smoke the previous day. Before that it was the dishwasher—gave up changing cycles 45 minutes into a load, its bottom half full of water that smelled a little worse every day for the two weeks it sat there waiting for a nice young man named Elijah to conclude that even a promise of $600.00 for parts and labour would likely not drain the swamp and get it going again. That was only the beginning of the drama. I watched sympathetically while Wendy ladelled the water out with a teacup. I thanked my lucky stars for my shelf during the flood of scalding water that surged across the kitchen and into the basement during the installation of the replacement. Oh, I could write a book about the goings-on I’ve seen in my day.
I’m hoping you’ll understand if I worry a bit about my own future. I am, after all, a lot bigger than the average microwave. I was born in the day when you bought a microwave that could hold a 20-pound turkey, just in case you’d ever cook a 20-pound turkey in a microwave. Has anybody ever done that? I was born at a time when popcorn was popped in electric frying pans or popcorn poppers. I was born in the day when a microwave oven could proudly sport a stylish coat of push buttons, right down the front.
It’s the buttons that keep me here, I’ve heard them say. They say it whenever they mention that I’m really too big for my current shelf. They say it when people ask if a microwave my age can possibly be safe. They explain that Wendy loves to push my buttons. Those flat-fronted models with their fancy digital read-outs for a million different purposes are useless for blind people.
I’ve heard them say they’ll likely stick with me until the end. And that’s encouraging, given that I’m the oldest appliance I’ve ever met. So far the signs are all good. Last night they popped corn in the popper on the stove. Last week they cooked a 13-pound turkey in the oven. For my part, I did what I could to make their Christmas merry. I cooked the peas and warmed the leftovers. I melted the butter for baking. I heated their coffee to scalding after they added the eggnog. And I greeted all the new appliances as kindly as I could—honestly I did.

Thursday, December 23, 2010



Nearly 60 per cent of patients with irritable bowel syndrome reported they felt better after knowingly taking placebos twice a day, compared to 35 per cent
of patients who did not get any new treatment, they report in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE.

"Not only did we make it absolutely clear that these pills had no active ingredient and were made from inert substances, but we actually had 'placebo' printed
on the bottle," Ted Kaptchuk of Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, who led the study, said in a statement.

Just one more reason why I love working in positive psychology!!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming
Arranged in 1609, written some time before that
Sung this week as in years past
In languages of many peoples
By lucky choristers like me
Moving parts in choirs large and small

Who says beautiful things can’t last forever?

Lo How A Rose

Monday, December 20, 2010


If I’ve said it once in my adult Decembers I’ve said it a hundred times: “I’d like to see Miracle On 34th Street, the old version I watched as a kid.” And every year the TV would show umpteen versions of the Christmas Carol, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeers, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Bells of St. Mary’s, Home Alone—you get my drift. Every year somebody would say: “Oh yes, that movie comes on every Christmas.,” and one time I started to watch it, but it wasn’t the old version I remembered so I wandered off to write a letter.
Yesterday I popped in to say something to Mark and Tracey. Tracey was decorating the tree and watching White Christmas. “Oh,” I cried, “White Christmas!”
“How do you know that?” Mark asked, turning from the computer where he was playing a game of some sort.
“Because I see it every Christmas when I’m looking for Miracle On 34th Street.”
“I have Miracle on 34th Street,” said Tracey. “I watch it every year.” Now here is something. How could I have missed this last year? This was Tracey’s second Christmas with Mark. Did she have my movie in this house last year? Yes, she did.
And so it came to pass that last night, after we got home from the Christmas story concert, I went to the family room, pushed back the recliner, and settled down with David to watch Miracle on 34th Street, the old version with colour added, only I can’t tell colour TV from black and white, so the modernization effect did not trouble me. And there they were the scenes I remembered from—how many decades has it been? The child whose practical mother taught her not to believe, the handsome hero who loved her mother, the Santa Claus who revolutionized department store Santa business, the trial for mental incompetence, and finally, oh finally, the new house for Christmas when all signs pointed to the fact that there would be no new house, hence no reason to truly believe. And there, in the new house, as David pointed out, was the cane that the old Santa carried.
Bless David. The evening was wearing on, but he had managed to stay awake to tell me the ending. It’s a terrible frustration for blind movie-watchers, this stuff on the screen that only sighted people get. You can faithfully watch a whole movie alone and then not know how it ends.
I’d forgotten the end of this movie, though I didn’t remember I’d forgotten until we got there. I had known the ending because my mother told it to me. She told it in wonder, the way David told it, the way Doris and Fred experienced it in the movie. We were sitting at the kitchen table still piled high with dinner dishes—dinner on the farm was eaten at midday. Soup remains grew dry on the bowls, the crackers lay in their wrapping. Mom had reached over to cover the cheese. The kitchen table was strategically placed for a clear view into the living room. We could watch TV from the table. This was the afternoon movie. We must have accidentally got interested. We would never have planned to watch it together. We didn’t watch movies together. We always did the dishes after dinner in those days. But this was Christmas. Even though we were busy, there was extra time.
In this memory my mother, the kitchen and the movie are all perfectly focused, every detail as I knew it then has replaced our family room.
As David and I watch this old movie my own children, now adults, move around the house. Every so often a head pops in, sees that we are watching, and pops back out to pursue its own pursuits. These are my children, living the days of early adulthood when the memories of childhood go into hiding, stored away for future surprise. And I wonder, in a few decades, what small happenings, small as the cane at the end of their movie, will take them back with absolute clarity to a treasured time spent with us that they didn’t even know they were noticing.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


The Hope Foundation is looking for chronic pain sufferers who would like to participate in a research project. Our goal is to understand more about the effects of group activities that build hope and inner strength. We need participants who are willing to attend six two-hour activity sessions and watch a videotape of session 3 with a researcher who will ask questions about the process.
The group process we are studying is designed to address a number of psychological conditions that commonly occur when people suffer chronic pain. They become discouraged and depressed when their pain continues after they have sought treatment. They tire of asking for assistance. They lose confidence in their ability to make good judgments. Increasingly limited by the pain, they stay home and become isolated. As time passes they stop seeking remedies, socializing with friends, participating in activities they previously enjoyed. They stop looking forward to the future. In short, as they come to accept their pain as chronic, they lose touch with the picture of themselves as hopeful people with personal strengths and resources.
Researchers have long maintained that hopeful, strong, resourceful people are the most able to cope with life’s challenges. Since its beginnings in 1992, the Hope foundation has been developing group programs that bring people together to learn from each other in a positive, hopeful way. You can find the brochure about our program at BEING HOPEFUL IN THE FACE OF CHRONIC PAINYou might know somebody could benefit from this program. Please share this information with them.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


Just when you think you’ve learned everything, somenew discovery comes along to confound you. Yesterday’s discovery was indeed extraordinary. During a process of deep contemplation, Rachel and I identified and labelled a rapidly growing phenomena, the Freudian Click.
Freudian Clicks are increasingly the subject of conversations with counsellors. The Freudian Click is what happens when you channel your frustration into an angry note blaming your boss for all your troubles, and then push Send instead of Cancel. The Freudian Click is what happens when you flirt with an on-line purchase, and suddenly you’re expecting delivery of a bright red sports car. The Freudian Click is what happens when you get one of those warnings: YOU HAVE MADE CHANGES THAT MAY CAUSE PROGRAMS ON YOUR COMPUTER TO FAIL, and you push OK. Well, there wasn’t any button that said THINK IT OVER AND GET BACK TO ME!
And as for the results of the Freudian Click—they are mixed. Some angry senders have no doubt been fired. The economy has been bolstered by some purchases. And as for computers, well the people who are really going to ruin your computer don’t generally put warnings in their programs, and computers don’t last forever anyway. The Freudian Click is like the Freudian Slip—an adventure, an experiment, one more gift given to the world by Freud.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010


Thanks to our knowledgeable Hope Kids volunteer Joelle Reiniger, and my intrepid colleague Rachel stege—one of the few truly modern women who is social networking savvy even though she does not own a cell phone--the Hope Foundation has now joined the world of social media! This means we will be able to post notices about important happenings such as our upcoming hope and strengths groups for people with chronic pain, our Christmas open house, and all the events that will accompany Hope Week when it rolls around on January 31. We invite you to get connected:

• “Like” us on Facebook (

• Follow “HopeFdnAlberta “ on Twitter (

Please show your support by including the Hope Foundation in your own social networking – We encourage you to pass this information to your friends and
colleagues or anyone who would be interested in the work of the Hope Foundation.