Category Archives: Lisa’s Story

A Touch of Magic

Everyone loves a good mystery. Years ago, my husband and I booked tickets to see a well-reputed magician. It’s not that I’m a huge aficionado of this entertainment genre, but the event happened to be bundled with a fabulous lunch – and for that, I will fall hard.

Now dear hubs, as many of you know, uses a wheelchair. And one of the mostly weird and occasionally wonderful ways in which this detail impacts on our social life has to do with theatre seating. We don’t sit where we choose; we sit where we’re put. Once in a while, the designated wheelchair seating area turns out to be prime real estate. That’s a party. More often, though, it’s in the fringes. Off-off-off Broadway, if you will. On this particular occasion, we were made to sit up front but on the extreme periphery of spectators – at such an awkward angle relative to the stage, in fact, that we were able to discern all the magic behind the magic. We saw through all the smoke, mirrors and sleights of hand whose success depended on a very specific audience viewing angle.

Sure, it was interesting. Mystery solved. But it also spoiled the magic.

In a way, that’s how I felt last week when I finally discovered the identity of one considerate, yet perpetually mysterious, neighbour. Long-time readers of this blog may remember “The Case of Citizen Stealth.” This story centered on a certain unknown, unnamed individual in my community who regularly retrieved our garbage bins from the curb for us after they’d been emptied on pick-up day. From my seat at the computer I’d hear the big plastic bins being shuffled and moved, but I never saw anything, never caught anyone in the act. And I always wondered which of my countless kind neighbours could take the credit for this good deed.

Then suddenly, mystery solved. Last week I spotted her walking past my office window, and seconds later the bins were rolled up the driveway. I hadn’t guessed it was her. I suppose I could have or even should have, because she’s the type who does many favours, and frequently. But she doesn’t even live on my street, although she walks along it, so her name hadn’t crossed my mind.

Is the magic spoiled? In a way it was nice not knowing. It left all possibilities open. It could have been the grumpy guy across the street. It could have been the reclusive pair nearby. They could have all been taking turns. Until last week, the potential was there.

But nothing has changed, really, has it? The potential is always there. And almost every person possesses a drive to do good. This week, especially, we have to remember that. This week, especially, I am thinking about the words of Mohandas Gandhi: “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”

It’s called dilution, and it’s not magic. It’s a basic law of chemistry.

I’m grateful for the ocean. And my neighbours.


I like big bins, and I cannot lie…

Screen Test

I’ve been out to the movies a few times this summer. (The Gift: Really good. Inside Out: Really good. Trainwreck: Really good. Thanks, online review aggregator, for making sure I never waste my money at the theatre… notwithstanding, of course, the twenty-dollar drop for the popcorn combo.)

I guess I like getting the most out of my entertainment buck, because I’m one of those individuals who enjoys the preshow and the previews before the main feature. If you pay attention to those, you might have seen the Cineplex Cinemas ads with theatre courtesy tips, namely: turn off your phone (“Don’t be a Tommy Texter”), refrain from kicking the chair in front of you (“Don’t be a Suzie Seatkicker”) and go for economy when you’re saving seats for friends (“Don’t be a Harvey Hogger”).

Last week, a Suzie Seatkicker actually sat behind me at the movies. I couldn’t see her, but I could feel her. Tap, tap, kick, kick, bump-bump-bump. There’s a reason why you shouldn’t do it. It’s distracting. It’s irritating. I admit that initially I harboured mean-spirited thoughts towards Miss Suzie. Why couldn’t she keep her lousy feet to her lousy self?

But partway through the film, somewhere between the comedy and the tragedy, I changed my perspective. Sending Suzie mental ill-will certainly wasn’t enhancing my movie experience. And wasn’t it possible Suzie wasn’t doing it on purpose? That perhaps she had unfeasibly oversized legs, that maybe she was cramped and just really, really uncomfortable? I decided Suzie might have a legitimate reason to seatkick. So I let it go. And from there, my movie concentration skills improved.

Once the credits were rolling, I naturally couldn’t resist turning around to get a look at Miss Suzie. Or rather Mister Suzie, as it turns out he wasn’t a woman but a thin, tall young man. And as such, he was endowed with very long – hey, get your mind out of the gutter, readers – legs.

Coincidentally, two days later a friend posted a message on social media: “The true mark of maturity is when somebody hurts you and you try to understand their situation instead of trying to hurt them back.”

Was it maturity that compelled me to try putting myself in Mister Suzie’s (size 13) shoes, instead of turning around to throw popcorn at his head? I don’t know about that. I just know that adopting a more understanding perspective did help me enjoy the movie. It was a win-win. I got to focus on the big screen, and Mister Suzie didn’t have to fish corn kernels out of his ear.

I’m not always quite so charitable when I try to understand someone else’s position. Like when another driver behaves badly on the road, and I decide he’s acting like a big shot because he does NOT have very long… uh… legs. (Photo courtesy of Salvatore Vuono /

I’m not always quite so charitable when I try to understand someone else’s position. Like when another driver behaves badly on the road, and I decide he’s acting like a big shot because he does NOT have very long… uh… legs. (Photo courtesy of Salvatore Vuono /

The Heat is On

For almost a decade, I have spent part of every summer at a certain magical place. It’s fully described in this earlier post, so I won’t go into detail again now. Suffice it to say that, this year, we happily enjoyed the usual fun, food and frolic. Each day brought us remarkably perfect weather – save one. On our second-last day, the temperature dropped, the sky turned grey and a dismal rain fell all day, stopping just long enough for my daughter to take out a sailboat, fall into the water, and soak the four layers of clothes she was wearing.

Apart from the sailing, this particular vacation day was mostly made for sitting around: relaxing, reading and chatting, instead of the usual swimming, windsurfing and kayaking. So by early evening, the combination of low activity and abundant cuisine had us feeling antsy. My daughter and I decided to burn a few calories by speed-marching through one of the buildings, up stairs and down hallways, up hallways and down stairs.

It was thus on our travels that we almost ran over Grace, an eightysomething woman staying here for a family reunion. When we met her, she was pushing a walker slowly down the hall to her room, delicately balancing two cups of tea on her mobility device.

“Can we help you carry those?” I asked her.

“No, but you can help me with something else,” she said. “Do you know how to work the heat in these rooms?”

“Actually, we do!” I replied. I explained that we’d just worked it out for ourselves, as my daughter’s dunk in the lake had necessitated a drying out of various garments.

Grace, who’d thought I was a staff person, exclaimed, “Oh, you’re a guest here! You don’t even have to help me!”

As you know, it’s my personal policy that we all certainly do have to help each other, and I freely told her so. The three of us walked at a slug’s pace together, introducing ourselves and chatting. Once we reached her room, I showed her how to adjust the heat.

Grace promptly put it up to 90, the extreme upper limit. “That’s going to feel like a hot summer day,” I warned her. “That’s just the way I like it,” she countered cheerfully.

“Well, enjoy your sauna,” I joked as we turned to leave.

“You’ve been so kind,” Grace remarked. Then she added with a grin: “I hope someone is as kind to you, when you’re as old and stupid as I am.”

For the record: When I am indeed old and stupid (a case could be made that I’m already nearly both), I’m counting on all you younger whippersnappers to be kind to me.

And please remember, always, to book my annual summer vacation.

We had lake, we had dock, we had Muskoka chairs. It was all the makings of a quintessential Ontario summer getaway.

We had lake, we had dock, we had Adirondack chairs. It was all the makings of a quintessential Ontario summer getaway.

Garden-Variety Good Deeds

Anyone who shops at garden nurseries on a regular basis knows that the bill adds up faster than you can say “variegated sedge.” That’s one reason why gardeners get so much joy out of dividing and sharing their own perennials. All those flowers, ferns and other freebies can save you a pile of cabbage.

Another reason is more fundamental. It seems to me that gardeners like finding new places for our plants because it means we’re spreading a little bit of beauty to one or two more corners of the world.

Last week my hubby and I visited a private garden where the homeowner and resident cultivator invited us to browse through her flowerbeds, point at perennials that caught our eye, and bring parts of them home to start a new life. She’d never met us before – we were introduced by a mutual friend. She may never see us again (although I did promise we could return the favour, anytime she wanted!). But thanks to her, new patches of sweet woodruff, tall woodland sunflower and green lady’s mantle are now taking hold in our own back yard.

I could go on and on about the good deeds that constantly crop up (hee hee, “crop”) among gardeners. In fact, I’ve discussed this in other blog posts, here and here. But for now I’ll just share this woman’s parting words, as we loaded up our van with pots large and small:

“Gardening is a lesson in generosity.”

It certainly all felt very generous to me.

P.S. If anyone knows the name of the mystery silver perennial that's front-and-centre in this pictue, we'd love to hear from you...

P.S. If anyone knows the name of the mystery silver perennial that’s front-and-centre in this pictue, we’d love to hear from you…

What’s Good Enough for the Goose…

Baby-bird rescue stories are ubiquitous at this time of year. (Here’s one I posted on almost exactly this same date, two years ago.) Last week, staff at the University of Calgary saved a half-dozen baby geese that had just left the nest for the first time… only to discover they were stranded on a rooftop, five metres above an asphalt parking lot. (Why their parents felt compelled to build a nest here is a topic to be explored in future therapy sessions, I’m sure.)

Lucky for this feathery family, the rooftop in question covered the university’s Outdoor Centre, which happened to be well stocked with gym mats. Once the university folks grasped the problem, they hauled out the mats and placed them strategically around the building, enabling the bird babies to jump off the roof safely. Happily, all five goslings survived the drop and the family soon left for greener ponds.

In my quiet Toronto suburb, we too are occasionally captivated by baby-bird cuteness. On my morning walk a few days ago, I encountered a family of seven – Mrs. Goose, Mr. Gander, and their five fuzzy children – waddling down the middle of the street without an apparent avian care in the world. I stopped to take photos, as did a kid who came out of a nearby house.

Then a car approached. Fortunately, by that point the fowl family had safely reached the sidewalk. Nevertheless, the person behind the wheel carefully slowed right down to a crawl, so as not to startle or separate the adult geese and their goslings. It was sweet to see the driver taking such care.

Now a message to the person who piped in the quirky music for this University of Calgary video of leaping goslings: You put a grin on my face. So, thank you for that.

“But John, I still don’t see any sign of a lake. For heaven’s sake, WHY won’t you stop and ask for directions?”

“But John, I still don’t see any sign of a lake. For heaven’s sake, WHY won’t you stop and ask for directions?”

Hearts in the Write Place

I’ve been interviewed before, but never by a girl in pajamas, never under a patio umbrella in my own backyard, and certainly never by someone who says, “Can we take a quick break while I play with the dog?”

That someone would be my 15-year-year old daughter, who was fulfilling a requirement for her high school Careers course. For her upcoming presentation on a specific career, she decided to interview yours truly about the ups, downs and sideways squiggles of being a freelance writer.

There are challenges to this career, sure, just like in any other. But for the record: I love my job. Although I ranted somewhat excessively in response to my daughter’s question, “What are the obstacles you face in your work?”, I did also have a lot to say about the positive stuff.

Why do I bring this up on a good deeds blog? Because one of the best things about being a freelance writer has everything to do with the kindness of others. See, writers love reaching out to help each other. Maybe it’s because we’re forced to work in solitude, so we get hungry for human connections. Whatever the reason, we writers tend to organize ourselves into groups, clubs, roaming gangs. We network online, and we communicate a whole lot (because we’re, you know, good with the words). And it’s great. We support each other when the going gets tough. (The going does get tough.) We encourage each other to succeed. We cheer each other’s accomplishments.

It’s not all vaguely worded inspiration, either. Often it’s solid, concrete assistance. In what ought to be a fiercely competitive field, we writers are tossing each other gigs and leads like so much party confetti. We’re providing referrals and references. We’re giving a heads-up about deadbeat clients. We’re sharing professional etiquette tips, solving sticky grammar problems, passing along techno-advice. Oh, and we sometimes post writing-related humour just because we all find it hilarious. (Man, Bill Murray is funny when he plays himself. I also loved his cameo in Zombieland.)

How many professions do you know of where the workers are constantly helping each other like this? If you’re feeling it, check out my previous stories about writers and good deeds, here and here.

If I had this much sugar in front of me while I worked, I wouldn’t turn to other writers for a helper’s high. (Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles /

If I had this much sugar in front of me while I worked, I wouldn’t turn to other writers for a helper’s high. (Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles /

The Real Reason I’m a Yummy Mummy

When I was growing up, there was a dinnertime rule we four kids all followed. At some point during the meal, we had to tell our mom the food was good. Whether we actually liked it (thankfully, we usually did) or not was irrelevant. What mattered was that we acknowledged the time and effort my mother had put into preparing yet another complete, nourishing dinner for her family of six. It’s no mean feat.

Fast forward a few years, and we’ve put this guideline into place in our own household, where I do most of the cooking. We encourage gratitude. Heck, you don’t even have to tell me it’s delicious (mind you, it usually is). Just say thank you – for taking the trouble to throw together something that both is reasonably edible and covers off on all the major food groups.

Remember that Family Guy episode in which title character Peter muses aloud that wife Lois must love cooking and cleaning – because, after all, she’s constantly doing it? Lois swiftly sets him straight. She doesn’t love it. She doesn’t even like it. She does it because she loves her family. Now, doesn’t that deserve some acknowledgement?

Does another person cook for you on a regular basis? Go tell them how much you appreciate it. They’ll enjoy hearing it, and I guarantee it will turn back in your favour… who knows, you may find yourself with a little extra dessert chocolate pudding.

Yum. Some images are rather more fun to photosource than others. (Photo courtesy of hyena reality /

Yum. Some images are rather more fun to photosource than others. (Photo courtesy of hyena reality /