Category Archives: Lisa’s Story

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…

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 /


Today, we will not speak of the sudden shock that is September. It’s hit harder than a bucket of ice water, don’t you think? Let’s change the subject. On Saturday, my family and I were driving home from a pleasant outing, making the most of the tail end of summer before this unspeakable new month. We exited the highway and started along a busy avenue. It was nighttime.

When we stopped at an intersection, we picked up on an all-too-common sight in this city. There was a homeless man standing on the traffic island, bundled up in shapeless clothes, holding a cardboard sign: HUNGRY. Now, my husband had ambitiously prepacked a ton of snacks for our day trip. These remained largely untouched. So while I fumbled in a bag to find them, he called the homeless person over. And when I reached my hand out with three granola bars, the person smiled, and took them, and she said, “God bless you.” It was not a man at all, but a middle-aged woman.

The traffic lights had already changed. The driver behind us had the decency not to honk in impatience, and the woman stepped out of the way. We drove on. Someone in our car referred to granola bars as ideal giveaways for the hungry – they are individually packaged and strong on nourishment, being high in nuts, fruit and grains.

Well, shut my mouth. Yesterday we drove home from yet another pleasant excursion (we’re really pushing this summer thing to its extreme limits) and encountered yet another cardboard-sign-wielding hungry person at an intersection. This time it was a young man. Feeling smart, we hauled out another granola bar and beckoned to him.

“Are there nuts in it?” he asked right off the bat.

That was unexpected. “Thanks anyway,” he said graciously, backing away.

The takeaway? Even homeless people have dietary restrictions. I’m now thinking about the high price of EpiPens. And vulnerability. And I’ve decided that even though it’s September, and summer is fading, I’m lucky. My belly is full with a hot breakfast, and I did not stand on a street corner to beg for it. One more thing: I think we’ll start carrying nut-free granola bars in the car.

Currying Favour

Books are full of surprises, aren’t they? Sometimes, it’s not what you’d expect. There was that time I opened a book from my grandmother, four years after she’d died, and found a note along with a delicate pressed rose. Another time, inside a library book, I discovered a handwritten recipe for curried ackees (which I kept, of course. You never know when ackees might go on sale at the local veggie stand).

More recently, I was browsing for bargains in the books section of a secondhand shop. When I flipped through one particular volume, I discovered a small envelope with “To Mark” written on it. Curious, I opened the envelope and pulled out a small notecard. It read: “Dear Mark, we love you very much. It’s such a delight to have us sharing this day together. Oooo mushy. Anyhow, Happy Birthday!” It was signed. And so was an as-yet-uncashed cheque for $60.

Oh, the inhumanity. A gesture of kindness, almost lost forever in an old book. Lost since July 2010, anyway.

Luckily, there was a phone number printed on the cheque. Feeling rather pleased with myself, I pocketed the card and made up my mind that when I got home, I would call the kind couple who loved Mark so dearly. Maybe they could issue him a new cheque, since he never cashed the one they gave him. Maybe they could send the card back to him, or replace it with another, since he took the one they’d lovingly written for him and carelessly stuck it in a…


I chickened out. What if it hurts their feelings, I pondered, to know that Mark misplaced the card, and never bothered to spend the money? Sure, it may have been an honest accident. And maybe he really did turn his house upside down afterwards looking for the gift, before calling his doting friends in anguish, and maybe they have long since replaced the cheque for him.

Yet on the off chance it turned out Mark just didn’t care as much as they did, I didn’t want to take that risk.

Anyhow, I’ve since Googled our friend Mark. He was easy to find. He’s got a respectable job, and he looks happy, if a little scruffy (Mark, if you’re reading this, consider giving that weird beard a trim). So he’s doing okay, really.

I think I’ll let well enough alone. Would you?

P.S. As my replacement good deed (and because I’m sure you’re dying to ask anyway), here’s the recipe for curried ackees:

Red or yellow pepper and onion, diced small
Sauté until soft in butter
Scotch Bonnet to taste
Add half can coconut milk
Add 1 tbsp curry powder
If too thin, thicken with a little flour paste
Add ackees, warm and serve warm

Sixty bucks: More than enough to pay a barber.

Sixty bucks: More than enough to pay a barber.