Category Archives: Lisa’s Story

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 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

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 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

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 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

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

Nutbars

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…

Oh.

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.

Power Hour

Did you observe Earth Hour on Saturday night? How did you choose to mark the occasion? In my city, some people spent the time between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. enjoying an acoustic music performance at a downtown pub. Others demonstrated their commitment to the planet with a candlelit yoga class (I imagine there’s something to be said for downward dog in the dark).

In fact, millions of people were expected to participate around the globe, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Here in Toronto, our use of electricity dropped by a somewhat shabby six percent. That’s not quite as much as last year’s Earth Hour, although on my own street the rate of participation seemed unnaturally high – I noticed several darkened houses, displaying a high respect for energy conservation in my ’hood (unless, of course, those folks were simply out somewhere, dancing to pounding techno-pop under strobe lights).

Sure, turning off the lights for an hour is a symbolic gesture. But that doesn’t make it less meaningful. Or less fun. As far as I’m concerned, we’re all more attractive by flickering candlelight. And by the same token, everything’s a little more interesting.

At 8:30 in my house, the family – including the dog – gathered together in one dim room for a snuggle and deep conversation. We passed the hour (quickly, it seemed) with several rounds of “Would You Rather,” each one sparking a spirited three-way discussion. Likewise for two other games we invented on the spot, one I’ll call “What Would Your Happiest Moment on Earth Look Like” and another called “If You Could Have the Answer to Any Mystery on Earth, What Would It Be” (contenders were “what’s beyond this universe?” and “who borrowed that book from me back in the seventies?”).

You know, when your kid is 14 and life is a whirlwind, having an hour to talk together as a family, with no electronics, noises or distractions, is pure gold.

So as much as observing Earth Hour was a sincere gesture of goodwill, I have to say, the privilege was all mine.
Globe

A Custodian, a Banana Peel, a Tennis Ball (or Two)

Maybe it’s because my high school reunion is coming up this month (spoiler: I’m not going), but I’ve been thinking a lot about those old public school days. I grew up just outside of a tiny, remote hamlet. When our meager population was finally deemed robust enough to justify the construction of a modest elementary school, I was among the first students.

There are many things about that fresh little K-5 school that stick in my mind. Like the brightly painted foursquare and hopscotch patterns. The shiny, 1970s-modern play structure (poor Marnie E., who fell from it and broke her leg). The proximity to the candy store.

I also remember Mr. Hamilton. He was the small school’s one and only custodian. He was cheerful, skinny and (I thought at the time) incredibly old. He smiled often and wasn’t perturbed by much.

So there I was, a fifth-grade, ostensibly goody-goody sort of student, under the influence and the thumb of my best-friend-at-the-time, Christine M. Christine was smart and creative and bold. In grade five, a person with that special constellation of qualities was considered a troublemaker. (Unbeknownst to me, a teacher had already contacted my parents to suggest they try and break up the friendship.) When, at lunch recess, Christine dared me to throw my banana peel onto the one-storey building’s flat roof, I complied.

I got it in one shot. Unfortunately, I also got caught – by the teacher on yard duty.

She sent me inside to the custodian’s office to apologize forthwith, since he’d be the one stuck cleaning up my roof garbage. I hadn’t thought of that. And truth be told, I had very little experience owning up to my misbehaviour, since I didn’t display much of it in the elementary school setting.

I nervously went down the hall and, trembling, approached the janitor. “Mr. Hamilton?” I said in a tiny voice. “I’m very, very sorry, but I threw a banana peel on the roof.”

Good old Mr. Hamilton (who probably wasn’t all that old). He grinned broadly at me. “Oh, that’s okay,” he said. He reached for his desk. “Do you want a tennis ball? Here, have two tennis balls.” He handed me the treasures and sent me away. Seems Mr. Hamilton didn’t collect only garbage from the school’s flat roof.

I don’t remember much else about that incident. But I remember how relieved I was that the janitor wasn’t mad. And puzzled that he’d rewarded me with a gift.

I’d like to say that it was a major turning point, that Mr. Hamilton set me on the straight and narrow with his simple act of kindness. It would make for a great story. It wouldn’t be true, though. I would have continued to more-or-less behave no matter what. Christine M. and I drifted apart as we got older (she’s all grown up now with three beautiful daughters, which shows what you can do with intelligence and creativity). I got good grades and got into the regular measure of trouble that most teenagers manage to find. No, Mr. Hamilton didn’t do anything earthshattering that day. He was just nice.

But I think it’s enough that I never forgot it.

“Hey, something’s wrong – my wi-fi connection is down!”

“Hey, something’s wrong – my wi-fi connection is down!”