Life Is Not A Harlequin Romance

By: Laura Christieheart

If the title of this blog was accurate to the statement I remember from the past, it would state “Laura, life is not a Harlequin Romance”. This was part of sage advice offered by my father when I was in my early twenties. I’m sure he chose this segue into the conversation about marriage because the females in the Froats family were known to read a ton of these slim novels. It just so happened that a friend of my dad’s, worked for the publishing company. We were given several boxes.

The important part of our conversation, after the Harlequin lead in, was my father telling me that marriage required hard-work from both partners. There was a lot of give and take, concessions and compromise, love and laughter, surviving challenging times together and often putting the other person’s needs above your own.

This got me thinking about the client couples we deliver to on the daily meal program. Currently there are sixteen couples on service. Among them are six couples in their nineties and seven couples in their late eighties. That represents long married lives together. We have witnessed first hand their commitment to one another, as they have aged side by side. They truly exemplify the phrase, “in sickness and in health”, as spouses take on the additional role of primary caregiver.

Our view of long relationships also includes those of many volunteers. They have celebrated milestone anniversaries and invited us to their parties! Here we get the opportunity to see volunteers in a different light. Marvel at their photos through the years and see that we are not the only ones who admire and respect them.

One of my favorite anniversaries involved a former volunteer, Dorothy. She retired from Meals on Wheels after forty years of service. Dorothy had a wonderful relationship with her husband Jock. We got to know him quite well over the years. He was a scholar and a gentleman, and they doted on each other. One day he asked me, “Do you know what we’re celebrating today?” I shook my head ‘no’ and he gave me a coy smile. “Why, It’s the anniversary of the day I asked Dorothy’s father if I could court her.” And Dorothy, overhearing, shushed him even as she giggled behind her hand.

My mom and dad certainly seemed well matched and happy. In fact, they were wonderful role models. They faced lots of hard-times, hence his use of the expression, “we didn’t have two pennies to rub together”. But he had a career, they owned a home, had a family, and enjoyed a great retirement. From beginning to end their life seemed the stuff of romance novels to me.

It’s true, that as I waded through those first two boxes of Harlequin romances, I had stars in my eyes. But years later, his pre-marriage talk was spot on and indeed they have been words to live by.

-Laura

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WHAT’S IN A STORY?

By: Vanessa Cullen

When I started planning to write as Laura’s guest-blogger, I knew right away I would want it to be about storytelling. After all, Laura’s blogs usually stem from a great story so I have the theme correct! I also wanted to continue encouraging everyone – volunteers, staff, clients – to share their stories. I started with a google-search of ‘storytelling’ and this popped up:

Stories or narratives have been shared in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation and instilling moral values.

I found this interesting, especially the last few words…instilling moral values. I would say one of the most impactful ways my mother has influenced me over my lifetime is through her stories. She has told me endless recounts of growing up as a young girl during WWII, painting images of the air raid shelter in her backyard in England, food stamps and rations, seeing boys from the neighbourhood go off to war never to return. She even had an experience when a soldier climbing in her bedroom window and hiding under her bed. He bribed her with an orange to stay quiet. It took years before she told her own parents that this had occurred (I hope that coveted orange was worth keeping that secret!).

I never grow tired of hearing her stories and I certainly never get bored of watching the reaction of my kids as my mother tells them of her experiences. It got me thinking. What could another person’s stories from a really long time ago, in another country across the ocean during a time in history, that I can’t fully relate to, possibly teach me?

The answer is a lot. It turns out I have had a lifetime of stories to teach me to appreciate what I have, to never take for granted how amazing my life is with my family, my own house, a kitchen full of food, countless friends and family that I can call on when I need help or maybe just to spend time with sitting around a bonfire. I never feel lonely. I never feel desperate that I can’t afford food. I never feel alienated or scared or marginalized.

All of these stories have in a round-about way brought me to where I am today. Working with Meals on Wheels London, trying to extend our reach to more in London. Trying to tell our stories of impact in the lives of the people we serve, trying to instill that sense of moral value that many seniors in this community need us and we have the ability to make such a difference to each one of them.

Sharing our stories is IMPACTFUL. The people we serve have a story and it is up to us to tell it. Let’s share the stories of the faces we meet, the lessons we have learned and the reasons why we all do what do with Meals on Wheels London. Who knows what will come of it? If I had to guess, I would say the answer is MORE THAN WE REALIZE.

A Whole Month – Well Deserved!

By: Laura Christie

The jubilant month of June – all thirty days – is dedicated to seniors. The theme in 2017 is “Living Your Best Life.” I learned this when I viewed a desperately basic content page courtesy of the government of Ontario. The Ontario Senior Secretariat site was even worse. It read, “A description for this result is not available because of this site’s robot.txt.” I have no idea what that means, but obviously it wasn’t good or helpful.

There was not one picture to view. No seniors playing hockey, baseball, surfing or riding a bike. Heck, world-wide, the oldest person to climb Mount Everest was eighty years old. In fact, a Nepali man and former record holder, died in May at eighty-five, while attempting to regain the title. Our own volunteer base is largely older adults and seniors. A great percentage of them are fit, active and empowered. They travel, go on adventures, hike, walk, ride, skip, jump – the whole nine yards. They have busy schedules. Most of them are not only living longer, they are living their best life. It’s predicted that by 2031, just a mere fourteen years away, one in four Canadians will be 65 or older. Yikes, myself included.

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Meals on Wheels London kicked off Seniors Month by hosting a well-attended barbecue outside of our Village Table location at 630 Dundas Street. A success for sure; 350 burgers were gobbled up! So, with mouths full, a shout-out was given to the seniors in our lives. Many thanks to all the volunteers who helped-out. One Hundred and One cheers to Growing Chefs! Ontario for the awesome food.

The last Canadian census confirmed that we have 5.9 million people aged 65 and over. And by over, I mean by a lot. As I wrote this blog, there were 8,230 people in Canada who were centenarians. Many famous seniors reached 100, such as the Queen Mother, George Burns, Bob Hope, Kirk Douglas, Olivia de Havilland and Zsa Zsa Gabor (“dahlink”). By the way, with all those Canadian centenarians, there is a ratio of five women to every man. Women must have a secret to extended longevity.

Do you know what was listed on that government website? How to request a celebratory message from the Prime Minister, the Premier of Ontario and the Lieutenant Governor to mark certain milestones. Let’s turn things around – those three people should be the ones asking to receive messages from the seniors who surround them. Oh, the things they would learn.

When the government devotes a whole month to seniors – they should make it count. Community agencies like ours already celebrate seniors every day!

-Laura

Engagement

By: Laura Christie

As part of our Transportation engagement sessions, I can assure you that not only did those in attendance have engaging personalities, they were engaged. Which is quite apt, since we advertised it as an “engagement session.” In this respect and many others, the afternoon did not disappoint. There may have been a wide variety of personalities – charming, witty, reflective, serious, animated and low-key, but they all had something in common, a strong belief that our transportation program is needed in this city.

When surveyed, clients expressed that their reliance on the Meals on Wheels London service was due to several things: dependability, price, and the company of the volunteer. Think what it means to someone who is anxious about their appointment and they have a kind and friendly person driving. Ours is not a basic service. A bus, paratransit, or a taxi cab will only get people from “point A to point B.” The stories below show just two examples of how our transportation service is significantly different from other options.

One of the volunteers who provided an 82-year client with rides to physio called our office to say: “She is a lovely lady. One of the big rewards for me is the inspiration received from her determination, positive attitude and the appreciation she demonstrated for the drive. Thank you for these driving assignments and the opportunity to meet someone like her.”

A 69-year-old client called staff in tears to compliment her volunteer. “The driver I had last week really went out of his way. I’d had three nights of truly awful pain and didn’t get to sleep until 4:30 a.m. When he came to pick me up, he couldn’t rouse me. He had forgotten his cell phone and then went to four different neighbours to find one that would let him use the telephone. The ringing woke me up and we made it to the appointment. He went above and beyond and it was truly appreciated.”

One of my duties was to transcribe discussion points and write them on large sheets of paper. I attempted to print neatly and to spell words correctly. Also, to stand up straight because people were watching me as I wrote. Volunteer feedback, ideas, stories and suggestions were enlightening. Again, my inner alarm went off as a reminder to me that these volunteers could share their time anywhere in the city. Yet, they chose to come to Meals on Wheels, have stayed with us and are committed to enriching the lives of the clients who use this service.

As a volunteer-driven agency, program review and ideas for growth receive value added solutions from the very people who drive between 20 to 25 clients each week day. From the initial phone call introducing themselves and letting the client know what time they’ll be picked up, to the drive itself, this interaction is beyond measure.

Drive on, Transportation volunteers, drive on! In this role you shine, and we are grateful for the spotlight you have focused on this service.

Laura

The Road Less Travelled

By: Laura Christie

I am back from what has become an annual vacation with my two sisters. This time we headed off to Niagara on the Lake. We rented the quaint Maple Tree Cottage. A three-bedroom house meant that we did not have to share a bed.

We laughed, we sang, (and that was before visiting any of the wineries). We also walked, we ate, talked and reminisced. It all started in the car on way to our destination; indeed on a road less travelled. We took the very scenic and meandering Highway 3 until it abruptly stopped. Yes, simply ended at some traffic lights in Fort Erie.

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After a quick left turn we came upon a Remax office. Here we met a friendly fellow and told him of our predicament. He said, “Do you want to get there quickly, or take the scenic route from here?” As we were already on the scenic route, we figured we would stick with the plan. Consciously avoiding the incredibly busy 401 was a unanimous decision. Rather than stare at the back or side of transport trucks we opted for picturesque farms, small town Ontario, and stopping at refurbished Tim Horton’s for a break. His parting comment: “Enjoy yourselves, and keep the river on your right.”

As we drove along the Niagara Parkway, which cuddles up to the Niagara River for 55 kilometers, we marvelled at the huge homes and the extended trail for bikes and hikes. That road less travelled had evoked a sublime feeling of not needing to rush. As it permeated our skin there was a sense of slipping on a ‘vacation cloak’.

The same cloak allows you to buy yourself a little something when you hit the outlet mall. Or visit the bakery down the street and purchase slices of New York and peanut butter chocolate cheesecake. Shared of course amongst three sisters. Then came a bag of chocolate covered sponge toffee from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. In the store, it bore the name ‘Dark Chocolate Sea Foam’. With the name change came an exorbitant price tag.

Somewhat shame-filled at the number of treats hidden by the ‘vacation cloak’, there are more places than Las Vegas where a similar tagline is needed: “What happens in Niagara on the Lake, stays in Niagara on the Lake.” Not to mention on your hips.

We are almost at the end of May. Over the next few months volunteers will take well-deserved holidays. I hope for each one of our time-sharing, hard-working volunteers, comes the opportunity to relax, gear down, and take things slow. They most certainly need a break and a chance to slip on the ‘vacation cloak’.

Laura

Family Traditions- This is an Invitation!

Every Family has traditions. Many families have traditions surrounding key dates on the calendar that repeat annually such as the major holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. Though we all accept that every family has traditions, we also know that the way those traditions are lived out can be quite unique depending on the values, culture and makeup of the family.   Very much like a family, organizations have traditions as well, and Meals on Wheels London is no different! Every non-profit in the city celebrates their volunteers, each one holds board meetings and fundraising events throughout the year, and every one has an Annual General Meeting! Meals on Wheels London, of course, holds all of these traditional events—and we do them with special unique to us markers. Recently, this was seen at the wonderful Canada Caf-eh! Which took place on May 5 with over 150 member of our meals on wheels family (volunteers and staff) in attendance! It was a fabulous celebration and expression of gratitude to our volunteers that make our services possible.2

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Another one of our organizational traditions is just around the corner, set to take place on June 22 at our Village Table location at 630 Dundas St. from 4-5:30 pm, our Annual General Meeting! This event is an important part of our traditions, as it is an opportunity to reflect on the year that has passed, and sets the stage for the year ahead. I want to encourage as many of our Meals on Wheels Family, Volunteers, Staff, Board Members, Donors, Community Partners, Clients and their Care givers, and Funders to attend this years Annual General Meeting as this years tradition will also mark a rite of passage for our organization as we launch new branding that will highlight the messages of meals, transportation and our new village table services. The theme for this year’s event is Deliver the Message, Tell the Story. Each week Laura uses this Blog to share stories of how our volunteers are impacting the lives of our clients and how in turn they are also impacted. At this year’s Annual General Meeting, we will be encouraging everyone connected to our organization to tell their stories of how Meals on Wheels London is making a difference! Please join us! You can RSVP through this link: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/meals-on-wheels-londons-annual-general-meeting-tickets-34710981480invite

Laura is on vacation this week, sharing the blogging opportunity with me! I hope that you will accept this invitation and plan to join us June 22, 4-5:30 pm at The Village Table 630 Dundas St., I promise it will be a family tradition you wont want to miss!

Sarah Campbell, Executive Director

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Mothers

By: Laura Christie

After many days of rain, the dandelions went wild. They must have been sucking up all that ground water because they became super-sized. I am shocked by their mass. They are so deep-rooted that I had to attack them from multiple angles to be sure I removed the entire root system. I knew when I came back inside my husband would say, “Did you get all the roots”?

flowersAs I worked away, moving from one yellow weed to another, the memory of a dandelion bouquet came to mind. Grade one, and I had presented my mother with an art project using paint, fingertips, and a handprint to resemble a gift of flowers. Yet, I was forlorn. It just didn’t seem enough to show my wonderful mother how much I loved her. That’s when I spied the backyard dandelions. I picked enough for a small bouquet and held the stems together with a hair elastic. It was a glorious sight with all that brilliant yellow. She exclaimed over them, immediately poured water into a juice glass and in went the dandelions.

Mothers have many roles, not just the one for their children. They are wives, daughters, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, co-workers, bosses, neighbours, friends, cheerleaders and so much more. I don’t recall consciously thinking of all these multiple roles until my mother passed away when she was seventy-one. Prior to that it was always the possessive “my mother” and what she meant to my family. But really, it was all about dimension and finally comprehending that my mother had never been a one-dimensional cardboard cut-out. Why had it taken me so long? There was so much to learn about her as a woman. A much-regretted missed opportunity for stories never told, or heard, or passed on.

In this respect, I am grateful to our volunteers for providing clients with a listening ear. Ears that are open to the stories clients want to tell. Experiences that they can give voice to and have acknowledged. An exchange between two people that is not in text or email form, but face to face interaction. A comfortable conversation that will stay with them long after the last word is spoken. Bravo, volunteers, for engaging and being present and acknowledging the person who stands before you!

Mothers Day is fast approaching. I haven’t gotten to my back yard yet so I could invite you over to pick a dandelion bouquet. No charge if you make sure to get all the roots. As for myself – I will pick that bouquet in honour of my mom. I will make a cup of tea, letting it steep, giving the bag a few good stirs and finally squeeze it up against the side of my mug. When I take the first sip, I will longingly wish for one of my mother’s shortbread cookies and for her to be sitting across from me.

Laura

 

 

Rain, Rain Go Away. Come Again Another Day

Oh, those “winter blahs”, even saying it makes you feel “down in the dumps.” It holds such a negative connotation. But, if you say, “spring fever” this implies an eagerness, a zest for life. This is what we are in the throes of right now. A few days of warmth and out come the sandals and shorts. We’re ready to forgo a coat. That feverisrainydayh feeing of wanting more of it takes you in its grip.

Just when we think we’re safe, along comes a day like today when there is the expectation of rain and several days of it. Ever wondered what fifty-five to seventy-five millimeters of rain is like, other than wretched? Drive through a puddle caused by an incessant down pour and spray people on the sidewalk no matter how carefully you drive through it. Or come down a street where leftover leaves and debris have clogged the sewer drains. “Spring showers bring May flowers”, just repeat that to yourself when you’ve forgotten your umbrella.

Get caught in a deluge just running from your workplace to your car and this is where the expression “you look like a drowned rat” comes from. That is even more negative than the “winter blahs”. Think of all the words associated with rain. There’s spitting, drizzle, pouring, storming, a few light drops … keep on thinking of descriptive words and you’ll soon sound like Forrest Gump.

We do joke at Meals on Wheels that the rainiest day of the week is Thursday. Thursdays frozen meals are delivered and so are daily meals. Add to that transportation rides and there are a lot of volunteers active on a Thursday. Thank goodness, they are hardy bunch. While being very sweet, they don’t melt in the rain like sugar.

Now if you speak with our volunteers Peter and Charlie, you might hear that Tuesday is the day when rain falls most frequently. Charlie is a twenty-three-year volunteer. Peter is his support worker. They deliver to clients in the Cherryhill apartments. Charlie is in a wheelchair and not overly fond of those rainy days. Think of it, year after year, through all the seasons, sun and showers, walking to each of the buildings where they deliver.

If we have to go about our business with darkening skies over head and rain drops to let the sunshine down on Tuesdays for Charlie and Peter – I say, “Bring it on”.

Please don’t tell our Thursday volunteers about my rallying cry.

Laura

 

The Man with Two First Names

Arthur’s last name is Dave. When he first started with Meals on Wheels London in 2015, I wanted to call him Dave. During his time with us, Arthur provided 47 drives to medical appointments. He has taken people to every London hospital, family doctors, lab work, gone to chiropractors, physio appointments and the list goes on.

I would find out how all these drives were going during our “Tea Time.” Arthur began this tradition not long after he started, asking if I was free to take tea with him (there were cookies, too). A sworn orange pekoe gal, I would drink whatever new tea was provided by Arthur. It was usually taken without milk and almost always scalded the top of my mouth.

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Arthur

Arthur, I discovered, had one client who rarely got out in the community except for the transportation rides. As a special treat, he took the long way home allowing her to point out places where she had lived, gone to school and other spots important to her past. There was also someone who made comments about the speed of his driving: “Arthur, you are two kilometers over the speed limit,” or “Arthur, you are now driving under the speed limit – pick up the pace.” However, many clients called with compliments about him.

During “Tea Time” Arthur and I chatted about other aspects of his life. There was school, two part-time jobs, a number of pets including his dog Sheba, grouchy cat Lizzie, and a variety of hamsters. Once Arthur had to return a “male hamster” and all of its offspring to the pet store after “he” gave birth to a litter of eight babies.

The journey to Meals on Wheels began when Arthur was working at Starbucks in Mississauga. He read on the store’s website that a team of London employees were participating in Walk for Wheels. He and a Mississauga co-worker came to London and joined in the fun.

He caught the Meals on Wheels bug and became a regular donor. Soon after, he moved to London to attend Fanshawe College. This led him to our door and began his juggling act of activities so he was able to volunteer. He finished a year at Fanshawe and then headed to Western. He changed his availability to fit his school schedule and he kept on driving for us.

Last Friday, I enjoyed my last “Tea Time” with Arthur. It was jasmine tea and I burnt my mouth again. Arthur came to tell me that he had been accepted into the nursing program at Humber College. He had already moved back to his parent’s home in Mississauga. On Friday, he wrote his last exam at Western and had come to say goodbye. In parting, I gave Arthur a “so long for now” hug, wishing him the best. He revealed that he was so accustomed to a weekly email regarding a transportation drive, he would like staff to keep sending them so he could reply, “Sorry, but I’m not available.”   I hope that at some point our paths cross again. There is always time for tea. Thank you, Arthur Dave!

Laura

When There is No One

Clients who register with us for service provide Meals on Wheels with emergency contact information. These are people we can call if there is a meal delivery problem, if we’re unable to connect with a client, or if concerns about well-being are raised by volunteers. We ask for two contacts and if we are lucky, at least one resides in London.

With many clients, we may never have to connect with these contacts during the duration of service. For others, the necessity of a call may be very frequent. Recently, a client new to our meal program gave as a contact the name and phone number of a friend. As it turns out, the friend was quite surprised to learn that her name had been given as a contact. She only speaks to the client a couple times a year.

What is there to do if someone really has no one for us to contact? If they have no personal connections, sometimes they are supported by other local agencies who are a part of their health care team. However, it is a troubling day, when during intake for service, we discover the client has not a single person to list as an emergency contact. There is no one for us to call in case of emergency other than the police.

By the time seniors reach their eighties many are living alone after the death of a spouse. Someone’s social network is a positive influence on behaviours, with reminders to eat healthy, remain active or to get out and about in the community. The flip side, with isolated seniors, is that they become more at risk for not eating well, being sedentary and have a “four-to-five- times greater risk of hospitalization”. Many circumstances can lead to isolation, such as age, disability, income, chronic illness, social anxiety, lack of mobility, fear of falling, and depression. Social isolation can affect physiological and cognitive health. Also as risk are seniors who are caregivers. I have just given you a representation of approximately 40% of our client base.

It does make me think what my life will be like when I’m in my eighties. My husband and I did not have children. Our peer group is of a similar age. How difficult it would be if issues with poor health were added, or becoming a caregiver. How does someone have the capacity to offer help to anyone else?

As fate would have it, I am an Aunt to a very marvellous group of nieces and nephews. Perhaps they will be the ones we are able to rely on when the need arises. Fingers crossed!

Laura