Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What's on Your Summer Reading List?

I'm officially on vacation. When people ask what big plans I have for my time off, it sounds nerdy to admit what excites me most: having time to sit on my deck, reading. Last January I started keeping track of the books I read, lest my aging brain forgets and I waste precious time starting on one I’ve already read. I average a book per week, hardly enough given the gazillions of volumes waiting to be ingested. Makes me wish I’d paid more attention in those high school speed-reading sessions. At the time, I thought it made me sound sophisticated to say I didn’t want to read fast because I wanted to “savor” every word. Horse feathers.

I picked a few from my reading list from the first half of 2014 to share with you. None are brand new and all are available at our local library. (God bless whoever invented the public library!) If you’re blessed with an e-reader, you can download them as well.

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova is a fictional account of an actual neuropsychological condition called Hemispatial Neglect, made especially fascinating because it’s told from the victim’s viewpoint. A traumatic brain injury completely erases the left side of Sarah Nickerson’s world, and for once, Sarah relinquishes control to those around her. Without the ability to even floss her own teeth, she struggles to find answers about her past and her uncertain future. I couldn’t put it down.

I became a fan of Christian author Deborah Raney after meeting her at a writers’ conference last year. Face of the Earth presents a dilemma for its main character, Mitch Brannon, when his beloved wife Jill doesn’t return from her conference. He enlists the help of Jill’s best friend, Shelley, in the search. Months go by, with no inkling of what happened to Jill. As Mitch and Shelley’s friendship grows closer, Mitch must decide how he will honor his vows to a woman who may never return—or who may walk through the front door tomorrow. Deb’s other books are equally intriguing.

For this category, I chose one local and one formerly local writer. Rusty Rutherford’s autobiography, A Steep Climb, recounts his years growing up as a British war orphan sent to boarding school and then foster homes in Canada and follows through to the present day, including his earning of the Queen’s Jubilee medal. Whether you know Rusty or not, you’ll find his story truly interesting. 

I Am Hutterite by Mary Ann Kirkby opened my eyes to much I didn’t know about our Hutterian neighbours. I’d heard it said that Hutterites never have a childhood because they’re made to work hard from the time they’re small and never play. While it’s true they learn to work, Kirkby’s experience points to an idyllic childhood rich in community, security, and fun. Only upon leaving the colony did life grow difficult, as she struggled to belong in a strange new world at an age when fitting in means everything.

The Good Book
With my morning granola, I read a chapter of the Bible. To be honest, many days the words on the page seem to make little difference. But frankly, that’s true for the granola as well. I must simply trust that little by little, both are nourishing me in ways I cannot see, making me stronger, wiser, healthier. And frequently enough, mornings come when I read exactly what I need for the day. Or God sends a little joke my way, like these words from Ecclesiastes 12: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.”

Enjoy your summer reading!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Quintessa Takes Flight

Airborne at last, Quintessa stretched her neck to view the panorama below.

“Bloody business, this,” she mumbled. “Can’t say I’m particularly enchanted to be a mosquito, but it sure beats the larval stage.”

Dare she admit how much she loathed the idea of seeing, let alone sucking blood? Eventually, she knew she would probably have to concede to nature, but for now she would play the role of the royal aviator and set her inner monarch free. Focusing on her flying after all those long days wriggling in a scummy birdbath felt like heaven, even though her peers already seemed to be zeroing in on warm-blooded targets. Gluttony and greed might be appropriate for the lower classes, but not for this little princess. Her goals were loftier and far more glamorous than those of the riffraff surrounding her.
“I’d much rather become a flight expert than merely go on a feeding frenzy,” she told herself. Just because she was a Culex didn’t mean she must settle for the life of a savage. “Keep your blood, you ugly vertebrates! Let me fly!”

Mosquitoes around her swarmed toward what appeared to be a farm, where horses, cattle, and pigs created an all-you-can-eat buffet, but Quintessa buzzed past the uncivilized offering, her proboscis high in the air. Not for her, these barbarian habits, these boorish customs, these beastly obsessions and brutish dependencies. Only the crème de la crème was good enough for Quintessa.

Pressing past the horde, she felt chagrined to find herself inexplicably drawn to the heat and smells emanating from the farm. Quintessa, however, remained as strong as her wilting wings allowed, convinced only the weakest of her species would dive for the nearest available food without first enjoying the freedom of flight and fancy.

Resting for a moment on a low tree branch, the little mosquito panted and tried to calculate how much longer she could fly without ingesting blood. She knew she could live on nectar and plant juices like her male counterparts, but if she were ever to reproduce, imbibing remained her only alternative. 

“Tasteless, absolutely degrading,” she muttered. Unless she chose to abandon the ultimate goal for which she was hatched—to lay eggs—she knew she must submit to protocol. Vampirism seemed the only means to succession of her self-appointed crown. 

Weakening rapidly now, Quintessa’s attention was drawn to the raucous cawing of a crow above and she immediately sensed a possible solution to her predicament. X-ray vision might have come in handy to help her home in on the bird’s body, but she relied on her heat sensors until she found a tender spot to latch onto, beneath a wing. Yellow feet suddenly dangled in mid-air as the crow took off, and Quintessa felt electrified to find herself once again airborne, without draining an ounce of her own energy.

Zoonotic arboviruses such as West Nile lay dormant while the Princess Quintessa reigned supreme on her private aircraft, feeding and flying and fulfilling her life’s destiny all in one glorious jaunt from the loftiest of heights—at least for now.

Did you notice? The story above uses 26 letters, each beginning with the next letter of the alphabet. Hope you liked it!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A funny thing happened on my way to this column

Folks ask me if it’s hard to come up with something to write each week. Writer Gene Fowler said, “Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

I don’t stare at blank paper, but I’ve certainly spent large chunks of my life staring at a blank computer screen. Can’t say I’ve produced blood yet, but if I ever do, you can be sure I’ll write about it. 

My path to a weekly column typically looks a bit like this:
It’s Saturday, 8:00 a.m. and I still haven’t got an inkling what next week’s column is going to say, even though I need to submit it on Monday. I really must park my butt in the chair and write. And I will, just as soon as I’m showered and dressed. But wait. I haven’t worked out in a while. I should really do that today. 

Forty minutes later, I drag my sweaty, sticky self into the shower. Thirty minutes after that, I’m clean, dressed, and in a better frame of mind. Time to write my column. 

Maybe I’ll just make a cup of tea first. When I fill the kettle, I empty the water jug (we use distilled). Better start the distiller while the kettle boils. On my way to the distiller, I notice our dehumidifier is full. Can’t have the basement getting all humid and dank. I wonder briefly if I could pour the dehumidifier water into the distiller, thereby turning moisture from the air into our drinking water. I dismiss the thought.

When I enter the bathroom to empty the dehumidifier, I remember I had intended to give the sink a lick and a promise, so I stop to do that. I hear the tea kettle click off in the kitchen and quickly fill the distiller and reassemble the dehumidifier. But as I walk past our bedroom, I notice the bed’s still unmade. Can’t have that. What if my mother-in-law from South Dakota pops in unannounced?

By the time I’ve made the bed, the water in the kettle has cooled. I start it again. While I wait, I’ll quickly check Facebook. You know, just in case any important messages await me. Sure enough, there is a message. I’ll just answer it in a jiff, then log out. But wait. There’s a little quiz that will tell me which Broadway musical best describes my life. I get “Sound of Music.” How stupid. This leads me to another quiz, “What celebrity were you in a previous life?” I’m not falling for that time suckage. I’ll log out just as soon as I take a quick peek at the cutest kitten videos ever. And copy the recipe for healthy brownies somebody posted. And take the quiz that answers the burning question, “What career should you have?” 

I get “writer.”

My kettle has cooled again.

While I wait, I find myself a snack. This time, I mean business. With a cup of tea in one hand and a bowl of almonds in the other, I head back to my computer. 

I’ll just check email first, real quick. You know, just in case. Besides, I can’t really write and eat at the same time. Sure enough, there are emails to answer.

Well, would you look at that? It’s lunch time. Which reminds me. If I don’t make a big pot of soup, there’ll be nothing for lunch all week. By the time the soup’s done, I’m pooped and need a nap before supper.

It’s Saturday, 10:00 p.m. At some point during the day, I’ve somehow managed to hammer out 600 words of mindless drivel. I reward myself with a good book and go to bed, knowing I’ll continue to periodically tweak my column right up until I hit “send” on Monday afternoon.

Easy as pie.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Oh, Canada, did you know these 20 things about yourself?

With Canada  Day around the corner, I’ve gathered 20 known and not-so-well known facts about our beloved nation. With my comments, of course.

1.      Canada is the second largest country in the world, covering six time zones. The largest is Russia, beating us by 7.3 million square kilometers. We do, however, have the longest coastline of any country in the world at 243,977 kilometers.

2.      We can also boast the longest highway in the world with the Trans-Canada, which runs over 7604 kilometers long. I’m not sure if that includes the detour through Portage la Prairie caused by construction six months out of any given year.

3.      Despite being a huge country, Canada has the fourth lowest population density in the world, with only three people per square kilometer. Almost half of Canada’s people were born in other countries, making us a true mosaic. 

4.      The highest tides in the world occur in the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick.

5.      The world’s most northerly sand dunes are in Athabasca Provincial Park in northwest Saskatchewan. They rise 30 meters high.

6.      Half of Canada is covered with forests, which should come as no surprise considering one-tenth of the world’s forests are here.

7.      The coldest temperature ever recorded in Canada was -63C (-81.4F) on February 3, 1957 in Snag, Yukon.

8.      The median age of people in Canada is 41 years. Guess that puts me on the over-the-hill side by a smidge. Okay, a few smidges.

9.      Speaking of age, the average life expectancy at birth is 81.16 years – the sixth highest in the world.

10.  Hockey and lacrosse are Canada’s national sports. Say what? I can honestly say I’ve never watched a single episode of Lacrosse Night in Canada, nor can I hum the theme song.

11.  The baseball glove was invented in Canada in 1883. Some bloke grew tired of stinging his hand, I guess.

12.  Canada has hosted the Olympic Games three times; 1976 in Montreal, 1988 in Calgary and 2010 in Vancouver.

13.  The world’s largest totem pole was raised in Victoria in 1994 and stands 54.94 meters tall (180.2 feet). Wonder how far into the ground it needs to go in order to keep standing?

14.  Cheddar is the most popular cheese in Canada. On average, Canadians consume 23.4 pounds per person annually. Someone is eating 22.4 pounds of my share.

15.  The Maritimes are famous for their odd-sounding desserts, like Raspberry Buckle and Blueberry Grunt. I’m thinking all that dessert eating makes them loosen their belt buckles and grunt when they stand up. 

16.  Canada boasts more doughnut shops per capita than any other country, although I wouldn’t boast about it. I find this disturbing. Our health care system will never keep up with our sugar consumption.

17.  Each Canadian eats an average of 190 eggs per year. Someone is eating about 107 of my share.

18.  Canadians drink more fruit juice per capita than any other country. This is interesting, since so few places in Canada can actually grow fruit. Maybe we need the extra vitamins to compensate for the long winters.

19.  There are eleven sub species of Canada geese. Wow, right? Makes me wonder if eleven varieties of goose poop adorn Portage’s Crescent Lake walking path. It all looks the same to me. But then, so do the geese.

20.  The Canadian motto is “A Mari Usque ad Mare.” It means “from sea to sea.” This is taken from Psalm 72:8, one of the three Bible verses etched in the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill: “He shall have dominion from sea to sea.” If someone tries to tell you this country wasn’t founded on the Judeo-Christian faith, they are wrong.
Happy Canada Day!