Prov 17:22

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

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Keeping the "imp" in "Mission Impossible"

This spring break, I decided to take a week’s vacation so Grandpa and I could host sleepovers for our grandsons – three in a row, one rascal at a time. Knowing the solo stays would be easier to manage, I told myself they would provide a chance to get to know the boys as individuals. I stocked up on children’s books and videos from the library and shopped for easy-to-prepare food and treats. 

I knew better than to clean the house.

Alfalfa, six, was first in line. We took him to our local theatre for the matinee presentation of Mr. Peabody and Sherman. Back home, we played Scrabble Junior. Alfalfa showed off his reading skills by reading a couple of books aloud. After supper, we played hide and seek and discovered Grandpa finds the best hiding spots while Grandma tends to rely on camouflage.
A few rounds of Uno, some ice cream and berries, and a Snoopy video got us to bedtime. The next morning we found time for a couple games before church, a fast food lunch after, and a few computer games before home time. I felt pretty smug about how Project Sleepover was going.

While Grandma napped in preparation for round two, Grandpa took Alfalfa home and picked up Buckwheat, age four. With him, we played Candyland and Memory and made the coolest fort EVER where we ate popcorn and watched Duck Dodgers. Buckwheat slept in the fort. 

Due to circumstances beyond my control, his sleepover stretched into two nights. I watched while Grandpa and his boy spent a good hour in the PCU Centre pool. That evening, my energy giving out and round three still ahead, I started questioning my sanity.

By the time we arrived home with Spanky, age two, it was supper time of the fourth day. Did I mention Spanky is also known as Hurricane Spanky? If it moves, he chases it. If it doesn’t, he moves it. If it’s tall, he climbs it, and if it has a button, he pushes it. His mom advised that taking him outside or putting him in the bath tub would make him go to sleep faster. We did both, to be sure. 

Next morning, books and games didn’t make Spanky’s agenda, just a lot of chasing around. Grandma was rapidly wilting. I took him outside awhile, only to discover he could easily walk on top of the high snow drifts and escape while I plunged in hip deep. I swear this kid’s guardian angel deserves some kind of medal.

Back inside, I peeled off his coat, mitts, and boots first. In the time it took to remove my own, Spanky had made his way to Grandpa’s home office, photocopied the entire phone book, and Skyped with somebody in Venezuela.

After lunch, Grandpa took over while I fell exhausted onto the couch, feeling less and less successful as the involved grandparent I fancied myself. I was still there when Grandpa returned after taking Spanky home, a miserable lump of a failure sitting in the middle of the chaos.

“Guess what?” Grandpa reported.  “The boys’ daddy hinted that maybe this could become an annual tradition. Alfalfa and Buckwheat haven’t stopped talking about their sleepovers.” 

I know the day is coming, faster than we’d like, when the rascals will lose interest in sleepovers at our house. Until then, I truly do hope we can make it a tradition.

Just let me take a long nap before I commit.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

25 Semi-Interesting Things I've Learned from City Hall

This week marks the fifth anniversary of my job with the City of Portage la Prairie. I told my hubby I was thinking of doing a column about the things I’ve learned in those five years. Problem was, most of what I’ve learned is boring to the average reader, and anything really interesting might land me in a heap of trouble.

I probably knew less about municipal government than your average bear before I was hired, so it’s a good thing they based their decision on my skill set, my teachability, and my gosh-darn good nature rather than on my knowledge. Here’s a list of 25 things I now know that I couldn’t have told you five years ago, and I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you might not know all of them either. Give yourself a point for each fact you already knew.

1.      The guys who collect our garbage are not City employees—it’s contracted out.
2.      Our City Council is made up of one mayor and six councillors.
3.      An election is held every four years.
4.      Seats on Council are not staggered, which means you could (in theory) elect an entirely new Council every four years.
5.      You cannot run for mayor and councillor in the same election.
6.      You cannot run for City council and for the School Board in the same election.
7.      Like for voting, there are only three requirements for running for Council, provided you can recruit 25 people to sign your nomination: you must be 18 or older, you must be a Canadian citizen and you must live in or own property in the City.
8.      The next election will be held October 22, 2014.
9.      Portage la Prairie was incorporated as a city in 1907.
10.  More than 8,000 by-laws are on our books.
11.  One of those by-laws is a curfew by-law for youth, passed in 1998 and available (among others) on the City’s website.
12.  A by-law must receive three readings before it is passed, signed, and sealed.
13.  Only two of those readings may take place in the same meeting.
14.  A by-law can only be amended or rescinded by passing another by-law.
15.  It’s against the law to place garage sale signs—or any other signs—on City boulevards.
16.  Many of the rules and regulations the City must follow are set out by something called the Manitoba Municipal Act—which you can read in its entirety here.
17.  Public Hearings are required for variations, conditional use applications, rezoning of property, and the passing of the annual financial plan (which will happen this year on April 14).
18.  Variations are when someone wants to “vary” the rules regarding how close a building or deck can be to a fence, or a fence to a curb, how high the fence is, where a sign can go, and that sort of thing.
19.  A conditional use application is when someone wants to use the property for something unique or nonconforming, but still within the zoning rules, for example if a church wants to start a daycare on its premises.
20.  Rezoning is when someone wants to change the zoning on a given piece of property (say, from residential to commercial).
21.  You violate a by-law if you keep more than three grown cats or dogs or combination of cats and dogs without an excess animal permit.
22.  Saskatchewan Avenue and Tupper Street are maintained by the province, not the City.
23.  The correct name of our wastewater plant is the Water Pollution Control Facility.
24.  If your neighbour throws his snow onto your property, it is not a matter for the City—you will need to work out that dispute on your own or with the RCMP.
25.  The City does not run a social services department.

How did you score? If you didn’t already know them all, now you do!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Mirror, Mirror...

Have you seen the Facebook challenge where one woman nominates another to post a photo of herself devoid of makeup and hairstyling? The purpose of this exercise, if I understand it, is to celebrate the natural beauty of all women and to recognize that what’s on the inside is what makes a woman truly beautiful.

I started wearing makeup when I was two, the time I resourcefully pulled out Mom’s dresser drawers to form a ladder to its surface, where her Avon awaited. After a 12-year hiatus, I began using makeup again as a sophisticated eighth grader and never looked back. 

This puts me at a disadvantage on those rare occasions when I venture out in public without my Maybelline. People tend to look at me with concern. “Are you feeling all right? You look tired.”
I never know whether to milk it for the sympathy or to admit I’m fine, this is just my face. It makes me regret ever starting with the cosmetics. 

On the flip side, women who don’t wear makeup daily look especially awesome on those special occasions when they do. My beautiful daughter-in-law, Dara, is one of these smart ladies. My advice to young girls? Don’t start! The best cosmetic you can ever wear is a genuine smile.

Here’s the beauty challenge I’d like to propose, if I could have my wish: for every woman to hear the words “you’re beautiful” from someone she loves every day for one month and watch what happens. We’d see a lot more healthy women. Healthy women are happier women. Happy women make for happy homes. Happy homes make for happy communities, and happy communities make for a happy world.

Too simple? Of course. But what could it hurt to try?

The January, 2014 cover of People magazine featured Christy Brinkley, at 60, modeling a swimsuit. Someone left a copy in our coffee room at work and the conversation among my female co-workers and me sounded like:
“Well, she’s obviously had a lot of work done.”
“Maybe if I had a personal trainer…”
“The picture’s obviously air-brushed…”
“Maybe if I had her money…”
“She doesn’t have to work, she can exercise all day…”
“Maybe if I had my own private chef…”
“Maybe if I had my own private hair and makeup professional…”

It felt as if we were trying to convince ourselves that, given enough money, we’d all look just as good as Brinkley. I hate to break it to you, girls, but all the money in the world isn’t going to make any of us look that gorgeous. If seen next to Christie Brinkley, I would get asked if I were her mother, even though she’s five years my senior. I’d reply, “Actually, I’m her grandmother. Lookin’ pretty good for 105, eh?”

The magazine’s cover promised to reveal Brinkley’s diet and fitness tips. It didn’t mention her four divorces.

In her book, Do You Think I’m Beautiful?, AngelaThomas maintains this is the question attached to the soul of every woman; that inside each of us lives a skirt-twirling little girl who secretly aches for a fairy godmother to wave a wand and transform her into the princess she has always longed to be. To make her beautiful. Captivating. Adored.

I believe beauty and the appreciation of it were placed in us by our maker, that true beauty is an essence given to every woman at her creation. But, like so many gifts, this fallen world has distorted beauty into something so twisted people are willing to mutilate themselves in its pursuit. Meanwhile, our hearts cry out for a love that comes only from the one who made us. The one who first saw us as beautiful, and the one who always will.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Lessons from a Saxophone

It’s been seventeen months since I first picked up a saxophone. I may not play well, but I play loud. I cannot, in fact, seem to get the hang of playing anything other than loud. My new motto is the first verse of the one hundredth Psalm. Look it up.

As a kid suffering my way through the interminable torment of piano practices, I didn’t detect the more subtle life lessons I’m discovering from my saxophone. I like to pretend that’s because I’m mature and insightful now. Maybe it’s only because I write a column now and need to churn out something mature and insightful-sounding every week. Here, for your own interminable torment, are some of my insights:

#1. Practice pays.                     
This may seem obvious, but by the time we’re in our fifties, most of us figure we’ve mastered whatever skills we’re going to master and everything else remains status-quo. When I first attempted the saxophone, practice times were torture because I was puffing, sweating, and squawking. But the worst of it was my lips. They just couldn’t hold up through an entire song.

But I’m tightfisted enough that if I’m going to cough up money for lessons, I’m going to make sure I get the most bang for my buck—which means a half hour every day with my sax. Lately I’ve noticed I can hit the high and low notes I couldn’t hit before, I’m not panting, and my lips don’t give out. How did that happen? Practice. What was true when we were kids still holds.

Think what might happen if we practiced relational skills with the same diligence.

#2. Everybody has their unique style.
It took a year for my teacher, Ritchard, and I to notice the uniqueness of our hands. He couldn’t understand why I had so much trouble “rolling” my thumb from the thumb rest onto the octave key and back, like he does. When I watched him do it, I pointed out that my thumbs don’t curl backwards the way a lot of thumbs do. Mine are the “one-way only” kind, and no amount of practice will change their tree-stumpiness.

“Would you look at that,” Ritchard said.  “I’ve never seen that before.”

It was a relief to know I’m a freak of nature. It provides a great excuse to develop my own way of compensating.

Think what might happen if we let others do things their way instead of insisting ours is the only one.

#3. Harmony makes everything better.
My favorite times in this journey are the last ten minutes of every lesson, when Ritchard tunes his sax to mine and we play duets. Oh, there are still plenty of errors. One of us tends to get the giggles, I won’t say who. But there’s something about playing in harmony with another that improves everything by more than the sum of its parts. Just like life.

Think what might happen if we could learn to live in harmony and in tune with each other.

#4. A deeper purpose means everything.
I spent the first several weeks playing ditties like Hot Cross Buns and Jingle Bells, and I was having fun. But when Ritchard set a book of worship songs on the stand and I heard myself playing the melody of I Love You, Lord, something shifted. Though no one sang along, the familiar words rang in my head and suddenly I felt so moved, I could hardly read the page for tears. “Take joy, my King, in what you hear, may it be a sweet sound in your ear…” 

How this can be true, I don’t fully understand, but the God of creation heard my frail but heartfelt attempts and took joy in them.

Think what might happen if we applied this to every action, every moment of our lives.