Prov 17:22

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

Thursday, April 26, 2012

My Secret Beth Wish

     The more rehearsals I attend for the Prairie Players current production of “Til Beth Do Us Part,” the more I believe I could really use a Beth in my life.
     Oh, maybe not the part where she turns into a conniving, home-wrecking, career-stealing, blood-sucking vampire. (OK, I may have made up the vampire bit.) I’m talking about the first two scenes of the play, where Susannah Hayden, played by Lisa Marie Tessier, becomes overwhelmed trying to build her career with the Cincinnati branch of Carmichael’s Chocolates while trying to keep up at home. Her husband Gibby, portrayed by Wayne Loeppky, proves about as helpful as a pack of raccoons at a picnic...even though very little gets past his razor-sharp mind.
     To Susannah’s rescue comes the deliciously wicked Beth Bailey, played by the equally delicious Nettie Neudorf. Beth cleans and organizes the house, fills it with fresh flowers, organizes the files, washes and waxes the car, prunes the tree, caulks the bathtub, and cooks a mouth-watering dinner. All in the same day. All while keeping everyone in stitches with her great sense of humour. That’s the Beth I want hanging around my house. While she does all my work, I could write the next best-selling novel.
     Or at least read it.
     But back to the stage play. If it simply ended there, with Beth sweeping in to solve Susannah’s problems, there’d be no story. But just like real life, all that glitters is not gold. Beth soon drives poor Gibby mad, taking over the household and threatening his position as king of his own castle.
     Enter the Hayden’s friends. Margo, played by Danica Turcotte, and Hank, played by Jordan Thiessen, who divorced each other two years ago. Since they both display all the maturity of a toddler in a candy store, it’s no surprise these two couldn’t make their marriage work. Yet they come to Gibby’s aid in trying to save his marriage, which the southern belle, Beth, seems heck-bent on destroying.
     And of course, no plot is complete without further complicating the conflict. Enter Susannah’s boss, Celia Carmichael, played by Vicki Hooke. She’s flying in from London for dinner, except she cancels at the last minute. So Margo, Hank, and Gibby must come up with a fake Celia to appease Susannah and uncover Beth’s true nature. Of course, the real Celia shows up anyway, but only after the fake Celia appears. Two British sounding, shawl-tossing Celia Carmichaels are too many chocolatiers for Cincinnati.
     Naturally, it all escalates into a lot of hilarious closet hiding, door slamming, and sofa vaulting, complete with a surprise twist.
     Just like real life.
     What would you do, if you hired a ‘Beth’ to take care of all those time-consuming chores you’d just as soon ignore? Improve your golf swing? Volunteer somewhere? Take in a play? More importantly, would it be worth it when she reveals her dark side?
      Come see ‘Til Beth Do Us Part’ at the William Glesby Centre, April 26, 27, and 28 at 8:00 pm and decide for yourself.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

An Ode to Administrative Assistants

      Wednesday, April 25 is Administrative Professionals Day. You might call it Secretary’s Day. You might call it Administrative Assistant’s Day. Or, you might call it, “The Only One Around Here Who Knows What the Heck is Going On” Day.
     You might think that, being an Administrative Assistant myself, I’d be above crowing about the work we do. You are wrong.
     If the walls of City Hall could talk, they’d tell us how many thousands of times they have heard the phrase “Ask Sharon.” They’d be talking about Sharon Williams, Manager of Administration, the one who knows stuff. Lucky for me, I get to assist Sharon--even though I don’t know so much.
      I love my job. With its carefully worded reports, by-laws, resolutions, minutes, forms, procedures manuals, The Municipal Act, and other Administrivia, City Hall is a good fit for somebody like me. What many would consider mind-numbing tedium, I never seem to tire of. At the risk of revealing my old-school nerdiness, I’ll admit to a sense of loss when City council meetings went paperless last year. Although I don’t miss the paper cuts, I actually enjoyed the routine of putting together massive three-ring binders for each council member every meeting instead of simply clicking everything into its rightful place on the computer like I do now. You think I’m being sarcastic, but preparing agendas and minutes has turned out to be one of my favorite things. I don’t know why. I think it’s just the way God wired me up.
     I also think people wired up like I am are as necessary as ever in today’s world.
     If everyone had an Administrative Assistant, the world would be a more organized, efficient, and happy place. You wouldn’t lose your keys so often. You could put your hands on that tax receipt a lot more quickly. You wouldn’t miss meetings or appointments or birthdays or Administrative Professionals Day. And your letters would look awesome.
     So here’s to Administrative Assistants. Every time I think of the term, (well, okay, one time when I thought of the term) I recall an old song made famous by a Heintz ketchup commercial: “Anticipation.” Substitute the word administration for anticipation, and you have yourself a catchy ode to the administrative professionals among us. With apologies to Carly Simon, here you go:
(Cue guitar)
We can never know about the paperwork to come
But we think about it anyway, yay
And I wonder if I'm really caught up now
Or just chasin' after some finer day

Administration, Administray-ation
Is makin' me late
Is keepin' me way-ay-ay-ay-ay-aytin'

And I tell you how easy it is to watch you type
As over the keys your fingers fly
But I can’t keep up with your regulations
No matter how hard I try.

Administration, Administray-ation
Is makin' me late
Is keepin' me way-ay-ay-ay-ay-aytin'

And tomorrow I might not have it all together
I'm no prophet and I don't know Administration’s ways
So I'll try and see into your eyes right now
And stay right here 'cause these are the good old days

(Repeat “These are the good old days” ad nauseum.)

Happy Administrative Professionals Day to all my peers! And to those bosses who may have forgotten? No need to thank me.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

You're Putting Words Into My Mouth...

     Long ago, before the turn of the century, I was a puppeteer. A love affair with the Muppets since childhood led me to initiate a puppet team at our church. Learning and coaching as we went along, I made puppets, crafted a puppet theatre, wrote scripts, worked the puppets, and even took a few teach-yourself ventriloquism lessons via cassette tape.
     If you’ve watched puppeteers like Jeff Dunham, you know that a puppet can get away with a lot that the puppeteer never would. The power of a puppeteer is truly magical – they can put words in someone else’s mouth! To this day, a goofy-looking homemade puppet named Charlie Churchmouse, approaching his thirtieth birthday, sits high on a shelf over my desk, supervising my writing.
     From puppets, I ventured into drama. I tried my hand at acting, directing, stage-managing, costume-sewing, and script-writing. The latter is the one that allows you to choose what people will say. When you hear them say it from the stage and witness the audience’s response, it has a certain intoxication factor akin to puppeteering.
     Recently, thanks to the internet, I had a hoot watching a play I wrote being performed live in Springfield, Missouri. The unsuspecting actors, having diligently learned their lines but probably unable to tell you the name of the playwright, were pouring themselves into their characters with no idea that the person who put those words together was watching from a thousand miles away. Weird, eh?
     Anyway. In this spring’s Prairie Players production, I’m tackling a new theatre role I haven’t tried before: prompter. The prompter is the one who sits just off-stage with eyes on the script, feeding the actors a line if they draw a blank. Naturally, everyone hopes the prompter’s services are never needed. Like insurance. I figured it would be a fun way to be involved without the stress of memorizing all those lines and being in the spotlight.
     It occurred to me that the prompter also has a certain amount of power. Who says I have to give the line from the script? I could make something up, shake things up a bit. Write a more interesting story. Pick my own ending. Wreak a little havoc. And if they refuse to say the lines I provide, I could pull out the ol’ ventriloquism act. I’ve come full circle!
     Oh, the power.
     Now that I’ve confessed this control-freakishness, director Rosa Albanese Rawlings is no doubt all a-tremble. Never fear, Rosa! I am merely putting a healthy dose of fear into the hearts of Lisa Marie Tessier, Nettie Neudorf, Wayne Leoppky, Danica Turcotte, Jordan Thiessen, and Vicki Hooke. Once they’re on to me, your actors will learn their lines so well they won’t need me at all. Why, I’ll probably be able to sit backstage snoozing or writing my next column while your show goes on and the audience dissolves in gales of laughter.
     Then again, you’ll never know unless you’re there. Don’t miss the hilarious “Til Beth Do Us Part” at the William Glesby Centre, April 26, 27, and 28 at 8:00 p.m.
     I’ll be the one you can’t see.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Outrageous Grace

     I adore cats. I don't currently belong to one, and I suspect I'd get annoyed with the hair in the house if I did. But as a kid, I had several.
     My most memorable? Frederica, the calico. Freddy, for short. She was beautiful, a good mouser, and a prolific mother--much to my parents' annoyance. Each batch Frederica delivered would invariably contain the same combination of three kittens: a calico like herself, which we'd name Harriet; an orange and white one we would name Elmer; and a solid orangey/brown one named John. We borrowed the names from the three Wiebe brothers—local single fellows who frequented our home. Since calico cats are always females, Harry became Harriet.
     It was a dark day when the elderly Mrs. Dumanski from across the street came over asking in her thick German accent whether the dead cat in the middle of the road was ours. I asked her to repeat the question, but by that time my mother had come to my rescue. I waited in my room while Mom hurried out to check.
     It was Freddy. A car had hit her while she carried home a mouse for her babies. A family friend took Freddy’s body to the beach where he gave her a respectful burial.
     I mourned for weeks, fearing that God was punishing me. You see, just days earlier I’d been playing at my cousin’s house and our aunt caught us smoking homemade cigarettes on the back steps. I had rolled the “cigarettes” from torn newspaper and stuffed them with recently mowed grass. It’s a miracle we didn’t set fire to the whole place!
     Here’s the thing. Why did I assume God was punishing me? Had I been taught this, or did I put it together myself? Had the children’s song, “Oh be careful little hands what you do…” given me a skewed picture of a Father up above, looking down in love, arranging for a car to drive over my beloved cat because I had led my younger cousin astray? The guilt made my sorrow still deeper and I felt miserable.
     Years later, I would learn the difference between “punishment” and “discipline.”
     A wise parent knows the best kind of discipline matches the crime. After repeated warnings about slamming a bedroom door, Dad removes a child’s door from its hinges for a week. Dishonoring curfew results in grounding. An abused computer gets taken away. Logical, appropriate consequences bring about the growth and improvement of the one disciplined.
     Punishment, on the other hand, simply makes the criminal pay with little concern over whether rehabilitation is even possible.
     God disciplines his children in love. But our punishment was paid by someone other than us -- also in love.
     Now, when I look back at that brokenhearted little girl weeping over her lost pet and taking the blame, I know that what I needed then was the same outrageous grace I would need every day of my life. I can easily picture Jesus pulling her into his lap, holding her tight, and comforting her.
     “It’s okay to be sad,” he tells her. “I know you loved Freddy, but you did not do this. This is just life in a broken world. Your sin is covered already. You will never pay for it. You can never pay for it. I already have.”
     And that is the story of Easter.