Prov 17:22

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

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Goodest City in Canada

Maybe you’ve seen the video. LG Canada went out to discover the “goodest” city in Canada. They conducted a test in major cities from Vancouver to Halifax, asking random passers-by if they could spare twenty minutes to help move a load of brand new appliances and electronics into an apartment. Those who helped got to keep all the stuff, but of course they didn’t know that until after the fact. 

How would you have done?

I’m afraid I would have failed miserably. I can already hear the excuses in my head. Sorry, I’ll be late for work. Sorry, I have an appointment. Sorry, I have a bad back. Sorry, I have to rotate my socks.

On the inside, it would sound more like this: who asks strangers to move their stuff? Why didn’t they think ahead? What kind of scam is this? Somebody wants to lure me up to their apartment and hack me to pieces.

I’d probably grip my purse a little tighter. Walk away a little faster. 

Unless, of course, I was with my husband who helps anyone at the drop of a hat. With his one arm, he’d heft the trolley and guide the washing machine expertly through the door and up the stairs while I shot him my best “are you insane?” look. 

He’s like that.

Author Rick Warren says in order to practice kindness, we must learn to be spontaneous. “On some occasion you may have thought, I need to make that phone call or I need to send a little gift or I want to take something over to the neighbors. Then you may have delayed doing the kind deed. And you kept delaying until you were so embarrassed that you didn’t do it.”

Why are those thoughts so easy to ignore? Galatians 6:10 says, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all men…”

Sometimes we are blind to opportunities right in front of us, numb to those little nudges. The person who could use our help loses, but we forget that we lose, too.

In 1970, Glen Campbell recorded the hit that said:
“If you see your brother standing by the road
With a heavy load …
You got to try a little kindness
Yes, show a little kindness
Just shine your light for everyone to see
And if you try a little kindness
Then you’ll overlook the blindness
Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets.”

So, how did Canada do? Well, at least we here in Manitoba didn’t come in dead last. Toronto took the honour of least good, where only 19% of those approached agreed to help. Winnipeg did slightly better at 24%. Calgary showed us up at 41%. But the goodest city in the country, as declared by LG Canada, is Fredericton, New Brunswick, where 81% pitched in. Congratulations, Fredericton!

Want to do better at this kindness thing? Rick Warren challenges readers to make a list of seven people to whom you want to show kindness. Then look for opportunities to be kind to at least one of those people each day for a week. As one of those narrow-minded people Campbell sang about, I’m taking the challenge. Who knows? Maybe it will become a habit. Or at least another column.

Anybody care to join me? I’d love to hear how it turns out!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

It's Not Weird Anymore

While grocery shopping recently, I ran into my friend Lee. “Are you still sticking to your diet?” she wanted to know, glancing into my cart. “And is it working for you?”

She’s not the only one asking lately.

“But what on earth do you EAT?” is a common question.

“Share more recipes,” readers have requested.

“How are you REALLY feeling?” my friend Vicki asked.

“Have you lost weight?” Peggy, who hadn’t seen me in months, said.

“Sucks to be you,” another friend responded when I mentioned I basically drink only water and herbal tea. Seems almost everything else contains sugar, caffeine, or chemicals.

I suppose all these honest questions mean it’s time for an update. If you are new to my blog, you might not know that last summer I embarked on a journey with local naturopath Dr. Lisa Graham in hopes of fighting a lung disease and obtaining better overall health. That I had contracted MAC Disease at all spoke of a weakened immune system, making me vulnerable to other issues as well. One of the first things she did was put me on a vegan and gluten-free diet.

And yes, I am still on it. But after nearly a year, I no longer think of it as a “diet.” It’s become normal--until I’m eating somewhere outside my own home. Then I usually eat whatever’s offered and sometimes pay for it later, in ways unrelated to my lungs.

And yes, it’s working for me. Last month, I joyfully participated in the annual ACT Festival. Two years ago, I coughed and slept my way through that event and last year I missed it entirely due to fatigue. Though no one’s declaring me cured, my coughing is all but gone, my energy up. They’ll take more scans soon, giving a clearer picture of what’s what.

And yes, I initially lost weight but have held steady for eight months or more. I’m convinced anybody, no matter what body type, could eat truckloads of what I eat and still maintain their ideal body weight. Prove me wrong if you dare.

And what is left, you ask, after eliminating meat, eggs, dairy, bread, sugar, and caffeine? Plenty! Vegetables, fruits, rice, oatmeal, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds—all in unlimited quantities and infinite, mouthwatering combinations. You don’t need special shakes, pre-measured dinners, or point systems. I challenge anyone to eat this way for two weeks just as an experiment. You can do anything for two weeks. Let me know if you don’t start feeling better in some way.

As for recipes, you can find some great ones in the Forks Over Knives cookbook or on their website Here’s one I’ve adapted that has become a staple at our house and everyone can enjoy:

Vegetarian Chili
1 tbsp. olive oil
1-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bell peppers, chopped
1 sweet onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
8-10 mushrooms, sliced
2 ribs celery, sliced
1 Tbsp. cumin
 ½ - 1 Tbsp. chili powder
 pinch cayenne
1 can each: black beans, white kidney beans, red kidney beans (drained & rinsed)
1 lg. can diced tomatoes with juice
1 lg. can crushed tomatoes
2 tsp oregano
1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
juice of 1 lime
2 Tbsp Chia seeds (optional, but jam-packed with nutrition!)
Directions: In a large pot, saute garlic, peppers, onion, carrots, mushrooms and celery until everything is soft, approximately 5 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients, cover, and cook for about 30-40 minutes on low to medium heat. Add water if you like a soupier chili.

Overall, I’m learning to see food differently. It has power to heal or to destroy. Nothing that goes into my mouth is powerless, but only I possess the power to decide what goes in. Why would I choose things my body has to fight against? Why would you?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Moving Tale

 (This is part of a ten-minute blog challenge put out by my new friend, Sarah Kovac, whose book, In Capable Arms, I cannot wait to read. Check out the link. I wrote this in ten minutes, so be kind.)

Well, it’s official. Hubby and I are moving again. Four years ago, we moved into a large house with luxuries we’d never known—a screened-in porch complete with hot tub, an attached garage, a dishwasher, and a laundry chute leading to an actual, spacious laundry room!

We knew it was temporary. Friends of ours were taking a two-year teaching contract in Malaysia and needed to rent out their home. We needed to dispense with our 21-year-old mobile home but were not ready to commit to a purchase. It was win-win. We moved in, treating it like an extra-long vacation at a nice resort, except you do your own cooking and housekeeping. I was determined to enjoy every minute.

When the two years were up, our friends decided to extend their contract another year. That suited us fine and we stayed in the house. When the third year was up, they extended again. So did we.

But now, the jig’s up. They’re coming back to Canada and need to sell the house so they can buy another. They got an offer we dare not match. So be it. Fair enough.

We house-shopped for about three weeks and settled on one we could both live with. He loves the garage and I love the kitchen. My writing space will have all day sun exposure. It will be a shorter walk to work when I’m not too lazy to do it. And we will never have to spit toothpaste into the same sink at the same time again. Unless we want to.
I’m excited for possession date to arrive. Packing has begun and since we’re moving to a pretty compact house by comparison, some stuff is just gonna have to go. While it’s good to get rid of junk before someone else is forced to do it for you, going through your old stuff is an exercise in time travel. I find myself lost in a world that no longer exists, looking at old photos or reading things I wrote decades ago. And I’m torn over the craziest items. Do I keep this dress from my high school choir days? Well, seriously, who else would want it? What about my collection of decorative tins? They haven’t been unpacked for four years, I can obviously survive quite nicely without them. To the thrift shop they go. 

I used Facebook to help me decide about my collection of antique high school texts of Shakespearean plays, most with fountain-pen notations in the margins, some going back to 1918. To my surprise, my daughter (the Queen of de-cluttering and downsizing) is interested in them! 

Well, that settles it. The “keep” pile.

Most of all, I’m struck by the reminders of God’s faithfulness through the years. The choir dress represents a host of Christian teachers and fellow students who invested in me way back when. Most of the playbooks were a loving gift from a dear friend and member of the church drama team I led for 20 years. The various articles and stories I wrote over the years tell of heartaches, blessings, challenges, and growth.

God has had his hand on my life and it’s good to remember. It’s too easy to get caught up in the worry of NOW, forgetting that he is eternal. He has always provided, always protected, and always led the way with grace and mercy. I can move into the next phase with every assurance that he always will.
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Thursday, May 16, 2013

My Fellow Graduates...

Who’da thunk it? On April 30, I graduated from the Manitoba Municipal Administrator’s certificate program through the University of Manitoba and can now put the initials CMMA behind my name. The last time I graduated from anything was high school, about 147 years ago. Some things have changed, and some remain the same since that day. 

Difference: Back then, we wore caps and gowns. For this grad, only corsages distinguished us and I’m quite all right with that. It gave me a chance to wear a pretty dress and actually have it seen.

Similarity: Both times, I needlessly worried I’d trip going up to receive my diploma. 

Difference: Back then, falling would have been mortifying. This time, it would have only provided more fodder for this column.

Similarity: For the group picture, the tall people stood in the back. I am still one of the tall people.

Difference: My CMMA certificate says “with distinction” on it. How about that, eh? In high school, I was an average student. The grades I’ve earned as an adult make me wonder if I’d have done much better as a teenager if only those dang boys had not been such a distraction. Speaking of boys…

Similarity: I had the same date for both grads. Somewhere, there’s a picture of Jon and me together on that day back in 1977. But after 35 years of marriage, his congratulatory hug, his pride in me, and his presence hold far deeper significance. Besides his being both a witness to my struggles and a personal coach through these particular courses, the rivers that have passed under our life bridge make his support infinitely more precious now.

Difference: Back in 1977, I graduated from a small, residential Christian high school in South Dakota. Prom night didn’t exist, since dancing was frowned upon. We settled for a heavily-decorated banquet, followed by sitting and listening to a guest speaker and then sitting some more while listening to a musical performance. There was no need for “Safe Grad” arrangements or designated drivers, either.
At my 2013 grad, our banquet was followed by a dance and cash bar. I abstained from the bar’s offerings, thank you, but found dancing a far superior way to follow too much food.

Similarity: A sense of significant accomplishment permeated both events. It’s easy to think that continuing education courses, taken at the rate of one or two per year, mean nothing compared to being a full-time student. But high school students are not generally required to put food on the table, care for children, or make mortgage payments throughout their studies like most adult students do. It’s not “nothing.” Both achievements are worthy of celebration.

And so, to the Class of 2013, be it high school, a university degree, or a certificate program like mine, I say Congratulations! Enjoy your big day for all it is worth and don’t ever stop learning, for there will always be more to learn. The third verse of John W. Peterson’s hymn called “The Student’s Prayer” sums it up nicely:

“May the things we learn, so meager, never lift our hearts in pride
 ‘Til in foolish self-reliance we would wander from Thy side.
Let them only bind us closer, Lord, to Thee, in whom we find
Very fountainhead of wisdom, Light and life of all mankind.”

P.S. Congratulations to Lillian, who won last week’s draw for a free book.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

This is Yummy

I made this dish last night and am really enjoying it! I think it's the hickory-smoke barbecue sauce that makes it so good. But you could use whatever's your fave. Next time, I'll double the recipe. It calls for canned beans, but I only found dried so cooked them all up at once and froze the rest for next time. Also, here in Canada it seems they are called Black-eyed Beans, not peas.

Black-Eyed Pea BBQ Stew (serves 4-6)

1/2 cup water
1 small rutabaga, cut up
2 celery stalks, diced
1 carrot, diced
pinch sea salt
2 (15 oz) cans black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
1/2 barbecue sauce. (I used hickory flavour, our favourite.)
1 cup frozen green peas
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

In a skillet with a lid, simmer veggies with a pinch of sea salt in 1/2 cup water until just tender. Add the black-eyed peas and barbecue sauce and simmer, covered, about 5 minutes. Add water as necessary and stir occasionally to avoid sticking. Stir in green peas and season with sea salt and pepper as desired.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Don't look now, but your mother's prayers are following you...

It was Mother’s Day, 1981. Technically, I was already a mother since I would give birth to our firstborn a week later. Overdue, I felt as massive as a mammoth, as bulky as a bear, as huge as a hippo. I was retaining so much water, I couldn’t wear my own shoes and had to schlep around in my husband’s moccasin slippers. 

To multiply the merriment, I developed a revolting rash all over my body—for which my doctor could give me nothing, for the baby’s sake. So I spent nights tossing and turning (as much as one can “toss” when you’re the size of a whale) and trying not to scratch.

Labour finally began late Friday afternoon and on Sunday afternoon, our nine and a half-pound son was born via C-section. It gave a whole new meaning to the words “long weekend.”

And I had never been so helplessly in love with another human being in my life.

With practice must come proficiency, because we repeated the performance two more times—without the rash, with much shorter labour times, and without requiring surgical deliveries. But with the same overwhelming rush of love every time.

Funny how that works, isn’t it? Methinks the flood of parental love is God’s way of ensuring we don’t ring their scrawny necks when they keep us up all night because they are teething or throwing up or wetting their beds or staying out past curfew or getting married the next day or birthing babies themselves.

It’s also God’s way of teaching us a little about himself. Although we could never love our children perfectly the way he loves his, becoming a parent gives us a window into God’s compassion. Nothing breaks our hearts like knowing our child is in pain or seeing him or her make bad choices. God’s heart breaks for us, too, but he is wise enough to give us freedom of choice and to allow our pain to make us stronger even though he could take it away in an instant. Most parents will tell you that if it came down to it, they would die for their child. In God’s case, he did.

My father used to tell the story of how, as a young man drafted into the Canadian Army during World War II, he knew his mother was praying for him. Though well aware of her faith, he possessed little interest in God himself. The day came when Dad received word his mother had died. That night, he dreamed of a light. His mother was following the light and in his dream, he knew he would eventually follow it, too. 

At the time, Dad had no idea what the dream meant, but it made an impact on him nonetheless. Years later, he came to faith as well, and realized the fulfillment of his dream. No wonder one of his favorite hymns went like this:
“I’m coming home, I’m coming home,
To live my wasted life anew,
For mother’s prayers have followed me,
Have followed me the whole world through.”

All mothers make sacrifices. Missing a night’s sleep is one thing. Giving up things we might like for ourselves in order to buy those skates or music lessons for our offspring is another. But praying for our children is both the greatest privilege and the most powerful sacrifice any parent can make. Don’t underestimate it.