Prov 17:22

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

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Speak Softly and Carry Two Sticks

Anybody who’s watched Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments knows walking sticks have been around at least since the days of Moses. I suppose a staff was essential on the type of terrain he traversed, and it no doubt doubled as a self-defence device when confronted with wild animals or plagues of locusts. In Moses’ case, it came in handy for parting the sea and such, too.

Nowadays, we rarely see folks carrying any type of stick when they walk, and if we do, we consider them old and infirm. Most will wait a long time before surrendering to the assistance of a cane, as if it’s a source of shame. The stick has become a stigma.

Too bad.

There’s a healthy new fitness fad a-brewin’ in Portage la Prairie that, ironically, could postpone the need for a cane indefinitely. If you’ve been to larger cities, you may have seen a lot of it already. It’s called Nordic Walking, Exerstriding, or Pole Walking—not to be confused with pole sitting, pole vaulting, or (Heaven forbid) pole dancing. 

Portage’s Cyndi Toews, a certified instructor with the Canadian company Urban Poling, treated me to a free lesson. Cyndi explained how walking with poles exercises 90% of your muscles and burns 20-46% more calories than regular walking. It strengthens your back and engages your core muscles when the proper technique is used. It reduces wear and tear on your hips, knees and ankles, which makes it an excellent exercise for those with arthritis.

The lesson was more involved than I expected. You have to get your rhythm down, hold the poles at the correct angle, pump those arms for maximum benefit, keep your rib cage lifted and your tummy tucked, and make sure the poles' “boots”—which actually look like little Barbie-sized ski boots—stay out of your line of vision. Never having been the athletic sort, I found it a lot to remember. 

But Cyndi is a terrific teacher. She told me I caught on quickly and we had fun patrolling the streets surrounding her home together.

So what’s not to like? Well, I’ll tell you. Pole walking is not for those of us who are chicken-hearted enough to care what random passersby think. 

Like me. 

Which may sound strange coming from someone frequently seen walking to work in a skirt teamed with runners and a 15-year old backpack. But even I have my standards. Walking down a city sidewalk on the level prairie in the heat of summer carrying two ski poles just looks flat-out ridiculous. I might handle the humiliation with an equally silly-looking partner, like I did for my lesson in Cyndi’s neighbourhood, but I’m not much of a trail blazer.

So, this is my appeal to all you trend-setters out there. Pick up some poles and start walking, so cowards like me will swallow our pride and follow suit. We’ll all benefit. 

I can’t guarantee you’ll part the Red Sea, but your body will thank you.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Diary of a Forgotten Sandwich

Ever wonder what life is like for items left behind in school lockers over the summer? You know you have, and this is your lucky day. But be warned. This column is not for sissies.

Lying beside the last remains of a sandwich, the following journal was unearthed this week by a school janitor who respectfully wishes to remain anonymous. The sad discovery was written in mustard and mayonnaise on a random scrap of loose leaf and I’ve agreed to share the sobering final writings of this lonely sandwich with my readers.

Day 1. It is hard to believe that only this morning I was lovingly assembled from two fresh slices of whole wheat, roast beef, cheddar, lettuce, and pickles. I was a glorious creation! I was carried to school by an excited young man who chattered nonstop about it being The Last Day. I have no idea what The Last Day means, but by his enthusiasm, it sounds delightful. I eagerly anticipate Lunch Time when my big moment on the lunchroom stage will finally come to fruition and I will truly shine.

Day 2.  I must have dozed off. When I heard commotion in the hallway outside the locker door, I thought it must be Lunch Time and my moment of glory had finally arrived. Alas, instead of reaching in and picking me up, the boy began dragging everything else within the locker’s confines into his large black backpack with the Angry Bird on the front and Peter Ralph on the back. Since the boy left me behind, I can only conclude it must not be Lunch Time yet.

Day 3. I still wait. The ruckus of yesterday grew to deafening proportions as the boy was joined by swarms of others, all seemingly scooping the contents of their lockers onto the floor or into large plastic bags. Could this have something to do with The Last Day? Today, an eerie quiet has settled over the room.

Day 4. The silence continues. I fear my lettuce leaf may wilt before the boy finally decides to unwrap me, but I am determined to hold onto my youthful splendour if it kills me.

Day 5. The silence continues, although I heard explosions in the far distance late last night, followed by faint strains of “O Canada.” I wonder what this could mean. Has the world gone to war?

Day 6. The silence continues, with the exception of some type of motorized equipment being used on the floor outside my locker door. It raised my hopes, only to shatter them again when the noise came to an abrupt halt.

Day 13. I keep up my spirits by writing this journal and my strength by daily unwrapping myself from my baggie, climbing out, doing 100 push-ups, and crawling back into the baggie.

Day 27. My future looks bleak. My lettuce leaf has turned to slime. I know I smell bad. I am considering forcing the locker door open and taking my final plunge. I no longer return to the baggie after my exercise routine.

Day 45. My roast beef has turned green and my bread grows a curious layer of blue and white fuzz. I am encouraged. Although my dream of being a delicious school lunch is over, I now hold out hope that I can shine as a Science experiment.

Day 46. No hope remains. I feel only despair. The end is near. I no longer exercise as I am too weak.
Day 47: I heard whistling in the hallway today, and for a brief moment a waxy, chemical smell overpowered my own stench. But the brief moment of hope it offered only made the pain of my captivity that much heavier at the end of the day.

Day 59. My strength is gone. This shall be my final entry. Farewell, cruel world.

May this story serve as a sad reminder to parents and students alike, so that the life of this poor sandwich was not wasted in vain.

Friday, August 16, 2013

It Takes a Village

Jon and I walked through the door labeled “Parenthood” in our early twenties, having been married three years and seeing it as the next logical and casual step. If we could have had the thirty years’ worth of hindsight we have now, we might have chickened out altogether (I’m glad we didn’t), or at least entered parenthood appropriately shaking in our boots. I don’t think we realized our own inadequacy or the solemn responsibility of keeping another human being alive—let alone teaching them all they need to know to become independent, law-abiding citizens.

In retrospect, we appreciate not only how immense the task, but how valuable the treasure of other adults’ involvement in our kids’ lives. Where would we be were it not for grandparents, aunts, and uncles willing to step in for baby-sitting duty in those early years when a short break for a date or a nap felt like the difference between life and death? Where would we be without Sunday School volunteers who reinforced the lessons we felt ill equipped to teach? Without the teachers and coaches who put in untold hours of paid and unpaid time, building into our kids? Without youth leaders during the years when we parents were the stupidest people on earth? Without other parents who welcomed our noisy and messy kids into their homes, demonstrating healthy relationships in the midst of normal family conflicts and chaotic schedules? We’ll never know the full impact others have made, but we are eternally grateful for it.

Several years ago, I accepted the opportunity to influence 16 high school students by teaching their drama class. With three teachers in my family and a passion for all things theatrical, you’d think this would have been a natural fit. Not so. Frankly, teenagers frightened, annoyed, and bewildered me. But others were investing in my kids. Perhaps God was nudging me to do the same by sharing some of the knowledge He’d granted me over the years.

Two months in, I not only felt frightened, annoyed, and bewildered, but I could add frustrated, impatient, and tired to the list. 

But a strange thing had happened. I began to care about these kids! In addition to making me tear my hair out, they made me laugh. Along with their noisy nonsense, they demonstrated incredible creativity. My prayers evolved from “God, help me!” to genuine prayers for their needs.

Near the end of the year, I received a note from one of the students who seemed least interested. It said, “Thank you for telling me that I can do it! Yes, in the end I did do it. I’m glad I was put up on stage. It helped me out a lot. Thanx.”

Who’da thunk it? I had actually influenced a young person for good! Perhaps the biggest accomplishment was, along with the relief when the dismissal bell rang each day, I gained a new appreciation for full-time teachers and all they invested in the lives of these and my own kids.

Working with youth will never be my number one gift, but I am confident of two things: first, every one of us can make at least a small investment in our greatest natural resource—our children. Second, it really does take a village to raise a child.

Teachers, as you prepare for a new school year, may you feel the support of that village in every way required. God bless you!
Part of the village that helped raise me.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

My Big Hairy First World Problem

The vanity top in our new bathroom has a marble design in black, brown, and beige. When I gave my sister the tour, I mentioned that I thought black towels and shower curtain might look sharp, but I wouldn’t be buying them any time soon. All the hidden costs of moving will nickel and dime you to death. Nowadays, I suppose it’s more accurate to say “loonie and toonie” you to death.

One afternoon a few days later, Sis and Mom showed up with a housewarming gift—black towels and shower curtain! I was delighted.

Naturally, I hung them immediately and they did indeed look chic. We would have the trendiest bathroom on the block, not that I’ve seen any of the other bathrooms on the block. Hubby was the first to use the new towels the next morning. By the time I saw him, I hardly recognized him.

“What’s with the gorilla suit?” I asked.

“It’s those new towels,” he said. “They’re leaving black fluff everywhere.” 

Shoot, I thought. I should have washed them first. After running them through the laundry, I filled the back of our half-ton with black lint from the dryer, hauled it to the landfill site, and hung the towels back up.

This time, the entire bathroom wore a layer of black fluff. When I swept it up, it barked at me and ran out the front door and down the street where I think I saw it lift a leg on a fire hydrant, although I may have made that part up.

“I want my old towels back,” Hubby said. “I don’t care what colour they are.”

Some people have no appreciation for d├ęcor.

I ran them through the wash again.

“You can use ‘em, but I ain’t usin’ ‘em,” he said.

“Fine,” I said. “I ain’t scared.”

So I did. Black fluff everywhere. I went to work naked that day and no one noticed.  

I went online and discovered black towel fluff is a common dilemma. Entire websites devote themselves to black towel fluff. You can even join a black towel fluff support group, although I didn’t think I was ready for that.

One person suggested embracing the fluff and listed a host of crafts one could create. Another suggested line-drying followed by a good shake outdoors. I repeated this process four times and the towels still gave off lint. I began to experience nightmares about hideous black-fluff monsters coming to life in the sewers of Portage la Prairie, holding black-fluff monster weddings and producing enough black-fluff baby monsters to take over the entire city. The loss of sleep started clouding my judgement, as became evident the next day when a woman with fluffy black hair visited City Hall. I lunged across the counter to choke her and co-workers had to pull me off until I simmered down.

My mom and sister encouraged me to take the towels back to the store, along with the shower curtain that worked fine but no longer matched. “What have you got to lose?” they said. “Maybe they’ll give you store credit.”

So I did. And the store did. I picked out some green towels, washed and hung them. Much better. Hubby says they also give off too much lint, but he is wrong. Black fluff still blurs his vision. He thinks I’m in denial. With martyr-like resignation, he uses the green towels anyway. The man is a saint.

I’ve since concluded it’s not so much the colour as the type of towel. Others told me their horror stories of red fluff, navy fluff, orange fluff, yellow fluff—and the carnage that occurs when they are laundered together. It’s bedlam, I tell you.

Why must life be so darn hard?
The new green towels will work just fine with the shower curtain we already had and the window curtain I whipped up.