Prov 17:22

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

Thursday, January 29, 2015

New Furniture, Same Old Heart

After 37 years of marriage, hubby and I recently bought our first new furniture. Call us late bloomers.

Somehow, the items that have furnished our home until now have always landed by default. Most of them came gently used by parents, grandparents, or siblings. A couple of dressers were included with our first mobile home. We’ve owned at least six televisions in those 37 years, but have never actually purchased one. And a couple of things I can’t imagine parting with, like my solid oak World War II desk and the stuffed rocking chair I rocked my babies in, came to us free from storage warehouses.

And we’ve got along just fine.

Lately, though, the shortage of seating for guests and the mishmash of cast-offs in our living room (I counted nine different kinds of wood) were getting on my nerves. I began to dream of things that actually matched and spots for every bum. I decided to use the money I’d saved from my column-writing—usually reserved for writing-related expenses—on new furniture instead. So I thank you, dear readers, and the advertisers who keep the Central Plains Herald Leader going. You’ve unwittingly played a role in this new acquisition at the Toddheim.

With our first furniture shopping experience, I discovered you’re never too old to learn things about yourself. I didn’t know what kind of furniture I liked, having never chosen for myself. I learned I don’t like leather—too cold. I learned I prefer warm beiges and browns over cool greys and blues. I felt bummed to learn how much new furnishings cost. While I’d hoped to replace both seating and tables, my money ran out before we got to the tables. Guess I better keep the columns coming for a while. 

But there’s one thing I already knew about myself because it’s true for every human on the planet. The joy provided by new possessions is temporary. The stuff we chase after will never fill our hearts. Don’t misunderstand, I’m thrilled to see the new furniture in my home and hope I’ll feel thankful to own it for years to come. I enjoy the satisfaction of knowing I earned it with the writing skills God gave me. But I also know a nice, new living room will not make me a nice, new person. In fact, sometimes our possessions simply begin to own us as they require maintenance, time, and vigilance to protect. We become servants of our stuff instead of the other way around.

Khaled Hosseini (author of The Kite Runner) wrote a dark little tale about a man who finds a magic cup and discovers that if he weeps into the cup, his tears turn into pearls. But even though he had always been poor, he was a happy man and rarely shed a tear. So he creates ways to make himself sad so his tears can make him rich. As the pearls pile up, so does his greed. The story ends with the man sitting on a mountain of pearls, knife in hand, weeping helplessly into the cup with his beloved wife’s slain body in his arms.

A gruesome picture, but a vivid reminder of how greed destroys us.

Jesus understood the secret to living a contented life. In Luke chapter 12, he told his disciples,
“Take care! Protect yourself against the least bit of greed. Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot.” 

I’ll reflect on that as I nap on my comfy new couch this afternoon.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

On a Quest for the Perfect Bowl of Porridge

When I was a kid, there was no such thing as the perfect bowl of porridge. I hated the stuff. Back then, I didn’t understand that I had won the global lottery just by being born into a home where A) food was available and B) my parents cared enough to get up and prepare a hot breakfast.

Some mornings, it was oatmeal and others days, Cream of Wheat—which was even worse. If I smothered it with enough brown sugar, I could choke a little down, but I preferred good ol’ Cheerios or toast. I think what really turned me off was coming home after school to the dirty breakfast dishes and seeing that leftover porridge now cold, slimy, and solid. It would land with a disgusting plop in the dog’s dish. Lady would look at us with an expression that said, “seriously?” (No one explained the lottery thing to her, either.)

When I went off to a residential high school, they served oatmeal about once a week, usually fancied up with raisins and cinnamon. I learned to tolerate it this way and years later made it occasionally for my own kids. It was never a hit. When I was no longer responsible for the nutritional intake of others, I reverted to a buttered and toasted bagel for my usual breakfast.

In 2012, I began a quest for healthier eating and discovered oatmeal is an almost perfect food. I started making my own granola and haven’t looked back. But now and then, on these frigid January mornings, I decide once again to try my oats hot.

Somehow the allusive perfect bowl never quite materializes, except in my mind.

On road trips, hubby and I invariably stop for breakfast at Tim Horton’s. He orders his usual breakfast sandwich with sausage on a biscuit washed down with a large double-double. How the man still walks around is a mystery. To avoid the undesired results of long hours in a car weighted down with a cholesterol-laden belly, I opt for Timmie’s oatmeal. It’s actually very good and I haven’t been able to reproduce it at home. Probably contains some top secret, mood-altering ingredient.

Then I discovered a crockpot oatmeal recipe you assemble before you go to bed. You wake up to the yummy fragrance of a wholesome breakfast cooking. The downside? The recipe filled my crockpot only a quarter full, but it was still a chore to wash.

When I found a 2-litre crockpot at MCC, I figured I’d hit the jackpot. I brought it home and made my oatmeal the first night. To my surprise, the next morning I uncovered a serving’s worth of edible oatmeal in the centre of the pot, surrounded by a thick ring of hard, overcooked stuff. Apparently the little crockpot uses a higher temperature or something. I solved this by waiting until the middle of the night to turn it on. While up for my nightly trip to the little columnist’s room, I merely make a detour to the crockpot and flip the switch. In the morning, my oatmeal smells wonderful and none of it is overcooked.

Here is the recipe I use, although I will continue to tweak it until perfection is achieved or I die trying:

Crockpot Oatmeal
1 cup slow cooking oats
1 cup water
1 cup milk (I use almond, but regular milk works too). A little more if you like it creamier.
1 apple, cored and cut into slices
1/3 cup raisins
1 tsp. cinnamon
A drizzle of maple syrup.
Stir it all up in your crockpot and cook on low 4-6 hours.

This makes two or three servings and I typically put the extra in the fridge and microwave it the next day. I suppose another alternative might be to get a dog.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Love Letter to July

My dearest darling July,
The six months since I last tasted your sweet caress have felt like an eternity and I faint at the thought of waiting another five and a half months until we can be together again. My only bright spot is knowing you will never need to suffer the ravages of winter as I now do, waiting for your return.

December tries to entice me with promises of warm cheer and twinkling lights—a clever and effective distraction, I’ll admit. But we all know what lies ahead even as we sing the carols and exchange the gifts. Besides, the desert land to which the Christ child arrived would be far more in keeping with a July celebration. I take comfort in knowing at least you are spared the indignities of the blatant Christmas commercialism.

In January, time mysteriously slows. January is merely something to be survived, except no grand prize awaits those who do—only the promise of another two or three months of winter. You, my dear, will never be able to fathom the unspeakable temperatures endured here. Last week my shadow froze to the sidewalk where it will stay until I can retrieve it in the spring. 

And it’s not just the cold. This month is also famous for its viruses, and half the world is down with some bug or other. You would not believe what these beastly little creatures do to the human body. The coughing, the sneezing, the moaning, the shivering, the sweating, the campouts in the bathroom! Your hair hurts, your teeth itch. Your eyeballs feel like two billiard balls lodged in your eye sockets and you beg people to just shoot you. At workplaces everywhere, employees drag themselves into work in order to tag-team with equally sick coworkers dragging themselves out. Only, they don’t actually touch hands because A) they don’t want the germs to recirculate and B) they are too weak to raise their arms high enough.

February tries to distract with the false hope of love and romance, but the result falls short. You and I both know a bit of chocolate or a pretty flower are poor substitutes for our annual 31-day courtship in the sun with gentle breezes, lush gardens, and long hours of daylight.

Those who can afford it cope by escaping to places that most resemble you, like Mexico or Jamaica or Florida. Others try to “embrace” winter with hockey, snow-mobiling, curling, and the like. We all know winter sports are a form of denial. As for me, I lose myself in books and wish you were here to enjoy them with me. The stories rarely take place in winter.

And don’t get me started on March. March has one colour: greige. It’s a watered-down combination of grey and beige and everything from the sky to the streets and everything in between is painted with the same depressing stroke. It’s enough to give you a stroke.

And so, precious July, I send my love and assurance that I miss you with all my heart. Your closest companions, June and August, are also my dear friends. But it’s your brightness, your warmth, your fireworks, that I long for. Take care, my beloved July, until we meet again—wherever you are.

All my love,

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Boycott the Negativity in 2015!

I observed a disturbing phenomenon in the weeks leading to Christmas and now that enough time has lapsed for charitable requests to diminish and emotions to settle, I feel I can rant about it. I might not have noticed had this not happened three times within two days, all on Facebook.

Scenario #1
Someone posted information about how to assemble a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child. Included was a video showing the joyful abandon on the faces of children receiving their boxes—gleeful smiles no one could Photoshop. Below were several comments, mostly positive, such as “Mine’s done!” or “Our family’s doing three this year.” 

But one person felt the need to bring some balance (I presume) by quoting a missionary from a third world country where the boxes are distributed. The missionary “hated” shoebox time because she’d seen some children left out and she’d seen culturally inappropriate gifts included in the boxes. I asked if it would be better for no child to receive a gift. The person replied that perhaps it should be better organized. 

Seriously? I guess you don’t need to be well-organized to get 664,000 shoeboxes from across Canada into the hands of hurting children around the world each year. 

Scenario #2
A friend was working with students from PCI, collecting gift box items for women spending their holiday at the women’s shelter. Again, among the comments, was this joy-killer: “That shelter doesn’t let us speak Ojibway.”

Admittedly, I have no idea what the story is behind that statement. But let’s suppose it’s the worst case scenario and no one is “allowed” to speak Ojibway at the shelter, ever. Does that mean the women in the shelter’s care should be denied Christmas gifts? Where’s the logic in that?

Scenario #3
Some gay activists called for a boycott of the Salvation Army’s Christmas kettles due to alleged discrimination. The SalvationArmy helps 1.8 million vulnerable and marginalized people across Canada each year. Their Code of Conduct is readily available online and includes their policy forbidding discrimination: “Prohibited grounds of discrimination include race, colour, gender, disability, ethnic or national origin, age, religion, creed, marital or family status, sexual orientation, or any other grounds covered by human rights legislation within Canada.”  They uphold the dignity of all people, believing all are equal in the eyes of God, and firmly oppose the mistreatment of any person. Which means if workers within the organization violate this code, they do so without the support of the Salvation Army and must be reported. 

I personally spent two afternoons at Sally Ann helping register clients for Christmas hampers. Not once was I asked about my sexual behaviour nor was I instructed to ask any of the people I was registering. I was impressed with the high level of respect and organization that goes into the preparation of over 500 custom-packed hampers for people in the Portage la Prairie area alone. 

I would not be surprised to learn the Salvation Army has helped more homeless and hungry gay people than all other groups combined—but we’ll never know, because they’ll never ask.

No charity is perfect. If we humans were capable of creating a perfect charity, we wouldn’t require charities. We’d have risen above the need for shoeboxes, women’s shelters and Christmas hampers. But we haven’t. Thank God, many decent and honorable groups work hard to be the hands and feet of Jesus to a broken, beaten world. 

Yes, there are always ways to do things better and most organizations improve each year. But to those who criticize and call for boycotts, I ask: what are YOU doing? How many needy have YOU helped?

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Stay out of Trouble? Moi?

It’s becoming increasingly apparent that I should not be allowed outside of Portage la Prairie unsupervised. 

I could have had my husband drive me to my two doctor appointments in Winnipeg, but sometimes a gal needs to pull up her big-girl unmentionables and be independent. Besides, both doctors work in the same building and the ophthalmologist’s office assured me that, even though they’d be dilating my pupils, my vision would be fine for driving by the time I finished meeting with my respirologist.

They were wrong.

Less than ideal for driving when this is what you see.
It was rush hour and dark by the time I exited the parkade. An enormous starburst surrounded every light. Multiplied by hundreds of taillights, street lights, stop lights, and head lights, it was all very pretty but not exactly conducive to stellar driving. I made it to Polo Park where I thought I’d relax while my vision cleared and traffic dispersed.

I bought a cookie and some tea and sat amid the pre-Christmas crowds. Maybe one of those flash mobs would break out and I could pretend to be part of it. 

With the first attempt at sipping my tea, I let out a yelp. I hadn’t fastened the lid properly and scalding tea drenched my sweater and lap. I mopped up with a serviette, but given that my stomach was now burnt and my pants looked suspiciously like I’d peed myself, I was in no mood for shopping or relaxing or flash mobs.

Back in my car, I placed a cold water bottle under my sweater to soothe my skin before setting out for home. My vision was still blurry and I briefly pondered what sort of conclusions the ambulance drivers would draw when they discovered a water bottle under my sweater.

But I made it home.

The next day, I didn’t even make it out of Portage before chaos found me. With my car booked into the shop for maintenance, I needed to take hubby’s truck to my hair appointment north of Bagot.

“Fill it with gas first,” he told me. 

Neither of us realized the gas gauge was kaput. On my way to the filling station, I ran out of fuel at the corner of 8th and Lorne. I tried to call hubby but got his voice mail, not that he could do much anyway with no vehicle. Meanwhile, drivers were wondering who the dipstick was sitting still at a four-way stop. 

I called CAA. 

“Sure, we’ll bring you some gas,” they said. I was talking on the cell phone with one hand while trying to wave vehicles around me with the other. Anybody who knows me knows I can barely talk on the phone and blink at the same time, never mind direct traffic. My arms kept flailing. I think I rerouted a few drivers to Fargo.

Meanwhile, CAA was asking personal and complicated questions like what was the make, model, and year of my vehicle? Apparently, burgundy is not a model.

When a friendly hero approached offering to push my truck to the side, I told the nosey CAA people to never mind.

Some really strong people then pushed my truck out of everyone’s way (thanks, if you’re reading this!) just before hubby returned my call. He eventually arrived with a can of gas, I filled up and made it to my gracious hair dresser much later than scheduled.

When I tried to leave afterwards, my tires spun so I put the truck in 4-wheel drive to get going and then (I thought) put it back in 2-wheel drive. It wasn’t until the next morning I learned I’d driven the 25 highway kilometers in 4-Low and it was, apparently, a miracle I didn’t wreck the engine.

At least my hair looked great.

For 2015, I should probably resolve to stay home and read books. I finished 52 books in 2014 and could read twice as many if I quit running around and getting into trouble. But then what would I write? Book reviews?