Prov 17:22

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

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

My Most Disgusting Blog Post Yet

All the hullabaloo about which bathrooms kids should use has me thinking about toilets in general and school bathrooms in particular—and the clever people who invented modern sanitation and who keep our systems working. At the risk of sounding ancient, let me introduce you to the toilets of my youth.

The Outhouse
While I attended a one-room country school for only a week (another story for another day), I spent enough weeks at summer camp and Vacation Bible School to become well acquainted with the outhouse. Our church had an outhouse, tucked into the trees where the wood ticks, snakes, lions, tigers, and bears lived. One kid even saw monkeys in the trees one dark New Year’s Eve when forced to make the trek to the facility while the adults congregated for fellowship in the church basement.

Outhouses built character. 

For one thing, it took a lot of courage to traipse out to them after dark and remain long enough to take care of business. Hooting owls, snapping twigs, and the whir of bat wings can develop a child’s imagination like no brightly tiled room or disinfected porcelain bowl ever could. 

For another thing, learning to tolerate the stench, heat, and flies in the summer gave you the fortitude to withstand freezing your bare bum off in winter. I’m convinced the Eaton’s catalog for toilet paper automatically turned us into stalwart pillars of the community, too.

The Chemical Toilet
When my family moved to town, our new house included—luxury of luxuries—an actual indoor bathroom with a sink and tub. Why the previous owners had not installed a flush toilet remains a mystery. What we did have was called a chemical toilet: essentially, a 5-gallon metal pail with a handy-dandy carrying handle which fit inside a larger metal can with a seat on top. At the back of this “can” was a hole, and from that hole emerged a pipe leading up through the ceiling for ventilation. Each day, one of my brothers carried the pail to the outhouse, dumped it, rinsed it, and poured in a little powerful-smelling chemical called Misto-Van which didn’t so much extinguish the natural toilet smell as overpower it, burning off your nose hairs as a bonus.

I recall the freezing January day when my brother, in his hurry to complete his chore and return to the warmth and The Flintstones in living black and white, slipped and fell—spilling the contents of the pail out onto the snow. How long it took him to shovel it up I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure it never happened again. Somehow this chore was relegated to the boys and I was never so thankful to have been born a girl.

The Inside-Outhouse
When I first started Grade One in Amaranth, Manitoba, the six-room school had indoor bathrooms but still no actual plumbing, which is pretty weird now that I think about it. The four or five individual stalls in the girls’ room each had a toilet with a long, long drop to where everything collected in what my six-year-old imagination could only conclude must be hell itself. While outhouses could simply be moved to a new hole and the old hole filled in, how the contents of this indoor marvel were extracted when filled to capacity never crossed my mind. I was just glad we didn’t need to go outdoors to use them. 

Outside the stalls, a row of water basins sat for our washing convenience. At lunch time, the older girls helped us little girls pour fresh wash water and dump our used water. Still another character-building practise, I suppose. 

At some point our school upgraded to flush toilets and my parents installed one at home, too. We’ve never looked back.

Like me, you probably take your toilet for granted most days. You might even resent the frequency with which you need to use it or clean it. But think of the alternative. Think of the good folks who work at our Water Pollution Control Facility (affectionately known as the poop plant) every day so you can keep flushing. Think of the plumbers we think are overpaid until we have to do what they do. Think of the janitors who keep our public washrooms fit for use, and the nurses who take care of those who cannot use a toilet on their own.

And be grateful.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

One Ringy Dingy Dingbat

Well, it’s official. I have dragged myself kicking and screaming into the 21st century at long last. The dreaded surrender came in the form of my first smart phone and it is making me feel stupider by the minute. Will somebody please tell me they feel my pain?

I knew it was time to bite the bullet when I registered for an upcoming writers’ conference in Nashville. Filling out the registration details, it became apparent that I would be left in the dust without a phone. And I’d need time to get used to the dumb thing before venturing so many miles from my trusty land line. Besides, it seems the only way to reach our kids these days is by text. Which makes me question how excited they’ll feel about my having a phone, but whatever.

Actually walking into the store was the first major hurdle. The phones on display all looked basically the same, but the prices varied for reasons even the sales people didn’t seem to know. It mattered little, since most of them came “free” with a two-year contract. In one store, an old fashioned bright red pay phone hung on the wall, with a rotary dial and everything. I felt tempted to say, “I’ll take that one, please.” At least I’d know how to use it! 

Then we were introduced to the various options for service packages. What did I require? Voicemail Light? Unlimited text, picture, video messaging? Unlimited Wi-fi? How many weekday calling minutes? How much data? 300 MG? 5 GB with tethering? PollĂ©s pliroforĂ­es, it’s all Greek to me. 

I wanted to cry.

Luckily, my computer geek hubby was along to interpret. At least he knew a few semi-intelligent questions to ask. We settled on a phone and a price package. While helping me set it up, the sales guy chuckled watching me bumble around to key in a password and hitting the wrong letters or losing the keyboard altogether. Why can’t I be like the average five-year-old and instinctively know exactly how to use the blasted thing? And why can’t I look like one of the cool kids when I do? Utterly humiliated, I carried the little joy-stealer home, wondering if the guys in the store would immediately dial my new number simply for the glee of watching me try to figure out how to answer my own phone.

Over supper, I calculated that I have three months to learn how to use the little tyrant before my conference. Hubby sucked air between his teeth. “That’s cuttin’ it pretty tight.”

I spent the evening putting the kids’ numbers into my contact list and sent them each a text. This took me a good hour as I fumbled around, trying to turn it on, keep it on, and figure out how to navigate. Mission accomplished, I plugged it in to charge and forgot it existed.

When I stumbled to my desk the next morning and saw it lying there, my first thought should have been, “Oh, right! Yay, I have a cell phone.” Instead, it was more like, “Oh. Right. Darn.”

Through the morning, I found myself growing more annoyed at the whole world as my phone chirped and whistled, demanding my attention while I baked a rhubarb pie, mixed a batch of granola, and folded laundry—things I actually know how to do. Why had I invited this miniature terrorist into my life? If I knew how to change the ringtone, I’d pick the theme song from Just Shoot Me.

Then I received a text from my daughter in Calgary, with an attached video of our 7-month old grandson in a full-on gigglefest. 

And for the first time, my smart new phone made me smile.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Latin?

I know it seems a long way off, but it’s a huge undertaking and rehearsals have been underway for over a month already. Next November, when the Prairie Players stage The Sound of Music, I will portray one of the nuns.

Don’t laugh. I’d make a terrific nun.

If I were Catholic. And sweet and kind. And celibate. And knew Latin.

It’s my first musical and I have no spoken lines. I don’t even have a name, so I’ve chosen “Sister Twisted” for myself. I’m not the greatest singer, but that only makes this feel like a greater privilege. With the talented Nita Wiebe belting the alto line into my ear, I can usually stay on key. Or close to it, although “close, but no cigar” is the rule in choral singing. If they ask me to start lip syncing, I will take it as a pretty strong indication that I’m no longer an asset to the abbey.

I auditioned because it seemed like a lark. It should have occurred to me that these particular larks do most of their singing in Latin. I can’t say learning Latin ever appeared on my bucket list, even if joining the cast of The Sound of Music did. The language is relatively simple in that, unlike our ridiculously complicated English, it has no silent letters. And vowels are always pronounced the same way. Even so, memorizing a list of random syllables, pronouncing them correctly (“tall” vowels, not “flat,” as our music director James Reynolds keeps harping about), matching them to the correct note, keeping the right tempo, and later adding the choreography seems like an insurmountable challenge to this amateur. No fudging allowed!

So I’ve typed out the illusive syllables phonetically and hung them beside my bathroom mirror to work on while I do my hair and makeup each morning. (How very un-nun-like!)

Thus, “Rex admirabilis Et triumphator nobilis” becomes “Rex awed mee rah bee lees, Et tree oom fah tor no bee lees.” If Hubby didn’t know what I was up to, he’d haul me off for psychiatric evaluation or exorcism.

Now the last thing I need is to learn I’ve been unwittingly chanting some voodoo curse, calling down terror on my neighbourhood as I apply my Maybelline. So it became imperative to research the meaning of what I’m singing, and I made an interesting discovery. Did you know the nuns’ opening piece of The Sound of Music is taken from Psalm 110? When you look at the words and understand the political backdrop of the story’s setting, I’m convinced Rodgers and Hammerstein in all their genius had even the nuns making a subtle but strong rebellious statement. As their beloved Austria feels the looming shadow of the Third Reich, their chant proclaims:

“The Lord says to my lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’  The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying, ‘Rule in the midst of your enemies!’ Your troops will be willing on your day of battle. The Lord is at your right hand…”

 So, with the ever-nearing echo of Nazi boots on cobbled streets, the cloistered sisters cling fast to the God who is their solid rock.

A life lesson for us all, in any language and under any threat.