Prov 17:22

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

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Farewell to City Hall (Or, How to be an utterly UNdelightful citizen...)

I began my role as Administrative Assistant for the City of Portage la Prairie on March 30, 2009. To make it an exact decade, I picked March 29, 2019 for my last day. I’ve held the same position and worked at the same desk all this time, something that might cause younger people to ask, “What’s wrong with you?”

Though I came in with the required administrative skills, I knew little about municipal government in 2009. I’m forever grateful to have had the privilege of completing the Manitoba Municipal Administrators certificate program—a big deal for someone who skipped university in her youth. I deeply appreciate those who took a chance on me and patiently taught me what I needed to know—especially Sharon Williams, Dale Lyle, and Nettie Neudorf. I’ve worked with three different mayors, three City Managers, and two Managers of Administration. (Sorry if I frightened you all off.)

Ten years is long enough to see a lot of staff come and go, long enough to see the transition from paper to paperless council agendas, and long enough to learn a bazillion acronyms. It’s more than enough time to gain an appreciation for the work that goes into keeping a city running.

It’s also long enough to form a few opinions about what makes a less-than-helpful citizen.

If your deepest desire is to be a horrible citizen, consider these tips.

1.     Don’t Vote. Since most Canadians vote at every opportunity, be different and take this so-called privilege for granted. The 40.6 percent voter turnout in our last civic election was way too high. I think Portage could bring that down to 25 percent with little effort. The biggest advantage to not voting is that it earns you the right to grumble about every pot hole, parking ticket, and crime in your neighborhood. See how that works?

2.     Complain as often, as loudly, and as disrespectfully as you can. They’ll try to tell you the person who voices their concerns sparingly and with genuine respect will be heard above the chronic complainers; that a wheel’s squeak can become so constant it’s merely white noise. Don’t you believe it. You’ll need to ramp up that squeak to get the grease.

3.     Whatever you do, under no circumstances should you talk to God about your elected officials or city employees. Regardless of what they claim, they are not regular human beings who need encouragement, appreciation, wise advice, or respect. The guys fixing our sewer pipes in frigid temperatures or in the blazing sun love every minute. The clerks on the receiving end of your verbal abuse about issues over which they have no control eat that up like candy. So save your prayers for those who matter. Like the Jets.

As for the rest of you? Just do the above, except the opposite.

Imagine what our community could look like if we all considered ourselves “public servants” in the simplest and purest form of the phrase. A song we sing at my church says, “Greater things have yet to come, and greater things are yet to be done in this city.” As I transition into my new life as a full-time writer working from home, I hope to remain part of those greater things with my votes, my words, and my prayers.

Thank you, Portage, for these past ten years at your service. It’s been an honor.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Filling My Shoes

I’m training my replacement at city hall in preparation for my retirement at the end of March. A couple of people have kindly suggested I am leaving big shoes to fill. While the comments are flattering, they’re also funny because they bring to mind a whole other story about my shoes.

If you work in an office, you’re probably familiar with the way women’s shoes accumulate. We arrive at work in our snow boots or walking shoes and change into something dressier for the day. The dressy shoes get left at the office because there’s no point hauling them home every night. At city hall, the shoes and boots collect on the floor where we hang our coats. Sometimes they sit there for months.

My first couple of years on staff, I could not bring myself to place my shoes next to the others. I would leave them under my desk instead. No, it wasn’t a germ phobia. Nor was I afraid they’d walk away on someone else’s feet.

It was because my shoes were the biggest. I mean, unambiguously, undoubtedly, unmistakably the biggest. My petite co-workers wore the shoe size you’d expect of someone their height. I’m five foot seven and wear size nine. Nothing unusual about that. But when you put a size nine shoe beside a size five shoe, it looks like something you could paddle across Crescent Lake in.

And I have a history concerning my feet.

You see, at the awkward age of eleven or so, I began getting teased about my big feet by an adult who was close to the family and by a big brother who was happy to join the game. I wish I’d been secure enough to laugh along, but I hated it. They said I could be seen coming around the corner because my feet arrived before the rest of me. I grew up convinced I was galumphing around like Bigfoot himself, and no matter how often others said my feet were the right size for my body, it was a hard image to shake.

Eventually, I got over it. I thought. Until I went to work at city hall and saw those dainty shoes beside mine. I couldn’t handle it. And I suddenly realized I hadn’t “gotten over it” at all.

At some point, I recognized my behavior was ridiculous and have been placing my shoes beside the others for some time now. It no longer bothers me. Or it might simply be that the people with the Cinderella-size feet have all retired.

The moral in all this? The taunting should not have been allowed. Although it was “all in good fun,” and although far worse things happen to kids, I needed someone in authority to nip it in the bud.

Can I encourage all of us to play a role here? Body issues already run rampant. Under no circumstances should you tease children or allow them to mock each other about their bodies, or about anything out of their control. Be their protector. The words of adults, especially family members, carry incredible weight—both negative and positive. So use that power to instill in your kids and grandkids a healthy appreciation for their amazing bodies. Teach them to grant others the same respect. Help them memorize Psalm 139:14, “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! It is amazing to think about. Your workmanship is marvelous—and how well I know it.” (The Living Bible).

My replacement at city hall is also one of those dainty-feet ladies. But guess what? She’s going to fill my shoes just fine.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Falling Down on Escalators

They say nothing bad ever happens to a writer. It’s all material.

So when I fell on an escalator at the world’s busiest airport last month, it took me only minutes to realize I could glean a blog post out of the embarrassing experience. But first, the humiliation.

Thankfully, the escalator was going down and I was nearing the bottom. A small rolling bag balanced on the step behind me, its handle in my right hand. My left hand held a half-full water bottle. A light blanket was draped over my left arm. My backpack hung squarely across my shoulders. Somehow I lost my balance, and when you lose your balance on an escalator there’s no retrieving it. Or perhaps there’s no retrieving it when you’re just days shy of your sixtieth birthday like I was.

In any case, down I went. In one of those surreal, slow-motion moments, I became aware of several voices all asking the same question: “Are you all right?”

“No,” I squeaked. “Can you help me up?”

I put out a hand and a kind man pulled me to my feet, not letting go until I stood on solid ground. Someone else retrieved my bag and blanket. My water bottle had dumped its contents across my hand.

I stood off to the side to assess the damages. One more person asked if I was okay. With a shaky voice, I replied “I will be. Thanks.”

I’d landed on one hip. That’s gonna hurt tomorrow, I thought. My right hand throbbed. No broken bones, just a bruised ego. It’s crazy how shaken I felt. I suppose it came from seeing how frighteningly fast something like that can happen and realizing how much worse it could have been. And how far I was from home.

I carried on, thankful I had lots of time to find my gate. Pretty soon the signs pointed up. I needed to take another escalator. My first instinct was to find an elevator or stairs. I walked past.

Then my mind returned to an event at age seventeen, visiting a ranch belonging to one of my high school teachers, Mr. DeVries.  After a pleasant trail ride, the horse I rode (I’ll call him “Lucifer” to protect the innocent) took off unexpectedly as soon as he came within sight of home. Apparently, his saddle had not been properly cinched. I found myself hanging off the side of Lucifer for hours, or at least a second. I remember the taste of dirt as I hit the ground. Mr. DeVries saw the whole show. He caught the horse and walked it back to me.

“You need to get back on,” he said.

I did, determined to show Lucifer who was boss and Mr. DeVries that I wasn’t a sissy—even if I really wanted to cry.

Lucifer took off again. I landed in the dirt again.

This time, Mr. DeVries made me climb back on the horse but walked the animal to his stall. I slunk into the house for a soothing shower and a little cry.

I don’t recall being on horseback since. It’s never been a priority. But it all floated to the surface that day at the Atlanta airport.

I turned around, walked back to the escalator, and stepped aboard.

Thanks, Mr. DeVries.