Prov 17:22

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

Friday, July 26, 2019

Suck It Up, Buttercup!

I can’t honestly say anyone has ever asked me what the secret to a happy life is. And I can’t truthfully say I know the answer. But I’m pretty sure it has something to do with having a decent vacuum cleaner.

Experience has revealed few things more frustrating than trying to use a vacuum cleaner that does not do what it’s supposed to do. I also know the deeply satisfying feeling of seeing a gloriously clean carpet which only minutes before was covered in lint and crumbs.

I’ve used a lot of vacuum cleaners in my day, probably every make available. The first one I remember ever using was my mother’s burgundy and cream-coloured Electrolux. (Why it was “my mother’s” and not “my parents’” is a sexist topic for another day.) Not that I had to vacuum a lot. But somewhere around age thirteen, I got to redecorate my bedroom and chose a solid purple carpet. You guessed it. It showed every teensy bit of lint my velvet bell bottoms could drop and every long hair my hairbrush lost a grip on. I probably wore out the Electrolux, because somewhere along the line it was replaced with a green Kenmore.

When I moved into a dorm, my roommates and I covered our floor with carpet sample squares, every color and style imaginable. The colourful collection was great, because it didn’t matter what else was in the room—nothing matched anyway. I don’t remember ever vacuuming that floor, though I suppose we must have once or twice.

My first “work assignment” at that school was cleaning the offices and board room. Which might have been fine, except the vacuum cleaner they provided left much to be desired. The best thing I could say about it was, it didn’t suck. I recall going around on my hands and knees with it because part of the wand, as well as the full-size floor attachment, were missing. Perhaps someone thought it would build character in whoever was forced to use it. Maybe that’s why I’m such a character.

When I spent ten years in the house-cleaning gig, I used my clients’ vacuums, and they varied from the upright to the downright impossible. One house had a fancy and amazing mini-beater bar for doing stairs. Others barely made a difference, which felt terribly discouraging. I remember roto-rooting loads of Christmas tree needles from clogged vacuum hoses, changing filters for owners who had no idea filters were a thing, and wrecking my back hauling big old Kirbys up and down stairs.

At home, hubby and I purchased a used Rainbow vacuum because my mother-in-law was a fan and because we couldn’t afford a new one. After forty years, we are now on our second Rainbow—also purchased used—with nearly no repair bills in all that time. Some people don’t like Rainbows because you must empty out the water canister (where all the dirt collects) when you’re done. But, hello? By becoming trapped in the water, the dust can’t seep back into the air. We raised three children in a mobile home with light sandy-coloured carpeting. Even after fifteen years, every time my mother visited, she commented on how new that carpet looked. It was not expensive carpet. I attribute it to the Rainbow. And when our water heater burst recently, our good ol’ Rainbow went to work sucking water off the basement floor. Can yours do that?

This post was not intended to be an advertisement. I hope you’re as happy with your vacuum cleaner as I am and that you appreciate it sufficiently. Now if I could just find someone else to push mine around, I’d be delirious with joy.

Friday, July 19, 2019

No Such Thing as Unplanned

If ever a pregnancy were inconvenient, surely this would have been it. At twenty-six, the woman already had four children—two girls, two boys—ranging from age three through eight. She thought she’d hung her last diaper on the clothesline.

Their little three-bedroom home had been fashioned from two former granaries, with no running water and no basement. Her husband had recently incurred a life-altering physical disability. His reduced earning capacity had prompted her to launch a long-dreamed-of career of her own in order to help provide for their growing family. This meant first finishing three years of high school via correspondence, followed by a year of university to gain a teaching certificate. It would require great courage and determination, but they would make it work.

Not a great time to discover you’re pregnant. One could certainly understand and empathize if this surprise interruption brought with it something less than instantaneous joy.

By the time that child arrived, however, these parents had come to terms with the idea. They’d involved the other children in preparing for the new baby. The mother had charged ahead with her education, taking her textbooks with her to the hospital when it came time to deliver so she could study for exams between feedings while she recovered. Two years later, she found herself the only student living in the dorm during the week and returning to her family of five children on weekends.

That fifth baby, that unforeseen little interruption, was me.

Me in 1959
I tease my mother that all her studying while she carried me made me smart. But for all my so-called smarts, it took me over fifty years to piece together the notion that my parents may not have had every reason to feel completely delighted when they learned I was on the way. It wasn’t until an older relative shared with me a story that started me thinking. Maybe I was not exactly “planned.”

This speaks volumes about my parents. That I never felt unwanted or unloved tells me I am one of the truly blessed. One of the “lucky ones,” if you believe in luck.

Now, I can look back over sixty years of life and name eight other people who would not exist today if I had never been born—my children and theirs. On my shelf I see three books that never would have been written, not including those still waiting to be published. More stories, articles, plays, and columns than I can count. No one else would have put those exact words together in that exact way.

I am left with the conviction that I was, indeed, planned. Perhaps not by my parents, but by someone. Someone who knew more than they did.

Do you ever feel unplanned, unwanted? I’m willing to go out on a limb and say it’s safe to assume that a great many of us were not necessarily “planned.” Maybe you were not as blessed as I. Maybe your parents made it painfully evident by calling you “the accident” or the “oopsie baby.” I don’t know who needs to read these words today, but if this describes you, can I make one thing perfectly clear? You are not here by accident. You may be unsure, unworthy, unfaithful, unwise, uneasy, unqualified, unemotional, unavailable, or unfit. But you can never be unloved, unwanted, or unplanned by the God who made you.

In the words of musician Matthew West: I don’t believe in accidents. Miracles, they don’t just happen by chance. As long as my God holds the world in his hands, I know that there is no such thing as unplanned.

Friday, July 12, 2019

"Dear Pensioner..."

Last week, I received a letter addressed to “Dear Pensioner.” I first heard the word “pensioner” as a preschooler. From the context, I deduced that it meant “old man who hangs out at the curling rink gossiping and smoking cigarettes.”

Now I am a pensioner and falling short of my own definition. Thankfully.

I’ve been retired from my job at city hall for three months, long enough for the notion to have sunk in. I’m not merely on vacation and due back at my desk any day.

I can’t leave home without hearing the question at least once: “So, how’s retirement?”

Here are three things which have surprised me.

#1.  Although I knew it would be a challenge, it’s been harder than I thought to stick to my self-imposed writing schedule. I told myself I’d commit my previous work hours to writing and guard the time religiously. Those hours have a way of filling with other pressing matters—like appointments which are simply easier to schedule for the morning hours, occasional breakfasts with fellow retirees, or glorious summer sunshine on my deck.

But guess what? When I do manage to succeed at focusing on writing during that time, four or five hours pass in what feels like thirty minutes. That’s great, because it means I’m “in the zone,” doing what I love to do. (Of course, it also puts me in a weird time-warp for the rest of the day, but I’ll adapt.)

What do you do that makes time fly by? Pay attention to it, because it’s a good clue as to where your passion lies.

#2. I feel humbled by how quickly my old day job disappeared from my head. I expected to be checking the city’s website for council agendas and minutes or answering calls and emails from staff asking for my help. Surely they would feel lost without me. Right?

They haven’t called once. And that’s good, because I’d be useless. It’s as though someone erased all the work-related information from my hard drive.

I’m thankful I see some of my former co-workers at our weekly Toastmasters club, but as for missing my desk or my tasks like I thought I might? Not one bit. This tells me it was time. It also tells me our all-important careers are not nearly as significant as we sometimes think they are.

My advice? Don’t mistake your job for your life.

#3. I’m surprised to find I don’t mind puttering in the yard as much as I used to. To say “I enjoy gardening” still feels like a stretch, but what used to be an annoying chore to rush through is becoming a much more relaxed, zen-like tending of greenery and harvesting of fresh things to eat.

What tasks might you enjoy if you didn’t feel you had to hurry through them? What might happen if you decided to go ahead and enjoy them anyway?

The best part of retirement so far has been discovering a new level of contentment in every present moment. Instead of counting the days until the weekend or the next holiday, it’s easier to awake each morning anticipating a great day TODAY, regardless what day of the week it might be.

I love it. Try it if you can.