Prov 17:22

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

Friday, July 28, 2023

The 'Drama Grammas' Take the Stage

Maybe I should have said no.

The thought plagued me for four months. But in mid-March, when invited to teach a children’s drama class at my church’s Kids Camp in July, I had no reason to say no. The class would run for only one hour a day for five days. Only students who chose that class would attend, so in theory they’d be enthusiastic participants. I had no other plans for my summer. I really did want to help out my church. As a kid, I’d have killed for a similar opportunity. Plus, I’d get a T-shirt out of the deal.

I said yes and recruited two brilliant, retired teachers to help me, Vicki and Brenda. Together, we’d form the dream team known as “The Drama Grammas.” We started to plan.

Then I found out our Alberta kids would be arriving the week after camp.

Then I decided to self-publish a book this fall, and my heaviest editing week ended up landing the same week as camp.

Then I signed a contract for two more books, one of which still needs to be written.

Then I wrecked my car.

Then my garden took off.

Then we had a death in the family.

So many reasons to back away from the Drama Grammas. But it was too late. I’d committed.

Full disclosure: I do theatre. Not so great with kids. I figured I could call on my acting skills to play the role for short bursts, and I did. My smartest move was enlisting Brenda and Vicki. What a joy to see them come to life, doing what comes automatically after years of experience. They knew tricks to command kids’ attention and instinctively understood what worked for various ages.

Here’s the thing. I may not have had the privilege of taking theatre classes as a kid, but I was entrusted with a drama ministry at age 30. In the years since, I’ve learned and grown in those skills but how much more might I have accomplished had I begun earlier? How can I not pass on what God, in his grace, has allowed me to learn and use? What might those youngsters give the world, what might they in turn pass along, in far greater abundance?

To my surprise, my biggest personal blessing came not during our drama class, but during the singing time, when I stood at the back of the room and joined in with these young worshippers. The sound of children singing cannot be reproduced synthetically no matter how hard we try. The farther along life’s road I get, the more I begin to understand why that particular sound blesses God’s heart so deeply. It’s beautiful, powerful, and precious beyond words.

I’m not sorry I did this. Teaching tests us. Giving grows us. Sharing stretches us.

What about you? What special skills or talents have you been given? What opportunities have you received to develop your abilities? Are you sitting on them or using them? Who is benefiting? Who needs you to pass your knowledge along?

After being struck by a car and having to fight for his life and health, Author Stephen King said, “No matter how large your bank account, no matter how many credit cards you have, sooner or later things will begin to go wrong with the only three things you have that you can really call your own: your body, your spirit, and your mind. So I want you to consider making your life one long gift to others. And why not? All you have is on loan, anyway. All that lasts is what you pass on.”


Friday, July 21, 2023

Road Trip Woes

Long-time readers of this blog may remember my story from 2013 about a road trip in which I was the sole female in a 1992 Cadillac with three generations of Todd boys. The occasion was my father-in-law’s funeral and we encountered car trouble. Nobody wants that. Unless, of course, you’re a columnist in constant need of inspiration. Few stories are found in uneventful trips.

The same group, plus one boy, traveled to South Dakota earlier this month, this time for my mother-in-law’s funeral as I wrote about last week. This time, we rode in two vehicles since those Todd boys have grown. Our son’s recently acquired cello also took up a seat.

The trip down went swimmingly. Our grandsons took turns riding with Grandpa and me so each could enjoy one-on-one time with Dad. No hassles at the border. No breakdowns. No accidents.

Five days later, we started early, reasonably hoping to get the boys home to their mother by 5:00 p.m.

By the time we reached Jamestown, North Dakota at noon, our son’s transmission had started operating only in certain gears. While he crawled to a repair shop, Grandpa and I took all three boys and grabbed some fast food to go. By the time we caught up to our son, he’d learned his options: waiting two days for parts which may or may not solve the dilemma, paying more than the car was worth, or trying to keep going. We opted for the third choice, but it was short-lived. The car didn’t make it out of town.

A car breakdown in your hometown is frustrating enough. What do you do when you’re 400 kilometers from home and in another country? Even if we abandoned the car and the cello, squishing six of us into our car wasn’t an option. Phone calls to dealerships, rental places, repair shops, friends, and family filled the next hours. Our circumstances changed when we learned that a friend of the family who’d attended the funeral was also driving back to Manitoba that day. We tracked him down in Fargo, about 90 minutes east. Grant willingly picked up the car dolly our son had managed to book from a U-Haul dealer and drove the many extra miles to haul our son, his car, and his cello to Manitoba.

At 4:00 p.m., Grampa and I left Jamestown with our three grandsons, their birth certificates, and a letter from their dad should border guards ask. We headed for the crossing at Cartwright (the internet said it stayed open until 9:00), straight south of Neepawa where the boys’ other grandparents would meet us and take them home with them. We made the border with an hour and a half to spare.

Except for one little problem: a sign informing us they closed at 4:00.

Now our nearest 24-hour crossing was the Peace Gardens, farther west and even farther out of our way. We arrived around 8:30 and rejoiced to get through with no problem. But now it was too late for the other grandparents to head out. We carried on, treating the boys to poutine and Frosties in Brandon. We got them to their mom’s in Oakville by midnight and returned to Portage. Meanwhile, our son, his rescuer, the broken car, and the cello crossed at Emerson and made it home much later. The car situation is still being solved.

What seemed like a horrendous loser-of-a-day could have been so much worse. A few days earlier, we’d have sweltered in the heat. We could have been stranded on the highway rather than in town. Someone could have been hurt. Instead, we had beautiful weather. We were together and safe. We found a generous, helpful friend. Cell phones proved invaluable. And, just maybe, the boys learned a few things about handling disruptions with patience, resourcefulness, and a cool head.

Biggest moral of this story? Don’t take road trips with a columnist.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Lessons from Claire

My mother-in-law turned 90 on June 14 and Hubby and I had decided to visit her in South Dakota for a belated birthday party around July first, together with other family members and friends.

Instead, she surprised us all by abruptly passing away on Father’s Day, June 18.

The trip we’d planned suddenly looked much different.

Now that we’re home again, I’d like to share three lessons learned from Mom’s life and death.

A collector and a keeper of everything from Beanie Babies to bins full of newspaper clippings, Mom would have been horrified to see us going through her belongings which far outnumbered the hours available for the task. Like a whirling dervish, ten of us descended on her home to sort, pack, carry, and toss. The job still isn’t done, and, although we all got along remarkably well, I said to my husband, “Let’s not do this to our kids.” 

Lesson 1: Downsize, downsize, downsize.

Among all those things was an afghan I’d crocheted in the late eighties as a Christmas present for my in-laws. I’d selected colors to match their bedroom and made it big enough to cover their bed. Upon opening my gift, Mom promptly declared it too pretty to use, folded it, and placed it in the top of the closet. Over several moves, the afghan remained in one closet or another for 35 years. Had it been used as intended, the worn-out item could have been justifiably thrown away. I brought it home, but the dusty rose, grey and white combo, so trendy when made, is long outdated and matches nothing in my home. 

Lesson 2: Nothing is too pretty to use.

My mother-in-law knew many sorrows in her lifetime. Born during the Great Depression, she understood how chaotic family life can be when alcoholism and divorce play into the picture. In later years, she endured many difficulties, including the loss of a son and later, her first husband after she cared for him through years of dementia. Mom wrote poetry and once asked me to “type up” a file folder filled with her handwritten stories, poems, and other miscellaneous jottings. I took her request a giant step further. We enjoyed her delightful reaction when she unwrapped the hardcover book we’d had printed, filled with her work.

One of those poems was particularly meaningful to Hubby and me because she wrote it shortly after he lost his arm in 1995. As a mother, I know that loss was hers as well. Two lines stand out to me above all the others:

The losses of this life, however great
Are very small when viewed from heaven’s gate.

Lesson 3: Faith in Jesus brings a perspective to life and death that nothing else provides. Although we grieve, I Thessalonians 4:13 tells us we don’t need to grieve as those who have no hope. We believe Mom is experiencing firsthand the reality of her own words, that all of life’s losses, however great, are indeed small from her current view. When we see her again, we’ll meet the perfect version of her, the one her Creator had in mind from the start. Free from scars and flaws. Free from the attachment to stuff. Free to worship her God with abandon, laughter, and joy. 

Claire Todd-Hamburger, 1933-2023

Friday, July 7, 2023

Buyer's Remorse and Cheapskate's Regret


I’m not a big shopper. Weekly trips to the Co-op and monthly trips to a local thrift shop generally take care of food and clothing needs. I buy books and gifts online. I would certainly never buy clothes that I couldn’t try on first.

Unless I’m delirious with the flu. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

In late January, I’d been fighting a nasty cold/flu for weeks. Scrolling social media, I saw an ad featuring the cutest dresses at great prices. It should have occurred to me that one reason the dresses looked so cute was that they hung from cute bodies. I would also have done well to notice that the photos were all exactly the same—the model’s face not showing, her hair and pose identical. Like a paper doll, only her clothing changed. Perhaps the special “Buy two, get one free” offer blinded me to all the warning signs.

“Why not order three cute dresses?” my foggy right brain asked my groggy left. I had an event coming up, provided I recovered in time. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d purchased a new dress. (Later it came to me. Just last summer. In my delirium, it felt like decades.) So in an uncharacteristic moment of wild abandon, I ordered three cute dresses. 

Photo from Canva

Weeks went by. My event was long past and the credit card bill paid before the package arrived. I opened it eagerly but skeptically, now that my fever had subsided. My optimism grew when the cute dresses looked good in their packages. All three were labeled the same size I’d ordered. (None of your business.)

I tried on my favorite. It was much too tight, among other things. Thin fabric, weird shape. I should have assumed the other two would fit the same way and returned them all right then. I didn’t.

The second one fit, but the color looked ghastly on me.

The third one hung like a flour sack, but the fabric was so darn pretty.

I wanted those dresses to work in the worst way. I did not want the hassle of returning them to Singapore or wherever they were manufactured. Besides, how could I trust the company to refund my money when they couldn’t even make three same-size dresses the same size?

So far, I’ve offered the too-small dress to one sister and two friends. It’s not working for anybody. The other two hang in my closet, begging the question: “Will she or won’t she?”

I am experiencing what’s commonly known as Buyer’s Remorse.

On the other hand, Cheapskate’s Regret might feel even worse, even if not commonly known. In fact, I think I made it up.

Back around 1980 when Hubby was a university student and we were broker than the ten commandments, I attended a Tupperware party. I really wanted the celery keeper. We always had celery in our fridge. My mother loved hers. Alas, the price was beyond our budget. I settled for a smaller version, one that never quite holds a full celery stalk, so I’ve always needed to leave a few ribs out to use first.

The other day I realized that little plastic box has served us for over 40 years. Half the time, the lid isn’t even properly sealed because it’s too full. I can’t count the times I have wished I’d sprung for the full-size box, but somehow I never obtained one. Although this one owes me nothing, it keeps doing its job, rarely leaving our fridge except for the occasional wash and refill.

I know what you’re thinking. I should return the cute dresses and spring for more Tupperware.

Maybe I will.