Prov 17:22

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

Friday, May 31, 2024

Make Your Minutes Work for You

If you’re a list-maker like me, you’re going to love this post. If you’re not, I hope it sparks something productive anyway. And if you’re someone (also like me) who can fill endless minutes with mindless scrolling on your phone or tablet—may you find ways to apply this.

Because I work from home, and because writers are notorious procrastinators when it comes to actually writing, I constantly see little tasks everywhere that I “should” be doing. I pull out my crumbling three-ring binder stuffed with recipes and remember I wanted to make a project out of that over the winter. A garment in need of mending sits on my sewing machine, where it has waited for months. A couple of hubby’s shirts hang on a doorknob, needing ironing. My desktop’s a mess. Our humidifier needs cleaning and putting away for the summer.

But I don’t tackle any of these jobs because, well … I’m “supposed” to be writing. Except then I don’t write because I really should be taking care of something else, but what was that something else? Out of sight, out of mind. Neither the tasks nor the writing gets done. This could explain why many writers prefer working at a coffee shop or cabin somewhere.

The crazy thing is that many of these (and other) tasks can be completed in ten or twenty minutes once I get at them. But I’m loath to assign them a slot in my calendar because one never knows when one’s day is going to go sideways and then the task won’t get done when planned, and one will feel like the miserable, pathetic failure that one surely is.

We can’t have that.

So, I decided a new chart was in order. If I think I can complete a task from start to finish in an hour or less, it goes on the chart. Every time I spot another task in my house or yard, onto the list it goes. In the second column, I put how many minutes I think the job will take. The third column is for checking it off when done. Then I can put it out of my mind, freeing headspace for other things, like writing. So far, so good.

That’s the first half.

Here’s the second. Whenever I find myself with an uncommitted ten, 30, or 60 minutes, I don’t need to waste time deciding what to do with the time or trying to recall a task that needs doing. I can simply go to The List and scroll my finger down it. Choose a job that fits the time slot. Do it. Then enjoy the great satisfaction of crossing it off.

Doesn’t that sound fun? If you’re a true chart nerd, you can add a column and give the task a priority number between one and five.

Sure, you might add three tasks for each one you check off, but you might also find yourself building momentum as you realize how little time some of these things take. We often say, “Everything takes longer than you expect,” and sometimes that’s true. After finally getting at the recipe binder project I’d neglected for years, expecting it to take only 30 or 40 minutes to sort through, punch, and place everything alphabetically into a new binder, it took more like two or three hours. Can’t win ‘em all.

But some tasks do take less time than we expect, especially if you stick with it and focus on only that job. Maybe my fancy chart needs one more column to record how long the job actually took. My guesstimation skills would improve.

“Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives.” Titus 3:14.

Friday, May 24, 2024

Everything AND the Kitchen Sink...

Being a homeowner means living life constantly on the edge of wonder. I wonder which appliance will be the next to break down? I wonder how long our furnace or water heater will hold out? I wonder if it’s time to replace the shingles, the windows, the concrete? I wonder how old these plumbing fixtures are? I wonder when the next big expense will happen and how much it will cost?

You could call it a wonder-filled life.

One of my wonderings found its answer recently. While washing lettuce in the kitchen sink, I first noticed my feet sticking to the flooring. Well-worn Manitobah mukluks on my feet meant I couldn’t tell they were wet. Then I saw water on the floor. At first, I thought I’d simply slopped a bit. Then I realized the rug in front of the sink was soaked. Then I noticed water pouring out of the cupboard below the sink.

Uh oh. Major trouble. Supper could wait.

The next forty minutes were spent pulling stuff out from under the sink and sopping up water with old towels. With the cupboard empty and a bucket beneath the pipes, I carefully opened the tap while Hubby inspected, using his high-powered flashlight. The faucet and its workings were leaking, all right.

After hanging up all the soaked towels and rug and moving the contents of the cupboard out of the way, I finished supper preparations. I couldn’t believe how difficult it was to not flip on the tap for a quick rinse of spoons or fingers. My brain does not enjoy forming new habits. After supper, I tied bright orange tape around the faucet as a deterrent.

Now to figure out how to do dishes. I scrubbed my big red mop bucket in the bathtub and filled it with hot water twice. I poured the first pailful into one side of the kitchen sink with dish soap and the second into the other side for rinsing. Seemed like a big hardship, until it occurred to me what an absolute luxury that would have been to my mother back on the farm, or her mother before her. Imagine, hot water straight out of the tap and carrying it only 14 steps (I counted), all of them indoors. Suddenly, my annoyance at this minor inconvenience gave me cause for gratitude. The dishes got done.

I began to Google kitchen faucets, figuring if we needed to replace ours anyway, this provided a chance for an upgrade. The next morning at Canadian Tire, I found one on sale that was a step up from our old one. I shelled out $156.75, then called the plumber who brought our grand total to $251.95 which Hubby can almost earn in two eight-hour shifts at the gas bar. Easy-peazy.

No, home ownership is not for the faint of heart but less than 24 hours after discovering the leak, we were up and running with a new and improved faucet. Truth is, I’d been meaning to clean under the kitchen sink for weeks. You know how grubby that space becomes, especially if it’s where you keep your trash can, like we do. This forced emptying of the cupboard provided the perfect, no-excuse opportunity.

The next week, we discovered our garden hose nozzle and attachment needed replacing, another $75 at the hardware store which I can earn by selling only 15 books or 75 e-books, about a month’s work. Piece of cake.

I wonder what will quit next week?

“A house is built by wisdom, and it is established by understanding…” Proverbs 24:3.

Friday, May 17, 2024

Some Long Weekend Trivia

Do you know a 21-year-old woman? Cement her firmly in your mind. Now imagine her marrying the love of her life, who’s the same age. Nine months later, their first child arrives. Over the next 16 years, she gives birth to eight more children while also managing a successful and important career. After 21 years of a happy marriage, her husband dies at the age of 42, when their children range in age from four to 20. She mourns her husband for the rest of her life and never remarries.

By now, if you know your history, you’ll know that all of this happened to Queen Victoria, whose birthday we commemorate this long weekend. Isn’t it hard to imagine all this happening to a woman today? I thought I’d investigate what became of those nine children of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (who were first cousins. Not uncommon among the royals in their day.)

Princess Royal Victoria (1840–1901). Nicknamed “Vicky” and given her title of “Princess Royal” at the age of one, she married Prince Frederick William of Prussia. Following his death, Vicky lived as empress dowager before her death from breast cancer at age 60.

Prince Edward VII (1841–1910). Given the title of Prince of Wales, he became King upon the death of Queen Victoria in 1901. Reigning for only nine years, he was known as a peacemaker for fostering good relations with foreign powers. His son King George V succeeded him.

Princess Alice (1843–1878). Known for her nursing, she befriended Florence Nightingale and played an active role in military hospitals. Alice died from diphtheria in 1878, the first of three of Queen Victoria’s children to be outlived by their mother.

Prince Alfred (1844–1900) joined the Royal Navy at age 14 and obtained the rank of Admiral in 1893. He married Maria Alexandrovna, the daughter of Emperor Alexander II of Russia.

Princess Helena (1846–1923) Highly engaged in charitable institutions and a founding member of the British Red Cross, she married Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein.

Princess Louise (1848–1939) was 13 when her father died. She pursued a career as a sculptor and became a strong advocate of higher education and the feminist cause.

Prince Arthur (1850–1942) served in the British Army for 40 years, remaining active in the military into the Second World War.

Prince Leopold (1853– 1884) inherited the blood disorder hemophilia from his mother and was reputed to suffer from epilepsy, hindering his chances of joining the military. Instead, Leopold became a patron of the arts and acted as his mother’s unofficial secretary.

Princess Beatrice (1857– 1944) became the editor of her mother’s journals. She died in 1944 as Victoria’s last surviving child.

Queen Victoria died from a cerebral hemorrhage on January 22, 1901, at age 81. Of the approximately 28 surviving monarchies around the world, five are held by descendants of Victoria (England, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Denmark. King Phillippe of Belgium also has ties to the family.) She is King Charles III’s great-great-great grandmother on both sides. A quick Google search tells me that today, her descendants number over 1200, with 983 of those currently alive and scattered all over the world. No wonder she’s referred to as “The Grandmother of Europe.”

As for me, I love the words of I Peter 2:9, which apply to all believers: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

Painting of Queen Victoria's family / Public Domain


Friday, May 10, 2024

When Mother's Day Feels Like Other's Day

We started watching a family-friendly TV series (which shall remain nameless in case you happen to love it) where the first episode begins on Mother’s Day. Parents with five adult kids, their partners, and some grandchildren are gathered in a beautiful backyard on a perfectly lovely day. They’re all perfectly gorgeous. They’ve just finished a delicious brunch. It’s not clear who cooked the meal, but I bet it wasn’t Mom.

Now it’s time for Mom to open her perfectly chosen gifts. She receives a necklace she loves, earrings to match, a sweater that fits, a scarf to go with it, and a gift card for an evening out with Dad (the doctor who adores her and tells her how much she deserves it all). Everybody expresses their love and appreciation to Mom, with the obligatory sibling competitiveness thrown in to keep it real. They make plans for their next family dinner in a week.

So heartwarming I wanted to throw up.

Just me?

Granted, the show then delved into some pretty heavy family problems and I understand that over the course of the series, each offspring takes their turn to face a personal crisis that affects the whole family. The show is probably designed to model for viewers (or readers of the novels it’s based on) how tough circumstances can be handled in healthier ways. That’s never a bad thing.

I just wonder how many people feel represented by these characters. I hate to sound like a bitter old woman, but first of all, how do you raise five children and convince them all to live within come-for-brunch distance? How does no one have to work that day? How is no one sick? How is there not at least one individual at odds with another, refusing to attend? How do they coordinate the food and have everyone bring what they said they’d bring, and on time?

How do they all have money for gifts? How do they communicate so well that they can coordinate said gifts? How do they even think of it in time to have a gift purchased, wrapped, and ready by brunch time?

Some of the kids are mothers themselves. How do they prefer brunch with their parents and siblings over a restaurant with their spouse? Some of them have mothers-in-law. How do they not need to spend time with her? Is there a grandmother in the equation, sitting home alone and forgotten?

So many questions. I suppose that’s why they call it fiction.

The setup in this story well represents the ideal picture that a mother of grown children might imagine if she allowed herself to dream. If she had magically managed to raise such thoughtful, organized, wealthy people. If life hadn’t taught her to lower her expectations so that even a text or phone call on Mother’s Day provides cause for celebration. If she’d learned not to beat herself up as a failure when her picture-perfect Mother’s Day doesn’t materialize.

If you’ve come to expect a Mother’s Day that won’t result in Facebook-worthy family photos of smiling faces, flowers, and food, you are not alone. You won’t be the only one scrolling social media, wishing your day looked more like someone else’s or trying to feel genuinely happy for your friends.

But you’re also not the only one who loves her kids more than life. Motherhood has taught you more about love than a million perfect Mother’s Days ever could. You walk around in a body that has spent itself to give others life and nourishment. You carry inside you a heart that beats grace a thousand times every day, lungs that breathe hope and healing for your children all their lives long, a spirit that prays for them unceasingly. These gifts may not come wrapped in pretty paper, but they are gifts. They’re yours to cherish and use with gratitude and joy in this perfectly imperfect world.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Friday, May 3, 2024

Swimming in Fog

We hosted our three oldest grandsons for a sleepover halfway through their spring break. I thought an afternoon at the pool would provide a great way to burn off some adolescent energy, and the boys certainly weren’t opposed. Before leaving the house, I reminded them at least twice to remember their swimming suits and towels. Once everyone loaded into the car, I asked again. Trunks? Check. Towels? Check.

Away we went, grateful to live so near Stride Place. Nobody was surprised to find the parking lot full, but we found a space some distance from the doors and the boys barreled out. I looked around my feet. Where was my purse? I must have put it in my tote bag with my bathing suit. I opened the back of the vehicle and checked my bag. No purse. I never forget my purse.

How humiliating. “Sorry boys. I have no way to pay. We need to run home for my purse.”

At least we hadn’t gone all the way inside. I gave them the option of staying there or coming home with me, and they all piled back into the car. Luckily, it’s only a five-minute drive. Graciously, the boys said nothing but they certainly could have ribbed me. I ran inside, grabbed my purse, and away we went. Again.

When I opened my purse to pay for our swim time, I discovered I’d forgotten my cell phone. I never forget my cell phone.

Oh well, not a huge deal. I could live without it for a couple of hours. I just wouldn’t be able to text hubby to let him know when to expect us home.

Unfamiliar with how the change room lockers worked, I hadn’t known to bring padlocks. I purchased two—one for me and one for the boys—increasing the price of our activity by thirty percent. (Although, without the calculator on my phone, my math could be off.)

The boys and I parted ways and reconvened in our swimwear on the pool side, locker keys firmly attached to our wrists with the rubber bands provided. This being spring break, the pool was shoulder-to-shoulder people. Plenty of grandparents with grandkids, like us, as well as parents. I checked out the hot tub first, then dog-paddled around while the boys rough-housed. Once the lineup at the slide shortened, they tried that. I did not. Two hours seemed plenty for them, so back to the change rooms we went.

I opened my locker.

Inside, I found someone else’s stuff. What?

I checked the number. I’d opened the wrong locker. Mine was two doors over. Why had my key worked in someone else's lock?

I locked it, then opened mine. No problem. Was I losing my mind?

After dressing and returning to the lobby, I told the receptionist my weird story. He suggested that maybe the other person had not actually clicked their padlock properly closed, in which case I only thought my key opened it.

Now new thoughts tortured me. What if the person deliberately left their lock unlocked because they didn’t have the key but wanted it to appear locked?

I guess I’ll never know. I do know the whole experience felt a bit surreal. I chalked up my forgetfulness to lingering brain fog after fighting a month-long virus. Or the stress of having to oversee three minors when I’m no longer used to it. Or fatigue from missing my afternoon nap. Probably all three. Certainly not old age.

It felt good to get home.

“For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” (1 Corinthians 14:33)