Prov 17:22

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

Archived Columns - January, 2011

Y2K Plus Eleven Equals 2011

     I wonder what percentage of history’s population has had the privilege of seeing the change of a millennium? Being mathematically challenged as I am, I wouldn’t even want to guess. What matters is, it was one of those moments which you'll always be able to answer “where were you when...?”
     I'm glad to be one of the privileged people who was alive on this planet 11 years ago when we ushered in the year 2000 A.D. I was at the home of a friend named Liz, long before she became Councillor Driedger, along with 40 or more noisy friends. For a non-night owl like me who often falls asleep before the big moment, it was novel to do the countdown, cheer, and shake a homemade noisemaker. I was rather proud of mine--a Coke bottle (the drink of the century) half filled with Lego (the toy of the century). Sadly, a smart aleck music teacher drowned me out with his trumpet.
     I wanted to record the moment in my mind--the happy faces around me, the excitement in the air, the noise…even the relief that, from all appearances, the dreaded “Y2K bug” seemed to be a non-event, leaving reporters scrounging for any scraps of related news. I wanted to be as alert as I could be, aware of the significance of the moment. I wanted to be able to relate it to my grandchildren some day.
     Meanwhile, our teenagers were hosting a party of their own in our home with about 20 friends. They played outdoors, ate junk, cranked up their so-called music, and watched movies. Someone cooked a pot of canned ravioli, and the next morning when my son heard me puzzling over the cause of the dirty stove and pot, he teased me about the wild party they’d had. “Whoa, ravioli!! Scandalous!”
      Those teenagers have now flown the coop, added two in-laws and two grandsons to our family, and made us proud. We’ve changed careers, homes, and vehicles. We enjoy technical advances not available in 1999 and 2000. We’ve seen frightening things on this planet we call home—war, disease, crime, natural disasters, and more war.
      Sometimes I wonder why it is that we set ourselves up to start each new year so far behind--groggy from a late night and facing leftover party messes. One of these years I’m going to spend Dec. 31 getting my home into spic and span shape, go to bed at ten o’clock and wake up early on Jan. 1 ready to write the next great novel or play! One of these years.
      Meanwhile, I'm glad to have memories of the turning of a millennium to pass down to my grandsons, who missed it by a few years. More importantly, I'm glad to know the One who created the world's orbits and keeps everything spinning as it should. I'm grateful it does not depend on us, even if we celebrate as though we could somehow take the credit.
     Happy New Year. May 2011 be filled with happy surprises for you and yours.

A 12-Step Program for Beating the Post-Holiday Blues

(Note: if you're one of those keeners who defrocks the house before Ukrainian Christmas, this week's column is not for you.)

     The gingerbread house sits half-eaten, hard, and dusty in the corner. Your tree is still standing, its garlands drooping from the last run-in with the family cat. The last of the chocolates dare you to eat them, even as the bathroom scale mocks your promise to maintain over the holidays. The challenge of putting it all away seems insurmountable. You're depressed.
I have the cure. Follow these 12 basic steps and you'll beat the post-holiday blues, guaranteed.
If I'm wrong, email me.
     Step One, Friday evening. Stop at the florist's and order some fresh, springy flowers to be delivered to your door late the following afternoon. Get yourself a new black marker and a package of your favorite coffee or tea. Buy a half dozen large plastic storage bins, usually on sale this time of year. (If you can't afford all that, some good cardboard boxes will do.) Tomorrow you'll make a day of it, but don't worry. There are worse ways to spend your day off, like waiting in emergency while your head bleeds or wrestling crocodiles in the African Nile.
     Step Two, Saturday morning. Put supper in the crock pot. The good smell as it cooks will cheer you up and you won't have to think about cooking later.
     Step Three. Put on some lively music and crank it up.
     Step Four. Go around the house and gather every last Christmas ornament, knick-knack, CD, and candle into one room. Place the bins in the same room, along with a large trash bag and recycling bin.
     Step Five. Go through the house and check again. Don't forget that last mug in the dishwasher or the wreath on the front door or that bit of silk mistletoe over the bathroom mirror.
     Step Six. Sit down with a cup of hot coffee or tea. Put your feet up for 15 minutes. Do not skip this step, no matter how much momentum you think you've got going!
     Step Seven. Sort all the stuff into the bins: one for kitchen stuff, one for tree ornaments, one for the nativity set, etc. Label everything with your marker. Toss the old junky stuff you really don't like in the trash bag or recycling. Be ruthless.
     Step Eight. Go through the house one more time. There's sure to be something you missed, like that glowing Rudolph nose on the deer head in the den. Put it in the appropriate bin. Or bag.
     Step Nine. Close the bins and stack them in your storage space.
     Step Ten: Vacuum everywhere. If you have a helper, rearrange the furniture. It will give you a fresh new start, conducive to blowing away depressing thoughts.
     Step Eleven: About this time, the flowers should arrive. Act surprised.
     Step Twelve: Sit down and enjoy the meal you prepared earlier. Spend the evening doing something you enjoy, like watching that Christmas movie you discovered under the sofa after you'd put all the bins away. Look forward to next year, when unpacking your carefully organized Christmas items will be an inspiration instead of a chore. Congratulate yourself. You deserve it!

Resolution Keeping 101

     Because one of my jobs at City Hall is the preparation of Council meeting minutes, I type the word “resolve” about a gazillion times a year, give or take an illion. Whereas this makes me an expert on the word “resolution,” and whereas you've probably blown yours by now anyway, therefore be it resolved that I hereby humbly offer a condensed pop psychology course which, if you take these steps, will make you a successful New Year's resolution keeper. No need to thank me.
     Step 1 is called “Pre-contemplation.” This is the denial stage, where the particular behaviour is not seen as harmful and no change is required. A good example here would be my husband's unreasonable insistence on rolling the toothpaste tube neatly from the bottom up. My tendency to squeeze it in the middle doesn't hurt anyone, and there is therefore no reason to change. Case closed.
     Step 2 is the “Contemplation” phase where you begin to consider making a change and weighing the pros and cons. Many people get stuck at this stage forever, because the cost seems greater than the gain. For example, the loss of, oh, I don't know, the rapturous, eye-rolling ecstasy that erupts when sinking one's teeth into a triple chocolate fudge cake seems of more value than the benefits of resisting. Not that I would know about that. I'm just sayin'.
     Step 3 is “Preparation.” This is where you take one small step to test the waters, so to speak. Instead of tackling a full blown new daily aerobic workout that's bound to fail, you decide to walk around the block on your coffee break. Instead of quitting smoking cold turkey, you decide to have one less cigarette a day. In this stage you collect information, set goals, and seek support. In my case, I might have a goal to rise earlier each morning. Instead of unrealistically setting my alarm clock for a half hour earlier, I set it for half a minute earlier. Since they have not yet invented a clock that can be set to the second, I will patiently wait for this technical advancement.
     Step 4 - “Action.” The reason so many New Year's resolutions fail is because people start here. They jump in to some big impossible new behaviour without taking the previous steps. For example, I might decide I want to improve my relationship with my son's new girlfriend, so I call her sixteen times a day to say hi. Somehow, it just doesn't last.
     Step 5 is “Maintenance.” This is the really tricky part, because it involves avoiding temptation and replacing old habits with new, positive ones—or at least, less destructive ones. Which is why former smokers often chew a lot of gum. Or, in my case, I replaced my despicable habit of blaming my husband for everything. Instead, I've trained him to blame himself for everything. This has saved me hours of creative energy.
     Step 6 is “Relapse.” It's inevitable that you will have these, so just expect it. This is where you're supposed to ask what triggered the set-back, reaffirm your commitment, and plan how to deal with future triggers. If you've resolved to exercise three times a week and you've gone a whole month without exercising, it doesn't mean you must throw in the towel. Start again. Or, let's say you've resolved to write only helpful material for your weekly newspaper column, but one week it's nothing but meaningless drivel. Try again next week.
     Resolved and Carried.

Countdown to a Meltdown

      Day 1. Shopping for Jillian Michael's popular “30 Day Shred” video, instead I find her “Yoga Meltdown.” The back of the DVD promises fast results, so I take it home. The premise of this workout is to take traditional yoga poses and put repetitious movement to them for cardio work, followed by holding each pose for 15 seconds for strength-building and balance. I watch carefully and try to replicate the moves Jillian and her two minions demonstrate. I'm doing swimmingly until about 30 seconds in.
      Can anyone besides these three freaks of nature actually DO a chaturanga push-up? This is like a normal push-up, except your hands are under your chest, elbows tucked in tight to your body, and you move s-l-o-w-l-y. You stop with your nose inches above the floor and hold there for 15 seconds. Impossible. I skip this and keep going.
      I discover I can do the Warrior 3 pose by keeping one hand on the coffee table.
      While attempting the Camel pose, I get stuck. This is not how I pictured my own demise. Poor Jon will come home to discover my stiffened corpse, requiring a custom-made, camel-shaped casket.
     Lastly, we learn the Dolphin pose. I always wondered why dolphins are always smiling. Now I really wonder. These moves are not humanly possible (hence, all the animal names). Clearly, the video is a fake. It's amazing what they can do with computer animation these days. I will be so sore tomorrow!
      Day 2. I am too much of a cheapskate to pay for a DVD and not use it. And am very surprised to find I'm not sore at all! I try again. It seems slightly more possible, but what will Dr. Narvey say next time I'm in for my regular attitude adjustment and he finds me twisted like a pretzel?
      There is a Level 2 workout on this disk, but I don't even watch it. At this rate, I figure I'll be ready to move up to the next level by my 300th birthday.
      Day 9. Somebody should tell these work-out video makers to think ahead before they say stupid random things their customers will have to listen to over and over again. Next time I hear “who's your daddy?” I'm going to slap somebody.
      Day 19. I've got rug burns on my elbows and knees from the Berber carpet. I find an alternate outfit.
      Day 31. The push-ups are not getting better, but I can do the Warrior 3 pose without hanging onto anything. I am very proud of myself!
      Day 45. I dare to watch the Level 2 workout. At this rate, I will be ready to move on by my 150th birthday.
      Day 51. I can do all the poses except the stupid chaturanga push-ups. I modify and keep going. Is it my imagination or is it easier to get up again after getting something from the bottom of the fridge?
      Day 66. Is it my imagination, or are my jeans looser?
      Day 80. Is it my imagination, or am I having fewer aches and pains?
      Day 89. Is it my imagination, or was that a proper chaturanga push-up I just did? At this rate, I will be ready to move on to Level 2 by my 52nd birthday in February.