Costumes: What’s below the surface?

During our renovation we peeled back the layers of our kitchen and made some discoveries.

We uncovered the original wallpaper from the 1960s that had lurked behind our cupboards all along.

When we knocked out a pantry, we found tile of the same vintage.

Removing some drywall showed us it that had never been properly attached to 2 x 4s as crooked as Wayne Gretzky’s hockey stick.

We also found inadequate insulation and . . . creative . . . electrical wiring. Our kitchen had worn a costume that covered up unseen details and flaws. 

A beautiful costume is important, but it’s only as good as what’s below the surface. At Hallowe’en we are fixing all the problems and preparing a new costume for a brighter, more open, more functional and safer kitchen.

When it’s finished, we’ll love the new costume—and what’s below the surface too.

 

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Hammer and nail

“Into God’s temple of eternity,
Drive a nail of gold.
—from In Search of a Soul by Raymond Moriyama

We are renovating our kitchen, so chaos that tests my “patience and my sweet nature,” as a fellow blogger at Becoming put it, surrounds me. The up side (and there’s always an up side) is that I have plenty of fodder for blog ideas.

I sit on my living room sofa contemplating the box of nails left on my coffee table by the contractor. “Common” nails, the box tells me. Ordinaires. Nothing out of the ordinary.

For something so common, they possess golden power. Those “common” nails hold together my kitchen, the heart of my home—providing they work with their friends. One nail can do a job, but only while enduring stress and only for a brief time before letting go from the strain.

Each nail is meant to be a small part of a greater work. 

The “common” nails on my coffee table—the ones that serve their ordinary, powerful purposed so well—are one of many different kinds of nails, all of which serve different ordinary, powerful purposes. Short nails don’t judge themselves against longer ones; they know short nails fit nestle in where long nails would burst through and ruin the result. A galvanized roofing nail does not feel inferior to a brass brad; they know strength and perseverance serve better than beauty out in the elements. Drywall nails appreciate their bumpy, ridged shape ideal for slipping through drywall paper and sinking into the frame, something a finishing nail won’t do.

Nails need help from another source: the hand that wields hammer. Nails on their own lie listlessly in a box awaiting a purpose, awaiting the hand that drives the hammer. When their time comes to shine, they are perfect for the job for which they are chosen: the perfect size, the perfect material, the perfect shape. Golden.

When the hammer strikes the nail, when the work is underway, it doesn’t feel good. It hurts! Fulfilling the purpose is not meant to be a pain-free, comfortable experience.

If I am a nail, common or otherwise, I have a golden purpose for which I am the perfect size, the perfect material, the perfect shape. I am a small part of a greater work.

I know the hand that wields the hammer is with me. I’d better call up some friends.

 

A fly in the ointment

A few dead flies will make even the best perfume stink. In the same way, a little foolishness can ruin much wisdom and honor. —Ecclesiastes 10:1

I used the expression during a family game of euchre on our summer vacation at the cottage. I had a good hand, and I took the first four of five tricks. But on the last one my daughter snuck in there with a higher card to deprive me of the extra point. “Ah, you were the fly in my ointment,” I said.

“What did you say?” my son asked.

“I said that she was the fly in my ointment.”

“I thought that’s what you said. What does that mean?”

“Have you never heard that expression before?”

“No.”

I turned to my daughter, “Have you?”

“No.”

Her boyfriend was in the room? “Have you?”

“No.” He looked mystified.

I started to wonder if I’d been saying something wrong over the years, or if the expression was one of those unique to the Ottawa Valley where I grew up. The Valley has many quaint but not universally shared expressions. I turned to my husband, “Have you heard of that?” He nodded that he had. Phew, I thought. I’m not losing my mind!

“What does it mean?” my son asked again.

I thought it would have been obvious, but apparently not. I said, “Well, it’s the dark spot in something that is otherwise perfect, or a damaging element in something that is otherwise healing. One small thing that harms a big good thing, or is just plain annoying.”

“That makes no sense. How could a fly get in the ointment anyway? It’s in a tube,” my daughter said.

Ah ha! We’d hit the stumbling block. People of my generation can envision a vat or tub of ointment with a dark fly in the light colour, buy in the mind’s eye of people my daughter’s age, ointment comes only in a tube.

“At the time the expression came to be ointment came in pots or tubs,” I said. “Picture a container of white ointment with a dark fly in it.”

“But why would you care if you had a fly in your ointment?” my daughter insisted.

Why do I care if there’s a fly in my ointment? Because a little foolishness can ruin much wisdom and honour, and there is foolishness going on right now that is ruining much wisdom and honour.

I know the negative thoughts and actions taking place all around us these days don’t represent the thoughts and actions of most people, but they’re flies in the ointment. Those few people who say them, think them, act on them make life stink to high heaven for all of us. The dark spots in an otherwise happy world, the damaging elements in an otherwise healing world, the small stains blemish the big picture.

Out damned spot!

 

 

Desiderata 55

So, I’ve been a little busy lately. I’ve been doing lots of writing—for other projects, other people. This creative play-place had to be set aside. BUT it’s my birthday today. I thought I’d give myself and my creative play-place a little attention.

The thing is, I’m still busy. A full day of work and all that. I thought, “What have I written about birthdays in the past? Maybe that will inspire me.” I came across this from five years ago. It seems fitting.

Everything is unfolding as it should. It’s good that I’m interested in my career, however humble, and that it is keeping me so busy. And this should make the “vexations to the spirit” on the bus ride home tonight a little easier to handle.


What part of “Desiderata” do you need today?

Do you struggle to speak your truth and be heard? Do dark imaginings haunt your nights? Are you having trouble believing that it is a beautiful world?

I had a poster of “Desiderata” in my room at university; its words steadied me through four years of study. I often glanced at those words on the wall in times of stress, frustration, or joy. No matter what was happening in my life, something in “Desiderata” fit the situation.

“. . .  whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should” is a touchstone phrase for me. I sustains me through those times when I wonder why this crazy life if unfolding the way it is.

When a loud and aggressive person disturbs my day, I think,You are a vexation to my spirit.” The phrase helps me determine the people with whom I should spend more time or less time.

I celebrated my birthday recently, so the phrase, Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth” ran through my head often.

Read through these words today, and draw from them what you need to approach the day with a smile and renewed hope.

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

© Max Ehrmann 1927

 

Bunnies beat dragons

This past weekend the streets of downtown Ottawa, Canada overflowed with hundreds of thousands of people thronging to see La Machine.

The “travelling urban theatre” made its North America debut in my hometown as part of our ongoing Canada 150 celebrations. A gigantic mechanical dragon and spider wandered through the streets and public parks for a show entitled “The Spirit of the Dragon-Horse, With Stolen Wings.” The creatures lived, breathed (sort of) snorted and farted (really), and walked among the people of Ottawa 24 hours a day for four days as they pursued their quests. My social media feeds and the Ottawa news channels were full of pictures and videos of these feats of engineering at play in our city. The dragon and the spider were a huge hit.

As cool as that all sounded, as unique and interesting as it seemed, I could not summon the interest in going to see it for myself.

Cottages called to me. I spent the weekend in peaceful surroundings. Sun, water, relaxation. I couldn’t bear the thought of those crowds.

Last week, before the dragon and the spider descended on my city and before the hundreds of thousands of people flocked to see them, I went for a walk downtown. At the heart of Ottawa, a few hundred feet from Parliament Hill, I encountered these baby bunnies. They were small enough to fit in the palm of my hand. By myself I spent some quiet moments with the bunnies.

For me, quiet moments with those bunnies beat noisy dragon time.

 

Baseball: A guilty pleasure

I just finished reading Stacey May Fowles book, Baseball Life Advice: Loving the Game That Saved Me. I read chapter after chapter thinking, “Yes! She gets it.

Skydome/Rogers Centre where we love to go to cheer for the Toronto Blue Jays

She writes about going to baseball games alone (done it), treading with reverence on the turf of the Skydome/Rogers Centre (done it), stopping at empty baseball diamonds and taking time there to meditatively soak up an atmosphere that feels sacredly church-like (done it), going to games with dad on Father’s Day (miss it), stepping out of social events to check on the score of Jays games (do it all the time), and so on. Chapter after chapter she touched on subjects I could relate to.

It’s not easy being a female baseball fan.

Many times I have been involved in baseball conversations with people and made comments about a particular game or a team or player—comments that reveal my baseball knowledge as much more than casual or superficial—only to see a look of startled re-evaluation appear on their faces.

Enjoying one of my favourite pastimes – an afternoon at a baseball game.

Most people don’t expect a woman to really know the sport.

I don’t make a secret of my passion for baseball. Our son plays, so we travelled with him all over southern Ontario and the northern U.S. for years. And I often joke about how my favourite time of year is when I give my television remote a good workout by watching baseball, hockey, tennis, and curling all at the same time. It’s even part of my official biography on this site. People know this about me.

But I don’t brag about my love for baseball either. Maybe I need to start, because it’s apparent people don’t fully understand.

Last Tuesday night I hosted my book club at my house. Before the event started, I was home alone—my husband out at his usual Tuesday night tennis match. My friends wouldn’t arrive until 7:30p.m., so at 7:00 I turned on the TV thinking I could catch the first 20 minutes of the Jays game. I was annoyed to discover a 30-minute rain delay in Boston. “Great,” I muttered. “Now I won’t see any of the game.”

I stayed with the channel though, because any baseball is better than no baseball. I watched Baltimore and Texas, quite happily until my book club friends arrived. When I saw the cars pull up I left the TV on so I could peek in and check the score later in the evening when I was preparing the refreshments.

I ushered my friends in, and as we walked by the TV one of them said, “Don (my husband) must be here.”

“No,” I said. “He’s playing tennis.”

“Oh?”my friend said. “Who’s watching baseball?”

“I am,” I said.

Surprised into silence, my friends carried on into my sunroom for our book club discussion.

It struck me how my friends—who know me so well—could not believe that I would watch a game by myself, by choice. They assumed a man needed to be around to make that choice and then I would just follow along. They would certainly not guess that of all the viewing options on any given evening, baseball is my first choice. I felt just a little like I’d been caught watching porn, or something that I should feel guilty about.

I don’t feel guilty. Baseball for me is not a guilty pleasure. It’s just a pleasure.

Not everyone understands, but it’s good to know that at least Stacey May Fowles gets it.

 

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