Prov 17:22

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

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

I'd Love to Introduce You...



I need to tell you about this remarkable redhead because her story may affect your future. She’d be awfully old if she were still around, 106 to be exact. Maggie lost her husband Douglas in World War II, except she never considered it much of a loss. The fact that her husband would not be returning home to Canada meant she’d never again have to suffer abuse at his hands. Nor would anyone ever know about the beatings she endured, or about the unborn child she’d lost as a result. She could play the role of grieving widow with no one the wiser. The sympathy might even prove good for business.

Maggie ran a restaurant in Winnipeg called Bert’s Diner, after her father who established it. Even during the war years, the restaurant did all right because it was famous for its delicious food—cooked, of course, by Maggie. She lived upstairs over the diner and her customers could never figure out why she took in pregnant teenagers to live with her and help in the restaurant. By 1942, the boys were gone to war and Maggie was down to one girl named Charlotte.

Charlotte was exiled to Winnipeg from faraway Ontario by her wealthy, prideful parents who insisted on keeping her pregnancy hush-hush until the baby could be adopted out so their friends would never learn the family’s shameful secret. They should have realized their daughter was an imaginative, romantic girl who fantasized about her baby’s father marrying her and sweeping her away to live happily ever after. Without telling a soul, Charlotte ran away and succeeded in catching a train that would take her well into the neighboring province. Her plan might have worked, too, if she hadn’t gone into labor on the journey.

When Maggie discovered Charlotte missing, she did a little detective work and solicited the help of her old friend, Rev. Reuben Fennel. The reverend was a bit of an odd duck—even as a kid, he’d get these weird messages straight from God. They were always instructions to do something out of the ordinary and, though Reuben never told anyone about them, he usually obeyed. And they always seemed to turn out to make sense in the end. But when he took off with Maggie on a cross-country chase for a pregnant teenager using a special fuel ration card set aside for church emergencies, it resulted in his getting fired from his job. His involvement In Maggie’s troubles eventually led to broken ribs and a gunshot wound, and Maggie learned that war heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they don’t even go to war.

The lives of these three individuals became intrinsically intertwined and everything that happened to them has affected my life as well, even though I’ve only recently discovered their stories. 

All three are figments of my imagination. They are the main characters in my new novel called Maggie’s War, and I am thrilled to announce it will be released by Waterfall Press next winter. If you read my first book, The Silver Suitcase, something about this second story will have a familiar ring to it. If you haven’t, well, summer’s here. Your deck chair is calling.

I’m telling you all this as a way of saying a huge thank you. It’s largely because my readers were generous with their reviews of my first book that it sold enough copies to persuade its publisher to release the second. And yep, I’m working on a third.

You’re a part of it. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Nine Things I'd Do with Dad



I’m thankful to have had a father for the first 27 years of my life. But 27 years are not enough to pack in all the things a father and daughter can and should do together. Here are nine things I’d love to do with Dad if I could. Feel free to steal any of these ideas or come up with a list of your own to do with your dad (or with your kid if you’re a father) not just this Father’s Day weekend, but throughout the year. Most of them cost little or nothing.

Beautiful Crescent Lake in Portage la Prairie
#1. Go for a walk. 
My dad left us before the beautiful walking path around our Crescent Lake was created. I sure would love to show it to him.

#2. Cook something. 
Dad had his specialty creations from the kitchen: apple kuchen, potato pancakes made from hand-grated potatoes, and venison roasted with lemon slices. I’d get Dad to teach me his secrets for these delicious dishes.

#3. Go shopping. 
I don’t recall ever shopping with Dad, but I think it would be fun to pick out something for him (probably a tool) and something for me (probably an outfit). This could be followed by…

#4. Go for ice cream. 
Dad loved soft ice cream, while I prefer hard. We could go somewhere that offers both. He’d chuckle when it melted on my chin and I’d say, “Before you laugh too hard, better check your mustache.”

#5. Help with a Do It Yourself project
Dad was a bit of a MacGyver when it came to jerry-rigging solutions. I could have learned a lot if I’d paid closer attention to some of the things Dad fixed or created. I like to think I’d take advantage of the opportunity if I had it now.

#6. Plant a Tree.  
The baby evergreens Dad planted in his backyard in 1981 now tower above my sister’s house. I could have been out there helping him, but I wasn’t. How much more precious those trees would be now if I had. If he were here, I’d get him to help me plant a tree in my yard, and cherish the memory every time I looked at it.

#7. Interview him about his childhood.
It’s ironic that the books I’m writing now take place during the WWII era, when my dad served in the Canadian Army. I could sure use his memory if I had access to it! I’d also love to ask him things like: Is there anything you regret not having asked your parents? What was the happiest moment of your life? What are you most proud of? How did your experience in the military mold you as a person? What is your earliest memory? Who were your friends when you were growing up? What was your favorite thing to do for fun? What was school like for you as a child? What were your best and worst subjects? You get the idea.

#8. Play a Duet. 
Dad couldn’t read a note, but he played the accordion in his early days and the piano when I knew him, all by ear. Decades after taking piano lessons myself, I picked up the E-flat alto saxophone. A piano/saxophone duet only works if you have music written in two different keys… or if the pianist plays by ear. Dad would have been able to pick up by ear whatever I was playing on my sax and make it work. Or at least, we’d sure have fun trying!

#9 Pray. 
One thing I seem to have inherited from my father is the inability to rein in the tears while praying. Dad knew something truly powerful occurs when we pray, because we are approaching the throne of our Creator and the King of kings. If I could hear my father praying for me, my children, and my grandchildren by name, I would be reduced to a puddle on the floor. The best kind.

I hope some of these spark ideas for you. Happy Father’s Day!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Let's Get... Physio?




I had no idea what a rotator cuff was until mine started to give me grief. Like the sound system at a public event, as long as it’s doing its job right, I’m unaware of its very existence. But one failure on the part of the technician, one ear-splitting squeal of feedback, or one singer whose mouth is moving but nothing’s coming out…and all eyes turn to whoever’s at the control board. 

Same with our various body parts. Usually they need to hurt before they receive any attention.

Nearly a year ago, I started having trouble with my right arm any time I pulled a sweater over my head or brushed my hair or hugged my hubby. Ow! What had I done? Too much painting? Weed-pulling? Window washing? Side planks? But doctor, I’ve done all these and more without problems for years!

Precisely. Wear and tear.

I’d heard the term “rotator cuff,” of courseusually in the context of athletic injuries and therefore not applicable to sissies like me. But suddenly mine became interesting and I needed an anatomy lesson. Turns out it’s a group of tendons and muscles in the shoulder, connecting the upper arm (humerus) to the shoulder blade (scapula). The rotator cuff tendons provide stability to the shoulder; the muscles allow the shoulder to rotate.

Soon my left side began copycatting. Before long, the pain kept me awake at night, no matter which side I slept on. When my chiropractor and massage therapist agreed physio might be my best bet, I went to Portage Physiotherapy. There, Craig treats me with heat, massage, ultrasound, and TENS (electrical nerve stimulation) —all of which feel great. But the biggest part of physio is…wait for it…

The HOMEWORK.

Craig gave me a sheet of exercises and a stretchy band to work with at home. On my next visit, I received more exercises—all designed to stretch and strengthen the muscles in my shoulder area.
Not that I’m a whiner or anything, but as my aches and pains came up in conversations, I discovered my problem is quite common. I asked others how they had benefitted from physio, and the dialogue frequently went like this:

Them: “Well, no, I can’t say it helped me much.”
Me: “Really? Well, that’s disappointing.”
Them: “Yeah. Expensive, too.”

And then I just had to ask. “Did you do the exercises?”

Inevitably, the person would sheepishly admit they didn’t stick with that part of the program.

Why do we do this to ourselves, in so many areas of life? If I’m going to pay hard-earned money for expert help, I should jolly well do exactly what the expert tells me to do. How else will I ever know if their method works? Seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? But we’re so conditioned to the quick and easy fix. We give something a week or two and when we don’t see results, we give up. Even if the problem has developed over months or years.

Thankfully, I’m miserly enough to want to get my money’s worth, which means doing the exercises. And while it’s a gradual process, my shoulders are improving. I can sleep and I can pull that Corningware down from the top shelf again. I intend to stick with it.

What are you missing because you disregarded expert guidance or gave up too soon? A stronger body? A healthy marriage? Meaningful faith? Fulfillment of a long-held dream? Don’t throw away what you have already invested. The harder we work, the harder it becomes to surrender.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

My Most Disgusting Blog Post Yet



All the hullabaloo about which bathrooms kids should use has me thinking about toilets in general and school bathrooms in particular—and the clever people who invented modern sanitation and who keep our systems working. At the risk of sounding ancient, let me introduce you to the toilets of my youth.

The Outhouse
While I attended a one-room country school for only a week (another story for another day), I spent enough weeks at summer camp and Vacation Bible School to become well acquainted with the outhouse. Our church had an outhouse, tucked into the trees where the wood ticks, snakes, lions, tigers, and bears lived. One kid even saw monkeys in the trees one dark New Year’s Eve when forced to make the trek to the facility while the adults congregated for fellowship in the church basement.

Outhouses built character. 

For one thing, it took a lot of courage to traipse out to them after dark and remain long enough to take care of business. Hooting owls, snapping twigs, and the whir of bat wings can develop a child’s imagination like no brightly tiled room or disinfected porcelain bowl ever could. 

For another thing, learning to tolerate the stench, heat, and flies in the summer gave you the fortitude to withstand freezing your bare bum off in winter. I’m convinced the Eaton’s catalog for toilet paper automatically turned us into stalwart pillars of the community, too.

The Chemical Toilet
When my family moved to town, our new house included—luxury of luxuries—an actual indoor bathroom with a sink and tub. Why the previous owners had not installed a flush toilet remains a mystery. What we did have was called a chemical toilet: essentially, a 5-gallon metal pail with a handy-dandy carrying handle which fit inside a larger metal can with a seat on top. At the back of this “can” was a hole, and from that hole emerged a pipe leading up through the ceiling for ventilation. Each day, one of my brothers carried the pail to the outhouse, dumped it, rinsed it, and poured in a little powerful-smelling chemical called Misto-Van which didn’t so much extinguish the natural toilet smell as overpower it, burning off your nose hairs as a bonus.

I recall the freezing January day when my brother, in his hurry to complete his chore and return to the warmth and The Flintstones in living black and white, slipped and fell—spilling the contents of the pail out onto the snow. How long it took him to shovel it up I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure it never happened again. Somehow this chore was relegated to the boys and I was never so thankful to have been born a girl.

The Inside-Outhouse
When I first started Grade One in Amaranth, Manitoba, the six-room school had indoor bathrooms but still no actual plumbing, which is pretty weird now that I think about it. The four or five individual stalls in the girls’ room each had a toilet with a long, long drop to where everything collected in what my six-year-old imagination could only conclude must be hell itself. While outhouses could simply be moved to a new hole and the old hole filled in, how the contents of this indoor marvel were extracted when filled to capacity never crossed my mind. I was just glad we didn’t need to go outdoors to use them. 

Outside the stalls, a row of water basins sat for our washing convenience. At lunch time, the older girls helped us little girls pour fresh wash water and dump our used water. Still another character-building practise, I suppose. 

At some point our school upgraded to flush toilets and my parents installed one at home, too. We’ve never looked back.

Like me, you probably take your toilet for granted most days. You might even resent the frequency with which you need to use it or clean it. But think of the alternative. Think of the good folks who work at our Water Pollution Control Facility (affectionately known as the poop plant) every day so you can keep flushing. Think of the plumbers we think are overpaid until we have to do what they do. Think of the janitors who keep our public washrooms fit for use, and the nurses who take care of those who cannot use a toilet on their own.

And be grateful.