Prov 17:22

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

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Haven't you always wanted to read someone else's diary?

If, like me, you find other people’s diaries hard to resist, you’ll be happy to hear a brand new book released this week called Hutterite Diaries: Wisdom from My Prairie Community.

Author Linda Maendel lives on the Elm River Colony west of Oakville where she is an educational assistant at the colony’s school and spends her free time writing. Her articles have appeared in The Daily Graphic, The Central Plains Herald Leader, The Manitoba Cooperator, the Winnipeg Free Press, and Our Canada. This is not Linda’s first book, but it is the first I am able to read since the others are in German or Hutterisch—the language Linda speaks at home but which had never been used in written form until she tackled it for one of her children’s books.

Linda wrote Hutterite Diaries in English, and it’s so engaging, I finished it in two sittings. If you enjoy my blog posts, you will love Linda’s book. Her stories are more interesting than mine and she includes more photos! Linda knows how to combine ordinary slice-of-life events with bits of Hutterite history in a fascinating way. I found myself laughing in parts, crying in others, and definitely learning things I never knew. I could almost hear the beautiful harmonies of their German hymn-singing, smell the fresh bread baking, and see the colorful gardens Linda describes.

“I’m journaling about living on a Hutterite colony; each story or article is a glimpse of my communal life. Creating word pictures is like collecting treasures; it makes me take a closer look at things,” Linda said when given the opportunity to publish this book. The poignant story she tells in Chapter 4, A Circle Not Broken, is worth the price of the book all by itself for those who love incredible, goosebump-inducing “coincidences.”

Published by Herald Press, the book is part of the “Plainspoken” series, which gives voice to Anabaptist writers in a world where novels, tourist sites, and TV shows offer second-hand accounts of Amish, Mennonite, and Hutterite life—some of which are flat-out wrong.

You may also want to check out Linda’s blog at Really? A Hutterite woman who blogs? As Linda says, “While other Hutterite women love to sew, I would rather write. It’s not something I have in common with many of my fellow Hutterites, but I’m fine with that. We have so many things in common that it’s okay to differ in some areas.”

Linda’s engaging style and skillful telling of these heartwarming stories will help you enter into life on a modern Hutterite colony while giving you glimpses into their rich and tumultuous history and their unwavering faith. Reading it gave me a deeper appreciation for and understanding of my Hutterite neighbours, and any time you can accomplish that, you assist in the work of God himself.

“We aren’t perfect,” Linda says, “but we have figured out a few things about how to live together in community and about what works and what doesn’t. Many experiments in Christian community have not lasted, and we are humbly grateful that our communities, with all their ongoing struggles, have remained strong and viable through all these centuries.”

The best way to own an autographed copy of this lovely book? Come to Linda’s book launch at the Portage Regional Library on Saturday, May 23, between 2:00 and 3:30 p.m. If you miss that event, “Hutterite Diaries” is available from or you can ask for it in bookstores.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

3 Time Saving Tips (for those with better things to do...)

My mother thinks I’m too busy.

“You’re not 35 anymore,” she tells me. This from the woman who will never see 80 again, yet charges around like she’s forever on a mission—probably because she is. 

“If I don’t do stuff, I’ll have to give up my column,” I tell her. “I won’t have anything to write about.”

It’s true. If I had the courage, I’d take up skydiving or bungee jumping just to get a column out of it. If I had the money, I’d fly around the world and deliver my adventures to readers 500 words at a time. If I had the energy, I’d volunteer for every opportunity that presents itself and tell you how it goes. If I had the talent, I’d star in a blockbuster movie and regale you with the ups and downs of fame. If I had a willing partner, I’d learn ballroom dancing and let you vicariously trip the lights fantastic as you read all about it.

But there’s only so much I can say about preparing council agendas at City Hall or cooking vegan meals or performing yardwork or taking afternoon naps or pressing buttons on a computer in my church’s tech room. Readers are tired of my old car and my new couch and my weird health issues. You’ve heard enough about my kids and grandkids, at least until one of them wins an Olympic medal or pulls off a bank heist or walks on Mars—all of which I consider highly unlikely.

So I have to keep doing stuff and then writing about it.

Mom’s right when she says I’m not 35. I also require ridiculous amounts of sleep, which bugs me. Life’s too short to spend sleeping. When I see people capable of staying up until midnight, I feel jealous. Especially if they waste those golden moments watching TV or playing video games. Oh, the books I could read. The books I could write!

As someone who once held down three part-time jobs plus college courses with three children still at home, I’ve learned a thing or two about juggling time. So I’m offering three tips for those with a household to run but better things to do.
#1.  Make your Calendar and your To-Do List the same thing.
I’m a compulsive list-maker. But making a list on random slips of paper or the back of your hand can be counterproductive. I’m old-school enough to use a spiral bound daily planner. It goes everywhere I go and I write everything in it: appointments, meetings, due dates for bills, tasks for the day, when to put the recycling out, what’s for supper and what books I’ve read. These planners have settled arguments and answered unsolved riddles as well.

#2.  Do housework on a schedule, not for company.
I spent twelve years cleaning other people’s homes and quickly learned how demoralizing it can be to clean hard all day only to return to your own dirty house. So once a day, I walk through my home and put away anything out of place. I wash sheets and towels simply because it’s Monday. If it’s Thursday, it means the clothes are getting washed. I clean floors and bathrooms on a regular schedule, with some flexibility. After a while, it becomes a routine and you don’t get unbearably behind.

#3.  Cook in marathons.
To be fair, every day felt like a cooking marathon when the kids lived with us. But now that we’re back to two, I don’t cook every day. I make a large pot of soup on the weekend that provides lunch all week. I double-up on most meals so we have extra for the next day or for the freezer. Sometimes I make two or three dishes simultaneously, not bothering to wash the food processor, measuring cups, or spatulas between recipes. Hasn’t killed us yet. The kitchen might look like a disaster zone afterwards, but it only needs cleaning once.

If you already follow these tips, I apologize for taking still more of your precious time. If you don’t, I hope you find it helpful.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Never Too Old to Need Mama

I should have known things were going too well.

The Prairie Players’ performance of Sleeping with a One-Armed Man at the Glesby Centre went swimmingly last week. We felt overwhelmed when an audience of 265 showed up and collectively donated $1,380 to Manitoba Farmers with Disabilities. Thank you to everyone who came. Your generosity and support are deeply appreciated!

Next, we drove off to the ACT Festival in Dauphin. I hoped the team would do as well as they had at home. I hoped the adjudicators wouldn’t criticize us into the ground. I wondered if I’d find my way, especially since I was staying at my niece’s home and would need to navigate country roads after dark with my dicey night vision. Would the weather turn horrid? Had I packed the right outfits? Would my old car hang together? Would my sometimes precarious energy levels fizzle before the weekend ended?
The bench AND the armful. Sweet!

Not only did I arrive with no wrong turns, but the adjudicators offered much praise and helpful suggestions for making our play better. I enjoyed extraordinarily restful sleep in my niece’s spare room. The weather was perfect. The camaraderie delightful. The food too good to be true. The cherry on top occurred at the Saturday banquet when I won TWO fantastic prizes in the silent auction fundraiser! I rarely win anything, but this time I needed help lugging my loot to my car: a large flower pot filled with gardening supplies and a beautiful hand-crafted deacon’s bench!

I headed for home the following afternoon belting out happy songs, feeling like a competent playwright, a capable adult, and a truly fortunate individual. In Neepawa, I stopped and used the free McCafe coupon we’d each found in our goodie bag. 

It should have occurred to me that my car might be equally thirsty.

It’s not that I didn’t look at the fuel gauge. I just didn’t look at it soon enough. And when I did, it told me seven liters and a range of 110 km. remained. Already past Westbourne, I should reach the filling station at #16 and #1, no problem. Right?

Wrong. My singing stopped.

At least I had enough warning to pull onto the shoulder. Now what? It’s a busy highway, but flagging down strangers when you’re alone is not widely recommended. I called home and left a message. Then I tried my sister’s house and didn’t bother with a message. I debated. I could call CAA and wait a couple of hours or I could try Mom. She’s generally looking for something to do on a Sunday afternoon.

But what competent, capable, 56-year-old calls their mother to rescue them from the side of the road?

Then again, what 56-year-old is fortunate enough to have that option?

I dialed Mom’s number. She arrived in 20 minutes. I climbed into her car and the first words out of her mouth were not, “what were you thinking?” or “I can’t believe you ran out of gas.” As we made eye contact she said, “I smell a column in the works.”

Indeed. I had already been scribbling notes while I awaited her rescue. Think she’s on to me?

She drove me to the nearest station where I purchased a jerrycan and the two of us figured out how to fill it. Back at my car, we emptied it into my tank and got behind our respective steering wheels, both smelling like gasoline. Mom followed me back to the station, waited while I filled, and continued to trail me into Portage in case I did some other dumb thing.

Thank you, Mom. You are part super-hero, part cheerleader, and part guardian angel. And all grace.

Rest assured, mothers. It may not often look this obvious (or this pathetic), but your kids will always need you—no matter how competent, capable, or old they grow. Happy Mother’s Day!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Can I Do My Happy Dance Now?

Ever do a happy dance? If so, what prompted it? Getting the job? Getting the loan? Getting the girl?
If anyone has ever hired you, loaned you money, or married you, you know how terrific it feels when somebody takes a chance on you. (Oh great, now ABBA is stuck in my head!) With so many of life’s dreams, that’s exactly what is required before they come true. Someone else must believe in you enough to risk their money, their reputation, or their heart. They think you’re worth it. They believe you’ll make them a profit. You’ll get the job done. You’ll remain loyal and loving. They like the product you’re offering. They take a chance on your success.

Since 2009, I’ve been trying to find a publisher willing to take a chance on me and a little novel I wrote called The Silver Suitcase. What a roller coaster ride! Doing well in some major contests, only to be “always the bridesmaid, never the bride.” Taking courses to sharpen my writing skills, only to hear I use too many clich├ęs. Receiving untold rejections from editors and agents. Reading umpteen critiques from amateurs and professionals alike—some helpful, some not so much. Revising and reworking and rewriting again. Finally gaining the attention of an agent, only to have her unsuccessfully pitch my manuscript to publishers for nearly two years, earning not a cent for either of us. Starting a second novel only to abandon it, convinced it was all pointless. Telling myself I’d give it ten years before resorting to self-publishing (where the author takes all the risk, paying the publisher instead of the other way around.)

Then, getting a phone call I’ll never forget.

Two days after my birthday this past February, my agent, Jessie, called to say she’d landed a book deal for The Silver Suitcase with Waterfall Press, a new company publishing Christian books under the Amazon umbrella. I did as much of a happy dance as one can do when one can’t believe their dream might actually be coming true. When a month went by and I still hadn’t seen a contract, I became convinced it wasn’t going to happen after all…which would have been really embarrassing after my husband bought me flowers and my coworkers all signed a card of congratulations.
Finally, on April 17, I received the long-awaited contract and subjected the world of Facebook to photos of me signing it. Waterfall plans to release the book next January and you can bet I’ll regale my longsuffering readers with more columns about this journey in the months to come.

Lest you conclude this is a get-rich-quick thing, it’s taken me six years to earn an advance equivalent to two month’s pay at my part-time day job—so I won’t leave City Hall any time soon. If the book sells well, we’ll see royalties coming after that, but they offer no guarantees. It’s all part of the gamble. 

Meanwhile, it’s such a gradual process, you never really know when the right time arrives to do the happy dance. When you receive the call? When you sign the contract? When you see the first payment deposited into your account? When you finally hold that book in your hands? When a reader writes to say she was moved by your story? All of the above? 

Here’s what I know. Dreams only come true if you refuse to give up. If Louis L’Amour could endure 350 rejections before selling a single book and Jack London 600—who am I to quit? Who are you? God’s not finished with you and your dreams yet. Keep going! And when the day comes that someone takes a chance on you, you can sing like ABBA, “Gonna do my very best and it ain’t no lie; If you put me to the test, if you let me try.”

It’s a good tune for a happy dance.