Prov 17:22

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

Friday, September 25, 2015

Confessions of a Columnist




Five years ago this week, I walked into the offices of the Portage Daily Graphic for an appointment with then-editor, Elisha Dacey. Mustering my bravest, most confident fa├žade, I asked her for a regular column and gave her three samples of the type of pieces I had in mind. She gave me a contract on the spot and I walked home with a goofy smile on my face and fear in my heart. But I haven’t missed a deadline yet.
In honor of this monumental anniversary, I thought I’d offer a gift. But first, a few highlights from the last five years.

Funniest comment from a reader
Part of the fun of writing a column is meeting readers in the community. I met one such woman at the voting polls one year. When I told her my name, she told me she reads my column. “I thought you were shorter,” she said.
I assured her I would try to sound taller in the future.

Most common assumption
Readers often assume I work at the Graphic headquarters. After my initial interview, I did not actually step into their offices again until the paper celebrated its 120th birthday in its newly remodeled facility this past June. My columns are emailed from home each week. During the past five years, I’ve managed to burn through five or six editors without having met most of them face to face!

Mistaken identity
My sister Shanon often gets mistaken for me by readers who recognize her from my photo in the paper, leading me to believe she looks more like me than I do. The icing on the cake came the day a reader approached me and said, “So I was reading your sister’s column the other day…”

Worst accusation
I can’t say I’ve received much in the way of negative criticism, which can only mean either nobody’s reading or I’m not writing anything controversial enough. One reader, however, called me “afraid of Science” after I expressed concern over children being taught the theory of evolution as fact.

Greatest challenge
The hardest thing about column-writing is coming up with a topic each week. It only gets harder as time goes by and you’ve already covered everything you care to cover. I really respect my fellow columnists who stay within a theme, the way all proper columnists should. Mine are all over the place and still I rack my brain! My best attempt at nailing down a theme was “Faith and Humour.” I hope each piece includes one or the other—and sometimes both. For the next five years, I’m open to suggestions!

Quitting
I quit this column nearly every week —in my mind. “Enough already,” I tell myself. “Nobody’s reading, why are you bothering with this drivel? You’re trying to be Dave Barry, Ann Voskamp, and Max Lucado all rolled into one and it’s never going to happen. After this column, let’s call it finished.”
But, like a bad habit, the next week finds me pecking away at the keyboard again.

Greatest reward
On those occasions when a reader takes the time to share a word of appreciation for a column that encouraged them on their faith journey or made them chuckle, you can bet I cherish their words and save them forever.

A gift for you
Here’s your chance to win your choice of a Chicken Soup for the Soul book. O Canada! was published in 2010 and Inspiration for Nurses in 2015. As well as 100 stories by other contributors, each book contains a story that originated right here in my column. If you’d like to win a free signed copy, email me at terriejtodd@gmail.com by Sunday, September 27 at 3:00 pm with the words “Book Draw” in the subject line. If your name is drawn, I will contact you, ask which book you prefer, and see that you receive it.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

In a Moment of Time



This month marks 20 years since my husband lost his right arm because of a farm accident. My husband is not a careless person. In fact, some of his co-workers ribbed him about the precautions he took and expressed shock when the guy they least expected to have an accident had one.

The conveyor belt on a live-bottom trailer moves thousands of pounds of potatoes with the aid of rollers. (If you’re familiar with old-fashioned ringer washing machines or those wringers they use at the car wash to squeeze your chamois, you’ll understand the concept.) When Jon reached up from beneath the belt to brush away accumulating clods of dirt that were causing the belt to off-centre, his glove got too close to the rollers. They grabbed his glove and pulled his hand through, holding it in place while the rollers skinned his forearm. In the time it took coworkers to shut off the motor, his arm was damaged beyond repair and surgeons amputated it later the same day.

A split second was all it took. 

Did Jon know the power of that equipment? Sure he did. It just wasn’t the foremost thought on his mind in that moment. It happens to all of us, but sometimes it’s a lot more costly than other times.

I’m glad to report that in the next generation of this particular piece of equipment, the designers modified it to make reoccurrence of this accident less likely for someone else. But the farm environment will always involve serious equipment, chemicals, and other hazards that can trip up workers in a weak moment.

Last month, the Daily Graphic ran a farm safety article submitted by Manitoba Agriculture, Food, and Rural Development (MAFRD) which included a long list of tips for avoiding the shortcuts and unsafe practices that can go along with the fatigue and stress surrounding harvest time. You can locate it here: www.portagedailygraphic.com/2015/08/13/stay-safe-during-harvest

I’d like to encourage you to find that list, print it out, and post it around your farm. Take the tips seriously and don’t allow any farm workers to brush them off. The few seconds they might gain by hopping off a piece of still-moving equipment or by not performing a walk-around check to ensure no one is nearby before taking off will never be worth a loss that can affect the rest of their life. Ask any member of the Manitoba Farmers with Disabilities. Although my husband has learned to manage admirably well without his right arm, please don’t think for an instant that he wouldn’t give almost anything to go back and do that one moment differently.

And if you have experienced a serious work-related accident, or if someone has been badly injured at your own farm, please forgive yourself. Mishaps occur even when all precautions are followed. One freak accident does not make you a stupid person or an uncaring employer. (We’re grateful for an employer who kept Jon on staff and treated us very well.)

Nor does it mean you should quit. If farming is your passion, then farming is what you should do. A poem called “The Dignity of the Farmer” (author unknown) includes these words: “The farmer’s calling is among the noblest in all the world…The successful farmer is the one who produces more than he needs, and thus helps others to eat and prosper. The farmer should recall all this…in grateful appreciation of the calling God gave him as a tiller of the soil.”

Remember, farming is everybody’s bread and butter. So for those of you who pray, pray for a safe harvest this year, whether you’re in agribusiness or not. I’d just as soon other families don’t have to mark anniversaries they’d rather forget.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

A Little Arsenic, Anyone?



The Prairie Players are at it again. Rehearsals are underway for Arsenic and Old Lace and you won’t want to miss this insanely goofy comedy. This famous play written by Joseph Kesselring debuted on Broadway in 1941. The dialogue takes several snide jabs at theatre critics, and when you know Kesselring’s history, you’ll understand why.

His earlier plays met with cutting critique. Walter Kerr’s harsh review of Four Twelves Are 48 said Kesselring “…conceived a comic situation which takes precisely four minutes’ acting time to exploit.”

There’s Wisdom in Women met with equally ruthless reviews.

So when Arsenic and Old Lace appeared on the scene, it surprised critics. What they may not have known was that Kesselring had help with the writing. Though he retained full credit for the piece, the producers who bought the script, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, all but rewrote everything, changing many of the situations and introducing some new characters. So the script became a true collaboration and its wild success gives testament to the power of team work.

Speaking of team work, you’re going to love Connie Krawec and Peggy Tidsbury’s portrayals of the two charming sisters who welcome lonely old men into their peaceful Victorian home so they can poison them and bury the bodies in their basement, all in the name of charity. Doesn’t sound exactly side-splitting, does it? But when you add Kevin Hamm’s depiction of their nephew, Mortimer, (along with a large cast of other confused and colorful characters), you will know why the Herald Tribune called it “the most riotously hilarious comedy of the season,” and the Sun’s critic proclaimed, “you wouldn’t believe homicidal mania could be so funny.”

Under the direction of Stephanie Kauffman and stage manager Myrna Nichol, the cast is rounded out by Preston Meier, Paul Warthe, Sharon Morrison, Ember Rodgers, Jordan Thiessen, Tyrone Taylor, Terry Tully, Rosa Rawlings, Theresa Bergen, Gord Holm, and me!

Mark your calendars now for the play on November 11 and 12, or for dinner theatre on November 13 and 14, all at the William Glesby Centre. I understand tickets for the November 11 performance will be free to veterans.

In the meantime…
Some of my column readers have asked how the “Bake-Off” playwriting competition went, and I’m delighted to report the end result might be one of the funniest pieces I’ve ever written called Peace We Often Forfeit. The three ingredients they gave us were: a yellow submarine, hysteria, and a red line. The audience will have fantastic fun seeing how each of the five playwrights incorporated these elements into their scene and then voting for the one they like best.

With the pressure off, I intend to sit back and enjoy it. When I saw the credentials of the other writers, I waved goodbye to any hope of winning and feel humbled and grateful to have been chosen to participate! The others come from Winnipeg, Calgary, and Vancouver, so I feel like I’m representing the rural world.

I’d be thrilled if you could attend, too. It’s on Monday, September 14, 7:00 p.m. at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film, 400 Colony Street (north of the old bus depot off Portage Avenue.) Then at 9:00, the reading of my one-hour play, Irony: A Tragic Comedy about Life and Death will take place in the same venue. So you can take in both events with one trip, and tickets are available for a suggested donation of $10 at www.sarasvati.ca/femfest/tickets/

I’d love to see you there!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Summah, Summah, Summah



Can someone please explain why it takes seven years to crawl through January but summer races by in seven days?
We’ve never been much for taking trips or camping, but it’s been a lovely summer here at home.

The Love Shack
I am blessed with a cozy and colourful writing space in my home, but it’s hard to focus when every time you walk away from your desk, you see jobs to be done. Right? So I carved out a two-day writing retreat for myself in my sister and brother-in-law’s “Love Shack.” It’s a gorgeous screened-in log hut they built beneath the trees in their park-like yard in the country. Wendy and Dale are incredibly hospitable. They cooked for me and pampered me, took me to the beach when it became too hot to work, and helped me try kayaking for the first time. (I am certifiably as athletic as a doorknob, so the fact that I didn’t capsize tells me I should quit while ahead.)

They ran power to the Love Shack so I could work on my laptop, mosquito-free and with a serene view of the birds and their feeders. When I returned home, my second novel was 10,000 words longer than when I arrived. And you can’t beat the price!

I told Dale and Wendy they should go into business as a bed and breakfast for authors and that I may want to repeat this every summer.

The Replacements
I’ve been relaxing on our deck(beneath the fake flowers) reading the script for “Arsenic and Old Lace” in which I’ll play “Elaine” with the Prairie Players in November. Our director called to inform me she recast the leading man (who plays my character’s love interest) because he’s being transferred out of town. 

The next day, I received an email from the Femfest producer in Winnipeg letting me know one of the actors in my play, “Irony: A Tragic Comedy about Life and Death,” has been recast as well.

“This does not bode well for you,” I told my husband. “All the leading men in my life are being replaced.”
He was not amused.

Why don’t our family members find us funny? Our kids used to roll their eyes at my attempted humour. When they matured, they generously began allotting me about one “Good one, Mom” per month. But laughter? Forget it. That’s a prize my husband reserves for the truly hysterical, like Garfield. Sometimes when he’s reading the Herald Leader and I hear him chuckling, I look over his shoulder to see if he’s enjoying my column.

But no. He’s on the comics page. Sigh.

The Flowers
Well, it’s official. I am an old lady.

I always said I’d know I was old when I put fake flowers in my yard, and that day has arrived. But doggone it, what choice did I have? In spite of all my religious watering and dead-heading of petunias all summer, most of them looked spindly and ugly by mid-August. What’s up with that? After I pulled them out, one pot was left with nothing but bright green sweet potato vine, which still looked great. So I threw in some fake purple and orange daisies for color. 


Next step: saving scraps of used Saran Wrap.


An Excellent Western Carnival
Many thanks to Portage Evangelical Church for another terrific carnival on Saturday. Our grandsons loved it! God bless you for giving this free gift of family fun to your community. I wouldn’t want to add up the man-hours involved!

I hope your summer has been perfectly delightful and that you’ve been able to do some of the things you enjoy with people you love at a price you can afford.