Prov 17:22

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

Friday, July 19, 2024

Old Dog, New Tricks, Part 2 of 3: Throw Pillows

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, I think every house I’ve ever stepped foot in has some. Throw pillows. We put them on our couches and chairs, on our beds and patio furniture. How many of these puppies get chucked on the floor every night or whenever someone sits to relax?

Throughout my adult years, I’ve had lots of opportunities to make or recover throw pillows. For a while in the nineties, friends received heart-shaped, patchwork pillows from me. I made pillows for our bedroom and living room. I made several for our daughter when we surprised her with a redecorated room for her twelfth birthday. Years later, as an adult, she gave me fabric and pillow forms to cover for her. When we moved into our current house and I decided to create a cozy “book nook” in my home office, I enjoyed sewing six different but color-coordinated throw pillows for the nook.

I think you can see 4 of the 6 pillows in my book nook.

In each case, I’d find myself doing one of two laborious things: either sewing a zipper into one side of the cover or meticulously hand-sewing the last side of the cover closed after the pillow form had been inserted. While the zipper method made the cover easier to take off and wash, it was also more expensive and fussier. Hand-stitching it closed, on the other hand, made me want to toss the entire pillow into the washer rather than rip out stitches that would need to be sown up again afterward. Not a good plan.

In 2016, we were blessed to purchase new living room furniture. We’ve found the four rectangular throw pillows we bought with it perfect for putting under our feet, holding on our laps, or placing behind our heads. Some evenings, Hubby and I figure we need three each and we have only four.

One of the "before" pillows

The covers of these featured a unique fabric that appeared to be a collection of various strings. They looked cool but wore out quickly. I needed to make new covers to freshen up the room, but I kept procrastinating due to the aforementioned zipper versus hand-stitching quandary. Then I stumbled across a video that teaches you how to make an “envelope” cover that nicely covers the pillow but goes on and off quickly and easily—like a pillow sham but with more overlap. I dug through my fabric box until I found a piece of vintage fabric from the ’80s large enough to cover all four pillows. 

One of the "after" pillows.

Here’s all you do:

1. Measure the pillow. Cut a piece of fabric the same width plus one inch by the same length plus six inches. So, if your pillow is 12 inches square, you would cut a piece of fabric 13 by 18 inches. If the pillow measures 9 by 15 inches, the fabric should be 10 by 21 inches.

2.  Fold and press each of the shorter edges under a quarter inch, then another quarter inch. Stitch them. These will be your exposed, hemmed edges.

3.  With right sides together, bring one hemmed end to the center of the fabric and stitch down both sides, one-half inch from edge.

4.  With right sides together, fold the other hemmed side in, overlapping center until the cover measures the same length as the pillow. Stich on both sides. Trim corners.

5.  Turn the whole thing right side out. You may want to press it. Now tuck the pillow into the hole, allowing the overlapping fabric to envelop the whole pillow.

I wish I’d learned this years ago. I was so pleased with the results, I hope to make more and swap out pillow covers seasonally.

If you find my directions hard to follow,

's one of many tutorial videos you can watch.

Next week, I’ll tell you about my newly learned trick with yarn.

“She shops around for the best yarns and cottons, and enjoys knitting and sewing.” (Proverbs 31:13 TLB)

Friday, July 12, 2024

Old Dog, New Tricks - Part 1: The Weed Eater


I can only wish this gorgeous, nicely-trimmed yard was ours.

I’ve learned at least three new useful tricks since turning 65 last February, all of which would have made life easier had I known them decades ago. I thought I’d share them with you one week at a time so you aren’t overwhelmed by my wealth of amazing new information.

When our kids still lived with us, they did most of the grass mowing. I followed with the “whipper snipper,” trimming around trees, fences, and edges. When the last of our offspring left home, Hubby took over the mowing but we found ourselves frequently at odds about how often the grass needed cutting. While I prefer it nice and short, he liked to see our lawn producing amber waves of grain before deeming it worthy of his time and effort. Still, I refused to start the mower myself and stubbornly left the knee-high grass waiting for Hubby’s attention no matter how much it bugged or embarrassed me. Once he finally mowed, I’d follow with my not-so-faithful weed eater.

When I retired from my day job, I offered to take over the mowing since I’d have more time. Knowing me as he does, Hubby asked, “Won’t you start resenting me after a while?”

“Yes, probably,” I said. “But I do that anyway. At least this way, the grass will get cut when I want it cut.”

Hey, I may be horrible but at least I’m honest.

Through all these evolutions, the trimming task remained mine. I don’t know why. Maybe I was the only one who cared enough. I never really minded… except when our trimmer misbehaved.

It misbehaved a lot. The line would break off right at the hole, forcing me to unplug the trimmer, pry it apart, rewind the line, reassemble the entire contraption, and plug it back in. Sometimes four or five times in a half-hour session, and always aggravating. I wanted a new trimmer but it refused to die.

I noticed the problem grew worse as the line aged. I’d end up throwing away the stiff, unused line and buying a new spool just to minimize frustration. I wondered why on earth it didn’t come on smaller spools. Why buy more than you can use in one season if it’s only going to work for one season?

When I mentioned my frustration to Hubby, I suggested we start storing the line in the house over the winter so it wasn’t exposed to freezing temperatures in the shed.

“Or,” he said, “You could keep it submerged in water. Nylon dries out and gets brittle after it’s exposed to air.”

Seriously? Now you tell me?

I filled a gallon pail half full of water and placed last year’s spool of brittle line in the water, weighing it down so it remained immersed. Next time I needed to use the trimmer, I threaded it afresh with the soaked line, now soft and supple. Worked like a charm. Our thirty-year-old trimmer functioned exactly as intended and didn’t stop on me even once. Unbelievable.

I sure wish I’d learned this trick years ago.

Next week, I’ll tell you about my new trick for covering old throw pillows.

“But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive and green today and tomorrow is cut and thrown as fuel into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you?” Matthew 6:30 (Amplified Bible)

Friday, July 5, 2024

With the Greatest of Ease

Mindy's photo shoot near Canmore, AB, winter, 2024
I flew to Calgary for a week in June, mostly so that I could witness my daughter’s first Aerial Silks recital. If you don’t know what that is, don’t feel bad. I didn’t either until last fall when, at the age of forty, Mindy began taking weekly classes. Think circus. Think dance, acrobatics, gymnastics, trapeze.

Wikipedia describes Aerial Silks as “a performance in which one or more artists perform aerial acrobatics while hanging from a specialist fabric. Performers climb the suspended fabric without the use of safety lines and rely only on their training and skill to ensure safety. They use the fabric to wrap, suspend, drop, swing, and spiral their bodies into and out of various positions. Aerial Silks is a demanding art and requires a high degree of strength, power, flexibility, courage, stamina, and grace.”

The recital took place in Calgary’s historic downtown GRAND Theatre, which once hosted the likes of the Marx Brothers and Fred Astaire. I took my seat near the front with my son-in-law and two grandsons, where we enjoyed performances in ballet, tap, hip hop, and more from young performers. When the adult students finally took their turn, I was on the edge of my seat.

Since Mindy had been sending us regular photos and videos of herself practicing her new-found skills, I had a good idea of what to expect but I still felt blown away. They performed to a recording of Taylor Swift’s “Never Grow Up,” which alone could have turned me into a blubbering mess had I allowed myself to go there. Instead, I focused on breaking the rules by capturing the performance on my phone and training my lens on my daughter throughout the five-minute piece. I knew I could watch the video later and bawl in private if I needed to. The performance was gorgeous.

Two days later, Mindy took me to the studio where her classes are held to show me her more complicated moves, although it all looked complicated to me. She convinced me to sign their waiver form so that if the urge struck, I could try hoisting myself up those ribbons and hurling my breakable, vintage body to the floor instead of merely watching. Fat chance.

She did manage to coerce me into sitting in a dangling hoop and pointing my toes, smiling like a maniac, and pretending the hoop wasn’t biting into my butt while she spun me around and shot a video to keep in a vault in case the need for blackmail ever arises.

She showed me tricks that nearly made my heart leap out of my chest. I’m bumfuzzled by how anyone can perform these feats of strength and agility after only a few months, let alone someone with my DNA running through her veins. I’m the least athletic, most cowardly chicken ever. I’ve never given even the lightest child an under-duck on a swing for fear of getting hit in the head. I could never force myself to flip over a bar across my belly, for fear of being unable to complete the rotation and getting stuck hanging there. I’ve never mounted a bicycle by throwing one leg over the rear tire for fear of tipping.

Fear holds us back from many things, doesn’t it? I’m glad my daughter possessed the courage to try an activity she’s come to love—something that feeds her soul, strengthens her body, and infuses her life with joy. This particular art form embodies the old cliche about what doesn’t kill us making us stronger. To say I’m proud of her is the understatement of the year. I’m also thoroughly humbled, knowing I can’t take any credit.

Is there something new tugging at your heartstrings to try, but you lack the courage? Think you’re too old? Too uncoordinated? Too weak?

You could be right, of course. But how will you know, if you never try?

Friday, June 28, 2024

How Canada Got Her Name

I love my country and I love its name. “Canada” rolls off the tongue. Unlike our neighbours to the south, our name is short and uncomplicated, with no need for abbreviation. Unlike the confusion between England, Britain, and the UK, Canada doesn’t need explaining. Unlike countries in Africa, Asia, or Eastern Europe, it doesn’t change names and boundary lines every few decades. No matter what country you visit, people know what you mean when you say you’re Canadian.

If you didn’t already know, you likely guessed that the name has Indigenous roots. Around 1535, two Aboriginal youths told French explorer Jacques Cartier about the route to Kanata. They were referring to the village of Stadacona, presently Québec City. The name originally comes from the Huron-Iroquois word kanata meaning “village” or “settlement.” Cartier either misheard or misunderstood and used “Canada” to describe the entire area. By 1547, maps had already begun referring to everything north of the St. Lawrence River as Canada.

During those early years, “Canada” corresponded only to what we now call Quebec and Ontario. The idea that Canada might be the name of a country came much later. By the late 1850s, the joining of the British North American colonies had been discussed at great length. The concept gained momentum during the Charlottetown Conference in 1864. Thirty-six representatives from the colonies—known as the Fathers of Confederation—met to discuss the formation of a new nation. Finally, after several conferences, the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick came together to form the Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867. “Dominion Day” was born—now called, of course, Canada Day.

Like any conference, lots of other suggestions for what to name this land were put forth. In honour of Queen Victoria and her late husband, the names Albertsland and Victorialand made the list of possibilities. The Latin word meaning northern, “Borealia” was suggested. What would we call ourselves if that one had won—Borealists? Another alternative was “Hochelaga” (now known as Montreal), the Iroquois name for “beaver path.” I think we can all breathe a sigh of relief that one didn’t make the cut. “Mesoplagia” was another suggestion. It means “land between the seas.” Seems to me that could apply to a lot of places. Other options included Norland, Cabotia, Superior, and an acronym standing for England, France, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, and Aborigines: "Efisga." Good grief!

The most common alternative theory about how we got our name suggests that it originated when Portuguese or Spanish explorers, having searched the northern part of the continent for gold and silver and finding none, wrote “cá nada” on their maps, meaning “nothing here” in Portuguese. “Nothing here” is so far from the truth it’s laughable. In 2022, gold was one of our top exports at 14.7 billion dollars. Canada is rich enough in resources to help feed the entire world.

Aren’t you glad that her Indigenous name prevailed?

This Canada Day, whether you are new to our country or whether your roots were planted here before recorded history—or, like me, somewhere in between—I hope you can celebrate and give thanks for this beautiful land we call, first and foremost, home.

Friday, June 21, 2024

The Oxygen Mask

If you’ve ever flown anywhere, you’ve heard the speech.

Photo from Canva Pro
“Should the cabin experience sudden pressure loss, stay calm and listen for instructions from the cabin crew. Oxygen masks will drop down from above your seat. If you’re traveling with children or anyone needing assistance, make sure your own mask is on first before helping others.”

This rule has been used as a metaphor many times, often at graduation ceremonies, and it’s a good one. How can you help others if you’re gasping for breath or passed out yourself? It’s used to remind us to take care of ourselves in a multitude of ways. I’ve heard it used to encourage people—especially women—to get an education and career so that they never find themselves at the mercy of someone else to provide their basic needs.

I think most women understand that now. I grew up in a world where one university-educated partner could support a whole family. I figured if I married someone with a college education, I’d be free to stay home. In our case, we married before the education began—but I still naively nursed the notion that once I finished “putting hubby through,” life would be smooth sailing. Years later, I found myself thinking that if I’d known I would need to spend my life working anyway, I’d have gone to college myself so that at least my efforts would pay better.

The oxygen mask metaphor works well for counselors and parents too. How can you help clients or your kids if their pain triggers your own because you haven’t worked through your trauma and found healing? You could end up doing them more harm than good.

Like almost everything, personal survival rules can be used rightly and wrongly. Can you think of examples of where someone has taken this metaphor to the extreme or used it for selfish reasons? Here are some I’ve heard:

“Maybe I can’t afford the new golf clubs, but I need to take care of myself first.”

“I need a week alone at a sunny resort to fuel my tank before I can look after my family.”

“I’m dumping my loser spouse because they suck the life out of me and it’s time I looked after ME.”

What if, instead of dramatic self-care moves like expensive toys, trips, or divorces, we could learn to wear an oxygen tank with a continuous flow, in our everyday, ordinary lives?

Let me share how this has proven itself in my life, even though I didn’t necessarily realize it until recently. The importance of spending time alone with God, reading my Bible, and praying, was drilled into me early in life. I’m grateful for that, but I viewed this practice as something I did to please God more than for myself. When our children were little, staying consistent became increasingly difficult until I gave up. For years, I grabbed snippets of truth here or there or not at all. I’d try to take in great gulps in church on Sundays to tide me over for the week.

Not until I began consistently rising at six each morning to keep this appointment with God, did I begin to see the difference it made. Although I didn’t think of it as connecting to an oxygen mask in order to help others (spouse, children, employer, clients…), I now believe it served that purpose in ways I’ll never fully grasp. I began to see how desperately I needed that time and how much weaker I became when I skipped. The habit continued. While I now enjoy much more freedom with my rising time, the daily dose of oxygen is still an absolute requirement.

So today, if asked for my best advice for graduates, I’d say, “Definitely, put your own oxygen mask on first. But don’t be surprised if it looks like a Bible, a journal, a pen, and thirty or sixty minutes out of every day.”

Friday, June 14, 2024

One Fine Dad

I’d like to introduce a man named Harold Wright, an uncomplicated Manitoba farmer born in 1897. At age seventeen, Harold marched off to fight in the war to end all wars. He survived, started a family, and saw his eldest daughter join the Canadian Women’s Army Corps in the war after that. Harold’s greater contribution to World War II, however, was proposing that his family take in three British evacuee children through the CORB (Children’s Overseas Reception Board) program. He had his reasons. So convinced was Harold that this would be a great idea, he signed up his family as hosts without a thorough discussion with his wife. Knowing his wife’s good heart, he felt confident she’d be on board.

Harold was wrong.

Mrs. Wright, while willing to take in a teenage girl as a possible friend for her hurting daughter, was unequivocally opposed to hosting the two younger children who came as part of the package. She had her reasons.

Meanwhile, their teenage daughter was opposed to all three house guests. She had her reasons too.

By the time poor Harold discovered he’d acted too hastily, he had some impossible back-peddling to do. A family of three children had already arrived on his doorstep—siblings aged 14, ten, and seven, determined to stay together come hell or high water.

Hell and high water came when the three kids feared separation and ran away. Harold found himself bumping down dusty country roads in his old Ford truck on a dark, muggy July night while he searched for three English youngsters who knew nothing about life in the Canadian wilds.

One can imagine what went through Harold’s mind. He’d been so well-intentioned. His generous gesture was meant to bring joy and healing to his family while also helping another family, providing their kids with a safe and peaceful childhood. Now he’d failed miserably. What if the children couldn’t be found? He aimed his headlights into the ditches on both sides as he feared the worst. How on earth could he explain matters to CORB? Who would tell the children’s parents back in England?

He finally found the runaways—alive but filthy, hungry, thirsty, smelling like skunks, and covered in mosquito bites and poison ivy. Harold was fit to be tied while anger and relief jockeyed for position at his emotional steering wheel. He had about three seconds to decide how to handle this unprecedented, vexing situation. Whatever happened in the next few minutes—and over the course of the next several years—would demonstrate the sort of man Harold Wright was.

Without giving away more details, I’m glad to report that, over time and with multiple opportunities, Harold proved himself worthy of the title “father.” Though he didn’t always get things right, he’d learned to walk by faith in a God who taught him to lead with love, mercy, and wisdom. A man you’d love to know.

Unfortunately, you can’t meet him in person. Harold Wright is a fictional character in my upcoming novel, “Even If We Cry.” Though he plays a small role in the tale, it’s a surprisingly significant one. I can’t wait to share this story with you. It’ll be out in early December.

Meanwhile, I want to say “thank you” to all you fathers who do your best every day to make life better for your families, your communities, and your country even when your confidence sags and circumstances seem impossible. Trust your Heavenly Father to lead and guide you in patience, wisdom, and grace. He will not steer you wrong.

Happy Father’s Day.

British evacuees during WWII. Photo:


Friday, June 7, 2024

Many Happy "Returns"

When we moved from our home in the Rural Municipality into the City of Portage la Prairie in 2002, one of the perks I discovered early was that I no longer needed to pay an annual non-resident fee for my library membership. Only two years later, the library became regional, receiving funds from the RM as well, and changed its name to Portage la Prairie Regional Library. This week, it’s celebrating 20 years as a regional library. I thought it might be fun to dig into its history and, with the help of Director Jen Kendall, I acquired more material than this post
can hold.

While some local churches kept libraries dating back to the mid-1850s, the Local Council of Women (LCW) founded the first true public lending library in 1917, with Mrs. W.W. Miller as its first Head Librarian. This operated out of a community club room. From there, the library moved into several locations including the Billy Richardson House on 3rd St. SW, the former and current City Halls, the former Bank of Montreal and Manitoba Hydro buildings, and the current Keystone Sports store.

Voters officially approved the public library on October 23, 1968. The Bylaw passed later that year, with the City Library opening in 1969. Its board began identifying potential regionalization targets, to ensure its longevity and usefulness. Having multiple municipalities buy in would mean more books on the shelves and more staff to assist patrons.

In 1974, the RM of Portage began subsidizing membership fees for their residents. This meant that RM residents paid a lower non-resident fee than people in other municipalities. Further discussions about becoming a regional library took place in 1976. It moved into its current location, 40B Royal Road North, in 1999. When regionalization finally happened five years later, the resulting increase in funding from municipalities and the Province allowed our library to keep pace with technology and add more materials to the collection.

Our longest-running Head Librarian/Director was Percy Gregoire-Voskamp, who came on staff in 1976 and served as Director from 1997 until his retirement in 2018. Over those 42 years, he witnessed many changes in location, staff, and procedures—from the old card catalog system to computerized checkouts, as well as the expansion to more services such as digital books, audiovisual materials, and internet use. Did you know that, thanks to support from Central Plains Cancer Services, you can even borrow a Radon Screening Kit from the library to test your home? Now you do.

Our library currently employs six full-time and eight part-time staff, plus several volunteers who do inventory and other collection-related tasks. They’re led by six Board members who meet six times a year, three appointed by City Council and three by the RM Council.

Not counting eBooks, audiobooks, or Interlibrary loans, our library has 60,437 items to loan out to its 7,992 members (up from 6,550 in 2004.) The most popular collection is Adult Fiction, which makes this author happy. (If I were in charge, I’d reserve a special place in Heaven for whoever invented the public library.)

In addition, the library provides meeting and study space, programs such as book clubs, crafts for all ages, and free movies. Programs are no longer required to have a literary theme. If a craft or movie is popular, they will incorporate it. Their most frequently used services by far are computers and wi-fi. After that, children’s programs, especially craft-related ones, are always popular.

Do you use our wonderful library to its fullest potential?