Prov 17:22

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

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Other Man's Grass is Always Shorter

Call me mean, but at our house, the one-armed guy does the grass mowing.

Not that I haven’t done my share. When our kids were too little to push our old walk-behind and we had acres of country property to cut, I got the workout most of the time. As the children grew, they each graduated into the job and we eventually upgraded to a ride-on. After the kids moved out, I stubbornly refused to get behind a mower even though we had downsized to a tiny lawn. I figured if I gave in once, the job would be mine forever.

The problem is, my idea of when grass needs cutting differs from that of the one-armed guy. In order to maintain my position, I’ve been forced to swallow my pride several times when, in my humble opinion, our lawn did not live up to neighbourhood standards.

But farm work must come first, I’m told. So with hubby off doing the farm thing, I decided to be nice and cut the grass. All right. I admit I was less motivated by being nice than by the prospect of company coming. Our son’s family, along with his wife’s parents and my mom were all coming over. Our son’s father-in-law is all thumbs—green thumbs, that is. He’s a plant-whisperer. His yard looks like the Butchart Gardens and it’s a real exercise in humility to let him see ours, even at its best. Which it definitely wasn’t.

How hard can this be? I thought, pulling the mower out of the shed. I fiddled with the electric starter until it roared to life, then began to push.

Wow, I thought. I know I’m getting older, but I don’t remember this being such hard work.

But I bravely soldiered on, grunting at every turn, sweat running down my back and shoulders aching. I gained a new appreciation for the one-armed guy. I was nearly finished the front yard when a thought occurred to me:

Wait a minute. Isn’t this thing self-propelled?

Three more thoughts followed, in rapid succession:

What does this lever do?



Wait for me!

With this new discovery, I made better time in the back yard. Then I nearly stepped in some dog poop. We don’t have a dog. It looked dry and I wore gloves, so I picked it up and tossed it into the barrel with the weeds I’d been pulling earlier. Dumb move. The poop wasn’t dry. Thankfully, a new pair of gloves waited in the shed.

Later, I set that barrel with the dog poop into the box that holds our trash cans. The one with the closed lid. The one the hot sun beats on. The one I would open the next day and nearly faint from the assault to my nose. Yeah, that one.

Don’t try this at home, kids.

With the mowing done, I looked around at my work. It seemed odd that I’d filled the grass bag only once and our dandelions still showed off their chipper yellow faces. In fact, I could hardly tell I had mowed.

Later, I learned the mower blade sat too high to do a proper job.

Still, I’d made an improvement. Not that it mattered. By the time the plant-whispering company arrived two days later, the lawn was covered with snow. Gotta love Manitoba.

That was a week ago. As I write this, the one-armed man is mowing our lawn. Music to my ears.

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!