Prov 17:22

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

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Three Facts I Didn't Know I Didn't Know

Just for kicks, I decided to turn 57 years old this week. 

As a teenager, I figured anybody who had passed the big Five-Oh should be darn grateful for any breath of life left in them and view it as a bonus. If I made it to 57, I’d know everything I’d ever be required to know.

However, with information advancing like a cheetah across the Serengeti, I’m the orangutan who’s already so far behind I may as well give up. But giving up is not really an option—especially if I want to keep earning a living. Or communicating with family members. Or eating.

So in honour of another year, I thought I’d share three things I’ve learned since my last birthday. If I can remember what they are.

#1. It’s never too late for dreams to come true.
On this day last year, I had pretty much given up on ever seeing the publication of my novel, The Silver Suitcase. In God’s humorous sense of timing, it was the day after my birthday when the call came. Now the book has taken wing and I’ve moved on to another. Recently, I cried when I came across a blog post from my birthday in 2012. I’d written it in my disappointment after watching The Silver Suitcase do well in an important publishing contest—but not well enough to win, and no second prize was offered. In light of all that has transpired since composing that column, you can see why my own words affected me:

“God loves me too much to let me receive things for which I’m not ready. Too much to allow my book to see publication before it’s the best it can be. Too much to make it easy for me. Too much to not teach me patience and persistence. Too much to strike me dead for questioning his strange timing. Too much to let my influence outgrow my character. 

"Been disappointed lately? Maybe God loves you too much, too. Promise me you won’t quit. I sure don’t intend to.”

Wow. Am I ever glad I didn’t! (You can view that post in its entirety HERE.)

#2. It’s always too soon to sit back on your laurels.
I thought I’d lay the writing aside and focus on my family while I prepared for the visit of my daughter and baby grandson from Calgary. My plan was to spend the long weekend cooking up a freezer full of food and cleaning house. 

Surprise! An email from my agent informed me I needed to put together something called a two-page “Treatment” of my novel in order for her to pitch it to filmmakers at an upcoming conference. Oh, and by the way, she needed it in four days.

I didn’t even know what a “Treatment” was. But after some mild panic, prayer, internet research, and hubby’s agreement to vacuum the house, I figured it out and got the task done and delivered. So now I know something I didn’t know I didn’t know—that a Treatment is a short piece of prose, typically the step between scene cards and the first draft of a screenplay for a motion picture. 

The odds of my efforts amounting to a film are remote, but you have to try, right?
#3. The trash will still be there.
You can publish a book, take home the big award, win the election or the game or the amazing race. You can receive enough handshakes and smiles and congratulatory hugs to last a lifetime. But when you return home, the trash will still need to be carried out. The laundry will still need to be done, the toilets still scrubbed. More importantly, your loved ones will still need to know they count more than any achievement, and what they will remember about you after you’re gone is not how much you accomplished but how much you cared. 

And if I don’t learn that lesson well, nothing else will matter.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

TV or Not TV?

We had been married 18 months and had gotten along fine without television when I had an overnight stay in the hospital where I made friends with my roommate. Somehow the topic of televisions came up and she offered us an old set she and her husband no longer used. “It just needs a few tubes replaced,” she said. (Yes, I’m that old.)

We drove to the town where she lived and lugged the monstrosity home. Hubby dutifully removed the back, tested all the tubes, and sorted out which ones needed replacing. I can’t remember what we paid for them, but you can bet it was more than we could afford with my McWages and his college tuition. We did it anyway. And we had ourselves a TV! 

Shortly after it quit, my boss offered us a little set a renter had left behind in his storage units. The big TV now served as a stand for the little one. Reception was lousy. When we moved back to Manitoba, we left both TVs behind.

A few years later, my sister and brother-in-law gifted us with another small black and white set after upgrading themselves. By this time we had two kids who gladly watched Mr. Dressup and Fred Penner. My reward at 10 pm after the kids were in bed was to sit down to reruns of M*A*S*H.

One day I was trying to watch the news while working in my kitchen. I set the TV on a stacking stool and the silly thing decided to commit suicide right then and there, pitching itself forward and landing on its face on the floor with a crack.

By this time, we’d been married fifteen years and had yet to actually purchase a TV. 

We went a few years without one, and then my grandmother moved into a nursing home. When her kids bought her a new TV to take with her, we inherited her old one—maybe because no one else wanted it. Through their high school years, our kids got teased by their friends about their state-of-the-art TV and the channel selection nob that went kachunk-kachunk as you cranked it around by hand.

When we moved to town, we no longer had an antenna and refused to pay for cable or satellite, but we could usually get one channel with the rabbit ears. When Granny passed away in 2002, we inherited her “new” TV. Finally, we had joined the 1990s!

We hooked the TV up to a DVD player and used it for movies only. At some point, hubby and some of his guy friends began meeting in our home for a weekly Wild at Heart book/video study. One friend brought his own larger TV with him, declaring ours too small for real men to enjoy. When the study was over, he told us to keep the TV since he’d recently bought a flat screen and this one took up too much space.

Fine by us. We had now been married 35 years and had yet to purchase a TV.

Then our daughter and son-in-law offered us a small flat-screen that had been left behind by the previous owners of their new house. You bet we’d take it! After hauling it home from Calgary and donating the big one to Habitat, we discovered the quirky flat screen had a tendency to overheat and shut itself off after 30 or 40 minutes of viewing. For a year, any movie we watched lasted us all week as we viewed it in half hour segments.

This past October marked our 38th wedding anniversary, and in January we finally purchased our very first TV. Discovering the wonders of Netflix, we can now watch an entire movie in an evening, and I’m guaranteed to end my day with a laugh when I watch “Last Man Standing” with Tim Allen. 

Stay tuned for 2026 when I finally buy my first cell phone.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

When God Shows Off

If she had asked me to come up with a title for her photography exhibit at the Portage District Arts Centre, I might have suggested “When God Shows Off.” 

It’s probably a good thing she didn’t ask me.

But looking at Gayle Loewen’s photos, that’s exactly the impression I’m left with. There are moments in time
Photo credit: Margaret Warner (with Gayle's camera!) 
when God shows off his power and artistry, simply because he can and because he loves us. Most of us miss those moments. A few have learned to pay attention and embrace the wondrous longing that blossoms in our hearts when the beautiful and the temporal come together. Fewer still have learned to capture those moments in stunning photographic images. Gayle is one of those, and Wonder and Majesty is a completely fitting title for this exhibit.

Whether it’s the majesty of aurora borealis on a Manitoba night in September, a glorious sunset painted with colours we can’t even name, the wonder of a delicate, minuscule snowflake resting on the tip of a tree branch, or the elegant simplicity of a tulip interpreted in dramatic black and white—all of these and more are offered in Gayle’s show. My recurring thought as I studied each one was, “I wish I had been there.”

Gayle has always had a flare for photography. For years, she was an incredible Creative Memories consultant and instructor who taught her clients by example to “tell the story,” knowing how photos alone can leave future generations with little to go on. Through study and experience, her flare has developed into a full-fledged passion and profession. Gayle is one of only 18 photographers on the planet accepted into a photography course currently being prototyped by an instructor from Australia.

What she couldn’t have guessed was that her first lesson would involve giving flight to fledgling dreams. 

“The introductory assignment,” she says, “was to list six goals. I thoughtfully wrote down some things I want to accomplish in the next several months. We were encouraged to dream and think long term as well. I hesitated to write down something I held in my heart. I wasn’t sure it was a ‘legitimate’ goal. But with a leap of faith, I put down ‘have an exhibit in an art gallery.’ (How could I be so bold?)

“Well, not 36 hours after typing and submitting that audacious goal, I received a message that led to putting this together for display in the PDAC board room.”

Gayle then had only ten days to prepare—to choose from thousands of excellent pictures (also an outstanding portrait photographer, Gayle simplified her selection by eliminating people pictures for this show), have them printed, buy frames, frame them, decide on pricing, create descriptor cards for each, and hang them! With a full-time job and several evening commitments, it seemed impossible. But Gayle says the rush kept her from overthinking everything, and her supportive husband, Barry, and daughters, Alison and Veronica, all pitched in to make it happen.

Gayle’s great desire, she says, is always: to capture moments that celebrate life, to affirm the value of people, to share the wonder of creation, and to inspire joy every day.

Let her artistry inspire a little joy in your life. Stop by the Portage District Arts Centre and check out this board room exhibit, 11 – 2nd St. NE, open Monday through Saturday (closed Saturday on long weekends), 11:00 am – 5:00 pm. Gayle’s work will remain on display through March 19 and admission is free. Don’t forget to sign the guest book!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Economic Development 101

I’ve never had a head for business. Recently, though, I’ve stumbled upon a very basic and personal lesson in Economic Development—a microcosm of a much bigger machine that keeps roofs over our heads and food on our plates. Feel free to use this if you’re ever teaching a child and maybe it won’t take them as long as it took me.

This small-scale version came to me in the form of an advance payment from the publisher of my first novel. Not a large sum, but since the publisher is in the U.S., the payment was in American dollars—which right now looks a lot better than our own. That’s sad for Canada, but helpful for me—unless you consider that it also drives up the cost of my book for Canadian readers. 

But here’s my point. Those U.S. dollars came right here to me in little ol’ Portage la Prairie. I decide to throw a party to launch the book and I invite 13,000 friends to celebrate with me. (OK, they didn’t all come. Work with me.) I hire a local caterer to make and serve pie. I pay a local paper to promote it. I order a bouquet for the event from a local florist. I hire a local printer to make bookmarks as gifts for my guests. I give part of the profits to a local charity, as well as a tithe to my local church. And naturally, I buy a new outfit for the event. By the time that party’s over, numerous businesses and organizations in town have received a little piece of that money coming into Portage.

See the pattern here? My little event isn’t going to make or break any of those businesses, but when we keep repeating that scenario, it enables us all to live and keep on contributing to our community. 

Mayor Irvine Ferris tells me that a dollar spent in Portage changes hands seven times before it leaves the community. A dollar spent outside the community is simply gone.

“How do we know that’s true?” I asked my hubby. “Who figures these things out?”

His illustration helped me see it. Each community is a bucket. Each has a certain amount being poured into it, and each has leaks at the bottom. When the leakage beats the inflow, the bucket empties, but when the leaks are plugged and more pours in, the bucket will eventually overflow and you’ll need a bigger bucket. Growing communities enjoy a greater inflow than outgo. Simple, right? So simple you might think your purchases can’t help plug those leaks, but they can. Or they can enlarge them, your choice. Are you a leak-maker or a leak-plugger?

I want to say a huge, heartfelt thank you to all the leak-pluggers who came out to celebrate my book launch with me. This community is the best!

I’m working on a second book called Maggie’s War. Whether or not my publisher wants it will depend largely on how the first book does in its first three months. And how the first book does will, apparently, depend at least partly on how many reviews it receives. If you’ve had a chance to read The Silver Suitcase and would recommend it to others, you can leave a review on Even a two or three sentence review is helpful.

If you’re still looking for a copy, you can buy one at Heritage Books or at our library. And if you missed the party, another launch is happening at McNally Robinson in the Grant Park shopping centre on February 12 at 7:00 pm.