Prov 17:22

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

Friday, December 31, 2021

"Everyone knows, it's..."

What walks down stairs, alone or in pairs, and makes a slinkity sound? I’m glad you asked.

Richard Thompson James was born in 1918 and graduated from the Pennsylvania State University in 1939 with a degree in mechanical engineering. Doing his bit for the war effort in 1943, James worked on a method for suspending sensitive instruments on board navy ships, using springs. One day, he accidentally dropped one and needed to chase it as it sprung its way across the floor on its own. The rest is toy industry history.

James invested in a coil-winding machine while his wife Betty came up with the name Slinky. They cranked out 400 pieces. Each was 98 coils of high-grade blue-black Swedish steel, two and a half inches tall in its relaxed state. Although they convinced Gimbels Department store to carry the one-dollar toy for Christmas 1945, the static Slinky impressed no one.

At first.

Once James demonstrated the toy in action, however, their entire production run sold in 90 minutes. Since then, 300 million Slinkys have sold world-wide.

Slinkys also prove popular with high school science teachers and college professors because they perfectly demonstrate the properties of waves. Astronauts on the space shuttle have even used them in zero-gravity experiments.

Like every other successful product, the philosophy seems to be if one toy is good, more is better. Slinky Dog debuted in 1952 and was quickly followed by other pull-toy characters like Slinky train Loco, Slinky worm Suzie, and Slinky Crazy Eyes. Along with Mr. Potato Head, Slinky Dog made it into the Toy Story movies beginning in 1995. Betty James agreed that Pixar’s movie version of Slinky Dog was much cuter than what they’d manufactured.

What makes a Slinky so fun to play with? Sure, you can explain how it performs tricks, flipping down stairs end-over-end as it stretches and re-forms itself with the aid of gravity. How, when dropped, a Slinky appears to levitate for a split second. How it will even walk itself across a flat surface once you get it going just right. But something about its wondrous simplicity appeals to kids and adults alike, doesn’t it? At Betty James’ insistence, Slinky has maintained its affordability. The price and size make it a perfect item to include in a Christmas shoe box or stocking.

Sadly, Richard and Betty James divorced in 1960. She took over the company. Richard joined Wycliffe Bible Translators in Bolivia, where he died at the age of 56 from a heart attack. The incredible toy he developed (it was really more of a discovery than an invention) has entertained generations. I heartily recommend the adorable “Trained Slinky Circus” bit on You Tube by Jack Kalvan if you need a laugh. HERE's the link.

The Slinky song holds the title of longest-running jingle in television advertising history. If it isn’t going through your head by now, I can help with that. “A spring, a spring, a marvelous thing! Everyone knows it’s Slinky.”

May this column “spring” you into 2022 with joyful anticipation and hope. I know it’s been a difficult year. I also know God is still on his throne, he loves you, and nothing has caught him off guard. He’s got this. He’s got you. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Classic Toys, Part 5: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

You may feel disgusted with me for including this in my “classic toys” series, but the tickle truck I keep around for the grandsons who are rapidly outgrowing it includes a plastic Ninja Turtle shell, typically the first choice among my selection of costumes.

Blame their parents. Memories of my elder son naming his pet skink “Leonardo” and explaining to me how you could tell the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) apart by their weapons made me curious about their origin. When I first heard of them, I assumed it had to be a joke. I wasn’t wrong.

American comic book authors and artists Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird enjoy telling the story of how they sat around doodling new concepts for comics. Eastman drew a turtle with nunchucks and labelled it “Ninja Turtle.” Laird laughed with him, then drew another and added the words “Teenage Mutant.” They laughed some more. The concept seemed too ridiculous to go anywhere. (Reminds me of Amish Vampires in Space, a book that started as a joke by cover designer Jeff Gerke of Marcher Lord Press, who granted author Kerry Nietz permission to use the concept—and write it straight. The crazy genre-mashup became a thing.)

Eastman and Laird kept going with their characters, developing four of them, naming them after Italian Renaissance artists they admired (Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni—which got misspelled “Michaelanchelo” in the early comics—Raffaello Sanzio, and Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi). The pair proved equally imaginative in creating the turtles’ backstory. Do you know it?

A canister containing an isotope accidentally strikes an innocent bystander carrying a fishbowl. In the bowl are his pets, four baby turtles. The turtles and canister fall down a grate into the sewer below. The canister empties onto the babies, causing them to mutate. At some point they meet a mutant rat named Splinter, the former pet of an exiled ninja warrior. Splinter becomes their martial arts master and adopted father. As teenagers, the turtles naturally live on pizza.

Or something like that.

In May 1984, Eastman’s uncle Quentin loaned the pair a thousand dollars for the first print run of a forty-page, black and white comic book. Would you have done the same? Eastman and Laird had no studio, only a kitchen table and lapboards to use while seated on a couch. I suspect Uncle Quentin considered it a decent investment when the second issue brought in advance orders of 15,000 copies—five times the initial print run of the first. Their creations rapidly became a popular cultural phenomenon that forced them both to take sabbaticals from their artwork to deal with daily pressures of running a multimedia franchise. In 1990, the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie released, with Eastman playing a small role as the garbage man. Indigo’s website displays 357 TMNT products, from clothing to books to action figures.

If there’s a point to make, it’s that no one can accurately predict what will become popular—especially with kids. Our God-given imaginations take humans to places that boggle the mind because we were made in the image of someone far more creative still. This is why I’m convinced that eternity won’t bore us for even a second.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (I Corinthians 2:9)

Friday, December 17, 2021

The Puzzliest Toy

Nate concentrating on a Rubik's Cube in 1982
I debated about including this toy in my “classic” series. It seemed too new. But I remember my son playing with one at a year old (no, he couldn’t solve it). That son turned 40 this year (yes, he eventually solved the cube and became an engineer, although I’m not claiming a connection necessarily.) I’d say that qualifies the toy as a classic, worthy of investigating and sharing with you.

Born in Romania during WWII, Ernő Rubik learned much about creativity and design from his engineer father. Rubik studied both sculpture and architecture in Budapest, then went on to teach design at the Hungarian Academy of Applied Arts and Design. Not surprisingly, he made a hobby of creating geometric models.

Using small blocks of wood and rubber bands, Rubik’s goal was to solve a structural problem of moving parts independently without the entire mechanism falling apart. Not until he’d scrambled his cube and tried to restore it did he realize he may have created a puzzle.

His students loved it.

Given his father’s experience with applying for patents, Rubik quickly did so and received one for his “Magic Cube” in 1975. Four years later, Ideal Toys released the cube with a more distinct and memorable name. Ernő Rubik became a household name as the company sold around 200 million Rubik’s Cubes by 1983. Winning several Toy of the Year awards, over 350 million have sold to date, making the Rubik’s Cube one of the bestselling toys of all time.

Ideal originally advertised the puzzle as having over three billion combinations but only one solution. Since most people could solve just one or two sides, the next hot items to hit the market were books on how to solve the Rubik’s Cube. At one point in 1981, three of the top ten bestselling books in the US fell into this category.

Then the competitions began as “Speed Cubers” came out of the woodwork. Finally, a sport for math geeks! Budapest hosted the first world championship in 1982. Minh Thai, a Vietnamese student from Los Angeles, won with a time of 22.95 seconds. Currently, the record is 3.47 seconds, held by China’s Du Yusheng, set in 2018.

With so many geniuses improving at this skill, they needed to devise new challenges, like one-handed solving, feet solving, blindfolded solving, and multiple blindfolded solving. That latter is when a contestant studies up to ten cubes, memorizes their configuration, then dons the blindfold and solves them all. The seconds spent studying the cubes are included in their time. I know. Unbelievable.

In 2020, I watched the Netflix documentary The Speedcubers, which explores the rivalry and friendship between two of the fastest speedcubers in the world, Australian Feliks Zemdegs and American Max Park. Diagnosed with autism at the age of two, Max Park developed both social and fine motor skills through cubing. I highly recommend the film.

What boggles my mind more than a Rubik’s Cube is how anyone can believe we humans don’t have a Creator. Believing the brains of these Cube-solvers merely evolved takes more faith than taking apart a Rubik’s Cube, throwing all the pieces in a bag, then shaking the bag until the cube is reassembled with all six sides correctly aligned.

No? Just me?

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” (Psalm 139:13-14)

Friday, December 10, 2021

Classic Toys, Part 3: A Little Red Wagon


I’m thinking of asking Santa for a Radio Flyer Wagon this year. That is, I might if my wish list were not already filled with books. And if I believed in Santa.

I don’t recall desiring a little red wagon as a kid, but as an adult who tires easily, I can see where a wagon might come in handy, in any color, around the yard and garden. Ever wonder who decided kids might enjoy a wagon of their own with which to let their imaginations take flight?

In 1897, Antonio Pasin was born in Venice, Italy to a cabinetmaker. At 16, he moved to New York City with dreams of operating his own business. Too young and broke, he instead found himself working endless odd jobs for low wages. Not one to give up, Pasin invested his meagre savings in woodworking tools and a one-room rented workshop. He married a fellow Italian immigrant named Anna. They eventually moved to Chicago with two daughters and one son.

Pasin used a little homemade wooden wagon to carry around the tools he used for making phonograph cabinets. When customers began requesting duplicates of his wagon more than his cabinets, he began building toy wagons and selling them to area shops in 1917. By 1923, he’d formed the Liberty Coaster Company. Demand kept growing for the “Liberty Coasters.”

“I enter so many ventures with more nerve than capital,” Pasin said. In 1927, he tore a page from the auto industry’s book and began mass-producing stamped steel wagons. This move made the wagons affordable for nearly every child. Painted red, the wagons sold for three dollars each, about $50 in today’s economy (although a quick look on Amazon shows me a Canadian price of $170 for the classic wagon).

Pasin was a long-time fan of two other inventors: Guglielmo Marconi, credited with inventing the radio, and Charles Lindbergh, who completed the first non-stop cross-Atlantic flight in 1927. In tribute, Pasin renamed his wagon “Radio Flyer.” His company became the Radio Steel and Manufacturing company. Even during the Great Depression, 1500 wagons a day rolled off assembly lines, earning Pasin the nickname “Little Ford.”

“To give work to others,” Pasin said. “That had something to do with my desire to be in business.”

During World War II, production of wagons stopped while the company produced five gallon “Blitz cans” (now known as jerrycans) for the U.S. army. Once the war ended, the company returned to producing the little wagons that have continued to enjoy much popularity for their high quality, nostalgia, and practical usefulness. So popular, in fact, that in 1987 Radio Steel changed its name to Radio Flyer. By this time, Antonio’s son had taken over.

Since 1997, Antonio Pasin’s grandson, Robert, has been CEO. The company has grown to include tricycles, scooters, and more. Though they also began making plastic wagons, the metal ones remain the most popular. In 1999, the Radio Flyer Wagon was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.

Antonio died in 1990 and was inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame in 2003. His little red wagon has shown up in movies and never fails to add nostalgia to any scene in which it appears.

For a heart-warming video that tells Antonio’s story, click here. What moved me most was his desire, having known poverty himself, to provide wagons for as many children and jobs for as many adults as possible.

“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.” Proverbs 19:17.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Practically Twins

Barbara Millicent Roberts was born March 9, 1959, two weeks after me. Though she appeared about eighteen years my senior at the time, she has somehow managed to maintain her youth and still doesn’t look a day over 23.

Plastic will do that.

Prior to Barbie’s debut, most dolls represented babies—designed for children to cuddle and care for like real infants. Married to the co-founder of the Mattel Toy company, Ruth Handler probably kept a lookout for new toy ideas. When she noticed her daughter, Barbara, assigning her paper dolls adult roles, it sparked the idea for a teenage fashion doll. The concept did not impress Mr. Handler or his board.

His wife persisted. Mattel introduced the first Barbie doll, named for the Handlers’ daughter, at the 1959 American International Toy Fair in NYC. The first year, Mattel sold 350,000 of the 11.5-inch dolls.

By the time I became interested in Barbie, her empire had exploded. Alas, I never actually owned one. I’m not sure whether my parents didn’t buy into the hype or if they took issue with Barbie’s impossible body shape, but they chose to give me a “Tammy” doll instead—12 inches tall and shaped more like an average teenager. I didn’t mind until I realized Tammy couldn’t fit any of Barbie’s clothes. Her flat feet called for nothing but simple rubber sneakers. Though my mother sewed some brilliant outfits for Tammy, I still craved a “real” Barbie of my own. (Ungrateful little snot!)

Over the years, more friends joined Barbie, including her boyfriend, Ken (named for the Handlers’ son), her best friend, Midge, and little sister, Skipper. One could purchase every conceivable outfit and accessory, as well as homes, cars, boats, and more for the popular doll.

In her 62-year existence, Barbie has managed over 150 careers. As an astronaut, she reached the moon in 1965, four years ahead of Neil Armstrong. She’s run for U.S. president numerous times. Although she’s clearly never won, I wonder how many ballots she’s spoiled as a write-in candidate? She’s even been a mermaid.

Her original body shape became the topic of much criticism when someone calculated that a similarly proportioned human woman would stand five feet, nine inches tall and be severely underweight. (In 1965, Barbie came with a fuzzy pink bathroom scale permanently set to 110 pounds.) Concurring that Barbie’s shape might contribute to an unhealthy body image in children, Mattel increased her waist size in 1997.

Barbie continued to evolve with the times, fashions, and political correctness. In 2014 she made the cover of Sports Illustrated in her original black and white swimsuit. Meanwhile, her friend “Ella” underwent cancer treatments as Mattel distributed bald dolls to hospitals in limited numbers.

Mattel reinvented Barbie again in 2016, responding to public pressure that she did not reflect diversity of modern women. Barbie now comes in 22 skin tones, 94 hair colors, 13 eye colors and five body types. I suspect this move profited Mattel, given all the new sizes of clothing needed to go with the various dolls. Still, good for them.

Barbie has appeared in books, films, and video games. She has her own TV show, You Tube channel, and vlog. Streets have been named for her, painters and photographers have captured her, the wealthy have collected her. If you’re ever in Taiwan, you can even visit a Barbie Café.

A quick look at Amazon tells me you can order a doll for as little as five Canadian dollars, or for up to sixty for this years’ “Holiday Barbie” in all her sparkly glory.

As for me, I’ll thank God for the four or five “careers” I’ve learned, my closet filled with previously owned clothing, and a 1959 body that still mostly works.

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.” Proverbs 31:30

Friday, November 26, 2021

Classic Toys, Part 1: Mr. Potato Head

Mr. Potato Head in a Macy's Parade

If you’re alive to read this column, chances are you’ve had a Mr. Potato Head in your home at some point—if not, you’re at least familiar with the toy. Did you know the original Mr. Potato Head came with no head? In 1949, inventor George Lerner conceived a toy children could design themselves. Each set consisted of plastic body parts and accessories attached to pins. Children could transform a simple potato or other vegetable into a colorful, unique character all their own by arranging eyes, noses, mouths, glasses, hats, and pipes.

Coming out of the shortages of the Great Depression, followed by food rations during World War II, Lerner’s idea initially met with resistance. Why would anyone sacrifice a perfectly good potato by turning it into a plaything? According to a 2019 article by Mary Bellis on, a cereal company eventually bought Lerner’s concept for $55,000 and placed the plastic parts into cereal as free prizes for kids to collect.

By 1951, the world reveled in its post-war abundance. The Rhode Island Hassenfeld Brothers toy manufacturing company paid the cereal company to stop production and purchased the rights to Mr. Potato Head for $7,000. Later, the company changed its name to Hasbro.

Those first sets provided hands, feet, ears, two mouths, two pairs of eyes, and four noses. Accessories included three hats, eyeglasses, a pipe, and eight pieces of felt suitable for beards and mustaches. The move turned into a great investment for Hasbro, who earned more than $1 million their first year.

In 1953, Hasbro added Mrs. Potato Head, their children Yam and Spud, and the children’s friends Kate the Carrot, Pete the Pepper, Oscar the Orange, and Cookie Cucumber. Children could even ask Santa for a Mr. Potato Head car, boat, or kitchen.

In 1969, the United States passed its Child Protection and Toy Safety Act, enabling the Federal Drug and Safety Administration to ban toys it deemed unsafe. Mr. Potato Head’s small pieces of plastic with sharp pins fell into that category. Parents had also complained about discovering rotten potatoes under their kids’ beds. Rather than simply discontinuing the toy, Hasbro innovated once again. In 1964, they began making hard plastic potato-shaped bodies and larger body parts. Another twenty-two years would pass before Mr. Potato Head surrendered his pipe-smoking habit in the interest of better health.

With the release of the first Toy Story movie in 1995, Mr. Potato Head again stepped into the spotlight, his character voiced by Don Rickles. He’s appeared in every Toy Story movie since. This year, he landed a minor role in my newly released novel, The Last Piece, when a boy receives a much-longed-for Mr. Potato Head kit for Christmas in 1957. Of course, he needs to ask his mom for a potato in order to play with the creative toy. You can watch a vintage TV commercial for it HERE.

Friday, November 19, 2021

A Love Lesson from a Zucchini

I purchased a massive zucchini for a dollar recently.

Let me ask you something. If I invited you into my home, and we sat down for tea and a chat, and then I excused myself to the kitchen and returned with a platter of goodies in my hands to share with you, which “goody” would make you feel more loved: fresh zucchini slices arranged in a pretty spiral, or sliced zucchini bread still warm from the oven and laden with half-melted chocolate chips?

On the surface, it seems obvious. “You baked this for me? How wonderful! Yum!”

But another person might find it cruel of me to put such a temptation in front of them.

“You know I’m diabetic. This contains as much sugar as zucchini—not even counting the sugar in the chocolate chips.”

“You know I can’t eat gluten.”

“I’m allergic to chocolate.”

“You know I’m trying to lose weight. How much oil is in this?”

“Are you trying to give me a heart attack?”

And so on.

In this light, I have not performed a loving deed at all. Have I?

I ask this because it’s what I pondered while I used only a third of that zucchini to create four loaves of zucchini bread. Adding sugar, flour, oil, chocolate chips and more turned something cheap and nutritious into something expensive and unhealthy. Why do we do this to ourselves and to each other?

If I truly loved you, wouldn’t I care enough about your health to want you eating something packed with nutrition but easy on calories? Then again, if I truly loved you, wouldn’t I want to offer the joy, comfort, and surge of endorphins that come with home-baked treats?

Who’s to say what is loving? What one person might call tough love, another sees as controlling and manipulative. Do my actions enable another to continue in unhealthy behaviors or do they demonstrate patient support? Am I practicing healthy boundaries or exclusion? What one sees as standing up for their own human rights, another sees as self-centered. Yet God calls us to love, first and foremost.

While it may not always be crystal clear what genuine love looks like, I know what it doesn’t look like. Love doesn’t look like fear or the spreading of fear. Name-calling. Gossip. Quarreling. Worry. Hatred. Resentment. Coercion. Arrogance. Distrust. Pretending to know stuff I don’t.

I think we’ve all seen a whole lot of the above lately, haven’t we? Sometimes the best prayer we can pray is, “God, make me teachable. Give me eyes to see. Ears to hear. Wisdom. Patience. Humility.”

Philippians 4 admonishes us to think about what is true, honest, just, pure, virtuous, lovely, and praiseworthy. Whatever’s troubling you today, God has already figured out. One day, in his perfect timing (how we wish we knew when!), you’ll look back and say, “see what my good and faithful God did there?” And just maybe, you’ll see where you grew in strength, compassion, goodness, and faithfulness because you chose love.

Now, what do I do with the rest of this zucchini?

Friday, November 12, 2021

To Any Length

In his 1976 collection, Six War Years, 1939-1945: Memories of Canadians at Home and Abroad, author Barry Broadfoot shares hundreds of stories from those years that you won’t hear in novels or movies. He recorded, verbatim, anonymous interviews with every-day Canadians after asking them one simple question: “What did you do in the war?”

Their admittedly one-sided stories, told with language far more colorful than I’m accustomed to, are as varied as they are interesting—from fellows who enlisted just for the free boots to women who signed up in order to follow their soldier boyfriends overseas, to men who married only to avoid the draft. Such is the story of one Manitoban named Tom.

Tom’s farmer father needed Tom’s help to keep the farm afloat. Often in this case, a young man would receive a deferment from service because growing food was vital to the country’s defense. But if a family had two sons, one was sure to be marched off to do his duty, at least on the home front.

Tom’s father had three sons, all single. The youngest was intellectually disabled, although they wouldn’t have used that term then. His biggest contribution was helping his mother gather eggs. The middle son showed no interest in farming and leaned toward the lazy side, according to the anonymous storyteller. The eldest at 28, Tom would surely be wanted by his country’s military no matter how much his parents might need him on the farm.

One evening while the family sat around after dinner listening to the news on the radio, they heard the announcement that all single men would be called up the next day. Tom’s only chance of avoiding conscription would be to get hitched by midnight.

Well, Tom had been taking a friend named Gwendolyn to dances—a nice girl, but, in the storyteller’s words, “plain as a mud fence.” Tom’s sister called Gwendolyn and told her to be standing by the gate when Tom arrived. Then Tom, along with his brother and sister, picked up Gwendolyn and headed down the road to Shoal Lake. It was nine p.m. by the time they discovered the preacher out for the evening. They drove to Hamiota. The minister there, knowing what game they were playing, refused to marry them.

Time was running out. Backtracking to Binscarth, they woke up a policeman to find out where the preacher lived. The ruckus at their door awakened the preacher and his wife. Tom yanked out a ten-dollar bill and told the minister, “You get this business over with in ten minutes, before midnight, and I’ll double this.”

The preacher grabbed his book, tore through the ceremony, and completed the paperwork. All parties signed it with ten minutes to spare. The minister, twenty bucks richer, saved Tom’s hide.

I have no idea how Tom and Gwendolyn’s marriage turned out, but folks in the community allegedly saw Tom as a bit of a hero for racing around those country roads late at night and outsmarting the government by evading the draft.

Canadian historian Jack Granatstein (author of Who Killed Canadian History?)
wrote, “no single issue has divided Canadians so sharply” as the military draft. Given the current issues dividing our citizens, I can’t help wondering if Granatstein, now 82, still feels the same.

Lest we forget.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Life's a Puzzle

The puzzle that sat unfinished on our dining table for a year before being boxed up again will be up for grabs at my book signing on November 27. (My sister did successfully complete this puzzle during the pandemic.)

An antique jigsaw puzzle determined to remain unsolved for 80 years plays a pivotal role in my upcoming novel, The Last Piece, releasing November 16. Ironically, I’ve never been a fan of jigsaw puzzles. In a wild moment of reckless abandon in 2016, I opened a thousand-piece puzzle on our dining table. I thought Hubby and I could complete it over the Christmas break and share a little bonding time in the process. A year later, the unfinished puzzle still sat on our table. We’d covered it with a tablecloth on several occasions when we needed the space. Finally, in defeat, I returned the pieces to their box. That incident, along with a fascination for seemingly random stories which all converge in the end, provided my inspiration for The Last Piece. Of course, writing the book required some digging into the history of puzzles.

John Spilsbury, a British engraver and mapmaker, is credited with inventing the first jigsaw puzzle in 1767 when he pasted a map onto wood and cut it into small pieces to be used as an educational toy. To this day, “dissected maps” continue to provide a wonderful way for children and adults to learn their geography.

In the early 1900’s, puzzles for adults emerged and became both a craze and an addiction. Pieces were cut exactly on the color lines, making them more challenging. Because the pieces did not interlock, puzzlers could wipe out an evening’s work with one false move or jostle. Nor did they provide a picture on the box, so you may not know what the subject of your masterpiece looked like until the last pieces were in place. Those early wooden puzzles proved expensive to make, too, which meant only high society folk purchased them at up to five dollars for a 500-piece puzzle (about one tenth of the monthly salary of an average worker).

Well-known game makers, the Parker Brothers, introduced interlocking puzzles that included unique “figure pieces,” where an individual piece might be shaped like an animal or other recognizable object. This added so much appeal that in 1909, Parker Brothers stopped making games and devoted their factory exclusively to puzzle production that year.

The Great Depression of the 1930’s brought even more reasons to buy and sell jigsaw puzzles. By this time, the less expensive cardboard puzzles had emerged. They offered an affordable means of entertainment and escape from difficult times. They gave strugglers something at which to succeed. Folks could rent puzzles from libraries or drugstores for pennies a day. They could pass puzzles around a community until every family had assembled it. Puzzles were also given out free with the purchase of various products. The picture would be of the product itself, doubling as advertising for the company.

Other businesses jumped on the bandwagon and began producing weekly puzzles that people rushed out to buy every Wednesday, much like a newspaper, hoping to be the first to solve that week’s jigsaw.

Once colored photography became common, jigsaw puzzles displayed more photos than artwork. With the advent of television, puzzles quickly declined in popularity. But even today, as jigsaws continue to grow in sophistication with unique challenges like 3D or double-sided, many puzzlers remain devoted to the hobby.

LOCAL FRIENDS: I’m giving away gently used jigsaw puzzles as door prizes at my come-and-go book signing at the Portage regional Library on Saturday, November 27, from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. Along with all my previously released books, The Last Piece will be available for purchase. Come finish your Christmas shopping. Or, if you already own one of my books not already signed by the author, feel free to bring it along. You may go home with a new-to-you jigsaw puzzle!

Friday, October 29, 2021

A Whole New Level of "Speedy"

Two months ago, I became the delighted owner of a new-to-me car. Last weekend, I climbed into the passenger side and noticed a chip in the windshield. When did that happen? I’d been down my son’s gravel road, but I hadn’t heard anything. Hubby climbed in behind the wheel and had to lean to see what I was pointing at since the rear view mirror blocked it from his view. He’d driven the car a few times, too, but neither of us had heard anything hit the window.

Best to get it dealt with quickly. I called Speedy Glass and booked the car in for nine a.m. the next day. Walked in, did the paperwork, handed the nice man my car key, and settled into their waiting area with a book, expecting a half hour wait. Not five minutes later, the man returned.

“Is there another chip somewhere?” He asked. “Were you concerned about the one on the right?”

I didn’t understand his question. Were they already done?

“Follow me, I’ll show you what I mean,” he said.

I did. Another man was carefully cleaning my windshield and I was glad to see he’d removed a large splotch of stubborn bird poop. My stone chip, however, remained.

“See, this is an old one,” the first guy told me. “It’s already been repaired. By the lines around it, you can tell how big it was to begin with.”

Oh. How silly of me. How had we taken so long to notice?

I assured them the windshield had no other chips, and they assured me the repair was as good as it gets. I took comfort in my clean windshield and in knowing Hubby hadn’t realized the chip was repaired, either. I was home by ten after nine, feeling a bit ridiculous.

But not as ridiculous as I felt when I glanced in the mirror and saw that I was wearing two pairs of glasses—one on my eyes and one on the top of my head.

I’d worn my driving glasses to the shop and pushed them up to sign the form. When I sat down to wait, I pulled a different pair from my purse for reading.

Too many ironies to process. Like the fact that the glasses covering my eyes were bifocals, designed for reading on the bottom and driving on the top. They’d have served me just fine, all morning, all by themselves.

Or the fact that my last two eye check-ups confirmed I no longer need glasses for driving and MPI had removed that condition from my license. When I do wear glasses behind the wheel, it’s merely a security blanket for myself.

Or the fact that I wouldn’t have needed to leave my house at all that day, given the stone chip in my windshield had been repaired years ago.

No wonder those Speedy guys were so smiley. They probably found humor in the fact that I’m a tad… well … not so speedy. I cling to Proverbs 11:2. “…with humility comes wisdom.”

Naturally, I took a selfie modelling both pairs of glasses and shared it with my Facebook world who quickly responded with numerous comments and likes. We all appreciate knowing others do dumb things, right? My friend Gloria wrote, “Good on you for being able to laugh at yourself. We all do crazy things but then don’t want anyone to know! You help us to relax!”

To which I quite honestly replied, “Somehow I have the feeling I’m only getting warmed up.”


Friday, October 22, 2021

In Praise of the Sunday Afternoon Nap

As kids, my four older siblings and I could never figure out how Mom and Dad could possibly prefer a nap to the beach on a gorgeous summer Sunday afternoon. We’d beg and plead with them to take us to the lake, which, now that I think about it, was only four miles down the road. Why didn’t we walk? I suppose because we needed supervision.

On one such Sunday, we thought we could charm our parents into taking us to the beach with a clever performance. We divvied up seven words among the five of us, stood in a row at the foot of Mom and Dad’s bed in order of age, and delivered the sentence that would go down in family history: “We want. To go. To. The. Lake!”

Everybody got their part correct and on cue. I’m sure it was brilliant. Probably the best display of unity we ever exhibited. To the best of my mother’s recollection, it worked. We did get to go to the lake later that day and other days, but never soon enough to suit us.

When I reached adulthood, I understood completely. I’ve been a Sunday afternoon napper for all my adult years, except maybe that brief window when our kids were too big for naps but too young to be left to their own devices. While on staff at my church, Sunday mornings often meant putting in several hours of intense energy. During those years, I’d go home from church like a toddler: too tired to eat but to hungry to sleep.

For the last decade, I’ve been living with a chronic lung condition which has made daily naps mandatory. While this somewhat diminishes the novelty of the Sunday nap, there’s still something delicious about crawling into my bed on a Sunday afternoon, any time of year.

When God created the world in six days, he took a day to rest—not because he needed rest, but because he knew we would. He also knew we’d be bad at it. We’d fill it with work. We’d use it to catch up on undone tasks from the week. We’d spend it doing things that did not restore our physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual tanks the way they needed. He deemed sabbath important enough to make it one of his ten rules for us: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” I’m no Hebrew scholar, but the word comes from shabbath, meaning rest, and is also where our word “sabbatical” comes from. The Jews formed an entire set of extra rules (or “sabbatical laws”) around it, including giving the land a rest every seventh year. Jews and some Christians, like Seventh-Day Adventists, still observe sabbath on the seventh day, Saturday.

Sunday became “The Lord’s Day” for Christians after the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

During the reign of Charles I in in the 17th century, England passed “The Lord’s Day” Act, which made it an offense to transact business on Sunday. Canada adopted its own Lord’s Day Act in 1908. In the 1980s, the Supreme Court of Canada declared the Act an infringement on the freedom of religion and conscience. For many, Sunday has become just another day of business. By contrast, I know people whose childhood Sundays were limited to church, followed by long hours of complete boredom in the name of keeping the Sabbath—resulting in abandoning their faith altogether.

I won’t pretend to understand precisely what God had in mind for us by resting one day a week or dictate what that means for you. But I believe with all my heart that He gave ALL of his commands in our best interest, because the one who created us knows what we need for optimal health. We do well to pay attention.

Time for my nap.

Photo from Canva


Friday, October 15, 2021

When Your Back Doc Retires

The first time I walked into the chiropractic office of Dr. Bruce Narvey, I was pregnant with my third baby. That “baby” is now 34 years old. Not only did Dr. Narvey keep me in the best possible shape for a healthy delivery, but he has kept Hubby and me well-adjusted through all the years since then. A glance at the diploma on his wall tells patients Dr. Narvey’s been practicing since 1981. Forty years is a long time to practice something, but now that he’s finally getting the hang of it, he’s giving it up for golf and grandchildren. The nerve!

Through the nineties, when I cleaned houses for a living and took care of a large garden, my spine occasionally became so misaligned it left me nearly immobile, and I’d go hobbling into Dr. Narvey’s office hunched over in pain. He’d give me an attitude adjustment and encourage me to proactively come in regularly instead of waiting until I was in trouble. Once I finally settled into an every-three-weeks schedule, I got along much better. I’ve benefited from his ultrasound therapy, too.

Allowing someone to manipulate your spine every three weeks involves a level of trust, but Dr. Narvey has become a friend, too. He knows, for example, that I’m going to start coughing as soon as I lie on my back. I don’t need to explain over and over that it’s a chronic lung condition and not Covid-19. I’ve listened to his jokes and his stories about the aforementioned golf and grandchildren. He’s purchased my books and read my columns. He teases. I give it right back. We occasionally talk politics, but I think that might be his way of figuring out which way I lean on any given day. I tried to convince him to rename his practice “This Joint’s Poppin’” but he refused to crack. (By the way, don’t ever let a chiropractor tell you a joke while he’s giving you an adjustment. It could really mess up your funny bone.)

When my husband underwent an amputation of his right arm, Dr. Narvey went above and beyond. He came to visit Jon at Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg and gave him an adjustment right there, helping to alleviate some of the damage done elsewhere by the accident. He and his wife Cheri also blessed us with a care package at that time. Guess you could say they’ve always had our backs.

Photo by Violet Hay

Dr. Narvey deserves a long and happy retirement. Few people return to the town they grew up in and serve it and the surrounding community for 40 years. Although they’ve recently moved to Winnipeg to be closer to grandchildren, I imagine Portage will always feel like “home” to the Narveys. This is where they raised their family and where they donated untold volunteer hours with Rotary Club, Portage Golf Club, coaching, mentoring, fund-raising, and generally behaving like all-around top-notch citizens.

So, to the man who turned heads every time he went to work: I salute you, I thank you, and I wish you God’s richest blessings. Portage will miss the Narveys. You could say it’ll be an adjustment.


Friday, October 8, 2021

Strange Place for a Song of Thanks

When my father passed away in 1986, we knew it was coming. Dad had been struggling with the pain of pancreatic cancer far too long. The initial sense of relief, knowing he was finally free from his suffering and home with Jesus, was probably what enabled my sister Shanon and me to sing a duet at his funeral. He and Mom had chosen the song ahead of time, and Sis and I had begun practicing even before Dad left us. We deeply wanted to honor him in this way, and we reached the end of the hymn without tears.

Friends and relatives remarked about the strength we displayed that day. I can’t speak for my sister, but in the weeks that followed, I could not have repeated it for the world. I couldn’t even sing from the congregation on Sunday morning, too deep in grief, anger, and disappointment. I’d sit at my piano and try to sing through the song we’d shared with such confidence, only to choke before the second verse.

One line mocked me every time: “Thanks for what thou dost deny.” 

That’s old English for “thanks for nothing.” Or at least that’s how it felt in my loss. We’d prayed and begged God to heal Dad, but our pleas had been denied. How could I carry on without my daddy? I wanted our children to know him the way I had—healthy and fun. Now another little one was on the way who wouldn’t get to meet him at all.

I don’t believe time heals all wounds. If it did, we’d see a lot fewer wounded people walking around. I think God heals all wounds…over time…when we take them to him. Countless joys and sorrows have passed through my life in the 35 years my father’s been gone. And certainly, these past two years have left us all reeling, haven’t they? Another Thanksgiving season is upon us. Are you finding it hard to feel grateful?

I’ve matured enough to know it’s possible to give thanks, “even when.” Even when I don’t feel like it, even when I’m afraid or angry or disappointed, even when circumstances look grim.

The old hymn Shanon and I shared that day is called simply, Thanks to God, written by August Ludvig Storm (1862-1914) and translated from Swedish by Carl E. Backstrom. Stricken with a serious back disorder, Storm nevertheless penned these words of thanks. I’m so glad the song has been around long enough to be in public domain because that frees me to share the lyrics with you here. I hope they bless you. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanks to God for my Redeemer,

Thanks for all Thou dost provide.
Thanks for times now but a memory,
Thanks for Jesus by my side!
Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime,
Thanks for dark and stormy fall.
Thanks for tears by now forgotten,
Thanks for peace within my soul!

Thanks for prayers that Thou hast answered,
Thanks for what Thou dost deny.
Thanks for storms that I have weathered,
Thanks for all Thou dost supply.
Thanks for pain, and thanks for pleasure,
Thanks for comfort in despair.
Thanks for grace that none can measure,
Thanks for love beyond compare!

Thanks for roses by the wayside,
Thanks for thorns their stems contain.
Thanks for home and thanks for fireside,
Thanks for hope, that sweet refrain.
Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow,
Thanks for tears that bring release.

Thanks for hope in the tomorrow,
Thanks for everlasting peace.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.)