Prov 17:22

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

Saturday, January 30, 2021

My Guest Appearance

As an author, I occasionally receive an invitation to visit a book club whose members are reading and discussing one of my novels. I know it’s an honor, but I also find these events nerve-wracking. What if they don’t like my book? What if they ask questions I can’t answer or spot errors I can’t defend?

My most recent invitation, however, presented an entirely new problem. The group was reading my debut novel, The Silver Suitcase. Yikes. I’ve penned six other books since that one. While the story would be fresh in their minds, I could barely remember the characters’ names. They sent out a quiz on the book to members ahead of time and included me in the email. At least one of their questions stumped me.

So, with two weeks remaining before the scheduled Zoom meeting, I decided to listen to the audio version of The Silver Suitcase. That way, I could refresh my memory while working around my kitchen. I confess I experienced a few cringe-worthy moments as I listened, which is not all bad. It means I’ve honed a few writing skills since composing that story.

At least I felt better prepared to chat with these readers who also enjoy public speaking. And that’s what makes this group unique. It’s a Toastmasters Club called “Talking Books.” My curiosity about how this combination might work was certainly piqued.

I learned that a requirement of joining this book club is that you must also belong to at least one “regular” Toastmasters club. Eighteen participants logged in on Saturday afternoon. After the general welcome, the Grammarian presented our word of the day: “departure.” The idea is to use the word as often as possible throughout the meeting when called upon to speak. I was well familiar with this practice.

But when it came time for Table Topics, I discovered they conduct theirs differently. Instead of having a random question thrown at you and having to speak for one and a half to two minutes with no preparation, this club divides into groups of four. Each group has ten minutes to discuss a different question about the book and select their spokesperson. When the larger group reconvenes, each spokesperson then addresses the question, summarizing the thoughts of the sub-group.

With the author present at this meeting, they replaced what would normally be a prepared speech with a panel discussion, giving the moderator an opportunity to practice a new skill. She appointed me to the panel along with three others and we took turns answering her well-thought-out questions. This was followed by an opportunity for me to speak for five minutes and answer more questions. Naturally, I used the chance to promote my other books because no author in their right mind would not.

After receiving the answers to the ten-question quiz (which I aced, thanks to having just listened to the book), hearing the Grammarian’s report, the General Evaluator’s report, and the Timer’s report, the Toastmaster gave closing comments and adjourned the meeting two hours after it began—twice the length of my club’s meetings!

Clearly, this group served to remind me that while each club is unique in its formatting, pace, and purpose, Toastmasters clubs across the globe provide a wonderful place to learn, grow, and have fun together. If you want to improve your public speaking skills in a safe environment, join Toastmasters. You can find a group near you HERE. You won’t regret it.

I forgot to take a screen shot of my guest appearance!



Friday, January 22, 2021

Refusing to Forget

Holocaust is a word of Greek origin meaning “sacrifice by fire.”

Seventy-six years ago, the world was horrified as the extent of the Holocaust extermination was unveiled. Six million Jews were systematically persecuted and slaughtered in under five years. We don’t often hear about the five million others whose lives ended under the Nazi regime as well—priests and pastors, Jehovah’s Witnesses, communists, anarchists, Poles and other Slavic peoples, homosexuals, resistance fighters, Roma (then commonly called “Gypsies”), Afro-Germans, and people with mental or physical disabilities.

Hitler’s “Final Solution” was the policy to rid Europe not only of all Jews, but of any groups considered racially or biologically inferior. Between 1939 and 1945, the Nazis murdered at least 250,000 of their own German people institutionalized because of mental or physical disability, including thousands of children.

In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly designated January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The UN encourages its member countries to hold commemoration ceremonies to honor these victims and to promote Holocaust education throughout the world.

At the 2020 event in Ottawa, Prime Minister Trudeau said, “Canada will always strongly condemn these acts, and is committed to standing against hatred and discrimination in all their forms … I encourage Canadians to take time today to remember the victims and survivors of the Holocaust. We will honor them by continuing to fight hate, protect the most vulnerable, and make the world a more peaceful and prosperous place for everyone by vowing ‘Never Again.’”

Of course, we agree with Trudeau’s speech. But lest we become smug as Canadians, believing we would never stoop to such blindness… well, I think you already know we have a long way to go.

I have appreciated Cornell Pashe’s articles in our local paper, as he walks us through the 94 calls to action outlined by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. The stories of residential school survivors make us weep with shame that such things could have been sanctioned in our beautiful country.

With sadness and horror, I’ve been reading first-person accounts of the British Home Children, orphans sent to Canada between 1880 and 1930 to work on farms. The program, intended to solve two problems, amounted to legalized child slavery. In many cases, abuse in every form ran rampant—and had nothing to do with race.

Another, less often spoken of, travesty occurred during World War II when some 22,000 Japanese Canadians were stripped of their property, businesses, and dignity and forced into camps. Many ended up working on sugar beet farms here in Manitoba. I’ve written a novel around this topic. This fictional story is based on the real-life journeys of numerous Japanese Canadians who lived through it, focusing in on a young woman named Rose. It’s also the story of a Canadian soldier who spends most of the war in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, longing to return to his family’s sugar beet farm in Manitoba. Researching this book is probably the most sobering activity I have ever done, but I’m also more excited to release this story than any I’ve written to date.

Rose Among Thornes is set to release this August. I truly hope that by then, we can once again hold an in-person launch party, that I can place a copy directly into your hands and see your smiling face. More importantly, I hope the book’s tag line, “Forgiveness is the deadliest power on earth,” will ring true in our society and in our hearts.


Friday, January 15, 2021

Lessons for the Retired, the Re-retired, and the Just Plain Tired

If you’re a faithful reader of this blog, you may remember how, after 18 months of retirement, I returned to my old job at city hall this past October “for a couple of weeks” until the position could be filled again. Three weeks into my “couple of weeks,” health restrictions tightened and many of us began working from home. I did so almost exclusively, going into the office only three or four times over the following nine weeks.

Once my replacement started, I agreed to train her. It’s tough to teach anyone all your bad habits remotely, so I spent my last six mornings in person at city hall, trying to stay six feet from my student, both of us in our masks. Fortunately for me, for city hall, and for taxpayers, my replacement is a smart, capable, and experienced worker who also grew up here, knows the city, and caught on quickly.

All told, my couple of weeks stretched into three months and I’m happy to say, “I’ve done enough damage here for this time around.” I’m tired!

Returning to my old workplace held some surprises in store.

When I initially retired, thoughts of work had fled my mind shockingly fast. When invited back, I feared I’d remember nothing and prove more of a liability than an asset. But within a day or two, I was even more surprised by how quickly I began “owning” the job again. Thinking about it when I didn’t need to. Solving problems not really mine to worry about. That’s not bad, but it’s exhausting. The effort has confirmed for me what I already knew—I’m not capable of holding down a permanent job and being the writer I want to be. At this stage of life, I must choose.

I also walked away with a few tips to share.

Firstly, don’t burn your bridges. When it’s time to retire or resign, leave with integrity. Once you’ve given notice, remaining invested can be hard but it’s worth the effort. Do everything in your power to finish what you began. Clean your desk thoroughly for the next person. As much as lies within you, provide your co-workers whatever they might need from you. People who do not leave well do not get invited back. (And even if you refuse the invitation, I can tell you it feels darn good to be asked.)

Secondly, whatever you’re working on, give your all. While working from home, I used the same space for my city work as my writing work, but two different computers. I made sure one was completely shut down and out of reach while working on the other. Carrying around ideas for both jobs in your head is challenging enough without having them drawn to your attention by pinging emails or chirping text messages.

Thirdly, be willing to adapt. Living and working through this pandemic is teaching us all new skills we never needed before. I was impressed by how well my coworkers committed to the protocols of mask-wearing, sanitizing, temperature-taking, distancing, and “zooming” without complaint. I admire how our I.T. team of two keep everyone’s computers functioning, especially with many working from home. I couldn’t believe how well it worked to be able to access files from home, thanks to the brilliance of those who understand this stuff. Kudos to all!

And now, it’s back to story-writing for this old retiree. But first, perhaps a nice long nap.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,  since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24 NIV)

City Hall in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba