Prov 17:22

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

Friday, July 30, 2021

Five Ways to WIN with Thrift Shopping

I’m frequently asked which part of the writing journey I like best. That’s easy. While I do NOT enjoy hammering out that first draft and catch myself embracing almost any excuse to avoid it, I adore the editing part. When my editor returns a marked-up manuscript, I can hardly wait to dive in and see what improvements she suggests. I accept more than ninety percent of the changes my editor makes because I know my work will improve, and I learn so much.

Occasionally, though, an editor gets it wrong because they don’t understand the situation. Such was the case on my most recent manuscript (The Last Piece, releasing in November), where a character loves finding deals at thrift shops. She describes her thrift shop experience as “win-win-win,” explaining why. My editor assumed I’d used one too many “wins” and crossed one out.

I rejected her suggestion and stood my ground. Three wins. And truthfully, I probably could have thrown in a few more. So let me count the

Our local MCC Thrift Store and MCC Furniture Plus are prime examples. In case you’re unfamiliar with the process, the store receives donations of used items which it organizes and sells with the help of a few paid staff and an army of volunteers. Who exactly wins here? Let’s count them:

1. First, the donor wins because MCC provides a way to dispense with unwanted items, hassle-free. No need to wait until you collect enough to organize a yard sale, price it, advertise it, set it all up, reschedule for weather, haggle with customers, watch the cash box, or pack the unsold stuff at the end of a tiring day. Simply drop your items off at the store’s back door during the hours specified—throughout the year—and you’re done.

2. Shoppers win because they find what they need at a fraction of the price of new. When our kids were young, I’d give them each twenty bucks and let them thrift-shop for their own clothes. They learned to do math, make choices, and live with the consequences of those choices without costing me a fortune. Most of my clothes still come from MCC and I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t live more happily in designer clothes. I scored half my small appliances there, too, along with our kitchen table and the collection of candles I like to burn while working at my desk. And don’t get me started on my weakness: dishes!

3. The planet wins. Every year, perfectly usable clothing is thrown out and new clothing is made. This wasteful cycle uses and disposes of more resources than necessary and harms the earth. MCC invites customers to “take the pledge” to check out a thrift shop before looking at any new clothing.

4. Volunteers win. Some of our local volunteers have served for decades. They enjoy what they do, they do it with excellence, and they consider the team family.

5. Recipients of the profits win. MCC supports both local and global relief, development, and peace projects of the Mennonite Central Committee. MCC delivers disaster relief. It helps girls stay in school. It helps prevent the spread of diseases like Covid-19 in vulnerable communities. By donating that shirt you never wear, or by buying one you will, you respond to basic human needs and work for peace and justice in 60 countries as well as in your home town. Can any regular retail store say the same?

Well, there. My editor was wrong, but so was I. It’s not that I used too many “wins.” It’s that I didn’t use enough. Every thrift shop purchase truly is a gift to the world.

Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done. (Proverbs 19:17)


Friday, July 23, 2021

Local Citizen Inspires Novel

 In 1942, a young girl named Osono and her family left her father’s farm in the Vancouver area to live in an internment camp in the interior of British Columbia—along with thousands of other Japanese Canadians. The children did not understand what was happening, only that their parents felt unhappy about the move. Born in Canada, the kids had no reason to think they were different than any other Canadians. They didn’t understand that Japan had dropped bombs on Hawaii, or how that act made them suspect. They couldn’t grasp that both American and Canadian governments had decided their parents could no longer be trusted. They were innocent of the prejudice all too prevalent in the world around them.

Internment Camp at New Denver, BC, 1943

Once in the internment communities, many of the children reported that they enjoyed the time as though they were off at summer camp. School and recreational activities were provided, and they spent plenty of time with other kids—all of whom looked like they did. While the kids knew that “somewhere, far away,” a war was being fought, it had little to do with them. The biggest downside was that, for many, their fathers were away, working in lumber camps.

Meanwhile, here in Manitoba, farmers were overwhelmed because so much of our workforce had joined or been drafted into military service, leaving farms without laborers to bring in the harvest. The Canadian government decided it could solve two problems by offering the Japanese Canadians the opportunity to come to Manitoba to work on farms. The incentive was that they could keep their families together. To Osono’s parents and many others, it sounded like a better alternative in a horribly confusing time. They’d already lost their homes, property, businesses, and dignity. How could this be any worse?

Osono remembers making the long trip by train and how she had no desire to work on a farm or be separated from her friends. She recalls her dismay at seeing miles and miles of “nothing.” Her family ended up on the Tully family’s sugar beet farm near Oakville, Manitoba. What Osono could not possibly have known is that Mr. Tully endured ridicule from neighboring farmers for taking so many of these workers. Or that she would eventually elope with one of the Tully sons. Or that doing so would cause a major scandal in the community. Or that the birth of her twin boys would restore peace and bring the families together.

By the 1970s, younger Japanese Canadians, most of whom had been sheltered from the reasons behind the move to Manitoba, began uncovering the truth of their family history. More than 22,000 Japanese Canadians had been forced into this situation, and returning to their former lives, even after the war ended, had become impossible. Their properties had been sold to cover the cost of their own internment and relocation.

In 1988, after years of negotiations, the Japanese Canadian community received an apology from Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and a redress entitlement of $21,000 for each individual who had been relocated during the war. Many used the funds to send their children or grandchildren to university, reversing the cycle of poverty they’d been thrust into because of their government’s choices. Osono’s story inspired me to do more research and write a novel about a young girl named Rose. In the book, the farmer’s son is simultaneously imprisoned in a Japanese P.O.W. camp, further complicating the colliding of their separate journeys. I’m pleased to announce that Rose Among Thornes releases July 31 for Kindle and August 31 for everything else. It’s available now for pre-ordering anywhere you buy books.

Friday, July 16, 2021

If God Can Use a Bird...

A pair of crows built a nest in our eaves-trough this spring. Call me mean, but had I known then what I know now, I’d have begged hubby to remove it before an egg was ever laid.

I wasn’t even sure they were crows. I thought crows made gigantic nests that couldn’t possibly fit in our eaves. When I looked it up, I wasn’t entirely wrong. The internet told me a new nest usually measures about 45 cm across and 21 cm deep. I guess this particular couple sought a more compact apartment. I also learned that, not only do crows mate for life, but they stick together in family groups and hang around near the nest even after leaving it—often returning to the same neighborhood every year. Oh joy.

The nonstop cawing might drive me to distraction. So far, the three young ones sound more like kazoos, but their voices will change when they hit puberty. I suspect other, more desirable, birds find them equally annoying because I’ve not seen the robins, jays, or mourning doves we usually see.

Oh well. The internet also tells me having crows around can be an advantage. They eat a lot of pesty bugs and caterpillars, for one thing.

All this interest in birds got me thinking about Bible stories where birds play a role. Three sprung to mind immediately.

In Genesis 8, Noah sends out a dove from the ark after the rain subsides, but the dove returns because she finds nowhere to land or nest. A week later, he sends her out again. This time, she returns with a freshly plucked olive leaf in her beak. Since olive trees do not grow at high elevations and the ark has come to rest on a mountain, Noah knows the water has receded. (This event is the origin of the modern peace symbol—a dove with an olive branch.) A week later, Noah tries again. This time, the dove does not return. In the weeks ahead, Noah and his family, on dry ground at last, receive God’s promise that never again will a flood cover the entire earth. The rainbow is our reminder of his covenant.

In I Kings 17, God sends ravens to feed his servant Elijah. While all of Israel goes hungry because of their disobedience, Elijah is instructed to hide in a ravine on the east side of the Jordan River. Every morning and every evening, ravens bring him bread and meat, and he drinks from a brook. How long he stays there isn’t recorded, but the whole lesson points out that God’s word is not dependent on people, but people are dependent on the word of God.

All four gospels (Matthew 3, Mark 1, Luke 3, and John 1) tell the story of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. As soon as he comes up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descends on him in the form of a dove. A voice comes from Heaven: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Can you imagine being present, seeing that dove, and hearing the voice? What a holy moment.

Eagles, hawks, owls, and even an ostrich are mentioned in the Bible. Sparrows, too often to count. Because of this, I have a thing about sparrows, which you may already know if you read my first novel where the main character receives comfort from their presence. In my new novel, Rose Among Thornes, a sparrow makes a significant guest appearance as well—but this time in a Japanese POW camp in Hong Kong. Of course, I needed to do my research and make sure China actually has sparrows. In doing so, I learned some truly fascinating details which will require another blog post some other time.

Meanwhile, enjoy the birds!

Friday, July 9, 2021

Another Canadian Hero

On October 19, 1920, Isaac ‘Ike’ Friesen was born on a farm in the Russian Ukraine. While Ike was still an infant, his father died, leaving his mother to run the farm in the middle of the Bolshevik Revolution. Mrs. Friesen sold the family farm and fled to Manitoba. Ike attended a four-room school where he completed grade eight before becoming a farm laborer to help support his mother. He briefly tried working on a sugar beet farm, but joining the armed forces seemed a better option.

He took basic training as a member of the Eighteenth Manitoba Reconnaissance Regiment at Shilo and was later recruited by the Winnipeg Grenadiers.

When Prime Minister Churchill requested that Canadian troops be sent to defend the British colony of Hong Kong, Ike and other members of ‘C’ Force from the east traveled across Canada by CPR troop train, arriving in Vancouver on October 27, 1941. From there, he sailed on the New Zealand Liner, the AWATEA. After brief stops in Honolulu and Manila, they arrived in Hong Kong on November 16. On arrival, all troops were quartered at Nanking Barracks, Sham Shui Po Camp, in Kowloon.

Many of the soldiers reported that their first three weeks felt like a holiday, except for practice drills in readiness for a Japanese attack. When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, the Battle of Hong Kong commenced. Ike and the others found themselves thrust into a conflict for which they were ill prepared. On Christmas Day, the Allies surrendered. The Japanese Imperial Army took captive the surviving Canadian soldiers. Ike ended up back at the now decimated Sham Shui Po camp and was later transferred to another POW camp in Japan.

In an interview with Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) years later, Ike described some of his experiences.

“If you didn’t want to do what they wanted you to do, they’d make you stand to attention and beat you up and give you a rifle butt in the side of the face or right in the middle of your face at the front. I got my teeth knocked out here with a rifle butt.

“I picked up the language quite well. I could communicate with them by this time. One day they picked on me for some reason and I kind of resented that and let them know. The guy marched me in front of a big boulder … and he bat me in the face with his fist. And then every time I would jar back or get off balance and step back, two other guards would push me toward the rock again. And if I didn’t move, I’d feel the bayonet in my back. So I got beat up pretty bad that day. The guys had to help me back into camp.”

After four years under such conditions, Isaac Friesen joined the ranks of survivors who returned to Canada. He passed away at the age of 80 in 2001. His niece, Anita Gemmell, is a friend of mine. I “stumbled across” Isaac’s story one Remembrance Day when Anita posted a tribute to her Uncle Ike’s memory. I happened to be in search of stories like his for a book I was writing. I’m pleased to tell you that novel, Rose Among Thornes, releases later this summer and is now available for pre-ordering in print and eBook form, from almost anywhere you order books. 

The Battle of Hong Kong monument in Ottawa

Friday, July 2, 2021

Tommy Prince: One Canadian Hero

Did you know that one of our most decorated Indigenous war heroes came from Manitoba?

A descendant of both Chief Peguis and Chief William Prince, Thomas George Prince was one of 11 children born to Henry and Arabella Prince of the Brokenhead Band at Scanterbury.

Tommy Prince became a superb marksman with exceptional tracking skills gained from hunting in the wilderness. He attended Elkhorn Residential School (also known as the Elkhorn Industrial School and the Washakada Indian Residential School). After completing grade eight, he worked at a variety of jobs—primarily as a tree feller. While a teenager, he joined the army cadets.

In June 1940, Tommy Prince enlisted with the Royal Canadian Engineers at the age of 24. Two years later, he volunteered as a paratrooper and trained with the 1st Canadian Special Service Battalion. Soon after, his battalion joined an elite American unit called the 1st Special Service Force. German soldiers nicknamed it the “Devil’s Brigade” because its members gained a reputation for skillfully sabotaging enemy tactics.

On February 8, 1944, near Littoria, Italy, Reconnaissance Sergeant Prince was spying on the Germans from an abandoned farmhouse 200 metres away. He had a clear view of the enemy’s artillery emplacements and promptly reported them using the 1,400 metres of telephone wire connecting him to his force.

When the shelling severed Prince’s communication line, he donned civilian clothing and grabbed a hoe. In full view of German soldiers, he slowly worked his way along the telephone line, “weeding his crop,” until he found the damage. Pretending to tie his shoelaces, he rejoined the wires. To complete his performance as an Italian farmer, he shook his fist at the nearby Germans, then again toward the Allied lines. With his line repaired, he returned to his real work. As a result of his continued reporting, four German positions were destroyed. Sergeant Prince earned the Military Medal and a citation proclaiming, “Sergeant Prince’s courage and utter disregard for personal safety were an inspiration to his fellows and a marked credit to his unit.”

Six months later, Sergeant Prince earned another honour when his force entered southern France. On September 1, he scouted deep behind German lines where he located the gun sites and encampment area of an enemy reserve battalion. He walked 70 kilometres across mountainous terrain, going without food or sleep for 72 hours to report the information. After leading his brigade to the encampment, he joined the battle, which resulted in the capture of the entire German battalion, about 1000 men.

Prince was later summoned to Buckingham Palace, where King George VI decorated him with both the Military Medal and, on behalf of U.S. President Roosevelt, the Silver Star. Part of his citation said: “The keen sense of responsibility and devotion to duty displayed by Sergeant Prince is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the Allied Nations.”

Tommy Prince was one of only three Canadians awarded both the Silver Star and the Military Medal during World War II. He was honorably discharged on June 15, 1945, and returned to the Brokenhead Reserve where he worked in a pulpwood camp. He married Verna Sinclair, with whom he had five children.

In 1950 Prince returned to the Canadian Army to fight with the United Nations troops in the Korean War. Later, he commented, “As soon as I put on my uniform, I felt a better man.” Once again, Prince proved his skills and earned more military medals.

Sadly, adjusting to civilian life was not easy. Painful arthritis, racial discrimination, and alcoholism plagued him and ultimately resulted in estrangement from his family and the placement of his children into foster homes. Prince spent his final years in a Salvation Army hostel, selling off his medals to support himself. He died in 1977 at the age of 61 at Winnipeg’s Deer Lodge Centre and is buried at Brookside Cemetery. His medals eventually resurfaced and can be viewed at the Manitoba Museum. Tommy Prince did not live to see the many buildings, schools, roads, awards, or scholarships named in his honour. 

Private Thomas Prince