Prov 17:22

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

Friday, September 24, 2021

Blind Date

The Sunday of Labor Day weekend, hubby and I took a little day trip. I could not recall the last time I’d been out of town, and we hadn’t done anything even remotely resembling “summer vacation.” The weather was perfect. We grabbed sandwiches at Subway and headed down the highway to Spruce Woods Provincial Park, which we hadn’t visited in over a decade.

Before starting out on what turned into a lovely hike, we stopped to use the washrooms. I’d never given much thought to how, when you pull open the door of a washroom—or any room you’ve never entered—you must “get your bearings” before doing anything else. Before I had a chance to do so, however, the door slammed shut behind me and I found myself in utter darkness. Had the bulbs burned out? Did someone blow a breaker? Why was there no window?

I thought I heard something. “Is anyone else in here?” I called.

No response.

I groped around, finding nothing but air. I managed to turn myself around, and when I finally felt the cool metal of the door, I realized how unobservant I am. Had the handle been on the right or left? Was it the kind you turn? Had I pulled or pushed? I hadn’t taken note of any of those things.

For the life of me, I could not find the handle! Maybe they’d installed one of those doors with a handle only on the outside and from the inside, you merely pushed. But then why didn’t it budge when I pushed? Had I dropped into some weird science fiction story where the door handle disappears and locks you in? I started banging on the door, knowing hubby had opted to wait on the bench outside with our water bottles. I called his name. I haven’t felt such a persistent “get me outta here” feeling since high school Algebra class.

About the same time hubby reached the door (wondering what on earth was wrong with me), I found the handle, turned it, and pulled. I should have pushed. Good grief.

When the door finally opened, sunlight flooded the room and a light switch appeared on the wall beside me—right where one might expect to find a light switch if one was expecting to need a light switch.

When I completed what I’d come for and turned to leave, I noticed a sign on the inside of the door: “To save energy, please turn off lights when you leave.” Wouldn’t a warning on the outside be a good idea? Frustrated and humiliated, I left the light on to spare the next person. While taking my turn on the bench with the water bottles, some other women came along. I suddenly wished I’d obeyed the sign, so I could determine whether I was the only one dopey enough to panic. Not until the next day did it dawn on me that my cell phone was in my backpack and would have provided a perfect flashlight. Duh.

The whole ordeal, though it took mere seconds, helped me realize how much I take my sight for granted. Last year I interviewed Gene McKenzie for a three-part series you may remember. He told me blindness can be exhausting because you must engage your brain in so many extra ways, not only utilizing your other senses but your observation skills and your memory, since your eyes can no longer tell you what’s what. Nothing like a teensy dose of personal experience to help me “see” what he meant.

That series about Gene, Lessons from a Blind Man, is in the running for a Word Guild Award. The winner will be announced tomorrow, September 25th, in a virtual ceremony from Toronto. If it wins, I’ll owe Gene even more gratitude.

For my vision, I owe my Creator gratitude every day of my life.


Friday, September 17, 2021

Something I Almost Never Do (and how it made me a little more street-smart)

I did something I almost never do.

Hubby was away overnight. Shortly before bedtime, I noticed through my living room window something glowing on the city’s sidewalk in front of our house. Had someone dropped a flashlight? Seemed unlikely.

Curiosity got the best of me. I stepped outside into the dark—something I almost never do. I discovered our lawn littered with garbage. Leaving the trash for morning, I picked up the glowing object. It turned out to be one of those solar lights, no doubt stolen from a neighbor's yard and broken from its peg. I carried it inside, still lit.

Only then did I realize what a perfect home invasion setup that could provide. Plant a glowing object within a homeowner’s view and wait. When said homeowner slips out to investigate, you slip inside and hide somewhere until they’ve gone to sleep.

The thought kept nagging me as I climbed into bed. It didn’t help that I’d recently heard of a home invasion only blocks away. I told myself to stop being paranoid and settled in with my book.

Then I began to hear weird noises. Thump. Clink.

That’s when it occurred to me. I’m not afraid of being alone in the dark. I’m afraid of NOT being alone in the dark!

What was going on? I rose to investigate. With a cordless phone in one hand (whether to call 911 or to throw at an intruder, I’m not sure), I went from room to room, turning on the lights and checking behind every door and curtain.

As I approached the kitchen, I heard the source of the ominous noises. I’d started the dishwasher before going to bed—something I almost never do.


As I continued to explore each room, I heard my cell phone ping from atop my office desk. Which is odd, because leaving the volume up is something I almost never do. By now it was eleven o’clock. Staying up that late, let alone checking my phone at that hour, is something I almost never do. Curiosity won again.

The notification alerted me to the start of a publicity campaign for my new book release, a “blog tour,” sort of the equivalent of the old-fashioned book tours authors used to do in person. Of course, I simply had to see how the campaign looked, and clicked on the link. Oh no! My “giveaway” had been set by default for entrants in the USA only. My Canadian friends and readers would not be impressed.

I sat at my laptop and emailed the tour organizer to ask whether they could change the giveaway to include Canada. I returned to bed and slept great. In the morning, an email from the tour organizer assured me she could expand the geography of the giveaway.


Do I believe the glowing solar light was left on my sidewalk so that I could more quickly circumvent a potential problem in my book world? Not for a minute. But I’m glad it worked out that way. Hopefully, I’ve learned a lesson in caution. 

As you know by now, sparing you my life lessons is something I almost never do. Whether you need them or not. Plus, if this writing gig doesn’t pan out, maybe with my new street smarts, I can take up home invasion to help make ends meet.

Better yet, I’ll work this trick into my next novel.

“I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:8)

Friday, September 10, 2021

Twenty years, ancient history?

Does it shock you to realize some of the voters in this month’s election weren’t even born when the events of September 11, 2001, took place? In the twenty years since, many books about that day have been written and read, documentaries made and watched. The ramifications continue—everything from heightened security at airports to which we’ve all grown accustomed, to the ongoing horrifying news out of the middle east—to which I hope we never grow accustomed.

Everyone over thirty remembers where they were. I was driving to my job at Portage (now Prairie) Alliance Church, my 14-year-old son—in grade nine at Westpark School—beside me.

The radio reported an airplane had crashed into a skyscraper in New York City. I envisioned a small private plane with engine trouble. How unfortunate.

Then they said a second plane had hit the same place and I thought, “What? That can’t be right. The odds are impossible. They must be mistaken.”

I forgot all about it.

Until an hour or two later when one of our pastors interrupted the meeting I was in. “Have you guys been hearing what’s going on?”

We spent the remainder of the day glued to the television. As more stories emerged, we wondered when it would stop. I had a son in the United States and a daughter in Switzerland. Would I ever see them again? Was this how the world would end?

I can’t help thinking people asked the same question during World War II, especially when the atomic bombs dropped.

They probably asked it during the Spanish Flu pandemic, too.

And during the “war to end all wars” before that.

And in March of 2020 when news reports made it seem we’d all be wiped out by a virus.

It’s a question asked repeatedly throughout history. Yet here we still are. Fighting the same battles. Wondering how bad things will get. How long can we hold out? How will it all end?

I recently finished a great book by Canadian novelist Genevieve Graham called Letters Over the Sea. Set in Toronto from 1933-46, the main character is a girl whose four brothers and a romantic interest are all fighting in the war. By the end, one brother has died, one has lost a leg, one suffers severe facial disfigurement and nervous ticks, and one exhibits what we’d now call severe PTSD. The romantic interest is missing, presumed dead.

The author describes in detail Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s announcement on VE day and the celebrations in the streets, pubs, and homes. People banging pots and pans. Church bells ringing. As I read the scene, tears ran down my cheeks, imagining what emotions would surface after five years of constant strain. Knowing that, though the war was over, its fallout would continue.

My tears had less to do with the book’s characters or even the real-life people they represented, and more to do with my own future. Imagine every worry, heartache, pain, and conflict gone for good on the day God makes that happen. Oh, the utter relief.

Author Sarah Young says, “The truth is, the world has been at war ever since Adam and Eve first sinned. With the threat of terrorism…people are feeling that no place is really safe. In one sense, this is true. However, for Christian believers, there is no place that is actually unsafe.”

Nothing can happen to you except what God allows. In Christ, we are always safe.

So much more than a ticker-tape parade is coming. No terrorist, no disease, no vaccine, no accident, no war holds the power to rob you of your glorious inheritance. “…he has given us new birth…into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you…” (I Peter 1:3-4)

Friday, September 3, 2021

Lazy Farmers Don't Grow Sugar Beets

Ask almost anyone where sugar comes from and they’ll probably tell you the sugar cane. Obviously, they are not wrong. In fact, not until the 19th century did alternate sources of sugar become known.

One of these was the humble sugar beet, or Beta vulgaris. If you’ve ever worked a physically taxing job, multiply that effort by fifty and you’ll begin to grasp the difficulty of getting a sugar beet from seed to processing plant.

If you were a child of a migrant worker during the first half of the 20th century, you might be all too familiar with the whole process as you were forced to work alongside the adults in your family. Though it got you out of school by the end of April, you’d feel giddy to return in October after harvest. Long days in a hot field, bending over the entire time whether planting, thinning, weeding, or harvesting, would make a day in the classroom feel like a piece of cake.

Cake for which the world needed its sugar.

Each multi-germ seed was a tiny pod containing five or six separate beet plants. Once planting by hand was complete, it was time to thin the plants. Workers, on hands and knees, had to carefully pull out all but one tiny seedling without damaging the one left to grow. Monogerm seeds were not developed for use until 1967 and became the biggest breakthrough for this challenging industry.

Harvesting proved no easier. Many a finger was lost to the sinister-looking sugar beet knife, which came to North America with German and Russian immigrants. Here in Manitoba, farmers from across the southern half of the province manually unloaded their sugar beets into train cars which transported them to the Manitoba Sugar refinery in Winnipeg.

During World War II when cane sugar became difficult to import and rationing went into effect, the sugar beet industry thrived despite the intensive labor required. Among the laborers were many Japanese Canadians, relocated from their homes along the west coast to farms on the prairies to fill the gap left by young men off fighting the war. The industry would not have survived without the help of First Nations laborers, German prisoners of war, and the interned Japanese.

Though sugar beet farming eventually grew easier with the advancement of machinery, seeds, and irrigation systems, demand diminished as more economic and efficient sources of sugar took over.

The characters in my new novel, Rose Among Thornes, are subjected to the rigors of sugar beet farming during WWII. Much of my research came from a book called Sugar Farmers of Manitoba by Heather Robertson, loaned to me by Kelly and Cheryl Ronald who farm east of Portage la Prairie. Kelly used to raise sugar beets like his father before him. Bill Ronald served as president of the Manitoba Beet Growers’ Association.

One aspect I love about being a writer of historical fiction is how, every time I learn more about life in the 1940’s, I’m more grateful for modern-day conveniences. These hot summer days, I feel privileged to sit on a comfy chair in my air-conditioned home, describing for you the challenges of backbreaking work—as though I’d experienced it myself. While I hope we’re all learning to consume less sugar, I hope we’re also learning to appreciate the effort and history behind all the many, easy treats we enjoy.

Happy Labor Day!