Prov 17:22

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

Friday, January 26, 2024

But I Played One on TV

I’m not a Mennonite, but I once played one on television.

You may recall my two-part series of last April when I wrote about my experience as an extra (along with friends Nettie and Sara) in Episode 4 of the new TV series, Maria and the Mennos. That show is now available to the world.

Maria and the Mennos premiered on YES-TV on January 3. You can live-stream the show for free by going HERE on Wednesdays at 9:30 PM Central and choosing the Ontario channel. Use your computer, though. My fellow extras and I have not succeeded on our phones, smart TVs, or other devices. The show will also be part of the Real to Reel Winnipeg Film Festival February 20-25. The whole season will be available on demand after all episodes have premiered.

Maria, a young Filipino-Canadian woman tries to maintain her own identity as she gets a crash course in pierogies, platz, and prairie living. Set and shot completely here in Manitoba with Manitoba cast and crew, the show stars Victoria Exconde as Maria, Kenton Dyck as her husband Nate, and Erna Peters and Chuck Fefchak as her parents-in-law, Sarah and Hank.


Although the house you’ll see (interior and exterior) is actually in Winnipeg, Maria and the Mennos takes place in Winkler. It’s here where Maria finds herself after moving in with her in-laws so that she and Nate can save for a place of their own. She’s a fun-loving, independent woman who likes to take risks and think outside the box. So let’s just say this new life in a conservative Mennonite household is going to take a little getting used to. Crokinole tournaments, Borscht cook-offs, and Karaoke Hymn Sing-offs all provide a steep learning curve for Maria as she tries to adjust to this new life with her old-fashioned family.


Given the low budget for this production, I suspected early on that Maria and the Mennos probably wasn’t going to become my all-time favorite show—an inkling confirmed when I finally succeeded in tuning in for Episode 2. My advice? You’ll enjoy the show more if you approach it, not as the next Kim’s Convenience, but the same way you would a community theatrical production where you want to cheer on your co-workers, neighbors, and relatives who have courageously taken to the stage. Apparently, it also really helps if you’re Mennonite and can identify with that brand of humor. 


Even so, I’ll probably watch all the episodes. I want to see Maria’s Filipino family, who will no doubt have their own brand of inside jokes. “Our” episode aired on January 24 and I spotted myself a couple of times. Ten hours of my life for five seconds of fame. Seems about right.


Meanwhile, maybe I’ll dig out my Mennonite Treasury of Recipes, copyright 1962, and make some tasty treat submitted by Mrs. Jake Wiebe of Steinbach or Mrs. Abe Klassen of Morden, like zwieback or obstkuchen, to snack on during future episodes. Hey, here’s an idea. Maybe the producers of Maria and the Mennos can do a spin-off cooking show called Maria and the Menus.


I’ll leave you with a Low-German phrase we can all appreciate. I found it posted on the internet by Benjamin Vogt, so don’t blame me if it’s not your version of the language: “Aules haft en Enj, Bloss ne Worscht nijch. Dee haft twee Enja.” 


Translation: “Everything has an end except a sausage. It has two ends.”


Friday, January 19, 2024

Why You Should Never Road-Trip with a Writer

If you’ve been reading my blog any length of time, you already know that road trips never go smoothly for me. It’s always something. When I do make my destination without incident, something’s sure to go wrong on the way home.

In the spirit of lemons-to-lemonade, I tend to use these incidents as “blog fodder” for at least three reasons. One, it’s tough to think up something new to write about every week. Two, I know how readers love to revel in my calamities. Three, there’s always a lesson to learn and share if one digs deep enough.

It’s my innocent fellow travelers (usually Hubby) who must suffer the consequences even though they never volunteered to have their every move documented and published for whichever readers are heartless enough to enjoy others’ misfortunes.

Our last trip was no exception, to our daughter’s Calgary home for Christmas. You need to know that I’m not a fan of driving, especially since my collision last spring. I’m generally willing to drive only if there’s no snow, rain, ice, or fog. And no darkness. No curves or hills. No one passing me. Oh, and no other vehicles on the road.

This is rather limiting.

But with Hubby fighting a cold, I was determined to drive as much as possible, both to give him a break and to lose some of my anxiety around driving. I took over the wheel as soon as the sun rose, at Brandon. Despite some fog, I managed to continue into Saskatchewan, becoming more relaxed as the fog lifted. I was gaining confidence and felt pretty proud of myself as we approached Swift Current around 3:30 p.m. I looked forward to stopping for a bathroom break and having Hubby take over the wheel for the remaining five hours.

Suddenly, we heard THWACK-THWACK-THWACK! 

In my rearview mirror, I saw a strip of rubber flapping around the rear wheel. I immediately thought of those “road alligators” sometimes left behind by semi-trucks. I pulled over and Hubby got out to inspect. Turned out I’d run over a tarp strap. The strap’s hook had punctured our tire, and the tire was quickly going flat.

Then we discovered our spare was impossible to remove from its rusted and corroded rack under the car. I tried calling CAA. No cell service.

Finally, a text went through. While we waited for a tow truck, Hubby began calling tire shops only to learn they were all closing (it was Saturday) and would not reopen until Wednesday, after Boxing Day.

I began to pray as I envisioned spending Christmas in a Swift Current hotel room. Either that, or our kids would need to make two ten-hour round trips to get us and take us back. (They later assured us they would have, although that could be because we were bringing a week’s worth of meals with us.)

When our tow truck driver arrived and I climbed into his cab, it was hard to ignore the whiff of alcohol or his constant use of a hand-held cell phone while driving. However, the guy had connections we did not. He knew the personal phone number of a repairman willing to come open his shop after hours even though he lived out of town. Yes, we needed to pay after-hour rates, but this is why God invented credit cards. Ninety minutes later, our tire was fixed and we were once more on the move—in the dark, with Hubby at the wheel.

You could say that sketchy tow truck guy saved our Christmas, all because of who he knew. Then again, it’s entirely possible the one I knew and prayed to had dispatched the best person for us. So much to consider. And to remember.

Like checking the accessibility of a spare tire before leaving home. Or not taking road-trips with a writer.


Friday, January 12, 2024

Read With Me

Do you keep track of the books you’ve read? How about the movies you watch? At my age, it’s getting harder to remember and I sure hate to waste my time only to realize half-way through that I’ve seen or read something before.

My 2023 record shows that I read 31 books last year. Of those, eight were research for the novel I’m currently writing. Three were nonfiction, falling into the category of self-help and all by the same author, Jennie Allen (Anything, Everything, and Nothing to Prove). One was a riveting memoir, Educated by Tara Westover. The remainder were fiction and mostly historical, my favorite both to read and write. I’m going to attempt to choose three favorites to tell you about, in no particular order.


The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill. I was thrilled to find this 486-page book at our local MCC thrift shop for only 85 cents. I was especially intrigued by the portion of this story that takes place near Shelbourne, Nova Scotia, where we have family friends.


Abducted as an 11-year-old child from her village in West Africa and forced to walk for months to the sea in a string of slaves, Aminata Diallo is sent to live as a slave in South Carolina. Years later, she forges her way to freedom, serving the British in the Revolutionary War and registering her name in the historic Book of Negroes. This book, an actual document, provides a short but immensely revealing record of freed loyalist slaves who requested permission to leave the United States for resettlement in Nova Scotia, only to find that the haven they sought was steeped in an oppression all its own. Tears welled when I read the reactions of people who had never before seen their name written down anywhere.


Aminata’s eventual return to Sierra Leone—passing ships carrying thousands of slaves bound for America—is an engrossing account of an obscure but important chapter in history that saw 1,200 former slaves embark on a harrowing back-to-Africa odyssey.


A Child for the Reich by Andie Newton. After her husband, Josef, joins the Czech resistance, Anna Dankova does everything possible to keep her daughter, Ema, safe. But when blonde haired, blue-eyed Ema is ripped from her arms in the local marketplace by nurses dedicated to Hitler’s cause, Anna is forced to go to new extremes to take back what the Nazis stole from her.


A former actress, Anna goes undercover as a devoted German subject eager to prove her worth to the Reich. But getting close to Ema is one thing. Convincing her that the Germans are lying when they claim Anna stole her from her true parents is another.


The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip by Sara Brunsvold. Talented and ambitious, cub reporter Aidyn Kelley is ready for a more serious assignment than the fluff pieces she’s been assigned. In her eagerness, she pushes too hard, earning herself the menial task of writing an obituary for an unremarkable woman who’s just entered hospice care.

But there’s more to Clara Kip than meets the eye. The spirited septuagenarian may be dying, but she’s not quite ready to cash it in yet. Never one to shy away from an assignment herself, she can see that God brought the young reporter into her life for a reason. And if it’s a story Aidyn Kelley wants, that’s just what Mrs. Kip will give her—but she’s going to have to work for it.


I highly recommend all three of these books and look forward to all the great ones I hope to read in 2024. What are you reading?



Friday, January 5, 2024

Ode to a Garbage Can

I apologize if this is too much information, but nearly every day of my adult life, I have hoisted one foot up onto my bathroom vanity in order to apply body lotion to that leg. Then I repeat with the other leg. In recent years, I have sometimes wondered, “How old will I be when I can no longer hike my foot up there?”

Then it happened.

It didn’t play out like expected. Hoisting my foot up onto the vanity is not the issue. It’s putting all my weight on the other ankle that suddenly became a problem. My ankle rebelled, like it’s been doing on the stairs off and on lately. Thankfully, I didn’t collapse. But I gained new insight, something along the lines of, “Oh. So THIS is how the cookie crumbles.” It reminds me of what they say about the elderly and broken hips, how most of the time it’s not that a person falls and breaks a hip. It’s that their hip breaks and they fall.

Now bear with me while I make an extremely self-deprecating comparison.

How many years would you expect to get out of a standard garbage can? As I carried ours from the curb back to the box where it hangs out between its weekly outings, it occurred to me that this olive-green, metal can is getting up there in years. I don’t know how many, exactly. But I know we bought it new when we lived in Texas, so probably around 1978.

Forty-five years later, we’re still using that can. Sure, the handle came off once and Hubby wired it back on. That wire, though somewhat rusted, has held. For several years when we lived in the country and burned our trash, the can got used instead to hold dog food, a slightly loftier purpose.

The can has a few dents and dings, a few spots without paint and yes, some rust. But it’s doing its job just fine. Never asks for glory or gratitude. Never complains about smells, cold, or heat. Never made a fuss that summer I threw out a raw turkey liver and later found the can crawling with maggots that had to be bleached out of its interior. (Speaking of too much information.)

Back to my weak ankle. Like our trash can, my body is aging and breaking down. Dings and dents. Lumps and bumps.

Unlike our trash can, my body lets me know when it’s not happy and I, in turn, pass that information along to hubby because I know how he appreciates my whining.

Don’t get me wrong. My body is immeasurably more valuable than my trash can. Irreplaceable, even, at least for now. And although that old can could easily outlive me, eventually it will be nothing but crumbs of rust blown around by the wind. By that time, I’ll have received a brand-new body that my Bible tells me will never deteriorate, weaken, or die (check out I Corinthians 15:35-58).

While I wait for that day, it wouldn’t hurt to become more like my trash can. How great would it be to adopt the mindset that I’m here to play my assigned part with endurance and consistency, without expecting glory or gratitude, without complaint, and without envying someone else’s more important role? While I’m at it, how much healthier would it be to choose contentment when my body can’t do everything it used to do or no longer looks as fine as it once did? That is, after all, the natural order of everything.

In the grand scheme, “She did her job just fine” might not be such a bad epitaph.

(Not my trash can. Ours, at 45 years, is actually in much better shape.)