Five Sisters

Over the last few weeks I’ve been doing blog posts about women whose stories are in the Bible, but may not be that well-known.  I’ve included artwork that illustrates those stories. Each story is one that was featured in presentations I did at a women’s retreat near the end of October.  Here is another one of those stories.

The Daughters of Zelophehad by Iris Wexler

In ancient times there lived a man named Zelophehad. Along with the other Israelites his family was on the long journey from Egypt to the land God had promised.  Zelophehad knew when they arrived in that longed for place he would inherit property along with the other sons of Israel. 

Zelophehad had five daughters Hoglah, Noah, Tirzah, Mahlah and Milcah. Because he had no sons his daughters helped him run the family business.  He owned vast herds of sheep and goats. He had many tents and servants. 

Unfortunately before any of his daughters married Zelophehad died unexpectedly.  Hoglah, Milcah, Noah, Tirzah and Mahlah were still in mourning when their uncles and male cousins appeared demanding that the five daughters turn over all their father’s livestock and tents to them. They told the young women that when the Israelites reached the promised land the property that had been set aside for their father would now be divided up amongst themselves.

The women were frightened and asked what was to become of them.  Their male relatives suggested they might have to split up and hire themselves out as servants to different families. It would be unfortunate but necessary because of a law established by their leader Moses that stated if a man died and he had no sons his nearest male relatives should inherit everything of his.

Hoglah, Milcah, Noah, Tirzah and Mahlah decided if indeed that was the law it was unfair. They would need to go and see Moses and ask him to change the law.  Their male relatives responded with scorn and sarcasm. Despite this the five sisters began the journey to where Moses held court for his people every day.

The Daughters of Zelophehad See Moses from a 1908 publication The Bible and Its Stories Told in One Thousand Pictures

When they arrived they asked to see him and although it was unprecedented for Moses to give women an audience he chose to hear the petition brought forward by the Daughters of Zelophehad.  He listened to their story and told them he would ask God for advice and get back to them. When he returned to the sisters he said after prayerful consideration he had decided……….that they were right.  The law was unfair.  He would change it and in the future if a man died and he had no sons his daughters could receive his inheritance.  The daughters of Zelophehad went home happy for the settled future they had secured for themselves and their descendants. 

This sculpture of the daughters of Zelophehad is by Judith Klausner

Although Moses had died by the time the children of Israel reached the Promised Land his successor Joshua honored the commitment Moses had made to Hoglah, Milcah, Mahlah, Tirzah and Noah and they did inherit the property that was to have been their father’s. 

The Daughters of Zelophehad by Glenda Thomas

The story of the daughters of Zelophehad is found in the Old Testament  (Numbers 27:1-11, Joshua 17:3-4). Each of the five daughters is named individually in these texts.

Illustration by Lisa Guinther from the book Bold Girls Speak

The account of the Daughters of Zelophehad has been referenced in many court cases as justification for women being accorded legal rights. 

The story of Mahlah, Hoglah, Noah, Tirzah and Milcah is one I love.  In 1999 I wrote a full length musical along with Craig Cassils about the story called the Daughters of Z . My Steinbach church Grace Mennonite performed it.  I have written a children’s picture book about the Daughters of Zelophehad and a longer version for older children both of which I am trying to get published.  One of the reasons I am so determined to have this story shared more widely is because although I attended Sunday School and church and Bible camp faithfully as a child I never heard it and yet I find it one of the most powerful stories in the Scriptures.

This 1897 drawing of Hoglah, Milcah, Tirzah, Noa and Mahlah by Charles Foster was in a book called Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us.  The Daughters of Zelophehad teach me how important it is to stand up for what I believe in, how doing that can change not only my future but the future of others. What am I doing now that will leave a legacy for the future for my children, my grandchildren, my church and community?

Atlanta artist, theologian and designer Lauren Wright Pittman has created this image of the Daughters of Zelophehad showing them as modern day reformers.

The Daughters of Zelophehad teach me that working together as a team with others helps us to achieve things beyond our wildest dreams. How can I facilitate that kind of team building in my family life, my work life, my church life and my community life?

I love this illustration of the Daughters of Zelophehad striding off to see Moses by San Diego artist Sheila Orysiek.

The Daughters of Zelophehad teach me to imagine the impossible is possible and how important it is to live in hope.  In our world with all its problems that kind of hope and wild dreaming is vital.

Other posts in this series…………

Mary’s Childhood

I Want to Be Like Anna

Meet Priscilla


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Filed under Art, Religion

It Depends How You Look At It

I spent last weekend in Toronto with my husband Dave.  I had planned the weekend as my 65th birthday celebration.  I would attend a children’s writers conference, we would go and see the musical Come From Away, we’d visit the art gallery, a book store, and have meals in some good restaurants. Looking back on our weekend I am reminded of the blog post I did about Daniel Kahneman who says we can choose how we will remember an experience. If I choose to remember the things that went wrong during our time in Toronto I will think of our holiday as a negative experience. If however I choose to remember the positive things we will have had a successful holiday. 

Not everything went right during our weekend in Toronto as my husband’s face demonstrates

So I will choose not to think about the fact that ………..

it was freezing cold and pouring rain when we arrived in Toronto. My husband’s navigating skills went a little awry so we took a wrong bus and ended up walking several kilometers with our luggage in the freezing conditions to our bed and breakfast. I was completely soaked and my fingers were icicles by the time we arrived. 

 I got the times wrong for the movie we wanted to see one afternoon and when we arrived at the theatre the movie was half over. 

We walked by an art gallery featuring the work of Robert Wiens who my husband knew as a teenager. Robert’s show had just closed the previous day. 

We missed an art show by a friend of my husbands’ by one day. 

The  private consultation I had arranged for with a children’s book editor about a manuscript of mine was disappointing. He told me while my book was  funny and well written, there simply wouldn’t be a big enough market for it because of its content.

So I will choose to remember the fact that……….

The conference I attended had one great speaker after another and I met so many interesting people who were all children’s writers. 

The musical Come From Away was simply marvelous and engaged my full attention from start to finish. 

There were lots of great things to see at the Art Gallery of Ontario

There were so many new and fascinating things to see at the Art Gallery of Ontario. 

We discovered a marvelous new little coffee shop called The Library.

My birthday weekend in Toronto was a success.  That’s how I will choose to remember it!


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Relentless Persistence!

jean mills

You can read more about Jean Mills on her website.

She started submitting novels to publishers in 1983 and had her first novel published by a mainstream publisher six months ago. Jean Mills the author of a novel for young adults called  Skating Over Thin Ice talked to us about her journey to become a published novelist at the recent Packaging Your Imagination Conference in Toronto.  She was part of a panel of newly published authors who told us how they broke into the very competitive world of books for children and teen audiences.

D006081_REDD_ThinIce_COVERAlthough Jean had self-published three of her young adult novels on her own and had two others published by an education company, Skating Over Thin Ice was the first to be accepted by a mainstream  publisher.  Publishers often told her, “Your work deserves to be published,” but they didn’t want to publish it. Jean never gave up.  She kept on doing all kinds of writing, building up her writing credentials and making contacts in the writing world to help her get her foot in the door. Jean said she almost quit many times but supportive friends kept her going. She told us to keep our dreams of being published always in our sights, to never stop writing, to attend professional events and workshops and to treat ourselves as professional writers even if we are unpublished. You can read the full story of Jean’s thirty-five year writing journey here. 

newly published authors at canscaip

Newly published authors talk about how they broke into the industry

S.K. Ali whose first novel Saints and Misfits was published by Simon and Shuster in 2017 decided in 2006 that she wanted to write a novel. For the next ten years she worked on her book about an American Muslim teenage girl coping with all kinds of real world issues. She even started a blog where she wrote posts in the voice of her main character so she could get to know her better. 

A school teacher with a family of her own S.K. went faithfully to a coffee shop every Wednesday after work to write.  She admitted sometimes she was so tired she fell asleep at the coffee shop but she always showed up. She treated writing her novel as a job that required her committment.

You can learn more about S.K. Ali on her website.

She had critique partners who helped her shape her novel Saints and Misfits and had young teens both Muslim and non-Muslim read her manuscript and give her feedback. She determined which large American companies she wanted to have publish her book and devoted more than a year to finding just the right agent to represent her doing research on each one, creating spreadsheets and figuring out the best way to approach each one.  She worked on her query letter for another year, making sure it had all the right elements, getting help from websites that specialize in query letters. She relentlessly researched the publishing world for teen novels looking at publishing trends and figuring out exactly when the right time might be for a manuscript like hers. 

Both these women persisted. They worked incredibly hard. The fact they both had books published isn’t because of a miracle.  It is because of their dedication, their belief in themselves and their relentless pursuit of their dreams. 

Do I have that kind of persistence?  I’m not sure. 

Other posts. ………

Why Do You Keep Doing This?

So Much Hard Work

Writers All Around

A Top Ten List From A Top Notch Speaker



Filed under Writing

Writers All Around

At the Packaging Your Imagination conference I attended in Toronto for children’s book writers and illustrators I met so many interesting people, all eager to talk about their writing projects.  It was just great! Inspired by the drawing of one of presenters Ruth Ohi and emboldened by several books I’ve read recently about how everyone can be an artist, I decided to do some quick sketches of ten of the writers I chatted with to give you an idea of the variety of folks I met.   

 A television weather reporter who has an idea for a non-fiction book explaining weather to children.  A young mother working on a book inspired by her kids about a loaf of pumpernickel bread and a pickle.  An accountant who has finished a book about friendship he wrote for his two sons. A woman who loves the north and has written a book about grizzly bears.  Her husband is a nature photographer who took the pictures for the book.  A former garment industry executive who has finished a book about a raccoon that lived on the streets of Toronto. An auntie who has attended the conference several times before and writes poems for her nieces and nephews. The mother of an employee at a major publishing house who has written a historical fiction novel that involves time travel. A woman who wishes she were Italian but isn’t and has published two books for children- one about hoarding and another about food intolerance. The owner of a Newfoundland dog who has published a book about how autistic children deal with sensory overload. 

The mother of two film producers who has written a middle grade novel about a girl who has to move to France where she doesn’t speak the language and doesn’t know anyone. 

And that’s just a sample of the intriguing writers  I met. Although the speakers at the conference were great – chatting with the interesting people who are also working on children’s books was just as fascinating. 

Other posts……..

The World is Full of Interesting People

A Fascinating Conversation in a Tiny Wine Shop in Lisbon

Our Guides in Asia

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Filed under Toronto, Writing

Come From Away- A Musical For Our Time

At a bar called The Batch discussing Come From Away after the show.

After we saw the musical Come From Away at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto my husband and I went to a nearby pub to talk about it.  We both loved the instrumentalists whose Celtic music accompanied the show. We thought the story telling was superb.  Sometimes in a musical all the singing detracts from the story.  In Come From Away it certainly does not.  For those of my readers who aren’t familiar with the story of Come From Away it is based on the true experiences of the residents of Gander Newfoundland and what happened when some 7000 airplane passengers were stranded in their town during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.  

The people of that small community literally opened their homes and hearts and public spaces to all these strangers from around the world feeding them, entertaining them, caring for them and building relationships with them. The musical shows us what a diverse group of people emerged from the 38 planes stranded in Gander.  There were folks from many different countries, who spoke many different languages, followed many different religions and were of different races.  There were people from different social classes and different income levels and different sexual orientations.  Somehow they all managed to become friends and care for one another and support each other in a time of crisis. 

We are at a point in history when the ruling political party in the United States wants to build a wall and shut their doors to people who are in a desperate situation, when racial discrimination and anti-Semitism seem to be rearing their ugly heads once again, when the American president issues edicts to ban Muslims from his country and stop transexual people from serving in the military.  At a time like that it is refreshing and inspiring to see a musical where differences between people are celebrated and seen as strengths, where doors are opened and not closed to those in need.

Waiting for the play to start at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto

There’s a scene near the end of a play when a woman from New York and a woman from Gander who have become friends are talking on the phone.  They like to share jokes.  The woman from Gander says…… “Want to hear a Newfie joke?”  The woman from New York familiar with the routine says,  “Knock, knock” and the woman from Newfoundland says “Come on in. The door’s open.”    

That’s the essence of the play.  All these strangers in need knocked on the door in Gander and the local people there said, “Come on in.”  Wouldn’t it be great if our world worked like that?

The musical Come From Away sells out wherever it is staged in Toronto, New York, Winnipeg and in 2019 its going to be in Dublin, London and Sydney. I bought our tickets four months ago and there were only a few seats still available  that long before the performance.

My husband and I decided a big reason why Come From Away has become so popular is because even though the events in the drama happened nearly two decades ago they provide a message of hope for our time and inspire kindness.  It portrays our world the way so many of us wish it could be. 

Other posts………

A Musical Mural in Toronto

Marc Chagall and Fiddler on the Roof

Jersey Boys

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Filed under Music, Theatre, Toronto

A 91 year Old Inspiration

Dark Forest by Dorothy Knowles

On a visit to our children’s home in Saskatoon at the beginning of November I went to the Remai Modern Art Gallery for the first time. What a beautiful place! My grandsons enjoyed the gallery especially the sunny spacious room at the Remai where children can do their own creative projects.  

Trees by Dorothy Knowles

Interestingly it was the work of a 91 year old artist that drew my six year old grandson’s most dedicated attention. I told him the names of more than a half a dozen pieces of art by Dorothy Knowles and the next day when I showed him photos of those artworks he remembered the names of every single one. When he and I were drawing together one afternoon he suggested I try and recreate one of Dorothy’s paintings he liked the best called Trees. 

Spruce River by Dorothy Knowles

My grandson isn’t the only person Dorothy has impressed with her beautiful canvases.  Her career  began in the early 1950s when she enrolled in an art workshop at Emma Lake. She has been painting ever since. Dorothy has been given the Order of Canada for her contributions. Her paintings are in galleries across North America and have been featured on Canadian postage stamps. 

The Waiting Hills by Dorothy Knowles

Her work reminds me of the Group of Seven and Emily Carr.  Like those artists Dorothy often painted outside.  In an article in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix Dorothy says that in her work she is trying to pour onto her canvas her love of the prairie landscape, her love for the trees, and the wonderful radiance of the prairie sky. Dorothy says she simply paints what she sees but as she has grown older her eyes have been drawn to different things than they might have been drawn to when she was younger. That was an interesting idea for me to think about. Dorothy has also done some work that is more abstract. 

Memories of Home by Dorothy Knowles

Dorothy has been painting for more than 70 years and she continues to paint and grow and change as an artist.  She is an inspiration. It’s good to know that the creative process can continue even when you are in your ninth decade.  It means I may still have a few decades of being creative ahead of me. 

Other posts……….

Being Relevant

Don’t Be Scared to be Creative


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Filed under Art, Retirement

A Top Ten List From A Top Notch Speaker

You can make a difference with your book!  I attended the Packaging Your Imagination conference for children’s writers and illustrators in Toronto on the weekend.  One of our inspirational keynote speakers was Ruth Ohi the illustrator of some 60 children’s books and the author of two dozen more.  She wanted us to know books can truly make a difference to children.  They can put kids in a happy comfortable place and make them understand that their ideas matter. Books can help children feel respected and good about themselves. 

Ruth shows us some of the stages in creating a page in one of her  books

Ruth also gave us plenty of great advice about writing and illustrating books for children.  I think however that her ideas could apply to anyone who is tackling a creative project. Here’s a top ten list I compiled from her talk. 

  1. Take chances
  2. You must care deeply about what you are doing
  3. When you are stalled in the creative process do something physical like going for a walk or cleaning your house. You get your best ideas when you aren’t thinking too hard. Sometimes it also helps to change up your venue. Ruth likes to leave home and go and write and draw in libraries. 
  4. You don’t have to be perfect and amazing all the time. 
  5. Get used to rejection. Even a successful author like Ruth gets tons of rejections. 
  6. Don’t throw anything out.  Little sketches, little bits of writing, notes you’ve made may prove valuable later on. 
  7. It helps to have a partner who is supportive.  Ruth’s husband is her rock, her touchstone and her inspiration. 
  8. You often have to do a pile of awful stuff before you get to the good stuff. 
  9. Don’t get overwhelmed by social media – find time to create. 
  10. Make sure you are having fun. That’s what it’s all about. 

Ruth was so full of energy and excitement and enthusiasm about being a writer and illustrator and the whole creative process that entails. She was the perfect person to kick off the conference. 

Other posts……… 

Helping Children Become Writers

Learning From Judy Blume

Why Do Pigs Bark and Other Questions



Filed under Childhood, Writing