Monthly Archives: September 2020

What I Liked About the Novel Once Removed

There was an almost perpetual smile on my face while I was reading Andrew Unger’s new book Once Removed from Turnstone Press. Andrew is the creator of the hugely popular news website The Daily Bonnet. His wry sense of humour which he uses to satirize all things Mennonite for his thousands of social media followers is clearly evident in his novel.  

Timothy Heppner the hapless hero of Once Removed is a ghostwriter in the town of Edenfeld. I chuckled as Timothy quoted a poem from a book by one of his clients, a Mrs Esau, who specializes in odes to borsht. “Borsht how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.” I laughed out loud when Timothy described the auto-corrected wording on a commemorative cairn in the nearby town of Neu-Kronsberg that turned the name of the community into Nude- Kronsberg.

The old and new meet in interesting ways in Once Removed.  A traditional pig butchering bee, a ritual I remember from my own childhood, is accompanied in the present day by bottles of light beer for the adults and face painting for the children. Mrs Friesen becomes an important ally for the novel’s main character. She is passionate about preserving the past but is also very much a modern Mennonite who drinks Malbec loves the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and has made a pilgrimage to Machu Picchu. 

I grew up in Steinbach and raised my own children there. Although the town in Once Removed is named Edenfeld, I found the novel was consistently prompting me to make Steinbach connections. I couldn’t stop myself from trying to figure out which Steinbach church might be the Faith Barn in the novel, what famous Steinbach author the character Elsie Dyck represented, and what former mayor of Steinbach one might compare to BLT Weins the civic leader of Edenfeld.  I suspect as people from other communities read the novel they will make similar connections with their own Mennonite hometowns.  

Artist Margruite Krahn has taken the tradition of Mennonite floor art and made it her own. I have been fortunate enough to see Margruite’s unique floor art when it was on exhibit at a gallery, and also in the home of one of her patrons.  I loved it that Once Removed had a piece of Margruite’s floor art on its cover and that in the book a beautiful example of floor art is discovered in the Hiebert house barn after a roll kuchen frying mishap. 

There are plenty of quirky characters in Once Removed.  Katie is our hero Timothy’s supportive wife. She has a part-time job at a gas station but is also a university student working on a thesis about gender performativity in Mennonite households. She keeps her nails nicely filed for easy typing. Randall is Timothy’s best friend. They were in a rock band together. Randall is on a quest to find his family roots in Russia and is in love with Brenda who works at the Credit Union where you have to recite Psalm 23 to get a loan. 

Once Removed author Andrew Unger

Although Once Removed is very entertaining and funny it also raises some important questions for readers.  Is it a good idea for religion and politics to be closely aligned? What is the right balance between preserving the past and moving forward progressively to the future? What things are truly important in life? How easily do we buy into stereotypes? Once Removed even prompted me to consider more carefully the kind of role food plays in our social interactions. 

So what did I like about Once Removed? It was humorous, cleverly juxtapositioned the old and new, reminded me of my hometown, had quirky characters, used interesting references to floor art, and made me think.  

Once Removed is available from McNally Robinson Booksellers.  

Other posts about Mennonite authors………….

Our Favorite David Bergen Book

Miriam Toews Has A Complicated Relationship With Her Home Town

All That Belongs by Dora Dueck

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A Golfer’s Prayer

Perhaps I should have done this post in April at the beginning of the golfing season to give perspective to the months ahead on the links. But I actually wrote the golfer’s prayer below nearly twenty years ago not at the beginning, but at the end of a golf season. The women in the league I was part of at the Steinbach Fly-In Golf Course were playing their final round of the year together and then having their wind-up dinner. They asked me to pray before we ate.

Of course, I realize that this year there may not be wind-up dinners to end the golf season because of physical distancing limits, so I’m posting this now more as a way for golfers out there to reflect on the golf season coming to an end, to think about what is really important about the game of golf, and perhaps to make adjustments to their perspective on the game before they take it up again next spring.

Dear God,

We are grateful for the chance we had today to play the game of golf.  

We are thankful for the exercise it provided for our bodies, for the sense of companionship we experienced with other golfers, and for the opportunity we had to enjoy the beauty of creation.

Open our minds and hearts to the lessons this game can teach us about life….. that we shouldn’t give up after a few bad holes because things will probably get better if we just keep trying….  that we need to be flexible, if the nine iron won’t do the trick, maybe the pitching wedge will…..  that the lowest handicaps aren’t necessarily earned by the players with the latest fashions in golfing attire or the most expensive set of clubs, but by those who work hard at their game with patience and persistence. 

Bless each person here whether she ended up a winner or loser when the scorecards were handed in today, for if we enjoyed the game we played together we really were all winners. We ask now for your blessing on this food.

Amen. 

Other posts……….

Inspiration on the Golf Course

Seeing Rory McIlroy Up Close and Personal

A Change of Prayer

 

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James Bond is From Winnipeg

On Memorial Boulevard in Winnipeg, you can see this statue of William Stephenson. 

Ian Fleming the author of the James Bond novels once said, “James Bond is a highly romanticized version of a true spy. The real thing is … William Stephenson.”  

Ian Fleming went to a training school for World War II spies operated by William Stephenson.

Fleming said he used about 15 different spies as models for his character James Bond, but William Stephenson was definitely one of them.  Apparently, Bond’s love of martinis, magnetic personality and skill at hand to hand combat were characteristics the literary hero inherited from William Stephenson. 

Stephenson was a Winnipeg native, born in the Point Douglas area. He taught math and science at the University of Manitoba and before he died he bequeathed $100,000 to the University of Winnipeg to fund scholarships for outstanding students.

Winnipeg has an official fan club for Stephenson called The Intrepid Society. As part of their agenda, they’ve not only erected the statue on Memorial Boulevard, they have also successfully lobbied to have a street in Winnipeg named after their hero and a statue of him installed in CIA headquarters in Washington. DC. A public library in Winnipeg also bears his name.  

As this plaque on his sculpture indicates, William’s code name was Intrepid when he worked for British intelligence in New York during World War II. A book about his life titled A Man Called Intrepid was a best seller and later was turned into a TV mini-series starring David Niven and Barbara Hershey. 

William Stephenson as a young man

Orphaned as a young child and then adopted, William was fascinated with Morse code as a teenager and was good at boxing.  He served as a pilot during World War I and was shot down and captured by the Germans. He managed to escape after three months and won several medals for bravery. Stephenson went on to study at Oxford University. 

A 1954 photo of Sir William Stephenson. (AP Photo).

William accomplished many significant and impressive things in the next couple of decades. After teaching at the University of Manitoba he moved to Britain where he invented the process for sending photographs over the wire electronically, purchased a radio manufacturing company that made him a millionaire before he was thirty and then diversified into film, coal and oil refining, the steel industry, television and aircraft production. He helped to found the British Broadcasting Corporation. (BBC).  

Thanks to his broad base of industrial contacts in Europe by as early as April 1936, William began voluntarily passing confidential information to Winston Churchill about how Adolf Hitler was building up his armed forces while hiding his military expenditures. 

 In 1940 Churchill asked him to become the head of British security in New York coordinating counter-espionage efforts together with the Americans. William hired hundreds of people to work for him, many of them Canadians and he paid for their salaries out of his own pocket. He set up a school in Whitby Ontario that trained more than 2000 covert operators including Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond books.  

The sculpture of William Stephenson on Memorial Boulevard was created by renowned Winnipeg sculptor Leo Mol and was unveiled by Princess Anne in 1999.  

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Oh Great Spirit

My friend Esther introduced me to the beautiful Great Spirit Prayer. She learned it from the children in an inner-city Winnipeg school where she was a student-teacher. It’s words have stayed with her over many decades.  I thought I’d share it this Sunday morning along with some photos I’ve taken that I thought might illustrate it well. 
Oh, Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the wind, whose breath gives life to all the world. 

Hear me; I need your strength and wisdom. 

Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset. 

Make my hands respect the things you have made and my ears sharp to hear your voice. 

Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people. 

Help me to remain calm and strong in the face of all that comes towards me. 

Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock. 

Help me seek pure thoughts and act with the intention of helping others. 

Help me find compassion without empathy overwhelming me. 

I seek strength, not to be greater than the other, but to fight my greatest enemy, Myself. 

Make me always ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes. 

So when life fades, as the fading sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame. 

Chief Yellow Lark – 1887- Lakota

Other posts ……………..

A Change of Prayer

Prayer- A Kick in the Pants

The Artist’s Prayer

The Journalist’s Prayer

 

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Indigenous Canadians and Mennonite Canadians

I was struck by a comment recently that echoes others I’ve frequently heard in the past, something like…….. “We Mennonites managed to survive the horrors of our history and flourish.  Why can’t Indigenous people do the same?”    

The gist of these comments is that the Mennonites who came to Canada during the 1920s from Ukraine had suffered through famine, war, tremendous economic loss, and family tragedy yet they managed to rise above all that and build a successful life for themselves in a new country. Why can’t Indigenous people do the same thing?

Ovide Mercredi at Thunderbird House – photo University of Manitoba website

Whenever I hear people talking in that vein, I remember a presentation I heard Ovide Mercredi give at Thunderbird House.  Mr Mercredi, a lawyer, and former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations was speaking at a program organized by Mennonite Church Manitoba and Mennonite Church Canada, as part of their mission to build mutually beneficial relationships with Canada’s Indigenous community. The theme of Mr Mercredi’s talk was how Mennonites and Canada’s Indigenous people are the same.

Mr Mercredi said both Mennonites and Canada’s Indigenous people know what it means to be oppressed. Mennonites left Ukraine where they had been for about 250 years and fled to Canada to be free from oppression. Mr Mercredi noted that unlike Mennonites, Canada’s Indigenous people couldn’t flee from oppression because it was happening to them right in the place where they had lived for more than 6000 years. 

My grandparents on their farmland west of the Red River which they acquired after immigrating to Canada from Ukraine. It was once the homeland of Indigenous people although I doubt my grandparents knew that at the time they began farming their land. 

Upon their arrival in Manitoba, the Mennonites were given two large reserves of land both east and west of the Red River, land which had been the traditional homeland of Indigenous people for over six hundred generations.  Manitoba’s Indigenous people were also given reserves of land by the government. Mennonites were given prime agricultural land, while Indigenous people were given mostly muskeg.

Children at the Brandon Residential School

Mr Mercredi explained that another thing his people and Mennonites have in common is strong religious beliefs and abiding faith in the Creator. The Canadian government allowed Mennonites to practice their faith freely and even granted them special dispensation to remain true to their religious belief in pacifism, exempting them from military service.  Indigenous people, on the other hand, had their spiritual practices outlawed by the Indian Act and the government tried to convert their children to Christianity by forcing them to attend residential schools.

Although Ovide Mercredi had said he was going to talk about how Mennonites and Canada’s Indigenous people were the same, he essentially talked about how vastly more privileged and entitled Mennonites have been. 

Mennonite Central Committee has a program called Indigenous Neighbours that provides opportunities for people to learn about Indigenous history and rights. It works towards building respectful partnerships with the Indigenous community and collaborates with Indigenous partners to ignite positive social change. 

Tomorrow is the day for the We Are All Treaty People celebration in Manitoba co-sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee.  You can read about what has happened at the celebration in the past.  This year the celebration has taken to the airwaves and will be broadcast on the University of Manitoba radio station at 3 pm. 

Other posts………

Doctrine of Discovery

Starvation- Kent Monkman Style

We Will Stand Up

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My COVID Test

I have been having mild headaches for quite some time now, so I thought I should see my doctor about them. I called to book an appointment with my physician and when I told the receptionist about my medical concern she said the doctor would phone me shortly.  My doctor called and said since I was having headaches, and headaches are one of the symptoms of COVID 19 before I could come into the clinic to see her I would need to get a COVID test and have the results sent to her. 

I was a little surprised but certainly understood why medical clinics needed to operate with an abundance of caution. I figured I’d better take care of the test right away. I didn’t have a car at my disposal so it made sense to walk to the testing site nearest me which was at Thunderbird House on Main Street. I thought I’d better head over right away since they closed at 4 pm and it was nearly noon when I got off the phone with my doctor.

People waiting for a COVID test- photo from the Toronto Star

I stood in line outside waiting for over three hours.  I had brought my book and a notebook for writing so I was able to occupy my time while I waited. I did feel very sorry however for the parents in line with young children who were trying to keep their youngsters entertained and calm and also away from all the litter that covered the grounds outside the testing site. I figured many of the parents must have taken off time from work to bring their children for the test since the site was only open from 9-4. 

I also felt very sorry for the elderly people in line, including a woman behind me who found standing in line for three hours challenging. At one point she was shaking so hard I suggested she return to her car, but she was determined to have her COVID test.

Photo by Edward Jenner on Pexels.com

The test itself, while uncomfortable was performed in minutes.  The staff was thorough and professional. I had my negative results in thirty-six hours. 

I know the government has promised to take steps to address the long lines at testing sites in the coming weeks, but my question is why steps weren’t initiated months ago to deal with what the government must have known would be a huge demand for testing. Couldn’t a large number of technicians have been trained to do tests and diagnose them over the last five months?

Why aren’t sites open in the evenings when people aren’t working? Why aren’t there more sites set up by now?  Surely when the government made the decision to open schools they should have known there would be increased COVID numbers and thus an increased demand for tests.  

If doctors are requiring COVID tests before they see patients with even one COVID symptom, how many people who can’t stand in lines for hours waiting for a test are just not going to see doctors?  That might have scary consequences for the health of Manitobans. 

I wish that everyone in Manitoba who wanted to get a COVID test was able to get one without having to wait in line or wait more than 24 hours for their results.  I realize I probably don’t understand all the work that has to happen behind the scenes to set up a COVID testing site. Perhaps I am naive in thinking this should be one of the province’s top budget priorities right now.  

The health of our economy depends on people feeling safe about going to work and sending their kids to school.  Fast, convenient, and easily accessible testing would go a long way towards giving people that much-needed sense of security. 

Other posts……….

Typhoid Mary

The Pull of the Stars

Slow Medicine

 

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My Talented Friends

The other day I found this photo of my talented friend Marge on Facebook with a quilt she had designed. Her niece had posted the photo of the quilt.  Marge has designed and stitched so many beautiful quilts.  

That started thinking about all the very talented friends I have. 

My friend John takes pictures of flowers. Look at one of his stunning photos.

My friend Audrey is amazing at food presentation. Look at one of the meal courses I have enjoyed at her house.

My friend Debbie creates unique and meaningful cards.  Look at one of the beautiful personalized birthday cards I’ve received from her.

My friend Glenys sets a picture-perfect table. Look at this beautiful table setting.

 My friend Ed makes things out of wood. Look at these amazing music stands he built.My friend and cousin Lynne is a wizard with the sewing machine. Look at the cool hats and scarves she made for us and for our grandson because she knew about his passion for dinosaurs. 

My friend Mitch writes stories.  Here he is reading one of his stories that is a favourite of mine. 

My friend Esther is an artist.  Look at one of her lovely sketches. My friend Christina is a very crafty person. 

Look at this unique notebook she designed and created. 

My friend and cousin Sharon makes mosaics out of broken china and glass.

Look at this detailed and breathtakingly beautiful piece of hers called Winter Sun From the Ski Trail

I have so many talented friends and family members.  They inspire me!

Other posts………

An Artist in the Family 

Prosetry

Getting Crafty for Christmas

When Did You Stop Drawing?

 

 

 

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Making Memories

It is still almost a month until my birthday, but my friends decided we would celebrate this past Saturday when we could still safely meet outdoors. And what a beautiful day we had! We were also celebrating my friend Esther’s birthday which is actually this week.
My friend Glenys hosted us in her gorgeous backyard. It the loveliest of places lined with trees filled with songbirds and there’s a pond that has soothing running water. You can choose to relax in any of the multiple arrangements of comfy sitting areas and it was easy to social distance and still have an intimate conversation.

My friends had bought me such thoughtful presents. Esther gave me a beautiful pen. She said she wanted me to use it to sign copies of my novel when it is published this coming spring. I am turning 67 so my friend Debbie had given me an embroidered bag with seven individually wrapped gifts inside- all things from the Steinbach area where the members of our friend group taught together at Elmdale School at one time. There were lots of food items from local establishments, a copy of The Carillon the local paper I work for as a columnist and a package of chocolate chip cookies Debbie had baked herself. My friend Glenys had prepared a large bag filled with fall delights for both birthday girls.  I received a tasteful autumn centrepiece for my table, some pumpkin cookies from a local bakery and a bag of flavoured coffee. 

There was a beautiful cake decorated with fall leaves. Don’t you just love the way the tree on the yard is reflected in the table glass? The cake was an Earl Grey lemon flavour.  Delightful!

My group of friends and I call ourselves the T-4s and when I don’t write about us for a while I get queries from my blog readers to do another story about one of our get-togethers.  Last winter we couldn’t meet for a long time because of pandemic restrictions and that may happen again this coming winter.  But if it does we will have a lovely September day of visiting and celebrating to remember until we are able to meet again. 

Other posts about the T-4s

 

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A Pandemic Summer

 Today is officially the last day of summer so I thought I’d do a round-up of our summer adventures. We went hiking in Lockport and visited the historic Kennedy house on River Road. We went on many walks in the St. Boniface Forest.

We had weekly golf dates together, often inviting another couple to join us. We golfed with Grace and Gerald, Brian and Merle, Rod and Lynne, Mark and Morgan, Bruno and Caroline, Les and Shannon, and Reg and Ingrid.

We went quadding and crocus hunting in the Sandilands with our friends Bill and Marie.

I signed a publishing contract for my novel.

Dave’s ball team won a provincial title.

I attended a wonderful outdoor concert in the backyard of a lovely home on the river.

Dave met regularly with his beer club. 

We went bird watching with our friends Fran and Marge. We went to an alternative Folk Festival on the farm of friends Ruth and Roger

We went hiking on Tunnel Island near Kenora with friends and family. We spent a few days at Gull Harbor Resort on Hecla Island with friends. We did tons of biking and discovered all kinds of interesting public art in the city. On a couple of our bike rides, friends came in from Steinbach to join us and were amazed at how many and varied bike paths Winnipeg offered. I visited my Dad several times a week. I went to check out one of my childhood homes and was surprised at what I discovered. I preached sermons in two different churches. We watched lots of beautiful sunsets while having a glass of wine on our rooftop patio in the evenings.

Besides that…………. we shared weekly outdoor meals with our son and his wife. I met with my book club and writers group regularly, usually by Zoom, but a couple of times out of doors.  I wrote several short stories and daily blog posts.

Dave golfed with three different groups each week and played pickleball a couple of times a week. He went birding and on long bike trips with other serious bikers at least once a week.  

We had many great meals with friends on restaurant patios or on our rooftop patio or in their backyards. We had a farewell family wiener roast for my brother and his partner who moved to Victoria. We visited friends with cottages at Hillside Beach, Louise Lake, Falcon Lake, and Jessica Lake. We both read lots of books and enjoyed Face Time conversations with our children and grandchildren in Saskatoon.  

This summer was very different than most others. I could have filled this blog post with all the things we couldn’t do this summer, all the things we would have liked to do or had planned to do but the pandemic prevented us from doing.  Instead, I decided to focus on the things we DID do.  It was a pretty good summer!

Other posts……….

A Different Kind of July

A Different Kind of Folk Festival 

Crocus Hunting in the Sandilands

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My Novel’s Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch is a thirty-second description that tries to hook someone’s interest. It provides a quick overview of a product, event, or person. An author uses an elevator pitch to interest editors and publishers in their book. The term ‘elevator pitch’  gets its name from the fact that a good pitch shouldn’t last longer than an elevator ride.  

As many of you know I have signed a contract to have my novel Lost on the Prairie published in the spring of 2021. Many people have asked me what my novel is about. Here are a couple of the elevator pitches I’ve used to try to sell my book to editors.

Hopefully, these elevator pitches will give you a pretty good idea of what my novel is about and will get you interested in reading it.

Pitch #1

Twelve-year-old Peter is immigrating to Saskatchewan from Kansas in 1907. He is travelling in a boxcar with his family’s horses. Peter’s car becomes uncoupled from the rest of the train on the Lake Traverse First Nation in South Dakota, leaving Peter lost and alone on the prairie. His quest to reunite with his family is filled with excitement and danger. In Lost on the Prairie Peter grows ever more resourceful, courageous, and self-reliant. His action-packed coming of age story gives a personal face to the wave of young immigrants who came seeking homes in western Canada at the turn of the century. Pitch #2

It is 1907 and twelve- year old Peter is on the adventure of a lifetime.  He will tangle with a copperhead snake, survive a Ferris wheel accident, almost drown, escape quicksand in a haunted forest, rescue livestock from a barn fire, meet the famous author Mark Twain and get trapped in Winnipeg’s Immigration Hall. Peter experiences all these things after the boxcar he is riding in uncouples from the rest of the train leaving him alone on the prairie. Will Peter ever be able to rejoin his brothers and his parents?  Lost on the Prairie is a fast-paced historical novel for middle graders, but it also tells a contemporary and timely story about an immigrant child suddenly separated from his family. 

Hope that twigs your interest and whets your appetite for my book. 

Other posts about my novel……….

Thank You Mystery Editor

A Published Novel. Can You Believe It?  

She’s Inspirational

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