Seasons greetings to all my blog followers. Thanks so much for reading my posts and a special thanks to so many of you who have made comments, asked questions and responded in various ways this past year. I wish you and yours a safe holiday. May you find a measure of happiness and peace in whatever way you are able to celebrate. I am going to be taking a break from my blog till the New Year. See you in 2022.
Monthly Archives: December 2021
Last week a fellow Carillon columnist wrote about the people who had played key roles in the Biblical story. Not a single woman was mentioned by name. The columnist is a man so perhaps that explains his sole focus on male figures in the Bible. I on the other hand, identify more closely with the female characters. Here are some women I think are crucial to the narrative arc of the Old and New Testament.
Shiphrah and Puah were two midwives who prevented the total genocide of male Hebrew babies because they refused to follow the Egyptian Pharoah’s orders to kill the infants as soon as they were born. When the monarch challenged the two brave women, they came up with a brilliant excuse for not complying with his dictate.
The swift actions of three women saved the life of the leader Moses when he was a baby, his sister Miriam, his mother Jochebed and Bitiah an Egyptian princess. What would have happened without their heroism?
My favorite Old Testament female characters are the five sisters in Numbers 27. Hoglah, Milcah, Noah, Tirzah and Mahlah, go before Moses and ask him to let them inherit their father’s land after he dies. Because of the determination of Zelophehad’s daughters a precedent for the legal rights of women is established.
It was Rahab, a brave woman in Jericho, who hid the Hebrew spies on her rooftop and made sure they escaped so they could pass on valuable information to their leader Joshua. Rahab is considered so important she is named in the genealogy of Jesus found in the book of Matthew.
Later Rahab’s descendant a woman named Huldah is the prophetess King Josiah chooses to consult at a critical point in the history of Israel even though Jeremiah a more well-known male prophet is also available for advice.
We are about to celebrate the birth of Jesus and there are women crucial to that story. Elizabeth offers solace and refuge to her cousin Mary when she is pregnant. Mary becomes the kind of mother we would all aspire to be, offering her son such unconditional love and encouragement that Jesus’ last act in life is to ask his best friend to take care of his mom after he’s gone.
Mary and Joseph meet Anna when they take their newborn son to the temple. Anna is the woman in the Bible I look to as a role model now that I am a senior. She is over a hundred years old but is still deeply involved in her community. Robin Gallaher Branch, a Fulbright scholar, describes Anna as a tad eccentric but mobile, articulate, alert, savvy and unselfish.
The New Testament offers so many wonderful female role models. Priscilla who engaged Paul in lively theological discussions, shared her home with him and even saved his life. What would have happened without her? And then of course there is Phoebe, Dorcas, Susanna, Rhoda, Mary Magdalene, Lydia, Mary, Martha, Joanna and well, there isn’t room in this column to list all the vitally important women in the New Testament.
It is understandable why my fellow Carillon columnist didn’t name any of these women last week. Men were the primary focus during most of my years of religious education too. But I have made it a priority to find Biblical women’s stories and share them as widely and frequently as I can.
This week we celebrate the pivotal event in the scriptural accounts. Acknowledging the women that played an important role in the Biblical story is a way to ensure that its message offers a personal connection for everyone.
Yesterday Kathy Kyle a blogger I follow did a post called Welcome with a touching image of her husband greeting their daughter at the airport when she arrived home for the holidays. It reminded me of an illustration I used in a sermon I gave last year about staying positive during challenging times.
This is the excerpt from my sermon.
“One of my favourite film scenes of all time is the opening montage in the movie Love Actually. It takes place at the arrivals gate in an airport and shows passengers being greeted by loved ones, friends, and family as they get off the plane. The narrator says something like this….
Whenever I get gloomy about the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. The general opinion is that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that in an airport arrivals lounge love is everywhere.
Often, it’s not particularly dignified looking or even newsworthy, but it’s always there – children greeting grandparents, parents hugging kids, lovers exchanging kisses, old friends embracing.
When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the last phone calls the people on board made before they died, were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love is actually all around.
The writer of 1 Corinthians reminds us that these three things remain- faith hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.
So, when I am struggling to feel positive, I try to remember that our world is full of love, love that has blessed each one of us at different times and in different ways in our lives.“
You can watch the opening scene from Love Actually here.
Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.
Those are the opening lines in one of my favourite novels, Anne Tyler’s Back When We Were Grownups.
Rebecca, the main character is a widow with four grown children who starts wondering if she is really happy. She begins to think about what her life would have been like if she had made other choices both professionally and personally. What is her purpose now?
Like Rebecca, as our life circumstances change, we often stop to reflect on what our new purpose might be or how the choices we made in life have impacted where we’ve arrived.
There are two key pieces of advice I always take away from Back When We Were Grownups when I reread it.
1. Don’t waste your time with regrets constantly thinking about what might have been.
Rebecca puts it this way. “Your true life is the one you end up with, whatever it may be.”
2. Live as richly and as fully as you can in the here and now. Rebecca tells this story to make that point.
When I was eight my aunt gave me a beautiful tall white candle with white lace around it in a spiral. I thought it was so elegant I saved it in my drawer to use on some momentous occasion. One day four years later I came across it in my drawer and it was all yellow and warped and the lace had crumbled. I’d never seen it burning and now I never would. Since then I light my candles any chance I get. I light them by the dozens, all over, all year. Multitudes of candles!
This Christmas in particular, when we may be feeling regretful that we can’t celebrate the season in the way we’d hoped to, or with the people we’d hoped to, it might be good to remember Rebecca’s advice to light multitudes of candles while making the very best of what life has given us right now.
This is the eighth year I am writing Christmas memories for my children and grandchildren. Each Christmas I compose a little story for each of them about a Christmas in the past.
For our sons, I can go all the way back to their childhoods to find memories to write about. For our daughters-in-law, I return to the time since we first met them, in the case of our older son’s wife that is over two decades ago.
For the grandchildren, I write a memory of something that happened the previous Christmas when we were together. Of course last Christmas our family time together was virtual because of the pandemic, and this Christmas we’ve postponed our festive celebrations till February.
Up till now, I’ve been framing the little stories I write and displaying them at Christmas, but with the family growing and my tendency to want to include more photos and text than a small frame allows, I’m redoing all the old stories in a format suitable for a book for each family member that will be added to each year.
I am hoping when I’m no longer able to write these stories they will serve as a reminder of Christmas past for the successive generations of our family, and also as a reminder of the love and good times we shared with each other.
You have probably seen this meme that is going around on social media.
The meme is based on an old joke that goes something like this.
“You know what would have happened if there had been three wise WOMEN instead of three wise MEN, don’t you? The three wise WOMEN would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the Baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and would have given practical gifts.”
While I think that joke no doubt panders way too much to the stereotypical roles we have for men and women it does help us think about the way female Magi might have acted had they visited the Christ Child.
My husband Dave once wrote a play that the students at Elmdale School in Steinbach staged at Christmas using giant puppets they had made. Dave called his play They Never Made It to the Manger. It told the story of a wise woman named Gertrude who never got to Bethlehem because she was so busy helping other folks, she met on her way there. She ended up giving needy people she encountered on her journey all the gifts she had prepared for the Christ child.
In their beautiful picture book Three Wise Women Mary Hoffmann and Lynne Russell tell the story of three women, one a young girl who runs a bakery, another a mother raising a toddler and the third an elder who is a storyteller in her village. They all see a special star and feel compelled to follow it.
The three women meet on their journey and become friends but hesitate to enter the stable when they finally find it because three obviously very wealthy men are just exiting, and they have left such fine and expensive gifts for the child. The women go in somewhat cautiously but are soon made comfortable and welcome. Feeling accepted they are empowered to offer their gifts.
The young baker takes out a loaf of bread she has baked for the new family,
the storyteller relates a marvellous and hopeful tale to the child and his parents,
and the toddler’s mother holds her child close to the baby so the little one can bestow a loving kiss on Jesus.
The story ends with the writer reminding readers that Jesus shared bread with others when they needed it, spread hope through his stories and brought a gift of love to the world.
Although gender stereotyping should be avoided, I do think there is some value in taking another look at the story of Christmas through more feminine eyes and discovering how it might help us interpret the Biblical narrative in new ways.
We got our booster shots for COVID 19 on Thursday. It was quite a different experience than having our first two vaccinations because this time we didn’t need to go down to the Convention Centre and stand in line with hundreds of other people.
We just walked around the corner to the Exchange District Clinic and Pharmacy near our home. The medical office is located in a beautifully restored heritage building and the staff were efficient and friendly. We were on our way back home in no time. No fancy stickers were handed out and we didn’t take a selfie to share on social media like we had after our first two shots. This was getting pretty routine.
While we were in the clinic waiting room a man walked in who didn’t have an appointment. He was wondering if they might have an opening so he could have his first vaccination. The receptionist told him they were fully booked. He seemed quite anxious. “If anybody cancels or if you have any shots left at the end of the day could you call me? I work just down the street.” The receptionist took down his phone number and assured him they would let him know if an appointment opened up or there were some extra vaccines available.
I was very curious about what had prompted this person who up till now had not bothered to be vaccinated to suddenly seem in such a hurry to have his first shot. Had someone he knew come down with COVID and that frightened him? Was he planning a trip and would need to be vaccinated to travel? Had a family member or someone he loved finally convinced him to get the shot? Was the news about the rapid spread of the Omicron variant scaring him?
I hope the young man who walked into the clinic was able to get his first vaccination later on Thursday. Seeing him reminded me that hard as it is to change people’s minds about getting vaccinated there are still people making that decision for the first time and that boosted my optimism that we will eventually get out of this pandemic.
In October when I was at the Art Gallery of Victoria I saw this piece that I thought was odd.
The figurine is from the famous Delft China company in Holland. The piece is called a table amusement. It is titled Woman on Chamber Pot. You put two fingers through the holes to look like a woman’s legs. It is from the mid-1700s.
Woman on Chamber Pot made me think of other strange pieces of art I’ve seen in a variety of locations.
We saw this rather bizarre artwork in Mexico. A hand is holding a chicken’s foot. Is someone getting ready to eat it?
In 2017 a giant artwork called The Vessel by David Altmejd was on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. In a lecture about the piece, a curator reminded us that sometimes the purpose of art is to perplex and confuse. The Vessel with its spools of thread, cages of insects, molded hands, endless thread-like strings, and mythical-looking creatures certainly achieved that purpose.
We saw this bizarre telephone in Lisbon’s Museu Coleção Berardo.
This chair adorned with bison horns was at the Seven Oaks Museum in Winnipeg. It would not be my first choice of seating.
In a parking lot in St. George Utah, I actually got to be a part of a very unique artwork.
We stood and pondered this odd installation at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. My husband is an avid basketball fan but this display was not something either of us could easily interpret.
We were visiting friends in North Carolina and stopped for lunch at a restaurant that had this strange artwork dangling from the ceiling.
When we walked around the grounds outside the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City we saw these giant badminton art pieces. Each is 18 feet tall and weighs 2.5 tons.
We visited the Zoological Museum in Florence Italy. There you can see hundreds of anatomic waxes created by Clemente Susini in the 1600s to help medical students study the human body. They include 38 models showing how a baby develops in a mother’s uterus during each stage of pregnancy.
I often blog about the interesting pieces of art I’ve had the privilege to view on my visits to galleries around the world. Seeing Woman on Chamber Pot at the Art Gallery of Victoria reminded me that some of that art has not only been interesting but very, very strange.
Such good news arrived last week from my publisher Heritage House. Each year The Association of Book Publishers of British Columbia chooses a selection of children’s books to feature in a print catalog that is sent out to some 2,500 schools in their province.
Guess what? They’ve included Lost on the Prairie in the catalog along with a lovely review and a note about areas of the curriculum where teachers could use it as a teaching resource. I’d love to start visiting schools either virtually or in-person in the new year and being in this catalog will be an important step in getting the word out about my book to teachers and students.
Thanks, Heritage House for submitting my book.
And a marvelous teacher Lori Emilson from Ashern Manitoba has used my book and the resource guide I’ve included in order to create a novel study for her students! It’s amazing. You can check it out on Lori’s Instagram page here.
I realized the other day I had never seen how my novel looks on Kindle so I downloaded it and really like how it displays on the screen. I wonder how many people have read it in that format?
As you can see I have been having lots of fun fooling around with festive Bit Moji images about my book and posting them on social media. I hope people will consider buying my novel as Christmas gifts. It is available at McNally Robinson Booksellers, the Mennonite Heritage Village Museum Gift Shop in Steinbach, and Common Word Bookstore on the Canadian Mennonite University campus.
You can also purchase my book on Amazon for $14.95 and I’ve just discovered there is an American outlet called Books Unplugged that advertises on Amazon and for some reason, they are selling Lost on the Prairie for $41.80. Not sure why anyone would buy it for that price.
I am grateful to my publisher Heritage House who created this cool little video as a sales promotion. My novel is the first one they feature.
My friend Harriet Zaidman sent me this photo of my book displayed at McNally Robinson Booksellers on the same table as her novel Second Chances which debuted recently. I am happy to be in such good company. You may remember that Harriet hosted the launch of my novel and did such a great job. I just reviewed Harriet’s novel on Good Reads. You can read what I had to say here.
I received an e-mail yesterday from a set of grandparents who just finished reading Lost on the Prairie. Each year when they get together with their grandchildren and children for Christmas they do a family read-aloud of a novel and this year they have chosen Lost on the Prairie. They are putting copies into everyone’s stockings. Thanks so much!
In case you missed it the Fall Newsletter for Lost on the Prairie is on my website now.
And………… this week I got my first royalty check for Lost on the Prairie. Although I didn’t write the book for financial gain it still made me feel like a ‘real’ author to get paid for my work.
I always vow I am not going to write about my novel for at least a month and then interesting stuff happens and I just can’t help myself.
I will try and curb my enthusiasm till 2022.