Saturday, 27 January 2018

The Joys of Wooden Toys

One of the toy tubs at our school holds an old wooden train, that a former teacher brought while she taught here. It's probably the oldest toy we have. It's amazing, though, how much love this train has been shown over the years. Each year, new children come to school and many of them, especially the boys, love to play with that train. Even though the children sometimes get rough with it, it's never once needed repairs. There's not even a comparison with many of the cheap plastic toys we can buy nowadays. Best of all, it needs no batteries, so no incessant irritating beeps and whistles. Just the natural and delightful sounds of imaginative kids at play.

Hence my excitement when someone offered to send us some wooden toys.

I know I've said this a number of times, but I'm still amazed how after reading Hutterite Diaries, people feel compelled to contact me. Some years ago a Mennonite family from Wisconsin contacted me. They were traveling in Manitoba and asked to come for a visit.We loved having them. Another time, a lady in Latvia who got an Amazon gift certificate from her son, and bought my book with it. I gladly answered her questions about our Hutterite way of life. Some even offer to do something nice for me or our community. A few years ago, a teacher from South Dakota invited me to come share my book at their conference. I couldn't make it that year, so she offered to sell Hutterite Diaries for me, if I'd send her some. I sent her a box, and she sold quite a few copies. Last June I was able to attend the conference myself and it was well worth the trip.

If you're one of those people who've read Hutterite Diaries, and took the time to let me know. Thank You! Which doesn't mean I'm not grateful to everybody who's read it. Indeed, I am; even if I never hear from you.

Recently a man from New Jersey emailed me:  "Good Morning Linda, I just finished reading your book and wanted to let you know that I thoroughly enjoyed every page!  I've had a strong admiration for the Hutterite culture for years and I hope one day to make a visit to a colony.  You're such wonderful people!"

We exchanged a few emails, then he asked if he could send our students some wooden toys, that he had built and which his children had outgrown. Needless to say, I was surprised by this unexpected offer, and grateful to get more wooden toys for our school, and told him so.
They almost didn't make it, when at some point during the trip, UPS temporarily lost track of the box, after they had handed it over to Canada Post. Main thing is, the box finally arrived, to the joy of our excited children. Yes, even the girls were excited. I did take some pictures. However, out of respect for the parents who don't want their children posted online, I can't add them here. You'll have to imagine the big smiles and squeals.

Our new wooden toys remind me of the ones my cousin, Alvin builds. But his are more ornamental, so sadly, nobody gets to play with them. Read more about those toys here.

Further to this story, the same guy who sent those toys, also offered to give another beautiful wooden gift to our community. For that story, you will have to wait for some future post.

In the meantime, if you have some old wooden toys tucked away somewhere, give yourselves and your children the joy of playing with them. They're tactile and natural, fun and durable, promote imaginative play and best of all, they have no batteries and no screens! What's not to love?

And do tell me your own wooden toys stories.


Monday, 15 January 2018

Pennies for Port-au-Prince

Photo Credit: Sonia Maendel

One thing about this Manitoba deep freeze we're in right now, we sometimes see gorgeous sun dogs. Right now the temperature sits at -26C, with the wind chill it's more like -46C. Yes, extremely cold! My hat is off to my sister, Sonia for venturing out to capture the sun dogs.  But, she's heading to Haiti tomorrow, so perhaps she's trying to soak up some cold to take along. Apparently it's around 30C there right now. She's going with a group of other Hutterites from various colonies. Baker Colony financially supports a number of schools in Haiti and about twice a year a group goes there to show support in other ways. In the past, they've helped clean and paint buildings or sew blankets for beds in an orphanage; which is another outreach program Hutterites are involved with.


This trip to Haiti reminds me of the earthquake in that country on January 12, 2010.

That year the world channeled rapt attention toward the devastation an earthquake wrought on Haiti. Hearts were moved to reach out in some way. For many it meant donating money. Others gave their time and effort to help with the clean-up and rebuilding. Some sewed clothes and bedding for the people who were left with nothing. Hutterites sewed quilts. This outpouring of love gave a hurting Haitian nation hope and began the healing process.

Our Grades 1-3 students were studying developing countries at the time, and had started collecting pennies in Oct. 2009. When they learned about the Port-au-Prince disaster they felt compelled to help. The youngest children probably couldn’t comprehend the magnitude of this disaster, or even grasp what an earthquake is. Nevertheless their hearts went out to these poor people. One of the children asked, “Maybe we could do something to help.”
 
Given that this was an excellent opportunity to teach philanthropy along with biblical truths, teacher, Elma Maendel encouraged a discussion. “Jesus taught us to help the poor,” one little girl stated.

“That’s true.” Elma, their teacher replied. They talked about different places they could donate their money to. With renewed resolve they canvassed for pennies from anyone who crossed their paths. 

“We’re collecting pennies for Haiti. Do you have any?” They requested cheerily. With the help of the older children they rolled and counted their pennies and were delighted to learn that they had $100.00 for Haiti.
                 
On a frigid day in February they bundled up and took their pennies to the bank to cash in for a hundred dollar bill. From there they went to the MCC thrift store. Even though their young minds couldn’t fully understand this desolation, their hearts knew what they needed to do. The joy this brought them was written all over their shining faces, as they handed over their offering.

It's heartwarming to see that Hutterites still support Haiti eight years later. I'm hoping to post pictures when my sister comes home in about ten days. Stay tuned!

               


 




Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Dreaming in the Past



We all dream; we do not understand our dreams, yet we act as if nothing strange goes on 
in our sleep minds, strange at least by comparison with the logical, purposeful 
doings of our minds when we are awake. 
Erich Fromm

Dream Catcher
Dreams are something all humans have in common. For many people dreams are premonitions. I knew a woman who regularly dreamed of seeing a deceased person. In the dream she never knew the person, but a few days later when she heard of someone who passed away, she could always connect that person to the dream in some way. For example, the body she saw was a big strong man, just like the man who just died. One time when three people passed away over a few days, she said, “Those are the three caskets I saw in my dream.” I can’t imagine waking regularly with morbid dreams lingering in my mind, and waiting for someone to die so I can let the dream go.

On the lighter side, but still peculiar: Years ago some people believed placing a piece of someone else' wedding cake under their pillow would prompt dreams of their future spouse. I know a lady who tried this and claimed she dreamed about some guy she knew. There was just one problem, the guy already had a wife,  so she refused to tell anybody who it was. That is, not until many years later. After Dream Guy was widowed, she actually married him. Would that fall under a strange or sweet dream? I'm not sure.

Some people claim one of the pieces they’d written were inspired by a dream. While with the Beatles, Paul McCartney woke up one morning with a lovely tune in his head. He sat down by a piano right away and started playing it. He later reflected. I liked the melody a lot, but because I'd dreamed it, I couldn't believe I'd written it. I thought, 'No, I've never written anything like this before.' But I had the tune, which was the most magic thing!" The tune McCartney was referring to was the Beatles 1965 hit, “Yesterday”. I wonder how many times he woke up looking for his next hit.

It must be nice to get something that’s been troubling you fixed with the help of a dream. In 1964, famous golfer, Jack Nicklaus credited a dream for saving his game: “Wednesday night I had a dream and it was about my golf swing. I was hitting them pretty good in the dream and all at once I realized I wasn’t holding the club the way I’ve actually been holding it lately.” At the time he was having trouble with holding his golf stick incorrectly, but was doing it perfectly in his sleep. So when he came to the course next morning he tried it the way he did it in his dream and it worked. This improved his golf swing considerably. 

Perhaps I’m not listening to my dreams closely enough, for none of my dreams have ever helped me fix anything. In biblical times people often received prophetic messages through dreams. Both Joseph and Pharaoh had dreams that came true. Pharaoh’s dream enabled him to prepare for the seven years of famine, which then paved the way for Joseph to be reunited with his family in Canaan, and save them from starvation. 

I once read an article by The Sleep Doctor, Michael J. Breus, in which he lists theories on what dreaming is. Not that I place a lot of stock in dreams, but I sometimes wonder about the things going on in my mind while I sleep. For that reason, one of Breus theories jumped out at me: ‘Dreaming is a form of consciousness that unites past, present and future in processing information from the first two, and preparing for the third.’ Since I don’t know of any modern day Joseph to help decipher my dreams, this explanation will have to do.

I find it very strange, in most of my dreams, I’m either in our old house, my grandparent’s old house, our old communal kitchen or in our old school. I don’t think I’ve ever dreamed about the new buildings that have long replaced the old ones. When I mentioned this to my sisters once, one of them responded with, “You’re living in the past.” Dreaming in the past, anyway. But why? Am I really processing information from the past and the present in preparation for the future? 

Strange, scary or sweet dreams - I'd love to hear your thoughts on what's going on in our minds while we sleep.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Christmas Comes Early

Christmas often brings unexpected surprises - some come wrapped in pretty paper, ribbons and bows. Others aren't wrapped at all and may come in some old reused cardboard box. No matter the shape, size, content, or even if the surprise was meant as a Christmas gift or not, they always bring smiles or even squeals of delight. Our super-lovely surprise this week came in two big cardboard boxes. 

With the wind howling a subzero song, I settled down for a hot cup of tea during recess. I was reading phone messages and saw one was from one of the dads on our colony:
"Someone gave me some German and English books and games. Would the Brennan school teachers be interested in them? They're for younger children."
Books always excite me, so I replied, "Sure. Thank You." I thought that they were probably books that his children no longer wanted. It's always nice to get books, even second-hand ones. And if they're German ones, that's even better. It's rare to be given German books and as everybody who's ever bought any knows, they're expensive in Canada, because they're all shipped here from Germany or some other German-speaking country. With all that playing in my mind, I was looking forward to seeing the books we were offered.

I didn't have to wait for long. The guy who sent the message brought them to the school. I asked him to leave them in my classroom. As luck would have it, I didn't have time to dig into the two boxes right away. However, just a glimpse at those open boxes told me these were not second-hand books! I was tempted to dismiss my seven Kindergartners early, just so I could unpack the books right away. Restraint prevailed, and during the next forty-five
minutes, while we were working on alphabet activities, my eyes kept drifting to the treasure chests of books waiting for me. It was like waiting to open the presents under the tree as a seven year old, with the afternoon and evening dragging on forever.

Finally it was time to dismiss my students and I was able to unpacked the treasures. I don't know what I'll get to unwrap on Christmas Eve, but I don't think it will be as exciting as this.
Naturally I unpacked the German books first. Never before have so many beautiful, brand new German books found their way into my classroom in one day! I didn't squeal, but I certainly felt like it! Not one of them is a duplicate of the books already in our library. All of them are gorgeous picture books. Some have a puzzle on each page, some are flap books. Others have wheels to turn to reveal pictures. Board books, hard and soft cover books. A wonderfully varied collection - fifty-eight in all!

The second box had English books, games and puzzles. Most of these items were new as well. Even though we have some of the lovely books in our library, we're very grateful for them. I know they will all be put to good use, perhaps as prizes or birthday gifts for students. No question, the games and puzzles will be enjoyed by our students for years to come, as well.

Yes, Christmas came early - just after the first of Advent, actually. Even though the guy who gave them to us didn't give them as an actual Christmas present, they were certainly received as such. I have all the books sitting on a table in my classroom, for another few days anyway. So you can imagine how hard it is to keep the students from taking them. But, of course I want to stamp them first, so as not to lose any of them. Hopefully, I'll be able to fit that in over the Christmas break.

In the meantime, I have a thank you letter to write.

  


Sunday, 26 November 2017

Watching our Amaryllis Grow...

and wondering if we'll have lovely flowers for Christmas.

Just like last year at this time, my Kindergarten class is watching an amaryllis grow. It's the very same plant I had last year, as I learned how to take care of it over the summer and it worked! You can read about its summer splendour here. Because it bloomed in August, I wasn't sure if we'll see any flowers around Christmas.

Last year I had three boys in Kindergarten, this year it's three boys again, but also four girls. A happy, lively and eager-to-learn bunch, who are keeping me on my toes. It seems none of them have ever seen an amaryllis, but perhaps seeing it in bloom will jog their memory. In any case, we're making some delightful green-and-growing memories now. And learning about taking care of plants at the same time.

This group also each got a tree or shrub to plant in spring; in preparation for our the fall when we were planning to start the school year with a tree unit. They helped their parents plant and take care of it, and remembered to take pictures to share with their peers. I was also planning on creating a book with their photos. Our Trees and Shrubs is complete and will be enjoyed for years to come, along with all the other tree unit books we've made over the years. I heard so many exciting tree stories the first few months of school! The wonder of watching things grow through the eyes of young children is delightful! Every time. Of course, there's wonder in every plant, but even more so seeing it through the eyes of a child.

But, back to our amaryllis. I can't wait to see those seven excited little faces tomorrow, because the stalk has grown quite a bit since we measured it last Thursday. They also enjoyed predicting what colour the flowers will be. Some will be happy to learn their guess was correct.




Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Yesteryear Treasures - pretty re-purposed paint pails

Things were different back then. Since money was often tight, people tended to make-do with what they had, instead of going out and buying it. It's almost like they lived by this New England proverb as a mantra: Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.

Do you know someone who took the time to re-purpose pails? Syrup pails, paint pails, any kind of pail, really. I had a grandma who couldn't see a perfectly good pail go to the nuisance ground, so she gave them a new life. She turned paint pails into practical works of art. Grandpa must have helped her cut off the top ridge. Finally grandma added her own creative touch: After applying a coat of paint to the outside of the pail and allowing it to dry, she added the pretty floral design. These pails were used as knitting 'baskets' or to store stuff in.

The pail featured here is one my Grandma Anna gave to my Grandma Susie. She used it as a knitting basket for many years. After she passed away, my aunt had it for a while. I'm not sure what she used it for, I'm guessing for some hobby like crocheting. Then it was passed on to my sister, Joanne, who uses it for knitting, just like grandma did.

There's something to be said about reusing things, instead of going out and buying them. I know, with places like Dollorama we all seem to think it's not necessary. But now and then we should borrow a page from our grandparents and let our creativity go wild with re-purposing something you are tempted to throw out.

When I see grandma's pretty pail, it reminds of a book we had in our school years ago: Syrup Pails and Gopher Tails: Memories of the One-Room School. During those one-room schooldays, children brought their lunches to school in syrup pails. Does syrup ever come in pails nowadays?

How about you, any syrup pail tales in your family? I'd love to hear them!

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Up in Flames

As we woke this morning the smell of burnt rubber still lingered in the air, and the charred remains of a Maple Leaf feed truck were a grim reminder of what jolted us out of our beds in the wee hours of the morning. But it's not like we needed any reminders.

It's not unusual for a truck to deliver pig feed during the night. Most of the time however, they unload and leave without incident. Last night was different. As the driver moved from one bin to the next, he had left his auger up. He promptly had a hydro line reminding him loud and clear that wasn't wise. Fortunately he was able to jump from the truck and came away unhurt. His truck started burning soon after. Since his phone was in the truck, he had to run to one of the homes for help. In short order many adults were at the site watching in helpless disbelieve while that big truck was engulfed in flames. There wasn't anything they could do right away since a power line was down.



Photo credit: Sonia Maendel












Clean Up !    Photo Credit Sonia Maendel