Thursday, 21 March 2019

Google+ Going Away

Good Morning!

If you're following my blog via Google+, you may want to follow another way. You'll find a few options on the sidebar. 
The Google Team has been saying this for a while now:

This is a reminder that on April 2, 2019 we’re shutting down consumer Google+ and will begin deleting content from consumer Google+ accounts. Photos and videos from Google+ in your Album Archive and your Google+ pages will also be deleted.
I'm sorry for this inconvenience, but there's nothing I can do about it.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Deciphering an 1873 Diary

 “Without words, without writing and without books there would be no history,

there could be no concept of humanity.”

 Hermann Hesse, German-born poet, novelist, and painter

It all started with a challenge at a German Teachers two-day Conference in autumn of 2017. On the back of the program was an excerpt of a letter penned in the late 1800’s. It was written in the old German script known as Sitterling and which has not been used in Germany for many years. The Hutterites were likely the last people to use it. Most of our sermons are in that script and some people have hand-written song books as well. Sitterling is still taught in many Hutterite colony schools today. Even though we don’t use it much in our school anymore, I can still read and write it, which proves to be useful when encountering copies of important historical books. 

At the conference one of the organizers put out the challenge: “Try to decipher the letter at the back of the program. You have to be able to tell me the main purpose of the letter and name some key people involved. There will be a book prize.”

I rose to the challenge, not so much because I wanted the book, (OK, fine. I wanted the book,  too:) but more because I love wrestling with language; and this one proved to be quite a head-scratcher. Thus, I spent every spare minute during breaks trying to make sense of the letter excerpt, as it had to be handed in by the end of the conference. Later in the day, I learned my friend, Dora was also working on it. When we both got stuck, we decided to collaborate, since we were doing this more for the fun, and wouldn’t be upset if we didn’t get the book. We handed in our paper and told the organizer we had worked on it as a team. He didn’t mind and told us we’d both get a book. Turns out, we were the only ones who completed the challenge. 

A month or so later I got an email from the same organizer:

Would you be interested in a Christmas break project? I recently got a scanned copy of Paul Tschetter’s diary and I would like to work with it, but it takes me too long to work with the script, plus his handwriting. It has a total of 56 pages. Believe it or not, it appears this has not yet been done!

Of course I agreed, even though I knew it would be a daunting task and would be more than a “Christmas break project”. Plus, I’d long been intrigued by the story where Paul and Lorenz Tschetter set off from Russia in search of a new home in America, for the Hutterites. Thus, I started transcribing as soon as I got my copy of the diary and found it interesting that it started with a thirteen stanza song, written by Paul Tschetter. I soon learned, Paul included a number of his songs about his travels in his journal. For example, when he got to Chicago he wrote a song about this city and the fire that destroyed most of it. His take on that disaster was, that God punished the wicked city. Most of these songs have never been published, therefore have never been sung by Hutterites, unlike so many of our forefather’s songs, which we have in a song book.

As I labour over this document, I’m reminded of the different skills it requires: First, I need to be able to read the old German Sitterling script. I quickly learned that it works best to study the handwriting carefully; get used to how the writer formed certain letters, and take note of the lack of punctuation. A good grasp of German and a substantial vocabulary is also essential. I have to be aware that German, like most languages, has changed over the years, and there are words that are no longer in use today. It also helps to know how sentence structure today differs from how it was centuries ago. Besides all that, I love the challenge of "language puzzles", a key ingredient for such an undertaking.

While I’m transcribing I wonder why Paul Tschetter rarely mentions his uncle Lorenz Tschetter who is traveling with him. Doesn’t he like his company? Or perhaps they don’t see eye to eye on some things. It just seems strange that the two traveling companions would not do more things together. Or maybe they are and Paul simply chose not to mention his uncle too much in his journal.

Paul Tschetter seems to be a fascinating character. His passion, determination and Anabaptist values come through on almost every page. These are especially obvious in his reflections and description of events. Paul spent a lot of time among the Mennonites who had settled in America earlier. Sometimes that included attending church services, and since Paul was a minister he sat in the front, and was occasionally asked to lead the service.

He clearly was not impressed that some Mennonite ministers had an evangelistic approach when delivering a sermon. One Sunday service in particular left him “bewildered” and he felt the urge to run from the church. “The minister marched back and forth behind the pulpit, as if he was insane.” Paul wrote. “He hammered on the pulpit with his fist and pointing to his heart he cried, ‘Herein must the Lord live.’ Sometimes he praised us to heaven and then again he damned us all into hell.” Having listened to Hutterite sermons my whole life, I can understand Paul’s bewilderment; our church services are still never conducted in such a dramatic fashion, instead, they’re read with a calm and strong assurance.

To glean some insight on this story, I read Paul Tschetter: The Story of a Hutterite Immigrant Leader, Pioneer, and Pastor by Rod Janzen. It’s a valuable resource, as it not only sheds light on this time in Hutterite history, but includes most of Paul’s diary. This is especially beneficial when I get to parts that are difficult to read due to fading ink. Reading this translated version of the diary, however, I wonder why some parts are missing? Did the translator not deem them important enough to include? 

Transcribing this diary is a long, slow process. Since I don’t know of an easier way to do this, I’m copying it by hand first. I have to use a magnifier, so the document has to lie flat on the table, and even so, I sometimes have to look very closely to decipher some words and phrases. So typing while doing all that would be even more cumbersome.

I’ve long been interested in this fascinating story, now I not only get to read the book, but also get a close look at Paul’s diary. When Paul, a former Lehrerleut member, embarked on this journey, his group was no longer living communally, but rather in villages like the Mennonites. However, they were still using the same language, the same sermons, and had many of the same beliefs as the communal Hutterite.

Paul’s diary and also the book mentioned earlier, are important documents for Hutterites; as far as I know, none of the communal Hutterites kept a journal of immigrating to America. Even though I knew Paul no longer lived communally when he wrote the diary, I could easily picture him as a communal Hutterite. He still dressed as one and had many of the same values; and his views often reminded me of an older Hutterite minister, even though he wasn’t that old. Additionally, all Hutterites left Russia within a few years, so they most likely had similar experiences.  

I'm always fascinated when I read a book and an old diary is part of the narrative. How about you, have you ever had a chance to read an old diary?

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

An I-Love-To-Read Activity Inspired by a Reader

I don't know why I didn't think of this sooner... Oh well, my book Hutterite Diaries is still here and schools are still purchasing it. And those who've had it from the beginning, I rust, still enjoy it. What inspired this is: A colony school in the United States who were just introduced to my book are planning to encourage their students to write to me.

With I-Love-To-Read Month coming up, I thought I would share this idea with other schools, for a number of reasons: First, it's always nice to have a variety of ideas to get students to write, and writing to an author can be a fun activity. Furthermore, nowadays, as we all know, not too many letters are handwritten anymore, so I also want to encourage that lost art. (That said, I have nothing against email, so I'll respond to those letters as well.) Second, it's always interesting to hear which stories children connect with or which ones are their favourite. Finally, I always love to hear what readers have to say about my stories, especially children.

On that note, just before Christmas I read one of the stories to our Grades 3-5 students. The story I read was Sisterly Love-Laced with Revenge. It's a childhood Christmas memory where my sister and I played a trick on our little brother, James. As it worked out, one of the students I read the story to, was James' eight year old son, Jakobi, who didn't appreciate that we tricked his dad all those years ago. So he planned his own revenge on me. Days before Christmas he told me repeatedly, that he has a gift for me under the tree and "I just want to see your face when you open it." (A line he got from the story.) He ended with, "You had no business playing a trick on my dad."

Christmas Eve, is when my family usually does a gift exchange. Jakobi announced that I had to open his gift first. And he wanted someone to take a picture. His 'revenge gift' was in an old green gift bag, stapled together at the top. It wasn't one of those pretty Christmas gift bags, but one that came from some store years ago, but it did have a handle. I opened it, peered in and laughed. I’m not sure that this was the face Jakobi was looking for. The items in the bag were clearly not from his home, and certainly never belonged to him. There was a cute little doll and two used lip chaps, all of it 'borrowed' from my sister, Sonia, without consulting her first. I guess he didn't have an attic where he could go to in search of the perfect prank present, like I did.

Still, I found it sweet and amusing that he decided to practice some payback, on behalf of his dad. It certainly never crossed my mind as I was writing the story, that my nephew will one day feel compelled to teach me a lesson.

As mentioned before, I thought writing a letter would be a fun I-Love-To-Read activity for next month. I’ve had classes write letters to authors in the past, and it caused a lot of excitement when the authors wrote back.

Should you wish to do this with your students, individually or as a class, as I promised the school in the United States, I will respond back with a handwritten letter on nice stationery.

Wishing you a fun-filled I-Love-To Read month!

Linda Maendel

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Starting the New Year with Oswald Chambers and Antoine de Saint-Exupery

 New Year Blessings!

I received two daily devotional books as Christmas gifts; one in German, one in English. Der Herr ist Nahe (The Lord is Near), has become somewhat of a tradition, where friends from Germany send me a new copy each year. (Thanks, Lutz and Ante!) Each day/page starts with a Bible verse, which is explained, or sometimes also highlighted with a short story, in the text that follows it. I also appreciate the clear and comfortable print. (I must be getting old - first thing I notice when I open a book these days, whether the print is tiny or just right. It's not that I can't read the small print at all, I can. But I certainly appreciate when my eyes don't get strained after the third page.) 

The other book is a well-known daily devotional by Oswald Chambers - My Utmost for His Highest. (Thanks, Kathy!) I tried one of those books a few years ago and found the language difficult to follow. I find this 'Updated Edition in Today's Language' a lot better. (I accept the fact that the print in this one is not 'just right'.) I'm grateful that I have two devotionals to start my days of right this year! And for the friends that gifted them!! 

Some time ago another German friend introduced me to the German version of a beautiful prayer by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the author of The Little Prince. I prefer the German version and have read it numerous times and always find it's simple message inspiring and quite fitting for the start of a new year. As part of my New Year's wish to you, I'll share the English one here so more people can read and understand it.  


The Art of Small Steps, a Prayer

Lord, I’m not praying for miracles and visions, 
I’m only asking for strength for my days. 
Teach me the art of small steps.
Make me clever and resourceful, so that I can find important 
discoveries and experiences among the diversity of days.
Help me use my time better. 
Present me with the sense to be able to judge 
whether something is important or not.
I pray for the power of discipline and moderation, 
not only to run throughout my life, 
but also to live my days reasonably, 
and observe unexpected pleasures and heights.
Save me from the naive belief that everything in life has to go smoothly. 
 Give me the sober recognition that difficulties, 
failures, fiascos, and setbacks are given to us by life itself 
to make us grow and mature.
Send me the right person at the right moment, 
who will have enough courage and love to utter the truth!
I know that many problems solve themselves, 
so please teach me patience.
You know how much we need friendship. 
Make me worthy of this nicest, hardest, riskiest, 
and most fragile gift of life.
Give me enough imagination to be able to share with someone 
a little bit of warmth, 
in the right place, at the right time, 
with words or with silence.
Spare me the fear of missing out on life.
Do not give me the things I desire, but the things I need.
Teach me the art of small steps!