Wednesday, 23 May 2018

A Trip to Pennsylvania with a Cherry on Top

Photo courtesy of Suzanne Woods Fisher
Who doesn't have it on their bucket list to visit Amish country? It's been on mine for I don't know how long.

Recently, my friend and colleague, Dora Maendel told me that she's been invited to do a presentation at Young Centre for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, I was naturally excited for her.

The event is a two-day Peace Churches Conference, offering a selection of interesting topics, all pertaining to taking a peace stance: 

The peace churches, including the Mennonites, Amish, Brethren, and Hutterites, faced a challenge when the United States entered World War 1 in 1917. After the Church of the Brethren and the Mennonite Church issued separate statements advising their young men not to participate in the war, the U.S. government threatened retaliatory action. This conference offers an exploration of various experiences and responses from members of the peace churches during “the war to end all wars” and some of the consequences that followed.(Conference Brochure)

Together with Duane Stolzfus, the author of Pacifists in Chains, Dora will be presenting “On the Front Line of Conscience: An Account of Four Hutterites Imprisoned at Alcatraz.” The above mentioned title is a well-written book which tells that story in rich and fascinating detail.

Photo courtesy of Suzanne Woods Fisher
When Dora was telling me all this, we were walking the track at Stride Place in Portage la Prairie, where our students are taking swimming lessons. Amish scenes scrolled through my mind: passing an Amish family in their buggy, a marketplace with all kinds of beautiful crafts, rubbing shoulders with Amish people... I was dreaming before I even knew anything at all about that area, or realized that there might even be some Amish people in attendance. In any case, it sounded like an intriguing trip.

My mind returned to the track where Dora went on to explain that her sister and brother-in-law were going to travel with her, but because of a school event, they had to decline. "Would you like to come along, Linda?" Dora asked casually, like she was asking me if I'd like to go to Winnipeg with her. I don't know how I didn't come to a complete stop on the track and squeal. This was such an unexpected and incredible offer! Of course I wanted to go with her - have been wanting to go for years! I told her so eagerly, even though I knew I'd have to get my community's blessing first.

End of May will find me and Dora flying to Pennsylvania. Since we still have school, this will only be a quick three-day trip. Nonetheless, it's been exciting learning more about this conference and planning the trip together with Dora and the conference organizers. A few weeks ago I learned that Young Center conferences often has authors in attendance; and the organizers plan book signings into the schedule.

In one of my emails to Jeff Bach, Director of the Young Center, I mentioned my book, Hutterite Diaries. Upon learning that I'm an author, he enthusiastically offered to order copies from Herald Press and have me signing books at some point. Someone will be picking Dora and me up the Harrisburg airport in the afternoon of the first day of the conference. That evening is when I'll be signing books, right after the last session of the day. That's like a cherry on top of a waffle cone with New York Cherry Cheese Cake ice cream. Rich and Sweet and Fabulous!

Oh, and one more exciting note, I'll be meeting Valerie Weaver-Zercher, the Herald Press editor I worked with while I was working on Hutterite Diaries. Make that two cherries!

Now, how much can one pack into three days - besides attending the conference?

Friday, 4 May 2018

Ole, The Saga of a Norwegian Immigrant in America - Verlyn Hofer

Last spring, I reviewed another book, The Maverick Hutterite by Verlyn Hofer. It was also an historical account, but of the other side of his family. My sincere thanks to Verlyn and his grandson, Jordan for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book. 

About the Book:

Ole Ulberg was just eight years old when he boarded a sailing vessel, along with his family and nearly four hundred other emigrants, bound for the North American continent in 1868. Too poor to afford passage on a steamship, this was the only way the Ulberg family could manage to begin their quest from Norway to their promised land of America. Thus began the saga of Ole Ulberg. A young boy, stunted in growth, but remarkably quick-witted and hungry for adventure, Ole’s journey crosses oceans, continents, languages, cultures, and vast wildernesses of his times.

 In a quest for a better life in America, Ole and his family must endure many hardships. From a shipwreck in Ireland, a journey by train across a continent, and settling a homestead on the open prairie of Dakota Territory – the story is not one of ease and comfort. Ole’s story is certainly unique. But in a broader sense, he was representative of a tough breed people who were willing to work, suffer, and accept challenges in their quest to realize the promise of America for themselves and their families. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were not mere slogans, but rather ideals to be earned, lived, and passed down to future generations.

My Thoughts:

An excerpt from the Afterward sums up my thoughts about this book nicely:  It is a treasure for our family history, a chronicle of our local history, and an important contribution to the historical record of our nation’s development. There are many families that have a similar history and who would be able to draw comparisons with Ole’s story. There are most likely many who’ve heard only bits and pieces of their ancestor’s history about homesteading on the Prairies. This book can help shed some light on how things were back then. 

I couldn’t help admiring Ole for his drive, courage and commitment to his family, even though that sometimes meant he had to disagree with his set-in-his-ways father. This fact was highlighted, when they had their first telephone installed in their home. Ole made a special trip to town just to call home to see how it would work. Everybody was excited, except for Andrias, Ole’s dad, who lived with them. When they handed the phone to him and Ole’s voice greeted him, he yelled, “Beelzebub.” He was convinced that this new contraption was of the devil. I found this hilarious, and could relate, as there are similar stories of not excepting change, in my own family’s history.

Obviously, Verlyn Hofer had to do a lot of research for this book. It’s also enhanced by stories passed on to him by previous generations and a selection of family photos. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the history of homesteading on the wild Prairies. It paints vivid pictures of the struggles and endless hardships just to eke out a living for their large families. I can’t even imagine living in a one-room sod house with a number of children, especially thinking of the harsh winters when more time had to be spent indoors. That in itself must have been challenging and uncomfortable. You have to admire those early settlers for all they had to endure while raising large families and taming the wild lands of the pioneers. And people, like Verlyn, who took the time to document this remarkable history for future generations to enjoy and learn from.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Humboldt Broncos, Logan Boulet - Inspiring Thousands to Sign Up to Become a Donor

Logan's inspiring story shines a light on National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Week, which happens to be this week.

Of all the stories that came out of Humboldt since April the 6th,  Logan Boulet's touched me the most.

Logan Boulet, one of the Humboldt Broncos victims, signed up to be a donor just two weeks before the tragic accident; and made sure his family knew about his wish. His family honoured this wish and six people benefited.

This story has touched many deeply, so much so, that people signing up to become organ donors has spiked considerably in a number of provinces, including right here in Manitoba. You can read more on that here.

Last year found me on a wait list for fourteen months, so this story has special significance for me. Organ and tissue donation, is near and dear to my heart, as someone made it possible for me to receive a cornea, which has restored the vision in my right eye! (For more of my story, click here.)

My donor has a place in my heart, and always will. I don't think it's possible to be a recipient and forget about the donor. Many times I find myself thinking about that donor. I wonder what she/he was like... Home? Family?... It's true, I don't know anything about that person, but I know this: vital parts of  him/her live on and touch the recipients on a daily basis: My donor, like so many others, was a person with a kind and thoughtful heart, one who chose to give people on wait lists hope, improved vision and/or a new lease on life. I was one of those people. For that I will always be grateful.

If you have not signed up to become a donor, please give it some serious thought.

 "Without the organ donor, there is no story, no hope, no transplant. But when there is an organ donor, life springs from death, sorrow turns to hope and a terrible loss becomes a gift." - UNOS 


Thursday, 8 March 2018

Former Hutterite Mill in Slovakia to be turned into a Museum

Summer of 2013 was an exciting time; I spent three weeks in Europe! (You can read all about it by clicking on Europe Trip above.) We were a group of five, my sister, Elma, Kathy and her brother, Jack from Decker Colony, and their friend, Sam from Hutterville. First we did a Hutterite History tour through, Switzerland, Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. After that, Kathy and I stayed another ten days to take part in a course in Hanover, Germany and the others went home.

Part of our history tour included Sabbatisch, in Slovakia. We wanted to visit this place as it had been a Hutterite community in the late 1700's.

I clearly remember our excitement when we found these buildings that were part of a former community, with help from a lady we saw walking on the street. We couldn't understand each other, but then Jack mentioned Sobotište, (Sabbatisch in the Slovak langauge) and she knew what we were looking for. She obviously knew about this part of her town's history, so was able to point us in the right direction. Turned out we were very close to it.

I enjoyed walking around that area and looking at all the buildings, some of them seemingly abandoned, trying to imagine that this was once a Hutterite community. Unfortunately, all of the buildings were locked or had the windows boarded up, so we couldn't go inside, much as we wanted to. I felt like crawling through a window just to be able to explore the inside. Given how old these structures are, they still seemed fairly sturdy. I remember wondering why they're not being used for something. It felt strange to see a number of abandoned buildings right in the middle of this town. Was the Hutterite community located right in town back then?

The building shown in the picture above, was one where we were able to look through the pane-less windows and take pictures. Although most weren't as clear as I would have liked. This building was obviously a mill as we saw a large wheel in one room.

So you can imagine my excitement when I read an article online that said this ancient mill is going to be renovated and be made into a museum. Anybody who has had the privilege of doing a Hutterite History tour, will appreciate this venture. Not only is it fascinating to visit these places, you come away feeling grateful to all the people who have a keen interest in our history, and who set up and maintain these places. For they really do make history come alive.

This is another building that is part of Sabbatisch. It had a sign in the window which said: Anabaptist Community House. It too was locked and we couldn't really see much looking through the windows. This building has obviously been renovated in recent years. It also looked like it was being used for something, but we couldn't tell for what. It would have been great to have a tour guide, or at least someone who lives in the area and knows about these buildings and their history.

This is what the landscape surrounding Sabbatisch looks like. Can you picture a Hutterite colony here? Or three or four combines in the field? Had things gone differently, there could still be colonies in Slovakia and Austria today. On this tour I often wondered what that would be like.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Winter Art

Living in Manitoba, we're used to whatever winter throws at us: snow, sleet, blizzards, ice and extreme cold, -40 degrees C cold! This year we had a long stretch where the extreme cold conditions just didn't want to let up. There were even a few days when the schools were closed due to the weather. However, we do not have a lot of snow, at least not in our area. We're usually able to make a big snow pile for the children to play on. So far, we've not been able to do that.

So, we planned a field trip and took the students to Valley View Bible Camp, where they have a huge hill for sliding. (More on that in a later post.)

Still embracing winter, throughout the last few months our art teacher, Elma did some neat art work with her students. There are too many to post all pictures, so here are a few samples for you to enjoy:

Walking in the Snow



Winter Trees - Water Colour






I've numbered the pieces just for the purpose of identifying them, as the students didn't choose a title for them. I like all of the winter pictures posted on our hall bulletin board at the moment, but there's always one or two that stand out, or speak to me. Of all things winter, snow covered bare trees always show COLD the best. And my favorite piece is #6; five trees huddling together, trying to stay warm. 

What is your favourite? Feel free to share why you like that one best.

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!