Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Work of our Hearts

When our eyes see our hands doing the work of our hearts, the circle of creation is completed inside us, the doors of our souls fly open and love steps forth to heal everything in sight."
-- Michael Bridge

With COVID 19 hanging over the entire world like a depressing grey cloud, I am quite content to stay home in order to help ‘flatten the curve’, since I have a few tasks begging to be finished. There is bedding sitting on my sewing machine, stories on my computer and a new venture waiting for me in the attic. The new venture won first place. I decide to crochet a rug for our back door, where its rich hues and homemade warmth will welcome all who enter. I’ve crocheted doilies, afghans, potholders and other small items, but never a rug. The idea of working with a cumbersome rug draped over my lap, never appealed to me. Until now.

An ample amount of yarn, tucked away in the attic of my new home, kept calling me to do something with it: one never knows where the next nudge to create will originate. A loving mother had unraveled sweaters and meticulously sorted and stored this yarn, likely dreaming of creating lovely rugs. However, God saw fit to take her home. I didn’t know Sara well, having met her only once. From all accounts, she was a devoted wife, mother and grandmother – whose beautiful family I adopted by marrying Michael. I am humbled, that in God’s divine plan, I am now part of her family, blessed by the work of her capable hands and loving heart.

Kneeling beside barrels and boxes brimming with beautiful yarn, in a variety of hues, felt strange at first – like I was going through someone else’s belongings. As my eyes scanned the multi-coloured skeins, I wondered which ones Sara would have chosen to make a rug. I held up a green and a black ball towards the light. Would she have liked this combination? Or perhaps she would rather have gone for something bright, like blues and yellows? I finally settled on a mixture of red and white contrasted by shades of grey. I put my selections into two tuckers, dragged them downstairs and started mixing and winding a number of thin strands to form one thick one. A few hours later I had two large balls of yarn ready for my project. I was excited about trying this traditional Hutterite skill.

Crocheted rugs have graced Hutterite homes for many decades. Years ago they were simply made, following no particular pattern, using mostly leftover balls of yarn from knitting stockings and mittens. Re-purposing yarn from unraveling sweaters was also quite common. Today, complex patterns are used to create attractive works of art, which sometimes requires new yarn. My rug leans more towards simple, as the pattern consists only of interchanging four rounds of red, and then four rounds of grey. Still, grey and red will look striking in a rug. If nothing else, it will always serve as a reminder that it was created during the Corona Virus lock-down. Grey, for the dismal veil hanging over the whole world right now, I muse, as I start crocheting, admiring the contrasting hues. Red signifies strength, hope and determination to stay positive through this pandemic.

I’ve always found my crocheting hobby relaxing and gratifying. My mind meanders, as hook in hand, timeless treasures are turned out. It’s also an ideal time to dream, reflect, plan and listen to music, pondering messages in the songs.

As I make my way through another round, I hum along with Amos Raber, playing on my phone:
If you read the paper and turn on the news,
It doesn’t take long and you’ve got the blues…
There’s better times a-coming, but they ain’t here yet…

I wonder what’s in store for us with this vicious virus. It’s mind-boggling to think that this pandemic has most of the world in the same predicament.  I try to imagine what our Easter holy days will feel like. Here in my new colony, we’ve already postponed baptism and the same will be true for communion. I ponder the plagues God sent over the Egyptians, before freeing His chosen people, Joseph’s descendants, from bondage, since it’s basic to our annual communion service preparation teachings. This year, the mere mention of plagues will strike a raw chord, as one is leaving a devastating trail around the globe.

Numerous questions churn in my brain: Are we being careful enough? What colony would have the first corona case? Would we lose loved ones? What will students have lost, when school resumes? When will I see my family next? This was highlighted when I heard that my eighty-four year old mom, who doesn’t quite understand this social distancing, keeps asking, “Why does Linda no longer come to visit?”

Visions from yesteryear scroll through my mind when mom was still crocheting rugs. After every few rounds she was on the floor with her creation, patting it down, stretching it in all directions, then standing up and tramping it down, all to get it to lie flat. Sometimes she simply had to unravel it and start over.  Yanking days of work apart, she stated, “Ich erger mich la anmol. I’m only perturbed once.” I can relate to all of it, as this is my first rug and I have done a fair share of my own yanking. Watching me one evening, MichaeI reassuringly, but with a hint to mirth, whispers, “I promise not to tell anyone how often you’ve unraveled it.”

I started out with no pattern, just advice from my sister, Sonia, my aunt Susie and my own crochet experiences. Apparently that is not enough. Finally I got my hands on a pattern. However, I could make no sense of it, as the abbreviations were nothing like the ones in my crochet books. It may as well have been from China.

Then one day, our minister, Eddy Vetter and his wife, Judy Basel stopped by. I told her of my dilemma and she was able to explain the pattern to me since she’s used the same one many times. The symbols indicating the various stitches are still strange, but at least I understand them now and my rug is growing again. Best of all, I don’t have to spend so much time on the floor trying to tramp and stretch a bubbly rug into submission. It’s gratifying to see my once unruly rug lie beautifully flat.

Woven into my rug are a few heartfelt prayers: asking God to protect family and friends, to give wisdom, strength and courage in dealing with this pandemic, and patience while we stay home until this plague is contained. I pray for our leaders, health care workers, truckers and businesses… all of whom strive to keep us safe, and ensure needed supplies are available. I thank God for his protection, love and omnipotence during this anxious time, the friend who lent me a stack of German novels, family and friends who call and write, the cooks who prepare delicious meals for us to take home, for my family, and the lovely Easter lily with which my husband just surprised me.

I’m reminded of a drama we did years ago, Grandma Says. In it, Grandma is always knitting. All day long, while family and friends stop to share their worries and woes. Each time, Grandma, barely looking up, calmly offers advice, but keeps on knitting, which serves to frustrate her visitors. After each one leaves, Grandma prays for them. The message is simple, yet timeless: stay busy, stay calm, trust and pray.

Hopefully in the years ahead, I’ll become more like this wise Granny – something to work towards. Nonetheless, thanks to Sara’s stash of skeins, I’m hooked on my new hobby.

And I long for the day when everything will return to something approaching normal. Until then, my ‘work of the heart’ will help fill these COVID 19 isolation weeks. I’m grateful for this skill and my supply of resources to engage in this immensely therapeutic work.

Friday, 20 March 2020

"Hope Springs Eternal..."

...in the human breast; 
Man never is, but always to be blest. 
The soul, uneasy, and confined from home, 
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
 from An Essay on Man  Alexander Pope, English poet, 1732

 A few months ago no one knew the word corona; or if they did, they certainly never associated it with a global virus. I wondered about the word corona and did a little bit of Wikipedia research and learned: "A corona (meaning "crown" in Latin derived from Ancient Greek κορώνη (korōnè, "garland, wreath")) is an aura of plasma that surrounds the Sun and other stars. The Sun's corona extends millions of kilometers into outer space and is most easily seen during a total solar eclipse, but it is also observable with a coronagraph." 

My little mind finds no connection between this definition and the virus. Or maybe it does now. I read it again and four words jumped out at me: extends millions of kilometers. I guess it doesn't really matter - at least not in light of what is happening in our world today. Every time I hear another sad story related to this virus, I wonder how much longer this will continue.

Still, hope springs eternal, and on that note:

in separate pots
There's something very hopeful about going inside a greenhouse, when there's still snow on the ground and the cold has a bite to it. I always find greenhouses, burgeoning with life, therapeutic anyway. Now for the first time, I get to work in a house full of green hope.

Michael has been raising tomatoes as a hobby, for about twenty years and this year I get to help him. Oh the joy of having my hands in soil with the wind whistling a minus 20 tune! Little did I know, when I married Michael and moved to my new colony that there is so much to know about raising greenhouse tomatoes.

We planted the seeds in our home in early December, then moved the fragile little plants to the greenhouse about a month later. Shortly after that, they had to be transplanted into separate pots. Today our 76 plants are over six feet tall and are bearing lovely tomatoes. No ripe ones yet, though. Can't wait for that first fresh tomato sandwich!!


my new orchid
My favourite house plants are orchids. I've been growing orchids for a few years, and have had the joy of watching a few orchids bloom again. Their exquisite flowers never cease to amaze me. On the flip side, I've also seen a few of my orchids die, one just recently. It was especially sad, since it was a gift from Michael. I tried everything I know to keep it alive, but alas... So, I was delighted when Michael gave me another orchid for Valentine's Day.                                                                                           A few years ago, I heard about an orchid greenhouse in Selkirk, MB. I promptly put it on my bucket list to visit it one day. I recently learned that greenhouse shut down. However, I found another one in West St. Paul, MB -Everspring Orchids, and got the chance to visit it. It's small but has many gorgeous orchids. The white ones there, had the biggest blooms I'd ever seen on an orchid. 
Michael and I enjoyed walking around and admiring all the orchids and talking to one of the workers there, a very friendly and helpful lady. I was grateful when she gave me some advice on what to do with an ailing orchid. I have four orchids and the leaves on one of them turned limp. With her advice, my little green thumb and a dose of good luck, it'll hopefully survive and bloom again one day. Michael, sweetly offered to buy me another orchid for my collection. We opted for one that's not yet blooming, because the other ones were too expensive. It also helped that the lady assured us that "it should get a spike any time now". Hope springs eternal...

I couldn't leave Everspring without taking a few more orchids home on my phone: 


All nature is but art, unknown to thee;
All chance, direction, which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony, not understood;
All partial evil, universal good:
And, spite of pride, in erring reason's spite,
One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.
- Alexander Pope 

What gives you hope and inspiration in these turbulent times?

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Winds of Change...

 "Life isn't about waiting for the winds to change, it's learning to adjust your sails." Nikki Alderson

Outside my new office window, snowflakes are falling gently, creating a lovely Christmasy scene. A perfect backdrop for writing! And a quiet reminder of the new season of my life... 
I know, it's been way too long since I posted anything. And a lot has changed since then as well! I'm wondering, did anyone actually miss my posts? Likely not as much as I thought throughout the last few months. Amazing how we sometimes bother to flatter ourselves. Still, a few people asked what happened, that I'm not writing any more.

A farewell gift from the school
 I no longer work at our school.
After working in our school for thirty-two years, I thought I would miss it more than I do. The first few weeks in September felt strange, not having to go to school, but other than that, I quickly got used to it. Then a German in-service came, and that too felt weird that I was not going. Being busy with other things, like sewing and packing, helped fill the void, I suppose. Of course I missed working with the children, especially the little ones. I enjoyed teaching Kindergarten, grades 1, 2 and 3. But, I guess it was time to step aside and let others fill my role. I'm sure they're doing an admirable job. Although, at the start of the year, I didn't dream that any of this would happen.

I've moved to another colony.
That too was a lot easier to get used to than I imagined. All my life I lived at Elm River Colony, the roots were down pretty deep, I couldn't even imagine leaving. Ever. However, I quickly adjusted to the idea of being transplanted. It helped that I knew quite a few people at this new colony, which is about forty-five miles from the colony I used to live at. I've settled in quite well, thanks to everyone, especially my new family, for being so welcoming and helpful. Now I'm looking forward to experiencing Christmas at my new home.

By now, if you don't yet know the reason for all these changes, you're likely wondering what brought them on. First I want to tell you about a wedding I was at this fall. If you've read my book, Hutterite Diaries, you have a good idea what a Hutterite wedding looks like, as one chapter describes it.

It was a brisk morning when we made our way to the colony where the wedding was to take place. Two days before, we had our first look at Winter 2019-2020. We got quite a bit of wet, slushy snow, and a good old Manitoba storm. A lot of people were wondering if the wedding would be postponed. It was not, so donning warm clothes, we headed out. Luckily the roads and the sky were clear. We arrived at the colony in good time and were welcomed warmly. The ceremony and celebration were much like described in my book, but all day I felt like it was the best wedding I'd ever attended. I loved every aspect of this special day; the sweet welcome, the touching ceremony, the singing, the children's presentations, the decoration, the food and celebrating with family and friends. Best of all, all day, I was beside the kind, gentle and loving man I married.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the festivities at my own colony a week prior to the wedding. Both the shower and the farewell supper were beautiful. I couldn't have wished it any better and am so grateful for all the time and effort it took to prepare these two memorable days.

There are moments when I'm wondering if I'm living in a dream. But no, this is my new reality and I wouldn't change a thing about it! I love my new family and community and look forward to spending Christmas and the rest of my life with them!

The other day someone asked me, "So when are you writing your love story, Linda?"

Truth is, I've been writing it since the spring. I doubt it'll ever be on paper, though.

I know you'll be disappointed, but I won't be posting wedding pictures either. Some people don't appreciate having images of themselves on social media sights, and I respect that. Just the few snippets you see here.

Part of the wedding decoration at my new home.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

A Peaches and Cream Mother’s Day

In honour of Mother's Day, I'll post a chapter from Hutterite Diaries. This is still my most hilarious Mother's Day memory, ever. Actually, I can't remember any communal celebration that garnered so many laughs. 

Behind all your stories is always your mother's story.
Because hers is where yours begins.” – Mitch Albom

It was a lovely Mother’s Day, with the sun pouring down her golden blessings. Sunlight streamed through the windows of the communal kitchen where the people were gathered. As is customary on a Hutterite colony, we were anticipating a beautifully prepared Sunday dinner: noodle soup, roast duck stuffed with Sauerkraut, steamed carrots, salad, potatoes and fruit pizza for dessert.  

            Most adults were already seated, waiting for the few still getting their plates. The children, who had eaten earlier, were in the Essnschuel, children’s dining room, waiting for their cue to enter to sing some special Mother’s Day songs.  Some women, including my mother, were still at the smorg table in the kitchen area, filling their plates. On kitchen duty that week, I was there as well. 

“Is there salad dressing in the fridge?” Mom asked.

“Probably,” I answered without looking up from the mountain of dishes in front of me that I wanted to get cleaned and moved to their place on the shelf. 

She entered the walk-in refrigerator to look for it. Not finding it on the bottom shelves where it usually sat, she spotted a gallon-sized salad dressing container on the top shelf. That must be it, she thought to herself. But on a Hutterite colony, reusing containers is as normal as eating bread. Thus, the salad dressing container was being reused for cream, and its lid had been screwed on haphazardly. 

Reaching up and pulling it toward herself, she received a cool, creamy baptism. Nobody witnessed it. For a few minutes she stood rooted to the spot, as she tried to decide how to deal with this mess. But with no water or dishrags in sight she knew there was just one option left. I wonder if I could slip out without being detected.

           Meanwhile, I was still busy at the sink. My mind meandered back to another Mother’s Day – one I didn’t enjoy so much. I was cooking that time as well. The evening before, I had baked a cherry cake for each mom on the colony. My sister and I were doing this together and we really wanted this to be special cake. While she got the cake pans ready, I measured out the ingredients and mixed them together. Something didn’t seem quite right with the dough; it was rather thick. But we filled the pans anyway, not too bothered. Plus, there wasn’t anything that could be done at that point. After watching it in the oven, though, we knew there was something seriously wrong. The cakes didn’t rise properly and it took longer than usual to bake them. Lifting the pans out of the oven my heart was as heavy as the cake and visions of presenting the colony moms with special cake flew out the window. There was nothing fluffy and light about this cake. It was stiff and heavy; like a water-logged floral sponge.  

It was an extremely long night of tossing and turning and beating myself up, as I was the one who mixed it. I must have done something wrong when I measured the flour, or maybe the baking powder. Too many eggs? Endless possible mistakes swirled around inside my head, like the big mixer in the bakery. No amount of trying to figure out what went wrong changed the fact that on Mother’s Day, of all the days in the year, these dear ladies would get brick cake. 

Mercifully the night ended, but with the dawn came the realization that I’d have to face a bunch of moms who had been anticipating perfectly baked cherry cake. The mood at lunch was stilted, full of unnerving polite or sympathetic smiles, which did nothing for the disappointment and regret knotted in my stomach. “It doesn’t taste so bad, Linda.” One sweet mom offered generously; “Just a bit heavy.” Right, I’m pretty sure not even the birds would eat it, I thought glumly. I just wanted this day to end and forget that I even tried to make it cherry-cake special. 

I was pulled from my not-so-pleasant memories by movement at the walk-in refrigerator. Very cautiously Mom opened the door and peeked out to see who all was still in the kitchen, while hoping that most had gone to the dining room. Grateful that there were only a few women, she ventured out; peering over the top of her cream-splashed glasses, and was met with peals of laughter. In the dining room, meanwhile, everyone was quietly waiting for grace when the laughter erupted. Questioning eyes were drawn towards the kitchen doorway, wanting to know what the joke was.

Photo credit: Judy Walter
           Hurrying towards the sink, with cream cascading down her face, dripping from her black and white kerchief, and streaming down the front of her black church jacket, she resembled a mischievous cat. Struggling to keep from laughing, I managed to wipe most of it off, knowing this image would stay with me for many years. The crowning touch came when I heard, “Peaches and cream!” from a chuckling elderly lady, who added, “Happy Mother’s Day!"

         As for the special cake that never happened, its sting of disappointed lingered for a while, but in its wake I came away a bit wiser. I was reminded that there will most likely be more culinary calamities in my future. I chalked it up as a character-building moment and accepted the fact that everybody makes mistakes. Life tends to dish out disappointments that we have to deal with. They’re the perfect ingredients to help us learn and grow. As Mom would say, “Durch Schodn weat mir klueg, ober nit reich.” (Adversity makes us wise, but not rich.)