Sunday, 24 January 2021

T'is the Season

 A few days ago a friend exclaimed, "I have such a craving for a fresh tomato, I think I'll buy myself some." But quickly added, "I know they don't come close to our homegrown ones." 

"Another few months and you'll have some from the greenhouse." I informed her. "We just transplanted 84 tomato plants yesterday. 

"I can't wait!" was her enthusiastic reply.

I was curious, so I did a little bit of research and came up with a slice of 'love apple' history:   

Tomatoes were first cultivated in 700 AD, and originate from wild plants in the Andes Mountains in South America. The Spanish introduced this plant to Europe in the 16th century. The Spanish and the Italians were the first Europeans to adopt it as a food.

Botanists at the time, considered the tomato plant poisonous, because it's related to the belladonna and nightshade. The Italians called tomatoes, golden apples, which suggests they may have been yellow back then. To the French they were pomme d'amour, love apples. 

This delicious fruit was brought to Canada and the US by the Europeans. Thomas Jefferson is said to have raised tomatoes in Monticello in 1781. Next time you feast on a tomato sandwich, you'll know a tad more about this fruit, which is used in a variety of ways around the world.

tomato seeds
  As mentioned in an earlier post, my husband, Michael and I raise greenhouse tomatoes. The season started during the second week of December. While everybody else was busy ordering Christmas presents online or doing curbside pickups, we sat at our kitchen table and planted tomatoes. Well, I suppose not everybody bothered with online shopping and it actually only took us part of an evening to plant one tray of tomatoes. Christmas shopping was just another example of the strange times we’re living in at the moment. And planting tomatoes was a nice reminder that some things are still the same, when we so long to go back to normal.

We start them at our house, since one tray doesn’t take up much room. Plus, we save on having to heat the greenhouse the first few weeks of the season. Although this year it was rather mild. I’m always amazed that a tiny tomato seed grows into a twenty foot vine (We measured one in the fall, when we took them down.) and yields an abundance of fruit. Yes, a tomato falls under fruit. I read a quote from Miles Kington recently: “Knowledge is knowing that tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it into a fruit salad.”

 T’was wonderful to watch our seedlings sprout and grow over the holidays! That is when I was inspired to write a blog post… start a gardening journal of sorts. (I know, took me long enough to finally sit down and do it.) One never knows where inspiration will sprout from.


A few days ago we moved our little plants to the greenhouse and transplanted them. Almost daily you can see changes as they grow. Yes, come March we’ll see the first fruit of the season. For now I can dream about thick slices of tomatoes between fresh slices of  homemade whole wheat bread.

Knowing how much people enjoy our fresh tomatoes, adds to the joy of growing tomatoes!


Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Joy to a Weary World

 Wispy white flakes fall softly, creating a pristine blanket on the ground outside my window. Pavarotti singing, Oh Holy Night, adds to the ambiance. I’m reminded that the timelessness of Christmas lies in God’s gift to mankind and celebrating this real meaning of the season, is what adds sparkle to the traditions and delight upon the first fall of snow. I fondly remember the previous Yuletide, and the wonder of celebrating Christmas with my new family, at the colony to which I had recently moved.

Amid the preparations and festivities of that Christmas, the first rumbles of a deadly virus in China reached Canada. That’s half a world away, I mused, so the grim news did not put a damper on this special time – I enjoyed every aspect, the preparations as much as the family and communal celebrations. Although there were melancholy moments when my mind meandered home, especially to my mom and her frugal ways. “Dos Papier schlogn mir nuch long nit weck!” she admonishes, when we want to discard the gift wrapping on Christmas Eve.

After getting married and moving, I was looking forward to experiencing Christmas in my new community. Back home, I had worked in the school, so I was especially anticipating the school Christmas concert. There was a good mix of German and English plays, music recitals and choir singing. I enjoyed the entire concert, but my favourite was the high school choir. It was evident how much work went into their pieces; every number was performed beautifully – I could close my eyes and envision angels singing, Can You Hear the Christmas Bells?

Another special event has the whole community participating in the manger scene on a frigid Heilig Abend, Christmas Eve. After meeting the Magi at the communal dining room, angels led us to a barn. On the way, we huddled around a fire to sing with the shepherds. Finally, we all gathered in a chilly barn, where Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus were surrounded by a “multitude of angels”. While everybody was settling down on straw bales, sheep and goats were bleating from their pens, adding to the realism already present. Soon we filled the little stable with numerous favourite German and English Christmas songs. The sweet, familiar blend of the whole community of young and old voices singing, Oh, Beautiful Star of Bethlehem brought tears of joy and gratitude.

Early in the New Year, when news of the raging virus in Europe reached us, it was still hard to fathom that it would leave such a devastating trail around the world. It seemed farfetched to think it would ever arrive on our shores. Nevertheless, in late January the virus arrived in Ontario and also in Quebec. Just two months later, it reached our province. Like most concerned citizens, we limited travel, stayed home, sterilized surfaces and hand-washed regularly. As we churned out thousands of masks, to supply two killing plants, I still hoped that the seclusion of living in a Hutterite community and “adhering to the fundamentals” would help keep us safe. That wish was not to be: August found us juggling garden work and sewing masks for ourselves, as some of us caught the virus.

Being in quarantine provided ample time to fret and wonder how long COVID would plague us. Thankfully, that too passed and everybody recovered. Our spirits were especially lifted when heaps of care packages from various businesses and individuals in neighbouring communities were delivered to our parcel drop-off trailer. Among the everyday household necessities like hygiene items and cleaners, there were particularly thoughtful ones like books and crafts for children!  Sometimes good Samaritans bring “peace and goodwill” when it is least expected! 

Now, as we stand on the threshold of another Christmas season, I’m trying to envision how different it might be. Given the increasing cases in Manitoba, we’ll likely be compelled to return to more restrictions. Although we’ll miss attending concerts, singing at communal meals and other get-togethers, I imagine the ordinary Christmas activities will be more meaningful this year. Gathering virtually to hear and reflect on the Christmas story will serve as a reminder to treasure the gift of worshiping in church with our fellow beleivers. With strictly limited visits in recent months, we’ll have a new appreciation for family celebrations. Having a friend drop in for coffee, cookies and face-to-face conversation will be as sweet as traditional dark fruit cake, fig bars and Pfeffernüsse. Each Christmas card sent and received, will be a poignant reminder of loved ones still with us. And the lovely strains of Der Friedensfürst, will resonate peace, love and joy like never before – a soothing balm our corona-weary hearts so desperately need. 

Seid fröhlich alle Völker
Und singet Freudenlieder,
Bringt Ehre und Anbetung, Ihm,
Dem Friedensfürsten dar.
Singt Hosianna, singt Hosianna,
Hosianna bringt dem Gotteslamm.

C. E. Leslie


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.