Monday, 24 October 2016

Hutterite Diaries On Sale

If you're looking to get a copy of my book, Hutterite Diaries, now's a good time - it's on sale right now at  That's right, you can start your Christmas shopping early.

They're also offering a volume discount. A great opportunity for organizations like School Divisions to buy a copy for all their schools. I know some schools have already done that, saying they "want their students to be able to read Hutterite-written stories". And because, "Hutterite Diaries is a great Social Studies resource". 

Please help me spread the word about this. Thank You!

Monday, 17 October 2016

Whatever Happened to Dinner? Melodie M. Davis

About the Book:

Part cookbook, part reflection on the changing role of dinner in our culture and part celebration of family and community—that's what you'll find in Whatever Happened to Dinner? by Melodie M. Davis. It's a book that invites people to eat together, even as it acknowledges the challenges of living in a culture that often pulls us apart.

"This book attempts to be an honest appraisal of family meal customs of the past while sending a clear invitation to reexamine our lifestyles of thrashing about madly in relentless activity. It is a road map—or at least ideas—for how to manage regular family mealtimes, along with simple quick recipes and more complicated dishes. It is an examination of the role food and mealtime play in the family and a reminder of how God gave us the good gift of food." Melodie M. Davis

My Thoughts: 

I was intrigued by this book's title, because, sadly, we hear so much of that sentiment nowadays. The cover suggests (at least that's how read it) that the dog is the only one who shows up and he's wondering what happened to dinner. Really clever! In today's fast paced world, family dinners seem to be a lost art, and not enough people care enough to do something about it. Melodie Davis has addressed the issue with this beautiful and well-thought out volume. Each chapter discusses some of the topics mentioned above, is woven together with a fitting Bible story, and ends with a few recipes.

There are so many aspects about this book that resonated with me: enjoying wholesome home-grown, and home-cooked food, comfort foods and memories, recycling and reusing, family and communal mealtimes, to name a few.

The main thread throughout is the benefits and blessings of families making time to sit round the dinner table and eating together, at least a few times a week. I love this quote from the book which sums it up rather nicely:
"Someone has pointed out that meals prepared and served to a group of people or family take on a certain ritual quality:food is prepared, the table is set, people are called to the table, grace or prayers are said, the food passed. Rituals like this bring people together in common, routine experiences that can be a calming balm after a busy day. Eating food together is a bonding experience that can ease tension, make conversation go easier, make strangers less self-conscious. Mealtimes may be one of the oldest rituals known to humans."
I was reminded of our own ritual of communal meals, and how here too, sadly enough, it's being taken for granted, and people often just don't seem to appreciate this 'gathering round the table' experience that is such an essential element of any Christian community. To quote from my own book, Hutterite Diaries: "Each time I sit here, I'm reminded that we're not just here for "bread alone" but rather because "all believers were together and had everything in common." (Acts 2:44) Even though every meal is a feast, it's about so much more than that. It's stopping what we're doing and 'breaking bread' with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Which sometimes means sharing in someone's joy or grief and celebrating the blessings of community -- one of them being, every meal is being prepared for me. It's a chance to pause and reflect on some of life's most beautiful gifts: faith, family, friends, fellowship and food.

My sincere thanks to Melodie M. Davis and Herald Press for providing me with a complimentary review copy of this beautiful book. I'd like to put it on the keeper shelf, but I'm leaning more towards sharing it with someone else as a Christmas gift.  

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Why Doesn't Our Church Have Windows Like This?

Last spring my nephew, Jakobi won first place in the Kindergarten category of a poetry festival. Each child
who entered, recited a poem for an adjudicator, and if chosen as top in his/her class was asked to come to perform the piece at the Gala Performance, and received a prize. This is always an exciting time for students, parents and teachers alike.

The Gala event was held at the Trinity United Church in Portage la Prairie; an older building with beautiful stained glass windows. After the performances the students all gathered on stage so that everybody who wanted to, could capture the moment on camera. I took a few... well OK, a lot of pictures myself. Most turned out well; however, there's this rather blurry one, where Jakobi's comical expression seems to say he's done with this photo op. Nevertheless he dutifully stayed until everybody was done. Jakobi's five-year old mind usually has a lot of questions and one of them that night was, "Why doesn't our church have windows like this?"

Indeed. Why doesn't our church have stained glass windows? The answer can probably be traced back to our forefather's time in Europe when they bravely stood up against many aspects of the Catholic church of the day. One of the things the Anabaptists were opposed to, was elaborate cathedrals. Living in an era where peasants had an extremely hard life, with barely enough to feed their families, they were appalled how money that could have helped the poor, was used to build expensive churches. For the peasants fancy churches signified the injustices that were part of their daily existence. Some of the twelve Articles put forth by the peasants during the 1524 German Peasant Revolt were points that today fall under human rights:
  • to be freed from serfdom
  • to be permitted to hunt, fish and cut wood as needed
  • fair rent
  • to be treated with respect 
  • to have the right to do their own work besides the work of the Lords

Today Hutterite churches are in some ways still simple. However, upholstered pews, surrounded by vaulted ceilings and arched windows, and illuminated with decorative light fixtures strongly suggest that we're leaning towards luxurious. I know some would argue that we have the right to enjoy big beautiful buildings, after all we worked for them. However, is it right to live lavishly, while millions of "the least of these" suffer injustices in many areas of the world? What do our "cathedrals" signify for people who don't know where their next meal will come from? 

Jakobi's question regarding stained glass windows also reminded me of one section in Hutterite Diaries. While I was working on my book, my editor suggested a frequently asked questions chapter. I wasn't overly excited about that, because I wasn't convinced that readers would find such a chapter interesting or helpful. Even though I knew that's a personal preference, and other people may feel entirely different, I still felt reluctant about adding such a section to my book. However, my editor strongly, but kindly kept pointing out that people really do see value in this part of a book. Furthermore, since Hutterite Diaries is part of a series, Herald Press wanted to stay consistent with the format used in the other books. Thus, I agreed and with the help of my editor, and some Hutterite friends, came up with questions, and then wrote answers for them. I've since changed my mind about FAQ. Through feedback from readers I've learned that they not only enjoyed this section, but learned from it as well.

I started out writing this post about the FAQ in Hutterite Diaries, but then it morphed into something I wasn't expecting. Like my mind was meandering in many different directions as I was writing. While revising the post I clearly heard Valerie, my Herald Press editor saying, "I think this chapter is trying to do too much." But I decided I'd leave it as is, because having a post take on a life of its own, so to speak, doesn't happen to me very often. My apologies if indeed it's just too confusing.

But back to the topic which inspired this post, FAQ: If you had been given the chance to ask me a question regarding Hutterites, to add to my book, what would you have asked? Please respond to this question, even if you're a Hutterite. Perhaps you can share questions that you have been asked by tourists or non-Hutterite friends and acquaintances. I'm hoping your questions will inspire future posts. In any case, I will answer your questions, either in the comments or, as I've said, in a future post.

Feel free to comment on anything I've said in this trying-to-do-too-much post, even that you agree with Valerie. (:

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Please Pass the Waffles

I've had people suggest I share recipes, and I've been thinking about it, and even had a recipe page at one point. I'm not going to pretend I love to cook and do so regularly, because everybody who knows me, knows that's not true. However, as weird as that may seem, I do love to browse through recipe books -- and get one of my sisters to try some delicious looking morsel I found. One of my favourite cook books is by my friend, Judy Walter: At Home in the Kitchen. By clicking on the link, you can visit her blog, where she hasn't posted anything recently, but there are tons of great recipes from her book which you'd probably enjoy.

In any case, perhaps this will be the first of more recipe sharing posts.

commercial waffle iron
No question, waffles have been served and enjoyed in Hutterite kitchens for many, many years. Mostly they're made in the family kitchens, although there may be some communities who still have a commercial waffle iron. Our communal kitchen used to have two many years ago, but when it stopped working, it was never replaced for some reason. But our waffle irons weren't as modern looking as the one in the picture. They made round waffles, too, but were big and heavy and took up a lot of counter space. Back then we had waffles served with syrup and sliced grilled bologna for supper regularly.

I wonder if there's still a colony who uses a waffle iron in their communal kitchen. Somehow I never hear of waffles being served in the communal kitchen anymore and I wonder why. If you're from a colony that still serves waffles in the 'big kitchen', I'd love to hear from you!

My family's first waffle iron came from a garage sale and although it took a long time to heat up, we still had many a waffle feast with it. These days we're using a newer model which we got as a gift. We mostly eat waffles when we have family supper. (Many colonies have days when the families all eat in their own home, as opposed to the daily routine of eating in the communal dining hall. For our colony, Sunday is when we have family breakfast and supper.) My sister whips up the batter from scratch, every time. We've tried a few recipes over the years, and I find the best recipes are the ones where the waffles are crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside. One of the recipes we've tried is from my friend Judy,'s cook book, mentioned above. She allowed me to post it here. Thanks, Judy!


2 eggs
2 cups buttermilk
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. vegetable oil

Heat waffle iron. In mixing bowl, beat eggs. Add remaining ingredients, beating until smooth.
 Pour batter from cup or pitcher onto centre of hot waffle iron. Bake about 5 minutes or until steaming stops. Remove carefully with fork.

Blueberry waffles
Sprinkle 2 tbsp blueberries over batter for each waffle as soon as it has been poured onto waffle iron.

Strawberry Waffles
Slice 1 quart strawberries. In chilled bowl, beat 1 cup whipping cream cream and 2 tbsp powdered sugar until stiff. Top baked waffles with strawberries and whipped cream.  

I'm sure many people have special waffle memories of their own, I'd be delighted to hear some. In the meantime, get out the waffle iron and enjoy this simple but scrumptious feast. If you try this recipe, please tell me how your waffles turned out.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Agriculture in a Hutterite Classroom

During the last school year we, here at Brennan School were part of a program called, Agriculture in the Classroom. It's an excellent opportunity for students to learn about the various aspects of farming. Even though we live on a farm, and see things first hand, almost on a daily basis, our students found it interesting to visit other farms and learn from them. Some of our older students got to plant and take care of plants in our greenhouse.

My sister Elma Maendel, the principal at our school, wrote an article about our experiences with this amazing program, which was recently published in the Manitoba Cooperator. You can read it here.

Monday, 19 September 2016

A Tapestry of Secrets - Sarah Loudin Thomas

About the Book:

What is the weight of a secret? And what happens when that burden becomes almost too much to bear?

For decades, Perla Phillips has hidden the truth of a decision that still fills her with guilt. But now, seeing her granddaughter, Ella, struggle in a similar way, she's prepared to finally open the past to her family, no matter the consequences. But when the opportunity is snatched from her in a most unexpected manner, will she have waited too long?

Spanning generations, this moving family drama weaves together the interlocking stories of two women as they navigate relationships, family, faith, and the choices that will shape their lives. Heartwarming and nostalgic, the story explores the courage to share the wounds of the past and celebrates the legacy a family passes from one generation to the next. 

My Review:

Even though I found this book a rather slow moving leisurely read, with very little high drama, there are certain elements about it that I thoroughly enjoyed: There's a quilt woven into the story -- I love stories that feature a quilt, perhaps because quilts have stories and symbolize beauty, warmth and they almost always have a lot of love stitched into them. And one quilt in this story certainly signifies a special bond between two endearing characters; Perla and her granddaughter, Ella, who creates beautiful quilts to sell at an art show. This hobby ties together nicely with the Appalachian setting, a small, close-knit community and also that Ella takes care of her grandma, who used to be a quilter as well.

As the title suggests, family secrets are a big part of the plot.The author does an admirable job keeping the intrigue going, enticing the reader to keep turning pages to learn how the story will unfold. The mixed emotions of a small congregation upon hearing that a land developer is looking to buy the land where their church is located, adds another interesting twist to the plot.

Apparently this book is part of a series, which I didn't realize while I was reading, as it's not mentioned anywhere on or in the book. I always like to know this before reading a book, so I can read the previous books, if I haven't yet.


Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Hutterite Help: A refugee sponsorship story - Mennonite Central Committee

A beautiful story of how a Manitoba Hutterite colony got involved with helping a refugee family from Lebanon, who now live in Wawanesa, MB. 

Paul and his wife, Wanda, are playing an integral part in this venture and are also part of the group of teachers, along with myself, who were taking summer classes this year. It was heartwarming to listen to his regular updates, as he shared his experiences with this family. I'm very grateful to see Hutterites get involved. As I've said in a previous post, with all we've been blessed with, we (Hutterites) should feel compelled to show some empathy and to share with those less fortunate -  the Syrian refugees fall in that category. It simply would not be right to not get involved in this crisis, especially since we have the means to do so. Hopefully this will inspire others to lend some assistance as well.

Thank you, Paul and Wanda and all at Green Acres Colony. 
You truly are an inspiration!