Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The Maverick Hutterite – Verlyn Hofer

About the Book:

"Born in November of 1870, David was but three years old when his parents, along with other Hutterite brethren, began making final preparations for their journey to a new land. He was too young to be concerned about the religious and political implications of this great exodus, but most certainly his entire life would be greatly influenced by this momentous decision to immigrate to America." David Hofer was born into the Hutterite Church and communal way of life in Russian Ukraine at a very unique time in this little-understood Christian community's history. After nearly four hundred years of fleeing across Europe in search of a homeland in which to practice their faith free from persecution, the Hutterites made the momentous decision to flee Ukraine and set sail for the North American continent in 1874. The very first Hutterite Colony in North America was established near Yankton, South Dakota, on the banks of the Missouri River in 1874. This colony, called Bon Homme, is where young David Hofer would observe his fourth birthday soon after its founding. However, by seventeen years of age, David would make a decision that would change his life forever. Rather than join his family in their move from Bonne Homme colony to Milltown colony, he would strike out on his own and break away from the Hutterite way of life. This is his journey.

My Thoughts:

Enhanced by a collection of family photos, this book begins with a condensed, but helpful overview of the history of the Hutterites. After approximately hundred years in Russia, the Hutterites again looked for a new home, this time crossing the ocean. David Hofer’s journey started in the Ukrainian frontier. When he was a little boy he and his family got on a ship and headed for the United States. 

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this detailed and sprinkled with humour historical account, of one maverick Hutterite. It’s obvious that a lot of time and research went into chronicling this remarkable story. His venture of leaving family and home at the Bon Homme Hutterite colony in South Dakota wasn’t easy, but he persevered and over time was rewarded with a successful business. Even though David chose to leave his Hutterite colony, he, for the most part, stayed true to his Anabaptist beliefs. He maintained contact with his family and always respected the faith and communal way of life he grew up with. This is obvious, through visits to see his family, although rare and at times unsettling. When the Hutterites were being mistreated because of their pacifist practices, David was clearly hurting for his misunderstood people. 

While reading it struck me that with dialogue or more quotes this narrative would have been even more captivating, as this engages the reader, brings the characters to life and infuses drama into the story. I would have loved to hear the voices of David and Anna and others through conversation pieces that could have been woven into the story. I know this is not always easy with this type of book, but I saw a number of places where it would have worked beautifully. 

Nonetheless, I recommend this book to anyone interested in Hutterite history, or who wants to get a glimpse into the life of the Prairie People, families and individuals who chose to leave their communal way of life to live in mainstream society.

My sincere thanks to Verlyn Hofer for sending me a copy of The Maverick Hutterite, in exchange for an honest review. And to Jordan Hofer for putting me in touch with his grandfather, the author of this book. 

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Treasures from Yesteryear - Hinterbind-Tiechl (woolen headcovering)

Years ago Hutterites' winter wear did not include coats with hoods. Perhaps they were seen as "too worldly", I'm not sure. Since Hutterites settled in areas of North America which are subject to severely cold winters, they naturally had to find ways to keep their heads warm. Men wore fur caps, in Hutterisch known as Kopm. I still remember my dad wearing one of those - there was no way any kind of cold could penetrate this type of head gear. When I see photos of a Kopm, I think of Russia and wonder if that's where the Hutterites started wearing them.

Women, especially the grandmas kept their heads warm with a Hinterbind-Tiechl. Not quite as warm as the men's fur cap, I assume, but it did the trick for many years. Most likely women would not have spent a whole lot of time outside anyway; at least not as much as the men, who always walked to the barns and shops, which were often a considerable distance from their houses. These Hinterbind-Tiechlen tended to be quite fancy, with colourful embroidered borders with flowers and the name of the person who it belonged to in big, bold letters. The Hinterbind-Tiechl shown above belonged to my grandmother, and as you can see is over 70 years old.

This was an era when both men's and women's clothes were quite dark. Which makes me wonder about those fancy bright-coloured borders on the Hinterbind-Tiechl. I believe the Hinterbind-Tiechl says something about the Hutterite women back then: they were practical, knew that it's important to keep their head warm, and in their own unique way added flare and beauty to their clothes, despite the fact that bright, bold colours were frowned upon.

Today, when I see head coverings with fancy little borders, I'm reminded of the woolen headcovering of yesteryear: Hmmm, I muse, not quite as big and bold as yesteryear's, but floral-bordered head coverings are definitely making a comeback. 

Recently, my sister-in-law wished for one of those woolen wonders to wear in winter. My mom found a plain black one and gave it to her. I'm not sure if she can embroider, but I can certainly see how she would find joy in adding a bright yellow border to her new-old Hinterbind-Tiechl. 

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Quilts: Warmth, Love, Smiles

Memories are like a patchwork quilt, each section is sewn together, to be wrapped around us for comfort and warmth in the years to come. Author Unknown

Yes, with temperatures dipping to -30 degrees, I'm thinking quilts. It's one way to take the shivers out of our extremely cold winter days. I love quilts anyway - curling up under one, reading books with a quilt woven into the story and seeing patchwork quilts on display. It's true, quilts signify comfort, warmth and love; three things we all enjoy and thrive from. Every human being has the right to feel safe and loved.

Which reminds me of the refugees moving to Canada and other countries to begin a new and better life. What a blessed opportunity for them and for the people who are supporting them. I've heard some heartwarming stories about how much these people appreciate and enjoy their new home, and the friendships that have blossomed between refugees and their sponsors. They're making memories that will bring smiles and feelings of well-being for many years to come. By offering people from war torn countries a safe place to live, we're sharing with them comfort, warmth and love. It saddens my heart when I hear of political leaders closing the door to people in need. They somehow fail to remember that there's most likely an immigration story in their own family's history. Someone opened a door for their ancestors, a door which they're now slamming shut.

From Swatches to Quilt
We are a nation of immigrants, a quilt of many colors, and we've managed over more than two centuries to create a way of life that allows for a reasonable degree of upward mobility, that prizes individual liberty, promotes freedom of religion and genuinely values equal rights for all citizens. Jay Parini
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/jayparini743241.html?src=t_quilt
We are a nation of immigrants, a quilt of many colors, and we've managed over more than two centuries to create a way of life that allows for a reasonable degree of upward mobility, that prizes individual liberty, promotes freedom of religion and genuinely values equal rights for all citizens. Jay Parini
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/quilt.html
We are a nation of immigrants, a quilt of many colors, and we've managed over more than two centuries to create a way of life that allows for a reasonable degree of upward mobility, that prizes individual liberty, promotes freedom of religion and genuinely values equal rights for all citizens. Jay Parini
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/quilt.html

Another quilt story can be found in one of the chapters in my book, Hutterite Diaries. It's about lap quilts we make for Alzheimer patients each winter. Here's an excerpt:

Sewing lap quilts is an ideal project for Hutterites for a number of reasons. Hutterites are avid sewers; consequently, there are always lots of leftover pieces around that are “just too good to throw out.” What better way to use them than in quilts! Furthermore, we were in the middle of winter, where there’s more time for indoor activities like sewing. There’s just something warm and cozy about a few women getting together to create quilts with the wind howling a sub-zero song outside. Most importantly though, this is a very worthwhile project and benefits residents of senior homes for years to come.

When my book was published a few years ago, one endorsement was especially heartwarming and fits with this post:  
Linda Maendel’s  clear vision and her loving heart wrapped me in a fine quilt of story as I read. Of all of the books on Hutterites that I have seen, this is the one that I cherish.” —Joe McLellan, author, the Nanabosho series
I scrolled through previous posts and found quite a few about quilts. I've added them here, in case you'd like to read some of them again: 
Do you have a quilt or refugee story to share? I'd love to hear it!

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill - Julie Klassen

About the Book:

The lifeblood of the village of Ivy Hill is its coaching inn, The Bell. When the innkeeper dies suddenly, his genteel wife, Jane Bell, becomes the reluctant landlady. Jane has no idea how to manage a business, but with the town's livelihood at stake and a large loan due, she must quickly find a way to save the inn.

Despite their strained relationship, Jane turns to her resentful mother-in-law, Thora, for help. Formerly mistress of The Bell, Thora is struggling to overcome her losses and find purpose for the future. As she works with Jane, two men from her past vie for her attention, but Thora has promised herself never to marry again. Will one of them convince her to embrace a second chance at love?

As pressure mounts from the bank, Jane employs new methods, and puzzles over the intentions of several men who seem to have a vested interest in the place, including a mysterious newcomer with secret plans of his own. With the help of friends old and new, can Jane restore life to the inn, and to her empty heart as well?

My Thoughts: 

I can appreciate the time, effort and research that obviously went into this book. The fact that Ivy Hill is based on a real place in England that the author has visited, is a charming idea. However, the story did not hold my interest, and the only thing that kept me reading was this review. There's was just nothing about the story that kept me turning pages, or even wanting to know how it ends. I would have loved to be drawn into the mystery, but it didn't happen for me. I also didn't get a good sense what a coaching inn was about; the daily routines, or even the tasks that Jane filled her day with. If you like a slow-paced, uneventful read, you may find this book more captivating than I did. I know others have written glowing reviews about it; unfortunately I couldn't.


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

Friday, 13 January 2017

Flowers in the Dead of Winter

Watching blossoms unfold is always a wonder, but never more than when the temperature's hovering around -30°C, which is where we're at right now. Oh, I should add, with the windchill, that means it feels like -40°C. Yes, extremely cold! But, I still wouldn't want to live where there is no snow - my winter has to have cold, blizzards and lots of snow.

Anyway, we started this Amaryllis before Christmas; the children excitedly rushed into my classroom each day to see how much our plant had grown. The first flower brought squeals of joy just before Christmas. I came to school almost every day over the break to check on it. There was pure awe on theie faces when they saw all eight flowers open after the break.  I'm not sure I ever saw an Amaryllis that had all eight flowers open at the same time, so I was in awe as well. 

Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful: 
they are sunshine, food and medicine to the soul. -Luther Burbank

Did you get an Amaryllis this year? They're a beautiful Christmas plants, and come in a variety of colours. I had luck with getting my orchid to bloom again, so am excited about trying to get our Amaryllis to bloom again next year as well. Thankfully, I found a website with tips to do that. In case you want to try that too, click here.  I'd love to hear from anybody who has ever got an Amaryllis to bloom again. 

my orchid

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Meet the Hutterites Helping a Refugee Family

It's heartwarming to see how my friends at Green Acres Colony are helping a refugee family from Syria. It seems like such a warm relationship these Hutterites and Syrians share, and they obviously learn from each other as well. This family has been living in Manitoba since last summer. First they lived in Wawanesa, a small town near Green Acres Colony, but I believe they recently moved to Brandon because of the dad's job. This cold, blustery winter must be quite an experience for them, but they seem to be embracing it.

I can't even imagine living in a refugee camp, and am so grateful that this family and many others are getting another chance at making a better life for themselves, and that so many people are supporting them with this new start in a strange country. At the same time I'm hoping that many more will find it in their hearts to reach out to people all over who are suffering and need our assistance. Every human being has the right to live in a safe and peaceful place and experience the love, compassion and kindness of their fellow human beings.

Photo published for Christian community welcomes Syrian family to Canada

Read about it and watch the video here.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

A Jar of Tiny Pfeffernuesse

This is a jar of Pfeffernuesse cookies one of my students brought me just this morning. It was full. I don't have Pfeffernuesse on my Christmas wish list, but after not being able to stop eating them today, I know I should have. I haven't had these scrumptious German treats in many, many years. I was introduced to them when I was at the Deer Spring Bruderhof, a Christian Community in Connecticut in 1987 -- the only Christmas I ever spent away from home.

So you can imagine the flood of memories this small jar of Pfeffernuesse brought back this morning. I simply could not resist, 8:00 AM or not, I opened the jar and enjoyed one of these delicious morsels, and quickly put the lid back on. I had a class to teach. However, my mind took me many miles away to the community nestled in the hills near Norfolk, Connecticut, all those Christmases ago. Pfeffernuesse, a symphony orchestra, and experiencing a different but meaningful Christmas with dear people, helped tremendously to ease the ache of missing my family that Christmas. I had wonderful time with my host family, the Warners, and often wonder about them. Too bad we've lost touch over the years.

Kandra, the little girl who brought me the cookies, most likely had no idea that her jar of tiny cookies would send me on a trip down memory lane, to the time when I first enjoyed Pfeffernuesse and saw a live symphony orchestra. I'm still dreaming of seeing another symphony orchestra someday. That is on my Christmas wish list.

It's unexpected moments like this one, receiving a jar of cookies that add wonder and delight to this special season. I hope your Advent and Christmas bring you wonder and delight, in the most unexpected ways, just like my jar of Pfeffernuesse.

My heartfelt thanks to Kandra, and her mom. You made my day! And inspired me to bake Pfeffernuesse cookies real soon... that is, if you will share your recipe with me.