What’s A Mennonite Girl To Do?


This may look like an ordinary pile of rocks on the beach, but look closely … very closely. If you are a sea glass collector you will see a jackpot of sea glass. And if you aren’t a beach glass collector and want to be, look carefully at the colors and shapes, and you should begin to be able to pick out the whites. They are sort of frosted. Another thing before I continue, picture that this is one very small section of a harbour I stumbled upon. In other words, there was loads of glass on this beach. On most beaches you can walk for five minutes before you find one piece of glass. Imagine sitting down and picking up a bread bag full of the stuff. So that was the situation I found myself in.

Thing was, we were in Stornaway, Scotland. This is located in the Outer Hebrides. Islands way out there.

Backtracking a wee bit. About 10 days.

Naw, I won’t tell you ten days worth. Short version. It was May. A wild windy May, and if you think you’ve experienced wild windy Mays, go to the northern parts of Scotland. I thought I had experienced extreme weather changes, but this was something else. Suffice it to say, all of our clothing was well used, and thank goodness for Mountain Equipment Co-op clothing. Layers and quick dry became deeply meaningful to my heart.  Maybe I’ll just show you one picture so you can see how nice it was at times.

Aren’t they cute??

But we were in a rental car, traveling many roads, and at the time of finding the mother lode of sea glass were in Stornaway, as previously mentioned.

How we happened to find the beach was this. We had arrived on the ferry, toured the Isles of Lewis and Harris, by the way the white sand beaches to the south are stunning. Arrived at our B & B hungry after all the beach walking, but on the way out the front door to find a restaurant heard boisterous talking and laughter from behind the closed door that said ‘lounge,’ so in we went to seek advice regarding food. Inside we found six people, sitting with open Scotch bottles and weeny glasses and trays of lovely little food spread on the coffee table. I know this sounds corny, but these six people live about 140 km away from us in Nova Scotia. Yes. We sat for a while and had a wee dram to warm our appetites for food.

Off we go and found a pub on the harbour. Very nice. Not very busy.  Big fancy restaurant upstairs. We order a pint, decide to sit a bit before ordering food to enjoy the atmosphere and listen to the  accents of the locals. The moment comes when we need food. Right away. We flag the waitress and  I ask twelve or thirteen questions about items on the menu before choosing. This used to drive my husband a bit crazy but he’s grown tolerant.

She leaves, but returns shortly with bad news. An extremely large party at the restaurant upstairs, which is where the kitchen is, has just ordered their meals. Oooh. Very bad timing on our part.

We wait and wait, and wait. Meanwhile my husband gets up to go for a little walk outside, to stretch his legs. He returns about 5 minutes later with a big grin on his face. No the food hasn’t arrived. But he has good news for me. He tells me he stepped down into the harbour, and as he has learned to do, since my sea glass fetish began, looked down, and so discovered the abundance of glass.

I’ll skip the part of us wolfing down the food.

The next day, we came back. And I filled two bags in very short order. That was all fine. We had a car. It went into the trunk. And the glee on my face was a site to see.

Fast forward to going home. We flew with Air Canada. They only allow one bag these days, unless you pay. My husband has Scottish roots, so he had been busily collecting Scottish things to take home to give to family. So his bag was full and heavy. After the Scottish part of my adventure, I was going to spend a week in Cambridge, England with my smart-as-a-whip niece who studies there, and two other lovely women. From there we were heading to Florence, Italy.  That is all relevant because I did not want to lug around two bags of sea glass. The stuff is heavy.

So herein lies the dilemma. What to do?

I love the glass. I want the glass. It is free. But now what?

Royal mail to the rescue. But this decision is made after careful consideration. I always carry a little calculator but still manage to get confused with local currencies.

The bottom line is, I couldn’t really pass up the opportunity. Sea glass. I didn’t need it. I wanted it. I mailed it. It arrived at our post office several weeks later.  In two boxes. And when the assistant post mistress picked one of  the boxes to hand it to me her face went gray and her eyes grew wide.

“It broken!” she said, looking at me.

I just laughed.

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My First Newspaper Review

This is pretty exciting news for me. My first newspaper review appeared in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record  a while back.

I would also love a review from you, if you’ve read the book. Please go to http://www.goodreads.com  and do a review and/or rating there. If you do this by May 13, you could win a copy of Mennonite Girl!! Thanks to those of you who’ve already done so. Have a blessed week.


Commuting, Books and Goodreads.com

There was a time in my life when I commuted to work. For three years, I lived in Mission, BC and worked as a  teacher in the Burnaby School District. As the crow flies the distance is probably 60 km. As the cars drive, the distance is about 75 km. According to Mapquest, the time to drive from A to B should be just over an hour. I was thrilled if the round trip could be completed in 31/2 hours … because I drove in rush hour.

I shan’t delve too much into the joy  involved in leaving my house each work day at 6:25, speeding along the country-roads part of my journey in the dark, half the time in the rain, before zipping onto the highway, speeding with the other vehicles or suffering with being tailgated, slowing to a crawl as we got closer to the bridges, shifting into first gear, second gear, stopping, first gear, second gear, first gear, second gear … merging onto the bridge with 100,000 other vehicles then weaving through urban neighbourhoods behind sleepy, slowpoke, oblivious-to-my-obvious-haste drivers to reach my destination. Suffice it to say my dentist asked me after I had been doing this for just over a year, “What are you doing to your teeth? You’re grinding them down to pulp.”

Due to subtracting 3-4 hours of quality time each working day for three years, I felt obliged to use the rest of my time wisely. So there was no dilly dallying around. Time was like gold. One thing I love to do is read. And so I frequented the public library to get books. But who has time to browse?

My method in selecting books was to stand in one aisle and randomly pull books off the shelf until I had selected between 8 and 10. This usually took less than three minutes. My theory was that there was likely to be at least one or two really good ones in the batch. Maybe more. But I always had something to read. The trouble with this method, I often picked books I had already read. Many times I would read to the middle of a book and realize I had already read it.

And one glorious day I got a job teaching in Mission. My commute time went from 3-4 hours a day to 12 minutes. Each day when I got into the car I said a prayer of thanks, almost weeping in gratitude.

I also started buying books. Because I had time, sweet sweet time. And more money with not filling the gas tank three times a week. And, I figured with the stiff library fines I was paying each month, I might as well be buying the books. But several times I bought the same book twice. Which was good and bad; good because I could give the new one as a gift, bad because the reason I bought the book a second time was the first time it left no impression or I read it halfway or not past page one. Therefore probably not what I considered a ‘must read’. I bought Mercy Among the Children three times.

I often thought how nice it would be to have a list of books I have read. A friend of mine has one. She has a notebook with each title, author and a rating for each book. So when people asked her for a recommendation, she pulls out her little book and recommends away. When someone asked me for a suggestion, I usually stared while my eyes glazed over. Not because I haven’t read any good books. I have read many. One or two may have come to mind. But I knew there are  many more lurking in the deep recesses of my brain so I might get flustered, becoming less likely to make an intelligent suggestion.

So I got a notebook I began the practice of recording, but after writing three or four titles, it would get misplaced. I tried again and again, using different size notebooks, but the practice didn’t stick. Someone suggested a spreadsheet. Great idea, I thought, then forgot about it.

Very recently a wise friend (whose blog link  is to the right), introduced me to the Goodreads website. THIS has become my answer to the ‘what have I read problem’. The site is like a virtual library; call up an author, and their books come up pronto. Or a title. So I went through lists of books, and gave them a quick rating,  which added them to ‘My books’, creating a list of books I have read. And I have only started this process. Now if my mind goes blank, I can consult the list.  I listed them according to my ratings so my favorite books come up in the list first. Very wonderful! It also gives review and ratings from other readers. AND it makes suggestions based on what your ratings, AND you can join book clubs on line, save some driving. Just kidding …  I like the talking with  real people approach to discussing books. And the wine.

So I am here to recommend joining Goodreads. It is free and they don’t sell anything. If you love to read, it is a fabulous place to go for ideas.

Now I have a favour to ask. IF you join and IF you have read Mennonite Girl, I would love for you to rate the book and write a quick review. By ‘review’ I mean a few words, like, ‘I really enjoyed this book’, or whatever comes to mind. If you give a review or rating before May 13th, I will put your name into a draw for a free book. Yippeee.

And it is easy to do, the review thing. Go to http://www.goodreads.com and sign up. They won’t bug you. They just need a name and email. Put my title in the search box at the top and my page will come up. It is pretty easy to do, just click on the number of stars and a comment box will come up. If you need further instructions, go to the bottom of the page and see ‘About Us’ and click there, and on that page there is a ‘help’ button which will help you through.

Blessings to you this week, and if you are commuting any great distance, my tip of the week, besides joining Goodreads, is to look for another job.

Oh yes, and I will announce the winner of the book on May 13. Thanks for the review!!!!!


Too Much Stuff

In 2001, when we returned home from our 6 week trip to Africa, travelling with only a backpack each, one of the first things my husband said was, “We have way too much stuff.”

We looked at each other and nodded.

Almost six years ago we moved form one side of the country to the other. Before we left we gave much of our stuff away. Reason one, we were moving to a much smaller house. Two, because moving stuff across Canada translates into roughly a dollar a pound. So on examining each article for packing, one had to consider; is this item worth $1.00 per pound to keep. Three, we had way too much stuff.

There were several weeks between the time we arrived and our moving van delivered our goods. We subsisted with minimal dishes scrounged from relatives, two lawn chairs, used inside and out, and a blow up mattress from Walmart. It was a relaxing and wonderful time. All was so simple. Coffee, food, deck, beer, beach, sunshine. No paperwork, nothing to dust, nothing to put away. Glorious, really.

Eventually the moving van arrived. Oh we thought we had given so much away, and honestly we did. But imagine having all of your belongings organized on top of a king sized bed. Then take that stuff and organize it neatly into a crib.

That’s what we were dealing with.

The unpacking began. We filled all the cupboards and closets and shelves and there were still more boxes. Many with nebulous names remained stacked in the basement but each time I Charlie Chaplinned down the stairs to get something from the freezer those boxes unsettled me. They did get unpacked over time, the contents added to another pile somewhere, crammed into a closet. This unsettled me more. Digging through closets on the off chance of finding what I was looking for was enough to make me want to a smash a dish or two, even though I began meeting with a small group of women who work on becoming ‘present’ and zen-like.  So frustrated with losing valuable ‘present’ time, digging through various cupboards or closet I shoved items back in a messy heap, thinking, ‘I’ll tend to that later,’ creating even more angst upon subsequent opening of that closet door.

Often we would go buy another of the thing we couldn’t find, just because we needed it which just exacerbated the problem and made me nuts really. I’d know we already have three hatchets. But where are they???

About once a month I woke up with the sole purpose of organizing the house from top to bottom. The day would start with me hauling everything out of a number of closets and drawers and making a huge pile. Then I began to sort and put items into various boxes and bins and put them away.  Did I label anything? No need for that. Surely I would remember where things were because my orderly scheme was so masterful. That night I’d go to bed exhausted and content. I was organized.

And then I would pursue other things. Like painting. And I’d wonder, Where are the paintbrushes? Geez I can’t  remember. The nails to hang pictures? The gardening spade? The light bulbs? Haven’t got a clue. And so I rooted, tearing closets apart, shoving things back in again in complete disorder.

Oh it was a viscous cycle. Kind of like Groundhog Day, only not so frequent. Get up.  Haul everything out. Reorganize. Put it away. Labels? Notes? No need for that. This time I have it all figured out. I am so clever.

Then I need something. I root …  create a  mess … shove it back … close door…

That was going on for two years.

During that time I have two drawers under the stove-top where I keep kitchen utensils. Yes, I have that much figured out. Thing is, there are two drawers, so the utensils go in one drawer or the other depending on which has space available.  Several times a day I need one of those utensils. I open one drawer, searching for the garlic press. Dig around. Can’t find. Open other drawer, dig around. Can’t find. Open first drawer again. Rummage through the items. Can’t find. Close drawer. Try the other drawer again. Still can’t find. This may sound trite and silly but it takes me two minutes to find the garlic press. And you may be thinking, so what. But imagine if it takes two minutes each time you need a spatula, or the ice cream scoop, or the potato masher? I could be doing something fun!

One morning in our third year I wake up with a purpose. I am going to organize those two drawers.

I take all the items from both drawers and lay them on the kitchen table. I sit down at the table and look at the pile of items. And I look at them for quite a while, drinking coffee, thinking, ‘how will I do this thing?’

And the answer comes to me. Some of the utensils are all metal. The whisk, the cheese grater, the ice cream scoop. Others have wooden handles and plastic parts. The spatulas, the oatmeal paddle, the vegetable peelers.

Suddenly I have a plan. I put the all metal things into one drawer. And anything with wood or plastic parts into the other. It is done.

Being in the kitchen many times a day, I open those drawers.  I realize I don’t mind being in the kitchen so much. All I have to think is, ‘I need the rice scoop. It is plastic. It is in the drawer on the left.’

I love my utensil drawers.

And so I continued with my quest to organize. But with a new rule. One little space per week. I set up criteria for a shelf or drawer then organized it that way. Extra stuff went elsewhere for the time being. Then I learned it, lived with it; and anytime I found an item that matched said criteria, I put it there. And when the space became crowded, I gave some of it away. For example, when all towels were gathered and stacked, they are upwards of 20. Who needs that many towels? Not a family of two. Out some of them go.

After almost six years, there are spaces around the stuff in our closets and drawers. I know where things are, all because of those kitchen utensils. Okay, not all of the time. There are still occasional moments of rooting and slamming doors.

But for the most part, finding stuff is easy. And putting stuff away is too. And less is more. I like it.

More time for the beach.


World’s Second Best Pizza

I once asked a very healthy/fit  friend what she eats for breakfast. She replied. On Monday I have an egg and toast with peanut butter. On Tuesday I have oatmeal with… , on Wednesday I have … . I watched her thinking, ‘Like, come on really. Every Wednesday of your life you eat the same thing for breakfast.’ And then thought about what I eat for breakfast.  Oatmeal. Starting every January I eat  mostly oatmeal  until I get sick of the thought, usually sometime in June or July. Then I start on eggs. That too gets old. Then a very short cold cereal period  and the rest of the year is a free for all. Until the new year rolls around and I start with oatmeal again.

And so really who’s the dullard here? I guess what I am saying is … I have to remind myself quite often not to knock an idea until I’ve tried it.  I didn’t actually latch onto the breakfast menu thing… because I really like oatmeal and sometimes I have to think hard to know what day it is. But I have adopted that concept into other parts of my life, and frankly it’s a gem. Structure and order can be a very good thing.

And with that idea in mind  I thought about what to write about here, and not wanting not to go on and on about the same old things, I decided I shall do a travel blurb one Sunday a month.  Mind you nothing fancy, rather a sharing of some of the memorable moments lingering in the storage pockets of my brain.

So here we go.

Some years ago, my husband and I along  with some friends from Vancouver embarked on one of those overland adventure camping tours. This one was going from Capetown, South Africa to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, a trip chosen for the route, the time of year, and the fact that there was a cook on board.

I started the adventure in Cape Town with a visit to a local beauty salon to have my head shaved. This was to alleviate any worries/problems around washing hair due to uncertainties regarding shower facilities at African campsites. Yes, sadly, I depend on having a hair dryer. My hair just looks better that way. And I was willing to bet money on the fact that finding power to run a hair dryer at said facilities was unlikely at best.

So I got rid of the hair.

And I must say I highly recommend this for anyone traveling on a camping adventure tour anywhere anytime. One cannot imagine the joy of not having hair to comb or hair to wash. Of not having to carry around a hair dryer or those liquid containers that spill all over your backpack, or waiting  for hair to dry, or pulling it back or tying  it up or constantly brushing it out of your eyes.

Such freedom!

All was all fine and off we go on our overland adventure. I put on a hat, and take off the hat later and do not have hat hair. I am liking it.

Day two we detour through desert-like wasteland to an oasis type of place with palm trees and exquisite pools. Everyone is happy. We swim and frolic. And when it is time to leave I get out of the pool, towel dry and dress in less than 2 minutes. Because there is no hair to fuss over.

Now lots of great stuff is happening on this trip, the wildlife, the scenery, but if I get started on that, we’d be here all day.

After a week or so we arrive at a campsite and set up our tent, and with a few minutes to spare before lunch I head to a fabulous pool which happens to be a stone’s throw away, because it is hot and I now have the ability to swim and dry and be ready in a snap. Got ten minutes? Go for a swim. I am so there!

At the pool gate I remove flip flops, walk six steps onto the pool deck and step on something that stings me right between toe number two and three. It blinkin’ hurts. I look down and see a HUGE wasp writhing in stunned agony. I am very allergic to wasp bites and immediately experience an adrenalin rush and the knowing that my foot is about to swell up like a watermelon.

So I hobble madly back to the campsite because after lunch we are scheduled to do a rather extensive canyon hike  and I ain’t missin’ out on that. And a hike up into the dunes to watch the sun set  is scheduled for the evening.  I curse quietly while rifling through my backpack.  Finding the necessary items, I slip my injured foot into a thick sock,  shove it into my hiking boot and lace her up tight. Then I pop a Benedryl.

The hikes are both fantastic and my foot is sore but usable in stumpy fashion. I feel the foot straining against the inside my boot all day and at bedtime, so I take another Benedryl and sleep with the boot laced on, because tomorrow is another hiking day and I can’t have it all swollen up.

The next day we hike some more, and that is worth a moment’s pause. I had told my husband once that I wanted to be in a place in the desert where sand dunes are all I can see in any direction. So several of us do that, fortunately leaving footsteps to follow back. Otherwise we may have perished there…

That evening we arrive in Swapukmund, Namibia where we check into a hotel. Standing on the main street, if you look look one way you see the Atlantic Ocean, and if you turn turn in the opposite direction you see the town ending and then piles and piles of sand.  This is bit of a rest stop; two days to see the sites, sleep in beds and do laundry. And time off for the cook and driver. We put our bags into assigned rooms and head to the hotel bar. At this point my boot has been on with the same sock  for almost 36 hours, but it is happy hour. My new favorite happy hour pleasure is Amarula, which if you haven’t tried it …. get some, pour it over ice. You won’t be sorry.

By this point the group has done the big old bonding thing and we are one big happy family. Seriously these are excellent people, so it is very loud with all the guffawing. I put up my foot up and take off the boot and sock. This may sound gross, but no one seems to mind. We have been camping, after all. And everyone is getting that tanned face, windswept crusty hair look. And all our clothes are stiff with sand and grime.

Once unbound my foot is a site to behold. I am reminded of time lapse photography where you can watch a plant grow, as I sit sipping lovely little  double Amarulas on ice, watching my foot swell up. Almost like a puffer fish or one of those frogs from tropical climes that swells up at the throat.

It is clear there will be no getting that boot back on anytime soon.

The talk comes around to deciding about dinner. It becomes part of the consideration when choosing a restaurant that I can’t get too far since I only have one foot with a shoe on it.

Off we go to find food. There is a pizza place in the next block. It has a pale blue facade with a large awning depicting the Italian name of the place which brings to my mind ‘Neapolitan Ice Cream’, and the Italian flag. So maybe it was called Napoli or something along those lines. A couple in the group turns up their noses a little when we pause as a group to consider, being skeptical regarding eating pizza anywhere outside of Italy or North America. But I flash them the old sad puppy face and the others clearly want to eat. In we go. We order lots of pizzas.

The pizzas are brought out and to my surprise these look and smell stupendous. The crusts are chewy and crispy with cornmeal underneath, the sauce is to die for and all the lovely toppings are grilled to perfection. And the cheese. Oh my my. I eat and eat and eat.

I say to my friend, “This is some of the best pizza I have ever had.  And I mean in my entire life. And I have eaten a lot of pizza. I think the pizza in Winnipeg is better. But this comes really close,” and then I add, “I’m going to tell people about this place.”

She looks at me for a moment and says, ” Who are you going to tell?”


BECAUSE of the coal…

Hey I won’t make a habit of this but I wasn’t quite finished so …

What with all the mad rushes to the beach to glean coal, one can imagine the devastation to said stocks. And it came to pass that on some days there was no coal to be had. Not one piece. I neglected to say that on some days that first year we gathered upwards of twelve pieces. We’d bring them home to lay on counter to admire before adding to the current bucket or vase. Yes and we do have internet and cable. And friends. But life is simple in the Mouton.

So as I said, more people looking …. such fierce competition, and really my husband and I weren’t completely obtuse with respect to guests and Nova Scotia hospitality. We weren’t about to place a big old scar onto that well deserved reputation. We’re the dummies/hospitable hosts that told people and pointed it out and said, ‘yes take some home.’

So needless to say the coal became the equivalent of an endangered species in the inanimate realm, and finding it became even more rare and thrilling. Which became a problem because by then I had become somewhat of a beach collecting junkie. And I am not talking about live things like shells or sea urchins or sand dollars since I have no interest in taking live things away from the seashore. I know every little living thing has a purpose. Besides they stink by the time you get them home.

It was during this dry coal hunting spell that I noticed the beach glass. Well you can probably guess the rest but I’ll tell you anyway. I began to collect sea glass. I still had coal in my sights, but sea glass wasn’t such a bad alternative. So glass became the bounty and coal the rare gem. And I filled a ceramic bowl with glass. And then a bigger bowl. And then empty peanut butter tubs into a milk crate. And another…

And my husband said, “What are you going to do with all that glass?” and I said, “I’m not sure, but I’ll think of something.” and my sister-in-law said, “I can teach you to make jewelry.” and I said, “I don’t wear jewelry, why would I want to make it.” And she responded with, “I’ll show you anyway.”

Which lead to the whole fancy dog house thing. She showed me how to wire up glass and it got me thinking. And the result of all that is I began to make angels. Early on I took some to a craft fair and before I drove away, my husband said, “Don’t be disappointed if you don’t sell any.” Well it was a two hour sale and I came home with a wad of bills and he smiled and said, ‘Wow, you better come up with a name for them.’

So now I make angels in the fancy dog house and it is a good thing. Not all day and every day. Just when it seems like a good thing to do.


Coal Rush

It seems two weeks ago I was leading up to the reason we have a nice little cabin in our back yard.

And leading up to the idea of taking over that cabin for my own purposes which now my husband refers to as the sweat shop. Yes I have a little factory out there.

We moved to this area…never mind all that. We live by a fabulous beach. We walk to the fabulous beach a lot. On a tour during the purchase of this house (I wasn’t there), my husband noticed in the basement, along a ledge were several lumps of coal. Not dull ugly coal. This was sleek, shiny coal. My husband was curious because he played baseball in a Cape Breton coal mining town for several seasons in his youth. So he knew a little about coal. He asked, “What’s with the coal?”

The fellow told him… In a nutshell, a boat carrying coal fromVirginiain the 1920’s ran aground somewhere out in the bay and lost all her cargo. And so, he said, it washes up onto the beach. He left the coal on the ledge for us.

I saw it and loved it because it is black and shiny and rock solid but lighter in weight, with sparkly seams. And so began my quest for coal because I love to scrounge and hunt, especially stuff that doesn’t bite.

During our first years, on our daily beach walks it became a ritual to look for coal. We timed our walks around low tides, best times for gathering. Sometimes we collected politely and cooperatively, one of us doing the high tide line, the other walking the close to the waters edge. Other times it was dog-eat-dog, a mad sprint to grab a piece in view. Sometimes we faked each other out. A normal amount was 2-4 pieces each. There were days we collected more, but there was size and quality to consider, the gleam and sheen and streaks. It was thrilling for me, my adrenalin flowing at a feverish pitch when I spotted a piece, especially a big one, some in the size range of a lemon, the rush of contentment with putting such a piece into my pocket or bag.

We put the coal into a dish on the mantel and soon needed a bucket. Robert bought me an enormous glass vase and I filled that and placed it on the floor. Our guests noticed and asked. We told them. We shouldn’t have because all of our visitors began to participate in the hunt for coal. That’s how nice this coal was. They kept it. They didn’t even give us a cut. They’d sneak off to the beach before us to look for it.

I need to go out for a while. Be back in a bit…