Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Grandma Annie's Old Order Mennonite Funeral

2012-01-07_Boy's Benches by Mark Burr
2012-01-07_Boy's Benches, a photo by Mark Burr on Flickr.

When I was ten years old, I traveled to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania for my Great grandmother Annie's funeral. I had dreaded the trip where I had to wear dresses the whole week, but quickly forgot my discomfort when I was enchanted with feeling as if I'd stepped into the prior century.

I had already fallen in love with Laura Ingalls, had my own sunbonnet, and a "half-pint" size of curiosity about things of the past. So, after wakening from a night's sleep on a hay tick bed, watching my Great Aunt Mattie stir up the fire in the wrought iron cook stove and make me toast without a traditional electrified toaster--I was quickly enthralled into the conservative Mennonite world of my distant relatives.

I remember the evening before the funeral was spent at Grandma Annie's viewing, or wake. It was a closed casket made of plain pine wood that sat along one wall of the darkened home filled with plainly dressed Old Order Mennonite relatives who spoke in quiet hushed Dutch mixed with English. The language wasn't too foreign for me since I'd had Amish babysitters growing up, but I can't speak Dutch, so I listened and observed quietly curious.

The next day we piled into my Grandpa John's truck, ready to head to the church. When we turned onto the pike that lead out the church, I remember that morning as a frosty, sunny morning with little color left on the trees, but the green of the grass hadn't yet faded fully. The view that is cemented upon my memory is of a long line of buggies that followed the horse drawn hearse that lead the slow plodding procession.

Once we got the the church, a white washed plain stone building surrounded by plain cemetery stones, we entered the church for the service. Instead of two long rows of pews on either side of an aisle, as I was used to at my home church, this church held plain pine benches that faced a platform in the center of the far wall. The benches faced the platform from three different directions. Several men in black straight coat jackets sat along the benches upon the platform. Me, my mother, and my grandparents made a small minority of English dressed among the majority who were plainly dressed in black and white.

Men sat on the right hand side, and women on the left. I told Mom, it was good Dad had stayed home in Indiana! Black hats lined the outer walls on the right side--black bonnets to the left, hanging from pegs that lined the walls of the parameter. We sat in a hushed silence followed by prayer in Dutch from a leading elder or deacon who stood on the platform. Each of the men took turns preaching. I thought English sermons were long, but multiple sermons in Dutch topped the cake! Then we sang and I hoped I might hear something familiar. But no. No four part harmony. No shaped notes or regular "sheet music" of the usual hymnal I'd grown up with--just a small book written in Dutch with only one word I could read: the Dutch word for Jesus typed in German script.

Finally, the group stood and filed outside the church to a small graveside where Grandma Annie's coffin sat near a pile of dirt. There was no tent, no fake carpet to hide the dirt pile or the fact that she was returning to the dust from whence she'd come. It was cold and windy by then but I was still enthralled by the events. The deacons read more scriptures and prayed again before six strong men lowered the casket with ropes and then shoveled the dirt back into place. Grandma Annie was in her 90's and lived a long and good life. I don't recall many tears shed, just a solemn gratefulness for her life and love. I learned she'd been a tall, slim, graceful lady who loved Jesus--not surprising to me since my Grandpa John had similar character.

My only memories after the funeral were of a wonderful meal served in the home of my mom's cousins. Long tables had been set up all through the house with full place settings. The meal was simple and good, I think I recall Lebanon Balogne sandwiches on fresh homemade wheat bread.

I cherish such a memory and hope you enjoy the sharing of it here. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Platform or Territory?

As an unpubbed unagented new writer, 
                            what emphasis do I put on "platform"?

Four years ago I didn't know was WIP was let alone a writer's platform. I mean, aren't those like shoes--platform shoes? 

I mean at that first writer's conference I went to and listened to Chip MacGregor talk about platform, I didn't even know he was an agent or that I needed an agent. I must have looked like a school girl with ADD and a bubble cloud sticking out of my head with a floating image of a literal stage platform. He must have wanted to stop speaking, walk over to me and POP that little elementary bubble cloud and tell me to educate myself before I made a fool of myself, which I probably did. Sigh. 

Well, I now know about the wonderful ACFW network, and what WIP, MC, and POV mean. 

But I'm still having trouble with this platform concept. Yeah, yeah, it's all about marketing and numbers right? Sales, sales, sales, sales, sales! So, I plunged into blogging, learned how to check my statistics on Google Analytics, and now I'm learning about Pinterest and Twitter. Pinterest is the most fun by far. I read blogs and try to participate in a positive light. I even tried my first book give away and author interview. Yipee!

And the results?  "Survey says...." In eight months my blog has gone from non-existant to having 969 visits, of those 296 unique visitors from 23 countries. In the eighth month I have 42% new visitors which is progress. I have fun looking at the cluster maps to see where on the globe someone might have read my post. I learned that 19th century fashion is a huge landing page that gets all sorts of hits. The most hits come from Google, then Facebook, followed by blog referrals, and Pinterest. But I'll have to give Pinterest more time to evaluate since I've only been on for a few weeks. And today I tackled Twitter and learned that I'm a complete novice, so far I have no clue what I'm doing there.

Live and learn, you are never too old.

BUT, and yes, there's always a but---then I read Amanda Leudeke's post on Chip MacGregor's blog in January about growing a platform and she was quoting some really scary numbers needed to gain the glance of editors, agents, and publishing houses. She's talking about numbers in the "tens of hundreds of thousands". We need to have:
           --monthly unique visitor count at least 30,000 (sound--loud buzzer--you're out!)
           --Twitter followers pushing 5,000 (striking out again!)
           --Facebook group pushing 5,000 (yep, you guessed it--OUT!)
           --Public Speaking 30 times a year to total 10,000 (does teaching Sunday School count?--ugh)
           --eZines--post on regular basis with 100,000 readers/month (what's an eZine?!)

These are really overwhelming numbers. But one comment on that blog post challenged that it's more about engagement than numbers (oh, yes, my little deflated heart thinks it might have a chance here). He said "build the relationships and the numbers will come." This got me thinking...

So, just like when I hate church talk about filling pews with numbers of people, I'd rather talk about people, whether its one or 100,000. As I click the "follow" button on Twitter and Pinterest, I wonder about being a follower, or being followed. I know that Jesus wants followers, not just fans. He wants followers that are totally committed through the thick and thin. Fans might hang out for the fun, food, and miracles, but hit the road when the going gets tough. I remember the prayer of Jabez that asks God to increase my territory, and I remember that it's not about me. It's not my territory. It's His. And so are the numbers....

...and the platform.

My job is to write. To write well. To be faithful. To love those He puts on my path on this journey.

I'll keep doing the hard work of platform. But my focus will be on His territory.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Sunshine for the Senses

I was disappointed when I woke up this morning and the sun wasn't shining, but behold a blanket of white had fallen overnight. It was very beautiful, but I was even more excited when the sun came out this afternoon.

Don't you long for a taste of summer sun in the middle of January and February?

I do. Probably because I live here in the midwest.

Last week I bought a quart of fresh blueberries imported from Chili. The first bite was the most incredible taste of summer sun I could imagine. It was magnificent! Transporting! I called to my daughter right away and we ate handfuls from the box, not even washed--and rolled our eyes and inhaled the smell and savored the taste.

So, this morning when the sun didn't shine, I forfeited writing time to whip up none other than--you guessed it--Blueberry Teacake for breakfast. The smell filled the whole house and my family was thankful for the treat.

Recipe from Mennonite Country-Style Recipes by Esther H. Shank

Blueberry Coffee Cake

Beat together: 
2 eggs
1 1/3 c. sugar
1 c. oil
1 tsp. vanilla
Mix in separate bowl:
3 c. flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
Add to wet mixture, alternately with 1 c. milk
Fold in one quart bag frozen blueberries (or huckleberries). Pour into greased 9 x 13 baking dish.
Bake one hour at 375 F.

The dish is already half gone! It didn't taste quite like summer or those fresh berries from Chili. But it made me remember the summer fun we had picking the blueberries, and it made me remember the times we picked huckleberries in Michigan with my Grandma. My Grandma Emma always had a huckleberry buckle (cobbler) ready to eat when we arrived to northern Michigan to visit.

If you've never had huckleberries, they are wild, much smaller, and much richer in taste. But you can make anything with huckleberries that you would make with blueberries.

Smells and tastes possess the power to transport us to another time and place. As writers, we should remember to evoke the senses in positive ways and remember a few long forgotten smells to pull the reader into the story. Some favorite smells are turkey dinner, brownies in the oven, yeast bread baking, the smell of fresh cut hay, fresh peaches and your mouth watering? Were you thinking of other times and places and happy moments?

What smells and tastes transport you? 
Have you remembered to include all the senses in your writing?