Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Pancho: A Low German Feature Film for the Whole Family

Yesterday, my husband and I went to see Pancho at SBS. Pancho is a feature length, Low German film by Will Friesen, who is well known for his comical Youtube videos in Low German. Later this week, there will be numerous more screenings at the Mennonite Museum.

Pancho is a coming of age story about, well, Pancho, who is growing up, and wrestling with no longer having a Mom. It is set in Cuauhtemoc, Chihuahua, where Pancho is spending his summer doing small jobs, riding his bike, playing ball, squabbling with his little sister, and hanging out with friends. But he's not prepared for the changes that are coming.

Pancho is a good film that the whole family can enjoy. I found that the story moved a little slow at first, but during this time, the character was well developed and the viewer could understand who Pancho was and what he was going through. It dealt well with the family's struggles and brings them to a solid conclusion. It will make you laugh and it will make you cry.

For me, it was exciting to see a movie filmed in the area where I live, about Mennonites who speak Low German. I think Will has done a great job capturing some of the culture, and I was glad he touched on some of the themes he did. I would encourage anyone in Chihuahua to go support Will and enjoy a good movie with the family later this week the the Museo Menonita, km 10. The entrance fee is $50 per person.

Show Times:

December 8,9: 6pm, 8pm
December 10: 4pm, 6pm, 8pm
December 11: 2pm, 4pm, 6pm, 8pm

And for my friends in Ontario, watch for Pancho coming to Aylmer and Leamington in the New Year!

Monday, 21 November 2016

A Year In Mexico

I have lived in Mexico for over a year now.  People were nervous about me moving down here last year. I was a little too. I used to never want to live here.  But then, neither did my husband.  That's not exactly the point of why either one of us came.  When I came here, I realized that a lot of the fears people have about this area have little grounds. I don't say no grounds; yes, bad stuff happens. It did in Canada too. I want to clear the misconceptions and paint a small picture of what life here really is.

My home is outside Cuauhtemoc, in the province of Chihuahua, home of the highest concentration of Low-German speaking Mennonites in the world. We live among two other cultures here: the Spanish speaking Mexicans and the native American Tarahumara people. We are surrounded by both wealth and poverty. There is a lot of wealth along the business highway where we live. But a drive into town greets you with poor housing, youth on the street washing windshields at intersections, and Tarahumara women with their babies walking along the lanes of stopped traffic asking for money all day. There are some big contrasts.

But what's the same and what's different? How does life compare to my life in Canada?

Living Costs and Wages

When I talk about living costs here, I can't do so without talking about wages. The wages of most average unskilled workers are nothing to boast of. A lot of Canadians or Americans would certainly have a difficult time adjusting. It's not uncommon for people to make 35-55 pesos an hour doing manual labour. Some make more. It also depends on the type of work. There are men that go to work six days a week and bring home less than 5,000 pesos a month. ($1.00 CAD = 15.23 pesos)

A lot of living costs are comparable to what I was used to in Ontario. The cost of groceries is about the same. (Eating out here does offer more affordable options, that aren't all fast food.) Gasoline is about the same. Vehicle insurance is cheaper.  Utilities is where I'm not sure.

Housing is a challenge for many people here. Because mortgages aren't available here, and the average wages are so low, it's very difficult for a family to own a home. There are also very few places available to rent. What is common is for employers to have houses or apartments available for their employees and it becomes part of their employment terms. Such is our current situation.

Garbage and Recycling

I tell people one of the things I miss about Canada is garbage pickup and recycling. Seriously. When you can't recycle, and you have to load up all your garbage and take it to the dump (my hubby takes care of that part), you'll miss the days of dragging it out to the roadside once a week too. There is pickup in some areas, but we don't enjoy that convenience.


Roadwork in Mexico is all about job creation! Frequently we will see many men working all day to patch a small section of road. The goal is to make it last until the next week or the next rainfall, whichever comes first. Afterward people will drive all over the road, dodging ridiculous sized potholes, trying not to blow their tires. And just for fun, or to make a statement, sometimes someone will go and plant a tree in a hole. And after enough people blow their tires, or a few more weeks pass, they will go patch it again. They're looking out for themselves!

Vehicle Regulations

There are not as many regulations here surrounding vehicles as in Ontario. Sure, we save ourselves some money in some aspects, but honestly I wish there were more. I remember the days in Ontario where a lot of these things got frustrating. However, my friends from Canada wouldn't have to drive behind too many vehicles here billowing black, putrid smoke for miles on end, and they wouldn't complain about their E-tests anymore.

However, there are things that should be fairly simple that somehow aren't. After purchasing a used vehicle last year from a friend, my husband went to the appropriate office in town to change over the ownership. He succeeded after about 10 visits. With every visit, they demanded different paperwork. He had documents ripped up in front of him one day, only to have the same documents demanded by a different clerk the next. He got frustrated, to say the least.


Healthcare is different here too. There are both public and private options. You can register for public health insurance for a small yearly fee, which gives you access to a public hospital. However, wait times are long, service often poor, and I have not heard too many positive stories yet from the public hospital in town. My husband and I have a a private health insurance plan. Although we do have to pay a deductible for most things, the money we saved on dental work this past year was almost equal to our annual fee. When we had our miscarriage, my husband opted to taking me to a hospital specializing in women. Although our treatment wasn't covered, it was still a good choice for us. We also have to pay for regular doctor visits. But when we do have a baby, we will be able to consider more options because of our insurance policy. We do recommend others to look into extra health insurance. In our one year experience, it has been completely worth it.

A few things that are different here as well is there is a much higher C-section rate. And many C-sections are not actually necessary. That could be a long topic for discussion. What I also see as an issue is way too many pharmacies. It's almost unbelievable how many there are. And when I go to a pharmacy with a prescription, if I need five pills, but there's 20 in the box, I have to buy the whole box. No neatly labelled yellow bottles with the precise amount needed. Aside from this being very unregulated, it's not always easy on the wallet either.


The style of cuisine here is quite different from Canada. There are Mexican dishes and flavours, Mennonite ones, and American. If you want a taste of America, there is Subway, KFC, and Pizza Hut not too far away. You'll have to drive further to get to a McDonald's, but luckily there are lots of other burger joints. One thing Mexico in general does not do well is salads and restaurants usually don't offer much selection in. Sometimes the ingredients don't compliment each another well, and chances are your only choice of dressing is Ranch. A side salad with a meal consists of a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce and a slice or two of tomato and cucumber.  But their desserts are a lot more affordable. I can eat a tasty slice of cheesecake for 28 pesos instead of 7 dollars.

Living here with food sensitivities is more challenging because of the lack of products available, and many of the ones that are are quite expensive. It's also an issue that there isn't a lot of knowledge about. This makes it more difficult when we receive an invitation somewhere for a meal. I can't simply say I can't eat gluten. I've learned to simplify my explanation and be appreciative when I know people have tried to accommodate me.

Government and Police

Unfortunately, there isn't a shortage of corrupt politicians and police officers in Mexico. I haven't had any personal experiences yet. But if you get pulled over for a traffic violation, the chances are pretty good you can pay off the officer and save yourself a trip into town to pay your ticket. In school in Canada, we were taught that if we were in trouble, find a police officer. I can't say I'd teach that to my kids here.

Snakes and Spiders

This is honestly my biggest fear living here. I have been able to stay clear of snakes this year, but spiders are an almost daily nuisance. I never know when or where I will find one crawling in the house. On a few occasions, we've had one on our bed. Thankfully, most of them aren't dangerous and we've never had black widows in the house. Henry finds them from time to time around the yard. I try not to look for them. If I know there could be one hiding somewhere, I let him tackle it. Carefully.

All in all, I like my life here. It's different, but in a lot of ways not that different at all. My husband goes to work. I cook, clean, do the laundry, the dishes, etc. We spend time helping at our church. We hang out with friends. We live life.  I've had to adjust to less convenience than I was used to.  When money is tight, you have to cut costs somewhere. But you learn what matters, what you really need, and what you perhaps just want. In the end, we didn't come here for convenience. We came here because we sense this is where God wants us to be. We're here to serve, not to enjoy every convenience we can. And so we live, love, and try to serve faithfully where needed.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

An Unexpected Anniversary

Warning: This is a pregnancy/miscarriage post. Although I try not to be too graphic, some things I just say the way they are. Use your own discretion in reading.

Today, Friday, September 30, was our first anniversary. Today we were planning on making our big pregnancy announcement. That plan got flushed down the toilet this week, sadly, quite literally.

We got our positive pregnancy test September 6. Except we didn't know it was positive at first. We got a super faint line in the positive window of our home test. My husband Henry and I had eagerly looked at it together. No?? Really?? But there was a faint line and I had read a faint line means I'm pregnant. But we weren't sure. So we waited awhile and headed to a different pharmacy for another test. The same thing, except this time it was a little darker. "Well, I guess I'm not" I said and shed some tears of disappointment.

I tried to accept this, but kept thinking. I went to my laptop and did some research. I went back to Henry and happily told him he was indeed a Daddy! I had baked apple pie that day. It would provide solace if it was negative, or serve to celebrate if positive. So we celebrated with coffee, apple pie, and ice cream.

I called the midwife to ensure I was right. She thought my test was likely positive. I did ask about the uterine cramping I was having. She did say it could be an indication the pregnancy wasn't viable, but we hoped for the best. I was a Mommy!

Cramping persisted, but without a trace of blood, easing my fears considerably. Besides, I had read this was common and normal.  However, we held off with sharing the news with family or friends for awhile, just to be safe. My first bouts of nausea came within two days of the positive test, but were generally eased by snacking. I had a break for about a week, and then the nausea and lack of appetite came back much stronger.

A few days prior to this, on September 16, I started to spot on and off pretty consistently. Although I had uterine cramping for a couple weeks, it didn't intensify with the spotting. I had checked my temperature the morning I got concerned and my temperature had dropped considerably. I broke into a heap of tears, convinced we were inevitably miscarrying. Henry tried his best to comfort me and then went to Google, his go-to solution when he has a question. His conclusion: drop the thermometer. Many pregnant women experience temperature drops and end up being completely fine. I took the advice, knowing that I had a temperature drop two days before our positive pregnancy test and it went back up the next day.

I did take it easier, trying to avoid anything too strenuous. I went about my lighter daily work, or at least until the nausea got worse a few days later. I endured the morning sickness, trying to eat, but thankfully didn't have to vomit once. Then a week ago, I had no nausea and could eat easier. Yay! I went about my day, was washing some dishes, when I felt I should really go to the bathroom and check. My spotting was red now. I called Henry immediately, seeing when he could be home. I tried to hold tight and not assume the worst. But it was hard not to. I got through to the midwife, and she suggested a trip to a doctor's office to get an ultrasound. At 6 1/2 weeks, they should be able to detect a heartbeat, which would give us reassurance.

Okay. A few deep breaths. Try to hold the tears. Start drinking to fill my bladder. Off to the doctor. After the longer than expected initial background/intake process, which was putting my bladder in a lot of pain, I squeezed Henry's hand as we got to see our tiny baby up on a screen, baby and sac measuring only approximately 7mm. Although the doctor could not detect a heartbeat, he thought the pregnancy looked good. The baby did measure a little small for how far along I was, and he figured that was why he couldn't detect the heartbeat.

It was enough to reassure us. He prescribed some progesterone to stop the bleeding and strengthen implantation, advised me to avoid any strenuous work for the next few days, and come back in a week to check again, on our anniversary. But we ended up seeing him again sooner than expected.

I went home, took it easier, leaving more strenuous tasks for my husband. I felt pretty good overall. The next morning, I had severe bowel cramping and some diarrhea. I tried to adjust and used my better judgment for some things. The cramping slowly eased over the next couple days. Monday, we had a rainy day, so I couldn't do my laundry. I busied myself with some other lighter things that needed to be done. Tuesday morning, I was able to go in and have my first appointment with the midwife. Although it wasn't a full prenatal appointment, we talked about how things were going, filled out some paperwork, etc. Before I had left home in the morning, I did some light housework and got a couple loads of laundry on the line. But somehow I felt like I needed to be a little extra careful.

Towards the end of our visit with the midwife, I was having some abdominal cramping, assuming it was just because of a full bladder. We had our appointment en route to some business matters, and we stopped for lunch. I made my way to the bathroom quick, getting pretty desperate for relief. But the blood clots I lost in there unsettled me a little. We had lunch and went about business. But the cramping didn't ease up. I felt like I had my period. Although I had had frequent cramping, this felt different. But I had to remind myself not assume the worst again.

I tried not to worry too much, but then got a message from a family member, asking how things were going. We chatted pregnancy stuff, but after mentioning the clots/period cramping combination, she was definitely concerned. I didn't want to believe she was right. Having left my jacket at the midwife, we stopped there later in the afternoon on our way home. I mentioned what I had started to experience a few hours earlier. Not good. Go home and lay down. I shed some tears and she gave me instructions as to what to do and what not to do. With tears still in my eyes, I went back to the truck and informed Henry. She didn't want to give us false hope...

We went home. Henry held me as I cried, but had to go back to work. I went to bed and cried more, but had to get up to distract myself with something else. What we had been afraid of was likely about to happen. I was already thinking through all the what-nows, and changes to our almost perfect plans we had made around our baby. Henry was still hopeful that evening. He was confident it was okay, and that there would be a heartbeat when we went back to the doctor a few days later. I tried. I had already given up all hope, but I tried to hold on to it again.

We prayed together that evening and went to bed. He opted out of working late on a home project, knowing I needed him beside me. I tossed and turned for hours, not being able to sleep well. And then it started. Around 3am, I began to get extreme radiating pain through my entire abdomen and in my back. I felt like my bowels were tearing apart. I could hardly sit because of the pressure it added. Henry called the midwife. I was likely experiencing a mini-labour. Tea and warm baths to help the process along. The intense pain soon subsided and were followed by the contractions the midwife had mentioned, anywhere from around 3 to almost 10 minutes apart, varying in intensity. We did the best we knew, having had no labour preparation. Henry supported me and held my hand through the pain.

After a few hours, the pains eased, exhaustion took over and we slept for a couple hours.  When the pain started in the night, I told Henry that I couldn't physically or emotionally handle being alone for most of 14 hours the next day, as he had a very full work day. He took the morning off of work, but as the day progressed, it became clear he couldn't leave me alone for more than a few minutes at a time. So he helped me "labour," made me breakfast, brought me lunch in bed, made cups of teas, and did whatever else he could.

In the afternoon, we were ready to let go. Henry took my hands and we prayed. We just let God have it, and asked for the baby to come soon, to be able to know it when it came, and be able to bury it. We hadn't been specific enough in regards to the pain, it seemed. Almost immediately the contractions came more frequently and more intense, with very few breaks from the pain in between. I took another bath, hoping this would bring it to where it could come out. After a fair bit of screaming, I finally conceded to taking a couple Advils to try ease the pain. It could be a few hours yet.

It was more. I kept "labouring." It eased off at times and we got a couple more hours of rest late afternoon. When we went to bed at night, I got a few drowsy hours before the contractions began regularly again. Soon my husband had to get up and hold and support me through them again. My screams came half from the pain, half from the frustration of how long we had to endure. The utter exhaustion and lack of sleep wasn't helping either. I had already started thinking Where is God? First He takes our baby, then leaves me alone to suffer for so long.

Close to dawn, we caved. We decided it was time to go to the hospital for some other pain relief. We called the doctor first and he met us at his office for another ultrasound, to see how everything was coming out. He explained that the fetus had pretty much dissolved and come out in pieces. We didn't have the chance to hold or bury our first, tiny child.

Although everything was progressing well, (as far as a miscarriage goes), the doctor did recommend the hospital for some pain relief through IV. It would help more than a pill. So off we went, got checked in, I donned a lovely gown, and endured the pain of getting the IV in, and then the initial nausea, and temporary blurred vision of the pain reliever. We spent the day there, mostly doing nothing, but we were able to have a break from the contractions and get a little rest. In the evening, we were sent home with a prescription for some other pain relievers, and we were also relieved to be able to spend the night in our own bed.

We had a good night and I was able to sleep through most of it. I was up early, not able to sleep more because of everything on my mind. My phone started going off shortly with some anniversary wishes. Although thankful, it was hard responding with the news that we had just lost our baby. Although we otherwise wouldn't had much time until later in the weekend to celebrate it together, it was still far from the anniversary we had anticipated.

We had had doubts about how the pregnancy was going to go. (This added to our hesitation in sharing the news earlier.) But nothing prepared us for what a miscarriage was really like. We had no idea going through a miscarriage at 7 weeks would mean such a long, intense "labour." I have not had the chance to give birth to a full-term, live baby, but I do know my husband has never seen me in such prolonged, intense pain. We had hoped to be able to see and hold our baby; we never got to. There was stuff that came out that we wondered if it was part of it, but we couldn't really tell for sure. As much as I dislike the thought, our baby more or less just got washed down drains, the toilet, or thrown in the garbage.  We had read a little about miscarriages, but in the end, the experiences of women are vastly different. All we know is ours, with the only child we have had so far.

Today has been better. There have been emotional triggers, just thinking about it, thinking of telling people, or hearing the cry of a baby while we were in the hospital. But for the most part, I'm cried out, at least for now. With the medication, the pain is now very bearable, and I haven't been in bed for most of the day. I'm taking it easy, allowing my body to heal, hoping next time we can keep it.

I still consider myself a Mommy, even if I never got to hold my baby. My husband has been an awesome Daddy. He has taken amazing care of me. Even though our day was not what we had hoped, I rejoice in the year we've had together, and the suffering has deepened our love. This will probably always be on my mind every time our anniversary comes, and it will be when May 16 rolls around and I wonder about the baby we could have had. Was it a boy or a girl? We don't know. (I was convinced it was a boy, and Henry that it was a girl.) But in writing this, I know he or she will not be forgotten.

Currently, I'm doing fairly well. I have recovered physically faster than I had expected. I have unexpected emotional lows at times, where Henry needs to be there for me, hold me, or take me out for a walk. Spiritually, I have wrestled with questions. God said "No" to our prayers, when we prayed for a healthy pregnancy, and when we let go during the miscarriage. Can I accept that? Was the miscarriage really God's will? Can I still be a Mom? I don't know if I will get the answers, but I believe that in time healing will come.

Monday, 26 September 2016

"One of the Few" Review

"One of the Few" is the account of Marine fighter pilot Jason Ladd's journey to faith and the belief system he has come to embrace. It follows his story from childhood through college, and well into his adult years, taking the reader to many locations around the globe. Jason recounts his younger years, being passive to the idea of God, until he was forced to think about what he really believed when challenged by his wife. With time and searching, he comes to embrace the faith that he further presents in the his book.

Aside from his personal testimony, Jason uses his experiences to draw comparisons between military service and the life of a Christian. He tackles many engaging topics, including Christians serving in the military, the transgender movement, pornography, marriage, alcohol abuse, and why various worldviews have become so popular. This variety does make for an engaging read.

Jason finished the book better than he started. The first part was less engaging for me. This was partly due to all the military terminology, which I am largely unfamiliar with, although he does try to explain as much as possible. I found that many of his illustrations didn't flow well. He touched on some subjects, but didn't discuss them fully, leaving me with questions. There were also inconsistencies in some details, causing confusion, and some incorrect facts were overlooked.

However, the style did improve as I progressed and the author was more successful in engaging me. Jason shares his beliefs with strong conviction. He is not afraid to share what he personally believes. He doesn't shy away from sensitive topics and chooses to speak up against them, rather than stand on the tolerance fence. The reader is left without a doubt that the author has truly been transformed.

"One of the Few" is a worthwhile read, exploring the life of a Marine, questions about faith, and the answers with the power to change a man. It provides a well-informed perspective on various worldviews and emphasizes the importance of holding to one, as well as teaching our children, instead of leaving them to search for answers on their own. This is a book that will perhaps challenge you to get off the fence and choose where you stand.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author and was in no way compelled to write a positive review.

As posted on Amazon.com.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

My Low-Fodmap Life

There's an aspect of my life that I haven't shared much about on this blog: IBS.  I've often thought about sharing my story, but have never quite gotten to that point.  In short, about eight years ago, I became really sick with a parasite, and even after using a couple rounds of antibiotics and going through a few natural cleanses, I was still having problems.  So my road of testing began, and we were able to solve a smaller problem, but still didn't have an explanation for my stomach pains and bowel patterns.  After a series of tests, some very uncomfortable and humiliating, the results were in. Nothing.  However, with my set of symptoms, I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, a functional bowel disorder where nothing appears to be wrong with the bowels, but they don't function properly.  As a result, the patient often experiences abdominal cramping, constipation and/or diarrhea, gas, bloating, etc.

Well, there seemed to be ways to at least control symptoms, and the mantra my doctor gave me was "fibre, water, exercise" as well as managing stress. And so I tried a high-fibre diet, eating All-Bran, Fibre 1, multigrain bread products, adding inulin to my drinks, etc.  Also, yogurt and probiotic supplements were recommended.  I also tried using an antispasmodic drug for a while.  So I tried different things. However, as much as I was pushed to have a big bowl of fibre cereal every morning, I kept telling my doctor that milk in the morning made me feel queasy.  Eventually this led to the question of lactose intolerance, and about a year after my initial testings, I was confirmed somewhat lactose-intolerant.  Now I was diving into experimenting with expensive dairy free milks and lactase enzymes.

In short, after some time, I learned to manage my condition, and when I didn't feel good, I could usually trace it to something I ate.  Then about two years ago, it all started to go downhill.  This happened after a rather stressful time in my life, and I confess I prayed suffering upon myself.  Soon, no matter what I ate it seemed, almost every afternoon I was plagued with pains in my stomach, back, and got bad gas.  After awhile, this sent me back to a doctor's office to see if anything else was going on.  Tests related to my digestive tract were clear and I was back to assessing my diet.

While working with a dietician, I learned about the Low-Fodmap diet, a diet developed in Australia, with credible research behind it. About 70-80% of individuals that suffer from IBS experience improvement.  The basic theory behind the diet is that there are certain groups of carbohydrates that don't digest and then create a lot of water and gas in the digestive tract, causing pain, bloating, discomfort, gas, etc.  In order to go through the diet, you cut out all five carb groups (fructose, lactose, fructans, galactans, and polyols) for about 6-8 weeks, until you see improvement, and then add each group in individually to see which foods cause symptoms.  So it means a time commitment of several months to follow through with the elimination process.  The research and success rate did make me consider it, but the lists of foods to avoid were outrageous.  I tried finding recipes for this diet, and most of them contained unfamiliar ingredients, would have been expensive, or just didn't look like food I would eat.  Many other books on IBS recommended high fibre recipes including lots of beans or carciferous vegetables; not good when they really cause gas issues.  Besides all this, in a home down to three people, I would have to make most of my own food, which hardly made sense.

So, I left it on the shelf.  But since my husband and I started dating last year, my health became a frequent topic of discussion, and often caused inconvenience.  After we were married, I tried a few different elimination diets, including gluten and dairy.  This seemed to provide some relief.  But I was still daunted by the Low-Fodmap experiment.  However, my husband was supportive and willing to go through it with me.  A trip to El Paso was also necessary to get ingredients, due to lack of availability of certain products in Mexico.

To give readers unfamiliar with the diet an idea of what I was up against, here is a brief list of foods that were off the menu, or could only be eaten in limited amounts.
  • apples, pears, peaches, plums, mangos, guayaba, blackberries, apricots, watermelon, dried fruits
  • honey, fructose syrups
  • milk products like milk, cottage cheese, cream cheese, yogurt, ice cream, etc (unless lactose free)
  • beans
  • wheat based bread, pasta, crackers, baked goods
  • garlic and onions (the green part of green onions was allowed, as well as garlic/onion infused oils)
  • barley, rye, regular oats
  • avocados, mushrooms, asparagus, cauliflower, celery, cabbage, beets, peas, corn
  • almonds, cashews, pistachios
  • chocolate
Giving up gluten especially was hard.  Cooking without garlic and onion.  Being limited as to which fruits and vegetables I could eat.  Having to read labels on pretty much any packaged food.  It was daunting.

So I spent a lot of time preparing, researching, gathering recipes, and becoming a Pinterest addict.  And we began our endeavour. We started the process in early January and we're still going at it.  We have a couple weeks of the process left, after which I will start eating more foods I can tolerate, but still be careful for a few months while I experiment with others I'm still unsure about.  Although some dairy is allowed in this diet, for most of it, I have been very low dairy/dairy free.  I have also done a natural cleanse, taken probiotics, bone broth, sauerkraut, other supplements, etc. It has been a lot to keep up with.  Also, I cook all my own broth, make my own salad dressings, ketchup (which we actually like better than Heinz), and my own sausage.

When people hear about all this stuff I can't have, they wonder what we actually eat.  Well, I have been able to adapt and cook really good meals.  I cook more with raw herbs and spices and use fruit/citrus flavours.  There are things that are still harder.  There are foods I miss terribly.  But we have managed.  At home, it's not too bad.  The challenge becomes greater when we go out somewhere to eat.  But here are some examples of the great food we do enjoy.

Breakfasts generally consist of some sort of potato and egg combination, heuvos rancheros, veggie omelettes, baked oatmeal, gluten free pancakes, or simply fruit, cereal, or smoothies.

This orange french toast on homemade gluten free bread was a real treat.

Lunch is generally our biggest meal, and I've discovered some great new recipes and played with some different flavours.  Chinese five spice and fresh ginger is what makes this an awesome beef ginger stir fry.

Sometimes a little modification is all that's necessary to make a dish that you normally enjoy. Such is the case with this Hawaiian chicken and Herbed Basmati Rice.

This Cincinnati Chili included a unique blend of spices and is served on gluten free pasta.

Homemade Jamaican jerk seasoning and warm sauteed pineapple totally puts a new favourite kick on chicken fajitas.

Orange marmalade isn't just for toast. Sometimes it's for Spicy Orange Glazed Pork Chops too, with a rice and veggie pilaf.

Comfort food can be had too, and we enjoyed a classic Shepherd's Pie with a salad and homemade ranch.

And sometimes, you just need some gluten-free chocolate pudding cake! :)

In addition to this, we also eat lots of salads (although we avoided raw veggies for awhile), and eat lots of soups to get cooked veggies for easier digestion.

I must say, I am looking forward to being done with this process. It hasn't been easy to stick out, and without my husband, I think I would have caved numerous times.  It hasn't brought as much relief as we had hoped for, but slowly we're working through what's okay, what's not, and what we're still not sure about.  We've had to work with the challenge of getting enough fibre without eating wheat.  Right now, it looks like I may have to stay low-gluten or gluten-free, although we're not entirely sure yet. That is one really sad possibility for me. There is definitely a wealth of fantastic gluten-free recipes out there, and although I have succeeded in baking a few fairly good breads, it still doesn't measure up to wheat. And in times when I get super frustrated about what I can't eat, I have to be thankful for what I can still eat, remember that I'm not alone, and know there's more to life than food.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

The Effects of Communism on the Identity of Russian Mennonites

I wrote the following essay for my final assignment for my "Mennonite History" class at Steinreich Bible School.


Communism had detrimental effects on Russian Mennonites, turning their peaceful, prosperous lives into lives defined by persecution, pain, heartache and intense suffering.  I decided to write about the persecution of Mennonites in Russia during communism because I was sure to find a wealth of information.  However, I discovered it to be a heavy and depressing subject.  The documentary “And When They Shall Ask” describes the lives of the Mennonites prior to communism as “a long, soft summer evening.”  However, in the early 20th century, their economic progress, well-developed educational systems, churches, culture, and family life were slowly snuffed out by the Marxian philosophy adopted in a nation for the first time.  The goal was to change not only the face of the nation, but also the face of the individuals.  And it did.  For the majority, the face of the Mennonite was not transformed into the “communist man” that was hoped for, but it did transform the Mennonite face into one of pain, hardship, grief, and, starvation; a face robbed of its freedom of religion, education, culture and prosperity.  Moreover, it robbed untold faces of their existence and left behind a trail of broken families.  Those who survived were indeed changed.      

            The years before the introduction of communism were the Golden Years for the Mennonites.  They had increased in numbers, wealth, and had built a good life in a new home with their own public institutions. It was a time of growth, peace, and prosperity.  Leaders in agriculture, Mennonite farmers developed new methods and machinery and also became involved in industry.  Motivated to be well-educated, they governed quality schools with their own curriculum.  Some respect was given by the government to their pacifist views, and alternative military service options were made available.  It was a culture admired by Tsar Nicholas I, a culture that was able to contribute to the nation, but was also able to remain independent with freedom of language, education, culture, and religion.       

“Communism” is defined by Merriam-Webster simply as “a way of organizing a society in which the government owns the things that are used to make and transport products (such as land, oil, factories, ships, etc.) and there is no privately owned property.”  It made its way into Russia shortly after the turn of the century.  Dissatisfied peasants rose up in 1905, World War 1 began in 1914, and the Russian Revolution followed in 1917—the year that communism was fully established.  Civil war ensued, as the Red Army, made up of Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks, fought against the White Army, those resisting communism.  In 1924, Lenin died and Joseph Stalin began his rule in Russia.  He introduced the Five Year Plan in 1928, demanding rapid industrialization (supposedly to defend against invasion) and large collective farms; the plan resulted in a severe famine from 1932 to 1933.  Furthermore, churches were shut down and schools forced to adopt Marxian philosophy. Throughout Stalin’s life, countless people suffered under his communist rule.

            During the earlier communist years, from 1918 to 1921, one of the greatest terrors to the Mennonites was an anarchist named Nestor Makhno. Makhno led a huge army, comprised mainly of peasants under the motto “anarchy is the mother of all order.”  Every land owner was viewed as an enemy, and thus, the wealth of the Mennonites made them a prime target.  The army invaded villages where they robbed homes, murdered innocents, burned property, and raped women and children. They took food, livestock, and anything else that could be taken; what was left was destroyed.  When the German army entered the Ukraine in April 1918, the Mennonites were able to experience a brief time of peace and security.  The soldiers came with a familiar language and background and became welcome guests in the homes of the Mennonites.  However, with this also came some conflicting feelings.  Children were curious over the weapons that accompanied the soldiers, which made it more difficult for parents who held strong pacifist values.  Nevertheless, the peace was short lived.  When the war ended in November 1918, the German army retreated and the Mennonites’ security went with them.

            With the German army gone, Makhno returned to terrorize the Mennonites once again.  The Germans had left weaponry behind, and with it a great struggle of faith and values, particularly for the younger generation.  As young men watched their mothers and sisters get raped by the anarchist army, they became angry and questioned their non-resistance philosophy.  Many became convinced they had to take up arms with their roles as men and protect the ones they loved.  Thus the “Selbstschutz” was formed, meaning self-defense. However, this defense only provoked further attacks.  Hundreds were killed by the army in the fall of 1919, including 245 in Chortitza alone.  Some villages lost all their men.  (A severe famine also affected the Mennonites between 1919 and 1920, and approximately 2,200 Mennonites lost their lives during these two years.)  In later years, the “Selbstschutz” was regretted by many members of the Mennonite community.

            The Mennonite church continued to suffer greatly under Stalin’s rule which began in 1924.  Gradually their freedom to practice their faith was snuffed out. In 1925, the General Conference petitioned the government for eight rights for the Mennonites which they felt critical to their survival; the appeal was denied.  In 1929, laws were introduced forbidding churches from helping one another materially and having organized meetings or events. When the Marxian philosophy was forced into schools by 1930, Mennonites could no longer educate in accordance with their faith. Teachers unwilling to adapt were exiled and the well-developed educational system fell apart.  Churches were closed down and ministers arrested and exiled.  Also, military service exemption now required an application from each individual.  Some young men who applied were imprisoned, while others who refused to participate in service were sent to forced labour camps.  Eventually, almost no exemptions were made and many were forced into regular military service.  Communism had made a direct attack on their faith and cultural practices.

            According to Stalin, communism was not a choice, and those unwilling to conform were sent to forced labour camps or exiled to remote areas of Russia, like Siberia.  The Black Raven became another terror to the Mennonites.  The term referred to black vehicles used by state police (the NKVD) during Stalin’s rule.  Families would lie awake at night in fear.  Would the knock come at their door that night?  The car would arrive in a village at night and men would be arrested, never to be seen again.  This left many homes without a father; women now had to care for their families.  In some cases, mothers would work long days on collectives, leaving young children alone at home.  In their desperation to survive, their children suffered emotional neglect and only distanced themselves from the parent they had left.  Women often minimized their difficulties and loss and they became hardened by their experiences.  The effects of their pain remained until the later years of their lives, as well as those of their children.

            Persecution during the communist years divided families as well as dispersed the Russian Mennonites across the globe.  Many had left Russia prior to the introduction of communism.  23,000 left Russia between 1922 and 1927, settling in the Americas.  In 1929, 13,000 attempted to escape, but only 5,677 succeeded. Prior to Adolf Hitler’s invasion of the Ukraine in 1941, nearly half of the Mennonites in Russia were sent to Siberia, forced labour camps, or uninhabited areas of the country.  Many were dispersed to Germany and the Americas again during World War 2.  Following the war, many tried to escape with the retreating German army, but Stalin ordered all the escaped Russians to be returned, so most were captured and returned to their homeland, now a prison.  After Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953, no Mennonites were left in Molotschna or Chortitza, although some returned later on.  Similar to the effects of persecution in the early church of Acts, communism caused the Mennonites to be dispersed around the world.

            Communism had a direct effect on approximately 120,000 Mennonites, the majority of whom experienced loss of homes, property, and/or family members.  It also had direct effects on their church life, educational systems, and presence around the world.  Years of peace and growth were followed by years of destruction and suffering.  Communism sought to take away the identity of individuals and cultures and replace it with the identity of a “communist man.”  Although the identity of many or all Mennonites in Russia changed, for most, it did not change to a “communist man.”  Some Mennonites became stronger in their faith while others turned away and abandoned their heritage.  What communism did do was further spread the face of the Mennonite around the globe and spread its influence, especially to the Americas.  Now scattered in numerous countries were the faces of Mennonites that carried untold pain, many suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, or other mental illnesses.  Some opened up and shared their experiences while others remained closed.  Although church meetings did resume again in Russia in the 1950s, surely the people that met there were different from the ones who met fifty years earlier.  As of 2012, only about 3,000 Mennonites remained scattered throughout Russia, many located in Siberia.  They no longer possess the wealth or recognition they once did, but many continue to possess the faith of their forefathers.  It was a faith that remained despite persecution and the loss of all they held dear.  It was a faith that endured through the fires of communism.