Friday, August 23, 2013

Book Review: I Am Hutterite

I am fascinated by the Hutterites. I always have been, ever since I was a kid. I've always wanted to learn more about them but this was before the internet, before the google, and before I knew a librarian could help me find a book on the topic.

As a child, I dreamed about writing a book about the Hutterites. It was going to be about this girl who was my age (naturally) who was out riding her bike and witnessed a crime. She had to go into the witness protection program (did I get this idea from a movie?) and - you guessed it - the court sent her to a Hutterite colony. The rest of the book would be all about her learning about their culture, which in turn would teach young readers (like me) about them.

Why the Hutterites? My uncle and aunt have a cabin at a lake, and to get to the lake you have to drive past a Hutterite colony. We used to drive past the colony every summer. Maybe this piqued my interest? As a young adult, I once danced with a group of Hutterite teenagers from this colony at an outdoor Leahy concert in the town near the lake. I taught school in that town briefly and one of my jobs was to teach grade 4 one day a week so the teacher could go teach at the Hutterite school. During this three month teaching contract, I lived at my uncle and aunts cabin, so I would drive past the colony twice a day. Another uncle lives in a small town and does business with Hutterites and tells stories sometimes. I see them at the farmer's market. For some reason, I've always been fascinated by their life.

Recently, I read a super interesting book called "The Hutterites in North America" by Rod Janzen and Max Stanton (2010, 400 pages). It was soooooo interesting - exactly the kind of book on Hutterites I needed to read. It explained their history, the difference between the four groups, where they live, how they live, their culture etc: each chapter dealt with a part of their culture, such as education, agriculture, business, governance, gender etc. So interesting. It fully satisfied the curiosity I've been harbouring for decades.

But I read that in June and now it's August.

August 2013 book club genre: nonfiction

So, yeah, I can't use the book I read a couple months ago. But, I've had a book on my shelf about Hutterites for years, just waiting to be read. I picked it up at a Walmart. It's published by Polka Dot Press, the vanity press of the author, who has also published a Hutterite children's book. It's a memoir - billed as "the fascinating true story of a young woman'e journey to reclaim her heritage." Memoirs are nonfiction. Thank you book club for giving me the most excellent excuse to read...

I Am Hutterite
By Mary-Ann Kirkby
208 pages

Kirkby grew up in a Hutterite colony in Manitoba in the 1960s. Though she describes the courtship of her parents, most of the book details what it was like to be a child in the colony. Her retelling is fascinating, and quite idyllic. It was very helpful for me to have already read a book on Hutterites, as Kirkby doesn't go into a ton of background detail. I felt like I already had the background to how Hutterites lived, and Kirkby supplemented that by telling me the story of her childhood. For example, she says what type of group her colony belongs to (and that's it, just the group name, though I suppose the whole book is the description of it), whereas the Janzen and Stanton book describes all four groups and the similarities and differences of each. As such, reading these two books together was a perfect match.

Three quarters of the way through, the author switches directions. When she was about 9 years old, in 1969, her parents decided to leave the colony. In hindsight, reasons for this are alluded to throughout the book. The rest of the book details what it was like for the family to adjust to life on their own, including details about what it was like for the children to go to an "English" school (Hutterites speak a form of high German as well as Huttrisch, which is an old German dialect. They do also learn English at school on the colony, but this is not the predominant language spoken around the colony. Janzen and Stanton taught me that.). I thought this section was a bit rushed. Kirkby previously delved into life on the colony in such detail that it seemed like the last part of the book lacked this level of effort. It was almost like she went from a teenager to a married adult in a chapter, whereas her childhood took up more than a dozen chapters. Perhaps the point was to explain the unknown to the reader (life in the colony), while assuming the readers know what it's like to go to public school, get a first job, learn how to drive and fall in love and get married. I had grown attached to the character and wanted to learn about her entire life, not just the Hutterite part. I suppose that was slightly out of scope.

Overall this book was well written and easily accessible - it certainly wasn't a hard read. This is the first self-published book I've ever read and I thought she did a pretty good job. She certainly has the appropriate knowledge of both an insider's and outsider's view of life in a Hutterite colony. There were also pictures at the start of every chapter, which helped set the scene, especially in terms of Hutterite fashion!

If you are interested in learning more about Hutterites, I would recommend both of these books be read together. Reading the Janzen and Stanton book first will give you the background about life in the colony, and Kirkby's book will tell you a story about what it's like to grow up in as a Hutterite. Both compliment each other very well. If you're only going to read one, stick with the informative volume by Janzen and Stanton, unless you want an easier surface read, then go with Kirkby.

My lifelong dream of learning about Hutterites is complete. It is a fascinating culture and I'm glad I took the time to learn more about their way of life!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Weekend That Almost Wasn't: Folk Fest 2013 Wrap Up

I wasn't going to go to the Edmonton Folk Music Festival this year. It would've been the first time in 12 years I missed it. I was going to go on vacation with a boy, so I declined multiple offers to help me buy tickets (I was out of town at a library conference when they went on sale). I was ok with this decision as the line up, though bookended by awesomeness, wasn't persuading enough (what, no Quebecois band?!) and my usual tarp friends were only going for one night. As usual tickets sold out in record time and I didn't have one.

And then the boy broke my heart.

Besides the overwhelming sadness and loneliness that comes with that, I was filled with regret that I didn't get a Folk Fest ticket. I was annoyed I was going to break my streak! I planned on watching from outside the fence for the opening and closing main stage bands, but as the weeks passed that didn't seem like enough. So in typical Lisa fashion, I told everyone I knew about my situation and pretty much begged for a ticket.

And I got one. My fantasic colleague knew someone who had an extra pass! I actually got a chance to meet the couple who sold me the pass while we were on the hill, and I was happy to report to them that they saved my summer! My fantastic colleague and her family also adopted me for the weekend, and I hung out with them on their tarp. This was actually the best part of the weekend. Sure the music was good, but I'm so thankful I got to spend time with some awesome new friends. I forsee many musical adventures with my new music buddies!

For the second year, I was a top of the hill dweller, and I'll never go back to doing the tarp lotto. It's chill at the top of the hill!

And onto my top 5 musical moments of this year's festival!

1. Delhi 2 Dublin - So one of my absolute favourite bands ever opened the festival. I love these guys! They are so fun! They are one of the few bands I would travel to another to city to see and they did not disappoint! It's almost too bad they were the openers as it took awhile for the crowd to get into it, but by the end the band had everyone all on board. I think this band would be perfect for a later slot, or the weekend afternoon hour, but oh well. In the end everyone got into it and they were the talk of the festival for awhile. And we danced. Oh how we danced like ridiculous dancing fools. I was so happy after their set, and I honestly felt like anything else that I heard the rest of the weekend was just icing on the cake. I can't wait to see D2D again! What a good time!

Delhi 2 Dublin always bring out the dancing fool in me!

2. Loreena McKennitt - She closed the festival and I looked forward to her set all weekend, for nostalgia's sake. As an undergrad, Loreena's CDs were a big part of my study music. There's something about her voice, and the way the music is woven together. It's magical. And she didn't disappoint! I enjoyed every minute of her concert! (See my story below about how it ended though!)

Our view of Loreena McKennitt from the top of the hill.

3. Jerry Douglas - Yeah, I've seen him before, but man, I just love the dobro. It has such a unique sound and he is the master! At one point he put down the dobro to pick up a lap steel and I was ready to be disappointed because it wasn't the dobro, but it was just as good, if not better. How do I not have more of his CDs? His fiddle guy was pretty entertaining too, very animated while he played. All in all a great concert.

Jerry Douglas and his dobro.

4. The Pipers - This year there were two pipe acts. First was the duo: Scottish border piper Ross Ainslie and the Irish uilleann piper Jarlath Henderson. The traditional stuff is good, their cover of AC/DC was good, and their songs were good. Then there was Carlos Nunez, the Galician piper from Spain. He was just...funny, and charming and really happy! He put on a really good concert (even though he started late and played so over time they were dismantling the stage around him!) and reminded me of La Bottine Souriante. I love seeing musician so joyful.

Celtic pipers Ross Ainslie and Jarlath Henderson.

Carlos Nunez, a piper from Spain.

5. The World Languages - I usually like the world bands and try to see them every year, and this year was no different. I aways enjoy hearing Mary Jane Lamond (with Wendy MacIsaac) sing in Gaelic. Makana, the Hawaiian slack key guitar playing was very sweet and sounded awesome. And Niyaz, a middle eastern, usually Farsi, version of Delhi 2 Dublin (who sing in Punjabi themselves) were captivating - their dancer was a whirling dervish! Honourable mention also goes to the Iskwew Singers (Cree) and Fatoumata Diawara (Mali). So many languages, so many different and unique sounds!

Niyaz, traditional meets modern from Iran. 

Makana, sweet sounds from Hawaii.

So again it was a pretty awesome weekend of wonderful music and fantastic company! I'm glad I was able to get a ticket - and you bet no matter what I'm going to try get one next year too!

But this story isn't complete without the tale of what happened during Loreena McKennitt's concert. It was wicked hot during the day, but the evening brought clouds and a few sprinkles. There were a few lightning strikes behind us. My tarpmates weren't big Loreena fans so they left after a few songs. Shortly after they left, Loreena commented about the weather: "I don't know what you're seeing behind me, but that's quite the light show going on behind you. Someone will let me know how many songs I have left, because of the weather..." or some such. The woman on the tarp next to me actually said something like "It's just cloud to cloud lightning, it's no big deal."

Since my tarpmates had left, I moved down the hill to watch from a bit closer. Shortly after I got there, I noticed the man in front of me checking the weather radar on his phone. It looked like I had about half an hour to get home before the storm hit, so I put on my rain coat and headed to the bike lock up, sad to leave the wonderful music. By the time I got to the bike lock up (which is a large fenced in area a couple blocks from the main stage), it had started to sprinkle. As I was prepping my stuff (it's complicated getting my chair strapped onto the back!), the wind toppled over one of the tall lights, right across the entrance gate!! It's so fortunate no one was hurt! A volunteer stood next to it and had to tell everyone coming for their bikes not to use the gate as the light pole was still live and couldn't be touched. Meanwhile, the other volunteers opened up another gate to let everyone in and out. I heard one volunteer say they had stopped the concert (about 30 mins early) and told everyone to go home

The second I got out of the bike lock up, it started to pour buckets! I was soaked instantly. The rain was crazy! Sheets of water were coming down! I rode as best as I could, visibility was poor (and one of my bike light straps had broken so I couldn't use it, later it got drowned and was the first casualty of the storm), but I still dragged that stupid bike up the river valley hill to downtown. At one point my stupid chair fell off so I had to reattach it. Thankfully my ride (after the 10 minute walk up the hill!) was only about 10 minutes through downtown. Good thing the streets were mostly empty because it was slow going and visibility was bad.

Honestly, this was actually the easiest ride home of the festival - so much adrenaline!! But so much rain and wind and lightning and thunder!

As I dismounted to walk up to my condo entrance, I noticed one of the other residents in the lobby looking out the window. Thankfully she opened the door. She took one look at me and said "You're dripping all over the floor." Dripping in an understatement. I was completely drenched, my bag was soaked, my chair was sopping and my bike was wet. I dropped my bag, took off my helmet and unstrapped the chair and left it all in the lobby. Despite the protest of my neighbour to leave my bike in our basement electrical room, I carried my bike up the stairs. I left it the hallway while I got a towel to wipe up the lake I left in the lobby (much to the relief of my neighbour) and carried up my stuff, dripping the whole time. Most of my stuff went into the bathtub. I live in a shoe box, but I managed to get my bike towel dried and left it in my hallway on a couple of towels to dry the rest of the way.

I knew the whole ride home that my iphone, which I had put in my rain jacket pocket during the concert, and then later when I was fixing my chair in my backpack, would be drowned. And it was. It wouldn't work properly, so I turned it off an left it to sit in a bag of rice. (Thankfully, it worked fine the next day - yay rice!)

Unfortunately, besides my bike light, there was another casualty though: my camera. It wasn't even that wet, so I opened the lens (it's got a bit of a zoom lens) and left it to dry overnight. Well, now the lens wont close. Dammit. After a night in rice, it will close if you manually push it down, but the locking mechanism doesn't work. Oh well, it's about 4yrs old and an old model so I'll just use it until it really breaks.

With my phone out of commission, I turned on my laptop to try contact my tarpmates to tell them I was ok. We finally managed to facetime - and it turned out they had been driving around looking for me! Aw, so thoughtful. I felt bad they had gotten home late, but it's nice to know someone cares. In the end we had a good laugh about the whole thing and vowed to make a contingency plan (and put our phones in plastic bags) next year!

Is it time to start the countdown to folk fest 2014 yet?!