Anne Hines.com

February 15, 2010

Anne Hines’ Published Works

Anne Hines

Once described as “Canada’s answer to Irma Bombeck,” Anne Hines began her writing career as the humour/lifestyle columnist for Canadian Living magazine before spending six years as a contributing editor to Chatelaine where her humourous articles on everyday life appeared regularly. Recently, her weekly HineSight humour column appeared in Metro, a national commuter newspaper.

Anne has published five books including three novels; Fishing Up The Moon (Pedlar Press, 1998), The Spiral Garden (McArthur & Co, 2005), and Come Away (McArthur & Co, 2007), as well as a collection of nonfiction humour, A Year In HineSight (McArthur & Co, 2002) and a humorous spiritual autobiography, Parting Gifts: notes on life, love and loss (McArthur & Co, 2009).

Anne has a Masters of Theology degree from the  University of Toronto; Emmanuel College. While in school, her goal was  “to graduate while there is still religion.” Having managed to do that, she is now serving as a United Church of Canada minister in rural Saskatchewan and contributing regular updates on her adventures in small town living to The Toronto Star.

You can contact Anne Hines through email here.

Praise for Anne Hines,
“The mind behind The Spiral Garden has a fine intelligence, a delightful sense of humour, very liberal views, an impressive knowledge of religions, and is unabashedly Canadian.” – Globe and Mail

“[The Spiral Garden is] An intoxicating mix … Hines distills her impressive academic, spiritual and literary knowledge into a provocative cocktail … zips from laugh-out-loud humour to profundity and back again.” – Quill and Quire


Click on a book cover to learn more about Anne Hines’ works or scroll down for upcoming events and updates.

Fishing up the Moon

Fishing up the Moon:

“A humourous and insightful story about finding the wisdom in our own hearts.”

The Spiral Garden

The Spiral Garden:

“The hilarious, critically acclaimed novel about religion and spirituality …and how to reconcile the two.”

A Year in Hinesight

A Year in Hinesight:

“Canada’s answer to Irma Bombeck” offers up wit and wisdom on everyday life. From four years of columns in Canadian Living and Chatelaine magazines.”

Come Away

Come Away:

“Neslted between two of the most formidable voices of the the Old Testament, Ecclesiastes, which does not love women and Isaiah, which loves them less, is one short book which has disturbed clergy and baffled Biblical scholars for over two thousand years. Song of Songs, also called The Song of Solomon is an erotic love poem.”

Parting Gifts

Parting Gifts:

This book is about loss.
In an average day, I lose my scissors, my car keys, my grocery list, my patience and my mind. In an average life, almost all of us are destined to lose our way, our bearings, our youth, our hearts and our heads.

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March 1, 2013

“Farewell to Lucky Lake” from Toronto Star. Sunday, June 3, 2012.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anne Hines @ 1:11 pm

Two years ago, I moved from downtown Toronto to Lucky Lake, SK (pop. 295) to serve as a minister for the United Church of Canada. I’m a city girl through and through. When I moved to the country, I was worried I might pass out from all the clear, clean air. Someone would have to administer smog.

Though the city is my home, the country has been my classroom. Travelling to new places always teaches us something. For instance, when my mother travelled overseas last year, she was annoyed to learn that only one company in Europe would rent a car to someone over the age of 80. For my part, I was sorry to learn there was even one.

Since moving to rural Saskatchewan, I’ve learned there are similarities between city and country folk. Neither can imagine why the others want to live there. And, I’ve discovered a few myths about country life.

Myth No. 1: No stress.

When I lived in Toronto, I often thought we should stop arguing about whether the government should continue lacing our drinking water with flouride. Instead, we should demand they spike it with Valium. Frankly, we Torontonians are anxious.

Being in a rural community has made me realize, though, that I knew nothing about stress. True stress is not fretting about whether the car ahead of me will run the red light in time for me to also run the red light. Or that the line at Starbucks is so long, I’ll be at my appointment at 8:17 instead of 8:15. Real stress is having a $500,000 combine in your yard and five centimetres of water on your field.

No 2: No crime.

The first time I left Lucky Lake, I mentioned to neighbours that I’d given my key to Mavis across the street. They exchanged bemused looks and  I began to wonder whether sweet, grandmotherly Mavis was actually the town kleptomaniac. Finally someone said, “You locked your door?”

That doesn’t mean there’s no crime here. Recently, in nearby Birsay, the town hall was defaced with graffiti. The RCMP suspect gangs. Debate raged among local coffee clutches as to whether the entire population of Birsay, which totals 40 adults, children and octogenarians, is enough to make one decent gang. Someone suggested, “Well, maybe, but who would they war with?” This is seeding time. Everyone’s busy.

No. 3: No fun:

Entertainment? The annual Birsay Turkey Shoot. No turkeys are harmed at this event. No turkeys are actually present, except frozen ones to be given as prizes. There is a game involving a live chicken, though. Participants “purchase” one of 40 squares drawn on a paper, which is then slid into the cage under the chicken. Whichever name the bird’s poop lands on, wins. City folk likely find this an odd way to spend leisure money. Out here we find it odd to pay far more  for the roughly equal delight of seeing whether the Leafs will manage to land a shot.

No 4: There’s no place like home.

After two years, there are still things I don’t understand about rural life in this province. I’ll never figure out how the women here hold down jobs, cook for entire harvest crews, get their kids to a baseball game in a town two hour away and still make sure no store-bought cookie ever turns up on a table after a church service or funeral. Or why such fiercely independent people, who view the concept of “daylight savings time” as unnecessary government interference, are also deeply commited to SaskPower, SaskTel, SaskEnergy and the Wheat Board.

What I have learned is that home is definitely where your heart is. And that a heart can be stretched just like a life view; made big enough to include both our country’s largest city and one of our smallest towns. When I return to Toronto, I suspect the office towers will remind me of grain elevators. And the ebb and flow of traffice will sound like the sweep of wind through prairie grass. So, there really is “no place like home.” And for me, I think home is wherever I find kindness, open hearts and generosity of spirit. And so far, that’s everywhere.

“I am woman. See me hunt.” from Toronto Star. Sunday, March 11.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anne Hines @ 12:39 pm

Spring approaches. And with it comes the return of thousands of snow geese, making their annual migration to the Arctic with a stop just north of my town. Since moving from downtown Toronto to Lucky Lake, SK (pop. 295) to serve as a minister for the United Church of Canada, I’ve learned that local attitudes toward the geese change with the seasons. In spring, we marvel at their grace and beauty. In autumn, we head out and shoot them.

Being eager to participate in all the activities of prairie life, last fall, I decided I should shoot a goose. Frankly, I consider the existence of ducks and geese positive proof that God does not intend for us to be vegetarian. And, reason that if I eat meat, I should be prepared to kill it. Here’s how I fared.

Mid-September:  Very excited. “I am woman. See me hunt.” First step: must learn to use gun. Local rancher and gun safety test-giver, John Peters, agrees to teach me and outlines some basic rules. Bottom line seems to be: don’t aim at anything you’re not prepared to eat.

Get 98% on written test. Very happy. If being a minister doesn’t work out, perhaps I can become town sheriff. Have not actually held a gun yet. But, find myself now viewing fluttering geese less as “breathtaking” and more as “lunch.”

October: Practical exam. Discover that firing a gun is like having sex. Alarming at first, but pretty soon you start to see how this might be fun. John suggests I not screech every time I pull the trigger, as it may unnerve whoever I’m with. So, also like sex.

Hunting enthusiasts Gary Boon and Terry Shaughnessy offer to take me out. Swagger a bit in town. Someone says, “I hear you’re going to shoot a goose.” I have to be truthful. “I’m going to shoot in the general direction of a goose.”

November: Weather finally deemed sufficiently filthy enough for goose hunting. Furthermore, apparently all expeditions begin at 4:30 am. Wonder at wisdom of being around people who have guns, but not enough sleep or coffee. Shaughnessy asks, “What’s life without risk?” My response? “Longer.”

4:30am: Gary and I meet at Shaughnessy’s place. Discover that you cannot just go hunting. First, you have to talk about hunting.

5:30 am: Finally load into truck and head to fields.

6 am: Glacial north wind gusting over prairie. In total darkness, jam metal-spiked bottoms of 200 goose-shaped wind socks into frigid ground. The brisk breeze fills the white canvas cut-outs immediately. We pull on white pants, jackets and hats and hunker down in the midst of a bobbing sea of decoys.

7:10 am: Sun a red line across the horizon. Suddenly, howl of wind combines with pulse of flapping wings. Trails of black specks against a lightening sky. I lift my gun. Line after line of geese appear, hovering briefly, then spiralling down on top of us. Shaughnessy shouts a signal. I click off my safety latch. I squeeze the trigger. Four or five geese thud to the ground.

I choose to think one of them was mine.

9 am: Back at Shaughnessy’s place we clean our “take.” He shows me where to push my fingers into the feathered breast plate and crack the chest cavity. In minutes, 18 geese are lying opened on the table. Shaughnessy slices out the breast meat, plopping it into a plastic bag. We drive the carcasses out of town and leave them for the coyotes.

Head home for a late morning nap. Very happy. I am courageous-amazing-hunter-woman. Toss meat into freezer.

Two weeks later: Given combined cost of gun safety-certificate, hunting licence and permit to carry gun, could have treated friends to steak dinner.

Instead, have bag of goose meat in freezer that I cannot bear to look at. Also, have a stack of recipes for wild goose dropped off by helpful neighbours, that I will never use.

All I can think is, “I turned a goose into meat in a bag.”

Have decided, I am not a hunter. Also, that if you eat meat, it does not mean for a minute that you have to kill it.

As for the life lesson in my freezer, I’m going out soon to make some coyote very happy.

December 24, 2011

“A Change of Heart or, It Takes A (Holiday) Village to Raise A Ruckus” from Toronto Star. December 11, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anne Hines @ 5:53 pm

Since moving from downtown Toronto over a year ago, to serve as a United Church of Canada minister in Lucky Lake, SK (pop 295), I’ve found that life on the prairies is not all that different from in the city. For instance, it is possible to have road rage out here. You just have to wait forty-five minutes for another car to come along. And, when it comes to the holidays, all anyone really, really wants for Christmas is for everything to stay exactly the same.

This was brought home to me recently when our usually harmonious little town suddenly erupted in controversy. The teachers in our local school announced that, rather than presenting a traditional concert this Christmas season, they are going to host a kind of free-flowing “Holiday Village” event. So, instead of assembling en masse in the echoing gymnasium to applaud group after group of children for showing off their skill at waving at their families and forgetting the words to songs, this year parents and students will roam the school together, participating in a variety of fun interactive activities.

Reaction to the news was immediate. Scrums of neighbours collected in the post office, murmuring anxiously. Heated debate broke out in the grocery store check-out line. Someone telephoned, demanding to know what I, as town minister, was going to do to ensure the concert took place as usual. It’s amazing what theology school didn’t prepare me for.

A town meeting was called. Pro-Concert and pro-Holiday Village factions crammed into our school library. Someone began the proceedings with, “I’d like to point out that we’ve been doing this concert exactly the same way for fifty years.”  Both sides took this as a point in their favour.

I understood. Human beings have a profound primal need for change, challenge and adventure in life. And, we have an equally deep-seated need for everything to stay the same. This is exactly the kind of thing, of course, that gives the concept of Intelligent Design a bad name.

When it came to our town conundrum, however, I found myself sitting pretty solidly on the Pro-Tradition side. I like the annual Christmas concert. It reminds me of similar events from my own childhood. And, at least during the holidays, I like to be assured that some things that don’t change.

In fact, the whole concert/no concert issue reminded me of the first year my partner, Liz, and I were together. Christmas morning proved that as a couple we suffered from a serious case of what I now term IHE. Incompatible Holiday Expectations. Liz comes from a “Christmas stockings should contain useful items, not wrapped, because why bother?”" background. My own upbringing was solidly “Are you crazy? I want totally frivolous pretty things and they darn well better be wrapped, just ’cause.” I ended up sobbing with disappointment most of Christmas morning because I found toothpaste in my stocking instead of gaily decorated hair accessories. I didn’t care that it wasn’t rational. I just wanted it to be the same.

I’m not alone in this. My friend Marjorie reports that, even though her daughter won’t be home for the Hanukkah season, she telephoned asking to be reassured that her mother would still be making her traditional latkas. “What will you do?” I asked Marjorie. “Rub some flour on my face, get her on Skype and say they were delicious.”

Our town meeting over, a kind of peace is restored. The teachers agreed they will do the village this year and the concert again next year. I walked home through the snowy, silent streets grateful we’d achieved detente before folks started sporting Team Concert and Team Village shirts around town. But also, musing that in a world where our special holidays often centre around tradition and things staying the same, what do you do when staying the same isn’t an option?

Perhaps, in the end, how we celebrate isn’t as important as remembering why we celebrate. Maybe focusing on the trappings and traditions of the holidays is like putting our attention on the wrapping rather than the gift. If what our village is coming together to celebrate is… well, being together, then perhaps what we do isn’t nearly so important as that we make a point, each year, to do it.

So this year, there’s one alteration I’m happy to entertain. Whatever turns up in my stocking, I’ll focus on how fortunate I am that it was put there by loving hands. And really, when you think about it, nothing makes a holiday more special than that. It’s the one thing that doesn’t change.

 

November 29, 2011

“Modern Family” from Toronto Star. October 16, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anne Hines @ 3:23 pm

On a brilliant, balmy day this past September, I married my ex-husband for the second time. This time was different from the first. Not because I’m older and wiser, though one of those is certainly true. Marrying Michael was different this time for one reason. I am now a United Church of Canada minister. I married him to another woman.

Many people find this odd. I have to say, I used to be one of them. When Michael and Rena became engaged, they emailed from Paris asking if I would preside at their wedding. My first response was, “Oh my gosh, of course!” But weeks later I called asking, “Are you sure? Won’t people think it’s weird?” Rena laughed. “In this family, there’s no such thing as weird.”

She’s right. Certainly portraits taken at Michael and Rena’s wedding don’t show your traditional family group. The bride is beautiful of course. The groom is glowing. The bride’s two teenage children are there. So is the bride’s lesbian rabbi mother and her partner. And Michael and my adult daughter, Becky. Along with our transexual daughter, Jade, who transitioned from male to female. And me, the presiding Christian minister/ex-wife. And my own spouse, Liz.

I have to admit that my image of a perfect family used to me more traditional; a married couple, son and daughter… who all stayed that way. Until, as a friend put it, my dream of a nuclear family melted down.

Even then, while I no longer had a traditional family, at least I knew the traditional way for ex-spouses to behave. We all experience disappointment, resentment and anger in life. The benefit of divorce was, now I had someone to blame it all on.

There’s a problem with this model of dealing with your ex-spouse of course. If you’re going to spend the rest of your life being irritated and frustrated with each other, you may as well just stay married.

A therapist suggested, “You and Michael are going to be in relationship for the rest of your life. You can have a good relationship or a bad relationship.” I suddenly realized that how I relate to other people was entirely up to me.

I could choose the traditional ex-wife role- stay angry at Michael for the rest of my life because things hadn’t turned out as I planned. Or, I could choose not to do that.

True, my life plan had been to get married and stay married forever. But my beauty plan had been to stay 28 forever. Sometimes, we’re forced to rethink. I decided to look for a new way of being family.

“Isn’t it weird?” was the question that was asked when, in the years after, Michael and I sat comfortably side by side at school events, shared family birthdays and turned to each other for help and advice. It was asked when, as a family, we banded together to support our daughter through her transition.

But I’ve come to believe that the real difference between a traditional and modern family is this:

Modern family includes at least one gay, one trans-person if you can possibly manage it (trans is the new gay), one interreligious/racial marriage, unmarried parents of one or more children from one or more different relationships, and at least one divorced couple with/without new partners.

Traditional family includes exactly the same mix. We just weren’t allowed to talk about it.

A few nights before his wedding, Becky, Jade and I took Michael out for a Mexican dinner “send off.” We talked about our family, how it just seems to work for us and how, yes, others find it odd. It brought to mind a quote by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. “This is my way. What is your way? The way doesn’t exist.” Likely, Nietzsche’s family dinner table included a few interesting relatives too.

Rena and Nietzsche were right. “The way” of being family doesn’t exist. “Weird” is useful to describe the smell of the yogurt at the back of the fridge. But it should never be used to limit who we love.

So, I joyously married my ex-husband to his beautiful new wife and one happy family celebrated together. And, there’s nothing more traditional than that.

July 4, 2011

“When in Rome, Wear Overalls” fromToronto Star. Sunday, July 3, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anne Hines @ 2:51 pm

There’s an old saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do… unless of course it’s immoral, illegal or just icky.” So, since I moved from downtown Toronto to Lucky Lake, Saskatchewan about a year ago to serve as a United Church of Canada minister, I’ve been eager to participate in all the events and rituals of rural life. Naturally, I was delighted when local rancher, Sandra Slater, asked if I’d like to help with a branding.

Sandra: You can manage the calves. When we’re done, I’ll cook up some Prairie Oysters.

Wonderful. A day of real life, frontier-style adventure, plus a seafood lunch.

Days before the event, I decided to get some idea of what branding was all about. I headed to the ranch of Doug and Linda Jones.

Doug explained that branding has come a long way since the “grab ‘em by the hooves” hair-searing days of the Old West. With only two helpers, Doug can now process dozens of calves in an hour without touching a single hide.

I watched as calves calmly filed through a railed chute ending at a “tipping table. ” Two metal shields hold the calf securely in place, tip it on its side and the men efficiently vaccinate, ear-chip and apply a quick, electric brand. “What about castrating?” I ask. I had Wikipedia’d “cow care.” “We stick on an elastic band and eventually the thing just falls off,” Doug explained. “No fuss, no bother.” I had to think the cow might not see it that way. Still, I left Doug’s place confident that I would be entirely able to “manage” a calf down that little chute without so much as smudging my designer cowboy shirt.

Early Saturday morning, I arrive at Willowdale Farm, the ranch owned by Sandra and her husband, Lyle. Light snow speckles the hills surrounding their small, remote farmhouse. Two horses are saddled and standing in the yard. “To provide a little local colour,” I think. A surprisingly large group of neighbours begin arriving. Someone asks if I want to borrow overalls. Smiling, I decline.

We head for the corral where some sixty cows and calves, deeply disgruntled about having been rounded up from the pasture, eye us suspiciously and snort in the cold morning air. I ask Sandra where the tipping table and the metal chute are. “Oh, we don’t have those,” she says, “We brand the old-fashioned way.”

I experience a sudden tightening in my stomach. Like I know how those calves with the testicle bands feel.

Allan Allinson, a cowboy with some fifty years of branding experience, swings himself onto a horse and they wade into the herd. A whirl of Allan’s lasso, a high-pitched shriek and they emerge dragging a calf by the hind legs. Sandra and Lyle’s adult sons, Bryan and Brant, expertly grab the calf by the flank, flip it on its side and begin shouting at me to come hold it down.

The calf battles and bawls. The boys instruct me to position my left knee on its neck and my right on its curled front legs. I kneel on the calf and hold on for all I’m worth. A young woman jabs in a vaccination needle. The calf bellows and twists. Sandra swiftly applies a metal wand, red hot from the fire. A flash of flame and smoke, the stench of seared hair. I begin thanking God that it’s all over, just as cowboy Trevor Tuplin wanders over, lops off the cap of skin and hair over the calf’s testicles, applies one clean snip and plops them into a bucket.

The calf and I share a sudden, harmonious moment of human/animal sympathy. We both go into shock.

Hours later, in Sandra’s farmhouse kitchen, I dab off my filthy, wilted shirt. Sandra serves up homemade bread and savoury slow-cooked beef with all the fixings. Then, the traditional delicacy of branding-time, Prairie Oysters; calf testicles, floured, seasoned and fried in as much butter as the pan will hold. The taste and texture are gummy. Normally, I would not say that “gummy” is an adjective that can be used to describe a taste but, in this case, it absolutely does.

Through a picture window I watch cows plodding back up into the hills, the calves already frolicking and sparing with their friends, the trauma of the morning forgotten. I muse for a moment on what I learned today. That sometimes, real life and adventure are not for the feint of heart. And, “When in Rome, wear overalls.”

May 10, 2011

“Courage amid the Rubble… messages from Japan inspire hope.” fromToronto Star. Easter Sunday edition. Sunday, April 24.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anne Hines @ 12:32 pm

Courage amid the Rubble

Messages from Japan inspire hope.

Easter morning. Christians everywhere are celebrating, singing, “Hope comes with the dawn.” But I haven’t had to wait for Easter. For weeks now, hope has come daily in messages from a shattered city in Japan.

The day the earthquake hit, my friend Kenko Tsuji replied to my frantic e-mail message, assuring me that though the ground under their tiny Tokyo restaurant continued to shiver, she and her husband, Kiyoshi, were fine. There was no electricity, Kenko said, no way to preserve the precious fish Kiyoshi turns into sushi. No customers in any case. But Kenko worried most about her brother, four hours away in Sendai City, in hospital with a broken leg. “We cannot contact him,” she wrote. Then added, “But do not worry for us. All we need is love and not material things.”

In the weeks since, Kenko’s messages have continued full of unfaltering courage. Perhaps this should come as no surprise. When she joined our family some twenty years ago, as nanny to our children, Kenko embraced life in this new country and culture with cheerful determination. On her days off, she began to study the Japanese tea ceremony, an ancient art that turns the simple act of making tea into an exercise in cultivating mindfulness and inner peace.

Kenko married Kiyoshi, a Toronto sushi-chef, and they returned to Japan, to realize their dream of owning their own restaurant. Kenko continued to study the tea ceremony, learning patience with her own process, and sharing quiet with those who engaged her to perform the ritual as a celebration of life milestones, or simply to reconnect with the calm we all hold deep within.

When the tsunami hit, I should have realized that Kenko’s spirit would rise above the crushing destruction of waves. Her first e-mails contained details of devastation but also her plan to offer the tea ceremony, as soon as possible, to those who were plunged into despair around her. “We can’t keep in a mood of sorrow,” she wrote a week after the disaster, “We need to keep really close to make a day that we can smile together.”

In Canada we have many examples of those who have turned daunting life challenges into their mission in the world. Terry Fox may be the most famous. But there are others who, like Kenko, work daily at transforming a care into caring. In my own small community in Saskatchewan, Michelle Walsh, mother of three young children, has turned her battle with MS into a crusade to assist other sufferers. From her farmhouse in tiny Beechy, Sask. (pop 295), Michelle’s web-site provides 3,000 people a month, from all parts of the world, with information and encouragement.

My own daughter, Jade, is a transwoman. Jade was born biologically male but knows herself to be female. After suffering through her own “tsunami of the soul,” as I call it, Jade is studying for a social work degree. Her goal is to become a therapist to support other trans-folk.

As a Christian minister, I’ll be talking to my congreagtions this Easter morning about transforming our challenges into our own special way of serving and inspiring the world; turning our crosses into our causes. This is not a message Christians have a monopoly on by any means. For me, this possibility is being lived out most obviously now by a Buddhist woman in Toyko who, daily, sends me messages of courage and hope.

Recently, Kenko mentioned her plan to visit her parents in the countryside, but noted that it may be many months before the roads outside Tokyo are passable again. In the meantime, she writes, “I learn something of value every day. We do not need so much electricity. And, we should never think we are smarter than nature.” Again, Kenko turned to the tea ceremony for wisdom, offering this translation from The Book of Tea by Tenshin Okakura. “-Teaism is the cup of humanity. It is (an art) founded on finding the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence. It instills purity and harmony and mutual charity… It is a worship of the Imperfect, a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life.”

In his heart-wrenching masterpiece, A Farewell to Arms, Earnest Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.” In the midst of the tsunamis of the soul that life brings us all, some find it within themselves not to let their hope be swept out to sea. From the rubble of loss, pain and broken dreams, some emerge stronger, more courageous, more sure of priorities and their mission in the world. Crosses become causes. Burdens blossom into blessings. One single person becomes a light to the world around them. And then, like Kenko, they inspire us all.

April 4, 2011

“Last Class Settled” from United Church Observor. April 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anne Hines @ 12:10 pm

Today I’m pondering that age old question, asked by humans of every time and almost every place: How the heck did I get here?”

A year ago I was living in downtown Toronto, finishing an Masters of Divinity degree and looking forward to being ordained and assigned somewhere where my knowledge of inner city life and ministry could be put to good use. In June, I arrived in rural Saskatchewan to serve the United Church of Canada in three small towns; Beechy (pop 295), Lucky Lake (pop 295) and Birsay (pop less than 50). For the last few months, How the heck did I get here? has been a constant question.

For those unfamiliar with the settlement process, the practice of the UCC for some eighty years has been to send newly ordained clergy to churches who, for some reason, are otherwise unable to call a minister. This arrangement made sense in the early years of the church when most graduates were either single or the head of their household. But now most graduating ministers have substantial ties to home, spouses with careers of their own, children in school, parents in need of care.

Along with most of my graduating class, I knew exactly how I felt about settlement. I didn’t want to do it. As I stood in our school chapel enthusiastically singing, ? will follow where Christ leads me,often I was silently adding, ?o long as it’s within a 60 km radius of where I am right now.”

It’s not that I wasn’t up for being challenged by God. I learned years ago that a spiritually aware life is not for sissies. I just couldn’t imagine that what God wanted was for me to be sent far away from my family, thrust into an unfamiliar situations and forced to abandon all the plans and dreams I had for myself. Surely, what God wanted was for me to stay near home, safe and secure. I believed this. In spite of everything I’d ever read about God in the Bible.

I was settled to rural Saskatchewan. 2,800 km from home. Two hours from anything remotely resembling a city.

Now, if I stand on my front porch, in one direction I see our bank, post office, a small grocery store and a bar. There is also a store that specializes in computer supplies and saddles. For some reason, people find this combination convenient. I call this the town ?inancial district.To the left beyond two small houses, snow covered prairie and a big-screen sky that stretches forever. This could not be more unlike what I wanted and expected. And I have never been happier.

The people here teach me daily what it looks like to treat a stranger like family. I’ve learned that no amount of coffee shops or diners beats a meal served from the back of a truck in an open field, shared with men who have been harvesting since dawn. And that quiet around you can nurture quiet inside you. As I drive the back roads on my pastoral care calls, sometimes I am the only human being in the vast, awe-inspiring landscape. It’s magical. I do miss my spouse and family in the east, but I realize every day that I have been given an extraordinary gift; to experience the world in a whole new way.

Perhaps, sometimes, staying where we are means denying the good things God has in store for us. After all, a call to those of faith to venture out is entirely Biblical. And, it’s what created out church in the first place. George Pigeon, one of the most articulate and passionate of the original church unionists once proclaimed, ?he United Church of Canada is an adventure of faith, and the spirit of adventure characterizes all its going.The only certainty we have, as the venturing out begins, is that God is leading us on, ever patient with our fears, but also joyously ready to reveal new ideas and ways of being.

My graduating class was the last to be subject to mandatory settlement. This spring, ordinands may choose to enter the settlement process or look for a position they feel best suits their needs. I think choice is a good thing. But I must confess, I am glad I didn’t have one.

As I look out at the endless prairie I have so quickly come to love, I do ask, How the heck did I get here? But the answer comes easily. I got here because God wanted more for me than I wanted for myself. I got adventure.

April 1, 2011

“If there’s a cow in the bathtub, it must be spring.” from Toronto Star. Sunday, March 27, 2011.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anne Hines @ 10:54 am

Someone wiser than me once said, “Two things in life never seem to come soon enough. Wisdom and spring.” Today, I’d settle for just having spring.

Eight months ago I moved from downtown Toronto to Lucky Lake, Saskatchewan (pop 295) to serve as a minister for the United Church of Canada. My first winter on the prairies has been an education. I had no idea, for instance, that there was such a temperature as -43C. On days like that, as I walk the few hundred steps from my house to the church, my teeth freeze. An elderly neighbour advised, “Perhaps you should try to keep your mouth shut until May.” I believe she meant it kindly.

The long chill has allowed me to participate in some of the traditional activities of a Canadian winter: whining and complaining. But I must admit I was delighted when, last week, I finally encountered a sure sign of spring. I was at our village store joining in a lively debate about whether ice, snow, frozen snow or frozen slush is more annoying to drive through when one our local ranchers, Cindy Boon, announced, “Well, I have to be going. I have a cow in the bathtub.”

Eight months ago I might have found Cindy’s comment surprising. Now I thought, “Of course Cindy has a cow in the bathtub. Likely half our community has livestock in the bathtub. After all, it’s March.”

Many people think that rural Saskatchewan is just a vast, sweeping plain filled with nothing but grain. This is so untrue. We also have cows. And, a sure sign that spring is on it’s way is the beginning of calving season.

The problem is, calves, like spring, don’t always come when you’d like. One rancher noted, “If cows had to hold off till it was warm enough to give birth, some years they’d be waiting forever.” So, calves and also lambs born on a day when winter is still winning out, are often bedded down in a toasty farmhouse kitchen or heated sun porch. Some are popped into a warm bath. I’m not sure how long they’re kept there. Maybe until someone needs to shower.

Local sheep farmer Enos LaBar has solved the cold weather problem by snipping the arms off long-johns and slipping them onto his new lambs as warm cotton coats. Calves are sometimes outfitted with leather ear muffs, complete with Velcro straps to keep their mothers from pulling them off. At least one local woman makes hand-knitted “ear-cosies,” brightening her farmyard with bright red and blue spots.

Trudging home from the store, through streets locked in snow, I realized that what I needed to get me into the spring spirit was to see a calving. I’m eager to experience everything in the country that I can’t do in the city. That includes, “taking a deep breath” and “being able to park my car.” Now, I would add “seeing a calf being born.”

I put out a “cattle call.” Four kindly ranchers agreed to keep my number on speed dial.

I waited. On day four I complained to Linda in the post office,

Me: I really, really want to see a calving. Isn’t there some way to know when this is going to happen?
A pause.
Linda: You’ve had kids, right?

I waited.

Finally, yesterday, Duane Ayers called. His wife, Darlene, had spotted a cow ready to give birth. I was in the car in seconds.

A bitter wind blustered over the prairie, but the sheltered yard at Ayers farm was bathed in late afternoon sunshine. The expectant cow wandered restlessly among the new calves in the yard. “She’s seeing if one of them is her’s,” Duane explained. “She knows there should be a calf. She’s hoping it’s already come out.” Having given birth twice myself, I could relate entirely.

The cow wandered, she moo-ed. Duane and I watched patiently. She lay down. She stood up. She relieved herself in many ways. Again, I could relate.

Suddenly, two small hooves and a nose appeared. I shrieked. The cow lay down, pushed, and out popped a slick, black mess. The mother instantly set about gently and efficiently licking off the afterbirth. Two small ears twitched. A nose reached up. A tiny moo. I wept.

Sharing supper with Duane and Darlene, we talked about how exciting it had been. “I always cry,” Darlene admitted. “And I’ve been seeing it for years.” I drove home through early evening light. Across the frosty fields I spotted a few new open patches of brown. Soon, our back roads will melt into mud. But then, spring is like birth. A bit messy. And you have to wait for it. But it’s a miracle. Every time.

January 31, 2011

“The Ditch List.” from Toronto Star. Sunday, January 30, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anne Hines @ 12:22 pm

Winter on the prairies. Last year, I moved from downtown Toronto to serve as a United Church of Canada minister in Lucky Lake, Saskatchewan (pop 295). In the city, winter was often “that slushy gap between fall and spring.” Dangerous conditions meant being very, very careful or you’d slip on the sidewalk. Here it’s being very, very careful or you’ll end up putting your car into some backroad ditch where you’ll slowly freeze to death as coyotes gnaw at your earlobes. So, it’s a different kind of thing.

As the temperature plummets, vehicles parked outside our local post office or hockey rink are all left running. Locking your vehicle any time is unusual. Audrey Weir reports that when her aunt died leaving Audrey her car, she parked it on the street and left the keys in, hoping someone would take it away. Did this work? “After a while I finally called a friend and gave it to him,” she said. “I got tired of people coming to my door with keys saying ‘You left these in the car.’”

A crucial strategy to surviving rural winter is daily attendance at what’s called “Coffee Row.” Men gather at the bar, hall or gas station to discuss the important matters of the day. Women get together at the restaurant or library. A restaurant owner in a neighbouring town gets up at 6 AM, unlocks the door, puts on the coffee and then goes back to bed. Patrons just help themselves.

If you ask me, Coffee Rows everywhere should be recognized and funded as official government programs. Coffee Row is community, therapy, support group, judge, jury, town planning and current events updates all in one. There’s no point clergy offering to hear confession out here. By the time anyone reached the priest, the cleric would say, “I heard that at Coffee Row days ago. What else have you got?” What I’ve found is that nothing warms a cold morning like a hot cup of coffee shared with friends.

I’m also beginning to learn about country winter weather. One evening, I was preparing to leave for a meeting when I looked outside to see snow blowing sideways and three foot drifts across the road. I called the committee chair asking, “Is our meeting cancelled?” Her response? “No… why?”
As far as I can make out, there are three levels of what constitutes inclement weather:

Level one: Too bad to go to church.
Level two: Too bad to go to Coffee Row.
Level three: Too bad to get to the hockey arena.
On a few days storms have raged and snow has poured down in buckets and we’ve yet to hit a “Level Three.”

There are many local traditions for predicting the length of winter. So far, I’ve been told that many deer means a long winter, few deer means a long winter, snow by Christmas means a long winter, no snow until New Year means a long winter… I finally asked, “Does anything mean you’ll have a short winter?” The answer: Spending three months in Arizona.

In the city, winter driving is an inconvenience. Here, it’s an extreme sport. Sometimes the sky, fields , ditches and roads are one seamless canvas of white. One man advised, “If you can’t tell where the gravel ends and the ditch starts, look for coyote tracks. Coyotes get from place to place by running on the road.” Does that really work? “Absolutely,” he said. “Unless of course it takes off after a rabbit.”

Some people keep Life Lists of birds they’ve spotted or exotic locales they’ve seen. I’m thinking of starting one of “Ditches I’ve Driven Into.” I used to worry about having the right CDs in my car. Now I worry about having The Kit. The Kit contains everything needed to survive overnight in your car. Staying in your car is the safest bet. Lights from a farmhouse may appear close but, on the prairie, could be miles away. The Kit contains a candle, matches, blanket, power bars and a shovel. The shovel is not for digging out your car. It’s for clearing snow off your exhaust pipe so that the car won’t fill with carbon monoxide. I have to say, I am often left reflecting here on what they didn’t teach me in minister’s school.

So, am I ready to be done with rural winter?

On a day of bright sunshine the prairie becomes a wonderland. Snow ripples like ocean waves. Ice crystals hang in the air, glistening like a thousand tiny stars. A snowy owl dips low in the blue early morning sky. As I drive the back grid roads on clergy visits, the silence is awe-inspiring. It quiets the soul.

I know I’ll be glad when spring returns. But for me, for now, let it snow.

January 10, 2011

“In Which I Make My Entire Circle of Friends Jealous by Getting to Drive a Zamboni.” from Toronto Star. New Year’s Day edition. January 1, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anne Hines @ 3:18 pm

A few months ago I moved from downtown Toronto to Lucky Lake, Saskatchewan (pop 295). I’ve never considered myself the adventurous type. But since coming to the prairies I’ve decided to embrace the chance to try new things for one simple reason. I don’t have a choice.

The list of firstsfor me here is long. There was the first time I got a stone chip on my windshield. I felt like a true Saskatchewanian. The second, third and fourth times it happened were slightly less thrilling.

There are the “first time I ate something” events. This includes crane, elk-burgers, steelhead trout jerky, snow goose, Canada goose and moose filet. This last was cooked up by Willard Ross in homemade sauce, served with veggies from his garden and wild blueberries to finish. The rule here seems to be,”if it runs, flies or swims, we’ll eat it.” So far, I have no problem with this.

I’ve experienced my first hunting season.Out-of-towners pour into our tiny community, parading the streets in neon jackets, lounging for hours in our local bar, complaining that they never see any moose. The locals, on the other hand, never seem to have any trouble finding them with their car.

In the post office I overheard two older men debating whether, if a moose wanders into the centre of town, it’s OK to shoot it. After listening for several minutes I realized that the question wasn’t whether or not this was safe but whether or not it was sporting.

One group of hunters turned up at Elaine Jones’ house early one Sunday morning enquiring if she’d seen any anteope in the area. This is not hunting, it’s “asking.”

By far my most sensational first happened last week. Tim Clifford came by and said those words I’d been waiting my whole life to hear. “Say, would you like to drive the zamboni?”

It’s the dream of every true Canadian to drive a zamboni. Well that, and that there will someday be a law that there has to be a Tim Horton’s on every block. And that stores can’t start showing winter clothing while it’s still summer.

A zamboni is big. It’s hockey-related. It has a fun name. It’s hockey-related.

I called my friends. I’m getting to flood (this is zamboni-talk) the hockey arena! My pal, Michael, mused, “Well, just try not to get lost.” I would like to call him unhelpful. Really, he just knows me.

I arrived at the rink breathless with excitement. Tim patiently explained the basic workings of the machine. I didn’t understand a word. Except for the part that if you don’t crank one particular lever up and down fast and often bad things will happen. Tim hoisted me into the drivers seat and showed me how to fire up the engine. Several tons of vibrating steel rumbled beneath me.

Some teenage boys arrived to play hockey and stood watching patiently behind the boards.

Tim: OK, back it out.

I sat.

Tim: Anytime.

I tried to look as if I was savouring the moment. Really, I was reflecting on the fact that clearly Tim is insane. There’s about a foot clearance on either side of the zamboni garage door. A pilot used to negotiating cruise ships through the Panama canal couldn’t get this thing out the door. The teenagers began getting restless.

Finally, I pulled the reverse lever and the zamboni shot backward out of the garage.

Tim: OK, next time try it faster. With less screaming.

Soon, I was rocketing around the ice at almost 4 mph. I learned to try to keep the front directional wheel close to the board. I learned what happens when it gets too close to the board. I learned that if you miss a patch those watching will helpfully call out “You missed a spot!” Every time. I learned that if you forget to crank the important lever Tim will catapult himself onto the zamboni, scaring the life out of me.

I ended up with a spectacularly well cleared rink. So long as your idea of perfection includes a few wide tiger stripes of snow. I managed to manoeuvre the machine back into the garage and Tim let me push the button that raises the hood and dumps the snow. It was very satisfying.

I’m told I’m the first female to drive the Lucky Lake zamboni. Likely a plaque will be placed in the arena. It may be hard to come up with something to top that first. Tim said I could operate the skate sharpening machine if he can find someone who doesn’t use their skates. And I’ve heard that once the nearby Saskatchewan River freezes I can drive my SUV across an ice road.I certainly plan to try that.

I’ve been surprised to find that the more things I try here, the more I’m up for a fresh new adventure. And for me, that’s a first.


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