Happy Mothers, Day

Yes, the punctuation in my title is intentional. Today is Mother’s Day and once again, I have a choice to be a happy mother, or not.

I learned that lesson only too well one Mother’s Day in 1992. I had four boys and one girl then, ages  9, 8, 6, 4 and 1. They had breakfast washed off their faces, hair combed, shirts tucked in and we were actually on time for church. I was happy to fit into a bright yellow dress that accentuated my newly recovered waistline.

We found a seat not far from the front of the small, single-aisle church where the old-fashioned, dark-stained pews hugged the outer walls. An older widow sitting alone slid over to make room for us and our family filled the pew. She smiled at my youngest, whose chubby face broke into a responding smile. Although the kids could wiggle and chatter like any, I was proud of their ability to keep quiet in church and I had quiet toys and Cheerios for the littlest.

After the sermon, the pastor, moved I’m sure to urge his flock to obey the fifth commandment, called a representative from each family to the front to choose a carnation from a vase and present it to their mother.

Image result for images of carnations

All around us, husbands and children rose and made their way forward in a buzz of activity. My family, introverts all, sat stolidly in their seats. The kids probably hadn’t heard what the pastor said. Any second now, I thought, my husband will surely whisper to one of the kids, sending them to the front. But no. The wretched choosing of flowers ever so slowly went on; all around me the smiles and hugs of other mothers by their grateful children continued interminably. Still my family remained quietly glued to their seats.

“For any of you who don’t have family to bring you a flower, we’d like to bring one to you,” the pastor said at last. At least I wouldn’t go home empty-handed. Three or four teenage girls scanned the small congregation distributing fragrant flower joy. Finally, I saw one of them coming in my direction. I took a deep breath, preparing to graciously smile my thanks. She had to scooch past my husband’s knees as well as four of the kids. She held out a pink-tipped carnation with one hand. I reached out for it. She reached past me and handed it to the lady to my right.

Image result for images of carnations

That was when tears filled my eyes. While the pastor thanked God for mothers and all they do for their families,  I opened my eyes wide to keep the tears from dribbling down my cheeks. My throat was tight and my smile was stiff as we left the church, flowerless.

They say expectations destroy relationships. The problem with expectations is that you never know you have them until they’re not met. That silly little hurt took a whole lot of big serious praying to put in its place. My husband later apologized – he had misunderstood the pastor’s directions. But every Mother’s Day since then, I’ve made a conscious choice to expect nothing, and to fill my thoughts with gratitude for my healthy, wonderful children and the faithful husband who raised them with me. “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (I Thessalonians 5:17)

I try hard to ignore the advertising telling me all the treats and pleasures I deserve and even the sermons that extol my mama role. It’s Mother’s Day, I remind myself. It’s a day for grateful mothers, not self-pitying, disappointed, miserable ones. Be a happy one.

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Much To Do About Nothing

Ever heard of a reverse To Do list?

It’s a list of achievements, things actually accomplished, rather than things yet-to-do. In acknowledgement that progress is a line through a list, I once made a daily “Done” list and discovered something about my use of time: Much of what I did in a day was important, but intangible stuff that never makes it to any list of intentions.

In August, 2008, the day I decided to write my list of tasks after doing them, it looked like this:

  • made Jello
  • wrote “to do” list for son #5 (aged 14 — now deceased. )
  • organized cereal containers
  • washed dishes
  • vacuumed
  • spent time on phone with faraway friend
  • phoned Mother
  • re-processed raspberry jam (who ever writes these failure fixes onto a daily list?)
  • cleaned out purse (while on one of those long phone calls)
  • cooked hard-boiled eggs
  • made salad for 7
  • chat with soon-to-be engaged daughter (aged 20) about wife’s role in marriage
  • wiped away mold on vapour barrier in living room ceiling (seriously? I did this? Sigh. The joys of Live-while-you-Renovate.)
  • mended shirt for son #4 (aged 17)
  • watered outdoor flower pots (involving lugging heavy watering cans full of rain-water)
  • read three stories to son#6 (aged 11 – with Down syndrome)
  • chat with son #2 (aged 24)

I highly recommend the exercise! On a day when I felt I’d gotten nothing done, I found my time had been spent on God’s most precious creation — people!

I’ve been remembering my lofty 2017 goals/resolutions and feeling a little disappointed that I didn’t achieve what I’d hoped this year. But I thought of the Done list of years gone by and decided I’d try the same exercise for the year.

  • painted sewing room walls and a $10 thrift store chandeliersewing room 2

    unpainted chandelier

    I used Heirloom White spray paint to transform the builder brass.

  • painted an ugly laminate desk to become a sewing desk (I love its corner layout for easily switching from sewing machine to serger.)


  • re-painted the upstairs guest room — the initial colour was just too gray for my liking. Monsieur kindly shortened the stem of a candlestick lamp for the bedsideguest room.jpgAs you can see, I finally finished a scrap quilt, in memory of our son Paul.Paul's quilt dedication
  • Throughout the year, I read 27 books, 13 of which were non-fiction, which puts me  in the “Avid Reader” category of the Reading Challenge I did.
  • In January, I finished the memoir about Paul and it was published in fall. Pall of Silence is available at http://www.eleanorbertinauthor.com or Amazon. A portion of the proceeds from the book will go to Wycliffe Bible Translators in honour of Paul’s interest in languages.Pall of Silence front cover
  • Although I had hoped to complete a novel this year, I didn’t. But I did get to the 75% mark on Unbound, the companion novel to Lifelines (also available on my website).






  • Over the summer, I tore down an eyesore — an old shed that disturbed the view from the house. (Just to pretty things up, I had to throw in a shot of the flowers that will grow in the compost found under the old shed.)
  • I wanted a luggage rack, but decided I might be able to make something of this cedar chest from my mother.
  • And in between, a little sewing — doll dresses for granddaughters and four pillowcase dresses for Christmas shoeboxes made from a perfectly good curtain I found in the landfill site.

This doesn’t begin to quantify the growth as I’ve learned more about God and His amazing grace to me every day of the year.

So perhaps I can be content that 2017 was a year of accomplishment after all. Try writing your own “Done” list. It’s super-encouraging! Here’s to a lovely 2018 to all you readers!


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Being Oma

“If I’d known grandchildren were this much fun, I’d have had them first,” the bumper sticker quips.

I first saw that message when I had young children and couldn’t imagine how grand-parenting could be any better than raising our own children day by day. I loved having our babies. Once I’d made the decision that raising them was my life’s work, I gave little thought to what my life would entail after they’d grown and gone. I was honoured when someone once commented to me, “You put maximum effort into mothering.” I couldn’t imagine anything else could come close to that fulfillment.

“I know why I love my children, but why do you love them?” my daughter once asked. It was the same question I had asked years ago.

Redeeming the Past

In a sense, becoming Oma allows me to learn from the past and change some of my ways. Just as I was tumbling out of the turbulent years with teens, and moping over the child-rearing years with a “gone forever” sadness, along came grand-parenting. Our first were twin girls, which was double excitement — I love two-for-one deals. And these were little girls, something that had been in short supply in our own family.


Tori & Abby, age 2

It was affirming, too, to find our children had come full circle and begun raising their children, in many ways, the way they, themselves, were raised.

Rejoicing in the Present

Instead of lamenting the loss of my youth, being Oma allows me to rejoice in the present. In fact, I find their assumption that I am old, quite amusing.

“Becoming a grandmother is wonderful. One moment you’re just a mother, the next you are all-wise and prehistoric,” says Pam Brown.

Although I live at a great distance from some of my grandkids, the photos, the videos, the funny sayings — these keep us close. As grandparents, we’re free of the daily responsibility for them; free to simply exult in the freshness of new life. There is nothing more precious than holding their trusting, tiny hands as we walk together, or feeling those small, soft arms fling themselves around my neck in eager greeting when we arrive for a visit. Because tragedy has forced me to glimpse the brevity of life, the moments of wonder we share at its marvels are more prized than they were with my own children.

grand kiddos

The girls have a new brother — John.

“Our children accept us for ourselves, without rebuke or effort to change us, as no one in our entire lives has ever done, not our parents, siblings, spouses, friends — and hardly ever our own grown children.” writes author Ruth Goode.


And another brother, James.

And now we have a new grandson, born last week. He is our first Canadian grandchild, and the first to carry on the family name.

Fresh Felix

Baby Felix, three days old

Hope for the Future

Grandchildren are more than just fun. As I become more aware of my own limitations, the terrors of this old world increasingly oppress. But when I’m with my grandchildren, I’m reminded of the great good God has given in this life: There is still beauty, music, and good parenting. There is still truth and joy.

And there is still love.

“Children’s children are the crown of old men…” Proverbs 17:6


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Taking Dad for Granted

In Hillbilly Elegy: a Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, author J.D. Vance recounts his older sister’s remorse on the death of their grandfather. She regretted having taken advantage of the Papaw who stepped in to raise them in the absence of their father and the instability of their drug-addicted mother. Conditioned by their shaky beginnings to feel they couldn’t really rely on people, she sobbed over having unquestioningly accepted Papaw’s help and generosity but beyond that, not paying him much attention.

“To this day,” Vance writes, “being able to ‘take advantage’ of someone is the measure in my mind of having a parent.”

This month would have marked my dad’s 89th birthday. It’s been more than four months since he died, but years since we lost him due to advanced Parkinson’s. Of all that could be said of Dad, Vance’s definition of being a father is the most apt. My brothers and sister and I were able to “take advantage” of our dad because he was always there.  He was always there with my mom — an indivisible unit for 66 years that gave us a rock-solid home, something I only learned in later years that not everyone has.

He was always there in the church, faithfully attending, serving, giving and supporting in many ways.

He was a strong, authoritative presence in our home. One Sunday afternoon, my sister was trying to nap and our brothers were roughhousing in the next room. Annoyed by the noise level, she got up, seized a pair of my dad’s Florsheim shoes and clunked them down the hall until the imminent threat of Dad’s intervention quieted them. Dad’s was an authority I sometimes resented, but which I now realize set the stage for me to have an understanding and trust in God’s rule and reign in my life.

He was always there on the land that was so important to him.

We always had a secure home base to come home to. We knew where to find him. His work as a farmer allowed him to be present in our home at times of day when many dads would have been in the workplace.

He was always there for advice on financial matters, gained through years of experience as a farmer and businessman. I clearly remember a phone call he took one winter evening from someone trying to get him to invest in diamonds.

“I never invest in something I don’t understand,” Dad responded, ending the call. It wasn’t direct teaching, but it was a lesson that stuck with me.

Early in our marriage, my husband and I contemplated buying a franchise business, but first we asked my dad’s counsel. We received a detailed, reasoned, three-page reply in Dad’s distinctive handwriting.20170306_133316_1488833198077_resized

Children are excellent observers, but poor interpreters. As a child, though I feared my dad’s impatience and volatile temper, I still longed for his attention and approval. Neither seemed to ever come and I found it impossible to be content with that. Later, as a young mom, with a home and children of my own, I used to rack my brain trying to come up with an appropriate Christmas gift for Dad. One year, the idea of giving him a gift of words occurred to me. I could write him a letter telling him all that he meant to me and all he’d given me. But frankly, my underlying resentment made it a struggle to come up with anything meaningful. If I said he taught me by example to be a reader, my mind conjured negative memories of him, buried behind a newspaper ,completely oblivious to us kids (until, that is, we raised a ruckus.) I feared he’d see through my attempt, that I was merely putting a good face on a bad record.

Eventually, though, I came up with a page-and-a-half list, from character traits more caught than taught, to happy memories like the soup and crackers-with-garlic-sausage snack we’d have arriving home after a long trip.

The next time he saw me, Dad thanked me for the letter. “It’s nice to know I did something right.” I was surprised at this acknowledgement that he recognized his inadequacy as a father. “If you’re wondering about what to get me next Christmas, another letter would be great.”

He had no idea I felt I’d been scraping the barrel to scrounge up even that one. Yet the next year, I came up with more.

“You expected respect and it prepared me for a lifetime of reverencing God,” I wrote.

“‘Don’t close any doors’ you told me with regard to education when I was contemplating quitting high school.”

And the following year, I found more dad-things to write him thanks for. It got so that I could say these things in person, too.

Just a few years ago, dad overcame his Parkinson’s-weakened voice just long enough to tell me something unusual for him. While I was growing up, he had always opposed my use of make-up or hair colour. (I recall puzzling over the term “hussy.”) And he never complimented my appearance, lest it lead to conceit. But a few summers ago, my 80+-year-old father commented on my new blonde hair colour, saying I looked, “very beautiful!” Now, at 50-something, “very beautiful” was a bit of a stretch. It would have been easy to roll my eyes and reply, “You’re about four decades too late. I needed to hear that when I was 14!” But during that particularly low point in my life it was salve to my wounded soul. Instead of an acidic response, I recognized his words as a gracious gift from him and also from God to encourage me.

When Dad died last fall, I realized all of my bitterness toward him had long since passed away, leaving a genuine contentment and gratefulness toward him. Having children of my own who weren’t always thrilled with my parenting went a long way toward making me compassionate and forgiving towards a dad who didn’t always know how to father. Significantly, I credited the exercise of writing those letters as a turning point for me. They forced me to gain a more accurate interpretation of my dad’s life and fathering than I’d been able to see as a child.

And when I read Hillbilly Elegy, I realized my dad was a great dad. He was a dad I could, and did, take for granted.

2017-03-06 14.46.12

The close of the letter shown above — now a precious assurance.





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Breaking Up with Perfect: A Book Review

Have you noticed the pressure “mommy blogs” and other media have put on young mothers? Co-sleeping, baby-wearing, child-led feeding, enviro-friendly toys and gear, providing a magical childhood — all of it raises an impossible bar for motherhood. The list doesn’t stop there either: women are to be politically savvy, dress for success, be a financial whiz, save the earth, run marathons, get organized, raise creative and culturally-sensitive children, be community minded. And that’s not even including the ever-changing (weekly, it seems!) rules for nutrition where last decade’s healthy meal is condemned as abusively unwholesome.

So when I was offered Amy Carroll’s book, Breaking Up With Perfect: Kiss Perfection Goodbye and Embrace the Joy God Has in Store for You to review, it was young women I had in mind. With the perspective of age and a different stage of life, it was easy for me to see how younger women could benefit by gaining freedom from perfectionism’s tyranny.

What I wasn’t expecting was a window into my own soul.

Carroll introduces us to two not-so-hypothetical women: The Good Girl with her list of how to gain God’s and everyone else’s approval, and The Never Good Enough Girl who also has a list. Hers is laden with self-pity and resentment. Both are a list of lies, the author explains.

In the four parts of the book, Carroll unfolds how to break up with wrong beliefs, skewed values, selfish actions, and instead, live freely and love deeply. The lies we believe, she contends, can be replaced by God’s truth.

She starts with our belief about God. Do we think of Him as a tough taskmaster? A distant, disinterested observer? Our beliefs about God, it is said, are the most important thing about us. I was relieved to find the author addressing this critical foundation for our motives and goals. “Seeing ourselves correctly as both loved and sinful is key to ending our love affair with Perfect.” (page 52) I was even more surprised that a modern book for women went against the current self-esteem craze by recommending selflessness. “Only when I choose to be nothing will I find my everything.” (page 54) Bravo!

Throughout the book, Carroll humbly offers highly personal examples of how she learned the lessons she shares. In chapter five, she emphasizes the truth, “God created me for connecting, not collecting,” with the story of her meeting an Ecuadorian woman who lived under a plastic roof, on a dirt floor and without indoor plumbing. Asked what her greatest need was, the woman said, “My greatest need is to be able to teach my children about Jesus so they will follow the Lord all the days of their lives.” Perhaps it’s a unique pitfall of modern life in Western culture that allows us to carry illusions of perfection.

Eventually, I began to wonder if the author’s use of the term Perfect didn’t just boil down to pride. Isn’t God the Perfect that we actually crave? And yes. Carroll eventually arrives there. “Do you hear the nasty elements we’ve talked about in other chapters — the Good Girl List and a self-crafted image? What looked good on the outside was rotted with pride and vanity on the inside.” (page 157) “It’s not just an ‘issue’ or problem to be a perfectionist. It’s actually sin…True perfection belongs only to God, and when we try to create it ourselves, we’re pushing God out of His rightful spot.”
She offers a solution:  Repentance. “God is beckoning us to lay down all our try-harder ways, lift our gaze, and look to Him.”

There are practical steps to take in gaining freedom. Some are iffy: “Repeat after me: I wasn’t made to pursue Perfect. I’m most amazing when I’m pursuing Jesus.” Some are sound: “Start a journal where you record truths about God’s character as you read.”

Breaking Up with Perfect is a book that could be expanded into a Bible study for women of any age by using the “Going Deeper” section at the end and supplementing with cross-references.

Amy Carroll’s book isn’t the fluff I thought it would be. It prompted me to renew my desire to find my worth and contentment in God alone, to keep my focus on Jesus and through Him, to love others more faithfully.

I have a copy of this book to give away! Enter the draw (to be picked at random by my son Timo on October 19, 2016) in one of two ways:

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      2. Like my Facebook page: Eleanor Bertin, author and leave a comment telling me whether this review was helpful.


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Introducing “Lifelines” and Albertan Novelist Eleanor Bertin

Debbie Hill, a poet, long-time friend and former college classmate from Creative Communications, Red River College, Winnipeg, interviewed me with some incisive questions.

Kites Without Strings

Already he was wishing he hadn’t accepted Anna’s invitation to this last evening gathering of the season. A pod of neighbours was huddled around the crackling blaze by the time he got there. The circle widened affably to receive them and they settled into their lawn chairs, stretching feet to the fire. – Eleanor Bertin*

If you’re closed-minded, too close to the light or the line of fire, or even haunted by JohnMilton’s Paradise Lost, expect to feel uncomfortable but not necessarily in a negative way. Eleanor Bertin’sfirst novel Lifelines (Word Alive Press, 2016)nudges the reader to look inward, to dust off the brain cells, plus think about mortality and his/her purpose on Earth.

eleanor-bertin-photo-by-alyssa-krahn-alyssa-raeanne-photography Eleanor Bertin is a new novelist based in central Alberta. Photo by Alyssa Krahn, Alyssa Raeanne Photography.

On the surface, it’s a home-spun heart-warming yarn threaded with Anna Fawcett’s unflinching morals…

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What Do You Get When You Fall In Love?

Someone interviewed young children about falling in love and getting married. “God has it all planned who you’re going to marry. You just get to find out who you’re stuck with,” a little girl responded. I guess she’d never heard any of the “soul-mate” gibberish that’s out there. She was closer to the truth than most of us like to admit.

I fell in love forty years ago or so. It may have been his light gray eyes or maybe his excellent facial bone structure. (In my teenage maturity, I was mightily concerned about bone structure, which I figured was an indication of how well a man would age.) Whatever it was, one brief conversation with the guy was enough to keep my thoughts occupied with love and marriage fantasies for many months.

Six years later, I was married, but not to that man. This weekend, my husband and I will celebrate 35 years of wedded bungling and bliss. Beginning with incompatible personality types, we have made most of the common mistakes, committed plenty of the “don’ts” of marriage and seen our share of selfishness. And that’s just the stuff that came from inside ourselves.

On top of that, we’ve endured the external pressures of incompatibility of backgrounds, financial straits, job losses, failed businesses, illnesses, depression, the birth of a child with a disability (80% divorce rate) and the death of a child (80% divorce rate).

How are we still married? Time was, I would have answered that with a 5-step plan. Now, I’m more apt to say, “I really don’t know. It’s almost a miracle!” It surely has had nothing to do with being “soul-mates” (whatever that means) since feelings of intimate fellowship are about as lasting as a chocolate high.

What I do know is that when tough times have hit, commitment has been the glue that helped keep us together. What I mean by commitment is an underlying sense of the permanence of what we pledged on our wedding day. Monsieur explains it as an awareness that the covenant of marriage is an obligation to something bigger than either of us. Divorce has never been an option. We were stuck with each other. And being stuck, we knew the only way to find peace and harmony again was to try to work things out.

Married for the first time in her late 50’s, author and speaker Nancy DeMoss Wohlgemuth quickly began to recognize there is a malevolent spiritual power seeking to destroy marriage. Just seven weeks after her wedding, she “recognized the serpent’s subtle but nefarious influence” in her relationship with her husband. I recognized the same tendencies she describes in my own marriage : Continue reading

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