Finding Flamingos

flamingoI’d heard that one of the sights not to be missed on the Yucatan Peninsula, was the tens of thousands of flamingos that live here year round.  There is a special biosphere reserve in Celestun that the flamingos favour but it is a good ninety minute drive away from where we are staying so we opted to look for flamingos near the ocean side city of Progresso which is much closer.

We hired a driver named Daniel and the hunt was on.  We drove through the salt flats near Progresso looking for flamingos.  Daniel spotted some and we hurried out of the car but the flamingos were so far away even my husband Dave the Nature Photographer couldn’t get a good close up shot.

Daniel our driver was an expert flamingo spotter

Besides the dry mud- caked marshy ground we were walking on was starting to sink deeper and deeper beneath our feet for every step we took closer to the flamingos.

posing like flamingos with rudy

Pretending to be flamingos with our friend Rudy

So we opted for posing like flamingos ourselves before heading off to look for more. dave photographs flamingosAfter we’d made yet another stop where the flamingos were far and few between……….. we finally got lucky!

When they want to rest flamingos stand on one leg.

Daniel spotted a whole flock right near the road. Dave the Nature Photographer got to work immediately and took some darn good shots!

flamingos merida

Flamingos live in large groups called colonies that can number up to a million. 

flamingos salt flats

Flamingos spend nearly half their day cleaning their feathers. Oil produced in a special gland is spread over their feathers with the help of their beak.

a flamingo pair in mexico

Flamingos are monogamous and produce one egg each year. Both mother and father keep the egg warm and feed their chick with a milk-like substance.

Flamingos get their pink color from the organisms they eat

Flamingos are not pink when they are born. The pinkest flamingos are also the strongest in the colony since they find the most food.

I think we can safely say we have seen the flamingos of the Yucatan in the wild. It’s the first thing I can check off my list of things I really want to be sure to do on this holiday. 

Other posts………..

Finding the Elusive Quetzal in Costa Rica

The Storks of Portugal

Dave Driedger- Bird Detective

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Filed under Mexico, Nature

Who Writes History?

It took us more than twelve hours to get from our Winnipeg home to our home here in Mexico near the city of Merida. The hours flew by because I was reading a riveting memoir called educated by Tara Westover.  I marked a whole bunch of quotes I wanted to think about after I finished the book.  One was……..

“Who writes history? I thought. I do.”

Tara has been raised by a father who believes in all kinds of right-wing conspiracy theories and interprets history through their lens. She doesn’t attend school till she is an older teenager but once she gets to college and starts reading various historians she sees how they can have very different views of historical events.  Tara finally comes to the realization that we all write/interpret history in different ways depending on our world view, our personal experiences and the things we’ve read and studied.

I know from experience that people in the same family can have very different views and memories of their joint history. After reading Hans Werner’s The Constructed Mennonite I started thinking more about how we create and interpret our own version of our personal histories so we can live with them.

In recent decades we have begun to gain a greater appreciation for the fact that hearing about the same historical events through the eyes of different participants is valuable.  When I was in school I mainly learned about the events of Canada’s history through a British colonial lens.

I remember as a young girl being fascinated when I discovered the poems of Emily Pauline Johnson and realized that looking at my country’s history through the eyes of a Mohawk chief’s daughter might offer an alternate perspective.  I remember first hearing the story of Laura Secord and realizing that viewing the war of 1812 from a woman’s perspective might make it far more interesting to me. 

Looking at the home page of Fox News and CNN on any given day will offer proof that history can be seen through polar opposite lenses.  Completely different events are considered newsworthy by each media outlet and are reported from totally different perspectives.  It is up to us, the reader and consumer of news  to be thoughtful and open minded and try to formulate our own view on what is happening in history right now.  

“Who writes history? I thought. I do.”

I had planned to write a blog post about at least three of the many thought-provoking quotes I bookmarked while reading Educated.  But it seems one is enough for now. I recommend you read Tara Westover’s book and find quotes of your own to ponder. 

Other posts……….

The Constructed Mennonite

The Song My Paddle Sings

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Filed under Books, History

Conversations About Writing

I had four conversations about writing during my last week in Winnipeg before leaving for our winter home in Mexico. 

to obama with love joy anger and hopeThe first was with a friend who had just finished reading To Obama With Love, Joy, Anger and Hope by Jeanne Marie Laskas.  President Obama received 10,000 letters a day when he was in office and every night his staff picked ten for him to read before he went to bed. It was his way of keeping in touch with the people who had elected him.  My friend said the book made her realize just how important those letters had been to the President. It made her decide to write a letter herself to our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau telling him she recognized the personal sacrifice it required for him to serve our country and even if she didn’t always agree with him she appreciated the efforts he was making to govern Canada in the best way he knew how. 

image of my father by waldemar janzen

My former professor’s book about his father.

The second conversation was with a former professor of mine who is 86 years old.  I shared a table with him at a luncheon after a funeral. I knew my professor had written many books, countless articles and other scholarly papers.  I asked him if he was still writing.  He said he had recently finished a book about his father and he was working on other projects.  “As long as my mind and body allow it MaryLou, I will be writing,” he told me.  

The third conversation was with my friend Suzanne who is a fellow writer and used to be a member of my writing group.  We went out for coffee one afternoon. Her wonderful first novel Empty Cup is set right here in Winnipeg.  Now she is working on a new novel set in Alberta. She talked about the hundred day goal she has set for herself to finish an edit of her novel and a trip she hopes to take to do further research.  I am looking forward to reading her manuscript in the future. 

The fourth conversation was with my writers group.  We were talking about a book by Jessica Brody we are studying together called Save The Cat Writes a Novel. The book contends that every good work of fiction contains 15 plot points.  If you want to write a successful novel it needs to contain those points too.  The book also lays out ten different genres of novel and has ten chapters exploring how the fifteen plots points apply to each genre.  Members of our writing group each picked one of the genres and will lead a discussion about it at future meetings.  

I had four conversations this week about writing and they were all connected in some way to a book. 

Other posts………

Writing is the Way I Think and Remember

Learning How To Write Historical Fiction



Filed under Writing

We Didn’t Hit The Jackpot With Our Tour Guide But I Found Cool Stuff Anyway

Merida is the capital of the Yucatan province in Mexico. We are staying in a small community nearby and on Wednesday we decided to go into Merida to explore the city a bit with our friend Rudy.   We had signed up for a walking tour with a fellow who was friendly enough but up till now has been working as a tour guide in Minsk Russia. He just started giving tours in Merida two weeks ago.  You could tell. I’ve been on excellent walking tours in dozens of places but honestly this one was a bit of a snooze.  Still……. I saw lots of interesting stuff while we strode the streets of Merida like……….This Mexican Mennonite couple I spotted in a park. I knew there were Mennonite settlements in Chihuahua but that is nearly 3000 kilometers away from Merida. What were Mexican Mennonites doing in Merida?  My husband Dave and our friend Rudy joked about going over and trying to chat with them in Low German.  I checked online when we got home and sure enough there are Mennonite settlements in a half a dozen other places in Mexico besides Chihuahua. The Yucatan’s neighboring provinces of Campeche and Quintana Roa each have communities. So the people I saw in the park probably didn’t live that far away.I was fascinated by so many trees I saw with their roots growing above ground. I found a scientific article that explained it’s because the upper limestone layer of the earth in the Yucatan is extremely restrictive to root growth. I loved this statue called Maternidad in Spanish or Motherhood in English. It had me searching online for other sculptures called Motherhood and I found interesting ones by a whole variety of artists in cities all over the world.All the pigeons in the Grand Plaza were a little scary.  They covered the branches of the trees in the square and came swooping right close to your head in huge flocks. Reminded me a bit of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie The BirdsCheck out this creepy statue I saw on the front of the home of one of Merida’s first Spanish residents. I did a little research and found out it depicts a Spanish soldier standing on the heads of a couple of local Mayans who have refused to convert to Christianity. They’ve got horns to show what heathens and devil worshippers they are.  The Mayan standing to the left is one who has listened to reason and converted from his evil ways but he still doesn’t nearly measure up in stature to the powerful Spaniard. A horrific but probably accurate description of colonialism in the Yucatan.As usual I enjoyed the variety of people on our tour. They came from Germany, Scotland, Italy, France and England and were all much younger than we were. I chatted with one couple who were from Italy and France originally but had been working in Toronto for one year and were now headed back to Europe.  We had an interesting time comparing notes about all the things we love to do in Toronto. I found architecture in Merida to be a nice mixture of old and new. I took this photo of historic and modern apartment blocks side by side. 

Our guide may not have been that exciting but I will give him credit for two things.  He gave us each a local candy to eat.  Made from guava it was delicious and reminded our friend Rudy of the guava jam his wife Sue liked to make. Our guide also told us the restaurants in the St. Lucia Park Square were excellent and he was right. We enjoyed a shared lunch of pork tacos, mushroom brushetta and freshly made guacamole there and it was great!

Despite a guide who wasn’t top-notch my first impression of Merida was of a lively and interesting place and I know I will enjoy visiting it again. 

Other posts……..

Mothers at the Met

The Doctrine of Discovery

You and Me Chairs


Filed under Mexico

A Chair For You and Me

you and me chairYou will see these unique chairs in parks all over Merida, the capital of the Yucatan province in Mexico.  The chairs are sometimes called You and Me chairs because they are connected together and provide seats for two. dave and marylou in st lucia plaza meridaThey are also called  Chairs for Those in Love. There is a local legend behind that name.  A man had a daughter who was the light of his life but he was a little worried because she was being courted by a young man. The father asked the couple to stay in a park near his home when they spent time with each other. They agreed but then the father realized just how physically close they could get to each other on a traditional park bench. So he decided to design a binary chair which would allow them to speak to each other and look in each other’s eyes but still keep a proper distance apart.

confidante chair

Dave sits in a giant binary chair in a Merida Park.

The chairs are also sometimes called Confidante Chairs because they provide a good place to have a private, confidential talk.

binary chair

Posing with our friend Rudy beside the giant binary chair.

Despite the legend the historical facts are that the first chairs were placed in the Grand Plaza of Merida in 1915 and were inspired by armchairs designed during the French Renaissance.

Other posts about chairs……….

Sitting in the Speakers Chair

The Obama Chair

Dave’s New Chair


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Friend For A Moment

I made another friend for the moment on our way to our winter home in Mexico.

We were standing outside the Cancun airport waiting for the bus that would take us on a four- hour ride to the city of Merida where we would be spending the next two months.  A couple who looked to be about our age came to join us and we struck up a conversation. We discovered they were also headed out to Merida for an extended stay and were from Ashville North Carolina. 

Ten Thousand Village Store in Ashville North Carolina

We had visited Ashville several years ago and I commented on some of the things we enjoyed and appreciated about the city.  I mentioned we had been surprised to find a Ten Thousand Villages store there. We told the couple the stores were a project of the Mennonite Church and we were Mennonites.  “Well then we have something in common,” said the woman.  “We are Quakers and our faiths are similar. In fact,” she told us, “we live in an intentional Quaker community near Ashville.”

Library at the Quaker School in Monteverde Costa Rica

We mentioned we had visited a Quaker school and church in Monteverde Costa Rica and they said they had visited there too and in fact an American church they had been involved with were strong supporters of the Costa Rica Quaker community.

Dave and the woman’s husband started chatting about sports teams and so I asked her what kind of career she’d had before retirement.  Turns out she was a special needs teacher and so we also had our backgrounds as educators in common. I shared that in my retirement I was working at an art gallery and she told me she had started a small business in her retirement helping people organize and clean up their homes.  This led to a discussion of a new Netflix series featuring the Japanese author Marie Kondo who has written the best selling book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

That in turn got us talking about the books we were reading currently. She had just finished Michelle Obama’s biography Becoming and I was just about to start reading it.  My new friend told me she had particularly enjoyed the book because both her son and daughter-in-law who live in Washington DC had worked for the Obama administration.  Many of the stories in the book resonated with her because her children had already shared similar stories with her. She said what fine people her children had found the Obamas to be and how much they had enjoyed and appreciated working for and with them.

I was almost sorry when our bus arrived and I had to end my conversation with my North Carolina friend.

I once presented a day- long workshop about friendship to a group of women and one of my topics was Friends For the Moment.  I described the many interesting people I had met who I only known for a few moments but with whom I’d had terrific, thoughtful and sometimes even very helpful conversations.  I called them friends for the moment and encouraged the women in the workshop to think of similar friends they had made.

I was happy about making a friend for the moment as I waited for my bus in Cancun.

Other posts……..

Are Men and Women’s Friendships Different? 

My Mom’s Friends

Hopeful Friendships


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That Changes Everything

I was giving a tour at the Winnipeg Art Gallery to a group of young people who have faced some difficult challenges in the past and are part of a program that is trying to help them set their lives on a positive course.  In our Skylight area we had an exhibition of wall hangings by skilled artists from Baker Lake in Nunavut.  As we entered the exhibit area I gave each young person two different colored cards.  I asked them to place one color under a wall hanging they really liked and another under their least favorite in the exhibit.  As we walked around looking at their choices I told them a little bit about the artists.  

Untitled wall hanging by Marion Tuuluq 1985

One young man had indicated his least favorite wall hanging was one of flowers done by Marion Tuupluq.   It was too simplistic for him.  

Marion Tuuluq in a jacket she designed

I showed him two of Marion’s other pieces and then told him a little bit about her life.  Her mother died giving birth to her, her father committed suicide when she was ten, her first husband died as a young man and she lost twelve of her sixteen children to accidents and starvation and other illnesses.  I told him Marion had only started becoming an artist at age 57 and managed to gain a name for herself in the art world. 

The young man who had picked her wall hanging as his least favorite said, ” That changes everything! I feel terrible about choosing her as my least favorite.  Now that I know about her life I admire her and I think what she has done is amazing.”  The young man who had shared some sad things about his own life with me felt a sense of kinship with Marion and it changed his impression of her art. 

Picasso’s portrait of 17 year old Marie Therese Walter

This is not the first time that has happened on tours I have given.  I remember a group of grade twelve students who said they had thought Picasso was great when we began our tour of an exhibit of his work.  But when they found out about his extra-martial sexual relationship with a teenage girl and saw the way women were portrayed as submissive objects in some of his rather violent sketches they changed their minds and told me their appreciation for Picasso had been diminshed as they learned about his life. 

Can you separate your appreciation for art or music or literature from your knowledge of the creator’s life?  

Other posts……..

Creating Beauty

I’m Shattered

Picasso – Not Really A Family Man



Filed under Art, WInnipeg Art Gallery