Just A Tiny Thing Makes All the Difference

I am at the gym doing my stretches. There’s one where I stand like a crane on one foot holding the other up to my rear and trying to balance on just one leg. At my age, it’s not always easy. But………if I put even a fingertip against a wall or some other support I can keep my balance for as long as I like. Just a tiny fingertip makes all the difference.


When I used to present peacemaking workshops I often told the parable of the snowflake. Snowflakes were falling on a pine branch and even as the 999,999th flake landed the branch still remained on the tree. However, when the one-millionth snowflake was added the branch broke and fell to the ground.  Just one tiny snowflake that weighed practically nothing made all the difference. 

I recently read an article that said taking a single deep breath can improve your overall well being in five different ways! It increases awareness of your surroundings, reduces anxiety, gives your mind focus, relieves pain and provides healing. Just one tiny breath makes all the difference. 

The Dalai Lama once reminded us that if we think tiny things don’t make a difference we should remember what a difference it makes to try sleeping in a room with a mosquito.  

Other posts……….

A Smile Makes A Difference

What A Difference


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A Visitor from Bangkok

This past week Dave and I have had a houseguest from Bangkok staying with us here in Winnipeg. 

joop in 2007 highschool

Joop in high school in Manitoba in 2007

We first got to know Joop  Rathlertwongse in 2007 when he was an international exchange student at the Steinbach high school where Dave and I were teachers. He was living with a host family but when they went away on a trip Joop came to stay with us for a while. During his year in Steinbach, Joop learned to love Mennonite food, got to try skiing, ice-skating and snowmobiling.  He even learned how to build a quinzee. Before coming to Manitoba Joop was attending an all-boys school during the week and spending weekends at his family home in Bangkok. Joop enjoyed learning about Canadian culture during his year in Manitoba.  He made lots of friends. 

We next saw Joop when we made a trip to Bangkok in 2010.  Joop picked us up from the airport and spent a day showing us his home city. joop dave water marketHe took us to a water market and…down to the riverfront,    and out for a great Thai dinner.

Joop also took us to the Mahidol University where he was working on a social science degree. At the time he was hoping for a career in international relations and was about to go to Myanmar to do research for a paper he was writing on the elections there.

In 2011 Joop came to visit us in Hong Kong just before we moved back to Canada. I took him to visit the famous Che Kung Temple.  We went out for Italian food one night and we took Joop along to our final karaoke night in Hong Kong. 

Fast forward to 2019 and Joop is back in Manitoba this time to attend the wedding of the daughter of his host family in Steinbach. He decided to stay for ten days or so to meet up with old friends and that included us.  We have hosted him for several nights. Last night he took us out for some great Thai food at the Sabai Thai Eatery. Lots of things have changed in Joop’s life since we saw him last.  He has graduated from university and has established a successful career in procurement with a major oil and gas company.  His job takes him regularly to Papua New Guinea and he works closely with colleagues in other countries. He has his own condo in Bangkok now and drives out to see his parents and two brothers on weekends.  He is still looking for adventure and thinks about taking a job posting in another country or continuing his studies in Canada.

Joop will be here with us till Monday. It is interesting how often our paths have crossed with Joop’s in the last fifteen years.  I’m wondering if they won’t again in the future? 

Other posts……….

Ivan Was Here

Introducing Visitors from India and Hong Kong to Mennonites

The Temple of Dawn


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Filed under People, Thailand

Hyphenated Lives

Sun-Poe by Reena Saina Kallat. The sunbird is the national bird of Palestine and the hoopoe is the national bird of Israel

The drawings look like something you would see in zoology or botany textbooks.  Hyphenated Lives is a collection of art pieces by Reena Saina Kallat that depict hybrid specimens of birds, animals, trees, and plants. They were created by merging two species that are the national emblems of countries that have at some point been politically partitioned. The purpose of national symbols is to unite people but these drawings merge symbols from countries that have been separated. The artist illustrates that not only people but also elements of the natural world are interconnected and also suggests that sometimes nature can defy the barriers set up by politicians. This is the Sees-Yal tree.  On the left, you see the Sessile Oak the national symbol of the Republic of Ireland. On the right, you see the Royal Oak an important symbol in England since legend has it that Charles II hid in an oak tree to escape Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers.   In 1921 Ireland was partitioned, with southern Ireland becoming independent and eventually a republic and Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom.  Although the relationship between northern and southern Ireland is relatively peaceful right now from 1968-1998 there were thirty years of terrible conflict between the two that resulted in thousands of deaths. Some of the Hyphenated Lives pieces, like this one, feature electric cables. They are a symbol of the way ideas and information can be transmitted bringing people together.  Often however Reena Saina Kallat has them morph into barbed wire barriers.   Behold the Ti-Khor. On the left, you see a tiger, the national animal of India and on the right the markhor, an endangered species of a wild goat that is the national animal of Pakistan. In 1947 a provision of the Indian Independence Act which separated India from Great Britain also separated Pakistan from India. This partition created along religious lines- Pakistan largely Muslim and India largely Hindu- created a refugee crisis and stirred up large scale violence that resulted in the loss of millions of lives. The relationship between Pakistan and India continues to be a troubled one. The Edel-Lip is a hybrid of the Edelweiss the national flower of Austria and the tulip the national flower of Hungary. Austria and Hungary both belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1867 to 1918 but after World War I became distinct and separate European countries.  In 1945 the advance of communism in Hungary and the erection of the Iron Curtain which Russia used to separate its European allies from the West created a barrier between Austria and Hungary and Austria took in thousands of refugees from Hungary. The Iron Curtain came down in 1989 and in 2007 an agreement between Austria and Hungary allowed citizens to move back and forth freely between the two countries.

This art piece is called The Jordan River. The  Jewish state of Israel was established in 1948 in an area previously called Palestine that was home to Arab Muslims who became displaced refugees when Israel was established.  Adjacent to Israel to the west of the Jordan River is an area called The West Bank that holds many sites of cultural, historical and religious significance for Jews, Muslims and Christians and there has been a long history of violent conflict as both Israelis and Palestinians have tried to claim this territory. The Jordan River is the primary water source of the area and so it has been at the heart of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. The Pea Yel bird is a combination of the peacock which is the national bird of India and the doyel or magpie robin which is the national bird of Bangladesh. The Partition of Bengal in 1947 divided the province between India and Pakistan. Predominantly Hindu West Bengal became a state of India and predominantly Muslim East Bengal which would later become Bangladesh became a province of Pakistan.  

Hyphenated Lives is currently on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery as part of the Vision Exchange exhibit that features artists who have their roots in India. I find Hyphenated Lives very thought- provoking as I try to envision other combinations of living things that could illustrate the establishment of a relationship between countries or groups of people that have barriers real or imagined between them. 

Other posts………..

Animal Wisdom

Nature’s Artwork

The Book of Creation




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Filed under Art, Nature, Politics, winnipeg art gallery

Friendly and Polite

I’m on the bus and suddenly it pulls over to the side of the road.  A transit van is there to meet us and two transit employees board the bus and move to the rear.  We all turn around. A man is lying on the floor.  The transit employees try to wake him up to no avail.  They call the paramedics. A fire truck pulls up and four paramedics jump out.  They gather around the man and speak to him in the most polite and kind way.  Calling him “my friend” or “buddy” or even “sir.”  Trying to gently shake him awake.  Taking his vital signs. Asking him politely if he has taken some medication. Reassuring the rest of us that they will try to settle the situation quickly. Finally supporting the man on both sides they are able to get him to walk off the bus and we continue on our journey.  The entire time the man is treated with respect and civility.

I’m at the Millenium Library. The guards who screen my purse and bag at the front door do so respectfully.  They are friendly and polite.  They ask me how my day is going. I am looking for about a dozen books I want to read by authors who will be presenting at a children’s writing conference I plan to attend. I no sooner enter the children’s section than a helpful technician approaches.  “Can she be of assistance?”  I hand her my list and within five minutes or so she and her colleague have found every book for me.

I’m breezing through Winnipeg Square hurrying to the bus stop on Graham.  A young man just ahead of me stops at all four sets of doors we pass through to hold them open for me. What a gentleman!

On the bus, a young woman in a nurses’ uniform who looks like she has just finished a long day of work, gets up as I make my way down the aisle of the crowded bus and offers me her seat.  Do I look that old? I thank her but tell her I will stand. 

There are plenty of well mannered and neighborly people in this world. I see them every day and experience their kindness and courtesy every day.  Yes, there are some folks who are rude or let their anger get the better of them but I want to be more diligent about noticing and appreciating the way most people are friendly and polite. 

Other posts……..

So Polite

A Terrifying Story Politely Told

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Your One Wild and Precious Life

“Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

On Sunday the theme of the sermon in our church was that question from the poem The Summer Day by Mary Oliver. Our pastor talked about people she felt had done incredible things with their one wild and precious life.

One example she gave was Rachel Held Evans a 37-year-old best selling author of four books and mother of two young children who died suddenly on May 4 from a brain infection. I have been reading Rachel’s blog for many years and admired her.  

Rachel was an evangelical Christian but she spoke out long and loud about making the church a place where everyone was welcome including those who were part of the LGBTQ community.  She was a Christian feminist who advocated for an equal role for women in the church and in society.  I especially respected her common sense approach to the issue of abortion.  She encouraged people to vote for political candidates who would actually bring about the changes in society that research has shown reduce the abortion rate. She encouraged hard questions and firmly believed you didn’t need to sacrifice your intellectual integrity to be a person of faith. Rachel was respected and loved by millions. She became an articulate and powerful spokeswoman for people of faith who believed in a very different kind of Christianity than the one espoused by the supporters of Donald Trump.

Evidence of the importance of Rachel Held Evans life was clear as almost every major news source in the United States ran stories about her death.  The Washington Post, The New York Times,The New Yorker, The Atlantic,CNN,CBS,NPR, Fox,  Newsweek and hundreds of others.   A Twitter hashtag #Becauseof RHE soon garnered a host of moving testimonies from people who said their lives had been changed because of her. These tweets were shared thousands of times worldwide. 

Rachel Held Evans was indeed a person who made the very most of her one wild and precious life. She inspires us all to emulate her.

Other posts………

Inspiration from Poet Mary Oliver

Meet Priscilla

The Woman Who Loves Giraffes

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Filed under People, Religion

Reading Pictures

I was privileged to attend a three-hour graphic novel course last Tuesday night led by award-winning author David Robertson. I had read quite a number of his graphic novels before taking the course but after attending the workshop I wanted to read them all again because I learned so much about how to READ PICTURES.    Each illustration is important and David carefully considers how each will look.  Before a collaborative artist begins to create a page in a graphic novel of David’s, they read the lengthy and detailed notes David has written about each scene on the page. There may not be a single word of text on the page but David makes sure the pictures tell the whole story. When David is writing a book based on real historical events or people he does exhaustive research to make sure each scene in the graphic novel looks historically accurate. 

I was a high school English teacher for many years and taught my students to look for foreshadowing, symbolism, theme, point of view, metaphor and all kinds of other literary devices in novels.  I discovered David uses all these literary techniques too but they are primarily  in the illustrations.  David gave examples from his 7 Generations series of books to show those of us attending his workshop how he carefully structures his graphic novels.  

I learned that sometimes he places images beside one another to compare and contrast them. For example, on one page he has two full-length panels side by side. One is of a husband and one is of his wife. The two have separated and are pursuing completely different life paths.  Because of the way the illustrations are juxtapositioned it is easy to compare and contrast the divergent choices the two have made. 

There is an amulet/necklace that appears again and again in the 7 Generations series.  It serves as a symbol of strength. 

David carefully considers how you will view each scene in a graphic novel. Will you see it from above or below? From the front, from the back? From far away or close up? The point of view is important.

Images can also serve as metaphors.  In one scene a young man holds a  photo of his father in a frame with broken glass because his relationship with his Dad is broken.  

I could go on and on.  I learned SO MUCH about graphic novels from David.  

Enough to know that it would be tough to write a graphic novel.  It is every bit as complicated and detailed an endeavor as writing a more traditional novel.

Enough to know that David Robertson is a very talented writer indeed. 

Enough to know that we can’t just teach students how to read the written word critically, we need to teach them how to ‘read’ visual images critically as well.  

Enough to know that I would encourage you to read David Robertson’s graphic novels too. 

Other posts………

A Graphic Louis Riel

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Knock Down The House

Last Sunday over dinner my son and I talked enthusiastically about a movie on Netflix we had both just watched.  It is called Knock Down the House and tells the incredible story of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and how she defeated ten-term incumbent Democratic Congressman Joe Crawley to become a candidate in the 2018 election and subsequently was elected to the American House of Representatives.  Although Crawley was a prominent member of the Democratic caucus, was backed by big business interests, and spent nearly twenty times as much money as Ocasio-Cortez did, she still won.  Everyone knows this story but it is chronicled in exciting personal detail in Knock Down the House

What I learned while watching Knock Down the House that I didn’t know before was that AOC, as she is affectionately called, was one of many new candidates for office sponsored by the Justice Democrats an organization that formed after the 2016 election to promote Democratic candidates that were not in the pocket of big business, candidates that were not funded by wealthy individuals or major corporations. The movie details the bids of three other women besides AOC who also tried to defeat established corporately funded candidates to be nominated in their congressional districts. Although they didn’t win their primaries their stories are also inspirational.  

In Nevada, Amy Vilela ran for nomination inspired by her twenty-two-year-old daughter who died because she didn’t get the medical procedure she needed due to confusion over whether the young woman’s health insurance would cover it.  

In West Virginia Paula Jean Swearengin a coal miner’s daughter ran for nomination inspired by the poor living conditions and low wages of coal miners and her concerns over the environmental damage caused by the industry including the high rates of cancer among her neighbors. 

In Missouri Cori Bush a registered nurse, ordained pastor and community organizer ran for nomination inspired by her own experience as a single parent having to rely on food stamps and Medicaid. She wanted to change a justice system that over-incarcerates, an education system that under educates and was disturbed by the fact that millions of American children live in poverty. 

Some critics say Knock Down the House would have been a better movie if it had just focused on the story of AOC but I think it is stronger for also showing us the other candidates, equally passionate, equally bent on changing America, equally dedicated to giving government ‘back to the people’, but women who ultimately did not have the success AOC did and were defeated by corporately backed candidates. 

My son and I talked about what was the most moving scene in the film for both of us.  After Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is elected to Congress she visits Washington DC  and remembers how her father who died in 2008 once took her there and showing her the great monuments in the capital said, “These all belong to us.” 

We have an election coming this fall in Canada and Knock Down the House is a good reminder that indeed our government belongs to us and that we each have an important role to play in determining our country’s future.

Other posts………

What Happens When A Women Take Power?

Women in Politics

Difficult Women


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Filed under Movies, Politics