What’s a Yondr Pouch?

I learned about Yondr pouches from an educational leadership group I follow online. They are used extensively in Australian high schools which ban cell phones during the school day. According to an article in The Guardian, more than a thousand schools in the United States have Yondrs too.

When kids walk into school they place their phones into a Yondr pouch and when they close it their phones are locked inside for the day.

As they leave the school they place their phone on a magnetic button which opens the case.

I understand why schools think they need to use Yondr pouches. When I was teaching high school in Manitoba phones were not to be used in class but kids found all kinds of ways to get around that.

I was constantly catching kids using their phones and had to threaten to take them away. I gave them a warning but if they didn’t comply I took their phones away and they had to go to the school office with a parent to retrieve them.

The Yondr removes the need for teachers to police phone use and the need to be the ‘bad guy.’ I had students tell me I was mean and ruining their life by taking away their phones.

Photo by RDNE Stock project on Pexels.com

I am not sure what I think of Yondrs. Students definitely need to limit the use of their cell phones in class. Ontario’s Department of Education has an official policy that phones are only to be used in class for educational purposes and for medical reasons.

I know I find it very difficult to try and give a tour of the Winnipeg Art Gallery to groups of students when their teachers allow them to be on their phones. It’s even worse when the teachers are on their phones too. I think my tours are pretty engaging and interesting but I can’t compete with text messages from friends or Tik Tok feeds.

Perhaps Yondrs are a temporary solution but what we really need to do is teach ourselves and our kids how to use our phones responsibly and wisely, so they don’t rule our lives or turn our attention away from other things that are important.

Other posts……..

The Olden Days

Technology and Family Time

Technology Has Transformed Travel

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Filed under Education

Connecting Families

Last week I did a story about my grandmother Margareta Sawatsky Peters on her birthday and included a photo of her with the children she cared for as a nanny when she was a young woman. The children’s parents Anna Gerbrandt and Abraham Friesen had hired my grandmother to work for them shortly after she immigrated to Canada.

My grandmother Margareta Sawatsky Peters with Cornelius, Lena and Anne Friesen

Gord Friesen who is a member of my church read my blog post and sent me an e-mail saying the man sitting on my grandmother’s lap in the photo was his father Cornelius Friesen and the girls were his aunts Lena and Anne. He had seen the photo before but hadn’t known who the woman holding his father was. Did I know any more about my grandmother’s connection with his family?

My Aunt Mary Fransen has written and shared many stories about my grandparents’ lives so I went and looked through my collection and found this paragraph.

“Margareta Sawatsky arrived in Canada in August of 1923 with her family.  They settled in Altona Manitoba. The A.D. Friesen family needed a ‘nanny’ to help care for the younger of their seven children so they employed Margareta for an $8.00 a month salary. Her way with children and sense of humour charmed the Friesens.  Soon Margareta became part of the family.”

I’m incredibly grateful to my Aunt Mary Fransen who has created a detailed record of my paternal grandparents’ lives

My Aunt Mary had also interviewed my grandparents at length about their immigration experience and from those interviews I was able to glean even more information about the connection between Gordon Friesen’s grandparents and mine.

In the interview, Grandma talks about how good Anna and Abraham Friesen were to her whole family when they first arrived in Canada.  Abraham whose Mennonite family had already immigrated to Canada from Ukraine in the 1870s met Grandma and her parents and siblings at the train station in 1923 when they arrived and took them to his and Anna’s home for lunch. 

It was Anna’s birthday and my grandmother never forgot how they were served fresh green beans for the meal. After the famine Grandma’s family had just experienced in Ukraine, and their long ocean voyage to Canada during which there were no fresh vegetables to eat, those fresh green beans Anna served the Canadian newcomers were a real treat. 

Abraham found an old schoolhouse for Grandma’s family to move into and then he and Anna organized a kind of shower in the Altona community so that Grandma’s family was given everything they would need to move into the schoolhouse and stock their kitchen.

But my Grandma Margareta did not move into the schoolhouse which will have been crowded with Grandma’s parents and siblings some of whom were already married with children. Grandma remained behind at Abraham and Anna’s who hired her to do childcare for little Cornelius and Lena and Anna the youngest three of their seven children.

My grandmother’s parents Franz Sawatzky (1869-1936) and Margaretha Schellenberg Sawatzky (1873-1943)

Grandma Margareta did remember going to the schoolhouse on Sundays to visit her family. During the week her father and brothers and brothers-in-law were working at a farm some six miles away from Altona. They walked back to Altona on Sundays to visit. Grandma Margareta remembers how Abraham and Anna Friesen and their friends kept her mother and sisters supplied with food and split firewood while the men in the family were away working during the week. 

I e-mailed all this information to my fellow church member Gord Friesen who had inquired about the photo of my grandmother and his father as a child and said our families were connected in a way neither of us had realized.

I told Gord my family owed his family a huge debt of gratitude for their kindness in the 1920s.

In my post about Life After Death earlier this week I talked about how author Heather Plett gave me the idea that each of our lives are like paintings and all kinds of people leave their mark on our canvas to create the overall image of our life story.

I’ve learned that Gord Friesen’s grandparents Anna and Abraham Friesen put a bright splash of hope and help onto the canvas of my grandmother’s life.

I’m grateful to them.

Other posts………

Interview Where My Grandparents Talk About the Famine in Ukraine

Butchering Day

On My Grandparents’ Farm


Filed under Family

Art to Inspire Inspired Me!

For the last two months, I’ve been leading a program at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) that I’ve just LOVED!

The class was brilliantly designed by Colleen Leduc a learning and programs coordinator at the gallery and a certified art therapist.

Photo from the WAG website

Colleen has taught the class in the past. But this year her administrative responsibilities at the gallery increased and she couldn’t fit time to lead the sessions into her schedule so she asked me and a colleague of mine to take over.

What a privilege!

The class is called Art to Inspire and this year we offered eight-afternoon sessions on Thursdays in April and May. The people who participated have dementia or Alzheimer’s and come to the program with their caregivers who may be family members or friends.

One participant took the piece he’d made in class home and framed it and then brought it to the next session to show us

Our sessions were held in a large sunny studio looking out over the WAG’s rooftop. We began each session with coffee or tea and cookies and friendly conversation around the table getting to know each other.

We talked about our interests, events in our lives and families, and what was going on with the weather and the news.

At our last meeting yesterday one of the participants said the sense of community created through these conversations had been the best part of the weekly sessions for her.

Photo from the WAG Facebook page

Our second activity was going into one of the galleries in the WAG and looking at a piece of art, or several pieces of art and discussing them. I LOVED this part of our sessions with everyone offering their unique ideas about the artwork and the feelings the artwork evoked.

Both caregivers and those with dementia or Alzheimer’s shared wonderful observations and insights.

After our time in the gallery, we would go back to our studio and create some art. I have included some of the marvelous pieces members of our group created in this post.

We used all kinds of different things for our creations which were often connected in some way to the artwork we had studied in the gallery.

I realized that just because someone has Alzheimer’s or dementia doesn’t mean their artistic instincts or talents have been hampered at all. The work created during our eight sessions was just amazing!!

Leading this class was just a delight for me. My own life was enriched immeasurably by the wonderful people I got to know in the last two months because of the class. I am so grateful to the WAG for giving me this opportunity.

There was one participant in the class who said at the end of every session, “That was so much fun MaryLou.” That moment always made every minute of preparing for the class worthwhile.

The program runs in partnership with the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba, and the University of Manitoba College of Rehabilitation Sciences.

Although the current program has come to an end people who are interested in the course can keep checking the WAG website for information about future classes.

Other posts………

Wraggling Along


Warli Art- Kids Love It And You Will Too

Art in Bloom

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Filed under Art, Health, winnipeg art gallery

Is There Life After Death?

A friend told me recently she wasn’t sure if she believed in a life after death. I said I wasn’t sure either but I wasn’t worried about it.

With my sons and daughters-in-law

I’ve had a really good life. I’ve loved and been loved. I have children and grandchildren who will live on after me and I take immense joy and pride in the people they have become and are becoming.

With my very first class of students

I have had a rewarding career.

I have been lucky enough to see a great deal of the world.

With Starry Night by Van Gogh at the Museum of Modern Art in New York

I’ve been able to explore all kinds of interests of mine.

I’ve been fortunate to have many things I’ve written published and put out there into the world.

I’ve been blessed with great friends.

I have terrific siblings I can count on.

Sure there have been hard times in my life, times of profound loss, terrible frustration, deep disappointment and heartbreaking grief but often that was because I’d loved, cared, hoped or dreamed and I’m not sorry about taking those chances even though things didn’t end up as I wished or wanted.

If there is a life after death that would be an adventure, but honestly taken as a whole my life has been a pretty good adventure too so if there is something after death it will be a bonus.

Of course, I’d like to believe the idea that we are mysteriously reunited with those we love after death. Maybe our souls or spirits do merge in some way and we become part of an eternal force, at one with the divine. I can’t imagine how that might happen- it is beyond my ability to fathom- but I don’t discount the possibility.

Photographed in 1954 – me and my mother

I still feel really connected to some of the people who have predeceased me. I think of my mother nearly every day, the things she taught me and role-modelled for me are still a big part of my life. I think of my grandparents often and the unconditional love they gave me. My mother-in-law was a very inspirational woman.

When my new granddaughter was born last week my brother sent me a message saying that he was happy the continuum of love passed on to us by our mother was alive in a new generation. In a very real way I think my mother’s love lives on and in that way so does she.

Religious writer Nadia Bolz Weber puts it this way…… because God is love, the love we shared here on Earth is the connective tissue that unites us eternally with everyone who loved us.

I told my friend who wondered if there was life after death that even if we die and that’s final- there’s nothing else- we all still live on. My friend was a healthcare professional and I told her a little bit of her would live on in every patient she cared for and helped.

Paint party I attended

I follow author and life coach Heather Plett on social media and she wrote recently that our lives are like a canvas on which a painting is being created for each one of us. When we have relationships or even short interactions with people we leave a little dab of paint on their canvas. The dabs we’ve left on other people’s life canvases will live on even after we’ve died.

Is there life after death? I’m not sure. There might be and that could be an exciting experience.

I do think however, that no matter what happens we do live on after we die……… through the love we’ve given, the example we’ve been, the lives we’ve touched, the dabs of paint we’ve left on other people’s life canvases.

Other posts……..

The Purpose of Life

Life is Messy

Three Actions For A Good Life


Filed under Reflections, Religion

Credit Where Credit Is Due

I went to get my passport renewed yesterday and was in and out of the building in under 15 minutes. I live just across the street from the passport office and after the pandemic I saw the people waiting to go inside in long lines that stretched far down my block.

I’d heard politicians from opposing parties accuse the Liberal government of inefficiency and irresponsibility for the way passport offices were being run. So I was wondering what kind of experience I would have at the passport office.

I was unable to apply for a new passport till we returned home from Africa in March since I needed my passport with me in Tanzania and South Africa and you have to submit your old passport to get a new one.

I chose not to mail in my passport for renewal because there was federal employee strike talk in the air when we returned to Canada and I didn’t want my passport to get marooned and forgotten in some passport office during a strike.

So I decided my best bet was to make an appointment to get my passport renewed in- person. I was a little concerned when the soonest appointment I could get was almost three months away.

But when I went in yesterday morning I was greeted by name by an officer at the front door and sent up to the fourth floor where again I was greeted by name and ushered up to a counter.

The woman who helped me was efficient and friendly and told me I’d done a great job of filling out my application form. We chatted a bit about my upcoming trip to France as she checked the pages of my application, put a void stamp on my old passport and I paid for my new one.

The whole thing only took a few minutes. The clerk reassured me that my passport would arrive in my mailbox at the latest in ten days nearly a month before my upcoming trip to France.

As I left the security guard said “Have a good day MaryLou.”

“You too” I said. “And thank you for the great service.”

I realize the passport offices in Canada have been criticized of late and maybe that was good because the pressure was on for them to improve.

If my experience yesterday is any indication they have found a way to up their game and provide efficient and friendly service.

I have to give credit where credit is due.

Other posts……….

A Passport of Her Own

My Nephew! My Hero!

Is Travelling For Pleasure Ethical?

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Filed under Canada, Politics

Where Does the Name Manitoba Come From?

Muhnedobe uhyahyuk- Where the gods are present by Robert Houle

These four paintings were part of the recent Robert Houle exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Houle is a respected artist with an international reputation who comes from Manitoba’s Sandy Bay First Nation.

Houle says his four paintings depict a spiritual place, the Narrows of Lake Manitoba where the water beating against the limestone cliffs and pounding on the pebbled shore creates the sound of Saulteaux ancestors’ voices, believed to be the voice of Manitou.

“To the Saulteaux,” Houle says, “the Narrows are known as Manito-waban, meaning the ‘divine straits’ or ‘the place where god lives.'”

Manitoba drawn by one of my grade two students in the early 1990s

On the official government site for Manitoba, it says that newcomers to the province were told by the Indigenous people on the prairies that at the Lake Manitoba Narrows the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks of an offshore island was the voice of Manitou or the Great Spirit.

A man named Thomas Spence used the word first in an official way. He was the leader of a settlement near Portage la Prairie and they decided in 1868 to call their community and the district around it The Republic of Manitobah.

Louis Riel with members of his provisional government in a photograph by Joseph Langevin and in a beautiful beaded frame by Jennine Krauchi. Thomas Spence who first officially used the name Manitoba is to the far right showing us his profile.

Thomas Spence was part of Louis Riel’s provisional government whose delegates went to Ottawa to negotiate the terms for the establishment of a new province they initially wanted to call Assiniboia.

Louis Riel statue on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature

Louis Riel didn’t think Assiniboia was the best choice however and in a letter of instructions to one of the Ottawa delegates suggested either North-West or Manitoba be the name chosen.

A sculpture titled Manitoba by artist Joe Fafard

When Sir John A Macdonald the prime minister announced the name of the new province as Manitoba in 1870 he said it was chosen for its pleasant sound and importance to the original inhabitants of Manitoba.

Map of Manitoba by artist Miriam Rudolph showing relationships between Metis, Indigenous and early settler peoples in the province

In May we celebrate the official founding of Manitoba and so it’s a good month to remember that the name of our province has strong roots in its Indigenous and Metis heritage.

Other posts………

Storied Land- Metis, Indigenous People and Mennonites

It’s All About the Frame

Louis Riel- In My Neighborhood

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Filed under manitoba


Dave and I are watching the third season of the television series Ted Lasso. Ted is an American college football coach from Kansas who moves to London when he is hired to coach a professional English soccer team.

In the episode Dave and I watched last night the team is in Amsterdam for an exhibition game.

While on a walk after the game the team’s owner Rebecca accidentally falls into a canal and is rescued by a Dutch man who takes her to his houseboat to dry off and warm up.

Rebecca played by actress Hannah Waddingham spends a gezellig evening with a Dutch man played by actor Matteo van der Grijn

Her new friend makes dinner for Rebecca and introduces her to the Dutch word gezellig. He uses it several times during their evening together. He explains that the word can’t be translated into English but means something like cosy.

I found that intriguing and so this morning I looked up gezellig and discovered it is indeed a very special word in Holland. Some people say it is at the very heart of Dutch culture.

My friend Esther and I try on cosy scarves our friend Debbie just gave us for Christmas at one of our regular friend luncheons. How gezellig.

According to Wikipedia, it does mean cosy but also, quaint, or nice. It can describe time spent with a loved one, seeing a friend after a long time or just being together with family.

I can think of lots of times I’ve felt gezellig.

Last Thursday morning a new granddaughter named Hattie Lou was added to our family and getting to hold her in the hospital that evening was definitely gezellig.

Being together with my three marvellous sisters-in-law at a wedding earlier this month was gezellig.

Chilling out at a cosy Winnipeg coffeeshop can be gezellig.

A gezellig dinner with my sister during our bicycle trip together in Croatia.

This was definitely a gezellig moment in a waterfall in Costa Rica.

Getting to know these two lively women and eating excellent food and sharing great wine and conversation with them in Stellenbosch South Africa was a terrific gezellig experience I had in February.

Me reading a book in 1963

Curling up with a good book gives me the most gezellig feeling ever.

Being with my Mom always felt gezellig- safe and warm and just right

You can find so many different synonyms for gezellig online-homey, friendly, snuggly, fun, comfortable or enjoyable.

But most people who try to define it in English says that is impossible to do because no word in our language can really describe gezellig and that’s because it’s a feeling and not just a word.

When do you feel gezellig?

Other posts……….


Crumbs of Joy

Kicking Off the Party Season

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Filed under Media

Do Children Have An Innate Spiritual Intelligence?

I recently saw the movie Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Adapted from a hugely popular 1970s novel by Judy Blume the film tells the story of an eleven-year-old girl just on the cusp of puberty whose family moves to a new city.

Margaret is anxious and worried about this move as well as about lots of other things. Will she find new friends? Will she ever have a big enough chest to get a bra? When will she get her period?

The role of Margaret in the film is played brilliantly by Abby Ryder Fortson

Margaret starts confiding in God, talking to God almost every night about her worries and concerns and asking God for help.

Margaret’s loving and caring parents played by Rachel McAdams and Benny Safdie

Interestingly however Margaret has had no religious upbringing of any kind. Her father comes from a Jewish family and her mother’s Christian parents disowned Margaret’s mother because she chose to marry a Jewish man.

Because of that Margaret’s parents have brought their daughter up without teaching her about either faith or introducing her to any religion of any kind.

Still………when Margaret finds life overwhelming she turns to God. Where does she get her idea of God? She has never seen her parents pray. Why would she pray? Does she possess a kind of innate spiritual intelligence?

Margaret Sinetar in her book Spiritual Intelligence: What We Can Learn From the Early Awakening Child says that all children show signs of spiritual intelligence whether or not they come from families where they have been taught about religion.

Thomas H. Groome, a professor of theology and religious education at Boston College and author of Educating for Life: A Spiritual Vision for Every Teacher and Parent agrees that children are born with a sort of innate sense of awe and reverence and creativity and an openness to the mystery of the spiritual.

He feels it is important to ground children in a specific religious faith so they have a way to express their innate spiritual intelligence.

Margaret’s grandmother in the film is played by Kathy Bates

For a school project, Margaret does explore various religious faiths, going to a Jewish temple service with her grandmother, to a Presbyterian church service with one friend, and to a Methodist Christmas Eve celebration with another friend. She even pops into a Catholic confessional while following a school classmate. But she doesn’t find what she’s looking for in the institutional church.

At one point pressured by both sets of her grandparents to choose their religion, she declares she doesn’t believe in God anymore.

But…….. by the end of the film when her life has taken a more positive turn she can’t help but send up a prayer of thanksgiving to God.

While writing Anabaptist curriculums for children’s religious education in the 1990s I was introduced to the concept of Godly Play, conceived by Jerome Berryman. It was a unique way of relating stories of faith that encouraged children to question and react and respond to them in their own way without didactic interpretation or instruction from adults.

Godly Play was a method that allowed children to use their imaginations and curiosity to experience the mystery of the divine. It respected children’s innate spirituality.

It was interesting for me to see that idea of children’s innate spirituality highlighted and respected again in the film Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

It is an excellent movie by the way and one I would highly recommend.

Other posts………

Lesson Not Required

Do I Stay Christian? No!

A World of Faith

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Filed under Childhood, Religion

Stitching Beauty

Last weekend my husband and granddaughter and I went to a quilt show at the Fort Garry Mennonite Fellowship Church.

The show and sale was a fundraiser for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) an aid organization that has been helping vulnerable people around the world for over a hundred years.

My husband and granddaughter look at a quilt made with old ties

The quilts are made by a group that meets regularly year-round to create them. The quilters volunteer their time and much of the material they use to make the quilts is also donated.

I loved this quilt at the show called Going Home.

There were so many beautiful quilted pieces to see at the show and I marvelled at the thousands of hours of work they represented.

My friend Marge with a quilt she made during the pandemic

I went to the quilt show last weekend to support my friend Marge who is one of the quilters who donates their time to make the quilts that were on display.

This is a photo of Marge with a quilt she made several years ago. She’s a true artist with her quilting needle.

My mother-in-law stitching a special quilt for me to use in workshops I presented

My mother-in-law Anne was a beautiful quilter.

Our older son holds his infant baby brother. The yellow quilt around the baby was made by my mother-in-law Anne.

From infancy to adulthood our sons both slept under the various quilts their Oma made for them.

Grace Mennonite Quilt by Linda Klassen

I attended Grace Mennonite Church in Steinbach for most of my life and when we celebrated our 50th anniversary in 2011 Linda Klassen, a member of the congregation, made this quilt filled with symbols related to the church’s history.

More quilts from the MCC show – photo by Teresa Rempel from her Facebook page

Quilts are truly works of art. They can tell a story, inspire emotion, please the eye, stir the heart and elicit memories.

And at the quilt show for MCC last weekend they also raised funds to help the vulnerable. How great is that?

Other posts……….

My Talented Friends

A Utah Massacre Remembered

Going On A Field Trip


Filed under Art

An Unexpected Art Gallery

I had to be downtown for an early physio appointment yesterday and when I arrived at the clinic at the corner of Graham and Edmonton the door was locked. I was a little annoyed at having to wait but it gave me time to survey my surroundings.

Right in front of me was something that looked like a picnic table but as I examined it more closely I realized it was really interesting in both design and shape. It zigged and zagged and was long and narrow and it was looped together with these deep forest green railings.

I noticed a plaque on the table so I went over to take a look. The sign said the table was actually a work of art by Nicole Marion and Chris Wiebe and had been installed in 2020.

It was called PIICNIIC and had been made to look like a picnic table sliced in half and overlapped. The artists wanted it to be not only a piece of art but also a place for people to sit and rest or eat their lunch.

I had probably walked by that bench a hundred times in the past since it is right on the route I often use to walk to and from work but I’d never really noticed it before yesterday.

My eye travelled down PIICNIIC and there at the end of it was another artistic piece! I went over to take a look. Some kind of steel box had been painted in a modern and colourful way.

I did a little research when I got home and found out it was actually a transit box. It had been painted by an artist named Sarah Collard and she called it Bus Stop because it was right beside the bus shelter.

Sarah said she had painted actual people she saw on Graham Avenue walking by the bus stop or waiting to take the bus. She made blind contour drawings of them, which means she looked only at them and not at what she was drawing on the box till she had finished their outlines. It made them seem a little strange and abstract.

I took a couple of photos of the colourful box myself and then snagged a couple from the wonderful Murals of Winnipeg website.

After discovering these two art pieces I went over and tried the clinic door again. Still locked.

That’s when I spied ANOTHER piece of art on the wall of the clinic building right beside the door.

A plaque beside it said the work was called cloth, quill ghost worlds and was created by an Anishinaabe artist named Scott Benesiinaabandan. It had a deep black background and eight photographs of these colourful bits of cloth stuck together with porcupine quills.

There was a barcode on the plaque so you could listen to Anishinaabe songs while looking at cloth, quill ghost worlds.

While I was getting ready to do that the receptionist came to open the door to the physio clinic so I hurried inside.

I had been annoyed about not being able to get into the clinic but realized that had actually been a good thing because it had made me stop and really look at my surroundings.

Here I was in a kind of mini art gallery on a Winnipeg street corner and if the clinic door had been open I wouldn’t even have noticed.

It made me wonder what other beautiful little things about my city had gone unobserved because I was too busy thinking, or listening to a podcast to actually notice things around me as I walked.

It made me realize I needed to be more observant!

Other posts……..

Ten Historic Winnipeg Buildings

Living in an Art Gallery

Who is Dr. Rizal and What Is He Doing In Winnipeg?

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Filed under Art, Winnipeg