Monthly Archives: September 2011

I’m Her Namesake

Last weekend we celebrated my Aunt Mary’s 80th birthday. Aunt Mary is my Dad’s younger sister and she came to Manitoba from her home in Arkansas for a visit. Her four sisters and brother who live in Manitoba decided to surprise her with a birthday party. Her children flew in from Oklahoma and Minneapolis and nearly fifty members of our extended family turned up at her party. That is not surprising because Auntie Mary is a very special lady.

She lived in Newton Kansas for many years and that was where the Mennonite Church had its headquarters. My son Bucky wasn’t even a year old when I went there for a Parenting For Peace and Justice workshop. Auntie Mary invited me to stay with her and volunteered to care for my baby while I was at the workshop sessions. Bucky had a wonderful time with her. 

When Dave and I, and our two boys, were on our way to the Hopi Indian Reservation to do voluntary service for a year in a Mennonite Mission School there, we had to stop in Newton for a week of orientation. Again Auntie Mary offered her childcare services and planned a week of non-stop activity and excitement for her two great-nephews while Dave and I were busy with meetings. She even made a photo album for Bucky and Joel cataloguing all the fun things they had done together in Newton. 

Auntie Mary is a nurse and for many years she was the manager of her husband’s medical office. Uncle Herb is a retired surgeon. But she still found time, while raising three children, to go back to university and get a degree in art. Dave and I have a beautiful painting of hers hanging in the front hallway of our home, a wedding gift from Auntie Mary. 

Auntie Mary is an avid reader and I remember that on the occasions I visited her home, she always had a stack of books she’d read placed on the night table by my bed. These were books she had selected from her personal collection especially for me because she thought I would be interested in them. 

 When I was born my Auntie Mary stayed up all night with my Mom.  This was before the time when husbands were allowed in the delivery room, so my Aunt Mary was my Mom’s support as she laboured through the night to give birth to her first child. Auntie Mary was writing her final exams to become a nurse the morning after I was born, but despite that, she stayed awake all night with my Mom. In this photo, she is holding me just after I entered the world. It is no wonder my mother and father decided that at least part of my name should be a tribute to Aunt Mary. 

On our recent trip to Ukraine, I took along the transcribed notes my Auntie Mary had given me of several lengthy oral interviews she had conducted with my grandparents about their life in the Soviet Union. Those notes are what made it possible for me to find the places where my grandparents and great-grandparents had lived. I read my grandparents’ stories as I walked through their home village of Gnadenthal, and their life there came alive for me because of the work Auntie Mary had done collecting and transcribing her parents’ stories.

Auntie Mary is a warm, compassionate, positive person, family orientated, hospitable, easy to talk to, affirming and a lifelong learner. I am proud to be her namesake.  

Other posts……….

Visiting Uncle Herb

Flight Behaviour


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Movie Buddy Wanted

My husband Dave has always had a movie buddy. Movie buddies are guys he can call at a moment’s notice and they willingly head off to whatever show Dave wants to see. Dave is a bit of a movie junkie and really doesn’t mind going to any film.  I am a little more fussy about the films I watch and I often have other things I’d rather do than see every movie that comes along.

When we lived in Steinbach, before moving to Hong Kong, Brian was Dave’s primary movie buddy for many years. Brian was young, a golf professional and often agreed to hop in the car with Dave and drive to Winnipeg for a late movie. The two of them would catch a 9:45 show and then get back to Steinbach after midnight. I was so grateful to Brian for going to all those movies with Dave. It meant I could go to bed at a reasonable hour and escape movies that I really had no interest in seeing, but might have gone to, because I felt sorry for Dave having to go to the theatre alone. Dave had back-up movie buddies as well. I remember David, a local lawyer who also accompanied Dave on his late night movie escapades at times. Eventually David and Brian both got married, and then had children, so their availability for movie adventures wasn’t what it had been in the past. Luckily we moved to Hong Kong where Dave was able to find a new movie buddy. 

Bill lived in the same apartment block as we did in Ma On Shan and was a fellow teacher at International Christian School.  He was as passionate a film buff as Dave, and so the two made an excellent movie pair. Dave could call Bill just about any time and he’d be ready and willing to meet Dave in our apartment lobby to set off on a visit to the theatre at the local mall or even a movie house further afield in the city. I know Bill’s wife Yasuko was every bit as grateful as I was that her husband had a movie buddy. Yasuko is very discerning about the films she watches and was only too happy that Bill had a companion to go to movies she had no desire to see. She often thanked Dave for being Bill’s movie buddy. 

Now Bill and Yasuko have moved to Hawaii and we are in Winnipeg. Once again Dave is in need of a movie buddy. There are several movie theatres within easy walking distance of our condo and Dave could go to a movie every night if he wanted to. The problem is I don’t want to. I’m a little bit of a coward when it comes to watching movies with too much violence and I’m not a fan of lengthy foreign films that are all about great cinematography and have little story line.  Besides right now I’m finishing a history book project that has a deadline looming and so I feel guilty watching movies when I should be working on it. 

What next? I’m taking applications for a Winnipeg movie buddy for my husband. You need to have a somewhat flexible schedule and be spontaneous enough to agree to seeing a movie with very little prior notice. You need to be a fairly devoted movie aficionado, willing to see almost anything just for your love of the silver screen. If you are interested please respond to this blog post and I’ll pass your name along to Dave. 

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Filed under Culture, Family, Media, Winnipeg

The Exiles- Selkirk Settlers 1813

selkirk settlersThere is a statue at the end of our street at the corner of Bannatyne and Waterfront Drive called Selkirk Settlers 1813.  It was created by Gerald Laing and depicts a family of four departing Scotland for a new home in Canada. 

A sign near the statue explains that in Scotland in the late 1700s and early 1800s many men, women and children were chased off their land and burned out of their homes. Some were sold into slavery and others were put on ‘coffin ships’ that went to destinations all over the world.  They were called ‘coffin ships’ because the accommodations on board were so horrible—little food, water or living space so as many as 30% of the passengers onboard these coffin ships from Scotland died. They said sharks followed the ships waiting for the bodies to be thrown overboard. Rich Scottish landowners wanted to use more of their land for raising sheep so they cleared off all their tenants. This came to be known as The Clearances. 

IMG_7269A man named Lord Selkirk arranged for some of the people who were victims of The Clearances to come to Canada and establish Scottish colonies here. The statue represents some of those Scots who came to settle here in Manitoba. The father has a bare chest and is wearing his kilt. He looks very resolute and hardy. His son is looking up to him. They are facing forward ready for the dangers and challenges ahead. 

IMG_7273You can see that the father has a guiding hand on his son’s back. The mother whose shawl and dress are being blown around by the wind is looking back at her homeland before leaving.  She is probably wondering if she will ever see it again. She appears more apprehensive about embarking on an adventure to an unknown place. Perhaps she is leaving relatives and friends behind. The men’s feet are moving forward. The mother has pivoted on her foot to look behind. 

IMG_7276The mother is holding her baby tight to her chest, no doubt worried about what the future will hold for her small child and whether the wee thing will survive the long voyage to Canada. 

IMG_7270The first 23 settlers from Scotland brought a bushel and a half of wheat with them which they planted in the agricultural settlement that would eventually become the City of Winnipeg. Some people call this statue The Exiles because the people had been exiled from their homeland. 

selkirk settlersI walk by this statue almost every day and it reminds me of my own grandparents who were also exiles—forced to flee Ukraine in the 1920s after all their land had been taken away, their possessions were stolen and their lives placed in danger.  Canada is a country filled with people who were exiled and made their way here to start a new life.  

This statue was erected in 2008 thanks to generous donations by Dennis MacLeod and John Webster two Winnipeg Scottish businessmen. I’m grateful to them for adding this thought-provoking and beautiful piece of artwork to my neighbourhood. 


Filed under Art, Canada, Family, History, Winnipeg

21 Hours in Thompson

I was only in Thompson, Manitoba for 21 hours last week.  I spent seven of those hours giving a presentation and seven of them sleeping, but in the seven hours that were left I learned quite a bit about a city I had only visited once before, about 40 years ago. I learned………

1. Thompson is a modern up to date place, with paved roads, nice houses, apartment blocks and every kind of store and restaurant you’d see in any other North American city. Boston Pizza, Wal-Mart, Canadian Tire, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Shoppers Drug Mart—they have it all.

2. Thompson has a large immigrant population. My two taxi drivers were both from India.  One had lived as an illegal immigrant in Boston for a while but decided things would be safer in Canada. The cleaning lady at my hotel was from the Philippines. I went for lunch at a restaurant owned by a Chinese couple from Harbin, a city way up in northern China. I always wanted to visit Harbin when I lived in China, because they have these world-famous ice sculptures in winter. I chatted with the proprietor briefly and she told me the weather in Thompson is much like the weather in Harbin, which is one of the reasons they chose to move there.

3. In summer time there are quite a number of homeless people living on the streets in Thompson. They come down to the city from more isolated, northern communities, live on the street in Thompson while the weather is nice and when it turns colder they go back to their home communities for the winter.

4. There is fairly good air service to most northern communities so people are able to fly out when they need to. Medical service is provided by local nursing stations, home care workers and community health workers and in some cases doctors from France who are flown in regularly to rotate through northern communities and see patients.

5. There are three options for instruction in Thompson schools. Students can take classes in English, French or Cree. You can even go to university in Thompson at the University College of the North.

6. Thompson was named after a person—J.F. Thompson a metallurgical genius who was instrumental in the discovery of nickel near Thompson and was president of the INCO company in 1957 when they struck a deal with the Manitoba government to establish a planned community in the north. I saw this clock with Thompson’s name under it as I was driving to the airport. 

7. The people I met in Thompson were very friendly—from the kind manager of the Boston Pizza franchise who went out of his way to return my credit card when I forgot it there after my supper, to the nice gentleman who checked me in at the Suburban Hotel and answered all my questions, to the welcoming people at the Keewatin Tribal Council who made me feel right at home. 

What next? I think I may need to go back to Thompson again and spend more than 21 hours there next time.

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Filed under Canada, History, New Experiences, People

I Talked to Peter C. Newman

I wasn’t happy when I boarded my Calm Air flight to Thompson yesterday. It was pouring rain in Winnipeg and I had to walk a long way across the tarmac to the plane, so by the time I boarded I was soaking wet. You don’t get assigned seats on Calm Air, you just sit wherever you like,  so I sat down in the first empty seat I came to—beside a very elderly man.  I apologized for dripping water on him, asked if he could move his bag to make room for my briefcase and started to chat about the weather. He didn’t reply and then I noticed his hearing aid and wondered if he’d even heard me. I decided getting to know my seat mate which is something I usually like to do, wasn’t in the cards for this flight. I was sleepy after spending a good part of the previous night at the hospital with my Mom so I decided to have a snooze.   When I woke up the elderly gentleman beside me was reading some notes and holding a blue folder labeled SPEECH.  I didn’t mean to look, really I didn’t,  but the notes were in huge print and my eye caught something about the Aspers, who are media moguls here in Canada, and apparently the man sitting beside me , who referred to himself in his speech notes as ‘an ink-stained journalist’, had discussions with Izzy Asper, the head of the family, about his reluctance to allow his children to inherit his business. 

At this point I started to realize the man beside me was someone well-known, but I just couldn’t remember his name. The hat he was wearing looked familiar too and I knew I’d seen him wearing it in a photo in a newspaper byline. But his name wasn’t coming to me.

The stewardess served us drinks and when the man dropped his bottle of cranberry juice on the floor he asked if I might pick it up for him so I did. The flight was short and by the end of it the man’s name still hadn’t come to me. Remember I’ve been out of Canada for four years and haven’t been reading Canadian newspapers. 

I finally thought of his name when I was in the cab on the way to my hotel. “That was Peter C. Newman and I’ve seen his photo in Macleans magazine!” But what in the world would Peter C. Newman be doing in Thompson of all places? As soon as I got to my hotel I googled him and sure enough Wednesday morning Peter C. Newman was speaking at a Manitoba Community Futures breakfast in Thompson. 

I could have kicked myself. Here I was sitting beside one of the most famous Canadian journalists ever, for an hour and a half plane flight, author of over twenty books and editor of both the Toronto Star newspaper and Macleans magazine and all I talked to him about was the weather and cranberry juice. 

What next? I doubt I’ll get a chance to meet Peter C. Newman again but if I do I’ll certainly know exactly who he is!

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Filed under Books, Canada, Media, People

Just Say No

I’ve been working on a presentation I’m giving in Thompson, Manitoba tomorrow and one of the things I’m going to talk about is how to say “no” to people when they ask you to do something. 

I plan to provide a set of guidelines for helping people to learn to  say “NO”.

Guideline #1 —Wait for people to ask you to do something before you offer to do it. They may not really want your help because it implies you think they can’t manage on their own. If they truly want your help they will ask.  

Guideline #2— Don’t reply right away. Tell who ever is asking you to do something that you need a little time to think about their request and you will get back to them. This gives you the opportunity to weigh pros and cons and make a wise decision. 

Guideline #3 —Be sure your body sends the same message as your voice. Move away or turn away from the person asking you to do something if you feel you need to. Keep your head up. Look the person in the eye. Add a related hand gesture if you feel you need to. 

Guideline #4-You don’t need to rationalize your answer. Sometimes we make up a reason to say no  but that just opens us up to further badgering. If we make the excuse  “My calendar is full” the person requesting our help might respond “but this is more important than some of those things on your calendar like going to the gym or having breakfast with a friend.” If we make the excuse  “I’ve been tired and unwell” we might get the response ” This volunteer work is bound to energize you.”

Guideline #5 —Be prepared to state your “no” repeatedly. Be like a broken record repeating your message till the other person gets it. Telemarketers say they aren’t allowed to hang up till the person they are soliciting has said no three times.  You don’t need to rephrase your no each time- just restate it. 

Guideline #6—Be your own advocate. You don’t need to feel you need to help with a project a colleague or another family member has agreed to if you haven’t agreed to it as well. You are not responsible for helping them meet their own commitments. 

Guideline #7—The person asking you to do something may not like or appreciate your “no” but that’s their business, not yours. If they are angry they can deal with it. 

Guideline #8- Practice saying “NO”.  Actually stand in front of a mirror and rehearse your assertive “NO”.  If you realize ahead of time you may soon be in a situation where you might be tempted to agree to something you’d rather not do, get a friend to role play the scenario with you and practice saying no. 

What next?  I need to adhere to these guidelines myself so the next time I’d rather say “NO” but I feel compelled to say “YES”, I’ll be prepared. 

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Sarah’s Key- Personal Connections

I read Sarah’s Key on our drive home from Ontario earlier this month and so when the movie version opened here in Winnipeg I was anxious to see it. In both the book and the movie I was engaged by the story of young Sarah Starzynski, who locks her little brother in a closet in order to keep him safe when the French police, working in cooperation with the Nazis, come to round-up the rest of her family. Sarah and her parents are taken to a Paris sports arena and held captive in inhumane conditions with thousands of other French Jews. Eventually, most are sent to concentration camps and killed. Sarah’s little brother is left to die in the closet, but Sarah, who manages to escape from a transit camp thanks to the kindness of a French police officer,  hangs onto the closet key always hoping she will be able to go back someday and rescue her brother.

The movie and the book, however, are actually telling two stories; Sarah’s story and that of Julia, a modern-day American journalist who uncovers the truth about what happened to Sarah and her family while doing research for an article. Julia’s storyline documents how she deals with a difficult marriage and an unplanned pregnancy. Julia’s personal life was too much like a soap opera for my liking. Although Julia has problems, they seem almost trivial when juxtapositioned with the life and death ones Sarah is facing. The ending to Julia’s story feels contrived and melodramatic when compared to the tragic, but realistic end to Sarah’s story. Despite this, I liked both the film and book and made a number of personal connections with them. 

Julia says in the movie that she felt compelled to write about Sarah’s family because ‘if a story isn’t told it is forgotten.’ This reminded me of a visit I made to Yad Vashem, a Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.  I was chaperoning a high school trip to Israel with 24 of my Hong Kong students. As you walk from room to room in the museum you hear stories being told in the first person, by Holocaust survivors. If you care to stop and listen,  you can hear dozens and dozens of people describing their tragic experiences. We had not allowed nearly enough time for the museum since our students were so drawn in by the stories they wanted to listen to them all. I remember two in particular that I listened to. A woman said when she was six years old, Nazi soldiers knocked at the door of her home and her mother hid her in the coat closet before answering the knock.  The mother asked the soldiers if she could get her coat to take with her, and when she opened the closet door to retrieve it, she whispered to her daughter, ” I love you.” The girl never saw her mother again. In another story, a woman described the agony she went through deciding whether to have an abortion because she did not want to bring a baby into the world only to have it die in a concentration camp. Sarah’s story in Tatiana de Rosnay’s book is like the ones I heard at Yad Vashem.  As my teenage students stood and listened to those stories I saw tears trickling down many of their faces. 

Although thousands of Jews were arrested by the French police who were aiding and abetting the Nazis, there were also French citizens who protected the Jews. An elderly couple in the story risks their own lives to save Sarah and her friend and end up giving Sarah a home and raising her to adulthood. 

Over 20 years ago I read the book Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed and I have never forgotten its story. It is one I have shared with many of my students. The book is about a small Protestant French village called LeChambon. At the urging of the village pastor Andre Trocme, the people of the village band together to shelter and facilitate the escape of some 3,500 Jews, mostly children whose parents had been sent to concentration camps. The entire village was dedicated to the cause and throughout the war, not a single villager ever betrayed a neighbor. I was also impressed that the villagers were committed to helping the children maintain their Jewish faith rather than trying to convert them to Christianity. Like the elderly couple in the film, there were many French citizens who despite the great personal danger to themselves, saved the lives of their Jewish neighbors. 

Although Sarah grows up to be a beautiful young woman who eventually marries and has a child of her own, she never gets over the catastrophe that befell her family and it has tragic consequences in her own life.   I think she always felt guilty about locking her brother in that closet. If she hadn’t, might he have somehow escaped and lived like she did? 

The first book I ever read by Gail Sheehy was The Spirit of Survival. It tells the story of a young Cambodian girl named Mohm whose family is killed during the brutal regime of Pol Phot and the Khmer Rouge. Mohm walks to a refugee camp, surviving unbelievable horrors as she does so. Author Sheehy meets her in the camp and adopts her. She raises Mohm to be a bright, happy, successful young woman. In the book, Sheehy explores why some Cambodian children who survived the Khmer Rouge became strong people, while others could never get over the tragedy they experienced and had troubled lives. They always felt guilty they had survived and their families had not. Sheehy tries to define that spirit of survival. I think Sarah in Tatiana de Rosnay’s book had that spirit as a child but not as an adult. My family has been involved with helping quite a number of refugees from war-torn countries settle in Canada and I have noted that even within the same family, some people find it easier to put their past behind them and move on, while others understandably struggle mightly to live with the tragedies of war they have experienced. 

Julia, the journalist researching the French Holocaust, played by Kristin Scott Thomas in the film, becomes completely engrossed in Sarah’s story, in fact, it seems at times she is almost obsessed with it. She even goes so far as to name her new baby daughter Sarah. I think I would have found this unbelievable if the same thing hadn’t happened to me. Many years ago I wrote the life story of a woman named Anna Shilstra who was one of Canada’s first female doctors. In the mid 1900s, she lived and worked in Steinbach, the community where I grew up and lived most of my life. I interviewed dozens of people who had known her and I became so immersed in her story during the weeks I spent researching and writing it, that I began having dreams at night that I was her and was living her life. 

I always encouraged my English students to find personal connections with the materials they read in order to make them more meaningful. If you’ve read Sarah’s Key or seen the movie I’d love to hear your personal connections. 

If you enjoyed this post you might also like……..

Meeting a Holocaust Survivor in Hong Kong

I Never Got Used to the Guns In Israel

The Aviator’s Wife

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Filed under Books, History, Theatre

Who Should I Vote For in Point Douglas?

This man came to my door last night. His name is Kevin Chief and in the Manitoba election on October 4, he will be on the ballot for the New Democratic Party in the riding of Point Douglas where we live. My husband Dave didn’t meet him because he was in the middle of a Scrabble game on the computer during Kevin’s short visit, but when I told Dave who had knocked on our door, he wished he’d had a chance to talk to Kevin Chief too. Kevin was a member of the University of Winnipeg basketball team for five years and Dave watched him play and followed his career.  Dave has been a basketball coach for the last 35 years, and would have enjoyed chatting with Kevin about his university basketball days.  

There are four other candidates in my riding but I haven’t seen or heard from any of the others. Kevin on the other hand has put numerous pamphlets under my door and showed up in person last night. Perhaps the other candidates aren’t bothering to run too aggressive a campaign because this riding has voted NDP in every election since it was created in 1969.


Point Douglas, which has the highest unemployment rate and lowest average family income of any riding in the province, has been represented since 1990 by George Hickes. George has been elected Speaker of the Legislative Assembly after every election since 1999. Even members of the opposition parties praise the fair and even-handed way he has done his job.  Hickes a former Inuit whale hunter and heavy equipment operator is retiring after twenty-two years of public service. 

This will be the first election I will vote in since moving back to Canada after spending six years in Hong Kong. I am also living in a new riding now and so it will be my first time voting in Point Douglas. I thought I should find out a bit more about the candidates running in my riding as well as the platforms of the parties they represent so I can make an informed decision on October 4th. 

Perhaps I should vote for the Liberal candidate just because we share a name. Mary-Lou Bourgeois works in social services as an advocate for seniors with intellectual disabilities. She is on the Board of Directors for Our Children Are Not Safe an organization dedicated to eliminating child sexual abuse and also volunteers with an anti-graffiti program. Mary-Lou was a candidate in the last election for the Liberals who are running on a platform of Strong Families-Strong Communities.  If elected they promise to improve the highschool graduation rate, fight Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, provide more day care spaces and recreation centre programs, improve emergency room care and support aboriginal youth. 

John Vernaus, the Conservative Party candidate owns an auto body shop and is a boxing promoter who has coached several world champion boxers. He mentors youth through the Teen Challenge program, has been the president of the Automobile Trades Association and is a member of the Manitoba Boxing Commission. The Conservatives are running on a platform of Growing Communities, Safer Communities, Healthier Communities. They promise to cut red tape so it will be easier for new businesses to move to Manitoba, enter into more trade agreements, provide the police with cutting edge technology to help rein in gangs, create a Weapons Enforcement Unit to track down illegal weapons, provide better care for Alzheimer patients and target resources for the fight against diabetes. 

Kevin Chief, the NDP candidate, is working on a Master’s Degree in Education after serving as the coordinator of the Innovative Learning Centre at the University of Winnipeg. He ran federally in the riding of Winnipeg North in a by-election last fall and lost to Liberal Kevin Lamoureux. A former all-star basketball player, he is also a member of a square dance troupe. The NDP who are currently the party in power in our province, are running on a platform of Let’s Keep Building—Don’t Turn Back. They are promising to hire more police officers, prosecutors, doctors and nurses, create a Lighthouse program to get kids off the streets, build more personal care homes, stimulate economic growth by eliminating the small business tax and increase skills and apprenticeship programs.

Teresa Pun, a physician, is running for the Green Party. She and her husband have a pet rabbit they got from the Humane Society. She likes biking and thinks Point Douglas should have an urban provincial park with a community garden, artist studios and yoga classes. Teresa wants to open a vaccination clinic to increase the rate of child vaccinations in our province. The Green Party platform called Towards A Bright Future advocates more sensible liquor laws for Manitoba and free public transportation service. 

Darrell Rankin is running for the Communist Party in Point Douglas.  He is the former chair of the Canadian Peace Alliance, and ran unsuccessfully for the Communist Party in the recent federal election for Winnipeg Centre. He joined the Communist Party of Canada in 1978 and was its leader in 1995.  The Communist Party of Manitoba doesn’t have a website so  I’m not sure what their platform is or what kind of issues and programs they are promoting, but Darrell said in his federal election campaign that he would advocate for aboriginal rights and fight against free trade, wage freezes, tuition hikes, poverty and racism. 

After living in Hong Kong which still does not have universal suffrage even though the Chinese government promised it would by 2007, I can appreciate even more keenly the privilege we have in Canada to elect those who represent us. I’ve traveled to many countries in the last six years where people do not have the right to vote, or where the election process is so corrupt it is almost meaningless. It has made me realize that being informed about who I vote for is a responsibility I need to take seriously. 

What next? Well I’ll certainly be marking a ballot on October 4th, now I need to decide who should get my vote. 

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Filed under People, Politics, Winnipeg

Mitigated Communication

Hint: The walls in our condo look a little dirty and are chipped in some places

Query: I wonder how many hours it would take me to throughly wash all these walls or if it might not be better to get them painted ? 

Suggestion: My sister-in-law told me about a painter she’s often hired in the past. He has very reasonable rates. 

Obligatory Statement: We really need to paint these walls

Command: When we leave on our next holiday I am hiring a painter. I refuse to hang any pictures on these walls till they are painted. 

I have been learning about the various levels of mitigated speech for a presentation I’m giving next week and I decided to apply what I’d learned to the ongoing discussion Dave and I are having about whether the walls of our new condo need to be painted. 

The idea of mitigated communication comes from Malcom Gladwell’s book The Outliers. He says people express their opinions with different levels of forcefulness—the least forceful being a hint and the most forceful a command— depending on whether they feel comfortable enough with another person to ‘tell it like it is’ or they feel a need to ‘sugar coat’ their message. Often people use mitigated speech because they want to be deferential to someone who is above them in a personal or career hierarchy or because they don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. Sometimes Gladwell says, mitigating your communication can be dangerous. 

He gives the example of a co-pilot who fearful of offending his superior—the pilot, didn’t communicate the problems caused by weather clearly and consequently their plane crashed. When the black box was recovered, the tape of the two pilots’ conversation revealed that the co-pilot had used hints to talk to the pilot about the nasty weather and had made suggestions about de-icing the wings but never actually came right out and said it was necessary to have the wings de-iced or commanded that it be done before they took off. 

Learning about mitigated speech has got me thinking about the way I talk to different people in my life and the way they talk to me. There are some people I only need to give a hint and they ‘get it’ right away. Other people need an obligatory statement or command. There are some situations where a command is effective— “MaryLou wake up! You are sleeping through the movie!” and other situations— for example when I don’t feel like cooking supper —when a hint, “Dave you make such delicious chili” is all that is needed. 

What next? I’ll keep you posted about whether or not we paint our condo walls. 

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The Poetry of Boxing

Dave and I have gone by the Pan Am Boxing Club several times on our walks in our neighborhood.  The club which was founded just after Manitoba hosted the Pan Am Games in 1967 is a real community player. They are in the process of developing the building next door as living quarters for at risk youth in downtown Winnipeg who want to make a change in their lives. The young people who participate will be involved in a program that includes fitness, education and volunteerism.

The Pan Am Boxing Club is located in this beautiful old building on McDermot Avenue. I did a little research and found out it was built in 1893 and the top two floors were added a few years later. It was designed by Hugh McCowan and was home to the Stovel Printing and Publishing Company.  A German newspaper called Der Nordwestern also had its editorial offices in the building. It is an official historic site of Manitoba. In the 1940’s a dry goods firm bought the building. 

What I hadn’t noticed till I walked by the building on Saturday night was that the one side of it features the verses of a poem, a poem about boxing. The verses of the poem are tucked into window frames on the first two stories. 

The poem comes from a book called VS.  Kerry Ryan the poet  is described as a shy, bookish woman who decided to take up boxing for the physical and mental challenge and became enamored with the sport as well as with the people at the PanAm Boxing Club.  She wrote a book of poems about her boxing experiences which is available at McNally Robinson here in Winnipeg. 

As a highschool English teacher I am glad to see that more and more poetry is being written about sports. I have had students almost every year who tell me they have nothing to write poetry about but when I suggest they describe a sport they love, suddenly a poem takes shape.  Check out a couple written below by my former students. 

Ice Warrior

As I caress the disk with my tightly clenched composite blade

I gaze to the far end o f the battlefield

I push off, smoothly gliding on the surface of solidified liquid

Dodging and looking

Over one colored strip, I turn sharply, spraying fine particles

Up into the cool atmosphere

I see one warrior coming at me, so I execute a perfect toe drag

I leave him searching for his jock strap, moving faster yet

Towards the target.

My head is low, too low, I soon realize

Before I can react, another warrior leaps out in front of me,

The collision seems to register higher than six on the Richter Scale

Farther behind enemy lines I go,

Speeding past the last defender.

I lean on my stick, flexing it to the brink of destruction.

The energy is released,

The puck flies, 
Past the goaltender,

Off the far side post and in

The red light flashes on

The siren blares.

Hockey lives.

by Tyler Wollmann


by Hannah Ma

 I am sitting

on the bus

our destination is………

the race

Everyone’s talking, talking, talking

to each other

they’re listening to music

to pump

themselves up

Before we know it

we’re at the

starting line

waiting, waiting, waiting

for the blast of sound that

signals us to run, run, run

We float, fly, flee

past every obstacle

thrown our way

uphill, downhill, flats

we keep on running

“You’re almost there,

just 100 meters left!”

everyone begins to sprint, sprint, sprint

I can hear close breathing

I bet she’s just

a step away

so I try, try, try

to push just a little harder

the finish line in sight

the crowd cheers wildly

it is finally over

the digit doesn’t


all I need to know

is that I tried

my best

Other posts about poetry…….

Poetry and Teenagers

Rebellion Poems

Where I’m From

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