Monthly Archives: November 2012

What Diversity!


Check out some of the things that are happening in Winnipeg to help young people celebrate and share their cultural diversity on my Destination Winnipeg site. 

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Filed under Art, Books, Culture, Education, Winnipeg

The Weekend- Go Go Go

This morning I was visiting my Mom at St. Boniface Hospital and told her all about my weekend. Here’s what happened.

Friday morning I gave an art gallery tour to grade twelve students called Media Messages. The kids kept a running record of the different kinds of art media we saw. The installations in the Winnipeg Now exhibit made their lists very long. We learned different artists convey the same message using very different media and artists can use the same media to convey very different messages. I also told them the story of the Tobit Tapestries which I enjoy more each time I share it. 

Friday afternoon I worked on a slide show I’m putting together for my Aunt Vi’s 90th birthday party this coming Friday. I’m really looking forward to seeing my cousins who will be in attendance. I haven’t seen some of them in ages. Aunt Vi recently wrote her autobiography so I used photos she had collected for that life story to create the power point for her party. It was an interesting project because it gave me new insights into my mother’s life as well. She is my Aunt Vi’s younger sister. 

Friday night we went to Steinbach for supper at the home of our friends Don and Marlene and then went to a concert at the ninety- year- old  Calder House, an interesting feng shui style bed and breakfast just outside of Steinbach. The performer we saw was Joe Grass a folk musician from Quebec.  The concert was sponsored by Home Routes a not-for-profit arts organization that is trying to expand the performance infrastructure for folk music in Canada. A number of friends as well as former student of mine were in attendance so it was nice to visit before and after the concert and during the intermission. 

Saturday morning we met our friend Les for breakfast at the Free Press Cafe and together with him visited an art and craft show called Crafters Anonymous at the Exchange Community Church. Another friend Di was showing her leather work and we bought some pieces from her as Christmas gifts. I also couldn’t resist some earrings made by a woman who creates all her jewelry out of materials that don’t decompose and are difficult to recycle. My new earrings were assembled from computer parts and buttons. 

Saturday afternoon it was time for house work. You know from previous posts I’ve done that I don’t like it; but my fridge and kitchen cupboards were in a sorry state and I was scared we might soon have a ‘creature’ infestation if I didn’t attack things with elbow grease and detergent. 

Saturday night we had supper with my brother and his partner at Prairie Ink at McNally’s. I had a couscous salad I had never tried before. Highly recommend it! Then we were off to see The Life of Pi. My brother, having read my blog post A Crick In My Neck, made sure we got there early to get good seats. I loved the book  The Life of Pi and so I was somewhat apprehensive about seeing the movie because I thought it would disappoint as film versions of books so often do. But the Ang Lee version is true to the book and although the ending is perhaps spelled out a little too clearly, the whole thing was a cinematic wonder, a luscious feast for the eye and quite an experience with 3D glasses. 

Sunday morning we attended Hope Mennonite Church. Dave and I have been church tourists for over a year as you will know from previous blog posts but we hadn’t tried Hope Mennonite yet. They share their space with Young United Church and this Sunday they happened to be having a joint service. What a treat! The sanctuary was full, Lottie Enns Braun, Young United’s organist extraordinaire was at the pipe organ and directed the choir. The final hymn Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah with a soaring choir descant and full harmony was a thrill to sing and the postlude, a Bach fugue Lottie played was worth the trip to church all on its own. The sermon using the plot from The Wizard of Oz and the Biblical story of the Loaves and Fishes from John 6: 1-15 as reference, was a reminder that things are always more easily accomplished when people with different gifts and strengths work together. 

After the service Paul and Elisa, university friends of our children, invited us over for lunch to their home. Paul had made a hearty and delicious chowder and there was crusty bread. It was interesting to catch up on their lives but especially fun to play with their son and daughter little Joanna and Caleb. Joanna was full of smiles when you sang to her and Caleb has a great throwing arm and wanted to play catch. He also loves listening to stories. 

When we got home I made a salad and then we were off to our friends’ home for the Canadian Football League championship Grey Cup Party. We have gone to our friends Fran and Marge’s house for Grey Cup parties for over 30 years, although we’ve missed the last six or so because we were in Hong Kong. The game I have to admit was of little interest to me, although I do know Toronto won, but the visiting and food was definitely a highlight. 

Now that our busy weekend is over, I’m ready for the more regular routine of my week. 

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Filed under Reflections

Teacher Can You Spare A Dime?

This last week I was at schools observing and assessing the student teachers I supervise.  As the young woman in the first class I visited got a copy of her lesson plan out of her school bag I saw it was full of new mittens, hats and scarves. I asked her about them. “It snowed last week and was so cold. I noticed lots of the kids weren’t dressed properly when they went out for recess so I bought them some things,” she said. 

In the next classroom the student teacher had a brand new book she was reading to the kids. When I asked her about it later she told me she’d bought it at the book store because the school didn’t have any books on her lesson topic. This  student teacher had printed up hundreds of tiny colored pictures on her own computer with her own paper to create a math learning game for her students. 

Student teacher number three had brought her personal computer to school to present a slide show for her math lesson because the class didn’t have a lap top computer. She was paying up to $15 a day for parking because the school couldn’t make room for her in their parking lot, despite the fact she was donating dozens of hours of her time each week to coach one of their volleyball teams. 

One junior high teacher had bought deodorant for her students who really needed it after gym class. She had a table full of props and samples she had purchased as a way to illustrate her science lesson on optics. In that same junior high school another teacher introduced her poetry unit by handing out poetry journals to each student. You guessed it! She’d bought them herself. And so it went with each student I visited. They’d brought in art supplies, prizes, books and all kinds of things.

It reminded me of my own teaching career. When I taught elementary school I bought rugs, pillows, puzzles, bookshelves, magazine racks, charts, toys, maps, math manipulatives, puppets and hundreds of books for my classroom. I even had a sand table custom-built. I bought food stuffs for baking projects, gifts for children at Christmas, stickers, craft supplies and in the age before digital photography paid for film and developing hundreds of photos each year.  In one school I kept granola bars and other breakfast items in my cupboards for kids who weren’t getting breakfast at home. I also paid for professional conferences and professional books and education courses I took.  

I never kept track of how much I spent because it would have been too scary and I couldn’t claim it for a tax credit, even if I had kept track. According to this document  while anyone can claim a tax credit for professional expenses in order to do so; their employer must sign a form agreeing that those monies were indeed spent. School divisions refuse to do this because they say teachers are not required to spend their own money on their classrooms; they choose to do so. 

Teacher Can You Spare A Dime was the title of a Time Magazine article about teachers spending money on their classrooms. It was also the headline for a feature story in the Toronto Globe and Mail in 2002. Investigative reporter Jan Wong interviewed teachers in Ontario, and did research nation wide, to find out exactly how much of their own money Canadian educators spent on their classrooms each year.  $180 million was her conservative estimate. Although the average teacher was ‘out of pocket’  $600 annually, Wong had no difficulty finding educators who were investing  $2000  a year in supplies for their students. 

Businesses are well aware teachers are willing to spend their own money on students. Some office supply stores, have special aisles just for educators, which hold some five hundred different products for classroom use. Jan Wong interviewed one Staples manager who offered a five percent discount to educators because they were such good customers.

I was a little disheartened to discover that in the last decade or so nothing has changed when it comes to teachers investing financially in their classrooms. Teachers still do not receive compensation for their outlay of personal funds.  My student teachers are supposed to be learning what the real world of teaching is like. I guess they are. They are realizing that being a teacher means you have to be willing to invest more than time and effort into your career. You need to invest a fair bit of your own money too. 

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Filed under Education

Residential Parking Crisis in Winnipeg’s Exchange District

Last night residents of Winnipeg’s east and west Exchange Districts attended a meeting where they hoped to hear about the city’s solution to the lack of residential parking in our neighborhoods. We weren’t presented with a solution, only a promise one is being worked on. It wasn’t what many people came to hear. Read all about it on my Destination Winnipeg site.

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Retirement Advice From New Zealand

We got some valuable advice about getting the most out of life as a senior citizen on our trip to New Zealand a few years ago. We stayed in three different bed and breakfasts each run by a couple in their late seventies or early eighties. I learned something from each one.

Jan and Lin’s beautiful home was perched atop a knoll overlooking a lake. Lin was in charge of the immaculate yard, lush with flowers and shrubs. Former dairy farmers, they decided to take in bed and breakfast guests as a way to fully utilize their large home. They had two children and three grandchildren living in Australia so they only saw them once or twice a year. Jan made us piping hot croissants and fluffy omelets for breakfast and set a lovely table with dishes and linens she’d collected from their world travels. She gave me my first piece of retirement advice. “You can’t count on your children to live close by in your old age so its important to have good friends. If you have the right attitude you can make friends wherever you are.” Jan was an avid quilter, belonged to a bridge club, sang in a choir and worked for the Save the Children organization. Lin was a member of the golf club, the Lions Club, the veterans club and a business association for bed and breakfast owners. He gave us our second piece of retirement advice. “You need structure, commitments and schedules to be happy”, he said.           

Structure and organization weren’t high on the list for Diane and Keith our next bed and breakfast hosts. Their home was fairly small and comfortably ‘messy’.  The heavily treed yard was a little on the wild side. We arrived on Christmas Day and the place was overflowing with people. Diane and Keith had their children and grandchildren over but also many other people who obviously needed a place to go for Christmas, new immigrants, lonely neighbors and a recently widowed friend. We were warmly welcomed into the milieu and there were even gifts under the tree for us. As we got to know Diane and Keith over the next couple of days, we discovered that while they spent lots of time with their children and grandchildren they had also extended their family circle to include many others. Seemed like a great way to enrich retirement.

Bob and Colleen were the oldest couple we stayed with. They were in their mid- eighties and already had five great grandchildren. Bob and Colleen regaled us with tales of their adventures on every continent. They were wine connoisseurs and talked excitedly about the recent wedding of a granddaughter.  They attended barefoot because she was married on the beach. Colleen belonged to a writers group. One afternoon during our stay she canned thirty jars of apricot jam and then whipped off a letter to the editor of the local paper concerning an issue she felt passionate about.

Colleen whistled hymns and Beatles’ songs almost constantly as she worked.  She gave me a piece of retirement advice over a cup of tea one evening, “ I love my children desperately” she said “but I’ve realized its not healthy for me to be involved in every detail of their lives.” Colleen was vivacious and opinionated and I wished I could be just like her in twenty years.

I saw some inspiring senior citizen role models during my trip to New Zealand. If I can have a retirement as rewarding and positive as theirs I don’t need to worry about getting old. 

You might also want to read……..

Baseball in His 60th Year

Are We Ready For Trailer Park Retirement?

Canadian Snowbirds

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Filed under New Zealand, Retirement, Travel

Glass Half Empty? Glass Half Full?

Emptyful by Bill Pechet

I think I’m a glass half full kind of gal most of the time, but not always and not in all areas of my life. A recent CBC Ideas program about optimism had me thinking about what makes some of us decide to wear rose-colored glasses while others tend to be pessimistic.  We all know people who look first for what could go wrong rather than what could go right but according to a book by Tali Sharot called The Optimist Bias most of us are born optimists. The human species needs to be optimistic in order to survive.  

Most people are actually more optimistic about positive outcomes than reality dictates they should be. Reality sucks. 40% of us will get cancer. 50% of us will get divorced. 100% of us will get old and die. Being  unrealistically optimistic can be good for our mental health and make us less stressed. A positive orientation is also good for our cardiovascular health. 

I wonder if we inherit optimism?  I know families where both parents are very optimistic people but their children exhibit varying degrees of  optimism. I suspect that while biology and nurture can influence how optimistic we are, life events and experiences can also change a naturally optimistic person to a pessimistic one and vice versa. 

Charles Carver of the University of Miami suggests it is best to have a balance of realism, optimism and pessimism if we want to have safe and happy lives. A measure of optimism can keep us plugging hopefully along even when things aren’t going well. You need to have a certain amount of optimism in order to get married or have kids or pursue a career especially in certain fields.  

A little pessimism can be helpful if it inspires us to try to fill the half empty glass by taking actions that will improve our lives or the life of society. 

During a panel discussion on the CBC Ideas program one of the participants suggested that it is a mistake to think of optimism as an individual endeavor. We live in families and communities and networks so we need to help each other cultivate optimism. Parents who encourage their children and affirm them in their endeavors and pursuits make their offspring more optimistic about their chances of achieving certain outcomes.  If their parents continue to provide unconditional support, even when children fail, kids will be optimistic enough to try again. Schools play an important role as well in helping young people become optimistic individuals.

Cultivating a optomistic next generation is essential to the preservation of society and culture.


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A Crack in Everything

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Filed under Health, Reflections

A Crick in My Neck

I know sometimes people get tired of me saying, “in Hong Kong we did it this way.”  I try not to make too many comparisons between my former home and my new one in Winnipeg. But honestly when it comes to movie theatre seating Hong Kong is way ahead of the game compared to Canada.

Last night we went to see the Steven Spielberg movie Lincoln with a Hong Kong colleague  who happens to be living in Winnipeg now. He had brought along a friend. We arrived at the theatre a good twenty minutes or so before the movie, bought tickets and went inside to find that the only location with seats still available for the four of us was in the third row. We slid down into our chairs and angled our heads back, an awkward way to watch a movie. Luckily the film is mostly interior scenes where the characters aren’t moving around too much. It would have been positively dizzying to watch an action packed show on the screen from such close proximity. As it was I had a crick in my neck by the end of the movie.

We three former Hong Kong residents explained to the other person in our party the benefits of that city’s system of theatre seat sales. When you purchase a ticket at any movie theatre in Hong Kong you are asked to look at a diagram of the auditorium and you pick and reserve your actual seat. You can do this online in the days leading up to your visit to the theatre or at the front kiosk if you purchase your ticket on site. You know precisely where you will be sitting which means even if you arrive just before the show, or during the previews you still get exactly the seat you reserved.  If the only seats left are right in front when you are purchasing  your ticket;  you can opt to attend another time and reserve a suitable seat for a later show. 

There are critics who say that reserved ticket sales for movies will ruin the spontaneous movie going experience option for people. Could be. But the crick in my neck did little to add to my movie going experience last night. 

By the way Lincoln is a good movie. I learned a great deal about Abraham Lincoln’s personality, his family life, the process of the  passing of the 13th amendment to abolish slavery and the Civil War. I especially enjoyed Sally Field’s performance as Mary Todd Lincoln. She gave us real insight into the First Lady’s complex character.

My husband mused that nothing much has changed in the United States really. After the recent American election all the pundits commented on how the country seems pretty solidly divided in half as far as its political views are concerned. It was exactly the same in Lincoln’s day. I enjoyed the movie despite the crick in my neck. 

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Filed under History, Hong Kong, Movies

Is Service Always A Good Thing?

Once upon a time, on an island far, far away there lived a monkey. One day there were torrential rains that never seemed to end and the island began to flood. The rain and the waters kept coming and coming until one day, the monkey was left with only a little bit of land and one tree. As he was sitting up in his tree, he noticed another animal in the water. It was moving back and forth. The monkey was so worried about the little animal and wanted to rescue it.

So, the monkey risked its own life to go out to the end of the branch and snatch the animal out of the water to prevent it from drowning. He put the animal on the ground to dry out under the sun and get warm. The animal flopped around and the monkey thought he looked so happy and was jumping around in excitement. Then, the animal was lying perfectly still and the monkey thought it looked so peaceful. Of course, the animal was a fish…..

The moral of the story… I can have good intentions and want to help but sometimes I just make things worse because I do not really understand the people who I am trying to help.

In church several weeks ago a young man named Paul who had spent a year volunteering as an English teacher in China talked to the congregation about his experience. He told the story above as part of explaining how he sometimes felt about the value of his service teaching English. Was learning English going to be a positive thing for his students or might he be hurting them in some way by teaching them a foreign language and the cultural values that accompanied that language? 

I have been on many service trips and been part of many service projects and have often thought about the value of that service in much the same way. What good does it do to parachute into a community and dispense our help and expertise? What good is service when we are not building long-term relationships, not bothering to understand the culture of the place we have come to, not taking time to learn their ways and their language and learn from them? 

All too often in the past, ‘missionaries’ would go into areas to serve people, to save them, and instead would end up eradicating language and culture and social systems replacing them with foreign models that just didn’t work and ended up causing death and destruction and conflict. 

Community service is becoming a requirement in many high schools and universities. Some religious denominations require it of their young people. But is service always a good thing? Some institutions now use the term ‘service learning’. Is that any better?

According to the paper Why Service Learning Is Bad community service and service-learning can divert the resources of service agencies away from where they are needed most, can foster incorrect and inadequate conceptions of need and service and can do real harm to communities. The paper makes it clear that how and why service is done can make a big difference. Community service and service-learning are ideas that need plenty of thoughtful planning and consideration before an individual or organization or educational institution undertakes them.  

Another post that might be of interest is………

Are You Speaking English?

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Filed under Culture, Education, Reflections, Religion, Travel

I Believe

What do you believe? I used to give my high school students an assignment to write about their core beliefs. I provided them with a poem pattern which I got from the movie Bull Durham where the main character played by Kevin Costner explains the credo for his life.  The work my students produced was as thought provoking and inspiring as it was unique. Here are just four of the many great poems I received each year I gave this assignment. I haven’t used the students’ names to protect their privacy. 

I Believe

 I believe in the love of life

The music that shakes my bones

The laughter that throws all cares away

The art of a story

The “second chance” rule

Love as an emotion, unity and forgiveness.

 But the idea of war acting as a problem solver doesn’t prove whose right. It only proves whose left.

 I believe in what goes around comes around

I believe in fantasy as my reality

I believe in plaid pants

Mismatched socks, groovy tights and acid washed jeans.

And I believe in saying how I feel about something no matter the crowd,

 No matter the crowd


I Believe

I believe in the importance of education

The smell of an old book

The sound of children playing

The evil in all of us

The good in all of us

Struggle, climax, resolution

But the belief that some people aren’t as good as others is just plain stupid

I believe in ethnic and religious diversity

I believe in equality

I believe in tolerance

Religious rights, racial rights, gay rights

And I believe in humanity.

We are sometimes blind, arrogant and cruel but we will come through for the greater good of all before the end.

I Believe    

 I believe in the importance of teamwork

The ability to play together

The mental discipline to win

The patience to practice

The effectiveness of hard work

My baseball bat, my glove, my helmet

 But the idea that it takes a whole team to win is sometimes a frustrating thing to accept

 I believe in beating the opposition

I believe in my coach

I believe in my fellow players

Confident but not cocky, keeping my head up, winning gold

 And I believe in myself. I need to set a good example both on and off the field.

I Believe 

I believe in the strength of fear

The way time passes slowly

The idea that people want to be loved

The courage it takes not to wait

That poetry is not just for lovers

Selflessness, spirit and privacy

 But I don’t believe in the possibility of not caring about others, especially once you know them

 I believe we were not meant to be alone

I believe that it’s okay for boys to cry sometimes

I believe that everyone has a dirty little secret

Sharing with friends, helping enemies, and loving God.

 And I believe that even when we think tomorrow may never come there is always hope for the future.


 What would your I believe poem look like?  

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Filed under Education, Poetry

My First NFL Game- Skol Vikings!

I attended my first National Football League game this last weekend in Minneapolis at the Mall of America Field. It is the home stadium for the Minnesota Vikings. The Detroit Lions were in town and since my husband grew up close to Detroit he figured it would be a good game for us to see. When he mentioned the idea of going to Minneapolis for a game to friends and family, three other couples decided to join us. Dave was wearing his Detroit Lions hooded sweatshirt for the game and he bought me a Vikings hoodie so we presented a non-partisan front as a couple.

The Mall of America Field which used to be called the Metrodome has an inflatable fibreglass roof which collapsed two years ago when a 17 inch snowfall in Minneapolis put too much pressure on it. It was fully repaired but there are plans in the works now to build a new stadium.

Minneapolis loves its football team. On game day when we were having breakfast all the waitresses in the restaurant were wearing Vikings’ jerseys. The shuttles to the stadium were jam-packed with people. They were even selling children’s books about the Vikings outside the Mall of America Field so you could introduce your youngsters to the team. The parking lot was full of people enjoying tailgate parties before the game.

From the program we learned the football organization has an initiative called Purple Friday. Fans are encouraged to display their passion for the Minnesota Vikings by wearing purple, the team color, to work on Fridays. One fan outside the stadium sported a sign that said Looking for a free ticket. She was desperate to get into the game. I hope someone who didn’t need one of their tickets was able to help her out. 

The Vikings players come running out onto the field through this huge inflatable Viking ship to the roar of the crowd. They say the Vikings have the noisiest fans in America. I haven’t been to any other games to make a comparison but they were pretty loud. 

Since it was Veterans Day on November 11 the theme of the football game was A Salute to Service and throughout the afternoon the men and women who serve in the American military were honored. Individual soldiers were recognized, presented with plaques and introduced on the giant game screen. This enormous flag was unfurled by military personnel during the half time show while a band from the 34th Infantry played. 


Elizabeth Strohfus, a Minnesota veteran and one of an elite core of 1000 women who flew fighter jets during World War II, was given the honor of blowing the Gjallarhorn to signal the entry of the Vikings players into the stadium.  The horn was traditionally blown to announce the entry of the gods in Norse mythology. A cadre of service men and women stood at attention along the tunnel exit as the Vikings players came on the field and a special military coin was used for the traditional coin toss before the game. 

During the singing of the national anthem people on both sides of the stadium held up the red or white cards that had been placed on their seats to make a huge sign that said Thank You Veterans. During a moment of silence to honor the military a traditional riderless horse, symbolizing a fallen soldier trotted across the end zone. A video on the big screen introduced us to the USS Minnesota a new navy submarine that just had its maiden voyage a month ago. 

The Vikings won the game 34-24 and  every time they put points up on the board, fireworks went off, flag bearers came running across the field carrying flags that spelled out the word VIKINGS and the cheerleaders did a dance in the end zone while a special song was sung over the speakers and by the fans.

Since the Vikings did lots of scoring they sang that song plenty of times during the game but no matter how hard I listened I couldn’t figure out the words so I looked them up later on the Vikings website

Skol Vikings, let’s win this game,
Skol Vikings, honor your name,
Go get that first down,
Then get a touchdown.
Rock ’em . . . Sock ’em
Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!
Go Vikings, run up the score,
You’ll hear us yell for more. . .
Skol, Vikings, let’s go!

I thought they were singing ‘Go Vikings’ and I was curious what ‘Skol Vikings’ meant. Apparently ‘skol’ is a Scandanavian word used to toast a person you admire. It means cheers or good health.

‘Skol’ to my husband who organized our football tickets and planned the trip to Minneapolis, our friend Sue who was in charge of the hotel accommodations and the dinner reservations at a couple of great eating spots, and the other couples who came along and made the weekend an enjoyable time for visiting and friendship. 

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Filed under Holidays, Sports