Monthly Archives: December 2012

Bits of Christmas

The holidays are drawing to a close and tomorrow we head south for a couple of months. We’ve had a lovely Christmas season. 

christmas card display

We received lots of good wishes from friends and relatives. 

family calendarWe had several nice family get togethers and celebrations. This is the calendar my sister-in-law makes each year to give to family members at Christmas with lots of photos of everyone on my side of the family and all the birthdays and anniversaries noted. ticket to ride game

We usually have a jig saw puzzle out for Christmas but with an eight month old around this year who loves to put everything in his mouth we thought that might be too dangerous. We opted for some game playing instead. Our younger son and his wife taught us Ticket to Ride and Qwirkle.

wafflesWe had lots of great food. A family favorite is waffles with home-made white sauce, fruit and bacon. I made it for our immediate family brunch. Other meals we shared included a turkey dinner with all the trimmings at my sisters, a lavish buffet at my aunt’s home, a half-dozen Christmas party spreads at the homes of friends, a pork tenderloin dinner with our children and a great lunch at Deer and Almond a Winnipeg restaurant that has been getting rave reviews. Before our older son and his family board the plane home we plan to take in a brunch at Stellas at the airport. 

winter in winnipegWe went for some walks in the beautiful area surrounding our Winnipeg Exchange District home. 

christmas stockingLots of gifts were given and received. The second and third generation each had a filled stocking with plenty of treats. Dave gave me tickets to four plays at Winnipeg theatres and the promise of a new bicycle when we get to Arizona. I can hardly wait. Dave did most of the Christmas shopping for family this year and opted for experiential gifts- golf games, restaurant certificates and theatre tickets.

program winnipeg singers christmas concertWe heard plenty of great Christmas music. Our daughter-in-law sings in the Winnipeg Singers and we went to their A Canadian Christmas concert which featured a reading of Margaret Laurence’s The Christmas Birthday Story.  We also saw our daughter-in-law direct her high school choirs at their Winter Concert and saw our son’s band perform. On Christmas Eve both our son and daughter-in-law had solos during the church service. 

The Friendly Beasts by Tomie de PaolaWe did lots of singing at my sister and brother-in-law ‘s house the night of our extended family gathering and when our immediate family  did our gift opening we sang three carols- The Friendly Beasts, The Huron Carol and Lo How A Rose. 

90th birthday

We celebrated my Aunt Vi’s 90th birthday during the Christmas season. She is the oldest member of my maternal extended family and here she is holding the youngest member of her family. 

It has been a busy, happy Christmas. I’m ready for 2013!

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Thai Traditions to End and Start a Year

As we prepare for the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 I am reminded of two rituals I participated in during our visit to Chiang Mai Thailand.

Beautifully decorated Loy Krathong rafts on display in our Chiang Mai hotel lobby

Beautifully decorated Loy Krathong rafts on display in our Chiang Mai hotel lobby

Loy Krathong came first. ‘Loy’ means to float and a ‘krathong’ is a raft. Thai people make little rafts or boats out of banana leaves. They decorate them with flowers and burning incense sticks and set them afloat in rivers. Before you set your krathong to sail downstream you stop for a time to remember all your sin and suffering from the previous year. In your mind you load all those negative and sad thoughts and experiences onto the raft so when you release your krathong you are essentially floating your troubles away.releasing a lantern during loy krathong festival in thailand

Once your problems from the past are released with your krathong you are ready to make wishes for the future with a khom loi– a large hot air lantern created from rice paper. You light a small burner suspended on a metal brace at the bottom of the lantern and launch it into the sky at the same time as a fireworks display begins its colorful explosions. The khom loi carries your hopes and dreams for the future up to the heavens.  

lantern release

      Here is my husband Dave getting our khom loi ready for launching. As the lantern filled with hot air we had a hard time holding it down and finally it just whooshed out of our hands. It got caught briefly in a tall tree. My heart stopped for a minute because I was sure the branches would start on fire, but just then a gust of wind lifted the lantern and it went soaring up higher and higher. We watched it for a long time before it disappeared from releasing his lome koy in thailand chaing mai

The sky was peppered with hundreds of pinpoints of light as the people around us sent up their lanterns. Then the fireworks started exploding in the black sky. 

marylou and lantern kome loy festival chiang mai
Most of the prayers I sent up with our khom loi have been answered.

The rituals of Loy Krathong and Khom Loi are a meaningful way to reflect on the past year and make plans for the coming one. Although this year I won’t be floating a flower bedecked boat down a frozen Winnipeg river or letting a lantern loose in the middle of a chilly prairie winter I do want to make time to say good-bye to any negativity of 2012 and welcome 2013 with joy and hope. 

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

Christmas in Hong Kong- Good Memories

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Filed under Culture, Holidays, Thailand, Travel

Les Miserables

les_miserables_ver11Saw Les Miserables tonight. The title translated means The Miserable.  You do see plenty of misery in this film, prisoners toiling in chains, the desperate prostitutes of Paris, massacred revolutionaries who die for the sake of a lost cause, men nearly drowning in sewage, abused child laborers living in filthy conditions, sly thieves stealing everything in sight and lots of people dying. The reviewer in the Winnipeg Free Press warned it was not a feel good kind of movie and he was right. This is not happy holiday fare. 

One person I attended the film with said, “There was too much singing”, and I tend to agree. The movie was three hours long and there was just too much stopping for characters to sing a long reflective piece about why they were taking a certain course of action. “Just do it”, I felt like saying and let the audience figure out why. 

I’ve seen Les Miserables on stage and I liked it better than the movie version, but the film did earn a round of applause from the audience tonight. I think for my next holiday movie I’ll choose something a little less filled with despair. Although in light of the somber and tragic news that has dominated the media this Christmas season perhaps a movie that reminds us of all the misery in our world is timely and realistic. 

The musical pieces do have some good hope inspiring lines worth remembering in the midst of sadness. “To love another person is to see the face of God.” “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.”

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Christmas in Hong Kong- Good Memories

Christmas in Horizon Suites lobby

Christmas in Horizon Suites lobby

Many people have asked me what Christmas was like in Hong Kong and really in many ways it was not so different from in Canada. The apartment where we lived for three of our six years in Hong Kong was always decorated to the hilt with a tree in the main lobby.

Poinsettias in Horizon Suites

Poinsettia in Horizon Suites

One year I counted nearly a hundred poinsettia plants lining the stairs and hallways.

Christmas Tree in Festival Walk December 2010

Christmas Tree in Festival Walk December 2010

The Festival Walk shopping mall always had a massive tree that soared six stories high. Millions of Hong Kong dollars are spent on designing and decorating the tree with a different theme each year. 

Party for Refugee Children in Hong Kong

Party for Refugee Children in Hong Kong

Just like in Canada, in Hong Kong Christmas was a time to think about others. Here is my husband Dave clowning around with a group of refugee children. One year we took some of our high school students to a drop in program for refugee kids from many different countries and we hosted a Christmas party for them with gifts, food and games.

Peninsula Hotel at Christmas

Peninsula Hotel at Christmas

All the buildings down on the harbor front were decorated with amazing light displays for the holiday season. I took this photo of the ritzy Peninsula Hotel in 2010.

Christmas Party 2007

Christmas Party with my students

Christmas in Hong Kong was party time. Here I am with my advisory group. They all came to our apartment for a Christmas party. We had food and games and presents.

dave and conrad at christmas party
Parents of one of our students hosted a big Christmas party annually for teachers at their home. Here is Dave with our host Conrad. The food was a combination of German and Chinese traditional fare representing the two nationalities of our host family. Betty our hostess had gifts for all of us.

dim sum lunch hong kong
Of course the weather was just a little different in Hong Kong in December than it is in Canada. We took this photo with friends after a Christmas dim sum brunch.

dave dancingOur school had a Christmas program. Dave was called on stage one year to participate in a dance during the drama class’ presentation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. 

tsim tsa chu
Santa made his presence known in Hong Kong too. He decorated buildings down in Tsim Tsa Tsui.
dressing up like santa in hong kong
Here I’m sporting a Santa hat along with two of my teaching colleagues.

christmas singing tao fong shan
Tao Fong Shan our church in Hong Kong had a Christmas Eve service where we celebrated the international nature of our congregation with Scripture reading and hymns, food and games from the dozens of countries congregation members called home. One year when our children visited we had a family choir and sang the German carol Lo How A Rose E’re Blooming.

yk and pillowGift giving and receiving was part of a Hong Kong Christmas too. One of my students gave me a pillow for Christmas because he thought the chairs in my office were too hard. A very thoughtful gift. chinese christmas ornament

Since moving back to Canada we have decorated our tree each year with Chinese ornaments we collected in Hong Kong.dave, tad , daniel at xmas party

The decorations remind us of the many good holiday times we had in Hong Kong. 

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Filed under Culture, Holidays, Hong Kong, Religion

Newtown on My Facebook Page

It has been interesting to see what kinds of things friends have posted on Facebook in response to the tragic shootings in Newtown. One person posted this. 

In 1996 there was a shooting at a primary school in Scotland. 16 children ages 5-6 were killed along with their teacher. The following year the UK banned the private ownership of all cartridge ammunition handguns, regardless of caliber. There have been no school shootings since. 

A friend posted……. Wondering how to pray when there is unimaginable suffering in this world?

Another wrote.  People with guns kill people. Any questions? 

One friend’s Facebook page had a discussion going with participants from four different countries, some of whom felt the tragedy was the result of the American people turning away from God, others who said stricter control of guns was the answer, some who advocated teachers in America bear arms and still others who were adamant that better care for people with mental health problems was vital. 

One Facebook friend said, “I was so grateful to be able to tuck my children into bed this evening and kiss them goodnight.”

One friend posted only one word.       ENOUGH!

Clearly this tragedy has impacted many people. Hopefully lessons will be learned. 

Other posts…….

Thinking About 9/11


Where Were You?

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Filed under Childhood, Culture, History, Reflections, Religion

The Slaughter of the Innocents

Massacre of the Innocents- Sagrada Familia- Barcelona- photo by MaryLou Driedger

Massacre of the Innocents- Sagrada Familia- Barcelona- photo by MaryLou Driedger

The Slaughter of the Innocents. Those are the words that came to mind when I heard about the grade one students shot at the school in Connecticut. The phrase was actually first used to describe another Christmas massacre of little children; the killing of all the baby boys in Bethlehem by King Herod. One can only imagine the horror of hearing soldiers bang at the door, seeing them barge into your home with their bloodied swords and watching helplessly as they executed your child. The writer of the Biblical book of Matthew describes the screams of anguish and unrestrained weeping of the mothers who witnessed this slaughter. They refuse to be comforted because their children are dead.

Flight into Egypt- Sagrada Familia- Barcelona- Photo by MaryLou Driedger

Flight into Egypt- Sagrada Familia- Barcelona- Photo by MaryLou Driedger

Yet we know that one child survived the Bethlehem murder spree. Jesus’ parents are warned of the danger and manage to flee on time to save their little son’s life. And what a difference that one child went on to make in the world.

In the midst of all the terrible sadness over what happened in Newtown this week it is important and helpful to remember that many children were saved, some of them because of the heroic and sacrificial efforts of their teachers. Who knows what difference some of those children will go on to make in the world?


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Children’s Christmas Books- The Classics

I have a large collection of children’s Christmas books. Back in the 1970’s when I first started looking for Christmas stories for kids not many were being published, now there are hundreds of Christmas titles for children.

When my boys were little I kept a big basket of Christmas books under the diningroom table and each night during advent before they went to bed they could pick a book from the Christmas collection for me to read as their bedtime story. We would light the advent candles in the table centerpiece and read our story by candle light. It was a special time.

Later after my sons were too old for my Christmas picture books I took the entire collection to my elementary classrooms to read aloud.  When I moved  to Asia I gave the collection to another teacher to use with her own students. She has returned them now and I’ve enjoyed going through the collection and looking at all my old favorites.

In The Christmas Whale by Roger Duvoisin, Santa’s reindeer get sick and a kind grey whale helps him deliver presents to ports of call around the world. My favorite page in the book is when the whale is almost loaded with presents and there is one more gift left. She worries it will make her sink below her water line. Santa has a solution.

The Christmas Tree that Grew by Phyllis Krasilovsky was a hit every time I read it to children. A family living on the main floor of an apartment building have a magic Christmas tree that grows and grows. They need to cut holes in the apartment floors of the tenants who live above them, in order to make room for the tree’s additional height. In the process they make friends with those families. The rising tree brings them together for Christmas and enriches all their lives. 

Tomie de Paola is a prolific artist whose distinctive work graces hundreds of children’s books, including many Christmas stories. My top pick is The Friendly Beasts because it is one of my husband Dave’s favorite Christmas carols.

This is a real classic! Paddy’s Christmas by Helen Monsell was first published in 1887. Paddy is a little bear who wants to find the true meaning of Christmas. Because they love him, his hibernating family who would rather be asleep, wake up one by one, to help him in his quest to discover what Christmas is really all about. 

Although technically Imogene’s Antlers by David Small  is not a Christmas book, its connection to reindeer was enough for me to include it in my Christmas collection. Imogene wakes up one morning with antlers and discovers both the pros and cons of having them.

Margaret Wise Brown of Good Night Moon fame wrote a charming version of the nativity story in 1952 called Christmas in the Barn.  The illustrations by Barbara Cooney set the story in the 1950’s on a North American farm.  “And there they were all safe and warm , all together in that ancient barn.” 

Grandma is the heroine in this exciting book by Maryann Kovalski about a runaway carriage on a snowy afternoon. Although the traditional song Jingle Bells is included, the story is really about how Grandma saves the day and takes her grandchildren on the ride of their life. 

An illustration from Margaret Laurence’s A Christmas Birthday Story

Well known Canadian author Margaret Laurence wrote The Christmas Birthday Story for her own children. The illustrations by Helen Lucas are unique and engaging. Mary asks the three kings. “Tell me what you think my baby will be when he grows up to be a man.” The kings give wise and meaningful answers.

The Steamroller by Margaret Wise Brown is so bizarre that kids absolutely love it. A little  girl named Daisy takes over the controls of a steamroller and flattens everything in sight. Can she undo the damage before Christmas? 

The students in one of my classes were so taken with this book they turned it into a play they acted out. In The Very Best Christmas Present by Jim Razzi a stray cat lands in Mr. Floogle’s mailbox and he tries multiple methods for getting rid of it. Like the pesky feline in the song The Cat Came Back Mr. Floogle’s cat keeps turning up. Santa resolves things in a happy way. 

A Dozen Silk Diapers by Melissa Kajpust is a retelling of a German legend about a mother spider who wishes to make a gift for the Christ Child because Mary has treated one of her baby spiders with kindness. What can she give? The illustrations by Veselina Tomova are little masterpieces of color and detail. 

I have many of my favorite Christmas books out in a basket again ready to share with the next generation of our family. 

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A Tribute To My First Editor

Peter Dyck was the photographer at my wedding in 1973. I believe it was my father’s idea to hire him and Peter did a good job. I think the whole idea of getting married kind of overwhelmed my husband Dave.  I just remember Peter trying to joke around in an attempt to get him to look less serious. “Would the groom please smile?’ Peter kept saying patiently.

     A dozen years later when Peter was already at the helm of The Carillon I sent him an indignant letter to the editor. A columnist had written an article deriding day care. My six- year-old son had spent several happy years at a Steinbach day care while his father and I worked as teachers in local schools. I thought the paper needed to publish an alternate point of view.  Peter not only printed my letter but also asked if I might be interested in writing a regular column for the paper. I agreed to give it a try. That was twenty- seven years ago.

     Peter gave me free rein to write about whatever I wanted in my column which was called  Viewpoint. Sometimes when he didn’t agree with my point of view he would write me a personal letter stating his opinion, but he always still printed my column as I had submitted it.

     I remember the year we moved to the Hopi Indian Reservation in Arizona to teach. I hadn’t planned to keep writing but Peter encouraged me to do so. He said readers would be interested in our experiences. In 2003 when we first moved to Hong Kong to work, he not only encouraged me to keep writing, but also asked me to start submitting photos with my columns.

     Peter gave me my first chance to be a journalist. My experience writing for The Carillon led to all kinds of other writing assignments including a staff job for the magazine The Mennonite Mirror, free-lance work for many religious and educational periodicals, curriculum writing and a three-year stint as a columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press.

     For the last six years of my career as an educator I was a high school journalism teacher. While I was teaching at the Steinbach Regional School Peter graciously agreed to come to my class and let my journalism students interview him. I remember he told the kids the most important quality a journalist could have was insatiable curiosity and he emphasized how important it was to honor your commitments and meet your deadlines.

     Peter and I had a very business-like relationship and our communication was almost always confined to newspaper related matters. However when Peter’s wife Aida died I wrote him a letter of condolence that included a few personal memories of Aida. He wrote back thanking me, and telling me that my husband Dave and I were doing the right thing in traveling the world and having so many adventures. He had hoped he and Aida could have some adventures in their retirement too but now it was too late.

     On Sunday night I had written my Carillon column and was just about to press the SEND button and e-mail it to Peter as I always do, when my husband received a Facebook message from a friend saying Peter had died. I knew I couldn’t send in the column I had written; I would have to write about Peter.

     I am very grateful to Peter for giving me my first journalism job and for allowing me to continue writing for The Carillon for nearly three decades. I want to extend my condolences to his family. Peter was a consummate professional and I will miss working for him. 


Filed under People, Writing

Is Lord Of the Rings A Christmas Movie?

Is it just a coincidence that all the movies in the Lord of the Rings series, including The Hobbit had December release dates?

Is The Lord of the Rings a Christmas movie? That’s not a question I would have asked until the year I attended a worship service on the first Sunday of Advent which featured a sermon illustrated with film clips from The Lord of the Rings. Why would a church choose to feature a movie based on the work of fantasy author JRR Tolkien at Christmas?

The Lord of the Rings tells the story of a mild-mannered orphan hobbit named Frodo who accepts the task of destroying a ring that will corrupt anyone who uses its power. The ring is evil and has the potential to wreak havoc on civilization. Young Frodo is perhaps the least likely candidate to save the world by taking this ring back to the place from which it came.

In the Bible God often chooses the least likely candidates for the most important missions. It is the shepherd boy David who is sent to meet the giant Goliath. It is a young girl named Esther who must approach a mighty king to save her people.  It is Jesus, the infant son of a feisty teenage mother, who comes to save the world.

Jim Ware and Kurt Bruner in their book Finding God in the Lord of the Rings say, “Hope and salvation often arise from the least likely places, a hobbit hole in the Shire, or a manager in a Palestinian stable.”

JRR Tolkien said Christmas was a season when myth illuminated truth. The word he coined to describe the birth of Christ was eucatastrophe or a ‘good catastrophe’. He believed the story of Jesus’ birth provided hope for a positive future for human history.

Tolkien was a person of faith who proved that by capturing people’s imaginations with stories and myths you could transmit values and beliefs to them. He thought religious truths and stories could be presented in different forms. The message of the Gospels didn’t necessarily have to be preached, but rather could be suggested and implied.

Tolkien wondered if presenting Christianity in new forms might not make it more accessible to those who had been alienated by the traditional offerings of organized religious groups. C.S. Lewis, a good friend of Tolkien’s once said… “myth is like manna, to each one a different dish, and to each the dish they need.”  

In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkein creates a band of friends who battle darkness. Frodo gathers around him a dedicated group who are prepared to fight for the cause of good in the face of evil. Who knows what people of faith could accomplish if they banded together to fight the forces of evil around them using the weapons of love, justice, mercy and humility Jesus taught? Tolkien’s books and the movies based on them may inspire people to feel that like Frodo they too have a higher calling.

It is easy to see why readers are captivated with the idea of leaving their home to set off with a band of loyal friends on a sacred mission filled with danger, adventure and excitement. There is something very appealing about the notion of embarking on a quest to discover deep spiritual truths while working together with others to fight the wrongs of this world with acts of goodness. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus did with his band of followers?

The pastor of the church where I saw  The Lord of the Rings movie clips said he had shown them because he wanted to make the Biblical story which is thousands of years old come alive for his listeners. During the worship service, he told us modern films often act as mirrors through which we may see the Biblical message in new ways. 

I think he’s right! You may want to re-watch one of The Lord of the Rings trilogy films or The Hobbit this holiday season and find out for yourself!

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Filed under Movies, Religion

Only Five Star Hotels for the Holy Family

“From now on I promise we will only stay in five-star hotels.”

When I was teaching grade five at an international school in Hong Kong in 2004 many of my students were from fairly affluent families, for whom regular international travel was common place and routine. The children in my class were used to quite a privileged lifestyle. After one of my holidays in mainland China I told the kids the name of the hotel where I’d stayed, “Oh Mrs. Driedger”, one girl said in dismay. “That’s only a three star hotel. My family never stays in anything less than a five-star hotel.” 

The school I taught in was faith-based and as a December project in our Bible class I divided the students into groups and asked them to write and perform their own nativity plays.  One of the writing and acting troops did an amazing job.

They had made laminated identity cards for Mary and Joseph. In Hong Kong citizens must carry an identity card with their photo and fingerprints on it. The kids naturally assumed that the holy couple would need similar identification.

I laughed during the scene where Joseph in a business suit and tie was watching the evening news on a television set made from a cardboard box. The maid came in to tell Joseph it was suppertime and he said “SHHHHHH” to her, adding brusquely “I’m watching the news.” Joseph used his remote control to turn up the volume. A boy playing the role of Caesar Augustus was inside the box announcing the census that required everyone to return to his or her hometown.

Mary and Joseph packed their designer luggage and set off for Bethlehem. My enterprising jet setting students had also created passports for Mary and Joseph. In their search for Bethlehem Jesus’ parents landed mistakenly in many of the major cities of the world. Mary and Joseph would approach a table to speak to a custom’s official sporting a flag on his uniform. “Are we in Bethlehem?” Joseph would ask handing over their passports. “No” the official would report pointing to his flag, “You are in France”.

Mary and Joseph would leave with their luggage. They would spend a few minutes sitting on two chairs that represented airplane seats, and then return to the table where the customs’ official awaited them, now wearing a new flag on his uniform. He’d reply to their query about Bethlehem with “No! You are in Thailand” or “No! You are in Singapore” or “No! You are in Italy.” This went on until at last Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem where unfortunately all the hotels were full.

They land up in a stable and Mary and Joseph go to sleep. Lo and behold when they wake up baby Jesus is lying between them. Joseph is quite excited but Mary, not doubt a tad irritable after a night of giving birth, begins to complain about the prickly hay, the smelly barn, the noisy animals and the cold air. Joseph, who is holding baby Jesus, puts his arm around his wife and ends the play with a line I’ll never forget. “I’m sorry Mary”, he says seriously and apologetically, “From now on I promise our family will only stay in five-star hotels.”

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Filed under Holidays, Hong Kong, Religion