Monthly Archives: June 2013

My First Published Piece of Fiction

I’ve been writing for a long time but I’ve stuck almost exclusively to non-fiction. Now I’ve had my first fiction short story published in an issue of Rhubarb Magazine. It is called Water-Skiing and Rhubarb has put  it on their website. Click on the magazine logo below to read it. 

rhubarb logo

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Filed under History, Writing

Chi Lin Nunnery- Hong Kong

chi lin nunnery main buildingYou could smell the Canadian cedar the minute you walked through the gate! One of my favourite places to go in Hong Kong was the  Chi Lin Nunnery. It contains the largest group of buildings in the world constructed entirely without nails. Nestled between two mountains, Chi Lin is home to some of Hong Kong’s one thousand ordained Buddhist nuns. Its 8-acre site features sixteen huge cedar halls each housing a statue of Buddha. There are courtyards with lotus ponds and classic Chinese gardens. The complex also houses clinics, homes, and activity and education centres for senior citizens and children.waterfall chi lin nunnery

 Chi Lin Nunnery is beautiful.  The smell of the cedar wood temples mingles with burning incense and fragrant flowers. You can hear the chanting of the nuns praying in hidden rooms along the courtyard. Wind chimes hang from the corners of each building and their melodies are mixed with the mutterings of the people kneeling in front of the Buddhas and offering their petitions. The rushing of a waterfall intensifies the sound of streams gushing into the lotus ponds from the mouths of stone gargoyles. The glittering gold of the Buddha statues, the purples and pinks of the blooming water lilies, the bright orange of the fat carp darting in the ponds and the green new growth on the bonsai trees create a colourful temple chi lin nunnery

 The Chi Lin Nunnery was established nearly a hundred years ago but in the 1980s the Hong Kong government decided to use its site to create a complex that would promote Chinese culture and encourage people not to forget the teachings of Buddha. They offered to provide the nuns with a new home that would allow them to continue to live together and do their charitable work but also reach out to the wider community. A choice was made to build the nunnery in the architectural style of the Tang Dynasty, a time of peace, great cultural growth and economic prosperity in China from 600-900 AD. Each hall at the Chi Lin Nunnery is a replica of a different famous temple located in one of China’s provinces. Models of these original temples are displayed in a museum on the nunnery site.lily pads chi lin nunnery hong kong

 1000-year-old yellow cedar timber from Canada was shipped to Anhui province in China. Here skilled craftsmen created and put together all the components of the hall structures using an intricate system of dowels and brackets, rather than nails. The completed rafters and pillars were transported to Hong Kong and assembled like a jig-saw-puzzle to form the impressive nunnery halls. The whole project took ten years and $100 million Canadian to finish.chi lin nunnery pond hong kong

On one of my first visits to the Chi Lin Nunnery the woman who sold me a souvenir booklet smiled broadly when I told her I was from Canada and assured me our Canadian trees had been used for a good purpose in the building of Chi Lin. “Using wood to build a temple,” she told me, “is a way to lengthen the life of the tree and the tree, in turn, brings life to the temple.” She claimed Chi Lin was so well built it would last at least 500 years. It’s kind of neat to know a little part of my home and native land will live on in Hong Kong for the next five centuries or so.

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Hong Kong Frogs That Sound Like Cows Bellowing 

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Filed under Canada, Hong Kong, Religion

The Wave- Art in the Interlake

I did The Wave recently.  Together with three friends I set off for Manitoba’s Interlake to explore the galleries and homes of local artists. Alluding to the proximity of Lake Winnipeg, visitors were invited to get ‘drenched in art’ as they did a driving tour of the areas near Gimli, Winnipeg Beach, Selkirk and Sandy Hook, stopping along the way to explore the work of jewelers, quilters, woodworkers, painters, sculptors, and potters.

Wave signs are posted on the yard of each participating artist

Wave signs were posted on the yard of each participating artist

Although more than forty artists had the uniquely designed wave logo displayed on their properties we only managed to fit in nine studios during our tour. But what a variety those nine represented 

My Nose in a Book statue purchased at Evelyn Richter's studio

My statue purchased at Evelyn Richter’s studio

Evelyn Richter uses clay to explore the curious. I couldn’t resist buying one of her fluid and cleverly constructed figures immersed in books. My friend was drawn to the pieces inspired by hearts.

Getting a tour of Evelyn Richter's yard and heritage home

Getting a tour of Evelyn Richter’s yard and heritage home

Not only Evelyn’s studio but her beautifully landscaped yard feature all kinds of intriguing work- everything from an artistically constructed scarecrow in the garden to a quartet of buried shovels in the flower patch, their handles lined up in a soldierly row.


WIth my friends at the Mermaids Kiss Gallery in Gimli

With my friends at the Mermaids Kiss Gallery in Gimli

I’d seen Heather Lair’s quilts on display at the St. Boniface Hospital’s Buhler Gallery so I was excited to discover more of them at the Mermaid’s Kiss Gallery. Heather is a landscape artist who uses carefully selected materials to stitch together stunning recreations of the vistas around Lake Winnipeg. Quilting is a traditional art but Heather explores it in a new and lovely way. It’s as if she paints with fabric.

Card I bought at The Paper Fifrildi

Card I bought at The Paper Fifrildi

  We enjoyed meeting Milli Flaig-Hooper who gave us a tour of the studio where she produces hundreds of cards out of recycled paper collected from churches, schools and other community places in Winnipeg Beach. Her pastel color schemes and unique designs had us all getting out our wallets to make purchases. She has named her art enterprise The Paper Firfrildi after the Norse word for butterfly. Her biography states that Milli’s successful business has proved that Down syndrome and autism can’t limit a person’s creativity.

 We watched artist Jace Richarde at work on a sketch of the renowned Canadian canoeist Don Starkwell and his two sons as they set off on their epic adventure that would be recorded in the book Travel to the Amazon. Richarde also makes interesting jewelry and specializes in painting portraits of animals. He is in the process of painstakingly covering a bleached bison skull with tiny words, symbols and images important to the First Nations community.

Beach Boy Restaurant Gimli

Beach Boy Restaurant Gimli

We took a break from touring to enjoy lunch at the Beach Boy restaurant in Gimli overlooking the lake. The thing to try is the fish and it didn’t disappoint. Then we were off to painter Joanne Gulluchasen’s farm. I was anxious to meet her in person having seen her exhibit at the Mayberry Gallery last year. 

Old Tractors on Joanne Gullachsen's family homestead

Old Tractors on Joanne Gullachsen’s family homestead

Joanne’s family homestead was charming and she was pleased to see us.

Posing with Joanne Gullachsen

Posing with Joanne Gullachsen

Every room in her little house was filled with art much of it a reminder of a rural 1950’s childhood.  Her genuine hospitality provided a perfect ending to our tour.

Ice cream with our feet in the sand on the beach

Ice cream with our feet in the sand on the beach

Although many of the artists featured delicious snacks to munch on as we viewed their art, we still managed to find room to round off the day with ice-cream enjoyed with our feet in the sand along the lakeshore in Gimli. 

There will be another Wave tour the August 31weekend so you still have one more chance to explore the artists of the Interlake this summer. 

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Filed under Art, Canada, Culture, New Experiences, T-4s

Life is Messy

The spring and summer before I first started teaching high school English I was in regular e-mail communication with one of my future colleagues from the English Department at the school that had hired me. He was trying to help me understand what teaching high school English was like. He concluded one of his letters with the phrase “Teaching English is messy!”

with advanced comp classI was to learn just how right he was. Teaching English was messy! Every student in the room was usually at a different point in the creative process and each was motivated and inspired by unique things. Students enjoyed different genres of literature so I needed such a variety of books in my room to entice them. The books were often tossed helter sketler on the shelves.  A few didn’t like reading at all. Some writing assignments were done over and over till their authors felt good about them. Other students took persistent coaxing to make them  believe they could write a poem or short story. Because kids often shared things about their personal lives in their writing the ‘messiness’ of their daily struggles often found its way into our classroom and into my relationship with them as I tried to lend a sympathetic ear to their challenges. Our classroom was often messy as groups of students stockpiled costumes for presentations of scenes from Shakespeare or we hauled out magazines for collages, or I brought in my coffee pot and muffins to lure stragglers into being on time for early morning classes.

az travels0006I’ve been thinking lately that life is a lot like English class too. Relationships are usually messy. They rarely run the course described in fairy tales. Different people in relationships want and need different things or are experiencing crisis of joy or pain that need supporting, resolving or negotiating. Friendships don’t just begin and end, they taper off, they are rejunvinated. Some last a life time but grow and change in their intimacy and importance. Goals and plans are messy. They seldom turn out as you expect.  Daily life is messy too- full of grungy toilets to be cleaned, appointments to keep, toe nails to cut, commitments to honor and sometimes the need to spend a day in your nightgown.

The beginning of different stages of life open up so many possiblities you can’t see your way through the exciting maze of them and even the end of life can leave loose ends that need to tended and tied up. 

I loved teaching high school English. The mess of it was so challenging and rewarding. 

I love life. The mess of it is so interesting and inspiring.  

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Filed under Reflections

Lord You Have Come To The Lakeshore

mom's wheelchairLord, you have come to the lakeshore
looking neither for wealthy nor wise ones.
You only asked me to follow humbly.

O Lord, with your eyes you have searched me,
kindly smiling, have spoken my name.
Now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me;
by your side I will seek other seas.

You know so well my possessions;
my boat carries no gold and no weapons;
But nets and fishes my daily labor.
O Lord, with your eyes you have …

You need my hands, full of caring,
through my labors to give others rest,
and constant love that keeps on loving.
O Lord, with your eyes you have …

My mother requested we sing this hymn Lord You Have Come to The Lakeshore by Cesareo Gabarain at her funeral. I think the words really reflect the way she lived her life, humbly, caring much more for people than possessions, taking joy in the things she did for others and having a constant love for her family. 

As the congregation sang it during her memorial service the photo above came to mind. I took it the last time Mom was at our family’s Moose Lake cottage. She really wanted to go for a boat ride and so her grandsons carried her in her wheelchair down to the dock and lifted her into the boat. Off she went for a last tour of the lake where she had spent time with her family every summer for over fifty years. 

Other posts about music at my Mom’s funeral…….

Now Thank We All Our God

Let Me Call You Sweetheart

God of Eve and God of Mary

In the Bulb There is a Flower

Precious Lord

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Filed under Family, Music, Nature, Parenting, Reflections

Hong Kong Wet Markets- A Place of Art

I visited the St. Norbert Farmers Market here in Winnipeg this week and I was struck by the contrast between it and the fresh produce markets in Hong Kong. They were called wet markets. 

A wet market is a collection of stalls that sell fresh produce. The markets are almost always located indoors in large concrete buildings with high ceilings and grey tiled floors. Every neighborhood in Hong Kong has one and they’re all much the same. A wet market is wet. The floor is wet and dirty because the merchants are constantly hosing down their seafood, spraying their fruits and vegetables to keep them fresh, or washing the blood off their knives after they’ve killed a chicken or hacked open a pork carcass. You have to watch your step. There could be escaped green frogs hopping on the floor or a flapping fish that’s flipped out of its basket.

Snacks for sale in Hong Kong Wet Market

Snacks for sale in Hong Kong Wet Market

The aisles in a wet market are narrow and you have to fight your way ahead, especially a couple of hours before dinner when hundreds of Filipino maids and Chinese grandmothers are there selecting food for their family’s suppers. Despite the screaming fish sellers, the slippery floors and the wall-to-wall people the wet market is really a place of beauty.

The merchants take great pride in arranging their produce in colorful arrays. In the display boxes of the vegetable stands deep purple eggplants are piled up next to creamy white onions. There are fat orange carrots splayed out in a sort of fan shape around buckets of crisp green beans, mountains of yellow corn cobs and baskets of bright red tomatoes. In winter the vegetable stands are sure to feature a hot wok where deep brown chestnuts are being roasted and baked yams have been split open so their aroma can entice the buyer.

fruit sellerAt the fruit stand bananas are displayed in clumps sometimes hanging from the ceiling. Every banana is pointed in the same direction. Red apples, purple grapes, yellow mangoes, prickly green durian and orange pumpkins create a visual feast for the eyes.

Fish seller in a Hong Kong Wet Market

Fish seller in a Hong Kong Wet Market

The seafood sellers can expertly flip their fish from tank to basket to bag in swift sure movements that looks like a kind of ballet. In ice filled trays they’ve lined up silver skinned fish in lovely, even rows that are meticulously rearranged every time a fish is removed to sell to a customer. The pattern barely seems disturbed. My gaze would be riveted for a moment on dozens of glazed eyes staring up at me from fish heads neatly spread out in semi circular arcs on trays. There are crayfish crawling over one another in a nearby basket and grey turtles trapped in a white netted bag, their mouths taped shut so they won’t bite.

Roasted Chickens in the Hong Kong Wet Market

Roasted Chickens in the Hong Kong Wet Market

Even the displays of dead fowl at the poultry -sellers stalls have a certain bizarre artistry about them. There are trays of little baby ducks, de-feathered, roasted a deep brown, their heads and beaks still intact and pointing heaven ward. Pink chickens, looking naked and red hang in stark contrast to others that have been baked to a golden crisp.

Interspersed between the market booths are tall cherry wood altars, with golden Buddhas, burning sticks of incense and brass bowls of oranges set out as offerings.

I always left  the wet market with my shopping bag full of fresh produce and my head full of images bright and bizarre and beautiful enough to create a painting. 

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Filed under Art, Food, Hong Kong

Recognize This Reid?

A sea monster, the northern lights, a giant ice floe and a spirit bear are all featured in my favorite room of the 100 Masters exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. I’ve written a post about it on my Destination Winnipeg site called Recognize This Reid? 

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Filed under Art, Canada, Winnipeg

Hong Kong Frogs That Sound Like Cows Bellowing

I loved the creatures of Hong Kong and one, in particular, intrigued me- a frog that sounded like a cow bellowing. One night when I was out at a Hong Kong camp with my students I recorded the sound. Click here to hear my recording of the Asiatic Painted Frog. 

The Asiatic Painted Frog – photo by Thomas Brown- Wiki Commons

In an article in the South China Morning Post called Counting on the Frog Chorus Kang Lei Wang says the sounds intensify during the mating season because the male frogs are using their vocal cords to compete for females. Apparently the deeper their croak the more they are attractive to female frogs because a deep croak means they are healthy and fit.  Sometimes the sound of the frog bellowing is amplified and echos if the frogs are in underground drains. 

I miss the bellowing frogs of Hong Kong!

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Filed under Hong Kong, Nature

Dorothy Marie Peters

dorothy marie peters 1My heart is steadfast O God, my heart is steadfast. I will sing and make music. Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn.  Psalm 57:7 -8

Dorothy Marie Peters passed away in the early morning hours of June 9 at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg.  She had a steadfast heart full of love for her family and her faith in them never wavered.

She is survived by her husband of 61 years Dr. Paul F. Peters, her children MaryLou Driedger (Dave), Kaaren Neufeld (Ken), Ken Peters (Harvey), Mark Peters (Kathy), her grandchildren Joel Driedger (Karen), Bryan Neufeld, Bucky Driedger (Alisa), Mark Neufeld (Samantha), Amanda Peters and Dylan Peters and her great-grandson Henri Driedger. Dorothy was predeceased by her parents Annie and Peter Schmidt, her parents-in-law Margaretha and Diedrich Peters, her brother and sister-in-law Earl and Lenora Schmidt and her sister Leila Wiens.  She is survived by her sister Viola Schmidt, her brother-in-law Art Wiens, and her sisters-in-law, Margaret Peters (Dave), Helen Loeppky (Bernie), Mary Fransen (Herb), Louise Friesen and Nettie Peters as well as many nieces and nephews.

 Dorothy was born in Drake Saskatchewan on July 11, 1925. Her family loved to sing and bought a piano when Dorothy was four years old. She began piano lessons when she was six and by the time she was thirteen was accompanying her parents when they sang duets in church.  Dorothy worked on the family farm helping with the animals and stooking in the fields at harvest time. It was during her childhood in Drake that Dorothy formed a close friendship with Mildred Bartel (Schroeder), a friendship that remained important to her throughout her life.

dorothy marie peters 2She attended the Kansas School in Drake and graduated from high school at Rosthern Junior College. After four years of teaching in rural Saskatchewan schools, she went to Winnipeg to study at Canadian Mennonite Bible College, where she learned to play the violin, studied music theory and was part of a touring vocal group.     

She met her husband Paul at college and they were married on May 31, 1952. While Paul completed medical school and his residency and worked at many different part-time jobs to support their family, Dorothy cared for her own children, as well as foster children and ran a boarding house for university students in their home.

Paul and Dorothy moved to Steinbach in 1961 and lived there for nearly 50 years.  Paul built a thriving medical practice while Dorothy cared for their home and family, supporting her children in their many activities, taking them to spend summers at the family’s Moose Lake cottage and acting as the navigator on vacation trips.

 Dorothy shared her musical gifts as an organist, choir accompanist, and pianist at Grace Mennonite Church, playing for worship services and countless weddings and funerals. She was a sought after accompanist for music festivals and volunteered as a choir accompanist at Woodlawn School. She was an active member of the Grace Church Women in Mission group, volunteered at the Mennonite Central Committee Thrift shop for many years and together with Paul provided ongoing support and care to refugee families they brought to Canada from Sierra Leone, Bosnia, and Cambodia. Paul and Dorothy traveled extensively and their time spent in destinations around the world often involved an aspect of service or study.

Dorothy was an affirming and loving mother, mother-in-law and grandmother, insistently positive and endlessly supportive. She had a sympathetic listening ear and the happiness of her family was always her main concern.

Six and half years ago Dorothy was diagnosed with kidney failure and repeatedly expressed her appreciation for her husband Paul, who provided her with expert and dedicated medical care and supported her through more than a thousand dialysis treatments.

In the last days of her life Dorothy tried to play the piano pieces she loved so much on a keyboard she envisioned on her hospital bedding. Despite her weakened state she continued to show an avid interest in her family’s activities and a sincere concern for their well- being.  Dorothy leaves a lasting legacy of love, music, joy and family unity.

Funeral services for Dorothy Marie Peters were held at Grace Mennonite Church in Steinbach, Manitoba on Wednesday, June 12 at 2 pm. Interment took place that morning at a private service for the immediate family. Birchwood Funeral Chapel in Steinbach was in charge of arrangements. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Mennonite Central Committee

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Filed under Family

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Harold Fry cover    “The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other.”  The protagonist of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry discovers that truth as he meets all kinds of interesting men and women on his journey to the deathbed of a former colleague named Queenie Hennessy. She once extended a great kindness to him he has never acknowledged.

    Before he begins his life changing pilgrimage Harold himself is at a point where he too is just ‘putting one foot in front of the other.’ Recently retired from a less than rewarding job in a brewery and bearing the scars of a family tragedy, Harold’s uneventful life is interrupted only by the way nearly everything he does or doesn’t do irritates his wife.

     On his way to mail a letter to Queenie he decides to deliver it personally and thus begins a spur of the moment walk that takes him across more than 600 miles of British countryside. On his journey he meets a collection of diverse characters who tell him their stories. He realizes there are plenty of people just like him, trying only to keep their heads above the waters of life. They are simply ‘putting one foot in front of the other’ as they face illness, abandonment, personal demons, death or empty relationships.  Yet despite their struggles many still take an interest in Harold and show him kindness. 

 I liked Harold’s story even more in hindsight because I read it only a week before I too was required to  ‘just put one foot in front of the other.’ Two family members were facing health crisis and as I shuttled between hospitals on either end of Winnipeg I sometimes wasn’t quite sure how I would juggle everything and get through the day. I had to concentrate on doing the task immediately ahead of me or reaching the destination next on my list, trying not to think too far down the road. During my time at bedsides, waiting for test results and driving back and forth across the city I often thought about Harold and his journey.

 I think another reason I liked this book is because I love to walk. That’s why I wanted to live in the heart of a city so I could walk most places. Walking clears my head, eases my heart and makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something. The thing that troubled me the most during my week of ‘just putting one foot in front of the other’ was that I had no time to walk. For Harold Fry the actual act of walking is very therapeutic.

 During his time on the road he reflects on his past relationships with his parents, his son and his wife. He remembers both the difficult and the positive aspects of these relationships. Walking also lets him think of new possibilities for a different future. I used to listen to my I-pod while I walked, but since I’ve retired, I find like Harold, I’d rather use my walking time to think about past experiences and come up with ideas for new adventures I’d like to have or new things I’d like to write about.

     The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry has become a best seller because readers identify with its protagonist. We all have times when we feel like we are ‘just putting one foot in front of the other.’ Harold helps us see that in carrying out that very act we have the power to change our lives, build rewarding relationships and look forward with hope. 

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The Paper Garden

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Filed under Books, Retirement, Sports