Monthly Archives: February 2014

Mexican Night

We celebrated last night at a restaurant called Rocco’s Tacos after two less than perfect vacation days. (Not that we’re complaining. We know what the weather is like in Winnipeg and feel very lucky to be here.)We shivered through our golf round yesterday in very chilly temperatures warming our hands in our pockets between holes. On Wednesday Shirley and I went grocery shopping and after we had loaded our groceries into the back seat because the trunk wouldn’t open, Paul and Shirley’s car wouldn’t start. What happened next is a long story that involved me placing a call for help to the guys, Dave and I heading back to the condo in our car with the groceries and Paul and Shirley being towed across the city at a snail’s pace in rush hour traffic with a tow truck operator whose knowledge of Orlando geography was sketchy at best – spending hours at the car dealership having the car fixed and arriving home late in the evening some nine hours after we first tried to start the car. 

So we were ready to unwind, warm up and have a good time at Rocco’s Taco a restaurant that came highly recommended by some of Paul and Shirley’s friends. We ordered the ‘made at your table’ guacamole and this young man did a professional job of preparing some delicious guacamole.

We had a lovely evening. The food was good. The waitress was friendly. And we were relaxed and ready for our regular evening euchre match by the time dinner was over. And yes the guys won this time! But it was close. 

Other posts about restaurants and food……….

Tasting Toronto

Acquiring a Taste for Jamaican Food

Eating Sticky Rice

The Paddock Restaurant

Wine Canyon

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Filed under Family, Florida, Food, Restaurants, Travel

Mermaids Beware!

dave in the oceanAfter seeing this photo of Dave swimming in the Caribbean Sea in my post Bits and Pieces of Jamaica my cousin Tim said, “Mermaids beware!” and our friend Bill quipped “I’ve heard Jamaican sharks are too laid back to eat tourists.

marylou snorkeling“Whoa………” said my brother-in-law Bill. “Yikes” said my friend Jack.  “Wow!” said my friend Becky. “I’m so glad you weren’t injured,” said Suzanne a fellow children’s writer after they read about my Snorkeling Trip That Was A Little Too Exciting. 

It has been many months since I’ve done a post about comments and responses to my blog on various social media. I’ll try to do some catch-up in this post. 

stick stick man chongqingMy friend Darren reading my post Stick Stick Men responded …….This is great! I spent one year in Chongqing in 94-95. These guys were everywhere. I remember buying a cheap guitar and within seconds a stick stick man materialized out of nowhere to carry it for me. He didn’t take no for an answer either.

dave and maryloungreen grotto cavesKayla, a former student of mine who read my post Hairnets and Helmets said she and her husband were asked to put on head gear exactly like ours when they went zip lining in Jamaica. women working at the thrift storeMy friend and ‘boss’ at the MCC thrift store, Gerry Loewen said in an e-mail that my post about working at the Selkirk Thrift Store was ”going viral.” 

A blog reader called Hitchcock Master commented on my post Psycho- All Those Birds saying…. Great post! There is significant bird imagery in much of Hitchcock’s work even going back to his British period. His cameo in To Catch a Thief used birds. The list goes on and on. I enjoyed reading this. Thanks. 

creature black sands beach big island hawaiiRecently a blog reader Niki finally solved a mystery I wrote about during our 2012 visit to Hawaii when I saw the creature above and published its photo in my post Seeing Sea Creatures asking readers to help me identify it.  Just this week Niki contacted me and said it was a single or helmet sea urchin.

jamaican flowersMy friend John paid me a real compliment when he wrote “Keep those flower pictures coming,” after he saw my post on the flowers of Jamaica. John is a semi-professional flower photographer who has had one of his photos featured on a Canadian stamp. 

mom as a young girlEd Cornies who recently read the post I wrote about my mother-in-law Anne Driedger 1923-2011 said it he had brought back many fond memories for him of time spent with the Driedger family. 

 the_long_song_-_andrea_levy_-_cover[4]After reading my book review of The Long Song my friend Meena recommended another book by the same author called Fruit of the Lemon

There are many more comments I could include but I’ll end with a lovely story that blog reader Joanne Ewert sent me after reading about my visit to Ernest Hemingway’s House in Key West- Six-Toed Cats, A Spanish Birthing Chair and His Last Penny. 

Several years ago my husband and I visited Havana, Cuba. Among the several downtown spots of interest was the La Floridita cocktail lounge where Hemingway would spend his afternoons drinking their famous daiquiris, according to a plaque posted on the wall. His bar stool is roped off to preserve the velvet seat covering. The most interesting feature to me was the original grand piano in that bar. It has become so very beaten and weathered in appearance over the years and needs a loving refurbishing. As we stood beside it, an aged round Cuban woman dressed in a simple cotton print shirt-waist dress sat down and played the most beautiful rendition of Moon River, hands flowing over the worn yellowed ivories in one melodic swirl after another. It was amazing! I asked if she knew Hemingway. She smiled, slowly nodded, lowered her dark eyes and began another long medley of mesmerizing themes. Did she play for him in the 1950′s? A memorable experience.

Thanks to everyone who reads my blog.  So far in 2014 I’ve been averaging over 300 readers a day. I appreciate your support. It is a great motivation for me as I try to be diligent about practising my writing craft on a daily basis. 

Other reader response posts……..

What Are People Saying?

Readers’ Response

It’s Time For Your Comments


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Filed under Reflections, Writing

Breakfast in Florida

We are sharing Dave’s brother Paul and his wife Shirley’s lovely Kissimmee condo for a few days. Yesterday morning we had a fabulous breakfast out on the balcony enjoying the perfect balmy weather along with friends of Paul and Shirley’s who had stopped in on the way to their own family home in Clearwater Beach. 

There were glasses of Florida fresh orange juice mixed with a fine Pinot Grigio and hot just brewed coffee. 

The main entrée was a layered breakfast dish that included vegetables, beef, hashbrowns, cheese and poached eggs topped with salsa. This was accompanied by toast, bacon and a fruit salad of grapes, pineapple, bananas and melon. It was a meal to be savored. 

After breakfast we enjoyed a great day in the Florida sunshine that included eighteen holes of golf. My sister-in-law Shirley was definitely the star on the links with her long drives and consistent fairway shots. We had dinner afterwards in the clubhouse and ended the day with a euchre tournament that was won by the ladies.  This was a particularly sweet victory since last year when we shared our house in Phoenix with Paul and Shirley the men won every euchre match. Paul was even gracious enough in defeat to acknowledge that my euchre skills had shown marked improvement since last year.

Other posts about vacations with Paul and Shirley……

Family Visit

Golfing in Phoenix

Climbing Pinnacle Peak


Filed under Family, Florida, Food, Retirement

Eat Like You Give A Damn

 My cousin Kirsten was gracious enough to let me interview her and write an article for the latest issue of Rhubarb magazine about the important work she does at the University of Winnipeg. The magazine has chosen to feature the story on its webpage so you can read it HERE. 

The online version of the magazine doesn’t include any of the photos I took so I’m including several here.

Kirsten with Samy, a business student who works for Diversity Foods

Kirsten with this year’s Food Services Logo at the University of Winnipeg

Paw Moo makes soups, sauces and dressings in the Diversity Food Kitchen

Another post about one of my pieces in Rhubarb…………

My First Piece of Fiction is Published

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Filed under Food, Winnipeg, Writing

A Personal Dali

The Basket of Bread by Salvador Dali

The Basket of Bread by Salvador Dali- a painting that shows Dali’s technical expertise

I was first introduced to the work of Salvador Dali when I was assigned to chaperone a high school art trip to Spain in 2008. To prepare I learned about the Dali paintings we would see in Madrid and Barcelona.  Since the trip was designed for art students we were looking at the technical aspects of Dali’s work and I learned to appreciate them. But I was pleased that on my recent visit to the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida I was introduced to a more personal Dali and was able to learn more about his personal life and how it impacted his work. 

The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus- Salvador Dali-1959

The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus- Salvador Dali-1959

Dali’s  Russian born wife Gala figures prominently in so many of his paintings.  In this one she poses as the Virgin Mary on a flag being carried by a young Christopher Columbus. Gala was ten years older than Dali and married to another man and was the mother of a daughter when she met the artist. They married in 1934 after her divorce. Gala left her daughter to marry Salvador. Dali said Gala was his muse and inspiration and he sometimes signed both their names to a painting.

Portrait of My Sister- 1924

Portrait of My Sister- 1924

Dali created this portrait of his fifteen year old sister Ana Maria in 1924 when they had a good relationship and she often acted as his model.

Later Dali altered the portrait so it looked like a sort of a playing card with a distorted and haggard looking version of his sister painted upside down on the lower half of the canvas.  This reflected Dali’s changed relationship with his sister. After Dali published his autobiography in 1941- The Secret Life of Salvador Dali Ana Maria published her own version of her brother’s life called Salvador Dali As Seen By His Sister.  In her story she refuted much of what he’d said about his childhood in his own book and she was very critical of his marriage to Gala. 

The Average Bureaucrat by Salvador Dali - 1930

The Average Bureaucrat by Salvador Dali – 1930

This painting of Dali’s father shows how their relationship changed.  The bureaucrat is Dali’s father.  As a defiant young man Dali sought ways to challenge and shock his father. After Salvador married Gala his father banished him from the family and disinherited him in his will. He depicts his father here with his eyes closed and his head down, uninterested in the world. He has no ears to hear and is empty-headed save for a few shells and pebbles. A tiny image to the left of the bureaucrat’s head shows a father and young son holding hands -a sign that in his childhood Dali and his father were close.

There were images of Dali’s childhood nanny Llucia in several of his paintings in the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg. In one piece The Weaning of Furniture Nutrition he shows how after he grew up and was ‘weaned’ from his nanny’s loving care it left a hole in his life that required a crutch to provide the support previously given by his nanny. In describing this work Dali said, “the absence of a beloved person leaves a sentimental void.”  

Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man- by Salvador Dali- 1943

Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man- by Salvador Dali- 1943

This painting done during World War II was meant to show the growing importance of the New World/the Americas while Europe is being crushed by the hand of the man in the painting. World War II brought about a new world order but it involved a great deal of bloodshed. Besides its political interpretation however this work is also personal because it shows a new Dali emerging in America. He and his wife moved to New York in order to escape Europe during World War II and Dali became involved in all kinds of new art forms including advertising and film.

The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg holds the largest collection of Dali’s work outside of Spain. It is a good place to learn not only about Dali the artist, but also Dali the man. 

Other posts about art gallery visits……


The Chicago Institute of Art

The Phoenix Art Museum

John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art



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Filed under Art, Dali, Florida, Travel

Six-Toed Cats, A Spanish Birthing Chair and His Last Penny

My friend Sue and I visited Ernest Hemingway’s  home in Key West Florida.  

A portrait of Ernest Hemingway at his home in Key West

Hemingway lived in  Florida with his second wife Pauline Pfeiffer from 1931-1939. Hemingway met Pauline in Paris where she worked as a journalist for Vogue Magazine.

Pauline’s wealthy uncle Gus Pfeiffer basically bank rolled Pauline and Ernest since he had no children of his own and liked being associated with a famous writer. Gus bought the Key West house for them. Pauline and Ernest had two sons Gregory and Patrick. 

The study where Hemingway did his writing at the Key West house

My friend Sue was interested in Hemingway because she had read The Paris Wife by Paula Mclain last fall during an extended stay in Paris. The Paris Wife tells the story of Hemingway’s first marriage and Sue had explored some of the Hemingways’ Paris haunts.  I was interested in Hemingway because I had studied the Hemingway short story Hills Like White Elephants with my high school students and had read his memoir A Moveable Feast. 

Sue climbs the stairs to see Hemingway’s study above the property’s pool house

Hemingway’s study above the pool house on the Key West estate was once connected to the balcony of the main house by a cat walk so Ernest could just stroll across in the morning and start writing. He wrote at least seven of his novels, a play and many short stories here.
Ironically the Hemingway home in Key West is popular as a wedding venue, even though Hemingway found it hard to stay married for long. A photo display in the house shows the Pulitzer and Nobel prize- winning author surrounded with photos of all four of his wives. 

At the end of Pauline and Ernest Hemingway’s bed was an old-fashioned Spanish birthing chair. Spanish women would sit on them and grip the handles on either side during labor. The chair folded up when not in use.  Hemingway had a collection of these chairs and liked to carry one with him because he could unfold it and plunk it down anywhere to use as a seat.  He was known to take one to the bullfights when he was in Spain and it garnered him lots of attention since the people in Spain all knew what the chair was really for. 

cat at hemingway house in florida

One of the cats I photographed on our visit to Hemingway’s House.

There were lots of cats wandering the former Hemingway property.The legend surrounding the cats is that Hemingway met a sea-captain in Florida who owned an unusual six-toed tomcat, which intrigued Hemingway. When the captain left Key West he gave  the cat to Hemingway. Many of the cats that still live on the property have the  unusual six toes.

Ernest Hemingway had a boxing ring installed in the backyard of the Key West house. Our guide said that while Ernest was in Spain working as a news correspondent during the Spanish Civil War his wife Pauline took down the boxing ring and put in the lavish salt water pool after she heard Ernest was having an affair in Spain.  

Penny in the cement by the Hemingway swimming pool.

Pauline spent some $20,000 on the pool -much more than the whole house had cost. Ernest arriving home from Spain in the midst of pool construction accused Pauline of spending, “his last penny” on the pool and flipped a penny into the wet cement around the pool. It remains embedded there. 

Our tour of the Hemingway house was quick since Sue and I knew our husbands were waiting for us. The four of us planned to view the Key West sunset from a rooftop patio before having dinner. Even though our visit to the Hemingway home was brief we learned lots of fascinating stuff about one of America’s greatest writers. 

One of the most interesting things for me about our visit to the Hemingway House was discovering that Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois. I’ve visited Oak Park and have written blog posts about two other famous Oak Park residents.

Carol Shields

Frank Lloyd Wright



Filed under Books, Culture, Florida, History

Alligators All Around


alligators in florida

Driving down the Florida Keys we travelled on a narrow strip of highway through a mangrove swamp. Since it was a hot day there were alligators all around out sunning themselves.  My friend Sue asked, “would it be an exaggeration to say we saw hundreds of alligators? ”  I assured her it wouldn’t be an exaggeration at all. four alligators in the florida keysWe stopped several times to get out of the car and look at the alligators. swimming alligatorsSome of the alligators were swimming, no doubt looking for the turtles, fish, muskrats, birds and snails which are part of their diet. fisherman in florida keysAlthough alligators aren’t known to attack humans unless they feel threatened this fisherman was keeping his distance. “They can move pretty fast,” he said.  alligator warning signA sign warned us to stay at least fifteen feet away from alligators.  florida alligatorsThere are more than a million alligators in Florida which is pretty amazing because in the 1950s and ’60s they had been hunted almost to extinction. crocodile skullAt a nature centre where we stopped to go on a boardwalk stroll there was a crocodile skull on display and we learned Florida is also home to some 1000 crocodiles. Crocodiles have more pointed snouts- and alligators a more U-shaped one. Crocodiles are more aggressive and are a lighter colour. florida alligatorCrocodiles live in seawater and alligators in freshwater.  The Florida Everglades is the only place where crocodiles and alligators live side by side.

florida alligator

It was interesting to learn that the only other alligator habitat in the world besides the southeastern United States is in China, a country where I lived for six years. 

Other posts about interesting creatures……..

Swimming With The Manatees

Dinosaurs in Saskatchewan

Hong Kong Frogs That Sound Like Cows

It’s All Happening At the Zoo

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Filed under Florida, Nature, Travel

A Serendipitous Sail

chillin out on the prowThe second day of our  Florida Keys trip with Rudy and Sue Nikkel we decided to visit Marathon.  Our mutual friends Ed and Millie Hildebrand had spent several weeks working on a sailing vessel that was moored at a marina in Marathon. Having heard about the Hildebrand’s adventures we thought we’d like to check out the boat they had sailed on called the Geni Green.welcome aboard the geni green

As  you can see Jay, the captain of the boat gave us an excited and warm welcome when we walked up to his slip on the dock.  “Any friend of Ed and Millie’s is a friend of mine,” he said. captain florida keysJay was just about to set out on a three and a half hour sail with three clients and said spontaneously, “Why don’t you join us?”  Our arrival was serendipitous. If we’d arrived a moment later the boat would have already left the dock. If we’d arrived a bit earlier we might have had too much time to think about whether we wanted to change our plans for the day and leave for the sail. Luckily we arrived at just the right moment and  hopped aboard.  What a good decision!

rudy and sueIt was a beautiful day for a sail and we thoroughly enjoyed our time out on the water.  jay and sue and me

Jay seemed delighted to have extra guests and insisted on having his picture taken with Sue and me.  ” I love having more women on board,” he said. 

the sail and the sky
dave sailing

dave getting wet on the prow

dave and me on the boat

sue helps with the sails

looking out from the prow



thanking  jay

Before leaving we shook Jay’s hand and thanked him for a great day out on the ocean.

Jay the captain made us all do the wave while he took a series of photos as a souvenir of our voyage together

Jay the captain made us all do the wave while he took a series of photos as a souvenir of our voyage together. The three  other passengers were so gracious and welcoming to the four of us who were such spontaneous last-minute additions to their sailing crew. 

Other posts about boat trips……….

Yangtze River Cruise

Boat Trackers

Winnipeg River Boat Tour

Swimming with the Manatees


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Filed under Florida, Nature, Sports, Travel

Did You Know? Getting Up Close and Personal With A Famous Inventor

Me and Thomas Alva Edison

Me and Thomas Alva Edison

Did you know that following Thomas Alva Edison’s death on October 18, 1931, President Hoover issued a request that all Americans turn off their lights for one minute at 7 pm. Pacific Time the evening of October 21 as a tribute to the great inventor’s memory?

Dave and Mina Edison

Dave and Mina Miller Edison

Did you know Thomas Edison was married twice? His first wife Mary died in 1884 at age 29 leaving Edison with three children to raise. Two years later he used a message in Morse Code to propose to Mina Miller who was nineteen years younger than him and she accepted. They had three more children together. 

Samuel and Nancy Edison- Thomas Edison's parents

Samuel and Nancy Edison- Thomas Edison’s parents

Did you know Thomas Edison’s parents were Canadians?  His father’s family was from Nova Scotia and his mother’s from Vienna, Ontario.

Mina and Thomas Edison in Florida

Mina and Thomas Edison in Florida

Did you know Thomas Edison first visited Fort Meyers Florida in 1885 and that he and his wife Mina built a home there where their family spent the winters for some fifty years?

Dave and MaryLou on Thomas and Mina Edison's Florida estate

Dave and MaryLou on Thomas and Mina Edison’s Florida estate

Did you know that Dave and I visited that estate this week and learned all kinds of fascinating things about Thomas Edison who took out patents on 1,093 inventions during his life time including the phonograph and movie projector?

Phonograph in the library of the Edison home in Fort Meyers

Phonograph in the library of the Edison home in Fort Meyers

Thomas Edison made hundreds of movies and the 1903 Great Train Robbery was shot in the Edison studios

Thomas Edison made hundreds of movies and the 1903 classic The Great Train Robbery was shot in the Edison studios by director Edwin Porter

Rudy and Sue Nikkel learning all kinds of interesting new things about Thomas Edison

Rudy and Sue Nikkel learning all kinds of interesting new things about Thomas Edison

Did you know our visit to the Edison Museum was the first stop on a trip to the Florida Keys we are making with our friends Rudy and Sue Nikkel?  Rudy had been to the museum more than thirty years ago and wanted to go back for a return visit. 

The light fixtures in the diningroom and livingroom of the Edison home in Fort Meyer were invented by John Verity whose firm built the light fixtures for the Edison Company

The light fixtures called electroliers in the diningroom and livingroom of the Edison home in Fort Meyer were invented by John Verity whose firm built many of  the light fixtures for the Edison Company

Did  you know that Thomas Edison didn’t really invent the light bulb? Other inventors had produced an incandescent light before him. He did, however, create the first practical long-lasting lightbulb along with an electrical system to support it.

Thomas Edison was good friends with Helen Keller who autographed this photo for him with the words..... Not loudness but love sounds in your ear my friend.  Helen Keller

Thomas Edison was good friends with Helen Keller who autographed this photo for him with the words….. Not loudness but love sounds in your ear my friend. Helen Keller

Did you know Thomas Edison was technically deaf probably as a result of a bout with scarlet fever as a child? His hearing loss made school very difficult for him and he only attended for a few months. His mother taught him at home and he never attended a college or university.

Rudy and Sue Nikkel stand in front of a huge banyon tree on the bank of the Caloosahatchee River

Rudy and Sue Nikkel stand in front of a huge banyan tree on the bank of the Caloosahatchee River. The tree was planted in 1925.  Edison and his friends Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone hoped they could use its sap to make rubber.

Did you know that Thomas Edison was an avid fisherman which is one reason why he located his home on the Caloosahatchee River?

Dave who had a brief but illustrious career in highschool as a pole vaulter tries to decide which bamboo tree would make the best pole vault pole

Dave who had a brief but illustrious career in highschool as a pole vaulter tries to decide which bamboo tree would make the best pole vault pole

Did you know that both Thomas Edison and his wife were very interested in botany and gardening? Their estate in Fort Meyers had many fruit trees, more than 17,000 kinds of plants Edison tested as a possible source of rubber, a huge vegetable garden,  a moonlight garden designed by one of the first American female landscape artists Ellen Shipman and many stands of bamboo. Edison thought he could use bamboo fibre to create the filament for his light bulbs. 

This special Model T Ford was designed especially for Thomas Edison and his friends to take on camping trips

This  Model T Ford was designed especially for Thomas Edison and his friends to take on camping trips

Did you know Thomas Edison loved to go camping and that his good friend and next door neighbor in Fort Meyers was Henry Ford?

Mina Edison and her children at the piano

Mina Edison and her children at the piano

Did you know that everyone in the Edison family including Thomas Edison himself played the piano?

Thomas Edison at the spring training camp for the Philadelphia Athletics in  the 1920's

Thomas Edison at the spring training camp for the Philadelphia Athletics in the 1920’s

Did you know Thomas Edison enjoyed watching spring training baseball in southwest Florida?

Edison family home in Fort Meyers Florida

Edison family home in Fort Meyers Florida

Did you know that visiting the Edison estate in Fort Meyers is a chance to get up close and personal with a famous person and his family and enjoy a good walk amid some lovely scenery? I’m glad our friend Rudy suggested it. 

Other posts about famous people……..

She Was 13 Years Old

Dikembe Mutombo Has My Book

The Beatitudes Come To Life

The Dark Side of William Kurelek

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Filed under Florida, People, Travel

Get Connected

In my latest post on the Vast Imaginations blog I reflect on how belonging to two different associations for writers has been professionally rewarding. 

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Filed under Writing