Monthly Archives: April 2014


wave by sonali deraniyagalaThe pages of Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala grew heavier and heavier. Half way through the book I almost couldn’t bear to turn them.  Sonali’s grief is palpable in every sentence and the weight of her anguish made it impossible for me to read more than a chapter of her story at at time. 

We learn right from the beginning of the book that Sonali, a professor at Columbia University in New York,  lost her parents, husband and two young sons in 2004 when the tsunami swept through the Sri Lankan resort where they were holidaying.  She survives by clinging to a branch after being swept for miles in a torrent of water. Later she can’t fathom why she ever grabbed onto that branch. With so many people she loved dead, she wishes she was too. Her friends and family are on suicide watch for many months.

Photo I took of a Thai family on the beach after the tsunami

Photo I took of a Thai family on the beach in Phuket after the tsunami

The section of the book that resonated with me were the passages of ‘what if’s.’  Sonali thinks of all the alternate decisions she and her family could have made leading up to the tsunami that would have kept them safe. My family and I were in Phuket when the tsunami struck and I too spent months grappling with the ‘what if’s.’  There were so many decisions big and small that we had made which kept us safe. Any one of those many choices, which seemed unimportant at the time, could have placed us right in the path of the wave like Sonali’s family. 

Sonali’s story goes forward year by year after the tsunami and with each passing one she is able to resurrect more memories. But the story also goes back because as she remembers we are given a window into what her life was like before the tsunami and we come to know her husband, parents and children with all their gifts and foibles in an intimate way. This makes their death seem all the more tragic and Sonali’s grief becomes even more real to us. 

Workers cleaning up in Phuket after tsunami 2004

Workers cleaning up in Phuket after tsunami 2004

For many years after 2004 our family members were frequently identified as tsunami survivors. Even now a decade later people will ask us about it. I suspect being a 2004 tsunami survivor is something that marks you for life. It certainly has marked Sonali with a heavy burden. It is a burden that weighs down anyone who reads her book because Sonali’s evocative and spare writing style leaves you no choice.  Hopefully sharing her story with others has lightened Sonali’s burden at least a little bit. 

Other posts about books……..

Four Reasons To Read The Light Between Oceans

The Long Song

Flight Behavior- I’m Back in the Barbara Kingsolver Fan Club

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Filed under Books, Thailand

It’s Okay to Cry

Jesus wept. John 11:35

In the city of Jerusalem I visited the Dominus Flevit Temple. It is also known as the Tear Drop Temple because its roof is shaped like a teardrop. The temple was designed and placed on the Mount of Olives in memory of Jesus’ tears. 

The Bible records two times when Jesus cried. Once was at the death of his good friend Lazarus and another was when he was overcome with sorrow because he knew what was going to happen to the people of Jerusalem. The Tear Drop Temple is said to be built on the very spot where Jesus wept for his people.   

 There are times when we all need a good cry. We may be moved to tears because things aren’t going well in our personal lives or in our work place. Sometimes our tears are a reaction to the loss of someone or something we love or because we’ve lost an opportunity we may never have again. I often cry when I know I have done something wrong and I am feeling remorse and guilt about my mistake. My tears are especially abundant when I realize my error or bad behavior has hurt someone else or made them angry. 

 We may cry out of sympathy for someone who is experiencing hardship or tragedy. We may cry because we feel helpless and frustrated at our inability to bring about positive change in the life of a person we care about.

Sometimes our tears are bittersweet. We may cry at a child’s wedding or graduation. We are happy for them but at the same time we feel sad that they are growing up, becoming independent and that our relationship with them is changing.
 There is nothing wrong with tears. They are not a sign of weakness. Tears are a way to express our emotions, a sign of our humanity and vulnerability. American writer Rita Schiano says “Tears are God’s gift to us. Our holy water. They heal us as they flow.” Jesus knew that. We need to remember it too.

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Filed under israel, Religion

The Oak Park Connection

What do Carol Shields, Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway all have in common? They all lived in Oak Park Illinois. 

In February I visited the home of writer Ernest Hemingway in Key West Florida. I wrote about it in a blog post called Six Toed Cats, A Spanish Birthing Chair and His Last Penny. I was surprised to learn on my tour that the Nobel Prize winning writer had been born and raised in Oak Park, Illinois. 

Frank Lloyd Wright Studio in Oak Park

Frank Lloyd Wright Studio in Oak Park

I had visited Oak Park in December of 2011 and toured the studio of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. I wrote a post about that visit during which we saw many of the beautiful homes Frank Lloyd Wright had designed in the Oak Park neighborhood.  

I had written a newspaper column about Carol Shields shortly after her death.  I discovered that she was revered, not only in Canada, but also in Hong Kong where I made my home at the time. I later posted a version of that column on my blog and realized that like Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway, Carol Shields too had lived in Oak Park, Illinois. It is where she was born.

That seemed too much of a coincidence to me so I decided to find out if any other famous people had called Oak Park Illinois home. Was I ever surprised to learn that……

Comedian Bob Newhart was born and raised in Oak Park. 

and so was Ray Kroc the founder of the McDonalds franchise. 

comedic actress Betty White was born in Oak Park too

and Edgar Rice Borroughs who wrote the Tarzan series of books was raised there. 

And that wasn’t all. Wikipedia listed more than a hundred people who made a name for themselves in politics, sports, entertainment, literature and science and spent part of their life living in Oak Park. 

I’m not sure what made Oak Park such a breeding ground for successful people. Perhaps most cities produce their share of the rich and famous. Taking a look at the Wikipedia list for famous people from Winnipeg, I discovered it’s even longer than Oak Park’s!

Other posts about famous people…..

Getting Up Close and Personal with Thomas Edison

Dikembe Mutombo Has My Book

Meeting a Famous Children’s Author

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Filed under Reflections

Helping Children Become Writers

naomi's storyWhen I was in Florida this winter we spent time at the home of friends who asked if I’d help their six-year-old daughter write a story to enter in a local writing contest.  I was happy to do it and it was lots of fun.  Recently her Dad sent me a copy of the final version of the story all illustrated and ready to be sent off to the contest.  marylou and naomiNaomi, the little girl I worked with, didn’t need much help because she’s very bright and creative and had lots of great ideas for her story. However our writing time together reminded me of some suggestions I’d put together for parents when I taught elementary school.  It was a list I supplied when parents asked me for ideas about what they could do to help their child become a better writer. 

• Exchange notes with your child. Stick a note in their lunch box. Put a note on their bed. Hide a letter in their school bag. Encourage them to write back to you and leave a note hidden for you somewhere you are sure to find it
• Have them write out a plan for a party or family outing and then carry out the plan
• Ask children to write captions for photographs you are placing in the family album or on your family blog or website
• Have children keep a journal of a trip or holiday or a special time in your family’s life
• Have your child write thank you notes to people who have given them gifts or done kind things for them.
• Encourage them to write and e-mail letters to friends and family.
• Play games like Boggle, Spill and Spell, Scrabble, which help build vocabulary
• Crossword puzzles are also great for adding new words to children’s vocabularies
• Encourage children to look up words they don’t know in an online dictionary
• Have them keep a response or reflection journal when they are reading a book or you are reading a book to them
• Start a blog for your child where they can publish their poetry, stories and other writing pieces
• Take an interest in the written work your child brings home from school- poems, stories, paragraphs on tests. Give praise and encouragement.

My Dad reading to me and my sister

My Dad reading to me and my sister

• Reading fosters good writing because children are being exposed to the work of good writers when they read and they are constantly learning new vocabulary and gaining new ideas they can use in their own writing.

Finally it is important for your children to see you being a good role model. Your children need to see you writing and observe how writing helps you in your daily life as well as at your place of employment.

Ray Bradbury, the great science fiction author said about writing, “Quantity produces quality.” The more your child writes the better writer they will become.

Other posts about children and writing……

 A Published Author At Age 10 

Writing For Children- Not As Easy As I Thought

The Traits of Good Writing

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Filed under Childhood, Education, Writing

Dave Bends Over Backwards

waterfall laosAll the rushing water around here now that the snow is melting reminded me of a flooded path we encountered while attempting to hike up to a waterfall in Laos during our visit to that country. waterfall in laosNormally you can choose to hike up to the falls either using a tree lined forest path or a paved roadway. hiking through rushing water laosWe reached the foot of the hiking path and Dave offered to be the trailblazer. He’d forge on ahead and see if the forest path was feasible. 

walking through flood laosHe plowed forward for quite a while, gingerly lifting his shorts to keep them from getting wet.

dave rushing water laosIt wasn’t long however before he did an about turn, came back and suggested we use the paved roadway.waterfall laos

 We could hear the deafening roar of the water long before we reached the falls.

waterfall in laosThere was water cascading from about four different places high above. It came crashing and splashing down to the rocks below creating a fine but soaking mist. marylou in laosTraversing the bridge at the base of the falls you were guaranteed to get wet. 

taking photo at waterfall in laosI call this photo ‘Bending over Backwards’ and it makes me laugh. Dave doesn’t like to use the camera and I often have a hard time convincing him to take pictures of me. However when these two young and beautiful German girls requested that Dave snap a picture of them in front of the falls he couldn’t have been sweeter. I thought he might fall backwards over the bridge as he tried to get into just the right spot to take the perfect photo of them.

no swimming area laosThis rather cryptic sign says it all. The base of the falls was quite definitely a DO NOT SWIMMING AREA.

Other posts about Laos……

Fair Trade Coffee and Hope for Laos

Eating Sticky Rice in Laos

Kayaking in Laos


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Filed under laos, Nature, Travel

Is Memory Selective?

 “Do you remember every flower arrangement you’ve ever  made?”  I was in a floral shop ordering a centerpiece and the owner asked me if I had seen any of her work before. I mentioned a unique floral arrangement that had been a gift from a friend four years prior. I began to describe it and she nodded in recognition. “Of course”, she said. “ I know exactly the arrangement you mean.  I wasn’t in the store the day it was sold. I’ve always wondered who had it.” I was amazed she remembered something she had worked on so long ago so I asked if she could recall every floral arrangement she had every made. “Yes I can”, she said. “Once I’ve made them I don’t forget them.”

I was thinking about her response when I read about a successful New York chef named Danny Meyer. One of Danny’s fellow chefs said in an interview, “Danny can remember every meal he’s every made.”

 I’m often amazed when my husband Dave will meet old baseball team mates and they will start talking about a game they played many years ago.  They know who was on base and who was up to bat at crucial junctures in the game. Sometimes they even describe a slide into third base or a great catch in centre field. My husband also has that kind of memory for certain golf rounds he has played or basketball games he has participated in.

 I sometimes worry I am losing my memory. Often simple facts and well known names simply disappear from my brain at the most embarrassing moments. I can however, remember nearly every single thing I’ve  written for publication. The main ideas of hundreds of articles are stuck  in my mind. A topic may come up in conversation and I’ll think, “I’ve written an article about that.” Sure enough when I check my files, I’ll find a piece sometimes written twenty or even thirty years prior. I haven’t forgotten it.

They say memory is selective.  Perhaps when we are passionate about something whether its writing or sports or cooking or flowers we select memories associated with those passions to collect and hold. 

Other posts ………

At Sixes and Sevens

Life is Messy

It’s a Personal Decision

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Filed under Reflections

Feeling Safe in Winnipeg’s Exchange District

rhubarb logo

An article I was asked to write recently for Rhubarb Magazine was published as a blog post on their website. Drawing on several other pieces I’ve written in the past it is called Feeling Safe in Winnipeg’s Exchange District.  

Other posts about the Exchange District…….

I’m Living in a Piece of History

Spring in the Exchange District

Devour the District

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Looking at Ring Around the Rosy in a Deadly Way

I was doing an observation of a student teacher in a grade eight social studies class. The topic  for the day was the Black Plague which swept through medieval Europe between 1348-1350 killing millions of people.  I learned something interesting about the popular children’s song Ring around the Rosy during the lesson.  Although the verse appears in Mother Goose collections of nursery rhymes starting in 1881 there is a widespread belief that the ditty is much older than that and refers to people afflicted with the plague. 

Ring around the rosy

A patient would have swollen lymph nodes and this swelling was often circular forming a ring. The center of the ring was surrounded by a red rash referred to as a rosie. 

A pocket full of posy

As plague victims became ill they gave off a horrible odor and posies of herbs and flowers were carried by healthy people as a form of protection and to cover up the smell of the disease.

Hush a, Hush a we all fall down. 

“Falling down” refers to the fact that plague victims eventually died. 

I was intrigued by the student teacher’s explanation but found out later that the theory the nursery rhyme originated with the Black Plague only appeared after World War II. Folklorists say had the poem been around in the 1300’s written copies of it would have appeared long before 1881.  Records of it being sung in various forms only date back to the 1790’s.

Regardless of whether the connections to the Black Plague are authentic or not, I don’t think I will ever listen to the children’s song in exactly the same way again. 

Other posts about childhood…..

Remembering the Children of Sichuan

Technology and Family Time

My Mother’s Button Box


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Filed under Childhood, Culture, History

Easter Images- Then and Now

Holding bunnies on my grandparents’ farm – 1958. Beautiful Easter table set by my friend Glenys when I attended a  luncheon she hosted-2014Four generations of our family at an Easter gathering- 1979.Easter baskets ready for my family-2014

Holding a baby chick-  1989. Easter bulletin board at one of the schools I visit as a faculty supervisor-2014We flew home from Hong Kong for Easter in 2010 to see our son perform in Jesus Christ Superstar. 


Easter lilies in the lobby of our condo

Easter lilies in our condo lobby- 2014. 

Easter 1957 – With my sister in dresses sewn by our mother

In Easter dresses and Easter bonnets-1957

Other posts you may like……….

Whenever I Hear A Chiming Clock I Think of My Grandmother

The Nun’s Christmas

My Mother’s Button Box

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Filed under Family, Holidays, Religion

When the Coin Rings Luck Springs

We spent Easter in 2009 in Kyoto, Japan.  The cherry blossoms were just breaking out, particularly along Philosopher’s Walk.







We visited the Golden Temple in Kyoto.  I am throwing a coin into a gold bowl on the ground. I was shocked when my coin landed right in the golden bowl with a resounding ringing sound. Dave who had been making up little poems he called haikus all through our Japan trip (although none of his poems were really haikus,) made a poem up to mark my lucky throw- “When the coin rings- luck springs. “

Hoping this Easter weekend is a time of good fortune and happiness for all my readers. 

Other posts about Japan…….

Japanese Surprises

A Kaleidoscope of Possibilities



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Filed under Holidays, Japan, Travel