Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Orenda- I Want To Believe People Are Good

orendaI just read Joseph Boyden’s novel The Orenda. When I’ve finished a book I like to journal about one thing that I want to take away from reading it.  That was hard with The Orenda because it gives you so much to think about.  I’ve been mulling it over for days now. I keep coming back to two different kinds of scenes in the book. 

There are these warm touching scenes where Huron mothers and fathers care for and enjoy their children, where friends share work, play and respect for one another, and where couples feel passion and empathy for their partner.  One such scene is Boyden’s description of the reverent ceremony for the dead that happens as the people of a Huron community move their burial ground from their old village to the new one. The love and gentleness with which they treat the physical remains of their deceased family members and share their cherished memories of them is described in intimate detail.

“Each family sees to its dead with such bereavement and care, their tears falling like raindrops … 

Yet these same tender people are also capable of horrific acts of violence and revenge.  Boyden describes in scenes almost too unbearable to read the way captured enemies are scalped, tortured and mutilated and their hearts torn out and eaten. In the Canada Reads discussions panelist Stephen Lewis claims that Boyden’s description of torture is almost pornographic. 

How can people be so humane, so loving, so respectful and also so vicious, cruel and revengeful? It’s troubling and almost impossible to understand. But it continues to happen. 

How could slave owners be doting parents, faithful church members, affectionate spouses and yet abuse the black men and women they owned,treating them as less than human?

How could Nazi soldiers who were loving fathers and husbands and sons take part in the murder of millions of Jewish mothers, wives and children? 

What kind of inner struggle must there be for North American military men and women? I’ve seen them in the media weeping tears of joy as they embrace their own children and partners on their return home from the battlefields of Afghanistan or Iraq. How hard it must be for them to live with the fact that they had the capacity to participate in the killing of people like themselves who were ‘the enemy’  and will never again embrace their own families or return to their own homes. Might this be why more than twenty American military veterans commit suicide every day? 

“We hurt one another because we’ve been hurt. . . . We kill one another because we have been killed. We will continue to eat one another until one of us is completely consumed,” says a character in Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda.

That sad commentary on human beings haunts me. I don’t want to believe that such a capacity for revenge and  hate exists in all of us, in me.  I want to believe that people are good. 

Other related posts……

Caleb’s Crossing

Hiroshima of the Indian Nations


Bride of New France

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Filed under Books, Canada, History, People

Modeling on the Yangtze

posing with a fellow Yangtze river travelerI felt like a model! When  Dave and I took a cruise down the Yangtze River on the ship The Eastern King there were about 200 people on board. Ten of us were Caucasian and we were in great demand as photographic subjects. Our fellow Asian travelers seemed anxious to return home with pictures of themselves in the company of fair skinned North American people. None of our cruise mates spoke English. Thus when our tour group arrived at a scenic site, we were repeatedly asked via gestures to pose with our fellow travelers. It seemed the ‘thing to do’ was to be photographed with your arm around a white person against the backdrop of China’s stunningly beautiful river gorges. Once with the help of an English speaking member of the crew I invited an Asian woman to stand beside me while my husband Dave took our photo. She laughed for a long time, but finally obliged. It seemed perfectly natural for our cruise companions to ask me to pose, so their husbands’ could snap our picture, but when I requested the same thing, they found it funny.

Other posts about our Yangtze River Cruise…..

Bamboo Gorge Boat Trackers

Stick Stick Men

Three Gorges Project Yangtze River

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Filed under China, Culture, Travel

Sniffing Tobacco For the First Time

The monks who offered me tobacco

The monks who offered me tobacco

We were visiting a Tibetan monastery in Shangri-La in China’s Yunnan province.  Nearly a thousand monks study Tibetan Buddhism at the monastery. The holy men were very friendly. They offered us a sniff of the tobacco the monastery grows. After the guys in our party had all inhaled a bit of the tobacco a grinning monk insisted I do so as well.  What an eye-watering experience!

Other posts about monks…..

Monk Chat

Sticky Rice

Another post about Shangri-la….

Dancing in Shangri-La


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Filed under China, Culture, Travel

Mothers Have Stronger Bond With Kids than Dads?

Peter McKay the justice minister got lots of attention last week for his comments on Canadian family life. When asked why there aren’t more female judges in our country he said not as many women as men apply for the jobs.  McKay suggested one of the reasons there are fewer female applicants might be that mothers have a stronger bond with their young children than fathers do. He implied that since women make their children more of a priority than men, women’s careers take a back seat to their children. Because of their devotion to their families, females who have all the qualifications to be justices don’t apply to fill open justice positions.

Although some people are upset with the justice minister for suggesting men don’t care about their kids as much as women, his comments do reflect the status quo. According to the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, studies show on average North American mothers spend twice as much time caring for their children as fathers do. Fathers have more than doubled the number of hours they spend with their children since the 1960s, but it is still mothers who are responsible for the bulk of child care

Peter McKay’s critics in Parliament say his comments about mothers prove he and his political party are living in the past and still believe most Canadians follow the pattern of family life portrayed in 1950s television shows like Leave It To Beaver. Although we all know family life has changed dramatically in the last sixty years, to be fair to McKay his observations do reflect the reality that there is still not an equal sharing of the childcare workload in most Canadian homes. 

If we want to encourage mothers to take their careers more seriously, including women who might apply for judgeships, what can we do to support and encourage them? Should we provide more childcare spaces and daycares with longer hours of service? Should we pay childcare workers higher wages, to emphasize what an important and vital role caring for and teaching young children plays in maintaining a healthy society? Should we make it easier for both male and female employees to have flexible schedules so they can accompany their children to medical appointments and attend their school events?  Should we make sure it is just as easy and acceptable for fathers as it is for mothers, to take a leave from work to care for a new baby or a sick child?  Should we provide more publicity, support and affirmation to fathers who choose to be the primary caregivers for their children?

Statistics do back up Peter McKay’s comments about maternal devotion. However one does have to wonder if making his observations about Canadian family life on national television wasn’t just a convenient way to try and explain the fact that his Conservative government has appointed a smaller percentage of female judges than the previous Liberal government did, and that people are calling for a more transparent system of justice appointments. Globe and Mail columnist Tabatha Southey asks why the federal government refuses to publish statistics about who applies for judgeships. Ontario does and there 50% of the applicants are women.

Supreme Court Justices

Currently, six men and three women serve on Canada’s Supreme Court and in 2013 only eleven of Canada’s thirty- six federal court judges were women. 

Our country would be best served if equal numbers of men and women were our judicial leaders. There are steps we can take to make that happen if we truly want to encourage more women to apply for those positions.

Other related posts……

Can Women Have it All?

A Parable for Rick Santorum

The Work My Mother Does

Lean In


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Filed under Family, Politics

The Changing World of Readers

reading david bergen's age of hope at the ball game“The connectivity of the digital world will be fatal to the serious novel.” That was just one of the startling  points of view in an article about reading by Julian Baggini in last Sunday’s Financial Times.  Here are some other ideas in the Baggini piece that really had me thinking. 

grandma gets help with the i pad“In 2010 hardly anyone in North America had an e-reader or a tablet. Now half the population does.”

“One in four consumer titles bought in 2013 was an e-book.”

man reading kindle in hammockReading on an e- reader promotes ‘deep reading’, where you actually become immersed in the text. People read more slowly on screens than on paper. Since it is not so easy to flip around in an e- book you tend to read the text in order, the way the author organized it. 

dave readingReading on a computer can help with comprehension. You look things  up you don’t understand. 


Some studies show that people who use e-readers read more. “E-readers are small, light and portable and can be pulled out at odd moments,” like when you are waiting for your friend or the bus to arrive.

teacher reading aloud to teenWhen you are reading on an e-reader from the outside anyway it is impossible to see what you are reading. People thus don’t feel forced to read things they aren’t really interested in to maintain a certain public image. They can read what they are curious about, so they read more. 

girl reading on the couch 1963The preference you have for one reading device/method over another is cultural and personal. Some people may continue to enjoy using traditional print books because that’s what they are used to and grew up with. Habit, fashion and culture shape our preferences for certain reading methods. 

Other posts about reading…..

Great Aunt Marie’s Books

Reading Aloud to Teens

The Future of Books


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Filed under Books, Culture, Education

Hearing The Red River Valley in Hanoi

mango in vietnam

Dave with our tourist guide Mango

“From this valley, they say you are going.” When we travelled in Vietnam I was surprised to hear our Vietnamese tour guide singing the Manitoba song Red River Valley. “How can someone in Vietnam know that tune?” I asked. Mango, our guide explained that during the Vietnam War his father worked as a translator at the Hanoi Hilton, a prison for American soldiers. Some captured pilots from North Dakota had taught Mango’s Dad The Red River Valley and he’d often sung it to his son. Mango had never forgotten it. 

Note: The Red River also flows through North Dakota

Other posts about Vietnam…..


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Filed under Music, vietnam

Brave Shepherds

I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer……… Jeremiah 23: 4a

Gladys Aylward went to China in 1932 to help operate a mission that became a home for many orphans. In 1938 Japan invaded China placing Gladys and her young charges in danger. Despite being severely ill she shepherded a hundred orphans over a hundred miles of rugged mountain terrain to a safer neighboring province.

The book Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed tells the story of Le Chambon, a French village that sheltered thousands of Jewish refugees during World War II many of them children whose parents had been sent to concentration camps. Led by their Protestant pastor Andre Trocme and his wife Magda, the villagers were not only able to give sanctuary to the refugees but also shepherded many of them to safety in Switzerland.

On December 14, 2012 a gunman entered an elementary school in Newtown Connecticut and went on a shooting rampage. Some teachers died trying to protect the children in their care, but others managed to shepherd their young students to safety by having them hide in closets, cupboards, bathrooms and storage areas. They locked their classroom doors and kept the children quiet and calm till help arrived.
The prophet Jeremiah warns us about those who will try to do evil to children. But he also promises God will continue to inspire shepherds to protect children so they will no longer need to be afraid. Throughout history many people have answered the call to be those brave shepherds.

Other related posts…….

Sarah’s Key Personal Connections

Sandy Hook on my Facebook Page

Mrs. Brown- This Woman Should Be A  Saint



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Filed under Childhood, History