Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Magic Geranium

The geranium was magic! Yesterday I did a post about a get together with friends where we shared our favourite childhood stories.  One friend had chosen a short story called The Magic Geranium as her favourite It was a story I remembered fondly from my own childhood as well! 

Here is a version I found online. A woman named Mrs Smith lives in a messy, drab little house. Her friend Mrs Allen gives her a beautiful germanium and she places it on her kitchen table. The flower’s beauty provides a stark contrast to the old table on which it stands, so the woman paints the table. One thing leads to another and soon she has transformed her kitchen with elbow grease,  paint and new curtains. Her lovely kitchen looks so much better than the neighbouring dining room and so Mrs Smith moves on to tidy and redecorate other rooms in the house till finally the whole house has been turned from drab and dirty to clean and beautiful. She then makes a delicious supper for her family and sets the table in an elegant fashion. Her family is surprised. What has happened? “It’s all because of the magic geranium,” Mrs Smith says.

I can see why the Magic Geranium story was a childhood favourite. It describes the possibility for enormous change, just by doing one little thing at a time. Kids embrace that idea. They can take one small step and then another and another.  The cumulative effect of all those simple steps can be something big. The story’s message is that individuals are responsible for bringing about improvements in their own life. Kids like to think they can do things on their own too without always requiring the help of adults. Other people can provide inspiration but we need to roll up our sleeves and take action to fix things and accomplish goals.  

I’m glad my friend reminded me of the Magic Geranium. It’s a great story not just for kids but for adults too. 

A newer updated version of this post can be found here. 

Other posts about change……..

Georgia O Keefe Changed Her Life

Thankfully Times Have Changed

Game Changers- The Printing Press and the I-Pad


Filed under Books, Childhood, Nature, Reflections

A Childhood Favourite

At a recent get together with friends we talked about stories from our childhood that had left a lasting impression. One friend had loved Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White as a child.  She got quite emotional as she described her attachment to the classic novel about a pig that saves a spider’s life. The story not only connected with my friend, but also gave pleasure to hundreds of grade one students she read the book aloud to during her career as a teacher.

Another friend described a book she’d won as a prize in a school poster-making contest. The Janitor’s Girl by Frieda Friedman has a heroine named Sue. The girl moves to New York City when her father gets a job as janitor in an apartment building. As she takes the steps necessary to adjust to life in her new home, Sue learns lessons of friendship and the importance of accepting people regardless of their social class.

I chose the book Mrs. Mike by Benedict and Nancy Freedman. A young Irish girl from Boston marries a RCMP officer in the early 1900s and goes to live in a remote northern community. I loved the sense of adventure exhibited by the book’s heroine Katherine Mary Flannigan. She reaches out and establishes a circle of friends in her remote location. Katherine was spunky and took risks.  I loved that!

What was your favorite book during your childhood or teen years? 

Other posts about favorite books…….

Christmas Favorites

Perfect for Pre-schoolers

Great Aunt Marie’s Books 

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Childhood

Mouse in the Chest

mouse in the chest by chloe lamMouse in the chest is an idiom from the Philippines.  A person’s ‘mouse in the chest’ is a thing they fear.  Chloe Lam, one of the talented students at the school where I taught in Hong Kong, did this clever visual representation of the Filipino idiom for an Advanced Placement art show. 

When I taught high school I often studied a poem with my English students called Fear by American poet Raymond Carver.  In his catalog verse Carver lists many of his own ‘mice in the chest’ including…………

Fear of a police car pulling into the driveway

Fear of telephones that ring in the dead of the night

Fear that what I love will prove lethal to those I love

Fear of my children’s handwriting on envelopes 

Fear of having too much – although  people will not believe this

While preparing to give a tour of Salvador Dali’s work at the Winnipeg Art Gallery I learned the famous Spanish artist had a ‘mouse in the chest’ for ants.  He confronted his fear of the insects by putting them in his paintings and having an anteater for a pet. 

Other famous people report interesting ‘mice in the chest’ as well. Nicole Kidman is a lepidopterophobe. She’s afraid of butterflies. 

Walt Disney was afraid of mice. 

Matthew McConaughey is scared of revolving doors.

snow covered sidwalkOne of my ‘mice in the chest’ is that I am scared every single time I take the first step onto an escalator and these days because I walk everywhere I’m absolutely petrified of slipping and falling on the icy Winnipeg sidewalks. 

What’s your ‘mouse in the chest?’

Other posts………..

I Never Got Used to the Guns

Salvador Dali- I’m Scared

Between Dog and Wolf

Leave a comment

Filed under Reflections

Getting to Know Kevin Chief- My MLA

kevin chiefMonday night we got to meet Kevin Chief in person at a Residents of the Exchange meeting. Kevin is our member of the Manitoba legislature and represents the Point Douglas riding. The people who live in the Exchange District were invited to the Across the Board Cafe to meet Kevin, listen to him give a talk and ask him questions. Although it was a bitterly cold, icy night, residents of the Exchange District filled nearly every table in the restaurant.kevin chiefKevin told us his growing up years hadn’t been easy but he succeeded because all along the way he had people who looked at him and saw potential, who made him believe anything was possible.  Kevin played basketball for the University of Winnipeg and he talked about a lesson he learned from his coach Bill Wedlake. The coach told him it was okay to make mistakes as long as he was making mistakes while trying to get something done. 

Something interesting I learned about Kevin at our meeting is that Kevin is a square dancer. He is married and has two sons and the youngest is teething so he’s been keeping Kevin and his wife up at night. 

Kevin talked about his experience going into schools to read to kids during I Love To Read month.  He says it is important for kids to have good role models. He told us being truly generous means giving of that which is most important to us. For most people what is most important is their time.  Kevin encouraged us to volunteer our time to engage with our community to make it a better place. Winnipeg has a 29% child poverty rate so there is lots of work to do. 

Kevin told us that the Exchange District where we have our homes, is a very exciting area of Winnipeg, where all kinds of innovative things are happening. More people than ever before are living and working downtown. It was good to hear Kevin say that he realizes he needs to have a strong relationship with city government if he is to represent the people of his riding properly. questioning kevin chiefPerhaps the most difficult question Kevin was asked was about the recent differences within the NDP provincial caucus. A number of cabinet ministers have challenged the leadership of Greg Selinger and have since resigned from their cabinet posts.  “Can we still have confidence in the government?” someone wanted to know. kevin chiefKevin was honest in saying things have been tough the last while. But he wanted us to know that despite whatever was going on in party politics he was as committed to his constituents as ever.  “I still go to work everyday and try to get things done for you,” he assured us.  Political tension not withstanding Kevin said he is not wasting a minute in continuing to work hard for the people who elected him. 

I was impressed with Kevin’s positive attitude and his openness. He encouraged us to contact him with our concerns at any time.  He wants people to feel like “they belong” in Point Douglas.  I agreed wholeheartedly with his assertion that if people invest themselves in their neighborhoods and communities their neighborhoods and communities will thrive.

Other posts about Point Douglas……

Who To Vote For In Point Douglas

Neechi Commons Come For Lunch

Grain is King

1 Comment

Filed under Politics, Winnipeg

Launching Not One Book But Three

first three rebelight booksVast Imaginations is the first writing group for children’s authors I joined after moving to Winnipeg. On Sunday afternoon three members of that group launched books at McNally Robinson Booksellers.  The trio of novels were all published by a new Winnipeg press called Rebelight whose motto is crack the spine: blow your mind.  deborah froeseDeborah Froese one of the Rebelight founders, and a Rebelight editor, told us a little bit about the creation of  Rebelight Publishing and did a wonderful job of introducing each of the authors. suzanne costiganEmpty Cup is the name of Suzanne Costigan’s book.  Suzanne’s novel is about a seventeen year old girl named Raven whose mother kicks her out of the house after Raven experiences an abusive attack from her mother’s boyfriend. Will Raven find the inner strength to survive and create a better life for herself?

melinda friesenMelinda Friesen’s book is called Enslavement and is the first of nine novels she has written. Rielle James, the heroine of her futuristic story, has become a slave after her family’s arrest.  Will Rielle manage to escape and be reunited with her family? larry verstraeteLarry Verstraete has published more than a dozen non-fiction books but Missing in Paradise is his first novel.  Larry’s book is about a boy named Nate who has found a box of clues among his dead grandfather’s belongings that just might lead to real treasure. Will Nate find it? mcnally launchA good-sized crowd had come out for the launch. It was interesting for me to listen to Melinda, Larry and Suzanne read from their novels, since I had heard sections of all three of their manuscripts at our authors’ meetings as we read aloud and critiqued one another’s work.  authors signing booksThe three former Vast Imaginations’ members all thanked the authors in their writing groups for their help and support. I have also received so much valuable feedback and advice from other writers. Every time I share a manuscript with my peers my manuscript gets better. 

I hope that someday I too will be able to publish a work of fiction and have the opportunity to thank all the people who have helped me on my writing journey. On Sunday Larry, Melinda and Suzanne provided inspiration to me, and I’m sure many other aspiring writers, as they boldly launched their books out into the reading world. 

Other posts about writing for young people…….. 

Writing For Children is Hard

Writing Poetry For Children

What An Improvement


Filed under Books, Winnipeg, Writing

Our Weekend

Our weekend was a bit of a whirlwind. I’ve been experimenting with this Word Out program. So here is our weekend at a glance.Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 5.59.44 AM

Other weekend posts…….

The Weekend Go- Go-Go Weekend

Not the Weekend I Expected

Super Bowl Weekend

Labor Day Weekend


Leave a comment

Filed under Family

Opposite Profound Truths

The opposite of one profound truth may very well be another profound truth.

Niels Bohr-Nobel Prize winning physicst

Sara Wenger Shenk, the president of Anabaptist  Mennonite Biblical Seminary used that quote in her sermon in our church a few Sundays ago. She talked about how we must sometimes stretch ourselves to nearly the breaking point as we seek to create a spaciousness in our families, our churches and our world that will allow us maintain an attitude of respect and a peaceful relationship  with those who may believe in profound truths that are very different from our own profound truths. 

The Santa Maria Del Fiore Cathedral in Florence Italy photographed in January 2009

The Santa Maria Del Fiore Cathedral in Florence Italy photographed in January 2009

Tori Gate at Itsukushima Shinto Shrine in Japan photographed in March 2009

Tori Gate at Itsukushima Shinto Shrine in Japan photographed in March 2009

The Taj Mahal Mosque in Agra India photographed in January 2008

The Taj Mahal Mosque in Agra India photographed in January 2008

The Buddha in Hong Kong photographed in December 2005

The Big Buddha in Hong Kong photographed in December 2005

Baha'i House of Worship Chicago photographed in November 2011

Baha’i House of Worship Chicago photographed in November 2011

Grace Mennonite Church in Steinbach Manitoba photographed in November 2011

Grace Mennonite Church in Steinbach Manitoba photographed in November 2011

Maori Meeting House in New Zealand photographed in

Maori Meeting House in New Zealand photographed in December 2008

Westminister Abbey in London photographed in August 2005

Westminister Abbey in London photographed in August 2005

Other posts……

The Breath of Life

To The World Peace

Luau With the Mormons



Leave a comment

Filed under Religion, Travel

Sliding on the Sand

school boys in vietnamWhen we were in Vietnam we drove by a group of school boys who were sand sledding. I asked our driver to stop so we could get out of  our van and watch them. vietnamese boys sand slidingThe boys had these burlap bags and they were using them like sleds to slide down the sand hills by their school. kids in vietnamThe boys thought is was funny that I was so interested in what they were doing and when I started taking photos they offered to pose for me.  with boys in vietnamI had Dave take a picture of me with some of them and while we were doing that the principal came out of the school and walked over to see what was going on.  Our guide explained that I was a teacher from Canada and I was just interested in the children and the game they were playing. boys in vietnamSome of the boys were wearing the uniform of the Young Pioneers a communist organization for young people. vietnamese boywI loved the delight on the boys’ faces and the way they were having so much fun with something so simple. 

Other posts about Vietnam…….

Calculator  Conversation


The Red River Valley in Hanoi

Leave a comment

Filed under Childhood, vietnam

School For the Deaf- My Father-in-Law’s Birthplace

school for the deaf tiege ukraineMy husband Dave stands on the porch of his father’s birthplace in Tiege Ukraine. cultural centre tiegeThe sign by the front door tells us the building was a cultural centre for the people of Tiege, but when Dave’s grandparents lived there at the time of his father’s birth, it was an abandoned School for the Deaf and Dumb which had been operated by the Mennonites. 

Oma and Opa Driedger

Oma and Opa Driedger

Dave’s Oma and Opa had been living on a farm in Schoenfeld but were forced to abandon it in 1920 because of the danger from roving bands of criminal outlaws led by a man named Nestor Makhno. Opa had already escaped the bandits’ bullets twice and so when a farmer in Tiege offered Opa a job he and Oma decided to move there.   Along with a number of other families they lived in the Mennonite School for the Deaf and Dumb. With its kitchen and dormitories it was a suitable place for homeless Mennonites to find shelter. 

The Driedger family twenty years after immigration. My father-in-law in the centre and his sister Agatha to his left were both born in Ukraine

The Driedger family twenty years after immigration. My father-in-law in the centre and his sister Agatha to his left were both born in Ukraine

It was while his parents were living at the School for the Deaf that Dave’s Dad was born. Sadly it is also where Oma and Opa’s first little daughter Kaethe died of pneumonia.

school for the deaf and dumb mennonites tiege ukraineOma told a story about something that happened at this school when they were living there. Dave’s Dad Cornelius was a very small baby and there was a real danger that he would die after he was born. Oma had just lost her little sixteen month old daughter the month before and she couldn’t bear the thought of losing another child. She took her baby outside of the school and broken-hearted stood on the grounds crying out to God to save her child, promising that if God did, she would dedicate her son to God and the work of the church. Perhaps having his mother tell him this story influenced Dave’s Dad in his decision to become a pastor.

The Mennonite community had a well-developed infrastructure in Ukraine to care for vulnerable people in their colonies. There were orphanages, institutions for the mentally and physically handicapped, elderly homes and hospitals. The Russian Revolution forced the closure of most of these facilities because the ruble was devalued by the new Soviet government. The money that had been deposited in the bank to maintain Mennonite institutions like the School for the Deaf and Dumb became worthless.

The school was actually called the Marein Taubstummenschule. It was named after the Tsar of Russia’s mother Maria, a former Danish princess. “Taub”- means deaf in German “Stummen” means dumb and ‘Schule’ is school.

In an article in the Mennonite Historian published in September of 1982, a Jacob Driedger writes an article about visiting the village of Tiege in 1917. He says,
“There was a stately two-storey building, a school for the deaf and dumb. It was a large complex with a number of auxiliary buildings. The students here not only learned to talk but were also taught a trade. The school drew its students from a wide range of communities. ”
school for the deaf tiege ukraineIn an article in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia I found this entry ……
Marientaubstummenschule (Mary School for the Deaf), at Tiege, Molotschna, South Russia, was organized in 1881 and named after Czarina Maria on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the reign of Alexander II, who granted the patent for the school on 21 December 1881. The school did not actually get started until 1885, and did not have its own building until 1890, having been conducted in a house in Blumenort owned by Gerhard Klassen, a great friend and supporter of the school. A Protestant Armenian, A. G. Ambartsumov, trained in Switzerland, was largely responsible for the idea of the school and was the first teacher 1885-1891. The school was established by the Halbstadt district civil government (later joined by the Gnadenfeld district), with the moral support of the churches, and the two representatives of the two districts on the board of directors (a total of nine directors) always had to include one elder or preacher. mariataubstummenschule tiege UkraineThe school in its full development had a nine-year course equal to the regular elementary school curriculum with five teachers and 40 pupils. It was supported by freewill offerings coming from all Mennonite groups in Russia, and had a small endowment fund.  The school was a great success. P. M. Friesen said of it, “This first charitable institution of the Mennonites of Russia is a precious jewel and deserves all love and zealous support.”

school for the deaf and dumb mennonites tiege ukraineIn a blog post Rudy Baerg who worked for a number of years at The Mennonite Centre in Ukraine says, “In its time the School for the Deaf and Dumb in Tiege was a state-of-the-art institution and had the reputation of being the best school for the deaf in all of Russia. Teachers were trained in places as far away as St. Petersburg and Frankfurt.”

school for the deaf and dumb tiege ukraineMuch of the evidence that Mennonites once made their home in Ukraine is disappearing. There are still some buildings left however, and we were fortunate that one of them happened to be Dad’s birthplace and we were able to visit it and see it for ourselves.

Other posts about Mennonites in Ukraine………

 A Spreading Oak

Station of Tears

The Disappeared


Filed under Family, History, Ukraine

The Vomens

womens washroom sign

On our drive home from Saskatoon a couple of weeks ago we stopped in a small town for lunch. When I went to the restaurant washroom  this was the sign on the door.  It reminded me of my grandfather who I often heard refer to a group of women as ‘the vomens.’  He used the plural form of woman plus an added ‘s’.  Grandpa would claim that ‘the vomens’ in the family were in charge of things,  so his opinion didn’t matter. (He had a wife, five daughters and seven granddaughters.) In actual truth Grandpa was definitely the head of the house and most often had his way.  My Grandma did some ‘modest kicking up of her heels’ after he predeceased her and she could finally make her own decisions. 

Just for a minute outside that bathroom door in rural Saskatchewan I could hear Grandpa muttering with a smile, ‘the vomens are in charge’ and shaking his head.  The ‘vomens’ weren’t really in charge in Grandpa’s family and much as I’d like to see it happen ‘the vomens’ still aren’t really in charge of the world, as photos taken at the recent G20 summit in Australia indicates. 
Only three of the leaders were women. Something is very wrong with that picture. At least half of these world leaders should be women. Perhaps when ‘the vomens’ are in charge, or at least are equal partners in running the world, we will see some truly significant changes for the better.

Other posts about women in charge…….

Half the Sky

Is the Solution to Ending Terrorism Really This Simple?

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Leave a comment

Filed under Family, Reflections