Monthly Archives: May 2015

Jersey Boys

We saw the production Jersey Boys at the Concert Hall  Friday night. It profiles the career of the music group The Four Seasons. Their music is catchy! You want to sing and dance along.   Jersey Boys is a fast paced show, full of energy. I loved hearing all those familiar sing-along tunes like My Eyes Adored You, Oh What a Night and Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You. 

But I didn’t leave the theatre feeling  upbeat, because as the Four Seasons’ story unfolds on stage, we learn that in many ways they had sad lives.  They spent time in prison. They weren’t faithful to their wives. They neglected their children. They gambled away their money. They didn’t pay their taxes. They often didn’t get along. One lost a step daughter and daughter within months of each other in tragic circumstances. One told his kids he was their uncle so he didn’t have to be a responsible husband and father. 

The Four Seasons were famous. They are in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.  But I think they probably traded their successful careers for a happy, fulfilling personal life. 

Other posts about musicals…..

Quo Vadis 

Broadway Rocks


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Filed under Music, Theatre, Winnipeg

Thanks for the Memories Aunt Olly

I was saddened yesterday to hear of the passing of a celebrity I admired and loved as a child. We didn’t have Mr. Rogers or Big Bird or Sponge Bob when I was growing up. We had Aunt Olly. Olly Penner hosted a program on the radio station CFAM for kids called Children’s Party and I was a devoted fan in my childhood. CFAM is now part of Golden West Radio.  Like many families in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s we didn’t have a television and along with thousands of other children from all over western Canada and the central northern United States I sat near the radio every afternoon while Aunt Olly read stories like Tall Fireman Paul, Big Red and Nikki Nikki Timbo No So Rimbo and played funny songs like I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly.

If your mother sent in a request, Aunt Olly would also wish you a Happy Birthday over the air and even tell you where your Mom had hidden your present. In 1989 I was given an assignment to write a feature story about Olly Penner for the magazine The Mennonite Mirror and so I had the chance to interview my childhood idol. I found out that not only had she done a children’s program for CFAM she had also hosted a variety of other shows like Ladies First, Hints for Homemakers, The Garden Show and Social Calendar. She co-hosted the radio station’s morning show with anchor Jim McSweeny for 13 years. All this in a time when most women did not work outside the home, something she was criticized for by some radio listeners. She said the support of her husband Vic who was a newspaper editor but was often referred to by the public as ‘Aunt Olly’s husband’, made it possible for her to keep up with all her radio station commitments which included many public appearances. She also found time to write a regular newspaper column, publish a cook book, and be an active participant in several community organizations, all while raising two sons.

The day I interviewed her she showed me the thousands of fan letters she had received from children. Many had sent her photographs and drawings. But she also had fan mail from adults; grandparents who enjoyed her show, farmers who listened to her while driving their tractors, recent immigrants who said they were learning English by listening to her and parents who said they got their children to behave by threatening to take away the privilege of listening to Children’s Party. She even had a fan letter from a priest who said he’d ‘fallen in love with her voice’.

Olly retired in 1987 and when I interviewed her in 1989 she was already a grandmother and enjoying traveling with her husband and spending more time with her family. Olly Penner had a legion of fans in a time when media programming aimed specifically at children was a rarity. Thanks for the memories Aunt Olly. 

This post has been updated here. 

Other posts…..

On my Grandparents’ Farm


School for the Deaf

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Filed under History, Media, People

She’s Done It Again

dave, me, cindyIn January I wrote about my former student Cindy Suen whose artwork had been featured on the Google home page on New Year’s Day.  Well guess what’s she’s done now? From May 21- June 8th one of Cindy’s animations is an exciting part of a light show on the Sydney Opera House.  Way to go Cindy! Your former teachers couldn’t be prouder of you!

Other posts about my students…….

Feeling Nostalgic

Visiting the Jangs in Hawaii

Visiting Rosana in Chicago


Filed under Art, Education, Hong Kong

The Beginning and End of Life

ron mueck girlJaws drop, eyes widen, and voices exclaim when I take kids into the room at the Winnipeg Art Gallery where Australian born, London-based artist Ron Mueck’s enormous sculpture The Girl is on display. umbilical cord ron mueck's the girlThe little girl has just been born and her umbilical cord is still attached. Blood remains on her wrinkled and folded skin. ron mueck's the girl faceYou can see the glisten of saliva on the baby’s lips, the wet of mucus in her nose and her tiny eyelashes. ron mueck the girlYou need to walk slowly all around the figure and think about it. Mueck says that while he spends lots of time making the outer surface of his giant human beings it is really the life inside them he is trying to capture. ron mueck the girlAfter our older son was born my husband walked around the delivery room carrying him and talking to him. “I wonder what he is thinking,” he said to me. Mueck’s sculpture has that quizzical thinking look about it. mueck the girlMueck has created other life-size sculptures of babies. He made the first after the birth of his child. Mueck reflects on the strangeness and assertiveness of infants and the way a new baby tends to totally dominate our lives. old woman in bed mueckMueck’s Old Woman in Bed is on display just a few steps away from The Girl.  This art piece shows a dying, vulnerable woman in her hospital bed. She is as tiny as Mueck’s baby is big. old woman in bedOne high school girl in a group I toured through the exhibit had tears in her eyes. “My grandfather just died,” she said to me. “My mom is trying to connect with his soul.” Artist Ron Mueck made the Old Woman in Bed after visiting  his wife’s beloved grandmother in the hospital. mueck old woman in bedThe woman is curled in a fetal position, and her wrinkled skin, so like the wrinkled skin of the baby, links her clearly with the new born girl nearby.  This exhibit juxtapositions the beginning and end of a woman’s life beautifully and in such a moving and compassionate way.

The Girl and Old Woman in Bed are on loan to the Winnipeg Art Gallery from the National Gallery in Ottawa till  October 4.  They are not to be missed!

This post has been updated here

Other posts……..

Portrait or Landscape

A Quick Dip into the AGO

Landscapes for the end of time


Filed under Art, australia, England, Winnipeg, winnipeg art gallery

Seeing the Property Brothers

What was going on?  On Monday when I walked into Winnipeg Square on my way home from work there was a long line of people blocking my way.  Turns out they were waiting to have their photos taken with The Property Brothers.  I recognized the two fellows immediately since I’d seen them interviewed on a City Line television show I watched during one of my gym workouts.   The Property Brothers are Drew and Jonathan Scott and they have a television show where each week Drew, a real estate agent helps families find just the right fixer-upper house  and then Jonathan a contractor transforms the fixer-upper into the house of their dreams. Scotia Bank had brought the brothers to Winnipeg and if the length of the line in Winnipeg Square was any indication they were going to be posing for photos with hundreds of people during their public appearance.  I guess that’s the price of fame but I have to say the Scott brothers looked like they were having fun!

Other posts about Winnipeg Square Area

It Must Be Spring

Tom Lamb

Seal River Crossing

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Filed under People, Winnipeg

Anne of Green Gables

anne of green gablesI have several copies of Anne of Green Gables but my most treasured volume has a battered blue cover with the title in faded gold lettering. I’ve had to tape it back together several times. The flyleaf is inscribed with my Aunt Vi’s name and the year 1942. That’s when she received the book as a gift. Two decades later she gave the book to me and I’ve read it many times since. At age ten I became a devotee of Anne’s and in short order read all eight books in the Lucy Maud Montgomery series.
I read Anne of Green Gables to my oldest son when he was six. I wanted him to hear some stories with girls as the main character and Anne immediately engaged him with her hijinks and mischief making. He often begged for an extra chapter before I tucked him into bed.
mlclass 1980'sI taught six to nine year olds for a portion of my career and Anne of Green Gables was always one of the books I read aloud to them. There was rarely a dry eye in the house when we reached the chapter where Matthew, Anne’s adopted father dies. Even the toughest boys in the bunch could be caught wiping away a tear and hoping no one would see.
ashtonOne year I had a boy in my grade four class named Ashton who confided when we were about half way through the novel that he was convinced he and I were “kindred spirits’, a term Anne uses to describe people who understand her. It was one of the finest compliments I received during my career.

I visited Lucy Maud Montgomery’s birthplace in Prince Edward Island in 2002. I toured her cousins’ home. It was the model for Green Gables in her books. I was lucky enough to have Carolyn Collins, a Lucy Maud Montgomery biographer as my guide. She provided all kinds of interesting information. Apparently Winston Churchill, with whom Montgomery shared a birthday, was a fan of her books and wrote to tell her so. As a child Montgomery met Sir John A McDonald, the Canadian prime minister. Collins also confided that one of the Montgomery journals contained some very steamy passages about Montgomery’s attraction to a young man named Herman. Montgomery didn’t marry him because he wasn’t her intellectual equal.

I still have the program for the performance of the musical Anne of Green Gables we saw at Confederation Hall in Charlottetown. My husband Dave was singing along under his breath on many of the numbers since he had directed a production of Anne of Green Gables at Elmdale School where he was a teacher.

When I worked for the Winnipeg Free Press one of my faith page columns was about the theological insights to be found in Anne of Green Gables. I republished that column as a blog post two years ago and it has been read nearly 4000 times.
Just goes to show how popular Anne still is. 

Other posts…..

Anne of Green Gables- A Faith Perspective

Aunt Vi

Stopping By Woods

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Filed under Books, Childhood

On Writing

adult and teen covered in dead sea mudMy ideas usually don’t come at my desk writing but in the midst of living.- Anais Nin

hiroshima writing notesWe write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.- Anais Nin

dancing in shangri la

We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are. Anais Nin

Other posts……….

On Love and Courage

The Writing Life

Dancing in Shangri La

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Filed under Writing

Dinner Invitation in Bogata

Last week I gave a tour at the Winnipeg Art Gallery to a group of international students from Bogata, Columbia who are studying at a rural Manitoba highschool. They were a delight! Well spoken, polite and sooooo interested in our Olympus exhibit. Their thorough knowledge of ancient Greece and Rome kept me on my toes. At one point on the tour I asked them what was something I should be sure to do if I ever visited Bogata.  “Come to dinner at my house,”  called out one charming young man. “At my house too,” said another and then another.  I’ve never been to South America but it’s on my bucket list.  It’s nice to know that if I ever get to Bogata I’ve got some dinner dates lined up. 

Other posts……..

What Artwork Reminds You of Home? 

Poseidon- Finding Greek and Roman Gods in Winnipeg

Thanks to the Winnipeg Art Gallery

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Filed under Art, Education, Winnipeg

Do Buildings Have Souls?

tao fong shan mountain of the christ wind church hong kongDo buildings have souls?  I once interviewed an architecture professor who introduced me to the idea that buildings have souls. opera house 2According to him an architectural concept for any building should be a metaphor or image for the dreams and values of the people who will use that building.

habitat house thailand

My husband and sons on a Habitat for Humanity build in northern Thailand.

Articulating and defining the soul of a building is a process that needs to include as many of the people who will inhabit the finished structure as possible.

outside a maori meeting house

Maori Meeting House in New Zealand

I asked the architect I interviewed, how we could know for certain that a building accurately reflected the ‘soul’ of the community it housed. He told me the ‘soul’ of a building could not be measured. It was something that could be discerned only with the heart.

Other posts…….

Taliesin West

Taj Mahal

Opera House


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Filed under Reflections

Writing Dividends

My cousin Al sent me a link to an article about why writing is of psychological benefit. The article is by Gregory Ciotti and you can find it on his website Sparring Mind.  Ciotti has come up with a list of reasons why writing is of benefit to people. Each is backed with a link to research.  Here’s some of them. 

1) Writing leads to better thinking and communication-writing helps people convey complex ideas more clearly

I had an story in this book

I had an story in this book

2) Writing increases gratitude-  Writing about the good things in your life makes you happier and more thankful.

Working on a writing project in my office in Hong Kong

Working on a writing project in my office in Hong Kong

3) Writing exercises your mental sharpness- Writing helps keep your brain in shape even as you age

Writing a Lives Lived column for my beautiful mother-in-law and having it published in the Globe and Mail was a way to express my grief and appreciation for my wonderful mother-in-law after she died.

Writing a Lives Lived column and having it published in the Globe and Mail was a way to express my grief and appreciation for my wonderful mother-in-law after she died.

4) Writing provides an outlet for handling hard times-  writing about difficult experiences is a good way to come to terms with them

5) Writing leads to better learning-  information stays with us longer when we write about it

I often shared my writing with my highschool journalism students

I often shared my writing with my highschool journalism students

6) Writing helps you make an impact- you can influence others when you share your writing

My cousin Al said he just wanted me to know that because I’m a writer I am the beneficiary of all these good things.  Thanks Al!

Other posts…….

Barack Obama is a Good Writer

The Writing Life

The Journalists’ Prayer


Filed under Writing